Posts Tagged ‘Octopus’


Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by virginia


Just wanted to take a break in between the Louisiana and Texas trip to talk about a semi-recent meal we had at Aviary in NYC in February to celebrate our 16th anniversary as a couple. It was a notable anniversary for us because we were both 16 years old when we started dating, so sometime in between this anniversary and the next, we’ll have been together for more than half our lives. I think that’s a pretty cool milestone.

Since J came into the picture, it’s rare for us to have a dinner on our own. We either bring her along with us, or if we can get someone to watch her, we’re usually meeting friends for dinner or going to a party. So when Josh’s parents graciously agreed to watch her for our anniversary, we knew we wanted to have a nice meal out in the city, which is a rare luxury for us these days. After doing a bit of research, we settled on Apiary, a fairly under the radar restaurant with a chef we were both curious about – Scott Bryan.

We had both read about Scott Bryan in Kitchen Confidential, where author/chef Anthony Bourdain sings his praises. After leaving Veritas in 2007, however, we hadn’t really heard much about Chef Bryan since then. He seems like such a talented, passionate cook who is really just focused on the food, not all the PR and other hype surrounding chefs these days, and so we were eager to sample his offerings.

As a side bonus, we went on a Monday, when the restaurant offers no corkage fees. We stopped at Astor Wines nearby and picked up a bottle of white from Tuscany and a bottle of red Chateauneuf du Pape to go with our meal. I had researched the menu online beforehand so I had a good idea of what I wanted to order, but of course I needed Josh to agree with me. Our waiter also came up with a long list of recommendations when asked what dishes he preferred. Rather than going for the 5 course tasting menu, we decided to come up with our own tasting with four appetizers and two entrees, so that we could try more dishes.

While we waited for our food to come out, we noshed on the bread, slices of sourdough with a hearty yet crispy crust. It was delicious with the fruity olive oil that came on the side for dipping.

Sourdough bread and olive oil

Sourdough bread and olive oil

We told our waiter that we planned to share all the dishes, so the kitchen thoughtfully split some of them into two plates for us. For the first course, we were each presented with our own plates of hamachi crudo, and our order of grilled quail was placed in the middle of the table. The hamachi, which is yellowtail fish, was sliced thin and served raw with slices of avocado, hearts of palm, chopped chives, finely diced jalapenos, and a microgreen salad on top. The dish was dressed with a yuzu vinaigrette, and while I loved the pop of the acid and the freshness of the fish and vegetables, Josh thought there was a bit too much citrus on the fish that overwhelmed its delicate flavors. Overall though, we both thought it was a bright dish that woke up our taste buds and was a great start to the meal.

Hamachi crudo, avocado, hearts of palm, jalapeno

Hamachi crudo, avocado, hearts of palm, jalapeno

We were more mixed about the grilled quail dish, as we thought that was a bit odd for them to have presented us with individual crudos while the quail just sort of sat on the table and got cold while we ate our fish. Maybe they expected us to finish our crudo quickly, and then move on to the quail immediately? Logistically, it was also kind of hard to eat the quail while reaching over our crudo plates. I think our waiter saw us struggling a bit and quickly removed the empty plates and provided us with clean small plates to transfer the quail onto, which was a slightly¬† messy affair. The quail itself was well seasoned, but the meat was pretty chewy. Josh picked up his half with his hands and ate the meat off the bone, while I tried a more delicate approach with my knife and fork, which wasn’t very successful. It came with lentils on the side, curried spiced yogurt, and drizzle of paprika oil that added a bit more smoke to the dish. The flavors were intense and exotic, which we enjoyed, but it was hard to get past the chewiness of the quail.

Grilled quail, curried spiced yogurt, french green lentils, orange

Grilled quail, curried spiced yogurt, french green lentils, orange

For our second course, the kitchen split our order of swiss chard and ricotta ravioli. There were two plump raviolis in each bowl that were topped with a piece of fried sage, brown butter, and poppy seeds. The pasta itself was perfectly cooked and gorgeously delicate, both in texture and flavor. The brown butter was a tad greasy but otherwise appropriately rich, and worked well with the sage. The surprise element of the dish was the poppy seeds sprinkled on top, which added a nice dainty crunch to each bite.

Swiss chard and ricotta ravioli, sage brown butter, poppy

Swiss chard and ricotta ravioli, sage, brown
butter, poppy

The last of our appetizer courses was the grilled octopus, which they also split for us. Each portion of tentacle came with romesco sauce, chorizo oil, and arugula dressed with lemon. I took a bite and commented to Josh about how it was probably the most tender octopus I’ve ever eaten, and he looked back at me in surprise and said the texture was only ok. We traded bites and indeed, his octopus was much chewier, with a sort of bounciness to it, while I could have cut my portion with just the side of my fork. Coincidentally, this has happened to us before, where we each had two completely different tentacle textures from the same serving. I thoroughly enjoyed this particular preparation, especially the smokiness from the grill and from the chorizo oil. The arugula salad lightened up the dish and prevented it from feeling too heavy.


Grilled octopus, romesco, baby arugula, lemon

For our entree course, the kitchen did that thing again where they split one of our dishes (the duck breast) and served the other one (the pork chop) whole at the same time, where it also sat in the middle of the table until we were ready for it. Nevertheless, the duck was simply fabulous – medium rare, beautifully pink, rendered skin, and perfectly seasoned. There were whole green peppercorns in the jus drizzled on top, which had gave each bite a little peppery pop and a slight floral hint. I wasn’t a big fan of the glazed turnips on the side (I found them to be slightly too bitter and acidic, although Josh didn’t mind them), but I enjoyed the pureed parsnips and chewy farro underneath. The duck was the real star of the plate though, and it was our favorite dish of the night.

Long Island duck breast, parsnip puree, farro, glazed Tokyo turnips, green peppercorn-armagnac jus

Long Island duck breast, parsnip puree, farro, glazed Tokyo turnips, green peppercorn-armagnac jus

Josh finished his duck first and dug into the pork chop, still having to reach awkwardly across his duck plate. The pork chop was massive, probably the thickest pork chop we’ve ever gotten at a restaurant, and was cooked through to medium as the chef recommended. It was served on top of a bed of black bean tinga, which is a Mexican style sauce made with chipotles. I thought the beans were just slightly too al dente for my taste, but Josh disagreed and liked that they had texture to them. There was a spiced avocado mash on top of the pork, but I didn’t taste any of the orange ginger glaze that was mentioned on the menu. I thought the pork was seasoned well and the dish had a lot of flavor to it, but it didn’t really wow us. We felt like it was something we can make at home, and Josh’s mom has a similar dish in her repertoire that involves simmering pork chops and black beans in a combination of salsa and tomato sauce. Obviously this was a much more refined dish than the one she makes, and the quality of the pork was vastly superior, but the flavors were almost identical.

Berkshire pork chop, black bean tinga, orange ginger glaze, spiced avocado

Berkshire pork chop, black bean tinga, orange ginger glaze, spiced avocado

I was stuffed to the gills by this point and didn’t even finish my half of the gigantic pork chop, so we were prepared to pass on dessert. Plus we heard from Josh’s mom that J was getting a little fussy and was probably going to be ready for bed soon, and we wanted to see her before she went down for the night since we had left for work before she had gotten up for the day. The waiter surprised us by bringing a vanilla panna cotta with our check, in honor of our anniversary. It was an incredibly nice gesture, and helped to cap off a lovely evening. The panna cotta was smooth and creamy, and we could see real vanilla bean seeds on top. It was served with raspberry coulis that was just slightly tart, which helped cut through the richness of the cream.

Vanilla panna cotta, raspberry coulis

Vanilla panna cotta, raspberry coulis

Overall, we really enjoyed our anniversary meal at Apiary. The meal hit some really high highs (the duck, the raviolis), and didn’t really have any misses. While the quail and the pork chop weren’t our favorites of the evening, they still had great flavor and would probably appeal to a lot of other people. I loved the hamachi and the octopus courses, but the kitchen showed a bit of inconsistency in those dishes as Josh’s octopus was far from the tender specimen I received, and his crudo had too much acid on the plate. As a side note, Josh later confessed that he’s actually not a big fan of octopus in general, because he feels it has no flavor, while I vehemently disagreed. See, even after 16 years together, there are still surprises in our relationship! But in general, we had a great dinner, and service was fabulous. Our waiter was knowledgeable, enthusiastic about the food, and came by to check on us often. With BYO Mondays, Apiary is a great place to go out for a nice, upscale meal without blowing your budget. They also offer a three course prix fixe menu on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for $38, with items from the regular menu. It’s definitely worth checking out.

60 Third Ave.
New York, NY

Sake Bar Hagi

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011 by virginia

Sake Bar Hagi is sort of like a Japanese tapas restaurant that’s been written up about in numerous papers and magazines and was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. It’s in midtown so it draws the happy hour crowd, and it’s a great place for pitchers of beer and lots of little snacks. It’s important to get there early though because the place really fills up quickly. Josh and I had been there once after work and really enjoyed it so one Sunday night when it was just us and Josh’s parents, we suggested trying to get in for dinner.

The restaurant is located downstairs below street level but it’s a pretty large and bright space. The tables are kind of cramped together though, and it does get a bit noisy. We had to wait for about half an hour before we could get a table. Fortunately the waiting area wasn’t crowded and we were able to sit on some benches while we waited.

After we were seated an ordered a pitcher of beer, we set about perusing the extensive menu. There are so many different options to choose from, it was almost a bit daunting. There were the usual Japanese appetizers, like gyoza and edamame, different types of yakitori, as well as some more unusual offerings.

We started out with an avocado salad, which was pretty standard. It featured a good portion of sliced avocado on top of iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, tomatoes, and asparagus. The ginger dressing was flavorful and not too sweet.

Avocado salad

We also got a yakitori set that included skewers of chicken meatballs, chicken, garlic, pork belly, and beef. The meatballs were a bit bland but the other meats were well seasoned and had good barbecue flavor.

Assorted yakitori

Agedashi tofu is something that we always order when we’re at a Japanese restaurant, and this version was pretty good. It’s deep fried tofu that’s silky on the inside sitting in flavorful broth, topped with grated daikon, bonito flakes, and shredded seaweed. It’s a good mix of textures and flavors.

Agedashi tofu

The bonito sashimi was one of our favorites of the evening. It was served with citrus soy sauce and topped with chopped scallions, fried garlic chips, and thinly shaved daikon. The fish was a gorgeous deep red color and tasted fresh. The combination was light and refreshing.

Bonito sashimi

The tatsu age, or Japanese fried chicken, was light and crispy on the outside, though I think there may have been a bit too much breading. Still, the chicken was pretty juicy and all it needed was a squeeze of lemon over the top.

Tatsu age (fried chicken)

An interesting dish we ordered was grilled clams topped with scallions. They were big and juicy, not too chewy, with lots of briny flavor. We just shot them straight from the shells, making sure to drink up all the delicious liquid.

Grilled clams

Another one of my favorite dishes was a grilled eggplant topped with miso sauce. The sauce was nicely caramelized on top, and it had sweet, slightly smokey flavor. The eggplant had a creamy texture and wasn’t bitter.

Grilled eggplant

I had high hopes for the grilled yellowtail collar as it’s usually a tender, luscious part of the fish. This version, unfortunately, was a bit dry and really bland. There was no seasoning or sauce on it, and even after we squeezed lemon over the top, it was pretty flavorless.

Grilled yellowtail collar

We got an order of gyozas filled with pork, which were decently pan fried and brown on the bottom, but flavor-wise they were just meh. These were probably the frozen pre-made kind, and not great ones at that.

Pan fried gyozas

Much to Alice’s dismay, Josh and I shared a yakitori of chicken skin. Crispy on the outside, slightly chewy, well seasoned, and very flavorful, we thought these were pretty fantastic. Probably not great for our cholesterol, but we only had one bite each.

Chicken skin yakitori

We got an order of shiitake mushrooms, which were topped with lots of bonito flakes. They had a meaty texture but were kind of plain, and I probably wouldn’t order these again.

Shiitake mushrooms

I enjoyed the fried octopus balls (takoyaki), which was kind of like eating an octopus doughnut. The balls had a light, slightly chewy texture and were filled with little chunks of octopus.

Fried octopus balls (takoyaki)

I wanted to try a grilled rice ball (onigiri) filled with spicy cod roe. I’ve eaten regular rice balls before but never the grilled kind. The rice on the outside was browned a crispy, and the spicy cod roe filling was definitely spicy. I just wish there was a bit more filling, and that it was more evenly dispersed throughout the middle of the rice ball. Otherwise it was pretty good.

Grilled spicy cod roe onigiri (rice ball)

Last, and definitely least, we got a yaki udon with chicken. It’s pan fried udon noodles but the sauce they used was cloyingly sweet and gloppy. There was so much sauce that it totally overpowered everything on the plate, so that was all we tasted. It was probably the worst yaki udon I’ve ever eaten, and it was a disappointing way to finish our meal.

Yaki udon

Even though the yaki udon was terrible, the rest of our meal was pretty good. They have a nice variety of yakitori, and I liked being able to try all the different skewers of meat. The fried items were all served fresh right from the fryer, which meant they were hot and crispy, as they should be. I think the best part of Sake Bar Hagi is the extensive menu and getting to try lots of different things. Most plates are small but shareable, and we washed them down with cheap pitchers of Sapporo. It’s definitely a great happy hour spot, though if you plan on being there for a while, you have to keep ordering food and drinks, otherwise the servers will tell you that other people are waiting for a table. It does get crowded but it’s got a nice low key vibe. I highly recommend checking it out.

Sake Bar Hagi
152 West 49th St. between 6th and 7th Ave.
New York, NY