Posts Tagged ‘Pork’

Apiary

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by virginia

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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.

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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.

Apiary
60 Third Ave.
New York, NY

Willie Mae’s Scotch House – New Orleans

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 by virginia

 

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Our last sit-down meal in New Orleans was also one of the best we had during our vacation. The fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House is pretty legendary, and I didn’t want to leave town without trying it. After picking up our rental car for the rest of our trip, we drove straight to Willie Mae’s in Mid-City for a fried chicken breakfast.

The area surrounding Willie Mae’s is definitely a little bit more depressed than the touristy French Quarter or Garden District. The neighborhood was hit hard by Katrina, and volunteers actually helped rebuild the restaurant which had been completely destroyed. I don’t know what it was like pre-Katrina, but it looked to us like a charming old school luncheonette located in a white house on a corner of a mostly residential neighborhood.

The unassuming white building that houses Willie Mae's

The unassuming white building where Willie Mae’s Scotch House is located

The restaurant opens at 11 and we got there around 11:30 so I was worried that we would have to wait in line or deal with the lunch rush. Fortunately we got there just in time and were seated immediately, though the place was full the entire time we were there. We knew that we were ordering fried chicken but we debated for a bit whether we should get two orders of fried chicken, or if we should just get one order and try something else from the menu. Since three pieces of chicken come to an order, it was easy for us to share a plate and get something different as well. We opted for the country fried pork chop, which is coated in batter and then fried. The crust is more tempura-like than the fried chicken’s coating. It was not as crispy but was well seasoned, and the pork chop inside was still juicy and tender.

Country fried pork chop

Country fried pork chop

We got to pick a side dish with the pork chop and opted for red beans. The side portion turned out to be a huge bowl of soupy beans served with a mound of rice. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten red beans before and therefore have no basis for comparison, but I thought these were fantastic. Simple but well seasoned, flavorful, and perfectly balanced with the rice, I couldn’t stop eating it. I’ll need to see if I can find a recipe somewhere!

Red beans and rice

Red beans and rice

But back to the main event: the fried chicken. Just to preface, I am by no means a fried chicken connoisseur. Any fried chicken craving that I have is easily satisfied by a run to the nearest KFC, and I’m just as happy eating the prefabricated, commercial grade sludge that passes for frozen chicken fingers. “Upscale” restaurant fried chicken has been pretty hyped this year, and I usually don’t buy into that. Why should I pay ~$15 for two or three pieces of fried chicken when the same amount can get me a 6-piece bucket plus biscuits and sides? Well, if all of these restaurant fried chickens are like Willie Mae’s, then I’ve been missing out. It is unbelievably good and definitely the best I’ve ever had. And at $10 for three pieces with one side plus a vegetable, it’s a bargain. The chicken is perfectly fried to a deep brown color, and the crust is feather light and not greasy in the slightest. It shattered spectacularly when I bit into my piece (I took the thigh while Josh ate the breast; we split the wing), and was well seasoned. J loved eating all the fragments of crust that came off the chicken and couldn’t get enough of them. The chicken itself was also super juicy and flavorful throughout, like it had been brined. I like dark meat because it’s usually more tender and less prone to drying out, but I took a bite of the breast and was just as pleased with the juiciness and flavor.

Fried chicken with macaroni and cheese and peas

Fried chicken with macaroni and cheese and peas

For the side, I chose macaroni and cheese. It was casserole style so baked and on the drier side, but still cheesy in flavor. It just needed a dash of salt to liven it up a bit. The vegetable of the day was peas. Both were fine, though nothing special. Everything just paled in comparison to the fried chicken.

Overall we both absolutely loved Willie Mae’s. The fried chicken was beyond my expectations, and I still drool a little every time I think about it. I was happy to have tried the country fried pork chop, but I also regret not getting a second order of fried chicken. We heard people ordering fried chicken plates with an additional side of fried chicken (3 pieces for $7.50), and now I understand why. The food in general was just simple and homey but expertly prepared; it was the ultimate comfort food destination. Service was fast and friendly, and both the sweet tea and the lemonade were great accompaniments to the meal. Don’t let the fact that it’s far away from the touristy areas of New Orleans deter you from going. It’s truly a special dining destination that should not be missed.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House
2401 St Ann St.
New Orleans, LA

Muffaletta Round-Up – New Orleans

Sunday, January 5th, 2014 by virginia

Muffaletta, a sandwich made from round Sicilian bread stuffed with Italian cold cuts, cheese, and olive salad, is another iconic New Orleans food. During our last trip, we tried the “original” muffaletta from Central Grocery and loved the combination of the soft focaccia-like bread, the savoriness of the cured meats, and the sharp brininess of the olive salad. I enjoyed it so much that I made Josh bring home a whole sandwich (they’re so big that they’re sliced into quarters and can be bought as a half or a whole; a quarter is a good-sized sandwich for one) after his conference ended. The bread suffered a bit from the travel/plane ride, but that olive salad was still great.

This time around we decided to try out some other muffalettas. The version from Cochon Butcher, the more casual sandwich outpost of Donald Link’s Cochon Restaurant, has gotten great buzz, so we headed over there for a late breakfast/early lunch.

Cochon Restaurant actually played a small part in the inspiration for this trip. We had been watching a movie with Jason Segel called Jeff Who Lives at Home, which takes place in Louisiana, and Cochon was featured in one of the scenes. While the movie was on, I was reading articles about it and learned that Jason Segel had gained over 20 pounds during filming because of all the great food in New Orleans. The funny part about the weight gain is that the movie is supposed to take place over the course of one day, so you can see his character thinner in one scene and then visibly bigger in another, even though no time has passed in the movie itself. It made me think about all of the great food we had eaten in New Orleans on our previous trip, and all of the great food we didn’t get to eat.

Josh and I usually don’t like to travel back to places we’ve been before because we feel like there are so many places we haven’t seen yet. With the arrival of Baby J, however, we’ve had to amend our way of traveling – less exotic, more low key – so I suggested making New Orleans the starting point of our trip, but also adding in cities where we haven’t visited before. It was a win/win situation.

Anyway, while I would have liked to eat at Cochon Restaurant, I thought that J would be better off in the less formal Cochon Butcher. She’s pretty good in restaurants but still has a habit of throwing food all over the floor, and I was afraid of her making a mess or causing a scene. Unfortunately, we got there right when a huge medical conference at the nearby convention center let out for lunch, so there was a huge line of doctors waiting to order food. J was getting fussy so I walked her around the block a few times while Josh stood in the line to place our order. Cochon Butcher is pretty small inside and I didn’t want to try to navigate her stroller around all the people. Luckily there were a few tables outside and I was able to nab one and park her stroller away from the crowd. It was a warm day and sitting outside was actually quite nice.

The long line outside Cochon Butcher

The long line at Cochon Butcher

Our food was delivered to us shortly, including the much-anticipated muffaletta. It’s definitely a “chef-y” version of the sandwich, with high quality, thicker cut meats that are cured in-house. It’s also a lot smaller than Central Grocery’s version, although still plenty of food.

Muffaletta sandwich

Cochon muffaletta

The bread was fluffier and lighter, which was also different, but the biggest disappointment was the olive salad, which I don’t think was as briny and didn’t have a lot of impact. The biggest issue was that there simply wasn’t enough of it, so it got kind of lost between all the bread and the meat. Don’t get me wrong – the sandwich was still delicious. It was served warm and the cheese was all melty, which I liked. But it was more of just an upscale Italian style sandwich rather than what I think of when I think about eating a muffaletta.

Autopsy shot

Autopsy shot

We also ordered the pork belly sandwich, which came on white toast and was topped with a cucumber-mint salad. The pork belly was tender and flavorful, as you would expect from good pork belly. However, I thought it was just maybe slightly underdone. The pork belly was definitely cooked through, it just wasn’t as caramelized as I thought it would have been so that it would melt in our mouths. But maybe that’s just how the sandwich is supposed to be. It was still a delicious sandwich, with the refreshing salad to cut through the fattiness, but it didn’t have that wow factor.

Pork belly with mint and cucumber on white

Pork belly with mint and cucumber on white

We also got an order of boudin, which is a Cajun style sausage that is made with ground meat and rice mixed together. We were looking forward to eating the boudin in Lafayette, where it’s more well-known, but Michael the concierge told us not to miss Cochon’s version. It was intensely meaty, with a bit of a funk to it that I think comes from chicken liver. It was the first boudin we’ve ever tasted, and we were big fans. It was wonderful with the whole grain mustard and sweet pickles on the side.

Hot boudin

Hot boudin

Lastly, we got some pancetta mac and cheese, which was our favorite dish of the meal. The sauce was creamy and cheesy, as expected, and the pancetta added a savory, smoky aspect. The top was nicely browned, and it was just a bowl of comforting umaminess.

Pancetta mac-n-cheese

Pancetta mac-n-cheese

Overall I really liked Cochon Butcher, although the sandwiches themselves didn’t knock my socks off. It’s a great place for a low key meal with quality ingredients at a reasonable price. Plus when he dropped off our food, the waiter said, “nice order, bro”, which made me a bit proud and predisposed to enjoy it.

Josh was more disappointed with Cochon Butcher’s muffaletta than I was, so we decided to pick up a half from Central Grocery the next day and eat it back in our room later that evening. This was after our breakfast/lunch at Domilise’s and Casamento’s, and our long walk from Uptown back to the French Quarter. Since Central Grocery closes at 5 pm, we got half a muffaletta to go, and then walked over to the Napoleon House for a drink and late afternoon snack/early dinner.

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Napoleon House is known for two things: inventing the Pimm’s Cup, and their hot muffaletta sandwich. We were hungry but not starving so we decided to share a half; it’s size is more similar to Central Grocery so a quarter for each of us was definitely plenty. I actually thought the sandwich would be hotter and more toasty, but it was just slightly warmed through and the cheese was barely melted. It was fine though, and the flavors were generally spot-on for me. However, visually, the proportions were off and the sandwich is constructed differently from Central Grocery’s version. Here, the bread is thicker and softer, and the cheese acts as a barrier between the olive salad and the bread, which prevents the olive oil flavor from soaking in. Nevertheless, there was a lot of olive salad, which I liked because the flavor was nicely pronounced, and there was a fairly thick layer of meat to balance everything out. While I enjoyed Napoleon House’s muffaletta quite a bit, Josh was still focused on the Central Grocery muffaletta.

Hot muffaletta

Hot muffaletta

The Pimm’s Cup was a pleasant surprise for me, since I typically don’t like gin-based drinks. It’s a combination of Pimm’s #1, lemonade, and 7-Up, garnished with a slice of cucumber. However, this tasted mostly like potent lemonade and was actually quite refreshing. It wasn’t overly sweet, and I could enjoy drinking a lot of this on a hot summer’s day.

Pimm's cup

Pimm’s cup

We also ordered a portion of jambalaya with our sandwich for J to snack on, but she was more interested in running around. It was a pretty good version, not too smoky, with lots of sausage mixed throughout.

Jambalaya

Jambalaya

The atmosphere at Napoleon House is part of its appeal. The bar has a ton of history and looks it on the inside. It’s dark with a classic, European feel to it, and old pictures and paintings hanging on the walls. We were a bit nervous about whether it was baby-appropriate, but the hostess was very gracious and seated us in a near-empty room where J wouldn’t bother anyone. Our waiter was great too, attentive but unobtrusive. He didn’t mind when J started taking a few laps around the empty tables. It’s definitely a place where I could see hanging out for a quiet drink in a historic setting away from the craziness of Bourbon Street.

The interior of Napoleon House

The interior of Napoleon House

After Napoleon House, we walked around a little more and then called it an early night. We knew we’d be hungry later so we picked up another fried shrimp po’ boy from Verti Marte to go with our half muffaletta from Central Grocery. When we finally cracked into the muffaletta, it was just as we remembered. Soft bread, not too dense or too fluffy, slightly oily from the olive salad soaking into it, and the perfect ratio to the meat and cheese. And that olive salad – bright and briny with a slight kick – it packs a punch of flavor into the sandwich.

The original muffaletta from Central Grocery

The Central Grocery muffaletta

I guess it’s no surprise that Central Grocery reigns supreme as our favorite muffaletta. What really puts it over the top is the tangy and spicy olive salad that just bursts with flavor. It’s also the first muffaletta sandwich we ever ate and is the standard that we use to compare all other muffalettas. That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy the other versions we tried on this trip. I thought Napoleon House had a pretty good example of a hot muffaletta, and I enjoyed the slight meltiness of the cheese in the sandwich. And Cochon Butcher’s muffaletta was still delicious, with the best meats and cheese out of the bunch. If I had to deconstruct a muffaletta and eat each component separately, Cochon’s would be the one I would prefer to do that with. But as a whole, nothing beats the original.

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Cochon Butcher
930 Tchoupitoulas St.
New Orleans, LA

Napoleon House
500 Chartres St.
New Orleans, LA

Central Grocery
923 Decatur St.
New Orleans, LA

Robert Irvine’s eat! – Hilton Head, SC

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 by virginia

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This year’s trip to Hilton Head was especially exciting because it was Baby J’s first there (outside of my belly at least). We were excited to take her to the pool and beach and watch her play around. Sadly, she did not take like a fish to water. While she loves her bathtub and inflatable kiddie pool, she did not like the salt water, sand, or the bright Hilton Head sun. It was a struggle to get her slathered from head to toe in sunscreen (she also refused to wear a hat), and trying to wrangle a squirmy, greased up baby into a bathing suit is no easy feat. By the time we got her from the room to the pool, she was already tired and cranky, and being in the water didn’t help. We tried various floatation devices – rings, tubes, life vests – and nothing made her happy. Oh well. There’s always next year!

On the upside, J was great by the time dinner rolled around each day. She usually had a long, restful nap by the pool in the early afternoon and woke up refreshed for meals out. On the first night, we decided to try Robert Irvine’s eat! restaurant. Josh’s parents had eaten there before and enjoyed it, and we were curious because we knew of Chef Irvine from the Food Network but didn’t know much about his food.

The menu is split into two main sections – tapas and entrees. There are also various salads and sides available. Since the rest of our large group wasn’t due to arrive until the next day, we were able to take advantage of the tapas format and share a few of the small plates to start. The gnocchi with short rib bolognese was delicious, with chewy yet tender rounds of gnocchi and a rich, meaty sauce.

Gnocchi with short rib bolognese, pinenuts, and charred lemon oil

Gnocchi with short rib bolognese, pinenuts, and charred lemon oil

The fried green tomatoes, on the other hand, were a disappointment. They were heavily coated in a tempura-like batter that was soggy and flavorless. Clumps of surprisingly bland feta cheese were sandwiched between the tomato slices, which also did not help textural issues, and the only thing I could taste was the balsamic vinegar drizzled about.

Fried green tomatoes with brown butter, feta cheese, and balsamic

Fried green tomatoes with brown butter, feta cheese, and balsamic

It was pretty dark in the restaurant so I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the rest of our tapas. The she crab bisque, a Hilton Head staple, had a nice creamy consistency and a relatively good amount of crab flavor but was way too peppery. The pepper really hit the back of our throats and had us coughing a bit, which wasn’t a pleasant feeling. The coconut crusted Carolina shrimp was well executed with a nice and crispy crust, and the accompanying orange jalapeno marmalade was sticky and sweet, but it was sort of a pedestrian dish.

For our entrees, Josh and I shared the pork chop and the blackened snapper. The pork chop was massive and packed a lot of flavor as well, likely because it had been brined. The meat had a nice crust to it and was tender on the inside, and the accompanying sweet potato and corn hash, green tomato peach chutney, and red eye gravy added a nice balance of salty, sour, savory, and sweet.

Fennel brined pork chop with sweet potato and corn hash, green tomato peach chutney, and red eye gravy

Fennel brined pork chop with sweet potato and corn hash, green tomato peach chutney, and red eye gravy

The blackened snapper was surprisingly on the blander side. It was served with grits, red pepper and goat cheese coulis, and a balsamic reduction. The dish just needed more seasoning, as the individual components were cooked well but needed more pizazz.

Blackened snapper and grits with bay shrimp, tomato harvati grits, red pepper goat cheese coulis, and balsamic reduction

Blackened snapper and grits with bay shrimp, tomato harvati grits, red pepper goat cheese coulis, and balsamic reduction

We saw Tabasco ice cream as part of a dessert so of course we had to satisfy our curiosity. It was served alongside sweet potato bread pudding, and while it was an interesting combination (the ice cream did actually have some Tabasco flavor), it’s probably not something I would eat again. The bread pudding itself had potential but half of it was burned, which was a bit of a turnoff. We also tried an apple crisp that was nothing extraordinary.

Overall, Josh and I both thought that eat! was a bit of a miss. There were some hits, like the pork chop, which was the best dish of the evening, and the gnocchi with short rib bolognese, but the rest of the dishes were just so-so for varying reasons. Some were execution issues (the fried green tomatoes, the bread pudding), and others were seasoning issues (the bisque had too much and the snapper had too little). The meal as a whole was just inconsistent. It’s a pretty popular restaurant though, particularly on Tuesdays when tapas are half off. Usually, most of the small plates are in the $7-$10 range and entrees are on the pricier side at $25-$35. The only two entrees below $20 are a burger ($16) and fried chicken ($19). Our search for more go-to restaurants in Hilton Head continues (so far Red Fish has become our favorite place, and One Hot Mama’s has merited a repeat visit).

Robert Irvine’s eat!
1000 William Hilton Pkwy.
Hilton Head, SC

Bibou – Philadelphia

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 by virginia

bibou

After spending the morning and early afternoon in Washington DC, Josh and I head back north to Philadelphia, the second and last stop of our food-oriented weekend getaway. While Josh drove, I used his phone to find a nice restaurant for dinner. We settled on Bibou, which had gotten rave reviews from multiple sources. We called up hoping to score a last minute reservation on a Saturday night (which I had read was pretty difficult), and while the woman who answered the phone was a little hesitant, we were able to snag a two-top for a late dinner, which worked out well for us.

After checking into our hotel, Le Meridien on Arch Street (cute boutique-like hotel right across from City Hall), we set off in search of a liquor store, as Bibou is a BYOB. Because it was late, most of the stores nearby were closed, but Josh was able to find one with a limited wine selection. We wound up arriving at the restaurant a little early for our reservation, but it turned out not to be a problem and were seated quickly.

I was starving and dove right into the bread, which was a fantastic baguette served with real French butter. The baguette had a nice crust and good chew while the butter was thick, rich, and way more flavorful than most butters that I’ve tasted.

Delicious baguette and French butter

Delicious baguette and French butter

For our appetizer course, the waiter recommended that we get the bone marrow, but because we had just indulged in bone marrow at the Blue Duck Tavern the previous night, we thought it would probably be better to try something different. I picked escargots and Josh opted for risotto with summer truffles, and we swapped plates midway through. The escargots were beautifully presented in a spiral shaped dish reminiscent of a snail shell. The snails themselves were plump and meaty, some of the best specimens I’ve eaten. The sauce was unusual to me – I’m used to eating escargot in garlic butter, but this was a deep and rich beefy-tasting sauce. I thought it was a bit heavy, but I did like the fresh fava beans mixed in with the snails, which helped brighten up the dish a little.

Beautifully presented escargot with fresh fava beans

Beautifully presented escargot with fresh fava beans

The risotto was covered in shaved summer truffle, and we were really excited to taste this dish. However, despite all the truffle shavings, there was very little truffle flavor. I guess summer truffles are less potent than the winter variety, but I was really surprised by the lack of earthy aroma in the dish. If I closed my eyes, I don’t think I would even have known that I was eating truffle. I was a bit sad, since I love truffles, but the risotto itself was fine. It was creamy but still a bit al dente. All it needed was a touch more salt.

Risotta with summer truffles

Risotto with summer truffles

For the main course, I chose the braised pig foot stuffed with foie gras, while Josh opted for a whole dorade. The pig foot was very tender, but I had a hard time finding the foie gras inside. There was a good mix of shank meat and cartilage, which I appreciated, and the crust was well seasoned. It was served with a heaping pile of lentils that were savory and delicious, but very heavy. We weren’t able to finish the portion of lentils, and I think the waiter was a bit insulted by that, as he made a comment about it when he cleared our plates.

Braised pig foot stuffed with foie gras, served with lentils

Braised pig foot stuffed with foie gras, served on top of a bed of lentils

The dorade, on the other hand, was a better dish for a hot summer’s day. The whole fish was beautifully prepared, with crispy, golden skin and moist, tender flesh on the inside. It was served with a lime sauce that was bright, complex, and positively delicious. It was our favorite dish of the evening.

Whole dorade with lime sauce

Whole dorade with lime sauce

We were both pretty full and passed on dessert. They brought us each a coconut macaroon and vanilla meringue to finish off our meal – a sweet touch.

Macaroons and meringues

Macaroons and meringues

Overall Josh and I both had mixed feelings about Bibou. We really wanted to like the restaurant but the dishes were ordered were mostly just ok. There were flashes of brilliance, like the dorade, but the escargot and stuffed pig foot, which I think are signature dishes, were unremarkable (except for the plating of the escargot, which was definitely memorable). Service was odd. It was hard to gauge our waiter, whether he was unfriendly or just had a dry sense of humor. Either way, it made us slightly uncomfortable, and we were worried that we were offending him. The chef, on the other hand, was incredibly welcoming and humble, coming out to check on our meal and chat with us for a little bit. At the end of the meal, the hostess (who I think is the chef’s wife), came around with a laptop and asked us if we wanted to make our next reservation. We thought that was slightly odd, but reading other reviews, I guess it’s standard, as reservations at Bibou are in high demand and hard to come by. If we were regulars, I would appreciate it, but as an out-of-towner/first-timer at the restaurant, it was unexpected and came off as slightly presumptuous. I would like to give Bibou another shot if we had the opportunity though. I wasn’t impressed this time, but perhaps we just ordered the wrong dishes. My selections were more suited for winter than for summer. Prices are pretty high (about $10-$20 for appetizers and $27-$35 for entrees), but it’s offset by the fact that it’s a BYOB.

Bibou
1009 S 8th St.
Philadelphia, PA

Blue Duck Tavern – Washington DC

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 by virginia

blueducktavern

Last July (yes, over a year ago, in 2012), Josh took me to Washington DC and Philadelphia for my birthday. Both are places we’ve been to before, but I was seven months pregnant at the time and feeling a bit down about not being able to go on our annual “big” trip (ie., Peru, the Galapagos) due to my condition. Physically, I probably could have traveled overseas, but I didn’t want to go anywhere exotic or new/exciting for fear that I wouldn’t be able to fully partake in all activities, especially eating and drinking. DC and Philly were a great weekend getaway for us, with enough sights and foodie destinations to keep me occupied and happy.

I had a half day Friday at work so Josh picked me up in the city at 2 pm and we made the drive to DC in pretty good time, not hitting too much traffic along the way. He had made reservations for a relatively late dinner at the Blue Duck Tavern, which gave us plenty of time to check into our hotel and make our way over to the restaurant. That was fortunate because we were at a different hotel from where we thought we booked. Rather than staying at the Westin Georgetown, which is right across the street from the Blue Duck Tavern, we were actually at the Westin City Center, which is a mile down the road. It wasn’t a bad walk, although we were a bit hot and definitely hungry by the time we arrived.

The restaurant itself was not what I was expecting. When I think of a tavern, I picture something a bit rustic, with exposed beams and rough wood. The Blue Duck Tavern had extremely modern decor, with contemporary furniture and lots of clean lines. It was also a little more casual than I expected. We did have a nice view of the open kitchen from where we sat.

Open kitchen

View of the open kitchen

The menu looked incredibly appealing, with lots of options for appetizers and main courses. Josh and I decided to go a bit crazy and ordered lots of dishes, creating our own mini tasting menu. We told our waiter that we wanted to share everything, and that he should bring the dishes in whatever order the kitchen thought was appropriate.

We ended up starting off with the oven roasted bone marrow topped with ramp butter, which was decadently delicious. It was served with a head of roasted garlic and grilled country bread.

Bone marrow

Roasted bone marrow with ramp butter

We spread some cloves of roasted garlic on each piece of toast, then topped it with the melty marrow and ramp butter. The marrow was rich and flavorful, and it was an ample portion to split between the two of us.

Roasted garlic and bone marrow spread on grilled country bread

Roasted garlic and bone marrow spread on grilled country bread

Next up was the spinach and smoked ricotta tart, which was like a savory ricotta cheesecake. It was served cold, and we could really taste the smokiness of the cheese. It came with a side salad of fresh baby spinach leaves and toasted pine nuts, which helped cut through the richness of the ricotta. It was a simple dish but packed with lots of flavor.

Spinach and ricotta tart

Spinach and smoked ricotta tart

We moved on to the 12-hour roasted suckling pig, which was very tender, as expected. There was a mustard jus in the pan that definitely packed a mustardy punch, but overall I thought the dish was just ok. It wasn’t as intensely pork-y as I had hoped, although the big piece of fried pork skin on top was a nice touch. It was served with a gorgeous pile of roasted baby vegetables.

12-hour roasted suckling pig

12-hour roasted suckling pig

The next dish was butter poached lobster on top of crispy pork and split pea emulsion. It was really an interesting dish, with the tender lobster paired with what was essentially pulled pork formed together into a cake, breaded, and fried. The split pea emulsion was creamy and sweet. It was a nice mix of textures and flavors.

Butter poached lobster with crispy pork and split pea emulsion

Butter poached lobster with crispy pork and split pea emulsion

I was not a big fan of the course that followed, the braised beef rib with homemade steak sauce. Part of it was probably because I was very full by this point, and this was an extremely heavy dish. The beef rib itself was huge, incredibly meaty, and fork tender. However, I found the steak sauce to be completely overwhelming. It just covered the beef and was all I could taste. We had a hard time finishing this one.

Braised beef rib with homemade steak sauce

Braised beef rib with homemade steak sauce

On the other hand, I loved the crispy fried veal sweetbreads with mac and cheese and morel mushrooms. It seemed like this dish was made just for me! The sweetbreads were nicely fried, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The morels had a nice earthiness to them. The mac and cheese was more creamy than cheesy though, and it could have used a touch more seasoning, but otherwise, it was a well composed dish.

Crispy veal sweetbreads with mac and cheese and morels

Crispy veal sweetbreads with aged cheddar mac and cheese and morel mushrooms

Lastly, we got a side of sauteed wild mushrooms. It was completely unnecessary – we had more than enough food on the table. The mushrooms were sauteed with olive oil and garlic. I found them to be a bit chewy, and the texture was sort of a turnoff. Too bad, because I usually love mushrooms.

Sauteed mushrooms with olive oil croutons, garlic, and parsley

Sauteed mushrooms with olive oil croutons, garlic, and parsley

Overall we enjoyed our meal at the Blue Duck Tavern, although there were a few hiccups with some of the courses. We generally found that the “appetizer” dishes (the bone marrow, spinach and smoked ricotta tart, butter poached lobster, crispy sweetbreads with mac and cheese) were better than the “entree” dishes (the suckling pig and the braised beef rib), though we may just have ordered poorly. The smaller dishes ranged from $11-$16 and the larger courses were mostly in the $25-$30 range. The appetizers were all shareable portions though, so it would be easy to make a nice meal out of several selections. We liked crafting our own tasting menu, and the waiter was very accommodating. The ingredients are obviously all fresh, and the menu even tells you where it comes from. The dishes are seasonal and the menu changes often, so I would definitely make a return trip if given the opportunity.

Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th St. NW at M St.
Washington, DC

CQs – Hilton Head, SC

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 by virginia

The summer is upon us in full swing, and our annual trip to Hilton Head will be coming up soon. I realize now that I still haven’t posted about last year’s restaurants, and so I have limited time to remedy the situation before we head back down there again. Following our delightful roadfood trip to South Carolina last year (the trip home, on the other hand, was not so great), we spent a full week basking in the hot Hilton Head sun. Dinners out were a bit hectic with our large group, but we managed. We tried a mix of new (for us) and old restaurants last year.

cq

One of the “old” restaurants was CQs, a place we used to love. Traditionally, it was the restaurant we would always go to on our very first night in Hilton Head each year, but gradually, the food began to disappoint and we stopped going altogether. Last year, we heard that the food had improved greatly and decided to go back to check it out, for old time’s sake.

The menu reads very well, with lots of low country dishes and local seafood. Josh and I shared the shrimp bisque and the crispy glazed pork belly to start. The pork belly was glazed with barbecue sauce and served with roasted peaches on a bed of grits. The belly was beautifully cooked, caramelized on the outside, and melted in our mouths. The sweet peaches complemented the salty pork belly, and with the grits, it was a great combination of flavors and textures.

Crispy glazed pork belly with smoky barbecue and roasted South Carolina peaches

Crispy glazed pork belly with smoky barbecue and roasted South Carolina peaches

The shrimp bisque, however, was a huge disappointment. There was virtually no shrimp flavor; it almost tasted like canned tomato soup to me. The pimento crostini floating in the middle added absolutely nothing to the soup. I took a few spoonfuls and then passed the rest back to Josh, who didn’t love it but didn’t hate it as much as I did.

Shrimp bisque with pimento crostini

Shrimp bisque with pimento crostini

For the main course, Josh and I ordered the pan roasted Carolina rainbow trout and the grilled pork chop. The trout was nicely cooked, with a cornmeal dusted crust on the outside. It was served with a zucchini pancake that was a bit bland and chewy, and some sweet corn kernels and salty bacon pieces. There was a peach compote on top, similar to the roasted peaches on the pork belly. It was a decent dish but lacked pizazz.

Pan roasted Carolina rainbow trout with zucchini cakes, roasted corn, house bacon, and peach compote

Pan roasted Carolina rainbow trout with zucchini cakes, roasted corn, house bacon, and peach compote

After the delicious pork belly, I was looking forward to the grilled “prime” pork chop (their quotes, not mine). It came out looking wonderful, with a perfect diamond grill mark pattern seared onto the outside of the meat. The inside was a completely different story; it was extremely rare in the middle. Normally I don’t mind my pork slightly pink, but this was much rarer than that. And considering that I was almost eight months pregnant at the time, I was a bit alarmed about eating barely cooked pork. We alerted the waiter, who was apologetic and took the plate back to the kitchen. He returned a little while later, with the same exact plate, and the same exact pork in the same exact position that I had left it. The goat cheese napoleon and sauteed peppers and sausage on the side that I had picked at were also just as I left them, fork marks and all. The edges of the pork seemed a bit more cooked this time around, but when I cut through it again, it was the same level of rareness in the middle. I don’t know what was done with the plate when it was returned to the kitchen, maybe it was stuck in the microwave for a few seconds, but whatever they did, they certainly didn’t check it to see if it was more well done the this time around.

Char grilled "prime" pork chop with pepperade, sausage, snap beans, and goat cheese napoleon

Char grilled “prime” pork chop with pepperade, sausage, snap beans, and goat cheese napoleon

By that point, everyone else had finished eating and I didn’t feel like sending the pork back a second time, so I just left it. No one commented about it when they cleared my plate. Since Josh and I had shared trout dish, we weren’t starving, but I was pretty unhappy with how the incident was handled. It certainly left a bad impression for us, and the rest of the food fell short as well. With the exception of the pork belly appetizer, we weren’t excited or impressed by any of the dishes we sampled. The prices are also on the higher side, with appetizers averaging around $10 and entrees in the $25-$30 range. After this experience, I doubt we will go back. It’s too bad because the restaurant itself is quite lovely, and there’s a lot of history behind it. But none of that is enough to get past the so-so meals that we’ve had there.

CQs
140 Lighthouse Rd,
Hilton Head, SC

Au Pied de Cochon – Montreal

Monday, July 8th, 2013 by virginia

aupieddecochon

When Josh and I first discussed going to Montreal and Quebec City, I immediately said that we would have to eat at Au Pied de Cochon, a restaurant famous for its decadent stuffed pig’s foot and foie gras poutine. Fortunately, we were able to get a somewhat last minute reservation on Saturday night, our only night in Montreal. The downside was that the only reservation we could get was at 5 pm, when the restaurant first opens. Nevertheless, we prepared for our meal by eating a lighter lunch and taking a long walk from our hotel near Crescent Street to the Old City, and then up through the Latin Quarter to the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood where the restaurant is located.

We weren’t quite sure how long the walk would take in total, as we wanted to take a few pics around the Old City first, plus we knew we would have to push J’s stroller up quite a long hill to get to restaurant. We actually timed it pretty well and arrived at about 4:45. By this point, however, J was hungry, slightly chilly (it was a windy day), and just wanted to be out of her stroller. We attempted to enter the restaurant but were immediately rebuffed. The hostess told us they didn’t open until 5, and then shut and locked the door. I guess they are sticklers for punctuality, but we were  hoping they would take pity on a 6 month old baby and let us wait in the narrow entry way so that we wouldn’t have to stand out in the cold for 15 minutes. No such luck.

Instead, we walked to the street corner where there was a little patch of sun and a place where Josh could sort of sit on a giant planter while he held J on his lap. She was definitely happy to be out of her stroller, and I fed her some banana while we waited, which appeased her even more. Finally the 15 minutes were up, the door was unlocked, and we headed back inside. Our initial irritation at the hostess’ seemingly lack of sympathy for our situation soon dissipated, as she was very accommodating in helping us store J’s stroller behind her stand (there really isn’t much room to maneuver in the restaurant, as the tables are packed tightly together), and then helping us carry J’s car seat to our table (Josh was still holding J while I was laden down with the diaper bag and other assorted baby-related items that I pulled from the stroller). They had given us a four top near the bar, so we had plenty of room for J’s car seat and to spread out our stuff.

I had studied the menu extensively and read lots of reviews prior to our trip, so I knew which entrees I wanted us to try – the namesake stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras, and the duck in a can. Based on my research, I knew this would already be way more food than either of us could eat, so I was wary of ordering any appetizers or sides (so no foie gras poutine, sadly), but we ended up getting an order of bison temaki to share. Josh ordered a bottle of red wine, and we sipped on that while snacking on the fabulous baguette they brought us, which had a crispy, crackly crust and a chewy interior. It was the best baguette we had on our trip.

Bread and wine

Bread and wine

The bison temaki is a pretty ingenious dish – it’s bison tartare served in a sushi hand roll style. The raw bison meat is chopped up and rolled in nori (seaweed) with some rice, lettuce, and fried root vegetable strips. The roll is topped with a quail egg sauce that you pour over the meat. It was fresh, well seasoned, and a great mix of interesting flavors and textures. The bison was not super gamey, and quail egg added a lovely richness to the meat. Two hand rolls came in our order, and while one was beautifully presented, the other was falling apart. The nori had snapped in that one, and it was a bit sloppily assembled. I was kind of surprised by the haphazard presentation but nevertheless, the bison temaki was a great dish, and definitely whetted our appetites for the rest of the meal.

Bison temaki

Bison temaki

Of the dishes I read about, the duck in a can definitely was one of the more debated entrees. Some loved it, others hated it. I couldn’t help but want to find out for myself. It’s basically half a duck breast, foie gras, balsamic sauce, cabbage, roasted garlic, and thyme, all cooked together inside an actual sealed can. The waiter brings the can to the table, opens it with a can opener, and pours out the contents onto a plate for you.

The waiter opening up the can of duck

The waiter opening up the can of duck

The duck itself was perfectly pink on the inside, but I found the meat to be tough. The skin also doesn’t have an opportunity to render, so it’s thick with fat, which some people love. I’m not averse to eating fat, especially when it melts in my mouth, but I thought this fat was unpleasantly tough and congealed. The foie gras was a bit lost in the dish, which was also disappointing. The cabbage and sauce were ok, but nothing spectacular, in my opinion. Overall I was on the side that thinks this dish is more of a gimmick, while Josh said it wasn’t that bad.

Duck in a can out of the can

Duck in a can out of the can

The stuffed pied de cochon was a HUGE platter of food. I knew the portion would be large, but I was surprised by just how big it was. As we’re still New Yorkers at heart, we had to compare it to the size of a Metrocard.

The stuffed pied de cochon vs. a Metrocard

The stuffed pied de cochon vs. a Metrocard

I mistakenly thought the pig’s foot was stuffed with foie gras, but that wasn’t the case. There was a big piece of seared foie gras on top though, which I was happy to see. The pig’s foot was really more of a pig’s leg, as there was more shank meat than gelatinous cartilage under the fried outer layer. Those of you who are averse to eating foot would be happy to know that!  However, I absolutely adore pig’s foot, so I was pretty sad to only find bits of cartilage here and there. The pied de cochon was served on top of a mountain of mashed potatoes and tons of mushrooms and veggies. I barely made a dent in the dish, though I did manage to finish off all the foie gras (of course). It was a hearty, homey dish, but not refined or composed. Still, it was pretty delicious, especially if I got a piece of foie gras, some crispy skin, and both shank and foot meat all in one bite.

Stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras

Stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras

After we were finished eating, I asked for the rest of my dish to be packed up. The waiter seemed a bit surprised but he still complied with my request. The round foil container was packed to the brim and must have weighed about three pounds! Since we were eating so early, I knew I would want a snack later that evening, especially after we had a few drinks. I was definitely happy with my decision to take the rest back to our hotel, and it tasted even better later after all of the ingredients had time to meld together (even though it was cold, as there was no microwave in our room).

When Josh made the reservation, they told him that each seating is for two hours. At this point, it was almost 7 pm, meaning our time was up. The hostess had already walked by our table several times to check up on our status. I was sort of interested in ordering sugar pie for dessert, having never tasted it before, but I was pretty full and also didn’t want to go over our allotted time as I knew people would be waiting. The restaurant was packed (it filled up almost immediately after they opened), and there were lots of people standing in the entryway. Plus J had already taken a nap during our meal and was starting to get fussy. So we quickly got our check, gathered our belongings, and headed out. One of the people waiting for our table actually helped us carry our stuff out, as there really wasn’t much room to walk. J’s hat got lost in the shuffle, and the hostess helped us track it down under our table while we waited.

Overall I thought Au Pied de Cochon was an interesting experience. There is a lot of hype surrounding the restaurant, and maybe I expected more from it because of that. The food wasn’t bad, but it didn’t knock my socks off. The bison temaki was definitely a high point – it was a well composed, interesting dish, despite the sloppy plating. The stuffed pied de cochon was tasty, but in a rustic way. I was not impressed with the duck in a can, but Josh thinks I’m overreacting. The restaurant is also pretty expensive, though dishes are big enough to share. However, we weren’t able to take advantage of that with just the two of us. I would have liked to try more items, but the cost was prohibitive and I didn’t want to waste food by ordering more than we could conceivably eat. Dinner for the two of us, with just one appetizer, two entrees, and a bottle of wine, was about $265. To be fair, our entrees were some of the most expensive items ($40+) on the menu, and there are plenty of things in the $25 range. Josh also picked an expensive bottle of wine, but beer and cheaper wines are available.

In terms of service, we were pretty annoyed initially when they wouldn’t let us into the restaurant 15 minutes early to wait with the baby. However, the hostess did seem much nicer after the doors opened at 5 pm, and she was very helpful when it came to managing all of our belongings. Our waiter took a pretty casual approach when dealing with us, but he wasn’t rude or unfriendly. Our water and wine glasses were always filled, and someone promptly brought us hot water to heat up J’s bottle when we asked. The atmosphere of the restaurant is pretty bustling. It’s loud and chaotic, but everyone seems to be having a great time while eating and drinking. I was worried that it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to bring a baby, but most people didn’t notice when J cried due to the inherent noisiness of the restaurant.

So what’s my final verdict? I’m not sure. I was a bit disappointed when we left, especially since we had some great food the previous night at Le Moine Echanson in Quebec City (and the seared foie gras there was much better), but I also wished that we had been able to taste more of the menu. I’d like to go back with a big group so that we could share lots of dishes, and maybe I’ll have a different impression of the restaurant. I’ll have to hold off on whether or not I’d recommend the restaurant until then.

Au Pied de Cochon
536 Avenue Duluth Est
Montreal, Canada

The NoMad

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 by virginia

Josh and I recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and to honor the occasion, we had a rare night out in the city by ourselves. With Josh’s parents watching J for us, we were finally able to have a nice meal without worrying about diaper bags, teethers, toys, baby food, or imminent meltdowns. We didn’t have much debate on where to eat for our anniversary dinner. Josh and I are both big fans of Eleven Madison Park, where we celebrated our second anniversary, and so making a reservation at The NoMad, Chef Daniel Humm and Restaurateur Will Guidara’s newish restaurant (they’re the team behind EMP), was a no-brainer.

When Josh called the restaurant earlier in the week to confirm our reservation, he let them know that we were celebrating our anniversary, and requested a “romantic” table. While they said there’s really no table more romantic than others, they did seat us at a nice table in the center of the Parlour room, next to a pillar so that we had a little privacy, with not many other tables so close by. We were also wished a happy anniversary by several people before we were even seated, which I thought was very nice, and they poured us complimentary glasses of sparkling wine to toast with.

Bread was served first, and it was pretty fantastic. It was a whole loaf of flatbread, similar to foccacia but slightly crustier, that was topped with rosemary and garlic and filled with chickpeas. The bread was served warm, and the aroma coming off of it was heavenly. It was light, not dense, and had just the perfect amount of salt on the outside. I’ve read that the toppings change depending on the season, but I really enjoyed the combination we received. I think we showed a lot of restraint by pacing ourselves and not polishing the bread off immediately, and we refrained from asking for a second loaf when it was finished (although I was really tempted to!).

Flatbread with garlic, rosemary, and chickpeas

Flatbread with garlic, rosemary, and chickpeas

The menu is split into three sections – snacks, appetizers, and entrees. As The NoMad is known for its cocktails, I can see ordering a few of the snacks if you are just stopping by for a few drinks and a little nosh. While some of the snack items did seem tempting, like the sweetbreads croustillant and the beef tartare, too many things on the appetizer/entree menu were calling out to us instead. We decided to put together a mini tasting menu of our own, selecting four appetizers and two entrees to share. We asked the waiter to bring the dishes two at a time, in whatever order the kitchen deemed appropriate. Josh also asked the sommelier to put together a wine pairing for each of the dishes.

For our first course, they brought us the spring garlic veloute and the fluke. The fluke was sliced thin and served raw, though it was marinated with acid so it had a ceviche-like quality. The fish was still fresh, it just had a nice pop of brightness to it that permeated the flesh. It was served with a sorrel puree, amaranth, and royal trumpet mushrooms. The sorrel and the baby lettuce on the plate added a refreshing aspect to the dish, and the mushrooms a bit of earthiness. The amaranth provided a nice textural crunch.

Fluke with ...

Fluke marinated with sorrel, amaranth, and royal trumpet mushrooms

The spring garlic veloute was not what I expected. First, it was cold. That was fine, it was just surprising at first taste when you’re expecting something to be hot. Second, it was sour, in a vinegary sort of way. Not unpleasantly so, but it also didn’t taste much like garlic to me. We had some experience with spring garlic when we were part of a CSA, and I found it to be intensely garlicky in flavor, but not pungent. This veloute was sort of the opposite, in that it was pungent, but not garlicky. I didn’t love the veloute by itself, but when eaten with the accompanying fresh fava beans, ricotta, ham (which I think was prosciutto), and toasted crouton, it was more balanced; the other ingredients helped to mellow out the tanginess. It was also good when sopped up with the above mentioned flatbread. I just wonder if the acidity of veloute was intentional.

Spring garlic veloute with fava beans, ricotta, and ham

Spring garlic veloute with fava beans, ricotta,
and ham

For our second course, we had the tagliatelle and the egg. I think it’s probably hard to convince people to pay $17 (not including tax and tip) for an egg, but I cannot emphasize enough that if you go to The NoMad, you must order this dish. It’s a perfectly poached egg with asparagus, brown butter, and quinoa. Breaking the egg released the runny yolk that was rich and creamy, and mixed with the brown butter and quinoa, it was like the best breakfast cereal combination I could ever imagine. The toasted quinoa was nutty and crunchy, and the brown butter added a wonderful savoriness to the dish. I could eat bowl after bowl of this. The asparagus added a taste of spring to the dish and lightened it up a little, cutting through the richness of the yolk and butter just a bit. It was definitely one of our favorite dishes of the night.

egg

Egg poached with asparagus, brown butter, and quinoa

The tagliatelle was served with king crab, meyer lemon, and black pepper. There was lots of crab meat on top that was sweet and fresh. The lemon flavor was kind of subtle – there was a brightness to the dish but I kind of wish there was a bit more punch. The pasta also needed more of a sauce to bind it together, as it was a bit dry texturally. I liked the black pepper though, which added a pop to the dish.

Tagliatelle with king crab, meyer lemon, and black pepper

Tagliatelle with king crab, meyer lemon, and
black pepper

For our main course, we shared the suckling pig and the duck. We discussed the famous roast chicken for two before our meal, ultimately deciding against ordering it for fear that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. The reviews have been very mixed, although the consensus has been that it’s not as good as EMP’s famed lavender duck, which we’ve tried and didn’t blow us away. I didn’t want to mar our dinner by regretting spending $79 on roast chicken, even if it did come with foie gras and black truffle, two ingredients I constantly crave.

We enjoyed The NoMad’s duck, which was roasted and served with beets, pistachio, and coriander. The duck was pink, tender, and well seasoned. The beets were pickled and extremely tangy; I might have preferred them to be in their natural state, as I love the earthy sweetness of beets, but I appreciated the acidity they brought to the dish. The pistachios added a nice crunch.

DSC_0309

Duck roasted with beets, pistachio, and coriander

The suckling pig confit was a wonderful mix of textures and tastes. The meat itself was incredibly tender, practically falling apart with a gentle twist of the fork, while the skin was crackly and crispy. The pork flavor was intense, and it was covered with mustard seeds that add little bursts of tanginess. The sweet dried plums, onions, and fresh wild greens complemented the meat very well.

DSC_0302

Suckling pig confit with dried plums, onions, and wild greens

We were pretty full by this point so we decided to share dessert. We had to try the famous milk and honey dessert, which is milk ice cream drizzled with honey and served on top of shortbread, brittle, and dehydrated milk flakes. The ice cream was smooth and light, not overly creamy or rich, and not too sweet. The honey had a caramelized flavor to it, as did the honey the brittle. The shortbread reminded me of graham cracker crumbles, and the milk flakes had the texture of astronaut ice cream, sticking to our tongues and melting in our mouths in an interesting manner. It was refreshing and delicious, a composed yet whimsical dessert, and a great way to finish our meal.

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Milk and honey – shortbread, brittle, and ice cream

Overall, we were incredibly happy with our anniversary meal at The NoMad. We thought the food was pretty fantastic, although there were some individual components of dishes that we didn’t necessarily love. Our favorite dishes of the night were the fluke, the egg, and the suckling pig. Service was mostly wonderful, although there were some minor missteps, like forgetting to bring us a spoon with the veloute and serving our ice cream dessert immediately after I left the table to use the restroom. Fortunately the ice cream held up well. In general, we were pretty pleased with the attentiveness of the staff, and the sommelier was great. Josh gave him a budget to work with for our pairings, and he came in under, which we appreciated. Dinner ended up costing $360 after tax and tip. A splurge for sure, but definitely worth it for the quality and creativeness of the food. It’s also possible to spend far less in the restaurant, as we had three courses each plus a dessert, with wine pairings for three courses. Appetizers are about $15-$20 each, and entrees about $25-$35. If we had gone with two courses, dessert, and a reasonably priced bottle of wine, our bill would have been much less. The NoMad is definitely one of the best restaurants we’ve been to in a while, and I would happily go back again.

The NoMad
1170 Broadway at 28th St.
New York, NY

Le Moine Echanson – Quebec City

Sunday, May 26th, 2013 by virginia

lemoineechanson

After having a few pre-dinner beers at Bar Le Sacrilege on Rue Saint-Jean (yes, we brought the baby to a bar), we walked down the street to our dinner destination, Le Moine Echanson. The restaurant looks small from the outside, and it being a Friday night, we were worried about not being able to get in. Fortunately, there was a table available right by the door with a nook on one side that allowed us to keep J’s stroller pulled up next to us. The restaurant itself is broken up into smaller rooms, so there are actually more seats/tables than we originally thought.

There is no physical menu at Le Moine Echanson – what’s available is written on a board posted in the restaurant, and it changes seasonally. The menu was entirely in French, however, which posed a bit of a problem for us. Luckily we had a really great waiter who explained every dish to us and answered any questions we had about the preparation.

The wine list is also written on a huge board on the wall. Josh and I were planning to split a bottle but our waiter recommended that we order by the glass, and that he could pair a wine with each of our dishes. All the wines were reasonably priced by the glass, ranging mostly from $9-$12 each, so that seemed like a great option. All of the wines at the restaurant are “natural”, something that we don’t have a lot of experience with. I’m not sure I could distinguish the difference between a natural or unnatural wine, but nevertheless, the wines our waiter paired for us were mostly pretty good.

Our meal got off to a good start with half a loaf of some rustic bread that had a crispy crust and a soft, fluffy interior. The butter on the side was rich and creamy, a perfect complement.

Good bread and butter

Good bread and butter

This was a rare meal where Josh and I did not go halfsies, although we did taste each other’s dishes. I started off with creme brulee de foie gras, something right up my alley, if my Valentine’s Day present is any indication. The base of the dish was a smooth foie gras custard that was thick and creamy. It had a subtle liver flavor and was very rich and savory. The brulee aspect of the dish was actually a maple caramel on top of the custard that had crunchy sugar crystals in it. There was a whipped cream on top, though I wasn’t sure what it was flavored with; it mostly tasted like whipped butter and was a bit much on its own, but digging my spoon through all three layers yielded a fantastic mix of salty and sweet. I also liked all the different textures, and I found the dish to be incredibly creative, turning a dessert into a savory appetizer but still keeping some of the sweet elements. Our waiter paired the creme brulee with a sweet pinot gris that was like a dessert wine – very rich and sweet. I thought the pairing was great, as the sweetness of the wine was a good counterpart to the savoriness of the foie gras.

Foie gras creme brulee

Foie gras creme brulee

Josh ordered sausage on toasted bread, which was served with arugula, citrus marmalade, nuts, and a soft cheese. It was an interesting dish with lots of different textures, flavors, and hidden layers, although there wasn’t a lot of sausage on the board. Each bite yielded something different. This dish was paired with a chardonnay that was pretty traditional in taste, buttery, but still light.

Sausage on toasted bread

Sausage on toasted bread

For my main course, I had even more foie gras. The dish was goose three ways – breast, confit, and foie gras. It was awesome, probably the best dish we had all weekend. The foie gras was out of this world. Perfectly seared, lightly seasoned, it was crispy on the outside and literally melted in my mouth. I don’t know if goose foie gras is superior to duck foie gras, but whatever the case, this was some of the best foie gras I’ve ever eaten. The breast was also seared nicely with browned skin, a melty layer of fat, and juicy, tender meat. It was still slightly pink, which I prefer. The dark meat confit was mixed around underneath with the scalloped potatoes in a pool of glorious goose fat. There was an arugula salad on top that provided a shot of acidity to cut through all the fat. It was definitely a rich dish, but not greasy or too heavy, and I had no trouble finishing most of the dish. It was paired with a syrah that was full bodied enough to stand up to the richness of the goose, and had an interesting “funky” flavor to it. By funky, I don’t mean bad. It was earthy, tasting almost unfiltered. Maybe that’s what natural wines are supposed to be like?

Goose three ways -

Goose three ways – breast, confit, foie gras

Josh had pork shank for his entree. It was crusted with lots of different seasonings, and the meat was tender and juicy on the inside, falling apart easily with just the pull of his fork. The shank was served with a potato tart and some arugula on the side. It was paired with a gamay wine that was very different from the syrah, much lighter and fruitier in flavor.

Crusted pork shank

Crusted pork shank

We were pretty full after our appetizers and entrees so we passed on dessert. Josh got a glass of dessert wine that was actually chardonnay. It was really interesting, as neither of us ever knew chardonnay could be a dessert wine. It was sweet but not cloying, and had an intense raisin flavor to it. Josh liked it a lot and took a picture of the bottle with his phone; hopefully we can find it here in the US, or something similar.

Overall we really, really enjoyed our meal at Le Moine Echanson. In retrospect, it was the best meal of our trip, and we would go back there in a heartbeat. The food was fabulous, the vibe was casual and intimate, and service was great. Our waiter was extremely friendly and helpful, as was the rest of the staff. The waitress who took over at the end of the waiter’s shift let Josh taste several dessert wines before he settled on the chardonnay. It’s the type of place that lets you feel at home, letting you just sit back, relax, and enjoy the good food and wine. Prices were pretty reasonable for the quality of food that we received. It wasn’t cheap, but not overly expensive either. Our meals plus five glasses of wine came out to about $155 after tax and tip, and it was definitely worth it. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in Quebec City.

Le Moine Echanson
585 Rue Saint-Jean
Quebec City, Canada