Posts Tagged ‘Ravioli’

Apiary

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by virginia

DSC_7469

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.

DSC_7452

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

“Pre-Theater” Dinner at Daniel

Friday, May 6th, 2011 by virginia

The first time that Josh and I ate at Daniel, for our 12th anniversary, we booked an early reservation to take advantage of their special three course pre-theater menu that included complimentary wine pairings. Although there was some confusion about the actual menu itself, the meal ended up being fabulous, one of the best meals we’ve ever had. Everything was top notch, from the food to the service. We were thrilled by the experience, and when we were trying to decide where to go for my birthday a few months later, we decided to go back to Daniel and try out the regular menu.

Sadly, that experience left much to be desired. I was actually so disappointed with the meal that I never ended up blogging about it. There was nothing egregiously wrong, it was just not the same experience that we had before, and the food wasn’t as memorable. The only thing I remember eating was the sauteed foie gras appetizer, which wasn’t on the menu but if you ask them for it, they’ll usually have it on hand. The foie gras was perfectly cooked, slightly crisp on the outside, rich and silky on the inside, and lots of deliciously livery flavor. There were seven of us at that dinner, and none of us were really impressed with the meal in its entirety. Service was just slightly off, and I was pretty disheartened afterward.

When I saw that Daniel was once again offering the pre-theater menu special, this time three courses for $110, including wine pairings, I wondered if we should give it another shot. The menu really is a bargain, and we had such a great meal the first time. Josh had some friends in Canada who come for a visit once a year and we usually go with them for some really nice meals. One year, they went to Le Bernardin and absolutely loved it. The next year, we joined them at Jean Georges, which ended up being a huge disappointment, food-wise (I lost the pictures and ended up never writing about, unfortunately). This year, we were wracking our brains for a new restaurant to try, but decided that price-wise, the pre-theater menu at Daniel made the most sense. The special runs from 5:30-6 pm, Monday through Thursday, and we were able to get a 5:45 reservation on the day that worked best for us.

The restaurant was pretty empty at 5:45 but soon filled up quickly. They did ask on the phone when Josh made the reservation if we were going to the theater afterward, which we weren’t, so they knew we wouldn’t be in a rush. We started with a round of cocktails while we looked over the menu. Unfortunately, they didn’t give us the pre-theater menu initially, so we had to stop someone and ask for it specifically. A slight misstep I thought, but no harm done. The pre-theater menu features four choices for each course that come from the regular menu or are classic Daniel dishes. We were all pretty pleased with options for each course and still had a hard time deciding what we wanted because everything looked good.

After we placed our orders, they brought us a trio of amuse bouches that featured eggplant.

Amuse bouches featuring eggplant

They included a shrimp with eggplant brunoise, an eggplant mousse, and smoked salmon on top of a piece of eggplant. I loved the smoked salmon, which tasted fresh and had a great texture, but the one that featured eggplant the best was the mousse, which was light and airy and showcased the subtle sweetness of the eggplant.

Eggplant and smoked salmon

Eggplant mousse

Eggplant and shrimp

After we finished with the amuses, the bread man came by with a selection of assorted rolls and breads. I honed in on the butter roll, my favorite of the bunch, and a standard baguette. The butter roll is really just wonderful, with a nice crispy crust and a buttery inside that is flaky and chewy at the same time. The baguette also has a nice crust and good flavor.

Butter roll and baguette

For the first course, I selected the trio of hamachi while Josh chose the wild herb ravioli with ricotta. We swapped plates midway through, per usual. The hamachi (yellowtail) featured three different preparations – confit with sorrel and hearts of palm, tartare with North Star caviar, and cured with bergamot (a type of orange) and snap peas.

Trio of hamachi

The tartare was my favorite of the three preparations. I could really taste the flavor of the hamachi, and the caviar added a slight saltiness and brininess that just elevated the dish. The cured hamachi was also pretty tasty and had a nice glossy texture to it, similar to high quality lox. The confit was my least favorite preparation, as it had a soft, mushy texture. I also didn’t find much flavor in the sorrel sauce, and it needed just a touch more seasoning.

Cured hamachi with bergamot and snap peas

Hamachi tartare with North Star caviar and lemon-omani tuile

Hamachi confit with sorrel and hearts of palm

The wild herb ravioli was a fantastic choice. The raviolis were filled with ricotta from Dancing Ewe Farm that had a lovely milky flavor that wasn’t overpowered by the herbs. While the filling was soft and fluffy, the pasta skin was perfectly al dente and had a nice chewy bite to it. The sauteed mushrooms and grilled spring onions on top added an earthiness to the dish, and there were slightly chewy pieces of gamey iberico ham that provided some saltiness. The dish as a whole was a bit richer than you would expect from an appetizer course, but the fresh herbs really brightened everything up.

Wild herb ravioli with Dancing Ewe Farm Ricotta

Chuck opted for the peekytoe crab salad with cumin carrot coulis, spanner crab craquelin, ginger, and avocado. The dish was beautifully presented, and he had nothing but nice things to say about the taste.

Peekytoe crab salad with cumin carrot coulis

For the main course, Josh and I selected the lamb loin and the trio of milk fed pig from Quebec. The lamb loin, from Elysian Fields, was crusted with taggiasche olives and incredibly flavorful. The lamb had a nice gamey flavor, and though it was a bit past the requested medium rare, it was still tender and juicy. The lamb was served with asparagus, ramps, and a kamut berry ragout that had a wonderfully chewy texture to it and a nice nutty flavor. I really enjoyed this dish and thought it was well balanced – not too heavy or rich.

Taggiasche olive crusted Elysian Fields lamb loin

The trio of pig featured a roasted chop with glazed turnips, braised shoulder cannelloni with cucumber, and smoked ribs with fennel-avocado coleslaw and vadouvan jus. The presentation was stunning; it was almost a shame to tear into it, but we were eager to try all the different kinds of pork. The chop was tender and juicy, and it had super crispy skin surrounding it that was pretty incredible. It was like the best chicharron – flavorful and crunchy. The braised shoulder was stuffed inside a hollowed out piece of cucumber, which added a nice freshness to the rich pork. The pork itself was well seasoned, and it was an interesting combination. The smoked ribs were absolutely succulent, with a nice caramelized layer of fat on the outside. There were lots of different components to the dish but everything tasted great, both individually and together.

Trio of milk fed pig from Quebec

While Chuck also ordered the lamb, Dave opted for the roasted black sea bass with syrah sauce, a classic Daniel dish. Josh and I ordered it the first time we were there and really enjoyed it, and I think Dave did as well. It was served with stuffed leeks, potato confit and caramelized cipollini.

For dessert, Chuck and Dave both selected the warm guanaja chocolate coulant with liquid caramel, fleur de sel, and milk sorbet. Again, a dish that Josh and I tried the first time, and another Daniel classic. While they both enjoyed the molten chocolate cake, they found it a tad rich and difficult to finish. Still, there were no major complaints.

Josh and I split the Thai basil macerated mango dessert and the sesame bavaroise with chocolate cremeux. The mango, which tasted ripe and sweet, was piled on a lime dacquoise that was shaped like a little tart shell. The basil flavor was subtle, but the combination was wonderful. The lime added a nice brightness, and it wasn’t an overly sweet dessert, which I liked. There was pink guava sorbet on the side that gave the dish an even more tropical feel. It reminded me a bit of Taiwan, where I would spend my days eating fresh mangoes and drinking lots of guava juice. I was pretty happy with this dessert.

Thai basil macerated mango

The sesame bavaroise and araguani chocolate cremeux was a much richer dessert, with lots of toasted sesame flavor. Sesame is kind of nutty, which pairs well with chocolate. There was also a szechuan pepper gelee on the plate, though I don’t really remember tasting it, and chocolate ice cream. It was an interesting dessert with an unusual flavor combination, but you really have to like sesame to enjoy it.

Sesame bavaroise and araguani chocolate cremeux

The complimentary wine pairings that came with our pre-theater prix fixe were pretty decent. Obviously it’s not the best wine you can order, and everyone gets the same wine no matter what dish they’ve chosen, but the restaurant did a good job of selecting wines that would go with many different kinds of dishes. The wine for the first course was Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Cuvee Daniel”, Santa Barbara County 2009. It was not overly buttery in flavor, with a bit of crispness that I appreciated. The wine for the main course was Roc du Manoir Cotes du Castillon, Bordeaux 2008. I thought it worked well with the lamb but was a bit heavy for the pork trio. I was incredibly pleased with our third wine, La Spinetta, Moscato D’Asti, Piedmont 2010. It wasn’t too sweet for a dessert wine, and had an intense grape flavor that I really enjoyed. I might need to pick up a bottle of that for myself, which is saying something because I almost never drink dessert wines.

When they gave us our first pour of wine, I thought it was a bit on the small side, but then our server came around midway through the course and refilled our glasses. I was much happier then, and thought it was actually a good idea to do two half pours. Otherwise, I have a tendency to drink too much of my wine before the course is even served. With this method, I had enough wine to drink with my dish until it was finished.

With our desserts, they brought us a basket of madeleines, which I loved both previously at Daniel and at Cafe Boulud. After we finished our desserts, they brought us a selection of chocolates and a few petit fours. The chocolates were flavored with praline, cinnamon, basil, and raspberry. The cinnamon was a surprise, with a nicely subtle flavor, not the Atomic Fireball that I was expecting. The basil was also wonderful, pairing the sweet chocolate with the herbaceous, savory flavor.

Raspberry, basil, cinnamon, and praline chocolates

Assorted petit fours

Overall, we were pretty happy that Dave and Chuck thoroughly enjoyed the meal, and they both thought the food was much better than what we had at Jean Georges last year. The ambiance was also more upscale, and the whole experience seemed better. There were just some minor missteps with service, aside from forgetting to give us the pre-theater menu. Our appetizer course plates were cleared before Dave had finished eating, making for a slightly awkward moment. They also served our desserts while Dave was away from the table. They held off on his dessert plate, but the rest of us were left to wonder if it was rude to start eating before all our ice creams melted. Minor quibbles, really. They didn’t detract from our meal but we were surprised nonetheless given Daniel’s three start Michelin status. For the most part, I thought service was exemplary. Our servers were all very friendly and efficient, keeping our water glasses filled and coming by to check on us frequently, but not intrusively.

Josh and I were extremely pleased with our meal, and this experience definitely made up for the mediocre dinner we had for my birthday. Our only guess to the reason behind our lackluster meal was that on my birthday, we were a large party of seven, and perhaps that’s too big of a crowd for the individualized service we received on our first visit. For example, instead of presenting the different chocolates at the end of our meal, they just brought over a small plate of chocolates, only enough for one for each person so we didn’t get to try all the different flavors. Our server also didn’t really explain each dish in detail, probably because there were so many dishes on the table. The food also seemed a bit flat, things served not quite at the temperature, not seasoned perfectly, etc. It was just little things like that, but it all added up in the end.

Nevertheless, our faith in Daniel has been restored. And the pre-theater menu is an absolute bargain at $110, probably one of the best deals in the city. So what if you have to be seated between 5:30 and 6? The meal is luxurious and relaxing, especially if you’re not actually going to the theater afterward. No one rushes you, and you get all the little extras that you normally would, plus the bonus of the complimentary wine pairings. Considering the regular prix fixe is $105 and wine pairings are an additional $60, this pre-theater special really can’t be beat. The menu is more limited, with four choices for each course, but all the options are top notch and most are items that can be found on the regular menu. If you’ve never been to Daniel before, this is a great way to try out it. I’m already trying to decide when I want to go back!

Daniel
60 East 65th St. between Madison and Park Ave.
New York, NY

Union Square Cafe

Thursday, March 17th, 2011 by virginia

The Union Square Cafe consistently ranks as one of the most popular restaurants in NYC, according to the Zagat Guide. For years, Josh and I have been saying that we wanted to try it but could never get a reservation for when we wanted to go because we didn’t make the reservation early enough. For our 13th anniversary, Josh surprised me with a coveted USC reservation. Both of us were super excited about the meal because we had read really positive things about the restaurant, and being that it’s part of Danny Meyer’s restaurant empire, we expected great service as well.

There were lots of things on the menu that we wanted to try, so picking our dishes was quite a difficult decision. We debated for a while before finally settling on two appetizers, a shared pasta mid course, and two entrees. After a celebratory cheers with a lovely red wine that Josh picked out, we attacked the bread basket with gusto. There were two mini baguettes that were pretty tasty, with a crackly crust and airy insides. There were also two slices of wheat bread that I wasn’t crazy about because they were kind of cottony and dry in texture. Lastly, there were pieces of large, crispy rosemary crackers that needed just a touch of salt but were otherwise delicious. The baguettes were my favorite, though I found the crackers pretty interesting.

Basket of breads

We also received a small bowl of briny olives that were flavored with citrus peel. The flecks of orange and lemon zest were very nice touches and gave each olive some unexpected zip and sweetness. It’s a neat idea that I think we can replicate at home.

Olives with citrus zest

For our first course, Josh and I split the spanish mackerel crudo and the shrimp and sunchoke bisque. The crudo was beautifully cut and presented, featuring artichoke puree, olive tapenade, and chili oil. Mackerel is usually a pretty fishy fish but this one was surprisingly light, though perhaps a bit low in flavor (I actually enjoy the oily fishiness one usually associates with mackerel). Fortunately the accompaniments were delicate enough not to overpower the crudo, even though one would also expect bold flavors from olive tapenade and chili oil. When everything was eaten together, it all worked well and it was very refreshing. I did think the portion was a bit small though, with just four little pieces of fish.

Spanish mackerel crudo

The shrimp and sunchoke bisque was rich and creamy, as one would expect. There was a deep shrimp flavor and a slight toasty-ness/smokiness that was a bit unexpected. It was a well-crafted soup, though not particularly exciting.

Shrimp and sunchoke bisque

For our pasta mid course, we split an appetizer order of winter greens ravioli with preserved lemon, garlic breadcrumbs, and pecorino romano cheese. The appetizer portion came with four plump raviolis that were just bursting with flavor. The winter greens tasted fresh, the lemon added a brightness, and the breadcrumbs were little crunchy garlicky bits. The dish was beautifully composed, perfectly seasoned, and everything was harmonious.

Winter greens ravioli

For our entrees, we split the grilled smoked shell steak and the pan seared venison loin chop. I had never eaten smoked steak before, and even though it looked like a normal, perfectly cooked steak, the flavor was like nothing I had ever tasted. It was extremely smoky in flavor, almost tasting a bit like ham. It was really unusual, but still tender and delicious. The steak was served with roasted cauliflower and bone marrow mashed potatoes that were just out of this world. The bone marrow flavor was really apparent, adding a lovely richness to potatoes. Even though I couldn’t finish my share of the steak because it was such a big portion, I couldn’t stop eating the mashed potatoes.

Grilled smoked shell steak with roasted cauliflower and bone marrow mashed potatoes

The venison was also beautifully cooked, a perfect medium rare on the inside. It was just slightly gamey (I like gamey), and paired wonderfully with the accompanying huckleberry gastrique that added just a bit of sweetness. The venison was served on a bed of a rich and creamy risotto and topped with a light shaved brussels sprout and apple salad. It was also a hearty, rich entree, generously portioned, and we had a hard time finishing this dish as well, though we both enjoyed it immensely.

Pan seared venison

Our eyes turned out to be bigger than stomachs, and we were both too full for dessert. Our waitress was disappointed when we turned it down, and ended up bringing us a box of cookies to take home with us in honor of our anniversary. It was an incredibly sweet and unexpected gesture (apparently she had overheard our toast at the beginning of the meal), and we enjoyed the cookies the next day.

Box of cookies

There were many different types of cookies, including a chocolate biscotti, a pistachio biscotti, a chocolate chip cookie, a chocolate chocolate chunk cookie, a peanut butter sandwich cookie, maple pecan shortbread, a macaroon, a blondie, and a brownie. Of course I had to taste each one, and all were delicious. The pistachio biscotti and the peanut butter sandwich cookie were my favorites.

Assortment of cookies

Overall Josh and I were extremely pleased with our meal at the Union Square Cafe. The food was delicious, and everything was meticulously prepared. We both loved the pasta course, as well as our entrees. While the appetizer portions were a bit small, the entrees were huge, and we were stuffed when we left. There were still lots of things on the menu that we wanted to try so I’m sure we will be back. Our dinner wasn’t cheap but prices were definitely reasonable enough that maybe we won’t have to wait for a special occasion to go next time. Service was wonderful, exactly what you would expect from a Danny Meyer restaurant. Our waitress was helpful and attentive, answering all of our questions and checking up on us to make sure we were enjoying our meal. It was a great experience and I would definitely recommend checking it out – it’s worth it.

Union Square Cafe
21 East 16th St. between 5th Ave. and Union Square West
New York, NY

Cafe Panache

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 by virginia

This meal took place in September so I apologize if my details are a bit fuzzy. We had heard that Cafe Panache was one of the best restaurants in Bergen County, NJ and I had read several positive reviews about the food so we decided to try it out one weekend with Josh’s parents. We called for a reservation earlier in the day and were happy to find out that they would be able to seat us that night. The restaurant is located in Ramsey and is on Main St. so it was pretty easy to find.

When we walked into the restaurant, we were seated pretty much immediately. Unfortunately, I think we had the worst table in the house. We were in an alcove away from the main dining room, and we were seated at the very last table, right in front of the kitchen. There were servers and busboys constantly coming in and out of the kitchen, and it was sort of disruptive. We probably should have asked for a new table but we didn’t realize we would be in the middle of the hustle and bustle until after we had already settled in and had started drinking our wine (the restaurant is BYO).

We figured that we got the bad table because we had made a same day reservation so we tried to brush it off. After all, we were here for the food. We made our dinner selections and snacked on the olives and bread they brought us. The olives were covered in some oil and chili flakes, which gave them a nice little kick. The bread was white dinner rolls that had a decent crust but were pretty standard.

Assorted olives

Dinner roll

Josh and I went halfsies on our meal, per usual. For our appetizers, Josh selected the filet mignon ravioli with truffle butter while I chose the crostini of foie gras mousse. We were drawn in by the truffle butter advertised with the raviolis, but also because we had never seen filet mignon as a filling before. The filling had an intensely beefy flavor, though it was sort of mushy. As for the truffle butter, we couldn’t detect much truffle flavor at all, which was kind of disappointing since we’re both huge truffle fans. Nevertheless, it was a decent dish, and rich enough that the three ravioli portion was still satisfying.

Filet mignon ravioli

The crostini of foie gras mousse was also a pretty rich appetizer. The mousse was spread on top of three fairly large pieces of toasted bread and served with a small salad and apple slices. The mousse was creamy and thick but it didn’t have the subtle foie gras flavor that I was expecting. It had a pretty strong liver taste and if I didn’t know it was supposed to be foie gras mousse, I would have thought it was chicken liver pate. The salad helped cut through the richness of the mousse, and I liked the crispy apple slices that balanced out the creaminess of the liver.

Crostini of foie gras mousse

For the main course, Josh chose a duck dish while I opted for a steak dish. To be honest, I don’t remember how the duck was prepared. All I remember was that the duck was really, really rare. We like rare meat, even for duck, but this was beyond rare. The duck had a gelatinous texture and was pretty chewy. We probably should have sent it back but just didn’t think it was worth waiting for. That would have thrown off the flow of the meal, and we weren’t so thrilled with the overall dish to begin with.

Super rare duck breast

I was intrigued by the steak dish because the menu called it a sirloin steak confit. I’ve never had a steak that was confited before, and I was curious as to how it would turn out. From my understanding, confit is usually duck cooked in its own fat. So I thought the steak would be poached in beef fat and have a soft, falling apart kind of texture to it. Maybe the steak was just pan fried in beef fat, because to me, it just had the texture of regular steak. There was nothing really different about it, and while it was a fine piece of meat, the accompanying garlic soy reduction just completely overpowered the beef. The steak was absolutely covered in the sauce, which made the meat extremely salty. My mouth was puckering after a few bites, and I ended up trying to cut the meat so that I avoided the sauce completely. It was really too bad because the steak was cooked nicely to a beautiful rare, as ordered, but the sauce pretty much ruined the meat.

Sirloin steak confit with garlic and soy reduction

Steak autopsy shot

For dessert, we all decided to share a creme brulee. It was perfectly fine, with a crackly sugar crust on top and good vanilla flavor.

Creme brulee

Our waiter brought us an additional dessert on the house, which was very nice of him. I think it was some sort of peach cake with whipped cream on the side. The cake was very moist and not too sweet. It had great peach flavor, and I actually liked the cake more than the creme brulee, though both were very well prepared.

Peach cake dessert

Overall I think we were all pretty disappointed with our food at Cafe Panache. We had high expectations for it because we had heard/read some very nice things about the restaurant but it didn’t measure up for us in the end. There were definite missteps with our meal, like the undercooked duck and the overly salty steak. While our appetizers were passable, they just don’t wow us. Desserts were the highlight of the meal, and since neither Josh nor I have much a sweet tooth, that’s not really a good thing. It wasn’t only just me and Josh who were displeased. Alice ordered a homemade pasta with lobster for her entree, a special of the evening, and while the pasta was beautifully cooked and there was massive amounts of lobster mixed in, the dish was completely flavorless. Even the lobster was bland. We were pretty flabbergasted by that. Service was fine, and we appreciated the extra dessert our waiter brought. Maybe he noticed that none of us seemed thrilled with our food but whatever the reason, it was a nice gesture. Still, I don’t think that we’ll be coming back anytime soon. I did like the fact that the restaurant is BYO but it’s still pretty expensive, and I’m not sure that it was really worth it.

Cafe Panache
130 East Main St.
Ramsey, NJ