Posts Tagged ‘Restaurant Week’

Summer Restaurant Week 2011 – David Burke Townhouse

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 by virginia

I know this post is pretty late considering Restaurant Week ended on Labor Day but David Burke Townhouse regularly participates in RW, so hopefully people will still find my comments somewhat useful.

I had an early summer Friday from work so Josh and I met up for a RW lunch at David Burke Townhouse on the Upper East Side. Even though it was pretty late for lunch, the restaurant was surprisingly full. Fortunately we had a reservation and were seated immediately. The hallway leading to the dining room in the back was lined with colorful class balloons, and the whole restaurant had a whimsical decorating theme. I liked the tall ceilings and the bright colors, though there was still an understated elegance to the room.

Immediately after we were seated, Josh headed to the bathroom to wash up, and while he was gone, a waiter came by with the menus. As he placed the menu in front of me, he simply stated, “Here is our Restaurant Week menu.” I took a look and it seemed slightly different from the RW menu posted online, which isn’t unusual for RW, and I did see several overlapping items. When Josh came back, we decided on the dishes that we wanted to try and placed our orders. The waiter took our order without comment and walked away.

We settled in and munched on the bread we were given, a large, puffy roll that reminded me of a popover. It was light and crispy on the outside and airy and chewy on the inside. It was also piping hot, burning our fingers as we tore into it, but we absolutely loved it. The bread was accompanied by a cone of butter sitting on a pink salt slab. There was also pink salt sprinkled on the butter, providing just the right amount of saltiness. Even though Josh normally doesn’t use butter, even he couldn’t resist slathering some onto the warm bread.

A warm popover-like roll

Butter and pink salt

For our appetizer course, Josh and I selected the watermelon salad and the pretzel crusted crab cake. The watermelon salad featured cubes of watermelon, whipped ricotta, lomo, and baby arugula. The watermelon was sweet, the ricotta was creamy, the lomo (a kind of cured ham) was salty, and the arugula was slightly bitter and peppery. All the different flavors worked perfectly together, and given that it was one of the hottest days of the summer, we appreciated the light and refreshing qualities of the salad.

Watermelon salad, whipped ricotta, lomo

The pretzel crusted crab cake was literally crusted in whole pretzel sticks. I was expecting pretzel crumbs being used in place of the normal breadcrumb filler, but this was not the case. The presentation was quite striking, though it was a bit hard to cut through the thick pretzel shell to get to the crab. Once we got to the center, there wasn’t as much crab as we hoped, and the flavor got a bit lost under all the pretzels. On its own, the crab cake was actually quite dry, though there was tomato orange chutney and poppy seed honey on the plate that helped a bit when we dragged our forks through the sauces.

Pretzel crusted crab cake, tomato orange chutney and poppy seed honey

For our main course, we chose the steamed mussels and the cavatelli with braised short ribs. The steamed mussels were served with coconut couscous and spicy lamb sausage. The couscous was the larger Israeli style pearls rather than the small fluffy grains we expected, but I actually prefer the chewy texture of Israeli couscous. The pearls were loose and swimming in a rich coconut broth that was flavorful and delicious – I was tempted to drink it like a soup (which I sort of did, using a mussel shell as a spoon). The lamb sausage seemed a bit out of place but it was spicy and also flavorful, though I ate it separately from the mussels. However, the mussels themselves were kind of a disappointment. They were sandy and slightly overcooked, rendering them chewy. There were also only 10 mussels in the entire serving, and one of them was closed, meaning we couldn’t eat it. It was a pretty paltry portion I thought, and if you’re only going to put 10 mussels on a plate, shouldn’t you make sure they’re all open? It’s not like they were piled on top of other; the amount didn’t even fill the bowl in a single layer.

Steamed mussels, coconut couscous and spicy lamb sausage

Even with the bad mussels, Josh and I both preferred that dish to the cavatelli and short rib dish. The cavatelli was tossed with wild mushrooms in a creamy white sauce that featured truffle mousse. A huge piece of braised short rib sat on top, and there were crispy mushroom chips on the side. On paper, the dish sounded like a heavenly combination. In front of us, the dish looked delicious. In our mouths, I was thunderstruck by how a dish could possibly be both overly salty and bland at the same time. The truffle mousse barely registered, and the creamy sauce was just that, creamy, but devoid of any discernible flavor. While the cavatelli had a pleasing, chewy texture to it, even the pieces of wild mushrooms were flavorless. I think the short rib might have been the salt culprit, and I had broken it up into shreds to mix with the pasta and sauce, but the combination just didn’t meld. In theory it was a great dish – the execution, however, was horrendous. We were pretty shocked and disappointed with the dish.

Handmade cavatelli and braised short ribs, wild mushrooms, mushroom chips and truffle mousse

For dessert, we opted for the hot strawberry shortcake sundae and the cheesecake lollipop tree. The cheesecake lollipop tree had a $10 supplement, though they will waive the supplement in lieu of two desserts (meaning two people share the tree and don’t order a second dessert). Since we really wanted to try the hot strawberry shortcake sundae, we decided to suck it up and pay the supplement. The strawberry shortcake really was hot (in temperature), and it featured spiced pound cake, slices of strawberry, honey roasted almonds, and torrone (nougat) flavored ice cream. They poured some sort of hot liquid over the pound cake that really brought out the aroma and flavor of the spices. I’m usually not a fan of spiced cake but I think it really worked well in this context. It might have been a dessert better suited for a cold winter night, not the hottest day of the summer, but the ice cream on top provided a refreshingly cool finish. Josh and I were pretty full at this point but still wanted to finish the entire bowl.

Hot strawberry shortcake sundae with spiced poundcake, honey roasted almonds and torrone ice cream

We ordered the cheesecake lollipop tree more out of curiosity than actual desire. Neither of us really love cheesecake but this is David Burke’s signature dessert so we figured we had to try it. The  lollipops are beautifully presented on a custom-designed “tree.” Each lollipop is covered in a chocolate shell and dipped in chopped nuts or other little crunchies. I remember there being a white chocolate and cherry combination and a chocolate praline combination, though I think there was one more kind on the tree as well. The cheesecake inside is rich and dense, sort of like the inside of a chocolate truffle. Each lollipop was a two bite affair, and there was a bowl of whipped cream on the side for dipping. The whipped cream was actually a pleasant shock for us, as it was bubble gum flavored. A nice whimsical touch, though the bubblegum flavor didn’t necessarily go with the cheesecake pops. The dessert is definitely a novelty, but not something that I really enjoyed or would order again. I wish that a half portion was an option, since I didn’t think it was worth a $10 supplement, plus we ended up not eating most of the pops so it was kind of a waste.

Cheesecake lollipop tree

Lollipop up close

So as I mentioned earlier in the post, when we received the menu, the waiter merely called it the “Restaurant Week menu” and left without any additional explanation. On the top left hand corner of the menu, there was a small box stating: “Three Course Prix Fixe $24.07 & $37.00”  The two prices were on separate lines, and the $24.07 had a symbol next to it that looked like an egg with legs and a beak. When Josh and I saw the box, we assumed the prices were for lunch and dinner, even though RW dinner is $35, not $37. We just thought they used their regular menu rather than printing separate RW menus, since it didn’t say Restaurant Week anywhere on the menu. We didn’t realize until halfway through our meal that only items on the menu with the egg symbol were included as part of the $24.07 prix fixe; all the other items without the egg would be charged ath the $37 prix fixe rate.

We only realized this because the waiter explained the difference to the table next to us, and only because they specifically asked what the symbol meant. I didn’t pay attention to the symbol when we were ordering, and I was furious that no one explained to us how the menu was set up. It was a blatant omission in my opinion, and we had chosen items from the more expensive prix fixe without knowing we had done so. At least we figured out before we got the bill, because the sticker shock might have made for an awkward conversation with the waiter. In the end, since we had chosen one “egg symbol” item and one non “egg symbol” item from each course, we were charged $24.07 for one meal and $37.00 for the other meal. Quite a markup, in my opinion, and over 50% more than we intended to spend on one of the meals.

The items that didn’t have the egg symbol were obviously the pricier/fancier dishes – the pretzel crusted crab cake and the cavatelli and short rib dish. The only reason that I didn’t argue with the waiter about his lack of explanation regarding the menu was that I might still have ordered the crab cake and the cavatelli and short rib had I known about the price supplement. Those were the most attractive dishes on the menu, not knowing that they would also be the worst dishes of our meal. But, of course, hindsight is 20/20.

However, when we were deciding on the appetizer course, Josh and I debated over ordering either watermelon salad or the pastrami salmon, another David Burke signature. The watermelon salad won out in the end, but what if we had ordered the pastrami salmon, which didn’t have the egg symbol next to it? Combine that with our steamed mussel entree, which did have the egg symbol, what would they have charged us? My guess is the more expensive $37, though perhaps if we had a conflicting order, then our waiter might finally have spoken up about the different prix fixe prices. I really don’t know, but I definitely felt kind of cheated and misled.

Overall, even without the sting of knowing that we had spent a lot more on what we expected to be a reasonable Restaurant Week lunch, we were pretty disappointed with the food at David Burke Townhouse. The bill just added insult to injury. There were definitely some bright moments – the bread was fantastic, the watermelon salad was simple and well composed, and the coconut broth and couscous in the steamed mussel dish was just delightful. However, the other dishes were good in concept but poorly executed. The hot strawberry shortcake sundae was another highlight, but the cheesecake lollipops were not our thing and not worth the extra supplement, in our opinion. Considering that an order is priced at $18 a la carte, and one tree has eight lollipops on it, that’s $2.25 per two-bite lollipop. Pretty steep I think. In the end, the meal was just mediocre, and I probably wouldn’t go back. And yes, we did tip the waiter 20% of the bill even though we were pretty upset about the situation. Like I said, I tried to justify it in my head that I probably still would have ordered the same things, and I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t intentionally being misleading. But lesson learned: when in doubt about the menu or about weird symbols, ask first before ordering!

David Burke Townhouse
133 East 61st St. between Park and Lexington Ave.
New York, NY

Winter Restaurant Week 2011 – 21 Club

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011 by virginia

I don’t have any pictures of my Restaurant Week lunch at the 21 Club because I wasn’t sure if photos were allowed inside, plus I was with my co-workers who don’t really know about the blog and would probably find my picture-taking a bit odd.  They do know, however, how much I love food so they put me in charge of selecting a place for Restaurant Week lunch. We had a large group – 10 people in all – so I knew finding a place that could accommodate all of us would be difficult. We were willing to hop on a subway but given the time that would take on top of a long lunch, I was looking for some place closer to our office.

I didn’t have to look too far, as the 21 Club was just a few blocks away and the menu online looked fantastic. I knew my co-workers would appreciate the history of the restaurant, and I was thrilled when they were able to take my reservation on the exact date and time that we wanted. The restaurant called the day before our reservation to confirm, and I reminded the guys in our group that they had to wear jackets.

When we arrived at the restaurant, walking past the famed wrought iron fence lined with statues of jockeys, the lobby and waiting area was exactly how we pictured, elegant with an old school feel to it. When we walked into the dining room, however, we were all completely shocked by the decor. The entire ceiling was covered with hanging toy airplanes, football helmets, toy trucks, and other assorted antique toys. The tables were covered in red and white checkered cloths, and the place kind of had the vibe of a TGI Fridays, but in a good, kitschy way. It just wasn’t the upscale, jackets required kind of place that I thought it would be.

Nevertheless, we had a large round table that was great for chatting, and after we placed our orders, we dove into the bread baskets full of assorted breads, rolls, and crackers. I snagged a small baguette that had a nice crispy crust, and a wheat roll with dried cranberries. What would have made the basket even better was if the breads had been warmed up first, but we all enjoyed the variety offered.

For appetizers, we had a choice of soup (I think it was minestrone?), salmon tartare, and grilled calamari. I was debating between the tartare and the grilled calamari, and ultimately settled on the tartare. The portion was actually larger than I expected, and the salmon was cut into big chunks, which I loved. The fish tasted fresh and was marinated in yuzu, giving it a nice brightness and tanginess. The tartare was topped with a wasabi creme fraiche that had just a slight kick, and was served with pickled daikon and taro chips. When all of the components were eaten together, it was a nice blend of sweet, sour, spicy, and salt. It was actually one of the best salmon tartares that I’ve ever tasted.

For entrees, we had a choice of flax seed crusted salmon, grilled pork belly, and cauliflower risotto. I can rarely resist ordering pork belly, and that was the most popular choice among my co-workers as well. The first thing that struck me about the dish was its size. There was an absolutely huge piece of pork belly resting on top of a bed of sauerkraut and served with fried potatoes and slices of sausage. The second thing that struck me was the absolutely irresistible smell coming off the pork belly, a combination of maple and bbq smoke. I could not wait to dig in, and the dish did not disappoint. Although my pork belly could have been grilled just a bit more (everyone else’s had a deep brown color on the outside, while mine was a lighter brown), the fat on top of the belly still melted in my mouth, and the meaty part fell apart with a twist of my fork. Flavor wise it was sweet and smoky, and the richness of the fatty layer was nicely cut by the acid of the sauerkraut. The slices of sausage might have been overkill, but I didn’t care. I’m normally not a fan of sausage, but this one was slightly sweet and really delicious. The dish was a winner all around.

For dessert, we had a choice of creme brulee, red velvet cake, and a salty caramel bombe. I went with the bombe, which was filled with marshmallow fluff. The cream on the outside had a subtle caramel flavor to it and was also kind of peanuty. There was chocolate involved as well, and it was pretty rich and decadent. While I wish that salted caramel played more of a starring role in the dessert, it was a sweet finish to a great meal.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the lunch we had at the 21 Club. While the restaurant is known for its history, I haven’t really read anything remarkable about its food. I thought this was one of the best Restaurant Week meals that I’ve had though. I only wish that Josh could have joined us because then I could have tried more things from the menu. My co-workers raved about the grilled calamari though, and the salmon. The creme brulee was a hit as well. The risotto might have been the only miss that I heard about, as it had a gluey and stiff consistency, like it was undercooked. Not even the truffled mascarpone mixed throughout could rescue it. Nevertheless, we all rolled out of the restaurant happy and completely stuffed. There are only a few days left for Winter Restaurant Week 2011 so if you can’t make a trip to the 21 Club before it ends, definitely consider it for Summer Restaurant Week!

21 Club
21 West 52nd St. between 5th and 6th Ave.
New York, NY

Winter Restaurant Week 2011 – DB Bistro Moderne

Sunday, February 13th, 2011 by virginia

I apologize for filing this post so late. I usually try to write up Restaurant Week reviews right away, so that people can still have time to make a reservation if they think a place looks interesting. Restaurant Week has been extended a few weeks, but unfortunately, this particular restaurant is not participating past the original two weeks. Still, it’s a place you can consider for Summer Restaurant Week when that rolls around.

We’ve been so busy lately that Restaurant Week sort of snuck up on us this year. We got a late jump on making reservations so there weren’t too many prime lunch spots available but we managed to get a somewhat decent time at DB Bistro Moderne, which is part of Daniel Boulud’s restaurant empire. There was a snowstorm the day of our reservation so when we got to the restaurant, it was almost empty. The place did fill up completely by the time we left though, so people were probably just running a bit late.

I always like to review Restaurant Week menus online before I decide where to go, so we knew beforehand exactly what we wanted to order. We made our selections and quickly dove into the container of bread we received, which contained two ciabatta rolls and two slices of wheat bread. The ciabatta rolls were delicious, with a nice crackly crust and a chewy but airy interior. The wheat bread, on the other hand, wasn’t my taste. It was kind of dry with a cottony flavor, and not even copious amounts of butter could salvage it for me. We stuck with the ciabatta bread.

Good ciabatta rolls, not so great wheat bread

As usual, Josh and I went halfsies on all of our dishes. To start, we selected the yellow split pea soup and the salmon tartar. The soup was flavored with ham hock and topped with toasted croutons and olive oil. It had a velvety texture and smoky flavor to it, similar to bacon. However, we both felt the soup lacked seasoning. A little bit of salt really could have elevated it to the next level. Still, we found it pretty rich and comforting to eat on a cold winter day.

Yellow split pea soup

The salmon tartar was beautifully presented with a smear of avocado mousse and a salad of frisee and radishes, but it also lacked seasoning. It came with a few gaufrette potato chips on the side that added a nice crunch and a bit of much needed salt, but there weren’t enough chips to go with the portion of salmon. And while the salmon were nicely cut into a chunky dice, we thought it was a bit fishy in flavor, maybe not entirely fresh. We were both a little disappointed with this dish.

Salmon tartar

For our main courses, we selected the roasted monkfish and the braised flat iron steak. The monkfish was served with a piece of crispy bacon and a potato gratin. Josh had first crack at this dish and really enjoyed it. By the time I got to it, however, I thought the texture of the monkfish had suffered quite a bit, rendering it a bit mushy. Josh disagreed and said the fish was firm and meaty when he ate it. We both liked the flavor combination of the monkfish with the bacon, and there was a red wine sauce that tied all the components together.

Roasted monkfish

I started with the braised flat iron steak, which was my favorite dish of the lunch. I’m usually not a huge fan of braised beef but the steak was surprisingly meaty in texture and flavor. When presented, it looked like a regular piece of steak covered in a dark sauce. When I stuck my fork into it, however, the meat was so tender it just fell apart. Flavor-wise, it still had the beefiness of a steak, not the watered down meat that you usually find in a stew or other braised dishes. The steak was served with a sweet carrot puree and sauteed brussels sprouts, baby carrots, and pearl onions. I apologize for the picture – it was a delicious dish but not very photogenic.

Braised flat iron steak

Dessert was a surprise hit for us, since neither of us have much of a sweet tooth. We both loved the citrus tartelette with sable breton, frangipane, grapefruit curd, EVO foam, and vanilla ice cream. The dessert had a lot of components to it but when we ate everything together, it tasted just like an orange creamsicle, only fresher and less artificial in flavor. Because the main ingredient was grapefruit, it was also less sweet, but in a good way. Citrus was the predominant flavor, and given the snowy day, it was a welcomed bit of sunshine. We enjoyed the brightness of the grapefruit curd and the supremed slices of actual grapefruit.

Citrus tartelette

The other dessert, called chocolate and coconut, featured coconut dacquoise, caramel fondant, chocolate mousse, and peanut ice cream. It also had a lot of components to it but everything worked beautifully. Chocolate and peanut butter is one of my favorite flavor combinations (who doesn’t love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?), and the peanut ice cream was an interesting twist on that. The coconut and caramel might have been a bit overkill for me, as it was a really rich dessert, but I liked the contrast between the smooth chocolate mousse, the crunchy toasted coconut bits, and gooey caramel, and the cold and creamy peanut ice cream.

Chocolate and coconut

Overall we both enjoyed the Restaurant Week lunch that we had at DB Bistro Moderne and thought it was a good value. Sometimes Restaurant Week menus offer subpar items that aren’t very reflective of a restaurant’s real offerings, but DB Bistro has been consistently good with their Restaurant Week choices. While we found some of the dishes to be under seasoned, it’s something that can be easily remedied by asking for some salt for the table. I wish, though, that all restaurants would leave salt on the table by default, so diners don’t have to go through the awkwardness of asking for salt. Sometimes that leaves the kitchen a bit defensive, and they may oversalt the next dish to overcompensate. Regardless, with the exception of the slightly fishy salmon, we thought the ingredients used were top notch, and everything was carefully constructed and presented. We’ve been to DB Bistro Moderne for Restaurant Week several times over the last few years, and it hasn’t disappointed us yet. It’s definitely a place we’ll consider visiting again for more Restaurant Weeks to come.

DB Bistro Moderne
55 West 44th St. between 5th and 6th Ave.
New York, NY

Summer Restaurant Week 2010 – Tribeca Grill

Thursday, July 29th, 2010 by virginia

For Jess’ birthday, we made a reservation at the Tribeca Grill because it was the only restaurant we called that would seat 10 people without forcing us to explore “private dining” options. We’ve eaten there before and the food was pretty good – it was straightforward, hearty, American fare. We found out when we got there that in addition to the regular menu, they were offering their Restaurant Week menu for dinner on Sundays. The Restaurant Week offerings sounded pretty good, and I liked that the options came directly from the regular menu, something we don’t see too often on Restaurant Week menus. Our waiter assured us that the Restaurant Week dishes were the same portion sizes as the regular menu, and considering that most of the a la carte entrees cost close to $30, the $35 three course menu seemed like quite a bargain.

The Restaurant Week menu online was different than the one we received so I’m not sure if the offerings change from day to day, but here is the menu we got:

First Course
Heirloom tomato & goat cheese salad ~ Sweet corn sauce and opal basil vinegar
Braised artichoke & fennel salad ~ Marcona almonds, green olives & manchego cheese
Warm asparagus salad ~ Morels, cipollini onions & lardons, fig essence

Second Course
Goat cheese ravioli ~ Artichokes, favas, cherry tomatoes & spinach
Pan roasted Atlantic salmon ~ Sunchokes, caramelized beet & apple chutney
Grilled Berkshire pork chop ~ Cassoulet of summer beans, chive dumplings & ramp salsa verde
Roasted red snapper ~ Summer squash, Tunisian couscous, pea shoots & warm tomato vinaigrette

Third Course
Chocolate truffle cheesecake ~ Espresso anglaise
Vanilla & grenadine flan ~ Market berries
Morello cherry financier ~ Yogurt sorbet

While we were deciding on what to order, we munched on the bread offering, which was a round, hard roll with a chewy interior. It didn’t have much flavor to it but I was hungry so I just slathered on lots of butter, which made it a bit more palatable.

Hard bread roll

Our appetizers arrived right away, and 8 out of 10 people at the table ordered the same thing – the heirloom tomato and goat cheese salad. It looked beautiful on the plate, with many different kinds of tomatoes in assorted shapes and colors. The sweet corn vinaigrette was really interesting, and the dish was both sweet and tangy at the same time. The tomatoes were intensely flavorful and paired well with the micro basil scattered on top. My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough goat cheese for my liking, just a small dollop. But the dish was wonderfully light and refreshing, and huge hit at the table.

Heirloom tomato and goat cheese salad with sweet corn and opal basil vinegar

In addition to splitting the tomato and goat cheese salad, Josh and I selected the braised artichoke and fennel salad as our other appetizer. The salad was a tall tower piled high with the ingredients. There was I think frisee mixed in, which added a slight bitterness, and a tangy dressing that added a nice acidity to round out the flavors. The artichoke and fennel were very tender and worked well together with the olives and manchego. I just wasn’t a fan of the almonds, as I thought they overpowered everything else, but Josh enjoyed them.

Braised artichoke and fennel salad with marcona almonds, green olives, and manchego cheese

View from the side so you can see how tall it was and all the layers of ingredients

For our main course, Josh and I chose the grilled Berkshire pork chop and the roasted red snapper. The pork chop was huge and cooked perfectly, so that it was still tender and juicy. It was nicely seasoned and there was a sweet smokey flavor to it that we later found out was maple syrup. It was served on a mix of summer beans that were fresh and seasonal. There were two small chive dumplings that were like chewy gnocchi and didn’t really serve much purpose. There was also a ramp salsa verde that I think was on top of the pork chop, but I didn’t detect much ramp flavor. Still, it was a well constructed dish and another favorite at the table.

Grilled Berkshire pork chop with summer beans, chive dumplings, and ramp salsa verde

The roasted red snapper had a crispy skin that was nicely seasoned but unfortunately, the fish itself was overcooked and bland. It had a rubbery texture to it that made it a bit hard to eat. I ended up breaking it up as best as I could with my fork, then mixing it in with the accompanying couscous and squash. The couscous was light and fluffy, and the squash was tender but still had a nice bite to it. The tomato vinaigrette tied the whole dish together and provided the acidity that the fish badly needed.

Roasted red snapper with couscous, squash, and tomato vinaigrette

For dessert, we had the chocolate truffle cheesecake and vanilla and grenadine flan. The chocolate cheesecake really didn’t taste much like cheesecake but that was ok. I like chocolate better than cheesecake anyway. It had a chocolate cookie crust that tasted like an Oreo cookie, and I liked the espresso anglaise that was drizzled underneath.

Chocolate truffle cheesecake with espresso anglaise

The vanilla and grenadine flan wasn’t as silky as I would have liked but it had a nice vanilla flavor to it. The grenadine was slightly sour, which cut through the sweetness of the dessert, and the market berries were plump and fresh. Texture aside, it was a very tasty summer treat.

Vanilla and grenadine flan with market berries

Overall we were all pretty impressed by the meal we had at the Tribeca Grill. The Restaurant Week menu proved to be a good value, and we left the restaurant full and satisfied. Service was good but they did pace our meal pretty quickly, giving us the impression that they were rushing us out. We did end up lingering a bit over coffee and dessert but all of our courses were served at quick intervals.  The restaurant was packed though, especially for a Sunday night, which might have contributed to the frenetic pacing. We were still pretty pleased with our experience regardless, because the food exceeded our expectations. As for the decor, it’s a pretty restaurant with tall ceilings and a loft-like feel, and the ambiance is upbeat but intimate. While I think the a la carte menu is a bit pricey, I would still recommend the restaurant for a special occasion.

Tribeca Grill
375 Greenwich St. at Franklin St.
New York, NY

Summer Restaurant Week 2010 – Maze

Monday, July 26th, 2010 by virginia

While Josh and I are not huge fans of the TV show Hell’s Kitchen, we have been pretty curious about the cuisine of Gordon Ramsay ever since we read a little bit about him in Marco Pierre White’s book, The Devil in the Kitchen. Although we think he plays an over-the-top character on TV, he does have an impressive resume and has worked for some very great chefs. He has multiple Michelin stars under his belt, which is a great feat, but these days, he’s more known for being a screaming tyrant. So we had no idea what to expect when we booked a table at his restaurant Maze for Restaurant Week lunch. Maze is located at The London hotel on 54th St. We couldn’t even find the Restaurant Week menu online but curiosity got the best of us and we made the reservation regardless. For those who are equally curious, here is the Restaurant Week lunch menu for Maze:

Octopus terrine with Kalamata olives, crisp potatoes, pickled shallots, sauce vierge
Asparagus veloute, braised morels, elephant garlic
Marinated fingerling potatoes, Holland leeks, poached quail’s egg, prosciutto

Main Courses
Carnaroli risotto of parsley, preserved lemon and mascarpone
Roasted chicken breast, spring morels, pickled ramps, new potatoes, asparagus, thyme jus
Pan fried halibut, butternut squash, gnocchi, brown butter vinaigrette
Dry aged strip loin 8 oz, creamed spinach, pommes anna ($10 supplement)

Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, walnut praline ice cream
Vanilla custard with citrus fruits, brown sugar oats and mandarin sorbet
Chocolate pudding, stout ice cream, pretzel, peanut butter powder

Josh and I quickly made our selections and settled in to munch on the bread they provided. We’re not sure what kind of bread it was but it was sort of like a focaccia, except chewier. Maybe it was like a thick pizza bianca? Whatever it was, it was a bit tough and flavorless, desperately needing some salt or something to give it a boost. Not even the butter helped.

Bread and butter

So our meal did not get off to the best of starts but things looked up when they delivered our appetizers. As usual, Josh and I each started off with a dish and then switched halfway through. He started out with the marinated fingerling potatoes, which was served on a thin slice of prosciutto and featured a teeny little quail’s egg that was perfectly poached with a runny yolk. The flavors of this dish were clean and each component stood out on its own. It was a simple dish but well composed.

Marinated fingerling potatoes with leeks, quail's egg, and prosciutto

Our other appetizer was the octopus terrine with Kalamata olives, crisp potatoes, and pickled shallots. Presentation- and composition-wise, both of our appetizers were very similar, but the octopus had stronger flavors that gave a nod towards Spain. There was a nice and spicy tomato sauce that came on the side, which added an acidic zing to the dish, and the octopus itself was very tender. I just wish that there was more of it, as there was only a very thin layer at the bottom.

Octopus terrine with olives, crisp potatoes, and pickled shallots

For our main courses, we selected the roasted chicken breast and the pan fried halibut. The chicken had nice crispy skin and was pretty juicy in the interior, but it was also slightly underdone. I don’t really get squeamish by slightly pink poultry, except there were a few sections that were inedible. Otherwise, it was very flavorful chicken, and the medley of vegetables underneath were fresh and seasonal. I loved the morels and wished there were more of them mixed in. It was a nice, light dish.

Roasted chicken breast with morels, ramps, asparagus, and potatoes

The pan fried halibut had a fall flavor to it, thanks to the butternut squash. The fish itself was well cooked, with a crispy exterior and meaty white flesh in the middle. The gnocchi were a bit chewy but at least they weren’t super dense. The presentation was simple but it was a hearty dish and well prepared.

Pan fried halibut with butternut squash, gnocchi, and brown butter vinaigrette

For dessert, we selected the vanilla custard and the chocolate pudding. The chocolate pudding was more like a ganache or fudge, served in a long log and had a relatively firm texture. The stout ice cream was absolutely fantastic, tasting just like a slightly sweeter Guinness in ice cream form. I will have to look into making stout ice cream for myself, because it was really good. The combination of the pudding, ice cream, and peanut butter powder worked really well together, but the pretzel had no real purpose. It was kind of stale and not very salty, so it didn’t provide a contrast to the other sweet components. Pretzel aside, this was a very good dessert.

Chocolate pudding with stout ice cream, pretzel, and peanut butter powder

The vanilla custard had nice vanilla flavor and visible specks of vanilla bean in it, but it was kind of relegated to the background because of the assertive citrus flavors in the dessert. The oranges were a bit sour but tasted better when mixed with the sweet vanilla custard; I just wished there was more of the custard. The brown sugar oats added a textural contrast to the dessert but not much flavor. It was an ok dish but not spectacular.

Vanilla custard with citrus fruits, brown sugar oats, and mandarin sorbet

We really didn’t know what to expect going into the restaurant, but we walked out with some new respect for Gordon Ramsay. As far as Restaurant Week meals go, this was pretty good. There was a decent selection to choose from, and everything was well prepared and well presented. I liked the use of fresh vegetables in all the dishes and I walked out of there completely satisfied. While I still don’t like his antics on TV, I can look past it as long as his restaurants are producing good food. I don’t know how much involvement he has with this particular branch of Maze, but maybe if we’re ever in London we can check out one of his restaurants there.

151 West 54th St. between 6th and 7th Ave.
New York, NY

Summer Restaurant Week 2010 – Aureole

Monday, July 12th, 2010 by virginia

One of my favorite highlights during the very hot summer season is summer Restaurant Week. Josh and I first discovered Restaurant Week when we were interning during the summer before our senior year of college. It was a poor college student’s dream – eating a three course meal at a fancy NYC restaurant (like the now-closed famous La Cote Basque) for less than $20 (it was $19.98 at the time). Although prices have since risen to $24.07, Restaurant Week lunches are still a bargain, for the most part. Some restaurants have pretty limited Restaurant Week menus, so I try to find the menu online before making a booking.

Restaurant Week reservations book fast so it’s important to make them as early as possible. On the day that reservations opened, I called Josh to make sure that he would make a few bookings, and he didn’t disappoint. Our winner during winter Restaurant Week this year was Aureole so I was glad he booked it again. Instead of the Bar Room though, we snagged a reservation in the main dining room, which is a bit fancier. The menu was the same, but the tables had tablecloths, and best of all, there was bread service with three different kinds of bread (the Bar Room only offered slices of baguettes).

Slices of baguette, rosemary bread, and cranberry walnut bread

In addition to baguette, we got rosemary bread and cranberry walnut bread. The baguette was as good as last year, and the rosemary bread had a nice crust and a pronounced rosemary flavor. The cranberry walnut had lots of cranberries in it, but the crust was a bit burnt and the bread was pretty dense. I was just sad that the bread guy didn’t come back after his initial pass, but that’s ok because I need to start eating less bread.

The Restaurant Week menu had three options per course so Josh and I made different selections for each and then swapped plates halfway through, per our usual practice. For the first course, we had heirloom tomato gazpacho and pan roasted shrimp. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and served with prosciutto, baby arugula, and a brunoise of summer melons. The prosciutto provided the saltiness for the dish, while the melon contrasted with sweetness. It was a light and refreshing dish, perfect on a hot summer day.

Pan roasted shrimp with summer melons, prosciutto, and baby arugula

Our other appetizer was the tomato gazpacho, which was a brilliant red color and topped with diced avocado and garlic croutons. The gazpacho was also very light, not too sweet, and had a good amount of acidity. The creaminess of the avocado cut through the tanginess of the soup, and the garlic croutons added a nice little crunch. It was very simple in preparation and presentation, but still very tasty, and I think it’s something that I’d like to replicate at home.

Heirloom tomato gazpacho with diced avocado and garlic croutons

For our main course, we selected the Chatham Bay cod and marinated flatiron steak. The steak was cooked to medium rare as requested, though it was slightly tough, perhaps just because of the cut of meat. It was served with baby bok choy, coconut rice, scallions, and a chile garlic dressing. There were also flakes of toasted coconut scattered over the dish. It was an unusual combination with steak, and because I’m not a huge fan of coconut, it wasn’t my favorite. It wasn’t bad, just not really my cup of tea.

Flatiron steak with baby bok choy, coconut rice, scallions, and a chile garlic dressing

The cod was served in a broth with baby leeks, summer corn, potatoes, and little neck clams. The fish itself was very nicely cooked, with crispy skin and the perfect amount of seasoning. The broth had a delicate and subtle flavor, and the little kernals of corn were sweet and fresh. Josh and I both liked this dish a lot.

Chatham Bay cod with baby leeks, summer corn, potatoes, and little neck clam broth

For dessert, we had the carrot cake and the rocky road vacherin. The vacherin was chocolate meringues that were light and crispy. They were served with a smooth chocolate ice cream, soft and creamy marshmallows, brownie bites, black cherry syrup, and toasted almond slivers. The individual components were tasty, and all put together and it was a super rich dessert. It wasn’t as whimsical as the caramel popcorn ice cream dessert from the winter Restaurant Week menu, but it was still playful.

Rocky road vacherin with chocolate ice cream, =marshmallows, brownie bites, black cherry syrup, and toasted almond

I’m not the biggest fan of carrot cake but I thought this version was fantastic. It was light and moist and not overly spiced, something I don’t like in other carrot cakes. It came with a cream cheese mousse that fluffy and not too rich, but didn’t taste heavily of cream cheese. There were also pickled red grapes scattered about, though they didn’t taste very pickled. Still, they were sweet and juicy and a good textural contrast to the soft cake and mousse.

Carrot cake with cream cheese mousse and pickled red grapes

We were pretty full at this point but they brought a plate of mini cookies at the end of the meal, and I couldn’t resist. My favorite was the biscotti, and there was a thin chocolate chip cookie that was tasty as well.

Plate of mini cookies

Overall we thought the winter Restaurant Week menu at Aureole was slightly better than the summer menu, but it was still a terrific Restaurant Week meal and ranks as one of the better ones that we’ve had. The only dish that I didn’t like was the steak, but everything was well prepared and seasonably appropriate. The cod was a real standout, and the carrot cake was a surprise winner. There was really no difference in service between the main dining and the Bar Room, so if there is an opening in either (they’re listed separately on Open Table), I highly recommend making a reservation.

135 West 42nd St. between 6th Ave. and Broadway
New York, NY

Winter Restaurant Week 2010 – Aureole

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 by virginia

In addition to the reservation we had made at A Voce Columbus on the first day of Restaurant Week, we had also managed to nab a prime lunchtime spot at the Bar Room of Aureole on the very last day of Restaurant Week. I was hoping to get some last minute reservations at a few places in between as well, but I wasn’t able to find the time to take a long lunch, as it was a particularly busy time at work for me. Josh ended up going to DB Bistro Moderne with a few of his coworkers but he didn’t seem too impressed by his meal there, so I didn’t feel too bad about missing out. I was really looking forward to our meal at Aureole, however, and couldn’t wait for the end of the week to finally arrive.

Aureole recently moved from the Upper East Side to the new Bank of America building at One Bryant Park. We had never gone to the old Aureole but I was kind of surprised by the casual décor at this new space. Granted, we were seated in the Bar Room at the front, and the dining room in the back did seem to be a bit more upscale. The front room was very bright, with lots of tall windows, and a huge, modern chandelier. There was a large bar that took up an entire wall, and a giant array of wine bottles behind rounded glass windows.

The Bar Room in front

What I didn’t really like was that the tall windows faced onto 42nd St., and you couldn’t help but be aware of all the people walking down the street and the cars driving by. Plus there was some very unattractive scaffolding across the street, and I kind of feel it was a bit distracting. The more formal dining room, however, is set back behind some glass and the décor was a bit more subdued, with a predominately brown and beige color scheme. And while the tables in the dining room were covered in gleaming white tablecloths, the tables in the Bar Room were bare, with the exception of some place mats.

After we were seated and had placed our orders, we were brought a wooden bowl filled with slices of baguette, and a small ramekin of creamy butter topped with crunchy kernels of salt. The bread had a nice crispy crust and an airy, chewy interior. It was pretty tasty, though I wish it had been warmed up a bit. However, I must admit that I did get a bit jealous when I saw that in the dining room, there was a bread man walking around with a basket offering five different kinds of bread. To add insult to injury, the wooden bowl that held our bread was severely cracked on both sides and looked like it was about to split in half. We were both surprised that they would let a bowl like that out of the kitchen, as the cracks really were conspicuous.

Tasty slices of baguette but served in a cracked bowl

Moving on to the actual meal, it wasn’t too hard for us to pick which dishes we wanted to try from the Restaurant Week menu, as we simply avoided the vegetarian options in each course (salad in the first course and winter vegetables in the second course). As per our tradition, we each started with a dish and then swapped plates halfway through so that we could taste both offerings. I wound up with the potato leek ravioli first, which featured bacon, caramelized onion, aged cheddar, and a chive creme fraiche sauce. There were three small but plump raviolis in the bowl, bursting with a tasty potato leek puree. The filling was well seasoned on its own, but when eaten with the accompanying toppings, it was a great mix of flavors and textures. Both the bacon and caramelized onions are very assertive ingredients but complemented the raviolis perfectly, with no one component standing out above the others. I found the dish to be very comforting, kind of homey, yet still refined and beautifully presented.

Potato leek ravioli

Our other first course was the wild striped bass ceviche, which was marinated in citrus juices and topped with red onion, avocado, smoked paprika, cucumber, red pepper, microgreens, and popcorn. The striped bass was sliced thinly, kind of like a crudo, and the citrus marinade was very light. I liked that the dish wasn’t overly acidic, and the freshness of the fish really shined through. The accompanying garnishes were chopped into tiny pieces so that they provided a textural contrast without detracting from the delicate flavor of the striped bass. Although this was a very elegant version of ceviche, I thought the popcorn on top was a playful nod to the traditional way the dish is usually served.

Wild striped bass ceviche

For the main course, Josh started out with the spotted skate wing, which was topped with cauliflower, golden raisins, toasted almonds, and a caper curry brown butter. The skate was pan seared perfectly so that it had a nice golden brown crust on the inside, yet was still tender and flaky. The curry in the brown butter sauce was very mild but combined with all the other ingredients, it was an intriguing combination of flavors and textures. Every bite highlighted a different component, from the sweet raisins to the savory cauliflower and tangy caper berries. There was a lot going on yet it all worked together very well.

Spotted skate wing

Our other main course was braised pork belly with apple, brussels sprouts, cornichons, dijon mustard jus, and roasted pearl onions. The pork belly was fatty and luscious, just as it should be, but it was served in one long piece that was a bit hard to cut neatly. I ended up separating the fatty top from the rest of the meat by accident and couldn’t get a thin enough slice of both that would just melt in my mouth. I think the restaurant should have sliced the pork belly up for us rather then leaving it for us to deal with on our own. That aside, the dish was a great mix of sweet and savory, highlighted by the apple sauce and shaved brussels sprouts. While it wasn’t the best pork belly we’ve ever had (that honor belongs to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas), it was definitely near the top of the list.

Braised pork belly

There were only two options for dessert so we got one of each. The first was a caramel corn sundae with vanilla chantilly, bananas, and salted peanuts. This dessert was so incredibly playful that it just put a huge smile on our faces. It tasted just like cracker jacks, but better. The refreshing popcorn(!) ice cream was topped with sweet vanilla cream and streaks of caramel, and biting into the pieces of banana and salted peanuts were like finding little prizes in the sundae. The kernels of caramel corn just put the whole thing over the top.

Caramel corn sundae

The other dessert was a bittersweet chocolate ganache tart with blood orange creme. This was the polar opposite to the caramel corn sundae, as it was dark, rich, and very intense. The ganache was very dense but delightfully creamy on the tongue. The creme had just a hint of citrusy flavor to it, and was a nice complement to the dark chocolate. It was a good dessert on its own but couldn’t compare to the light and whimsical sundae.

Bittersweet chocolate ganache tart

Lastly, they brought us a small plate of cookies to finish off our meal. There was a thin and crispy sandwich cookie, a hard and crunchy biscotti, an intriguing salted chocolate chip cookie, and a classic shortbread cookie with jam on top. We were stuffed after our lunch but couldn’t resist having a few nibbles.

Platter of mini cookies

Overall Josh and I both loved this meal. We thought that it was one of the best Restaurant Week lunches we’ve ever had, certainly the best of winter 2010, and we were really impressed with all of our courses. While I didn’t love the atmosphere of the restaurant’s new location, service was exemplary. Our waiter explained each of our dishes to us as they were served, and when he noticed that we swapped plates during the first course, he made sure to help us with the swap during our second course. More importantly though, I thought the dishes we had were bold and innovative, as well as fun and imaginative. This meal was absolutely a highlight for us and definitely made us interested in trying some dishes from the regular menu. We sincerely hope that Aureole will be participating in Summer Restaurant Week this year, and will be offering yet another stellar menu.

135 West 42nd St. between 6th Ave. and Broadway
New York, NY

Winter Restaurant Week 2010 – A Voce Columbus

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 by virginia

Restaurant Week is upon us, a twice-a-year ritual that has foodies and food lovers logging into OpenTable en masse in search of the best reservations. Well-known and high-end restaurants tend to book up fastest so if you haven’t made your Restaurant Week selections yet, you better hurry up!

Josh and I are usually laggers when it comes to making Restaurant Week reservations, which means we often end up with very few choices that really appeal to us. This year I didn’t want to get left behind in the mad scramble for reservations so I made sure that we booked early. We ended up getting a lunchtime reservation at A Voce Columbus, a restaurant that we’ve tried to book several times for Sunday night dinners (Josh’s mom has really been wanting to try it as well) but could never get a reservation at a decent hour. We snagged a 12:45 spot on the first day of Restaurant Week – an auspicious way to start off the two-week gluttony fest.

We were coming separately from our respective workplaces so we met up in the lobby of the Time Warner Center and headed up the escalators to the third floor, where the restaurant is located. After we checked our coats we were seated at a two-top in the back room near the tall and wide windows that look onto Columbus Circle and the entrance of Central Park. Unfortunately it was pouring rain so our view was slightly marred by the raindrops running down the window, but it was lovely nonetheless.

Rainy view but still lovely

The décor of A Voce Columbus is very sleek and modern, with tall ceilings and lots of natural light flooding in through the large windows that line one wall. The focal point of the room we were in was the large glass case that enclosed a huge wine rack full of bottles. There were also racks lining part of another wall, set behind glass windows. Despite the nice view and the interesting wine racks, however, I kind of felt like we were in a corporate cafeteria. The atmosphere was very sterile, the tables are a dark wood that aren’t covered in a tablecloth or placemats, and we were seated on white leather chairs with metal frames that contributed to the casual feel.

Even so, the room still has an elegant appeal to it, and besides, we were there to sample the food. After they brought us both the regular lunch menu and the Restaurant Week menu to peruse, they set down a wooden platter with slices of focaccia bread and a bowl of ricotta covered in olive oil and herbs. The bread was delicious – crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside, slightly salted, and not too oily. The ricotta was creamy and flavorful, a perfect match for the focaccia.

Fluffy focaccia bread with creamy ricotta and olive oil

I generally don’t like to book restaurants that don’t post their Restaurant Week menus anywhere, but because we were eager to try A Voce Columbus, we took the chance that it would offer a decent menu. Fortunately, we weren’t disappointed. For anyone who is looking, the Restaurant Week menu was as follows:

Minestre di cipolle (caramelized onion soup, bitto cheese fonduta, rye)
Mozzarella di bufula (mozzarella di bufula, calabrian chilies, dried grape tomatoes, arugula)
Tortelli di zucca (squash filled pasta, amaretti, parmigiano reggiano)

Brasato di manzo (braised shortribs, creamy polenta, grappa roasted cippoline onions)
Boreta (orata, mussels, clams, shrimp, san marzano broth)
Ravioli (ricotta and dried pear filled pasta, cinnamon, cocoa)

Panna cotta (chocolate panna cotta, toasted hazelnut)
Granita (espresso-amaretto granita, whipped cream, cocoa)

Since each diner gets to pick one dish from each course, Josh and I decided to get different things and exchange plates halfway so that we could try as many dishes as possible. We started out with the mozzarella di bufula and the tortelli di zucca. We both thought the mozzarella was super salty, as they sprinkled a lot of sea salt on top so that every mouthful had a crunch of salt. Texture-wise, it was a nice contrast to the creamy mozzarella and the accompanying chewy dried grape tomatoes, but after a few bites both of our mouths started puckering a bit from the salt. It was too bad, really, because it was actually a nice dish. The mozzarella was soft and flavorful, not too milky, and the dried grape tomatoes were very sweet. There was also arugula, which added a slight bitterness, and the whole thing was topped with a drizzle of olive oil and some chili flakes that weren’t spicy at all. When I got all the components on the fork together I could still taste each item individually but they worked really well together as well. The dish just didn’t need all that extra salt on top.

Mozzarella di bufula

The tortelli (squash raviolis), however, were perfect. The delicate little pouches were filled with a creamy squash puree that savory, not cloying or over spiced. I’ve had too many squash dishes that tasted like pumpkin pie or dessert, but this dish highlighted the natural sweetness of the squash without overdressing it.

Tortelli di zucca

The raviolis were enrobed in a very light, buttery sauce that was really delicate and a dusting of parmesan cheese. The tiny amaretti crumbs scattered on top added a nice little crunch.

Tortelli up close

For the main course, we selected the boreta and the brasato di manzo. The boreta was a fish stew made from san marzano broth and filled with shrimp, mussels, and clams, and a large piece of orata (sea bream) on top. The orata was perfectly cooked with still-crispy skin. It was a white, firm, slightly oily, and flavorful fish, and it really stood out as the star of the stew. The broth was light, not super tomato-y, and had taken on the flavors of the shellfish. They thoughtfully provided a long toasted breadstick with the bowl to sop up some of the broth. Unfortunately, I thought the shrimp and the mussels were slightly overcooked, rendering them chewier than I prefer, but not super tough.


The brasato di manzo, or braised short rib, sat on top of a large serving of creamy polenta and a few sweet roasted cippoline onions. The short rib was tender and fell apart with a poke of my fork, but it lacked seasoning. It definitely needed salt but flavor-wise it was also very one note. I did like the polenta though, which was buttery and had nice texture to it.

Brasato di manzo

Because there were only two choices for dessert, we got one of each. Josh stuck mostly with the granita, which was espresso-amaretto flavored, appropriately icy, and refreshing. The espresso flavor was surprisingly strong, and the whipped cream in the middle and on top mellowed it out a bit, adding a nice creaminess and richness to the dessert. I could also taste a hint of cocoa in the background.

Espresso-amaretto granita

I favored the chocolate panna cotta with chopped hazelnuts. The panna cotta was not too firm, with the texture of a stiff pudding. It’s more dense than a mousse but also much creamier. I liked that the chocolate wasn’t too sweet or rich, and the whipped cream on top was also unsweetened. I could eat every last bite of the dessert and not feel too full or heavy afterward.

Chocolate panna cotta

Overall Josh and I both really enjoyed our meal at A Voce Columbus and thought it was one of the better Restaurant Week lunches that we’ve had. I was a bit disappointed that the dishes they offered aren’t on the regular menu posted on their website, but I don’t think the restaurant cut back on quality or variety. Though some of the dishes had a few flaws, they were in execution and were easily correctable mistakes. More importantly, I thought the composition of the dishes were harmonious and flavorful. Getting a taste of this restaurant during Restaurant Week has made me more eager to try its regular a la carte menu. And isn’t that the point of Restaurant Week? To give diners an opportunity to try out a restaurant at a reasonable price (three courses for $24.07 at lunchtime, $35 at dinner) in the hope that they’ll want to come back even when it’s not Restaurant Week? In that sense, A Voce Columbus has certainly achieved its goal by participating in this wonderful semiannual tradition.

A Voce (multiple locations)
10 Columbus Circle at 60th St.
New York, NY