Posts Tagged ‘Union Square’

ABC Kitchen

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 by virginia

Back in October, we had a wonderful meal at ABC Kitchen in honor of Lisa’s birthday. I was having a hard time finding a place that would seat 7 of us during prime dinner hours on a Sunday, and ABC Kitchen was the only available restaurant that interested me on the Open Table search results. It’s a restaurant that has gotten a lot of buzz since it opened, and it was named the best new restaurant at the most recent James Beard awards. I usually shy away from buzzy places, preferring to wait until the hype has died down, but I had read plenty of good reviews from reliable sources so we decided to give it a shot.

We were seated at a round table in the front corner of the main room, giving us a great view of the room and its modern decor. It’s pretty minimalist and kind of industrial, but also elegant and classy. Our table was made from knotty wood and sort of rustic, reminiscent of a tree trunk. I loved the chandelier above us, which was silver with white ceramic flowers all over.

Gorgeous chandelier

The menu is fairly extensive, with several different categories to choose from. In addition to appetizers and entrees, there was market table category with various items to be shared, as well as pastas and pizzas. The menu prides itself on focusing on organic and local foods, so dishes change with the season. I had a tough time deciding on what to order but we ended up having a nice variety on the table so we got to taste a lot of different dishes.

The meal started out with some slices of slightly sour rustic bread, olive oil, and french radishes. The bread was fine, if a bit standard, but I loved the radishes. They were fresh, crunchy, and not too sharp. We ate them whole with just a bit of salt sprinkled on top.

Bread, olive oil, salt, and french radishes

We got a few market table items to share for the table. First up was a bowl of olives that were zesty and briney. They were marinated in olive oil and citrus peel, which gave them a nice brightness.

Marinated olives

Next was an order of roasted beets topped with housemade yogurt. The beets were sweet and creamy, and the yogurt added a subtle tanginess.

Roasted beets with housemade yogurt

Lastly, we all shared a pizza with jersey tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and fresh basil. The pizza had a whole wheat crust, which I was a bit nervous about since I generally don’t like whole wheat breads, but the wheat flavor was very subtle. The crust had a crispy bottom and a nice chew on the edges. The buffalo mozzarella was creamy, and the tomato sauce was fresh and tangy. It was a very good pie.

Whole wheat pizza with jersey tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and basil

Moving on to the main portion of our meals, Josh and I split the raw diver scallops and the crab toast for our appetizer course. The scallops were thinly sliced and topped with market grapes and lemon verbena. The dish was beautifully presented in a scallop shell sitting on top of a bed of ice. The raw scallops had a lovely firm and meaty texture to them, and they were lightly dressed with olive oil and citrus. The combination with the grapes was a refreshing blend of tangy and sweet.

Raw diver scallops with market grapes and lemon verbena

The crab toast was technically under the market table section, and it was definitely big enough to share. It was a huge piece of toasted bread topped with tons of crab meat mixed with some dill and lemon aioli. The crab was fresh and sweet, and I liked the earthiness brought by the dill. It was a big serving for an appetizer but we didn’t have any trouble finishing it.

Crab toast with lemon aioli

For our entrees, Josh and I split the black sea bass and the roast suckling pig. The black sea bass was topped with chopped chilies and herbs and served over a bed of spinach and baby potatoes. The chilies added a nice kick to the otherwise simple dish. Lisa asked for her order to be less spicy, and the kitchen willingly obliged. The sea bass was cooked perfectly, with a nice sear on the skin and delicate flaky flesh. The broth in the bowl tasted a bit of ginger, and the whole dish was clean and well balanced.

Black sea bass with chilies and herbs, baby market potatoes, and spinach

The roast suckling pig was my favorite dish of the evening. It was outrageously decadent, with crispy crackling skin and a plum and smoked bacon marmalade on top. The meat was melt in your mouth tender, and I loved the sweet/smokey combination of flavors. I also enjoyed the braised turnips on the side, with the slightly bitter greens that helped cut through the richness of the dish. I almost didn’t want to trade plates with Josh, though I did enjoy the sea bass as well.

Roast suckling pig with plum and smoked bacon marmalade and braised turnips

I don’t normally take pictures of other people’s food or comment too much about dishes that Josh and I didn’t order, but the minute I saw Alice’s fried chicken, I knew it would be something special. The piece of chicken was absolutely massive, with both dark and white meat, and fried to a perfect crisp. The batter was delicate and not remotely greasy, while the chicken inside was juicy and succulent. It was served with collard greens (yum!) and a hot butter sauce.

Fried organic chicken with collard greens and hot butter sauce

Even though we gorged ourselves during the meal, we still managed to save room for dessert. I ordered the seasonal glazed doughnuts while Josh selected the sundae. The seasonal glaze was currant, though it didn’t really have a distinctive flavor. The other flavors included chocolate glazed and a raspberry jelly doughnut. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. The doughnuts were just meh, not freshly fried or very flavorful. I never got into the whole doughnut craze that hit NYC, so maybe I just don’t appreciate them as much. I thought these were just marginally better than Dunkin’s though.

Currant glazed, chocolate glazed, and jelly filled doughnuts

Josh’s sundae, however, was pretty fabulous. It featured salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts and popcorn, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce. It was like a carnival in your mouth. While the ice cream was more caramel than salted caramel (it reminded me of dulce de leche ice cream), the peanuts made up for the lack of salt and the popcorn added a nice crunch. It wasn’t overly sweet, and the ice cream was a refreshing finish to our decadent meal.

Sundae with salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts and popcorn, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce

Overall we were all pretty impressed with the meal we had at ABC Kitchen. The food was fresh and well executed, and for the most part, the flavors of all the dishes were spot on. We enjoyed every single one of our shared market plates and appetizers. In addition to the crab toast and raw diver scallops that Josh and I ordered, the other diners at our table enjoyed the lentil soup, pretzel dusted calamari, and tuna sashimi. All of our entrees were hits as well. Only my doughnuts and the buttermilk panna cotta with huckleberry dessert fell flat (the panna cotta was deemed too firm and sour). In terms of service, we had several people waiting on us and they were all efficient and attentive. In honor of Lisa’s birthday, they brought her a small chocolate cupcake with a candle in it. The only drawdown to the restaurant, I think, is the price. Appetizers average around $15, and entrees around $30. Not super expensive by any stretch, but definitely not cheap. While I would love to eat here often, it will be more of a special occasion kind of place for us. Nevertheless, I think ABC Kitchen deserves all the buzz and hype it receives, and I will gladly return for another meal.

ABC Kitchen
35 East 18th St. between Broadway and Park Ave. South
New York, NY

Havana Central

Saturday, December 5th, 2009 by virginia

For Josh’s sister’s birthday celebration with her friends, we joined the party at Havana Central in Union Square. The restaurant has quite a festive atmosphere but it was hard to converse with everyone, as we were seated at a long narrow table in the center of the room so people at either ends couldn’t hear or talk to one another. We still had fun though and the alcohol was definitely flowing.

We started off with pitchers of sangria and mojitos. Both were tasty, if a bit generic. What I didn’t like, however, is that they fill the pitchers with a lot of ice. One full pitcher of mojito only poured four highball glasses, which are tall but much thinner than a pint glass. Considering a pitcher of beer will pour four pints, the ice makes a significant difference. And at $40 a pitcher, it’s not exactly cheap.

We shared a few appetizers, including a few orders of empanada samplers, plantain chips with avocado salsa, and some fried yucca with chimichurri sauce. I think I also saw some ceviche floating around at the other end of the table but it didn’t make it all the way down to us. The empanadas though were my favorite. We cut them up into little pieces so that everyone could try a few different kinds. The beef picadillo was nicely salty with little bits of green olives, the chicken sofrito was a bit milder in flavor, and the Cuban had classic Cuban sandwich fillings of ham, pork, swiss cheese, and pickles.

For my main course I ordered the Cuban sandwich with seasoned potato wedges. The sandwich arrived nicely pressed with crispy bread on the outside but when I bit into it, it was very tough, dry, and bland. Thinking that maybe I didn’t get all of the fillings on the first bite, I took another, but it was the same. I gave Josh a bite, and he thought it was pretty terrible as well. There was no flavor at all, and since I know how a Cuban sandwich should taste, I decided to investigate the fillings. It turned out that the sandwich they had given me was the pernil (roasted pork) sandwich, not a Cuban sandwich. That explained the missing flavors but boy, was the sandwich bad in general. The meat was tough and hard to chew and totally lacked seasoning. Pernil should be tender and juicy, not dried out and stringy. I definitely would not recommend ordering the pernil sandwich here.

Dry, bland pernil sandwich

Dry, bland pernil sandwich

Obviously I sent back the pernil sandwich, explaining that I had ordered the Cuban sandwich. The server looked a bit confused but he took it back without any issues. Unfortunately I was stuck watching everyone else at the table eat while I waited for them to make a new sandwich. In the meanwhile, I picked at the side orders of maduros and tostones we got. The maduros were sweet and fine, if a bit oily.

Maduros (sweet plantains)

Maduros (sweet plantains)

The tostones were much better, with a nice crunchiness and saltiness to them. They came with a chimichurri sauce for dipping that added the garlic flavor I love so much with tostones.

Tostones with chimichurri sauce

Tostones with chimichurri sauce

I also stole a few bites of Josh’s entrée, chicken in garlic sauce. When I think of chicken in garlic sauce, I think of what you get at most Spanish restaurants, which are big pieces of chicken simmering in delicious garlic oil that you just want to dunk an entire baguette into. This was nothing like I imagined, with flat boneless chicken breast barely covered in a white-ish slightly garlicky white wine sauce. It didn’t taste bad, but it was much blander than I thought it would be, plus Josh’s chicken arrived stone cold. It did come with a nice big pile of rice and beans on the side, but the chicken could have been much better. He was a bit disappointed with the dish.

Chicken in garlic sauce

Chicken in garlic sauce

After everyone else at the table was halfway through his or her entrées, my Cuban sandwich arrived. And they very clearly threw it together in a rush. While I appreciate their hurry, despite the fact that it still took a fairly long time to get to me, I wish they had done a more careful job with it. It was a really silly way to handle the situation. Look, you already screwed up my order, and I didn’t make a scene or put up a huge fuss about it. I just asked that you replace it with the dish that I actually ordered. So I know that you wanted to get me a replacement as quickly as possible, but didn’t you also want to serve me a spectacular version of the dish I ordered so that I would be impressed and forget about the earlier gaffe? Instead, what I received was a sandwich haphazardly thrown together, and it wasn’t even pressed. The bread was cold, limp, and floppy, and the filling was also ice cold. They didn’t even attempt to melt the cheese in the sandwich, so what I ended up with was basically a cold bad deli sandwich with ham, cheese, and pickles, and few dry pieces of pork thrown in for good measure. It was awful – the worst Cuban sandwich I have ever had.

A very sad attempt at a Cuban sandwich

A very sad attempt at a Cuban sandwich

The only saving grace on the plate were the seasoned potato wedges. I do have to give them points for giving me a hot, fresh batch instead of transferring the ones from my old plate to the new plate. The fries are crusted with tons of seasoning, giving them a nice crispy outer shell, and they’re just thick enough to have a soft potato filling but not too thick that it’s too much potato on the inside. I ended up eating mostly just the potato wedges and packaged up the sandwich so that I could heat it up at home and press it myself, which I did the next day. Better, after the bread was crispy and the cheese was melted, but still pretty meh in flavor.

Overall I have to say that I was really disappointed with the food we had at Havana Central. I’ve been to this location before and have even held one of my own birthday parties here, and while the food was never mind blowing or spectacular, it was passable. Kind of like a generic chain Cuban restaurant; I’d compare it to TGI Fridays. The food is ok but not authentic, and you don’t go expecting much. But this time the food was pretty atrocious, and service was laughable.

Any time we needed something it took as at least five minutes to flag down the waiter or another server, whether it was to replace my sandwich or to get another pitcher of mojitos. I know the restaurant was really busy, as it was prime time on a Friday night, but they should know by now how to get their act together. The festive atmosphere means that people usually go there in large groups, and they should be prepared for that. While the food is at least reasonably priced, though drinks are a bit expensive, I still don’t recommend coming here with a lot of people. It’s really hard to hear everyone and carry on a good conversation. I don’t think I’ll be coming back any time soon.

Havana Central (multiple locations)
22 East 17th St. between Broadway and 5th Ave.
New York, NY