Archive for February, 2011


Saturday, February 26th, 2011 by virginia

Whenever I have a rare weekday off from work and we happen to be in the city, Josh and I like to go for lunch somewhere a bit special, since it’s a luxury to have more than an hour for lunch. There are lots of great prix fixe deals to be found, and some of the best ones are at Jean George restaurants. We’ve always been big fans of Nougatine but have gone there often enough that we’ve sampled most of the menu offerings. Some of the dishes do vary based on the season, but we were in the mood to try something different so we decided to head across town to another Jean George place, Jojo.

The restaurant itself is a huge departure from the massive and almost sterile atmosphere of Jean Georges and Nougatine. It’s got a old school townhouse feel to it, with green and white striped walls, gold crown molding along the ceiling, big mirrors hanging all around, and little lamp light fixtures everywhere. It was cozy, though I think they need to rethink their chairs. I was seated on a soft bench that stretched the length of the wall and was perfectly fine but Josh was in a chair that was just way too low for the table. He looked pretty silly, like a little kid sitting at the adult table, and it was probably a bit uncomfortable for him to maneuver his utensils and eat from that low angle.

Nevertheless, the food is always what’s most important to us. The menu is set up in a similar structure to Nougatine, with a choice of appetizer, entree, and dessert for $26. The menu did say choice of two plates again, with no real distinction between appetizers and entrees, but there were several appetizers that we wanted to try so it didn’t bother us too much this time. I do wish they would be more clear though on the menu because it can be confusing. After we placed our order, they brought us a tall cup containing long pieces of a thin baguette. The bread was absolutely fantastic – some of the best bread that I’ve eaten at any restaurant. It was warm right out of the oven with a nice crispy crust and a soft, chewy interior. I slathered it with butter and sprinkled on some coarse salt from the little bowl that was on our table.

Fantastic baguettes with creamy butter and salt

Per usual, Josh and I went halfsies on everything. We would each start on one dish and then switch plates halfway through. For the first course, we selected the tuna tartare and the peekytoe crabmeat. The tartare arrived looking like a small plate of potato chips:

Where's the tuna?

The tuna was obviously hidden underneath the chips. There wasn’t a huge amount of fish, just two small rounds, though it made it easy to share the portion, but I didn’t like that it was chopped super finely. It had the consistency of ground tuna, which threw me off slightly, but at least the fish tasted fresh and it was properly seasoned. The chive oil surrounding the dish added a lot of flavor, and I liked the crunchiness of the gaufrette potatoes with the soft tuna.

Ground tuna tartare

The peekytoe crabmeat appetizer was also pretty tasty, and a bit more sophisticated, I thought, than the tartare. There were lots of peppery pieces of crabmeat that we were told to spread on the accompanying cumin crackers with a smear of whole grain mustard, and then top with the cubes of mango. It was a great combination of crunchy, sweet, and peppery. The crabmeat was really fresh and flavorful, and we could really taste the cumin flavor in the crackers.

Peekytoe crabmeat with mango and cumin crackers

For our entrees, we split the salmon and the hanger steak. Usually I shy away from ordering salmon, having eaten one too many fishy portions, but I must say that Jean Georges usually does salmon right. This particular version was slowly baked and served with truffled mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, and truffle vinaigrette. I know that we’re both truffle nuts but even this dish shocked me with its complexity of flavors. While the truffled potatoes were exactly what you would expect (delicious, of course), the truffle vinaigrette was tangy and bright, not the smooth earthiness that we expected. The truffle flavor was there but the acidity cut through the richness nicely, and paired well with the soft, fatty salmon. The brussels sprouts on top added a little bitterness, and the dish was really well composed and perfectly seasoned.

Baked salmon

Our second entree, the hanger steak, was completely covered in gingered mushrooms and served on a bed of broccoli rabe. The hanger steak was soft and tender, and the gingered mushrooms added an interesting Asian twist to the dish. There was also a soy caramel sauce that was more salty than sweet but helped tie everything together.

Hanger steak with gingered mushrooms, broccoli rabe, and soy caramel sauce

The hanger steak came with a side of french fries that were warm and nicely seasoned, though they weren’t as crisp as I had hoped. They were pretty limped and tasted like they had soaked in a lot of the frying oil. Too bad, because they looked so good.

French fries

For dessert, we had a choice between JG’s signature molten chocolate cake and an apple tart, so we got one of each. The molten chocolate is the same one that is served at Nougatine, just with a different shape. It’s chocolately and rich, with a lovely runny center. Served with vanilla ice cream, it’s a classic combination.

Warm molten chocolate cake

Liquid center

The apple tart was also served with ice cream, cinnamon I think. The tart itself had a flaky puff pastry crust and a layer of what tasted like crumbly almond cake. There wasn’t a ton of apples inside, but it was nicely balanced in flavor and not too sweet. I actually preferred this dessert to the chocolate cake.

Apple tart and ice cream

Overall we were both pretty impressed with the prix fixe lunch at JoJo. There were lots of different options to choose from, which made it kind of hard for us to decide, but everything we had was delicious. You can order lunch items a la carte, but the three course prix fixe for $26 is definitely a bargain, given the quality of the food. The hanger steak did have a $3 supplement charge, though even that is totally reasonable. Service was fine up until the end of our meal, when we had to wait a long time for our check, so it was good that we weren’t under a time crunch. I preferred the townhouse atmosphere to the modern one at Nougatine, though I’d be happy to return to either restaurant.

160 East 64th St. at 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

Lucky #13 – An Anniversary Dinner at USC

Thursday, February 10th, 2011 by virginia

As some of you might know, Josh and I celebrate three anniversaries. The first is obviously our wedding anniversary, May 17. The second is the anniversary of our first date, which was on Valentine’s Day. Traditionally, this was the anniversary we held in highest regard. Our third anniversary, however, which is one we’ve only recently started celebrating officially, is the day when Josh first asked me out, on February 10, 1998. Nine years later, February 10 was the date on which he proposed.

The reason we started celebrating our February 10 anniversary, aside from being sentimental fools, was actually due to logistics. Try getting a good restaurant reservation on Valentine’s Day! In addition to reservations being hard to come by, a lot of restaurants only serve special Valentine’s Day menus where the choices are limited and the prices are exorbitant. By celebrating on February 10, we basically had our pick of restaurants. Last year, we went to Daniel. This year, I was actually too focused on our new workout regiment to think about restaurant reservations.

Josh had told me he was going to Hartford today and wouldn’t be home until later at night. He left before me in the morning to get to Penn Station on time. This was a rare occurrence, as he’s usually still in bed when I leave for work. While I got ready to go, in my head I had already planned out most of my day. I wanted to go to the gym after work, take a pilates class, and then meet up with Josh for a late game of racquetball, since he told me he wouldn’t get back into the city until 7:30 pm. Then I figured we would just go somewhere in the neighborhood for dinner, a compromise between cooking at home and going out for an elaborate meal.

To my surprise, as I was heading out the door, there was an envelope stuck on top of the doorknob. I opened it up and found a beautiful card inside from Josh wishing me a happy anniversary, and a note saying to meet him at the Union Square Cafe at 7:30 for dinner. I was completely shocked and so excited at the same time, as the Union Square Cafe has been on our “must eat” list for quite a while. I also loved the fact that after 13 years together, Josh still manages to surprise and thrill me.

I felt a little bit guilty about skipping the gym but the Union Square Cafe was absolutely worth the calories. We had a great meal, and service was exactly what we expected from a Danny Meyer restaurant. I can understand now why this place consistently tops the most popular list in the Zagat guide. The food is tasty, not overly fussy, and the atmosphere is warm and inviting. What a lovely way to celebrate our lucky 13th anniversary!

Update – Lifestyle Changes for TFB

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011 by virginia

I apologize for the lack of posts lately. We’ve been pretty busy, and most significantly, we’ve recently joined a gym. It’s time for our two fat bellies to become a little bit smaller, and joining the gym was a big step for us. We’ve been playing racquetball every day and doing some lifting on the side. Nothing too hard core, but it’s time that we became more active.

We’re also cutting back on our food consumption. I’d hesitate to use the word diet, since this isn’t one. You’ll still find us eating the things we love, including our usual junk food indulgences. This is more about eating a bit smarter, a little bit less, taking into account portion control, and not wasting calories on things that really don’t interest or excite us.

Since we joined the gym, we have also been cooking every day during the week. The problem is that now we eat dinner really late (usually around 9:30 pm), and I don’t have time to blog. It will take a while for us to find our groove but I’m really excited about this lifestyle change that we’re embarking on. The impact on the blog, aside from a lag in posts, should be minimal. We just need to figure out a good balance between work, working out, cooking, and blogging, and hopefully things will get back normal. But first and foremost, we’re still lovers of food and will continue to enjoy eating and writing about our adventures.