Posts Tagged ‘Desserts’

Red Fish Grill – New Orleans

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 by virginia


The Red Fish Grill, a Ralph Brennan restaurant, was recommended to us by a friend of a friend. After we gorged on five dozen oysters at Luke Restaurant during happy hour, we were feeling pretty full and unmotivated to do anything too wild. We walked around the French Quarter for a while, listened to some live music while standing around on Bourbon Street, and then tried to pop into the Red Fish Grill for a late dinner. It was still pretty hopping in there, but the vibe was still casual and low key, so we put our names down, took another loop around the Quarter, and then settled at the bar with some Abita beers to wait for our table.

Fortunately we weren’t waiting there for too long before our number popped up, and after we settled our tab, we moved over to the main dining area. It’s a tall, airy space with large Alexander Calder-esque fish mobiles hanging from the ceilings. After debating for a while on what to order (the menu choices are actually a bit limited), we tore into the crusty french bread that was cleverly served in a white paper bag. The bread was wonderful, with a crispy crust that shattered nicely and an airy, chewy interior.

Crusty french bread

Crusty french bread

Josh had his eye on the BBQ blue crab claws so we split an order for our appetizer. His inspiration was the crab claws Provencale that we had at Arnaud’s during our last trip. While we were disappointed with our overall meal at Arnaud’s, Josh loved those buttery, garlicky claws with a dash of Pernod that paired so well with the crab flavor. Sadly, these were nothing like those  claws. Part of the issue was that we misunderstood what New Orleans style barbecue means, which does not refer to grilled or smoked, but rather, cooked in a sauce comprised mostly of butter, Worcestershire sauce, and creole seasoning. We didn’t know that at the time, and so we were a bit perplexed when we received breaded crab claws that had either been fried or baked, sitting in a bowl of  brownish sauce that tasted mostly of butter and unidentifiable seasonings. We didn’t love the sauce, which didn’t have a lot of discernible flavor, and the crab meat got a bit lost under the breading. My favorite part of the dish was cheddar scallion biscuit on the side, which hard and dense but softened up when soaked into the buttery sauce, and had a nice cheesy taste. I was not a fan of this appetizer in general, and although Josh didn’t dislike it as much as I did, he conceded that it didn’t compare to Arnaud’s crab claws.

BBQ blue crab claws with

BBQ crab claws with cheddar-scallion drop biscuits

Our confusion regarding New Orleans style barbecue also translated into our entree order of BBQ shrimp and grits. While this time the shrimp did seem like it had been grilled, the dish was covered in the same brownish barbecue sauce as the crab claws. However, in this case, the sauce worked. The buttery sauce acted as a gravy and bound the shrimp with the cream cheese grits underneath. The shrimp were well seasoned, and I appreciated that they kept the heads on, which is my favorite part. On the downside, I was surprised to see that the fried green tomatoes had been cut up and were mixed in with the shrimp and sauce, as they got a bit lost in the mix.

BBQ Gulf shrimp and grits with fried green tomatoes

BBQ Gulf shrimp and grits with fried green tomatoes

For our other entree, we picked the black drum, a local fish. It was grilled and served with bacon braised brussels sprouts, roasted portobella mushrooms, and a charred tomato lobster beurre blanc. The drum was very meaty though mild tasting. The sauce prevented it from getting dry, but I didn’t detect much lobster flavor. I was also surprised and disappointed to see only two and half brussels sprouts on the plate, and they didn’t taste much like bacon. The mushrooms were a nice accompaniment though and added a bit of bulk to the dish.

Wood grilled black drum with brussels sprouts and portobella mushrooms

Wood grilled black drum with brussels sprouts and portobella mushrooms

Josh surprised me by ordering dessert at the start of our meal, since we weren’t that hungry to begin with, and we’re generally not dessert people. He got the double chocolate bread pudding, which needs to be ordered in advance rather than at the end of the meal because it takes 20 minutes to prepare. I think he was inspired to order bread pudding because we both had been dreaming about the creole bread pudding souffle with warm whiskey cream from Commander’s Palace that we ate on our previous trip. We had hoped to make it back there this time around for their incredible lunch specials and 25 cent martinis but ultimately decided that it would probably be too upscale for J to enjoy. This bread pudding was very different in that it was chocolate based, not vanilla, but it was still pretty delicious in its own right. The middle of the bread pudding was soft and fluffy, similar to chocolate souffle, while the edges were crispier and chewier. Although we didn’t ask for it with ice cream, it was brought to us a la mode with vanilla ice cream on top. We were a bit annoyed that they charged us more for that when we didn’t order it, but the ice cream was a good addition and helped to cut through the richness of the chocolate. White and dark chocolate ganache was poured over the top table-side, making it a truly decadent and chocolatey experience.

Double chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream

Double chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and white and dark chocolate ganache

Overall, I was slightly disappointed with our meal at the Red Fish Grill. I think I was just expecting a bit more, and the food was really sort of meh; not bad, not great. The restaurant has received a lot of accolades, and it was recommended to us by a local, so perhaps my expectations were set too high. Even though our appetizer and entrees were properly prepared and nicely presented, none of the dishes wowed us with flavor. There was just a slight chain restaurant vibe to everything, which made the prices a bit of a shock. There was only one seafood entree under $20 (catfish and shrimp creole at $18), with the rest ranging from $25-$33. Appetizers were a bit more reasonable at $7-$9 for soups and salads and $9-$10 for starters. A dozen raw oysters was $15. Portions were decent but not huge. I was also a bit surprised by how limited the menu was. There were only six seafood entree choices, plus one chicken and one steak entree. It’s definitely a fish-centric restaurant, so if you’re dining with people who are seafood-averse, they won’t have much to choose from. I did like the atmosphere though, casual and bustling, and I might hang out at the bar once in a while if I lived in New Orleans. As a visitor, however, I didn’t find the food very special, and it’s not someplace that I would plan on going back to the next time we’re in town. There are so many other places with better food at cheaper prices, and I just don’t think it’s worth it.

Red Fish Grill
115 Bourbon St.
New Orleans, LA

Sea Grass Grille – Hilton Head, SC

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 by virginia


The Sea Grass Grille was a new restaurant for all of us, and it seems to get great reviews online. The restaurant has a definite seafood focus, though there are options for meat lovers as well. The meal got off to a good start with a basket of crusty baguette slices and some delicious herbed biscuits.

Slices of baguette and herbed biscuits

Slices of baguette and herbed biscuits

Josh and I both ordered the she crab soup for our first course. It was the only she crab soup we had that week, and it was pretty good. The soup was creamy and rich, not too thick, with a decent amount of crab flavor.

She crab soup

She crab soup

For my main course, I ordered the special of the day, monkfish with a mushroom cream sauce. The fish itself was well prepared, lightly coated and pan seared. The allure for me was the mushroom cream sauce though, which I think was finished with truffle oil because it had the wonderful aroma and earthiness of truffles. It was a pretty heavy dish for a hot summer day, but I didn’t mind.

Monkfish with mushroom cream sauce

Monkfish with mushroom cream sauce

Josh ordered the grouper piccata, which looked beautiful on the plate with a golden brown crust on the outside, but looks were deceptive. The fish itself was a bit soggy, and the caper/lemon/butter/white wine sauce completely overwhelmed the flavor of the fish. It wasn’t a bad dish, in that it tasted ok, but it wasn’t a combination that made a whole lot of sense to us.

Grouper piccata sauteed with lemon, butter, white wine and capers

Grouper piccata sauteed with lemon, butter, white wine and capers

For dessert, we ordered the key lime pie and the peach cobbler to share for the whole table. The key lime pie had a good amount of tartness to it, not too sweet. The filling was smooth and custardy, which I liked. Instead of a graham cracker crust, it had an oreo cookie crust, which I thought was a bit unusual. I love oreos, but I think I prefer a graham cracker crust with my key lime pie. There was also a caramel sauce drizzled over the top that was a bit out of place – I don’t think it was needed, and detracted a bit from the tasty key lime filling. Whipped cream would have been a better complement.

Key lime pie

Key lime pie

The peach cobbler was the special dessert of the day. It had a flaky top crust and the filling was sweet and soft. It was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that melted quickly over the hot cobbler. Not bad, not great.

Peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream

Peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream

Overall, we were a bit underwhelmed by the food at the Sea Grass Grille. Nothing was bad, but everything was just ok. I was a bit surprised to see that all of our main courses featured the same exact sides – broccoli, string beans, carrots, and a potato gratin. Sadly, the common sides just reminded me of bad banquet food – mushy, bland, ordinary. I’m more excited by restaurants that tailor the sides for each entree, depending on the protein, sauce, etc. It’s also on the pricier side, with appetizers generally in the $8-$10 range and entrees in the $20-$30 range, so I expected a bit more from the preparations. It’s not a place I see ourselves going back to.

Sea Grass Grille
807 William Hilton Pkwy #1000
Hilton Head, SC

Canada Wrap-Up – Beer, Shawarma, Bagels, and Sugar Pie

Thursday, July 11th, 2013 by virginia

In addition to imbibing on some great wines over the weekend, we tasted a few local brews in both Quebec City and Montreal. At Le Sacrilege in Quebec City, we tried the blonde, red, and white beers. Josh loved the refreshing crispness of the blonde, while I thought the finish on the red was a bit too bland. It did have an interesting coffee flavor component to it that I didn’t expect. The white beer was a hefeweizen with a strong wheat flavor. I enjoyed it a lot, even though it was freezing outside and I typically associate hefeweizens with summertime. It was served with both a lemon and a lime wedge.

In Montreal, our bar of choice, Brutopia on Crescent Street, was way too crowded for us to bring J in, so we settled for Les 3 Brasseurs, which is much bigger and had space for us and J’s stroller at the front of the bar. Les 3 Brasseurs looks like a chain restaurant, but they do brew their own beer (the name translates to The 3 Brewers). We tried the brown and the amber. The amber packed a decent punch, but the brown was slightly disappointing. It had won a few awards so we were expecting a bit more complexity in flavor.

After leaving Les 3 Brasseurs, we walked up Crescent Street towards Amir for a late night snack of shawarma and shish taouk. It was always our post-drinking destination back in college when we would visit Montreal. We got one of each on pita and took it back to our hotel room, where we ate it with the leftover pied de cochon. Sadly, the sandwiches were not as good as I remembered. The beef shawarma was a bit too spiced for my liking, but Josh enjoyed it. The shish taouk (chicken shawarma) was always my favorite, but this time I found it exceedingly dry and under seasoned. The garlic mayo was bland, and the pickled vegetables were sparse. I was disappointed, but I’m sure there are other places to get better shawarma and shish taouk in the city. Amir was just a nostalgic place for us to visit.

Shish taouk and shawarma pitas from Amir

Shish taouk and shawarma pitas from Amir

We finished up our Canadian adventure with a few Montreal-style bagels from two famed locations: St-Viateur Bagel Shop and Fairmount Bagel. The Fairmount Bagel shop had a fairly long line when we were there, though it moved quickly. We were in and out of the store in just a few minutes (even though Josh had to run out and find an ATM since it’s cash only). We picked up an everything, a chocolate chip, and a caraway seed bagel to eat in the car on our way home.


The St-Viateur Bagel Shop, on the other hand, was mostly empty. The production is a bit more impressive there though, as it is easier to watch the bagels being made in the back. Josh ran in and picked up an everything and a rosemary bagel for us to share.


So which bagels did we prefer? Fairmount, hands down. They seemed fresher and chewier, with a better crust. The dough also tasted more seasoned, with good flavor throughout. While I liked the everything bagel the best (it’s our baseline bagel), I was particularly intrigued by the chocolate chip bagel. The chocolate chips added a slight sweetness to the savory dough but it was far from being a dessert. I haven’t seen chocolate chip bagels here in NYC/NJ, and I wish there were some around so I could eat them more frequently! Josh loved the caraway bagel, as he is into anything caraway (particularly caraway-flavored spirits, ie., Brennivin).

Everything bagel, chocolate chip bagel, and caraway seed bagel from Fairmount Bagels

Everything bagel, chocolate chip bagel, and caraway seed bagel from Fairmount Bagels

The St-Viateur bagels were blander, with a drier texture that gave it a stale quality. Even the everything bagel was lacking in taste, as the toppings didn’t do much to help the flavorless dough. The rosemary bagel at least had rosemary running throughout the dough, so I preferred that one. But these bagels were a disappointment compared to Fairmount (although neither place stacked up to our favorite bagel shop in NJ).

Everything bagel and rosemary bagel from St-Viateur Bagel

Everything bagel and rosemary bagel from St-Viateur Bagel

The last item we picked up for our car ride home was sugar pie. I had read about it when researching Quebecois specialties, and I had wanted to try it at Au Pied de Cochon but we ran out of time and stomach room. I googled a place to buy it and came up with La Foumagerie, a specialty cheese shop/cafe in Westmount, just outside the city. Josh ran in to pick some up for us, and came back with two individually wrapped slices. He said the woman behind the counter was reluctant to sell it to him by the slice because it was the last pie left (I guess they mostly sell whole pies), but luckily for us, she eventually acquiesced.


I unwrapped one and dug in immediately. It was sweet and maple-y, just as I expected. It’s basically a pie filled with soft, crumbly, maple sugar candy. The fresh slice was slightly gooey, dripping out sticky streams of maple syrup. We saved the second slice for later, and by that point, the syrup was more incorporated in the filling and no longer drippy. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed both slices. It was not cloyingly sweet, but had more of a caramelized maple sugar flavor.

Slice of sugar pie

Slice of sugar pie

The drive home went by quickly, and thus ended our little Canadian adventure. The trip was a success overall, as we got to try a lot of great food and we handled Baby J pretty well on our own. Hopefully there will be a lot more travel in our future!

View of Quebec City at sunset

View of Quebec City at sunset

Notre Dame in Montreal

Notre Dame in Montreal

Le Sacrilege
447 Rue Saint-Jean
Quebec City, Canada

Les 3 Brasseurs
1356 St-Catherine St. W.
Montreal, Canada

1333 Boulevard De Maisonneuve Ouest
Montreal, Canada

Fairmount Bagel
74 Avenue Fairmount Ouest
Montreal, Canada

St-Viateur Bagel
263 Rue Saint Viateur Ouest
Montreal, Canada

La Foumagerie
4906 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest

Westmount, Canada

Fun with Foie Gras

Friday, April 12th, 2013 by virginia

This past Valentine’s Day, Josh and I celebrated the 15th anniversary of our first date. Unfortunately, with a four and a half month old baby and both of us working full time, we really didn’t have much time to celebrate properly on the actual day, since it was a Thursday.

The night before Valentine’s Day, however, we were watching the latest episode of Top Chef, where one of the cheftestants, Josh, made foie gras three ways. As we watched him break down a lobe of foie gras on tv, I commented to my Josh that I would love to have my own lobe of foie gras to play with. The next day, he promptly ordered an entire lobe of foie gras from D’Artagnan for me. Definitely a unique anniversary present, but so fitting for us!

The following Saturday was the first weekend in months that we had no plans so we hit up the local Fairway for some ingredients and sequestered ourselves in our house, devoting the full afternoon to preparing our feast. On the menu: seared foie gras with balsamic glaze served with crostini, rack of lamb with shaved brussels sprout salad and mushroom spaeztle on the side, and creme brulee for dessert.

Josh had prepped the foie gras when it was delivered to our house in the previous week. Since it was a grade ‘A’ lobe, there wasn’t much cleaning involved. He sliced it into half inch thick slabs and we vacuum sealed them in two-person portions, then popped them into the freezer. I was sad that we weren’t able to eat any fresh out of the package, but we figured this was the best way to preserve the integrity of the foie gras. We were able to get six good-sized slices and a few end pieces out of the lobe. In anticipation of our meal, I defrosted one of the sealed bags overnight in our refrigerator.

To cook the foie gras, Josh added a bit of vegetable oil in the pan and scored one side of each slice with a cross hatch pattern, like you would do with the skin of a duck before cooking. It doesn’t really do anything to the foie gras, but makes for a pretty pattern after cooking, and more seared bits on the outside. He also liberally sprinkled both sides of each slice with kosher salt. Once the pan was super hot, almost to the point of smoking, he laid the slices in the oil, counted 45 seconds out loud, and then immediately flipped them over. He cooked the second side for another 45 seconds, and voila, they were done. We put them on paper towels for a minute to rest and soak up some of the grease.

It was a mistake for Josh to put oil in the pan prior to searing, as the foie gras produced enough fat on its own. He ended up having to pour off a lot of the oil/fat (we tried to save it to use later on in the week, but we got busy again and didn’t have a chance to cook with it. Next time.), and then he deglazed the pan with some aged balsamic vinegar to make a syrupy sauce that we ended up pouring over the foie gras. He served the seared slices on top of some crostini that we toasted with olive oil, and the result was pretty fantastic.

Seared foie gras on top of crostini

Seared foie gras on top of crostini

We paired the foie gras with sauternes, which is pretty classic. We bought a half bottle of the 2009 Chateau Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes, which was sweet but not cloying, fruity, and slightly floral. On it’s own, it was a delicious dessert wine. However, I hated the pairing with the foie gras. After drinking the wine and eating some of the foie gras, I thought that it brought out the irony, sour notes of the liver. After eating the foie gras and drinking some of the wine, I thought it made the sauternes taste a bit harsh and acidic. While each was wonderful on its own, together, I thought it was a pretty horrible pairing. I’m not sure if it was just me, as Josh didn’t seem to mind that much, or if we picked the wrong bottle of wine, or what. It wasn’t a cheap bottle – about $40 for 375 ml, and it had received a 94 from Wine Spectator. I was disappointed, and wound up saving the rest of my glass for our dessert course, which turned out to be a better option.


2009 Chateau Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes

For our main course, Josh prepared the rack of lamb by marinating it in olive oil with garlic and rosemary. Then he cooked it sous vide in our Sous Vide Supreme at 55 degrees celsius for about two hours. Afterward, he seared it quickly to develop a crust on the outside, and made a pan sauce with cognac, mustard, and chicken stock.

I was in charge of the side dishes. I took about a pound of beautiful bright green brussels sprouts and sliced them as thinly as possible. I could have shaved them using a mandolin, but I was too lazy to bust out and have to clean extra equipment. We tossed the brussels sprouts with a vinaigrette made from olive oil, lemon juice, and mustard.

I was inspired to make spaetzle based on a dish we had in Bratislava a year and a half ago – roasted pork tenderloin with spaetzle covered in a porcini cream sauce. I’ve never made spaetzle before and used the easiest recipe I could find, which was from allrecipes. I cut back on the nutmeg though, which is a personal preference (I really don’t enjoy nutmeg). We don’t have a spaetzle maker so I used the biggest holes on a box grater, pushing the dough through with a silicon spatula. It worked surprisingly well, and the result was chewy nubs of jaggedy spaetzle. For the sauce, I sliced cremini mushrooms and browned them in olive oil until they were soft and cooked down. Then I used the food processor to chop them into tiny pieces, put them back into the pan, and added heavy cream, salt, and truffle oil and cooked it through until the sauce was rich and creamy, but that the mushrooms were still distinguishable. I was incredibly pleased with how the dish turned out. The combination of the meaty lamb, the rich spaetzle, and the bright, slightly bitter brussels sprout salad, was just perfect.

Sous vide rack of lamb, shaved brussels sprouts salad, spaetzle with mushroom cream sauce

Sous vide rack of lamb, shaved brussels sprouts salad, spaetzle with mushroom cream sauce

Josh was in charge of dessert and made creme brulee upon my request. He uses the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated The New Best Recipe cookbook, and uses real vanilla beans. The custard is velvety and smooth, not too sweet, and the sugar crust on top is hard to beat. I have to admit that I usually lick out the ramekins to get every last bit and all the little vanilla bean seeds that stick behind.


We still have several portions of foie gras left in the freezer, and I’m not sure what I want to do with them. Searing is quick, easy, and delicious though, so we really can’t go wrong doing that again. Maybe we’ll play around with the toppings – port wine, stone fruits, there are tons of recipes online. I’ll also have to see what we can do with the end pieces; maybe we could make something more creative with those. I just don’t want to experiment on the nice slices that we have, in case something goes awry.

All in all, even though we didn’t go anywhere exciting or try any new restaurants for our anniversary, we ended up doing what we love most – cooking, savoring the fruits of our labors, drinking nice wines, and simply enjoying being together.

Cafe Boulud

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 by virginia

Josh recently celebrated a milestone birthday, hitting the big 3-0. In honor of the occasion, I made reservations for dinner at Cafe Boulud. I booked the reservation on Open Table, noting that we were celebrating my husband’s 30th birthday. When I got a call from the restaurant the day before our dinner to confirm our reservation, the person on the phone also asked what my husband’s name was, so I was happy they got note I wrote.

Josh and I met up at Central Park before dinner and took a little walk around the lake to kill some time before our reservation. We still showed up about 15 minutes early but they seated us right away without any issues. We had a cozy spot in the far corner, sitting next to each other on a comfortable booth. I liked the decor of the restaurant, with neutral tones mixed in with dark wood, accented by small, bright and colorful paintings on the wall. The first and only time we had eaten at Cafe Boulud, a few years ago during Restaurant Week for lunch, I found the decor to be a bit bland, kind of like a nondescript hotel restaurant room. This was a big improvement, though a lot of the changes were pretty subtle.

While we were perusing the menu, they brought us an amuse bouche of deep fried risotto balls filled with smoked mozzarella. These were served piping hot and perfectly fried – crispy on the outside, creamy and gooey on the inside. It was a nice little bite to start off our meal.

Deep fried risotto balls with smoked mozzarella

It took us a while to decide on what to order because there were so many options that looked tempting. It was such a difficult decision that we ended up ordering two appetizers, two pasta courses, and two entrees, sort of making our own tasting menu. I liked that everything was a la carte because we could pick whichever dishes we wanted. As is our custom, we each started with a dish and then swapped plates halfway through.

After making our selections, we settled in to enjoy our meal. First was a visit from the bread man, who happily gave us a piece of each bread to try. In addition to the usual baguette, there was an olive rosemary roll and slices of sourdough, pumpkin seed, and raisin bread. While the sourdough was a bit bland, the pumpkin seed bread was interesting. It really was chock full of pumpkin seeds, giving it a salty, nutty taste. The raisin bread was good but I liked the baguette (of course) and the olive rosemary roll best. Both had hearty crusts and flavorful, chewy insides. I only wish that the bread was served warm, but at least the bread guy came by often to check if we wanted more bread.

Baguette and olive rosemary roll

Sourdough, pumpkin seed, and raisin bread

For our appetizers, we ordered the capon terrine and a special of the evening, the lobster bisque. The capon terrine was hard for us to resist because it featured black truffles and foie gras, as well as puy lentils and an espelette (a type of pepper) jam. The presentation was visually stunning, with the different layers of the terrine clearly defined. The foie gras took center stage and I enjoyed the livery richness, although I prefer foie gras when it’s sauteed and creamy, rather than cold. Also, while we could see the black truffle layer, it actually didn’t impart too much truffle flavor, much to my disappointment. Still, the capon was very tender, and all the components on the plate worked well when eaten together. I liked cutting off slices of the terrine and eating it with some crunchy toasts that accompanied the dish, providing some textural contrast. It was an interesting dish, though probably not something Josh or I would order again.

Capon terrine with foie gras and black truffles

The lobster bisque was topped with a tarragon foam and had a few english pea gnocchis at the bottom. The foam really didn’t do much for us, but the gnocchis were fabulous, with a light and creamy texture. The bisque itself was full of lobster flavor, however, it was much thinner and lighter than most bisques we’ve had. It didn’t seem like they used much cream in it, if at all. Some people might prefer that, but for us, we like our bisques to be a little bit thicker and more creamy. I think the cream helps the flavor coat your mouth and gives the soup a certain velvety richness. With this particular bisque, the flavor was intense at first sip but didn’t linger. We also couldn’t really use the bread to sop up what was left at the bottom of the bowl because the soup was so thin, which was a bit disappointing since that’s usually one of our favorite parts. Nevertheless, the bisque wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t to our personal preference.

Lobster bisque

For our pasta course, we got appetizer portions of the sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi and the celery root agnolotti. The gnocchi were enrobed in a broccoli rabe puree that was light and fresh, not bitter at all, and topped with dollops of ricotta, chopped toasted hazelnut, and a drizzle of olive oil. The gnocchi themselves were creamy and not the least bit dense. I liked that there were still bigger pieces of broccoli rabe mixed into the puree, adding texture to the dish, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the chopped hazelnut. While it gave a nice little crunch, I found the flavor of the hazelnut to be overpowering, ruining the delicate tang of the sheep’s milk ricotta. I would have preferred toasted breadcrumbs instead, which I thought worked well with the ravioli we had at the Union Square Cafe. Josh liked the hazelnut though, so I guess it’s a personal preference. Nevertheless, it was a very delicious dish.

Sheep's milk ricotta gnocchi

As good as the gnocchi were, our other pasta dish was even better. It featured agnolotti, which were little raviolis filled with pureed celery root. The filling was creamy and savory, and the agnolotti were topped with soft chestnuts, celery leaves, and black truffles. Again, the black truffles weren’t as flavorful as I had hoped, but the dish was absolutely fabulous. It was rich and flavorful, with lots of butter in the sauce, but we couldn’t get enough of it. The celery leaves lightened the dish just a tad, and we were scraping the sauce from the bowl with pieces of bread. This was our favorite dish of the evening.

Celery root agnolotti with chestnuts, celery leaves, and black truffle

For our entrees, we split the venison loin and the pan seared striped bass. The venison was cooked sous vide and then seared on the outside, so that it was ruby red throughout, but with a nice crust. The meat was tender and just slightly gamey. It was served with smoked sweet potato flan, shallot confit, and a juniper berry sauce. The sweet potato flan was really interesting, with an intense smokey flavor that reminded us of barbecue flavored potato chips. The thin, crispy sweet potato slices on top only added to that impression. The juniper berry sauce was slightly sweet, and paired well with the venison.

Venison loin with smoked sweet potato flan

The pan seared striped bass was perfectly cooked – the skin was crispy while the flesh was flaky yet meaty. The bass was served on a white bean cassoulet with mushrooms. The menu also said there was pork belly, but we didn’t see any visible pieces. I think perhaps it was mixed in with the sauce and cassoulet, because it tasted very rich and hearty. I loved the subtle sweetness of the beans and the earthiness of the mushrooms. It was a very well composed dish.

Pan seared striped bass with pork belly, white bean cassoulet, and mushrooms

For dessert, we ordered the special of the evening, the Grand Marnier souffle. When they came with our dessert, however, they also brought Josh an additional molten chocolate cake with a candle in honor of his birthday. They even wrote “Happy Birthday Josh” on the plate, which is I guess why the woman on the phone asked for his name when she confirmed our reservation. It was a very nice gesture, and though we were both pretty full at this point, we gobbled up the cake. It was dark and rich with a warm, gooey center, just as you would expect, and the accompanying coffee ice cream was a good match.

Molten chocolate birthday cake

The Grand Marnier souffle was served with a small pitcher of creme anglaise and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was light and fluffy, just like a good souffle should be, and the flavor was spot on. We’ve had Grand Marnier souffles before and they usually just taste like a vanilla souffle with maybe a hint of orange. This particular souffle actually tasted like Grand Marnier, right down to the slight bite from the alcohol. It wasn’t too sweet, and we liberally poured the creme anglaise into the center, which gave it an extra boost. The ice cream in this case was unnecessary, as the souffle and sauce were more than enough to satisfy us.

Grand Marnier souffle with creme anglaise and vanilla ice cream

Lots of creme anglaise poured in the middle

They also brought us a small basket of madeleines, which were similar to the ones we received at Daniel. They were delicately crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle, slightly sweet and citrusy. I couldn’t stop popping them into my mouth, even though I was about ready to burst at this point.


During our meal, while we were eating the venison, Josh asked our waiter a lot of questions about the temperature at which the meat was cooked, the reason being that he had just received a Sous Vide Supreme for his birthday. We were also discussing the Executive Chef of Cafe Boulud, Gavin Kaysen, during our meal, and were debating whether or not he really cooks at the restaurant anymore given that he is a famous chef in his own right. Josh asked if I wanted to meet him, and our waiter overheard, telling us that Chef Kaysen was indeed cooking in the kitchen, and offered to take us on a tour. We were thrilled, of course, so after we paid our bill we followed our waiter into the kitchen.

The space was smaller than other restaurant kitchens we’ve seen (Alinea, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Eleven Madison Park) but most likely because the restaurant itself is smaller. There was some activity going on but it wasn’t chaotic, probably because service was winding down. Chef Kaysen took the time to greet us and speak with us for a little while. When Josh asked him about the sous vide venison, Chef Kaysen took us into a back room to show us the restaurant’s huge immersion circulator.

I knew Chef Kaysen was a young guy, in his early 30s, and I’ve seen him on TV before, but I was really struck by how young he looked. It’s pretty incredible what he has accomplished in his career already. I mean, this is the guy that represented the U.S. at the prestigious Bocuse d’Or four years ago! But I was drawn in by the fact that he was also totally down to earth and incredibly friendly, even ribbing our waiter good naturedly while we chatted.

Josh and I both found Cafe Boulud to be a wonderful experience all around. The food was delicious and the service was top notch. Our waiter was knowledgeable and engaging, knowing when to check up on us and when to leave us alone. Even the runners were superb, taking the time to speak with us when they served our courses or cleared our plates, always making sure that everything was ok. With regard to the meal itself, we thought that all the dishes were well prepared and beautifully presented. The pasta course stood out for us, as did the entrees. Even dessert was a hit, though I always like to say that we’re not dessert people. It was a nice way to finish off our meal, and our faux tasting menu would have been incomplete with out it. Cafe Boulud is definitely somewhere on our top 10 list, and I would love to go back there again. It was a bit pricey, though to be fair, we did order four courses each and split a nice bottle of wine. Josh also had a scotch at the beginning of the meal. If we had shown some restraint, the bill would have been much more reasonable, but hey, it was a special occasion. As long as the birthday boy was happy, so was I!

Cafe Boulud
20 East 76th St. between Madison and 5th Ave.
New York, NY

Cherry Clafouti

Monday, August 30th, 2010 by virginia


For a few weeks in a row, we got piles of cherries from our CSA fruit share. I love cherries, but there is a limit as to how many I can snack on before I get a little tired of them. I didn’t want the fruit to go to waste so I decided to try out a cherry clafouti recipe I watched Alton Brown make on an episode of Good Eats.

The recipe, which can be found here, has a really short and basic list of ingredients. This was a huge plus, because it was all stuff that we had on hand. All you need to make this recipe is:

– 12 oz cherries
– 2 large eggs
– 1/4 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup whole milk

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
– Butter, for the Dutch oven

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To prepare the cherries, I cut them in half by running a paring knife all the way around the pit, then splitting them open by hand. I used the tip of the knife to carefully pop out the pit, and put all the cherry halves into a bowl.

Cherry halves

In a separate, medium sized mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until it has turned into a pale yellow color and is frothy. Mix in the milk, vanilla, and flour, and whisk until incorporated. This is the batter for the clafouti.

Clafouti batter

Butter the inside of the dutch oven and carefully line the bottom with the cherry halves. I made sure that they all faced the same way and were spread out evenly.

Cherries lined up on the bottom of the dutch oven

Carefully pour the batter over the cherries, trying not to disturb them too much. They will float a bit though, so don’t worry.

Pouring the batter over the cherries

Bake the clafouti (with the dutch oven cover off) on the middle rack for approximately 30 minutes. The top should brown lightly (though mine stayed pale for some reason). Insert a knife to check if it’s done; the knife should come out clean.

Baked clafouti

Let the clafouti cool in the dutch oven for 30 minutes, then carefully remove it onto a plate.

Cherry clafouti

Cut into wedges, and serve. Although my clafouti didn’t get brown on top, it was cooked through and had a nice custardy texture to it. I actually preferred it cold, after it had been in the refrigerator overnight. The recipe is really simple and it makes a tasty dessert or a decadent breakfast.

Clafouti autopsy shot

Tahoe Day 2 – Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 by virginia

After a long, exhausting day on the slopes (10,000+ feet altitude really does get to you!), Claire and M still managed to put together a huge and lovely spread for the New Year’s Eve gathering we had at our house. There were about 20 of us altogether and there was so much delicious food that I couldn’t stop filling my fat belly. Claire really outdid herself in preparing some really interesting appetizers and I hope she’ll share the recipes!

As promised, she made pickled watermelon rinds wrapped in bacon.

Pickled watermelon rind wrapped in bacon

The pickled rind was sweet and sticky, tasting a bit like honey bbq sauce, and the bacon added a nice saltiness and smokiness that complemented the rind very well.

Close up shot of the pickled rind/bacon

Claire also made dates stuffed with manchego cheese wrapped in bacon. These were also sweet and salty and oozing nutty cheese from the center. I couldn’t wait to have one and ended up burning my tongue on the molten cheese!

Dates stuffed with manchego cheese and wrapped in bacon

Another interesting appetizer was roasted sweet potato pureed with orange rind and orange juice. The puree was placed on crackers and topped with smoked almonds.

Sweet potato puree with orange juice and orange rind on crackers, topped with smoked almonds

Surprisingly, however, one of my favorite appetizers was slices of brie on pita chips topped with clementine chutney. I don’t really like brie, and would typically not eat such a huge chunk of it at once, but combined with the chutney, it turned into something entirely different. It was creamy and sweet and just lovely to eat.

Brie on pita chips topped with clementine chutney

M made her specialty cheese gougeres, which were light, airy, and addictive.

Cheese gougeres

She also made a simple but awesome tomato bruschetta.

Tomato bruschetta

Other appetizers included cucumber slices topped with smoked salmon and a lemon/scallion mixture…

Cucumber topped with smoked salmon

And the same with pieces of crab.

Cucumber topped with crab

We also had garlic bread, which paired perfectly with our main course of spaghetti and meatballs.

Garlic bread

Sean was the one who made all the meatballs and the red sauce a few days before our trip. The sauce, which takes several hours to simmer, was really fantastic, and the meatballs were tender and flavorful.

Spaghetti with meat sauce and a meatball

The feast didn’t stop there – Claire went all out on the dessert. First was red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, which she placed on a cupcake stand and stuck candles in them in honor of her friend’s 30th birthday. The cupcakes were really yummy and moist.

Red velvet cupcakes

Next were huge platters of mince pies, which Claire had been preparing for over a year – that’s how long it takes for the fruit in the mincemeat to soak in alcohol!

Mince pies

And last, but definitely not least, we had slices of Claire’s Christmas pudding. It was also chock full of fruit and very dark and rich.

Christmas pudding

We all had a great time eating and drinking the whole night. Josh and I celebrated New Years twice, first by watching the Times Square ball drop on TV and calling our family on the east coast, and then celebrating with everyone at midnight Pacific time. It was hard to stay up but so worth it. Thanks very much to Claire for organizing everything, it was definitely a New Years celebration to remember!