Posts Tagged ‘Duck’


Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by virginia


Just wanted to take a break in between the Louisiana and Texas trip to talk about a semi-recent meal we had at Aviary in NYC in February to celebrate our 16th anniversary as a couple. It was a notable anniversary for us because we were both 16 years old when we started dating, so sometime in between this anniversary and the next, we’ll have been together for more than half our lives. I think that’s a pretty cool milestone.

Since J came into the picture, it’s rare for us to have a dinner on our own. We either bring her along with us, or if we can get someone to watch her, we’re usually meeting friends for dinner or going to a party. So when Josh’s parents graciously agreed to watch her for our anniversary, we knew we wanted to have a nice meal out in the city, which is a rare luxury for us these days. After doing a bit of research, we settled on Apiary, a fairly under the radar restaurant with a chef we were both curious about – Scott Bryan.

We had both read about Scott Bryan in Kitchen Confidential, where author/chef Anthony Bourdain sings his praises. After leaving Veritas in 2007, however, we hadn’t really heard much about Chef Bryan since then. He seems like such a talented, passionate cook who is really just focused on the food, not all the PR and other hype surrounding chefs these days, and so we were eager to sample his offerings.

As a side bonus, we went on a Monday, when the restaurant offers no corkage fees. We stopped at Astor Wines nearby and picked up a bottle of white from Tuscany and a bottle of red Chateauneuf du Pape to go with our meal. I had researched the menu online beforehand so I had a good idea of what I wanted to order, but of course I needed Josh to agree with me. Our waiter also came up with a long list of recommendations when asked what dishes he preferred. Rather than going for the 5 course tasting menu, we decided to come up with our own tasting with four appetizers and two entrees, so that we could try more dishes.

While we waited for our food to come out, we noshed on the bread, slices of sourdough with a hearty yet crispy crust. It was delicious with the fruity olive oil that came on the side for dipping.

Sourdough bread and olive oil

Sourdough bread and olive oil

We told our waiter that we planned to share all the dishes, so the kitchen thoughtfully split some of them into two plates for us. For the first course, we were each presented with our own plates of hamachi crudo, and our order of grilled quail was placed in the middle of the table. The hamachi, which is yellowtail fish, was sliced thin and served raw with slices of avocado, hearts of palm, chopped chives, finely diced jalapenos, and a microgreen salad on top. The dish was dressed with a yuzu vinaigrette, and while I loved the pop of the acid and the freshness of the fish and vegetables, Josh thought there was a bit too much citrus on the fish that overwhelmed its delicate flavors. Overall though, we both thought it was a bright dish that woke up our taste buds and was a great start to the meal.

Hamachi crudo, avocado, hearts of palm, jalapeno

Hamachi crudo, avocado, hearts of palm, jalapeno

We were more mixed about the grilled quail dish, as we thought that was a bit odd for them to have presented us with individual crudos while the quail just sort of sat on the table and got cold while we ate our fish. Maybe they expected us to finish our crudo quickly, and then move on to the quail immediately? Logistically, it was also kind of hard to eat the quail while reaching over our crudo plates. I think our waiter saw us struggling a bit and quickly removed the empty plates and provided us with clean small plates to transfer the quail onto, which was a slightly  messy affair. The quail itself was well seasoned, but the meat was pretty chewy. Josh picked up his half with his hands and ate the meat off the bone, while I tried a more delicate approach with my knife and fork, which wasn’t very successful. It came with lentils on the side, curried spiced yogurt, and drizzle of paprika oil that added a bit more smoke to the dish. The flavors were intense and exotic, which we enjoyed, but it was hard to get past the chewiness of the quail.

Grilled quail, curried spiced yogurt, french green lentils, orange

Grilled quail, curried spiced yogurt, french green lentils, orange

For our second course, the kitchen split our order of swiss chard and ricotta ravioli. There were two plump raviolis in each bowl that were topped with a piece of fried sage, brown butter, and poppy seeds. The pasta itself was perfectly cooked and gorgeously delicate, both in texture and flavor. The brown butter was a tad greasy but otherwise appropriately rich, and worked well with the sage. The surprise element of the dish was the poppy seeds sprinkled on top, which added a nice dainty crunch to each bite.

Swiss chard and ricotta ravioli, sage brown butter, poppy

Swiss chard and ricotta ravioli, sage, brown
butter, poppy

The last of our appetizer courses was the grilled octopus, which they also split for us. Each portion of tentacle came with romesco sauce, chorizo oil, and arugula dressed with lemon. I took a bite and commented to Josh about how it was probably the most tender octopus I’ve ever eaten, and he looked back at me in surprise and said the texture was only ok. We traded bites and indeed, his octopus was much chewier, with a sort of bounciness to it, while I could have cut my portion with just the side of my fork. Coincidentally, this has happened to us before, where we each had two completely different tentacle textures from the same serving. I thoroughly enjoyed this particular preparation, especially the smokiness from the grill and from the chorizo oil. The arugula salad lightened up the dish and prevented it from feeling too heavy.


Grilled octopus, romesco, baby arugula, lemon

For our entree course, the kitchen did that thing again where they split one of our dishes (the duck breast) and served the other one (the pork chop) whole at the same time, where it also sat in the middle of the table until we were ready for it. Nevertheless, the duck was simply fabulous – medium rare, beautifully pink, rendered skin, and perfectly seasoned. There were whole green peppercorns in the jus drizzled on top, which had gave each bite a little peppery pop and a slight floral hint. I wasn’t a big fan of the glazed turnips on the side (I found them to be slightly too bitter and acidic, although Josh didn’t mind them), but I enjoyed the pureed parsnips and chewy farro underneath. The duck was the real star of the plate though, and it was our favorite dish of the night.

Long Island duck breast, parsnip puree, farro, glazed Tokyo turnips, green peppercorn-armagnac jus

Long Island duck breast, parsnip puree, farro, glazed Tokyo turnips, green peppercorn-armagnac jus

Josh finished his duck first and dug into the pork chop, still having to reach awkwardly across his duck plate. The pork chop was massive, probably the thickest pork chop we’ve ever gotten at a restaurant, and was cooked through to medium as the chef recommended. It was served on top of a bed of black bean tinga, which is a Mexican style sauce made with chipotles. I thought the beans were just slightly too al dente for my taste, but Josh disagreed and liked that they had texture to them. There was a spiced avocado mash on top of the pork, but I didn’t taste any of the orange ginger glaze that was mentioned on the menu. I thought the pork was seasoned well and the dish had a lot of flavor to it, but it didn’t really wow us. We felt like it was something we can make at home, and Josh’s mom has a similar dish in her repertoire that involves simmering pork chops and black beans in a combination of salsa and tomato sauce. Obviously this was a much more refined dish than the one she makes, and the quality of the pork was vastly superior, but the flavors were almost identical.

Berkshire pork chop, black bean tinga, orange ginger glaze, spiced avocado

Berkshire pork chop, black bean tinga, orange ginger glaze, spiced avocado

I was stuffed to the gills by this point and didn’t even finish my half of the gigantic pork chop, so we were prepared to pass on dessert. Plus we heard from Josh’s mom that J was getting a little fussy and was probably going to be ready for bed soon, and we wanted to see her before she went down for the night since we had left for work before she had gotten up for the day. The waiter surprised us by bringing a vanilla panna cotta with our check, in honor of our anniversary. It was an incredibly nice gesture, and helped to cap off a lovely evening. The panna cotta was smooth and creamy, and we could see real vanilla bean seeds on top. It was served with raspberry coulis that was just slightly tart, which helped cut through the richness of the cream.

Vanilla panna cotta, raspberry coulis

Vanilla panna cotta, raspberry coulis

Overall, we really enjoyed our anniversary meal at Apiary. The meal hit some really high highs (the duck, the raviolis), and didn’t really have any misses. While the quail and the pork chop weren’t our favorites of the evening, they still had great flavor and would probably appeal to a lot of other people. I loved the hamachi and the octopus courses, but the kitchen showed a bit of inconsistency in those dishes as Josh’s octopus was far from the tender specimen I received, and his crudo had too much acid on the plate. As a side note, Josh later confessed that he’s actually not a big fan of octopus in general, because he feels it has no flavor, while I vehemently disagreed. See, even after 16 years together, there are still surprises in our relationship! But in general, we had a great dinner, and service was fabulous. Our waiter was knowledgeable, enthusiastic about the food, and came by to check on us often. With BYO Mondays, Apiary is a great place to go out for a nice, upscale meal without blowing your budget. They also offer a three course prix fixe menu on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for $38, with items from the regular menu. It’s definitely worth checking out.

60 Third Ave.
New York, NY

Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro – Lafayette, LA

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 by virginia


Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro was probably the nicest restaurant we went to on our Louisiana/Texas trip. We had eaten pretty casually while in New Orleans and were in the mood for something a little more upscale when we got to Lafayette. We hoped that J would be on her best behavior, but we also figured that it wouldn’t be too crowded on a Wednesday night so in case she did make a scene, she wouldn’t bother too many people.

The restaurant itself is in a beautiful space. There’s a big bar in front when you walk in, and the large room is split in two by a staircase to the upper level. The ceilings are tall and appeared to be painted tin with lots of intricate details. The hostess didn’t bat an eye when she saw us walk in with a baby, and after we settled J into a highchair, she brought over crayons and a coloring sheet – a good sign that this was a kid-friendly bistro.

After placing our order, we were presented with an amuse bouche made from beets. It had the consistency of an airy mousse and was savory and sweet at the same time. The amuse was a nice little spoonful to whet our appetites.

Beet amuse bouche

Amuse bouche featuring beets

The bread was sort of a flat, chewy loaf, served warm with flavored butter. After all the french bread we ate in New Orleans, it was a welcome change of pace. J was pretty content to only eat this bread for her meal.


Flat, chewy loaf of bread

We decided to share an appetizer to start. After two false starts (we tried to order bone marrow first, and then the rabbit bites, but they ended up being out of both), we finally settled on bacon wrapped dates stuffed with ricotta and pistachios. It’s a pretty classic salty/sweet combination, further enhanced by the rosemary-port glaze on the outside of the bacon. However, I wished the bacon was a bit crispier, as it wound up being more chewy. The ricotta in the middle added a nice creaminess that should have acted as a counterpoint to crispy bacon. Nevertheless, it was a nice little snack, and one that I may try to replicate at home.

The dates

Bacon wrapped dates stuffed with ricotta and toasted pistachios

For our entrees, I selected the Zapp’s Crawtator crusted drum while Josh chose the crispy duck. As usual, we swapped plates halfway through. The drum, which is a meaty local fish, was completely covered with crushed Zapp’s potato chips. The chips were still in good-sized pieces though, which I found a bit surprising, and the crust also wasn’t as crispy as I would have preferred. The Cajun seasoning on the chips were subtle and worked well with the mildly flavored fish. There was a crawfish cream sauce on top, which is what originally sold me on the dish. I was expecting something similar to etouffee, but it was more creamy and bisque-like, which wasn’t a bad thing. The dish came with a choice of a side and we opted for the duck fat fingerling potatoes. Although they looked a bit pale, they were actually well seasoned and pretty flavorful. It was a heavy dish overall though, so even though I did enjoy it, I was glad that we went halfsies.

Zapp's Crawtator crusted Louisiana drum with crawfish cream sauce, and a side of duck fat fingerling potatoes

Zapp’s Crawtator crusted Louisiana drum and a side of duck fat fingerling potatoes

The duck had gorgeous skin that was perfectly rendered and crispy, as advertised. The meat inside was tender, and the pecan-orange agro dolce was appropriately tangy and sweet. There wasn’t a lot of sauce covering the meat, which let the flavor of the duck shine. The grits on the side were a bit firmer and not as creamy as I prefer, but they had a nice sweet corn taste to them.

Crispy duck with sweet cream corn grits

Crispy duck with sweet cream corn grits

Overall, we were pretty happy with our dinner at Jolie’s. It was upscale food with a Creole twist, and I like that they support local farmers and the farm-to-table ideals. Although there were minor execution problems, I think the dishes were well thought out and interesting to eat. The restaurant is on the pricier side but in line with the quality of food we received. Starters and small plates mostly ranged from $11-$14, and there were lots of entrees between $20-$25. Service was great; everyone was friendly and attentive, making sure our water and wine glasses were always filled. It was just a pleasant meal in general, and a restaurant that I would recommend to visitors.

Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro
507 West Pinhook Rd.
Lafayette, LA

Carpenter & Main – Norwich, VT

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 by virginia


Josh and I recently spent our first weekend away from baby J, to attend a wedding in New Hampshire. While Josh has been away before for work, I’ve never spent a night apart from J and I was obviously a bit apprehensive about the situation. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to a responsibility-free weekend and spending some quality time with the hubby. We drove up on Friday and spent a few hours hiking Mount Cardigan in the afternoon, then got ready for what we hoped would be a nice, romantic dinner at Carpenter & Main in Norwich, Vermont.

The view from the top of Mount Cardigan

The view from the top of Mount Cardigan

Norwich is a picturesque, quaint-looking New England town. We didn’t have time to walk around but we drove past a lot of old colonial-style buildings along the way. The restaurant is located on Main St. and, as the name implies, the corner of Carpenter St. We had a reservation and were seated immediately, in a smaller room to the side of the entrance.

Our waitress seemed a little bit harried but stopped by our table to check in while we were looking over our menus, promising to return soon to take our drink order. Josh selected a bottle of Zinfandel that was wonderfully full-bodied and spicy once it opened up. We were served dinner rolls to start, which were warm, fluffy, and soft throughout.

Soft dinner roll

Soft dinner roll

The menu is divided up into three sections – morsels, small plates, and larger plates. We wanted to taste several items and so we decided to mix and match from the morsels and small plates to start, and then finish off with the larger entrees. We asked our waitress to bring the food out in whatever order she thought would be best.

The soup of the day and two morsels showed up first. Since the soup was chilled, it was set in between our plates while we tasted the morsels. I started with the braised short rib bruschetta. It was pulled short rib meat piled on three toasted rounds of bread and topped with horseradish gremolata. The short rib was a tad on the dry side but I really enjoyed the gremolata, which had a nice kick to it from the horseradish and really bumped up the flavor of the bruschetta – I just wished there was more of it.

Braised short rib bruschetta with horseradish gremolata

Braised short rib bruschetta with horseradish gremolata

Josh got the caramelized tofu triangles first, which were served with charred broccoli rabe. He was intrigued by this dish when he saw it on the menu but I was a little wary. Turns out that I was right, as the tofu was mushy and completely drowning in a soy marinade. It must have been sitting in the marinade for a while, as the inside of the tofu was completely brown and it was incredibly salty. It was a bit more balanced when eaten together with the broccoli rabe, but overall, we thought the dish tasted like bad Chinese takeout.

Caramelized tofu triangles with charred broccoli rabe

Caramelized tofu with charred broccoli rabe

In between bites of the morsels, Josh and I both tasted the soup, which was made from three melons – cantaloupe, honeydew, and banana melon. The puree was refreshing and sweet, though not overly so. I thought it was a nice mix of flavors, including a citrus note in the background, but Josh thought it was a bit boring. He was looking for some more acid and perhaps a savory component, like olive oil, to break up the sweetness of the melons.

Soup of the day - cold cantaloupe, honeydew, and banana melon soup

Soup of the day – chilled cantaloupe, honeydew, and banana melon soup

The next course was when the meal picked up a bit. I received the Moroccan lamb meatballs with spicy tomato glaze, which packed a punch of flavor. I was actually expecting something more Mediterranean, like kofte, but the spices actually skewed more Indian in flavor to me. The tomato sauce was creamy with lots of spices, reminiscent of tikka masala, and the lamb was coarsely ground and gamey, which I liked. The meatballs were definitely under-seasoned though, but it was an easy fix with the salt shaker on the table.

Moroccan lamb meatballs with spicy tomato glaze

Moroccan lamb meatballs with spicy tomato glaze

Josh got the vol-au-vent of escargots, which was snails piled in a puff pastry basket. The escargots were plump and tender, and the puff pastry was nicely browned and flaky. The garlic-herb cream sauce on the plate was fantastic. There were visible slices of garlic but it wasn’t overpowering. The garlic flavor was nicely balanced by the taste of fresh herbs, and the sauce was lighter than a traditional garlic butter. However, it also desperately needed more salt, but once I sprinkled some on, the dish really came together and popped.

Vol-au-vent of escargots with a garlic-herb cream

Vol-au-vent of escargots with a garlic-herb cream

For our entrees, we shared the crispy duck confit and trout ala meuniere from the larger plates section of the menu. The duck was a confit leg with tender meat and crispy skin. It was served with warm potato salad and mesclun greens. The meat was slightly under-seasoned, but when eaten with the whole grain mustard vinaigrette, the dish came together nicely. I enjoyed the lightness and brightness of the dish, and it was a good counterpoint to the heavier appetizers that we had been eating.

Crispy duck confit with warm potato salad and mesclun greens with whole grain mustard vinaigrette

Crispy duck confit with warm potato salad and mesclun greens with whole grain mustard vinaigrette

The trout dish was a huge portion of fish, definitely the biggest plate of food we had all night. The fish itself was nicely prepared – lightly dredged with a delicate crust. The sauce was classic – lemon, parsley, and brown butter – which paired nicely with the flaky fish. It was served with wild rice and the vegetable of the day, which happened to be green beans. It was a homey yet refined dish, but once again, I had to make liberal use of the salt shaker.

Trout ala meuniere with lemon parsley brown butter wild rice medley and green beans

Trout ala meuniere with lemon parsley brown butter, wild rice medley and green beans

Overall I really enjoyed our dinner at Carpenter & Main, although I think I liked the food better than Josh did. While the under-seasoning was a problem for both of us, it was easily rectified by adding some salt to finish off the dishes. I thought the flavors were good otherwise, although I would pass on some of the morsel plates next time, like the caramelized tofu (which was surprisingly too salty), and the short rib bruschetta, which was a bit boring compared to some of the either items we tasted. I absolutely loved the escargot vol-au-vent, which was a refreshing take on a classic dish, and both of our entrees, the duck and the trout, were superb as well. Prices are on par with the food, with morsels ranging from $4-$6, small plates from $8-$14, and larger plates from $12-$29. Service was warm and friendly, and the ambiance was casual but subtly polished. The best part though was that Josh and I were able to have a delightfully romantic meal, just the two of us, which is something that we’ve been missing.

Carpenter & Main
326 Main St.

Norwich, VT

Au Pied de Cochon – Montreal

Monday, July 8th, 2013 by virginia


When Josh and I first discussed going to Montreal and Quebec City, I immediately said that we would have to eat at Au Pied de Cochon, a restaurant famous for its decadent stuffed pig’s foot and foie gras poutine. Fortunately, we were able to get a somewhat last minute reservation on Saturday night, our only night in Montreal. The downside was that the only reservation we could get was at 5 pm, when the restaurant first opens. Nevertheless, we prepared for our meal by eating a lighter lunch and taking a long walk from our hotel near Crescent Street to the Old City, and then up through the Latin Quarter to the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood where the restaurant is located.

We weren’t quite sure how long the walk would take in total, as we wanted to take a few pics around the Old City first, plus we knew we would have to push J’s stroller up quite a long hill to get to restaurant. We actually timed it pretty well and arrived at about 4:45. By this point, however, J was hungry, slightly chilly (it was a windy day), and just wanted to be out of her stroller. We attempted to enter the restaurant but were immediately rebuffed. The hostess told us they didn’t open until 5, and then shut and locked the door. I guess they are sticklers for punctuality, but we were  hoping they would take pity on a 6 month old baby and let us wait in the narrow entry way so that we wouldn’t have to stand out in the cold for 15 minutes. No such luck.

Instead, we walked to the street corner where there was a little patch of sun and a place where Josh could sort of sit on a giant planter while he held J on his lap. She was definitely happy to be out of her stroller, and I fed her some banana while we waited, which appeased her even more. Finally the 15 minutes were up, the door was unlocked, and we headed back inside. Our initial irritation at the hostess’ seemingly lack of sympathy for our situation soon dissipated, as she was very accommodating in helping us store J’s stroller behind her stand (there really isn’t much room to maneuver in the restaurant, as the tables are packed tightly together), and then helping us carry J’s car seat to our table (Josh was still holding J while I was laden down with the diaper bag and other assorted baby-related items that I pulled from the stroller). They had given us a four top near the bar, so we had plenty of room for J’s car seat and to spread out our stuff.

I had studied the menu extensively and read lots of reviews prior to our trip, so I knew which entrees I wanted us to try – the namesake stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras, and the duck in a can. Based on my research, I knew this would already be way more food than either of us could eat, so I was wary of ordering any appetizers or sides (so no foie gras poutine, sadly), but we ended up getting an order of bison temaki to share. Josh ordered a bottle of red wine, and we sipped on that while snacking on the fabulous baguette they brought us, which had a crispy, crackly crust and a chewy interior. It was the best baguette we had on our trip.

Bread and wine

Bread and wine

The bison temaki is a pretty ingenious dish – it’s bison tartare served in a sushi hand roll style. The raw bison meat is chopped up and rolled in nori (seaweed) with some rice, lettuce, and fried root vegetable strips. The roll is topped with a quail egg sauce that you pour over the meat. It was fresh, well seasoned, and a great mix of interesting flavors and textures. The bison was not super gamey, and quail egg added a lovely richness to the meat. Two hand rolls came in our order, and while one was beautifully presented, the other was falling apart. The nori had snapped in that one, and it was a bit sloppily assembled. I was kind of surprised by the haphazard presentation but nevertheless, the bison temaki was a great dish, and definitely whetted our appetites for the rest of the meal.

Bison temaki

Bison temaki

Of the dishes I read about, the duck in a can definitely was one of the more debated entrees. Some loved it, others hated it. I couldn’t help but want to find out for myself. It’s basically half a duck breast, foie gras, balsamic sauce, cabbage, roasted garlic, and thyme, all cooked together inside an actual sealed can. The waiter brings the can to the table, opens it with a can opener, and pours out the contents onto a plate for you.

The waiter opening up the can of duck

The waiter opening up the can of duck

The duck itself was perfectly pink on the inside, but I found the meat to be tough. The skin also doesn’t have an opportunity to render, so it’s thick with fat, which some people love. I’m not averse to eating fat, especially when it melts in my mouth, but I thought this fat was unpleasantly tough and congealed. The foie gras was a bit lost in the dish, which was also disappointing. The cabbage and sauce were ok, but nothing spectacular, in my opinion. Overall I was on the side that thinks this dish is more of a gimmick, while Josh said it wasn’t that bad.

Duck in a can out of the can

Duck in a can out of the can

The stuffed pied de cochon was a HUGE platter of food. I knew the portion would be large, but I was surprised by just how big it was. As we’re still New Yorkers at heart, we had to compare it to the size of a Metrocard.

The stuffed pied de cochon vs. a Metrocard

The stuffed pied de cochon vs. a Metrocard

I mistakenly thought the pig’s foot was stuffed with foie gras, but that wasn’t the case. There was a big piece of seared foie gras on top though, which I was happy to see. The pig’s foot was really more of a pig’s leg, as there was more shank meat than gelatinous cartilage under the fried outer layer. Those of you who are averse to eating foot would be happy to know that!  However, I absolutely adore pig’s foot, so I was pretty sad to only find bits of cartilage here and there. The pied de cochon was served on top of a mountain of mashed potatoes and tons of mushrooms and veggies. I barely made a dent in the dish, though I did manage to finish off all the foie gras (of course). It was a hearty, homey dish, but not refined or composed. Still, it was pretty delicious, especially if I got a piece of foie gras, some crispy skin, and both shank and foot meat all in one bite.

Stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras

Stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras

After we were finished eating, I asked for the rest of my dish to be packed up. The waiter seemed a bit surprised but he still complied with my request. The round foil container was packed to the brim and must have weighed about three pounds! Since we were eating so early, I knew I would want a snack later that evening, especially after we had a few drinks. I was definitely happy with my decision to take the rest back to our hotel, and it tasted even better later after all of the ingredients had time to meld together (even though it was cold, as there was no microwave in our room).

When Josh made the reservation, they told him that each seating is for two hours. At this point, it was almost 7 pm, meaning our time was up. The hostess had already walked by our table several times to check up on our status. I was sort of interested in ordering sugar pie for dessert, having never tasted it before, but I was pretty full and also didn’t want to go over our allotted time as I knew people would be waiting. The restaurant was packed (it filled up almost immediately after they opened), and there were lots of people standing in the entryway. Plus J had already taken a nap during our meal and was starting to get fussy. So we quickly got our check, gathered our belongings, and headed out. One of the people waiting for our table actually helped us carry our stuff out, as there really wasn’t much room to walk. J’s hat got lost in the shuffle, and the hostess helped us track it down under our table while we waited.

Overall I thought Au Pied de Cochon was an interesting experience. There is a lot of hype surrounding the restaurant, and maybe I expected more from it because of that. The food wasn’t bad, but it didn’t knock my socks off. The bison temaki was definitely a high point – it was a well composed, interesting dish, despite the sloppy plating. The stuffed pied de cochon was tasty, but in a rustic way. I was not impressed with the duck in a can, but Josh thinks I’m overreacting. The restaurant is also pretty expensive, though dishes are big enough to share. However, we weren’t able to take advantage of that with just the two of us. I would have liked to try more items, but the cost was prohibitive and I didn’t want to waste food by ordering more than we could conceivably eat. Dinner for the two of us, with just one appetizer, two entrees, and a bottle of wine, was about $265. To be fair, our entrees were some of the most expensive items ($40+) on the menu, and there are plenty of things in the $25 range. Josh also picked an expensive bottle of wine, but beer and cheaper wines are available.

In terms of service, we were pretty annoyed initially when they wouldn’t let us into the restaurant 15 minutes early to wait with the baby. However, the hostess did seem much nicer after the doors opened at 5 pm, and she was very helpful when it came to managing all of our belongings. Our waiter took a pretty casual approach when dealing with us, but he wasn’t rude or unfriendly. Our water and wine glasses were always filled, and someone promptly brought us hot water to heat up J’s bottle when we asked. The atmosphere of the restaurant is pretty bustling. It’s loud and chaotic, but everyone seems to be having a great time while eating and drinking. I was worried that it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to bring a baby, but most people didn’t notice when J cried due to the inherent noisiness of the restaurant.

So what’s my final verdict? I’m not sure. I was a bit disappointed when we left, especially since we had some great food the previous night at Le Moine Echanson in Quebec City (and the seared foie gras there was much better), but I also wished that we had been able to taste more of the menu. I’d like to go back with a big group so that we could share lots of dishes, and maybe I’ll have a different impression of the restaurant. I’ll have to hold off on whether or not I’d recommend the restaurant until then.

Au Pied de Cochon
536 Avenue Duluth Est
Montreal, Canada

The NoMad

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 by virginia

Josh and I recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and to honor the occasion, we had a rare night out in the city by ourselves. With Josh’s parents watching J for us, we were finally able to have a nice meal without worrying about diaper bags, teethers, toys, baby food, or imminent meltdowns. We didn’t have much debate on where to eat for our anniversary dinner. Josh and I are both big fans of Eleven Madison Park, where we celebrated our second anniversary, and so making a reservation at The NoMad, Chef Daniel Humm and Restaurateur Will Guidara’s newish restaurant (they’re the team behind EMP), was a no-brainer.

When Josh called the restaurant earlier in the week to confirm our reservation, he let them know that we were celebrating our anniversary, and requested a “romantic” table. While they said there’s really no table more romantic than others, they did seat us at a nice table in the center of the Parlour room, next to a pillar so that we had a little privacy, with not many other tables so close by. We were also wished a happy anniversary by several people before we were even seated, which I thought was very nice, and they poured us complimentary glasses of sparkling wine to toast with.

Bread was served first, and it was pretty fantastic. It was a whole loaf of flatbread, similar to foccacia but slightly crustier, that was topped with rosemary and garlic and filled with chickpeas. The bread was served warm, and the aroma coming off of it was heavenly. It was light, not dense, and had just the perfect amount of salt on the outside. I’ve read that the toppings change depending on the season, but I really enjoyed the combination we received. I think we showed a lot of restraint by pacing ourselves and not polishing the bread off immediately, and we refrained from asking for a second loaf when it was finished (although I was really tempted to!).

Flatbread with garlic, rosemary, and chickpeas

Flatbread with garlic, rosemary, and chickpeas

The menu is split into three sections – snacks, appetizers, and entrees. As The NoMad is known for its cocktails, I can see ordering a few of the snacks if you are just stopping by for a few drinks and a little nosh. While some of the snack items did seem tempting, like the sweetbreads croustillant and the beef tartare, too many things on the appetizer/entree menu were calling out to us instead. We decided to put together a mini tasting menu of our own, selecting four appetizers and two entrees to share. We asked the waiter to bring the dishes two at a time, in whatever order the kitchen deemed appropriate. Josh also asked the sommelier to put together a wine pairing for each of the dishes.

For our first course, they brought us the spring garlic veloute and the fluke. The fluke was sliced thin and served raw, though it was marinated with acid so it had a ceviche-like quality. The fish was still fresh, it just had a nice pop of brightness to it that permeated the flesh. It was served with a sorrel puree, amaranth, and royal trumpet mushrooms. The sorrel and the baby lettuce on the plate added a refreshing aspect to the dish, and the mushrooms a bit of earthiness. The amaranth provided a nice textural crunch.

Fluke with ...

Fluke marinated with sorrel, amaranth, and royal trumpet mushrooms

The spring garlic veloute was not what I expected. First, it was cold. That was fine, it was just surprising at first taste when you’re expecting something to be hot. Second, it was sour, in a vinegary sort of way. Not unpleasantly so, but it also didn’t taste much like garlic to me. We had some experience with spring garlic when we were part of a CSA, and I found it to be intensely garlicky in flavor, but not pungent. This veloute was sort of the opposite, in that it was pungent, but not garlicky. I didn’t love the veloute by itself, but when eaten with the accompanying fresh fava beans, ricotta, ham (which I think was prosciutto), and toasted crouton, it was more balanced; the other ingredients helped to mellow out the tanginess. It was also good when sopped up with the above mentioned flatbread. I just wonder if the acidity of veloute was intentional.

Spring garlic veloute with fava beans, ricotta, and ham

Spring garlic veloute with fava beans, ricotta,
and ham

For our second course, we had the tagliatelle and the egg. I think it’s probably hard to convince people to pay $17 (not including tax and tip) for an egg, but I cannot emphasize enough that if you go to The NoMad, you must order this dish. It’s a perfectly poached egg with asparagus, brown butter, and quinoa. Breaking the egg released the runny yolk that was rich and creamy, and mixed with the brown butter and quinoa, it was like the best breakfast cereal combination I could ever imagine. The toasted quinoa was nutty and crunchy, and the brown butter added a wonderful savoriness to the dish. I could eat bowl after bowl of this. The asparagus added a taste of spring to the dish and lightened it up a little, cutting through the richness of the yolk and butter just a bit. It was definitely one of our favorite dishes of the night.


Egg poached with asparagus, brown butter, and quinoa

The tagliatelle was served with king crab, meyer lemon, and black pepper. There was lots of crab meat on top that was sweet and fresh. The lemon flavor was kind of subtle – there was a brightness to the dish but I kind of wish there was a bit more punch. The pasta also needed more of a sauce to bind it together, as it was a bit dry texturally. I liked the black pepper though, which added a pop to the dish.

Tagliatelle with king crab, meyer lemon, and black pepper

Tagliatelle with king crab, meyer lemon, and
black pepper

For our main course, we shared the suckling pig and the duck. We discussed the famous roast chicken for two before our meal, ultimately deciding against ordering it for fear that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. The reviews have been very mixed, although the consensus has been that it’s not as good as EMP’s famed lavender duck, which we’ve tried and didn’t blow us away. I didn’t want to mar our dinner by regretting spending $79 on roast chicken, even if it did come with foie gras and black truffle, two ingredients I constantly crave.

We enjoyed The NoMad’s duck, which was roasted and served with beets, pistachio, and coriander. The duck was pink, tender, and well seasoned. The beets were pickled and extremely tangy; I might have preferred them to be in their natural state, as I love the earthy sweetness of beets, but I appreciated the acidity they brought to the dish. The pistachios added a nice crunch.


Duck roasted with beets, pistachio, and coriander

The suckling pig confit was a wonderful mix of textures and tastes. The meat itself was incredibly tender, practically falling apart with a gentle twist of the fork, while the skin was crackly and crispy. The pork flavor was intense, and it was covered with mustard seeds that add little bursts of tanginess. The sweet dried plums, onions, and fresh wild greens complemented the meat very well.


Suckling pig confit with dried plums, onions, and wild greens

We were pretty full by this point so we decided to share dessert. We had to try the famous milk and honey dessert, which is milk ice cream drizzled with honey and served on top of shortbread, brittle, and dehydrated milk flakes. The ice cream was smooth and light, not overly creamy or rich, and not too sweet. The honey had a caramelized flavor to it, as did the honey the brittle. The shortbread reminded me of graham cracker crumbles, and the milk flakes had the texture of astronaut ice cream, sticking to our tongues and melting in our mouths in an interesting manner. It was refreshing and delicious, a composed yet whimsical dessert, and a great way to finish our meal.


Milk and honey – shortbread, brittle, and ice cream

Overall, we were incredibly happy with our anniversary meal at The NoMad. We thought the food was pretty fantastic, although there were some individual components of dishes that we didn’t necessarily love. Our favorite dishes of the night were the fluke, the egg, and the suckling pig. Service was mostly wonderful, although there were some minor missteps, like forgetting to bring us a spoon with the veloute and serving our ice cream dessert immediately after I left the table to use the restroom. Fortunately the ice cream held up well. In general, we were pretty pleased with the attentiveness of the staff, and the sommelier was great. Josh gave him a budget to work with for our pairings, and he came in under, which we appreciated. Dinner ended up costing $360 after tax and tip. A splurge for sure, but definitely worth it for the quality and creativeness of the food. It’s also possible to spend far less in the restaurant, as we had three courses each plus a dessert, with wine pairings for three courses. Appetizers are about $15-$20 each, and entrees about $25-$35. If we had gone with two courses, dessert, and a reasonably priced bottle of wine, our bill would have been much less. The NoMad is definitely one of the best restaurants we’ve been to in a while, and I would happily go back again.

The NoMad
1170 Broadway at 28th St.
New York, NY

Le Hobbit Bistro – Quebec City, Canada

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 by virginia


I had done some research on restaurants in Quebec City prior to our trip but I wasn’t set on exactly where I wanted to eat, and I wasn’t really sure where the restaurants were located relative to our hotel. I wrote down a bunch of names and addresses, and so when we finally arrived in Quebec City late on Thursday night, we zeroed in on the restaurants closest to our hotel. There were two restaurants on the same street nearby so we walked past both and settled on Le Hobbit Bistro, which seemed like a slightly brighter, more upbeat and open space than our other option (where we ended up eating the next night).

There restaurant was busy, but not overly crowded, which was fortunate since J’s stroller takes up a lot of space. The waiter was pretty accommodating about shifting the tables around a bit so that we could put her (and all of her stuff) out of people’s way. It was after 9:30 pm by the time we settled in, and the waiter informed us that the kitchen would be closing soon so we quickly placed our order. Josh was in charge of the wine while I picked the dishes that we would share.

He wound up ordering a 1999 Bordeaux from Chateau Les Mangons. It needed a little time to open up a bit but wound up being smooth, medium bodied, not too dry, and very drinkable. The bread basket, on the other hand, was kind of sad with some limp pieces of baguette that had virtually no crust on it.

Bordeaux and baguette

Bordeaux and baguette

For our appetizers, we got the French onion soup and the sweetbreads with fig and truffle oil. The French onion soup was warm and comforting on a cold night, exactly what you expect, but nothing extraordinary. It was well seasoned, hearty, and had lots of melted cheese on top – there’s not much more you can ask for from a French onion soup.

French onion soup

French onion soup

I was really excited for the sweetbreads but I had started with the soup while Josh had started with this dish, and look on his face after he took one bite was not encouraging. He wouldn’t really explain to me what the issue was so after we made our customary swap midway through, I gingerly dug in to see what the face was all about. Immediately, I noticed that the texture of the sweetbreads was off. It should be crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, but this was chewy and gristly. I don’t know if that was intentional or if they didn’t clean the sweetbreads properly, but the texture is what threw Josh off. We both agreed that the plating, however, was gorgeous.

Sweetbreads on top of celery root puree with fig and truffle sauce

Sweetbreads on top of celery root puree with fig and truffle sauce

Flavor wise, the dish was screaming for salt, which was scattered about the plate in little flakes, but not actually on the sweetbreads themselves. There was also almost no sauce on the plate, and whatever sauce there was didn’t really taste much like figs or truffle oil. That was pretty disappointing, since I love both. The celery root puree underneath the sweetbreads was properly seasoned though, as was the little microgreen salad next to it. When I got a little bit of everything on my fork and dragged it through the salt flakes, the dish was actually pretty tasty, if a bit subtle, but the texture was still bad. I had very mixed feelings about the dish overall, but I didn’t hate it as much as Josh did. If the sweetbreads were the crispy/creamy texture that I’m used to, I would eat it again. But they weren’t, and Josh thought it was just bland and bad in general. Oh well.

The main courses fared much better. We shared the venison skirt steak and the duck confit. The venison was tender and not too gamey, perfectly cooked so that it was pink and juicy on the inside. However, it also wasn’t seasoned enough. A little bit of salt would have really elevated the flavor of the meat. Nevertheless, the pureed sweet potatoes underneath were super creamy and perfectly balanced between sweet and savory, and the melted leeks were buttery and mellow. Except for the lack of salt, we both really enjoyed the dish.

Venison skirt steak with pureed sweet potatoes and melted leeks

Venison skirt steak with pureed sweet potatoes and melted leeks

The duck confit was served with a port sauce and roasted vegetables. The duck was perfectly prepared, with the meat falling off the bone at the slightest push of the fork. I was amazed that the skin was still super crispy, a great textural contrast to the tender meat. The port sauce was intensely flavorful, slightly sweet, and paired perfectly with the wine. And unlike the venison and the sweetbreads, this dish was perfectly seasoned, which made it our favorite of the evening.

Duck confit with port sauce and sweet potato puree

Duck confit with port sauce and roasted vegetables

We passed on dessert, opting to enjoy the last bit of our wine instead. Overall we really did enjoy our meal at Le Hobbit, despite the few missteps with our dishes. While the texture of the sweetbreads was definitely problematic, everything else was just a seasoning issue and could have been easily fixed with a dash of salt. We liked the vibe of the restaurant, which seemed to be full of locals – most tables were groups of friends chatting in French, eating, and drinking. Our waiter was very accommodating, and we did not feel completely out of place dining with a baby. Prices were pretty reasonable – not cheap, but in line with a nice meal out. With two appetizers, two entrees, and a nice bottle of wine, dinner cost about $165 after tax and tip. It’s definitely a place I would recommend to someone traveling to Quebec City.

Le Hobbit Bistro
700 Rue Saint-Jean

Quebec City, Canada

The Saddle River Inn

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 by virginia

Although I missed the blog’s third anniversary, Josh and I did celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary in May (yes, May) with a special meal at The Saddle River Inn. It was a celebration on multiple fronts, as we had also just closed on our new house the week beforehand. While I was in the middle of the second trimester and still feeling indifferent about food at the time, I was happy to go to The Saddle River Inn because it was the first “nice” restaurant that Josh and I ate in together, back in 1998 for his 17th birthday.

That was also the last time that we were there, and walking up to the restaurant, it looked exactly as how I remembered. The inside looked the same as well, although the room seemed a bit smaller and less imposing to me, 14 years later. Even though it was relatively late on a weekday, the dining room was surprisingly busy, though not packed. At the time, the restaurant offered a weekday prix fixe special on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – 3 courses for $42, which isn’t too shabby considering entrees normally top $30.

The restaurant is a BYO, which is another bonus. Since we were celebrating, I wanted more than just a soda or water. We brought along a bottle of carmenere for Josh, and a bottle of sparkling grape juice for me. I wasn’t sure how the restaurant would handle the grape juice, since BYO doesn’t usually include non-alcoholic beverages, but our waiter initially mistook it for champagne and poured us both a fluteful to toast. Once he realized what it was, he just laughed and kept topping off my flute during dinner while Josh stuck with the wine. He didn’t make an issue about the grape juice or make me feel embarrassed about having it, which I appreciated.

Bread was served first, a thick piece of rustic sourdough bread with a heavy, crispy crust. The crust was a tad bit on the well done side, but I still enjoyed it slathered with a thick layer of butter.

Crusty sourdough bread

As usual, Josh and I went halfsies on our meal, although we had to be careful about picking items that I could eat. We started off with seared scallops and crab salad for our appetizer course. The seared scallops were served with golden raisins, almonds, and maple-lemon butter. While the scallops were cooked perfectly, I found the dish to be entirely too sweet. To me, the sauce was a bit sticky and cloying, and I didn’t love the combination with the raisins. Josh, on the other hand, loved the dish, and found it to be well balanced and flavorful. It just goes to show that we don’t always have the same tastes!

Seared scallops with golden raisins, almonds, and maple-lemon butter

On the other hand, I was a bigger fan of the crab salad than Josh was. The salad, which was a special that evening, featured lump crab meat served with cucumber, baby greens, grapefruit, and mango puree. The crab was plump and fresh tasting, and paired perfectly with the tangy fruits and crunchy vegetables. It was a light and bright dish, simple, but flavorful enough to wake up my taste buds.

Crab salad with cucumber, baby greens, grapefruit, and mango puree

For our main course, we shared the pork tenderloin and Pekin duck breast. The pork was served with a blueberry-apple compote, portwine sauce, and spaetzle. The dish sounded like it might be on the sweet side with the fruit compote, but the portwine sauce actually made the pork taste very savory, with a meaty, steak-like flavor. The pork was nice and tender, and I liked the chewiness of the spaetzle.

Pork tenderloin with blueberry-apple compote, portwine sauce, and spaetzle

On the other hand, the duck was served with a black peppercorn sauce, which I thought would be really savory, but it was mixed with raisins, which added a sweet element. Even though we asked for it to be cooked medium, the duck was pretty rare, which I would normally like, but given my pregnancy restrictions, I only nibbled on the more cooked end pieces and let Josh eat most of the dish.

Pekin duck breast with sweet potato crepe, raisins, and black peppercorn sauce

For dessert, Josh picked the frozen cappuccino, which was pretty much what it sounded like – espresso at the bottom, coffee ice cream, whipped cream foam on top. Tasty, though not very exciting.

Frozen cappuccino dessert

I chose the passion fruit tart, which really hit the spot. The passion fruit filling was slightly tart, not too sweet. The crust was subtly almond flavored, and the coconut gelato on the side really gave the dessert a tropical feel.

Passion fruit tart with almond crust and coconut gelato

Overall, we found the food at The Saddle River Inn to be pretty solid, though nothing was spectacular. We weren’t wowed by any of the dishes, but nothing really turned us off either, although the scallop appetizer was borderline for me. I thought the prix fixe was a good deal, but if we had been paying a la carte prices, I might have felt more disappointed. I think everything fell just slightly short in execution, and while it was mostly tasty, there wasn’t anything really exciting about the food. It’s a nice restaurant though, with good service, and I might give it another shot for another special occasion, but it isn’t really somewhere that we would go regularly.

The Saddle River Inn
2 Barnstable Court
Saddle River, NJ

Chifa Sipan (Cusco, Peru)

Friday, June 10th, 2011 by virginia

As strange as it may sound, Chinese food is actually really popular in Peru. We saw lots of Chinese restaurants in Cusco and Lima and wondered if we should give it a shot. Our tour guide in Cusco recommended a place for lunch called Chifa Sipan, saying that it offered classic Peruvian Chinese food. Not knowing what that meant, we decided to take him up on his recommendation and try it out.

Josh saw peking duck on the menu and immediately jumped on it. Peking duck is one of his favorite dishes, but this version was like nothing we had seen before. It turned out to be thin slices of duck on a bed of deep fried rice noodles. There was no crispy skin, no wraps or buns, no strips of raw scallions or cucumbers, and no hoisin sauce. It definitely wasn’t peking duck as we know it, but at least the duck itself was tender, and the brown sauce it was doused in had decent flavor.

"Peking duck" Peruvian style

We also picked another one of Josh’s favorite dishes, pork in garlic sauce. Again, this particular version wasn’t recognizable to us. The pork was in large slices rather than the smaller, shredded kind we’re used to, and it was much darker in color than we expected pork to be. Unfortunately the meat was kind of tough and chewy. The pork was sauteed with lots of veggies – broccoli, peppers, scallions – which I liked for the health factor (we hadn’t been eating too many vegetables on our trip) and the crunchiness factor.

Pork with garlic sauce

We also got an order of chaufa – fried rice – to round out our meal. The fried rice was the most recognizable dish for us, and had lots of roast pork in it. This pork was much tastier and tender compared to the pork in garlic sauce, and it had the barbecue flavor we’re used to in char siu.

Chaufa especial - fried rice

Overall we found the Chinese food at Chifa Sipan to be a bit of a mixed bag. I think we just didn’t know what to order and tried to order dishes like we normally like here in the U.S., but the Peruvian version was not what we were expecting. I wouldn’t be adverse to trying it again if I knew what the specialty dishes are, or at least what locals usually order. The restaurant itself had kind of an old school Chinese joint decor, and service was fine. The three dishes we ordered was a lot of food, more than we could finish. Prices were very reasonable, and our meal with a few sodas came out to 52 soles, or less than US$20. It might feel counter-intuitive to eat Chinese food in Peru, but it really is part of their local culture. Peruvian fusion food isn’t new to us here in NYC either – Nobu is Japanese-Peruvian fusion, and there is a restaurant in Chinatown called Red Egg that is Chinese-Peruvian fusion. I would love to eat at Nobu, of course, but I’m also curious enough to give Red Egg a shot one of these days. If you’re in Peru, try it out. Just ask for recommendations or specialties first.

Chifa Sipan
Calle Quera 251
Cusco, Peru

Cafe Panache

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 by virginia

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

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

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

Assorted olives

Dinner roll

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

Filet mignon ravioli

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

Crostini of foie gras mousse

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

Super rare duck breast

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

Sirloin steak confit with garlic and soy reduction

Steak autopsy shot

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

Creme brulee

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

Peach cake dessert

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

Cafe Panache
130 East Main St.
Ramsey, NJ


Thursday, March 25th, 2010 by virginia

Josh celebrated his birthday recently, which is always a traumatic experience for him (but next year will be even worse I bet!), so to ease his pain his parents took all of us out to a nice dinner at Craftbar. We ended up at Craftbar for the same reason that we went to Wallsé for his dad’s birthday, namely that most upper scale restaurants don’t take parties that are larger than eight people. Why this is the case, I still don’t know. It’s quite annoying though, because we tend to be a party of nine, and just missing the cut off is really very frustrating, and means that our choice for restaurants is very limited.

Nevertheless, Craftbar was able to seat us at a prime dinnertime, and after eating at Craftsteak in Las Vegas, I was eager to taste more of Tom Colicchio’s Craft empire. Josh and I were the first to arrive at the restaurant, surprisingly, so we settled at the bar to wait for the rest of our group. Josh ordered a scotch while I selected a pear cider from Sweden. The cider had a lower alcohol content and was nicely sweet and fruity. It went down like soda, and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.

Pretty good pear cider

After half of our group arrived, we moved over to the table they reserved for us, a long rectangular one near the center of the back area, giving us a great view of the restaurant. The décor was a bit industrious, with metal catwalks framing the front part of the restaurant, and very tall ceilings, giving the space a lofty feel. Josh and I actually liked the feel of the restaurant a lot, as it was spacious and modern with clean lines, refined but not stuffy.

The adults in our party were running late and they told us to order some appetizers while we waited. We chatted for a while until hunger drove us to look at the menu, which featured a wide variety of appetizers and entrees, as well as a section titled “Small Plates.” We decided to order a few dishes from this section, and then settled down to munch on some breadsticks our waitress provided.

Crunchy rosemary breadsticks

The breadsticks were super long, almost a foot and half, and very tasty. They were relatively thick and on the harder side but very crunchy, and were flavored with rosemary and salt. We happily snacked on these while we waited for our small plates and the adults to arrive.

Fortunately the adults came just as the appetizers were delivered, so everyone got to taste all the dishes. The portion sizes were pretty small (hence the name “small plates”), but we just cut everything into smaller pieces so that each person got a piece. The first thing we tried were pecorino risotto balls served on top of a spicy tomato sauce. The balls were deliciously crispy on the outside and creamy and starchy in the middle. The tomato sauce wasn’t very spicy but added a nice tanginess that cut through the creaminess of the risotto.

Risotto balls with spicy tomato sauce

The second small plate we had was sausage stuffed sage leaves served with lemon aioli. We could definitely taste the sage but the sausage was mostly salty and not very flavorful. The little logs were quite dense and chewy, and although I liked the lemon aioli, this was my least favorite of the small plates.

Sausage stuffed sage leaves with lemon aioli

Lastly we had the salt cod croquettes served with piquillo peppers and capers. The croquettes were perfectly fried and the flavor of the dish brought me back to Spain, evoking memories of the countless tapas I ate while we were there. The cod had a nice subtly fishy taste that paired perfectly with the sweet red peppers, while the capers added saltiness and brininess to the dish.

Cod croquettes with piquillo peppers and capers

We were too busy catching up and talking so there was a while before we placed our dinner order, but our waitress was very patient with us and didn’t try to rush as at all during the meal. I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to eat because the menu had so many options that I wanted to try. For my appetizer, I ended up getting the veal sweetbreads with rutabaga and sweet onion chutney. I love sweetbreads. To me, it tastes like a very mild liver, and is very rich and creamy. Craftbar’s version was really well cooked, with a crispy, salty outer crust and a velvety interior. The crust may have been a tad too salty, but when I ate the sweetbread together with the rutabaga and the onion chutney, the sweetness of those components really cut through the saltiness and richness. It was a very good dish, I only wish that the portion was larger, as it was really just a small piece of sweetbread on the plate.

Veal sweetbreads with rutabaga and sweet onion chutney

Josh selected the pecorino fondue with acacia honey, hazelnuts, and pepperoncini. I didn’t peg that as a dish he would order but he never ceases to surprise me. The fondue was cheesy and gooey, as it should be, and the saltiness of the cheese was set off by the honey and hazelnuts. The nuts were really a very interesting addition, giving both a sweet and savory crunch to the dish. There also seemed to be a lot of garlic flavor in the fondue, and although it was greasier than I preferred, it did go really well with when dipped into with the accompanying bread. It was a unique and tasty appetizer, though if ordered again it would probably be best shared with multiple people, as the dish was pretty heavy and rich.

Pecorino fondue with acacia honey, hazelnuts, and pepperoncini

Other appetizers at the table included the field mushroom bruschetta with fontina cheese, the white anchovy bruschetta with soft-cooked egg and braised leek, and the baby beets with goat cheese and candied kumquats. I didn’t get to taste everything but heard rave reviews all around, so the meal was definitely off to a great start.

For his main course, Josh had the pekin duck confit with duck egg, savoy cabbage, chestnut, and yellow foot chanterelles. The duck egg was really cool, as it was breaded and fried but still soft boiled, with a nice runny yolk. The duck itself was moist, though the skin could have been a bit crispier. Unfortunately, the cabbage mixture underneath was a tad on the salty side, which detracted a bit from the overall dish.

Pekin duck confit ith duck egg, savoy cabbage, chestnut, and yellow foot chanterelles

I ended up ordering the porchetta served with black trumpet mushrooms and polenta. To be honest, I had no idea what porchetta was, aside from the fact that it’s made from pork. I had read about a sandwich shop named Porchetta, which served chunks of roasted fatty pork with super crispy skin on ciabatta rolls, so I thought it would be something similar. What I got wasn’t what I was expecting, but after dinner I looked up porchetta in Wikipedia and got a definition that was more in line with what I received. According to Wikipedia, this is how porchetta is prepared: “The body of the pig is gutted, deboned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, meat, fat, and skin, then rolled, spitted, and roasted, traditionally over wood.”

The slice of porchetta I received definitely had many layers, but unfortunately, most of it was fat. I really had a hard time cutting through it and separating the meat from the fat, and what meat there was ended up being tough and chewy. There was also sausage stuffed in the center of the slice, but it was pretty salty and uninteresting. Plus I was sad that there was no crispy skin to be found anywhere. While the polenta was pretty good, creamy with a nice grittiness, the black trumpet mushrooms on the dish were almost inedible, as they were just way too salty. I was quite disappointed with my dish.

Porchetta with black trumpet mushrooms and polenta

I abandoned my entrée halfway through in favor of Alice’s cavatelli Bolognese. She wasn’t hungry so she generously gave me most of her dish, which I thought was absolutely fantastic. The cavatelli were nicely chewy and the Bolognese sauce was dense and meaty. The entire dish was covered with crispy browned breadcrumbs, which added a great crunchy quality. It was almost like eating a really meaty mac and cheese, minus the cheese. The sauce was well seasoned and the variety of textures in the dish just made my mouth really happy (not to sound like the ditzy actresses on the original Iron Chef, but that’s just how it made me feel). It was such a comforting and homey dish, and I loved every bite of it.

Other dishes on the table included mussels cooked in white wine with garlic and parsley, a scallop, celery, pancetta, and smoked orange puree dish, the skate wing with fingerling potato and sauce gribiche, the pan-fried chicken with tuscan kale and Jerusalem artichoke, and the veal ricotta meatballs. The mussels were classically prepared and very fresh, with no sand to be found anywhere, which is always a plus. Josh tasted and liked both the scallop dish and the pan-fried chicken. The meatballs, however, were a paltry portion (three balls and no pasta), and they were tough and overly salty. The skate wing was deemed to be too salty as well, a theme that seemed to be running through half our dishes.

I know I complain when a dish is under seasoned, but at least it’s usually still palatable and salvageable with a few shakes from the saltshaker. When a dish is too salty, however, it’s hard to recover from that and the only fix is to send it back, but that’s not always the best solution either. Several of the dishes we had were on the higher end of being borderline inedible, but we didn’t feel it was worth the hassle of sending things back since it was already a long meal to begin with. But whoever was cooking in the kitchen that night was definitely a bit too heavy handed with the salt.

Moving onto dessert, Josh had the meyer lemon panna cotta with citrus fruit and ginger snap cookie. The panna cotta was fantastic – rich, creamy, and lemony. The texture was smooth and velvety on the tongue, and the flavor was refreshing and spot on. And because it was his birthday, there was also a candle in the dessert, a nice touch.

Meyer lemon panna cotta with citrus fruit and ginger snap cookie

I was slightly less thrilled with my olive oil cake with orange-cardamom ice cream, pear, and spiced walnuts. The cake was more like a muffin, and denser than I had hoped. I did taste the olive oil flavor though, which I liked (especially since I’m such a fan of olive oil gelato), but I found the dessert kind of uninteresting despite some of the exotic ingredients. It was a perfectly fine dish, but nothing really popped or stood out in my mind.

Olive oil cake with orange-cardamom ice cream, pear, and spiced walnuts

Overall we thought that Craftbar hit some pretty high highs and some pretty low lows. We loved the small plates we had, except for the sage/sausage rolls, and all of our appetizers were really well prepared and very tasty. The entrees, however, were very hit or miss. I loved the cavatelli Bolognese but was quite disappointed with my porchetta order, and a lot of people received dishes that they thought were too salty. It was a packed restaurant for a Sunday night, which may have contributed to the inconsistencies in the preparations. Service was good though, as our waitress was efficient and attentive. The prices are pretty reasonable, with small plates ranging from $6-$9, appetizers ranging from $9-$14, and entrees from $17-$26. It seems like a good place to share a few smaller dishes with some friends and have some nice wine or cocktails. There are also cheeses, charcuterie, and sandwiches on the menu. We liked the décor of the restaurant and the overall feel, with a casual yet upscale vibe, and I think we would probably come back here again.

900 Broadway at 20th St.
New York