Posts Tagged ‘French’

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

Cafe de la Paix – Quebec City

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 by virginia


Cafe de la Paix was not one of the restaurants I had researched prior to our trip – we sort of stumbled upon it when we were looking for a place to eat a late lunch and get out of the rain. We had finished up most of the Old City and had wound our way down the hill to the port area, near Rue Saint-Paul, when the sky just opened up and started pouring heavy rain and wet snow. We had already been looking for a lunch spot at that point, but there wasn’t much in that particular part of the city. We even tried to duck into a sandwich shop only to discover they had literally just one sandwich remaining, and it was pre-packaged in the refrigerator.

J was obviously not a happy camper, especially because in addition to the rain and snow, the wind was blowing like crazy (she hates wind). I even had to close my umbrella for fear that it would be ripped out of my hands and fly away due to the force of the wind. Fortunately, we had a plastic rain cover for her car seat, bought specifically for this trip with the weather in mind. It wasn’t the greatest cover but definitely served its purpose in keeping her dry. So with the rain pouring down on us, we booked it back up the hill to the main part of the Old City, hoping to find a French-style cafe or pub. Josh really wanted a croque monsieur, and I didn’t want to settle for just any old restaurant.

The rain slowed down a bit so we bypassed a hamburger joint (called the Chic Shack – haha!), a Chinese restaurant, and a “European” bar that served pub food (but no croque monsieurs). Unfortunately, J was getting hungry herself and was starting to get even more upset so we ended up entering the next restaurant we saw. It was a French restaurant, which is what I preferred given where we were, and I was really hoping to get a good meal out of the ordeal. It was late but they were still serving lunch so we settled in at a large round table near the door.

The restaurant looked fancier than somewhere I would normally pick, with white table cloths and ornate decor, but it also seemed a little dated to me. There was only one other couple eating in the restaurant, and they finished up well before we did, which was fortunate because J ended up causing a ruckus for basically our entire meal. As soon as we sat down, we asked the waiter for some hot water to heat up J’s bottle, and he obliged with a teapot full of water. She grabbed at the bottle once it was warmed up, but then refused to drink any milk for some unknown reason. She also refused to eat any cereal. And after that, it was pretty much over for her.

Our waiter was also nice enough to give us the wifi password so Josh could play some Elmo on youtube for J. That appeased her for a bit, but she was still bursting into random crying fits. Somehow in between all the mayhem we managed to place our order, though only one of us could eat at a time while the other held J and walked her around or pushed her back and forth in her stroller. So how was the food? (This is supposed to be a food blog after all!)

The basket of bread we received held some decent slices of baguette that had good flavor and an ok crust. It also included pieces of toasted baguette that were super crunchy, bordering crouton territory, but still good, especially slathered with butter.

Bread basket

Bread basket

The lunch menu was sort of a “menu of the day” option. You picked the entree and it came with the soup of the day and dessert. The price was based on the entree you selected. Josh picked mussels and I chose coq au vin. The soup of the day that we both received was cream of broccoli, which was perfectly fine. It was pureed to a nice thick texture, and was more broccoli than cream. It warmed us up after our bout with the weather.

Cream of broccoli soup

Cream of broccoli soup

The mussels were served mariniere style, in a white wine and garlic sauce. The mussels were plump and tender, not fishy tasting, but the sauce lacked pizazz. It could have used more garlic, more wine, and more salt. It wasn’t a bad dish, it just needed more punch. The fries on the side were a disappointment. They were the thin shoestring variety I prefer, but they seemed to be made from frozen fries and were soggy and oily.

Mussels mariniere with french fries

Mussels mariniere with french fries

I didn’t get to eat the coq au vin right away since it was my turn to walk J around, so it was a bit cold by the time I got to it. The chicken was still tender and came off the bone easily, but I thought it tasted more like roast chicken, not a chicken braised in wine. There was no wine flavor to speak of, just plain chicken taste. It was fine, just not what I think of when I hear coq au vin. It came with roasted potatoes and vegetables on the side.

Coq au vin with assorted vegetables

Coq au vin with assorted vegetables

Per the menu, our lunch came with dessert, but with J making such a fuss, we really didn’t feel like sticking around for another course. Our waiter, while accommodating to our requests, seemed a tad annoyed with all the crying (not that we blame him), and we just wanted to get her on the road again so that she could calm down on the walk back to our hotel. By that point, the storm had passed and it was sunny and blue skies all around. We quickly settled our bill (~$45 after tax and tip) and went on our way. It was pretty reasonable for a 3-course lunch (even though we passed on dessert), but the food was just ok. The dishes were mostly classic French, but nothing exciting or super flavorful.  I saw the regular menu and it seemed pretty expensive, so I don’t think it’s somewhere I would have gone voluntarily if I had a choice. We were sort of stuck with it due to the weather, and while it served its purpose, I wouldn’t recommend it or go back. Fortunately for us, that was the only time on our trip where J had a major meltdown in a restaurant, and we got through it somehow. It definitely wasn’t fun, but I hope with every restaurant experience, she’ll get better and better.

Cafe de la Paix
44 Rue des Jardins
Quebec City, Canada

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


Sunday, January 15th, 2012 by virginia

We went to Annisa back in October, with Josh’s family as sort of a belated birthday dinner for me. I was really excited for this dinner, as I’m a big fan of Anita Lo, the chef/owner. The restaurant has also been awarded a Michelin star, and I’ve read many great things about the food.

The restaurant is actually pretty small, though it has high ceilings and an elegant, minimalist decor. We were seated at a round table in the middle of the room and had a great view of everything going on around us. The menu is pretty eclectic, with lots of French, Asian, and Middle Eastern influence. Everything sounded delicious, and it was quite hard to decide what to order.

After we finally made our selections, they brought us an amuse bouche to start. It was a little tart filled with chicken liver mousse, topped with chopped chives and a dollop of whole grain mustard. I liked the creaminess of the mousse, the delicate flakiness of the tart, and the tangy punch of the mustard. It was a flavorful bite and definitely woke up our palates.

Amuse bouche - chicken liver mousse tarts

We also noshed on some bread, which were ciabatta-like rolls that were served warm and had a decent crust.

Bread service

For the first course, Josh and I geared towards the Asian-influenced appetizers, sharing the barbecued squid and the soup dumplings. The squid was lightly grilled with just a bit of char on the outside, and the meat was very tender. It was served with Thai basil, peanuts, and edamame. The sauces on the side tasted like hoisin and chili sauce, a great combination with the squid. It wasn’t too spicy and had a nice sweet/savory flavor that worked with all the different components.

Barbecued squid with Thai basil and fresh peanuts

The soup dumplings weren’t shaped like traditional xiao long bao, but looked more like regular dumplings. I’m not sure exactly what the dumplings were filled with, but they were topped with little slabs of seared foie gras, which dominated the flavor. Don’t get me wrong, I love seared foie gras, but it seemed like the dumplings might have been an afterthought. They weren’t as soupy inside as I would have liked, though I did enjoy the slight crunch from the jicama that counteracted the rich creaminess of the foie gras.

Seared foie gras with soup dumplings and jicama

While the dumplings were slightly disappointing, the rest of the appetizers at the table were pretty successful (we all tasted everyone’s dishes). The biggest hit was the cauliflower and romanesco gnoccho with hazelnuts and sheep’s cheese. The gnoccho was light and creamy, packed with tons of cauliflower flavor. Everyone also enjoyed the chilled avocado soup with shiso and unagi croutons. It was more savory than I expected, and fortunately did not resemble liquified guacamole, as I had originally feared. The hot and cold tuna was also delicious, with a fresh and bright tartare (cold) and some flavorful tuna belly (hot).

I had a REALLY tough time choosing our entrees, and we wound up picking the halibut and the spanish mackerel. We usually don’t both order fish dishes, but both came highly recommended from our waiter. The halibut was poached in olive oil and served with blistered shishito peppers and almond and lobster coral sauces. The halibut was gorgeous – delicately flaky and tender. The peppers weren’t too spicy or overly bitter, and the sauce was wonderfully savory. It didn’t taste a whole lot like lobster coral, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Olive oil-poached halibut with blistered shishito peppers and almond and lobster coral sauces

The spanish mackerel was beautifully broiled so that it had a nice browned crust on the outside and crispy skin. It was served with garlic fried milk, cubes of satsumaimo (Japanese yam), and korean chili. I love mackerel in general, and this particular version was really well prepared. I love the oiliness of the fish, which really gives it a distinctively bold flavor. The garlic fried milk was novel and delicious, almost like super creamy fried cheese curds, but tastier. This was my favorite dish of the evening.

Broiled spanish mackerel with garlic fried milk, satsumaimo and korean chili

Again, all the other entrees at the table were successful as well. The miso marinated sable with crispy silken tofu in a bonito broth was a clean, classically Japanese style dish. The pan roasted farm chicken with sherry, white truffle, and pig feet was a surprise hit. While I love pig feet, not everyone else was convinced at how luscious it could be until they tasted it in this dish. The chicken was juicy and tender, and the truffle wasn’t overpowering. The grilled wagyu was the dish that I debated ordering instead of the halibut, and it too was very tasty. It was served with escargots, garlic chives, and alba mushrooms. While the beef wasn’t as tender as I thought it would be (it was wagyu after all), it was flavorful and well seasoned.

For dessert, we shared the beignets and the bread pudding. According to our waiter, Chef Lo is also responsible for creating the dessert items, which is pretty impressive since a lot of chefs don’t do pastry in conjunction with savory. The beignets were pecan and salted butterscotch, a nice combination of salty and sweet. They were freshly fried and pretty fluffy, not too dense. They were served with a bourbon ice milk that was kind of like a slushy sorbet. We could definitely taste the bourbon, but I thought it was a tad too icy for my taste; I preferred the beignets.

Pecan and salted butterscotch beignets with bourbon ice milk

The bread pudding was made with poppy seed bread and butter, and served with meyer lemon curd. I LOVED this bread pudding, which was bright and lemony and not too sweet. The bread pudding itself was a bit dense but I couldn’t get enough of the curd, which I soaked up with every bite. Meyer lemon has an intense, citrusy flavor that is slightly floral. I pretty much polished off the entire plate by myself.

Poppyseed bread and butter pudding with meyer lemon curd

At the end of our meal, they brought us little bites to finish things off. First was mini pineapple ice pops served on toothpicks. It was simple, just frozen pineapple juice, but refreshing. Next was candied ginger, which had a nice little kick to it. Lastly, we had mini mint chocolate truffles that weren’t too rich or sweet – a nice ending.

Pineapple ice pops, candied ginger, mint chocolate truffles

Overall we were really impressed with our meal at Annisa. The menu mixed classic techniques with inventive twists, and everything was well composed and beautifully prepared. From start to finish, we enjoyed every course. The soup dumplings were pretty much the only disappointment, and not because the dish didn’t taste good, but because it wasn’t really what I was expecting. I would happily eat more of the seared foie gras. Our entrees were all superb, and while dessert is usually a bit of a downer for us, that wasn’t the case here. Service was great as well. Our waiter was attentive and informative, stopping to chat with us once in a while. In terms of prices, it’s definitely an expensive restaurant, with appetizers in the $15-$20 range and entrees ranging from $30-$35, but I like that it’s a la carte so you can put together your own menu. It’s a great place for a special occasion, or if you’re in the mood to splurge a bit.

13 Barrow St. between 7th Ave. South and West 4th St.
New York, NY


Thursday, October 27th, 2011 by virginia

For my birthday, Jess and Jack got me tickets to see a Times Talk featuring Eric Ripert and Jennifer Carroll. It was part of the NYC Wine and Food Festival, and Josh and I were excited to see one of our favorite chefs in person. We absolutely love Le Bernardin, and I have a not-so-secret crush on Chef Ripert.

The talk was during the afternoon at the Times Center on 41st St. so Josh and I decided to get a late lunch on our way over. We couldn’t really decide on where we wanted to eat, but Josh mentioned that he was craving croque monsieur – specifically the croque monsieur from L’Express. Since we were nowhere near L’Express, I suggested we check out Marseille, which was on the way and is owned by the same people. I was hoping that the croque monsieur would be similar since we both loved the version at L’Express.

Turns out that Marseille didn’t offer croque monsieur, but they did have croque madame, which is basically the same thing, with the addition of a fried egg on top. We decided to share that and a chicken sandwich. While we waited for our food, they brought us a basket of breads and muffins to munch on. There was slices of marble rye, a crusty roll with raisins, and mini muffins that tasted a bit like carrot cake – I enjoyed the variety.

Assorted breads and muffins

The croque madame arrived and looked extremely promising. There was a thick layer of cheese on the outside that was nicely browned, and the fried egg on top looked like it was perfectly runny. While the egg was actually cooked well, when we cut into the sandwich, we could see immediately that it was pretty different from the L’Express version. For one thing, there was no cheese in the middle of the sandwich, only ham. All of the cheese was on the outside, and what looked deceptively brown and bubbly was actually lukewarm and kind of congealed. The bread itself was soggy, not crispy, and there was mustard in the sandwich that was unevenly distributed. Some bites were all mustard flavor, and other bites had none. We were both pretty disappointed.

Croque madame

The chicken sandwich fared slightly better in terms of execution, but we also found it a bit disappointing. It featured grilled chicken breast, roasted peppers, arugula, bacon and aioli on a brioche roll. The combination looked good on paper but it was kind of boring in flavor. The chicken was tender but bland, the roasted peppers almost non-existent, and not even the bacon could help boost the flavor. Plus it was actually a pretty small sandwich and didn’t do much to satisfy us.

Grilled chicken sandwich with roasted peppers, arugula, and bacon

Both of the sandwiches came with small salads on the side, just a simple mix of greens and halved cherry tomatoes. The salad that came with the chicken sandwich was pretty bad – there was no dressing on it, plus the lettuce was sandy. I don’t know what happened there since the salad that came with the croque madam was fine. We were also disappointed that the sandwiches didn’t come with fries as they did at L’Express. We added a side order, which was a good call because they were hot and crispy and probably the highlight of our meal.

French fries

Overall we were both disappointed with Marseille, especially since we enjoyed L’Express and Nizza so much. I guess the same owners doesn’t necessarily mean the same chef/recipes. The restaurant itself is nice, with an upscale bistro feel to it, but the food was pretty lackluster for us, and kind of pricey to boot. The sandwiches at L’Express were much better, both in flavor and execution, plus they came with fries in addition to the salad. I don’t really see us going back to Marseille unless we’re in a pinch, but there are tons of restaurants in the area along 9th Ave. that serve much tastier fare.

As for the Times Talk, Chef Ripert was delightful to listen to, and very easy to relate to as well. He has a great sense of humor that you wouldn’t really expect from such an esteemed chef. As for Chef Carroll, we were fans of her from Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars, but she didn’t add too much value to the talk. She did provide some color commentary and anecdotes, but the real highlight for us was definitely Chef Ripert. He is clearly very passionate about food and takes great pride in the dishes that he puts out in his restaurant. His passion is infectious, and I hope that I will always strive for the same kind of perfection, both in my own cooking and in my life.

630 9th Ave. at West 44th St.
New York, NY


Saturday, August 20th, 2011 by virginia

Josh and I were recently in the Union Square area because we were looking for some hiking backpacks at Paragon Sports. For my 30th birthday, Josh got me a 3-day hiking trip over Labor Day weekend in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, since I’ve always expressed interest in climbing Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast. We decided to get brunch before trying on all the different packs, and I suggested going to L’Express because I had read that they serve a really great croque monsieur.

L’Express has a French bistro vibe to it, with mirrors on the walls and lots of dark wood paneling, but it’s a massive restaurant. It’s owned by the same people who own Nizza, Five Napkin Burger, Marseille, etc., and I tend to find these restaurants to be just a bit commercial in appearance. Nevertheless, I love the food at Nizza so I had high hopes for L’Express. It was fairly late for brunch so the restaurant wasn’t crowded, and we were seated immediately.

Josh and I decided to split the croque monsieur and the merguez sandwich. Our food came quickly, and everything was piping hot. The croque monsieur looked gorgeous, with a cheesy top that was perfectly browned.

Croque monsieur, frites, petite salad

I cut the sandwich in half so that we could share, and the cheese inside just oozed out. The sandwich itself was made on perfectly grilled white bread, and there was a thin layer of ham and cheese on the inside. The ham was salty but not overly so, and the combination was just perfect. This was by far the best croque monsieur we’ve ever eaten in NY.

Autopsy shot

The merguez sandwich was comprised of two sticks of merguez sausage on a baguette with tomato concasse. The merguez was very flavorful, with lots of Moroccan spices in the sausage. There was some spicy harissa on the side that I slathered on the sandwich, giving it a nice but not overwhelming kick. Both of our sandwiches came with thin cut french fries and a small salad. The dressing on the salad was classic vinaigrette, which I love, though this version was maybe not as good as the dressing from Les Halles. The fries would have been amazing had they been fried just a tad crispier, but I liked how thin cut they were.

Merguez on a baguette with tomato concasse

Overall Josh and I both really liked L’Express. That same night, we were both craving another croque monsieur. It seems like such a simple sandwich to make but it’s surprising how many places just don’t do a good job. The version here was cheesy and crispy, exactly as it should be. I enjoyed the merguez as well, and service was fast and efficient. It was a hot day so we were both guzzling water like crazy, and our waitress patiently refilled our glasses at least a half dozen times. Portions are big and prices are very reasonable, with all sandwiches coming in under $15. It’s definitely a place that we’ll come back to, especially for the croque monsieur.

249 Park Ave. South at 20th St.
New York, NY

“Pre-Theater” Dinner at Daniel

Friday, May 6th, 2011 by virginia

The first time that Josh and I ate at Daniel, for our 12th anniversary, we booked an early reservation to take advantage of their special three course pre-theater menu that included complimentary wine pairings. Although there was some confusion about the actual menu itself, the meal ended up being fabulous, one of the best meals we’ve ever had. Everything was top notch, from the food to the service. We were thrilled by the experience, and when we were trying to decide where to go for my birthday a few months later, we decided to go back to Daniel and try out the regular menu.

Sadly, that experience left much to be desired. I was actually so disappointed with the meal that I never ended up blogging about it. There was nothing egregiously wrong, it was just not the same experience that we had before, and the food wasn’t as memorable. The only thing I remember eating was the sauteed foie gras appetizer, which wasn’t on the menu but if you ask them for it, they’ll usually have it on hand. The foie gras was perfectly cooked, slightly crisp on the outside, rich and silky on the inside, and lots of deliciously livery flavor. There were seven of us at that dinner, and none of us were really impressed with the meal in its entirety. Service was just slightly off, and I was pretty disheartened afterward.

When I saw that Daniel was once again offering the pre-theater menu special, this time three courses for $110, including wine pairings, I wondered if we should give it another shot. The menu really is a bargain, and we had such a great meal the first time. Josh had some friends in Canada who come for a visit once a year and we usually go with them for some really nice meals. One year, they went to Le Bernardin and absolutely loved it. The next year, we joined them at Jean Georges, which ended up being a huge disappointment, food-wise (I lost the pictures and ended up never writing about, unfortunately). This year, we were wracking our brains for a new restaurant to try, but decided that price-wise, the pre-theater menu at Daniel made the most sense. The special runs from 5:30-6 pm, Monday through Thursday, and we were able to get a 5:45 reservation on the day that worked best for us.

The restaurant was pretty empty at 5:45 but soon filled up quickly. They did ask on the phone when Josh made the reservation if we were going to the theater afterward, which we weren’t, so they knew we wouldn’t be in a rush. We started with a round of cocktails while we looked over the menu. Unfortunately, they didn’t give us the pre-theater menu initially, so we had to stop someone and ask for it specifically. A slight misstep I thought, but no harm done. The pre-theater menu features four choices for each course that come from the regular menu or are classic Daniel dishes. We were all pretty pleased with options for each course and still had a hard time deciding what we wanted because everything looked good.

After we placed our orders, they brought us a trio of amuse bouches that featured eggplant.

Amuse bouches featuring eggplant

They included a shrimp with eggplant brunoise, an eggplant mousse, and smoked salmon on top of a piece of eggplant. I loved the smoked salmon, which tasted fresh and had a great texture, but the one that featured eggplant the best was the mousse, which was light and airy and showcased the subtle sweetness of the eggplant.

Eggplant and smoked salmon

Eggplant mousse

Eggplant and shrimp

After we finished with the amuses, the bread man came by with a selection of assorted rolls and breads. I honed in on the butter roll, my favorite of the bunch, and a standard baguette. The butter roll is really just wonderful, with a nice crispy crust and a buttery inside that is flaky and chewy at the same time. The baguette also has a nice crust and good flavor.

Butter roll and baguette

For the first course, I selected the trio of hamachi while Josh chose the wild herb ravioli with ricotta. We swapped plates midway through, per usual. The hamachi (yellowtail) featured three different preparations – confit with sorrel and hearts of palm, tartare with North Star caviar, and cured with bergamot (a type of orange) and snap peas.

Trio of hamachi

The tartare was my favorite of the three preparations. I could really taste the flavor of the hamachi, and the caviar added a slight saltiness and brininess that just elevated the dish. The cured hamachi was also pretty tasty and had a nice glossy texture to it, similar to high quality lox. The confit was my least favorite preparation, as it had a soft, mushy texture. I also didn’t find much flavor in the sorrel sauce, and it needed just a touch more seasoning.

Cured hamachi with bergamot and snap peas

Hamachi tartare with North Star caviar and lemon-omani tuile

Hamachi confit with sorrel and hearts of palm

The wild herb ravioli was a fantastic choice. The raviolis were filled with ricotta from Dancing Ewe Farm that had a lovely milky flavor that wasn’t overpowered by the herbs. While the filling was soft and fluffy, the pasta skin was perfectly al dente and had a nice chewy bite to it. The sauteed mushrooms and grilled spring onions on top added an earthiness to the dish, and there were slightly chewy pieces of gamey iberico ham that provided some saltiness. The dish as a whole was a bit richer than you would expect from an appetizer course, but the fresh herbs really brightened everything up.

Wild herb ravioli with Dancing Ewe Farm Ricotta

Chuck opted for the peekytoe crab salad with cumin carrot coulis, spanner crab craquelin, ginger, and avocado. The dish was beautifully presented, and he had nothing but nice things to say about the taste.

Peekytoe crab salad with cumin carrot coulis

For the main course, Josh and I selected the lamb loin and the trio of milk fed pig from Quebec. The lamb loin, from Elysian Fields, was crusted with taggiasche olives and incredibly flavorful. The lamb had a nice gamey flavor, and though it was a bit past the requested medium rare, it was still tender and juicy. The lamb was served with asparagus, ramps, and a kamut berry ragout that had a wonderfully chewy texture to it and a nice nutty flavor. I really enjoyed this dish and thought it was well balanced – not too heavy or rich.

Taggiasche olive crusted Elysian Fields lamb loin

The trio of pig featured a roasted chop with glazed turnips, braised shoulder cannelloni with cucumber, and smoked ribs with fennel-avocado coleslaw and vadouvan jus. The presentation was stunning; it was almost a shame to tear into it, but we were eager to try all the different kinds of pork. The chop was tender and juicy, and it had super crispy skin surrounding it that was pretty incredible. It was like the best chicharron – flavorful and crunchy. The braised shoulder was stuffed inside a hollowed out piece of cucumber, which added a nice freshness to the rich pork. The pork itself was well seasoned, and it was an interesting combination. The smoked ribs were absolutely succulent, with a nice caramelized layer of fat on the outside. There were lots of different components to the dish but everything tasted great, both individually and together.

Trio of milk fed pig from Quebec

While Chuck also ordered the lamb, Dave opted for the roasted black sea bass with syrah sauce, a classic Daniel dish. Josh and I ordered it the first time we were there and really enjoyed it, and I think Dave did as well. It was served with stuffed leeks, potato confit and caramelized cipollini.

For dessert, Chuck and Dave both selected the warm guanaja chocolate coulant with liquid caramel, fleur de sel, and milk sorbet. Again, a dish that Josh and I tried the first time, and another Daniel classic. While they both enjoyed the molten chocolate cake, they found it a tad rich and difficult to finish. Still, there were no major complaints.

Josh and I split the Thai basil macerated mango dessert and the sesame bavaroise with chocolate cremeux. The mango, which tasted ripe and sweet, was piled on a lime dacquoise that was shaped like a little tart shell. The basil flavor was subtle, but the combination was wonderful. The lime added a nice brightness, and it wasn’t an overly sweet dessert, which I liked. There was pink guava sorbet on the side that gave the dish an even more tropical feel. It reminded me a bit of Taiwan, where I would spend my days eating fresh mangoes and drinking lots of guava juice. I was pretty happy with this dessert.

Thai basil macerated mango

The sesame bavaroise and araguani chocolate cremeux was a much richer dessert, with lots of toasted sesame flavor. Sesame is kind of nutty, which pairs well with chocolate. There was also a szechuan pepper gelee on the plate, though I don’t really remember tasting it, and chocolate ice cream. It was an interesting dessert with an unusual flavor combination, but you really have to like sesame to enjoy it.

Sesame bavaroise and araguani chocolate cremeux

The complimentary wine pairings that came with our pre-theater prix fixe were pretty decent. Obviously it’s not the best wine you can order, and everyone gets the same wine no matter what dish they’ve chosen, but the restaurant did a good job of selecting wines that would go with many different kinds of dishes. The wine for the first course was Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Cuvee Daniel”, Santa Barbara County 2009. It was not overly buttery in flavor, with a bit of crispness that I appreciated. The wine for the main course was Roc du Manoir Cotes du Castillon, Bordeaux 2008. I thought it worked well with the lamb but was a bit heavy for the pork trio. I was incredibly pleased with our third wine, La Spinetta, Moscato D’Asti, Piedmont 2010. It wasn’t too sweet for a dessert wine, and had an intense grape flavor that I really enjoyed. I might need to pick up a bottle of that for myself, which is saying something because I almost never drink dessert wines.

When they gave us our first pour of wine, I thought it was a bit on the small side, but then our server came around midway through the course and refilled our glasses. I was much happier then, and thought it was actually a good idea to do two half pours. Otherwise, I have a tendency to drink too much of my wine before the course is even served. With this method, I had enough wine to drink with my dish until it was finished.

With our desserts, they brought us a basket of madeleines, which I loved both previously at Daniel and at Cafe Boulud. After we finished our desserts, they brought us a selection of chocolates and a few petit fours. The chocolates were flavored with praline, cinnamon, basil, and raspberry. The cinnamon was a surprise, with a nicely subtle flavor, not the Atomic Fireball that I was expecting. The basil was also wonderful, pairing the sweet chocolate with the herbaceous, savory flavor.

Raspberry, basil, cinnamon, and praline chocolates

Assorted petit fours

Overall, we were pretty happy that Dave and Chuck thoroughly enjoyed the meal, and they both thought the food was much better than what we had at Jean Georges last year. The ambiance was also more upscale, and the whole experience seemed better. There were just some minor missteps with service, aside from forgetting to give us the pre-theater menu. Our appetizer course plates were cleared before Dave had finished eating, making for a slightly awkward moment. They also served our desserts while Dave was away from the table. They held off on his dessert plate, but the rest of us were left to wonder if it was rude to start eating before all our ice creams melted. Minor quibbles, really. They didn’t detract from our meal but we were surprised nonetheless given Daniel’s three start Michelin status. For the most part, I thought service was exemplary. Our servers were all very friendly and efficient, keeping our water glasses filled and coming by to check on us frequently, but not intrusively.

Josh and I were extremely pleased with our meal, and this experience definitely made up for the mediocre dinner we had for my birthday. Our only guess to the reason behind our lackluster meal was that on my birthday, we were a large party of seven, and perhaps that’s too big of a crowd for the individualized service we received on our first visit. For example, instead of presenting the different chocolates at the end of our meal, they just brought over a small plate of chocolates, only enough for one for each person so we didn’t get to try all the different flavors. Our server also didn’t really explain each dish in detail, probably because there were so many dishes on the table. The food also seemed a bit flat, things served not quite at the temperature, not seasoned perfectly, etc. It was just little things like that, but it all added up in the end.

Nevertheless, our faith in Daniel has been restored. And the pre-theater menu is an absolute bargain at $110, probably one of the best deals in the city. So what if you have to be seated between 5:30 and 6? The meal is luxurious and relaxing, especially if you’re not actually going to the theater afterward. No one rushes you, and you get all the little extras that you normally would, plus the bonus of the complimentary wine pairings. Considering the regular prix fixe is $105 and wine pairings are an additional $60, this pre-theater special really can’t be beat. The menu is more limited, with four choices for each course, but all the options are top notch and most are items that can be found on the regular menu. If you’ve never been to Daniel before, this is a great way to try out it. I’m already trying to decide when I want to go back!

60 East 65th St. between Madison and Park Ave.
New York, NY


Sunday, March 21st, 2010 by virginia

What can I say about Daniel? The hype is real. We went there not knowing what to expect, and we walked out completely satisfied and elated. It was definitely one of the best meals of our lives so far.

When Josh and I first discussed how we wanted to celebrate our 12th anniversary as a couple, we decided that we would forgo presents this year and splurge on a decadent meal instead. Daniel has been on the top of our must-eat list for a while now, as Josh’s parents and his sister have all raved about it. We originally made a 7:30 reservation on the night of our anniversary but when I read about a pre-theater dinner deal the restaurant was running, which features a $105 three course meal including wine pairings for reservations between 5:30 and 6 pm (Mondays-Thursdays), we changed our reservation to 5:45. It was early, yes, but considering a three course meal normally costs $105 without wine pairings (which are an additional $60 per person), it seemed like too good of a deal to pass up.

As the date loomed, however, I began feeling apprehensive that the special pre-theater menu would be too limited, and that I would be disappointed by the offerings. The description on Daniel’s website only says that the menu features new favorites and classic Daniel dishes, but doesn’t say how many choices are in each course. I asked Josh to call up the restaurant and find out what was on the menu, because if it only included lower-end, boring choices, then I wanted to switch our reservation to a more normal time and order from the regular menu instead. With a huge snowstorm arriving the day of our anniversary, I was pretty sure the restaurant would be getting cancellations so they probably would have been able to accommodate us at a more decent hour.

When Josh called, the woman who answered the phone told him that there were four options for each course, and that she would find out what those choices were and call him back. When she did call back, she said that she was mistaken, that the pre-theater menu was the same as the regular menu, and we would be able to choose from all dishes. Upon hearing this we were both thrilled and more excited than ever.

Per my usual habit, I went online beforehand and looked at the menu, plotting what I would order that evening. When I left work the evening of our reservation, the snow was falling hard and several inches had already accumulated on the sidewalks. It was a bit of a hike to the restaurant from the subway, especially with all the snow and slush, so I was a bit flustered when I arrived at the restaurant. I checked my coat and umbrella in the front, and found Josh waiting for me at the bar in the lounge with a drink. He had ordered a scotch, which had a really cool big ball of ice in it (so that the ice melts more slowly and doesn’t dilute the drink) and was served with some crunchy olive twists. Shortly thereafter, we were escorted to our table in the dining room.

Glass of scotch with a large ball of ice

Because it was so early, and probably also because of the weather, we were the only diners in the restaurant when we were first seated. I was still flustered from rushing over to the restaurant from work, and being seated in the completely empty, quiet dining room with a dozen servers milling about also unnerved me a bit. We were seated at a lovely table for two on the far right side of the room, facing the rest of the dining room. It reminded me of our sweetheart table at our wedding, which made me feel like I was on display. I think most of it was just me feeling insecure, and that’s something I need to learn to get over. The room actually filled up pretty quickly, and it wasn’t bad after that as the noise level grew with people chatting. We enjoyed being able to people-watch from the sidelines.

The first thing we noticed when we sat down was a stool in between our chairs, presumably to hold my purse. It was a classy touch, although we ended up putting our camera there instead of my purse. The second thing we noticed was that when we were given our menus, the pre-theater menu was in fact a limited menu, and not the full menu like the person on the phone told Josh. We expressed our disappointment and confusion to the lovely young woman who was serving us, and she told us that the person who answered the phone must have been new because the pre-theater menu is always a more limited menu.

We were a bit annoyed by the miscommunication but once we looked over the pre-theater options, we still decided to order from that particular menu. Both of the entrees that I had been eyeing when I read the menu online were included, as was my choice for dessert. The appetizers only included one dish that I really wanted to order, but we figured that it wasn’t worth ordering from the regular menu over one appetizer. We got over our disappointment, made our selections, and settled down to enjoy our meal.

As we waited for our first course, Josh showed me the new lens he bought for our SLR, sort of an anniversary present for the both of us despite the fact that we had both agreed on no presents. I didn’t mind though, as it was a lens specially designed for taking pictures in low light settings. It was perfect for the restaurant, as the lighting was very dim and we wouldn’t dream of using flash at Daniel (though there was a table next to us where someone did take a few pictures with flash, and it wasn’t too annoying because the tables at the restaurant are really spread far apart so you never feel cramped). It took us a while to figure out the right settings to use for the best pictures but we were pretty happy with the results, and I think it’s a huge improvement from our previous dark restaurant photos.

Before our first course, we were given an amuse bouche platter that had bite-size servings of squash prepared three ways. From right to left, there was a bite of squash with Iberico ham, in the middle was a kabocha squash puree, and on the left was squash served with a piece of sable. The flavor of squash was definitely center stage in each bite, and everything tasted clean and fresh.

Amuse bouche #1 - tastings of three different squash preparations

While we were savoring each bite of the squash preparations, we were brought yet another amuse, this time a geoduck ceviche that was served in clear shot glasses. The geoduck was tender and flavorful, with a nice and tangy acidic bite to it. These amuse bouches definitely left us wanting more food.

Amuse bouche #2 - Geoduck ceviche

Next came a server with a huge bread basket offering around a dozen different choices. I wanted to try them all but didn’t want to seem like a total pig so we each got two at a time. Over the course of the evening we ended up trying mini french baguettes, a garlic focaccia, an olive roll, a sourdough roll, a multigrain roll, and raisin walnut bread, but the best one of all was the butter roll, which I still think about constantly. It was basically a roll with the crust of a crispy baguette and the insides of a buttery, flaky croissant. It was rich yet light and delicate at the same time. We both got seconds of this roll as it was just simply divine.

Garlic focaccia and a mini french baguette

In preparation for our first course, our first wine pairing arrived, a light chardonnay from Santa Barbara County. It wasn’t too buttery and ended up going well with both of our appetizers. As was our usual custom, Josh and I each started with a dish and then swapped plates halfway through. I ended up with the meyer lemon royale with sea urchin, North Star caviar, Barron Point oysters, finger lime, and tapioca vinaigrette. Wow! This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening, and it was a melange of colors and flavors. For my first bite, I tried to get a little bit of everything and there was just so much going on that every chew yielded a different flavor. Then I ate each component individually, and that brought out more subtle nuances to the dish. The oysters were small but bursting with flavor, the sea urchin was rich and fresh, the caviar was salty and briney, and the vinaigrette with little chewy tapioca balls was just genius.

Meyer lemon royale with sea urchin, North Star caviar, Barron Point oysters, finger lime, and tapioca vinaigrette

Our other appetizer was the watercress veloute with Nantucket bay scallops, Iberico ham, black trumpet custard, and port reduction. The veloute turned out to be a velvety soup that was creamy but not rich. The watercress flavor was not too bitter, and it was slightly peppery. There were also round mushroom-shaped objects in the soup that we couldn’t identify (perhaps that was the black trumpet custard?) but they melted in our mouths in a weird and delightful way. The scallops were served on the side and the ham and port reduction added a nice richness, but the scallops were a bit cold. We weren’t sure if that was intentional but I think they might have tasted better had they been hotter. We weren’t quite as excited with this appetizer (this was our concession order) as we were with the meyer lemon royale sea urchin dish, but it was still very well prepared and tasty.

Watercress veloute with Nantucket bay scallops, Iberico ham, black trumpet custard, and port reduction

After they cleared away our appetizer plates and wine glasses, our main server came to tell us that because of the menu mix-up, they were giving us an extra course to make up for the confusion. This was unexpected but very welcome, and a very thoughtful way to correct a mistake. In addition to the extra course, they also gave us an extra wine pairing to match, an excellent premier cru white burgundy. The dish came from the full dinner menu and was kataifi crusted rock lobster with broccoli mousseline, ricotta salata, lemon-pine nut gremolata, and sweet harissa sauce. Kataifi is kind of a shredded phyllo dough and added a nice textural contrast to the tender and sweet lobster meat. The broccoli mousseline was creamy and flavorful, and the gremolata added a nice zip. The ricotta salata was presented as tiny cubes that we kind of didn’t notice, but we loved the sweet harissa sauce that wasn’t very spicy. It was a beautifully presented and flavorful dish that we really enjoyed and were glad that we had the opportunity to taste.

Kataifi crusted rock lobster with broccoli mousseline, ricotta salata, lemon-pine nut gremolata, and sweet harissa sauce

After the lovely bonus course, we continued through the rest of our meal. The wine pairing was a syrah from Rhone that was a perfect match for both of our entrees. The first was black sea bass with syrah sauce, accompanied by leek royale and pommes lyonnaise. This is a classic Daniel dish, and apparently caused some controversy when he paired a red wine sauce with a delicate white fish. The fish was presented as two skin-on filets, perfect for sharing. The fish was perfectly cooked except for the skin, which was oddly rubbery and chewy. Josh actually couldn’t even cut through the skin with the fish knife and ended up peeling the whole thing off in one piece. Weird. But the syrah sauce was fantastic, as were the sides. The leek royale was fluffy and flavorful, and the pommes lyonnaise, which was thinly sliced potatoes rolled up and nicely browned, were out of this world.

Black sea bass with syrah sauce, accompanied by leek royale and pommes lyonnaise

Our other entree was Elysian Fields Farm lamb loin with braised radicchio tardivo, confit fennel, crispy polenta, and sicilian olives. The lamb was incredible, with a beautiful crust and juicy, pink, and tender on the inside. It had a lovely gamey flavor and I couldn’t get enough of it. The fennel was delicate with a subtle flavor, and the polenta was crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. It was just a wonderful dish overall – earthy, rich, and deliciously flavorful.

Elysian Fields Farm lamb loin with braised radicchio tardivo, confit fennel, crispy polenta, and sicilian olives

When it came time for dessert, we were brought the regular menu dessert list rather than the limited pre-theater menu dessert list. We inquired about that and were told that we could order whatever desserts we wanted, which was another nice gesture. We did end up picking things that were listed on the pre-theater menu but we appreciated the thought, plus they gave us wine pairings that matched each of our desserts rather than the moscato that is listed on the menu. Dessert was one course where we didn’t swap, though we did taste each other’s dishes. I ordered the warm guanaja chocolate coulant, another classic Daniel dish. I was intrigued by it because it was described as having liquid caramel and fleur de sel, a combination that I greatly enjoy. Unfortunately, I didn’t taste much of either in the dish, and it ended up being like every other molten chocolate cake that I’ve eaten. The accompanying milk sorbet was refreshing but a bit bland. This dessert really didn’t stand out to me at all.

Warm Guanaja chocolate coulant, liquid caramel, fleur de sel, milk sorbet

Josh selected the coconut lemongrass soup with mango-thai basil gelee, poached pineapple, and coconut rum sorbet. It also sounded like an interesting combination on paper but failed to impress as well. It reminded both of us of a fruity pina colada, nothing really that different or exotic.

Coconut lemongrass soup with mango-thai basil gelee, poached pineapple, and coconut rum sorbet

In honor of our anniversary, they brought us an extra dessert with a candle in it and “Happy Anniversary” written in chocolate on the plate. Again, another very nice gesture and just highlights the level of service at the restaurant. The dessert was a spiced poached pear with hot chocolate sauce, almond frangipane, and earl grey ice cream. The chocolate sauce was neat because there was a thin disc of chocolate on top of the frangipane, which they poured hot chocolate over and the disc melted over the dessert. It was a cool effect, but the dessert itself wasn’t one of my favorites. It was a strange mix of flavors and slightly bitter – not exactly my cup of tea.

Spiced poached pear with hot chocolate sauce, almond frangipane, and earl grey ice cream

Fortunately our meal did not end there. We were also presented with a basket of tiny madeleines, served warm and fresh from the oven. They had a nice crispy chewiness to them, with a delicate citrus flavor. Even though I was very full at this point, I couldn’t stop popping these delicious little bites into my mouth.

Lovely little madeleines

Another dessert plate followed, a small platter of petit fours. We were stuffed but we continued on, taking a bite of each one. To be honest, I don’t really remember what was what, only that every one was tasty. The macaron was delicate and crackly, as it should be, and there was a pistachio one that we both really liked.

Assortment of petit fours

And just when we thought the meal was over, they set down empty plates in front of us. We weren’t sure what was going on, but then someone came by with a tray of chocolates, asking us which ones we would like to taste. We were near capacity at this point so we asked for suggestions on the best pieces, and the server told us that we should try all of them, so who were we to argue? Luckily there were only four kinds, though each one was very rich and intense. The four flavors were Grand Marnier, toasted sesame, dark chocolate, and praline. The toasted sesame was really interesting, with a nice nutty, savory flavor, and the praline was my favorite, a classic sweet crunchy bite to finish off our meal.

Grand Marnier, toasted sesame, dark, and praline chocolates

Overall Josh and I really enjoyed our dinner at Daniel, and I think we would rate it as the second best meal we’ve ever had, behind Alinea. But comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. Daniel serves very classic and well prepared dishes, while Alinea’s offerings were unique and strange but very exciting. The service at Daniel was impeccable though, everything you would expect from a three star Michelin restaurant. All of our servers were polite, gracious, and attentive. Our food was always carefully presented and explained with a lot of detail, something that we appreciated.

We were wary at first after the pre-theater menu snafu, but they more than made up for it during the meal. I had also been hesitant about ordering from a limited menu, but we walked out feeling like we had fully experienced Daniel, and the cheaper price was just a bonus on top of a magnificent meal. Although desserts weren’t quite up to par in our opinion, the amuse bouches and all the little extras, like the madeleines and petit fours, were lovely touches that helped cap off a great evening. I would absolutely recommend going for the pre-theater special if cost is a concern. You’ll still have a terrific meal, the same level of great service, and experience all the miniscule details that make this restaurant truly special. We didn’t feel like we were missing out on anything, and we’d happily go back there in a heartbeat, either for the pre-theater meal or a splurge on the regular menu. We definitely believe that the restaurant deserves all the accolades it receives.

60 East 65th St. between Madison and Park Ave.
New York, NY

Jacques Brasserie

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 by virginia


Josh has been traveling a lot for work recently so my meals lately have consisted mainly of leftovers from our weekends of gorging, easily prepared foods such as sandwiches and salads, or pre-made soups and frozen pizzas. Sad, yes, but a lot of my joy from cooking and eating comes from sharing the experience with someone. If I made what I thought was the most fantastic meal ever and no one else was there to taste it, would it still be the most fantastic meal ever? It’s kind of like hitting a hole in one with no witnesses. It’s still a great feat but no one can fully share in your excitement.

Ok maybe I’m just making excuses for being lazy. Regardless, one mid-week night while Josh was away, I was thrilled for the opportunity to have a girls’ night dinner with Josh’s mom and his cousin. We met up on the Upper East Side at Jess’ apartment and went off in search for food. None of us are all that familiar with restaurants in the area still so we basically chose a place based on where we could find street parking. We ended up at Jacques Brasserie, a lovely restaurant with a menu that offers all of the standard French bistro classics.

We started off with some delicious slices of baguettes with salty butter. The bread had a decent crust, nice chew, and good flavor. My only complaint was that they had a bread man doling out one slice at a time, and he couldn’t come around fast enough. We were starving and couldn’t get enough of the bread!

Very good baguette

Yummy baguette

For our appetizers, both Josh’s mom Alice and I opted for the soupe a l’oignon, classic French onion soup. The broth was deep and rich and full of onion flavor, and there was plenty of cheese melted on top. However, the soup wasn’t quite as hot as it needed to be, and all that cheese quickly congealed into one big lump. I ended up trying to break pieces off with the spoon and using my fingers, so it got to be quite messy, but it was a delicious soup nonetheless.

French onion soup covered in a thick layer of gruyere

French onion soup covered in a thick gooey layer of gruyere

Jess ordered the salade de bettrave, which was beet salad with chopped endives and manchego. She asked the waiter if they would substitute goat cheese for the manchego, and he easily acquiesced. The resulting salad was a mix of complementary flavors, textures and colors, with the sweetness of the soft red roasted beets, the tanginess and creaminess of the white goat cheese, and the bitter crunchiness of the yellow endive leaves. We all ended up stealing bites from Jess’ plate and loved every bit of it.

For my main course, I chose the steak frites, which came with a choice of béarnaise sauce or au poivre sauce. I selected au poivre and was disappointed with the watery and greasy sauce that I received in a ramekin with my steak and fries. The sauce had no discernable peppercorn flavor to it. Fortunately the steak was fabulous, a thick and meaty piece that was cooked rare per my request. It was actually almost black and blue, with a dark, flavorful crust on the outside and still pink and bleeding in the middle. Just how I like it! The steak had a good amount of flavor and just needed an additional sprinkling of salt to boost it up.

Perfectly cooked steak with a nicely formed outer crust, but disappointing au poivre sauce on the side

Perfectly cooked steak with a nicely formed outer crust, but disappointing au poivre sauce on the side

The fries were freshly cut and nicely fried so that they were hot and crispy on the outside and soft and potato-y on the inside. It came in a separate cone that I didn’t mind sharing with everyone else.

Freshly cut and fried french fries

Freshly cut and fried french fries

Jess had the coquilles St. Jacques, which were seared sea scallops on top of wild mushroom risotto with manchego and cranberry reduction. Neither she nor I have ever tried coquilles St. Jacques before, but Alice said they were not what she knows of as coquilles St. Jacques. The scallops were cooked well but the risotto was slightly gummy, and the manchego appeared to have been melted on top of the risotto, which was kind of weird. Jess ended up scraping that off to the side and focused mainly on eating the scallops.

For her entrée, Alice had the poulet roti, which was roasted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. The chicken was cooked perfectly and had surprisingly crispy skin. The mashed potatoes were nicely garlicky and the spinach wasn’t bitter. It was a simple dish but very well prepared.

Of course with this being a girls’ night, we couldn’t pass up on dessert. First up was an apple tart that had a nice thin layer of apple filling and creamy vanilla ice cream, but the crust was an absolute disaster. It appeared to be made of a piece of flattened puff pastry, so that the layers of the pastry dough were stuck together in a tough and unwieldy way. We couldn’t cut through the crust with the side of our forks, and even when we busted out a knife it was still extremely hard to get through. After a few attempts that ended up rattling the plate and the table, we sadly had to give up on most of the tart.

Beautiful apple tart but with a terrible, hard-to-eat crust

Beautiful apple tart but with a terrible, hard-to-eat crust

Our second dessert, the crème brulee, had an evenly browned crackly sugar crust on top but the custard itself wasn’t properly cooled before it was served and as a result it was too warm and liquid-y. Even though it had a nice vanilla flavor, the dessert lost all the silkiness and lusciousness of a properly prepared crème brulee.

Creme brulee with an evenly browned sugary crust but a too warm and liquidy interior

Creme brulee with an evenly browned sugary crust but a too warm and liquidy interior

For the most part, we enjoyed our girls’ night meal at Jacques Brasserie. The meal got off to a good start with delicious French baguettes and continued from there. Although desserts weren’t quite up to par, pretty much everything else we had was tasty and well prepared. Service was fine, and the restaurant has a laid back atmosphere that allowed us to have nice conversation. It is a bit on the pricey side though, so it’s not somewhere we would go very often. It looks like the brunch menu is pretty reasonable though, which I might have to check out next time. But overall it was good company and good food – what more can you ask for?

Jacques Brasserie
204 East 85th St. between 2nd and 3rd Ave.
New York, NY


Friday, December 4th, 2009 by virginia


For Josh’s sister’s birthday, his parents got us all tickets to see A Steady Rain on Broadway, starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig. Before the show we had a lovely meal at Gaby, a restaurant attached to the Sofitel Hotel.

The décor of the restaurant is modern and upscale, with tall ceilings and colorful upholstery. We were seated at a long table near the front, next to the window looking out onto 45th St. They graciously seated us before the entire party arrived, and we started off with some drinks and some delicious baguettes with rich butter and a black olive tapenade.

Butter and a tasty black olive tapanade

Butter and a tasty black olive tapenade

The baguettes weren’t as crispy out the outside as I would have liked but they had good flavor and a nice chewy texture to them.

Delicious carbs

Delicious carbs

For my appetizer, I selected the burgundy snails cooked in garlic butter and served with toasted brioche. The snails were large and tender, not rubbery. They were served in a cast iron pan that kept them wonderfully hot, and I sopped up the garlicky butter with the pieces of toast.

Garlicky snails with brioche toast

Garlicky snails with brioche toast

Josh had the lobster bisque, which was unlike any lobster bisque that I’ve tasted before. It was not too heavy on the cream, and it had some spices in it that made the soup taste more like a pumpkin bisque than lobster. It was surprisingly light, not too rich, with interesting and complex flavor.

Unusual lobster bisque

Unusual lobster bisque

For my main course, I kept it simple and classic with Gaby’s version of steak frites. The steak was grilled Black Angus hanger steak with caramelized shallots. The steak was nicely pink on the inside and not tough or chewy at all. The French fries were thin and crispy with a healthy sprinkling of salt. It was an ample portion of fries so I didn’t mind sharing a few with the rest of the table. There was also a mesclun salad on the plate with a nice light vinaigrette that helped cut through the richness and the fatiness of all the steak and fries.

Hanger steak covered in carmelized onions, fries, and salad

Hanger steak covered in caramelized shallots, fries, and salad

Josh went with the duck leg confit with sautéed fingerling potatoes, mushrooms, and frisee. The duck was tender and appropriately gamey in flavor. While I still preferred my steak over the duck, I know Josh enjoyed his dish a lot.

Duck confit with fingerling potatoes and frisee

Duck confit with fingerling potatoes, mushrooms, and frisee

We didn’t have enough time before the show to have dessert but I thought the meal at Gaby was quite delightful. The items we chose were from the “a la Francaise” sections of the menu, which meant they were classically French in preparation. However, there are several other options that are more continental and adventurous in flavors. The restaurant is quite pricey though, with appetizers ranging from the mid to upper teens and entrees are mostly above $25. It’s a good place if you’re looking for a nice upscale pre-theater dinner, as the service is efficient and attentive. A Steady Rain ended up being a great show as well, though they did remind us almost a dozen times before the curtain to turn off our cell phones!

44 West 45th St. between 5th and 6th Ave.
New York, NY