Posts Tagged ‘Ice Cream’

Ad Hoc – Yountville, CA

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 by virginia


Even though I knew we were going to be in Sonoma, not Napa, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat at a Thomas Keller restaurant, especially because it’ll probably be years before we’ll be “in the neighborhood” again. I know we have Bouchon Bakery in NYC, but it’s not quite the same as a regular sit-down restaurant. The drive from Healdsburg to Yountville was actually over an hour, but it was a pretty scenic trip past rolling hills of vineyards. While I would have loved to eat at the French Laundry, logistically, and budget-wise, Ad Hoc made more sense for us. Originally we had made a reservation for a party of ten, but our group dwindled down to four, which fortunately was not an issue.

I was actually surprised by the decor of the restaurant when we walked in. I don’t know why, but in my mind, I was picturing something a little more casual and countrified. Instead, it was a beautifully modern space with tall ceilings, large windows, and a contemporary vibe. Even though we had a somewhat early reservation, the place was packed and the atmosphere was hopping.

The menu at Ad Hoc changes every day, but whatever is on the menu that day is what you get. There is usually a salad to start, a main course with the option to add a supplemental dish, a cheese course, and dessert. The meal costs $52, plus an extra supplement cost if you choose to add the supplemental dish, and you get everything. It’s all served family style, with enough portions for everyone at the table to have a healthy serving.

On the night that we dined there, the salad course featured a gorgeous mix of little gem lettuce, shaved fennel, apricots, radishes, pickled red onions, and ricotta, with a chamomile vinaigrette. The gem lettuce, which is similar to baby romaine, was unbelievably fresh, with such a crisp texture and intense lettuce flavor. The radishes fortunately were not too bitter, and the fennel was pretty mild as well. The apricots were a great addition – sweet and juicy, while the dollops of ricotta added a nice creaminess to the greens. We all thought the salad was slightly under-dressed, until we discovered that they had brought us a gravy boat of extra dressing that no one had noticed until we were almost finished eating. Oh well. The vegetables were so fresh anyway that we were sort of glad to have tasted them in all their semi-naked glory.


Salad with little gem lettuce, fennel, apricots, radishes, pickled red onions, and ricotta

The main course was grilled hanger steak, which was nicely browned on the outside and perfectly medium rare on the inside. The steak was topped with wilted mustard greens, fried polenta, bell pepper stew, and turnip agrodolce. The mustard greens were soft but not overcooked, and the slight bitterness of the turnips was counteracted by the sweet bell peppers. My favorite part of the dish, aside from the steak, was the fried polenta, which had a perfectly crisp shell and a creamy center. It was a hearty, homey dish and they definitely didn’t skimp on the meat. We wound up boxing up the leftovers.

Hanger steak

Hanger steak with mustard greens, turnips, bell pepper stew, and fried polenta

The supplemental dish was shrimp scampi, which we added to our meal without hesitation (the additional cost was $16). It was a good call, as the shrimp were perfectly cooked and the pasta was clearly homemade, with chewy strands that clung to the well balanced scampi sauce. The dish wasn’t overly garlicky and had just the right amount of acid.

Shrimp scampi

Shrimp scampi

The cheese course was the Lamb Chopper from Cyprus Grove, a sheep’s milk cheese that has a mild gamey flavor to it. It’s a hard cheese but texturally smooth, and it was served toasted cashews and honey. The sweetness of the honey really brought out the tang of the sheep’s milk. It was a nice palate cleansing course.


Lamb Chopper cheese with honey and cashews

Dessert was ice cream sandwiches with sweet corn ice cream between shortbread cookies, rolled in blackberries. They were impossibly messy (the ice cream squeezed out the back when you bit into the cookies, and the blackberry juice got all over our hands), but they were delicious, whimsical, and just plain fun to eat. The shortbread cookies tasted like sugar cookies, though not too sugary, and the ice cream had a subtle hint of corn flavor. I was hoping to taste more of the corn, but the sandwich was just the perfect amount of sweetness to end the gluttonous meal.

Sweet corn ice cream sandwiches

Sweet corn ice cream sandwiches with blackberries

Immediately after our meal, we had kind of mixed emotions about the dinner at Ad Hoc. The food was really good – seasonal, well prepared, and plentiful. But there was nothing that knocked our socks off. Everything was properly seasoned and tasted great, but it was simple, homey fare, and I think we were expecting something a little more extraordinary from a Thomas Keller restaurant. In hindsight though, it was our own preconceived notions that had us a little disappointed at the end of the meal. Thinking back, we truly did enjoy our meal, and each course was amazing in its own right. The salad was unbelievably fresh, the steak was expertly cooked, as were the sides, the shrimp scampi was nicely balanced,  the cheese course was simple but delicious, and the ice cream sandwiches put smiles on all of our faces. It was a meal I would happily eat again, and a complete bargain considering the quality of the food and the size of the portions. If you’re expecting more composed dishes and creative combinations, then this isn’t the place. But if you’re looking for uncomplicated, straightforward, and perfectly executed food that is also unbelievably tasty, don’t hesitate to make a reservation at Ad Hoc.

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St.
Yountville, CA

While we would have loved to eat here (French Laundry), which is just down the street, Ad Hoc was still a great restaurant in its own right

While we would have loved to eat here (French Laundry), which is just down the street, we wound up having an amazing meal at Ad Hoc

Peru Day 6 – Sillustani and Puno

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 by virginia

We had a super early morning flight out of Arequipa to Juliaca. Our flight was at 6:10 am and originally we were supposed to leave for the airport at 4:10 am but luckily our guide was able to get our boarding passes ahead of time, which bought us some extra time. We left for the airport around 5 am, which meant we still had to get up at 4 am to make sure we had everything packed and ready to go.

Needless to say we were pretty exhausted when we got to the airport but we saw a lot of people from our Colca Canyon tour group there so we had a good time chatting with everyone. We were the only ones headed to Puno, while everyone else was off to Cusco. Our hotel had packed us breakfast boxes since we left before the buffet started but we only drank the peach juice and left the ham and cheese sandwiches and yogurt behind.

The flight itself was less than an hour, and we had barely fallen asleep before it was time to get off the plane. We collected our luggage and waited for our transfer from Juliaca to Puno, where we would be staying. And we waited. And waited. Apparently the tour company had forgotten about us. No one knew we were coming. Luckily we met a tour guide from a different company who called our tour company for us, and eventually after waiting for an hour, we were picked up by someone from our tour company who happened to be dropping off another client.

It was sort of a frustrating experience for us but we shook it off and continued on our tour. The drive from Juliaca to Puno included a stop at the Sillustani graves along the way. The site is a pre-Incan burial ground that was used by the Chollas, a group of Aymaras who were conquered by the Incas. The place was so sacred though that the Incans respected the tombs of the Chollas, since they were for royalty. Now the site includes both Incan and Chollan graves. The tombs are called “chullpas” and are tall, round towers. The opening faces the east, and inside the tombs they found mummies of royals who were buried in fetal position, along with their servants.

The tallest chullpa

Inside the chullpa

Other tombs at the site

While I’m not usually one to enjoy walking around tombs and grave sites, I really loved the area. It sounds sort of silly but I could see why the place appealed to the Collas and Incas. It’s situated on a lake, Lake Umayo to be exact, and it was really peaceful there. The grass was a yellowish color, the lake brilliant blue, and there was a soft breeze that billowed through, bringing fresh air and a sense of calm.

Lake Umayo

Cows grazing in a field nearby

A lake on the other side of the site, where there were flamingos

After leaving Sillustani, we stopped at the home of some local farmers. We felt a bit awkward just walking into their place but I guess they must have a deal with tour companies because they seemed perfectly at ease with us poking our heads into their bedrooms and taking stock of their outdoor kitchen. Their home was really pretty simple, just a courtyard with a few small shacks that served as the bedrooms. We also sampled some of their homemade cheese, which I only nibbled at because it probably hadn’t been pasteurized, plus the flavor was too milky for my taste, as well as some small boiled potatoes that we dipped into bowls of clay. The clay was muddy and sort of gross looking, but it actually tasted pretty good with the potatoes. It gave them a sort of salty, earthy flavor.

The entrance to the home. The two cows above the doorway symbolizes that they are farmers.

They had llamas and alpacas out front

They also had a guanaco, which was the only one we saw on our trip

The inner courtyard and the little houses that served as bedrooms

Homemade cheese

Assorted potatoes and root vegetables, plus clay for dipping

Pen of cuy, for special occasions

Afterward, we were taken to our hotel in Puno, which is the city on Lake Titicaca. Our hotel was very nice but it was pretty far from the main part of the city. After dropping off our bags and settling in a little, we took a cab to the Plaza de Armas, or the main square. There really wasn’t a whole lot to see or much going on in the town.

Statue at the center of the Plaza de Armas

We pretty much just wandered around town, looking for places to shop and walking through some local outdoor markets. We also found the main market in the center of town, a two story building where people sell fruits, vegetables, meats, and other foods. It was pretty interesting but not a place where we would buy stuff for ourselves.

The main street downtown with lots of shops and restaurants and is closed off to cars

The main agricultural market in the center of town

Local outdoor market selling everyday goods like clothing and household supplies

We skipped lunch but decided to stop for some ice cream. Josh got cappuccino gelato at a little place called Il Gelato Heladeria Cafe. It had good flavor but was kind of icy and not creamy enough. The gelato flavors they had didn’t appeal to me so I stopped at a place called Chepy’s, which had a long line. It was really cheap (a cone with two different flavors cost 1 sol) but the ice cream was gummy and artificial tasting. I picked grape and strawberry, and both tasted like bubblegum versions of the fruit. Meh.

My grape and strawberry ice cream cone

Before heading back to the hotel, we made sure to see the sights noted in our guidebook. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much. We saw the cathedral, a wooden balcony that is supposed to be famous, and some other supposedly famous building but I’m not sure why.


Famous balcony

Famous building

We also stopped at a cafe with a courtyard and had a beer to kill some time but we were pretty bored. Since there was nothing else to see and nothing left to do, we took a cab back to our hotel, which is right on Lake Titicaca.

View of Lake Titicaca from our hotel terrace

We ended up just relaxing the rest of the night and ate dinner at our hotel because we didn’t feel like taking a cab back into the city. We were pretty tired from our early morning flight, and to be honest, Puno just wasn’t that exciting. We were basically there because it was the jump off point for Lake Titicaca, and the rest of our time on the lake was much nicer. But more on that later.

Winter Restaurant Week 2010 – Aureole

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 by virginia

In addition to the reservation we had made at A Voce Columbus on the first day of Restaurant Week, we had also managed to nab a prime lunchtime spot at the Bar Room of Aureole on the very last day of Restaurant Week. I was hoping to get some last minute reservations at a few places in between as well, but I wasn’t able to find the time to take a long lunch, as it was a particularly busy time at work for me. Josh ended up going to DB Bistro Moderne with a few of his coworkers but he didn’t seem too impressed by his meal there, so I didn’t feel too bad about missing out. I was really looking forward to our meal at Aureole, however, and couldn’t wait for the end of the week to finally arrive.

Aureole recently moved from the Upper East Side to the new Bank of America building at One Bryant Park. We had never gone to the old Aureole but I was kind of surprised by the casual décor at this new space. Granted, we were seated in the Bar Room at the front, and the dining room in the back did seem to be a bit more upscale. The front room was very bright, with lots of tall windows, and a huge, modern chandelier. There was a large bar that took up an entire wall, and a giant array of wine bottles behind rounded glass windows.

The Bar Room in front

What I didn’t really like was that the tall windows faced onto 42nd St., and you couldn’t help but be aware of all the people walking down the street and the cars driving by. Plus there was some very unattractive scaffolding across the street, and I kind of feel it was a bit distracting. The more formal dining room, however, is set back behind some glass and the décor was a bit more subdued, with a predominately brown and beige color scheme. And while the tables in the dining room were covered in gleaming white tablecloths, the tables in the Bar Room were bare, with the exception of some place mats.

After we were seated and had placed our orders, we were brought a wooden bowl filled with slices of baguette, and a small ramekin of creamy butter topped with crunchy kernels of salt. The bread had a nice crispy crust and an airy, chewy interior. It was pretty tasty, though I wish it had been warmed up a bit. However, I must admit that I did get a bit jealous when I saw that in the dining room, there was a bread man walking around with a basket offering five different kinds of bread. To add insult to injury, the wooden bowl that held our bread was severely cracked on both sides and looked like it was about to split in half. We were both surprised that they would let a bowl like that out of the kitchen, as the cracks really were conspicuous.

Tasty slices of baguette but served in a cracked bowl

Moving on to the actual meal, it wasn’t too hard for us to pick which dishes we wanted to try from the Restaurant Week menu, as we simply avoided the vegetarian options in each course (salad in the first course and winter vegetables in the second course). As per our tradition, we each started with a dish and then swapped plates halfway through so that we could taste both offerings. I wound up with the potato leek ravioli first, which featured bacon, caramelized onion, aged cheddar, and a chive creme fraiche sauce. There were three small but plump raviolis in the bowl, bursting with a tasty potato leek puree. The filling was well seasoned on its own, but when eaten with the accompanying toppings, it was a great mix of flavors and textures. Both the bacon and caramelized onions are very assertive ingredients but complemented the raviolis perfectly, with no one component standing out above the others. I found the dish to be very comforting, kind of homey, yet still refined and beautifully presented.

Potato leek ravioli

Our other first course was the wild striped bass ceviche, which was marinated in citrus juices and topped with red onion, avocado, smoked paprika, cucumber, red pepper, microgreens, and popcorn. The striped bass was sliced thinly, kind of like a crudo, and the citrus marinade was very light. I liked that the dish wasn’t overly acidic, and the freshness of the fish really shined through. The accompanying garnishes were chopped into tiny pieces so that they provided a textural contrast without detracting from the delicate flavor of the striped bass. Although this was a very elegant version of ceviche, I thought the popcorn on top was a playful nod to the traditional way the dish is usually served.

Wild striped bass ceviche

For the main course, Josh started out with the spotted skate wing, which was topped with cauliflower, golden raisins, toasted almonds, and a caper curry brown butter. The skate was pan seared perfectly so that it had a nice golden brown crust on the inside, yet was still tender and flaky. The curry in the brown butter sauce was very mild but combined with all the other ingredients, it was an intriguing combination of flavors and textures. Every bite highlighted a different component, from the sweet raisins to the savory cauliflower and tangy caper berries. There was a lot going on yet it all worked together very well.

Spotted skate wing

Our other main course was braised pork belly with apple, brussels sprouts, cornichons, dijon mustard jus, and roasted pearl onions. The pork belly was fatty and luscious, just as it should be, but it was served in one long piece that was a bit hard to cut neatly. I ended up separating the fatty top from the rest of the meat by accident and couldn’t get a thin enough slice of both that would just melt in my mouth. I think the restaurant should have sliced the pork belly up for us rather then leaving it for us to deal with on our own. That aside, the dish was a great mix of sweet and savory, highlighted by the apple sauce and shaved brussels sprouts. While it wasn’t the best pork belly we’ve ever had (that honor belongs to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas), it was definitely near the top of the list.

Braised pork belly

There were only two options for dessert so we got one of each. The first was a caramel corn sundae with vanilla chantilly, bananas, and salted peanuts. This dessert was so incredibly playful that it just put a huge smile on our faces. It tasted just like cracker jacks, but better. The refreshing popcorn(!) ice cream was topped with sweet vanilla cream and streaks of caramel, and biting into the pieces of banana and salted peanuts were like finding little prizes in the sundae. The kernels of caramel corn just put the whole thing over the top.

Caramel corn sundae

The other dessert was a bittersweet chocolate ganache tart with blood orange creme. This was the polar opposite to the caramel corn sundae, as it was dark, rich, and very intense. The ganache was very dense but delightfully creamy on the tongue. The creme had just a hint of citrusy flavor to it, and was a nice complement to the dark chocolate. It was a good dessert on its own but couldn’t compare to the light and whimsical sundae.

Bittersweet chocolate ganache tart

Lastly, they brought us a small plate of cookies to finish off our meal. There was a thin and crispy sandwich cookie, a hard and crunchy biscotti, an intriguing salted chocolate chip cookie, and a classic shortbread cookie with jam on top. We were stuffed after our lunch but couldn’t resist having a few nibbles.

Platter of mini cookies

Overall Josh and I both loved this meal. We thought that it was one of the best Restaurant Week lunches we’ve ever had, certainly the best of winter 2010, and we were really impressed with all of our courses. While I didn’t love the atmosphere of the restaurant’s new location, service was exemplary. Our waiter explained each of our dishes to us as they were served, and when he noticed that we swapped plates during the first course, he made sure to help us with the swap during our second course. More importantly though, I thought the dishes we had were bold and innovative, as well as fun and imaginative. This meal was absolutely a highlight for us and definitely made us interested in trying some dishes from the regular menu. We sincerely hope that Aureole will be participating in Summer Restaurant Week this year, and will be offering yet another stellar menu.

135 West 42nd St. between 6th Ave. and Broadway
New York, NY


Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 by virginia

For Josh’s dad’s birthday, 12 of us gathered at Wallsé, a Michelin starred restaurant that features Austrian cuisine. The chef/owner is Kurt Gutenbrunner, who also owns Café Sabarsky and Blaue Gans in the city. It seemed like a random choice on Josh’s part in selecting the restaurant, but by the end of the meal, we were all huge fans of Austrian food, and Wallsé.

To be perfectly honest, one of the reasons we ended up at Wallsé was because they were the first Michelin starred or highly rated restaurant he called that would take a reservation for 12, and without any caveats. Convivio and Union Square Café, for example, had a maximum reservation size of eight. A Voce Columbus had a $2,000 spending minimum. Yeesh! But Wallsé was also high up on Josh’s list because the menu looked extensive and interesting, and a four course tasting made up of your choice of any three dishes, plus dessert, was only $75 (though at the time, the restaurant had an outdated menu posted on the website that said it was $68; it has since been fixed).

The restaurant was almost completely empty when we first arrived for our 7 pm reservation. Josh told us that one of the reasons they were able to seat 12 was because there weren’t that many reservations for this particular Sunday evening. It was also the day after the huge snowstorm we had this winter so we figured that people wouldn’t want to venture out in the wet slushy conditions. It did fill up though, and by the time we left the restaurant was actually packed. We had a long table in the back room that was next to a lovely display made from branches, berries, and shiny ornaments. The room had interesting paintings on the walls and a soothing ambiance.

Festive but elegant decor

I had a really hard time choosing what I wanted to eat as part of my four course “make your own” tasting menu. The menu is broken up into four different categories – appetizers, fish, meats, and dessert. You can choose one from each category, or multiple choices from one category, so long as you end with dessert as your last course. With so many different choices, Josh and I made sure that we each ordered different items so that we could taste as many dishes as possible. It was actually a bit agonizing for us, because there were so many dishes we wanted to try.

After finally nailing down our selections, we turned our attention to the bread basket. There were two types of bread, one white and one multi-grain, both rustic with sturdy, crunchy crusts. The crusts were fantastic – not too hard, light, and crispy. Both breads had nicely developed flavors and were addictive to eat. We went through quite a few baskets between the 12 of us, and they happily brought us more every time the baskets emptied. If only the breads were served warm; that really would have put them over the top! They were served with round slices of unsalted butter that were also a bit too cold, which made them slightly hard but not impossible to spread.

Crispy rustic bread

Our first courses arrived a short while later and we all quickly tucked in. I started with spatzle, a traditional German/Austrian noodle that is made by scraping dough directly into boiling water. The result is a delicate and fluffy irregularly shaped short noodle. This spatzle was paired with braised rabbit, wild mushrooms, and brussels sprouts. I’ve never had spatzle before and was a huge fan of this dish. The noodles were soft and tender, not too dense, and paired perfectly with the tender and sweet pulled rabbit. The mushrooms added an earthy chewiness, and the brussels sprouts provided a slightly bitter crunch. The portion was surprisingly large for a tasting menu, and I happily ate every last bit of it. It was rich and comforting and I just wanted to cuddle up with a huge bowl of this stuff.

Spatzle with braised rabbit, mushrooms, and brussels sprouts

Spatzle with braised rabbit, wild mushrooms, and brussels sprouts

Josh started with the Maine lobster with homemade ravioli, black trumpets, and butternut squash. The portion wasn’t huge but there was plenty of lobster in the dish. Even though there were a lot of bold ingredients, with the mushrooms and diced squash, everything worked together and the flavors were clean. Josh enjoyed this dish a lot.

Lobster, homemade ravioli, black trumpets, butternut squash

My second course was veal cheeks and tongue served with winter root vegetables and potato puree. It was another comforting dish, reminiscent of a hearty beef stew. The veal cheek was huge, tender, and luscious. It broke apart easily with my fork and just melted in my mouth. The tongue was also surprisingly tender and meaty but I preferred the delicateness of the cheek. The root vegetables were chopped into little pieces and were just a side note to the veal but the potato puree was smooth, buttery, and very rich.

Veal cheek and tongue with roasted root vegetables and potato puree

Josh selected the wild striped bass with sauerkraut and black truffle sauce for his second course. We were both eager to try this dish since we love the flavor of truffles, but this dish failed to satisfy. While the bass was well cooked with a crispy top covered in herbs, the sauce lacked any truffle essence whatsoever despite what looked like decent sized pieces of chopped black truffle. At least the sauerkraut was an interesting accompaniment. It wasn’t a bad dish overall, just not quite what we were hoping for.

Wild striped bass with sauerkraut and black truffle sauce

For my third and last savory course, I had to order the wiener schnitzel because it came so highly recommended by our waitress. She was returning to Germany and said that one of the things she would miss the most was the chef’s wiener schnitzel. That’s a pretty good endorsement in my opinion. I’ve never had wiener schnitzel before and this one probably ruined me for all others. It was so light and so perfectly fried that breading crackled when I cut into it. There was no trace of grease whatsoever, the veal was juicy and delicious, and everything was well seasoned. All it needed was a little squeeze of lemon on top, and it was spectacular. The accompanying potato-cucumber salad and lingonberries were fine, if a bit standard, but the star of the show really was the wiener schnitzel.

Wiener schnitzel with potato-cucumber salad and lingonberries

Josh went with the sautéed duck breast with red cabbage and brioche dumplings. The duck was perfectly cooked, still pink and every tender, but he was disappointed that the skin wasn’t crispy. We were both curious about the brioche dumplings, which turned out to be like a soft french toast. Unusual, but not bad. The red cabbage was fine, but the star of the dish really was the duck.

Sauteed duck breast with red cabbage and brioche dumplings

For dessert, I selected the apfelstreusel with sea salt caramel ice cream. Basically it was an apple crumble, and a pretty tasty one at that. The sea salt caramel ice cream, however, really put it over the top. Again, it was something that I’ve never had before but something that I’ve read about a lot. The flavor of sweet and smoky caramel ice cream is really enhanced by the sea salt. It might sound weird or gross, but believe me, it really works. It’s kind of like salting a tomato to bring out the sweetness. It’s still dessert, but with a savory touch that cuts through the sugariness. Eating the apfelstreusel with the sea salt caramel ice cream together really brought the dessert to a new level.

Apfelstreusel with sea salt caramel ice cream

Josh decided to try the mozartkugel with pistachio nougatine. We had no idea what mozartkugel was but it turned out to be kind of like a large chocolate bonbon filled with a thick pistachio mousse. The presentation was lovely, with a bit of edible gold leaf on top and an artful scattering of pistachio nuts.

Mozartkugel with pistachio nougatine

Last but not least, we were presented with a plate of petit fours, which included an assortment of cookies and small chocolate brownie-like bites. Most of us were too full to eat anymore but I soldiered on, not wanting to miss out on anything. My hands down favorite was the little linzer tart cookies, which were slightly nutty and filled with raspberry jam. They were a great way to finish off the meal.

Pretty and tasty petit fours to end the meal

Overall we were all pleasantly surprised and completely delighted with our dinner at Wallsé. Coming in we didn’t know what to expect, since none of us were familiar with Austrian or German cuisine, but we left full and happy. There wasn’t a single dish that anyone disliked, and with 12 of us dining, we collectively went through a good portion of the menu. For me, the worst part was having to decide which three savory dishes to choose; I would have liked to try them all. It was a great meal from start to finish, with our friendly and helpful waitress explaining different dishes to us and making great wine recommendations. It’s too bad that she was leaving to go back to Germany because she really was terrific. The meal flowed wonderfully, as the courses were evenly paced and the portions were sized just right so that we left feeling satisfied and satiated but not overstuffed. The price of the tasting menu is pretty reasonable, especially for a Michelin starred restaurant, and the food is really spectacular. I highly recommend making the trip down to Wallsé for some homey yet refined Austrian food.

344 West 11th St. at Washington St.
New York, NY


Friday, August 7th, 2009 by virginia


Josh and I were back in NJ for the weekend and had dinner at one of our old favorites, Baumgart’s. It’s a kitschy retro-looking diner that serves Chinese food and ice cream. A weird combination but somehow it works. The Chinese food isn’t totally Americanized, which I like about the place, and service is always fast and efficient. Plus the ice cream is outstanding.

We ended up ordering a ton of food for some reason, and we still managed to finish most of it. For appetizers, we started off with steamed house dumplings that are filled with a shrimp paste and served with pickled vegetables. These are probably pre-made frozen dumplings but they’re delicious. The skins are super thin and the filling is ample but light. I could eat dozens of these, easily.

Steamed house special dumplings

Steamed house special dumplings

I think Baumgart’s has the best bbq spare ribs I’ve ever had at a Chinese restaurant. They’re always hot, covered in sauce, super meaty, and tender. The meat comes right off the bone and they’re not covered in fat like at other places. They give you plenty of wet naps to get the sticky sauce off your fingers afterward.

BBQ spare ribs

BBQ spare ribs

Our absolute favorite appetizer is the chicken with pine nuts. Tiny pieces of coarsely ground chicken are cooked with pine nuts in a light brown sauce and you spoon the mixture onto lettuce leaves. Then you eat it like a wrap. It’s sweet and salty and crunchy – the flavors and textures of this dish are just outstanding.

Chicken and pine nuts in a lettuce wrap

Chicken and pine nuts in a lettuce wrap

For our main courses, we got an order of crispy shrimp with honey walnuts. The shrimp is kind of cooked like general tso’s chicken, with coated shrimp that’s fried until crispy and tender and served with a sweet reddish tomato based sauce with peppers, onions, and water chestnuts. The walnuts are coated with honey and roasted until they’re also crispy and taste like candy. This is always a solid dish for us.

Crispy shrimp with honey walnuts

Crispy shrimp with honey walnuts

The sesame chicken is pretty standard, with chunks of chicken that are coated and fried with a sweet and tangy sauce that clings to the chicken. This dish can get a little dry sometimes, as they use white meat that doesn’t have a lot of moisture to begin with.

Sesame chicken

Sesame chicken

The brandied black bean filet is thin slices of filet mignon served over steamed spinach with and topped with the black bean sauce. Fortunately the sauce isn’t too powerful, since I’m not a huge fan of black beans (the fermented Chinese kind). But if you’re looking for that black bean flavor, you won’t find it in this dish. The beef is also hit-or-miss. On this trip, it was tender and still pink in the middle. Other times it has been tough and chewy and flavorless. The pieces of beef are pretty thin so they’re easy to overcook. Overall I’m not a huge fan of this dish but Josh and his dad like it a lot.

Brandied black bean filet

Brandied black bean filet

We got two noodle dishes – chicken pad thai and house special flat wide noodles. The chicken pad thai has all the usual ingredients – rice noodles, chicken, egg, bean curd, bean sprouts, etc., but it’s slightly pink which makes me think they put ketchup in it. It’s a bit sweeter than normal pad thai, but not bad. I like that they sprinkle a lot of crushed peanuts on top for extra crunch and flavor.

Chicken pad thai

Chicken pad thai

The house special flat wide noodles come with shrimp, chicken, and beef, as well as lots of veggies. It’s cooked with a “sha cha” sauce, which is like Chinese bbq sauce. This is also a hit-or-miss dish, as sometimes they overcook the noodles and they all stick together in one mushy pile. This time it was cooked well, and the sauce isn’t liquidy like American bbq sauce. Sha cha is more of a paste, so it keeps the noodles dry but you can just taste a hint of it in the background.

House special flat wide noodles

House special flat wide noodles

The only major disappointment this time was the whole sea bass that was deep fried. We ordered the crispy ginger version, but we should have gone with the steamed instead. The fish was large but it didn’t seem like it had any meat on it. I don’t know what it was coated in before it was fried, but the entire fish was like one giant crust. It was so hard to get to what little meat there was, and everything was super super dry. It seemed like such a shame to ruin such a big piece of fish that way. I don’t know if it was a bad fish to begin with or if it was just over fried, but I definitely won’t be ordering this dish again.

Deep fried sea bass with ginger

Deep fried sea bass with ginger

Even after all that food we just consumed, we all saved room for dessert. You can’t go to Baumgart’s without getting ice cream! The ice cream is homemade, though I’m not sure where “home” is. It’s rich and creamy and never icy. I got a black raspberry “mini sundae” which is a large scoop with hot fudge and whipped cream. The fudge was so hot that it started melting my ice cream immediately. They really do put on a thick layer, and I love getting a bit of fudge, a bite of ice cream, and a dab of whipped cream all on one spoon. The black raspberry is not too sweet and has a strong berry flavor. This is definitely one of my favorites.

Black raspberry ice cream with hot fudge and real whipped cream

Black raspberry ice cream with hot fudge and real whipped cream

Josh had the mint chocolate chip mini sundae, also with hot fudge. The mint ice cream is appropriately minty and refreshing. It just tastes “clean”, if you know what I mean. Nothing artificial and it’s not the neon green color. Watch out for the chocolate chips, as they are more chunks than chips. There are huge blocks of frozen chocolate dispersed throughout the ice cream, and finding one is like finding gold. These are not your ordinary chocolate chips. We pretty much inhaled all of our ice cream.

Mint chocolate chip ice cream mini sundae

Mint chocolate chip ice cream mini sundae

Even though I don’t generally crave Chinese food, I’m always happy to go to Baumgart’s. Aside from the standard sesame chicken, nothing else is like typical Chinese take out. I think a lot of the dishes are more authentic, even though the atmosphere is more of a 50’s ice cream soda shop than a Chinese restaurant. Even my dad has enjoyed their crispy shrimp, and he’s super picky about Chinese food outside our home. If you go to Baumgart’s during lunch or brunch, they also have really good chicken salad sandwiches and other more diner-ish fare. The restaurant also serves sushi, with a lot of tasty special rolls. This really is a place where anyone can find something to eat. Even the pickiest kids would be satisfied with their grilled cheese or burger with fries, and the adults can enjoy an eclectic asian feast. I definitely recommend Baumgart’s for anyone. And as a bonus, the Englewood location is BYO so bring along your favorite beer or wine!

Baumgart’s (multiple locations)
45 East Palisade Ave.
Englewood, NJ