Posts Tagged ‘Lamb’

Fun with Foie Gras

Friday, April 12th, 2013 by virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seared foie gras on top of crostini

Seared foie gras on top of crostini

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


2009 Chateau Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Hilton Head 2011 Day 4 – Old Fort Pub

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 by virginia

On our last day in Hilton Head, Josh and I were supposed to fly out at 7 pm from Savannah, which would have gotten us back to NYC at around 9 pm. Around 1 pm, however, a few hours before we were headed to the airport (which is about 45 minutes from the island), Josh got notification that our flight had been cancelled due to weather. We weren’t sure where exactly the “weather” was, given that we were sitting at the pool at the time and the sky was clear and blue. We figured the bad weather was in NYC, where it was raining, but nothing out of the ordinary. After trying to figure out alternative routes home, including flying through Charlotte, we ultimately booked a flight for first thing in the morning. I was worried that we would get stuck in Charlotte and have to spend the night at the airport, whereas if we stayed in Hilton Head, at least we had a guaranteed place to sleep.

The cancellation of our flight was kind of bittersweet. I was looking forward to getting home and having a night to readjust before heading back to work the next day. Flying out at 6:30 am meant that we would have to get up around 3:30 am and take a 45 minute taxi ride from Hilton Head to Savannah. Our flight would get in at 8:30 am and I would have to go straight to work feeling tired and looking disheveled. On the upside, we got to finish out our day at the pool, and we were able to join everyone for dinner at the Old Fort Pub.

During our trip to Hilton Head last year, the Old Fort Pub was my favorite restaurant of all the places we went that year. Even though I was dreading our early departure the next day, I was excited to have the opportunity to go back to the Old Fort Pub. Luckily they were able to add us to the reservation on short notice without any issues. As we left for the restaurant, the sky grew ominously black, and it started to pour. In retrospect, perhaps our flight was cancelled because they were anticipating this rain for around the time our flight was scheduled to take off. In addition to the downpour, there was plenty of thunder and lightning.

The torrential rain slowed us up quite a bit, as it was hard to see out the windshield because it was raining so heavily. We wound up being late for our reservation, and the restaurant called to make sure we were still coming. We assured them that we were on our way and quite close, but that we hadn’t brought any umbrellas. They said it was no problem, and that someone would be out front to meet us. Sure enough, as we pulled up, there was a person (who later turned out to be our waiter) standing in the rain holding several umbrellas for us. Now that’s what I call service!

We all finally made it into the restaurant, safe and mostly dry. It did get a bit hairy when a lightning bolt must have struck very close to where we were standing; the thundering crack that it made was absolutely deafening (I almost jumped out of my skin), and we were all pretty spooked by it. Nevertheless, we were happy to finally be inside, and we settled in to enjoy our meal.

In a departure from our usual tactic of ordering two different things per course and then going halfsies, Josh and I both decided to order the she crab soup. She crab soup is probably our favorite lowcountry dish and it’s something we always want to eat when we’re in Hilton Head. The version at Old Fort Pub is a bit different from most other versions we’ve tried. It’s very thick and creamy, which I like, but it has a very strong sherry taste to it. While the sherry flavor cuts through the richness of the soup, it masks some of the crab flavor and is slightly bitter. I thought when we tried it last year that we had just gotten a particularly boozy batch, but it was exactly the same this year. It’s not a bad version, but I definitely prefer less sherry flavor.

She crab soup

For our main course, we shared the lamb chops and the bouillabaisse. The lamb chops were cooked rare, as requested, and served with a pea and bean cassoulet, braised collard greens, and roasted tomato jus. I’m not sure if the sauce on the plate was the tomato jus because it was dark red in color and syrupy, both in texture and in taste. It was slightly too sweet to match well with the lamb and clashed with the cassoulet and collards as well. The flavors really didn’t meld, and I was pretty disappointed with the dish.

Lamb chops with pea and bean cassoulet, braised collard greens, and roasted tomato jus

We enjoyed the bouillabaisse much more, which featured shrimp, scallops, crawfish, mussels, tasso ham, roasted tomatoes, and collards. The seafood was all nicely cooked, especially the scallops, and the broth was rich and flavorful thanks to the ham. I think there was some cream in there but it wasn’t overwhelming, and the bouillabaisse was hearty and comforting.

Sea Island bouillabaisse

Overall I have to admit that most of us were pretty disappointed with our meal at the Old Fort Pub. Perhaps we had high hopes and expectations coming in, especially since we all had great prior meals there, but this particular visit didn’t measure up. The lamb chops didn’t work and there were also issues with the dishes that some other people in our group had. The upside to the experience was definitely the service. In addition to being nice enough to stand outside in the rain with umbrellas for us, our waiter was friendly, attentive, and efficient. I’m glad that we were able to spend an extra night in Hilton Head, though this meal was kind of a downer to end our vacation with. I don’t know if it was just an off night but for the price, I definitely expected more. It may have been our favorite restaurant last year, but now I have mixed feelings about the place. I think next year we’ll probably seek out some new restaurants to try.

Old Fort Pub
65 Skull Creek Dr.
Hilton Head, SC


Thursday, September 8th, 2011 by virginia

Our friends Silva and Felipe have been raving about Mémé, a Mediterranean restaurant in the West Village that is related to one of their favorite restaurants, Virage. Pronounced “may-may”, which means “grandma” in French Moroccan, the menu features assorted tapas/small plates and heartier entrees that reflect the owners’ heritage. We’ve been eager to try it out because we’ve heard such great things about the restaurant, and we also really enjoy Virage as well. We were thrilled when we were able to go to Mémé with Silva and Felipe for a last minute dinner on a random Tuesday evening.

We got to the restaurant around 8:45 and the place was packed. It’s not a huge restaurant but it was a beautiful night and they had tables set up on the sidewalk, which were also full. There was a little bit of a wait but since it was so nice outside we didn’t mind enjoying the fresh air and catching up as we waited for a table to open up. A short while later, we were seated inside. Even though the restaurant was full, the noise level wasn’t too bad and we could still chat pretty easily.

After looking over the menu, we decided to share a few small plates/tapas to start. Since Silva and Felipe are so familiar with the restaurant, Josh and I told them to order whatever they thought was good. They selected four different dishes to share for our appetizer, and then we each picked our own entrees. After we placed our orders, we dug into the dish of olives and pickled vegetables they gave us, along with some bread and seasoned olive oil. The bread was really quite good; it had a sturdy crust, a chewy texture, and was studded with briny olives.

Olives, seasoned olive oil, and pickled vegetables

Crusty olive bread

Our tapas arrived shortly, and we all eagerly dug in. First up was the ricotta gnocchi with truffle cream. There’s a similar dish at Virage that Josh and I have tried before, and we absolutely love it. This version was just as tasty, with soft, delicate pillows of ricotta gnocchi swimming in a rich, creamy sauce flavored with truffle oil. The truffle flavor is fantastically intense. After all the gnocchis were eaten, Josh and I used lots of bread to mop up all of the sauce.

Ricotta gnocchi with truffle cream

Next there were spicy carrots, which are seasoned with Moroccan spices. It was really an interesting dish, and I’m curious as to how the carrots are prepared. They’re soft but not mushy, and have a wonderfully exotic flavor to them. These were certainly far from a boring old bowl of carrots. If I knew how to make these, I’d eat carrots more often!

Spicy carrots with Moroccan spices

Both Silva and Felipe love the merguez at Mémé, which is served with hummus, pita, and chopped salad. The sausage had a nice snap to it and lots of spices mixed throughout the meat. It was very flavorful and paired well with the hummus and salad.

Merguez sausage with hummus and chopped salad

Lastly, we had an order of fried artichoke topped with shaved manchego cheese. The artichokes were delicately crisp on the outside, and the salty manchego really complemented them well. There were two dipping sauces on the side, an herb aioli and a tomato/red pepper sauce, but I actually enjoyed just eating the artichoke and manchego plain. It was a pretty big portion and easily shareable.

Fried artichoke with shaved manchego, baby greens, two sauces

For our entrees, Josh and I went halfsies on Mémé’s couscous and the lamb two ways. The couscous featured merguez, chicken, vegetables, and chickpeas cooked in a broth and served over couscous. I’ve never had couscous in broth before, just dry and fluffy, so I thought it was a bit unusual but interesting. The chicken was falling off the bone tender, and the vegetables featured yellow squash, potatoes, and carrots. It was a hearty, comforting dish. My only complaint was that it was a little under-seasoned so it was slightly bland, but they do give you an herb mixture and some harissa on the side to liven things up a bit.

Mémé's couscous - merguez and chicken, vegetables, and chickpeas cooked in bouillon over couscous

The lamb two ways featured lamb chops served on top of ratatouille and mashed potato and a lamb kebab with hummus and chopped salad. I asked for the lamb to be cooked medium rare, and it was perfectly executed. Both the chops and the kebabs were tender and well seasoned, and the meats had a nice gamey flavor to them. The ratatouille tasted fresh and sweet, and the mashed potatoes were a good accompaniment. I really enjoyed this dish.

Two way lamb - chops with ratatouille and mashed potato; kebab with hummus and chopped salad

Felipe had the lamb burger, which is what he always gets apparently, and Silva had the short rib bourguignon. It was a massive serving of short rib that had been slow cooked in red wine, mushrooms, and shallots. Josh and I had a taste and the meat was tender and well seasoned, and the sauce was intensely rich with red wine flavor.

Overall Josh and I both really enjoyed the meal we had at Mémé. We were glad that we experienced it for the first time with Silva and Felipe since they’re so familiar with the menu. There are so many tapas on the list that we wouldn’t have known where to begin. Nevertheless, I definitely would like to go back and try more of them, as the menu is incredibly diverse and extensive. Prices are pretty reasonable with the smaller plates ranging from $7-$12 and entrees averaging about $20 each. The portions are big enough to share, and it’s a great place to go with a small group.

We were too full for dessert but Silva had thoughtfully brought us some macarons from the newly opened Lauderée on the Upper East Side. We ate them after we got home and though they got a tiny bit smashed in transit they were still light, crispy, and very tasty. The rose flavored macaron had a nice floral taste but wasn’t overwhelming. I preferred the pistachio flavored macaron though, which captured the essence of pistachio perfectly. It was the perfect finish to a lovely evening.

581 Hudson St. between 11th and Bank 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

Zig Zag (Arequipa, Peru)

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 by virginia

After our early morning start to see the condors at Colca Canyon, we were pretty tired by the time we got back to Arequipa, a four hour drive away. Our experience with altitude had left us feeling a bit sluggish and took away our appetites so I couldn’t stomach the thought of eating anything complicated. While the Peruvian food we had eaten so far was tasty, some of it was really rich, and there were a lot of spices and herbs mixed into the sauces. I was in the mood for something plain and simple, and Zig Zag fit the bill.

One of the couples in our Colca Canyon tour group had eaten there before and recommended it to us. They said that we would probably need reservations but we decided to chance it, arriving at the restaurant at an early hour for dinner. The restaurant was empty but every table had a little “Reserved” sign on it. Uh oh. However, because we were there so early, they told us they could accommodate us if we finished before a certain time, when the reservations were to be honored. Since that gave us an hour and a half to eat, we had no issues. We settled down to eat and they brought us a small dish of cheese and olives to start. The cheese was crumbly and salty, like feta.

Cheese and olives

The menu featured all different kind of meats, most of which were sold by the gram and simply prepared. We picked out three dishes to share, including an appetizer of three different tartares – trout, tuna, and salmon. All three with simply prepared with a little bit of olive and citrus. Each was topped with a sundried tomato that was intensely flavorful. The plate was garnished with cornichon, hearts of palm, capers, peppers, and a tiny quail egg. The fish was super fresh, and nicely cut into small cubes. The portions of each tartare were ample, and we enjoyed every bite.

Trout, tuna, and salmon tartare

While we were eating our tartares, they also brought us some small rolls of bread with herbed butter. The bread was soft and chewy and the butter was flavorful. They were fine to nibble on.

Roll with herbed butter

For the main part of our meal, they brought us paper bibs to wear. Yes, bibs. Our waitress told us they were “necessary”, and when our food came, we saw why. We had ordered a grilled platter that came with four different kinds of meat. The meat was served on hot volcanic stones and were sizzling hot. The juice from the meat was literally sputtering when the platter arrived, so the bibs protected our clothes. In reality, we probably didn’t need bibs but it was all in good fun. We found them amusing and wore them proudly. What astonished me most, however, was the amount of food we were brought.

When we ordered the assorted meat platter (which I actually thought came from the appetizer section), we told the waitress we would be sharing it. When the platter came, there were actually two sets of stone, each with its own set of four meats. It also came with a huge bowl of french fries that could have easily fed four people. I couldn’t believe this was one order, and I worried that the waitress had misunderstood us and had placed two orders instead. Turns out that wasn’t the case. It really was an order for one, and boy, that was a lot of food. The meats were marked with toothpicks so we could identify what each one was, and it came with ostrich, alpaca, beef, and lamb.

Huge platter of meat - ostrich, alpaca, beef, lamb

The meats were already cooked to perfection so we quickly removed them from the stones to prevent them from overcooking. They were very simply prepared, just a little seasoning and grilled on the stones. After all the rich foods we had eaten on our trip, it was a welcomed change. The alpaca was tender and tasted similar to veal or pork. The beef had actual beef flavor, and the lamb was nicely gamey. The only meat we didn’t like was the ostrich, which was tough and bland. We dipped the meats into the various bowls of sauce that included an ajo sauce (garlicky), tartar sauce, herbed butter sauce, and a spicy rocoto (pepper) sauce.

The fries that came with the meats were heavenly. They were super crispy on the outside, potato-y on the inside, and not greasy at all. They were seasoned with salt and that was it. I ate handfuls, even without ketchup, and enjoyed every one of them. I am an avid french fry eater and even I couldn’t get through all of it. We left half the bowl behind, and let me tell you, I was really tempted to ask them to pack it up for us.

Awesome french fries

We had been worried that the meats wouldn’t be enough food so we got a small order of camarones, or crayfish, which are an Arequipan specialty. The camarones also came sizzling hot on a volcanic stone. We were too busy eating all the meat first, however, so they did get a bit overcooked sitting on the hot stone. They were still really tasty though, fresh and flavorful.

Camarones on the hot volcanic stone

The camarones came with a choice of a side dish so we opted for fried yuca. They turned out to be breaded yuca croquettes, with a crisp exterior and creamy interior. They were really good but a little starchy, and we were beyond full at this point.

Fried yuca

The veggie action in our meal came from a side dish of ratatouille. To be perfectly honest, we really didn’t eat it because we were too busy stuffing our faces full of meat and carbs.


Josh and I had walked into the restaurant not feeling so hungry, and the amount of food we ended up ordering (by accident) was pretty hilarious. Our table was absolutely filled, and despite not having an appetite to begin with, we made a pretty good dent into everything.

So much food!

Overall we both absolutely loved Zig Zag. It was one of the best meals we had in all of Peru, even though it was one of simplest meals we had. The meats and camarones were all top notch and the presentation was pretty neat. The fried sides were all well prepared, and I couldn’t stop eating the french fries even after I was stuffed. The restaurant was empty when we arrived but by the time we left, it was packed and there was a line at the door. The vibe was upbeat but not stuffy, and it’s someplace that I wouldn’t have minded hanging out at the bar. Service was great and the prices were actually really reasonable. For all of our food, which included the trio of tartares, the assortment of meats, the camarones, all sides, plus a few Cusquena beers, the total was S/182 after tax and tip. That’s about US$67, which would be an absolute steal here in NYC. If you find yourself in Arequipa, run, don’t walk to Zig Zag! Reservations are definitely recommended.

Zig Zag Restaurant
Zela 210 – Cercado
Arequipa, Peru

Hilton Head Day 2 – Old Fort Pub

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by virginia

I have to admit, the first time I heard about the Old Fort Pub was on Rachael Ray’s show, “$40 a Day.” Man, that show used to tick me off half the time. One single sushi roll does not equal dinner, no matter how dainty of an eater you are. Which she clearly was not. And having your husband buy you frozen hot chocolate? Also not fair in context of the show. But I digress! So on the Hilton Head episode, she had a sunset martini at the Old Fort Pub. Given the name, and the fact that she just had a drink there, not a meal, made me think that it was a casual bar on the water. So to my surprise, when Josh’s parents said they had a really nice meal there last year, I knew I wanted to check it out.

We had a reservation just in time for sunset, and it was a gorgeous evening. The dining room was a bit rustic but the main feature was the wall of windows that looked out onto the water, perfect for watching the sun go down. We stepped out onto the deck (you can also eat out there if you want) for a few quick photos:

We went back into the dining room and settled in to look over the menu. There were lots of different dishes that I wanted to try so it was hard for us to decide. Ultimately I ended up dictating to Josh what I wanted, and he being the amenable guy that he is, agreed to all of my choices. After we made our selections, we were given an amuse bouche of smoked salmon cream in a pastry shell. The cream was a bit runny but it had good salmon flavor. I love smoked salmon in all forms so I liked it, but Josh wasn’t too impressed.

Smoked salmon cream tart amuse bouche

We also got a basket of warm bread that had come right out of the oven. They were big rolls that you could pull apart into four dinner roll-sized pieces, and the top crust was nice and crispy. The inside had a nice chewy texture, and we ended up eating tons of these rolls with the accompanying herb butter.

Warm, chewy bread

For our appetizers, Josh and I shared the she crab soup (of course!) and the seared lamb tenderloin. Alice raved about the she crab soup last year so I was eager to try it. The soup was rich and creamy and chock full of crab flavor. Unfortunately, they were a bit heavy handed with the sherry so each spoonful had sort of an alcoholic bite to it. I’m not sure if they make it like that all the time, or if this was an anomaly, but I found it to be kind of unpleasant. Too bad, because it would have been an amazing soup otherwise.

She crab soup

The seared lamb tenderloin appetizer turned out not to be what I had imagined, but it was still quite tasty. I thought that it would be thin slices of barely cooked lamb but it was actually sort of like pieces of lamb kebab. It was served with a little goat cheese tart, baby mache, and beet chips. The lamb was tender and flavorful. I just wish there was more of it, as there were only four small cubes. All the components of the dish really worked well together, and I liked the gaminess of the lamb with the gaminess of the goat cheese.

Seared lamb tenderloin with goat cheese tart, baby mache, and beet chips

For our entrees, Josh and I split the crispy Carolina trout and the crawfish cakes. The trout was perfectly seared so that the skin was super crispy, and it was nicely seasoned. The fish was served with baby artichokes, cremini mushrooms, grape tomatoes, and a sherry cream sauce. The portion of trout was huge, and I didn’t even get through half the plate. I liked how the cream sauce bound all of the components together. My only complaint was that there was some mashed potatoes under the fish that was overseasoned with white pepper. I just ate around it, and everything else was spot on.

Crispy Carolina trout with artichoke baby artichokes, cremini mushrooms, grape tomatoes, and a sherry cream sauce

The crawfish cakes were prepared low country style and were served with green tomato, avocado, sweet pepper relish, and creamy stone ground grits. There were two huge cakes jam packed with crawfish meat and very little filling. The outside was nice and crispy while the inside was creamy and flavorful. The grits were chunkier than I expected but still very tasty. The green tomato and sweet pepper relish provided some nice acidity for the dish, while the avocado added some creamy richness. There was also one whole crawfish on the plate, which I dispatched by pulling off the head, sucking out the juices, and then removing the tail meat and eating it. Yum!

Low country style crawfish cakes with green tomato, avocado, sweet pepper relish, and creamy stone ground grits

For dessert, Josh couldn’t resist ordering the special of the night, a root beer float. It was pretty simple, just some scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with an organic root beer and served with a chewy tuille cookie. The root beer had a clean taste to it, not overly medicinal, and having a root beer float is just whimsical enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face.

Pouring root beer into a glass with scoops of vanilla ice cream

Fun and tasty

Overall our dinner at the Old Fort Pub was our favorite out of all the meals we had in Hilton Head this year. From start to finish everything was really well prepared and the flavors were delicious. Service was good, and the restaurant had a really lovely atmosphere. Portions are huge here, making it a good value as we had tons of leftovers that fed all of us for lunch a few days later. We were all pretty impressed with our experience, and I hope it’s a place that we’ll come back to again.

Old Fort Pub
65 Skull Creek Dr.
Hilton Head, SC

Istanbul Cafe

Friday, April 9th, 2010 by virginia

As recommended by Silva, Josh and I decided to try out Istanbul Café the last time we had a craving for Turkish food. Coincidentally, we ran into Felipe and Silva on our way to the restaurant, and Silva offered up particular dishes that she liked (the chopped tomato salad dip, the kofte, and the shepherd’s salad with feta). We ended up ordering way too much food for just the two of us, but we did manage to cover most of the items she recommended.

Before heading to the restaurant, we looked up the menu to see if they sold alcohol. Not seeing anything noted, Josh called to ask and he was told that they do not offer any alcohol. He followed up by asking if that meant we could bring our own, and he got an affirmative response. When we arrived with our bottle of wine in tow, however, we were told that they don’t serve alcohol, and we aren’t allowed to bring alcohol either. I’m guessing this is for religious reasons, but that’s not the response Josh got when he specifically called to ask. Perhaps there was some confusion on the phone, both in the questioning and in the response, as English did not seem to be the first language of the person who answered the phone.

Nevertheless, the no alcohol policy wasn’t really an issue. They were apologetic about the situation and we quickly slipped our bottle of wine under the table, out of sight. I just thought it was weird that out of all the reviews I had read about the restaurant, no one mentioned the policy. We opted for water instead, and set about looking over the menu. As always, there were lots of things that I wanted to try, given that this was our first visit to the restaurant, so we ended up ordering sampler platters for both our appetizer and our main course.

The cold appetizer platter included hummus (mashed chickpea and tahini paste), lebni (thickened yogurt mixed with dill, garlic, walnut, and herbs), chopped tomato salad (hand chopped tomato, bell peppers, onion, garlic, and walnuts mixed with red pepper paste), eggplant salad (smoked eggplant mixed with mashed garlic and roasted red pepper), and a few stuffed grape leaves.

Cold appetizer platter with hummus, lebni, chopped tomato salad, eggplant salad, and stuffed grape leaves

It came with a basket of grilled pita bread to dip with, and I thought all of the spreads were really tasty. The chopped tomato salad was flavorful and tangy, and the eggplant salad had a nice smokiness to it. The yogurt dip was thick but not too sour, and everything had a good amount of garlic in it. My least favorite was the hummus, but only because I think the hummus was a bit boring compared to the other dips. Otherwise it was a very respectable hummus.

Grilled pita bread

We ate most of the pita bread and put a good dent into the appetizer platter, but there was still tons left so we had them wrap it up for us while we went to work on our entrée, the Istanbul combo. The giant platter came with chicken shish kebab, lamb shish kebab, kofte, doner kebab, and lamb chops, all served on top a bed of rice. The rice I think was a bit undercooked, as it had a strange crunchy texture to it. I know there was orzo mixed in with the rice, but that wasn’t what was making it crunchy (I made sure to try a forkful sans orzo). There were also grilled tomatoes and peppers, but the peppers turned out to be jalapeno, and super spicy! I’m not sure why they served the jalapenos, and if it was intended to be a garnish, but they were way too spicy to be edible. Yikes!

Istanbul combo - chicken, lamb, kofte, and doner kebabs, lamb chops, peppers, tomatoes, rice

All the grilled meats, however, were well seasoned and flavorful. I especially liked the kofte, which are meatballs made with ground lamb and beef mixed with Turkish spices. The doner kebab was wonderful as well, which is thin slices of lamb shaved from a spit. The outside of the meat was crusty and crispy, and I ended up making mini gyros for myself by wrapping the meat in some pita bread. Again there was too much food, even though we stuffed ourselves silly, and we ended up taking home about half of the combo.

Overall we both thought the food at Istanbul Café was well spiced and seasoned properly, but preparation-wise it suffered a bit. The lamb and chicken kebabs were tasty but tough and overcooked, and even the kofte was a bit gristly, surprisingly. Service, however, was efficient and attentive, although the restaurant was pretty empty when we were there. They wrapped up our leftovers right away and even threw in some extra pita bread for us, which I thought was a nice touch. The no alcohol policy presents us with a bit of pickle though, as we like to enjoy a nice bottle of wine when we go out for dinner. The resolution to that problem is to have the food delivered and eat it at home. It’s available for order on Seamless Web, and I think that’s what we’ll do the next time we have a craving for good Turkish food.

Before we left the restaurant, they took us on a tour of the outdoor garden area in the back, which is really pretty. It looked like a nice place to hang out and smoke a hookah, if that’s your thing. The restaurant also offers an extensive array of desserts, which we were to full to try but some of the pastries in the glass display cases looked amazing. Turkish teas and coffees are available as well, and it’s a nice place to just sit and relax. The décor inside the restaurant is also interesting, with low tables and chairs and intricate lamps hanging all around. I definitely recommend checking it out sometime.

Istanbul Cafe
325 West 57th St. between 8th and 9th Ave.
New York, NY

Disappointingly Bland Food at Hanci

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 by virginia

We did take up Silva on her recommendation to try the Istanbul Café, but we’ll post about that meal later. What prompted her recommendation was the meal we shared at Hanci Turkish Cuisine that left us wanting more – more seasoning that is. We went there with a group of people after some happy hour drinks at Valhalla. Josh and I suggested it because it was close by, we had enjoyed our first visit, and because it was a BYO, or so we thought.

We stopped off at a liquor store on our way over and picked up a few bottles of wine. The first thing we were told when we showed up at the restaurant with the wine was that they were no longer a BYO, and that if we wanted our wine there would be a $10 corkage fee. No thanks. None of the wines on their short list seemed very appealing, so most of us stuck with soda while Josh tried a Turkish beer. It was very light, nothing to write home about but perfectly drinkable.

Turkish beer

We decided to share a few appetizers to accompany the wonderful Turkish bread that I’ve been raving about. The bread was as good as I remembered – hot, crispy, and flavorful. We devoured baskets and baskets of this bread, and everyone agreed that it was pretty tasty.

Delicious Turkish bread

Our appetizers included the ezme, which is a dip made from chopped tomatoes, peppers, and onions, with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing. It’s a little spicy and very flavorful, perfect for slathering all over the wonderful Turkish bread.


We also got the piyaz, which was the white bean salad that Josh and I ordered when we got delivery from the restaurant. The salad was fresh and chock full of creamy white beans but like with our delivery, it lacked seasoning. The tangy vinaigrette helped a little, but it definitely needed more salt to perk up the flavors a bit.


Our last appetizer was the cacik, which is a dip made with yogurt and cucumbers seasoned with dill and garlic. Again, this dish lacked flavor and seasoning. It needed a lot more dill and garlic, plus salt. It tasted mostly like plain yogurt, and we ended up saving most of the bowl to use as an accompaniment with on our entrees.


Both Silva and Felipe ordered the kofte for their entrees, and they were really disappointed with the lack of spices and seasoning in the ground lamb mix. I had the lamb sis kebab and thought the lamb was perfectly cooked but also lacked seasoning. The meat itself was juicy and tender, but it was bland. We made liberal use of the salt shaker on our table.

Lamb sis kebab

Fortunately, Josh’s entrée was much better. He ordered the iskender kebab with chicken, which was served over bread cubes and a pool of yogurt and tomato sauce. The yogurt and tomato sauce provided a much-needed tang and sweetness to the otherwise bland chicken kebabs. It was an interesting dish with lots of unusual textures coming from the bread cubes that were soaking in the wonderful sauce.

Chicken iskender kebab

Overall I think everyone was a little bit disappointed with the dinner we had at Hanci. When I think Turkish food, I think of perfectly grilled meats with a wonderful array of spices. The food we had just didn’t fit the bill. Everything was cooked perfectly but nothing had been seasoned, rendering everything bland and flavorless. And without the bonus of the BYO, the only thing drawing me back to the restaurant is the bread, though I’m not sure it’s worth making the trip. Which is really too bad, because we had such a great time during our first visit. Even service fell off a notch the second time around, with our waitress slightly surly and indifferent. We’re going to expand our horizons for now and try other Turkish restaurants, even if they aren’t within walking distance from home.

Hanci Turkish Cuisine
854 10th Ave. between 56th and 57th St.
New York, NY

Uncle Nick’s Greek Cuisine

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 by virginia

When Josh and I first moved to our current apartment, the first neighborhood restaurant we tried was Uncle Nick’s Greek Cuisine on 9th Ave. We ordered way too much food and all of it was really good, but for whatever reason we never made our way back there. Fortunately it’s a favorite of our Aussie mate Kate, so one night we went to dinner there with Josh’s parents and her parents, as well as a few of their family friends. We were seated in a large square booth all the way in the back of the restaurant, kind of tucked away from the rest of the dining room. It was a nice, cozy spot, and the food didn’t disappoint.

We started off with an appetizer of mixed dips that included tzatziki, tarama, melitzanosalata and scordalia. The tzatziki is a yogurt, cucumber, and garlic dip, the tarama is a fish roe dip, melitzanosalata is an eggplant dip, and scordalia is a potato and garlic dip. All of them are very flavorful and refreshing, perfect for dipping into with the soft, fluffy, grilled pita bread. I liked the garlickyness of the tzatziki and scordalia, and the slight smokiness of the melitzanosalata. Josh still isn’t a fan of tarama, but I enjoyed its saltiness and brininess.

Tzatziki (bottom right), scordalia (bottom left), melitzanosalata (top left), and tarama (top right)

We also shared a two large Greek salads, which was plenty for our group of 11. The salads were piled into huge bowls and featured crisp lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives, cucumbers, pepperoncini, and some fantastic feta cheese. The cheese was tangy, creamy, and not overly salty, kind of like a mild goat cheese. The dressing was light and vinegary, a perfect complement. The salad was really very tasty and refreshing.

Greek salad

For our entrees, Josh and I shared the lamb kebobs and the elliniki compania, which featured gyro, pork souvlaki, salad, rice, pita, and tzatziki sauce. The gyro was wonderful, with crispy browned bits on the outside and wonderfully spiced meat on the inside. The pork souvlaki was cooked perfectly and was well seasoned. We made mini sandwiches with the accompanying pita bread and tzatziki sauce. The portion was very generous and I liked having the variety from the gyro and the pork.

Elliniki compania - pork souvlaki and gyro combination

The lamb kebobs were cooked to medium rare as requested but wasn’t quite as flavorful as the souvlaki or gyro. Still, the meat was very tender, and I liked the accompanying grilled vegetables (onions, tomatoes, and peppers) and rice pilaf.

Lamb kebobs with grilled vegetables and rice

We were all too full for dessert so instead I had a frappe, which was rich and frothy and served in a Shock Top beer glass. The frappe wasn’t too bitter, though I did end up adding a bit of sugar to sweeten it up a little, and it had a nice strong coffee flavor to it.

Frothy frappe

Overall we were all pretty pleased with the food we had at Uncle Nick’s, and I plan on going back there more often now that we’ll probably renew the lease on our apartment. The food is classically Greek and very well prepared. All the meats we had were tender and perfectly cooked, and the dips and salads were fresh and flavorful. Service was fine and the place has a nice casual yet upbeat vibe to it, similar to some of the tavernas we went to when we honeymooned in Greece. Portions are generous and prices are reasonable, so you really can’t ask for much more. Plus they’re watching out for Manhattan’s sewage systems, as evidenced by this sign I saw in the bathroom:

All kidding aside, the food is good and the atmosphere is festive. Nothing is fussy or over done; everything is simple and straightforward, and you’ll definitely walk out full, satisfied, and happy. There’s an ouzeria next door as well owned by the same people, which features small plates and Greek tapas. Hopefully we’ll check that out soon and report back!

Uncle Nick’s Greek Cuisine
747 9th Ave. between 50th and 51st St.
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