Posts Tagged ‘Midtown’

Le Bernardin

Monday, August 22nd, 2011 by virginia

In the interest of full disclosure, this meal took place back in April. Yes, I’m really far behind with my posts.

As Josh wrote back in November 2009, Le Bernardin ranked as the #2 best meal we’ve ever had. We were there for his birthday that year and still remembered how incredible our experience was. During the last year and a half, however, we’ve had some pretty good meals (ie., Daniel, Eleven Madison Park), and we were curious to see if Le Bernardin would still live up to our memories. Our friend Melissa was in town and she really wanted to try Le Bernardin as well, so we managed to get a weeknight reservation at a decent time.

We met up with Melissa at the restaurant bar and were seated immediately. They’re currently renovating the interior of Le Bernardin right now, but I liked the old decor. The restaurant has very tall ceilings, and the colors are pretty muted, with lots of beiges and light browns. I find the atmosphere to be calm with an understated elegance, but not stuffy.

I was surprised when they served us the amuse bouche immediately, before we even received any menus. The amuse was a small portion of tuna tartare, and I wish that I could have had an entire serving because it was absolutely delicious. Tuna tartare is pretty mainstream these days and it’s hard to mess up, but it’s also hard to find one that will knock your socks off, like this did. This version featured classic ingredients like cucumber and chives, and the sauce had an Asian flavor to it. The tuna was fresh and perfectly seasoned, and it was a great bite to start off our meal.

Gorgeous tuna tartare amuse bouche

We were debating between the shorter tasting menu or the regular four course prix fixe menu and decided that if we all ordered different things and shared, we would be able to taste more dishes overall with the regular four course prix fixe. It was a bit tricky to split each dish three ways but we managed to do it without any major issues. We all picked our favorite dishes for each course, and the sommelier helped us pick out a white burgundy wine that was buttery and matched well with our dishes.

After we made our selections, we settled in to enjoy our meal. First up was the bread, which featured an olive rosemary stick, a crusty white roll, and I think a whole wheat roll (sorry, my memory is fuzzy). The star of the lineup was definitely the olive rosemary stick, which was studded with salty and briny green olives.

Selection of breads - our favorite was the olive and rosemary bread stick

In order to make the sharing process easier, when we received our dishes, we immediately split them into thirds, ate our portions, and then passed our plates to the left.  The first course of the prix fixe comes from a category called “Simply Raw.” As the name indicates, the seafood featured during this course are not cooked, allowing their freshness to shine through. For our dishes, we ended up choosing the progressive tasting of Kumamoto oysters, the striped bass tartare, and the thinly pounded yellowfin tuna. The oysters, which were topped with different gelees and ranged from light and refreshing to complex and spicy, was a difficult dish to share because each oyster was different. Fortunately there were six oysters in total, so we each selected two, one from each end of the plate. I don’t know what each of the gelee toppings were, but the oysters were fresh and juicy, with lots of briny liquid to slurp up. The gelees were more of an accompaniment rather than a condiment, and they didn’t hide or detract from the flavor of the oysters.

Progressive tasting of Kumamoto oysters "en gelee"

The striped bass tartare was served with watermelon radish carpaccio, mustard oil, and red dulce seaweed vinaigrette. They also gave us some toasts on the side to accompany the tartare. At first taste, the tartare was a bit bland and really nothing special. However, when eaten in conjunction with the toast, the dish itself changed drastically. The flavor of the bass was more apparent, and the nuances of the vinaigrette and seasonings came through better. I went from thinking it was a lackluster tartare to really enjoying the flavors. It was like magic!

Striped bass tartare with watermelon radish carpaccio, mustard oil, and red dulce seaweed vinaigrette

My favorite appetizer of the bunch was the thinly pounded yellowfin tuna layered on a toasted baguette that is spread with foie gras. There was olive oil drizzled over the top and a sprinkling of chopped chives. The tuna was fresh and flavorful on its own, and light enough that it was the perfect match for the foie gras. The foie gras was just a thin layer so the dish wasn’t overly rich, and the toasted baguette provided a wonderful crunchy textural contrast. It was just a winning combination overall.

Thinly pounded yellowfin tuna over foie gras and toasted baguette

The second course of the prix fixe comes from a category called “Barely Touched.” Again, we all picked the dish that we wanted for the course, split it into thirds, then passed it along so that everyone could have a taste. We selected the peekytoe “crab cake,” the smoked yellowfin tuna “prosciutto,” and the seared langoustine. The peekytoe crab was a pile of loosely packed crab meat served with mango ribbons and a chili crab broth. There was no filler in this “crab cake,” just crab meat. The broth was pretty complex, with lots of different spices. It definitely had an Asian flavor to it, and we actually requested spoons so that we could spoon up the broth to eat together with the crab meat. Josh really enjoyed this dish a lot.

Peekytoe "crab cake" with mango ribbons and chili crab broth

The smoked yellowfin tuna “prosciutto” was an interesting dish, with thick pieces of tuna that were a deep red color and had a salty, smoky flavor to it. The tuna was topped with pieces of pickled vegetables and a crispy sheet of kombu seaweed. I didn’t love the flavor of the tuna but I appreciated the whimsical aspect behind the dish.

Smoked yellowfin tuna "prosciutto" with pickled vegetables and crispy kombu

Our favorite second course, and quite possibly our favorite dish of the evening, was the seared langoustine with mache and wild mushroom salad and shaved foie gras. The langoustine was cooked perfectly so that the texture was still light and delicate, not chewy or rubbery. There was just a small pat of foie gras on each piece, which added some richness but was in no way overwhelming. The mushrooms and mache were a great match for the langoustine, and a white balsamic vinaigrette bound everything together with just the right amount of acid.

Seared langoustine with wild mushroom and mache salad, shaved foie gras, and white balsamic vinaigrette

The third course, our last savory course, came from the “Lightly Cooked” category. We wound up selecting the poached halibut, the sauteed codfish, and the baked skate and langoustine “paupiette.” The halibut was described as being served with braised artichokes stuffed with water chestnuts and bacon in a Persian lime scented truffle broth. I have to admit, we picked the dish because of the lime scented truffle broth and were disappointed with what we actually received. The broth had no trace of truffle flavor, nor was it tangy from the Persian lime as we had anticipated. The broth was still flavorful, just not what we expected based on the description. I did like the stuffed artichokes, and the halibut itself was tender and flaky.

Poached halibut with braised artichokes stuffed with water chestnuts and bacon

The sauteed codfish had a beautiful golden sear on the outside, and the fish was well seasoned. It was served with a leek and grape parfait, caramelized endives, and a green peppercorn mariniere. This was probably the most classically French dish we had all evening, with simple, clean flavors and perfect execution.

Sauteed codfish with leek and grape parfait, caramelized endives, and green peppercorn mariniere

Our favorite dish of the course was the baked skate and langoustine “paupiette” with charred shiitake mushroom and brown butter flavored dashi broth. Even though there was langoustine was tucked inside the skate, the skate itself was the star of the dish. It had a wonderful delicately chewy texture to it, and wasn’t the least bit stringy. The shiitake mushrooms and the dashi broth definitely gave the dish a Japanese tilt, and the flavors were surprisingly bold. I also liked the little french radishes on top, which gave each bite a little bitterness to counteract the richness of the broth. It was an elegant and well put-together dish.

Baked skate and langoustine "paupiette" with charred shiitake mushroom and brown butter flavored dashi broth

The last course of our four course prix fixe was dessert. Before dinner, I told Josh that I had read about a famous off the menu dessert created by Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis, which was simply called “The Egg.” It was usually served as a pre-dessert with the tasting menu, and I was hoping they would let us order it even though we weren’t doing a tasting menu. After checking to make sure they had enough prepared for actual tasting menu diners, our waiter graciously let us swap out one of our desserts for The Egg.

What is The Egg exactly? It’s a milk chocolate pot de creme, or custard, served in an actual eggshell and topped with maple, caramel, caramel foam, and flakes of Maldon salt. The presentation is fun and unusual, but the taste is even better. Who doesn’t like a combination of chocolate and caramel? The salt adds a nice contrast to the sweetness, and the maple is just a hint to make you wonder exactly what’s in The Egg. The custard is smooth and rich, and each bite varies just slightly depending on what you get on your spoon.

"The Egg"

I have to say, The Egg is simply heavenly, but it was almost impossible to share with two other people. Considering that the serving is inside an actual eggshell, it’s quite small to begin with. That’s why it’s meant to be a pre-dessert, just a taste to leave you wanting more, and not an actual dessert. It was hard to pass The Egg on, but we managed to score a few tiny spoonfuls each. I know we all wished that we could have had our own Eggs!

We did order two other desserts for our prix fixe, the pistachio and the citrus. The pistachio featured pistachio mousse, vanilla cream, lemon raspberry pearls, and pistachio ice cream. I’m a huge fan of pistachio so I loved this dessert as well. I felt bad though when I found out later that Melissa doesn’t really like pistachio. Still, the mousse was light and airy while the ice cream was dense and rich. Pistachio was definitely the dominating flavor on the plate. The lemon raspberry pearls added a bit of color and some whimsy to the dish.

Pistachio mousse, vanilla cream, lemon raspberry pearls, pistachio ice cream

The citrus dessert featured lime parfait, meringue, avocado puree, and mint-grapefruit tequila sorbet. It was definitely citrusy, both tangy and very refreshing. The lime parfait was smooth and creamy, and the mint-grapefruit tequila sorbet was an interesting combination. Both Josh and Melissa liked this dessert a lot, and it was a great way to revive our palates after all the food we ate.

Lime parfait, meringue, avocado puree, and mint-grapefruit tequila sorbet

Lastly, they presented us each with a plate of petit fours. We were stuffed but couldn’t resist tasting each little bite. There was salted caramel covered in chocolate, a chewy caramel canele, a pistachio financier with a cherry inside, and a vanilla cream puff. They were sweet endings to a wonderful meal.

Salted caramel in chocolate, caramel canele, pistachio cherry financier , vanilla cream puff

After our meal we asked to see the kitchen, and while I was disappointed that Chef Eric Ripert was not in the house that evening, the chefs in the kitchen were extremely nice when we walked in. We also saw the separate pastry area where the team was hard at work trying to get all the desserts plated before the ice creams melted, as the kitchen was very hot – much hotter than any other restaurant kitchen we’ve visited.

Overall we were all extremely pleased with our meal at Le Bernardin. While it’s hard to compare if this meal lived up to the #2 best meal of our lives, it definitely ranks up there. The food was outstanding and the service was top notch. Our waiter was very friendly, offering his advice on which dishes to order when asked. The sommelier was also great in helping us pick out a solid yet reasonably priced wine. It’s easy to see why this restaurant has three Michelin stars. With regard to all the courses we had, I personally preferred dishes from the first two courses, as the fish was either raw or barely cooked. That’s not to say that the lightly cooked dishes were bad, I just found more exciting pairings and more variety in the first two courses. Coincidentally, Josh had a business dinner at Le Bernardin just a few days after our meal, and he found that dinner to be spectacular as well. I think it’s safe to say that Le Bernardin is our favorite high end restaurant in New York, and I wish that we could eat there more often. I’m looking forward to seeing what the new renovations will bring, as it will give us an excuse to visit again soon.

Le Bernardin
155 West 50th St. between 6th and 7th Ave.
New York, NY

Del Frisco’s

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 by virginia

Del Frisco’s is a steakhouse in midtown near Rockefeller Plaza that Josh says is his favorite steakhouse in Manhattan. He goes to lots of steakhouses for work dinners and I never get to tag along, unfortunately. Josh has been raving about Del Frisco’s for years so I was thrilled when I finally got an opportunity to try it, because I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was all about.

The restaurant is huge, with two floors and a big bar that always seems to be packed, especially after work. The clientele is mostly business folks –  lots of people dressed up in suits, but the restaurant also appears to draw in tourists as well. We had a reservation for four (we were dining with Dave and Mike) and had to wait about 15 minutes before they seated us. We pushed our way to the bar and got a round of drinks. The hostess found us shortly afterward and we were shown to our table in the back. We kind of joked with our waitress that this was where they stuck the unattractive people, as we were pretty tucked away from the main dining room “scene.” To be honest, I didn’t mind – I preferred the dark nook in the back where we were seated because it was not as noisy, and we could actually hear each other without having to yell across the table.

We looked over the menu but basically all we were deciding was what cut of steak to get. We were at a steakhouse, after all. They had a few special cuts available (though Josh says they’re always the specials, so I wonder why they don’t just put them on the regular menu?) that most of us wound up ordering. We also got a few sides to share, and some crab cakes to start. The bread they served us was soft and fluffy, like large dinner rolls, which we tore apart and slathered with some sweet whipped butter.

Bread and sweet butter

The crab cakes were pretty fantastic. They were made from jumbo lump crab meat and basically had no filler in them. The crab broke off in huge, meaty chunks, and we could really taste how fresh the crab meat was. The large cake was sitting in a pool of remoulade sauce that was nicely seasoned and paired well with the sweetness of the crab.

Jumbo lump crab cake

Our steaks were served just a short while after they cleared our appetizer plates. When they bring your steaks, they have you cut into the meat right away so that you can see immediately if it’s done to your liking. I ordered my steak medium rare, and it was perfectly pink throughout, just the way I wanted it. It’s important to note, however, that the temperatures here are probably just a little under what you would normally expect, so adjust your order accordingly. Dave ordered the bone in filet mignon (one of the special cuts) medium rare as well, but he thought it was just slightly more rare than he preferred. Still, it was cooked exactly the way our waitress described it would be.

Bone in ribeye with a cut in the middle to check the doneness of the meat

Josh had suggested that I order the bone in ribeye, another one of the special cuts. It turned out to be the perfect choice – tender and flavorful, with little pockets of marbling that just melted in my mouth. I thought the ribeye was perfectly seasoned, with lots of cracked black peppercorns on top that added a nice bite. The meat itself was beefy and flavorful; it was pretty much the quintessential steak for me.

Beautifully cooked on the inside

Josh ordered the eight ounce filet mignon black and blue. It was cooked as requested and very tender. We ended up going halfsies, and while he loved the ribeye, I wasn’t a huge fan of the filet. Because it’s such a lean cut, I find the meat to be less flavorful. I think they tried to overcompensate for that and ended up over-salting the meat. I have a pretty high salt tolerance but I found the steak difficult to eat. Josh seemed to enjoy it, though he did prefer the ribeye. A little bit of fat really makes a huge difference flavor-wise I think.

Autopsy shot of the filet mignon

We ordered a few side dishes that were big enough to share. After they put a portion of each item on our plates, they left the platters on the table so that we could continue to serve ourselves family style. We ended up getting macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach with bacon, sauteed mushrooms, and onion rings. The macaroni and cheese was pretty fantastic, with lots of stringy cheese mixed throughout and just the right amount of creaminess. The creamed spinach was rich and flavorful, though the bacon might have been a bit overkill. The sauteed mushrooms were well seasoned and had a nice texture to them.

Macaroni and cheese

Creamed spinach and sauteed mushrooms

The onion rings arrived in an impressive tower, with large slices of onion covered in a light, crispy batter. While the batter was well seasoned and crunchy, it didn’t adhere well to the onions and completely fell apart once you bit into the onion ring. The onions themselves were also slightly undercooked and had a raw bite to them. Too bad, because they looked so good.

Tower of onion rings

We were pretty stuffed but made some room for dessert. We all shared a slice of lemon cake, one of the restaurant’s specialties. It’s a moist yellow cake with layers of lemon icing in between. It’s pretty rich, though the lemony flavor makes for a nice and bright finish. I also liked that it wasn’t too sweet or cloying.

Lemon cake

While we were eating our cake, Dave introduced us to a Canadian after dinner drink called blueberry tea. Surprisingly, the drink doesn’t involve blueberries. It’s two ounces of Grand Marnier and one ounce of Amaretto poured together in a large snifter glass. Then you add hot black tea (Dave used Earl Grey) on top of the liquor. The aroma is supposed to be similar to blueberries, though I found it more orange-y and fruity. Flavor-wise it was actually quite nice. I could taste the Earl Grey, which was slightly sweetened by the Grand Marnier, and the almond flavor of the Amaretto lingered on my tongue. I really enjoyed the blueberry tea and could see myself drinking this more often in the future.

Overall I really enjoyed the food at Del Frisco’s and thought their steaks were pretty top notch. While I don’t eat at a lot of steakhouses, I do eat a lot of steak and would happily eat that ribeye any day of the week. The crab cakes were wonderful, and I also enjoyed most of the side dishes. The menu is your typical steakhouse fare but they do execute it very well. Our waitress was friendly and had a good sense of humor, which was important when dealing with the corny jokes that were being made at our table. The restaurant “scene” itself at the bar and the outer room might be a bit much for me, but the in the end, food trumps all. I would happily go back, though the prices might make it a bit prohibitive. It was pretty expensive, almost shockingly so, but the food was really great. I can see why Josh thinks of this as the best steakhouse in Manhattan.

Del Frisco’s (multiple locations)
1221 6th Ave. at 49th St.
New York, NY

Sake Bar Hagi

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011 by virginia

Sake Bar Hagi is sort of like a Japanese tapas restaurant that’s been written up about in numerous papers and magazines and was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. It’s in midtown so it draws the happy hour crowd, and it’s a great place for pitchers of beer and lots of little snacks. It’s important to get there early though because the place really fills up quickly. Josh and I had been there once after work and really enjoyed it so one Sunday night when it was just us and Josh’s parents, we suggested trying to get in for dinner.

The restaurant is located downstairs below street level but it’s a pretty large and bright space. The tables are kind of cramped together though, and it does get a bit noisy. We had to wait for about half an hour before we could get a table. Fortunately the waiting area wasn’t crowded and we were able to sit on some benches while we waited.

After we were seated an ordered a pitcher of beer, we set about perusing the extensive menu. There are so many different options to choose from, it was almost a bit daunting. There were the usual Japanese appetizers, like gyoza and edamame, different types of yakitori, as well as some more unusual offerings.

We started out with an avocado salad, which was pretty standard. It featured a good portion of sliced avocado on top of iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, tomatoes, and asparagus. The ginger dressing was flavorful and not too sweet.

Avocado salad

We also got a yakitori set that included skewers of chicken meatballs, chicken, garlic, pork belly, and beef. The meatballs were a bit bland but the other meats were well seasoned and had good barbecue flavor.

Assorted yakitori

Agedashi tofu is something that we always order when we’re at a Japanese restaurant, and this version was pretty good. It’s deep fried tofu that’s silky on the inside sitting in flavorful broth, topped with grated daikon, bonito flakes, and shredded seaweed. It’s a good mix of textures and flavors.

Agedashi tofu

The bonito sashimi was one of our favorites of the evening. It was served with citrus soy sauce and topped with chopped scallions, fried garlic chips, and thinly shaved daikon. The fish was a gorgeous deep red color and tasted fresh. The combination was light and refreshing.

Bonito sashimi

The tatsu age, or Japanese fried chicken, was light and crispy on the outside, though I think there may have been a bit too much breading. Still, the chicken was pretty juicy and all it needed was a squeeze of lemon over the top.

Tatsu age (fried chicken)

An interesting dish we ordered was grilled clams topped with scallions. They were big and juicy, not too chewy, with lots of briny flavor. We just shot them straight from the shells, making sure to drink up all the delicious liquid.

Grilled clams

Another one of my favorite dishes was a grilled eggplant topped with miso sauce. The sauce was nicely caramelized on top, and it had sweet, slightly smokey flavor. The eggplant had a creamy texture and wasn’t bitter.

Grilled eggplant

I had high hopes for the grilled yellowtail collar as it’s usually a tender, luscious part of the fish. This version, unfortunately, was a bit dry and really bland. There was no seasoning or sauce on it, and even after we squeezed lemon over the top, it was pretty flavorless.

Grilled yellowtail collar

We got an order of gyozas filled with pork, which were decently pan fried and brown on the bottom, but flavor-wise they were just meh. These were probably the frozen pre-made kind, and not great ones at that.

Pan fried gyozas

Much to Alice’s dismay, Josh and I shared a yakitori of chicken skin. Crispy on the outside, slightly chewy, well seasoned, and very flavorful, we thought these were pretty fantastic. Probably not great for our cholesterol, but we only had one bite each.

Chicken skin yakitori

We got an order of shiitake mushrooms, which were topped with lots of bonito flakes. They had a meaty texture but were kind of plain, and I probably wouldn’t order these again.

Shiitake mushrooms

I enjoyed the fried octopus balls (takoyaki), which was kind of like eating an octopus doughnut. The balls had a light, slightly chewy texture and were filled with little chunks of octopus.

Fried octopus balls (takoyaki)

I wanted to try a grilled rice ball (onigiri) filled with spicy cod roe. I’ve eaten regular rice balls before but never the grilled kind. The rice on the outside was browned a crispy, and the spicy cod roe filling was definitely spicy. I just wish there was a bit more filling, and that it was more evenly dispersed throughout the middle of the rice ball. Otherwise it was pretty good.

Grilled spicy cod roe onigiri (rice ball)

Last, and definitely least, we got a yaki udon with chicken. It’s pan fried udon noodles but the sauce they used was cloyingly sweet and gloppy. There was so much sauce that it totally overpowered everything on the plate, so that was all we tasted. It was probably the worst yaki udon I’ve ever eaten, and it was a disappointing way to finish our meal.

Yaki udon

Even though the yaki udon was terrible, the rest of our meal was pretty good. They have a nice variety of yakitori, and I liked being able to try all the different skewers of meat. The fried items were all served fresh right from the fryer, which meant they were hot and crispy, as they should be. I think the best part of Sake Bar Hagi is the extensive menu and getting to try lots of different things. Most plates are small but shareable, and we washed them down with cheap pitchers of Sapporo. It’s definitely a great happy hour spot, though if you plan on being there for a while, you have to keep ordering food and drinks, otherwise the servers will tell you that other people are waiting for a table. It does get crowded but it’s got a nice low key vibe. I highly recommend checking it out.

Sake Bar Hagi
152 West 49th St. between 6th and 7th Ave.
New York, NY

Winter Restaurant Week 2011 – DB Bistro Moderne

Sunday, February 13th, 2011 by virginia

I apologize for filing this post so late. I usually try to write up Restaurant Week reviews right away, so that people can still have time to make a reservation if they think a place looks interesting. Restaurant Week has been extended a few weeks, but unfortunately, this particular restaurant is not participating past the original two weeks. Still, it’s a place you can consider for Summer Restaurant Week when that rolls around.

We’ve been so busy lately that Restaurant Week sort of snuck up on us this year. We got a late jump on making reservations so there weren’t too many prime lunch spots available but we managed to get a somewhat decent time at DB Bistro Moderne, which is part of Daniel Boulud’s restaurant empire. There was a snowstorm the day of our reservation so when we got to the restaurant, it was almost empty. The place did fill up completely by the time we left though, so people were probably just running a bit late.

I always like to review Restaurant Week menus online before I decide where to go, so we knew beforehand exactly what we wanted to order. We made our selections and quickly dove into the container of bread we received, which contained two ciabatta rolls and two slices of wheat bread. The ciabatta rolls were delicious, with a nice crackly crust and a chewy but airy interior. The wheat bread, on the other hand, wasn’t my taste. It was kind of dry with a cottony flavor, and not even copious amounts of butter could salvage it for me. We stuck with the ciabatta bread.

Good ciabatta rolls, not so great wheat bread

As usual, Josh and I went halfsies on all of our dishes. To start, we selected the yellow split pea soup and the salmon tartar. The soup was flavored with ham hock and topped with toasted croutons and olive oil. It had a velvety texture and smoky flavor to it, similar to bacon. However, we both felt the soup lacked seasoning. A little bit of salt really could have elevated it to the next level. Still, we found it pretty rich and comforting to eat on a cold winter day.

Yellow split pea soup

The salmon tartar was beautifully presented with a smear of avocado mousse and a salad of frisee and radishes, but it also lacked seasoning. It came with a few gaufrette potato chips on the side that added a nice crunch and a bit of much needed salt, but there weren’t enough chips to go with the portion of salmon. And while the salmon were nicely cut into a chunky dice, we thought it was a bit fishy in flavor, maybe not entirely fresh. We were both a little disappointed with this dish.

Salmon tartar

For our main courses, we selected the roasted monkfish and the braised flat iron steak. The monkfish was served with a piece of crispy bacon and a potato gratin. Josh had first crack at this dish and really enjoyed it. By the time I got to it, however, I thought the texture of the monkfish had suffered quite a bit, rendering it a bit mushy. Josh disagreed and said the fish was firm and meaty when he ate it. We both liked the flavor combination of the monkfish with the bacon, and there was a red wine sauce that tied all the components together.

Roasted monkfish

I started with the braised flat iron steak, which was my favorite dish of the lunch. I’m usually not a huge fan of braised beef but the steak was surprisingly meaty in texture and flavor. When presented, it looked like a regular piece of steak covered in a dark sauce. When I stuck my fork into it, however, the meat was so tender it just fell apart. Flavor-wise, it still had the beefiness of a steak, not the watered down meat that you usually find in a stew or other braised dishes. The steak was served with a sweet carrot puree and sauteed brussels sprouts, baby carrots, and pearl onions. I apologize for the picture – it was a delicious dish but not very photogenic.

Braised flat iron steak

Dessert was a surprise hit for us, since neither of us have much of a sweet tooth. We both loved the citrus tartelette with sable breton, frangipane, grapefruit curd, EVO foam, and vanilla ice cream. The dessert had a lot of components to it but when we ate everything together, it tasted just like an orange creamsicle, only fresher and less artificial in flavor. Because the main ingredient was grapefruit, it was also less sweet, but in a good way. Citrus was the predominant flavor, and given the snowy day, it was a welcomed bit of sunshine. We enjoyed the brightness of the grapefruit curd and the supremed slices of actual grapefruit.

Citrus tartelette

The other dessert, called chocolate and coconut, featured coconut dacquoise, caramel fondant, chocolate mousse, and peanut ice cream. It also had a lot of components to it but everything worked beautifully. Chocolate and peanut butter is one of my favorite flavor combinations (who doesn’t love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?), and the peanut ice cream was an interesting twist on that. The coconut and caramel might have been a bit overkill for me, as it was a really rich dessert, but I liked the contrast between the smooth chocolate mousse, the crunchy toasted coconut bits, and gooey caramel, and the cold and creamy peanut ice cream.

Chocolate and coconut

Overall we both enjoyed the Restaurant Week lunch that we had at DB Bistro Moderne and thought it was a good value. Sometimes Restaurant Week menus offer subpar items that aren’t very reflective of a restaurant’s real offerings, but DB Bistro has been consistently good with their Restaurant Week choices. While we found some of the dishes to be under seasoned, it’s something that can be easily remedied by asking for some salt for the table. I wish, though, that all restaurants would leave salt on the table by default, so diners don’t have to go through the awkwardness of asking for salt. Sometimes that leaves the kitchen a bit defensive, and they may oversalt the next dish to overcompensate. Regardless, with the exception of the slightly fishy salmon, we thought the ingredients used were top notch, and everything was carefully constructed and presented. We’ve been to DB Bistro Moderne for Restaurant Week several times over the last few years, and it hasn’t disappointed us yet. It’s definitely a place we’ll consider visiting again for more Restaurant Weeks to come.

DB Bistro Moderne
55 West 44th St. between 5th and 6th Ave.
New York, NY

Summer Restaurant Week 2010 – Maze

Monday, July 26th, 2010 by virginia

While Josh and I are not huge fans of the TV show Hell’s Kitchen, we have been pretty curious about the cuisine of Gordon Ramsay ever since we read a little bit about him in Marco Pierre White’s book, The Devil in the Kitchen. Although we think he plays an over-the-top character on TV, he does have an impressive resume and has worked for some very great chefs. He has multiple Michelin stars under his belt, which is a great feat, but these days, he’s more known for being a screaming tyrant. So we had no idea what to expect when we booked a table at his restaurant Maze for Restaurant Week lunch. Maze is located at The London hotel on 54th St. We couldn’t even find the Restaurant Week menu online but curiosity got the best of us and we made the reservation regardless. For those who are equally curious, here is the Restaurant Week lunch menu for Maze:

Octopus terrine with Kalamata olives, crisp potatoes, pickled shallots, sauce vierge
Asparagus veloute, braised morels, elephant garlic
Marinated fingerling potatoes, Holland leeks, poached quail’s egg, prosciutto

Main Courses
Carnaroli risotto of parsley, preserved lemon and mascarpone
Roasted chicken breast, spring morels, pickled ramps, new potatoes, asparagus, thyme jus
Pan fried halibut, butternut squash, gnocchi, brown butter vinaigrette
Dry aged strip loin 8 oz, creamed spinach, pommes anna ($10 supplement)

Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, walnut praline ice cream
Vanilla custard with citrus fruits, brown sugar oats and mandarin sorbet
Chocolate pudding, stout ice cream, pretzel, peanut butter powder

Josh and I quickly made our selections and settled in to munch on the bread they provided. We’re not sure what kind of bread it was but it was sort of like a focaccia, except chewier. Maybe it was like a thick pizza bianca? Whatever it was, it was a bit tough and flavorless, desperately needing some salt or something to give it a boost. Not even the butter helped.

Bread and butter

So our meal did not get off to the best of starts but things looked up when they delivered our appetizers. As usual, Josh and I each started off with a dish and then switched halfway through. He started out with the marinated fingerling potatoes, which was served on a thin slice of prosciutto and featured a teeny little quail’s egg that was perfectly poached with a runny yolk. The flavors of this dish were clean and each component stood out on its own. It was a simple dish but well composed.

Marinated fingerling potatoes with leeks, quail's egg, and prosciutto

Our other appetizer was the octopus terrine with Kalamata olives, crisp potatoes, and pickled shallots. Presentation- and composition-wise, both of our appetizers were very similar, but the octopus had stronger flavors that gave a nod towards Spain. There was a nice and spicy tomato sauce that came on the side, which added an acidic zing to the dish, and the octopus itself was very tender. I just wish that there was more of it, as there was only a very thin layer at the bottom.

Octopus terrine with olives, crisp potatoes, and pickled shallots

For our main courses, we selected the roasted chicken breast and the pan fried halibut. The chicken had nice crispy skin and was pretty juicy in the interior, but it was also slightly underdone. I don’t really get squeamish by slightly pink poultry, except there were a few sections that were inedible. Otherwise, it was very flavorful chicken, and the medley of vegetables underneath were fresh and seasonal. I loved the morels and wished there were more of them mixed in. It was a nice, light dish.

Roasted chicken breast with morels, ramps, asparagus, and potatoes

The pan fried halibut had a fall flavor to it, thanks to the butternut squash. The fish itself was well cooked, with a crispy exterior and meaty white flesh in the middle. The gnocchi were a bit chewy but at least they weren’t super dense. The presentation was simple but it was a hearty dish and well prepared.

Pan fried halibut with butternut squash, gnocchi, and brown butter vinaigrette

For dessert, we selected the vanilla custard and the chocolate pudding. The chocolate pudding was more like a ganache or fudge, served in a long log and had a relatively firm texture. The stout ice cream was absolutely fantastic, tasting just like a slightly sweeter Guinness in ice cream form. I will have to look into making stout ice cream for myself, because it was really good. The combination of the pudding, ice cream, and peanut butter powder worked really well together, but the pretzel had no real purpose. It was kind of stale and not very salty, so it didn’t provide a contrast to the other sweet components. Pretzel aside, this was a very good dessert.

Chocolate pudding with stout ice cream, pretzel, and peanut butter powder

The vanilla custard had nice vanilla flavor and visible specks of vanilla bean in it, but it was kind of relegated to the background because of the assertive citrus flavors in the dessert. The oranges were a bit sour but tasted better when mixed with the sweet vanilla custard; I just wished there was more of the custard. The brown sugar oats added a textural contrast to the dessert but not much flavor. It was an ok dish but not spectacular.

Vanilla custard with citrus fruits, brown sugar oats, and mandarin sorbet

We really didn’t know what to expect going into the restaurant, but we walked out with some new respect for Gordon Ramsay. As far as Restaurant Week meals go, this was pretty good. There was a decent selection to choose from, and everything was well prepared and well presented. I liked the use of fresh vegetables in all the dishes and I walked out of there completely satisfied. While I still don’t like his antics on TV, I can look past it as long as his restaurants are producing good food. I don’t know how much involvement he has with this particular branch of Maze, but maybe if we’re ever in London we can check out one of his restaurants there.

151 West 54th St. between 6th and 7th Ave.
New York, NY

Summer Restaurant Week 2010 – Aureole

Monday, July 12th, 2010 by virginia

One of my favorite highlights during the very hot summer season is summer Restaurant Week. Josh and I first discovered Restaurant Week when we were interning during the summer before our senior year of college. It was a poor college student’s dream – eating a three course meal at a fancy NYC restaurant (like the now-closed famous La Cote Basque) for less than $20 (it was $19.98 at the time). Although prices have since risen to $24.07, Restaurant Week lunches are still a bargain, for the most part. Some restaurants have pretty limited Restaurant Week menus, so I try to find the menu online before making a booking.

Restaurant Week reservations book fast so it’s important to make them as early as possible. On the day that reservations opened, I called Josh to make sure that he would make a few bookings, and he didn’t disappoint. Our winner during winter Restaurant Week this year was Aureole so I was glad he booked it again. Instead of the Bar Room though, we snagged a reservation in the main dining room, which is a bit fancier. The menu was the same, but the tables had tablecloths, and best of all, there was bread service with three different kinds of bread (the Bar Room only offered slices of baguettes).

Slices of baguette, rosemary bread, and cranberry walnut bread

In addition to baguette, we got rosemary bread and cranberry walnut bread. The baguette was as good as last year, and the rosemary bread had a nice crust and a pronounced rosemary flavor. The cranberry walnut had lots of cranberries in it, but the crust was a bit burnt and the bread was pretty dense. I was just sad that the bread guy didn’t come back after his initial pass, but that’s ok because I need to start eating less bread.

The Restaurant Week menu had three options per course so Josh and I made different selections for each and then swapped plates halfway through, per our usual practice. For the first course, we had heirloom tomato gazpacho and pan roasted shrimp. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and served with prosciutto, baby arugula, and a brunoise of summer melons. The prosciutto provided the saltiness for the dish, while the melon contrasted with sweetness. It was a light and refreshing dish, perfect on a hot summer day.

Pan roasted shrimp with summer melons, prosciutto, and baby arugula

Our other appetizer was the tomato gazpacho, which was a brilliant red color and topped with diced avocado and garlic croutons. The gazpacho was also very light, not too sweet, and had a good amount of acidity. The creaminess of the avocado cut through the tanginess of the soup, and the garlic croutons added a nice little crunch. It was very simple in preparation and presentation, but still very tasty, and I think it’s something that I’d like to replicate at home.

Heirloom tomato gazpacho with diced avocado and garlic croutons

For our main course, we selected the Chatham Bay cod and marinated flatiron steak. The steak was cooked to medium rare as requested, though it was slightly tough, perhaps just because of the cut of meat. It was served with baby bok choy, coconut rice, scallions, and a chile garlic dressing. There were also flakes of toasted coconut scattered over the dish. It was an unusual combination with steak, and because I’m not a huge fan of coconut, it wasn’t my favorite. It wasn’t bad, just not really my cup of tea.

Flatiron steak with baby bok choy, coconut rice, scallions, and a chile garlic dressing

The cod was served in a broth with baby leeks, summer corn, potatoes, and little neck clams. The fish itself was very nicely cooked, with crispy skin and the perfect amount of seasoning. The broth had a delicate and subtle flavor, and the little kernals of corn were sweet and fresh. Josh and I both liked this dish a lot.

Chatham Bay cod with baby leeks, summer corn, potatoes, and little neck clam broth

For dessert, we had the carrot cake and the rocky road vacherin. The vacherin was chocolate meringues that were light and crispy. They were served with a smooth chocolate ice cream, soft and creamy marshmallows, brownie bites, black cherry syrup, and toasted almond slivers. The individual components were tasty, and all put together and it was a super rich dessert. It wasn’t as whimsical as the caramel popcorn ice cream dessert from the winter Restaurant Week menu, but it was still playful.

Rocky road vacherin with chocolate ice cream, =marshmallows, brownie bites, black cherry syrup, and toasted almond

I’m not the biggest fan of carrot cake but I thought this version was fantastic. It was light and moist and not overly spiced, something I don’t like in other carrot cakes. It came with a cream cheese mousse that fluffy and not too rich, but didn’t taste heavily of cream cheese. There were also pickled red grapes scattered about, though they didn’t taste very pickled. Still, they were sweet and juicy and a good textural contrast to the soft cake and mousse.

Carrot cake with cream cheese mousse and pickled red grapes

We were pretty full at this point but they brought a plate of mini cookies at the end of the meal, and I couldn’t resist. My favorite was the biscotti, and there was a thin chocolate chip cookie that was tasty as well.

Plate of mini cookies

Overall we thought the winter Restaurant Week menu at Aureole was slightly better than the summer menu, but it was still a terrific Restaurant Week meal and ranks as one of the better ones that we’ve had. The only dish that I didn’t like was the steak, but everything was well prepared and seasonably appropriate. The cod was a real standout, and the carrot cake was a surprise winner. There was really no difference in service between the main dining and the Bar Room, so if there is an opening in either (they’re listed separately on Open Table), I highly recommend making a reservation.

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

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

Meatless Fridays – Minar and Kim’s Aunt Kitchen Cart

Saturday, March 27th, 2010 by virginia

Although I haven’t given up anything in particular for Lent, I have been good about abstaining from meat on Fridays. Surprisingly it’s quite tough for me not to eat meat, especially when I see other people eating it, and also because I’m not the biggest fan of fish at this moment. I do, however, love fried foods, including fried fish. On my favorite blog, Midtown Lunch, I read about a streetcart that serves a cheap, filling, and tasty fried fish sandwich, and knew that I had to try it out.


My first attempt was on a snowy Friday, which turned out to be a mistake as the cart was nowhere to be found. Neither was my back-up cart, Moshe’s Falafel. Instead, Josh and I headed to Minar where I had my first completely vegetarian Indian meal. While he went for the meat lunch special and filled up on keema and coriander chicken, I had to go for the veg lunch special and navigated through the meatless offerings with some help from the woman behind the counter.

I ended up with a container of rice topped with lentils, saag paneer, and a potato pea curry. The saag paneer was the only dish I’ve tried before, and it was as good as always. It’s a thick spinach curry mixed with pieces of Indian cheese that has the same texture as firm tofu. It’s kind of like a spiced (but not spicy) cream spinach and is very flavorful and filling. The lentils were also hearty, but a bit bland. They were cooked in a very light sauce and didn’t have much seasoning. I did welcome the protein though. My least favorite was the potato pea curry, because I only got like three pieces of potato, and the rest was peas in a super watery gravy that didn’t have much flavor.

Lentils to the left, potato pea curry on top, saag paneer to the right

To help bolster my meal, I added a piece of fluffy, fresh baked naan for $1 more. The naan was warm, nicely puffy, and had pleasingly chewy. At $1, it’s a true bargain and a great addition to any meal you get at Minar.

Fluffy naan

The lunch special also came with a foil packet filled with lettuce and raw onion, and a small container of raita. The raita is cucumber yogurt sauce that is great over most of the curries, especially the ones containing lamb.

Raita, lettuce, and onion

My container of vegetarian offerings did manage to satisfy my hunger, but not my craving for meat. What can I say; I’m a true carnivore. I did like the saag paneer though, and would definitely order that again. The lentils were ok, but I really didn’t enjoy the potato and pea curry. It was definitely a filling meal though, and all for less than $10. Not bad. I do like the meat offerings at Minar better though, so next time I’ll have to go when it’s not a Friday during Lent. The lunch specials are pretty good deals and you’ll get a lot of food. There are lots of options to choose from so I’m sure you’ll find a combination that works best for you.

Kim’s Aunt Kitchen

My second attempt to get the fried whiting sandwich was a success, and boy, was I happy with what I got. Based on Midtown Lunch’s recommendations, I opted for the fried whiting on a hero. The sandwich was massive and featured two thick fried whiting filets on a toasted hero, covered in lettuce, tomato, and mayo. I couldn’t believe the size of this sandwich, and it was only $3.50!!

The fried whiting sandwich on a hero is eight inches long!

The fried whiting was delicious – still hot, nicely breaded, flaky, and not too fishy. Most people I know are too skeptical to order food from a streetcart, and probably would never order fish from a cart. But I’m telling you, they’re missing out! This sandwich was better than any Filet o’ Fish, for sure. It was meaty, freshly fried, and just hit the spot.

Sandwich innards - packed with fried whiting, lettuce, tomato, mayo

I also got a side order of French fries for $1.50. They were packed into a Styrofoam container so they got a bit steamed on my way back to my office, but for streetcart fries they were pretty good. They were the thinner cut fries that I like, lightly salted, and topped with ketchup per my request.

Thin cut french fries

Overall I absolutely loved Kim’s Aunt Kitchen Cart. My fried whiting sandwich was better than I expected it to be and completely satisfying. I would gladly skip meat for this sandwich, and I would eat it on non-Fridays as well. There are other options at the cart as well, including chicken and bulgogi platters with lo mein, but I’ll probably stick with the fried fish sandwich. Please trust me and get over any streetcart food fears – it’s worth a taste! And the cart’s motto is also great:

Food IS love!

Minar (multiple locations)
138 West 46th St. between 6th and 7th Ave.
New York, NY

Kim’s Aunt Kitchen Cart
46th St. between 5th and 6th Ave.
New York, NY

Pre-Theater Dining at Carmine’s

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 by virginia

One of my favorite pre-theater destinations is Carmine’s in midtown. I’ve written about the uptown location before, and the midtown location seems even busier but still serves up the same great food. One night before going to see Hair the Musical, we managed to get an early dinner reservation for a large group of people. As usual, I stuffed myself silly with delicious wedges of tomato focaccia, which I’ve dubbed “pizza bread.” I even requested a basket of just focaccia (both the tomato and the onion), since there are never enough pieces of them in the regular mixed bread basket.

Basket of focaccia bread

We started off our dinner with two salads that were simply ginormous. The first was the Carmine’s salad, which is kind of like an antipasto salad. There are cubes of ham, salami, and provolone mixed throughout a huge pile of lettuce. There are also sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, red onion, and olives on top, and the entire thing is tossed with a tangy Italian dressing.

Carmine's salad

We also ordered the special salad of the day, which was mesclun greens tossed with a tasty balsamic vinagrette and topped with cranberries, walnuts, and goat cheese. Both of the salads were very different but equally delicious.

Special salad with mesclun greens in a balsamic vinaigrette

We also ordered some hot appetizers to start. First was fried calamari that was lightly breaded and fried to a beautiful golden brown. The calamari was crispy on the outside, tender and not too chewy in the middle, and great for dunking into the tangy and sweet marinara sauce.

Fried calamari with marinara sauce

Last but definitely not least was my favorite appetizer, the stuffed artichoke. This is the artichoke that I keep trying to replicate at home, and although I’ve come close, it’s not quite there yet. This artichoke is garlicky, lemony, and very addictive. Part of the appeal is that I love the process of eating artichokes – dipping the leaves in the yummy sauce, scooping up some bread crumbs, and eating it all together. After peeling off layers and layers of leaves, getting rid of the spiny choke, you finally get down to the creamy heart. It’s a lot of work but also a lot of good eating along the way.

Amazing stuffed artichoke

For our entrees, we got an order of spaghetti with white clam sauce. As you can see in the picture, there are tons of clams on the spaghetti, as well as many cloves of garlic. This is definitely a dish for garlic lovers, as the flavor permeates throughout. The spaghetti was perfectly al dente, and this is always one of my favorite dishes.

Garlicky spaghetti with white clam sauce

The lasagna, like everything else, is a huge portion, and is basically a brick of pasta layered with lots of meat, cheese, and sauce. While it still tastes good, I miss the browned bubbly cheese layer on top, and it does get a bit messy to eat. It tends to fall apart when you try to cut pieces from it, and the proportion of pasta to sauce and cheese kind of gets thrown off. Personally, I prefer the other pasta dishes offered at Carmine’s.

Brick of lasagna

We also got veal parmesan, which was pounded thin and breaded. There’s a good layer of cheese on top but I wish that they had browned it more. It’s still quite tasty though, and the meat is always tender and perfectly cooked.

Veal parmesan

Our last entree was chicken scarpariello, which is one of our favorites so we always get two orders, as everyone wants multiple pieces of chicken. I think they deep fry the pieces, as it’s always crispy on the outside and moist and juicy in the middle. The chicken is covered in a lemony, garlicky sauce that is flavored with rosemary. It’s different from other versions of scarpariello, which usually feature sausage and peppers, but I vastly prefer this version.

Chicken scarpariello

We also got a side dish of escarole, which is sauteed with garlic in oil. Squeeze some lemon over the top and it’s refreshing, a good complement to all the rich, saucy food that we eat.

Sauteed escarole

Even after all the food and several magnums of Carmine’s house wine, we still saved some room for dessert. We got the massive Titanic, which is basically a chocolate brownie covered in scoops of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, paired with bananas, and covered in whipped cream, strawberries, nuts, and chocolate sauce. Like all the food at Carmine’s, it’s over the top but delicious.

The Titanic

Despite all the signs that point to a cheesy tourist destination, Carmine’s is, in my opinion, one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. It never ceases to amaze me how much food the restaurant churns out every day, and all the dishes we get are consistently well prepared. It’s hearty, homey, comforting red sauce Italian food, and lots of it. The value is good, and it’s a great place for accommodating large groups. The midtown location really gets hopping during pre-theater hours but service was great. Our water glasses always stayed filled and a server was always nearby to comply with any of our requests. When the waiter brought one of our magnums of wine, he accidentally spilled a bit from the full bottle and immediately went to fetch us a new one, even though the amount spilled was negligible compared to the size of the bottle. It’s little things like that which make you realize that they do care about service, despite the fact that they would probably still be packed every night even with lousy service. That’s what makes the experience so great every time, and I’m always happy to go back again and again.

Carmine’s (multiple locations)
200 West 44th St. between 7th and 8th Ave.
New York, NY


Monday, March 1st, 2010 by virginia

I realize that I’ve been slacking on my pizza quest posts, but the sad thing is that there’s just not much to post about. Our last few pizza deliveries have been very disappointing, and I think we really are going to run out of delivery options before we find a good go-to place. I scoured our remaining options on MenuPages and came up with Luigi’s, which was nearby on 8th Ave. I placed our standard order and it definitely arrived quickly, so bonus points for that. The pizza, however, left much to be desired.

Extra large cheese pizza

The cheese to sauce ratio was off, with way too much overly sweet tomato sauce overpowering the flavor of everything. The crust was pretty pedestrian and reminded me of chain restaurant pizza. It was also overly sweet and uniformly brown on the bottom, not crispy or soggy, but just kind of chewy. This pie definitely lacked any pizzazz that would set it apart.

Underside shot

The chicken parm hero was decent though. The bread was toasty enough and the cheese was mostly melted but there was also too much sauce, which made everything soggy very quickly.

Chicken parm hero

My favorite part was the French fries, which were the thinner variety that I prefer, and decently crispy. But it’s a pretty sad day when the best thing from a pizza joint is the French fries.

French fries

I was extremely disappointed with our pizza from Luigi’s. The food gets pretty decent reviews online but it was probably the worst pizza of the bunch since we started our quest. I probably would have been better off ordering from Domino’s, just to give you an idea of how bad it was (although admittedly, the new garlic crust from Domino’s does intrigue me). Too much sauce, weirdly clumpy cheese, and a subpar crust simply doesn’t merit a repeat order from us. And so, the quest continues.

936 8th Ave. between 55th and 56th St.
New York, NY