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Sunday
Feb102013

The Year of the Snake: Chinese New Year 2013

Neither snow nor slush could dampen the New Year's festivities in Chinatown NYC.

The New Year celebration started off at 11AM with The Chinese New Year Firecracker Ceremony (at Sara Roosevelt Park). Afterward, this lively parade, with Dragon Dancers and drummers, wound their way up Mulberry Street. Fun!!!

Saturday
Feb042012

First Impressions: North End Grill

Over the past few weeks, we have had the pleasure of dining at Danny Meyer and Flyod Cardoz's newest restaurant, North End Grill, on several occasions. Located in Battery Park City, the restaurant is part of a larger re-development project, at 102 North End Ave, which includes 2 other Danny Meyer restaurants and the ultra-lux Conrad Hotel.

Meyer hired the design firm of Bentel and Bentel to outfit the restaurant, which consists of a scotch/wine bar, a dining bar and a more formal dining room. 

Women's Wear Daily called the design a "feast for the eyes". But in many ways, this is a more apt description of the food. The restaurant's interior design is more akin to a visual tabula rasa, upon which new ideas can be projected.

The designers chose a mostly dark, monochromatic color palate, which is evocative of a 'blank slate'. Sharp lines (set against warm white panels) draw the eyes to the open kitchen, a wall of scotch bottles and Marianna Cook's hauntingly beautiful black and white photography. The panels also anchor the space, much like the steel trusses which support the Freedom Tower, one block away.

Dark wood is seen throughout the interior, a nod to the wood burning grill and the dark coals that it produces. Baskets of grape vine, from Macari Vineyards on Eastern Long Island, quietly underscore the restaurant's committment to small farmers. 

To complete the look, domed ligting fixtures stand at attention, like wild mushrooms growing in the forest.

On most nights, the Executive Chef Floyd Cardoz can be seen in the kitchen with his highly talented cook staff.  The center of the open kitchen is an impressive wood burning grill, which hails from Texas. The grill has three grates, all of which can be raised (or lowered) by the wheels that flank either end. The 'coals' from the wood also heat an oven, which is used to cook pizza and roast seafood (among other things).

The Dinner Menu is divided into 5 sections including Appetizers, Eggs, Salad,  Entrees, 'X2', and Sides -- with a separate Dessert Menu. 

Several commentators have noted that the North End menu 'plays it safe'. And quite frankly, I am not sure which restaurant they have dined in. It is true that Floyd is (mostly) using traditional proteins, but what he is doing with them is something special. I have been particularly impressed by the subtle complexity of his dishes. Flyod Cardoz is not Jean-George Vongerichten. His food does not hit you over the head. Rather, you pick up a delicate herb here, a little acidity and heat there. It is just lovely.

The same thoughtful, restrained approach is seen at the grill, where Cardoz is using reduced tempertures and aromatic woods (grapevine and white oak) to impart flavor to partially roasted meats and (uncooked) seafood. 

Here is a smattering of what we sampled:

Cod Throat Meunier is a tour de force.  

More commonly referred to as "cod tongue", this delicate (triangular) piece of fish is cut from the bottom jaw. The print to the left nicely illustrates where the cut of fish is taken from. 

Cod tongue is traditionally breaded and pan fried in salt pork. For those of you who have never had it, the cut is all but two bites. When properly prepared, the outside is crisp and the inside has 2 small nuggets of meat which rest in a small gelatinous sac. Many people compare the texture to that a fried oyster.

The cod throat we sampled was perfectly crisp, with no hint of sogginess or heaviness from the fat. It was nominally plated on a meunier sauce. But if you are expecting a simple brown sauce, you will be pleasantly surprised here. This sauce is exceptionally rich, due to the addition of veal stock, and has a touch of heat from Mexican chiles.

After the cod throat is finished, I promise you will use any means possible (including a spoon, bread or your fingers) to finish off this sauce.

Torchon of Foie Gras was expertly prepared, and luscious. I was less smittened with the quince paste, which I found esthetically unappealing and well, pasty. (The texture reminded me of pumpkin puree.) In my opinion, this lovely torchon would be much better served with a sweeter, more refined accompaniment -- such as a bourbon poached pear, or a port wine reduction. 

With that said, this dish is an extremely good value. The kitchen sends out a very generous portion (which can easily be shared by two people) and only charges $18. Ai Fiori is currently charging $28 for a comparable dish.

Tuna Tartare with Fried Quail Egg and Crispy Shallots is exceptional. A touch of heat, delicate herbs and crunchy shallots nicely compliment the hand chopped tuna -- but do not overwhelm it. The same can be said of the egg yolk, which adds a subtle touch of richness to the dish.

Coddled Egg, Peekytoe Crab, Bacon and Grits could easily be a breakfast for champions.

Ouefs en Cocotte, or eggs cooked in a ramekin, can harbor endless surprises. Cardoz's rendition starts with a base of freshly prepared grits, upon which he layers smoky bacon, sweet Peekytoe Crab and an egg. Salt, freshly ground pepper and chopped chives finish off the dish.

This dish is remarkably rich, but lacks the heaviness of many preparations which use copious amounts of butter and cream. Be sure to save a piece of crusty bread for dunking!

Although the restaurant places an emphasis on seafood, a number of lovely meat dishes are offered as well. Elysian Fields Lamb Loin with Minted Chickpeas and Preserved Lemon is an excellent case in point.

The star of this dish is the double-cut Elysian Fields lamb loin, which is briefly roasted on the bone and then finished on the grill. This grain fed lamb is nothing short of perfection. It has a firm tooth, but is extremely tender and succulent. It is also lacks the strong, gamey taste of New Zealand grass fed lamb.

White beans are often seen on upscale menus (even this one), but chickpeas are rarely used. Cardoz nails this dish, integrating herbs (mint, a touch of chervil) and acidity (preserved lemons) which compliment both the beans and the lamb. My palate also picked up a touch of heat from the beans, which I loved.

Berkshire Pork Chop with White Beans and Chorizo is another beautifully conceived dish.

The dish is served with a lovely pork jus and apple cider reduction, which is rich but not overly sweet or clowy. The beans, homemade chorizo and sauted greens are also wonderful.

Unfortunately, my pork was served hopelessly over-cooked. In hindsight, this miss fire seemed almost inevitable on a busy Friday night. The kitchen is using an exceptionally thin cut of pork, which is lean and cut off the bone. Given this, there is no little margin for error. An extra minute or two on the grill, or at the pass, and this little piggy is toast. 

In my opinion, a (more traditional) center cut chop, on the bone, would easily solve this problem. But whatever the kitchen decides, I know they will work out this kink. 

This dish is a definite keeper.

Nova Scotia Lobster with Tropea Shallots and Lemon Butter was a simple, but well executed dish. 

The kitchen uses a minimal amount of lemon butter to prepare the lobster, which serves the fish well. We enjoyed the sweet, succulent meat with a glass of dry champagne. 

Unfortunately, we did not have much luck with the potatoe side dishes. The Grilled Rosemary Potat Chips arrived at the table thoroughly desiccated, without a hint of olive oil or salt. Others have complimented this dish, so I have to assume this was just a fluke.

We sent Thrice Fried Spiced Fries back to the kitchen, as they were undercooked and soggy. The replacement were a tad more crisp, but still under cooked and excessively salty. (A few others have noted the same.) Fries are really tough to get right, but I am confident that this interesting side will come together as the kitchen settles in.

After the food, it is difficult to find room for dessert. With that said, we sampled two things.

Chocolate Pecan Layer Cake with Pecan Chocolate Chip Ice Cream is rich, but not overly sweet. The 'cake' (torte) is very moist, and the candied pecan add textural interest to the desert. We detected only one minor issue with the torte: the chocolate ganache was quite rubbery.  

The Roasted Apple Tart with Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream and Dry Fruit Compote is a real keeper. The baked apple was luscious, with a hint of sweetness and a bit of spice. We also loved the flavorful pastry cream at the base of the tart. The fruit compote, made of apples and currents, was well prepared but almost superfluous. The real star of this show is the tart.

The restaurant offers a nice selection of wines by the glass, which represent different regions and grape varietals. (I have not explored the wine list in any great detail, but look forward to doing so soon.) There are also a nice selection of scotch cocktails, and of course many different scotches by the glass!  

We have not eaten in the dining room to date, but the service at the dining bar has been top notch. North End has an early bar crowd, which can get a little loud, but the noise levels off after 8PM.

In summary, it is hard to believe that North End Grill has been open for less than one month. There are a few minor kinks which need to be worked out, but overall, this kitchen is operating at an extremely high level. Battery Park City and Downtown Manhatten are trully fortunate to have them. 

North End Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday
Jan062012

Girl's Night Out: Lincoln Ristorante

Dining out is fun. But dining out with your best girl friends is the best! So once a month, I pick a place, and then we wine, dine, and catch up. In December, we ate at Lincoln Ristorante at Lincoln Center.

Photo Credit: Robert Wright for the NY Times

When Jonathon Benno opened Lincoln Ristorante in the Fall of 2010, the food community was on high alert. And how could they not be? Benno was Thomas Keller's Chef de Cuisine at Per Se for nearly 6 years and everyone expected greatness from his prodigal son. (Benno's impressive resume also included stints at The French Laundry, Daniel, Gramercy Tavern and Craft. )

But from the moment it opened, criticism and disappointment abounded. The NY Times' Critic, Sam Sifton, noted in his November 2010 review:

Mr. Benno and the Patina Group still have some distance to go. They have built a restaurant that lacks a center — a restaurant in which it is possible to eat well without really having a good time.

He subsequently awarded it 2 out of 4 "stars", which had to be a huge blow to Benno and his financial backers who were clearly aiming much higher.

Photo Credit: Robert Wright for the NY TimesTo make matters worst, the modern design of the restaurant -- with its' sloping roof line, replete with a grass roof, and dark banquettes (to the right) -- left many people cold. Adam Platt, the food critic for NY Magazine, compared the space to the both the Star Ship Enterprise and an private jet hangar:

"Who beamed us aboard the Starship Enterprise?" muttered one of the suburban voyagers at my table as we waited for our cocktails to arrive at Lincoln Ristorante, the dazzling postmodern dining palace that opened earlier this fall at the northern end of the newly refurbished Lincoln Center. Peering from our darkened corner banquette, we could see all sorts of strange, unearthly sights. Unlike the stylish, dungeon like restaurants downtown, this one was as big as a private-jet hangar and sheathed largely in glass.

Let's just say that his thoughts on the food, serving size and price were not exactly flattering either. He subsequently awarded it one out of five stars. Ouch. That was a real slap, even from the grumpy Platt.

Photo Credit: Robert Wright for the NY Times

I ate at Lincoln shortly after it opened, and have to say, I was a bit disappointed with the food and service as well. In particular, I remember having a very pricey rib eye steak (for two), which was not properly charred or particularly flavorful. The kitchen also sent out a complimentary dish of gnocchi with white truffles, which was inexplicably poorly prepared and ill conceived (i.e. the gnocchi were rubbery, and if I recall correctly, sitting in a pool of thin broth). 

But after one year, the tide of public opinion seems to be shifting: In September, Gael Greene wrote a glowing review after revisiting the restaurant several times. One week later, Steve Cuozzo of the NY Post also noted that "Today, Lincoln is better" (although he did note continued inconsistencies in the fish and meat dishes). So it was time to take another look. 

Photo Credit: Robert Wright for the NY Times

Lincoln offers an al la carte menu, which is traditionally divided into Antipasti, Primi (pasta) and Secondi (meat or fish) and Piccoli Piatti (small plates or "sides"). They also offer a 5 course tasting menu for $85, with an optional wine pairing for an additional $55. We opted for latter, with the wine pairing. 

We started our evening with cocktails. Mia and I had La Storia di Manhattan, which was an autumn inspired elixir of Van Winkle Rye, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, Allspice Liquor and Fee Brothers Old Fashion Bitters. Amazing. Ava had the gin-based Francesco De Pinedo, which was made out of Hayman's Old Tom Gin, Creme de Violette, Luzardo Il Maraschino Liquore and fresh lemon. 

After we were served our cocktails, the wait staff disappeared for quite a while. We were admittedly in no hurry, but we were all starving (and drinking strong cocktails), so some finger food would have been greatly appreciated.

All was forgiven when the amuse bouche of chicken liver mousse on toasted bread arrived. As you can see from the picture above, the mousse was light and billowy. The trick? According to Gaele Greene, the kitchen whisks marscapone into the warm chicken livers. That will do it. It was finished off with a sprinkle of chopped pistachios, which added both texture and color to the finished dish. Just luscious.

In lieu of butter, the restaurant serves a creamy white bean spread with the bread service. (Olive oil is also poured table side.) We all loved it. Our only complaint: we were never offered a second piece of bread to finish it off!

 

The first course was Crudo di Capesante (Raw Scallops), which consisted of Nantucket Bay Scallops, Cucumber, Radish, Lampascioni, and Pachino Tomato Vinaigrette. Mia was smittened by the dish, later noting:

The scallops were very sweet and that sweetness was really nicely balanced by the light vinaigrette and the thinly sliced cucumbers. Especially for those who find the flavor of scallops somewhat cloying, this dish managed to balance it very well.

I did not taste the dish, but I was very intrigued by it. Scallops are fairly common-place on high end menus but the same cannot be said for lampascione, or Tussel Hyacinth Bulbs. Tassel Hyacinth grow wild in Southern Italy, but their bulbs are mostly foraged and eaten in Puglia. The bulbs look like small onions, and are quite labor intensive to clean and cook. 

Given their relative obscurity, it is quite remarkable that Benno is familiar with lampascione. It is also a testament to his skill that he incorporated them so successfully in this lovely dish.

Ava does not eat raw fish, and I do not eat scallops. So the kitchen sent out Insalata Di Funghi Nebrodini and Polpoe e Patat alla Contadina as substitutions.

Insalata Di Funghi Nebrodini (Nebrodini Mushroom Salad) was simply prepared with marinated potatoes, broccoli, dandelion greens, and a pignoli (nut) dressing. I suspect that the simplicity was by design: Nebrodini Bianco are rare mushrooms which grow in the Nebroni Mountain Range in Sicily. They are coveted for their sweet, earthy taste and dense ('meaty') texture -- and Benno clearly wanted them to take center stage.

Mia subsequently described the Nebrodini as "substantial, with a mild flavor." Spot on, as usual.

Polpoe e Patat alla Contadina (Peasant Octopus and Potatoes) was a flavor packed dish that consisted of grilled octopus, braised potatoes, Castelvertrano olives, and caper berries.

This dish is a lovely example of Cucina Povera, or the food of the poor. Benno's version has a tomato/olive oil base, which is typically made in Puglia and Sicily. (I have seen "white versions" that have a wine base.) The octopus was fork tender, and the Castelvertrano olives (from Sicily) and caper berries added a bright (mildly salty) snap to the stew. It was just so good! 

Given that all of the first course dishes celebrated Sicilian cuisine/ingredients, it is no surprise that the Sommelier paired the food with a Sicilian wine: Etna Bianco Graci 2010

The Graci Winery is run by Alberto Graci, who left a lucrative finance job in Rome to return to his roots in Sicily. Graci bought several vineyards on Mount Etna (an active volcano), and since 2004, has been turning out world class wine. (This wine won the prestigious Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Award this year) 

According to Graci

Etna is a special place. First, it has the sun of Sicily but a climate moderated by altitude. Second, it has volcanic soils. Third, it has old ungrafted vineyards.

The wine is a blend of 70% Carricante and 30% Catarratto, and has lovely citrus and mineral notes. A real treat. Or as the sommelier said, "This wine has single handedly put Sicily on the wine making map."

The second (Primi) course was Spaghetti con Granchio e Ricci di Mare (Spaghetti with Crab and Sea Urchin). 

Benno's skill with pasta was clearly on display here. The spaghetti had a butter-based sauce which was a rich back drop for the delicate peekytoe crab and sea urchin. Colorful peperoncinio peppers added a lovely color contrast and a punch of heat. 

The pasta was paired with Fiano di Avellino Colli di Lapio 2010, from Campania

Colli di Lapio is a young estate, located in the village of Lapio, northeast of Avenillo. Many consider this the Grand Cru Region for Fiano, and this vineyard is known to produce one of the best.

The wine is 100% Fiano, and completely vinified in stainless steel (I can't believe I just typed those words!). The wine is straw color and is often described as "elegant". It has notes of fruit (we tasted green apple; Robert Parker Jr of the Wine Advocate noted grapefruit), nuts, white flowers and minerals. The wine is medium/full bodied and has a long finish. It pairs beautifully with seafood.

Like the Etna Bianco Graci 2010, this wine won the prestigious Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Award this year. (It is available at Sherry-Lehman Wines and Spirits in Manhattan for $23.)

The third course was Gnudi di Ricotta e Zucca (Ricotta Dumplings and Squash).

Gnudi (Italian for "naked") are Tuscan Ricotta Dumplings, which are essentially ravioli without the pasta shell. Traditionally, gnudi are served with a tomato or bechamel sauce, but Benno gives this rustic dish a decidedly modern twist -- by serving it with roasted butternut squash, hazelnuts, sage and brown butter. 

The gnudi were paired with Montefalco Rosso Di Filippo 2008 from Umbria. The Di Filippo vineyard is an organic, biodynamically run property, which produces interesting, reasonably priced wine. 

The Montelfalco Rosso Di Filippo is a blend of 60% Sangiovese, 30% Barbera and 10% Sagrantino grapes. 

The wine is ruby red colored, medium bodied and dry. It has a woody aroma with notes of red berries and earthiness; the finish is long and slightly (moderately?) tannic.

This wine was my least favorite pour. I think this was due, in part, to the pairing. To my palate, this dish -- devoid of protein -- could not tame the strong tannins in the wine. As a result, I found the Montelfalco Rosso almost astringent when I first tasted it. But when paired with grilled meat (see below), it was more drinkable.

Our final savory course was Sirloin Steak with Root Vegetables and a Red Wine Reduction.

Unfortunately, we hit our first snag during this course: namely Ava asked for her steak to be medium well done, but the waiter failed to note that Mia and I wanted our steaks medium rare. Subsequently, the entire table was served well done meat.

When the the sommelier realized the error (while pouring the next wine course), he insisted that we send the steaks back. So we did. And while we waited for the steaks to come out, another round of Montefalco Rosso was poured on the house.

Ava loved this dish, as the meat was cooked to her liking but still moist.  Mia and I were less smittened -- noting that the red wine reduction was a bit salty and the vegetables were bland. (I personally think that the dish would have had more depth if the vegetables were roasted and the sauce was further reduced.) 

I was also disappointed that the meat station prepared one steak, which the chef cut in half before serving. A uniform char is an integral part of a good steak -- and we missed out on that. If only they had pulled the first steak off the grill 6 minutes earlier!

This course was paired with Copertino Rosa del Golfo Negroamaro-Malvasia Nero 2007 from Puglia. (This wine is 70% Negroamaro and 30% Malvasia Nero)

After 2 pours of the Montefalco Rosso, I passed on the Copertino. This was a shame, as Copertino wines are generally robust wines, which pair well with red meat. I will need to purchase a bottle at some point and report about.

Of note: The Copertino is grossly over-priced on the wine list. The restaurant is offering it for $65, while it retails for $13. That is an extreme mark up, wouldn't you say?

Kumquat sorbet was served as a palate cleanser. 

The dessert course was Torta di Cioccolato Con Castagne (Chocolate Ganache, Candied Chestnuts, Buckwheat Pasta Frolla, Olive Oil Marmellata and Thyme-Fior Di Latte Gelato)

The chocolate Ganache Torta was competently prepared, but nothing out of the ordinary. The Thyme-Fior Di Latte Gelato, on the other hand, was a real stand out.

Fior Di Latte ("milk flower) Gelato is common-place in Italy, but not readily found in the US. The gelato is made from cream, milk, (a small amount of ) sugar and salt. It is very rich, but not overly sweet. The addition of the fresh thyme -- normally incorporated into savory dishes -- worked well. You could taste it, but it didn't steal the show. 

Our evening ended on a lovely note with a glass of Moscadeddu Dettori 2007 from Sardinia -- made from 100% Moscato grapes.

Tenute Dettori is an organic, biodynamically run vineyard owned by Alessandro Dettori. The grapes for this wine are hand picked and macerated (uncrushed) for 2-4 days in cement vats. After the wine has been siphoned off, it remains in cement vats for another 2-3 years before bottled. Remarkably, the wine is neither filtered, nor clarified, prior to bottling.

In describing the origin of this wine, Dettori noted:

I have never liked those Muscats that are overly heavy, caramelised, and cloying. I prefer rather work in the direction of elegance and finesse. I prefer lightness and delicacy.

I must say, "elegant" is an understatement! This wine is beautiful, with scents and flavors of apricot, citrus and flowers. Ava and I loved it -- and even managed to finish off Mia's glass as well!

In summary, Lincoln is a lovely restaurant which continues to evolve.  Small glitches continue to come up: In particular, Benno needs to reign in the salt shaker and get control of his meat station. But overall, he and his staff are cooking innovative, unique and delicious food. It is really such a welcomed addition to the Lincoln Center Campus and the NYC dining scene as a whole.  

And if you are looking for Per Se. Stop. Turn around. And head south. 

Lincoln Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Wednesday
Nov162011

Girl's Night Out: Jean Georges

Dining out is fun. But dining out with your best girl friends is the best! So once a month, I pick a place, and then we wine, dine, and catch up. This month, we ate at the Four Star Restaurant Jean Georges, on Central Park West in NYC.

Fine dining certainly has its' critics, but I am not one of them.  I love the ritual. I love the finery. But most of all, I admire the training and discipline required to make the experience possible. 

I therefore feel very fortunate to live in a city where fine dining has survived, and in most cases flourished.  An excellent case in point is Jean-George Vongerichten's flag ship restaurant, Jean Georges. This stunning restaurant is located in the Trump International Hotel and Tower, and overlooks Columbus Circle. 

Like many fine dining restaurants in NYC, Jean Georges is divided into a casual dining space (called Nougatine) and a formal dining room. We ate in the latter, which has various dining options including a 3 course prix fixe menu, a 7 course "Signature" Tasting Menu and a 7 course "Autumn" Tasting Menu. (All three options come with an additional dessert course.)

We had the "Autumn" Tasting menu, which is ostensibly green market driven. Truth be told, this menu does not change much from year to year, nor does it take full advantage of the fall bounty. It does, however, highlight Vongerichten's style of cooking -- well known for its' Asian influences, complex emulsions and delicate broths. Saltiness, sweetness, texture and heat also factor heavily into his style of cooking.

 

The meal started with a trio of Amuse Bouche, consisting of Snapper Sashimi, Roasted Fig with Mozarella and warm Potatoe Soup with a Truffle Emulsion .  

The first course, Egg Toast, is a classic Jean Georges appetizer consisting of toasted brioche, egg yolk, dill and caviar. This dish is simple, rich and luscious. In short, just perfect.

 

Spicy Tuna Tartar with Black Olives and Cucumber was unfortunately less successful. Both Mia and I both felt that the tuna was over powered by the embellishments and heat. And as a result, the sublime taste of the Blue Fin Tuna was compromised.

Ava does not eat raw fish, so the kitchen sent out Sea ScallopsCarmamelized Cauliflower and Raisin-Caper Emulsion as a substitution. Jean Georges has served this dish for many years, which is a testament to how good it is.

As you can see from the photo above, the scallops were perfectly cooked: caramelized on the outside, moist on the inside. The raisin- caper emulsion was also lovely. Lightly spiced and fruity, it was the perfect foil for the caramelized sugars in the fish and cauliflower.

 

We were all smitten by the third course, Goat Cheese Royale, Beet Marmalade and Crushed Pistachios. The "Royale" is actually a (savory) goat cheese flan, which is served with a beet marmalade and roasted Sicilian Pistachios.  As a whole, the dish is nicely balance and successfully plays with both texture (silky vs crunchy) and contrasting flavors (tangy and sweet). It is also a lovely twist on a very classic combination.

Crispy Skin Black Sea Bass, Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Spiced Red Apple Jus was served for the first fish course (forth course). I wanted to love this dish. After all, the sea bass was cooked to perfection: crisp on the outside, moist on the inside. And who doesn't like roasted brussel sprouts? But the spiced red apple jus was an entirely different story. Served with pork, it would have rocked. But in my opinion, the clowy sweetness didn't work with the fish. As a matter of fact, I found myself pushing the ju to the side, so I could enjoy the fish.

The second fish course (fifth course) was Poached Lobster, Saffron Tapioca, and Gewurztraminer Foam. Gewurztraminer is a full bodied white wine, typically from Alsace, which is slightly sweet and very aromatic (i.e with hints of rose petal, fruit and spices). This wine is typically paired with fatty meats and spicy foods, but it's inherent sweetness paired beautifully with the sweet lobster meat. The pearls of tapioca added an interesting texture to the dish, but the saffron was somewhat lost on me. Overall, this was a very subtle dish which allowed the palate rest before the meat course.

The meat course (sixth course) was Minted Rack of Lamb, Autumn Mushrooms, Red Curry Emulsion. I apologize, but I forgot to snap a picture of this course. Full disclosure: I was fighting off a food and wine coma at this point. I was also delightfully distracted by the banter at the table, which went something like this:

 Mia: I can't eat another bite.

 Ava: I can. Is there any wine left in that bottle? I'll have it.

The lamb was a double cut rib chop, which was traditionally prepared with a herb and bread crumb crust (The kitchen used an herb paste, in lieu of dijon mustard, to adhere the bread crumbs). The meat was served with chanterelle mushrooms and a lovely red curry sauce. 

 

Jean Georges is well know for its' Dessert "Tasting" which consists of 4 individual desserts. Our Autumn Selection included: 

Cranberry Parfait, Walnut Nougatine, Soft Vanilla Meringue (to the left)

Sweet Potato Soufflé, Cranberries and Medjol Dates

Wine Braised Pear Tart (to the right)

Pomegranate Sorbet

In addition, there were petite fours (French Lavender Macarons), Chocolates and home-made Marshmallows (cut table-side)

The only dessert that I sampled was the Cranberry Parfait. The parfait was chilled and it was topped with a luscious meringue that had the consistency of Seven Minute Frosting (i.e sweet, billowy goodness). Mia and Ava raved about the soufflé. 

 

And finally, a word about the wine. The restaurant offers a "wine pairing" for an additional $120 pp. We opted out of this, and asked the sommelier for help choosing a white and red wine to go with the meal. He didn't disappoint.

For the white, he recommended Savigny Les Beaune Simon Bize Blanc 1ER CRU Aux Vergelesses (See below for a quick break down of what this all means!).

This wine is made by the Simon Bize Estate in Burgundy, France.  Most wines produced in Burgundy are red, so this was a very unique wine. It is 100% Chardonnay and aged in oak. The wine had notes of lemon, with a crisp mineral finish (neither overly sweet nor dry). We were all amazed at how well it went with the first five courses.

For the red, we moved across the Atlantic to Epoch Estate Wines in Templeton, California. This is a small, boutique winery, which produced its' first vintage in 2007 to rave reviews. The vineyard produces mostly Rhone Varietals, such as Syrah and Grenache, but also produces Tempranillo Grapes -- which are rarely grown outside of Spain. 

Ava has had this varietal before, but it was my first time. And oh, this wine made me so happy! The wine was ruby red, with a bouquet of cherries, black raspberries and herbs. It is what I consider a  "big red" -- deep and expansive with dark berry flavors and an underlying minerality. It had a long, fruit driven finish. It screamed: Bring on the red meat and desserts!

So there you have it. What more can I say? A meal at Jean-Georges comes with a hefty price tag, which precludes going on a regular basis. But this is also what makes the experience all the more meaningful. It is a treat, and one knows it from the moment you set foot in the door. The good company is also priceless. 

And yes Ava, we did pay for dinner (wink, wink).

Jean-Georges on Urbanspoon

Sunday
Sep182011

Girl's Night Out: Colicchio and Sons

Dining out is fun. But dining out with your best girl friends is the best! So once a month, I pick a place, and then we wine, dine, and (usually) have dessert/appertifs at my place.This month, we were short one person, due to a family emergency of sorts. Missed you, Mia! But my friend Ava and I plodded on. Tough work, but someone has to do it.

It is also increasingly tough work to find new and interesting places to eat out in Manhattan. Due to the perpetually ailing economy, chefs and resturanteurs have been understandably timid about opening more ambitious places. And many of the newer restaurants have taken casual to new heights of mediocre and boring.

Thankfully, many established restaurants have survived the down turn, and still delight. Some have even improved with age.  Much to my surprise, Colicchio and Sons falls squarely into that category.

I first dined at Colicchio and Sons in early 2010, three weeks after it opened. The food was mostly solid, but there were definitely some ill conceived dishes, and numerous service problems -- including an entree that was served luke warm. The food was also extremely pricey.

This time around, the service was impeccable and non-intrusive. (You know, when you don't even notice that your silverware has been replaced between courses.) The kitchen has also hit its' stride under the direction of Executive Chef, James Tracey. Tracey is a highly skilled chef who has been at the helm of Collichio's 3* Craft for some time.  He is now leaving his signature mark at Colicchio and Sons, turning out food that is rich, complex and ethereal.

Ava and I both had the 4 course, prix fixe menu for $78 -- which consisted of an appetizer, fish, meat and dessert course. 

My appetizer of Grilled Octopus with Endive, Citrus and Chorizo Vinaigrette set the tone for the evening. Tender inside, carmelized on the outside (I would love to know that trick), you could cut it with a fork. 

Our waiter described my first course, Swordfish with Yukon Gold Potatoes, Fairytale Eggplant and Tomato as a "Mediterranean-like" preparation. I would call it a walk through the green market.

Tracey clearly fancies fairy tale eggplants (see below), and uses them often in his cooking. In this dish, they are paired with a colorful mixture of cherry tomatoes, creamy yukon gold potatoes and fresh rosemary.

The fish was cooked to medium rare, and came to the table tender, moist and firm to the touch.

For my main course, I had Roasted Normandy Duck with Lambs Quarter*, Chanterelles and Cherries. Normandy duck is a heritage breed (a cross between Peking Duck and the more classic French Rouen Duck), which the restaurant sources from Stone Church Farms in upstate New York.

Roasted Normandy Duck is a signature dish at both Craft and Colicchio and Sons, which is tweaked almost weekly based on market availability. (Tonight it being served with tuscan kale, chanterelles and figs at the restaurant.) This is a very complex dish, which Tracey demonstrates in the video clip below:

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The breast is cooked on the bone, which is removed prior to serving. Tracey mentions in the video that he does it to prevent the meat from shrinking. It also imparts flavor to the meat and keeps it moist.

Ava had the Roasted and Braised Tamworth Pork with Green Tomatoe Chutney, Dandelion Greens and Lardo Ravioli for her main course. It too was just a picture.

We both had Warm Chocolate Tart with Pistachio Creme Brulee and Pastachio Ice Cream for dessert.

When I look back at this meal, I cannot find fault with a single thing. And even in the best of restaurants, that is hard to pull off.

The first round of professional and amateur reviews almost universally found fault with the food and service at Colicchio and Sons. (The only exception to this was Sam Sifton, the out-going food critic for the NY Times, who gave it 3 stars). The powers that be listened and took note.

Colicchio and Sons is finally the restuarant that Tom Colicchio meant it to be. I would go back in a heart beat.  I think Ava would too.

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