Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Restaurant Review: The Mermaid Inn NYC

I'm long overdue to write about Mermaid Inn, one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants. I've been a fan of Mermaid for years and was so excited to find a location close to my apartment on the Upper West Side. I can safely say I am at Mermaid at least once a week.
The Mermaid Inn is a cozy seafood restaurant that screams New England comfort. Sea-inspired photographs decorate the wooden paneled walls and tea light candles subtly illuminate the room. You may even spot a portrait of JFK and Jackie in the corner. Like I said, a New England feel.
One of my favorite aspects of Mermaid Inn is their generous happy hour, which takes place daily at the bar from 5-7pm. East Coast oysters are a $1, specialty cocktails are $7, and then small snacks like fish tacos are $3 per piece. There are also wines by the glass and beers for $6. If you can elbow your way to the bar, sip on the Chilly Margaret cocktail (their take on a margarita) or the Aperol Spritz and slurp down the Naked Cowboy oysters with a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of mignonette sauce. 
If you're in the mood for more substance, you can't go wrong with the Tuna Crudo, a generous portion of yellowfin raw tuna with avocado, jalapeno, lime, and salt or  the Lobster Knuckles Escargot, lobster meat broiled with parsley and bread crumbs, and served with a slide of garlic bread to sop up the au jus. One of my favorite appetizers is the Calamari Salad. This is not your regular overly-fried rubbery squid; rather this dish features seared calamari with feta, frisee, and cremini and shitake mushrooms. I'm always amazed by the combination of this salad and I love the unexpected umami flavors.  

For dinner, you can't go wrong with the specials. My last visit included seared scallops with roasted duck breast, sweet potatoes, and a blackberry puree. I hope this special turns into a menu staple. I also love the Lobster Sandwich--a buttery brioche overcome with succulent lobster meat and served with Old Bay fries. If you want a pasta-based entree, the Spaghetti with Salad on Top is a lovely take (and hefty portion) on fra'diavolo. 

Mermaid Inn also offers an array of sides. I love the simplicity of the charred Shishito Peppers  or the Staub dish full of Truffle Mac & Cheese. The Fried Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Marcona Almonds are also a treat. 
After you're done dining, make sure to read your fortune with the little red fortune fish and savor the complimentary chocolate pudding cup. Next time you're in New York City, you can visit one of the three outposts throughout Manhattan; East Village, Greenwich Village, and Upper West Side. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Restaurant Review: Prune, New York City

We had dinner plans with dear friends who were in town from abroad. I was tasked to find a restaurant but after hemming and hawing trying to find the "perfect" spot, I relinquished my role and asked our friends to pick. I think I made the right decision because it turns out our friends had a back up reservation at Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton's East Village hotspot. Prune has been on my restaurant list for years and I was excited to finally experience it (without waiting for hours). 

The interior of the restaurant is very quaint and filled with small tables, which created a cozy (and loud) atmosphere. Each table has a tin dish filled with poppadoms--a nice change of pace from the usual bread and butter--that gets replenished often.

Don't expect to eat lightly at this restaurant. The menu is filled with hearty dishes like bone marrow, creamed dry corn, and pork sausage. We ordered the bone marrow, baked mussels with parsley shallot butter, and one of the specials, a dry-aged beef. The bone marrow was to die for. The plate was filled with three hunks of bone, slices of toast, parsley salad, cornichons, and a small dish of gray sea salt. The marrow could stand on its own,  but smearing it on thick toast and topping it off with the slightly acidic salad, and a sprinkling of sea salt wasn't bad either.  
The baked mussels were small but that didn't detract from their savoriness. Lastly, the dry-aged beef was a hefty portion and had the subtle hint of a sophisticated beef jerky. 
For entrees we feasted on the spatchcocked pigeon and grilled lamb chop blade.  Can you believe I ordered pigeon? The Columbidea species is one of my worst nightmares. However, I decided to take a risk, knowing I was in Chef Hamilton's hands. How often have you eaten pigeon? I was also comforted knowing that the pigeon was purveyed by D'Artagnan, the gourmet food producer extraordinaire. Both meat dishes were prepared quite well--a lovely sear and plenty of salt, butter, and parsley salads. More parsley! Four of our dishes included parsley. Even though Chef Hamilton's take on the herb was tasty, I would have liked to sample another garnish. 
We finished our meal with a walnut chocolate tart and a butter cake, which came with a small glass of liquor. The butter cake was by far our favorite. Despite its name, the cake did not scream butter, rather a gentle flavor of lavender. 

Did Prune live up to the hype? I loved the inventive menu and preparations, but could have used a little less salt and parsley salad. Next up? Read Hamilton's memoir Blood, Bones & Butter. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Recipe: Simple Smoked Salmon

Now that the holiday season is underway and you've had your fair share of stuffing and mashed potatoes, I'd like to share a refreshing first course idea for your next dinner party. It's simple, inexpensive, and also tasty: smoked salmon. I was tasked with  creating and executing a first course, which was to precede  a pasta puttanesca.  Tired of the usual salad, I wanted to find a pairing that would whet the appetite for a seafood pasta. I decided to think somewhat outside of the box and use one of my favorite brunch staples. Usually I have smoked salmon as a bagel topper or perhaps rolled with a dollop of cream cheese and served as a passed appetizer, but plating it as a first course during dinner was something I had not tried.  You can have fun with the toppings, but I served the salmon over bibb lettuce and topped the fish with creme fraiche, capers, and a squeeze of lemon. It was an instant hit amongst the guests. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Restaurant Review: Kristalbelli

This week I had the pleasure of tasting from an extensive menu at the relatively new and upscale Korean BBQ restaurant Kristalbelli. This is not your typical K-Town restaurant. The concept was conceived by the young entrepreneur and entertainer J.Y. Park (JYP) who wanted to create a very high-end and authentic Korean food experience. The chef is David Shim whose portfolio includes Gramercy Tavern and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. 

From the outside of 36th Street, the massive wooden doors are your first hint that this restaurant may be different from its neighbors in the area. Your suspicion is right. Upon entering, you are transported to a posh and contemporary restaurant (including a new lounge, Juga, upstairs) with high ceilings and glossy walls. 

We started our evening at Juga with a lovely St. Germain margarita, a smooth and delicate take on a traditional cocktail.  Once dinner was ready, we sat down at one of the communal marble tables. One of the unique features of the restaurant is the belly-shaped crystal grills in each table. JYP personally designed the grills. Crystal grills enable faster grilling time and help sear and hold in the juices of the meats. Additionally, these grills essentially eliminate any odors or smoke that arise from grilling indoors so there are no harmful residues.  

We started with small plates of various appetizers, which included homemade tofu with vegetables, tuna tartare, pork belly, and pancakes with meat and seafood.  After our appetizers it was time to get grilling. My favorite part of the experience was having the uniformed waiter grill your vegetables and meat for you. 
He walked us through the advantages of the grills and guided us through the authentic Korean way to eat a wonderfully seared rib eye: sprinkle your steak with Kristalbelli's recommended sea salt, which has less sodium than others on the market; place your meat in a pickled radish; top with a slice of kimchi; and wrap like a taco. It's delicious and I loved the simplicity of just having the steak with the sea salt. You can also use other condiments, such as their homemade honey mustard and plum sauce.

Kristalbelli was definitely a fun experience. While it's a splurge meal, Kristalbelli is a unique  place to celebrate a special occasion with an intimate group or a favorite dining companion. Get the tuna tartare and grilled rib eye. It's worth it.

Here's a photo of our dinner in "action"...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Review: Blue Apron, Christmas for a Chef

 I was like a little girl on Christmas Eve waiting up for Santa arrive for my first Blue Apron delivery. For those of you who don't know, Blue Apron is a new meal service company, which sends a box of ingredients perfectly packaged for you to cook three meals a week in the comfort of your own home. Deliveries arrive on Tuesdays between 6-10 pm. My first delivery arrived at 9:55 pm (they just made it!) and with great haste, I ripped open the box and jumped in.

It really was like Christmas for a chef. I loved seeing a box full of local ingredients portioned and packaged all ready to go.  This week's meal featured Salmon with Fennel Two Ways and Cauliflower Steak; Turkey Meatloaf with Roasted Potatoes and Spinach; and Gnocchi with Sausage and Savoy Cabbage. 
I decided to make the Salmon for my first meal. I grabbed the recipe, which had the ingredients written clearly on one side and photos with step-by-step instructions on the other. The meal was a piece of cake to make: slice the cauliflower and roast, slice the fennel and mix it with the olives, parsley, lemon, and olive oil, and then rub the fennel rub on the salmon, and sear. The entire meal was ready in less than 20 minutes and the recipe was easy to follow. 

The best part is that it was delicious. The North Atlantic salmon was perfectly seasoned with the ground fennel rub (I loved this rub so much that I found myself scraping up the charred salmon skin bits leftover in the skillet) and I liked how the cauliflower was roasted and charred as I'm always looking for new ways to play with cauliflower.  The the acidity of the fennel salad with the lemon and olives cut the richness of the fatty salmon and salty cauliflower.  I paired the meal with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. 
On Wednesday I cooked the Turkey Meatloaf with Roasted Potatoes and Spinach. We were due for a Nor'easter so thought it was the perfect comfort food to consume during a storm. Now, I am actually not a meatloaf fan.  In fact, I usually stay away as much as possible. The words "meat" and "loaf" shouldn't go together, even if you were a famous 1980s rock singer, but I digress. I pushed my fears aside and plunged ahead. Lucky for me; I had a nice surprise. The turkey meat was Pat Lafrieda and the "loaf" was filled with herbs de provence, onion, celery, and garlic (and ketchup, of course). I loved having a lighter meat that was so fragrant with the melodic herbs. The spinach and potatoes were lovely complements as well. We paired our dinner with a California Cab and it truly was the perfect comfort meal.
Our last meal was the Gnocchi, which was one of my favorites. I loved the sauteed sweet cabbage and red onions with the hint of acidity from the red wine vinegar. The Pat LaFrieda sausage was so well crafted as well. The dish was  particularly good with shaved Locatelli cheese gently folded onto the pasta. 

I will certainly order Blue Apron again. While you don't get to choose your specific meals (they now offer a vegetarian option), it's a nice plan for those who often get home late and don't feel like going to the grocery store and starting a meal from scratch. Also, the meals are so easy, quick to prepare, and delicious!

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Our Honeymoon Part II: Parisian Culinary Highlights

A week in Italy feasting daily on pasta, pizza, and gelato daily didn't prepare me for the richness of France's cuisine. I've been to France a few times so it wasn’t like I was a novice. Perhaps it was a race to the finish since it was the end of the honeymoon? 

Within three days, we consumed foie gras, pâté, and head cheese--and that's only the offal department. Additionally we devoured steak, duck, lamb, and pastries (a cardiologist's nightmare). Lucky for me, Paris was a walking city so I didn’t gain 10 kilos. But I digress . . . and am by no means complaining. Our trip was a gastronomic orgasm. Here are a few of my favorite meals:

We arrived in Paris and went to a hip bistro called La Regalade. They had a 35E three-course prix fixe. Instead of the traditional bread and butter on tables, La Regalade gives each table a terrine of pâté, a jar of cornichons, and fresh baked bread. Other nice dishes were the squid ink risotto with calamari, and filet of veal with snap peas and rigatoni. Their desserts were also delicious. We loved the mason jar of rice pudding and the praline souffle.
While in Paris, we had the pleasure of dining with our French uncles, Claude and Dominique for a Sunday lunch. Our meal included foie gras, head cheese, monkfish in a blanquette sauce, braised mushrooms and leeks, a cheese course, and sorbet from the famous Berthillon. Each course was paired with excellent French wines. Did I mention this was lunch?

One of our last meals was at Chez Fernand, a darling restaurant in the 6th arrondisement. We feasted on French onion soup, escargot, and braised lamb shank served with legumes. We shared a bottle of Bordeaux that paired excellently with the rich local fare.

I cannot express in writing and photos what an amazing trip our honeymoon was. I hope I inspired you to take a trip to Italy and France. I cannot recommend it enough!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Our Honeymoon Part I: Italian Culinary Highlights of Rome, Alghero, and Positano

We have returned from an incredibly delicious honeymoon filled with beautiful sites, culinary endeavors, and local wines. We traveled to Rome, Sardinia, Pompeii, Positano, Capri, and Paris.  Each city had so many delicacies and I spent much of my time ooh-ing and aah-ing over the smallest bite. I consumed so many memorable meals that I could write a new blog to cover all of the food I tasted. Instead, I will devote two blog postings to the trip: one to Italy and the other to France.
In Rome, we stuck with the basics: pasta, pizza bianca, cappuccinos, and gelato.  One of our most memorable dinners was at Campana. I had the fettucine with cream and black truffles. As you can imagine, this dish was incredibly decadent. I never have had such amazing truffles in my life. Every bite enlivened my senses. Make sure to get your share of truffles next time you're in Italy.
For lunches, we explored the sinuous streets and found two restaurants that we loved. 
One was Il Bocaro, a tiny restaurant situated on a cobblestoned alley. We stuffed our faces with homemade burrata like we've never tasted and rigatoni with crispy sage, bacon, and Parmesan cheese (let me know if you have a recipe for this dish as I need to recreate it). 
We also explored the Jewish district, which had interesting food.  We feasted on eggplant Parmesan and fried artichokes prepared in a Jewish style at the famous Giggettos.  
I have never tasted fried artichokes like these. The artichokes were the perfect balance of crunchiness and saltiness. Every leaf was a pleasure to consume.
In Alghero, Sardinia, we dined on local seafood. One of our most memorable meals was at Il Pavone, where I had an amazing sea bass served in a gratin style with crispy potatoes and fresh local spinach. Every bite was fantastic and you could certainly taste the freshness of the fish that was caught earlier that day.  Even my husband said it was one of the best seafood dishes of his life.
In Positano, we went to Lo Guarracino, a pizzeria that came highly recommended by friends. We sat on a cliff that over looked the sea. For 12E we sipped on a liter of local red wine while we gobbled down a 14E pizza topped with mozzarella, caramelized red onions, and local ham. The pizza was so delicious that we actually considered returning for dinner, instead we went to Next2, which featured local farm food. During our stay, we also ate sublime bruschetta with toasted bread that was rubbed with fresh garlic and topped with local Italian tomatoes and mozzarella. 
And that wraps up my Italian culinary highlights. If anyone is going to Italy soon, please let me know as I have many restaurant recommendations. Stay tuned for a Paris post!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rosh Hashanah

I apologize for my recent quietness the past few weeks. As many of you know, I am getting married this weekend. So as you can imagine, I've been a bit preoccupied. Before I depart for the festivities and honeymoon, I wanted to share this delicious dinner my fiance and I made for a casual Rosh Hashanah dinner party.  

The menu consisted of Julia Child's Roasted Chicken served with Saveur's Savory Kugel, Food &Wine's Roasted Beets and Celery Root with Goat Butter, and a side of arugula and raisin challah from Zabars.

The chicken was quite on point.  For this particular roast, I decided to go a little rogue and added fennel stems in the roaster and also placed half a lemon and tarragon leaves inside the cavity. I always feel a need to dress my chicken to the fullest--I just can't resist! I also like to take a few tablespoons of melted butter and massage the outer and under-layer of the chicken skin. I promise this will lead to crispy and delicious chicken skin. 
As for the kugel, I usually go with sweet, but this savory version may change my tune. The crispy noodles were a perfect complement to the sauteed onions and rich cheese mixture.
The Roasted Beets and Celery Root recipe intrigued me for several reasons. I have never cooked with celery root and was excited when Fairway had the vegetable in stock. I simply sliced off the outter skin and chopped the vegetable like I usually do for kohlrabi.  I was also intrigued by goat butter. Unfortunately I couldn't find the butter at Fairway, but luckily I have Zabars at my finger tips. 
I really loved this dish; it was relatively easy to make and the goat butter adds a decadent consistency.

So now I must bid you adieu. Looking forward to sharing my food photos from Italy and France in just a few weeks! Ciao!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Farmers Market Salad

I don’t think anyone can argue that this weekend was absolutely gorgeous. I felt lucky to be able to bask in the beautiful weather and even more grateful that I got to take advantage of the Upper West Side farmers market. In honor of a last gasp for summer, I created this simple, yet tasteful summer salad. Hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy it before the weather gets too chilly.

4 leaves of raw kale torn into small pieces
2 small heirloom tomatoes sliced
2 tablespoons of shaved fennel
1 tablespoon of homemade pesto or any variety you like (I used Marcella Hazan’s recipe)
1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese
1 dash of maldon salt
2 cracks of fresh black pepper

Mix all together and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Restaurant Review: A Tasting at Muse at Vanderbilt Grace Hotel in Newport, RI (aka my 100th Post)

Happy 100th birthday to Les Foodites! I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of my readers and supporters as I celebrate the 100th post. I am excited to reach this milestone and feel so grateful to share it with my loyal followers. So thank you.
I thought I'd feature a special post for this occasion. 
I recently had the opportunity to indulge in a private tasting with Chef Amanda Charbonneau at the signature Muse restaurant at the Vanderbilt Grace Hotel in Newport, RI. Chef Charbonneau recently graduated from Johnson & Wales and has been the Head Chef at Muse for several months. 

Our tasting took place in a lovely private garden at the Vanderbilt Grace. We were greeted with champagne (always a welcome "welcome"). The first dish that we tasted was a tuna tartare with red and yellow peppers, topped with bruleed feta, a hard boiled quail egg, and olive tapenade surrounding the tartare.  This was one of the best tuna tartares I have ever tasted. The tuna was so fresh and perfectly seasoned, and the accompanying grilled feta and salty tapenade were a wonderful complement. The addition of a quail egg  gave this dish even more elegance and uniqueness.
Our second course was Napa Cabbage with shaved carrots, toasted cashews, grapefruit segments, cilantro, and mint leaves. This dish was light and managed to keep a balance between the crispness of the vegetables and sweetness of the fruits and herbs. 

Our third course was a seared halibut plated over a spring onion and pea risotto, sauteed cauliflower, and a lemon beurre blanc sauce. This course really knocked my socks off. I've had several discouraging experiences with halibut of late, namely that the fish was dry and flaky. However, this rendition made me believe that halibut can indeed be delicious if given the time and attention it deserves. The fish was perfectly seared, enveloping the moist white flesh that practically melted on my fork and in my mouth. A sensual and delicate delight.
The fourth course was a sirloin steak topped with an herbed butter and served over sauteed asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes. Sounds typical, right? This preparation brought back my love for meat and potatoes. The perfect crispy, salty outer layer sealed in the juiciness of the red meat. A real crowd pleaser.

Finally, our tasting ended with a vanilla bean creme brulee served with fresh berries.  A lovely finish to our decadent tasting. 

I was so utterly delighted with our meal that I am determined to visit Muse as much as possible when back in Newport. Next time you're in Newport, RI, make sure to book a reservation at Muse . . . and give my regards to the chef! 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Recipe Pick: Best Summer Sides

The other night I was invited to a summer dinner party and was tasked to make two side dishes. I was pretty excited about my responsibility as I had recently come across an email from Food & Wine featuring best summer sides. I decided on the Warm Potato Salad with Arugula and a Napa Cabbage Salad and, to my delight, they were big hits. I pretty much followed the recipes to a tee for both dishes with the exception of the potato salad, to which I added sauteed prosciutto bits (I recommend this addition) and used baby red potatoes. What I like about this dish is that instead of boiling potatoes, you roast them on high heat and then toss with a dressing, prosciutto or bacon, and then fresh arugula, which eventually almost melts into the salad. The cabbage salad had a slight Asian flair and I found that the flavors infused the longer I let the dressing marinate the cabbage leaves.

For the main course, our host challenged us with grilling a whole piece of branzino. Thanks to Fresh Direct, the fish was gutted so it was easy to stuff the cavity with lemon and cilantro. Once the fish was generously greased with olive oil, we grilled the entire fish for several minutes on each side waiting for the skin to "give" before flipping. This was my first experience with grilling whole fish and it was quite pleasant (again, thanks to Fresh Direct). With just a little salt and pepper, this fish is healthful and quite flavorful. The only misstep made was accidentally dropping the grilled fish eyes into the grill. Oh well, there is always a next time! 

Stay tuned for the 100th anniversary post of Les Foodités. Coming soon!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Restaurant Review: Pasta Beach, Boston, MA

I have spent many memorable and fun-filled weekends in Boston over the summer. Often we stay with our very hospitable friends Pat and Katie, who reside in a lovely building that just happens to house a restaurant called Pasta Beach.

This particular Pasta Beach is a sister restaurant to the original location in Newport, RI. In all of my years of visiting and staying in Newport, I have never had the pleasure of dining there. Several of our friends have worked there and I've heard many claim that it’s “one of my favorite restaurants in Newport.”

Due to my frequent stays in Boston, I was hoping to find an opportunity to officially indulge in the restaurant. After two failed attempts (closed for a private party and miscommunication with friends), I lucked out with the third; a Sunday lunch. 

My suggestion would be to go after 12 noon, and don’t fiddle around with the brunch menu. It  is very limited, i.e., does not offer any salads or pastas. Once the clock strikes noon, you’re golden, as the menu opens up to a bevy of carbohydrate-filled items that your willpower won't resist and your taste buds will celebrate.

We ordered the Verde Mista, Bucatini Amatriciana (try saying that aloud), and a small Pepperoni Pizza.

My official rating after waiting all of these years? Pretty good.  Definitely not on the same tier as Babbo, but enjoyable and affordable nonetheless. The salad was basic, but I appreciated the generous portion and fancy arugula greens. The pasta was good as well. I find Bucatini Amatriciana to be a real crowd-pleaser: tube-shaped noodles, tomato sauce, and thick slabs of bacon, with sautéed onions. How can you go wrong? I would suggest adding a few dashes of red hot pepper flakes for a little kick. The pizza was tasty as well. It was baked in a brick oven, which is always a nice touch. My only complaint was the inner crust was slightly doughy for my taste. I’m not a fan of crust/tomato/cheese mush.

Would I go back? Yes, particularly because the wine list--which is chock full of Italian reds--looks like it may be one of the best draws. Now the decision: do I indulge in Boston or Newport? Tough choice, I know.