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!