February 5, 2012 § Leave a comment
First, Crif Dogs. I managed to hit up both the new location in Williamsburg and the old standby on St. Marks. Got Chihuahua dogs (bacon wrapped dog covered with avocadoes and sour cream) at both places. My usual, although sometimes I’ll go for the Jon-Jon Deragon (crif dog with a schmear of cream cheese, scallions & everything bagel seeds). Williamsburg location seems up to snuff but I had to wait for almost 40 minutes for my dog at the EV location (pretty unacceptable).
I also managed to get to the new Meatball Shop location in Williamsburg. I wasn’t too hungry so I had a couple of sliders.
I had the spicy pork ball with tomato sauce and the special, which was a Bolognese ball, with spicy meat sauce. I thought it was good, but not as spectacular as I expected based on how everyone raves about them. I have been informed that I may have orderly badly so I’ll have to give it another go.
Another first for me was Minetta Tavern where I, of course, had to sample their Black Label Burger (which is selection of prime dry-aged beef cuts with caramelized onions and pommes frites). This is a seriously hyped burger and, amazingly, it does not disappoint (although it’s pricey). The meat is juicy and packed with beefy-flavor. The Mouclade (bouchot mussels, white wine, saffron, curry, crème fraîche) which my dining partner ordered, while perhaps less famous, was also enjoyable.
Somehow Bon Chon has become my last night in NY tradition. This time we went to the 5th ave location and got the usual mix, one spicy and one soy. There is something incredibly satiating about Bon Chon chicken, simultaneously sweet and crunchy. In a word, perfect. A satisfying end to a satisfying week.
January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
Roberta’s, about a ten minute walk from my apartment, was always my go-to neighborhood spot when I lived in Brooklyn. It’s really one of the only decent places you can go without taking the subway plus it has the added bonus of being close to the Narrows (the only place in the neighborhood that serves up a serious cocktail). No doubt you’ve heard a thousand wonderful things about Roberta’s from the NY Times, GQ, and any food critic that matters.
The thing is, I love Roberta’s. But I don’t agree with the critics. I will defend Roberta’s as having one of the city’s best brunches. Their pancakes are irreproachable, the pork jowl with poached egg and polenta is more than noteworthy, and the fried chicken is my favorite in NYC.
I will even defend their pizza. This wasn’t true for a long time. Their pizza has always been decent but expensive and not nearly on the level of places like Motorino. The last time I ate there, when I still lived in Brooklyn, I had the Beastmaster and was shocked to find Roberta’s pizza, suddenly on par with pretty much anywhere in NY. On my return this winter I shared the Duck Hunt (pawlet, duck prosciutto, sweet potato, leek, onion, chili flake, black pepper) with a couple of friends. While I still prefer Motorino, there is no denying this is an impeccable pizza.
But at that time, and to this day, I will not defend their other dinner options. Let me rephrase. Their dinner options are not bad, per se. But they are small and overpriced, especially taking into account that they are hardly perfect. Let me start with my minute serving of Foie Gras (almond, black pepper, apple) for $17. I admit, the waiter warned me it was small. In general, I have no issue with this kind of portioning, especially for an ingredient like foie. And the foie was perfectly fine. But for $17 dollars (for what is really a small plate), I expect at least perfection. The dish was, unfortunately, ruined by the ‘apple’ component. Not only did it not make sense in the context of the dish but, even more reprehensibly, the apple was mealy. In my book, mealy apples are unforgivable and that bite of apple ruined my entire experience.
This brings me to the Octopus (black garlic, treviso, sea bream) and Bay Scallops (trout skin, meyer lemon), which my compatriots ordered, $16 and $17 respectively. These were well composed dishes but again, the portions were tiny. Where does Roberta’s get off serving food that, while relatively good in quality, is regularly overpriced? And I mean overpriced compared to any fine dining restaurant in the Manhattan with a similar creative aesthetic and quality.
Roberta’s gets away with it because of the novelty of being a good restaurant in an unlikely neighborhood, for being ‘hip’, and for being over-hyped by critics like Sam Sifton. People with money from Manhattan come and they think, wow I’m in some godforsaken area of Bushwick, it feels underground and undiscovered and unexpected and well, cool. This is despite the fact that these days the place is always crowded. I think people who are blown away by Roberta’s have merely lowered their standards, perhaps without consciously realizing it. Because it’s in Bushwick. Because the exterior looks abandoned.
Roberta’s has value to me for their brunch, for their pizza, as a place to hang out and have a drink, and as a neighborhood restaurant. But in the larger arena of fine dining, it simply isn’t a contender.
January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
It was interesting to compare the rotisserie duck over rice I had last spring, about a week after they started serving, with their current offering. The good news – duck lunch is still amazing. Duck is great, I love duck. But this is duck like you’ve never had it before. The crispiness of the skin combined with the fat (which really actually melts in your mouth) is probably one of the most heavenly mouthfuls you could wish for. The meat is incredibly tender and full of ducky flavor. Part of the slice is actually composed of a duck sausage (containing pork) which has been stuffed into the duck under the skin and then cooked on a rotisserie. And trust me, it’s groundbreaking.
The rice component, however, was a slight disappointment. Under the sliced duck and on top of the rice are bits of fatty crispy duck. The first time I had the dish this was incorporated throughout the rice, making the rice unbelievably necessary. This time, with just a sparse sprinkling across the top, the rice felt like an unnecessary extra. The scallion pancake was also a little thinner than I remember, but equally buttery and delightful. I also tried the duck bun and have to say I was unimpressed. The duck had a strange texture, the seasoning was too sweet and acidic, and I absolutely despise the mayonnaise in that context. I would advise sticking with the pork buns.
Despite the slight flaws, duck lunch is still one of the best and most necessary meals NYC has to offer.
July 31, 2011 § Leave a comment
Grey, grey Hokkaido mornings. 70 degrees and almost August. These typical grey days are full with storm bursts, sudden downpours. I’m sitting at my chabudai nursing a headache (wine-induced) listening to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, which is for me somehow and in all ways perfect. Back to the headache, but let’s start earlier.
For dinner last night I made katsu kare, which I love but have never made before because, once upon a time, hot oil scared me (tonkatsu isn’t actually deep-fried). I used a recipe from No Recipes, which I think is a really lovely website. I don’t have a thermometer so I was kind of winging the cooking time and temperature. I tested the heat of the oil by throwing some panko in and waiting until it sizzled, then kept the flame around medium high to keep the temperature level. I ended up cooking the pork for a couple of minutes on each side until nice and golden. Just keep an eye on it.
The meat was really juicy and flavorful and the panko was nice and crisp. I laid it out on some rice with a quick curry sauce (made from curry roux cubes). The curry sauce would obviously be better if you made it yourself, but in a pinch the roux cubes work. I personally like them because they remind me of the curry my host grandmother made when I lived in Toyohashi. Continuing with my menu of nostalgic tastes, I made somen for lunch.
Somen, somen dipping sauce, sesame seeds.
Over the course of yesterday I watched Half Nelson, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and the Notebook. Over the course of the week I also watched Taxi Driver and Saturday Night Fever. Can you tell I miss New York? It was hard to see Veselka and the other places in my city and not be there. I miss New York nights, the possibilities, the mornings. It’s Sunday morning, I should be at Veselka with a bowl of borscht, a mug of hot black coffee, and the newspaper. This called for wine.
Cute, right? A birthday gift (along with whole potatoes in shrink wrap…). It’s called Higuma no Banshaku (brown bear’s nightcap), 2007 vintage, from the Furano Winery. To be honest, I am a little skeptical of most Japanese wine. I generally stick to nihonshu. It was hard for me to decipher what varietals this was made from, definitely a mix (I looked it up on their website, from what I can understand it’s a mix of mountain grapes and Seibel grapes). It’s very fruity with a sour punch. It tasted young, I think the acidity needed to be better balanced, but it was definitely drinkable and I drank the entire bottle. I needed it to get through The Notebook (an otherwise insurmountable task).