Adventures in Dining

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Po, May 31, 2007 June 8, 2007

Filed under: Manhattan Dining,New York Restaurants — hpandaw @ 8:55 pm

On this evening, we were having dinner with our friend Pam, one of my former co-workers, and a fellow “foodie” friend. Sweet alliteration! She had suggested dining at Po, on 31 Cornelia St., between Bleecker and W. 4th St., and, as usual, she did not steer us wrong.

We started with white bean brushetta, which we all enjoyed very much. I hadn’t expected white beans to be so flavorful, and they were oily without being too oily, if that makes any sense.

We each ordered different entrees, so that we could taste a bit of everything. On the recommendation of a review I’d read of this restaurant, I ordered the White Bean Ravioli with Balsamic Brown Butter Sauce. This doesn’t sound like much, but the dish was outstanding. The brown butter sauce was flavorful and delicious, again without being too oily, and the balsamic added a nice touch of sweetness. I would strongly recommend this entree to anyone. My only problem was that, since there wasn’t very much of this dish, it wasn’t very filling.

My husband had the gnocchi, which were also outstanding. They were soft and fluffy and had a lot of flavor.

Our friend Pam ordered the Linguine Vongole with fresh clams, pancetta, chilies and white wine. I didn’t taste this dish, because of the pancetta, but she reported that it was very good, with a lot of flavor.

We were a bit surprised to realize, after we were seated, that this restaurant accepted only Amex, not Visa or Mastercard. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. Since we were without Amexes all the way around, this took us a bit by surprise, but luckily we scraped up enough cash to cover the bill and tip. Whew!


Miscellaneous Manhattan – the Diamond Dairy and Union Square Farmer’s Market June 2007

Filed under: Manhattan Dining,New York Restaurants — hpandaw @ 8:35 pm

While on my own, I ventured into the Diamond Dairy for breakfast. This was yet another find from Chowhound. It was a very small Kosher restaurant located inside the Diamond Exchange. Because I got there before the Diamond Exchange was open, I had to enter, not through the Exchange, as I’d read, but through the next doorway down. A security guard sent me up a flight of stairs, and when I exited, I was inside this restaurant. It’s located, by the way, at 4 W. 47th St, between 5th and 6th Aves.

There was only one other table occupied when I entered the restaurant, so I was seated immediately. The table had a pamphlet of the various brachot to be said before, during, and after meals; as I’ve said before, this was a very Kosher restaurant. The server instructed me to turn my menu over for the breakfast special: 2 eggs, potatoes, a bagel with cream cheese, and a coffee for $3.25. You can’t beat that deal with a stick, especially for midtown Manhattan.

The food was pretty good, not great, but just standard breakfast fare. The thing that really made this restaurant worthwhile was the view. One entire wall is a glass panel, with a view down into the Diamond Exchange. Because I got there early, I was able to watch the merchants set up their booths below. We’d lived in New York for a few years, and so had done most of the touristy stuff; on this trip, I was looking for more unique experiences, and this was definitely one of them. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos. I didn’t want them to think that I was casing the joint (to use my 1940’s criminal lingo) for a future diamond coup.

The other place where we ate was at Bryant Park, just like old times. My husband and I had both worked in midtown, so we used to pack lunches and meet up at the park for our lunch hour. We’d gone the day before to the Union Square Farmer’s Market, and had bought 2 pieces of cheese from the sheep’s milk cheese stand from Jersey. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the farm, but there were two goat’s milk stands and only one sheep’s milk stand there. One cheese was firm, with a mild animal taste that I enjoyed very much. As I said earlier, I like to be able to taste the animal in my cheese. It cost $22/lb.

The next cheese was our favorite. When the guy at the stand asked us what kind of cheese we liked, we instantly replied, “Smelly!” He had given a taste of this, and boy, was it ever smelly. It was delicious: soft, creamy, and with a lot more flavor than a brie or camembert. It cost $19/lb, and was worth every penny. I would strongly recommend a stop by this booth for the cheese lover who has time to spend in Manhattan.


Buddha Bodai June 2, 2007

Filed under: Manhattan Dining,New York Restaurants — hpandaw @ 8:22 pm

I’d read about this restaurant on Chowhound, and, being a pescatarian, I was eager to give at least one vegetarian restaurant a try while we were back in New York, before heading home to the wilds of Orlando. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to bring the address with me when we set out that morning, though I did remember that it was somewhere on Mott Street in Chinatown. Turns out it was on 5 Mott Street, so we pretty much walked the length of the street, and were just about to turn around despairingly, when I caught a glimpse of the very place I’d been seeking.

Because the restaurant was vegetarian, and was frequented by Buddhist monks, I felt reasonably confident that I could order food here without being concerned about those small pieces of mystery meat and those mystery stocks that seem to appear in vegetarian dishes at other Chinese restaurants I’d frequented.

We were seated and were immediately rewarded by the appearance of a Buddhist monk. The Kashrus certificate on the wall testified to this being the kind of restaurant where pork wouldn’t appear on my plate like a slug in my salad.

We ordered a variety of dim sum, which came out one or two at a time. Our first dish was a vegetarian ham rice roll. Living in the wilds of Orlando as we do, we do not have access to vegetarian ham, and I’d been wanting to try some ever since reading about it in one of Linda McCartney’s cookbooks. The texture and appearance are fairly similar to ham, though the taste really isn’t that close to the real thing. Because we were only given chopsticks, not forks, it was extremely difficult to cut the very thick and slippery rice roll into bite sizes. We watched a neighboring table of Asian women struggle with the same dish, until finally one of them asked for a fork. We persisted with the chopsticks, though, and were rewarded, after much effort, with a piece small enough to eat in one bite. These rolls didn’t have a whole lot of flavor; all of the flavor was in the sauce, which was rapidly absorbed by the rice. By the time we’d each finished cutting our first rice rolls, the third roll had absorbed much sauce in some areas, and no sauce in others, so the flavor was a bit spotty. In retrospect, I would not order this dish again.

We also ordered a vegetarian shrimp rice roll, which was yet another mistake. It had even less flavor than the first roll, and by the time this roll arrived, I was all rice-rolled out. We proceeded on to the next dish.

This was a spring roll, kind of a Chinese restaurant standby. Again, it was a bit lacking in flavor, but the dipping sauce that accompanied the dish was quite good and tasted just like a duck sauce, which it probably was.

The next dish was a fried “oyster” served with greens and topped with noodles that were so thin and dark that, unfortunately, it appeared a cat had hacked out a hairball into the middle of our food. The oysters were okay, but lacked flavor. The greens, however, were the real standout here. They were surprisingly rich in flavor, and, paired with the oysters spiced them up to such an extent that the oysters tasted pretty good. This was my second favorite dish of those we ordered. My husband was fascinated by the thinness and texture of the noodles, and he ate most of these. I couldn’t get past the image of a cat hairball enough to give the noodles more than a taste.

Finally, to finish up, we had durian pastry. My husband had been wanting to try durian fruit and, due to the whole “wilds of Orlando” thing (believe it or not, we could get this in Charlotte, but not in Orlando!), this was his one chance. The durian pastry was my favorite dish. It was very warm on the inside, and sweet, though not too sweet. The moist, flavorful filling provided a nice contrast to the flaky, dry pastry.

Overall, while this was a good place to venture to on holiday, it probably isn’t a place to which I’d return. There are so many other great places to eat in Manhattan that the mediocrity of the foods here don’t offset the interesting atmosphere.


The Nook May 30 & 31, 2007

Filed under: Manhattan Dining,New York Restaurants — hpandaw @ 7:55 pm

Yes, we liked this place enough to return for lunch the next day. It was so good, especially for the amount we paid, that we walked away from here much better satisfied than after our Per Se dinner.

The friend with whom we were dining was good friends with the Nook’s owner, Konrad, and he’d made reservations for us at 8 pm. The Nook is, indeed, a nook in the truest sense of the word. It has maybe 24 seats in the entire restaurant. It’s located on 9th Ave between 50th and 51st St. in Manhattan. Though it’s so close to the theatre district, it isn’t at all the typical touristy restaurant, thankfully.

(The man pictured here is Konrad, the owner, a quirky Polish man)

It’s a BYOB restaurant, and, since our friend had brought along a Villa Bella Amarone, we had a REALLY good time. Great food, great wine, great company.

We started with the Mushroom Cigars with White Truffle Oil, which were Portabello mushrooms and goat cheese wrapped in filo dough. These were outstanding, very rich and flavorful and creamy, and we thoroughly enjoyed them. Unfortunately, we do not have a photo of these.

We also ordered the Tuna Tartare, which was marinated with soy ginger and served with avocado over mixed greens. This was also outstanding: a roll-your-eyes delicious dish. The tuna was as soft as butter, and the creamy avocado complimented the tuna so well. The soy ginger added a nice flavor and sweetness to the dish, which was my favorite of the evening.

Our third appetizer was an order of Rosemary fries, which were done exactly the way we like them. Some people prefer large fries, others thin fries, still others crinkle-cut or waffle-cut fries. These were thin enough to be crispy, but they had enough volume to avoid being shoestring fries. The rosemary added a depth of flavor that worked very well in this dish.

For our entrees, I had the Sashimi Peppered Tuna with avocado and mixed greens. My only regret about this was that I wish there had been more. It was very light, and a dish that I would highly recommend for those interested in healthy choices. The tuna was well cooked, nice and raw on the inside, with a flavorful peppered exterior. Again, the chef had paired avocado with the tuna, and the two worked well together.

My husband ordered the Black Angus steak with peppercorn sauce and rosemary mashed potatoes. Between working on our second bottle of wine, and the excellent conversation, he forgot to specify how to cook the filet when he ordered it. However, he was not disappointed; the filet came out rare, tender, and all that he’d hoped for. It was well-seasoned and delicious, and the accompanying potatoes and asparagus were good, as well. The side of spinach was not as good; it was too bitter and oily for his taste.

We rounded dinner off with an order of apple pie and a side of ice cream. This was quite good, but not as stellar as the appetizers and entrees had been. The pie tasted slightly overcooked, but it was still definitely enjoyable.

Upon leaving, we told Konrad that the two of us would be returning for lunch the next day, and he said to come around 12:30. When we got there at 12:30, the lights were off, the chairs were up on the tables, and Konrad was hanging out. He said that his bread delivery hadn’t come yet, but that he would open up if we gave him 10 minutes. We walked around for almost 15 minutes and came back, to find The Nook open and one other table occupied already.

I ordered the grilled vegetable sandwich on a baguette with a side of the rosemary fries, and my husband ordered the Rachelle’s Spicy Cheddar Burger with rosemary fries. The grilled vegetable sandwich was very good, and the vegetables themselves had a great flavor. The only problem was that, since it was on a baguette, the vegetable filling had a tendency to slide out of the baguette, or to the back of the baguette, or, in essence, anywhere but where I wanted them to be! This is a common problem with baguette sandwiches, I’ve noticed.

The cheddar burger was bigger than he had expected. It was too big for a lunch for him, but a good size for a dinner. The burger probably could have used a little more cheese, but it was flavorful and nicely cooked. It was juicy but not greasy, which was important because of how big it was and how much time it spent in his hands up in the air. The brioche bun was a nice choice, and, had the burger been greasier, it would have destroyed the bun. However, since this burger was not greasy, the two worked very well together.


Per Se June 1, 2007 June 7, 2007

Filed under: Manhattan Dining,New York Restaurants — hpandaw @ 11:38 pm

Because Thomas Keller is one of my husband’s culinary heroes, we felt very lucky indeed when we were able to secure reservations here for a Friday night at 5:45 on our trip to New York. I will preface this by saying that we live in Orlando, and have a five-diamond restaurant here called Victoria & Albert’s. We were expecting something similar, as far as the quality of the experience, but we were, honestly, underwhelmed.

My husband ordered the Chef’s Tasting Menu, and I ordered the Tasting of Vegetables, since I don’t eat meat. My husband normally doesn’t eat meat, but he makes an exception for vacations.

We were seated at a table with a lovely view of the city skyline:

We began with an amuse bouche: a cone of salmon for my husband and a cone of sundried tomatoes for myself. The sundried tomatoes were delicious, very flavorful, and the creaminess of this texture contrasted nicely with the crunchiness of the cone. The salmon cone had a creamy mousse at the bottom of the cone, with the salmon all at the top. He enjoyed this very much.

My husband’s first course was Oysters and Pearls, a sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and Sterling White sturgeon caviar. This was delicious and salty, but I am a big fan of caviar anyway. This was definitely the best dish I tasted all evening. The oysters were plump, though deceptively tiny. My husband really enjoyed all three elements together: the tapioca, the oyster, and the caviar. The tapioca had a savouriness that was different from the salty savouriness of the caviar. It was my husband’s second favorite dish, and we both thought it was outstanding. Our server told us that these oysters were specifically harvested to be of a uniform size.

My first course was a chilled chickpea soup, eggplant and sultana marmalade with garden mint mousse. This was a very light, very subtly flavored dish. It wasn’t outstanding, but I did appreciate the subtlety of the flavors. I was not expecting to enjoy this, since I’m not a fan of chickpeas, but the mint taste dominated even though, as I said, the whole taste was very, very light.

My husband’s next course was a terrine ofHudson Valley Moulard duck foie gras. This came with an apricot coulis and slices of apricots and onions. It was his favorite dish of the evening. He could have done without the onions; he felt they didn’t add anything to the dish. The foie gras was well seasoned; he could feel the individual flakes of salt, which added to the crispiness of the sear on the foie gras. The inside was perfect; the texture was almost like a thick pudding, and it melted in the mouth. He gave me a taste of the apricots, and they were delicious. He said that they paired very well with the foie gras.

My next course was a salad of “haricots verts” with Roma tomato petals, red wine vinegar cream, petites lettuces, and chive-infused olive oil. For some reason, we don’t seem to have a photo of this dish. It was, again, very light. The haricots verts were crisp and had a good, light flavor, but weren’t standouts in any way. The roma tomato puree had a nice, rich taste that offset the lightness of the beans.

My husband’s next course was a sauteed filet of rouget barbet with English cucumber, piquille peppers, Spring garlic, Picholine olives and cranberry bean puree. This was possibly the fishiest fish I’ve ever tasted. It was definitely not what I expected from a restaurant of this caliber. The cranberry bean puree seemed to cut the fishiness, but I was still unpleasantly surprised to see how fishy this fish was, if I might attempt to squeeze the maximum amount of “fish” into this sentence.

My next course was slow baked heirloom beets with leek “batons,” navel orange segments, bulls blood greens and red beet essence. This dish had a very light, fresh taste, though, again, did not stand out. I enjoyed the beets more than I had thought I would, since I’m not a huge beet fan either. The very thin, crispy slices of beets added a fun element to this colorful dish.

My husband’s next dish was a pan-roasted Maine sea scallop with split peas, Greenmarket carrots, Tokyo turnips, and “Mousseline Paloise.” The scallop was good, but not great. The sear and seasoning on it, like those of the foie gras, were awesome, but it could have used a little more salt and most of it was cooked for a little too long on the inside. The mint was a little pervasive, and it permeated every bite that he had of the accompanying vegetables.

Next, I had Violet artichokes “a la Grecque” with pickled Chanterelle mushrooms, celery branch, sweet carrots, and coriander seed vinaigrette. The sauce for this dish was far too celery-flavored for my enjoyment. Celery has a very strong taste, and you either love it or hate it. I hate it. The mushrooms were good, but the pickling added a tartness to them that I didn’t enjoy very much.

My next dish was Sacramento Delta Green Asparagus with soft-boiled Squire Hill Farm’s Araucana hen egg, “Pommes Maxim’s” and black winter truffle coulis. This was a very strange dish. The egg was very bland, not seasoned at all, and it was too underdone for me. I like my yolk runny, but not the whites. The “Pommes Maxim’s” were very thin and crispy and tasted like bland potato chips. I was not a fan of this dish.

My husband’s next dish was pan roasted “Cervelle de Veau,” with Heart of Romaine lettuce, caramelized spring onions, and cider vinegar sauce, i.e. veal brain. It was very rich and required the cider vinegar sauce to cut through the richness. He would not have been able to eat it without a similarly acidic dressing. It was interesting, like sweetbreads but less flavorful. The breading on it reminded him of a breading his father used to fry squash when he was a child. It was a floury, sagey, thymey breading. The onions were not good with the brain itself, but they were good on their own with the cider.

My next dish was probably my favorite one of those served to me. It was Dancing Ewe Farm’s fresh ricotta agnolotti with arugula leaves, Castelvetrano olives, ricotta salata and extra virgin olive oil emulsion. The ricotta inside the pasta was lovely and creamy, and it paired very well with the tartness of the sauce and the olives. The sauce cut through the heaviness of the cheese and pasta. It was very good, but not eye-rollingly good.

My husband had the Snake River Farm’s “calotte de boef grillee” with crispy bone marrow, hop shoots, Cepe mushrooms, Yukon gold “pommes puree” and “sauce Bordelaise.” The beef had a nice grain to it, but it wasn’t fatty. It was very soft and not chewy, and he would have expected more fat to it, since it was so soft and moist. It had an oddly lamb-like taste that he kept remarking on as he ate. The marrow was a little soapy and, by the time he got to it, it was cold. He enjoyed the hops, because they tasted like asparagus.

I then had a Gorgonzola Cremificato on rosemary focaccia, radicchio tardivo and “balsamico al Ginepro.” The gorgonzola was light, not too sharp, and I liked it with the “balsamico.” My husband liked my cheese course better than his own.

My husband had the Monte Enebro with marinated early summer squash, petit basil and yellow squash vinaigrette. This was a Spanish goat cheese, which he found a little soapy. I really enjoyed this cheese, more than my own gorgonzola, while he preferred the gorgonzola. I like to be able to really taste the animal in my cheese, and this was nice and goaty.

The sorbet course came next. My sorbet was a charentais melon sorbet with yogurt pound cake, almond “croustillant” and honeydew foam. This was a very, very light melon sorbet. It tasted like canteloupe, but even lighter than that. The honeydew foam was good, and contributed to the general lightness of this dish. I kept expecting it to float off the plate. I generally prefer a sorbet with a little more flavor and tartness, but this had its own merits. The almond “croustillant” was crunchy and sweet and paired nicely with the sorbet.

My husband had the wild blackberry sorbet with cornmeal “financier,” pine nut “nougatine” and thyme foam. This sorbet was very intense, and more my style. It was more foamy and moussy than other sorbets that we’ve had – almost closer to gelato. The cornmeal tasted just like a small piece of cornbread, so it was an odd combination with the sorbet. It did have a sweetness to it and was crunchy, so the two worked well together.

My dessert was very, very odd. I don’t know that I liked it, but I didn’t dislike it. It was called “Parfum d’Orient” and was a green tea “Madeleine,” poached rainier cherries, vanilla “caviar” and orange blossom “nuage” with Brooks Cherry sorbet. The vanilla caviar and perfume foam tasted so strange. The “caviar” was these little gummy balls, and I’m not really fond of gumminess. The “Parfum d’Orient” tasted just like eating a bite of foam made of perfume, not like food at all, and the green tea cake had a savouriness to it that made it a very weird dessert. The cherries were the best part – they were very sweet.

My husband’s dessert was better than mine. It was a “Tarte au chocolat noir et banane” with caramelized banana, candied walnuts and banana sorbet with caramel jam. Bananas and chocolate are always a good combination. The long chocolate bar had a crispy base, almost like a dark chocolate Kit Kat, but this chocolate was very good quality. The caramelized bananas were too cold, which detracted from their flavor; they had a frozen center.

After this, I was still hungry. The portions had been so tiny, and I really hadn’t had much that was filling. They then brought out our other dessert courses and, I’m sorry to say, I had to fill up on chocolates. Sorry because I resented the fact that I’d dropped massive dollars only to end up filling up on tiny chocolates, not the meal I’d planned for. I am a tiny person and don’t weigh even 100 pounds, so when I say I was not full, I mean that a grown man would probably have to leave here and eat dinner at a real restaurant.

Luckily, they began bringing out some extra desserts. I really liked this next one, which was a pot of apricot jam and yogurt, served with shortbread cookies. The yogurt was deliciously tart and sweet at the same time, and the apricot jam was very flavorful. The cookies were a little thick and mealy, so they diminished my enjoyment of the apricot yogurt somewhat.

Then came the chocolates. They were very oddly flavored. There was a rootbeer flavored chocolate, which really tasted like rootbeer extract. Very funky. There was a peach chocolate that was pretty mild, and a yogurt-filled chocolate that was repulsive. There was a raspberry chocolate and a pumpkin chocolate (our favorite) and several others that we can’t remember.

Finally, they brought out a silver dish of pistachio nougat, truffles, and caramels. At this point, I had overdosed on sweets and didn’t want to eat any of these, but I did try a pistachio nougat. It was all right but I just wasn’t in the mood for any more sweets.

I had a Knoll Gruner white wine with dinner, at the suggestion of my server. It was okay, but didn’t stand out in any way. I’m not a fan of white wines to begin with, so I probably would have been better off to just order a glass of red, instead of taking the server’s recommendation.

My husband had a Brewer Clifton, which we both liked a lot. It had a lot of berry and dark fruit notes, and it had a nice oakiness on the finish. His dessert wine was a Schistes, which tasted like a port-y sherry, but it was not remarkable. It was not too sweet.

Overall, we were underwhelmed. When I spend that much money on dinner, I expect at least half of the dishes to eye-rollingly good, and I can honestly say that the only dish I ate that was eye-rollingly good was the oysters & pearls dish at the beginning of the dinner. My husband would add the foie gras to this list, but we both agreed that we expected more oomph for our dollars. At Victoria & Albert’s, we roll our eyes at most everything that comes out, so this was disappointing in comparison. I was also disappointed at the lack of customization of the menu. There are only 2 choices at Per Se: the Chef’s Tasting Menu and the Tasting of Vegetables. Because I am a pescatarian, I was given only the option of the vegetable menu, and thus I missed out on many dishes that I could have been eating.

Overall, we were glad that we’d tried it, or else we would have always been curious. But we definitely wouldn’t eat there again; we found better quality food at other, much, MUCH less expensive restaurants in Manhattan.