While the four-leaf motif was consistent throughout the décor, it also embodied significance with regard to the cuisine. Within moments of being seated, our server approached the table to welcome us and introduce himself. He asked if we had any allergies or food preferences, to which we replied we did not. Before leaving, he explained there was a letter for each of us, hence the letter opener on the table, and a welcoming “gift”. He continued by sharing that when we opened the letter, we would find a card with four leaves representing various flavors. Our task was to punch out the leaf whose flavor profile spoke to us the most in order to guide the chef as to which flavor we would like integrated into a dish we would enjoy during our meal.
Sitting on a comfortable and luxurious banquet made of rich brown and black leather, my eyes danced around the gorgeous dining room in an effort to take in the beauty that surrounded me. A wall of large windows with dark, carved stone grills, a tall gold leaf ceiling, crisp white tablecloths, Art Deco style light fixtures, and oversized twig and flower arrangements; this quintessential New York restaurant was perfectly paired with Chef Daniel Humm’s decadent French-grounded cooking and creative Manhattanite menu.
With a grand marble façade, oversized windows with soft, orange light pouring out, and an illuminated grey square boasting their four-leaf trademark, this is Eleven Madison Park. To say the Art Deco building, located in the famous Flatiron District in Manhattan, was magnificent would be an understatement. Walking through the revolving doors, we were transported in time and space to the 1920s; an era of opulence and progress accompanied by a jazz score playing gently in the background. We were warmly greeted by the host and hostess, who not only welcomed us, but wished The Skinny Chef, “Happy Birthday”; a thoughtful note they must have made in their computer system when I called to make the reservation several weeks prior. I was, at once, impressed by the attention to detail and as a detail oriented person myself, I continued to be astounded by the depth of knowledge, ease of conversation, and warm environment created and maintained by all members of the staff.
Now to the “gift.” Inside a bright white bakery box wrapped carefully with red string, sat a classic New York treat, two Black and White Cookies. Realizing there must be a culinary twist to these typically sweet treats, we eagerly took our first bite and our palates were met with savory flavors of cheddar and a hint of tart apple. Between the impending curiosity as to which plate would feature our chosen flavor and the pleasant surprise of a unique spin on a traditional New York dessert, we had the strong feeling that the time spent at Eleven Madison Park was sure to be an experience we would never forget.
Since it was a special occasion, The Skinny Chef’s birthday, we began with a champagne toast that was light and bubbly. Trying to decide between the wine pairing or purchasing a bottle of red, one of Eleven Madison Park’s friendly and down-to-earth sommeliers joined us at the table to provide some much needed guidance. Under his watchful eye, The Skinny Chef selected a bottle of red that was medium bodied, rich in color, had a smooth finish, and was well matched with each plate served. Thanks to the solid recommendation of one of their talented somms, The Skinny Chef and I enjoyed every last sip of Ferrando Carema 2009 throughout the evening.
According to the Michelin Guide a restaurant earning three stars is, “A restaurant worth a special journey, indicating exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients” (Michelin Guide). Considering the fact that Eleven Madison Park has earned a three star Michelin Guide rating since 2012, The Skinny Chef and I had high hopes for the tasting menu ahead.
The menu consisted of fifteen plates that were served in thoughtful portions and timed just right. With each dish came a brief description of not only what was on the plate, but where the local, fresh, quality ingredients originated and why they were considered to be symbolic of “traditional” Manhattanite cuisine. Like children listening to a bedtime story, The Skinny Chef and I hung on every word our server uttered as our mouths watered in anticipation. Once each dish was placed before us, we were given time to engage our senses and take in the colors, scents, textures, and flavors. When ordering a tasting menu, patrons always run the risk of being rushed because, as we all know, restaurants are businesses and the faster they get people in and out the more money they make. Simply stated, Eleven Madison Park doesn’t work like that. They don’t expect to turn their tables around quickly or even have multiple seatings in a single night. Instead, their focus is on their patrons and giving each person that dines at their establishment the time to take pleasure in the surroundings and cuisine, which is a consideration that I believe makes Eleven Madison Park special and unique. Just as The Skinny Chef and I demonstrated respect for the work the staff in both the Front and Back of the House put in, we felt that the staff and owners of the restaurant respected our time and the money we were about to spend on one of their meals by giving us time to truly revel in it. For me, this sense of mutual respect enhanced the entire dining experience and brought it to a level we had never experienced before and haven’t experienced since.
Like the building the restaurant was housed in, the menu was built by an intelligent and innovative chef who understands the history of New York and the people who inhabit it in present day. With a focus on local, seasonal ingredients prepared using techniques grounded in French cuisine, we knew every dish was complex even though it was presented with ease. The components of each dish came together in perfect harmony. Every vegetable, fruit, starch, and protein were seasoned and cooked perfectly. The broths and sauces were so delectable I was tempted to pick up my plate so I could devour every last drop. While every dish was truly exquisite in both presentation and taste, several courses stood out to me for different reasons.
The BROTH or bread, butter, duck broth, and salt was the perfect combination of salty and sweet and I couldn’t get enough of it. When a chef is able to craft a dish with an ingredient I don’t typically enjoy, that is the moment I am won over. Chef Daniel Humm was able to do this with his KABOCHA SQUASH dish. This dish featured radicchio, which is a leaf I usually despise, but he made me see it in a new light and literally fall in love with it. Followed by a seared lobe and tureen of HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS served with marinated grapes and mushroom bread crumbs and a BEEF course consisting of pastrami with rye, leek, potato, and a maple flavored soda (made to order since I selected the maple leaf at the beginning of our meal), it was clear that Chef Humm knew the way to a Manhattan foodies heart.
Without skipping a beat, the meal transitioned from land to sea as our next course featured LONG ISLAND SEAFOOD. A succulent oyster with yogurt and lemon, a plump scallop with pistachio and apple, marinated blue crab with pickled radish, and vichyssoise with caviar, smoked blue fish, and quail egg; each flavor-filled bite left me yearning for more. Luckily, our dip in the ocean didn’t end there. Our next course, ATLANTIC STRIPED BASS, was slow cooked with clams, squid, and shellfish parsley sauce; simple yet multifaceted and flawless from start to finish.
Rarely do I have the pleasure of consuming black truffles, but to my delight, the CELERY ROOT course was braised with black truffle and the earthy flavors that met my palate made me smile instantaneously.
Back on land, the CHARCUTERIE dish, which had sausages, liver on toast, and cured breast, was everything I wanted it to be. It was sweet, salty, and mineraly in flavor and had a combination of textures that included soft, smooth liver and crunchy toast. The FINGER LAKES DUCK was presented beautifully at the table so we could appreciate the crisp, brown skin and aromatic herbs before it was carefully carved and bathed in a fall spice jus. The tender meat mixed with jus took hold of my senses and enticed me to slowly savor each bite.
When the cheese cart made its way to our table, it was a challenge to decide which of the local cheeses to select. Nonetheless, The Skinny Chef and I made our selections based off of the recommendations made by our server and we couldn’t have been more pleased with each rich, creamy, mildly funky morsel.
For dessert, we were treated to four courses of unique sweets. First up, WHEY or sorbet with caramelized milk and milk foam, which was, in a word, delicious. Next, the VANILLA or Baked Alaska with rum, caramel, and maple that was flambéed tableside and as exciting to eat, as it was to watch in its final phase of preparation. To finish the meal, Chef Humm along with his pastry chefs offered two quintessential Manhattan treats, the PRETZEL, which was covered in chocolate and sea salt, and the CHOCOLATE or sweet Black and White Cookie with apple molasses. A nod to classic New York treats helped Chef Humm end this meal on the highest of high notes heard throughout the evening.
Thanks to the outstanding décor, high quality service, and incredible cuisine, the chefs, servers, and staff of Eleven Madison Park helped make The Skinny Chef’s birthday one he will never forget because, together, we enjoyed a meal and dining experience of a lifetime and one that is more than worthy of another special journey in the future.
With dark floors, bright white subway tiles, overhead lighting, and lush black leather chairs, the dining space was clean, elegant, and modern. After being welcomed by the hostess we were shown to our seats. A moment later, we were given a wine and sake list. Since we wanted to order sake, but aren't familiar with it, we asked for some assistance from the sommelier. To our delight, Sommelier Rick Zouad, joined us and asked questions about our likes and dislikes regarding wine to help hone in on his recommendation for sake. By the end of our brief, yet thorough conversation, Mr. Zouad shared he was confident we would be fond of a bottle of Kokuryu Black Dragon sake. As I enjoyed my first sip of crystal-clear sake, I was extremely pleased with its light, refreshing, and smooth taste. Mr. Zouad’s recommendation was not only spot on, but a great way to begin our dining experience at Sushi Nakazawa.
Sitting at the sushi bar, The Skinny Chef and I had front row seats to the best culinary show we’ve ever seen. Chef Daisuke Nakazawa, along with his colleagues from both the Front and Back of the House, demonstrated high expectations of themselves and a keen eye for detail that certainly wasn’t lost on us. With a wide smile that comes from the heart, it was easy to see that Chef Nakazawa has a strong passion and love for what he does. As I watched his gentle hands slice and work each piece of fresh, vibrant fish adding a touch of wasabi here and Japanese mustard there, I couldn’t wait to savor each piece served as part of the tasting menu.
I used to think outstanding sushi depended solely on the freshness and quality of the fish. While both of those characteristics are undoubtedly important, what’s more important is the treatment the fish receives from aging and curing to marinating, pickling, and seasoning. Throughout the meal, Chef Nakazawa carefully placed each piece of sushi at an angle that was perfect for me to easily pick up by hand and I did just that. As I brought each delicate piece to my mouth I couldn’t wait until the next piece was placed on my plate because this was by far the most outstanding sushi I had ever eaten. The freshness of the sushi served during our meal was second to none as the sweet Sea Scallop wiggled in reaction to Chef Nakazawa’s soft touch and the Brown Tiger Prawn met its creator just moments after being playfully placed on the counter in front of me.
Each piece of sushi served was unique and literally the best The Skinny Chef and I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. While the Pickled Mackerel boasted a slightly tangy flavor, the Sockeye Salmon and Bonito were well balanced with just the right amount of smoke, and the Lean Bluefin Tuna and Chum Salmon Roe were marinated in soy, which left both pieces with a slightly salty taste.
Three of my favorite pieces on the menu were the Fatty Bluefin Tuna, Sea Urchin, and Sea Eel. The marriage of fatty tuna with spicy wasabi seemed simple, but was complex and unbelievably delicious.
The umami flavor of Sea Urchin fulfilled every craving I could have possibly had at that moment and left me yearning for more.
Although I have always been willing to try eel at other sushi restaurants, I have never enjoyed it and as a result, I usually ask that it be substituted with another piece of fish if I see it on the menu. Since I wanted to experience the menu as Chef Nakazawa intended, I welcomed the piece of Sea Eel and I am so glad that I did. The eel was warm, flaky, and somewhat sweet and to my surprise and delight, I devoured it in one delectable bite.
Our meal came to a close with the Egg Omelette. Having watched Chef Nakazawa work painstakingly for quite some time trying to execute this egg custard to his mentor’s standard, I wanted to give him a standing ovation to demonstrate my appreciation for his hard work.
The Skinny Chef and I left Sushi Nakazawa feeling grateful for the impeccable meal we just had the privilege of enjoying and have been dreaming of sushi ever since.
Having heard Marea was one of the top rated Italian restaurants in Manhattan according to Zagat and has earned two Michelin Stars, I decided to take The Skinny Chef there as my gift for the holidays. Prior to our arrival, I called and asked if the chef could sign a copy of the menu so we could keep it as a memento. Although this is a request I make at almost every restaurant we dine at, the hostess responded as if this was the first time she had ever been asked that question and didn’t give me a straight answer regarding whether or not my request could be met, which was extremely unusual to me.
Located at the intersection of Columbus Circle and Central Park South, Marea has a location many restaurant owners would die for. As we entered the restaurant, a hostess took our coats to be checked while I took in the setting. A long bar sat directly to our left with accents meant to give the illusion you were looking at the exterior of a shell and wine and liquor bottles arranged neatly on two long shelves. To our right, was a large dining room with white linens, beige and dark brown chairs, dark wood floors, overhead lighting along with lamps strewn here and there atop cabinets used to store napkins and silverware, and an oversized “wine cellar” encapsulated by a high-gloss espresso wood finish. On the walls hung artwork that was neither inspiring nor connected to the roots of the restaurant, that being Italy or the sea. Overall, it was a somewhat drab room with too many tables and too many servers and runners on the floor at one time. Regardless of the lackluster design of the dining room, we were there for the cuisine and I was hopeful Back of the House would bring some much needed light and happiness to this fine dining establishment.
After taking our seats, we were welcomed by our server who gave us the wine list and menu. As The Skinny Chef scanned the list for a bottle of white a staff member, who failed to introduce herself, asked if we would like to speak with the sommelier to which we said yes. When the sommelier arrived at our table, she literally stood there. She didn’t introduce herself, nor did she provide us with any guidance regarding the menu. To say we were shocked by her lack of knowledge of the menu and inability to conduct a conversation with us to assist in selecting wine for the evening is a severe understatement. As a result, The Skinny Chef and I decided on a bottle based on our limited knowledge of their wine list and hoped for the best. We have never been at a restaurant, let alone a fine dining restaurant with two Michelin Stars, where the sommelier was for all intents and purposes useless.
Unfortunately for Marea, we had a bad taste in our mouths before ordering. That being said, we were optimistic the cuisine prepared under the guidance of super talented Chef Michael White and Executive Chef Jared Gadbaw would conquer all and we placed our order. A few moments later, a runner placed an Amuse-Bouche on the table. Without introducing himself or greeting us, he quickly stated what the dish was in a low, monotone voice. To be completely honest, The Skinny Chef and I had no idea what he said and before we could ask him to repeat it, he was gone. Luckily, it was obvious that two pieces of raw fish sat before us so we consumed the small bites, which were a fresh and simple way to begin our meal.
Our order started with Zeppole, which was an item to be shared or as they refer to it “…E Per Cominicare.” Served on an oval shaped white plate were five small, perfectly round and delicately fried bacala fritters. Drizzled with a Meyer lemon and basil sauce, these fritters had a firm and crisp shell with a creamy, tasty bacala filling and were well-matched with the sweet and tangy flavors of Meyer lemon. As we enjoyed this course, I couldn’t help but think; Front of the House: 0, Back of the House: 1.
While waiting for our Secondi Di Pesce we couldn’t help but overhear comments being made from one server to another, which included remarks like, “Oh my god, I just read this crazy article…”, “I’m going to kill myself!”, and “Those people at table twenty-three are pricks!” Upon hearing each comment, The Skinny Chef and I looked at each other in disbelief; not because we have never heard anyone talk like that before, but because we have never heard it and would never expect to hear it in a restaurant with the kinds of accolades Marea has received. These statements reinforced our disappointment with the service and overall performance of Front of the House throughout the evening.
As we tried to tune out the inappropriate conversations occurring on the floor, our Secondi course was served. To my delight the Capesante was as wonderful to look at as it was to eat. Four large scallops with a crisp sear were carefully placed around pieces of cider braised pork cheek, celery, apples, and pine. The scallops were like butter, soft, sweet, and well matched with fatty pieces of pork cheek that fell apart after being braised in cider, which lent a hint of acidity and fruitiness to brighten the dish. The Coda Di Rospo or roasted monkfish with parsnip, fennel, and smoked Umbrian lentil ragu was also well thought out. The creamy parsnip and anise of the fennel provided a nice balance to the smoky lentil ragu and worked to enhance the flavor of the meaty monkfish. From presentation to flavor profiles, both dishes were well executed and earned some more points for Back of the House.
When the time came to order dessert, The Skinny Chef and I ordered the Semifreddo, Bomboloni, and Crostata. The Semifreddo was plated skillfully with layers of milk chocolate, hazelnut, and banana drizzled in caramel. The texture and temperature were spot on and the sweet, chocolaty flavors melted in my mouth. The Bomboloni or bite-sized donuts were lightly fried and covered in earl grey infused sugar. Accompanied by small ramekins of dark chocolate and honey for dipping, this dessert fulfilled every craving a "sweet tooth" could have. The Crostata had a firm, golden-brown crust and was topped with slices of pear, cranberry, ricotta, pine nuts, and a dollop of brown butter gelato. While I enjoyed the side of the Crostata with brown butter gelato, the other side, which consisted of pear, cranberry, and pine nuts simply didn’t work. In addition, a small Cookie Plate and Petit Fours were served. Unfortunately, these plates were not as successful as the desserts we enjoyed prior to their arrival.
As I looked at the dessert plates strewn about the table, I noticed they were all different and not in a good way. Some plates were modern looking, crafted from porcelain with a crisp white color and square edges, while others were made of china with a white center, bright silver band, and gray edges, and yet others were off-white porcelain with a textured pattern. The inconsistency struck me as odd.
A new trend in fine dining seems to be receiving a "parting gift" if you will, a muffin or granola made in-house, to enjoy for breakfast the next day. At every restaurant we've dined at that embraces this trend, a "gift" is given to each patron as they leave. When we left Marea, I was given a muffin wrapped in cellophane and tied with a navy blue ribbon while The Skinny Chef received nothing, which made me wonder if they had run out. In addition to one of us being snubbed, neither of us were given a copy of the menu signed by the chef, which I requested prior to our arrival. This made for a disappointing end to the evening,
For me, fine dining is not just about the cuisine; it's about the dining experience from the moment you walk through the door, to the moment you leave, and every moment in between. From the tone set by the environment, to the interaction with the staff, to the joy you get out of each bite; dining at a restaurant with two Michelin Stars should make you feel like it was worth the stop on your journey. The quality of service provided by Front of the House simply didn't measure up to the level of cuisine prepared by Back of the House. Unfortunately for Marea, New York City is a culinary capital where patrons can experience the best of both worlds in the same location for a similar or even more conservative price. Based solely on this experience, I would not choose to make another stop on my culinary journey at Marea.
It was a dreary, rainy Saturday when The Skinny Chef and I decided to hop in the car and make our way to Manhattan to enjoy a nice Italian meal together. Just a short walk from Washington Square Park sits OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria, which is one of the many restaurants in the B&B (Batali & Bastianich) Hospitality Group’s empire. Although OTTO is located on the corner of 5th Avenue and 8th Street, the environment is as casual and comfortable as your local pizzeria, but serves cuisine worthy of the B&B brand. Upon entering the restaurant there was a large bar area with high bar tables and chairs and columns decoratively wrapped with wine bottles directly to our left. To the right of that was a counter with a glass partition that allowed us to watch the delicate process of slicing expertly aged meats on large red and silver slicers. Directly in front of us was the hostess, who warmly greeted us, and a long, rectangular dining room. We were quickly shown to our table and presented with the wine list and menu.
After munching on a few breadsticks, our meal began with verdure or more specifically, Eggplant Caponatina and Cavolo Nero & Ricotta. The caponatina was well balanced between the acidity of the tomatoes, creaminess of the eggplant, and briny flavor of the capers. That being said, the temperature at which it was served was problematic. When it arrived at the table, the caponatina was frigid and the temperature overpowered the dish and took away from the overall taste, which was a shame because I think the flavors would have enjoyed a beautiful marriage if served at a warmer temp. With a rich, dark green color and specks of creamy, white ricotta the Cavolo Nero & Ricotta boasted a slightly bitter taste with hints of spicy peppers and salty cheese. While the portions of both dishes were perfect for starters and the building blocks of each made sense together, The Skinny Chef and I were underwhelmed and wished certain tweaks had been made to both plates before being served.
For our mid-course, The Skinny Chef and I ordered the Fennel & Bottarga Pizza. Curious to see how the chef would integrate the flavors of each of the ingredients (tomato, raw fennel, bottarga, pecorino, and mozzarella), we couldn’t wait to take our first bite. With a rustic and crisp thin crust topped with slices of fennel, pecorino and mozzarella cheese, and a generous dusting of bottarga; this pizza looked too good to be true. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, when something "looks too good to be true, it probably is" and this was the case with the Fennel & Bottarga Pizza. The acidity of the tomatoes didn’t jive with the anise flavor of the fennel, fishy bottarga, nutty pecorino, and creamy mozzarella. We were disappointed by the disjointed flavors present in this dish and were left wishing we had ordered one of the other pizzas on the menu with more “traditional” ingredients.
For our pasta course, The Skinny Chef and I ordered Spaghetti Alla Carbonara and Fusilli Con Sausage & Escarole. The carbonara was thick and creamy with slices of salty, fatty pancetta to compliment the scallions and black pepper.
The sausage in the fusilli was plump and sweet and was paired perfectly with garlic, escarole, and fusilli that was aldente. The ingredients used created flavors that made for an enjoyable pasta course that hit the spot.
Having heard great things about Pastry Chef Meredith Kurtzman, The Skinny Chef and I were excited to order dessert. We were intrigued by the fennel gelato that accompanied the Pignoli Rosemary Torta so we ordered that along with our waitress’s recommendation of a Black & White. When I took my first bite of the Pignoli Rosemary Torta it was fluffy, buttery, light and covered with pignoli nuts. Sitting beside it were slices of bright orange, candied clementines with a white sphere of fennel gelato perched delicately on top. As I built and savored the “perfect bite,” which consisted of a little bit of each ingredient, the flavors of citrus, mild licorice, and buttery, nutty cake blended together in perfect harmony. The Black & White was also a well thought out and executed dessert. Consisting of milk chocolate chip and crème fraiche gelati, hazelnut croccante, chocolate sauce, and caramel crema, this dish was beautifully presented in a martini-like stemless glass. Just looking at this dish brought a smile to my face. Layers of gelati, chocolate sauce, and caramel cream were artfully displayed along with a triangular piece of a waffle cone carefully placed on top. Every spoonful of this delectable dessert was creamy, chocolately, caramel goodness. All elements of both desserts worked well and as a result, our meal at OTTO ended on a high note.
Having brought our own bottle of wine, which was opened for a reasonable ten-dollar corkage fee, we focused primarily on the food. While several dishes piqued our interested, we made our selections and reveled in the romantic and relaxing environment as we waited for our server. Just as she approached the table, I took a bite of focaccia and she walked past our table so as not to try and take my order mid bite. Although this may seem silly to point out, I appreciated that she was not only attentive, but also responsive and considerate. It is always uncomfortable when a server approaches you as you are chewing on food and are unable to respond; so to me, this was worth highlighting.
Now…on to the food. The first appetizer up; House Made Mozzarella. Five golf ball sized pieces of mozzarella cheese were carefully plated on top of a well-dressed salad. Unfortunately, each piece of mozzarella was a tad dry and rubbery. The salad however did complement the cheese quite well and when consumed in one bite, the flavors were harmonious. Considering the fact that The Skinny Chef and I love mussels, we ordered the P.E.I. Mussels, which were served in a bath of garlicky, sherry vinegar and white wine broth with pieces of toasted crostini. Cooked perfectly, there was a bright, plump mussel in each glistening black shell. The sherry vinegar and garlic broth was delicious and a nice departure from the typical white wine broth that usually accompanies a dish like this. One of the best parts was dipping each piece of crispy crostini in the warm, flavorful, and slightly acidic broth after savoring each and every mussel.
As his main course, The Skinny Chef ordered the Veal Porterhouse. Served with summer vegetables and a warm fregola and goat cheese salad; the dish was plated beautifully. The veal was cooked medium and was tender and slightly pink on the inside. That being said, the fat cap needed to be rendered or trimmed a bit more. The fregola and goat cheese salad was a good choice for a side as the vegetables (i.e. zucchini) were firm and added a nice bite to counterbalance the soft fregola. Succumbing to a craving for red meat, I ordered the Sirloin Tip Steak, which was served with fried purple potatoes, roasted butternut squash, kale, and pecorino crema. The steak was cooked medium rare with grill marks surrounding the exterior of the tender, juicy meat. The vegetables were sinfully good. They were thick, crisp, meaty, and filled with flavor. Combining a slice of steak with rich, salty, nutty pecorino crema and sweet vegetables provided a special treat for my palate as I enjoyed each bite. At the conclusion of the savory portion of our meal, The Skinny Chef and I both agreed that each dish, with the exception of the mussels, was unevenly peppered, which resulted in some bites being overpowered by the strong flavor of black peppercorns.
When it came time for dessert, The Skinny Chef and I ordered two espressos and the Baby Jesus Cake. The espresso was rich in flavor and reminiscent of the many we drank at the end of each meal while in Italy. We ordered the Baby Jesus Cake because with a name like that; how could we not? The cake was light, fluffy, and sweet. Topped with warm toffee sauce and served with whipped cream a la mode; this cake was a delectable way to complete our meal.
I would recommend Venturo for a couple looking to spend a romantic night together or an evening out with close friends eager to listen to some fun music, enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, and eat well.
Restaurant North is a farm to table restaurant located in Armonk, New York. Although it may be considered a neighborhood restaurant to some, we made the 30 minute drive from Queens to savor the fresh, innovative dishes coming out of Chef/Owner Eric Gabrynowicz’s kitchen. As we pulled up, the light shining through the French doors that surround the first floor dining room illuminated countless smiling faces of patrons as they sipped wine and watched servers place each course on the table with delight. When hearing the words “farm to table” one might picture a rustic restaurant, maybe even a converted barn located in the middle of nowhere, but Restaurant North is simply not that. Sleek in design with dark wood floors, white crown molding, floor-to-ceiling French doors, elegant wall sconces, crisp white tablecloths, and fragrant, fresh flowers; the dining room is modern, comfortable, and airy. The bar, which is separated from the dining room by a tall walnut table, consists of a long, Carrara marble counter with a chalkboard backdrop used to highlight local wines, liquors, and specialty drinks written on both sides of a large, rectangular mirror hung in the center that adds to the spacious feel. Once seated, we selected a bottle of Channing Daughters Lagrein 2010 to toast to a special evening with close friends.
With a deep purple color, clean aroma, and notes of fruits like black raspberries and blueberries along with cocoa, brown spices, dark chocolate, black pepper, and purple flowers; this wine was rich, satisfying, and elegant. Demonstrating respect for artisanal and traditional practices, all grapes harvested at Channing Daughters are picked by hand, carefully destemmed, stomped by foot, and punched down by hand. Bravo to Channing Daughters because their dedication to tradition yielded a flavorful and enjoyable red!
For our mid-course, two generous portions of pasta were shared among the four of us. The homemade pappardelle carbonara with lamb was thick and a touch too salty for my taste, but maybe not yours, as it wasn’t for The Skinny Chef. Unfortunately, something The Skinny Chef and I did agree on was that this carbonara was not creamy like a traditional carbonara should be. Rather it was dry; possibly a result of the yolk mingling with the pappardelle for too long once tossed in the pan. While the squid ink cavatelli with lobster, basil, and fennel was cooked well, it was bland. Expecting to relish in the flavors of the sea, we were disappointed when this dish fell flat. Both pasta dishes seemed to lack the imagination and thoughtful flavor profiles present in the other dishes we ordered and enjoyed throughout the evening.
Feasting on the mains brought us back to the level of food we drove 30 minutes for. Babo Farm’s Chicken with Guy Jones’ potatoes, confit tomato, roasted squash, and swiss chard had crispy, browned skin and juicy, moist dark meat. Delicately plated on top of roasted vegetables and surrounded with a tasty pan sauce, this dish was one to savor. Meiller’s Farm Filet served with greens, squash, and carrots was both sweet and sour. The shortribs were cooked perfectly, tender, sliced easily with my fork, and in a word satisfying. Now to the sea, the grilled swordfish with cranberry beans, peaches, peppers, greens, and eggplant was meaty, almost steak-like. The portion of swordfish was perfectly paired with each fruit and vegetable served as it was mild in flavor and allowed each component of the overall dish to shine.
I see many of you were able to read my last post about Michelin Guide's 2015 picks for New York City's best restaurants. Please continue to share your comments because I love reading them! While viewing the list released this week is exciting; unfortunately, visiting some of the restaurants included can cost you a pretty penny. Fortunately, the people at Michelin are aware that in this economy many of us are looking for a great meal that will leave us and our bank accounts feeling satisfied and full. Michelin's "Bib Gourmand" list highlights good food at reasonable prices, which can mean a meal for two that includes two courses and dessert or a glass of wine can cost around $40.00 or less. Now tell me that's not a DEAL! As with my last post, I'm asking you to share your thoughts. I'm interested to know if you have eaten at any of these establishments and which dishes you would recommend. Also, do you have a place in your town that you think fits the "Bib Gourmand" description? I have separated the list into the five boroughs of NYC and placed an (*) next to the names of restaurants I have been to. Can't wait to hear from all of you! Cheers!
ABC Cucina * (Great vegetarian options that even the most strict carnivores would enjoy!)
Aroma Kitchen & Wine Bar
Baker & Co.
Bread & Tulips
Cho Dang Gol
DBGB Kitchen & Bar * (A nice place to stop for brunch)
Dim Sum Go Go
Don Antonio by Starita
Ed’s Lobster Bar
Hecho en Dumbo
Hill Country Chicken
Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria * (Salumi counter and sharing plates)
J. Restaurant Chez Asta
Katz’s * (A NYC staple that can't be overlooked. The Skinny Chef loves the beef tongue sandwich!)
Kesté Pizza & Vino
Land of Plenty
L’Ecole * (The International Culinary Center's flagship restaurant - hard to believe students are cooking)
Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too
Momofuku Noodle Bar
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Northern Spy Food Co.
Pearl & Ash
Uva * (Kitchen open late with a great little menu and a very delicious Nutella pizza)
Basil Brick Oven Pizza
Biáng! * (The best noodles in Flushing - great to visit anytime, but especially on a cold day)
Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan * (Being a fan of spicy food is a must here!)
John Brown Smokehouse
Salt & Fat
Tong Sam Gyup Goo Yi
Venturo Osteria & Wine Bar
Baci & Abbracci
Char No. 4
Do or Dine
Frankies 457 Spuntino
The General Greene
The Good Fork
Marlow & Sons
Runner & Stone
Vinegar Hill House
Tra Di Noi
zero otto nove
Yesterday, one of the most coveted lists any restaurant can be on was revealed; the Michelin Guide's 2015 picks for New York City's best restaurants. Congratulations to all the restaurants that made the cut! I must admit I was surprised by some of the decisions the secret inspectors made (i.e., knocking Daniel down from three stars to two). At the same time, I was thrilled to see that Queens County now has four restaurants representing the star power that can be found in the most diverse county in America. So tell me; what are your thoughts? Do you agree with the list? Do you think there are any restaurants in NYC that were snubbed? Are any of these restaurants on your radar? I spoke to one "foodie" who was surprised that Sushi Nakazawa, which is run by Chef Daisuke Nakazawa (Jiro's hardworking apprentice in Jiro Dreams of Sushi) who opened up what some people, including Pete Wells of the New York Times, are calling the best sushi spot in NYC didn't receive any stars. Let me know if you have dined at any of the restaurants on the list and share your thoughts and experiences. Now without further ado, here is the list with a description of the ratings below:
Eleven Madison Park
Blanca (Upgraded to two stars from last year)
Daniel (Downgraded from three stars)
Ichimura (Upgraded to two stars from last year)
Andanada (New to the list)
Betony (New to the list)
Cafe Enrique (New to the list)
Danny Bar Wine Bar & Kitchen
Delaware & Hudson (New to the list)
Gotham Bar and Grill
Juni (New to the list)
La Vara (New to the list)
Luksus at Torst (New to the list)
Meadowsweet (New to the list)
The Musket Room
M. Wells Steakhouse (New to the list)
Piora (New to the list)
Pok Pok Ny (New to the list)
The River Cafe (New to the list after reopening its doors following a shut down due to Hurricane Sandy)
Sushi of Gari
Take Root (New to the list)
Zabb Elee (New to the list)
ZZ's Clam Bar (New to the list)
The stars are awarded as follows:
One Star: A good place to stop on your journey, indicating a very good restaurant in its category, offering cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard.
Two Stars: A restaurant worth a detour, indicating excellent cuisine and skillfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality.
Three Stars: A restaurant worth a special journey, indicating exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients.
When I walked into Zucker Bakery, the sweet smell of baked goods and aroma of expertly brewed, high-quality coffee took hold of my senses and effortlessly drew me toward the glass counter to place my order. With each step I took on the bright wooden floor past the upholstered loveseat nestled under a large glass window, bistro tables with a variety of chairs, paintings and rolling pins hung on the walls, and lush green plants here and there; I was transported to the living room of the beloved Jewish grandmother I wish I had who would bake rugelach with love and watch with delight as I enjoyed each bite. Having frequented Zucker Bakery many times since its 2011 opening, I have had the privilege of sampling almost everything on the menu. Just some of Chefs Zohar and Melissa’s creations include sweet, tangy Lemon Bars with a soft, cookie-like base that are light and refreshing. I have also enjoyed slices of fruity, nutty Love Loaf, delicate Alfajhores with Dulce de Lec’he filling rolled in coconut flakes, and rugelach layered with almonds, dates, and clove baked to crispy perfection. Perhaps two of my favorite things on the menu are warm, gooey Roses (Chocolate, Dates & Halva, or Almond & Brown Sugar) with a dollop of light airy foam and freshly baked, toasted Challa with creamy avocado topped with zesty za’atar.
It is always difficult to decide what to order as I peer into the glass display case. As if deciding what to eat wasn’t tough enough, figuring out what to drink was just as challenging for a foodie like me who really just wants to try a little bit of everything. Oy, what a dilemma? But a dilemma that is good to have because after ordering and deeply enjoying a Dates & Halva Rose along with a tall glass of Cold Brew, I know I will return to sample Zucker’s ever-evolving menu that now includes light lunch options. Now, lets talk about that Dates & Halva Rose…Mimicking the shape of its namesake, the Roses at Zucker Bakery are artfully constructed and expertly baked. Firm and golden-brown on the outside with a doughy, warm center filled with the sweet, fruity, and nutty flavors of dates and halva; I slowly savored each and every bite! Taking the time to stop at Zucker Bakery for breakfast, lunch, or a cup of coffee and a cookie is well worth your time!