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Trip Report: An SF Girl's First Adventure to NYC

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Thanks to everyone for making my first trip to NYC a delicious one. Unfortunately, most New Yorkers are not as helpful as the ones on this board. Below is a list of places we visited. I will post each day as a separate reply.

Thursday
Breakfast – Penelope’s
Lunch – Grimaldi’s
Dessert – Jacques Torres
Dinner – Perilla

Friday
Lunch – Jean-Georges
Dinner – Degustation
Dessert – WD~50

Saturday
Brunch – Fanelli’s Café
Snack – Kee’s Chocolates/Patisserie Claude
Dinner – Eleven Madison Park

Sunday
Lunch – Junior’s @ Grand Central

Overall, we were able to keep it to our budget of ~$100/person/day +/- $20 because I had some dinning certificates from Opentable but also because we typically do not drink, one cocktail or glass of wine at most.

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  1. jeez...not a bad few days.

    1. Thursday

      Breakfast at Penelope’s definitely sated our hunger from the red-eye. I had the omelette with mushroom, bacon, and swiss; while T had one with mushroom, tomato, and ham. Too well-done (as in almost overcooked) seems to be the theme of the food. I like my omelettes still a bit wet, which this was not. The fries were well crisped on the outside but the center was too mealy/dry. I find this to be pretty typical breakfast food, not something I would stand in line for on a Sunday morning. Am I missing something?

      We had a pepperoni and mushroom pie at Grimaldi’s. The first slice was delicious but the pizza cooled quickly and the remaining slices were not as good. I was surprised to find the couple (who appears to be locals) next to us had no problem finishing a large while we were struggling to finish our small.

      The wicked hot chocolate from Jacques Torres was the perfect drink to have in hand while walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. The heart of passion (dark chocolate with passion fruit ganache) was mediocre and lacked passion fruit flavor.

      We were not too hungry from lunch and decided to order five appetizers to share at Perilla. The appetizers were divided into two courses – the first with the skillet braised cuttlefish and the red lady apple salad; and the second with the seared scallops, duck meatballs, and halibut cheeks. My favorites were the cuttlefish and the scallops, though I found the pumpkin seed praline weird and tasted more like sweetened cocoa nibs. The cuttlefish was very tender and flavorful. The scallops were seared perfectly on the outside and still rare in the center, just the way I like them. Both T and I were disappointed with duck meatballs. Though they had a spicy kick, we thought they were dull and lack depth. Oh, and we have no idea why the cavatelli was on the plate, they were dense and bland. It was probably a mistake to have the last three dishes come out together. The duck meatballs sat and cooled while we were eating the scallops and halibut cheeks, which were also quite good. For dessert, we shared the blood orange cheesecake. The name was somewhat misleading, we thought the cheesecake would have blood orange in the batter but it was actually plain cheesecake with blood orange syrup. The cheesecake was surprisingly light and had a nice tang.

      3 Replies
      1. re: purple gator

        I have a similar reaction to Penelope's. It's alright, but nothing I'd personally go out of my way for.

        I do have to comment that just because NYC wait staff don't do everything with a big smile plastered on their faces doesn't mean they aren't nice or helpful. It's just a cultural difference between CA and NYC, I think. I've lived in both places.

        1. re: cimui

          I find Penelope's brunch and breakfast items just okay. The best items are the grilled chicken club, veggie burger, red velvet (cup)cake, artichoke dip and the chicken meatball sandwich. The burger is decent, but not a contenda'

        2. re: purple gator

          How'd you end up at Penelope's anyway? It's pretty crummy these days. There's something about that place that always really reminds me of San Francisco actually, only they don't pull it off.

          I wouldn't send anyone to Fanelli's either, but it sounds like you lucked out. I've always felt let down even by their safe items like the burger...but the shoestring fries are good there. It's almost always filled with people who live in the neighborhood and have been eating there for 20+ years, or tourists who ned to get in from out of some extreme weather and don't want to walk any further.

          New York does really great breakfast/brunches normally though.

        3. Friday

          We decided to stay in and skip breakfast due to the snow. Lunch at Jean-Georges was delicious and a great bargain. We decided on just two savory courses to save room for dessert. After perusing the menu, I settled on the foie gras brulee and steam black cod with lemongrass consommé. T decided on the tuna ribbons and bacon wrapped gulf shrimp with papaya mustard. We started off with a trio of amuse bouche – quail egg with asparagus and rosemary salt, candied grapefruit, and a miso soup shot. The quail egg was cooked so that a thin film of the egg white encapsulates the yolk but the yolk was still completely runny. It was probably the most memorable thing I ate this entire trip. The candied grapefruit was a good palette cleanser. The miso soup was a shocker (not in a good way). It was so intense that it almost tasted medicinal, kind of like the yeast pills that I used to take as kid for stomach ailments. Needless to say, I did not finish my shot. The foie gras brulee was delicious and probably my favorite dish of this trip. The caramelized pistachios offered a great textural contrast to the foie while the sour cherries and white Port gelee cut the richness nicely. Though it was a generous serving of foie, I did not feel heavy after eating it. I did not try the tuna ribbons but it also appeared to be a generous serving and T loved it. The black cod was cooked to perfection. The consommé was poured tableside and complimented the fish nicely, not overwhelming it. However, being Chinese, I prefer my steamed fish to be served at a hotter temperature. This was a bit too lukewarm for me. T also loved the gulf shrimps. He was especially enamored with the papaya mustard, wanting to eat it all straight up. I had a taste of the sauce and thought it was interesting but could not really taste the papaya. For dessert, I the Citrus, which consisted of a chocolate poppy seed cake, Meyer lemon curd with halva powder, and Kaffir lime infused jicama noodles with tangerine and limoncello granite. T had the Apple, which consisted of apple confit with pine nut sponge, smoked raisin, tamarind ice cream, and granny smith-fennel sorbet with crispy candied fennel. We both thought that the desserts were weak compared to the savory courses. Of the two desserts ordered, Citrus was the better one. Lastly are the mignardise, which looked better than they tasted. Overall, this is still a delicious meal at an exceptional nonetheless. Service was excellent. Our main server was gracious and warm while professional. It was clear that the entire staff worked as team.

          A note about the lunchtime dress code and its enforcement, I had specifically asked over the phone if it is acceptable to wear dark denim and was told no. I was quite irritated to see that a number of patrons were wearing jeans with shirts without a collar; with one gentleman wearing a sweatshirt and washed-out jeans combo (I kid you not). I have no problems with complying to any dress code on fair weather days, but on a wet and snowing day like this Friday, I would like to know that I have the option of wearing jeans if that is more practical (of course, I will still wear the appropriate clothing on top).

          Dinner was at Degustation. Again, we chose five dishes to share. We started with the croquettas and a salad. The croquettas were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. They were heavenly. The salad was perfectly dressed but nothing earth-shattering – it was our attempt to get some vegetables. Next were the scallops and loin of lamb. The scallops were very sweet but smaller than the ones at Perilla. These were also seared perfectly on the outside but cooked all the way through. I do not like lamb and did not get a taste but T said it was good. Last is the pork cheeks with morcilla. The pork cheeks tasted of delicious porkiness, not too porky which can sometimes happen with pork cheeks, and cooked tender but still toothsome. The morcilla was delicious and not what I expected blood sausage to taste like. I also had a cava and blood orange juice cocktail, which looked and tasted like orange soda with a slight alcoholic kick. This was disappointing especially at $11. Overall, while the food is good, we do not think it was good enough to justify the price tag. Each plate was about the same size as or smaller than Perilla’s appetizer but almost double the price (except the croquettas). Afterwards, T said that he could not really remember what we had because the plates were so small, he did not get enough of a taste. Considering the size of the restaurant, service was very graceful and smooth.

          For dessert, we went to WD~50 and had the three-course tasting for $35, which is a $10 increase from what is listed on the website. The amuse was the soft white chocolate, potato, malt, and white beer ice cream. It was good, especially the white chocolate since I generally do not white chocolates. The tasting consisted of the passion fruit tart, sesame, argan oil, meringue; jasmine custard, black tea, banana; and cherry covered chocolate, molasses, lime. The best of the bunch was the passion fruit tart. The meringue balanced the tartness of the passion fruit nicely. I have no idea what argan is but the oil reminded me of a concentrated sesame oil. I do not really remember what the jasmine custard tasted like. The cherry covered chocolate was more interesting conceptually than taste. The mignardise were a salted butter marshmallow and chocolate cookie ice cream bonbon. Both were delicious, especially the marshmallow – puts Jean-Georges’ to shame.

          We had asked the server which desserts were included in the tasting and, none of the ones she said were included. Diners are allowed to make requests for the tasting but we decided not to base on her answers. T is very sensitive sourness and therefore, does not like passion fruit. Basically, the three desserts that did end up in the tasting are the three that T does not want, though he did end up somewhat enjoying them (or so he says). The problem is that when I told the server that T does not like passion fruit when the tart arrived, not only did she not apologize for misinforming us but was also reluctant to offer replacement of another dessert. Being the gentleman that he is, T told her it was fine even though I was pressuring her to replace the dessert.

          1 Reply
          1. re: purple gator

            Great report! I've never made it to wd-50, but it always sounds crazy and interesting. That marshmallow sounds particularly good.

            Argan oil is a moroccan product which is made from argan nuts, it's supposedly very healthy and good for you.

          2. Saturday

            The approximate wait for a two top at Balthazar was two hours so we decided to wander around SoHo and found Fanelli’s Café. I had the French toast with bacon and eggs while T had an omelette with fries. I like the fries here better than Penelope’s, they are thinner and the inside is not as mealy/dry. T thought that the fries were fried in old oil since the fries were quite brown on the outside but not overcooked.

            I enjoyed all of the chocolates from Kee’s but the chocolate covered crème brulee was absolutely delicious. I regret not buying more of them the moment I bit into one. I still dream about these and wonder if Kee’s would ship them to California. I gave one to my coworker about a week old and he said that it was still delicious. The lychee-rose macaron was also delicious.

            T and I shared a chestnut tart and a pear and custard tart from Patisserie Claude. Though the pastries were good, they are neither better than pastries from some of the better patisseries in SF nor up to the standards of Paris, and definitely not worth it considering the attitude that Claude was dishing out. Actually, I thought the chestnut paste pale in comparison to those from higher-end Chinese/HK bakeries.

            With the possibility of T having to attend a business meeting after dinner, we chose the three-course prix fixe at Eleven Madison Park to make dinner a shorter one and no wine. A variety of complimentary hors d’oeuvres and the cheese gourgers arrived before we order. Everything was good but I can only remember the foie gras mille feuille now. After some discussions, I chose the scallop crudo and suckling pig confit while T opted for the crab and avocado roulade and beef tenderloin. The amuse bouche was a veloute that was flavorful and creamy but not heavy. It was served in something that resembles a traditional Chinese tea cup and was a good portion, not just a shot. The scallop was sliced paper thin and came with a bit of sea urchin. Unfortunately, the sweetness of the scallop was somewhat overwhelmed by the vinaigrette. I still prefer live scallop sashimi from a Japanese restaurant instead. I had a bite of T’s crab and avocado roulade and thought it was good but I have had similar dishes elsewhere before (the avocado and crab tower from Pesce in SF). T said that the seasoning was uneven with some bites being too salty. The pork was also good but again, not very exciting. The skin was nicely crisped but this would not be impressive to anyone who is familiar with Chinese roast pork. T said the beef tenderloin was good and tender but too rich. I am not a big fan of beef and did not get a taste. For dessert, we shared the pineapple and pecorino soufflé with thyme ice cream and the coconut panna cotta with mango. The soufflé had a pronounced pecorino flavor. I just wished that the pineapple flavor is stronger. The thyme ice cream was delicious and refreshing. I wanted to lick the block of ice that it was serve on. We both loved the coconut panna cotta with mango. Coconut and mango is a common flavor combination in Chinese fruit-based desserts (and one of my favorite combinations) but this is the first time I have encountered it at a western restaurant. The two flavors were balanced nicely without one dominating the other. The panna cotta was very smooth and creamy but not too rich. The desserts were a nice finish to the meal. Mignardise consisted of some chocolates, cookies, and pate de fruits. All were good but I cannot recall the flavors now, except a passion fruit one. Overall, we thought the food was delicious but the flavor combinations were somewhat predictable (except the desserts); whereas, the flavor combinations at Jean-Georges were more exciting and new.

            The service was good but not as good as Jean-Georges. Though our server was graceful and attentive, she did not break a smile the entire evening. Our server at Jean-Georges did everything with a smile. I do want to note that when T had to go outside to take a phone call, a manager (I believe) happens to be by to fold his napkin and he was considerate enough to keep me company. The dress code was no sneakers and t-shirts. T wore a sweater and jeans while I wore a nice silk tunic and jeans. Both of us felt rather under-dressed. Most (if not all) of the male patrons had jackets while the females wore dresses or trousers.

            6 Replies
            1. re: purple gator

              Thanks for the great explanations, purple gator. We are heading over there friday from Austin and this board has been SO GREAT in recommending places! I will take some of your recs, too.

              Take care!

              1. re: purple gator

                You went to two excellent places but ordered the "wrong" things. Fanelli's Cafe does a great burger on an onion roll, one of my favorite NYC burgers. Patisserie Claude is famous for his chocolate croissant, once again an all time favorite of many a New Yorker, myself included.

                1. re: stuartlafonda

                  Yes - the chocolate croissant is wonderful - and he's been very sweet to me.

                  1. re: stuartlafonda

                    I guess I was not clear but I thought the food Fanelli's was competent. We definitely could have done a lot worse from just aimlessly wandering. I am not a beef person, so probably would not have ordered the burger even if I knew the burger is great.

                    We went to Patisserie Claude in the mid afternoon and did not see any chocolate croissants. Claude was nice to the people who appeared to be regulars but it is hard for new customers to become regulars with that kind of attitude. I have never been scolded by a service provider anywhere in the world, regardless of the language spoken, until Patisserie Claude. There is a difference between brisk and just plain rude.

                    1. re: purple gator

                      I am sorry he was rude - didn't mean to suggest otherwise!

                      1. re: purple gator

                        You are not the first, nor I suspect will you be the last, to write of being treated rudely by Claude. He has always been great to me, a semi regular, and although I have never witnessed him being rude I have no doubt this occurs on an all to regular basis,inexcusable. If you were there mid afternoon any chocolate croissant still left would have been a dissapointment as they are at their best when you get one warm from the oven. As for Fanell's, I love the old time feel of the place.There are not many places left in Manhattan that are that old and unchanged.