HOME > Chowhound > Manhattan >
What have you made lately?
TELL US

Thoughts/Reviews from a recent Manhattan Foodie Trip

uhockey May 24, 2009 07:51 AM

Full review with pics in Context Here: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/e...

Text here:

After a great meal at Crop in Cleveland I made my way back to Toledo for the evening and subsequently flew out of Detroit the following morning with little in my belly aside from a salad from 7:00am (had to finish off what was left in the fridge.) Arriving at LGA and waiting around forever for the tram I noticed I was quite hungry – a good thing considering my plans for a Lower East Side Food Crawl for breakfast followed by the New Museum, Morrison Hotel, CoSM, and parts of Chelsea prior to lunch snacks and an evening dinner at Scarpetta.

Hopping off the awful super-shuttle (yes, I travel cheap, it allows me to eat expensive) into the heart of Chinatown with map in hand the first stop on my list was impromptu. Having tried an egg custard for the first time weeks ago in San Francisco and seeing myriad Chinese bakeries I stopped and asked a man (the first I passed who I heard speaking English) who had the best Custards and he said “you want Egg Custard King – Mott Street.” Pointing me in the right direction I was afraid I’d miss it due to the all-Chinese signage, but thankfully the brightly colored restaurant stuck out like a sore thumb.

Entering the shop I was greeted by wonderful smells of sugar, butter, and yeast as well as multiple pastel colors – both on the wall and on the egg custards. Inquiring what the difference was it took three employees to understand my question and tell me that the colors were flavors – “regular, lime, strawberry, and coconut” are what I think I heard. At 90 cents each I asked for regular and a strawberry and made my way to the street again. Still warm from the oven I first tasted the “regular” and was instantly struck by the relative blandness of the custard – eggy and well prepared, yes, but not sweet and with only the butter in the crust as a notable taste. Disappointed I next tasted the strawberry version which, while better, tasted only mildly of berry (more “fruit punch” to my palate) and moreso like the sugary egg custard I sampled in San Francisco. Again well prepared and still warm/fresh I certainly can’t say it was bad – especially for the price – but I’d not rush back either.

Continuing my walk, the next stop planned was the much hyped Donut Plant, but on the way I saw something too famous to pass – Kossar’s famous Bialys. Having tried a bialy once prior I vaguely knew what to expect – garlic/onion/carbs but honestly I must say I was surprised that such a famed institution was so – boring and unfriendly. Despite there only being 2 customers in the place aside from myself the small elderly lady at the register snapped at me quite annoyedly when I failed to order immediately on command and asked me to step aside until I “figured it out.” Not wanting to further inconvenience her I asked for one bialy to go. Ninety cents later I was handed a warm and garlicky piece of flat bread that despite its good texture really didn’t blow my mind – it was basically a warm pita pocket, nothing more and nothing less. Reading others opinions perhaps I’m just more a bagel guy than a bialy guy, but either way I don’t think I’m a Kossar’s guy – I like friendly service.

A bit let down so far, but still miles from sated, I continued to my previous destination just two doors down – Donut Plant. In a city that seems to live and breathe Dunkin Donuts (for reference, I think we have two total in Columbus) I have to admit I was intrigued as to how a small shop in the LES had gotten so much attention from foodies and I was even more interested by some of the flavors listed on their online menu. Arriving at the small bakery (smaller, even, than Kossars) the place was packed (IE, 10 people) so I stood outside and read the specials board for a moment. Given the fact that my trek still contained a few more stops I decided I would order two donuts – a crème brulee and whatever was fresh from the oven.

Entering the doors I was greeted by a relatively strong yeasty-yet-sweet scent that mingled with strong coffee tones and was greeted, once again in a less than friendly manner, by a young lady behind the counter. Seeing the crème brulee donuts were just being passed from the baking area to the front along with tres leches and a square donut entitled peanut butter and raspberry jelly. Opting for the PB+J as my second option and paying the exorbitant cash-only fee of $7 for 2 donuts I sat down in the window to enjoy.

Starting with the crème brulee – small, yet heavy and dense and loaded with well caramelized vanilla custard I must admit the yeastiness of the donut managed to shine through the sweetness and although the custard was good it did suffer from a graininess that was somewhat unexpected. Considering the focus on high quality ingredients and the overall pretentiousness of the shop I must admit that although good I was underwhelmed.

Moving on to the second donut I expected better – I love Peanut Butter and Jelly, especially Raspberry. Lacking artificial flavors I fully anticipated a great peanut butter flavor from the donut, however what I got was anything but. Apparently using a “peanut butter glaze” on the outside, the overall taste of the donut was actually “burned peanuts” – like the shell of a peanut at Yankee Stadium after you suck the salt off – while the inside featured a miniscule amount of fresh jam which, while good, was not even close to the level of the filling in Keller’s Bouchon Beignets or the wonderful Raspberry Donut at Payard. Another disappointment in the LES, I actually saw these donuts two more times during my travels (at dean and delucca) but opted not to taste any further flavors. Perhaps I’m more a cupcake guy, but if I’m craving a donut in NYC I’d rather spend 1/5 the price and get a Pink Donut from Dunkin.

Exiting Donut Plant I’d begun to think that this trip was to be for naught and I’d have been better off going for a proper brunch at Allen and Delancey or the Spotted Pig – too full for either of those and seeing the 50+ person deep line at Clinton Street I decided to conclude breakfast with a cupcake – the decision was whether to go with Babycakes or Sugar Sunshine Sweet. Considering the options, my location, and my plan it seemed that Babycakes would be the better of the two options for the day and I checked my map and started moving. Arriving shortly I was amused by the shoddy appearing exterior and even more amused by the fact that there was a short line. Entering the store I was greeted by a very friendly pair of females and heard Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre playing loudly over the boombox. Browsing the selections I must admit there was a bit of sticker-shock, but considering the ingredients the prices didn’t seem TOO outlandish. Making two selections (not the gluten free versions – I don’t have Sprue yet!) I received my cute “holder box” and paid (cash only) before making my way to the streets.

Planning on one for now and one for later I decided to go with the Red Velvet first. Moist and dense without much crumb I must admit my first bite was actually quite the surprise – I did not expect a vegan cupcake to be so good! Sweet and slick frosting without that “grit” which plagues many sugar-based frostings was another bonus. All that noted, I must admit that despite being tasty it really didn’t taste much like Red Velvet – it lacked the cocoa essence and tasted more vanilla and sweet.

Given the small size of the cupcake I decided “what the hell” and proceeded with cake number two (hey, I’d just had healthy Donuts, a Kosher Bialy, and now Vegan donuts – this is HEALTH FOOD!) Entitled Carrot cake I assumed a vegan restaurant would do a good job with the preparation and I was indeed correct this time. Notably sweet and dense like a carrot cake should be, I found the rough-cut texture of the carrots to be particularly pleasing in contrast to the smooth (I-know-its-not-cream-cheese-but-it-damn-sure-tastes-like-it) frosting. Small bits of nuts and raisins added additional sweetness to the agave and all told the cupcake was excellent.

Given the fact that I have no allergies and am not a vegan I can’t say I’d frequent Babycakes if I lived locally, but at the same time I’d certainly try their desserts before going back to Donut Plant or many other New York Cupcake joints. Pricey, but at least for the price you can pretend you’re being healthy and receive service from friendly people with good business ethics.

Sated for the time being, it was time for some fine art – first the New Museum on The Bowery and then Morrison Hotel, the amazing John Varvatos converted CBGB’s, Big Robot, and a second Morrison Hotel gallery. After this a walk across the lower half of Manhattan to the famous Jacques Torres to pick up some confections for my aunt – and a hot chocolate for myself. Impressed by the immense size of the store and the open manufacturing area as well as the helpful staff, I must say I was less impressed by the hot chocolate. Described on the walls as everything from “amazing” to “famous” to “spectacular” I ordered a small on reputation alone and on first sip honestly wondered if my taste buds were out of whack – a second sip confirmed that my buds were correct – creamy, thick, and hot – but the flavor was so bland and ...chalky perhaps...that I considered adding splenda. At $3.50 for the cup I tried another couple of sips before giving up and tossing the rest. From what my aunt tells me the chocolates were much better (and comparable to La Maison, Payard, and Max Brenner) but to me, the hot chocolate was not only unimpressive, but downright bad.

Browsing some random shops and galleries between the LES, SoHo, and the lower part of Chelsea plus stopping into Scarpetta to secure a reservation I next made my way through the Chelsea Market – a place that failed to wow me on my previous visit and really offered nothing new this time aside from L’arte del Gelato. Having heard good things about the small-batch artisan approach I approached the counter and was immediately greeted by a pleasant young lady offering samples. Beginning with a taste of potent chocolate sorbet that was absolutely wonderful and following with samples of a mellow pistachio, potent and splendid uva (grape) and finally a decadent cinnamon based sorbet I decided to order a small ($4.00 for 2 small scoops in a cup) of the Butterscotch and Cafe au lait.

Using traditional Italian mixing methods (essentially a mixing process occurring during freezing to eliminate air and ice) the flavors were incredibly creamy and the Butterscotch was absolutely a joy to taste – enough so that I would rank it in my top-10 frozen treats ever. The coffee/milk flavor, however, did not fare as well as the butterscotch and actually tasted more like Hazelnut and Vanilla than truly coffee – not bad, but not what I expected. With a limited number of flavors changing each day I could definitely see myself coming back if I were in the area, but for my money I’d sooner pick up some Ciao Bella from Whole Foods and the overall taste certainly wasn’t on par with the artisan ice creams at Jeni’s of Columbus or Humphry Slocombe of San Francisco.

With the day still young and evening plans secured I turned northbound for a trip through Soho up to visit the (unfortunately relocated and much maligned) CoSM of Alex Grey. Arriving slightly earlier than opening time I browsed some of the Prime discount stores for a bit and after seeing the exhibit decided to stop in for another somewhat famous New York treat – a pretzel croissant at City Bakery. Mired in construction the location seemed a little obscure to me, but the lines indicated something good was going on – entering the doors I made note of their “famed” chocolate room – and was vastly underwhelmed by its small size and limited selection. Browsing the warm foods and baked goods I was more impressed and subsequently made my way to the register to make my purchase. Friendly service despite the large lunch-time lines, I noted a fresh batch of pretzel croissants being brought from the back and asked if I could have a fresh one – “sure thing!” Reading the signage I was made aware, again, of a “famous” hot chocolate – this time, however, available as a “shot” so I figured I might as well see if this was better than Jacques Torres or if New Yorkers simply don’t know good Hot Chocolate.

Taking my items to a seat by the window I had a good time watching the passers-by while I ate. Starting with the croissant – how in the world has no one else thought of this before? With all the flakey/buttery/deliciousness of a well prepared French classic, the pastry pulled apart effortlessly yet somehow also managed to maintain the salted/doughy texture of a pretzel from a street vendor. Duely impressed I moved on to the hot chocolate and was met by yet another surprise – THIS is what hot chocolate is supposed to taste like. Thick, rich, smooth – like a piping hot chocolate milkshake – and with the unmistakable flavor of a high quality bittersweet dark chocolate, honestly I was glad I’d only ordered a shot given its potency – any more would have been risking overload. Simple, straight forward, and without unnecessary “extra flavors” or mix-ins, I imagine this stuff would be sublime on a cold wintery day in Manhattan.

More walking and shopping led me to a stop at the James Gallery at CUNY where I must admit the ongoing exhibit is definitely worth the stop – despite the somewhat raunchy topic, and subsequently some more browsing and walking to check out the NYU Medical Center – damned impressive, though I’d hate to be a patient dealing with traffic and parking in the area. With 4ish hours before dinner I decided to make my final stop of the breakfast/lunch scavenger hunt at Momofuku Milk Bar and Bakery.

Despite being a fan of “haute cuisine” and service like that at the French Laundry and Charlie Trotter’s, I come from a (very) humble background and as such David Chang’s approach and personality strike me right. Even after getting shut out on Ko reservations because they don’t answer their phones (long story, but my buddy cancelled and I had to drop reserves for 2 because I was uncertain if I’d get dinged for the $150 penalty if I simply showed up solo) I have respect for the process – random and not dictated by status, money, or clout – truly an egalitarian and “every-man” in approach. Chang’s interview with Charlie Rose further solidified my love – if you’ve not seen it, invest the hour, it is well worth it.

Entering Milk Bar I was first struck by how empty the place was despite being 2pm on a Sunday – Ssam was hopping. I was second struck by the artwork and wonderful smells – and the music, Rage Against the Machine’s (unedited) Killing in the Name Of – nothing quite like eating fatty pork while Zack drops the F-bomb. Browsing the items and chuckling at the sacrilege of the chorizo-challah, the hilarity of the crack-pie, and the frank bizarreness of sour gummy and fireball soft serve I opted for their breakfast sandwich – the pork & egg bun with pork belly, deep fried soft poached egg, cucumber, hoisin, and scallions and a piece of pie – plus a sample of the red licorice soft serve – it really does taste like a twizzler and a coffee. Service was aloof, as expected, neither friendly nor surly – just sort of indifferent.

Standing at one of the tables awaiting my food after filling my cup (the first of three) I was a bit annoyed by the lack of sweetener options – I really don’t understand why New York hates Equal so much (thankfully I carry some with me and reloaded at Bouchon the following morning.) Produced by a company called Stumptown I will admit I was impressed by the nutty yet mild undertones of the coffee and actually enjoyed it much more than the non-refillable options at Starbucks these days. Approximately 5 minutes passed before my food was “order up” at the open kitchen.

Receiving my two Styrofoam containers I opened the first to find my bun. Having tasted Chang’s Pork buns at Noodle Bar last year and loving eggs in all forms I fully anticipated loving this dish, but overall I was left underwhelmed – especially for the $9 price tag. Receiving only one bun with minimal hoisin, the purportedly “soft poached egg” was actually quite solidly poached with no liquid to the yolk at all and the cucumbers/scallions were overly cooked and soft. While certainly tasty and dripping with fatty pork, I rather wish the preparation had been more on par with the descriptor – more textural contrast would’ve been ideal instead of moist/chewy pork, moist/chewy egg, moist/chewy vegetables, and moist/chewy bun.

The second dish was definitely a step up from the pork bun - cinnamon bun pie served warm with brown butter and cheesecake filing was actually quite excellent and the price ($5) much more in line with the portion . Like Cinnabon with more nuance and infinitely more texture and butter, the pie crust did a great job of standing up to the molten cinnamon/strudel/cheesecake filling without being too tough to cut with a fork. While not quite as superb as the cinnamon Monkey-Bread at Craftsteak LV, I can definitely say that this was the second best Cinnamon Roll-esque dessert I’ve ever tasted and on the “must order” list for any future visit.

All told on the morning/afternoon of 05/17 I managed to stretch breakfast and lunch across the span of nine hours and 6 miles of walking, shopping, and galleries – in the process I got to sample a whole lot of what New York Foodies rave about in the lower half of Manhattan and while some choices were less impressive than anticipated, others were truly impressive and I had a great time – while I love the urban sprawl and country-side of the Midwest, I love the “neighborhood” feel of many big cities, the people, and the never-ending list of options.

  1. r
    RGR May 24, 2009 09:11 AM

    Terrific report, uhockey! Actually, I read it on your blog because I figured you'd have photos -- which you do. :-)

    I am sorry you ran into some service that was less than friendly, and that you were less than bowled over by some of the things you sampled. However, considering how prodigious your appetite is (in a word: wow!), enabling you to eat a mega-boatload of stuff, it appears the ratio of disappointments to succcesses was fairly low.

    Looking forward to reading about your dinner at Scarpetta. (I haven't been yet.)

    2 Replies
    1. re: RGR
      Slob May 24, 2009 09:56 AM

      Well done, uhockey. I don't really get the Kossar's hype either. My bialy was OK, but it wasn't anything special at all.

      I disagree on the PBJ donut at Donut Plant. I think the PB glaze is excellent and plenty peanutty.

      1. re: Slob
        financialdistrictresident May 24, 2009 03:15 PM

        Thanks for the report, uhockey. The many opinions of hounds . . .Kossar's are the best bialies. Served warm, sometimes with friendly service, sometimes with adequate service. It's all about the bialy. New Yorkers take their bagels and bialies very seriously.

    2. uhockey May 24, 2009 12:47 PM

      Scarpetta: Full review with pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/s...

      Text Below:

      I’ll admit it – being from the Midwest where “good Italian” pretty much entails Olive Garden it is easy to get swept away by the hype surrounding Batali’s joints, Il Mulino, and other well established New York institutions – with that said, my meal at Babbo last year was absolutely fantastic and the pizza at Otto was pretty darn good – my attempts at dishes from the Babbo cookbook have also fared quite well. Those things noted, after two good Italian visits to New York in past years I’ll have to admit I’ve been largely unimpressed by other “fine dining” Italian aside from Spiaggia in Chicago and Rigsby’s in Columbus ever since – from La Botte to Valentino to Batali’s Mozza the California Italian left me mostly indifferent and as such I looked forward to getting back to NYC for some good haute-Italian.

      Originally considering Del Posto I sought the opinions of other foodies and found the reviews to be mixed – at best. Complaints of small portions, snooty service, and high prices seemed to dominate and when I e-mailed the restaurant for information I must admit the response was quite condescending – the responder explaining to me “the complexities” of the menu and how I “might not understand.” Knowing I’d be in the area I sought another option and was offered Scarpetta – a place I’d not heard of and not recognized in the Michelin guide…yet. E-mailing the restaurant I was assured walk-ins would be accepted, but that reservations would be safest. Not knowing my friend’s schedules until the day I left I held off, but when it turned out they were unavailable I made sure to swing by Scarpetta on my foodie travels to secure a reservation – 6:30pm in the bar area as the main dining room had been booked a month in advance (Sounds a bit Babbo-esque to me!

      )

      Arriving after a great day of eating and browsing the galleries and stores of lower Manhattan I checked my bag at the hostess stand and was immediately led to a small table near the window up front – great for people watching out in the meat-packing district and with a full view of the main dining room and bar. While I will admit the music was a bit loud for my liking, it certainly was no more-so than Babbo and the temperature up front was cool enough to wear a jacket, yet not so cold that I felt chilly or that it affected the food – though my neighbors did complain of both. (note, I was the only solo diner present and the complaining diners were an older couple who seemed quite confused by the “new Italian” menu – the male particularly grumbling about everything non-spaghetti – thankfully they were later replaced by a younger male-couple who were quite friendly and inquired about my picture taking and job and had great recommendations for what was/wasn’t worth seeing in Chelsea – much more pleasant, for sure.)

      Shortly after seating I was greeted by my server, an attractive and friendly yet professional young lady named Anastasia (seriously, the service at Scarpetta – even in the bar area – was on par with what I received at Jean Georges and with more personality.) Handed a menu to browse I was also presented with a bread basket featuring a hearty and crusty ciabatta, oiled and aromatic rosemary forcaccia, and an absolutely mind-blowing Salami and Mozzarella Bread with a trio of toppings including Citrus infused Olive Oil (good, but standard), Roasted Eggplant Caponata (superb, I finished 3 servings,) and Mascarpone Butter (tasted like a sheep’s butter, but more airy and succulent.) While I must say I have a strong love for Bread Baskets in general, this example was particularly impressive and in-and-of-itself a reason to love Scarpetta.
      Taking my focus of the breadbasket for a moment and focusing on the menu I was suddenly faced with a conundrum – there were 3 appetizers, 4 pastas, and 2 mains that sounded delightful. With wishful thinking on my mind I asked Anastasia (who I must note I think I may have fell in love with during the meal – any friendly and attractive woman who bears salami mozzarella bread is a winner in my eyes) whether half orders of the pasta were available – alas, no luck. Judging my hunger and knowing dessert was a must I decided at that point 2 pastas would be my max and as much as I wanted to try the spaghetti I just couldn’t do it – thankfully I picked up a copy of Chef Conant’s magazine at the front which contained recipes for both the Spaghetti and the creamy polenta with mushrooms – for free. Placing my orders I sat and listened to the music and the conversation around me while devouring more bread.

      After approximately 20 minutes my first dish arrived – and oh what a dish it was. Entitled DUCK AND FOIE GRAS RAVIOLI with Marsala reduction I’d experienced similar once before – the famous version at Babbo…as a matter of fact, aside from the Gnocchi at Bouchon it was probably my favorite pasta of all time – until I took my first bite of this. Words cannot describe the texture – like silk, butter, cream – you get the picture. Pasta so thin it seemed impossible, a marsala sauce clearly enhanced with balsamic vinegar, butter, chives – sweet and savory all at once – bringing the meaty perfection of the duck/foie filling to a peak that permeated the nose and palate as much as the tongue – completed true Scarpetta style I wiped the plate clean with a piece of the ciabatta.

      Already impressed yet perhaps wishing I’d received the Foie second in order to “save the best for last” I once again waited approximately 15-20 minutes (while trying desperately to keep my hands out of that damned bread basket) before my second dish arrived on a covered dish and dramatically “unmasked” by a male from the kitchen-staff at tableside. Entitled BLACK MACCHERONI with mixed seafood, sea urchin & bread crumbs the very first thing to strike me was the beauty – the thick, long, and perfectly al dente noodles intermingled with long strands of long-cut calamari and glistening with hints of a light broth highlighted with yellow chunks of uni, fresh pieces of crab and lobster, and breadcrumbs accented with a spice I couldn’t identify (perhaps a refined oregano.) The second aspect of the dish, the smell, matched the visual effect – it smelled like the sea, capturing its very essence with a hint of spiciness and butter providing a base. Finally, the taste – incredible – not since Kinch’s “tidal pool” at Manresa have I experienced so many different tastes and textures with the spongy pasta, meaty yet flawless seafood, smooth and light broth, crunchy bread crumbs, and fatty/melt-in-the-mouth uni. Once again a piece of bread found its way into my hand as I sopped up every last drop – and considered licking the plate.

      Feeling somewhat full at this point I opted to skip the interesting cheese plate (essentially a “select your own” approach with each cheese paired with 1 or 2 complements) and stick with a single dessert – although 3 sounded amazing. In my traditional fashion when faced with such decisions I deferred to my server who began by saying everything was good but quickly corrected herself to saying the Chocolate Cake was “amazing.” “Amazing works,” I said – “and I’ll take some coffee as well.”

      Thankfully with the bread basket was taken away from me at this point and the coffee was brought quickly (again without Equal) – a bold yet somewhat boring blend that, for me, seemed more like a breakfast coffee than a “feature” coffee, but it certainly wasn’t bad. Another 10 minutes later my dessert arrived. Apparently Scarpetta’s signature dessert - AMEDEI CHOCOLATE CAKE with burnt orange-caramel gelato and espresso sauce. Having had a great chocolate lava cake the night before at Crop and two weeks earlier at the Ritz Dining Room (and subsequently having the fabled version at Jean-Georges) all I can say is that if you’re going to have a signature dessert, make it this well! Utilizing the deep Tuscan chocolate to the maximum of its breadth by accenting both the sweet (with the sublime caramel-blood orange gelato – possibly as good as the balsamic caramel at Humphry Slocombe) and the bitter (with the rich yet understated espresso sauce) the cake was absolutely amazing – the best I’ve ever had and, like the breads and pastas, reason enough to return.

      All things stated, I simply cannot recommend Scarpetta enough. Reading Conant’s magazine (and soon ordering his new cookbook) I love his simplistic ideals of enhancing the very essence of the ingredients without “overdoing it” and everything about the restaurant, from the ambiance (not casual, but not stuffy) to the food (both Conant’s incredible pastas and Minos’ surreal desserts) follows that goal with great aplomb. If I were to offer one complaint (more a suggestion) it would be a Babbo-esque pasta tasting menu because, quite frankly, if I went back I’d want to order things I hadn’t tried but would have a hard time not re-ordering the same thing because it was that excellent.

      3 Replies
      1. re: uhockey
        Slob May 24, 2009 04:12 PM

        uhockey, EXCELLENT review of Scarpetta. I, too, love Scarpetta. I had the risotto and short rib apps, the spaghetti, and the foie gras ravioli along with a delectable dessert. The service was about the best I've had in NYC on my various trips. And the atmosphere of the room was also fantastic.

        The entirety of the experience puts Scarpetta right at the top of my list of favorite NYC restaurants.

        1. re: Slob
          uhockey May 24, 2009 05:57 PM

          Thanks - I love keeping my blog, it mostly serves to remind me of great times during times of stress - a lasting keepsake of something "fleeting" as it were. It also allows me to give something back to the locals who steer me to great places I may overlook - and to give some good publicity and/or feedback to the restaurants who bust their butts each night to provide both the educated and uneducated diner with a great meal. Scarpetta certainly would have escaped my attention were it not for RGR and Ulterior Epicure and that would have been a damned shame.

        2. re: uhockey
          steve h. May 24, 2009 06:16 PM

          deb and i are fans of scarpetta. we've been there enough so we now sit at the bar (the short side), challenge the barkeep, wolf down the killer potato chip snacks, and cherry pick the menu.

          glad you enjoyed your visit.

        3. k
          kathryn May 24, 2009 02:56 PM

          Regarding bland egg tarts - yup, I've often found that too. To cut down on costs, a lot of places seem to be thinning or watering down their egg custard tarts, which is a shame. I only get them in Flushing Chinatown these days.

          For Donut Plant, I've become a 100% convert for the CAKE donuts. I rarely get the yeast raised ones any more.

          For hot chocolate, Jacques Torres' shop is good but not the best in town (my favorites at Vosges spicy hot chocolate -- which is the only thing I recommend there -- and La Maison's hot chocolate, City Bakery's version I find too rich). You should have gone to La Maison for hot chocolate! Or stopped into Kee's for her chocolates, as she is in Soho. At Jacques Torres, I much prefer the chocolate covered cornflakes, chocolate malt balls, ice cream sandwiches, chocolate covered orange peel, etc. And I don't think anybody really calls the "chocolate room" at City Bakery famous except for the people at City Bakery.

          6 Replies
          1. re: kathryn
            c
            conordog May 24, 2009 03:17 PM

            kathryn, have you had the hot chocolate and cafe angeline in paris? touristy, i know- but how does the ones you mentioned stack up to that?

            1. re: conordog
              k
              kathryn May 24, 2009 03:48 PM

              I haven't had the pleasure.

              1. re: conordog
                ellenost May 25, 2009 08:02 AM

                The closest hot chocolate to Angelina's in Paris that NYC has to offer is the hot chocolate at City Bakery. Thick and rich (you do need the whipped cream to "thin" the hot chocolate).

                1. re: ellenost
                  freezedriedicecream May 25, 2009 06:45 PM

                  I looooove the hot chocolate at Angelina's in Paris (I have some of it in my fridge from my last trip!).

                  Uhockey, et al: I'm so very excited that I will be teaching this fall on 16th St, between 5th and 6th, so I will be o-so-close to City Bakery and the hot chocolate. Not a bad way to start the morning. I've never been offered any sort of whipped cream at City Bakery?!? I've had one of the homemade marshmallows, but I'd love some whipped cream to "thin" the hot chocolate!

                  1. re: freezedriedicecream
                    ellenost May 25, 2009 07:05 PM

                    My mistake: Angelina's has the whipped cream; City Bakery has the marshmallow (I love both versions).

              2. re: kathryn
                s
                scott. May 24, 2009 03:22 PM

                good read.

                and kathryn i agree 100% about the cake vs. yeast donuts at DP. i think the cake is the way to go, although I do love the PB&J. its literally two blocks away so i may head there in the morning actually because i noticed that they have a carrot cake cake donut right now.

              3. uhockey May 24, 2009 03:54 PM

                Bouchon Bakery Full review w/ pics: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/b...

                Only 11 months prior to this post my sister and I had a lovely meal at the Bouchon Café in Time Warner Center and since that time I’ve visited the Bouchon in Las Vegas twice, Bouchon Bakery in Vegas thrice, Ad Hoc, Bouchon, and Bouchon Bakery in Yountville – and had the best meal of my life at an extended tasting of the French Laundry. I’m not going to lie – I am a Keller fan-boy. His approach, his personality, his food, and his cookbooks all strike a good chord with me and the service I’ve received at each of his restaurants has been near-perfection. Returning to New York I’d originally considered Per Se, but instead opted to save this for a later special occasion (a year from now, on completion of residency.) That said, I certainly wasn’t going to leave New York without my fix – Bouchon Bakery for breakfast would suffice. Getting on the train from Queens at 7:05 and hoofing it quickly from Penn Station I managed to make it to Bouchon by 8:15 while products were still coming fresh from the oven.

                While rumor has it that a Bouchon Bakery cookbook is in the works, for the time it must be noted that aside from some items such as the TKO, Macaron, Nutter Butter, Chocolate Bouchons and a few others the variety of goods at each Bouchon bakery is different and seasonal – as such each experience is different and each season is different at each place. Quickly browsing the selections in the case I was surprised by some of the selections and knew that I’d have to select carefully in order to get a good mix and not regret missing out on a flavor – clearly that was impossible, but I tried. Not making the cut – yogurt raisin croissant, pistachio cherry brioche, ricotta cherry pound cake, carrot muffins, lemon tartes, the list goes on and on – but I’m only one man.

                Selections made and knowing I’d have to return to buy my mother some Macarons prior to leaving town I made my way to the seating area after grabbing a handful of Equal packets – this alone is a bonus point for me! Uncrowded as none of the stores had yet opened I must admit I absolutely loved the serenity of the café area looking out onto Lincoln Center and the south end of Central Park – the view alone makes me look forward to per se.

                Starting off, my first taste was the seasonal macaron – Blueberry Cheesecake. A source of complaint from some, I personally quite like Keller’s large-style macarons and find the crumb to usually be quite nice while the fillings are always quite sweet yet not “sugary.” Soft and delicate within, the crisp shell of the Macaron gave way to my bite quite appropriately and I was immediately surprised by the potency of the blueberry flavor and the creaminess of the filling – quite literally like a handheld blueberry cheesecake and quite excellent. For what it is worth, my early birthday gift to my mother was a selection of Macarons from around New York (Jean Georges, La Maison du Chocolat, Payard, Bouley, and Bouchon) and she ranked the versions from Bouchon #2 behind those of La Maison – having tasted a sampling of each I would agree, though for mom it was “close” while for myself the choices from La Maison simply blew everything else out of the water. – also purchased for my mother and not tasted by myself was a “peppermint patty with spearmint fresh from the TFL gardens” – she said it was amazingly creamy and better than the mint chocolates from La Maison.

                My second selection, quite literally 2 minutes post-placement in the bakery case, was the Maple Bacon Brioche. In a weekend that featured fantastic breads at a number of New York’s best restaurants, this one was undoubtedly my favorite – having had Keller’s toasted brioche with the foie gras at TFL and the Citrus Brioche at Bouchon Bakery Yountville I thought I had some idea what to expect – but I was wrong. More buttery, more flaky, more airy – the bread itself was perfect. Coupling this wonder with the thick cut bacon brought forth memories of my amazing meal of Providence while the additional maple glaze harkened to Charlie Trotter’s Maple Bacon Roll – the best of both worlds and an absolutely sublime bread that despite its great flavor didn’t weigh too heavily on the stomach.

                Next up, always amused by Keller’s “Showdown” style desserts – taking on the concepts of famous desserts such as oreos, nutter butters, etc I simply had to taste Bouchon’s take on the classic Ho-Ho – an absolute favorite snack of my childhood (and likely largely contributing to my 285lb frame at age 21.) While I’ve likely not had a Hostess cake in 8 years this wonderful chocolate roll instantly rekindled my love at a whole new level. Featuring Valrhona’s wonderful dark chocolate and the same incredibly intense whipped cream that topped the bread pudding at Ad Hoc this chilled dessert’s shell literally melted in the mouth as the cake’s spongy texture held up beautifully (not collapsing feebly like a classic Ho-Ho) to each bite. Approximately three bites large, another excellent choice.

                The final choice – well, I love cupcakes and Keller’s Red Velvet in Vegas is the best cupcake I’ve ever tasted – as good as all the other options appeared I really didn’t have a choice. Called “Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcake” and carrying a hefty $4 price tag I needed to be amazed – and amazed I was. Per the server this cupcake was cocoa, Sharffen-Berger, and Crème Fraiche with Hazelnut reduction – per me, it was like a cupcake formed out of Cream, Nutella, and Spongy Devil’s Food Cake. Intense, rich, hefty, filling and worth every penny – like the ho-ho the cake stood up on its own and while melting in the mouth retained perfect texture throughout chewing – the mouth-feel alone of this cupcake justifies its price.

                Although there were 10+ items I wanted to taste, plans for the day still included a Michelin 3-starred lunch, museum and gallery hopping, Ssam, and a Yankees game so I had to pace myself – no worries, I’ll be back in Vegas in September.

                1. p
                  Pan May 25, 2009 01:31 AM

                  I really enjoyed your detailed reports!

                  I haven't tried the creme brulee donut at Donut Plant but loved their tres leches donut when I tried it. I also find Dunkin Donuts inedible. But everyone's taste is different, and it seems to me that you may be in some ways harder to please for dessert than I.

                  As for Scarpetta, I haven't been there yet, but did like a lunch at had at L'Impero a few years ago, when Scott Conant was Chef there. One of the dishes I had was the duck-foie gras ravioli you had, and they were delicious.

                  1. uhockey May 25, 2009 09:09 AM

                    Le Bernardin: Full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/l...

                    Text Below:
                    Having had my first “Michelin Three Star” experience at the famed French Laundry in February – further enhanced by a requested extended tasting menu specially prepared by Chef Lee himself – I was thrilled to find out that reservations at New York’s Three Star Establishments didn’t take 2-months-to-the-date-at-10:00am-reservations to get in…I was further enthralled by the fact that they offered lunch with the same quality service and mostly the exact same menu options. Knowing that I’d have three lunches available and browsing the museum and gallery schedule I decided Le Bernardin would be optimal for a Monday Lunch after the Guggenheim and Neue – although I must admit I didn’t quite expect the huge mass of persons I encountered on the way there as Pratt was celebrating graduation at the Radio City Music Hall.

                    A great admirer of Chef Ripert’s long-term tenure in the kitchen of Le Bernardin despite his many other ventures – something a number of other entrepreneur chefs have not managed – and having recently browsed through On The Line I must say I very much anticipated the visit before even walking through the doors and was particularly impressed by the correspondence via e-mail – timely, professional, and accommodating to say the least. Arriving approximately 10 minutes late for my 12:30 reservation I was greeted promptly by the host/hostess combination at the stand and with my bag checked was told “Dr. U, I asked the chef to sign a copy of the menu for you and I’ll place it with your bag if that is okay.” Before even taking my seat I was impressed!

                    Taking a seat in the large and open dining room I have to admit I was a bit surprised – nothing like the intimacy of The Laundry, but just as professional and fluid in all motions. A small bar up front featured a small man dining alone and drinking champagne while the rest of the room was approximately half full – at least for the first 45 minutes until many of the Pratt graduates began showing up for a celebratory lunch (a very refined and quiet group of individuals, I was duly impressed.) Seated at the table next to me – two well heeled elderly lawyers who, from my unintentional eves dropping, clearly knew the NYC dining scene quite well – to the extent that the waiters knew them by name and Chef Ripert personally came to their table and had a 5-10 minute conversation later on (more on this interesting bit later.

                    )

                    Greeted pleasantly by my primary server (and later by his 5-6 assistants) I was glad to have a single primary thoughout the meal – much like TFL (and thankfully nothing like the assembly line at Manresa.) Presented with the extensive menu of amazing sounding fishes the lunch format was explained and when I asked if I could order an extra course to replicate dinner I was assured that would be “wonderful.” Having already extensively drooled (I mean read) over the online menu I must admit I still had some trouble deciding on my courses and while I was deciding I was brought a complimentary glass of champagne (-$34 on the bill,) a nice touch even though I know little about wines and champagnes I liked it more than the ones provided at TFL and Trotters. After a short while I best assessed how to maximize my experience with tastes and textures and made my order.

                    Shortly after placing my order I was brought Le Bernardin’s signature “amuse” if you will – toasted country bread with salmon crème spread. Not typically a fan of salmon (or ‘spreads’ for that matter) I have to say I was a little hesitant at first and placed only a small amount on the bread – the smell was clean and un-fishy and the taste – wow. Creamy and zesty, meaty yet refined and well seasoned – every aspect from the cream to the fish simply melted in the mouth while the bread lent appropriate texture. Having already seen the extensive bread basket walk by once I tried to take it easy on this dish but will admit I finished nearly 3/4 of the spread between the toasted bread and the basket bread.

                    As if reading my mind, the next person to stop by my table was indeed the bread man – and oh what a bounty he carried. Although not all at once, I did manage to sample each of his options throughout the 140 minute meal and each was quite good while two were standouts and one would make my “last meal” bread basket for sure (an ever evolving list with TFLs Pain au Lait, Providence’s Bacon Brioche, Crop’s Cornbread, Alex’s Cranberry Sunflower seed, and Trotter’s Emmenthal Cheese Roll.) Each served warm and with a mildly flavorful cow’s-milk butter sans salt the French roll and Whole Wheat were quite good though largely standard while the brioche, multi grain, and fig+date bread were all quite excellent examples of how to make a complex yet complimentary bread. The champion of the breads, however, was an extraordinary olive demi-baguette laced with rosemary that was almost “breadstick-like” in its crust to center ratio and absolutely loaded with flavorful yet sweet olives – after a year of searching, finally an olive bread better than Gramercy Tavern.

                    Approximately 15 minutes after placing my order, my first dish – from the “Raw” menu was brought – entitled Tuna - Layers of thinly pounded yellowfin, foie gras on toasted baguette, shaved chives and Olive Oil I thought I had some clue of what to expect, but what I receive toppled any expectations and set the bar for everything that followed. Quite honestly, to simply call this tuna “thinly pounded yellowfin” is an insult – what it was, in fact, was as smooth, succulent, and melt-in-your-mouth as good toro and the flavor was peaked yet not at all lost or masked by the wonderful chives. Contributing to the overall mouth-feel was the complexity of the rich olive oil and beneath the flattened fish, a surprise of sorts – a small strip of toasted bread topped with a 1/4 inch thick terrine of foie gras. While unnecessary to make the dish great, the mildness of the fish actually allowed the taste and texture of the liver to shine through and the baguette added a bit of nuance and texture – all told a few simple ingredients in small portions used to their maximum - a theme I’d seen at The French Laundry and would experience with each subsequent dish at Le Bernardin.

                    Dish two, from the lightly touched portion of the menu, was named Crab- Stuffed Zucchini Flowers with Peekytoe Crab and Black Truffle Sauce. Like the previous dish, the name tells the story in “what” you get, but it does not come close to portraying the miraculous flavor. Fresh crab, flawlessly prepared Zucchini Flowers, and a sauce poured tableside that tastes largely like truffles dissolved in a buttery seafood stock – my only complaint would be that if allowed I’d have eaten twenty instead of two. Not the “must order” level of the Tuna, but certainly one of the nicest crab presentations I’ve had.

                    For my main course I have to admit there were approximately six options that sounded remarkable, but given my love for langoustines I ended up choosing Bass-Langoustine - Baked Wild Striped Bass and Langoustine; Confit Tomato Agolotti; Bouillabaisse Consomme and Curry Emulsion – and I couldn’t have been happier with my choice. Though I cannot be positive as I’ve had some truly remarkable fishes in my time, I can definitely state confidently that this dish was on par with the very best. Texturally the fish was indeed called baked – but however it was baked certainly isn’t a result I achieve when baking fish – this “baked fish” was on par with the succulent sous-vide options at TFL, Providence, and Manresa – flavorful, fresh, and perfect. Complimenting the fish were several small pockets of the most flavorful tomato pasta I’ve ever tasted and a pair of sauces poured tableside – a bouillabaisse that tasted like the very essence of the sea and a curry emulsion that provided less spice than would be expected, but instead a salty/savory “thickness” to the broth. Three-Star or not, I asked for an extra piece of brioche to mop the plate clean – truly a superb dish.

                    Shortly following the main course my waiter stopped by and smiled – “wow, you must’ve really loved that” he laughed. Collecting the plate he said “give me a moment before dessert, I’ll see if the chef has time to say hello.” Approximately 5 minutes later Chef Ripert made his second appearance in the dining room to say hello and ask how I was enjoying the meal – pleasant and nonchalant we talked for a few moments, shook hands, and he was off to visit another table in back. Moments later my waiter appeared again with “a gift from the kitchen” and seeing what he brought I smiled boldly. Described as Egg - milk chocolate pot de creme, caramel foam, maple syrup, maldon sea salt the dish was amazing. The first “Dessert egg” I’ve ever received, it is hard to compare to other famous preps, but considering egg dishes are amongst my favorite approaches to haute cuisine I must say this one was amazing. Layered, textural, creamy, sweet and savory at once – the most cloudlike egg custard perched beneath carmel foam and atop a creamy chocolate/syrup layer with crunchy bits of salt – there was no way dessert could top pre-dessert.

                    Still gushing internally about meeting Chef Ripert and eating that sublime Egg I was next brought my real dessert and a basket of mignardises. Entitled Chocolate-Sweet Potato - Dark Amedei Chocolate Ganache, Sweet Potato Pearls and Sorbet, Pistachio, Palm Sugar, Vanilla Salt this was my second day in a row of the amazing Tuscan chocolate, albeit this time as a ganache as opposed to a lava cake. Once again accompanied by ingredients to naturally enhance both the sweets and bitters of this extraordinary chocolate, Le Bernardin took it another step further with the addition of a vanilla salt that brought out the chocolate’s more floral tones beautifully. The additional sweet potato components completed the dish with a myriad of textures from the cool and creamy sorbet to the gelatinous pearls and the crunch of the tuille. The included basket of mignardises consisted of two types of cookie - Pistachio financiers and Coconut Madelines both of which were fresh, warm, and melted in the mouth bringing a wonderful meal to an end.

                    All told I left Le Bernardin amazed by the food and level of service, but somewhat saddened that seafood of such a caliber simply doesn’t exist in the Midwest – Chef Ripert’s talents, clearly honed over many years, combined with excellent fresh fish were simply redefining of what can be done with creatures of the sea – as much so or better than what I experienced at Providence. Another note of sadness came from the conversation I overheard at the table next to me in which the men asked Chef Ripert if he planned to retire when the lease ran out. Chef Ripert responded “well, certainly not if we renew” to which the man responded “well, when I talked to Maguy she said that didn’t seem very likely.” After a short pause the chef stated, “we’ll, I’m certainly not retiring either way, and who knows – things could turn around” and the men said “Good – New York needs you.” All that noted, if Le Bernardin should close its doors when the lease runs out I will be honored to have had a chance to eat there and would recommend anyone who has not had the privilege to do so soon. If they don’t renew the lease, you’ll be grateful to have had the chance – if they do, you’ll probably want to go back – I know I do.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: uhockey
                      capeanne May 25, 2009 10:55 AM

                      uhockey i have followed your culinary adventures ( and those of your Mom and Aunt) from SF to NYC and in between and your write-ups are works of art that make me feel as though I am dining with you...thanks very very much ...let the Boston Board know when u r coming our way ! Some surprises may await you.

                      1. re: uhockey
                        steve h. May 25, 2009 12:29 PM

                        lb is one of the most pleasant restaurants in manhattan. the food is wonderful and the service discrete. lunch is the way to go. well done.

                      2. uhockey May 25, 2009 05:43 PM

                        Momofuku Ssam, Dessert Club Chickalicious, Buid a Green Bakery - full w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/m...

                        Text Below:
                        So I didn’t get into Ko – because of their (admittedly frustrating when it works against you) egalitarian system and “leave a message” phone policy I unfortunately had to give up a lunch reservation the day prior when my friend bailed. Disappointed but still a fan of Chang’s concepts I tried out Milk Bar and was met with a bit of hit and miss – an average pork bun for a high price and a great slice of pie for a good price. Still not dissuaded and having plans with my friends for the Yankees game that evening that precluded a long and elaborate dinner I figured Ssam would be a safe bet for an early dinner (after an admittedly leisurely lunch at Le Bernardin and some less-than-stellar museum hopping and shopping earlier in the day.) Looking into the appropriate Subway Line to get me to the stadium I was glad to see the 4 ran right past Ssam and figured I’d easily have an hour for dinner before having to hop the subway. Before dinner I stopped and picked up some game-time snacks at Dessert Club and Build-A-Green Bakery then made my way to Ssam where I walked up literally one minute before they unlocked the doors.

                        The first one there I was pleasantly surprised by the Led Zeppelin playing across the stereo (Night Flight – followed by Houses of the Holy, 10 Years Gone, and Moby Dick plus some Rush and Stones) and told to sit “wherever I liked.” Wanting to watch the kitchen and chat with the staff I opted for the bar, took a seat, grabbed a menu, and sipped my water (once again, like Noodle Bar, the water-refills were literally nonstop.) Inquiring about the hams and a few other items I opted to go with one appetizer, one main, and save some room for dessert – placing my order I sat back, listened to the great tunes, and watched the place literally fill up within 25 minutes of opening. Chatting with two of my servers about everything from New York to Medicine to music I must admit that although I love formal/classic service, there is something to say about the tattooed hipster servers who keep things extremely professional yet can also interact personally at places like Ssam, CUT, and other “upscale yet trendy) places.

                        After less than 10 minutes my first dish arrived - pork and foie gras terrine – toasted bread, quince, pickled ramps, and maple. Clearly not the level of pretense laid upon most foie preps, the cold terrine was actually quite bizarre in appearance with “cubes” of foie intermingled in a chopped ham pate. Uncertain what to expect I took a bite and, honestly, was blown away – the taste was not expected. Unthinkably the smoky and textural ham lent a nice foil to the fatty and smooth foie and the two ingredients melded well as a spread for the still-warm bread. Hints of maple, I think blended with the ham, took on a greater accent when the quince jelly was added to the mix while the pickled ramps added another degree of acidic-yet-savory crunch to the dish. Inventive and wonderful – I’d order it again.

                        Watching the preparation in the wide open kitchen for a bit and chuckling as one of the cooks apparently brewed up some sort of strange cocktail that many of the staff were drinking I sipped my water and chatted with another patron at the bar for about 10 minutes before my main course arrived - bell & evan's fried chicken with ramps, morels, egg. Not generally one to order chicken, after the miraculous piece at Crop two days prior and the accoutrements being two of my very favorite things (morels and eggs) everything about this dish just sounded right – and it was. Flawlessly tender and exquisitely succulent I was actually glad that the server had told me the chicken was a “blend of dark and white basted with pork fat” prior to ordering it or I’d have been dumbfounded as to how someone managed to make white meat so juicy yet crispy and well done. Complemented beautifully with the sensuous and aromatic morels plus fresh and mildly pungent ramps and smoothed out with the creamy egg yolk – arguably the best fried chicken preparation I’ve ever had and challenged only by the miraculous version at San Francisco’s famed Boulevard.

                        Two stellar courses down I’d already scouted ahead on the menu and read of a dessert simply too unique to pass up. Titled beet and lime ganache - goats milk frozen yogurt, pistachio the dish was actually beautifully creative resembling an artist’s pallet with the ganache painted against one side of the bowl and the yogurt and nuts at the base. Tasting first the ganache I was instantly impressed by the complex interplay of the sour lime and the earthy beet, yet how smooth the overall texture was on the tongue. Next tasting the frozen yogurt and pistachio I was surprised at the overall saltiness but wowed at how the creamy vibrance of the yogurt worked with the crunch and texture of the nuts. Finally, mixing all three components together I truly “got” the dish as everything just worked together to touch every part of the tongue and truly create a whole new dish – difficult to explain but definitely a case where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts and the most challenging yet impressive dessert I’d experienced since Providence.

                        Chatting with my servers a bit more and assured I was headed in the right direction to the Subway I paid my bill and made my departure – the whole meal lasting about 45 minutes but not feeling rushed in any way, shape, or form. Honestly, if Chang didn’t have his reputation – which is well deserved – Ssam, just like noodle bar, would be one of those “neighborhood places” that the locals knew and loved but outsiders never heard about – it just has that feel. Thankfully, though, Chang does have his reputation and outsiders like myself are graced with a chance to experience such “haute-home-style” fusion food.

                        As previously noted, making my way to the Yankee game with no intention of sampling Stadium Food, I had indeed planned ahead with some travel snacks – the first from Build a Green Bakery. Having read a bit about this organic subsidiary of City Bakery and hearing a stellar review from a friend about their cornbread I made a special point to stop – unfortunately they were out of cornbread…but fortunately they had blueberry cornbread (even better!) Purchasing one to go for $3 and consuming it hours later in Yankee Stadium I have to say – for vegan, that is some damned good Cornbread. Texturally complex with the expected cornmeal mouth-feel and additional whole kernels of corn contrasting with the super sweet and fresh whole blueberries - while not quite as good as Arizmendi’s Cherry Scone Cornbread, certainly excellent and reason enough to stop back and check out their other options.

                        The second snacks, also much hyped by the same friend as well as members of various food-circles, were two cupcakes from Dessert Club Chickalicious. Claimed by many to be the best cupcakes in Manhattan, and already having tried some darned good ones at Babycakes and Bouchon, I have to admit I was a bit surprised at the tiny size of the shop and the fact that there was a short line waiting to get in. Browsing the menu it definitely seemed like “my kinda place” but I wanted something portable so the molten cake, bread pudding, and others would have to wait.

                        Making my way in I was greeted by a (admittedly overworked) somewhat surly employee who clearly wanted me in, out, and on my way quickly and actively sighed when I took a picture of the cupcake case. $1.60 for the Red Velvet and $2.25 for the s’mores I simply handed the fella $4 and made my way out.

                        Surviving the 4-train to Yankee Stadium after dinner at Ssam I first tasted the Red Velvet while walking from the train to the stadium – tiny, light, and fluffy I could have easily managed the cake in a single bite but instead held out for two. Appropriately cocoa-accented but with an odd – slickness, if you will – to the frosting – it almost tasted Crisco which I’m sure it wasn’t…good but not great. The second cupcake, which made it until the 4th inning, was vastly superior and actually one of the best cupcakes I’ve ever had. Featuring a gingery and moist cake beyond reproach, dense chocolate ganache, and a topping that tasted (and had the texture) of burnt marshmallows with a woody tone and all – excellent. Definitely enough reason to go back and try some other specialty cupcakes in the future, or to sample the real-deal Chickalicious across the street.

                        Happy and full the Yankees blasted some early inning runs while the game remained largely uneventful (and got quite cold) until the 7th when the Twins tried to make it interesting again – a great food day in total, featuring 3 Michelin starred Chefs, three cupcakes, and a whole lot of good memories and tastes.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: uhockey
                          o
                          orthorunner May 25, 2009 06:43 PM

                          Wow! I am impressed by all that you made it to during your short trip.
                          As a former resident of Dublin, I can relate to some of the Midwest references; I must admit, it's hard to beat Jeni's. In the city, my faves right now are Chinatown Ice Cream Factory and Cones, both of which have both off-the-wall and down-to-earth flavors. Just last weekend I had a ginger flavored gelato from Cones that literally blew me away.
                          Sorry you didn't have a better experience at Jacques Torres; as far as chocolate shops, Marie Belle's hot chocolate is nice and rich and they have a "Mexican" hot chocolate with chile undertones. The best chocolates I've had are at Kee's in Soho and at Teuscher (multiple locations in midtown)

                          It's also good to know someone else appreciates slightly chewy-centered macarons. Bouley's lemon with chocolate ganache are my personal favorite. Kee's does have fantastic macarons as well, though they're smaller and have a strong chocolate background.

                          Your play-by-plays from some of the top restaurants here are really amazing to read, especially as I haven't had the chance to try out many of the higher end places in the city (residency does have its downsides) Some of your descriptions should be used by the restaurants themselves!

                          There are some other places worth trying that may make up for some of your LES disappointments. If you do make it to Sugar Sweet in your next trip, the Pumpkin is the one to get. It's significantly better than their other options. There is also a fantastic pickle store that has not only pickles but other briny creations. Crif Dogs is a good spot for a definitely not-ordinary hot dog, plus it has a kind-of cool, kind-of cheesy speakeasy concept with PDT residing on the other side of a phone booth.

                          I'll look forward to checking out your blog to get some Columbus ideas next time I'm in town; Rigsby's is among my favorites but it's good to discover new places.

                          Thanks again for the posts.

                          1. re: orthorunner
                            uhockey May 25, 2009 06:53 PM

                            Cheers - Cbus isn't a bad town, it just isn't a foodie town. My blog covers 18 of the Dispatch's top 20, though, when you need opinions (IMO, the local writer is clueless)

                            I did make it to SSS on day 4 of the trip - and was not impressed. :-) I'll review it eventually - vacation is officially over tomorrow and its back to the grind. I also know I missed out on the pickle shops in the LES - they just didn't mingle with the sweets.

                            Reviews still to come:
                            Good Enough to Eat, Two Little Red Hens, La Maison du Chocolat, Jean-Georges, Alto, Bouley Bakery, SSS, The Modern, Payard.

                        2. uhockey May 26, 2009 07:26 PM

                          Good Enough to Eat, Two Little Red Hens, La Maison du Chocolate Full Review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/g...

                          Text below:

                          Vastly unimpressed by my visit to Norma’s (great food, worst service ever) on my last trip to New York and quite impressed by the myriad great bakeries my original plan was to not sit down for any “proper” breakfasts while I was in New York – I wasn’t about to wait 2 hours for Clinton Street and, on my previous trip to Shopsin’s the place just seemed very stand-offish and ‘sceney.’ Browsing the online reviews I read of a lady named Carrie Levin and a store called “Good Enough To Eat,” however, and it piqued my interest – especially considering the impressive “down home” breakfast I had at Dottie’s during my trip to San Francisco. Pancakes, French Toast, and a bakery case with cupcakes sold me.

                          With plans for the Met before lunch and then a long tour of Chelsea I arrived at GETE approximately 10 minutes after they opened the doors and there was no line. Seated promptly at a small table (oddly with another solo diner despite the place being near empty) I was amused by the quaint appearance and amazed at how fast the place filled up – literally, full by 8:25. Expecting good things I browsed the menu and made my selection plus a coffee and a water. Checking the bakery case there were no cupcakes present and most of the pies/cakes simply didn’t look overwhelming so I held off to see if more would appear as the meal progressed.

                          Waiting for approximately 10 minutes as the restaurant filled up I asked my server once again about my coffee – the (very) young girl responded “oh, I forgot.” Fine and dandy, I guess – “my water too, please.” Waiting another 5 minutes I got my coffee – the water would come shortly thereafter. The coffee, quite frankly, was terrible – a mix between Folgers and something worse even with equal (brought by myself from Bouchon the previous day.) Sitting and waiting I looked around at the amusing baubles and trinkets strewn across the room and had an peculiar Cracker Barrel meets Bob Evans kinda vibe – it suddenly occurred to me that, perhaps, some of the appeal of this place was simply that New York City doesn’t have “down home cookin’” in the plethoric number that Ohio does.

                          Another 5 minutes passed and my order arrived – called “Good Enough to Eat French Toast” the dish was apparently the house signature and for an extra $2.50 I added the cocoa, sugar, raisins, and walnuts to the cinnamon-swirl bread, maple syrup, and ‘famous’ strawberry butter. Despite the awfulness I requested another cup of coffee to go with the dish – at $3 I at least wanted my caffeine fix – and it took until I was nearly done to receive it (and I’m pretty sure the waitress said MAYBE 10 words during the whole course of the meal.

                          )

                          First tasting the butter I was quite underwhelmed – it tasted like standard grocery store butter mixed with a bit of sugar – I could barely taste fruit, let alone strawberry. Next, examining the dish, I wasn’t really sure what I paid the $2.50 extra for, but whatever it was there is no way the “topping” should have cost extra – all 7 walnuts, 6 raisins, and cocoa of it – I’m certainly not cheap, but I don’t like getting ripped off either. Topping the bread and “topping” with some “famous butter” and syrup I dug in. My first impression – no lie –was “my mom used to make this out of wonder-bread, eggs, and skim milk with cinnamon – but she cooked it more firm.” Eggy, limp, boring – barely “Good Enough to Eat.” Finishing up and sipping my water to cleanse my palate I asked for the check – a check that took about 10 minutes to arrive and was simply set down in front of me without a word. Paying with credit, per always, a small tip was left – along with some written “tips” on how to be a better server – life is all about feedback.

                          I’m from the Midwest – in the Midwest we do “home cooking” and although I haven’t been to Bob Evans or Cracker Barrel in easily 7 years I would go to either before ever going back to GETE. Dottie’s this is not…one of the worst breakfasts in recent memory it was. I’d sooner go to Norma’s again.

                          Disappointed/annoyed but leaving GETE by 8:50 and not even close to full I strolled across Central Park only to make it to The Met 20 minutes before opening – and the line was about 200 deep. Having done my research I knew that two “agenda” stops were nearby and decided to keep right on walking and head back to the Met when things settled down. No cupcakes at GETE – time to get some cupcakes at Two Little Red Hens!

                          Having read very good reviews of Two Little Red Hens despite its obscure location I admit I went in with high – but tempered- expectations, especially given my breakfast. Walking up to the shop it certainly appeared quaint and entering the doors I was struck by its uncanny farmhouse resemblance to Good Enough to Eat. Greeted pleasantly by one of two friendly young ladies and offered a sample of the lemon pound cake the service was already better than GETE and browsing the selections I decided two would be optimal – first selecting the standard Red Velvet and then asking the other lady what she suggested – Black and White – I made my purchase (a bargain $2.75 each considering the size) plus a coffee (an organic fair trade blend whose name I unfortunately forget – though it was quite tasty.)

                          Making my way to the street and the bright New York Sunlight I stopped to photograph my cakes and decided to dig right in – clearly confusing a short elderly lady who stopped to ask why I was taking pictures of my cupcakes “like a dang fool.” Ignoring her and taking a bite of the red velvet my tastebuds jumped for joy – THAT is what Red Velvet tastes like! Truly creamy cream cheese frosting that is dense but aerated, super moist cake with a great cocoa base but hints of vanilla, and a perfect cake to frosting ratio – the best Red Velvet I’ve tried outside of Bouchon Las Vegas and the one at Bouchon only gets the nod for the cake density and the fact that it was filled.

                          Unable to resist I next took a bite of the Black and White cupcakes – apparently a mix of the “Brooklyn Blackout” and Vanilla according to the sales girl – and another run-away winner. Half Vanilla with creamy and airy white frosting, half chocolate with a thick ganache and entirely excellent in taste, texture, and proportion. Paired with the coffee the cupcake was actually possibly even more delicious – almost as if the coffee had been selected (Citizen Cake or French Laundry style) to “compliment” the sweets. Having now been to Magnolia, SSS, Babycakes, Crumbs, Dessert Club, Amy’s, Ruthy’s, Eleni’s, and Bouchon in NYC only Chef Keller can hold a candle to the Hens and that is DEFINITELY a compliment.

                          With one last stop on my morning walk before heading to the museum I decided to make the trip south to the Madison Avenue La Maison du Chocolat. While I am not really a chocolate guy, I do admit I can tell the difference between a good chocolate and an average one - additionally, my aunt is a chocolate lady and as such I made it a point of my trip to New York to get her some chocolates from La Maison.

                          Despite my lack of love for “chocolates,” I do love macarons that comes from my mother who loves the amazing little cookies. Not having the opportunity to try the originals in Paris, I will admit I've tried a number here stateside from Keller's at Bouchon to Paulette's in Beverly Hills to my personal favorites - those at Pistachia Vera in Columbus.....or, I should say my previous personal favorites.

                          Recommended by another foodie I really didn't figure one Macaron could be THAT much better than all the others previously tasted - and I was wrong. With smalls at $2.50 each (a single bite - or two if you want to stretch it) and larges $5.00 (3-4 bites) both varieties were perfect - a light and airy crumb, heavenly intense yet creamy filling, that familar "crack" of the shell giving way to a transcendent pillow of flavor.

                          Sampling a large chocolate with chocolate ganache center, and two smalls -pistacchio with chocolate cream center, and a caramel with chocolate center each were amazing and buying my mother two larges at the time (and a box of smalls the day before I left town, at the Wall Street Shop) she was able to sample the wonder as well. Refined, perfect - pricey but every bit worth it.

                          As noted above, I visited both the UES and the Wall Street Shops during my visit and found the service at Wall Street to be much more friendly (giving me a sample of a candied honeycomb and a dark chocolate covered prune while I shopped for my aunt's chocolates) while the selection was better and less picked over - to be fair, there was almost an air of snootiness to the lady at the Madison Avenue joint, who despite my shirt, tie, and blazer acted as if I "didn't belong" because I told her I was uncertain which chocolates I wanted as I was shopping for my aunt – thus preventing me from buying them on the initial visit but instead holding off until the following day (05/20,) a day on which both the chocolates and the macarons I bought were actually removed from the mailer direct from Paris and handled with white gloves from removal to placement in my box/bag which was tied with a golden bow.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: uhockey
                            Slob May 26, 2009 08:49 PM

                            I completely share your high praise of Two Little Red Hens. And my beautiful companion, Ms. Munchie, loves it even more than I do. We also think Sugar Sweet is quite overrated. We absolutely could not understand the hype after trying a few cupcakes there.

                            1. re: uhockey
                              ellenost May 27, 2009 07:10 AM

                              Love your reports! Now I know I have to try the red velvet cupcake at Two Little Red Hens since it's near where I live.

                              1. re: ellenost
                                uhockey May 27, 2009 02:45 PM

                                Quite honestly, even if I didn't live near it, I'd go out of my way to go there and I'd definitely consider them as a place to get a cake for a special occasion.

                              2. re: uhockey
                                r
                                RCC May 27, 2009 07:55 AM

                                The Brooklyn Blackout is one terrific cupcake. We don't eat a lot of cupcakes, but Two Little Red Hens may be considered ou "go to" ... and we don't even live in the neighborhood.

                              3. uhockey May 27, 2009 06:56 PM

                                Jean-Georges - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/j...

                                Text Below:
                                Jean Georges Vongerichten needs no introduction – with his focus on traditional French cooking and Asian influences and “accessible elegance” he may just have the most ‘down-to-earth’ Michelin 3 Starred restaurant in the world both in terms of price and experience. Lets not forget the man just won the Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant (on top of multiple others in the past) and also runs one of the coolest Blogs out there. After 4 hours of browsing the Metropolitan Museum of Art (honestly, it was supposed to be 3:30 but I got totally mesmerized by the “New American Wing” and Hirst’s “Physical Impossibility” – go, see them now) I realized I was going to be late for my lunch at the Trump International Tower and ran across Central Park.

                                Arriving literally 1 minute late for my reservation (and now all sweaty but thankful I’d packed dress shoes in my briefcase and been wearing running shoes) I walked up the front steps and was actually a bit shocked when the doors were opened to me and the hostess stand was right there – I was still out of breath! Collecting myself I stated my name and got the “Ah yes, right this way sir” as someone checked my bag and I was led to my table in the left center of the main dining room with a full view of all angles of the interior – first thoughts “wow, what a beautiful space.” Second thoughts, “seriously, what a gorgeous place and these seats are really comfy.”

                                Greeted immediately by my gracious and friendly yet extremely professional (on par with The French Laundry, for sure) waiter Adam I was offered a wine list – declined – and subsequently brought a menu. Explaining the format, essentially $14 a dish, I asked Adam how many was too many to which he responds “3 plus dessert is generally quite enough food for most, but it really depends on what you order.” Deciding then that four dishes plus dessert would be my goal I began to peruse – coming up with 10 items that sounded delicious and then rounding them down to achieve a good mix of textures, flavors, and influences around my favorite dishes – not making the cut were multiple incredible looking fish dishes, an amazing chicken confit prep, and a couple wonderful asparagus dishes.

                                Placing my order I was left for a few moments listening to my neighbors (two men, one an author and apparently somewhat famous as 2 separate people stopped by for an autograph, and the other I believe his editor) chat about previous trips to Fat Duck and their back-to-back shutouts on El Bulli – things you certainly don’t hear when dining in Ohio. Listening to them order from the J-G menu in a “been there done that” fashion was sort of cool, but also disappointing – while I love great meals at great places I never want it to feel so “routine” that I don’t get excited by it. My concentration was, however, taken away from them when the bread-man arrived sporting who varieties (only 2?) – an average whole wheat and a vastly better although largely underwhelming French roll. What made the breads for me was the textural and sweet butter and bowl of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to allow customization – a nice touch.

                                Following the bread shortly was the expected Jean-Georges amuse trio – always based on seasonal ingredients and always unique. Described by Adam’s female assistant the day’s amuse consisted of a Peekytoe Crab Fritter with citrus Aoili, Buffala Mozzarella with dehydrated pineapple, and 'spice soup.’ Starting first with the cheese I was very pleased with the firm texture and good density while the flavor was quite mild and excellent – the additional pineapple contributing some crunch and peaking the more subtle notes of the cheese. Second of the amuses was the spice soup, described as a “seasonal blend” I really cannot say precisely what was in this dish, but the predominant flavor was certainly a mix of mild onion (leeks perhaps?) with hints of parsley and a thick note of what I believe was tarragon – nice, smooth, refreshing and in adequate portion. The final amuse, my favorite, was the crab which tasted much like a mini crab cake in citrus – another refreshing dish.

                                Finishing up my amuses I waited only about 10 minutes before my first dish arrived and it would actually prove to be my very favorite of the afternoon. Entitled Goat Cheese Gnocchi, Caramelized Baby Artichoke, Parsley everything about the dish was flawless. While called Gnocchi, I personally do not believe the “noodles” contained a bit of flour (Parisian) or potato (Italian) but instead seemed to be creamed Goat Cheese “formed” into Gnocchi, but whatever they were they were mesmerizing solo and only improved by the extraordinary (and texturally appealing) caramelized artichokes combined with a heavy helping of fresh-cut parsley and a clarified butter reduction. Having tried myriad gnocchi dishes in my time I’d place this dish quite high on my “best of” list and honestly almost ordered a second plate.

                                With my table swept clean of crumbs by the (admittedly awesome) little silver vacuum I waited another 15 minutes or so before dish two arrived - Peekytoe Crab, Asparagus, Mustard, Grapefruit Juice. Honestly, the presentation was gorgeous – I look at the picture and remember how it looked the most of all the dishes – glistening, fresh, and just a pile of crab. Taking a bite I knew I’d gone wrong, however – I should’ve heeded warning to past experiences instead of assuming that everyone can make mustard that tastes like spicy candy (David Kinch.) Great crab, flawlessly prepared and thinly shaved asparagus – then nothing but acid and spice – and way too much of each. While I love bold flavors this was simply too much and as I got towards the bottom I actually began dabbing the crab off with my napkin because whatever nuance was once there was simply lost – and seeing the tuna ribbons presented at the next table only made me regret the choice worse.

                                A blip on the radar I simply repeated my mental note – don’t order things with mustard. Clearing my palate with some water and some bread I sat and waited for my next dish – the most anticipated of all. Arriving quickly, as though sensing my expectation, Foie Gras Brulee with Pineapple-Meyer Lemon Jam was brought next by Adam and presented nicely. Looking at the dish I decided to sample the foie solo first and took a bite – and all I could taste was butane. Thinking this odd I took another bite with the toasted brioche beneath – sweet butane. Adding a bit of the jam – really sweet and somewhat spicy butane. Flagging Adam I brought this to his attention and the dish was swiftly removed and returned to the kitchen with Adam returning to state that this was “how it is supposed to be, due to the brulee process.” Disagreeing with him he stated I would be brought the same dish with a terrine instead – to which I agreed was fine. After approximately 15 minutes I was brought another dish of the Foie, by the female server – and it was bruleed. Assessing the taste again solo the foie was vastly more succulent this time and had no taste of butane, only the expected fatty and smooth mouth-feel and crackling top – excellent. Topping with the jam and tasting the dish as it was supposed to be – perfect and with great contrast from the sweet/sticky jam to the mellow/smooth foie to the sweet, crispy, and textural brioche. A great dish I must admit I was a little peeved that someone actually told me the first dish was prepared correctly.

                                Cleaning my foie plate and using the rest of the superb jam to sweeten a piece of French bread I awaited my final dish for a short period of time (again greeted with the crumb sweeper.) Arriving quickly, another highly touted dish - Sweetbreads, Lightly Pickled White Asparagus, Coriander, Orange arrived and absolutely shined. Lightly panko coated and pan fried the sweetbreads were expertly prepared and without doubt the best I’ve had. With their creamy/fatty texture well contrasted by the crispness of the Asparagus I found an additional degree of nuance with the mild acidic pickled flavor working very well along with both the spicy coriander sauce and the sweet yet non-acidic orange sauce – a nearly Asian presentation of sweetbreads and quite ample in portion – excellent.

                                Finished with the savories I decided to linger for a bit and order coffee. Provided by Le Méridien I can definitely say that this was one of the better house coffees I’ve had in quite some time with subtle nuttiness and very notable sweetness even before adding equal – much better thought out than that of other eateries and clearly showing that J-G doesn’t skimp on “small things.” Browsing the dessert menu I asked Adam whether he recommended Chocolate or Caramel and after debating the options decided to go with Chocolate when he told me it was a new presentation created only a week prior. Presented in short order, the dessert called simply “Chocolate” and featuring Jean Georges Chocolate Cake, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Chocolate Noodles with White Chocolate Ice Cream and Mint Broth was presented along with the caramel/chocolate lollipop from the caramel dish “as a gift from the kitchen.” Starting with the Lollipop I was struck by the darkness of the chocolate and found it to be quite delicious while the caramel interior was also quite tasty, but assured me I’d made the right dessert choice. Before I could move on to the cake I was stopped to get a picture of the marshmallow, chocolate, and macaron presentation. Very cool – and how can you possibly beat a big pile of dessert covering your table?

                                Picture taken and wide-eyed I did indeed proceed next to the cake and ice cream. Chocolaty, Rich, smooth as silk, and with a liquid center the flavors were absolutely wonderful and paired very nicely with the ice cream while the chocolate crumble lent varying texture. Great, but not as amazing as the version at Scarpetta, I next moved on to the second half of the dish – the chocolate noodles with white chocolate ice cream and mint broth. Clearly playing on both temperature and textural contrasts to with the room temperature broth, warmer slick noodles, and (obviously) cold ice cream I personally found the noodles to be quite flavorless aside from hints of cocoa, but the mélange of flavors created by the ice cream and the broth was delectable. Overall a good dessert and quite creative, but not mindblowing like Ssam’s or Scarpetta’s (or later Alto’s and the Modern.

                                )

                                Moving on to the Marshmallow’s next – my handwriting is terrible but I believe they were Raspberry, Coconut, and Apricot – sure they were airy, tasty, and fun, but honestly – they all tasted pretty much the same – like soft froot loops. Next up, the Macarons – the smallest I’ve ever seen yet incredibly flavorful and featuring Peanut Butter and Grape Jelly, Caramel, and Citrus – too small to truly examine the texture and crumb, but a good crack to the shell and then dissolving into soft tones that lingered on the palate. Finally the chocolates - Coconut, Hazelnut, Burnt Honey, Mint – all excellent, but the burnt honey being particularly memorable with its shell breaking and a wonderful lavender honey filling the senses from tongue to nostril.

                                When the meal was completed Adam came to my table and asked me if there was anything else he could do for me – and brought me a copy of the menu signed by Chef Vongerichten “Happy Cooking, Michael” who had apparently had left for a meeting around 1pm. As I had been collecting Macarons for my mother while in NYC I asked if there was any way I could have some of the dainty cookies boxed up – absolutely was the response – and so it was done. Making my way to the door I was handed my bag as well as a white bag with gold emblazoned JG and 16 of the cookies – with three people asking me how I enjoyed my meal and wishing me a safe trip and a return soon I was escorted to the door.

                                In the end I liked my meal at Jean-Georges a lot and definitely understand its clout in the New York Culinary scene. Great ambiance, wonderful and friendly service, class, elegance, and a world class chef. What bothers me about my visit, however, was the food – it just wasn’t as refined or dish-to-dish amazing as Le Bernardin, The French Laundry, Charlie Trotters, Alex, La Folie, Manresa, the Modern or Providence – there were misses and poor preparations – even an excuse from the kitchen/wait-staff. Sure on the whole things were great and the food was good, but for the “Outstanding Restaurant” and Michelin’s 3 Stars – let’s just say I’ve had better. A great deal, a great meal, and I’d go back – but not as soon as I’d rush back to others.

                                1. uhockey May 29, 2009 06:08 PM

                                  Alto: Full review w/ Pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/a...

                                  Text Below:

                                  Having already tasted a lot of great pastries, French, “Fusion,” and Italian cuisine on my recent trips I decided to do something a little different – Greek. Having never been impressed with the limited experiences in the past and hearing good things about Anthos I made reservations – reservations I walked out on when they attempted to force wine, bain-and-switched the entire menu, failed to give me silverware, sat me in the restroom (essentially,) and then had the nerve to call Opentable and suggest I cancelled my reservations so I could not leave feedback (Anthos has yet to respond to any e-mail communication regarding this experience.

                                  )

                                  Pissed off because a really great day – honestly, one of the best in probably a year – of food, friends, museums and galleries was botched I reconsulted my map and realized another restaurant I’d been considering was close-by, Alto. Hoping that they would have tables available I asked a local bouncer (Monkey Bar) which direction it was in and although he was unaware, his colleague knew – just look for the waterfall, you can’t miss it, and the place is awesome. Making my way to the door I walked in and asked if any seats for one were available – after a short pause (I swear the young lady was eyeing me up wondering if I knew this was ‘fine-r dining’) I was asked “dining room or bar?” Dining room I stated – briefcase checked I was led downstairs to a small yet cozy booth/table with a great view of the wines and all ends of the room – excellent.

                                  While somewhat familiar with the NY dining scene but certainly not a local I will admit I’d done my research and originally sought out Alto because of Chef White’s credentials and time at Spiaggia – a meal I loved back in December. What I was not aware of was the fact that Alto originally received its Michelin Star under the guidance of Chef Conant whose wonderful cooking I’d enjoyed 2 nights previous at Scarpetta. Certainly more refined than Scarpetta, Alto’s “scene” was largely business-men (many drinking heavily and getting quite loud,) while the service was very refined, the lights very low, and the food more esoteric, yet oddly accessible through descriptions of the dishes.

                                  Greeted shortly after seating by my primary server, Astrit, and subsequently by his team I knew the night would go well – everyone was polite, professional, and very accessible with a great knowledge of the menu. Tap water, no alcohol, and the menu – prix fixe versus chef’s tasting – I opted for the prix fixe as there were two options simply too favorable to pass up. Orders placed I sat back and waited merely moments before the chef himself (unsure if this was White or a sous-chef) arrived at the table with a “gift from the kitchen.” A small bite, Salmon Crudo with Basil Emulsion and Olive Oil was wonderful with the fatty salmon wonderfully accented in taste and texture by a sweet basil and heady olive oil.

                                  Shortly after collecting my plate and refilling water, my buddy the bread man arrived – this time sporting three varieties, all of which were sampled - Whole Wheat Baguette, Olive Sourdough, and Hearty Italian. While not as interesting as the bread collection at Scarpetta, better overall than either Le Bernardin or Jean-Georges with the Baguette quite hefty and textural, the Italian perfectly crisp and a little smoky on the outside with a soft and mellow interior (much like Babbo, actually) and the Olive Sourdough my favorite with strongly flavored black olives contrasting well against the minimally acidic sourdough. Paired with all of these dishes was a superb (I wish I’d written down the name, but it was an ‘estate blend’) imported Greek Olive Oil that is apparently used in all of Alto’s dishes and imparts a great flavor plus some unique thick-oiliness that is different from most extra virgin olive oils served in Italian restaurants .

                                  Taking in the ambiance and listening to the group down the way while chatting occasionally with my server I waited approximately 15 minutes before my first dish – and arrive it did, to great surprise. Entitled Terrina di Fegato d’Anitra al Moscato con Rabarbaro, or Hudson valley foie gras terrine, pinenut crocante, braised rhubarb – without overstating, quite possibly as good as that at Keller’s French Laundry. Smooth, luscious, no gaminess whatsoever – the foie itself was a stunning piece in size and quality. Served with the foie was a “dust” of crushed pine nuts that added a dose of texture, a rhubarb gel that lent sweetness without overwhelming, and two pieces of foie candy atop for more texture and sweet. Served along with this was a olive-oil-toasted country bread that worked perfectly with the dish and (a la French Laundry) was replaced with warmed bread mid-way through the dish. Every single bit worth the $10 supplementary charge.

                                  An incredible antipasti without traditional “Italian” constraints, I next moved on to the primi, certainly “more” Italian but not traditional either - Spaghetti con Gamberi, Ricci di Mare e Pomodoro or fresh cut spaghetti, shrimp, maine sea urchin, tomato, toasted bread crumbs. Having experienced the excellent seafood based pasta at Scarpetta two days earlier and loving every second of it, this was a ‘must’ the moment I saw it on the menu, though multiple other dishes sounded superb. With noodles vastly more slender than those previous, almost angel-hair in nature yet maintaining a good al dente feel, the delicate pasta was clearly very fresh and was complimented by a hearty yet somewhat spicy tomato sauce whose sweetness was subtle yet appropriate – toasted bread crumbs speckled the dish and lent texture. Further accent was added with the chopped uni – like Conant’s dish well chopped and adding a subtle fattiness and mellow without overwhelming as uni occasionally can. The final component, the shrimp, were perfectly prepared and actually sweeter than the sauce. Attractive and delicious my neighbor inquired what I was having and told his waiter “I’ll have that.” He made a good choice.

                                  After wiping my plate clean with a piece of the olive bread I chatted with my neighbor for a few moments – a nice couple I must admit they were a tad invasive which I thought odd, but I didn’t mind the company. Time passed quickly and before I knew it my secondi arrived – again with superb service and a great description from Astrit. Astice con Brodetto di Crostacei e Pesce or olive oil poached maine lobster, adriatic fish stew, fennel confit, tomato. While I’d originally wanted a “main” that allowed me to experience more textures/tastes than back-to-back tomato, my waiter actually talked me into this dish telling me it was “the best thing on the menu.” While I’m unable to confirm whether this is true, I can definitely say that it was every bit on par with the Foie – and if there is something better on the menu I need to go back soon. A large lobster tail; full, bisected, shell-less and expertly prepared was perched atop a perfectly seared fennel confit with tastes of onion, garlic, and thyme. Beneath this, a broth that would not have been out of place at Le Bernardin – an incredibly aromatic and complex cioppino with heavy hints of a strong red wine, bay leaf, tarragon, and olives plus ample amounts of scallop, octopus, shrimp, and a mild texture fish I believe to be bass or cod.

                                  Finishing the very satisfying dish Astrit stopped by again and I complimented his choice. Collecting my plate he asked if I wanted coffee, this time declined, and brought the dessert menu. Browsing the menu I was once again faced with a dilemma as 4 dishes sounded wonderful (Bombolini with Honey, another Molten Chocolate Cake, etc) and decided to ask Astrit his opinion again – “you can’t miss the Torrone – it is so light and so wonderful” was the response – as this was one of the four and I was starting to feel the weight of the days eating, I agreed. Arriving in a short time and described as Piemontese nougat semifreddo, hazelnut cake, warm chocolate sauce the dish was finished with the sauce tableside and watching the chocolate harden over the cake was actually a very interesting effect as it pooled and froze without making a dent in the perfectly formed sphere. Taking a bite I simply smiled – like a cold and airy cloud of nutella atop a soft yet dense 1/2 inch thick pile of cake that was more hazelnut than flour. A seamless blend of thick dark chocolate and smooth semifreddo – indeed light and indeed “can’t miss.”

                                  Finishing dessert my water was once again filled and I was brought a small plate of petit fours – an olive oil gelee that harkened back to Providence, a rich and buttery raspberry financier, a salted chocolate covered caramel, and a creamy vanilla cake with a strip of rhubarb – all great with the gelee the most memorable for sure. Following the treats was an admittedly modest bill for such a great meal and more gracious service and thanks as I told my servers what a great job they’d done. As I reached the top of the stairs and retrieved my bag I was met by multiple smiling faces asking me how I’d enjoyed the meal and if I needed a cab – high class all around. Walking out I was greeted by the glistening waterfall and Christmas lights in the trees – a scene that almost made me forget I was in the middle of a huge city in May.

                                  All told, May 19th was one of my favorite days in recent memory and Alto proved a very bright spot that I happened upon only secondarily – good luck, I guess? A different dining experience from the more casual Babbo and Scarpetta, but perhaps better than both and miles ahead of anything being done in the Ohio or Los Angeles Italian scenes (in my experience.) Refined and professional service, refined and delicious food that pushes the boundaries of conventional “Italian,” and a setting that is absolutely refined without being stuffy – an absolute must for anyone looking for a great Italian fine dining experience. After a quick walk back to Penn Station through a lighted Times Square I remembered I was in the city again and I was still happy.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: uhockey
                                    r
                                    RGR May 30, 2009 08:59 AM

                                    Wonderful review, uhockey! (As they all have been.)

                                    I'm a huge fan of Michael White's cooking. We had dinner at L'Impero once during Conant's tenure, which I enjoyed. (His signature polenta with mushrooms was to-die-for!) However, when White took and we had dinner the first time, I immediately fell in love with his cuisine. I can still recall -- and almost taste -- the first dish of his that I had: burrata, tiny cherry tomatoes, and basil in tomato water. It was summer, and this dish captured the season perfectly. Plus, I'd never had burrata before, so this was a memorable introduction. We went back again in the fall for another superb meal. Then, the restaurant was transformed into Convivio. We've had dinner there once (so far), and Chef White wowed us again.

                                    Our one meal at Alto took place after White took over. I loved the space, service was professional, and most importantly, White's cuisine was stellar. Very different in style from that which he employs at Convivio, i.e., refined vs. rustic. Your review reminds me that we must get back to Alto asap.

                                    1. re: RGR
                                      uhockey May 30, 2009 11:40 AM

                                      If you like Foie, get theirs - seriously, I've had a few and this one was the only one to rival TFL - at a Fraction of the price - though you can get Keller's prep at the Per Se Salon, I hear.

                                      Everything else was sublime.

                                      1. re: uhockey
                                        r
                                        RGR May 30, 2009 01:56 PM

                                        I'm am a foie gras addict. We had Keller's foie torchon when we were at per se last June. I thought it was quite fine though nothing to rave about and not worth the very steep $30 supplement. What I would have preferred was the very generous portion of foie gras pôelé served to our son-in-law as a substitution for the torchon because he is gluten intolerant. I had a taste, and it was rave-worthy.

                                        As for per se's salon, sitting on a couch and eating hunched over a coffee table is not my idea of comfortable. Not exactly inexpensive either, so unless they install tables and chairs, the salon is out.

                                        1. re: RGR
                                          uhockey May 30, 2009 02:03 PM

                                          :-) Agreed - I'm not spending $200 to sit in a salon - not after the quality of that meal at TFL.......I want the "real deal" experience.

                                          I prefer terrine/torchon preps to seared foie, though both are good, and I loved Alto's and The Modern's on this trip - the one at Ssam was really interesting, as well.

                                          1. re: uhockey
                                            r
                                            RGR May 30, 2009 02:22 PM

                                            While I do prefer seared foie, I'm quite happy with terrines or torchons. In short, I will take foie gras in any way, shape, or form!

                                            The tasting menu we had at The Modern did not include foie gras. But the rabbit terrine was a total mind-blower -- as was every other dish!

                                            ulterior epicure has photos of the rabbit terrine: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ulterior...

                                      2. re: RGR
                                        uhockey May 30, 2009 01:53 PM

                                        Also, I forgot to mention this in my original review and just thought about it now - in the lobster dish, chef White added an amazing extra degree of texture, nuance, and "unique/wowness" by incorporating tomato prepared tapiocca to the ciopinno base of the plate. At first I thought it was roe, but when there was no "pop" on the tongue I simply had to ask and my waiter told me it was a "secret" and one of his favorite parts of the dish. Because of my schedule (and living single) I really don't have much time to cook, but I definitely want to incorporate this in a dish in the future.

                                    2. uhockey May 30, 2009 11:39 AM

                                      Bouley Bakery and Sugar Sweet Sunshine: Full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/b...

                                      Text:

                                      Getting up on my last day in New York was a bit of a hassle as my friend had a doctor’s appointment and as such I had to go to the train station in New Hyde Park even earlier than usual – knowing I’d get to Manhattan well before anything interesting opened I browsed my map and realized I’d actually never seen ground zero or Wall Street in my previous trips, thus setting my morning agenda. Hopping on the train to Penn I browsed my map to figure out the most logical subway transfer and subsequently made my way south. Hopping off the train at Chambers around 7:00am I browsed the lower Tribeca area for a bit before turning north and heading to breakfast.

                                      Walking up to Bouley Bakery I actually almost missed it – largely unadorned I waltzed right past the white building until I came up to the open seating area where one large table hosted a group of ladies and another where a man sat reading the paper - looking back I realized I’d walked right past a window full of breads and pastries. Turning around and making my way to the door I walked in to a strange smell – bread and gravy and chicken (I actually had no idea they served lunch foods at the Bakery.)

                                      Once I got past the smell – certainly not bad – I browsed the collection of foods and was actually quite impressed that the warm bar had so many unique options – seemed like a great place for a quick lunch for anyone working in the Tribeca area. Moving on to more important things, aka the breakfast pastries, I was amazed by the raw number of choices considering they’d just opened and the fact that even more were coming out of the bakery as I browsed. Croissants, Viennoiserie, pastries, breads – everything looked excellent. Selecting 3 Macarons for my mother plus three items for myself the young man behind the counter packed everything up nicely and handed me the package to take up front – trusting to say the least the cashier simply asked myself and each subsequent customer what they purchased – haven’t seen that in a while.

                                      Making my way to the seating area next door I pulled up to a small paper-lined table and examined the drab looking chairs and booths despite the well-lit and attractive room, rustic yet appealing and well complimented by the sunlight and fresh air streaming in – reminded me of eating at a small café on my only trip overseas many years ago. Starting first with the Almond Croissant (a good “standard” item I select at most French bakeries to gauge quality) I was impressed by the crispy exterior, soft pull-apart interior, and overall butteriness but underwhelmed by the almond flavor and use of minimal almonds to top the item. Not bad, but certainly not as impressive as the versions at Payard, La Boulange, or Bouchon.

                                      Moving on next to the Ispahan, described as “Two Rose Macarons with Rose Buttercream, Fresh Raspberries and Lychee. A generous portion featuring two of the largest Macarons I’ve ever seen (probably 1/2 inch larger than those at Bouchon or La Maison) I first tasted the cookie – a good crack to the shell but a center that was too gummy – likely related to the size – and a great flavor with hints of fruit and top-notes of flower. Next tasting the cookie as a whole – excellent. Very fresh berries contrasted very well in their tartness to the extremely sweet buttercream and the dish was further enhanced by the sour lychee whose slick texture contrasted nicely with the creamy buttercream. While not the best Macaron on earth, the overall effect of the cookie was largely inconsequential when viewed in the context of the dish as a whole – and Bouley doesn’t sell large Macarons outside of the Ispahan anyhow.

                                      My final selection, the Neopolitain with Golden Raisin and Pastry Cream, was another excellent choice and much more akin to Payard’s Almond Croissant than the actual croissant was in that it was filled (like Payard and Bouchon’s croissants are.) Crispy and flaky, buttery and well portioned the exterior crack gave way to a smooth center with a dense cream absolutely loaded with what I can only guess were rum-soaked raisins. The heaviest option of the three and the best, in my opinion.

                                      Sitting in the sun a bit longer and browsing my map I was glad I’d made my way to Bouley, despite the naysayers, and will likely make a trip back to his restaurant on a future visit. A relentless perfectionist who really hasn’t strayed from New York aside from closing his restaurant after 9/11 (and using that time to help feed workers at Ground Zero) my first experience was good enough to give me reason to invest in the real-deal next time around. Although I didn’t taste the smaller Macarons, my mother did note she liked them moreso than Payard, albeit less than Bouchon or La Maison.

                                      After a long walk down and around the financial district, around the immense ongoing construction at ground zero, through a couple churches and a few stores, plus a stop into La Maison du Chocolate on Wall Street – where I bought my mother a box of Macarons and my aunt some chocolates (and sampled a dark chocolate covered prune and candied honeycomb that were superb) I next turned North with plans to walk back up The Bowery toward midtown. Not full and with lunch reservations at 1:30pm I decided to swing by the LES and check out Shopsin’s or Clinton Street – unfortunately even on a Wednesday at 10:15 Clinton Street told me it’d be a 20 minute wait and Shopsin’s…I don’t know, the ‘vibe’ of the place just puts me off – I don’t like waiters/cooks glaring at me while I eat. Considering making my way back to Milk Bar for a slice of Crack Pie or some cookies I realized I’d missed out on Sugar Sweet Sunshine on my day one LES-crawl and decided to check it out.

                                      Making my way up to SSS I noted the dingy appearance – it actually looked more beaten up than Babycakes. Walking through the door I next noted the number of employees – seriously, at least 7 people stood behind the counter and (no surprise) I was greeted almost instantaneously by two – both females asking how they could help me. Still at least 10 feet from the case I told them to give me a second so I could browse. After about 2-3 minutes of assessing the options and being amazed by the bargain basement prices ($1.50 compared to Bouchon’s $4.50) I decided to select three. Packaged in a plain box and sealed with a sticker I paid and made my way to the street to eat.

                                      Like the store, the cupcakes certainly didn’t present much eye candy – small cakes with paper wrappers and frosting that looked slapped on with a spatula. Starting with the Pistachio – the most ‘unique’ option on the list, I took a bite. Good frosting to cake ratio, admittedly, but otherwise – it really didn’t taste like pistachio. Actually, it really didn’t taste like much of anything aside from a Betty Crocker white cake with some gritty white frosting (questionably Crisco based) and covered with a bit of crumbled nuts.

                                      Moving next to the “sexy” Red Velvet, I hoped for better and thankfully did get better – slightly. A bit more moist than the previous cake and once again with good ingredient ratio, the cake held up relatively well to my bite and had mild hints of cocoa. That noted, once again the overly sweet frosting was too gritty for my liking and my honest first thought on swallowing was “I make better cupcakes than this – and they’re cheaper.” Hoping my next cupcake would be better I set aside the other 2 bites of “sexy” for the time being (and did actually end up discarding this with the box when done – marking the first time I’ve ever thrown out a cupcake.

                                      )

                                      The second red velvet, called “sassy” featured the same decent red velvet batter with ”chocolate almond buttercream.” Taking a bite I will admit the mouth feel of this frosting was vastly superior to the white Crisco with sugar feel of the others, but “almond” I did not get. Rich and chocolatey I actually liked this cupcake for the price, but wouldn’t put it in the same remote category as those at Two Little Red Hens, Bouchon, Magnolia, Amy’s, or Babycakes. The only cupcakes they may top in the New York Area are Eleni’s and that is based on price and customer service moreso than actual quality – which is similar.

                                      Reading over the SSS website it appears the owners of the shop got their idea from a Betty Crocker cookbook and don’t claim to be pastry chefs – that is a good thing, because they most certainly are not – and as a matter of fact I’d not be shocked if they were still cooking from that cookbook and picking up boxed mix to do it. If you’re in the LES and craving a cupcake, in my opinion, spend the extra and go to Babycakes for something that, albeit pricey, actually tastes good and may actually not be THAT bad for you – otherwise, head north – I’d rather drop $4 on a roundtrip subway fare to spend more at Two Little Red Hens or Bouchon than go back to SSS.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: uhockey
                                        Slob May 30, 2009 04:42 PM

                                        uhockey, you hit another homerun on the SSS review. We went there after reading all the tremendous hype and seeing the 28 Zagat rating in the window. We couldn't believe how mediocre it was. We kind of just stared at each like "What???".

                                        Like you, our first impression was "We make better cupcakes than this." This place is CLEARLY on my NYC Hype Buster List.

                                      2. uhockey May 30, 2009 06:00 PM

                                        The Modern Dining Room - Full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/m...

                                        Text Below:

                                        I love art – even above restaurants (and only second to hockey games) it is the reason I travel – with that in mind, New York is always a popular destination for myself simply for the raw number of museums, galleries, and outdoor exhibitions. Experiencing myriad works over the course of my trip I really could think of no better way to end my fine dining trip than with a visit that mixed two of my favorite things – food and art. Mix in the fact that Gabriel Kreuther had recently won the Beard Award for best Chef in NYC and the fact that The Modern is operated by Danny Meyer – seemed like a can’t miss. A little history but without getting into too much detail - after the untimely death of my father last year my remaining family took a trip to NYC and dined at both EMP and Gramercy Tavern. While EMP was great, GT was truly spectacular and a great memory for our family - filling out the comment card to this effect (I make it a point to fill out all comment cards when offered) I simply left it with the paid bill. On return to home there was an e-mail waiting from the desk of Mr. Meyer himself telling me he was touched by the comments, thanking us for the visit, and stating he was glad his restaurant could be such a great memory – world class and still respected and appreciated to this day.

                                        All the above noted, I went into The Modern with great expectations for a wonderful meal – having typically called ahead to schedule reservations I arrived on time after walking up from Ground Zero and was greeted by the friendly staff who took my bags (yes, quite a hike with a briefcase and 3 days traveling supplies) before being led to my seat in the main dining room. Impressed by the beautiful décor which lightly treaded the line between “Modern” and “Classy” I was led through the jam packed bar to the full dining room and given a seat as requested, with full view of the room as well as the sculpture garden. With sunlight pouring through the windows and a light “hum” to the room from the combination of a full dining room and full bar room the setting was classy without being “formal” and the noise was “energetic” without being loud. Interestingly as I sat and browse the room I noted a lady to my left actively jotting in a large notebook, dissecting small aspects of the plates served to her, and asking very specific questions about the food – clearly a critic, though I’m uncertain as to what acclaim.

                                        Moments after seating I was greeted by my captain and subsequently by multiple other members of the staff – from beginning to end, in traditional Meyer fashion, the service was cordial and polished, concerned and interactive, and I never had to want for anything from water to bread to descriptions of the dishes. Declining wine and browsing the menu I strongly considered the Prix Fixe of the day, but wanted to ask a question first – nearly sensing my question as I lifted my head my waiter appeared and inquiring whether items from the bar menu could be ordered in the dining room he stated “not normally, but we can bend the rules on occasion.” Asking if I could get one bar-menu item and two appetizers plus dessert I was told certainly and asking further questions about the tuna versus the risotto I remorsefully rejected my waiter’s advice to go with the “signature” tartare because the risotto simply sounded too good to pass up.

                                        Waiting merely moments the bread man next appeared sporting a cool cube of butter on a glass pedestal and two bowls – fleur de sel and fresh cracked pepper, as well as two breads – an Olive Whole Wheat that was every bit as impressive as that at Gramercy Tavern (but not quite as wonderful as Le Bernardin) and a French Roll that sported plenty of butter taste without adding butter – but much more when adding some. With regard to the butter – a wonderfully grassy blend that my server told me was from Jersey cows.

                                        Following the bread man shortly was “a gift from the kitchen” which I’d seen presented to multiple tables and was certainly intrigued by. Described as Cucumber Panna Cotta with Trout Roe and Salmon Crème, I can say for certain that this may be the most attractive amuse I’ve ever received and the flavors lived up to the appearance. Comparable to the cauliflower panna cotta at Al’ Angelo, the taste of fresh cucumber came through with great freshness in conjunction with the light custard while the trout eggs provided a salty ‘pop.” Lining the bottom of the champagne glass was a salmon cream that actually reminded me quite favorably of the flavor of Chef Ripert’s salmon spread at Le Bernardin.

                                        Following my amuse my captain next returned with a big smile on his face and presented me with the signature Tartare of Yellowfin Tuna and Diver Scallops Seasoned with Yellowstone River Caviar stating “I asked the chef to prepare this specially on the house – you simply can’t miss this dish.” Thanking him profusely as this was #4 on my list of things to try even before entering, I was first struck by the portion size and the beauty of the dish – like the crab at J-G it simply glistened and the combination of colors was a sight to behold. Taking my first bite I could instantly see why this was a signature and was even more grateful. Sashimi quality tuna with a minimally firm texture contrasted beautifully with the nearly-raw scallops and their buttery-smoothness and both nearly melted in the mouth. Enhanced further with the salty pop of the diffusely spread caviar and basil the overall mouth sensation was briny yet refined, smooth yet textural, and absolutely wonderful.

                                        Having already been in the restaurant for nearly 45 minutes and eating 3 pieces of bread, a sizable amuse, and one dish with three yet to come I was next presented with my special request from the bar - Slow Poached Farm Egg “In a Jar” with Maine lobster, hearts of palm and sea urchin broth. Admittedly a seeker of wonderful egg dishes I fully expected to be entranced by this dish and I was not disappointed – it was amongst the best I’ve ever experienced. Served hot in a locking jar, the lid was released tableside and immediately the aroma of the sea filled my nostrils. Foaming yolk and a aromatic broth with the very air of sea urchin and mild texture from finely pureed uni tongues was only the background to a soft yet well-poached egg, a hefty helping of fresh (and incredibly sweet) lobster, and snappy hearts of palm with a somewhat ‘peach-like’ flavor. On a trip that contained myriad great tastes, I do believe this may be the savory I will remember most fondly (along with Alto’s Foie and Ssam’s Chicken.

                                        )

                                        My following dish, naturally, was the foie offering of the day - Spiced Foie Gras Terrine with Quince Gelée and Fresh Walnuts. A fan of terrine over seared I was quite excited when I saw this on the menu and along with the egg it was a clear must order. Delivered along with a toasted cinnamon wheat bread and the tender and chilled foie was actually wrapped in salty duck prosciutto and accompanied with three small walnuts, quince gelee, and thinly sliced daikon that I do believe was pickled. Overall the texture was quite nice – much firmer and less spreadable than the version at Alto or TFL but more akin to that at Aqua, the texture worked well with the toasted bread. While I’m never one to complain about a large piece of Foie and the dish was largely excellent, I must admit that the accoutrements were somewhat too small for the liver – there wasn’t enough to go around and experiment with different tastes, textures, and combinations. Salty, sweet, savory, and substantial - certainly a great presentation, a second serving of the toasted bread was requested and delivered (along with a few more walnuts) to finish the dish off.

                                        My final dish, the one I selected over the tuna/scallop tartare was entitled Rock Shrimp Risotto with Wild Ramps, Fine Herbs and Hijiki. Once again treading the line between sublime French and Eastern influences, yet this time with the focus surrounding a perfectly prepared and toothsome Risotto, this dish may have been the most complex of the day and yet equally refined. Tender and succulent rock shrimp aplenty, sweet yet pungent ramps, hints of thyme and saffron, and a totally new taste to myself – the wonderfully aromatic and briny Hijiki seaweed primed the broth which was then topped with a generous helping of savory and milky goats cheese. A mélange of textures, tastes, spices, and temperatures – after four dishes I was full but still wished I’d have gone with the tasting as everything was just so superb.

                                        Full but certainly not skipping dessert after such an awe-inspiring meal I decided to linger for a bit, take in the room, and drink a cup of coffee before ordering. Served as an individual French press (and refilled for free before I left – something I did not expect) I honestly forgot to write down the blend though I will note it was incredibly complex with strong floral accents and an almost honey-like flavor that lingered after each sip. Served with the coffee was artificial sweetener, three types of sugar, and a boiling hot frothed milk – a very sleek and sexy presentation warranted by the high quality beans.

                                        Given the quality of the meal and the strong tastes and textures I decided to go with something fruit based instead of chocolate – having already seen the mignardises I knew I’d be treated to chocolates anyhow. Asking the captain if pastry chef Aumont had a signature I was met with a strong recommendation including “best in the world” and went with it. Ten minutes later I was met with Baba Grand Marnier, Roasted Mango, Vanilla Ice Cream and Lime Sabayon. Having had a Baba Au Rum only twice in the past I really can’t say if this is the best in the world – but it is certainly the best version I’ve tasted (better than Ducasse’s classic Monte Carlo version.) Buttery and almost cotton-candy light, the cake itself was almost impossibly smooth – I can hardly believe it didn’t dissolve in the broth. Adding texture to the dish were three slices of Grand Marnier Roasted Mangos, flawless and as if kissed by honey and alcohol. Completing the dish, a creamy and warm lime sabayon that had the texture of the head of a beer and a smooth and succulent vanilla ice-cream that slowly melted into the Sabayon. Once again flirting with different tastes, textures, and temperatures – a wonderful way to finish a wonderful meal.

                                        Completing the meal, more treats, this time from Aumont who I later learned had helped to establish Bouley bakery – first in the form of mignardises and then chocolates in a porcelain box. Starting with the mignardises - Spice Gelee, Raspberry Chips, Green Tea Cake, Coconut Covered Cherries – each was delicious yet completely different with the gelee tasting very similar to a sugary version of Jean-Georges amuse soup, the cake tasting like the very essence of matcha, and the flash fried coconut cherries a revelation – they should be sold nationwide. Amongst the chocolates - Lemon, Cinnamon, Coffee, Chocolate Gnache, Salted Caramel – each was excellent with the Cinnamon truly standing out with its milk chocolate matched with a maple/cinnamon interior and the Chocolate Gnache likely 99% cocoa on the outside with perhaps an 80% smooth gnache inside.

                                        Completely full and overwhelmingly happy with every aspect of the meal I paid my bill and thanked my server for a wonderful experience. Presented with a comment card I once again filled this out with great thanks to Chef Kreuther, Mr. Meyer, and the whole staff. Dining alone under happy circumstances or dining as a group under less favorable conditions I have to say that the experiences at each of Mr. Meyer’s restaurants has been phenomenal but the food at The Modern was definitively the best “all around.” Innovative, exploratory, trend-bending, and expertly prepared – best Chef indeed and of all the restaurants I visited in NYC on the trip the one I’d most readily take my friends and family back to on a future visit.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: uhockey
                                          n
                                          nyrangers681 Jun 29, 2009 08:19 PM

                                          wow just a fantastic review of the modern, I had a great experiance with their lunch at the bar seating, and as far as the your magnificent trip around Downtown NYC's hottest foodie spots, I think that you did extremely well but missed some great restaurants downtown though. You might have wanted to go deeper into Chinatown with small gems like Fay Da bakery and such for egg custards (I'm biased I was raised in Chinatown), and other places like Congee Village or Prosperity Dumpling. As far as the LES goes, with the tide of hipness comes the tide of underwhelming restaurants. There are some magnificent LES restaurants. But whatever, I feel out of my league here with great foodies here, its a total mindfuck. You also did some wonderful reviews on some of the best eateries in the city. I think that you've written some of the greatest posts on the site by the way. You hit up some of the best of NYC (yankee game included) in such a short time. I'm very impressed.

                                          1. re: nyrangers681
                                            uhockey Jul 1, 2009 05:56 PM

                                            Thanks. :-)

                                            To be fair - I know I missed some good spots and I'll be back....MSG for a Rangers game is still on my NHL-Arenas-to-do list and Per Se is #1 on my restaurant want-list.

                                        2. uhockey May 31, 2009 04:57 PM

                                          Payard full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/p...

                                          Text Below:

                                          Classically trained and hailing from a line of pastry chefs and restaurateurs there is no doubt that Francois Payard is a talented man – he has spent time in Michelin three-starred kitchens, helped to open Daniel, and won Beard awards himself. Having had a great breakfast featuring luxurious chocolate waffles and the best almond croissant of my life (along with somewhat bland service) at Payard’s Las Vegas branch back in September, when I was looking for something “to-go” en route from Midtown up to the M-60 bus stop in Harlem I just so happened to note Payard’s New York bistro fit the bill perfectly - Plenty of fresh pastries and portables that would keep well on the bus and while I waited for my plane at LaGuardia.

                                          Walking up to the small shop the first thing that struck me was how quaint it appeared – doors open with people sitting inside drinking tea or cocktails while eating small cookies, a back dining area with all the bustle of a French bistro, all casual yet refined. The second thing – the pastries, what else? Stretching both sides of the room were cases full of wonderful looking breads, macarons, cakes, cookies, croissants, and tarts – none of which looked bad and many of which looked superb. Browsing the selections and taking some pictures I noted a large man who looked somewhat like Djimon Hounsou pointing at me from the back – odd, I thought.

                                          Wanting a savory to go with my sweets I noted a nice looking Croque Monsieur in the case and asked for it to be prepared – “this is a full service cafe, sir, you’ll have to take a table so a waiter can bring it to you” was the response I got. “Well, I wanted it to go so I could catch the bus – I’m on my way to the airport.” Exasperated, “Oh, well I guess we can prepare it for you then” as he placed it in the toaster – yes, in the toaster. Further browsing the selections while I waited I asked a couple more questions which were met with somewhat put-upon answers, but despite the poor service I persisted – under no time constraints I’d have likely just walked out.

                                          Approximately 10 minutes later my Croque was finally done baking and as I took another picture of the interior Mr. Hounsou came up and said “sir, I’m going to have to ask you to stop taking pictures or leave – we don’t know who you are, you could be an ‘agent’ for all we know.” Having no idea what to make of this I put my camera away and having already paid my bill I made my way to the street. Honestly, there is no excuse for the “service” I received at Payard – but thankfully the food almost made up for it.
                                          Consuming the Croque first as it was still piping hot I must say that for a pre-prepped version it was quite excellent with two buttery slices of brioche slow toasted housing an ample portion of salty ham. Covering the dish a hefty pile of fresh Béchamel that added a smooth creaminess. While it is difficult to compare a Monsieur to a Madame, I’d say this is easily the best portable Croque I’ve tasted, though not quite as wowing as that at Bouchon or the absolutely transcendent version at the Butler and Chef in San Francisco.

                                          Following the Croque I opted for something sweet – a Raspberry Jelly Donut. Deciding on this one over the more decadent and filling cream custard version, the crispy and surprisingly unoily beignet was perfectly formed and quite light with mild hints of vanilla pulled to the forefront by a dusting of sugar. Inside the doughy shell, the most incredible raspberry compote I’ve ever tasted – and a whole lot of it. Absolutely stuffed from front to back and top to bottom, the pure essence of raspberries gushed forth as I bit in and each bite seemed to yield more than I’d expected to be in the entire pastry. While many may want to brag Donut plant, I’m gathering Payard doesn’t use any “unnatural”
                                          ingredients either and the results are far more impressive.

                                          Finishing off the pastries for the time being I decided to have some chocolate – this time in the form of a Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookie. Like a dense and chewy brownie mixed with decadent walnut fudge, this rich little item was another winner and is actually featured in Food and Wine Magazine’s recipe section. Clearly using a high quality cocoa and a plethora of fresh nuts I will definitely be incorporating this into my arsenal of “quick dishes that impress friends and neighbors” in the near future – like Keller’s Bouchons this is a dish that is vastly more impressive than one would expect from the simple recipe.

                                          Hopping on the train and making my way up to Harlem I thought back on Payard and was still sort of annoyed by the service issues – not “aloof” like the one in Vegas, but actually rude and arrogant. So it goes, I thought. Off the train and onto the M-60 I went – almost as hilariously “out-of-this-world-compared-to-Ohio” as the 4 train to the Bronx during a Yankees game, I have to admit I liked it more than my supershuttle experience and would definitely do it again. Making great time I arrived at LaGuardia almost 3 hours before my plane was to take off.

                                          Wandering the small airport both inside and out I was unfortunately stuck in a boring terminal without much to shop, browse, or see. After calling a few friends and family (and having my flight delayed 30 minutes due to a “luggage latch”) I was seated near the window waiting and decided to try some more of my delicacies – this time the powdered sugar citrus brioche. Pulling apart with ease and similar to the pistachio citrus version I’d had at Yountville Bouchon Bakery in February, I actually found Payard’s to be superior (though not as good as the maple bacon brioche at Bouchon NY.) Buttery and clean, dissolving on the tongue with hints of both lemon and orange – a great piece of bread that would pair well with tea, but likely not coffee.

                                          Taking home three macarons for my mom (noted to be quite inferior to the others from my trip, per mom, but still “better than anything we have in Toledo”) I figured I’d end my New York food extravaganza while still in New York and I opened up the box containing my final Payard selection - Saint Honore with egg bavarois and whipped cream filling. A buttery pate a choux biscuit topped with three small balls of pate a choux and loaded with fresh whipping cream plus bits of crunchy chocolate and caramel I first wondered where the Bavarian cream was – until I took a bite. Ostensibly using the choux balls as decoration, the three buttery bits were actually used to house the eggy bavarois which was buried beneath the whipped cream – a taste that when sampled as a whole actually resembled the texture and flavor of a creamy vanilla ice-cream, but warm – in many ways a warm and portable profiterole with more nuance and texture. Brilliantly done and quite sweet I finished the pastry approximately 10 minutes before boarding my flight (aka, about 15 minutes before I fell asleep) and awoke just under 2 hours later back home – a great way to finish a great trip, thought I do regret that eating the pastries in the airport is more pleasant than being in the restaurant itself.

                                          1. uhockey May 31, 2009 04:59 PM

                                            And that is that ladies and gents - now begins June - the first of two busy critical care months. The travel has been good lately and I thank you all for your help in making my trip to NYC one of many hits and very few misses.

                                            I get nothing from my blog but a way to keep my memories, share them with friends and family, and perhaps offer a little insight and feedback to the locals and other travelers. :-) Cheers.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: uhockey
                                              p
                                              Pan May 31, 2009 09:26 PM

                                              All the best of luck to you, and thank you for getting back to us with such generous detail!

                                              1. re: uhockey
                                                w
                                                windycity Jun 29, 2009 07:13 PM

                                                UHockey,

                                                Being from the Midwest myself, it took me a very long time to get used to the brusque service at most NYC institutions. Also I had to laugh because I think we have similar palettes. I got the same peekytoe crab at JG even though I hate mustard and I was similarly disappointed. (Everything else was delish though, although the chocolate noodle was unimpressive.) The macarons there were perfect especially the PB and J (and I don't love peanut butter.)

                                                Payard used to have stellar service, and when I went about a month ago, they actually had dismissive service which caused me to wonder what was wrong, and if they were going to close. Today my friend sent me a note that Payard is indeed closed. *sigh* No more macarons, chocolate walnut cookie or jelly donuts or St. Honore. And you missed what used to be their best dessert - the Beaux Arts which was passionfruit and cassis mousse.

                                                I was also completely underwhelmed by Good Enough to Eat and bewildered at the hordes.

                                                Anyway, thanks for the v detailed reviews and good luck in the CCU.

                                                1. re: windycity
                                                  uhockey Jul 1, 2009 05:59 PM

                                                  Thanks for the feedback - hopefully the Payard in Vegas remains - I found the service there much less offensive and the chocolate waffles were divine.

                                                  Good Enough to Eat.........yeah, I don't get it.

                                                  Regarding "the windy city" - I'll be in town for the first weekend of August for Alinea, Spiaggia, North Pond, and some Chi-town classics. :-)

                                                  1. re: windycity
                                                    r
                                                    RGR Jul 1, 2009 09:31 PM

                                                    windycity,

                                                    I have to disagree with your statement that service at most NYC restaurants is brusque. As a native, I find that service is generally quite cordial.

                                                    Re: Payard. The closure was the result of a rent dispute with the landlord. Payard announced that he is looking for another space and will reopen.

                                                Show Hidden Posts