Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blue Hill

We had dinner at Blue Hill a few weeks ago. This restaurant, which also operates a farm and restaurant in Westchester, from which it sources many of its vegetables and meat, reminded me of a simple country meal artistically elevated in excellence. It's actually not simple at all, but that's its spirit.

The meal started with some delicious bread that my fellow diners and I kept gobbling down. The bread slid down right good with the addition of some soft-as-a-kiss fresh butter from a dairy farm (though not Blue Hill's). The bread was warm, and cut open with a knife and butter-stuffed was excellent.

An amuse bouche was fresh radish, still on a small stalk, and hung bulb-down in precious stands. These were fantastic radishes, crisp and vivid with the deliciousness of vegetable youth.

We had four courses, but I've forgotten one of them (though I remember liking it). The first course I remember was a beautiful asparagus salad, with slender white asparagus and a kind of pea puree or something like that on the plate. Beautiful ramps decorated the plate. The next course I recall was an incredible vegetarian farro, again in a medley of vegetable purees and touched with parmesan. The freshness of the vegetables was apparent. What I liked about it was the perfect texture of the farro, the bursting-with-flavor zest of the sauce, and an elegant presentation. It was characteristic of the dishes at Blue Hill -- elegant yet colorful both in taste and appearance. Dessert for me was a lovely chocolate bread pudding with banana ice cream. They went together surprisingly well.

Throughout service was professional and unobtrusive. All in all, Blue Hill was a first-class gourmet experience for vegetarians.

Stars: 5/5

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My favorite restaurants

I want to keep a very informal track of my favorite restaurants -- the ones that I actually crave and want to revisit here. I suppose in some sense these are the true 5-stars! These are the places I would take visitors without hesitation for really delightful food.

Eleven guaranteed blow-your-mind NYC food experiences:
Molten chocolate cake at the dessert truck
Shroomburger at Shake Shack
Pizza at Grimaldi's, well-done
Black and white milkshake at Stand
Red velvet cupcake at Buttercup Bakery
Sicilian slice at Artichoke
Chocolate croissant at Brasserie Cognac
Original sour cream apple walnut pie at Little Pie Co., warmed, served a la mode
Paneer Kati Roll at Kati Roll Co.
Honey latte at Second Stop

Clinton St. Baking Co. (for pancakes especially, also muffins) (LES)
The Smith (french toast, mac and cheese) (EV)
Jane (french toast) (WV)
Stanton Social (everything, esp. bomboloni) (LES)
Farm at Adderley (french toast, everything)
Buttermilk Channel (pecan french toast)
August (cast-iron dishes) (WV)
Sarabeth's (fresh muffins) (multiple locations)
Bocca Lupo (Brooklyn)
Telepan (bread basket) (UWS)
Five Points (bread basket, chocolate stuff, egg dishes) (EV)
Ronnybrook Milk Bar (cast iron eggs, croissant egg sandwich, roasted potatoes with garlic and butter, milkshakes) (Chelsea)
Moto (Williamsburg...delicious pancakes, donuts)
Taste (UES)
Corner Bakery (UES)
Olea (french toast, fresh chocolate croissants)
iCi (french toast)

Chocolates: Pierre Marcolini, Maison du Chocolat, Bespoke Chocolates, Kee's, Mondel's, Neuhaus, Martine's, Bespoke Chocolate (EV), Teuscher for champaign truffles (UES)
Chocolate Chip Cookies: Chocolate Bar, Jacques Torres, Baked, Petrossian's Cafe, David Burke and Donatella at Bloomingdale's
Brownie: Fat Witch, David Burke and Donatella at Bloomingdale's
Hot Chocolate: Dessert Truck, Grom (also try their affogato)
Chocolate Bread Pudding: Dessert Truck, Russ & Daughters (chocolate bagel pudding)
Chocolate Cake: Two Little Red Hens
Chocolate Gelato: Il Laboratorio di Gelato
Chocolate Sorbet: The Chocolate Room (Brooklyn)
Chocolate croissant: David Burke and Donatella at Bloomingdale's, Petrossian's Cafe, Bouley, Brasserie Cognac, Eli's (UES), Tarallucci e Vino
Chocolate milkshake (or milkshakes generally): Stand, Ronnybrook Milk Bar, Shake Shack

Iced Chocolate: Chocolate Bar
Chocolate Dumpling: Rickshaw Dumpling Bar
Molten Chocolate Cake: Dessert Truck

Ice Cream/Gelato:
Il Laboratorio di Gelato
Shake Shack
Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
Otto (for the olive oil gelato)
Mr. Softee (sometimes it hits the spot)
Ronnybrook Milk Bar (blueberry milkshake is awesome)

Baked Goods:
Croissants - David Burke & Donatella at Bloomingdales, Petrossian's Cafe, Bouley, Brasserie Cognac, Almondine, La Tropezienne, Madeleine, Tarallucci e Vino
Cupcakes - Kumquat Bakery (Brooklyn - only at flea right now or else visit Korean restaurant Do Hwa in Manhattan), Sugar Sweet Sunshine (LES - pumpkin), Buttercup Bakery (midtown east - red velvet especially), Sweet Revenge (WV - red velvet especially, chocolate was just ok), Crumbs (certain flavors, like Baba Booey), Eleni's (peanut butter)
Apple Pie: Little Pie Co. (only hell's kitchen location - get the original apple pie)
Other pies: Grey Dog Coffee
Bomboloni: Sullivan St. Bakery, Dessert Truck, Grandaisy, Almondine
Bread: Sullivan St. Bakery, Almondine
Brunch coffee cakes, etc. - Telepan
Scones - Clinton St. Baking Co., Alice's Teacup
Red Velvet Cake - Smooch (it's in Brooklyn, and the cake's vegan too, but tastes amazing!), Buttercup
Cheesecake: Imported lemon-ricotta cheesecake from Bedford Cheese Shop
Hungarian Pastries (try the kugelhopf): Andre's Hungarian Bakery
Vegan - Babycakes, Cakelove, the place that makes desserts for Smooch (Ft Greene) and Curly's (EV) - try the vegan red velvet
Churros - Five Points
Doughnuts - Peter Pan, Doughnut Plant (some of their donuts, like their chocolate thing)
Macarons: Dessert Truck, Cafe Macaron (midtown), Maison du Chocolat, Tafu (midtown)
Coconut Macaroons: Baked (Red Hook or outlets)
Muffins - Second Stop (Williamsburg - try donut muffins)
Misc - Russ & Daughters (try the chocolate babka and the bagel pudding)
Cookies - for choc chip see chocolate section; otherwise Something Sweet (EV) has delicious hard cookies; Baked (Red Hook or served at Cafe Royale in WV) for its chocolate-covered coconut macaroons
Rice pudding - Rice to Riches
Cake - Busy bee cake at Black Hound (EV, which otherwise has some mediocre stuff); Mississippi Mud cake at Little Pie Co, tiramisu at Obika
Japanese: Minamoto Kitchoan (midtown - try red bean cake), Tafu
Key lime pie: Steve's Key Lime Pies (Red Hook)
Cannoli & other italian desserts - Ricotta stand at Brooklyn flea, Villabate (Bensonhurst), Rocco's on Bleecker

Sit-down Desserts:
Midscale dessert parlors: Chocolate Room (Park Slope & Court St) - brownie sundae, Serendipity's (good ice cream concoctions, frozen hot chocolate)
Innovative but still tasty - WD-50, Graffiti
Vegan: Kyotofu
Other: Chikalicious (EV) - beautiful, though portions are small, Gramercy Tavern, Perry St (try their pudding)

Banh Mi Saigon Bakery
Abraco for their sandwich of the day
Shake Shack for their vegetarian "burger" (two portabello mushrooms around a block of muenster cheese - and the whole thing's deepfried)
Num Pang - cauliflower and eggplant
Barnyard - vegetarian sandwiches
Obika - fresh mozzarella
Nha Troi - banh mi

The side salads at Square Meal are excellent

Locanda Verde (Tribeca)
Cacio e Pepe (EV) - esp. the signature cacio e pepe dish
Alloro (UES)
apizz (LES)
Perbacco (EV)
Supper (EV)
Celeste (UWS)
Obika - must try their fresh mozzarella dishes, tiramisu (Midtown East)
Spotted Pig - genuinely excellent gnudi, but it is a small portion and expensive for that
Bar Pitti (WV) - great salads and pasta
Tre - wonderful dishes and plating for reasonable prices. try the pasta primavera if they have it, and the tiramisu. (LES)
La Lanterna di Vittorio - beautiful garden in the back, delicious food, reasonable prices (WV)

Shake Shack

Cheap Gujurati: Gujurati Newsstand (but nonexistent service) at 6th and 37th
Somewhat less cheap Gujurati: Vatan
Standard N. Indian: Polash (Spanish Harlem!), Banjara (EV)
Standard N. Indian & S. Indian, somewhat upscale: Chola (Midtown East)
N. Indian upscale, good but not extraordinary flavors: Tamarind
Indian fusion: Graffiti (EV), Vermilion (Midtown East) (Indian-Latin)
S. Indian: Tiffin Wallah (28th and Lex) and Tamil Nadu Bhavan (same area)
Kathi Roll: Kati Roll Co. (Village, Midtown), Grill 44 (near 44th and 3rd), Bombay Frankie (near Columbia on Amsterdam)

Coffee & Tea:
St's Alp Tea House (EV and Williamsburg) - amazing bubble tea (try the taro green tea) and a delicious toast with condensed milk
Gimme! Coffee (Nolita)
Ninth Street Espresso (EV, Chelsea Market)
Joe the Art of Coffee (Union Sq, Grand Central)
Abraco (EV)
Kaffe 1668 (Tribeca)
Espresso 77 (Jackson Heights)
Second Stop (Williamsburg)
Zibetto (Midtown West)
Via Quadronno (UES)

Street Carts:
El Rey del Sabor (60th and 3rd, Mexican)
Dessert Truck
Treats Truck
Jianetto's Pizza Truck
Dosa Man (wash sq park)

Caracas Arepa Bar
Macondo (only above-avg Latin American street food - but not an easy category to find) (LES)

Middle Eastern:
Hummus Place
Maoz Falafel

Murray's Bagels
Kossar's Bialys
Absolute Bagels (esp. the mini-bagels)


Old-School New York: Grimaldi's (Brooklyn), John's on Bleecker, San Marzano (Clinton and Rivington), Di Fara (Midwood in Brooklyn), Patsy's East Harlem (only the sit-down operation, not the by the slice part)

Italian-style: Franny's (Brooklyn), Gnocco (EV), Company (Chelsea), Tonda (EV), Keste (WV), Motorino (Brooklyn)

Square: Lazzara's (38th b/t 7th and 8th), L&B Spumoni, Adrienne's (Financial District), Maffei (Chelsea), Ben's (Soho and Village) grandma slice, Artichoke (14th between 1st and 2nd)

Pizza by the Slice:
Sullivan St. Bakery (roman-style pizza served room temperature, not normal slices)
Grandaisy (split off from Sullivan St. Bakery)
Maffei (Chelsea)
Sacco (Midtown West)
That place in Williamsburg
Grandaisy (Sullivan's split-off sister restaurant; try the fennel pizza)

Avra (Midtown East)
Pylos (EV)
Kefi (UWS)

Chavella's (Prospect Heights)
Mexicana Mama (W. Village)
Bonita (Brooklyn in Ft. Greene)
La Superior (Williamsburg)
Tacos Matamoros (Sunset Park)
Tulcingo del Valle (midtown west)
Blue Hill
Dirt Candy (vegetarian, and amazing)
Eleven Madison Park (but tell them you're vegetarian in advance...the mashed potatoes were outstanding, as was their fritatta when they used to have a brunch)
Per Se
Perry St (W. Village)
Buttermilk Channel (Carroll Gardens)


Tapas (incl. int'l tapas):
Stanton Social

Sripraphai (Queens)
Isle Thai (W. Village)
Bodhi Tree (E. Village)

Pegu Club
Buddha Bar
Flatiron Lounge

Turkish Kitchen (Murray Hill)
Ali Baba (Murray Hill)
Beyoglu (UES)

Pure Food and Wine (just for kicks - they're super-creative)
Gobo (WV)
Dirt Candy (EV)

Madiba (Ft. Greene)
Awash (E. Village)

Cool ambience:
Vinegar Hill House
Buttermilk Channel
Per Se
SEA (Brooklyn)

Riposo 46

Riposo 46 is a little bar in Hell's Kitchen that also serves some small plates. We had a wine and cheese plate there as well as as some of their flatbread pizzas. The wine and cheese plate was fairly standard, while the flatbread pizzas came out a little soggy and after what seemed like a long time. All in all highly standard cuisine without anything really interesting or new to commend it. Not bad, but certainly not worth a visit for the food. The bar itself is fairly cute, though, and it would be a nice place to meet a date for a drink or two, perhaps with a snack.

Stars: 2/5 (based on the food)


Pampano, like Dos Caminos, represents a relatively higher-end Mexican restaurant in Midtown East. While the atmosphere on their outside patio was nice, I cannot say great things about the food, which seemed tired. The guacamole lacked zing, and the vegetarian chile rellenos I had seemed overly tangy and without any real compelling flavor. I was disappointed, especially given the prices.

Stars: 2/5

Dos Caminos

I tried the Dos Caminos in Midtown recently, and found it good but not great. The guacamole, for which it is rightly lauded, is excellent and addictive. My huevos rancheros, though, were a little too heavy, and globbed on egg on cheese in a heavy-handed way. I'm not saying that the final result wasn't tasty, but it wasn't inventive or too visually appealing. In addition, the normal ranchero sauce includes bacon, so the substitute was a salsa verde that was probably not as good. In fact, only the salsa verde is vegetarian: both the ranchero and the mole have some kind of meat stock. So that's disappointing.

Otherwise, the Dos Caminos ambience is nice, especially if you can sit outside. Service was relatively prompt.

Stars: 3/5


Cibo on 2nd and 41st has an nice, elegant prix-fixe menu. I enjoyed the bread basket, which had a tasty corn muffin and a moist banana bread. I also liked my french toast, which was not remarkable but was good. The ambience is clean and quiet, and the service is prompt.

Stars: 4/5


My impression of Monkeytown is skewed due to it being the side of a bachelor party, and tipsiness interferes with memory. Monkeytown is a kind of hip, gothic sort of restaurant and performance space in Williamsburg. There are two rooms. The front room is dominated by what looks like a giant paper-mache spider-like chandelier. It is dark and funky.

The back room, also funky, is where performances are held. Four sofas line the walls, and, for our dinner, a photographic presentation was displayed on the walls, Porn for Creative Souls, though the show (and whether it is even photographic) changes from night to night. Call ahead.

We enjoyed the show, which acted as a fascinating conversation piece while we drank our bizarre but highly distinctive cocktails, like a Raul Quincy, which consists of essentially alcholic jalapeno juice, or a Green Screw, which tasted an awful lot like liquorice (unsurprising since its key ingredient, sambuca, consists of aniseed, which is a common ingredient in liquorice). Eating on sofas is admittedly not the easiest thing, though. They're low, they don't give much back support, and the tables don't give you a lot of space. Just a warning.

We also ate enjoyed our creative food. For vegetarian options, we enjoyed a buffalo tofu which was perhaps a little bit too tofu-like and fell a little flat on flavor. Grilled romaine hearts did better and were more balanced. Three cheese chile rellenos were better still, and certainly more interesting with the accompaniment of a pomegranate-almond sauce. Not wholly satisyfing -- certainly not as good as the chile rellenos as a place like Mexicana Mama -- but good, especially given the fun performance art.

Monkeytown is a unique and pleasing place if you want to amuse the mind and inspire the soul all while eating and drinking slightly strange but nevertheless satisfying food.

Stars: 4/5

The Farm on Adderley

I had brunch at The Farm on Adderley, a trendy place in Park Slope that has received much praise for its use of local and farm-fresh ingredients (the term for fans of these is "locavore" apparently :)). Anyhow, it's a great place, with an open feel and a beautiful backyard with graffiti-art decorating the walls of this outdoor space. Large comfortable chairs give you a sense of tranquility.

I had a scrambled eggs over swiss chard, brioche, parmesan, and home fries, which I devoured. I thought the portion might be a touch small, but I guess that might actually be a plus in today's health-conscious age. Fortunately, I also ordered a brioche toast with goat butter and maple sugar, which turned out to be crunchy and delicious, so I did not go hungry!

This is a satisfying establishment that really fits into its surroundings and feels at home with the families and young people that alike frequent it. Our waiter had a hangover and consequently forgot an order of ours, but we forgave him given the circumstances.

Stars: 4/5

Clinton St. Cafe

I had brunch recently at this little cafe in Brooklyn Heights in a charming little backyard. I had a tasty vegetarian croque monsieur (two eggs on top of a piece of fried bread in a cheese sauce). My friend had french toast, cut into an elegant heap. Not much more to say, buthte quality of the food was good, and the prices were right. Quite a nice brunch place in the neighborhood.

Stars: 4/5