Monday, April 16, 2007

Perfectly Casual (Bar at the Modern)

Tonight my friend K was in town. We had made plans to meet up, but I hadn't gotten concrete enough to make reservations (I'm somewhat less stressed about Monday's anyway). So K called at 5pm when she landed and then I realized that I really didn't have a plan at all. Open Table to the rescue. I absolutely adore Open Table when I have to find a restaurant last minute and have no clue what to do - there is something very comforting in knowing your options (otherwise, I find myself overwhelmed by the plethora of possibilities). I searched on all of Manhattan, but then sorted by location. K was staying in Times Square, so I figured that Midtown would be a compromise (both in terms of location and likely in terms of food). And then I saw it. The Bar at the Modern! Perfect. I'd been dying to try it, but hadn't quite made it (I even had a reservation for last week, but I had to cancel).

I arrived a little after 7. K was there, seated with drinks ordered. I choose my friends well. She had decided that we needed cocktails - and why would anyone possibly argue with that. The drink was beautiful. It had rose petals and was called something like Everything's Coming up Roses (or Gather ye Rosebuds While You May or Ring Around the Rosie, Pocket Full of Posies). It was a combo of champagne, some kind of Bacardi thing, Rose's Lime and something else. It was a little sweet, but really nice. And a nice start for the evening. (And the rose petals in the drink were really cool.)
The menu at The Bar at The Modern is divided into thirds: 1 and 2 are appetizer portions, 3 is half portions of entree sizes. We decided to go for two appetizers each. Contrary to my decision last night, I saw the Foie Gras Torchon and had to have it. I love foie gras torchon. It was excellent. Though, I'm not sure what's going on with the bread thing. I'm a big fan of torchon with toast - the heat vs. cold, crunch vs. smooth, etc. They served it with (fabulous) bread, but it just wasn't quite right.

K got the upside down Tuna Tartare. This was amazing. She was nice enough to share (even though I was a horrible food friend and ordered foie gras and veal with a vegetarian friend - apparently I'm better at being the sharee). I would order this another time.

We had indeed both ordered two appetizers. But then there was also the garlic gnocchi, which we decided to have as an inter-mezzo (basically, I was having trouble deciding and K helped me out by making it all work). The gnocchi were amazing. They absolutely melted in your mouth. The roasted garlic added a depth of flavor that was fantastic. And the mushroom sauce was rich without being overwhelmingly heavy. It also had a few fried sweetbreads. It is truly amazing to me the that only place I've ever had fabulous sweetbreads is Momofuku Noodle Bar (really amazing!). These were just sort of like fried somethings - couldn't really tell anything about the flavor. They didn't add to the dish at all. But luckily, they looked good in the initial dish, and the contrast made it easy to pick them out and just concentrate on the (lucious!) gnocchi.

For my final course I had chosen the veal and goat cheese terrine (again, not super-share friendly, but incredibly compelling). It was a great combo - the goat wasn't overpowering, but it did kick up the veal just enough. And it did not look nearly this freaky green in the restaurant lighting.

K got the scallops. Which she really seemed to like. She even said something like, "Wow, these are amazing!" with an earnestness that I trusted. They too could be a dish to try another time.

Of course, when I said 'final' I wasn't including dessert - that comes after the final course. We did decide to share a single dish here (I'm a huge fan of the reduced portions here. I left feeling pleasantly, not grossly, full). While I had fallen down on the not always zeroing in on the foie gras thought, I was determined not to fall into the same trap on the dessert. I ignored the chocolate choice. I offered up 2 options: the Beignets and the Panna Cotta, K neged the Panna Cotta, but mentioned the Cheese Cake (which I'm just not a fan of) - se we chose the Beignets. This totally uniformed choice was potentially the best one I had made all night (aside, of course, from choosing to go there in the first place). This was a fabulous dessert! I will be back so that I can eat this again (and again, etc.). It's a deceptively simple offering. 5 beignets and 3 dips: carmel, ice cream and pureed mango. I cannot even describe how well these work together. I tore my beignets into quarters, dribbled on the carmel (really nice carmel!), added a bit of the ice cream and topped with the mango. Apparently the reason that they give you five is that if they gave you an endless number, you would just keep eating and never leave and they wouldn't be able to turn the table (not to mention the ugliness if after years of eating fabulous beignets, at some point you actually got full and ate a wafer thin mint). I would never have paired mango with carmel. I need to rethink my prejudices.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Truly Great Meal (Veritas)

Tonight I went out for a nice family dinner with my cousin V and her boyfriend G. I had made a bunch of reservations for the weekend, given her a list and then canceled all of those that she didn't choose. For tonight we went to Veritas - which I've been dying to try as I keep hearing pretty good things about it.

It took as a little while to focus on the menu - G was reading the wine book (serious book!) and G and I were talking and laughing (not the worst way to start a meal). When we finally focused it was a hard choice. I keep feeling like I need to move beyond the automatic - if foie gras is on the menu, I must have it (it's not like I live in Chicago where I would be legally preventing from exercising my freedom to eat (like V&G)). But I do it. It's there. And I can't bear to choose anything else. But I do keep second guessing it. The main is harder - I'm generally not a fish or chicken person, but tonight, that still left the short ribs, the lamb and the venison (the steak also sounded good, but I was trying to focus). I chose the venison. Then G asked a question and I opened my menu back up. Then I slammed (with refinement, it's a nice place) it closed, realizing that opening the menu reopened the decision-making process for me. I answered his question without visual aids.

We had all basically chosen our meals and so we went with the wine selection. We ended up with a Chateauneuf du Pape (both because all 3 of us love to say it and because the sommelier's description was pretty compelling). It was the 2000 Panisse. I really liked it - a bit of earth, a hint of fruit, some spice - it was amazing with the venison (see, I didn't change my mind).

Once we had ordered, they brought the amuse (sorry, no photos tonight). It was seared tuna on a bed of fennel and red pepper. It was good (massive understatement). It was a really nice blend of rich flavors without being overly heavy (and the spicy of the wine also worked really well with it). It would have made a fabulous appetizer, as it was, I used my fork assiduously to make sure that I didn't miss any bits of fennel/red pepper.

The foie gras wasn't earth shattering, but I have to say, the searing was really amazingly well done - it had nice crisp parts on top that gave just the slightest texture contrast that I really liked. I can't remember what the jelly was, but it was very nice. It was a totally solid foie gras dish (good, very good even, but nothing new). V got the mushroom ravioli, which was delicious, but may have been too rich for me if I had tried to eat the whole thing (though it would have been fine to try). G got the hamachi, which was light and flavorful; I think I was just in a 'heavier' mood, what with the rain and cold.

The venison was potentially my favorite dish. V (sounding like she knew what she was talking about) made comparisons between Ohio venison (corn-fed) and Michigan venison (pinecone fed). Her guess was that this was maybe grass fed? Basically, it wasn't overly game-y. But it also wasn't bland. It had a very nice flavor without shouting the game part. And it was Perfectly cooked. If I wanted to define medium-rare, I could just show someone this dish. And I cut through it like butter. It was paired up with some cabbage (very nice), carrots (good) and baby parsnips (had been looking forward to them, but they didn't quite work). I managed to restrain myself from greed for the few moments necessary to graciously share with my friends. And then I dug right in and savored every last morsel. V got the lamb (which could have been a second shot showing the definition of medium rare) which was paired with chevre mashed potatos and white asparagus (I had been seriously tempted by the sides alone). G got the Rib-Eye with Broccoli Rabe (I'm still not going to choose the broccoli rabe without a good reason - but he really enjoyed his.

Veritas is a 3-course menu, which I love because it means you just have to order dessert. G said he was done after the steak. So V and I chose 3 desserts: Rhubarb Crisp, Chocolate Souffle and Banana Florentine (the last was a toss-up between that and the Bamboo Honey Panna Cotta). I first had a bite of the Rhubarb; it was good (it was G's favorite). Then the Banana (I was trying to go lightest to heaviest); it was amazing! Then the Chocolate - it was good (I think it was V's favorite) - my issue is with the definition of souffle, I like chocolate cake with molten centers (a lot), but for my souffles, I like the more dramatic ones. I kept coming back to the Banana (with hte creme fraiche ice cream). It was somehow like a banana pancake paired with fried bananas. I am a huge fan.

Then we got the petit fours. Because we weren't full. The first was a black currant jelly (needed the wine, but I had finished my last glass) because it was too rich otherwise; a coconut macaroon (very nice indeed) and a carmel and nut square (the walnuts were a bit sharp). I was too full to do them justice, but do very much appreciate the thought.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Barefoot in Butter

On Wednesday, I went over for a casual dinner at C&L's house. C had told me that if I made it early I could join the kids in making cupcakes. I got there just as A was 'helping' to sift the cocoa. It was then that I realized that these were not Duncan Hines. C had pulled out the Barefoot Contessa for kids cupcakes. Works for me. I like butter. A lot.

We had a little problem with the mixer, so we ended up using the food processor for the batter. It looked really cool.

And tasted mighty good on the end of an index finger.

Now, I'm not generally a fan of cupcakes - cake in general just isn't my favorite way to get my sugar-fix - but these really looked yummy.

And they tasted quite good as a pre-dinner 'snack' (just one, we had to save some for dessert).

Luckily, C had planned the whole dinner from Barefoot Contessa and so there were still plenty of other things to add butter to. Her menu was Chicken Piccatta, Roasted Onions and Sauteed Greens. I actually would have been better off making the Chicken Piccatta the night before (I'd had a bad day at the office and all the pounding would have been perfect, but I managed to do it even while not working out frustration). It's actually a pretty easy dish to make (I'd never made it before and was surprised how fast it was (pounding the chicken flat actually took the most time)). The onions were easy - C had made a marinade, I dumped them on a cookie sheet, roasted for 40 minutes and we were good to go. The green vegetables (asparagus, green beans, broccolli rabe) were just cooked in butter.

We ate this fabulous meal (easy and fabulous - just don't skimp on the butter) with a Freedman and a Sea Smoke Pinot (both 2004s?). The Freedman worked really well with the piccatta - the strong fruit with the lemon in the sauce. The Sea Smoke was just fabulous.

I need to buy the cookbook. And more butter. Soon.

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Casual Friday (Mussels)

It's been a long week. And the weather hasn't helped. L and I decided that dinner and a movie (video of Devil Wears Prada, which amazingly neither of us had seen) would be a perfect (if unexciting evening). Since it had been so good before, we decided to try the Moules Marinieres again. This time I used a Navarro Chardonnay and shallots. It was fabulous! And still easy!

I also added a bread option (toasted with olive oil). But really, the linguine was so much better I barely had any of the bread.

Friday, April 13, 2007

There's No Place Like Home (Yakitori Totto)

Finding good, authentic Japanese food, even here in NY isn't the easiest thing in the world. That's one of the reasons I was so bummed when Honmura An closed. And why I was only cautiously optimistic when M suggested that we go out for a casual dinner to Yakitori Totto (55th between Broadway and 8th). M is pretty good with choosing restaurants so I figured we couldn't go too wrong. But I wouldn't even have dared hope that it would be as good as it was.
My first view was pretty encouraging. This place could pretty much have been plunked right out of Tokyo. The menu made me even happier - there were some choices that really excited me. We decided to order as a table. Before we even got to the stuff on sticks, M suggested (from her previous visits) the gyoza and the homemade tofu.

The tofu came out first. But not to eat. Patience! It was a soy liquid in this very cute little cooker. Very cool.

But not sufficient, I was hungry. I was ready for food. Luckily the gyoza came very quickly (that's the gyoza on the right - half of them anyway, I had to try one before I could pause to take the photo).

And even more luckily, they were absolutely delicious. These were some of the best gyoza ever. Really! They were juicy and flavorful. I could have eaten thousands (okay, maybe a slight exaggeration), though we only had 6 on the plate - which was still 2 each. (We ordered a second plate, so technically I ate 4.5 (N couldn't finish her last one and so M and I split it)).

Finally, the sticks started coming. We ordered tskune (chicken meatballs), yakitori (barbequed chicken), pork and scallions, little green peppers, grilled garlic and asparagus wrapped in bacon. I think the tskune, pork, peppers and asparagus were my favorites.

After all of those, I was starting to feel more full - and it was finally time for the tofu. Now, if you've never had fresh tofu, you don't know what you're missing. At the waitress' suggestion, we added just a bit of salt and dug in. It was light and smooth - and just good.

We decided to end the main part of our meal with ocha zuke, which is basically just the Japanese version of a savory rice pudding. We were sharing and got the salmon one. I was so-so 0n it, but would like to try the plum one. I will say though that the presentation was amazing (and the pickle ws some of the best I had ever had).

I'm not normally a huge fan of Japanese desserts. I'm okay with them, but it's not my first choice. M made a case for the Frozen Banana (okay, not really a case - she just said she was ordering it and wanted the whole thing and we should do what we wanted). I figured that was a pretty good recommendation and so I ordered one too. I got a bowl of coconut milk with tapioca pearls, frozen ripe bananas and a little mint. It was actually a bit more like a Thai dessert. And I love Thai desserts. It was awesome!! I was really glad that I had the whole thing - and almost reached over and finished N's when she couldn't, but my full stomach actually physically preveneted me (probably for the best).

I can't wait to go back!

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Monday, April 09, 2007


I eat sugar. I love sugar. I'm okay with the fact that sugar has calories. I eat sugar in moderation (except, sometimes, when I don't - but I try to moderate the number of times that happens). I'm not looking for a free lunch. Or even a free dessert. I'm not trying to have my cake and eat it too.

However, it seems (at least from what we see in the Splenda v. Equal battle) that there are a number of people who believe that they can eat calorie-less sugar (something that doesn't exist). And Equal is saying (from what I can tell), that these people are victims. Equal is saying that people who interpret "Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar" to mean that it is sugar have been willfully misled. When I say my spaghetti sauce is made from tomatos, my friends don't assume that they'll get a big round red tomato on top of their pasta. They assume they'll get a sauce that has tomatos as one of the (potentially almost infinite number of) ingredients. That's what the words "Made from" mean.

I would say rather that they've been artfully advertised to (granted, it's a somewhat fine line - but these are the same people who tell their kids not to believe everything they see on television). People are looking for the easy way out; advertising (for these folks) is about helping them feel like they've found it. If you're looking for a magic shortcut, you need to take some responsibility for the fact that you might not get exactly what you want (as an example, the magic beans put Jack face to face (sort of) with a giant (not exactly what he had envisioned) - that's why I tend to stick to the more tried and true).

What you think you're getting is often (always?) colored by what you hope (or fear) you're getting. But it's not anyone's responsibility to protect people from their wishful assumptions (other than maybe a good friend, but certainly not the government). People need to take responsibility for their choices - right down to the yellow, the blue or the white little packet.

And, of course, the only reason it's at trial is that Equal is mad that their tag-line wasn't as good. Rather than lawyers, they should have spent their money on a different ad firm.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Family Dinner (Leela Lounge)

When my family gets together, we generally eat Indian. To be honest, I'm not sure how it started, but it really is our go-to cusine. With O being a vegetarian, it's definitely one of the easier choices and so I decided to find a new Indian place for us to try when he was here. I hit on Leela Lounge and knowing that we'd be coming from an Oliver Twist matinee (Theater for a New Audience - along with CSC my two favorite theaters/companies), I figured it was pretty convenient too. The theater ended up being west of Columbus Circle (usually they perform on 42nd), but even with the after-show talk, we were still really early and so decided to walk (I love walking, even more so when I know that there's a good, filling meal at the end of it).

By the time we walked into Leela Lounge we were pretty hungry - which is me trying to explain why I thought ordering 4 appetizers and 2 mains was reasonable for 2 people. But before we even got to that, mango lassis sounded really good and so we each ordered one. They were a beautiful yellowy-orange color (and reasonably filling)

The appetizers sounded great, they weren't super pricey ($6 or 7 each) and I was really hungry. O is pretty agreeable and so we ordered the previously mentioned 4: Spinach and corn fritters, Vegetable pakora, Samosa and (basically) Indian jalepeno poppers.

The spinach and corn fritters were a bit of a disappointment. They tasted okay if you dipped them in enough of the mint chutney, but overall for someone who loves spinach as much as I do, they just didn't quite do it. The samosas on the other hand were wonderful! They had mushrooms, which is a nice little twist, but I think it was the quality of the crust that really did it for me. Definitely a keeper.

The vegetable pakoras were okay. I guess I prefer mine with whole chunks of vegetables deep fried. These had a variety of vegetables finely chopped. The batter was great, but overall I'll stick to the more traditional inside. One bite of the jalepenos though and I knew I had something that both my brother and my dad (even though he wasn't here, having just introduced him to 'regular' jalepeno poppers in Ft. Meyers, I thought of him) would love. They were stuffed with potato and peanut and chili. Very different from 'regular' poppers, but appealing to a similar taste. I'd go back for them. And in fact, may go back the next time my dad is in town.

All of our appetizers had been vegetarian, which wasn't a hardship for me at all. But I wasn't as enchanted with the vegetarian mains and so O and I decided to order separately. He went for the tofu in a peanut chili sauce. It was good, though perhaps a little sweeter than I had anticipated. I think it needed a bit more heat (we had ordered it spicy), but it worked very well when I had a couple of bites with my spicier dish.

I went for the Lamb Gosht. It was heavenly! The description in the menu did not do it justice. It was a fabulous curry, but I almost didn't order it because the menu description just didn't do it for me. I talked to the waiter though and we settled on it. I was so very happy.

We ended up leaving with two very full bags of leftovers (they do a marvelous job of packing up). I don't think we even ate half of what we were given (so we would still have had leftovers if we had been rational and ordered 2 appetizers). The Lamb Gosht was fabulous for lunch today though - I gave the rest of the stuff to O for his car ride, but I'm assuming that he enjoyed it as much as he did yesterday. All in all, good Indian, with a little variety from the standard, for a very decent price.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Cafe au Lait (Le Pain Quotidien)

I was first introduced to Le Pain Quotidien in Paris - as a great place to have a meal that was more reminiscent of an American brunch (though with better bread). Since being back in NY, while I am not a regular, I do enjoy their drinks and pastries when it's convenient. (I might also say that it is likely one of the contributing factors to my going back on to caffeine. (I stopped drinking Diet Coke (2 pack a day habit) about 10 years ago and de facto gave up most caffeine (I hadn't been a big coffee drinker and chocolate doesn't count). But while I was in Paris, I fell for the idea of the social coffee, the cafe au lait for a leisurely breakfast, etc., but didn't quite go back on. But when I moved back to NY and so much of the coffee scene was what I had liked about Paris' and I realized it wasn't temporary, I started drinking coffee again (decaf). It's not just the flavor (which I like), it's the whole ritual/aura of it. I'm enjoying being a coffee drinker.) )

Today my brother, O, was in town and I was trying to figure out a good, relatively quick place for brunch - and realized it was perfect. We were walking back to my place from yoga and so we stopped off (and while I'm not generally a huge fan of chains, the food here doesn't seem to suffer and it's nice to have them conveniently dotted throughout the city). We were in the one on Lex at 63rd, which has a nice little sunroom in that back that I quite like.

I ordered a bowl of cafe au lait (decaf - it really is more the whole spirit of it than the caffeine) - which was perfect. Picking up the warm bowl in two hands, inhaling the smell of the coffee and milk - it's perfect.

O got an orange juice - which he said was quite good.

We decided to share two of their platters. The Mediterranean, which was tabouleh, hummus and babaganoush

And the cheese, which was Gruyere, Brie, Blue and something else I can't remember.

The meals here are good because all the parts are good - the bread is great, the cheese was really nice and the hummus/tabouleh/babaganoush were tasty. It's a nice casual brunch place, with the whole cafe au lait in a bowl aura that made me go back to coffee in the first place.

Friday, April 06, 2007


I had never even heard of Condrieu until C&L's wine tasting a couple of weeks ago. As a less-than-enthusiastic white drinker, I tried it only because it was the only thing open (I was there a bit early (invited early to help, not because I don't know how to read an invitation)) and I had had a long day and was ready for the weekend to officially 'start'.

I had a sip. Paused. Felt a confused facial expression cross my face. I had another sip. I liked it. It wasn't just that it was drinkable (as I find some whites). It was delicious. I really liked it. I actually went back for seconds (even knowing that we were going to very soon be tasting the Chateauneuf du Pape's that I love). I guess that it's true as with so many other things, just when you stop looking, that's when you find it. I found a white that really worked for me.

And then in this week's Times I found out that this is a wine experiencing a resurgence of popularity - a fashionable wine (I guess should have assumed that, given that I (Miss Fashionable) liked it so much). They even reviewed the one I liked the Guigal Blanc 2004 - they gave it 2 1/2 stars, but considered it one of their Best Values.

Interestingly enough, this is a wine that was almost wiped out except for the New World's interest in the viognier grape (a wine I'm so-so on) - and so I can now live my life safe in the knowledge that I truly like (some) white wine.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


J laughed a little about my fear of dumplings, but she was nice enough to send the recipe along. Turns out that it's from epicurious - and she claims it's not only easy, it's foolproof. I need to try it - I don't know why dumplings have always daunted me.

Beef and broccoli wontons with ginger dipping sauce

My friend L has also promised to invite me over for a dumpling party - I feel the stars aligning for me to have my first dumpling making experience.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


I spend so much time thinking about well prepared food, that I sometimes forget how good simple food can be. And then I had a grapefruit for breakfast. Wow, makes me contemplate giving up cooking - it was so good (and talk about quick - just one cut with the knife).

Sunday, April 01, 2007


I use a number of different sources for my recipes, but Epicurious is one of my favorites - because it is so easy. I can type in whatever it is I'm thinking (a particular course, an ingredient, etc.) and instantly find options.

I like reading the reviews, not that I always listen to what others say, but I often find it helpful to see other people's experiences. Small variations, unexpected occurances, etc. - it's like having a friend who cooked it give you advice. What I tend not to find helpful is when people make it into a totally different recipe - and based on comments I've seen, I was pretty sure that I was not the only one who got irritated when these folks rate something totally different from what they actually made.

I didn't, however, understand how widespread the problem was until I saw the NY Times article For Orange Zest, Substitute Kool-Aid. I think my favorite was the chicken tenders substituted for sushi-grade tuna (it's like a bad April Fools joke).