So Long! 2012: The Crap, the Divas and Hope for the Future

My son, Jack Thomas (c) NYCFG 2012

Reflecting on my foodie experiences this year, it's been a mixed bag. Some of the adventures I've had were exceptional, others were humorous, confusing and downright appalling.

I feel fortunate that I have this blog that I can write down my own thoughts and opinions as I see fit. I don't have an editor telling me what can and cannot be published. I don't owe anyone anything, nor do I want to make a habit out of writing content that is strictly positive. I get bored with that.

So, with that in mind... I wanted to highlight some of the crap that I faced this past year. Maybe you'll find it funny (like I do, now -but at the time, believe me, it was infuriating).

First, there was the Yelp review that I posted about a local restaurant, Rafina, that rips people off... They "say" they have fresh fish. They don't. I've seen the freezer - and guess where they keep that bass? On ice. The only "fresh" is that is their menu items are "freshly thawed." I am just waiting for that crap shack to close, and for a decent diner to take their place in my neighborhood. They would do everyone a favor to close their overly priced doors. (If you want, the original review is here.)

Then there were the numerous invites extended to me by PR, marketing and others that wanted me to review their new place, try out a different menu or get a tasting of their restaurant's best dishes. 9 times out of 10, they messed up the invite. While I made every attempt to make sure that I would pay the proper portion and a generous tip, no one was EVER aware of the arrangements.... so it created "awkward blogger moments" for me and the front of the house when the bill arrived. I know, I know... the sad life of a food blogger, right? Woe is me. Not!

I just think that good restaurants would know how to communicate within their own organization and/or with their PR consultants. Apparently, this is not true. For 2013, I have made it a POINT to attend editorial events or ensure that the inviter is AT the establishment when I arrive -otherwise, it's just a trip down Embarrassment Avenue that I'd rather not take. Ever. Again.

This year also had a few events that I've attended where I've witnessed other food bloggers being incredibly rude and wanted everything packed up for them "to go" - seriously. If you're invited to a media event, and you graciously accept, don't arrive with a diva attitude! OMG. The people that show up at events thinking they are the sh!t is stupid. Just because you have a blog and can maybe put two sentences together does not give anyone the right to demand anything other than an ass-kicking for your idiotic behavior. I hope for 2013 I meet other like-minded bloggers that critique other restaurants because they enjoy it and genuinely want to share their findings. The culinary Liza's and Mariah's can stay at home and eat their bon-bons with cheap champagne.

My year is ending with lessons learned. I hope my blog gets better, the invites are real and the writing is meaningful to others.

I'm going to start in on a glass of Chateau-neuf-du-Pape now, as I need to drink away the sorrows early.

Here's to happy 2013!

Yum! Chocolate Truffle Brownies (with a hint of sea salt)

I know, I know... NYC Foodie Girl is not big on spending time in the kitchen. I'm better at consuming whatever comes out of it, rather than standing in there creating things myself.

However, one thing that I have enjoyed over the years is baking. I don't do much of it lately, but this was inspiring....Divine Chocolate has a recipe section on their website, and this was so beautiful, I had to share. Maybe my family will get a chance to have some of these for an upcoming gathering... if a) I ever find myself IN a kitchen and b) if I do, I don't devour them all myself, first! :)



Sam Stern's Chocolate Truffle Brownies (with a hint of sea salt)
Makes 16 brownies

Sam Stern’s Chocolate Truffle Brownies with a hint of sea salt
Photo Courtesy: DivineChocolate.com

Ingredients
200g/7oz Divine Dark Chocolate
150g/5oz butter
225g/8oz caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark rum (or orange juice)
2 large eggs
1 extra egg yolk
75b/3oz plain white flour
A good pinch of sea salt
Icing sugar for dusting stars (optional)

Method
1.    Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.  Line the base of a 20cm/8in square tin with baking/greaseproof paper. I like to use a loose based tin for easy removal.
2.    Sit a heat-proof bowl into the top of a pan of gently simmering water – checking that the base is higher than the water.
3.    Break the chocolate into bits. Tip it into the bowl with the bits of butter. Leave the two to melt slowly, without stirring.
4.    Remove from the heat and stir till smooth.
5.    Beat the sugar, vanilla and rum (or orange juice) into the chocolate. Whisk the beaten eggs in vigorously.
6.    Add the sifted flour and salt. Beat thoroughly.  Tip the truffle mix into the tin. Shuffle it a bit so the mix spreads evenly.
7.    Cook for 30-35 minutes. Test by sticking a cocktail stick or wooden skewer into the truffle. It should come out just a bit sticky.
8.    Remove when done. Cool in the tin. After 10 minutes mark it up into bars, using a sharp knife. I divide it into 4 each way to make 16 brownies.
9.    When completely cold, run a blunt knife around the outside of the tin. Turn it upside down onto a rack, tap it to release one big brownie slab. Peel away the paper and invert again. Use a sharp knife to cut into the marked bars.
10.    Leave them plain or cut a star shaped template on a bit of card that’s bigger than your individual brownie. Hold it over the cake and dust with icing sugar.
11.    Serve these after Christmas Lunch, box them up for presents, make them up for Christmas Fairs or just dive in and enjoy when you want!

P.S.  For those of you asking, who's Sam Stern?: http://www.virgintoveteran.com/

Flavor Intensi-TEA

I was recently sent a couple of teas to try from In Nature -which, from the start already had me intrigued by their descriptions and the overall philosophy of their company.

According to their website, "We sell only loose tea in its natural form, originating from the best tea gardens cared for by families who have hundreds of years of dedication and commitment to the tea tradition.... Tea is not simply a drink, it is a way of life, it is the very essence of eastern traditions, culture and civilisation." Their teas are also natural and organic - a bigger plus, as I feel better about eating/drinking things that are not altered genetically or sprayed with harsh chemicals. (Actually, I think most people feel this way -am I right?!)

Anyway, I first tried the Pure Tibet Spring Tea -which is hands-down my favorite! When you first open the package, you can't help but look twice at these tiny dried, fragrant flowers. Gorgeous! The aroma is mouth-watering and I really couldn't wait for that teapot to boil already!

Once I had a cup, I wanted another and then another.... I usually drink my tea unsweetened or with a very minimal amount of honey or sugar (all organic, too - just for good measure). I didn't need sweetener at all, and the best part is that I could re-use the tea (egg) infuser over and over again, without losing any flavor or robustness.

Sold!

It took me so long to even TRY the other tea sample, because I was, admittedly, hooked on the Tibet Spring Tea. I didn't mean to be unfair, I just didn't want to drink anything else.

Alas, I tried the Pure Fresh Green Tea -and it, too, was simply marvelous. It is smooth and you can really taste the quality. Plus, it says that "Green teas may assist in slimming...." right on the package. I mean, seriously? Do I need another reason to drink my green tea? If you do, green tea has been shown to have benefits to prevent osteoporosis and cancer -as well as their anti-oxidant and anti-stress qualities. The In Nature website has a blog and many other tips for tea drinkers to peruse on their pages.

While I fully disclose that I was offered complimentary samples, I would not write this review if it were not honest.

These teas come from England and are worth the wait -which, to be honest, was minimal, considering that they went via air mail. Since I order almost everything online -including my groceries and sundries- I don't mind waiting for delivery and I'm used to it. Plus, the cost is extremely reasonable and affordable. I also like that In Nature has a loyalty program and a guarantee for their products.

Since I am starting to run low on the Tibet Spring Tea, I'll be sending a replacement order, soon. 

For any tea connoisseurs reading this, you won't be disappointed.... or simply grab some boxes as a great holiday gift for the tea drinking season, I'd highly recommend giving In Nature a try - no matter what your knowledge of tea might be. It is good for you and has a lot of health benefits.
Just be sure to tell them NYCFG sent you! :)

Divine Chocolate GIVEAWAY!

I'm so excited to announce this!!

Divine Chocolate, the pioneering farmer-owned Fair Trade chocolate brand, is giving away three delicious Gift Packs to celebrate the debut of its baking range, which includes 70% Bittersweet Chocolate and 38% Milk Chocolate bars and pure Divine Cocoa. Each Gift Pack contains the Baking Range and a lovely assortment of Divine Chocolate bars.
UPDATE: THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED AND WINNERS NOTIFIED - THANK YOU TO ALL THE ENTERED! MORE GIVEAWAYS ON THE WAY!
To enter, all you need to do is:

Like NYC Foodie Girl on Facebook and leave the comment:
I’d love to win a Divine Chocolate Gift Pack.

and/or

Follow @NYCfoodieblog on Twitter and Tweet:
I’d love to win a Divine Chocolate Gift Pack #DivineInNYC


and/or

Like Divine Chocolate USA on Facebook (www.facebook.com/divinechocolateUSA) and leave
the comment: I’d love to win a Divine Chocolate Gift Pack. Sent by NYC Foodie Girl

and/or

Follow @DivineChocUSA on Twitter and Tweet:
I’d love to win a Divine Chocolate Gift Pack. Sent by @NYCfoodieblog
#DivineInNYC

and/or
Post a comment at the bottom of this blog saying you'd LOVE to win!

(Don't worry - If you don't have a Twitter or Facebook account, leave a comment on my blog! You're already HERE! Each step gets you ONE entry!) :)

Good Luck! Winners will be selected at random and notified by November 30, 2012. Divine Chocolate is responsible for delivery of the Gift Packs. This giveaway is open to US residents only.

UPDATE: THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED AND WINNERS NOTIFIED - THANK YOU TO ALL THE ENTERED! MORE GIVEAWAYS ON THE WAY!

What's Divine is Mine...

I received a sample box of Divine Chocolate this week. In the past 24 hours, I have divulged in what some people may refer to as Heavenly Bliss.

I've tried a 70% dark chocolate bar with raspberries that is not just mouth watering, but beyond delicious. The chocolate is high quality and not too dark -it's not bitter either, it's smooth and not overly sweet. The raspberries add an airy crunch and a tartness that gives a richness complexity to something seemingly simple.
I'm also a fan of very good white chocolate - and Divine combines theirs with strawberries. Again, the textures and flavors are spot on perfect.
I have an opportunity to give away THREE of these gift packs, too!
I'll post details this weekend and also post more reviews of some other chocolates... Trust me: you will WANT to enter the giveaway!! What's divine is mine, but you can have some too! Stay tuned!

Sandy Eggs

This is my "Post Hurrricane Con-Ed Where the F*ck Is My Electricity Omelette".
The best one can do without power for too many hours to count now.

Asian Persuasion: 2 Different Places - 2 VERY Good Choices

Vietnamese cuisine gets top billing on my list of things I enjoy eating. From spicy to mild and everything in between, it simply has so much to offer --and, when done well, has incredible flavor.

I love Rouge et Blanc. I owe this blog a REAL review about the place. In the meantime, I'll tell you: some of the BEST green papaya salad I have EVER had in my ENTIRE LIFE - plus sausages and shrimp cerviche - just writing about these menu items make my mouth water uncontrollably. (Sorry, not a pretty visual, I know - but it's true.) Great wine list, fantastic service - and a coffee that you should NOT miss out on to top off the fine meal you just had.

Baohaus - Manager's Meal Rice Bowl
And.... switching to another Asian cuisine and not anywhere NEAR the classy level of Rouge et Blanc - I recently went to Baohaus -- literally a place that blew my mind this past weekend. Hole in the wall looking joint off 14th Street - nothing to look at, really. But the food! Wow! I had the Manager's Meal rice bowl. THANK YOU for the brilliance. Not to mention the tasty taro fries that offered a perfecting pairing to the meal.


What's your favorite Asian cuisine? Do you have a place that I should try? Let me know! Check out Contact to send me a note or just comment at the end of this blog post.

Raising the Bar in Tribeca: Maxwell's

I recently had an opportunity to review a restaurant and bar in Tribeca: Maxwell's.
The street was rather subdued for a Thursday night and it was a calm evening -as it had been raining for awhile in the city. When the weather is so blah for so many days, you expect this to play out a little bit on people's attitudes. Ho hum, right?
Wrong! This particular night, it was just the opposite.
I walked into the restaurant bar and it was quite a lively spot! It seemed to be a lot of after work meet-ups with a mix of some younger and more mature diners. Many, if not most, were sipping cocktails and chatting loudly about the day's events. There was laughter and a lot of noise. People were in a good mood! It was a big contrast to the subdued nature of the exterior.
I saw a lot of smiles and was also greeted with a warm smile when walking through the door.
As I don't particularly enjoy dining alone, I should mention that I was with my husband. I don't want anyone to think that I actually eat a gross amount of food on my own. I have help!
Anyway, we were seated right up front where the lighting was a little better. The atmosphere is standard bar-type appeal -in terms of the decor and the lighting. Not off-putting in any way, in fact, it is what you would expect from this type of establishment.
The menus were brought over promptly and the waitress, Carla, was very helpful with selections.
We ordered a couple of appetizers to start.
We had hoped to order the warm brussel sprouts, but they had sold out. Instead, we opted for the warm arugula and mushroom dish and some chili Thai wings. They promptly served both items; the chicken wings were pretty messy, but quite tasty! My hands were definitely in need of three or four wet naps -but since they didn't serve any, a trip to the ladies' room sink was in order! The arugula and mushroom were just that - so they lacked a bit in flavor - I think they forgot to serve the vinaigrette that went along with the dish, because it was really dry. Since my husband doesn't really like dressing on salad, he was pleased with the omission!
Our main dishes consisted of a Southwest burger and a BBQ pulled pork sandwich.
First, I think I should mention that other establishments, while they make some of these same items, are full of a lot of excessive grease. -Most often, you get a burger and its just swimming in oil and the french fries are just as bad. NOT at Maxwell's. We were pleasantly surprised that these items arrived to our table, prepared extremely well -and with no greasy texture. The fries were simply delish and the meat they used for the burger was very, very good. The pulled pork was a tad on the peppery side for my personal taste, but the bread was panini style perfect, -which, for me, makes all the difference in the world. The texture of the sandwich was appealing -again, not greasy and very meaty. Maxwell's appears to know a lot about quality ingredients as their food reflects a bit higher-end and literally raises the bar at the bar.
For a locale that has been open for a little over a year (est. August 2011), they seem to have the right mix of menu items with a friendly staff and is just what the neighborhood ordered. There is a lot of history in the place, and that gives it a special coolness vibe.
By the time we paid and left, the place was even more lively. We noticed that while walking around in the immediate area, you could tell that Maxwell's had the lion's share of business. Other places weren't nearly as filled with customers. I think that speaks volumes.
I'd recommend Maxwell's as a neighborhood gem where anyone could stop in for a drink and a high quality burger. And oh! They have a signature burger too, which includes a fried egg on top of sliced Angus. I was tempted, but I'll leave that for my next visit and I'm pretty sure that I'll need to bring a few people to help me out with that one! 

(Note: This review initially appeared on NewYorkCityReviews.com)

$25,000 For Talent and Adventure

Can You Spot Me Here? (At the Momofuku Milkbar Commissary)
I wish I were more talented in the kitchen. Scharrfen Berger Chocolates has a great contest going on - called the Chocolate Adventure Contest.

You could actually win $25,000 for a recipe. Wow. Now that is some serious cash.

Believe me, I wish I could cook/bake better. I'm lucky if I'm able to crack an egg open without the shell exploding into a zillion pieces!

Anyway, the link above tells you all the important details - including what NOT to do. (Like if you enter the contest, do NOT publish your recipe - it will disqualify your entry!)

So while I am not the best in the kitchen, I do know my way around the dining room table... so if they need taste testers for this contest, COUNT ME IN. Seriously, Scharffen Berger, CALL ME.

3Cs: Chocolate, Christina and the Possibility of a Coma

I'm very excited to go to a media-only event tonight, and I'm WAY over the top bursting with yippy-yay-yo happiness!! It's the CHOCOLATE ADVENTURE CONTEST: Sandwich Cookie Edition -and I get to see Christina Tosi, James Beard Rising Star Chef 2012, as it is hosted in Brooklyn at Momofuku Milkbar.

Photo of Christina Tosi courtesy of the JBF

All of the featured items in tonight's culinary treats contain Scharffen Berger. It all comes down to this: Chocolate + Milkbar = Blissfulness as I slip into a choco-coma....!


I'll also be live-tweeting (@NYCfoodieblog) and sharing photos from the event. If they share recipe secrets, look for that on NYC Foodie Girl, too!

You might even get a chance to hear a podcast later this week, if I can get an interview score with Christina. If you have any questions for her, let me know! I'll ask!


Kick Ass Kosher and Gluten Free

I know a thing or two about gluten free. My husband has Celiacs Disease (CD), so it's not an option for him to have anything with flour. CD is not an allergy. There is no magic pill or supplement he can take to make bread, cookies, pies, cakes, etc. tolerable. It is a complete lifestyle change to eat gluten free and those with CD have no choice in the matter.
So, while he lives with it every day, I don't, but I still feel as though we should both be eating the same things when we dine together as a family.
When I saw that Manischewitz made egg noodles and gluten free cakes - I was skeptical but pretty excited about it! I have a slew of gf items to try out the next few days!
We made lamb sausage with the gluten free noodles tonight and WOW! Again, I have had my share of gluten free pasta. Some good, but most not so good. Manischewitz really makes a kick-ass gluten free egg noodle. Kosher, of course, too! Even if you don't need gluten free for health or dietary reasons, give them a try!!
I'll keep you posted on the cakes and other goodies when I prepare them. I was so happy about how this dish turned out, I had to post this. :)

Pearls of Wisdom in NYC

A mere few years ago, I never heard of bubble tea.
Now, I can't get enough of it.
Well, I *can*... I guess should rephrase that to, "now I'd like to consume more bubble tea than is humanly possible."
If you can't make it to Chinatown or K-town for this unique beverage, there are a few others around the city. Here are 2 of my personal B.T. staples due to their location:
Kung Fu Bubble Tea on 10th Street btw 1st and 2nd Ave
-or-
Coco Bubble Tea on 45th St at Lexington (next to Rickshaw)
My fave is either just green tea with the tapioca pearls or taro milk tea (half sugar).
If you have a favorite, let me know which one and where! I'm always on the look out for more bubble tea bliss!

No Pie on My Face

UPDATE October 24, 2012:
I've been here now 3 times. EACH time I have ordered a different item. I also refuse to pay $4.95 for iced tea or give them any money for their overpriced drinks. In fact, I refuse to go there EVER now. That means NO money of mine will enter one of their cash registers from this point forward. Quite frankly, neither should yours!
As cute as their logo is, the food is awful and has CONSISTENTLY given me an honest-to-God stomach ache after consuming their products. AVOID AVOID AVOID.
Sorry, Pie Face. You're not welcome in my life anymore.

Original post:
I entered Pie Face on 34th and 3rd with great hopes. There's been a lot of hype about this Australian chain hitting the Big Apple.
I had a mixed sampling, as this seems like a cute bakery with great potential. I ordered a savory BBQ pulled pork pie, a mini pumpkin pie and a flour-less chocolate dessert. I also ordered a drink.
What it boiled down to:
I left with being overcharged for an iced tea ($4.95?!), a super sugary pumpkin tart and a bad stomach ache about an hour later. :(

Found My Zen Place

It isn't about the atmosphere, it's about finding a good, quick bite while out and about.
I had heard a lot about Zen Palate in the past, but know what high rents knocked it out of some locations in the city, permanently.
So I guess they have a new home in Murray Hill (3rd Ave btw 34th and 35th)- and God knows we need better restaurants with more choices in this section of Manhattan!
Without a doubt: They are a welcome addition to the neighborhood!!
What I found: solid and very good vegetarian dishes. The Zen burger with yam fries was quite tasty, although I think I'll order curry next time! The tofu was marinated to have a great texture (like real chicken but much more flavorful).
Meal was fast and affordable. They still have a grand opening sign out front. Worth checking out and take advantage of their special pricing.

What's in a Name?

Just curious to know from anyone who might read this:
What do you think of the term, "foodie"?
I personally do not like it, but it is what people quickly referred to me when I would discuss wine and cuisine with them. "Oh! You must be one of those foodies!" they'd say. I would look a little bewildered, because I didn't know that a love of food had a name associated with it.
So I named my blog... But I question that choice. A lot. Isn't there something more clever? More appropriate yet witty?
I'm searching for something more "me" - so of you have any thoughts, I'm listening.
Thanks,
~v

Service or Quality

What is more important to you? Having a high level of service or getting a fantastic meal?
Can you even compare? Is it fair to even try?
Even a so-called hole in the wall or a dive bar can have impeccable service with a spectacular meal.
But is there a distinction between the two?
A place near my apartment had friendly service but the food was sub-par. Desi-Shack is just one of those places that I'm not sure they will survive until next month.
Then there are places like Crif Dogs or even Shake Shack where people line up to be treated in a rush... But the food is legit and albeit kinda' unhealthy.
I'm confused. It's also a tad late, and I'm trying to keep my 30-day daily bit challenge going. I could use a weigh in here, though. What do you find more important -or are they equal? Does it even matter?

Everyday - A Little Sumthin' Sumthin'....

Tasteless, Not Worthy of ANYONE's TIME or Precious Money.
After waiting 2 hours for food delivery -of quite possibly, one of the world's worse chains (as in, I would place this craphole below McDonald's), I've decided that I need to post at LEAST one little tiny bit each day.
While I may not be able to provide a full-run-down type review, at least it's something on a regular basis.
Like many bloggers, I feel as though I don't post enough. However, with technology allowing me to post on specific times and days, just with a quick scheduling button, you never know if I just posted this, or wrote it the day/week/hour before! So it works, all around.
Most importantly, I want fresh content. Just like my food - I don't want anything that is stale.
So.... with that in mind, I'm going to try this out, at least for the next 30 days, to post about a food experience. If that works, I'll keep up the efforts. Let me know what you think.
Oh! And today, my food experience was downright, filthy awful. I was completely ripped off by this place - so much that I should report a crime.
So I beseech you:
AVOID BONCHON.





New & Notable in Nolita: Ken & Cook

Ken and Cook
I love trying out new restaurants -especially since I am guilty of going to some favorites a bit too often. It is so easy to go to an old "stand by" instead of seeking out something different at times.
So when I put "Ken & Cook" on the list to review, I went open-minded to Nolita - however, there was a bit of an expectation. After all, the place has touted Jean Georges alum...
Arriving to the location, I already knew that I was in a place that was trendy and had a nightlife vibe -you could just feel it, even so I was there for the first seating of the evening.
I saw a youthful crowd, but they weren't pretentious or overly annoying. It was actually a mix of hipsters with soccer moms/dads all mingling in the welcoming space. Plus, I was seated by the sidewalk and I could people watch. Nothing like watching a little NYC freak show while dining. It works.
Just like the menu.
For starters, I selected squid salad. The yogurt was fresh and the squid was tender and sweet. One small item of note: there were extra spicy-hot peppers that literally brought tears to my eyes -and a lot of water was needed to wash down the heat. I would have liked a warning NOT to consume them - or better yet, they should have been removed from the dish before serving. Seriously a delicious dish, just AVOID the peppers. It's not worth losing your taste buds, because there are some other items you should definitely try.
Squid Salad - Do you see the hidden peppers?!
For example, the mussels and steak tartar - two very good (separate) dishes that are flavorful, and not overwhelming. They are both found on many menus in NYC, and Ken and Cook do adequate justice to them.
Two seafood entrees worthy of your time: the monkfish and the black bass. In my review notes, I wrote, "Monkfish - wow! I don't like fennel, but I LOVE this dish!!!" (I took a photo, but lighting made it really awful to look at, so I'm not using it - especially when this dish is incredible and truly a not-to-miss item.)
The bass, likewise, had delicate micro-greens and these tiny, delicious clams. The expression, "Yum yum!!" was written down in my notes. Seems like a theme.
Overall, what I enjoyed most about Ken and Cook was that that dishes were not overly complex, yet there was a distinctive quality to savor and truly enjoy.
Black Bass - YUM!
What I missed was an opportunity to try the much-talked-about chocolate cake that so many other reviewers mentioned. I ended up with berries in marscapone -which was gratifying with the honey citrus - it just wasn't... well... chocolate!
Many MANY thanks to our waiter, Marcus! He'll help you with the menu and the extensive wine list with a smile.
Also, a big thank you to David Gonzalez for making the evening a memorable one and encouraging a prompt return. I will be back! Soon! (Just get the cake ready, ok? And call me to let me know it's back!)

No Need to be Rushin' Through Dinner: Dacha


My husband and I recently headed out to Dacha in Greenwich Village... sans baby. Date night, if you will.

I'll admit, it felt good to get a night out on the town without the little bambino and try something a bit different. Notably, the restaurant could clearly handle children, as there were a couple with young infants seated outdoors while we were there. We just thought we'd try to go "old school" without a toddler demanding attention as I'm trying to do a critique while simultaneously playing peek-a-boo with the menu.

We approached the restaurant with great anticipation and decided to sit inside. Then, we merely waited for our dining experience to begin. All without a sippy cup on the table!

I should note up-front that Dacha was different for us to try, because I am not overly familiar with Russian cuisine. What do Russians do differently with food? How do they prepare or spice their dishes? How could I really tell if it was authentic cuisine? I had a million questions, but I thought we should just try it and see what happens.

It's also important to mention that there were more Russians that came through the doors that evening than I had experienced elsewhere. And there were a lot of locals filling up the tables, too. That is a very positive sign when dining in any ethnic establishment. Oh - and as a sidebar: I work with Russian women. Believe me, they don't like much of anything. It seems to me that it is their culture to dislike something right away! So, with Dacha having a fair share of Russians sitting at tables, that meant, to me, that there was a level of authenticity and maybe the home style restaurant brought them some nostalgia of their home as they enjoyed the evening, too. It was comforting.

At first glance, the place seems like so many European restaurants that I have visited (I lived overseas for a number of years). The chairs and the tablecloths gave it a "home-y" kind of feel. There were smiles from the hostess when we came in and the friendliness continued, despite the level of activity that increased as the evening continued. (When we first got there, only one couple was seated outside in the humidity while my husband and I opted for the indoor table with comfy AC - but again, please keep in mind that our reservation was on the early side, so you really can't judge a restaurant's popularity at that hour. -Unless you live in South Florida where the people's average age is 89.)

The outdoor area was inviting (but not so much when it's not 105 degrees in the shade!) and indoors, you feel like you're visiting a relative in Mother Russia,  -due to the decor. I took photos, but they didn't turn out very well. You can get a very accurate picture on their website dachanyc.com.

Escargot: An Excellent Choice
Fish Plate Appetizer
We quickly ordered two appetizers: smoked and cured fish plate with blini and caviar and the escargot. The fish was quite good, but the caviar was really roe. I don't mean to be picky, but when I read caviar on a menu, that is the expectation. Roe is different. Go google the result if you don't believe that there's a major difference. There is. I should have known by the reasonable price, that it wasn't caviar! However, I did find it a bit misleading and disappointed when it arrived. However, the delicate and garlicky taste of the escargot appetizer quickly made up for any faux pas on the menu. The escargots were tender and exceptionally flavorful. The added artichoke heart gave the dish an extra texture and a level of taste that was simply sublime.

Pelmini Moscow
My main dish was Pelmeni Moscow. It arrived to the table in a very rustic baking dish that was piping hot. It was listed on the menu of being a type of chicken dumpling with egg and cheese -which once it arrived, I found that it was more like an all-meat tortellini. That is not a bad thing, it is just in the description, when the word "dumpling" is used, it conjures up a completely different expectation. It was covered in a cheese and egg mixture that was decorously browned.

My husband ordered the Cornish game hen and garlic fries. It was also served in a very homestyle fashion and the portion was more than adequate. The waitress had noted that the garlic fries reminded her of her grandmother's own style of cooking, and we were enthusiastically surprised with the aromatic, crispy arrangement that was plated before us.

The herbs were also exceptionally fresh on all of the dishes. We liked the different taste that Russian food offers: it is something that I sincerely find difficult to try to explain (which is not ideal when you are trying to write a critical food blog!). The spices they use are staples in other cuisines, as they have an international influence in their rich history, but they taste differently, as they use them in diverse or atypical combinations. I found that mild spicy-sweet seemed to be a trend while we dined at Dacha. We also observed that the servings here were -across the board- enormous!

We went on to sample desserts and coffee, and were delighted by the parfait. It was not as expected. I was hesitant because, again, the description in the menu made it sound completely different.

I think that is my only recommendation to the owners of Dacha: find much better, more succinct descriptions for your menu. I make a point to ask the server what they recommend -especially when I am at a real loss about what to order. Our waitress was really knowledgeable and very helpful in that regard. But, what about someone else dining there? The menu is just confusing the customer who is not familiar with the cuisine (and that was us!).

Overall, I would recommend readers of this blog to try out Dacha for something a little different and also very pleasant. Ask your servers for any help with the menu choices and be open to some new, fresh flavors. You can enjoy a little Russia right here in the city at an enjoyable pace, without the long flight or the cumbersome train ride to Brighton Beach.

Summer 'Ques and a Giveaway To Yous!

The last few days, my diet has consisted of a lot of 'que. We're talking massive amounts of pork, chicken and corn thanks to the folks at iAdventure.com and Brother Jimmy's.

At the first annual BBQ Blowout from iAdventure, I sampled some tasty Smoked Brisket Sliders from Austin, Texas via The Salt Lick's pit master, Michael Rodriquez and am still enamored with the sample from Tom's Bootleg BBQ sauce, served on shredded, oh-so tender chicken (Chef Tom is from "Skinny-At-Last", NY -aka Skaneateles).

I also tried some other items at the event that were less than spectacular. I attempted something that another visitor actually referred to as "blasphemous"; she was appalled that bacon was covered in chocolate. To her, bacon was such a sacred treat, to cover it in anything else was sacrilege. After taking a small nibble, I had to agree with her. The bacon was too good to be covered in that kind of chocolate. It was waxy and too thick - just not a good combination. IMHO, if you want bacon and chocolate together, there's only one place that does it right: Vosges (link to their Mo's Bacon Bar here).

Beyond the long lines that you'll find at any event in NYC, there were some highlights as I mentioned above, but the crowd either makes it more interesting or claustrophobic. After an hour, it was a bit of both. I appreciated the opportunity to attend, but the space was not ideal for the crowds that were gathering and the lines were getting very unruly... maybe it was the PBR tickets that were being handed out?? ;)

Anyway, fast forward to a couple of days later, where the peep's at Brother Jimmy's BBQ had a few food bloggers stop by for a tasting menu. They have a new cookbook Brother Jimmy's BBQ: More than 100 Recipes for Pork, Beef, Chicken, and the Essential Southern Sides out on the shelves and featured some of the recipes from the pages for us to try out for a lunch meet-up.

Two words: Fun and Tasty!

Marinated and grilled portobello skewers with bleu cheese dressing, hush puppies with maple butter, grilled chipolte-orange pork loin, sweet 'n spicy catfish, sweet potato salad and chilled smoky corn & black bean chow chow made the top of my favorites list. I was live tweeting the event, to include photos - it was a great opportunity to meet other bloggers and also to have a conversation with Chef Eva Pesantez.

And now (insert drumroll here), I have a cookbook for YOU as a FREE GIVEAWAY! One lucky winner will receive a copy of Brother Jimmy's BBQ recipes! 

Here's how to enter to win:

  • Simply start following this blog (check the right column of this post).
  • Next, comment on this post with something you would like to read about or see on the blog.
  • Follow @nycfoodieblog on Twitter and tweet the giveaway to your followers (don't forget to add @nycfoodieblog so I can see it) - if you're already a follower, you can still send a tweet that you've entered and tweet your followers
  • **Open to U.S. residents ONLY** 
    Participants must be 18 years or older to enter
    Winner will be selected on August 8, 2012 using Random.org and contacted via Twitter. An update on this post will also appear once the announcement has been made.

    Thanks for playing and Good luck!

    UPDATE: THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED
    Congratulations to Dru Peters!



     




Gluten Free Goodness Without Guilt

As my husband lives with Celiac's Disease, it's not always fair or easy select restaurants or spots to just pick up something good to eat on the go. In fact, a lot of people aren't even aware of what Celiac's is or what it means. And just a quick FYI point: Celiac's is NOT a gluten allergy. It's a big misconception.  Basically, people with Celiac's cannot process gluten the way most of us do -and there's no secret pill that will help them digest it, either. They eat gluten and bad things happen. They don't just pop a Benadryl and call it a day. It's a messy and very terrible thing if someone with the disease has something to eat with gluten in it.

Italian Bowl
Ok, I promise that I won't get into the details -I'm only trying to point out that it's a food challenge when dining out, so when a person with Celiac's finds something that is NOT a salad for a main entree, it's really a big deal!
 
Anyway, earlier today I happened to find out that Dogmatic was introducing a new "bowl" with a "This Summer, Go Breadless" campaign. Immediately, I was thinking salad or rice-based bowl. That's usually the standard thought process, right? SO glad to know that I was wrong!

I've had the Dogmatic regular fare in the past. I love the flavor of the dogs with the selection of gourmet sauces combined with the perfect crusty bread shell -and most of all, they use organic, nitrate-free products. That's a BIG plus when you're talking sausages. God knows what some companies put in them. I like my food hormone-free and on the healthier side whenever humanly possible. And I love my bread. It's a different disease all its own. Sorry. Dogmatic serves sausages with really good bread, people.

Greek Bowl
Although I have a secret: I never wanted to tell my husband I actually ate there... because I knew he couldn't enjoy them along with me. It was a guilty pleasure of sorts. And really, I had a problem saying the name of the joint: Dogmatic. (Seriously, say the name at least 10 times in a row. By the time you've said it 5 times, it's just silly to hear yourself and you'll probably stop.)

I know. A little stupid. (Insert eye roll here.)

But you learn to keep quiet about gluten-laden items when you know someone you love cannot have the same things. No doubt about it, my husband has denied himself a lot of the things I take for granted. I will mentally explode if I have to give up croissants. I will have to be admitted to Bellevue and put on suicide watch.

Ok. That was complete random digression. Let's get back to the gluten-free delish dishes.

Asian Bowl
The three new bowls Dogmatic has introduced are: Italian, Greek and Asian. All had such incredible flavor! My personal favorite was the Asian bowl -the chimichurri sauce gave it a little tangy zing that was much appreciated. I'd recommend that Dogmatic consider using a green papaya salad base, although the current slaw they use now is quite tasty. (It's just a suggestion for consideration!) The Greek was my husband's choice due to the fresh cucumber, tomatoes and onions laden with just the right amount of mint yogurt sauce. And the Italian bowl also had a big, big plus with its olive tapenade, fresh tomatoes and bean salad. Again, I want to point out that these bowls weren't lettuce or rice based. No preservatives or antibiotics used, either.  

Over the years, my husband and I have ordered a lot of gluten-free stuff together and we have our favorites. And now, we have some more choices from my previously guilty-zone of a dine-and-dash restaurant that is sure to see me again -with my husband. My secret is no longer.

Now go say "Dogmatic" several times out loud. Tell me if that sounds ridiculous and intriguing all at once!


Brunch for the Socially Awkward

Like many (if not most) people, I look so forward to the weekend that I'm practically clinically depressed by Sunday afternoon --since I know the next weekend is another 5 long days away.

But there are three things that I look forward to as our normal Saturday and Sunday routine: spending time with my family, going to Union Square's Green Market and getting brunch.

Yes, brunch makes that top three list. Why? Because you can relax and eat in a highly social environment. It's not like grabbing lunch with co-workers or getting dinner on date night. Brunch has a special meaning because you're in the midst of the weekend. You're not rushing to make it to appointments and you can eat breakfast and lunch all-in-one at a leisurely pace, because the kitchen is still making breakfast food well past the 10am mark.

Good times.

I was "cordially invited" to dine with my family at Social Eatz. The name was off-putting, to be honest. I couldn't help but wonder "What's with the name?" On the restaurant's "About" page, it explains it a little, so I'm not going to get into it here. Personally, I would change the name -but hey! It's not my place and no one asked me. So who cares, right?

Among a street lined with awnings and sandwich boards, Social Eatz was not an easy find. It was kind of nice that it wasn't some glaring, colorful entrance that would compete with the other establishments. Instead, the signage blends with the neighborhood. I liked that.

Walking into the place, the first impression was favorable. It wasn't over-crowded, although the atmosphere already had a noticeably loud noise level. We were a little early, but not by much.

Greeted with a smile and a friendly face was great. We thought we had a reservation and when giving the name and time, she seemed confused. She checked and re-checked. I had to confirm that we had a 12:30 for 2 and a toddler. She played it off, but I could tell, she didn't know we were coming.

In fact, that set the tone from the very moment we walked in the door.

Getting settled in took a little bit, too -as a few people asked us if we wanted a high chair (we did), but it took some coordination between several people before it actually happened.

Again - coordination is not this place's strong set. At. All.

We quickly ordered a plain waffle for the little one. Our baby sets our schedule -and since he just got up from a nap, we don't play around with waiting for food. We always bring snacks to keep him occupied in the interim. We have a system that works very well for us when it comes to dining out. The waitress seemed to understand that it was important to get the baby something first, and parents would follow with their order once we knew he was taken care of. That was a very positive note, and very welcomed.

While the server seemed nice, it also seemed like it was her first day -or at least her first week. She asked about water and looked at us blankly when we asked for tap water. It was the first choice that she mentioned -but I think she also had a hard time hearing us over the music, and it was increasingly getting louder, as more people came into the door.

After the water arrived, we finally placed a food order and I told her that my husband has Celiac's disease. This is always something that is said before we order a meal, just so the kitchen understands that he MUST eat gluten-free. Nothing with wheat flour can be used for his dishes. Ever. (He can get really sick and pass out.) She clearly had no clue what Celiac's was -or what gluten-free meant. That is an indicator of having an uninformed waitstaff. They HAVE to know these things. She pointed out items that had eggs in them - I think she thought we said he was vegan or maybe she thought eggs had gluten in them. Again, it was so loud, who knows what she heard versus what she understood.

In spite of the noise-level and abundance of confusion, we ordered a few things off the menu: Korean Breakfast Taco, Korean Fried Chicken, Kimchi Fried Rice, Bimibap Omelet and a side of Togarashi Fries.

Bimibap Omelet
I was the only one who could sample the fried chicken -and it was quite good. It was sweet and very crispy. The chicken was also not overcooked like so many places just cook the hell out of it because of health scares and people wanting to have very, very cooked chicken. It was very nice to have tender chicken that had some flavor and a crunchy texture. The portion was a bit larger than I anticipated, so one of the drumsticks came home with me! I don't think it will hold up due to the amount of hoisin sauce used, but it's worth a try. And just FYI: It is NOT first date food, and they really should serve this dish with a wet nap or finger bowl. It's incredibly messy -and since only ONE bathroom was available (the other had an "Out of Order" sign), it took awhile to get to the wash room to get the stickiness off my hands. (My fault for not bringing extra baby wipes, but it shouldn't BE that way to begin with - providing a simple finger bowl with water, lemon and a small napkin would have been an easy fix.)

The kimchi fried rice was overwhelming in size -and we didn't know that it was already a side that came with my husband's omelet. The rice was very bland - it had some Korean-like spice, but it was certainly geared for the American taste buds. However, the kimchi used in the bimibap omelet was very approachable for the American palate. (I've lived in Korea and can tell you that not all kimchi is alike and most of it will make your eyes water upon the first whiff! While I do LIKE kimchi, I know it can be pungent and scary for some to venture to even sample.)

After fifteen minutes or so, the waitress returned and asked if we needed anything else -again, not the best coordination, because we were still awaiting fries and the Korean taco. It was obvious she was ready to give us the check. Not yet! Geez! So, she turned to go back to the kitchen and it was just moments before the order came.

2 bites of this "taco" were all I could tolerate!
I thought the fries were overly salted and had a strange cheesy sauce as a condiment. Not sure if I somewhat liked the taste or not. On second thought, no. They were just too sodium-heavy. My husband ate a few of them, but he wasn't overly impressed, either.

The Korean taco wasn't what I expected at all. Not in a good way, either. I didn't expect ground beef. I had previewed a menu that said it had "charred beef" - although my husband told me that it was supposed to be chili. I didn't see that, so he's probably right. So there were different versions of the menu. One that was online and one that was in the restaurant. Either way, the "taco" was more like a burrito. The texture of the ground beef gave it a canine-like appeal. I could only have a couple of bites, as the flavor was atrocious and mealy composition was very unappealing.

We also tried both desserts on the menu. They arrived to the table, but without silverware. We waited at least five minutes before we could start eating. The waitress was really not available or attentive - and it was another server who made the connection between silverware and necessity to eat. (The only thing our waitress appeared to be concerned about was getting us the check before we were ready!)
Brunch desserts: "meh"

The pannacotta had some flavor, but I don't know why under-cooked tapioca pearls were mixed in with the blueberries on top? Weird. And for the life of me, I don't understand why they invented "lemon cake black pepper whipped cream" for the strawberry shortcake? Oh -and no coffee, cappuccino or espresso. My husband got something that was sweet, iced, and wanted to be like a Thai iced coffee...

Again, it was just confusing to hear and understand the server tell me what we could have for after the main courses.... we thought we ordered 2 cappuccinos. Guess not. Oh -and I wasn't offered a refill or asked at any point in time during my meal (nor was my husband) about drinks. Another sign of poorly trained staff.

The place had exploded with customers by 1:15 - to include celebrity chef Eddie Huang at a nearby table. In fact, Top Chef Angelo Sosa (owner of Social Eatz) was out there working the crowd. I mean, it was swamped. And up went the decibel level...

Oh - and there was a guy on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 53rd pawning off postcards to "come see a Top Chef celebrity"at the restaurant -so he might have been to blame for the barrage of gawkers, too!!

Since the lines forming at both the bathroom and the front door were growing increasingly longer, we just wanted to get the check (finally the waitress was attentive and understood what we needed) - and we were practically rushed out of the restaurant. Our check was time stamped for 1:32pm - remember the reservation was at 12:30. That has to be one of the fastest brunches of all time -not just for me, but for a lot of New Yorkers. I felt like we were kicked out of the door!

I mean, appreciate that I was given a reservation at Social Eatz, but was very disappointed in the end. Maybe I had my expectations set too high as a "cordially invited" guest. Especially with $100+ bill that we paid and the unconventional push out of our table in the end. (Note to ANY restauranteur: no matter how busy it gets, don't obviously coax patrons out of their seats - that is just very amateurish and your customers don't feel valued.) I wish now that I made my own reservation on OpenTable.com so I could have at least gotten 100 points for dining there.

Overall, the meal was so-so. The kitchen was on top of its game in terms of getting things ready. The front of the house was uncoordinated. Waitstaff was horrifically green. Music started off loud (with spa-like tunes) that went to pop-tunes and even louder after one hour. With the big crowd and the uber-loud music, we paid for a brunch that wasn't relaxing, nor was it "social" in any way because you would have to send a text message to your co-diners in order to have a conversation. That, or start using American Sign Language to discuss the awkwardness of it all.





My Latest "Steak" Out

The moment I opened the door at 6:15pm, it was a lively crowd. We just arrived at Empire Steak House.
I had a sigh of relief, because when you dine out with a toddler, the last thing you want to hear is a pin drop. Noise is GOOD. Parents like noise when they go out with their kids so we don't stand out like an 80 year-old grandparents at a Nickelback concert.
On the other hand, as soon as the very friendly and attractive hostess gathered our menus to take us to our table, I knew immediately what the majority of their client targets were: Men. Yes - she was pretty and slender, but as a mom (of not just a toddler, but of two daughters, ages 18 and 20), I couldn't help but feel a bit awkward... I wanted her to put on some clothes that were properly sized versus a short-short dress that left very little to anybody's (male or female) imagination. It was a booty show with heels all the way to our table. I felt like I should cover my baby boy's eyes -but he was more interested in the new place with all the people since we just got there, so he didn't pay any attention. I was spared having to deal with a mini-gawker -at least on that evening. (The other men at the surrounding tables appreciated the view, however!)
The really nice thing, is despite her mode of (mini)dress, again, she was very friendly and was completely open to wherever we wanted to sit. As a parent with a little one who needs a high chair, again, I find that top-notch! We went with her location recommendation -as we just wanted to ensure that we wouldn't be in the way of other customers or waitstaff. Believe me, we know that it is not easy for anyone to maneuver around a highchair with a child that has octopus-like arms with the dexterity of a blind man playing a game of chess.
So far, so good! (Another sigh of relief!)
The waitstaff was very prompt -as well as attentive. Again, as parents: please let us dine and get the order moving so we can be out of everyone's hair quickly and efficiently. We don't want a meltdown tantrum or anything embarrassing, because we are also the type of parents that will go outside with our child until he's able to be civil in public spaces. We don't tolerate crying or any kind of misbehaving in a restaurant (or anywhere else for that matter). So having us settled in with drinks, appetizer and meals already put into the POS system, we felt well on our way to a great evening.
For the most part, it was!
Here's a little breakdown of our night out:
After we ordered our basic drinks, appetizers and meal, we didn't get a chance to look at the wine list -but my husband was interested in seeing what might be available by the glass. He had a choice: white or red. He chose red and the waiter rattled off typical broods of the drink, but nothing about vintage or winery. (Note to readers: my husband is a wine snob. Sorry. It's true. I love him but he's really big on knowing all the nomenclature and is especially well-versed in French wines, to the point where I am just a big ignoramus -and actually, I'm ok with that. I let him order for me!) I should also mention that my husband has a level of class that prevented him from being rude about wanting to view the wine list, and simply ordered a glass without asking a lot of questions from the waiter. When the wine came, it was just put down in front of him -no pomp and circumstance, no viewing of the label or a sample before agreeing to the glass. Just, "There you go. Enjoy." Final verdict from wine snob husband? It was fine. Not a real bump in the road, just a little inconvenient if you wanted to browse choices.
Here is the perfection....
The appetizers came (again, very quickly!)- lump crab and little neck clams on the half shell. I found the lump crab delightful - and I'll admit, I wasn't a fan of the clams. I should have known better - I don't do raw mollusks very well. Ok, I don't "do" them at all. It was all my husband -and again, he was happy with them. I found the lump crab tasty and a decent-sized portion. I only questioned if they might be just a tad too cold. That was a fleeting moment, because it was so hot in NYC that night, I welcomed the cool, buttery taste -with or without the accompanying cocktail sauce.
After the appetizer and without much hesitation at all, the Porterhouse for 2 arrived - not only their signature dish, but WOW!
I was impressed.
It was loudly sizzling on the platter. And oh! It was wafting an aroma that I think would make a vegetarian question their dietary choices for a moment...
How did it taste? It was cooked to sheer perfection. It melted in my mouth -and the steak sauce? My husband and I couldn't get enough of it -and we usually don't do sauces like that... ever.
Let me do a quick compare and contrast:
My New #1 Steak Sauce
Peter Luger's (which is the steak restaurant by which most are compared to in New York, and there is also a history that you can find if you go to the Empire Steak website that connects the two) - They have the same style of waiters as this place, but at Empire, they seem to be friendlier and not as "Just order, already and stop annoying me with your questions" as they can be at the Brooklyn iconic locale. Same "boys club" atmosphere, same lively crowd. Both have GREAT steaks.
I prefer Empire Steak House because they offer the steak sauce in a bottled container, versus an open-style gravy boat filled at Luger's. (It is cleaner and quite possibly, more hygienic.) The steak is not as heavily seasoned and has just the right amount of char (again, my personal preference - my husband thought they could go crispier and heavier on salt and pepper). The signature steak sauce played as a perfect compliment to the Porterhouse -without question. It's  also in MANHATTAN, which, I won't lie, is a better, easier commute for me and my family (even if it's Midtown). The space is pretty much standard for the type of restaurant, but not as old fogy-ish as Luger's. Another positive. And! Oh yes! They take various forms of payment versus Luger's cash-only (hugely inconvenient) model.
There are also more sides available, and the waiters aren't as brusk about throwing plates down at the table.
I would also recommend the German potatoes (aka "bratkartoffeln") to accompany your steak-very delicious and the portion was a hearty one.
Ahhhh..... We were enjoying a very, very good steak dinner for two with a toddler. And the baby actually had a couple of nibbles of Porterhouse, too! No meltdowns, no chaos.
The waitstaff promptly cleaned the table and we felt like a couple of stuffed holiday birds...
I'd love to comment on dessert -but we weren't shown a menu and I couldn't understand the waiter very well -(due to noise mostly) - I kept hearing "cake, cake and cake". With my husband's Celiac disease (he must eat gluten-free), I couldn't order dessert on my own! Not fair. We both commented that a hot fudge sundae a la Luger's would have fit in well. Plus, it does seem to be the typical after-dinner treat at many steak houses in the city -and quite notably, across the US.
We had a couple of coffees and asked for the check.
A final sigh of relief.
In summary, we ate very well. We thought the main dish was just right, the portions were generous and the waitstaff was very attentive. It is good to know that there IS a decent steakhouse in Manhattan and I'd recommend this place to locals and tourists alike.

And P.S. - I can honestly say that I really didn't need dessert -especially after seeking the skinny, attractive hostess before departing the restaurant...





Wine: An Artful Expression

Wine is much appreciated, just like Art.
I have yet to really agree with any wine critic about their tastes in the fermented grape juice. I either like it, or I don't.
Ridiculously packed with too many people.
I was recently invited to a Wine Enthusiast event here in the city, Toast of the Town NYC. I was given a ticket that was provided by an Italian wine company that also featured prosecco.
In the world of vineyards and corkage, I know very little about the region of the world that takes credit for refining its current form (via the Romans).
Plus, I will admit: I love French wines. I know that is highly subjective. Again, think about Art.
In all honestly, I have not found too many from the U.S. that I consider tasty -and you'd think that the NY girl in me would have a penchant for local wines. Simple answer: no. I've been partial only to Honig wines from California -and it's only a select few labels that I really enjoy. I have also sampled Portuguese, Chilean, South African and Australian wines with the same level of caution - so my exposure to the Italians has also been limited in that regard.
Apart from my small view of the world of wines, I do know that I love a label that has the magical words, "Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape".... lovely words that just send me to another place where I should be sipping the nectar of the Gods on a coastline somewhere, the breeze flowing through my hair.....
Sorry. Digression. I must be getting thirsty and it's not even noon.
Ok. Back to business.
As a guest of an Italian winery and an offer of free tickets to an event, I need to be fair but also make mention that I find their invite exceptionally gracious. I really appreciated the opportunity and had a very nice time. Thank you, Zonin Wines.
The Zonin prosecco was certainly acceptable -as it started off the evening on the right note... it made enjoying Hudson Valley seared foie gras just perfect and the Murray cheeses (shout out to the Camembert) was also notable.
There was plenty of "people watching" for my entertainment. Including an old lady LITERALLY dipping finger into a cheese log in front of me to sample not just once, but twice -by double dipping for a SECOND TIME, to see if it was acceptable and finger-lickin' good! People can be disgusting in large groups. Note to everyone: USE CAUTION when sampling ANYTHING that is open to the public. This venue had WAAAAY too many people crowded in the Hammerstein Ballroom, so of course there's a few crazies (if not a lot, because it IS New York, after all.).
As one can imagine, seats/tables were also difficult to come by and once you had a seat, you kept it. Forever. I think that old lady is still sitting there. Waiting for another cheese log to be graced with her crusty old finger.
Maybe that's expressionism. Upon further reflection, perhaps it could very well be that the old woman thought cheese, like wine, is also like Art.... Sculpture, anyone?

Worth the Trip

I was really saddened to hear that Robuchon is closing. It was a special occasion restaurant for my husband and I... we spent Christmas Eve there with our daughter, had my 40th birthday there and visited on other meaningful evenings. It was something wonderful.... it will be missed. Make your reservation before the end of the month - they are set to close by the end of June.

But there are other places in this city that are also teetering on that closure list, too.

Some I wonder why -rather, HOW come some restaurants are even still around? There are places that are literally POS's... (and I am not referring to a "Point of Sale"!) There's something for everybody in this town, that's seriously an understatement.

Take D.O.B. 111 - I knew that place didn't stand a place, and guess what? CLOSED not too long after I posted a bad review. I had nothing to do with it - they were the victims of their own demise.
However, just as there are places that should be closed - there are others that I wonder why they don't have a bigger following.

Take, for example, Rouge et Blanc. This French-Vietnamese restaurant in SoHo has an amazing array of menu choices and a matching wine list. Service was terrific and the food was incredible -yet the place? Empty. There was hardly anyone there on a Saturday night. Could it be that I was there on a holiday weekend? Maybe, maybe not. One would think that there would be MORE people there, even if mostly tourists, because the reputation of the locale should speak for itself.
My husband and I are looking to go back as soon as we can. I even tweeted LIVE - which is something I rarely do. This place was worth it. I want people to know about Rouge et Blanc so that it doesn't disappear any time soon.
I mean - look at these beautiful dishes! They not only made a statement, each one was absolutely delectable....

Green Papaya with Whole Shrimp - Quite possibly, the BEST green papaya I have EVER had! Delicious!!

Tasty and incredibly tender octopus

Dessert du Jour


My Random Diner and Tipping Rant

Truth hurts.

So do stomach aches and other gastrointestinal ailments.
If a restaurant does poorly, I am more likely to write about that instead of the place where the service and food were perfect. Why? Because the restaurant that does it well, already has their shit together. The restaurant that screws up left and right needs to KNOW that they need to get their heads OUT of their proverbial asses if they plan on surviving the NYC market.

A hole-in-the-wall can do GREAT in the city if they have a solid menu and decent service.It's really over the top special when you don't need to take an anti-diarrhea medication within the next 48 hours, too.

I don't always need white table cloths, but I will always require friendly service, even if the kitchen is off their game or everything else is miserable. 

But back to the absolute truth:
A waiter will make or break the dining experience. If the waiter is a bitch (male or female!) it will deter me -or anyone else, from going back. I can practically guarantee a negative recommendation to everyone I know... including an announcement to a horde of Twitter followers, a bad Yelp review as well as an honest, albeit nasty blog post right here, to boot.

I don't like to do it, but let's face it: I will. And back to the TRUTH: I have to.
 
People should not have to put up with bad service when there is pay involved. Especially where a tip is EXPECTED no matter what the circumstance. TIPS are earned, not a given.


I don't need or require butt kissing in any fashion. Just be decent and courteous. Don't be annoyed if I ask about the ingredients or ignore me for 30 minutes when I need to pay the check right away and leave. Don't serve my iced drink with your hands on the glass near the area I will drink from -or rather, keep your FINGERS out of my beverages and the food I plan on consuming. Thanks. Much appreciated.


I think my husband and I are quite generous tippers. Even when service has been poor, I feel this obligation to still give a tip that is covering a minimum of 15%... that's when it's mediocre or even bad... what's wrong with me? What kind of dining culture is it that has been established here in the city? Why do I need to feel bad for ANY waiter, much less a horrible one? 


I'm not sure... but I guess it is because I am just grateful that I don't have to do dishes that night, or something. Hard to say.


I would be interested in what YOU might have to say on this subject. Tipping is tough... but a part of our American dining culture... Have you ever skipped out on a tip or done something memorable to make the waiter KNOW you were dissatisfied? Let me know... There could be a book posted on this stuff, I'm sure!

(P.S. I'm reading Waiter Rant right now, so I have some opinions of my own that have sparked me to write this post.)



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