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Posts from the ‘special occasion’ Category

wd-50: Wylie Makes Mad Scientist Culinary Chic

In the past few years, Wylie Dufresne has made quite a name for himself through various Food Network appearances, cameos on Top Chef, and a role on Top Chef Masters; he is widely regarded as one of the leading American chefs that create their food using molecular gastronomy. wd-50, Dufresne’s restaurant on the Lower East Side, is his culinary playground, a gastrolab for his mad scientist creations.

Located on Clinton Street’s quirky restaurant row, down the street from Falai and across from The Clerkenwell, wd-50 is best described as modern and funky. Only a small red neon sign in the window betrays its presence; the inside is surprisingly cavernous, with soaring ceilings, from which hang brightly-colored teardrop lamps. The walls are a touch darker than royal blue and burnt orange, an admittedly strange color palette for an expensive gourmet restaurant. The tables and booths have a Brazilian steakhouse look, all pale wood and medium-brown leather; the cube booths along one wall are private, with the edge of the booth extending far enough up that you’re not staring into the meals of you’re neighbors. The tables are sleek and spartan, no table cloths, no flowers, just your plate and your cocktail.

wd-5o offers two menus, the $140 12-course tasting menu, which I personally avoided because of the hefty price-tag yet a surprising number of people ordered without blinking, and the a la carte menu. The food can be loosely considered American; however, as our waitress pointed out, the ingredients and flavors listed on the menu are merely a portion of what will eventually be on the plate and the form in which these ingredients come will be unexpected. For example, the eggs benedict starter is by no means your classic eggs benedict with perfectly poached eggs atop a biscuit; rather, the star of the dish is a trio of deep fried cubes of hollandaise sauce. Similarly, the veal brisket came cold and sliced like deli meat, with gelee cubes of honeydew melon, shaved olives, and deep-fried ricotta. The brisket is unexpected and disjointed, until you blend all of the ingredients together for each bite. With that synesthesia of elements, the dish makes sense and is wonderfully challenging, to the point of suddenly being delicious. On the more traditional side, the cheddar and broccoli soup is almost too in-your-face cheesy (if there is ever such a thing…) until you crinkle in the crunchy and spindly lattice of pork shoulder, somehow made to resemble edible lace.

The entrees are a further study in the complex pairing of unusual flavors. The Iberico pork neck is smoky, luxuriously rich, and guiltily salty; thick slices of perfectly-cooked meat is served in a bath of peach and pork jus with knots of texturally-interested smoked paprika spaetzle, slivers of Marcona almonds, and crispy flaky shards of Swiss char. The duck breast course is simultaneously sweet and tangy with the sharp bite of fresh cheddar cheese and the heady main note of savory kim chee couscous; bits of tart Granny Smith green apple are scattered atop the generous helping of sliced breast. The whole experience is an explosion of sometimes harmonious and sometimes difficult blends of tastes, textures, and aromas.

Surprisingly, the highlight of the whole meal was the hazelnut tart served for dessert, or perhaps it was just a welcome (and “normal”) relief from a challenging dinner. Thin and creamy with a buttery flaky crust, the tart was composed of smooth Nutella-like and coconut filling and accompanied by chicory foam. It was simple and delicious.

wd-5o isn’t for everyone; the vast majority of Dufresne’s food is perplexing and unusual; you have to work at it to find what he’s getting at, what his point is with the ingredients served. In this way, wd-50 is the thinking man’s restaurant; Dufresne intellectualizes American cuisine. That being said, it takes an adventurous will to follow Wylie blind-folded down his culinary path. Looking to take a risk? wd-50 has got to be your go-to.

Perfect For: adventurous eaters, those desperately needing something different, impressive first dates, foodies and food nerds, Top Chef fans,

wd-50 on Urbanspoon

Minetta Tavern: Keith McNally’s Old New York Slam Dunk

Do you want to experience New York? the true essence of the city in one single restaurant? Minetta Tavern is your place. In 2009, when mega-restauranteur Keith McNally announced his plans to refurbish and reopen the venerable Minetta Tavern, there were worries that it would be turned into another one of McNally’s atmospheric culinary theme parks (in the mold of Balthazar, Pastis, Pravda, and so forth). Quite the opposite happened, and McNally brought instead a restaurant oozing classic New York charm with an exclusive cache on par with Manhattan’s ritziest.

Located on the seedy edge of the West Village where fratty NYU bars draw crowds of older men and younger girls, Minetta Tavern is dark. Only a chintzy illuminated red sign and a well-dressed doorman show the possibility of life within. Through two doors and a thick crimson velvet curtain, you’re hit with the noise of a true New York hotspot: peals of laughter, the clinking of martini glasses, the shake-shake of a bartender’s cocktail mixer, the chatter of businessmen and happy couples; no distracting house music to be heard – anywhere.
The quirky space is crowded, packed to the gills with those desperately seeking tables. Upfront is the bar, manned by master bartenders in white aprons. The oak bar is refinished, partnered with cherry red stools and the intact wood paneling, still adorned with the miniature carved silhouettes from the originals 1930s’ Minetta. Black-and-white tiled floors, polished crimson leather banquettes, antique brass lamps, white tablecloths, and caricature sketches of famous New Yorkers round out the saloon-era vibe. The back room, a misshapen pentagon still covered in the worn fresco of Greenwich Village in eras past, throbs with life and noise. A series of small tables line one wall while tables for 4 and 5 stand askew in the center of the floor. The best seats in house, curved leather boothes in a private back corner, are seemingly reserved for VIP parties (Jerry Seinfeld on this particular night).
As NYMag points out, Minetta Tavern plays on the ‘neo-Speakeasy’ vibe like Hotel Griffou, Waverly Inn, The Lion, East Side Social Club, yet while the others focus on ‘the scene’ and artisan cocktails worth the $15 and let the quality of their food slide, Minetta Tavern offers the whole package: delicious and hearty American brasserie cuisine, knock-your-socks-off cocktails, and a buzzy exclusive scene to compete with the best of ’em. The kitchen, run by former Balthazar chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, churns out top-notch brasserie dishes like oxtail and foie gras terrine, a tasting of three tartares, roasted marrow bones, crisp pig’s trotter, trout meuniere, and grilled dorade. Perhaps though, what they’re most famous for are the burgers.
The Minetta Burger, a classic cheeseburger with a load of caramelized onions, is thick, juicy, immensely flavorful, and served with a halo of perfectly-salted shoestring fries. The Black Label Burger, a unique blend of prime dry-aged beef made especially for Minetta by Pat LaFrieda’s outfit, is funky, extraordinary, and completely unusual for a burger. Both are a must-try, no matter how enticing the $104 cote de boeuf for two and pasta za za with pancetta, sage, parmesan, and fried egg look. Other recommended dishes include the diver sea scallops, a special prepared beautifully with a sweet caramelization and corn bacon ragout, and the ‘tartare goutez’, a trio if lamb, veal, and beef tartare.
Minetta Tavern is a special place. A year after re-opening, it remains difficult to get-into, a place where the celebrities hang. Yet, despite such exclusivity, it’s not in the least bit pretentious or snooty. Anyone willing to pay big bucks for a great meal will feel at home here from the hipsters to the yuppies to the suits, ladies who lunch, out-of-towners, and fashionistas. McNally hits the sweet spot with his nostalgic saloon: hoppin’ scene, memorable food, swoon-worthy cocktails, effective and efficient service, and enviable cache.
Perfect For: impressing clients, anniversary dates, celebrity sightings, late-night dining, the hamburglar, seeing and being seen, special occasions

Minetta Tavern on Urbanspoon

Artisanal Cheese: Learning To Pair Your Cheese

Artisanal is a cheese empire. Recognize it. There’s a bistro, a 2-star Michelin restaurant, an online store, classes, and one of the only affinage centers in the United States (affinage is the process of nurturing and aging cheese received from farm producers). You probably think I’m here to review Artisanal Bistro or perhaps Picholine, but no, by happy chance, I was invited by my dear friend Alex to attend one of Artisanal Cheese’s regional wine & cheese pairings classes, held at their facility on 10th avenue.

Artisanal hosts weekly classes that range in content from Pairing Cheese & Wine As A Professional to Sexy Cheeses & Sumptuous Wines to regional focai such as The Great Iberian Peninsula and American Artisanal Cheese & Wine. Held in a civilized and contemporary space on 10th Avenue in Chelsea, complete with an instruction kitchen, long desk tables, and a reception room, the classes include a 30min champagne reception with treats (fondue!), a 90min class led by a trained professional, a tasting of 6-8 cheeses and 4 wines, and as much vino as you can stomach! Alex and I had the luck (well, my luck and her genius) of attending the French Wine & Cheese regional class. It was nothing short of spectacular.

The class was run by Candela Pol, an endearing instructor who set a fun and engaging tone right from the get-go. She struck the balance between truly teaching how to pair wine with cheese and maintaining a light camradery with the class; not in the least bit snobby, she managed to be accessible to the diverse crowd of around 30 participants. While her background seems more solidly-established in craft beers, she very clearly walked through the characteristics of the three classic French wines provided, a Muscadet, a Viognier, and a Beaujolais. While the wines were each wonderful in their own way, I won’t pretend to be a wine connoisseur and review them for their quality.

After savoring each wine individually and learning how to properly taste a wine, the class moved on to tasting each of the cheeses individually to get a feel for their unique flavors, textures, and aromas. We had 6 cheeses, each representative of a step on Artisanal Cheese’s trademark Cheese Circle. Pictured below, the circle shows, progressing from mild to strong cheese, what beers and wines would pair best with different levels of cheese. For our class, everything from raw milk cheese to blue cheese to a triple creme was provided for our savoring.

Once the group had a handle on how each wine and each cheese tasted individually, Candela walked us through an exercise of how to evaluate whether a particular wine and a particular cheese work together. We tried every permutation of the wines and the cheeses together, learning how to dab the roof of our mouthes with cheese before sipping wine, and then rated from -2 to +2 how symbiotic the combinations were. My personal favorites included the rich and tangy raw milk cheese with the Viognier, the luxurious triple creme with the Beaujolais, and the delicate goat cheese with the Muscadet.

Artisanal Cheese coins itself your culinary spa, and while you’re not getting massage with ricotta cheese or taking a milk bath, this moniker is right on point. In the world of wine & cheese instruction, Artisanal pampers and coddles. The facility is neat, clean, and modern; the staff attentive; the wine unlimited; and the cheese easily some of the best you’ll find on the Eastern Seaboard. When it comes to professionalism, class, and quality, Artisanal Cheese is king.

Word of warning: wine is unlimited. Take this as you will, and don’t wear stilettos you’re likely to topple over in.

Perfect For: mother/daughter excursions, date night with a foodie, those just looking to learn, oenophiles, something just a little different, ladies night, a classy pregame class

Artisanal Cheese Center on Urbanspoon

Scarpetta: A Sexy Meatpacking Italian Dream

Scarpetta has a lot of hype working for it; Scott Conant is generally regarded as a very skilled chef, the tomato & basil pasta has been called one of Manhattan’s best pasta dishes, and it has received three stars for excellence from both the New York Times and New York Magazine. The buzz is so loud you could be living in a beehive. And trust me, after a 2 hour long dinner last night, there is reason for it.

Despite the less than ideal location between Comix and The Diner on 14th Street, I knew Scarpetta was going to be right up my alley from the get-go. Set in a white stucco Greek Revival townhouse with a small outdoor patio, the restaurant, set on the first floor, is simultaneously expansive and intimate. Soaring ceilings give the illusion of space, while luxurious brown distressed leather boothes keep things cozy. Separated into two rooms, the restaurant features a no-reservations front bar & cafe with wood-paneled and exposed brick walls, tables for two, and a wide marble bar as well as a cavernous back dining room with mirrors, edison-light chandeliers, a separated wine ‘cellar’, and stark brown contemporary furniture. The resulting look is a modern, sleek, and endlessly elegant.

Scott Conant’s soulful Italian cuisine is at once classic and inventive. His menu features surprising twists on traditional dishes, completely unique ingredients and flavor pairings, and oftentimes beautifully simplistic creations. For example, the tomato & basil pasta is nothing but simple with house-made spaghetti and a creamy tomato sauce; yet, it transcends your typical noodle dish with perfect execution and an ultimately refreshing flavor you’d be hard-pressed to replicate. The moist-roasted capretto with peas and fingerling potatoes is dripping with unusual marinated goat flavor; however, though it certainly needed a bit more salt, the dish had an uncomplicated and satisfying traditional meat & potatoes feel. Other superior highlights include the impossibly creamy polenta served with a pot of truffled mushrooms – both elements seemed to just melt in your mouth with a soulful and nostalgic richness, the short ribs agnolotti with hazelnuts and horseradish – a complicated blend of nutty, spicy, and meaty flavors that hit you in complex waves, and the addictive banana budino dessert with pecan gelato imbued with a rare and cherished moistness. Even something so simple as fried mozzarella becomes tantalizing when served lightly breaded with savory stewed baby tomatoes.

The night’s only bobbles include a too-fishy black cod in desperate need of more salt, more flavor, and better accoutrements and the olive oil cake that was appropriately moist yet completely over-powered by the tangerine gelato and muddy marscapone. From beginning to end, Scott Conant’s gourmet story told through dishes that challenge you is far above average and worth many re-tellings.
All in all, Scarpetta is a special place that strikes the ideal balance between buzzy hotspot and intimate restaurant; it has both sex appeal and a peaceful sophistication. Charming and professional service adds the cherry on top, rounding out a truly enjoyable dining experience. Two thumbs up, and more if I could.

Perfect For: an anniversary dinner or special occasion date, after-work drinks at the bar, a birthday celebration, pasta-lovers, dinner out with the parents, indulging in decadence

Scarpetta on Urbanspoon

SHO Shaun Hergatt: I Need a Thesaurus. Now.

Luxurious. Over-the-top. Opulent. Extravagant. (Just like this long review.)

All of the above words describe The Setai’s relatively new restaurant in the Financial District. Perched in an expansive space on the second floor of the luxe hotel, SHO Shaun Hergatt brings refined fine dining to Wall Street that isn’t garbed as a steakhouse. The emphasis is as much on the look of the place as on the extremely haute cuisine prepared by Austrialian up-and-comer Shaun Hergatt.

Sleek and contemporary, SHO Shaun Hergatt is divided into a bar, a lounge, a wine room, a main dining room, and an ‘open kitchen.’ After approaching the hostess stand at the end of a moody red corridor, you encounter the glittering bar with impeccably dressed bartenders waiting quietly for your cocktail order. The lounge bumps shoulders with the bar showcasing windows looking out over Broad St, low slinky sofas, cocktail tables for two, and plenty of space to hobnob with power players. Through the lounge, you’re taken down a corridor lined with wine bottles, all encased behind plate glass. A long and narrow pool of water extends down the center of the corridor, reminiscent of a wishing well. The wine passage has a table off to the side for private dining and wine dinners.

The main dining room itself is modern and sultry with scarlet walls and East Asian art, Sanskrit writings, and abstract sculpture. On the far end of the dining room, more plate glass exposes the bustling and industrial kitchen. White table cloth tables and large leather chairs you can sink into add the necessary touches of luxury to this newly-minted Michelin 1-star restaurant.

The food is modern French influenced by Asian flavors. It is complex, unusual, and beautifully presented. Focus is not only on how good the food is but also on how good it looks. The lunch menu offers the choice between a 3-course prix-fixe for $30 or the far more expensive a la carte menu. Unless you’re looking for a gut-busting wallet-destroying power lunch, the constantly rotating prix-fixe is by far a better deal.

The 3 colleagues and I all opted for the prix-fixe menu, starting off with a chilled pea soup with morels and mint and the Austrialian Hiramasa carpaccio. The soup was perfect for summer and ill-fitted for winter/spring. Cool and refreshing, it was delicate and soft, utterly lacking in anything potent or bold. The Hiramasa carpaccio was also delicate with mellow fish, flat-tasting accoutrements, and a tasty wakame puree. Both options walked the line between very good and average, lacking in anything truly memorable.

For the second course, we got the Artichoke Ravioli and the Poussin. Finally, in the ravioli, were there savory pronounced flavors. Slinky and slippery ravioli shells were stuffed with red peppers and coated in an addictive puree that could have consisted of anything from peas to more artichokes to spinach and anything in between. While not mind-blowing, it was a satisfying pasta dish. The poussin was the main event, delicately wrapped and de-boned, served with crispy coxcomb; it was mellow, juicy, subtlely flavorful, and a lovely example of the type of elegant food SHO Shaun Hergatt prides itself in. The third-course desserts were what one should really write home about though – gorgeously constructed without a single element out of place, these pieces of art looked just too pretty to eat. Of course, this did nothing to stop me, and thank god for that – the desserts were just perfect. In each intricate dish, the kitchen did nothing but blend gorgeously sweet, savory and salty together with bursts of citrus, chocolate, and ginger.

In such an haute restaurant, the service can be nothing but pristine – and so it was. Pretentious and tight-lipped, the wait staff moved like a well-oiled machine and practiced classic table service etiquette (such as serving plates over the left shoulder). Staff seemed to wordlessly intuit when a water glass needed to be filled or more bread was wanted.

SHO Shaun Hergatt withholds nothing and yet is as reserved and coiffed as restaurants come. No expense is spared (and is kindly reflected in the ludicrously expensive cuisine), and each guest lavished with attention. Despite it’s urbane modernity, SHO Shaun Hergatt reflects back to an era of fancy restaurants with fancy people, fancy looks, and fancy good that often seems these days to be long-gone.

Perfect For: gut-busting and wallet-busting dinners, deal-making lunches, special occasions, impressing out-of-town food fanatics

SHO Shaun Hergatt on Urbanspoon

Maialino: This Little Piggy Gets Best in Show

After my failed first attempt at Maialino and Immaculate Infatuation’s unfortunate review, I approached Danny Meyer’s newest hotspot with trepidation and muted expectations. As it turns out, both were thoroughly uncalled for as this Italian blockbuster truly blew both me and my boyfriend away.

Meyer’s heralded Italian ‘trattoria’ in the Gramercy Park Hotel transforms a rustic concept into a sleek and stylish hotspot yards from Rose Bar, model-central, and the illusive Gramercy Park (where Danny lives himself). The room is admittedly contrived with faux rustic touches like exposed beams, blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, bread baskets, bottles of table wine, and rough wooden tables. Everything is airbrushed and shiny, slick, smooth, and expensive – oh so very Danny. A set of marble-topped counters, one for bread and one for salumi, separate the hoppin’ front bar area with high-top tables, corner nooks, little rounds near the windows, and a hefty bar from the more subdued and elegant dining room. Neatly-organized black-and-white and sepia photographs line the walls; beautiful tufts of flowers rest among twinkling magna-sized wine bottles on shelfs and banquettes. The look is restrained exuberance – if you can imagine that.

The service surpasses expectations in terms of professionalism, warmth, and ability. Our waiter was both congenial and quick, efficient and casual. The food came out at well-timed intervals, and a very knowledgeable manager assisted in selecting the perfect wine for us. At the end of the meal, one of the chefs came out to mingle with the tables and talk about the food (a very nice touch). Any service bumps and bobbles that may have been there at opening are long gone by now.

The dressed-up Roman trattoria cuisine ranges from good to beyond excellent. The menu offers salumi and cheese options to pick at, pastas, hearty entree dishes, tantalizing-in-their-own-right side dishes, small plates starters, and desserts that defy the typical Italian selection. My boyfriend and I sampled the mixed salumi plate, the buffalo mozzarella, the ravioli al uovo, the lamb chops, the olive oil cake, and received a gift of spaghetti with pecorino and ramps from the kitchen.

The low point was the salumi plate, which featured too-hard soppressata, average mortadella, and beautifully cut slices of speck. It was good but by no means up-to-par with the proliferating selection of salumi plates in New York. The high points were the ravioli and the lamb chops. The ravioli was unlike any ravioli dish I have ever had; one large ravioli shell delicately stuffed with spinach, ricotta, and an egg yolk, this astonishing dish oozes a remarkable filling the moment you cut through it. The lamb chops were so good that my boyfriend was rendered speechless for 30 seconds; after taking a moment to savor the luscious tender meat, he proceeded to explode into a long effusive set of compliments to the chef. Sauced perfectly and cooked to a beautiful deep pink, these lamb chops rank easily in the top 2 or 3 I’ve ever had.

The rest of the meal was happily very good with divine buffalo mozzarella balls packed with silky flavor, a savory ode to ramps nestled amongst a haystack of well-cooked spaghetti, and a perfectly moist slice of olive oil cake with a dollop of creamy marscapone. All in all, Maialino or “little pig” delivers consistently very good food with moments of brilliance. It is comfortable and relatable cuisine that any diner from adventurous to picky to cautious will enjoy – and should with the whopping pricetags attached to many dishes.

Maialino offered an all-around memorable dining experience from the marvelous service to the comfortably elegant look to the delicious and satisfying cuisine. From start to finish, it was a meal to relish in. A wonderful option for everything from entertaining guests from out of town to a romantic date to a birthday dinner with friends, Maialino is a sophisticated and flexible crowd-pleaser, just good luck snagging a reservation!

Maialino on Urbanspoon

db bistro moderne: Midtown West’s Legacy Star

db bistro moderne, one of Daniel Boulud’s many attempts at casual dining in New York, was an instant classic – revered by locals and visiting tourists alike, well-received by critics, and made legendary by its burger. Whether or not it’s worth all the hubbub is up for debate, but there is no doubting Boulud’s ability to transform the concept of a bistro into a high-class celebrity favorite that makes burgers and fries culinary artwork and cassoulet fit for gourmands.

The bistro is long and narrow, situated discreetly on an ugly block in Midtown West, and ideally located for pre- and post-theater dining. The two dining rooms are dominated by rich wood paneling, bold colors, and contemporary floral artwork. The style is contemporary yet not trendy, modern but in a nostalgic European context. A small wine bar separates the front room from the back room.

The food is French-American, incorporating time-honored favorites from both culinary traditions. Perhaps most famous is the Original db Burger – a sirloin patty with braised short ribs and foie gras on a parmesan bun, served with salty and crispy pomme frites. This burger spurred much talk, transforming a trivialized American classic into something haute. DBGB’s burger menu (Boulud’s newest venture on Bowery) has grown out of this ‘original db’ version. Other highlights include the Tomato Tarte Tatin with goat cheese and black olives (zesty, savory, fresh…really remarkable), the Roasted Rack of Lamb served with artichokes, sunchokes, and tomato confit, the Black Truffle Raviole with organic chicken and baby spinach, and the indulgent foie gras torchon.

Service is spotty and food can take awhile to make it out of the kitchen, but db bistro moderne is generally a very reliable spot for some great comfort food all-dressed-up. A great place for family get-togethers, birthday celebrations (my own 21st with my parents was celebrated here many years ago…), and wanton gorges on burgers and fries, db bistro moderne has managed to stand the test of time and remain consistent. A word of warning for you of the younger generation, db bistro isn’t a party spot for the hip young thangs of Manhattan – expect an older crowd of polite and well-to-do Manhattanites indulging in Boulud’s famous brand of faux bistro fare. Looking for a more happening scene from the same guy? Check out DBGB.

db Bistro Moderne on Urbanspoon