Archive for the 'Restaurant' Category

Free Food

Normally I’m not the biggest fan of fast food joints… But when they are feeding me for free, I won’t really complain. So those of you looking for a free lunch, there is such a thing.

Get a free sub at Quizno’s.

And a free Roast Burger with drink purchase at Arby’s.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies, NYC

I’m almost done with my NYC restaurant reviews, but before I finished I wanted to touch on one of my loves: Chocolate Chip Cookies.

While in NY, I ate some of the best cookies I have had in a long time. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures. In my eagerness to enjoy the cookies, I kinda ended up with chocolate all over my hands and face. Not wanting to ruin expensive pieces of electronics by glazing them in chocolate, I continued eating and decided I’d have to settle for no pictures in this post–I’ll get pics next time. I will tell you where you can get two of the cookies that I did enjoy.

Get a cookie at Jacques Torres; You will love it. He is known for chocolate–rightfully so–but his cookies should not be overlooked. Large, melty feves of chocolate create layers of oozing chocolate within the dough. The cookies are served warm and soft and really must be enjoyed immediately before they fall apart and get chocolate all over your fingers, camera or clothes. It’s a risk well worth taking.

The next place is Levain Bakery (photo of the cookie at the website). This cookie is out-of-control large. I’m talking fist sized cookie here. Lumped with chocolate, over an inch thick, a combination of crispy and chewy, one single cookie can be enjoyed over several meals. Or just go ahead and eat several as one meal. Your call. I won’t judge.

And a shout out goes to Milk and Cookies. The cookies here are not the legendary creations of Jacques Torres or Levain, but are more like really really good home-made cookies. They don’t go overboard and they make them like you’d expect that kind grandmother who lives next door makes them–sticking with the same formula that has worked for generations.

In the future, I’ll be posting about making chocolate chip cookies at home and my quest for the best chocolate chip cookie ever. I think I’ve found one, but you’ll have to wait just a little longer to find out which one that is…

C is for cookie, and that’s good enough for me!

Café Henri, NYC

In the mood for some French comfort food? Look no further than Café Henri in New York’s West Village.

Café Henri's logo

Café Henri's logo

It’s a small and inviting café with about a dozen closely spaced tables. The cute, simple etching of Henri, the owner’s dog, on the glass window and the warm colors used inside help set the tone.

Café au lait at Café Henri

Café au lait at Café Henri

The food is simple French fare: salads, sandwiches, quiches, savory and sweet crepes. Café au laits are served European style–in bowl sized cups–and the espressos are strong. All the cups and bowls have European logos printed on them. Patrons linger over a coffee with a newspaper and may get around to ordering a crepe if the get a sweet tooth.

Espresso at Café Henri

Espresso at Café Henri

For those looking for something more substantial, they have Croque Monsieurs (below) and Croque Madames (A French grilled cheese sandwich with cheese on top, the “madame” variation is the same with a fried egg on top). The food comes out garnished with a spring of rosemary and most come with a side of salad with a light Dijon vinaigrette.

Croque Monsieur at Café Henri

Croque Monsieur at Café Henri

Anyone seeking a place to duck out of New York and pretend you are in an indoor French café would be pleased entering Café Henri. The only thing missing would be the French waiters ignoring and silently judging you. I’m afraid you’ll have to go to Paris for that.

Alta Restaurant, NYC

Alta in New York’s West Village is an amazing not-quite-standard-tapas restaurant. Upon entering, you walk past a long bar leading to the dining area where you can pause to enjoy an aperitif while waiting for your table.

The dining area is a two story affair, with the second as an open area looking down. The slightly rustic exposed wood and earth tones throughout make the restaurant inviting and unassuming. It’s a great spot for a hassle-free dinner with friends or for a low-key date. The bar at the front can get crowded, but it seems to be big enough to accommodate a lot of people. The staff are prepared and willing to accommodate everyone from single diners to large crowds who can order everything off the menu in one go.

Pulled Pork Empanadas, sweet & spicy cilantro dipping sauce

Pulled Pork Empanadas, sweet & spicy cilantro dipping sauce

The menu consists entirely of small plates, ideal to share with friends while sipping wine or cocktails–try their fantastic red sangria. The wine list is just as diverse as their menu, with options for wines from around the world. The food is rich, varied and well prepared with a slight Spanish nod (empanadas, olives, dates, sardines) or otherwise European influences (foie gras, gnocchi and panna cotta). The empanadas (Pulled Pork Empanadas, sweet & spicy cilantro dipping sauce) are flavorful and simple, and the gnocchi was amazing (Ricotta Parmesan Gnocchi, tomato & piquillo pepper sauce, pancetta, pesto).

Ricotta Parmesan Gnocchi, tomato & piquillo pepper sauce, pancetta, pesto

Ricotta Parmesan Gnocchi, tomato & piquillo pepper sauce, pancetta, pesto

Highly recommended are the Brussels sprouts (Crispy Brussels Sprouts, Granny Smith Apples, crème fraîche, pistachio nuts) and fingerling potatoes (Salt Baked & Fried Fingerling Potatoes, Foie Gras mousse & Normandy apple vinegar) [I’d post the photo of the potatoes, but the other dishes look more appetizing, these are delicious though.]. The meatballs (Lamb Meatballs, spiced butternut squash foam, toasted sesame seeds and lebne) have a wonderfully complex flavor.

Lamb Meatballs, spiced butternut squash foam, toasted sesame seeds and lebne

Lamb Meatballs, spiced butternut squash foam, toasted sesame seeds and lebne

The plates are brought out not all at once, but in series, allowing you time to nibble and taste without your table filling up with half empty dishes. The meal was unrushed allowing you to linger enjoying your food and wine to your content.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts, Granny Smith Apples, crème fraîche, pistachio nuts

Crispy Brussels Sprouts, Granny Smith Apples, crème fraîche, pistachio nuts

While the food is delicious enough to want to eat many plates, I’d actually recommend ordering slightly less than you’d think you need to begin with. The turn around on the food is quick enough that if you find yourself still hungry when nearing the end of the meal, you won’t be waiting long if you order something else. And even if you don’t order more, you’ll find yourself wondering when you can make it back again to try one more thing off the menu.

Little Branch

As you can see by their website, Little Branch is fairly no-nonsense. With bar rules (Rule #6: Don’t bring anyone here who you wouldn’t leave alone in your home.) and $12 drinks, it’s not quite no-frills either. It’s in the details that Little Branch succeeds.

Little Branch Entrance

Little Branch Entrance (Thanks http://flickr.com/photos/ldandersen/ for the pic).

Once inside, the speak-easy atmosphere, the professional staff and the extremely knowledgeable bartenders won me over nearly immediately. The cash-only tabs are totaled on vintage cash registers and run up by suspender wearing bartenders. Hand-chipped ice in various sizes is used in drinks to ensure that your drink never becomes too watery by the time you get to the end of it. Homemade bitters, fresh squeezed fruits, and specific liquors are all used in creating your specific request.

On the menu is “Bartender’s Choice”–and you are encouraged to choose this as an option. After a brief conversation with the bartender about your mood, your preferences of liquor and mixers, etc, they recommend a drink. If it sounds good then they make it with all the professionalism you would imagine from an anal-retentive butler. They don’t embellish the process unnecessarily–no flourishes, throws or spins. Everything that is done seems to be for the good of the drink.

After a while, I noticed the bartenders dipping straws into the drinks and removing them. I realized that they were capping off a sample of each drink to make sure it was quality. That sort of detail ensures that whatever you are being served, the bartender is aware of the quality of the drink.

The drinks themselves are extremely well crafted. Poured and measured to exacting amounts, no drink was too bitter, too alcoholic or too sweet. Balance is key. My friend and I ended up ordering, among other things, a Southside Fizz, Tom Collins (made with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, the original Tom of Tom Collins), a Cucumber Fix (3/4 simple sugar syrup, 3/4 lemon juice, 2 gin) and a Bourbon Sour (made with egg white).

Go here in good company for a pleasant evening of earnestly made drinks. Here’s to Little Branch, ‘cheers’.

Allen and Son Barbecue

The great barbecue debate rages on. The regional differences in barbecue are astounding. I have become a huge fan of the vinegar based sauce found in North Carolina. The big rival, of course, is the tomato based Texan barbecue. Sweet sauces and mustard based sauces are also popular.

Allen and Son Barbecue

Allen and Son Barbecue

Allen and Son is one of the best example of North Carolina barbecue. It is located just outside of Chapel Hill in what feels like the middle of nowhere. There isn’t much else going on around it, but it nonetheless has a steady stream of customers coming to try to food.

Stew and Cue Plate

Stew and 'Cue Plate

I had the barbecue and Brunswick stew combination plate. A mound of barbecue shredded with some sauce mixed in is served with some coleslaw and a bowl of stew on the side. The barbecue is served all mixed together and those little pieces of outside brown are fantastic. With more chew and smoke flavor than the interior meat, I cherish each piece I find. The ‘cue itself is tender and still moist. More sauce is available and always poured on. The stew is very tasty with a decent amount of meat mixed in as well.

Stew up close

Stew up close

The plate also comes served with a basket of hush-puppies. Now, to me, these hush-puppies are amazing. They actually have flavor of corn meal and have a great crust with a soft bready interior.

Hushpuppies

Hushpuppies

Feeling adventurous, my friend and I decided to go for dessert. I got the Apple Crumble and he got the Klondike Pie.

Dessert, Apple Crumble and Klondike Pie

Dessert, Apple Crumble and Klondike Pie

Meh, the desserts were mediocre. The pie and crumble were overly sugary and the ice cream didn’t taste like much at all. Skip the desserts and stick with the barbecue.

Despite the lackluster dessert, Allen and Son comes heartily recommend and I would absolutely go there again. Just stick with the stew and ‘cue combo platter and you can’t go wrong.

Argentina

As I mentioned in my last post, I was in Argentina recently. I spent my time between the wine region, Mendoza, and the capital, Buenos Aires. Long days of travel and sightseeing (and staying out late) meant that I went to a lot of cafe’s in both areas.

The view from Bodega Finca Decero

The view from Bodega Finca Decero

Mendoza recap: Mendoza is knows for its malbecs, and they had some very good ones. I went to several bodegas to taste some wine; my favorite were Renacer, Ruca Malen and Bodega Benegas. On the wine tour, I had lunch at the bodega Ruca Malen. A great meal, each course paired with it’s own wine, of course.

Tapas at Ruca Malen

Tapas at Ruca Malen

Roasted Apple with Quince Jelly at Ruca Malen in Mendoza, Argentina

Roasted Apple with Quince Jelly at Ruca Malen in Mendoza, Argentina

The main course was a beef tenderloin grilled “a las brasas” served with potatoes and bacon rolls and a goat cheese and black pepper sauce.

Beef tenderloin with potatoes and bacon rolls and a goat cheese and black pepper sauce at Ruca Malen

Beef tenderloin with potatoes and bacon rolls and a goat cheese and black pepper sauce at Ruca Malen

I also had a fantastic meal at 1884, Francis Mallmann’s restaurant (voted the 7th best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine). Fantastic meal, great atmosphere. The restaurant is part of the Bodegas Escorihuela winery which had some very good wines. I had the Escorihuela Gascon Malbec and the Escorihuela Gascon Viognier; I preferred the Malbec, but both were nice. The menu is split into three sections: From the Grill, From the Clay Oven, and From the Kitchen. I would recommend getting a dish either from the grill or the oven. Mallmann is classically trained in the French style and tends to over prepare many dishes. Getting a dish from the grill or oven forces a simplification of the dish and, in my opinion, produces a more authentic Argentine meal. I had the chivito de Malargue (baby goat from Malargue), which I would recommend to anyone going there.

Kato Cafe

Kato Cafe

Buenos Aires recap: I did not eat at many restaurants in BsAs because I was living with my friend’s family while staying there. We normally stayed home and cooked something at home with the family. I did go to a few restaurants which I can recommend.

Cafe Biela

Cafe Biela

Bobo was very good. Located in the Palermo district, the food was well prepared with a good attention to detail. The style is modern and they blend cuisine from across the world but use spices more traditional to Argentina.
I also had the opportunity to go to a dinner club, Casa Saltshaker. This was one of the best meals I have had in a long time–easily the best meal on the trip. The dinner is served at a communal table with no more than 12 people attending. Each week is a different menu based off a theme. The week I went the theme was Thai food to celebrate the birthday of Bhumibol Adulyadej (also known as Rama IX), the current king of Thailand.  The meal was a five course meal (sorry no photos of this one) that was perfectly paired with wines. I was very impressed by the preparation of the food and the wines chosen. The first dish was a smoked eggplant salad served on a tomato slice. This was paired with a Nieto Senetier Brut Nature sparkling wine. The second dish was a shrimp and lime consommé paired with a Jose L. Mounnier Torrentés. Again wonderfully prepared and delicious with the wine. The third dish was a double. One half of the plate was fried tofu served on a slice of pineapple and the other half of the plate was peppered sauteed calamari. This was paired with Monteviejo Festive Rodado which surprised me at first. I generally don’t go for rosés, but this one was perfect with the tofu and pineapple. The fourth dish was a melon curry with salt cured trout paired with Alredo Roca Pinot Noir. Argentines are not very used to spicy foods, so Dan, the chef, opted to refrain on adding too much spice and instead provided a spicy pepper sauce on the side. The addition of the sauce greatly improved the meal. To finish the meal a squash tart with caramelized cashews was paired with Callia Amable Dulce Natural.
I highly recommend it. If you go anywhere to eat in Argentina, go there.

(Update: I forgot to add a link to the Casa SaltShaker blog. There is an entry–with photos!–about the meal)

Cafe Civit

Cafe Civit in Mendoza

One more thing of note: ice cream. I am astounded by the capacity of Argentines to eat ice cream. The huge Italian influence (gelato style ice cream) mixed with South American flavors makes for some amazing treats. The Dulce de Leche flavor is a good start, traditional and delicious. Don’t stop there though, if you really want a treat, have Tramontana or Banana Split. Tramontana is basically a ducle de leche ice cream with chocolate crunchy nuggets mixed in. Banana Split is not like in the US. Forget about serving ice cream on top of a banana, instead make banana flavored ice cream with dulce de leche and mix in bits of chocolate. Amazing. If I can figure out how to make that here I would make a killing.


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