Categories
New York reviews

wd~50

WD50

Our New York trip started with a bang at wd~50, Chef Wylie Dufresne’s Lower East Side playground of science and food. Dufresne’s reputation as the mad scientist of American cuisine is well deserved, but what matters at the end of the day is the food, and wd~50’s tasting menu, despite one small unexpected bump, simply rocked.

The meal started with basket of super-addictive, paper-thin sesame flatbread that was great sans any adornments.

Sesame FlatbreadSesame Flatbread

Our first course was the Cobia with mustard seed, mung bean and cucumber. This is probably the first time I’ve eaten a mung bean that wasn’t in mungo, a Filipino mung bean stew. This was a nice light way to start off the meal.

CobiaCobia

The next course was a take on the classic Everything Bagel, except in this dish, the bagel is actually ice cream made with everything bagels and is served with smoked salmon threads, pickled red onions and piece of crispy cream cheese. To understand the origins of this dish, watch Dufresne break it down at Metromix.com.

Everything BagelEverything Bagel

The third course was Foie Gras, a terrine of foie gras filled with passion fruit puree served with Chinese celery. This was the only real disappointment of the night. No one at our table enjoyed the combination of passion fruit and foie gras. As separate entities, they were fine, but if chocolate and peanut butter exemplifies “two great tastes that taste great together,” then this was the exact opposite.

Foie GrasFoie Gras

The Scrambled Egg Ravioli was next and served with charred avocado, kindai kampachi and fried little bits of potato. Breaking open the egg “ravioli” cube reveals a perfect, steamy, slightly runny scrambled egg, and combining all of these elements in one bite was a great combination of flavors and textures.

Scrambled Egg RavioliScrambled Egg Ravioli

The table was split on the next course, Cold Fried Chicken with buttermilk ricotta, tabasco and caviar. My friend Teresa didn’t like the fried chicken because she thought the texture resembled processed meat, and I think she would have preferred it if it chicken was warm. She did agree with us on the other elements of the dish, especially the awesome Tabasco honey, which tied it all together.

Cold Fried ChickenCold Fried Chicken

If there was one perfect dish of the evening, it was the Eggs Benedict. It’s not on the tasting menu, but we added it as a supplemental course. English muffin-crusted cubes are filled with an incredibly smooth and delicious Hollandaise sauce and fried. When you cut open the cubes, the Hollandaise spreads all over the plate. They were served with paper-thin Canadian Bacon strips and poached egg yolks. This was easily the best course of the night.

Eggs Benedict (supplemental course)Eggs Benedict

The next dish was the beautifully plated Perch with kohirabi, “dirty grape” and cocoa nibs. This wasn’t the most memorable dish, but I remember the fish being perfectly cooked and pairing nicely with the grapes and coco nibs.

PerchPerch

The thinly pounded duck leg with popcorn pudding, kalamansi, and lovage resembled a tuna dish we had a couple days later at Le Bernardin. I always love seeing kalamansi represented at high-end restaurants, but the popcorn pudding was the talk of the table. Its flavor was weird but familiar, almost like the buttered-popcorn flavored Jelly Belly the first time you tasted it.

Duck LegDuck Leg

The last savory course was the Lamb Loin, a perfect piece of seared meat served with a black garlic romesco, pickled ramps, and dried soybeans. The lamb and romesco were great together, especially if you got bit of seared fat in the bite.

Lamb LoinLamb Loin

The first dessert course was vanilla ice cream filled with aged balsamic vinegar reduction and coated with raspberry streusel. Aside from being really pretty, the marriage of vanilla ice cream and the sweet balsalmic was really nice while the streusel added a little texture.

Vanilla Ice CreamVanilla Ice Cream

The chocolate hazelnut tart was perfect and our favorite dessert of the night. It was topped with a little salt and served with a chicory foam some coconut powder.

Hazelnut TartChocolate Hazelnut Tart

The last dessert was the caramelized brioche with apricot, buttercream and lemon-thyme sorbet. The brioche and the buttercream were really good, but I wasn’t really into the lemon-thyme sorbet. I also don’t think basil should be an ice cream or sorbet flavor so that might explain it.

Caramelized BriocheCaramelized Brioche

The meal doesn’t really end until you get the chocolate shortbread and cocoa packets. The shortbread was really the coating for a small piece of milk ice cream and was kind of like an Oreo bonbon. The cocoa packets look like ketchup packets, but they’re edible and filled with cocoa. I think the coolness factor outweighs the flavor factor with the packets, which was enough for me since we were all really full at the point.

Cocoa Packets and Chocolate ShortbreadChocolate Shortbread and Cocoa Packets

We took a little tour of the kitchen after dinner, and they were in the process of cleaning up for the night. Teresa was so full that she had this strange look on her face and Dufresne asked her if she was “in pain” (she was, but in a good way). The coolest part of the kitchen was what I dubbed the “Wall of Magic.” If you look carefully on the top shelf, you’ll see a bottle of Sriracha up there, along with other interesting things. :)

The Wall of MagicThe Wall of Magic

Of course, no kitchen should be without a disco ball…

Every Kitchen Needs a Disco BallThe Disco Ball

…and say goodbye to the Wylie Care Bear on your way out.

The Wiley Care BearThe Wiley Care Bear

The cool thing about wd~50 is that unless they have other engagements, both Dufresne and head pastry chef Alex Stupak are working the line every night. This is the best way for chefs to ensure that their culinary vision is presented accurately, and it comes through loud and clear at wd~50. There are plenty of oddities on the wd~50 tasting menu, and it’s easy to see how their food might not be for everyone. For the most part, we had a lot of fun both eating and enjoying these dishes.

INFORMATION
wd~50
50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002 map
212.477.2900
Web site

Categories
candy New York reviews

Economy Candy

Economy Candy is cramped, crowded and filled with candy from around the world, and it just might be the most beautiful place on the Lower East Side.

It was a lot of fun squeezing our way through the aisles (or should I say piles) of candy and even better listening to a man have an orgasm as he told his friend about what “a decadent treat” Scharffen Berger’s roasted cacao nibs were. They also have a huge selection of baseball cards from waaay back in the day (the 80s), and I wasn’t sure if they were originals with old stale gum or if they were cheeky reissues with new stale gum. My wife picked up a Baci from Italy and a Duplo from Germany, and I got myself a kitschy Economy Candy T-shirt.

There’s a lot of candy shops and chocolatiers in NY, but they’re very hoity-toity and “grown up” places to shop. If you ever want to recapture that true feeling of being “a kid in a candy store,” make your way down to the Lower East Side and drop by Economy Candy.

INFORMATION
Economy Candy
108 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002 map
212.254.1531
Web site

Categories
chicken fried chicken Korean New York reviews

Bon Chon

“Our Chicken uses none sticky sauce which helps you eat stylish.”

That’s a quote from the take out menu I picked up at Bon Chon as we were leaving…and it’s the truth. Actually, on the flip side of the menu, the pictures of its trendy, industrial interior makes Bon Chon look like it’s really a night club. Turn the lights off, put on some crappy K-Pop/gay techno/80s music, and you start understand the vibe at Bon Chon. It’s loud inside, which is normal when your walls and floor are concrete, but Korean hipster vibe aside, the fried chicken here is great.


“At Bon Chon, it’s all about eating healthy —
minimized fat, high in protein, and low in cholesterol.”

“Soy Garlic Sauce – Prevents cancer, cold, asthma and heart disease
Hot Sauce – Contains Vitamin A and C, which are good for you skin and body”

I find it amazing that Korean Fried Chicken is being marketed as health food, not just at Bon Chon. Hell, maybe they’re right. I’d love to be a true believer, but maybe I’ve been brainwashed by Western media to believe that fried foods are supposed to be bad for you.

We split a combination platter of drumsticks and wings between the five of us, half soy garlic/half hot sauce, so we’re super healthy now! The soy garlic sauce was great, subtle garlic flavor and there was a hint of sweetness to it. The hot sauce was even better and left my mouth sizzling for about 20 minutes after. The skin was crispy and true to form, not sticky, so I was not only healthy, beating cancer and getting a daily dose of vitamins, I was a stylin’ too.

If all the health food claims end up being true, then all hail Korean Fried Chicken and pass me a drumstick!

INFORMATION
Bon Chon
314 5th Ave
New York, NY 10001 map
212.221.2222
Web site

Categories
Best of Inuyaki David Chang Japanese Korean Momofuku New York noodles pork reviews

Momofuku Noodle Bar

I had been on a quest to find the perfect bowl of ramen in the San Francisco Bay Area for awhile, but I think I’ve found perfection at Momofuku. It was seriously the best bowl of noodles I’ve ever had.

This is not traditional ramen, but I don’t care. Instead of slices of chashu (roast pork), Momofuku’s ramen features an incredibly delicious helping of shredded Berkshire Pork. The broth is incredibly porky (exactly what I’ve been looking for) and contains peas and a poached egg (instead of hard boiled), which helps thicken the broth and give it some more flavor. There are no bean sprouts in this ramen either, but I don’t care for them anyway, so that wasn’t a big deal.

We started with an appetizer of Roasted Rice Cakes, which were served with a roasted onion/spicy chili sauce. This looked like a fusion version of the Korean duk bok kee, and it was a delicious way to start the meal.


Roasted Rice Cakes

I ordered the Momofuku Ramen, which also contained pork belly, a welcome surprise. I wanted to order an appetizer of fried pork belly, but that was vetoed by my wife (probably for the better considering how much we’ve been eating this trip). My wife ordered the special pork neck ramen, which featured braised neck meat and a thicker, flat Chinese noodle. My friend had the standard pork ramen, which was like mine but sans pork belly.


Momofuku Ramen

Momofuku is a bit overpriced for a bowl of ramen, but considering the quality of the ingredients and how good it is, I’m not complaining. And as I raised the bowl to my lips to finish off the last of the broth, the chorus for “The Search is Over” by Survivor starting playing in my head:


I was looking for ramen
Looking for the best
I went to New York
Unsure of what I’d find
Now I look into my bowl
The broth is gone forever
The search is over
Momo’s the best one in my mind…

INFORMATION
Momofuku Noodle Bar
163 1st Ave.
New York, NY 10003 map
212.475.7899
Web site

Categories
New York pizza reviews

Grimaldi’s Pizza

You can learn a lot about how to make a great pizza while standing in line for the restroom at Grimaldi’s. The first thing you’ll notice is the enormous brick, coal-fired oven. The oven door opens every 30 seconds or so, revealing a huge pile of fiery coals off to the side and the pizza in the back. The temperatures are so hot in this oven that it only takes a few minutes to cook the pizza (reflect on that next time your pie takes 20 minutes or more at most pizza joints).

As you watch the employees assemble the pies, you might be struck by the fact that the pizzas aren’t overloaded with sauce or toppings (a la Round Table). They simply tear off pieces of mozzarella and place them around the pizza, sometimes as much as an inch a part. They do the same with the pepperoni, sausage or other choice toppings and then they simply drizzle (yes..that’s drizzle, not pour) the tomato sauce on top of the top of the pie and then finish it with a drizzle of olive oil.

The pie make look sparse as it goes in the oven, but I think the oven’s intense heat breaks everything down quickly, and the cheese, sauce and oil meld together while the pizza cooks. When you get the the finished pizza, there’s good sauce and cheese and topping coverage throughout the pie.



We ordered a large half margherita and half pepperoni and sausage pie, and it was great. The thin crust had a nice crispy char on the bottom toward the outside of the pizza, but was a little softer in the middle, which was nice, and it had a good “bite” to it. I liked the bits of sausage a lot and the pepperoni was the smaller, quarter-sized slices that I prefer. But I think the best component of the pie is the sauce. It had a really nice tang to it that went nicely with the cheese and toppings.

We got there fairly early (before noon), so the line wasn’t very long and waited about 10 minutes. Once you sit down and order, the pizzas arrive really quickly. The large pie (18-inch) was the perfect size for splitting with three people, and we walked off the meal with a leisurely stroll back to Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge.

INFORMATION
Grimaldi’s Pizza
19 Old Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201 map
718.858.4300
Web site

Categories
breakfast New York reviews soul food

Amy Ruth’s

After four days of eating our way through New York, including a bit too much Junior’s cheesecake the night before, I was extremely apprehensive about meeting some friends at Amy Ruth’s for breakfast because I was afraid that I was going to break my stomach, especially since I knew I was going to end up ordering the chicken and waffles.


[pictobrowser type=”flickr” userID=”arndog” albumID=”72157602168820827″]

Now, I don’t really understand the comparisons to Roscoe’s because unlike Roscoe’s, where chicken and waffles is the focal point of the menu, the menu at Amy Ruth’s is so diverse that it’s almost impossible to really judge the place based on just eating one dish. Other dishes you should try include the cinammon french toast, smothered pork chops and the mac and cheese. For dessert, the peach cobbler and the red velvet cake are solid options. Also, ask for the Kool Aid of the Day…on this visit, it was Red.

That being said, Amy Ruth’s waffles are a Belgian-style waffle that’s crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and positively divine. There’s a sweetness to them when you take the first bite, but then it’s followed by a tanginess, possibly from buttermilk, that adds a whole other dimension of flavor to the waffle. The fried chicken is pretty good, too, but I think Roscoe’s chicken or even Home of Chicken and Waffles in Oakland is better. But overall, I have no qualms about recommending Amy Ruth’s to anyone who is curious about this strange, sweet-and-salty orgasm on a plate…even for breakfast!

Categories
breakfast French New York reviews

Balthazar

There was only one reason I was eating at Balthazar this morning — brioche French toast. I had never had it before but Sooj’s raving about it during our regular IM sessions about eating got me fixated on trying it. I mean, does brioche really make the difference between good French toast and great French toast? The answer is “yes.”

Why Balthazar? Well, during my online research preceding our trip, it was one of the only places that served it as part of their regular breakfast menu and not just during Sunday brunch. I had no idea that it was one of those places where you might see a celebrity or two, or that it’s actually pretty famous on its own. All I knew was that they had what I was looking for, and it was walking distance from my friend’s place, so I made a reservation.

We were seated promptly on arrival at 10am and the restaurant was already bustling. It’s very loud and busy, even at breakfast, and it was everything I ever imagined a New York restaurant would be. I wonder what this place is like at dinner. We started our breakfast with an apple galette and a homemade doughnut. The galette wasn’t very big, but was the perfect breakfast “appetizer.” The apples were tart and the pastry was buttery and flaky. It would also make a perfect dessert. The doughnut was a light, cake donut with a bit of sugar sprinkled on top. This was also good, and I’m not normally a fan of cake doughnuts.


Scrambled Eggs in Puff Pastry

My wife ordered scrambled eggs with asparagus and wild mushrooms in a puff pastry. The scrambled eggs were perfect and you could tell that the eggs were very fluffy, a sign of fresh eggs. You could taste every buttery layer of eggs but it wasn’t heavy at all. The puff pastry was perfect, and my wife was happy because we had been having bad luck with puff pastry at restaurants in the last few months.


Brioche French Toast

My brioche French toast was great. The thick slices of light, eggy bread were topped only with powdered sugar and two slices of applewood smoked bacon and served with a side of syrup. One bite and I was hooked. the crust was super crispy but not burnt, and I proceeded to cut the corners off the French toast to maximize the amount of crust in each bite. The bread was soft and pillowy and soaked up the syrup nicely. I normally like my bacon crispy, which wasn’t the case with Balthazar’s bacon, but I didn’t care because the smokey flavor that permeated the meat more than made up for it.

This New York trip, coupled with my addiction to Yelping and eating out, has helped me understand why people pay a little bit more money for good food. The simplicity of Balthazar’s French toast paired with only a side of bacon may seem sparse and cost twice as much when compared to your typical American restaurant breakfast. I mean, I could have easily gone to IHOP or Denny’s for French toast with eggs and bacon/sausage and hash browns, etc. and that would have filled me up, but was it really satisfying? Even when combined with the galette and the donut, our breakfast at Balthazar was both excellent and extremely satisfying without putting us into a food coma for the rest of the day.

INFORMATION
Balthazar
80 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012 map
212.965.1414
Web site

Categories
dessert Japanese New York reviews

Kyotofu

In the past, I haven’t been a fan of Japanese desserts because I always found them to be bland. What I’m realizing lately is that the blandness is actually subtlety, and subtlety is a good thing. Kyotofu offers up small, light and delectable tofu-based desserts and appetizers. The ambience is very modern, and the presentation of each dish was beautiful.

We started with the tofu and chicken tsukune meatballs. The combo of tofu and chicken sounds a bit odd, but the tofu made the meatballs soft and smooth, and they were delicious.


Tofu and Chicken Tsukune Meatballs

The otsumami, the chef’s selection of appetizers was next. Tonight’s selection was steamed veggies, a tofu quiche, namasu (pickled daikon/carrot salad), and steamed tofu. The standouts here were the tofu quiche and the namasu. I seriously could’ve eaten a bowl of the namasu.


Otsumami - Chef's Selection

The four-course Kyotofu dessert KAISEKI tasting menu featured their signature sweet tofu topped with Japanese black sugar syrup and a piece of dried apricot, which was creamy like panna cotta (excellent); ginger-infused japanese rice okayu, a rice pudding with sour cherries, kuromitsu whipped cream and ginger candy (excellent), a creamy toasted walnut tahitian vanilla parfait (good), and a tofu-based warm chocolate cake that was rich and light and so good my wife ate most of it. There was also a serving of kinako cream, which was like peanut butter smeared on the plate (very good).

KAISEKI tasting menu

My wife ordered the ichigo strawberry anmitsu, which was a lot like Japanese halo-halo. It had gelatin, strawberry mochi bits, strawberries and azuki (red bean) sauce and a quarter-sized dorayaki pancake. This was so refreshing, especially after all of our other food.

Next up were two miniature cookies…kuro goma (black sesame) and an okara cookie dipped in green tea frosting. I think overall, food with black sesame looks cool, but the flavor is just okay, and that’s how I feel about the kuro goma cookie. Okara is a high-fiber byproduct of tofu or soymilk and is used as the base for the cookie. I didn’t think you could really taste it, but the green tea “frosting” was really nice.

As a palate cleanser, they brought us lychee jelly cubes to end our meal.

Now this might sound like a lot of food, but the portions are really, really small. Considering all the eating we had done throughout the day, it was actually a perfect place to end day one of our NY vacation/eating excursion.

INFORMATION
Kyotofu
705 9th Ave
(between 48th St & 49th St)
New York, NY 10019
212.974.6012
Web site

Categories
Best of Inuyaki Italian Mario Batali New York reviews

Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca

In the world of celebrity chefs, Mario Batali was never really one of my favorites, but I always respected his culinary skills (especially on Iron Chef America) and appreciated the joy he gets bringing “authentic” Italian food to the masses. But on our last trip to New York in May, the one place everyone kept telling us to go was Mario’s flagship restaurant, Babbo.


Babbo

Because of its popularity, getting a table at Babbo is challenging. They take reservations 30 calendar days in advance, and when I called, the phone was busy for hours before I got through to a reservationist. The only seating times open were 5:30 and something after 9pm, so we took the early seating.

We arrived for our 5:30pm reservation and were seated upstairs, which I think is preferable to the darker downstairs because the sun was still out and brightened up the room through the enormous skylight. We fell for the old antipasti, primi, secondi” format of dining, which was fine because it let us sample a lot of the menu. We ordered three antipasti, one primi to split and we each got our own secondi. Our menu consisted of:

ANTIPASTI
Asparagus “Milanese” with Duck Egg and Parmigiano
Warm Lamb’s Tongue Vinaigrette with Chanterelles and a 3-Minute Egg
Grilled Octopus with “Borlotti Marinati” and Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette

PRIMI
Maccheroni alla Chitarra
with Oven Dried Tomatoes, Red Chiles and Bottarga di Muggine (Grey Mullet Roe)

SECONDI
Barbecued Skirt Steak with Asparagus “alla Piastra” and Salsa Verde
Roasted Veal Loin coiled in Sage and Housemade Pancetta and served with Caramelized Cauliflower (the nightly special)
Tilefish cooked with Pancetta and Giant Leeks

Of the antipasti, the grilled octopus was the standout. It was charred perfectly but had a sweetness to it that was an amazing combination. The asparagus was thick and it was perfectly cooked (you know how most restaurants overcook asparagus so that it’s limp and mushy? NOT here.) The lamb’s tongue was good, very tasty, and not as weird as it sounds.

The highlight of the meal might have been the primi. The Maccheroni alla Chitarra was at once spicy, salty and sweet (leaning towards spicy) and it was amazing. This was split between the three of us, but I was longing for a whole bowl all to myself.

After an amazing first two courses, the secondi were all just pretty good, but nothing really amazing. My wife liked her fish but wasn’t blown away by it. Our friend’s skirt steak was good and the pesto sauce it came with was really nice, but she ordered it medium well, so it was a bit chewy and probably would have been better cooked medium rare or medium. The veal loin wrapped in pancetta was probably the best of the three (I mean, it was wrapped in pancetta!), but I think that sans pancetta it would have been average.

Things picked up again for dessert. The warm chocolate cake was served with a hazelnut gelato that was amazing. The blueberry/coconut crostata with buttermilk gelato was awesome and by the blueberries tartness, you could tell that they were fresh. The warm pineapple cake was extremely sweet, but it wasn’t overpowering and a nice contrast to the other desserts.



Presentation of all the dishes was gorgeous, as it should be at a place like this. I have to say that one dish caught my eye multiple times as it made its way across the room…the deconstructed osso buco for two. It smelled great and looked like a lot of meat for just two people. I really think it could feed four.

I didn’t give Babbo five stars mainly for our lackadaisical service. There were times where we were just sitting there (waiting to order, waiting for our plates to be cleared, etc.) and I thought our server could have been more on the ball. Maybe he was gawking a bit because Luke Wilson was dining with a lady friend on the other side of the room, but that’s really no excuse. Otherwise, we had an amazing meal, and I would defintely go back to Babbo if I had another opportunity.

INFORMATION
Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca
110 Waverly Pl,
New York, NY 10011+9109
212.777.0303
Web site