Best New Chefs 2008

FOOD & WINE announced their picks this morning for this years Best New Chefs. Among the winners are NYC's own Michael Psilakis (of Kefi, Anthos and now Mia Dona). Check out The List! Seeing as this is the 20th anniversary of BNC, tonights shin-dig should be a memorable one with former BNC's Daniel Boulud, Todd English, Tom Colicchio, Wylie Dufresne and Rocco Dispirito and 15 others all putting forth signature dishes! Bring it!
BNC fun fact #1 - on average, the BNC's have 3 tatoos each!


Dinner & Ko

Last Thursday night I was lucky enough to dine at chef David Chang's latest expansion of the Momofuku brand - Momofuku Ko. I say lucky enough because getting a ressie at this place is next to impossible. The only way to nab one of the 14 coveted stools (it's strictly a counter set-up) is to book a reservation online through the Ko website. A few notes on the logistics before I get into all of the yummy food stuff. The ressies open up for every morning at 10am for one evening exactly a week in advance and are typically gone within about 20 seconds. (After 2 weeks of trying I was getting a little over it all but then one day, lo and behold, there it was - the 7:15pm spot for 2!) The menu is an $85 pre-fixe 8-course meal (add another $50 if you want to do the wine/sake pairing) with no choices (you tell them any food allergies at the beginning and the rest is up to the chef).

With that said, let the journey begin . . .

The minute The Lady & I entered through the front door we knew this was going to be something special. The vibe was very mello (a HUGE difference from the chaotic atmosphere of Ssam Bar and Noodle Bar in the East Village for those familiar) and we were immediately perfectly lulled retro indie soundtrack quietly playing from above. We were show to the 2 open stools in the back corner and presented with the liquor menu (presented in a cool little moleskin journal). Since I'm not a fan of sake we decided to not go with the pairing and instead just order a bottle of wine (one of my ONLY complaints about the ENTIRE experience was that the wines are pretty pricey and mostly only come in half bottles - a fact that we didn't quite notice when browsing the list and making our selection so be forewarned!). I will say though that both the Sancerre and Pino Gris that we ordered (each 1/2 bottle $35) were both great - light and refreshing and paired well with the food.

Soon after placing our wine order the amuse bouche arrived. We were each presented with a different item (a trend that occured in 5 of the 8 courses) - a touch that we really liked since it allowed us to try even more of the chef's cuisine. The amuses consisted of 2 chicharrons (or pork rinds to the layman) and 2 baby homemade English muffins grilled in rendered pork fat and topped with scallions. BOTH were pure HEAVEN !!!!!!

This was followed up in the first course by 2 sashimi dishes - the first was fluke with poppy seeds and chives in a spicy buttermilk sauce and the other sweet Florida shrimp with avocado. Both were good, but definitely score 1 for the fluke (I LOVED it but The Lady did point out to me that the the spicy flavor was one we had tasted many times before at places like Rubuchon).

In course 2 we both were given the same dish - a Kimchi consemme with a piece of crispy pork belly and 2 raw Long Island oysters on the half shell. The pork belly was pure Chang perfection - I just wish it hadn't been served with the oysters (not that they were bad - I'm just not a fan of raw oysters).

Course 3 was one of the dishes I had been hearing a lot about - a coddled hen egg topped with caviar over onion soubise and homemade potato chips. This was fantastic, however I did think the amount of caviar was a bit overwhelming. Since The Lady has issues with raw egg, she mentioned to them in the beginning that she was "allergic" and so she had a pea soup with mushrooms and some other stuff that she enjoyed (I hate peas so basically ignored her dish and concentrated on the yolk!).

Next up were 2 separate scallop dishes. I was partial to the Lady's which was seared scallop over white asparagus with with some kind of nuts (please forgive me with the lack and precision of ingredient listing, but REALLY, who could keep track or understand what they were saying once you're in the thick of it!). My seared scallop was served with 2 manilla clams in a sauce that I can't much remember since I was hooked on The Lady's dish.

The next dish was another one of the most talked about - Riesling gelee, lychees and pinenut brittle topped with shaved foie gras. This dish was seriously OUTRAGEOUS - a sweet/savory balance with an explosion in every bite! (Again here though I have to say that there was a little too much foie gras in the dish - if that is possible).

Course 6 was the meat course - deep fried short rib with grilled scallion, pickled dicon and pickled mustard seeds. Even though I prefer my short ribs shredded, the slices melted in your mouth with a bit of crunch. VERY good. The Lady, who is more of a meat connoisseur than I, was also quite happy with this dish. I should also mention here that at this point we ran out of wine so decided to go with what was being paired with the course - a Rioja ($8/glass) that was one of the best that I have had with great body and some spice.

The final of the savory courses was miso soup with grilled rice, nori and pickled turnips and cabbage. We both also had this one and it was ok but blah blah blah . . . by that point is was all becoming a blur.

As the dinner began to wind down the pre-dessert palate cleaners arrived - mine being pineapple sorbet over dried pineapples and the Lady's being lychee sorbet over lychees. Both were extremely flavorful and got the job done. Then finally came the desserts (which we paired with an EXCELLENT version what I would call a homemade sparkling port). The Lady's dessert was a deep fried apple pie with sour ice cream. For us both, the pie was too heavy and I did NOT love the sour ice cream - eeeewww!. I can't even remember what the other dessert was - I had to ask twice and then I never actually really cared - I was over it (all I can tell you though is that it LOOKED like a stick of butter but didn't taste anywhere near as good).

Phew! Done and done.

One final note: TOTALLY worth it (both the hell of getting the reservation and the money spent) and a really special night out!


Spice-e-r Than Ever!

I don't care how much anyone makes fun of me, The Spice Girls reunion tour was totally fun and amazing! They played all of their hits (yes, people, they had quite a few!) and looked and sounded AMAZING! I mean really people - who doesn't want to wave back frantically to Victoria as prances around the stage giving all of her loyal fans the royal wave about 1,000 times! Oh, and a big shout out to Mel C. for a HOT version of "I Turn To You"! The clip below sums it up - Spice Up Your Life! (I only wish it were clearer. PLEASE LADIES, RELEASE A VIDEO OF THE TOUR!) I'm have to say I'm sad for anyone who missed all the fun . . .

Congrats D.E.C.! ! !

Swing by the newly transplanted DCKT Contemporary gallery on the Bowery and check out the Josh Azzarella show. Very cool stuff!

Theater Roundup

I've seen a quite few things on Broadway since the August: Osage County posting, here's a quick summary:

In The Heights. Absolutely LOVED this one! Highly recommended! If you haven't heard about it yet it's basically the Latino version of Rent, taking place in Washington Heights. The music is red-hot with many Latin influences (hip hop, salsa, etc), the dancing is pro and the acting is top notch. Everyone in the cast really molds into their characters. The writer of this show, Lin-Manuel Miranda, also plays the main character Usnavi and is endearing from the moment he takes the stage. This show is my vote for the best new musical Tony for this year!

For those of you who missed the partially-staged, limited engagement of Gypsy with Patti Lupone this past summer at City Center, now is your chance to check out the full-blown production on Broadway. As usual, Lupone is a master and is even BETTER than she was this summer (and who would've even thought that was possible)! And Laura Benanti who plays Louise is NOT TO BE MISSED! She's my new fav and once Gypsy is over I can't wait to see what she'll do next! I had never seen the show before this summer and it is definitely a classic. And from what I hear this is the best revival yet. Patti - here's your Tony! Again, go see this one!

Next up was Chicago since I had never seen it before and I was drawn in by the stunt casting of John Schneider as Billy Flynn. Looking every-so-dapper, Schneider sounded great and held his own against all of the Fosse dancers. All-in-all it's a fun show but there are a few too many jazz hands in it for me. I'd only recommend this one when there is someone you like being stunt cast in it.

And finally, I went to see the 2 night only run of Jerry Springer: The Opera at Carnegie Hall. This one started off REALLY fun and it was HILARIOUS to hear people singing opera while dishing the foul-mouthed dirt. Sadly, though I have to say it all kind of fell apart in the second act. Harvey Keitel played Jerry and really he was nowhere near as good as I would've hoped or expected. I'd recommend this one to Jerry fans if you can ever find it playing anywhere again but would advise to leave at intermission.

Cookies & Beer

I'm back. At least for a minute.

Just heard about Insomnia Cookies, a service that delivers fresh-baked cookies to starving students in the late night hours. In NY, they'll now deliver to just about anyone (if you live between Ave. A & W.S.H. and between Broome & 14th) from 8pm-2:15am. Place your orders online. And they just opened up a brick-n-mortar at W. 8th & Macdougal. I haven't tried the cookies yet - but who cares what they taste like - they deliver at 2am!

And speaking of Macdougal St., I broke all rules 2 weeks back and popped into a new bar called 124 Old Rabbit Club that is smack dab in the middle of N.Y.U. I know people - I TOTALLY should've known better! Anyway, it was TOTALLY HORREN - mostly only beer, mostly only beer you've never heard of, a super tight squeeze (thank god we actually all got seats) and not-so visually appealing. I'd recommend not falling down into this rabbit trap!


August: Osage County

Last Saturday Mark & I went to see August: Osage County, the new play on Broadway by Tracy Letts (Bug, Killer Joe). I went to see it mainly because of the buzz surrounding it and due to the fact that it was on every theater critics top 10 list for the year. Thankfully, the critics were all correct in their recommendations. We LOVED this play !!!! The story is basically about a disfunctional family reuniting at their homestead in Oklahoma when their father goes missing. The script is full of twists and turns as all of the families dirty secrets are revealed. This is black comedy at it's best! The acting by virtually all of this ensemble cast (many of whom you'll recognize from all the bit parts that they've done) is superb - especially by Deanna Dunagan who plays the pill-popping mother Violet Weston. This lady MUST win the Tony this year! The only minor dissapointment for me come from Madeleine Martin who you may recognize as the daughter Becca Moody on Californication. I love her on that show, however she basically recreated that character here with all it's deadpan angst which made me wonder how limited this budding actress really is. I hope she improves with age. The set resembles a giant dollhouse with action taking place in various rooms. Very effective staging here. Bear in mind that this show is in 3 acts with a running time of 3 1/2 hrs with 2 intermissions. Take it from someone who doesn't like sitting through long stuff though - this one FLIES by! If you only see one show this year before the Tony's, make sure it is August!


Happy Birthday To Our Little Mascot!

Frannie turns 3 today!


Let's Kick Off 2008!

Happy New Year everyone!

I'm jumping right on this today, trying to get back in the habit of posting. On deck today is a review of Insieme, a farely recent addition to the theater district brought to you by the team behind Hearth in the East Village (which I reviewed almost a year ago).

I went to Insieme for my department holiday lunch at the end of last year. The concept of the menu is just like at Hearth - on the left side of the menu are the more classically prepared Italian dishes while the right side is more modern interpretations. I started off on the classic side with an appetizer sized portion of spaghetti al'amatriciana - one of my favorite Italian dishes. I wasn't disappointed (and actually wished I had chosen this as my main!). The pasta was perfectly al dente and the sauce had just the right amount of kick. I stuck with the classic side for my main as well which was a branzino arrosto - a filet of roasted Mediterranean bass simply prepared with lemon and rosemary over a bed of patate contadina (a fresh tomato salad). Keeping with the classic theme for dessert, I went with the trio of ice cream/gelato (vanilla, pumpkin and ginger). Each flavor was mouth watering in it's own right however when eaten together it came off as pumpkin pie - SPECTACULAR!

Everyone at the table enjoyed their meal immensley. A few other dishes of note included the beef tartare, the beet salad and the braised short ribs. The room is very minimalist white however is still quite comfortable and service was top notch. This one is going to be a theater district staple for me, so check it out next time you are in the area for a show!


December Round-Up

I know, I know! I can't believe it's been a month-and-a-half since I've written either! Just too much going on really - all of those holiday festivites. Felt the need for one last posting for the year so here is what has been going on since I last saw Roger:

Went to see Bruce Springsteen over Thanksgiving in Boston. As expected the show was great and I loved the Fleet Center as a venue (much more intimate feeling than MSG). The highlights for me were "Badlands", "The Promised Land", "The Rising", "Tunnel Of Love" and "Dancing In the Dark". The 2+ hour set list was a great survey of new and old and the crowd in Boston was CRAZY (especially when he broke out the rarely played "Jungleland")! I think they love Bruce more than people from N.J.!

Prior to the show we had dinner at Boston Beerworks. Years ago I used to go to the original in Kemore Square and really liked it (at least I think I did). Now, it's actually a chain with a bunch of locations around the Boston area. We started with nachos which were a bit too dried out for me. Then we had blue cheesburgers and I have to say I wasn't really impressed. The burgers were very formulaic and almost seemed like pre-made patties. The hight note was the Patriot Pilsner beer - ice cold with a perfect microbrew flavor - it helped make the 45 minute wait around lots of drunk people much more bearable.

Next up - Smith versus Smith, or should I say The Smith versus Smith's - two new restaurants that opened downtown almost simultaneously. First up was The Smith. I LOVED this place (as did everyone in the group of 4). Owned by the same people that own Jane, The Smith opens early and stays open late serving some MAJOR comfort food. The hardest thing about the menu is that there is WAY too many amazing things to choose from. Starters order around the table included the string bean salad (which was absolutely amazing, if a bit out of season - can't WAIT to go back for this one in the summer - $8), the homemade potatoe chips with blue cheese fondue (the chips were not greasy at all and the blue cheese fondue was over the top decadance - $6), the beer battered string beans (yes, we had a lot of string beans - this was a crazy heap of lightly breaded and pefectly fried tempura - $5) and the mac'n'cheese (sinful! - $10). I don't remember much about the mains except for that I had the pot of mussels (which was really a misorder for me - there were SOOO many other good things but I was overwhelmed with the heaviness of the apps so I tried for something light which caused me a bit of orderers remorse once all of the other great dishes arrived around me - regardless, they were still very good - $15) . Oh, and KK had the spaghetti and meatballs - something I never would've ordered in a place like this but turned out to be done right- in fact better than most Italian restaurants I've been to! - $13). The mains were paired with an order of brussel sprouts that were quite good ($5). All portions are very large at The Smith and the drink prices are very reasonable, with the house wines served by the glass, carafe or big carafe. The room was buzzing with young hipsters, Pulp played on the soundtrack and our service was nothing but spectacular (for a restaurant that had only been open for 2 weeks, everything was delivered quickly and correctly and our server was a total sweetheart).

A few weeks later I went to try Smith's. Owned by Danny Abrams (Mermaid Inn, Red Cat) and Cindy Smith (Raoul's), Smith's is a bit more upscale and intimate. For starters, we both had the artichoke pasta with black truffle, parmigiano reggiano and proscuitto ($11). Even though the portion was fairly small, the dish was very rich and we really could have split it. I was expecting some kind of a raviolli but it turned out to be angel hair. Loved this for a cold winter's night. For a main I had the grilled lobster served over brussel sprouts with almonds and a butternut squash puree ($32). The helping of lobster meat was definitely healthy and plump and perfectly cooked and I loved the brussel sprouts which were prepared as all leaves (not the whole sprout) with almonds. Mark had the boneless pork chop with celery root and apple puree and braised pork cheeks ( $24). He really liked it, although in the end said that it still couldn't compete with the chop at The Little Owl. Our waitress actually helped us make all of our choices since we were each torn between 2 apps and 2 mains and she was spot on (not to mention that she tipped us off that Mary-Louise Parker was sitting nearby!). The dining room is very black and grey with lots of iron and has a small square section up front with a railroad type setup heading towards the back. There is a very cute little bar area hidden in the back and I hear they serve really good lobster deviled eggs at it so I'll be back to check that out for sure!

Ok, so if this was a throwdown, I would have to give it to The Smith. The menu there just offers WAY too many comfort options with extremely reasonable prices and and super fun and hip vibe. Check this place out already!

The other big highlights in the month of December included the annual trip to The Rockhouse in Negril for the Lady Spence's birthday (it was JUST as amazing as usual, if not THE BEST trip there yet! and I still HIGHLY recommend this gem on the cliffs for a relaxing getaway) and a night out at SWEET, a dessert event that launced the Food Network's up and coming NYC Wine & Food Festival coming in 2008. Held in the old terminal building on 10th Ave in West Chelsea, SWEET showcased the talents of many of NY's premiere pastry chefs. The event was WAY fun and we sampled lots of weird dessert concoctions (although I can't remember too many of them since the champers was tidal all night). The Lady was super happy since she finally got to meet her culinary fav Giada.

And with that my dear friends, I sign off for 2007 and wish everyone a Happy New Year! See you in 2008!