Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Apizz... and photos

I had a delightful dinner at Apizz last night with a group of colleagues from work, which I will write about shortly. But first, a note on photos: Yes, this blog needs photos. Yes, I'm working on it. Basically, I'm working up the nerve to start taking pictures of food in restaurants, which I still think of as weird and somewhat obtrusive. But I'm going to start soon, I promise-- I even brought my camera with me to Apizz last night, but I didn't remember it until about halfway through the meal and by then I just thought, ahh, screw it. In any case, watch this space...

On to Apizz: Our group of 12 arrived and was escorted to our reserved "private room" downstairs. It was actually essentially a little nook in the small passageway on the way to the bathroom, but it was partitioned off with some artfully placed curtains, and it actually worked as a nice little area for us. The night proceeded at a leisurely pace; it took a while for the waiter to arrive, and he took our drink orders and delivered the wine before we even began ordering food. I partook of a nice bottle of prosecco (which I LOVE) and a light white wine-- a trebbiano, I believe, which was very good, light and flavorful. Once we placed our orders, they brought bread baskets, filled with hearty peasant bread with a chewy interior and a crackly crust. Although I do like a good creamy butter or a fruity olive oil with my bread, this basket was accompanied by a small tray of two condiments. One, we deduced, was some sort of warm tomato sauce (I passed), and the other I determined was a sweet ricotta, which was delicious. After I polished off a piece of bread, I ate some more ricotta straight from the dish. It was really good... and, frankly, I wanted to get something in my stomach, as the wine was beginning to slosh around in there...

Our appetizers soon began arriving, thank goodness. We had ordered a couple of plates of antipasto for the table. Based on the menu description (Antipasto: marinated eggplant, roasted peppers, bresaola, mortadella, buffalo mozzarella, ricotta salata, olives), I had imagined a bountiful tray overflowing with goodies. What arrived was a rather restrained platter of a few select pieces of each item. I quickly nabbed both pieces of eggplant from our plate (read: there were two...small...pieces), in addition to a piece of mozzarella, a piece of ricotta salata, and a bunch of olives. All were truly delicious, although I've had better buffalo mozz in my life (dear Apizz, was that REALLY buffalo mozzarella? Or just regular mozzarella? There may be a dirty little secret in there somewhere...). By the time we were done with the appetizer course, I had even polished off the small pile of roasted peppers on the antipasto plate. Now, I never eat roasted peppers because they are essentially impossible for me to digest. These peppers were tender and sweet and scrumptious, and I regret every last pepper I ate, as I have been burping them nonstop since last night. Still, and it's almost 24 hours later. Annnnnnnyway, my colleagues seemed to enjoy their appetizers as well; I had a taste of my friend's Apizz margherita, and it was fresh and light and really tasty.

Once the appetizers were all done, the plates were cleared, and our entrees arrived next. Several people at my table had ordered the whole fish of the day, which was a roasted sea bass. They raved about the fish, which came with lemon and an herb-olive oil mix to drizzle on top, and also polished off the gratis accompanying arugula salad. Others at my table ordered the meatballs, which was literally a dish of two enormous meatballs in sauce without pasta (and yes, cue the "those are some big balls!" jokes here), and the handkerchief pasta with crabmeat. I got the Insalada Verde, which was a large (very generous!) pile of arugula along with some halved grape tomatoes and "parmesan crisps," a kind of baked parmesan cracker. It was lightly dressed with a delicious vinaigrette, and overall it was one of the best salads I've had recently. I was also really pleasantly surprised at the salad's size; at $12, it wasn't cheap, but it was certainly enough for an entree-size salad. For me, at least.

My only regret about the dinner last night was that I didn't get a chance to try the desserts. My group was getting antsy and wanted to move on to karaoke... I mean, given a choice between delicious Italian desserts and sketchy Tuesday-night karaoke, I know which one I would choose, but unfortunately I was outnumbered. But I was full from all the food and sleepy from all the wine, so perhaps it was best that dessert was postponed. Plus, it gives me an excuse to return!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Nizza-- or, like, NOTza

I pass Nizza, a new French/Italian/Mediterranean-ish restaurant on 9th Avenue, every day on my way to work. I've been psyched to go there ever since it opened not too long ago. There was a short write-up in the Times about the place, and it was mostly positive. What could go wrong? Ahh, funny you should ask.

My brother's girlfriend's mother was in town, and she was kind enough to get the four of us tickets to Young Frankenstein for Saturday night. All we needed was a quick pre-theater meal nearby, and I figured Nizza would fit the bill. I called early in the afternoon to try to make reservations, but they only take them for parties of five or larger. The hostess suggested we arrive close to 6, at which point the wait for a table would probably be about 10-15 minutes. Sounds reasonable.

We showed up at 6 on the dot and put our names in with the host. Now, I live in New York City and have seen my share of apathy, but this man was by FAR the most apathetic person I have ever met. He just BARELY cared enough to take our names-- quite a burden, I know. Once we got past that hurdle, we moved our party outside and stood by the telephone pole on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, watching the crowded restaurant. It was approximately 60 degrees out, but Nizza had the entire front of the restaurant open to the elements and its sidewalk tables out in full force. Now, call me crazy, but that's a LITTLE ambitious in my farmer's almanac.

About twenty minutes later, a hostess came out to offer us an outside table. Um, no thanks, but if I'd like to eat outside in the freezing cold I could buy a slice of pizza and eat it while walking home. We declined the table, and I went inside to ask how much longer it would be for a table inside. Mr. Apathetic Host gestured vaguely to the room and said that there were "a couple of tables" about to finish up. Right.

We waited another fifteen minutes, at which point I went to the host and told him we needed either to be seated or to leave-- we were reaching the point of no return, as it were, in terms of fitting in a good dinner before the show. I wasn't rude, mind you, I just told him, hey man, it's time to fish or cut bait. Fortunately, he pointed to a booth in the corner and told us they were busing the table now. We watched the table be bussed and set up, and since nobody came over to seat us, we sort of walked over to where the host was standing near the free table and loitered nearby. He made some sort of gesture indicating we could be seated. We obliged.

We sat there in the booth, which was wedged in the far corner right next to the entrance to the kitchen, watching servers and busboys buzzing back and forth around us, for several minutes. Nobody came to take our order; hell, we didn't even have menus. Finally, we stopped one of the hosts/hostesses (this restaurant seemed to have several, an excess that seemed actually to diminish the level of service rather than increase it). We asked politely for some menus or a waiter, at which point the hostess said snippily, "The menus COME with the waiter." Wow! Great news! Or it WOULD be great news if a waiter would actually show up with these fabled menus. Needless to say, the hostess disappeared, and a few minutes later she reappeared with some menus. Still no waiter.

We quickly decided what we wanted and waited for another few moments, at which point-- joy!-- a waiter appeared. Now, I'm no expert, but I've been to at least a handful of restaurants in my time, and I've deduced that the usual protocol in these types of situations is for the waiter to introduce himself in some way. There's not necessarily a need for the pseudo-ridiculous "Hi, I'm Megan, I'll be taking care of you tonight," but at least a perfunctory "Good evening" or "Welcome" is usually in order. This waiter, on the other hand, shattered the paradigm. He showed up at our table and said, "We also have [insert specials here]." Seriously. That's all. In Homeric poetry we call this "in medias res"-- that is, "in the middle of things," or starting a conversation as though one had already been going on. Apparently our waiter and we had been talking extensively, likely about what was already on the menu, before he arrived and announced what they also had. Cue my mind exploding.

We did manage to place our order, though, and requested a plate of bread (for those of us in the quest of end-of-passover leavened carbs). We sat and chatted for a while; about ten minutes later, the plate of bread showed up (mediocre-to-decent foccacia with dipping oil). Then about two minutes later the rest of our food showed up, all at once. Well, sort of-- one dish was missing, which we requested and they brought out a few minutes later.

What did we get? My dining companions ordered the butternut and leek soup, the bibb lettuce salad, the focaccette (fried ravioli filled with crescenza cheese), the margherita pizza, and the chicken involtini. I ordered an arugula salad, which had parmesan cheese and pickled onions. The salad was good, if simple. I tried a bit of the pizza, and it was decent, flatbread-style, with a chewy crust and a light hand with the tomato sauce. My companions really enjoyed the rest of the food-- as my brother put it, "everything else sucks, but the food is great." The only sort-of-dud in the group was the one dish that showed up late, the broccoli bruschetta with avocado and walnuts. It showed up as one bruschetta (bruschetto? I don't speak Italian...), with a somewhat unappealing pile of greenish crap on top of it. The bread was grilled but spongy and soggy on top under the pile of... stuff. I ended up putting most of the topping onto my salad and eating it as a salad condiment, if you will, but quite frankly I'm not sure what was in it. It seemed chock-full of leeks, not broccoli, and I was stunned when I checked the menu while writing this post and learned that there was supposed to be avocado in the dish. I think I found one walnut sitting on the side of the plate. Let's just say that if I had been a judge in Top Chef, I would have called the cheftestant out on soggy bread, lackluster plating, and lack of flavor. But then again, I'd also be an asshole and say things like, "Let's just say it's not just his gnocchi that was dense" or, "Please pack your knives and go" while sporting a fakely concerned expression on my face. But I digress.

Overall, the food was okay, but certainly nothing I'd come back for, even if the service had been stellar. Frankly, the restaurant was a pretty unpleasant place to be-- it was noisy and harried, with the servers rushing around the packed tables. Nobody seemed to care much about anything that was happening. Our server brought us the bill as soon as we were done with our meals--no inquiries about whether we wanted dessert or coffee, which we didn't, but it seemed somewhat self-defeating not even to ASK. And while we were in the midst of the payment process, two servers rounding the corner into the kitchen collided, causing one of them to slosh a large dish of soup all over the floor. As she cried, "Shit!" inappropriately loudly, the other one pointed to her and said, "You've got some white bean on you!" Wow. Caring is sharing, people.

It's rare that a dining experience in New York pisses me off, but I left Nizza in a bad mood, and not just because I got a work request on my blackberry in the middle of dinner. Is it too difficult just to PRETEND to care? Apparently so. Nizza, you disappointed me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Office Food, Sin Sin, and Baked Goods

This past week has been a busy one, so while I have a moment at work I'll recap what little food-and-drink-related news went down recently.

1) Work food: A lot of my work involves meetings, at which there is always (ALWAYS) food. Sometimes this leads to a self-control crisis and an accompanying stomachache. When there's catering from Mangia on the table, that "sometimes" turns into "always." I am a huge sucker for their fruit-and-cheese boxes, and this past week one of my meetings had both a fruit-and-cheese platter and an antipasto platter. Man, I could have not eaten for weeks after that. I'm about to head into a meeting with catering from Champignon (I ordered it, in fact, and much as I love Mangia I didn't want to have the temptation...), so we'll see how that goes.

2) Bar scene: On Friday night I dropped into Sin Sin/Leopard Lounge with a group of friends for a coworker's birthday. We were downstairs, where there was a DJ and a packed dance "floor" (i.e., there were lots of people there, and they were dancing). I can't comment on the drinks, as I didn't imbibe while I was there, but they looked like the standard NYC-bar-type fare. The music was pretty good and there was no cover, a huge plus; it wasn't the greatest place I've ever been to, but I'd go back. How's that for a lukewarm review?

3) Cake: The past week has been FILLED with baked goods, primarily from Billy's Bakery. Now, I must volunteer a caveat: one of the managers at my workplace is part owner of Billy's Bakery. So even if I didn't like their stuff, I'd probably eat a lot of it, for the simple reason that almost any festive occasion at work has Billy's. Fortunately, I do really like their cupcakes and cake. In fact, I've been on an unofficial quest to eat at all the cupcakeries in Manhattan (ideally I'll post about that more in the future...), and in my extensive travels so far Billy's has some of the best. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that Billy's banana cake may be one of the best baked goods on the island. "Banana cake??" you may be thinking. Yes, banana cake, and I don't particularly like bananas or banana-flavored things. I would never have even thought of trying this stuff if I hadn't accidentally eaten it at a work event. But take my word for it-- it is heavenly. Overall, Billy's frosting is really top-quality and the kind I like (sugary, not waxy/buttery... that's a personal preference thing and I know a lot of people who would disagree with me there), so I end up liking most of what they make there. Stop by for a cupcake or a piece of banana cake and give it a try.

One of my friends was in Boston last week and brought me back a cupcake from Appleton's Bakery (per my plaintive request). Now, many months ago, I had the misery of having a tiny, tiny, TINY taste of an Appleton's chocolate cupcake with white frosting, and ever since then I have been CRAVING one. The last time I was in Boston I trekked all the way there and the baker was ON VACATION. I am not kidding. So my lovely friend was kind enough to bring me back a tiny little present, which I ate last night, and I do declare that I think it's the best chocolate cupcake with white frosting in the world. Moist and fluffy cake with delicious, sweet, and slightly tangy frosting-- and mind you, by the time I ate this baby, it was 3 days old. Impressive.

Sadly, that's pretty much the food roundup for the week-- lots of office catering and baked goods. Although when you look at it like that, I guess it's not too bad, really...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bar Milano, Gramercy Park Rooftop Bar, Little Branch... or not

Last night I went out with one of my friends from work. We had several places we wanted to hit over the course of the evening, so we had to plan accordingly. The first scheduled destination was the rooftop bar of the Gramercy Park Hotel; I did a little bit of recon (as always) and found out that the drinks there hovered around the $20 mark, so I determined we needed a place to pregame beforehand. My friend agreed.

I chose Bar Milano, because it's in the neighborhood, it's new, and it's a wine bar, which I love. We met up there and found the place packed (not surprisingly). But hey, we were there, and we gamely crunched ourselves up next to the communal table in the bar area and attempted to flag down a waitress. About ten minutes later we placed our drink orders; ten more minutes passed before we received them, but we were just there to chat and catch up, so neither of us minded too much.

I didn't get much of a chance to scope out the place, as we were in the bar area (which is separated from the rest of the restaurant) and there were bodies every which way blocking the view. The one thing I did note was that they had lovely, lovely glassware. I must admit, I'm a huge sucker for good glassware. It's sort of ridiculous, but all wine tastes better to me if it's in a big, beautiful, delicate glass. Don't get me wrong-- I've drunk the odd glass of wine (and champagne, cringe) out of a plastic cup, but I do love me some good glassware. My lovely companion chose a nice prosecco, and I choose a soave, both of which were good (and on the lower end of the somewhat pricey by-the-glass menu). Curiously, they were served in the same type of large open-bowl glasses-- which was delightful for me but a bit suspect for a sparkler like prosecco. I stole glances at the food circling around the room; it all looked like small plates, and most looked pretty good, but honestly I can't imagine what the people sitting down went through to get a table. Overall, we had a good time at Bar Milano, but I'm not sure if I would go out of my way to go back there-- one of my favorite things about wine bars is the cozy sitting-down and settling-in aspect, which was clearly lacking here. If I were in the neighborhood, though, I wouldn't object to returning.

We left Bar Milano and walked the few blocks to the Gramercy Park Hotel. We cruised right up to the rooftop bar, which apparently is something that's not supposed to happen, as the bar is reserved for hotel guests and should require a key to get the elevator to stop on the top floor... In any case, we found ourselves in a bizarre greenhouse-like area with a mixture of wicker furniture and posh couches. It was a little bit local-garden-center-meets-boudoir, not an entirely cohesive scheme, but my guess is people weren't there for the decor. Everyone working there was clearly a model, especially the towering gazelle-like blonde who was our waitress. My friend and I spend a bit of time with the party there, declining any drinks and the accompanying collateral loan they would necessitate, and then moved on to our third destination: Little Branch.

We were supposed to meet up with another friend from work there, and when we arrived she and her friends were waiting in line outside the barely-marked door. Now, there's something I should get out in the open here: I am perhaps the world's least patient person, and waiting in line-- especially, ESPECIALLY at bars/clubs-- is one of my least favorite activities in the entire world. With bars, clubs, bouncers, etc., my philosophy is: we're in New York, there are approximately forty other fun drinking establishments within a three-block radius, so WHY are we WASTING TIME standing OUTSIDE IN THE COLD while someone judges us not cool enough to be inside??? This is a bit of a touchy subject for me, as you can tell. Anyway, we spent a few minutes waiting outside Little Branch while people came and went and the bouncer selectively let other people in (not us). And then, essentially, my buzzer went off, and that was it-- no more patience, time to go home. I bid my goodbyes, hailed a cab, and went home to a nice long and satisfying sleep.

Moral of the story: I didn't actually go to Little Branch, so I can't "review" it per se, but God willing I will never be going back. I truly hate places like that-- life is too short for that much attitude. Plus, apparently my friends did eventually make it in, and the feedback is the place "ended up sucking, like a lot." So sorry I missed it! If I end up getting more detailed stories I'll report back, but in the meantime, time to wind down the weekend and prepare for the workweek ahead...

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Philadelphia: Marathon, La Viola, and... Wawa!!

I have discovered the greatest string cheese on earth.

Seriously. I know string cheese isn't usually a food that ascends to "greatness"; frankly, I would never even think of searching for great string cheese. I haven't even eaten string cheese in a long time. But I tell you: while I was visiting my friend at Penn this weekend, he took me to Wawa, and by fortuitous, delightful chance, I selected a mozzarella string cheese. And it was so, so, SO delicious: creamy, buttery, and VERY stringy-- not gummy at all, the way some string cheese can be. This all seems somewhat ridiculous, but I was there for under 48 hours and I had four Wawa string cheeses. It was that good.

While I was in Philly, we did eat things other than string cheese (although, if I had had my choice...). We grabbed dinner at Marathon Grill the first night. Marathon was a fairly comprehensive fast-casual style place-- a little nicer than TGI Friday's, say. They earned major points for having a "control freak salad" option, where you can customize a salad of your own creation by choosing greens, toppings, and dressing. Needless to say, I went with that: baby spinach with grilled eggplant, beets, asparagus, and carrots. The grilled eggplant was good and cut in big pieces; the asparagus was grilled and tasty but there were only a few spears draped over the top of the salad. The beets were surprisingly delicious (they were actually baby beets, which I enjoy). The only negative was the fact that carrots weren't shavings but chunks of carrot about the size of marbles, which is probably the least appetizing way to present a raw carrot in a salad. Overall, I'd say Marathon got the job done.

The next night (after strolling around Reading Terminal market for several hours in the afternoon-- an AWESOME food place, definitely recommended if you have the time and are in the area), we wound up at La Viola, a little Italian restaurant on 16th street. We made reservations for 7PM and arrived right on the dot to find a packed (and tiny) restaurant with no empty tables. We waited outside, as it was a lovely night and there was absolutely no room inside, and the minutes ticked by. About 10 or 15 minutes later, the hostess asked us whether we wanted to sit inside or outside. Almost in unison, we replied "First available," and while we were wondering why should would even ask us our preference while the restaurant was clearly getting slammed, we witnessed a couple of busboys bringing out a THIRD row of tables to the sidewalk to increase their outdoor seating capacity. Now, I love al fresco dining as much as the next guy, but this third row of tables was about 3 feet away from the gutter, meaning you'd might as well be sitting in the middle of the road. After a few quick words with the hostess, she agreed to seat us inside at a table that had just opened up, and our dinner was underway.

We looked over the menu, decided, and had placed our order within about 5 minutes of sitting. They brought out a bread basket: a warm loaf, clearly just cooked. VERY delicious (I say this only because I packed away about an entire loaf over the coarse of the dinner). We dipped the bread in the accompanying olive oil/vinegar/pepper concoction and settled in.

Turns out we didn't need to (settle in, that is)-- our appetizers arrived about 4 minutes later. My salad, a trecolori salad with parmesan, was pretty standard, although the dressing was delicious. My friend enjoyed his caesar salad and finished it quickly. While I was working on finishing the cheese on my salad (pairing with with the delicious, delicious bread), they whisked both our plates away. To their credit, a waiter came by almost immediately to apologize for rushing us through the appetizers, which was a nice gesture, except for the fact that AS HE WAS STANDING THERE-- literally-- the runner arrived with my friend's entree (elapsed time between appetizer and entree: approximately 1 minutes). Oh well. He polished off his Marco Polo chicken, which had spinach and cheese melted on top, while I ate his side of peapods. And then we were done. We were out of the restaurant in about a half hour, give or take. Phew. My head is spinning even thinking about it. So overall the food was pretty good although not spectacular (the bread was definitely the highlight), and the service was somewhat alarming. I wouldn't go back, but then again, I live in New York and probably won't have the opportunity to!

We capped off both nights with ice cream concoctions at Scoop de Ville, a Coldstone-esque type of place where they basically pulverize your toppings into your ice cream. It was delicious both times.

It was a fun little trip all in all, but I'm glad to be back in NYC and will have more to report shortly!

Correction from last post: my mentor and I did not, in fact, get Just Salad on Wednesday, as we ordered on Seamless and were told it would take EIGHTY MINUTES to deliver. Seriously. I even called up Just Salad to confirm that wasn't a ridiculous misprint, and I got a very snippy confirmation. So we canceled our order and went to Green Symphony, on 43rd near 8th avenue, for some delightful vegetarian-ish food. I ordered a toss-your-own salad, which was delightful. Everything worked out, but I wanted to clarify the record: Just Salad is officially on probation due to ridiculousness.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Union Square Cafe; or, Mmmmm, Vintage Champagne

Favorite things I ate yesterday: bread with butter and olives; bibb and red oak leaf lettuce salad; vintage champagne

Yesterday I had the pleasure of going to the Union Square Cafe, a restaurant that has been on my "List" for a very long time. My List is made up of several dozen great restaurants in NYC that are either so expensive or so difficult to get into that I don't consider them for an average weekend-night-out spot. The only times I get to cross one of these places off the List are: a) special occasions (birthdays, etc.); b) when my parents come to town; and increasingly c) when my boss/company is paying. This particular go-round falls under option c; I was tasked to plan an event for my group at work, so I chose a nice dinner at a longtime List restaurant.

My immediate supervisor was sick yesterday, so it ended up just being three men and me-- quite the amusing setup. We arrived at the restaurant separately, so I was the first one to be led to our table, giving me a few moments to look around the place. The sunken dining room was really pretty and rustic. The two things that stood out were the fact that it was quite bright in there-- very well-lit, nary a mood-light in sight-- and the fact that the wooden floorboards creaked and depressed a little bit every time anyone walked on them (which was all the time). Overall, aside from the constant slight shaking courtesy of the floorboards, the restaurant was very appealing.

Once the rest of our party arrived, our waitress took our cocktail order as we looked over the wine list. One of my colleagues suggested champagne, and frankly, who's going to say no to that? They left the wine ordering to me, so I chose a relatively (very relatively) reasonably-priced bottle of vintage sparkling wine-- nothing crazy, just a 1995, but still, I believe that's the first time I've drunk non-non-vintage bubbles. It was good: dry but not cottony and an appealing dark-golden color. Lovely.

We placed our order and they brought out a wooden cutting board with four slices of toasted rustic white bread, a ramekin of butter with a drizzle of pesto on top, and a small dish of olives. The bread was good but somewhat puzzling, to be honest. It seemed as though they might have already buttered the bread and then toasted it, which seemed weird, although the second batch they brought out seemed less buttery. It was good bread, although not the best I've ever had, and really good olives.

My companions' appetizers arrived as I nibbled on the bread. There were two orders of tuna tartare and one salad; all were consumed with enthusiasm. Then came the entrees. Two orders of lamb and one fish for the gentlemen; a bibb and red oak leaf lettuce salad for me. My salad had grated gruyere cheese all over the top, a very mustardy dressing, and a few olive-oil-soaked croutons strewn about. It was very good, especially helped along by the delightful bottle of sauvignon blanc we ordered (again, my choice) after the champagne was finished. My colleagues liked their dishes as well; the only thing that didn't live up to expectations was the side order of wasabi mashed potatoes one of them had ordered. They were alarmingly-- arrestingly-- green, and were bizarrely un-spicy. In retrospect, it seemed like a dish out of Dr. Suess. Cross Sam-I-Am with Danny Meyer and get... Green Mashed Potatoes and Ham? No? Too soon?

Throughout the dinner, I was saving room for dessert-- my favorite part of any meal, or any day, really. Their dessert list overall skewed slightly towards the bit-too-esoteric for my taste, as I really like traditional, non-frou-frou desserts. After precisely no thought, I settled on the apple crisp, which usually comes with cinnamon ice cream but I replaced with honey-vanilla ice cream. I was envisioning a warm little crock filled with gooey apples and brown sugar crumble, a scoop of honeylicious ice cream melting over the top. What I got was a broad white dish with a small pile of diced white apples in the center, crowned with the merest scattering of pale blonde crumb mixture. I looked at it dubiously; its lack of golden color and gooiness suggested a certain critical lack of essential apple-crisp-ness. It was definitely avant-garde apple crisp, which seemed a little off-color, as it were, as apple crisp is one of the most down-homey desserts out there. In flavor, it was good, if a little bland, and the ice cream tasted like plain vanilla (no real honey to speak of). To be fair, I think my palate had been dulled by considerable amounts of wine at this point, and I did finish the whole dessert, and I did like it. But it was certainly not one of the better desserts I've ever had, and I wouldn't return for it. Those distinctions, in my mind, still fall to Finale, a desserterie with a few locations in and around Boston, which was my home up until last spring, when I graduated from college and moved down to New York. Ahh, Finale, I do miss you so.

Overall verdict on Union Square Cafe: Very Good. I would certainly go back. The service was great; the food overall was very good; and if they can spiff up their dessert menu, I'll be a happy girl. It was a great selection for a work dinner, and I would certainly recommend the place to my friends.

On tap for today: nothing special. I do have a lunch with my work mentor coming up, for which we are ordering from Just Salad, probably my favorite lunch place to hit up if I'm not bringing my lunch, which is what I try to do every day of the week. Looking forward to it-- I'm getting hungry already...

Tomorrow, I'm taking off to visit a friend in Philadelphia for the next few days, so I may not have much to say until later in the weekend. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Client meeting, Il Melograno, and Giorgio's of Gramercy

Favorite thing I've eaten all day: Kashi Good Friends Cinnamon-Raisin Cereal

Only thing I've eaten all day: See above

I'm in a nausea-inducing cab on my way to my promised 9AM client meeting, so I figured I'd begin to record my thoughts on some of the recent food experiences I had before starting this blog. Just because I happened to eat there before my blog baby was born doesn't mean they should be left out. That's just not fair.

Il Melograno

First up: Il Melograno, a little neighborhood Italian place a few blocks from my apartment. My brother and his girlfriend have been there several times and rave about it every time they go. I also feel a bit of a sense of ownership over this place, as I watched it go from plywood stage (as Eater would say) to full-blown restaurant over the course of last summer. I was rooting for it then, and I still am now. Based on my experience, they seem to be on the right track-- let's hope it continues.

I went with a friend from work who lives in the neighborhood. We started with their complimentary basket of delicious foccaccia-- light and flavorful, accompanied by a sun-dried tomato/oil spread. My companion got the spaghetti with tomato sauce, which was studded with alluringly melted hunks of mozzarella cheese. He enjoyed it immensely (and, in fact, had gotten it before). I went with the apple salad, which had arugula, apples, goat cheese... and some other things that I can't remember because this dinner happened over a week ago. I went with the house pomegranate dressing, and though I asked for it on the side (yes, I'm THAT kind of girl), they put it on the salad. I decided not to bother sending it back and ate it anyway, and it was really good, especially the drizzle of what I assume was pomegranate reduction all over the top. The salad was generously sized, and I ate it all.

We were both too full for dessert (yes, I'm THAT kind of girl who gets full on salad... see "stomach problems" in introductory post), but the table next to us was demolishing a big hunk of cake (apple cake perhaps?). I've really wanted to try the tiramisu, and I definitely plan to in the future. One of the greatest things about Melograno is that it's a ridiculously great value as well-- our total bill for the two of us was well under $20.* The place is kind of small and the tables are definitely jammed together, but it's great for a quick, casual, really good meal.

*A post-meal check of Il Melograno's website,, reveals that they may have raised their prices over the course of the last week. That, of course, would be profoundly uncool and would temper my enthusiasm for the place a little bit. But just a little bit.

Giorgio's of Gramercy

I took my brother to Giorgio's of Gramercy for his birthday mid-week last week. I had heard a lot about the place and had wanted to go there for a while. I made a reservation on Opentable and noted in the comments section that it was my brother's birthday, adding a request for a candle or something festive on his dessert. I was planning to remind the host when I arrived at the restaurant, but good ol' punctual Big Bro arrived before I did, so I had to rely on the wonders of Opentable to carry us through.

The restaurant was mostly empty, but it was certainly cute, candlelit, and romantic (probably better for a nice date than a dinner with your brother, but who's counting?). Our waiter was friendly and competent, attentive but not overbearing. We ordered two glasses of prosecco and placed our food order. Shortly thereafter an amuse bouche arrived--some sort of duck rillette concoction that looked nice (Big Bro ate both, on behalf of his vegetarian sister). The bread basket was on the better side of standard, and the accompanying olive oil was really good-- strong and fruity. Big Bro pronounced his onion soup very good; he followed that with an opulent scallop dish (cream, truffles, etc.) that, in the words of my father, he "sucked down." I ordered a spinach salad, which was really good-- the dressing, especially, was delicious. My only complaint was that they left off the caramelized shallots.

Then it came time for dessert, the most important time in any birthday dinner (or any dinner, if you ask me). Our waiter brought over the dessert menus, which were... profoundly disappointing. There was literally nothing on the menu that enticed-- not even the ice creams, a terrible selection, with not even vanilla included. For me to see a dessert menu with NOTHING I want to try is seriously bad news. As I told our waiter we would pass, he brought a complimentary tasting of dessert wine-- delicious, in an absolutely adorable cordial glass. And because we passed up the all-important birthday dessert, they brought over two chocolate-covered strawberries, on the house! Stunning, and a great cap-off to a great meal. I would certainly recommend Giorgio's for any special occasion, or even an entirely regular occasion, whenever tasty and reasonably-priced Italian food would fit the bill.

I'll admit that this entire blog entry was not written in a cab-- I finished it after I got home from work. A good thing, too, because a cab ride long enough to complete this entry would certainly be one of the inner circles in my version of hell. Now for some peppermint patties to cap off the evening... Have a good night, all!

Life, with food and drink... a beginning

This blog was conceived (in the literary, not biblical, sense) while lying in bed on Sunday evening, desperately attempting to fall asleep before a 9AM Monday morning client meeting. My throat is sore, and no matter how much sleep I get, I know I'm going to wake up tomorrow and feel like crap. I've tried all the usual ways to get to sleep: reading an engaging book, reading a boring book (usually works), shutting my eyes extra tight to will myself to sleep... and then, finally, thinking about food. Today I thought about what I made myself for dinner: eggplant, leeks, and baby bok choy with toasted sesame and teriyaki sauce. Then I thought about all the things I could have (should have?) had for dessert. Could have taken the short walk to Bis.Co. Latte and gotten some of their gelato, which I stopped to look at earlier today, and it looks delicious. Should have stopped earlier and picked up a cupcake... although I did walk past Amy's Bread three times (yes, three times, oy) this afternoon, and they didn't have any black and white cupcakes, which is what I truly wanted. If the weather had been nicer and I had been feeling better, I might have taken a trip to one of the few cupcake shops I haven't tried yet to pick up something new-- I may even have taken a trip to Brooklyn, which, sadly, has been on my things-to-do list for many moons and has not yet been accomplished. The unfortunate reality is: a) I had none of these tasty treats for dessert, instead opting for peppermint patties, whipped cream, and a 100-calorie-pack of Oreo cookie bites, or some such fake food I picked up at the Food Emporium today while in a comatose state of boredom; and b) I am still not asleep, as demonstrated by the continued typing of this inaugural blog entry.

I guess the purpose of this blog will be to talk about life, especially with respect to food and drink, as the title implies. I love food, although primarily vicariously, as I am a vegetarian with obscure stomach problems that prevent me from eating many good things, or feeling good after eating pretty much anything. Thus I will dutifully, or not so dutifully, as time and inclination allow, report on my interactions with food in this lovely city of New York-- any restaurants visited, news heard around town, cool stuff at Whole Foods, that sort of thing. I also enjoy the odd beverage, as my brother might say, so I will likely also use this blog to record my comings and goings with the NYC 20-something bar culture, such as it is.

I warn you: not all of this will be interesting. To be quite honest, many days I eat the exact same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so God willing I won't record that over and over again. Although, hell, maybe I will. There will also probably be non-food-related thoughts sprinkled in this blog, as I do, occasionally, have non-food-related thoughts. You are welcome to skip those if you're reading this just for the food part. Or I guess you're welcome to skip the food part, if you're reading this just for the life part, although I'm not sure that makes much sense. Either way, feel free to comment, suggest, and enjoy. Oh, and eat, drink, and be merry, of course.