Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pre-birthday delights at Jojo

On Saturday evening, AV surprised me with the first of many, many birthday celebrations (my birthday is this coming Monday, and like any good six-year-old, I'm SUPER excited). He made the reservation and we hopped in a cab, and only when he told the driver the address did I know where we were going: Jojo!

Jojo, another one of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurants, is another place I've been wanting to go for a while. I remember passing it once and noting how cute it looked, all the while making a mental note to check it out. Well, apparently AV also made a mental note, because here we were for birthday dinner #1.

Jojo is situated in a very precious townhouse on the UES, and we were led up an old-fashioned staircase to our table on the second floor. The other parties were all older foursomes, which provided some very interesting eavesdropping (score!). After enduring a highly awkward specials recitation, which included not only every single ingredient in the fois gras brulee but also precisely how the dish was prepared from start to finish, we placed our orders and dove right into the waiting bread basket. This, my friends, was FANTASTIC bread, rivaling that of Blue Hill in the "bread that makes you feel bad about yourself" category. The bread had an enviable sharp crust with a soft, stretchy, chewy interior, feather-light while still substantial in the mouth. Slathered with butter, it was transcendent. The only potential demerit was the fact that they gave us three portions, that loneliest number in the bread basket realm, but fortunately I was more than satisfied with one baguette.

Oh, bread. Perfection.

Then, promptly, on to our appetizers. We had mentioned that we wanted to split the goat cheese appetizer, and without us even asking they plated it separately. Huge extra points there. This delicious dish consisted of a slab of Coach Farms goat cheese enveloped by a slim belt of potato, all bruleed to a warm, tender crisp, and accompanied by a small mesclun salad and a lagoon of arugula puree. The goat cheese here was as delicious as any warm goat cheese can be, expertly complemented by the condiments and the almost shockingly tasty vinaigrette on the lettuce.

Concentrated tastes

On to the entrees. AV had chosen the short ribs, which came with carrot puree and a forest of tiny mushrooms. Not a huge fan of mushrooms, AV offered most of them to me (delish), but he also tried a few himself and didn't recoil. He also very much enjoyed the tender and filling short ribs.

Highly colorful

My own entree was a selection off the vegetarian tasting menu (gracefully offered a la carte upon request). It was an artichoke salad with baby arugula and pine nuts. This was actually quite a hearty portion, fresh and tasty and just filling enough. Well done.

Ample veggie goodness

On to desserts, of course. AV went with the molten chocolate cake. You can't go wrong here, and Jojo certainly didn't-- the cake was rich and warm and melty, and the vanilla ice cream was perfect.

The classic

My choice, the passion pavlova, was incredible: a fragile sphere of crisp meringue, filled with passionfruit sorbet and topped with fresh passion fruit, all garnished with fresh whipped cream. Incredibly fruity, sweet, and delicious.

Slimy but sweet!

Oh, and of course, there were cocoa-dusted almonds at the end. Delicioso!


Jojo provided a very, very special birthday meal. The setting is incomparable-- an ornate townhouse in which I instantly felt both comfortable and serene. The other patrons inadvertently offer some solid entertainment, and the food (of course) is enviable. The thoughtfulness of AV underlying the whole evening didn't hurt, either. I would highly, highly recommend Jojo for a special occasion. If you're aiming for a refined atmosphere without a lot of stuffiness, Jojo is a four Offset Spatula destination that fits the bill perfectly.

160 E. 64th Street, at Lexington Ave

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Where everybody knows your name... sort of

Part of the joy of living in a particular NYC neighborhood for any length of time is finding your neighborhood places-- you know, the place where you go to get your groceries, the place where you go to grab a six-pack of beer, the place(s) where you go for take-out. And, of course, that most coveted of places: your neighborhood watering hole. I've been living in Hell's Kitchen for just about two years now, and I still haven't quite found my Cheers, where I've felt it was truly worth the investment to go often enough to establish a relationship with the place and the proprietors. Well, over the past few weeks I think I may have found that place. It's got it all-- good drinks (particularly good wine), good food, reasonable prices, an enjoyable atmosphere, little attitude, and close proximity to my apartment. I almost don't even want to tell you about it, because it's a tiny place and I don't want to give away a neighborhood secret... but on the other hand, it deserves recognition. And so here you have it: Riposo 46.

I've been meaning to go there ever since I've moved here. Their sandwich board of specials always has delicious-sounding salads, but the tiny size of the wine bar has always intimidated me (I really don't like waiting for a table). Finally, however, a couple weeks ago, AV and I stopped in for a casual glass of wine late on a Saturday evening. And then last week we came back for some wine... and cheese...and olives. And then last Friday I met my friend KS for a catch-up glass of wine, during which I dispatched the following cheese plate:

Manchego, in my tummy

It was large, and delicious, as is everything on offer on Riposo's cheese-heavy menu. They have phenomenal-looking flatbread pizzas, salads, charcuterie, and sandwiches. But the cheese plates are extravagant, and a single cheese with all the bread and fruit and nut accompaniments is only about $7 or $8, depending on your cheese selection. It's fantastic. And the well-edited wine list has a good selection of well-priced beers and wines by the glass, all of which are poured with a heavy hand into delightful glassware (and if you go during Happy Hour, between 4 and 6PM, you get $2 off any glass of wine or beer). The bartenders are knowledgeable and friendly without being overbearing, and like any good wine bar, they let you linger as long as you like. The vibe is classy but understated, perfect for any mood. I love it, and since Riposo 46 is nearly always full, I know I'm not alone.

Riposo 46
667 Ninth Avenue, betwen 46th and 47th Streets

Friday, June 26, 2009

Outside my window right now!

Mammatus clouds! I've never actually seen them in person before. This is so cool!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Great Jiffy Pop Debacle of 2009

At some point in the last few months I bought Jiffy Pop. I don't exactly remember where or why-- surely it was an impulse purchase. I have fond memories of Jiffy Pop, from cooking it over a campfire (N.B.: As the package warns, this does not work well) while camping in Vermont on my 18th birthday to making it with my dad while my brother and mother watched a lunar eclipse outside at the CT seashore when I was very young. Plus, Jiffy Pop is fun. So this past Saturday, with AV and me nearly dying from exhaustion, what better thing to do than make Jiffy Pop?

"Do not pop...over charcoal grill, open campfire, or other uneven heat."

And make it we did. Or shall I say, I took the helm, dutifully swirling the package over the flames for five minutes as the kernels sizzled. At long last, it puffed up satisfyingly into that great biodome shape filled with kernels. I took it off the heat before it burned, and we chowed down on the perfectly-cooked popcorn. We ate the whole thing. It was a whole lot of popcorn. It was also almost painfully salty. Mmmmm, Jiffy Pop.

A mushroom filled with goodness

At the end, there remained a small handful of unpopped kernels. AV speculated that although my popping job was admirable, I likely had around an 8% kernel failure rate. Ever one to defend myself unnecessarily, I asserted that my pop rate was undoubtedly better than that. And so we placed a wager. We would purchase another Jiffy Pop, eviscerate it, and count the unpopped kernels. If 52 kernels is more than 8% of the total, AV will win a home-made delicious gourmet grilled cheese crafted by me. If 52 kernels is less than 8%, I will win a bouquet of two dozen roses purchased by AV. With our end-of-day mental math skills, we concluded that the magic number was 620 kernels (astute readers will recognize that this isn't actually correct). Done.

The next day, we purchased a new container at a local bodega. We ripped it open to reveal a disgusting mass of kernels in a congealed layer of fat. Note: If you ever want to consume and/or enjoy Jiffy Pop ever again, you should avert your eyes from the following pictures.

Truly, shockingly gross.

It quickly became clear that we'd have to wash the kernels to be able to count them. So we set about rinsing them off in a strainer, attempting to dissolve the disgusting solidified fat. Eeeeew. This was one of the grosser things I've ever witnessed.

Getting deep into it

It's not that the kernels are really yellow-- that's fat.

Note the swirls of grease in the water below

But we persevered. And then AV began to count, fifty kernels at a time. We neared the 600s, and it looked as though I would win. And then it looked as though AV would win. And then back to me. And finally we were down to a few kernels-- he counted them slowly, and as the last kernel dropped into the bag, we had a final tally: 618. Based on our calculations, I had lost by TWO KERNELS.

618. I lost by two. Sort of.

A denoument: With the use of an actual calculator, that magical tool, I have determined that 52 is 8% of 650, not 620. So AV won by 32, not 2. Which actually makes me feel a bit better about the fact that on Tuesday evening, I made him the best grilled cheese that ever graced God's green earth.

Suffice it to say I don't plan to eat Jiffy Pop again anytime soon.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Vong: Thanks for being in my life

In my experience, when you are fortunate enough to eat a five Offset Spatula meal, you know what you're getting into. At least, you have a suspicion on the way in that this could be the Big One, or at least one of them. But sometimes you have a dining experience that completely blindsides you, that you didn't see coming. This past weekend, AV and I experienced just that: a sleeper five OS restaurant.

It was Saturday night, and I'd spent all day at the Billy's Tribeca opening. I was exhausted, to say the least. Both AV and I wanted an early night, so we decided to make dinner our "entertainment" for the night. I browsed around Opentable and finally settled upon Vong, one of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurants. I've never been to any of his places, which is a surprising and relatively shameful admission for an NYC foodie to make, and while I've wanted to go to Spice Market and Jojo for a while, I chose Vong because a) its menu looked decent, and b) there was a reservation available. So we traipsed across the city in the drizzle to our final destination.

The dining room itself is beautiful. Everything is vaguely Asian-ish, sleek, and chic. The tables are somewhat low to the ground, and the chairs deposit you in a semi-reclining position. Our no-nonsense waiter took our drink orders (tap water, thank you) and our food orders. Nothing special so far but no deductions either.

And then the first punch: our appetizer arrived. We had chosen to share the vegetable and avocado summer rolls, which usually come with raw tuna but are also available in a veggie version. One bite of the roll with its accompanying ginger dipping sauce left us both reeling. The rolls had all different textures-- the chewy rice paper, the crunchy asparagus and carrot, the smooth shiitake mushrooms, and the creamy avocado. The sauce had approximately 1,000 different flavors, all of which combined for an incredible pop. After we each downed our three bites, we contemplated ordering about 40 more orders, stuffing them in my purse, and running for the hills (after paying, of course). I could live happily on those summer rolls for weeks if not months at a time.

Unassumingly superlative

But we weren't done. A tiny dish of papadums landed on the table, which we dipped in the peanutty sauce. A perfect interlude between courses. Strike two.

Simple and perfect

And then the third punch: our entrees. AV had selected the crispy salt-and-pepper calamari with the sriracha dipping sauce. One bite and he declared, "This is pretty much perfection." Not relying on the batter and oil for flavor, the calamari was high quality, seasoned, and enhanced by the spicy sauce. Excellent.

Seasoned and tasty

My choice was the green papaya and apple salad. This was one of the most incredible things I've ever eaten. There was green papaya, shredded apple, cashews, fried green beans, cranberries, tiny tomatoes, shredded lettuce... everything was just so incredibly flavorful and texturally accurate, if that makes sense, that I nearly swooned. The combination of the summer rolls and this papaya salad was pretty close to the perfect meal.

Definitely top 10 of all time

It was clear by this point that we had a five OS contender on our hands. But you can't really earn five spats without dessert, so we pressed on to the final punch. I chose caramelized pineapple with vanilla and coconut sorbet. AV had said he didn't really want to share it, but once it arrived he changed his mind. The pineapple was syrupy-sweet and perfumed with vanilla. The berries were showered with tiny bits of mango, which I love. The coconut sorbet was cool and delicious, and the bonus macaroon cookies were a total delight. Overall: very impressive, not to mention beautiful.

Fruity and sweet... the best combo

It looked as though Vong's fate was sealed, but just as we were about to ask for the check, our waiter brought over two tiny complimentary mignardises: mint ice cream lollipops encased in chocolate. One bite brought a cool, if a teensy bit icy (I'm nitpicking here) finale.

The cherry on top

It would be an understatement to say that Vong took us by complete surprsise. We were woefully unprepared for a five OS night-- which, in truth, made the experience all the more delightful. That night, I ate some of the best food I've ever had, in a cool and chic dining space, and at a relatively reasonable price. I can't recommend Vong more highly, and I also can't wait to try J-G's other restaurants. Who knows what other surprises they have in store?

200 E. 54th Street

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Billy's Bakery Tribeca opening this Saturday!

At long last, Billy's Bakery's second store, at 75 Franklin Street in Tribeca, will be opening this Saturday! Stop by for a Grand Opening celebration of epic proportions. Highlights include: a free small coffee with purchase (from opening until 11AM); free cupcake card with purchase all day; and more free samples than you can shake a stick at. But really, you won't want to shake a stick at these free samples-- we'll be sampling everything from our product line, so if you've ever wondered how our peach pie or chocolate icebox cake tastes but didn't want to commit to a full slice, now's your chance.

We'll also be holding a contest to choose the next Billy's Bakery bestselling product. If you have an idea for a sweet treat you've always wanted to see at Billy's, enter your idea for a chance to see your creation in sale at Billy's for a full week in July. If you win, you'll also get a sweet Billy's Bakery t-shirt and a dozen cupcakes, of course...but really, it's all about the glory. So, so much glory.

Once again, it's this Saturday, June 20, at Billy's Bakery Tribeca (75 Franklin Street, between Broadway and Church). See you there!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Josie's East can't reverse my hatred for brunch

I am about to make a bold statement, one that will make most of my readers exclaim, "What?!?" and express their disagreement. Here goes: I hate brunch. I. Hate. Brunch. It's always at the wrong time, disrupting two mealtimes; it's over-hyped and over-priced; and all the yummy things on the menus I can't eat. Yes, I know you love brunch, it's your favorite meal of the week, it's such a relaxing time, especially in the summer, when you can sip unlimited mimosas and ease your way into oblivion on a Sunday afternoon before easing your way into the workweek. Well, let's put it this way: I understand, but I don't agree.

So last Sunday, my parents were driving back to Massachusetts from Long Island, and they wanted to stop in for a meal. Well, in late morning/early afternoon on a Sunday, that means brunch. So I picked a place near the Midtown Tunnel egress, made a reservation, and gritted my teeth. Around 1PM, AV and I met the illustrious Mom and Dad for brunch at Josie's East.

Fighting the foot traffic in Times Square left AV and me running a few minutes behind, so when we arrived M & D were already at the table. There were slices of coffee cake awaiting us, along with a small dish of applesauce. I tried the coffee cake, which looked much, much better than it tasted. The apple sauce (not pictured) was fine, perhaps even a bit orange-scented, but it puzzled me slightly. Were were supposed to dip the coffee cake in it? Spread it on there? Eat it plain out of the dish? AV, M, and D solved that conundrum by simply leaving the applesauce alone; I took a few spoonfuls and left it at that.

Looks goods, tastes bland

We placed an order and waited a fair amount of time for the food to arrive, despite the fact that the restaurant was only half-full or so. Finally, the food arrived. Mom had ordered the peppercorn-crusted rare yellowfin tuna salad, which comes with baby arugula, roasted fennel, oven-dried Roma tomatoes, shaved parmesan, and "organic golden balsamic vinaigrette." She requested romaine instead of arugula (one of the things I'll never understand about my mother...), a request that was fulfilled without argument. She actually liked this salad quite a bit and gobbled it up. From my perspective, it looked, well, okay, even though the "shaved parmesan" actually looked eerily similar to the powdered stuff that comes in a green can.

Pretty tuna, like a deck of cards

Dad had gone with the veggie burger, an interesting choice. It was covered with cheese and roasted portabello, which he dutifully peeled off and offered to the table ("Mushrooms scare me."). I ate the mushrooms, which were actually quite delicious. As for the burger itself, described as an "Organic three-grain, mushroom, soy cheese veggie burger," Dad reported that it was mushy. Such is the life of non-Boca veggie burgers.

Veggie burger accompanied by more veggies

AV selected the eggs benedict, also known as "toasted organic whole wheat English muffin, grilled Applegate Farm un-cured ham, natural poached eggs & our classic dairy-free hollandaise." Unfortunately, despite the delicious-sounding ingredients, apparently this was thoroughly disappointing and thoroughly cold. The accompanying potatoes were cold; all the ingredients were cold... sigh. AV ate it without complaining because that's the kind of guy he is. But I'm disappointed on his behalf.


My own selection, since I had eaten my own breakfast/lunch before we left (in yo' face, brunch!), was just a simple fruit salad. With watermelon, honeydew, pineapple, blueberries, and strawberries, this was actually a pretty good and fresh fruit salad. But it was tiny. After finishing this one quickly, I ordered another. And let's be real here: for $5, the cost of each salad, they should really give you a vat of fruit. Oh well, at the very least it was tasty.

Delicious but pricey

After all was said and done, I was cold (yes, it was eighty-plus degrees but I was cold), so I ordered a tea. It looked sort of cool, so I include a picture here:

Like a beaker. Of tea.

Overall, even if I were a huge brunch fan, Josie's would be somewhat disappointing. It trumpets fresh, organic, yadda yadda yadda ingredients, and it prices its dishes accordingly, but the food actually isn't that high quality. So it ends up just being overpriced and mediocre. I don't plan to return to Josie's for brunch, but I'd even steer clear for lunch or dinner. It gets two Offset-Spatulas and a "look elsewhere" recommendation.

Josie's East
565 Third Avenue, at 37th Street

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Our Place takeout and an East River picnic

It was Sunday night. It was dinnertime. And it was a beautiful, mild evening. So AV and I set our sights on an alfresco dinner in the park by the East River. On our way, we called Our Place, a local UES Chinese joint that AV has enjoyed in the past, and ordered takeout. A stop for drinks at 7-11 and we were on our way.

We settled on a bench and unveiled our goodies. AV had chosen General Ching's chicken, which we both assumed was going to be their version of General Tso's/General Gao's/fried chicken in sweet-and-sour sauce. But alas, it wasn't to be so. What appeared was a spicy mixture of un-fried chicken dotted with red and green peppers, peas, and oyster mushrooms. AV dutifully passed me all the oyster mushrooms-- he proclaimed that mushrooms scare him (they scare my dad, too)-- and I gobbled them up. The sauce clinging to the mushrooms wasn't too tasty, instead exhibiting a one-note "spicy" profile. I also sniped one of the peas, which was very, very starchy and gross. But once he got beyond the fact that the dish wasn't what he had originally wanted, AV seemed to enjoy this dish and packed up the uneaten portion as the next night's meal.

Imposter chicken

My choice was, of course, steamed veggie dumplings. These were the Chinese kind, with a thick, doughy exterior. But the filling was perfect-- finely shredded veggies of all kinds, in ample proportions compared to the wrapper. Taken together, they were delicious and highly satsifying. The dipping sauce wasn't as good as the typical Thai ginger sauce, but despite that I definitely enjoyed these dumplings.

Like six little baby birds

For take-out, at least, if we were in a particular mood we'd go back to Our Place, which merits three Offset Spatulas. Full and happy, we dumped our trash and ate fortune cookies while watching the boats and jetskis tool around the river. And then we made our way to Emack and Bolios for ice cream. It was a good night.

Our Place
1444 Third Avenue, at 82nd Street

Monday, June 8, 2009

Haloumi dreams at Taboon

Ever since I moved to the far western reaches of Hell's Kitchen, I've wanted to eat at Taboon, a Mediterranean restaurant on 10th Avenue. But for some reason, I've never made it-- until now. AV and I were looking for a hearty meal before a night out, and fortunately Taboon had last-minute availability... at an outdoor table, no less. So we skipped the few blocks to Taboon for some delicious, delicious food.

We walked through the very Greek-looking, airy dining room, past the searingly hot wood-burning oven, through the door to their sidewalk tables. It was a tremendously beautiful night, and we enjoyed watching the scenic traffic on 10th Ave as we made our decisions. After placing our order (which didn't make our waiter very happy... read on), our first course-- the bread-- arrived.

The bread at Taboon is something quite special. It's a long loaf of puffy flat-ish bread, brushed with olive oil and spotted with rosemary, delivered freshly baked and piping hot. The fragrance is almost intoxicating, and the combination of the airy, warm interior and the crackly, substantial bottom crust (from being baked on the wood-burning oven) was spectacular. We had ordered a side of tzaziki, a yogurt-based dip, which we slathered all over the bread. And then ate plain off our knives. And forks. And fingers. Um, it was good.

Best in a long time

Soon our entrees arrived. And by entrees I mean appetizers-- we had both ordered apps (and no booze, in anticipation of the drinking to come later that night), which was the cause of our waiter's visible displeasure. AV had selected the Sea Scallops, which came with "Kaffir lime butter infusion, crisp parmesan over canellini bean puree." It was visually pretty and also, according to AV, very tasty. I tried a small dip of the puree and it was indeed enjoyable.

Pale and lovely

My own selection was the haloumi salad. Let it be said right here and now that I love haloumi cheese. There's a good haloumi salad at Pera, which I've had a few times. But this dish satisfied my craving and then some. Small dices of delicious seared haloumi were scattered atop a dish of tomato, cucumber, fennel, onion, green pepper, kalamata olives, and oregano. There was a light lemony dressing lubricating the whole mixture. I gobbled up all the veggies and the cheese, and I used some of the cucumber rounds to scoop up the remaining tzaziki. Rarely has a salad left me that satisfied.

Oh, haloumi, how you haunt my dreams

Without question, the food at Taboon was top-notch. The service wasn't quite so refined; after we declined dessert, our server tried repeatedly to push add-ons (coffee? tea??). Sorry dude, I know we weren't doing much for your bottom line, but give us a break. Regardless, I would most certainly go back... I'll be dreaming of that haloumi for a long, long time. Taboon earns four Offset Spatulas with ease.

773 Tenth Avenue, at 52nd Street