Thursday, December 31, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
We met up at Gossip Bar and Restaurant on Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen. The place is about a year old, and I've been there a couple of times before; their food is better than it has to be, and there's always a lot of space to spread out, perfect for a chilly winter evening. Notable props to Gossip as well for having the heat blasting-- as someone who is perpetually freezing cold, I was actually comfortable in there. Which means everyone else was likely sweating bullets. But I was happy! Extra spatulas all around!
Wine, makin' it happen
From the comprehensive menu, JR chose the turkey burger with pepper jack cheese. The verdict? Again, better than it had to be. The ingredients were fresh and the cheese well-melted; JR noted that the bun didn't quite do it for him, but the patty itself was moist and flavorful. Pressed for a spatula rating, JR vascillated between three and four before settling on three, noting "how good can a turkey burger really be?" Of course, the fries must be mentioned: I tried one, and it was piping hot, but I generally prefer mine in the shoestring style rather than this skin-on, chubby rendition.
So once again Gossip retains its three Offset Spatula rating. It's a slightly better-than-standard Irish pub, comfortable, a little upscale, with reasonably priced drinks and food that will exceed most low expectations. I hope it remains in the neighborhood for a while, since it certainly fills a useful niche.
Gossip Bar & Restaurant
733 Ninth Avenue, between 49th and 50th Streets
Monday, December 28, 2009
Now, despite the somewhat sketchy name (get your mind out of the gutter!), I had high hopes for this place. Rumors had been flying that they'd carry Sedutto ice cream (YUM) and homemade donuts made according to some crazy recipe from a place out on Long Island. Well, these were some rumors I needed to verify.
And verify I did. The place is narrow and utilitarian, though still inviting; there are enticing baked goods in display cases and soft-serve machines lining the back wall. The woman working behind the counter, who I found out was actually the pastry chef, was incredibly friendly and upbeat, offering huge tastes of ice cream eagerly (and yes, it is Sedutto ice cream... score!... and I think the gelato is Ciao Bella, but that is unverified). I got a small cup of malt ball gelato, which was creamy and not overwhelmingly malt-y, with appealing chocolate bits providing textural contrast.
Cupcakes! I will be back for you, my pretties...
Ice cream menu
Pastries... Donuts for $1.25
My ice cream
I inquired about the baked goods-- made in-house or sourced?-- at which point I found out this lovely lady was the pastry chef who made them all herself, and did I perhaps want a donut? On the house? Uh, yes please. She handed me a small, frosted confection about the size of a deck of cards, enrobed in icing and chocolate crumbs, noting that she had made the donut about two hours ago so it was super fresh. I took a bite. I think I mumbled something along the lines of "this is crazy good," but I don't really remember, because my brain was overwhelmed by the sweet, rich icing and the tender, cakey-yet-stretchy insides that carried that slight tinge of appealing friedness that makes donuts so irresistable. When she started describing a donut ice cream sandwich she sometimes makes by cutting a donut in half and stuffing it with ice cream, I think I may have gone into a dessert-induced catatonic state. Note to self: access donut ice cream sandwich, stat, by any means necessary.
With my donut and cup of ice cream in tow, I tumbled out onto Ninth Avenue, a happy and sugar-sated camper. It probably goes without saying, but Holey Cream rocks my world. The prices are surprisingly reasonable-- my small ice cream was well under $4, and of course the donut was free-- and the goods are delicious. And gosh darn it, it feels good to support a local mom-and-pop shop rather than a huge conglomerate like the Cold Stone/Tim Horton's a block away. I really hope HC stays for a long, long time, and while I will certainly do my best to keep it in business single-handedly, experience shows I may need help. Dear readers, stop in and sample the goodies. You won't be sorry.
Ninth Avenue and 53rd Street
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Same, same, same
Anyway, I'm a bit out on Thai food for the moment since getting food poisoning after a recent dinner at a Thai restaurant, but as soon as I feel I can stomach the sight of peanut sauce once again, rest assured we will check out the new Tiny Thai and report back fully.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
First, a thorough search of the internet for the perfect recipe. Chocolate cupcakes? Maybe. Buttermilk vanilla? Perhaps. Banana? Aha! Yes! After my love affair with Billy's banana cupcakes was sadly truncated by a return to my "real" job, I haven't had that blissful taste in months. Well, it was time to rock 'n' roll.
Following Martha Stewart's recipe (yes, cringe. I'm not a Martha fan, but I am man--well, woman--enough to recognize a good recipe when I see one), I conjured up a big bowl of cupcake batter. It was an interesting batter-- more of a muffin mixture than a traditional cake batter, using melted butter and mashed bananas. And then before I baked the little delights, I hid a secret surprise in each, my little editorial addition to the recipe. You'll see.
They came out of the oven looking beautiful:
And then I frosted them. Martha's recommendation is a honey-cinnamon frosting, basically a traditional American buttercream with a bit of honey and a dash of cinnamon. But, in my quest to replicate Billy's masterpiece, I wanted cream cheese all the way. So I whipped up a batch using, yes, another Martha recipe. And once my beautiful cupcake stumps were cool, I slathered those pupplies with the frosting. They looked like this:
Finally, after dinner, I chose the perfect one to be my tester cupcake. Yup:
As always, I cut it in half... revealing the surprise!
And then I dug in. Dear readers, forgive me for tooting my own horn, but these cupcakes were damn good. I'll admit the frosting wasn't as good as Billy's cream cheese frosting, which I suspect has a higher ratio of sugar to cream cheese (my version was tangier and softer). But the cake was delicious, and the bit of chocolate hidden inside put it absolutely over the edge. I gobbled this down in the blink of an eye.
And then I licked the frosting bowl. Oops?
Give it a try yourself. Recipes are available here:
Cream cheese frosting
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
And stroll-- well, sprint-- we did. I like E&B's because they have incredible lowfat hard frozen yogurt, especially an Oreo flavor that's sublime and definitely doesn't taste lowfat. This time around, though, I went with a small cup of half low-fat Oreo and half full-fat Buttercrunch Swiss Chip. This flavor had a mild toffee kick, a hint of caramel, and a few bits of chocolate here and there. Yum.
AV went for a cup of Cosmic Crunch, which was vanilla ice cream with caramel, chocolate chips, nuts, and toffee cookie pieces. Now, I really do like my ice cream, but this flavor was almost-- dare I say it?-- too rich for me. I had a taste and it was almost as though the flavor expanded to fill my stomach. It was delicious, but perhaps too delicious.
We polished off our ice cream sitting on the bench inside the tiny shop, as the friendly employee went into the back room and played guitar. It was surprisingly nice, sitting there eating ice cream and listening to some acoustic stylings. And then we were done, tossing our cups in the trash and, with a preemptive shiver, heading back out into the frozen night.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Before I get to the food, I will say this: there is never a shortage of complete characters at Cavatappo. This time around we were seated next to four middle-aged diners, one of whom spent the evening regaling the others about her Xanax-and-three-martini flight habits, another of whom interrupted-- literally interrupted-- our waiter mid-discussion with us to demand the check. Ahhh, the Upper East Side.
First the bread. The picture is blurry, but the bread is reliable, and the olive oil was delicious. One piece dispatched quickly quieted my hungry stomach.
And then the entrees. AV went for a dish he has enjoyed thoroughly in the past, the rigatoni with eggplant, tomato sauce, and ricotta. This is one of those dishes that is hearty and warm and comforting all at once. A hefty portion of such is also only $15 (it's also available in an appetizer portion for $9).
My choice was two veggie sides, a sauteed spinach and a sauteed broccoli. I asked for "easy on the oil" for both, as these types of veggies in restaurants can often just become oil bombs, and the kitchen complied. Both were well-cooked and fresh; the broccoli retained its al dente bite, which added some much-needed texture to the soft spinach. The two portions combined were huge-- I ate half of each and had the remainder for dinner the next day.
So for under $25 for the two of us, we were in and out with happy hearts and full bellies. I'll also add that the service at Cavatappo is always a delight-- we've had a number of different servers there, and they're always warm and friendly with a much-needed sense of humor. So once again, Cavatappo retains its four Offset Spatula status as our familiar neighborhood joint. I'd encourage you to check it out. Just don't take our table!
1712 First Avenue, between 88th and 89th Streets
Monday, December 14, 2009
Later that evening, I delivered them to AV, and I tried a taste. I admit I'm definitely not a biscuit connoisseur, but these were pretty good taste-wise. However, texturally, they were on the crumbly side rather than the flaky side. I used butter rather than shortening or lard, because a) that's what the recipe called for, and b) I'm much more of a fan of butter than either of the alternatives. Is it possible to make flaky butter-baked biscuits? Any tips or tricks? Maybe I'll make perfect, flaky biscuits my next recipe quest. If you have the answer, email me or leave a comment...
Friday, December 11, 2009
We were met by a high table set to accommodate the eight winners and their guests, with each place set with a menu and a goody bag. I love goody bags! This one included a few Time-Warner-Center-related items, including a reusable shopping bag (which I actually like), in addition to a star-shaped Christmas ornament that mimicked the enormous stars hung in the TWC's atrium and a box of chocolates from Bouchon. Yum.
We kicked off the evening with a glass of Bisson Prosecco, which we sipped while waiting for the first dessert to arrive. The prosecco was very, very dry, with an almost appley taste-- a bit austere at the start, but after a bit of air and a few sips the taste opened up.
And then the first dessert came, and we were off and running. Chef Sebastien Rouxel came out to introduce and describe the dessert, which he did prior to every course, a rare treat (I always like seeing the chefs who prepare the food. It makes it more personal!). The tasting started with white chocolate, a dessert entitled "Douceur Tropicale." A beautiful dome encased in white chocolate was filled with white chocolate cream on a base of rum cake. Next to the hemisphere sat a square of braised pineapple atop a square of citrus gelee, all accompanied by a smear of caramel jam. Though some don't enjoy the taste of white chocolate, I'm definitely a fan, and this dessert was right-on. The mousse inside the dome was ethereally light, and the thin piece of cake that formed the base of the dome was perfect. I'm a huge proponent of cooked pineapple-- I love it grilled, but apparently braised and seared works too-- so I loved that piece of the dessert as well. When I sipped the prosecco with the dessert, I found the bubbly almost too dry for the intense sweetness of the white chocolate. But a sip between courses was an excellent palate-cleanser.
The next course started with a glass of Chateau la Rame Sainte Croix Du Mont, which turned out to be a honey-colored dessert wine. At first sip, it struck me as way too sweet, almost syrupy with a candied aroma and a faint taste of apricots. But this actually turned out to be the best pairing of the night-- when consumed with the milk chocolate "Tentation au Chocolat," the wine actually tasted less sweet and quite complementary. The dessert itself was a knockout, perhaps my favorite of the night. A scoop of milk chocolate cremeux-- basically a silky mousse-- was enrobed in a praline glaze and topped with three crackly chocolate bites. A tiny scoop of condensed milk sherbet sat atop a crumbly cookie of sorts. Oh, and there were two smears of sauce and a tangled tuile that tasted like bananas. The composition was a visual delight, and the sublime taste of that milk chocolate cremeux is pretty much engraved in my brain. Insane.
Our final course began with a glass of Melville Estate Pinot Noir. After the unctuous sweetness of the dessert wine, the Pinot Noir tasted dark and almost harsh, but perhaps that made it an appropriate accompaniment to the dark chocolate "Tart au Chocolate Acidule." This dessert was another incredible composition, a layered stripe of chocolate cake, mousse, and dark chocolate ganache topped with a crinkle of gold leaf and a spiral of dark chocolate. A scoop of cranberry sorbet, draped in pink foam, sat atop a carpet of chocolate cookie soil. And then there was a spoonful of pure caramel, topped with a dehydrated cranberry tuile that tasted uncannilly like a fruit roll-up. I often find dark chocolate desserts to be too strong, just too much, but (perhaps due to all the wine?) I didn't have that problem with this plate-- everything, once again, was incredible. I'll admit my favorite part was the caramel-- smooth, sweet, and perfect-- but I also truly enjoyed the cake-mousse-ganache concoction.
So, in sum, damnnnnnnn, Bouchon. These desserts were incredible, and sitting in the chattering Bouchon "dining room" (really a cordoned-off area of the third floor of the TWC) opposite a sparkling atrium with giant stars whose lights glittered to the tune of Christmas music... well, it was just an incredibly pleasant experience. And to think SB and I got all this food and drink, and an evening of quality catch-up time, gratis... well, it makes me want to keep entering all the contests I come across. And though it may increase my competition, I encourage you to do so as well-- you've got nothing to lose, and you may just win something truly sweet.
Circle of Taste
Time Warner Center
Ten Columbus Circle
Thursday, December 10, 2009
First off, props to the robust serving of fruit compote-- depending on who's working behind the counter, sometimes you end up with only a few dribbles of the fruit syrup, but last night I had a healthy portion of the actual stewed strawberries. Rockin'. As for the soft serve itself, the maple vanilla was a delight-- on first taste, the nutty soymilk bite came through faintly, but after a few more spoonfuls it was all maple vanilla all the way. The chocolate was very chocolatey, as promised. Curiously, I expected the two flavors to meld together well, as vanilla and chocolate dairy soft serve usually do, but I found that the two flavors rather stood alone, not really warring per se but not complementing or enhancing one another either. And any spoonful that contained both was overwhelmed by the strength of the chocolate. Since the delicious fruit compote goes better with vanilla-based flavors than chocolate anyway, I think my next purchase (ahem) will be straight maple-vanilla. Regardless, it was a satisfying treat for mind and body-- I think Kyotofu does vanilla flavors really well and (on behalf of my taste buds if not my wallet...) hope to see them in the weekly rotation for weeks to come!
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
AV and I had hit up this little secret before, finding the edibles sweet and the employees sour. This time around, the service wasn't quite so brusque-- not exactly touchy-feely either, but at least they didn't seem angry that we were there. That was an improvement. The four of us grabbed a table and selected our snacks; a few moments later, the goodies arrived.
Both AV and MM went with the chocolate croissant. These were large and graced with a flurry of powdered sugar, but if you're looking for a classical, flaky French croissant, these are not it. The dough was stretchy and dense, almost like a breakfast bread or a heavier cinnamon roll dough. On the plus side, the chocolate inside was well distributed, and the whole thing came together well in a finish of chocolate and brown sugar.
My choice was the vanilla roulade, a slice of chocolate cake spiraled with vanilla creme and a center of jellied cherry. I stuck to the center of the treat, where the cake had absorbed some of the cherry liquid and was tasty and moist. The cake around the exterior was a bit dry; no matter, as I was only able to finish about a half or two thirds of the treat before I gave up.
But there was no giving up on the part of BD, the evening's champion. He ordered what Andre's euphemistically calls "Chocolate Mousse Cake," a slice that turns out to be a previously undiscovered concoction combining chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, cheesecake, and chocolate ganache icing. This was unquestionably the Turducken of baked goods: Gancheemoucake, or perhaps Moueese'ganake. Regardless, BD tucked in with the vigor of a veteran, demolishing first the cake and the cheesecake and then, finally, with a few heroic bites, the thick layer of mousse. Dammmmmmn.
At that point, it was pretty much all we could do to roll ourselves to the curb and our respective destinations. We definitely had a good time at Andre's, but I'm still on the ambivalent side-- the place doesn't have a whole lot of atmosphere, and without careful ordering, you can definitely find better baked goods elsewhere. However, if you're in the mood for strudel or rugelach or one of their specialties, or if you're simply in a pastry pinch (damn you, Two Little Red Hens!), stop on by and check it out-- at the very least, it's a neighborhood institution.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Like the rest of Midtown East, the place was pretty much deserted. As I was led through the empty noodle bar into the pretty, serene dining room in the back, I spotted one other three-person party having dinner in a booth; they vacated shortly after I sat down, so BL and I had the place to ourselves until we paid the check, at which point another small group came in to take our place. No matter; especially when it was this quiet, the dining room was a nice place to be, full of handsome dark woods and anchored by two long communal tables down the center.
Our server was friendly but seemed still to be getting her footing-- in fact, the whole staff seemed overwhelmingly tentative. It took a good five minutes for our server to return to the table and inform BL that his order of a birch beer would go unfulfilled: they had run out. (A huge run on birch beer earlier in the day? Who knows?) However, we didn't mind at all-- we chatted as we waited for our much-anticipated dishes to emerge.
BL went with the Singapore Noodles, which were thin noodles served along with Chinese sausage, shrimp, crispy lard, and chives. The noodles were served in an appealing little metal wok-like dish, which I liked. BL approved of the dish, and when prompted gave it a three-spatula designation.
My choice was a no-brainer: the papaya salad. This was an artfully disheveled pile of deliciousness, although the taste was unlike any papaya salad I'd had. There was some spice-- pickled plum powder, perhaps?-- that dominated the flavor profile. The shredded coconut was an interesting touch but didn't add much in the way of taste. The crispy shallot, however, added both taste and texture. Yum.
And that was it. A quick trip to the bathroom revealed an unmarked door and no light (literally, the socket had no light bulb). An attempt to pay with credit card revealed that they're cash only. So the final verdict? Worth a stop if you're in the neighborhood, but I wouldn't trek across the city to go-- it's a three Offset Spatula spot that's overshadowed by all the great Thai options much closer to home.
222 E. 53rd Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues