Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gossip with the girls at Aroma

This past Saturday night, AC was in town from India, so the five of us girls finally reconvened for a catch-up dinner. Realizing I had't been to Aroma, one of my favorite wine bar/restaurants, in a while, I booked us a 7:30 reservation there.

We were squeezed into the large table by the door, which had been spruced up since the last time I'd been with back and butt pads on the bench. Well played. The ladies chose a bottle of red wine (I abstained) and we snacked on the delicious chewy bread and succulent olives while we waited for the appetizers.

Glistening olives

Scrumptious bread

Since my salad was coming with the entrees, the other ladies dove in to the two apps. One was a baby octopus salad; the other, meatballs stuffed with cheese. Both were enjoyed heartily, so I was told.

Octopus 'n' potatos 'n' celery 'n' stuff

Mmmm, balls

Before our entrees arrived, Vito, one of the owners, stopped by with two plates of complimentary bruschetta. One was a chopped tomato bruschetta; one was a hearty melange of fall vegetables. Both were incredibly delicious... if they were on the menu, I would definitely have ordered them.

Summer tomatoes and basil

Fall veggies

And on to the entrees. KS got the gnocchi with rock shrimp, English peas, fava bean jus, and pancetta. She noted that the gnocchi were lighter than gnocchi usually are-- nice!

Pillows of potato

SY got one of the specials, an order of polenta with sausage. It looked creamy and warm, and she enjoyed it.

Polenta with interest

SL and AC shared two pastas: one special pasta & ragu, which they raved about, and one orecchiette with fennel, sausage, pesto, broccoli rabe, and pecorino. Each of the other ladies took a bite of the orecchiette and came to a consensus that the dish was just weird, and not in a good way. When it came time to clear, the manager inquired about the nearly-untouched dish, and when SL and AC reluctantly revealed that it wasn't their favorite, she quickly and graciously offered to remove it from the bill (which she did).

Pasta: devoured

The rejected orecchiette

My choice was delicious: an arugula salad in a light vinaigrette with walnuts, grana padano, and large thin slices of green apple. It was filling and tasty and full of goodness, especially with lots of walnuts, which I appreciated.

My salad. So delish.

On to the desserts! AC, SL, and KS decided to split the molten chocolate cake. SY went for the affogato (with whipped cream on the side so I could eat it....). I chose the gelato and sorbet sampler, which involved a peach and melon sorbet, a fig & something gelato, and a mascarpone & something gelato. My memory is a bit foggy... but it was all quite good. They also brought us a complimentary gianduja panna cotta for the table, which we devoured eagerly.

Molten choc with vanilla gelato!

Affogatto in action

Lots of creamy and somewhat indeterminate ice cream

Comped panna cotta! Tastes like nutella

Overall, it was a delightful night, filled with great company and good food and wine. I have a soft spot for Aroma, which is equally great for a date or a girls' night. Though not everything was a hit this time around, the management's responses to any missteps more than made up for any problems. Aroma keeps both its four Offset Spatula designation and my unequivocal recommendation.

36 East 4th Street (Between Bowery and Lafayette)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another trip to New Amsterdam via cheese, bread, and cider

This past Sunday was the second of this cycle's New Amsterdam Markets. AV and I braved a recalcitrant subway that seemed hell-bent on denying us access to the South Street Seaport and ultimately emerged into the beautiful fall sunshine down near the East River. Once again, a pictorial journey below... along with a strong encouragement to stop by when the market comes back next month! Check out their website here.

Before we made it to the market, we stopped by the Cupcake Express booth outside the Seaport. Looked okay, but $4 a pop!! Geez!

Delicious raw milk cheeses from Birchrun Hills Farm

More tasty sparkling cider from Bellweather! We bought another bottle. Oops?

Yogurt from Maple Hill Creamery. We tried the blueberry and the lemon... both like delicious melted ice cream.

"Renaissance ricotta" from Narragansett Creamery. Increadibly creamy and delicious, especially topped with the berry-cranberry compote. Mmmm.

Sausage from Dickson's Farmstand Meats. AV's verdict: Meh.

Bagels from Fairway. Apparently Bloomberg thinks they're the best in the city? Sure.

Olive and raisin bread from Sullivan Street Bakery. I love olive bread.

Cheddar cheese samples from Organic Valley.

Incredible-looking cheese from Brooklyn Larder. The crowd was too thick around this one for us to get a taste...

A seasoned tofu sample from Basis Farm to Chef. Surprisingly tasty!

And there you have it! Several pounds of cheese samples later, we emerged with full bellies and one bottle of bubbly. A successful day indeed!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ardesia: I don't really know.

Last Friday night, AV and I decided to check out Ardesia, the brand-new wine bar in my neighborhood. The place was absolutely hopping when we got there at 8:30 or 9 or so; it was so busy that we had to squeeze behind the door to wait while a table opened up. But finally we settled into a corner in the lounge area, which was rimmed with plush, low-backed sofas. Our table was a tiny, moveable TV-dinner-style table that we could swing over our laps. We tried to get comfortable as the enormous and loud group next to us kept growing, encroaching into our already awkward space corner.

The bar itself is really pretty-- chic and modern with blackboards lining one wall and a see-through rack of wine bottles stretching from floor to double-height ceiling behind the bar. But it was loud and crowded. Much more bar-bar than wine-bar-- i.e., if you're looking for a dark, sexy, and romantic nook, Ardesia is not your place.

Our incredibly friendly but aw-shucks awkward waiter finally brought us menus. I wasn't drinking, but there did seem to be a number of nice-looking wines by the glass. AV ordered a beer, and we contemplated our food choices. I asked whether any of the cheeses were brie-like; when I was told honestly no, we decided to share an order of the manchego ($6), which AV supplemented with their house-made cocktail sausages ($5). What arrived shortly thereafter was as follows:

Dollhouse food?

Oh, and bread

Um, wow. In case you're counting, that's $1.66 per sausage, and approximately $1 per small bite of cheese. Was the food decent? Sure. Was it a total rip-off? Absolutely. Contrast this $6 cheese "plate" (that tiny pile of debris is about a tablespoonful of crushed hazelnuts in honey) with what you get for around $8 at Riposo 46, our usual neighborhood wine bar:

Just for the record, that's half a loaf of bread, two garlic crostini, stewed dried fruit, walnuts, a large bunch of grapes, and two huge, thick hunks of manchego

No contest. But I feel bad writing off Ardesia entirely; inexplicably, I actually really wanted to like the place. For one, everyone was so friendly, especially our waiter, who at one point actually used the phrase "Hidey-ho." Plus, it was the first week of the bar's opening... and I do want to encourage more restaurants and nightlife hot spots to explore the currently uncharted territory west of Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen. But if Ardesia is going to survive, it has to either knock down its prices significantly or increase the value (i.e., food, beer) it provides for the money. Till then, you can find us a few blocks away at Riposo 46.

510 W. 52nd Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Happy (almost) Halloween!

Last weekend AV and I carved a pumpkin. And we saved the pumpkin seeds, tossed them with a bit of olive oil and salt, and baked them in the oven for an hour or so until they became a delectable tasty snack. For $3 at the Union Square Greenmarket, this pumpkin was several hours' (and afternoon snacks') worth of delight. Happy Halloween!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Going for the soup and salad at Gossip. Yes, that's weird.

On Saturday night, AV and I had no destination in mind for dinner. He wasn't hungry; I was sort of hungry but didn't quite know what type of food I wanted. It was a bad combo. We walked up and down Ninth Avenue, getting rejected by place after place. Finally, inexplicably, we ended up at Gossip Bar & Restaurant. They had tables. They had TVs. And, ostensibly, they had food. We headed in.

Snagging a huge, elevated four-person booth, we settled in. Our server was nowhere to be found, and an enormous group of revelers at the table next to ours was thoroughly blocking the walking area between the bar and the tables, so we seized every opportunity we could to garner some attention. We started with a round of drinks-- diet coke and club soda, thank you very much. Yes, we were at a bar, and yes, we would only order food and soft drinks. I admit this entire night made no sense.

But order food and soft drinks we did. AV, who had had a hefty midafternoon snack courtesy of fresh sourdough and lamb sausage from the Union Square Greenmarket, stuck to a light repast of the black bean soup. He enjoyed it, aside from the incongruous lump of guacamole in the middle of the whole affair. Sans guac, it was a good bowl of soup.

Like a little green island

My choice was the beet and goat cheese salad. This salad was built upside-down: a tuft of greens on top, a generous base of ruby beets, a ring of toasted pistachios, and two huge (I'm talking ice-cream-scoop-size) dollops of warm goat cheese. It scratched my head at the composition, and then I dug in. Mmmmm, goat cheese. All the ingredients here were pretty standard, but you have to give them tons of credit for their heavy hand with the goat cheese. Well played.

A microgreen toupee hiding mountains of goat cheese

Oh, and there was bread. A complete afterthought, clearly baked-from-frozen rolls, but warm, and good with a nice slather of goat cheese.

So very average

So that was it. We were satisfied with our meal. Would we go back to Gossip? Sure, why not. It was a nice bar with a comfortable atmosphere, and the food was decent and well-priced. For what it was, Gossip is a three Offset Spatula restaurant-- a haven of downscale food, reasonably priced, devoid of pretense, and full of goat cheese.

Gossip Bar & Restaurant
733 Ninth Avenue, between 49th and 50th Streets

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Branching out to a new Thai on 9th

Two weekends ago, I attended the incredible show Fantasy Football: The Musical?, written by my good friend DI, part of the New York Musical Theater Festival. After laughing heartily for an hour and a half, fellow showgoers AV and JR and I were hungry. So we scurried around the corner to Aura Thai on Ninth Avenue.

The decor of Aura is plain and simple, but we were all so ravenous we didn't care. We started with a couple of apps-- first up, JR's fried calamari with sweet chili sauce. This dish looked like onion rings and was well received by both JR and AV, who sniped a ring or two.

A tangle of veg 'n' squid

AV and I shared the vegetable dumplings. These were large, half-moon/ravioli-style dumplings filled with a mixture of shredded veggies. The sweet sauce was drizzled over the top, which meant we weren't able to control the mixture of dumpling and sauce through dipping, always a key part of the experience. Overall, these weren't my favorite dumplings in the NYC Thai Restaurant Dumpling Pantheon; the filling tasted like generic frozen veggies, and I wasn't a huge fan of the half-moon shape.

Pretty, but plain inside

Moving on, JR got a curry dish... and shamefully I can't remember exactly which one. But it was ample and flavorful and delicious, according to its consumer.

Some sort of curry? Maybe?

AV went with the pad see ew with chicken. Lots of green veggies made this one a winner in my book... and AV was also a fan.

Wide noodles and bursts of bright green

My choice was, of course, papaya salad. This was a big portion with lots of green beans; the papaya was also cut spaghetti-style rather than in small matchsticks, which was interesting. The vinaigrette here was heavy on the lime and light on the umami, which made the whole dish light but lacking in the strong flavor usually associated with papaya salad.

It also came with sticky rice. Very, very gluey sticky rice.

Overall, we were so hungry that the food at Aura hit the spot. But the quality of food was definitely eclipsed by the other Thai options a few blocks up on Ninth. As a result, I wouldn't necessarily return to Aura unless I were ravenous and right in the area, which means Aura earns a two Offset Spatula designation. Done and done.

462 Ninth Avenue, between 35th and 36th streets

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A celebration of fall at Kyotofu

This evening, I swung by Kyotofu once again for my new favorite treat: a soymilk soft serve sundae. Today's flavors were pumpkin spice and chocolate, neither of which is a favorite of mind, but for some reason I was in the mood to try them out. Behold, my masterpiece:

Soft serve with two strawberries

The pumpkin was incredibly pumpkin-y-- full of Thanksgiving spices, like eating a slice of pumpkin pie. The chocolate was rich and smooth and surprisingly delicious. For those of you who don't like the trademark nutty tang of soymilk, both these flavors exhibited no trace of soy-- the strong chocolate and pumpkin masked that taste well. Unfortunately, the woman who served my sundae put only about a tablespoon or two of the sweet fruit compote on there, so it was mostly straight-up chocolate and pumpkin... could be worse, but next time I want more fruit! Also, Kyotofu, if you're reading this, bring back the vanilla flavors (especially the vanilla almond) before the cold weather sets in!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bite by bite at Plate by Plate


Going back into the past once again, we arrive at the Metropolitan Pavilion on a balmy October 2 evening. AV and I had decided to do a very grown-up thing: attend a benefit. And so there we were, in our party-going finest, at Plate by Plate. As we strolled in and took in the throngs at the tasting booths, bars, and silent auction, we realized that since this event was a benefit for an Asian-American Equity association, we were one of the few non-Asian people there (this fact was underscored by an event photographer who breathlessly tracked us down and asked, "Can I take your picture? We're trying to get as many non-Asian couples as possible!") No matter. We dived into the food and drink, most of which was quite delicious. Below, our pictorial journey.

Fresh tofu from En Japanese Brasserie

Vegetable curry puff from Pranna

Sweet sausage and sticky rice from Umi Nom

Green papaya salad and Thai beef salad from Land! Our favorite!

Various treats from Sweetiepie, including a homely but delicious lemon cake

The lay of the land

Lemon crepe cake from Bar Breton. Very delicious.

Sloppy Bao from Baogette

Nougat glace with roasted plums from South Gate

Incredible spread of treats from Tawny Ong. We tasted (and enjoyed) a red velvet cupcake, a hummingbird cupcake, a devil's food cupcake, icebox cake, and banana pudding. Yes, we made two trips... or possibly more. Oops?

The band jams

Texas salt and pepper ribs from Blue Smoke

Lamb ribs from Ilili. AV called this the best bite of the night.

Duck torchon on brioche from One If By Land

Mascarpone cheesecake with apple granita and spiced foam from One If By Land

Gougere from Brasserie Cognac