Friday, February 26, 2010

Cookie winners and losers at Glaser's Bake Shop

Back into post-Vegas land... what a whirlwind! To ease us back into the present (or at least more recent past), let's take a visit to Glaser's Bake Shop on the Upper East Side. I've been there before to check out their "legendary" black and white cookies. Well, last weekend I wanted one. So off we went to the somewhat dingy shop, dealt with the upbeat but, ahem, overly directive counter women, and emerged with cookies of two different types, which we ate after dinner.

AV's choice? A big chocolate chip cookie. Not recommended--it was flat, with standard chocolate chips and not much else going for it. AV said the flavor wasn't quite there and that overall the cookie was bland. Blech. What's worse than a bad chocolate chip cookie? (That's a rhetorical question. A lot of things are worse.)

The loser

But thankfully the black and white cookie redeemed our visit. The cake portion was crunchy on the outside and tender in the thick middle, just like a--gasp!-- cookie! The chocolate frosting was ample and sweet and supple, while the white icing was the classic vanilla glaze with real flavor. I ate this cookie and then wanted another one. I won't pretend to have eaten all the black and white cookies in this city, but this one is definitely a contender for the best.

The winner!

Glaser's Bake Shop

1670 First Avenue, between 87th and 88th Streets

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dumplings and fire at Land

Last weekend, AV and I went out for Thai food. Given all the coverage of Thai places on this blog, this may not seem significant, but it is: I've all but sworn off Thai since I got food poisoning in December after a particularly unfortunate Thai meal. While I still can't stomach the sight, smell, or even thought of peanut sauce, my cravings for veggie dumplings have been creeping back. So on Saturday night, we skipped down to the UES location of Land Thai Kitchen for their inimitable green gems.

We started by sharing an order of dumplings, and with an extra dish of the dipping sauce, we were delighted. These dumplings are green and glorious, fun little poppers with squishy insides and a dignified crown of fried garlic sprinkled on top.

Didn't disappoint

Then AV went with the wok beef with basil. It seemed a little undercooked this time around, but AV enjoyed it. Though it was requested mild, it was still quite spicy.

Rare beef & spice

But I can only imagine how it compared to the fiery inferno that was my papaya salad. Flecked with huge pieces of hot pepper, this salad (requested not spicy) seared my mouth and left a lingering burn that lasted for a good half hour after consumption. Yes, I'm somewhat of a spice wuss, but this stuff was HOT. It was still good-- the ingredients were fresh and the portion right-- but damn, next time I'm going to be explicit and emphatic about less spice!

It looks innocent, but...

Land is fast and casual, and the service is polite and fast without feeling rushed or pressured. The food is tasty and not too expensive. And so, through yet another visit, Land maintains its four Offset Spatula rating.

Land Thai Kitchen
1565 Second Avenue, between 81st and 82nd

Birthday bites at Kefi

Let's travel back one more time to the pre-Vegas days, if you'll come with me. As I mentioned, the Saturday before we left was AV's birthday. We had a bunch of things to do for the upcoming trip, for which we were leaving at the crack of dawn the next day, but we also had to celebrate, of course. We had been talking about Greek food recently, and so I scoured the interwebs for some good, not too formal Greek places. It dawned on me-- Kefi was perfect. There was a reservation available, which I grabbed. We were off.

You may recall an unsuccessful foray I had to Kefi with BL a while back. Usually I hold grudges, but this time I put my personal feelings aside in favor of some good food. Fortunately, this time our reservation was accepted and we were led to a small table in the back. Let me echo the other reviewers on this point: Kefi is not a romantic restaurant. It's loud. There are screaming babies and kids swarming the tables next to you. The servers rush around, and there are a few too many tables for the space. But nonetheless, the bright farmhouse decor creates an upbeat atmosphere, and the place never lacks energy. A search for the bathrooms downstairs revealed that there's another, classier and quieter-looking dining room downstairs below the main dining area upstairs. If you want a calmer experience, ask to be seated there if you can when you make a reservation.

But more importantly, how is the food? Pretty darn good, it must be said. We started with bread, which was hearty and tender but was shoved awkwardly in a metal cup. Why do restaurants do this? It seems almost deliberately to be devaluing the bread. At least give it a loving, gentle basket of some sort.

Bread: disrespect

We didn't have too much time to dwell on the bread, though, because our entrees arrived promptly. I had chosen a standard Greek salad. Note the extremely generous portion-- Greek salad is uncommonly filling due to all the cheese anyway, and this plate had me stuffed. Yes, I know that's pathetic. There was finely chopped lettuce, fennel, onions, and cucumber; some halved tomatoes, olives, and some peppers; and of course, a generous shower of salty feta. The dressing was flavorful, if a bit heavy-handed, and it brought the salad together well. A true bargain for under $7.

Copious and filling

AV went with the chicken souvlaki, another surprising bargain. A generous street-food-style pita held chunks of chicken, lettuce, and assorted other veggies, and cool tzaziki sauce. A dish on the side held a smaller portion of the same Greek salad. And a handful of housemade herbed potato chips completed the trifecta. AV loved it-- a complete, well-composed, fresh three-course meal (sort of) for around $12.

Rockin' souvlaki

We may or may not have had surprise birthday cupcakes waiting at home (ahem), so we skipped dessert and headed back to the home base. Kefi, while atmosphere and upscale service may not be your overwhelming strong suits, your food is noteworthy. Reluctantly, I'd be back-- considering the value pricing, it's a commendable three Offset Spatula place.

505 Columbus Avenue, between 84th and 85th Streets

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A brief bar interlude at Lansdowne Road

Let's travel back in time, shall we, to a few weeks ago, before I left for Vegas. For old time's sake, I met with JT and the bro at Lansdowne Road for a Bruins game and a few drinks. I got a Harpoon cider, which was delicious and appley and made me surprisingly drunk. But there was food, as well, of course. JT got a cheesesteak, which came with choice of cheese, chopped onions, and fries. The bro got a club sandwich, also with fries. I ate a few fries. They were warm and fried, although they were the kind that are starchy inside and thick outside, rather than... well... softer and yummier? I don't know, it was a while ago. All I remember is they tasted good. A few pictures to ease us back into the dining scene, and we'll be back on the wagon:

CheeEEEeese. Steak.

A sandwich with bacon? What could be better?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

From Vegas with love: Part Done

Our final meal in Vegas was our Valentine's Day celebration. As our destination, we chose Circo, a sister restaurant to Le Cirque in the Bellagio. So for our last evening, we got dolled up and made our way through the casino to the beautiful, serene dining room, which looked out onto the dancing fountains. The fountains went off a couple of times during the dinner, delighting me every time. What can I say? Simple tastes and all that...

The service at Circo was old-fashioned but kind and solicitous. We started with the copious bread basket, which came with olive oil packed with parmesan cheese (delishhhhh). I tried a piece of focaccia first, which was alarmingly and mysteriously hard. My second choice, a slice of olive bread, was much more successful.

Bread, a mixed bag

Extra bonus in the olive oil

Our entrees came quite promptly. AV chose the "Mama Egi's ravioli," with a filling of sheep's milk ricotta, spinach, and swiss chard and a sage-butter sauce. It was truly special-- one bite, which AV graciously shared with me, revealed that the dish was warm and filling, savory and hearty all at once.

A perfect choice

My choice was the spring salad, with a crostino of aged ricotta rather than the suggested gorgonzola. There was fresh apple and some caramelized walnuts and a truly tangy champagne vinaigrette. I took a bite and noted that the lettuce was surprisingly flavorful-- when was the last time you had lettuce with actual flavor? The portion was generous as well.

Special salad

Nothing on the dessert menu captivated (don't worry, we had gelato later, obvi), so we settled for a coffee and a tea. The drinks came with tiny complimentary biscotti, chocolate and pistachio. A nice little ending to the meal.

Cute! And sweet!

And so there you have it-- our vacation in food. I miss Vegas. I miss vacation. Circo was an appropriately special way to end a great vacation, another recommended destination if you're looking for some great Italian in the city of sin.

Monday, February 22, 2010

From Vegas with love: Part 5

We had one more fancy "special" dinner coming up on our Vegas trip, but in the meantime there were some snacks. So a report on the various little bits that populated the next day or so:

More gelato. This time it was in the middle of the day, from the in-house Bellagio Patisserie, and it was peanut brittle flavor (incredible) with more coconut sorbet. I pretty much never eat ice cream in the middle of the day. Maybe I should more often?

From Jean-Philippe Patisserie... smooth and creamy as ever

For breakfast the next day, AV got a cinnamon roll from Palio cafe, one of the quick eats destinations in the Bellagio. It was huge and, curiously, iced on the bottom of the roll. Enticing and promising-looking, it was appropriately cinnamony but disappointingly dry. Nothing gooey and sticky here-- just a bland pastry.

Mmmm, frosted

Dryness revealed

Fortunately, however, we made up for that lackluster food experience later in the day by making a second journey to In-N-Out burger. After journeying to Fremont Street (uh, skippable), we hailed a cab, found the nearest In-N-Out, and got AV a cheeseburger animal style and an order of fries. I had a couple of fries as they were scarfed in the cab, and they were delicious.

Sweet, sweet fries

It was just enough to tide us over until that evening... report to come!

Friday, February 19, 2010

From Vegas with love: Part 4

On Tuesday, we ventured to the Grand Canyon, with a minor detour to In-n-Out burger. When we got home, AV collapsed for a nap, while I moped around, insanely exhausted but unable to sleep. Finally I woke AV up in an agitated state, insisting that I was losing it and needed real food (after eating approximately 100 carby snacks in the car during the day). Still battling the fog of sleep, AV handled my agitation admirably and brought us downstairs to Noodles for some food.

Noodles is the Bellagio's dim sum bar. Let me say this up front: yes, Vegas is an expensive town. It's especially expensive if you're staying at an expensive hotel. Most of the time, I was in vacation-spending mode and thus wasn't too bothered by the prices. However, at Noodles I was. Here's why:

The dishes we got were as follows: One chicken pad thai, which was pretty standard. And one side order of baby bok choy in garlic sauce, pretty mediocre (for the record, I had wanted dumplings but they didn't have veggie-only dumplings, they only had pork-and-veggie dumplings. I had misread that when scoping out the menu). Together, without tax and tip, those dishes cost $30. With tax and tip, it was closer to $40.

Read that again. Almost $40 for one noodle dish and one veggie side, which in Manhattan (one of the most expensive cities in the world) would have set us back less than $15. We both felt a little bit ripped off.

Spun gold? No, noodles

Precious vegetables

So, of course, we placated ourselves with gelato. The Bellagio is crawling with gelato, available in three separate locations, to my count. I had gelato pretty much every single day. Their gelato wasn't the best I've ever had, but the portions were huge and it was tasty. This time around, AV went with Oreo; I chose half Snickers, half coconut sorbet, packed full of shards of coconut. And, tummy packed with gelato, I went to sleep. I believe it was 7:30PM.

Coconut on top

Oreo, with authentic gelato paddle spoons

Thursday, February 18, 2010

From Vegas with love: Part 3

AV's birthday was the weekend we left for Vegas, so we postponed our "official" birthday dinner celebration until we had arrived. Monday night, then, we set off to a surprise location in MGM Grand to celebrate.

Our destination: Fiamma. There used to be a highly acclaimed outpost of Fiamma in Manhattan, but it closed within the last year or so. Nonetheless, I applied the restaurant's reputation for stellar Italian food to the Vegas version, and I wasn't disappointed.

The restaurant itself is pure Vegas-- all dark colors and decorative, swooping fixtures. Sexy and smoky and intriguing, even early in the evening. We started with drinks, a glass of bubbly for me and a stiff cocktail for AV. Celebration commence!

We started with bread. Each table got its own fresh-baked loaf, presented on a minimalist wooden plank. It was the kind of bread with which you just want to stuff your face endlessly-- warm and carby, soft in the middle with a yielding crust. The olive oil was peppery and herbal. We ate and ate.

Yes please.

We only interrupted our carb consumption to transition to the entrees. AV went with the spaghetti with kobe meatballs and San Marzano pomodoro sauce. It's important to note that AV comes from one of those blessed backgrounds wherein he has fond memories of his parents' cooking-- specifically, his dad's homemade meatballs. While no meatballs could ever top Dad's version, he conceded that Fiamma's were "special." Topped with plenty of freshly greated parm, how could anyone go wrong?

That's'a meatball

My choice was the burrata. It came in a small dish on a bed of tomato sauce and pesto. Strangely, the tomato/pesto mixture tasted off-- metallic and weird. But the cheese itself was spectacular, soft and yielding and impossibly creamy. I ate the cheese and the crostino and left the rest.

Good cheese

Dessert time! AV almost skipped dessert but at the last minute was seduced by the tavoletta di cioccolatto, a triple chocolate cake . I'm glad he went for it, since it gave the restaurant a chance to inscribe the requisite birthday message and provide his candle. Phew. My head was a little fuzzy from the champagne, but I recall that my tastes of this dessert were intensely chocolatey and delicious.

Birthday cake!

My choice was the tartufo, with dolce di latte gelato, caramelized hazelnuts, and chocolate sauce. I pretty much dove face-first into this dessert, which was absolutely decadent with the blanket of chocolate sauce poured over the ice cream at the table. The chocolate thickened a bit after sitting on the cold gelato, kind of like Magic Shell. Om nom nom nom.

There's gelato under there

We were both stuffed, but we finished the evening with two complimentary rum caramel chocolates. These were surprising little buggers, with a strong hit of rum at the end. But, of course, delicious.


So there you have it, a successful birthday dinner on the books. It's worth noting that unlike many of Vegas's top restaurants, Fiamma allows a la carte ordering rather than boxing you in to a prix fixe menu, which I value quite a bit. I'd definitely recommend Fiamma if you're looking for a classy Italian Vegas splurge.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

From Vegas with love: Part 2

So I mentioned that our first meal in Vegas was a scrumptious lunch at Mon Ami Gabi. It was so good that the next morning, after waking up at 3:30AM (yes, really) and hitting the gym right when it opened at 6AM-- typical Vegas behavior-- we dashed across the street once again for breakfast at the French bistro.

Service-- and the overall experience-- was markedly worse this time around. It took a good twenty minutes or so to get tap water; my tea order came much later, at the same time as all the food. When I tried to order just a side of cheese with my tea (yes, I know this is weird; see also: jet-lagged stomach; 3:30AM wake-up time), our waiter actively made fun of me. And not in an endearing way, let's just say.

Nonetheless, we did end up getting the food we wanted, eventually. AV went with a Western omelette. Oh wait, what I mean is, he attempted to order a Western omelette to the incredulous derision of our waiter. Finally it was settled that a Western omelette wasn't a possibility, but our benevolent waiter COULD provide a ham & cheese omelette with the addition of peppers. Spectacular. The omelette came with hash browns and thick slices of toasted bread. No butter or jam, of course; that had to be wildly flagged down later.

Omelette of scorn

You'll be happy to know that the waiter ultimately did grant me my cheese. It was thick-cut cheddar, slightly sweaty from having sat under the heat lamps. It was crowned with four sprigs of random garnish (watercress?). They charged us $1.50. What can I say?

Hard earned cheese

Most importantly, we were fed and ready to take on the town, so we paid and split. Our recommendation? Hit up Mon Ami Gabi at lunch or later. The food is good; if you go strategically, you'll have service to match.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

From Vegas with love: Part .5

We returned home from Vegas last Friday, insanely jet-lagged but otherwise intact. Aren't you dying to know what we ate while we were there? Of course you are. So back to the beginning...

Our plane got in around noon on Superbowl Sunday, so after we checked in and scoped out the Bellagio sports book (goes without saying: I lost every bet I made. Damn Colts), we went in search of lunch. Or maybe it was dinner? See also: jet lag.

Regardless, we ended up scarfing a wonderful lunch at Mon Ami Gabi, at the Paris hotel. It was delicious and just what we both wanted-- burgers and salad and delicious fresh, warm French bread-- but I had forgotten my camera. Wah-wahh.

Fast forward to later that afternoon, when we decided we wanted dinner. Around halftime, we ventured forth from the hotel to find a meal, and perhaps a TV. We ended up deep within the Crystals mall, part of the new crazy City Center complex. (A photo of City Center follows, just in case.) We were both so hungry, we didn't really care where we ended up, so we parked our butts at Brasserie Puck, one of Wolfgang's newest Vegas outposts. We sat in the bar area, which had a sick clear flatscreen TV hanging from the ceiling.

Crazy architectural angles

Our server was clearly bummed about working during the Superbowl, and as such he compensated by being incredibly obnoxious. After desperately trying to upsell us on "specialty cocktails," he revisited our table so many times we were convinced that if we only gave him the slightest encouragement, he would have pulled up a chair and joined our party. But more importantly, our food: after placing our order, a cheerful runner brought bread. This was spectacular bread-- warm, and clearly just-baked warm just from the oven, not re-heated warm. There was butter and chicken liver mousse. We ate the butter.


Then the real food: AV chose an organic mesclun salad and a pizza margherita. He scarfed the greens, claiming if there were a greens-eating contest he could eat about two dozen of those plates. And then he set on the pizza, which I tried as well. The crust was whisper thin and cracker crisp, the most barely-there crust you could imagine. It made the pizza light but overall more like a tomato cracker than a pizza. Especially since the mozzarella was pooled rather than scattered-- as AV put it, there was about one delicious bite per piece. Oh well.

Greens & parm

Can you spot the six delicious bites?

I chose a roasted beet salad with candied walnuts and fromage blanc. This plate was beautifully presented, with all different colors of beets decorating the plate. The little dollops of fromage blanc were the texture of mayonnaise but had the mild flavor of cheese. The only part of the salad I didn't like too much were the stealth sections of grapefruit hiding among the leaves.

Like something out of Willy Wonka

Overall, Brasserie Puck satisfied our hunger, but the only truly standout part of the meal was the bread. A good introduction to the Vegas food scene, it primed our palates for the delicious meals to come...

Brasserie Puck
Crystals at CityCenter
3720 Las Vegas Blvd. South #240

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

From Vegas, with love: Part I

This week, AV and I are in Vegas, and naturally there is much to relate on the food front. Approximately a million posts will be coming when I return home, but in the meantime, one quick dispatch from today's activities.

We've been extraordinarily jet-lagged, so after being awake for approximately three hours already, we showed up at the rental car place before it opened at 8AM to collect our car. And then we set off into the wilds of Nevada and Arizona, nimbly crossing the Hoover Dam, to seek our fortunes at the Grand Canyon. Midway through our drive to the South Rim I had a revelation, changed our course, and a mere three hours after we left Vegas, we arrived at the West Rim of the Canyon. Needless to say, it was incredible. A bit of photographic proof of our presence:
Colorado River and Canyon
Despite certain nameless naysayers among the crowds at home, who claimed a day trip to the Canyon couldn't be done with finesse, we were back in Vegas by 4PM after an entirely satisfactory exploration of the GC. Quite enough time to stop for a burger at In-N-Out in Henderson, don't you think? We do. Behold, a cheeseburger animal style, which AV devoured in approximately four seconds after having pretty much nothing but granola bars and animal crackers all day:
Animal style = sauces and mushrooms and onions, or something.

Oh, and a bit of the decor for those of us (me) who are (were) curious as to what at In-N-Out looks like.

Where the magic happens
The menu

So there you have it. Car dropped off, back in our hotel room by 4:30. In yo' face, Grand Canyon-- consider yourself conquered. In our faces, In-N-Out, consider yourself vicariously visited by me through AV's highly enjoyable experience.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Disappointed by the service at Kyotofu

This past Tuesday, Mom got out of work early, so we arranged to meet up for food and drink at Kyotofu. Now, I've written about how much I enjoy Kyotofu's soft serve; I've had their plated desserts once or twice before as well, but I hadn't been back recently for the dine-in experience. Well, turns out I wasn't missing much... at least experience-wise.

I arrived before Mom did and asked for a party of two in the dining room, which is shaped vaguely like a spaceship and is tucked behind the kitchen and take-out area. The waiter showed me to a table in the corner, separating a four-person setup into two two-person tables, one of which was for me. There was maybe one other occupied table in the room; the rest was empty. Seems reasonable, no?

Well, after I had settled in and removed my eighteen layers of outer garments, the same waiter came in and told me that table was reserved, so could I move to THAT table (points across the room to the opposite corner, which looks pretty much 100% identical to my table, only across the room). I actually laughed. Sure, I'll move, what the hell. So I started the rather laborious process of gathering my things, during which the party of two who had "reserved" my table told the waiter they didn't care and would sit in the other corner. So I was ALLOWED to keep the table. Woohoo.

That pretty much set the tone for the service that evening. Mom arrived and after a delay we were able to place our orders. I asked for a pot of genmai matcha green tea, which came in a beautiful setup, albeit with no place to put the basket of used leaves once I pulled them out of the tea to stop the steeping. Oh, and I was about two cups in before my requested sweetener arrived.

All very delicate

Mom's food finally arrived after I'd consumed nearly all of the tea. Kyotofu's savory menu is a bit confusing-- it's hard to tell how big the portions are, so it's difficult to judge how much food to order. Insider tip: they're small, get a lot. Mom went with three choices, and that was right for her. The first, chamame, was enjoyed; when the diners at another table asked the waiter what made it different from regular edamame, our waiter said "it's the same." Way to sell it, brother! Regardless, Mom claimed there was an interesting flavor-- not just regular salt-- atop the beans. Some sort of cheese? Who knows?

Beans in a bowl

She also ordered the warm Japanese mushroom salad. She liked this quite a bit as well, noting that I would probably like it too. I do like my salads, so I trust her judgment on this.

Greens 'n' fungi

Her final choice was the house-cured snapper nigiri. She took one bite and noted that she had expected the dish to have much more flavor. Too bad. From the other waiter roaming the room, I requested some soy sauce, which mercifully arrived quite promptly. I think the soy sauce rescued the dish to some extent.

Flavorless, but pretty

While Mom packed away her "real" food, I went straight for the dessert. Intending to get the soft serve sundae, I inquired as to what the soft serve flavors were that week and was told that the soft serve machine was out of commission. Wah-wahhhhh. On to plan B. I ordered the sorbet sampler, which I requested with one scoop of white peach and an extra scoop of coconut rather than the mandarin orange that completed the trio. The white peach was rather astringent, but the coconut sorbet was sublime-- preternaturally creamy with a texture like velvet and the strong and pure taste of coconut. There were three mini cookies on the side; two chocolate chip, which were forgettable, and one of an unidentified nature studded with what looked like white chocolate chips, which was actually quite good.

Strangely hypnotizing

At this point, dinner finished, my mom naturally wanted dessert. It took a good ten minutes or so for her to track down our waiter to request the dessert menu; a hasty order was delivered, and we eagerly awaited the conclusion of our meal. And a-waited. A solid half hour passed before she finally asked our server once again where the dessert might be. He said that the kitchen was "baking" the chocolate cake, so it takes a longer time. Uhhh, sure. Well, a few minutes later the cake emerged-- perfectly room temperature, of course (so maybe they had baked it and then the exorbitant wait was simply the time while it was cooling to room temp? Riiiight). No matter. What's important is that the cake was delicious. My mom particularly swooned over the pool of caramel in which it sat, and I took care of the dollops of "cream" on top-- I swear it was a dead ringer for the middle layer of an Oreo. Truly well done.

Worth the wait. Sort of.

We had wisely requested the check when the dessert arrived, and it came promptly, along with two heavenly finishing bites of complimentary mini chocolate souffles. Mmmm.

Final bites

As soon as our last bites were dispatched, we shipped out of there. I must say, while the food was quite good overall, I was pretty disappointed with the overall experience of Kyotofu. The service was bumbling and awkward, with terrible pacing and long stretches of inattentiveness. And have I mentioned that there are only about eight tables in the entire restaurant? Perhaps they simply need another server or two to staff the dining room. Let me be clear-- the food is good, but it's expensive, and for those prices, the service needs to be there as well. So the question is, would I return? I'll definitely be back for the soymilk soft serve when the machine is back in action, but I'll think twice before paying the price for the dining room. I guess that means Kytofu ends up on the wrong side of the two/three Offset Spatula divide.

705 Ninth Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets