Friday, April 30, 2010

More info on West Side Steakhouse

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a new steakhouse coming to 10th Avenue. Well, the owner of the plywooded restaurant recently wrote in to deliver some more details. As such:

1) West Side Steakhouse will feature "traditional steakhouse fare" with "one distinct difference: You will not feel like you got clubbed over the head when you ask for the check."

2) Full bar and reasonably priced wine list.

3) Looking to open in June.

4) Again, the goal here is "fine dining at a reasonable price."

It certainly will be an interesting addition to the eclectic 10th Ave dining scene. More details as they come this way, and a full report forthcoming when the place opens in a few months...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

More chocolate--and tea--than you can handle at Burdick's

Saturday afternoon was sunny and almost warm, a perfect cafe day. I had a 5PM coffee rendez-vous planned with my former boss, AA. We met up at Burdick's, the chocolate cafe I posted about when it first opened. This time around, the place was in full swing.

We ordered drinks: for AA, a double cappuccino, for me, a Japanese sencha tea. AA also ordered their signature Harvard Square to nibble on. We grabbed a table near the door and settled in to chat.

Our drinks arrived shortly. Nothing too outlandish to report here, other than the fact that my teabag held about three teapots' worth of tea. When I removed it from the rather small cup, the water level sank by about 1/3. There's nothing really to explain this; there was just no need for so much tea in such a little cup. I mean, I appreciate the generosity, but... curious.

There's about a quarter pound of tea in there

We hypothesized perhaps the latte art was a bean?

As for the Harvard Square, AA liked it, but he didn't love it. It had layers of all different kinds of chocolate-- brownie, ganache, etc.-- and lots of walnuts interspersed within. He noted that while it was chocolatey, he really just wanted straight-up chocolate and found the walnuts almost distracting. Maybe he should just have gotten a chocolate bar?

Looks bigger than it was, but this puppy was powerful

No matter. Burdick's is a nice place to hang out, and it's great for a mid-afternoon or after-dinner indulgence. If you're looking for something sweet to take to Madison Square Park, you can't go wrong swinging by the shop on your way.

L.A. Burdick
5 E. 20th Street, between Broadway and 5th Avenue

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pros and cons at Craftbar

Saturday night found me at a girls' dinner at Craftbar. I've been to the restaurant once before, almost two years ago, and had had a four-Offset Spatula time. While we definitely enjoyed each other's company while we were there this time around, experience-wise we weren't quite so lucky.

Once we were all there, we were led to a table promptly. Unfortunately, said table seemed to be in the middle of some arctic jetstream airflow, with air conditioning pumping down directly onto the table. I'm especially sensitive to cold, but for the record it wasn't warm out to begin with, and let's just say I was freezing. Once we piped up, they turned the A/C off, but it came back on about halfway through the meal. By the end of the dinner, I was--literally--shivering. Think about that.

Our server was friendly but professional. Unfortunately, one of her other tables was a twenty-person bachelor party seated right next to us and at the exact same time as we were. That meant that the pacing of our meal was off, as both she and the kitchen tended to them. While our entrees were rushed out promptly, our server tended to disappear for long periods of time, stretching the period between dinner and dessert and dessert and the bill far beyond what it should have been.

But how was the food, you ask? Good question. First, the drinks-- KS ordered a cocktail called the earl gray bees' knees, a concoction with earl gray Tanqueray, honey, lemon, and egg white. While that sounds pretty darn foul to my palate's ears, KS loved it and cited it as one of the best things on our table the whole night.

On to the rest of the fare. First, the bread-- Craftbar's traditional breadsticks. These are dense, greasy things; set one on the table, and you're left with unappetizing grease spots dotting the brown butcher paper covering the tablecloth. There's some rosemary in there, but given the denseness, they're just dry. They beg for a dipping sauce. Or rather, they beg to be actual bread so you can have some butter or olive oil and actually enjoy them. Did I say that?

Tall. And greasy.

All the rest of our food came out at once. I went with the arugula, pine nut, and parmesan salad, which came in a salty lemon vinaigrette that stung my lips. This was actually pretty good and a decent portion with lots of cheese shavings, although a little audacious at $12. Really? I could make about 15 of these salads at home for $12. I guess that's not the point, but...

Filling, with lots of nuts & cheese

AC and SL shared the octopus appetizer, which came salad-style with fingerling potatoes and roasted lemon puree. Girls love their octopus, and this rendition was no exception.


Upon KS's recommendation and the server's confirmation, AC and SL also shared the lamb pappardelle. KS caved and ordered it as her entree as well. The concoction is listed as "Papparedelle, milk-braised lamb, stinging nettle, pine nut." KS remembers it as having a flavorful, reduced broth and a memorably tasty character the last time she ordered it. This time around, however, the consensus was: 1) the kitchen forgot salt, and 2) it was dry, dry, dry. Even from across the table, I could see that there was pretty much no sauce coating the pasta, which meant the strands stuck together in a congealed mess after a couple of minutes. The meat was pronounced dry as well. KS left about half of her portion, and AC and SL didn't want to finish theirs either. Disappointing.

See the bottom of the plate? Yeah, that means no sauce

Oh well, more room for dessert, right? Once we were once again granted the server's attention, we consulted the menu and placed an order. After a short delay, the desserts appeared. Upon the server's recommendation, AC and SL shared the pecan tart, an appealing pastry accompanied by a decadent-looking scoop of chocolate sorbet. The girls dove at the plate hungrily, raving about the sorbet, which was almost as rich as chocolate ice cream.

Just look at that glossy sorbet

I chose the carrot cake with roasted pineapple and cream cheese ice cream. Like the lamb, this proved disappointing. I'm used to Billy's Bakery's incredibly moist and almost gooey carrot cake, and compared to that, this carrot cake was austere, much more like dry carrot bread than cake. The crust tasted bitter and burnt, and I realized how dry the pastry was when I found myself hunting around for the occasional baked-in raisin for a welcome burst of moisture. The ice cream, however, was tangy and cool, and the pineapple (with an interesting spice note-- ginger, perhaps?) was a creative complement. Construct a bite with a bit of cake, dollop of ice cream, and a few squares of pineapple, and you're in business. Get a bite of just "cake" and you're left with a sad face.

Looks... wholesome

We paid the sizeable check and left the buzzy dining room. It seems as though you can have a great meal at Craftbar if you choose wisely; you can also leave thoroughly disappointed and much poorer for the experience. I believe the appropriate term for that is "inconsistent." Would I return to Craftbar? I wouldn't avoid it, and I'd come back if someone else were paying. The location is great, and there are some gems buried in the menu. But would I seek it out? Not especially. That means it loses one of its four spatulas this time around, settling around a thumbs-up-thumbs-down three.

900 Broadway, between 19th and 20th Streets

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Give Yipit a try (sponsored post, eek)

I get emails all the time asking me to shill for various products and services. Usually, having no relationship with the thing on offer and not really seeing how they'll help you readers, I ignore them. But when I got an email from the people at Yipit, I actually perked up-- Yipit is something I've used for a month or two now, and since I really like it (honestly), I'll share it with you all.

This is the logo they sent me. Ain't it pretty?

Maybe you've heard of Groupon, or BlackboardEats, or KGB Deals, or any of a whole number of deal sites that deliver NYC-based deals and coupons to your inbox. Maybe you're sick of having all those individual emails clog up said inbox. Yipit solves that problem-- it gathers all those various deal websites in one missive, sends it your way, and gives you a nice little pat on the head. (Okay, it doesn't do the third thing, but it does do steps one and two.) Oftentimes there are some great deals on restaurants and bars, and equally often you'll be whipping out your credit card and buying some coupons before you can say "I blacked out, what just happened?"

So, do you like coupons? Yes, Mr. Ford. Do you like saving money? Yes, Mr. Ford. Click here to sign up for Yipit and it'll make your life easier. Scout's honor.

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled programming...

A stop at West 3rd Common for a friendly drink

A few weeks ago, I got an email from the nice people at West 3rd Common, a new Gastropub in the NYU area. They invited me to come check the place out, so last Thursday I brought my friends SL and SE to see what they had to offer.

The place is really comfortable. Pass the bar/lounge area in front to the bigger dining room in back, packed with comfy, squishy red couches and large wooden tables. Perhaps grab a book from the bookcases on the wall to flip through as you sip your drink, or if you're there with a crowd, see if you can nail down one of the classic board games floating around (Jenga, Scrabble, Connect 4...). That'll ensure your night is either crazy fun or a total disaster, depending on how competitive your companions are. Either way, it's a good ice breaker on a date. The music is loud and varied, alternating between Dave Matthews and some pretty tough rap/metal. The service is friendly and laid-back.

But don't forget to get some food and drinks. They have a reasonable drink list, with some specialty cocktails gently priced at $10 each, a handful of beers on tap, a moderate bottle list, and a few wines by the glass. SE went for a beer, I chose a glass of house champagne, and SL chose "The Elderberry," a champagne cocktail with muddled strawberries and St. Germain (with real strawberries! Extra points there).

We also ordered a range of food to battle the booze. Below, our choices, with comments on each:

A cheese plate. I requested no blue cheese, so instead we got cheddar, parmesan, and some softer-type cheese that I don't remember. The soft cheese was unpleasantly funky, but the cheddar and parm with both good, albeit slightly unusual choices for a cheese plate. The candied pecans were addictive, and the booze-soaked golden raisins were a creative touch.


Catfish ceviche. No, I'm not kidding. To put it mildly, this is something I'd never, ever order anywhere, let alone at a bar, but our waitress recommended it, and SL wanted to give it a go. She and SE dug in and really enjoyed it. And the next day, they were still alive. So props to West 3rd Common for making a tasty and non-poisonous catfish ceviche. Who would've thunk it?

Wow. Well, yup.

Duck sliders. These were cute and surprisingly delicate; SL and SE pronounced them tasty.

Tiny tasty trio

Mac & cheese. This was a side, in a tiny ramekin, and though it was appropriately cheesy, it wasn't the best version I've ever had. Good for those desperately seeking carbs to soak up a bit too much alcohol.

Melted slice of cheese on top?

The burger. This came highly recommended, and it drew somewhat mixed reviews. On one level, it tasted homemade, very beefy, almost meatloaf-y. On the other level, it tasted homemade, not like what one would expect from a dining-out burger. Does that make sense? It doesn't entirely to me, but what the hell, I wasn't the one eating it. For the technical notes, the cheese was really well melted, there was some aioli for flavor, and there were some sauteed onions for extra taste and texture. SL wasn't a huge fan of the bun, which seemed a little too "glazed" rather than the traditional white bun. We all, however, raved about the fries, crisp and hot and spiced with pepper. In fact, if there's one thing I'd definitely recommend you get when you come here, it's the fries. Grab a side of them for only $4-- they're the perfect bar snack.

Highlighting the fries here

Cross-section, cooked through

When we left, on a Thursday night around 10:30, we were some of the last people in the place, in stark contrast to the robust crowd I'd encountered when I arrived around 8:30. That was curious to me, since once we got outside, there were crowds of NYU students prowling the streets. Would I recommend that they make West 3rd their destination? Yes, I would, actually. It's a friendly, laid-back place, a comfortable place to be and sip a not-too-pricey drink for a while. I wouldn't necessarily return for a full-blown dinner, but if you're looking for some solid drunk food that's a little more creative and a little bit better executed than it needs to be, it'll fit that bill nicely. And if you just want an old standby, get an order of fries, grab a beer, and settle into the couch. Ahhh, happiness.

West 3rd Common
1 West 3rd Street, between Broadway and Mercer

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mr. Softee, a celebratory treat

Last Friday wast the last day at my former job... starting today I'm moving on to a new and very different adventure. To celebrate my transition, I decided to treat myself to something sweet after dinner on Friday. So after reading about the new "Mr. Softee," on Midtown Lunch, I decided to make my treat a delightful Mr. Softee sundae.

I trekked through the wilds of Times Square to find the truck parked at 39th and Broadway, as promised. I used the special limited-time-only code (ahem, "Midtown Lunch") to grab myself a $4 strawberry sundae. Mr. Softee, a.k.a. "Billy Gunnz," was incredibly friendly and glad that I'd read about him on Midtown Lunch. He dispensed a large, perfect soft serve swirl and topped it generously with strawberry goo.

My hand is buried under the mountain of napkins

After paying my nominal fee, I took the giant, sloppy sundae and walked carefully but quickly to Bryant Park. The strawberry syrup sloshed everywhere, coating my fingers and oozing dangerously onto the paper towel and stack of napkins Billy had thoughtfully provided. I found an empty table on the West side of the park and commenced people watching and attacking the sundae. Mr. Softee-- the actual soft-serve, that is-- is a funny thing: the texture is less creamy soft-serve and more whipped marshmallow, almost. And it's not really all that cold. Not sure how they make that happen, but it really isn't that cold, which means it doesn't melt that much. That could be good or bad, depending on your perspective (probably best for little kids to reduce the likelihood they'll get the stuff all over their clothing). The strawberry sauce was surprisingly good-- not too fake-tasting, super sweet, and packed with chunks of real strawberries. The syrup definitely rescued the rather bland soft serve, providing for a satisfying treat.

It was really enjoyable, eating a sundae while sitting in Bryant Park in near-perfect weather, watching the late-Friday crowds pass by. Needless to say, the sundae was so huge I didn't come close to finishing it, packing as much in as I could before my stomach cried uncle. Once I was done, I did my best to mop up my sticky face and hands before waddling home. Ah, the joys of summer.

Mr. Softee, a.k.a. "Billy Gunnz"
Follow him on Twitter

Thursday, April 22, 2010

LWF&D tries wine, juice box-style

A while ago, AV found tiny boxes of wine at Best Cellars, a chichi wine store on the UES. He thought they were cute, so he bought one for me. It has sat in his fridge for the past few weeks, until early this week, when I decided to crack (or, uh, twist?) it open.

Just needs a giant twisty straw

Though this particular brand comes in five flavors (chardonnay, pinot grigio, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and "sangria"), he had chosen the pinot grigio, which seemed the least potentially offensive. I stared down the box, roughly the size of a large juice box, and marveled at how it could truly be equivalent to 2/3 of a bottle of wine, as it claimed. Grabbing a glass, I twisted open the top and poured a taste.

The verdict? Meh. The pinot grigio was pretty astringent and young-tasting, kind of like a big mouth of grapefruit. Which I don't like. The next morning, after drinking a glass or so, I didn't feel so great. I know that wine in boxes is having a resurgence these days, and there are definitely benefits (particularly eco-benefits in terms of weight, shipping, storage, etc., all due to eliminating the bulky glass bottles), and I know the boxes are supposed to keep wine fresher. But-- and here's a big but-- you've gotta start with good wine to begin with for any of that to matter. And to that end, I don't think I'll be buying Bandit boxes again. But if you're not picky about your wine and are looking for something fun to bring to a picnic, grab a bandit and go hog wild. I promise you'll regret it in the morning.

Bandit Wine
Available at Best Cellars
1291 Lexington Avenue, between 86th and 87th Streets

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The verdict is still out at Print

Sometimes restaurants are frustrating. I'm not talking about frustrating experiences, like when you have a reservation and still have to wait 45 minutes for your table-- I'm talking about restaurants that are mentally frustrating, that are difficult to get a handle on. Print is one of those restaurants.

So far, AV and I have been to Print for drinks and for brunch. But we still hadn't given it the dinner test. So on Saturday we wandered over, sans reservation, and were seated at the high communal table running the length of the front part of the dining room.

Our waiter was right out of central casting, with a French accent and a slightly flustered manner. He asked us if we had a show to get to, and we said no. He plied us with drinks menus before we could even see the food offerings; we declined drinks, since we were so hungry. Finally we chose, and we tried to order, quickly realizing that asking him questions about the food or size of the portions would only lead to confusion. So we just ordered and went on with things.

A runner brought over a basket of bread, explaining that there were multigrain rolls, olive rolls, and ciabatta, along with housemade butter. There actually weren't any olive rolls, for the record, but there were slightly warm versions of the others (and four pieces of bread in total, so extra points for not sticking us with the dreaded three-for-two-people situation). The multigrain roll was pretty much what it looks like-- hearty and filling, not the best roll I've ever had, but fresh and tasty and stomach-filling. I appreciated all the seeds covering the top, which provided both sustenance and entertainment during the long waits between courses (more on that coming up).

Two and two

The first course arrived within a reasonable time. AV had ordered the polenta with wild mushrooms, ramps, and mascarpone. I thought it would be like the polenta and mushrooms at L'Artusi, which was one of the tastiest things I've eaten in a long time. Well, Print's version wasn't quite as earth shattering (and the portion was about a quarter of the size of L'Artusi's), although it was creamy and delicious. I took one bite successfully, and upon sneaking a second bite I ended up with a bit of grit, ostensibly from the mushrooms, crunching heart-sinkingly between my teeth. Ick.

Very pretty

But it's a good thing the polenta was hearty, since our entrees didn't emerge for about 45 minutes. I suspect our orders might have gotten lost, since one our waiter checked in with us about 42 minutes in, the food emerged shortly thereafter. There were no apologies for the wait, not even really an acknowledgment of it.

What eventually did come out was quite good, in fairness, if incredibly small. AV's goat cheese gnocchi with pancetta, asparagus, ramps, and pea leaves was delicious but could be consumed in about three aggressive bites. Oh well, more room for dessert!

So dainty and delicate!

My beet and goat cheese salad was the biggest portion of anything we'd ordered. There were lots of tender beets forming a blanket for a tangle of greens. Some walnuts scattered around provided crunch, and there was the stealth addition of some citrus segments (not in the menu description) that didn't really add much. The goat cheese, two tiny crusted dollops off to the side, added heft to the two or three bites that were lucky enough to include some cheese. Again, if only Print were a bit less parsimonious with its food, this could be a great salad.

Foliage toupee

At this point we were both pretty geared up for dessert. We both chose what was described as "frozen hazelnut parfait, Argyle Cheese Farmers maple yogurt mousse, espresso syrup, warm grappa candied chestnuts." I ordered mine without espresso syrup, but AV asked for his with. While waiting for the dessert to emerge, I anticipated, well, a parfait-- something layered in a glass. What eventually arrived was most definitely not a parfait. Neither of ours had espresso syrup, leaving AV slightly disappointed, but we dug in nonetheless. And we were pleasantly surprised. There was a huge scoop of what was something like hazelnut semifreddo, not quite ice cream but not quite mousse, cool and creamy and absolutely chock-full of crushed hazelnuts. This was paired with a big dollop of tangy yogurt mousse, which offset the unctuous sweetness of the hazelnut mixture. The syrup at the bottom of the bowl added a necessary extra flavor to cut the hazelnut richness, although one bite of the actual chestnuts confirmed that I don't really like chestnuts. Furthermore, oddly, this dessert was huge. We could have easily ordered one to share, as we were both full about halfway through. Needless to say, I finished mine anyway. Once we were done with desserts, our waiter brought the check without us asking, noting that he wanted to make sure we got to our show. Um, we'd already told him we weren't pre-theater, and in any case it was about 8:15 at this point, meaning that ship had sailed either way. Again, there was nothing comped for the extraordinary wait-- not that there necessarily should have been, but without even an acknowledgment of it, it would have been nice to get some sort of gesture.

Oh delight

So what's the deal with Print? It's a nice restaurant to be in, and the food is good, on balance. But the portions are really tiny, and they're expensive. Our meal, which included three appetizers, two desserts, and no drinks, came out to almost $60 before tip. The service leaves quite a bit to be desired as well, and the kitchen still has a few quirks to work out (grit in the mushrooms--?). But almost in spite of ourselves, we had a good time while we were there. Would I go back to Print? Probably not for a full-fledged dinner, but probably for a drink and a cheese plate, or perhaps just for dessert. That means Print rightfully earns three Offset Spatulas, with hopes that with time it improves.

653 11th Avenue, at 48th Street

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Little Luzzo's is an instant neighborhood favorite

On a dispiritingly cold and drizzly Saturday afternoon, AV and I were in need of a pick-me-up. He was hungry, and I had an idea, something I'd been waiting for the right moment to spring on him. AV was game for a surprise, so after perusing some books at the Barnes and Noble on 86th street, we tramped up 10 blocks to continue his NYC pizza education.

Upon arrival, Little Luzzo's, the kid brother of Luzzo's in the East Village, is unassuming. It's a small storefront up a flight of stairs on the 96th Street thoroughfare, and it doesn't look like much of anything. Walk inside and you'll see a couple of beat-up tables and a counter, where some pizzas rest stacked on shelves behind a glass divider. Pick a slice, any slice, round or square. If you're like us, maybe you'll be lucky enough to arrive just as a fresh pie emerges from the oven (for us, it was sausage). No question, get a slice of that. Pay for the pizza. Sit down at a table. Dig in.

And then blink your eyes in amazement, as AV did. "This is one of the best pieces of pizza I've ever had," he declared in between bites. The crust was that perfect mix of crisp-- with a satisfying crack when you bend the slice-- and soft enough to have a bit of tip sag in the corner of the square. The sauce was not too sweet, and it extended all the way to the pie's edges, commingling with the char at the very crust. The cheese was gooey, ample, and appealingly browned. And the sausage was "perfect" and gristle-free.

The transformational slice

As we left, take-out menu in hand, AV noted what a triumph it was to know he'd finally found the go-to take-out pizza joint in his neighborhood, and he'd never have to settle for sub-par-- or even decent-- pizza again. I call that an afternoon well spent.

Little Luzzo's
119 East 96th Street, between Park and Lex

Friday, April 16, 2010

A brief lunch at Wichcraft

I'm usually a brown bag lunch type of person, so while I'm all about giving recommendations for dinner destinations, I'm surprisingly useless when it comes to the dining-out lunch scene. But yesterday, my mom was in town for a business meeting, so I met up with her for lunch. I chose 'Wichcraft, at 46th and 5th, because it seemed as though it would be right up her alley.

The restaurant was calm and quiet when I got there just before noon. The sandwich makers were poised, ready for action. I chose a table in the back, and when my mom joined me, we placed an order. For me, a bottle of diet black cherry soda. For her, the same, plus a chicken sandwich: chicken breast, grilled mushrooms and onions, green olive tapenade, and fontina, all arranged on country bread and given a hearty pressing in the panini machine. Warm and melty and thoroughly pleasing, as my mom professed between mouthfuls. Me, I was content with my black cherry soda, but I give 'Wichcraft the nod on Mom's behalf.

Uneven char, but still good

555 Fifth Avenue, at 46th Street

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cupcake Stop shocks and awes

Even casual readers of this blog will know that I'm a cupcake lover, so I'm ashamed to admit that prior to today, I'd never experienced one of Manhattan's most faddish cupcake entities. I'm talking, of course, of Cupcake Stop, the cheerful white cupcake truck prowling the city's streets alongside Frites 'n' Meats, Wafels and Dinges, the Treats Truck, and a dozen other mobile food meccas. Yes, I have technically visited once before, to get a red velvet cupcake for AV, but since I didn't technically eat a cupcake then, it doesn't count. On Wednesday, I ventured out into the midtown wilderness to hunt down my frosted quarry for real.

I had my sights set on a funfetti or maybe even a carrot cake number, but when I got there, I was taken by how I immediately decided upon neither of those. I left carrying an Oreo cupcake in a small clamshell package, somewhat confused about what had just happened.

Cupcake in cage

The guy manning the truck described the Oreo cupcake as vanilla cake batter with Oreos mixed in, topped with vanilla buttercream with Oreos mixed in. Simple. And, it turns out, really really good. After dinner I dissected the little beauty and went in for the first bite, of cake alone. In the best way possible, this cake reminds you of cupcakes baked from a mix when you were little. The vanilla is powerful, and the texture is moist and ever so faintly greasy (you know what I'm talking about). The swirls of Oreo add little bursts of chocolate to the batter. And the edges of the cupcake top, where the frosting doesn't cover, have crisped to a taste and texture just like a sugar cookie. Incredible.

Off-center frosting

The frosting is quite good, not too buttery and quite sweet. Its texture is light, almost whipped. It's not quite as good as Amy's Bread white buttercream, but it was good. I wished there were more of it, but since the cake was so good I forgave the Cupcake Stop frosters. Before I knew it, the cupcake was gone, and I was left wanting another. And another.

The cross-section (yes, I moved it to a different plate)

For $2.50, you can't go wrong. I daresy this very cupcake is one of the best in Manhattan at the moment. Track down the Cupcake Stop and judge for yourself.

Cupcake Stop

Locations around Manhattan

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The biggest burger LWF&D has ever seen

Last Sunday afternoon, I was at ESPN Zone in Times Square. Don't ask why. Please. I couldn't even give you a good answer. But that's neither here nor there: What IS here, and potentially also there, is the food (obvi. This is a food blog). AV's friend PP ordered the Triple Double Burger, medium rare. For those laymen and women out there, that's two 8-ounce patties with American, cheddar, and swiss cheese, served with lettuce, tomato, and onion on a bun. Not that you're counting, but yes, that's a full pound of meat in that thar burger.

What arrived was a monstrosity. I couldn't shake myself from my gaping, open-mouthed shocked stupor in time to shoot a photo of the whole burger, and what follows doesn't do justice to the enormity of the thing. The full-sized bun looked like a beret on top of the two hulking, flaccid, three-quarter-inch-thick patties. The substantial pile of fries filling out the rest of the plate looked like a half-eaten bag of Potato Stix next to the burger. It was pretty much unfathomable.

Half. HALF.

ESPN Zone, I have no words. You have outdone yourself.

1472 Broadway, at 42nd Street

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Soft serve and shoddy service at Kyotofu

It was definitely ice cream weather last week, and on Thursday evening, I strolled to Kyotofu to check out their soft serve. Good flavors? Check! I was in.

I snagged a taste of the swirl-- French Vanilla Bean and Black Sesame. I expected to hate the black sesame, since I'm a traditionalist when it comes to ice cream flavors, but it was surprisingly good. It came on as an intriguingly familiar flavor-- maybe like cookies 'n' cream? or caramel? hard to place--and then finished with a mild whisper of familiar sesame flavor. It was definitely not the thick sesame taste I was expecting, the kind that almost chokes you, peanut-butter-like. It was good, and it offset the French Vanilla Bean nicely.

I decided to play it safe and just order a cup of the vanilla with fresh fruit compote. Surprisingly, I regretted not getting a cup of the swirl-- without the black sesame, the vanilla bean was a bit one-note sweet at the beginning. But once you brought in the delicious jam-like stewed fruit, it melted into strawberry and vanilla goodness. Truly satisfying.

Already melting

Once again, the only beef I have with Kyotofu is the service. I was the only person at the takeout counter, and there were two people on takeout duty, yet it was a struggle to catch someone's eye at the beginning, and once I was ready to order it took a good couple minutes for the sample-giving employee to notice that I was still there. During that time I came very near simply walking out with my sample and being done with it, as I actually have on several occasions after waiting many minutes for service at Kyotofu. Kyotofu, your wares are delicious, but you have a ways to go in terms of customer service. Will I be back? Honestly, it depends on my level of patience when the soft serve craving hits.

705 Ninth Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Screme for gelato

A while ago, I heard rumors about a secret gelato place tucked in the lobby of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. Generally, I pride myself on being up-to-date on all the frozen treat locations in my neighborhood, so I didn't think too much about it. But recently, I've heard a couple of bits of news about Screme gelato, this mysterious alleged gelateria, so I decided it was high time to check it out. Plus, it was 90 degrees out, and this girl needed her ice cream.

One fifteen-minute fight through the sweaty masses on 42nd Street later, I was standing face-to-face with a case of incredibly alluring gelato flavors. It looked a little something like this:

Beautiful little jewels

The man behind the counter instantly began plying me with samples, even before I asked. Once I had a fistful of used gelato tasting spoons, splayed like colorful pick-up sticks in my hand, I decided it was time to pull the trigger. Technically, you can only get one flavor in a small cup, but if you're nice and perhaps a little charming, he might add a big "taste" of another flavor as a garnish on top. So, $5 poorer, I walked away with a rapidly melted cup of nutella chip gelato with a small jaunty crown of caramel coconut.

Oh man, this was good. I tried to eat it as fast as I could, dodging tourists while rivulets of melted nutella ran onto my hands and down my arms. The nutella was the classic flavor, smooth and creamy and bursting with chocolate and hazelnut essence. The caramel coconut had notes of both flavors, without the distracting texture of coconut shards.

Nutella on bottom, coconut caramel on top, mockolate chip in middle

Would I recommend Screme? Absolutely, with two qualifications. 1) It's expensive. Yes, it's in the heart of Times Square, but $5 for a small? That's a lot. Even when supplemented with a fistful of samples. 2) The chocolate chips/bits/shards/coating in the flavors I tried is clearly mockolate, not real chocolate. It had that disconcertingly greasy texture that pretty much refuses to melt in your mouth, instead demanding to be chewed like chewing gum and then swallowed whole. So in all, I'd recommend avoiding the flavors with chocolate chips or garnishes, and you'll be happy as a pig in...

Well, let's say a pig in melted gelato. We'll leave it at that.

Screme Gelato Bar
234 W. 42nd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, inside the lobby of Madame Tussaud's

Friday, April 9, 2010

A little Mexican, for a change, at Hell's Kitchen

Saturday night, AV and I were both exhausted and looking for something low-key. We were headed out to our local wine bar, but on the way I suggested we pop into Hell's Kitchen to see if they had any tables available (they're usually booked up at prime times). Lo and behold, they had a delightful two-top right by the window. Score!

We settled into the table, perilously close to the diners next to us, and enjoyed the upbeat, wood-clad dining room while we waited for our food. AV sipped a beer. And when a runner came by with a plate of their warm, fresh cornbread, we dove in. This stuff is great-- not sweet, full of nice ground corn texture. With the flavorful spiced bean dip served alongside, it's hard not to fill up on the cornbread alone.

Warm wedges of delight

But there were entrees to come! AV chose the skirt steak enchiladas, with haricots verts, red rice, queso blanco, and salsa rioja. This was a huge amount of food, and after devouring the sides, he only made it through about half the enchiladas before he was too full to go on. He thought the dish was quite good overall, and it was a good value for the $20 price tag.

A whole mess 'o stuff

My choice was the organic mesclun salad, with port-poached beets, goat cheese toasts, and a passionfruit vinaigrette. Rarely do I feel that a salad dressing absolutely makes a salad, but this was one of those admirable cases. The strong taste of fresh passionfruit enlivened all the vegetables and made the salad tangy and delectable. Without it, it would have been a completely ordinary beet-and-goat-cheese salad. With it, it was something else entirely.


We rarely eat Mexican food, so Hell's Kitchen was a nice treat. The food is surprisingly high quality, and while the place isn't cheap, you get what you pay for. I'm glad we went back-- it's a four Offset Spatula neighborhood joint that's off my radar but should be front and center.
679 Ninth Avenue, between 46th and 47th Streets