Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Craftbar does drinks, too

When AC was in town for a quick 24-hour whirlwind visit, she and KS and I met at Craftbar for drinks. We stopped in just before 9PM, and we were able to get a table without any wait-- nice! KS and AC were especially looking forward to the cocktails due to the alcoholic success we had last time we were there.

This time, the cocktail situation was more mixed. KS went for the Rosemary Lavender, thinking it was the same thing she had last time, but it turned out not to be. The mixture of rosemary Damrak gin, lavender, and lemon was too gin-y, according to KS.

Looks kinda like Sprite

AC's cocktail was also just a tad disappointing. She chose the Sparkling Blueberry, with prosecco, blueberry, and lemon. She said it was just a bit too bitter-- sad!

Verrrrrry girly

My choice at first was a glass of Trebbiano/Greco Bianco/Malvasia blend. Our patient server poured me a taste, and honestly, it was kind of gross. It was really, really astringent, almost reminding me of rubbing alcohol in the in-yo-face booziness of it. So she kindly replaced it with a glass of Bandol Clairette/Ugni Blanc blend. This was more like it, refreshing and relatively light.

Goblet of wine

As we sipped our drinks, we snacked on their breadsticks. Given how hearty (and kind of greasy) these are, turns out they're good drinking food.

See the grease on the paper...

AC also ordered two cheeses: a Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill and a Cobb Hill Ascutney Mt. The Green Hill was Camembert-style and really creamy and delicious; the Ascutney Mt. was reminiscent of gruyere but had a more pronounced funk. There was also an interesting condiment, which was something like preserved lemon and mustard (but none of us could understand the runner's description of it). In retrospect, that mixture sounds gross, but it was pretty darn addictive eaten straight-up. Not that I'd do anything so uncouth and unsophisticated.

Minimalist cheese

And so it was. They let us linger for as long as we wanted, and we did. I like Craftbar, despite its occasional unevenness. It's got some good food, and now I can safely say it's a recommended spot for drinks and a bite as well.

900 Broadway, between 19th and 20th Streets

Monday, August 30, 2010

Whispers of Cinnabon with Miss Softee

Last week, I was craving something a little different after dinner, and as it was a nice evening weather-wise, I decided to take a little walk. To 44th and 6th I wandered, seeking Miss Softee, who was parked on the corner in her Mister Softee truck and offering some delectable specials.

While the various options (run & raisin, s'mores, cherry dream) all sounded tempting, I decided to go for the cinnamon bun concoction. I asked for it in a cup, so Miss Softee grabbed a small cup and created a perfect swirl of vanilla soft serve. Then she grabbed a ballpark-mustard squeeze bottle that turned out to be filled with vanilla frosting-- yes, the kind that you'd eat out of a can when you were young, not that that's something I'd ever do... uh... right-- and laced the soft serve with delicate ribbons of frosting. Then the whole concoction was topped off with a hearty dousing of cinnamon. Four dollars later, I was on my way.

Absolute delight

And good lord, that thing did taste exactly like a cinnamon bun. The ample cinnamon livened up the somewhat retiring vanilla flavor of the soft-serve, and the occasional bite of cinnamon-crusted frosting was just enough to keep the image of a Cinnabon right in the forefront of your mind. It's a messy treat-- you WILL end up with either melted ice cream or cinnamon dust all over you, so beware if you attempt this monstrosity while wearing a suit. But it is a delight, and it is quintessentially summer.

Miss Softee
Check her Twitter feed for locations and specials

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Green Apple gelato provides the old standards

After dinner with SL, we took a short stroll around Nolita, and of course my eyes were out for something sweet. We turned the corner and were faced with Green Apple, a tiny combination macaron-and-gelato shop. Sure, that would do. Two tastes of gelato later, and I was on my way with a small cup of half hazelnut, half coconut.

Mmm, snozzberries

Both flavors were smooth, sweet, and true to form-- the hazelnut tasted like hazelnut; the coconut like coconut, and the snozzberries tasted like snozberries. Both textures were uniform; the hazelnut had no crushed nuts, and the coconut lacked any coconut shards (for better or for worse, depending on your tolerance of coconut texture). The portion was pretty ample for a small, and the kind man behind the counter allowed me to pack two flavors into the small cup, which is more than can be said for a number of gelato shops around town. Overall, this was a perfectly satisfactory experience: Nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary, but certainly something to satisfy the cool-and-sweet craving when it rears its ugly head.

Green Apple
202A Mott Street

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Travertine: All style, little substance

Trying to grab a few moments together while she's in town, SL and I met up for a very early dinner on Saturday evening at Travertine in Nolita.

It's located on a very desolate and unappealing stretch of Kenmare Street, and the open front of the restaurant let in all the street noise, including some vigorious honking wars. The restaurant itself is quite beautiful, sleek and well-put-together, with some of the nicest bathrooms I've seen in a while (seriously).

The service was a bit touch and go. I arrived first to our absurdly early reservation, and though faced with a 100% empty restaurant (literally. No other customers were there), I was directed to sit at the bar until the rest of my party arrived. Now, I don't want to get into a full-on discussion of this policy right now, but suffice it to say that when you're half of a party of two in a restaurant that consists entirely of empty seats, this just comes off as ridiculous. Furthermore, once SL arrived and we took our seats at a table, I brought along the glass of water I had been drinking at the bar and placed it on the table. When the runner came over to pour water, he poured water in the empty water glass that was part of the place setting in front of me and then stopped, puzzled at why there were three water glasses on the table. He stood for a good (awkward) several seconds, then pointed to my glass from the bar-- I explained that I'd taken it from the bar-- and then he (get this) MOVED my other water glass, which he had just poured, to put in front of SL, took away her empty glass, and left. Apparently you only get one glass per person. The whole thing was just awkward and vaguely hostile.

Anyway, on to the food. There's no bread basket, apparently, so we contented ourselves with the amuse bouche: a citrus and fennel salad. This was crisp and refreshing, if a little unwieldy to eat off the Asian spoon-- it's several bites' worth of veggies, and it basically just falls all over the table.

Kind of like Asian soup... right?

For entree, Sarah chose the pici with Italian sausage, fennel, and toasted breadcrumbs. The portion was small, but it looked like a hearty and well-composed dish.

Tiny bit of pasta for $18

My choice was the burrata. It was a medium-sized hunk of mozzarella, arranged almost like scrambled eggs on a plank of toasted white bread. There were some small cherry tomatoes scattered around along with a few shavings of zucchini and some tiny leaves of basil. Overall, the dish was enjoyable, with two quibbles: 1) it needed salt, and 2) the burrata actually wasn't that high quality. If I'm splurging for burrata, I expect the creamiest, melt-in-your-mouthiest mozzarella with a liquid cream center. This had no liquid cream center, and the cheese solids were of pretty standard quality. Again, it was tasty, but for $13 I expected just a bit more oomph.

Cheesy... just not the cheesiEST

We went elsewhere for dessert, so we paid the bill and left the still-almost-empty dining room. On balance, I think our experience at Travertine was thoroughly average-- the food was good but not spectacular, and the prices are pretty high for the small portions. The dining room is beautiful, but the restaurant's surroundings are bleak. It's kind of a toss-up as to whether I'd go back-- I'm hovering between two and three Offset Spatulas, but I think Travertine lands on the two side. There are better options in the area, especially given value for money.

19 Kenmare Street, at Elizabeth Street

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A bite or two at Taboon

A few weeks ago, AC and I celebrated her last day at work with a low-key dinner at Taboon. We were early so easily snagged an outdoor seat on 10th Avenue, taking advantage of the mercifully lower humidity and moderate temperatures to eat and people-watch.

As always, we started with Taboon's fantastic, fantastic bread. AC had ordered hummus as her meal, which arrived with the bread. The hummus was quite good, creamy and adorned with some yogurt and some spiced oil (paprika? cumin?) and a few chickpeas for good measure.

Stellar as always

It's almost hypnotic...

I got the zucchini cakes, as always, easy on the oil. These were fantastic-- flavorful and hearty and surprisingly filling for their small portion. I always wish for more yogurt; the tiny splotch they provide is always just a tease.

Tasty little cakes

Service was friendly, as usual, and they let us linger for as long as we wanted. So we did, picking at the bread, people-watching, and catching up. It was perfect.

773 Tenth Avenue, at 52nd Street

Monday, August 23, 2010

Stecchino: Second time's the charm

A few weeks ago, the bro and I had an early dinner at Stecchino. We'd been there once before when it first opened, to mixed results, to say the least. But this time all cylinders were firing, and we actually had quite a nice meal.

First of all, it must be said that our waiter was incredibly accommodating and put up with our (my) antics with good humor and panache. I changed my mind about my wine choice about half a dozen times, not that that's obnoxious, and ended up with an incredibly crisp and refreshing Albarino. The bro went for a merlot that was surprisingly smooth and tasty.

Albarino FTW!

AND it was a happy hour special!

While we waited for our food to arrive, the house sent over a complimentary cheese plate for us to nibble with our wine. How sweet! We munched the cheese (parmesan?), and the bro took care of the bread, grapes, and apple slices. Huge extra points here.

Who doesn't love free cheese?

Oh, there was also bread and oil, of which I did not partake. But here's how it looked:

Standard bread

For entree, the bro had chosen pennette with sausage and wild mushrooms in a robust red wine tomato sauce. He found it surprisingly good, and he was unable to finish the large portion. It looked and smelled deliciously flavorful and hearty.

A beautifully composed plate of pasta

My choice was the roasted beets with leeks, string beans, herbed goat cheese, and a raspberry vinaigrette. The flaw that I anticipated in this salad was present, spot-on: it was too sweet. A raspberry vinaigrette doesn't go with a beet salad, since the beets are already sweet; you need something with acidic bite to offset the sweetness. That being said, otherwise the salad was pretty good; it needed a little bit of salt, which I added, and after that all was well. The leeks were especially good here-- add more leeks, do away with the beans, go for a regular balsamic vinaigrette, and add a bit of salt to the mix and you've got a real contender here.

Sweet, but still enjoyable

We were both pretty full, so that was that. This time, Stecchino came through-- it's a friendly and comfortable place to have a glass of wine and a bite. I'd go back.

765 Ninth Avenue (between 51st and 52nd streets)

Friday, August 20, 2010

More popsicles!

After our journey through Chelsea Market, KS and I took a lengthy stroll up and down the High Line. And how can you walk on a hot day without an overpriced popsicle? You can't! So we stopped at the People's Pops stand on the High Line and got ourselves some icy treats.

We both chose the peach basil flavor, and even though I don't usually like herbs in my sweets, this was really good. The basil was incredibly mellow and functioned mainly to make sure the peach wasn't one-note sweet; it added nuances, if you will. The ingredients were clearly both real and fresh-- there were bits of peach pulp in the pop. The texture of the treat was loose and almost slushy, and it melted fast.

The stick was askew!

Was it worth $3.50? Well, it was a nice summer treat-- not something I'd buy every day, but in the right circumstances (e.g., walking the High Line with a friend on a hot day), it hits the spot. It still doesn't unseat La Newyorkina's coconut pop as my favorite popsicle of the year, but People's Pops' peach basil is certainly a contender.

People's Pops
Stand inside Chelsea Market and on the High Line

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A vicarious crepe intermission

Last week, KS and I were wandering around Chelsea Market, and she was looking for a light lunch. Light lunch, you say? Straight off we went to Bar Suzette, a newish creperie offering both savory and sweet options.

The nutella option was tempting (as were the rest of the sweet selections), but KS decided to go for the ham and cheese. There was rosemary in the thin crepe batter that got poured on the hot stone; the crepemaster flipped the half-cooked crepe onto a cooler stone and layered in the fillings-- swiss cheese, pepper, fatty ham. Folded in quarters and tucked in a sleeve, it was the perfect to-go food. KS approved!


First the cheese...

Wait till it melts; add some pepper

Layer in the ham

And enjoy!

Bar Suzette
Chelsea Market
425 W. 15th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Finally eating at Casellula (and Wine Century Club update)

A couple of weeks ago, JH and I met up at Casellula to try the edibles. I'd been there once or twice a while ago just for a glass of wine, but their food is supposed to be notable and I'd never tried it. This time, food was on the docket; did the reputation hold? Read on.

JH went for the Pig's Ass sandwich, which was stuffed with cheese and pickles and heartily pressed and toasted. There was a big dish of chipotle aioli for the slathering and/or dipping. Verdict? A mightily successful sandwich in both texture and flavor.

Mmm, butt.

In honor of summer, I went for the watermelon salad. Small dices of watermelon rested among arugula, slivered and toasted almonds, and bits of feta cheese. The stealth star of the show was actually the lemon confit, which provided a surprisingly tart and tangy taste as well as a curious, gelee-like texture. Overall, the mixture of sweet and salty, crunch and softness, was pretty darn addictive.

Pretty AND tasty!

On to dessert: JH went for the chocolate cake, a big hunk on a plate that's brought to the table along with a carafe of cream, which is poured over the cake tableside. It was good; by agreement not the best chocolate cake we'd ever had, but chocolatey and tasty. The poured-cream gimmick is interesting, but I think personally I'd still prefer either ice cream or whipped cream as an accompaniment.

Cake and pool of cream

My choice was the Berry "Crostini" (quotation marks theirs), which came with planks of rosewater meringue, miti crema ice cream, passion fruit curd, and stewed berries. I was skeptical of the rosewater meringue, because in my experience rosewater-flavored things taste like grandmothers' perfume. And this kind of did, honestly, although thankfully the perfume taste was very mild and pretty much disappeared after the first bite. The ice cream and berries were delicious, and the tiny bit of passion fruit curd lining the meringue under the ice cream provided a needed pop of flavor.

Sweet and summery

Oh, and given that Casellula is a wine and cheese cafe, I did have wine-- a glass of crisp, minerally Xarel-lo, an interesting white wine I'd never had before. Wondering where I am in my Wine Century Club quest? Good question! As of the writing of this post, I'm 22 varietals in. The list as of now is as follows:

Baco Noir
Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon
Chenin Blanc
Muscat Blanc
Pedro Ximinez
Pinot Gris

So far, the most surprisingly good was the Albarino-- something (once this WCC quest is over) I'll definitely seek out again.

But back to Casellula; what was the overall verdict? The food was definitely good, and the wine is-- well, wine-- but a bit more creatively selected than you'd usually encounter. Prices are a touch high; everything is a dollar or two more than I'd like it to be. I'd certainly return for food or drinks, I wouldn't necessary brave Casellula's usual long lines to do so. I think that puts Casellula solidly in the three OS category.

401 W. 52nd Street at 9th Avenue

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Some question marks at Centrico

A couple weeks ago, I met up with a big group of friends from my old job for cocktails and bites at Centrico, an upscale Mexican restaurant in Tribeca, before heading to an 80's cover band (Rubix Cube) at the Canal Room up the street. Now, there's not much at a Mexican restaurant that I can eat, so I mostly came for the drinks and the company.

First, the drinks. Surprisingly, Centrico does pitchers (a bit of a contrast to their upscale attitude and prices), so the table got pitchers of margaritas, both frozen and on the rocks. They met with approval around the table; of course, always the contrarian, I got what appeared to be a more interesting drink: a Frozen Strawberry Caipirinha. This drink appeared with a bright, day-glo color and a festive wedge of lime. I took one sip and my taste buds nearly exploded: this concoction was overloaded with flavors. For one, it was incredibly sweet; for another, it was powerfully tangy. There was a bite from an alcohol, although this ended up not being overly strong. It was actually a bit hard to get through a whole glass of this stuff, due to the flavor overload, but that made it good for sipping.

Frozen, with salt


There was also food, some apps for the table and some individual entrees. I didn't taste any of this, so I can merely provide you with some pictures and some overall observations, as follows: In terms of visual appeal, the guac at least fell short. For some reason, the precise texture they chose... not really creamy, kinda a little bit too chunky, but small chunks... I dunno. Not my cup of tea. The other main observation is that the portion size here was disappointing. Guac and chips for $12; the tiniest quesadilla I've ever seen for $10; chicken mole for $20... this stuff isn't cheap, and they don't give you much of it.

In any case, we had quite a bit of fun at Centrico. I wouldn't necessarily return, because again, I'm not a huge fan of Mexican food, but it's worth noting that the service was very friendly, and our awesome server dealt with our obnoxious group with aplomb. And with that, I'll leave you with some pics of the goods so you can decide for yourself whether it's worth a visit.

Not the most overwhelming portion either...

Yes, this is $10. That's, like, more than $1 per bite. Sheesh.

Mahi-mahi tacos

Chicken mole, with mushrooms and an ice-cream-scoop of sweet potato puree

Pork belly tacos

211 West Broadway (at Franklin Street)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck makes me smile

The other day, I headed home from drinks with LZ and JW, and I was in the mood for something tasty. I remembered from some Twitter prowling earlier that day that the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck was coming uptown to park on 42nd for the evening. So on my way back from Bryant Park, I stopped by.

Hi Doug!

After divulging that this was my first BGICT experience, Doug insisted that I have a Salty Pimp. All right then. A classic cake cone was topped with an artful swirl of soft serve, and then the magic began to happen. Doug grabbed a squeeze bottle of dulce de leche and painted the cone with stripes of the delicious goo, and then-- here's the money shot-- stabbed the tip of the bottle into the soft serve in several places, injecting the cone with the caramel like some sort of awesome, freakish twinkie. Then came a sprinkle of sea salt; then came a chocolate dip. Oh my.

The promise...

Here it is, a sleepy Salty Pimp.

The first bite: Oh my, indeed. There's chocolate (or mockolate, at least). There's crunchy salt. And then there's the the dulce de leche, which is both sweet and sort of salty. There's the creamy background of vanilla soft serve underlying it all. Oh mannnnn. It melted gooily into the dish, combining the flavors even more. I gobbled eagerly as I walked the humid streets home.

Damn, Doug. This stuff is awesome. Too bad the BGICT is usually parked at Union Square, but maybe that's for the best. If he were in my hood, I'd certainly have quite a Salty Pimp addiction, to say the least.

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
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