Monday, February 28, 2011

Medi Wine Bar: Finally!

Finally, the moment I've been waiting for (literally) for several months: Medi Wine Bar is open on Ninth Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets! This place has been under construction for months, if not over a year, and I'm always eager for another wine bar to grace the neighborhood, so I've been waiting with bated breath. Well, consider my breath bated no longer, for she is open, friends! A quick glance at the menu in front reveals a lengthy list of Italian-ish wines by the glass and a typical wine-bar-esque menu of small plates and other bites. Can't wait to try it out...

Pretty storefront

Medi Wine Bar
811 Ninth Avenue, between 53rd and 54th Streets

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Finally: The Modern (Bar Room)

It's kind of hard to believe that I haven't eaten at the Modern yet. As a die-hard fan of Danny Meyer, it's one of the only Union Square Hospitality Group establishments I hadn't yet patronized (and yes, I realize that's a ridiculous statement in itself). Until last week, that is. My mom was in town for work, and as is her custom, she invited me out to dinner. Lo and behold, the Modern Bar Room had an early opening on Opentable. And so we went.

The Bar Room is buzzy and upbeat, a bit on the louder side due to all the hard surfaces, but full of good cheer nonetheless. I arrived first, and the hostess seated me immediately without giving me any runaround about waiting for my complete party (thank you, thank you, thank you). We were seated at a large, four-person table, which afforded us a luxurious amount of space for two people.

I had had a miserable day earlier, so for the first fifteen minutes I was ranting obnoxiously to my mom while our poor server attempted to take our drink orders many times. After we finally were ready to order, she brought the wine I had requested-- a Gewurtztraminer-- for me to taste. Unfortunately, while she had described it as "having a bit of residual sugar," I found it sickly sweet-- delicious, but really more of a dessert wine than something to drink with dinner. She suggested some alternates and I ultimately ended up with a glass of Pinot Gris. It was quite tasty, but it was also $28, even more expensive than the original glass of Gewurtz (which was already going to be the most expensive glass of wine I'd ever had). I don't think this was a conscious effort to upsell, but it was a bit of a shock when the bill arrived.

Anyway, on to the good stuff. There was bread, of course, while we sipped our beverages (mom went with a stiff club soda with lemon). It was presented in a really cool little bread holder and came with a dish of softened, salted butter. The sliced bread was mealy, dry, and forgettable, but the baguettes were superlative-- shatteringly crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and perfect with an ample slather of butter.

Definitely stick to the baguettes here

Mom had chosen the fresh grilled shrimp with green cabbage and gruyere salad as her appetizer. Once again, the presentation was notable-- look at those little interlocking shrimp! Mom found the cheese-and-cabbage mixture to be enjoyable and added that the shrimp were perfectly cooked and tender, not rubbery at all.

So organized

Then to the entrees. Mom had chosen the day's special, a sea bass with a cauliflower and olive salad and a cauliflower foam. When Mom hesitated upon ordering due to her dislike of olives, the server (whom we'd definitely put through her paces at this point) offered to ask the kitchen to hold the olives, which they did. Extra points to the house. Sans olives, Mom really enjoyed this dish, particularly delighting in the blanket of foam covering the plate and the occasional floret of purple cauliflower.

Purple cauliflower! It's like an inside joke

My entree choice was the red endive, arugula, and Westfield goat cheese salad, which (according to the menu) came with pumpkin seeds, pomegranate, and chestnut vinaigrette. I think there were also a few slivers of mushrooms in there, and I actually think the nuts were pine nuts rather than pumpkin seeds, but regardless the mixture was delicious. I usually think of endive as huge, unwieldy, bitter spears, but when served in julienne fashion, it added appealing crunch and just a bit of bitterness to the salad. Truly creative and well done.

So much going on with this salad

Since the portions are rather small, by mutual consensus we forged ahead to dessert. For Mom, dessert was a dark chocolate tart with chocolate ice cream. This was a long and lean sliver of the richest chocolate resting on a thin chocolate crust. The perfect golf-ball-sized orb of ice cream was another pure expression of chocolate. Chocoholics (of which my mom counts herself a member) delight, but non-chocoholics beware-- a few bites of this dessert are enough to send you into chocolate coma.

Chocolate heaven!

I chose the hazelnut dacquoise with milk chocolate Chantilly. This dessert was just so appealing in many ways, from the precarious but fun presentation to the mixture of textures in the dessert. The bottom layer of the dacquoise was a crunchy, hazelnutty mixture with a texture almost reminiscent of the wafers in a Kit Kat (but crunchier). Then there was a huge dollop of chocolate whipped cream sandwiched by two thin layers of pure milk chocolate. The five candied pecans anchored to the plate with more Chantilly cream added more delightful crunch. This dessert was a truly nutty pleasure, and since it was rather small it didn't cross the line into gutbomb territory.


To nobody's surprise, the Modern earned four Offset Spatulas easily. The service was truly accommodating, even as we were a pain in the ass in several ways. And the food, while expensive (again, to nobody's surprise), was thoughtful, well-crafted, and even whimsical at times. It's a special occasion place (and the dining room even more so), but if you have the means, give the Modern a try.

The Modern Bar Room
9 W. 53rd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues

Monday, February 21, 2011

RIP, camera

The other day, I dropped my trusty camera on the sidewalk while attempting to take a picture. Perhaps not surprisingly, it broke. The screen shattered, the zoom is stuck in the "out" position, and basically, that's the end of the line.

So I take this opportunity to acknowledge the years of faithful service that camera provided. It's a simple Canon point-and-shoot, yes, but it took every single picture you've seen in this blog so far (except for these), and many more besides. I tallied up the years and I think it put in nearly 7 years of work for me, which in digital-camera years is like a century. The upcoming review of the Modern Bar Room will be its last masterpiece before it is laid permanently to rest and replaced by its newer and yet somehow not as nostalgic cousin.

Thank you, camera, you will be missed!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

JP Licks is truly delish

Part of what I like about going home is indulging in the sweets I miss when I'm living in NYC. Usually that means Finale, a desserterie that is pretty much my equivalent of heaven. But my visit home was so short last weekend that I didn't get a chance to go Finaleing... and for a while it looked as though I wouldn't get any of my favorite desserts at all. Cue the violins...

...But then Saturday evening saved the day. When visiting my friend BD in Somerville, we grabbed a light dinner and then bounded across the snowy streets of Davis Square into JP Licks, one of my favorite ice creameries in the world. They've got my allegiance because they always have several delicious low-fat hard frozen yogurt flavors, which is both rare and extremely welcome (from my perspective, at least).

This time around, I went with a small cup of half chocolate chip cookie hard yogurt, half mint chocolate chip hard yogurt. The chocolate chip cookie is a smooth, rich vanilla yogurt studded with bits of chocolate chip cookie-- unusual and awesome. And the mint chip won me over because it was-- get this-- NOT green. There's something about plain white frozen yogurt that still brings a strong minty tingle that makes it seem... I don't know... more real? And the large dark chocolate chunks are a bonus. Plus, the small cup was so big that I couldn't finish it.

Nothin' like good ice cream in the middle of winter. Yup.

BD got a small cup of the chocolate raspberry ice cream. I took a tiny taste and, oh my, was it good. It tasted just like a raspberry truffle, rich and fruity and chocolatey all at once. It lingered on the tongue just like a high-quality Belgian chocolate. Boy howdy.

So there you go. If there were a JP licks in NYC, I'd be all up in there all the time. Perhaps it's better that there isn't...

JP Licks
Several locations in Eastern Massachusetts

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Cambridge Chronicles: Russell House Tavern rocks it

Last weekend, I went home to visit friends, see my family, and see the Hasty Pudding show at my alma mater, not necessarily in that order. So Friday night found my parents and me at Russell House Tavern, a new addition to Cambridge's Harvard Square, located in the space that used to be Z Square (and before that was, believe it or not, an enormous Finagle a Bagel).

It's a carefully-crafted and appealing hangout spot. There's a "tavern" vibe, for sure, but it easily straddles the lines between restaurant and bar (erring on the side of restaurant) and between beer haven and cocktail den (pretty much right down the middle). All the trends get their nod: extensive beer list, raw bar, wine on tap. Check, check, and check. Jugs of house-carbonated sparkling water provided gratis? You've earned my love already, Russell.

Dad had hit traffic, so Mom and I placed our order with our very professional and accommodating server. While we waited, a bread plate arrived, such as it was: hunks of crusty but pretty average white rolls accompanied by a dish of garlicky oil. Or should I say GARLICKY oil... I had two tiny bites and was blasting everyone around me with a garlic bath for the rest of the night. Consider yourself warned...

It looks innocuous, but yet...

Dad arrived just as the apps landed on the table. For him: a very large (and purportedly tasty Caesar salad).

The many shades of white

For Mom and me, a Little Gem Salad to share. The little lettuce hearts, accompanied by sliced apple, cashews, and a little round of toasted pecorino, looked appealing... but upon further investigation, it turned out the dressing had anchovies. Ah, well. I should have asked in advance. No matter; Mom enjoyed the salad while I prepped for the arrival of the entrees. All turned out fine in the end-- you'll see.

There were little mini lettuce bouquets under there

The entrees themselves followed the trend of huge portions. Dad's cowboy cut ribeye steak was Flintstones-sized and came with a dish of creamed spinach and a little pile of thyme-roasted carrots. Mom and I also shared a side of the carrots, which were tender, sweet, and well-seasoned, if a bit oily.

That's one huge steak

Our delish carrots

Mom chose the swordfish special, which came with fennel and orange salad and green herb aioli. It was an enormous slab o' fish that came on two large planks of toasted bread. She really enjoyed the fish, noting that many restaurants don't cook swordfish well, but Russell House nailed it.

Almost a whole fish there!

My choice was the local leaf salad with walnuts, dried figs, and mustard-cider vinaigrette. It doesn't look it in the photo, but this was one of the largest restaurant salads I've ever encountered. There were ample chunks of chewy dried figs, about a cup of crunchy walnuts, and an abundance of fresh leaves. The dressing was pungent and incredibly flavorful. I kept eating... and eating... and was eventually painfully full for the rest of the evening. I'm really glad I didn't indulge in the appetizer salad, because that would have put us in disaster territory. In any case, it was so, so good.

This really doesn't do this salad justice. It was about a foot in diameter and about 6" high.

Now, don't get me wrong: I liked both Z Square and Finagle a Bagel quite a bit, but I think Russell House Tavern is the best incarnation of that restaurant space that I've experienced. It begs for repeat visits, whether to explore more of the menu, dive into the extensive beer, wine, and cocktail lists, or just raid the dessert offerings. For turning a trio of relatively picky eaters into three happy (and quite full) campers, Russell House earns four Offset Spatulas with ease.

Russell House Tavern
14 JFK Street
Cambridge, MA

Monday, February 14, 2011

JT? Is that you?!?

File this under things I knew many months ago and then promptly forgot immediately... Hell's Kitchen is getting a Southern Hospitality! I'm not sure if Justin Timberlake is technically still involved with the restaurant or not, but either way, the signage went up on the space at the corner of 45th and 9th while I was away last weekend. Voila:

Chicken & waffles? Pulled pork? Check and check.

Very soon, the neighborhood will have more burgers, ribs, beer, and BBQ. Yeeeeeee-hawwwww!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Nios is a haven in Times Square

The other day, I met up with KH for a drink and a bite at Nios, the new-ish restaurant/bar/lounge in the Muse hotel just outside of Times Square. Nios replaced another restaurant in the same location that never seemed to have anyone eating there (as good a reason as any to be replaced, eh?). And it turns out that Nios is a great place to gather for a low-key, relaxing rendez-vous if you find yourself in the wilds of Times Square.

Nios truly embraces a something-for-everyone mentality. The menu, while nominally "Shareable American comfort food," is all over the (literal) map. There's the obligatory cheeseburger for your American folk. Or take a trip to Peru with their ceviche. Or, for that matter, to Italy with some olives or pizza. Plantain chips? Si, Senor! And not only do they have Montreal's famous poutine, but they have TWO KINDS of poutine (there's "Carbonara Poutine," with pancetta and parmeasan, for all those who were considering ordering Poutine but felt it wasn't quite decadent enough). Phew. I'm exhausted just recounting that.

And if your companions are fickle on atmosphere as well, not to worry: Nios has got you covered. The soundtrack ranges from early 20th century big-band to techno, dance-hall, "da club" beats. Perhaps you feel that the lighting isn't quite right when you walk in-- never fear! The staff will adjust it several times throughout the night (swinging from movie-theater dark to dentist's-office bright).

But all that's to say that, for God's sake, there's SOMETHING here that will make you happy. Order a drink, of course; while there's a fairly creative cocktail list, there's also a decent wine list. Both KH and I went for glasses of red wine (I had a Malbec that was quite tasty). And just in case you were wondering, true to form, if you order more than one glass, your second wineglass will be of a different shape and style from your first. Which, of course is entirely different from the wineglasses on the adjacent table. Average it out over the night, and you're bound to have one style of glassware that suits your fancy (or, I guess, you could trade with your neighbor).

The eats deserve a nod as well. There are a few solid cheese selections; we chose a cheddar, a pecorino, and something soft and goaty, all of which were tasty. The accompaniments included stewed raisins, membrillo, and fig jam, as well as some standard water crackers and a basket of bread.


The surprise star of the evening turned out to be the plantain chips, which came precariously stuffed into an art-deco metal cone. Whoever attempts to extract the first chip will, inevitably, send three or four flying all over the table-- it really can't be avoided. But the chips themselves were pretty darn addictive: salty and slightly greasy with just the merest hint of sweetness underneath the crunch. Yum.


So that's that. While Nios doesn't exactly get flawless marks for a smooth-as-silk dining experience, if you go with a sense of fun, it's a pretty darn great place. And above all, it's one of the best places in the Times Square area to duck in out of the mayhem.

130 W. 46th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Even without booze, we like the Little Cheese Pub

Last Friday, MS, RW, and I headed around the corner after work to the Little Cheese Pub for a celebratory end-of-week happy hour. After the boozeless debacle last time, I figured they'd have their liquor license fully in order-- at that time, about two or three weeks ago, they'd said it was coming any day. Well, at least this time I asked right as we entered the Pub, and sadly, the server said they still didn't have the license. Once again, she suggested BYOB, and this time, the three of us were up for it. We popped across the street, grabbed a $10 bottle of Torrontes, and settled in a few minutes later at a table in the back of the LCP.

It's worth noting that the Pub is small and not especially good for groups. Even as a trio, we had to rearrange the furniture to crowd around a small table; larger groups will have even more difficulty, unless you can snag the ideal configuration of seats around a communal table. But if you can get past those logistical difficulties, you're bound to have a lovely time.

The server was friendly and accommodating, and she quickly set us up with glasses of our Torrontes, which was crisp and fruity.

Perfect after-work wine

To complement the very food-friendly wine, we had to have some food, of course. We decided to choose three of their "snacks," selecting the Green Dip (stir-fried spinach, edamame), Spanish Olive and Chick Pea Dip, and the Pomace Brandy & Mixed Whole Olives. The sampler came with a bouquet of planks of toasted bread. Almost like lavash, the bread was quite crisp and sprinkled with poppy seeds on the crust.


How were the dips? Very good across the board. The favorite was the Olive and Chick Pea spread, which was quite flavorful and sported an appealing texture ably straddling the line between chunky and smooth. The Green Dip was creamy, but not as flavorful; still, it was a retiring counterpart to the crunchy bread. And the olives were a mustard-seed inflected twist on the traditional dish-o'-olives; with little spicy pops of mustard flavor, the olives added another flavor explosion to the party.

And while I'd originally felt that the $11 charge for three snacks was a bit steep, the portions here are truly generous. Even indulging to the point of fullness, the three of us couldn't finish all of these dips. My only suggestion would be for the LCP to offer different types of dipping implements-- the Green Dip especially begged for some crunchy crudites rather than bread alone.

But we were glad we decided to stick with the LCP, and we'll definitely be back. A friendly staff, a welcoming atmosphere, and a full menu of tasty snacks-- whether accompanied with BYO or house-supplied booze, it's a winning combo.

Little Cheese Pub
362 1/2 W. 23rd Street, near 9th Avenue

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chocolate cake is yummy

The next stop in my continuing quest to eat everything on the Billy's Bakery menu (again) was the chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. I'll caveat this post (and the atrocious photo below) with the statement that I actually cut this slice of cake, wrapped it in plastic wrap, kept it in the fridge overnight, and THEN ate it, which is pretty much everything that you're not supposed to do with your cake or cupcakes.

And, readers, it was still good.

And this was actually the best photo of all the shots I took

The cake was incredibly moist and chocolatey, and frosting was perfect vanilla-inflected Billy's goodness. Butter, sugar, chocolate. Absolutely delightful.

Billy's Bakery
Chelsea, Tribeca, and Nolita

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The foamiest latte in the world

The other day, I encountered the foamiest latte in the world. Its source was Le Pain Quotidien on the UWS, where I was having coffee and a light bite with SB.

I got a pot of green tea. Extra points to LPQ for steaming the side of milk for the tea-- well done.

Tea service

SB got a fruit salad. LPQ's fruit salads are always reliably fresh and varied, so there's that.


And then... the latte. It was a soy latte, in fact. And take a look at the picture-- it's so freakin' foamy it looks like rice pudding. Or oatmeal. I mean, is that not ridiculous??

How do they DO that?

That is all.

Le Pain Quotidien
60 W. 65th Street, at Columbus