Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Back to Medi for more wine and olives

As I vowed the last time I tried Medi Wine Bar, I went back as soon as I could, this time with friend AS in tow. We sat in the corner of the bar amidst a frenzy of activity between the bar and the kitchen, but for the most part everyone working there seemed to be having a good time, so it was more convivial than distracting.

For wine, AS chose a cotes du rhone and I selected a glass of Ciro Bianco from Italy. This was a surprise delight: lightly sweet at first sip, fruity and a bit floral, and thoroughly delightful.

That's mah wine!

And of course, I got a dish of the olives. They were just as meaty, salty, and delightful as last time.

Such a wonderful variety

Medi is great. It's laid back, reasonably priced, and delicious. What more could you ask for in a wine bar?

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

Monday, April 25, 2011

After Bai Cha comes...?

The spot that formerly housed Thai street food purveyor Bai Cha didn't stay unoccupied for long. Today I spotted a new awning up, just over a week after noticing Bai Cha's departure. And so, with very little ado at all, it's (almost) time to welcome to the Hell's Kitchen dining scene...Out Latin Food!


Could this be what its name seems to suggest it is? Speculation could lead us astray here, so instead I merely wait patiently for the spot to unveil itself officially...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Another tasty, tasty taste of Philly

Last weekend, I was in Philly for the visit weekend of my future home and school for the next two years (hurrah!). It was a jam-packed bill of events, but did that stop me from making room for dessert? Absolutely not. Back to Capogiro I went.

Sunny, warm, and beautiful!

Like last time, this stuff is seriously delicious. I got a small with two flavors, my go-to gelato move when it's possible, and filled one half with the intense and nutty hazelnut flavor that rocked my world on my last visit. This time, its mate was burnt sugar, a caramelly, just-this-side-of-bitter delight that turned out to be a sophisticated twist on the traditional caramel/toffee/butterscotch flavor family. Grown-up but still sweet enough to satisfy: perfect.

3925 Walnut Street, between 39th and 40th Streets
Philadelphia, PA

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

LWF&D experiences Nougatine... finally

Nougatine, the slightly more casual part of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's flagship Jean-Georges restaurant, has been on my list of places to go pretty much since I moved to NYC. Now that I'm imminently moving south to Philly, I wasted no time in checking it off my list once and for all, toting Mom along for a delightful dinner.

And delightful it was. We were a little underdressed, to be sure, but we could appreciate the relaxed decor, the friendly and professional servers, and the eye-catching open kitchen bustling with activity at the end of the room. My only room-related gripe was the table: It stood on a tapered pedestal that was thick at the bottom (kind of like a mushroom), which cut drastically into the table's foot room. Kind of a bizarre choice.

But once we got beyond that, it was smooth sailing. One of the greatest things about Nougatine, I discovered, was that they offer wine in half (3oz) pours as well as full pours, which meant I could try two different kinds of wine! I started with a half pour of Domaine Carneros bubbly, which was fantastic, and finished up with a superlative Torrontes that was aromatic, crisp, and pretty darn delicious. Also, notably, for some reason they offer Cristal by the glass (and half glass). Huh.


Two half glasses = more than 1 glass. Yay!

To accompany the wine (and club soda, for Mom), we started with bread. Though the butter was cold and hard to spread, the bread was delicious, with a slight sourdough tang and an irresistibly stretchy inside.

And they give you two pieces at once!

Oh, and there was an amuse-bouche as well. A shot of warm carrot soup was surprisingly yummy; the accompanying rye toast was pretty standard, but it certainly got the job done.

Dollhouse food

To start, Mom went completely rogue and ordered the artichoke with mustard mayonnaise. Crazy town! After a steep but rapid learning curve in terms of how to eat it, she declared her love for the dish. I sense a long and happy artichoke-laden future for her.

The 'choke!

On to the entrees. Mine was warm asparagus topped with mixed mushrooms and a vinaigrette. Though there were only four thick spears (a bit paltry, in my opinion, for an $11 dish), all the ingredients were top-notch and remarkably flavorful. I particularly loved the mushrooms, which were actually the best part of the dish for me.

Lots of flavor, little portion

Mom chose the red snapper, with asparagus, shiitakes, and sesame vinaigrette. It was as satisfying as she expected, with perfectly-cooked fish sporting a crisp crust and a flavorful, Asian-inflected gingery sauce.

Really pretty fish

Of course, dessert was up next. The dessert menu was extensive and enticing, with everything from carrot cake to hazelnut dacquoise. It was hard to choose, but we did. In a startling turn of events, Mom chose the warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. She loved it, but I thought it was surprisingly plain for a Jean-Georges dessert: pretty standard chocolate cake, above average vanilla ice cream, job done.

Mod chocolate cake

Mine, however, was transcendent, one of the best desserts I've had in a while, in fact. This was a coconut and mango-passion mint vacherin with exotic fruit chutney. A cylinder of mango-passion sorbet-ish substance sat atop a dish of crunchy meringue, all crowned with whipped meringue and crystallized mint and surrounded by a small-dice tropical fruit salad. The plate was painted with passion fruit puree, and a long stick of meringue provided both garnish and textural and visual interest. The dessert was an explosion of flavors, fresh and vibrant and sweet and satisfying. And the textural range was impressive, from soft and silken purees and whipped meringues to firm, toothsome fruit to crunchy baked meringue. In.Sane.Ly. Good.

Explosion of color and delight!

Oh, and to send us off were three tiny mignardises each: two pates de fruit of indeterminate flavor and a chocolate-covered orange jelly stick. These were ah-kay, nice sweet bites but nothing too special.


All in all, though, Nougatine is quite a special place. The food is spectacular, and the service and overall experience are both pretty great as well. It's a four Offset Spatula destination that's perfect for special occasions and any time you want to feel, well, delighted.

1 Central Park West

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stealthily awesome happy hour at Kellari

Before an event at the Harvard Club a few weeks ago, RG and I met up at the nearby Kellari Taverna for a quick drink and a much-needed chat. After doing some slightly inappropriate awkward hovering over a couple waiting for a table, I snagged a table and two cushy chairs once the couple vacated. Soon RG and I were settled in with a Corona (for him) and an enormous pot of green tea (for me), which provided about five cups' worth of warming goodness.

Cup one of five

And then came the stealth awesomeness: unbidden, a plate of delicious nibbles arrived at our table. A half dozen hearty chunks of pecorino cheese, a handful of marinated olives, and some crostini formed the selection, which (apparently?) is given gratis to people having a drink in Kellari's bar area during happy hour. It was delicious, and all the more delicious for being surprising and free.

Free food!!

Especially given dearth of good happy-hour options near Times Square, this gracious gesture rocketed Kellari up my standings. Check it out for yourself, and enjoy the free rewards...

Kellari Taverna

19 W. 44th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Finding the love at Love Gelato

A couple days before AC left the country for a months-long stint in Uganda, we met up for the last time in a while at Love Gelato in the West Village. It's an attractive little gelato shop, bright and white with large windows facing the bustle of 7th Avenue South. The decor is uncomplicated, and the focus of the room is a small gelato case holding a dozen or so flavors. AC and I sampled our way through the menu before deciding on our flavors.

A small cup is really small, and you can only have one flavor because, as the scooper told me, it's "one scoop." So after sampling a few flavors, I settled on a scoop of the hazelnut flavor. AC went for the tiramisu, with the scooper kindly including one of the ladyfingers garnishing the gelato tub upon request.

Light 'n' fluffy

Swirls of coffee

While this clearly isn't the most authentic gelato in town-- the scoopers use an actual ice cream scoop rather than a paddle, and they give out faux-silver plastic spoons rather than the traditional gelato mini-shovel-- it's pleasant enough. The hazelnut wasn't in-your-face, but it was pleasantly nutty. The tiramisu, on the other hand, smacked you in the mouth with its powerful, bitter coffee flavor. Texturally, Love's gelato is a little lighter than others around town, with an almost whipped appearance and a slightly plasticky, buttery, glossy sheen to it.

I wouldn't return to Love for the gelato alone, especially with so many outstanding options nearby (Grom, L'Arte Del Gelato...). But if you're looking for a place to sit and linger, Love fits the bill: with a handful of tables, it's a good place to linger over a cup of uncomplicated frozen treat.

Love Gelato
167 Seventh Avenue South at Perry Street

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bai Cha gone?!

I walked down Ninth Avenue this afternoon and saw a curious sight between 48th and 49th: a missing awning and shuttered storefront where recently there wasn't one. A quick racking of my brain reminded me that this was Bai Cha, that Thai-ish street food offshoot of Chili Thai a few doors down. Gone already, when it only opened in August?! Sad!

Bye bye, Bai Cha

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Medi Wine Bar makes it happen

I've been waiting for Medi Wine Bar to open for many months, so I was excited when the lights went on at the end of February. It took longer than I would have wanted, but I finally made it there on a rainy, cool evening, to meet up for a drink and a bite with DA.

Turns out it was worth the wait. The interior is really appealing, a nice mix between "cool" decor (Edison bulbs, fancy wall coverings) and laid back (lots of space between the raw-wood tables-- HUGE extra points for that). At the bar and at the tables are lots of people laughing talking and eating and drinking. It's pretty much the definition of "convivial."

Medi has a long and eclectic list of wines by the glass, many of which are truly reasonably priced (even in the $6-7 dollar range!). I chose a glass of sparkling rose cava, which smelled like strawberries and tasted bubbly and refreshing. DA chose a Lebanese red, which was spicy and complex and dark in lots of ways.

Okay, so maybe it's a little girly...

Now that's more respectable

We sipped our drinks and soon placed an order for some food to go with, which arrived promptly. For DA, a homestyle crock of garganelli with lamb ragu, green peas, mint, and pecorino. It was (reportedly) delicious, and the basket of bread left on our table along with a plate of olive oil was perfect for sopping up the sauce.

Steamin' hot!

Bread and salt with things in it?

For me, an order of mixed olives. Honestly, these were some of the best olives I've ever had, large and tender and marinated with olive oil and rosemary and some other spices. Salty and succulent and delicious-- perfect.

So delish!

So all in all, Medi was fantastic. I'm bummed it took so long for them to open, but I thoroughly plan on going as many times as I can in the next few months before I move away...

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

Monday, April 11, 2011

White is the new black (sesame)

Yes, it happened, the moment we all knew was coming sooner rather than later. I indulged in my inaugural Kyotofu soymilk soft serve of the season, and readers, it was delicious.

This time around I was drawn by the "white sesame" flavor. You all know I'm a huge fan of the black sesame, and I figured that white sesame could be equally intriguing. I was right; white sesame is incredibly delicious, with a similar peanut-buttery bite at first taste that retires quickly into a mellow vanilla after a couple of cold mouthfuls.

Overflowing fruit compote

I chose the black sesame with a swirl of their chocolate flavor, which is a pretty inspired pairing, but next time I go back (I mean, let's be honest, there will definitely be a next time) I think I'll just get the white sesame on its own. Problem is, the chocolate is so assertive that the delicate white sesame flavor is almost completely overwhelmed, so you end up with what's basically a cup of chocolate soft serve. Not that that's bad, mind you, but if you want to let the white sesame shine, you've gotta give it top billing.

Till next time, Kyotofu...

705 Ninth Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A lovely, lovely evening at Union Square Cafe

For my birthday (yes, that would be last July), my parents got me a sizeable gift certificate to Union Square Hospitality Group. Thrilled, I put it in my desk and left it there. For months. Well, two weeks ago I got exciting news (business school!) that means I'll actually be moving away from New York City in a few short months. Of course, one of the first things that popped into my head was a small but growing list of things I have to do before I left the city. First on that list: use that gift card!

So last Saturday, I got the privilege and honor of taking the lovely SL out to dinner at Union Square Cafe. A delicious, free, wine-soaked dinner at a Danny Meyer restaurant AND a few uninterrupted hours of one-on-one time with SL? Count me in.

I've been to USC a few times before, and I really like it. It's a lovely, quirky space, although the quirks may mean that your table is in a bit of a corner with the back of a chair holding a very, very large man abutting one side of the table. You know, hypothetically. It also may mean that midway through the meal a fork may fall from the balcony above onto the ground a few feet from your un-hard-hatted heads. More on that later.

But first, wine and bread. Even though I'm no longer Wine Centurying, I chose a glass of Blanco Seleccio Can Feixes, a Spanish wine I'd never heard of. It was light and crisp and delicious. SL toasted with a classic glass of prosecco.

My wine!

A bread basket landed promptly, full of delights: Crunchy, crisp mini baguettes; hearty half-slices of seeded multigrain bread; and a sheet of paper-thin flatbread. On the side was a large square of butter sprinkled with interestingly herbed salt in addition to a dish of orange-rind-studded olives. Quite a treat to begin the meal.

A lovely variety

And accompaniments

Out exceptionally professional waitress left us as much time as we liked to place our order, so the meal proceeded at a leisurely place. But our entrees appeared soon enough. For SL, the meal was homemade lasagna bolognese, topped with a sunny side up egg that, punctured, becomes part of the rich sauce. SL really liked it, although as the dinner (rather than appetizer) portion, it was on the small side.

Pretty, eh?

My choice, in contrast, was the bibb and red leaf lettuce salad, mixed with a dijon dressing and crowned with ample shavings of gruyere. This salad was unusually satisfying: the ingredients were all fresh and tasty (particularly the handful of crisp croutons that made their way in there), but more importantly there was just so much of it. I kept eating and eating and it seemed like I was eating forever. Which I like, mind you-- I'm definitely a volume eater. But I did feel bad when SL was finished and I was still plowing along. (That's what she said?)

So many leaves!

Oh, and then all of a sudden a fork fell from the balcony above, almost on our heads but thankfully not quite, clattering from the ground next to us. Yikes?

Potential forks-in-noggins aside, we pressed on to dessert. USC's desserts pretty much all seemed appealing, but we made our tough choices. SL went for the banana tart with macademia brittle and honey-vanilla ice cream. This was actually a really large portion, although SL noted there was too much banana and not enough crust. The exterior of the tart was actually a whole banana covered with crackly caramelized sugar; the only crust was really in the center. When she had tired of slogging through the banana, I ate a bit of it... and a few of the sugar-covered macadamias.

There's a lot of banana in there. (That's what she-- oh, nevermind)

And, of course, I ate my own dessert, too. That would be the Italian apple cake with cara cara oranges and country cream. The cake was absolutely delicious, moist and studded with tender, cooked apples and sitting in a pool of sweet syrup. The center of the cake was sublime; the crust was a different texture sensation and equally entrancing. The cream was a perfect complement, though I wished there had been about four times as much of it so I didn't have to ration. Oh, and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream would have been nice, too. But that's just gluttonous.

Traditional and simple but oh so satisfying

Our dinner was just so lovely. The food was incredible, the service flawless, the whole evening just special: a four spatula experience if ever there were one, and a gift-certificate-meal worth waiting for.

Union Square Cafe
21 E. 16th Street

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Checking out Ben & Jerry's Late Night Snack

The other day, I was in the local Food Emporium and came across a pint of Ben & Jerry's newest flavor, Late Night Snack, inspired by the comedic stylings of Jimmy Fallon (somehow?). I'd read a lot about the flavor online and had been curious to check it out, even though I don't usually eat Ben & Jerry's. But there it was. And it was on sale for $3. So I bought a pint.

Here was my pint

It sat in my freezer for a while, until last weekend, when I got home and decided to crack it open. Here's what I saw:

Where's the magic?

And then I dug in and got myself a scoop. The deal with this flavor is that it's supposedly vanilla ice cream with a "salty caramel swirl" and "fudge covered potato chip clusters." You can see some of the cross-sectioned clusters here:

Mmm, clusters

So how did it taste? Honestly, I didn't detect much of the caramel swirl, but I got a LOT of potato chip flavor. The pop of the truly salty chips (which tasted like Ruffles... mmmm, Ruffles) encased in the cool chocolate and enrobed with the creamy vanilla was a particular kind of tasty.

But I'm not sure I could make this a regular, ahem, Snack. Why? Because it is so, SO rich. I'm not sure if that's just because I haven't had real Ben & Jerry's in a long time and so am not used to the super-high butterfat ice cream style, but lordy, one bite of this stuff and you're pretty full-- it's just fat upon fat upon salt upon chocolate upon fat. And I like me some fat (to say nothing of salt and chocolate), but... still.

Anyway, I would encourage you to give it a try because it's tasty, and if you're up for a rich treat, it'll be right up your alley. But be warned: it's not for the faint of heart.