Day Two: The Heat Wave Continues…

Dear Diary,

Day 2 of being held captive by this heat. It hovers over the city and blankets us with sweat. I do not know if we will make it out. It is relentless and the city is restless. I fear we may be on the brink of a meltdown. Those who venture out into the heat have a strange look about them…as if they know they cannot escape. I believe we have descended into the bowels of hell and God has forsaken us. “When will it end?!” people cry out in the street. I have no answer for them. Mother Nature can be cruel.

…we cannot get out…the heat is coming.

Hello SUMMER

Today is the official first day of summer and apparently Mother Nature wanted to remind us of this fact by giving us our first 90+ day. Thanks a lot. Anyone who lives in NYC or has visited NYC on a day like today knows that it is completely unbearable. The subway is about 20 degrees warmer than it is outside, it smells worse, it’s humid, and stuffy. It also kills your appetite. Who wants to even think about eating food when it feels like you’re in a furnace?

Food Kiosks at the Brooklyn Bridge

That being said, I sit in an ice box all day long, so I still get hungry. I decided that I would hit up the food kiosks by the Brooklyn Bridge because they’re so close to me. I had planned on grabbing a couple tacos from Taqueria Nixtamal but when I got there I saw that La Newyorkina had a little cart. They make Mexican paletas, frozen ice pops, and what could be more perfect on a day where it feels like 96 degrees out? They had quite a few delicious sounding flavors but I decided on grapefruit. I figured it would be fruity and acidic, which meant extra refreshing. And it did not disappoint. Nice and tart with just a bit of sweetness. I enjoyed it while watching all the tourists look at the bridge. At $4 it is certainly the priciest popsicle I’ve ever had but that’s NYC for ya.

My grapefruit paleta

Big Apple BBQ Festival

Hogs are smoked and ready at Scotts

I can’t imagine why this was my first year attending the Big Apple BBQ festival. I’m disappointed in myself. A weekend with some of the country’s best pit masters should never be missed. I didn’t grow up eating lots of bbq, I’m not from the South, I haven’t spent lots of time in the Midwest so my expectations are pretty much always blown away when I get to taste legit BBQ. My preference is for pulled pork, specifically from the Carolinas where they have a nice vinegary bbq sauce to go along with their melt in your mouth pork. That was my plan of attack for last Sunday. All I wanted was the pig and that’s what I got. I only made it to 2 vendors but it was enough to make me deliriously happy.

Scott’s pulled pork and cracklings

Rodney Scott was my first stop. He has a BBQ joint in Hemingway, South Carolina and I had read an interview with him at Serious Eats. It was enough to convince me to check him out. Like I said, I don’t know the first thing about good BBQ. There are crazy fanatics out there who know all the different regions and what makes good pulled pork or brisket etc etc. I just know what tastes good and Scott’s peppery, vinegary pork was delicious. You got a plate of the pulled pork, which I promptly doused with extra sauce, and side of their fried pork skins. It had a little bit of spice but not overwhelming by any means. One thing it was not short on was flavor.

Ed Mitchell’s pulled pork sandwich

Next we hit Ed Mitchell’s bbq, who’s from Raleigh, NC. The line for his station was exceptionally long but it moved quickly. Once we got our food it was clear why everyone was willing to wait for it. My God. His pulled pork was on a whole other level of delectable. It wasn’t dry, the sauce packed a punch, and it was ridiculously tender. I would have gone back and gotten another sandwich if I didn’t already feel sick from how much I had eaten. Everyone I was with agreed that his bbq (he also had turkey) was insanely good.

Whole Hogs

I wish I could have tried more places but I was just too full. Next year I’ll try to get a few more places in. I’ll definitely be going back to Ed Mitchell’s though. I’m still dreaming about it.

Colonie in Brooklyn

For our Monthly Dinner we decided it was time to head into Brooklyn for a meal. Haven’t you heard? Manhattan is so passé these days. I don’t care what’s cool (do I sound like an old woman now?), just as long as I can get a good meal there. We went with Colonie in Brooklyn Heights – not exactly the height of hipsterdom but a really beautiful area. The space has a warm, farmhouse type vibe, which suits the locally sourced food quite well. It’s a small restaurant and we originally had 8 people. The staff was very accommodating, though with that many people they told us we would have to do a 3 course prix fixe for $50. We ended up losing 2 people, which they were very gracious about, so we decided to go with the a la carte menu.

Ricotta Crostini

The menu is comprised mostly of small plates and bites, with a small section of large plates. Everyone decided to split some crostini, 2 ricotta and 1 duck rillette. True story: I used to hate ricotta. My grandfather would come up every Sunday with ravioli from Arthur Ave. in the Bronx and my dad would have to make my grandmother and I a separate bowl of regular pasta because we wouldn’t eat it. My palate has expanded since then. Anyway, their homemade ricotta was light and airy, with a touch of honey to sweeten it. The bread was perfectly crispy and held up well under the mound of ricotta on top. The duck was similarly delicious. I only got a bite but it packed a flavorful punch.

Acorn Squash Agnolotti

I decided to order two small plates as my meal, rather than going with one large. There were just too many things I wanted to try. I finally decided on the Acorn Squash Agnolotti and the Octopus with chorizo and potatoes. The agnolotti came out first. Little packets of squashy goodness with fried leaves of sage. Technically, it was supposed to come in a brown butter sage sauce but it was a bit sweeter and thicker than I expected. Everything was cooked perfectly and it literally tasted like fall. It was a fantastic dish. Warming and filling and everything you want in a comfort food.

Octopus & Potatoes

After giving Ivana a taste of the octopus her first words were “It’s like butter, you don’t even need to chew it.” Thus describes how perfectly the octopus was cooked. It really was like butter, just melted in your mouth. I’ve only had octopus once before, at Babbo, but this was better. My only complaint was the portion of actual octopus was small and that there did not appear to be any chorizo…where was my chorizo?! They gave plenty of potatoes but there was barely any meat. That said, the dish was awesome. Salty, a bit spicy, and well-balanced.

Chicken & Mustard BBQ

Other notable dishes at the table: the chicken with mustard bbq, the skirt steak with fries, the halibut, and the sweet corn with polenta & hush puppy. I honestly thought the chicken was the best. The sauce it came with was completely awesome. It was mustardy and vinegary and just so damn good. It made the entire dish. The chicken was also nice and moist but really it came down to the sauce. The fries, from the skirt steak, were also some of the best fries I’ve had in recent memory.

Doughnuts & Blueberry Citrus Tart

Then came time for dessert. I wasn’t planning on ordering anything but since there were only 4 desserts on the menu we just ordered one of each. Glad we did. Each one was spectacular. The blueberry citrus tart and the sticky date cake were my two favorites but the doughnuts and chocolate torte were equally as good. The citrus tart was much lighter than the other desserts and it felt refreshing and summery. The others were a bit more dense, especially the chocolate torte, which I could only have a bite of because it was so rich. The maple ice cream it came with was to die for though. Definitely worth ordering dessert at Colonie. It exceeded my expectations.

Sticky Date Cake & Chocolate Torte

Weekly Beer Roundup: 8/8/11

This past week was a hodgepodge of beer drinking. From the Boat Basin to The Fat Radish – here we go:

Victory Summer Love

Victory Summer Love: This past week we celebrated my friends 4th annual 21st birthday (because what’s the point of aging past 21?) at the Boat Basin. The Boat Basin is located at West 79th & the West Side Highway and it can be a glorious place to drink outside during the summer. They have a decent beer list but I was pleased when I got to try Victory’s Summer Love ale. Created to celebrate and promote Philly (no comment), Summer Love is a crisp, earthy ale with funky citrus notes. It’s refreshing but not light on flavor, perfect for the sweat inducing weather we’ve been having. Beer lovers and novices alike can enjoy Summer Love.

Ommegang Hennepin and Mike being a creeper

Ommegang Hennepin: I’m sure most people have heard of, if not already tried this beer before but I drank it so I’m going to review it. Ommegang is a brewery in Cooperstown, NY where they brew beers in the Belgian tradition. Hennepin happens to be a Farmhouse Saison, which traditionally were brewed in the winter and meant to be drunk during the late summer by farm workers. I happen to love this beer. It’s lemony and a bit spicy, packed with a yeasty, fruity aroma. I think it’s an extremely well balanced beer.

21st Amendement Brew Free or Die: An IPA for IPA day! Last Thursday I discovered, thanks to G-LO, that it was IPA day. As if I needed any extra encouragement to down a delicious IPA. It was the night Rick and I went to the Fat Radish and they happened to have this beer as one of their specials. Since I enjoyed the Hell or High Watermelon so much I figured this was a good way to celebrate such an important holiday. It has a nice bitter bite, just as an IPA should, but it’s not overwhelmingly bitter. It has earthy, piney notes mixed with fruity citrus undertones and a good amount of carbonation. I wouldn’t say it’s the most complex IPA I’ve ever had but it did the job credibly.

Dupont Saison & Brew Free or Die IPA

Dupont Foret Saison: This is another saison style beer. This one from Brasserie Dupont in Belgium. Dupont is well-known for its yeast strain, which produces distinct beers. You can definitely taste the yeast in this hazy blonde beer along with lemon and spice. I also remember tasting/smelling fruit and grass. Apples and earth. I thought it was a good beer but it wasn’t the most memorable. I enjoyed it and would like to try it again when I can focus more on the actual beer than the food I was eating.

The Fat Radish

The Fat Radish, or as Rick’s cousin likes to call it “the Fiery Beet,” is a newish, trendy restaurant on the Lower East Side/edge of Chinatown. It had been on our list of places to check out for a while, considering its close proximity to Rickle’s apartment, and finally last week we made it there. Aside from its fantastic name, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the restaurant. It’s a well-known hipster hangout, with a very attractive staff and its über trendy reputation but would the food be good? Because ultimately that’s all I care about. Their website describes the restaurant thusly:

“The cuisine at The Fat Radish does not fall into one particular category but rather returns to a way of eating before food was constantly classified”

Which is amusing because immediately after that sentence they go on to classify the restaurant essentially as seasonal with healthy, simple ingredients. Way to be a contradiction Fat Radish.

Upon entering, I was immediately impressed by the decor. It’s a really beautiful space. White washed walls, rustic tables, and industrial accents – it’s light and airy, even though the room is small. But enough about the decor! I didn’t come here to review the gorgeous scenery or the beautiful people. No, I came here to talk about the food! And boy was I impressed. I kind of wanted to hate this place but instead I kind of fell in love. Sigh.

Tomato & Avocado Squash

They start you off with a plate of radishes that have been marinated in oil and olive tapenade. I’m not really a big radish person but anyone who does enjoy them would probably appreciate the way they’re served here. We ordered the tomatoes, grilled avocado squash, and chili lime dressing to share. The tomatoes tasted like the ones I get from my local grocery store, which is not a compliment. Honestly, they should have just doubled the amount of avocado squash and forgotten about the tomatoes. The squash was so good I could have eaten it for my main meal and been totally okay with it. It was cooked perfectly, not at all mushy or overcooked, and it tasted like I had just picked it from my own garden. Admittedly, I had never even heard of avocado squash, much less eaten it before so I had nothing to compare it to but that doesn’t change the fact that it was delicious. We had already started eating when I remembered I had to take a picture of it. Oops.

Swordfish & roasted veggies

Rick got the swordfish with roasted corn, tomatoes, and squash. The swordfish was yummy but the best part of the dish was the veggies that came with it. I kept sneaking bites from his plate. Really flavorful and fresh.

Lamb with mushrooms & spinach

I ordered the lamb loin with mushrooms and spinach. I usually opt for fish rather than meat when I got out but the lamb attracted my attention…ok, it probably had something to do with the mushrooms…I love mushrooms. Regardless of my reasons, the lamb did not disappoint. On top of the bed of mushrooms and spinach lay 4 or 5 pieces of lightly seared lamb medallion. At first I thought, “this seems like a smallish portion” but as I began eating I realized there was more lamb hiding in the spinach! So sneaky. Pieces of shredded lamb dotted the leafy greens. Everything was well seasoned and I finished every last bite on my plate. It was the perfect amount of food. The service was great. Despite it being a busy night I never felt neglected, nor smothered, which can be just as irritating. Our server was friendly and helpful.

Mint Chocolate Chip & Giandujotto

Rather than get dessert there, Rick and I decided to go for some gelato at Stellina, the sister shop of restaurant Sorella. Rick got the mint chocolate chip. I was impressed with the mint flavor. Just like Il Laboratorio del Gelato, it was real mint flavor. Like mint straight from your garden. It didn’t have quite the texture or depth of flavor that il laboratorio’s did but it was good. I opted for the giandujotto – basically chocolate hazelnut. In Italy I was a hazelnut fiend. It’s still my favorite flavor and the one I judge all gelato shops on. This one came with chunks of real hazelnuts covered in dark chocolate. I thought the flavor was pretty good but I’m a tough critic when it comes to hazelnut. I still enjoyed it though.

Park Ave: Summer is the Best Season?

It’s restaurant week here in NYC, which means trying to get reservations at all those restaurants you can’t afford to go to normally. As soon as the list of restaurants and menus come out online, there is always a frenzy of e-mails between my friends trying to decide where to go. This usually lasts for days, with each of us suggesting several places we want to try, and then having to narrow it down. This time around, however, we all agreed immediately and were able to snag a reservation at Park Ave Summer, the restaurant that changes every season. I’d been wanting to go here ever since it opened because I like the concept of cooking with whatever is in season. It can be a bit pricey normally so getting 3 courses for $35 is an excellent deal here.

Soft Shell Crab with side salad

Right off the bat I knew that I wanted the fried soft shell crab appetizer, even though it was a $5 supplement to the prix fixe meal. I don’t often get to have soft shell crabs but I absolutely love them. This did not disappoint. It was perfectly fried, crispy but not greasy and well seasoned. The side salad of avocado, strawberries, and passionfruit were a nice way to cut the richness of the crab. There was something in there that was a bit too salty for my tastes but honestly it was all pretty delicious. The other apps that were ordered were the gnocchi and the gazpacho. Both tasted glorious, though I preferred the gnocchi.

Carbonara with zucchini and mushrooms

I had a harder time deciding on my entrée, as there were several that really appealed to me. I ended up going with the summer carbonara for several reasons:

  1. I love pasta. Who doesn’t?
  2. I love carbonara. Cheesy, eggy, goodness, what could be better?
  3. It came with mushrooms and I am a mushroom fiend
  4. My friends ordered each of the other entrees so I figured I would round it out

It was a great decision. Normally I consider carbonara to be more of a winter dish because it can be so heavy but the vegetables definitely made this a summer pasta. There was also a hint of acidity, probably some lemon juice, that really lightened the dish up. It was by no means the best carbonara I’ve ever had, that award goes to Edi House in Firenze, but I thought it was really well done. The scallops were probably the next best dish, in my opinion. They were cooked perfectly and the chutney they came with really complemented them well. The salmon and baby back ribs were also tasty. The ribs were a little too sweet for me but the meat was so tender it just fell off the bone.

Peach Panna Cotta

For dessert I chose the peach panna cotta with basil foam and lemon cakes. I’ve been on a peach kick lately so that sounded really good. The basil foam was the best part, or the lemon cakes. The panna cotta was fine, nice texture, and a decent peach flavor but it wasn’t anything that blew my mind. My friend, Kim, ordered the banana parfait with chocolate crumbs and butterscotch…now that was the right choice. It was heavenly. Such a good dessert.

You never really know what you’re going to get during restaurant week. Some places rise to the occasion and produce stellar meals, like Park Ave. Summer, and others really disappoint. This was a meal that was well worth it and I certainly hope to make it back here for one of their other seasons. Who knows, maybe it’ll be there again during the winter restaurant week!