Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Carnegie Deli - 12/19/2008

854 7th Ave
New York, NY 10019
(800) 334-5606

Naturally a high quality deli is a must when visiting New York. We decided on Carnegie over Katz primarily because of location and time. Carnegie deli is arguably the most famous restaurant of its kind and certainly among the most visited delicatessens in the world. Food is prepared behind the counter at the front of the restaurant where diners can also opt for take-out. Deeper inside there are two dining rooms, prepare to get very comfortable with your neighbors as there is barely any room not covered by tables and chairs. The staff is also a touch surly, but that is supposedly part of the charm of the restaurant, a chance to give tourists a taste of New York charm. The waitresses hurriedly guide you to your table and stand by impatiently as you slowly navigate the sea of bodies to get to a seat, kind of reminds me of Chinese restaurants back home. The walls of the dining room are covered almost completely with autographed pictures of celebrities who have dined in the restaurant and they diners a sense of the immense fame and popularity of the deli.

The restaurant has quite a few annoying policies, but I guess they can get away with it. There is a 3 dollar charge on splitting food and a minimum order of $12.95 per person, which oddly enough must include an entree. Our waitress was kind enough to waive the requirements for the table. One of my companions wanted to order the fish, but our waitress disuaded her saying they only served about one per year. She then opted for gefilte fish but was again persuaded to try something else and she ended up settling on the breakfast sausage.

Complimentary Pickles
There were two types of pickles sitting in a plate on the table. I was a bit wary of the cleanliness but figured I should at least try one. I opted for the lighter green one and found it tart and crunchy. My companion likened it to the sliced pickles on a Big Mac. The other pickle was harder with a dull crunch and the natural cucumber flavor more apparent.

Breakfast Sausage
One of our friends joined us for lunch and since she "doesn't do delis," she opted for a sausage instead of some more traditional fare, although I don't believe she actually tried any of the sausage either. The sausage was nice and plump with a nice firm casing and a fairly traditional flavor. Not bad, but certainly not what made the deli famous.

French Fried Onion Rings
In addition to the sausage, our New York native decided to try the onion rings. I found the batter too soft for my liking. One of my friends astutely noted this tasted more like onion tempura than a traditional onion ring.

The Woody Allen
We originally wanted to try the pastrami and the corned beef, quintessential meats at any deli. Having seen the gargantuan proportions of their sandwiches we decided to be more efficient and get both meats combined into one sandwich, The Woody Allen. The sandwich was named after the actor/director after he filmed the movie Broadway Danny Rose in the deli. Humorously the menu mentions it is the restaurant that made the movie famous. Regardless the sandwich is enormous, with a thick pile of pastrami and corned beef sandwiched between two slices of rye. Both meats are among the best I have ever tasted although I preferred the pastrami for its smoky peppery bite over the milder corned beef. Even our friend who doesn't eat deli meats enjoyed the sandwich.

While the restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes, diners would be better served sticking to the classics. On the whole, Carnegie lived up to my expectations, serving delicious cured meat in dangerously large portions. Even though the portions are immense, the meat is so good it is all too easy to wind up finishing the whole thing.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

New York Hot Dog Tasting - 12/20/2008

In addition to some of the top fine dining restaurants of the world, New York is home to some famous junk food (pizza and hot dogs) as well. We decided to do a crash course in New York Hot Dogs, hitting three different places in one afternoon. We originally wanted to include Nathan's on there as well but couldn't find one nearby.

Papaya King - 179 E 86th St, New York, NY 10028 (212) 369-0648
This chain which opened in 1931 started out serving tropical fruit drinks hence the "Papaya" in the name. The restaurant was incredibly packed with a small counter where diners could eat after ordering. The hot dogs came out almost immediately after ordering. We ordered two hot dogs with sauerkraut and a papaya drink. The hot dogs had a nice firm snap and the kraut added a sour bite that went nicely with the mustard. The snap apparently comes from the use of natural casing on the hot dog The drink was thick with this vague unidentifiable fruitiness and a slightly eggy slightly tangy undertone very much like an Orange Julius, somehow strangely satisfying.

Gray's Papaya - 402 6th Ave, New York, NY 10011 (212) 260-3532
Gray's Papaya is basically a clone of Papaya King. We decided to order the same thing that we got at Papaya King, 2 hot dogs with kraut and a papaya drink. In light of the happenings on Wall Street this combo has been renamed the Recession Special and it costs a mere $4.45. The hot dogs are almost perfect clones of the Papaya King dogs but they are just the slightest bit less snappy. The papaya drink has a similar sweetness but the texture is a bit thinner with the tart yogurt aspect more apparent and less creaminess.

No hot dog tasting would be complete without a street vendor "dirty water" hot dog. We went with one of the many Sabrett's stands dotting the city since one of my coworkers recommended the brand. The hot dog was served with the same kraut we had on the previous dogs. This was the weakest of the three by far, no snap, the dog actually had very little to distinguish it from any other hot dog I've eaten in the past.

In the end, the King reigns supreme. After trying Papaya King, they really were onto something, pairing those hot dogs with the creamy refreshing papaya drink. Gray's Papaya is a very close second and I could easily see the decision going the other way on a different day. Both of these places deserve recognition as a distinctive feature of New York's culinary landscape.

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Le Bernardin - 12/19/2008

155 West 51st Street
The Equitable Building
New York, NY 10019
(212) 554-1515

The first stop on the Michelin 3-star tour is Le Bernardin. Located in a random office building the restaurant has its name on the awning above the entrance. Inside there is a comfortable waiting area and bar with a fairly large dining area.

Amuse: Celery Soup - with Lobster and Lobster Cream
The soup was actually more of a chowder or bisque, with the sweetness of the lobster apparent early and the celery only coming on strong at the finish.

Bread - Raisin, Seven Grain, Sourdough, Rosemary Olive, Sweet Roll
A fairly wide selection of breads with my favorite being the sweet roll.

Le Bernardin Tasting Menu 01: Fluke - White Soy - Yuzu Marinated Fluke; Seaweed and Spiced "Rice Crispies"
The fluke had a delicate firmness that compared favorably to any I have had before. The use of two types of seaweed gave the dish a light refreshing flavor and the spiced rice crispy gave a nice textural contrast to the fish.

Chef's Tasting Menu 01: Salmon-Caviar - Thinly Pounded Smoked Salmon Carpaccio; Toasted Brioche and Caviar
This was a beautiful presentation of a very traditional dish. Both the smoked salmon and the caviar could have stood beautifully on their own. Combining the two, I actually thought the salmon was a bit overpowered and marginalized by the intensity of the caviar.

Le Bernardin Tasting Menu 02: Scallop - Ultra Rare Scallop - Sake Nage; Lily Bulb and Shiso
One of the standouts of the night, the scallop is ever so slightly poached by the addition of the sake broth. Taken as a whole the dish has a distinctly Asian flavor to it. By themselves the scallops are slightly firm yet delicate, light in flavor they really absorb the tartness of the broth. The lily bulb reminded me of marinated daikon and the addition of ginger scallion and red onion helped round out the flavors of this dish. One of my favorites for the night. The flavor of this dish reminded me very much of the Amadai I had at Robuchon in Las Vegas.

Chef's Tasting Menu 02: Mackerel - Seared Spanish Mackerel; Parmasean Crisp and Sun - Dried Tomato, Black Olive Oil
The use of olive and lemon added a tart, earthy aromatic element to the dish, serving as a nice foil for the natural oiliness of the fish.

Le Bernardin Tasting Menu 03: Salmon - Barely Cooked Organic Scottish Salmon; Water Chestnuts and Pea Tendrils; Gingered Baby Bok Choy and Citrus Emulsion
By cooking the salmon only on one side, the diner is treated to a gradual change in texture in each and every bite of the fish. The raw side was a bit soft for my taste, likely because of the warmth from cooking the other side. Despite that minor snag, the fish is the star here as it should be.

Chef's Tasting Menu 03: Calamari - Sautéed Calamari filled with Sweet Prawns and Shiitake Mushroom; Calamari Consommé
Some of the finest calamari I have ever tasted. The squid itself was firm but had a slickness to it. The light flavor of the squid absolutely required the stuffing of prawns and mushrooms which had a very rich savoriness to it. The squid legs were beautifully fried and crispy.

Supplement: Sea Urchin - Sea Urchin Risotto; Toasted Nori; Urchin-Citrus Emulsion
This had a chance to be one of the best courses of the night but the flavor was just a bit off. The sweetness and nutty character of the uni were abundant but the delicate brininess was nowhere to be found. The contrasting flavor offered by the brine would have helped balance the dish, instead it felt a bit too heavy for my tastes.

Chef's Tasting Menu 04: Lobster - Baked Lobster; Salsify; Sauce Gribiche
I had heard so much about the lobster here and how well it compared to the vaunted lobster at Laundry. The lobster is indeed well prepared crisp and spry, even the claws, but it is not up to the standard at FL. The gribiche added a tartness to the lobster but I felt it was a bit strong, taking too much attention away from the natural sweetness of the meat.

Le Bernardin Tasting Menu 04: Skate - Skate "au bamboo"; Cellophane Noodle and Wood Ear Mushroom; Spiced Bamboo Broth
I thought the skate was done quite well, lightly browned on the outside but soft and moist inside, very little flavor by itself, the fish relied on the broth for most of the seasoning. With its spicy ginger and bamboo notes, the soup delivered on the flavor but I didn't feel it went all that well with the Skate.

Chef's Tasting Menu 05: Escolar - White Tuna Poached in Extra Virgin Olive Oil; Sea Beans and Potato Crisps; Light Red Wine Bérniase
This is one of my first experiences with cooked Escolar. I have had it as a sushi a number of times on the east coast. As one would expect, the fish almost exudes oil. Very fatty and heavy the taste of the fish dominates and actually works very well with the light beans and potato crisps. The fish was so flavorful it even stood up well to the red wine sauce.

Le Bernardin Tasting Menu 05: Monkfish - Pan Roasted Monkfish; Israeli Couscous Tabbouleh; Black Garlic and Persian Lemon Sauce
The monkfish had a dense firm texture. This was my first experience with black garlic which I thought was a bit sweeter than normal garlic but still could overpower the fish unless used sparingly. The tabbouleh came served as a side and added a refreshing zest that moderated the garlic and strengthened our tired palates.

Chef's Tasting Menu 06: Black Bass - Crispy Black Bass; Braised Celery and Parsnip Custard; Iberico Ham-Green Peppercorn Sauce
Wonderfully cooked fish, the skin was nice and crispy. The ham and peppercorn sauce actually reminded me very much of a chicken stock. The parsnip custard was a touch sweet for my tastes and I felt the fish went best with just a bit of the stock.

Le Bernardin Tasting Menu 06: Panna Cotta - Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta, Pomegranate Pearls and Sorbet, Lemon Cream Orange Peel, Mint
The panna cotta was a bit denser than normal and had the subtlest tang to it. I loved the use of pomegranate pearls, small jammy bursts of flavor periodically enriching the panna cotta.

Chef's Tasting Menu 07: Fig - Roasted Fig, Goat Cheese Parfait, Hazelnut, Red Wine Caramel, Bacon Ice Cream
The goat cheese parfait was the most interesting part of this dessert. With its mild cheesiness, and bacon ice cream added savory elements that went nicely with the sticky sweet fig.

Le Bernardin Tasting Menu 07: Warm Chocolate - Warm Amedei "Chuau" Chocolate, Malted Rum Milk Chocolate Ice Cream
The chocolate lacked the subtle layers of flavor of the Ganache, as a result the cake was almost a bit boring. Here the ice cream has much more going on, with satisfying flavors of malt and rum.

Chef's Tasting Menu 08: Chocolate-Olive Oil - Dark Amedei Chocolate Ganache, Toasted Bread, Extra Vigin Olive Oil, Maldon Sea Salt
This reminded me very much of the Amedei dessert I had at Lola. I loved the overt citrus notes evident on the attack with this type of chocolate which evolve into bitter coffee notes on the finish.

Mignardises - Vanilla Cream filled Beignet; Green Tea Gelée with White Chocolate, Toasted Almond, and Candied Orange Peel; White Chocolate Creme with Pistachio in Dark Chocolate Cup; Dark Chocolate Truffle
One of the most distinctive mignardises I have seen in a while. The vanilla filled beignet was very strong releasing an aromatic burst of warm vanilla when bitten. My favorite was the white chocolate cream in the dark chocolate cup with its initial creamy sweetness mixing perfectly with the dark chocolate and the pistachio.

Much stronger than our previous dinner at Adour, the difference between 2 and 3 stars is quite apparent. Although I wasn't as wowed by Le Bernardin as I have been by my two previous three star experiences, the restaurant still delivers beautifully prepared food.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Adour - 12/18/2008

St. Regis Hotel
2 E 55th St
New York, NY 10022
(212) 710-2277

Adour, located in the St. Regis is Alain Ducasse's new New York venture. The restaurant emphasizes food made for wine pairings although I didn't feel the restaurant did anything particularly spectacular with regard to the wine pairings.

Amuse: Butternut Squash Soup - with Chive Cream
To start we were served a smooth butternut squash soup with chive cream. The problem with butternut squash is it can be too sweet but had a savoriness accented by salt crouton bits. The chive cream lingers long after the butternut squash dissipates giving a refreshing vegetal note.

Bread - Olive, Sourdough, Baguette
The breads were extremely unimpressive, cold and hard they had distinctive flavors but awful textures. I don't think anyone ate more than a bite of each. For some unknown reason they paired olive butter with the breads, including an olive bread.

Supplement: Duck Foie Gras Terrine - Qunice Chutney/Gelée Huckleberry/Duck Vinaigrette, Toasted Baguette
The first of two supplements was a foie gras terrine layered with fruit gelée. The terrine had a nice smooth texture but lacked enough unctuousness for my taste.

Supplement: Sweetbread "Meuniére" - Egg Purse, Wild Mushrooms, Brioche
The sweetbreads were very firm, with a rich gamy component that worked very well with the mushrooms. I thought the egg white was a touch too firm but my dining companions seemed to enjoy it.

01: Cucumber Vinegar Marinated Hamachi - Avocado, Granny Smith, Long Pepper, Green Apple Mustard
The fish was a touch warm but was nicely flavored by the light freshness of the cucumber vinegar. The addition of the accouterments definitely distracts from the natural flavor of the fish. After a couple of trials we felt the green apple mustard (which tastes a lot like a green Jolly Rancher) was the best paring with the hamachi as it added a unique flavor while allowing the fish to come to the fore.

02: Glazed Multicolor Vegetable Composition - Natural Jus Reduction
The kitchen took a very structured approach to this course, Each of the cooked vegetables had a subtle difference but I think the cooking gave the dish a uniform sweetness, not quite as good as the fresh versions served in San Francisco.

03: Butter Poached Maine Lobster - Pasta Impression, Zucchini Rings, Tomato Petal
The lobster was quite inconsistent, some of it was nice and supple while other pieces were overcooked and rubbery. The tomato and zucchini tended to be a bit salty although was quite nice when taken with the pasta. I was a bit apprehensive about the use of a red sauce with the lobster but it turned out pretty well.

04: Duck Breast Fillet "Au Plat" - Creamy Polenta, Shallots, Radish, Nicoise Olives
The last savory course was a duck breast served with a salty Asian flavor. I thought the breast was a touch overdone and dry, the result was a kind of gritty texture that detracted from the dish. I typically don't care for polenta but this had a salty sweetness that reminded me of Chinese tapioca dessert.

05: Apple Sablé - Granny Smith Sorbet, Calvados Emulsion, Vanilla Cream
Sablé cookie is basically a short bread, paired with apple sorbet and vanilla this reminded me of an apple pie or tart. The distinctive preparation of each ingredient results in a stellar multi-dimensional affair, the various textural and temperature contrasts elevate this far above your typical apple pie.

Mignardises - Raspberry Macaroon, Chocolate Macaroon, Passionfruit White Chocolate, Vanilla Rum Dark Chocolate
Fairly typical mignardises, the raspberry macaroon was particularly good with a hard outer crunch that yielded a soft chewiness sweetened with a jammy raspberry center.

Overall I was a bit disappointed with my first fine-dining experience in New York. The courses were technically solid, but aside from the dessert, they lacked something that would make them truly memorable. For a restaurant that supposedly put so much effort into its wine, the only thing truly impressive was the price, 2.5 glasses and a cocktail ended up costing one of my companions $135, more than the cost of the tasting menu ($110).

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