Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘restaurant’ Category

Aldea

In food, photo op, portuguese, recommended, restaurant on February 13, 2010 at 1:55 pm

The stage is set.

The meal:

The Chef’s Tasting Menu at Aldea

The stats:

“The cooking is precious, lusty, ultramodern, rustic and a host of other adjectives that don’t normally squeeze together but find themselves in a tight, mostly happy clutch here. Although Aldea has a clean, sleek and relatively spare look, it has a much more complex taste. One minute you’re nibbling on crisp pig’s ears. The next you’re carefully maneuvering your spoon under a translucent, quivering orb of concentrated mushroom broth — one of those liquid ravioli that the Spanish alchemist Ferran Adrià made famous — in an avant-garde consommé.” –Frank Bruni

2 stars, NY Times

Critics’ Pick, New York Magazine

Recommended by Doc John Sconzo, physician & foodie

Staging restaurant of Rochelle Bilow, culinary student

The food:

Fingerling Potato Soup

chanterelles, artichokes, sepia and sassafras

Foie Gras Terrine

caramelized bartlett pear, vanilla-pear puree, Blis maple syrup

Sea Urchin Toast

cauliflower cream, sea lettuce, lime

Shrimp Alhinho

garlic, coriander, pimenton, pressed jus

Tilefish

crispy Brussels sprouts, green mango, lemongrass-ginger broth

Arroz de Pato

duck confit, chorizo, olive, duck cracklings

Pre-dessert surprise!

lemon curd, citrus ice, toasted pine nuts, milk foam

Chocolate-Passion

gianduja crisp, passion fruit sponge, praline ice cream, hazelnut

Post-dessert surprise!

shortbread, chocolate & hazelnut, apricot jelly

The verdict:

I’ve had richer meals, and longer, but never better paced, more artfully prepared or more attentively served than at Aldea.

I left the restaurant not weighted down by my gorged stomach, but on an ethereal foodie high.

Recommended.

SushiSamba Meet & Tweet

In fusion food, japanese, nyc, restaurant, sushi, tapas, west village on January 22, 2010 at 6:22 am

The time has come to answer that age-old question: Should you mix your seafood with your social media? After this week’s nationwide Meet & Tweet at SushiSamba, the answer is a qualified yes.

According to Urban Dictionary, a tweetup is “an organized or impromptu gathering of people that use Twitter,” derived from the word meetup. SushiSamba‘s version hoped to provide “a great way to meet other sushi lovers, while enjoying some of your favorite SushiSamba dishes on a Wednesday evening.” Using the hashtag #sstwtup, partygoers in New York, Chicago, Miami and Las Vegas could converse virtually as well as physically, detail their meals, invite friends to join them and generally squeal about the good time they were having. I dined with @sincerelysib and @jessCsims, fellow Tweeters and good friends of mine.

SushiSamba concocts fusion tapas dishes, drawing on Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian influences, and the decor at the restaurant’s Seventh Avenue location reflects this unusual bent. The airy dining room is warmly lit with red-orange light, accented with shades of goldenrod and green. A DJ spins Latin beats downstairs, where sushi chefs labor at the open bar counters. Upstairs, the rooftop is reminiscent of a treehouse, with wide leafed potted plants and ceiling beams the color of avocado pits. The rooftop patio is encased against the winter cold by glass walls and skylights, overlooking the traffic on the avenue below.

For the Meet & Tweet, SushiSamba offered tapas and drink specials at a third of their normally steep prices, as well as a $10 coupon for our next visit. A large flat-screen TV over the bar displayed the Twitterfeed of everyone tweeting about the four parties nationwide. @JessCsims squealed each time her tweets appeared on the screen.

Our best dish by far was the crispy yellowtail taquitos, SushiSamba’s second most popular dish (sea bass and miso skewers are the first.) Two mini tacos were balanced between shot glasses stuffed with lime wedges and layered foam of yellow and red chili pepper sauces. Their brittle shells brimmed with spicy, sweet and hot ingredients, and could be polished off in three bites. We enjoyed our tiny slices of fusion heaven with Caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink, a potent brew reminiscent of tequila that can be mixed with berries or tropical fruit. The expertly-mixed beverage smacked of lime and sugarcane, and was dangerously delicious.

The rest of our tapas menu was equally ambrosial. Salt and pepper squid, tender but fierce footballs of cephalopod, were coated in a breading spicy enough for KFC. Paired with barbecue-laced soy sauce or lime spinkled with hot Japanese pepper, the squid took on an added juicy kick. Rock shrimp tempura, piled high in a mountain of fried-yet-creamy coating, were topped with a mess of buttery baby greens and complimented by a strong peanut miso sauce. Japanese chicken wings, lumpy lollipops of meat falling off of bones no longer than my thumb, were tender, fatty and excellently paired with their sugary sweet dipping sauce.

In honor of the tweetup, all the proceeds from the adorably-named Twitteroll went to benefit the Red Cross’s efforts in Haiti. The Twitteroll itself, a cold, bright ceviche of a sushi roll, missed the mark, largely due to its overpowering salsita topping, piled like miniature volcanoes on the roll pieces.

We ended our evening with the warm chocolate banana cake, a layered concoctions dwarfed by the giant white plate in which it is served. The three of us were handed giant spoons and encouraged to snag all the layers (maple butter on bottom, scorching hot chocolate and banana cake in the middle, frozen vanilla rum ice cream on top) in one bite. @jessCsims, the first to balance the layered decadence to her mouth, immediately exclaimed, “Oh my god. That’s the best dessert I’ve ever had.” Her pronouncement went unquestioned by the table.

The Meet & Tweet generated lots of activity on Twitter but less so in the actual restaurant; the Seventh Avenue rooftop held thirty or so people at any given time during the night. The event wasn’t much of a meet and greet of online acquaintances; strangers kept to their own tables and mingling was almost nonexistent. Regardless, the event was a great chance to nab SushiSamba’s pricey food on the cheap while bonding with other Tweeters, if only in cyberspace. It also made my mind up to return to SushiSamba at my earliest convenience.

Mercadito Grove

In mexican, nyc, recommended, restaurant on October 23, 2009 at 7:15 am

Lighter and more ethereal than most Mexican food, Mercadito Grove‘s flavors are a watercolor of springy taste. Tiny portions, an airy cuisine and bright but not sharp flavors in each dish make this a go-to for a downtown pre-theater meal or a post-dancing late-night snack attack.

The meal begins with fried, flaky triangular chips dusted with salt. Order a well-mixed margarita to match, along with the trio of guacamoles, changed daily and brought to you in three mounded scoops on a tray. On one recent occasion, mild mango and zippy pineapple guacs accompanied the creamy-but-chunky traditional blend.

Mercadito Grove’s strength lies with their tacos. The tortillas are precious (between the size of a large silver dollar and a small Eggo waffle) and come in twos or threes, perfect for sharing with an adventurous date. Fish tacos with manchego cheese excel, with a brown savory sauce that slides into your mouth. (They even received an award from Zagat in 2008.) Another standout are the chicken tacos, so savory you think you’re eating steak. The regularly-changing menu ensures that everything from shrimp to cactus leaf an show up in these tiny dishes. On certain nights, the restaurant features $23 all you can eat tacos; a dangerously tempting deal.

The wonderful lightness of dinner makes dessert even more tempting. The delectable orange flan has a vaguely caramel taste, with surprisingly bright mandarin oranges garnishing the top and a delicate syrup pooling around the plate. Equally as yummy are the caramel plantains, which taste like a potato turned into a dessert. Streaked with a tangy white sauce and doused with sticky caramel, the plantains are starchy and sweet.
Mercadito Grove’s location, on a triangular spit of land along 7th Avenue, makes its outdoor seating great for people watching. Inside is cramped but fun, with lots of rustic wooden décor and criss-crossed hatching on the ceiling. The itty-bitty alcove of a bathroom features a neat old copper basin sink. The servers are personable and give great recommendations, and the atmosphere is relaxed, even during rush hour.

Recommended.

Mercadito Grove is located at 100 7th Avenue, at Grove Street. The restaurant is owned by Mercadito, which operates two other locations in downtown Manhattan, as well as in Miami and a new location in Chicago. Mercadito often hosts week-long discount deals and tasting parties; sign up for their newsletter for all updates.

Butter

In east village, nyc, restaurant, trendy on September 9, 2009 at 8:12 am

Butter, the chic Lower East Side nighttime destination, has been the setting of various scenes and episodes in the catty TV drama, Gossip Girl. This is fitting.

The focus of Butter, tucked away on Lafayette, just south of Astor Place, is not the food nor the atmosphere, however charming either may be. It’s the people, and more specifically, it’s you showing off to all the other people. Eyes discretely follow every individual entering the restaurant, observing and critiquing who they’re with and what they’re wearing. I was seated next to a group of eight young runway models, each easily seven feet tall in heels.

The food at Butter is enjoyable, presented nicely in white dishes made of clean lines and curves. Buttery biscuits refresh the bread basket with a slight spicy zing, and are served with a soft, lemon-shaped butter pat. The crudite plate features a velvety pate on crunchy toast, but fail to impress overall. The shrimp appetizer features both steamed and fried shrimp, playing nicely together, and the duck entree pairs well with its bed of lentils. The pork entree is a stand-out: delicious, juicy on the inside and crispy on the out, though its bed of nondescript greens is not to its benefit. Side dishes of crispy-yet-soft collard greens and white beans topped with an intriguing mixture of sweet and savory spices are both hits. Dessert’s beignets (glorified jelly donuts) are soft, golden and deliciously messy with creme anglais. The chocolate cake, however, is bitter beyond liking and no longer warm, with icing that stubbornly sticks to itself instead of oozing.

The service is horrifying. Our table was forgotten. Our waitress informed us that the chef was taking a long time because she was very particular and wanted things to be just so. (I find this to be more self-importance than attentiveness to the wants of a customer.) A manager came to our table, not to apologize or to check on us, but to ask our table to be moved out of the way to make room for another guest in a large party to our left. In Applebee’s, this might be acceptable behavior; in Butter, the standard should be set higher (since the prices clearly have been.)

Ultimately, Butter acts just as a Gossip Girl character would: it is beautiful, tempting, fickle and self-important, willing to both give and take at its whim. The food and the atmosphere are dangled as carrots, but if you do not make the cut for any fickle reason, they are suddenly whisked away, and you feel like a spectacle for the beautiful people to laugh at or ignore. Such characteristics are better suited to late-night TV tween series, not to cuisine.

The All Night Egg Plant

In breakfast, brunch, diner, recommended, restaurant, syracuse on August 19, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Syracuse can be a tough town for foodies, especially if you’re looking for something more than a chain restaurant (read: Erie Boulevard.) Visiting foodies should acquaint themselves with The All Night Egg Plant to appease their diner-hungry stomachs.

The Egg Plant’s success lies in its simplicity, allowing patrons to make what they will of the restaurant. Early morning coffee? Early afternoon brunch? Late night munchies? The Egg Plant satisfies all criteria, with a simple menu of tried-and-true dishes, fresh ingredients and straight-forward service. The popular omelets can be stuffed with up to three ingredients, from a large list that ranges from traditional (cheddar, ham) to eclectic (lox, hash) to downright weird (chocolate syrup, peanut butter, assorted berries.) Strange combinations often work well; be adventurous! A similar, if slightly less bizarre, assortment of pancake flavors and toppings are equally scrumptious. Even the chocolate milk is made to order.

The prices are modest, the atmosphere calm and welcoming. The crowd runs the gamut in age and ethnicity, making the open dining room lively during peak hours. With such great breakfast basics, there’s no reason not to make The All Night Egg Plant a staple of your Syracuse dining experience.

Recommended.

Tabard Inn

In brunch, dc, recommended, restaurant on August 5, 2009 at 1:18 pm

The Tabard Inn, located in the heart of DC’s posh Dupont Circle, is a cozy hearkening back to the colonial era. The exterior is unassumingly pretty and wreathed in flowers. Inside, the dark, wood-paneled lounge exudes a quiet, rustic elegance, with mismatched paintings of early US presidents and carvings of eagles. Shaded lamps and wall lights cocked at odd angles exude soft lighting; squashy sofas and armchairs abound.

The restaurant of the Tabard Inn is scattered throughout several cheery rooms, with an open courtyard tucked in the back. A sheer multicolored awning drapes over the patio, where you can lounge away a Sunday morning with drinks and dining partners. Brunch, the restaurant’s most popular meal of the week, is heralded by a bread basket, proportioned to the size of your party, and piled high with savory muffins, olive bread, and a light and airy focaccia that’s packed with veggies.

The Tabard Inn features clean, fresh ingredients that hold their own shape and flavor, giving each dish surprising taste and texture combinations. The savory tart, a stand-out, is a birthday-cake sized slice of pastry, striated into delicate layers of crab, corn, asparagus and onions. The tart falls apart beautifully as you cut into it. The traditional Eggs Benedict are, mercifully, not too liberal with the Hollandaise, allowing the creamy flavor to just play on your taste buds. For heartier fare, the omelet with Hens of the Forest mushrooms and Brie has a precocious bitter bite, and is served with chunks of hash browns and a flaky biscuit.

For those with a sweet tooth, the vanilla brioche French toast is a scrumptious choose-your-own-adventure. Topped with peach-berry compote, and served with pots of clotted cream and intensely flavorful maple syrup on the side, the dish beckons with many possible taste combinations.

With the liberal brunch portions, you won’t need dessert, but the menu is quite tempting. Our server recommended the coconut carrot cake as one of the best desserts on the menu. Artfully presented, the cake matches the coconut and carrot flavors together well. The icing is good but not great, and the accompanying white chocolate macadamia nut ice cream, served in an inventive pastry crust, is overkill. The cake would be better paired with a simple French vanilla, or for a zingy surprise, a raspberry or lemon sorbet.The Saturday and Sunday brunch menu choices rotate regularly, but the menu always maintains a few staples. Dress is casual but classy. Reservations, at least a week in advance, are strongly recommended, though if you get your name on the waiting list right when the restaurant opens, your wait shouldn’t be obscene.

Recommended.

Alice’s Tea Cup

In brunch, lunch, nyc, restaurant on July 21, 2009 at 8:21 pm
Alice’s Tea Cup is, quite simply, the best brunch and lunch restaurant I’ve found in New York City.

Smoked salmon & scones.

First, there is tea. You must have tea. Alice’s offers a comprehensive book of tea choices, ranging from common to exotic. Each brightly hued pot of tea is a different shape and size, and is brought directly to your table, with a sponge secured to the spout to catch dribbles.

Second, there are scones. Where else can you have scones and tea on a regular basis? (Starbucks doesn’t count.) The best is the pumpkin scone, judiciously spiced and very moist. The mixed berry scone, also good, has a snappy, sugary crust. Some of the scones, especially the ham & cheese and buttermilk scones, tend to be on the dry side. Remedy this with the clotted cream and raspberry preserves served with each choice; the flavors pair well and melt in your mouth.

The entrée menu is short and sweet. Puréed soups change daily. A few dainty combinations of veggies and protein are available in either salad or sandwich form. The smoked salmon on black bread is the best of the sandwiches; the lapsang chicken, served with apple slices and tea-infused hard-boiled eggs, works best as a salad. However they are prepared, the entrees are cute, classy, and consistently delicious, combining unique ingredients to keep things interesting.

If you’ve gone to the trouble of getting an early afternoon table at Alice’s on the weekend, forget calorie counting with the mundane watercress sandwiches and indulge in the luxurious brunch menu. Pumpkin pancakes are fluffy, moist and intensely flavorful. Smoked salmon and scones are layered with tender poached eggs and a tasty Hollandaise sauce. The Curious French Toast gooey with syrup and chocolate sauce and sprinkled with fresh berries; this decadent entrée should be listed as a dessert. Top off your meal with a morning cocktail: Alice’s apéritifs are fun, spicing up classics like Bellinis with peach-infused tea, simple syrup, and a single bobbing raspberry.

Alice’s Curious French Toast.

With all the girly girls in New York descending on brunch restaurants every weekend, Alice’s is incredibly popular. The wait at any of its three locations is consistently one to two hours on weekends, and longer around midday. (Reservations are taken for parties of six or more ladies. I say ladies, and I mean it. Don’t try to bring men here. They just don’t understand!) All of the locations are whimsically painted with illustrations and passages of Lewis Carroll’s classic story, for which the restaurant is named. Chapter 1, on the Upper West Side, feels like a magical rabbit warren, hidden below street level. Chapter 2 is a tall building on the Upper East Side, with cream and burgundy décor, a winding staircase, and a wonderfully inventive bathroom. Chapter 3, also on the Upper East Side, feels a bit boxy at times, but features a sweet outdoor garden.

Founding Farmers

In american, dc, restaurant on July 17, 2009 at 10:28 am

Find yourself longing to be down home on the family farm again, but don’t want to leave the luxuries to which you’ve become accustomed in the big city? Head over to Founding Farmers, a chic take on Americana.

Located at 1924 Pennsylvania Avenue, Founding Farmers takes classic American fare and dresses it up. The portions are hearty and huge, and the extensive menu features something for everyone. The restaurant’s draw is its commitment to sustainability and green living: all the fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and dairy products served in the restaurant come from local, independent family farmers.

The restaurant is clean and modern with huge windows. The interior features dark wood and feels like a farmhouse. Bare glass bulbs are suspended in a line above long wooden tables, perhaps once made of rough-hewn pine boards, now shiny with varnish. Luminescent cotton clouds swath overhead lighting, in a modern tribute to the prairie sky. Large glass jars of pickles, peppers and tomatos, soaking in brine, line the shelves and walls surrounding you.

The food tastes like it was made in a bright country kitchen by a strong, substantive woman using a large knife. Appetizers include warm corn bread, full of surprisingly sweet kernels, which arrives in a small cast iron skillet with whipped butter. A sextet of devilled eggs are filled with mashed lobster, crab, and salmon; the three seafood fillings are chunky and light, a nice departure from mayonnaise-laden picnic fare.

Salads incorporate creative ingredients like caramelized onions and dried figs. The seventeen vegetable salad comes in a hefty glass mixing bowl, fit for two people or several rabbits. The late harvest salad showcases good, strong flavors, but risks being overpowered by an unyielding bleu cheese. Stick to a half-portion of greens, and leave room for the stick-to-your-ribs entrees. A surprising array of traditional country standards, including short ribs, meat loaf, pot roast, pork chop, and several cuts of steak, all make appearances on the menu. Salmon, marinated in either apricot-infused maple syrup or an herb-lemon glaze, is served on a birchwood trencher. The outstanding grilled cheese sandwich features gooey Gruyere and Vermont white cheddar, which stretch into strings as high as an elephant’s eye. The thick toast of the sandwich is buttered, chock full of grains, and delightfully bitter.

If Founding Farmers occasionally misses the mark, it is when the cuisine strays too far from comfort food and heads into the realm of DC cocktail party fare. The bacon-wrapped dates, too large to fit into your mouth and too complicated to bite in half, are mushy and bloated with an overly-acidic feta cheese. The candied bacon lollis sound innovative, but come out as your basic chunk of meat on a stick. That said, the bacon itself, like all the meats at Founding Farmers, is great: thick, hearty, and never crispy or flabby.

Polish off your meal with the famous doughnuts, or a giant slice of cake with ice cream. The multi-layered carrot cake is pocked with plump sultanas and robed in velvety cream cheese frosting. The red velvet cake (also with cream cheese frosting) and the yellow cake (with chocolate) are similarly oversized, reminiscent of down-home drug store treats. To bring you home, order black coffee and sip while you soften into your chair and think of home.

IHOP: A Poem

In breakfast, restaurant on July 15, 2009 at 2:48 pm

It’s called the International House of Pancakes.

Maybe that’s why English isn’t the staff’s first language.

One waitress asks another how many Ls are in chili,

one or two,

as I sit waiting on the squashy bench,

grey drizzle skittering down the window pane behind me.

The whiteboard by the cash register proclaims

Smile Your At IHOP.

Apparently, it’s my At IHOP.

If English was the staff’s first language, maybe the titles of the dishes would be more precise.

I order the Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity,

which sounds like Carmen Miranda’s hat, chopped up and served in a chilled glass,

stuck through with a plastic sword and a maraschino cherry.

It’s not that exciting.

It’s just another permutation of omnipresent breakfast foods.

You still have to say Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity when you order it, though,

even though you know what you’re really getting isn’t very fruity,

not particularly fresh,

and mostly void of rooti- and tootiness.

You still have to say it.

Otherwise, it doesn’t count.

I’m not bothered that the Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity isn’t a fizzy drink.

Sometimes, words just can’t convey intended meaning.

I say Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity, not twoeggtwosausagetwobacontwopancakewithfruittopping,

because there’s no better way to say it

and the staff knows what I mean.

When I sit there with you,

I don’t say

“You helped me get through four plays, two musicals, two years of high school and one boyfriend,”

or

“You were my only friend on the first scared night I spent in New York City,”

or

“You have never steered me wrong, and I still have immense faith in your opinions.”

I order a Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity instead,

and we share stories while sipping syrup,

and it is enough.

When you pick up the tab

and you drive me home,

even though you don’t have to,

I don’t say,

“I have loved you as long as I have known you.”

That’s a hyperbole

(a tiny one)

and I don’t think they’d understand hyperbole

at the International House of Pancakes.

—–

The International House of Pancakes is a nationwide restaurant chain, with 1,402 locations in fifty states, Canada and Mexico.

The Legendary Half-Smoke

In dc, recommended, restaurant, street food on July 2, 2009 at 8:50 am

My dear friend and fellow blogger Rochelle recently posed the question of where to find the best hot dog on her website, Sexy Girls Eat. I tackle the issue, one which has baffled mankind through the ages, here.

Made famous by a recent visit from our current President, Ben’s Chili Bowl is located on U Street in Washington, DC. The area is historically run-down and dangerous at night, but U Street is slowly being gentrified. Ben’s Chili Bowl is a landmark there, having remained open since its debut in 1958. The tiny shack is always packed with customers who wait in a mob rather than a line; the staff is personable and takes orders rapid-fire. This past weekend, the cooks sang and danced with great gusto to Michael Jackson songs blaring on the PA.

Ben’s Chili Bowl offers many options, but their most famous dish is the half-smoke, a plump, smoky sausage that’s half beef and half pork. Order it “with everything” (chili, onions and mustard.) The half smoke packs a punch, with the mustard adding a flavorful zing. Served in red plastic baskets with tongfuls of Ruffles potato chips, this hot dog is not to be missed. (Obama thinks so, too.)

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Hawkins Online.