Foodgasmic’s Blog

M here. It has been a while. Much has changed in the past year. Y has left the City for warmer weather and more interesting endeavors. And I decided to explore the many allures of London town, only to return to a lovely manor akin to an art gallery in the heart of the Upper West Side. It is funny the places that life takes us, but that’s a story for later.

Y finally came back to town this past week for Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday for obvious reasons. We decided to have our reunion over good food (did you expect any less from us?), which Y has been dreadfully deprived from while on the west coast. Apparently food is not as sinfully scrumptious when cooked with restraint and healthy ingredients, who would have thought?

After much deliberation, we decided that Maialino would be the best venue for our reunion. Another Danny Meyer creation heralded one of the best new restaurants from the year, how can we resist? Plus, I had already enjoyed a brunch there and it was quite delightful so how can we go wrong? Here’s what we thought.

Food (Menu): Stellar

With a name like Maialino or “Little Pig,” Y and I decided to indulge in a meal centered around suckling pig. It was delicious. Y ordered the Malfatti al Maialino, suckling pig ragu and arugula paired with hand-torn malfatti pasta. We were intrigued by simplicity of this tasty dish and element of sustainability associated with its creation (see recipe). I opted for the Zampa di Maialino, suckling pig’s foot with beans and arugula. I loved the suckling pig, the meat was perfectly seasoned and tender, encased in crispy skin. The beans and arugula were a bit confusing. The favor was good, but it was cold, which was odd.

We also got the Frittura Vegetale for an appetizer, which was rather uninspiring. The glorified tempura vegetables were well seasoned and enjoyable. But honestly, there is only so much one can do with tempura vegetables. Same could be said about the Gianduja Budino, chocolate and hazelnut bread pudding. Served warmed, it was delightful, but not awe-inspiring.

One of the best elements of dinner in my opinion was the wine. Then again, I just may be a lush. I paired my pork with Ceuso’s Fastaia, a fruity and aromatic Sicilian red blend, and Y chose Abbazia di Novacella’s Kerner, an enticing white from the Isarco Valley similar to a Riesling.

Service: Good

I am a bit torn here. While the our waitress was friendly and enthusiastic, and very generous with wine samples, I feel there were opportunities where she could have been more attentive. It took quite a while for her to give us our menus though as Y noted (perhaps appease me), New Yorkers have far higher expectations when it comes to service. That being said, our waitress this time around was far, far superior than the one at brunch a few weeks back.

Ambiance: Stellar

Walking into Maialino for the first time took me back to my wide-eyed wandering days (cue Elton John) while studying abroad in Italy. Taking in the dark rustic wood and blue checkered table clothes, it was as if I was in Rome again. Somehow Meyer managed to capture the warm and friendly trattoria feel in Gramercy Park. Even the wait staff were dressed appropriately for the part.

Quirk: Good

The name Maialino, a play on Meyerlino or “Little Meyer,” a nickname Meyer acquired while working for his dad as a tour guide in Italy is quite endearing.

Location: 2 Lexington Avenue near 21st St, Gramercy

Price: appetizer + 2 entrees + 2 glasses of wine + dessert = $125

Verdict: Stellar

Another success for the Danny Meyer empire.

M here. In NYC (and around the world), there are few chefs more esteemed than Daniel Boulud whose name is often synonymous with culinary excellence. However, the DB experience often comes with a hefty price and as such can only be relegated to the very, very special occasion (well, unless you are a trust fund baby).

So in June when Daniel opened his fifth Manhattan restaurant, DBGB Kitchen and Bar, more than a few eyebrows were raised. With DBGB (a rather cute play on CBGB), Daniel went downtown and downmarket. For the first time, his empire was easily accessible to us mere plebeians.

Food (Menu): Stellar.

Since DBGB is advertised as a gourmet sausage and burger joint, Y and I got just that. For an appetizer, we chose one of the fourteen varieties of sausage. Our “world tour of sausage” led us to the Espagnole, fresh chorizo sausage with piperade and basil oil. Y and I are big fans of chorizo, an essential ingredient to our paella recipes and the DBGB version certainly did not disappoint. It was juicy and succulent, with just the right bite to it. For the main course, I opted for The Frenchie, a delightful beef burger with confit pork belly, arugula, tomato onion compote and Morbier cheese. My favorite part was the brioche bun that completed the package. Served medium rare, we thought that The Frenchie was even better than City Hall’s burger (one of Burger of the Month Club’s top 10 burgers) and Kurve’s Basil-Rubbed Wagyu Beef Burger (may it rest in peace). Y selected the Steak Frites, a black angus ribeye bound to satisfy any carnivous carvings. Her only complaint was that it could have been a bit less fatty.

The only low point of the evening was the Pear Sidecar that Y ordered with her meal. If your intention is to get completely wasted, it is definitely the drink of choice. It could not have tasted more like pure alcohol. Teaches us not to order cocktails in a place known for its beer.

Service: Good.

I have always considered the DB staff to be the archetype of good service. Bruni last year likened the service at Daniel to sorcery and I generally couldn’t agree more. In my past experiences, they have been amazingly accommodating and almost unnaturally intuitive to my every whim. “Daniel demands perfection,” according to a friend on his waitstaff.

Well, perfection was not achieved during my visit to DBGB. Don’t get me wrong, it was far from abysmal. I suppose it is the nature of high expectations: I expected an oeuvre and what I got was just commonplace.

Much of my disappointment can be attributed to the popularity of the restaurant. The host made little effort to limit the ridiculous number of individuals waiting for a table. People were everywhere, spilling out from the entrance, bar, and waiting area, acting as human roadblocks to the staff that was hurrying about. Having to wait ten minutes in such conditions (with a reservation) was a bit uncomfortable. I will concede that the service dramatically improved once we were seated.

Ambiance: Stellar.

Loved the concept and decor. DBGB is certainly an interesting marriage between a French brasserie and an American tavern. The bustling bar and waiting area is spacious, surrounded by floor to ceiling glass and mirrors. While you are waiting, you can entertain yourself by perusing the various tokens of foodie wisdom that line the walls. The dining area is very industrial, with racks displaying large copper cookware, crystal wine glasses, dry foods, and other restaurant necessities (gifts from Daniel’s chef friends). The partially open kitchen adds to the energy of the venue.

Quirk: Stellar.

I truly think that the little things in life are what makes it worthwhile. When our entrees came, it became obvious that Daniel painstakingly analyzed every detail when designing his restaurant. The fries that accompanied our entrees came in silver tins with charming bone shaped handles. The toothpick that held my burger together was accented with a D at its head. The condiments were housed in a very practically designed wooden caddy.

Location: 299 Bowery (bet. Houston and 1st St), NoHo

Price: 2 entrees + appetizer + 1 drink = $90

Verdict: Stellar.

Downmarket dining from Daniel Boulud so don’t expect the complete DB experience. Go if you are in the mood for some tasty sausage and burgers and a boisterous atmosphere. Skip the cocktails and opt for beer (or water if you are not a fan like me). Reservations are a must!

M here. Seriously, after a 7 month hiatus, I am really here. My deepest apologies for letting this blog fall by the wayside. Typical excuses – work just got too overwhelming, the restaurant queue just got longer and longer to a point where it was just too intimidating. And nothing came by that was inspiring enough to start anew. Well, that is until Rhong Tiam.

Interesting back story on this restaurant. Y and I first fell in love with its psychedelic sister, Kurve, a favorite target of NY culinary bullies. Sure, everything about Kurve is a bit out of place, from its pink bean-like appearance to its eclectic, ever changing menu to…I can go on forever… Our amour was invoked because not despite these quirks. Though, the Sasha Petraske consulted cocktails and the impressive life story of Andy Yang certainly helped. So needless to say when we heard that Rhong Tiam was rewarded a Michelin star, our curiosity was piqued.

Food (Menu): Stellar.

Y may think that I am being generous for Andy’s sake, but I really enjoyed the authentic Thai fare at Rhong Tiam. I ordered the Tropical Mango Chicken, which like the Penang version was the perfect combination of sweet and sour. Presentation of the dish was also well executed with the marinated chicken and mango strips set nicely in mango half shells. Y’s choice, the Chu Chee Duck, five spiced fried duck topped with curry gravy and tossed with lime leaves, was also very flavorful. The best part of the meal was dessert. Y and I opted for Moscato D’Asti (note: the extremely generous pour would satisfy any lush) with the Pumpkin Custard. The delectable dessert was elaborately presented, a slice of pumpkin with a hearty pumpkin custard outer shell and a fleshy coconut custard center. It was accompanied by a web of caramel, completing the fall theme. I cannot help but rave about this dessert. The custard was the perfect level of sweetness combined with an interesting medley of textures.

Service: Mediocre.

I was really disappointed by amateurish service at Rhong Tiam, which came as a shock as Kurve always had superb service. Our waiter could not pronounce the wine that I ordered, informed me that they did not have the one that I wanted, had me choose another, only to tell me once again that they were out of that particular vintage. He also forgot to bring me my dessert wine. Too bad indeed.

Ambiance: Good.

The outside of the restaurant is nothing to look at. However, the interior is quite lovely, both cozy and elegant.

Quirk: Good.

I have to give Rhong Tiam props for putting up Halloween decorations (spider webbing and skulls around the railings), without making the space look at all tacky. The spider web design of the caramel accompanying the custard was also really clever.

Location: 541 LaGuardia Place (bet. 3rd St and Bleecker St), Greenwich Village

Price: 2 entrees + 2 very generous drinks + dessert = around $65-$70

Verdict: Good.

While I would not call its Michelin star a “farce,” I would certainly not consider Rhong Tiam as quite the same caliber as Eleven Madison Park. Go for the food if you want an inexpensive, authentic Thai standby.

M here. As I perused my long list of pending restaurants, nothing really jumped out at me and screamed “review me!” Then I thought of the rather impromptu dinner that Y and I had last night at Cercle Rouge and was instantly inspired by the fresh memory of a delightful dining experience.

Y and I randomly decided on the French brasserie at around 4pm on a Thursday of a grueling week of 14 hour work days. It was a completely arbitrary restaurant that we found through the deal at Restaurants.com. I was not expecting anything extraordinary; any alternative to a delivered dinner at the desk would have sufficed.  Cercle Rouge was definitely a pleasant surprise.

Food (Menu): Stellar.

I was quite impressed by the dinner menu. While I am not a particularly fastidious eater, at the average restaurant I generally do not find more than one or two dishes that interest me. At Cercle Rouge, I was faced with a rather difficult decision as numerous entrees seemed to have the potential of being great. I finally opted for the Risotto aux Asperges, Coquilles St. Jacques et Crevettes (Maine sea scallops and shrimp over asparagus risotto) while Y ordered Lotte á la Barigoule d’Artichauts (Sautéed monk fish over baby artichoke ragout, with potato-black olive gnocchi). Both dishes were spectacular, French with a hint of Italian influence. My risotto was cooked to perfection, creamy and favorful, nicely juxtaposed with the asparagus, which added a lightness to the dish. The shrimp and scallops were also delicious accompaniments. Y’s monk fish was well seasoned with a nice blend of Italian spices. It was flavorful yet not too salty, a trap that many chefs often fall into when preparing monk fish. The only minor sour note of the meal was the rather mediocre Muscadet that Y and I had with dinner, which seemed to be pretty much in line with the rest of wines on their uninspiring wine list.

Service: Good.

I have no complaints. Our waiter was friendly and attentive. He seemed to also have an extraordinary memory as he had to recite the rather extensive list of specials for the evening. I have admit that I was rather overwhelmed and tuned him out by the time he was finished with the appetizer specials.

Ambiance: Stellar.

The atmosphere at Cercle Rouge was very European, but of the tasteful and unpretentious variety. The brasserie was quite charming with its antique mirrors and vintage Centre Pompidou posters. The live band also added a lighthearted feel to the meal. I would definitely recommend dinner by candlelight for a date or an intimate gathering of close friends.

Quirk: Good.

Cercle Rouge definitely hit the mark as a darling French brasserie. However, I got the feeling that they wanted to branch out for a more international feel, which at times seemed a bit out of place. For example, the food with a hint of Italian influence was delicious. The live music, which was French with a Latin beat, was an interesting twist. As for the bathroom with Asian themes, a bit questionable.

Location: 241 West Broadway (near North Moore St.)

Price: 2 entrees + 2 glasses of wine = $85

Verdict: Stellar.

A jewel of a restaurant. Go for the delicious food or for the pleasant European feel, but skip the wine.

Y here.  Like everyone else, I don’t mind indulging once in a while in an unhealthy, potentially heart attack inducing meal.  And like everyone else, I’m not recession proof.  That’s why this article from Serious Eats caught my attention.  Vegetarians, please avert your eyes.  Fried chicken wings?  Fried chicken wings stuffed with sticky rice?  Initially, I was a little disgusted by the thought.  But the more I thought about it, the more my mouth started to water.  M was a good sport and agreed to join me for this high cholesterol meal.

Food (Menu): Good.

Let me assure you, if you got hunger pangs from reading the Serious Eats review of those chicken wings, you won’t be disappointed by the actual food.  Although two great things to keep in mind is that it’s six wings per plate, something that an individual can’t finish alone, and something we had trouble finishing when we split the appetizer.  Another thing: when they came out with the wings, it was hot!  Do not attempt to eat it then – the wings and rice will be tasteless.  Wait for about ten minutes, and then enjoy.

Another recommendation is to try their noodle dishes.  M ordered a noodle & beef & dumpling soup, while I ordered a beef tripe and lo mein soup.  Both were really good, authentic, Chinese cuisine.  Unfortunately, because we were so stuffed from the chicken wings, we had to take part of our entree orders to go.

One last comment is if you order the stuffed chicken wings and a noodle dish, you’re likely to get your noodle dish first.  So in a sense, you’re having entrees before appetizer.  Which was fine with us.

We got  bubble tea, but it was substandard. This is Chinatown, you can find better bubble tea at places like TenRen.

Service: Good.

What is there to say about service?  Rainbow Cafe is very much a self-serve place.  You seat yourself, you go up to the front counter to order your dishes.  They are prompt with their food preparation, expect to wait at most ten minutes to get your first dish.  Like many places in Chinatown, be clear and specific when ordering.

Ambiance: Mediocre.

Face it, Rainbow Cafe is a deli place.  It’s not suppose to be a special occasion place (unless that occasion is pig-out-because-you-have-a-fast-metabolism).  The place is clean, and that’s about all we ask for.  Seating is limited, probably max capacity is around 20-25 people.

Quirk: Good.

Rainbow Cafe gets quirk for inventing (yes?  As far as I know, it’s the only place in New York that serves it) the stuffed chicken wings.  We’re just surprised that some more health conscious fancy restaurant haven’t caught on to it and reinvented it.

Location: 154 Mott Street, Chinatown.

Price: 1 appetizer + 2 entrees + 2 beverages = $25.

Verdict: Good.

We’d definitely go again, and not because we want to gorge ourselves on the wings.  The noodles, although not distinct from any other great noodle shop in Chinatown (Try the Hong Kong Station) are also very good.

Boom

Posted on: March 23, 2009

Y here.  As New York is a place which seems to have unlimited variety of cuisine (but unfortunately, as it turns out, a limited number of restaurants that serve Southern cuisine such as crawfish etouffee, as I found out during Mardi Gras), I seldom have the urge to go Italian.  To me, Italian is a little bit like the spaghetti I cook up at the last minute because I’m too cheap to order from Seamless Web and too lazy to forage outside my apartment for real food.  To be fair, I know that Italian (especially authentic Italian) is much more than that, but I still am unfairly biased when I choose my restaurants, to not pick Italian.

Along comes Boom.  First of all, who can resist a restaurant with the name like this?  Situated in an adorable neighborhood of Soho, M and I decided to check out this place one night.

Food (Menu): Mediocre.

M and I decided to skip appetizers on this one and just order alcohol (well – because alcohol can obviously be used as a substitute for food – I’m kidding on this one).  The hot wine (heating, mulled wine) was pretty good, and the sangria was decent, but nothing extraordinary.

For entrees, we ordered the pollo castellana and the ravioli aragosta (lobster ravioli).  I think our first reaction to the lobster ravioli was…where was the lobster?  Bathed in orange/red buttery sauce, the dish tasted like ordinary ravioli.  Well cooked, but lacking its main participant, I mean ingredient.  As for the pollo castellana, it was nicely served with spinach, cheese, and eggplant.  Nice and filling, but I’m afraid not very memorable.

Service: Mediocre.

The waiter accidentally got the wine list wrong (claiming that some beverages were available when in reality they weren’t).  Service was sporadic – he was very attendant at one point, but when we wanted to get our check, he vanished.  Also, there was a problem with our billing.

Ambiance: Good.

Think of your typical Soho restuarant.  Very dim, bar by the entrance, table overlooking the street.  I would say restaurant capacity is probably around 40 at most.

Quirk: Mediocre.

Like its food, there is nothing extraordinary, or eye-catching about this place.  It’s cozy, but that is pretty much it.

Location: 152 Spring Street, Soho.

Price: 2 entrees + 2 alcoholic beverages = $65.

Verdict: Mediocre.

Despite its fashionable location in Soho, you’re better off going to a place like Vento Trattoria in West Village for half the prices and better Italian cooking.

Y here.  As usual, I have, in my disorganized behavior, fallen behind in my food blogging.  However, tonight (after an early day from work), I’ve decided to do some catch up.

Once in a while, Restaurants.com has a great deal that M and I just can’t resist.  While many of the restaurants on the list are unfamiliar to us, we try to adopt a “why not?” attitude and try them out. Black Duck was an example of this, and it turned out with pretty favorable results.

Food (Menu): Good.

For appetizers, we ordered the lightly breaded fried calamari.  While M and I both agree that there’s very little to differentiate “good” fried calamari and “bad” fried calamari, we both liked our main courses.

M enjoyed her pear salad, and I enjoyed my sesame crusted wasabi tuna.  The tuna steak was cooked just right, and the sesame presented a nice crispy shell.  The wasabi taste wasn’t strong, but that’s probably a plus for me because too much wasabi in my food always makes my eyes water.  All in all, a nice filling meal.

Service: Good.

No complaints in this department, the waiter was courteous, our meals came on time.

Ambiance: Good.

The Black Duck would make a great date place, except I find the company a little mixed.  There are young twenty-somethings (who probably took advantage of the Restaurant.com deal), but then there’s an age gap and a crowd of people in their late forties and fifties.  Think of roaring twenties’ jazz club (in fact, the restaurant advertises itself as Prohibition-themed).  Muted lighting, lots of reds – if you’re into that whole old boys’ club/cigar lounge kind of setting.

Quirk: Mediocre.

Some people may come for the live jazz band.   Or some people may dig the inconspicuous location of the restaurant.  M and I sat around the back of the restaurant, but the jazz band was still loud to us.  I can’t imagine what it must be like for the people up front.  Restaurant-goers who are huge fans of jazz will probably love this.

Location: 124 East 28th Street (Btw. Lexington and Park Ave), Gramercy.

Price: 1 appetizer + 1 salad + 1 entree = $50

Verdict: Good.

Worth checking out in our opinion.  While the food is not extraordinary, we like Black Duck’s reasonable prices.  For jazz lovers, the music will be a plus.