21 April 2008

Cuba Cafe, 200 Eighth Ave (between 20th and 21st St.)

To celebrate the successful (?) launch of uRadiate, the website startup that Dave has been working so hard on, we found it nothing short of appropriate to go out for a dinner in Chelsea.

We found Cuba Cafe with it's wild, upbeat Spanish music pouring out onto 8th Ave with the front windows open and patrons munching on plantains, sharing empanadas and casually sipping mojitos. We spoke with the waiter and decided to wait an additional 30 minutes to snag a window seat, as it's been one of the first real spring days in New York, and who doesn't love eating (semi) outside?

Unbeknownst to us - that was the only good decision we made that night.

Upon perusing the menu, my order choice was made easily - Atun, the seared yellowfin tuna, marinated with guava, soy sauce and rum, served with a side of chorizo mashed potatoes. This dish alone is what made Cuba Cafe into the runnings for where to go out to eat, but was also half responsible for Cuba Cafe's demise. Dave ordered the marinated grilled pork tenderloin laced with rioja demi and garlic mojo served with onions and tostones. We also got the chorizo appetizer, and a coconut mojito.

The coconut mojito was AWESOME - really sweet, coconut-y, not very rum-y but hey, who's counting - it tastes good. The chorizo arrived soon thereafter and was okay - MUCH better than the sausage we got at Bone Lick - it had a good flavor but wasn't as spicy and crazy as the menu had depicted.

Our meals arrived, and looked incredible. I took the first bite of my tuna, and it was AWESOME - I felt like I was eating a pile of salt on my plate, sprinkled with tuna. (You all know that I love salt, to an unhealthy degree.) By the second bite, I could feel my arteries closing with every molecule of NaCl that hit my mouth. By the third bite, I was wondering if it would be worth my while to run to the bathroom and wash the tuna off from all of the salt it was doused in. Dave expressed this sentiment perfectly when he said, ". . . even chinese restaurants dont pour soysauce on everything."

I guess soy sauce isn't really Cuban, but it sounded really good, right? The chorizo infused mashed potatoes, on the same token were way over-salted, but very very tasty.

Dave's porkchops were equally terrible, but for different reasons. Dave described it perfectly when he said that ". . . it tasted as though the pork chops had been shipped, defrosted, were refrozen and then sat out on the counter for the night before they were cooked and plated." The sauce on them was tasteless and terrible - the only good part about his dish was the rice and beans, which I don't even like - but I had to eat SOMETHING to wash the salt out of my mouth.

We became increasingly dissatisfied as the meal progressed, and at the end just wanted to get the hell out of there. The music was now too loud, our server was nowhere to be found, the people next to us were obnoxious, and there was no more booze. We got the tab, only to find that they charged EXTRA for the coconut in the mojito (not designated on the menu). Way to pinch pennies, seriously. If anything, you're SAVING money by putting less alcohol (or a less potent alcohol) in. Nice.

Cuba Cafe, maybe you should change your menu entries to the following:

Chorizo 8.95
Mediocre Sausage sautéed with tastlessness and the worst vegetable ever

Atun 21.95
Pan seared yellowfin tuna, infused with salt, NaCl, das salz, le sel & de sal.

Chuletas 18.95
3 days old-style pork chops covered in weaksauce with a side of disgusting and terrible

Cuba Cafe gets a .5 fork rating:

17 April 2008

Gradisca, 126 West 13th Street (between 6th and 7th Ave)

Wow, can you believe it's been almost a month since our last tragedy at Bone Lick in Chelsea. I was anxiously (but also patiently) awaiting George's week-long update from when he and T were in town. I received it today, but frankly...it's not up to the Fork qualifications. We're going to have to work with the amateurs over here to spice it up and give it the true flavor, the ZEST of what the Flying Fork embodies.

While you all bite your nails in anticipation of this monster, mother-of-all posts, I give you Gradisca - just barely enough to whet your appetite.

Gradisca has been one of the restaurants in my card deck of restaurants that keeps coming up as a place I want to try, but every time gets denied - either for the location, menu, cuisine, etc. (Dad and I denied it in favor of Cafe Loup, which is right across the street from Gradisca.)

So, it came up last night as I presented the options for restaurants that I picked to David as he basically kicked my ass in chess while not even thinking. After a short, brutal game, Gradisca wasn't too long of a walk, I was getting cold as the sun was setting, and it was Italian, which is a great cuisine if you have no idea what you want, or aren't that hungry.

We pondered the menu outside for a minute or two, and decided to check it out, despite being relatively expensive. Upon walking in, my mind, heart and soul were immediately warmed by the three candles on each table, diners leaning in casually and closely over bottles of wine and delicious looking pastas, and our host and waiter being extremely Italian (calling me bella several times throughout the meal). So classy.

We sat down and I felt a little under dressed (jeans and a polo), but it didn't matter as we were treated with amazing service from our waiter. We decided on the pappardelle con ragu di agnello tagliato al coltello (fresh egg pappardelle sautéed with hand-ground lamb ragu), and maltagliati di pasta fresca in crema di tartufo nero (handmade “badly cut” egg pasta in a black truffle cream sauce).

The bread came and was mediocre at best - nothing special or out of the ordinary. Our pastas arrived soon thereafter and I could probably count the number of noodles in my bowl at about twelve - it was that small. $20 for this!? Are you crazy?! I saw Dave immediately dive into his truffle sauce pasta, and the next time I looked up, he was about 2/3 of the way done. (Interesting because he wasn't hungry when we walked in...)

After allowing the smell to slowly permeate my nostrils for a minute or two, I tried mine. The lamb was so tender, so tasty, and the sauce - oh my god. A perfect blend of herbs and spices - this isn't your classic Ragu or Newman's here. It perfectly complemented the homemade pasta, which is a flavor, consistency and texture I feel only existed on that night, at that moment. Maybe they hand-made it in the kitchen. Maybe when we ordered, they had a bullet train that came over from Italy to deliver our food in a special temperature controlled car. Please allow me to say, I have not tasted Italian that good since Mom and I were in Italy two years ago.

And David's truffle pasta? Well, let's start by saying that when they said truffle cream sauce, they didn't mean "cream sauce with some flecks of truffle", nay, they meant truffles pureed INTO a cream sauce. There was absolutely no skimping on the sauce of any kind. I don't even LIKE mushrooms but I definitely just inhaled the pasta and sauce on my fork for a good two minutes before I took my first bite. And the bite held up perfectly to every single expectation I had.

I forced myself to eat slowly, almost a bite a minute to really savor, and enjoy these flavors I know I will probably never taste again.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, we ordered a chocolate soufflé that disappeared within the minute it was put down. So rich, with the perfect hint of dark chocolaty bitterness complimenting the vanilla cream that flooded the edges of the bowl.

Maybe I died last night. Maybe Gradisca was heaven. Maybe I fell from heaven this morning. Do I really care? Nope, it was all worth it.

Gradisca gets 4/5 forks, only because the portion sizes were just so damn small.
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