01 November 2009

The Australian Hotel, The Rocks, Sydney, NSW

The Australian Hotel is a (what I'm told by Lonely Planet) a typical, Australian pub offering accommodations in the upper floors. This type of accommodation is very convenient and popular to travelers, as you can get trashed at the pub and stumble upstairs to your hotel (again, what I'm told. I wouldn't know anything about this sort of activity).

The Australian Hotel is located in Sydney's oldest district called The Rocks- it's up a hill from iconic sights such as Circular Quay and Darling Harbour, and filled with cobblestone streets and older British architecture. We sat outside for a bit with our first round of beers, but it was chilly despite the warm glow of the street lamps and we quickly moved inside. None of us had dinner, so with our second round, we ordered a pepper kangaroo pizza - marinated in native pepper with roasted capsicum & native berries.

I've never had kangaroo before, and being that we are in Australia, it seemed only logical to eat some kangaroo pizza....

Amazing. Delicious. Like eating red meat, but less fatty, a little more chewy and a great flavor. Why don't we have kangaroos in the United States? Can I import some, please? Australian Hotel, do you do delivery to NYC?

Not to mention the berries (native berries? What does that mean?) were a perfect addition to the saltiness of the sauce and meat, adding an after sweet-note. The roasted red peppers finished out your palette with a slight crunch and a fire-y complement.

The other highlight of the night was the amazing beer selection that the Australian Hotel had. On tap selection was lacking a little, but their bottle selection was amazingly extensive of all Australian beers. I forgot what my first round was, but my second was an unforgettable Akuna- lemon ginger beer. I've only had ginger beer while in Harlem, at Soul Food restaurants or Caribbean restaurants, and it's always been non-alcoholic. This was a delicious, potent, flavorful, alcoholic rendition with a bite! A bit intense, I definitely could not drink a six-pack...

...but it would definitely go perfect on a beach as Corona substitute, haha.


4 Forks. I really wish I could have tried the BBQ emu pizza as well. I guess there's always next time :)

24 October 2009

Ky Chow & Ying Chow, Adelaide, Australia

Forkers, please forgive me the embarrassment of not having posted anything since my trip to Chile...without further adieu, two amazing Chinese restaurants I went to in Oz.

Adrian and I went to Adelaide for the sole purpose of going to Kangaroo Island, a small island right off the southern coast of Australia with tons of wildlife. I had read about these two sister restaurants in my Lonely Planet, so I figured it was worth a shot.

The first we went to was Ky Chow, because I couldn't remember where Ying Chow was. Ky Chow is a small restaurant in Adelaide's Chinatown, with extremely reasonable prices and fast service. We went in at the start of dinner and had our food in no time- Chinese green vegetables, honey chicken and duck with sun-dried Chinese bayberries (the latter as per the recommendation of Lonely Planet).

The ambiance was low key, the decor was non-existent, and the atmosphere bright. The food was great, hot, and fresh. The duck was outstanding. The honey chicken reminded me of this soul food I once had in Harlem. The green vegetables were green.

Clearly, I am a fan:

After going to Kangaroo Island, we came back and went to Ying Chow, Ky Chow's busier, bustling, older sister restaurant. We waited about 20 minutes for a table, and there were plenty of people waiting outside as well. We were seated and immediately the order was taken- crocodile with snow peas, aniseed tea duck and some beef satay for an appetizer.

The beef satay was fairly standard. The aniseed tea duck was good, but not as good as the previous. But the crocodile with snow peas was a total treat. I've never had crocodile before, and I don't really remember when I ate alligator with my aunt in Key Largo, so I was pleasantly surprised. Tasted like chicken, but just a tad bit chewier. Absolutely delightful.

I unfortunately have no photos of Ying Chow, as we were starving and wolfed down the food like we hadn't eaten in days.

One thing that totally struck me about both of these restaurants is that Adelaide is an incredibly small town (reminded me of Cleveland, no joke), and yet their Chinese food is better than any Chinese food you get in New York City's Chinatown, where we have people living who don't even speak English. How is this possible? I guess proximity, but seriously. It was incredibly disappointing returning to New York and knowing that the best we can do here is some Peking duck (which is of course good, but still).

Now I want to go to China.

4 forks:

22 June 2009

El Tongua, Valparaiso, Chile & Tio Willy, Santiago, Chile

(Back story: Last year, when I was home for Christmas, my dad, sister and I were relaxing, chatting about life, and having a few glasses of wine. We had finished the bottle when my dad walked over to the wine rack, selected another bottle, showed it to me and said, "Katie, this is special- this is not one of our usual $10 selections." (Back story to the back story: My dad, sister and I swear by finding amazing wines at no less than $10/bottle. Much easier in Ohio than in NYC, unfortunately.) Right on dad- it was a Merlot from Maipo Valley in Chile. Not being a huge Merlot fan, I was skeptical ( I trend more towards a nice Cab or Malbec), but with one sip, I was hooked. I vowed to one day go to Chile, and find that winery, and buy bottles to bring back for my dad, sister and grandpa.

One month later, I find out that one of my good friends and former college roommates Rachael is going to be doing research there in May. I ask her if she would mind sticking around an additional week and hanging out with me. She says, sounds like a plan. I booked a flight the next day.

Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the famous Maipo Valley wine region like I promised to my father, grandfather and myself, but this is the flying fork, not the flying corkscrew so what does it matter? I had some great beer, wine and other drinks, plus food was absolutely amazing, so let's talk about that.)

Every restaurant that I went to in Chile was absolutely amazing. In Easter Island, I had amazing fish, Rachael had incredible Rapa Nui chicken. In Santiago, I had great sopapilla, croissant with manjar, fresh squeezed orange/grapefruit juice from a little old lady with a shopping cart (ahh, reminds me of west Harlem), pub food, and the Peruvian food was simply off the hook. But what I was really stoked about was seafood that my Chilean friend Wolf (Back story: I met him the first day I was in Santiago when I wandered into one of the most famous Chilean dive bars- La Piojera- love the music on their site!) promised to take me to in Valparaiso and my last day in Santiago in the fish market. In addition, he promised to arrange for me to try sea urchin, "porky-style." Porky-style? What? (Back story: One day when Wolf was spending summers in Valparaiso, he saw some bums buy a sea urchin from a seafood cart vendor, split it open with a knife, squeeze some lemon juice on it, and enjoy. Right there, on the street. Wolf said when he saw this, he knew he had to try it- and it was awesome! How could I not be on board to try this?!)

So first, El Tongua in Valparaiso. Firstly, if you asked me to describe the coastal port town of Valparaiso in one word, I would be conflicted between "sketch" and "charming." No offense, but any gringo wandering around there by themselves is in serious peril of getting ripped off, harassed, or pick pocketed if they aren't careful. Putting that aside, I was completely at ease was walking around with a local who spent summers there as a kid. To give you a visual, Valpo is one of those cities you see in postcards with multicolored houses built into the side of cliffs overlooking the ocean and harbor. After walking around a little in the centro, Wolf all of a sudden takes a hard left after some fruit / fish stalls and into a building that looks like a really sketchy warehouse. We begin to climb some stairs, when a security guard stops us, and says to me (in Spanish, Wolf translated) "Please kindly mind your bag and keep it in the front of you." (Back story: This is the second time that day in Valparaiso that security guards had stopped us/ warned us of harm.) Well...that's a sign that not many gringos go there, and it's gotta be good, right?

We sit down at one of the 6 tables in El Tongua and Wolf places the order for parmesean razor clams and abalones locos for the appetizer, and paila marina for the main lunch course. And of course, no meal would be complete without a little local Chilean beer, Escudo.

The razor clams were incredible. I don't even like clams, so I took the first one very skeptically- after that, I couldn't stop. It didn't have the consistency of normal clams, nor the fishy taste- very subtle, with the parmesean and lemon juice complementing perfectly. If we hadn't have had the other food coming, I would have insisted we order more (allow me to point out some foreshadowing here). The abalones locos, found only in Chile (I think), were tasty as well. They were served cold yet cooked, and we scooped the mayo out of them before consuming (for some reason, Chileans love mayo with everything, and lots of restaurants don't really store it properly.) To be honest, I wasn't too impressed by these- the consistency was surprisingly acceptable; it almost flaked apart in my mouth. The taste, however, was just like...chicken? What? Weird. Well, whatever.

And for the main...the paila marina, named after the clay bowl that it's cooked and served in, and the hodgepodge of fish that's served in it. The bowl is set in front of me and all I can do is lean my face over the bowl, feel the steam hit my face and the allow the subtle (not strong!) smell of seafood hit my nostrils. Nice. We dive in, and with every bite I'm more and more hooked on this amazing dish made with mussels, clams, fish, piure, kelp, octopus, onions and cilantro. So tasty. So hot. So fresh. So amazing. Why can't you get food like this in the United States?

I was barely able to finish the meal, and was full for the rest of the day. Before we left El Tongua, I took a photo with the owners/cooks/servers:

Might I add you can see the kitchen behind us- one stove, 4 burners, etc. Like a normal kitchen- everything made and cooked fresh to your order.

Lastly, as a bit of side note about El Tongua, it is actually Chilean slang for "fatty." The real Spanish word is guatón- they took the syllables and reversed them to Tongua. How cool is that? You won't read that in Lonely Planet for sure.

One would think I would have had enough seafood, right? Totally stuffed and full from this great meal...but nope, fellow forkers, I was only craving more. Luckily, Wolf had promised to take me to his favorite non-gringo restaurant in the Santiago Mercado Central for lunch on my last day in Chile. We sat down, and before I knew it I was doing a wine tasting for this incredible Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc, straight from Chile's vineyards. (Back story: after a very, very rough night in college consuming 3 bottles of my dad's home made wine with my friend Ed, I had sworn off white wine altogether. Please don't tell my dad :) I was skeptical....but Wolf had stepped away, was nowhere to be found and would have made me do the tasting anyways so...swirl, swirl, sip.

History was made with that sip. Katie likes white wine again (!) and eagerly motions for the waiter to pour a full glass. Honestly, it was like the prodigal daughter coming back home to where she should be. The wine was just so damn good. I couldn't stop talking about it for the rest of the lunch. Wolf reappears, and is pleased that I approve of the wine (he later told me that it is the best one they had at the restaurant, as he's tried them all), and orders one sea urchin, "porky-style" (not on the menu), and two plates of parmesean razor clams.

The double shotglass of lemon juice and sea urchin comes first, brought by one of the cooks, where it probably not more than 3 minutes prior, freshly chopped open. Whoa. I take another sip of wine, thinking to myself, "Oh shit, I am so not prepared for this." Knowing full well at this point, there's no backing out (nor will there be another chance to do this), I take a deep breath and ask, "What's the proper way to do this?" Real porky-style would have been to put the sea urchin up to your mouth like a bowl, and slurp it out. Being that we are in a slightly more civilized location than on a street with some bums, I pick up a fork and scoop up some of the sea urchin gonads (that's what the yellow consumable meat inside is)....bon appetit. Not bad- the consistency was a little off, almost reminding me of an oyster, but slimier and more runny. Taste? Subtle, with a slight fishy taste but more prominently coming through with taste of ocean saltwater. Smell? Almost like a rotten egg. (Insert sip of wine to wash it all down here.) I tried it, but I'm not sold- I don't have to like everything I fork into my mouth, right?

...but wait, what's this brown-ish thing here? It looks kind of like a baby...crab? "Try it," Wolf says, "It's really good." He hasn't steered me wrong so far, so what other to do than fork it, and just as I'm about to savor the first bite....it crunches. Crunch. Crunch. Cru...Um...oh god, I really don't like this. At all. Time slows down, and I look frantically around for a napkin. But wait- spit it out? Really? Are you that big of a gringo, Katie? Wolf reads my face, and says, "Oh, I can see you don't really like it..." That would be a negative sir, can't say that I do. But now I'm curious- what exactly is it? He tells me while I'm still chewing (before I take a huge gulp of wine to wash it down)- it is "camaron de erizo", or a "sea urchin prawn." Basically, a sea urchin will go around eating tons of plankton, seaweed, algae, etc, and in some of this mix, there's sometimes eggs and larva of other sea animals. The eggs will then develop and grow inside the sea urchin like parasites, and eventually kill the urchin (or some poor, unsuspecting gringo gets served one and eats it!). Kind of a neat fact about nature, but...I'm still not sold. At all. Once was enough, thanks. (Side note: I told my flatmate about this experience once I had gotten home and she said that she usually pays $6/uni in a sushi restaurant- this one urchin alone cost us about $600pesos- the equivalence of about $1USD.)

And then, the razor clams arrive. We eat them all. Wolf orders another plate. We scarf those down too. Then, I request ANOTHER plate, as we can't possibly finish the wine without some delicious razor clams to go with it. (Oh wine, I love how you always encourage and bring out the best decisions.) The razor clams were just as good as the ones in Valpo (albeit a bit more expensive), but the wine....god the wine. Perfecto. What a great way to end my time in Chile.

To close, here's me standing outside the restaurant with "Tio Willy" himself- a loud, personable, boisterous guy who holds out the menu and convinces you that his restaurant is the best, and you should totally eat here.

So, I guess I'm rating Chilean seafood as a whole- 5/5 forks. I'd totally go back and do it all again. (Even the sea urchin.)

15 June 2009

Prune, 51 East 1st St. (Between 1st & 2nd Ave.)

Fellow Forkers! Summertime is my (and many people's) favorite time in New York City. It's filled with free concerts, the Symphony playing outside, Bryant Park Monday night movies, late nights, sweltering subways, hotter than hell temperatures, cold beers, open bars...but most of all, summertime means brunch (and bloody marys!) enjoyed outside in East Village.

After reading Wined & Dined's review of Prune, I couldn't help but want to go, nay need to check it out. When my mom and aunt came in to town, I found the perfect opportunity.

We showed up to Prune around 11am on Sunday morning (which, might I add, is early for myself & most New York brunching standards), yet the line was still about an hour long (Prune opens at 10am for brunch). My mom and I went in searching for a quick cup of joe before brunch, and stumbled a cross a cute cafe down the street with amazing coffee. By the time we acquired our caffeine dosage of the morning, my aunt was flagging us down saying that Prune had a table for us (10 minutes after we put our name in). Schwing! The hostess said it was downstairs in a private room by itself, but that didn't bother us (even though it smelled a little fish-y when we first arrived, and the waitresses were busy running up and down the stairs right next to the table).

We sat down, and perused the menu- my aunt and I immediately going towards the Bloody Mary menu, which is what inspired the visit in the first place. I selected the Green Lake (with Absolut, wasabi and a beef jerky swizzler), and my aunt had the Chicago Matchbox (with homemade lemon vodka, pickled brussel sprouts, baby white turnips, caperberries, green beans and radishes- what!?).

We were about to place our order with our waitress, when she warned us that they can't serve booze until noon. (Good thing we didn't show up at 10am when they opened!) Okay, no problem...we place our orders for drinks & brunch anyways, for both to come whenever they're available. My aunt had the soft scrambled eggs, my mom the Dutch-style pancake, and I debated between the eggs benny (go figure, how pedestrian of me), or the egg en cocotte. After hearing the waitress describe the latter, there was no way I couldn't order it and try something new.

Our bloody marys finally arrived (about 12:02pm), and my aunt and I toasted in victory. My bloody mary with wasabi mixed in was intense & delicious (just the perfect kick of heat!), with the beef swizzle stick garnish (slim jim, anyone?) bringing the concoction around full circle. My aunt's Chicago Matchbox was pretty intense as well, what with pickled vegetables mixed in. Worth $9? Well, I have to say that the best bloody mary I ever had was in Panama while doing karaoke, and it took the bartenders three tries (and very broken spanish/english communication) before we got it right. These were pretty good, but the company and solidarity around the table is what really made them great and sealed the deal.

Soon thereafter, the brunch arrived. I'll start with the uneventful (no offense mom & Aunt Yo). The scrambled eggs were pretty par for the course- eggs, bacon, potatoes, english muffin. Nothing too special to write home about. The Dutch-style pancake was the entire size of the plate, and was about a 1/2" thick with pears baked into the top. With a little maple syrup- tasty, but definitely not a show-stealer or curtain-closer. The real deal was my egg en cocotte. Imagine in a ramekin- some stew-y dark meat chicken, with a coddled egg baked on top. Pair it with some heavily buttered toast (bring on the cholesterol baby!) and some mixed lettuces tossed with an incredible vinaigrette, and NOW you're talking NYC brunch. In fact- put some lettuce on top of the toast, with some egg and chicken on top of that, and take a bite and feel- and TASTE!- the flavors infuse in your mouth, each equally fighting for control of your taste buds, yet instead melding with the next in some sort of symphonic harmony. Wow.

Simply incredible. I consciously slowed myself down in order to truly enjoy each bite. What an incredible brunch- and just to think, I almost got the (boring) eggs benedict!

Now I know why Prune had a waitlist of 2hrs+ by the time we left, and many famous chefs (including my idol, Anthony Bourdain) have raved about Prune.

For my egg en cocotte & the bloody marys, I'd give prune a 4.5/5 forks, but because the other brunches were just ok, Prune gets 4 forks.

24 April 2009

David Chang Cart, 318 Lafayette St. (at Houston St.)

Our story begins with a dream. And that dream begins with a contest, sponsored by NBC called "Locals Only", where one must visit a site at 11am EST, correctly answer several NYC trivia questions, and lastly, be one of the first five people to do so for that day. If one completes said requirements, one is granted access to an exclusive lunch prepared by David Chang of Momofuku, out of a street cart, in an undisclosed location.

There was no way I could NOT go to this event, let's just say that once I realized a little work-around for the contest...ACCESS GRANTED. Needless to say, at noon today, my coworkers and I hopped on the 6 to Bleecker and walked up to the event. There were four menu choices, all served with Pepsi Natural: vegetarian (rice fries, shiitake bun & ginger scallion noodles), pork (rice fries, pork bun & rice cakes), chicken (rice fries, chicken bun & wings), and lastly, chef's choice (whatever the hell he wants to give you). While choosing a "grab bag" or "what's behind door #3" never proves to be fruitful, I knew in this case, you simply couldn't go wrong. First of all, it's free. Secondly, it's chef's choice, when the chef is David Chang. Thirdly, all of his food is amazing so there is absolutely no way you're going to end up with shit on a plate.
I could not have been more right:

Is that.........LOBSTER?????????????????????????????????

Why hells yes, it is. Chef's choice was either lobster & bacon over cheesy, scallion-y grits of some sort, a one-minute egg, and a pork bun, or a lamb dish (I didn't get too close of a look at this one). Can we say, off the hook. No way in hell was I ever expecting to get lobster served out of a street cart by David Chang....it was amazing. The lobster was perfectly cooked, and as you can see, was HUGE chunks of claw meat. If you smooshed everything together in one bite (lobster, bacon, grits, scallion & egg), wow. Talk about a tasty, fatty, cholesterol-filled fusion of flavor.

And, don't even get me started on the pork bun. I was originally thinking that it would be like a chasiubao, but it was more like cucumber (hells yes), scallion (perfect addition), and pork belly (I think I'm in heaven) wrapped up in a pancake (much like you get with peking duck). I love pork belly, and I love the roast pork sauce that they use on the bun, and oh wait- and I love cucumber too! Clearly a classic of David Chang's, and clearly incredible.

Wait- that's not all! As we sat down, there was a woman who set her stuff down and then left- and left her tub of I'm not so sure what sitting at the table. It was handed out to seemingly random people throughout the event, so we cracked it open and had a taste....what was this mystery jar? Oh wait, it was duck fat. (We figured out later it was supposed to go with the rice from the lamb chef's special.) My coworker and I dug right in- imagine every bite as tasty as that wonderful piece of fatty duck that everyone loves. What an incredible touch to add to the meal. You certainly don't get some duck fat when you order your Micky D's fries or your street meat from the 53rd & 6th Street Meat Cart, but you do when you get your lamb from David Chang's cart!

The ambiance was perfect - this could not have been executed on a better day. We sat outside at a picnic table, in the sun and 70 degree weather, enjoying an incredible lunch. My expectations were perfectly met, this lunch was everything I had hoped for and more.

Lastly for dessert, we picked up a dish of "old fashioned doughnut" ice cream- vanilla ice cream topped with cinnamon & sugar. At first it tasted a little off, (maybe it's been all the Carvel that I've been eating, thanks to my flatmate who brings it home), but as it melted and the flavors fused, hot damn. Or rather cold damn. Way better than DQ, they sure as hell did treat us right.

We departed and went back to the office, completely stuffed, satiated, and very sleepy for our 2:30pm call.

Might I add I met & took my photo with Chef (I asked "Chef may I call?" before I asked him for the photo! Awesome!):

Do I even need to say it....5 forker:

26 March 2009

Craft, 43 East 19th St. (Between Park Ave & Broadway)

When our reps from Google asked us where we would like to go for dinner while they were in town, Craft seemed like an excellent choice- simple yet complex foods and flavors, resulting in everyone finding something they would like. We walk up to the Craft private dining room about an hour and a half later than our reservation was for, and immediately our coats were taken and the experience started off (and may I jump ahead a bit and say stayed) exactly how I would imagined it would be. We sauntered over to the bar for cocktails or wine before dinner, and when I noticed that there were two bottles of wine out to choose from, I asked the bartender for a recommendation on a good cab. He simply responded with "This Pinot Noir and Savingnon Blanc were chosen by Chef to specifically complement the meal. Which would you like?" Whoa. These wines were chosen by Chef (with a capital C) to compliment our meal? Well, obviously they have to be amazing right? Without hesitation I dove right into the Pinot Noir and in the blink of an eye, the first round of passed h'ours d'ourves came out. A cauliflower soup with truffle oil. You can ask any of my coworkers, I stood there inhaling that magical scent for about three minutes before drinking my soup. After finishing, I thought out loud to myself, "They could bring out 5 more trays of that, just for me," and by the time we sat down for dinner, they definitely had. I saw four extra glasses of the soup sitting on the bar at one point, and one of my coworkers definitely dared me to go over and shoot them all- to which I responded that I was classier than that. Not going to lie though, the temptation was there.

The second passed h'ours d'ouvre was a Spanish mackerel sashimi on top of some sort of garlic cracker with fennel. Outstanding, once again. Most of my coworkers said that this was their favorite- again, to just inhale the fennel for a brief second before consuming was totally key to enhancing all of the flavors as they rolled right over your tongue like a tidal wave.

The third passed h'ours d'ourve was a pork croquette with golden candied raisins and a crunchy herb on top (that now I can't remember the name). Greasiness isn't the right word, but the more savory of the fried pork combined with the subtle herb ending with a sweet note of the golden candied raisin was fabulous. It was definitely three distinct, unusual yet complimentary flavors that each had a chance to shine at different points in the experience. I probably had about four of these by the time they made the rounds.

The fourth passed h'ours d'ourve was a foie gras moosse on a rich, buttery cracker. So light and airy, yet so savory and heavy. A very nice compliment to each other.

The last passed h'ours d'ourve was fava beans with fava oil and a tiny bit of salt. It was of course beautifully prepared but the flavors didn't talk to me like the rest of the h'ours d'ourves did. Either way, a nice, light, vegetarian way to compliment the other savory & creamy dishes.

One thing that my coworker and I discussed this morning was how each h'ours d'ouvre had it's own distinct flavors, character and charm. None overlapped in any way, and each complimented the next and the one prior, almost like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

We sat down for dinner about an hour or so after lounging in the first entry room, enjoying the soundtrack, the ambiance, the company. A fixed menu was chosen prior, and everything was shared family style- what a great idea, as opposed to choosing your dinner from a few fixed choices. Craft is definitely a restaurant that is so damn conducive to this sort of feeling- upscale and classy, yet cool enough to have community dishes to ensure that each diner has the opportunity to sample every part of the meal. When we go out, we always sample each other's meals anyways, but the fact that it was a green light from the get-go added so much more to the quality.

For appetizers, we had the four following: Mixed lettuces, French Mâche & Apple, diver scallops and hamachi. The mixed lettuces were nothing special, and frankly a little annoying since the leaves were so large, it was hard to get the lettuces from your plate to your mouth without cramming them in with your fork, not to mention looking like an asshole when you have lettuce hanging out of your mouth and you push it in with your hand. Or maybe I'm just not skilled enough. The scallops on the other hand were positively off the hook. Perfectly seared on the outside progressing evenly and smoothly in temperature to raw on the inside, cooked to medium-rare perfection. They were absolutely ginormous, and seasoned just enough to bring out the main feature and flavor of the fish- freshness. No use beating around the bush, the scallops were to die for. When I thought it couldn't get any better, I had a bite of the french mâche and apple. A salad of basic mâche greens, apple and an onion vinaigrette, one would think it's nothing special. But the same theme comes back to haunt us once again- simple, complimentary flavors. The salad started off green, turned sweet with the apple, and the vinaigrette totally sent the experience upwards with the onion-y, savory yet semi-sweet note at the end. Absolutely incredible. If only I could make this at home every day. The hamachi was fresh and tasty, but honestly it didn't compare to the scallops, and frankly I like my raw fish with rice, seaweed (sometimes), soy sauce and wasabi.

Might I add one more thing about the appetizers, my god was the wine paired perfectly for the apps. It was a match made in heaven- I don't even like white wine really, but the way the the flavors of the scallop and wine tangled in my mouth....absolutely remarkable.

As our waiters whom I don't recall ever seeing took away our plates and new ones appeared before us for the main course, I wondered if I should have regretted scarfing down as many h'ours d'ourves as I did as I was now positively full from the first two courses. When they brought out the mains, I thought I may have gone to heaven - organic chicken, flatiron steak, assortment of mushrooms, potatoes gratin and cauliflower and chickpea risotto. I'm not going to lie when I say that I only tried a little bit of each, because I was so full from the h'ours d'ourves and the appetizers.

The chicken was perfectly and subtly seasoned, and the steak was to die for. Served rare, it was nicely complimented with the red wine, and absolutely melt in your mouth. I didn't find the potatoes gratin as anything spectacular, but the cauliflower and chickpea risotto was a nice change of pace from the normal risotto. To get a little personal, I'm not a huge fan of mushrooms but I tried one anyways, especially because I'm trying to get over my dislike- and while I particularly didn't like them, I could tell they were fresh, cooked properly and for a mushroom connoisseur, probably absolutely tasty.

For the last course of dessert, we had a chocolate souffle and a warm apple crisp with a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of caramel ice cream. Unfortunately, due to being a savory and not sweet person, I find desserts like these rather subpar and underwhelming. I sampled barely a taste of all parts, and frankly it was nothing to write home about. I was really looking forward to sampling the key lime meringue tart with coconut cream and hibiscus granita, but I guess this is just another reason to find a reason to celebrate and return to Craft.

You could really get a sense of the chef's sense of personality in the food that we ate- such simple, subtle yet complimentary flavors blending together to form such a complex experience. Everything was in this theme, and you could totally see Tom Colicchio's reflection in all parts of the dining affair. Lastly, I'd like to comment on the waitstaff of Craft. I don't really remember seeing our waiters at all, yet plates were magically taken away and re-appeared and drinks refilled without the slightest bit of attention or interruption of conversation. Even the bathroom door was held for me. Every action was performed with the utmost precision and efficiency so as not to interrupt the experience. Absolutely incredible amounts of class and service.

The morning after: Craft gave everyone a chocolate chip muffin as we got our coats and walked out after an amazing night. I wasn't in the least bit hungry the next day, but not going to lie, the muffin complemented my $.75 street vendor coffee so damn well I couldn't resist.

I think it's clear to say we have another 5 Forker here:

22 March 2009

Otto, 1 Fifth Ave (at 8th St.)

Forkers, due to the recent economic syndromes, the oncoming trip to Chile and the ridiculous amount of exercise I've been doing, I've been laying low and trying to cook in as much as possible to save some extra cash and cut calories. Myself and my two managers ended up at Otto when one of our vendors decided to take us out last minute, and the rest of the team punked out.

Otto is a pizza restaurant and enoteca that was opened by famous chef Mario Batali. We walked in to Otto on a seemingly regular Wednesday night, yet the place was packed and our vendor was only able to score us a standing table only. Unfortunately, we were unable to order Otto's famous pizzas at one of these tables, but that didn't damper our moods and keep us from ordering three bottles of wine, a smoked meats plate, a cheese plate and some small fishes.

The smoked meats plate was outstanding. But how could an assortment of prosciutto, pancetta, coppa, testa & salumi while drinking fine red wine in great company at an amazing not be outstanding? The cheese plate on the other hand was rather underwhelming, with an assortment including a brie, parmesean, and gouda. However there was one soft cheese that was absolutely incredible, the goat coach triple cream from upstate NY. I was dually unimpressed by the small fishes as well, as most were composed of some sort of octopus or squid, of which I'm allergic. In lieu of this, I tried the rock shrimp and it was very nice.

The wines we had were also very nice- mostly dry reds, the way it should be! By the time we walked out of Otto and finished everything, to be honest I'm lucky I remember the dishes we had, let alone the wines. The one thing I would have improved upon with the wines would be a slight chill to ~50 degrees F. Wines are fine at room temperature, but when room temperature is about 80 degrees (it was very warm and crowded that night), the wine should be slightly chilled.

Probably one of the coolest novelties about Otto that I noticed is an old-school train timetable (you know, the one that has the letters that flips around every time a train departs or arrives) that occasionally flipped on the wall opposite the entrance. Very very nice European touch.

I'm looking forward to returning with my father and my sister when they're in town, and trying the pizza!

3 Forks:

14 February 2009

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, 50 rue de la Gauchetière Ouest (at Rue Clark), Montréal

Greetings from Montreal, fellow forkers! I am currently writing to you from the lobby of our Holiday Inn Midtown, with a (not-so) fine glass of 2 for 1 bogo red wine next to me. After my ballet class today, I came back to the hotel starving and ready to consume for a feast for dinner, whereas Adrian has been a tad bit sick the past few days, but I somehow managed to get him out of the hotel and into the brisk, nay freezing 20 degree Montreal weather.

He said that he really wanted to take me around the Latin Quartier & International Quartier, which also happened to be near Chinatown. I am always down for a little walk to experience a new city, and an excuse to try a new Chinatown's chessieubao, so after walking close to a kilometer, we were standing on the corner of Rue de la Gauchetière and Clark in the middle of Chinatown. I might exaggerate a little when I say that I heard voices calling my name from the Little Sheep, but I will say truthfully that I was drawn to the sign that said "hot pot" like a moth to the flame. Before I knew it, we had a number in our hand for our table, and a smell that I have never experienced but one that evoked memories & thoughts of a place I've never been but can only hope to go to & experience waifting through my nostrils.

After a long 30 minutes of waiting where it looked like no one was leaving and we might be trapped with this sensuous amazing food tempting us forever, number 7 was called and we were quickly seated. We ordered the spicy pepper hot pot and the hotpot "for affectionate lovers". I wasn't really sure what that meant, but I got from the description and talking to some of the waiters that it's a hotpot that's divided in two, like a ying-yang with one side herbal and the other side something else. And come on, the description "for affectionate lovers" - how can you go wrong? It's Valentine's Day, I'm here with Adrian...I like spicy, so does he, so this seems like a pretty good deal, right?

Our hotpots come, and they place the completely spicy hotpot in front of me, and the ying-yang hot pot in front of Adrian. What I didn't know before I ordered is that the ying-yang hot pot is actually 1/2 herbal, but also 1/2 spicy. Oh noes. I had once watched a Food Network special on hot pot in Shanghai (? I think) where Americans couldn't handle the heat from the hot pot it was so ridiculously spicy. And now, 3/4 of our meal is spicy. Oh noooooooooo.

So basically, for those forkers who don't know, if I may be blasphemous to both the Frenchies and the Chinese, hot pot is basically Chinese fondue, but with hot oil and broth. You drop some thinly sliced meats, veggies, etc in the hot pot as it's boiling, the ingredients all cook within a matter of seconds, you take them out and enjoy. Quite tasty, and great to warm you up on a cold Canadian night.

We are starving, and immediately start dropping some lamb & beef in (prepared shabu shabu style). Soon thereafter, I head up to the "buffet" to grab some accoutrement (taro, potato, pumpkin, parsley, bok choi, cabbage, broccoli, baby corns, egg, mushroom, spam, rice cake, assorted seafoods and a few other miscellaneous items) and some soda. The hot pot is bubbling now, with whole cloves of garlic, chilies, water chestnuts, scallion and chili oil nearly spilling over the sides. I dive in, to be rewarded with incredibly delicious but very spicy veggies & meat. Adrian and I don't say much for the first five minutes of eating, until I break the silence with "Oh my god, my nose is running. This is really spicy." At that point, it was too late - I had taken too long of time between the last piece of food and putting the next piece of food in my mouth and the spice had set in, and my mouth was officially on fire.

Adrian lucked out with the half & half hot pot. The herbal was great to dip veggies in, while the spicy was superb to give the meats flavor. As the busboy was picking up our dishes, I was making a comment about how amazing the dish was when you had those two separate flavors, and to rub some hot oil in the open wound, he wholeheartedly agreed as he took away my completely spicy hot pot. Thanks a lot, as if I didn't look like an a stupid white tourist in a totally Asian restaurant already.

The walk back to the hotel was not fun, as my stomach was absolutely torn apart and I could barely even walk due to this fact & that I was so full - yet we had really not eaten much, comparing to say, an Applebees steak dinner.

Regardless, the hot pot was absolutely amazing, and everything I thought it would be. I can only hope that one day I'll be able to go to China and write a comparison post!

I would highly recommend hot pot to anyone who can find a restaurant that specializes in this awesome dish - it's absolutely amazing, revitalizing, and awakes and heightens your senses to a level you never knew existed (as all spicy food should). Plus, it's relatively healthy as it's just broth with some veggies & meat added and cooked. It was also a very reasonable meal, at about $25 CAD per person. HOT! (Literally and figuratively.)

Even though it's a chain, here's a link to the official site: Little Sheep Hot Pot

4.5 Forks:

08 February 2009

Les Halles, 411 Park Ave South (at 29th St.)

When my good friend Rachael said she was coming in to town for the weekend to share travelling photos and plan our trip to Chile, we both agreed there was no better occasion to frequent a fine French restaurant than this, both of us being mildly obsessed with French culture & the language (but her spending far more time there than I have, yes I'm a little jealous).

After nixing the idea of looking for a place online myself, I went straight to my previously mentioned foodie coworker Brian who referred me to a few different establishments, but I felt that Les Halles was the best pick for value, price and novelty (Anthony Bourdain started here, and based his book Kitchen Confidential off his experiences as a chef while chef'ing here).

We end up rocking up to Les Halles around 10ish, after grabbing a few quick drinks and waiting for Rachael's friend Tyler's girlfriend to join us. We're quickly seated, and the wine menu is handed to me to select....purely on the recommendation of the waiter, I select a $60 bottle of 2005 Chassagne-Montrachet (“La Canière”). I get the honor of tasting, and of course it's delicious.

We hastily decide on mains as well, and here was the verdict:
  • Me: Due to it being "Choucroute Month", I chose the Choucroute de Royale (Smoked Bacon, Blood Sausage, Smoked Pork Lion, Frankfurter, Smoked Pork Shank, Cervelat-Salami, Boiled Potatoes, & Sauerkraut slow cooked in Champagne).
  • Rachael: Poulet Rôti, Frites (Oven roasted organic chicken & fries).
  • Tyler: Choucroute de Canard (Foie Gras and Duck Sausage, Duck Leg Confit, Duck Gizzards, Boiled Potatoes, Sauerkraut slow cooked in Gewurztraminer).
  • Tyler's Girlfriend: Pavé de Thon Grillé, sauce Vierge, Légumes Grillés à l’Huile d’Olive (grilled tuna with grilled vegetables, lemon juice, olive oil).

My choucroute plate was incredible. It came out as a pile of incredibly well-cooked delicious meats, my favorite being the smoked bacon (obviously). I also got to try the tuna, which was ordered rare, and could not have been cooked better. It was perfectly seasoned, and the temperature was perfect. From the bite I had of the duck leg, due to the fact it was duck and intrinsically awesome, it tasted incredibly seasoned and cooked as well. I cannot speak for the chicken as I did not try it.

Rachael and I both ended up taking half of our dishes home, and then split a dessert of chocolate and banana tart with vanilla sauce. I only had a few bites, and frankly I wasn't all that impressed. It was not nearly as good as the chocolate wontons from Chow Bar or the creme brulee from Rigsby's Kitchen. But then again, you know me, I'm all about the weirdest forking ingredients and flavors I can find, especially in desserts, as I really don't like them to begin with.

Besides the ridiculously nicely cooked heaps of meat that contributed to a great meal at Les Halles, I found the ambiance pretty decent. If you're looking for typical Parisian cafe culture and spirit, don't go to Les Halles. If you're looking for the New York, urban trendy cafe with delicious French meats, go to Les Halles. The music was great, but it was a little dark for my tastes (the only light was candlelight, and we struggled to read our menus).

Les Halles gets 2.5 forks, but could have gotten 5 if we could have met Anthony Bourdain.

01 February 2009

Icon, 130 E. 39th St (at Lex, in the W Hotel)

The recent state of economic affairs has been hitting all of us hard, fellow fork readers. I commiserate completely with you as we've been forced to end our old ways of consuming madeiras and ports after ever meal, end our favorite habits of lobster tail add-ons to our mains, and on top of that, instead of drinking some Perrier and eating some organic delicacies off the Whole Foods buffet, finding ourselves scrambling for change to buy a Grey's Papaya. Therefore, when I do go out, I've been really trying to ensure that the places I do frequent are the best "bang for your buck" and really are tasty and a great value.

This past week has been Restaurant Week in New York, and for those of you not in the know, Restaurant week is where selected participating restaurants around the city offer a prix fine menu for a fixed cost that's (usually) less than the cost of buying off the actual menu. I asked my foodie coworker Brian for a recommendation off the list, as he frequents Brasserie 8 1/2 and Jean-George's on a near weekly basis, and while he approved my choice of Icon, he said he would have gone elsewhere. (Bad omen #1.)

I make a reservation for 730, and we rock up about 740. I happen to notice while I was standing outside that the menu had changed from what I viewed online (bad omen #2). We went inside, and the restaurant was nearly empty (bad omen #3). Chan states, "I'm glad you made the reservation." The waitstaff is duly unimpressed.

We sit down, and it turns out they changed their menu to a four course menu for each person, pick any dishes you want. Here's what we chose:
  • big eye tuna – strawberry, cucumber, mojito
  • charantaise melon – goat cheese, fennel, acacia honey, prosciutto, arugula, sherry #9
  • scottish salmon – sunchoke, asparagus tips, lobster vanilla sauce
  • crispy duck confit – basil mustard, raisin paper, micro greens, sherry #9, lavender smoke
  • poached filet of beef – spinach fondue, pomme soufflé, red wine shallot sauce
  • pork belly – celery root, english stout
  • New Zealand cockles – chorizo, purple potato, celery
  • blueberries – white chocolate, kaffir lime, tobacco and mint

I mean, take a look at this menu? How could we have gone wrong? Tuna mojito? Sherry #9? Lavender smoke? Purple potato? Tobacco? Seriously, this is a culinary and gastro-intestinal delight. Right?


One thing that I didn't realize, or rather had the misconception was when I looked at the (wrong) menu, it seemed like most other restaurant week menus - one appetizer, one main, and a dessert. Here, it was more of a tasting course....where as I'm sure you can tell, each plate is one or two bites.

As Dave put it, most of these dishes are comparable to what you'd see on the Food Network. So you think you'd be getting something really good...something really exotic, however it really wasn't all that great.

Take the big eye tuna with strawberry, cucumber & mojito. The dish was actually some raw tuna, sliced strawberry, pieces of cucumber and mojito foam. When combined together was a nice fusion of flavor, however more than one bite and I became slightly underwhelmed.

The filet would have been fine, except they didn't ask us what temperature we wanted it. The cockles were fishy and strange. The lavender smoke did nothing for the duck confit. The salmon was fishy. The melon was overpowered by the goat cheese. The only dish that qualified into the "just alright" category was the pork belly. But seriously, it's pork belly, and I'm not quite sure how it wouldn't be fine. How does one mess up pork fat with a little meat? It's going to be delicious no matter what. (And it was.)

One thing that did win at this dinner was the presentation. The way and order the dishes were brought out was very stylish, and the plates were beautifully presented and arranged.

But this by no means compensated for the ambiance, which wasn't all that great, and to be honest, I've partied at W Hotels before, and this one just felt downright trashy. Like the type where you wouldn't want them to turn up the lights at all because it would just look tacky and unfinished. (Kind of gave me the same impression as my old apartment in Bedstuy, if you know what I'm talking about.) Hand in hand with this, it felt wannabe and like they were trying to be super elite, but were not at all in the least. In addition, the timing was always off with our waiter and busboy. They asked us for drinks 3x, made a huge deal taking our plates away when it was obvious there was still food on them and we were unfinished, asking if we'd like coffee after we had received dessert, and then were nowhere to be found when we needed the check.

By the time we left, the dining room was full and it seemed like people were enjoying themselves. Honest to God, my only thought was that I hope that if they're tourists, they don't get the impression that this is what real New York food is.

Mediocre food? Check. Ill-trained waitstaff? Check. Wannabe vibe? Check. Trying way to hard? Check. Icon gets one fork:

27 January 2009

Chow Bar, 230 W 4th St. (at W.10th St.)

Because Dave never wanted to go to any Asian-fusion restaurants, and Dad and I were always too busy imbibing in ridiculous amounts of Belgian brewskis at the Castle to go, I finally found the perfect opportunity to hit this little gem in West Village - with Adrian last Saturday.

He took care of the reservations, and after doing the subway tour of the world (no no no, thank YOU, MTA), we stroll up on a blustery, frigid, January night at 7pm and are quickly seated. Neither of us had eaten that much that day (Adrian - a few cookies and a carrot, me - a piece of bread with one slice of turkey and one slice of munster cheese), we quickly decided on two appetizers and a bottle of the Moon Princess sake. (Moon Princess? What the hell does that mean? Our waiter didn't know either, which ended up being a theme of the night.)

Before I kick into the appetizers, let me take a quick moment to tell you about the ambiance of Chow Bar. In two words: mad chill. The vibe was absolutely perfect for the night - chill electronic vibes (one of my favorite parts of this experience, actually), Asian-type decorations on the wall, nearly non-existent lighting save for the candles on the table. Perfecto.

So, the appetizers. We kicked off the night with the spicy tuna tartare, which was infused with wasabi, had crispy wonton chips & was drizzled with ponzu sauce, and a bowl of edamame. The edamame could have been better (see: saltier; read my review on Decibel), but the spicy tuna tartare was exactly what we needed. 41 Greenwich's tuna tartare didn't even come close to comparing- the wasabi was absolutely incredible; just the perfect amount of spicy just when you needed it. The chips were great, the ponzu sauce was a taste straight from Japan (I brought back a small bottle of ponzu sauce with me; I find that it's extremely hard to find here, but it could be primarily because I don't know Japanese). Absolutely incredible. I might have actually made Adrian eat most of the edamame so that I could take all most of the tartare. Don't hate on my jack moves.

Just as we had finished our appetizers, our mains came out as the dining room started to fill up a bit more. With the intent of sharing, Adrian got the lemongrass grilled chicken with tamarind glaze, cucumber salad and coconut rice, and I got the roast pork sandwich with kimchee, cilantro, plum sauce and matchstick fries.

The Good: The roast pork sandwich. For some reason, when I read the menu, I thought it said pulled pork, but after I had taken the first bite, I wasn't just pleasantly surprised, I was enthralled! The fusion of the pork marinated in sweet plum bbq sauce, sour chunks of kimchee, cilantro (holy shit did you just say cilantro?!) was simply a match made in heaven. I'm not going to lie, the cilantro truly made the sandwich and bonded all of the flavors together in each heavenly bite. The matchstick fries were superb - imagine, in a perfect world, when every fry in your McDonald's container are all crispy and that nice medium brown. Imagine, a plate full of those with this heavenly sandwich. Imagine that they're dusted with sesame seeds. Imagine a world that could not get much better except it just did with some wasabi infused mustard on the side. Now, I'm not going to spoil your imagining by telling you about the little pile of "cole slaw" off to the side with some cabbage and raw onion that was highly mediocre, but that was just about the only place where the dish fell short, and this might have been purely personal preference (Adrian really liked it).

The Bad: The lemongrass chicken. I felt this dish was bland, boring, underwhelming, unexciting and tasteless much like our service that night was. The chicken was char-grilled to the point where you could almost taste the charcoal, and there was no lemongrass flavor, just a little tasteless heat that hit you a few seconds into your bite. If I wanted tasteless heat, I could have eaten a habenero. There was also a pile of equally as boring slaw underneath the chicken. Blah. Oh wait, the advertised cucumber salad? Don't get too excited - it was only 3 small slices of cucumber on top of the pile of rice. Last time I checked, there's more to a cucumber salad (let alone salad in general) than three slices of cucumber. Just about the only redeeming part of this dish was the coconut rice, which you can actually order as a side (and is probably what we should have done with a different main). The menu claims it had sesame seeds and scallion in it, but I didn't see any and frankly, I'm not complaining. I feel like the tactic to execution of this amazing, perfectly sticky rice was to use coconut milk instead of water. So absolutely tasty, I made a note to try this in my flatmate's rice cooker one of these days.

The Ugly: Our dessert of crispy chocolate wontons with mint ice cream. And by ugly, I mean the only thing that could and/or would be ugly would be me after I ate them every day for the rest of my life because it was just that damn good.

Chow Bar gets 4 forks - only because they fell short on the lemongrass chicken and our highly unknowledgable server who couldn't make a recommendation to me about anything (sake, appetizer, main, dessert) if his life depended on it.

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