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Lobster Roll “Research”: Best Lobster Roll in NYC

13 Jul

Trusty and I have some VIPs coming to town next week, and to adequately prepare for their visit we’ve been doing some lobster roll “research.” Our attempt to share the best lobster roll in NYC with our out-of-town gourmets led us to Grand Central Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station and Luke’s Lobster Shack’s new location on the Upper West Side.

First up was Grand Central Oyster Bar’s Lobster Roll Lunch:

Lobster Roll Lunch at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station

For $24 this lunch includes a giant lobster roll with two sides of sweet potato chips and coleslaw. If you’re a fan of the old school lobster roll (this approach tends to favor shredded lobster meat instead of big hunks, the lobster salad pays homage to Helman’s Classic Mayo, and it’s served room temp rather than chilled) than this is the roll for you.  The price is a little steep, but the serving size is generous (Trusty and I attempted to split it and still had left overs) and, what you’re paying for in part is the atmosphere. With it’s red and white checked table cloths, vaulted tile ceiling, dim lighting and no-nonsense wait staff, the dining room feels as though it’s frozen in the 1960’s. But it’s actually filled with the hustle and bustle of Grand Central terminal–you’ll see business men and women indulging in a cocktail at lunch, some tourists taking a break from being on their feet, and, appropriately, some old school New Yorkers who look like they dine there everyday. So, bring your wallet and your appetite and expect to enjoy a creamy, delicious roll as well as some excellent people-watching.

Our next stop was Luke’s Lobster on 426 Amsterdam (between 80th and 81st).

Luke's Lobster Roll

Luke’s serves their rolls Maine style, which is chilled with a swipe of mayo, a sprinkle of lemon butter, and a dash of seasoned salt (though you can order your roll without any of these, if you want). The other major characteristic of the roll is that it features large, meaty hunks of lobster, rather than a shredded lobster salad. Trusty and I agreed we preferred this approach, but I understand that this is a matter of personal preference.  I didn’t really go for the seasoned salt–for me, a good lobster roll is all about the lobster, and when it’s nice and fresh it has its own succulent flavor and sweetness that had to fight against the savory and salty seasoning to come through. However, Luke’s scored big points for chilling their lobster meat–not only does this help lock in the flavor of the meat, but it provides for a great contrast between the chilled lobster and the toasted bun. The other competitive advantage for Luke’s was their price; for $15 their roll was just as filling and much more affordable.

So what’s the verdict on the Best Lobster Roll in New York City? So far Luke’s and Red Hook’s lobster rolls are in the lead, but stay tuned as we complete our “research”–after all, this kind of project requires a thorough approach!

Birthday Treat at the Doughnut Plant

26 Jun

The Doughnut Plant is no ordinary bakery. For starters, their hours are “6:30 AM-UNTIL DOUGHNUTS RUN OUT.” Famous for making doughnuts “the new cupcake” in New York, the Doughnut Plant has revitalized the art of homemade doughnuts with their creative, gourmet, and seasonal flavors. Case in point: the Crème Brûlée doughnut, one of the signature delicacies that put DP on the map.  The doughnut is hand-piped full of rich, vanilla cream, then topped with shiny, crackling, sugar that’s toasted with a chef’s blowtorched, just like an individual serving of the doughnut’s namesake dessert.

The famous chalkboard that's chalk full of DP's seasonal offerings.

Besides drawing attention for their immaginative flavors, Doughnut Plant has also earned accolades for their innovative preparation. Specifically, DP makes heavenly, trans-fat free doughnuts, going against the doughnut dogma that hydrogenated oils are absolutely essential to producing a light and airy doughnut.

The Doughnut Tray (all caps required) at the Doughnut Plant's tiny counter.

For my Trusty Sidekick’s birthday, we  ventured down to the Doughnut Plant (located at 379 Grand Street (Essex Street) on the Lower East Side) with a few friends to check out these claims for ourselves. And at $2.75/doughnut, we were able to try lots of flavors for not a lot of dough!

Trusty insisted on ordering the classic glazed doughnut (in order to establish a “baseline”). We also had to try one of DP’s signature square-shaped raspberry jelly-filled doughnuts. A Valrhona Chocolate doughnut and a Blueberry doughnut, two of DP’s current seasonal offerings, rounded out our order.

Blueberry and Glazed

The light, soft texture of each doughnut completely blew me away. It was as though cotton candy and a doughnut got together and had a baby doughnut–each bite literally melted in my mouth. And the taste of the dough itself is perfect–subtly sweet, but not overdone.

The sign of a well made doughnut: a soft and pillowy center.

The jelly-filled doughnut had a generous serving of home-made raspberry jelly, and the filling itself was packed with the sweet, slightly tart flavor of raspberries. The jelly was so intense and dark that Trusty and I wondered if maybe it was a mixture of both red and black raspberries?


The Blueberry was a big hit–the glaze was full of fresh, sweet blueberries that gave the doughnut great flavor.

Valrhona chocolate doughnut

The other doughnut that came out on top was the Valrhona Chocolate. I’ve never tried Valrhona chocolate truffles, but this doughnut made me want to! The flavor of the thick chocolate glaze was rich and intense–this was not your ordinary chocolate-glazed doughnut.

Can’t wait to go back and try more flavors SOON!

Eclectic, Engaging Food at Alma in Minneapolis

28 Feb

It isn’t everyday you get engaged. And it isn’t everyday you eat a meal like the one you can enjoy at Alma. Yep, Trusty and I are enfianced! During an incredible meal at Alma he asked the big question. Because of the wonderful occasion and because of the delicious food it was a truly memorable meal.

In one word: Wow.

Food: The food was fantastic. Alma’s menu changes every 6-8 weeks, to offer new dishes that flavorful seasonal ingredients. They specialize in three course tasting menus for $45 per person–not bad at all for a fine dining experience.

I started with a warm Celery Root Souffle ($14 a la carte). De-lic-ious! Great texture and flavors. I’ve never had anything like it.

My second course was out-of-this-world amazing–lobster gnocchi ($17 for a la carte). It was fantastically rich and sweet, with giant pieces of lobster and a delicious orange truffle butter sauce. If we can get Alma to cater our wedding (fingers crossed), this will be on the menu!

So buttery and sweet...

My third course was Pan Seared Scallops with caramelized onions and beets ($28 a la carte). The scallops were seared to perfection–tender and sweet and soft. MMMMMMMmmmmmmmm.

My Trusty Sidekick started with a Mozerella and Beet salad with fresh basil and a light balsamic glaze. It tasted as fresh as summer.

For his second course, he tried Glazed Beef Short Rib ravioli with fragrant and delicious fried sage leaves ($25 a la carte).

His third course was the 12 Hour Beef and Parsnips, a slow-cooked pot roast over parsnips and balsamic onions, with a carrot butter sauce ($28 a la carte). Suffice to say we were both stuffed after our third plate…


…but of course the evening called for dessert! So, we split a chocolate tarte ($8) with chocolate sorbet and yummy, homemade potato chips. It was an amazing combination of sweet and salty.


What a sweet end to the meal.

Drink: As soon as our waitress figured out Trusty had just proposed, the matre d’ graciously sent over two glasses of champagne during dinner, and two glasses of Pacific Rim Framboise, NV, Washington during dessert. I usually don’t like Framboise–it can be cloyingly sweet–but this vintage (if that is the appropriate term) was delicious. I also enjoyed a delicious glass of rosehip herbal tea called “Bliss” at the end of the meal.

Service: Our waitress was fantastic, and the entire staff was so warm and welcoming. Alma’s hospitality was memorable–we’ll be back soon to enjoy their service again.

Scene: Because we went during an epic snowstorm the restaurant was literally empty! Trusty had called ahead to ask if we could be seated in a back, quiet corner of the restaurant, and when we arrived the Maitre d’ somewhat comically led us through Alma’s front room, which was empty, through their back room, which was also empty, and seated us at the very back corner table. When our waitress came over she informed us that the chefs were cooking for us. What an incredible evening. 

The interior of Alma.

The interior of Alma.

Cost: Our meal came to a little under $150 with tax and tip.

If you like, try: Heartland in St. Paul, Naha in Chicago

Spicy, Satisfying, and Inexpensive Korean at The Mill in Morningside Heights

23 Jan

Lately it seems like everyone in New York City has the sniffles, including me. A stubborn cold is going around, and I’ve been trying to shake it for over a week. When DayQuil and NyQuil fail, it’s time to bring out the big guns; it’s time to head to The Mill for some spicy and satisfying Korean food.

I think of The Mill as a little gem in Morningside Heights. It’s really the only authentic Korean food around on the UWS, unless you want to hike down to K-Town.  My Trusty Sidekick and I love coming here (even when I’m not under the weather) because the food is fresh, the portions are huge, and the service is fast. Best of all, it’s cheap. For a quick, inexpensive dinner, it’s hard to beat The Mill.

In one word: Qauthentic (quick + authentic)

Location: 2895 Broadway (between 111th St & 112th St)

 

The four complementary Banchan (small dishes) at The Mill are always fresh and constantly changing.

Food: As soon as you sit down four bowls of complimentary side dishes, called Banchan, will arrive, followed by a small bowl of miso soup. These dishes always make me smile–they’re fresh and constantly rotating. Trusty loved the spicy kim chi, while my favorite was the chilled, spicy and silky tofu. It was a great way to start the sinus-clearing meal.

Nothing like a rich, comforting Miso soup when you're sick--especially when it's free!

Trusty and I always order our favorite, go-to Bibimbap dishes. (Quick aside on Bibimbap–if you haven’t had Korean before, this dish is a must-try. The word means “mixed meal” and that’s literally what it is–a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned veggies) and paired with a raw or fried egg and/or sliced meat. On top of it all, you add gochujnag, a very spicy chili pepper paste, or chogochujang, a delicious, addictive Korean version of ketchup.  The dish can be served hot or cold, but usually comes in a very hot stone pot, and the ingredients are stirred together thoroughly just before eating.)

 

Magical, addictive chogochujang, a thick, sweet and very spicy sauce that's like a Korean version of ketchup.

I usually order Hwae Bibimbap ($12), which is a cold bibimbap (served in a stainless steel bowl instead of a hot stone pot) with assorted julianne vegetables and pea shoots, strips of slightly salty and sweet dried seaweed, julianne Fuji apple slices, and chunks of fresh, raw, sweet tuna or tilapia, all over warm white rice.

 

I love all the flavors and textures in this dish!

This dish combines all my favorite flavors and textures–I love the cold, sweet, raw tuna and tilapia with the warm white rice and the sweet and crunchy Fuji apples with the veggies–crispy lettuce and pea shoots dressed in nutty sesame oil–with the salty and slightly sweet seaweed–mmm. Tons of fresh, delicious ingredients that only get better with the spicy, sweet and vinegary chogochujang sauce.

 

Yum. I love the huge portions. The bowl is always way too big for me to finish!

Trusty always orders his favorite bibimbap, which is Mushroom Dolsot Bibimbap with Beef. It’s loaded with mushrooms, other veggies like bean sprouts, carrots, and zucchini, and strips of seared beef. 

Trusty’s bibimbap arrives in a piping hot stone pot, and when he mixes all the ingredients together the heat of the pot scrambles the fresh uncooked egg. The bowl is so hot that anything that touches it sizzles for minutes.  Before the rice is added to the pot, the bottom is coated with a yummy, nutty sesame oil, which makes the rice at the bottom of the pot deliciously golden brown and crispy–one of Trusty’s favorite parts of the dish.

 

Even Trusty can't finish his whole pot.

 

Drink: We usually order tea, which is a basic, but delicious jasmine. For my sick throat, it was especially good. If you’re in the mood for something else, The Mill also offers soft drinks, a selection of Asian brand beers, and cold sake. 

Service: The service here is fast, but impersonal; the no-fuss service here takes a back seat to the food. Expect to be seated immediately and expect your food to arrive within five minutes after you’ve placed your ordered. But, don’t expect any chit chat from your waiter. You may find the staff to be practically wordless–often food arrives without any explanation–but (I think) the food speaks for itself.

Scene: The restaurant is a small, simply decorated space. Framed Korean prints and old scrolls hanging on the walls give the interior a cozy, authentic ambiance. If there’s an open table in the back, asked to be seated there–you can peek into the kitchen and watch the kitchen crew roll dumplings by hand.

 

Interior of The Mill.

Dress: The Mill is pretty firmly in Columbia University territory, so casual dress code is more than appropriate. Jeans, t-shirt, whatever.

Cost: Our check came to $30 with tax and tip. A great price, and for the amount of food we got, it was especially reasonable.

Delivery: Delivery available from 95th to 125th St Riverside Dr. to Morningside Dr. $8 minimum.

If you like, try: Hangawi Grill in Korea Town NYC, Kang Nam in Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago

A Bold Claim: The Best Chocolate Cake in the World

6 Dec

Being a chocolate connoisseur is a serious calling. Like a sommelier, I’ve been studying and educating myself for just over 25 years. And I made a promise long ago that I’d always use my powers for good.

So, when I read about a bakery in Nolita boldly named The Best Chocolate Cake in the World, I knew what I had to do. I simply had to take a break from writing my final papers for the semester and try this cake. After all, it was my duty.

Outside The Best Chocolate Cake in the World store, at 55A Spring Street

I headed down to Nolita with my Trusty Sidekick in tow. I really liked the interior of the cafe–it’s warm and cozy with soft, low lighting, plush sofas, and lots of mirrors–but because of homework waiting back home, we took our slice to go.

 

The interior of TBCCITW

 

Our first disappointment was the price. The Best Chocolate Cake in the World doesn’t come cheap–it’s $6 per sliver of a slice (?!)–so we only tried the milk chocolate (for dark chocolate fans, they also offer a 70% dark chocolate slice).

Just from looking at the slice, you can see the cake has lots of layers of cake and mousse, all topped by a rich, shiny ganache. But, take your first bite and you know right away that the word “cake” just isn’t right for this dessert. It gives you the expectation of a moist, devil’s food cake when the slice really has layers of flourless, crumbly, crunchy chocolate meringue.  With the mousse and ganache, the taste is rich and chocolately, and it has a nice texture–but, well, it’s the texture of meringue–not cake!

So, chocoholates everywhere, be forewarned: this cake is a fake. It’s a delicious chocolate experience, but because it’s really not cake, it just couldn’t be the best chocolate cake in the world.

And so, the search continues…

p.s. Have you had the Best Chocolate Cake in the World? Tell us where to find it!

A Feast for the History Books at Quincy Market in Faneuil Hall

14 Nov

My lovely family was in Boston this weekend to visit me, so we made all the designated tourist stops, including Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall. Boston’s first public market, Faneuil Hall was built in 1742, and quickly became a gathering place for America’s patriots, like Sam Adams.

The second floor, inside Quincy Market.

By 1822 the downtown commercial demand grew beyond the capacity Faneuil Hall, so Quincy Market was built in order to exand shop space. Today, it still functions as an indoor pavilion of vendor stalls, where over 19 restaurants–plenty of fast food and some upscale spots–are represented. We found some great nibbles (many at Boston Chowda Co.–check them out) to sustain us before we embarked out on the Freedom Trail. If you’re visiting Boston, it’s definitely a must-do.

 

A Heaping Lobster Roll from Boston Chowda Co.

Creamy Clam Chowder in a bread bowl from Boston Chowda Co.

Rich Lobster Bisque from Boston Chowda Co. Perfect for a crisp fall day.

Surprisingly Delicious, with a really tangy, briney home-made tartar sauce. You've got to try these Fried Oysters from the Fisherman's Net Stall.

Tender, Sweet Diver Scallops wrapped in Smokey Bacon with Roasted Cherry Tomato, and Fries--YUM!

Local, Sustainable New American Comfort Food at Recipe

7 Nov

My Trusty Sidekick and I have been trying to watch the budget lately–something that’s not always easy to do in New York.  It’s been about five weeks since we’ve gone out to dinner, so, we decided to splurge a little in the name of Date Night (some of the best words in the English language) and try Recipe, a “recently opened” restaurant (as of May ’09) on the Upper West Side that we had heard great things about.

Recipe is billed as a New American cuisine, but this isn’t quite right; it’s more like New American prepared by Grandma, if that makes any sense. Recipe’s menu features local, sustainable, and seasonal ingredients in rustic, comfort food interpretations of New American.  The menu features tons of market-fresh vegetable and seafood options, as well as slow-cooked rotisserie fare. Basically, it’s homier and heartier than your typically clean and contemporary New American cuisine. While we were a little disappointed with the pace of our meal (more on that later), it was a delicious dinner. We’ll be back…as soon as we’ve saved up enough money for another night out.

Location: 452 Amsterdam Ave (between 81st St & 82nd St)

In one word: Rustic

Food: Tons of appetizer options caught my eye, but I couldn’t say no to the Soup of the Day, which was a Parsnip and Chestnut puree served with a Spinach and Feta Spanakopita ($7). I wasn’t sold on the combination of the soup and spanakopita, but separately they were each very tasty. The combination of parsnips and chestnuts made for a  creamy soup was full of fresh flavor and had an incredibly satisfying texture that was thick but extremely smooth.

 

Love the generous portions here.

Trusty went with the Short Rib Tortellini ($11) and raved about the rich, hearty dish. Basically, it was delicious comfort food.

For my main course I tried the pan seared sea bass with brussel sprouts, eggplant, zucchini and a sweet and sour apple cider vinegar sauce ($22). The fish was cooked perfectly–it had a great, golden crust on the outside and was tender and flakey inside–and, the light and tangy sauce paired well with the delicate sea bass.  I was disappointed with the veggies. Specifically, the fish was supposed to come with brussel sprouts, but this was a little misleading–there wasn’t a single whole brussel sprout, rather, under the fish were a few brussel sprout leaves.  C’mon Recipe. For $22, you should spring for 4 or 5 whole brussel sprouts per plate.

I love that Recipe garnished the fish and soup with fresh chives.

For his main dish Trusty went with the Winter Lasagna, full of seasonal root vegetables including carrots, parsnip and squash, as well as eggplant, all nestled in a rich tomato sauce beneath a bubbling layer of fresh mozzarella cheese  ($18). Yum, yum, yum. I got to try a few bites of this dish and would definitely recommend it.

 

Yep, that cheese says it all–this is true comfort food.

As if we didn’t have enough food, we shared a side dish of roasted winter squash and fingerling potatoes ($5). Simple and delicious, these veggies had great carmelized, roasted flavor. This is the best part eating a restaurant that uses local, seasonal ingredients: everything is fresh and flavorful, even when prepared in the simplest way.

For dessert we split the Chocolate Pignoli Tart ($8) which was divine. Definitely a must-have at Recipe (you’ll thank me later), and more than enough to share between two. The dessert was a great combination of sweet and salty–it had a crunchy chocolate crust, a layer of buttery, sweet and salty caramel followed by a layer of thick, rich chocolate mousse. Sprinkled with roasted pine nuts and a few grains of sea salt and topped with a sweet, creamy, melty marscarpone gelato, this tart was an amazing end to our meal.

Drink: I had a great glass of Paul de Coste Blanc de Blanc Brut ($10) that was delicious with my fish. Trusty tried the Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager ($5) which was a light dark beer–not too heavy–and went well with the Short Rib Tortellini and Lasagna. Like their regular menu, Recipe’s drink menu was small, but full of well-selected items. If you’re trying to save money on your drinks tab, try one of their beers–all are $5.

Service: Our waitress was friendly and the wait staff kept our water glasses full. We had a strange complaint: the service was actually too quick. It wasn’t that we were rushed, it was just that the courses were served at a very brisk pace and when you’re going out for a nice dinner you want to savor the experience, linger a little over the appetizer, then the entree. You also need a few minutes between courses to digest a bit. With each course coming back to back, we felt as though we finished before we had a chance to enjoy the meal.

The mini clothespin that grasps the menus at Recipe is a great rustic detail.

Scene: Recipe is a tiny, sliver of a place–basically it’s a long, narrow room with seating for only 20, maybe 25 if you count seats at the bar (be sure to make a reservation before you go). As a result, it’s an intimate, cozy space that lends itself well to dates or dinner with a close friend. This isn’t a great place for groups. The wood block tables and chairs, with simple white tile backsplash, gives Recipe a rustic, homey feel that works with the restaurant’s menu of local, sustainable “New American” comfort food.

Dress: Casual chic is very safe here.

Delivery: YES! Download their delivery menu from their site.

Cost: With tax and tip our bill came to just over $100. Not bad for a nice night out in New York. And with the generous portions, we felt like Recipe offered good value.

If you like, try: The Girl and the Goat in Chicago, Freemans, Cookshop, or Savoy in New York