Archive for the ‘Seafood’ Category

* Above photo from the Vandaag Website.

I know we just explained that we would be concentrating on Italian/Italian-American/American food. However, every now and again, we are going to slip in a wild card, in the form of a mini-review.

Today’s wild card is Vandaag, a restaurant on the Lower East Side that explores the cuisine of Northern Europe, focusing on Denmark and Holland. I felt like this restaurant warranted a mini-review because a good time was had by all. Except for the crustaceans, and I’ll get to that later…

John was busy practicing his golf swing in his apartment, so I infiltrated Vandaag with a friend who was also keen to sample the intriguing fare and their featured gin – Bols Genever (check out the amazing type treatment – nice job, designers!).

A very polished decor (Scandinavian design influences noted) greeted us. Imagine a subway platform (tiled walls) that has been power washed (with bleach) and then outfitted by Room + Board with stylish, mod diner booths and tables.

* Above photo from the Vandaag Website.

We ambled up to the bar and were immediately overwhelmed by the selection of mixed gin drinks. What to try first? All of them? Yes! The bartender was a seasoned mixer, so I began with a West of 2nd, a Genever cocktail with mezcal, lime, sugar cane and pomegranate molasses. Excellently well-balanced, this drink was just the right combination of sweet and deep to sip while we awaited our table.

Once seated, we ordered the Bread Bowl. I usually don’t approve of being charged for bread, but this bowl is an appetizer in its own right. It included different bread varieties and was served with butter and a hummus. Our favorite bread was the Rye – dark, flavorful, chewy wedges. And did I detect a hint of molasses? I believe I did.

For dinner, I ordered the bowl of Crustaceans, and received just that. The sea critters were fresh, some fried with heads still intact. I wasn’t shy about crunching into their tiny noggins, but I was a bit underwhelmed (or overwhelmed?) by a bowl filled entirely with them.

The stand-out of the evening was the Hete Bliksem or Hot Lightening. Crisp fingerling potatoes, apples, bacon and something called “stroop” syrup are served as a side in a tiny cast iron dish. This combination of ingredients demonstrated outstanding texture and flavor: sweet, salty, a touch gooey (in a good way), but also crispy. It left me wondering if, like pork belly, I could buy stock in stroop.

We washed all this wonderfulness down with something called the Little Head Butt – a chilled shot of Bols Genever gin with a beer chaser. Yes, we really did. Readers of this blog know about my affinity for gin. The Bols Genever did not disappoint – smooth with a nice tang.  Served in cordial glasses, we felt positively fancy! Even with the beer chasers.

The dessert menu changes frequently. We treated ourselves to this giant ice cream sandwich. If an ice cream cookie sandwich could be thoughtful and dignified, this one was. The cookie was an oatmeal variety that kept the ice cream in check and didn’t break down or crumble. The creamy vanilla filling was accented with a layer of tangy cream that provided a touch of contrast to the mild vanilla. It was also large enough to share – always a plus.

In conclusion there are a few take-away lessons here:

Vandaag: Yes! I will be returning for more Hot Lightening and Head Butts. No necessarily in that order.

Stroop: It’s kinda like caramel

Bols Genever: Buy me some.

Overall Movie Experience: Heat – The Edgy Near-Masterpiece

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The other week I took a quick trip to ABC Kitchen for the very first time. Please hold your WHAT-TOOK-YOU-SO-LONG’s, as I honestly don’t have a good answer. Finally, an opportunity presented itself and I was able to squeak out of work on time AND snag a choice spot at their bar.

I was flying solo for this adventure, and I generally like the experience of dining out alone. I can concentrate on the food a bit more (I find John’s constant chatter about his hair distracting at times). The only drawback is that I sample fewer dishes. Consequently, this will be a mini-review. (As an aside, I suppose I could have ordered an 8 course meal all to myself while sitting at the bar, simultaneously sipping all their drinks, but that would probably have attracted a lot of unnecessary attention).

First, a word about the ambiance. ABC Kitchen is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. I couldn’t stop looking around me. The style of the first floor of ABC Carpet & Home has been organized into a restaurant with fantastic results. The weathered wood rafters are offset by textured and pristine white walls, while intricate light fixtures dangle delicately from above to create some impressive mood lighting (that is extremely bad for food photography in the evening).

The menu is organized into the usual categories (such as appetizers and entrees) but also includes a Market Table section, which is ABC’s version of a small plates selection. I decided to order from this list and chose the following:

The Crab toast with lemon aioli: The quote I got from the bartender/waiter on this dish was, “This is my favorite thing on the menu, and I don’t like crab.”  SOLD!

Crispy delicata squash, maple syrup and grated goat cheese: I didn’t actually need a hard-sell on this one, but I was waffling between this and some other choices, so to throw me back into the squash camp, my waiter said, “This dish has everything: salty, sweet – with a little drizzle of maple syrup and tang from the cheese.”

I also ordered a basil ginger fizzy drink that was exceptionally refreshing, even in the wintertime.

Photo by Amy Cao, AmyBlogsChow.com

The Crab Toasts arrived: four chunky slices of just-browned sourdough with fresh, white mounds of crab meat piled on top. The crab meat itself was incredibly mild-flavored, with just a hint of sweetness. The large chunks (as opposed to stringy shreds) of meat allowed me to really sink my teeth into this one. And the lemon aioli provided just a hint of tang, which you could augment by squeezing some of extra lemon wedges provided along side. It was an incredibly light dish that I could envision passing around at a summer BBQ (stand by for test kitchen experiments on this one).

I left no crab behind, and was subsequently greeted by my new love: crispy delicata squash. A light drizzle of maple syrup served as the stage for bangle-bracelet-sized squash rings ensconced in a fine, crispy shell.  The grated goat cheese provided just a touch of smooth, creamy saltiness, making this an achievement in both texture and flavor combination.

Like I said, I was in love. I glanced sideways to see if anyone would notice me licking my plate. Finally deciding that would be bad form, I settled for tweeting out to the world, “I am in love with a squash.” I think that was my most popular tweet ever, judging by the responses. People wanted details (which I gladly gave them), and one even requested to know the name of my love, the squash. This last request left me feeling a little cheap: I never asked it’s name. I was waaaay too involved it dragging it’s delicate fry overcoat through the syrup and then adorning it with tiny crumbles of cheese before devouring it.

Well, this just means one thing: I will need to go back. Hopefully it’ll give me a second chance. And a third…

Oh, and if you want to follow us on Twitter so you can continue to hear about the squash love affair (why wouldn’t you?) you can do that here.

*Photo of dining room from nymag.com (I put it in that fancy floral background, which is an illuminated piece of art outside ABC Kitchen).

Overall Experience: The Godfather – The Perfect Game

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Shorties, Playas – this week’s review is of Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar on 101 2nd Avenue – abbreviated JLOB.  Something about this joint makes me feel a tad gangsta, dog.  Maybe it’s the awesome name.  Or Maybe it is the Japanese/nautical feel.  And bad-ass gangsta rap…or really, just rap… and Japanese precision/excellence are closely related.  Shaolin Shadowboxing, KillBill, the RZA.  In some contexts, the two notions are inseparable.

For the J-Lob experience, Elana is not with me, but I’m accompanied by my dear friends Tim and, JohnandElana minority shareholder, Steve – who has been kind enough to share his bathroom experience later on in this review.

So – JLOB is an under the radar type pad.  No outdoor sign – just a protruding air conditioner that sticks out like a sore thumb.  The inside is, to be generous, cozy.  Tightly assembled wooden tables lined up next to each other, with not much room to spare.  Your neighbor’s conversations (and your own) are easily overheard.  Yet it’s a cool spot: interesting artwork, old lanterns, and a chef’s table make for a unique atmosphere.  I’m digging it a lot, actually.

For dinner, I opt for a tasting menu, which appears to be a nice option: a 5 course meal plus dessert for 55 bucks.  First up, West Coast Oysters with cranberry and chive.  As Pauly D would opine, these oysters were fresh to death.  A nice touch with the hint of cranberry as well.

Second is risotto with wild arugula, a quail egg, bacon, and pecorino cheese.  A runnier than usual than risotto, which I like.  The Egg adds a nice richness, and the bacon supplies punch.

Next is Arctic Char confit with fennel and orange gremolata.  The fennel is provides a noticeable licorice taste to the tender and meaty Char – like a salmon of sorts.  This dish is followed up by Wild striped bass with olives, pickled raisins, mushrooms, and crones.  This course has it all. The Bass is buttery smooth, but there is also a salty/bitter presence by the olives, a sweetness to the raisins, and an earthy presence from the ‘shrooms.  A masterpiece here, really.

Next up (as seen directly above) was the duck breast with crisp duck skin and sweet potato puree. The duck, as the pictures suggest (well done motorolla droid!), is cooked crazy nice.  It’s juicy and fatty and tasty as hell.  The sweet potato puree is candy-like in its feeling on the t-buds.  Again, another superb job here.

And dessert is a fine job also.  Salted caramel apples with vanilla bean ice cream and apple chips.  Wonderful ice cream, smooth as can be.  And, given the time of year, teaming this up with anything apple related just makes me happy.

As stated above, Steve was kind enough to review the bathrooms.  According to him: “Like the rest of the establishment, the bathroom is tiny and quirky, yet charming and well-groomed. WARNING: whatever you do, you mustn’t make eye contact with the evil small child in the old painting facing the mirror”

Service was very good.  Our waitress was particularly attentive and the courses were cleared and reset at a nice pace.  There was, however, an inexplicable long wait for our dessert.  A minor blemish on an otherwise very good experience.

Overall, you’re doing yourself a favor if you slip into JLOB for a few courses.  The portions could be considered a tad small, but the idea is to not gorge yourself.  Order a few dishes (which were all extremely well presented by the way) and enjoy the diverse and smart experience.

Overall Movie ExperienceHeat

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This past Saturday I traveled to Montauk to compete in a sprint triathlon. In addition to the race, I used the opportunity to do some local restaurant and food reviewing. What I present you with now is a (limited) review of (parts of) Montauk, East Hampton and Bridgehampton.

My first concern was the race. And there was going to be no exciting food (or drink) in my immediate future until I crossed the finish line. You may, however, be entertained by how UNappealing my pre-race food was….check it out:

My room came equipped with a kitchenette and one very small pan. What you see above is a very bland arrangement of black beans, turkey breast, avocado, spinach and a whole wheat wrap. Can you feel the excitement, people? However, I find that balsamic glaze (instead of vinegar) makes a really nice sandwich/wrap dressing. You don’t need that much, as it’s kind of intense. You can also use it on strawberries. Notice the shameless plug for Clif Bars. I love these things. I had the spiced pumpkin pie flavor for a pre-race breakfast. I honestly couldn’t handle anything more than this, as I was about to pass out in fear on account of recurring visions of this:

This is where we would be swimming. I’m not the best swimmer, but I’ve gotten much better (thank you, Kacey!). When I went to go check out the pond, it was pouring rain, but everything appeared calm. That night, the rain stopped, the wind picked up and this cute little pond was a torrent of white capped mini waves and rough water. So between swim-related terror and race jitters, the above meal was perfect.

I made it through, went back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep in all my racing gear (number included). When I woke up, marmo and I (mom was playing sherpa, cheerleader, driver and general support section for the event) decided we needed two things: alcoholic beverages and shopping. Girly. But whatever, people. Montauk and its surrounding towns (East Hampton and Bridgehampton included) are only too happy to comply with these requests. We had a plethora of options.

Our first stop was the Wolffer Estate Vineyard. As I said, it had stopped raining the night before, and all around were blue skies and warm sun. There is a small “wine stand” off Sag Road. You can order a few glasses (or bottles) at the stand, and then relax in their backyard among well-kept picnic tables equipped with ample umbrellas and surrounded by rolling hills of grape trees. You can even bring your own food. Citarella stores have populated like bunnies in the Hamptons, and it’s very easy to walk into one of the 12,984 locations, grab some cured meat and cheese, and then camp out at Wolffer and drink all their wine. It is not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

I even checked out their bathrooms for you!

The loo was nothing crazy, but clean and in working order. I did like that giant mirror frame. I’m into those, though.

This is the wine we drank, and I do recommend it. It’s nice and oaky. Not everyone likes an oaky white. But I do. I also like swimming in a pond with 379 other people all jumbled up, so take my words with the proverbial grain of salt.

We also stopped into a Jack’s Coffee for a caffeinated pick me up (I certainly needed one). Because I live in a hole, I had no idea Jack’s had a coffee shop in NYC. Not far from my office. Huh. Anyway, it took me a trip to Amagansett to find it. I really liked this place. I loved the signage and layout of the store. You could get your coffee and sit on their porch on large benches sipping your Joe. In addition to something called the “Happy Jack” (a concoction of espresso, honey, cinnamon and milk) we ordered a blueberry oat and “Sunday” muffins. The oat variety had excellent blueberry action (I hate it when there is only one representative of its kind), while the Sunday Muffin was a more advanced, gooey (but not too much) apricot-y mini cake. Thumbs up.

On to the next event – the bike! No, sorry… I meant dinner! On a recommendation, we went to Inlet Seafood Restaurant. We were told that they had the freshest fish EVER. This was someone else’s emphasis. They meant it. We were additionally given a heads-up about the excellent sushi (repeat: freshest seafood EVER!!!). So, off we went, around the lake and to the restaurant.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like much. There is a bar area to the left of the entrance and seating on the right. However, the views are exceptional – and they have nice balconies from which you can enjoy the setting sun in all its pinky-golden glory.

We decided to take full advantage of the seafood menu. In fact, Inlet Seafood has 6 fishing boats of its very own – constantly bringing in the freshest fish. I had my eye on some sushi – a yellowtail and salmon combination with eel sauce, avocado and those little crunchy thingies, while marmo was hankering for some of the alarmingly large scallops that traveled with an asparagus risotto. But first, our very knowledgeable server directed us toward the tuna tartar as an appetizer. She said it was the “best ever”…

She did not lie. The tuna tartar was amazing. Circled by an expertly-arranged feathering of perfectly ripe avocados, it not only looked like a thing of beauty, but tasted like one as well. The tuna was exceptionally fresh (not fishy at all), firm and flavorful. My sushi that followed it was outstanding. In fact, if I were rating this restaurant on sushi alone, I would give it a 4 (The Godfather). My eight pieces of sushi were arranged in groups of two for a nicer presentation. Not only were the sauces complementary to the fish, but the composition of the rolls was impressive. Not once did they fall apart, nor did any one element escape from their ricey and seaweed entrappings. Which is great for me because I somehow always manage to look like an idiot when I eat sushi. Not tonight! I could concentrate on looking like an idiot for completely different reasons. Phew!

The scallops and risotto were also nicely done. The scallops were perfectly cooked – crispy on the outside and nicely soft on the inside (many people overcook scallops so that they are almost fibrous on the inside. Not these guys).

And now for the run! No, sorry, I keep doing that. I meant breakfast.

We ambled into Pierre’s, a snappy little French Bistro that we ran into in Bridgehampton while drunk shopping the previous day. Oops! Did I just say drunk shopping? I meant, slightly buzzed consumer perusing. Much better. Anyway, the place looked great, and we vowed to come back for breakfast.

We made good on our vow. I breakfasted on over easy eggs with rosemary potatoes. The rosemary potatoes were really the stand-out. They were perfectly – seasoned, and not overwhelmingly rosemarried. Also exceptional was the café latte that I ordered. I wanted to order 12 more. My coffee was served with a cute little square of dark chocolate, that I dunked right into the latte. I don’t know if that’s appropriate, but it sure tasted good. The service was attentive and their breakfast/brunch menu was well populated with offering of omlettes and toasts of the French persuasion. I would definitely return, especially in fine weather when you can sit outdoors and gawk at passers-by (heat lamps available for cooler weather!).

Their ladies room was sadly out of order (demerit!), so I had to use the “messieurs”. They did have some interesting art on the walls in there, including the exotic and lacy dame you see pictured above (middle photo, right column). Otherwise, the restroom was in good order. John would have appreciated the large mirrors for checking out his dome.

Pierre’s has a conveniently located pastry shop right next door where we decided to get some treats for the road.

We bought some madeleines (which ended up being a touch dry for my taste) and some little chocolate muffin thing that was OUT OF SIGHT. Seriously. It was dense, dark chocolately madness, with some kind of gooey center – like a pudding or custard, but better. The gooey-ness was concentrated in just one area – about 1/3 of the way down from the top. That was a nice little surprise. I would go back just for that little chocolate cake.

On the long ride home we stopped at one of the many roadside vegetable/fruit/pumpkin & apple picking/fresh pie/homemade jam joints. This one was called Hayground Farms. Let me say that I am not unfamiliar with impulse buying. However, I have never experienced gourd-related impulse buying. I really don’t know what came over me. But they had so many! In so many different colors! And shapes! I wanted them all! I don’t know for what. But I bought a bunch, including a weirdly dragon-shaped and bumpy all-black one that I nicknamed the “evil one”. And they’re all hanging out on my kitchen table looking quite happy with themselves (and recovering from the elaborate woodland photo shoot I inflicted upon them, which I will share with you later).

We did buy some normal stuff like eggplants and Honeycrisp apples and green beens. All the produce looked amazing. And it was so CHEAP! Seriously good deals that will only cost you two tanks of gas to get there and back. What are you waiting for??

That about wraps it up for my Triathlon-Hamptons weekend. I would definitely recommend going up there for the weekend at this time of year (sporting event or no). It’s fall, the leaves are gonna start turning any second now (wait for it….), there are roadside fruit stands, roadside WINE stands, roadside lobster roll stands (no joke), shopping and I hear there is golf too (John). There are standout restaurants, and the scenery is just so damn nice.

A few parting photos:

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For this week’s review, Elana and I decided to expand the geographic horizons a bit and feature a Long Beach Island staple – The Clam Bar of Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co., located on center street in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island.  The Clam Bar is pretty much exactly how it sounds: a horseshoe shaped bar with about 25 wooden stools surrounding it.  A surly woman (“Nel” is her name) shuffles clockwise around the interior of the bar, serving her patrons.  The Clam Bar is perfect for us right now.  It is The Jersey Shore’s style of comfort food – lots of simple, yet tasty, seafood offerings – many of which come fried.  And comfort is needed on this Sunday.  Despite the marvelous weather, Elana is somehow battling a cold, and I am still considerably hungover from an unnecessarily late Saturday night.  It is equally comforting to know that the Clam Bar will accept my excessively casual appearance – a not-totally-dry bathing suit, wrinkled tee, and flops – I blend right in.  We bring our parents along because, well, parents get hungry too I suppose.

Upon sitting down at the bar we are immediately greeted with both good and bad news.  The good – a woman next to us discovers an actual pearl in one of her oysters. Really, she showed us.  The bad – Nel’s assistant politely advises us that Nel is not a fan of Elana’s iPhone and to “put it away before she gets angry.”  Elana (wisely) refrains from explaining to the assistant that we are merely using her camera function on the iPhone. Thus, pictures of the food could unfortunately not be captured for this review.  Myself and my family spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out if Nel actually saw the iPhone or if the assistant was acting rogue on this one.  In retrospect, it is a comical scene – yet at the time, we feel like we may be in Nel’s penalty box for the techy infraction – she has already served two other groups with food that have come in after us.  “I think we are ready to order now” – Mom says, and Nel finally takes our requests. Nonetheless, big time service demerit here.

For appetizers, we order a dozen raw clams on the half shell as well as clams marinara, which, as the menu claims, are hot and spicy.  The raw clams were extremely fresh – which is part of their whole act.  Upon ordering the claims, Nel heads over to a shucking station – a center island inside the bar where tons of clams are kept on ice, shucked, rinsed and served within nanoseconds.  With some horseradish, cocktail sauce, and lemons – they are delicious.  Dad agreed – opting to couple his clams with a mere dash of Frank’s red hot.  The clams marina are good – little neck clams sitting in a pool of hot marinara – however they were not “hot and spicy” as advertised.  This appetizer comes with bread for mopping up the sauce – a nice bonus for a hungry Italian family.  The marinara sauce is solid, but nothing to write home about.

The dinners are also strong – Elana ordered shrimp cocktail – the ones that require the customer to do the peeling him/herself.  Yet she did not love the Dijon mustard sauce, which she found to be bland, but really liked the consistency and taste of the shrimp.  Myself and Mom went with some fried heavy hitters – Mom ordered the shrimp, and I got the scallops.  They each come in a plastic basket, served over a couple thousand fries.  Both are extremely tasty – a perfect brown cornmealish crust surrounds these treats and lends itself to good consistency.  The scallops have a snap to them, yet are still juicy and filling.  Dad goes for the Soft shell crab sandwich.  The crab meat was small in its portion at times and tough, yet had excellent sauce & tomatoes.  Lastly, the french fries were quite satisfying – not too greasy or soft, nor charred or overcooked.  I, myself, could have used a little more natural salt flavor with the fries, but everyone else disagreed with me.

We did, however sneak the iPhone into the bathroom for a couple of pictures.  Nel had no idea.

Ultimately, The Clam Bar is a worthwhile experience.  It’s unique, down and dirty, local atmosphere combined with fresh, above average food, make it a fun, casual place to go should you find yourself at LBI during the summer. The food is affordable and it is BYO, as well.  Just don’t piss off Nel!

Overall Experience – The Big Lebowksi

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