While I Was Silent… Part III: November

(Note: This is the third of four installments. For those who may not have read them and would like to do so, Part I is here and Part II is here.)

Still in a good deal of pain, I continued with p.t. and acupuncture. However, having made a re-entry in October to something approximating a normal life, I pushed myself and went full steam ahead. What was ahead were a couple of shows, Thanksgiving, and a boatload of restaurant dining.

Organic Turkey with Butternut Squash and Chestnut Stuffing

We had exchanged our September and October Roundabout tickets for a later date to be determined because there was no way I could sit in a theater for a couple of hours. But by November, I thought I could manage it, so we kept our tickets for The Language Archive for the first Sunday in November. (Our subscription series is for Sunday matinees.)

The day before, since we had some business to take care of on the UES, we made a reservation for lunch at Café Boulud. Having some time to kill before we were due at the restaurant, we decided to check out an exhibit at the Met. However, as soon as we entered the gallery, I discovered a problem. Because I’m short, in order to look at the art work, I had to tilt my head back, which put more pressure on the nerve in my neck, thereby immediately ramping up the level of pain down my arm and pins and needles up my arm. So, we did a quick walk through the rooms to get a glimpse at what we might be missing. As it turned out, it wasn’t much as there weren’t many works that really interested us.

Café Boulud is one of our favorite restaurants, and we’re huge fans of Chef Gavin Kaysen. Amazingly talented, he is cooking some of the best food in the city right now. Last year, the dinner we had at Cafe Boulud with our good friend the ulterior epicure was so spectacular that he named it #1 of his Best Meals of 2010 – a well-deserved accolade for Gavin. This was our first time back since then, and it was great to have the chance to chat with Gavin again because in addition to being a terrific chef, he’s very down-to-earth and a truly nice person.

There are four a la carte menus plus a menu of daily market specials. I’ve rarely chosen dishes from Le Voyage, but this time, the first and main courses that most appealed to me were on that menu, two courses that would take me on a culinary trip from Asia to the Mediterranean.

Lamb lover that I am, there was no way I could resist the Vadouvan Marinated Lamb Rack with Eggplant, Kataifi-Wrapped Shoulder, Grilled Haloumi Cheese, Natural Jus.
The flavorful lamb, cooked medium-rare, was tender and juicy. There was contrast between the soft, succulent shoulder and its crisp kataifi wrapper. The grilled haloumi, a cheese I was not familiar with, was delicious. Both it and the eggplant, one of our my favorite vegetables were wonderful accompaniments for this Mediterranean-style dish.

As terrific as that dish was, it was my first course, Seared Short Rib Dumplings with Daikon Radish, Shitake Mushrooms, and Scallion Vinaigrette, that truly astonished me. Goldilocks-style skins – not too flimsy nor too tough but just right – pocketed the very succulent meat; the vinaigrette provided a tangy punch; and I loved the cool crispness of the daikon radish salad. A fabulous dish! I must add that though I’m not particularly adept with chopsticks, I was proud of myself for managing to use them instead of a knife and fork.

Seared Short Rib Dumplings

For dessert, I chose the Butterscotch Gateaux with Mascarpone Cream, Chocolate Biscuit, Bourbon Glaze, Brown Sugar Ice Cream. In a word: Yum!! M thoroughly enjoyed his first course Tortellini and his Beef Duo main course (I tasted both and they were, indeed, excellent), as well as the cheese plate he chose instead of a sweet finish. As usual, the madeleines provided a divine coda to a divine meal. (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

Dinner that evening was at a new spot near our apartment, Le Parisien, a tiny charming French bistro which had recently opened in the space previously occupied by another French bistro, Cosette. Frisée salad, escargots, and magret de canard were all quite nice. The only disappointment was a too-mushy tarte tatin. (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

The next day, we had a pre-theater lunch at Kellari Taverna. We’ve been to their sister restaurant Kellari Parea several times, but this was our first visit to the midtown flagship. Like Parea, they did an excellent job with the grilled levraki we shared. To start, we had melitzanosalata (I do love eggplant!), and though M decided against having dessert, I chose a yogurt cake drizzled with vissino (Greek sour cherry preserves) and topped with strawberries and chocolate scrolls. Like a lighter version of cheesecake, it was delicious. (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

Seeing The Language Archive turned out to be less than an enjoyable experience for two reasons. First, sitting in the theater was much more uncomfortable than I had anticipated. Second, I found the play rather boring. At intermission, M said he felt it was rather blah, and we discussed the idea of leaving. However, at the end of the first act, one of the characters had received a gift, but the audience was left hanging as to what was in the box. I was willing to forgo finding out, but M said he was curious and wanted to stay, so we did. The second act was actually a bit more interesting than the first. And as to what was in the box, it was bread starter. The funny thing is that M didn’t know what that was and had to wait until the play ended to ask me for an explanation.

We had dinner that evening at Riverpark, the new Tom Colicchio restaurant. Since it’s not far from our apartment, we walked there. It was quite chilly out and got even colder and very windy as we approached the restaurant’s location on 29th St. just off the FDR and the East River.

We had made a reservation, but not knowing anything about the layout of the dining room, it had not occurred to us to request a table with a view out to the river. As it turned out, there were no tables available near the windows or in the section with a view. Instead, we were seated in an area that is actually much larger and which is behind the bar that separates the two areas. Behind the bar is a gigantic shelving unit used to hold liquor bottles. Unfortunately, this unit obstructs the view from those sitting behind it. We were later told by one of the staff that the original idea had been to make the area with the view the bar area and the rest of the space the dining room. Obviously, they came to their senses and realized what a truly idiotic idea that was. But that blocked view remains a huge blunder.

Tom Colicchio is Riverpark’s the owner, but his involvement is peripheral. The man in charge of the menu and the kitchen is Executive Chef Sisha Otuzar. While the food was for the most part well-prepared and pleasing. My Lobster and Artichoke Salad, with Kara Kara Oranges, Coriander, and Herb Salad was excellent, and M felt the same about his Mushroom Consommé starter. We both had the Rack of Lamb with Freekeh, Roasted Tomato, Smoked Eggplant, and Parsley. While the lamb was fine, the freekeh, which was combined with the other elements, was overcooked and thus too dry.

Chocolate Tart

M again passed on dessert, but I couldn’t resist the Chocolate Tart with Salted Caramel. Though it was supposed to come with chocolate ice cream, I requested vanilla. This dessert was the star of the meal. Fantastic! (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

Overall, the food was good enough to bring us back to Riverpark, especially as it is so nearby.  I’m really looking forward to going there during the warm weather months when they’ll have outdoor dining on a terrace facing the water.

Back to NJ. A new pizza place opened near our house: Coal Fire Pizza. We liked it a lot. The thin crust had just the right amount of char, and there was good balance between the tasty sauce and the cheese.

Traditional Pie with Sausage and Onions

As I’ve mentioned, we had exchanged our September Roundabout tickets. The play, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, was scheduled to close the first week in December, so we needed to complete our ticket exchange. Since we were coming into the city for Thanksgiving, we decided to get tickets for the Wednesday evening performance the day before. We’d have a long, leisurely lunch and a late supper after the performance. We had reservations for Thanksgiving Day dinner at EMP, but that didn’t stop us from having that long, leisurely lunch there.

White Truffles

There they were again on the lunch menu: White Truffles! This time, it was the height of the season, and these truffles were fabulous, so fragrant and with intense flavor! Brought to the table by Executive Sous Chef Abram Bissell, he sliced generous amounts on our plates kicking up the seriously delicious pasta to an ambrosial level.

Speaking of ambrosial, one of the amuses was a truffled egg that blew us away! And who knew the lowly Cauliflower could be so amazing?! The John Dory? Not exactly too shabby. Then, we had Squab. Oh, my! I’d been pining for it ever since missing it when it was on the menu in early October. For dessert, Coconut, which has become such a favorite, I’ve had it several times since. We had the siphon coffee again and this time, because of the daylight, I was able to get some better photos of the process. A truly spectacular lunch to tide us over until after the show. (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

I’m not a fan of Bernard Shaw’s plays, which I find wordy and tedious. (Ironic since one third of my master’s thesis, Three Cleopatra’s, was devoted to his Caesar and Cleopatra.) However, this production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession had something positive going for it: Cherry Jones in the title roll. She gave, as she always does, a wonderful performance — the only thing that made sitting there for two hours bearable.

We’ve been to dbBistro Moderne a number of times. M’s favorite thing to order there is the Coq au Vin, which comes with a side of spaetzle in a little iron pot. The hour being late and not feeling super hungry, we decided to share this main course. The chicken was nicely prepared; however, the spaetzle, which are usually fantastic, were a total disappointment as they were rather dried out.

Country Duck Paté

We started the meal by ordering two appetizers and sharing them. The Country Duck Pate with Pickled Vegetables and Dijon Mustard was excellent. Lobster Salad with Mesclun, Hearts of Plam, Green Beans, and Pesto Dressing was a very tasty combination of flavors, but at $24, it was a bit short on the lobster. As for dessert, together we polished off the delectable Hazelnut Marjolaine Gateaux with Frangelico Cream, Milk Chocolate Coffee Mousse, Devils Food Cake, and Coffee Ice Cream. (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

On Thanksgiving Day, J and the P.G. were at his parent’ house. Several years ago, the four of us had been to EMP for Thanksgiving – actually, the first time we’d ever been to a restaurant for that holiday. This was only the second time for M and me.

Though there were other main courses available, we went the traditional route and had turkey. Chef Humm may hail from Switzerland where there is no Thanksgiving holiday, but the man knows how to make a fabulous turkey! The organic bird was cooked sous vide, which makes for breast meat that is flavorful and juicy, then finished in the oven to crisp the skin. Thick slices of the breast meat were plated with chestnut stuffing, butternut squash, and the most delicious gravy evah! Six sides were served in individual bowls: sweet potatoes, puréed potatoes, mashed parsnips, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, and cranberry compote. Though all were excellent, the compote was the standout.

Tagliolini with White Truffles and Parmigiano-Reggiano

We started the meal in decadent fashion by each having Tagliolini with White Truffles and Parmigiano-Reggiano. And ended by both choosing the Chestnut “Vacherin” with Pear and Burnt Honey Ice Cream, a lovely dessert. (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

Friday evening, we had dinner at SHO Shaun Hergatt with J and the P.G. This was their first time there but our second. We had dined there in 2009, not long after it opened and had a sensational meal. A little over a year later, Chef Hergatt’s Asian-accented French cuisine was as creative and delicious as the first time.

Double Duck Consommé

M began with duck consommé with a chicken ballotine and continued with a main course loin of rabbit; J started with butternut squash agnolotti and followed with loup de mer; and the P.G. had oysters with sea urchin then a lobster main course. My seared foie gras was excellent and my main course Colorado Lamb with Sous Vide Lamb Belly, Fermented Garlic, and Riberry Jus contained a fine example of Chef Hergatt’s creativeness as the riberry is not exactly ubiquitous on restaurant menus. One very agreeable change since that first meal was an enhanced mignardises program. Also, service, which had been a bit stiff, was more relaxed yet still professional. (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

We’ve been to Tocqueville many times. The elegant dining room is one of the most beautiful in the city. And we especially like going there for lunch on Saturdays because unlike most restaurants which serve a brunch menu, Tocqueville serves their regular lunch menu, including the 3-course prix-fixe for $24.07 (available year-round) + wine pairings for $15. Chef/owner Marco Moreira never stints on quality, so these meals are a steal for cuisine of such high quality.

Brioche

One thing I truly look forward to is the brioche roll, a buttery phenomenon if ever there was one! M started with an excellent salad, Butter Lettuce with Citrus, Chickory, Goat’s Milk Gouda, and Walnuts while I had a wonderful Purée of Greenmarket Sunchoke Soup with Caramelized Chanterelles and Black Truffle Emulsion. Then, we both had the richly flavorful Braised Barbeque Beef Cheeks with Sweet Carrots and Citrus Crumbs. We both ended with the Chocolate and Hazelnut Ganache with Cappuccino Gelato, Desserts at Tocqueville are always delicious, and this was no exception. (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

For dinner, we decided to try Millesime, a French seafood brasserie that had opened recently in the Carlton Hotel. In one major respect, it was a mistake to try it on a Saturday evening. The live, thumping music from the downstairs lounge could plainly be heard in the second floor dining room. Very high noise levels and thumping music are major restaurant peeves for me and, on this occasion, when coupled with my still painful arm, made the dining experience less than pleasant.

On the plus side, most of the food we had was excellent. We started with the Pike Quenelles Jean-Louis — to me, very akin to gefilte fish.  But I can tell you straight off that my grandmothers’ gefilte fish was never served like this since in the style of Jean-Louis Dumonet meant a very rich, luscious lobster sauce. For the main course, we both chose the Sea Bass cooked a la plancha though we each opted for different sauces. An extraordinary piece of fish with superb flavor, the sea bass was cooked perfectly.

Sea Bass à la Plancha

M’s Herbe Meunière sauce was fine, but I really loved my Ginger, Jurancons & Beurre Blanc Sauce. Sides came separately. We ordered two, neither of which I particularly liked. The Creamy Spinach was not finely chopped the way I prefer or creamy enough, and the potatoes in the Pommes Salardaises were too dry. The Orange Parfait dessert we shared was a tasty and refreshing. Our waiter, who provided very good service, told us that it’s quieter on Sunday and Monday evenings and at lunch. Good to know as we do plan to go back sometime. (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

On Sunday, for lunch, we checked out the new Hill Country Chicken. We tried both styles: the Classic and the Mama Els’. Though I preferred the Classic, the chicken was just o.k. The Creamy Cole Slaw and the Fire ‘n’ Ice Pickles were good. One problem we had was that by the time we sat down at the table after getting our food via counter-style service and paying, the fries had grown cold. M took them back and the fresh order that replaced them was fine. Frankly, I think Popeye’s chicken and fries are superior to Hill Country’s and a lot less expensive to boot. (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

We finished our Thanksgiving weekend in the city with dinner at another restaurant that had recently opened. At Ciano, Chef Shea Gallante, formerly of Cru, is in charge of the kitchen. We’d only managed to get to Cru after he had left (Cru has since closed), so I was excited at the prospect of trying his food. Happily, it did not disappoint. In fact, it was superb.

We had heard raves about his Roasted Veal Meatballs with Herbed Creamy White Polenta and Truffle Pecorino. All I can say is OMG!! We also shared a fabulous salad: Rocket Arugula, Smoked Bocconcini, Marinated Cherry Tomatoes and Red Maui Onion.

Insalata

On to the mains. For M, “Burrida” with Steamed Black Bass, Potato, Zucchini and Fennel in a Tomato-EVOO Broth, which he loved. For me, Lamb Chops with Lamb Belly, Caramelized Fennel, Apple and Swiss Chard with Winter Savory. Well, you already know how I feel about lamb, and these chops were perfectly cooked and had excellent flavor as did the lamb belly. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the accompaniments – though I like fennel, I’m not the biggest Swiss chard fan — but they were delicious. As for dessert, while the Rustic Black MIssion Fig Tart with Honey Caramel, Walnut Crumble, and Vanilla Gelato was very good, the “Tiramisu” Coffee Semifreddo with Mascarpone, Espresso Biano Gelato, and Amaretto Gelée – a very creative take on the classic — was fantastic! Service was very warm and attentive, and we liked the attractive, comfortable space. (Click here to see all the photos from this meal.)

It’s great to have this wonderful restaurant a short walk from our apartment. They just began serving lunch this past week and will be doing weekend brunch as well. Ciano will surely claim a regular spot in our dining rotation.

So, we closed out a month filled great eating and headed back to New Jersey to recoup for a while.

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