Tuesday 16 December 2008

New York: Sunday lunch at the Gramercy Tavern.

The Gramercy Tavern is a bit of a New York institution. It was one of Danny Meyers early successes and has been around for donkeys. I don't know what it looks like at other times of the year but they always seem to have a good Thanksgiving vibe going on.

One of the reasons I like the place it that it had a good noon alcholic selection- Gewurztraminer juice and sparkling French cider. We had lunch there last year and HI really like it for the little saucepan of duck confit he was given, which was a meal in itself. This time round I was left a little cold and it's only now that I read this article that I realised why.

My cauliflower starter was a little too healthy.

The cauliflower was barley cooked with little caramelisation that can turn this veggie into a tasty morsel. The pine nuts and raisins were good but it was all a little too sweet for my liking. My next dish the chorizo stew was again too refined,

it lacked the heartiness of a stew was more of a soup and the chorizo seemed to be behaving itself. HI's meatball is a huge protein fest but HI wasn't impressed by it's sheer volume and couldn't really see the point of it.

Would I go back, only to sit at the bar and drink juice.

Monday 8 December 2008

New York: Ssam bar.

I love Ssam bar.

Lots of plates of savoury goodness and quite heavily meat orientated too. In case you didn't know David Chang can do no wrong at the moment (well, unless he is offending vegans, vegetarians and pescetarians that is). And that not just in my opinion, but according to most of New York too, it would seem. First there was the noodle bar, then ssam bar, then ko and now the milk bar. Ko has a ridiculous reservation system that makes it very difficult to get a reservation and people seem to devote their lives to securing a seat. I can't be bothered with that and instead prefer the casualness of Ssam.
I think this was one of my most satisfying meals of the trip. Unfortunately I don't have any photos as we were sat right in front of the kitchen and I know that David Chang can't abide people taking photos of their food, saying they should just eat it instead, so I didn't dare wipe it out.If you want to see what all the fuss is about the look here at wandering eaters flickr photostream. It was all washed down with Sprechers root beer served in a natty Mason jar. This was so yum I drank two.

We had the yummy benton’s smoky mountain country ham (madisonville, tn) with red eye gravy. Then a succession of intense taste sensations.

The Brussel sprouts of my dreams:satur farm's fried brussels sprouts – mint, scallions, fish sauce vinaigrette. Honeycrisp apple kimchi – burger's smoked jowl, maple labne, arugula. Bánh mì – ham & chicken liver terrine sandwich. Spicy pork sausage & rice cakes – chinese broccoli, crispy shallots- this was knock your socks off hot, but tasty and the rice cakes had a pleasing texture to them. We were actually full before rice cakes arrived but still forced them down.

Sunday 7 December 2008

New York: lunch at the Spotted Pig.

And this time I mean it!! I have read much about how difficult it is to get a table here especially at brunch. I think the trick is to go at 11 am. We were the second folk in, and got seated at a lovely table upstairs which I much preferred, as it's a lot less cramped. We had a couple of cocktails to start, it is brunch after all.

Of course HI had the burger and I the cubano.

The burger was all that. The fries were great: rosemary and fried slivers of garlic, very moreish.

My cubano was disappointing.

I forgot I don't like warm sandwiches and this is pressed. The cheese kind of absorbs the flavour of the pork and although there are gherkins in I felt it could do with more of a kick like some jalapenos.

As for the place it is very much done up like a little house of pig horrors,

See what I mean? Some of the pigs are cute some are darn right scary. You also feel as if you are in middle england or little britain. Very kitsch.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

New York: 1st and 2nd breakfast.

Being jet lagged has it's advantages. Waking up at 5am allowed me to go for a run, get washed and changed and hit the streets by 7am. I headed straight to donut plant.

Suffering from eyes too big for belly, I bought the coconut glaze, the peanut butter glaze

and the tres leche.

I didn't like the tres leche as it is a cake donught, I much prefer yeast ones. The coconut was interesting.

The flakes were real and inside was coconut milk as oppose to coconut flavoured condensed milk which was what I was expecting. I don't know if I would get another. The peanut glaze was ok but there was not enough jelly in it to give that good old pbj magic. I obviously didn't eat them all there and then but took them back to the bat cave to share with his Highness. On the way back I stopped by at Falai which

was practically the only other place open at that time. As well as coffee they do some nifty pastries.

A pear and chocolate danish. nice flaking.

Now after all that sweet stuff what could be better than something savoury?! Time to engage second stomach. Fortuitously Russ and Daughters was just round the corner. Even though I hit it dead on at 9am it was pretty busy. Just as well I knew what I wanted 'the super heeb'. I have to admit my ignorance but in this case I think it's good that I didn't know that Hebe is a derogatory slur and heeb an attempt to reclaim it. So in more ways than one this was a serious bagel.

Look at it.


White fish, horseradish cream cheese and wasabi infused roe. Very satisfying and could easily feed two for lunch. My only grip was that the horseradish could have more kick but that's probably just my whacked tastebuds.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

New York: Arturo's

More than a little tipsy we headed to Arturo's, our dinner destination that evening. We had fond memories of the last time we were there. Hot off the plane it was a cold night and Arturo's was warm, bustling with live Jazz. That and Pizza. What more could you ask.

This time was good but maybe not as relaxed as our table was squished tightly between two others. The pizza was good, although I prefer more charr on my pizza.

Feeling very stuffed, squiffy and jet-lagged we wandered back to the hotel ia Whole Foods. I know one has opened this year in London and all I can say is lucky London. I felt like a small child in a sweetie shop. This place suffers from an embaressment of riches. I live in a developed country but to have so much choice astounded me. Look at all these pumpkins!

And this mountain of cheese.

I even saw a fruit I had not seen before a Buddha hand

You learn something everyday!

Monday 1 December 2008

New York: snackage & drinkage: Pinche and Pegu.

Sounds like a place that dear Pingu would hang out. If he were over 21 that is.

Suitably fortified by our free drinks we unpacked and admired the view from the room before heading out to explore the city.

Knowing we were headed to the Pegu Club for some serious cocktail action I thought it best that we line our stomachs and Pinche seemed perfect.

I consider a taco a Mexican form of sandwich. We shared the carne asada, which was very tasty if a little messy.

I was less impressed by the Mexican soda, which I had heard much about.

I like my drinks sour but this was way too sweet to be refreshing and had a kind of luminous green colour that spoke of many additives.

Tummies protected we found a spot at the bar at Pegu.

HI almost died and went to heaven when he realised that Audrey Saunders herself was behind the bar.

HI loves Audrey

She started off at Bemelmans bar at the Carlyle before opening up the Pegu club. Quite a few of the cocktail bars on our list have some association with her in one way or another.

Normally a man of few words he was dumbfounded with awe. I was all for respectfully saying hello, but bless him, he was too shy. So, we just watched her do her thing and ordered some very well-made, potent cocktails

I am ashamed to say that I can't for the life of me remember what we had other than they were very good.

Sunday 30 November 2008

New York: lunch at the Spotted Pig.

Well, actually, it didn't quite turn out like that.

Courtesy of Continental, our flight was delayed by two hours which completely through a spanner in the works. My plan had been to go to the spotted pig for lunch, so HI could have the infamous burger and I, the Cubano. As you know the sandwich is my favourite form of food so a chance to have a face off with these two couldn't be missed.
The problem was that the Cubano was only served before 3pm. We were meant to get in at 12 noon giving us plenty of time to get there but, being late it was looking out of question. In an act of desperation and I thought genius, I phoned the pig from Newark airport in the hope that my sob story would elicit a little sympathy and they would maybe put one by for me.

But oh no, no such sympathy.

The lady on the other end did me the courtesy of asking the kitchen but came back rather promptly with a reply in the negative. 'No, it's not possible' I however heard "No Cubano for you!"

Aghast at being turned down, I said thank you and hung up. I take it as a sign of maturity that, instead of throwing a hissy fit and then making a mad dash from the hotel to get there in time, I calmly took stock of the situation and said damn them they won't get my money if they can't give me no honey. Or words to that effect. I was jet lagged, I have an excuse.

So, instead we made our way to our hotel to check-in, in a leisurely manner. Our room which was meant to be non-smoking had a distinct pong to it, so after a discussion with the reasonable front desk we headed off to Spitzer's another 'gastropub', but American this time, whilst our new room was made ready. HI had researched this place and given it was practically next door to our hotel, must have thought he was in Heaven. Spitzer's prides itself on its vast beer selection which HI set to investigating.

I love all things pickled and especially those that are sour to boot.

These were apparently from Guss' but were a little tame for my liking.

To get into the way of things we had the sliders

which were pretty tasty and came with great spicy crinkle cut fries.

HI was re-acquainted with his beloved Hitachino ale which he had first encountered in Ssam bar last year. More on Ssam bar later.

Suitably fortified we headed back to the hotel where our room still wasn't ready. I didn't kick up a fuss but they were happy to buy us a round of drinks and a 'snack' in the nattily but poncilly acronymed THOR bar.

It seems it pays to question your room.

Two cocktails $16 each and a veal slider $14 completely free. Nice.

The veal slider was pretty tasty too. Had sauteed leeks on the bottom.

A very good start to our trip.

Friday 28 November 2008

New York, New York.

(You may recognise this post from a couple of weeks ago. I moved it here to jog my memory and too see how the actual trip went compared to my master plan).

What a city. A city of opportunity, of endless promise.

So much so, it actually sends me into a bit of a panic.
We have been fortunate enough to holiday there every year for the last four years. Every time I leave, I can't wait till the next time we visit.

You probably won't be surprised to know that on my daily blog read list are at least four or five New York based blogs, the reading of which enables me to update my 'list' for the next visit.
Sadly, the older I get, the smaller my stomach seems to get. Me Hobbit no more. It used to be I could factor in first breakfast, second breakfasts, elevenses, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and then supper. Those were the days. Aaah..

Now it seems I have to content myself one one meal a day, whether it be lunch or dinner, with some snacks in between. So, in a city of such untapped promise this poses a bit of a problem. It helps that I run every day to burn off the calories, and with jet lag, my day starts at five am, but it still means I need to plan each day carefully.
So, over the year I cross reference Chowhound, egullet, NY Mag with my favourite NY food blogs: Amateur Gourmet; Wandering Eater;the girl who ate everything; NYC food guy and Flyboyz, which has sadly been put to rest. Armed with all this info I then create my 'list' which is refined and refined until the day we actually leave. I also create my 'map' which, thanks to Google maps, now takes a fraction of the time and a lot less sellotape!
Given we will be staying in the LES, a place which abounds with tasty treats, I map everything according to it's proximity to the hotel. It's also handy to plan things in areas, so a day's worth of eating in the LES, the UES, in Soho, Midtown etc. All this prep means that I don't need to worry about missing out, and means that no matter where we are I will know if there is somewhere worthwhile eating at or drinking at nearby.
This might seem a bit excessive and a slight tad obsessive, mock me all you like but I am not alone!! The girls from wandering eater and TGWAE make up spreadsheets of dishes they want to eat at places according to popularity and cost. Now that's dedication.

My wish-list/hit-list looks something like this:

Spotted Pig
Pegu Club

Roasting Plant
Donut Plant
Russ and Daughters
Burger Joint
Death and Co
Ssam Bar

Gramercy Tavern
angel's share
Grand Sichuan International

Employee's only

Le Bernardin
Please Don't Tell
Casa Mono

Di Fara's


best of the best.

To ensure I got all these reservations, my calendar was prepped and ready to go two months ago..
And yes there is a worrying sense of achievement from visiting all these places.
New York here I come!!

Wednesday 26 November 2008

La Valle Blanche III.


A posh-ish dining establishment in Glasgow that actually delivers the goods. Well, that's a bit unfair, Abode is pretty good but it is a little too stark with it's contemporary design and favours the miniscule portion side of things, and of course Hotel Du Vin is mighty nice but is in the special occasion bracket.

That's not to say La Valle Blanche is cheap, as it's not. It's maybe a once a month kind of place but it has earned it's place on my very small list of old reliables in Glasgow. It passed my new test. I will give anywhere 3 goes but if on the third try they don't win me over, they are gone, out of here.

We had gone for dinner with Choiti and Chris. It was meant to be our Glenapp weekend, but for the second time in a row I was foiled, so given Kitchin in Edinburgh seemed too much effort we settled on La Valle Blanche, primarily, as Choiti had not yet been there.

La Valle Blanche seems to be getting better with time. Maybe Neil has settled into the kitchen and found his groove? I also noticed, and am not big-headed enough to think it's because of me, that they have pared things down a bit. Neil's elegant, not to mention charming, wife is still front of house, but they have cut the number of floor staff down quite a bit. The service has not suffered as far as I could tell so they have got the balance right. The female sommelier was not there that evening and although I would not wish anyone out of a job I didn't see how the cellar was large enough to merit one. They still give you canapes, freshly baked bread and soft butter with salt. They still give you petite four with your coffee. All the wee touches that make you feel you are being spoiled. If Neil is looking for a star then he is doing all the right things.

And then there is the food.

As I said it is getting better with time. What is more, it is pretty, tasty and satisfying which is a hard combo to get right it seems.

smoked mackeral with horseradish-very umami, could have eaten lots more of these.

Does this look familiar? It reminded me very much of that guy Chris Horridge's GBM creations. However, I am sure that Neil is much nicer than Chris Horrible. He seemed such an unptight, cold, control-freak, who gave Elijah no credit. His food may look pretty but it can't taste good. Food should be made with love. Sorry, rant over.
The only thing I would say is that I agree with Pru, Oliver and Mathew. The slate looks pretty but is not very good at retaining heat. The pig's cheeks were moist and tender and tasty but but the time we were half way through they were cold. I would change this.

HI's beef carpaccio with truffles. Hi likey. Me likey.

Choiti's Tarbert crab tartlet. I like the play on words I don't think it was intentional however.

This was a standout dish. It was called rabbit and sausage stew on the menu but as you can see is far more sophisticated than that. We were expecting some bowl of rustic peasant fare but got this beautiful almost deconstructed 'stew'. The rabbit was tasty and moist, a feat hard to achieve, and the liquor and accompanying sausage delicious. Thank goodness I have eschewed my own rule of not ordering the same dish as HI for I would have lost with this one.

Chris's Barnsley Lamb chop. I have never seen a Lamb chop like this before. It looks very manly, which is just as well as Chris is that kind of guy. I think he even picked it up an knawed at the bone. Of course we egged him on. He stopped at sooking the marrow out though.

Choiti's Aberdeen Angus fillet steak which came rare as requested. It was practically moo-ing on the plate.
My only gripe is there are no chips on the menu!! If only they could replicate the Pommes Pont Neuf from Hotel Du Vin then this steak would be heaven.

After my souffle incident with John at the Square I steered clear of this, but Chris said it was good. I just don't get souffles.

So, an intensely satisfying meal in beautiful surroundings with good service. It is a pretty good combination. Even if Michelin don't rate it, I do.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Random beauty.

From the trip up North.

Makes you feel proud.