Thursday, September 30, 2010

Iron Chefs and Red Tomatoes


You may recall my virtual date with Iron Chef Michael Symon last week, when we sipped our toasted marshmallow milkshakes together over candlelight.  Well, I have an interesting follow up to that story.  A couple days ago I was at work, doing my thing in the editorial department, when Anne Burrell came over to offer us some tiramisu.  That's not the story, there's more.  I took a plate from her, but then gave it up to another employee because I felt like that was my duty as a good intern (bottom of the totem pole, haha).  It occurred to me that there would probably be more tiramisu in the kitchen, so I quickly headed over there and discovered a large dish of it! Yes!! As I scooped some tiramisu onto a plate, I exclaimed to myself out loud, "Yum!" Just then, a spoon reached out from my left and stole some tiramisu, the spoon's owner responding, "Yum is right! This is so good!"  Wait! I know that voice.  I glanced to my left and saw none other than Michael Symon swooning (yes, Iron Chefs DO swoon) over the tiramisu.  We were swooning simultaneously over tiramisu, elbow to elbow!  Yeah, that's a true story.  As crazy luck would have it, I had made plans to have dinner that night with Joanne, Michael Symon's #1 lover fan.  I think it was fate.  Perhaps somehow her love for the Iron Chef beckoned him to me, stronger than the power of tiramisu.  Who am I kidding? Nothing is stronger than the power of tiramisu.

Rouge Tomate
10 E 60th St
(between 5th Ave & Madison Ave) 
New York, NY 10022
(646) 237-8977

Rouge Tomate, or Red Tomato for those of you who don't parler français, is conveniently located across the street from Barney's New York.  Nothing works up your appetite quite like overpriced retail therapy. This one star Michelin restaurant is truly unique in a city housing over 20,000 other dining establishments.  Rouge Tomate's dedication to producing healthy, local, seasonal, and sustainable cuisine is highly commendable.  On staff is a nutritionist, ensuring that all the dishes are created to a particular standard, maintaining the nutritional integrity of the ingredients, while creating Michelin star-worthy food.  In addition to its gourmet health food, the space itself is quite outstanding.  Designed by architectural firm Bentel and Bentel as a soothing and modern urban oasis, it balances well with the small, refined dishes offered on their menu, which is basically a create-your-own tasting menu experience.

There's Barney's across the street from Rouge Tomate!

A cocktail was much needed by both Joanne and I, and we both opted to try the fig margarita, a completely unique invention I've never noted on the million margarita menus I've seen before.  It was great, and didn't taste strongly of alcohol, just what I look for in a good margarita.  We were also offered two different kinds of bread from a large tray, sliced sourdough and wheat rolls.  We tried both, which were served with a curried cauliflower puree instead of butter (healthy, remember?).  Okay, so here's where I'm going to say the only negative thing I have to say about the meal.  The curried cauliflower puree was bland and reminded both of us of baby food, in flavor and texture.  There.  I said it.  I'm sorry, Rouge Tomate, but it's true.  Moving on to better things...

Fig Margarita - Tequila, Fig Purée, Lime $14

The seasonal toasts!  There are several varieties, but we chose three to share: The Heirloom Eggplant Caponata with La Quercia Prosciutto, and Golden Raisins, the Local Corn and Avocado with Maine Crab, and Cilantro, and the Market Squash Ratatouille with Sheep's Milk Ricotta, and Thyme.  All of them were very fresh and delicious.  The eggplant one had a great sweet touch from the caponata and a bit of saltiness from the prosciutto.  The corn and avocado one has inspired me to add corn and crab meat to my next guacamole!  Amazing flavor combination!  The ratatouille was bright and fresh, with a great creamy ricotta base rounding out the flavors.  I enjoyed them all, but maybe preferred the corn and avocado one the most, although it's difficult to pick :)

Seasonal Toasts (Three for $13):
Heirloom Eggplant Caponata / La Quercia Prosciutto / Golden Raisin
Local Corn and Avocado / Maine Crab / Cilantro
Market Squash Ratatouille / Sheep's Milk Ricotta / Thyme

We then decided to order two dishes from the pastas and grains section to share as our second course: Maine Lobster Agnolotti with Sweet Corn, Tomato, Sea Urchin, and Basil, and also the Heirloom Eggplant Risotto made with Carnaroli Rice, Lemon, Parmesan, Garlic, and Herbes de Provence.  The agnolotti included three small pasta squares, several pieces of lobster, the tomatoes, corn, and sea urchin foam.  It's meant to be a tasting portion, so it shouldn't be filling.  I thought the flavors were very good, delicate, not overwhelming at all.  We both used our bread to soak up the delicious sauce!  The risotto was exquisite.  We both preferred it slightly over the pasta dish.  I've never considered using eggplant in risotto, but have been convinced now that I must try it!  It too was very delicate, with a great eggplant flavor, perfect consistency for the risotto and its surrounding "sauce."  I loved the eggplant on top too!  Overall a really great dish.

Maine Lobster Agnolotti / Sweet Corn / Tomato / Sea Urchin / Basil $15

Heirloom Eggplant Risotto / Carnaroli Rice / Lemon / Parmesan / Garlic / Herbes de Provence $12

Next onto our main course choices: Whole Brook Trout a la Plancha with Dandelion, Cauliflower, Pine-nuts, Capers, Raisins, and Concord Grapes, and also the Grimaud Farms Duck with Moroccan Spices, Heirloom Eggplant Agrodolce, Mint, and Beldi Olive.  Our favorite dish from the evening was the brook trout. It was recommended to me by a friend who used to work at the restaurant, and damn was he right! Thanks, Harold!!  The fish was cooked perfectly, and best of all, the bones were removed! Yes, that's right, it was cooked whole, but without the bones, skin on, nice and crispy, over a bed of dandelion greens and cauliflower, and topped with pine-nuts, capers, raisins, and grapes.  The sweet flavors with the slightly bitter greens, and the flaky fish made for a great whirlwind experience on the palate, especially with the varying textures.  Such a wonderful balance of flavors, I can't even begin to tell you.  It was served with what we guessed was a parsnip puree, which was also very good.  A masterful dish, absolute nirvana.  Our duck was also really delicious!  The skin on the duck breast had a wonderful flavor from the Moroccan spices, and was nice and crispy.  It was served over agrodolce (sweet and sour) eggplant, along with some delicious smoky eggplant puree on the plate.  A mound of what seemed like duck confit (but was probably a much healthier preparation of the duck leg meat) sat beside the sliced duck breast pieces in a perfect square.  The meat was tender and juicy, and all of the components were spot on.  These dishes (unlike our baby food-type spread for our bread) is why Rouge Tomate has a Michelin star.  Extraordinary, unique, fresh, seasonal, local, sustainable, beautiful, delicious.

Whole Brook Trout a la Plancha / Dandelion / Cauliflower / Pine-nut / Caper / Raisin / Concord Grape $27

Grimaud Farms Duck / Moroccan Spices / Heirloom Eggplant Agrodolce / Mint / Beldi Olive $22

We still had room for dessert (or at least made room for dessert): Honeycrisp Apple Spiced Cake with Horchata Ice Cream, Ancho Chile Sauce, and Coffee, along with Molten Chocolate Cake with Banana, Malt, Peanut, and Vanilla Milk Sherbet.  Both were great!  The apple cake was nicely spiced, served with an actually-spicy Ancho chile sauce!  I loved that chile sauce with the dessert, what a creative idea that definitely made the dish pop.  The horchata ice cream was sweet and delicious, a good play off the spicier notes in the rest of the dish, and a pile of cooked apple added another sweet dimension to this dessert.  We needed a bit of chocolate too, of course, so the molten chocolate cake was the perfect choice!  It was ooey gooey delicious, nice and rich.  The sauce beneath it tasted like a bananas foster sauce, which was perfect to streak banana slices through.  The crispy plantain chip added a great visual element and a crunch factor, to the otherwise "soft" dish, as did the tiny chocolate malt balls.  The sherbet was lightly sweet and was made with milk instead of cream, a very refreshing and not-heavy addition to the richer chocolate cake.

Honeycrisp Apple Spiced Cake / Horchata Ice Cream / Ancho Chile / Coffee $10

Molten Chocolate Cake / Banana / Malt / Peanut / Vanilla Milk Sherbet $10

Our incredible meal would not have been the same without the attentive, friendly, and professional service that we received.  Just like any restaurant of this caliber should do, our silverware was replaced between every course, brought to us on a tray, while bread was also replenished one piece at a time from a server carrying a bread tray.  While the service was always a consistent part of our meal, refilling water, replacing silverware and so on, it never interfered with our meal or our conversation.  This is how a dining experience should be, every single time, as far as I'm concerned.  The atmosphere was both modern and soothing.  The sparing touches of red were vibrant and warm.  The bathroom was also pretty awesome :) See the marble sink below!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Smoked Salmon Revelations


New York City is famous for smoked salmon, and purveyors who are noted for selling great quality smoked salmons are known well throughout town.  I recently discussed my love for the amazing carb-centric creations at Amy's Bread in Chelsea Market.  My last notes mentioned pairing some of their wonderful bread with smoked salmon.  While bagels are a traditional vessel for enjoying smoked salmon, bread is also an excellent choice, and removing the cream cheese, and other bells and whistles allows one to focus completely on the flavor of the salmon.  I recently decided to form a marriage of Amy's bread creations with a few of the smoked salmon choices at another great Chelsea Market shop, The Lobster Place.  This great seafood shop is where my dad FINALLY, after all his years of hating on New York, learned to love a small part of it.  When I brought my parents to Chelsea Market to see where I'd be working, these seafood lovers stepped into The Lobster Place and simply melted at the incredible selection of seafood products.  They have a ridiculous variety of fresh and smoked fish, lobsters, crab meat, oysters, seafood-related dry goods (such as seasonings), a sushi station, and other prepared foods such as soups and sandwiches.  Last week I tried some of their sushi and lobster bisque at lunch.  Both were high quality and satisfying.  The sushi was very fresh, tasty, but not very spicy.  The soup was piping hot and incredibly flavorful, though I would have loved a few more lobster chunks in there :) Overall, a great seafood-based lunch!

Spicy Tuna Avocado Rolls $5.75

Medium Lobster Bisque $5

I selected three different smoked salmons for my tasting, and the employees were very helpful in packaging them up and giving me some bags of ice to take my smoked salmons on the go on an oh-so-very-warm New York City day.  Since I was heading home this weekend, I invited my mom to join me in my smoked salmon tasting adventure, because she loves smoked salmon as much as I do!  We started with the Norwegian, and then tasted the Nova and Irish smoked salmons, which just so happened to be in order of mildest to strongest!  It's funny though, that the mildest tasting smoked salmon had the strongest odor, and the stronger and saltier the flavors got, the less pronounced that odor was.  Here are some photos and notes from the tasting.

Norwegian Smoked Salmon

  • Color - pink, slightly iridescent, and dull
  • Odor - strong smell of fish and smoke
  • Flavor - mild, not too salty
  • Mouthfeel - very soft and velvety, melts in your mouth, bites into easily
  • Notes - largest actual slices
  • Price - $16.50/lb

Nova Smoked Salmon

  • Color - pinkish-orange with some shine
  • Odor - less odor than the Norwegian smoked salmon
  • Flavor - slightly saltier than the Norwegian, a bit more smoky, and a slightly stronger flavor
  • Mouthfeel - a bit oilier mouthfeel than the Norwegian
  • Price - $16.95/lb

Irish Smoked Salmon

  • Color - orange-red and very shiny
  • Odor - the least fishy/smoky odor, almost smelled sweet
  • Flavor - saltier, more smoke and flavor than the other two
  • Mouthfeel - oilier and unctuous, with more of a bite (slightly more firm)
  • Notes - raised in remote open-water pens off Irish coast, hand-fed an all-natural organic diet
  • Price - $23.50
I can't pick a favorite out of these three smoked salmons. I can easily say they were all very enjoyable in their own ways.  I loved how mild and melt-in-your-mouth tender the Norwegian was, while I loved the moderate saltiness and slightly oilier mouthfeel of the Nova.  The Irish was truly more decadent and had a stronger, but delicious flavor and a more unctuous, fatty characteristic than the first two.  I would love to extend this tasting for smoked salmons from other spots throughout the city that are famous for this specialty item.  Perhaps in the future instead of doing side-by-side comparisons from one shop, I will try and acquire some fish from different shops and make my own selection for best smoked salmon in New York!  It could happen :) Just you wait and see!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Love Affair with Carbs


Chelsea Market is a danger zone for carboholics. Five bakeries, including Fat Witch Bakery, which specializes in brownies alone, taunt me on my way into work each morning. Amy's Bread, Ruthy's Bakery, and Sarabeth's all feature expansive windows exposing their bakeries and bakers. Visitors can peer inside to see where the magic happens, as bakers shape loaves of bread, and rolling racks of golden crusty goodness await passport into their mother shops to be sold.

The bakers at Amy's Bread

Amy's Bread 
75 9th Ave
(between 15th St & 16th St)
New York, NY 10011
(212) 462-4338

All this week I've been unable to resist temptation, and have been plotting my daily breakfast choices before I even arrived at Chelsea Market. I am hoping (and totally planning) to try some treats from the other bakeries in the future, but this week I've been focusing my energy and stomach on Amy's Bread. One of three locations in New York City, Amy's bread could quite possibly contain enough awesome carby goodness to justify a complete carb overdose, and I wouldn't feel guilty!  In fact, I have plans to purchase both their cookbooks in the future, in case an Amy's Bread location is ever out of reach :)

Amy's Bread

My breakfast treats so far have included a delicious grilled cheddar biscuit filled with ham and oozy cheese. It was definitely cheese-squared, with a lovely buttery biscuit texture that blasts every other biscuit-based breakfast sandwich I've had before it. A good savory choice for sure.

Grilled Cheddar Biscuit with Ham and Cheese $4.25

A staff member insisted I try the cinnamon challah knots, and who am I to argue? It was chewy, lightly cinnamony, with a nice sweet glaze. A great not-too-sweet breakfast baked-good choice. I would definitely get this again. It was like the grown-up, socialite sister to the far-sweeter, heart-clogging, gooey cinnamon bun. Thanks for the recommendation :)

Cinnamon Challah Knot $1.95

I also really loved the almond brioche toast.  It was rich and tender and tasted like sweet Amaretto, even though I'm pretty sure it was alcohol-free (I will look at the recipe in the in-store cookbook again later).  The flavor and fragrance almost knocked me off my chair, so incredibly flavorful, and yet not overwhelmingly sweet, the perfect breakfast or snack!  I stand by my choice!

Almond Brioche Toast $3.25

I am a huge fan of pain au chocolat (or croissants filled with chocolate) so I knew I had to try those as well.  The best I've ever had were in Paris (of course), but these were very acceptable for American versions.  They were flaky, but the chocolate was pretty cold.  I would have loved it it the filling was still gooey, nothing beats that!  I know they are fresh, but they certainly had time to cool off before I purchased one.  Oh well, they still satisfy the craving until I can get back to France, or I can probably just refresh it in the toaster oven for a few minutes next time to warm it up!

Pain au Chocolat $3.25 

Amy's has a variety of bread twists with both sweet and savory flavors.  In fact, there are two different chocolate varieties... TWO!  One uses their challah dough while the other uses sourdough.  I bought both chocolate twists to try and decided to warm them up a bit in the toaster oven before enjoying them.  What an excellent plan!  The chocolate got super gooey and the breads warmed up just enough to freshen them up a little.  My favorite was the original chocolate twist, made with challah dough.  It was chewy like the sourdough one, but softer and with a great, mild flavor.  The sourdough was more dense and had that characteristic sour flavor, which was good, but not as preferable with the chocolate.  Warming them up was a great idea, but even without that extra touch, I'm sure these would be delicious!

Chocolate Twist (rear) and Sourdough Chocolate Twist (front) each $1.65

I purchased one of Amy's prepared sandwiches for a long bus ride, and was sold on the goat cheese, eggplant, olive tapenade, and roasted tomato one on a baguette.  It was wrapped in plastic, and had probably spent most of the day suffocating in there, because when I bit into it, it lacked any crust that may have existed when the sandwich was first prepared.  It was quite disappointing, but the delicious fillings mostly made up for it.  I loved everything in the sandwich, so I generally enjoyed the sandwich a lot, but I definitely noticed the bread didn't taste fresh.  Just a note on the prepared sandwiches (wrapped in plastic, mind you)... they just aren't as good as freshly made. *Note: the photos below were taken on my lap, haha!

Goat Cheese, Eggplant, Olive Tapenade, and Roasted Tomato Sandwich $7.25

We had some ciabatta rolls from Amy's at work, and I took a few home with plans to stuff them with cheese for a simple dinner. Good ingredients make up good dishes, and I already had the good bread. I stopped off at Lucy's Whey also in Chelsea Market, looking for a soft cheese. I tried a piece of Grayson cheese from Virginia. This raw cow's milk cheese has been compared to Telleggio. I loved its stinkiness (I was the smelly-cheese girl on the subway) and strong flavor. It melted beautifully in my mini ciabatta grilled cheese sandwiches and I will definitely splurge on more of this cheese in the future to pair with this great bread. What a match made in Heaven!

Finally, I purchased a whole loaf of bread!  It was impossible to select one, they have dozens of varieties that all look incredible.  I had planned on doing a smoked salmon tasting this weekend and needed some bread that was good quality, but rather neutral in flavor so it wouldn't affect the flavor of the different salmons.  I decided to try the simple organic country white batard, which was sold in either half or whole loaves.  I purchased a whole loaf after work and then planned to eat it the next day.  I knew the crust would be less than fresh, but Amy's website had a great tip on how to refresh your bread.  It suggests sprinkling or misting the bread with water (I actually brushed some on with a pastry brush) and placing it in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 6-8 minutes.  The bread was hot, flaky, and crusty as soon as it emerged from the oven!  Slicing it was a pleasure, as bits of crust scattered around the cutting board, a sure sign that the bread was like new again!  I loved the texture, a great balance of chewiness and crunch, which was perfect for my smoked salmon!  Check back soon for the full results of my smoked salmon tasting, and a lot of appetizing photos!

Organic Country White Batard $4.75 (whole) or $2.40 (half)

Friday, September 24, 2010

An All-American Dinner


24 E 12th St
(between 5th Ave & University Pl)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 488-5900
I have a confession to make. My friend Joanne who Eats Well With Others might kill me for this, but last night I had a virtual date with her man, Iron Chef Michael Symon. Yeah, we stared into each others eyes over his favorite toasted marshmallow milkshake at Stand. He had 3 of them. And then he had 3 more. And then 3 more after that. See, the clip from Food Network's Best Thing I Ever Ate where Mike (I call him Mike now) was swooning (do Iron Chefs swoon?) over these milkshakes was playing on repeat in Stand, the "rare well-done burger" spot 2 blocks south of Union Square.

I felt like he was personally insisting I order one too, and so I did. After my meal when I could focus all my attention on its awesomeness. But first we ordered their tempura-battered fried bread and butter pickles. Hello, awesome. These unusual treats were a great mix of sweet-sour from the pickle and salty crunch from the batter. Served with a lightly mustardy, tangy dipping sauce, I personally found them to be pretty irresistable.

Tempura Battered Bread and Butter Pickles $4

We also shared the battered onion rings and some old-school French fries. The fries were good but not exceptional in the world of mind-blowing fries (those do exist, you know). The onion rings were a better choice, I preferred those to the fries, but of course I usually prefer onion rings. They are round and spectacular, like golden halos of fried magic. Perfect accompaniment for a burger.

Large French Fries $5

Large Onion Rings $6

Oh yeah, the burgers! I had one of those too. A cheeseburger to be specific. I opted to have mine on a brioche bun instead of the traditional sesame one, and it was topped with shredded lettuce, caramelized onions, and white cheddar cheese (there were other cheese choices as well), and served with a small ramekin of cheddar sauce and a few more fried pickles. The cheddar sauce was very mild and didn't taste very cheesy to me, more like a bechamel I couldn't quite place. The burger was good, fairly juicy but not over the top. It had a nice charred flavor and the caramelized onions were a good touch.  It wasn't the best burger I've ever had, but it was very good.  Maybe next time I'll try the one with bacon... ;-)

Cheeseburger $10
Time for the milkshake! Did it bring all the boys to the yard? Well I can't comment on that, but it was quite magnificent, Mike was right. It tasted exactly like a cold, liquid, toasted marshmallow. We even ate our toasted marshmallow garnishes simultaneously! We're just so funny like that, Mike and I (sorry, Joanne, you can have him back now).  The milkshakes would definitely bring me back.  They're not cheap, a large is certainly a better deal at $7 as opposed to $5 for the mini, but we were pretty stuffed from dinner. 

Mini Toasted Mashmallow Milkshake $5

Overall we had a very enjoyable meal!  The food was good, the staff was friendly, and the milkshakes were rockin'!


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