Wednesday, January 5, 2011

NYC Adventures With My Sis: From The Stanton Social to Le Bernardin and More!

*This post is dedicated to the wonderful invention that is Tide-To-Go... it saved me from a variety of stains from eating my Shake Shack lunch over my lap while sitting on a park bench, and the following day from the sauce stains that splattered onto my white shirt from my Crispy Black Bass at Le Bernardin.  Thanks, Tide-To-Go, for allowing me to cover up the fact that I'm a slob :)

My sister spent two fun-filled days visiting me in New York City!  We planned in advance all of the things we wanted to do (because my family is filled with "planners"... that's how we roll!).  Here is a play-by-play account of what we did and what we ate!

We decided to spend the bulk of Sunday at the American Museum of Natural History, and therefore lunch beforehand was pretty much a no-brainer.  Shake Shack on the Upper West Side.  I had been to this location before, as well as the Madison Square Park one, and the Upper East Side one.  I love bringing friends and family to Shake Shack, because the food is so awesome, relatively cheap, and no one ever leaves disappointed :) This particular location is directly behind the museum, so it's truly perfect for a meal before or after perusing the museum.  We headed here before and each had a Double Shack Burger, split an order of fries, a corn dog, and a Shacky Road concrete.  I've already discussed my love for Shack Burgers and fries in the previous posts, so this time around I will simply share my thoughts on the last two items.  The corn dog was featured in an episode of Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  It's normally served with a special corn relish, but they were out of it when we ordered, so we just had our corn dog without the relish (which is a shame because I've heard it's great, but I really wanted to try the corn dog!).  On the episode, it said they only serve corn dogs 3 times a year, for Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day, but I guess now they've changed that because it was one of their winter specials.  I thought it was delicious, but I wish they had battered it a bit more thickly.  The ones on TV were more thickly battered than ours, but the flavors were still good (juicy, salty/sweet, and piping hot!), especially dipped in a touch of mustard.  The Shacky Road concrete was very chocolatey.  The frozen custard itself was incredibly rich and dense and reminded me of chocolate butter (in a totally good way).  I loved the marshmallow and almonds, but thought the chunks of chocolate truffle cookie dough were a bit over-the-top sweet for something already as sweet and as it was.  We ate a few, but then removed the rest from our concrete.  Overall it was very good, but just a touch too sweet.

Note the photograph above was taken after I made a mess on my lap from my lunch, and magically cleaned the stains with Tide-To-Go (it later dried stain-free).  In my own defense, the ketchup stain was my sister's fault.  She accidentally flung a ketchup container onto me.  It was open :)  Most of it got on the bench, but some of it got onto me...

Corn Dog $4.50

Shacky Road Concrete - Chocolate Custard, Chocolate Truffle Cookie Dough, Marshmallow and Almonds $6.25
After our delicious but messy outdoor lunch (thank goodness the weather was so nice!) we headed over to the American Museum of Natural History.  This is one of my favorite museums in the city, and it really is so much fun for people of all ages.  I can't wait until my nephew is just a little bit older and can appreciate all of the amazing exhibits here.  We saw everything from dinosaur fossils to a 31 carat diamond.  A giant blue whale replica to an IMAX film about the Hubble telescope (suuuuuper awesome, by the way!).  Here are some fun photos from our Night Day at the Museum! (PS don't be intimidated by the length of this post... it's mostly pictures from the Museum).



Megaladon jaws!! I love sharks, in case you couldn't tell :)

My sister, Lucy, with wooly mammoth fossils

Information about the Armenian earthquake of 1988!

Brain cell, anyone?

Great white shark and thresher shark

Lucy with a giant blue whale!

The giant squid being eaten by a sperm whale

Tiger sharks chasing a turtle

A big fat sea lion!  Looks so cuddly :)

This tree started growing in 560 AD and was cut down in 1891

My sister Lucy with Lucy, a 3.2 million year old skeleton of an early hominid

This sign was on the "Night at the Museum" episode of Top Chef this season!

My sister, a materials engineer, posing with a 34-ton hunk of iron from an ancient meteor

The 31-carat Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond... it was mined over 300 years ago and passed through several European royal families

Pretty amethysts...

This one looks like shredded carrots to me!

Isn't the museum beautiful!  It looks like a castle :)

The amazing mural in the subway station below the museum!  I want to steal this for my wall :)

The Stanton Social
99 Stanton St
(between Orchard St & Ludlow St)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 995-0099

I first heard of The Stanton Social from Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate (are we noticing a pattern here?).  The menu item that was featured was their French Onion Soup Dumplings.  Okay, let me repeat myself.  French. Onion. Soup. Dumplings.  Yes, that's right.  A traditional Asian-style dumpling filled with deeply caramelized onions fortified with stock and seasonings to taste like soup without being overly brothy (that would make it much more difficult to eat).  These dumplings are served in an escargots dish, topped with melted Gruyere cheese and skewered with croutons.  It's the complete French onion soup experience in the form of a dumpling!  This is the main reason for going to The Stanton Social.  But let me share a few more reasons... It's fun and hip, in the too-cool-for-school Lower East Side.  I hear it's great for birthdays and bachelorette parties, and I can totally see why!  It's hard to find (no big sign), which means it must be good, right (remember Scarpetta?)?  It has a room filled with vodka bottles, and lots of other fun alcohol bottles in the upstairs dining area lining the walls.  Service was impeccable, our empty dishes were cleared almost instantly, making room for more food!  Our waiter was cute.  Very cute ;-) The other foods we ate were delicious too, and so were our drinks!  I honestly think I may plan my next birthday here :)

We had dinner on the early side, before it got super busy :)
The Stanton Social features small plates intended for sharing, much like tapas.  I appreciate the variety, as I get to eat many different things.  This makes Victoria happy.  Another thing that makes Victoria happy is free food.  Free food like these complimentary pumpkin puree and ricotta crostini.  They were lightly sweet and creamy with a delicately crisp round of bread beneath.  Me likey.

Pumpkin Puree and Ricotta Crostini
We each selected a cocktail to compliment our meal.  I chose the Pineapple 75 Martini (Pineapple infused Ketel One, pineapple juice, lemon syrup, splash of Chambord) while my sister had the Strawberry Fields (Grey Goose Citron, muddled fresh strawberries, lemon syrup, fresh lemon and a Riesling floater).  Both drinks were refreshing, perfectly balanced, and just strong enough without tasting like straight alcohol. Mine was topped with a dehydrated pineapple chip, while the Strawberry Fields was garnished with a lemon crisp.

Pineapple 75 Martini and Strawberry Fields $13 each

The first of our plates to arrive were the Red Snapper Tacos and the Potato and Goat Cheese Pierogies.  The tacos were served with mango and avocado, and a lime wedge and small dollop of spicy sauce by each mini taco.  I love how each taco came with its own accompaniments directly alongside, so no one would have to share their lime wedge, and no taco would feel neglected or unloved.  These were good, but my fish tacos are in a league of their own :) Meanwhile, the potato and goat cheese pierogies were my second favorite dish we tried!  They were tiny little packages filled with the traditional mashed potato component and replacing the more common farmer's or cottage cheese with their tangier cousin... goat cheese.  Topped with caramelized onions and accompanied by truffle creme fraiche, these were simply crescent-shaped bits of Heaven.  Highly recommend!

Red Snapper Tacos - Creamy Avocado and Spicy Mango $10

Potato and Goat Cheese Pierogies with Caramelized Onions and Truffle Creme Fraiche $9

The next wave of dishes included Barbecue Duck Confit and Black Bean Empanadas with Smoked Tomato and Blood Orange Jam, and of course the main event, the heavyweight champion of the world, the French Onion Soup Dumplings.  The empanadas each sat in their own little compartment, resting atop a spoonful of sauce, while the dish was served with a bowl of extra sauce.  The sauce alone tasted like bacon.  That is to say, it was very smoky.  Alone, the smoky flavor overpowered the other flavors in the sauce, but along with the empanadas, the sauce worked much better (though you could have fooled me about the contents of blood orange, as I didn't note any citrus flavors).  The filling was tender, juicy, and flavorful, with a spicy veil.  These were fun, and I'd enjoy having them again.

Barbecue Duck Confit and Black Bean Empanadas with Smoked Tomato and Blood Orange Jam $10

The French Onion Soup dumplings were everything I thought they'd be.  I'm really glad I finally got to try them myself, because I really imagined the filling would be more soupy.  It was more like really wet fortified caramelized onions.  I had wanted to create this dish in my own kitchen for a long time, and definitely have a better perspective on the dish now.  I loved the combination of chewy dumpling dough, sweet and meaty melt-in-your-mouth onions, nutty and gooey melted Gruyere, and finally the crunchy crouton to top it all off.  These are a must have!  Even if I hadn't seen the episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate, or had these personally recommended to me by a former co-worker, or just happened to love French Onion Soup, our waiter made a point to suggest them to us.  I'm sure every person who walks through these doors (with the exception of my mom who doesn't care for melted cheese--I seriously wonder if I'm adopted sometimes... except that we look alike) will LOOOOOVE this dish.  I'm hoping to recreate these in my own kitchen (once I invest in an escargots dish) so stay tuned for that possibility :)

French Onion Soup Dumplings $12

The following day, we had tickets to a matinee performance of The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera.  This was my Christmas gift to my sister.  My sister was and still is a very talented pianist, and her favorite composer has always been Mozart.  This is one of his most famous (and most whimsical) operas, and we were both really thrilled to get to see it (and in such a beautiful setting too!).  The following is one of my favorite songs from the opera, The Queen of the Night Aria!

Le Bernardin
155 W 51st St
The Equitable Building
(between 6th Ave & 7th Ave)
New York, NY 10019
(212) 554-1515

Le Bernardin is, quite possibly, the best way to define perfection.  It's a three Michelin star restaurant in the center of New York City boasting the best seafood around (both in quality and preparation), and the best service money can buy.  The number of accolades it has received over the years is incredible.  In 1997 GQ Magazine named it the best restaurant in America.  It has been continuously recognized for its excellence by the Zagat Guide, James Beard Foundation, Michelin, and others.  Everything from the small stool by our table intended for keeping purses off the floor to the ladies' bathroom stalls fully stocked with a variety of feminine products (that's a first for me!) made it quite evident that nothing at Le Bernardin is overlooked.

My purse has its own chair!

Free feminine products in the ladies' room!  Yes, I went there (with my Blackberry camera)... I couldn't resist!

Service is in teams, as is expected in any restaurant of this caliber.  Our entire team was consistent, at the ready to fill waters, clear plates, replace utensils, etc, without being in our faces the whole time.  When I asked someone (who wasn't even one of our servers) where the ladies' room was, he practically took me there himself.  And when I returned, someone was there to pull out my chair for me, and my napkin had been folded.  I went to the ladies' room twice (the second time was the apply Tide-To-Go to my shirt which had been stained by sauce from my entree) and both times I returned to the same quality of service: my napkin neatly folded, and a server waiting to pull out my chair.  I felt like a queen!

Ever since I read my copy of On the Line, I knew that complimentary salmon rillette was served every day as an amuse bouche at lunch service at Le Bernardin. I also learned that founder and co-owner Maguy Le Coze is obsessed with this country-style spread featuring a mixture of fresh cooked salmon and smoked salmon.  I looked forward to trying the famous rillette almost as much as I looked forward to the meal itself.  My sister and I both agree that the salmon rillette is simply sublime.  The flavors and seasonings are perfect, the texture is luscious and spreadable with soft chunks of fish exuding their perfectly delicate flavor onto the thin, crispy slices of bread they provide.  They also walk around with a bread basket to serve you whichever breads you'd like out of several options.  I had the raisin bread and the rosemary-green olive bread stick which was crusty and a perfect combination of flavors.  I'm pretty sure they don't serve the salmon rillette at dinner, so come here for lunch to get to enjoy it!

Salmon Rillette

My sister and I had both planned on splurging on one of the tasting menus, but only the more expensive of the two is generally available at lunch (we didn't realize this), and on this particular day it wasn't offered because two of the dishes on it were unavailable.  So instead we went with the only other option, a three course prix fixe menu (there is no a la carte) for $70.  It wasn't like we were "settling" or anything because all of the food is so amazing, we really just wanted 7 courses instead of 3 :) We decided for our first 2 courses to get different things so we could taste each other's food and get to try more menu items (Victoria loves variety, remember?).  For the first course, you select a dish from either the Simply Raw or Barely Touched section of the menu, and then the second course will come from Lightly Cooked.  Finally, you order your dessert (and final) course from a separate dessert menu.

For my first course, I absolutely had to try the Tuna from the simply raw section, while my sister had the Salmon from that same section.  The Tuna features layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna, foie gras, toasted baguette, shaved chives and extra virgin olive oil.  In theory, it really seems quite simple, with basic flavors and very mild seasoning (a simple drizzle of exceptional olive oil is the final touch).  In reality, it is mind-blowing.  This dish is the best thing I've ever eaten in my entire life.  Not only is it exquisitely plated, the shape of the pounded fish mimicking the plate itself, but the quality of ingredients and the way they are all put together is completely harmonious.  A thin rectangle of perfectly crisp, but not too dry baguette is coated with just enough foie gras.  Not too much, and not too little.  Incredibly flavorful and tender pounded raw tuna gently blankets this strip, and is topped with chives and extra virgin olive oil.  The tuna itself melts in your mouth in ways that fish has never done for me before.  The crispy baguette topped with creamy, rich foie gras perfectly marries with the tuna.  I never would have considered foie gras and raw tuna as a perfect pairing, but the restraint in the application of the foie gras really makes it an ideal combination.  This is the food of the Gods...

Simply Raw - Tuna - Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna; Foie Gras, Toasted Baguette, Shaved Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

My sister's Salmon was also incredible.  Her exact words were "Wow!"  The quality of the fish, as with the tuna, is exceptional.  They don't mess around here.  The fish at Le Bernardin is of the absolute highest quality, or they just don't serve it!  The Salmon is a yuzu cured wild Alaskan salmon, topped with endive and shaved red beet, and served with a coriander infused verjus (poured table side).  This dish also boasts exquisite textures, from the soft and meaty salmon, to the crunch of the endive and beets.  The citrus component in the yuzu cure and the verjus balanced out the entire dish wonderfully and brought out the nuances in the other flavors.  My sister took a spoon to the sauce and didn't let a drop go to waste.  It was glorious...

Simply Raw - Salmon - Yuzu cured Wild Alaskan Salmon, Endive and shaved Red Beet, Coriander infused Verjus

For my entree, I couldn't resist the Crispy Black Bass with lup cheong and beansprout "risotto," mini steamed buns, and hoisin-plum jus.  I had heard wonderful things about this bass and knew that it was a must-try (I believe it too was on The Best Thing I Ever Ate).  Just like every other sauce at Le Bernardin, my hoisin-plum jus was poured table side, and my dish was served with a separate smaller dish of the mini steamed buns.  Honestly, I'm not really sure why the buns were served separately or at all.  It was the only confusing thing about my meal.  I understand they didn't want the buns drenched in sauce so they are plated separately, but to be honest, the fish and the "risotto" were more than enough, and the buns (topped with some more lup cheong Chinese sausage meat) were tasty but pretty simple and could have been omitted without me missing them.  Oh the fish... the fish with the super crispy skin and the perfectly cooked, flaky soft flesh beneath.  Delicious.  The "risotto" wasn't risotto at all, but did contain some rice, some crunchy beansprouts, and a bit of meatiness from finely crumbled lup cheong (Chinese sausage).  With the distinctively Asian hoisin-plum jus soaking into the "risotto" and fish, this perfectly cooked sea creature smelled and tasted of the Far East.  I, too, grabbed a spoon and polished off as much of the sauce and every last bit of "risotto" and fish as I could.  Meals like this shouldn't go to waste.

Lightly Cooked - Black Bass - Crispy Black Bass; Lup Cheong and Beansprout 'Risotto', Mini Steamed Buns, Hoisin-Plum Jus

My sister decided to try Monkfish for the first time (at my suggestion).  It was pan roasted and served with hon shimeji mushrooms, turnip-ginger emulsion and sake broth.  Two different servers came over to serve each of the two sauces that accompanied the monkfish dish... first the sake broth was poured around the fish, then the turnip-ginger emulsion was spooned on either side.  The fish itself was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a subtle crisp crust on one side.  The mushrooms were a unique and fabulous addition to the dish, and each of the sauces on their own were incredibly flavorful, but together became truly outstanding with the perfectly cooked fish slices.  This was a gorgeous presentation with an orchestra of flavors.  Yet another "Wow!" dish.

Lightly Cooked - Monkfish - Pan Roasted Monkfish; Hon Shimeji Mushrooms; Turnip-Ginger Emulsion; Sake Broth

Finally, onto dessert.  For our final course, we both selected the same thing (we just couldn't resist), the Chocolate-Peanut creation.  It features a dark chocolate, peanut and caramel tart, Meyer lemon puree, peanut powder, and praline-citrus sorbet.  If a Reese's peanut butter cup started shooting up caramel, and then had plastic surgery, and had babies... with itself, this is the out of this world dessert it would create.  The tart was delicious, a dark chocolate crust filled with caramel and peanut chunks and topped with a glossy and velvety coating of dark chocolate.  It was served with peanut powder (essentially crushed peanut), a touch of Meyer lemon puree (almost gel-like) and some praline-citrus sorbet tying in a tart element to the dish.  I generally don't think of adding sour ingredients to chocolate, but the tart flavors helped to cleanse the palate after indulging in the richness of the tart.  A beautifully presented and well-balanced final course.  Le Bernardin is like striking gold.

Chocolate-Peanut - Dark Chocolate, Peanut and Caramel Tart; Meyer Lemon Puree, Peanut Powder, Praline-Citrus Sorbet

As their final impression, the folks at Le Bernardin offered us a basket (cleverly created out of a napkin) of complimentary mini madeleines shaped like little muffins.  There were almond ones (tasted like amaretto!) and pistachio-anise seed ones.  And they were still warm when served to us!  I preferred the almond but the pistachio-anise seed was really good too.  A final touch and farewell.  We will be back to try the tasting menu (even if I have to sell a kidney to get me there!).

Madeleines - Almond and Pistachio-Anise Seed

Oh, and even though Chef Ripert wasn't in that day (he's usually there everyday for lunch and dinner service) our waiter was nice enough to take my copy of On The Line for Eric Ripert to sign the following day when he was back.  When I picked it up it was wrapped in Le Bernardin tissue paper and in a lovely Le Bernardin paper tote bag (souvenir?).  Unwrapping it felt like Christmas morning all over again!!  I will now add this to my collection of books autographed to me personally by Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain, Daniel Boulud, Sarabeth Levine, and Danny Meyer.  I feel like the luckiest girl on Earth!


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