Monday, December 13, 2010

Giving thanks for gnocchi

I require nought turkey or stuffing, but indeed prefer the gnocchi - do this and thy life is spare.

With my entree to law school four years ago, my family started dining out for most big holidays, religious or otherwise. For Passover, we have gone to JoeDoe for their progressive Seder. Come Thanksgiving, we went to Quality Meats until a really disappointing meal (both in food and service) last year.
I searched the internet for a new Thanksgiving home and presented options. My favored choice was Colicchio & Sons, but was shot down.  Instead, we went to Jane, which is not, as I had suspected, located on Jane Street. Nor is the restaurant owned by anyone named Jane (Glenn and Jeffrey are the owners' first names).  So deceptive.

The dinner was very good, the portions oversize to the point where our desserts were left mostly uneaten, a rarity in my family. Mostly to blame was the first course - ricotta gnocchi in a truffle cream sauce.  It was really, really good.  That much I knew right away.  Then, I went to the Colicchio & Sons Tap Room last week and ordered their gnocchi.  The Tap Room gnocchi was so weak, it made me appreciate Jane's dish that much more.

Granted, one was a ricotta gnocchi and the other a potato gnocchi.  But I don't care. Gnocchi should be dense, smooth, and flavorful, yet not overpowering the accompanying sauce. Jane accomplishes this hands down; the gnocchi is toasted, just the right amount of truffle in a nice cream sauce. The Tap room falls short; the gnocchi is light and feathery, almost disintegrating in an oily pool of soffritto that has no business being in the dish.

Although it is listed as a starter, my recommendation would be to order the toasted ricotta gnocchi and a salad, and call it a meal. So, so very good.

Jane, 100 W. Houston Street

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Get thee to the Highline before October 13th

It seems like an arbitrary date - a Wednesday in the middle of October - but there is significance. That is the last day Colicchio & Sons will be serving donuts and cider on the Highline. A little pop-up stand with a handful of two-top tables and chairs set up. all looking like they are made of reclaimed wood and keeping with the Highline aesthetic. Sure, it may be unseasonably warm - weatherbug had the temp at 85 when I stopped by earlier - but it is fall, Halloween is coming, leaves are falling, etc.
At $2 for a cider donut, I wanted something better than I get at the farmers' market that shows up twice a week.  What I got was a donut that was exactly what I get at the farmers' market that shows up twice a week. Only at twice the price.
The pumpkin spice donut holes were a different story altogether. A little denser than the donuts. Definitely tasted of pumpkin and cardamom. Like the cider donut, it was nicely coated in sugar. But what really sells the donut holes is the small cup of cream cheese frosting that comes in the bag. Not on the donut holes, seeping its way down, resulting in sogginess. A cup on the side. I was careful to portion out the frosting, and when I had a little bit left over, my index finger got frosted. Which is why you should get to the Highline before a Wednesday in mid-October when those wonderful little sugared donut holes disappear. And if you happen to find out where they keep the napkins, please let me know.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pastry wars: Italy vs. Japan

First, Beard Papa - a Japanese creme-filled pastry chain - landed on our shores and set up shop on the Upper West Side about five years ago. I remember walking over on opening day and standing in a line half way down the block. The lines have long since disappeared.
Now, Bombolini comes to the West Side serving up... bombolini - Italian creme-filled pastry. Keeping with the recent ebb in creativity, the establishment is named after its main offering. And so the great Japanese-Italian pastry war began. Two also-played countries on the losing end of WWII, now doing battle on the Upper West Side.

After two failed attempts owing to Con Ed-related issues, I finally found the storefront lit up. It turns out that problems it took almost a week for their inspection. On my way out, the proprietor said that my elevated expectations would not be let down.

On price, Bombolini undercuts Beard Papa by a good margin - selling for only $1 each. The 6 for $5 deal would seem better if there were six or more varieties on offer. But traditional (actually vanilla I think), valrhona, rasperry, apple and pistachio do not add up to six. Sure, I was only buying three.

On freshness, it was pretty much a tie. Some bombolini had just come out, some were already sitting in the case. Going to Beard Papa you may get a pastry straight from the oven, or there may be a pile of pastry just waiting to be filled. The longer a Beard Papa sits, the less contrast there is between the warm pastry and cool vanilla custard. A resting bombolino has issues as well; the custard starts to work its way into the surrounding pastry, leaving a soggy snack.  With either pastry proprietor, you never know when your order was made.

Comparing the two is a little difficult. Beard Papa is a light puff filled a squeeze of custard, sprinkled with sugar. The novelty wore off years ago. Now it is just there whenever I want one, which is not very often. I remember being there on opening day, waiting with a coworker in a line that stretched halfway down the block so we could bring this new novelty back to the office. Fast forward and Grom - the Italian gelato chain - attracts much more of a crowd next door, and the lines in front of Beard Papa are but a distant memory.

In contrast, a bombolino is much heavier, with a denser custard filling. Not all of the flavors were created equal either. I expected the traditional to blow me away, but it was more like boston creme filling in a superior doughnut.  The valrhona was lacking in uniformity of texture, but was quite tasty. The apply was a pleasant surprise as I was not expecting much; it had a light tartness that balanced out the heavier pastry.

When I stopped by during its opening weekend, Bombolini had no line. There were two people in front of me and one was getting gelato, bypassing the namesake bombolini altogether. Bombolini may be a victim of location; in the 60's on Columbus (vs. 70's on Broadway for Beard Papa) and one block away from Magnolia Bakery. Perhaps this should have been written about the battle between Magnolia and Bombolini for west 60's dessert dominance. In the end, I don't think there is any real competition there. Go and decide for yourself. Beard Papa and Magnolia (overrated as it may be) will get my business 9 times out of 10.

Bombolini, 187 Columbus Avenue (between 68th and 69th streets)

Beard Papa, 2167 Broadway (between 76th and 77th streets)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The first rule of burger club...

Our Founder

Now enlisting members, the burger club. To be followed by the mac and cheese club, I suspect. 

It started at Corner Bistro during Memorial Day weekend. Let me back up a moment. It started after spending some quality time at the Standard beer garden and Rusty Knot, then going to Corner Bistro during Memorial Day Weekend. We would form a burger club to sample the best of the best burgers, in the best city, on the best planet, in the best galaxy. Ever.

Months passed and burger club has gone nowhere. Then we, the original members of the dormant burger club, reconvened a couple of weeks ago and our motivation was revived.

The first rule of burger club is meat. In select situations, ordering a burger based on some meat other than beef is permitted. Whether a tuna or salmon burger is permitted should be put to a vote. But under no circumstances will a veggie burger be allowed.

The second rule of burger club is sides are required. Most will be potato based. Be they fries, home fries or tater tots, there will be sides.

The third rule of burger club is beer. No further explanation should be required.

Now to the list of burger club stops (in no order):
Corner Bistro
Peter Luger
Five Napkin Burger
Burger Joint
Black Shack
The Breslin (lamb burger)
Black Market
The Spotted Pig
The Smith

This is only the beginning.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen... Two Boots

First there was the sign. Then came the permits. A few weeks ago, the facade was revealed. The key elements were there: pizza ovens, soda refrigerator, decorated counter and walls. Last week a sign was posted in the window - they were waiting on Con Ed and would be opening soon. When I walked by last night, confirmation. A sign saying that Two Boots would be opening "tomorrow night." Tonight was that night and I was there.So were the police. We all came for pizza.
Here is a pic of my dinner

On the left, the regular. No description required. On the right, the Newman. Why the Newman? I'm a huge Seinfeld fan, I'm on the Upper West Side (Seinfeld's address was up here somewhere), but most importantly this is a white slice with sopressata and sweet sausage. It is encouraging to find a superior slice of pizza below 100th street on the west side. It is also good to know that there is someplace for a quick bite near the newly renovated 96th street 1-2-3 entrance other than McDonald's or a diner. Is Two Boots the best slice? No. But it is a better slice than we have had around here.

Two Boots, 2547 Broadway (between 95th and 96th streets)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Asked and Answered: The most difficult question... ever

Out to dinner with Brandon and Amy while they took a break from packing, Amy had some questions. There was talk of Philadelphia since they are going to be living about 10 minutes outside the city. I've only been there once and my experience was limited to the sublime (Morimoto) and the pedestrian (cheese steaks). However, it was her next question that tripped me up. Amy wants to know where to get the best ice cream in New York. I had no answer. I still have no answer. This is going to require some thought.
Amy favors Blue Marble, which is very good. Don't get me wrong. Organic, fresh, classic flavors. Nothing wrong with that. Is Blue Marble the best? That I do not know. Contemplation ensues. I may have to conduct research by revisiting all of my favorites. The sacrifices I make for others.

Currently under consideration:
Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
Any other place named "ice cream factory"
Emack & Bolio
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Truck
Meatball Shop - possible disqualification because they only make ice cream sandwiches.

This list is for ice cream only; no gelato, no soft serve.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Green thumb: mostly successful, partly disappointing

The urban window ledge herb garden of 2010 experiment continues with a fair amount of success. Basil continues to grow. New leaves are sprouting every day. This is by far the pick of the litter. The plant is growing strong and the leaves are quite fragrant. I want it to keep growing and enter it into a competition, like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, but for plants.

Dill is doing very well, too. However, it is tall and skinny (like me) and falls over sometimes (also like me). Comparing my plant with the picture on the seed envelope, I see that dill has a long way to go. Dill worries me, and I find that it requires more attention than its neighboring plants. It seems like dill is teetering on collapse everyday and I don't know what to do other than prop it back up.

Rosemary has make significant progress since my last update. It still doesn't look anything like rosemary, but I have faith that the plant pictured below is indeed rosemary. While I have no reason to worry, there is some concern that rosemary will have the same stability issues as dill is currently experiencing. It does appear to be growing stronger, but so was dill before it really sprouted up in the past few weeks. I can only hope that rosemary's slower growth rate will lend itself to a stronger stem. (Please bear in mind that I know almost nothing about gardening vocabulary, so pardon any faux pas).

Which leaves lavender. How disappointing. Below is a picture of lavender, taken yesterday. Don't see it? That's okay, because there is nothing there. Despite the second planting, lavender is still an utter failure. I am thinking a second basil plant - given its success - would be in order. I could also attempt a new herb, but fear similar results, which would lead to the natural conclusion that this pot happens to be cursed. In the meantime, I continue to water this clump of dirt along with the other plants, though I feel like I'm Geppetto spoon feeding Pinocchio. Only less crazy. And without a mustache.