There are good days and bad days. Good meals and bad ones. Truth be told, I don’t mind when the two intersect. We spent the last weekend in New York and packed a lot into the trip- a film festival, brunch, dancing, and coffee, before heading home. A good trip, but an anxious one, as exams are this week and the next and I’m up to my ears in writing assignments. But it was a good trip. I was hard-pressed to pick a highlight as we were heading home, but my stomach growled otherwise. We’d just finished a meal up at Ofrenda, an excellent new-ish Mexican restaurant in the West Village, and though I was stuffed, I was already looking forward to the leftovers. Continue reading “Ofrenda, New York, NY”
I rarely do repeat visits to restaurants- not for lack of desire, but ultimately, there are just so many new places to go that I rarely think of returning to places that aren’t within walking distance of my apartment, or are actually in my apartment. But I often wish there was enough time for me to go back to some of them– I wonder how they’ve developed and what their menus are now like. I watch over them with the wistful distance of an ex-lover on Facebook. Continue reading “Paragon at Foxwoods, Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, CT (II)”
I’m not good at date nights. My small, mammalian brain tends to associate them with work nights, as most of my face-stuffing tends to be ‘on the job,’ so to speak. Sometimes, though, I pull it off effortlessly, and manage to convince the Bedfellow that I am taking her on a lavish junket, away from the humdrum of suburban Northampton, into the exotic and posh world of the elite. This, unfortunately, was not one of those nights.
Continue reading “Red Lantern at Foxwoods, Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, CT”
Good meals out can be tantamount to good lovers. There are decent, steadfast ones, stupendous, short-lived affairs, and the reliable favorites you stick with time after time.
In a brief editorial by ‘First We Feast,’ the author decries the classic stereotype many people have about ethnic cuisine- we want it, but we don’t want to pay high premiums for it. In assuming that position, the food and the culture creating it is cheapened, relegated to a lower premium than steak or more European restaurant fare. The worth of Asian and Mexican cuisine can be just as high as that of Italian or French, as seen especially in restaurants like Shang Palace, with a level of authenticity as high as their less expensive counterparts. With this in mind, I was curious to try Besito, a John Tunney restaurant in West Hartford based on high-end, but authentic Mexican cuisine.
Continue reading “Besito, West Hartford, CT”
The Bedfellow and I took a trip to Newport this weekend to check out the folk festival. While we were watching Beth Orton and Shovels and Rope, and not watching Beck play ‘Sexx Laws’ because he was too busy exploring his emotions, we were invited to take a side trip to the Capital Grille in Providence to check out this year’s Generous Pour event.
As you know from last year’s event, seven to nine wines are selected, generally around a theme or specific region, and are offered at an upcharge of $25 per person to be paired alongside a three or four-course meal so diners can sample the entire selection without opening full bottles. This year centered around California wines above 90 points, playfully named ’90 in the Shade.’ We started our meal with a few appetizers, and the first three wines.
With these appetizers and the classic Capital Grille breadbasket, filled with flatbread, poppy rolls, and raisin brown bread, were the three whites- a 2012 La Crema Pinot Gris, 2011 Matanzas Creek Sauvignon blanc, and 2011 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay. My favorite was the sauvignon blanc, which had a curious varietal flair to it, almost musky and caramely, with a highly perfumed nose and snappy, bright finish. The Freemark and La Crema were also tasty, neither oaky nor overly dry, but not as memorable in terms of their uniqueness and pairing alongside the food.
The filet was cooked perfectly, plenty rare in the middle and juicy pink on the outside, but had a few technical flaws that detracted from the simple flavor of the meat. For one, the entire plate was swimming in a flavorful parmesan, garlic, and butter sauce better suited to a plate of pasta than to two delicate and expensive proteins. While I’m hardly objecting to butter on steak, one of life’s greatest pairings, the amount was downright excessive and coated each bite. The lobster was enhanced by this, as it was slightly overcooked, but the steak just felt overly heavy alongside such a decadent sauce.
The Bedfellow isn’t crazy about Parmesan, so I alternated between bites of steak and fries throughout the meal. The fries were excellent and very crispy, and loaded with cheese and just the slightest hint of truffle oil and cilantro. The cheese made it difficult to get one fry without tearing a few others off it, as it melted them into one large metafry, but was still delicious alongside the meat.
Our other sides were massive, the creamed corn being the Cinderella story of the night, perfectly balancing the gap between overly rich, dairy-heavy corn and plain vegetables with the bacon and, presumably, the bacon fat melting into the corn. It was fresh and served rustically with some larger segments of corn as if it had been recently shucked. Smoky and very summery.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the sausage. While it was housemade and very tender, the flavors – smoked pork with chipotle and roasted garlic, were muddled together and monolithic, and ended up tasting aggressively, generically spicy. The homemade pickles? Perfect, snappy, fresh. This stark divide in artistry between vegetables or more delicate proteins and heavier fare would follow throughout the entire meal.
The Bedfellow started with the ‘Soup of the Day’. She is remarkably discerning when it comes to her favorite drink, the dirty martini, and was dubious of its inclusion of vodka versus gin, but pronounced the drink palatable and pleasantly boozy and enjoyed the blue cheese olives as a snack after the drink was finished.
We chose the ‘gin and tonic’ salmon as an entrée, along with the hangar steak, cooked rare. Despite having ordered salmon in restaurants before, this was one of the few times when I was asked how I wanted it cooked. I appreciated that. I typically prefer my salmon as rare as my steak, but as I was sharing it, we went for medium-rare. It was cooked perfectly. The lime emulsion on the side was transcendent, and transported me back to La Biggarade in Paris, with the carefully separated pods of citrus fruit in a light, creamy sauce. Everything about the salmon was impeccable, from the balance of the smoky, grilled elements of the fish to the light vegetables and citrus. However, the element of ‘gin and tonic’ was lost on me, save the lime garnish, although I did appreciate the effort.
Cherrywood, in Soho, was a breath of fresh air, both from the overwhelming crowds of Mercer Street and the stifling afternoon heat last Wednesday. A new addition to a quieter part of town, Cherrywood offers a gilded interpretation of classic Asian and American flavors.
The décor is understated, almost a little generic with its blood-red curtains and eponymous wood accents strewn about the restaurant, high-ceilinged and classic like a more minimal boudoir. It is sprawling in all aspects and ends up feeling a little less intimate than the name Cherrywood Kitchen would suggest, but Cherrywood Study or Cherrywood Living Room ends up making more of a mouthful than the food. The upper catwalk of the main room had bookshelves and oddities along the shelves, which I craved more of than the small peek I received in gazing around.
The drink menu offers six cocktails, perfect for two to sample throughout an evening, and a reliable, if basic wine selection. The cocktails were what piqued my curiosity, utilizing an array of fresh fruits and ingredients, from the simple, but vibrant Botanical Gimlet, with Hendrick’s, tonic, lime, and cucumber, to the clever in the Cherrywood margarita, whose flavors were reminiscent of a craft cherry limeade. The vodka cider was my personal favorite – simple, clean flavors that perfectly complemented the ribs, with a punch of Cointreau to withstand the strong flavors of the meat.
The Bedfellow was partial to her Manhattan, made with smoked orange peel. A serviceable sangria and delicate blood orange prosecco finished out the meal, before coffee and dessert wine. (Clockwise: Cherrywood margarita, vodka cider, blood orange prosecco, Manhattan, and Taylor Fladgate)
I’ve mentioned before that brunch is a big affair for me. Welp, now that baby has her first real job, plus school and various assorted debauchery, anytime is brunch time, provided I’ve ten minutes, a handful of dry cereal, and a hardboiled egg. But you know that doesn’t really cut it. I need real brunch, with real forks, real hipsters, and real food, damn it, and as luck would have it, Murray’s Cheese, a New York epicurean staple, introduced their weekend brunch and invited me over for a taste. Finally, brunch I could schedule in and prepare for! Over a springy Sunday morning, I sampled cheese-filled treats aplenty.
It doesn’t get much better than starting with bellinis…unless said bellinis are lychee and black cherry-flavored. Lychee fared better, the yeastiness of the Processo mingled nicely with the floral notes. Black cherry was delicious, but the fruity flavor was omnipresent and pushed out the more delicate flavors of the wine.
As we were guests of Murray’s, I shot them a quick email before I came over- simple in premise, but direct: “What should we get?” Their response met mine with a succinct, “As much as you can.” And holy cheese, were they right. We got a phenomenal spread of food, its versatility proving Murray’s deft hands with delicious cheese. We started with a cheese plate, arguably the best of the selection, though I’m biased just coming from a life of cheese plates in Paris.
Each order of the cheesemonger’s selection comes with the cheesemonger, carefully pointing out and describing her selections and pairings with both housemade and artisanally produced condiments. We asked for the strangest and funkiest, and we definitely got it, starting with the Hudson Flower, cave-aged at Murray’s courtesy of the Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. with a blend of lemongrass, juniper berry, cracked black pepper, and paprika. This was paired with a housemade rose tea petal jam, and was my personal favorite of the bunch. Floral, spicy, and, as the cheesemonger said, “I feel so girly whenever I eat it!” Me too. Kinda.
The next was a Beaufort d’Ete, transporting me straight back to France with its creamy, eggy, pungent flavors and a crumbly, honeyed sweet edge. Man, was this nostalgic. They paired it with pickled spicy carrots whose lingering spice deftly cut the richness of the cheese. It was better with the wild boar soprasetta than the delicate shavings of proscuitto as the former helped coax out those spicy notes even more. We finished with a perfect Fourme d’Ambert, yet another tug at the old heartstrings for me. This had a funky, pervasive sea salt and musk to the core, with an aggressively stingy bite, just pure chalk, salt, and cream. Paired with the delicate, although strangely solid white sea salt honey and prosciutto, it was something I could have eaten by the pound.
After the cheese plate, we started in on the brunch menu. We wanted an even divide of sweet and savory, so we decided to start with the Illegal Doughnut, two thick slices of Pullman’s bread stuffed with cream cheese, bacon, and fried with a creme brulee crunch. Delicious, and certainly rich, as it was over three inches of fried, creamy goodness on a plate, but I wished the cream cheese filling had been seasoned or spiced in some way, or at least whipped to cut the sheer density of the plate. In this case, it seemed as though a block of cream cheese had been placed in between the bread, which is all well and good, but at a place that specializes in cheese, cream cheese should not go ignored.
Our other large plate was the Alpine Eggs, described as the “fondue of eggs” by both our server and the PR team. These were monstrous in size and flavor- two pillowy English muffin halves with ham, grilled mushrooms (B generously ate the ‘shrooms off mine) and a perfectly poached egg on top to be drizzled with what seemed like an endless pot of tangy, smooth cheese sauce. Everything worked well in this dish, and I happily scraped the plate and dipped anything I could in the sauce- a fork, crackers, my pinky finger, though I did find myself craving a little spice to counter some of those creamy flavors.
Surprisingly, the two sides we ordered made more than a complete meal themselves, and actually ended up being our favorites. Murray’s, please know that I could eat those grits ad nauseum. I would cook them and never, ever leave the house, so creamy and infused with cheese they were. The Tickler cheddar was sharp and savory, and melted so well that long after the dish had cooled down, the cheese was still gooey and yielding with each bite. I prolonged our brunch by at least an extra fifteen minutes just so I could nibble on this. With the scrapple, it was likely one of the best brunch meals I’ve had in the last year.
Ohhh, the scrapple. My discreet notes to myself, scribbled on both my phone, and, after its untimely battery death, my hand, best sum up my feelings toward it: “Holy damn, scrapple, you crazy.” Crazy indeed- tender, with every last edge crispy and crunchy. Murray’s is off to a great beginning. Their individual items need tweaking, but it’s a solid start to what I imagine will be a stunning final menu. We left stuffed with leftovers in hand and decided it wouldn’t have been so awful to fall onto the subway tracks and die afterward. There’s no shame in being star-crossed brunch lovers.
(FTC Disclosure: Murray’s generously comped our cheese plate and invited us in to what was likely the very last two-top in a ten-mile radius on such a beautiful spring day. Seriously, everyone in the tri-state area was brunching that day, so muchos gracias.)