Monday, March 30, 2009

Musings on Dim Sum Go-Go

Restaurant Name: Dim Sum Go-Go
Location: 5 East Broadway, New York City

To offer full disclosure upfront, I must begin by saying that I am at once attracted to and repelled by dim sum. The concept of morsels, fresh and bursting with unfamiliar flavors (here unexpectedly briny, there unexpectedly sweet), encased in wrappings that both conceal and beckon is something simultaneously irresistible and terrifying. What lies inside: the freshest shrimp or the scariest chicken feet?

And then, of course, there is the cart. That mobile concession stand of mysterious foods, lurking in their wrappings, adamantly refusing to reveal themselves in any language. Eat me and find out, they declare.

In the spirit of pushing my culinary boundaries, I first visited Dim Sum Go-Go with a group of knowledgeable diners and allowed them to order for me. Chicken feet enrobed in savory sauce, tripe quivering in the bowl with glistening sauce caught in its frills, shark fin lurking in innocuous-looking wrappers - all were presented to me without explanation or comment. I ate, nervously, and left unsure if I had enjoyed the experience or not.

Several months later, I returned to Dim Sum Go-Go and ordered all the things I really wanted: crisp, plump, shrimp dumplings, steamed pork buns the consistency of a perfect souffle (or maybe whipped marshmallow creme), fat, sticky rice noodles draped around thin slices of beef and swimming in a dark sweet-salty sauce. Everything was fresh, bright, and just right.

At Dim Sum Go-Go there are no carts. Instead you make selections off of a card of choices. They will bring you as little or as much as want in endless courses until you have sat at a sunny table by the window for three hours without even realizing it. Everything comes out fresh and hot, nothing languishes on a cart touring the room unwanted. And then...the best part of all: your bill arrives and the three hour feast tops out at around $15 a person.

To end on a practical note: Dim Sum Go-Go gets pretty crowded around noon or 1pm on the weekends. Reservations are, however, accepted - so call ahead.

Dim Sum Go Go on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jeff's Birthday Dinner - Planning and Executing

So, today is Thursday and we have decided to have a Birthday Feast for Jeff on Saturday. Amy, Jeff, 3-4 friends, 2 babies, and Cindy and I will enjoy Lunch at noon followed by an 8 course Gourmet - totally awesome - Dinner starting around 4pm. Lunch will be a everything from scratch Pizza on my new awesome Viking Grill "Pizza Oven" which consists of an insulated BBQ capable of sustaining 800 degrees - with a 2 inch think sandstone pizza stone holding similar heat. Yum!

For the dinner Jeff and I discussed whether he wanted a traditional 3-4 course or a tasting menu - he opted for the latter. I then composed menu options for each course of an 7 course dinner. The format for such a meal is pretty consistent starting with an amuse bouche and sparking wine, followed by the light courses such as soup, salad. pastas, light casseroles, and fish. In selecting the options to be chosen from and their order of presentation a lot of thought is required. You must insure a harmonious flow of tastes, temperatures, and textures while allowing the chef some work flow conveniences. All of these light courses also compliment the lighter, usually white wine that can accompany them. You then flow courses to a heavier red with the later meat courses. Following the light courses come the meats, then dessert. Obviously portion control, the proper (tiny) dishes, proper garnishes, efficient utilization of ingredients, etc is required. Since everything in this type meal has to be as fresh, from scratch, and as "of the moment" as possible you have to think thru your mis en place, sequencing, conflicts on ovens, etc,

Having done a lot of these type meals I kind of know what I can execute really well and what are the risky approaches. Actual dishes are usually inspirations from restaurant meals, Miranda's cooking, cookbooks I love, imagination based on time of year, and finally things I have been wanting to do for a while. In any event for Jeff's event (Jeff is a very adventurous eater but is also a "super taster" which basically means things he doesn't like he HATES) I gave him several options for each course. As you will she from our shared document Jeff also understands what goes with what so he knows if he chooses a crab bisque he probably should not choose a next course of a crab salad.

Here is our exchange with Jeff's note in Red:

Jeff’s Birthday Dinner Menu
Wow, heavy dishes for an amuse no? Actually the asparagus sounds pretty good, less heavy than the fried stuff for an amuse.
Amuse Ideas
Asparagus wrapped in pepper and prosciutto
Deep Fried Gougers’
It’s hard to pass on the pea soup, that’s some incredible stuff. But I’m not sure I’ve had your crab bisque before. Both sound good and would be good after the asparagus. Chefs choice here, but I think crab bisque would be my choice.
Soup Ideas
Potato/corn chowder with bacon
Crab bisque en cruet
If we have crab bisque then we would need to go with option 2 here.
Salad Ideas
Vetri flan with arugula bacon salad
Is number 1 salmon? “Skin up potato crusted” what? With spot prawn dressing. Regardless, I choose number 1.
Fish Ideas
Skin up potato crusted with spot prawn million isle dressing
Salmon Picatta
Crab deconstructed ravioli with butter and crème fraise
There’s not really any pasta on here, so I’m going with Gnocchi. It’s a good fake pasta. You really want to make gnocchi, that’s hard!
Pork Ideas
Tenderloin roulade with Swiss chard wrap with potato puree
Vetri gnocchi with braised boneless pork en brown sage butter
Rib eye = awesome. The “pasta” is the gnocchi.
Beef Ideas
Rib eye frites with shallot wine sauce
Braised short rib with pasta

There is only one choice here, fortunately you have the right one!
Dessert Ideas
Grand Marnier Soufflés with (Valrhona) chocolate

Thinking thru that I made a menu as follows:

Jeff’s Birthday Dinner Menu
Amuse: Wine: Kir
Asparagus wrapped in roasted pepper and prosciutto (cold - crunch)

Soup: Wine: Eroica - Reisling
Crab Bisque en Cruet (hot velvet)

Salad: (we ate it before anyone got a picture - sorry)

Skin-up Potato Crusted Sea Bass with Spot Prawn Bordetto w/Citrus “Million Island” Sauce (hot/cold - smooth/crunch)

Pork: Wine: Cote de Beaune
Marc Vetri’s Spinach Gnocchi with Braised Pork en Brown Sage Butter (hot- smooth)

Prime Rib Eye Steak Duck Fat Frites w/ Shallot Wine Sauce (hot- crunch, chewy)

Grand Marnier Soufflés with Melted Chocolate Heart w/Crème Anglaise (hot - smooth)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hidden Gem in Fort Greene

Restaurant Name: iCi Restaurant

Location: 246 DeKalb Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn

We were first introduced to iCi Restaurant by our good friends Boulos and Sayumi who held their wedding reception in the restaurant's private dining room. Wedding reception food can often be uninspired and uninspiring, but both Boulos and Sayumi have great taste in food, so I was looking forward to trying iCi.

The private dining venue is very simple and elegant, which also aptly describes the cuisine at iCi. The wedding guests were offered two choices for each of three courses - truffled mushroom bisque or an arugula & shaved parmesan salad, seared skate wing or braised short ribs, and yogurt panna cotta or an intense chocolate dessert (my only clear memory of this dessert was trying to steal as much of it as possible off my husband's plate before he ate it all). Perhaps the thing that stood out the most was the exceptional freshness of all the ingredients. The arugula was bright and tender, the skate melted on your tongue.

We were impressed enough with the wedding reception to want to go back to iCi for dinner. So this last weekend we took advantage of slightly warmer weather and walked over to Fort Greene to meet our friends for a Sunday supper. The dinner menu at iCi is a $25 fixed price menu (3 choices for each of 3 courses). Again, my husband and I split the choices to try several dishes. He started with the spicy fish chowder, which was rich and creamy and redolent of curry. Too my tastes, it was a little too fishy. I had the house-cured salmon served with caper creme fraiche, arugula salad and toast points. This was a great marriage of flavors, with the tang of the cream offsetting the richness of the fish and the arugula lightening and brightening each bite.

For our entrees, my husband had the sauteed Spanish mackerel with winter vegetables and I had the lamb ragu served over tagliatelle pasta. The latter dish was particularly memorable. The ragu was rich and meaty and the pasta was cooked just al dente. The sauce seemed light but I suspect some cream or butter was at work behind the scenes to create a silky coating for each strand of pasta. Dessert was the least inspired of the three courses - an apple crumble for me (excellent flavor but the texture was somewhat mushy) and a 7-layer brownie for Sid (rich, yet a little dry).

For $25, this meal was not only a steal but also allowed for plenty of wine. The service was attentive but not hovering - we were allowed to eat in a relaxed manner and were never rushed.

I look forward to returning when the weather turns fine and eating in their garden out back.

Ici on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Virgin Gorda - British Virgin Islands

Miranda and I generally enjoy a Spring Break Father/Daughter vacation together in Europe or the Caribbean. Many years we return to our favorite Caribbean island, Virgin Gorda, for a beach vacation. This is the view from the balcony of the Lil Blue, the beachfront villa we have rented many times over the years. It is located on the North Sound of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. One of the things we love about this site is that it has some really enjoyable, unique restaurants. The whole ambiance of Virgin Gorda, and the Caribbean in general, is the opposite of Hawaii - which we also love. Everything is more casual, the water and sky are incredibly more blue, warm, clear, and beautiful than anywhere else we have ever been. It is VERY inconvenient and relatively expensive to get to and do things in Virgin Gorda and the North Sound is inaccessible to cruise ships, but very popular with individual charter sailboats, so it is not overrun with tourists and those that are here are very compatible with what we like to do. I am lucky that my other daughter Amy and her husband Jeff LOVE Hawaii so I can get the best of both. Cindy was kind enough to do my babysitting days with Lyla to make this trip possible.

Virgin Gorda is known all over the world for a beachfront boulder formation known as The Baths. House-sized boulders are on the beach and in the clear, warm, blue waters forming pools that are ideal for swimming and snorkeling. As this picture shows, on our first couple of days on the island the winds were up to 40 mph making the water a beautiful but user-unfriendly place. Fortunately the rest of the week was beautiful and we enjoyed several days of great beach weather.

Our favorite beach for snorkeling and swimming is just up from The Baths at Spring Bay which is pictured here.

Now on to the FOOD.

We had memorable meals at 6 different restaurants on this trip. Our favorite meal was dinner at the Top of The Baths Restaurant. This restaurant is very tropical and open air, with a great view but totally forgettable food for lunch - see picture. At night, however, the chef and staff of one of our all time favorite Virgin Gorda restaurants, Georgio's (crushed by a rock slide last year - so now closed), take over the whole place and put on their traditional Italian/West Indian menu (sounds like an odd mix, but isn't). Very good European wine at quite reasonable prices in the British Virgins - tax reasons I suppose - so we started with a bottle of French Rose from Tavel. I started with a great Crispy Duck Spring Roll. for a main course I enjoyed one of the best fish preparations I have had anywhere. It was a really nice Sea Bass fillet encased in a crust of Sweet Potato puree. Super hot, not spicy just really hot, moist, and delicious. Sides are a little lacking and uninteresting in the out islands of the Caribbean as basically nothing grows there - think desert isle. For dessert Miranda and I shared a tropical fruit flavored creme brulee which was awesome.

Our second favorite place is Biras Creek Resort's Fat Virgin Cafe for a great lunch. Our introduction almost 30 years ago to Virgin Gorda came with a vacation with our good friends Dick and Cindy Metler to Biras Creek. It is a small, very high end resort on the North Sound only accessible by boat. I enjoyed an awesome Fish Burger (pan-fried grouper), ultra fresh and cooked to order accompanied by a great West Indian cole slaw and potato salad with minced eggs and herbs - great - along with a Carib - perfect lunch. We also enjoyed a great dinner at the "Castle" open air restaurant overlooking the North Sound. Undoubtedly one of the best views in the world. Biras Creek sends their launch to pick you up at your home resorts dock and takes you home after dinner. it is a 4 course price fix meal - we started with a bottle of Sancerre. I had a Duck Salad, followed by a very nice Fillet of Beef with a potato gratin. A cheese table with port and excellent array of cheeses followed. Dessert was a White chocolate Mousse over a chocolate cake center - Yummy.

Next great dinner is the Rosewood Resort Little Dix Bay - one of the premier exclusive, expensive,"beachcomber" type resorts in the Caribbean - no phones, TV, air conditioning, fully enclosed restaurants, etc - On Mondays they have an EXTENSIVE buffet dinner that we always enjoy. We started with (another) Sancerre. First trip to the Buffet was fresh seafood - lobster, crab, prawns, whole grouper - the prawns and lobster were the highlight. Then came the salads including two very good raw salmon and another island fish - as well as some nice fruits and greens. My third (large) plate was an awesome roast beef slice, along with some freshly grilled fish, and a rack of baby back ribs in an Island glaze. then a cheese course from an extensive cheese table. Finally a small plate of 5 or 6 desserts. That all kind of filled me up I must confess.

Final meal worth a big mention is the local Chez Bamboo restaurant. It is a great West Indian place with lots of atmosphere and wonderful food. We started with some really great prawns for an appetizer along with a nice Sancerre (again). I had Mahi Mahi which was beautifully done and sauced with West Indian Chutney. We shared a wonderful Bread Pudding for dessert. this is the restaurant we were seated next to Morgan Freeman on our last visit. Alas he was not there this time.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Crazy Good Banana Muffins

I just made these delicious dairy and soy free banana muffins, and simply had to share. I promise you won't miss the dairy in these, and my dairy and soy eating husband thought they were great.
The recipe for these muffins is a modification from the Food Network Kitchens' Banana Muffin recipe, and it's absolutely vital that you use very ripe bananas in order to ensure good flavor.
I hope you enjoy these as much as we did!
If you're interested in more dairy and soy free tips, recipes, and information, check out my other blog

Crazy Good Banana Muffins

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 cups smashed, very ripe bananas (about 4 to 6 bananas)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup plain rice milk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a 12-muffin tin with muffin liners.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, brown sugar, and cinnamon together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Whisk the banana, oil, rice milk, eggs, salt, and vanilla in another bowl.
Make a small well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour wet ingredients into the center; then stir with a wooden spoon until the dry ingredients are just moistened but still lumpy. Do not overmix the batter or your muffins will come out dense. Divide the batter evenly into the muffin tin, filling each cup to the top.

Put the muffins in the oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking. (Insert a toothpick into the center of a muffin to check if it is done. Toothpick should come out clean).

Cool muffins in the pan on a rack for a couple minutes. Turn the muffins out of the pan and cool on the rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jake's Map of Restaurants in New York

My colleague and good friend Jake Hofman is a one helluva programmer and a pretty darn organized guy.  When he hears about an interesting restaurant, whether it was recommended by a friend or reviewed on or whatever, he puts that restaurant on an online map that he maintains.  He was kind enough to share his handiwork with me and our readers. Follow this link to take a look.  Thanks Jake!