Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hit and Miss at Get Fresh

Restaurant Name: Get Fresh Table & Market
Restaurant Location: 370 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

This relative newcomer in Park Slope is a place of highs and lows, so much so that after dining there last week, we left befuddled and unable to clearly answer a basic question: had we enjoyed the meal?

The Pros:
Get Fresh is a welcoming, if spare, space on the southern end of Park Slope's 5th Avenue. The servers are friendly and attentive and the menu purports to offer local, organic, sustainable fare (see below, though). Plus, it's one of the few BYOB restaurants around, which really helps cut down on the dinner bill.

Some of the dishes we tried were really outstanding. Our starter, for instance, of Rabbit-Pork sausage served atop a bed of creamy truffled potato puree, was divine. We literally wiped the plate clean with our fingers. But, oddly, rather than being housemade (as one might expect from a place championing great local food), the sausage was from D'Artagnan (this was disappointing, somehow. Though, at least now I know where I can order the sausage for myself...). Another winner was a side dish we ordered, Mexican Beans and Rice. Usually a throwaway, this dish was full of flavor and texture.

Our dessert, a chocolate "cake" (really more like two incredibly tender brownies held together with a thick serving of ganache) was also a plate-licker. Weirdly, though, this wasn't made in the restaurant either, but at a local bakery.

The Cons
Some of the dishes were downright awful. I ordered the Hawaiian prawns with sweet potato puree expecting plump prawns set atop a bed of flavorful puree. Instead the pawns were coated with the puree, creating a mushy dish with a horrifying mouth-feel. It was barely edible when it could have been great. Plus, Hawaiian prawns at a place bragging about local food? Really?

My husband's entree (the smoked pork belly with tamales and mole) was fine - good, not great.

So, in sum, Get Fresh had some real highs and real lows and very little in between. Coupled with so much of their food being prepared off-site, we just felt that the whole experience was very unrestaurant-y and were uncertain if we'd return or not.

Get Fresh Table & Market on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tulio Restaurant in Downtown Seattle

Last weekend Cindy and I reconnected with some old Vashon friends, Jan and Joel Schwarz, that we have not seen for 20 years. We had them suggest a restaurant and they chose Tulio in downtown Seattle. I was aware of the restaurant but had no real impression - which is not usually a good sign since I am food and restaurant obsessed. However, We were very pleasantly surprised by the Ambiance, the Food and Service. This is really a very good Italian Trattoria with housemade fresh pastas, fresh burrata cheese, nice risotto, and a nice friendly wine list
It was fun getting together and talking about kids and grandkids so the company was very congenial as well. I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for well done Italian in downtown Seattle

Tulio Ristorante on Urbanspoon

From Miranda's Kitchen: Homemade "Fish Sticks"

Not too long ago I was stuck in a long line at the grocery store, one that wound all the way past the frozen food section. And there, staring meaningfully at me from the freezer, were the golden and glorious frozen fish sticks of childhood.

How I craved them! So, I decided to come up with a recipe to make them fresh at home. It turned out pretty damn good, if I do say so myself, so I thought I'd share the recipe with you.

Homemade Fish Sticks (serves 2-3)
1 lb fresh cod fillets
Sourdough bread
3/4 cup of flour
1 egg white
Salt & pepper
Canola Oil (enough to fill a heavy-duty pot about 1-2 inches deep)

Lemons cut into quarters
1/3 cup Mayo
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp olive oil

Lightly wash the cod fillet and pat dry (it's important to get the fillets very dry). Cut them into short, fat strips of roughly equivalent size. Set aside.

Meanwhile, fill a shallow dish with flour for dredging and season it well with salt and pepper. Whisk the egg yolk with some salt until loose and slightly foamy.

For the breadcrumbs, tear some chunks of the sourdough bread and process them in a food processor. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the breadcrumbs onto a cookie sheet and toast until dry and lightly browned (keep a close eye on them so they don't burn). Place the dry crumbs into a shallow dish and season these with salt and pepper as well. [This really is worth the extra 5 minutes or so that it takes; the sourdough crumbs add something special to the final product]

Season the cod fingers with salt and pepper. Dredge them in the flour to lightly coat. Then slip them through the egg white, shaking off any excess, and press them into the breadcrumbs to cover all sides of the sticks.

Heat the oil to 350 degrees. When it comes to temperature, drop in the cod fingers. Only fry a few at a time - it is very important not to crowd pan so that the temperature remains constant. It is okay if the oil doesn't cover the fish sticks all the way. Let the sticks sizzle and bubble in the oil for about 1 minute and then flip them over (they should be a nice golden brown) and brown the other side. Don't overcook - you want a crispy crust with a tender flaky interior. Drain the fingers on a couple layers of paper towels while you fry the remaining fish sticks.

Serve with lemon wedges and a simple aoili (for the aoili, mix together the garlic powder, mayo, and 1 tsp of olive oil).

These are great with oven fried potato wedges and some nice sauted Swiss Chard.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Vanderbilt

Restaurant Name: The Vanderbilt
Restaurant Location: 570 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn

The Vanderbilt is a relatively new restaurant on the Brooklyn dining scene. It's a beautiful space, though one that is divided up and used somewhat oddly. There is a bar in the front with a long row of elevated banquet seating across from it. In this part of the restaurant you can only order drinks and appetizers (no small plates), which seems odd since it probably seats nearly 30 people. Next down the length of the restaurant is a kitchen bar where you can sit and watch the action while ordering off the full menu (this is where we sat). The back of the restaurant appears quite small and provides table seating for the lucky few who are able to get there early enough or are willing to wait long enough for a table.

The food is all small plates served tapas-style (to share) and most of it was quite good.

To start, we tried the brussels sprouts with sirachia, lime, and honey, which were sweet and crisp-tender but could have been a little spicier. We also had the homemade jerky, which was incredibly flavorful (clearly made from high-quality beef). We also tried the duck rillets with quince, which were classically prepared and tasted just as they should (nothing amazing or special here, though), and the smoked Jagerwurst with German potato salad, which was a universal favorite - very juicy, tender, and full of flavor.

Other dishes we sampled included the crispy pork belly with lentils (a generous portion with tender layers and a crisp skin), the grilled Merguez sausage (spicy, but I found it a little dry), the steamed Bouchot mussels with coconut, basil, chili (really plump and flavorful mussels, awesome Thai accent), and the grilled Spanish octopus with cranberry beans (great flavor, but slightly overcooked and chewy)

As the evening wore on and the tasty drinks flowed, we ordered even MORE, including grilled pork loin with parisian gnocchi (very passable, but nothing special) and a dessert of spiced donuts with pistachio ice cream. Unfortunately, the donuts were a real miss, dry and unappetizing.

Overall, with tip, drinks and more food than we probably needed, the meal came to around $135 per couple. This isn't outrageous for New York, but seemed a little steep for the overall quality of the food. My final assessment: very good but not mind-blowing. I'd return and probably order a little more wisely. If you go, don't miss out on the Jagerwurst, the mussels, the jerky, and anything with polenta (the chef gave us a taste of some polenta he was working on to see if we liked it -- it was *incredible*). This is also a nice place to just grab drinks; they have a creative bar menu with some real winners (favorites: black cherry rickey and the Pimms cup).

Bon Appetit!

The Vanderbilt on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 14, 2009

From Miranda's Kitchen: Lasagna al Forno

I made this lasagna for dinner last night and it was absolute perfection.

Imagine: a cold, windy night that spoke of winter's insidious fingers. A hot oven, venting the aroma of blistering cheese and slowly caramelizing tomato. Gooey layers of bechamel and meaty ragu enfolded in tender pasta, layered up until it gives way to the crisped, curled edges exposed to the oven's inferno. Like I said: perfection.

This recipe is loosely adapted from Mario Batali's cookbook "Molto Italiano" and is in the style of a Lasagna al Forno.

Serves 6. Total cooking time about 2 1/2 - 3 hours (but worth every second, I swear!).

For the ragu
1 lb of Italian sausage, removed from the casting
4 oz of pancetta, finely diced
1/2 lbs of ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large rib of celery, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1/2 cup of tomato paste
12 oz of diced tomatoes in their juices
1/2 cup of whole milk
1/2 cup of water (or white wine)
1 tsp of fresh thyme
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

To make the ragu: pour about 1 Tbs olive oil in a large pot and heat on medium high. Add the diced onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and saute until translucent but not brown (about 5 minutes). Increase heat to high. Add the sausage, pancetta, and ground beef. Stir and break up clumps with your spoon until the meat is browned. Add the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, water (or wine), and milk. Stir well to incorporate. Add the thyme. Bring the mixture to a low boil and then cover and reduce heat. Let the ragu simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour and a half. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings by adding salt and pepper as needed.

For the bechamel sauce
5 Tbs of butter
1/4 cup of flour
3 cups of whole milk (2% may be substituted, but do not use skim)
grated nutmeg & salt to taste
2 Tbs of marscapone cheese

To make the bechamel: in a clean pot, melt the butter and wait until it bubbles/sizzles slightly. Add the flour and stir while it bubbles and sizzles to cook the roux. Add the milk, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps from forming. Cook the mixture over medium to medium-high heat until the sauce thickens and bubbles. Add grated nutmeg and salt to taste. Whisk in the marscapone.

For the noodles
1 package of dried Lasagna noodles
fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese (do NOT substitute pre-grated cheese!!!).

To cook the noodles: bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook 4 lasagna noodles at a time, about 4 minutes each to par-cook.

To assemble the lasagna: layer the ragu, noodles, bechamel, and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano in a large, oven-safe casserole dish. Begin with a thin layer of ragu (enough to just cover the bottom of the dish). Layer noodles (one noodle thick) atop the ragu. Add another layer of ragu (a good, thick portion so that the noodles no longer show through.) Atop the ragu, add a layer of bechamel sauce. Atop the bechamel, add a layer of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and a sprinkle of sea salt. Repeat this process until the dish is nearly full. Be sure not to skimp on the layers of ragu and bechamel; the idea is to create a thick, gooey layer between each noodle. You should wind up with only about 3 layers of noodles. The final, top layer should be bechamel sauce with plenty of parmigiano grated atop it and sprinkled with sea salt.

Place the lasagna into a preheated 375 degree oven and cook until the dish is bubbling and the cheese on top is beginning to brown (about 45 minutes). Any exposed pasta edges should be crisp. After removing from the oven, let the lasagna rest about 10 minutes (if you can bear it). Serve with wine (to cut the richness) and a simple salad.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tapas: the perfect food

Restaurant Name: Tia Pol
Location: 205 10th Avenue (Chelsea), New York City

There has always been a warm little corner of my heart reserved for tapas. What could be more perfect than a few bites each of an endless parade of dishes? New flavors, spices, textures, and surprises come in rapid succession, all washed down with plenty of good wine. Plus, for some reason, tapas restaurants are always more *fun* -- louder, warmer, more boisterous.

New York boasts many wonderful tapas joints (try Casa Mono for elevated gourmet tapas and Boqueria for more affordable, traditional, but no less tasty, tapas). Last night we tried a new place (well, new to us) called Tia Pol.

Tucked away in Chelsea, Tia Pol is a bit of a hike from the subway (especially on such a cruelly cold night for early November). But, if you arrive breathless and chilly, you'll tilt back out into the night a few hours later, warmed through and with a full, happy belly.

Being a lover of all things potato, I have to begin by saying that Tia Pol serves the very best patatas bravas I've ever had. The ones at Casa Mono are so exotic they hardly warrant the name (though are fabulously delicious) and the ones at Boqueria are cut too small and have too little sauce. Tia Pol gets the traditional fried, spicy potato with paprika aioli just right. The pieces of potato were big enough to have a crispy exterior and soft fluffy interior but still be happily bite-sized. The creamy, spicy aioli was just abundant enough to make you press the bits of potato into the corners of the dish for more but not drown the poor spuds.

Other standouts included a bruschetta with fried rock shrimp and pimenton with a tiny dab of lemon cream (salty, slightly spicy, creamy and crispy all at once) and a spicy roast pork sandwich. We also really enjoyed a cold salad of baby greens with fried artichoke hearts and leaves, white asparagus, and creamy lemon vinaigrette. The only miss here were the asparagus (out of season and thus apparently out of a and the fact that the artichokes would have achieved perfection had they been hot (I believe all things fried should be served hot). We finished the evening off with a plate of smoking hot seared & blistered green peppers tossed with sea salt -- SO addictive!

The wine list was baffling to us -- I don't consider myself an afficionado of Spanish wines, but I do know a bit and I didn't recognize even a single thing on the list. Such mystification, though, is just a door opening to new and wonderful experiences. All the wines we tried were lovely (lots of super-dry minerally whites).

Tia Pol is a very crowded (very tiny) restaurant. They do take reservations, but we hadn't made one. We arrived early, around 6:30pm and waited a little over a half an hour for a seat at the bar. The hostess had told us it would be a 30 minute wait, so she gave us a small plate of fried garbanzos for free as compensation (I was impressed, since the wait had only been a few minutes longer than promised, hardly something we even noticed). Those who arrived after 7pm waited over an hour to be seated. So, if you can plan ahead for it, make a reservation -- we certainly will the next time we return...which I hope will be very soon!

Bon Appetit

Tia Pol on Urbanspoon