Saturday, February 27, 2010

A New Favorite Bar in Carroll Gardens: The JakeWalk

Restaurant Name: The JakeWalk

Restaurant Location: 282 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215

Last weekend, my husband and I were in need of a fun place to eat before heading to the movies at Cobble Hill Cinema. Happily, we stumbled onto a place that has now become my new favorite bar: the JakeWalk.

All dark wood and dim lighting, the JakeWalk has the feel of an old-school bar without the sour booze smell and lack of food options. A small space with a wrap-around bar and two rows of charmingly rickety tables, the JakeWalk offers up creative cocktails, great wine, and solid tap beers. It also has an enticing menu - one whole side of which is devoted just to cheeses and charcuterie (heaven!). We selected from among nearly 30 cheeses and a diverse selection of sausages. The food was delivered on a wooden cutting board; each cheese happily paired with a bit of fruit preserves. Favorites included the Seal Bay Triple Cream cow's milk and the hot, addictive chorizo coins.

They also have a number of entrees on offer, all comforting and hearty. We tried the Chicken Pot Pie (satisfying, creamy, and salty but not mind-blowing) and next time will not pass up the baked Mac & Cheese with pepperjack and a side of Duck Rillette (had we not already gorged ourselves on charcuterie, we would have definitely tried the rillette or the country pate). For cheese lovers, there is also a fondue entree of emmenthaler and aged cheddar served with bread and an array of meats. In fact, I'm starting to salivate just writing this review...might be time to plan another trip to the JakeWalk.

In sum: great wine, awesome cheese and charcuterie list, homey entrees, good service, and no wait for a table.

Bon Appetit!

Jakewalk on Urbanspoon

Occasional Dinners in Park Slope: Now For Something Different

Restaurant Name: Cafe du Charme

Restaurant Location: 668 President Street

This tiny little Euro-cafe on quiet President Street in Park Slope serves up coffee, pastries, and conversation during the day. But at night, just once per a week, the owner pulls all the little tables together and covers them with linens and candlelight. He turns to the stove and prepares a home-cooked meal for 6 or 7 lucky people who all come together in the communal space and share an evening with strangers.

We live just up the block from Cafe du Charme and pop in pretty regularly during daytime operating hours. When we heard the owner, Christian, was starting up his occasional dinners, we decided to check it out.

The atmosphere and space are great for this purpose. The cafe is truly tiny and so it works well as a private dining space. We felt that we had been invited into a friend's home. In addition to us, there were five other diners, all of them strangers. Of course, there are pros and cons, to communal dining with people you've not met before. But the interest provided by meeting new people usually outweighs potential awkwardness. The conversation was interesting and lively and punctuated throughout with plates of steaming, hearty food.

The cuisine offered up for dinner was strongly Swiss-German in its orientation. We started with lovely warm bowls of soup (puree of celery root with apples and cinnamon) - filling but not heavy. The main course was a roast of beef slowly braised in red wine until tender and silky. It was served with stewed red cabbage and rich, buttery mashed potatoes. Dessert was a milk chocolate mousse with strawberries. At one point during dinner, the owner commented that he does not view himself as a chef. And, indeed, rather than fussed-over, carefully arranged offerings, the food was more in the style of an accomplished home cook - hearty, generous, and satisfying.

So, if you are interested in something a bit out of the ordinary - grab a bottle of wine and go have dinner in a cafe occasionally transformed into a welcoming kitchen for a few intrepid strangers.

Bon Appetit!

Cafe DuCharme on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sakagura: Japanese Tapas Heaven

Restaurant Name: Sakagura

Restaurant Location: 211 E. 43rd Street, NYC

Last week my husband and I had one of the best meals we've enjoyed in some time. The food was sublime, the service impeccable and gracious, the atmosphere tranquil and romantic.

So, where is this lost paradise, this culinary katmandu, you ask? Answer: in the basement of an apartment building in the lonely canyons beyond Grand Central Station.

Seriously? Seriously.

Sakagura is indeed tucked away in an unlikely venue, but when you make the final turn around the staircase, you enter another world. It's like finding a secret doorway to a magical land.

Sakagua is basically a Japanese tapas & sake house. Don't go here expecting sushi, because they don't serve it. Instead, you will find an extensive, authentic menu of Japanese small plates, all of which can be happily enjoyed with a selection from their incredible sake menu, or with a lovely cold beer.

We tried a good handful of dishes, though I wish we'd had time to try even more (we had to rush off to the ballet). Favorites included:

Hirame Ponzu, or Thinly Sliced Fluke Sashimi Topped with Grated Dikon Radish Dressed with a Citrus Vinaigrette. The sashimi was so, so, so good. I could have eaten plate after plate of this fresh, delightful dish.

For hot dishes, we loved the house special Buta Kakune, or Tender Pork Belly simmered in a sweet, salty, savory addictive sauce. This is one of the best pork belly dishes I've ever had. The entire portion of meat was incredibly tender and the sauce coated and clung to the whole fatty, glistening mess in a way that begged you to just pick up the delicate little bowl and pour it straight into your mouth.

The Gyu Miso Nikomi, or Shredded Beef Back Ribs Stewed in Miso Topped with Grated Dikon Radish were also a big hit at our table. The meat, again, was really tender and the sauce, while savory, had some indefinable element of sweetness that was completely seductive.

Other delightful bites included:
Ijura Oroshi, or Grated Daikon Radish Topped with Fresh Salmon Roe. The radish was like a pillow, or a cloud perhaps, on top of which glistening orange roe were perched. A little soy sauce added just the right amount of flavor to this subtle, silky dish.

The steak grilled on a hot stone was more fun than it was outstanding, but the beef was of extremely high quality and the novelty of cooking it on the hot stone gave the meal a playful element.

Desserts at Sakagura are also excellent - we shared the Black Sesame Creme Brulee, which was creamy and not too sweet. Very, very good.

Best of all, the service at Sakagura is top-notch. I was extremely impressed with their attentiveness, timing, and generally friendly attitude. It made me realize how often service at many NYC restaurants is lacking, or lackluster.

In sum, we honestly can't wait for an opportunity to go back.

Bon Appetit!

Sakagura on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 8, 2010

Beach Tree Restaurant - Four Seasons - Island of Hawaii - Best of the Best

The Four Seasons on the Island of Hawaii is perhaps one of the most beautiful resorts in the world. Their food at all of the venues in the resort lives up to that world class stature. It is literally a reason for me to choose this Island over all the others.

Our find this year was the newly opened Beach Tree bar and restaurant. The setting is unbelievable, the service really the best I have experienced anywhere and the food out of this world wonderful. We enjoyed both a Dinner and a Lunch there ( as well as their great buffet breakfast at the the Pahu i'a) on 3 different days even though we were staying at a condo at the Mauna Kea 20 miles away.

I could tell you about all the stuff we ate but really anything on their menu is going to be amazing. You get what you pay for (which is a lot by the way). GO HERE FOR SURE!

Monettes - Mauna Kea Hotel - Island of Hawaii - A Great Choice

Monettes is an upscale French/American Steak and Seafood fine dining restaurant at the Mauna Kea Hotel on the Island of Hawaii. Cindy and I tried it as our "night out" on Saturday Night. Everything about the restaurant was sophisticated and classy. I found this place after searching Internet reviews for a great new find on the Kohala Coast. The restaurant has a nice waterfront view from high above the water - unfortunately The Mauna Keas doesn't light this part of their waterfront so once night fell you could not see the ocean. But the room itself was plenty nice.

Basically everything is ala carte or tasting menus. The fish and seafood sections of the menu are extensive and you select how you want it prepared, what sauce you want, and choose sides independently of the main course. There was also a nice selection of appetisers, salads, etc. and a good wine list with a very decent by the glass wine list.

The meal started with the only food or drink disappointment of the evening - an amuse of gougeres which was dry and not yummy. However, a nice glass of French Macon chardonnay for me and a really neat ice tea "service" (Ice tea made at the table) for Cindy offset that.

I had been warned in several of the reviews about non attentive service but so far there seemed to be a large staff, very friendly, and very professional. We perused the menus and waited for our server to come and take our order. Unfortunately, she did not do that - so after about 15 minutes I asked the waiter standing by the next table to let our waitress know we were ready to order. He was very helpful and actually had us give him the order to give to her. Cindy ordered a crabcake appetiser and a small Fillet of Beef with a Hollandiase Sauce for her main. I ordered and Lobster and Avocado Salad, and a "red meat" Veal Chop with a Moral Crust and a Cabernet demi sauce. Red Meat veal is basically a chop from a young beef cattle vs the normal white meat from a dairy male calf. We also ordered Bok Choy with Mac Nut butter, and a Gratin of 75% white potato and 25% sweet potato.

The appetisers were both very well conceived and executed. They were absolutely delicious and beautiful. The main courses and the vegetables were equally beautiful, well executed, and delicious. The ingredient quality was also outstanding. Basically, I wanted to try to execute everything we had at home in the near future and that is a big compliment. I also enjoyed a nice Santa Barbara Pinot Noir with the Veal Chop.

Our server checked in with us several times during thee meal when we really pretty obviously didn't need anything. However, once the staff cleared away the main course plates she was nowhere to be seen. We were full but wanted to see what the desserts would look like. After about 15 minutes of waiting she appeared with dessert menus but we had already decided we were not going to give her a chance to have us wait another 15 minutes before she returned to take a dessert order - So I gave her my credit card and asked her to bring the check. The servers weird service lapses were not explainable by any lack of good attitude, kitchen performance, or lack of staff to customer ratio. I just think she was not a "natural/intuitive" server and probably thought people would want to linger or something. I know our Blog is Called Between Courses - but she took that too literally.

I would really highly recommend this restaurant - If you experience the same service problems we did I would suggest just asking any of the staff who appear to retrieve your server for you - Don't let it spoil the evening as they are really quite happy to help you.

Monettes on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Canoe House at Mauna Lani Bay: So-So Dining in Paradise

Restaurant Name: Canoe House

Restaurant Location: 68-1400 Mauna Lani Drive • Kohala Coast, Hawaii

The Canoe House at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel is hit or miss.

Our dinner there last night was a series of highs and lows. We arrived for our 7:30 dinner reservation, only to be seated in the back corner of the restuarant, next to the bathrooms, at a table for 5 - there were just two of us, dressed very nicely (so it wasn't based on flip flop and tank top attire). Perhaps you have to be staying at the hotel to warrant a table for the correct size of your party and even a partial view of the sand?

Once seated, we were promptly served water and fresh bread and crackers. However, we proceeded to sit at our table for the next 20 min. while waiters busily served the tables on all sides and ignored us. Finally, we flagged down a waitress and very nicely asked if a waiter was assigned to our table. The waitress said she would get him and offered to take our drink order. She returned a few minutes later to apologize to us for being neglected and said there was some confusion over who was responsible for our table. We appreciated the apology and our wine was served promptly and was excellent.

Another server brought an amuse by - an ahi poke, which my husband enjoyed (I'm not a raw fish fan). About that time our actual waiter showed up to take our order. We had to ask if there were any specials, to which he informed us that they were all sold out. He also failed to show any sign that we'd been ignored for over 20 min. Hmmm....Things took a major upturn when our starters arrived however. The crab salad was outstanding, with large pieces of claw meat, fresh greens and tomatoes, and a lovely vinegrette. My husband ordered the heirloom tomato salad which was also incredible! Although he noted a bit of finishing salt would have turned it into something "out of this world" - no salt or pepper on the table. For entrees I had the Onaga, which came in an herbed broth with braised vegetables. the broth and vegetables were excellent, but the fish was completely overcooked - sadly to the point of being inedible. My husband's entree was excellent however - the Mahi Mahi served with crispy pork belly - an imaginative version of surf and turf.

For dessert we shared a banana brown butter tart, which was really more of a bar-type dessert, not a traditional tart. The "tart" was served next to a dollop of whipped cream with a strawberry on top, a small dish with black sugar ice cream (very good), and some caramel sauce drizzled next to that on the plate. We were seriously unimpressed with the dessert, until we sampled a bite with a little bit of everything all together. Wow! Why didn't they serve the tart with the ice cream on top, drizzled with the caramel sauce and the strawberry? It would have been amazing. The "deconstructed" approach just didn't work here. The latte I got with dessert was good, and came promptly, and hot. Oh, and be sure to save room for the mini madalines, strawberry marshmellows, and amazing chocolates that they bring with the bill - soooo good and much better then our dessert.

Our waiter did take our wine off the bill, because "it wasn't right that we'd been neglected at the start of our meal" - still no apology from him though. But we appreciated the gesture.

All in all, the evening was fun, but the service was horrible, and the food was totally hit or miss - either incredibly good or a total dud.

Canoehouse (Mauna Lani Resort) on Urbanspoon