dough brooklyn tries a new zip code

A little over a week ago, T had an idea for something new. “Let’s do a morning date!”

I was a bit puzzled, as neither of us are super morning people, but of the two of us, he’s the one who drags a bit more. I shouldn’t have been surprised though when I heard the reason – it was the opening day for Dough‘s new Manhattan location. It was interesting to hear that the doughnut shop known for it’s “we fry in Bed Stuy” slogan was making the expansion into that other side of the bridge (though trust me, I’m not complaining – there’s no such thing as too much Dough).

Dough Manhattan - Lara Ruth - Grits in the City

They had been doing a window of free doughnuts in the week leading up to the grand opening, but expanded that to all day for the grand opening itself, all the way until close. The shop is simple – it’s all about the doughnuts (at least for now). No coffee. Just doughnuts.

Cheesecake Doughnuts - Dough Manhattan - Lara Ruth - Grits in the City - Food Photographer

And were there ever doughnuts. Racks and racks, filled and ready to go to good “homes”. I was super tempted by their cheesecake doughnut, which I had never seen before. In the end, I went with my all-time favorite of theirs – dulce de leche. Never disappoints.

Dough Doughnuts - Dulce De Leche - Lara Ruth - Grits in the City - Food Photographer

We ended up going around the corner to pair our doughnuts with some coffee from Toby’s Estate. It was a perfect relaxed morning date, for sure. From the look of how this line ended up, we won at free doughnuts, too. So overall verdict? Same great doughnut, just a new zip code in the mix.

Dough Doughnuts Manhattan - Lara Ruth - Grits in the City - Food Photographer

Dough – 14 West 19th Street (at 5th Ave) – 212.243.6844

 

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anniversary at aldea’s chef’s table

It had been a long day this particular Tuesday during Social Media Week, but I quickly found my second wind. This night T had made plans for our big three year anniversary celebration. I did not know where we were headed other than somewhere nice. I was caught off guard when it appeared we were making our way over from Chelsea instead on foot. Eventually he slowed down a bit and I looked across to see the entry way for Aldea – a restaurant I knew of somewhat, but admittedly not in great detail. I hadn’t done my usual pre-visit scan of the menu. It was fun to go in with no expectations – ready to be wowed by a fun new spot.

We checked in at the front and made our way to the back, where the Chef’s Table is located. Unlike some other restaurants I’ve been to, this one was nice and open, still managing to give you an amazing view of the detail with which the kitchen prepares every single dish. There were small utensils, tweezers and the like, used to ensure that every intricate detail was just perfect.

We went with the tasting menu, which was a selection of 9 courses prepared at the discretion of the chef. They were great about accommodating our few requests – no mushrooms, no red wine, and no strong cheeses. We were first greeted by the chef’s take on a frozen caipirinha – a refreshing and flavorful palate cleanser to start the meal.

The first dish which came out was a mussel soup with chorizo, fennel, and a coconut-curry. I can’t say I’ve ever had a soup with mussels, and this was a simple, slightly salty way to start off the tasting (providing a nice contrast to the amuse-bouche.

Next was a small dish of two small croquettes de bacalao, which were served with garlic aioli. Bacalao is not something that I have had often, so it really made me begin to feel the Portuguese connection in our food. Another thing which added a strong tie was the paired tasting portion, which was unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Usually it’s an assortment of wonderful wines, which I have never found anything but excellent. The unique thing about the Aldea sommelier’s take was that it was not limited to wine. We had madeira, sherry, and even a porter. Each really lined up quite well with the course, but I will admit I did notice in particular just how much it added to our meal at Aldea.

Next, we were each served one of their market oysters, accompanied by a pickled shallot mignonette. I decided going in that I was going to try absolutely everything, even if it was something I do not typically order, meaning when it came to these oysters? I would be trying. While still not my favorite out of all of the courses, I did not mind these. The flavor was good, and I really liked the sauce they used.

This dish next dish of beet pickled quail eggs was so pretty! With the Easter season approaching, it seemed like a nice seasonal nod in the line-up. Also not usually a fan of eggs, I liked this dish. The pickling process almost made the egg taste fade a bit, with the beet flavor being more noticeable. I liked that this was just a bite too, smaller than some of the dishes surrounding it.

The next dish, a sea urchin toast with a cauliflower crèma, was one of the highlights for me out of the line-up. I think sea urchin is one of the most decadent, indulgent options out of seafood – dare I say out of savory options in general. I also absolutely loved the unique cauliflower crèma.

We were then served tuna crudo, featuring cucumber and radish. This dish was a nice fresh and light balance to the richness of the sea urchin. I really love tuna tartare and this was a nice play on this – no heat, but just good all-around flavor.

Next, we were served a calamari dish featuring calamari roe and squid ink and languisa sausage. This was a fun dish. The sausage had a bit of a spice to it, which was a perfect contrast to the calamari.

We then were served tortilla with bacalao and black truffle. I think bacalao was the only thing we had which made a repeat appearance. This was a Portuguese take on the Spanish staple Tortilla Española. The layers were nicely done and the stronger flavor of the bacalao stood up nicely to the prominent potato flavor. I was not sure what I would think on this one but I was surprised how much I liked it.

The main entree dish of pork cruda vera was another one of my favorites. The pork was served with rutabaga, radishes, and orange. The orange added a slightly unexpected layer to this dish. The added upside I find to tasting menus is that even the entree is not an overwhelmingly large portion. This was just perfect in every way.

Our first of the dessert dishes was a cheese plate, served with quince marmalade. Not usually one to embrace cheese as a dessert option, I was caught off guard as to how much I liked this! The cheese was creamy and flavorful and the only thing I disliked about the cube of marmalade was that there was not more of it.

Next for dessert was a combination plate featuring a panna cotta, coconut foam, and granita. I think this was my favorite out of the dessert dishes. I liked the playful nature of this one and the way each element was a contrast to its neighbor – with the panna cotta being creamy, the granita being super icey, and the coconut foam falling somewheer int he middle.

Our final dessert was a chocolate plow pudding with almond sorbet and poached pear. The chocolate pudding was almost more of a super soft cake. The almond sorbet and poached pear managed to nicely balanced out the more heavy, rich flavor to the chocolate. I don’t think I have ever had this combination of flavors – chocolate, almond, pear – but it was so nice, with the pear being the surprise addition.

When our server brought out the bill, it came accompanied by yet more sweets! This time, it was a gummie for each of us and custard tarts. If only the bill always came with such an indulgent option.

What a wonderfully indulgent way to celebrate such a milestone. Three years! Kudos to T for an excellent pick and to the fabulous staff at Aldea for providing us both with an experience to remember. Highly recommend.

Aldea – 31 West 17th Street (b/w 5th and 6th Aves) – 212.675.7223
Reservations Required

holidays, facebook, & craft

It’s been a busy several weeks going into Christmas. Aside from the Christmas parties, there were concerts (Pink & meeting John Mayer) and even Sleep No More hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. This blog has been a bit neglected, with November focused on NaNoWriMo and December being a holiday whirlwind. That doesn’t mean, however, there haven’t been some fabulous meals, so it’s time for some overdue catching up.

A week ago, our team at Facebook took some of my work team out for a holiday lunch at Craft. It was a beautiful lunch, taking place in their private dining room. It was a really nice space, with an area in the back corner that opened into the kitchen where you can watch them preparing the food.

We started with a fabulous pasta dish – ricotta cavatelli with butternut squash and parmesean finished off with a dusting of roasted pumpkin seeds. The pasta was so light that it melted in your mouth, almost as if it was instead butter. So good. The flavors were simple and light, so it was not a heavier pasta. The pumpkin seeds were a fun addition – a nice contrast in texture. It looked so simple, but I was quite impressed.

For my main dish, I went with the Black Bass, which was served with a potato puree and niçoise olives. The outside was lightly charred, rich with flavor. I’m usually not a fan of olives, but the flavor here worked perfectly – a bit tart and salty. The flatiron steak also looked excellent, served with cipollini onions, hen of the woods mushrooms, and bordelaise.

For dessert, we were all treated to some gingerbread served with quince, muscato, and crème fraîche‎. The entire dining space was filled with the rich spicy smell of gingerbread. I did not even have to have a bite to know this was going to be quite good. It was moist and molasses-y, which was balanced out nicely with the ice cream and the fresh slices of quince. It was truly the holidays on a plate!

Craft – 43 E 19th St, New York, NY 10003 – 212.780.0880
Reservations Required

french toast tasting at duo

When a French Toast tasting brunch at Duo Restaurant and Lounge popped up on Urban Daddy, the question wasn’t if I’d go … it was when I’d go. The special included unlimited mimosas alongside a sampler plate of three kinds of French Toast. All good. But wait. It was the three kinds of French Toast that won me over. Ready for it?

French Toast Tasting

First, we have the Cookies ‘n Creme French Toast – with vanilla bean creme and crushed cookies. Tasty and borderline more aptly classified as a dessert (not that I’m complaining).

Cookies and Creme French Toast - Duo

Next, their Peanut Butter and Jelly Stuffed French Toast. Oh yes. Taking that childhood favorite to a whole new level.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Stuffed French Toast - Duo

Finally, there was a more staple variation of “out there” French Toasts – the Nutella and banana option, with the bananas caramelized.

Nutella and Caramelized Banana French Toast - Duo

We were still a bit hungry though and ordered their crab cake appetizer and French fries (shoestring style) to round out the meal. Both were the perfect addition.

Crab Cakes

The restaurant was surprisingly fancy. The below light fixture in the center of the dining room sums it up nicely.

Ceiling at Duo

The crowd was light for brunch and the special lead me to believe the bulk of their customers comes from other meals. Service though was attentive. The management was even super accommodating in honoring our special even though (gasp) someone else apparently had already redeemed it due to a system snafu of sorts.

I’d be curious to check out this spot for drinks. Looks like it would draw a swanky crowd.

Duo – 72 Madison Avenue (b/w 27th/28th ) – 212.686.7272
Reservation Suggested

lil’ veggies… lil’ pasta at eataly

Friday, a friend and I were looking for a low-key spot with some healthier options for dinner. I suggested Eataly, having stricken it from my list for quite some time, unwilling to battle the crowds. Italian food to me should be relaxing. I can’t help bit feel after having been to Italy that the Italians would be with me on this one. Long lines and crowds just sounded wrong. And this Friday evening, we thankfully weren’t met by crazy crowds. We did however have to continually be on the lookout for seating, with most being crammed communal tables or bar countertops. We did later see some seating upstairs that we’d missed. Perhaps it’s less crowded?

Eataly - Flatiron

Eataly - Flatiron

We started off at the veggie station, where we were tempted by the fritto misto, seasonal vegetables fried in extra virgin olive oil. We ended up going with the verdure alla piastra, which was warm vegetables and farro salad in a Nebbiolo vinaigrette. At $18, it was on the expensive end for a vegetable plate – although others on the menu (like the fritto misto) were more expensive at $21 a plate.

Verdure Alla Piastra - Eataly

Verdure Alla Piastra - Eataly

Next, we took a seat at their pasta station, which also meant sitting facing the pizza oven. The pizzas looked quite good, ranging from more basic options to the likes of the Salsicciotta (tomato sauce, smoked provola cheese, mushrooms, neopolitan sausage, and fresh basil). We chose instead though to go with the Pasta alla Norma. It was lasagna with roasted eggplant, tomato, and mozzarella. It managed to pull off something few places can – a light lasagna.

Pasta alla Norma - Eataly

Pasta alla Norma - Eataly

One of the most interesting things to me about Eataly is their accompanying market, where you can buy all of the ingredients used in their dishes. There’s an extensive meat counter, fancy cheeses, fresh pastas of all variety (Need squid ink fettucine? They’ve got you covered.), even fresh focaccia that you can either purchase separately or in sandwich form. Interesting concept, which is how my friend walked away with the grain used for the farro salad. At about $25 each, it was a pricey meal for what we had. Will I be back often? Likely not. But I will be back at least once for that pizza. And perhaps to track down their gelato…

Eataly – 200 Fifth Avenue (at 23rd Street) – 212.229.2560
No Reservations

fried chicken & whiskey buttermilk pie at hill country chicken

As a last dinner of sorts prior to her moving to London, my friend Anna and I made plans to go to Hill Country Chicken, a spot she recommended and that I’d been meaning to try for quite some time. The atmosphere is very casual – no table service. Instead, you walk up to the display counter, order, and then seat yourself.

When I walked in, I thought it was interesting to see that you could either order set dinners or order by the piece. Smart – so not hungry? Grab a chicken breast and a side, and you’re done. And that’s exactly what I did. I added their “blistered corn salad”, which was a spicy flavorful take on corn salad. And of course, I had to get one of their buttermilk biscuits, which was big, flaky, and fluffy – an essential addition to the meal.

Fried Chicken Dinner - Hill Country Chicken

Fried Chicken Dinner - Hill Country Chicken

And with so many options in their display, dessert was a must try. They have certain daily offerings as well as daily specials, one of which this day was their margarita pie with a pretzel crust.

How to decide?!?

How to decide?!?

And so much more!

And so much more!

I finally decided on the banana cream pie and the whiskey buttermilk pie. I couldn’t resist the banana cream pie and it’s awesome whipped cream topping – and it didn’t disappoint. The topping was vanilla bean flavored. If someone wanted to take vanilla bean ice cream and make it into a topping, this is what it would be. So good. And the filling was just slightly sweet and creamy. Perfect.

Banana Cream Pie

Banana Cream Pie

And a peek inside

And a peek inside

I tried a bite of the margarita pie, which was actually quite good. It was slightly less tart than a key lime pie and definitely tasted more like a margarita. And the pretzel crust was a nice touch. I’d be curious to see that with other desserts, but it worked well as another tie in to your traditional margarita. The whiskey buttermilk pie was also quite good. I usually like buttermilk pie just fine, but sometimes it seems a tad bland and lacking something. In this case, the whiskey brought that necessary something. Don’t like whiskey? Then this is not the option for you. I, on the other hand, really enjoyed it.

Whiskey Buttermilk Pie

Whiskey Buttermilk Pie

And next time, I already know what I’ll be trying… one of the worker’s recommended it as their most popular, but I couldn’t bring myself to choose it over so many other Southern staples. But next time, for sure.

Crème brûlée

Crème brûlée

Hill Country Chicken – 1123 Broadway (at 25th street) – 212.257.6446

musseling round dos at blt fish shack

Having conquered my fear of mussels, I was curious to try BLT Fish Shack’s all you can eat option. Our visit began on a bit of a rocky start, with us having to wait 40 minutes despite having a reservation. They were apologetic once we were seated and, after inquiring, allowed us to get the foursquare special of a free drink with check-in (even though we were seated and not in the bar area – something which required additional approval). They did send us complimentary crab dip once we were seated, a gesture which would have been much more effective if it had been offered at the bar during our wait.

But mussels. Let’s get to the mussels. You have your choice of two preparations – the traditional white wine or their beer/bacon option, and you can choose to change types from round to round. And I liked that as you opt for subsequent batches, you can either get a full or half order. Smart, since eventually, you max out.

White Wine Mussels

White Wine Mussels

While the white wine might be the classic preparation, I was all about the bacon one (beer or no beer – you couldn’t even taste it). The flavor was rich and added the little something that mussels need from tasting just ordinary. And the fries were thin, fresh, and crispy – just right for soaking up all of that wonderful bacon sauce.

Leftover bacon broth - perfect for fry dipping!

Leftover bacon broth - perfect for fry dipping!

I’d like to come back and try their lobster roll and, if I’m lucky, maybe even make my way upstairs for some fancy seafood at BLT Fish.

BLT Shack – 21 West 17th Street – 212.691.8888
Reservations Recommended