new year’s eve at rose water

I’m well-aware that I’m a tad tardy on sharing the food side of New Year’s. It’s more than justified, but that’s a story and explanation that will come later. Besides, I’m a believer it’s never too late to talk about a fabulous meal.

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True to what’s become our tradition, T and I made reservations for a nice dinner in Brooklyn. This year, we opted to visit Rose Water in Park Slope, having previously only been there for brunch. We were both big fans, so I took a bit of a leap of faith, booking us a spot for two menu unseen. Hey we’re serving a six course paired tasting menu just for the evening. A quick email to the manager confirmed that they could accommodate a mushroom allergy, so other than that, we had no idea as to what to expect when we arrived.

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The restaurant was nice and cozy when we arrived. We quickly received the first course – a Medjool date, stuffed with Fourme d’ Ambert and wrapped in bacon. It was paired with a Méthode Champenoise Brut from Domaine St. Vincent (New Mexico). For us, bacon wrapped dates are a fave, so this was a nice take on a staple

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The next course was fresh and super light – a simple raw scallop with finger lime. It took me out of the cold climate for a little bit as this one felt almost like a summertime dish (not that I was complaining). This has me excited to come back for dinner once the warm temps return as this bodes well for what the menu might include!

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We then were served a seared yellowfin tuna, accompanied by maitake, gold beet, and fresh wasabi. It was paired with a Muscat – “Exsultate” Domaine du Chapitre from S. Rhone. The sear on the tuna was nicely done and I liked the pairing of beets and wasabi with the flavors of the tuna. It was a slightly unexpected combination but worked perfectly.

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I believe the next course was my favorite – cider glazed pork pelly, with quail egg, cabbage, and mustard. From a prior brunch, I knew going in that their pork belly is delicious, so I was pleased to find it made the New Year’s Eve menu. The wine was also one of my favorite wines, a Riesling (Kabinett Halbtrocken “Zeltinger Himmelrich” Selbach-Oster from Mosel). If you’re ever lucky enough to be at Rose Water and pork belly is on the menu, this confirms it’s almost guaranteed to be a winner.

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The next course, the final of the savories, was seared venison, with chestnuts, black trumpets, and black truffles accompanied by a Barolo – Riserva Giacomo Borgogno from Piedmont.

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Dessert was a chocolate custard cake, with eggnog anglaise, vanilla ice cream, and hazelnuts, accompanied by a Quinta do Infantado LBV Port from Portugal. I only wished the eggnog flavor was a bit more prominent in the dish, but the mix of flavors here overall was great. The ice cream was a nice balance to the denser chocolate cake.

Following dinner, it was another lovely New Year at Amber’s… with many a fun photo to capture the evening. Here’s to more wonderful in all of the days ahead in 2015!

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Rose Water – 787 Union Street (at 6th Ave) – 718.783.3800
Reservations Recommended (No Reservations at Brunch)

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new year’s eve at kiwiana

To me, New Year’s Eve is a night to get dressed up. Something sparkly – so doesn’t even have to be crazy fancy – and be surrounded by some of my favorite people (along with one special guy, naturally). Unlike last year, T and I decided to keep it local – an “off year”, if you will, where battling for cabs wouldn’t be necessary and we could enjoy ourselves the whole weekend in our chosen borough.

I came across a list of restaurants offering New Year’s dinners on the Twitter account for Park Slope Stoop. Their list had a bunch of great options from which to choose. T and I took a look and chose Kiwiana, a New Zealand restaurant which had an interesting looking 5 course option.

It’s a small restaurant tucked into the northwest side of 7th Avenue and Union Street in Park Slope. We were surprised to find that the menu differed somewhat from what we had read online, but were still looking forward to seeing how it was seeing as we had read so many great things about it.

The first course only had one option – seafood chowder. Chowder was a bit of a misnomer as it was more of a soup. After the chilly walk over in heels, it was hard to mind anything that was so warming as a starter.

For the second course, we both went with the Octopus which was served with chorizo and smoked potatoes. I was surprised when this dish came out to find it was prepared cold! The flavors were good though. The spice of the chorizo and the smokiness of the potatoes nicely balanced the octopus. The presentation was also interesting, with the octopus sliced thinly similar to pepperoni. First time I’ve seen that. The other option on the prixe fixe menu was white bait latke with tartar sauce.

For my third course, I chose the pork belly, earth cooked yam, boiled kale, and bacon. The pork belly was a leaner cut than I’ve typically had. It was nicely seasoned though and I like what they did with the kale. I often find it too bitter, but they managed if soften it a bit. The other option was foie gras torchon, blood orange marmalade, and toast. I’m not a huge fan of foie gras, but could appreciate in my small bite that it was nicely prepared.

For my fourth and main course, I had to try the NZ venison, which was served with a poblano sauce, rice and butterscotch beans. I can’t say I’ve ever had venison before (so had to give it a try). Their preparation was excellent. Super tender and the sauce was a nice slightly spicy addition to the mix. The other option was the lamb chop, which was accompanied by lamb empanadas and a radish salad. The flavors were great, but the lamb “chop” was much more of a lamb “lollipop”. The portion size was much more appetizer than fitting of the more entree round of the courses.

For dessert, we both chose to go with the sticky date pudding over the pavlova. After we ordered, I started to see plate after plate of the pavlova – which was big and fluffy and made me wish we had gotten one of each! The sticky date pudding though was sweet and filling. A perfect end to a wonderful meal.  I will definitely be back – next time for brunch and the chai French toast!

Kiwiana – 847 Union St. (at 7th Ave) – 718.230.3682
Reservations Recommended

grand finale at alembic

I don’t mean to skip ahead (I will fill in the blanks) but I so enjoyed my meal at The Alembic that I just had to write this one next. Out of all of the meals, this one was a whim. I’d noted it as a great spot in the Haight for cocktails. I hadn’t made much of a note of anything to highlight as far as their food is concerned. Almost a big, big miss. We’d ridden along the periphery of the Haight in our bike ride through San Francisco and over across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Saulsalito, but we hadn’t really gone through the heart of the neighborhood. After doing brunch our final day in North Beach, we decided to wander through this area.

Alembic - The Haight

Alembic – The Haight

I really enjoyed checking out Ambiance as well as several of the vintage stores along Haight Street. In the process, we saw Cha Cha Cha in the distance and walked by the signage for The Alembic. We were intrigued by what we saw and liked the idea of the menu, so we decided to come back and hope to get in. When we arrived, there was a group of people assembled in the front – making it look crowded.

Perusing the menu with a side of seasoned popcorn

Perusing the menu with a side of seasoned popcorn

We were happy to find we could be seated right away. We were amused to look over and realize we recognized the bartender, Daniel Hyatt, from his wonderful whiskey drinks we had enjoyed at Cochon 555. When we saw his hands, we realized that was why he looked  familiar!

Duck Hearts - Alembic

Duck Hearts – Alembic

We decided to start with an order of their appetizer of duck hearts. Actually, it wasn’t an appetizer. It was in their even lighter menu section titled “snacks”. They were jerk spiced and prepared with pickled pineapple and thyme salt. I filed this under the category of adventurous eating while in San Fran and gave it a go. It was only $5 for 5 hearts. The flavor on it was great and I was surprised it had more of a charred than chewy consistency to it. The pineapple was an oddly perfect choice of accompaniment.

Carrot Soup: Dungeness Crab, Cauliflower Mousse, Coriander

Carrot Soup: Dungeness Crab, Cauliflower Mousse, Coriander

For the rest of the meal, we were drawn towards their prix fixe option – $35 for three courses. Great deal. Jaded by too many difficult restaurants in NYC, we figured sharing would be a no go. We figured there’s be some sort of surcharge, “extra plate” fees, or just an outright no. We were surprised when our server said “of course!”.

The soup was only slightly warm, perfect for summer (albeit a California one with temps in the 60s/maybe 70s). I really liked the addition of the cauliflower mousse rather than just some sort of cream. I liked the additional vegetal layer. The dungeness crab was sprinkled throughout and besides tasting nice and fresh, was a welcomed change in consistency from the liquid soup base.

Grilled Hanger Steak: Freekeh, Smoked Carrot, Date Puree, Grilled Chickpeas, Yogurt

Grilled Hanger Steak: Freekeh, Smoked Carrot, Date Puree, Grilled Chickpeas, Yogurt

There were so many layers to this dish that if you weren’t careful, you might miss some of the possible combinations. The cubes of steak were a tender medium bordering on medium rare. Depending on where you picked up a slice, it might come with a bit of the chickpeas or a bit of the yogurt, but you almost had to hunt down the date purée, which was a sharp sweet contrast to the meat. Each of the combinations would have made for a fantastic dish on their own, but I really liked being able to try a little of it all in one.

Root Beer: Vanilla Sponge, Wintergreen Cream, Ginger Gelee, Sassafras Ice Cream

Root Beer: Vanilla Sponge, Wintergreen Cream, Ginger Gelee, Sassafras Ice Cream

After reading the description of dessert, I think I assumed it would be some sort of float. Isn’t that what’s almost always done with root beer? The beautiful plate which came out was entirely unexpected. You could eat each element on its own, but when combined together the ending flavor was root beer! It was one of the most innovative desserts I’ve had. Nothing gimmicky. Just brilliant.

This was hands down my favorite meal out of our time in San Francisco and it was one of the few that wasn’t previously planned! One of the best meals – both in flavor and creativity – that I’ve had in a long time.

Alembic – 725 Haight Street (b/w Cole and Shrader), San Francisco – 415.666-0822
No Reservations

a special night at jean georges

When I was lucky enough to win one of the prizes in Zagat’s “12 Days of Foodie Cheer” – a $500 gift card to use at Zagat rated restaurants – my mind went blank. Where did I want to go? I polled friends. I read menus. I looked at possible reservations. I finally chose Jean Georges as the first place to try, based on what I was reading, their selection, and feedback from a co-worker.

I felt special from the moment I walked in the front door. I had a conversation with the elegant lady in front of me about this week’s Valentino selection she was wearing, and she was warm and sincere. The host was chatting with her, making it clear that unlike me, she was a regular. But no one treated me any differently. They seated us in a cozy table perfect for two, angled just as to put us sitting together in a curved corner table. We went with the three course tasting menu, which was filled with a variety of options, noticeably many with an Asian flair.

To start, I had the yellow fin tuna ribbons, which were served with avocado, spicy radish, and a ginger marinade which was added tableside. This was outstanding. One of the highlights of the meal for me. I haven’t had fresher tuna. I could easily have this every day it was so fresh and flavorful. Unfortunately I wasn’t taking photos at that point in time, but this was not only one of my favorites from the meal but it was also just stunning visually. My BF had the Kampachi sashimi which was accompanied by a sherry vinaigrette and toasted pecans. I learned Kampachi is a rich, sashimi-grade version of Hawaiian yellow tail. It was noticeably fresh. I liked the sherry vinaigrette which added a slight punch to the overall flavor of the dish, but agreed with my boyfriend that the pecans were a bit of a distraction, especially seeing that the cut of the yellow tail was so clean.

For my second course, I had the cod steamed with Kaffir lime, topped by an herbal lemongrass sauce and bok choy. Again, the sauce was added at the table, which I found both time to give the sauce a more fresh taste versus something which has been sitting for a bit. The cod was very light and I found that the sauce helped to warm it up a bit in flavor. I liked the added crunch as well of the bok choy, which was a nice contrast to the soft flaky texture of the fish. My BF had the roasted foie gras with infused apples and lime. I’m not usually a big fan of foie gras, but I liked the flavor the fruit added to the dish. To me, it made it almost taste completely different (in a good way).

Cod - Jean Georges

Cod - Jean Georges

For my main course, I went with the duck breast topped with cracked Jordan almonds and an amaretto jus. The duck was placed on a warmer at the table as they proceeded to carve it for me at the table. Not sure how I managed it, but I ended up choosing all three courses to be ones which involved some finish at the table! The duck was very tender and I liked the notable hint of sweetness the amaretto added.

Duck Breast -  Jean Georges

Duck Breast - Jean Georges

For his main, he had the crunchy rabbit, citrus-chili paste, and soy bean puree. I liked the light, crunchy exterior, which seemed to be lightly fried. The rabbit was a bit dry, but still flavorful. I liked the slight heat added by the chili paste.

Crunchy Rabbit - Jean Georges

Crunchy Rabbit - Jean Georges

When I read the menu online, I assumed that since by this point you’d already had three courses that dessert was not included, but no! That turned out thankfully not to be the case. In fact, it was the complete opposite. For dessert, rather than one large main dessert, you instead chose from one of four themed dessert tastings. The choices were names orchard, winter, citrus and herbs, and chocolate. As hard as it was, I elected to resist on chocolate and instead to try the orchard. It included:

  • Warm red wine tart with cassis poached pears and chestnut ice cream – this was a heavier option but I loved the rich flavor. It was a nice option to follow the red wine we’d had during dinner.
  • Cranberry parfait with walnut nougatine, accompanied by a soft vanilla meringue – all of the flavors worked well here. I particularly liked this following the red wine tart as it was so light and airy.
  • Sweet potato soufflé with cranberries and Medjool dates – light, whipped and fluffy. I liked how subtle the flavor was here.
  • Pomegranate sorbet with fresh pomegranate seeds – nice refreshing way to end the meal.

    "Orchard" Dessert - Jean Georges

    "Orchard" Dessert - Jean Georges

He chose the citrus and herbs, which was:

  • Citrus soda with basil syrup – I thought this was an odd option, until I tried it. This was easily the highlight of the tasting. Simple but so much flavor in the small cup.
  • Anise macaroon with a buttermilk sorbet and kumquat marmalade – I’m not a fan of anise at all, so the flavor was subtle here since I liked this. The buttermilk sorbet was a nice light accent to the rest of the flavors.
  • “Sundried Grapefruit” marscapone tart with orange flower honey and tarragon – This one was the great miss out of the meal for both of us. The candied grapefruit was not just tart, it was horribly bitter. After pulling it off, you could almost enjoy the marscapone tart, but it was for the most part a lost cause at this point.
  • Yuzu pudding with crepes dentelles and sesame and candied shiso – I liked the yuzu pudding. I liked the subtle citrus flavor and the creamy consistency. I didn’t get to try the dentelles, but my BF preferred the dish without them.

    "Citrus and Herbs" - Jean Georges

    "Citrus and Herbs" - Jean Georges

In addition to the dessert tastings we ordered, more sweet treats kept arriving at our table. There was a gentleman rolling around a cart with a large glass jar filled with fresh vanilla bean marshmallows. He pulled the marshmallows out slowly, which were coiled into the container in a long rectangular form and were cut for us at the table. They also brought out petit fours, macaroons, and gummies. I went from being concerned dessert wasn’t getting its proper focus here to being in heaven quite quickly. Bravo.

So much dessert!

So much dessert!

This is a wonderful spot if you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion or to just indulge in a nice, leisurely night of dining. They are very attentive too if you are hurrying to make it over for any show at the theatre. Impeccable service – highly recommend. It was wonderful to feel like a princess for an evening.

Jean Georges – 1 Central Park West – 212.299.3900
Reservations Required; Jacked Required for Men

at last – char no 4

Occasionally, there are restaurants I’m seemingly always planning to visit that I never manage to actually visit. Char No 4’s on that short list, known for their classy American fare (with a definite hint of the South) paired with their extensive whiskey and bourbon selection. Their website actually defines the restaurant as “a whiskey bar and a restaurant inspired by a passion for bourbon”. Yes please. I finally made it there due to a special through Blackboard Eats, which entitled you to a free 2 oz. taste of one of two wiskeys (Rittenhouse Rye 100 or 4 Roses Bourbon) with the purchase of either an appetizer or entree. Deal.

Char No 4

Char No 4

On my first visit, my boyfriend and I decided to go with the fried jambalaya rice balls from the snack section of the menu, the bacon from the appetizer list, and the shrimp and grits entree. The jambalaya balls were very flavorful – slightly spicy and not overly salty. The andouille aioli served along with it was a nice touch. Note, they take the word “snack” seriously here – you’ll see that the order included three balls.

Fried Jambalaya Balls - Char No 4

Fried Jambalaya Balls - Char No 4

I can’t help but know I’m going to love a restaurant that has bacon as an appetizer. The bacon is house smoked and it’s a thick cut, served alongside molasses marinated grilled corn  Awesome. The bacon is thick and chewy. If crispy is your preference this might not be for you.

Bacon - Char No 4

Bacon - Char No 4

Our main course was my favorite out if the meal. They used chile marinated shrimp and paired it with sweet corn-hominy grits, scallions and baby cilantro. Sometimes as much as I much as I love my grits, meals incorporating them can come out too heavy (such as in the brunch that unfortunately preceded my first trapeze class). At Char No 4 though, they avoid this. They’re light and fluffy. Added plus is the spicy shrimp they’ve used, which add a nice needed kick to the grits.

Shrimp and Grits - Char No 4

Shrimp and Grits - Char No 4

The next visit, I wanted to mix it up, and so I went with their cornflake crusted crab cake with a side order of their cheddar polenta fries with ancho chile sauce. The crab cake was okay. Somehow it was soggy, and didn’t have a lot of flavor. The lemon bay leaf sauce was a nice touch, but next time it’s back to the shrimp and grits for me (or perhaps their mole pork sausage or their chopped pork sandwich).

Cornflake Crusted Crab Cake - Char No 4

Cornflake Crusted Crab Cake - Char No 4

The polenta fries though were quite good. If you’re looking for something to add, I highly recommend them. I tried my friend’s smoked and fried pork nuggets with Char No. 4 hot sauce, which I really liked. She spoke so highly of their french onion soup that I may have to try it next time – it was prepared with vidalia onions, bacon-chicken broth and a cheese crouton.

Cheddar Polenta Fries - Char No 4

Cheddar Polenta Fries - Char No 4

Char No 4 – 195 Smith Street (at ) – 718.643.2106
Reservations Recommended

colorful & flavorful seafood at alouette

A friend of mine got a great deal for Alouette – $30 for $60 worth of food and drink. A steal. And they even allowed us to get the Yelp check-in special, which is a free glass of house wine for each of us.

Alouette - Upper West Side

Alouette - Upper West Side

I’d heard nothing but wonderful things about Alouette. There’s cafe-style outdoor seating along the front sidewalk, which borders the open front of the restaurant (sadly my tardy arrival meant we lost the final outdoor table). In addition to the main floor, there’s also upstairs seating – much quieter and a more private setting better suited to a romantic evening out. If you’re headed there on a date (with someone you truly want to be with, that is) I’d suggest requesting to be seated upstairs.

We were there on a Wednesday, which is their paella night. It’s a prix fixe option, so our special wouldn’t cover it. The best part though was the associated music – a subtle flamenco guitarist situated in the front corner by the bar. Perfect. They also have a regular 3-course prix fixe daily option (we also couldn’t do this with the special – but it is not a bad deal) for only $25. To start, you have your choice of three vegetable terrine with red wine and balsamic reduction, a homemade country pate with pickled vegetables and cornichons, or mixed baby greens and roasted red beets with pumpkin seed vinaigrette. For your main course, there’s skatefish with roasted mushrooms and brussels sprout in a burgundy emulsion, chicken breast with swiss Cheese, ratatouille and white wine sauce, hanger steak with roasted potato Cubes, shallots and red wine sauce, or Green Market vegetable plate with fettuccini in a garlic infused olive oil. And to finish, your choice between crème Ccramel with a madeleine cookie or sliced poached pear in white wine with chocolate sauce. Not bad indeed.

Pan Seared Salmon

Pan Seared Salmon

We skipped appetizers and went straight for main courses. I’d decided coming in that I wanted the Pan Seared Salmon, served with couscous, grilled asparagus and a red beet vinaigrette. It was such a gorgeous dish when it came out. Almost Christmaslike with the reds and greens.

Sea Scallops

Sea Scallops

My friend ordered the diver sea scallops, which were pan seared with spinach, purple potato and saffron sauce. In keeping with the aesthetic appeal of my dish, hers was likewise gorgeous.

Chocolate Mousse - Alouette

Chocolate Mousse - Alouette

We were unable to pass on dessert (What were we going to do? After all, we had to reach our $60!). We finally decided on the chocolate mousse, which had dark chocolate shavings and berry coulis. We were pleasantly surprised when it came out to find it was so light and fluffy. The chocolate was mixed throughout with the berries, so it never became overpoweringly rich. I’m used to the berries being more of a finishing touch, but far preferred this. The white chocolate shavings were a nice finish on top.

Everything was as I’d expected it would be (save the cranky older woman sitting to my left). Highly recommend this spot if you’re looking for a restaurant in the Upper West Side.

Alouette – 2588 Broadway (b/w 97 & 98 Streets) – 212.222.6808
Reservations Recommended

brunch special-ing at caliu

I’d place Caliu in a lengthy list of restaurants tucked somewhere in the West Village that I’d likely never know of unless (1) I were still dating someone over there or (2) they jumped on the latest trend and popped up on one of the numerous deal sites/mailing lists. This time, it was the latter. Usually their brunch is $25 per person, and includes an entree and your choice of unlimited sangria, mimosas, or bloody marys. With the special though, it was $25 for two people. Deal.

Their website gave us the impression that they didn’t accept reservations for smaller parties, so we opted for plan B – getting there when the opened to land a table. Usually this works with even the craziest of restaurants. However, we were greeted by a hostess who didn’t agree.

Chorizo Sandwich - Caliu

Chorizo Sandwich - Caliu

She pursed her lips and looked back up. “Reservations?” We nodded no. She sighed, flipping through the list of the “haves” for emphasis. “Well, fine but you can only stay until 1. Then we’ll need the table back,” she said, emphasizing the word back as if it were an attempted slap. We meekly explained the website wasn’t clear reservations were an option. C’mon. We’re the reservation girls. I’m the Open Table Queen. Seriously! Anyhow, we were finally permitted to sit down in the dining area, where after all that struggle we found ourselves in the middle of a sea of empty tables. Oh irony. We were brought menus and mimosas appeared soon after, served in tiny glasses that made me think they were aiming to force cardio on their servers.

Chorizo Sandwich, Interior View

Chorizo Sandwich, Interior View

Their menu was pretty interesting. After reading a bit online and reviewing the choices, the no-brainer option for me was the chorizo sandwich, prepared with spicy chorizo, fried egg, and salsa verde, which was served with truffled hash browns and a salad. Once I’d de-runny’d my egg, I really liked the dish. The chorizo had been formed into a standard sausage patty shape, but with the distinct bold flavor of chorizo. I knew from the moment I first tried it in Spain I’d found a new lifelong friend. It was on the heavier side though, so if I had it all to do over, I’d make reservations and eat more slowly – that’d solve all problems.

My friend had their grilled cheese – which was prepared using thick slices of bread and equally thick slices of cheese. I’d have a hard time resisting the grilled cheese if I were to return back. It just looked so darn good.

In the end, the server nicely allowed us to stay as long as we wished, eventually moving us over to a high-top table in the bar. Which was fine. More than fine. Perhaps it was a disconnect in approach. The hostess just needs to get on board. If I go back, it would be to try their tapas which we did not get to experience. Always enjoy the chance to compare a restaurant’s jamon serrano (delish).

Caliu Tapas – 557 Hudson Street (b/w W. 11th. & Perry St) – 212.206.6444
Reservations (Obviously) Recommended