restaurant week dinner at benchmark

I almost missed out on the most recent round of Restaurant Week. I did manage to catch the final week and was excited to see Benchmark was on the list as participating. I’d been curious about Benchmark for quite a while, and was even more interested after seeing their menu for this summer. The cuisine is New American and the setting is casual yet nice enough for a nice date night out. Make it over before it cools down too much and you can sit in their front outside area, with a canvas canopy overhead. Romantic!

To start, I had to try the marinated steak and tomato salad, which featured baby arugula, spiced goat cheese, and a cilantro pesto. The steak was nicely flavored and thin, which worked well with the goat cheese and the cilantro pesto. It was interesting to lead the meal with red meat and then go back from there, but it worked as the salad was on the lighter side.

For our main course, we both had their East Coast Halibut, which was served with a corn and tomato succotash and a chilled asparagus broth. I really loved the mix of the veggies on this one. It was an ideal end of summer dish – fresh and light.

For a finale, there was the buttermilk panna cotta, served with local strawberries with a saffron gelato. While tasty, even this dessert lover had to admit that this wasn’t the highlight of the meal for me. The panna cotta wasn’t super flavorful, but I did really enjoy the gelato, which worked well with the strawberries.

I did take a peek at their normal menu, which oddly enough was basically completely different than the restaurant week menu. Interesting play for a restaurant. I can’t say I have seen another spot do that. I’d be curious to try it out again with their regular menu!

Benchmark – 339 2nd Street (at 5th Avenue) – Park Slope, Brooklyn – 718.965.7040
Reservations Suggested

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restaurant week dining at lure in the midst of nemo

Nemo! Snow! Crazy things are coming, so everyone stay inside. Cancel plans!

Um, no. Not only was I had fun plans on Friday night. After a very scientific poll of two coworkers on late Thursday afternoon, I decided there was no reason my car-free Friday evening itinerary could not continue as planned (only change being my stylish Ugg snow boots).

When I walked into Lure Fishbar, well more like slowly walked down the stairs as to avoid a snow-induced slip, I was surprised to find it relatively busy. The humor of going to a place serving primarily seafood in the midst of a storm titled Nemo was not lost on me. I learned they have a nice bar-only Happy Hour from 5-7pm including $5 beer, $7 wine and $8 cocktails including a subset of their usual cocktail menu (champagne bellini, dark & stormy, ginger apple martini, and grapefruit margarita). I recommend the ginger apple martini – all fresh and flavorful, and none of that sweet syrupy Pucker-style taste here.

I’d read a lot about the different food options at Lure and the freshest fish options seemed to be the way to go, so that’s what I ended up doing. To start, I had the salmon tartare, which was served with a dill puree, salmon roe, and a creamy horseradish. When it arrived, I was surprised to find it looked more like a savory mousse. Whatever it looked like though, it was quite good. It was very refreshing and was a totally different take on salmon from anything I’d had before.

For the main course, I was originally tempted by the seared branzino, which was served with a pumpkin risotto and a pumpkin seed pesto, but I ultimatley stuck with the fresh fish plan, instead selecting the sushi. The sushi option was a sushi combo, which included 6 pieces of sushi and one maki roll. For the roll, you could choose one among three different rolls. I almost went with the yellowtail scallion but went with my staple fave, spicy tuna.

For dessert, I had to go with the apple walnut crumble based on our server’s recommendation. It was a nice balance to the sushi – a bit heavier but not too sweet. And their homemade ice cream was a basic yet refreshing accompaniment. I’d love to go back and check out their full menu at some point! (I’m sure I’m not the only person who goes straight to the Restaurant Week selections during those magical weeks out of the year…)

Oh and as for the rest of the evening, have to say the Passion Pit show at Madison Square Garden was a fabulous way to spend a snowy Friday. Big thanks to my friend M for taking me (and including me on yet another Restaurant Week dinner). Here’s a taste at the end, where the Garden became instantly filled with confetti. Fabulous ending!

Lure Fishbar – 142 Mercer St (b/w Houston & Prince St) – 212.431.7676
Reservations Recommended

restaurant week dinner at spice market

This year, Restaurant Week snuck up on me. I’m usually poring over the list, trying to identify spots to visit. This year, I wasn’t quite my normal self. Thankfully my friend M did her usual – selecting a good 4-5 restaurants, booking each for 4 people, and asking us all if we are interested in joining her. Spice Market had been on my “to try” list for a long time – a spot I usually forget since I’d say the Meatpacking District is one of the areas of town you’re least likely to find me.

When I walked in, I was intantly intrugued by the set-up. The upstairs bar area truly does look like a spice market and all of the workers are wearing uniforms in keeping with the theme. I can’t say I’ve been to another space with such a pronounced theme that didn’t feel awkwardly overdone or gimmicky. Nicely done. I suggest grabbing a drink at the bar before sitting down for dinner since it’s such a fun space. From their cocktail menu, I suggest their Whiskey Passion Fizz – which is George Dickel No.12, passion fruit, chili, and ginger ale. It has just a bit of heat to it and the passion fruit was such an unexpected yet amazing addition. And to boot, it’s only $10!

To start, I had to try their Soy Cured Salmon, which was served with a cilantro crème fraîche paired with Asian pear. The soy gave the salmon an almost smokey flavor to it. I can’t say I have ever had fruit mixed with salmon, but it worked well here. The pear added a crisp light layer to the dish.

When the server noted my choice for a main, the pork vindaloo, was spicy, I knew I was going to be pleased. It was prepared with crispy herbs and leeks. The dish in which it was served was deceptively small. At first, I was worried they hadn’t given us enough but I quickly realized just how much pork it really was. The flavor was great – nicely spicy but stopping well short of the threshold of losing true flavor in favor of heat. I could eat this dish every day. So good.

One friend ordered the wok fried rice noodles, which were quite good and served with mixed vegetables and a soy yuzu broth. The dish was great but it’s this unique broth that still stands out in my mind.

The degree of preference our server showed towards the Thai tea sundae over the other Restaurant Week dessert options made this choice super easy. The sundae was served with an Orange Blossom Whipped Cream, which added a slightly creamy layer that wasn’t too heavy and had the subtle orange blossom flavor. I understood instantly why this was the servers favorite. A must have!

Spice Market – 403 West 13th Street – 212.675.2322
Reservations Required / Bar Seating Available

restaurant week lunch at tamarind

I’ve been meaning to try Tamarind for quite some time now, so when I only decided to do one restaurant week meal (initially – this has since changed, I must confess), I decided this would be my one. They were only doing lunch, so Jenn and I chose to come here on a Sunday. I’ll admit, it was kind of odd to be out at a brunch-ish hour and not be enjoying brunch fare, but we quickly forgot that as the meal progressed. I recommend their cockail menu – well thought out and innovative. I had their spin on a cosmo, which included tamarind. The tamarind added an interesting sweet spice to it. Delicious.

Tamarind Cosmo

Tamarind Cosmo

For appetizers, there were four possible selections. One was their soup of the day. There was also Pathar Kabab – roasted lamb marinated with yogurt, poppy seeds, cashew nuts, papaya, and red chili. Then there was the Tiranga Salad – spinach, beets, apple, mango, and cherry tomatoes, with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and ricotta cheese. Something though about a salad at an Indian restaurant felt like I wasn’t maximizing my options. I went with the Tamarind Jhinga – shrimp sautéed with tamarind sauce, served on grilled tomato flatbread. The shrimp was very flavorful – just a tiny bit spicy. The flatbread was an interesting addition – by the time it arrived, I’d forgotten the dish would be served on flatbread. It almost looked like a slightly baked sauce. It was a milder accompaniment to the shrimp. I wouldn’t have minded this in a meal-sized portion.

Tamarind Jhinga

Tamarind Jhinga

For the main course, we were each able to choose two out of listing of five dishes. It sounded like it could be a ridiculous amount of food, until it arrived and we saw it was a reasonable portion of each. It was also nice to see the rice portion reasonable as well (it made me realize just how much you get at most places – woah).  There was the Chowrangi Murgh – boneless chicken flavored with sesame seeds, red chili, and lemon juice, with a tomato barbecue sauce. Or the Bombay Machli – Red snapper fillet marinated in olive oil, lemon juice coated with peanuts, coconut, and tomato sauce. Or there was the Rajasthani Lal-Mass – Lamb cooked in yogurt, crushed black pepper, rice vinegar and mustard oil, with a mango and mint chutney. They also had two vegetarian options: (1) Bhari Mirch – Indian pepper filled with seasoned potato and mushrooms, with a yogurt, onion, and tomato sauce; and (2) Methi Paneer – Fresh fenugreek leaves and paneer cooked in onions, tomato, garlic, ginger. I went with the Bombay Machli based on our server’s recommendation as well as the Rajasthani Lal-Mass. I have to say, I enjoyed the snapper the best. It was light, flavorful, and slightly flaky. The lamb was a bit heavier than I like, although it was nicely seasoned and the portion size was perfect.

Bombay Machli and Rajasthani Lal-Mass

Bombay Machli and Rajasthani Lal-Mass

For dessert, we had our choice of toasted coconut rice pudding and Black Forest cake – and we opted to try one of each. The rice pudding was actually served warm, a welcomed change from the standard cold version found Indian restaurants, especially in February. The coconut gave it an interesting flavor as well usually not present, instead using coconut milk in the preparation.

Coconut Rice Pudding

Coconut Rice Pudding

I was intrigued to try the Black Forest Cake because, well, because I didn’t expect to see it on the menu at an Indian restaurant. It was lighter than usual, which made for a nice ending after all of the food. I’d give the edge to the coconut rice pudding but, to be honest, you’ll likely never see me heavily frown on anything involving chocolate.

Black Forest Cake

Black Forest Cake

The service was impeccable – our server was well-versed in everything on the menu, as should be the case. I’ll definitely be back to check out more of their menu in the future.

Tamarind

Tamarind

Tamarind – 41-43 East 22 Street – 212.674.7400
Reservations Suggested

dish buzz: la rouge tomate

My second Restaurant Week outing was to La Rouge Tomate, a restaurant located just South of Central Park that focuses on providing dishes which are as local and seasonal as possible. It seemed like a great pick for Restaurant Week, even though I’ll admit I was not familiar with the restaurant beforehand. My friend Meg and I got there early, and so we pulled up a seat at the bar to relax. We tried out their Pear Crisp, which was comprised of ten cane rum, white pear purée, fresh vanilla, lemon, all topped off with prossecco. It was a very unique drink – refreshing and distinctive. Sarah, the third in our party, summarized it nicely when she arrived, calling it liquid Apple Jacks.

Our server promptly seated us, and we were greeted by an amuse-bouche courtesy of the chef of rutabaga soup with apples. It was warm, refreshing, and a nice balance between the more salty vegetable taste and the sweet flavor of the fruit. Usually I find the amuse-bouche to be a nice gesture, I also usually find it to be forgettable boardering on generic. But I will eat it every time just the same! It was refreshing to find this one to be so enjoyable. I kind of wanted a full appetizer-sized portion. They also sent out some fresh whole wheat bread, which had a slight kick courtesy of jalapeño, accompanied by a spinach-almond butter. It was an interesting mix of flavors. I liked it since I found the salty spinach was a nice contrast to the jalapeño influence. I’d never seen such a take on spinach and was really impressed by this choice of accompaniment to the standard bread basket. Continue reading

dish buzz: one if by land, two if by sea

Our Romantic Dinner

Our Romantic Dinner

I’ve always been curious to try One if By Land, Two if By Sea. I’ve known it for a while for two main reasons. One, I’ve heard it is one of the most romantic restaurants in the city. I’ve heard of many people getting engaged here or celebrating special occasions here, and have heard the food and atmosphere was of a quality to make it worthy to be chosen for such events. Secondly though, and perhaps more humorously, I always think of it as the restaurant in the city with the most awkward name. It just doesn’t quite roll easily off of the tongue, although I didn’t and don’t hold that against them and their food. I’ll let it speak for itself.

I love to see restaurants of this caliber willing to participate in restaurant week. And to do it so well. The servers did not seem annoyed, even though I’m guessing their tips on a $35 prix fixe meal cannot come close to the likes of a tip on their regular $78 prix fixe or $105 Chef’s Tasting menu. Everything about my experience here was nothing but top-notch. When I arrived, I sat at the bar waiting for my friends. The bartenders were attentive, checking in to see if I wanted anything (I was really just waiting), but weren’t pushy either. They’ve got it down to a science. They have a grand piano situated in front of the main window, and there was a pianist who started playing classical music. I was impressed before I ever took a bite, and that takes a lot. Continue reading

dish buzz – restaurant week, summer 2008

I’m sure many of you think that the time for Restaurant Week has come and gone. But oh no no… there are quite a few restaurants that have extended their participation on through September 1st, but only offering the menu Monday through Friday.

I have mixed feelings about Restaurant Week, which were somewhat confirmed by my two restaurant visits. But that will not keep me from going each time, and I recommend you use it as a good chance to check out some spots you wouldn’t otherwise. I’m a big fan of checking out the regular menus and pinpointing those restaurants where it would be a significant discount. Continue reading