Monday, February 28, 2011

Al di La Trattoria - Park Slope

Mr. A and Ms. Y moved to Brooklyn earlier this month. While they lived on the UWS I never visited so I figure one trip out to Brooklyn should make it clear that I care. Not only that MM came with me so they have to know it's special. Their new home in Park Slope is beautiful and most importantly located close to a strip with many restaurants. We decided to go to one of those restaurants.

Al di La does not take reservations so when we showed up at 5:58, two minutes before they opened there was already a line. Luckily we were seated in the first round. The restaurant is cute. It seats about 40 people and has some interesting decorations. The one sheet paper menu appears to be printed daily. It had many options, but they were so similar it appeared as though the menu had no real depth. I eventually found something I'd be willing to eat, as did the others. Ms. Y started off with the Winter White Salad.

Somehow I managed to capture the color of the shaved cauliflower leeks rutabagas turnips salsify Jerusalem artichokes celeriac champagne vinaigrette and crumbled cheese. Considering the lack of green and the use of so many vegetables it was still a really delicious salad. The combination of the vinaigrette and other ingredients created a slightly creamy dressing. MM ordered the Blood Orange Salad.

Yea those are really oranges.  Navel, Cara Cara and Blood oranges with fennel, red onions, pomegranate seeds and mint. I actually didn’t taste it but everyone else seems to think it was fine. Mr. A ordered the special seafood appetizer. It was a ceviche combo.  He definitely won (aside from the whole grilled polenta business).

Octopus, mackerel and razor clams. The mackerel was the best because it had a little kick at the end. The octopus was also pretty good thanks to the chickpeas. The clams were boring and didn’t really taste like ceviche. I ordered the Steamed Bouchot Mussels.

You know how I feel about mussels. Never have they failed to satisfy me. Well I guess there's a first time for everything. Congrats Al Di La your mussels sucked. They were so regular it was underwhelming. The broth which was allegedly seasoned with white wine, tomato, parsley and chili tasted salty, which turned out to be a recurring theme for the dinner. The worst part is rather than serving it with bread for me to dip in the broth, I got a little surprise when I got close to the bottom.

Yup there's my bread just lying there soaking wet. It's no longer considered grilled bread when it's moist and besides no one likes soggy bread.  No one.  I was sour after my appetizer, but still willing to give the place a chance.  Ms. Y ordered Spaghetti Alle Vongole.

A nice plate of pasta with Manila clams in a white wine garlic sauce.  We all tasted it, and had a similar reaction. Salty.  Womp womp.  Mr. A and MM both ordered the Hanger Steak (shock).

Apparently it was very “I’m eating balsamic vinegar” and not every delicious.  We repeatedly noted how salty the food was, however I think my Galletto Alla Diavola took the cake. 

It was obviously a shy little chicken – look at its posture.  When I read diavola, I thought it said diavolo (my favorite spicy sauce!).  Definitely not what was on the plate.  Regardless, I was looking forward to digging into this charcoal-grilled baby chicken. It was served with a fennel salad and mashed potatoes. The fennel salad helped to cut through some of the saltiness from the over reduced sauce.  The potatoes were probably the best thing I ate in the restaurant.   Such a shame.

When they brought the dessert menu, I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea that I would order one more thing from this restaurant.  Al di La should be called La Di Da because it's not worth the hype.  I’m so glad we didn’t have to wait on line to eat here because it would have been even that much more disappointing.  At least the company was good – and we had a great dessert elsewhere.

Hungry yet?

Al di Là Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Birthday Brunch Part Deux

After a fabulous dinner at Momofuku, we sang our hearts out for several hours at a Karaoke spot then hauled back uptown to sleep for a few hours before brunch.  Yes, it's true, all I did for my birthday was eat! Il Bastardo was so good the first time I went that I decided that a few weeks later it would be the perfect place for my birthday brunch.  Since David Chang is so limiting in how many people can attend his meals, I made sure that I could have at least one meal with as many of my favorites as possible.  I’ve already adequately described what makes this place awesome, so this will be strictly about the food.

The French Toast gets top billing again and several of the diners ordered this fantastic dish. It was just as good as last time.  I also made sure to get a side of the sautéed potatoes. Yum yum yum!!! My next homemade brunch will certainly include my version of these stewed potatoes.  Several people also ordered the Steak and Eggs accompanied by potatoes and spinach.

While I can’t attest to the taste, I noticed several empty plates so I’m sure they were spectacular (or my friends were REALLY hungry!)  

Another popular dish was the Eggs Benedict with Maryland Crab Cakes.

Negative on the soupy eggs for me, but I was all over the crab cakes.  Even my Marylanders complemented the cake. Woohoo!  I also had a chance to sample the pancakes.

They were delicious! Not quite the flavor of the Lemon Ricotta ones, but hey you can’t win ‘em all!  They definitely won on the pasta front.  Ms. O ordered the Rigatoni.

I was a big fan! Al dente  pasta and sauce cooked perfectly.  Il Bastardo was nothing short of awesome. Yea their service was a little slow, but they were very generous. The atmosphere was lively, the company was spectacular and it was a great way to end the fantastic weekend of eating.  Can't wait to go back!!

Hungry yet?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Momofuku Noodle Bar

A couple of months ago, I started thinking about what I wanted to eat for my birthday.  While the restaurant list was long, I realized that I could eat at most of them at anytime.  Since I’m still on my celebrity chef kick, I decided that Momofuku Noodle Bar would be the spot.  They don’t take reservations for their regular menu, but I’ve never been the regular type. Exactly four weeks before my dinner, I signed on to the website to score a reservation for the infamous Fried Chicken Dinner. The reservations are limited to groups of 4 - 8 and they aren't exactly flexible on the times you can eat.  I reluctantly whittled down the list to namely VBRAT et. al. and reserved space for 8.  So the stage was set…

After whetting our appetites at The Plaza Food Hall, we took a quick breather and geared up then we hauled to the east village for our fabulous dining experience. As I noted, the reservations are hard to come by. There was a small crowd waiting for tables when we walked in. We were seated at the first large table within a few minutes. Although I was craving the shrimp steam buns, we refrained from ordering appetizers. Within 15 minutes, our masterpiece arrived.

Daaaayum! We were so excited you'd think we hadn't eaten all day. There are two styles of chicken.

The first is a spicy southern style that's fried in buttermilk. It was soooo good! Flavorful pieces of chicken that were piping hot. Each time you peeled apart a piece you could see the steam release. The chicken was also very moist which is always a concern with fried chicken.

The other chicken was Korean style also deep fried but with a spicy pepper sauce. It was slightly crispier but maintained the same level of moisture inside. Incredible! The chicken was served with four sauces.

Clockwise from top left: ginger scallion, hoisin, jalapeno soy sauce and mysterious red spicy sauce that is not sriracha. They were all delicious in their own way. The ginger scallion was probably my favorite but mostly because the jalapeno soy was too runny.   The meal is also served with mu shu pancakes.

Or as my lovely crew calls everything – roti. Oddly, we received a bowl of vegetables that didn’t quite fit into the equation.

Weird right? The lettuce was used to make chicken wraps. The carrots were a good break from all that protein.  The basil was an odd flavor thrown in the mix. I didn’t have any radishes but I heard they were good!  We cleaned house at this dinner.

The picture is blurry because we couldn't see straight after eating that much!!  The chicken was totally worth the advance reservation and I couldn’t help but smirk each time I saw people staring at our meal and hoping they could order the same. We had a few left over pieces which were delicious the next morning pre-brunch.  The dinner lasted about 2 hours and was worth every second. I highly recommend the fried chicken dinner.  The sides definitely leave much to be desired but realistically the chicken is all you’ll want to eat anyway! 

Hungry yet?

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Todd English Plaza Food Hall

This weekend was filled with out of town guests.  My RD was in town briefly and we met up at Sbarro in Times Square.  Alas, no food was consumed by me because I was still stuffed by the all-star brunch.  After wandering around Manhattan for more hours than I intended, VBRAT reconvened for a suuuuper late lunch (6:30!) because of our 10pm dinner reservation (more on that later).  I was surly because they were late, but once I ate everything was great.  I was excited about the prospect of eating at the Plaza Food Hall.  With so many options it was really hard to limit how much I ate considering the huge dinner that we would eventually consume. 

The Plaza Food Hall is pretty posh considering it’s a cafeteria, but then again it is The Plaza. There are different counter seating spaces by the cooking stations.  We were fortunate enough to sit by the noodle station.  I constantly wanted to jump over the counter and eat the food the chefs were preparing. Ms. A and I decided to order together since we wanted to sample a bunch of different dishes.  We started with the Chinese Chicken & Ginger dumplings.

They were served with lemon grass pesto.  I really enjoyed the dumplings.  They were light yet filling.   We watched the chefs make our dumplings and I may or may not have salivated when they were placed in front of me.  The dumplings also came with a side of Spicy Kimchi.

I usually shy away from kimchi because of the smell but this spicy one was really good! We also ordered a Shrimp Tempura Roll.

The shrimp tasted very fresh and wrapped with avocado and cucumber. I love seafood so even though we didn’t need the shrimp tempura, I had no regrets about ordering it.  Next up was the Classic Flat Bread.

It was basically a margarita pizza.  Roasted tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil.  The flatbread is incredibly thin so this was not as filling as it looked.  Ms. A and I definitely ate just the right amount and were satisfied with our meal.  Mr. S ordered Turkey Sliders.

I’m always suspicious of turkey burgers because I know that someone is usually trying to sneak some pig on there.  This time around, the sliders were served with grilled pancetta, whipped avocado, baby romaine and tomato.  I knew it! Grilled pancetta – hmmph.  Apparently it tasted good though because Mr. S cleaned it up.  He and Ms. G also ordered Parmesan Fries. I didn’t get a chance to sample or photograph it (because they ate it all!) and besides I was busy with my own food J Ms. G also ordered the flatbread special.

It didn’t photograph too well but that’s grilled portabello with spinach.  Apparently it tasted good, but it was not exactly what she was expecting.  Mr. K and his Ms. S (THEY’RE GETTING MARRIED!!!) were too far away and I missed the opportunity to photograph their lobster minestrone (yumm how good does that sound?) They also ordered the chicken dumplings though so I didn’t miss too much. 

Plaza Food Hall was the truth.  So much variety and all pretty affordable. I was very pleased and look forward to returning soon. We finished up at The Plaza Food Hall with our mission accomplished.  We had eaten, but we were still hungry for the super late dinner.  Tomorrow, I reveal the limited access birthday dinner.  Stay tuned…

Hungry yet?

The Plaza Food Hall (Plaza Hotel) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Scrambled Eggs with Spinach and Cheddar

The thing about making brunch is it's hard for me to decide how many dishes are enough. I always want options.  The one thing that's a must is EGGS! So I opened up the trusty Essentials of Brunch & Breakfast cookbook and found this recipe for Scrambled Eggs with Spinach and Cheddar. I adjusted a little because of the number of people eating.

12 large eggs
1 ½ cup baby spinach leaves
3 oz white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
3 tbs butter
salt & pepper to taste

Beat the eggs salt and pepper in a bowl.

In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt butter. Once the butter foams, reduce heat to low. Add the eggs and cook, stirring several times, until curds begin to form.

Add the spinach and cheese. 

Stir and continue to cook until spinach is wilted and eggs set.

Umm, perfection? Yes.  The eggs were incredibly delicious. I usually don’t mess with the cheese.  This turned out really well though and I definitely made some again a couple of days later J

Our brunch also included a few other items. Fruit salad with strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and peaches.

Apple Cinnamon Sausage

Potatoes with peppers and onions

Yup couldn’t be happier.  Brunch really does make everything better.  

Hungry yet?

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

VBRAT et. al. arrived over the course of the weekend, but by Saturday morning we were close to complete.  Since the weekend would consist of many meals out, I thought it right to use my new cookbook to make sure we had something spectacular to eat.  Ms. A selected the lemon ricotta pancakes the night before.  After a quick run to the grocery store, we were ready to rock.

1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups buttermilk
2 large eggs, separated
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup ricotta cheese
1 tbs grated lemon zest
2 tsps butter, melted

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg yolks, sugar, ricotta and lemon zest.  

Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir until blended. There will be some lumps – don’t over mix.

In a separate bowl, using a mixer, beat the whites until soft peaks form. 

Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the beaten whites into the batter just until blended.  My stove has a built in griddle so I set that to medium heat and went to work.  Ladle about ¼ cup of batter on the surface and cook until small bubbles form about 2 – 3 minutes. 

Flip the pancake over and cook until other side is lightly brown about 1 ½ minutes.  The recipe makes about 16 pancakes.

I tried to be decorative so I topped with some strawberries.  

The pancakes were incredibly light and fluffy. There was a hint of lemon in every bite.  We also used the fantastic syrup that Ms. O and Mr. M bought for me.

These pancakes were incredible. I will definitely be making them again but there are so many other fantastic recipes in my cookbook.  Can’t wait!

Hungry yet?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Homemade Italian Birthday Dinner

It should come as no surprise that my birthday celebration was centered around food.  The next several posts will document the deliciousness of my birthday weekend.  There are a few other entries from meals past. I promise I’ll post those soon.  So on my birthday, I was thrilled to join Ms. O and Mr. M for dinner.  It was a fantastic spread with lots of my favorite ingredients featured in the meal.  We started out with an appetizer of eggplants, tomatoes and onions.

The eggplant was particularly delicious because it tasted smoky and grilled. Although now that I think about it, maybe it wasn't eggplant?! It was just so frickin good! Props to Ms. O for perfecting the taste.  After sharing stories from the week, we moved to the table for dinner.  We started with a delicious salad.

Beets!! Yes! Also delicious greens, croutons and I can't remember what else was in there. Of course the dressing was amazing.  I loved the salad and could have possibly eating just that for dinner.  Luckily, I didn’t have to.

The pasta was amazing! Cooked al dente and mixed with a whiskey parmesan tomato sauce and it was served with broccoli rabe.  

Another perfect meal. Wow as I write this, I realize how much I really enjoyed that pasta. I could use a little more right now ;-) Although I was stuffed, my stomach miraculously created room once my eyes saw the dessert.

Woohoo! Red velvet cake! Extremely moist and perfectly made despite the egg size situation ;-) Not only did they make sure I ate well on my birthday, Ms. O and Mr. M got me an excellent cookbook Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Breakfast & Brunch which I put to good use later in the weekend.  Stay tuned…

Hungry yet?