Friday, November 9, 2012

De Santos NYC

I am convinced that De Santos is the most romantic restaurant in New York.  I was not expecting such a beautiful space when I was invited to a press dinner at the 4-Year-Old West Village restaurant.  The main dining room is beautifully furnished and tastefully lit.  The décor reminds me of Restoration Hardware.  The outdoor patio is a tented area that had an open back leading to the garden.  The hundreds of candles and several well-placed mirrors made sure the outdoor décor matched the inside.  I of course noticed the iPads that the servers were carrying around.  That was how they placed our orders, which was obviously impressive considering my love for Apple products.  How can you not love a company named after food?!  Our three appetizers arrived around the same time.  The Tuna Tartare was my favorite!

Sushi grade tuna with avocado, soy ginger vinaigrette and tortilla chips.  I ate every bite.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself so I decided not to lick the plate.   I didn’t get too close to the Beef Carpaccio.

It did look fabulous and was served with homemade potato gnocchi and truffle cream.  The gnocchi was PHENOMENAL!  Light, airy potatoes with a delicious touch of truffle cream.  I will definitely request a plate of the gnocchi next time I’m there.  We also ordered the Truffle Mac and Cheese.

I was really looking forward to it.  The aged cheddar cheese and the noodles were quite tasty.  The herb bread crumbs were an unwelcome addition.  There was something off about them.  The cheese was also pooling at one point.  I blame it on portion control because they decided to make individual sizes for us.  The other tables had the full size and when I looked over there was nothing left in the bowl.  Eventually our entrées arrived.  The Pan Seared Scallops were beautifully presented.

They arrived on a bed of wild mushroom risotto and parsnip chips.  I love rice and I love pasta but I’ve never really learned to appreciate risotto.  Every now and then, I would get a burst of mushroom flavor.  The risotto also enhanced the flavor of the scallops.  They were already incredible and perfectly pan seared but tasted even better when mixed in with the risotto.  I was quite happy with the entrée, but even more pleased with the desserts.  We started with the Mixed Berry Torte.

The layer of blackberries, strawberries and raspberries with cream was sandwiched between shortbread lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar.  The shortbread was delicious and sweet and nothing better than fresh fruit to put in a dessert!  The Pear Cobbler was phenomenal.

The brilliance behind this dessert was the deconstructed nature of it.  The cubed pieces of pear combined with the baked crumble were delightful.  The best part about fruit as dessert that you don’t feel guilty when you’re overjoyed by the sweetness!

De Santos was an amazing experience! I loved the décor and really enjoyed the food.  The menu is not quite as expansive as I had hoped so I hope they refine it soon.  The dishes are well executed but I would love to see more options.  After dinner I walked downstairs and saw the infamous Janis room!  The space is legendary because the building was formerly home to artists such as Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and Jean Michel Basquiat.  I will definitely return for music soon!

Hungry yet?

De Santos on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mint NYC

Although I eat a fair portion of Indian food, it’s not often that I’m fortunate enough to review an Indian restaurant.  When I received the invite to Mint, I was thrilled.  I reviewed the menu at home and was quite overwhelmed by the number of tasty treats.  I was not sure what to expect but had high hopes.  The first course certainly did not disappoint.  We received quite the spread.

My favorite was the Aloo Tikki. 

The mashed potato patties were flavorful.  The blend of herbs and spices in the patties was incredible.  The dish was further enhanced by the chickpea blend that served as a sauce.  I will definitely do my best to recreate the chickpea blend at home.  When the Spicy Shrimp Balchao arrived I knew I would be happy.

The shrimp was cooked in a fiery pepper sauce.  It had a powerful kick at the end of each bite.   The Malai Chicken was amazing!

The chicken must have been marinated for hours.  It was light and flavorful and melted in my mouth.  The Vegetable Masala Samosa was also delightful.

It was a little less exciting than the Aloo Tikki, but jam packed with potatoes and peas and no less flavorful.  My least favorite was the Chicken Seekh Kabab.

The ground chicken skewers just didn’t do it for me.  They were a little dry looked like odd little sausages.   After all those appetizers, you would think we had enough to eat, but that was just the beginning.  Our entrées started to arrive.  The table was packed in no time.  My favorite dish was the last to arrive.  The Tomato Fish was phenomenal.

Each bite was fully seasoned, the fish was moist and completely enveloped in the sauce.  I don’t know the last time I ate fish that was so tender and flavorful.  The Lamb Pasanda was a pleasant surprise.
The lamb was mild and tender.  The cashew sauce was different than the typical curry that I expected.  The Chicken Tikka Masala was a bit disappointing.

I was looking forward to it because the chicken appetizer was so spectacular, but it fell flat.  The chicken was not as moist and overall the sauce didn’t live up to expectations.  The vegetarian entrées we sampled, Saag Paneer (spinach and cheese) and Yellow Tadka Dal (lentils and spinach) were among my favorites even though they didn't photograph too well. 

I especially enjoyed the Yellow Tadka Dal because I did not expect the lentils to have the depth in flavor.  I always underestimate vegetables and this time I was happy to be wrong. 

Mint is a beautifully designed space with a captivating front lounge and a middle dining room.  The “private dining” in the back is poorly placed because it is right in front of the restroom.  The restaurant was near full while we were in there including the bar and lounge area.   The food is best-enjoyed family style.  I recommend going with an empty stomach otherwise you’ll be sorry about the food you leave on the table.

Hungry yet?

Mint on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sofia Wine Bar

When I first received an invitation to dine at Sofia Wine Bar, I was a bit skeptical.  After all, it's not often that you go to a wine bar for dinner.  But Sofia Wine Bar is upping its food game so those that come to drink will stay to eat.  Sofia opened in February 2009 and currently has 80-100 wines available by the glass and 70 by the bottle.  The selection comes from different countries and regions within those countries.  The cuisine is not typical bar food, instead it is Home style Italian.  The French windows in the front dining and bar area create an inviting space that got pretty crowded after a little while.  We sat in the back, a cavernous area that seats about 12.  The space is beautifully decorated but the exposed brick created a lot of extra noise because the voices bounced off the wall.  They typically have a pasta special on Sundays but since we were there on a Monday they decided to hook us up.  We were presented with a marvelous vegetarian lasagna.

The ricotta and tomato sauce were rich and fresh. The pasta was light and melted in my mouth. It was truly spectacular and made me wonder why they don't serve pasta all the time.  Thankfully I was told that they will soon start serving pasta every day!  If it's anything like this lasagna, I'm sure they will gain lots of repeat customers.   Pretty soon after, the Stuffed Mushrooms and Artichoke arrived.

They are mixed with prosciutto and pecorino so I didn't dig in but the other diners definitely enjoyed it.  I was wrapped up in the Mozzarella. 

The mozzarella is made fresh in house.  The thick slices were creamy and flavorful and the tomato was juicy.  I also really enjoyed the toast!  It was crunch but soft. Unbelievable!  I ate way too much bread!  The Eggplant Caponata was my least favorite.

There was nothing exciting about it. The eggplant was slightly overcooked which was disappointing but at least there was some bread there!  The beef eaters devoured the Meatballs.

They were huge and served with rich tomato sauce.  I was much happier when the Margherita Pizza arrived.

The sauce was a little tangy and tasted great with the crust. I loved the mozzarella and the fresh pieces of basil made it taste even better.  Just as I was reaching capacity, it was time for dessert! 

Holy Cannoli!!  Somehow I realized this must have been my first cannoli. This was truly a special moment.  I loved the creamy sweetness. It was perfect! Not toothache sweet just rich and filling. The cream is apparently from Italy.  I also loved the crunchy shell.  It was phenomenal!

I had a great time at Sofia.  The extensive wine list may be the reason you go, but the variety of delicious items on the menu is the reason you stay!  As the owner, Tommaso said, "Eat while you can enjoy it!"  I recommend heading over to Sofia and start enjoying it!

Hungry yet?

Sofia Wine Bar, Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Jeanne and Gaston part deux

You may recall that back in May I visited a relatively new restaurant Jeanne and Gaston. I enjoyed my meal and looked forward to returning to enjoy the outdoor garden dining.  I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to do just that.

The space has really turned out well.  The evening was perfect. We had a light breeze and the sunlight lasted just long enough to brighten our meal.  I usually don't feature bread, but this was worth focusing on.

The bread was warm and tasted great.  It was even better when I tried it with the duck pâté.

Our meal started with the Charcuterie. Normally I stay away from this part of the meal because there usually isn't something on there for me.  But this time the duck pâté stared at me and I couldn't resist.  It was phenomenal.  It had a creamy texture and was rich but had a lightness when spread on the bread. It was the perfect way to open my palette.  We moved on to the Calamari.

It was perhaps the most impressive and well executed dish of the evening.  The gazpacho had a cool spice that was unexpected. The marinated zucchini strips were carefully crafted and cut so thin they reminded me of cucumber but richer.  The grilled calamari was cooked to perfection, not chewy or overdone, which is always my concern.  I absolutely loved it!  Unfortunately, this was a dish that I never would have ordered given the bland description on the menu.  Hopefully Chef Claude revisits the menu soon and spruces up this star dish!  While everyone else munched on their meat, I was delighted when my Scallops arrived.

The two perfectly seared diver scallops were served "tarte tatin" provencale.  The scallops were heavenly! They were rich and well seasoned.  The sauce was also great and the tomatoes were just right. The focaccia at the bottom just didn't do it for me.  When the Duck Magret arrived, my mouth started watering. I could barely wait for the plate to hit the table.

It was a perfect slice of duck with broccoli tempura and a mango emulsion. The sauce was an unusual choice.  It's not often you see mango with duck, but this was done perfectly!  The duck was tender and the skin was perfectly crisp. I ate every bite and wish I could have had seconds!  I was already stuffed so it was time to switch gears and open my second stomach for dessert.  My favorite dessert was the Vanilla-Raspberry Vacherin.

This was my first time eating this lovely layered dessert. The merengue alternated with raspberry sauce, sorbet and vanilla. I enjoyed eating each layer separately as well as eating them together.  If you've never had one before, I highly recommend it! 

My revisit to Jeanne and Gaston was well worth it!  The outdoor space is beautiful so I urge you to head over there before the weather betrays you.  The restaurant recently began an all night happy hour from 4pm to close.  The bar is beautiful and if the French windows are open, you'll be able to gaze out on 14th street and watch the foot traffic.  

My recommendation from last time stands.  Jeanne and Gaston is a great restaurant with lots of great options. The $40 Prix Fixe dinner is a great deal!  There are a lot of high points on the menu and the space is beautiful.  Enjoy!

Hungry yet?

Jeanne & Gaston on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mo-CHiCa Los Angeles

This summer has flown by. I've spent almost as much time on the road as I've spent in NY.  My last trip was a two week stretch in Los Angeles.  I was not that impressed with most of what I ate out there but I did encounter a few gems.  The lovely Peruvian restaurant Mo-CHiCa was a pleasant surprise after days of bland eats.  Mrs. C and I met up after work and decided to wander 7th street until we came across something desirable. The menu looked promising so we took a chance. The restaurant was well decorated and had a laid back breezy feel.  We were famished so we quickly decided what we wanted to try.  We started with the Causa de Cangrejo.

A refreshing blend of aji amarillo mashed potatoes, fresh crab and avocado.  Although the flavors were lively and bold, I was disappointed the the mashed potatoes were cold.  The Ceviche Carretillero was fantastic!

The fresh slices of sea bass were swirled with leche de tigre, red onion and yuzo.  As our meal went on, each dish was better than the last.  When the Arroz con mariscos arrived, the aroma alone made me salivate.

The Peruvian seafood paella was flavorful, spicy and pretty much perfect.  The rice was cooked just right and although it looked soggy, I was pleasantly surprised. It tasted even better when you mixed in the red onions.  Our last dish was the Paiche.

This Amazonian fish from Peru is served on top of a bed of ajiaco de arroz and cherry tomato escabeche. It had a lot more spice than the paella. The fish was firm so it didn't crumble but it was still tender.  The rice tasted different than the paella, it was more like a spicy stewed rice.  Although we were truly satisfied with everything we ate, we couldn't resist dessert.

The Alfajores were fantastic!  These Peruvian cookies are shortbread cookies sandwiched around dulce de leche.  The other sandwich was made of chocolate ganache. They were dusted with powdered sugar.  Amazing!! The cookies were rich and just what we needed to end the meal.

Mo-Chica was a delicious experience. Each dish was perfectly flavored and they built on each other as each dish arrived.  I wish I could have gone back again to try some of the other dishes that caught my eye.  No worries, I'll be back in LA soon enough.

Hungry yet?

Mo-Chica on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 30, 2012

Essex NYC

Way back in the spring, GMTT made her way into town. She selected Essex as the site for our reunion dinner. What an excellent selection! The group agreed that Oysters would be our first course.

These fresh bites were impressive when they arrived but even better once I ate them!  There were a couple of interesting items on the menu and they even made their way onto our table. The Potato Pancakes with homemade salmon gravlax, salmon caviar and sour cream was an interesting arrival.

I wasn't interested but it disappeared pretty quickly. The crisp potato pancake was surprisingly delicious with the salmon.  I couldn't resist the Scallops.

Four perfectly seared scallops over croutons, watermelon, roasted peaches and basil. Yum! I was a little hesitant because of the fruit, but the watermelon provided a juiciness that was quite refreshing. The croutons were crunchy goodness, but I could have done without the basil.  One of the better-looking dishes was the Grilled Shrimp & Avocado Salad.

The tail on shrimp was seasoned and grilled to perfection. The avocado salad and large slices of avocado were served on a bed of baby spinach.  The portion was just right for a starter and the avocado salad was my favorite part!  The Endive Salad didn't look quite as good.

Pecan and dried cranberries with Gorgonzola puffs and pear vinaigrette. Meh. I didn't eat it but Ms. P cleaned up the plate. I guess it's good, if you're into that type of thing.  The starter menu had a lot of appeal. G ordered the Chipotle baby lamb t-bone.

The lamb was cooked just right and tasted even better with the sauce.  The pear tasted good but I was not interested in the watercress.  I was a big fan of the Tilapia and Mango Ceviche!

The cubes of Tilapia were well flavored with cilantro and aji amarillo.  The big chunks of mango and avocado were splendid!  I ate way more than I should have but I savored each bite.   We eventually moved on to a few main dishes. The Papardelle was quite impressive.

Those huge fresh pieces of pasta were amazing. It tasted even better with the fresh seafood mix of shrimp, calamari and mussels.  I would definitely go back to try that.  I ordered the Cajun Spiced Catfish.

It was served over shrimp and potatoes.   Holy Deliciousness!  The fish was juicy and well spiced.  The shrimp and potatoes were spectacular.  I loved the blend of seafood and I'm a huge fan of potatoes.  Although my stomach was bulging at this point, but the meal had been so good I couldn't turn down dessert.

The Warm Chocolate cake with caramel and fresh fruit was the best way to close out the meal. We ordered a couple for the table and within a few minutes of them landing at our table, there was no evidence they ever existed.

This was a memorable meal thanks to the many dishes that provided satisfaction to my taste buds. There are a few dishes I'll definitely be revisiting. The meal was also incredibly affordable considering how much we ate.  Can't wait to go back!!

Hungry yet?

Essex on Urbanspoon