Archive for the ‘fancy restaurants’ Category

We went to BLT Steak for Sandeep’s birthday dinner. Steakhouse dinner invitations come my way infrequently (hmmm), so I thought I should scope out the scene.

Tanned people with nary a golden lock out o’ place milled around the bar, where we waited for 20 minutes despite being on time for our 8:45 reservation. We eventually got seated at a round table (always a plus) in the enormous dining room where the walls, ridged with angular siding, created an atmosphere reminiscent of a furniture showroom.

My friends all ordered steaks (1 medium, 3 medium rare) while I had the much more interesting and varied task of selecting the sides. I choose:

Stuffed Mushrooms: The breadcrumbs were deep-fried and their oiliness distracted from what could have been a meaty (ha!) dish that better complimented the juicy and absorbent qualities of mushrooms.

Parmesan Gnocchi: Delicious. I wish I had gotten a sharper picture of this snowy pile of Parmesan and the lovely clouds of gnocchi bathing in a cream sauce underneath. A little rich? Certainly… :)

Onion Rings: I realize that onion rings are very much a matter of personal preference. BLT’s looked funny, a congealed fried tower. I liked my first bite a lot but these onion rings did not stand up to the test of time- the tempura-esque batter became rapidly soggy from the weight of the oil.

Creamed Spinach: I was curious, never having eaten “creamed spinach.” Yummy! It tasted just like saag paneer from an Indian restaurant, minus all the spices.

My question, which I posed to my dinner companions and to the waiter, was, why are these steak sides so rich? People always talk about how filling steak is; my friends couldn’t manage more than two bites of the sides because they were stuffed from their entrees. I imagined that tomatoes and onions, or asparagus dressed in a light lemony butter would be more appropriate steak sides both for the contrast in taste and weight. But the waiter and my friends and Wikipedia told me that steak is traditionally served with starchy sides.

For dessert we ordered the chestnut chocolate sundae (see previous post for a full-length picture), beautifully presented in a tall skinny glass with whipped cream and a cherry on top, in which fleshy, sweet chestnuts and crunchy candied ones were hidden between scoops of chocolate ice cream and thick chocolate fudge. Delightful Decadence!

And finally, we ordered the peanut-butter chocolate mousse with banana ice cream but Sandeep ate most of it himself, not realizing it was one of the desserts we’d ordered to share. He had been silently working on his cake for so long that finally one of the other boys turned to him and said, Sandy, you’ve been quiet. How’s that cake? “Oh man, guys, this is the most incredible chocolate cake I’ve ever had- I was just thinking- you guys should really try some.” Waq, tasting his first bite, was like, “Sandy this is the mousse we ordered!…and you ate the whole thing.” And so we each got a lick of what remained.

Onion rings, spinach: $9; mushrooms: $10; gnocchi: $10; dessert: $10
Bistro Laurent Tourondel Steak is at 106 East 57th street, New York, NY.


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I visited Balt’amour last weekend to spend time with three close friends from college. Lisa, Malka, and Elana picked me up from the always cheerful Baltimore Travel Plaza.


We drove directly to Nacho Mama’s in Canton where we started sipping on these not-so-lethal hubcap margaritas. I’ve had many a discussion with friends about how the drinks in Baltimore are, for some reason, delightfully less deleterious than the ones in New York. I can drink without the fear of a terrible hangover the next day. Of course, Baltimore’s prices are kinder, too- these hubcap margaritas were $10 each, and we split that four ways.


Nacho Mama’s menu is expansive but I prefer to stick with the nachos- tried and true, with proper cheese to beans to veggies proportions. The jalapeños were actually fiery. My friends ordered quesidillas that were overstuffed, with the tortillas baked to a dry crisp. Not exactly appetizing but with such a large plate of nachos, who needed more food?


The next day we headed to Hampden’s roomy but odd Dogwood Cafe for lunch. We walked down a ramp to enter the large underground dining room and I felt as though I were entering a dungeon. The tables, lighting, and artwork were pretty fancy, yet, something seemed off. We sat next door to the kitchen and while the main dining room is perfectly presentable, I stared at the stretch of uncarpeted, shabby floor leading into the kitchen. I know it was a weird fixation, but that patch of floor was starkly different from the methodically decorated dining room and I started wondering why they hadn’t taken care of the floor everywhere and what this stretch of floor could portend about the kitchen beyond.


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A few days after the dinner at Blossom, I attended Zen‘s green tea dinner at Franchia, a multi-level Korean Vegan Teahouse that infuses tea into noodles and dumplings. Franchia’s interior is constructed with horizontal and vertical beams of dark wood that shine in the dim light. The overall effect is reminiscent (intentionally, I assume) of a peaceful Zen garden.


We started with the combination pancake platter that included Sweet Corn Cilantro Pancakes, Spicy Kimchi Pancakes and Crispy Scallion Pancakes. Unfortunately, I was unable to identify the kimchi pancake, the one about which I was most curious, probably because we had to divide each pancake into pieces to distribute to everyone at dinner (about 7 people) and I got confused as to what I was eating. Oh well, it means I’ll have to go again.


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India Jones at the Oberoi Hotel serves beautiful but boring Southeast Asian food.


It’s unfortunate that restaurants in India have not yet started to put their menus online, because after looking at it in the restaurant, I think we knew we were resigned to our fate of an uninspired meal…at high prices. We were stuck- the very attentive waitstaff had served us water, asked for our drink orders, and generally hovered close to our table in case of emergency. So we searched for interesting vegetarian food and ordered:


1. A mango salad dressed in chiles and lime, with violently spiky greens. We probably shouldn’t have ordered this, because it wasn’t mango season, but it was the most appetizing salad option. But, since it’s not in season, the mango was not as sweet and juicy as it should have been to provide a good contrast to the lime and spicy chiles. I usually prefer firmer, slightly sour mangoes, but not in this combination. The salad was too much sour, too little anything else.

Next, we ordered:


2. Tamarind potatoes with coriander seeds. These were crispy, and everyone loves fried potatoes. But the sauce lacked the sour hints we were anticipating from the tamarind; while the mango salad was sour where it should have been sweet, these potatoes were too sweet, and camouflaged the flavors of the coriander seeds, which was a pity.


3. Our order of turnip cakes were yummy- slick, creamy, and studded with scallions, and browned to form a lacy, crispy skin. I really like the texture of turnip cakes- the flavor is super subtle- and since my mom wasn’t too into the strange softness of the cakes, I got to eat hers, too!


4. Those noodles- I forget exactly what we ordered but I think it was something like “Indonesian noodles” or “Malaysian noodles” because I wanted to try something new. Booo-ring. They tasted like bland lo-mien….which is usually not the most exciting dish to begin with anyway. And the dumplings were unremarkable…

We decided to get dessert with the desparate hopes of eating something delicious. Sometimes, dessert has a way of..not redeeming, but alleviating the pain of a disappointing meal. If it’s good dessert. But our waiters, who had been oh-so-attentive earlier had all but vanished from our tableside. So, while waiting to be noticed, we watched this man do some fancy food-flipping…I think he was really bored, too.


Eventually we managed to order dessert. This was described as “Milk chocolate mousse with tempura bananas, black pepper, caramelized filo leaf, and vanilla bean ice cream.”


The reason I ordered it was because of the “tempura bananas.” I love tempura and I love bananas! But this tempura was COLD not CRISPY! I was crushed. The mousse was similarly blah, but I did like the tiny lake of burnt sugar.

So go to India Jones if you want to watch the cook turn his tricks, or the well-groomed folks clinking glasses. The ambiance gets all the points here.

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[sublimely sexy]

Ciabatta, toasted, insides scooped out, filled with 2 egg yolks and fontina cheese, baked, drizzled with truffle oil and sprinkled with black pepper and salt. Cooked, sliced asparagus forms a crown for this gem of a dish. The truffle smells and tastes so good, especially when blended with runny egg. The black pepper is accents the salty cheese and earthy truffle, and the crusty bread is the perfect edible bowl. Asparagus provides the relief from the intense decadence that is ‘ino’s Truffled Egg Toast with its bright, mildy sweet flavor.

Truffled Egg Toast: $8
ino is at 21 Bedford Street, between Houston and Downing, New York, NY. (212) 989-5769.

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Waqas and I ate at Devi during Restaurant Week.


About a year ago, I wrote a review of Indian Home Cooking, by Suvir Saran, Devi’s executive chef. I noted that the book was a refreshing introduction to Indian food, since it focused on regional cuisines across India, instead of just Northern India.

I was hoping that Devi would astound me by transforming these regional dishes into savory spice journeys, like Tamarind did. A notable dish at Tamarind was the Shitake Mushrooms with mustard seeds and curry leaves. Mushrooms are a rare vegetable in Indian cuisine, and they are so wonderfully juicy. I thought the idea of combining a vegetable that is slightly different for Indian food (mushrooms) with a spice that is an Indian food staple (mustard) was ingenious: it let me appreciate the spice in a new context, and let me enjoy the vegetable in a new dish.

Anyway, Devi didn’t quite match up. To be fair, the restaurant week menu was limited, so perhaps I didn’t taste the best of the lot. An item which intrigued me, but which wasn’t on the restaurant week menu, was the Jackfruit Biryani. Depite my mediocre experience at Devi, I kind of really want to go back to try it. I love jackfruit because it has such a meaty, full texture, and I feel like restaurants here never serve it.

But instead of the Biryani, I stuck to the restaurant week menu. For an appetizer, I ordered Manchurian Cauliflower. I knew it was a gamble to order this dish because Manchurian Cauliflower is a hybrid Indo-Chinese dish, and those are just strange by nature. But, I figured, it’s Devi, a restaurant that’s been awarded a Michelin one-star rating, so it should be able to produce a decent replica of the dish. In the Manchurian Cauliflower I’ve had before (at China Garden in Bombay) the cauliflower was golden and crunchy on the outside, and topped with a spicy, red sauce with scallions. Devi’s Manchurian Cauliflower tasted like sautéed cauliflowers covered with warm ketch-up. It was not good. It was unpleasant.

But, I still had high hopes. I blamed myself for ordering the Manchurian Cauliflower, and hoped that the next dish would be better. (Waqas got the Shammi Kabobs for his appetizer and said they were okay.) For my entrée, I decided upon these yam kofta (dumplings) in tomato gravy, because my other option was stir-fried paneer, and again, I wanted to try something different. The yam kofta were prepared to look like short little logs and brought to my mind mini lamb kabobs. I was scared they contained meat and made Waqas try them first. After he assured me that they were vegetarian, I dug in- only to get full in about two minutes. The koftas were dark and thick and sweet and tasted heavily of cheese. They sat in my belly: the pasty texture of the yams mixed with cheese and the lack of contrast provided by the uninteresting tomato gravy was a big disappointment for my taste buds.

But Waqas loved his tandoori swordfish, and I even tried a tiny piece- it was succulent and flavorful. And my dessert, a creamy mango mouse, swirled with a light cilantro sauce that led to a cold chunks of yellow pinnaple, adorned with fresh mango, was tart and refreshing, and provided the sensory awakening my mouth had been waiting for the whole meal.


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I never thought I’d be satisfied eating Indian food at a restaurant in America- until I went to Tamarind Restaurant for lunch.


Above is Bhel, a traditionally Gujarati dish that is usually messy in preparation and on the plate. Mumra (puffed rice i.e. rice krispies), a green garlic chutney, a sweet and sour tamarind chutney, coriander, etc.,- it’s all mixed up in a bowl and served in heaping portions. Bhel is a delicacy and mostly everyone loves it (I can’t eat it- when I was eight, my mom forced me to eat a gigantic plateful of it before I was allowed to go play with my friends – I’ve never been able to stomach it since). I am assuming the bhel was good at Tamarind since everything else was excellent.

For appetizers, we got this amazingly i-haven’t-had-tandoori-paneer-this-good-america-not-even-once,-ever Amristsari Seekh-

basically Tandoori panner but the proper way- crispy and masala’ed on the outside, and wonderfully creamy on the inside, like real fresh paneer- which is so rare in America, where paneer is typically chewy and gross. Tomatoes and onions were also cooked on the grill along with the paneer and provided the perfect, wetter counterpart to this tasty and creamy appetizer. Oh, and the chutney rocked.

We also ordered Hara Bhara Kababs (green kabobs?) as an appetizer.

I had Hara Bhara Kababs in Bombay once, at a rooftop cafe- but these were phenomenally better. These spinach and cheese patties had a rich, forest green depth of color that seemed to pervade the flavor and make it so delicious! and green! They tasted healthy while also being slightly sinful- after all, they were cheese patties.

For our entrees, we ordered Bhagery Baingan- Japanese eggplant cooked in a peanut, sesame seed, and coconut sauce; Tamarind’s Shiitake- sauteed jumbo Shiitake mushrooms with mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves; and Nargisi Kofta- finely chopped lotus root dumplings with homemade cheese in a saffron onion sauce. (pictured clockwise below):

The eggplant I liked, but didn’t love. But the next two were so good – mushrooms in Indian food is so rare! And there they were, plump and juicy and a little gritty with the mustard seeds! Fantastic. And if that description of the Nargisi Kofta didn’t make you want to eat it off the screen- LOTUS dumplings, CHEESE, SAFFRON sauce- these are all such evocative and luxurious words- and to be EATING them? It tasted heavenly. This dish was fragrant and satisfying at the same time. Go to Tamarind, to eat this dish.

For dessert, we got Kulfi- an Indian version of ice cream that is creamier than American ice cream because it is solid, frozen milk- unlike American ice cream, which is whipped to add air. Anyway, a plain, common Indian dessert- but what a pretty presentation (and taste):


A little raspberry swirl and fresh honey cone never hurt no one…

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