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Entries in RIP: NYC restaurant cemetary (79)

Thursday
Apr192012

Mid-evening nosh: Baked by Butterfield

*NOTE: This bakery has since closed.*

Located a few store fronts down from Butterfield Market (closer to 76th Street), stands the small company's newest concept:  Baked by Butterfield.  And what's being "baked" are donuts.

"Baked" and "donut" are two words that rarely, if not ever, go together in the same sentence.  At least not in my vocabulary.  However, after reading a great donut-centric article in the WSJ - and realizing that I've been to all but one local shop - I knew that I had to check out Baked by Butterfield.  ASAP.

Last night, I had a meeting uptown that was located a very convenient 4-blocks from Baked by Butterfield.  When I arrived, I was a bit surprised by its tiny - albeit clean and modern - space.  The shop is 100% grab-and-go and, in addition to donuts, carries local single origin brewed coffee, homemade lemonade, and fancy chocolates. 

Small samples of the "Caramel with Sea Salt" donut were being offered, and I eagerly grabbed the biggest chunk that I could find.  After all, this was the donut that I had planned on purchasing.  However, I was a bit disappointed by its dry consistency and complete lack of caramel/sea salt flavor.  But, maybe that's just because the actual cake had lost some of its moisture from being cut in to bite-sized pieces.  See, I was trying to think positively!

$3 and a Peanut Butter & Jelly donut later, I was off to my meeting with Baked by Butterfield bag in hand. 

My definition of good bakery takeaway?  When the pastry-in-question leaves a huge grease stain on the bag.   You think I'm kidding?

Side view:  So, size-wise, what visually attracted me to the donut was the fact that it wasn't ginormous.  Baked - smaller size - smaller waistline?  Not that I don't love a king-sized treat.  I would estimate that it was about 1 3/4-2" in diameter, and roughly 1" thick.

Top view:  OK, so all of the pretty icing on top got a bit man and purse-handled in transit, so don't hate on my messy photograph.  But, while we're on the topic of icing...Because of the paper "cupcake cup" that cradled the donut, all of the extra glaze got trapped within!  Yum.

Interior view:  Now this is what I call the "money shot."  While I found the cake to be a bit dry, I thought that the jelly filling was perfectly distributed and ratio-sufficient:  There was no glop or fluorescent food-coloring in sight (I'm talking to you, Dunkin!).  Plus, I can't imagine how much more arid the cake would have been without the jelly! 

I appreciated how the entirety of the donut's exterior was iced - not just its top.  This made for the perfect "peanut butter and jelly" experience.  In fact, the PB glaze was even dotted with peanut nibs which, for me, was nostalgic, as I have fond memories of eating Skippy Extra Crunchy peanut butter and honey sandwiches at summer camp.  Bottom line:  This donut is the perfect hand-held treat for the kid in all of us.

 

To conclude:  With everyone watching their damn waistlines these days, it's pretty hard not to fall in love with the option of a baked vs. fried donut.  Right?  But, just like any recipe that deviates from the original, this version was not without its flaws.  However, I just found one:  The actual cake part of the donut was slightly dry (as I stated, earlier).  Maybe that's to be expected, since it was baked as opposed to fried?  Or maybe, just maybe, my expectations are too high?  They sure are with men...But that rant is reserved for another blog post.  Perhaps the hot oil used in the traditional cooking method aids in moisture?  Hell, I couldn't tell you.  I'm not a chef. 

Unfortunately, this "one flaw" may be enough for some folks to not consider a second visit.  And that's just fine.  Because all that means is that there will be more donuts for me!  Plus, there are plenty of other flavors that I'd like to sample, anyways:  Pecan Coffee Cake, Crème Brulee (...wonder how it stacks up to Doughnut Plant's version?), Olive Oil & Thyme, Jelly Filled, Meyer Lemon Meringue, Banana Chocolate Chip, Ginger Carrot, Cream Cheese, and Mexican Chili Chocolate.

Have you been to Baked by Butterfield yet?  If so, what did you think?

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Thursday
Mar222012

Food writers' dinner at Jeanne & Gaston

*NOTE: This restaurant has since closed.*

  • Restaurant  Jeanne & Gaston
  • Cuisine  French
  • Location  212 W. 14th St. (btwn 7th & 8th Avenues), Manhattan
  • Phone  212-675-3773
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  pre-war charm meets modern decor/furnishings
  • Attire  smart casual
  • Ideal for  small-mid sized groups, 1x1, full bar, outdoor dining, prix-fixe
  • Price  moderate

Set amidst the always-bustling 14th Street sits an oasis of serenity.  A place where the music isn't too loud or offensive.  Where the lighting is bright enough to make out what's on the menu, but dim enough to where you can still look sexy on a date.  I'm talking about Jeanne & Gaston, a French restaurant that was recently opened by Chef Claude Godard, the same fellow who opened Murray Hill's Madison Bistro some 20+ years ago.

I, along with four other food bloggers, was invited to a dinner tasting at J&G (Jeanne & Gaston).  Of course, being one of the first to show, I did what I would normally do whilst awaiting the arrival my fellow invitees:  I ponied on up to the bar!  Look, this has been an especially stressful week, and I knew that the only thing - short of a tranquilizer - that would aid in calming my nerves would be a strong cocktail. 

My next action was something so ballsy - so risqué - that I cannot believe I'm even going to admit it out loud.  But I am.  Here goes:  I ordered a margarita!  At a French restaurant.       

Looks pretty damn good, doesn't it?  Well.........wait for it.........it was!  Yep, J&G makes a damn good margarita.  The bartender used freshly-squeezed lime juice, Patron (per my request), a splash of triple sec, and house-made simple syrup.  And lots of salt.  Come to think of it, this was actually better than most of the 'ritas I've knocked back at *Mexican* restaurants.  WTF?  

As a couple more guests arrived, our hostess, Blanca, took the first three of us on a "tour."  As if the lovely interior space wasn't brag-worthy enough, the 'cherry-on-top' was yet to come.  Blanca led the three of us towards the back of the restaurant - down a ramp - and in to J&G's not-yet-opened expansive outdoor space!  The size, alone, took our breath away.  I can only imagine how amazing this area will be for al-fresco dining in the upcoming warmer months!  

Shortly after our quickie tour, the rest of the invitees arrived.  Blanca escorted the seven of us to a large table, where our wine glasses were topped with either red or white, and dinner menus were distributed.  "Our prix-fixe dinner includes three options and is quite affordable, at $40/person," Blanca explained.  "Please choose an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert."  Everyone exchanged wide-eyed glances and huge smiles.  How incredibly generous of J&G! The table soon became abuzz with ideas, optimal pairing debates, and questions about what to order.  I, for one, made sure to ask both the bartender and our server which dishes were personal favorites.

After much consideration, I chose the following:  Napoleon, Le Bourguignon, and a Praline Soufflé. 

Shortly after placing our orders, baskets of fluffy, sliced bread and butter arrived.

First course:  Napoleon

Interchanging layers of smashed avocado and a light, mayonnaise-based crab meat "salad" were separated by paper-thin, savory wafer spheres.  The Napoleon was crowned with micro greens and the plate was decoratively finished with avocado puree and, what appeared to be, sour cream.  A cherry tomato added a bold pop of color.

Like a strong woman, this dish packed an impressive punch but, from the outside, appeared artfully delicate and feminine.  Oh, how deceptive!  The Napoleon exploded with flavor and texture.  It proved to be just the perfect portion and left me, the diner, curious and hungry for more.

Entree course:  "Le Bourguignon"

Served atop a bed of fluffy, cloud-like smashed potatoes was a generous helping of 2-day-braised short ribs, drowning in a rich, pinot noir reduction.  Chopped carrots and celery dotted the gravy, gifting the entree with bite-sized pops of texture.

The beef, itself, was fork-tender, incredibly moist, and virtually free of gristle (quite the pleasant surprise for this particular cut of meat).  With every bite, I could taste the essence of the pinot noir - a constant reminder of the 48-hours in which the short ribs had braised.  Delicious! 

Dessert course:  Praline Souffle

A dense, perfectly browned soufflé exterior gave way to a fluffy, molten center that oozed with the essence of a pecan praline.  A small scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream accompanied.

While I appreciated the laborious effort that was incorporated in to making this traditional French dessert, I thought that something - ingredient wise - was missing.  I couldn't put my finger on it until I added the accompanying scoop of cold vanilla ice cream and watched it quickly melt in to the hot soufflé.  The dessert, itself, was not sweet enough!  Hence the single serving of very sweet ice cream.  Now, it all made sense.

~

To conclude:  I was very pleased with my experience at J&G, and look forward to returning for brunch al-fresco, once that fabulous outdoor space opens to the public.  While I wouldn't consider this to be a destination restaurant, per se, I will contend that the surrounding neighborhood is very lucky to have a solid French staple.  With an amazing outdoor space. 

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 

Wednesday
Feb152012

The last girl in NYC to...eat at Public

THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED
  • Restaurant  Public
  • Cuisine  American, eclectic
  • Location  210 Elizabeth St. (between Prince & Spring Streets), Manhattan
  • Phone  212-343-7011
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  spacious, cabin/après-ski chic, sexy
  • Attire  smart/hip casual
  • Ideal for  group dining, 1x1, foodies, open late, date night, private parties, brunch, dine at the bar
  • Price  moderate - expensive

She's the kind of house guest that you really want to impress.  Because her idea of a blood pressure-raising clusterf*ck is New York City.  "It's just so cold.  And dirty.  And the buildings block all of the natural light.  And why is everything so expensive?  Ughhh!"  See folks, I take these negative comments/word-vomit as a personal challenge.  Why?  Because I happen to love New York City and, apparently, want everyone else to feel the same way.  So when a certain Southern Californian yogi/hipster with a diva-like sass made her annual East Coast appearance recently, I was hell-bent on taking her to restaurants - bars - neighborhoods, etc. - that I thought she would *actually* like.  Places that had the potential of changing my little sister's "hater" view of my beloved city.

I only had Leila in town for a handful of days and, having already done the brunch and shopping thing in Brooklyn, the pressure was on to find something/somewhere equally as "rad" (...as they say in Cali).  The East Village came to mind, as did the Lower East Side.  But, ultimately, Nolita won.  And what better neighborhood restaurant than Public, which has a menu as eclectic as my sister's personality and taste.  Plus, it would be my first time dining there, too!

~

Although we had arrived at 2:15pm, Public was slam-packed!  "Who the hell eats brunch this late?"  I quipped, while anxiously looking around the space.  Luckily, we didn't have to wait very long to be seated.  "This place is awesome!"  Leila squealed, as we settled in to our seats.  She was right; going on looks alone, the restaurant certainly was awesome.  After all, the space is the brainchild of parent design/concept firm, AvroKO.  Think:  exposed-brick walls, garage-door floor-to-ceiling "windows," industrial lighting, copper and walnut-wood finishes, polished cement flooring, multiple dining rooms/nooks.

Photo: courtesy of Public's websiteWith a decent-sized brunch menu, it took Leila and me quite some time to figure out what we wanted to order.  For those of you that think I'm indecisive, you ain't seen NOTHIN' yet.  She takes the cake!  Ultimately, we decided to order individual courses, with the exception of splitting a plate of the Coconut Pancakes.

After a wild night on the town, we decided that it would be smart to begin our meal with something healthy - natural - and nutritious.  Surely, fruit salad would fit the bill.   

Tropical fruits - including mango and pineapple - plus red grapes and citrus segments, sat in a shallow bath of rosewater and their own sweet juices.  The dish was finished with a dollop of sweet tahini yogurt and a single sprig of mint. 

I found this salad delightful and refreshing, but probably would not order it again or recommend it as a "must try," unless you're on a diet.

Per our server's recommendation, I ordered the Turkish Eggs as my entree course.  Mounted atop a bowl of Greek yogurt and a pool of liquid kirmizi biber (a Turkish pepper) butter were two perfectly poached eggs.  Slices of crusty, grilled bread accompanied.

Honestly, the ingredients had me baffled and...nervous.  How were poached eggs - tangy Greek yogurt - and spicy butter supposed to marry?  Would this combination be the trinity of terror? 

I cut a slice of the bread in half and topped it with equal amounts of egg, yogurt, and butter.  My hand shook a bit as I trepidatiously guided it toward my mouth.  Crunch.  Chew.  Savor.  Wow!  The tang of the yogurt took a backseat to the mild, smoky spice from the butter.  The creamy yolks dissolved in to the other components "like buttah," allowing the firm egg whites to take a textural "center stage."  The grilled bread proved to be the perfect dipping accessory.  Bravo!

To balance out the savories (Leila ordered the Venison Burger for her entree), we split an order of the Coconut Pancakes.  A thin drizzle of ginger-lime syrup acted as a pseudo glue, anchoring two golden, buttery, grilled Coconut Pancakes.  A dollop of house-made ricotta, mango wedges, a lime quarter, and toasted coconut shreds topped the 'cakes.

I loved and appreciated that the pancakes, themselves, were laced with an ample amount of coconut nibs.  This created a dense and hearty bite/texture.  I was a bit perplexed by the addition of the ricotta cheese and felt that it did absolutely nothing for the dish.  I was hoping that there would have been more syrup - granted, I could have asked - as I found the 'cakes to be lacking that special sweetness and moisture that traditionally accompanies (pancakes).  In terms of coconut flavor and texture, however, the pancakes were spot-on.

To conclude:  having never been to Public prior to this meal (embarrassing, I know), I walked away very impressed and axious for a return visit.  The space, service, price and, most importantly, the food were all fantastic.  After 8-years, I very well could be the last girl in NYC to eat at Public!

P.S.  As we put on our jackets and grabbed our purses upon exiting, Leila exclaimed, "This is my favorite restaurant in NY!"  Progress.  I love it.

Big sister tested, lil' sister approved.  :)

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Jan242012

Lunch at Forcella

*NOTE: This restaurant's location has closed.*

  • Restaurant  Forcella Bowery
  • Cuisine  Pizza, Italian
  • Location  334 Bowery (between Bond & 3rd St.), Manhattan 
  • Phone  212-466-3300
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  casual elegance
  • Attire  casual
  • Ideal for  small to medium-sized groups, kid-friendly, foodies
  • Price  affordable

As much as I try to fight it, the truth is, I love anything fried.  So, you can imagine my excitement and fascination upon reading about the recent opening of Forcella Bowery, a pizzeria which specializes in, you guessed it, *fried* pies. 

On a recent sleepy and hungover Sunday, I rounded up two hungry girlfriends to accompany me to Forcella.  You know, the kind of Sunday where you need to wear sunglasses indoors because a) you're too tired to apply mascara, and b) everything is just too bright and it hurts to squint.  Needless to say, I had high hopes that some fried pizza would aid in my state of "hot mess."

I'm not sure what I had imagined the interior of Forcella to look like, but the actual space resembled nothing of your stereotypical pizzeria (red/white checkered tablecloths covered with crumbs - fake vased flowers - linoleum floor tiles).  Instead, think:  restored copper ceiling tiles + exposed brick walls/overhead piping, old and new school crystal chandeliers, bar and table/chair seating, and - the focal point - a tiled, massive wood-burning pizza oven.  

Picture it:  Sunday - 12:30pm - East Village/Lower East Side neighborhood.  Do you have a visual now?  There was not a soul in sight.  Not on the streets - not in the shops - not in Forcella.  The three of us girls must have had the entire restaurant to ourselves for a good 45-minutes/hour. 

After we were seated at our table of choice, we received menus and a much-needed round of waters.

With some guidance from our incredibly charming Italian waiter, we ordered the following items and split them 3-ways:

1pc Arancino, 1pc Crocchetta

Crocchetta (pictured on the left): smoked mozzarella cheese and perfectly-seasoned smashed potatoes were rolled in to the shape of a plump cigar and deep-fried. 

Arancino (pictured on the right)Arborio rice, cooked to a precise al-dente, was blended with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese before being hand-formed in to a tight, dill pickle-sized mound and deep-fried.  Of the two antipasti, this was my favorite.

Meatball (note:  I don't see this on the regular menu, so it may have been a special)

Seriously, have you ever seen anything sexier?  Come on!

This gorgeous, ample 'ball - although a tad overcooked - was delicious and unique, in that it contained pine nuts!  And, while the nuts created a bit of texture, we didn't find that they added anything/much in terms of flavor.  

Calzone

Smoked mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, plus salty soppressata (ham) were enveloped by pizza dough and folded in to the shape of an American football.  Baked with the perfect amount of charring from the wood-burning oven and finished with a smudge of tomato sauce, this calzone proved absolutely delightful. 

"Montanara" pizza

The "Montanara" pizza, pictured above, is what put Forcella on the map.  It's the reason that my friends and I made the long, hungover journey down south.  And, while I have no clue what the word "Montanara" means, all I was told (via blogs and websites) was that I had to order it.

Rolled-out pizza dough is flash fried, topped (our version consisted of handmade tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil leaves), and then baked in the wood-burning oven.  This is definitely the type of pizza slice that you should eat with a knife/fork, as it's not as sturdy as a non-fried pie.  And trust me on this one, folks, I'm a traditionalist who prefers to eat pizza with my hands.  Just as god intended.  Not with a pair of damn utensils!  But the Montanara is a true exception.  Your fabulous white blouse will thank you for it.

There is something so deliciously taboo about pillowy soft, fried dough (donuts, sopapillas, beignets, poori) - especially when it's combined with savory ingredients.  Every bite of this pie was robust (tomato sauce and basil), salty (mozzarella), buttery, and warm.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed my meal at Forcella, until a very odd young family sat down in front of us.  I won't go in to detail, but I'll just say that I grudgingly wasn't able to finish the last 1/4 of my Montanara slice.  Aside from that episode, the three of us found the food to be reasonably priced and portioned, flavorful and, quite possibly, the cure for a brutal hangover.

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

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