Archive for September, 2009

Eleven Madison Park

I decided to take Jenn out for an early birthday lunch, as she was visiting NYC. Ever since Frank Buni upgraded Eleven Madison Park to a four-star rating, I had been wanting to try it out. So, I made a reservation and there we were alongside businessmen and ladies who lunch.

The meal was flawless, as was the slightly-over-attentive service. Having not eaten at a four-star NYC restaurant, I don’t have any means of comparison, but Eleven Madison Park definitely felt like one.


Our meal began with two amuses: Gruyere puffs and a plate of salmon-stuffed cucumber and mayonnaise-dipped mini radishes. Gruyere is my favorite cheese, and the puffs were light, hot, and wonderful. They were small bites of perfection. Even the radishes, tiny as they were, were packed with flavor and had a pleasing bite to them.


Next came the bread, a choice of two types of mini baguettes: plain and olive. We each sampled both. I’m not a huge fan of olives, but I couldn’t stop eating the crunchy-crusted treasures.


For my first course I had the farro, which came in a light creamy broth with corn and chanterelles. I was formally introduced to farro, an ancestor of wheat, while interning at the Food Network and have been in love with it ever since. When cooked correctly, it has more of a bite to it than rice and this heartiness is exactly why I love it. Paired with the mushrooms and corn, this dish managed to elevate the somewhat pedestrian grain to a haute level. The creaminess around it was delicious, and I found myself wishing it was socially acceptable to lick your plate.


Jenn started with the octopus salad, which was mostly salad greens with some well-placed morsels of the grilled cephalopods. I had a bite of the octopus and it was tender on the inside, lightly-charred on the outside, as good as it gets.


Moving on the main courses, Jenn’s pork dish arrived, plated like a true work of art.  There were two pieces of pork, one larger chunk and the other what we came to call a “pork cake,” which Jenn was gushing about as she ate it.


I went with the bouillabaisse, which came with red snapper, mussels, and squid in a delicate tomato-based soup. The potatoes alone, cooked to perfection, were enough to win me over. Needless to say, the seafood was also excellently prepared, and delicious.


We shared two desserts, the linzer torte and a blueberry tart. I hadn’t been to a restaurant with a dessert cart since the churrascarias of Brazil, which are not necessarily bastions of high-end cuisine. But, our server managed to make even a dessert cart, with its vanilla cream that he so artfully smeared onto both plates, synch with the vibe of Eleven Madison. Both desserts were good, well-executed, but not the highlights of the meal.


Before the check came a plate of colorful petit macarons, all different flavors. We were stuffed, but tried of few bites. My favorite was the passion fruit (yellow).


Four star dining is easy to love. Being doted on by more wait staff than there are people at your table is a nice treat, though I’m not one who allows service to make or break a dining experience. For me it is all about the food, and Eleven Madison Park lived up to its reputation and then some. I hope to some day return for dinner, I’m sure it’s an even more elaborate affair. Until then, I can sit and daydream about Gruyere puffs, mini baguettes, and some of the best sauces I’ve had on food, perhaps ever.

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon
Eleven Madison Park in New York


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Sushi Seki


The first time I ate at Sushi Seki in midtown, I had just moved back to NYC after a year in Hong Kong. It was my first time living on my own in NYC and I was gushing with excitement to try anything and everything the city I was born and raised in had to offer. I loved Seki from the moment I walked in. I hadn’t been back since.


The sous chef at Savoy raves about Seki, another reason why I wanted to go back and give it another try. I went with my friend Irene, and we opted to play it simple with a few rolls each and split some sesame spinach to start (goma ae, to those of you for whom that means something).


The place feels like a corner mom and pop restaurant in Tokyo. Sometimes that is exactly what I crave, and on the night I went it left me feeling full and happy.


The sushi was solid, not the best I’ve had in NYC, but certainly on the better end of the spectrum. I don’t think that I am fully equipped to comment on the sushi, as I think to give it a fair shot you have to sit at the counter and order the omakase, allowing the chefs to pamper you with that day’s freshest offerings. That said, a few rolls of sushi with a side of miso soup was enough to transport me back to Japan for an hour or so, and in some ways, that is the highest compliment I can offer.

Sushi Seki on Urbanspoon
Sushi Seki in New York

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For one of our last dinners in Vermont we went to Mary’s Restaurant at the Inn at Baldwin Creek. Mary’s menu uses ingredients sourced from small local farms as well as their own garden. They serve dinner from Wednesday to Saturday, and Sunday breakfast. Mary’s Chef, Doug Mack, was a founder and first president of the Fresh Network, an organization that encourages farmers and chefs to form partnerships. Needless to say, I was excited for the meal.


Once seated, we were presented with some crackers and white bean olive oil spread. Both were delish.


This was followed by Mary’s rustic, home baked bread. I could have made this bread my entire meal. It was delightfully crisp on the outside, warm and soft on the inside. Slathered with butter, it was a slice (or several) of heaven.


To start, I had the summer salad: watermelon, feta and pine nuts over fresh-picked garden greens, drizzled with honey-herb vinaigrette. I wanted more watermelon in my salad, but enjoyed the fact that it came in tasty little globes, reminding me of my childhood when I used to make fruit salad with my mother’s melon baller.


Dave’s dad ordered the beef speidini: olive oil and herb marinated beef and bread skewers paired with rosemary skewered cherry tomatoes. I’m not a fan of things skewered on rosemary, but the dish was beautifully presented and my father-in-law seemed happy with the meat.


Dave and my mom both went with the cream of garlic soup, voted “best soup in Vermont,” by Vermont Magazine. I didn’t have any, but the consensus was that it was good but heavy. It was a bit too creamy for my mother, but right up Dave’s alley, though he couldn’t finish it, a rarity.


Moving on the entrees. My mother and my mother-in-law had the sea scallops: grilled scallops and grilled red onion-tomato relish with lemon-garlic vinaigrette; sided with couscous salad. I found the presentation of the entrees to be quite artful, as evidenced by the scallops. The portions were also quite generous.


Dave and his dad both had the flank steak: Boyden Farm flank grilled and sliced; served on mashed potatoes with pepper-onion relish and bruleed Jasper Hill blue cheese. Dave described the meat as tender and the vegetables as flavorful. The blue cheese, which comes in a large chunk that is falling apart thanks to the brulee, paired excellently with the meat.


I went with beet gnocchi: tossed with chopped beets, crispy sage and walnuts; sage brown butter. I was a bit disappointed. First off, I found it too oily. Second, the gnocchi itself lacked flavor, though I did enjoy the pieces of roasted beet that came mixed in.


Dessert didn’t have many takers, we were all quite full. Dave’s dad ordered the crepe with strawberry and chocolate sauce. Somehow I think that orange was involved too, maybe in the crepe.


Dave went for the peach shortcake with fresh whipped cream. Again, I was a bit disappointed. The shortcake lacked flavor and was way to spongy to be called a shortcake. The peaches were stunning in their own right, but weren’t enough to redeem the dessert in my opinion.

All said, the ingredients are the star at Mary’s. Set in the corner room of a cozy inn, it’s the perfect spot for a nice quiet dinner with family. You can even take a stroll in the garden before dinner and see where some of you meal comes from. It was worth the 35-minute drive from Waitsfield.

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Dave’s parents came up for our last few days in Vermont. The six of us went to a Waitsfield institution, American Flatbread. I had been once before last ski season and was excited for more fresh-out-of-the-wood-fired-clay-oven creations. The lines at Flatbread are notorious (they don’t take reservations), but as long as you show up early you should be seated without much delay. I’ve never had to wait more than five minutes for a table, but now that I just wrote that, I’ve probably jinxed it.


The oven is the centerpiece of the restaurant with all the tables around it in a semi-circle. Their hours vary based on the season, and they are only open for dinner. During the afternoon, they make the flatbreads that are frozen and sold all over the country (here’s a list of where to find them). What many people don’t know, is that while they are not formally open for lunch, if you arrive during production and are willing to eat whichever kind they happen to be baking, they will sell you one. My parents did this one afternoon and sat outside on the picnic tables. Just bring your own drinks as they will only sell you the flatbread.


The six of us decided to share three flatbreads. We went with the two special flatbreads of the day, and one oldie but goodie. First to arrive to the table: Haley’s beef and pork meatballs, our own cauldron tomato sauce, Maple Brook Farm‘s fresh mozzarella, spinach from Vermont Herb and Salad Company.


Next came: Roasted tomatillo salsa, Elmer Farm‘s black beans, Hartshorn sweet corn, poblano peppers, queso fresco, and cilantro gremolata. This flatbread is the best one I’ve had, to date. It made me realize that coming in the summer is better as so much more is in season. The corn and peppers were delicious, and the beans added a surprisingly good touch. I want to try to recreate this at home someday.

We also ordered a Revolution: tomato sauce, caramelized onions, domestic mushrooms, blend of fine cheeses and herbs. I thought this was the weakest one we ordered, but in no way bad. It was a little too doughy. I didn’t taste the sausage one myself, but Dave and my dad were raving about it.


I don’t think that they put that much energy into their desserts, and why should they. They feature Ben & Jerry’s ice cream as well as brownies and pie. That night’s pie was peach blueberry, we ordered two slices for the table. I only had a small bite, as I was stuffed with bread, but I wasn’t that impressed.

At American Flatbread, dessert doesn’t matter. By the end of dinner you should be stuffed with delicious, cheesy goodness topped with local, seasonal, delicacies. I dream about them.

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I didn’t realize this, but a few Google searches later, it seems that the search for the best maple doughnut in Vermont is akin to that for the best bagel in NYC. I can now officially contribute to the discourse and say that I have found it, at the Big Picture Theater and Cafe in Waitsfield. The doughnuts are made by the Very Small Donut Company, which used have its own storefront that closed. Each doughnut is three to four (two if you’re Dave) bites of pure pleasure. The fact that they are small makes for the ideal ratio of crisp exterior to soft interior, and the maple glaze is indescribably good. You can easily eat three in one sitting. They are dangerous. Dave and I brought home a few for everyone. The next day, we upgraded to the box of a dozen.


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Lobster for five


During the summer, Timbers restaurant (at Sugarbush resort) hosts a lobster dinner on Wednesdays and Thursdays. For $25, you get a 1 1/4 pound lobster, steamed mussels, red bliss potatoes, and summer corn. And it all comes in a bucket. Compared to NYC prices, this is a steal.


One of my parents friends, Bobbie, was up visiting, so the five of us decided to check it out. You do have the option of ordering off the regular menu, but we all went for the lobster. Something about the combination of a tin bucket spilling over with strands of kelp and clean white tablecloths is funny.


Add to that some plastic bibs and you’ve got yourself a really good time. I’m always ready to eat with my hands. I think food tastes better without the middle man of silverware.


My dinner: this plate plus a bunch more mussels from the bottom of the bucket, and one more potato. The lobster was clearly cooked in very salty water. This made it so that you didn’t even need to use the butter, it was so flavorful on its own.


The end. Five very satisfied customers, lots of empty shells.

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We had to drive back to NYC for one night so that I could work at the restaurant. On our way home, we stopped by the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Store in Norwich, Vermont. The Norwich campus houses both the store, their flagship, and the education center where they offer a wide array of baking classes. Several friends have taken classes there and they all rave about them. Someday I want to take one too. Above you can see all the flour I bought while there. I made a tasty fruit tart with the almond flour and the rest is in my freezer waiting for me.

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