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Archive for the ‘dinner out’ Category

Sushi Seki

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Lobster for five

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Rouge Tomate

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Clare and I took advantage of the fact that restaurant week was extended and went to Rouge Tomate. I had heard good things about the farm to table restaurant when Kristen, a friend of ours from culinary school, did a stage there. Rouge Tomate cooks its food according to the principles of S.P.E. which revolves around the elements of sourcing (local, seasonal), preparation (in a way that preserves the nutritional integrity of the food), and enhancement (added nutritional value through menu diversity).

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I will admit right now that my photos of this dinner didn’t come out that well. Clare started with a gazpacho that I’m not posting a photo of because it was blurry. Clare said that it was too salty. I had a panzanella with nectarines. The bread was not crisp enough for me, but that’s probably because they don’t deep fry at Rouge Tomate.

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For her entree, Clare had the steak. I wish I had more information, but the restaurant week menu is no longer up and I don’t remember exactly what was in the dish. Clare seemed pleased with it.

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I went with the gnocchi with summer vegetables. The vegetable were ever-so-lightly cooked which preserved the crispness to the beans and peas. The broth, also very light, was well done, but the gnocchi itself was too mushy.

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For dessert, Clare had the vanilla bean milkshake with figs, served with a fig bar. A solid choice. I tasted some of the shake and it was cold and not too sweet. At the bottom of the glass were fresh figs which were delicious. The fig bar was also good, though I’ve never met a fig bar I didn’t like.

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I had the plum cake which came with fresh plums and plum sorbet. This was my favorite course of the night. The sweetness of the ripe fruits was enough to make the dessert.

We left the restaurant satisfied but not stuffed. I think that there are some things (like fried bread), that just can’t be replicated in a healthful way. Others however (the desserts especially) can and are wonderful. Rouge Tomate is a great place to go if you want food that is beautiful and fancy, but you don’t want to feel like you’ve spoiled your health in the process.

Rouge Tomate on Urbanspoon
Rouge Tomate in New York

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Our last night in California, we went with Jason to Katsuya in Hollywood. It seems like every time I read People or US Weekly there is at least one mention of someone dining at Katsuya. We didn’t see any celebrities, but we did have a fantastic meal.

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Our server informed us that menu items are meant to be shared, so we ordered some appetizers for the table and each ordered our own sushi. The boys also split a Hitachino white ale, a Japanese microbrew I had never heard of, or ever seen in Japan.

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We shared three starters:

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Agedashi tofu (fried tofu pieces served in a dashi-based broth). This is one of my go-to appetizers, and a good test of any Japanese restaurant. It was also the weakest dish of the night. The tofu is usually rectangular and soft, with a light, crisp exterior. In this case, perhaps because they were manipulated into balls, the tofu was too dense, and the exterior was too heavy handed, not at all light.

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Creamy rock shrimp. This reminded me of a similar dish that I once had at Morimoto. A bit too fusion-y for me to love it, but they were tasty little suckers. The combination of creamy sauce on fried anything is tough to beat.

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Vegetable tempura. Simply delicious.

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For his entree, Dave ordered three rolls: eel avocado, blue crab, and yellowtail.

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Jason and I both had the sushi sampler. I thought the sushi was well executed (good rice and seaweed are key) and it definitely hit the spot. When we lived in São Paulo we had sushi all the time, it’s one the things I miss most about living in Brazil.

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(The dessert menu)

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We made the mistake of ordering the dessert special to share. Our server described it as a baked Alaska but with a lemon tart and raspberry sorbet under the bruleed meringue. While beautifully presented, it was way too sweet. The meringue was too soft as well (it could have been whipped a bit more).

Aside from the dessert disaster, I was very happy with my meal. I would definitely go back if I’m in LA again. Maybe next time we’ll see someone famous.

Katsuya on Urbanspoon
Katsuya in Los Angeles

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Passionfish

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One of the restaurant recommendations that we got from the host and sommelier at Manresa was for Passionfish in Pacific Grove, just outside Monterey. We went for our last dinner with Christina and Rich, who had come with us to Monterey. The restaurant gets glowing reviews on the web, and its own site had me salivating. I also loved the fact that its chef, Ted Walter, helped launch the sustainable seafood movement in Monterey. Passionfish’s dishes highlight sustainable animal ingredients and organic produce.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, or maybe it was because we had eaten at Manresa the night before, but I wasn’t that impressed. The food, mostly seafood, was good, just nothing spectacular, especially for the price. Dessert was my favorite course.

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I pulled my usual two appetizer meal, the first of which was Dungeness crab cake/lime relish. The cake was nice and crispy, and the sauce had a nice flavor. For the price of the appetizer, however, I could have made a delicious crab cake dinner for two.

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Dave was the winner with fried Fanny Bay oysters/citrus-soy dressed arugula. I don’t care for raw oysters, but when they are cooked I find them delightful. Paired with the salad, this appetizer was spot on.

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My second appetizer was Monterey squid/spicy cilantro-citrus sauce/mango. The best part of this dish was the sauce. The squid was average and the vegetables and fruits were somewhat roughly chopped, not what I would expect from a restaurant of this caliber.

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Dave’s entree was mahi/black pepper-rum sauce/cucumber salad/green onion rice. This was also a winner. The fish was perfectly cooked, and the sauce was flavorful but not too heavy.

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As I mentioned before, the best part of dinner was dessert. We all shared the mud pie, made with mint and coffee ice cream and topped with candied walnuts. I don’t know how any one person could finish this dish, but split four ways it was perfect.

Perhaps I was a little too harsh on Passionfish. As we all know, you can’t judge a restaurant definitively by one experience. If you like seafood and you find yourself in the Monterey area, perhaps you can give it a second chance for me.

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