Savory Morsels

The Culinary Adventures of a California Girl

Sunday, February 18, 2007

***February 18, 2007: Town***

At the Chambers Hotel
15 West 56th Street
New York, NY 10019
Although I was not sure that I had any more room in my stomach after two amazing nights of eating, I still could not pass up the opportunity to have a leisurely Sunday brunch. We decided to check out Town’s brunch since we were in the area and the menu looked pretty good. There was some confusion with finding a hostess and a table, but as soon as we were seated the waiter and servers were very accommodating. My friend had the artichoke and mushroom omelet and I had the scrambled egg and goat cheese brushetta with poached eggs instead. I definitely ordered well. My eggs were cooked almost perfectly (perhaps the whites were a little too runny on the inside, but they were completely free of any vinegar flavor) and presented beautifully on a plate drizzled with pesto with toppings of creamy goat cheese and tomato. It was the perfect light but filling brunch. My dinner companion, on the other hand, did not enjoy her omelet. She commented that the vegetables did not taste fresh and her omelet looked oddly smooth and uniform in color. After seeing her dish, I agreed that I was lucky with my order, and (especially in a city like New York) Town is probably not worth a return trip.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

***February 17, 2007: Babbo***

Babbo Ristorante
110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011
Every once in a while I have a meal, or take a cooking class, or visit a farmers’ market that reminds me of why I am so obsessed with food. Babbo was one of those experiences. I knew I was going to like Babbo from the second I walked in the door. We were a few minutes early, so we ordered champagne at the bar, and waited for our table to be ready. The atmosphere was lively, the music was loud, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. When we were lead to our table upstairs, my dining companion was at first disappointed to be leaving the party. However, as soon as we were seated and debating over menu items, we agreed that we were happy to be somewhere a little quieter where we could easily hear each other and really focus on the food. I would definitely recommend arriving early though – just so you get to experience the downstairs scene.
Our waiter and the sommelier were both extremely friendly and helped us to choose a spectacular menu and a Sicilian wine that would not leave us overly stuffed or completely broke. We started with the Babbo Salumi and the Grilled Octopus. The Salumi was a nice light starter and was far more interesting and flavorful than I ever imagined a plate of chacutrie could be. My favorite was the tongue which (despite being a less common cut) did not have a weird texture or taste in the slightest. However, the Grilled Octopus easily stole the show. The octopus was, in my opinion, the best savory dish of the night. It was perfectly grilled, and lightly dressed in a zesty, spicy Limoncello sauce. I could eat this salad every day for lunch and it would probably take me years to get tired of it.
The antipasti were followed by the infamous pastas. I loved that they split the pastas onto separate plates to make sharing them easier and so we enjoy the pastas one at a time. First we had the Black Spaghetti with Shrimp and Chorizo. My dinner companion thought that this pasta was the best course of the night. I was surprised that the chorizo was crumbled instead of sliced like I was expecting, but I loved the spicy, full flavors and the incredibly juicy shrimp. Even though I loved the spaghetti, I did not finish a substantial amount of my portion because I was trying to save room. The extremely perceptive wait staff must have noticed the left over pasta and communicated it to the kitchen, because for our next course I was given a smaller portion than my dinner companion. Coming from the perspective of someone who has worked in a busy kitchen, I was extremely impressed by their perceptiveness and coordination. The ravioli were well sized and not over-filled with the slow cooked beef cheek or over-powered by the liver in the sauce.

We finished out the savory part of our meal with two secondi – the Duck and the Brasato al Barolo. The slices of duck breast were very moist, well seasoned, cooked to exactly medium rare, and served with an amazing side of greens. Since my dinner companion is not a fan of braised meat, I probably should not have ordered the Brasato al Barolo. However, the selfish side of me had to try it and was so happy I did. The top of the cut was slightly fatty but the middle had that wonderful braised texture and tasted amazing when combined with the freshly grated horseradish (the best addition!). The thin coating of polenta on the bottom of the plate also added an indulgent bit of creaminess to the dish that pulled it all together.
Although our dinner had been nothing short of amazing, our desserts refused to pale in comparison. We had the signature Saffron Panna Cotta which was light and refreshing and well paired with slices of citrus fruit. Although I am a panna cotta devote, it was the Maple Custard with Bombinios that was out of sight. I usually do not like custard because the full fat milk leaves a film on the roof of my mouth and I often find that maple desserts are overly sweet. This maple custard did not have either of those downfalls, and I was quite annoyed that I had to share it! Of course the warm, beniet like bombinos helped to make the dish that much more heavenly. Our meal ended on the perfect note with coffee and lovely tray of petit fours that disappeared in a flash. I left Babbo happy, excited, eager to return, and feeling much better than I had in a long, long time.

***February 17, 2007: 71 Irving***

71 Irving Place
71 Irving Pl
New York, NY 10003
Part of my New York routine is to spend a morning in Union Square browsing the Greenmarket and eating at 71 Irving Place. I was happy to see that even in February there were quite a few produce stalls at the market in addition to cheese and jam. Since I didn’t have a kitchen to cook in, I forced myself to just look at the beautiful root vegetables. I only bought a cup of hot cider (not too sweet, with a few pieces of floating apples) before heading the couple blocks to 71 Irving.
71 Irving was packed and lively as always. I love the café’s modern yet classic décor (just what a New York café should look like!). I was trying to save calories for my trip to Babbo that night, so I somehow resisted the amazing fruit topped waffles and Balthazar pastries. Instead I had tea, a bowl of mixed berries, and a Greek yogurt that I added honey and cinnamon too. I finally got a table after about 10 minutes and sat down to enjoy my breakfast. It’s obvious why there are never any free tables – if I didn’t have a schedule to keep I would have stayed there all day!

Friday, February 16, 2007

***February 16, 2007: Nobu 57***

Nobu 57
40 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
I was quite surprised at Nobu 57’s casual vibe. There is no question that it was busy from the time we arrived at 9:15 until we left at 11:30, but it was not the glitzy, mad house I was expecting. Kind of a nice relief after a long day of traveling! We started off our evening with a Piña Martini and a Bitter Mango cocktail. Both drinks tasted dangerously alcohol free, and we decided that it would be safer to stick to sake for the rest of the night! Ordering was easy (I had already decided ahead of time), and for the most part we loved every dish we had.
Each dish came one at a time, and the entire meal was very well paced. If anything it was slightly fast for me, but if we had taken a longer break between courses I might have had time to realize how full I was! We started with the Toro Tartar with Caviar, followed by the Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeño, the Fluke Sashimi with Dried Miso, and finally the Tuna Sashimi Salad. Every one of the four cold dishes was fresh, brightly flavored, and tasty. The toro tartar is so finely minced that it almost tastes pureed, but just made it seem even more indulgent and rich. On the other hand, the tuna sashimi salad was much less delicate than I was expecting and definitely the largest of our cold dishes. In my opinion, the standout was the simple fluke sashimi (perhaps because it was the only item I had never had elsewhere).
Next we moved on to the hot dishes, which were equally delicious although harder to enjoy as I got more and more full. Our first hot dish, the Rock Shrimp Tempura Salad with Ponzu Sauce, was my favorite course of the entire night.
I am not usually a fan of fried foods, but the shrimp was so crisp on the outside, wonderfully moist inside, and perfectly paired with the light salad and zingy ponzu sauce. Next was the only disappointment of the night – the Creamy Spicy Crab. I had read a number of raving reviews about the crab, and I was quite surprised to discover that the crab came absolutely drenched in an overly salty and not very spicy sauce. We finished on a better note with a beautiful display of a variety of mushrooms served sizzling in an iron pot and, of course, the buttery and delicious Black Cod with Miso (better than Koi’s in my opinion).
Somehow I always manage to save room for dessert, and tonight was no exception. I expected that a sushi restaurant would not pay much attention to dessert, but I was very impressed with what we ordered. The favorite dessert was heavily debated at our table. I was madly in love with the Milk Chocolate Yuzu cake (a small red cake composed of milk chocolate, hazelnut, and layers of praline with a scoop of ice cream on the side), but my dinner companion relentlessly voted for the Banana Caramel Soy Toban Yaki (caramelized bananas tossed with chopped pecans and toped with ice cream). Not to be left out, the Kama Meshi 57 (Vanilla rice pudding) was also quite good and the Catalan Ice Cream that was served on top was by far the best of ice creams. Overall we finished dinner extremely full, but also extremely pleased. I am eager to try more Nobu restaurants and see how they all compare! Too bad San Francisco does not have one yet!