Friday, January 30, 2009

The Dessert Truck's All Smiley

Mmm, Apples and Whip Cream
I'd be all happy too if I could go on vacation for a month. Not that they were kicking back on a tropical island; they probably did important Dessert Truck work like have dessert experiments, and find good corners for me to walk to so I could eat their desserts. And stuff.

The New Spot
This week the Dessert Truck ended their winter break, and showed some love to east Midtown by parking on 55th Street and Lexington Avenue. I didn't get a chance to eat any of their desserts prior to the holidays so a few menu items might be new to me, but old to everyone else. The items in question are "Warm Slow Baked Apples" and "Passion Fruit Ganache Macaroons." I also noticed that what I believe are the Bomboloni have now been transformed into "Warm Brioche Doughnuts." To break my Dessert Truck fast, I went with the slow baked apples; apple chunks smothered in a cinnamony syrup with dried cranberries and a little crumble, topped with real whip cream. It is delicious, the puff pastry is buttery and flaky, it's the perfect thing to stave off an apple pie craving.

Dessert Truck
Check the website for the current location

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Restaurant Week Winter '09: Take Three, Convivio

Have you ever had such a wonderful experience that you needed to immediately tell every one you know about it? Well that's why I'm doing the reviews out of order. Of our first two RW meals, one course was always off. Then I had Convivio's lunch and it was kick-ass.

Olive Bread and Oil
Convivio, the former L'Impero, is located out of the way, in the heart of park-y Tudor City, a very quiet and fancy neighborhood for you out-of-towners. During the summer of 2008, L'Impero closed, went through minor restorations, apparently humbled itself (I never ate at L'Impero so I can't judge between the two,) and reopened as Convivio. Almost immediately the reviews starting pouring in, but it wasn't a declared winner until the Bruni graced it with three stars. Ever since then, Spam and I have wanted to eat Micheal White's Italian creations. Yet, I was still surprised when Spam called me Tuesday saying "2:15 tomorrow, we're going to Convivio for a high speed power lunch." Okay, yeah, well, okay.

Salsiccia d'Anatra (sorry for the blur; I was hungry)
The only review I saw regarding their RW performance was this Chowhound thread. Duck sausage? Duck sausage! For the first course, I went for the housemade duck sausage with braised green lentils and vin cotto (Salsiccia d'Anatra). Everything was perfect, the sausage was flavorful and well-spiced, but not gamey or too greasy. The lentils were soft, but not over-cooked, and the vin cotto gave a little sweet vinegar kick at the end.

Spam got the Sfizi. She finished most of her course while I was being mesmerized by my duck sausage, but I did manage to snag some mushrooms which set me to fresh, earthy, umami heaven. I guess they're growing mushrooms in Tudor City now because there's no other explanation for how these could taste so delicious.

For our main courses, Spam chose the Orecchiette, another winner. Perfectly cooked pasta and broccoli rabe, neither overpowered by the tomato sugo or fonduta. The seasoning was excellent, it wasn't too salty which could easily ruin a dish for me.

Brasato di Maiale
As for my main course, I wisely chose the Brasato di Maiale. Yes, you're reading that right, tomato-braised pork shoulder. Perfectly seasoned, tender, moist pork shoulder. If I raised a pig in my backyard, knew everything that ever entered her mouth, and then honored her death by eating her, this is how I would hope it tastes. Would I dare say that if this pork was in a sandwich, it would be the best in Midtown? Why yes, I would dare say that. All resting on the silkiest polenta Spam or I had ever had. The polenta was spiked with cheese, making it all the more delicious. Everything on my plate was just perfect.

Cannoli alla Siciliana
For dessert, we didn't take the "you get one, I'll get the other" route since both of us wanted the ricotta cannoli. Yes, a crispy cannoli filled with creamy buffalo ricotta, next to perfect milk chocolate gelato. Just enough of each to leave you wanting one more bite, just a little more chocolate drizzle.

At the end of our rushed meal, both of us were satiated and happy. With each dish, everything complemented each other, not one component stuck out like a sore thumb. We also didn't leave sluggish or too full to return to work. As for the crowd and interior, We were mostly surrounded by an older crowd and lunchers who could linger, yet that didn't deter from the experience. The decor is soothing and bright, I noticed the whites and silvers more than the reds. The service was friendly and seemed to understand that we were supposed to be at our desks. Convivio is doing what should be done: putting their best foot forward for Restaurant Week, giving high-quality food so that maybe we'll enjoy our experience and come back for dinner. And it worked. I'll be back with Brownie sooner rather than later.

45 Tudor City Place
(212) 599-5045

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

BREAKING: Itzy Bitzy's Macaron Delivery Schedule Confirmed!!

As you all are aware, I'm utterly addicted to Mitzy Budiono's macarons from Itzy Bitzy Patisserie, but one aspect of the macarons at Tafu was bothering me. What was the delivery schedule?! There were conflicting reports so I needed to go to the source herself, Mitzy.

Box of Macarons
Minutes after openly asking here in Midtown Lunch comments, I manned up and emailed Mitzy about my confusion (and love of her macarons.) She set me straight:

"Regarding the delivery, most of the time is early Monday morning before they open. In addition to that, when the stock is running low Tafu will let me know and I will deliver it the following day. Tafu is the one who decides which flavors and how much they want to carry in their store, so I can only suggest and try to work something out in order for them to carry all my monthly flavors and in enough quantity." - Mitzy

So there you go guys and gals, Monday morning is the time to go.

Tafu New York
569 Lexington Avenue (on the side of the Doubletree Hotel)
(212) 980-1310

P.S. I'm beginning to suspect that a macaron black market is forming. If anyone has a Hojicha, I am willing to pay top-dollar and/or in Snickerdoodles. Your anonymity will be respected. -Blondie

Restaurant Week Winter '09: Take One, db Bistro Moderne

Alsatian Tarte Flambe

This year, Brownie and I weren't going to miss out on Restaurant Week. We didn't care about getting yelled at for taking photos. We would be more critical of our service and food. And above all, we would make it count! Our first pick was lunch at db Bistro Moderne.

Upon entering, we were prepared for an upscale modern dining room with a hostess stand miles away from the front door. What we weren't prepared for was the pushy water service. We weren't seated for long before the bus boy came over and asked: "Water? Sparkling, still...mumble, mumble...iced?" "um, regular still?" The waiter then returns with a liter of Fiji water. "Uh, no, I think there's misunderstanding. We just want tap, please." Seriously, give us a break. And Fiji water? No thanks. Apparently you need to ask for "iced water" or "regular tap" water to avoid the $8.50 liter of bottled water.

The appetizers available are Pot au Feu (beef broth, root vegetables, and horseradish,) Beet Salad (watercress, baguette croutons walnuts and shallo vinaigrette,) and Olivier's Alsatian Tarte Flambee (fromage blanc, bacon, and onions.) Hmm, soup, salad, or cheese and bacon? No-brainer, cheese and bacon for both of us. I found this to be a creamy and fresh with little hints of the bacon, but it was all a little too salty for me.

DB Tarte Flambe

The main entrees offered are Winter Squash Risotto (butternut squash, arugula, and toasted pumpkin seed,) Matelotte de Poisson (salmon, shrimp, scallops, monkfish, and Riesling veloute,) and Poulet Grand-Mere (roasted potatoes, onions, bacon, and baby spinach). I chose the risotto while Brownie went with the poisson.

I loved my dish, the risotto was perfectly cooked and not too sweet from the squash. The roasted seeds added a nice crunch, and helped change up the texture a bit while eating. It also tasted very green as in fresh and something I would expect to eat during spring, not winter.

DB Risotto

Brownie wasn't as pleased with her meal. Overall the dish sounded fantastic in concept. And Brownie was especially excited for the spaetzle--it isn't something you often find on the menu. Unfortunately the salmon was very fishy and not particularly good. She expected more from one of Daniel Boulud's restaurants.

Matelotte de Poisson

Both of the entrees were extremely creamy and heavy. It's great if you want something filling and can take a nap later, but if you have to head back to work, be prepared to be a bit sluggish (I can only imagine what happens after the foie gras burger.)

The two desserts are Coconut Panna Cotta with Carmelized Pineapple and a light citrus sorbet, and Chocolate Trio (tart, semifredo, and sorbet.)

Brownie's got the Panna Cotta, while I dug into the chocolate. Hers was tropical, but not really memorable. She was also feeling the effects of the heavy meal.

DB Panna Cotta

On the other hand, mine was chocolate-y and delicious; it's made with quality chocolate so it's not too sweet. On top of the semifedo is some chocolate nibs so you get an unexpected crunch when eating some of the semifredo with the sorbet. My only problem was the chocolate wafer was a little burnt so I couldn't eat it too.

DB Chocolate Dessert

All in all, I'm not sure if db Bistro Moderne's menu is usually this heavy or if that's just the RW selection, but I would return for a regular meal there (let's be serious, I want to have the foie gras burger at some point.) Besides the water snafu, the service was never pushy, snobby, or overly attentive; everyone was kind of neutral, making sure they made it through a busy lunch service in one piece. I thought the interior is nice, though I didn't like the napkins (too stiff). Not bad for a RW experience.

DB Bistro Moderne
55 W. 44th Street
New York, NY 10036

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Can I Get Some Dan Dan?

Dan Dan Noodles

I am having a not so secret love affair with Dan. Dan Dan Noodles that is. I was first introduced to this wonderfully spicy dish by Lawman at Spicy Tasty in Flushing. It’s been hard to find Dan Dans that match the glory of those at Spicy Tasty, but from all the post Bruni fuss, not to mention pre-Bruni Midtown Lunch buzz I’ve been hearing about Szechuan Gourmet in midtown, I figured it might be worth checking out their Dan Dan offering...

When I arrived at Szechuan Gourmet a lunchtime a couple Fridays ago there was already a 20 minute wait for a table. Yipes. While I would have loved to have stayed and had a leisurely eat in lunch, I just don’t have that kind of time, so I opted for takeout and within about 10 minutes my Dan Dan Noodles were ready to go.

Back at my desk when I pulled them out of the bag I was surprised to see that they were

Wow that's a lot of oil!

The spicy pork topping was excellent and plentiful. Definitely of a good quality and it was nice that they didn’t skimp on the pork. I wonder how different this pork is from the pork they use in their Ma Po Tofu.

Szechuan Gourmet Dan Dan

But back to the soupy-ness. I have a pretty high tolerance for greasy food but dang...I was blotting my noodles. Big time blotting action. Dan Dan buffs: Am I wrong in thinking one should not have to blot their noodles?

Oil Leftovers

I’ve been known to get an order of Dan Dan Noodles for my entrée at Grand Sichuan on Canal Street (that's where the Dan Dans in the first photo are from), but with this version I can see why you’d have it as an appetizer; you have to work hard to finish a whole order. If you have the stomach for it, these Dan Dans are a good value at $4.50. As for me, the Dan Dan hunt continues.

Can anyone recommend any other good Dan Dans in the city? I've tried the noodles at Spicy Tasty, Grand Sichuan, and Famous Sichuan.

Szechuan Gourmet
21 W 39th Street
New York, NY 10018
(212) 921-0233
Between 5th & 6th Ave

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kong Hei Fat Choi! Macaroni and Cheese Dumplings!

Inside Mac & Cheese Dumplings
This weekend, I wanted dumplings, but then I also wanted macaroni and cheese. Oh, macaroni and cheese dumplings! Brilliant! Yes, it was done at the 'sMACdown, but that's because geniuses think alike.

So Cheesy, So Delicious
Granted my mac and cheese dumplings weren't as well thought out as Mike Betit's; he included fresh ginger, scallions, and garlic, where mine just included gruyère, Blarney cheese, and some Vermont cheddar. Those three cheeses blended very well together, giving me some cheesy deliciousness.

East Meets West
Due to the holiday, my local Chinese market was chaotic and had slim pickings when it came to wrappers. I was able to procure some square won ton ones, as well as round gyozas. I have had some experience with filling and wrapping, even though it was with raviolis and pierogies, not dumplings.

I Need an Asian Grandma
My sealing style left much to be desired. Next time I'm in Flushing, I need to pay more attention to the kitchen action.

Fried Mac & Cheese Dumplings
And then I didn't even steam them! I know, how could I, but understand that I was starving and getting very impatient. My seals were very weak, so I was a bit apprehensive about them as well. In the end, they were excellent; a little crunch from the frying while warm and cheesy on the inside. This is definitely something I want to eat again.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Morning Cartoons: Call Me Count Because I Love to Count Things

I work in a numbers department and spend 99% of my day surrounding by numbers: reciting them, counting them, doing linear equations with them, etc. etc. I often feel like the Count. And why do I do this all day? So maybe, just maybe, one day I can be like this:


Friday, January 23, 2009

File Under "You Need This in Your Life....NOW"

S'more sundae from Milk Bar
Wednesday night after a little happy hour gathering with the Serious Eats gang we found ourselves in the East Village in search of sustenance. And somehow we found ourselves at Momofuku Milk Bar. Fancy that. Seemed like as good a time as any to try their new graham cracker soft serve...

Man, oh man. Graham cracker soft serve. Where have you been all my life? That perfect combination of sweet and salty. And what could make Graham Cracker soft serve even better? Um, how about charred marshmallows and hot fudge? I noticed that they had both options in their toppings bar and visions of a s'more sundae danced in my head. A little cup of charred marshmallow will run you 50 cents and a more than ample shot of hot fudge will set you back $1. All together my make my own sundae cost $5.50 plus tax. Not terrible and since they give you the toppings on the side you control the ratio. There was plenty of hot fudge left over, definitely enough that you could split one side of hot fudge for a couple people's cups of soft serve if you happen to go with a group.

Graham cracker soft serve, I salute you!

Momofuku Bakery and Milk Bar
207 Second Avenue
(212) 254-3500

Using The Term "Food" Loosely

Death Note

Walgreens Times Square, 6:00pm, January 22nd:
woman in back, on phone:
"Zach is right. They do look scary up close. There are a couple options. Should I get the double cheeseburger bulkie? What does bulkie mean? I thought it said bulgogi at first, but I was sorely mistaken. I will not get the steak and cheese; that looks too vile."

Walgreens "Cheeseburger"
Dear Jesus, if I die, please don't hold my early 20s against me.

Now on line, thinking:
"Oh, Immodium, I should probably get that too. They should sell the Immodium with the food, to make it easier on people. We're New Yorkers; we want to get the hell out of Times Square ASAP."

Burger to Bun Ratio
The burger to bun ratio is a bit off

At home, talking to nephew:
"I need to write a death note because what I'm about to eat may kill me. I love you."
"Why would you want to eat something that will kill you?"
"Well it probably won't. I'll most likely just get violently ill."
"What's that mean?"
"You don't want to know."

Warming up the "Cheeseburger"
Apply heat, kill bacteria

Warming up, the "burger":
"I'm going to need a chaser. I can't think of a better reason to dip into my Blue Label. It will kill the germs."

Blue Label
If anyone can save me, it would be Johnnie.

Cutting a piece off:
"I can't take more than one bite. I just can't."

I did eat it
Once. More than enough.

Holding back the dry heaves:
"Hmm, it sort of tastes like the burger from Zen Burger. Faux meat is so weird. Pretty disgusting, no more than Danku."

Cupcakes from the 'Bux

Starbucks Red Velvet

I've been feeding my latte addiction at Pret of late. Their coffee is Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, organic, strong, fresh roasted--they actually post their roasted on date so you know it's within 2 weeks. And a large latte will run you $3.35, that's $.71 less than a similar sized coffee at the 'Bux and there generally isn't a line. All of this is to say, it's been awhile since I've made a Starby's run. When I popped by to pick up a spinach feta wrap for lunch yesterday I noticed something new in their case. Cupcakes...

Ok, cupcakes aren't exactly a "new" thing at Starbucks. I've seen them before for a few brief stints on the dessert menu. But it's been awhile. The folks behind the counter told me that they just started getting in cupcakes earlier this week.

This time the cupcakes have a bit of a new look. The vanilla frosted vanilla cupcakes have a pretty edging of sugar. Oh, and they are posting calories. Yipes. 300 calories for this here red velvet cupcake. And that was the "healthiest" of the three (chocolate being the other offering).

Starbucks Red Velvet Cupcake

Alas, I didn't get to actually taste this red velvet cupcake. I couldn't find the ingredient listings on Starbuck's site and a call to their consumer hotline didn't yield any more intelligence. With no nut-free green light, I passed the cupcake along to my buddy, who is somewhat of a red velvet connoisseur. He said if the Starbucks red velvet operation had a dial for red velvetiness, this would be at about 25%. Not enough red velvet flavor. He pronounced the frosting the best part of the whole experience, but at least it wasn't dry. For a $1.95, this is one of the cheaper cupcake options in the city, so if you're looking for bang for your buck this might be up your alley; though based on my friend's estimate you might want to give the other cupcakes a shot instead.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Making My Kitchen into A Three-Ring Circus

Pile of Aminamals
During the holidays, I dared venture into my temple, Williams-Sonoma. It's dangerous when I walk into any W-S, I could come out pennyless with an apple peeler and corer or espresso machine. It's happened. There have been interventions!! On this most recent (online) visit, I spotted Circus Animal Cookie Forms, you know, like Barnum's Animal Crackers!! I could make them at home!

Animal Cookies
I've always loved Barnum's Animal Crackers, partly I believe to my birthday sharing with P.T. Barnum, but I've never even considered making them at home since I never had the intricate forms. Williams-Sonoma's set contains:

The Giraffe
A Giraffe

The Seal
A Seal

The Tiger
A Tiger

The Elephant
An Elephant

The Lion
And a Lion

Since I never imagined I would be making these, I've never kept any animal cookie recipes. Luckily, W-S gives you a recipe on the back of their box. It a typical sugar cookie recipe with some mace and nutmeg added. I've been brainstorming on what to do with the next batch, make it more gingerbready? more lemony? I'm not sure. Experiments are needed.

All Lined Up
Getting ready for the oven

W-S recipe was a little off for my oven; they called for a 350° oven for 12 to 15 minutes. In reality, the best batches (best, but not perfect) came out of a 325° oven after 12-14 minutes. It would also help if I did batches of one shape each, it's taking a long time for me to learn that lesson.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Martha! Martha! Martha!

Martha Schwag!

I was so excited when Nichelle from Cupcakes Take the Cake invited me to join the CTTC crew in the studio audience for a Martha Stewart taping last week. I've always wanted to see Martha's show tape and this show promised to be extra special. Why? Oh, because Martha was taping a cupcake show that's going to air today...

Before I breakdown the taping let's back up Brownie's Martha cupcake connection a little bit...

Last spring I entered Martha's Cutest Cupcake Contest. And I was so honored when my Chow Chow cupcake was chosen from a field of over 2,000 extremely cute cupcakes. Martha even said in the that my cupcake was "the cutest chow I've ever seen other than Paw Paw" and that she really wanted one.

I've been wanting to make Martha her very own Chow Chow cupcakes ever since, but as I was preparing to make a batch for her last April I learned the sad news that Martha's Paw Paw had passed away. It's always difficult when a beloved pet passes on and Martha's post about Paw Paw's passing is one of the saddest things I've ever read. Seriously, do not click on that post without a box of tissues. Cupcakes are supposed to make people happy and I didn't want to remind Martha of poor Paw Paw so close to his passing, so I backburned the Chow Chow cupcakes.

Well, I've been following Martha's blog and I recently read the news that Martha was going to be getting a new Chow puppy--Paw Paw's grandson, Ghenghis Khan. I don't use this phrase lightly, but... ZOMG, ZOMG, ZOMG! So much cuteness. Monitor on verge of exploding! And when I learned I'd be attending her cupcake show it seemed a nice time to make some more Chow Chow cupcakes; this time in honor of Ghenghis. I wish I had documented the whole Ghenghis cupcake creation experience, but by the time I had finished the 4 Ghenghises it was too early in the AM for me to snap any pics that would have been in focus.

Fortunately the fabulous Stacie Joy got these snaps of my cupcakes as we were waiting to be called into the studio:

Ta da!

Here are the cupcakes in their Martha box

Holding Gheghis Cupcake

This is the Ghenghis Cupcake that didn't make the Martha cut. Lawman was sure to eat all the evidence...

Readying the Set for Martha

The taping was great. The show featured Martha Stewart Living food editor Jennifer Aaronson making Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes, a recipe that's featured in the special February Cupcakes issue and the soon to be published Martha Stewart Cupcakes book which will feature some 175 cupcake ideas.

Also on the show, Pam Nelson and Linda Lea of Butter Lane Bakery share the recipe their chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting--hint, it takes a lot of chocolate and Marlo Scott, owner of Sweet Revenge showed us how to prepare her "Pure" Cupcake, a cupcake made with plenty of Mexican vanilla. Marlo also showed us how to duplicate her signature parchment cupcake liners which make for a pretty nice presentation if you ask me.

All in all it was a great show. We even got to sample cupcakes much like the ones featured on the cover of the February issue of Martha Stewart. Yum. Plus a whole bag of schwag--a cupcake tin, polka dot cupcake liners, a cupcake book, and little cardboard cupcake boxes. Pretty darn awesome.

Mini Martha Cupcake

I was hoping I'd be able to give my cupcakes to Martha during the Q&A session at the end of the show, but alas, she had to hurry off to an interview so there was no Q&A. I passed the cupcakes off to one of Martha's PAs and tried to explain the whole story. They took the cupcakes and said they'd pass them along. I suppose I'll never know if Martha ever did get to see the cupcakes. I'd like to think that she did and that they made her smile as much as those puppy photos of Ghenghis made me smile.

The Martha episode is airing today. Check your local listings for times. For more Martha coverage, check out these posts on Cupcakes Take the Cake. Stacie Joy got some great shots!

If you are in the city, I highly recommend visiting Butter Lane and Sweet Revenge!

Butter Lane
123 East 7th Street
(212) 677-2880

Sweet Revenge
62 Carmine Street (btn Bedford St. and 7th Ave.)
(212) 242-2240


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Diversity Comes to Cupcake Land

Happy Inauguration Day! Sweet Revenge has been open for little over a year now, but Brownie and I have only found one occasion each where we could stop by for a visit. Hers was back in July, mine was last week when I found out that Marlo Scott is bringing diversity to cupcakes, change I can believe in!

Sweet Revenge is different from many NYC cupcake places. Where other big bakeries look retro or homey, Sweet Revenge is just the opposite, dimly lit and romantic. They also serve beer and wine, even having separate beer and wine pairing menus. The setup is a bit confusing, I walked in expecting to pick out my cupcake, pay for it and sit down. Instead, I walked in, examined the cupcakes picking out the ones I wanted, eat them, and then pay. A little more service then I'm used to, it is more like a cupcake eatery than a cupcake bakery.

Pure Obama Cupcake
I first spotted the Pure Obama cupcake, a special for the inauguration. The Pure Obama cupcake consisted of the Mexican vanilla cake with mango, guava, candied ginger, dark chocolate truffle & vanilla buttercream. That's a lot of flavors and buttercream. I liked the tropical touches in the frosting, a nice change from the usual. I thought it may benefit from a ganache filling, as the cake was a bit on the dry side.

The other cupcake I got was the namesake Sweet Revenge, peanut butter cake with a dark chocolate ganache filling and peanut frosting. I enjoyed this cupcake so much, I had to call Brownie half way through to get her thoughts. The frosting on this cupcake is in the running for favorite frosting in my book. The peanut taste is powerful, but not overwhelming, and it tastes like regular peanut butter, not pasty or funky. Add in the chocolate ganache filling, and black hearts were beating in my eyes.

This isn't to say Brownie and I didn't see faults. She felt the cakes could be moister. My other problem is the frosting was very thick and heavy, and sometimes a little too much on the granular side for me.

Double Chocolate Chip Cookie
I also picked up a double chocolate chip cookie for later. When I got it, it held such promise with a slight give when I pressed down promising chewy insides. Yet, something happened. By the next morning it was hard and crunchy. I liked it, it is more bitter chocolate than sweet chocolate, but I wouldn't trek out of my way for another.

BTW, Sweet Revenge and Butter Lane will be on tomorrow's Martha Stewart show (Brownie got to go, but I couldn't. It made me sad.) Check your local listings, cupcake lovers!

We also have a plethora of Sweet Revenge photos between the two of us (mostly Brownie's,) so the best way to see them all is this slide show. Enjoy!

Sweet Revenge
62 Carmine Street (btn Bedford St. and 7th Ave.)
(212) 242-2240