Category: Anglo-Euro

Aska at Kinfolk Studios

90 Wythe Avenue corner of North 11th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
$120 each for 2 people, without drinks, without tip
718/388.2969
♥ ♥

I never got the chance to check out the Kinfolk Studio space when it housed the pop-up Frej, but when my friend Josh started working at what is now Aska, I really had no excuse not to support him.

The last time I’ve been to a restaurant where the food on my plate looked more like some kind of art piece rather than a meal was at Alinea in Chicago (in 2006!), but even there, the dishes looked like I was going to get something out of them. At Aska, I was in doubt the whole time that I was ever going to be full, but there was something about the combination of ingredients and the timing of the presentations that somehow worked. By the time the last course of beef was served, I was pretty satisfied even though it was just a single kalbi-like slice of short rib.

There were 7 courses including dessert, but I counted at least 3 amuse-bouches and a pre-dessert palate cleanser. There were a couple of cocktails, a bottle of wine, and a digestif that helped, too.

Best:
1. Cocktails that take forever to make!
2. The most humble cabbage dish with a tiny piece of monkfish and its liver
3. Sunchoke presentation

Weird:
1. Service – It’s a small space so they seemed to have too many staff members hanging out. At one point, we looked up from our conversation and there were 5 people at the pass. They all seemed to be stressed out and I felt very pressured to finish my plate to give them something to bus. But we did break a bottle of wine at the bar and they were nonplussed about it as they cleaned it up.

M. Wells

21-17 49th Avenue off 21st Street, Long Island City, Queens
718/425.6917
$330 for five, with drinks, without tip
♥ ♥ ♥

It’s rare that I eat out these days mostly because there’s something in my life now called “mortgage”, but when I do go, I make sure that I’m with a good group of people who appreciate food as much as I do. I was at the Breslin a few months ago with more or less the same group of people and we talked about what and where we were going to eat next while we were eating. We jokingly called ourselves the EatingAnimal Club because we realized how much we liked our red meat and pork. I wanted the rest of them to love sashimi and offal as much as I do, so the premise of eating nose-to-tail came up as one of the unofficial foundations of the club. (The “club” in the name made it sound so pretentious and exclusive–two adjectives we all aspire to be.)

M. Wells was the club’s third meeting. I was glad that everyone was willing to take the 7 train to Long Island City, Queens on a weeknight. When we were planning it, all we could find online was their brunch menu, but it didn’t take a lot of convincing to tell them to get adventurous for dinner–Québécois adventurous.

We all looked at the small dishes on the menu but I was pretty much handed the baton to order for the table. They were out of the “porterhouse pork” and the headcheese sandwich by the time we sat down at 8pm, so we picked eleven other dishes while skipping out on the three salads and a blini. Here’s the line-up of what went in our tummies:

Oyster in sabayon – We all met up at Grand Central Oyster Bar beforehand, so I wasn’t a big fan of this. It was also coffee sabayon! I love coffee-flavored anything, but I prefer my oysters unadulterated.

Whelks and blood sausage – I love me some snails and blood sausage, but I never thought I can eat them together. That said, this was one of the strongest dishes on the menu for me. Both ingredients were doused in dill-garlic butter while the soda crackers kept the strong flavors at bay.

They didn’t have sweetbreads on the menu but the veal brains made up for that. It was soft and smooth like homemade ricotta, rich like creamy butter.

Escargots and bone marrow – Another combination that perhaps only Canadians with French thinking would come up with. The textures were odd: chewy escargots with slushy marrow fat but I couldn’t stop scooping them up. I would have loved it even more topped with finely chopped parsley and red onion.

Beef tartare – Tartare is tartare and I wasn’t a fan of how saucy their version was. Like my oysters, I prefer my raw meat clean and immaculate. The poached egg was a nice touch, though–much heftier than a quail egg.

The snow crab salad with celeriac was also delicious and, if I remember correctly, went faster than any other dish on our table. The shaved Brussel sprouts was also a nice break from all the fatty dishes. It was served with dry venison jerky instead of perhaps bacon bits.

My favorite dish of the night was the tripe. It was called tripe “pasta” on the menu because I think they looked like cavatellis, but instead of a sauce, they were tossed with crushed smoked herring. The saltiness of the fish was oddly perfect with the blandness of the tripe. I would have this for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Canuck breakfast reminded me not of Canada but of my breakfasts in Ireland sans the grilled tomato. I ate fried eggs, ham (bacon to us Americans) and blood sausage everyday for a week before I hiked or biked and the dish brought so many memories of that trip.

The tuna was pretty amazing with capers and egg yolk sauce, but I barely remember the butter chicken that my eating mates loved.

If those weren’t enough, somehow a cheese plate made it onto our table. (Good upsell from the staff there!) We were expecting small wedges of cheese but it came as a sticky mess of Winnimere, hazelnuts and candied fruit in maple syrup. I think if I wasn’t full, I would have appreciated the earthiness and saltiness of the dish. It certainly falls under the “weird” category for me and I didn’t need a platter for four of it.

We were pretty bummed when we found out that they had ran out of the banana cream pie, so we opted for the cheesecake, and man, what a cheesecake! Were those Ladyfingers in there? The cake wasn’t ridiculously sweet and we practically fought over it. The solution: take a slice to go!

Put the EatingClub in one room with food and drinks and we get pretty boisterous. The three ladies who shared our long wooden table weren’t too pleased with our behavior, but our servers seemed to like us, offering us a complementary bottle of bubbly for keeping us waiting in between courses and shots of some type of anise-flavored digestifs. We had to cancel a couple of dessert items after the gigantic cheese course and we felt bad that we requested to remove $17 worth of extra charges from our first bill, but we were also good diners and left them a hefty tip for putting up with us. I hope the staff had a good time with us as much as we had eating at their diner-cum-restaurant. We walked out of there, happy and drunk well past midnight, and into the cold Queens night.

Related post/s:
The Spotted Pig back in 2005

Seasonal Restaurant and Weinbar

132 West 58th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
212/957.5550
$120 for two, with drinks, without tip
♥ ♥ ♥

I finished dinner at Seasonal with a smile on my face. Really. I had heard about their wine list and I wanted to check it out to see wine labels I’ve never heard of. I accomplished that at Seasonal and took notes of the Austrian bottles that I ended up liking, but I also decided to stay after I had a quick look of their menu.

True to their name, everything on the menu featured seasonal ingredients. It was beginning to feel like a New York City summer outside, but the produce in the markets are still catching up to spring because of the unusual weather we’ve been having. The amuse bouche of cauliflower soup was a good start to what we were about to eat. There was a small amount of foam to entice you to slurp a small cupful of broth. What could have been a boring vegetable soup was made exciting by the seasonings added to it. So as soon as we saw the pea soup, or the erbsensuppe, we jumped on it. It was so thin and light, yet the smoked bacon and pickled onions came through so strongly. I’ve never had a vegetable soup so clear as this one and still bold on flavors.

I couldn’t resist the Allgäuer Mountain cheese ravioli because they came with morels and fava beans. I don’t know if I can describe a more perfect combination of spring produce than this. We had a difficult time choosing an entree we could share without breaking the bank, but we ended up settling with the veal because it was poached in oxtail consommé. I love it when a restaurant gets consommé right. (And why shouldn’t they?) Seasonal’s version was that rich amber color with so much flavor but without a trace of fat in it. I think we kept commenting on how clear it was while we passed the bowl between us.

If I had an extra $30, I would have ordered the lamb with ramps, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and parsnip root purée. I would have also liked to try the veal cheeks with spatzle and the wild salmon and halibut combination with poached quail egg and mustard sauce. Clearly, I already have reasons to make a return visit and take a second look at that wine list.

Related post/s:
You know where I would like to eat again? Telepan.
Pumpkin ravioli with hen-of-the-woods or maitake mushrooms recipe

Cafe Select

212 Lafayette Street off Kenmare
212/925.9322
$40 for two, with 2 drinks, without tip
♥ ♥

Everything Serge Becker touches turns into the next place-to-be. (You’ve seen La Esquina and The Box in the news, right?) A 1pm lunch date with my friend at the bar started gloomy: we were meeting to drown our sorrows about the grim economy and the prospect of losing our jobs. But by the time I was halfway through my Swiss Lagrein wine and he was done with his Stella beer, we were celebrating the fact that it’s still an incredible city to live in. People around us were drinking bottles and eating as if they have all the time in the world even though the giant Rolex clock above us ticked. (Hey, maybe they’ve lost their jobs already!) Sharply-dressed men waited for their equally beautiful partners to show up. We heard French and some other indistinguishable language behind us; ah, must be Euros taking a break from shopping.

I opted for the comforting elbow pasta with ground beef in brown sauce and it came with applesauce on the side. It was weird, but if the Swiss say they go together, I believe them. It was an unusual combination I couldn’t stop eating. The bratwurst was smooth and the rösti, or Swiss potato pancake, added good texture.

I couldn’t help but love the red and white check table napkins. It’s only one of the details that make the place whole. A diner-style bar displays the ready-to-eat breakfast items like yogurt and muesli. The small room in the back seemed like the perfect place to rendezvous with someone while the chef’s table in the kitchen would be a good place to get some friends together. The dungeon-like storage room behind the kitchen includes a mezzanine you can rent for a private party–what New Yorker doesn’t like access to “secret” places?

Related post/s:
La Esquina and The Corner
Cafe El Portal is one of my favorites

Aquavit

65 East 55th Street between Park and Madison Avenues
212/593.0287
about $90 each for six, with several drinks, with tacked on 20% tip
♥ ♥

I dragged five others to the Aquavit Cafe earlier this week to take advantage of Herring Week, the annual celebration for all things herring. I had such a fun time eating with new people who were down to eat herring prepared in different ways. This was my first time back at the restaurant after they moved a couple of years ago. The cafe is bigger and looks more like a hotel lobby restaurant. I didn’t get past the bar and to the main dining room, but I would bet that the waterfall is now gone. Chef Marcus Samuelsson now has a sushi restaurant and his name is mentioned in more food events around the city, but the Scandinavian spirit that he introduced to diners like me is still well and alive.

The herring buffet was situated along the entrance to the cafe. The two times we made the trip to serve ourselves, we had to watch out for the waiters and the busboys. But oh, we wanted herring and did we get some! There was the usual pickled herring, vinegar-y and lip-smackin’ good. There was smoked herring, flaky and perfect with a Whale’s Tale Ale. There were interesting and delicious combinations like herring with onions and carrots, herring in a light green sauce that we thought was made out of dill and herring with caviar. Then there were the odd ones that surprisingly worked: herring egg salad and herring paté. And ones that didn’t: herring with sweet tomato sauce and herring with curry.

The buffet wasn’t all herring, which was quite a relief after we’ve filled our empty stomachs with the almighty fish. I had smoked salmon topped with pickled cucumbers, roasted potatoes slathered with gravy, Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce and anchovy pizette with a cherry tomato. I skipped the bread and the greens to make more room for a second trip to the buffet. We forced ourselves to eat the included desserts, not because we wanted anything sweet but because we wanted something to cleanse our palates. The Arctic Circle was a goat cheese cylinder filled with passion fruit, topped with a tarty and refreshing sorbet of black currants. (I love me some tarty desserts!) Two in the group opted for the chocolate with several other ingredients I barely recall now.

It was a good time until we got our bill. Even though we chose to do the buffet, a 20% gratuity was automatically included because we were a group of six. We ended up paying almost $100 each including our drinks. Even though the bill was up to par with my usual night out with friends, I thought this was quite pricey considering we had to get up and serve ourselves.

I love herring, but maybe I’ll stick with the Formica tables in Grand Central Oyster Bar during Herring Week next year.

Related post/s:
My first vist to Aquavit
Make your own Ikea dish: Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce