Showing posts with label cocktails. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cocktails. Show all posts

8/5/15

I Tried a Sundae the Size of My Head at Bagatelle

I'll admit it. I was a bit of a glutton last week, and this post only reinforces that. Trust me, I'm still full. Now on with it...

I was invited back to Bagatelle (1 Little West 12th Street) in the Meatpacking District a year and a half after my first visit there to check out some of their newer (or new-to-me) dishes as well as sample some old favorites. Truffle was still the predominant flavor among all the courses, yet the summer setting led me to favor lighter, more refreshing dishes compared with some of the richer items.


Jocelyn from Chic & Sweaty and I opted to start with some Bootie Calls ($17) from the bar (get your head out of the gutter!) because watermelon. Elderflower helped that decision also.

Bootie Calls
Bootie Calls
We got started with Bagatelle's famous truffle theme with the Pizza a la Truffe Noire ($26). You might say, who goes to a French place and orders a pizza?, but trust me, you want to order this pizza. The crust has gotten thicker since my last visit, but I like the change. I wish you could at least smell the super-satisfying. earthy truffle scent through this blog. It's heavenly.

Pizza a la Truffe Noire
Pizza a la Truffe Noire 
We tried the Salade Bagatelle ($14) with hearts of lettuce, parmesan cheese, fresh garden herbs, and a mustard vinaigrette. There were also two tartares--Tartare de Thon Bagatelle ($19/$29) with ahi tuna, avocado, and taro chips and Tartare aux Deux Saumons ($19) with fresh and smoked Scottish salmon, shallot, and dill creme fraiche. These were all very similar to the last time we came, however the presentation is different. I loved that the salmon tartare was served in a shell dish.

Salade Bagatelle
Salade Bagatelle
Tartare de Thon Bagatelle
Tartare de Thon Bagatelle 
Tartare aux Deux Saumons
Tartare aux Deux Saumons
Then, lest we forgot about the truffles, we were presented with a giant heaping bowl of Gnocchi Truffes a la Parisienne de Nicolas ($25/$36), AKA: truffle gnocchi. I tend not to order gnocchi from restaurants unless I know the dish is spectacular because often they can be made so dense that they just fall like giant bricks down your esophagus and land with a thunk in your belly. To make a light and fluffy gnocchi is a skill that I admire, and Bagatelle has it DOWN. These are truffle pillows and you should order them.

Gnocchi Truffes a la Parisienne de Nicolas
Gnocchi Truffes a la Parisienne de Nicolas
Now for the main course. (I know, right?) First I have to point out that going to a blogger dinner is unlike any other outing. Tons of food is brought out, it smells delicious, you can see the steam wafting off of each dish, and then we all break out our iPhones, Androids, and for some fancy pants bloggers, giant cameras. If lighting is low, iPhone flashlights come out to create makeshift studio spotlights. You just have to see it.

Dinner with Bloggers
Dinner with bloggers
But I digress. We sampled the catch of the day filleted at the table ($MP) which was served with pea and corn risotto. This was a perfect summer dish as it was light and gently flavored with lemon and salt. The other seafood dish we tried was the Calamars Snackes a l'Encre de Seiche ($19) with sauteed calamari, saffron risotto cake, and squid ink vinaigrette. This was an unusual dish, but I enjoyed it.

Catch of the Day
Catch of the Day
Corn and Pea Risotto
Corn and Pea Risotto
Calamars Snackes a l'Encre de Seiche
Calamars Snackes a l'Encre de Seiche
For the meat, we fulfilled our iron quotient for the month with the Steak au Poivre ($45), a 12 oz. NY Strip from Thunder Ridge Farm served with pommes frites and cognac peppercorn sauce, and the Poulet Fermier Roti et Truffe ($35), roasted chicken with truffles and country style potatoes. Presentation is everything with the chicken as it comes in a sautee pan. I remember this dish because the chicken goes against the "dry restaurant chicken" assumption. Rather, it's juicy, flavorful, and maintains a rustic vibe even in this trendy setting.

Steak au Poivre
Steak au Poivre
Poulet Fermier Roti et Truffe
Poulet Fermier Roti et Truffe
Then after we finished all of that, they brought out the Chateaubriand for two ($125)--a 24 oz center cut beef tenderloin, truffle potato puree, and red wine and peppercorn sauce. The waitstaff needed the whole table just to put down this giant plate of meat. I was pretty stuffed by this point, but sampled a piece of it and was very, very satisfied. I know the menu says this dish is for two, but I'm sure glad there were 6 of us to finish it off (I hate wasting food!).

Chateaubriand
Chateaubriand
All of us knew we weren't escaping this marathon dinner without dessert, but the folks at Bagatelle literally made me utter "Oh my God" when they brought out their "Mauboussin Mega Sundae."

Mauboussin Mega Sundae
Mauboussin Mega Sundae
Just LOOK at that thing!


For perspective, of course, I had to pose with the behemoth.

Me with the Mauboussin Mega Sundae
Me with the Mauboussin Mega Sundae
Normally when ordered, this sundae comes with jewelry to make it worth the $1,000 price tag. It also features countless scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, granola, strawberries, an avalanche of whipped cream, brownies, cookies, and a Jackson Pollock of caramel and fudge sauce. Oh, and a sparkler. I don't know who Mauboussin is (was?), but he must've been a hell of a dude to have a sundae like this named after him. (Editor's Note: Mauboussin is a French jeweler who I'm assuming must make the baubles that go in the sundae).

To round things out, we also tried the Apple Tarte Tatin, Dark Chocolate Mousse, and Creme Brulee (each $12). While the sundae was sensational, the Creme Brulee was probably my favorite taste-wise. You can't beat a candied shell in my book.

Apple Tarte Tatin
Apple Tarte Tatin
Dark Chocolate Mousse
Dark Chocolate Mousse
Creme Brulee
Creme Brulee

Another epic one bites the dust in my gastronomy book. Bagatelle knows how to deliver solid food for all tastes (but especially for those who like truffle). With a DJ spinning beats, sexy art flocking the walls, and a killer mixology program, this is the place to be if you want to impress. As long as the weather stays nice, request a table right by the patio--the doors stay open until the sun falls and you'll get the best of both indoor vibes and outdoor warmth (and people watching!). Just prepare your wallet however, because this is not a meal for the frugal.

Disclosure: Bagatelle provided me with a comp meal in exchange for this review. However, all opinions are my own.


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8/4/15

Dinner and Boat Ride

After 7 years in NYC (it's official today!), I have finally popped my Staten Island cherry--and now have officially visited all 5 of New York City's boroughs. I'm a little ashamed that it took me this long, but I digress.

The Staten Island Ferry Building
The Staten Island Ferry Building

The catalyst behind this visit was, of course, food. The free ferry ride across the bay didn't hurt either.

Boarding the Staten Island Ferry
Boarding the ferry
Pulling away from Manhattan
Pulling away from Manhattan
I waved to Miss Liberty (along with throngs of tourists angling to get a picture)
I waved to Miss Liberty (along with throngs of tourists angling to get a picture)
Ok, so back to the food. I was invited, along with Dave from Barton's Bites to visit the River Dock Cafe located inside the ferry terminal building with a terrace overlooking the bay and downtown Manhattan.



Afshin, one of the restaurant's owners--it's a family business--met our group and gave us the history of how his father came to the US from India years ago and built up a food empire from nothing. They now own 47 restaurant concepts in the tri-state area, including most of the vendors in Penn Station. It was definitely an impressive rags-to-riches story and made me respect their ambition a ton.

We started with drinks, which were much needed given the fact that the sun was shining right in many of our faces and we were all sweating glistening. I would definitely recommend any of the frozen drinks, but I found myself craving more and more of the lemonade. I know it's simple, and there's not even alcohol (though you can ask them to add some vodka if you're feeling that), but it's delicious and refreshing and just screams summer.


As for appetizers, we were bombarded (in the best way possible) with a Thanksgiving table full of food. Favorites included the fried shrimp and calamari from the appetizer assortment ($23), the Caprese salad ($11), and the fresh white ahi tuna salad ($15).

Appetizer Assortment
Appetizer Assortment
Caprese Salad
Caprese Salad
Maryland Crabcakes
Maryland Crabcakes
Afshin told us River Dock's specialty is seafood, even though they do fried food very, very well. So for the main course, the friendly waitstaff brought out another tableful of food: Cajun steamed pot ($33), fresh Maine lobster ($27), Thai mussel pot ($22), Seafood Fra Diavolo pasta ($19), marinated grilled shrimp ($29), Alaskan pan seared salmon ($22), BBQ baby back ribs ($23), and the grilled free range chicken breast ($19). PHEW!


That's a ton of food!
That's a ton of food!

I tell ya, you can take the girl out of Boston (where I went to school), but you can't take the Boston out of the girl. I was super into the shellfish, and was the only one of us adventurous enough to crack into the lobster claws sans plastic bib. It was worth it. Nothing says summer like making a mess eating lobster. The Cajun steamed pot was also a ton of fun, with the crab legs easier to open than the lobster and the peel-and-eat shrimp ready for your dextrous digits to tear into them.

Cajun Steamed Pot
Cajun Steamed Pot
Thai Mussel Pot
Thai Mussel Pot
Fresh Maine Lobster
Fresh Maine Lobster
BBQ Baby Back Ribs and Grilled Chicken
BBQ Baby Back Ribs and Grilled Chicken
Marinated Grilled Shrimp
Marinated Grilled Shrimp
Atlantic Pan Seared Salmon
Atlantic Pan Seared Salmon
Seafood Fra Diavolo Pasta
Seafood Fra Diavolo Pasta
Lastly, we couldn't leave without at least sampling dessert. Each dessert usually comes separately, but Afshin brought out a sampler for us including the red velvet cake, chocolate molten cake, and NY cheesecake (each $8). My favorite was definitely the molten cake because chocolate.

Cake Platter
Cake Platter
One of the best parts of the night was the ride home (again, the Staten Island Ferry is FREE!). We stood at the bow of the boat, digesting as we watched the shimmering lights of the city come closer and closer. I would do it all again just to watch the distant hum of activity turn into the individual buildings and streets that we all know and love. 



River Dock Cafe is the perfect place to take a "staycation" dinner trip, even on a weekend night. Set up shop right after work with a few frozen cocktails and some lemonade, order up some seafood, and watch the sun go down and the Manhattan lights go up. Word has it that a ferris wheel larger than the London Eye will also be rising in the vicinity of the restaurant, so that will only draw more and more traffic to the area. So you might as well check it out now!

Disclosure: River Dock Cafe provided me with a comp meal in exchange for this review. However, all opinions are my own.


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6/24/15

Rediscovering the "De-chained" CPK and Loving It

Ever since I moved to NYC, I've had a very strong aversion to chain restaurants. Why should I eat at a place that I can eat at anywhere in the country when I have the best restaurants in the world mere footsteps away?, I thought. 

However, California Pizza Kitchen has always had a special place in my heart as it used to be the go-to birthday spot when I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles. I always knew about the CPK, as it's affectionately known, at 30th Street and Park Avenue, but have never been nostalgic enough to visit during my almost 7-year NYC tenure. But that all changes now.

California Pizza Kitchen NYC

Monday night I had the opportunity to visit CPK--the only location in Manhattan (so is it really a chain? Haha!)--as they celebrated their 30th anniversary and their new mission to "dechain the chain."

I first got a tour of the newly redecorated space, featuring a chalkboard and a wall of herbs at the entrance, reclaimed wood table tops, and scenic NYC photos adorning the walls. The space already feels more welcoming than your typical, cookie-cutter franchise.


Next, I was given an apron and whisked into the kitchen with Head Chef Brian Sullivan (who developed the iconic BBQ Chicken Pizza more than 20 years ago!) and NYC pizza chef Juan who both taught me how to make a pizza and (here's the best part) TOSS THE DOUGH! My first attempt ended up with me breaking holes in the dough, but try number 2 got some serious air and I transformed it into CPK's Wild Mushroom Pizza ($13.49) with 5 different types of mushrooms, 3 cheeses, garlic, and scallions. Yum!

Stretching pizza dough at CPK
Juan teaching me to stretch the dough
Tossing pizza dough at CPK
Oops! Popped some holes!
Tossing pizza dough at CPK
That's a winner!
My Wild Mushroom Pizza
My Wild Mushroom Pizza
At this point, I was finding flour in my hair and covering my arms--tis' the life of a pizza arteest!--but I was having a blast. Then I sat down with CPK CEO G.J. Hart, one of the nicest people I've ever met, who along with Chef Brian walked me through some of the new menu items and cocktails.

The first drink I tried, my favorite of the evening, was the California Roots, a Svedka vodka concoction with muddled avocado, mint, and agave sour rimmed with fennel salt. Talk about unusual! I also tried G.J.'s creation, The Executive Decision, which has Casamigos tequila blanco, muddled mint, fresh agave sour, Monin organic agave nectar and fresh lime, and I thought it was like vacation in a glass. Lastly, I sampled the Blueberry Ginger Smash, which cleverly mixes Jack Daniels with agave nectar, Domaine de Canton ginger, fresh blueberries and lime and cranberry juice into a delightful fruity libation. I told G.J. I could see these drinks going for upwards of $16 at some Manhattan hot spots, but he told me the price point was about half that depending on which CPK you were visiting!

California Roots cocktail
California Roots
The Executive Decision cocktail
The Executive Decision
Blueberry Ginger Smash
Blueberry Ginger Smash

Next, the food! Delicious, delicious food! When I used to come to CPK as a kid, I would always reliably order the BBQ Chicken Pizza. While the old classic is still on the menu, the items that surround it are new, improved, and focused on seasonal ingredients. Case in point, the California Fields Salad (half $9.99, full $13.49) is comprised of gorgeous field greens with fresh watermelon, sweet strawberries, feta, and California pistachios, topped with a housemade Champagne vinaigrette.

California Fields Salad
California Fields Salad

I also tried the new Maine Lobster Flatbread ($10.99), a wonderful dish for sharing, it features real Maine lobster meat, mayo, fresh herbs, arugula, and shaved red onions on a parmesan flatbread. It's like a pizza version of a lobster roll, and I LOVE lobster rolls.

Maine Lobster Flatbread
Maine Lobster Flatbread

For main entrees, I sampled the Tricolore Salad Pizza ($12.99), which is a salad lover's dream! It features a different take on the crust--caramelized honey and parmesan lend it to be thinner and crispier--cooked and then topped with field greens, tomatoes, and shaved parmesan tossed with housemade Dijon balsalmic vinaigrette.

Tricolore Salad Pizza
Tricolore Salad Pizza
I also had a clever take on a gluttonous dish, their Shrimp Scampi Zucchini ($14.79), which had half regular pasta and half noodles made from zucchini (aka: zoodles!) sauteed with lemon, garlic, and white wine. This entire dish is only 470 calories!

Shrimp Scampi Zucchini
Shrimp Scampi Zucchini

Lastly, my favorite entree of the night was the Hearth-Roasted Halibut ($23.79) served over grilled asparagus and butternut squash farro and baby kale. I could eat this morning, noon, and night, and it's a good thing too because the size of the piece of fish they give you is ginormous! Definitely enough for 2 meals for me. And the farro adds a truly unique touch.

Hearth-Roasted Halibut
Hearth-Roasted Halibut
Of course they didn't let me skip out on dessert, and neither should you. Both the salted caramel pudding ($4.99) served with black cocoa cookie crumbs, whipped cream, and sea salt and the Butter Cake ($6.79) served with ice cream and whipped cream are decadent options to end your meal.

Salted Caramel Pudding
Salted Caramel Pudding
Butter Cake
Butter Cake
I go to a lot of restaurant events, and I must say the hospitality I received at CPK was top notch. You could tell the people who work there enjoy the company for more than the fact that it gives them a paycheck--there's true passion behind the food and drink. Their prices are also fabulous! Lunch specials range from $9-11 from M-F, 1-4pm, and they also have happy hour specials.

Me with CPK's head chef and CEO
From Left: Head Chef Brian Sullivan, me, and CEO G.J. Hart

G.J. also told me that CPK is committed to the communities they operate in, offering fundraising events as often as they can. They are also relaunching their grocery store branded items, so keep an eye out for those in the coming months. I also took home a copy of the CPK cookbook, so maybe I'll be trying some of their creations for my next dinner party!

The CPK Cookbook
The CPK Cookbook
CPK Cookbook inscription
Love the inscription!

It's official, I've been converted (partially) back to the chain. CPK, you have thoroughly impressed me and I'll be singing your praises for a long while.

Disclosure: CPK hosted me for this event and paid for my food, but all opinions are my own.


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