Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sunday in New York - brunch in Harlem, walk the highline, Chelsea Market shopping and Del Posto for dinner

Brunch is the thing to do on Sunday morning in New York and the Red Rooster, Harlem was at the top of our list.  We were instructed to arrive early, did as told, and were rewarded with a fantastic seat facing the band.  The staff, musicians and vibe were all friendly and happy.  The food satisfying on a deep level.

Crab Salad in Butter Lettuce 
Corn Bread

We shared crab salad, served in small butter lettuce leaves and corn bread.  So good we had to hold ourselves back from ordering seconds and it was a good thing we did because our main courses were both delicious and hearty.

Blackened Catfish Grits and Deep Fried Okra


Grilled Shrimp and Cheddar Grits













We felt no pressure to finish up and in fact were told to relax and enjoy the music.  It was an intimate experience with some masterly musicians.  A great start to the day.




Efficient and Happy Kitchen at Red Rooster Harlem
Doors open at 10am for Brunch and Jazz on Sunday.  Buffet brunch and Gospel downstairs at Ginny's Supper Club, but that's for the next time.

After brunch we headed back down-town to the Chelsea Market. 
Chelsea Market Has Attitude

Rachel part of the crowd at Chelsea Market














 One of the best markets I've visited, we could have spent hours wandering around, shopping, eating, being entertained.  We left a little poorer with some nice treasures.  Next time we'll go early in our trip, have a meal and get some top notch room snacks.
Chelsea Market Crazy Cakes
Angry Bird Cakes













The Highline runs right over top of Chelsea Market so up we went.  New York is in love with it's new elevated pedestrian walkway with good reason.  It's well laid out, one of those things you know is perfection right away.

It was a hot day so when we came back down it seemed like a tall jug of iced Sangria was in order.  We walked into a large empty restaurant and ordered a jug.  In 20 minutes the restaurant was full and we still only had water but realized we had just lucked into perfect seats to watch the final World Cup Soccer game.  Several pitchers of Sangria later, Germany had won and we were running across the street to Del Posto and our terribly, horribly early dinner reservations.
Lobster with Burrata & Fermented Broccolini
I feel like I'm putting Batali and Bastianich notches on my eating belt.  The food really appeals to me, and  everything is polished, but something about it is contrived.  Just not quite as special as it thinks it is.

Few things can make an empty restaurant feel good and though I sort of like to eat early and am often forced to as a way to try all the great restaurants choosing not to take reservations, that's different.  I can't blame Del Posto for the lack of atmosphere.  But we had to get out of town, so early was our only choice, and not the right one for this large restaurant. 
Pasta with Black Truffle


The food has always been exceptional at the B & B restaurants and there were some great dishes here too. The Cool Lobster was a pretty dish with well balanced textures and flavours.  

The pasta with black truffle was unappealing but smelled and tasted better than it looked.
Salmon with Cauliflower and Calamari


The slow cooked salmon and with Calamari, cauliflower and hazelnut salad was impressive, with eye appeal and perfectly cooked salmon.

They had all the free and tasty snacks and sweets that come with crazy prices and we do love surprise food.
Sweet Treats
 It makes the meal fun and interesting.  Presumably the calories don't count if you didn't order it and you can eat it in one bite.  


That was our big day in New York.  Can't wait for the next one.  It makes a great stop on the way to the Caribbean.  I wonder if I can change my tickets to Jamaica.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I love all things Portuguese, including Aldea NYC by Chef George Mendes

Black Squid rice crisps 

In the Flatiron district we tried Aldea, a 1 Michelen star restaurant by George Mendes.  Possibly the best thing about those Michelen stars are the amuse bouche that goes with it. We were served a squid ink rice crisp with prawn mousse and fava bean puree.  There wasn't a crumb left.


Sea Urchin Toast with Cauliflow Puree
For starters we had Bacalau croquettes, blistered peppers, Japanese sea urchin toasts and mussel soup.  There was a lot of "You have to try this" and "I'm not sharing " going on, a sure sign that we were loving the food.

Blistered Peppers at Aldea

Blistered Peppers were popular in New York.  They were on several bar menus.  And I do love good bar food.




Mussel Soup 





Mussel soup was reluctantly shared.  Just looking at it you KNOW it's going to be everything it should be; rich and flavourful with a taste of the ocean lingering.  


Sea Salt Chatham Cod 
For a main course the Sea Salt Chatham Cod was recommended and it was a nice dish although not one that I'd want again.  Cod is in my blood and you have to do something special with it to impress me.  I've eaten more than my share of simply but perfectly prepared cod and I know it's about the fish and it was good. I really liked the charred corn and have been using it a lot at home this summer.  



Smoked Lamb Ribs and Braised Shoulder
I think Rachel's Lamb Ribs and Braised shoulder was a more satisfying dish.  Is sure looked pretty and there was none left.



Little Dreams at Aldea
Another popular menu item in New York is mini donuts.  I'm not talking Tim Bits but freshly made donuts with dipping sauces that are boasting of the finest chocolate and cream and stuffed with amazing custards.  I have to admit I did not try any but they sure looked and smelled good.

The final bites were also compliments of that Michele Star.  The surprise dessert was Portuguese tarts.  Popular in Chinese bakeries in Vancouver.  These were outstanding.
Portuguese Tarts at Aldea
I'm still not sure what makes one restaurant Michelin starred and another not and I'm not sure it's all that relevant but I did like Aldea.  Good food, good atmosphere, we left smiling and happy.

Friday, August 1, 2014

New York is the most interesting food city. The more I go the more I want to. Empellon Taqueria is my new favourite place to eat.

Bacalau Croquettes with garlic aioli at Aldea
New York seems like a distant memory 2 weeks later but there are some things that stand out.  Number 1 is the bacalau croquettes.  They seemed to be everywhere and they were delicious.  For a good Newfoundlander like me, they are just called fish cakes and they were often on our dinner menu.  I had them at 3 restaurants in New York.  Blistered peppers were another hot item.



Guacamole and 7 Salsas at Empellon
We stayed in the Union Square area and mostly stuck to restaurants in lower Manhattan.  There were so many good choices but my favourite was Empellon Taqueria.  I recommend the Guacamole with All 7 Salsa.  The chips were very fresh and well made, the guacamole was perfect and the 7 sauces were all tasty, some hot, some not.  All with a depth of flavour that really made the guacamole shine.



Lobster and corn taco, Empellon

We also had Smoked plantain and crema sopas.  Equally good.  We thought about ordering more for dessert but after the trio of tacos we were done.  There were 11 tacos to choose from.  We tried the lobster, the crab and the brussel sprouts.  All good, but my favourite was the lobster.

Brussel Sprout, malted hummus and hazelnuts
The brussel sprout taco was a surprising combination of flavours that worked well together. It wasn't my choice but I did like it.
Crab cake taco, Empellon



The crab cake isn't on the menu, but it should be.









Empellon was casual with a fun, busy atmosphere and thoughtful, happy staff.  I recommend it for all Mexican food lovers.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The best of Madrid and Rioja. Reflections on Spain.

The olives at Mercado San Miquel were the best I've ever tasted.  

I’ve been looking over my pictures of Spain and after a few weeks reflection I have some final thoughts.
The Mercado San Miquel is a great place to eat in Madrid.  Casual and fun with lots of reasonably priced options, this market has come a long way since we visited 5 years ago.  Both visits were in late afternoon early evening. What was a sleepy vegetable and specialty food market is now a hip and happening food event.    The olives in Spain are the best I’ve ever tasted.  The amazing selection of stuffed olives in the Mercado de San Miquel was unforgettable, but plain green olives are the most common bar snack and they are simply fantastic. 

Madrid’s art scene is great and casual, good quality food and drink is easy to find.  For the North American visitor the early evening tapas offer great value for low investment and a nice alternative to the normal late night dining. I recommend a visit to Casa Gonzalez for both the food and the chance to try some wine before you buy.  
Casa Gonzalez earned a return visit.  Try the stuffed peppers.

I don’t think you can beat the Westin Palace location in Madrid, with the 3 best museums on one side and the Santa Anna district on the other.  I’d be happy to spend a couple of nights there on any visit to Spain.

Poppies and mountains in Rioja
Our wine touring in Rioja was better than I’d imagined.  The combination of historic villages, pilgrims walking the Santiago de Compostella, ditches full of bright red poppies, architecturally stunning wineries and endless vineyards was mind blowing.   Some wineries are among the largest producers in the world and the passion for architecture is quite exciting.  The Marques de Riscal features a Frank Gerry designed wine tribute and   R Lopez de Heredia has a shiny tasting room by Zaha Hadid. I’d recommend booking tours at both of these.
We were able to drop in for tasting at Muga and Roda wineries in Haro.  Roda was one of my favourites.  The wine was excellent and one that earned a spot in my suitcase.  Roda was easy to visit and though they had just 2 wine to taste, they also had 2 olive oils to try.  Another spot in the suitcase gone. Now that I’m home I wish I’d bought them both. 

I probably wouldn’t rent a villa again in the Rioja.  The markets aren’t inspiring the way they are in France and casual dining is inexpensive and good.  I would prefer a comfortable hotel that includes breakfast.  Next time I’ll  stay in Logrono.  I could eat on the Calle Laurel several days without getting bored.