Thursday, September 3, 2015

U.S. Adventures- NYC

Recently I took a super quick trip to New York City—it was a trip spurred on by a night with too much wine, and the fact that a bunch of Indiana chefs were cooking at the James Beard House. Several girlfriends and I figured, hey, why not? (I told you there was wine involved). Not going to spend a lot of time on the actual Beard dinner other than to say that we had fun and it was a cool experience to go there (seems kind of pointless to go through all the dishes, etc. since it’s not something you can do). Suffice it to say, there was a lot of great Indiana food and a lot of great Indiana talent represented. If you’re interested in learning more about Chef’s Night Out, who are the group of chefs that put the dinner on, you can check them out on their facebook page.  So again, I’m covering a bunch of places in this one post, so just click on the link to go to their webpages.

(Here's a couple pics from the James Beard dinner though):

We were only there for like 48 hours, but we managed to fit in 4 other meals, starting with our arrival right at lunchtime and a meal at Gramercy Tavern. This place was walkable to our hotel, and seemed like a good old school place to start. It’s a bit more formal feeling than some of the places we ate, but the food was very good. A friend and I started with a spaghetti appetizer ($18) that was light, with just a touch of cream, some corn and a bit of chile and had a nice breadcrumb topping with a few clams—the portion was smallish (the pic is of half, they split it in the kitchen). Tasty, even though we both we wanted a couple more clams.  I had a starter of beef tartare ($16) as my main dish, because I wanted to eat fairly light knowing the dinner that was ahead of us at the Beard House. It was solid—the meat was tender and fresh and it was fairly well seasoned, but overall I would rate it as average amongst the beef tartares I have consumed in my life. Luckily, I was sharing with my friend Jen (we shared the pasta as well) and she gave me some of her arctic char ($25) and it was amazing. Seriously, the fish could only be described as buttery. It also had parmesan-ish foam that was really good with the fish. I was a little jealous. We didn’t order dessert, but they brought us a little tray of petit fours. It was a lovely lunch, even if our server was a little aloof (you’re almost disappointed if you don’t get at least one like that while you’re in New York, right?).

The morning after the Beard dinner, I woke up early and decided to hit up Buvette in the West Village, based on the recommendation of my favorite (and only) hairdresser. A couple of my girlfriends were game to come along with me, and it was a straight shot on the subway. It’s an adorable little French place that specializes in lots and lots of egg dishes in the morning. Totally me. Apparently, they cook their scrambled eggs with their espresso machine steamers or something like that. Whatever they’re doing, they’re making some deliciously creamy scrambled eggs (something I don’t normally order out). Mine came on two small pieces of toast and was topped with caviar and crème fraiche ($25). I just couldn’t resist. Also, don’t pass up on the little plate of tiny croissants ($7)--they were also extremely delicious (and so super cute).  They serve them with a spoonful of soft butter and jam. The fresh OJ ($7) was delicious as well. Everything in this place is diminutive—the restaurant, the tables, the pastries and the food. But just right to start a day of lots of eating.  They’re open til 2:00 am as well, and I can imagine this place is always doing a bustling business.

We continued our meal plan looking for things that aren’t as easy to come by in Indy. So for lunch, we went with Ivan Ramen. There were five of us and we wanted to try pretty much all of the apps, so we basically did. I think my favorites were the meatballs (go figure) ($13), which were made with pork and covered with bonito flakes, which kind of fluttered in the breeze. There were also two sauces—one was a buttermilk sauce and one was called a bulldog sauce. The meatballs were super tender and had tons of umami with the fish flakes and the pork and the sauces. Also a great accompaniment was the pickled daikon dish ($10) that was light and tangy and then topped with crumbles of what was actually dried shrimp and scallops, but tasted like little crisp bits of garlic or something. A great combo. We also enjoyed the Chinese greens with garlic ($9)—I really liked the pickled garlic slices on top. All the dishes here were well done when it came to combining pickle flavors (acid!) and rich savory flavors. We also had the LES buns, which were buns stuffed with pastrami, karashi mayo and daikon slaw ($11). I only tried one small bite of these, but they were my least favorite. Still not bad, but the other stuff was just much more interesting.  I had the more traditional Tokyo Shoyu ramen ($15), which is your classic ramen type dish—noodles (these were rye noodles) served in broth in a bowl (this was actually chicken and dashi stock) and topped with pork and egg and slivered scallions. It was a tasty dish—simple but with a rich broth. The piece of pork was maybe a little fatty for me, but I ate every bit of the noodles and broth. The egg was perfect too. It may not have been my favorite ever, but it was solidly in the running. My sharing friend Jen ordered the tonkotsu tsukemen ($16), which was something I had not had before. It was a bowl of cold whole-wheat noodles served with a separate pork broth that you dipped the noodles into. It came with crispy “burned” garlic, chile oil and scallions to add to your broth. It was tasty as well, although I think I preferred the whole thing being already assembled in my dish. Jen added the egg, crispy fried pork and roasted tomato option (+$5) and that crispy pork was quite nice. The server was super nice and they had a nice little patio that we enjoyed.

For our final dinner, we went with a southern Italian place in Soho, because, well you know how hard it is to find interesting (good) Italian food in Indy. We chose Sessanta kind of randomly off the Eater Heatmap.  It’s a cool little place as well—you definitely feel like you’re in New York. We again had a great table on the front outdoor seating area—this one was on the street, and the weather was amazing and it was a great time. This is another place that I wish we had something like in Indy—I think the closest we have is Bluebeard, in that they serve more than pasta etc., but I think Sessanta is more focused Italian. We started with several appetizers—and they brought us some little fried gnocchi as an amuse to start. We ordered the tuna crudo ($19), which was so tender and so good, and was topped with caper berries (nicely sliced into edible pieces), shaved zucchini and pickled lampascioni—which are hyacinth bulbs. Not sure I had ever had these. The dish was dressed with lime juice and all these flavors together were delicious. The fritto misto ($ 15was also good—it included shrimp and other veggies—zucchini, broccoli (another of my favorite fried items) and my personal favorite touch—some fried lemon slices. If you cut them really thin and fry them, they are a great acidic crunchy kick to eat along with the more standard fried items. This was a good misto. We shared the arancine ($10), which are fried risotto balls. They were crisp and tasty as well, but just didn’t hold my attention the way the other things did.

Jen and I also shared the Mozzarella Pugliese ($19), which were lovely pieces of soft, fresh mozzarella on top of marinated eggplant, bits of pistachio and fried capers. A great mix of textures and flavors and a nice variation from always serving mozzarella like this with tomatoes. We also shared the eggplant ravioli “alla Norma,” which was also delicious—nice ravioli and some toasty eggplant (we obviously like eggplant. We also shared the roasted branzino ($32)—a really nicely seared piece of fish with crisp skin sitting on top of spigarello (like broccoli rabe), tomato and special Italian almonds. A great piece of fish complemented by lots of varying flavors and crunch from the nuts.

All in all, it was a whirlwind of a trip, but was filled with fun with friends, some great food, wonderful weather and a couple of educational experiences (we fit them in between meals). I really need to do this more often.

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