Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bouley: The Magic Is Alive and Well

From the moment you walk in, wow.

I often preach that a terrific dinner in NYC is more than food.... it's an experience.

With that thought, I give you Bouley.

Bouley, the gift from Chef David Bouley, is just that.... an experience. From the moment you walk through the apple-lined foyer into the "Hobbit" inspired dining room, he's got you. Your senses are now on overload, and your taste buds are anticipating something special. David Bouley then delivers.

Epicureans have a love-hate relationship with David Bouley. While most agree that the food is superb, they look for other cracks in the armor. Service, price, wine, etc..... take your pick. But with an experience like mine, I can't help but think that the critics are really missing the point of this restaurant... a complete experience that serves as a journey to someplace else. A place where the delicate nuance of an herb or palate cleansing sorbet is delivered as a violin would deliver a melody within a symphonic performance. Perfection.

First, the environment.

It's everything you may expect in a restaurant of this caliber... but better. Sure, there are crisp, white tablecloths... but the rooms are warm. Once through the door, the right dining room is cream and white... a brighter contrast to the left dining room. This room, full of sloping arches... is colored in rich crimson, making for an appetizing backdrop. It's charming, magical and romantic... all at the same time.

Even though my large party agreed on a universal tasting menu, make no mistake... any experience here will include special touches from the kitchen. Canapés, sorbets and amazing breads, carved tableside.

The front of the house certainly hold their own. Attentive service. Expert wine advice. Full water glasses. They know the drill.

As the surroundings command attention, the food at Bouley is truly the star. A fusion of French-American cooking, there is simply no heavy-handed anything at Bouley. Delicate flavors are the rule here, and Chef Bouley raises the bar almost laughingly in this area. His amazing tuna appetizer with shaved fennel is perfectly balanced, his Maine lobster with mango, artichoke and Serrano ham dressed with a tamarind dressing... adorned with fresh coconut.

This is just plain fun.

Entrees run the traditional range from fish, to fowl, to lamb and venison. But these selections are far from the norm. Where can you taste Black Sea Bass in a Sea Scallop crust? Or a lamb filet baked in a Black Truffle crust? Well, at Bouley.

There are cheeses to reset the courses if needed, but special effort should be made regarding dessert. As I am not one who usually makes it to dessert, I implore you... make the effort. The Vanilla Rice Pudding is remarkable, as is the Chocolate Banana Tart... but it's the Valrhona Chocolate Soufflé that steals the show.

Note: If you are thinking of proposing to your girlfriend, order one of these and pop the question. Done deal.

My final take?

Bouley is simply on of the best restaurants in NYC. In a land of sterile, often bland dining spots with robotic service, Bouley does something remarkable. He opens the door, welcomes with a smile, and quietly knocks your socks off.

That's worth the price of admission in my book.

French, Wild Game

120 W Broadway, New York 10013
Btwn Duane & Reade St

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Daniello's: Best Pizza on the Upper West?

It's true... this pie is the bomb.

The Upper West Side isn't known for pizza.

There are exceptions mind you, but generally speaking.... yuch.

The one exception I feel compelled to write about is not only the best pizza on the Upper West, but one of the best pies in NYC... the margarita pizza at Daniello's.

Why is this pie tops?

First, a hand tossed, uber-thin sweet crust. As anyone who knows pizza and they'll tell you the most important part of the perfect pizza is the crust. The standard pie here is a bit thicker, so don't waste your time. You want the margarita.

Next,the sauce.

Fresh, homemade, tangy. This sauce wakes up the pizza... and tastes authentic.

And last... the cheese. These pies come equiped with homemade mozzerella, sliced in thin patches.

I love the plain margarita, but variety abounds at Daniello's.

Choose from the seafood, fresh pepper and sausage, mexican, black olive, garlic and anchovy, grilled chicken, parisienne... well, you get the picture.

The rest of the food here is mediocre at best, and they know it. But it's always been about the pizza here, so nobody is losing any sleep.

Delivery is fast on the Upper West, and really the only way I recommend you enjoy Daniello's, as the space is a dump. But, hey... it's all about the pizza.

Pizza, Italian

70 W 95th St, New York 10025
At Columbus Ave

Phone: 212-961-0340
Fax: 212-961-0638

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Wu Liang Ye: The Real Deal

From Spicy Noodles to Seared Pork Buns, It Doesn't Get Much Better

I'm not sure, but I'd like to take a stab at how many Chinese restaurants there may be in Manhattan.....

a jillion.

Well, maybe not a jillion, but certainly more than I can imagine, and then some.... and way too many to ever try and sample.

That said, I've found a Chinese restaurant that is so completely satisfying, I'm perfectly OK not trying most of the others.

For some foodies in NYC, my post about Midtown's Wu Liang Ye may be old news. But when you find food this good, well, you have to share the news.

About a year ago, a colleague of mine told me about Wu Liang Ye, since we worked only 3 blocks away in Rockefeller Plaza. She told me of their amazing dishes, noodles and sauces... and sure enough, soon I was ordering take out from Wu and having it delivered to my office... so I could nibble and slurp while working away at my desk during lunch. I have always loved the food and had decided that it was surely the best take out in Midtown.

But last week, I finally had the opportunity to go to Wu Liang Ye, which changed my observation of this restaurant forever.

First, we sneaked into this Szechwan gem on 48th street just under the wire on a Thursday night (when the kitchen is due to close at 9:30pm). Entering the 2nd floor dining room with a friend, we noticed a jam-packed room of diners, many who were just ordering or getting their goodies. The manager sat us right away and we began to pour over the menu.

The best sign (for me anyway) about the authenticity of any restaurant is who is eating there. When we entered, we both noticed one small thing... we were to only 2 non-Chinese diners in the place. Really. There were groups, families, workers.... it was terrific. This is gonna be some good.

The menu at Wu Liang Ye is frustrating, only because you can't order everything that looks good. Just too much food. The table next to us had 6 people sitting around a round table with a lazy susan in the middle.... obviously professionals at this game. They had ordered 4 or 5 dishes that looked so good, we might have joined them for dinner if asked. For 2 people, you have a more limited experience, unless you are ready to take home a grocery bag of left-overs (which is worth considering I might add).

Let's talk food.

The chef at Wu is a master of many dishes, but there are a few that just can't be missed.

First, the Pork Dumplings in Chili Sauce are remarkable. Tender, fragile dumplings swimming in a dark red chili oil are fresh and spicy, a perfect balance that won't set your mouth on fire.

Next, are noodles.

Now, all the noodles dishes here are spectacular, but there are two that I think do a great job of getting your palate in that happy place.

The first are the Chilled Noodles with spicy Sesame Vinaigrette... a refreshing dish that comes in a small bowl and can be easily shared. But not to be missed are the warm Dan Dan Noodles... served in a similar bowl, topped with ground pork and spinach on top, and a small amount of chili oil on the bottom. Once you mix them together and sample, a huge smile should spring across your face. This is heaven.

Soups are also terrific here, but with killer dishes waiting, I usually opt out, as I just need the room.

So what to order?

For me, I like mixing a seafood dish and a meat dish (either beef, chicken or pork) and on this night, it was an easy decision.

For the seafood dish, we'd order the Fried Salt and Pepper Prawns. I didn't see them on the menu, but had been told about them, so if you don't see them don't worry... go right on ahead and order them.

These are giant shrimp.... butterflied with the shells on, lightly dusted in flour and salt and pepper and flash fried. What you wind up with is a shrimp so perfect, you literally eat the breading right off, suck on the shells, before your peel and eat the shrimp itself. It reminds me a great deal of the Salt and Pepper Dungeness Crab at R and G Lounge in San Francisco, a dish I equate to a religious experience. This is good stuff.

On the meat side I could have gone one of 100 directions, but decided to keep it simple and ordered the shredded pork with garlic sauce. Delicious.

There are other things you should know about Wu Liang Ye.

The prices are great, and worth every penny. They could charge more, and I wouldn't care.

You can eat exotic... frogs, tongue, jelly fish, tripe, etc..... so if this is your bag, knock yourself out.

The fried rice is the freshed and best prepared in New York.

The tea-smoked duck with ginger is becoming legendary. Order it for your date and watch her head spin.

So I am guessing by now you are figuring our just how much I love this place. Sure, Chinatown has great food (New Green Bo, etc) but why march down there when Wu Liang Ye has a few of these north of Midtown?

When it comes to Chinese food, I look for fresh, well prepared, robust dishes. For my money, Wu Liang Ye is one of the best places in Manhattan to get just that... and for me, that's good enough.

Wu Liang Ye
Authentic Chinese Cuisine

36 W 48th St, New York 10036
Btwn 5th & 6th Ave

Phone: 212-398-2308
Fax: 646-366-1505

Photo Credit:

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Del Posto: Decadence With A Price

But With Mario... It's Still All About the Pasta

Happy New Year.

It took quite a while (months) for me to get to Del Posto… a restaurant opening I have been eagerly anticipating. Their pre-opening drama is now famous in the restaurant world, but little did I care if the fare was to live up to its promise.

My first visit happened on a special night… New Year’s Eve. Del Posto was offering a special white truffle tasting menu that evening, but I opted for the ala carte experience, as I wanted to taste the flavors that had been flowing out of the kitchen since opening.

Before I get started, let me make something clear.

This place ain’t cheap.

I’m cool with that, and I get fine dining… and sure, I dropped about $200 on a simple dinner for 2. But please note…. I could have easily dropped $400-600 on this night. So my message? Come to Del Posto with room on your Visa card… you’re gonna need it.

Upon entering the restaurant, one thing is clear. They spent an unreal amount of money on this build out. It is spectacular. A large room that doesn’t get too noisy. A refined elegance, without being too stuffy. A perfect bar. Large, looming balconies with tables of happy parties. And the most amazing thing?.... tables with a major amount of elbow room. To eavesdrop here, you’ll need skills.

Arriving a few minutes early, we sat at the bar and ordered cocktails. Ours were perfectly prepared in a beautiful manner, but it’s what the woman next to us ordered that blew us away…. A simple amaretto sour.
As we watched the bartender make this drink, complete with egg whites and 5 different ingredients, we were in awe. He mixed it like I have never seen a drink mixed, them drizzled sour cherry juice through the middle. The woman drank a sip and nearly passed out. “This is the best drink I have ever tasted,” she exclaimed. I believed every word of it.

At the table, the kitchen began by sending out the obligatory freebies that were welcomed with hungry stomachs. Tiny morsels of heaven… polenta, hams… you get the picture.

The menu is tough, as you veer to many options…. Antipastas that include roasted autumn vegetables, scallops with carpaccio, amazing salads and house-cured salami. Risotto with porcini or lobster. Pastas that included pumpkin stuffed ravioli (folded) and orecchiette with lamb, peas and chanterelles.

All that before you see the main courses… fish, turkey, pork, wild game… well, you get the picture.
If all of this is too much, you can always opt for the Del Posto tasting menu ($120) or the white truffle tasting menu ($295)…. But both looked to be an enormous amount of food… and we preferred to enjoy the night without feeling like we needed to rush home and go to sleep.

Our selections seemed perfect on that romantic evening. A beef carpaccio that may have been the best I’ve ever tasted and a plate of salami to get started.
We passed on the salads and moved straight to the pasta tasting, a selection on 3 pastas for our table.

Say what you will about the food at Del Posto, but in my humble opinion, the pasta is the star here.
The pumpkin stuffed ravioli, folded in delicate sheets of handmade pasta, and topped with brown butter and truffles was nearly an out of body experience. Next, the rabbit stuffed pasta with golden butter and leeks was damn near as good as the pumpkin. And last, we enjoyed a garganelli pasta with a simple Bolognese that seemed to round out all three tastes perfectly. The portions for this tasting are small, but at $27 a person, a good buy as you get to sample several dishes.

Starting to feel full, we split an entrée, the pork loin with grilled celery and artichoke. It was perfect for the two of us, and was wonderfully prepared.

Now feeling full, we were faced with the dilemma of a dessert menu that looked to good to be true. Baked meringues, chocolate-hazelnut mousse, almond cakes… all amazing. What we didn’t know was order or not, a cart of freshly made goodies would arrive at our table, and we would receive a plate full of sweets courtesy of the kitchen. The fennel and white chocolate bites on this plate were out of this world.

So, how do I sum this up?

It’s wonderful, expensive, decadent, interesting, sometimes annoying but delicious.

Unless you get really excited setting your money on fire, take this advice.

Enjoy Del Posto as you would Babbo or Lupa. Search for small bites. Craft special ala carte meals.

If you give in to the overwhelming urge to overindulge, you will leave upset and likely disappointed. It can be spectacular in its ability to deliver an over the top experience… but if you are gonna drop that kind of cash, I’ll like to recommend you make a reservation at Per Se.

Oh yea…get the pumpkin ravioli.