Monthly Archives: July 2011

Bernard’s: 20 West Lane, Ridgefield, CT

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My mother threw a luncheon here for my brother and his wonderful fiance to celebrate their engagement and it was a beautiful place to escape the city to for an afternoon. The easy drive from NY was about an hour and after parking we took a quick walk through their garden and passed the chef collecting fresh herbs for the day’s menu. We walked in and immediately noticed the grand piano, fresh flowers, plentiful racks of wine, and beautiful impressionist paintings. We were seated right  in a very lovely private room with a round table ready for the 10 of us. Our waiter seemed to ‘get’ our somewhat quirky family right away and shared his sense of humor and charisma with us comfortably. He was rather entertaining, and happily showed us a few games and tricks to keep us busy while we waited for the rest of the guests.

As we looked over the menu, we were all impressed with just how many wonderful sounding dishes were available. As our waiter recited the specials, I realized this was not going to be an easy decision. Luckily, my boyfriend was more than happy to share 2 appetizers and 2 entrees so we could choose 4 total dishes between us.

I began my meal with a wonderfully spicy bloody mary and a piece of the fresh, chewy, crusty bread that had been brought out.

Our appetizers were a roasted corn soup with mushrooms and flatbread and a mesclun/bibb/endive salad with figs, almonds, hearts of palm and amazing little filo-crusted goat cheese sticks. The soup was my favorite course of the day (aside from the dessert), creamy but not too heavy, with a the wonderful taste and smell of fresh summer corn. The meaty mushrooms added a beautiful and tasty garnish. The flatbread which floated atop the soup, though it got soggy pretty quickly, added another interesting element of textures to the smooth soup. The salad was as described, but for some reason it didn’t really blow me away as much as I’d expected, except for the goat cheese sticks which were truly a treat with their crisp coating and soft, melty centers.

For our entrees we shared the basil linguine with shrimp, vegetables and tomato sauce, and the potato crusted salmon with haricot verts and morels (my FAVORITE kind of mushroom). The pasta really did taste like basil and was a pleasant, light green color. It was clearly homemade and cooked perfectly al dente. The shrimp were large, fresh, cooked perfectly and of excellent quality. The vegetable and tomato sauce were light and summer-y, but in my opinion, weren’t really the best compliments for the shrimp and pasta. I would have preferred a broth or herb sauce instead of the tomato. The salmon, though it was slightly over-cooked instead of rare in the center as salmon really should be, was beautifully presented with a spiral of slivered, golden potatoes on top. The haricot verts and morels were wonderful, and I enjoyed them more than the star of the plate.

For dessert, a gorgeous chocolate cake was presented to the happy couple and then plated individually with raspberry sorbet and fresh fruit. This happened to be a noteworthy chocolate mousse cake, and my plate was so clean afterwards that it left no question about whether I liked it or not. The sorbet came in little, crunchy, caramelized, honey-flavored pastry cups that when broken up went great on each forkful of chocolate. I’m still thinking about this cake, and it’s probably a good thing (for my waistline) that I didn’t bring home any of the leftovers because I’d be chowing down on a 2nd, 3rd and 4th piece right about now.

If you get a chance to take a trip out of the city for a truly special meal, check Bernard’s out. A great place to celebrate a special day, or something to make it’s very own occasion out of. I hope I have a reason to return at some point!

 
 *photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders. http://www.magicsandbox.com/enter/Magic_Sandbox.html

Chock Full O’ Nuts: 25 W. 23rd St. New York, NY

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Chock Full O’ Nuts has sort of become a typical meeting spot for my boyfriend and I when we have time to squeeze a workday lunch in. We’ve gone a few times now and I have to say, it’s a great little lunch spot on the edge of Madison Square Park.

Our very friendly and charismatic waiter, Tom, has started recognizing us and always treats us extra-specially well. He, and this coffee shop, are really quite consistently above your typical diner find, and It’s high-time I finally blog about it.

I’ve included pics of my last two meals there- the wrap is one that I’ve ordered twice now. It simply consists of portobellos, arugula, roasted red pepper and zucchini with a light balsamic dressing. It’s nothing particularly fancy or remarkable but it’s just soooooo good. Today I had well-done sweet potato fries on the side (for the same price as the regular ones that come with it! How unusual!) and they were awesome. When I’m in a more breakfast-y mood, the options are endless and always great. The eggs are always cooked perfectly and the bacon is, believe it or not, exceptional. Thick-cut and super crunchy, not greasy.

The prices here are super reasonable and the coffee is always hot, fresh and refilled quickly. I’ve always wanted to be a ‘regular’ somewhere, I guess this is it!

 

 *photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders. http://www.magicsandbox.com/enter/Magic_Sandbox.html

Caffe Grazie: 26 E. 84th st. New York, NY

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My mother took me, my beloved Grandma and my Great Aunt Millie out for restaurant week lunch at Caffe Grazie, and It was a very pleasant experience. Just about everything on the prix fix menu appealed to me, and I had a hard time choosing what to order. I decided to go with the lightest of the 3 appetizer options, so I ordered the gazpacho. It was delicious. So summery and refreshing with the perfect combo of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and spices. I would have loved some (more) cilantro since that’s my favorite herb, but it didn’t really need it. It wasn’t completely smooth, but not really chunky either- which I generally prefer…it was a nice somewhere-in-between. I tried my Mom’s watermelon, feta, brioche croutons, mint, chickpea salad and it was really wonderful. The appetizer I didn’t order, but totally wanted, was the fried mozzarella with yellow and red tomatoes, basil and balsamic…but because I was about to eat steak AND mousse for my next courses, I figured that would really be too much indulgence for one day.

My entrée was flank steak over salad greens with caramelized onions and grilled tomatoes. What a fantastic summer lunch. Filling without being too much. There were only a few pieces of perfectly marinated and grilled steak so it wasn’t overly heavy as a mid-day meal. A very light dressing and the tomatoes and onions were a nice touch to finish it off.

For dessert, I had the VERY rich chocolate mousse with fresh berries. It was a fairly small portion, a good thing in my opinion when you are essentially eating heavy cream in a bowl. There were more berries than mousse and they were perfectly ripe and fresh. The chocolate was dark and the berries lightened it into a somehow refreshing ending to a great meal.

I looked over the rest of the menu and saw so much on it that I’d love to go back for. The atmosphere here is small and comfortable and makes a great spot to go with family. I would consider going back, but without restaurant week prices it’s actually a bit out of my budget, and the reality is that it doesn’t have quite enough wow factor to justify splurging on.

Lure Fishbar: 142 Mercer St. New York, NY

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After my CD release gig at the Bitter End (shameless plug: http://www.cdbaby.com/careyyaruss2) Gabriel and I decided to go celebrate with a cocktail and some seafood at Lure. I’d been there a few times for their $1 oyster happy hour, but never for anything else. We arrived to a full restaurant and were seated in a quiet, corner booth relatively quickly- just as soon as they could clear and re-set the table for us. No one gave us weirdo looks when we decided to sit on the same side next to each other. I often prefer ‘next to’ instead of ‘across from’, and I appreciated that they had actually set the table that way for us.

It was a pleasant surprise to see that they were participating in restaurant week- my favorite NYC ‘holiday’ (which has apparently been extended into restaurant SUMMER and is continuing through the beginning of September!!! OH HAPPY NEWS!) where 3 course lunches are $25 and 3 course dinners are $35 at a ton of the city’s restaurants. Since it was late and we didn’t want to stuff ourselves, we decided to order drinks, one prix fixe meal to share and a side of garlic spinach.

I had a strawberry/basil martini and it was STRONG. Then again, I was drinking on a mostly empty stomach. I intended to wait until I’d eaten a little bit before having a second sip. It was so delicious though, that I continued sipping on it before the food arrived. I can safely say that one cocktail was plenty for me.

We started with a raw bar sampler which included 2 each of shrimp, blue point oysters and kumamoto oysters. All were succulent and with a squeeze of lemon hardly needed any of the vinaigrette or cocktail sauce that sat next to them on the platter. There was also a tartar sauce flavored with lemon and horseradish that was tasty, but I skipped it so as to taste the purity of the fresh seafood. Our main course was the sushi sampler, 8 pieces of sushi and one salmon/avocado roll. I have to comment on the awesome ginger that came with this. It wasn’t the standard ginger, but a little bit thicker cut, fresher, and much more flavorful than most. We finished all of it before we even finished the sushi- which was also excellent. The spinach was a great accompaniment to our meal- even though It didn’t really go with it. We wanted a little something green and it was garlickylicious and cooked perfectly- not at all soggy or buttery, just fresh and wonderful.

For dessert we had the warm chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream and popcorn brittle. Now I personally don’t care at all that little, plain, round, warm, melty, chocolate cakes are no longer considered hip or cool enough to be at fine restaurants. Apparently, they are oh-so 90’s ,but as far as I’m concerned, that is just snobby bullshit. It’s a perfectly delicious piece of heaven. How can that possibly go out of style? I guess they add the trendy salted caramel ice cream as a more current touch, and it certainly was tasty- but as far as I’m concerned, warm, melty, chocolate things are always fine by me, with or without of-the-moment ice creams. Aside our cake sat the most decadent piece of dark chocolate, with ‘congratulations’ written on the top. Our waitress was rather awesome and sweet- giving me a big, heart-felt congratulations and asking me about my music. I was really touched that she was interested. How thoughtful is my awesome boyfriend to have mentioned to the waitress that it was a special night for me? Very very sweet. Just like my yummy dessert.

 *photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders. http://www.magicsandbox.com/enter/Magic_Sandbox.html (except for 
the one of both of us that our lovely waitress took)

Numero 28: 28 Carmine st. New York, NY

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My band mates and I had a bit of time to kill between sound check and a gig last night. We were starving and in the West Village so we had a ton of choices of where to grab a quick meal. Our pianist knew of this place, and described their pizza as ‘better than pizza I’ve had in Italy’. QUITE the bold statement…and absolutely worth checking out. Now I’ve never actually been to Italy, and don’t know much about the pizza there except for the wonderful description from Eat, Pray, Love that describes a particular pizza as something that the main character did not *enjoy*, but actually was having a relationship with…and I felt that anything that could even come close to that was worth trying.

We were seated right away, and ordered 2 Insalata di rucolas (Arugula, tomatoes, parmesan cheese) to share among the 4 of us, as well as one HUGE, 29″ (long and narrow) Margherita Reginella (tomato, bufala mozzarella, basil) pizza.

I have to say, WOW. Just a big WOW. I SO wished I wasn’t about to go sing for an hour in front of a bunch of people so that I could have totally pigged out on this deliciousness, but alas, I really did not want to have to squeeze into the dress of the evening…I had just one small piece of amazing pizza and some salad, and pretty much continued fantasizing about it for the rest of the night.

I will most definitely be back…next time with stretchy pants.

Momofuku Milk Bar: 251 E. 13th St. New York, NY

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I read a few rave reviews about Momofuku Milk Bar a couple of years ago and up until today, it seemed like every single time I passed by it, I had *just* finished eating and was too full to try anything. Today was different, having come from a running coaching session, and I was excited to have a cookie and a little taste of the cereal milk soft serve I’d heard such good things about.

I have to say, as someone who is almost always thrilled with any sugary tastings, I was less than impressed today. The cereal milk ice cream, while it WAS nice and cold on a very hot day, and it DID really bring me back to the days of savoring that delicious leftover milk in the bowl after breakfast, was only eh. More icy than creamy, and a little too sweet- even for me. I’m guessing this one is much better if you’re a local NYU stoner than a 34 year old without a munchees-induced palette. The cookie was also only eh. This blueberries & cream cookie was suggested by the baker on site as her favorite one. The dried blueberries had a nice chewy consistency, and the small pieces of white chocolate were pretty good in their slightly caramelized state, the cookie itself was the perfect stage of just barely finished baking, with a soft inside and a slightly crisp outer edge, but overall it really didn’t blow me away for some reason. Maybe it was simply because white chocolate never seems quite as wonderful as dark or milk chocolate to me. Maybe because before I asked for a suggestion, I was really more drawn to trying the marshmallow and chocolate one. Or maybe just because it was only an okay cookie.

Oh well, sometimes I guess when you wait long enough and hear so much hype about a place, it’s only natural that there might be a little disappointment.

Neptune Diner: 31-05 Astoria Blvd, Astoria, NY

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A little bit tipsy in Astoria after a party at midnight and what do we find? A diner with a big sign saying that the Daily Post rated it the #1 diner in Queens! Perfect!

We were seated right away at a quiet table in the back corner and checked out the extensive and fairly priced menu. I usually try not to eat so late, especially if it’s not something relatively clean and healthy, but the chicken fingers were calling my name. Loudly. I ordered a side salad to balance out the grease and relieve some of the guilt. The shot of vodka I’d had prior relieved the remainder of said guilt.

Ohhh, it was SO worth it. Some of the best chicken fingers I’ve EVER had. I asked for honey mustard and bbq sauce for dipping and found that they went together perfectly. They actually weren’t greasy like I expected, just golden fried and perfectly cooked. Totally hit the spot. My side salad was way better than regular diner fare. No iceberg lettuce here! A nice mix of Romaine and curly and plenty of veggies including cucumbers, red cabbage, tomatoes and carrots with a decent blue cheese dressing on the side. Our waiter was super friendly and efficient. This was an ideal midnight meal and I’m really glad it was so conveniently located right next to the subway back into the city. If I’m in the area and hungry late at night, I’ll be back!

*photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders. http://www.magicsandbox.com/enter/Magic_Sandbox.html

Song: 295 Fifth Ave. Brooklyn (Park Slope), NY

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I was in Park Slope for a rehearsal today and some band mates and I decided to go have lunch afterwards. We were pointed to this restaurant by the one person in the band who lives in the area, and since we all love Thai food we gave it a try. At 3pm on a Friday, it was relatively empty with only one or two other tables full. We were seated right away in the sleek, minimalistic atmosphere, and I noticed the great patio in the back with very cute ,colorful, printed pillows. It was a little too hot to sit out there, but on a cooler day it looked pretty awesome.

The menu was fairly typical Thai fair. The lunch entrees were all under $10, incredibly fair for a meal that was really above average.

The service was casual, friendly and fast. The kitchen is open, allowing for a view of the chefs and the flames as they made our meals.

We got a calamari appetizer for the table, which was lightly tempura battered and fried. Not at all greasy, and with a sweet and sour mango dipping sauce that went over very well. So well, in fact, that after we polished off the calamari and made it down to the bed of romaine that it sat on, we continued using the lettuce to dip until the sauce bowl was clean.

I had a Tom Yum Koong soup and a small salad with tofu and peanut sauce and everything was excellent. The soup had the perfect combo of tangy and spicy, and the shrimp and cilantro were fresh and flavorful. The salad was crisp and cold, with a few strips of fried tofu on top. The peanut sauce was an especially good one and I kind of wished I had ordered a bigger salad so I could keep using it.

If I’m in the area again craving Thai, I will definitely go back. Check it out!

Buttermilk Channel: 524 Court Street. Brooklyn, NY

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Ah Buttermilk Channel. I’ve been meaning to visit you for SO long. Ever since I read the rave reviews in countless magazines and blogs and then found out that an old friend who I grew up going to summer camp with is the owner, I’ve been meaning to get there. It took me way too long to finally go and when the 3rd annual random friends brunch came around (a little party I throw every year where I post an open invite on my facebook wall and the first 10 to respond join me in the fun) I thought this was the perfect pick.

When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by Doug’s (the owner) awesome wife and drink orders were taken while they got our table ready. My spicy bloody mary, complete with a homemade pickle spear, hit the spot. I LOVE horseradish, and this drink was bold and flavorful with a serious kick to it. The pickle was a cute, creative touch, so much more interesting than the typical piece of celery.

When we were seated, Doug was kind enough to send over some snacks to munch on while we drank, got acquainted, and looked over the menu. As you can see by my first picture, we were hungry. We chowed down on the treats way too quickly for me to remember to snap a picture. What you see there are the remnants of homemade pickles, walnut coffee cake and these incredible maple, bacon almonds that I seriously would have eaten all of if I wasn’t supposed to share with the others. Deeeeelicious.

The menu is a bit quirky, totally comfort-food oriented, and what I’d call down-home-creative. The big hit at the table were the pork chops over cheddar waffles, but everyone enjoyed their own meals as well. I shared the mushroom, spinach, goat cheese scramble and the pecan french toast. The scramble was awesome, especially the many different kinds of mushrooms, and I really enjoyed it. The salad and toast that came with it rounded out the meal nicely, but the little potato pancake was a bit on the greasy side for my taste. Very crunchy and hot though, and I’d imagine that people who didn’t grow up in Jewish families who make outstanding potato latkes would probably have loved it. The pecan pie french toast has been talked about on almost every review I’ve read so I felt like we had to try it. It was VERY sweet, made with fresh, delicious, thick-cut bread and served with a scoop of fluffy whipped cream or marscapone, or maybe whipped ricotta (oops, I forgot to ask) and covered with bourbon, molasses pecans. This dish WAS delicious, but I would really put it into a dessert category instead of a main course. I happen to have a pretty serious sweet tooth, and this was even a little too much for me.

The overall vibe of Buttermilk Channel couldn’t be more perfect. Hip, without being at all pretentious. Trendy, but also very chill. Relaxed, comfortable, warm, and the kind of place that locals must adore meeting at every Sunday. It’s a bit off the beaten path for me- over an hour to get there, but even so, I will probably be back. Many thanks to Doug for making this event super special, taking such good care of us, and welcoming us into his second home.

 

*photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders. http://www.magicsandbox.com/enter/Magic_Sandbox.html

Caputo’s Bake Shop: 329 Court St. Brooklyn, NY

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I believe my exact words after taking my first bite of this rainbow cake were, “Oh, holy shit!”.

I am a rainbow cake connoisseur. I do not kid around about these little cakes. I have been eating these since I was a wee one, and I take them very seriously. I have been on a continual quest to find the best ones in the world, and pretty much anytime I see them (as long as they don’t have <shudder> sprinkles on them) I have to buy one.

When G and I stumbled onto Caputo’s by chance, I recalled being told about it by a trusted friend of mine and knew that we must go in to sample my beloved pastries. I can emphatically and triumphantly declare that this happenstance was sent from the rainbow cake gods to me, with love. This is my new favorite. Yes, I know that is a bold statement, but I also know that not everyone uses real marzipan in between 2 of the layers, fresh jam and the most wonderfully almondy, moist, 3 colors of cake you could imagine. Wrap all of this up in high quality, dark chocolate and yes, you have true rainbow cake perfection.

Yes, there was another cookie. It WAS also delicious but c’mon, let’s acknowledge the facts. The rainbow cake made me say holy shit.

 

*photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders. http://www.magicsandbox.com/enter/Magic_Sandbox.html