Friday, July 29, 2011

Dinner | Social Eatz

Firstly, I'd like to sincerely apologize for lagging behind on posts. It's been kinda crazy on my end (big, big news!) -- Marcus and I are moving in together, to Roosevelt Island to be exact, in less than a week! As such, we've been spending the last few weeks getting everything ready for the move, so I'm quite behind (more than I like, anyhow) on blog posts. Please forgive me -- I'm working on them as best as I can!

Anyways, early last month, Marcus and I stopped at Social Eatz, Chef Angelo Sosa's American-Asian restaurant. Chef Sosa was the runner-up in Season 7 of Top Chef that took place in Washington, D.C. He began his career as a chef. After graduating with High Honors from the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Sosa worked with Chef Christian Bertrand as well as Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. A few years later, he began consulting other restaurants with his expertise, particularly in Asian cuisine. His consulting work includes Stephen Starr’s Buddakan, Asian-Mediterranean hot-spot LOFT, Morimoto, and Alain Ducasse’s Spoon.

Social Eatz is Chef Sosa's most recent project as both executive chef and owner, where he designed a menu that reinterprets New York City staples with flavors from across Asia.

In fact, Eater named Social Eatz's bibimbap burger (never even knew this kind of burger existed!) as the winner of "Best Burger in America" competition.

Inside Social Eatz -- definitely has a trendy, contemporary diner vibe to it. Love the orange and black!

The menus almost looked like diner placemats!

Per our server's suggestions, I opted to start off the meal with a cocktail called the carrot & ginger fizz, consisting of 2 ounces of Stoli orange mixed with "vibrant" carrot juice, a touch of Canton liqueur, and a zetz (Yiddish for a "strike" or "hit") of yuzu juice. Overall, I thought the carrot and ginger infusion was very refreshing, but found the alcohol content to be a bit strong and overpowering. Maybe I'm not the best vodka drinker, so I may not be the right person to consult on such matters, haha.

Marcus started with the yuzu collins, a cocktail consisting 1.5 ounces of Bombay Sapphire gin blended with tart yuzu juices, "citrussy" Cointreau, and a capful of pure cane syrup, finally ending with a "splash" of soda for the flavors that "sparkles." Quite the mouthful right there! Marcus thought this cocktail was just okay, mainly because he wished there was more citrus flavor and less alcohol. The inspiration was definitely there, just needed some tweaks in execution.

There was no way I was going to leave Social Eatz that evening without trying the famous bibimbap burger. Bibimbap is actually Korean for "mixed meal," as the burger here had the typical bibimbap mix of ground beef with a slow-cooked egg, covered in lettuce, and served with pickled carrots and cucumbers. I actually really liked the composition of the burger in that, instead of being served in its traditional dolsot (i.e., a very hot stone bowl) in which a raw egg is cooked against the sides of the bowl, it is encapsulated (as much as it can be) between two toasted burger buns. Even though the size of this burger was quite overwhelming, it had all the full, hearty flavors that you'd find in a dolsot bibimbap, maintaining its authenticity in a more modern vessel (i.e., sandwich-form). If you do come to Social Eatz, I highly recommend this burger, as it is the restaurant's signature dish. My only warning, though, is that it is very sauce-laden, so make sure you have your plate underneath every bite so it catches any dripping sauce without ruining your finest pair of slacks!

Marcus ordered the kung pao sandwich with soy-sesame-marinated certified organic chicken that was iron-seared with Thai chili and finished with smooth roasted peanut spread, which the chef refers to on the menu as "certifiably insane." Marcus enjoyed it very much, primarily for its sweet and spicy flavors. His only gripes about the sandwich were that the chicken kept slipping out (making it very difficult to eat evenly between the two bread slices) and that it was really drenched in sauce (also making it difficult to eat). So again, beware of the dripping sauce that comes with sandwich/burger territory at Social Eatz.

For dessert, Marcus and I ordered the yuzu cream puffs, which were "pillowy" puffs filled with a sweet and creamy yuzu curd, adding the tartness of the yuzu citrus fruit. These were disappointing for us in that the cream puff dough was kinda inconsequential (i.e., not at all fluffy as it is supposed to be), and the curd-to-puff dough ratio was also very weak -- not a very good balance. Overall, the dessert didn't really stand out to us all that much. Hopefully just an off-day.

Findings: Definitely loved the casual and welcoming atmosphere at Social Eatz. The cocktail selection was very interesting with many Asian flavors infused in some unique concoctions -- just a little bit heavy on the alcohol. If the bartender lets up a little bit, the cocktails would go down a tad easier. The bibimbap burger is a must-order for sure! The runny yolk of the egg mixed in with the pickled veggies on top of the burger definitely made the experience for me. Going just for this famed burger is worth it for sure! The kung pao sandwich was pretty good, too, but I advise skipping dessert and substituting a appetizer. Chef Sosa has a really fun concept going on at Social Eatz -- perhaps there will be some newer items appearing on the menu sometime soon!

Price point: $13 for each cocktail, $9-12 for each main course, $6 for dessert.

--June 4, 2011

Social Eatz
232 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dinner | Takashi

About four Sundays ago, Marcus and I went to dinner with Lisa at Takashi over in the West Village.

Lisa and I had been talking about trying this Japanese-Korean restaurant for quite some time now (again, thanks to Sam Sifton's review in The New York Times), so we thought nabbing a last-minute table at Takashi on a Sunday evening would be feasible. It was so last-minute in fact that I had called that Sunday afternoon with the tiny hope that the restaurant could accommodate our party of three. I had expected a pushy staff to nearly laugh in my face for thinking I could call the day of for a reservation along with long waits outside the restaurant, but instead, I was met with the friendliest of staff (the maître d' was patient and helpful) and a low anticipated wait. I had asked him if it would be possible to make a reservation for a party of three for dinner later on that evening. As I already knew the policy was that the restaurant only took reservations for four or more, I was hoping I could squeeze by this somehow. And guess what?! We were in luck! He told me that he'd be happy to make a reservation for me, so long as my entire party would all be punctual for the reservation time and so long as it didn't get too busy that night (which he reported as it usually didn't). With that, I knew I liked them already!

Inside the intimate 34-seat restaurant.

The fun illustrations and detailed explanation behind Takashi and its menu appear on the blackboard along the side of the restaurant. I should also probably mention that its menu is all beef. So if you're not a red meat eater, then Takashi isn't the right place for you. Choice cuts of premium Japanese and American angus as well as assorted offal called horumon (i.e., Japanese for "discarded goods") are served raw to be grilled at your table (called yakinuku). There are also items on the menu that are served simply raw (called nama), recommended before the cooked portion of the meal. The restaurant spent months hand-picking where each cut of beef would be sourced from, "settling for nothing but the tastiest meat from sustainably-raised cattle with no antibiotics of hormones." Among Takashi's smorgasboard of beef offerings are sourced from local New York state farms, from Kansas's Creekstone Farm, and Oregon's Washugyu cows.

Takashi is run by Chef Takashi Inoue, a third-generation Korean immigrant born in Osaka, Japan. His menu is inspired and influenced by his heritage, "combining the bold, heartiness of Korean flavors with the finesse of Japanese cuisine."

The grill for the yakiniku portion of the meal.

We were served a mix of small plates before the menu items were served, which included pickled bean sprouts, kimchi, and an iceberg lettuce salad with this awesome Asian-flavored vinaigrette.

We started off the raw portion of our dinner by sharing the nama-senmai, flash boiled third stomach with spicy miso sauce and fresh scallions. The texture was very similar to jellyfish if you've ever had it before (i.e., a combination of chewy-crunchy). This was a little bit of a letdown as there didn't seem to be much flavor that permeated throughout -- it was mostly bland.

Our second nama course was the yooke, which was thinly-sliced chuck eye beef tartare in special sauce topped with a raw quail egg yolk, Japanese seaweed and wedge of lemon.

Our waiter broke the egg yolk with a pair of chopsticks and mixed it in with the beef tartare and the other ingredients.

Here is the yooke in its final form, ready to be eaten. The egg yolk made the cuts of chuck eye a more cohesive unit, allowing for the nori and seasoning to be evenly spread throughout. We enjoyed this tartare course very much -- it definitely had stronger and more interesting flavors throughout, and the meat was very tender and easy to chew and eat. The yooke is definitely something you should order from the raw list.

We also ordered the niku-uni from the nama section of the menu, which is chuck flap served on leaves of seaweed and shiso topped with raw sea urchin and fresh wasabi. It is one of the most popular items on Takashi's menu. As Lisa is a huge uni fanatic (myself too), there was no way we could pass this up on the menu either. So seriously, amazing stuff here. The chuck flap and uni were enveloped with the freshness of the shiso leaf and the crispness of the square sheet of nori, almost like a Japanese version of a taco. The savory texture and taste of uni complemented the tenderness and full flavor of the chuck flap. If there's any doubt in your mind that you'll enjoy this, remove any ounce of doubt and take that leap of faith. It really is as awesome (if not more) as it sounds. Even Marcus, who has been on the fence about uni, reported that he was shocked at how good it was.

To continue our dinner into the yakiniku portion of the meal, we ordered the rosu (ribeye), which we opted to be marinated in Takashi's sauce.Whatever the mystery sauce was, it worked wonders for the slices of ribeye. If you're looking for something simple (aka, you prefer to stay away from offal/innards), the rosu is a very safe bet. Simply grilled at the center of the table, the ribeye meat was perfect at a temperature of medium rare -- very soft, juicy, and tender throughout, dripping with the optimal amount of Takashi's marinade. Once the meat is grilled to your desired temperature, our waiter suggested we squeeze a little lemon juice on it for extra flavor.

We also ordered mino (first stomach), opting for the dish to be seasoned with salt, garlic and sesame oil. I usually go gaga for tripe (gotta love it in Asian cuisine), but I was very disappointed with the mino. I think it may have been partially our fault because I think we overcooked it past its ideal temperature. It was really chewy and tough, making it very difficult to eat. The marinade was great, but just not enough to make up for the texture.

Lisa thought it'd be fun to try the shibire (sweetbreads) seasoned with salt, garlic and sesame oil, as we've had pretty delicious experiences with sweetbreads. I found it quite funny that this was the first thing Lisa wanted to order from the yakiniku section of the menu. To my surprise, this was even better than what I had expected. They were dense and rich with flavor while maintaining a silky soft texture, and the seasoning seeped in very nicely, highlighting its almost bacon-like taste and flavor. Along with the niku-uni, this is another must-order, especially if you're fond of being "adventurous" when it comes to offal.

The three of us grilling our main courses.

On the side, we ordered one order of bakudan (Japanese for "rice-bomb") served with Korean seaweed and pickled sesame leaf. For me, I enjoyed the bakudan wrapped in Korean seaweed a little bit more than the pickled sesame leaf, but both rice-bombs definitely had more flavor than plain white rice.

For dessert, Marcus had homemade Madagascar vanilla soft-serve ice cream with "the works" -- shiratama (rice-flour dumplings), kurogoma kinako (black sesame
and soybean flour), azuki (sweet beans), and caramel syrup. "The works" is definitely the way to go with this dessert, where this combination of Asian ingredients and flavors yields the ultimate soft-serve experience.

Lisa and I shared the same dessert, only ours had green tea syrup instead of caramel syrup. Between ours and Marcus's, I really liked the green tea syrup (then again, I love green tea ice cream), while Lisa and Marcus preferred the caramel syrup. So definitely get "the works" with your preference of green tea syrup or caramel syrup.

Findings: The three of us had an awesome dinner at Takashi . The restaurant's concept for the menu (i.e., entirely beef) was certainly interesting, as you would probably expect a bovine-centric restaurant to be more like a steakhouse, but it is so much more than that. It is an intimate restaurant, where the portions are not overwhelmingly gigantic (as most steakhouses are) and the waitstaff is very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu's unusual ingredients. You also don't feel as if you're eating too unhealthily because of all this red meat you thought you'd be consuming. The array of prime cuts (ribeye all the way) and offal (its sweetbreads are great) is variegated in type and seasoning so that you're bound to find something to suits your tastes and preferences. In addition, the nama portion of the menu has a lovely selection of atypical "raw" preparations. The niku-uni and the yooke were solid items to order as they are very unique in ingredient and combined taste. Overall, I would say to expect an interactive and appetizing dining experience at Takashi.

Price point: $14-24 for each nama dish, $12-24 for each yakiniku dish, $10 for soft-serve ice cream with the works.

--June 5, 2011

456 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dessert | Big Gay Ice Cream Truck

I've been to the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck before this occasion, where I had an cookie ice cream sandwich of sorts that I had really enjoyed. So when Groupon offered it as one of its "Featured Deals of the Day," I knew I had to hop on the chance to have an excuse to go back (besides, who can turn down $10 worth of two ice cream cones for $5?!).

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck was started by Douglas Quint, a professional bassoonist, and his partner, Bryan Petroff. After acquiring a "big gay ice cream truck," Mr. Quint was "armed with a concept but no practical experience" at all. But this didn't discourage him. He began "he long process of developing a brand identity, researching unique topping ideas in his test kitchen, securing his Mobile Food Vendor License, and bringing his vision to life." Big Gay Ice Cream Truck has been brought to fruition since 2009, when the Truck debuted at Brooklyn Pride.

As The New York Times said the "operation doesn't aspire to be artisanal," as Mr. Quint "celebrates the Mister Softee tradition, with a wink." The "wink" that The Times describes refers to the unusual marriages of flavors and toppings (including sriracha, ginger syrup, olive oil, and wasabi pea dust to start) over the traditional soft-serve ice cream found in typical ice cream trucks.

The Groupon deal was only good for regular-sized cones and not for sundaes or waffle cones as well as a few specialty cones.

Mr. Quint (at least that's who I think it was!) methodically making our ice cream cones!

I went with a regular-sized cone of the Bea Arthur, which was vanilla soft-serve ice cream with crushed Nilla wafers and dulce de leche. Probably one of the best soft-serve ice cream and topping combination I've ever had, especially from a food truck! I love that the dulce de leche was squeezed onto the ice cream swirl going vertically (creating long strands around the cone) as opposed to a circular shape around the ice cream swirl. I felt this gave a better balance of dulce de leche throughout the cone. I also liked that the entire surface of the ice cream cone was covered in crushed Nilla wafers, where no surface was left uncovered, especially since I'm a "ratio eater" (i.e., I like to eat the different ingredients in a given dish in a matching ratio so that every bite is consistent throughout). The Nilla wafers gave a nice textural contrast to the smoothness and creaminess of the soft-serve as well as the sweetness and thickness of the dulce de leche.

Marcus had a regular-sized cone of the Salty Pimp, which was vanilla soft-serve ice cream, with dulce de leche and sea salt, all dipped in chocolate, creating a hardened exterior shell over the ice cream. Another hit in the ball park for me as well as for Marcus. The ice cream cone was done in the same way that the dulce de leche was done for Bea Arthur, only there was this awesome chocolate shell around it with couple pinches of sea salt. Just as amazing as it sounds. Only warning here is to eat it quickly, especially in really warm weather, as it melts quicker than the non-chocolate coated cones. If not, you will risk losing the soft-serve delight to the elements as it melts away over your shoes onto the sidewalk.

Findings: If you're looking for culinary creativity paired with a cone filled and swirled with soft-serve ice cream, Big Gay Ice Cream Truck has what you're looking for. With unusual toppings as well as some pretty outrageously delicious specialty cones (like our Bea Arthur and Salty Pimp selections), you're bound to come across something new and amazing that will satisfy your palate on a warm summer day or evening. And even without a Groupon, I still thing $3-5 for a soft-serve treat from Big Gay Ice Cream Truck is a steal of a deal! So get your butt over to the truck for a well-deserved treat today!

Price point: Bea Arthur regular-sized cone for $4, Salty Pimp regular-sized cone for $5; a total of $5 with Groupon!

--June 7, 2011

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
check website and Twitter for updates / daily location

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck deal available here*!

* This deal is no longer available at the moment, but keep your eyes peeled! Sign-up for Groupon, and maybe they will offer the deal again soon.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Lunch | macbar

One weekend in May, Marcus and I decided to finally try macbar, the macaroni-and-cheese annex of Nolita's Delicatessen, a hip diner where you can find its advertised "international comfort food." Chef Michael Ferraro, who runs both joints, put together a menu of a dozen varieties of "gourmet" mac-and-cheeses. Talk about embracing comfort food!

I thought the elbow macaroni logo (which also serves as the "c" in macbar") was quite typographically witty!

The macbar menu consisting of twelve different kinds of mac-and-cheese, both traditional and unique!

Inside macbar! Even the seating area is reminiscent of the shape of elbow macaroni!

Medium- and large-sized portions medium and large order come in these bright yellow, elbow-shaped plastic bowls by package designer, Ron Lerner. Even the handle of the plastic, jigsaw-like fitting utensils are shaped in the same hollow fashion as elbow macaroni, too!

All menu-items are made-to-order and are individually baked in their own foil trays, guaranteeing freshly baked "homemade"-style mac-and-cheese! But be wary though -- they are scorching hot when they're ready and served to you, so be careful! Marcus ordered a medium-sized Classic, consisting of elbow macaroni with American and cheddar cheeses. Surprisingly, Marcus wasn't a huge fan of this style of macaroni (i.e., "casserole"-like) -- he prefers the kind of mac-and-cheese where the consistency is creamier (without the layer of crisp, casserole-from-the-oven cheese on top). Nevertheless, he still found it to be pretty good mac-and-cheese if casserole is the way you like it. For me, this is truly the "classic" homemade mac-and-cheese comfort food you remember finding in your childhood kitchens (made with love, of course)!

I initially wanted to try the Mac Lobsta' (with tender chunks of fresh lobster, cognac, tarragon, and marscarpone) firstly because I love lobster, and secondly, because it didn't have any cheeses that would do somersaults in my sensitive stomach. Only problem was that macbar was out of Mac Lobsta' for the day, so I had to seek an alternative!

After thoroughly perusing the twelve different offerings on the menu, I decided on a small-sized Mac 'Shroom, which had my all-time favorite vegetable, mushrooms! The Mac 'Shroom was comprised of elbow macaroni with roasted "magic" mushrooms, fontina, mascarpone, and truffled essence. I was wary about the fontina (i.e., a cheese that my taste buds and stomach aren't very familiar with), but I decided not to fuss over it. Luckily, all was well, and I quite enjoyed the mushroom mac-and-cheese with a hint of truffle oil! I would have to say my favorite part if the burnt cheese on top -- adds a nice crispness to the softness of the underlying cheese and elbows.

For all of you tall folks out there, be careful with the waste receptacle area. Marcus hit is head on this illusive mirror cut-off thing while he was disposing of our finished platters of mac-and-cheese!

Findings: For mac-and-cheese lovers, I would say macbar is just for you. With a varying menu offering a dozen gourmet combinations of traditional as well as unique ingredients, macbar is bound to have a mac-and-cheese that's right up your alley. The prices are pretty reasonable, considering everything is made-to-order and comes to you scorching hot, right out of the oven. I would definitely love to go back to try the Mac Lobsta', which I think I would've enjoyed a lot more, not because the Mac 'Shroom was bad or anything, but just because it's just straight mascarpone! If you can't decide, you can't go wrong with the traditional Classic -- after all, there's nothing like the homemade mac-and-cheese that Mom used to make in a casserole pan for special occasions.

Price point: medium-sized Classic for $7.99, small-sized Mac 'Shroom for $7.50.

--June 5, 2011

54 Prince Street
New York, NY10012


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