Category Archives: Private Party

Gyu Kaku

I’m always reluctant to dine at a restaurant that can immediately accommodate a group at 8pm on a Friday. After being declined for a table at Ippudo and searching for a new place in the pouring rain this weekend, however, I couldn’t have been happier to be seated at Gyu Kaku right away. Gyu Kaku reminds me a lot of childhood favorite restaurant, Benihana, but instead of Japanese food, it’s Korean, and instead of sitting and watching talented chefs cook your meals, you’re making your own at your table. My visiting family and I were seated at a booth with a wooden table and a habachi grill in the middle. The place is seductive: dimly lit with black walls, it supplements the fun concept of cooking and eating with a small dose of sophistication.

one gyu kaku booth

The menu looked like a mess of hundreds of thumbnails of raw meat, so rather than selecting a la carte, my family and I went for order the Gyu Kaku meal for two that included salad, soup, salmon sashimi, garlic rice, and a variety of red meat, chicken, shrimp and veggies to grill for $90. Considering the amount of extra food despite splitting the meal between three people, this combination was quite a good deal.

salmon with a delicious soy vinaigrette

habachi!

I loved everything about the meal. The salad was cold and crisp, the salmon sashimi was incredibly fresh (and even better after searing it on the grill for a few seconds – an absolute crime in any sushi restaurant), and the sea bass was tender, flavorful, and smokey. The red meats won the table popularity contest, and between every variation we were able to taste, the Kobe was definitely the standout.

kobe beef

Another favorite of mine was the sukiyaki bibimbap, which was one of the few items that required no self-preparation. The waiter comes to the table with a stone bowl, stirs around the rice to cook the egg, and then spins it a few times so the rice crisps up against the hot edges of the serving dish. After waiting three minutes, the rice concoction is ready to eat, and along with the grilled meats, is one delicious garlicky concoction.

subtly sweet sukiyaki bibimbap

I could definitely see myself making a birthday party out of Gyu Kaku. Cooking food, while at times distracting to any formal conversation, is interactive, fun, and makes an adventure out of eating out with friends. Yes, cooking while starving can be overwhelming and not ideal for those looking to kick up their feet and be fed, but I will definitely be back when entertainment and originality calls.

Grade: A-

Location: Multiple; 34 Cooper Square

Website: http://www.gyu-kaku.com

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Filed under Fun Group Dinner, Korean, Private Party

Abe and Arthurs

main dining room

I’m never one to judge a book by its cover, but Abe and Arthurs just undeniably screams Meatpacking, where scene and exclusivity takes priority over quality and value of food. That said, having yet to find a negative review, I was looking forward to trying it as my sister’s restaurant choice for my dad’s visit this week. Up until that point, my only remarkable experience here involved seeing Ed Westwick vigorously smoking a cigarette outside with his groupies. Sadly nothing notable in the celeb-sighting sense occurred this time around, but the food surprisingly satisfied my expectations on its own.

Upstairs area

My dad, my sister and her boyfriend, and Sonia and I were seated in a booth in the smaller area upstairs. My guess is that the downstairs is reserved for larger, more important parties based on the grandiose decor and the fact that every layman I’ve known to eat at Abe and Arthurs has been seated upstairs. The ambience throughout however blended in with the sensual, Vegas club scene vibe, and our waiter helped lighten the mood with his charm (and Sonia didn’t mind his bodacious bod either).

Abe and Arthurs has a solid steakhouse menu with interesting cocktails and appetizers, and the typical sides. The deliciously warm miniature baguettes with cold fresh butter boded well for the rest of our night. We decided to share the appetizer of fried calamari and grilled shrimp, which came with a mango chutney that was delicious. I’ve never seen fried squid paired with grilled shrimp, but for someone as indecisive as me, I loved the variety and the sweet and salty flavors of the fruit and seafood combination.

calamari app

The three ladies all agreed on ordering on the lighter side and went for the branzino with swiss chard, recommended by our waiter as the better of the two fish on the menu. Though I prefer my branzino whole (head tail and everything), this was delicately prepared and perfectly cooked. What really stood out were the sides, and the creamed spinach, which was on the chunkier, more rustic side of the spectrum, was consumed within minutes. The fries were perfect as well.

branzino

For next time

The dessert menu, with chocolate molten lava cake and fill-your-own donuts, was almost a dream come true, but after our drinks and lengthy meal we had to resist. Regardless, my expectations of Abe and Arthurs’ food were pleasantly exceeded. I wouldn’t say it’s a great place to bring your parents if they’re the typical, innocent elderly people I would imagine, but I definitely recommend A&A for a group dinner or for a swanky New York spot to impress your out of town friends. Reservations are surprisingly readily available and easily adjustable. And, even better, you might even see someone from the cast of Gossip Girl!

Grade: A-

Website: http://www.abeandarthurs.com

Location: 409 W 14th St btwn 9th Ave and Washington St

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Filed under American, Business Meal, Fun Group Dinner, Meatpacking, Private Party, Steak House

Bacaro

private room

I constantly hear great things about Bacaro, the cavernous italian restaurant on the east tip of Chinatown, but it’s taken 3 years to finally haul myself downtown to try it out. Tonight, I planned a family-style dinner in one of their many private wine-cellar rooms for a team reunion. At just $60 per person, we were seated in a private room with a generous four course set-menu meal. But despite the speedy service and the modest, seductive, group-friendly vibe, the food ultimately didn’t impress. I left tonight confirming that Bacaro’s high marks are purely a result of its uniquely comfortable ambience in a city of warehouse style restaurants and $10K private room rental fees.

Upon arrival, our group was led downstairs and arrived at a dark, stone-walled, windowless room with a gothic chandelier, candles burning and a table set with our pre-chosen appetizers: artichokes with bresaola, mixed green salad with blue cheese and pear, and a meat and cheese platter. Despite the wide variety of cheeses and bright colors on our plates, nothing I ate stood out as remarkable, and most of the vegetables (especially the artichokes) tasted like they came straight from the jar.

pear and blue cheese salad

meat and cheese platter

The second course was definitely my favorite, and we dove into the gnocchi con funghi and the risotto di mare as soon as it arrived to our table. Both were fabulous – the gnocchi was buttery, earthy, and served with a medley of wild mushrooms, and the risotto had a subtle seafood flavor with evenly dispersed pieces of shrimp and squid. I’m generally not a risotto fan, but nothing could separate my fork from this dish.

gnocchi with mushrooms

risotto with seafood

I must have foreseen the future, because I was thanking the heavens that I filled up on carbs when the main courses arrived. I like rare meat, but the grilled steak’s bloody appearance and soft texture made it barely edible. The sole, while properly cooked, was overwhelmingly salty. There wasn’t much else to turn to but the left over risotto and bread.

looks can be deceiving

sole in butter

Thankfully, the main courses were promptly exchanged for an array of desserts including panna cotta, tiramisu, chocolate torte, and rice pudding. I gave up dessert for lent but apparently forgot during my destructive relapse tonight when I pretty much tackled this course on my own. I don’t regret the indulgence, however – the desserts far outshone the rest of the meal, and the panna cotta was as creamy, delicate, and subtly sweet as a perfect custard should be. With thick layers of cream and lady fingers, the tiramisu was a crowd pleaser as well. In the process of shoveling down these masterpieces, I wondered with paranoia if the chef mischievously  devoted his energy to preparing just what he knew could halt my 40 day dessert abstinence. Purposeful or not, I’m damn glad he found me at my moment of weakness.

panna cotta

chocolate cake

tiramisu

Though overall Bacaro’s food left room for improvement, I can’t discredit this place entirely. It’s a great venue for small, laid back dinner parties with good friends and straight forward service. With just a sign of a contract, they make planning and executing a breeze, and I could see myself hosting a dinner here for a group not as focused on the quality of food as I usually am.

half of the told team

Grade: C+ for food

Location: 136 Division Street between Allen and Essex

Website: http://www.bacaronyc.com

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Filed under Affordable Date, Cheap Eat, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, Lower East Side, Private Party

Barbuto

I’ve blogged about Barbuto before, and I rarely blog about the same place twice, but it merits as many positive reviews as I can possibly write. It is hands down my favorite restaurant in New York City – not because it necessarily has the most diverse or adventurous food or the hottest scene, but because every item their kitchen produces is cooked to perfection. The menu is simple, straight forward, and the dishes set out to star fresh, core ingredients in the best light possible.

The dish that continuously keeps me walking around the corner to this place is the Roast Chicken. It’s crispy on the outside, perfectly seasoned, and at first sight substantial enough to share, but never ends up sufficing because it is just so damn delicious. Just before I left for my winter break in San Francisco, I stopped in Barbuto to get my last roast chicken fix. Jonathan Waxman, the owner and Master Chef himself was there roaming around tables and making final touches in the kitchen in a straight up pajama suit. After watching him on Top Chef, it was quite a surprising sight. Even more inspiring was to look at this man and realize that his genius pours through every part of the restaurant, from the glass walls, to the dainty bar, the airy space, the open air kitchen, and the pristine food. It’s because of him that I can sit in such a gorgeous and spacious converted garage with locally grown food in the midst of restaurants struggling with over-complicated food.

Barbuto’s pastas are homemade, and tend to feature no more than 2-3 seasonal ingredients. Because the menu rotates so frequently, if you fall in love with a pasta dish (as I did with the papardelle with meat sauce and ricotta), be sure you take home enough to last through the  year. Fortunately, each new pasta has so far been just as good, if not better, than the last. This time, I tried the gnocchi con zucca, or gnocchi with roasted squash and sage. The gnocchi was tender and lightly seared, adding a little char and texture that rounded out the lovely pan sauce. Buttery and rich, this was the perfect appetizer for a cold winter’s night. Another new dish that I tried as an appetizer was the cavolini crudi – shaved brussels sprouts, baby carrots, pecorino & breadcrumbs. This salad was just up my ally with a cheesy, salty flavor in every bite and an unbeatable freshness of cold brussels sprout slaw.

I’m also such a fiend of their special fish dishes, so this time, I ordered the whole grilled black bass for my main, which felt like 4 servings of fish on a single body. The skin was deliciously charred, and the fish light, well seasoned, and perfectly filling. To accompany our mains,  we ordered the incredibly-crispy-fried potatoes served with a small sprinkling of white salty cheese. These potatoes are so crunchy they’re the child of a french frie and potato chip couple, and they’re completely addicting.

 

Sinful Crispy Fried Potatoes
Peppermint Semifreddo with Fudge and Chocolate Crisp

Their desserts are insane – consistenly creative and multi-textured. This round I had the budino with vanilla ice cream and the peppermint-chocolate semi-freddo. Because of the rotational menu, I wasn’t able to get the life-changing chocolate hazelnut tart that I first tried at the chef’s table, but their sweets never fail and the layers of textures and flavors in both of these made the perfect end to a solid meal.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I love love LOVE Barbuto. Despite my long list of must-try restaurants, Barbuto always takes precedent, and I give thanks and praises everyday that my apartment is just 2 blocks away.

Grade: A+
Location: 775 Washington Street @ West 12th
Website: http://www.barbutonyc.com

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Filed under Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, Mediterranean, Parents in Town, Private Party, Romantic Date, West Village

DBGB Kitchen and Bar

I’ve already blogged about DBGB Kitchen and Bar, so I won’t bore you with a full review of my meal last night. In fact, I ordered the same dish -the salmon with gnocchi – as I did the first time I visited, and it was perfectly seared and delicious as I had remembered. And this time, we tasted the guanciale flat bread which was creamy, crispy, and delicious. But the reason I am writing today is to boast about the storm of desserts my table tasted – each totally rich and insanely delicious. For a table of 6, we thought, why not be conservative and share desserts? So what did we do? We decided to ordered 5 desserts for the table, with one being a dessert for two. Whoops!

Between the profiteroles, the blueberry cake, the baked Alaska, and the two peanut butter sundaes, my favorite, hands down was the peanut butter sundae, served with brownie bits and fresh whipped cream. Creamy peanut butter ice cream…nothing beats it!

More of a sight to be seen than a dessert to be eaten, the Baked Alaska was a crowd pleaser as it was lit in flames at the table, then served to us in perfectly cut slices. I’ve never had Baked Alaska, so I wanted to see what this novelty was all about. The verdict: I much prefer ice cream in scoop form and would rather my cake be accompanied by chocolate or vanilla, as opposed to pink and green sherbert. However, I must admit it’s a fun idea for a crowd.

Thanks DBGB for leading me into sugar oblivion last night, and leaving me with a food hang over early this morning!

Dessert Grade: A for sundae, B for Baked Alaska
Address: 299 Bowery at East Houston
Website: http://www.danielnyc.com/dbgb

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Filed under American, Business Meal, Fun Group Dinner, Nolita, Private Party

DBGB Kitchen and Bar

DBGB Kitchen and Bar, the mecca of sausage, burgers, beer, and men, was an absolute blast. I may have had a tainted experience, as I was seated in the private room with windows open to the kitchen, but the food was excellent, and the restaurant shares New York’s upbeat energy in a classy, modern setting.

I was fortunate enough to dine at DBGB for a work event, and even more fortunate to have been able to taste a ton of dishes (I was with generous eaters, and our menu consisted of many courses). To start, we were served a unique array of fruits de mer, ranging from raw oysters and clams, to narrow shells I could hardly recognize. The plateau was definitely impressive, but only awe-inspiring to the die hard, adventurous seafood fans.

The next course was only minimally tamer: the sausage tasting. I’ve always said I love sausage, but I think I’ve been imagining Aidell’s chicken apple sausage, or the Morning Star breakfast links when considering my sausage opinion. But this sausage was unlike anything I’ve tasted, some intriguing in a good way, others in a this-is-too-undecipherable-to-like bad way. The taste of the lamb sausage was a bit too reminiscent of the smell of a sheep farm, but I honestly think some people enjoy that intense gamey flavor. My favorite was the Pork & Cheddar Link; the “Beaujolaise” served with lentils was also enjoyable. Though none of the sausages thrilled me, I can imagine the tasting would have been like heaven to some of the true sausage fans I know. Still, I respect the originality of the idea – I’ve never seen a restaurant with such a diverse menu specialize in such a wide variety of sausages.
I chose the salad as my appetizer knowing that I would be noshing on everything anyone would let me try – I really wanted to give this place a justified review. Surprisingly, the chop-chop salad reigned supreme – crisp, light, and chilled, with avocado, watermelon, and a subtly creamy dressing, it was delicious and interesting.
I also had a chance to taste their amazingly fresh Maine Peeky Toe Crab Salad, which included edamame, snow peas, and pickled rhubarb that gave it an awesomly crunchy texture. Would definitely order that next time around.

For my main course, I opted for the seared salmon with gnocchi, which I thought was incredible. I am a huge salmon fan, and this was perfectly cooked – just slightly pink in the middle, and the ricotta gnocchi just melted in my mouth. I also snagged a few bites of my friend’s yankee burger (a classic burger), which was delicious and moist, though a bit hard to eat. To mix my food consumption even more, I tried my other friend’s house made tagliolini with tomato sauce and sheep’s milk ricotta – honestly, this could have come straigh from nonna’s kitchen. This just proved to me that DBGB can play the part for the meat lover, the seafood fan, and the vegetarian – both a specialist and a generalist, and definitely a success!
Dessert was even worthy of a review. I ordered the chocolate chocolate sundae – which consisted of 3 huge scoops of chocolate ice cream, chocolate truffles, mini cookies, a massive amount of whipped cream, and caramel sauce. Talk about heart attack, but what a refreshing sight in a city of tablespoon-sized ice cream servings and miniaturized desserts. And, it tasted incredible – talk about chocolate overload (in a good way!) I also tasted a chocolate brownie-like cake with fruit. Many people love this, but I thought it needed some whipped cream or some ice cream to sweeten up the bitterness of the chocolate. So, a crowd pleaser to some, but nothing I would personally order.

Though I wasn’t necessarily wowed but DBGB’s specialty items, the sausages, I loved almost everything else I tasted, and really fell in love with the restaurant’s atmosphere. Perfect for a night where you want to keep the energy up, see a lot of interesting, sophisticated, and important people, and have a wide variety of high quality choices to eat. The menu has something for everyone, and the service is polished, accommodating, and efficient. And, most importantly, the cocktail list is wonderful – I failed to mention that the DBGB tea with vodka was a little too easy to go down – it was smooth, not too sweet, and tasty.
I would definitely recommend DBGB to anyone looking for a fun place with delicious food, and I plan to bring my parents there when they visit in October!
Grade: A
Website: http://www.danielnyc.com
Address: 299 Bowery at First Street

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Filed under American, Business Meal, Fun Group Dinner, New American, Nolita, Parents in Town, Private Party

Barbuto

Considering Barbuto is just two blocks from my apartment, I have walked by it longingly many, many times. The place screams a good time – tables are situated in a converted fire house with walls completely exposed to the side walk for people watching, and the restaurant is always bustling with locals. Truly perfect for a summer evening or a long brunch.

I’ve heard mixed reviews about Barbuto, but the loft-like setting seduced me and I decided to reserve a table for my team celebration. Being a party of six, we qualified to sit at the Chef’s table, one of the best seats in the house. Though somewhat separate from the restaurant’s open front, it’s adjacent to the kitchen – the hot spot of chefs in action. A seat at the chef’s table is $65 per person, and it is more than a good deal with four courses of hearty food (chosen at the chef’s whim), attentive service, and an unbeatable view.
The best part of the four course deal was the fact that each course included various options – no way to get bored by this menu. To start, we were served delicious, garlicky mussels, eggplant spread on toast, and the insalata casa, a bounty of mixed greens, radishes, and melon with a tangy vinaigrette. All three appetizers were delicious, but the mussels were addictive.
Next was my favorite – the pasta course. Two large bowls, one with linquine and their house made pesto and tomatoes, and another with wide noodles (paccheri) with a wild boar ragu and fresh ricotta. These pastas were incredible – perfectly cooked, and with intense Italian flavor that brought me back to my meals in Florence. The paccheri was dense and thick, so only a few noodles are needed to give you that punch of flavor in the chunky wild boar sauce. The ricotta was a perfect accompaniment to the rich and salty sauce – somewhat of a masterpiece!
As if we hadn’t eaten enough already, we were then served two options for our main – the famous pollo al forno, and a mix of the cod and sea bass on a bed of roasted red peppers and onions. The chicken skin was perfectly crispy, the meat surprisingly moist. The fish was melt in your mouth delicious. But I have to say the side dish stole the show – a clay dish of braised romano beans with tomatoes and bread crumbs. These were unlike any beans I’ve tasted, and the bread crumb crust added such interesting texture and flavor to the dish.
Lastly, we were served an incredible chocolate pudding. I’m not a fan of pudding, but this was ice cold, with a dollop of homemade whipped cream and rasberry gelato.
Barbuto’s food is not complicated – it’s straightforward, hearty, and simple. Their dishes allow for the freshness of the few ingredients it utilizes to shine through – just the kind of food I like.
Grade: A+
Location: 88 Greenwich Street at West 12th

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Filed under Italian, Mediterranean, New American, Parents in Town, Private Party, Romantic Date, West Village

Maialino

Maialino – another Danny Meyer spot in the Gramercy area, but with an Italian twist. As I’ve said in past posts, aside from Shake Shack, Danny Meyer’s restaurants never blow me away. They’re a safe bet – good for family outings, business dinners, formal dates – the food is solid and never fails, but it rarely merits a distraction from the conversation. Maialino runs along this typical Danny Meyer theme, but offers some of his best dishes I’ve tasted. And like all of his restaurants, the interior is absolutely stunning. Eclectic modern art adorns the brasserie-esque space, and though the wooden chairs and checkered floor emphasize a casual, laid back feel, the stunning flowers and long black bar preserve its sense of sophistication. The waitstaff, also common to all Meyer establishments, is excellent as well. There is an abundance of servers catering to each table, though not overbearingly so, and they glide by with beaming smiles – so much that I could have been convinced I was outside of New York City. With an extensive, well rounded menu, exceptionally accommodating waitstaff, a gorgeous, airy interior, and a view of the lush Gramercy Park, it seems like Maialino is a New York establishment with an infinite lifespan.
The meal started off with a bang – the bread came out before we ordered! I hate places that like to gauge the size of your order before deciding on your allocation of bread. The basket was filled with a good variety of Italian breads – all crusty and salt free, aside from the thin breadsticks. We then started off with the crostini di piselli e fave – four pieces of ricotta smothered thin crostini with a generous pile of bright green pea and fava bean puree. The flavors in this dish were reminiscent of spring… vibrant, and fresh. I loved it, nd the light dusting of parmesan on top rounded out the mild flavors of the ricotta and pea mixture perfectly.
The pasta course was a tough call for me, but after summoning the waitress’S advice, I opted for the bucatini all’Amatriciana, a thick hollow spaghetti with a hearty bacon-onion tomato sauce. The pasta was surprisingly light, as the guanciale was sparse and subtle. The noodles themselves were dense and al dente. Overall, it was a very simple yet well-executed and flavorful dish.
New York Magazine voted Maialino for best roast chicken in New York city, so in spite of its renowned namesake dish (maialino is suckling pig), we went for a crispy roast chicken and the waitress’s other recommendation, the Pesca Spada, or swordfish. The roast chicken actually could have been one of the best I’ve had in New York. Flattened to a uniform thickness, it wasn’t served as a typical Italian roast chicken, but it had tons of flavor of the drippings and skin, and was utterly tender, white and dark meat alike. The chicken is served in solace on a white plate amidst thin layer of juice; the clean presentation really encourages the diner to appreciate its quality.
The swordfish, also in true Roman style, was a very straight forward yet solid dish. The fish was dense, as to be expected with swordfish, but had a little more of a tender give that I liked. The wild mushroom bunch and fennel on the side were excellent – obviously sauteed in both oil and butter, they seemed like an indulgence more than a healthy side.
The dessert options all seemed quintessentially Roman and delicious – simple cakes dolloped with creams, tarts, tartufo, and gelati. Considering we had a $200 gift certificate (thanks to my wonderful team at work!!!), we ordered both the gelati, which consisted of pistachio, fior di late, and chocolate, and the rasberry tart. I loved the tart – it wasn’t overbearingly sweet as tarts and pies so often are. In fact, it was a bit on the sour side, but along with its side of unsweetened creme fraiche, it formed such a unique combination. The gelati were delicious, though the chocolate was a bit more intense and dark than I like for ice cream. Melted onto a biscotti, though, it tasted just fine!
I feel very fortunate to have had a reservation on a Thursday evening at Maialino. The chicken was definitely the highlight of the night, and alone probably enough to bring me back, but I wouldn’t be hugely disappointed if I never returned. I mean, there’s always the 20 other sceney-impossible to get a table at-celebrity chef-italian restaurants in the city I could try! Still, the Danny Meyer sighting mid-meal is a thrill I could only find at Maialino 🙂
Grade: A-
Address: 2 Lexington Avenue at 21st Street

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Filed under Drinks & Apps, Fun Group Dinner, Gramercy, Italian, Private Party, Special Occasion

Daniel

It’s 10.28pm and I just returned from a truly memorable dining experience at Daniel. My fellow foodie friend, Erin (a.k.a Ketel 2), and I sat down to our table at 6.15pm. Yes, we sat for four hours – but dining at Daniel revolves around so much more than just food. It’s about service, experimentation, conversation, gluttony, luxury…just about everything I love in life! Truly indescribable, and on a entirely different level than most restaurants I’ve tried.

The setting is absolutely stunning: ornate, yet subtly so. Gorgeous, bright red fresh flowers adorn the space, surrounded by smooth oak vaults of aged wine, and long glossy columns supporting the adorned vault ceilings. Round tables evenly disperse the dining room, each with exceptional views spanning the entire restaurant – not one bad seat in the house. In fact, the host positioned Erin and me in a somewhat remote corner of the restaurant, but we could still view the mastery of the servers collectively tending to each table.

Before even attempting to decide on my main course, I was forced to choose a cocktail. With a long list of intriguing and never-before seen ($20+) cocktails, I decided to follow the advice of our (one of five) servers and have a famous white cosmopolitan made with St. Germain Elderflower Liquor, Lime Juice, and White Cranberry Juice. The long stem glass came holding a tennis-ball shaped ice cube enclosing a vibrant purple flower. The cocktail itself went down a little too easily, and reminded me of a subtler, more natural version of a starburst fruit candy. I loved it.

The waiter was amazingly accommodating, and upon inquiring about the wine, he brought out three tastings of three whites. We played a guessing game, and he asked me to pick my favorite without revealing the names of each. Considering the seemingly stuffy surroundings, I appreciated his light heartedness. His warm humor, along with the friendliness of the other waiters, proved to me that Daniel is a step above the rest of the fine dining establishments in New York – though the food and service is refined to a T, the staff and surroundings are warm, comforting, and playful. “Daniel is very much about experimentation, and trying something new..if you don’t like it, send it back, or throw it in my fave” one of our waiters joked.

As you can see already, there are many steps to the dining experience at Daniel. After ordering our drinks, we were given a beautiful amuse bouche a la lemon grass. Three tiny tastings of unexplainable lemon grass dishes gave Erin and I an idea of the remarkable journey to foodie land we were about to take.

And as if that weren’t enough, Mr. Bread-melier came out with a basket of 7 selections of bread – french baguette, sourdough baguette, rustic sourdough slices, butter rolls, olive rolls, parmesan garlic rolls, and seven seaded loaf. Between Erin and me, we were able to try almost every type of bread. The bread, along with cold french butter, made my entire experience at Daniel worth my while.

After bread service, and about 45 minutes through the meal, we were ready to order. The servers were receptive to our requests for suggestions, and their decisiveness was refreshing. Per their recommendations, I ordered the Maine Peekytoe Crab Salad, split an extra course of the Artichoke Raviolini in Saffron sauce with clams, squid, and cuttlefish, and decided on the Black Sea Bass with Syrah Sauce for my main. The crab salad was served in rolls of thinly sliced apple, and a lightly sweet granny smith apple dressing. The gorgeously plated dish was light and refreshing, with bursts of different flavors and textures.

The raviolini was a seafood lovers heaven – tiny green ravioli with generous portions of mussels and squid lay amidst a velvety saffron seafood broth, with stunning organic flavors.

I even snuck a taste of Erin’s foie gras…velvet in my mouth!

Picking one fish dish among the four listed was definitely a feat, but I was very happy I decided on the bass. The mysterious syrah sauce tasted more like a salty, rich caramel sauce, and while it sounds uncomplimentary, it accompanied the simple, delicate white fish just perfectly. The crispy potato parmentiers adorning the plate were also delicious.

Erin’s Duo of Wagyu beef was also delicious – the short ribs were like butter and the filet was perfectly cooked.
The dessert course could have been a meal (or two) in itself. Of course I skipped the entire 5-item long “Fruit” section and went straight to the “Chocolate” section. Erin ordered the Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache with caramel ice cream, while I had my “go-to” dessert: warm chocolate cake (aka Warm Guanaja Chocolate Coulant) with milk sorbet. Both were exceptional, and as expected, beautifully plated. The chocolate cake came out as a mini bundt, and upon being punctured, oozed out with hot chocolate liquid – just as a molten chocolate cake should!

Erin’s dessert was my favorite – with a thin, crunchy, somewhat salty peanut butter layer and a mound of dense chocolate mousse, it tasted similar to what I would imagine a sophisticated candy bar to taste like.

In addition to these two desserts, the staff brought out a dessert on the house for my birthday (thanks to Erin!): the Coconut Lemongrass Soup with poached Pineapple and Coconut Rum sorbet. Not necessarily my dessert of choice, but I could still appreciate it for its beauty, creativity, and summery flavors.

And then…as our buttons bursted, we were given a dish of petit fours. And then, warm Madeleines. And then…a chocolate truffle course. Of course I had to taste a little bit of everything, but at that point I was so full it was hard for me to truly appreciate the flavors of each.

Once I thought the night couldn’t improve any more, Erin 2 decided to ask about the private dining space, called the sky room. The sky room sits adjacent to Daniel Boulud’s office, and directly above Daniel’s kitchen. The room has glass windows, so the special party of four reserving the space can watch every move of the kitchen staff as they glide through an 8 course meal. Fortunately, Erin’s interest led to one of the servers encouraging us to take a look, so upon finishing our meal and signing the bill, we were escorted a la VIP to the kitchen. While the private space, with a big window overlooking the kitchen, was awesome, it was the kitchen itself and the art and dance occurring inside of it that truly amazed me. The focus and determination in the eyes of each chef was breathtaking – to see a team of people, so driven and so dedicated to their work and the flavors and beauty of the plate after plate was truly inspiring. I could have stayed and watched for hours. The fact that each chef was a good looking french man may have played a part as well 🙂

Dining out for me, regardless of where I go, is an experience in and of itself. It’s like going to see a show, or going to see a baseball game, or taking a hike with your family. It’s an experience that allows you to interact, engage company, activate your senses, bond with your loved ones, bond with new friends, and release whatever tension you have built up inside. But dining at Daniel…not only is that an experience, but it is truly an EXPERIENCE. An Experience with its own definition; an Experience in its own right. And you must experience this Experience to know what I mean…and believe me, it’s worth it.

Grade: A+
Website: http://www.danielnyc.com
Address: 60 East 65th Street between Park and Madison

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Filed under Business Meal, New American, Parents in Town, Private Party, Romantic Date, Special Occasion, Upper West Side

Freeman’s: gorgeous setting and consummate ambiance

I’ve only heard great things about Freeman’s, and after my meal there yesterday, I can finally see why. Ambiance is just second to food quality in my list of crucial restaurant features, and Freeman’s fits the build of my opinion of ambiance perfection. Tucked away at the end of a cobblestone alley, identifiable by only a string of soft white lights and a square-windowed storefront (San Franciscans, think Notte), the restaurant is a little gem in a somewhat no-man’s-land between Bowery and Christie.
Its interior is even more gorgeous. Walls are lined with unique antique-framed photos and a sporadic placement of taxidermy (odd but adds to the rustic feel) – and though there’s not much room between tables, there is ample hang out space for those waiting for a table or lingering for a drink: two bars in fact!
Note that while its somewhat hidden location adds to its mystique, it also requires you to come fully prepared with explicit directions – despite a Google Maps image on my phone screen, my taxi driver and I circled the block 3 times before succumbing to asking a fellow New Yorker for help. Fortunately, the food and the experience made it worth the trouble.
Freeman’s doesn’t generally take reservations for small parties, but my friend and Freeman’s employee Janet was kind enough to set aside a table for me and my friend Lauren, which was fortunate considering the growing crowd around 7pm. While deciding on our menu choices, I sipped on one of the great selections of white wines by the glass, and Lauren had one of their inventive cocktails – conveniently organized by type on the menu (dark and stormy, light and crisp, etc). We were told that the menu had recently changed, so most of the staff admitted they lacked honest recommendations, so Lauren and I just went for what sounded best. We started with their famous artichoke dip, which was sinfully cheesy and creamy in the center and perfectly crusty on top, and served warm with thick slices of toasted baguette. NOT for the lactose intolerant (too bad I am), but delicious nonetheless.

For our mains, we shared the half roasted chicken served with grilled romaine and homemade ranch,
and the pan seared fluke with air popped something and fried rapini.

Can’t remember what the fish was laying on, but it was something light and airy – like a denser popcorn. Both dishes were well priced, perfectly portioned, non-complex, and delicious. The food is not the type that makes you go home feeling heavy – which I loved.

For dessert, Lauren and I shared the chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream (and were VERY tempted to get the sticky toffee pudding but resisted). Although the ice cream was almost entirely melted, the chocolate fudge sauce and old fashioned style of the dark chocolate cake won back our praise.
Overall, Freeman’s is a casual, cozy, and quaint find with tons of atmosphere, personality, inventive cocktails, and affordable, straight forward yet delicious food. Great for a fun group, a catch up with a friend, or a romantic, care-free date. Its versatility is makes it a standout – it really has the potential to please anyone from a high class snob to a lower east side hipster. Nice work Freeman’s, and thanks again for the reso Cuisson!!

Website: http://www.freemansrestaurant.com

Location: Freeman’s Alley in Lower East Side

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Filed under Affordable Date, Brunch, Californian Cuisine, New American, Private Party, Romantic Date