Monday, June 24, 2013

The 5 Course Tasting Menu at Annisa

A few of us got together at Annisa to celebrate Thanan.  Nothing specific.  Just him (because apparently that's reason enough).

I helped pick Annisa because I am obsessed with the ferocity of Anita Lo from Chopped and Top Chef.  Mean-muggin' female chefs just have to be good right?

We opted for the 5 course tasting ($78) which began with butter curls that were so soft and perfectly smearable on their cold, crusty bread.  I ran out of bread, else I woulda devoured every single piece of butter.

The amuse was an egg salad and fish roe tartlet offering a quick pop of fishy, eggy crunch.

First course.  The black sea bass sashimi with trout roe had these beautifully juicy yuzu pearls that tasted like popping boba, but much better. The sashimi was fresh and slippery.

Second course.  Seared foie gras with soup dumpling and jicama.  If only words could truly describe the utter bliss that emerged in our mouths with the initial bite of this savory splendor.

Thanan told us we had to just pop the whole thing in our mouths to enjoy all at once, but I regretted it immediately.  As small as this was, it would've been nice to savor it more than the 30 seconds it took me to eat it, and marvel at the taste of the rich duckulence and the crunch of fresh jicama.  We all wanted dozens more.  Okay, that's a lie.  We wanted hundreds. By the steamer baskets !

Third course.  Grilled mahi mahi with avocado, opal basil and pickled rhubarb.  I had no idea this was called opal basil, because my mother used to make us this eyeball drink all the time, but it's fun squish in a savory dish. Besides the eyes, the pickled rhubarb added a nice bit of acidity to the pretty plain fish.

Fourth dish.  Grilled mangalitsa pork ribeye nestled on a yumsome little sauce, a dry potato salad, dandelion greens and a tiny bit of crispy pork ear.

Thanan and Harry echoed my sentiments on the pork - it tasted like home with its Asian marinade.  The pig ear melted gloriously in my mouth.

While most tasting experiences I've had included a choice of dessert, they surprised us with nearly one of every dessert on the menu:

The surprise favorite for me was the strawberry and tofu pudding.  It was so fruity and bright, creamy, with a surprise crunch that just came out of nowhere. "What is that crunch?"  No clue.  Let's just keep eating it though and not ask too many questions.

We received two of the bread and butter pudding with a sunny little Meyer lemon curd.  Thanan and Peter liked it best, though the bread pudding was a bit eggier than I prefer, but honestly, I could sop up that curd with anything.

The selection of chocolate and malted desserts was fun - moist chocolate cake, creamy mousse, a crunchy malted cookie that was my favorite, and crunchy chocolate nibs floating in chocolate milk.

The "tower" of caramelized banana, peanut butter and coconut foam sounded exactly up my alley, but it was my least favorite - the flavors didn't meld well.

The pecan and salted butterscotch beignets were hot little bundles, oozing heaven into my happy stomach.  (The bourbon milk ice was not too distinctive.)

This is definitely something I can get hot and heavy with. Ha. (Gross.)

Then with the check, a little surprise of cute baby coconut lychee popsicles made with toothpicks, candied ginger, and mint chocolate truffles.

Of the tasting menus I've had in New York, I would say Annisa is good but not great.  There was nothing wrong with each dish, but neither was there anything particularly astounding aside from those foie gras dumplings and that strawberry tofu pudding that has really made me reconsider my disposition towards tofu in desserts.  The place is small, intimate, and friendly, but offers pretty standard-tasting fare at its price point.

Han's Nonsensical Rating: Skip the tasting and just order multiple plates of the foie gras dumplings.  And the strawberry tofu dessert if you're lucky enough to see it.

13 Barrow St
New York, NY
Annisa on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Alas. The Cronut.

Cronuts.  It's just about the biggest talk in New York foodie-town.

If you don't know what a cronut is, lemme give you the brief run-down.
  1. Dominique Ansel, the master cronuttaire, introduced the hot confection on May 10th, and it's been flying off the shelves ever since.  A thorough Cronut 101 is provided on his website.
  2. You can get a solid photo summary from this Buzzfeed post.
  3. But since that Buzzfeed post, things have escalated for the cronut, which already requires fans to wait in line at 6 a.m. - 2 hours before the bakery even opens.
  4. And who can really get up at 6 a.m.?  So naturally there arose a black market - the cronut delivery service - $100 for one cronut, $200 for two cronuts, or $3,000 for 10!
  5. Dominique has been cracking down on cronut scalpers, by greeting them every morning and limiting the amount of cronuts.  Originally the limit was 6, then it was 3 and now it's a sad 2.  That's one cronut for every hour you will have to wait.
But what you could do is just have a couple of friends interested in cronuts wait in line, and remember your birthday that is conveniently coming up.  And they give you a beautiful gold-packaged gift.

With this inside.  The mighty lemon maple cronut.

Cinnamon sugary crust. Crunchy.  Lemon glaze icing.  Good.

Beautiful croissant layers inside, check.

Cream-filling. Nice.

And it's hard to eat this cronut without thinking of all the hoopla that accompanies it, but to be honest, the cronut is merely fine.  It's fun and unique, but it doesn't make me weak-to-the-knees-must-have-this-again like I felt when I first experienced the amazing DKA.  It was not as crisp as I had hoped, and I couldn't discern the maple flavor, though the lemon was bright and good.

Maybe I'll feel different when it's a different flavor, so there's always August when Diana rolls into town :- ). Or when Dominique manages to nationalize this pastry wonder !

Han's Nonsensical Rating: Sleep in.  Worth a try if you don't have to wait (so make friends with those who are willing to!).

Dominique Ansel
189 Spring St
New York, NY
Dominique Ansel Bakery on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 21, 2013

Light Bites at Sorella

I worked for this partner at my firm who carries himself as a man with impeccable taste.  Or just very picky.  And very particular.  

And I am not sure if being demanding in the office translates to exquisite food taste, but I was willing to check out Sorella after he described a recent meal there that was so enjoyable that after they finished eating, they ordered more of the same dishes, because they just had to.  It was that good.  

Sorella was surprisingly charming - you open the door, everyone at the bar stares at you like an unwelcome stranger, but the hostess guides you along the dark narrow stretch into a beautiful glass encased patio with simple hanging lights.  Great. Start.

As were the appetizers - veal tartare crowned with fried artichoke chips.  The veal was so soft and light and so delectable with the bright, lemon aioli.

Cool and earthy artichoke hearts were also served on the side.

I cleaned up that pool of aioli later with my tongue.  

The broccoli fritto was the dish that inspired my partner to order multiple, and I could see why.  Verdant broccoli florets have been expertly fried to greaseless perfection - crispy and crunchy and tender all in one.  Doused with hot pepper aioli and basil, the appetizer felt remarkably light and healthy (as much a a fried vegetable can be).

Plates of pasta were good, but not as delicious and satisfying as our starters.  The sausage and banana pepper pasta was fine.  The uneven noodles were slippery and chewy, but while the banana peppers added a nice pickled, spicy element, the texture was a little off-putting.

The lamb and mint pasta was a faithful rendition of a classic flavor profile - gamey, minty and merely fine.

The side of brussel sprouts, bacon, apple and mustard seeds was an attractive plate that elicited envy from our neighboring tables who quickly ordered the side as well.  Though some of the brussels sprouts were bitter, bites with the full experience of thick cut of bacon and apple was fairly enjoyable.

Not shown are the two dreamsicle housemade sodas I guzzled down.  The soda was clear, slightly effervescent and creamy smooth like the ice cream, but refined !  Delicious !

I wish we had a chance to try their housemade gelato, because I'm not sure if I would come again anytime soon.  Though if you want to watch awkward dates, I think this spot attracts them plenty !  We got to hear how this lady handled losing her cell phone on the first date - absolute train wreck.  So fun (and painful) to experience third-party.

Han's Nonsensical Rating: Pleasant but not extraordinary.  Skip the pasta and go for small plates only - they're more interesting.

95 Allen
New York, NY
Sorella on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Finally. Delicious Pho in Manhattan at Saiguette.

It's been a five-year search, but I think I have finally caught my Pho-by Dick ! On the Upper West Side ! (I know.  AGAIN.)

Saiguette is a nondescript Vietnamese spot on the corner of Columbus and 106th.  Stool seating lining the windows are available, but most business appears to be takeout or delivery.  They even packaged up my meal for takeout, despite wanting to eat there, which was fine by me, since I saved half the broth for a meal at home the next day (bonus).

Noodles, thinly sliced beef and raw onions are serve in a plastic bowl.  Steamy hot beef broth is contained on the side, along with a plastic baggie of bean sprouts and basil sprigs.  Pickled jalapeno and plum sauce are served separately.

A healthy squeeze of lime is essential in marrying together all the flavors.  The clear amber broth is flavored well and the beef is nicely fresh and tender.  If there is any complaint about the whole thing is that the noodles are on the thinner side, can stand to be a bit chewier, and the jalapenos could be fresh, but honestly, I'm still enamored.

I sat at the window by myself for ten minutes, with a fresh summer breeze blowing on my face, and pho noodles sliding blissfully down my throat.  Life is so great.

What is sadly not shown here are the two whomping foot-long banh mis I ordered to go and happily ate with the boy for dinner.

The banh mi is the most expensive I've ever purchased, with the lemongrass pork at $9 and the flank steak at $11, but might I say it is well worth the extra dollars?  The sandwiches are stuffed amply with thick, whole pieces of beautifully marinated pork and steak, the pickled vegetables crisp and fresh, and the bread soft and perfect.  I will show you when I eat there again.  And I will.  Because this is definitely my favorite new find.  (Besides Jacob's Pickles.)

Gosh darn you, Upper West Side.  I might love you.

Han's Nonsensical Rating: Un-pho-gettable.  Definitely my favorite pho and banh mi of the moment in Manhattan !

935 Columbus Ave
New York, NY
Saiguette on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 17, 2013

Divine Chicken Biscuits At Jacobs Pickles

Moving to Harlem makes you visit neighborhoods you never would ordinarily.

Like the Upper West Side.  (I saw you cringe.  I know how you feel.)

Historically, the UWS had to be the furthest place in the whole world from Brooklyn.  I never wanted to go there.  So I never went there.  But now I must admit it is my greatest neighbor, because I found a new fried chicken friend in the area !

Outdoor seating can be a bit brutal on a bright day (no umbrellas or awnings for relief), but that's what the glorious root beer floats are for.  Jacob's Pickles has three root beers on tap.  I can attest that New York's own Saranac is a creamy, smooth choice.

I love that it comes with a small jar of root beer on the side that you can keep refilling the tall, bubbly glass jam-packed with vanilla ice cream.

Jacob's namesake pickles appears all over the menu, but notably as a fried appetizer.  Thickly cut spears are dredged in cornmeal batter, reminiscent of a delectable corn dog from the State Fair.  They were crunchy and good, but we wished the pickles were cut smaller to increase the batter to pickle ratio (a critical formula in the enjoyment of life).

The honey chicken and pickles biscuit sandwich is piled high with hot sour pickle slices.  The buttermilk fried chicken is sweetened by clover honey, culminating in that ultimate sweet, sour, and savory combination.

The chicken, bacon, egg and cheese is truly the pinnacle of perfect biscuit sandwiches though.

The fried chicken is crunchy and addictively spicy with a layer of generous scarlet seasoning below the crust, the bacon thick, chewy and crisp, and bits of Vermont white cheddar adds tang to the whole beautiful shibang. 

 The biscuit is crumbly and tender - impossible to hold as a sandwich, but thankfully not too rich as the chicken is a flavor fiend all in itself!

Note: the plate also comes with a bowl of decent, but fairly unremarkable grits, but who really cares, because you'll most likely be more focused on this.

I cleaned up my plate. I ate the chicken off the boy's plate also.  I love this chicken. It's one of my new favorites. I can't believe it's on the UWS.  Life is so good!

Han's Nonsensical Rating: The chicken is spectacularly spicy, the service friendly, and the root beer floats perfection.  

Jacob's Pickles
509 Amsterdam
New York, NY
Jacob's Pickles on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Queso fundido @ El Taco Real

Last month was Dan's bday, so to celebrate, we drove to Hammond, Indiana to visit one of his favorite Mexican restaurants growing up in the Chicago area, El Taco Real. I know... Hammond, IN? Driving through, it didn't look like much, but boy did El Taco Real live up to expectations.

Now this is what I call kitschy appeal.

We started with strawberry margaritas and guacamole.

You can't really mess up either of these items, but I will say that I prefer my guacamole to be a little chunkier, and with more onion or other little crunchy additions.

Then came the most beautiful thing I've ever seen:

Queso fundido with chorizo! Do you see how awesomely broiled the cheese is? The little burnt parts of the cheese are my favorite. Makes for a slight crisp on the top, and below is the best gooey-cheesy-meaty concoction.

More pics for size perspective. You can almost swim in this stuff, it's so big. (Note to self: try to dream about that tonight.)

The whole thing comes out literally piping hot. The chorizo was super tasty and had a great kick. Eating the queso with the provided corn or flour tortillas = perfection. Hands down, the best queso fundido I've ever had.

We also ordered chicken fajitas, which arrived on a similarly ginormous plate.

The fajitas were solid. They didn't blow me away (I am, after all, from Tex-Mex nation), as they could have used more flavor and seasoning, but they weren't bad. Definitely fulfilled our fajita-craving.

Basically, make your way to Hammond, IN for the most ridiculously delicious queso fundido. It may just change your life!

935 Hoffman St
Hammond, IN 46327
El Taco Real on Urbanspoon