Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dumping the Dumpling House

My brother Z recently moved to DC, and while it's not NYC, I was still so excited for him to be living a lot closer to me. As soon as he got settled, we figured out a weekend for him to come up here. In the week leading up to his visit, we must have talked every night and emailed dozens of times trying to plan the perfect culinary weekend. You see, I may be Miss Menu, but my brother takes the cake on being the ultimate foodie of the family!

We were heading down to Tribeca for a concert, so we thought it'd be fun to check out a restaurant a little further downtown than I normally go. Since dumplings are all the rage right now [there was even a NYC Dumpling Festival yesterday -- bummed I missed it!], I did some research to find a good, cheap dumpling place in Chinatown. Obviously there are so many dozens of options, but one name I kept seeing mentioned was Dumpling House. When I looked at the menu online, my jaw dropped at the prices. Eight dumplings for only $2?! Sold.

We got up to the counter to place our order and were a little overwhelmed by all the options. Since everything was so cheap, we thought it'd be fun to order a lot of different things and get a little taste of each. The bill came to $18, and that included 2 cans of soda and tax. When they finally called our number, we were laughing so hard that our food couldn't fit on one tray. The tourists at the next table next were definitely making fun of us. I may not speak German, but I am fluent in non-verbals like pointing and laughing!

I ordered the vegetable boiled dumplings, a chive & egg Beijing-style bun, and chicken & corn soup. My brother ordered the chive & pork fried dumplings, wonton soup, and a sesame pancake with duck. We also split the cold noodles with smashed sesame sauce and an order of edamame.

Our dumplings were very tasty. The veggie ones had recognizable vegetable inside, as opposed to mushy green concoction found in some. My bro said the pork dumplings were good, and after trying one of mine, thought the fried style was much better. Both the soups and edamame were pretty standard. The bun and pancakes were different and interesting's not so often that I eat my Chinese food in sandwich form!

The noodles were rather disappointing. The sesame sauce was very dry and needed a kick. After adding soy sauce and the Sriracha that they had available on each table, we realized something was off. Both of them were watered down! WTF?!?!? Is that really saving Dumpling House that much money by watering everything down?! Then, we were looking around and noticed that only the tables with local Chinatown patrons had the real dumpling sauces on their tables, and everyone else had the watered down options. Gross.

All in all, we left very full, without emptying our wallets. The dumplings were good, but nothing blew me away. And not even having hot sauce or soy sauce at regular strength to give the dishes a much-needed kick really turned me off. I will definitely be picking a different dumpling place to go to next time Z is in town. Any suggestions???

Vanessa's Dumpling House
118 Eldridge Street
b/t Grand & Broome Streets
Menu Pages listing

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's "Spuntino" Time

I'm ashamed to admit it, but last week I did something that Miss Menu rarely does...I went out to dinner with no specific restaurant (or even cuisine) My friend AM wanted to come check out my new digs and then we'd go grab dinner in my neighborhood. We ventured out, got to 2nd Avenue, and decided to walk a block or two in hopes of something that caught our eye. We came across Spuntino, Pescatore's new wine bar, and after peeking in, we decided to give it a shot. I ate at Pescatore years ago, and while I remember the meal being good, I also remember the restaurant feeling a little stuffy or formal. I think it was a very smart move for the owners of the restaurant to make half of its space on street level into a trendy, more casual spot.

The atmosphere inside Spuntino is great, with exposed brick walls, decorative mirrors, and candle sconces. They created three distinct sections all within one space: a bar area with high top tables, a regular dining section, and a lounge area with antique couches and coffee tables. We were seated at one of the high tables towards the front of the restaurant, which turned out to be very convenient so we had plenty of room for all of our dishes.

So, I looked up the word "spuntino" in Italian, and turns out it means "snack." Checking out the menu, it looked like that name was pretty apropos. There was a long list of antipasti, small plates, salads, flat breads, and panini. The server brought over another list with that day's pasta specials. We decided to order the 3 antipasti combo and went with the mixed grilled vegetables, the artichoke salad, and the roasted corn fregula. The grilled vegetables featured a nice variety of asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, and onions. The artichokes were good, but a little too acidic. But, the big winner of this trio was the corn and fregula. Having to ask what fregula is, it turns out it's a small pasta very similar to Israeli couscous. It was mixed with roasted corn, scallions, tomatoes, coarse salt, and a light vinaigrette. It was such an interesting combination, and definitely a flavor I hadn't ever tasted before.

We also ordered the caprese panini, which had fresh mozzarella, tomato, red pepper, and pesto. The bread was nice and toasty, and the pesto gave the whole sandwich a great flavor...and a few green things in our teeth!

And lastly, we had the Forest Hills flat bread, with wild mushrooms, fontina cheese, and truffle oil. I've mentioned before my extreme love of anything truffle. And when combined with melted fontina cheese, my heart (and stomach) skips a beat! This was by far the best dish we ordered and unbelievably delicious... much so that I took my mom 5 days later and we ordered it as well! We also ordered the antipasti trio, but replaced the grilled veggies and artichokes with eggplant parmesean and asparagus with parmesean crust. The asparagus plate was delicious, but the eggplant was kind of disappointing. It was served cold, and as a result, the cheese and eggplant hardened and lost their flavors.

Even though there are still so many restaurants for me to try in Midtown East, I am very excited to have found an awesome go-to spot so quickly. It was the perfect place to grab a "spuntino," and would also be great for after-work drinks, or even a group dinner.

955 Second Avenue
b/t 50th & 51st
Pescatore's website (Spuntino's is under construction)
Menu Pages listing

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Everything But The Kitchen Sink - 2nd NY Wine & Food Fest Edition

I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Grand Tasting of the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival again this year (Thanks MB)! This three hour event is seriously the ultimate foodie heaven. There were 32 participating restaurants and chefs creating delicious sample-sized dishes, and 76 distributors pouring wine, spirits, and beer.

So excited to meet/see some celebrity chefs and personalities!

"Next Food Network Star" winner Melissa d'Arabian

Marcus Samuelsson

"Iron Chef America" Chairman Marc Dacascos with his "Dancing With The Stars" partner Lacey Schwimmer

Melissa was so excited to meet Lacey and Marc

"Ooooh, prosciutto!"

Diet Coke is a sponsor?! The Edwin McCain lyrics immediately popped in my head: "...and I could not ask for more..." I may or may not have consumed 8 [small] bottles.
And, a few more random pics...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Almost "Parfait" at Le Marais

Le Marais is the quintessential French bistro in every sense. The restaurant is boisterous and dimly-lit, serving fantastic food and wine with often spotty service. Taking its name and inspiration from the historical Jewish quarter of Paris, Le Marais successfully recreates this atmosphere right here in New York with a kosher twist.

Upon entering, you’ll pass through an authentic butcher shop featuring a variety of kosher meats, which I take to mean that the meat served is very fresh and of good quality. The dining room walls are covered in dark wood paneling with Parisian advertisements, maps, and antique lampposts scattered throughout.

While other menu items like coq au vin, roasted salmon, and merguez with couscous were tempting, my friend JK knew having a steak in a steakhouse was a must! There are a dozen different cuts to choose from, and he ordered the steak au poivre et frites. This black pepper-crusted tournedo was very lean, cooked well, and was so flavorful…what he (and many others) consider one of the best kosher filets in Manhattan.

I ordered the paillard de poulet et frites, and have to say, as boring as grilled chicken paillard may sound, it was a fantastic choice. Usually with chicken like that, I would ask for a sauce for dipping to add more moisture and taste. But, this chicken was beyond moist and full of flavor.

Also, like any true French bistro, serving fantastic French fries is a necessity – and Le Marais’s light and crispy frites did not disappoint. A small green salad also accompanied both the chicken and steak, rounding out an all-together great entrée. With the large portions, the fries, and the salad, it's a good idea to skip appetizers and save room for the main event!

Le Marais features an extensive wine list with many wines from France, as well as Israel, California, Australia, and others. Although I didn’t have any room left for dessert, the menu looked delicious. Many true French staples are available like crème caramel, tarte aux pommes, and profiteroles.

In fine dining establishments like Le Marais, I always feel that the service should be on par with the food. My only complaint about my experience here was the service - impersonal and extremely rushed.

And finally, a few additional Miss Menu pointers…
• The tables are very cramped and the restaurant becomes extremely noisy during peak dining hours. While this is part of its appeal to some, it may not be ideal for those seeking an intimate, quiet meal.
• The steaks are always cooked one notch higher than you request (i.e. if you prefer your steak medium, order it medium rare; well done, order it medium well).
• Make a reservation in advance when possible. In addition to the usual kosher clientele, Le Marais’s location near Times Square often attracts a number of walk-in tourists, and tables can fill up very quickly.

Le Marais
150 West 46th Street
b/t 6th Avenue and Broadway
Menu Pages listing