Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Best of 2015

It was another crazy and amazing year that seemed to go by way too quickly as always.  Things got off to a great start with the return of Founders CBS one of my favorite beers of all time.  I really didn't think this would ever be brewed again so I spent the first two months drinking it as much as humanly possible.  Fried Chicken Sandwiches became all the rage; Fuku, Delaney BBQ and the Brooklyn Shake Shack continue to have epic lines for these crispy creations.  The Blue Hill pop up WastED was also a huge highlight of the year.  It was amazing to see the community of chefs, farmers and retailers come together to shine light on the extreme waste of food in the industry and celebrate these "leftovers" by incorporating them into incredible new dishes.  And as a personal success it only took me two full years but I finally got a Cronut!  

Of course as time passes the culinary landscape must change and this year was extra sad. My favorite restaurant of all time Matyson in Philadelphia, shut it's doors for good along with another fantastic gem in Jersey City Thirty Acres.  These small cozy restaurants held so many wonderful memories for Mr. T and I they will be incredibly missed.
Onto the Best of 2015:

Best Wings- Bar Goto

This Japanese cocktail den in LES churns out some fantastic yuzu drinks along with some serious Miso Wings topped with toasted black sesame and scallion delivering just the right balance of sweet and spicy flavor.

Best Eggplant Parmigiana- Le Verdue at Eataly

It's always hard to choose a dining spot at the mega-Italian superstore Eataly but Le Verdue is almost always the winner for their fresh veggie plates and seasonal specials.  This Fall they debuted a Panko Crusted Eggplant that somehow stayed crisp and juicy the entire meal.  Add on the creamy stracciatella cheese with fresh basil and this dish reached heavenly food status.

Best New Burger- Pizza Loves Emily

It's all about the burger at this Brooklyn pizza joint.  The Emmy Burger is made from dry aged beef that tastes much more like a rich hearty steak than a regular burger.  It's seared with clarified butter, topped with a thick layer of Grafton cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and a drizzling of house special red pepper aioli then sandwiched between a fluffy pretzel bun.  It's funky, spicy and sweet...it's AMAZING.

Best Deviled Egg- Tuome

Panko crusted egg white fried to a golden buttery crisp then filled with a mixture of yolk, shallot, Dijon mustard and topped with a crunchy chili garlic sauce and herbs.  Don't ask questions...this is the deviled egg of your dreams.

Best Vegetarian Dish- Spicy Tempura Cauliflower at the Ritz Carlton

With so many vegetarian places opening this year like Superiority Burger, Wassail and By Chloe it may seem odd to choose a hotel dish but this really is a winner.  The Cauliflower is flash fried then served piping hot with a creamy chili pepper aioli.  It tastes exactly like Nobu's signature Creamy Spicy Shrimp but fish free and available in the comfy lounge of 2 West at the Battery Park Ritz Carlton.

Best Pizza (not NYC)- Parker Pie

We made quite a few trips to Vermont this year and each and every time the food was outstanding from Steak Tartare at Hen of the Woods to the simple Wedge Salad at Prohibition Pig.  However Parker Pie holds the number one spot in my heart for their Green Mountain Pie; crisp, bubbly dough topped with baby spinach, cheddar cheese, red onion, apple, bacon and garlic all drizzled with maple syrup.  It's like a big mash up of everything delicious about Vermont.

Best Happy Hour- Boilermaker

Mr. T and I had a rebirth of sorts into the cocktail world this year hitting up old standbys like Pravda and Temple Bar along with some brand new favorites like the cool speakeasy Mulberry Project with it's secret backyard.  But Boilermaker wins for it's incredible happy hour.  From 5-8 Monday thru Friday Boilermaker has a slew of $8 cocktails including Negronis, Rum Runners, Old Fashioned's and Mai Tai's along with $7 wine and $4 beers.  There's lots of curved booths perfect for a hanging with a group and some pretty fantastic burgers to help ensure you'll still get to work the next morning.

Best Lunch Deal- The Nomad

The Nomad debuted a brand new two course lunch menu this year.  For $29 expect signature options like the creamy Carrot Tartare, thick Tortelloni filled with black truffle in a Parmesan foam and Chicken Burger stuffed with foie gras. It's not as mind blowing as the Chicken for Two but it's a fraction of the cost and reservations are almost always available during the day.  This was my go-to spot for lunch this year.  That being said they just bumped the price from $29 to $34 on my visit last week and the burger was terribly overcooked.  I'm not so sure this will make the cut for 2016.

Best Pop-Up Restaurant- WastED at Blue Hill

I loved absolutely everything about this restaurant; the thick nutty bread made of leftover grain mash from Kelso Brewing, the candles of beef tallow used as both a light source and a bread topping, the incredible list of chef's creating new dishes each night and of course the very important message that food waste doesn't have to happen- we can change.  

Best Brunch- Elan

A good neighborhood brunch spot is a thing of beauty and Elan is definitely a top contender.  The $20 two course menu includes fabulous appetizers like Mushroom Truffle Croquette's and Smoked Trout Salad along with a hearty Lamb Burger and seasonal omelette's.  The drinks are unlimited but if your looking for a rowdy morning stay away.  This is a serene Sunday spot much more about gentle elegance than party time.

Best Dessert #1- First Time Living on Your Own at U.P.

This year Dominique Ansel opened his brand new dessert tasting restaurant Unlimited Possibilities.  Mr. T and I were lucky enough to dine on opening night where the entire menu was based around "Firsts".  There was the First Kiss, a mound of fresh mint panna cotta that left a lingering sensation on the tip of my tongue; the First Heartbreak, chocolate,marshmallow and almond flower that burned like wildfire when lit and my favorite The First Time Living on Your Own.  These brown butter crepes with sweet corn were made to look like bacon and eggs; the classic cheap anytime meal.  It was insanely delicious and proved once again how insanely creative that Dominique Ansel can be.

Best Dessert #2- Churros at Huertas

I'm a bit obsessed with finding the best churro and I honestly think I finally have.  Huerta's have the perfect balance of soft, chewy interior, crisp warm exterior dusted liberally with cinnamon sugar and served with a decadent chocolate sauce.  These are so incredible...the only problem I have is sharing them.

Best Dessert #3- Coconut Pie at Matyson

As I mentioned earlier this will be the last time Matyson makes the "Best of" list.  The doors closed for good this Summer but we had one last wonderful dinner there celebrating the engagement of my best friend.  Matyson brought out a slice of their amazing, heart stopping, "It doesn't get any better than this dessert ever"  Coconut Cream pie to celebrate. I'm so glad I got to have it one last time and to share it with some of my favorite people in the world.

Best New Restaurant- Contra

There were a lot of great new restaurants this year but the one that stood out most was Contra.  I loved the small minimalist space, the ever changing menu based on seasonal ingredients, the eclectic wine list that challenged me to think outside the box and of course the creative dishes coming out of the kitchen. This restaurant just makes me excited about food in a way I haven't felt in a while and I can't wait to see what they do in 2016.

Best Beers 2015

Lawson's Triple Sunshine

The aroma of this beer was just glorious.  It reminded me of being on a tropical island filled with fresh mango, papaya and oranges that have all just been peeled open.  The flavor was more juicy tropical fruits; peach, mango and pineapple with a touch of honey and pine.  The super creamy mouthfeel hides the booze and makes this 10.5% beer ridiculously drinkable.  This was easily the best triple IPA I've ever had and nothing comes even close to touching it.

No Rules Vietnamese Porter

No Rules never made New Brew Friday but it certainly deserves a top spot for this year. With just a faint swirl of the glass this beer exudes aromas of sweet bourbon, coconut, vanilla and roasted malts.  The flavor follows with lots of bourbon, maple, vanilla, toasted coconut and red cinnamon candy.  It clocks in at a shocking 15% but one would never know from the taste alone.  It's so so smooth...I only wish I had more.

Other Half began canning its beer this year kicking off with a session pale ale Super Fun and double IPA Green Diamonds.  They now have regular can releases just about every two weeks and although I haven't loved everything (Equinox) I have enjoyed MOST of their offerings so much (Amarillo, All Green, Citra) I don't even think about buying other IPA's anymore unless they're local.  There's just nothing better than having an endless supply of fresh hoppy beer in the fridge.  Cheers to 2015!

Best of the Rest 2015

Best Pasta- Busiate at Il Buco Almenteri
Best Oysters- The Musket Room
Best Buffalo Opening- Ballyhoo
Best Hot Dog- Spicy Okra from the Rock Barn
Best Ice Cream- Ample Hills Sweet as Honey

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Lunch at Gramercy Tavern

It only seems right to close out 2015 at one of my old favorites- Gramercy Tavern.  It's been quite a year for Mr. Danny Meyer; Union Square Cafe closing, Shack Shake chicken sandwiches exploding and of course the end of tipping. I have no idea what he's got planned for the coming year but knowing him it will be fantastic.  Here's a look at the current lunch tasting menu:

Lobster with celery root and horseradish foam 

Flounder with butternut squash, cauliflower and grenada peppers

Duck Agnolotti with shell beans, treviso and pecorino

Lamb Loin and Shoulder with carrots, kale and sunflower seeds.

Chocolate Custard pie with cherry fudge, chestnut and bourbon ice cream (subbed in for the Rice Pudding Quince on the tasting menu)

An array of chocolates to round out the coffees...

...and a special Coconut Cream Cake for Mr. T's father; a birthday gift from the kitchen to celebrate his birthday.  

42 East 20th Street between Park and Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pizza Loves Emily

One would assume that any entering a place with "pizza' in the name means the obvious order is a nice large pie. That still holds true at Emily where the thin, crackly pizza looks amazing but it's actually more well known for their incredible burger.  

Emily uses dry aged beef from DeBragga so the patty tastes more like a rich hearty steak than regular ground meat.  It's seared with clarified butter, topped with a thick layer of Grafton cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and a drizzling of the house special sauce (red pepper aioli) then sandwiched between a pretzel roll from Tom Cat Bakery.

The meat was insanely tender with deep earthy flavors from the dry aging, a bit of funk from the cheddar cheese and some heat from the sauce which reminded me of Franks Red Hot with less spice.  The extra sturdy pretzel roll held everything together surprisingly well.  That being said I used a knife a fork for the first half of the burger; definitely not something to order on a 1st date:)

What's even more amazing than the burger are the incredible fries.  These are easily the closest to McDonald's french fries I've ever encountered in a restaurant; super thin, extra crispy with just a touch too much salt that keeps you coming back for more.  I'm absolutely in love with this burger.  Of course it's incredibly hard to come by with only 25 orders available each night. But the loophole is brunch where the burgers are unlimited.  Looks like 2016 will be filled with Sunday brunching in Brooklyn!

919 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Brunch at Prime Meats

Making the trek out to Other Half Brewing for a beer release every month could seem like a hassle.  It's a long subway ride with weekend service delays and the beers usually sell out early afternoon so a morning trip is the only sure way.  I prefer to use it as an excuse to find an excellent brunch in the neighborhood.  Of course there's the original location of Court Street Grocers and their AMAZING breakfast sandwiches right around the corner and the sleeper favorite Dover up the street but right smack in between these two is another fabulous spot- Prime Meats.

This place is well known for its fantastic burger and Cote de Boeuf dinners, but did you know they also make an incredible Biscuits & Gravy with sunnyside up eggs and Benton's Farm bacon.

A monstrous Sausage, Egg & Cheese biscuit with the thickest slab of sausage I have ever seen...

...and a pretty insane Turkey Club piled high with thick cut bacon, bibb lettuce and fresh tomatoes.  The only challenging part was fitting this delicious sandwich into one manageable bite.

Of course you should never skimp out on the fries; they're long, crispy and come in an order large enough to share with four people.

Plus they create a delicious $5 brunch punch which changes every weekend.  Factor in the gorgeous space and efficient service; brunch is seriously getting done down at Prime Meats.

465 Court Street at Luquer St.
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dinner at Virginia's

There have been a handful of critical darlings that opened this year and Virginia's is definitely on the list. This cozy Old World bistro by Per Se and Locanda Verde alums in Alphabet City is just churning out delightful dishes like appetizers of toast points layered with creamy goat cheese, honeycrisp apples and sunflower seeds...

...and beautiful Caramelized Romanesco Salad topped with smoked pine nuts, clothbound cheddar cheese and speck vinaigrette. 

You could make a meal of the small plates alone but then you would miss out on some truly fantastic large plates like the hearty Hanger Steak with Argentinian chorizo and bok choy...

...an incredible Sweet Corn Risotto dotted with hunks of okra and plump chanterelles...

...and some of the best cooked Scallops I have ever had in my entire life; crisp and buttery on the outside and silky smooth inside.

Virginia's is a fantastic new neighbor in the ever growing restaurant/bar scene developing on Avenue C.  Now I just need to go back and try out that fabulous burger every one's talking about.

647 East 11th Street at Avenue C
New York, NY 10009

Monday, December 14, 2015

NYC Holiday Drink Guide

Christmas is less than two weeks away so break out those ugly red sweaters and pretend it's not actually a balmy 65 degrees today and hit up some holiday bars with our updated holiday cocktail guide.

Quintessential NYC- The Plaza Hotel

Whether you grew up watching the Eloise Christmas or Kevin in Home Alone just about everyone has a vision of The Plaza during holiday season.  Although the classic Oak Room is still sadly closed the redone Palm Court is a great second choice for a little holiday bubbly.

Best Christmas Bar- Miracle on 9th Street

Christmas presents hang from the ceiling in shiny boxes, the bartenders have on their best Santa hats and the cocktail menu reads like something straight out of the North Pole.  There's a Christmopolitan with vodka and spiced cranberry, a Christmas Tree Gimlet with pine needle cordial and my personal choice the Bad Santa.

It's got two kinds of rum, pineapple juice, coconut water and coconut butter served piping hot...so basically like a warm and buttery pina colada.  What's better for the holidays than some nice rosey cheeks after a hot cocktail!

Best Eggnog- Maialino

If you missed Tom & Jerry's annual celebration of all things frothy and delicious there's still time to get one in at Danny Meyers Italian Trattoria Maialino.  Their version is much lighter than that thick stuff from the carton with a creamy white head and a sprinkle of nutmeg on top.


Best Fireplace- Schoolbreds

This long, narrow space has been an East Village institution for years.  Get there early to grab the table in the back near the roaring fire and hustle up a Hot Toddy or sip on some Mulled Cider. Happy Hour drinks are two for one every day until 8:00 PM making this a toasty and affordable stop.


Best Place for Lounging by a Christmas Tree

We just talked about the new pop up inside Eataly Baita and nothing says lounging more than Adirondack chairs and raclette.


Best Place for Lights- Rolf's

It's super crowded, insanely hot and the drinks are overpriced.  But for some reason I always need to stop into Rolf's at least once during the holiday season just to look at all those incredible decorations.

Best Escape from Rolf's

If you just can't handle the insane crowds and overwhelming array of Christmas lights inside of Rolf's head directly across the street and seek refuge at the new Gramercy Ale House.  The old Copper Door has been completely redone into a polished new space with some of the friendliest bartenders in town and fantastic Irish music sessions every Wednesday night that could get just about any holiday Scrooge into a festive mood.

Gramercy Ale House

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Dish at Gramercy Tavern

So many incredible dishes at Gramercy Tavern but I always gravitate to their pasta when the weather starts to get a little colder.

Big toothsome tubes of cavatelli tossed with ricotta cheese, braised lamb, kabocha squash and crunchy almonds.  The combination of textures is incredibly satisfying and that rich braised lamb is just perfect for a chilly day.

Gramercy Tavern
42 East 20th Street
New York, NY 10010

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Brunch at Bacchus

There are so many new restaurants popping up along Atlantic Avenue sometimes it's easy to forget about the wonderful old standbys in the neighborhood like Bacchus; the cozy little bistro known for it's beautiful outdoor garden, extensive wine list and wonderful French fare.

I stopped in for a quick brunch the day after Thanksgiving when the pastries were just being pulled from the oven filling the air with the sweet aromas of yeast and sugar.  

Bacchus has everything from crepes to quiches but I went straight for the Croissant Sandwich with scrambled eggs, melted cheddar cheese and thick cuts of prosciutto.  I love prosciutto and eggs together and add on that flaky, buttery croissant with just the perfect amount of chew...heaven on a plate.

Bacchus Bistro
409 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Last Nights of Union Square Cafe

Mr. T and I said goodbye last night to Danny Meyer's first restaurant in NYC Union Square Cafe. This neighborhood staple will be closing it's doors on December 12th and moving into the old City Crab space in 6 months.  It's wonderful the restaurant isn't closing for good but still somewhat bittersweet that the original space will be gone forever.  I have so many fond memories of drinks at the bar and nibbling on their signature nut mix with cayenne pepper and rosemary.

To close out the restaurant USC is offering a special prix fixe menu with all of their signature dishes from the past 30 years.  Reservations are required in the main dining room but bar seating is wide open and everything can be ordered there a la carte.

We began with the Chili Crab layered with Kabocha Squash, tart Finger Limes and Puffed Rice.

Gorgeous ribbons of Tagliarini tossed with Nantucket Bay Scallops and Black Trumpet Mushrooms.

And of course their fantastic Rib Eye served with a decadent Bearnaise sauce, roasted carrots and crispy fried potatoes.

Such a wonderful place.  Cheers to 30 fantastic years; 16th Street just won't be the same without it.

Union Square Cafe
21 East 16th Street
New York, NY