Faustina//not quite Scarpetta…yet

Hello, Chef.

We knew it was early to be trying Faustina given that it’s been open for 2 weeks but being huge fans of Scarpetta, we really could not resist the temptation of Scott Conant’s wise “Italian-as-interpreted-by-other-cultures” ways on a cold winter night.

It began with five of us in the rather masculine bar area which is interesting considering the restaurant is “named after a Roman empress whose monument is the only building inside the Roman Forum dedicated to a woman”. The decor runs towards the Scarpetta equation of dark leather cocktail seats, tall wood tables and dark tiles lining the undulating ceiling. Not bad considering the team had four weeks to transform the former-and-never-opened Table 8 space into Faustina.

As we were drinking rather delicious but uninspired cocktails in a cold room and mulling over the sharable menu choices, we had agreed to start with the roasted beets with pink peppercorns and taleggio, tuna and avocado “salad”, and Mediterranean octopus with fingerling potatoes and olive oil. These dishes were all about the combination of flavors and the whole of the dishes being more than the sum of its parts: the filthy and stinky taleggio creates a nice balance with the sweet beets while the combination of tuna + avocado has exisited since time eternal. Nice, but again, uninspired.

The second course was all about the pastas: naturally, we had to order Chef Conant’s self-proclaimed “sex-in-a-bowl” pasta with sea urchin and tomato sauce. We also decided on the cannelloni with burrata and baby tomatoes to satisfy the burrata addict in all of us. Surprisingly, the cannelloni won by leaps and bounds. It was hearty, homey, warm and heavy; just delicious and gooey. Everything you want in cannelloni. The sea urchin pasta? Well, if that was “sex-in-a-bowl” then I’ll have to slip out the door quietly at 4am. It just wasn’t that good…but I wanted it to be…

Next up was the grande dame of dinner: the meat course. We tried the short ribs of beef with spaetzle plus the pork belly with potato and grain mustard, and for sides the eggplant with pork shoulder, truffled cabbage and the mushrooms. Seven words for the short ribs: do it to me one more time; the tender texture and flavorful meat coupled with the chewy texture of the spaetzle was a real delight. The pork belly was also rather tasty especially with the texture-lending, crisp piece of bacon it was served with. The sides were just ok (save for the woodsy and very fresh mushrooms).  The eggplant and pork shoulder was overpowered  by a heavy hand of rosemary.The cabbage was as good as anything “truffled”.

The three desserts we ordered were accompanied by a nice bottle of Muscado d’Asti which finished off the meal on a civilized-version-of-inebriation tip. The date pudding with currant compote and prune ice cream was a clear winter winner; the slightly sticky and dense pudding (more of a moist “cake”) wasn’t too sweet and left us with a warm and fuzzy holiday dessert feeling.

I won’t dare to comment on the service. It’s not fair given Faustina is two weeks old and still has a few kinks to work out before it reaches Scarpetta A-list level.

All in all a warm, hearty meal with dynamite potential. I will be back to for short ribs and date pudding. And, maybe, another chance to sneek a peek at Scott Conant.

Faustina @ The Cooper Square Hotel
25 Cooper Square, NYC
(212) 475-3400

A Tale of 12 dishes//Boqueria Soho

Boqueria Soho, so good, so-ho-good
Oh yea? Well get your Rioja outta my Tempranillo

One fine and cold night last week I was planning a dinner for four. Hmph, I thought. Where to? What would be a fun and new place to drink wine and eat lots of food? What would be a great object-of-my-obsession-Spain-centric spot? Hmph! Boqueria Soho. 

As per my usual no reservations game-plan, I sat with a fine glass of rose cava (Spanish sparkling wine tends to have larger bubbles and it’s less refined than champagne) whilst I waited for the rest of my team to show up and ignored the fact that the knowledgeable bartender called me “sweetheart” (I may look 18, but don’t call me sweetheart mmmkay?). The wine list was thourough and explored the various regions of Spain and various price points. I ordered a great Rioja for one team member who had a rather hard day at work and we ended up drinking it the whole night.

Upon entering and sitting at BoqSo, one easily takes notices on how well the decor fits the food like my new Abaete dress fits me. The former Kin Khao space is outfitted with a long white marble bar, sleek blonde wood panels, an open kitchen and tall banquettes lining the walls…I had some time to muse about my surroundings as most everyone was a touch late but I’m not complaining…mwwwahhahaha. 

In more news, we had to wait quite a while to be seated but it was worth it as we dined at a coveted corner banquet where the quickly men realized they had no say in what we ordered as we femmes took over the menus. Tapas? For 4? We started with 9. Here’s a run-through of what we ordered + my comments of which you may or may not care to read. 

Patatas Bravas: classic, well prepared and well spiced.

Pimientos de Padrón (Shishito peppers): I wanted then to be saltier and they could have charred them a touch more but we all know how I love my shishito’s…

Dátiles con Béicon (Dates stuffed with almonds and Valdeón, wrapped in bacon): Ain’t nothing wrong here kids. It’s a classic flavor combination: sweet, salty, creamy and crunchy. 

Croquetas Cremosas: Setas, Bacalao y Cochinillo (Creamy croquettes: Mushroom, Salt Cod and Suckling Pig): Light and delicate textures. The clear winner was the suckling pig. I could have done without the mushroom. 

Poor Man’s Rice: This was a surprise hit. Creamy rice with lamb sausage. It was a hearty dish and welcomed on a table spread with finger nibbles. 

La Serena (A soft floral cheese made with unpasteurized Merino sheep’s milk): This was one of the most incredible, sophisticated, feminine, silkiest, smoothest, fragrant and floral cheeses I have ever had. Simply amazing. 

Aged Manchego (12 month aged sheep’s milk cheese from La Mancha,
notes of caramel and
nuts): Nothing new here. Manchego is a solid, standard Spanish cheese. A tad mundane. 

Jamón Serrano (Spanish ham, aged 15 months): I wanted this to be better. So far the best Jamon I’ve had in New York has been at Despana on Broome St. 

Chorizo Cantimpalo (Mildly spicy pork sausage cured in pimentón): Mon favorite! Chorizo is one of my cured meat boyfriends, I love the spicy, smoky taste and the vibrant red color – owed to the paprika used to cure and spice the pork meat. 

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BoqSo

After I we licked the plates clean, the rumble in my tummy wasn’t satiated yet so we stayed the course and ordered: 

Cojonudo (Fried quail eggs and chorizo on toast): It’s breakfast for din! Chorizo is a great meat to pair with eggs. The yolk oozes out onto the toast making this tapa (singular form of tapas, heeee) a perfecrt bite. 

Monte Enebro (Unique semi-soft pasteurized goat’s milk cheese, aged 2-3 months in ash): Smooth. Mundane. 

Valdeón (Creamy, sharp blue cheese made with a blend of sheep, cow and goat’s milk): Wahoo. This was the same cheese stuffed in the dates and it’s the craziest fromage I have ever tasted. It’s as if a Gorgonzola made babies with Carmelo Anthony’s foot after a playoff game. Stinky and lovely. 

12 agreeable dishes and a few bottles of Rioja was convincing enough for me to know that Boqueria Soho is without a doubt one of the best “I have to plan a dinner for a group and have no idea where to go” solution. Spanish tapas easily lends itself to group satisfaction, even for the pickiest of eaters and at Boqueria Soho they aim to please with a few easy dishes and a handful of more adventurous ones. The atmosphere is jovial and fun and there is certainly a wine for every palette. I do wish the service was warmer and less “downtown” as it would behoove the establishment to do-as-the-Spanish-do and make you feel like some sort of dysfunctional family.

Stay gorgeous.

Boqueria Soho//171 Spring St//212.343.4255 

Ahhh//Amaranth

cravings-7
Hi. Je suis Amaranth
Due to a certain Mr. A and his local neighborhood haunts where he pleasantly gets greeted by name, I’ve been to Amaranth quite a few times in the past few months and it’s quickly come to be on my lurve list. 

Located a dangerous block away from Barney’s on 62nd b/t 5th and Madison, Amaranth is a warm, sexy and elegant European deeelight. One of the first notable pluses is that the service is warm, and attentive; not one moment after we sat down did the maitre d’ bring over 2 Bellini’s, who doesn’t love ’em? The French-rendevous-avec-les-Italians menu has something for everyone, including their famed Focaccia Robiola – robiola, tomato and arugula sandwiched between two pieces of focaccia and baked. It totally saved my life. I was starved for cheesy, crispy love. 

Each time I sit down at Amaranth, I insist on ordering the mussels steamed in white wine. The mussels, fresh. The broth,briny, buttery and worth dipping your frites into. My favorite thing to do it let a few toasted slices of french bread sit in the broth to soak up all of its sea brine, white wine, butter and parsley love. It’s a  simple and well-prepared comfort dish and I don’t think twice about ordering it every time. 

The fries are another notable. There is nothing “special” about the fries but that’s the point. There is something familiar about the crispy and slim exterior and the fried, starchy taste and I’m not complaining one bit…

Mr. A always orders a fish and fries combo and never have they ceased to disappoint. Though there are certainly a good number of dishes on the menu that I have not tried, the few that I have were simple European dishes executed with care and fine ingredients (hugs self). 

Cut to the alcohol: The wines are moderately priced at 8-12 a glass. I tried the Oregon Pinot Noir prior to the solid glass of cabernet. Neither was outstanding but both were very drinkable. Annnd. Scene.

What makes Amaranth so special is that hard to find combination of location, atmosphere, yummy bites, attention to detail and really pretty people wearing fur. Seriously. 

Stay sexy. 

Amaranth//21 East 62nd//(212) 980-6700

Felice Wine Bar//quel surprise

vermintino
Vermentino.

It has been a long time since I have been surprised by the food or wine being  event good at an unexpected restaurant. Most of the time, when I dine out, I have a general idea of whether a meal will be successful or not via reviews I’ve read, opinions of close friends or my near psychic 6th sense. Rarely do I stumble upon that rare gem that no one has heard of – working in the industry will do that to a person. Then, one evening, in came Felice, a very unexpecting and unexpected wine bar and restaurant on 64th street and 1st avenue. 

I had been casually searching for a cozy wine bar in the neighborhood of a certain gentleman (you lucky b*tch) and almost gave up when I came across a tiny review on Felice, the author noted that it was inviting, warm, cozy, perfect for a date and the food was great too. Check, check, check and check. Off we went to sample the wines and edibles at this alleged cutie-pie of a wine bar. 

For those of us who grew up on or live in the upper east side, the blocks east of 2nd avenue tends to be no-mans land: mostly residential, far from the 6 train, peppered with old standbys like neighborhood video rental stores. As we walked towards our destination I became less confident that this was going to be a stellar dinner…until we came upon the corner space and peered through the glass walls and saw what was one of the coziest, warmest and most inviting spaces I have seen in a very long time. Felice is appointed with a long communal table and smaller two-tops running along the periphery of the space: one diner sits on a chair and the other, sits across from them in a very comfortable banquette outfitted with a brown leather seat cover reminiscent of a man’s suit. The lighting is soft and romantic and (dare I say it?) AvroKo-esque. 

Once we sat down another glass of Vermentino was in order (we already had one at the bar, of course). The wine was delicately priced at $11 a glass and it’s one of my favorite pre-dinner wines. Tart and refreshing with floral notes, Vermentino will surely get an appetite going (not that I need any help in that department, at all). We had agreed to order the cheese and charcuterie plate which arrived quickly and with 5 different meats and 5 cheeses nearly falling off the plate – portions are not meager here. The selection of both meats and cheeses was refined and well thought out. There was a fine Pecorino for the fair-weather cheese lover and a more complex Gorgonzola Piccante for the any-weather cheese lover. There was a mild prosciutto di Parma for the baby-carnivore and a Bresaola for the air cured meat fans. 

Next came the spinach and ricotta ravioli with sage butter sauce which we shared. The dish was rustic but light – incredibly fresh ingredients were used with thought and care. The classic pairing of spinach and ricotta was delicious and the ravioli was delicate and beautifully done. It was a well executed, classic Italian pasta dish. I would come back just for this, if I had to. 

Soon after, the Branzino arrived in all it’s almost-charred, pan-seared glory. The fish was cooked perfectly and well seasoned with a nice crust. I was surprised at how well executed the fish was. Not that I expected to eat chum, but the food was unarguably well done. 

The gelato we shared for dessert left me wishing I had ordered something else (it was no Grom) but with half a bottle of wine + 2 more glasses in me, damn if I cared eh? 

The food wasn’t groundbreaking at Felice but it was memorable, comfortable, simple and unpretentious. It’s clear that the chef treats his ingredients with respect and knows how to execute a dish and bring out the simple flavors of each component. It’s a restaurant that we should all want in our neighborhood, an inviting space which calls us to gather with friends at it’s communal table or have a romantic date for two with a bottle of wine and a few notes of conversation. I will be back at Felice and looking forward to making it a new neighborhood haunt. 

xoxo,

Gossip Girl. 

Felice//1st Avenue @ 64th St//(212) 593-2223

Italian/Wine Bar

Entrees $14 – $29

Words to dine by: rustic, romantic, cozy

Mid-week review spectacular

Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!

Babies! We finally have some movement from the stodgy grounds of mid-week restaurant reviews. Seems like these elders do have some life in them. There is a pulse. We have a heartbeat doctor.

– My lord! Bruni re-reviews Ssam Bar (after only a year but whateves) and drops 3 stars on my latest obsession. Don’t hate players, I was WAY ahead of the game on that one mmmkay? Frankie B “…circled back because eating at Ssam feels so unencumbered, honest and joyful, and because I can’t stop reflecting on the daring and importance of Mr. Chang’s work there.” Ha! He must be going senile, no? We all know D. Chang-ster doesn’t touch the food there. And what is this about the pricing? I, for one have not left there without spending at least $65 per person. I do however have to give much love to the raw passion and guts it took to write that review. Playing it safe will get you nowhere in this life.

Sarah Digregorio at the Voice lurves Michael Huynh’s newest Vietnamese, BarBao. Calls it “pho real”. Makes me giggle in the process and wonder how long Huynh will stay at this resto. As soon as I can make it up to the Upper West Side, I’m so ordering the “the daikon duck hash—it’s outrageously good”. Tres exciting.

– Steve Cuozzo and his somewhat embarrassing headlines at the NYP also visits BarBao and calls it “thrilling on every visit”. I see BarBao as a sure thing, no?

– Sietsema at the Voice checks out Obika Mozzerella Bar in wasteland that is Midtown Manhattan. The location, inside the IBM building sucks. My only memories of that atrium are from high school when it was a cafe and we used to grab coffee there after a run at Barney’s. I doubt I would ever trek there for mozzerella however the concept is interesting-ish.

– Adam Platt goes B&T and heads to Brooklyn for a taste of new BBQ joint, Char No. 4. He bestows 2 stars upon this den of upscale-ish comfort food. I am smitten by this sentence: “the chopped-pork sandwich is a thing of beauty (it’s bombed with the tangy, Dr Pepper–rich “Char No. 4 barbecue sauce”), especially if you enjoy it, as I did one evening, with a side of cauliflower gratin sprinkled with crushed almonds”. Take me to your leader.

– Is there anything Danyelle Freeman doesn’t like? She gives 4 stars to health conscious Midtown newcomer, Rouge Tomate. Meh.

Pre-Turkey Reviews

Nice try birdie
Nice try birdie

(happy dance)

Tomorrow is my favorite day of the year next to my birthday and the day CDG was released at H&M.

Here are our top reviews for the week:

– Bruni titles his review of Double Crown “The Empire Strikes Back“. I love him for it. He notes Double Crown “ponders the glories of culinary cross-pollination, making a promise of “British-Indio-Asian” fusion that sounds more like a threat”. I laugh.

– Jay Cheshes of Time Out NY gives a pimpin 6 stars (a first for the mag) to Corton. Calls it “an extraordinary experience”.

– Sietsema is confused, betwixt and between about Braeburn. This sums it up nicely “So, here we have a farmstead-themed restaurant with locavore overtones. It’s a simple enough formula, and you’d expect big, aggressive plates of plainish food from farmers’-market sources. But that’s often not the case at Braeburn. The lessons of cooking school have been vigorously applied, complete with delicate servings, fussy platings, and incongruous ingredients that seem to fly out of nowhere. And why, given the farmstead theme, does the menu emphasize unsustainable ocean fish?”. Solid writing.

– In the $25 and Under column, NYT dining section editor Pete Wells reviews Williamsburg taqueria La Superior. Now, we all know that no state does Mexican food quite as well as Cali. Well babies, Mr. Wells claims that this joint reminded his Cali friend of Southern California…and we all know I heart SoCal. Must. Go. Now.

Reminder: calories don’t count on ThanksG. xxooo

Oops…

Moo.
Moo.

I somehow ended up at Ssam Bar again for a pig-fest. Sue me, hate me, love me. Either way, the pork buns were fabbie, the apple kimchi was refreshing and weird and we had a really nice dish of brussel sprouts with mint, scallion and finished with a fish sauce vinaigrette – something you can definitely sautee and marinate at home. We had the crazy PB&J dessert I had last time I went and a blondie which wasn’t that special yet somehow managed to not leave a crumb behind.

Next up: Momofuku Milk Bar. If the idea of a high-end Egg McMuffin doesn’t tempt you then we are not friends.