20 September 2009

retro.spec: Eating the Big Apple in April '09

Retro.spec is a series of posts I post about past culinary experiences. In these posts I try to recount as much detail as possible, but will more often than not focus on the food and general likes and dislikes.

Welp, let me just start out by saying I wasn't able to visit a single place I had researched for my trip. I realized that for a foodie, the destination is always the food but for a normal person the food is just a stop on the way to another destination. That being said, I had an amazing weekend and got to sample some great cuisine:

Spice Cove - Lunch - Excellent meal for under $7.

The garlic nan was the best nan I've eaten to this date. The roasted garlic pieces embedded in the bread were little nuggets of heaven.

My friend Skott ordered the Mango Lassi and it was the best way to spend $3 in NYC that I've encountered.

The vegetable samosa was great. That's all I have to say about that.

The Lamb Korma was the first curry I've had that was subtle enough to where you could taste the lamb. It was very different from past curry dishes I've had. I really enjoyed the strong lamb presence in the dish.

il laboratorio del gelato - Awesome flavors. My personal order was espresso and coconut.

It tasted like a mounds bar on crack. Other flavors I sampled were chocolate hazelnut, banana, mint, and strawberry. The banana and mint were both noticeably smoother than the other flavors and the overall group favorite was chocolate hazelnut.

Una Pizza Napoletana - Arrived at 9pm Friday night and as expected it was closed after running out of fresh dough. Bah!

Driggs Pizza - Late night dinner - Since we got rejected from UPN my friend Andy whom we stay with was leading us to a bar took us here for a slice en route.

I ordered a grandma slice and a slice of buffalo chicken, both shown above. The grandma slice, which was the recommended slice was terrific, my first slice of genuinely good NYC pizza. The rest of the slices on the table (white, buffalo chicken, eggplant, plain) were mediocre and pedestrian.

Mesa Grill - Brunch - Once we found out that our first brunch destination shut down (The Neptune Room) we hit the net and found that the brunch menu at Mesa Grill was reasonably priced. We made our res and rushed out the door. This was probably the culinary highlight of the trip. I could write tons and tons here but let me highlight a few brief points.

The jelly which accompanied the complimentary baked goodies at the beginning of the meal was delightfully spicy.

The carrot mango juice was shunned in the aftermath of the almighty mango lassi from spice cove.

Both the barbecue pork quesadilla and the salmon and tuna tartare appetizers were great. The high point on the quesadilla was the terrific cunchy slaw.

My friend George was raving about his bloody marys having ordered two of them and downed them with ease. After taking a sip they turned out to be delightfully spicy and just thinking about them now is making me want one. It's a bizarre urge... I feel like squishing an overly ripe tomato all over my face whilst simultaneously choking down a half cup of cayenne pepper. All the while giving your mother the beating of her life with freshly cut celery stalks. The strange thing is this bloody mary is served with a lime wedge not a celery stalk. She probably deserved it though.

My entree was arguably the best plate of food I'd ever eaten (until the Kobe beef at Morimoto). I had the spicy chicken with sweet potato hash and poached eggs with green chili hollandaise. The sauces smeared on the plate were bliss. I've never been a huge poached egg fan until that meal. Creamy fluffy clouds of joy. The cubes of sweet potato were perfectly tender. My only complaint was the chicken didn't have much of a presence in the dish, which was odd since it is the first ingredient in the name of the dish. I ordered both grits and home fries.

The grits were the shining star of the meal. The entire table raved over them. The south needs to learn a thing or two from Bobby Flay on how to cook grits. Wow. The hash browns were mushy, flavorless, and needed salt. Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention was the mango glazed bacon. Yeah, if bacon could get any better than it already is, it just did. Unfortunately my one pic of the bacon came out horribly blurry. In recompense here are some pics of the other dishes ordered at our table. While I don't remember what they were, there were nothing but rave reviews coming from our group.

The colors are fantastic aren't they?

Emack & Bolio's - This place was a nice little treat.

The Grasshopper Pie ice cream is their best seller, and for good reason, it was delightful. A friend of mine got a scoop of cookie dough ice cream in a fruity pebbles encrusted cone. Unfortunately this was another pic that came out horribly blurry but here's a pic of the cone case. See the fruity pebble one? Oh yeah, that's the money shot.

In my opinion they could serve dog pooh in that cone and it would still be good. I wish they sold the marshmallowy fruity pebble goop by the bowl, then they would have a new best seller. My malt was bursting with super malty flavor but it overpowered any flavor the ice cream was meant to provide.

Dinosaur Barbecue - Dinner - I am a barbecue skeptic since I do my own backyard smoke barbecue, so I was trying to go in with an open mind. And my mind most certainly got opened at Dinosaur. And my mouth. Repeatedly. Besides Mesa Grill's grits the other high point of the trip were the garlic chipotle wings at Dinosaur.

Wow. I have always been a die-hard fan of fried over baked/grilled but Dinosaur single-handedly turned me. The black spots of sauce were little plateaus of charred wonderment. The wings themselves looked like they were butchered from the freshly slain carcass of a massive prehistoric terror. The sauce itself captured the wonderfully delightful smoky edge of chipotle and garlic with enough punch to round out the full-bodied experience that most vintage wines would be jealous of.

Just for kicks here is a picture of the wings I made the very next weekend after being so inspired by Dinosaur Barbecue:

While they may look similar, they weren't even on the same plateau of flavor as Dinosaur. Not even close. Something in the rub conflicted with my finishing sauce. Bah!

Unfortunately, the Tres Hombres plate following the wings was barely noticed and mostly consumed due to the greasy testosterone-charged meat eating frenzy the four of us were caught up in.

The brisket was tender, the ribs and pulled pork were average. The beans were very good and were the only thing on the plate that really fired my taste buds after the wings. They presented a blend of spices that none of us could pinpoint and were very satisfying. The mac and cheese was thankfully hot and creamy in the middle, but nothing to mention otherwise.

Europa Cafe - Breakfast - We stopped here while waiting for our bus to depart from Penn Station.

I ordered a swiss hot chocolate that murdered anything you can get in a packet. My rice pudding was good but a little bland. It could've used a sprinkle of cinnamon on top, which may have been at the condiment bar, I neglected to look.

And finally, the key lime bar was a super-creamy neon green gelatinous block. Terrific.

I miss NYC. I am currently planning another trip up there sometime in November. I don't think I could ever live there permanently, but I would love to move up there and eat for a few years.

Mesa Grill on Urbanspoon

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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