01 December 2009

The Micro family does NYC‏ Day 1

I’d been planning this trip for over a month and the day had finally arrived Friday the 6th. Our bus ticket left at 8:30am from the White Marsh park n' ride. I was unsure how much traffic there’d be so we left the house at 7:40pm and got there in time to make the earlier 8am bus. We were on our way. We arrived at the megabus drop off point at 28th street and 7th avenue around 11:15am. My first planned destination was lunch at the Little Owl for one of their bacon cheeseburgers which some say are the best in the world(!) We arrived there a little early so we stood outside talking and basking in the sunlight to keep warm. Once we saw people starting to go in we made our way inside.

The dining space was extremely small and the tables were perilously close together. That combined with the fact that we had our overnight bags with us made us feel all the more cramped. The place filled up quick and shortly after being sat we placed our orders, a medium-rare bacon cheeseburger for me and the arugula salad for my loving wife. The service was quick but I think that was mainly due to the fact that our waitress wanted to turn over the table and usher us out the door. She seemed to smile at us with contempt. Not really sure why. I asked about the beers and after a fairly in-depth rundown I chose a local brew called Pork Slap.

This beer poured a very vibrant deep orange almost pumpkin color. I'd never seen a beer this color before, not even a pumpkin ale. The beer itself was nicely malty with enough body to overcome the slightly bitter finish. I had a feeling this was going to compliment a burger perfectly. The complimentary bread was super tough and almost inedible but the olive oil was fantastic.

And now for the good stuff. The burger. Best in the world?

No. Not the best in the world. Not even the best I've ever had. But damn good nonetheless. The pickle was immediately devoured, not saved for the burger. Wow, now that is what a dill pickle is supposed to taste like. It was a half-sour from Gus's so I definitely need to stop there in one of my future ventures to the city and drop the hammer. Here's a close-up post-toppings:

While it may not have been the best burger I've ever had it was definitely the prettiest. Look at that vibrant yellow waterfall of cheesy goodness. This is the one and only time I actually wrote notes of my thoughts so here is the official skinny on this burger:

All of the components sung merrily. The burger was more medium than medium rare. This burger tasted like a burger you could have at your family backyard cookout, in a good way. The patty was sublimely juicy as you can see in the puddle formed after cutting it in half in the picture below. I do like a little more char on the outside that lately I've only been able to get on more fancy-pants burgers. As a whole it was kind of hard to eat, I really dislike having to cut a burger in half, but at least it provides a great internal shot.

Each half exploded after just a few bites, which is a huge negative in my book. The bun should serve as a vessel for all of the ingredients and in this case it did not. Overall the bun was great and while I'm usually partial to a sesame seed bun, this was pleasantly airy and spongy. The fries may have been the best I've had to date light, crispy, very flavorful. Overall this was an excellent meal. The aftermath:

After the meal we had two hours before we could check in to the hotel. We wandered around a bit and walked through Washington Square Park. There we people watched for a bit and were entertained by a juggler of decent talent and the fantastic spectacle of a guy playing the accordion in a Boba Fett helmet. We heard the Star Wars theme, Superman, and the most prized gem of them all: the original Legend of Zelda theme. On the accordion. While wearing a Boba Fett helmet. God I love New York.

Nikki was chilly so we stopped in the first non-Starbucks coffee shop we came across in our trek to the hotel, which happened to be a little place called the Roasting Plant. Now I was opposed to ordering anything. I didn't research this place! I'm not going to spend my money on food that might suck or risk ruining my apetite on the slim chance that this place might be good. Well, it actually turned out to be great. I failed to get a shot of the storefront but here's a shot of the interesting interior:

Nikki ordered a soy mocha and a chocolate chip cookie.

Besides from the fact that this mocha burned the sh*t out of my tongue it was actually a lovely little cup of joe. The chocolate was nice and subtle and hit the balance between sweet and bitter. The soy flavor really shined through and made the drink in my opinion. While neither of us are coffee drinkers this was a perfect way to take the chill from our bones. And the cookie. THE COOKIE. How could I have not heard about this place before when it serves chocolate chip cookies of this caliber? Gooey almost to the point of fall-aparty which is exactly how Nikki and I like them. Moist, chewy, with plenty of large chunks of chocolate. Wonderful. If I weren't saving my apetite for Le Bernardin I would've ordered half a dozen. The funny thing is a few days ago on my daily SE read I noticed this post on Serious Eats New York. I guess the cat is outta the bag. It also reaffirms my feelings about this cookie: it is the straight up business.

We got a room at the Hampton Inn on 8th ave. b/t 51st and 52nd street for a pretty decent rate. We unpacked and unwound for a bit, getting ourselves situated for the weekend. We changed for dinner and then headed over to a pub we passed on our way to the hotel called The House of Brews.

I thought with a name like that it has to be awesome. It was a typical local New York bar inside. I couldn’t really tell what too many of the beers were on tap so I asked the bartender for a brown ale or lager of sorts. As soon as he reached for the Brooklyn Lager tap I immediately regretted it. Brooklyn Lager is one of, if not the worst “local” beer I’ve ever tasted.

I have no idea how it has come to be so popular. It lacks sufficient body, and it is entirely too hoppy which gives it a very unpleasant bitter finish. And this particular Brooklyn Lager tasted watered down so it was even worse than I expected. I asked for something else and the bartender simply replied “Not working for you, eh?” and handed me a beer menu. Now this was more like it. I noticed a Peak Organic Brown Ale so I opted to try that.

While it was much better than Brooklyn Lager it was a pretty flat and uninteresting beer. It was drinkable but I would not go out of my way to order it again. We got a call from our dinner associate Paul saying he would meet us at the restaurant on time. We had 5:45pm reservations at Eric Ripert’s restaurant Le Bernardin.

When Paul emailed me a few weeks before our trip telling me to choose any restaurant in NYC for dinner after much research I responded with the following list:

Splooge restaurants: Per Se or Le Bernardin
Reasonable restaurants: WD-50, Eleven Madison Avenue, Craft, Momofuku Ssam Bar, or Blue Hill

The next I heard from him was an email from opentable.com confirming our reservation at Le Bernardin. I was uber-excited. I knew chef Eric Ripert from watching Top Chef so I had high expectations.

Unfortunately I will not be doing an in-depth analysis of this meal like I did with Morimoto. There are a few reasons for this:

1. Somewhere between Le Bernardin and home we lost the chef's tasting menus we had requested and by the time I realized it the menu had already changed.

2. About half-way through our meal the beverage accompaniments hit me like a brick wall and that severely hampered my memory and, unfortunately, my tastebuds.

3. When we were at Morimoto for my bachelor party the focus was the food and I had all sorts of pictures and video to refresh my memory. During our dinner at Le Bernardin I did take pictures of every course, but once Paul found out Nikki worked at Starbucks the conversation was coffee-centric for the rest of the meal, effectively removing me from the conversation and severely hampering any food analysis or discussion.

So I searched the internet trying to find scraps of what I thought we ate and luckily I came across this post which was the exact same meal we had. Woohoo now I can produce a post of satisfactory caliber. Or try to at least. Can't forget the drunkenness.

We were sat in the back far corner which was great because I didn't want the flash from my camera to disturb any other diners. Our server had a very thick french accent and we only understood about 50% of what she said. The wine specialty guy (too lazy to look up what they're called...) was awesome and really personable. I would've taken a picture of him but I think it may have been kind of inappropriate. Nikki and I ordered the chef's tasting menu with beverage accompaniment and Paul ordered from the menu.

Our complimentary starter was an amuse-bouche of braised scallop with truffle foam.

Paul proclaimed he wasn't a fan of scallops so I had the priviledge of having two. They were splendidly delicious, as was most of this meal. My only complaint was the effect the sharp edge of the clam shell had on my lips. After two I'm surprised I wasn't bleeding.

The fresh bread guy came by at least 10 times throughout our meal. I tried the rosemary bread while Nikki and Paul opted for sourdough. If I weren't saving room for the umpteen courses to come I would've wolfed down 4 or 5 of the rosemary. Mmmmm.

No butter for me. As I feel a great steak has no need for A1, a great piece of bread has no need for butter. I love me some bread.

Our first official course was Salmon-Caviar: Thinly Pounded Smoked Salmon Carpaccio; Toasted Brioche and Caviar. Paired with: Krug, Grand Cuvee.

The presentation was beautiful and while I had no complaints with the dish, these were flavors I've had many times before, so it was hard to really be impressed.

The second course was Langoustine: Seared Langoustine, Mache, Wild Mushroom Salad, Shaved Foie Gras; White Balsamic Vinaigrette. Paired with: Riesling Estate feinherb, Karthauserhof, Mosel, Germany, 2008.

I was excited to try foie gras for the first time. Paul and I had to dissect the dish to find it. I think. Hell, I'm not really sure what was foie gras and what was mushroom. I'm pretty sure that is it on top of the langoustine in front. I have no idea. I don't like lobster that much but I loved langoustine. The texture was like a combination of lobster and maryland blue crab. The dish was very earthy and nutty and balanced perfectly with the sweetness of the langoustine. This was one of my favorite courses of the meal.

Our third course was Scallop: Ultra Rare Scorched Scallop; Garlic Chive - Goat's Milk Butter Emulsion. Paired with: Kasumi Tsuru, Yamahai Ginjo, Hyogo. This was most certainly my least favorite course of the meal.

The texture of the scallop was kind of like a slimy fruit snack. I have no idea how or why chef Ripert thought the flavors of scallop and goat cheese go together because they were completely conflicting to me. To top it all off the beverage served with this dish was a sweetish sake that was another conflicting element. This dish failed to deliver on all fronts.

The fourth course was Halibut: Poached Halibut; Braised Daikon, Baby Radish and Turnips; Seasame Court Bouillon. Paired with: Traminer, Domaine Andre Tissot, Arbois, Jura, 2006. This is when the drinks started to kick in so I really don't remember too much.

I'm fairly sure I liked it. The presentation was gorgeous. I'd never seen a piece of fish that looked so perfect and white. It looked fake. But it tasted good. I think. And, yeah that's about all I got.

My favorite course of the day was our fifth course of Striped Bass: Baked Wild Striped Bass; Corn "Cnnelloni"; Light Perigord Sauce. Paired with: Sauvignon Blanc, Klausen, Neumeister, Styria, Austria, 2007.

The sauce that was served with this plate was de-freakin'-vine. The beverage accompaniment for this course should've been a medieval goblet of the sauce. I wanted to bathe in it. I would have had I been given the opportunity. Look, I even took another picture of the dish halfway through eating it.

I guess our sixth course would be considered our "main" course since it was the heaviest dish of the meal. We were served Surf & Turf: Escolar and Seared Kobe Beef; Sea Bean Salad and Eggplant Fries; Mr. Kaufman's Pesto and Anchovy Sauce. Paired with: Chateau Haut-Bages Averous, Paulliac, Bordeaux, 2001.

I refuse to compare this with the kobe beef I had at Morimoto. Nope, not gonna do it. Sorry to disappoint. This dish was great, really. To me it doesn't really get much better than a perfect piece of beef paired with a nice dry red wine. Holy hell this wine was fantastic. I begged the wine guy to leave the bottle. He smirked and briskly walked back to the kitchen. Damn him and his astounding amount of wine knowledge. Look at this beautiful beverage:

I can't really say if this was the best wine I've ever had, but I do remember my strong desire to quaff gallons of this stuff. Fantastic pairing.

While the texture of the beef wasn't as mind-blowing as I remember it being at Morimoto (oops...) you have to remember my state of inebriation at the time. The best part of this dish was the lovely herbs crusted on the top of the kobe. I remember liking the eggplant fries very much. Looking back on the description I don't see anything on the plate resembling a sea bean salad. I guess it would be the green beans on top of the beef. That would make sense. On to our next course!

Course seven was my other favorite course of the meal. The beloved cheese course. We had "La Faisselle": Artisan Fromage Blanc (produced exclusively for Le Bernardin by the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company), with Toasted Almonds and Honey. Paired with: Chateau La Rame, Reserve, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, France, 1998.

The tang of the supremely light and airy cheese combined with the sweetness from the honey and the nutty crunch from the almonds. Divine.

At this point I feel the need to showcase the chocolate-peanut dessert Paul ordered because it may just be the prettiest plate of fancy-pants food I've ever seen. What a gorgeous presentation:

Perty, ain't it? I reckon!

And finally the dessert course. Choclate-Chicory: Chocoalte Cremeux, Pain de Genes, Orange "Meringue", Chicory Ice Cream. Paired with: Museum Muscat, Reserve NV, Yalumba, Rutherglen/Australia. I remember loving the wine and the little cake thing beneath the ice cream. That's about it. But this was another lovely presentation:

And last but not least a little plate of desserts called petit fours which was a completely foreign term and concept to me up to that point.

They were lovely little morsels. This is what the Kebler Elves must eat for dessert because I'm sure they're probably sick of those damn cookies by now. Nikki and I each had two. I liked the two-tone jelly-like one. They should sell those in the fruit snack aisle at Weis.

Thus concludes our lovely meal at Le Bernardin. During our meal I asked if the chef were in the kitchen and I was informed that he left shortly after we had arrived. Bah, another famous chef I didn't get the chance to meet. Or did I? As we were about ready to depart for the evening our head waited approached the table and directed our attention to the lobby where chef Ripert had just returned and was greeting tables. Our head waited politely got his attention and we met him and got a picture taken with the suave french culinary mastermind:

A fantastic way to end our first day in NYC as husband and wife.

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon
Little Owl on Urbanspoon

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