18 May 2010

NYC April 2010: Tapas Dinner and Bottomless Brunch

After our round of milkshakes at Stand we headed over to Union Square to get in line for rush tickets for the 8pm show of Fuerza Bruta. Yes, after hearing me rave about it so much my friends were very interested in checking it out for themselves. Well G was anyway, A proclaimed he wasn't much a fan of the performing arts. Little did he know that would change after the show.

After obtaining our tickets A suggested we see if there was a wait at one of his favorite restaurants in the city which just happened to be a few short blocks away: Pipa Tapas y Mas. Luck was with us that day as we were seated immediately. A had talked this place up quite a bit so I had some pretty high expectations, even more so since my favorite restaurant in Baltimore is also a tapas joint. I was very curious to see if Pipa would top Pazo. Unfortunately, in most cases, it didn't.

This place had the worst lighting of the weekend. The lights were so dim we could barely read the menu. What is with the mood-lighting in NYC? It's L-A-M-E. Ah well, what's a guy to do? The cool thing about Pipa is it's also a home furnishings shop. Everything decorating the walls and hanging from the ceiling has a price tag on it. This is the ideal place for those of you who've got a hankering for a croquette and are in need of a fancy crystal chandelier.

Yeah, I'm sure that's a very common situation many New Yorkers find themselves in... We sat down and discussed what we wanted to order. The main reason I love tapas is it let's you taste all kinds of different dishes and with that in mind along with A's recommendations we ordered a total of 7 plates. First up was the Champinones croquetas which arrived to our table astonishingly fast.

These croquetas were stuffed with mixed wild mushrooms flavored with rosemary, thyme and garlic and served with truffle trumpet aioli. The filling was super rich and blew the croquetas I've had at Pazo out of the water. Check it:

They had a very light crust and the accompanying sauce was creamy and decadent. If this was an indicator of the quality of the food Pipa puts out, we were in for a very great meal. Unfortunately this was only one of two plates that didn't fall short of my expectations. Next up was the Patatas Bravas, or sliced crispy potatoes served with a spicy mustard aioli.

These potato wedges could've been more light and tender on the inside. They tasted simply like slices of baked potato, and while it was one of the cheaper tapas at $6, I still expected something more interesting than what we were served. I did however approve of the spicy aioli. The next three dishes we ordered hit the table all at once. The feasting could commence.

The dish that A raved about the most was the Pinchos de Carne or steak skewers so we ordered two plates of these. More specifically he raved about the hazelnut-romesco dipping sauce so I was prepared to be blown away. To put it bluntly, this sauce sucked.

The taste reminded me of a crappy version of the barbecue sauce I make at home. I remember one batch I made that I discarded due to an unidentifiable off-taste it had. This sauce tasted just like that. The sauce wasn't the only downfall of the dish, the steak itself had no textural contrast to it whatsoever and was cooked all the way through. I like my steak to have a nice black sear on the outside with a beautiful pink inside. At $13 a plate it made the disappointment of this dish all the more painful to bear.

The disappointment didn't stop there however. It trucked right on through to the "Jumbo" Asparagus which was grilled and served with an avocado aioli.

If I hadn't seen the tiny little black grill marks, I would've never guess these asparagus were grilled. I've made much better grilled asparagus at home. I NEED THE CHAR! These were also in desperate need of seasoning. While I did like the avocado aioli (it seems like aioli's the one thing they do consistently right) I felt it didn't do anything for the asparagus. It was sweet, and it didn't match well with the barely cooked asparagus. Plus the way it was presented on the plate reminded me of those little mounds of synthetic dog pooh found at the gag store in the mall.

Luckily at this point the meal took a turn for the better. The Piggy Back Dates or bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds and Spanish calabres blue cheese were great.

I was fairly amused that for the one I chose the bacon was wrapped around nothing and oozed blue cheese into the endive leaf upon which it was served and the date was just chilling there all alone.

So cold... so lonely. But after a quick trip from the plate to my mouth, the long lost friends were reunited quite tastily. Great caramelization was had here with both the bacon and the date whilst the almonds provided a great nutty crunch and the blue cheese cut the sweetness, giving the dainty bite some much appreciated backbone. Yum.

The final dish of the meal finally came (we actually asked the waiter if he had forgotten it seconds before it landed on our table) which was the Crispy Calamari, lightly floured calamari rings, smoked paprika aioli, and cabbage...? I don't remember any cabbage, but that's what the online menu says. I'll trust the menu since I'm staring at the bottom of a big ol bottle of Grolsch. Mr. Micro is a lightweight, alright?

Why we were served beef prior to squid is beyond me, but nonetheless these things were really good. There was absolutely no chewiness to these lovely little rings of squid. Sam's Kid could learn a lot from Pipa. God, that place sucked. But anywway, the paprika aioli these things were smothered in made this an ultra-addicting plate of food. It reminded me of a lighter slightly sweeter version of the Bang Bang Shrimp sauce from Bonefish. Now, I'm not going to say whether or not this calamari was better than Pazo's because they're two vastly different interpretations of the dish, this dish is definitely feed-bag worthy. We creamed this thing in mere seconds. Inexplicably addicting and most certainly delicious.

We divvied up the check and headed out the door as we were pressed for time to get back to the Daryl Roth theater for the 8pm show. The show was great and blew both G and A away. Many thank yous and pats on the back were thrown my way for the remainder of the night. The discussion of a sweet treat came up sometime between dinner and the show and I off-handedly mentioned how I had heard of someplace that only served rice pudding called Rice to Riches. As soon as I said that A's eyes lit up. Apparently R2R is one of his favorite dessert places in the city. With a destination in mind we set out.

As a lover of all things pudding, rice pudding happens to be one of my favorites. I snapped a photo of the unmistakable storefront from across the street and we headed inside.

Immediately I was taken aback by the bizarre decor but I loved, as I'm sure most patrons do, the witty sayings plastered all over the walls. You've got to respect a place that flaunts indulgence at every turn.

Sometimes you just have to embrace your inner (or in some cases outer...) fatty, am I right? I got one of the girls attention and immediately started sampling their different flavors. My only complaint here was the language barrier. I had to repeat myself pretty much every time I tried a flavor. While A swears by the Hazelnut Chocolate Bear Hug, and while great, me and G were looking for something that actually tasted like traditional rice pudding. I tried that as well as the Sex Drugs and Rocky Road, the Edge of Rum Raisin, and a few others, but the one I kept coming back to was the Fluent in French Toast. A's favorite topping, graham cracker crumbs, was also not available so thinking back to how much I loved the cherry french toast at Day by Day in Philadelphia I went with the roasted cherries which R2R calls "Bursts".

The pudding itself was fantastic with a strong maple flavor and a nice cinnamon undertone and the cherries complimented perfectly. The serving size was perfect and they gave me just enough cherries so that I had a few in every bite, but at $7.25 for their smallest size with one topping I felt it was a tad over-priced.

Since the place was fairly busy, all of the table space was taken. Nonetheless, we set up shop at the condiment bar and wolfed our puddings down. I will say that this was probably the least photogenic food I've come across in my culinary travels. It looks like a pile of gruel topped with discarded peach pits. I guess you just have to take my word for it, this was some damn delicious gruel. Thus concludes day two of our long weekend in the city.

The next morning I provided a slew of options for breakfast but, as usual, my friends didn't really care where we ate. I said there was a place that supposedly served good molé that I wanted to check out and they said that worked for them so we started making our way down to El Maguel y La Tuna. We were on the 6 train when I started thinking to myself that maybe Mexican wasn't the best option for breakfast. Then I realized that we would be heading right by Essex Street Market and Shopsin's. I told the guys that we really had to check this place out, but there might be a wait as there aren't many tables. We got there and, as I expected, the line stretched down the wall past the neighboring cheese shop. I recalled that the last time I was there each party in line averaged out to about a 15 minute wait. So judging by how long the line was we might be looking at a hour and a half. Yeah, they weren't down with that. A mentioned that one of his favorite brunch spots happened to be right next door, but without a reservation we were probably in for just as long of a wait, but we tried our luck anyway. So we headed next door to Essex and come to find out they had just opened their doors for business. We asked the hostess for a table for 3 and were seated immediately. Double the C, double the S, and you will always have Success.

We were given the table right in front of the hostess station so we sat down and picked up our one-sided laminate menus. The heading read that you get 3 drinks and one plate for $18, which I thought was a ridiculous deal considering what neighborhood we were in.

It seemed as though we arrived at the perfect time because by this time the place was packed and there was a line out the door. We were given some complimentary bread and placed our orders for our first round of drinks--a bloody mary for myself and G, while A went with a mimosa. I was amazed as I watched the bar set up this fluent assembly line and just started pumping out drinks. We had our first round within seconds and after a few shakes of tabasco in mine I dove right in.

Now I will say that I don't always care for bloody mary's, but when I'm in the mood for one I like them hot. This drink definitely hit the spot as it was nice and spicy and balanced with the perfect ratio of mix to vodka.

After a few sips of my drink I grabbed a roll and was taken aback as it was cold. Not just room temperature, but actually cold, like it just came out of the fridge. Ditto for the accompanying butter.

Combine that with the fact that we weren't given any plates, and I almost knocked my drink off the table trying to cut into this thing. Who the hell serves cold hard bread? It was a frustrating and messy affair and a very bad way to start the meal. Luckily, this turned out to be the only speed-bump in an otherwise fantastic dining experience.

I asked our amazing waitress Heather (more on her later) for a recommendation and she mentioned that if I wanted something filling I should definitely go with the Mexican Matzo Brei, otherwise the Aristocrat was her other favorite. Since I was trying to eat semi-light I went with the Aristocrat (potato pancake topped with house-cured salmon gravlax, poached eggs, and salmon caviar) which also came with an additional $2 charge, but hell I didn't care, I was on vacation! G ordered pretty much the same dish except his was topped with seared diver scallops instead of salmon and A went with the CEO (chorizo, scrambled eggs & onions served with corn tortillas).

We quickly drained our first round of drinks and Heather immediately replaced our empty glasses with full ones. This time with more celery sticks! She must've overheard me saying that I love celery with my bloody mary. As my plate was placed before me I couldn't believe that I was given 3 poached eggs but upon further inspection the 3rd egg was actually a large dollop of sour cream. Only on my second drink and I was already feeling it.

Anyway, this dish was gorgeously presented and I'd never really had anything quite like it. The crunch from the potato pancake, sweet salty bursts from the little globes of awesome caviar, smoky salmon, the uber light and tart sour cream, perfectly cooked poached eggs. It was really good. The component that grabbed my attention the most was definitely the salmon caviar. They were huge and easily up there with some of the best caviar I've had.

A's hash was decent with fluffy eggs and, while the chorizo wasn't spicy at all, it was savory goodness.

I went to ask G how his scallops were and he replied "What scallops?" They were already gone. I'm guessing they were pretty awesome too.

Now I feel I must dedicate this portion of my post to our dear waitress Heather. If you ever eat brunch at Essex please request her section and tell her Kyle from Microcosm K sent you. Three drink minimum with brunch? I guess no one told Heather because she brought us round after round. In the end we collectively put down 12 bloody marys and 5 mimosas. And this is three guys that don't drink much. We were all hammered. When Heather wasn't waiting on other tables she came back to chat with us and even posed for a picture for my blog along with our, um, hostess...

We had to stop, collaborate, and listen because apparently our hostess was back with her brand new invention. But it doesn't stop there. She brought us our check and we slid our cards in and handed it back and she regretfully informed us with a wince that it was cash only. Uh oh. Luckily between G and I we had just enough cash to cover the check and a respectable tip. We told her to keep the change and she said that before we left she wanted to give us a piece of their Peanut Butter Sigh Pie. She said the name came from the fact that when people take a bite of it they sigh.

She laid it on our table, free of charge mind you, and it took the three of us all of 15 seconds to decimate it. I don't remember sighing but I do remember thinking to myself that I could've easily polished off an entire pie by myself.

Shortly thereafter we stumbled out onto the street and were greeted by a bustling and beautifully sunny Saturday. Welp, apparently the pie hadn't satiated our sweet tooth for as soon as I spotted Sugar Sweet Sunshine literally right across the street I mumbled something incoherent and zombie-walked my drunken ass over there.

I had heard of SSS from SE:NY and was very anxious to try their much raved about pudding and cupcakes. I've never been a huge fan of cupcakes, but that's mostly because most cupcakes suck. A cupcake done right is a delight worthy of sonnets and song. And here at SSS, to say they do them right doesn't quite express how great they really are.

This was another venue that A was a huge fan of and he immediately went for his Sexy Red Velvet which is chocolate buttercream over red velvet cake. I took a bite and (got wood) finally realized what red velvet cake is actually supposed to taste like. Holy shit it's good. I would've went with one of those for myself, but I noticed that their limited cupcake was Strawberry Cream Cheese (cream cheese icing over strawberry cake in case you couldn't figure that our for yourself.)

While the cream cheese icing was damn good, what blew me away was the strawberry cake. It was so moist it literally pulled apart like a freshly baked roll. Plus there were strawberry seeds peppered throughout the cake. Crazy good.

The banana pudding, while nothing mind-blowing, was pretty much the ultimate iteration of classic homemade banana puddin'.

What I loved about this was there were so many nilla wafers that they softened and melded with the pudding to form a paste. A delicious paste. There were tons of bananas which were the perfect ripeness and the pudding itself was creamy and rich and I wanted to dry-hump it into submission.

I can't say it tops my (Paula Dean's) banana pudding, but nonetheless it was some damn fine grub. While we were sitting there feasting on our tasty treats we came up with the idea to buy Heather a cupcake since her tip wasn't exactly all it should've been. I nabbed her an Ooey Gooey (chocolate cake with chocolate almond buttercream) and I was elected to take it over to her. She couldn'tve been happier and gave me a big hug right in the middle of the wall-to-wall packed restaurant. She even let me in on a little secret: the Peanut Butter Sigh Pie comes from SSS. But shhhhh, don't tell anyone.

That's all for now. Tune in next time as I finish up our weekend of gluttony with our dinner at Shake Shack and my solo Sunday eating tour. I walk these streets, a loaded six string on my back. I play for keeps, 'cause I might not make it back. Ya dig?
Pipa on Urbanspoon
Rice To Riches on Urbanspoon
Essex on Urbanspoon
Sugar Sweet Sunshine on Urbanspoon

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Erin said...

Don't you love eating in NYC?! Glad you made it to SSS and R2R - you're right, rice pudding isn't the sexiest thing to photograph. Glad you liked it though! What did you think of Fuerza Bruta? We LOVED it when we went last winter!

Mr. Micro said...

This was my second time seeing it and it was great. This time they spent more time featuring the girls in the water which I appreciated. They also didn't do a long drawn out rave at the end, my only complaint my first time seeing it.

theminx said...

I *love* SSS cupcakes! When I go to NY for Sniffapalooza (a get-together for fragrance aficionados) they always have them available as a snack at one of the shops. Except this April, where there were no cupcakes to be found. It almost ruined my whole day.

I wanted to go to the rice pudding place on my last trip to NY but couldn't squeeze it into my agenda.

Mr. Micro said...

Yes SSS was most certainly as good as the interweb said it would be. All hail SSS.

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