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The Orchard

Though I’m a big fan of the LES for going out, getting lunch, or shopping at funky boutiques, I don’t venture down that far very often for dinner – and certainly not for dinner at a restaurant where the average entrée costs around $25. However, at the suggestion of a friend, I wound up at The Orchard last Saturday, an American Nouveau restaurant with Italian, Spanish, and even Asian influences (which sounds a little overwhelming, as if maybe they’re trying to do and be too much).

When I arrived, I had to take a moment to adjust to the scenery and sort of soak everything up. The décor of the restaurant is a mixture of art deco and Japanese, and the entire place is illuminated by orange lights – not Sunny D orange, but more of an amber hue. If you’ve ever been in a black and white photography dark room, it was very much akin to the dull orange lighting you would find there. There were also some artificial vines here and there, which definitely threw me for a loop… The overall design of the restaurant is confusing and a little off-putting – it definitely made me question whether or not I wanted to stay.

As I was the first to arrive, I was able to inspect the menu before my dining companion showed up – and the menu made me even more uncertain about the choice of restaurant. It was only one page, they only offered starters and entrees (no soups, salads, side dishes, etc.), and the prices were obscene. Now, I know New York is expensive. Having spent 8 months of my life here now (which still isn’t terribly long), I’ve come to just accept that bottled water is $3 and gum is almost $2. The prices just seem normal, and in the case of restaurants, I understand that rent is expensive here and they have to adjust prices up accordingly. However, for a restaurant in the LES to charge $28 for a duck breast and side of risotto seems a little exorbitant.

In any case, I decided to stick it out and make the best of this place – especially because my friend seemed really excited. After taking another look at the menu, this time ignoring the prices, I noticed the steak tartare flatbread. If you’ve read my review on Fig & Olive (which was horrible), you’ll know that I’m a sucker for steak tartare, despite the disturbing fact that you’re eating raw beef. I was a little concerned, however, when I noticed that it involved a “tartare sauce,” which called up memories of the mayonnaise-soaked chipped beef at Fig & Olive. Nonetheless, I couldn’t resist. I had to at least try it. We decided to split the flatbread, and then I ordered the Orchard Paella, which the waiter highly recommended (though, how could he not when it was $26?), and my friend ordered the Wild Crab Pasta. In addition, this friend ordered a cocktail that sounded pretty incredible. Called the “Southern Gentleman,” it’s a mixture of Maker’s Mark, fresh lemon juice, pear nectar, natural maple syrup, and cinnamon.

The drink, obviously, was the first item to arrive. I was pretty pumped to taste it, as I love all of the ingredients in this drink and I was really excited that see what kind of flavor profile they combined to create. Unfortunately though, all that either of us could detect was the flavor of Maker’s Mark. On one hand, I guess we could have been thankful that we definitely got our money’s worth in terms of the amount of alcohol included – but we could have just ordered a Maker’s and water and achieved nearly the same flavor. So, for $12 – good value if your goal is to get drunk, terrible value if you’re looking for a really creative, delicious cocktail.

Thankfully, our flatbread arrived shortly thereafter. It looked lovely when it was placed on our table – crispy golden edges on the flatbread, vibrant pink beef on top. I was a little worried that the dish would be overcooked and too hot to really enjoy the raw steak portion, but after my first bite, any hesitation I had about the dish melted away and I was in a state of pure bliss. I devoured my half of the flatbread in a matter of a few minutes – it was that good. The bread was warm and soft, there was a layer of a well-seasoned mashed potato mixture, and then the large chunks of steak on top were still cool, fresh, and delicious.

After annihilating the flatbread, it was a long time before our entrees arrived. Luckily, we had plenty to talk about, so it wasn’t unbearable – but the delay on the food could be problematic for other groups of diners (although I’m inclined to believe that the delay might be attributable to my paella, as that is traditionally made to order). When they finally arrived however, I was thrilled – and not just because I was super hungry.

My paella was beautiful to look at. It was a combination of shrimp, mussels, chorizo sausage, chicken, and lobster – and they were not kidding around with the lobster. There was an entire lobster tail and a claw sitting atop my rice. There was also an abundance of all of the other ingredients. The last time I had paella (which also happened to be at the totally abysmal Fig & Olive), I was given basically one bite of meat. Here, I couldn’t avoid it in any bite I took, which is fan-tastic. The rice portion of the paella was terrific – it was incredibly moist and flavorful. It wasn’t dry or sticky or just coated with seasoning. Rather, it had clearly been cooking in a pot with plenty of stock, wine, and seasoning. The meats were also superb. The chorizo was incredibly flavorful and well cooked – not greasy or chewy. The shrimp were large, and the mussels were steamed to perfection. My only complaint was the lobster. Though it was good and had plenty of meat, it tasted a little fishy. Lobster is supposed to have a sweet flavor (at least as far as I know…), but like my friend said, you could really taste the sea. I don’t think this is the restaurant’s fault, but it’s just one thing to note. Though I didn’t get to try my dining companion’s pasta dish, it looked super yummy with its rich cream sauce and plentiful crab meat – and while I had a little paella left over to take home, they completely cleaned their plate.

At the end of the meal, we ultimately passed on dessert, as nothing was really awe-inspiring. The dessert menu just seemed to be a bit of any afterthought, with very traditional items like flourless chocolate cake and a cinnamon apple crumble.

Overall, I was very pleased with my meal. I was able to swallow the price of the food in the end because it was simply fantastic. My only complaints are the décor and the lack of an interesting dessert menu. But, since most people are probably searching for a restaurant based on the quality of the food and not these other factors, I would recommend The Orchard. It’s definitely a place to check out if you’re on an intimate date with a long(er)-time partner (it’s too expensive and dimly lit for a first date) or if you’re celebrating a major occasion with a friend or loved one.

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Guerrilla Ice Cream

If you’ve read my review of the Brooklyn Flea food scene, you can probably gather that I love flea markets and the like (“nouveau-markets” as Time Out New York calls them ) – and thankfully for me, they’re opening all over the 5 boroughs.  Yes indeed, truly unique street markets with vintage goods, food, art, crafts, etc. are quite en vogue here.  One of the newest is the Hester Street Fair in the LES on Hester Street at Essex, and of course, I had to check it out.  I got there on a Saturday morning about 5 minutes before it officially opened for the day, but already, most of the vendors were set up.  I began to meander through this pretty small market, and I stumbled across some very nifty things.

First, I found myself a set of coasters made out of the center of records – which I love, as I already have a bowl and a coin tray in my apartment made out of old records.  There was also some really unusual jewelry – lots of razor blades, skulls, and medieval crowns – and a huge ping-pong table set up for visitors to enjoy during a break from shopping or eating.  Given the small size of this market, I was shocked at how much of it was devoted to food.  There were macarons from the Macaron Parlour Patisserie (but at $3 each, I wasn’t about to indulge my love of macarons), empanadas and cuban corn (which I love) from La Sonrisa, gravlax and swedish meatballs (IKEA, anyone?) from White Slab Palace, “Mexican” popsicles from La Newyorkina , pretzels from Sigmund Pretzel Shop, and some crazy Japanese waffles filled with sweet red bean paste called “taiyaki” from Japan Gourmet.  All of the food looked great, and super intriguing, but since I had just finished all of those doughnuts from the Doughnut Plant, I wasn’t quite in the mood to eat.  That is, until I came across the Guerrilla Ice Cream cart.

When I first approached the cart, it was totally unmanned and, though all the toppings, business cards (on popsicle sticks!), bowls, and the like were arranged on the table, the ice cream itself hadn’t arrived yet.  However, an incredibly friendly woman soon appeared at my side asking if I knew the owners (since I was taking pictures) and if I’d ever had the ice cream before.  I told her no on both counts, and she immediately began gushing about how great the owners were, how delicious and amazing the ice cream was, and how she loved getting to work with them.  She also informed me that the ice cream would be arriving in just a few minutes, so I should come back.

And come back I did.  I love ice cream.  A lot.  I once completed a ridiculous ice cream eating challenge at the famous Creole Creamery in New Orleans in an hour (it’s been featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives) – you can check me out here, #319.  I will try pretty much any bizarre and unique flavors – and that’s exactly what Guerrila Ice Cream offers.  Their flavors certainly represent the theme of the brand’s name.  The ice cream is hand-crafted and uses flavors which have been “inspired by political movements around the globe.”  What’s even better is that ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of their profits go toward supporting disadvantaged populations here in New York and around the world.  Their current flavor offerings include Libertação – a 72% chocolate & port wine combination – Velvet Revolution – a lemon poppy seed flavor – a chai masala flavor called Red Corridor, and the 8888 Uprising – a mango, lemongrass, & palm sugar sorbet.  I’m not a huge fan of sorbets or of lemon flavored ice creams, but I do adore chocolate in pretty much any form (and the darker, the better), so I instantly gravitated toward the Libertação.

I was a little wary at first – maybe it would be too dark, maybe the wine would overpower the chocolate – but boy was I wrong.  It was heavenly.  The texture was incredibly velvety and creamy – not too icy, not too custard-like.  It just had the most wonderful mouthfeel.  And the flavor exceeded my expectations.  The combination of the chocolate and the port wine produced an almost cinnamon-y flavor.  It reminded me a lot of the increasingly popular Aztec or Mexican chocolate ice creams, except without being downright spicy – here, it was more like an accidental cinnamon tinge, like you might stumble across during some kind of chemistry experiment.  Once that initial cinnamon taste subsided, the richness of the chocolate emerged, followed by a hint of the port wine notes.

The superb flavor and texture of the ice cream at Guerrilla, coupled with their philanthropic aim, provide ample reasons to visit the Hester Street Fair (or the Fulton Stall Market) and buy some of this ice cream – they’ll even talk to you about producing custom flavors if that floats your boat. You can get it by the cone or cup, or you can buy a carton of it to take home.  Furthermore, you can hit them up on their website to find out more about their ice cream making classes if you feel inclined to contribute toward their “revolutionary” mission.

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Terroir

Two years ago, I stumbled into a little, newly opened wine bar in the East Village with two slightly inebriated friends, one of whom immediately asked the waitress “Is this TERROR???”  She sweetly informed him that, no, it was in fact pronounced “tear-war,” (the word refers to the qualities of the earth in which grapes grow in that lend flavor to wines) and she then handed us a funky looking menu inside of a hand-decorated binder.  Inside were pages upon pages of some of the most interesting and delicious wines from around the world, along with beer, a few cocktails, a one-page food menu, and numerous pages of random, humorous musings.  It was here that I discovered one of my favorite wine grapes – the Juhfark grape from Hungary.

Terroir has since become a go-to spot for me.  The wine list is always changing, they have a happy hour menu, and the food is delicious.  The EVil location is super tiny and, though most often this lends to an intimate feel, sometimes it can become too crowded and a little anxiety-inducing (not to mention hot and sweaty in the summertime).  However, the brand has since expanded to a second location in Tribeca.  So – I figured it was high time to check it out.

The new location is about 4x larger than the original – so not only is there much more seating, but also, they have laid it out in such a way that it doesn’t feel cramped.  Nonetheless, they have retained all of the ambiance from the original location.  There’s a lot of natural wood paired with stainless steel, deep red and brown tones, and dim lighting.  There’s always some kind of punky or techno music playing, and the crowd is pretty hipster (as are the waiters) – though I’ve seen my fair share of banker types, yuppies, yippies, and middle-aged couples here as well.  Now, sometimes I find the hipster scene to be incredibly pretentious, but I’m happy to report that I didn’t get that vibe here (or at the EVil location) – in fact, Terroir even refers to itself as “The Elitist Wine Bar for Everyone!”  It can get a little loud inside, so, though it’s a good spot for anyone who enjoys wine, I wouldn’t recommend Terroir for a first or second date – it’s better suited for drinks with a friend, a group of friends, or an established significant other.

The sheer size of the wine list can be very overwhelming, and there isn’t a lot of the standard pinot noirs, sauvignon blancs, etc – it’s mostly wine that you’ve never, ever heard of.  However, in all of my times going to Terroir, I’ve found the waitstaff to be incredibly helpful insomuch as they explain the wines, help you to pick wines that you’ll like based on your typical preferences, and so forth – and they never give you any kind of snotty attitude just because you know nothing about wine.  Every time I go, I try something new, something that I’ve randomly picked off of a list – and I’ve never been disappointed.  It’s always exciting and surprising – like a grab bag at a carnival.  And though some of the prices are extremely high, they do have plenty of wines by the glass and they also offer discounted prices on certain wines even after happy hour has ended.

Though Terroir’s bread and butter is its wine, it’s food is also stellar and the reason why I’m including it on my blog.  Despite the small selection, everything is very delicious and fits with the overall vibe of the wine bar – casual foods (a lot of finger foods actually) with a gourmet twist.  I’ve tasted quite a few items off of the menu at the EVil location.  The veal and ricotta meatballs are moist, flavorful, and perfectly sized.  The tomato and egg bruschetta is amazing – served atop a thick slice of crusty, artisanal bread, the tomato topping is fresh, chunky, and well seasoned with basil and salt, while the egg is fried but still has its runny center, giving the dish a creamy texture.

The paninis here are by far my favorite items.  The roast pork with rapini & garlic aioli is terrific.  The pork is tender and the aioli adds a ton of flavor without overwhelming the pork, and the rapini rounds the panini out with a subtle green taste at the end of each bite.  The duck ham with hen of the woods mushrooms and taleggio cheese is practically orgasmic though.  Sometimes I crave this panini.  As is the case with the pork panini, the bread is perfectly browned and crusty.  The duck is rich and fatty (but not in a greasy, slimy way) and the taleggio cheese adds a tanginess to the slightly gamey flavor of the duck meat.  Finally, the mushrooms complement both the cheese and the duck – their woodiness offers a counterbalance to the intensity of the cheese while emphasizing the duck flavor.

The Tribeca location has its own menu which has many of the items from the EVil menu, but a little bit less pizazz overall.  The two aforementioned paninis were nowhere to be found, although they do have their own selection of pressed sandwiches.  Tribeca does offer heartier foods, however, including pork blade steak and dry-aged beef.  On my visit here, I selected the smokey almonds and the tomato, basil, egg bruschetta.  The almonds were wonderful – large and enrobed in a smokey crust that never came across as too salty.  The brushetta was very similar to the one at the EVil location but with more basil, which I loved – it really helped to balance the dish by adding some additional freshness.  A friend ordered the steak and – though the presentation was lackluster (a big piece of meat on an ovular plate with a lemon wedge) – he devoured it in a matter of minutes.  So I’d say it was probably good (although I noticed quite a bit of fat along the edges which would be a turn-off for me).

Overall, I’d highly recommend Terroir – both the East Village and Tribeca locations.  If you don’t mind being cramped and want more exciting food options, EVil is for you.  If you’re really there just for the wine and/or are claustrophobic, then try Tribeca.  You can go here and spend a ton of money if you want, or you can get out of here with a bill between $10-$25.  Even if you know absolutely nothing about wine, don’t feel discouraged about going to this wine bar because, unlike many wine bars, they really will spend the time answering your questions, making recommendations, and getting you a glass of wine that you’ll truly enjoy.  Plus, it’s just a really fun little spot to catch up with friends.

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Filed under Dinner, Drinks, Late-Night, Snack

Doughnut Plant & an accidental trip to Pinisi Bakery

On most Saturday mornings, I like to sleep in and then lounge around until noon or so.  However, this past Saturday, I had a very compelling reason to get up and get going: doughnuts.  Now, these weren’t just any doughnuts.  No, these were Doughnut Plant doughnuts.  They’ve been featured in numerous lists ranking America’s best doughnuts, they have been written about in the NY Daily News, Vogue, Saveur, the New York Times, and bon appetit, and they’ve been featured on Food Network shows such as The Best Thing I Ever Ate.

The small, cash only “plant” is located in the Lower East Side – a 2.8 milk walk from my apartment.  Since I planned on ordering 4-6 doughnuts, I thought it would be best to walk there…  Thankfully, it was still mild outside at 8:30 am (although the heat index did reach 110 later that day).  My walk took about an hour, and on that walk, I discovered some new and fascinating things.  First, I stumbled across a few photo worthy sights, such as a 1970’s Dodge RV and the most ridiculous dress ever:

The best thing I came across during my lengthy walk, however, was Pinisi Bakery.  The second of 2 locations, this bakery had a chalkboard sign outside advertising ghost chili cupcakes (which I nearly ignored).  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the ghost chili, it is the hottest pepper on earth.  Surely, I thought, this is just a joke.  There is no way that someone would be crazy enough to put ghost chili in a cupcake.  Clearly, I had to investigate.

Surprisingly, this bakery was open at 9 am.  I walked in and it was empty.  I didn’t even care though.  I made a beeline for the pastry case and, sure enough, in the midst of other flavors were two trays of ghost chili cupcakes.  On the surface, they looked just like average devil’s food cupcakes.  One tray had a swirled cream cheese frosting, while the other had a fluffy, whipped cream frosting topped with a strawberry. I started to ask the friendly girl behind the counter what they were like, and she quickly directed me to a plate of samples because I “had to try them to understand!”  Because I abhor cream cheese frosting, I was happy to sample the cupcake topped with whipped cream.  And it was simply remarkable.

Now, of course, the novelty of this cupcake earned it a lot of brownie points – but this was a genuinely tasty cupcake.  First, the crumb was moist but light enough that it wasn’t “wet,” and it still crumbled a bit in your mouth.  The moment the cake hits your tongue, it tastes like devil’s food – and then the spice kicks in.  I really like spice, so I can sometimes downplay how spicy things are, but I really don’t think this is too spicy.  Granted, it lingers in your mouth afterward, but in a tingly way instead of an “oh my god, my lips are on fire!!!” kind of way.  The whipped cream frosting is the perfect complement to this cupcake.  It’s fresh, fluffy, and only lightly sweetened – and the cream balances out the spiciness of the cake.  These cupcakes are standard sized and $3 each, which is the average price for a cupcake in New York – and, unlike some cupcakes (I’m looking at you Magnolia Bakery), this cupcake is well worth the cost.  Pinisi also offers gluten-free and vegan items, as well as some other interesting flavors, such as lavender, spicy chocolate peanut butter, “Rainbow,” dark chocolate rosewater, and pistachio – so it has broad appeal.  (By the way, Yelpers seem to love their red velvet…)  Basically, everyone needs to go there – 5 minutes ago.

After stuffing my mouth with spicy goodness, I continued on my walk to Doughnut Plant.  I arrived at 9:45 and there was a line, but it moved quickly.  When I got up to the counter, the girl working there was helpful in answering my questions about the doughnuts, even if she did have a very bored attitude (bordering on agitated) and monotone voice.  Because I’m not a huge fan of cake doughnuts (I always find them too dry), I ordered the creme brûlée, the valrhona chocolate, 2 strawberry jam filled doughnuts (one with regular glaze and the other with peanut butter glaze), and one cake doughnut – the lavender.  The latter came recommended over its yeast counterpart because the cake doughnut batter is infused with lavender.

I sat down at a small bar, arranged all of the doughnuts in front of me, and dug in.  I started with the lavender doughnut.  It was shockingly moist and had a strong but not soapy lavender flavor.  I thought that the glaze was cloyingly sweet though.  It was incredibly distracting and diminished the clean flavor of the lavender.  The glaze was also crusty and seemed to have been sitting out for a while.

Next were my two strawberry doughnuts.  I love the physical construction of these, because their square shape means that there is jelly in each bite – and I love jelly in doughnuts.  Though the jelly is homemade, I found it to be too thin and sugary.  I would have preferred a thicker jelly – something more like a strawberry preserve.  Also, once again, the plain glaze was painfully sweet.  However, the peanut butter glaze was excellent.  It was far less sweet and had pieces of peanut mixed in, giving the doughnut a nice texture/crunch.

I then moved on to the valrhona chocolate.  In terms of flavor, this was definitely my favorite.  The chocolate was dark, rich, and not too sweet.  The doughnut itself was very light and airy.  Nonetheless, it could have used far more icing that it has now – it’s just that good.

Finally, I ate my tiny creme brûlée doughnut.  This is a fantastic and super creative doughnut.  The topping is perfectly caramelized and actually tastes like the crust on a creme brulee.  The custard in the center was good and certainly plentiful, but not more outstanding tasting than the custard filling at Krispy Kreme.  It would have been improved if they gave it a more unique flavor, perhaps a strong vanilla bean or lemon flavor.

Overall, I enjoyed these doughnuts but wasn’t blown away.  I certainly think this place is worth trying out, but to trek all the way there and then pay $2.50-$3.00 per doughnut won’t be a regular activity for me.  I’d be perfectly content going to Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts and paying $4 for 6 doughnuts instead of $13 for 5.  I think the concept at Doughnut Plant is great, but they seem to have gotten a little cocky about their doughnuts and might, at this point, be relying on hype to bring in business as opposed to truly great doughnuts.

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Filed under Breakfast, Dessert, Snack

The Redhead

If you’ve read my post on Tipsy Parson below, you’ll already know how I discovered The Redhead and what made me want to try their food.  But, just to recap: The Redhead was mentioned in an article titled “The South Invades NYC” in the fabulous and bizarrely named magazine Garden & Gun, which described it as one of the best restaurants in the city representing the southern inspired cuisine that is currently so trendy.  Its chef is a former resident of New Orleans, my hometown, which only further piqued my interest in the restaurant.  After looking at its menu online, I knew I had to try it out.  Items such as bacon peanut brittles, house made soft pretzels with Kentucky beer cheese, crawfish mac & cheese, and buttermilk fried chicken sounded amazing.  I dreamt about those pretzels with beer cheese for weeks before I finally went for dinner…

My friend and I decided to hit up The Redhead on a Friday night.  We went around 8 and crossed our fingers that we’d be able to get a table, since they only accept reservations for parties of 5 or more.  When we arrived, I was a little bit turned off by the decor.  The restaurant was very small, dimly lit, and outfitted in dark brown and deep red shades (including a lot of horrendous crushed velvet).  Now, dim lighting and deep jewel tones may sound like the makings of a romantic, intimate restaurant, but here, it came across more like a stereotypical British pub.  There were red velvet floor-to-ceiling drapes on the large front windows, but they had been left open, allowing light from outside to disturb the otherwise shadowy interior.

We were seated near the front door at a high top cocktail table – not ideal, but the hostess flat-out told us that she had “no idea” when another table would become available.  Now, this place wasn’t packed or lively – there just aren’t that many tables.  I didn’t appreciate her flippant attitude, but I brushed it off.

The waiter brought by a cocktail menu and, though many sounded interesting (like the Revival and the Redhead Fizz), we went with wine and beer.  After our drinks arrived, we placed our order.  I selected the pretzels with beer cheese (of course), the Cuban style grilled corn, and the crawfish mac & cheese.  My friend ordered a salad that was heavy on broccoli and the Redhead BLT.  The waiter was immediately confused as to how to bring out our food, as all of mine were technically starters or sides, but he rushed off without resolving his confusion.  I hoped, however, that it would become clear to him after he mulled it over – bring my pretzels and my friend’s salad together, and then bring my corn and mac & cheese along with my friend’s BLT.  Instead, this waiter delivered everything all at once – really un-ideal.

We surveyed the massive amount of food on our small table and then began furiously eating, since we feared letting our food go cold.  I immediately dug into my pretzels – and I was incredibly let down.  The pretzels themselves are miniature versions of what you’d find at Auntie Anne’s in the mall, except with far less flavor.  They were also hard (i.e. stale) and room temperature – clearly not freshly baked.  The amazing sounding beer cheese was the biggest disappointment of all though.  It was pasty, cold, and had only a slightly cheesy flavor, as the beer taste completely overwhelmed it.  If Ke$ha had sung about brushing her teeth with a beer instead of a bottle of jack, this “dip” could have been what she was using.  It was so thick that my pretzel kept breaking apart into little pieces as I attempted to swipe it through the cheese.  I was expected a hot cheese dip – sort of akin to a fondue – which would have been lovely.  In the end, I only ate one of the two pretzels and very little of the dip.

Next, I started working on the corn.  This was good, but not great.  I love Mexican and Cuban inspired corn, especially the “street corn” served at Dos Caminos, and though I enjoyed this, it didn’t have enough salt, spice, or cheese.  Nonetheless, it was good enough to finish.

Finally, I ate my crawfish mac & cheese.  This dish was the highlight of my meal.  The crawfish was perfectly cooked – not chewy but also not mealy.  The cheese sauce was well seasoned and cheesy without tasting like Easy Mac.  However, it would have been better if the sauce was thicker.  The way it’s prepared now, it’s very thin and slides right off the noodles, only to pool at the bottom of the bowl.  I ended up dipping my pretzels in the remaining sauce and partially salvaging that otherwise terrible appetizer.

Though I didn’t taste my friend’s meal (which ended up being a blessing in disguise, as you will read below), she didn’t have anything especially bad or especially great to say about it.

At the end of the meal, we considered ordering dessert – but since they give each diner a free, full-sized chocolate chip oatmeal cookie with their check, we decided to pass.  When we informed the waiter of this decision, he was noticeably displeased, and when he brought the check, he literally threw the cookies down on the table.  The cookie was pretty good though…

Overall, my experience at The Redhead was decent.  I probably won’t go back though – nor will I recommend it, as A) I don’t want to give southern cooking a bad name and B) my dining companion became violently ill about an hour after the meal, and her food poisoning continued well into the next day.

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Filed under Dinner, Late-Night, Snack

Holey Cream

What happens when you wake up one day and all you want is a doughnut?  And some ice cream.  Sure, you can go by one of the many joint Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins shops and fulfill both cravings.  Or, you can go to Holey Cream – the Manhattan version of Brooklyn’s Peter Pan Bakery.  Holey Cream is home to the doughnut ice cream sandwich – a ridiculously rich, sugary, calorie-laden treat.  The process through which this super indulgent breakfast/dessert item is produced is simple, and the final product is highly customizable.

First, you select a cake doughnut – chocolate or plain.  Next, you pick your ice cream.  Holey Cream offers a large selection of ice creams, soft serves, frozen yogurts, and sorbets.  Once you pick an ice cream, they cut your doughnut in half and place two heaping scoops of the ice cream on one half – meaning that you can pick two different flavors if that floats your boat (because, really, a doughnut filled with only one kind of ice cream just isn’t enough).  Then, you choose an icing for the top half of the doughnut.  Finally, you select a topping for the icing covered doughnut to be dipped in.  The man (or woman) behind the counter then puts your two halves together to create one delectable whole and sends you on your merry way to enter into insulin shock.

For those of you who don’t like sugary treats, or are on a diet, I’d stop reading now…

I went to Holey Cream on a Friday night and, while it was by no means packed, there was a steady stream of customers – some coming in for the ice cream sandwich, others just getting ice cream or doughnuts.  It can seem a bit busier than it actually is because the store is very small and narrow.  The man behind the counter was very friendly and accommodated my request to sample numerous flavors of ice cream.  Ultimately, I selected the chocolate peanut butter cup.  It is very rich and creamy with strong chocolate and peanut butter flavors and sizeable chunks of peanut butter cups – all of which sounds pretty standard for this type of ice cream, that is, until you realize that this one is fat-free and has about 100 calories per serving (yes, even though you are here for a doughnut ice cream sandwich, you shouldn’t go crazy.  come on guys…).  So, not only was this the best flavor that I sampled, but it was also the healthiest.  The base wasn’t watery or icy, nor did they scrimp on the peanut butter cups.  It tasted, at least to me, like real ice cream.

To complement my ice cream selection, I went with a chocolate doughnut, chocolate icing, and – although they had a peanut butter cup topping – an Oreo cooking topping (I didn’t want there to be too much peanut butter).

During the five or so block walk back to my friend’s apartment, the ice cream started melting (if I haven’t made it clear in earlier posts, it’s super hot in New York).  We stuck our treats in the freezer for a few minutes once we arrived home to re-freeze it.

Once I took it out of the freezer and started to eat it, I realized that my expectations might have been a little too high.  The doughnut was incredibly hard, and I really don’t think its five-minute stay in the freezer could have accomplished that.  It tasted like and had the texture of a doughnut that had sat out all day, like the kind you buy at 2am from the Krispy Kreme bin at the gas station.  The sandwich was also nearly impossible to eat.  Two scoops of ice cream were excessive for this relatively small doughnut, and it was melting out all over the place.  One scoop would have stayed within the bounds of the two halves of the doughnut much better. The ice cream itself was simply wonderful.  If I am in Midtown West anytime soon, I may just go back and get this ice cream.  I ended up removing one half of my doughnut and just eating the ice cream on the base.

For $5, I don’t think that this mega dessert was a good value.  I’d rather go to the aforementioned Dunkin Donuts/Basking Robbins shop and ask them to make me something comparable – or, perhaps I’ll try Peter Pan Bakery (which apparently makes the same thing for $3.50).  However, this ice cream sandwich is so novel that Holey Cream might be a good place to bring a friend from out of town.

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Filed under Breakfast, Dessert, Snack

Tipsy Parson

A month or so ago, while browsing through an airport news shop, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a magazine called Garden & Gun.  I stopped in my tracks and squinted to see if that was, in fact, the name of a magazine.  And it was.  So, naturally, I had to investigate.  I was fully expecting this to be a joke – some MAD Magazine spin on Southern Living.  But no, this magazine is for real, and it takes itself very seriously.  An online description states that it is “A Southern lifestyle magazine that’s all about the magic of the new South – sporting culture, food, music, art, literature, people, and ideas” – which sounds pretty interesting to me, being from the south and all.

I thumbed through the magazine and discovered that it contains interesting lifestyle pieces and beautiful photography.  However, what grabbed my attention most in this particular issue was the supersized mint julep cup on the front and the cover story, “The South Invades NYC.” In the story, the author discusses the many southern-inspired restaurants popping up around Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Since I’m a New York transplant from the Deep South, the southern food trend that seems to be overtaking the city both excites and scares me – I’m excited to be able to get some of the flavors from home that I love, but I’m scared that I’ll be sorely disappointed by the way they are interpreted.  Nonetheless, I decided to try two of the restaurants mentioned in the article – The Redhead and Tipsy Parson.  Though I will also post a review on The Redhead, this post will focus exclusively on Tipsy Parson.

I made reservations for a Saturday night at 7:15, and when I arrived, the restaurant and bar were pretty empty.  This immediately worried me.  But, since my friend was late, I decided to sit and have a drink at the bar.  Tipsy Parson is known for its frozen peach julep – the image from the cover of Garden & Gun – but it is nothing like a traditional mint julep.  However, it’s very good – shockingly good for a frozen cocktail, which always conjure up in my mind images of tropical beaches or Bourbon Street.  It was well blended and fully frozen – it didn’t have pools of liquid rising to the top like you sometimes get when frozen cocktails haven’t been in the machine long enough.  The peach flavor tasted pretty authentic – I don’t think they use a peach syrup – and it wasn’t saccharine, just pleasantly sweet.  It’s really a perfect summertime drink  and would be a great at a BBQ.

We ended up waiting until around 8 to go to our table, and at that point, the restaurant started getting busy (phew…).  The decor and ambiance is terrific and very fitting with the southern inspired theme.  The front room with the bar is outfitted in dark wood, wainscoting, miniature tiles on the floors, and bookshelf-printed wallpaper – it also has little pieces of vintage bric-a-brac displayed on the large shelves behind the bar.

In the dining room, interesting decorative plates adorn the walls, and all of the tables are practically bistro sized – very cute.  To me, it felt like the inside of your sweet grandmother’s stately plantation-like home.  Only adding to the charm was the placement of our table next to a set of French doors that opened out to a teeny little garden.

Our waiter was very johnny-on-the-spot and immediately came to take our drink orders.  I selected a glass of lambrusco, which I was thrilled to see on their menu by the glass. It’s uncommon to find lambrusco period, and this lambrusco happened to be very good.  In the U.S., when you find it, it tends to be disgustingly sweet, but this glass was fairly dry – I’d probably say off dry.

We also ordered some of the snacks – specifically, the deviled eggs and the fried oysters.  Both were simply scrumptious.  The deviled eggs were a delight.  While many deviled eggs are on the sweet side and incorporate ingredients such as sweet pickle relish and paprika – which I find off-putting – these were very savory.  In fact, they had a good deal of mustard in them, lending to their vinegary flavor.  The oysters were also fantastic.  The breading was crispy  – not too greasy – and it was well seasoned.  The oysters themselves were medium-sized and very juicy.  They were served with a bold dipping sauce, something akin to an aioli seasoned with Old Bay.  Along with our snacks, the waiter delivered some rolls to the table – one per person.  They were very unusual.  At first glance, they looked like your average dinner rolls topped with gravy and green onions.  However, it ended up that their tops had just been glazed before baking to encourage browning.  I thought the crust was too hard – it didn’t flake, it cracked – and it had an off flavor.  The crumb was flavorless and it somehow managed to be light but dense at the same time – a bit like cotton candy.  Furthermore, they were served without butter.

Next, our main courses were delivered.  I thoroughly enjoyed mine and ate every last bite.  I ordered the catfish, which is dusted with seasoning, broiled, and served alongside crispy potatoes and a cucumber salad.  The fish was very light and flavorful, which surprised me, as I’m accustomed to catfish being very heavy and fried.  The potatoes were perfectly crispy and well salted, and the cucumber salad was amazing.  Granted, the salad didn’t exactly “fit” with the rest of the food on the plate, but the flavors were so robust that I finished this before anything else on the plate.

My dining companion ordered the cod, and all I can really say about it is that it was very fishy.  The sheer fishiness of the cod blocked out a lot of the other flavors.

We rounded out the meal with the Lemon Cooler Pie.  It was very traditional, and I would have liked for the lemon-thyme sauce to be more pronounced in order to give the pie more of a twist – but it was still very good.  It managed to maintain its lemon flavor instead of taking on an artificial, overly sweet taste.  It was served with an olive oil gelato that, though creamy and lightly sweetened, tasted more like vanilla than anything else.

The meal ended up being a bit pricey (the frozen julep alone was $12, and the pie was $8), but everything was delicious and the ambiance was charming – so I’d say it was worth it.  I would definitely go back, especially with someone visiting from the south.

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Filed under Brunch, Dinner, Lunch