Restaurants

Margot Restaurant: It’s Flan-tastic!

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 | Restaurants | 1 Comment

After spending a rhapsodic two and a half hours immersed in New York City’s best-kept secret, Parlor Jazz at Marjorie Eliot’s, it was time to break the spell at Margot, a Dominican restaurant in Washington Heights.  At this wonderful little hole-in-the-wall, you’ll fill up on amazing roasted chicken, coconut fish, fried plantains, and rice and beans.  But take heed: save room for dessert!  A kindly owner/host-type fellow came to our table after our meal and presented us with the evening’s offerings of sweets: bread pudding made from croissants, flan, and rum raisin pudding.  I normally don’t get too excited by these kinds of cold custardy things, because they’re made ahead of time and sometimes sit around in the fridge getting nasty.  But this man had a twinkle in his eye as he described his desserts passionately, as if he made them himself… somewhat recently.  There were also six of us, so half a dessert each seemed survivable for most of us.  They were extraordinary:


The bread pudding was my favorite, with a rich, creamy custard, and not a hint of dryness from the bread.  It was also sitting in a thick pool of what tasted like dulce de leche.  The flan was perfect: not too eggy, nice and smooth, with a sweet pool of syrup.  The rum raisin pudding was equally yummy, but with a strange chocolate cakey-type bottom, which I think was the only thing that didn’t work.  Overall, these desserts were worthy of standing up with the great custards of the world, and I can’t wait to go back.

Margot Restaurant
3822 Broadway
New York, NY 10032-1547
(212) 781-8494

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The Grand Tier at Lincoln Center

Monday, February 28th, 2011 | Fine Dining, Restaurants | 1 Comment

Does life get any better (or convenient) than eating dinner in the concert hall right before seeing the show? The Grand Tier, in the Metropolitan Opera House, has the pre-theater formula down pat. Make a reservation for 6pm, dine in relative ease for the first hour and a half, then see how the vibe of the restaurant changes as the crowd starts pouring in and the 8pm curtain time draws near. Ladies scamper to wait on long bathroom lines; your waiter, in his haste to quickly jot down your dessert order and move on to the next table, accidentally drops his pen in your lap; and all of a sudden, that big pot of tea and second glass of wine don’t sound like such good ideas anymore. But the food is excellent and most of the desserts, divine. Regard:

The Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache Tart with caramel crema, chocolate mousse, and huckleberry jam was heavy and decadent, just like it sounds. It was like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a candy bar at once. Sadly, because of its richness, this one will be the first one to get left behind as the bells genteelly call you to your seat. Since wasting a perfectly good dessert because of a silly thing like time is a sin to me, I wrapped our two leftover bits in an ancient purse Kleenex. This necessitated a good bit of industrious Kleenex removal with my digits when we went to eat them the next day, but we prevailed!

The Key Lime Parfait with spicebread crumble, key lime curd, and compressed pineapples wasn’t quite as delicious. The “spicebread” tasted like cheap ground-up Graham crackers and I couldn’t figure out why the white cream on top had l’air de Cool Whip. But the key lime curd was solid and I’d never heard of “compressed” fruit before. This apparently is a technique that utilizes a vacuum sealer and liquid to infuse the fruit with its own cooked juices and sometimes an external flavor like vanilla, kind of like sous-vide.

The Passion Fruit Crème Brûlée with black sesame seed and coconut macaroons was wonderful.  The tangy fruit and nutty seed flavors worked perfectly in the custard, and the macaroons were a delightful little cookie bonus for added texture.

I might have gotten the old-school-sounding Chocolate Soufflé, but since it requires serving just after it’s baked and therefore requires planning, it was only available at intermission. How do you scarf down your dessert in 15 minutes and use the facilities? Well, my boyfriend’s dad informed me that the system works quite well, actually. You place your dessert order, then come back to your table at intermission, where your dessert will be magically waiting for you. If you have time for the toilet afterward, then you can give yourself a gold star.

Grand Tier
150 W. 65th St
New York, NY 10184
(212) 799-3400
www.grandtierny.com

Dera – Pakistani Falooda Kulfi

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010 | Restaurants | No Comments

Dera, located in Jackson Heights, and the tastiest Pakistani restaurant I’ve ever been to, serves a most wonderful dessert: falooda kulfi.  It comes, soup-style, in a large bowl and is best shared by two people who know each other quite well (as I believe two people sharing soup should).

Falooda is a liquidy dessert, often a sweet beverage, that comes from South Asia.  From what I can surmise, Dera’s has vermicelli noodles, milk, ice shards, tulsi (basil) seeds, rose syrup, green food coloring, and both frozen and room temp kulfi.  Kulfi is a traditional South Asian ice cream made from evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream that is thickened with cornstarch.  Observe:

This dessert is a real project to eat, and it’s got several different textures, so it’s interactive good times!  The frozen kulfi comes on a popsicle stick that you scrape away at with your spoon.  It’s so cold that it starts to freeze the nearby noodles as you eat,  turning them from squirmy wormies to stiff wormies.  The room temp kulfi is smooth, creamy, and sweet, while the basil seeds add a nice little crunch.  The ice shards do get a little annoying after awhile as some of them are too big to want to bite down on, so you end up trying to avoid them to slurp up the soup.  As all of the ingredients melt together, the rose syrup turns the soup a nice Pepto-Bismol shade of pink, which is dotted with the green food coloring and yellow kulfi.  It is a delicious, impressionist-style masterpiece!

Dera
7209 Broadway
New York, NY 11372
(718) 476-6516

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Szechuan After-Dinner Soup: Waiter, there’s a bean in my dessert

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010 | Restaurants | 1 Comment

Imagine after finishing a wonderful meal of spicy Szechuan food at an excellent restaurant in Flushing, Queens, you are presented with a bowl of something that appears to be lentil soup.  You didn’t ask for it, but there it is, sitting in front of you.  Your dining companions have some, too, and you shoot questioning looks at each other.  Did the waiter bring you someone else’s order?  Isn’t everyone stuffed to the point where a bowl of soup is really not welcome so much as a nap?  Did the waiter just mumble something about green beans?  You take your spoon, swirl it around, and bring some soup up for closer inspection.  There are stock-like meaty-looking particles as well as lentil or barley-ish bits floating in a green and brown “broth.”  A sniff reveals nothing.

A slurp and you realize that you’ve got a sweet (dessert?) soup that doesn’t taste like much other than lentil soup with a lot of sugar in it.  There’s no meat flavor, just bland sweetness.  Later research reveals that, as an antidote to the extreme spiciness of the cuisine, Szechuan cooks make this soup from green (or mung) beans, which are believed to cool and soothe the palate.  Cooling?  Yes.  Tasty?  Meh.  Neat-o?  Definitely.

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Empire City at Yonkers Raceway’s Lillian Russell Café’s Dessert Buffet

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010 | ice cream, Restaurants | 2 Comments

Who doesn’t get excited about all-you-can-eat dinner buffet? Because what usually accompanies it? All-you-can-eat dessert buffet, that’s what! And where can you find this treasure? Well, lots of places, I’m sure, but the one I’m going to talk about is found at this post’s title, which I really don’t feel like writing out again.

Why was I at such a location in the first place? Another walking tour, of course– this one beginning in beautiful Riverdale, the Bronx and ending up in Yonkers (one of my favorite New York place names). I also like horsies and was excited to see harness racing for the first time. After dazedly making our way through the celestial lights and sounds of the electronic slot machines on the ground floor, we found the restaurant and dropped $24 per person for the prized buffet. We grabbed our plates and raided the numerous shiny steam trays containing such old-school delights as prime rib and chicken francaise.  Some of us moved quickly from dinner to dessert, some saved time and combined dinner (beef slice) and veggie-containing dessert (carrot cake slice) on one plate, and the shocking verdict is this: nothing was very good, some things were very bad. 

Observe:

The highlight of the dessert buffet was easily the Edy’s soft serve ice cream sundae station.  Being a cocky Dairy Queen alumna, I was sure I’d make a sundae of exquisite beauty– “You own this,” I chuckled to myself.  When I first pulled the soft serve handle, however, the ice cream took forever to emerge, and then when it did, it spewed forth with such speed, that it immediately filled my tiny bowl and went right over the edge.  So… ugly and… no room left for toppings!  I tried to fit in what little chocolate syrup that I could, but mine was a sad ice cream-laden creation.  My friends heeded my advice about the dastardly handle and made the necessary corrections for their sundaes.  One friend made a concoction that was all toppings; another hid a “cookie surprise” on the bottom of his bowl; another made two sundaes and proudly plowed through each one of them (to get his money’s worth, of course).  One more word: have you ever heard of pancake syrup as a sundae topping?  Neither have I.  And judging by the high level of pancake syrup left in its bin at the station, neither had most of the other patrons, either.

The rest of the desserts featured in the buffet– rugelach, cheesecake, and éclairs– were just horrendous.  If you look at the picture I have here, you might agree that everything “looked as if it had been dragged across the carpet, then thrown onto a platter,” as my friend mentioned.  To uphold my journalistic integrity, I actually tasted the rugelach (unspeakably awful) and the éclairs (which were oddly moist, as if they’d just been thawed out from the freezer). There were also some unidentifiable sugarless cake (?) slices that made me thank my stars I’m not diabetic. 

I’m sure you can’t wait to go now!

Empire City at Yonkers Raceway
Lillian Russell Café
810 Yonkers Avenue
Yonkers, NY  10704
914-968-4200
http://www.yonkersraceway.com/default.asp

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Scottish Sweeties Part 2: S. Luca’s Ice Cream Parlour

Friday, March 19th, 2010 | ice cream, Restaurants | No Comments

As a child, a trip to S. Luca’s ice cream parlor in Musselburgh, a port town very close to Edinburgh, was the greatest of treats.  Sluca’s (my grandfather’s nickname for it), has been making the most unctuous ice cream since 1908, when Mr. Luca Scappaticcio came over from Italy and learned the craft from a Swiss sous chef (weird, right? aren’t Italians the ones who are kinda known for ice cream?). Sluca’s sundaes, especially the almighty Knickerbockerglory, are legendary, and I had to make a pilgrimage:

The Knickerbockerglory is a parfait made from vanilla and strawberry ice cream, with strawberry topping and whipped cream.  The Praline Parfait is Neapolitan ice cream with chocolate sauce and hazelnuts.  Both are quite tall and force you to improve your posture greatly in order to consume them.  The Meringue Mess is vanilla ice cream floating in a butterscotch and freshly-cut banana soup, with a little crunchy meringue for texture.  These 3 were, of course, parfaits parfaits. 

At first, I scoffed at my mom’s Sticky Toffee Pudding order, as there were plenty more delightful sundaes to choose from, but she pointed out that an STP is good for my Scottish dessert research and also quite tasty, so I relented.  It wasn’t sticky, so much as sweet and decadent.  The cake was so moist, it sparkled like a mound of jewels.  An STP’s toffee is typically made from black treacle (molasses), Demerara sugar (unrefined and brownish), and cream.  Ours was quite warm, and the accompanying scoops of vanilla ice cream melted right into the toffee pool. 

We brought some vanilla and strawberry ice cream home for my grandfather, who will almost certainly eat it smothered in extra-thick double cream, which I think is illegal in the U.S.  My Grandpa is such a rebel. 

S. Luca
32-38 High Street
Musselburgh  EH21 7AG
Scotland
0131-665-2237
http://www.s-luca.co.uk/

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La Tía Delia – Congratulation, you’re in Paterson’s Peruvian Paradise

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 | Restaurants | 2 Comments

This past weekend, I learned that Paterson, NJ is a wonderful place, not only due to its breathtaking waterfalls, but also because of its historic silk industry, nearby American Labor Museum, and insanely good Peruvian food. Our friend and tour guide had to choose just one restaurant out of many, and that was La Tía Delia (or Aunt Delia, which makes me realize that the coffee liqueur, Tia Maria, must mean Aunt Maria). Apparently, any time you attach a familial name to food, people are more attracted to it– like “Grandma’s apple pie” sounds infinitely better than just plain-old “apple pie.” La Tía Delia made us the most delicious, homemade meal of rotisserie chicken, lamb stew, steak and onion stir-fry, creamy chicken & potatoes, and smokey bacon beans. It’s hard to imagine that there was any room left for dessert, but my friend spied some doughnut-like specimens on her way to the bathroom, so there was no question.  Dessert and coffee in funny mugs were ordered in abundance:

The Arroz con leche was rich and creamy, with a healthy dusting of cinnamon and a hint of cloves.  We then tried a mix of arroz con leche and mazamorra morada, which was even tastier.  Mazamorra morada, apart from having a kick-ass name, is a dark purple, jelly-like substance made from purple corn (maiz morado), pineapple, potato flour, cloves, and cinnamon, which is the strongest flavor.  During dinner, we had it in its drink form, chica morada.  The flan had a nice, eggy, custardy consistency, and a sweet, liquidy syrup to slurp up with your spoon.  Then there were the picarones, or fritters made from squash and sweet potato, which were the pièce de résistance.  They were fresh from the fryer, crisp on the outside, moist and doughy on the inside.  They weren’t very sweet on their own, but some thoughtful Peruvian way back when decided to serve them in a special syrup, made from chancaca (molasses tablet), orange peel, and (surprise, surprise) cinnamon & cloves.  The result is sort of a cross between honey and corn syrup.  One forkful of fritter + a dip in the syrup = Heaven.  Should you decide to make your own pilgrimage to Paterson, make sure to come on a Saturday or Sunday, because Aunt Delia only makes her picarones on weekends.

La Tía Delia
28 Market Street
Paterson, NJ  07505
973-523-4550
c’mon, there’s no website, fool

D.C. Dessert Roundup – Capital Confections Part 4: Afterwords

Sunday, December 13th, 2009 | Restaurants, Travel | 1 Comment

Where else can you eat, drink, listen to music, and buy books, all in one place?  Afterwords, part of Kramerbooks, that’s where, and not surprisingly, a D.C. institution.  While I don’t think their desserts are anything to, uh, write home about– if it’s 3 in the morning on Saturday night, and you find yourself, as I often do, simply unable to go to bed until you’ve had a piece of goober pie, then this place is a godsend.

The goods (obtained via takeout in un-eco-friendly plastic containers):

The double chocolate cake had ok cake, ok frosting, and decent chocolate fudge– the problem was a large chunk of said frosting in the middle of the slice that was too sweet and rich to deal with.  The pecan pie had a tasty enough filling with a dry, boring crust that is made to be left behind.  The key lime pie was quite good, though, with a great balance of sweet and tart.  The menu claims it’s made with real Key limes, which I’m inclined to believe, since it really was excellent– I’d eat this while half-asleep again.

Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café
1517 Connecticut Avenue
Washington, D.C.  20036
202-387-3825
http://www.kramers.com/index.cfm

Next stop: Baked and Wired

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D.C. Dessert Roundup РCapital Confections Part 3: Caf̩ Saint-Ex

Sunday, December 13th, 2009 | Restaurants, Travel | 2 Comments

No, I don’t normally go for dessert after eating brunch, but I made an exception at Café Saint-Ex, named after The Little Prince author and aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, after my dessert guide claimed that she didn’t care what I did, she was having dessert.  I don’t back down on a dessert throw-down, plus I knew I was in good hands when I saw the dessert menu, which listed five unique-sounding desserts (not including the requisite ice cream and sorbet selections) and listed the pastry chef’s name at the bottom: Alison Reed.  This lead me to believe that someone in the kitchen actually cares about sweets enough to put her name out there.

In his love letter to flying, Wind, Sand and Stars, Saint-Exupéry describes one of several desert crashes that he had.  He and his navigator were dying of thirst and miraculously found an orange in their plane’s wreckage.

He wrote:

“Stretched out beside the fire I looked at the glowing fruit and said to myself that men did not know what an orange was.  ‘Here we are, condemned to death,’ I said to myself, ‘and still the certainty of dying cannot compare with the pleasure I am feeling.  The joy I take from this half of an orange which I am holding in my hand is one of the greatest joys I have ever known.”

I’m sure that he would have also enjoyed the Orange Ice Cream Sandwiches (with cinnamon chocolate sauce), which I chose in his honor:

The cookies had a wonderful buttery, oaty crunch, accompanied by the spike of orange zest.  And what heaven to dip them into chocolate.  I am quite a fan of the dipping dessert.  You get to choose just how much sauce to use on each bite, you don’t have to worry about losing it to the open expanse of the plate, and you get to take your spoon and shamelessly eat the dredges yourself.  The Raspberry Lemon Bread Pudding with white chocolate sauce and vanilla cream was surprisingly light with a sweet, lemony accent.  The Nectarine Cobbler with basil ice cream was also delicious– how boring it would have been to use vanilla instead of basil ice cream.  Being a part of the mint family, the basil was refreshing and perfectly balanced the cobbler’s richness.

My taste buds really soared with Chef Alison’s desserts.

Café Saint-Ex
1847 14th Street, NW
Washington, D.C.  20009
202-265-STEX
http://www.saint-ex.com/

Next stop: Afterwords (coming soon)

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D.C. Dessert Roundup – Capital Confections Part 2: Good Stuff Eatery

Saturday, November 21st, 2009 | ice cream, Restaurants, Travel | 3 Comments

“Herein, where good people make good stuff…”  This sentiment is expressed on a historical landmark-like plaque outside D.C.’s popular Good Stuff burger joint, where my dessert guide informed me that one can also find amazing “handspun shakes.”  Doesn’t the word “handspun” make you think of cotton candy or knitting wool or something equally charming & old-timey?  I kinda thought you usually blend shakes, but “spinning” them takes it to that next level of homey-ness.  We ordered three Mini-Moos ($3.75 each), which are made with their special “milk-ice-gelato-custard-cream” and your usual sundae fixins– behold:

If you like your shakes thick, fatty, and unslurpable, this is the place for you.  Not looking for a cheek-ache, we decided not to even mess with straws.  Instead, we popped off their lids immediately and dug in with our spoons.  The Sourhop Hop Strawberry is a cute name, but there wasn’t anything sour about this wonderful shake– it just basically tasted like the best strawberry ice cream of my life.  I also enjoyed the D-Lechable Leche, but it wasn’t really dulce de leche-flavored– more like coffee and caramel-flavored, much to my bean-hating friend’s consternation.  The best of all was the Milky Way Malt, which had fudge, caramel, and candy chunks for texture– the concentrated bottom scrapings were so good, I went into one of my dessert trances.

Good work, good people of Good Stuff!

Good Stuff Eatery
303 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C.  20003
202-543-8222
http://goodstuffeatery.com/

Next stop: Café Saint-Ex (posting soon)

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