Monday, October 27, 2008

Our last night in New York (AJ Maxwell's Steakhouse, New York)

At last...Our last night in New York. I have to say that for the most part we were very lucky in all aspects of this trip, but I'm still glad that this was the last night. Yet another restaurant that was participating in New York's Restaurant Week. This whole trip was about eating at new places and this particular night was no exception. Located next to Rockefeller Center, AJ Maxwell's was a new steakhouse for all of us. This time we decided to forgo our usual stop at Sparks Steakhouse and we stuck with our plan of trying new restaurants. To be honest....the deal was unbeatable. $35 for soup or salad, New York Strip, and dessert. If it wasn't for this deal I would have much rather have gone to Sparks or Peter Luger's in a heart beat. While AJ Maxwell's is very good steak house, by no means are they in the same league as other top steak houses in New York.

Cantaloupe Soup
I started off the evening with the cantaloupe soup. The reason I choose this was two fold. First, the idea of chilled cantaloupe soup sounded refreshing and interesting. Secondly, my other choice would have been salad. And if you know me...I'm anti salad :) I am glad that I did get this soup though. It was very refreshing!

French Fries
Not much to say here... Just ordinary french fries

New York Strip
What's better than having a New York Strip steak in New York? Lucky me...Although we all ordered the same cut of meat, for some reason my steak actually tasted better than everyone else's steak. The steak was actually pretty good especially for the price :)

Bread Pudding
Boy.... was this a disappointment! The bread pudding was horrifically dry and in my opinion should not be ordered.

Lemon Sorbet
The lemon sorbet was actually one of the highlights of the evening. Despite the blurry picture this dessert was refreshing and crisp.

New York Cheesecake
I just find it kind of cool eating something in the city in which it gets it's name. There's something to be said about eating either a New York Strip steak or a New York Cheesecake in New York. I'd imagine it's the same when you're eating a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich in Philadelphia :) With that being said, the cheese cake was pretty good despite the overall lack luster dinner.

AJ Maxwell's Steakhouse

57 W. 48th Street
New York, NY. 10020

Monday, October 20, 2008

What a steal! (Mia Dona, New York)

This was our third night in New York and luckily we were able to dine at Donatella Arpaia's newer restaurants Mia Dona. And luckily we were in New York for Restaurant Week, so dining here was practically a steal. If you ever have a chance to eat during Restaurant Week don't pass it up! 3 course dinners for only $35 (at top restaurants) ....What a steal. Living in the Los Angeles area we weren't too familiar with this restaurant other than that it was owned by Donatella. I've become familiar with Donatella because of numerous stints as a judge on Iron Chef America.

Earlier in the day, I wasn't feeling too good. My stomach was not cooperating with me and I was afraid that I wasn't going to be able to go to dinner. I toughed it out and managed to make it to Mia Dona. When we first arrived it had a nice welcoming feel to the restaurant. It definitely did not have that stuffy feeling of other "celebrity owned" restaurants. When I first made the reservations at Mia Dona, I was able to have my pick of problems. Which got me to worry a little. I was thinking why was it so easy to get any time I wanted especially being Restaurant Week? Could the food be that bad? Soon after being seated I was amazed that I was even able to secure a reservation at all. The place was packed! Even Donatella was there greeting and mingling with some of her patrons. All my reservations were gone especially after the food came out!

Local Corn Risotto
After perusing the menu we all agreed that we would order the local corn risotto and share. It just sounded sooo good. I guess we should of figured that we were in Manhattan and not in Nebraska. This dish was a disappointment. It lacked the proper seasoning and was not executed very well :(

The minestrone was part of the three course meal and boy was it good! The soup was delicious and hearty. Every spoonful was full of wonderful flavor and was one of the best I've ever had!

Grilled Chicken Paillard
I know it's hard to see under all the greens, but the chicken was truly one of the best dishes of the night. The chicken was nicely grilled and served with peaches. Chicken often tends to be a sort of after thought at fine dining establishments, but at Mia Dona, the chicken could have been one of the main stars.

Grilled Hangar Steak
Everyone that knows me, knows that I love eating red meat, but surprisingly I did not order this one. My sister of all people (the one person that doesn't eat red meat that often) ordered this dish. Although the hangar steak was very good, it was not one of the top dishes that night.

Baked Tubetti
I am just wondering.....How many different types of pasta do the Italians have? I wonder if anyone has ever counted. Just a thought. Seems like every Italian restaurant I go to I discover another type of pasta. The tubetti was perfectly cooked and it had a nice texture to it as well. The smoked mozzarella and tomato sauce complimented this pasta nicely!

Housemade Cavatelli
Anything that states housemade has got to be good right? Well, this was no exception. This dish was definitely a keeper. The cavatelli pasta was served with Tuscan kale and white beans. The one thing about this dish that I did not care for was the white beans. I am not a big fan of beans.

This was the surprise of the night for me personally. First of all, this was yet another pasta that I have never had the pleasure of experiencing until dining at Mia Dona. The gnudi were shaped into these little cubes and had a soft yet firm texture to them. It was served with a truffle butter sauce, mushrooms, and crispy prosciutto. Every bite was just exquisite!

Giaduja Semifreddo
The semifreddo is an Italian dessert that typically refers to some sort of half frozen mousse or even can refer to a type of ice cream sandwich. The semifreddo was served with a homemade nutella (hazelnut spread) and amaretti (Italian macaroons).

The tiramisu itself was slightly above average, but the real star of this dessert had to be the espresso gelato. There was not enough for everyone. We could have just ordered that and we would have all been happy.

Maple Panna Cotta
This by far was the surprise dessert of the night. The only down side to this dessert was that they forgot to put the order in for this dessert so it took a while for them to bring it to our table, but it was worth the wait. The silkiness of the panna cotta was fabulous and the maple sauce perfectly complimented the dessert. The maple walnut ice cream was also fabulous. This dessert is not to be missed!

Mia Dona
206 East 58th Street
New York, NY. 10022

Monday, October 13, 2008

Little Havana in NYC? (Calle Ocho, Manhattan)

A colleague of ours invited us out to dinner while we were in New York on a business trip. When he first informed us that he was thinking of this restaurant called Calle Ocho, because they had all you can drink Sangria, I was thinking "Oh No". But I shouldn't have doubted him. Funny as he is, he wouldn't play a joke when it came it to eating. Calle Ocho was truly a pleasant surprise! Another reason I was thinking "Oh No", was because it wasn't a big name restaurant in Manhattan, but let me tell had the big name taste. My only exposure to Cuban food was very limited so I went with an open mind and empty stomach and I was not disappointed. The one thing that struck me was the size and the atmosphere of the restaurant. When you first walk in it seems almost like a bar. It was dark and it appeared smaller than it actually was. As you walk towards the main room you are immediately drawn to the size and lively atmosphere of the restaurant. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised with the atmosphere portion due to the all you can drink Sangria station. I never knew that there was so many variations of Sangria.

Sangria Station
Calle Ocho offered 10, that's right TEN different types of Sangria and it was all you can drink! Boy, this could have been trouble especially because they were all sooo good and you couldn't really taste any alcohol. I never knew that Sangria also could be made with white wine. I think I ended up drinking 6 different Sangrias. From what I can recall they were all great!

The Picada was a sampler of the chef's choice of appetizers. From the top left and going clockwise was the Datiles (Bacon wrapped almond stuffed dates), Chicharron (Crispy calamari drizzled with honey), Empanadas, and Camarones (Puerto Rico rum glazed shrimp). All four were excellent, but I would have to say that the empanadas were my favorite. The biggest surprise was the Chicharron. I was expecting pork rinds and what came out was calamari.

The Filete was a Uruguayan beef tenderloin served with a four cheese empanada. I am pretty positive that this was the first time I had ever eaten Uruguayan beef and I would have to say that I couldn't tell the difference. The beef was really tender, but the disappointment was the empanada. It lacked flavor and should have been replaced with the empanada from the appetizer.

The Corvina was a Chilean Sea Bass served with a sea urchin butter sauce. The Chilean Sea Bass was buttery and delicate. I don't eat too much seafood, but I do love Chilean Sea Bass.

Red Snapper
This interesting dish was one of the specials of the night. It was a Malanga leaf wrapped red snapper. I never heard of this particular style of preparation, but luckily someone ordered this dish so that I was able to give it a taste. The only way I could describe the flavor of the Malanga was that it was crunchy and almost potato like with a nutty/earthy flavor. I guess the use of Malanga is quite prevalent in Cuba and other parts of the world. I need to get out more!

Because I am not the biggest fan of certain types of seafood, I usually shy away from ordering Paellas, even though it has rice as one the main ingredients. Again I was fortunate enough that I was able to sample a little from someone else :) I really love eating with a lot of people, especially when they are willing to share some goodness. The Paella was definitely full of flavor and delicious!

For those who know me well, know that I am a total carnivore and rarely eat vegetables. So to my surprise, this vegetarian paella was by far the best entree of the night in my opinion. What a surprise! Not only that it tasted so well, but I've never heard of a Vegetable Paella. The best way to describe the taste of this dish is that of "okoge" A Japanese term for the crispy burnt crust portion of a rice dish. Trust me it tastes a lot better than the way I am describing it.

The Caramelo was a traditional flan that was executed very well. It was silky, creamy, and yummy!

The Bizcocho was an interesting dessert. The espresso coffee that was presented on the dish was actually used to pour all over the pastelito (Cuban type of pastry). The pastry soaked up the coffee and was quit interesting and a bit messy. The macadamia nut ice cream was a nice finishing touch.

Dark chocolate cake with dulce de leche ice cream presented cleverly as dominos. When I ordered this dessert I never imagined that it would be presented in this manner. A nice playful way incorporating a favorite Cuban pastime with the name of one of the Calle Ocho's popular desserts. I loved it!

Calle Ocho
446 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY. 10024

Monday, October 6, 2008

Chicken Tail Anyone? (Yakitori Totto, New York)

This was the start of another trade show in New York. One of the only reasons I enjoy coming to New York is for the food. The quality and diversity of food in New York in unparalleled anywhere in the US. This was only the second time dining at Yakitori Totto and I have yet to be disappointed, a bit frustrated...perhaps. Due to the limited seating and popularity of Yakitori Totto, you're most likely going to have to wait a little while to get seated. I'm not the most patient person, especially when it comes to waiting in line, but I some how manage to endure the arduous wait ^_^ The food here is definitely worth the wait.

My love affair with yakitori all started when I lived in Japan for a short time Years ago. Ever since that time, I've been aimlessly wandering for some good yakitori and luckily we found this place a couple of years ago. The first time we dined here, we met up with my cousin and her husband who live in the Washington D.C area but fly up to spend their weekends in New York (I people, makes me sick ^_^ ) , but luckily she is fluent in Japanese and was able to read the small wooden planks that adorn any yakitori joint. She saw a sign that stated that there were a few items that were special and very limited. Naturally.... we snatched the remaining items up. My apologies if you were one the diners that evening and you were not able to order some of the items. The one that stood out the most was the Bonchiri (chicken tail). Yeah, you read it right and I wrote it right.... Chicken Tail. It was simply amazing. Keeps me wanting to come back!

Zucchini Tempura
We actually saw the table next us eating this dish and so we just had to order it. WOWWW!!!!! The zucchini tempura actually did not have your typical batter, instead it had these little fried mochi balls (rice cake) which was served as the outer crust. The zucchini was absolutely delicious and unlike any other tempura I've ever had. And I can't forget the Okinawan sea salt which accompanied the tempura. That too was mind blowing good. We actually saved the remaining salt to eat with other dishes that came out later. That's how good the salt was. In this dish, I might have found my new favorite dish at Yakitori Totto.

Enoki Wrapped Bacon
I thought this was a very clever way to utilize enoki mushrooms. The whole bunch of enoki mushrooms are gathered up and then wrapped in bacon. I don't particularly care for enoki, but when you add bacon to it...that's another story.

Fried Tofu
I would have to say this dish was a little of let down. Seemingly everything that is fried usually tastes really good. I've had deep fried tofu plenty of times and it usually is pretty good. Not to say that Yakitori Totto's version tasted bad, it is definitely serviceable, but it just lacked that special something.

Typically I don't order gyoza at restaurants because there is no comparison to my mom's gyoza. It's like comparing apples to oranges. I'll have to post my mom's gyoza soon! But the gyoza here was actually one of the better gyoza that I have ever had at a restaurant. Most restaurants have a tendency to skimp on the meat and typically resemble a vegetarian gyoza. Yakitori Totto had a perfect balance between the portion of meat and vegetables and was flavored very nicely.

Jidori Karaage
I couldn't help but chuckle when I heard a description of Jidori chicken (Japanese free range chicken) as being the Kobe Beef of chicken. It's like Kurobuta (black pork) is commonly referred to as the Kobe Beef of pork. What is the fascination of having to come up with fancy analogies for food. I have to admit though...I do prefer all of the so called "Kobe" versions of meats. So to say that I was excited to eat the Jidori Karaage, was an understatement. One of my favorite foods happen to be karaage so when I saw this on the menu I was thoroughly excited. Unfortunately I was let down. It lacked the flavoring of your typical karaage. The chicken itself was juicy and succulent but lacked seasoning. :(

Yaki Nasu Miso Denkaku
The Yaki Nasu Miso Denkaku is a grilled eggplant served with a miso paste. The flavoring of this particular dish was quite nice. I personally found that there was too much miso paste. I found it a bit overpowering and the flavor of the nasubi (eggplant) was lost.

Totto Tokusei Morioka Stlye Reimen
This was another "special" item that is served at Yakitori Totto. The waitress informed us that they only serve 5 servings of this dish a night. That alone made this very enticing and intriguing. Luckily we went there when they opened and we were able to secure one of these dishes. Reimen is similar to the more famous ramen, but it is cold noodles. The Morioka style reimen is served with kimchee (Korean seasoned vegetables), boiled egg, apples, chicken, and cucumber. I don't care for kimchee, but I had to at least sample this dish because it was so limited.

This is another one of the limited items at Yakitori Totto. The bonchiri (chicken tails) is one the main reasons I love this place! This item seems like it should be on some episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. I never knew that chickens have tails let alone that they are edible. Leave it to us Japanese....we eat every damn part of the chicken and everything in the sea. I know it sounds gross, but the chicken tail is really tasty. They are very fatty and juicy. When you bite into them you get a nice pop. An explosion of flavor and juiciness. The flavor is almost like eating chicken skin. This is an absolute must!

Speaking of chicken skin. Whenever I dine at a yakitori establishment I always order kawa (chicken skin). I can't help myself, I love fatty foods that are really bad for me. My motto is that if it taste good than its got to be bad for you. Unfortunately the kawa here was not executed very good. The skin could have been a little more crispy and the seasoning could have been more flavorful.

Kobe Beef Gyutan
I just recently started to eat beef tongue. I remember as a kid my parents used try to trick me to eat tongue. They always say "oh yes, that's beef" and then I would bite into and instantly know that they had tricked me. But now I am starting to appreciate it. Here's that term again...."Kobe Beef" So when I saw that this was Kobe beef gyutan (tongue), I knew I had to give it a try. I've kind of grown accustomed to eating gyutan (tongue) that is thinly sliced so when this came out and it was thick chunks I was taken aback. But nonetheless it was delicious.

Teba (chicken wings) is another staple that I always order when I go to yakitori restaurants. To be honest, there was nothing to write home about. The chicken wings were seasoned well and they were nicely cooked. The teba was ordinary, nothing spectacular.

Pirikara Mune Niku
This dish sounded much better than it actually was. The Pirikara Mune Niku which is breast meat topped with a spicy sauce was actually too dry for my taste and the spicy sauce was not all that flavorful. Perhaps if the chicken breast was actually marinated in this sauce it might have tasted better, but this dish was just not doing anything for me.

Miso Dare Mune Niku
This was probably my favorite mune niku dishes (chicken breast) of the night. The flavor of the special miso sauce was really tasty. I know that breast meat usually tends to get a little dry, but this skewer actually was executed very nicely and was cooked just right.

Tori Negi Don
I love the concept of this dish especially because we were eating this dish at a yakitori restaurant. This donburi (rice bowl dish) was served with charbroiled chicken on top of the rice and then a raw egg was cracked on top and then mixed. I love that this dish incorporated the two different stages of the chicken: from egg to chicken. I just wish I took the picture before we mixed it all up :(

Shishito Tsukune
Another dish that I've grown to like recently is tsukune (chicken meatball). This dish is one that I have never seen before. Tsukune married with one of my all time favorite peppers; the shishito pepper. Wow!!! This was fantastic. The balance of flavors between the sweetness of the sauce on the tsukune with the tanginess/spiciness of the shishito was wonderful.

Yawaraka Annin Tofu
This dessert was a creamy tofu apricot pudding. Sounded much more intriguing than it actually was. If you're into desserts that are Very light in flavor, this is the dessert for you.

Mochi Ice Cream
Well we were a little skeptical of this dessert when we saw it on the menu. We were thinking that the Mochi Ice Cream was going to be like the ones you can go out and buy at the supermarket, but when our waitress informed us that they make there own mochi (rice cakes) we were all over it like white on rice. white on mochi. The mochi was abosolutely delectable and delicate. There was no doubt the mochi was freshly made and the kinako powder (soybean powder) on top of the mochi ice cream was excellent. Hands down the BEST mochi ice cream EVER!!!!!

Yakitori Totto
251 West 55nd Street 2nd Floor
New York, NY. 10019