Category Archives: Nolita/Soho

The French Cheese Board

I was recently invited to the French Cheese Board by Peachonomics and The Baddish Group for a cheese tasting. I ended u learning a lot about cheeses, and since we were eating all cow’s milk cheeses, I figured it was worth a write-up on here.

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I had no idea that certain cheeses were meant to be cut and eaten in specific ways depending on their shape and size. Check out these charts:

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Pretty interesting. And this chart of cow breeds shows which cheeses come from which cows:

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What I found interesting is that, much like our Beef Check-Off system here in the States, Cheeses of Europe acts as a marketing tool and advocacy arm of the cheese industry across the pond. They organized this event as a way to educate foodies in NYC about French cheeses. I’m actually looking forward to learning more about cow’s milk cheeses. Maybe one of these days I’ll organize a beef and cheese pairing event, as I’m sure certain cuts of beef or methods of preparation would pair nicely with certain cheeses.

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Not only does the French Cheese Board sell cheese, but it also acts as an art gallery and food lab as well, where students can intern and learn about cheese.

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We tried a bunch of really diverse cheeses. My two favorites were the Brillat Savarin and Pont I Eveque. Both were softer and creamier than Brie.

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They served us some nice wines that went with the cheeses, and even put together some plated cheese hors d’oeuvres.

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I definitely recommend hitting this spot to try out some cheeses. The prices are very reasonable.

THE FRENCH CHEESE BOARD
41 Spring St
New York, NY 10012

Hida Beef

Hida is a region in Japan, located in the northern part of Gifu prefecture on Honshu island. That’s west of Tokyo, but not quite as far as Kyoto or Osaka. While I’ve never been there, I can tell it’s a place that I’d definitely want to visit.

Hida is known for it’s outstanding beef (Hida-gyu), which is derived from a black-haired Japanese breed of cattle. Laws are such that, to quality as the Hida brand, the cattle has to have been raised in Gifu prefecture for at least 14 months. The beef is characterized by intense, beautiful, web-like marbling with a buttery, smooth texture that melts in your mouth. The flavor is both rich and delicate at the same time. It can be likened to the top percentiles of wagyu beef, rivaling kobe and matsusaka in quality, with marbling grades of A/B 3, 4, and 5.

I was invited to a Hida beef tasting event at EN Japanese Brasserie, one of the seven restaurants in the area that will be serving Hida beef on their menus. The other six are Brushstroke, Hakubai, Hasaki, Sakagura, Shabu-Tatsu and the Members Dining Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is the first time that Hida beef is available here in the States, so if you’re a meat aficionado like me, you should definitely hit one of these places and give it a try. This stuff is expensive though, so make an occasion out of it.

I tried the beef in four different preparations: (1) sliced raw, nigiri sushi style, and then kissed with the scorching flame of a blowtorch; (2) seared edges, a tatami trio, with three different kinds of salt; (3) “Hoba-miso” style, stone grilled with miso sauce; and (4) chopped raw, tartare or ceviche style, with citrus and uni. Despite all the marbling, the meat doesn’t come off tasting very fatty, like some highly marbled cuts do. It didn’t leave a coating of waxy or fatty residue on my palate like certain cured salamis with high fat content. And it didn’t cause the flavors of whatever I ate next to change or taste different due to that fat, which is sometimes the case with aged beef and cured salami. In short, it was really a very pleasing experience.

I’ll start with my favorite preparations: (2) and (3). The tataki trio was essentially three slices of Hida beef (strip loin), each dressed with a different salt element: yuzu soy sauce, sea salt and a special red salt that had hints of spice to it. All three were great, but I think I liked the classic sea salt topper the best.

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The hot stone grilled preparation, Hoba-miso, was the only one in which the beef was cooked through. This dish is local to Hida. The sliced beef is placed on Hoba (a big Magnolia leaf) with miso and scallions, which then sits directly on the surface of the hot stone. As you can see, the before and after photos of this method indicate that this beef can be thoroughly enjoyed fully cooked if you’re one of those puss-bags who is afraid to eat raw or under-cooked meat.

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Fully cooking the beef did not take anything away from the meat. You still get that buttery smooth texture and melt-in-your-mouth flavor characteristics. In fact, the leaf and miso bring nice flavor accents to the beef that compliment it well. This, too, was a strip loin cut of beef, and it was presented to eat on grilled sticky rice patties.

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Here’s the chef, Abe Hiroki, who was grilling these delicious morsels to absolute beef-paradise perfection:

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The torched nigiri style reminded me slightly of spam musubi, for the sole reason that it was a warm meat item served atop sushi rice. Here, you can get a real, unadulterated taste of the beef in all its marbled glory. It truly is spectacular.

I’ve been eating aged beef for so long that something this pure and clean really blew me away. This was strip loin as well.

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This was the sushi master behind these perfect pieces of nigiri:

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Finally, this tartare or ceviche style came dressed with a citrus yuzu sauce and was topped with uni (raw sea urchin). Absolutely stunning and decadent. The reason I am interchanging tartare with ceviche is that, typically, ceviche involves fish and citrus, while tartare features meat and egg yolk. Since this dish had elements of both but not all, I figured I’d split the baby. Tarviche? Why not. Also strip loin.

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The event also showcased some nice sake selections with flavors ranging from dry to sweet, traditional to aromatic and fruity.

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In fact, the event began with a “breaking the mirror” ceremony on the casks of sake, as well as a sake toast.

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The governor of Gifu was even in attendance, introducing the beef, the region and the customs to the audience.

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The restaurant itself is beautiful, and I look forward to coming back to try some more of this amazing beef. Every preparation was 10/10 for flavor, and I highly recommend it.

EN JAPANESE BRASSERIE
435 Hudson St
New York, NY 10014

Bo Caphe

Vietnamese food is a tough nut to crack in NYC. Most of it sucks here, and the few places that people rave about just don’t really do it for me. I’ve been to places where they get one dish right, but fail on others. They have a great sandwich, but the soup in bland. You can literally go to almost any other city in America and find better Vietnamese food than you can in NYC, which baffles the living shit out of me. New York is the best at everything, so why not Vietnamese food? Who knows. The answer eludes me. Maybe the Vietnamese community just isn’t big enough here, or there aren’t enough courageous Vietnamese chefs that are willing to stretch their neck out and take a financial risk in the highly competitive and quick-to-closure NYC restaurant scene.

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Goddess Kali: house sake, sparkling wine, chia seeds, hibiscus, lemon and pineapple.

In any case, Bo Caphe isn’t like those lame joints that attempt to offer traditional Vietnamese food and then fail to deliver because there is not one single Vietnamese person on staff who would know how to make the dishes. Bo Caphe is embracing the non-traditional by proudly offering fusion dishes that you can get excited about, like the Bao Burger with taro chips.

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The burger had a nice char on the outside, with what seemed like diced onions mixed into the grind. It was juicy, and the steamed bun was the perfect Asian version of a soft and pliable yet strong potato bun. The addition of cilantro and green pepper sauce made it pop. The taro chips were a nice touch as well. They were thin, crisp, well seasoned and only occasionally greasy.

Being a French-Vietnamese fusion restaurant is nothing too outside the box, since binding the two cultures makes sense from a historical/colonial perspective. But Bo Caphe dives a bit further into French territory by offering a few selections that feature cheese, something largely not featured in Vietnamese cuisine, let alone Asian cuisine generally. Both the spring roll menu and bun menu featured cheese. The spring roll item, Vach Kiri, which literally translates to “laughing cow,” is a fried rice paper wrapper that’s filled with cheese and quinoa.

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The fried chicken bun had some goat cheese. I enjoyed it, as it added a different texture and flavor combination to compliment the pickled carrots and daikon on top, but I can see how this might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

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The braised beef bun, on the other hand, was pretty straight forward and delicious. No cheese that I could taste. And while I was eating this one I remarked that I was surprised the Bao Burger didn’t feature any cheese. Of all places to have it, that seems like the most proper fit for cheese in Asian cuisine.

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The noodles here were fantastic. We tried two styles: one was cooked lemongrass beef, and the other was raw diced salmon. The salmon dish was reminiscent of a poke bowl but with noodles and fish sauce for dressing rather than soy-based sauces. It was refreshing and tasty.

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The lemongrass beef was my favorite of the two. The beef was really tender and packed with great lemongrass flavor and aromas.

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Both noodle dishes were topped with peanuts, shredded carrot and cucumber, fresh mint and a veggie spring roll.

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The next two dishes we tried run the gamut from traditional Vietnamese to traditional French. No real fusion here; two dishes in the style of two different countries. The first, of course, is pho.

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This aromatic, comforting soup is not bad for NYC pho, but my wife and I are just spoiled by the soups we had up in the mountains of SaPa in Vietnam. Nothing can compare. In any case, if you need a fix, this is not a bad bowl. The noodles are slightly different than the usual flat style (these are square spaghetti shaped, like “alla chitarra”), but the aromas are great and they use cilantro, which is what we saw in Vietnam fairly often. If you dress this bowl up with some hoisin and sriracha, you should be good.

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The second dish is a marinated skirt steak with salad.

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The steak was largely French-inspired, even down to the mustard seed sauce (which I liked very much). The steak was a bit over-cooked for my liking, but it packed a lot of flavor and was charred nicely on the outside. I’d order it again, for sure. 7/10.

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The watercress salad featured some nice ripe avocados, tomatoes and red onions.

The dessert menu has some interesting selections. First was a molten chocolate lava cake with coconut. The lava wasn’t very melty, but the sauce that came with it was delicious. The coconut here was similar to the inside of a mounds chocolate candy bar.

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This black sesame ice cream was more like a cream ice of shave ice texture and flavor; light, refreshing, icy rather than creamy. It was delicious, especially with the toasted sesame seeds on top.

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This next dessert was an interesting take on the avocado shakes that I love to get from Vietnamese restaurants. This was a chocolate avocado mousse. You could taste equally the avocado and the chocolate, which was a flavor combination that I never thought or expected to like. It was great!

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The only down side was that they didn’t have the spicy pineapple, sumac and mint salad dessert item. I was really looking forward to trying that out. Also just FYI: I was invited to this joint as an “influencer” – basically free food in exchange for pics and an honest review. So there it is.

BO CAPHE
222 Lafayette St
New York, NY 10012

Pasquale Jones

The Charlie Bird restaurant team recently opened this joint, and since opening it has gotten a lot of hype and attention from the food fanatic community. Namely, for the pizza and the pasta.

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My wife and I came here with a crew of other food instagrammers so that we could try a lot of stuff and snap a bunch of pretty pictures.

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The menu isn’t too extensive, which I liked. It listed a bunch of eye catching stuff that I wanted to try. I was also happy to see escarole make an appearance here in the greens section (though I didn’t get to try it out).

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We tried three starters: pane carasau, cuttlefish and sugar snap peas. All were good, but slightly small in terms of portion size for the price point. While this is a “no tipping” restaurant and one should expect higher pricing, I felt that they went a bit too far. Based on my accounting of things, I’d say they are charging about 40-50% more per item. If you figure a 20% tip into the math, then you’re still overpaying by 20-30%, depending on the particular item in question. So while the idea of a no tipping restaurant may seem great, the real loser is the customer, who can no longer adjust their tip downward for low food quality or poor service. Our waiter was kind of a dick, and I wasn’t super impressed with the food either. As such, I felt like I over-paid for several aspects of the meal.

The pane carasau is essentially what you might get for free in a bread basket at a high end Italian joint. It was really just thin, crispy bread chips with a small dollop of delicious, warm honey and black pepper ricotta. $9.

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The cuttlefish was steep at $18 for this plate:

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The pickled peppers on top were a nice hit of heat, and it was cooked nicely in terms of texture, with only a slight bit of it being, perhaps, a bit overcooked and chewy. It tasted clean, though, and the charcoal grilling method added a nice earthy ash flavor to it.

The snap pea dish with watercress and cream was probably the best of the three, but, again, extremely overpriced at $17.

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The peas carried a nice sweetness, but I was hoping for more cream.

Now for the pizza (category 1: full pies only, no slices available). We tried two pies: little neck clam and the special pizza of the day, which was a morel mushroom and cheese pie. The clam pie had good flavor, but it felt a little sparse on the actual clams and toppings. That means the diner feels ripped off when paying $24 for six small slices. That’s a hell of a profit margin when you think about how cheap it is to make this shit!

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The morel pizza could have used more toppings a bit closer to the edge of the crust. That wasted real estate also translates to the feeling of being ripped off when the bill comes. This was, however, the better of the two pies, in my opinion. The morels had a meaty quality to them, and a good amount of earthiness.

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On the pasta angle, we went with the baby goat pappardelle. This was a delicious dish. The meat was very tender, and the pasta was well dressed with sauce. The texture of the pasta was just right. While the portion size felt a little bit small for $23, I didn’t mind as much because it was top notch quality.

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For the meats, we tried two dishes: pork shank for two, and dry aged rib eye for two. Let’s start with the pork.

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This was delicious. While a bit small for two, the price of $48 wasn’t too bad. Well, I mean, when you compare it to the outstanding crackling pork shank with firecracker apple sauce at Maloney & Porcelli, which only costs $36 and can feed two people with extra to bring home, then, yeah, it’s way overpriced here. But given all else on the menu, I felt this was probably the best bargain. The flavors were outstanding and it had hints of sausage spice from the fennel and rosemary. This is a must-order if you decide to come here.

You can pass on the rib eye, however. It definitely delivered on the dry-aged flavor, but it was very small for two people to share at $125. If I had to guess, I’d say this was about 22oz on the bone. Maybe 24oz. For that size steak at a steakhouse, you pay between $50 and $60. So here, I would have expected to pay about $75 to account for the tip being included. At $125, we are looking at a massive fucking mark-up.

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Contrast this with the best rib eye in Manhattan over at Osteria Morini, just around the corner, which offers a steak that’s more than twice the size of this thing at 52oz, with 120 days of dry-aging flavor, and accompanied by two generously-sized sides for just $145. Uhh… no brainer. Anyway, this steak had a bit of chew to it. Not as tender as we had hoped and expected from dry-aging.

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It was cooked perfectly to medium rare, and it had a great crust on the outside. The crispy meat surrounding the bone was excellent as well. However there was no rib cap to speak of. Perhaps it was butchered off for some other use. 7/10.

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The steak came with this nice roasted onion:

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And something came with this side of citrus-dressed arugula:

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But the highlight of the night, aside from the pork shank, was seeing Michael J. Fox and Dennis Leary in the dining room, eating together with their wives.

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To sum up: skip this place unless you are focused on the pork shank. If that’s not your thing, then stick with the pizza and pasta, but I, personally, would still go elsewhere for those even though both were pretty tasty.

PASQUALE JONES
187 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10012

Osteria Morini

My wife was recently browsing around the Instagram foodporn landscape when she came across this image of a massive rib eye:

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Photo Credit: Osteria Morini: @OsteriaMorini on Instagram

I was immediately intrigued when she shared it with me, but I kind of just put it on the mental list of places that I needed to try. Like any fool who is just looking at photos and not actually READING captions, I missed the integral part of what was going on and why my thoughtful wife sent it to me:

“BIG news. Literally. Tonight only we are serving 120 day dry aged Tomahawk Steak. It’s on a first come basis and there are only 7, so call to reserve yours now.”

120 fucking days?!?? Wow. So a few days go by and I get this frantic text from my wife: “GET YOUR CAMERA AND MEET ME AT OSTERIA MORINI TONIGHT AT 6PM!”

I responded. “Okay. Why, what’s going on?” Then she proceeded to explain to me the details of what I had glanced over a few days earlier. She’s a very patient person. I do this often, apparently. But my mouth dropped. She had secured us one of the seven 52oz, 120-day dry-aged Pat Lafrieda/Creekstone Farms rib eyes just a week or two in advance of our 7-year wedding anniversary. They only offer them on the first Wednesday of every month, so scheduling is limited. Anyway, I ran home and got my camera, because we were about to celebrate with the best steak we’d ever eaten.

The steak is not trimmed of any excess fat, and the bone is left with all the meat still attached prior to cooking, as you can see in the Instagram photo above. This is ideal when dry-aging, because eventually you have to trim off the outer bark and you inevitably lose some meat when that happens. Better that it be fat and gristle than your spinalis dorsi. Even still, this particular cut is still left with tons of surrounding meat and tenderized fat. Ours came out to the table pre-sliced, beautifully plated and ready for gorging:

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Everything is edible on this. Even the fat breaks down into a really delicious beef jelly after that much time aging.

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The cap was truly something to behold. Packed with tons of flavor and so fucking tender. As for the eye (longissimus dorsi), just take a look at this perfectly cooked masterpiece of a slice:

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I half expected something so funky and nutty that it would almost be unrecognizable as steak, and more akin to blue cheese. But it was mild and pleasant, not so robust that it became odd tasting, like what can happen with some long aging processes. This was just right. I was smiling the entire time. This is the best steak I’ve ever eaten. 10/10.

But let’s not brush aside the other great Italian cuisine going on here at Osteria Morini. The bar has a great selection of Italian-inspired cocktails that are really unique and interesting.

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The atmosphere is home-ish and comfortable. It’s warm and inviting, with lots of wood tones.

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By 8:30pm the lights had dimmed significantly and the place was wall-to-wall jammed. The food is so great, it is no wonder why. But when you take the stellar service into consideration, a packed house becomes a no-brainer. GM Phillip Buttacavoli made us feel very much at home, and all employees from servers, to kitchen staff, to bartenders were really helpful, pleasant and nice.

The foccacia table bread was warm, toasty and nicely seasoned.

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We started with the stracci pasta: long, wide ribbons of egg-forward pasta with a braised wild mushroom sauce and rosemary oil.

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Perfectly cooked, and delicious through and through. The other pasta dishes all sounded great too. I will definitely be back to survey more of those selections.

The steak, which was a very fair $145, came with our choice of two sides as well. We went with the parmigiano roasted asparagus and the parmigiano fingerling potatoes.

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The asparagus reminded me of the kind my mother used to make. Very simply cooked but with parmigiano over the top to add in some salt and flavor. And the potatoes were perfectly crunchy and nicely seasoned all around.

For dessert, we tried the gianduja budino: a baked chocolate and hazelnut custard with candied hazelnuts, brown butter and salted chocolate cake crumbles.

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I loved it. It had just the right amount of sweet and savory to strike a great balance. They even gave us some complimentary glasses of saffron and cardamom amaro to go with the dessert.

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We ended up using a great Gilt City deal on this meal. My wife paid something like $145 for $200 worth of credit to apply to the bill at pretty much any Altamarea Group restaurant (except for Marea). That left us with a little bit to cover at the end.

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What a fantastic meal. I can’t wait to go back!

OSTERIA MORINI
218 Lafayette Street
New York, NY 10012

Frozen Sweet

This little ice cream joint serves up some interesting flavors like taro, Thai tea and green tea.

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They do this cool thing where they spread out the cream and ingredients on a cold table and then scrape up the ice cream in these cool log curls. Check it out:

We stopped in here with a gaggle of food bloggers and ordered up a few cups to sample among the crew. Here’s a shot of what the Thai tea looks like:

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As you can see, they offer panda and monkey cookies as toppings. They also have face emojis, like this one with the taro flavor:

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And last but not least, this flavor is vanilla with banana mixed in, and then a nice money-shot of sweetened condensed milk dripping down the panda’s face. Hashtag cummybear. This is the one that was being made in the video above.

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The ice cream here is light and not too sweet, which is nice because you can eat a bunch without feeling like you’re fucking yourself over.

FROZEN SWEET
184-186 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10013

Taureau

Taureau is a French fondue joint down in SoHo that’s owned and operated by the same badass chef dude, Didier, who runs neighboring La Sirene and cross-town East Village gem Le Village.

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My wife and I were invited here to round out a trio of press dinners for Didier’s restaurants.

The atmosphere here is cozy, with dim, warm lighting. Taureau derives its name, logo and decor concepts from the Taurus zodiac sign. It’s an earth sign specifically, and everything served and used for decor is of the earth (no fish on the menu, lots of natural objects for decor, dark wood and earth tones for the seating and tables, etc).

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The concept of fondue is pretty simple: melted cheeses, hot oils, mulled wines and melted chocolates, in which various meats, veggies, fruits, breads and other items are dunked and dipped prior to eating. It’s not complicated or messed with here at Taureau. As with his traditional French bistro La Sirene, Didier has kept his fondue concept restaurant straightforward, and I believe it’s the only fondue gig in town.

The fondue experience is inherently communal. No guys: there’s no LSD, cult leaders, hippies or outdoor multi-day music festivals. I only mean “communal” as in everyone is using the same cooking vessel. As such this lends itself to be a good place to go both with a group of friends, or even for an intimate date. After you share cooking vessels, you can share a bed together. And with music like Barry White playing during the meal, the mood for such behavior is subconsciously set. One caution I will give you is this: be prepared to come away with a scent of cooking oil on your clothing. Didier has some good air circulation in the restaurant, so it wasn’t as thick as I expected. However sometimes the fondue pots can smoke up a little bit, and the oil smells can cling to your fabrics – JUST the oil smells though; the cheese and chocolate smells don’t cling. So even though Barry White may have lubricated your libido while you were indulging in chocolate covered strawberries with your lover, you both may come away with a “fast food employee” smell on your persons that could ruin the mood. I suppose you can simply double down on the sexy and eat topless if you want; then there will be no smell on your clothing. However, while it’s perfectly legal to go topless in NYC, it may be frowned upon by the restaurant and its diners, and if you drip hot oil, liquefied cheese or melted chocolate on your nipples, you may regret the topless dining decision very quickly (unless, of course, you’re into that weird shit).

I have to be honest here: I had been to a fondue joint out on Long Island once and I didn’t like it very much. It felt over-priced and the food was underwhelming. But here, I knew I was in good hands with Didier. Everything I have ever tasted from his kitchens was high quality and really delicious. As such I was excited to dive in.

Okay so, basically, you choose your price point and fondue accompaniments (very reasonably priced, ranging from $43/pp to $52/pp), and soon the food starts to come out as the fondue pots heat up on built-in electric heaters that are embedded in the tables. They serve wine too, so you can pair your cheese fondue with white, and then transition over to red for the meats:

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The first course is a salad along with some croutons, which is unlimited if you choose to gorge yourself:

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The salad is mixed greens, lightly but evenly dressed. The croutons are for your cheese fondue course that comes out with this. We tried four different cheese concoctions. The first was a nutmeg-infused cheese, which smelled like fall:

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Then a combination of various Swiss cheeses:

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And a cauldron of Monterey jack and cheddar cheese:

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But my favorite was this earthy truffle perigord cheese:

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It went perfectly with our side items for dipping, which consisted of broccoli, chorizo, fennel sausage, and portobello mushrooms:

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In particular, the mushrooms with the truffle cheese was an incredible “double-down” on the earthy flavor notes. And the chorizo went really nicely with the nutmeg cheese. The spice of the sausage was off-set and balanced by that touch of sweetness from the cheese. We kept diving in, dipping food, and dodging and ducking from any errant drips of melty cheese as we reached over and across each other. Dodge, dip, dive, duck and dodge. Just like the five D’s of dodgeball, from the Dodgeball movie:

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Some drip-catching plates could have been helpful, I suppose, and I guess we could add a 6th D for the dodgeball reference, for Didier. He has truly created some really amazing cheese combinations, and that truffle cheese was the big star of the show for the evening. I just kept going at it, even when all that was left to dip was the broccoli!

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After about 15 hits of truffle cheese, I thought I might be full, but then the meat course came out. Our cheese fondue pots were swapped for four new pots: red wine, vegetable oil, olive oil and peanut oil. The idea here is to dunk your meat in for varying amounts of time (depending how thoroughly cooked you want it), and then add a little sauce to it before eating. The sauces included a dijon cream, truffle red wine reduction, peppercorn gravy, gorgonzola cream and Hollandaise.

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The sauces paired in unique ways depending on which meat you chose, and which fondue pot you used for cooking the meat. The meats are all marinated and pre-sliced, by the way, for maximum tenderness. Our meat selections were as follows:

Pork (cook for 45 seconds):

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Chicken (cook for 45 seconds):

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Filet Mignon (medium rare 15 seconds):

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Hanger Steak (medium rare 15 seconds):

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My favorite pairings were (1) hanger steak cooked in olive oil and topped with the truffle red wine reduction sauce; (2) filet mignon cooked in red wine and topped with the gorgonzola sauce; (3) pork cooked in red wine and topped with the peppercorn gravy; and (4) chicken cooked in peanut oil and topped with the dijon cream sauce. Really good shit.

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Dessert, as you can imagine, involved copious quantities of melted chocolate. We tried both the milk and dark chocolate varieties:

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We were served a plate of sliced fruit and dessert breads for dipping. Bananas, pineapples, apples, kiwi, grapes, strawberries, banana bread, white chocolate bread and even marshmallows were all involved.

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You can mix and match to your heart’s desire. I was actually surprised to find that I liked kiwi with milk chocolate. Pretty interesting.

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But you can’t really beat the simplicity of a chocolate covered banana or marshmallow:

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That about covers it for this really fun fondue night. If you’re up for something unique and different for dinner, this is definitely the way to go. When you go, tell Didier that Johnny Prime sends his regards.

TAUREAU
558 Broome St.
New York, NY 10013

Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer

This little bar style burger joint in Soho slings some really great burgers.

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The place proudly advertises that they use Pat LaFrieda beef in the grind. It pays off because the meat is really fantastic, and the burgers are cooked to a nice medium rare.

We tried a few different burger styles. The All-American is a classic patty with American cheese, lettuce, pickle, tomato and a Thousand Island type sauce. The burger is served open face style so you can stack it however you like.

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Each comes with a side of fries as well.

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And it is cooked to medium rare whether you like it or not:

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It tasted exactly how you want your burger to taste. Big bold flavor, melty cheese, and perfectly seasoned beef cooked to pink through and through. The potato buns here are strong, sweet and pliable too. Excellent.

This steak au poivre burger was topped with blue cheese and served with a peppercorn gravy. The cheese didn’t overpower, and the peppercorn sauce really made this burger stand out as what was probably the best of the night. I felt like I was eating a steak!

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The Texan has cheddar and bacon, with an onion ring on top. This had great classic beefy flavor, with a robust kick from the bacon.

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And the Greg Norman is made with wagyu beef and topped with arugula and blue cheese, with a buttermilk dill sauce on the side.

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The beef on the Greg Norman was top notch. That shit was so funky, earthy and savory that I just wanted to keep going and going. It was probably the best wagyu burger I’ve ever had. Look at how amazing this redness is…

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We gave the onion rings and sweet potato fries a try as well, which you can substitute instead of regular fries for a small up charge. I liked the regular fries the best of the three, but here’s a shot of the sweet potato jammies for y our edification:

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In addition to having a great beer selection, they also have some nice shakes as well. My wife tried a coffee flavored shake, which was really creamy and tasty:

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They even do some fun collaborations sometimes, like this St. Patrick’s Day burger (Pat LaFreda) that is topped with Katz Deli corned beef.

Oh, and they serve some dynamite wings as well.

BLACK TAP
529 Broome St
New York, NY 10013

Adoro Lei

I was invited here for a press event pizza party by a friend of mine who works in the food business.

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I’m always on the hunt for good pizza, so I was psyched to try this place. But this joint is more than just pizza. They have great cocktails, a really nice menu, and a good beer selection as well.

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That’s the pizza oven up top, and just underneath, you can see this dude rolling out the pizza dough with a wine bottle. That’s some old school type shit!

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Let me guide you through this awesome meal. First, we had the “Burrata Divine,” which is a nice tasty blob of burrata cheese on top of eggplant with some grape tomatoes and arugula, drizzled with a truffle honey.

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This was some good shit. The burrata was soft and flavorful, and the truffle honey was a nice touch of sweet against the peppery arugula.

Next up was “Chianti Kale,” a kale, spinach and shitake mushroom salad with shaved ricotta and fried salsify, tossed in a Chianti-sesame dressing. I’m usually quick to mock kale, but this was actually an awesome salad. It had depth to it from the sesame and Chianti dressing.

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We also had the “Sous-Vide Beets.” The beets were warm and plated at the base of the dish, with arugula, frisee, candied walnuts, goat cheese and blackberries on top. This was tossed with a walnut dressing.

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This was earthy, sweet, hearty and savory all at once. Now that I know beets are this good when cooked sous vide, I’ll definitely be throwing them in my homemade machine at the old Johnny Prime Food Research Lab.

We snacked on some grilled shishito peppers with shaved almonds while waiting for the next courses to arrive. These were lightly salted. Very nice, with a mild heat to them.

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My favorite items of the night were these “Adoro Sliders,” which were essentially braised veal and pork meatballs with a tomato sauce and sheep’s milk ricotta on a slider bun.

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The bun was soft and strong, as you would expect from any good burger. The meat was tender and juicy, just like a really good meatball. This was the perfect Italian burger. I loved it. They’re a bit pricey at three for $14, but well worth the money in terms of taste.

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Another star dish was the “Lovers’ Purses.” These were pasta dumplings filled with cheese, and served with pear, brown butter sage sauce, roasted walnuts, arugula and parmesan shavings.

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They were dense and cooked al dente, but they weren’t heavy.

The last of the pre-pizza items was the “Espresso Tuna.”

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Cooked to a perfect rare / medium rare, this tuna had an espresso dry rub and was served on top of spinach and fingerling potatoes, and topped with toasted pistachio nuts and roasted red peppers. The pomegranate Thai basil reduction sauce was what really set this dish apart. The acidity was perfectly balanced against the sweet components, and despite the distinctively Asian ingredients, it really tasted like a natural Italian dish. Nicely done.

Okay so here comes the pizza. I will start with the least favorite – which is by no means “not good” – and work my way to the best. This first pie is the traditional tomato sauce and cheese style, called “Casanova” at this joint.

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The flavors were good, just not as robust as some of the other items from the night. This pie was a bit limp in the center, where the sauce and cheese were heaviest, so any lack of stiffness in the crust will cause some concern.

Next up was the “Veronica” pizza. This had burrata, kale, grape tomatoes, pecorino and basil.

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Not a bad pie, but also just not as memorable as a good traditional or a really unique specialty pie. The crust was nice and crisp, and the toppings weren’t too heavy or overpowering of one another.

The big winner was the “Pietro.” This is essentially an arugula and prosciutto style dry pie, topped with marinated cherry tomatoes, basil, pecorino, shaved parmesan and truffle oil.

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The use of truffle oil was delicate and skilled here. It wasn’t overpowering. The cheeses were perfect with the prosciutto, and despite this being bold on flavor, it never overwhelmed my palate. I’d come back for this any day. Look at us going bonkers with the photos and ooey gooey slices!

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We also got to try some dessert. First was this nutella pizza, which was sweet dough on top and bottom, sandwiching a nice layer of nutella and topped with powdered sugar.

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Be careful not to breathe in when taking a bite. That powdered sugar can be a coughing fit in the making!

There was also a really nice fried dough item called nutella fingers, which consisted of logs of fried dough served with nutella, blackberries and whipped cream. Simple and delicious. This was my favorite of the two desserts. The dough was crisp on the outside but pillow-soft on the inside, and nice and warm the whole way through.

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All the while during the meal we were having a beer tasting. We tried six different brews. My favorite ended up being an Ommegang, with the Bluepoint Toasted right behind.

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Get down here for some food. You will definitely go home happy!

ADORO LEI
287 Hudson St.
New York, NY 10013

La Sirene

What’s more diddy than P-Diddy? Didier:

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I guess I should say WHO is more diddy than P-Diddy. Okay you’re probably confused…

Didier is the owner, chef and manager of three excellent NYC French restaurants. I’ve written a rave review of Le Village from a previous press meal, and now I’m writing one for La Sirene, the popular classical French joint on Broome Street, just east of Varick at the lower edge of Soho.

Anyway, Didier is an intense, animated guy who is really passionate about his food. Everything he serves is of superior quality and taste, and made right there in-house. After eating at two of his restaurants, I can safely say that there is nothing that the man can’t execute with flawless precision. Every app, entree and dessert I’ve tasted has ranged from far above average to excellent, with one or two “best I’ve ever had” things in there as well.

Didier focuses his energy on classic French dishes, made from family recipes that he has been honing for upwards of 30 years. Some of these dishes are so labor intensive that you wonder how the hell he could be cranking them out seven days a week. Even some of the sauces take days to prepare, all from scratch – from roasted bone stock, reduced with wine, and distilled into just a few ounces of absolute heaven in a bowl.

Other French places I have been to will have something like coq au vin or cassoulet on the menu, yet every time you go in and ask for it, they are somehow not able to make it for you. They’re “out” of cassoulet. And other French joints only serve those crazy, impossible dishes one day a week. “Monday Dinner Special: Coq au Vin.” Not served any other day of the week. This is not the case at La Sirene. Didier cranks these fucks out like a machine, and they are all amazing, and available every damn day for hundreds of diners. That is quite impressive, to say the least.

So let’s get right down to business, shall we?

La Sirene recently acquired a liquor license (it used to be solely BYOB), so we started with some Spanish wine: Temperanillo (red) and Airen (white). Both were smooth, but I tend to gravitate toward red in general.

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The table bread is all made in-house, and is a rustic farmhouse style with a crusty outside and a soft, fluffy, absorbent inside that’s excellent for dipping into the sauces that come with the mussels.

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While I got to taste a little bit of everything that each of the five press diners ate, I will try to just focus on the items that my wife and I ordered – really because I ate more of those items than the others.

First was the sauteed baby octopus. This was simply tossed with garlic, parsley, tomato, olive oil and mushrooms, and served warm on a bed of mixed greens. The ‘pus was perfectly cooked. Nice and tender, with great flavors. Although one doesn’t exactly associate this sort of dish with classic French cuisine (it sounds more Mediterranean / Greek-Italian), it was a definite crowd pleaser. Everyone liked it.

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My wife had the Creole mussels, which were served in a creamy tomato and chorizo broth with herbs. We liked this a whole lot better than the other mussel dish we tried, which was “Rochelaises” style, with curry and apples. The chorizo just goes so well with shellfish, and I was sopping up that amazing sauce with bread for a while after the mussels were fully devoured.

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When in France, do as the French do: Eat snails. These little shits were so damned tasty. Buttery, garlicky, herby and tender. I could easily put down three dozen of these like nothing. Didier’s escargot is a must-try, and the best version of the dish that I’ve ever had.

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The entrees were spectacular. Until this meal, I had never tried cassoulet. I think I might have just spoiled myself with this first. My expectations and standards on future cassoulet meals are now way too high, thanks to Didier. It’s like having a rib eye at Del Frisco’s for the first steak of your life. While I have nothing to which to compare Didier’s cassoulet, I can safely say that it is amazing. Behold, my new favorite French dish:

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It was so hearty and packed with flavor. So many different types of meat were happily co-mingling in this rustic dish. It was like a dream-come-true. Inside was a delicious potpourri of cannellini beans, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, duck confit, slab bacon and pork sausage, all braised with duck fat, white wine stock and foie gras jus. Come on… And on top was an array of homemade bread crumbs that were broiled to crispy perfection, so that every bite of this dish had texture versatility as well as flavor variety.

It was difficult to pull myself away from that cassolet. It was my wife’s dish. I, of course, had steak. At first I was conflicted: should I order the hanger steak, one of Didier’s signature items, or the “Tournedos Rossini,” a signature filet mignon item? BOTH STEAK and BOTH SIGNATURE DISHES! It was like Sophie’s Choice for me, except, unlike Sophie, (SPOILER ALERT) I didn’t have to hand one of my children over to the Nazis to save mine and my other child’s lives.

Okay, so after much back-and-forth, I quietly resolved that I would just come back again soon for the hanger steak. I ordered the “Tournedos Rossini,” which is filet mignon, topped with fois gras, truffles and a shallot/port wine reduction sauce.

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This was nothing short of decadent. The fois gras added that much needed fat element back into the cut of tenderloin. So good. And it was expertly cooked to medium rare as well.

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I was thoroughly impressed. For a non-steakhouse, this place does an excellent job with the world’s most prized and sought-after beef cut. Bravo!

Our entrees were served with a nice side plate of veggies. Celery with breadcrumbs and garlic (my favorite of the four), butternut squash, green beans (really fucking delicious, by the way – how on earth does one make green beans so damned good), and carrot puree. This plate comes with each entree, but sometimes Didier will mix up the contents depending on what’s fresh and in season.

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Dessert is such a treat when you’re at a place that really knows what the fuck they’re doing in the kitchen. La Sirene is one of those places. We tried five different desserts, and I made damn sure to take nice photos of each and every one, because they were all stellar.

I’ll start with the chantilly here. Essentially this was a cream puff item: puff pastry filled with vanilla whipped cream. Simple, elegant, light – and a cool, refreshing way to end a meal.

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The steakhouse man in me will always look for a creme brulee of some kind. The one offered here is a banana brulee. Custard with banana and cookie in it. Really delicious and perfectly executed, with generous chunks of very ripe and sweet bananas inside.

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This strawberry tart was actually my favorite dessert of the five. The tart crust itself was flakey, buttery and light. It was sweet, yet slightly savory, to counter-balance against the sweet strawberries, whipped cream and custard that was on top. A real winner for me. I wish I was able to eat more of this.

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My order was the profiteroles. These were essentially the same as the chantilly cream puffs, except filled with vanilla ice cream and draped in melty chocolate. Fucking awesome. And the whipped cream added that lightness that I wanted at dessert time, in addition to the sweetness.

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My wife ordered the chocolate lava cake. This was a sight to see. It comes served on a long plate consisting of three items: whipped cream, the cake itself and vanilla ice cream. See below:

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But when you cut into this baby, that ooey-gooey melty chocolate lava just oozes out of the center.

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I’m usually not a big chocolate-on-top-of-chocolate fan at dessert time, but this was a really great dish with a stunning presentation.

I think that about wraps it up. I look forward to coming back to try the other signature beef dish, the hanger steak, and I eventually plan to try out Didier’s third dining establishment, the fondue joint next door called Taureau. So far Didier is two for two with La Sirene and Le Village. Essentially he has taken victories at the Derby and Preakness, and I am interested to see if he will score the Triple Crown at Belmont. See what I did there? That’s a horse racing metaphor, because the Belmont Stakes are just a few weeks away, and we have a potential Triple Crown winner on our hands this year.

LA SIRENE
558 Broome St.
New York, NY 10013