Tag Archives: press dinner

Bite of Hong Kong

My wife and I have been on the prowl for a good Chinese place for quite some time. We were always in search of something more – something simultaneously unique and seemingly authentic, serving up good quality food without breaking the bank. Our criteria were numerous: (1) It had to be in Chinatown, but (2) not overrun by tourists (Wo Hop). (3) It couldn’t be some cheap, dirty and shitty joint (China Red), or (4) some gigantic dim sum warehouse dining room or buffet (Golden Unicorn). (5) We also had no room in our hearts for more than one visit to an overpriced and super trendy joint (Red Farm). (6) Finally, the menu couldn’t solely consist of Americanized Chinese dishes as the signature items (every other takeout/delivery Chinese joint in the city).

Don’t get me wrong; I love a good General Tso’s chicken from time to time. But like I said above, we wanted something more. I know that list above may seem like a diva’s demands, or the asinine pre-performance requests of a big Broadway star, but in NYC, where Chinese food is insanely abundant, one can start to become very picky and particular about what they want to eat.

So where to go? Enter Bite of Hong Kong.

DSC05627

This joint contacted me to come in for a press meal. When I read the detail sheet, I was instantly excited. This place seemed to meet all of our criteria in one fell swoop, perhaps because the menu contains more than just standard Chinese/Cantonese fare. There are lots of Hong Kong style dishes in there, of which I am, admittedly, not fully familiar. But my and my wife’s eyes and appetites naturally wandered to those things, because they were different from what we typically see at Americanized joints. They were more authentic, and, in turn, more unique for us.

Take this trio of appetizers that we munched on, for example. Jellyfish, duck tongue, and crispy pig intestines. I’ve had jellyfish before, and the best way to describe it is this: a cold salad made of slightly crunchier/snappier noodles.

DSC05638

The shit is delicious, so don’t let the “ickiness” of the actual protein fool you. If I gave it to you without telling you what it was, you’d think it was a kind of noodle or unique vegetable.

DSC05640

I found myself jumping back and forth between that and the crispy pork intestines pretty regularly.

DSC05634

These were crunchy on the outside and softer on the inside, kind of like pork skin with some meat attached, only halved in the crisp and succulence factors. These make for a great snack. As far as intestines go, and offal in general, these are pretty top notch!

DSC05636

The duck tongues were a bit more tricky. I popped one into my mouth and started to chew, thereby pulverizing the small bone that is attached. This was my first time having them, so I had no idea. Our host, Mike, then explained that you eat the meat off and around the small bone, kind of like how you would take down a chicken wing.

DSC05647

These had more juicy fat content to them than I expected from a muscle like the tongue. When I say fat content, I mean the edible, flavorful kind – like in the marbling of a steak. Up front is the meaty part, and in the back, around the bone, is the fatty part. Cooked with soy sauce and spices, this is a fairly simple dish, and the portion size is large for an appetizer.

I’m a huge fan of chow fun, the long, wide, broad noodle dish. Here, we went with the dry preparation, which is simply hit with heat in a wok and tossed with veggies and protein. We chose beef.

DSC05648

The beef was incredibly tender and flavorful, and the noodles were cooked perfectly. This dry version, when executed properly, leaves pretty much no oil in the dish, and leaves behind no greasy texture whatsoever.

DSC05651

That was certainly the case here, because Chef Fei is a master on the wok. This chow fun ranks among the best I’ve had.

DSC05655

Speaking of bests, our next dish was hands-down the best crab dish I’ve had in NYC. That shot of Fei above was taken as he was plating.

DSC05664

This is fried Dungeness crab. The legs are separated from the body and each part is coated with a light and puffy batter before hitting the wok.

DSC05667

That batter is amazing, by the way. It reminded me of the batter you sometimes get around Chinese fried shrimp, or shrimp toast. Perhaps a beer batter?

DSC05656

In any case, you can put the shell in your mouth and pull the crunchy batter off with your teeth for a nice hit of savory with each bite of juicy crab meat.

DSC05658

I seriously couldn’t believe it when it came to the table. Not only was it stunning to look at, but the method of cooking preserved so much of that rich crab flavor in each bite of meat. As you can see, the final product gets topped with crispy fried shallots, scallions, egg, and shredded carrot.

DSC05660

Even the super flavorful gutsy bits were left in the shell and fried. I passed those off to my wife, because she loves that stuff.

DSC05673

A crab of this caliber will run you about $50 here, as the market price is in the $20’s per pound.

I should note here that all of their seafood is pulled right from these tanks, which are situated between the front dining room and the rear dining room.

DSC05675

Rear dining room:

DSC05628

The seafood selection here is truly incredible, by the way.

Dungeness crabs:

DSC05676

Coral shrimp:

DSC05679

In addition to those critters, they also have fresh lobster and a variety of live fish, which they serve whole in various cooking preparations. We saw one coming out to another table and were blown away by the presentation.

And instead of the standard orange at dessert time, Bite of Hong Kong brings over some slices of fresh watermelon. Nice touch.

DSC05680

So long story short: it seems that my wife and I found our ideal place for good Chinese food that meets our demanding list of criteria. I highly recommend this place. I wish I had discovered it sooner, as it opened in March 2015. I’ve missed out on over a year of this delicious shit! And if you happen to live in the area, you should pop in to try one of their lunch special meals for under $6. That is an insane bargain!

BITE OF HONG KONG
81 Chrystie St
New York, NY 10002

A.O.C. L’aile ou la Cuisse

I was recently invited to A.O.C. for a press meal. The menu looked pretty stacked, with lots of things I wanted to try, so I jumped at the opportunity to come here.

We sat outside in the back garden, which is beautiful, shaded and perfect for a spring/summer meal outdoors, especially with some colorful cocktails like these.

DSC04273

We started with this amazing charcuterie and cheese board called Le Grand Mix. At $28 I felt that this was great. Usually these kinds of items are way overpriced to me, to the point of feeling like ass rape mixed with getting your balls stomped-on by stiletto heels. Here, however, it seemed very fair, if not actually a good deal. There were five sliced meats, a pair of duck confit crostini, three cheeses, some grapes, sliced apples and strawberries. There was even a small mixed greens salad beneath the apples!

DSC04286

Prosciutto, country ham, smoked duck, mortadella, spicy salami, if I had to guess on the sliced meats. The cheeses were brie, gouda and a harder style like parmigiano reggiano.

For our meal, we shared the cote de boeuf rib eye steak for two.

DSC04290

At $79 it comes with a bowl of mixed veggies and french fries. Great deal! The mixed veggies were all fresh, not frozen, and consisted of green beans, asparagus, broccoli and carrots. These had some basic seasonings like garlic and butter.

DSC04302

The fries were thin shoe-string style, which I like. Some were very crisp, and some were half crisp. It was an interesting mix of textures, but the flavors were spot on and they were well-seasoned.

DSC04298

The steak itself was overcooked, unfortunately. There was a bit too much grey going on for medium rare. The meat, as a result, was a little more dense and tough than I like, but it had good flavor otherwise, especially when dipped into the bernaise sauce that came with it (you can choose peppercorn as well, I think).

A video posted by Katherine (@thecakedealer) on

Here’s a closer shot of the steak. I boosted the reds a bit in Photoshop on both images, because I couldn’t help myself and I wanted it to look nice for the Instagram post.

DSC04294

I’m giving this a 6/10 instead of a 5 or 4, because ultimately this is a wonderful deal and the only real issue was the cooking temperature. I would definitely come back here and order this again, so don’t get the wrong idea. Compared with other steak-for-two deals that often times don’t come with sides, are smaller, and cost much more money, this is a steal. Just make sure you insist on rare.

For dessert we tried the tarte tartin. I wasn’t expecting pie format for this, since it was described as an apple turnover on the menu. But the apple flavor was very natural and not overly sweet. The crust, however, fell short and was a bit gummy. Ultimately it just lacked character, and tasted more like a thick apple sauce than a pie or tart.

DSC04309

My overall recommendation: Definitely get the charcuterie and cheese boards, and if you want to order steak, go for it but just be mindful of the cook temperature. The hanger looks great, and I’m sure the entrecote shell steak is nice too, traditional steak frites style. The mussels look amazing as well. I wish we had room in our guts to try more stuff, especially those.

A.O.C. L’AILE OU LA CUISSE
314 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014

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.

DSC06788

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).

DSC09000

DSC09003

DSC08999

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:

DSC09001_2

DSC09002

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

DSC09008

DSC09014

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:

DSC09015

Then a combination of various Swiss cheeses:

DSC09021

And a cauldron of Monterey jack and cheddar cheese:

DSC09022

But my favorite was this earthy truffle perigord cheese:

DSC09016

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

DSC09024

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:

DSC09045

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!

DSC09027

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.

DSC09029

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):

DSC09034

Chicken (cook for 45 seconds):

DSC09037

Filet Mignon (medium rare 15 seconds):

DSC09032

Hanger Steak (medium rare 15 seconds):

DSC09043

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.

DSC09047

DSC09049

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

DSC09056

DSC09055

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.

DSC09054

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.

DSC09060

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

DSC09058

DSC09062

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

Rocco Steakhouse

Rocco Steakhouse overall score: 85

I was recently invited to a press dinner here at Rocco Steakhouse, which is new to the NYC steak scene.

DSC07958

Rocco Trotta, the namesake of this joint, is an entrepreneur whose construction management and engineering firm contributed to such projects as High Line Park, the 7 subway extension, and the post-9/11 rebuilding of lower Manhattan. Given his hand in the preservation and building of those landmark NYC sites, he decided to create a new kind of NYC landmark – a steakhouse – as few remain from the old guard: Luger’s, Keen’s, Delmonico’s, Gallagher’s, Wolfgang’s…

Speaking of Wolfgang’s, Rocco actually began his foray into the hospitality biz there, where he connected with current partners Pete Pjetrovic (General Manager) and Jeff Kolenovic (Beverage Director). Even Executive Chef Johnny Jevric has a Wolfgang’s pedigree: Johnny actually has more than 20 years of experience at NYC restaurants, but for the past 10 he was the Executive Chef at Wolfgang’s. Clearly these guys know what they’re up to when it comes to steakhouses. They even made sure to staff Rocco Steakhouse with employees that had no less than 10 years of experience at top NYC steakhouses, like Henry Doda (Head Waiter and Sommelier), who also worked at Wolfgang’s under the same title for 10 years. That’s awesome!

Okay so let me get on to the food now…

Flavor: 8
My wife and I shared a 34oz tomahawk rib eye. This was an absolutely gorgeous cut of meat.

DSC07991

This fucker was cooked to a perfect medium rare. Nice and pink.

DSC07992

DSC07997

DSC08014

It came to us after it had cooked and rested a bit, and there was absolutely no bleed-out on the bottom of the plate. The temperature was a bit colder than I usually like, but I’d rather have a well-rested and “not hot” steak than a hot steak that is still releasing its juices after being cut/while its being eaten.

DSC08001

The majority of the chop was the eye portion. There was very little fat cap, which was unfortunate (that tender and flavorful fatty ridge that encircles many cuts of rib eye). And as you can see below, there was a slight bit more sear on one side than the other (the grey edge on the right is thicker than the left), but it didn’t change anything in terms of the flavor quality. The meat was juicy, sweet, savory, funky and delicious!

DSC08011

The only downside was that it was slightly under seasoned, but I chalk a lot of that up to the fact that this was such a thick steak. The edges had great flavor and seasoning in the crust. It just didn’t get too deep into the center of the meat.

Another thing worth pointing out here was that the steak tasted really great when smeared with some creamed spinach and/or some of the house steak sauce.

DSC08010

Each item added the seasoning into the steak that I was craving. The steak sauce wasn’t as big of a hit with my wife and I on its own. However it certainly made sense with the steak, which is odd for me because I typically don’t like steak sauce on my steak, near my steak, or even in the same fucking ROOM as my steak. It was a tomato and horseradish based sauce that was similar to a cocktail sauce but with a bit more balls from the molasses and sweeter elements.

DSC07961

Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 9
Everything here is USDA prime, and dry-aged on site in the restaurant’s aging box. They’ve got all four of the main cuts here, but with some nice flourishes to them: porterhouse (for two or more), two varieties of rib eye (regular and a 34oz tomahawk chop), NY strip/sirloin and two cuts of filet (one with a bone and one without).

Portion Size & Plating: 8
Portions here are on par with all major NYC steakhouses. Plating is basic and elegant: no over-the-top unnecessary garnishes, no insanely elegant art pieces. The plating allows you to get right down to business and I like that.

Price: 8
Since this was a press dinner, I didn’t have to pay. The prices seem to be fair and on par with most steakhouses, averaging about $50 per chop. I thought the bone-in filet was a bit pricey when I noticed it at close to $60, but that item is likely significantly larger than a typical filet mignon cut.

Also worth mentioning here: Del Frisco’s offers a 32oz wagyu tomahawk for the same price as the 34oz tomahawk offered here. So for $95 you can get that wagyu tomahawk, which I consider to be one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten, while just losing two meager ounces in trade off. Something to consider…

Bar: 9
The bar is a nice U-shaped set-up, and it is situated beside large floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Madison Avenue. There’s also a nice stone accent wall that gives the room a classic vibe.

DSC07959

This is definitely a good place to hang out, as both the bar and restaurant were well-attended on a Tuesday after work.

The cocktail list is distinctively classic American, which I love. The martini was good too, mixed up nice and cold.

DSC07963

Jeff and Henry have curated a great wine list here as well, with nice full-bodied red wine selections from California, Australia, France and Italy – all of which pair well with a steak. My wife, however, started with a nice Riesling. It was sweet and flavorful, with no metallic aftertaste that you sometimes get with whites.

DSC07965

Specials and Other Meats: 8
Given the Italian inspiration to some of the menu and decor here, it was only fitting to include some Italian preparations for other meat dishes. For example, the veal can be ordered osso buco or milanese style in addition to the classic chophouse style. There’s also lamb chops and some chicken preparations as well, but I did not notice any pork (other than the bacon).

Apps, Sides & Desserts: 9
We started with a trio of apps. Our first and favorite was the thick cut bacon. When I saw “Canadian” bacon on the menu, I was concerned that this would be similar to ham. But this was some nicely crisped, juicy and delicious slab bacon.

DSC07979

Next was the equally delicious smoked salmon. This came with capers and onions, and was served along with some toasted bread, arugula and a fresh dill and caper cream.

DSC07972

It had a really nice, bright flavor. While I typically dislike dill, this cream went extremely well with the salmon, especially when you got a bite of everything together.

DSC07984

Last for apps was the tuna tartare. Like the seafood above, this, too, had a crisp freshness to the flavor. It was light, juicy, and healthy.

DSC07975

For sides, we had the creamed spinach and the “Rocco’s Fries.” Rocco’s fries were thick cut, huge-ass potato chips!

DSC07994

These were awesome. Nicely seasoned, very crisp and hearty, and they went perfectly with the creamed spinach:

DSC08008

That creamed spinach, by the way, was top-notch. It was creamy but seemed to be made without cream. It was mainly spinach, which I like, and not some glob of half melted cheese and cream.

DSC08005

We were pretty full by time dessert menus came around, so we just shared a slice of key lime pie (on the recommendation of our waiter) and a cappuccino.

DSC08016

DSC08019

Each dessert comes with a pile of homemade schlag, which was light, sweet and clean. Really nice stuff. The graham cracker crust was soft, buttery and flavorful. The filling was real lime, with a slight bit of bitterness to round out the sweetness and tartness. It was a well balanced dessert.

Seafood Selection: 8
There’s a nice looking seafood tower on the menu here, as well as some other shellfish and apps. Most alluring to me was the stone crab. But we ended up going with the recommendations from the waiter, which, as mentioned above, were the tuna tartare and smoked salmon. For entrees, the selection consists of seabass, tuna, salmon, lobster and shrimp. Very nice.

Service: 10
The service here is incredible. As you can imagine, the staff here is very attentive without being in-your-face annoying. As noted above, Rocco is staffed with steakhouse professionals, and people who have been working at high-end steak joints for at least a decade or more. It shows in their interactions with customers.

One note about the bread – sliced sesame seed Italian bread and onion rolls served with some standard chunks of butter:

DSC07960

While the bread wasn’t toasty, it was certainly tasty.

Ambiance: 8
In contrast with many steakhouses, the space here is bright. The high-ceilinged restaurant is lit overhead by light fixtures that look like giant picture frames.

DSC07966

The wood floors are masculine and robust, but the tabletops are refined and elegant. The walls have a nice dark wood wainscoting on the lower third, and the upper two thirds boast a nice art deco style patterned wallpaper. There’s also a private dining room available in the back, which can be more intimate, with an impressive feature wall of wines, a big screen TV and a fireplace.

DSC07967

DSC07968_2

ROCCO STEAKHOUSE
72 Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10016

Ben & Jack’s

Ben & Jack’s overall score: 92

When you’ve been to as many steakhouses as me, the whole experience can start to get a little bit stale (hence my reviews of almost everything else out there lately). As you can imagine, there’s not much variance in the menu or methods of preparation. There are certain things that are just tried and true. But chef Admir of Ben & Jack’s is constantly innovating, pushing himself to experiment with new flavors, and actually competing in top level food events all over the country (and winning them, to boot). With a background in science, Admir understands exactly how the beef aging process works, how much humidity is needed during the process to avoid drying too quickly, and precisely when to cut off the process and get the meat ready for cooking. His knowledge goes beyond beef though, and it shows in his end product. Although my wife and I didn’t get to try too many of his most creative innovations, the basics that are on the menu here are executed with exceptional precision. Let’s get into it.

Flavor: 9
I initially received an email from Ben & Jack’s inviting me to come in for a porterhouse. As you meat minions probably know, my preferred cut is a rib eye. I asked Admir if there was anything to the porterhouse that set it apart from the other cuts, or whether the rib eye was a good gauge of his best abilities. He suggested the rib eye and a strip, so that’s what my wife and I ordered.

DSC07685

I scored the rib eye at an eight, but the strip at a ten. Crazy, right? I usually am not a huge fan of strip, because it occasionally has a bit of chew to it – a bit tough. But the strip here was incredibly tender, juicy and soft. It was perfectly cooked to medium and beautifully presented pre-sliced on a hot plate.

DSC07689

You guys all know that I’m not a fan of the hot plate presentation (I worry about residual heat causing the slices to continue cooking the steak beyond medium rare), but the owners of Ben & Jack’s hail from a Peter Luger pedigree (some were there for nine and ten years before they struck out on their own). At Ben & Jack’s, they’ve preserved the traditions of great old standard bearers like Luger, but they have elevated and improved everything. The hot plate thing? It was fine here. Nothing got overcooked or continued cooking on the plate, and the lower edge of the strip, which tends to get a little overcooked because it is furthest from the bone, was still tender and delicious even though it went up to about a medium or medium well at the very tip.

Just so you know, the “they” that I am talking about are owners Jack (center), Harry (right), Ben and Russ (not pictured). And last but certainly not least, that’s Admir on the left.

DSC07681

Cousins, brothers, nephews, uncles, co-workers/co-owners, and all around great guys, they left Peter Luger and opened up the first Ben & Jack’s (44th street between 2nd & 3rd, currently being re-modeled) back in 2005.

Okay so back to flavor… As for the rib eye, the cap was delicious. The fat was entirely edible and tasted like meat bubblegum with a little charred crisp to it. The cut was a partial bone-in, meaning there was a small shard on one end, and a bit of bone across on the other side as well, but not connected completely.

DSC07693

This resulted in having some really nice fatty meat connecting the two bits of bone – like a good beef spare rib. The eye meat was tender and uniformly cooked the entire way through. This is what I’m talking about when I mean precision:

DSC07704

DSC07709

Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 9
You’ve got all the basics represented here, with a prime rib to boot. Everything is prime and aged in house. I can confidently report that Admir knows what he’s doing in the kitchen, and I’m looking forward to coming back for a tour of the aging room and the kitchen.

Portion Size & Plating: 9
Portions are good here. If I had to guess, I’d say my rib eye was about 18oz and the strip was maybe 16oz. The plating is basic yet rustic and elegant on the steak and sides, but with the apps you will get some very beautiful looking plates.

Price: 10
Since this was a press meal, I didn’t have to pay. I left a nice tip because the service was awesome, but the prices here were very fair as far as NYC steakhouses go.

Bar: 10
Excellent bar. The place was filled up even on a rainy Thursday at 7pm. It wasn’t too loud, and everyone was having a good time. The bar is long and wide, stretching back from the front of the house with high tops and plenty of elbow room to move around.

DSC07662

I’d definitely hang out here, especially because they make a killer martini as well.

DSC07666_2

We also tried a nice cabernet with the steaks, served in their “B&J” wine glasses:

DSC07663

DSC07707

One or two of Admir’s innovative ideas actually came in the form of cocktails inspired by their versatile steak sauce, which hits stores like Whole Foods in about two weeks. The commercial sauce is on the left, and the in-house sauce is on the right.

DSC07682

DSC07684

This stuff was great. As I say, I like a good steak sauce on everything BUT steaks. This stuff can be used on shrimp, chicken, in Bloody Mary drinks or other cocktails, etc. And it will only retail for about $6! The addition of sweet items like molasses and orange juice in the ingredient list makes this round out very nicely.

Specials and Other Meats: 8
You’ve got lamb, veal and chicken by way of alternative meats. When I come back, I’d like to give the porterhouse or just the filet a try, but I’m also curious about the lamb as well. If Admir can knock the strip out of the park, then I can only imagine what he’d do with lamb.

Apps, Sides & Desserts: 8
We tried two apps, three sides, and a sampling of desserts. Let me dive in with the apps first.

This sesame crusted seared tuna was awesome. It was meaty and substantial, unlike other dainty tuna preparations.

DSC07672

The sesame crust gave it a really nice flavor and crunch to pair with the rare/raw sushi-grade interior. On the plate was a nice, lightly dressed mixed greens salad, and some pickled ginger. The black and white sauces you see are a soy reduction and a wasabi cream, both of which were very addictive. After the tuna was gone I was wiping my bread across those sauces!

We of course also had some thick cut bacon.

DSC07675

That’s only half of one slab (my wife and I shared one slice). This was nice and crisp, meaty, not too salty, and it went really well with the steak sauce. Admir explained that he also does a bacon where he marinates the slabs in steak sauce, bourbon and brown sugar before cooking. When it cooks, it caramelizes from the sweetness and takes on a great new flavor profile.

For sides, our first choice was a creamless creamed spinach. I had no idea there was no cream in it until the meal was over! This is probably the best “creamed” spinach dish I’ve ever had at a steakhouse.

DSC07695

It was thick but not heavy, it tasted very creamy and not too salty, it had good aromatics and it was SPINACH – not like some places where it is mainly cheese and cream soup with some bits of spinach floating around. Well done!

Next was mac and cheese. It comes served in a skillet with some crispy breadcrumbs and baked cheese on top.

DSC07697

Inside was a good mix of cheeses that held the pasta together with ooey gooey goodness. This was a big hit with my wife and me.

Our third side was the German potato dish. The potatoes are boiled, then sliced, and then fried with onions and dressed with a little bit of vinegar.

DSC07699

To be honest, I didn’t taste much vinegar (which is fine with me), but the potatoes themselves were a little overcooked and burnt. I didn’t see too many onions either. Overall the dish was more like hash browns or home fries (is there a difference between HBs and HFs?) than what I initially expected. This was our only miss on the apps and sides though. Everything else was top level excellence.

For dessert, Admir brought us a sampling of several menu selections, with some schlag in the middle.

DSC07710

First was their famous New York cheesecake.

DSC07711

It was dense, yet not heavy. It had good flavor as well – probably one of the better cheesecakes I’ve had at a restaurant, though I have to be honest in saying that I don’t often order cheesecake at dinner, because I’m spoiled by my sister’s cheesecake. Whatever she does, that shit is untouchable. Not sure if that is a fair critique for this slice at Ben & Jack’s, but that’s what I’m working with. Haha! Kind of like ordering meatballs when you’ve got grandma’s unbelievable Sunday pasta and meatballs dinner at home, you know? Unfortunately I’ve also got that with my mother’s pizza and my wife’s baking too, so I am a tough cookie when it comes to some stuff.

Next was chocolate mousse with oreo crust. I liked this a lot. It was rich and tasty, and not too overwhelming with sweet.

DSC07713

Then came the tira misu. This was on par with most other versions I’ve had recently. You won’t be disappointed, but you also won’t be too wow’d either. It is done correctly.

DSC07717

This carrot cake was my wife’s favorite. Since she is a semi-professional baker, you can probably bank on her word.

DSC07719

The addition of raisins into the cake was a really smart touch, as it adds a pop of sweetness and moisture to the occasional bite. This was probably my favorite of the dessert sampler as well, but as I mentioned above, I have some favorites from my wife that really can’t be topped. One of them happens to be her carrot cake.

Last was key lime pie.

DSC07723

This is a solid order to go with. It’s done properly. It’s refreshing, not overly creamy or tart with bitterness. It is smooth and has a great classic graham cracker crust.

I should also mention here that Admir came up with some pretty unique steak sauce cake pops for dessert during restaurant week. He mixed steak sauce into the chocolate, along with some other spices, to create a dynamic and unique coating for the pops. This once again showcased the diversity of their steak sauce in the realm of dessert and not just meats and drinks. I wish we had made it in for that. My wife was definitely interested in trying something new and different for dessert.

Seafood Selection: 10
There’s a TON of nice looking seafood on the entree menu: Seabass, salmon, sole, scallops, tuna, crab, shrimp and lobster. Based on the way the sesame crusted tuna was prepared, I can confidently say that you are in good hands if you happen to be a pussy who needs to eat seafood instead of steak here.

Service: 10
Thank God these guys didn’t bring the Luger service over with them. Luger’s service is famous for sucking, in case you aren’t aware. It’s almost a point of pride for those bastards. But here, you will be treated like royalty without it feeling awkward. Everyone is friendly. The owners are around and will come talk to you, the chef is mixing with customers and making sure everything is okay, and the waiters are professional, courteous and fast. Fantastic.

Let’s see… What else? Oh! Table breads could use a little warmth, but otherwise they’re good. Italian bread and onion loaf.

DSC07669

Ambiance: 9
This place was beautifully designed by Harry himself. I especially liked the front of the house and the bar. There is an elegant coat check, and a great upstairs dining area and bar too, with private rooms to boot.

DSC07670

On nice days, you can also eat on the broad, wide 5th Avenue sidewalk with plenty of elbow room while enjoying the weather.

DSC07724

UPDATE 3/17/17

Tried the porterhouse – also a 9/10. Really great Pat LaFrieda and Master Purveyors beef here, dry-aged on site.

Excellent, tender and butter-knife soft filet side.

Really juicy strip side.

Seafood tower for two – still holding strong on that 10/10 score.

Nice and simple hot fudge sundae.

BEN & JACK’S
255 5th Ave.
New York, NY 10016

Byblos

Byblos is a Lebanese restaurant on Madison between 28th and 29th that’s named after the ancient seaside town in Lebanon. For about 30 years the restaurant was located further east, until a nearby fire damaged the building, forcing the business to shutter for two years and eventually relocate.

DSC07528

The old space was two floors, but the new space is a sprawling, roomy, single-floor expanse that feels so spacious it almost doesn’t fit within the NYC dining-scape. Not only can you stretch your arms out without hitting the next table, but every Saturday belly dancers can freely bound around the floor uninhibited by tables and servers as live music plays for guests.

DSC07531

DSC07529

That bar, by the way, is home to tons of Lebanese wines that are difficult to find in the city. In fact about 70% of the wine list is Lebanese. Pretty cool, especially since the two glasses I had were both excellent (a Pinot Grigio and a blended red). From what I understand, Lebanese wines are only $6 a glass during their happy hour special. Here’s a look at a glass of one of those wines, with some fresh pita bread:

DSC07550

The joint is owned by husband and wife Sabeh and Sonia Kachouh, who are both from Lebanon but met here in NYC. Sabeh, pictured below, is the chef, and Sonia runs the front of the house.

DSC07589 b&w

My wife and I were invited here for a press dinner, at which we were able to sample a bunch of mezes, an entree, and a pair of desserts. I recommend getting a large group together and trying out a bunch of mezes when you go here, because they really are the star of the show. See what I mean? Look at all of us foodie assholes scrambling to take photos of them:

DSC07556

This little platter here, with pepperoncini peppers, carrots, radish and pickled turnip, comes out before the start of the meal for fresh snacking:

DSC07536

Here’s what we had for the press meal (with some additions I will discuss below):

DSC07532

The hummus was really smooth, and seasoned just right. In the center was a mound of nicely cooked chic peas.

DSC07539

The baba ghannouj was creamy and delicate. I typically don’t like eggplant too much, but this was flavorful, with olive oil and paprika on top:

DSC07544

Muhammara might be my new favorite meze. This was made with red pepper, chic peas and walnuts. It was spicy, earthy and filling. It had a bit more of a granular, paste-like texture than the other dips, so it was substantial as a meal in itself:

DSC07542

Zataar pies are really unique. Herbs like thyme and sumac jump out and attack your palate with zest. Sesame and olive oil round it out for a perfectly balanced flat bread appetizer. Awesome.

DSC07548

The stuffed grape leaves here are better than other places where I’ve had them. Inside there are whole chic peas as well as rice and herbs. The leaves were very soft and tender, too, so these little bastards are easy to pop into your mouth over and over and over.

DSC07549

This fattoush salad had a bright zing to it as well. It was topped with grilled chicken and toasted pita bread, but it was expertly dressed with just the right amount of citrus and herb dressing:

DSC07565

The tabbouleh salad was a bit too heavy on the lemon for my liking. It was super zesty and bright. I realize that my preferences aren’t necessarily the same as others. I will say that all the ingredients within were fresh and flavorful, though.

DSC07540

As we ventured on from the veggie mezes, our first meat course was kibbe with laban. This is ground lamb meatballs mixed with pine nuts and cracked wheat in a warm, tangy yogurt sauce. The texture was soft and the flavor was rich, just like an Italian meatball, but the sauce came with the zesty brightness typically associated with Mediterranean yogurt sauces.

DSC07566

The mixed grill usually comes with three types of meat: lamb shish kebab, chicken shish taouk, and beef kafta kebab. We limited the selection to just the beef and lamb, however, so as not to waste any food (we were already pretty full going into this course). The kafta was really the star here. The minced beef was seasoned aggressively with spices like parsley and cumin, and it stayed juicy from the onion. The meat was super tender, too, and had a nice charred/grilled flavor on the outside.

DSC07574

DSC07569

The lamb still had a bit of chew to it. Perhaps it could have benefitted from some tenderizer, or maybe a higher heat for a shorter amount of time for a medium rare center. This dish came with sides of rice pilaf and peas. The rice was delicious and cooked just right, with little bits of pasta within. The peas were overcooked for my liking, but they had a good green flavor to them.

DSC07572

DSC07568

Dessert was definitely interesting here. So often the desserts I encounter at press dinners and other restaurants are the same old bullshit: tira misu, creme brûlée, chocolate lava cake, and on and on. Boring. But here, we sampled some stuff that is common to Lebanese cuisine.

For example, check out this homemade “cheese cake,” which is actually baked, semi-melty and semi-firm goat cheese with a bread crumb and ground pistachio crusted topping. The cheese had a similar texture and flavor to firm mozzarella, and the crust was reminiscent of the coating on a fried mozzarella stick, but sweeter due to the drizzled honey and rosewater that garnished the dish.

DSC07578

Last but not least was baklava. This famous sweet, near-east treat may be well-worn territory for most Middle Eastern or Mediterranean joints, but for me it is still a refreshing change of pace from the regular dessert grind. This, too, was topped with rose water and honey. It was a bit sweet for most at the table, but I really enjoyed it. I’ve had some over-the-top sweet baklava in my day, and this did not fall into that category for me. The filo dough was really nice too: light, papery and delicious. I think everything was made from scratch.

DSC07585

Last was a bit of Lebanese coffee. Similar to Turkish coffee, this is served with a thick sludge of coffee at the bottom and steeped with cardamom. It’s an acquired taste, for sure. I’m not sure I’m on board with it, but I did find the flavor interesting, not repulsive. HA!

DSC07591

That about does it for Byblos. If you’re up for something different, fresh and healthy, then you should definitely get over here for the mezes at the very least. And sample some of the nice, hard-to-find Lebanese wines as well.

BYBLOS
80 Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10016

Spiegel

My wife and I were invited to a press dinner for Spiegel, a downtown spot that opened in May of this year on 1st Avenue at 2nd Street (very close to the famed Nexus of the Universe, ala Seinfeld).

DSC00560 edits

Restaurateur/owner Shmulik Avital and Executive Chef Dario Tapia (formerly at Westville and Maison Kayser) serve up a truly wide variety of foods with multi-national influences, spanning from classic to eclectic with everything in between. Shmulik spoke with us at length about how he was raised in a mixed-tenant building in Israel, where his neighbors were from nearly every country throughout Europe, the middle east, and northern Africa. Growing up, the mothers would exchange recipes with their neighbors, and soon the building was a true melting pot of international cuisine. His family is Moroccan, but you’ll see influences from all over the world on his menu. Truly fantastic. Shmulik also spoke about his motorcycle trip through Central America, where he gained inspiration to add a fish taco dish to his menu because he loved and enjoyed it so much.

They sport an equally varied wine list, directed by Vino-Man Kirk Struble, featuring selections from across the globe as well as a gaggle of imported beers (I love the Weihenstephan).

DSC00565

The ambiance is like a cafe, with a nice, large, custom U-shaped bar, oak and fabric seating, decorative brick walls, massive windows and tiled floors. An outdoor searing area that wraps around from avenue to street is set to open in April of 2015 as well.

DSC00572

DSC00564

DSC00563 edits

DSC00568

DSC00566

The name Spiegel comes from Shmulik’s love of old cinema, particularly Lawrence of Arabia, his favorite film, which was produced by Sam Spiegel. Shmulik intends to have classic film nights in the restaurant to pay tribute to his love of classic, pre-1960s/1970s film.

Also worth noting: if you like what you see and read below, go check this joint out. They’re running a 50% Groupon deal right now that’s $15 for $30 worth of food. You can find it HERE.

Here’s a look at what we gobbled up, in menu form:

spiegel menu

First, some starters and salads:

The zucchini fritters were nice and crispy outside, and flavorful inside. They came with a yogurt type sauce and a small side of nicely dressed arugula.

DSC00583 raw edits

The star of the apps was the fried and stuffed mushrooms. Filled with cream cheese and smoked salmon, this was like a dream. Nicely seasoned as well. A real winner.

DSC00584

The baked feta fish was okay. I wasn’t too much of a fan of the tomato and eggplant sauce here, but the cheese was delightful.

DSC00586

The Spiegel chopped salad was nice and refreshing. All the veggies were treated superbly. I especially liked the hearts of palm: one of my favorite things to eat outside of the meat realm.

DSC00580 raw edits

The kale salad was excellent. Expertly dressed and no bitterness. Sweet and savory all at once. I’d definitely recommend this one.

DSC00589

Next, a few sides. The carrots had a great cumin flavor going on that really made them stand out and punch up.

DSC00603

The broccoli had good flavor but it could have benefitted from a bit more salt and maybe some cracked black pepper. Otherwise it was great.

DSC00604

The star of the sides was the beet dish. I just kept going back at this plate. Really good shit, and beautifully colored.

DSC00609

Then some entrees. First was the veggie couscous. It packed enough flavor to stand on its own without the addition of any meats. It reminded me of pastina that my mother used to make, only more soupy and less creamy. This was an okay dish, but I’d probably go for something with a bit more substance on a subsequent visit.

DSC00597

The salmon was perfect. Juicy, tender, brimming with mild flavor. It came on a bed of roasted, chopped potatoes.

DSC00601

The veal schnitzel was the favorite for me and my wife. The breading was nice and crispy, and it had a great spicy kick to it.

DSC00608

And then came a pair of burgers, which were prepared specially for me, the meat man (the other dishes were mostly just fish and veg). The first one is called “The Kipling,” named after a patron who always orders it. It has a topping of the same tomato and eggplant sauce from the baked feta dish. To me, it was very reminiscent of a Sloppy Joe in terms of flavor profile. The burger was solid and held together, not like the mushy chopped meat in a Sloppy Joe. I think what took me to that “Sloppy Joe” place was the tomato flavor.  On the other side of things, the french fries were some of the best I’ve ever had. They were absolutely perfect. There was a crisp batter texture to the outside, but the inside was soft and flavorful like mashed potatoes.

DSC00615

DSC00624

The other burger was the classic. Liberally seasoned beef, lettuce, onion and tomato. I prefer this to the Kipling. The only issues for me were that both burgers were a bit over cooked, and I think this classic burger could have benefitted from some cheese. This plate came with a small chic pea salad which was herby and refreshing, and topped with a little bit of crumbled feta.

DSC00633

DSC00646

DSC00644

Last, dessert. First was flan, which I really liked because it was firm yet creamy and smooth. The chocolate mousse was killer. I think I may have finished one whole order by myself. Last was the apple pie tart crumble thingy, which was very well executed and delicious. Overall I think the desserts were excellent, and I suppose that is a nod to the head chef’s experience at Maison Kayser.

DSC00649

DSC00655

DSC00658

I had an espresso, which was strong and tasty, from a roaster in California that the owner knows personally. This shot below is a nice decorative foam on top of a cappucino.

DSC00660

A quick note on their hours of operation:

Breakfast is 7:00am – Noon, every day.
Lunch/Dinner is 11:00am – 11:00pm Sunday – Thursday, and ’til Midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Brunch is 11:00am – 5:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Happy Hour, with $7 select wines by the glass and $3 – $4 imported beers, runs every day from 4:00pm – 8:00pm.

SPIEGEL
26 1st Ave.
New York, NY 10009