Tag Archives: wine

BallerBoil

This post will serve as a triple hit review of the Fresh Direct food delivery service, Tipsy’s boozy ice cream and Saveur Select wines.

My wife and some of our food friends were planning to do a Labor Day seafood boil on the rooftop of our building. It turns out, a few of the ladies managed to get the entire thing sponsored by the three companies above, provided that we post a few pics on Instagram.

Fresh Direct gave us a $500 credit to use towards their incredibly high quality seafood. We broke this out into two main items: a huge seafood boil, and a colossal chilled seafood tower.

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There was so much fucking food! Lobster, king crab legs, blue claw crabs, steamer clams, little neck clams, three varieties of oysters, jumbo shrimp, scallops, multi-colored potatoes, kielbasa and corn. My wife and I were always big fans of Fresh Direct but this seafood really hammers home the word FRESH in their name. The lobsters were delivered LIVE! And everything tasted incredible, which is obviously the most important factor.

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Saveur provided us with four bottles of crisp Gewürztraminer wine. This white German variety of wine was just the kind of refreshment we needed with this meal. We even poured some over fruit to make a white sangria.

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Tipsy hooked us up with six different pints of ice cream for dessert.

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The flavors were incredible: spiked hazelnut coffee, raspberry limoncello sorbet, cake batter vodka martini, dark chocolate whisky salted caramel, mango margarita sorbet and vanilla bean bourbon.

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We even scooped some into a few glasses of champagne for good measure. Why not?

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For more awesome pics, check THIS out.

Via Della Pace

UPDATE: This place is now CLOSED

Food promo titans Eaters Drinkers and The Creative Shake put together a great pizza tasting event at Via Della Pace Pizza, a cozy East Village joint that slings some really creative and unique pizza pies. I’m generally a traditionalist when it comes to pizza, but I was sold on these puppies.

Giovanni Bartocci and Marco Ventura co-own both Via Della Pace (another nearby restaurant) and Via Della Pace Pizza (this place).

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With the support of his family in Italy, Giovanni Nasti, the pizza chef at VDP Pizza, has employed creative ways to get color into the dough without using a single drop of food coloring. Essentially, he has invented colored pizza dough! As such, the thrust of this event was to showcase VDP Pizza’s multi-colored dough pies, of which we tried four (black, red, green and yellow).

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For black he uses squid ink. For red: beets and red wine. For green, it’s spinach. And for yellow, the key is saffron. Pretty smart, and completely natural.

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Each colored dough has it’s own set of toppings. As you can see in the pic above, the toppings and dough components compliment and highlight one another to make for great pops of flavor.

The yellow saffron dough is topped with pomegranate seeds, guacamole and asparagus. The cheese is mozzarella. Very pretty!

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The green spinach dough is topped with mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil. Super simple and traditional, but for the green dough. Absolutely wonderful.

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My two favorites (couldn’t choose a winner) were red and black. The red beets/wine pie is topped with gorgonzola, mozzarella, sausage, polenta and shaved black truffles. This baby was super earthy and savory. Definitely my kind of pie.

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The black squid ink pie is topped with red cabbage, smoked salmon, poppy seeds, sour cream, chives, mozzarella and tomato sauce. It may sound odd, but I assure you it works in every way. The day of the event was apparently both National Pizza Day AND National Bagel & Lox Day. As such, this was a perfect mash-up of epic Jewtalian proportions. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and I highly recommend that my readers give it a try. It’s so unique and tasty!

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The good people at VDP also put out some non-colored dough pies from their pizza menu. The first was the Vespasiano, which is topped with fior di latte, burrata, mixed vegetables and olives.

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The second was similar to their Augusto pie: prosciutto, olives, arugula, mozzarella and shaved parmigiano. Absolutely delicious. A perfect balance of savory-sweet and salty.

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This third one came out as I was about to leave for the night. It’s a shame, too, because it looks like my kind of pizza! Very traditional. Oh well. I guess that just means I will be back for more…

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For dessert, which came out a few minutes before that last pizza, we had these extremely addicting “Zoccolette alla Nutella Fritte.” These are nutella-filled zeppoli-like creations: fried pizza dough with hazelnut chocolate spread inside. Pop these babies with some ice cream or gelato and prepare to grow a few belt sizes.

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That about covers it. I categorize this as a type 1 pizza joint (they sell pies only – no individual slices), with a nice selection of food items aside from just the pizza. It’s a full restaurant.

VIA DELLA PACE
130 St. Marks Pl.
New York, NY 10009

Jack’s Sliders & Sushi

My wife scooped up a flash deal for this place that offered five courses with a bottle of wine.

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We got to sample a little bit of everything. I’ll hit you with a rundown of everything below:

The first thing I will say is that this place needs to do better with the pacing of the service. Everything pretty much came out all at once. The table was extremely cluttered as a result, and things inevitably spilled. I don’t mind too much, but maybe the kitchen needs to think about that when they receive orders.

We “started” with the spicy salmon salad to share. This was essentially a bed of lettuce topped with onions, diced salmon sashimi and spicy mayo. I thought it was delicious. Simple and tasty.

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The two sliders we tried were “Jack’s” and “The American.” “Jack’s” had bacon, onions and a spicy mayo, while “The American” was a simple lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese burger. The better of the two was Jack’s. It was nicely seasoned, had a good char, was cooked just right, and even had their dog logo pressed into the bun.

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We devoured these with an order of the old bay and herb french fries. These were excellent: golden crisp! Glad we ordered these above and beyond what the flash deal provided.

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Our next course was ramen. We tried the pork and beef bowls, skipping a sushi choice. The pork ramen was bland and lacked flavor – even the pork meat itself, which looked great, was just a little too boring. In hindsight, I wish we ditched the pork ramen and went with a sushi roll instead.

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The beef ramen had a good salt level, decent thin-sliced meat, and a thicker broth. That was the winner of the two, but I would say that if ramen is your game, then you should go to another place. This place is better for the burgers and sushi, and the ramen comes off more Chinese in flavor than Japanese.

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Our next item was braised short rib. The veggies here were useless. They tasted frozen or over-steamed or something. Not much flavor. But the beef itself was good. The meat was soft and tender, and the fat was all edible.

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Our wine was actually good. We went with the merlot instead of cabernet, chardonnay or pinot grigio. I thought it was going to be a headache-inducing acid reflux fest, but it was smooth and mild.

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For dessert, we tried two ice cream sandwiches. One was a sugar cookie with cookies and cream ice cream in between, and the other was red velvet cake with taro ice cream in the middle. Both were good, but we liked the sugar cookie better. The cookie held up better than the cake as “sandwich” material.

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Overall this was a decent meal. Skip the ramen, stick to the raw fish and burgers, and get the fries. That should keep you happy.

JACK’S SLIDERS & SUSHI
171 3rd Ave.
New York, NY 10003

Better Than Sex

Better Than Sex is a dessert-only restaurant in Key West that’s known for it’s over-the-top sexual references.

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That’s apparently supposed to be a black “member” entering a white booty. Classy!

Anyway I had a “peanut butter perversion,” which is a super soft peanut butter mousse cake with chocolate covered pretzel bark. REALLY good, but can get heavy despite the lightness of the mousse.

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My wife had this banana crepe cake, which was really good as well.

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We also shared this unique brie and chocolate grilled cheese. I liked this because it wasn’t as heavily sweet as the other items.

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This place does a lot of interesting drinks too, like “rimmed” glasses of wine or root beer floats with chocolate and caramel:

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The staff here is incredibly chipper. It is SO chipper that it will ruin your sex mood if that’s your goal for coming into this place. The server kept saying things like “super awesome,” and “girlfriend” (when talking with the ladies at the table).

Wine Pairing Website Resource

A gentleman named Derek over at Wine.net reached out to me and asked if I’d feature his post on pairing white wines with steak. I know what you’re thinking: BLASPHEMY! RED goes with steak! But hang on a second… Chef John at The Pines recently paired a very white-esque rose with a Denver cut blade steak…

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So is it really that absurd? After reading the post at Wine.net, and after my experience at The Pines, I don’t think it is anymore. Whatever works, right?

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Anyway, upon further browsing the Wine.net website, I realized it was probably a worthy resource to share with my readers. So there you have it. Go poke around, especially if you’re a wine connoisseur. Shit, even if you’re an amateur like me, or just looking for something like what wine to pair with your Thanksgiving turkey dinner, this is a great resource. Check it out.

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

The Pines

Last month when I was at Meatopia I had the pleasure of meeting John Poiarkoff, the genius chef behind the wheels of steel at The Pines in Brooklyn.

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In our inevitable conversation about meat and steak, I discovered that his carnivorous endeavors at the restaurant were not only out of the ordinary and interesting, but exemplified that rare love of beef possessed only by a true connoisseur.

For example, he explained how the blade steak (aka Denver cut, part of the chuck) on the menu was prepared sous vide style. It bathes for several hours in a sealed bag, allowing the tentacle-like marbling to render down, making the steak super tender before it gets seared off in a pan for a nice outer crisp.

He also mentioned that he had some rib eyes in an outdoor walk-in that he converted into a dry-aging room. When he said how long they were in there, 106 days, I nearly lost my shit. I kindly asked him again. “How long did you say?” 106 days!

He went on to say that they would soon be breaking the rack down into portioned cuts and serving them as special menu items. Needless to say, I was all over it. I made sure to follow The Pines on Instagram and to keep my eye out for any news about that steak. Sure enough, just a few weeks later I saw the post announcing that they were going to be serving those rib eyes. The very next day my wife and I headed over.

To my excitement, the menu was chock full of delicious looking meat goodies. We sipped on a pair of nice cocktails while we wrestled with what to order.

On the left is The Pines, a rye drink with douglas fir (burnt/smoked pine needles for a really nice woodsy, aromatic nose) and yuzu; on the right is the Air & Sea, a gin drink with dulse, lemon and violet.

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We ended up going for three entrees instead of the traditional apps, sides and entrees routine. But before our first item came out, John sent over an order of duck rillettes. This is aged duck served terrine style with a pastrami sandwich theme: dill sauce (it tasted like pickles), a cabbage kraut, mustard and crunchy puffed rye grains.

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This inventive dish threw us for a tasty loop, and it set the tone for what was one of the most fun, innovative and delicious meals we’ve had in a long time.

John paired the duck with this really smooth, clean sake:

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Oh and there was this nice little amuse of carrot soup/puree with sage oil. It had a spicy and smoky kick to it.

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Our first entree was pork jowl. If you’ve never had this, it is essentially bacon from the face of a pig. It’s cured, smoked cheek meat. If you know anything about the cheek meat of an animal, you know that it is some of the most tender and sought after bits of goodness you can find. This tasted like really awesome smoked bacon. It was savory yet slightly sweet, and sat on a pumpkin and cabbage pancake that was somewhat reminiscent of corn bread.

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I could very happily eat that shit every morning for breakfast, though I may be tempted to throw a fried egg on top – you know – because breakfast is the perfect time to eat like a savage barbarian. Anyway this dish wasn’t heavy or greasy like you might expect from bacon. The curing and smoking helps in that respect.

Our first steak dish came out next. After hearing about that blade steak, I couldn’t pass it up.

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John mixed the normal blade steak plate up a bit and served it with some roasted broccoli, braised oxtail and cheesy potato puree.

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As you can see, there’s even a bit of shaved horseradish over the top to punch up the salt and tie the meat in with the potato. Really nice.

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This steak is incredibly good. John has taken a lesser known, less desirable and rarely featured cut and showcased it in a way that will have you searching for it in every restaurant. It’s easily 10/10 for flavor. It was so juicy and tender inside. Perfectly cooked, as you can see, and the sear on the outside locked in all that flavor. It was super crispy on the outside without any part of the inside getting cooked beyond medium rare. Just awesome!

John paired this with a unique and unexpected rose, which had some tartness to it. The cool thing about The Pines is that, if you’re interested, you can learn a lot about the food you’re eating and the stuff you’re drinking. John gets to know all the people who provide his source material. The vintner of this wine, for example, or the farmers and ranchers who provide the meat and produce. He gets to know their stories, and he shares it with diners for a more rich, engaging experience. I dig and appreciate that, and it’s exactly what I was talking about on here recently – that I want to see more of it.

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I should probably mention here that The Pines sources all of its beef from Happy Valley Meat Co., which is based out of Central PA. Both John and his sous chef Neel Patil (the creative force behind the duck rillettes dish, featured above) are extremely modest in that they attribute so much credit for the success of their menu to those farmers. While much credit is indeed deserved by the farmers, it is very easy to fuck up good meat if you don’t know what you’re doing. John and Neel clearly deserve as much credit as the farmers, because they knocked the beef dishes out of the park!

So now comes the big boy – the 106-day, dry-aged rib eye. John explained that the process for these is as follows: First it hits a hot grill for a little smoke and sear, and those lovely grill marks. Then it gets a nice warm sous vide bath. Last, it hits a hot pan to lock in all the juices and get a crispy sear. Thrice cooked rib eye! Here’s a shot of John holding our cut before it hits the pan:

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And here it is after the pan, resting, but before serving. Just look at that gorgeous sear!!!

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While we waited for it to be sliced and plated, John rolled out another pairing for us.

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This wine was truly incredible. He poured us a taste from two different bottles: one that was just opened 30 minutes prior, an another that was already opened for two days.

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The difference was astounding. The freshly opened wine was really nice and flavorful, full bodied and robust without being overpowering. It had a nice round, smooth finish. The wine that was opened for two days had all the same characteristics, but the after taste was of dry aged beef or truffled charcuterie. It was incredible! I kept going at it. It was like having a delicious meat snack with each sip, and it reminded me of the awesome Trufa Seca sausage I had with my latest Carnivore Club box. It paired perfectly with the steak.

Anyway then the masterpiece came out:

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It was plated with grilled Japanese mushrooms, bone marrow, potatoes that were pretty much confit style, and this awesome kimchi cabbage that was finished with rendered beef fat:

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This right here is the best steak I’ve ever eaten at a non-steakhouse, and I can tell you it seriously rivals the best steakhouses as well – it may even be better than all of them.

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I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how incredible this thing was, and I don’t know if it can really compare to anything I’ve had at a steakhouse other than the long bone wagyu rib eye at Del Frisco’s. This thing is really in that kind of league. And look at how perfectly executed this thing is:

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It was so tender and flavorful. Every bite was a “wow,” and the cap was fucking INSANE! I’ve never had anything like it before. I was expecting a lot of game and funk with this meat, but it was just the right subtle amount of “blue cheese” flavor. It came out most when I smeared some marrow onto the slices of eye meat. And the fat around the cap was even softer and more delicious than the marrow.

I don’t know how we did it, but we managed to fit dessert into our guts as well. Probably because what we saw on the menu was new and unique. We had to try something.

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We went back and forth between two and ultimately left it in John’s hands. He came out with both; the chocolate cake, and the miso butterscotch pudding.

The chocolate cake was mildly sweet because it was expertly cut by the cashew and sage ice cream. The pomegranate balanced the whole thing with a nice acidic and tart zing.

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The miso butterscotch pudding is definitely something for the more adventurous dessert person. I seemed to focus my attention more on the celery ice cream than the pudding at first, but that pudding was so freaking good. The ice cream was like a palette cleanser, and the pudding was creamy and velvety – almost like a liquified peanut butter in texture – extremely innovative.

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With dessert, we sipped on a trio of amaro selections, as well as a bitter lemon soda digestif that was made in house. Of these, our favorite was the Brovo #1 (center). It had a spicy cinnamon flavor that was easy to drink. And, as is true with the other stuff above, you can learn all about the people who make these spirits as you dine, because John and his staff are happy to share that information with you if you’re interested, like we were.

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Want to hear something really amazing? This is the kitchen:

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So small, yet so powerful. It is run like a well-oiled machine by incredibly skilled mechanics, pumping out what is absolutely some the finest food in NYC.

Please do yourselves a favor and go here. They may even give you a quick tour of the aging room out back if you ask nicely. Take a look at the ducks and steaks aging away! I think those ducks are at two weeks, and the steak is something like 86 days.

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I went back with a crew of food bloggers and instagrammers for a nice meal around the holidays.

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Here’s a photogasm of everything we ate, which included a duo of rib eyes – one aged for 35 days and another aged for over 80 days.

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Molasses gingerbread cookies stuffed with fois gras and pistachios:

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Kale salad with toasted barley:

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Grilled radicchio salad:

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Roasted broccoli with shaved horseradish:

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Fettuccine with mussels and chilies in a Parmesan cream sauce:

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Presentation of beef!!!

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Post slicing:

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Gnawing on the bone is always fun:

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Dessert 1: bread pudding.

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Dessert 2: herbaceous chocolate ganache.

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We even drank some Japanese whisky from a bone marrow slide!

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Chef John even got in on the action. Marrow luges rule!!!

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THE PINES
284 3rd Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Ulupalakua Vineyard – Maui WIne

Ulupalakua Vineyard

Maui Wine / The Tedeshi Winery makes some nice tasting pineapple wines, both bubbly, and flat, dry and sweet. We had a chance to sample some as we got to the end of the Hana road trip.

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My favorite was the sweet “Maui Splash” dessert wine. Strong and fruity, without going over the top.

Nani Moon Mead

We sampled some Nani Moon mead and local cigars from Kauai to get a good buzz before what would likely be an uncomfortable sleep with no AC. Luckily I zonked out pretty quickly, but not before thoroughly enjoying the mead. I became aware of this company when their Instagram account liked and commented on a few of my mead-making photos. I looked into their products and flavors, and decided that we should give it a try. A good choice!

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Balzem

I was recently invited to a press dinner at Balzem, a little Mediterranean spot near the corner of Mott and Spring in Nolita that opened in the Spring of 2014.

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The dining room is rustic, with an airy 12-foot beamed ceiling, old mirrors, iron hanging light fixtures, and lots of reclaimed wood.

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The surprisingly roomy bar offers a wide selection of Mediterranean wines (40 different wines!), imported beer, and even some wine cocktails like the Hot Cab Manhattan, the Balzem Fizz, and the Ginger Ride. I tried the Efes beer (Turkish pilsner), which was nice, light and refreshing.

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The bar crowd definitely picked up at around 8:30pm, and it was actually getting pretty crowded by time we left at 9:30pm. Also worth mentioning here is the fact they they offer happy hour specials EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK from 5:00pm-7:00pm, where they have $6 Mediterranean wines, $5 beers, $1 oysters and $5 tapas/mezzes. That’s freaking amazing! I’ll definitely be back on weekends, for sure.

Here’s a quick shot of Mehdi (left), wine director and general manager, and Balahan (right), owner and executive chef.

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The menu features lots of tapas and mezzes, even some pizza, in addition to a smaller selection of entrees. Here’s the tasting menu we had for the press dinner, along with the wines that were paired with each course:

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The table bread was a nice crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, country style loaf, sliced and served with olive oil (with a variety of olives swimming in the dish):

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The chicken breast and orzo soup was really tasty. Made from a light tomato broth with Turkish red pepper paste, it packs a great flavor that you can accent with a squeeze of lemon. This dish was based on a family recipe that Balahan’s mother used to make.

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That red pepper paste, by the way, is not made from bell peppers, but a different kind – more like a Cubanelle – that’s red instead of green. It’s something that Balahan made as a kid growing up in Turkey, when his family would retreat to the mountains to cool off during the hot months. There, they made red pepper paste, pastries and breads. Sounds like a great way to spend the Summer – sign me the fuck up!

Next were the prosciutto wraps, which was my favorite item of the night. The meat was thin and perfectly cured. It was soft, and not too salty. The burrata cheese was perfection as well. High quality ingredients presented in a very un-fucked-with manner so that they shine.

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Basil leaf, balsamic reduction drizzle and some roasted red peppers is all they added. The green you see beneath the wraps are actually flattened pieces of pepper. Very nice, especially when paired with the clean rose we were served.

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We jumped out of order here to try the other cold dish; the branzini ceviche. This was really mild, despite being cured in lemon vinegar. This is the first time I’ve seen branzino prepared in a ceviche. I really liked how it wasn’t a soupy bowl of tart citrus, like you get in most joints. It was cleanly presented with some arugula and dill.

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Next up was the grilled shrimp dish. These were beautifully presented on a slice of grilled zucchini with parsley and garlic dressing, and accompanied by an arugula salad with tomato and lemon vinaigrette. There was a swipe of chipotle sauce too, so this dish was spicy. The sweet white wine we had with it was the perfect compliment to balance out the spice levels.

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The shrimp were cooked just right.

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My next favorite dish, after the prosciutto, was this octopus fucker. It was braised for 45-50 minutes in white wine that was spiced with lemon, bay leaf and black pepper. Then blasted on the grill for a nice charred and crispy outer edge, and finished in butter. So soft and light, yet meaty and satisfying.

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These zucchini pancakes were fucking great. Part of me wanted a more crisp texture, but when I got down on them a little more I didn’t mind. They’re made with feta, mint, scallions, parsley, dill, eggs and flour, then topped with a yogurt cream sauce. I could actually go vedge (vadge) with food like this. Awesome.

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Last of the small plates, and my least favorite of the small plates, was the Italian meatballs dish. The garlic tomato sauce was nice; velvety, smooth, sweet yet tangy and spicy… but the meat was a little dense for my liking, and I wasn’t a big fan of the pine nuts and raisins within. The ball itself was made from good quality veal, worked with thyme and basil. I just have a very picky sense when it comes to meatballs: it’s very difficult to compete with my mom’s. I did really like the sleepy-time red wine that was served with the meatballs (Nero D’Avola, Mortilla 2013).

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Now for the entree – lamb skewers with flat bread and some sauces. Yes!

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The sauces were mint, parsley, garlic, oil and vinegar (left) and yogurt (right).

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The lamb was cooked perfectly. It was light, flavorful and soft. No overly gamey flavors, no chewy sinew, nothing. Nice and simple, but well executed.

We sampled three sides with the entree. First, and by far the best of them, was the truffle mac and cheese. It wasn’t over the top like some “truffled” items are these days. This was a gentle and proper use of the truffle, with perfectly cooked fusilli pasta and quality cheeses.

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Same goes for the presence of truffle in the potato gratin side – not too aggressive. I liked this dish too – it just needed a little pinch of salt as you went down into the deeper layers of potato.

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The last, and least liked of the sides (and probably our least favorite overall) was the wheat and veggie rice. It had good texture, but the flavors were a little flat, it was a bit dry, and it just didn’t seem to go well with our entree.

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And just when you thought you tried too much food, along comes dessert. All ye fat men rejoice, for there is chocolate ahead in thy future:

Chocolate layer cake (this ended up being my favorite of the three despite my usual hatred of chocolate cake). The cake itself was a slight bit dry, but the hint of salt really made it work in terms of flavor.

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Chocolate mousse cake. Nice texture, creamy and flavorful.

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And finally, tiramisu. You could taste the rum in this bad boy, but it wasn’t overpowering. It was moist and flavorful. The others liked this dessert the best (I was outnumbered).

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That about wraps it up for Balzem. Highlights of the meal were definitely the prosciutto wraps, the octopus and the ceviche. Those would be absolute must-try items, especially if they’re only $5 a pop at happy hour. That shit’s a no-brainer. The ambiance is also killer here. Really nice inside. And when you go (you will), you should chat with Balahan and Mehdi. Both guys are really awesome, friendly, and hands-on. In fact, the service in this joint is top notch and classy. It makes a great date spot, a great pre-game spot for food and drinks, and it has that amazing happy hour. I will definitely be back as a paying customer. Most likely I will head down for happy hour, but the brunch menu looks enticing, as well as the lunch deals ($12 for soup/sandwich or soup/salad).

BALZEM
202 Mott St.
New York, NY 10012