Despana is a little wine shop, gourmet Spanish grocery, and tapas/pintxos bar in Soho, all rolled into one. My wife won a wine tasting here in a silent auction, so last night we went in to give it a shot.
We tried six different wines from Spain that utilized grape varietals that I have never tried before. All were great. I’m not a wine snob by any means, but I do appreciate the good stuff and I know it when I taste it.
Speaking of tasting good shit, the snacks here are delicious.
That lean muscle lomo on the bottom right side of the charcuterie board was amazing. And that sous vide octopus? BUTTER!
This french joint just opened about two months ago with a really creative and unique menu. There were about eight starters that I wanted to try, but I ended up settling on three.
Black Garlic, Cynar & Bone Marrow Escargots
Incredible. The flavors, when combined, almost tasted like a really good balsamic. I’ve never really had snails like this before. Delicious.
Whiskey French Toast Foie Gras
This also had a cherry compote on it (on the toast in the background), along with some cocoa nibs and flake salt. So good. Really enjoyed this dish.
These massive head-on prawns were delicious. The spicy black garlic sauce really made them pop.
For the entree, we went with this 50-day dry aged cote de boeuf.
It comes with some tangy bone marrow and crispy fried onions, but what makes this stand out is the additional dry aging that they do in house. They get the meat at 28-days from Pat LaFrieda, but they age it for more time on site. I always find that this makes for a better aged flavor. 9/10.
We paired this with the schmaltz tater tots, which were fucking awesome.
We also had the purple and green asparagus, which was a special for the day. It had caviar and a fried/poached duck egg on top, along with a tangy hollandaise sauce.
For dessert, we took down this nice bread pudding.
This joint doesn’t have a full liquor license yet, but they do offer some creative amari type light cocktails, and a nice wine and beer list. I highly recommend this place. I know I’ll be going back to try the other apps that I wanted, along with some duck, chicken and pasta.
LE PETIT ROOSTER
491 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10024
I recently revisited one of my favorite tapas and wine bars: Nai Tapas Bar. They’ve expanded into a two floor location, now on 2nd Ave at 5th Street (they moved from their old location on 1st Ave near 11th Street).
They offer an $89 chef’s tasting menu, which only jumps to $110 with their generous, high quality wine pairing pours for each course (and then some).
Not only is this a great deal, but it’s one of the best tasting menus I’ve had in years. Here’s how it went down.
We were met with a heaping goblet of white sangria…
Followed by a pour of the first white wine…
Which paired with the following bites:
This is truffle mushroom basmati rice with manchego cheese, beets and a perfectly poached egg.
These clams are gently broiled open and then dressed with cilantro, citrus zest and yuzu.
Next up was a pour of another white wine to go with this torched salmon and saffron nigiri and glazed Chilean sea bass (wrapped in crispy fried bread and topped with Serrano ham and asparagus).
After this, another glass of white (Gewürztraminer) came out with my favorite dish of the night (and a possible best of 2019 contender): portobello mushroom carpaccio. The Manchego cheese and crushed marcona almonds really made this pop, and the mushrooms are marinated in truffle oil.
There was a nice sangria-marinated cube of watermelon with mint served at this point, to get us ready for the next round.
After that, a red was poured…
To go along with these three meat courses:
Chicken: what a presentation. Broiled sweet mustard marinated thighs with tobiko, seaweed and champagne picked shallots. There were three kinds of sauces too.
Pork: braised marinated baby back rib.
Beef: prime rib eye katsu sando with Hokkaido milk bread and aioli, over shishito peppers.
After that, a palate cleansing cava came out, and then a glass of dessert white…
To go with this lemon tart and chocolate-stuffed churro.
What an amazing meal! There are so many more dishes I want to try on the menu. I’ll be back here again soon for sure, and I highly recommend you go as well. The price is low, the food is great, and there’s even live flamenco music.
My wife and I strolled by this cool spot on Sunday and popped in for a beer and a sandwich. Vintner Wine Market sports hundreds of cool and unique beer selections in their fridges, as well as wines (by the glass and bottle). But what really got my attention was the roast beef sandwich.
This baby comes with horseradish cheddar, mayo and red onion. Simple and delicious. And the baguette was nice and fresh.
Good sized sandwich. We will be back here for sure.
VINTNER WINE MARKET
677 9th Ave
New York, NY 10036
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.
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.
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.
Tipsy hooked us up with six different pints of ice cream for dessert.
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.
We even scooped some into a few glasses of champagne for good measure. Why not?
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).
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).
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.
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!
The green spinach dough is topped with mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil. Super simple and traditional, but for the green dough. Absolutely wonderful.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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
My wife scooped up a flash deal for this place that offered five courses with a bottle of wine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 is a dessert-only restaurant in Key West that’s known for it’s over-the-top sexual references.
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.
My wife had this banana crepe cake, which was really good as well.
We also shared this unique brie and chocolate grilled cheese. I liked this because it wasn’t as heavily sweet as the other items.
This place does a lot of interesting drinks too, like “rimmed” glasses of wine or root beer floats with chocolate and caramel:
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).
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…
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?
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 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.
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).
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:
The first course is a salad along with some croutons, which is unlimited if you choose to gorge yourself:
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:
Then a combination of various Swiss cheeses:
And a cauldron of Monterey jack and cheddar cheese:
But my favorite was this earthy truffle perigord cheese:
It went perfectly with our side items for dipping, which consisted of broccoli, chorizo, fennel sausage, and portobello mushrooms:
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:
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!
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.
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):
Chicken (cook for 45 seconds):
Filet Mignon (medium rare 15 seconds):
Hanger Steak (medium rare 15 seconds):
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.
Dessert, as you can imagine, involved copious quantities of melted chocolate. We tried both the milk and dark chocolate varieties:
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.
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.
But you can’t really beat the simplicity of a chocolate covered banana or marshmallow:
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.