Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Eating out | Spring at Somerset House

17 October 2014

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I don’t usually rush to a new restaurant the moment it opens. I have only a limited interest in the latest new hotspot. But, coincidentally, a few weeks ago at dinner with friends, we spoke about Skye Gyngell; about her cookbooks, about her previous restaurant, Petersham Nurseries, which I didn’t have the opportunity to visit while she was the chef. As the conversation migrated to her upcoming venture, in Somerset House, opening a few weeks hence, we were all excited to go.

I had not been to Somerset House since we moved to London last year, which means the last time I was there was to visit the Courtauld Gallery during a solo visit to London in my teens. That moment is my favorite memory of the trip, so stepping through the majestic building again rang of the past in a lovely, personal way. It was a good idea to meet before dinner for a glass of wine outside in the courtyard to savor the setting.

I own two of Skye Gyngell’s cookbooks and often leaf through them. I am invariably transported, intrigued and tempted, though I have only made very few of the dishes. Perhaps I am disconcerted by the idiosyncratic ingredients — one foot firmly settled in Italy while the other perambulates confidently through Asia — which make it hard for me to imagine the finished dish, to know where I am going. This should be thrilling; perhaps I play it a little safe in my own cooking. When I eat out, however, being surprised is exactly what I crave.

My first impression was to be disappointed by the familiarity of the menu. I was hoping for the spirited flavor combinations I have so long admired — and shyed away from — in the books. And so?

The starter was one of the best things I have eaten recently. I am still unsure how the combination of ‘Puntarelle and goat’s curd with mint and black olive dressing’ worked so well, but it was fresh, balanced and addictive in the most convincing way. I could happily have had just that all evening. Next, Slow cooked pork shoulder with girolles, daterrini, and polenta was predictable and a little disappointing, with nothing to elevate the flavors, no special zing. We shared desserts and I happily relinquished any claim to either the warm chocolate cake (you know me) or even Buttermilk pannacotta with damsons and wood sorrel, for yet another lunge at the Hazelnut and pear tart with creme fraiche and espresso — heaven.

The winter garden (pictured above), for smaller parties, holds most of the magic of the place. The main dining room is tall, light, feminine, and ultimately a bit bland. It reminded me vaguely of ABC Kitchen in New York, but lacking the lightness and playfulness which give that restaurant its irresistible charm. I don’t love the space.

Which brings me to the ultimate question: all things considered, am I impatient to go back? Unfortunately I must admit, despite some stunning dishes and, that evening, great company and a lovely night, not very. I realize it’s early days and one shouldn’t judge a restaurant on just one meal. But the place is a little too grand, the food not quite surprising enough — they seem out of sync. I imagine this meal in the lovely rickety setting of Petersham and can’t help but wish I hadn’t missed that. Luckily, I have the cookbooks, which I am now emboldened to try!

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Spring
Somerset House, Lancaster Place
London WC2R 1LA

Tel: +44 (0)20 3011 0115
Online reservations

Eating out | All the way across town to The Brackenbury

22 May 2014

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I’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant less conveniently located from where I live. Try as I may, I couldn’t figure out a way to get there in less than an hour. Miraculously, the Picadilly line would take me all the way; I guess I could find less conveniently located places, after all.

This is something one learns quickly about London. As any experienced Londoner readily points out, the city is huge, travel is inconvenient and slow. Choose your neighborhood well, because that’s where your life will unfold, it’s where you’ll stay. I was determined not to get trapped by this insularism, at least hold out as long as I can.

I might admit that the friend who suggested The Brackenbury lives much closer to the restaurant. I could have lobbied for a more practical choice, somewhere half way; but I know her well, and I trust her hunch. This was the place she’s really wanted to try. And anyway, on principle, I am game.

On the way toward the tube I began questioning whether being so open minded really is such a good thing; after a good 40 minutes on the train I began grumbling that this place better be very good indeed; partially lost and sidling into deserted dimly lit streets I concluded this probably wasn’t such a great idea.

Finally I arrived. From the street it looked bustling and warm and inviting. I relaxed.

The Brackenbury feels very much like a neighborhood restaurant, and resolutely untrendy. The space is a bit drab. With carpeted floors, comfortable seating, and starched tables arranged in nooks up and down steps in adjoined rooms that resemble an expanded home.

Most importantly, the food is great. The calf’s liver was probably the best I’ve ever eaten; perfect texture, cooked beautifully, impeccably accompanied by the most delicious polenta and kale. The starter was a simple salad of bitter lettuces whose name I can’t recall and it was very good (though when my friend ordered the same later as a main course it was a bit sloppy and overdressed). For dessert there was sweet, tart, ethereal rhubarb Eton mess.

Simple, and one of the very good restaurant meals I’ve had in a while.

Would I try to convince someone to trek all the way across town, late at night, for dinner at the Brackenbury? Perhaps not. But if I lived a bit closer I’d go again in a heartbeat.

The Brackenbury

Open for lunch Fri-Sun 2.00-3.00 pm
Dinner Tues-Sat 7.00 -10pm
Closed Monday

http://brackenburyrestaurant.co.uk/

Travel | Two meals in Québec City and a night at the bar

11 January 2013

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People don’t seem to gush forth with recommendations for restaurants in Québec City. Montréal is different, and off hand even I would know a few places I’d love to go to one day and might even recommend without having been. But we were off to Québec and had to eat, somehow. Every meal doesn’t have to be Joe Beef, but most cities have at least one café that makes a decent salad, or a diner that serves a good burger. I made a couple of timid social media attempts to snag recommendations and got only one response (thank you!) for a place outside Québec, which unfortunately wasn’t open when we were going.

It took one or two edible but unremarkable meals before I turned to Yelp and Chowhound, which pointed me in the direction of l’Echaudé, a simple and tasteful French bistro in the old city. It is by no means a ‘family restaurant'; our children were the only ones there, there are no designated kids’ options, but Louise was welcome with a jar of crayons to doodle directly onto the white paper tablecloth covers, and everyone found something very good to eat.

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The blood sausage (shaped like a slice of terrine) was possibly the silkiest I have ever eaten, there was an above average steak tartare. Salmon tartare was fine too. The desserts, especially the tarte au sucre (which I must learn to make!) and a grapefruit tarte, were outstanding. It is not a restaurant to warrant the trip; I am a rigid seasonal snob and I do cringe at the sight of fresh tomatoes and zucchini in December, but it was a fine meal, and a lovely place. So, absent any proper research, without having perused all the options, I am not implying it is the best place in Québec but nonetheless here it is: unequivocally a recommendation.

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For New Year’s we decided to have a hotel-room picnic, what with our brilliant view of the city fireworks. Thomas, who clearly has superior googling skills, discovered the Marché du Vieux-Port, promising feasts of Canadian products. Exactly what we were looking for. And so for a second recommendation.

At the Marché du Vieux-Port we found the mildest, flakiest, most delicious old-fashioned smoked salmon. The gentleman in line in front of me at Les Delices de la Mer urged me to also get the maple smoked salmon bites. Great advice. Les Canardises offered very good foie gras at remarquably decent prices. (I admit I was a bit envious of their flawlessly de-veined foie. Still have a bit to learn there.) There were amazing saucissons and excellent cheeses. As Mary had forewarned, finding Canadian, let alone Quebec wine was not easy. Mission Hill seemed the ubiquitous, reliable, readily available label. We drank champagne, too, from France. It was a feast, a fun and very delicious evening.

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After a couple of days in Québec City we went skiing. And so for a third, most unlikely recommendation. When in Mont Tremblant, the best bet for a decent, relatively affordable meal may very well be the bar of the comfortable Fairmont Hotel nestled just at the bottom of the slopes. Again, no serious research resulted in this realization, just one outrageously expensive, horrific burger at Bullseye Grill. The place advertizes itself as a sandwiches and burgers kind of place, but once inside most options were well north of $30. We learned later that it is virtually impossible to find a medium-rare burger in Québec, where they are always cooked medium-well, which should warn anyone to stay away. But at $18, one would expect that the burger, even cooked to oblivion, would at least be 100% beef. If only.

And so back to the cozy hotel bar, armchairs and low light, a few manhattans, a bottle of wine, chicken wings, steak tartare, duck confit salad, the children outside tubing into the evening and barely disturbing the air as they rush in for plate of crudités and a burger (medium well, real meat – still there is some irony in serving raw meat but not pink hash). One last martini… The best bet.

Happy New Year!

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L’Echaudé

73, rue Sault-au-Matelot
Vieux-Port
Québec, QC G1K 3Y9

1 418-692-1299

Lunch Mon-Fri 11.30 am-2 pm
Dinner from 5.30 pm
Brunch Sat-Sun from 10 am

www.echaude.com

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Marché du Vieux-Port

160 Saint-André Quai
Québec, QC G1K 3Y2

1 418-692-2517

Mon-Fri 9 am-6 pm
Sat-Sun 9 am-5 pm

www.marchevieuxport.com

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Nansen Lounge, Fairmont Tremblant

3045 Chemin de la Chapelle
Mont-Tremblant, QC J8E 1E1
1 866-540-4415
Daily 11 am-11 pm

www.fairmont.com/tremblant/dining/nansen-lounge/

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Breakfast in Montreal | Le Cartet and Olive + Gourmando

Eating out | Shack at the end of the road, Las Galeras, Samana, Dominican Republic

Eating out | With an Italian at Parm

25 October 2012

I tricked my very good very Italian (but longtime New Yorker) friend into going to Parm. I misused his optimistic trust in my restaurant tastes and lured him, this Italian food purist, to a ‘by-definition’ suspicious Italian-American place.

It is a few months ago already, but the evening is such a good memory that I’ve been wanting to write about it. So much about the enjoyment of a restaurant is about the circumstances. No bad restaurant will ever be good, but in the large realm of good restaurants, food wise, the evening will be great if the particular place suits the particular mood.

That evening we’d met at the New Museum Triennial late on a Thursday, and despite, I admit, some initial skepticism, as we strolled around the galleries and took a closer look I discovered some intriguing and a few striking pieces. An exhibition is the perfect start to an evening — it needn’t take as long as a movie or a play and in the evening galleries are often lulled by a more leisurely pace. Upon leaving the museum we were busy discussing the art and I took advantage of the diversion to head in the direction of Mulberry Street.

The atmosphere at Parm was bustling and joyful when we arrived. We waited at the end of the bar for a stool at the counter, just enough time to enjoy a beer before sitting down. Looking at the menu I could sense some skepticism on the part of my dining companion, but he was playing along.

It was late so we were there for a bite rather than a full dinner, which was perfect for the occasion. I wrote down what we ordered: garlic bread deluxe with ricotta, cauliflower, chickpeas, spicy rabe, eggplant parm, and zeppole to finish. If I recall correctly, the beers and wines on offer were all, fittingly, American.

I don’t remember the details of each dish but I know that everything was genuinely delicious with clear bright flavors, which is not necessarily what one might expect of an Italian-American joint, but what I had hoped from the highly praised restaurant. (Parm is more casual and just next door to Torrisi Italian Specialties. Both are owned by Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone.)

I’d venture to say that Simone liked it too. He had to agree that the dishes were very good, of course, and even conceded that the flavors were familiar, distantly but clearly reminiscent of home.

It was, that night, the perfect place.

***

Parm

248 Mulberry Street
New York, New York 10012

212 993 7189

Open Mon–Sun 11am–11pm (Thurs-Sat until 12am)
Bar Menu from 4-6pm

www.parmnyc.com

Travel | Summer memories at Crêperie Sucré Salé in Trégastel

6 September 2012

The story repeats itself, and it’s as it should be.

When the fog lifts and the clouds clear, we drive to the beach. My sister’s house in Brittany is rather inland, so we have a range of beaches to choose from, and yet nine times out of ten we end up in the same place, Trégastel. It’s an old-fashioned seaside resort on a stunning stretch of coast, punctuated by huge pink granite boulders; inviting, menacing at times, teetering. It’s breathtaking. But the draw of Trégastel is more than the boulders and the beach; as Northern Brittany goes it can even become somewhat crowded on August weekends. Trégastel has become a story.

We dip into the water; sometimes only halfway, if it’s bitterly cold and the sea endlessly shallow from the ebb of the tide. The receding water of those notoriously steep tides leaves crabs scurrying, pools among the rocks with shrimp and small fish trapped until the flow. There are seashells to be gathered, sand castles to be built, and kites to be flown.

Everyone is getting hungry. As evening draws, we pack our beach bags, cross one stretch of sand, and climb the coastal path to the old harbor, the seaside center of town. It’s nearly 8pm but the sun is still high in the sky as we take our seats on the waterfront terrace of the crêperie. They aren’t particularly friendly there and our large groups usually upwards of ten often leave the staff visibly irritated. It’s a touristy location, right by the water with a postcard worthy view of the sea, the granite, the boats. But that’s all part of it — this summer ritual.

The galettes are very good, of course, which is essential. But it’s equally about the grumpy waiters, the setting sun, another cup of cider, the children running off to the beach the instant they’ve devoured their last bite, the elusive green flash, the treacherous walk back to the car in the dark. It’s become a tradition, perfect in all its imperfections.

A summer memory.

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Crêperie Sucré Salé

Place du Coz Pors, Trégastel
33 (0)2 96 23 81 31

The galettes (savory buckwheat crêpes) are excellent here. I rarely stray from the classic ‘complète’ (with egg, ham, and cheese), though I’ve sometimes added tomatoes and onions, but all the garnishes are very good. For a bit of a change (not that I would), the mussel dishes are also delicious. I don’t find the sweet crêpes as exciting, so I always order my dessert crêpes on a buckwheat galette, and that combination is amazing.

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Crepes!

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Baked mackerel with mustard and thyme

Mussels with shallots and white wine


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