Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Great Find: Burger & Barrel

For over a year, I walked from the East Village to Soho across Houston Street to work. The space at the corner of Mercer & West Houston always looked like a spot that would work well for a restaurant, but nothing good was ever there. Until now.

After a day of Christmas shopping around the city, Patrick and I found ourselves hungry in Soho. We passed by Burger & Barrel noting that it looked good, and after checking out the menu, we were sold, it looked awesome. We walked in the door and we were greeted by a trio of friendly ladies and shown to a table for 2 near the bar.

The decor of the restaurant was the first thing I noticed, all dark wood and red tiles arranged to look like exposed brick. Our waitress was attentive and friendly, and she loved that I took pictures of the food (seriously, she high-fived me.)

Patrick & I decided to share 2 appetizers and 1 entree, so we each picked an app to start with. I chose the Short Rib Tacos and he chose the Tuna Tartare. The waitress assured us we had made solid choices, and brought us the wine and beer we had ordered.

When the food came out, it looked delicious. Two small tacos that were bursting with color and a perfect circle of Tuna Tartare topped with Avocado Mousse and surrounded by crunchy chips were placed on our table. The tacos tasted even better than they looked. The Short Rib was tender and full of rich flavor, not at all dry as Short Rib can sometimes get. The veggies inside the taco were fresh, and served as the perfect compliment to the meat.
The Tuna Tartare was the perfect shade of red/pink and tasted exactly as it should: chilled, with a great texture and taste. The Avocado Mousse on top was awesome and paired really well with the fish. The chips were the right amount of salty, and served as a great serving utensil for the fish and avocado. When all 3 elements were eaten together, the result was perfection.
For our main dish, we chose to share the Fried Cornish Hen with Mashed Potatoes, Gravy & Cole Slaw. The waitress again assured us we had made a great choice, and I only believed her once I tasted it. Frying a Cornish Hen results in a less greasy, juicier take on classic Fried Chicken. While I wish the portion had been a little larger since Patrick and I were sharing, that is my only complaint. We "ooed" and "ahhed" our way through the entire dish until our plate was completely empty.
When we were finished with our meal, we decided to share the Salty Peanut Butter Brownie Sundae, which was good, but I wouldn't recommend it. The brownies were cold and the Peanut Butter drizzle was just okay. This further confirms my theory that dessert isn't worth saving room for, but I'll leave that argument for another time. Overall, the meal, the drinks, the decor and the service were all outstanding, and I highly recommend everyone try this place as soon as possible. It's only been open for 3 months, and it's only a matter of time before it turns into a Soho gem.

On the dessert topic, I'm interested to hear your take on ordering dessert. Do you always order it? Never order it? Do you specifically leave room for it, or are you one of those people who proudly shouts "I always have room for dessert!" after a meal? Let me know, I love hearing from you.

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Best Steak I've Ever Had

If you're a Manhattanite who loves steak and you haven't yet made the (very short) trek to Williamsberg for a piece of Peter Luger beef, do yourself a favor and pick up your phone right now, call (718) 387-7400 and make a reservation. I'd say you should just go there now, but let's be honest. You and I both know there's no way you'd get a table. Your best bet is to put up with the less-than friendly receptionist, pick a date at least a month in advance (unless you don't mind going on a Monday night at 5pm) and make the reservation that will change your life.

There are few foods I love more than a good steak. Over the years, I've gone from ordering them medium well (the horror!) to a super bloody rare. I'd bet my mother is gagging while reading this, but she raised a serious carnivore. I've found my favorite steaks in Manhattan (Del Friscos, Old Homestead & Wolfgang's), but have been told by many people that I haven't tried a steak until I've been to Peter Luger.

About a month ago, I made the plunge. I called at the beginning of November and asked about availability for every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night in the month of December. The receptionist said, "I have 8pm on December 24th, do you want that?" I didn't. I'll be home for Christmas Eve, and I knew I better be ready to settle for a non-weekend night reservation. By the time it was said and done, I had made an 8:45pm reservation for Monday, December 13th. I started counting down the days.

Patrick and I decided this meal would be what we gave each other for the holidays, and both became very excited about it. As we got closer to the date, we realized it was the same night that his beloved Ravens were playing Monday Night Football, and I asked him if he wanted to move the reservation. Because he's awesome and knew how long it took to get the reservation, he declined, and I hoped more than ever that this would be the best meal of our lives.We took the M-train to Brooklyn and emerged from the subway into the snowy evening. A quick 3-block walk, and we were there. We walked into the brightly-lit restaurant and gave our name to claim our reservation. They told us it would be a few minutes, and it truly was. Before we could order a drink at the bar, our table was ready. My heart was literally beating in foodie anticipation.

We were seated at a lovely corner table and started to take in the menu. We ordered cocktails and decided on one piece of Luger's Sizzling Bacon and the Sliced Tomato with Luger's own sauce. The bacon tasted like heaven. Smoky and juicy with just the right amount of crisp on top. The tomatoes were enormous, bright red and delicious, especially when we dunked them in the sauce and covered them in salt and pepper. These fabulous appetizers had us very excited for the main course. Our dinner order consisted of the Steak for Two, the Onion Rings for Two and the Creamed Spinach for Two. Then we sat, and we waited. Other steaks came out, and we looked at them longingly, but we were patient, and then Patrick saw a waiter point at our table with a giant plate of steak in his hand. It was time.
When he put the plate down on our table, we were silent for a few moments. It was the most incredible steak I'd ever seen in my life. It was drenched in a mysterious yellow liquid (obviously butter, but I think my brain ignored this fact so I could enjoy it more[for those who don't know, I'm quite allergic to butter]) and a beautiful shade of bloody red. The waiter placed a piece on each of our plates, and we began to eat.
Between grunts and other sounds of approval, all we could talk about was how delicious the steak was. Don't get me wrong, the onion rings and creamed spinach were both incredibly good, but the steak was transcendent. It was not only the best steak I'd ever had, it was pretty much the best meal I'd ever had. We quickly ordered ourselves a bottle of red wine and went to town on the behemoth piece of meat.
With a few pieces left, we were both so full that we almost couldn't speak. But waste a single bite of this steak? NO WAY! I kept going. Patrick threw in the towel, but I didn't back down. I finished every last piece, and then started working on the precious meat left on the bone. Don't judge me until you've tried this steak.
When the waiter came back to ask if we wanted dessert, I think the looks on our faces was all he needed to know that the answer was a big, fat "No!" We sat in silence as we slipped into food comas, and waited for the check. I couldn't stop smiling, even though my stomach was killing me (both from fullness, and that blasted butter) but I didn't care. We paid, exchanged a quick "Happy Holidays!" to each other, and set back out into the night.

You better believe we took a cab home.

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Brunch Spots: Stanton Social

To write about brunch spots in NYC and not include Chris Santos' Lower East Side gem Stanton Social would be a crime. Stanton Social is a beautiful restaurant and bar that I first knew as the place to get an awesome dirty martini amid beautiful people on a Saturday night. The first time I tried it for brunch, my life was forever changed.

The first thing that sets Stanton Social apart from other brunch spots is the fact that the menu is tapas-style. Tapas? For brunch? Oh yes.

If you're anything like me, you'll order eggs for brunch and when they come, you'll wish you ordered pancakes, and vice versa. Or, you'll go all out and order the special that has eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, pancakes, biscuits and waffles, eat everything and then need to lie down to take a 100-hour nap. (And if you're a Dane Cook fan, you'll note that this is also called "taking a coma.")

But not at Stanton Social. Here you can order a stack of Silver Dollar Pancakes, 1 small Bacon, Egg & Cheese Slider, a tiny plate of Huevos Rancheros and an order of Pumpkin Mini-Muffins and still have room for the famous French Onion Soup Dumplings. This concept is brilliant, and I went for brunch this past Sunday with Patrick, Caroline and two of Pat's friends from Baltimore. Here is what we had.

Caroline and I started with the Pumpkin Muffins with Cinnamon Butter. Seasonal, moist and absolutely delicious. Pumpkin is one of my favorite flavors, so if there is a pumpkin item on the menu, I will usually order it. These muffins didn't disappoint. Patrick got the Ricotta Fritters with Raspberry Jam, and they were sweet with a wonderful ricotta flavor. We all know I'm not one for sweet, but if there is any kind of cheese, I'm in.
The next dishes to come out were the Huevos Rancheros, Red Snapper Mini Tacos and Spicy Lobster Benedict. The Huevos Rancheros are the perfect minature portion of the classic dish with scrambled chorizo & eggs, black beans, 'salsa fresca' & aged cheddar.
The Snapper Tacos were a delight, although I thought they were a little too tiny, and I didn't try the Lobster Benedict, but Caroline & Pat seemed very pleased with it.
One of my favorite items on the menu is the Double Smoked Bacon, Egg & Cheese on a Buttermilk Biscuit. This comes with a side of crispy salt & vinegar chips, and I have to say, this version of the classic blows away every other I've ever had. The biscuit is buttery (stomachache alert!), the bacon is smokey and the cheese is oozy. This is the point in the meal when I've stopped trying to make conversation with my friends and am just sitting there in awe of the delicious food I'm eating.

Another item that my friends ordered that I didn't try was the 'Kobe Philly' with Truffle & Goat Cheese Fondue. Those who did have it said it was their favorite thing they had. Sounds like I missed out, but there's always next time!

We rounded out the meal with the Spicy Lamb Souvlakis with Tzatziki, Lime & Harissa Aioli, the Social Mac & Cheese with Chorizo & Ovendried Tomato and the aforementioned famous French Onion Soup Dumplings.
The Lamb Souvlaki is delicious and is one of Pat's favorites, the Mac & Cheese was very good, although a bit heavy for me, especially after everything I'd already had, and the French Onion Soup Dumplings were, as always, incredible. A beautiful dumpling filled with piping hot French Onion Soup on a toothpick topped with a crouton and tons of ooey gooey cheese make for Stanton Social's top brunch item and my personal favorite. I'm not kidding when I tell you, if you try nothing else on the entire menu, go to Stanton Social and order yourself these dumplings. You won't be disappointed.

All 5 of us ended our meal absolutely stuffed, and the ONLY bite left on the table was the end of the Mac & Cheese. We were all too full to take the last bite. This is a brunch that I will recommend every New Yorker try at least once, go with a good group and share everything on the menu. The food is incredible.

Chris Santos has just opened another restaurant called Beauty & Essex around the corner form Stanton Social. I have dinner reservations there next week, and I can't wait to try it and write about it.

Well done, Mr. Santos. Well done.

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie