Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Original Spice Market: Sripraphai, 9/27/05

Last fall my friend Kimberly scored us a Saturday night table of 6 at Spice Market during its height. Fun, yes; spicy, no. It is only fitting then that last night we had dinner with Kimberly and Matt, her almost-husband, at Sripraphai, the oft-lauded Thai restaurant in Woodside, Queens. It is indeed the original Spice Market.

Now most of us don't ordinarily travel to Queens for dinner, but Sri. is ALWAYS mentioned as the best thai place in NYC. So we had to go.

Its actually quite close to Manhattan, maybe two miles over the Queensboro and just a few stops on the 7 train. Oh and they have parking there if you have a car.

We were expecting a hole in the wall type place. But they must have recently renovated to have a relatively trendy dining room and a large back garden. They've also changed their alcohol policy which was BYO and is now BYO with a $10 corkage fee or drinks from the menu. We had schlepped the bottle so we sprang for the $10.

Ordering was a challenge. The menu is huge making the choices endless. And it is supposed to be authentic so we decided not to order pad thai.

We ordered a duck salad, a mango salad and chicken pot stickers to start.

Starters were tame. The duck salad was sweet and delicious. The pot stickers were ordinary in a good way. Then hilarity came with the mango salad.

Matt is a current vegetarian. He asked for no meat on the mango salad and was told he could have tofu. He agreed happily. He bit into his tofu and it tasted like meat. JB and Kimberly tasted it and could not discern the taste. It wasn't chicken that was for sure.

The waiter came over to tell us it was "Mock meat". The way she said it we thought it was either a thai word for chicken or an Egyptian's name. After about five times, we figured it out and Matt continued on.

Main courses included two orders of drunken noodles (one w/chicken, one w/out), a duck and eggplant dish and a chicken curry. JB also ordered a side of rice.

Two bites into the main course, we all wished we had ordered rice.

JB and Kimberly almost immediately surrendered. Matt and I plowed through. Everything was spicy, really spicy. We had to take breaks. While each dish was different they all had the same net effect - WHOA.

And so it leads me to the question. Are my tastes too Americanized for authentic food? Or is everyone just trying to be a food-elitist with the outer-borough restaurant find?

Most food critics complain that you have to go to Queens for real Thai food. I think I'll stay right in Manhattan.

Until we eat again, KLB

PS -- If you love Thai food but not spice, go to Chicago. Best Thai food I've had.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Persian Grill, 9/25/05

Tonight we had dinner with my parents at the Persian Grill. I think. Or maybe its called the Persia Grill. Point being, this is place is so new they don't have their name down. Nor is it on the menu, nor was it on the check.

I've heard that going to restaurant in its infancy can have it ups and downs. Ups include the excitement of going somewhere new, the potential of freebies and maybe, just maybe, lower prices. Downs, however, can easily outweigh the ups. Bad food, bad service, overcrowded, undertaffed -- in short, too many kinks.

Persian Grill opened yesterday on 1st Avenue and 67th Street. So here we were, JB, my mom & dad and me hoping for a quick bite before they drove back to CT. Quick it was not.

Ordering was confusing. Our waitress was a sweetheart, but knew little English. "I'm from Russia" we learned after my mom probed.

The wine list was non-existent even though we had asked if they had wine when we walked in and were told yes.

As it turned out, they had a bottle of Mondavi that they were pouring from but had no liquor license. JB later figured out that the wine would then have to be free. (1 point for the new restaurant!).

But they only had red, and my high maintenance mother only drinks white. So JB went to the deli down the block and bought a 40, yes a 40, of Corona. If her Greenwich friends could see her now.

My mom and I split a 40 out of a paper bag. Classic.

But the food. When it finally came, it was delicious all around.

JB opted for mezzes, hummus, yogurt dip with mint, picked vegetables. He shared all willingly and then devoured it for himself.

I had the chicken kebab with grilled chicken, and my mom had the traditional chicken kebab. Both came with huge portions of rice. Really huge.

My dad ordered a main course for a change and had a pepper stuffed with lamb. He ate mostly the lamb and that was enough for him.

Mint tea was offered at not cost at the end of dinner. A nice touch. Especially since we found out at the end of the meal that they did not take credit cards or checks and between the four of us we had $15.

Overall, this place really has potential - wonderful food, genuinely nice staff and tame prices. Dinner for 4 came to $51 without tip.

I have a feeling it will be added into our repetoire...when a few more weeks have passed.

Until we eat again, KLB

Puttanesca, 9/22/05

Thursday nights are back. Actually, I think they never left it was just that JB and I were practicing being married and boring. But as of this Thursday we are back in action.

We each had a work function in the early evening that coincidentally both involved margaritas and were both at 38th & 3rd. I had the grain-alcohol specials at Rio Grande and JB had a slightly more refined margarita or two at Margarita Murphy's.

The two of us were in good spirits (pun intended) as we cabbed it to the Hudson for drinks to celebrate Emily's new job. I was concerned that the bar would be mobbed but our friends had secured a table outside and I lounged as I sipped my champagne.

Next up dinner. There were six of us and we had to make a decision. The Hudson Hotel is not necessarily far from good restaurants, but there is nothing in the immediate vicinity except Per Se and Masa of course. (One day I hope!)

We debated going to Bar Pitti in the Village but instead ambled over to Puttanesca on 9th Avenue.

Here's the thing about dining after drinking -- lack of attention to detail. But here's the good news, I remember what I had and what JB had.

I had a simple gnocchi with mozzarella and tomato while JB opted for a chicken paillard.

Everything was good, nothing was stellar. Prices, however, were great! $12 for pasta, $14 for chicken. And everything always seems more reasonable when you've had a few drinks.

I think everyone else had the table had an enjoyable pasta dish. Emily's had some sort of creme sauce, Cartwright's had veal. Oh, and everyone had the San Giovese.

I looked around on some websites to try to jog my memory of the evening and I read that they are supposed to have a spectacular brunch.

I'm not sure I would run back, but if I'm at the Hudson again, I may just stumble over there.

Until we eat again, KLB

Thursday, September 22, 2005

F & B, More F than B, 9/22/05

I was lucky enough to meet my friend Vanessa for a quick (read quick especially for those at my new job) for lunch today.

We chose F & B, the haute hot dog place for lunch since it was near both of our offices. I had been several times with JB but not recently and its has gone way downhill.

The first thing I noticed when I got there, late - sorry!, was that the menu was different. Apparently the low-carb craze is over at F & B. I used to order something called "Little Pups" which was mini hot dogs with mustard, no bun, and a side of green beans. High fat, low carbs - perfect.

To my dismay the Little Pups were no longer, so I opted for chicken fingers. The green beans were still on the menu, thankfully, and I ordered those, too.

Vanessa seemed confused by the menu but settled on a veggie dog and sweet potato fries.

We headed outside to a table on 52nd Street to sit in the shade and enjoy a few minutes in the last few hours of sumer.

Vanessa got our food and brought me two breaded dishes. I suddenly realized that the beans now had breading. Why? They were so good and garlicky before. Now the breading almost separated from the bean. Gross.

The chicken fingers, which resembled french fries, were tasty so I concentrated on those.
Vanessa picked at her veggie dog but finished it. She did enjoy her SP fries.

So to sum up a quick meal quickly, closer to an F than a B.

Until we eat again, KLB

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Berger Review! Houston’s, 9/20/05

Last night we were exhausted, actually yesterday afternoon we were exhausted. All I wanted was something familiar, something good and the obvious choice was a burger.

Proximity and timing were also key last night. Everything fell into place and JB and I were seated at Houston’s in the Citicorp building before 6:30.

Houston’s is peculiar. It’s a chain. You almost always have to wait (unless you get there before 6:30). And yet people in New York seem to love it, including myself.

I knew what I wanted before I looked at the menu. Burger please. There were two to choose from, a Cheeseburger or a Hickory Burger which promised cheese, bacon, onions and BBQ sauce. I opted for the classic and it was phenomenal.

I don’t know what they put in that cheddar but it made the burger. I could have had another order of the cheeseburger, hold the burger. I ate each bite faster and faster. JB told me to slow down but I just could not stop the enjoyment. After I finished the burger I picked at the shoestring fries, lettuce, tomato and sesame seed bun scavenging for more juicy meat or cheese.

JB avoided the Burger route (self-imposed health kick for the evening) and had the mushroom barley soup and grilled chicken salad. Both were fine, but neither rose to the top. And a few hours later he was begging for a slice of pizza, some health kick.

When we left at about 7:30 the bar was filled and the line for dinner was halfway to Barnes & Noble upstairs.

We headed home to watch our Tuesday night shows, Biggest Loser, Big Break IV (a golf reality show, of course) and Nip/Tuck. Can you guess whose choices were whose? Hint: One is my obession, one is JB's and one is joint.

Until we eat again, KLB

Monday, September 19, 2005

Dockers, 9/17/05

The fall, from what we've heard, is the best time in the Hamptons. Its still warm, but everything is less crowded. You almost feel as if you have the place to yourself - almost.

We spent Saturday night at Dockers with my parents and their two friends who live out there semi-permanently. They did not hit Dockers all summer because of the crowd factor and neither had we. We soon found that we did not miss all that much.

The setting is the best part of Dockers. Nestled in the reeds over looking the bay in East Quogue, it is one of the most picturesque spots on the South Fork.

As we sat down to dinner, we were greeted by the warm air on the deck and the sounds of the live band. It was a perfect evening weatherwise.

The last time I had been at Dockers was in the summer of 2004 when we were at the height of wedding planning. We had had lunch on the deck and enjoyed simple salads of seafood. It was a memorable meal.

Tonight we had memories, but none culinary-related.

My dad is a creature of habit. He likes to save money. Hence he prefers the two-appetizer trick. Instead of a main course, he orders two apps. Sometimes its a bargain, sometimes he's left starving. Here had had mussels followed by clams. Not too tough to mess up.

My mom followed suit with a salad and fried calamari. She deemed the salad fine but the calamari too rubbery. I am officially over fried calamari after loving it for years. I think it can be good in some places, but most restaurants destroy it. However, give me grilled calamari any day and I'll devour it.

JB and I split a tuna tartar which had more avocado than tuna but had flavor at least. My scallops had a heavy hoisin-type sauce, which masked the fish taste. It was served with fried root vegetables which I could have done without.

Between courses we watched the band. There were two women dancing up a storm. They were the only participants. I was convinced they were married to the band members.

JB had a Phil Mickelson moment and ordered the lobster ravioli. Most likely because Brian was telling of his astounding 76 on the course from earlier in the day. And while the lobster ravioli helped JB on his game on Sunday, he said it was a blah dish.

I did not get to taste it since my mom had strategically positionedus as far apart as possible. According to her, it's not socially acceptable to sit next to your husband. I wonder who came up with that idea, my mom or my dad.

Our new friends, Rosemary and Brian, each had a fish. Brian's was frenched sole that looked reminiscent of fried scrod and Rosemary had a simple salmon. I hope they liked their food, but if they didn't I wouldn't be surprised.

Along with the great September weather, came a great torrential storm. And we ran for c0ver as they cleared our mains. We tried the tent first and then went inside for dessert.

Desserts were of the pre-fab variety. My peanut butter ice cream pie was tasty, but obviously frozen. No one had anything else, save for some sorbet, and we rounded out the evening.

All in all, it was an enjoyable evening of good company and good setting. If only the food could have matched it.

BTW, the next day at the beach, JB saw the band groupies. As it turned out, they were not with the band, just avid dancers. I wonder if they'd be there if we were to go back next weekend. I guess there's only one way to find out.

Until we eat again, KLB

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Uva, 9/14/05

Uva is a chic-magnet. Seriously, when I arrived at Uva at 7:00 tonight after booking up 2nd Avenue for 30 blocks, I realized that this place was chock a block with females. Uva, located on 2nd Avenue, between 76th & 77th is a single guy's dream.

JB did not have the pleasure of this male paradise tonight, instead I blended with the crowd by meeting my friend Laura for some wine and snacks.

Uva is essentially a wine bar with food. When you arrive they give you the wine list first, 3 pages of by the glass, two pages of by the bottle and one page of beer. We needed to ask for the food menu.

What we had was pretty good. I like to call them snacks, but we really had enough for a meal. Laura and I started with a traditional bruschetta and a cheese plate.

Laura loved the bruschetta. It was crispy and not too oily.

The cheese plate confused us. You get to pick three cheeses for $16. We chose a goat cheese, a parmesan and something that said it was made with buffalo milk which we assumed was mozzarella-like. When our cheese plate arrived we recognized the parmesan, or at least we thought we did, and something that looked like brie. The third cheese a mystery.

When our server finally came over, we had had a few confirming bites and knew something was not right. She took it back and said she would fix it. She came back with the same remaining cheeses declaring that the mystery cheese was a goat cheese and the brie was the buffalo. She also had a replacement parmesan. Strange. Still we ate on and sipped our wines. Almost all cheese is fine with us.

The bread served was fresh and delicious. Doughy, not hard and it was refilled frequently. The olive oil, once we got it separated from the vinegar, was an adequate companion.

Finally, we had a salad of capon, apple and a mustard dressing. It was our server's favorite. And it was good, the chicken especially.

Next time (and there will be a next time since JB will sprint here for the female factor), I may consider some of the more substantial dishes like ricotta gnocchi or pesto shrimp, but for tonight this was perfect.

When we looked up from our meal, we noticed that although a few men had straggled in, women were still in the lead. And at this place, I think they always will be.

Until we eat again, KLB

Monday, September 12, 2005

Cafe Evergreen, 9/12/05

Monday nights we are always faced with the same question. What's for dinner? We are usually too tired to shop and cook or to really enjoy dinner out. So we find ourselves eating a bowl of Special K or pizza from our friends downstairs or, like last week, both. Tonight, though, I wanted a restaurant. It didn't have to be fancy by any means, just have a waiter and maybe a tablecloth.
Without a specific destination in mind, we headed uptown on 1st Avenue. After seriously considering McDonalds (JB's idea) we went a few doors further north to Cafe Evergreen.

We've been to CE several times before. Its not Shun Lee, but its not your typical Chinese place either. They have wine and wine dinners in fact. And they have dim sum.

I followed JB's lead and agreed to share a largely dim sum dinner. Pork was the star tonight. Soup dumplings were sweet, doughy and hot just like the ones at New Green Bo in Chinatown only a lot closer to home. Seared pork dumplings were crispier and full of flavor.

To make ourselves feel slightly healthy we ordered an entree of string beans and eggplant. We welcomed the dish after eating so much pig. But we returned to the swine for dessert. Three delectable pork buns.

Its funny, I would never order pork tenderloin or a pork chop, but put it in soy sauce and I'm all over over it.

I wouldn't call it the most orthodox meal (or Kosher for that matter), but certainly a good one. And those old sayings about not being hungry an hour after you each Chinese....I'm still full and probably will be all week.

Until we eat again, KLB

A “Lovely” Day on the North Fork, 9/10/05

I admit, I like Rachael Ray. I know some people think she’s annoying or, frankly, a bad chef, but I am obsessed with her show $40 A Day. So much so that I’ll often find myself at a meal with JB saying in my most RR-like voice, “The way the cheese just blends with everything ….mmmmmm.”

For those of you who are not Food Network junkies, on $40 A Day Rachael goes to a city or region and has only $40 for all of her meals. Typically, she has 3 squares plus a sweet or a specialty cocktail amidst hitting the local tourist spots.

I think that Rachael needs to go to the North Fork of Long Island. We had a very RR day on Saturday. First, we went raspberry picking at Harbes Farm on Sound Avenue. It’s a veritable bargain since you get to eat as many berries as you want while picking and then you only pay for what actually stays in your $3 basket.

Then we headed to Mattituck, Love Lane, specifically. Love Lane has the requisite grocery store and deli, but it also houses a boutique complete with Lacoste and Juicy, a great cheese shop that has delicious fondue and Connie’s Bake Shop.

Connie’s Bake Shop is a gourmet delight. Delicate pastries and ginormous cookies fill the cases. But the sandwiches are the real winners here. JB and I split a chicken, pesto, and mozzarella sandwich on ciabiatta for $10.

It took awhile to come as we sat outside watching the slow pace of Mattituck life, but it was worth the wait. The chicken was super-fresh and who can argue with great mozzarella. We ignored the meager salad with scary pink dressing and focused on each bite in Rachael Ray style.

To finish off our meal and give us fuel for our golf game, we split a big cookie ($1.50). Believe it or not, it wasn’t that great. “Too cakey.” JB declared.

While we didn’t get to spend a full day on the North Fork, Rachael would have had plenty to see, do and eat. All within her budget. You can hit a number of vineyards, see historic Greenport which has expensive and inexpensive foodie restaurants or you can do what we did.

Drive a few miles further east to Cutchogue and play par-3 golf. For $10 you get 9 holes, $1 extra gets you a pull cart. And just off the 6th hole there’s a local kid selling lemonade and golf balls. Now that’s my kind of career.

Until we eat again, KLB

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Jacques Strap, 9/8/05

JB, his mom and I have a thing for Jacques. Amidst the throngs on 86th street and the idiot bars on 2nd Ave, Jacques is a charming French bistro hidden on 85th street near 3rd.

This was a our fourth time there. The third time was definitely the charm. JB's mom threw a party for us in honor of our engagement. They gave us the back room and a simple, but delicious prix-fixe of chicken, trout or hangar steak.

I had booked the reservation on (another fave site) and JB's mom was greeted by name by the manager. I immediately thought this was a good sign. I envisioned champagne on the house for the newlyweds or at least an amuse-bouche. Nothing at all. In fact, that was the last time he spoke to us all evening.

Notwithstanding, our server was sincere and helpful. Remembering our party in November, I leapt for the hangar steak as did my mother-in-law. JB opted for the mussels & frites in a provencale sauce.

To start we shared tuna tartar and bluepoint oysters. Not your typical bistro starters, but they were adequate. The crackers did nothing for the tuna they accompanied, but the fish was good. The bluepoints went fast, I did not opt for a bite.

JB demolished his mussels & frites. The only complaint here was that there was no bowl for his discarded shells which created a minor mess. The steak was OK. I think they changed it since our last visit. I ate it all, but again, had ordering remorse.

JB lectured me that I should have ordered the roast chicken for multitude of reasons. Always good, better for you, less cholesterol -- blah, blah, blah. Next time I'll consider listening to him.

We ended on a high note of tarte tatin. Personally, I like to order it because I like to say it with my 8th grade French teacher accent, "tarte tatin". But it was good. Vanilla ice cream, cinnamon sugar, caramel and then the apples. It vanished as soon as it hit the table.

I'm not sure if there will be a fifth time. As you can tell, they sort of left us strapped. Like but not love.

Until we eat again, KLB

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Berger Review! Dave's Bun 'N' Burger, 9/3/05

Captain's Log, Berger date, September 3, '05, exploring Hamburgers. The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast. Our destination is Bun 'N' Burger which rests in the town of Westhampton Beach. My orders were to examine a bold new spot where we had not been before. I am becoming better acquainted with my role as a blogger and so I decided that it was time for me to take a turn at the helm. Burgers are our obsession, restaurants are our passion, food is our drug. It was time for a fix.

The grill started when I placed my order for breakfast. That was why, our waiter explained, it took an inordinate amount of time to receive our food. My burger deluxe was the joint's first of the day. A burger deluxe comes with fries, lettuce and tomato. There's coleslaw on the side but it's nothing to write home about. The burger was of the small delicious variety, the fries were a bit inconsistent with some being crispy and some soggy. The bride decided that to start her dining for the day, she would have a very plain egg white omelet with a side of requisite hashbrowns. Those whites could have used a splash of green or red hotsauce but they tasted just fine the way they were. A cup of coffee that I had accompany my meal was tastier than I could have hoped for at 65 cents. I expected the worst but got the best diner coffee I can remember. It was also nice to be refilled often as coffee pots were walked around the restaurant by the staff.

By the time it was time to leave, the bill came to around $10. We know why we'll be back, we couldn't figure out why we hadn't been. Until we eat again. JB

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Airport Dining, Belle's Cafe, 9/3/05

JB and I are on a kick. Its called “Dining Off the Beaten Path”. A few weeks ago it was golf courses, last week a car dealership and this week the airport. Gabreski airport is no typical airport though and, for that matter, Belle’s Café is not a typical restaurant.

Chances are you will never fly into Gabreski, aka the Westhampton airport, unless you are on a private jet or a military chopper. You just can’t fly commercial to the Hamptons. But you can go to the airport and eat at Belle’s Café.

Belle’s serves southern food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can sit outside and watch the planes land while you eat your ribs. And it’s BYO which us bargain hunters adore.

We arrived at Belle’s on Saturday night around 9:00. The place was packed and they were only allowing big parties to sit outside. The inside dining room was filled with several parties who had BYOBed a little too much, so we asked if there was anyway to avoid sitting there.

After a few minutes, they moved a two-top out to their back porch. You couldn’t see the planes, but you also couldn’t hear the loons inside, so we decided to stay.

We had brought our soft cooler with a few beers so we each cracked one open and discussed our other airport dining experiences. JB and I loved eating at the airport in Key West; it was one of the best meals of our vacation. JB dined at the West Palm Beach airport when he was trying to save the election for Al Gore. And my dad is a huge fan of airport dining, especially Westchester and Nantucket airports. (Coincidentally, he frequents the public golf course in Greenwich for lunch.) Guess it runs in the family.

The menu has all of your southern favorites: Gumbo, catfish, jambalaya, ribs. We opted for the jambalaya and the meatloaf. Coincidentally, they are the cheapest entrees on the menu at $18.95 each.

We were treated to a bowl of succotash and a loaf of cornbread with a fruity butter. Yum all around. We scarfed down the succotash and tried our best not to consume the whole loaf of cornbread.

When our entrees came, we were a bit disappointed. The meatloaf had the black beans it promised, and it was bacon-wrapped, but it still was pretty dry. The jambalaya had chicken, ham and sausage – no fish. Since I don’t eat ham, my choices were limited. I ate A LOT of the rice which tasted oddly of ketchup. Both dishes came with grilled peaches and sweet potatoes which saved the meal for us. Those sides went fast. It’s too bad because I think the food is good and that we just ordered wrong.

The only semi-bizarre thing about Belle’s is that they charge you a music cover charge, $5 per person because there is a live band. But as I mentioned before, we sat outside, we were not dancing (as the waitresses were) and the band was on a break for much of our meal. Still we had to shell out the extra $10.

All in all, another odd locale for dinner. Here’s hoping that next time I’ll be posting about a plain-old restaurant. But with the Bergers, you never know.

Until we eat again, KLB

Thursday, September 01, 2005

RUB A Dub, We Love Their Grub, 9/1/05

Continuing with JB's golf fixation, we spent the first part of our evening at the driving range of Chelsea Piers. After JB had hit 200 balls and I read through Golf for Women a few times, it was time for me to be in charge.

JB was tired and hungry, still I dragged him from 11th Ave & 18th St to 7th Ave & 23rd St so we could get some grub at RUB.

RUB (stands for Righteous Urban barbecue) is one of the many BBQ places that has sprouted this year in hopes of bringing real BBQ to NYC. So far, they're blowing the competition away.

My only fear was that they wouldn't have ribs, I had heard that they run out of items quickly. So before we sat down I immediately asked the hostess the food status. We were told they had everything except buns (go figure) and rib tips.

We were starving so we ordered quickly, ribs and a meat platter with brisket, sausage, greens and onion strings. We also agreed to share everything.

After JB had finished his sweet tea, plus about three free refills, the food arrived and we dove in right away. The baby back ribs rocked. Seasoning was perfect and no sauce was necessary. I wished I hadn't agreed to split the order.

The brisket on the meat platter was so good that we both decided that RUB will be catering this year's Rosh Hashanah dinner. It's Kosher right?

The sausage seemed a bit off and JB pointed out that it was probably the caraway seeds. I'm not a fan of rye bread either.

The sides were adequate, although I agree with other reviews that they could use a macaroni & cheese or mashed potato side dish. Their offerings consist only of coleslaw, fries, beans or potato salad in addition to the greens and onion strings.

We still managed to eat everything, but sadly did not have room for their one dessert, one of my favorites, Fried Oreos.

A few years ago, after too many glasses of Chianti at the San Gennaro festival, I ditched my friends in search of a fried oreo. My friends found me covered in powdered sugar with a big grin on my face and oreo in my teeth. I really think that they are an awesome dessert. I will have to go back to try them.

In fact, we can't wait to go back. There's a lot more meat to be had including pulled pork, St. Louis ribs and barbecued chicken. And next time, I'm saving room for the fried oreos and I'm not sharing!

Until we eat again, KLB