Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Berger Review! Happy National Hamburger Day: Smashburger, Wantagh, NY

Today is a great day to be a Berger, a Burger or any kind of "burger" variation.  Why you might ask?  Because it's National Hamburger Day which equates to free burgers at Smashburger. 

Today I am also thankful for social media because I received one Facebook post and one Facebook private message with the awesome tip, plus a late breaking email from Grub Street, New York magazine's food and restaurant blog.

The deal is simple - 1 free classic burger when you show a burger-affiliated ID.  I knew very little about Smashburger, we are more In-n-Out, Steak N' Shake or Five Guys people when it comes to chains, so I was ready for a taste. 

There is a Smashburger that is sort of on my way home from work.  And when I left work late, saw the rain and corresponding traffic, I knew that a somewhat circuitious route on side roads would probably not take much longer than sitting in a parking-lot like parkway.

I called JB and he agreed to the plan, with a caveat.  He wanted one, too.  I reiterated the 1 burger per burger policy, but JB, ever the loophole-finder texted me a photo of his license. 

The restaurant was pleasantly bright, especially with the gloomy rain outside, and full of families (other Bergers perhaps?) enjoying their meals.  Smashburger is a "Fast Casual" establishment, meaning you order your food at the counter, pay, take your seat and await your server who deposits said food on your table.

I explained my fate to the counterpeople, flashed my ID and presto, I had two free burgers.  The official deal was 1 Classic.  I opted for 1 Classic with the works and 1 Classic completely plain. 7 minutes later my food was deposited at a stand up bar and I was on my way.

Both burgers had an excellent egg bun but just an average burger.  The burger was much bigger than a typical fast food burger, but it lacked taste.  The bun was greasy and buttery.  JB's works included
American cheese, smash sauce, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion.  The smash sauce tasted remarkably like mustard, but who can complain - it was completely free. 
Since it's a chain, I'll add it to the list of stops on a future road trip.  I think big Z and little D (aka the sliders) would like it, too. 
Until our next Berger,
Smashburger - Wantagh
1223 Wantagh Ave
Wantagh, NY
You can have Smashburger all over the country.  Find your closest location

Monday, May 20, 2013

Egg-xtra, Egg-xtra, Read All About It:Thomas's Ham and Eggery, Carle Place, NY

Excuse the pun, but I rarely go out to lunch on a workday (except to pick up my bacon tofu salad at Fairway), so I needed to share my excitement. 

Thomas's Ham and Eggery is a diner institution near the shopping mecca known as Roosevelt Field in Carle Place on Long Island.  It is a classic diner via it's style (retro booths & tables), service (gruff & slow) and food (eggs & such, hence their name). 

So let's talk about those eggs.  All egg dishes arrive in their own skillet.  It's pretty genius if you ask me -- patrons love the kitschiness factor and there are less dishes to wash. 

Unfortunately, there were challenges with our order.  The egg white omelet with swiss and broccoli, came with cheddar instead.  It was nearly impossible to locate any chicken sausage in the leek and chicken sausage frittata. And the bacon in the bacon and eggs was devoid of any salt flavor. 

But mostly we were too hungry and eventually too full to notice.

It seemed there were a lot of regulars here.  Maybe if we became regulars they'd get our order right.  Maybe. 

Until our next Berger,

Thomas's Ham and Eggery
325 Old Country Rd, Carle Place, NY

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Not as “Wynnderful” as Expected: Wing Lei and La Cave, Las Vegas, NV

I am optimist.  I always have high hopes, but for anything at the Wynn in Las Vegas, I set the bar especially high.  Big Mistake, Big, Huge. 

Our first stop was Wing Lei, a Chinese restaurant that falls in the “Fine Dining” category at the Wynn.  We also learned that it’s the only Asian restaurant in North America to receive a Michelin star.  Yes, the room is opulent with gold lacquer and red walls, the service is close to the impeccable level, and the food is good, yet something was lacking. 

We started with several recommended appetizers to share: Crispy Prawns, Pot Stickers and Spare Ribs. The server delicately placed one of each item on our plates, and this is where the disappointment began.  The prawns were crispy, but overly dry; the pot stickers were fine but nothing special and the spare ribs were just gloppy (if that's a word). 

Mains were better.  My massive portion of the General Tao's Chicken, was delicately fried, spicy and, finally, in the very good category. I had a bite of the Garlic Beef Tenderloin which had delicious garlic undertones, although I think it would have been a more appropriate dish at the steakhouse down the hall.  At the urging of a neighboring table, we requested a late order of the Braised Eggplant.  The eggplant was super hot from a temperature perspective and therefore tough to discern much of anything at all.  Surprisingly, the star of the evening was pork fried rice. Usually an afterthought, this was full of flavor, not too greasy and the pork to rice ratio was pro-pork (which is always a plus). 

Our dinner concluded quickly, as we learned that the restaurant stopped serving dinner at 10PM.  We all found this odd, even for a Wednesday, this was Vegas after all. 

This neighboring table said they come here a few times a year and that the Peking Duck is stellar.  Too bad they were out of it, that may have changed things.  I should mention though that Wing Lei, like most things at the Wynn, is very expensive.  Am I glad I went, yes.  But I would go back? Yes, but only if someone else was paying. 

The next night, was the second chance.  We chose La Cave, which deems itself a "Wine and Food Hideaway" in the "Casual Dining" category. I think that's code for, "prices may be somewhat reasonable - somewhat".   I actually ate lunch at La Cave last year and I recall a delightful lunch at the bar with my friend Cathy watching our food prepared before our eyes in the "Cave"-like front room.  This time we had a large party and sat deeper in the restaurant which ironically is more airy and opens onto an outdoor dining area.  

Just like the night before, I thought everything was good, but nothing really wowed me.  La Cave's concept is tapas style with small plates. They suggest 2 plates per person and then sharing.  Sharing is not as easy as you'd think though since the plates really are small.  And the service here was spotty at best.  It took a while to get our water, even longer for our wine, and when the cheapest wine is $70 a bottle, you'd think it would sprint over itself.

With the 2 plate suggestion, I ordered the cavatelli with short ribs and the hamachi cubes.  I also had a craving for the onion soup, but thought that would be too hard to share.  My hamachi arrived first and was perfectly sized - for one person.  I gobbled up the sushi, offering tastes, but it was so small that no one wanted to take from my tiny dinner.  Luckily my second selection, was much bigger and actually quite heavy.  I didn't love it as much I thought I would so I pushed it into rotation with my tablemates.  In return, I did get a few great tastes: namely the sliced sirloin steak and the grilled shrimp.  Simple usually wins at place like this; I should remember that.  Others at the table enjoyed the flatbread pizzas and salads.  Again, the simple stuff.

We had the same issue here with the kitchen closing at 10PM (and this time on a Thursday!) so we pre-ordered one of each dessert.  The S'Mores flatbread sounded like a good idea, but in practice it was sickly sweet with not enough chocolate.  They probably used up all the chocolate on the chocolate risotto, as it had so much that it was like a chocolate rice soup -- definitely a miss.  The other two desserts were the creme brulee and the beignets with multiple dipping sauces, these were the better choices by far. 

Another lackluster meal that could and should have been "Wynnderful". 

Until our next Berger,


La Cave
Wing Lei
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Treats: First and South, Greenport, NY

When the topic of Mother's Day came up in my house, Big Z with his 4-year old generosity said "Mom, I will get you treats." He never defined treats, so I defined them for myself, which meant a trip to the North Fork for wine and food, in that order. 

The first stop was the always lovely McCall Wines in Cutchogue.  While we love going to any vineyard, many of them are too commercial and frankly, not that kid-friendly.  McCall is open only seasonally and it is essentially a barn with a few picnic tables scattered on the lawn, with amazing wine.  JB purchased us a lovely bottle of 2010 Pinot Noir and we were able to imbibe while the boys were relatively well-behaved.  Their selection is not huge, but it is stellar.  Check it out  - mccallwines.com.  They have a new wine club, that we joined (and JB tried to convince me that was my Mother's Day present). If you can't make it there, they will get the wine to you.

After corking up our nearly empty bottle, thanks mainly to me, we drove further east to Greenport for a late lunch at First and South.  Greenport is an old whaling and ship building town that is somewhat of a destination for both daytrippers and vacationers.  The restaurant scene is always improving and I'm happy to say that First and South is contributing heavily to that.

Set a few streets back from the main drag in Greenport, on you guessed it, the corner of First and South, the restaurant is in an unassuming house shaded by cherry trees.  We heard acoustic Pearl Jam as we approached the entrance and immediately felt relaxed.  (The McCall Pinot Noir probably helped with that, too.)

We were lucky enough to score an outdoor bar table where we sat under one of the aforementioned cherry trees.  And were even luckier to have one sleeping child.  We didn't need any more drinks, other than water, so we focused on the food.

We had arrived at around 3, sort of straddling a late brunch and an early dinner.  JB cobbled together a brunch-type meal with a mason jar full of steel cut oats plus a side of applewood bacon and a side of grain toast.  It was eclectic to say the least, but JB is a sucker for anything in a mason jar. 

Big Z and I both had the burger.  On their menu, it's called the "Really Good Burger" and it is.  But besides the awesome brioche, the gooey cheese and the pickle pile, the best part of the dish is the kimchi slaw.  If JB is a sucker for mason jars, then I'm a bigger sucker for kimchi; the spicier the better.  Fortunately, Big Z didn't want any of his (no surprise for a 4-year old) so JB got a taste, too.

And let's not forget the fries.  Hand cut fries are their specialty, so much so that you need to order them separately. The boys indulged in a salty mound of almost-perfect fries.  Even little D ate them cold when he finally woke up. 

We skipped dessert for frozen yogurt in the village, but I saw homemade cookies on the menu for next time.

Speaking of next time, we need to go back for dinner.  The dinner menu appears to have some interesting bites like crispy duck tongue and a pickle plate that I know little D would adore.  And I am fairly certain, I could go for that burger again, and all of its accompaniments, too. 

Until our next Berger,

First and South
100 South Street
Greenport, NY

Date Night with my Parents: Erminia, New York, NY

Time for my parents to get blogged.  Hereby known as Bubba (my mom) and Best (my dad) because that is what our boys call them. 

So, Bubba suggested dinner and a Broadway play for Best's birthday.  Date night with the parents - who could resist. 

The issue became where to eat.  I immediately started researching ethnic spots in the Theatre district -Indonesian perhaps?  Maybe some good Persian.  Bubba shot my ideas down.  For them, pre-theatre dining needs to be safe and not laden with any potential gastronomic anomalies let's just say.

The next consideration was noise, or the lack there of. Best likes it quiet.  Bubba likes a scene, or better yet to be seen. 

With all of these stipulations, we decided to expand our search and I settled on Erminia on the Upper East Side.   Erminia is one of those places that you always hear about, but never go to.  It's a tiny, and I mean 12 tables tiny, Italian restaurant, by way of Rome.  It's romantic and candelit, perfect for Best's auditory preferences, yet still has an air of exclusivity to it, which met Bubba's requirements. 

A 6PM on Saturday night, we found ourselves at one of only two tables filled at the restaurant.  Less people meant we had the full attention of the waitstaff and Bubba loved it. She practiced her "Italian" and lingered while making her dinner choices.

Apparently Bubba had a, let's call it, well-saturated evening the night before, so she skipped the cocktails and appetizers portion of the meal. So the three of us worked on the wines by the glass - the three Pinots as the waiter called it - Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir and Pinot Chianti.  (Yes, an Italian waiter joke.)

Best and I split a garlic/basil/olive oil Calamari alla griglia appetizer that was light and tasty.  JB indulged in the Carciofi Alla Giudia (artichoke) as he usually does when he thinks we are at a real "Roman" restaurant.  They lacked seasoning and crunchiness, but they were tasty. What isn't when covered in olive oil.  FYI, if you ever go to Rome the best carciofi we've ever had is at Al Pompiere in the Jewish District. Go.  alpompiereroma.com. But first, back to Erminia. 

For our mains, 3 out of  4 of us went the pasta route.  Bubba had the house specialty -
Rotolo di Pasta - which is a rolled pasta stuffed with spinach, ricotta and mozzarella.  She generously shared her filling dish which was sweet and delicious.  I opted for the Bucatini all' Amatriciana, a thick linguine in red sauce laden with pancetta.  And JB's Farfalle alla Capricciosa had too much of an olive taste for me, but he managed to polish off those bowties that also had capers and sun-dried tomatoes. 

Best surprised us all by ordering the Scaloppine Di Vitello Con Carciofi E Funghi
since he's usually the two appetizer king.  We think he was off his mark since the restaurant was beer and wine only, i.e., no vodka, so he splurged on an entree. He did not surprise us, however, when he didn't offer tastes to anyone (although Bubba managed to steal a bite off his plate). 

As curtain time loomed, it was coffee and dessert time.  Chocolate mousse pie for JB and me was just OK and Bubba and Best chose the tartufo, which I think received the same OK-grade.  

All in all, though, it was an excellent choice for a quiet dinner and I do recommend it.

I also recommend the play - Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike - only on Broadway through the end of June.   

Until our next Berger,

250 East 83rd Street
New York, NY

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A Mistake in Googling: Greek Island Diner, Wading River, NY

I have a problem.  I am always looking for a new restaurant and sometimes I get led astray.  Take for example yesterday, when I'm at the doctor for an evening checkup in Wading River which is about 25 minutes away from home.  Close enough that I know where I am, but far enough where I don't really know the culinary landscape.  So in the waiting room, I Google.  And waiting in the office, I Google.  And then I text JB saying I've found the perfect takeout.  1 hour and $30 later, we have a mediocre falafel sandwich that resembles a chicken cutlet,  decent fries, and a Greek Salad big enough to feed a family of 10. 

So lesson learned, sometimes Google is not your friend. 

Until our next berger,

Greek Island Diner
6324 Rte 25A # 6  Wading River, NY 11792

A Miami Must: The Bazaar, Miami Beach, FL

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to find myself on a girls weekend that was all about sun, rosé and restaurants -- in that order.  Seriously, after 10 hours on the beach on Saturday and a few bottles of the pink stuff, we headed to what would be the best meal of our trip and probably one of the best meals I've had in recent history. 

We teetered in our heels a few blocks from our hotel to the Hotel SLS and were immediately entranced by the scene of beautiful people.  After an attempt by the hostess to seat us in the bar/lobby area (don't you hate how hostesses always try to give you a bad table first? Even other reviewers on Yelp say the same thing about their experience here), we found ourselves in the best spot in the house. 

The room is awe-inspiring with a massive coral-like chandelier and books painted on the walls. Our table had a couch in lieu of two chairs with side tables flocking the couch.  It almost felt like we were in someone's living room, almost. 

By definition, Bazaar is a tapas restaurant.  The Spanish-born José Andrés, however, created not just Spanish choices but also Asian, Italian, American Comfort Food, you name it.  The menu is daunting.  Fortunately our Frodo-looking waiter, Christopher, provided some guidance.

Per Chistopher's recommendation, we ordered 3 to 4 plates per person.  It seems like a lot, but the servers space it out and trust me, you are able to savor everything.  Just think of it as your own tasting menu where you get to choose everything. 

Most dishes were both delicious and gorgeous, and really just a few misses. 

Here was our tally (with descriptions from the menu in italics):

- Kueh Pai Ti Singapore’s favorite street food - shrimp, peanuts, chili sauce: Christopher's recommendation was messy after the first bite, but its tough to complain when you combine shrimp, peanuts and chili sauce.
- Japanese Taco grilled eel, shiso, cucumber, wasabi, pork chicharrones: I wasn't sure if I was going to like this one and was pleasantly surprised.  The star of this was the cucumber "taco shell".
- Dragon Fruit Ceviche tuna, pecans, lime, hibiscus: I think this was the all-around favorite.  Tuna-style sushi covered in foam all inside a carved out dragonfruit. 
- Not Your Everyday Caprese
cherry tomatoes, liquid mozzarella:  Christopher practically insisted on this one.  The cheese was burrata style, almost straight from Capri and the tomatoes were on a bed of amazing pesto.  I considered licking the plate.

- Brussels Sprouts lemon purée, apricots, grapes, lemon air, banana: A big hit in our group, the brussel sprouts were light, tasty and, yes, foamy. Again, with the foam.
- Papas Canarias salty wrinkled potatoes, mojo verde, mojo rojo: These potatoes were a suprising hit.  Tiny potates that were almost air-popped had two spicy dipping sauces.  I let this dish rest right next to me so I could keep partaking.
- Sautéed Shrimp garlic, parsley, lemon, guindilla pepper: Simple, yet excellent.  Shrimp is also an easy sell with this crowd.
- Banana-Mojito
Mojito sorbet, mint and caramelized bananas: We didn't even look at a dessert menu, but we had to pick one and this was Christopher's rec.  Looking back at the menu now I probably would have preferred to get Key Lime Pie which is my all time favorite dessert, however, this creation was good, too.  I enjoyed the graham cracker crust over the mojito sorbet immensely, but I skipped the carmelized bananas. 

- Drinks: How could a pitcher of white sangria and dessert wine ever be a miss??

- Pollo al Ajillo Cubano slow-cooked chicken leg, black garlic: OK, so this might not be fair.  Ever since my niece Jessie said at around age 5 "Who would eat a chicken's leg" - I don't.  So this gets an automatic miss for me.  
- Cuban Coffee Rubbed Churrasco passion fruit: Disppointing and boring, and its rare (no pun intended) that I don't like a steak dish.
- Cubano’ In Honor of Café Versailles: Again, not really fair, since I'm not a ham person, but still it didn't make much traction on the table.  It did come at the end though, when we reaching capacity.
- Black Rossejat paella-style pasta, squid ink, shrimp, alioli: Another disappointment.  From the menu description we almost ordered two of these, but Frodo told us one would suffice and he was right.  The paella-like pasta was overwhelmingly fishy and really, I usually love squid ink. 
- Empanadillas de Bacalao salt cod, honey: These were quite forgettable. Sweet and airy is an odd combination for cod. 

There were so many more items on the menu we could have had.  If only we could have stayed in Miami one more day. 

Bazaar is an experience.  It's not bizarre, it's amazing. And best of all, they are expanding.  There is currently another Bazaar in Beverly Hills AND they are planning to also launch in New York and Vegas within about a year. 

If you ever get a chance to go here, do. 

Until our next berger,

The Bazaar
1701 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

(305) 455-2999