Thursday, June 27, 2013

Berger Review: Brindle Room, New York, NY

When I read Thrillist's list of the 33 best burgers in the country earlier this week, I was devastated. I had not eaten a single one.  And it is not as if these burgers can be found in far-flung places - most major metropolitan areas are on the list.  My mission was simple; start eating these burgers. 

The first conquest was the Brindle Room in NYC. 

JB and I were in NYC for a birthday party  (a fabulous party, I must say) and as the night wore on, and the prosecco glasses were consumed, I hatched my plan.  We'd takeout one burger to share for the car ride back home to the Hamptons.  

I called in advance as we drove over to the East Village and I ran into what appeared to be a non-descript, almost-empty restaurant.  Granted it was after 11 on a Wednesday night.  I traded $15 for a brown paper bag of fries and the (famous) Steakhouse burger, and jumped back into the car. 

My only regret was ordering just 1.  The Brindle Room sears their burger in a cast iron skillet and smothers it in cheese (I chose swiss) and carmelized onions.  Each bite is packed with a rich delicious fatty burger flavor.  Apparently, the blend of the burger meat includes "deckle" which is the outside edge of the ribeye.  We should all become deckle fans. 

The bun is nothing fancy and does not need to be, it is merely a burger vessel.  And the burger comes with a bag of hand-cut fries that we skipped in an attempt to have some self-control.  Some. 

1 Down.  32 to go. 

Until our next Berger,

277 East 10th Street
New York, NY

On the Side:  The Steakhouse burger is not officially on the dinner menu (though it is on the lunch menu), but they always have it, so just ask. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summer Kickoff: Shuckers Lobster Bar, Hampton Bays, NY

It is officially Summer in the Hamptons.  And we had to celebrate.  A Friday night at Shuckers Lobster Bar was our choice, and an excellent one at that. 

We had a large group that dangerously had more kids than adults. Luckily, Shuckers is a casual place with live music, a huge outdoor patio and an indoor dance floor (that turns into a full on Hamptons dance club around 10PM).  The kids could run around and pick at their burgers, fries, chicken fingers and such while the adults could listen to music, have some drinks and eat some suprisingly excellent food. 

Shuckers is known for its lobster special that offers a 1 1/4 pound lobster with mussels, clams and corn for $19.95.  A steal in the Hamptons.  JB and I were tempted but thought that eating a lobster would take too much dedicated time and effort (plus no one wants to be chasing their kids around a bar wearing a lobster bib, luckily it didn't come to that).

To satisfy our need for lobster, we chose the amazing Lobster BLT.  The best part of all was that there was a ton of lobster meat on it and we didn't have to do any work (like we would have with the lobster special).  Bacon and lobster is a win in my book, and Shuckers complemented the sandwich with a garlic butter instead of mayo.  Yet another win for this dish. 

We also split an order of tacos.  Yes, tacos.  I had actually recently read several favorable reviews on  Curbed Hamptons and I agree that these may be some of the best tacos in the Hamptons.  We chose a trio of tacos: Coconut Shrimp, the Fish Taco and the Special Fish Taco.  Each one was more delicious than the next. I probably should have paid more attention to the distinct characteristics of each, but I was too busy trying to make sure JB was sharing "fairly". 

The good news is that we'll be back again soon for more, although I have no idea what to get.  The bad news is that Shuckers is only open on the weekends.   I know where we'll be....

Until our next Berger,

Shuckers Lobster Bar
58 Foster Avenue
Hampton Bays, NY

Some Quicksie Thai Takeout: Dee Daa, New York, NY

I have this new takeout habit. Actually it is really JB's habit - he insists that I bring home takeout for him whenever I am out for the evening. Sometimes I put my foot down, but usually I cave. And that's how I found myself with a bag of takeout Thai food on the 7:00PM Hampton Jitney. (For those of you who are not familiar with the Jitney, see the definition in our glossary.)

Fortunately, I have found an ideal place for my Jitney takeout. The name is Dee Daa and it is healthy Thai. Everything is under 600 calories. For real. 
Dee Daa is smack in midtown and probably does a big lunch business. It is bright, clean and efficient. I've never waited more than 5 minutes for food and all of the takeout comes in environmentally-friendly packaging.

This trip's order consisted of 2 starters and 2 sides. JB's favorite papaya salad was chock full of peanuts, carrot and papaya. The dressing was strong yet sweet. The crispy shrimp were cold by the time I got home (not their fault, close to 3 hours had elapsed by the time we actually ate them). Had they been hot, I bet they would have been delish.

Luckily, our mains stayed warmer on the ride home.  The Green Curry with Shrimp had a kick to it, which is exactly how we like it.  And the Pad See-ew with Tofu was the lightest tasting noodle dish I've ever had. 

It is such a treat to polish off a plate of Thai food and not feel completely stuffed. And this is why, I will continue to run to Dee Daa for my quicksie Thai takeout. 

Until our next Berger,

155 East 44th Street
New York, NY

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Disappointment: Bistro 72, Riverhead, NY

Sometimes you go to a restaurant and you can tell the meal will be doomed from the beginning.  You keep hoping for a bright spot and wind up being disappointed.  It is those instances when you should really trust your judgment and quit while you are ahead.  This is exactly what happened to us at Bistro 72 in Riverhead, except we didn't quit.  We forged through into a major disappointment. 

This meal was celebrating a few special occasions: our 8 year anniversary, Big Z's last day of Pre-K and the $50 Groupon offer that we purchased last week for $15.  How bad could it be? Bad.

Bistro 72 is located in the Hotel Indigo in Riverhead - dangerously close to the Tanger outlets and the North Fork Vineyards.  While the Hotel Indigo tries to be a retro-type kitschy motel, it is still too reminiscent of a Motel 6, albeit a modern one.  The restaurant is intended to be a draw for everyone - from hotel guests, to the mobs on their way to the Hamptons, to local residents like us.  But at the end of the day, it still is a hotel restaurant that serves three squares and always has a TV on - even in the dining room. 

The warning signs started when we arrived and there was no host or hostess in sight, but there was a sign that read "Please wait to be seated".  So we waited. And waited. JB asked the person at the check-in desk for assistance and eventually the bartender helped us. 

We were handed several menus: Regular, Pre-Fixe, Kids, Wine, Cocktail.  Our table was probably a 6-top for our party of 4, and there was still no room on the table for all of the menus.  I had read on their website that Tuesdays have half-price wines by the glass night  and was told, "Sorry, only at the bar".  We each ordered a glass of Sparkling Pointe champagne, in an attempt to celebrate.   

Bread service may have been the highlight of the meal.  We each received crackers and a poppy seed roll, that came with a trifecta of condiments - olive oil & vinegar, butter and bruschetta. 

Our champagne still hadn't arrived mid-way through the bread course and the waitress explained that they were looking for a cold bottle.  Meanwhile, JB found two chipped water glasses on our table and asked for replacements. 

JB insisted on a starter of a tomato salad.  Three beefsteak tomatoes came covered with feta and a champagne vinaigrette with some grape leaves and the biggest beans I've ever seen mixed in. Truly a strange combination.  The dressing turned out to be the only champagne we'd have that night for we soon learned that indeed there was no champagne.  I opted instead for a glass of Rose and JB gave up and ordered a Diet Coke. 

For our mains, the boys shared a plain burger with fries as did I, though mine had cheese. I will admit that the burger was adequate, but nothing spectacular or to go back for. I asked for salad instead of fries and was given a huge arugula, strawberry and ricotta salata concoction. It was downright odd. Usually the salad instead of fries is some simple lettuce and maybe a dressing. This was some kind of chef experiment and I was the innocent taster. The favors were all wrong, similar to the tomato salad.

JB had ordered a brisket sandwich which he likened to corned beef covered with cheese and barbecue sauce.

So we redeemed our Groupon and ran out of there. I was happy at least not to pay Retail for that meal!

Until our next Berger,

Bistro 72
Hotel Indigo East End
1830 West Main Street, Route 25
Riverhead, NY

PS -- We did have some amazing ice cream for dessert at Snowflake Ice Cream down the street.  Ice cream for dinner, anyone? 

Monday, June 17, 2013

NOLA: Lüke, New Orleans, LA

If you ask who the most famous chef you New Orleans is you may get different answers -- Emeril with his BAM, Paul Prudhomme whose face may have resided in your childhood spice cabinet and John Besh.  Chef Besh has no gimmick but rather a variety of awesome restaurants in New Orleans each demonstrating his southern flair. In my 24-hour stint to NOLA, his name must have come up half a dozen different ways.  It was only fitting that we select one of his establishments for our one and only dinner. 

I chose Lüke for two reasons: 1) its proximity to our hotel and 2)its burger.  The restaurant is defined as a "classic brasserie" so there is a French/German twist on the food, yet given the locale and the chef, there is a touch of classic New Orleans cuisine. 

The restaurant decor is heavily dominated by the large wood bar and the bar menu proves it.  I adored my St. Charles Street Car cocktail with the perfect balance of St. Germaine, Pear Vodka and Champagne.  (Note: I have already tasked JB to re-create this at home). 

While I was originally drawn to Lüke by its burger, I decided to go more classic New Orleans and opted for the jumbo Louisiana shrimp.  The dish was in a personal skillet over the best grits I've ever had, most likely because they were jalapeno cheese grits mixed with andouille and green onion sausages.  If I didn't have table manners, I would have licked the skillet clean. 

And while I didn't have the burger, one of my table mates did and declared it delicious with its bacon,  caramelized onions, tomatoes, Swiss cheese and a heaping portion of house-made fries.

I felt required to get dessert.  My preference, again, was to get something more Southern, but their pastry chef serves more brasserie-type dessert fare.  The crust on my strawberry galette was crispy, buttery and delicious and well-complemented the cheesecake ice cream it accompanied. 

Good news for me is that I'll be back in New Orleans soon and can go back for the burger, and even better, Lüke serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I wonder what their grits are like for breakfast.

Until our next Berger,

333 St. Charles Ave
New Orleans, LA

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Birthday Lunch: Cowfish, Hampton Bays, NY

If you don't already know, today is my actual birthday.  And what better way to celebrate than an al fresco lunch on the water with JB.  The day threatenened rain, so our original plans were more landlocked, but when I saw the sun come out late morning, we were waterbound. 

I really can't believe we hadn't been to Cowfish already, it is in the neighboring town of Hampton Bays.  Right on the Shinnecock Canal, which connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Peconic Bay, Cowfish has something for everyone including tantalizing drinks and a playground for kids with some delicious food and views in between. 

Tuesday at 12:30PM is not a busy time for Cowfish so we were given our choice of table on the upstairs balcony.  Since we've heard that such a table on a busy Saturday night in the summer might have an hour or two wait, we considered ourselves especially lucky.

I imbibed some Sparkling Rose from Bedell Cellars on the North Fork, while JB stuck to freshly made mango iced tea complete with JB's favorite, the Mason Jar as a glass. 

Choosing was difficult, the lunch menu was not as large as I'd hoped.  I settled on a Caesar Salad with added Shrimp and JB, after much agonizing, selected the special, a Fresh Flounder Sandwich.  We both chose well.  My Caesar had cornbread croutons and a sizable amount of crunchy and well-flavored salad.  However, there were only 3 shrimp included on my salad which I found a bit skimpy considering the $8 upcharge. 

JB claimed that his flounder tasted as if it had been caught to order.  Two large fried filets covered the bread, almost po boy-like, and there was a hefty side of coleslaw.  JB loved my cornbread croutons so much that he wanted to get an order of cornbread for dessert and then, fortunately, changed his mind.

Speaking of dessert, since it was my birthday, I wanted my all-time favorite, key lime pie.  Sadly, Cowfish doesn't offer it, so instead we headed over to Holey Moses Cheesecake in Westhampton Beach and picked up a whole pie.  Yum.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Until our next berger (or birthday!),

258 E. Montauk Hwy,
Hampton Bays, NY

And if you want some truly amazing Key Lime Pie, or cheesecake for that matter, you must try:

Holey Moses Cheesecake.
332 Gabreski Airport # 115
Westhampton Beach, NY

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Light Lunch: Seasons 52, Garden City, NY

Birthday week has arrived! The first event was a light lunch at Seasons 52.  Low calorie food seems to be the theme lately, let's see how long it lasts.  Seasons 52 is a newish chain where all plates are under 475 calories, from appetizers through desserts.  And it is good, really good. 

I had been to the Orlando original back in February and thought the concept was phenomenal.  I'm not usually a fan of chain, mall-type restaurants, but this one is a keeper.

Since it was lunch, we couldn't linger.  Fortunately, Seasons 52 is perfect for lunch and the food is enough to get you through the day without leaving you to fall asleep at your desk with a full stomach. 

Their concept, other than low-cal, is that their menu is seasonal and specials change each week, hence the Seasons 52 name. 

We started with the Ripe Plum Tomato Flatbread.  It was paper thin, the flattest flatbread I've probably ever seen covered in tomatoes with basil, roaster garlic and melted parmesan.  Definitely lighter than pizza and certainly more fresh, we all loved it.  It was tacos as our mall around for our main.  Each dish came with three 3 soft tacos (chimichurri steak or blackened mahi mahi) and we all commented how we need to get taco holders at home.  The tacos were adorned with light, liquidy, toppings including a jalapeno-lime slaw, guac, pico de gallo, mole, salsa and some sour cream on the side.  You can easily tell where they are saving the calories, for example, each taco had only 1 piece of steak on it, but I will repeat that everything was delicious.

And since we had a light entrees, there was room for dessert.  My favorite part of Seasons 52 is the dessert course.  The server brings over a candelabra-type shot glass holder, and each shot glass has a dessert in it - they call them "Mini-Indulgences".  The server then explains each dessert (sort of like an old-fashioned dessert cart), you make your 250-calorie choice and said dessert is plucked from its holder and handed to you. 

My Key Lime Pie dessert was layered with graham cracker crust and key lime filling and worth every one of those 250 calories.  We all wanted more, and I guess that's the point.  We'll be back. 

Until our next Berger,

Seasons 52
@ Roosevelt Field Mall
630 Old Country Road
Garden City, NY

On the Side:  Seasons 52 is all across the country, find the closest location near you:

Sunday, June 09, 2013

A Graduation Celebration: Baby Moon, Westhampton Beach, NY

When Big Z graduated from Pre-K, we all deserved a celebration, and we let him choose the location.  Letting a 4-year old choose the restaurant can be riskly, fortunately the guest of honor requested pasta and fries, so we settled on Baby Moon, an Italian joint in Westhampton Beach.  I call it a joint, because that's what it is - old school Italian.  It is not fancy old-school Italian like Carbone (which I drooled about in this week's New York Times review with its amazing food and tuxedo-clad waiters), rather it is your typical pizzeria upfront, dining room in back crowd-pleaser Italian. 

Given that it is still not technically Hamptons high season, Baby Moon had only one of their two dining rooms open tonight in addition to the pizzeria.  It was packed.   Ironically, not with other graduates - I guess not too many parents take a 3 and 4 year old out for dinner starting at 7:45 but hey it was a special occasion.   

Dinner started with a plate of hot garlic knots.  They looked greasy and were greasy (and delicious), although not too garlickly.  We immediately ordered a second batch.  The second batch seemed more like crescent rolls brushed with garlic and olive oil, not that I'd complain about that.

Since it was pushing 8:00 on Wednesday night, we skipped starters and went straight to mains.  Bubba immediately chose the Chicken Cacciatore and we learned long after we ordered that the kitchen was out.  Out of chicken cacciatore?  That did not make much sense. She craned her neck to see what looked good on the other tables and by sight selected the Rigatoni Baby Moon.  Turns out her split second decision was a good one. We all enjoyed this rigatoni dish that had asparagus, peas and eggplant all covered in a tasty Tomato Sauce.  Definitely something to try re-creating at home. 

Best chose a sausage and peppers hero.  An odd choice for dinner, but Best often makes odd dinner choices.  I managed just one taste of sausage, it was well-cooked with slightly dominant fennel flavor.

JB selected one of my all time favorites, Organic Chicken Milanese with a chopped salad on top.  I prefer my Chicken pounded extraordinarily thin, the thickness here was close to 1/2 inch - too thick for me, alas he enjoyed it.

 I had eaten more than my share of garlic knots, and was therefore drawn to the Low Carb Chicken Parmesan from their light menu.  While I do prefer Full Carb Chicken Parmesan, I felt compelled to choose the grilled chicken instead of breaded and the fat-free mozzarella instead of full fat.  
And the boys got their fries and bowties.  They didn't talk much about their dinners, but I will tell you that we brought home leftover bowties and no fries. 

I'd be willing to put money on the fact that there aren't any homemade desserts here.  Nonetheless, Big Z indulged on a Tartufo and Little D shared a lemon sorbet in the lemon itself with Best and me.  Yes, they were good and if you want them, I'm pretty sure you can also get them at Trader Joe's

The meal certainly had it's highs and lows, but all in all it was good.  I'd love to go back in high season to see if there are any differences. I'm fairly sure that JB, Big Z and Little D all want to go again.

Until our next Berger,

Baby Moon
238 Montauk Hwy 
Westhampton Beach, NY

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Best Long Island Sushi: Kotobuki, Babylon, NY

When JB and I first moved from NYC to the East End of Long Island, good sushi was hard to find.   We asked friends, neighbors, strangers for recommendations and we always got the same answer: Kotobuki in Babylon.  It wasn't exactly next door, but we craved good sushi, so we made the worthwhile journey. And worthwhile it was - fresh and inventive, it soon became our fave.  We hadn't been in awhile, and were lucky enough to pay them a visit last night.

Right on the main street in Babylon village, Kotobuki is an unassuming sushi den (not like its Pan-Asian neighbor, Monsoon, that is larger than life with a smoking hot hostess trying to lure in diners).  At 6:30 on a summer Saturday, there were still a few tables but the sushi bar seemed appealing.  JB likes to watch the masters at work.  Mind you, by 8PM, there was probably a line out the door. 

We had concert tickets and were pressed for time, so we had previewed the menu on the drive.  I glanced at the menu again, while drinking my Kirin light and nibbling on their gratis spicy noodles, and was swayed by the specials.   

Atop the Specials, I was immediately (and obviously) drawn to this:


chopped tuna, rice, tempura flakes, scallion “patties” topped w/avocado, romaine hearts & spicy mayo on a rice cracker “bun”

Sushi sliders?  Yes, please!

The "Grinch Roll" also enticed us --
spicy tuna, yellowtail, crunchy, scallion roll w/ avocado & cayenne pepper on top

 And then we went with a few standards, a Crunchy Yellowtail and their standard, the Crazy Roll - where they let you choose the fish, we chose tuna, and they add it to a tobiko and avocado roll topped w/ diced fish, tempura flakes, scallions and a spicy mayo concoction.

If that wasn't enough, JB decided he needed to try their Hand Roll entree which is 5 hand rolls - 1 tuna, 1 yellowtail, 1 salmon, 1 eel and 1 california roll  (we swapped this out for another salmon) - PLUS 2 pieces of salmon roe, or as Mr. Japanese orders it, ikura. 

The food came fast, furious and delicious.  

The sliders really looked like little sushi burgers and we loved them, despite the fact that they fell apart after the first bite.  (Note to sushi chef: Bite size sliders would work better here).  Our special grinch roll was on fire, that cayenne pepper they reference in the description is not your run of the mill cayenne, but some kind of Japanese heat enhancer.  The Crazy and the Cruncy were awesome as always, however, the Crazy and the Grinch were more similar than I realized.  Next time I might opt for another kind of fish. 

JB's hand roll platter, aka an exercise of overindulgence, was a treat for him.  He usually gets 1 hand roll for "dessert", tonight he had 5.  Mind you this entree also came with miso soup and salad. 

I pronounced myself stuffed with a few pieces of sushi to go.  And before I knew it someone had finished all of the remaining sushi.

Good thing, because we had a show to catch.

Until our next Berger,

86 Deer Park Ave.
Babylon, NY

Side Dish: Good news! They have 2 other Long Island locations, Hauppauge and Roslyn.  AND, they have an NYC location in the East Village.  So there's no excuse not to try their sushi sliders.