Monday, April 21, 2014

A Not So Healthy Lunch: Mac & Melts, Garden City, NY

I'd been eyeing Mac & Melts since the sign went up on Stewart Avenue in Garden City. It's in a strip mall, they serve a variety of Macaroni and Cheese dishes and Grilled Cheese sandwiches - and the only question really was, why hadn't I been there yet?

Well, truthfully, I was looking for an excuse to go.  I couldn't justify chowing here on my own, so when JB and the boys came for a visit, it was time.

This is the kind of place where the menu is the decor.  It literally covers an entire wall, even while you are eating your meal you can pick out your next one.  (Note to marketers - this works).

There are over a dozen different macaroni cheese dishes available.  Each one comes in an individual small or large skillet.  Choices range from the classic to a cheeseburger to a Southwestern version.   You order in front, take a seat and wait for some cheese product to arrive.

If you don't like cheese, don't go here.  If you do, stay awhile.

We opted for a large All American Mac and a small Alpine.  The Large All American Mac is a creamy blend of Cheddar and American Cheese that you can get with or sans breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese on top.  We asked for ours "plain" since the boys are picky with their toppings, but were surprised to see the parmesan still on it.  Back it went.  They treated us to some tasty homemade chips while we waited for our re-do.  Little D polished those off pretty quickly.

Meanwhile, I worked on the Alpine - a lovely combination of gruyere, aged gouda, bacon and caramelized onions.  To keep on our healthy trend, an order of tater tots satisfied Big Z who immediately asked for a second order.

Round 2 of our All American arrived and, surprise, neither of the boys would eat it.  Oh well, more for JB and me.  Of those two dishes, I think the Alpine showed more ingenuity although we may have preferred the All American with the breadcrumbs and parmesan.

I had total food envy looking at the customer next to use who bit into a Smokehouse Turkey Club with brie, turkey, apples and bacon on sourdough.  It's true, I have a bacon problem.

At the end meal, I was torn.  Yes, I liked it, but really I'm not sure if my waistline can handle a return visit anytime soon.

Until our next Berger,

Mac & Melts
684 Stewart Avenue
Garden City, NY

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Berger Review! The Burger Spot, Garden City, NY

Vacations are made for Burgers.  And Bergers are made for vacations.  With school vacations this week, JB is running the boys all over and a visit to my office was in order.  The original plan for lunch was Ben's Kosher Deli, but a little thing called Passover changed our destination.

Fear not, I always have a backup burger plan.  And the plan called for The Burger Spot, a fast casual restaurant in the village of Garden City.  Far from the big box chains and shopping malls, this is the kind of place where kids go after football practice for fries, in fact, the owner's kid was there today.  The Burger Spot deems itself "Gourmet Fast Food" and I agree. 

The menu is burgers, salads, fries, rings and shakes.  Beef is grass-fed, bread is from a local bakery and everything is made to order.   Burgers range from simple to complex, plus, count 'em, three different kinds of veggie burgers.  

JB's cheeseburger came with the works - lettuce, tomato, onion and special sauce on a brioche bun.  One bite and he was hooked.  Meatier and less greasy than the Shake Shack, this is a win. 

The boys plain hamburger was equally as good.  You can tell that the meat is better quality than your average burger place.  
And don't forget those fries.  Wow.  One of the better orders of fries any of us had had in a long time.  

I tried a Caesar salad, for a change.  The chicken was well cooked and well sliced (always an issue with me).  The salad was never-ending.  JB had to help me finish.  

There were many more items that looked worthy of a second visit: the Athenian burger with feta, tomato, lettuce, red onion, cucumber and garlic sauce is probably going to be my next order.  Or perhaps just a simple Cobb Salad.  Or maybe both.  

Until our next Berger, 

The Burger Spot
150 7th Street
Garden City, NY 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A review re-do, 8 years later: Cafe d'Alsace, New York, NY

I last blogged about Cafe d'Alsace in 2006. Things were different then. JB and I lived in NYC and there were no little Bergers running around. Cooking was not really an option in our Barbie-size kitchen so we dined out a lot and consumed way too much takeout. 

Flash forward to 2014, it's definitely the opposite. We cook all the time and try to avoid mediocre takeout. Dining out is still a major part of our lives when we get to do it, but we are more critical because we (Read: JB) can make some pretty stellar meals. So I was shocked to find our meal at Cafe d'Alsace somewhat ordinary.

The burger which I had raved about 2006 seemed kind of puny. The gruyere was a nice touch but the onions were sub-par and the meat itself tasted almost fishy? 

The sausages were better and JB's tartars (one steak and one tuna) were fairly good, although lacked some kind of oomph. 

The chocolate tart was dry and brittle to the touch of the fork. 

I re-read the old review, and this was not the Cafe d'Alsace of years past.  In 2006, Frank Bruni gave this place, two stars

Maybe it's us, and we are just pickier these days. 
The company though was good and in many ways that is the best part.

Until our next Berger,

Cafe D'Alsace

1695 2nd Avenue
New York, NY

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

San Francisco Round Up - Wayfare Tavern, Absinthe, Osha Thai, Caffe Cento: San Francisco, CA

A recent work trip found me touring and eating in San Francisco.  I attempted to eat healthfully on this trip, especially coming off of our other California adventure.  And l mostly succeeded.  (Note: No burgers, this time!)

I will be in SF again soon, so please send me any suggestions. I would love to check out some of your favorite spots. 

The Round Up:

Caffe Cento – An early morning flight from New York left us famished.  The doorman at the hotel recommended a lunch spot down the hill.  I had no idea what “down the hill” meant.  Luckily it was just one block down hill because this is San Francisco and these are HILLS.  This unassuming takeout shop housed in the bottom of the Fairmont Hotel served me my best meal in San Francisco.  It’s true, my favorite thing in a foodie city, was a takeout salad of all things.  I’m not sure what made this quinoa, tomato, feta, spinach salad so appealing.  It may have been the lemon vinaigrette dressing that did it.  Or the way the ingredients were so perfectly proportioned.  Whatever it is, if you are up for a walk up or down Nob Hill – try it.  Bonus is that there is a trolley stop right in front, if you want to experience that true "San Francisco treat" kind of feeling. 

801 Powell Street
San Francisco, CA

Osha Thai – When I travel, I crave Asian food and usually Thai since that is so limited in my neighborhood.  This trip was no different.  We had a lot of Thai restaurants to choose from but selected something probably a little more mainstream since this was our first night in San Fran and we were tired.  Next time, I will find that authentic hole in the wall.  Though Osha was truly good, with moments of greatness. 

Osha is a small SF chain in happening neighborhoods with trendy Asian-inspired d├ęcor. We visited the Embarcadero location, so the crowd was a mix of tourists and business people.  Drinks were in order.  I chose Brut Rose – Rose and bubbles combined – can’t go wrong with that.

We shared two appetizers – a fresh spring roll and the crunchy tofu.  The spring roll had the requisite shrimp and mint with a tasty peanut dipping sauce.  The crunchy tofu tasted a little like a Tofu McNugget and came with a side of apples.  Not that there's anything wrong with a McNugget. Maybe this was their version of a Thai Happy Meal?

For dinner, I indulged in some angry prawns.  This steaming hot plate of delicious curried prawns and eggplant was my favorite dish of the night.  Spicy yet light. 

4 Embarcadero Center
San Francisco, CA 94111

Absinthe Brasserie -  Lunch was at Absinthe.   Tucked away in Hayes Valley, one the cutest neighborhoods I saw on my two day tour of San Fran, this place was packed, even boisterous for lunch on a Tuesday.  We started with hot bread as we awaited our cheese course.  I know I said that my quinoa salad was my favorite thing in SF, but this cheese course came in as a pretty close second.  A Mt. Tam from California’s Cowgirl Creamery was heavenly when paired with almond brittle.  The Italian Pecorino Ginepro was accompanied by white-wine poached peaches.  And finally a soft, creamy Seastack from Mt. Townsend Creamery in Washington State held its own against a bourbon-caramel pear compote. 

It would have been good to end lunch then.  My little gem lettuce salad with grilled chicken came with raw chicken.  Enough said.

398 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA

Wayfare Tavern – For dinner on our second and sadly, last night, we stumbled into Wayfare Tavern at 5PM on a Tuesday.  Empty, you’d think, but no, we got a  “Sorry, we are fully committed” from the hostess.  The two-level space was empty, we were shocked.  We settled at a tiny bar table and agreed to make the best of this Tyler Florence restaurant. 

First, drinks.  It is a tavern and cocktails were in order (again).  My Pear 75 was a combination of pear cognac and prosecco.   Talk about hitting the spot. 

The menu was filled with interesting takes on some classic dishes.  Instead of Deviled Eggs, there was a Deviled Egg Salad.  And in lieu of French Onion Soup, a French Onion dip.  Neither of which I liked.  What I did like though was the baked macaroni and cheese which was flavored with smoked olive oil.  The smoked olive oil added a palate teasing flavor that made me keep taking more and more bites, just because I was trying to fully understand the flavor.

For my main, I went with the braised short rib.  Note “rib” not “ribs”.   When JB makes short ribs at home they are fall off the bone tender.  This was one huge hunk of meat.  Given that, it  required more work than the typical short ribs but still full of flavor.  I really did enjoy the baby carrots and onions in the dish, but could have done without the dressing-soaked cabbage.

My favorite part of the meal was dessert.  We shared the donuts special with a variety of dipping sauces.  But the winner was the Chocolate Cream Pie with chocolate pudding, Devil's food cake and a caramel ganache.  Yum.  This made it all worth it.

On my next visit, I think I need to try to the burger.  And some more of that mac and cheese.  There also seem to be a lot more gems on the menu, so while my experience wasn’t amazing, I think that there is an amazing one waiting to happen here. 

558 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA

Until our next Berger,

Round Up Recap:
Caffe Cento: Go
Osha:  Go  
Absinthe:  Go for cheese. Only.

Wayfare Tavern: Go