Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Trendspotting, Food Halls: Gotham West Market, New York, NY

Food halls are my new favorite trend.  A collection of counters/mini restaurants under one roof with communal seating is an ideal setting for any food lover.  It's an opportunity for a new concept to be tested or a food truck to take a stab at brick and mortar with low overhead.  I think of it as a calmer Smorgasburg. Whatever you call it, I love it.

The Meatpacking District now has Gansevoort Market, Battery Park City has Hudson Eats and Hell's Kitchen has Gotham West Market.  We chose Gotham West for two reasons, its proximity to the Intrepid, and the Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop.

JB is a ramen fiend, so this was a must visit.  Profiled last year in the New York Times, Ivan Orkin is Ivan Ramen.  A New Yorker, turned resident of Japan, learned to love ramen while in Japan and brought it back home.  He has since opened his flagship, Ivan Ramen, but the Slurp Shop was his first foray in the US.  The menu is simple, a few ramens, a few rice bowls, salads and drinks.  That's it.

For $12, JB loved his Tokyo Shoyu Ramen with its rye noodles and pork belly. Slurp he did indeed.  I preferred the slow cooked pork donburi.  Also $12, this rice bowl was spicy thanks to some salted plum wasabi and sweet with roasted tomatoes.

The boys, not Japanese fans, were able to find their favorites at Genuine Roadside.  The Super, Double Stack Burger was perfect for sharing.  To make it kid-friendly, we removed the cheese and special sauce.  Little D took all the pickles for himself.  McDonalds style fries completed the meal.

Had the lines not been so long, I also would have tried a taco or two at Choza Taqueria.  And JB was ogling the Blue Bottle Coffee.  Want tapas? Try El Comado.  Fancy a sandwich? Court Street Grocers can fulfill that request.  Cannibal meets your charcuterie and beer needs.  And Jeni's ice cream for dessert.

Take a group, let everyone pick their favorites and convene at the common tables.  Spend 30 minutes there or the whole afternoon.

Until our next Berger,

Gotham West Market
600 11th Avenue
New York, NY

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sushi Travels: Benten Sushi, Miller Place, NY

"Will travel for Sushi" is a bumper sticker that we should put on our car.  Our typical Long Island favorite is Kotobuki in Babylon, though we are always trying to find something closer.  Benten Sushi in Miller Place has been getting positive reviews so we decided to give it a try.

Miller Place and the surrounding area seems to be a hotbed of restaurants, a Thai place was next door and a Burger place was down the street.  Note to self, return to the area.

Meanwhile, back at Benten, we noticed that plate after plate of rolls looked incredible.  Would it be too embarrassing to start asking the neighboring tables for a taste? The atmosphere is that friendly.

Dinner started with some gratis cold soba noodles and Japanese vegetables - delish.  And we added in a pair of Japanese beers for good measure.  They also have a substantial sake menu.

We ordered from the roll menu, plus a Chirashi Zushi meal and few pieces.  The meal came with a miso soup that was average and a bean sprount salad that was a notch above the rest.

Chirashi Zushi was incredible.  Fresh raw fish and vegetables on top of rice.  A great dish to share and more interesting than a typical sashimi platter.  Octopus, fluke, salmon, tuna, egg, and more made this an excellent choice.

Rolls were impressive even with their tongue in cheek names.  Instead of the typical 6 pieces, these are all 8 piece rolls.  Coming off of our Maine trip, we had to have the "Lobster Roll" with raw lobster and avocado. The XMAS Roll was a flurry of red and green with tuna, yellowtail, scallion and avocado. And the Kathy offered spicy chili paste atop spicy tuna.  

Per usual, JB also indulged on some uni and ikura.  He was not impressed.

For the most part, the sushi here is very good.  I just wish it were closer.  If you are ever in the area, I would recommend it.  But if you're going to venture out for sushi, I'd still venture to Kotubuki.

Until our next Berger,

Benten Sushi
971 Route 25A
Miller Place, NY

Friday, October 10, 2014

24 Hours in Portland, Maine: Fore Street, The Holy Donut and Eventide Oyster Co.

Portland, Maine is a foodie town.  They claim to have the most restaurants per capita in the U.S. This seaside city is not just all about seafood, although we had a lot of it, they have everything from ramen to Indian to French and everything in between.

Here's how we did it:

- Fore Street: This place is written up everywhere. It's been in business since 1996 and is perennially listed as the best in Portland and one of the best in the country.  After almost 20 years though, you can't rest on your laurels, and, unfortunately, they do. 

Fore Street is in a beautiful old warehouse with an open kitchen that gives you glimpses of their roasting spit and wood oven. The scent of bacon wafts as you walk in the front door. 

Bread from the Standard Baking Company (their bakery arm) is warm and plentiful. Wine service was slow but we finally settled on a pair of 2007 Pinot Noirs.

Our waiter immediately warned us that they were running low on a few popular dishes, one of which was the tomato tart. I placed one on reserve. 

Appetizers were average. The tomato tart arrived and I see why it's popular. There is a copious amount of goat cheese. Anything with that much goat cheese is good. I can promise you that I had a tomato tart from a Long Island farm stand this summer that was better.  Nothing else really stood out. 

Two of us ordered one of the waiter's favorites as our entree - the whole black bass in a butter merlot sauce. The sauce was incredible. The problem was the fish, which was deboned after being presented to us, was not deboned enough. Each bite was a chore to eat. 

JB's porkchop from the wood oven came out rare. Rare pork in a James Beard restaurant, you don't say. A duck two ways had no problems like being too rare or too bony, but didn't scream winner either. 

Desserts were better. An ice cream box cake was a delicious surprise. Their chocolate dessert was fine but overall Fore Street is not worth the price tag. 

288 Fore Street
Portland, ME

- The Holy Donut: I had promised big Z a trip to the famous doughnut shop to beat the crowds. The Holy Donut is open only until they run out of donuts and at 6:57am a line was already forming for the 7:00am opening. We were first. 

When they unlocked those doors, they were barely ready for customers. No signs were up to determine which flavor was which so we picked by look only. 

Big Z chose a pink glazed (pomegranate as seen below) and I chose a dark chocolate cinnamon sugar. And, wow. The donuts here are made from mashed potatoes not just potato flour and you can tell the difference. These are incredible.  

We took home an old fashioned and a vegan for JB and little D, respectively. Each one was perfection. 

A few hours later we walked passed and the line was out the door. This is a must visit.

7 Exchange Street
Portland, ME
- Eventide Oyster Company: And speaking of must visits, there is Eventide. If you like oysters, this is a command performance. 

Eventide is a small place with a smallish bar, taken up mainly by oysters with a few tables and some stool seating along the window. I'd say they can seat 25 people. Add 10 more if you count the tables outside. What they lack in space they make up for in perfection. 

We dined around 1 on a Friday and were lucky to get a table. The menu is limited mainly to seafood at lunch, but no complaints here. 

JB and I did not know where to start other than to say "oysters". We asked our server to pick 6 pairs of her favorites from Maine for our dozen. We were given a sheet to understand each oyster's provenance. We preferred the saltier ones, especially the John's River.

Of course, a dozen oysters is not enough for lunch for two. So we also had a paper thin tuna tartar with a ginger scallion sauce and radish. And since we were in Maine, a lobster roll.

They offer three varieties of their lobster roll: hollandaise, house mayo and brown butter vinaigrette. Seriously, how can one say no to a brown butter lobster roll? I was wowed twice in one day.

The lobster roll is small and packed with amazing flavors. The bun is steamed, similar to a pork bun, which makes it even more special. The waitress told us sometimes people order one of each. Smart people.

And what about the boys? Well, we aren't going to win a healthy parent of the year award here but they happen to have incredible homemade potato chips dusted with nori. And homemade biscuits that are stellar.

86 Middle Street
Portland, ME

The worst part about going to Portland is leaving. The best part is knowing there will be more great spots to explore on the next visit. We are counting the days. 

Until our next Berger 24-hour Adventure,

Portland Round Up:
- Fore Street: No Go
- The Holy Donut: Go and Go early
- Eventide Oyster Company: Go and if you don't go, I will be angry with you

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

More Lunch Explorations: Little Mexico, Westbury, NY

Authentic Mexican. Nassau County. Go.
Not so easy to find until today at Little Mexico in Westbury. 

Shout out to my Yelp "friend" Steve C. who listed this hole in the wall as his favorite lunch spot. I may not go that far but it is up there. 

Pinatas, streamers, Mexican TV blaring - this is Little Mexico. Chips and salsa servings are generous. Soda glasses are huge.  And tacos are delish. 

We each had 2. The chorizo and shrimp were the favorites. Steak and tilapia were viable alternatives. 

Tacos don't come with much - just a piece of lime and some garnish. I added guacamole and green salsa to add some kick. 

The menu covers everything from flautas to sopes - something for everyone. 
I'd run for this border any day of the week. 

Until our next Berger,

Little Mexico 
280 Post Avenue
Westbury, NY
No Website, but some menu items on Yelp

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Now That's (New Jersey) Italian: Giumarello's, Haddon Township, NJ

I am slowly working my way through Italian restaurants in New Jersey, and we all know there are a lot of them. A lot.

My current victim, Giumarello's in Haddon Township. The challenge is that, still, nothing holds a candle to Marie's Italians specialties. Giumarello's did try, though. 

This is NJ dining at it's best - straight out of Real Housewives complete with a faux fireplace, a valet and a cougar-filled bar. (Not that that there's anything wrong with that).

We chose a quiet table in the back room with a waiter named Rocky, yes, Philadelphia is just a few minutes away. 

We opted for Martinis from their extensive list which included everything from a pumpkin pie to a white chocolate. I chose a pear with Prosecco and Saint-Germain. It was so strong. And when Rocky accidentally knocked my glass spilling a few drops, I was given a second that I could not come close to finishing.

The bread course was a highlight which offered a pizza bread and a plain Italian bread as well as a sweet pepper salsa of sorts. 

We split three appetizers - fried calamari, pancetta wrapped shrimp and eggplant meatballs. That's right, an eggplant meatball. Meatball is a misnomer since there was no meat. Simply put, it was eggplant parm in a meatball shape. Given that I'll take eggplant parm in any shape, this was a hit. Fried calamari was standard and the shrimp was puzzling. Bacon-wrapped shrimp is usually a winner in my book but the horseradish mustard sauce was off-putting. I just wonder why the chef chose that combination. 

In lieu of a traditional entree, I selected the steak and shrimp salad.  What often bothers me about restaurants is what information is on the menu. I know I can always ask but when my salad arrived covered in Gorgonzola I was surprised. Why omit such a polarizing ingredient? A tomato I understand but cheese is substantial. 

Aside from me, my table had all fish dishes. These were substantial if not a little plain. Fish, potato, asparagus. Where was the Italian flair? 

The flair came back at dessert with a presented dessert tray of the Italian favorites - cannoli, cheesecake, tiramisu. 

We tried a "light" cheesecake which I enjoyed until I got a taste of the balsamic drizzle. And I will admit the peanut butter mousse in an Oreo crust, although not the least bit Italian, was almost stellar. 

Adequate? Yes. A standout? No. 
Marie's is still the winner. 

Until our next burger,

329 Haddon Ave.
Haddon Township, NJ

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Hamptons Waterfront Dining (Back at it): Lobster Grille Inn,Southampton, NY

When driving out East, the end of Sunrise Highway can often be a downer. Three lanes go to two, the speed limit plummets and traffic lights appear. On a Friday night this is not a welcome sight. Conversely on the way back West, it is a sign that the drive gets easier from here (usually). Either way you are always welcome at this crossroads at the Lobster Grille Inn. 

The red farmhouse type building sits on the North side of the highway on a small inlet of the Peconic Bay. Yes, one minute you're on the highway and the next you're dining al fresco. The building has been there for decades, originally as the Lobster Inn and only recently at the Lobster Grille Inn. Why they needed the "e" in "grille" is beyond me.  This is not a fancy place. 

The space inside is cavernous. Multiple levels of dining rooms, an indoor bar, a screened-in porch and firepit are your choices - all with water views, some better than others. Decor is barebones, not a table cloth in sight and yet it works. This is almost island casual, a mini escape.

We chose to dine on the porch which had the dual benefit of being sun free and overlooked the water. 

The crowd at lunch on a sunny and warm  Saturday was decidedly old, octogenarian old.  I started to have second thoughts.

Turns out there was nothing to worry about regarding freshness, everything was very fresh, caught that day fresh.

We started with a dozen local clams and a dozen hyper-local oysters that had been caught a mere few yards from where we sat. 

I tried the special seared tuna sandwich which came more done that I had requested over salad. JB enjoyed a shrimp po boy which was tasty but lacked the appropriate kind of bread to call it a po boy. It was more of a shrimp wrap. I can report that the burgers were a hit with the boys. 

Desserts were better than I expected. They nailed the key lime pie and flourless chocolate cake. 

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised. The food is not as good as Rhumba or Canal Cafe (they do take reservations AND credit cards though) but the location is perfect if you are heading West after your meal. Note, if you are heading East after dining you have to take a bit of a detour which could be brutal in summer traffic. 

Until our next Burger, 

Lobster Grille Inn
162 West Inlet Road
Southampton, NY