Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Home Cooking in a Big City: Oven + Vine, Phoenix, AZ

There's something about a neighborhood restaurant. Simple food, generous service, inviting atmosphere. Finding a neighborhood restaurant in a big city is almost unheard of, so I was thrilled to stumble upon Oven + Vine in central Phoenix.

More Pennsylvania Dutch than Arizona desert, the restaurant has stark wooden tables and chairs, a wood burning oven and a laid back bar.  Friendly servers don typical hipster garb - think skinny jeans and a henley variation.

Dinner was early so we were able to take advantage of the happy hour special of $1 off all appetizers. Burrata was $5. Let me repeat, $5. Not $20 like it is at Tutto Il Giorno in Southampton, and this is better. Creamy salty perfection with homemade bread lightly doused with olive oil and parsley. An absolute steal. 

I chose a pulled chicken chili with jalapeños for my main course.  The waiter suggested au gratin potatoes and declared them the best he's ever had. I won't go that far though they were a kind of cheesy yummy. The chili was on the basic side: chunks of chicken, veggies and jalapeños - they could have done more with it. 

Other dinner options range from sandwiches to baked pastas. All simple, all reasonably priced. My chicken chili was $12.50, lasagna comes in at $9.

They have a reasonable wine list and a large craft beer selection. The chocolate tart for dessert was decadent and delicious. 

Why cook if you can come here?  I'm not the only who agrees - the line was out the door when we left. 

Add this to your list. 

Until our next Burger,

Oven + Vine
14 W. Vernon Avenue
Phoenix, AZ

Traveling in Phoenix?: Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails, Phoenix, AZ

The group dinner is never easy. One big table for 15 people is usually a recipe for disaster.  But a hotel restaurant should be able to handle it. And Blue Hound in downtown Phoenix does. 

With soaring ceilings and an eclectic menu, Blue Hound aims to please the masses.  Tater tots? Yup. Pork Belly? You betcha. Sliders? Yes, with aforementioned pork belly. Basically take all of the food trends of the past few years and roll it into a restaurant, add cocktails and stir.   

Blue Hound lives in the Palomar Hotel, and is part of the newly built downtown Phoneix area. With soaring ceilings and a large bar, the space is appealing and the drinks flow. 

Entrees ranged from "one big ass steak" (yes, that's it's name on the menu) to a seafood stew. The waiter strangely discouraged us from ordering certain items. "Don't get the salt and pepper shrimp", he warned, the tails are still on and they are a lot of work." Ok, so then why are they on the menu?Instead he pushed the flintstone size pork chop. 

When my side of the table placed several scallop entree orders he quickly paused and ran to the kitchen to make sure we had enough scallops. Really? 

I did eventually get those scallops. The dish was very well composed, three scallops, eggplant, fig and bacon jam with a small side of corn. A little light on the scallops in my mind.  Broccoli and cauliflower sides were overly charred. 

The most interesting meal at the table was a hanger steak with croutons atop the meat. Something I'd never seen before. And that was one good crouton. 

The winning dessert came in the form of a gooey butter cake with pineapple. Not my style, but other than me, raves all around. 

With trendy-ish food and a scene, Blue Hound has a time and a place. Choose wisely.

Until our next burger,

Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails
2 East Jefferson Street
Phoenix, AZ

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Post Theater Dash: Maria Pia, New York, NY

New York Theater is a dream. Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway, any form is a treat. The challenge, however, lies in the meal. Pre or Post you usually contend with crowds, rushes and overpriced fare.

I tend to favor heading west towards 9th Avenue for more casual fare - burgers at Island Burgers, Thai from Wondee Siam or some simple Greek at Uncle Nick's. But a birthday dinner that included three generations meant one thing: Italian. 

Maria Pia is nestled on West 51st between the 60+ year old veteran bistro Tout Va Bien and the throngs at Ippudo. Unassuming and welcoming, when you step down into Maria Pia's first level townhouse time stops. You no longer feel that New York City buzz, instead you feel at home. 

The friendly staff gave us a round table at the front of the narrow restaurant. A plentiful bread basket included peasant bread and foccacia. Apparently my 5 year old has a thing for focaccia - who knew?

A three course prix-fixe dinner for $26.95 was tempting, even more so was the $16.95 3 course lunch, too bad it was 5:00. We found too few choices on the set menu, though and opted for a la carte while sipping some celebratory Prosecco. 

Always a sucker for a Caesar salad, I split that with Bubba. It was fine, not extraordinary.  JB's salad of beets and goat cheese was borderline extraordinary (kinda wish I tasted it - hint hint).

I had been craving eggplant for weeks and the time to fulfill that craving was at Maria Pia. Nothing fancy just rigatoni with eggplant, tomatoes and some ricotta salata. JB's craving was pumpkin ravioli and it did the trick.  Meats and fish are adequate but the homemade pastas trump everything. Go for it. 

And since it was a celebration there was dessert. I have never seen a tartufo so enjoyed as it was by Big Z. His face covered in chocolate with a big smile was the best dessert of all. 

Until our next Berger, 

Maria Pia
319 W. 51st Street
New York, NY

Finest French Fare on Long Island: Le Soir, Bayport, NY

A steal of a meal can be had at Le Soir in Bayport most weeknights. Pay for your entree in the $30 range and get soup of the day, house salad and a dessert of your choice thrown in. The fine French cuisine is impressively delicious. Why had I not been here before?

Decor has been updated and is bright. Service is friendly although a bit hokey. But I was here for the food (and company, of course). I can think of no better way to catch up with friends than dining at a quiet restaurant with a good bottle of wine and equally good, if not exceptional food.

The potato leek soup was creamy and seasoned perfectly. (No need to add salt). You can also order additional starters like escargots or foie gras if you want some more of their delicacies.  

The salad is simple - frisée with a light vinaigrette. Definitely an exercise in you get what you pay for. 

For my entree I opted for jumbo shrimp risotto with tomatoes and asparagus in a vermouth sauce. Shrimp were evenly cooked and bursted with flavor. The dish was both rich and light at the same time.  Not in the mood for shrimp? Duck, filet and salmon are all standouts. 

Never underestimate dessert at a French reataurant. This was the hardest choice of all. Two quenelles of chocolate mousse was my final decision, however, I also adored the Floating Island with its merenguey consisentcy. 

Le Soir is certainly a quiet night out but it's a worthwhile one. So eat a light lunch, and prepare for one of the best French meals on Long Island.

Until our next Burger,

Le Soir
825 Montauk Highway
Bayport, NY

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Telepan Local, New York, NY

When a renowned chef opens a second location you wonder. Will it be better? Is it just a copycat of the other? Is it worth the trip?

I've never been to Bill Telepan's namesake Upper West Side restaurant but based on my experience a week ago at Telepan Local,  I think I would like it.  HOWEVER, as of today, Telepan Local is no longer.

Had Telepan Local tried to be a tapas restaurant, I think it may still be open.  (Remember, Tapas is making a comeback). The starters were promising.  

A grilled cheese "bite" with tomatoes and cheese was melt in your mouth good. The sunchoke and bacon appetizer was very pro bacon (never a bad thing). A veal stew special was so rich and filling, that four people sharing couldn't finish it.

Unfortunately, entrees were all over the map. Partially raw sea scallops and flavorless porkbelly, do not a winning restaurant make.  A group of seven who's had wine usually oohs and aahs over the meal, and there was none of that.

Our chocolate and peanut butter sundae was stellar, and good news, the pastry chef also works uptown at Telepan.  So make that your next stop, I can vouch for the dessert.

Until our next Burger, 

Telepan Local (now closed)
329 Greenwich Street
New York, NY
No phone anymore :(
telepanlocal.com website still works for now

Instead, head uptown to the mothership
72 W. 69th Street
New York, NY

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hooray for Tapas: Plancha, Garden City, NY

More Brooklyn than Long Island, Plancha is a find in Garden City. Tony Franklin Avenue is used to good restaurants, but Plancha takes a small sliver of real estate, a fryer, a broiler, and a flattop (aka Plancha) and voila - a tapas place. Unexpected? Yes. Worth a visit? Definitely.

Sit at the bar, as we did, and watch the small plates delicately composed while sipping a quartino from their large wine selection. 

Start with a platter. We chose cheese (Spanish and Italian meat platters were also on offer) and indulged in six artisanal varieties from  Gouda to D'Affinois. We rounded out the platter with olives, fig jam, nuts and a generous amount of olive oiled bread. 

Each tapas selection looked tantalizingly delicious. We tried to venture beyond our comfort zone. 

#1: Anchovies over rustic bread with mascarpone cheese, capers and onions: Thumbs up for mascarpone, thumbs down for anchovies. A word to all anchovies - go back to just being in Caesar dressing.  

#2: Roasted brussel sprouts: Sounds ordinary but wait there's more. Puréed chestnuts make this dish go from a 7 to a 10. 

#3: Pork belly with kimchee, sesame mayo, lime and cilantro on a soft roll: It's a fancy bacon sandwich, need I say more? 

Speaking of more, there are many tapas to choose from. We saw the lamb run coming out of the broiler and drooled. Croquettes kept being tossed into the fryer. And patatas bravas looked wow. 

We will return for another round. 

Until our next burger, 

La Plancha
931 Franklin Avenue
Garden City, NY

No website but check out their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BarPlanchaGardenCity