Traveling Tongue

7th September
2009
written by spd
View of Park Kitchen from the window.  (img: New York Times)

View of Park Kitchen from the window. (img: New York Times)

Once again, the New York Times has led me to a food find! On our first night in Portland, Oregon, I decided to give a two-year old recommendation a go. In David Laskin’s April 2007 article in the NYT Travel Section, he writes of Park Kitchen: “In a former garage, the restaurant has a warren of dark and cozy rooms that faces an open kitchen, where the chef and owner, Scott Dolich, combines elements of French, Italian and Northwestern cooking in an imaginative fusion all his own… The food may sound fussy, but the results are subtly superb.”

Well, my friends, his words were well chosen! Dolich’s modus operandi has Pacific Northwest written all over it… even if his cooking techniques are French or Italian. He routinely checks with local purveyors, and conceives dishes based on what seasonal ingredients are available. Apples and stone fruit grow here in abundance, and you’ll find them in many dishes. Heavy rainfall makes Oregon an ideal environment for growing mushrooms, another ingredient that surfaces here.

There were many ingredients that raised questions at the table… What’s purslane? Hyssop? Amaranth? Nasturtiums? (Most are greens that appear in lovely salads, like the Peach and Blackberry salad, with Pecans, Purslane and Crumbled Feta.) Fear not. If your dish sounds like a Top Chef challenge, it will arrive and taste like artfully prepared comfort food!

One of the most comforting dishes we tried was the Semolina dumplings, Piperade and Lobster Mushroom Succotash. The same lobster mushrooms were used to make a sauce for our Gnocci with Grilled Corn. Unlike the pillowy gnocchi you’d find at Becco or the like, these were quite dense and pan fried after being boiled, much like Polish pierogi. With the sweet grilled corn, the dish resisted becoming unseasonally heavy and was a nice prelude to our entree, Roast Pork with Beans, Fennel, and Gooseberry salsa. The pork was quite lean and thinly sliced, so it’s even more impressive that the meat was deliciously moist. Unannounced clusters of house-made sausage added layers to the pork’s flavor, and the gooseberry salsa was like an invitation to Fall.

The best bites, however, bookended the evening. The Duck Confit Crepe with Basil, Feta was accompanied by heavenly grilled peaches, and the mind-blowing dessert that concluded our meal – The Plum and Tomato crisp with Basil Ice Cream – is a perfect example of sweet-and-savory done right! There wasn’t anything trying about the dish; Flavors that aren’t necessarily associated with dessert were not only harmonious, but bettered the dish.

Although Dolich and Co. have no shortcomings n the kitchen, the restaurant’s design leaves something to be desired. I think a rather charming meal can be had overlooking the park outside, or at one of two or three coveted tables up front, but once you pass the bar and step into the back dining room, you’re in a rather dull space. Not the most appetizing green on the walls, and the banquettes are sort of outdated. Perhaps, if they dimmed the bright pendant lighting, and put candles on the copper-top tables, they might save in renovation costs. Still, if it’s not a great setting for a candlelit date, it’s a great place for friends and eat, drink, and be merry. And save room for dessert!

Park Kitchen. 422 NW 8th Ave.  Portland, OR 97209-3529.  ph.  (503) 223-7275

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2nd September
2009
written by spd
The ever-changing chalkboard menu at Bunk Sandwiches.

The ever-changing chalkboard menu at Bunk Sandwiches. (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

On a recent overcast afternoon in Portland, I waited for a drawbridge and walked 25 minutes through a cluster of half-abandoned warehouses to land at a nondescript awning in the middle of the Hawthorne district. Had it not been for the line of twenty people stretching out the door, I might have missed it! What was I searching for? A killer sandwich. I know… what I am I thinking?! I don’t even care for sandwiches half the time. I usually feel that the bun is muffling the taste of the inner stackings, or, worse yet, that the inner stackings wouldn’t even be worthy of a salad if they were stripped of the sauce slathered all over them.

BUT… I was curious to see what the fuss was all about. The rock stars who run Bunk Sandwiches have been plugged in nearly every Portland foodie blog, the NY Times travel section, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network, et al. There’s nothing overly appealing about the setting, and all of there heros are served on pedestrian, brown butcher paper. The ‘Open’ sign doesn’t even hang at a right angle. The sandwiches are allowed to speak for themselves, and, OH, what a fine job they do!

When I first arrived and inspected the ever-changing chalk board menu, I was disappointed that some of the more unorthodox options were absent. What of the Roman-style Tripe with Pecorino? The Bone Marrow and Snails on Toast? The Salt Cod with Chorizo and Black Olive? Still, there were several others to fuel my indecision. I opted for the Pulled Pork Shoulder with Apple-Cabbage Slaw, Pickles and Whole-grain Mustard on a Poppy Bun. Sweet and Sour Perfection! Served with house-made kettle chips and washed down with a lovely iced tea with mint (and yes, they thought to put out simple syrup!). One of the better sandwiches I’ve had in my life. I devoured it in under five minutes, while a friend waiting for her local Albacore Tuna Melt stared in awe. From my outdoor table, I could see a lonely Subway on the next block, and had a hearty chuckle. They really know what they are doing here… and it’s worth the walk.

Pulled Pork with Apple-Cabbage Slaw and Pickles on a Poppy Bun (img: Sean Patrick Doyle

Pulled Pork with Apple-Cabbage Slaw and Pickles on a Poppy Bun (img: Sean Patrick Doyle

Bunk Sandwiches. 621 SE Morrison St., Portland, OR 97214.  ph.  (503) 477-9515

1st September
2009
written by spd
The front lounge at Charlie Palmers at Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza.  We agree that the artwork is a little awkward... :)

The front lounge at Charlie Palmers at Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza. We agree that the artwork is a little awkward...

Our time in Costa Mesa was dominated by drives to Laguna Beach, splurges at South Coast Plaza, afternoon dips at The Spa (a comp membership from the Wydham made the sad internet connection a bit more bearable!), and post-show trips to Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza. Bloomingdales, you ask? A Charlie Palmer restaurant in a Bloomingdales? I raised my eyebrows as well; but, rest assured that this separated setting is infectiously chic and the food deserving of the Charlie Palmer brand.

Executive Chef Amar Santana was plucked from Aureole (where he served as sous chef) by Charlie Palmer. A native of the Dominican Republic, Santana entered Careers through Culinary Arts Program competition and won a trip to London’s prestigious Le Cordon Bleu where he trained with some of the world’s most talented rising star chefs. Oh-so-fortunately for us, the father of our cast’s most recent addition (Deb Grausman, who plays Chava) operates the very program that awarded Santana his scholarship. The world gets smaller and smaller… and as a result, tastier! We made four or five trips to Charlie Palmer’s during our two week stint in Costa Mesa, during which I tasted over twenty of Santana’s creations and paid for only about a third of them. Sure, in a one-on-one match with Aureole’s Christopher Lee, Santana might go down… but that is in no way meant to imply that his food isn’t stellar. I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me (literally) by picking apart the dishes that I didn’t enjoy, but do I want to steer your tongue to the right direction.

The happy hour menu of small plates is a grrrreeat value, with not one of the plates surpassing the ten buck mark. There are expected upscale riffs on American bar food such as the Kobe Beef Sliders with Truffle Mayo ($10). His ‘hot wings’ are coated with Siracha BBQ Sauce and the bones are frenched ($9). Skip these and stretch your comfort zone without stretching your budget (You are forgiven, however, for ordering the twice fried French Fries with Chipotle Aioli… they are quite amazing!) The Crispy Veal Sweetbreads, served with Fennel Caper Relish ($10) are perfectly cooked (when I ordered the Braised Veal Tortellini with Chinese Long Beans at lunch, the Tortellini were topped with sweetbreads that were obliterated in the fryer! Clearly a mistake, as these were fantastic.) and the Blistered Shishito Peppers with Course Salt and Yuzu ($7) are bright, tangy and occasionally pack a punch of spice. The citrus here really makes the dish.

Blue Cheese Stuffed, Bacon Wrapped Dates ($6) and Burrata Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes and Arugula Pesto ($8) are certainly no revelation, but oh-so-good. I never thought I’d type this, but you can skip the Roasted Bone Marrow with Raisin Marmalade and Grilled Bread ($10). The buttery taste of marrow is completely overshadowed by the raisin marmalade, which tastes even more of red wine and onions than raisin. The Grilled Baby Octopus with Celery Root and Verjus Vinaigrette ($9) arrived and was a little tough from the grilling, and the celery root was pureed instead of braised. Wah, wah.

Do NOT skip the Sunny Side Up Egg over Tuna Ham, Fingerling Potatoes and Salsa Tartufara. ($10) The tuna is cured like ham and thinly sliced (a preparation I haven’t seen before) and the tartufara tastes so irresistibly of truffles, you’ll lick your fork. Pair any of the above with half-priced wine and cocktails like the Blood Orange Mojito or the Sexy Seduction with Ketel One and candied jalepenos.

Santana does not employ a pastry chef, which is surprising, since the deserts are rather complicated. For the most part, I loved all of them, with the exception of the Peanut Butter tart, which is paired with a cough-syrupy Grape Sorbet. The sugar and cinnamon-dusted Churros with Smoked Chocolate are perfection ($9) – you feel as if you are sitting around a campfire!

All in all, the small plates constitute one of the finest bar menus I’ve seen. And with half-price booze, how can you loose?

Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza. 3333 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. ph. 714.352.2525

Post-show outing with the cast!  I'm in the white polo next to Executive Chef Santana.

Post-show outing with the cast! (I'm in the white polo next to Executive Chef Santana.)

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31st August
2009
written by spd
Pizzeria_Ortica_Interior

(img: Pizzeria Ortica)

I’m very fortunate that someone left their copy of OC’s Riviera Magazine on the eliptical in Costa Mesa. Otherwise, I might not have found Pizzeria Ortica, which holds this year’s title for Best Pizza in Orange County.  I haven’t tasted every pizza in the OC, but I would probably agree.  This narrow, sun drenched dining room opened in January of this year and has already generated a deserving buzz. Since it’s just a hop-skip-jump from the theatre, I decided to give it a go. The Napoli-style pizza is, indeed, delicious (I was particularly fond of the Salsiccia e finnocchio with house-made sausage, caramelized fennel, mascarpone, red onion, and buffalo grana) but don’t neglect the rest of the menu, especially the Chino Farm insert.

Every Thursday, both chefs drive south to Chino Farm in Del Mar and showcase their beautiful produce in a dozen or so seasonal dishes. The sweet corn risotto with peas was a highlight… and a perfect accompaniment to our favorite entree: Branzino con pesto Trapanese (a simple, beheaded Branzino, artfully de-boned, and pan fried until the skin was perfectly crisp and the flesh moist and flaky.) Served with a mild almond pesto and lightly-dressed mound of arugula, it answered my prayers for a light pre-show meal. Still, in my three trips there, the most irresistible plate placed on the table was the Cavolini di Bruxelles (roasted brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnuts, breadcrumbs, and lemon zest.)

Owner/Chef David Myers understands the power of taking fine ingredients and allowing them to speak for themselves. I would recommend this to any pre-show diner.

Pizzeria Ortica. 650 Anton Blvd.  Costa Mesa, CA. 92626. ph. 714-445-4900

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14th August
2009
written by spd
The exterior of Suzanne Goin's Lucques (img: Lucques)

The exterior of Suzanne Goin's Lucques (img: Lucques)

Long before the locavore movement was in vogue, Suzanne Goin was a practicing farm-to-fork chef, sourcing her foods from the California’s finest growers. Named one of Food and Wine’s top chefs one decade ago, Goin took home the James Beard in 2006 for best Californian chef. Lucques, her chic, but homey Melrose restaurant, is the first of four in the Los Angeles area (her newest, Tavern, just celebrated its opening) and is located in a charming space that used to serve as  silent film star Harold Lloyd’s carriage house.   David and I took our lunch there on a sunny afternoon, and found the food to be just as lovely as the ivy-covered outdoor patio.

Every meal at Lucques begins with helping of butter-basted almonds, crusty bread, fleur de sel, butter and lucques, the restaurant’s vivid green namesake olive. It could be what we chose to order, but Goin’s love of the almond – used in almost ever dish that came to our table – led us to believe that, perhaps, they chose the wrong name!

While we were originally enticed by lunch prefix, the three courses offered that afternoon featured no protein whatsoever (Suzanne!). So we went a la carte, and were not dissapointed. Our starter was seasonal and fresh, and exactly what we had hoped for. Fresh Peaches with Dandelion Greens, Almonds, Ricotta Salata and Abbamele. The saltiness of the ricotta salata and the intense bite of the dandelion were wonderfully matched with perhaps the most perfect peach I’ve ever laid eyes on (And, yes, I’ve been to Georgia). The dish made all other produce I’ve consumed in my life look unworthy.

Our two entrees arrived and were both colorful sights to behold. David chose the Soft-Shell Crab Sandwich on Toasted Brioche with Avocado, Tomato and Bacon. The ingredients were top-notch, but the slippery combination of the avocado and the tomato made it a difficult stack to eat and by the end of our meal, it was a de-contructed pile of goodness. The mayo (?) that was served with it was too salty, but the asian cabbage coleslaw that accompanied the dish was quite good. I normally despise coleslaw, but this wasn’t a mayo-saturated, bland scoop of goo… it was lightly dressed, and a perfect side for summer.

Oregon Salmon with Almond Pesto, Corn Pudding, and Shaved Summer Squash (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

Oregon Salmon with Almond Pesto, Corn Pudding, and Shaved Summer Squash (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

I chose the Grilled Market Fish (that day, Wild-Caught Oregon Salmon) with Corn Pudding, Shaved Summer Squash and Almond Pesto (yes, almonds). I could rework the lyrics of “My Favorite Things” to include the ingredients on my plate. As I devoured the dish, I kept thinking that this is a perfect example of how I wish to eat daily. Lord knows what the chef did to the paper-thin squash, but they were divine; and the textural contrast of the corn pudding’s crispy edges with it’s souffle-like interior was very nice. David thought that the presence of the fish itself was eclipsed by the other elements on the plate, and I’ll agree that the chef was a overly generous with the almond pesto. I would, however, order it again in an instant.

Lucques is worth a visit if you are looking for simple fare, prepared with the finest ingredients. The setting is charming, and the food itself is guilt-free and healthful.

Lucques 8474 Melrose Ave. West Hollywood, CA 90069. ph. (323) 655-6277

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8th August
2009
written by spd
200905-go-la-animal-ss

The minimalist dining room at Animal (img: Food + Wine)

In a town obsessed with light fare, David and I indulged in a caloric feast that made me scratch my head and wonder ‘how are we not in New York?’  Animal, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s Fairfax forty-five seater, has managed to create quite a stir in its first thirteen months.  Certainly, critics of its carne-centric cuisine have surfaced,  but most deem their efforts extraordinary.  Among their fans: Food +Wine, which included the tattooed duo on 2009’s short list of Best New Chefs.  Their first restaurant venture, Animal is the sole Los Angeles representative, and deservedly so.  Gail Simmons of F+W was sitting with her girlfriends two tables over, so you know their recommendation is a sincere one!

We decided to go tapas-style, as their list of small plates is irresistible.  We began with one of the few vegetarian options, a beautiful Heirloom Tomato Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette and a medley of herbs, including mint and Italian parsley.  This was a lovely prelude to our carnivorous feast.  What followed was a Braised, Deep Fried Pig Ear with Siracha Chili, Lime and a Fried Egg.  As heavy as it sounds, it managed to feel quite light, with a hefty amount of acidity to brighten the dish.   It was, perhaps, the most memorable plate of the evening. Then came the easiest sell of all: lightly fried Sweetbreads over Creamed Spinach with Capers and Hen of the Woods.  I love sweetbreads; spinach is my favorite superfood; salty capers are a go-to place for me in the kitchen; and –  as I’ve mentioned here before – hen of the woods mushrooms top my fungi list!  I loved the dish.  At first bite, I found the capers to be overwhelming, but when paired with a larger scoop of the creamed spinach, the dish was actually quite balanced.

Foie Gras Loco Moco (img: Tasting Table)

Foie Gras Loco Moco (img: Tasting Table)

When it came time to choose an entrée, we agreed to split one of the most ludicrous dishes ever conceived: Foie Gras Loco Moco with a Niman Ranch Burger, Spam, Fried Quail Egg over Anson Mills Gold Rice.  To know that someone had committed the culinary sin of placing a perfectly seared piece of foie gras atop a fried sliver of SPAM… I had to experience it first hand!  I’m happy to report that it’s a well-conceived riff on a Hawaiian classic.  Let’s not pretend for a moment that it hasn’t wreaked havoc on my arteries, but the dish has merit besides the sheer novelty of it.  Finally, we did ourselves in with their infamous dessert, a house-made Chocolate Crunch Bar rolled in finely chopped Crispy Bacon and Salt and Pepper Anglaise.  David thought they could have challenged our palates with more bacon, but I loved that it nudged the tongue ever so slightly at the end of each bite.

I found Shook and Dotolo’s menu to be adventurous, unpretentious, and a great value.  Our five plates, and a carafe of Tempranillo brought the tab to just under $100… I would go again in an instant!

Animal, 435 N. Fairfax Ave. Los Angeles, California.  ph. 323-782-9225

30th July
2009
written by spd

Katsuya.  View from the bar.  (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

Katsuya. View from the bar. (above img: Sean Patrick Doyle, below img: Katsuya)

I’m not one to flock to see-and-be-seen haute Japanese; I usually prefer sake and street food at a clamourous izakaya.  However, this hip creation of sushi guru Katuya Uechi and renowned designer Philippe Starck is definitely worth a visit.  Even sitting at the bar, the décor is infectiously chic.  High-gloss white tables with lounge seating and expansive, grainy, back-lit photos of geisha lips, dripping with shimmering lip glass.  The ambiance is more “VIP club” than “fine dining” and that’s exactly what’s intended.  The food is also stellar and much of that is due to the seafood purveyor.  The flawless Special Katsuya roll features tuna, yellow tail and salmon, artfully wrapped in marinated cucumber.  Their signature starter, Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice, pales in comparison to the buttery Baked Crab Handroll.  The text in the menu that elaborates on the dishes contains cheesy tags more suited for a used car dealership, but this dish lives up to the claim that “one taste will leave you wanting more!”  Adorned with the chef’s secret sauce, topped with rice, and rolled in soy paper, it practically melts when it hits your tongue.  I was curious to see how the chef would fair with ingredients harvested on land, so I ordered the pricey but meagre Kobe Beef with Foie Gras.  katsuya2The beef was overcooked, which is a sin when using such a fine ingredient, but the overall dish was fair.  Oddly enough, the real star here was the plum wine reduction that was drizzled over it, and two blistered shishinto peppers used to garnish.  We order more of these, a la carte – they were quite amazing!  All in all, your check will reflect the ambiance, but if you keep your sights set on the sea, you won’t be disappointed!

Katsuya Hollywood. 6300 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles. ph (323) 871-8777

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25th July
2009
written by spd
IMG_7136

Fred 62. (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

Located in the heart of the artsy Los Feliz district, this conspicuous corner diner is the creation of two Freds, both born in 1962.  At once nostalgia-triggering and foreign, Fred 62‘s interior combines kitschy artwork with Googie signage and that classic Brady Bunch burnt orange and puke green.  This might be off-putting if it weren’t so deliberately designed to take ya back!  The kitchen here puts out dishes that are just as creative as some of the sculpted hair hanging from the tattood and pierced clientele… and that’s saying something.  The menu consists largely of modern takes on American classics, such as the Cobb Salad — presented here with a Thai twist.  Shredded chicken, bacon and chopped egg are now paired with stringy papaya, peanuts, and fried wontons, handsomely plated in a square form on the round plate.  Some classics aren’t manipulated a bit, only presented in tip-top form.  Take the Jucy Lucy Burger.  No, it’s not topped with blue cheese or grilled portabella; the simple throwback burger is topped with chopped red onion and iceberg and house Thousand Island.  But it’s on a superb bun, specifically commissioned by the Freds, so it won’t fall apart when you sink your cuspids into their juicy chuck.  Breads for their sandwich “towers” are also custom-made at a local bakery.  Rounded edges eliminate the testy negative space that comes with square corners… so your sliced turkey aligns perfectly with the golden crust.  For dessert, indulge in their take on the pop-tart: “Punk Tarts” filled with apple, and served a la mode.

Fred 62.  1850 N. Vermont Avenue, LA, CA.  ph. 323.667.0062

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16th July
2009
written by spd
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The bar at Aureole in the Bank of America Center. image: courtesy of Aureole. all food images: Steve Legato

Until last Tuesday night, if asked where I had enjoyed my greatest meal in New York, I would have replied: ‘Hmm… Prune.  Either sitting at the bar with my brother, sucking down bone marrow, and indecisively sharing a slew of starters and entrees under the attentive eye of the lesbian bartender… or picking apart a whole roasted Branzini with my boyfriend at the same place.  Or perhaps, luxuriating for hours at the Michelin-starred Public with my boyfriend, brother, and best friend Bree.  I still remember the scallops!’  Now, without question, it’s Aureole, Charlie Palmer’s chic new digs at the Bank of America Building off Bryant Park.

In a gorgeous private dining room reserved for diners trying the reasonable $84 dollar three-course pre-fix, exquisite food made up for the piped-in elevator music that I hope will be replaced.  This is American cuisine at it’s best… and we paired it, shamelessly, with a White Burgundy.

3701681282_7a14b44570If an amuse bouche is intended to, literally, amuse your mouth, the White Asparagus Soup with Watercress “Caviar” and Tapioca did exactly that.  Not an overpowering start to a meal, but texturally playful, and beautiful.  My boyfriend started with the Diver Sea Scallop “Sandwich” with Pan Seared Foie Gras, Sugar Snap Peas, Passion Fruit, and Chives.  This starter, pictured in the Time Out New York article announcing Aureole’s chic new location, was one of the stars of the evening.  A perfect scallop, cooked between paper thin Pullman toasts, giving a lot of texture to every bite.  The savory foie gras was beautiful with the sweet passion fruit reduction.  Charmed by the smoked corn bread, and the mix of sweet and spicy, I chose the Sauteed Foie Gras with Maine Blueberries, Smoked Corn Bread, Pickled Jalapenos and Macadamia nuts.  The corn bread was a bit overpowering, but the foie gras practically disintegrated on the tongue!

3701718080_73045066a4It’s hard to prepare veal and sweetbreads without having them feel unseasonably heavy, but my Veal Tenderloin with Sweetbreads, Haricot Verts (an unannounced substitute for wild asparagus), Charred Onion, Georgia Peaches, Pickled Ramps, and Lovage Veal Jus arrived and felt like a gift of summer.  The dish had underlying Asian and Southern notes, and David noted that the veal was so tender, you could slice it with a credit card!

His entrée, Canadian Lobster Tail Vs. Berkshire Pork Belly with Squash, Porcini Mushrooms, Cape Goosberries, Jura Wine and Almond Emulsion was lovely!  However, placed on two opposite sides of the rectangular plate, the win was apparent: putting this poor pork belly against the most masterfully cooked piece of lobster I’ve ever tasted was like throwing a little league team into Yankee stadium.  The pork was the only forgettable dish of the night.

3700852399_e5184650e7After dinner, a rhubarb sorbet, with Tapioca pudding, was intended to serve as a palate cleanser, but was so oppressively sweet, I had one bite and pushed it aside so I might still have some feeling in my tongue.  Good thing; the desserts were extraordinary!  Sweet Corn Souffle with Blueberry Chutney, and Brown Butter was served with a tart frozen yogurt.  David didn’t care for the Chilled Strawberry Soup with Queso Fresco, Cilantro, and Ancho Meringue but that’s due to his dislike of cilantro in general.  I thought it was a revelation!  To have a dessert with this much bite provided a much-needed detour from the severe sweet that had preceded it.  A cone of petite, Chinese style donuts were brought out, along with a sampling of treats from the house chocolatier.

3700858397_0742313659All in all, it was some of most artfully prepared food I’ve tasted… Mr. Palmer has earned his own personal halo for this!  And, with 15% off all checks until September 15th, you will never get such bang for your buck.  GO!  (everyone’s doing it…  well, ok, not everyone… but we did see Gael Greene licking her fork in the a la carte dining room!)

Aureole.  One Bryant Park/135 West 42nd Street.  ph: 212.319.1660


Follow up, July 22nd: I have taken to reading Gael Greene’s blog, Insatiable Critic, and after our spotting at Aureole, I checked to see if she wrote of her experience in the Bar Lounge that night.  She toted her “Road Food Warrior,” Steve Richter along, and he documented the evening with photos.  Lo and behold!  Who do I spy in the seventh photo down?  My boyfriend David, fork in hand!  I’m eclipsed by another diner, but you can see my white burgandy.  I’m so tickled by this… apparently more tickled than she was by any of her dishes, with the exception of the papas fritas.  Head to the dining room, Gael!!

davidataureole

22nd June
2009
written by spd

 

The dining room at Sepia on N. Jefferson.  (img: Sepia)

The dining room at Sepia on N. Jefferson. (img: Sepia)

 In April, National Geographic Traveler (obsessed) did a feature on 48 hours in Chicago, and fashion designer Maria Pinto plugged Sepia, a stylish restaurant serving new American cuisine in a revamped 1890s print shop.  It’s located in the up-and-coming West Loop, which just happens to be where I am subletting a gorgeous loft for our stay in Chi-town.  Walking distance?  Yesplease.  My boyfriend, David, and I stepped into the dining room a few hours after we stepped off the plane and really enjoyed our meal.  The starters were, perhaps, more successful than the entrees, but all are worth mentioning here.

We began with the duck confit and fig black pepper jam flatbread.  At $6 we figured, why not?  Very tasty with a generous heap of confit… familiar flavor profiles, but lovely nonetheless!  David perused the apps and ordered Sea Scallops with Sunchoke, Serrano Ham and Marcona Salad.  Very harmonious dish, scallops cooked to perfection.  Still, my favorite dish of the night was my starter; Crispy poached Duck Egg with Morels, Asparagus, and Ramps.  This tasted like a gift from the earth!  And I had never seen this technique used to cook an egg… slightly under-poached, then sprinkled with bread crumbs and flash fried.  Mmm…

We were very indecisive when it came the entrees, but we both kept coming back to one: Flat Iron Steak with “Hen of the Woods” and Bone Marrow Beignets.  David and I both go mad for buttery beef marrow bones (if you haven’t had them at Prune in NY, drop everything and go… I don’t know who their purveyor is, but they are enormous and DIVINE) and “hen of the woods” is my favorite mushroom (oyster mushrooms, you come close!).  When it arrived, the steak was surprisingly tender and beautifully cooked… but the mushrooms were sliced very thinly and sort of lost their presence on the plate.  It robbed them of their earthy goodness a bit.  The beignets were slightly greasy and skimpy on the bone marrow.  So our high expectations weren’t quite met on this one.  Our other entree, Halibut with Baby Artichokes, Israeli Couscous, and Salsa Verde was a bit more successful, even if it lacked acid.  Halibut is pretty hard to ruin… well, unless you bread it and fry it to death.  Ahem, McCormick and Schmick.

Desserts were tempting, but we went home and had broiled peaches, served with whipped cream.  :)

All in all, this is a chic, innovative place to treat yourself… and even with our bottle of Torrontes, and ordering enough to feed a small country, the tab with tip came to about $190.

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