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The Best Dessert You’ll Ever Eat Off a Rubber Sheet

Recent dessert trolling (I don’t actually consider being contrary or even intentionally rabble-rousing to be trolling, but you know) got me thinking about my never-posted visit to Alinea last fall. I favor traditional desserts, by which I mean sweet, gooey and substantial. I’ll eat your spruce-and-stone soup, but how about a towering layer cake bulging with veins of frosting afterward? Accompanied with a quenelle of nasturtium sorbet and crumbles of “soil,” if you must.

Alinea, despite the pageantry and production, produced a real dessert. One that pushed me over the precipice from sated to stuffed while raising my impression of 13 creations I’d been presented with. At the end of the meal, you’re presented with a menu to remind you of everything you just ate, the procession sort of being a surprise if you ignore diners who arrived earlier. Each course represented by a circle with a circumference in proportion to the amount of food. The server even commented that the dessert circle, deceptively medium-large, didn’t seem drawn to scale.

king crab

First, an institutional gray waterproof cloth is laid down. And because I was on my tenth and final wine pairing at this point (never mind the pre-dinner pints at the only restaurant open before 5pm in the immediate vicinity, a seafood joint with an adorable crab with a toupee logo where I was preemptively warned against using Groupons during happy hour) I said, “Oh, a rubber sheet” aloud instead of keeping my bed-wetting thoughts to myself.

alinea creme de violette

A stubby glass of what appeared to be Creme de Violette and turned out to be exactly that was set down. Everyone secretly knows that the liqueur tastes like Sweet Tarts, but the color is so crystalline and pretty that you want to assign more sophistication to it.

alinea pate sucree, violet, hazelnut

I did not take a video because I don’t do such things (or even bring my SLR–half-way through I did start taking iPhone pics, despite a promise to myself to focus on the food and company, because the tables were so well spaced that the act was extremely unobtrusive) but if there was a dish crying out for such treatment, this would be it. Crumbles are set up in the round, bolstered by a metal mold, and topped with a layer of brown liquid. Then the purple liqueur is joined by a fuchsia partner and a white cream to be dotted and swooped across the table in a seemingly spontaneous, but clearly orchestrated manner. In the meantime, the centerpiece has gelled into a cake. Meringue moon rocks are strategically placed and the edible tableau is dusted with silver and purple glitter. Ok, and a leaf.

Now you can dig into what the menu calls milk chocolate pate sucree, violet, hazelnut.

alinea pate sucree, violet, hazelnut done

No one forces you to eat the whole thing.

alinea duck accompaniments

Up until this point, the duck only described as ……..?????…………!!!!!!!!!!!!! and accompanied by a board of condiments ranging from single leaves to a yolky blob topped with saffron to a white powdery cylinder, had been the most wowing. The duck is probably still my favorite, and just as fun, but I have to give props to a tasting menu dessert that over-delivers.

Alinea * 1723 N. Halstead, Chicago, IL

Qui

threeshovelMy illogical bias against Italian food (Italian-American to be more precise) has a counterpoint, and that’s Filipino food. Yes, I have a fetish for the poor culinary underdog. I never thought I’d live to see upscale dinaguan, and yet it was happening right in front of me–in Texas, no less.

qui dinuguan

Said pork blood stew, hadn’t lost its deep brown sheen in translation (there’s a reason why trickster adults tell kids dinaguan is chocolate). Yet despite the rich funk, the dish of sauced pork cubes, gnocchi and black trumpet mushrooms wasn’t heavy in the least. Some of this had to do with the small plates being small.

This might not be a selling point for most–especially if you’re a local and not a gluttonous queso-swilling, barbecue-snarfing monster of a tourist–but the portions were perfect after a day of cramming in more meals than ration would dictate.

qui madai

Keeping with the light theme, I tried two raw fish preparations, one more successful than the other. I’ll admit I was drawn to the madai (sea bream) mostly because it featured chapulines, but the fish coupled with daikon was so mild that the legless grasshoppers and hojiblanca olive oil added very little. The rolls tasted as white as they looked.

qui kinilaw

The take on kinilaw with amberjack and a hit of spice, was equally pristine yet had more presence.

qui rabbit

Rabbit was the most New American or maybe I’m reacting to the soft-yolked egg. That’s mizuna, not kale, though, with a carrot sauce and bottarga created from uni. Apparently, Qui has also used uni bottarga along with a corn nut dust on corn on the cob, which sounds awesome. I didn’t really notice it in this dish, though.

qui cheddar cheese ice cream

I don’t want halo-halo unless it contains something ube-flavored and Grimace purple, so it had to be the cheddar cheese ice cream sandwich, which may or may not be a nod to Texas’ cheese dip bounty  (cheddar ice cream, common in the Philippines, is called queso/quezo). The aged cheese was tempered by the addition of goat’s milk cajeta and peanut praline, ending the meal on the same surprising and delicate note that emerged as Qui’s modus operandi.

Qui * 1600 E. Sixth St., Austin, TX

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Frites, Fried Artichokes, General Tso Fried Chicken

antoniono's 6

Antonioni’s Gato was nuts, so too Le Philopsophe. I just wanted to sit at a bar and have some drinks and snacks. Antonioni’s, a short walk away, was suggested–and don’t kill me, but I had no idea what it was because if I ever see anything written about a new restaurant with an Italian-ish name, I skim past it because it’s just not my thing. We all have our biases. I might compare Antonioni’s kitschy mid-century Italian-American theme to Parm, but I’ve never eaten there and am only interested in the pastel, layered ice cream cake.

The restaurant turned out to be fun, bustling yet just chill enough to grab seats at the bar with no maneuvering or hovering. The much-Instagrammed orange jungle animal wallpaper set the right tone. You can start with a stiff brown drink like the Ace High (Laird’s Applejack Brandy, Cocchi di Torino, Luxardo Maraschino, Fernet Branca, Gran Classico, Scrappy’s orange bitters) and end with an intense amaro made from rhubarb that tastes not unpleasingly like burnt tires. The fried artichokes were all hearts, no leaves, making them more like the steak fries of the fried artichoke world. Just a warning. Some people love steak fries. Eggplant rolatini is something I would never order myself, but the eggplant had a smoky quality and crispy edges that kept it from being all about the tomato sauce and melted cheese. The pizza crust could be described as biscuit-y, which I don’t mind. Most people–a mix of older locals, industry types, and families with young children–were eating pasta anyway.

Chez Jef is the cutesy French pop-up that’s acting as a placeholder before the now-dead Bowery Diner turns into something else, presumably. The core menu is short. Just get the steak frites, even if you feel pressure to branch out and try something pseudo-healthy like the salmon with sunchokes so there aren’t two plates of the same thing on the table. The salmon’s boring; the steak isn’t. Plus, you get a metal gravy boat of béarnaise. And a whole jar of cornichons and a pair of tongs to play with if you order charcuterie. The oblong radishes and slices of crusty bread served with a thick slab of butter the size of a Kraft single topped with crunchy sea salt is also a nice freebie.

applebee's black & blue burgerApplebee’s Astoria may have created a new arts district, but there’s still a Pizzeria Uno and Applebee’s in its midst. Order some $1 happy hour oysters and a Mary Pickford (silver rum, maraschino, grenadine, pineapple juice) at the Astor Room, watch a non-blockbuster movie like Grand Budapest Hotel (now gone) at the Kaufman Astoria Cinemas because it will be nearly empty, and then cancel it all out with a Bourbon Black & Bleu burger and a Sam Adams at Applebee’s. The bar is the only thing bustling after 9pm in the immediate vicinity.

Martha Definitely go for the general tso fried chicken (this is also done at Sweet Chick on a waffle, by the way). I was also happy to see that in addition the now requisite brussels sprouts and fish sauce dish, there was a spin on Thai eggplant, spicy, and tossed with basil and bits of hard-boiled eggs that’s almost too much for two. I was less happy about my order being lost and seeing skillet after skillet being diverted elsewhere, but they were super transparent about the mix-up, apologetic and comped a round of drinks, which was all thoughtful. I’m not so paranoid or self-absorbed to think these sorts of snafus are personal (think how many times I order my food, get it, eat it, no biggie) but it seems to be a not uncommon Brooklyn restaurant thing.  Even more confusing was that I subtweeted this issue and Karloff, where I’ve never eaten in my life, responded.

 

International Intrigue: Commes des Garçons, Camel Meat, Cheese Patties

Though both are slightly out of my wheelhouse (is it just me or has there been an uptick in the use of “wheelhouse” and “sea change” recently?) it is worth noting that while Paris mostly gets Brooklyn burgers, tacos and diners, we will have Racines, a wine bar, “neo-bistro” whatever, opening tomorrow, and were introduced to Rose Bakery, the sort of British restaurant inside a Commes des Garçons boutique, late last year and reviewed by New York this week.

On the other hand, the UAE, which only gets our imports, never the other way around, may send something called Wok Chi our way. More interesting, might be Mandilicious, which partnered with a US-based company earlier this year. I’m not sure if its mascot, Nawaf, or the camel mugagal, would fly here, but a fast food chain serving Yemeni food would be cool.

Burger King isn’t really opening in Crimea. Pizza Hut did open in Iraq, though. Some members of the US Consulate attended the opening and looked pretty happy.

KFC is a little late to the game–McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Subway already have vegetarian menus in India–but the chain with chicken in its name finally joined in. That means paneer zingers, which are breaded fried cheese patties stuffed with a spicy sauce.

 

The Week’s Top 5 Offers From the Singaporean Daily Deal Site I Accidentally Subscribed to Over a Year Ago

durianAll you can eat durian, plus a waterfall.

western cuisineWestern cuisine, which means pizzas with ranch dressing, chicken, pineapple and beef bacon.

prawnsThe opportunity to bond with loved ones at a 24-hour prawnery.

outbackChicken and ribs at Outback Steakhouse.

kitkatSingapore is no Japan, but you can still access a limited edition green tea Kit Kat.

The Middle Ages: Quick Takes

Dynaco. Monday, 10:16pm. Extremely high concentration of beards and plaid, as well as two men with some serious white hair. In theory, the fireplace would be warming for ancient creaky bones.

Age appropriate? No.

Glorietta Baldy. Saturday, 8:08pm. The very dim lighting could be flattering for the elderly. There is a wi-fi network called “dr butt.”

Age appropriate? No.

Beloved. Friday, 9:48pm. Like a young immigrant’s interpretation of a damask wallpaper, tin ceiling bar, but crafted from what could be found at Home Depot. One benefit of being ignored at the bar is that when you walk out without paying for the drink you eventually got, no one notices.

Age appropriate? No.

Brooklyn Icehouse. Friday, 5:34pm. This is an old staple, and still suitable for a beer and a shot after the occasional trip to Fairway. It may seem weird to order pulled pork sliders now that Hometown is just down the street, though.

Age appropriate? No.

The Middle Ages: Ridgewood Round-up

Gottscheer Hall, Sunday, 8:01pm

The sweet sixteen party being held in the event space visible and audible (Alicia Keys) through the sliding accordion doors brought down the median age considerably. Bottles of wine that said Sweet White on the label were being rushed to the tables, presumably not for the kids, while the bar was mostly occupied by adult refugees. Eventually, a trio, which I assumed had to be Euro hipsters since the two young men were dressed in a confusing manner–bolo ties, flat, wide-brimmed hats, leather jackets–reminiscent of alternative guys I went to high school with, not the ’90s revival that’s currently en vogue. They were American, however.

Age Appropriate? The only woman over 40 was the bartender. She told us to come back on a Friday when it’s livelier.

Polish German Club House, Sunday, 9:10pm

Polish has long replaced the German, but the name remains. Club house is also a bit of an intimidating way to describe what is essentially someone’s living room that happens to have a bar against the wall. All patrons appeared to either live upstairs or have a connection to someone living upstairs. Outsiders can still drink beer, play with the pet chihuahua and eat homemade bagel chips, though. Even the guy, non-family, who comes in from Long Island to hang out in the old neighborhood and wasn’t crazy about gays in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, was friendly albeit misguided.

Age Appropriate? Once again, the only woman over 40 was the bartender, but it was ok.

No name bar, Sunday, ? pm

Where clubs or club houses can be forbidding, forgoing signage and windows with any visibility sends a stronger signal. This uninviting establishment directly next to the Forest Avenue station’s staircase appears to be exclusively for old Romanian men. If you are not an old Romanian man you probably won’t get the evil eye, you will simply be ignored by them. The bartender, barely drinking age, fresh from Hungary, appeared happy to see women. (She also already knew that Bushwick and Williamsburg are the more desirable neighborhoods to hang out in.) When she asked if we smoked, I assumed it was to bring an ashtray, but she also handed us cigarettes. The only man not sitting at the bar was alone at a table next to us. His chair began tipping to the left and then fell over completely with him still attached to the seat. There was no movement for a solid three minutes as he lay crumpled on the floor with his chair. Eventually, a few guys got up from the bar, propped him back up, and he continued to slump forward the rest of the evening with his new drink untouched in front of him.

Age Appropriate? Age is less of an issue than being female and a native English-speaker. There is a women’s bathroom, however, at the end of a very dark, shadowy hall past the pool table. The giant rat trap next to the toilet was less off-putting than the giant tub of pink Queen Helene hair gel above the sink.

 

Estela

threeshovelI’ll admit that a good deal of last year’s lauded openings–Estela, Contra, Piora, Narcissa, All’Onda–blurred to the point where I didn’t feel the urge to try any of them. Clearly, it’s all the A endings. Estela ended up being a standout, though. It’s kind of amazing how much a good seat (booth for two, ftw) and engaged service can color a dining experience. (For contrast, Glasserie, also for a birthday dinner a few days earlier, was kind of maddening.) It’s also one of those places where you might end up spending more than you intended to–and you’ll still leave with a good impression.

estela salt cod & potato croquettes with borani

Salt cod and potato croquettes with what I’m just now realizing was borani, a Persian spinach yogurt dip that I’ve made and wasn’t quite like this.

estela oysters with trout roe & yuzu

The oysters, super briny and tart from the trout roe and yuzu, were a nice contrast to the also snacky dish that preceded them. They had a spicy finish, despite no indication that they included a spicy component.

estela beef tartare with sunchoke

The hyper-red beef tartare mixed with crisped sunchokes nearly resembled a plate of chopped tomatoes rolled in cornflakes. Each bite was both crunchy and luscious with bread hearty enough to match. Slightly oddball and definitely one of the best dishes.

estela burrata with salsa verde & charred bread

Normally, I wouldn’t bother with burrata in a restaurant but assumed it would have to be more than just cheese and oozing cream (as delicious as that is). The green vegetal pool added a freshness that moved the dish from its rich Italian origins.Yes, there’s charred bread as a base.

estela endive, walnuts, anchovy & ubriaco rosso

The super orangey endive arrived unexpectedly; perhaps someone thought we weren’t getting enough vegetables or were missing an important dish. It didn’t originally jump out at me because it seemed austere. Of course it wasn’t because of the strong cheese (urbriaco rosso) and walnuts.

estela lamb ribs with charmoula and honey

Lamb ribs are having a moment, and this version, heavy with cumin and coated with jalapeño-spiked charmoula and topped with more cilantro and mint, is right on. (Estela really likes the color green and so do I.)

estela pork

The pork wasn’t really necessary, especially after those lamb ribs. The meat itself was perfect and rosy, but where I liked the greenness with the burrata, the herb paste hugging one side of the hunk was almost too grassy.

There’s no grief if you don’t order a bottle of wine, which tend to be expensive in comparison to the food (I’d already had a cocktail at the bar and a few beers downstairs at Botanica where they were also playing New Order). Even the wines by the glass are presented thoughtfully–after sampling three “unusual” whites,” I picked a  Jura chardonnay.

As an aside, there was what appeared to be a hot teen (though possibly older since he was clearly drinking) dining on charcuterie at the bar when I first arrived. He was clearly a somebody, based on the attention he was receiving, though I’m fairly certain it was not Flynn McGarry.

Estela * 47 E. Houston St., New York, NY

The Middle Ages: Queens Tavern

When: Sunday, not sure what time, but it was the point of the Oscars when Jared Leto was on stage, and Friday, 8pm.

If anyone had told me in 1998 that in the future there would be a bar on Fresh Pond Road where Joy Division was on the jukebox, poetry readings occurred, the number of transplanted twentysomethings nearly balanced the amount of gruff men drinking alone and that a bartender, bearded and plaided, would be extolling the virtues of Fernet to patrons who’d never heard of it, I would’ve lumped the notion in with hovercrafts and Star Trek needle-free injections.

But in September Caskey’s was turned into Queens Tavern by the owners of The Grand. The pool table was removed and the shuffleboard is now hung on the wall as decor, but there are still old guys drinking bottles of Bud Light at the end of the bar and belligerent men walking in off the street with their own beers and screaming when the pay phone doesn’t work. Thankfully, the neon spelling out Tavern accompanied by a glowing coupe glass is still intact (though only “vern” was lit).

Despite the provenance of the bar’s new iteration, Williamsburg has yet to fully migrate. On my second visit, when a friend of the bartender arrived to keep her company, she exclaimed, “It’s at the end of the world!” ostensibly visiting Ridgewood for the first time. The bartender lives a mile and a half away on the Wilson L.

Age appropriate? There’s a gap between the Sixpoint-swilling millennials and middle-aged men who start drinking at noon that could easily be filled by some nice non-young ladies.
Was I carded? On the second visit, yes. But only because the doorman, not present the first time, said he was bored. The only other paying customer was a man of Eastern European descent who looked 50s but was probably 40s, slurring what I think was “drink.”

Heart and Palette

Thankfully, I stumbled upon a palate problem right before the end of the month. I was starting to get concerned that 2014 had turned itself around. #blessed

Also, there is a new venue called Pinot’s Palette in Staten Island. I would like to hold the borough responsible for that name, but it’s a national chain and actually involves painting.