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Friday, March 21, 2014


Calliope is one the few East Village restaurants I really love.  Sure, the neighborhood is fun and cheap, but higher-end restaurant quality (aside from the likes of Alder, Prune, Porsena and a couple others) is practically non-existent.  It could be the most perfect, casual romantic French bistro.

Ever since The Times published an article on the happy hour oyster craze in NYC, it is pretty difficult to get me to pay regular prices for oysters (and why would you?!?!); but Calliope is an exception...though they now have a 5-7p oyster happy hour!  Their East Coast oysters with mignonette are delicious and it wasn't even so much about the oysters, but the sauce.  Oddly, mignonette can taste different everywhere and they have a superb one with cracked pepper.

Due to my total obsession with sea urchin, I had to order the sea urchin toasts and these were a disappointment.  It could be that the urchin was from Maine and personally, I only care for the California kind, but the texture was a little too slimy and tasted too fishy.  Serves me right for ordering that anywhere but a sushi joint.

One of the best dishes of the night was the spring onion, leek and goat cheese tart.  You could taste the layers in the dough with pillowy goat cheese topped with greens.  Worth the $14 (gasp).

Looking to get your green on?  Look no further than this salad.

My mom always orders 'exotic' menu items thinking they will always be the most tasteful.  The quail with chantrelle mushrooms, cipollinis and vinegar fell a little short of better than average.  It was tasty, but spending time getting meat off small game birds doesn't exactly pay off in the end.  Plus, it just looked like a mish-mosh of stuff.

Chicken was never a dish I would want to order until I had chicken from Barbuto.   Now, it is in the rotation at even the finest of restaurants.  This roasted chicken had the crispiest of skin and perfectly seasoned, juicy meat served with stuffed cabbage and carrots.

Standout dish of the evening was the milk-poached halibut, green chickpeas, favas and white asparagus.  Do NOT leave Calliope without ordering this!  The presentation, the texture, the spring peas!  All in glorious harmony together.

The best part of my night was seeing this:

Two people that have been together for 50 years and still in love.  My parents.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Fork in the Road: Caracol (Houston, TX)

“Have you been to Caracol yet?” has become a pretty common question asked around Houston these days.  Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s and Backstreet Café fame, has opened his new seafood-inspired restaurant in the Stewart Title building on Post Oak.  As I walk in, the interior stuns me.  Sure, it’s a very large space, but breathtakingly gorgeous. 

Recognizably, Ortega has outfitted his staff in matching Mexican shirts and black pants and there is plenty staff around, so service is not lacking.  We arrive on the early side (by 7pm, the noise level is pretty loud) and I start with a Paloma.  Tequila and just the right amount of Tajin infused soda for spice. 

An intense menu offers traditional appetizers as well as entrees, but also includes an impressive count of ceviches, soups and other Spanish starters.  Most of our diners chose an appetizer and entrée, but ordering two tapas size dishes certainly satisfies the most hungry diner. 

My friend, Liz, had suggested we order the Gulf wood-roasted oysters.  She was right…these did not
disappoint!  These dozen bivalves are served sizzling hot with chipotle butter and I could have easily had another few.  

The Chilpachole de Jaiba soup preparation was constructed beautifully around a blue soft shelled crab with mini masa dumplings floating about.  The flavors could have been a bit more complex, but enjoyable nonetheless. 

Again, the butterflied snapper steamed in a basket with adobo sauce was average when it came to seasoning.  In my experience, adobo sauce is rich and spicy which was not the case here, but the fish was expertly cooked.  

A chickpea stuffed masa pancake with the tangy avocado salad was delicious and filling.

Crispy duck, duck molote and chard with red pumpkin seed sauce was not the most visually appealing dish, but of all the entrees, had the most complexity.  

The chocolate dome was cracked open with a mallet where you find a frothy coconut filling inside.  It was a nice little surprise.

To be forgotten was their version of bananas foster with flavorless bananas and a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

While I leave Ortez’s restaurants completely full, I’m never fully satisfied.  The sides always make up for any lull with the food.  I am partial to the refried black beans; they would be part of my last meal on Earth.  The charred brussel sprouts are on skewers with a sweet sauce underneath.  There is always room for improvement in the seasoning regard, but at least it’s always consistent when it comes to cooking proteins and that’s why I always return.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria

The informal offshoot of Il Buco on Bond Street is a perfect lunch spot and needs to be a strong contender to take the visiting family!  The Alimentari (up front) has stellar pork sandwiches and the back of the space is the dining room and wine bar.  In true Il Buco fashion, the restaurant boasts with rustic Italian furniture beautiful lighting fixtures.

The octopus carpaccio was topped with chilis, but maintained a citrusy, light flavor.

Aren't they gorgeous?
One dish not to missed here is the crispy artichokes with preserved lemon.  We kept saying while furiously popping these in our mouths, 'they are like the artichokes served in the Jewish ghetto in Rome'.  Every leaf so perfectly crisped.

Porchetta served with spring peas and pea puree.  Moist and spot-on with the herbs definitely challenging Sara Jenkin's namesake restaurant (which can sometimes be dry).

Although all were tasty, the dish that really made the meal was the Pasta Setaro. Creamy spaghetti with ample salty bottarga and parsley.  Pasta is always Il Buco's strong suit.

Strawberry Rhurbarb crostata with vanilla gelato.  Not too sweet, not too sour, not too great.