Archive | April, 2014

Grand Reopening of Tavern on the Green

28 Apr

In 2009, NYC lost a landmark.  Tavern on the Green went bankrupt. I had never been there myself, since it was way over budget in my first few years in NYC when I lived off of ramen and the kindness of business lunches, but I always knew it to be hard to get into and expensive.  Those two things should really never equate to bankruptcy in my mind, and I heard that they were one of the highest grossing restaurant of all time in 2007 (to the tune of $37 million) but apparently the economy, debts, lease problems, some bad business, and what I heard was a severe decline in quality shuttered the restaurant. DSCF3205 (view down Central Park West) Since it closed, reopening the iconic space has been a never ending cycle of delays delays delays The first official day of new service for the newly redone restaurant was this past Thursday, so I was excited to snag a reservation for Sunday, even if it was at 5:15pm.  I was excited to see what this iconic refurb had to offer. DSCF3204 Entering off Central Park West from 67th Street, I was a bit surprised to see that it was still under a lot of construction outside. It looks like they are working on the patios and gardens. DSCF3206 The entrance still has that elegant feeling, with a long covered entrance and a well dressed man holding the door open. DSCF3207 When you walk inside, the first thing you see is… a gift shop.  A gift shop? In a restaurant.  This made me roll my eyes.  I figured this was going to be an even worse tourist trap than I originally thought. DSCF3209 But we proceeded inside. Rumor has it the old interior was a lot of shiny metal and mirrors.  This had a lovely “tavern” feel while still being a bit upscale.  (Though I was surprised at how casual it really is) DSCF3212 There is a gold plated pegasus chandelier that rotates above the entry bar, however. So not all the gold is gone. DSCF3221   There is a windowed, glass cube porch-like area that looks out on… unfinished courttard.  I was actually a bit surprised to see that the restaurant does not have views of the park.  At all.  I’ve passed by it a thousand times but always just assumed you could see the park from somewhere in the restaurant.  But no dice. The cube reminded me a bit of the Apple Stores. DSCF3214 We walked through the main room that connects to the windowed terrace, which also contains a big window looking into the kitchen. DSCF3251 DSCF3252 We were sat in the back room, near the back bar at a quiet table for two. DSCF3222 DSCF3249     It is a large space, so I was surprised to hear that the old restaurant was more than double the size. The space used to be an old sheep barn, so the sheep play a prominent roll throughout the menu design. DSCF3215 The menu, by chef Katy Sparks, offers chilled seafood and ceviche, as well as salads.  From there, the menu is split into 3 sections: The Hearth (coming from a wood burning oven), the Grill, and The Plancha (a Brazilian griddle). I expected it to be over the top and ridiculously expensive.  It was certainly tourist pricing, but it wasn’t as ridiculous as I thought it was going to be (most small plates/apps were $12-$18 with entrees around $24-$34 with the exception of a $54 New York Strip Steak). The bread is served as crispy (possibly cheesy?) thin breadsticks and long thin rolls with an impressive dip.  I believe it had sheeps’ milk yogurt, feta cheese, oil, cumin seeds, rosemary, thyme, and a few other things. It was quite enjoyable. DSCF3223 We started with the Serrano Ham, Cave-Aged Gruyere and Sage Toast, and Anchovy-Caper Sauce.  It was a delicious nibble, though a tad bit greasy on the fingers.  I liked the combination of ingredients and it was different and a little bit special.  Though for $18, it was still a very small portion of grilled cheese. DSCF3225 We also tried the Fried Local Duck Egg on a Spring Onion and Smoked Ricotta Crostata with Anchovies and Oil-Cured Olives. DSCF3228 I really enjoyed the rustic crostata which had a great flavor (though when eaten on its own, was a tad bit dry) and the ricotta mixed with the egg and salty anchovies and olives was a very nice combination. DSCF3229 For entrees, we got the Heritage Breed Pork Chop, Wood Roasted Rhubarb and Fennel with a Local Honey and Verjus Sauce. DSCF3231 This had a unique flavor with the rhubarb and fennel.  I wish it were a bit more sauced (or thicker sauce?) because I found the dish a bit flat.  Good, but not great. DSCF3233 We also tried the Braised Lamb Shank with Creamed Chards, Pickled Golden Raisins, Roasted Cauliflower and a Fresh Mint Gremolata. DSCF3235 The meat was cooked perfectly.  Tender, and fell off the bone.  The meat itself had nice flavor, however, I wanted a bit more from the preparation.  Again, a thicker sauce may have really set this dish apart, or more mint.  I will say that I had one piece of cauliflower that was crispy and packed with flavor.  It was great. Unfortunately, the other pieces sat a bit too long in the jus and weren’t quite as crisp.  Shame. DSCF3238 As for dessert, we went with the Ice Box Cake with Ruis rye bread, maple-rye whisky pudding, sour cherries, maple walnut pralines. The jar that came out felt especially small for the $13 price tag, but there was something about it that was strangely interesting.  It was basically pudding and bread crumbs, but somehow it tasted new and fresh. DSCF3242 We also got the Spring Pavlova with Matcha Green Tea curd, macerated organic strawberries and rhubarb, chantilly cream.  I LOVE pavlova, so I cannot NOT order it when I see it on a menu.  This very was very interesting with the Matcha green tea.  There was also something salty that I really enjoyed in this. Added a depth to the flavors.  The pavlova itself wasn’t as crispy as I like my meringue, but it was still tasty. DSCF3246 Overall, I enjoyed my meal at the new Tavern on the Green.  If it were priced a few dollars cheaper on each dish, it would have been a much better meal.  It just didn’t have value. But it did have appeal.  Tourists will flock here, and there were a fair amount of children dining there, so families will enjoy it for a nice meal out where they can feel comfortable bringing the kids, however, I’m not sure it will regain its stature as a “go to” restaurant for the food. (Then again, it never was the “go to” for the food!) From what I heard, this is going to be quite the undertaking.  They will owe the city licensing fees of either 6% of the total restaurant sales or $1 million dollars, whichever is greater.  This will mean that they will need to make $17 million in their first year, which translates to about 1,200 meals on Saturdays and Sundays and 600 meals per day each week day. I don’t know if I’ll go out of my way to go back, but I’m glad we got to try it, and part of me hopes it sticks around because I’m a sucker for NYC nostalgia, especially in dining. Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10 nomscale- 07.0

New Opening: Heartwood

26 Apr

Every time I find out that I know someone, who knows something, who is opening a restaurant, I am both excited and concerned.  Excited because I am fascinated by the business of opening a restaurant and love being one of the first to try a new place. Concerned because if it sucks, or is even just average, I’m going to write about it and that someone, who knew someone, may read it.

So when I heard that Mike knew someone who knew someone who was opening up Heartwood, in the space previously occupied by the famous Donatella, I was even more concerned.  Lately, I feel like Chelsea has been opening restaurants that excel in abundant averageness. The old standbys have gone away, and now it seems like a revolving door of places that are just okay.  The area has spot after spot of places to get something to eat, and definitely something to drink, but no place you go out of your way to dine at if you don’t happen to be passing by while hungry.

But the pedigree sounded pretty great:

  • Nick Mautone from Gramercy Tavern
  • Nick Fiorentino, former bread baker at Daniel
  • Bradford Thompson, from Lever House and Miss Lily’s

Heartwood just opened on Monday, but it already got a bit of buzz on Eater, so we checked OpenTable for a reservation as we walked across town towards the restaurant…made one for 5:30 .  We got there a bit early, and it turns out the kitchen doesn’t open until 5:30, so we had a drink at the bar.

The space has a great look that’s right up my alley, with mason jar chandeliers and a comfortable dining room.

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Soon after we ordered, a bread basket was whisked to our table, outfitted with the house brown butter and a spicy mustard, as well as some nice rustic slices of bread and delicious salty pretzels.


Now THIS is how bread baskets should be served.  Too many restaurants treat their bread baskets as an afterthought, but it was obvious that someone who truly cares about bread put this together, and it was a great opening scene.  The brown butter was slightly sweet, which was actually really fantastic, especially with the salty pretzel.  Turns out it’s sweetened with agave, which I usually don’t like, but was excellent here.  The mustard was SUPER spicy apparently (sinus clearing, in fact).

We ordered the skate fingers, which were tempura fried skate that was supposed to be served with jalapeno tartar sauce.  Since I cannot have peppers, they made a parsley aoili for our dish.


I absolutely love sweet and sour chicken from Chinese restaurants, with that perfect golden crisp. This reminded me a lot of that kind of crisp, but a much cleaner flavor and the light skate inside was delicious.  It was perhaps a tiny bit on the greasy side, but I didn’t mind it a bit.  The aoili we had was pretty good, but it was made great by adding the tart acid of the lemon to the dish. That really made it sing.


We had been seated at one of the few 2-tops in the back near the pizza oven, which was tucked away from the crowd.  I thought it was a really fantastic seat… nice and quiet and with a perfect view of the action.


Apparently, the pizza oven is a Stefano Ferrara that was previously gold plated.  But it turned out a perfectly crusty pizza even though it is now repainted red.

We ordered the “When Peter Luger Goes Out For Pizza” which was topped with braised short ribs, creamed spinach, and horse radish.  While I have no idea how they are getting away with that name, I am very glad that someone was genius enough to put this pizza together. All the ingredients went so well together, were so well balanced, and made for a truly lovely and flavorful pizza.


It was also served with shisito peppers and smoked flake salt. I don’t know if this was just for this pizza or comes with all, but I added a bit of salt to the pizza and it brought it to a whole new level (I love salt).


The upskirt shows a lovely bit of char.  The pizza wasn’t all that crispy at the inside, however, the flavor of the dough and toppings were so good that it didn’t matter in the slightest.  Great pizza.


We also decided to split the “Crisp Skin Chicken” which was described as coming with “day old bread sauce” and soft herb salad.

But when it came out… it looked a bit scary, as indicated by Mike’s cautious finger below.  Why scary?  See that shade of orange?  It’s a very particular shade.  It’s the shade of death. (Not quite death… but a very, very itchy mouth potentially filled with blisters).


It did look beautiful, however.


The waiter apologized for the mistake and offered to leave it for Mike to eat and they would make me a new one.  We were already over-stuffed, so Mike said he was fine just eating the pepper-free one that was to come.

I was also a bit surprised to see that they described what looked like parsley garnish as an herb salad.  Nothing wrong with that at all, but perhaps something that was billed a bit strangely.

It took some time for the new version to come out, and the waiter apologized to us again that each time it takes 15 minutes to prepare and it would come up as soon as it could. I could tell he was upset about the mistake.  He was upset he couldn’t get the revised chicken up sooner and that the mistake happened.  Poor guy.

But when the chicken did make it’s entry without peppers, it was worth the wait. When a chicken is billed as “crispy skin,” it certainly should have super crispy skin.  Too often I’m disappointed by chicken skin in restaurants, but this was not one of those times.  It was perfectly crisp and somehow the meat inside was super moist.  And the pan jus with it was a really fantastic sauce.


Our waiter was kind enough to apologize for the mistake again and offered to buy us dessert.


We chose the chocolate caramel brownie pie.

It was SO rich, but that dark chocolate in a very rich crust was great, and the caramel reminded me of the salted bourbon caramel sauce I love from Fat Toad Farm.  The cherries on top were a bit off-putting when eaten alone.  They tasted a bit, maybe, medicinal?  And I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  But when our waiter told us that they are soaked in SoCo, it all made sense.  I think they should probably mention this, because wrapping my brain around “cherries in SoCo” made them taste more like that and less like medicine.  The pie itself was really great though.  A nice balance of sweet and bitter, which a lovely texture and delicious crust. And that caramel… give me more of that any day!




As we were leaving, we had a pretzel left in our (now second) bread basket (it was just so good).  I sheepishly asked if they could give me a to-go bag for the one pretzel to have for breakfast tomorrow, and the waiter nicely came back with a box of TWO pretzels for tomorrow.  One of my favorite touches of fancy restaurants is when they leave you with a parting gift, so this made me incredibly happy.



And the best part? Our entire meal, including 3 drinks, came to under $100.  It felt like a gourmet meal and I was pleasantly surprised when the bill came.  (Love when that happens!)

So as it turns out, I had nothing to be afraid of.  Not only was this restaurant way above average, but Mike and I left there abuzz about how good our meal was.  Not only was it great quality at a great value, but the food felt special, different, and inspired. That doesn’t happen very often.  So not only is there now a great place to go in Chelsea, I would say it’s worth a trip to Chelsea just to visit this great new restaurant.

On our walk home, Mike and I talked about how we hope that they will soon start serving brunch, and how that bread baker would make some excellent breakfast baked goods and that adding an egg to the pizza would be incredible.  Also, I cannot image anything better than a short rib hash made with the incredible meat they serve on the menu twice (once on a pizza, and once as a main).  I’m glad to have been able to try dinner there, and I look forward to going back for many more meals.

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

nomscale- 08.0



The day we decided to #followtherabbit for a free Dominque Ansel Cronut and Cookie Shot

19 Apr

For the first time in a long time, Mike and I had a day off together.  We had no plans for Good Friday besides going to dinner with my cousins, and we figured we may wander the city and possibly take in a museum.

But then luck took a turn.  Now first, to preface, we are HUGE Dominique Ansel fans  (inventor of the Cronut) and have been since we had his jaw dropping desserts when he was the pastry chef for Daniel. I absolutely love his DKA, macarons, and the frozen s’more at his pastry shop in SoHo.


Torching the Frozen S’More


Dominique Ansel Frozen S’More on the bakery patio

Any time I have a visitor, I try to bring them to the shop for amazing pastries… even my (now 100 year old, as of yesterday)  awesome Aunt Dinah.

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(Aunt Dinah after enjoying her first DKA)

So where did luck come in to play on this Good Friday?  I was sitting on the couch lazily scrolling through Instagram when I happened upon this post from @dominiqueansel:

It was about 10:40am and the first video posted indicated that they would be handing out a free Cronut and Cookie Shot to a few people near the Flatiron at 11am… and then would continue to post clues on Instagram and Twitter throughout the day under the hashtag #followtherabbit.  They would be doing this until 5:30 with 7 locations throughout the city in celebration of the upcoming first cookbook from Dominique Ansel.

By 10:55, we were out the door and on our way… but where to?

We figured that by the time we got down to Flatiron (about a 25 minute walk), they would be gone.  But I provided the driving school philosophy that if there is something in the road, you don’t know which way it’s going to move, so your best bet is to steer right towards it, figuring it will go SOME way to get out of the way (and you don’t want to guess wrong).

So we begin wandering in that direction, however, by about 11:20 we noticed in the comments that they were all out (and the internet trolls were very upset that the video was the clue to the exact location and the location mentioned was slightly off… people are so damn rude online!) We decided to pass by Flatiron and head down to Union Square, since it’s central and has lots of subways.  As we strolled, we noticed that the next video was posted, saying they were now in China Town.  So we decided “why not!” and jumped on the subway down to China Town and booked it to Confucius Plaza (a place we had never been), arriving about 20 minutes after the video posted.  We couldn’t quite find them, and then we saw the mystical Dominque Ansel yellow pastry box and approached the people with the prize to ask how it went.  They informed us we missed them by mere moments.

Dammit! But we were getting closer.

It seemed that they were posting every hour on the hour now, so we had some time to kill before the next post. We decided to take advantage of our day off and do something touristy we had always wanted to do, so we jumped on the 6 train and headed south below the Brooklyn Bridge Stop to get a gander at the abandoned subway station (the train turns around and heads back uptown at the end of the line).

Heading towards the abandoned subway station on the 6 train


Abandoned Subway Station below the last stop on the 6 train

We swung around the turn-around in the abandoned subway station (it was cool but I sure wish we could see a bit more!) and headed back uptown. I was thinking we should go to Union Square again for the same reason as last time (lots of subways there and centrally located) but Mike suggested we get off at Astor Place, so we went for it.

Cell phone service kicked back on right on the top of the hour, and that’s when we realized… They were in Union Square!

I am not embarrassed to say we bolted the 5 blocks there.

And we got there just in time… to watch the very last one be given away.

But now we knew what to look for!  White bags and a bunny with an orange balloon.

It was sure a rascally rabbit!  But we were having a blast running all over the city on a big treasure hunt.

So now we had another 50 minutes or so to kill. So we went around the Union Square Market, stopped in my favorite bathroom break hotel (the W at the north east corner of Union Square… just go right up the white spiraly staircase and you’re set).  It was now 1:30 and we had a choice to make… where to now?

We started doing some total guess work, that we called “hunches.” They were hopping around mostly in squares. It was only a matter of time before they hit Washington Square Park, right? Or maybe they would go to Gramercy Park? Could they totally switch it up and head up to Central Park?  We went with our first gut instinct and went to Washington Square Park.

And then as we rounded the corner toward the arch, we saw a magic thing. Before it was even posted, there were two lovely women with big white bags and a small furry bunny tied to an orange balloon.  SCORE!

We were second on line and I Instagrammed a not-so-secret picture a full 25 minutes before the clue was posted.


I was so damn excited that we found them!

The video was posted at 2pm on the dot and then the prize was in hand.

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They gave us our prized box and a couple special towels, and then were kind enough to take a picture of us with the bunny.

They even took a picture of us that they put on their site.

We hung out and watched the mayhem happen, as some people spotted the line and ran over with wonder in their eyes… and some tourists happened upon it and smartly jumped on the line just to see what it was (I hope they appreciated it!)

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They were gone in less than 15 minutes.

So what was in the beautiful yellow box of fun?

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Top left is a Passion Fruit Caramelia Chocolate (with cocoa nib sugar) cronut.  Top right is a bottle of the Tahitian vanilla flavored milk. And on the bottom is a chocolate chip cookie shot, which is like a firm (but somehow still soft) cookie lined with a delicious chocolate icing that you then pour the milk into.

As I sampled and sipped, I couldn’t help but feel like the luckiest person on earth (or at least in NYC). We had an adventure all over the city, on a beautiful day, saw some great things, and now ended our tour by magically happening upon the exact right spot to get a special treat.

I thought it hysterical that we wouldn’t wait on the line for 2 hours for the pastry, however, we had no problem spending all day on a scavenger hunt around the city to get ourselves the famous cronut. Would it be worth a 2 hour wait at 6am in the morning? Come on… is anything? But it was quite delicious.  I am not a huge donut fan, but to have one that had flaky layers filled with a passion fruit (but not too sweet) sauce and topped with a damn good icing was pretty awesome.

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And the cookie shot?  Really loved that!  Novel and fun. By the end of the shot, the icing had come off a bit and had made the milk into chocolate milk.  Delicious.  (Though I would still probably go back  for my original favorites)

What a day!

I can’t help but be grateful for the fun, unexpected day we got from Dominque Ansel.  A lot of people think the Cronut is overhyped (it is) and that Dominque Ansel uses it for marketing (he does, but what’s so wrong with that?) and there were a lot of people who didn’t think this scavenger hunt was very fair (it wasn’t)… but people need to relax.  This was great fun.  And let the haters hate. I’m just going to lick my lips and remember the day we magically got Cronuts.


Can’t wait for that cook book!