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Root & Bone: The Pop-up from Top Cheftestants Jeffrey McInnis and Janine Booth

27 Nov

If you have been reading this blog long enough, you know that we are unabashed Top Chef sluts. We love watching the show and love exploring the restaurants the “Cheftestants” open and being able to eat the food that looks so amazing on the screen.

Mike saw that Underground Eats was offering tickets to Root & Bone: The Pop-up. When Mike’s foodie coworker friend mentioned it to him as well, we went for it.

For just 2 weekends (November 15th, 16th, 22nd & 23rd), Chef Jeffrey McInnis (from Top Chef Season 5) and Chef Janine Booth (from the current Season 11), were taking over a new Brooklyn restaurant to test their menu and some food concepts as a pop-up.   The tickets were $65 per person and included 9 courses and beer pairings.  Seemed like a deal to us!

This pop-up was a sneak peak into a new restaurant from Chef McInnis (who was previously at Yardbird in Miami, Florida) and Chef Booth before they open Root & Bone in Alphabet City in 2014 (not my favorite neighborhood… but what can you do).

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We went to The Brew Inn in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (surprisingly easy to get to even though we had to take the subway to Queens to catch the G train to Greenpoint).  We really liked the aesthetic inside with a mix of wood, brick, and mirrors (though the bathroom had an awkwardly small sink).

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The menu for the evening sounded great, though there were some concerns with my peppers (capsaicin) allergy.  But Chef McInnis plopped himself next to me on the bench and went through it line by line and promised he would take care of me.

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We started with a really great hard cider from McKenzie’s. Usually I am not a hard cider fan.  I absolutely LOVE apple cider and I always find myself wanting hard cider to taste more like real cider with a kick.  McKenzie’s was perfect.  Every bit as delicious as regular cider but with a nice tang and faint booziness.  Best hard cider I’ve ever had. I’ll be seeking this out!

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Our first course was a sampling of bites (see photo below):

Top left: “Waldorf Salad” with sheets of crisp apple, NY grapes, buttermilk, blue cab, and celery.  It was like a tiny wrap with a bite of crab inside. It was good but a bit watery. Not overly memorable.

Just to the right of that was the hot fresh baked buttermilk biscuits with sea cured foie gras and tomato jam. I couldn’t have the tomato jam due to a bit of paprika, so chef brought me my own version with rhubarb jam (more on that in a moment).

The sandwiches below that on the board were grilled lamb ham n’ pimento cheese sandwiches with pickles.  Sadly, this was something they couldn’t edit to make it peppers-free.  I asked the table to tell me it was awful, but the truth was it was the one most picked as their favorite. (Damn)

Below that and to the left were grilled pierogi with pickled cabbage and dijonaise. I loved the grilled char on these. Very flavorful and the pickled cabbage underneath them was fantastic.

And then bottom right were deviled eggs with American sturgeon caviar.  Usually I don’t see the point in deviled eggs, but these were fantastic.  Packed with flavor (even the ones I had with the paprika removed).

We LOVED the board as a whole, and even though I’m pretty sure it was just a way of sampling a few different appetizer options, we loved it as a sampler and I hope they keep this concept on the menu for the restaurant.

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My biscuits with foie and rhubarb were superb.  The biscuits were perfectly crisp yet soft and the foie was cooked well and paired so nicely with the sweet of the rhubarb.  A teeny bit of saltiness made the entire bite pop in my mouth.

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We then had a House Made Chartcuterie Board with spicy goat “slim jim” (I couldn’t have it), smoked duck ham (flavorful but forgettable), wild boar head terrine (really enjoyed this on the bread), smoked tasso lamb ham (couldn’t have it), polish sausage (kielbasa… very, very tasty and one of the best versions of kielbasa I’ve tried), pickled vegetables (pickled unbelievably well with a touch of sweet and sour), mustards, and marinated cheddar jar with grilled bread.

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The jar of marinated cheddar cubes was great. I loved the flavor and the herbs that really complimented the cheese. Mike was a bit put off that this was in cubes since he thought it cheapened the food.  I had no issue with it.

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The chefs came out and spoke to us a few times. They were so excited to be there and to be sharing the food with us. It was a really fun experience to be there to try the food and talk with them as they get ready to take on Manhattan.

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The first main came out and it was shrimp ‘n’ grits. They were beer crusted red shrimp with tobasco spiced ham (I had a different version without the tobasco), and baby onion over tone ground grits.

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When the chefs came out, they told us that they were serving the deep fried heads of the shrimp as well.  Now I’ve sucked shrimp heads before, but eating the head whole was a new experience. Sure enough, it was delicious and crispy enough to eat without a problem.

The dish was a bit mixed.  The grits were some of the best grits I’ve ever had. If all grits tasted like that, I would understand why people love them so much. The shrimp had a delicate flavor and the sauce was very good, however, the ham (both my version and, according to my tablemates, everyone else’s) was VERY salty and it overpowered the dish. I love salt, but this was too much even for me.  Shame. The dish would have been excellent had not been for the saltiness.

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Our beer adventure continued (we wound up having 5 drinks in all) including an ale from Queen’s Brewery.

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Our final entree was “Root & Bone’s Signature Meatloaf” and it was described as “slow beer braised Australian lamb shanks, caramelized onion, minted celery root & parsnip puree, with carrot BBQ sauce.” (I had to have an alternate sauce)

At first, we were confused. Was this 2 dishes? A meatloaf and a lamb shank.

What wound up coming out was very surprising: a “loaf” made from lamb shank. It was as if they made the lamb, pulled it apart, and then assembled it into a loaf which was seared.  It was absolutely f*cking fantastic.  The sear on the outside gave it an ever so slight char and crisp with an incredibly flavorful lamb.  The puree combined with mint was so inspired, and when you ate it all together, it took each individual component to a new level.  One of my favorite dishes of all time. When the restaurant opens, I will get this again. I loved it.

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At this point I realized there was some activity outside. They were assembling dessert in the little side yard outside.

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Dessert was carrot cake with carrot cream cheese emulsion, walnut brittle, and cream cheese sorbet.  I absolutely loved the sauce, the sorbet, and the walnut brittle. (Especially the walnut brittle)  But the cake… it was ehhh…  A bit too dry, not enough flavor.  I tried to saturate it in the sorbet but I wound up eating the sorbet with the sauce and the brittle and leaving the cake behind.

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At the end of the night, we were asked to fill out comment cards, which we all did happily.  Everyone was buzzing about the food around us, and all 4 of us had a great meal.  As for favorite, the sandwich got a big vote from our table (damn x 2) but my favorite was the lamb meatloaf.  Sooooo good.

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At the end of the night, the chefs were saying goodnight to everyone and were kind enough to take photos.  I thanked them for a great meal and for taking such great care of me with my allergy (it really was above and beyond and I didn’t feel even slightly embarrassed for the menu edits, which is a common feeling for me since many places aren’t very kind nor considerate about allergies).

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We chatted with Chef Booth for a bit and she was so incredibly sweet.  (People that good looking and that talented are typically not nearly that nice).  She was so excited to send us home with our gift bag of tabasco and pepper jelly (womp wahhhh).  It was sweet to have something to take home, however.

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This was a truly wonderful experience.  Feeling like we had an “insiders” look and being able to try such great food made for a great night.  I cannot wait for the restaurant to open next year and I hope these chefs have great success.

Catch: Top Chef’s Hung Huynh’s new NYC Restaurant

7 Nov

As you all know very well (or should by now), Mike and I are total Top Chef sluts.  So when we were in search of a dinner location, we decided to try Top Chef’s Hung Huynh’s (Season 3 winner) new restaurant in Meatpacking.  Catch is a 3 floor restaurant, with the top floor dedicated to rooftop drinking.  It is owned by Mark Birnbaum (some of you will see this as funny as I do) and Eugene Remm and is the third restaurant in the EMM Group (the other 2 are Abe & Arthur’s and Lexington Brass) but I know them better as the owners of Tenjune (and many other night clubs).

The address is 21 Ninth Ave, but the entrance is actually around the corner on 13th street next to some construction and only identified by a C with an anchor above the door.  You feel lucky to have found it, then you get into a completely unidentified elevator bank where you look around for a sign.  You try to keep up appearances (after all, you are in the Meatpacking district), but deep down inside you can’t help but wonder why it’s so trendy to not tell people where to get into your business.  Lucky for us, someone else came in and immediately hit Floor 2… which opens up to a very modern, very Meatpacking space.

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I absolutely loved the weird fish in a suit on the menu cover.  Hipster? Sure! But it gave me a chuckle.  I immediately read the request for no flash photography, so apologies in advance for these dark iPhone photos!

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We started with oysters (I have been on a kick lately) and they were very good.  Not Imperial No. 9 good, but good.

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We then had The Catch Roll, which is crab, salmon, and miso honey… with just a touch of awesome.   The sweetness of the miso honey was absolutely perfect on the roll.

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There was nothing not to like about this. The textures, the flavors… it all came together perfectly.  I wanted to lick the miso honey off the plate but I refrained…

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Next up we tried the Macaroni and Lobster Cream.  You know everything about macaroni and cheese that is good in the world? This was all of that with lobster and a slight crunch on top.  It was heaven.

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We also tried the White Flatbread with clams, parmesan, and garlic.  This was good, but not great. If this was all I ate here, I would be disappointed.  It just wasn’t clammy enough.  The crust was nice and crispy, the garlic and cheese were good, but I was expecting more clam.

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For our entree, we split the Scallop & Cauliflower which came with pistacchio and tamarind brown butter.  This was one of the most unique scallops dishes I have ever had.  I love scallops, so I eat them a lot, but they get pretty basic.  They taste so good just simply seared, that they really don’t NEED anything else.  This was a very happy addition, however, as it added to the flavor without overpowering it.  Awesomely delicious.

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The dessert menu looked so scrumptious that we just had to try SOMETHING.

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So we opted for the peanut butter cup souffle.

When it came, the souffle was hot and domed (perfectly cooked) and then picked up what I think was ice cream off the plate and dropped it into the center.

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I was a bit worried about this, since really a souffle is good because of the texture, but this actually cooled it down so we could eat it and didn’t detract from the flavor.  I will say, however, that it is a souffle.  A peanut butter souffle.  I was hoping for a bit more chocolate in it.  It was still good.  But only if you like souffles (I like them… but I don’t LOVE them).

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What I did love, however, was the peanut butter popsicles (tasted like fantastic peanut butter gelato dipped in a hardened chocolate shell) and the little square chocolate cups filled with ground peanuts and what I think was peanut butter, sugar, and maybe some honey.  Scrum-diddly-umptuous.

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Overall, the food here was spectacular.  Very unique flavor combinations and artfully put together.

The one drawback, however, was our waiter.  He was everything that people hate about the Meatpacking district.  He was snooty, inattentive, and downright douchey.  He looked down his nose at us (I think because I was taking pictures) and made 0 effort to deliver even the most basic service.  For instance, he came to take orders from the tables around us on 3 separate occasions, all of whom sat after we did, each time barely spending a moment to put a “1 second” finger up towards us as he didn’t even make eye contact.  It took a good 30 minutes before he took our order, we somehow never got bread (pretty sure everyone else did), and when he came to finally take it, he made us feel as though we were entirely inconveniencing him.  It was a shame he was so bad since everything else was so good.

But the food was absolutely worth it.  It became obvious why Hung won Top Chef… his food tastes as good as it looks.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

In case you missed it, I was on The Wendy Williams Show on Tuesday, September 28th to compete in a Top Chef: Just Desserts segment with my NYC Nom Nom Double Trouble Peanut Butter Cup.  Two other audience members and I put our desserts up against each other to be judged by Wendy Williams, Gail Simmons, and Johnny Iuzzini.  It was a blast!

29 Sep

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