Tag Archives: restaurant week summer 2013

Restaurant Week Summer 2013: Asellina

1 Sep

I made an unscheduled last Restaurant Week stop for Summer 2013.  This time, we checked out Asellina near Gramercy for lunch. (Upon looking up the website, I realized that Asellina is from the same restaurant group as STK).

It’s in the Gansevoort Hotel on Park Ave, so as expected, the space was quite nice and modern.


I started with a salad that had shaved pear on it with goat cheese and nuts.  It was dressed very well and was a very enjoyable salad.


My dining companion had a shrimp appetizer (that I believe was on the regular menu, not Restaurant Week). These babies were HUGE. He said they were very good.


I then chose to go with a flatbread pizza.  This came with mushrooms and scallions.  I really enjoyed this pizza.  Great crisp to the crust and the toppings were very nice.


For dessert, I tried to pana cotta.


This was a nice, simple dessert that was well executed.  I especially liked the use of stewed peaches with it.


Overall, my Restaurant Week experience here was fine. Just fine. Food was good, and since it’s close to my office, I will most likely be back.  But nothing to write home about.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10

nomscale- 06.5


Restaurant Week Summer 2013: Todd English Food Hall at The Plaza

3 Aug


We have been meaning to stop by the Todd English Food Hall at The Plaza (hotel) for a while. Restaurant Week seemed as good a time as any!



There are lots of stations in the Food Hall (flatbread pizza, asian, dumplings, cheese, tacos, etc).



We were seated at the raw bar but were encouraged to explore and order from wherever we wanted.


I do really love watching people cook and prepare food. And now that Mike and I tried our own hands at shucking oysters ourselves, I have even more respect for this artform.


Their regular menu is extensive with items in every section, however, the Restaurant Week menus is very small.  To get a real sampling of the restaurant to make people want to return, it would have been nice if they offered selections from all of their stations.  While most restaurants serve a menu about this size for Restaurant Week, I think Todd English Food Hall would have really benefited from an ilili style restaurant week where you get to select one from each section.  It would have brought the “Food Hall” concept more to life for someone getting their first taste.


For this reason, we ordered one Restaurant Week meal and 2 additional appetizers.  First, the regular menu appetizers:

Lobster Hush-Puppies.



These were described as savory lobster & polenta dumplings with truffle aioli.


They had chunks of lobster inside and that truffle aioli was sensational.  I wish they were a wee bit crispier, but the flavors were all there.  Great dish. Our favorite of the night.



Our other regular menu order was Grilled Artichokes with king crab and lemon-caper vinaigrette. This actually came out AFTER the other entrees but trying to condense non-Restaurant Week together.  Also, it was weird it came out later, but more on the service in a moment.

This dish was so close to awesome.  The crab stuffing was insanely good and the croutons added a great flavor and crunch to the whole dish.



The disappointing part was actually the artichoke itself.  The flavor of it was just okay (not very artichoke-y) and the outer leaves were too woody.  We both took a first scoop and wound up having to very politely spit out most of our food because we just couldn’t chew through the tough outer leavers. I wound up scraping a few, but that was a messy endeavor.  As a self-proclaimed artichoke connoisseur, I know a thing or two about preparation.  And these were a miss.  They either needed to use a jerusalem artichoke that you can eat the outer leaves on, serve it more upright so you can scrape the leaves, or just serve the hearts. Honestly, this would have been great had they used just the soft leaves and hearts and put that on top of the crab stuffing.



As for the Restaurant Week menu, we started with the Asada Skirt Steak Tacos. This was brown sugar balsamic glazed with cilantro cream, hoisin BBQ sauce, fried onion, and napa slaw.


The highlights of this dish were the flavorful soft tacos (I think they were flour, but I’m never sure since I don’t eat them very often) and the crispy fried onions on top.  The sauce as pretty good and the steak was decent, but it would have been sensational with some char or some more steak flavor.  It fell a bit short in the meat flavor department.


For the second course, we chose the ricotta gnocchi saltimbocca with asparagus, duck confit, capers, and brown butter.  When it was served to us, I immediately was turned off by the plating.  It looked like someone spilled sauce all over the plate and then put everything on top.  Sure enough, the dish was also a bit muddy and confused.  The flavors really just kind of became bland together and nothing really stood out here.  The gnocchi was well prepared and I liked the ricotta taste, but they just didn’t sing.  The asparagus was a bit over cooked and bland and the duck confit just didn’t have pop.  The only real flavor of note was the capers. Muddy is the only way I can describe this dish. Not bad, but not noteworthy either.


For dessert, we had the Restaurant Week cobbler.


I liked the fresh berries in conjunction with the cooked berries (I recognized blueberries and apples or pears).  The topping was just okay. A decent sweet to end the evening, but nothing special.


And now to explain the service. It was… weird. We would finish dishes and sit in front of dirty plates for a while, then each new dish was brought out and the waiters fumbled and looked uncomfortable while we pushed our own dirty dishes to the side so they could put the fresh dish down.  Then they would clear the other dish.  This happened every single time.

It also seemed a bit strange that the artichoke (on the appetizer menu) was served after the entree, but that wasn’t too big an issue.  One minor thing that drove me a bit nuts, however, was that the cobbler was served with big forks. Check out the fork to bowl ratio in this photo:


It left me staring down at that bowl of melty berry and ice cream goodness with no way of retrieving it.  This dish needed a spoon.

Most of the mistakes were pretty inconsequential, but it made for a bit of an odd meal.  Also, the Restaurant Week dishes were just okay and we enjoyed the other 2 dishes more. So I cannot say I would recommend their RW menu. With the flaws, this restaurant really seemed to lakc executional consistency.  That artichoke dish could have been one of the best, but the woody, inedible artichoke leaves just killed it.

As the meal ended, we reflected on the few Todd English places we have tried (Olives for Restaurant Week, CaVa, and Ember Room). They have all been pretty good, but very little linking them. I feel like Todd English does a good job of stamping his name on places of quality with a nice design aesthetic, but I can’t say I really *like* Todd English restaurants or even know the Todd English point-of-view.

Then again, reading that paragraph back over makes me feel like I’m watching too much Next Food Network Star recently.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10 (would have been a 7/7.5 or even higher had the flaws been fewer)

nomscale- 06.5


Restaurant Week Summer 2013: L’Ecole at the French Culinary Institute

28 Jul

On the same day I went to Ai Fiori for lunch, we went to try L’Ecole for dinner. (I am insanely thankful for my charmed life).

L’Ecole is part of the French Culinary Institute and where students of The International Culinary Center’s culinary arts program get real life experience.


We immediately noticed that they were advertising “The Rolls-Royce of Lobsters” with a special offering of (apparently very hard to come by) Fourchu lobsters that are grown in a very cold area near Nova Scotia. We Googled it and found many articles raving about how it’s the best lobster you can find.  As Maine lobster snobs, we were curious.  (We find that for some reason, the moment lobsters cross the Maine border, they just aren’t as good. I cannot explain it, but go to Maine and get a lobster bake from a shack off the water, probably for less than $20, and I would bet you would agree that it’s better than any of the best lobster you’ve had in a NYC fine dining establishment).


Inside the restaurant it is bright and modern.


With some beautiful photography that certainly shows a love for food preparation.


The bread was absolutely delicious and tasted very fresh.



The Restaurant Week menu was the only option (many restaurants have their regular menu in addition to the Restaurant Week Menu), but they included special items with an incremental charge.  The main three-course RW menu is $38, and there was the option to also go with that and a wine pairing for $60.50.  You could also go with four courses for $53 or $83 with the wine pairings.  They told us early on that the wine pairings are 3, 3 ounce pours, equaling about a single glass of wine by the end.  Typically, it’s worth it at most places since they give you great wines. (When it’s not Restaurant Week, they feature a prix-fixe dinner for $44)

Our amuse-bouche was a chilled pea soup with creme freche.  This was a beautiful pea flavor and a very nice first taste.  I’ve noticed a huge glut of pea soup as amuse-bouche recently.


We chose to split the wine pairings with his Restaurant Week selection. Our first wine was a rose and was so-so.


Mike chose the sauteed stuffed calamari. This had pork and rice filling, parsley sauce, radishes, and grape tomatoes.  This dish was really well prepared with a great combination of flavors.  The stuffing in the calamari was somehow comfort food without being heavy.  And the dressing was a nice compliment to the main dish.


There was a crab and roasted corn bread pudding on the menu that sounded sensational, however, they were out of it. So I went with my second choice, creamy corn bisque.  This came with black peppered bacon and tarragon beurre blanc.  The corn flavor in this dish was really strong.  Corn can be hit or miss, but this was obviously made from corn that was at the peak of flavor.  And the cream was a really nice compliment but wasn’t too heavy.


Our second wine was a Malbec and again, it was so-so.  Both wines somehow missed the mark and were just blah.


Mike’s entree was the Grilled Hanger Steak Vidalia Onion Rings, Creamless “ Creamed ” Corn, and Sauce Choron which came with a $7 surcharge on top of the prix-fixe.


I couldn’t try it since there were peppers (I’m allergic) but Mike said it was pretty good.  He said it was tasty but probably not worth paying the up-charge.


I had to try to the special lobster. I just couldn’t resist. And I love the simple preparation of a steamed lobster.


The presentation looked nice with the entire lobster cracked open and displayed.


But someone forgot to consider that the innards (which you can’t eat and don’t taste very good) would leak out all over the plate.  And since there was a small amount of water from boiling the lobster on the plate, my plate was suddenly flooded with gross juices.

And the lobster itself? Ehhhh. It tasted kind of bland.  Hardly lobster-y at all.  I’ve had much better lobster elsewhere and it sure wasn’t billed as a “Rolls Royce.” If this is what a Rolls is like, I’ll stick to Toyotas.



The fries that came with the lobster were nice; crispy on the outside and good potato flavor on the inside.  The lettuce and tomatoes were incredibly well dressed and a surprising highlight of the meal.


For dessert, I got the creme brulee.  It was very good but I’ve had better elsewhere. The top was a bit thicker than it should have been so it didn’t have the delicateness that makes creme brulee so great.


Mike chose the goat cheese cherry turnover.  This was decent but nothing special.


We were given cookies on the way out and they were soft and packed with flavor.  Another surprise highlight.


When we checked in on FourSquare, the Special at the restaurant was a baguette.  We opted to take them on our way out and enjoyed giving one away and making the other into nice garlic bread.


Overall, this meal was very hit or miss.  Both of our apps were great, both of our entrees were so-so (and an up-charge) with the lobster being very disappointing. The desserts were also just okay.  I wonder what it’s like when it’s not Restaurant Week, but I would choose many other places besides L’Ecole for Restaurant Week.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10

nomscale- 06.5