Sunday, May 27, 2007

Goodburger earns its name; fails to surpass it.

A couple of weeks ago, my officemate Liz and I took a walk down to 54th and Lexington to try the burgers at Goodburger - Liz's husband Josh works in the neighborhood, too, and his coworkers had been buzzing about this relatively new burger joint.

It's right on the corner, with windows that fold back, allowing the outside in. Remember, however, that this is 54th and Lex, so the outside is not so much idyllic as loud and choked with bus exhaust. Still, it was nice to sit with my back to the spring sunshine and feel the breeze a bit as we waited for our orders: a fries and a burger, medium-rare, with all the fixins (me), fries and a burger, medium, with no pickles or onions or mustard (Liz).

You place your order, and you then have the option of either claiming a seat in the crowded space or huddling near the counter, the better to hear your number called - since there's no loudspeaker, and the place is deafeningly loud, thanks mainly to the aforementioned buses. We're still in our twenties and blessed with good ears, so we chose the former option to await our food's arrival.

When it came, it was good. Solid. But not great. The fries are tasty and crisp, and well-salted. The burgers are cooked to order, and as someone who loves lots of stuff on mine, I was pleased with the pile of onions, tomatoes, lettuce and pickles that graced my patty. But the meat is a bit greasy, and we each had significant pools of congealing fat left in the bottom of our translucent burger bag thingies.

The price is right - about $10 for burger, fries and soda - particularly when you factor in that, no matter its faults, this burger is far better than one from McDonald's or Burger King. If you're in the neighborhood, it's worth a visit (indeed, Goodburgers are popping up all over Manhattan, so you might be in another neighborhood), but certainly nothing to go out of your way to visit.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Everything tastes better pickled.

I love pickles - refrigerator pickles, half-sours, cornichons, pickled peppers, pickled onions - you stick it in a brine, I'll eat it.

You know the pickled beets I put on my salad tonight? They are super-good - lemony with just a hint of rosemary, they're tart, tender and fabulous. They're pickled by Rick's Picks, a New York-based shop opened in 2004 on the Lower East Side. I mainly buy mine at the Union Square Greenmarket, where they have a stand, but the pickles (which include green beans and curry-flavored tomatoes - I have the latter in my fridge right now, and they're awesome in potato salad and on burgers) are also available by mail-order.

So, really - you need to get them NOW. Go on, you know you want to.

When in doubt, compose a salad.

It's hot in New York today. Awfully hot. And what do you have for dinner when it's hot? Salad, of course! But not just any salad...composed salad. Why? Because it's just so pretty! So tonight I fired up the grill (ok, the grill pan), cooked up some chicken, boiled a new potato, and chopped up some veggies. The result:

Clockwise from the top, we've got pickled beets (more about those in a moment), new potato, red onion, cucumber (food of the gods), plum tomatoes, and grilled chicken breast, all atop chopped romaine. Seriously good, affordable, healthy food.

Even when you eat a macaron afterward.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A most excellent feast.

In October 2005, two of my very best friends in the world married one another, picked up, and moved to a ridiculously affordable house in Ohio. Sad as this makes me, it means that their visits to New York are super-special times for me, and their most recent visit, about three weeks back, was a blur of good times, wonderful company, and fabulous food.

On Friday night, Nick and Louisa (For those are their names!) visited Ouest (you can read Louisa's thoughts about their former neighborhood haunt here), and on Saturday night, we met up for a 9:45 reservation at Per Se. After hugs and kisses over fizzy water in the lounge (not the bar, ahem), we were seated promptly (a few minutes early, to tell the truth) at a table next to the window.

I'll start by telling you about the service, which was really quite fantastic. Gracious, attentive, and good-humored, they became more familiar (one server, a woman, saw me grinning at my foie gras and said, "I know! Isn't it exciting?") as they sensed our openness to it, and chatted with us about the wine, the petit fours, and the copies of the menu I requested toward the end of the night. The room itself is subdued, all earth tones and widely spaced tables, with the emphasis on the view of the Columbus Circle fountain four stories below, and the twinkling lamplights of Central Park beyond.

And now for the food.

Nick and I ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu, and Louisa opted for the Tasting of Vegetables. Our amuses were the trademark tuile cones; mine was filled with red onion crème fraiche and topped with a scoop of smoked salmon, and Louisa's was beets with eggplant caviar. The salmon was chopped so fine that it was almost a paste - but still made up of separate, luscious bits - and the rich, tangy crème fraiche set it off marvelously, helped along by the delicate crunch of the tuile.

Next up, another of Keller's famous dishes, "Oysters and Pearls," a sabayon of pearl tapioca with oysters and white sturgeon caviar. This dish, which I've heard described as tasting like "salty butter," was wonderful. The different textures contrasted nicely (the tapioca here is larger, similar to the bubbles in bubble tea), and the caviar was subtly salty and rich. It's a soup course, though in reality it's more a puddingy chowder.

The "salad" course was a terrine of foie gras served with a peach gelee and some other little goodies, including almonds, pickled ramps, piquillo peppers, and a beautiful slice of toasted brioche, eggy and fragrant. The texture of this terrine was, as expected of any Keller dish, refined and silky smooth. The flavor, intense, was nicely offset by the accompaniments, the ramps (I do love pickled onions) and peppers (ditto) in particular.

I was not looking forward to the first fish course, since I really just am not a big fish eater. I love my shellfish and crustaceans, but the scaly guys have never done it for me, particularly when cooked. This one, Pacific orange marlin served a la plancha (simply seared on a flat grill) with a curry-infused oil, sounded particularly icky to me (I'm not a big curry fan, either). I was soooo wrong. The fish, meaty and tender, was like a mild (I know, MILD?) tuna, and the tiniest hint of curry was actually light and refreshing. Big thumbs up.

Second fish course: butter poached lobster paired with two of the best things springtime has to offer - asparagus and morels. There's not a lot to say about this other than that butter-poached lobster is succulent, sinful, and right up my alley.

The poultry course was poussin served with turnips, kohlrabi and apples. Very good, every ingredient shining through, and very much a chicken dish - not dull - I do love chicken - but not as standout as the others.

For our meat course, Nick and I both chose the degustation of lamb (poor planning on our part, I suppose), which was very interesting. A little tour of the lamb, it featured, among other cuts, belly, shoulder (my favorite), chop, and rillettes. The peas and radishes alongside (again, the bounty of spring was everywhere) were sharp, crisp contrasts to the ever-so-slightly gamey meat.

Next, the cheese course. I feel about cheese the way I feel about fish - I love some cheeses, but I can leave about 75% of them. This one was no exception. It was a Chabichou (soft, rindless unpasteurized goat cheese), served with tapenade and artichokes (another two things I could really do without). If you love salty, olive-y things, this is for you. It was not for me. Louisa's cheese, a double-cream cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy, was. It came with pickled strawberries, and the sweet, slightly sour strawberries blended marvelously with the sinfully rich cheese.

Finally, dessert. The first of the two dessert courses (not counting the truffles, petit fours and macarons that came after) was where Nick and I found our strawberries. We had strawberry sorbet with balsamic vinegar and black pepper - wonderful, cool, and refreshing, especially after the cheese. Second, a chocolate brownie (this is, before anything, a very American restaurant) with ganache, coffee cream, and coffee ice cream. The coffee ice cream was bitter, so much so that it tasted like a skunk smells (Nick and Lou concurred, so I'm not crazy), but not in a bad way (really).

In the end, I was thrilled at the meal we had (and I didn't even talk about the wines, which were wonderful - Nick chose, so perhaps he will log on and enlighten us). The parade of food never felt like too much, and came slowly but steadily enough to keep us entertained but not straining to get the bites down. Treated with the kid gloves of classic French techniques, the flavors of every ingredient sang, creating a symphony of fresh, pure American food music. It absolutely ranked among the best meals I've had in my life, at any price point, and I am so glad we went.

After dessert, it was a double espresso, truffles, petit fours, and a package of macarons from Bouchon Bakery (vanilla, carrot cake, and pistachio) for the road. We toddled out, retrieved my menus, and had a bit of trouble with the sliding glass doors - turns out, we weren't befuddled by our excellent feast so much as we were the last people in a locked restaurant.

Per Se
Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle
Broadway and 60th Street

Photos courtesy of

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The cold new thing.

If you're a regular reader of the New York Times' Dining section, you probably saw the article this week on the American opening of GROM, the Italian gelateria. They opened their doors yesterday, May 5, drawing massively long queues with their offer of free gelato for all. I thought I might avoid the crowd by dropping by on day two - not so much.

I hopped into line and waited about fifteen minutes. The menu was quite conveniently posted outside, so about halfway through the wait, I had decided on a small, half tiramisu, half zabaione. The granita seemed best left for a truly hot day, and the chocolate seemed too rich.

The cash register broke down today, and Federico (one of the two owners behind GROM) was running the calculator. Both he and Guido, his partner, were delightful, chatting with the customers and dishing about the first couple of days' business.

The gelato is rich and creamy, but lacks the nasty, mouth-coating feel of many commercial ice creams. It's buttery without being greasy, and the flavors are clear and strong.

The tiramisu, essentially coffee ice cream with chocolate chips and lady finger bits, was lighter than I expected. The zabaione was fantastic - the Marsala wine zipped through the creamy custard, but it wasn't too sweet. Really well-balanced.

GROM's signature royal blue was in evidence on the gelato cups and the benches outside, but the shovel-like spoons are neon green, pink and yellow - much like the gelato itself, pops of unexpected color against a traditional background.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Where they give you two kinds of butter...

I have yet to sit down and do the experience justice, but just wanted to let all my faithful readers that a post on dinner at Per Se is forthcoming. I promise. A very detailed post.

In the meantime, a little something to whet your appetite...terrine of foie gras in an apricot gelee (also known as the salad course - really).
Photo courtesy of

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