Winter Restaurant Week 2008

I explained to one of my friends last week my theory that New York City’s Restaurant Week is a holiday in itself. When Thanksgiving or Christmas comes around, most average people step outside their boundaries to indulge in more sweets, more spinach dip, more stuffing…. you get the idea. Similarly, Restaurant Week is a time when you set aside preconceived notions about calorie consumption and simply enjoy the food that is laid before you.

And it was this kind thinking that got me through three three-course prix-fixe menus last week. Let’s start at the beginning:

  1. Hello Moto. First on the list was Morimoto, a haven of Japanese cuisine on the fringes of Meat-packing and Chelsea, opened by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. We went for lunch and were treated not only to excellent food, but fantastic service and an unbeatable ambiance. Upon my arrival, I walked down the futuristic stairway to the restrooms, where I came upon an enormous sliding cement door (well, I didn’t realize it was a sliding door until three or four unsuccessful attempts at trying to push and pull it open) and had to use a remote control to flush the toilet. I was impressed at the modernity of the venue, but a little thrown off by the whiffs of pretension. All my doubts were assuaged after receiving our fantastic plates. First course was a light spring salad in a wasabi-rice wine vinaigrette, with a small bowl of miso soup on the side. The main course was a magnificent spread of eight pieces of sashimi and a spicy tuna roll (Morimoto flies out fish four times weekly from Tsukiji market in Hong Kong.) All this was savored with Morimoto’s “Ginjo” sake, which proclaims, “caramelized pear aromas with a ripe stone fruit finish.” I’m no sake expert, but this was delicious. To finish, we had a light dessert plate which included a chocolate brownie, a lemon custard tart, and a tofu cheesecake. The cheesecake was fantastically light and fluffy with an ice-cool finish. The perfect end to a perfect meal!
  2. A Taste of the South Pacific. Next was Roy’s, a Hawaiian fusion restaurant located in the windy streets of the Financial District. The crowd here was mostly business, with a less formal atmosphere and hurried service – not what I was expecting. They started us off with some edamame while we waited for the first course, Szechwan spiced baby back pork ribs. The ribs were fantastic, with meat falling off the bones and a deliciously tangy sauce. For the main course, I chose grilled salmon over green tea noodles, while Chris went with a Hawaiian style meatloaf, topped with a fried egg. His definitely won the battle of the main course. My salmon was a little bland, but the noodles were interesting! But when it came to the dessert, my passion-fruit cheesecake and lychee gelatin majorly trumped his caramel flan. The cheesecake was OUT of this world, and definitely the highlight of my meal. My general complaint with this restaurant was that the service was too rushed and pushy for my liking. I guess that’s what happens when you go out for lunch on a Thursday afternoon next to the Stock Exchange.
  3. On the rocks, no salt. Friday night was reserved for one last Restaurant Week meal, dinner at the Upper East Side’s Maya. It had a lovely atmosphere, friendly and quick service, and some delicious options. We started off with some guacamole and margaritas (later realized that the guac was $13!) and recovered from the torrential rainfall outside. For our first course, we shared Mahi-Mahi ceviche and a mushroom-chicken-chile dish which I really can’t explain. It was great! The ceviche was deliciously intriguing, and packed with a salty-tangy punch that rocked your taste buds with each bite. Now at this place I experienced again what I consider to be “rushed” service. Correct me if I am wrong, but shouldn’t a prix-fixe menu set out one course at a time? I understand that things are wild in the kitchen, but I worked as a server long enough to figure out the skill of timing courses. For instance, our main course came out only minutes after receiving our first course, so we had to push plates into the middle (and they took our unfinished $13 guacamole away to make room!) By the time we finished our first course, our main course was now cold! Not to mention the chicken I ordered was mediocre at best – something any high school grad could have figured out. Now, the steak that Rachel got was fantastic. It was cooked to our liking (though cold by the time I ate it) and had some beautiful surrounding flavors. Another margarita and it was time for our desserts: rice pudding topped with Macadamia nuts and a berry reduction, and another flan. Eeh. They were okay. After our meal, I noted to Rachel that Maya would be an excellent place to have one drink and an appetizer, anything more would just be silly.

All in all, Restaurant Week was a fantastic experience for me. It really gives New Yorkers a chance to try some hip restaurants without spending their life savings. Too bad it doesn’t happen again until Spring…

A Delightful Evening

Yesterday evening was a fantastic adventure as Brian, Jess, Jenson, and I braved the depths of Hell’s Kitchen (no, not the reality cooking show – the neighborhood) for a taping of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”  Suffice it to say– Jon is short.  But he’s still hot.  Now- let me inform you that New York has been blessed during the last few days with some weirdly warm “spring-like” weather.  Temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s, beautiful blue skies, children running rampant off leashes… it has been marvelous.  So we weren’t too disappointed to learn we would have to be waiting in line for quite a while before we could pass through high-level security into the miniscule set of Comedy Central’s prized political comedy.  We barely made the cut as guests in the studio, and unfortunately had to split up – but the show was splendid.  Before taping began, we were entertained by a comic (name?) who cracked up the audience and forced us to chuckle and clap, a much needed diversion from the Arctic-like temperatures pumping through the air vents.  By the time Jon came out, everyone was anxious to hear what he would say about New Hampshire.  The show was a great time, and I’d highly recommend anyone who lives in or visits New York to get tickets to a taping.  Unfortunately, we had to endure a heavy conscience after stepping through the WGA strike, but the show and it’s staff and clearly show their opinion, both on and off-camera, that they want all the writers and producers to come to “the table” and to reach an agreement.  Certainly, the world will be a better place once they do.  I wonder what some of the presidential candidates would say if I brought that up at their next debate?  I can already imagine it: Obama saying “change, change” and Hilary saying “I’ve been creating change for the past thirty years… (eyes tear up) I just- I just-…” etc. etc.  For more info on the Writer’s Strike, please check out the WGA website.

Moving on.  After our riveting escape into comedy-world, Brian and I trekked across town to a Halal food cart at 53rd and 6th Avenue, rumored to have THE BEST CART FOOD IN THE CITY.  That’s a gargantuan claim.  Do you realize how many freaking food carts there are?!  Believe it or not, I just googled the place and they have a website.  I know.  Well, we knew we had arrived at the right location, not only by the street signs, but by the line of hungry patrons assembled down 53rd.  After waiting about 15 minutes (yes, tonight is the night of waiting in line), we were finally rewarded with our plates of rice, lamb, chicken, salad, pita, and “tasty white sauce.”  Tasty.  Actually, the food was incredible – just what the doctor ordered.  The tasty white sauce however, was just watered down mayonnaise.  Instead, I grabbed the red sauce and, like a dumb cartoon character, squirted it all over my plate.  SPICY!  But so good…
Moving on.  Uptown – to the newest phenomenon of frozen yogurt: Pinkberry!  I’m not sure how widely-known this chain is, but they have delicious frozen yogurt (plain or green tea) with tons of fresh toppings.  Definitely a place to stop if you’re on 2nd avenue around 82nd street… at least I think that’s where it was… Brian and I frequently forget the location since we can rarely afford a $6 fro-yo.  
After a wonderful night, it was back to the reality of life – but our breach into la-la land sure was fun!  

Settled in the City

A cellist playing on a moving subway train. That’s just one reason why I love New York. Well, things are really starting to come together here… my job is great, my apartment looks fabulous, the humidity has been cut in half in the last few days – what more could a girl ask for? Last weekend’s dinner extravaganza at my place was quite successful, and I think everyone really enjoyed the company and the food! The real showstopper of the evening was definitely the Apple, Goat Cheese, and Honey Tartlets – which were surprisingly easy to make with the assistance of frozen puff pastry. After leaving my apartment, our clan hopped into a taxi and hit up a few fun bars in the Meat-Packing District, including an ultra-hip outdoor lounge, a lighted-floor indie-disco hotspot, and a post-collegiate hangout packed with guys who couldn’t abandon their frat-boy lifestyle. All in all, a fabulous night. Miss Jess and I woke up Saturday morning at the ungodly hour of 1:00 pm (missing the neighborhood brunch special, much to our dismay), but made the afternoon fly by with a 3 o’clock screening of Batman and Robin. Thank you Netflix. I must admit that I had never seen it before – and man, was I impressed! I love those super campy films showcasing our governor. Wait a minute… not my governor – anymore. I am officially a New Yorker. That’s right, on Tuesday morning, after visiting the chilling former site of the Twin Towers, I headed to the DMV to apply for my New York State ID. I now have my “interim ID card,” just in case you were wondering. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself here- after watching our Saturday afternoon movie, Jess and I parted ways to get ready for another evening, down in the Lower East Side. I met up with Jenson and Jess, and several of Jenson’s pals, at a divey little bar for some local live music, including Jenson’s friend Kate. Kate played fabulously – we all had a great time. Afterwards, we met up with Laura Dieden from Theta, and went to “Pianos,” a little more upscale and a lot more expensive. One beer was enough for me, a really good one I might add: Magic Hat #9. Try it sometime! On Monday night, the gals all met up again to celebrate the official day of Jess’s birth, at Justin Timberlake & Co.’s restaurant “Southern Hospitality.” It was quite hospitable, might I add. Two dollar beers are always alright by me! And like I mentioned, on Tuesday morning, I headed down to Ground Zero to remember those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001. The mood was somber and depressing, it actually made me feel physically ill for the rest of the day. Wednesday morning was a fabulous rejuvanation, as I woke up to a beautiful blue-skied day. The humidity was down, the umbrellas were put away, and I had a big fat smile on my face! I think I’m feeling even better because I’m really trying to committ to this regular exercise schedule of running every morning before work. It feels great to be outside and jogging around while everyone is hustling in their power-ties and skirt suits to get to the subway. I get to casually step back into my apartment and start work – what a life! A recent thought on my mind has been the idea of getting a kitten. Being at home alone all day is really weird, and having a little pet would make things seem more normal. I’ve been doing some online shopping of kitties at the local animal shelters, and today mailed a letter to my landlord asking for written permission that I can have a cat. If I’m going to do this, I don’t want to do it under the nose of my landlord and expect everything to be okay – I wouldn’t want to risk having to give up the cat if asked to do so by the property management. So, I guess I can’t really get too excited about anything until they give me the thumbs up! Well, I really need to get back to work… but tonight, Brian and I are seeing “A Chorus Line!” Hooray!

Robbing internet from your neighbors is so outrageously fun…

Side note: This was written two nights ago… It has been far too long since my last real update. I’m currently sitting in my brand-new (to me) New York City – Upper East Side apartment, without internet access, typing this to prepare for the moment I get the Time Warner technician to activate my internet tomorrow morning. Believe you me; I have been looking forward to writing this for the last week. I am completely prepped for the next hour or so it takes to finish this: got my candles lit, the lights dimmed, Sara Bareilles’ voluptuous vocals streaming through my speakers, oatmeal raisin cookies hot out of the oven, and a big glass of milk. I suggest you do the same. Where did I last leave off? I think it was in Virginia… I’m so glad to be out of Virginia. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful state – I’m just not so sure how well I handle the people there. When we crossed into D.C., it was like a breath of fresh air. What astounded me most was the proximity between two completely different lifestyle attitudes. One moment we saw rednecks waving Confederate flags, sporting mullets, and driving vehicles with stickers advertising the Bush administration, the National Rifle Association, and “Jesus is the only way you filthy sinner…” Okay, overstatement. But travel only 20 miles Northeast and you see non-obese happy, friendly people, gay couples holding hands, young women and men prancing the streets in suits with briefcases, and plenty of anti-war protests. This country is amazing – so many different people in so many places. I don’t think you can really appreciate how huge this place is until you complete the drive across the continent. It was an amazing experience, and a cultural shake-up in many ways. It was so lovely to spend so much time with my mom, and I swear that neither one of us had the inclination to kill one other – even with the limited seating space in our over-packed Hertz-rental Suburban. By the way, thank God for GPS… and Sex and the City. We finally arrived in Manhattan last Sunday afternoon (eight days ago). Upon our arrival, I was greeted by the smiling faces of Brian, Natalie and Jess. The five of us managed to clear out the vehicle of all my belongings, up the five flights of stairs, to my future home. It was so strange to finally be here after so much anticipation. What’s more, the apartment immediately seemed like home. Despite the tiny size and the whole “sixth-floor walkup” aspect, the apartment is quite wonderful. We are in an amazing neighborhood, and it seems like most of the inhabitants are in our post-collegiate age group. Within walking distance are several markets, bagel shops, various ethnic restaurants, drugstores, bars – you name it! Only two blocks East is the East River, and three blocks West is Central Park. I really think we landed in a great location! After we unpacked everything, the next few days of “city-life” were just a whirlwind of activity. My mom and I made numerous trips to Home Depot, which is nothing like any HD I have ever seen! After painting my room and setting up my first big purchase of the week, a new bed, my room finally felt like me. On Wednesday, we attempted to have some fun in the city, and ended up walking all over! We visited my local library branch, tried to find Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment, made it to Rockefeller Center and Trinity Cathedral, visited Times Square, ate at Carnegie Deli, and saw a Broadway show! We were able to meet up with Brian, and we won the raffle for front row seats to watch “Drowsy Chaperone.” I had seen ads for the show, but didn’t know much about it – and therefore had no expectations. Well, it was hilarious, short and sweet, entertaining, and included some astounding physical feats. Thursday morning was bittersweet as my Mom and I visited Central Park and walked through the lush greens around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir, the Great Lawn, and through the butterfly-inhabited Shakespeare Gardens. (Yes, Ingrid, I can now tolerate butterflies.) Central Park is so perfectly serene and peaceful. It is such a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. After our nature walkabout, we packed up her suitcases and headed for JFK. After she barely made it to the security checkpoint in time for the flight, we had a brief goodbye that didn’t allow time for tears or sad emotions. Probably better that way – I think this move is the most earth-shaking thing I have done in my entire life. Okay, Sara Bareilles just ended, so I’ve moved onto Laura Jansen – thanks Julia for introducing her to my iTunes library. It was really weird to finally be on my own in the city. I am an independent person with strong convictions and an aura of confidence, but it’s still strange to say goodbye and realize you will be 3000 miles away from your family and many of your friends. My first few days alone were still very busy in the apartment and around town. I found a running route I really like, around the reservoir in the park, and have even discovered my favorite bagel place in the neighborhood – H & H Bagels. I spent some time trotting the aisles of the Food Emporium, and found a cheap art supply store in Noho. After all my stuff was finally put away, I celebrated by meeting up with Jess and Jenson in Brooklyn – we went to this bar called “Fulton” and enjoyed Brooklyn Lager and Bocce Ball, a great evening. On Friday, I met up with Jess again, and we headed to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) for their free-admission Fridays. The place is so amazing, but simply exhausting. It is made up of six overwhelming floors, filled with twists, turns, and extraordinary art. By the time we got to the fourth floor, we were completely spent. We parted ways and agreed to meet up later for the free Camera Obscura concert at South Seaport, but later agreed that we were too tired for any more excitement that night. My evening concluded with an Absolut Citron martini at Ray’s Piano Bar with Brian. I forced him to go out since it was our first Friday night in our apartment. After one strong drink, several singing flamboyant gentlemen, and flirtatious glances at my roommate from one particularly gorgeous crooning bartender, we agreed to head back home to rest up for our impending doom: a trip to Ikea… New Jersey. Blue & Yellow. Madness. Anxiety. Hot Dogs. Lines. Credit Cards. Indecision. Sore arms. Public Transportation. Evil Glares. Yeah, that basically sums up Saturday. Our Ikea day was like nothing I could ever imagine. Take whatever experience you may have had at Ikea – multiply the number of people by five, turn up the heat a few degrees, pretend you’re buying more then you ever have before, and… you have no car. Though the day was almost mentally scarring, we ended up with some great purchases. (Our couch is being delivered on Wednesday!) We decided to give our living room a black, red, and beige color scheme – and it looks fabulous so far. Yesterday we hit up Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond, and finished the weekend with acquiring a free bookshelf from the street. To celebrate our progress, I was finally able to actually cook in our kitchen: seared cod with coconut sweet pea basmati rice, and a mint-cilantro-ginger-cumin chutney. Yum! Today I was able to explore a few things I was looking forward to – I got my public library card and checked out some reading material and some reference material (on auditioning for theater), then I headed to the performing arts library across town and checked out some sheet music – for free! Love libraries. I really think that people forget how spectacular they are: free internet, a world of literature, peaceful environment, and like-minded patrons cruising the aisles. Forget Blockbuster or Borders – everything you could rent or buy, from books to CDs to DVDs, is available at the library at no charge! After returning home, I went with Brian to pick up our new Craigslist coffee table (A GREAT DEAL!), and we (I mean he) hauled it 21 blocks back to our place. After two episodes of Heroes and my nightcap of cookies, I’m finally ready to hit the hay and prepare for my first day back working. Tomorrow I will start up again with The Nilson Report and finally start earning a paycheck again! Watch out, execs of Visa and Amex, because Ms. Harrell is back at it! My bed is calling my name – thanks for tuning in. Oh, and one slightly sad personal note: after much deliberation, I decided today to take out my “Monroe” piercing… I loved loved LOVED having it, but decided that it’s not the sort of thing that will work out for my career in music. But now I have a cute little scar healing – like Marilyn’s mole? Still don’t have my internet working – thanks to “levi” for the free connection tonight! In other news, our new couch was delivered today and I painted the coffee table… Isn’t that exciting?