Sunday, October 28, 2007

Shake Shack

Southeast corner of Madison Square Park, near Madison Ave. and E.23rd St.

Of all Danny Meyer’s acclaimed restaurants (some I have been to and some I have not) I think I will always remain loyal to the Shake Shack. Not that the other restaurants don’t trump the Shack in terms of elegance, but really, does any of that matter in the face of the perfect hamburger? Of course, I realize I have just placed myself wide open for the ongoing debate as to who has the best burger in NYC, but I frankly am ready for the challenge. As I have already demonstrated in my Spotted Pig review , I am not opposed to thicker burgers (in particular, those cooked medium rare and slathered in Roquefort cheese), but when it comes right down to it, I am a girl who likes to fit the entire burger in her mouth, and comfortably at that.

Yes, it is true—like many Americans, I started my love affair with hamburgers at the often scorned McDonalds franchise, but with all that salt and the ingenious toys that accompanied the meal—can you really blame me? (I am still searching for those collectors glasses from The Great Muppet Caper circa 1981). As a teenager, I moved on to diners (always a bit too inconsistent for my adolescent taste buds) and the new (at the time) franchise of In-N-Out burger. I thought I had finally found my burger haven with the grilled onions, crispy lettuce, mostly ripe tomatoes, the secret mayonnaise based sauce, and just the delightful size of it—big enough to eat all of the layers at once. Being able to experience all of the flavors of a single dish at once is somewhat paramount to me—I think that this is most often where all of the magic happens, the chemistry of all the ingredients coming together in one bite.

My love of In-N-Out has been tested by the culinary quest to locate my favorite burger in the city. After becoming smitten with the Shackburger ($4.75 for a single), I have not been able to feel the same way about In-N-Out. I first discovered the Shake Shack several years ago with Dave Freedenberg of Famous Fat Dave’s Five Borough Eating Tour. It was the perfect end to a day long extravaganza of cheesecake, Italian rice balls, Orange Julius (!), soul food, whitefish, and Patsy’s pizza. Of the many incredible tastes we had that day, my first Shackburger left the most enduring impression.

Meyer’s burger has a remarkably similar concept to that of In-N-Out -down to the useful paper wrapping that covers half the burger, keeping it from falling apart. This isn’t really a concern with a burger of this type — it is simply constructed and flies in the face of fancy, over the top burgers (think Daniel Boulud’s Kobe beef and foie gras burger at db Bistro Moderne). Not to say that it isn’t made with incredible ingredients- it is a mix of freshly ground sirloin and brisket along with ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and American cheese. It is grilled just enough so that it has a crisp slightly chewy edge and is amazingly able to retain the full flavor of the beef without being cooked a bit bloody as with the other hamburgers I have grown to love in NYC.

I am also a fan of their crinkle-cut fries($2.50), and this is where Shack Shack leaves In-N-Out in the dust—their fries are not only edible (unlike the cardboardesque fries at In-N-Out), but are incredibly flavorful. Though the fries are not the burger’s main competition for star of the shack—that honor falls to the incredible thick as can be shakes made with delicious frozen custard. If you want something to satisfy the most decadent sweet tooth urge you are ever likely to have, one of the contenders should be the caramel shake ($5.25). The shake is made with the richest dulce de leche (a Latin-American concoction of caramel and sweet cream) and frozen vanilla custard, and is magnificent. All this comes at the price of a very long wait, even at off hours—which is why their live Shack cam should be consulted before heading over.

Be sure to go soon-- it closes for the winter in mid-December!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Anniversary Dinner

One of my friends recently asked me for advice on where to go for her anniversary dinner:

“Hi Juree, You've been a constant source of never fail restaurant suggestions for me - most recently your pick of Home restaurant in the village was superb! We devoured the salami and cheese appetizer and very nearly ordered a second one. We figured we should give the entrees a fair shot too. An all around good pick.
So here's my new challenge for you: my boyfriend and I have a one-year anniversary coming up. What's a good romantic place to celebrate a big occasion, but that won't leave us broke for the next year to come?”

I have the added benefit of knowing what Meredith’s general tastes and predispositions are (like not being willing to go to Brooklyn!), but for anyone else interested in a recommendation, please write a few more details about what you are looking to spend, what atmosphere you want, etc.

That being said, I have a couple of places that I thought Meredith would love.

First, I do have to mention The Little Owl again—A romantic restaurant if there ever was one. Tiny, wonderful lighting, and the food is incredible and nuanced American Mediterranean. You should definitely start with the Meatball Sliders appetizer—they are sweet, savory and a great starter for meat lovers. The last time I went I ordered the pork chop with parmesan butter beans and wild dandelion and it was one of the most delicious pieces of pork I have had this year!

Be sure to make reservations as soon as possible—because it is so small, it can be hard to get in.

90 Bedford St at Grove St, 212-741-4695

Gramercy Tavern—I just went here for the first time in many years and I will definitely be posting on it soon. It is a stellar restaurant and certainly deserves all of the accolades it receives year after year. The key to not breaking the bank is to make reservations at the tavern, not in the dining room. Nothing on the tavern’s menu is over $22, with the majority of the entrees under $20. The corn soup with oyster mushrooms and bacon is simply amazing—you may want to bathe in it, it is that good. The stuffed meatball with Fontina cheese, potato purée and onion marmalade is also delicious, but you really can’t go wrong here. It is elegant and cozy at the same time and represents what is best about classic New York restaurants.

42 E 20th St, between Bway & Park Ave S, 212-477-0777

Knowing that Meredith and her boyfriend are big meat eaters, I was tempted to recommend one of the old-school NYC steakhouses, like Sparks or Keens, for them to try, but I think something a little more unique is in order here. Now I have not actually been to this restaurant, but it has been on my list for months now. Resto is a classic Belgian bistro and it looks fantastic. It is all about meat (and perhaps some beer for Steve and wine for Meredith)—and fun. You should definitely check out Frank Bruni’s review here and know that if you do go, this will be much more on the “fun, raucous” side than a classically romantic restaurant like the previous two suggestions. They don’t take reservations, but it should not be a problem if you arrive by 6 -7 pm.

111 E 29th St, At Park & Lexington Ave, 212-685-5585

I can’t wait to hear what Meredith decides upon !

Sunday, October 21, 2007

For the Love of Pickles

I am probably one of the many perplexed people who cannot quite fathom the logic or origins of their particular food cravings, but I was especially bewildered that on a very cold and rainy summer day I could think of nothing but pickles. I had been hunting for the perfect recipe—envisioning thick pink pickled red onion slices, or delicate farm grown carrots tightly packed in a jar with suspended chilies and garlic cloves. I marvel at the one tracked determination I have in these moments, as I am often thinking about 10 different things at once. Why on such a cool day would I be obsessed with pickles and their brine, and not a warm mushroom soup or a bowl full of little necked clams in wine and brothy butter? Or even my lunch that day-- a delightful makeshift corn and black bean salad with cilantro and red bell pepper? No, I was determined. Bound and determined to make pickles.

Sadly, it had been a couple of years since I ventured into the pickle-making arena, so I was thrilled to return. I remembered it as a painless process and sure enough, it was just a matter of pouring the boiling concoction of water, vinegar, and spices over the chosen pickling victim. A few months ago, we were eating at David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar and I came across some of the more innovative pickles I have ever had—the pickle bowl was full of seasonal spring bounty: asparagus, green onion, cantaloupe, fresh water chestnuts, cauliflower, golden beets, lychee, and of course, traditional cabbage kimchi. The pickling brine was a bit sweet and salty and Chang has been kind enough to give us his sweet and sour recipe, which I will most certainly try sometime in the near future. Fortunately, I also discovered a recipe for pickled red onions that looks terrific from one of my favorite food bloggers, Orangette (a.k.a Molly Wizenberg). The recipe was adapted from the Zuni Café cookbook, and while I did want to attempt the original recipe, at that moment I wanted my pickles quickly, meaning I did not want to cool my onions after brining three times(!). Fortunately, she recommended a variation that I tried with great success which does not require a time-consuming cooling process. Instead, you boil the brine and stir in the onions after removing them from the heat. It was ridiculously easy. I made them for the first time for my friend’s birthday (risky, I know…) and they turned out to be one of the easiest and best things I made all summer. They were amazing with the Indian food I made the next night, incredible in a quesadilla I made the next day (ok, I did save some for myself) and I even convinced my mom to make them for a recent trip home. I had them with baguette and paté and also with a thick slice of cheddar. I am utterly convinced that they would be great on everything- what an amazing discovery!

Adapted from Orangette’s Quick Pickled Red Onions

2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2-3 black peppercorns
2 medium red onions

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a medium saucepan, and place over medium heat.
Heat the brine while you peel and trim the onions, and cut them in full circles (half moons are fine too). Try to keep your slices as uniform as possible and no thicker than ¼ an inch thick.

When the brine boils, add the onion slices all at once, and stir to combine. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for 25-30 minutes.
Once the onions have cooled, pour them and their brine into jars with tight-fitting lids, and store in the refrigerator. Unlike other types, these quick pickles are ready to be eaten as soon as they are cold.

These pickles will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


From time to time, I will feature some of your queries here in hopes that my answers might provide some advice as to where to eat in New York (or San Francisco, or Kansas City).

“Juree, I've loved reading the blog for the past couple of weeks. Keep up the great work! My wife and I are coming into the city next month and we're wondering if you had any suggestions for a restaurant in Manhattan? We were thinking something a little more formal than Tia Pol or The Spotted Pig but in the same area. Thanks for any suggestions and keep up the great work!


Mike, Thanks for the kind words! I have to admit that I am VERY partial to the lower west side of Manhattan, so I could suggest quite a few places. I will warn you however, that I am not a big fan of formal places – I tend to love the small intimate places and I highly recommend the following:

The first one that is on the formal side is a fun art deco old school bar and restaurant called Employees Only. They have absolutely exquisite cocktails and they cure many of their alcohols in-house, like their lavender scented gin. The food is very solid—they are known for simple food like the charcuterie plate or raw oysters. The drinks are the real star here.
510 Hudson Street (near Christopher Street), 212 242-3021

One of my favorite restaurants in this area is a small intimate American eclectic restaurant called The Little Owl. It is a gem of a place—very carefully and elegantly prepared food and a very romantic setting. Just be sure to make reservations as soon as possible.
90 Bedford Street (corner of Bedford and Grove),212-741-4695

Okay, because you mentioned formal I am going to go ahead and suggest a tried and true favorite—The Union Square Café. It is a classic, elegant New York institution. The food is almost always impeccable. I love their pasta appetizers and their tuna tartare in particular. I also think it would be fun to sit up at the bar if it is just the two of you.
21 E 16th St (between 5th Ave & Union Sq West), 212-243-4020

Have a great trip and let me know where you end up going!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Momofuku Ssam Bar

207 Second Ave.(at 13th street), New York, NY

I wanted to love David Chang's Ssam bar… really I did.

I’ve been smitten with him ever since I first read about his desire to bring his Korean background to the forefront of his cooking. I’ve greedily read his recipes for seasonal pickles and have heard marvelous tales about his Bo Ssäm, which some have claimed as the most succulent meat ever to pass their lips. Chang decided to make pork butt, a cut of meat too often ignored in upscale American restaurants, the star of his new place by creating a dish so decadent that you have to order it ahead of time and with a group of several friends. The bo ssam meal($165) serves eight to ten people and includes a whole, slow-roasted pork butt, a dozen oysters, and a variety of different banchan (Korean side dishes). Chang rubs the pork butt with brown sugar and salt, and slow-roasts it for eight hours until it is so tender that it’s falling apart. I have not tried the pork butt, but I have already started scheming to try and find a way to round up 8 shameless meat eaters amongst my friends and acquaintances, or better yet try to make it at home.

In the past, I’ve made several trips to Momofuku noodle bar, which made me even more smitten with Chang and his cooking. I thought that his plate of seasonal pickles were a revelation (though I am an admitted pickle-lover)--a veritable montage of colors - crisp tart lychees, water chestnuts, cantaloupe, celery, onion, celery root, golden beets, and my beloved kimchi.

Note for the Reader:
Yes, it is true—I absolutely adore kimchi. In all its stinky, garlicky
glory. I have been known to stash it in a Tupperware container and bring it to work, much to the chagrin of my fellow subway riders. I love it just with rice, in tofu stews (jigaes), wrapped in roasted seaweed, and I particularly fancy some with ramen and udon soups. I particularly love kkakdugi (깍두기) which is a kimchi made with cubed radishes, and oh-ee so-bae-gi (오이소배기) which is a stuffed cucumber kimchi. I actually used to day-dream about how to make my own and then soon moved on to wanting my own kimchi refrigerator. I think I have revealed too much, but suffice to say, I am pretty much a goner when it comes to anything with kimchi. However, in Chang’s seasonal pickle plate I thought the pickles outshined their traditional Korean counterpart. His pickles are the perfect balance of sweet and sour, which creates a delightful synergy amongst the motley assortment of fruits and vegetables on the plate.

I am also a fan of the steamed pork buns, which I thought were unique and delightful, if not at all traditional. The pork belly just melts in your mouth and makes me rethink my old habit of always crisping that cut of meat . Chang is not at all apologetic about his self-professed "overpriced, overrated", vegetarian unfriendly food, which of course is part of his charm.

I sadly now have to admit that I was under-whelmed by my first and only experience at Ssam Bar. The space at Ssam Bar is much roomier and seems like it would be less of a wait on a busy night than Momofuku with its tiny, rib squeezing space. I‘m someone who likes to get to busy restaurants on the early side so that I can watch as they come to life, and one of the added benefits is receiving the full attention of the wait staff. Our server was fun, irreverent about most everything except the food, and extremely helpful when we asked for his recommendations. We chose the poached Vietnamese shrimp in a cantaloupe puree with cucumbers, fresh mint and coriander. It turns out that I liked the dish on paper much better, as the flavors just did not come together in the clean "pop" that I had envisioned. Although, it did make me want to attempt poaching shrimp -- the texture was incredibly velvety and rich, but the puree itself was one note and just overshadowed the delicacy of the shrimp. We also had the inevitable seasonal pickles to satisfy my love of all things soaked in vinegar. It was a similar assortment of vegetables and fruits with the addition of jicama, carrots, red beets, and watermelon. While I really enjoyed them, they did not have the balance of the sweet and sour that I remembered from having them at Momofuku.

We moved on to the original momofuku ssam and the marinated hangar steak ssam. I thought the momofuku ssam was very tasty, but considering that it is absolutely stuffed with some of my favorite things in the world (tender pork, kimchi, edamame, and pickled shittakes), I did not swoon over it the way I had anticipated. The pork was actually delicious, the kimchi puree was fresh, garlicy, and spicy, the wrap itself was moist and the portions were generous. All the crucial elements were definitely there, but somehow the combination of flavors did not wow me. I did enjoy it, just not as much as I had thought I would. I think I had heard from so many foodies about how incredible this place was, so that it had almost taken on a mythical aura. I am the exact same way with hyped movies—no matter how much I may enjoy them without knowing a thing about them, my elevated expectations always leave me slightly disappointed.

The marinated hangar steak ssam was cooked perfectly medium rare, but was incredibly salty. As the star of the plate, I wish the kitchen had been less heavy handed in their seasoning—it was almost impossible to enjoy the dish. This was almost unfathomable—I am mad for Korean marinated beef and love the tradition of wrapping it in crisp lettuce leaves with the soybean paste. I did like the scallion salad that accompanied the dish, and think I will add that to the Korean grilled beef I make at home. In the future, I think I might be better off ordering less traditional Korean dishes at Chang’s restaurants, as I have been happier with his fusion items like the brussel sprouts with kimchi or shrimp and grits from Momofuku.

Ssam Bar was unlikely to live up to my expectations on a first visit, so there will surely be others, and since there were only two of us, we were not able to try as many things as I would have wanted. For the time being, I will return to Momofuku, and wait until people stop raving about Ssam bar - perhaps I’ll be able to appreciate it more then.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


501 11th street, Brooklyn, NY

I have a confession. As much as I admire the sustainable food movement for encouraging more and more chefs to serve locally produced ingredients, I’m afraid that at times, I find the whole thing a bit grating. Perhaps it is just that I feel like it becomes an easy out for certain restaurants—that the cooking hides behind this “higher purpose” that almost dares you to disapprove. I wholeheartedly approve of it in theory, though have to admit that I do not always shop at the farmer’s market, that I sometimes buy food in bulk, and that I don’t always know where my meat and produce comes from.

I am, however, also a card carrying Park Slope coop member and have been a devoted fan of Alice Waters for years, so I am very susceptible to seeing “sustainably grown, local ingredients” as a bright beacon, drawing me to places like Applewood that proclaim this philosophy. As Applewood is on the pricey side, I decided to test the waters by trying it for brunch. It was a beautifully warm day so we chose to sit in the garden. When I had first read about the restaurant, it had been winter and many of the reviews spoke of eating tasty roasted meats by a wood burning fireplace. As noted in my Spotted Pig review, I am mad for meat and fireplaces on cold nights. Alas, it was summer so I’ll have to save those cravings for another time.

We arrived around 11:30 and were pleasantly surprised that we only had to wait a few minutes before being seated. We started with fresh-squeezed blood orange mimosas, and they were a perfect balance of tart, sweet and dry and so very pretty to look at! They were a tad on the pulpy side, but that often comes with fresh squeezed citrus. This drink and the setting made me feel like I was at an old-school garden party, which I loved. I had the BLT with Applewood smoked bacon, local lettuce and organic Vermont tomatoes ($15) and Court ordered the Maple Belgian Waffle with roasted fruit and sweet cream ($9). Even though BLTs are synonymous with diners, and therefore found on every other menu in America, I still have a hard time saying no. Applewood’s BLT was very solid: the bacon was thick, chewy and had the right amount of smoke, the tomatoes were juicy and tasted like a wonderfully ripe beefsteak. The sandwich was finished with a light layer of aioli on toasted sourdough. All in all, it was a wonderful sandwich. My biggest complaint is that it was a little thick, which meant I couldn’t get to all of the layers in one bite—which is really the whole point of a BLT, isn’t it?

The Belgian Waffle was very good as well—the waffle had a crisp exterior that gave way to a moist airy center perfumed with vanilla. I have to say though, that my favorite part might have been the sweet cream—it was luscious, full bodied cream that tasted unbelievably fresh and I pretty much wanted to slather it on everything—BLT included. The roasted fruit however, was a bit bland—just stewed spiced apples. And as it was summer, I had hoped for some beautiful berries, or better yet, peaches and nectarines.

The service was friendly and the atmosphere is terrific if you like intimate neighborhood places like I do. Did Applewood‘s cooking hide behind the local, sustainable banner of righteousness? Absolutely not, but I have only been once and will have to try dinner next time. I’ll keep you posted with a review upon my next visit. I can picture it now: slow-roasted pork and a glass of red wine in front of their fireplace…..