Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I moved!


Because for my birthday, I asked for a new blogskin... And TPS decided to upgrade that gift by presenting me with a new address =) Bye bye blogger... (my own domain!!! thanks tps!)

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Being so far away from home, it is a blessing to be able to share one's birthday with friends. It is an even greater blessing to have them go through the trouble of choosing restaurants based on thorough research, for the one dish that you love on a fall night, and endure all your rubbish about changing dates and times. So on Friday night, me, my roommates and some friends met at Gascogne for dinner.
Situated in Chelsea, Gascogne is a charming French bistro, with warm lighting, a genial staff and country-inn like decor. We were there early and got seated with no trouble, but by the time we left at 930, the seating area near the door was full, with would-be patrons drinking and snacking on crusty peasant bread the staff thoughtfully brought out. It also has the requisite tight New York quarters, so a group of six (as we were) is probably as comfortably big as it gets. On warmer days, garden seating is available and while we did not attempt to freeze ourselves on Friday, the twinkly fairy lights look very inviting indeed.
Gascogne focuses on rustic French dishes and has a game-oriented menu. The specials board listed pheasant, quail and venison. We were spoilt by the choice and the portions when the food came, so unaccustomed we were after 2 years in New York to see Midwestern portions in restaurants. Indeed, Walter's and Ceci's bisques were served not in cups but tureens and Gerrie's foie gras was a very generous, albeit oily slab. Yanru's pork dish reminded me of wiener schnitzel, rounded and crisp, while Justin's escargot were pretty wrapped in phyllo over a rich garlic sauce, an elegant take on the rustic baked escargot appetizer.
My entree was the cassoulet, which is a favorite dish, especially on a chilly night like Friday. A deep casserole of white beans, simmered in a tomato based stock, absorbs all the flavors of fatty bacon, duck confit, garlicky sausages and herbs. Bread crumbs scattered on the top of the dish adds color and crunch. While some others on the table thought the dish was overly aggressive on the garlic, I loved it, the thick pork sausages, the golden skin on the duck, and the starring beans, neither mushy nor crunchy but just right. Unfortunately I had lunch at Chipotle, but no matter, because the cassoulet tasted great even as leftovers.
Desserts were similarly huge and large on flavor. Prunes and Chantilly cream were steeped in heady Armagnac, while the apple tart slick with a perfectly burnt caramel sauce, so tasty we almost licked our plates. And the crepe Suzette, while not as crispy as the ones Madeleine makes, was saturated with a mixture of orange juice and liquor, and came alit with a candle and a rousing rendition of a birthday song. Thank you, thank you.

158 8th Ave (On 18th St)

Friday, October 05, 2007


Oktoberfest is the festival when people throughout German cities let their hair loose and partake in traditional Bavarian delights, brats and beer. If you ever find yourself on the Upper East Side, with a sudden urge to celebrate Oktoberfest by drinking a lot of beer out of a boot, Heidelberg is a pretty safe bet. The massive boot at Heidelberg stands about 2 feet tall, holds 2 litres of beer while keeping the liquid surprisingly cool for a long time, and commands a whopping $60 deposit. While I didn't get a boot for myself, some friends did, and they earned their bragging rights after draining 6 cans worth of beer.
The food at Heidelberg is hearty, filling and plain. Platters of unadorned sausages and other entrees are simply served with mounds of sauerkraut, sweet red cabbage and some potato sides. The three sausages I had were thick, plump and had a good snap to them, and I liked the smokiness of the fried bratwurst and a slightly milder boiled veal sausages that tasted of spices. The wiener schnitzel and fried potato pancakes suffered from pre-frying, and had grown stale and greasy by the time they landed on our table. Sides too left much to be desired, with cold fried homefries and an overly sour and watery potato salad highlighting a lack of care during the cooking process.
Interesting too is the Disney-fication of Heidelberg. If memory serves me right, I visited the city of Heidelberg during the summer of 2000 (having eaten many sausages but still underaged for beer), and the restaurant certainly looks overtly cheerful and rustic compared to its namesake. Its beer garden brethrens throughout the city too look like dioramas of "a typical bavarian village inn on a mountain top", complete with servers dressed in lederhosen and kneelength socks.
Despite the rather blah food, I would return back to the restaurant but with certain caveats. I would go back with a big boisterous group of friends, for the good selection of cold German beer, and the general feeling of good cheer. And that, when beer drinking and brat eating, is paramount.

Heidelberg Restaurant

1648 2nd Ave (Bet 85th & 86th Sts)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Blue Hill

Watching the Top Chef finale reminded me of the best dish I had this summer. Hung, the eventual winner had a duck dish, whereby the duck was cooked sou vide. Blue Hill had one too. Like the winning dish on tv, my duck was not the world's most attractive looking dish. Cooked skinless, the whole piece of meat was a uniform dirty pink. But the texture was so wonderfully smooth, like a piece of velvet ribbon, that you ignored how it look. It doesn't hurt that each bite yielded tender, juicy pieces of meat, uncharacteristic of duck, so often tough and over-cooked. Treated in this matter, the duck seemed to have lost its usual gristle and fat. The gamey smell too, had been toned down. I was stunned by its perfect texture, much like the esteemed judges acted during the tv show.
What made the duck even more spectacular was the flavors that it took on from the accompaniments. The chef at Blue Hill masters the seasons, putting out the freshest ingredients in a most unobtrusive way that is original, subtle but definitely not bland. Sugar snap peas in season during July added crunch and natural candied sweetness, along with tiny pearl onions. The minty jus added brightness, and an unexpected lime glaze, brushed on with such restraint that you could almost miss it if you were not careful, brought a fresh acidity and summery scent that lingered long after the last piece of duck was consumed.
I too remember the wonderful berry and goat cheese dessert that was at once sweet, tart, creamy and cheesy at the same time; and the apricot that came at the end in place of petit fours, so full of amber juice it was threatening to burst. Last but not least the servers and bartender were the most natural, relaxed and hospitable people I've encountered this summer, that whilst I sat alone at the wide U-shaped bar on an early Saturday evening I did not feel lonely nor out of place. I remember being so guilty about having such a fine time at Blue Hill that I walked home from the village to Hell's Kitchen, paying penance for consuming that many calories while reminiscing about what I had just eaten. With this reminder, it could be time again for another visit.

Blue Hill
75 Washington Place (6th Ave & MacDougal)