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Launching a New Project

With a few compatriots who live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, we have created a new blog, recording my personal quest to eat at every restaurant within a few blocks of my New York City apartment.  The site’s name is Eating Up Whatever’s in Sight, or conveniently, eatingUWS.

Give it a read, I hope you enjoy!  And share it with your friends!

DuMont: A reason to go to Williamsburg.

At long last, another BURGER REVIEW.  Despite the blog name, I have not reviewed a hamburger using the original ‘07 format in a while, but, after my short absence from the blogosphere, I must do this as a service to you, the fans.

Today’s burger joint: DuMont (the restaurant, not the DuMont Burger spin-off).  I was starving when I arrived at DuMont early on a Friday evening.  Famished.  Running on empty.  Hunger pangs, the full nine.  Fortunately, JBE and I found a parking spot right outside, and we were sitting within moments of our arrival.  The place was decently crowded, but the OpenTable reservation made moments before departure was a key move.  BG was there already and had snagged a table for us.  Why I am giving you all a play-by-play is beyond me, but it just feels right.

You know what else feels right?  Knowing you are going to be going to town on a burger within an hour.  I am actually heading to JG tonight, so I know exactly how right it feels, even as I type this.

And without further ado, the review, in the classic 2007 format:

Overall: A very solid burger spot out in Williamsburg with a chilled-out vibe (I mean, these guys opened up DuMont burger, so clearly something is right!).  I can’t attest to it, but the mac and cheese also looks like it’s a crowd-pleaser.  Which reminds me, I should eat more mac and cheese.  I mean, I love the stuff.

Be careful with some of the starters, and get a salad, for sure.  I know, I know, a salad is generally a weak choice in lieu of fries, but JBE and I got a bed of fresh baby, while BG got stuck with “eh” fries.

“Hi, I’m….”: “Jesse, Jeff, Jett, Jacynth, and Jesth, ‘with a J.’”

I mean, it’s Williamsburg.  You’ve got some hipsters wandering around, wearing tight flannels, skinny jeans, plastic-rimmed glasses, long-ish hair.  The works.  But everyone seemed pretty cool and laid-back, so I was cool with it.

I’m Here, What do I see? : The owners of this place also own the Dressler, which gets props for its décor.  The atmosphere is pretty laid back, with a bit of that “this could have been picked up at a flea market” feel to it.  We were a group of three and we sat out in the “garden,” which was kind of a make-shift covered outdoor space with gas heaters.  I’ve never been in the summer, but I can imagine that it gets pretty packed on the prime weeknights, and I could see myself hanging out putting back a few Six Points.  The heaters kept everything warm and toasty, which is prime burger-eating temperature.  You can’t be wearing a sweater and expect to get all up in some ground meat.

NB: The area isn’t really the best part of Williamsburg, but it is right near the subway, which helps for non-BK residents.

The Good Stuff: Now, I usually don’t comment too much on other food items than the burgers, but since DuMont is a bona fide restaurant, and we did have a few starters, so I feel like they are within the scope of work here.

Because of the aforementioned hunger pangs, we got a few starters.  We got the crispy artichokes (“crispy” is my favorite euphemism for “fried”—let’s just call a spade a spade.  Nothing is crispy naturally apart from raw vegetables, and no one wants those as a starter), the smoked spare ribs, and a braised pork belly with maple fried rice.  These were our starters before having burgers.  To be healthy, JBE and I got salads.  You should see us, we are veritable Adones.

Anyway, of the three items, the crispy artichokes were the best.  They were fried perfectly, with a tangy garlic vinaigrette and freshly squeezed lemon.  Although they were fried, they were light and not at all greasy, just the way they should be.  And, as an added bonus, they took away all of the pieces that I can’t chew, which usually end up piled on the side of my plate like a piece of gristle from a sirloin.

The ribs were good, but nothing to write home about.  They were barely worth writing about on the blog.

The pork belly was also good, but honestly was not much better than a local Chinese joint could put together for delivery.  The pork was good but overly sauced, losing all of its delicate porkiness.  It was (dare I say) too fatty, and was just over the top.  The fried rice was tasty, but it was way too sweet.  The maple flavor was over the top, and it did not really complement the pork belly for me.  It was a special for the night, so I would not order it if it came back.

Now, on to the main event.  I got my burger with cheddar cheese, medium rare.  What arrived at the table was a perfect medium rare burger, and the cheese was melted to perfection.  I don’t remember too much about the bun, but I remember that it was a brioche bun that was a little too sweet for me, but BG likes her burgers on brioche, so it worked out for her.  Next to the burger were some pickled cucumbers and onions.  The pickled onions were awesome and I could have eaten an entire jar of them.  Apparently the onions are missing if you go to DuMont Burger, so keep that in mind.

The burger was very juicy and well-seasoned, and incredibly juicy.  The patty was nice and thick, but I would have preferred to have a little bit more caramelization and crust on the outside of the patty.  It’s not cooked on a flat-top, so that explains it.  In spite of that, I truly enjoyed the burger.  It came together as a solid package, and I would definitely go back, although I am not in any particular rush.

And next time, I won’t get as many starters.  I’ll start with a clean base.

Rating (out of 7 cows): 4.5/7


Union and Metropolitan Avenues, Williamsburg

Restaurants of the future? WSJ Reports.

In an article featured in Friday’s WSJ, they discuss José Andrés’ newest restaurant in Beverly Hills, and how its key attributes may or may not be the trends of the future.  Interesting weekend read for all of y’all who are interested in the restaurant business.

It ain't easy being green… WaPo Reports

Great article from the Washington Post highlighting the challenges of sustainability in restaurants, even if the intentions are good.  The article focuses on two case restos in the DC area: Founding Fathers, a 263-seat restaurant promoting a commitment to fresh and local ingredients, and Equinox, a 90-seat (expensive) restaurant basically doing the same thing.

While the challenges are the same for both, the lesser-expensive Founding Fathers often has troubles truly sourcing its local ingredients, citing lack of clear reporting and cost.  And that makes sense; think about three turns in a night, that’s almost 800 meals, and that’s just one daypart.

Talking with restaurateurs around in NYC, this is definitely an issue.  As with most purchase decisions, cost is a/the major factor in choosing one product over another.  Unfortunately, “long term assets” do not include anything about the environment or health concerns (until Google decides that they have a computer algorithm that can model this).  When the rubber hits the road, how can a “good idea” also be a “profitable idea”?  It is clearly a major concern for any business, and the food business is no exception.  Quite simply, it is expensive to source local ingredients, and in the winter months, as any farmer’s market regular will attest, it is difficult to get ingredients that would compose an entire meal.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  A survey sourced from Zagat says that 61% of people are willing to pay more for “green” or “sustainable” food.  A key question that is left out is of course, “how much more,” but let’s hold that thought for a moment.  If this 61% is willing (and able) to shell out a few extra bucks to support farmers truly farming/raising sustainably, then this provides the much-needed money to invest in infrastructure and other needs, which then addresses some of the volume and distribution issues that are the problems in the first place.  Take, for example, the Milk Thistle Farm, a local New York dairy farm in Ghent, NY.  They recently started selling bonds to invest in a new bottle facility on-site.  This will help with their distribution footprint, and will hopefully expand their market share.  And it will bring their costs down (I hope).

This is why I continue to see immense value in partnering with the big food companies in order to effect any real change.  At the same time, those big companies need to learn to partner with the little guys instead of buying them out and changing the rules.  During a meeting in the Lehigh Valley last week, the President talked about the importance of innovation and its longer-term effects on the job market in this country.  If we think about the food industry in the same way, there is plenty of room for innovation, and its benefits go much farther than job creation.

In any case, give the article a read.  And if you’ve got an extra grand, get a Milk Thistle Farm bond.

Yes, yes, y'all: Trufflepalooza, Locanda Verde.

Locanda Verde trufflepalooza.  Who was there?  Yeah.  This guy (and BG)

I tried to enter the Eater giveaway contest, but to no avail.  I was honest with them.  I told them I wanted a truffle dinner for $50.  No sob story, no bullshit.  I guess honesty isn’t always the best policy.

Not discouraged, we showed up anyway, at 6.45pm.  While a reservation we did not have, we did have a will, and a way.  Out of either sheer luck or some other magic that BG has, she got us on an imaginary list, which supposedly had a table set aside for us at 8.15pm.

Yeah, right.

We went over to Bubby’s for a quick drink, to kill some time, since it was only 7pm.  I had a Jameson on the rocks, since nothing spells “good pre-dinner drink” like Jameson.  This got a good buzz going in anticipation of the truffle explosion that was about to go down inside my mouth.  We called at 7.45pm, just to see.  Eureka!  Our table was ready.

We ran over lickety-split.  BG had rapport.

We got there an the regular menus and the truffle menu was set before us.  The smell of freshly-shaven white truffles permeated the air.  I realized upon sitting down that I had never eaten at Locanda Verde on a standard night.  I had been there for the fried chicken dinner, and once prior to the HORN’s engagement night for drinks, but never just for some pasta and a salad.  Since I was about to take in some fresh white truffles, I was ok with this.

I was especially ok with this since I saw the menu at which I was staring.  If you pretended that you were sitting at Locanda Verde on December 7th, 2009, you’d be looking at this:

I made it large for legibility 🙂

Not wanting to have any regrets, we ordered the whole thing.  I mean, how can you go wrong, right?  A bottle of Pacherhof Sylvaner, and we were on our way.

Since the menu is above, I’ll just provide details by course (apologies, the pictures are a bit dark; as you may recall from the fried chicken installment, the lighting at LV is not exactly blinding.  I’ve made the pictures bigger, which may or may not help):

Starters– the mushroom ragu was good, but, to be honest, the wild mushrooms dominated the palate.  All you could really taste was the earthiness of mushroom and the richness of the egg yolk and polenta.  Not that that was a bad thing, but it was a bit overwhelming.  The white truffle flavor came through, but it could have been a bit stronger for my taste.

On the other hand, the carne cruda was a truffle explosion.  This took me back to the first steak tartare that I ever truly loved, at Alain Ducasse’s Spoon in Paris.  I had never had a steak tartare that could match that one… until now.  The truffle was dominant in flavor, but the fattiness of the meat was a perfect stage for the pungent fungi to shine.  The carne arrived with a fresh shaving of white truffle on top, which didn’t hurt, either.  Now, I think there was definitely some truffle oil in there, too, which some may consider to be a cheap move.  But in this case, it worked.  I was a fan.

It's really much better tasting than it looked, I promise.

With truffles fresh on our breath, we were then served our main courses.  The garganelle verde was a green like I had never seen before from a fresh pasta.  I was honestly not sure what to expect flavor-wise, but was pleasantly surprised by the outstanding texture.  The pasta was very fresh and light tasting, which complemented the somewhat bland richness of the braised veal.  As with the first course, there was a lack of truffle flavor, as it was hidden by the rich saltiness of the veal and the butter and the creaminess of the overall dish.

But again, as with the starter courses, I was thoroughly pleased with the ravioli.  First off, anything with the oyster of the chicken is going to do it for me.  I can barely find it, much less exclusively prepare and serve it.  Second of all, the dish was again intensely flavored with white truffles, probably with some oiled help, but also enhanced by the use of the chicken jus for the sauce and the relative lack of richness in the dish.  I have come to the conclusion that for truffles to truly shine, there needs to be a perfect balance of fat and salt  in order to let the fungus come through.  With an extreme in either direction, the truffle flavor is lost, and it makes you sad that you missed something.  However, as I said, the ravioli didn’t leave anything to be desired.  If I had only this and the tartare, I would have been just fine.

Normally, the truffles would stop at this point.  No way, hombre.  This was a THREE course truffle dinner, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime-until-they-see-the-returns-that-this-night-got-in-terms-of-the-total-number-of-covers-event.  So let’s bring on the truffle desserts.

I must admit, I was a little bit nervous when it came to desserts.  I mean, seriously?  I’ve had eggplant and chocolate (not bad), olive oil ice cream (good if made well), basil ice cream (really good if made well, à la the bent spoon in princeton, nj), and other strange desserts that I can’t remember at this moment.  But truffles?

Yes.  Truffles.

First off, truffle ice cream is an acquired taste.  Since I don’t really have a sweet tooth, it took me .2 seconds to acquire it.  I wish that the first dish had a scoop of this ice cream on it instead of the poached egg.  It was that savory.  Somehow the savoriness also made it seem like it wasn’t even cold.  I have no idea how it was even a solid, to be honest.  It just tasted like solid truffle oil with shaved truffle on top.  It had little walnut shortbread cookies and salted chestnuts with it, which only enhanced the salty milkshake quality.

But, the problem is, I can’t really say that I didn’t enjoy it.  I strangely enjoyed it a lot.  And I can’t quite pinpoint why.

The truffle-honey cake was good.  I’ll leave it at that.  I wasn’t in love with the combination of the bosc pears and whipped ricotta and truffles and cake and honey.  It felt like a salty cake.  I think this one was a stretch.  I may have been biased since I don’t really enjoy Italian-style cakes (the sight of panettone this weekend gave me the shivers and, I’m sorry, but olive oil cake is just a waste of time) but it didn’t do it for me.  It tasted like truffles, though, so I suppose it was “mission accomplished.”  And with that, my Monday night dinner was finished.

All in, I have to give it up to the boys at Locanda Verde.  They have suckered me into eating at the restaurant twice in as many months for this special dinners.  “Affordable” prix fixe menus are the hot trend du jour, and these guys are really doing it the right way.  Based on the food I got and their food costs, do I know that they are coming out ahead on $50 per head?  Of course.  Do I care?  Not really.  Will I go back to Locanda Verde?  Probably.

And that’s just good business right there.

avec Chicago, aka, "how much more fat can I eat?"

I found myself in Chicago this past weekend, you know, just for a change in scenery.  And an interview that could change my ENTIRE FUTURE.  Not that there was any pressure or anything.

Anyway, I like Chicago a lot, and from what I’ve heard, it’s becoming quite the culinary center of the midwest.  Maybe I’m biased since I was born there, but I always have felt some sort of strange connection with the place, even though I have never lived there as an adult, and I have only visited it a couple times while cognizant of my surroundings (although I was a very astute toddler).

I arrived on Friday evening, after nearly having a panic attack that my flight would be delayed hours and hours because of the storm, and I wanted to be on my A-game before the BIG INTERVIEW.  Fortunately, everything went as planned, and I found myself at the Hotel Allegro (it’s a KIMPTON property, fools!), located on West Randolph and North La Salle.

Now, for a little bit of a background– Thursday night, I had gone to Lupa for a work dinner, and chatted with my new buddy Mike, who happens to be a manager at Lupa, and also happens to be a native Chicagoan.  I asked him for some solid recommendations, being that I would be rollin’ solo in Chi-town.  He dropped me an email with a litany of places, and I knew that I would be lucky to get to even one of them.

(For those of you who are curious: “Chicago restaurants: Blackbird and avec. Schwa. Doug’s Dogs. If you wanna go very fancy then you must try one of the best restaurants in the world: Alinea. I also have a good blues club: rosa’s. I have more ideas but that’s the top of my head.
Brunch at Anne Sather. If you get up North go to Sarki’s in Wilmette or wings at Buffalo Joes in Evanston. Deep dish pizza at Giordanos. Walker bros pancake house on greenbay rd in Wilmette.”)

Looking on Google maps on my phone, I saw that Avec was a mere stone’s throw away from my hotel.  With a grumbling stomach, I headed west on a mission.  Upon arrival, I was slightly scared by the fact that there was a mass of people waiting both outside and in.  It was already 730 and I needed at least a good night’s sleep before the BIG INTERVIEW.

However, Avec looks like this:

See the big bar?  This is where I was hoping I could make my move.  Being a solo diner, I nonchalantly walked up to the host and said, “hey man, how are you doing?  I’m all by my lonesome tonight.”  Now, at the time, and actually up until I just wrote that down, I didn’t realize how much like a pick-up line that probably sounded.  In retrospect, it would have sounded maybe a little bit cooler had I said it to the hostess (featured picture left) instead of the large awkward man (also featured left, sorta).  Either way, my point was that I was eating alone on a Friday night, and I had to make it sound cool.

I was surprisingly seated within about 5-10 minutes, after which the hostess APOLOGIZED that I had to wait.  I knew I wasn’t in NYC anymore when that happened.  I’m so used to feeling like I need to apologize when I make restaurant hosts do their jobs.  “Sorry I decided to eat here and ruin your staring contest with the Opentable screen– should I come back?  I hear there is an open reservation for two at 10:45?”

Anyway, I sat down and perused the menu, which was composed of mostly small plates.  Now, small plates are truly only “small plates” when you are eating with someone else.  When you are by yourself, it’s more like eating four meals.  But I was hungry, so it was all good.

The menu was great, and I can only imagine what it would be like if I could have tried more than only a handful of things– they had great looking and smelling flatbreads, and a laundry list of pork and offal products.  I knew that I had to go with the braised berkshire cheeks with blood sausage and cabbage, and also the stuffed dates with chorizo, wrapped in bacon.  At this point, I felt that I had already too much on my plate, so I decided to ask my man behind the bar how much more I would need:

“How hungry are you?”

– I mean, I can eat (that’s my code for saying, are you calling me a wimp?  I can eat more than anyone you know.)

“Well, what are you thinking?”

– Definitely the pork cheeks, and the dates

“Aight, we’ll do a half order of the dates and the cheeks.  Maybe one more thing.  The squash is good, the fish is good, the salad is actually pretty good”

– (I knew this guy was speaking my language when he said, “the salad is actually good”) What about the veal liver?

[Looking extremely pleased, like I had just passed the “lonely loser at the bar on a Friday night surrounded by couples” test and unlocked our everlasting friendship] “You like the gamey stuff, huh? Excellent.  Let’s get it started.”


I then entered the world of arterial pain.  First, the dates arrived.

Now, it might be hard to tell from the photo, but “date” is really a misnomer here.  I would call it “bacon wrapped chorizo ball with a touch of date.”  It was served with a freshly heated mini spanish bread loaf, and came in a spicy-sweet tomato-based sauce.  It was tremendous.  This paired with a nice carafe of rioja was going to be put in a good spirit for the rest of the evening.

After devouring a half-order of the dates, which was probably enough to be my meal, the seared veal liver arrived.  I didn’t get a chance to take a picture because I immediately started to stuff my face with it.  It was a simple veal liver accompanied by parsnips, rapini, and bacon.  The liver itself had a little bit of gristle, which is to be expected, but the flavor was excellent and the bacon was a perfect complement without overpowering the dish.  I was innard heaven.

Now, between the two dishes, I probably had consumed far more than I needed to.  Bear in mind, people around me were getting TWO dishes, sharing them, and leaving.  I was by myself and was outlasting people by a good hour.  The time was about 9 o’clock, and I still hadn’t done my preparations.  But in the moment, I didn’t care.  I was eating great food and was in a good place.  Much better than staring at a TV while stressing out.

I finished my carafe of rioja and decided to live a little and get a beer.  I got a Belgian La Binchoise Amber Reserve Speciale, which paired nicely with my (second to) last course: the braised pork cheeks, served with blood sausage and cabbage, barley and artichokes.

Just a little side note at this point.  You see how all of the dishes arrive in a vessel from which you are supposed to serve yourself?  Well, they continued to give me a clean plate with every course, and despite the fact that I was eating by myself, I continued to serve myself small portions, as though I would leave the rest for someone else.  It made me feel like a dignified gentleman, and not some sort of ruffian eating from the serving bowl.

Now, back to the cheeks.  They were amazing.  I don’t know if it was the euphoria from eating my favorite part of my favorite animal, or some sort of other drug-like quality of the dish, but I was in heaven.  I can still remember the feeling from eating it, not just the taste.  I am a bit partial since I love blood sausage, as announced in my DBGB post, but the dish was perfectly balanced, with salty but creamy sausage pieces and chewy barley bits and sweet artichoke bits and big pork cheek bits.  It was chock full of bits.  I could only muster a satisfied thumbs-up when my buddy the bartender would walk by to see what was going on.  When I finally was able to get a couple of words out, I could just say, “this is awesome, man.  You guys are rockin’ it.”

I finished everything in that bowl (in four smaller servings) and poured out every last bit of the sauce (the bowl had a nice pouring spout).  When the guy took away the plate, I finally plead guilty to having over-eaten.

“You good?”

– Man, I’m cashed.  Everything was awesome.

“Alright man, I was gonna say, if you had room in your stomach, you should get the pasta, it’s phenomenal.”

I had seen the pasta.  It looked phenomenal.  But the time was 9.40 and I still had that little meeting (yeah, I had downplayed it by this point) in the morning.  But the pasta looked so good.  I saw man orders of it go out from my bar/kitchen vantage point.  So creamy, so delicious-looking.

– I’m gonna have to come back for that.  For sure…  But let me do some cheese.”

So I got some cheese.  Some Tomme de Savoie and some Torta del Casar, to be exact.  It came with more of that delicious bread and a small parsley and marcona almond salad.  And my buddy threw another beer at me just for kicks.  Maybe he saw how sad I was when I looked at the pasta on the menu: “Housemade pasta with veal and offal bolognese, cream and fresh herbs.”  It was like a dish created just for me.  It didn’t even say what offal were included, and it didn’t matter to me.  A quick google search yielded this twitter update from some dude that I don’t know: “Avec was en fuego last eve..lots of offal…pumpkin/ginger soup w/ crispy veal heart, awesome and the offal Bolognese, terrific.”

I wish I could have twittered about eating offal bolognese.

In retrospect, the fact that I ordered some cheese is completely understandable.  He employed a little of asking if I wanted another big thing (“that’s way too much food”) made me feel obligated to get another small thing (“I suppose it’s just some cheese”).  It’s simple psychology, as explained by Richard Cialdini in his book Influence, and I fell for it like a sucker.

But I didn’t care.  The meal was great, and I couldn’t have been happier and in better spirits, for that, umm, I think I had something in the morning I had to go to…

Anyway, just go to Avec if you’re in Chicago.  But take a friend.  My buddy at the bar also recommended a place called Belly Shack, which is on North Michigan near Armitage (surprised I didn’t see it, I was walking around up there).  I didn’t get a chance to check it out, but I’d like to.