Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Shopping For The Perfect Pie

Maybe it wasn't perfect, but it came damn close. And I considered us lucky to get a table for three within minutes of entering Rubirosa, considering the crowd. It turns out that our table, hidden in a nook in the front of the restaurant, was oblivious to servers everywhere. Service: D plus.

But really, it was about the food. Rubirosa is the Manhattan branch of a long-standing Staten Island establishment, so it makes sense to go traditional. We ordered two bruschetta, one with mushrooms and pignoli and one with duck and caramelized onions. The bread was grilled and held up to the layer of topping. Even more traditional--and equally satisfying--was a plate of baked littleneck clams, salty and garlicky and complimented by fresh lemon wedges.

The pizza? Oh, the pizza. We ordered a small classic pie with mushrooms and olives (large enough to feed three people; buyer beware) and a small sausage and broccoli rabe pie, along with a side of grilled asparagus to keep things green. The classic pie hit all the right notes--a good ratio of sauce to cheese; ample yet not overwhelming toppings; a crispy crust that was neither too doughy nor too cracker-like. Unlike the pizzas of Lucali's and Keste, both personal favorites (and born of the Neopolitan style), Rubirosa is crispy throughout, reminding me a little of a great pie I once ate at Pulino's.

The sausage and broccoli pie didn't exactly disappoint, but it did come sans sauce, which is never my direction of choice. Bad service be damned; I'd return for another pie any day of the week.

235 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10012

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Notes On A Long, Drunk Dinner

wd-50. Iconic New York. Our waiter asks us if we have ever heard of the restaurant before. Is he kidding? wd stands for Wylie Dufresne. Wylie hates oysters and spicy foods. He's married to a food editor from The Food Network. He eats raw cookie dough straight from the freezer. Yes, I've heard of it.

Obviously, if you've never eaten at wd-50 before (and I hadn't), it is necessary to indulge in the $140, eleven course tasting menu. First: raw Spanish mackerel with a dried chip of Chinese sausage. The food came out too fast. I didn't even have time to order a glass of Cremant d' Alsace before it arrived.

Next: Everything bagel ice cream with smoked salmon powder, tiny rings of pickled onions, and a shard of freeze dried cream cheese. A weird dish. The salmon was overpowering. I probably wouldn't eat this again.

All night, the pacing was off. I thought back to El Bulli, thirty five courses in eight hours. By that mathematical equation, the food at wd-50 should have taken around three hours, but it took closer to two. The wine took too long to arrive at our table each time. Service was, overall, inconsistent.

But the dishes got better through the progression. Foie gras torchon stuffed with passion fruit gelee was inspired, if filled with too much passion fruit. Cutting into the torchon released a pool of fruit that overpowered the liver a little but still tasted divine.

A soft boiled egg over caesar dressing blew me away. It came with pickled bean sprouts and an edible brown butter egg shell. My favorite dish of the evening followed, noodles made from king oyster mushrooms (and impossibly endowed with a perfectly noodley and mushroomy texture) with pan fried sweetbreads and banana molasses. It was sweet and filled with the tart undercurrent of vinegar and every competing texture in the dish made me want to eat more.

Then: Tai snapper over an onion "tart" (really more of a soft, oniony disk) with a brunoise of cucumber and several jardiniere of Asian pear and a crust of coffee and cashew, all over a smoked tomato sauce. Everything about this dish worked, from the textures (soft, crunchy, silky, crisp) to the flavors (smoky, bright, sweet, savory). The fish was cooked to medium, most likely prepared sous vide and picked up on the skin side. The coffee in the background reminded me of southern barbecue.

A quail dish didn't hit all the same grace notes. The quail, arranged either with meat glue or just pressed together in a torchon, looked a little more rare than medium rare and came with sunchokes that were cooked too quickly--they reminded me of underdone potatoes. But a rectangle of lamb loin (sous vided again), with some kind of grain that reminded me of corn and that the menu only billed as 'red beans and rice,' was addictive. It was a fine note to end the savory courses on.

And then, celery ice cream. It was impossibly green and impossible to eat. We finished ours only because we felt guilty for the waste. If I never have to eat celery ice cream again, that will be fine with me.

Something about the buckwheat quenelle with apricot puree and poached rhubarb didn't work, either. It tasted nearly medicinal. But these two experimental failures were bolstered by one true success, a thick ribbon of soft chocolate with crispy bits of beat and Chinese long pepper, all served with ricotta ice cream. The plate itself looked like the victim of a serial killer, a pastiche of red and brown splattered haphazardly. If we were dubious at first about the integration of beets in dessert, we were easily won over by the spiciness and the subtle vegetal quality the pepper and beet offered up. It was an incredible dessert.

Before we left, we received one final treat: rice krispy balls and cocoa packets. Bite into a ball and release a pool of sticky marshmallow. Bite into a plastic-looking packet of cocoa and release soft chocolate goo. Eat it all together and it offers up a memory of a s'more on a summertime beach.

50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002

Monday, June 13, 2011

Salty and Fatty

Salt and Fat is an apt name for the fusion restaurant that just opened in Sunnyside because the food served is, indeed, salty and fatty. At the meal's start, a server shows up with a paper bag filled with popcorn cooked in bacon fat. It's a redemptive amuse bouche, the kind that sets the pace for a great meal.

Salt and Fat is mostly small plates, which gave us the opportunity to sample most of the menu. We began with a trio of seafood dishes, a cured yellowtail served with jalapenos, shaved radish, and grapefruit and orange supremes. The fish was clean and complimented by the spice of the jalapeno, but I think I would have felt better about the dish if it had not been so similar to a lobster salad we ordered--poached lobster pieces over a bed of greens with those same citrus supremes. The redundancy was my largest quibble with the menu. Items often bore too much similarity to one another (Korean steak wraps; short rib buns; pork sliders). That lobster salad was good enough (and, for $9, a complete and total steal), though I might not go back on the merit of that dish. Seared scallops with a bright orange accompanying puree was a bigger success. The scallops were cooked perfectly and the salty and sweet from the puree was the ultimate condiment.

Next came the lettuce wraps, hanger steak with pickled daikon on Bibb leaves. They were perfectly seasoned and a little spicy, and I would have eaten more than just one. Then: short ribs on buns with cucumber pickles. The buns were the pillowy, David Chang variety. Something about this dish left me incomplete. It was a little too acidic, or a little too salty. I can't tell which. A smear of mayonnaise or hoisin would have remedied the problem for me. An oxtail terrine was the star of the evening, crispy on the outside and soft in the center and served with earthy Hen-of-the-woods and enoki mushrooms and a salty-sweet sauce. It was a home run in the face of singles and doubles.

Our final trio left me underwhelmed. Papparadelle with a soft egg and asparagus and mushrooms and peas seemed woefully under-seasoned (and lacking cheese!). Pork belly tacos felt redundant in the face of all that meat in wrapping, and they needed more crunch and more acidity. Fried gnocchi with bacon in a bechamel, meant to be a play on macaroni and cheese, was an epic fail. The bacon was too chewy, the gnocchi too soft, the breading a degree too burnt. Unfried gnocchi would have been better.

For dessert, we ordered three ice creams--toasted marshmallow, white peach and jalapeno, and Thai iced tea--as well as a lychee panna cotta with yuzu buttermilk sorbet. The toasted marshmallow ice cream had the consistency of an actual marshmallow and had me wishing the kitchen had sent extra. The Thai iced tea was no real surprise, but it was plenty delicious. But the white peach was too grainy and more closely resembled a sorbet than an ice cream. We had a bite and left it for the kitchen gods. But, oh, the panna cotta! It was the perfect consistency and the perfect brightness, brought completely to life by that palate cleansing sorbet. That panna cotta, paired with the oxtail terrine and the bacon popcorn, might be enough to bring me back to Salt and Fat. Someday.

Salt and Fat
41-16 Queens Boulevard
Sunnyside, NY 11104