Food should be fun!

While I’ve mentioned The Mermaid Inn several times in this blog, I’m not sure that I’ve ever made my obsession with it totally clear. My friend Mary and I are at their Upper West Side location at least twice a month!

What makes The Mermaid Inn so amazing, you ask? Well other than the great food, atmosphere and reasonable prices, they also host the “Happiest Two Hours”  in all of New York!

Every single day of the week, from 5-7pm, Mermaid offers $1 East Coast oysters, $5 beers, $6 wine, $7 cocktails and other snacks like mini fish tacos or shrimp slider for $3-$7. Also… wait for it… wait for it… at the end of every meal, happy hour or not, you get a tiny cup of chocolate pudding for free!

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See why oyster loving gals like Mary and I think of this place as a little slice of heaven?

This summer The Mermaid Inn introduced their Summer Crab Boil. Every Tuesday night in the summer they’d be covering their lovely linen table clothes with paper and for $26 you get a bucket of Maryland Blue Crabs, corn, potatoes and jalapeno cornbread. We’ve been meaning to try it all summer so when we found out that our friend Brian, a fellow Mermaid Inn lover who lives in St. Louis, would be in town it seemed like a perfect time to go.

We started out with our oysters as usual and then ordered 3 crab specials. After our oysters were finished a bus person brought a bucket of “tools” over. The bucket contained mallets, picks, extra napkins, wet naps and these fashionable plastic aprons.

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We were also each left with a piece of jalapeno corn bread. A few minutes later our bucket o’ food arrived.

The buser literally come over with a huge bucket and then emptied it by piling a mound of crabs, corn and potatoes all covered in Old Bay seasoning in the middle of our table. At that point we knew we were in for some fun!

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Eating a whole crab is a lot of work. There is cracking and hammering and picking and sucking involved. Every time we cracked and hammered, bits of crab went flying. We were up to our elbows in Old Bay seasoning and Mary and I both regretted not pulling our hair up before we started eating. It took forever and we were filthy and we had the best time ever! Everything was delicious, we could not stop laughing and getting dirty with abandon reminds you why you loved playing in the mud as a kid.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a crab boil, do it and if you live in or are visiting Manhattan you should definitely stop by The Mermaid Inn. If you visit the Upper West Side location make sure to tell them that Mary and Alli sent you!

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Telepan

If you read this blog at all, you know that there are certain chefs who I consider my personal heroes. One of those chefs is Bill Telepan, chef/owner of the eponymous Telepan.

Bill Telepan doesn’t have a regular TV gig and he’s not famous outside of foodie circles, but he’s widely admired in chef circles. His restaurant garners top marks, including a 27 Zagats rating. Bill Telepan is also a prime example of what I call “a true foodie.” He’s a chef who was sourcing locally and sustainably before that was cool and he is very active with local hunger charities.

His restaurant is also 3 blocks from my house!

I’ve been dying to dine at Telepan, but you may be shocked to find out that working for a social justice organization while living in the most expensive city in America doesn’t exactly leave me with a ton on expendable income. Luckily last week was restaurant week and restaurants across the city, including Telepan, offered a 3 course meal for $38!

I’m not as big on restaurant week as you might think because the special restaurant menus have limited choices which is not a great thing for people with food allergies. However, I took a look at the menu posted on Telepan’s website and saw what looked like many safe items so I messaged my friend Paul and Janet to see if they wanted to join me and booked us a table!

I booked through Opentable because it was hard to get a reservation so I wanted to snap up a table when I saw it. This meant that U didn’t call ahead to tell them about my allergies as I usually do, but rather typed a note about them to the online reservation. I wasn’t worried because Telepan is a high end restaurant which is where I generally have my best experience as an allergic diner. Also, I’ve used Opentable before, though usually for restaurants I’ve dined at before, and found that the maitre d always checks the notes.

I met Paul and Janet at the restaurant. When we checked in with the hostess I was surprised that she didn’t say “and we have a note about food allergies,” but I figured that our waiter would mention it at the table.

After we were seated at the table and our waiter came over I handed him one of my allergies cards and said, “I’m sure that you have this already, but please let the kitchen know that I have these food allergies.” I was greeted with a blank stare. This was clearly the first my waiter was hearing of my food allergies. Fail #1.

Telepan has a cool concept for restaurant week. For the $38 price you can order either an appetizer, mid course and entree, though the whole table has to order the same option. Since Janet is the only real sweet eater of the group we decided to go with the mid course option and then split a dessert off of the regular menu if we felt like it later.

After we’d placed our order and our drinks had been served, another member of the staff (not sure what to call him, maybe a runner?), came over with an amuse bouche of cheddar gourges. I asked if they were safe with my food allergies. He gave me a “how the hell should I know look?” and told me to ask my waiter. Fail #2. At high end restaurants they usually tell all the staff when a table has food allergies and I’ve been told at other high end restaurants more than once that they’s “Never offer me anything they hadn’t made sure was safe first.”

It took an absurdly long time for us to flag down our waiter. When he finally came over and I asked about the gorges his response was not, “I’ve already checked” or, “I’m so sorry I’ll check with the kitchen,” but “Umm, I mean I think there’s just flour and cheese.” Fail #3. Big, huge, fail. First of all that did nothing to make me feel safe. Second, really there are only two ingredients in your gorges, flour and cheese? Can I get that recipe then because I’ll make them every day. Needless to say, I didn’t try the gorges.

The appetizer was the only course I’d had trouble ordering. The only thing on that menu that I could eat was shrimp and grits, which I love, but they came with a coddled egg. I do NOT eat runny eggs. But I just figured I’d order it and eat around the egg, which is exactly what I did.

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The dish was tasty. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and nice and spicy, though the grits could’ve been a bit smoother.

For the mid course I ordered the egg pasta with smoked brussels sprouts. Which I thought meant egg-pasta, not a pasta that would have another coddled egg on it. Oops! This egg was wobblier than the last. After a good laugh, Paul, a runny egg aficionado said, “I’ll take your egg.” So, with the precision of a surgeon I carefully slid my spoon under the soft egg, slowly lifting it from the dish as Paul held his plate close. We were so close with mere inches between my spoon and his plate when splat! the egg slid off the spoon on to the table and splattered. More laughter ensued though needless to say I was a bit embarrassed when a member of the waitstaff came to clean it up. “Oh excuse me, I don’t get out much.”

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Obviously the photo above was taken before the unsuccessful removal of the egg. While I’m sure that the egg would’ve added an unctuousness, this dish was really delicious. The smokey smell was heavenly and hit you as soon at it was placed on the table and the flavor definitely matched.

For my main course I chose the scallop chowder. Which was the absolute standout of the night.

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It was really a deconstructed chowder. Flavorful comforting broth with a bit of spice surrounded a bed of silky, creamy, buttery potato purée on top of which had been place a generous helping of succulent, perfectly cooked shellfish.

By the time we’d cleared our entree plates we were tipsy and it good spirits so we decided to take a serious look at the dessert menu. Apparently Paul and I forgot that we’re not big sweets eaters because, in solidarity with Janet, we both ordered dessert. In my defense though, lemon is one of my weaknesses and so how could I not order the lemon merengue tart with an accompanying citrus and white chocolate salad.

 

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This was my kind of dessert, tart and sweet lemony custard with just a whisper of meringue encased in a light buttery crust. Yum.

The food at Telepan did not disappoint, which only made my issues with the service more surprising. You may be surprised to hear though, that I very much want to give Telepan another try. Based on everything I’d previously heard and my high regard for Bill Telepan I truly believe that this was just an off night and one not so great waiter. Next time though, I’ll definitely be calling first!

The verdict:
Food rating: A
Service/food allergy accommodations: C
Overall rating: See above

Del Posto

Del Posto is the most formal of restaurants in Mario Batali’s (swoon) empire. I had eaten there years ago when they first opened and was looking forward to giving it another try with my parents last Friday. It did not disappoint.

As usual I’d called ahead and let the restaurant know about my food allergies. The moment I walked in the host assured me that they knew about my allergies and would take good care of me. After we were seated our waiter came over to ask which one of us had food allergies and then again assured me that they were prepped and ready. I was definitely feeling confident.

Though you can order a la carte the menu is set up to encourage you to order the five course price fixed dinner so that’s just what we did!

After ordering we were presented with the amuse bouche; a “shot” of cauliflower, potato and fennel soup rimmed with parmesan, whipped ricotta in polenta cups and mini chicken and celery sandwiches. Each an everyone was heavenly, but I think the soup was my favorite. Of course I forgot to take a picture before we’d eaten two of the three items!

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The bread basket was equally fantastic and was served with whipped salted butter and whipped lardo (that’s pork fat!). Yum!

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For my appetizer I had my eye on the Chilled Lobster with Cipolline Onions, Meyer Lemon and Parsley. Unfortunately it also came with beans, but the waiter assured me that it would be no problem to leave them out. Score! The dish was lovely; the lobster was perfectly cooked and the slight acidity of the meyer lemon was perfect with the rich sweet lobster.

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The five course tasting menu comes with two pasta courses shared by the whole table, music to this carboholic’s ears! For the first we chose one of Del Postos signature pasta’s
Spaghetti with Dungeness Crab, Sliced Jalapeno and Minced Scallion. O. M. F. G. This was the best dish of the night. The pasta was perfectly al dente, the crab meat succulent, the jalapeños had some serious kick and the scallions gave the dish a crisp bite.

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The second pasta was another Del Posto signature, Yesterday’s 100 Layer Lasagna alla Piastra, which is made with 50 thin sheets of pasta layer with meat sauce and bechamel and then charred on top because, as our waiter said, “you know how everyone always fights for the burnt corners.” Unlike our idea of gooey cheesy Italian-American style lasagna this one had no cheese, but was just as heavenly. The layers just melted in your mouth.

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For my main course I went for the Sardinian Lamb Chop, Roman Artichokes, Bruised Mint and Saffron Potatoes. Lamb is my favorite meat so I order it often. Like my beef I prefer it medium rare. The meat was perfectly cooked and there was an added treat of braised lamb neck meat hidden under the chops. The meat was tender and buttery. This was a perfect cold day comfort dish.

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As often happens in restaurants, a different waiter came to take our dessert orders, but I need not worry because he too had been prepped on my food allergies. When he brought the dessert menus he let me know which desserts were safe for me or could be modified to be safe for me. I decided on the Butterscotch Semifreddo Crumbled Sbrisolona (cookies). The Semifreddo normally comes with melon agrumata (ices, I think?), but since I can’t do melon they happily left it off for me.

I love butterscotch and I hate the bad rap it’s been given by that cloyingly sweet stuff you get from plastic containers. This butterscotch semifreddo could single handedly redeem all butterscotch. It was not overly sweet at all. The texture of the Semifreddo was perfect, so creamy and smooth and it sat on top of a pool of rich deep dark caramel.

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Yes that’s a candle in my dessert… 😉

But wait we’re not done… Because then they brought the petit fours. Six different petit fours to be exact and all six were safe for me! Unfortunately I was stuffed and tipsy by that time so the picture I snapped is terrible and I don’t remember what each different petit four was, but my favorite was the donut filled with lemon cream and topped with cinnamon sugar. I’m not a big donut fan because I usually find them heavy and greasy, but this one was light as air. As much as I loved my Semifreddo, I actually think that donut was even better.

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All in all a wonderful meal.

The verdict:
Food rating: A
Service/food allergy accommodations: A+
Overall rating: OMG

Pickles and friends and beer oh my!

I hope you all had a good weekend last weekend. Mine was pretty crazy awesome! Two of my very favorite people in the world, my friends Heather and Justin of Halloween party fame came to visit!

Heather is one of my besties who had the good sense to marry someone as awesome as she is. OK, truth is we’ve all admitted that Justin is kind of the male version of me; a loud mouth liberal who loves beer and sports so it’s no wonder we get along so well.

I had been saving that special bottle of beer that I won, Hill Farmstead Vera Mae, for Heather and Justin’s visit and also planned dinner at a restaurant in my neighborhood that I’ve been dying to try, Jacob’s Pickles. Neither of those disappointed.

After a nice day of walking around, seeing decorations and visiting the Columbus Circle Christmas market we headed home to relax before dinner and open that prized bottle of beer.

I didn't take pictures of the beer because I'm embarrassed by my selection of glasses, Yes, that's Justin pouring beer in to a mason jar.

I didn’t take pictures of the beer because I’m embarrassed by my selection of glasses, Yes, that’s Justin pouring beer in to a mason jar.

 

O.M.F.G. Seriously one of the best beers I’ve ever tasted. Vera Mae is a saison style ale which happens to be my favorite type of beer. We new we had something special on our hands the moment we opened the bottle and were hit with an intoxicating citrus and yeast aroma. It poured a beautiful pale hazy yellow with a thick white head (uh huh huh, she said “thick head”, yes thank you Beavis). Then of course came those first sips. Vera Mae has this mild sweetness from the honey it’s brewed with, sitting just behind a bright tartness and an earthiness that rounds the whole thing out. This beer is truly refreshing and you need to remind yourself to sit back and savor the flavor because it would be easy to slurp this drink back. Heather, Justin and I all declared ourselves Vera Mae fans down to the last drop!

After we finished our beers we headed out to dinner. Jacob’s Pickles, a southern style restaurants that’s gotten great reviews, has been open in my neighborhood for about a year so I can’t believe that I hadn’t eaten there yet. They have a great great craft beer selection too, so I’ve been there for a drink at the bar and snacked on their amazing fried pickles, but this was my first real meal there.

The three of us met up with two other friends and we were immediately overwhelmed, not because the menu is huge (it’s average sized), but because everything looked amazing! Naturally we asked out waiter, who was totally adorbs btw, what his favorite menu item was. His response was, “If I could eat the Mushroom Gravy Smothered Chicken Biscuit Sandwich everyday of my life and not weigh 1000 pounds I would.” Well with that endorsement…!

This pictures are not mine. I blatantly and knowingly stole them from foodspotting.com. Don't sue me.

This pictures are not mine. I blatantly and knowingly stole them from foodspotting.com.
Don’t sue me.

To start we ordered fried pickles and deviled eggs, neither of which I remembered to take pictures of! As for main courses, four out the five of us followed the waiters advice and ordered the Mushroom Gravy Smothered Chicken Biscuit Sandwich. Justin decided to go rogue and instead ordered the Sausage Gravy Smothered Chicken Biscuit Sandwich. He’s a real wild man. The sandwiches came with a side of cheese grits, which three of us went for while two in our party substituted with mashed potatoes.

The fried pickles were as good as I remembered. The pickles themselves are made in house so they’re wonderfully flavorful and crisp. They’re cut in to spears and fully enrobed in a batter that remains light and crispy and not too greasy and they’re served with a side of spicy aioli. YUM!

As for the eggs… I am so ashamed to admit this… I didn’t even try them. I love deviled eggs so much, but there was just sooo much food. Everyone else though, declared them just about the best deviled eggs they’d every had.

Terrible photo; amazing dish!

Terrible photo; amazing dish!

Our waiter, in addition to being adorable, was also not a liar. Mushroom Gravy Smothered Chicken Biscuit Sandwich was outrageous. The biscuit light and crumbly, the chicken perfectly cooked with a crisp thin coating, the gravy rich and flavorful loaded with earthy mushrooms, made the whole thing a transcendent experience. Oh and those grits! There are two kinds of grits in this world, terrible or great; there is no in between with grits. Unfortunately many people have only experienced the terrible variety which is a shame. Luckily for us the grits at Jacob’s Pickles   were of the amazing variety. Silky smooth and filled with goeey cheesy flavor.

I will definitely be returning to Jacob’s Pickles, especially since next time I have my eye on the Honey Chicken and Pickles biscuit sandwich!

Have you had any particularly great food, beer of friend experiences lately?

Treating Myself To Dinner

So I’m still playing catch up.

The Friday after Rosh Hashanah I had an errand to run at Chelsea Market (and by errand I mean picking up done cookies at Eleni’s, my favorite nut free bakery!). Since Colicchio and Sons is just across the street I decided to buy myself a drink at the bar.

When I sat down I was delighted to find that they had my favorite beer in the world, Tröegs Dreamweaver, on tap.

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After a few sips, I realized that I was hungry. Luckily Colicchio and Sons offers pizzas that are affordable and filling. The bartender recommended the pizza with Taleggio, lardo, honey and figs, but I informed him that I was allergic to figs and went over my other allergies with him. He suggested I still get the pizza and he’d have the kitchen leave off the figs so I went with it.

While I was waiting for my pizza I talked to the bartenders about what a huge fan I am of Colicchio and Sons. I guess hearing that I’m a loyal customer prompted the always awesome staff to go the extra mile for me because a waiter came over and rewarded me with a tea cup of chilled corn soup with cucumber. OMG yum!

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And fresh baked Parker House rolls!

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And then it was time for this amazingly decadent pizza.

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Thank you Colicchio and sons for your fantastic food and impeccable service. You never fail me!

Hoboken Pilsener Haus & Biergarten

I hate Hoboken

Hoboken is absolutely awful

Last night I journeyed to the depths of hell

Last night I made my way out to Hoboken to see my friend Karen. To say that Hoboken is not my scene would be putting it mildly. The only thing that could possibly get me there is Karen, who, for those of you who know Hoboken, sticks out like a sore thumb there as she does not work in Finance and has interests other than making as much money as possible during the week while still acting as crude and immature as a college kid on the weekends by getting as drunk as humanely possible, throwing up, hooking up and then not remembering any of it the next day. Karen is actually the polar opposite of that which is why she’s the one and only thing I actually like about Hoboken.

Karen took me to the new(ish) Hoboken Pilsener Haus & Biergarten, which was really nice. (Hoboken actually has really great restaurants, it’s just the patrons that kill it.)

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We split the pretzel to start.

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For the main course Karen had the Chicken Paprikash

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And I had the Beef Goulash.

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So much like a flower can grow through trash, even in a place like Hoboken if you have great friends, good food and beer; a great night is assured.

The NoMad

So I’ve been back from Europe for a couple of days now and I’m just playing catch up. I wish I could tell you that I love being back to reality, but I don’t. Send me back on vacation any time!

Anyway, the Saturday before I left for my trip we celebrated my dad’s birthday at The NoMad, the hot new restaurant in The NoMad hotel. We’d been wanting to try it for some time and when I found out my friend Thomas, who I know from his time at another of my favorite restaurants, was now the Wine Director at NoMad I was even more excited.

Of course, as always, I’d called ahead to let the kitchen know about my allergies. After we were seated our waiter assured me that he and the kitchen were both aware of my needs and would have no problem accommodating me. Unfortunately, when I asked after Thomas I found out that he was out giving a lecture and wouldn’t return until much later in the evening. Oh well, that just means I’ll have to make another visit to NoMad!

I always check the online menu’s of any restaurant I’m going to because it gets me even more excited. I noticed on The NoMad’s cocktail menu they also serve “soft cocktails.” I love the concept because of course some people don’t drink (generally people who I have nothing on common with…) and it’s nice to have something special for those guests. Generally the only soft drinks I enjoy are water, milk and black tea, having never developed a taste for most others, but when I noticed the Basil-Fennel “Soda” on the menu, a mix of basil, fennel, lemon and sparkling water; I knew I had to try it!

Tart and delicious, but don’t worry I drank plenty of wine too!

When the waiter brought over our menus, he let me know that the kitchen would be happy to make a modification to any items on the menu, for example omitting the cherries from the pork dish or the beans from the lobster. Score! I love it when restaurants are so accommodating because I’m not being picky, I have a health issue.

After we ordered we were presented with a warm loaf of rustic bread with zucchini on top and the waiter assured me it was safe for me. Heavily flavored with rosemary, the bread was pure comfort on a plate (well wooden cutting board, but you get what I mean).

For my appetizer I ordered the Tagliatelle with King Crab Meyer Lemon and Black Pepper.

As soon as the dish was placed in front of me the amazing scent of meyer lemons wafted up to my nose. The crab was plump and sweet which paired perfectly with the acidity of the lemon and the spice of the pepper. My dad had the same appetizer and we both agreed that it was perfection.

My choice for main course had me at hello, Bone Marrow Crusted Filet Mignon! Of course I ordered it medium rare and waited for the magic to happen. When it arrived I was not disappointed. The steak was cooked perfectly and the richness of the marrow was cut by just the right amount of garlic. The dish was served on a bed of whipped potatoes that felt like silk on your tongue and one of my favorite elements of the dish were the green onions that were served whole, roots and bulb and all, and pan fried crisp. I have a weird relationship with mushrooms, not usually loving the “fancy” kind, but even the mushrooms in this dish were great.

When it came time to order dessert I reminded the waiter again of my allergies which is an important tip. Remember that the people making and plating your desserts are rarely the same as those preparing the main meal. The waiter assured me he’d check with the kitchen again and wouldn’t bring anything unless it was absolutely safe for me. Yeah!

Feeling confident I ordered the Strawberry Shortcake with Lemon Foam and Strawberry Sorbet because once I see the word strawberry I never feel the need to look further. I don’t really know how you can go wrong with strawberry shortcake and this one was top flight. Perfectly tart strawberries, buttery flaky biscuits and airy lemon foam with just a touch of sweetness.

As usual I forgot to take a picture of dessert before digging in. The problem is I’m usually tipsy by the time dessert arrives.

The verdict:
Food rating: A+
Service/food allergy accommodations: A
Overall rating: OMG