Lincoln Ristorante

This is what awesomeness looks like.

This is the ticket my waiter received when my parents and I had Father’s Day dinner. Matt, our ridiculously awesome amazing waiter, showed it to me after our meal. Sorry that the qualities so poor, but down in the bottom it reads “ALLERGY,” which means Matt was prepped before he even got to our table. That translates to a fantastic and safe experience for me.

Lincoln, which I believe opened two years ago, is located right in Lincoln Center which is undoubtedly one of the prettiest structures in New York. Though I rarely comment on the ambience of a restaurant (I do notice, I’m just too lazy to blog about it), I have to give a Lincoln a shout out for utilizing their beautiful location. The walls on three sides (I think) are entirely glass so you really feel like your eating in the middle of Lincoln Center. Anyway, on to the food.

As Matt stood at our table taking our orders, he reviewed the ingredients of everything I ordered with me, assuring me he’d also of course make sure the kitchen was aware of all of allergies. Having a waiter who could run through ingredients with me and who was so attentive already put me at ease before a bite of food entered my mouth!

This definitely amused my bouche!

After ordering, a food runner brought an amuse bouche to our table and explained that these were toast rounds with a mushroom, herb and goat cheese mixture. As I’ve said before, restaurant often forget about food allergies when it comes to the amuse bouche — well not so much forget as one station forgets to tell the other– so I eyed the amuse nervously when I noticed our waiter, Matt, nearby. I called him over and he assured me that they were safe for me and that the kitchen was aware of my needs and wouldn’t send anything to the table that I couldn’t eat. Upon hearing that I excitedly grabbed for my goat cheese mushroom toast and found it to be delicious. I loved the earthyness of the mushrooms with the creaminess of the goat cheese.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover

Next it was appetizer time. It’s soft shell crab season here on the east coast, a time that makes me very very happy! During the summer months blue crabs shed their hard outer shells leaving them “soft shelled,” which means you can eat right through the shell. I know that many people outside of the east coast have never seen soft shells and are a bit freaked out by the concept, but they are really delicious. The mean inside is, at it’s best, plump and juicy and the shell is really easy to chew through with just the slightest bit of crunch.

Left: mom’s prosciutto with artichoke mustard
Right: dad’s quail with barley, bacon, pickled currants

Lincoln served their soft shell crab tempura battered with pickled green tomato, cucumber, red onion, celery and tomato mayonnaise. It was basically like eating a northeastern summer on a plate. Though the crab looks heavily battered, the coating was so light and crispy with a hint of butteryness that highlighted the plump juicy crab inside perfectly. The vegetables were bright and crisp with just the slightest tang from pickling.

This is sexy food

The most frustrating part of my whole meal came early on when I had to order my entrée, the problem; too many awesome things to choose from! OK, I’ll admit that’s a great problem to have. With some helpful suggestions Matt  I decided on the Strozzapreti Neri Alla Puttanesca; squid ink pasta with shrimp, olives, caperberries and anchovies. Puttanesca is one of my all time favorite pastas and this was basically a crazy kicked up gourmet version. I wish I had the words to describe this dish.

Left: mom’s steelhead trout with polenta
Right: dad’s mixed seafood with fregola

The squid ink pasta itself was incredible. The pasta had such a fantastic texture I hesitate to use the word chewiness which might lead you to think that the pasta was undercooked and tough or over cooked and mushy, but the pasta just had a great feeling on your teeth. The sauce had a nice kick of heat with plenty of acidity and brightness from the tomatoes and that great salty kick of olives, anchovies and caperberries. The shrimp were fresh, meaty and perfectly cooked. I could eat this pasta every day and die happy.

Oops!

Fun fact- strawberries are my favorite food in the entire world. As much as I love going out for these artful meals and experimenting in the kitchen myself, if you simply brought me a giant flat of the freshest juiciest (organic and locally grown of course ;)) strawberries I would be yours forever. So you can imagine that when I saw the ricotta cheesecake with macerated strawberries, black pepper crema and strawberry sorbetto I looked no further. My dad shared it with me and shared some of my mom’s Zuppe Inglese with raspberries and lady fingers too. Matt informed me that there was usually something with almond on the dessert, I think maybe the crumbs underneath the sorbetto, but the kitchen would simply replace it with vanilla for me. Love!

Right: mom’s Zuppe Inglese, rapsberries, lady fingers
Left: 2008 Vintage Turnina to accompany the meal

When the dessert came I had a moment of panic, as is common with people living with food allergies, but Matt assured me that the kitchen had taken care and it was vanilla and not almond on my plate. Feeling reassured, I couldn’t wait and dived right in and ate and ate and ate, until there were two bites left and I remembered that I hadn’t taken a picture. Sorry! The cake was so light it pretty much floated in to your mouth. The strawberries were perfectly sweet while the cake had just a touch of sweetness so they played off of each other perfectly. For someone who is not a huge sweets eater and has a take it or leave it attitude towards chocolate, this is pretty much my perfect dessert.

Petit freaking fours for me!

Once our dessert plates were cleared, a food runner brought over a plate of petit fours and placed it between my parents. I found this really considerate since all I heard was walnut this and peanut that. I wasn’t paying much attention since I never eat the petit fours out of concern that they haven’t been vetted for me, when I noticed Matt coming towards me with a silver platter. He’d brough out special petit fours just for me! Some kind of caramels that were amazing (seriously I could’ve eaten a bag full) and a bite sized buttery raspberry crumb cake. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever eaten petit fours before because no ones ever brought me “safe” ones before.

 BEST. WAITER. EVER.

Seriously I wish that I could clone Matt and have him as my waiter at every place I eat!

As a broke ass non-profit do gooder I only go to these fancy joints when my parents are paying, but the food, service and atmosphere were so divine at Lincoln that I’m thinking of going back to grab a drink and an entrée at the bar. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Lincoln Ristorante and to Matt especially for making this allergic to everything gal’s experience so special!

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

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Sweet Cheeks Q (Boston)

Barrrrbercuuuue!

Last week I had to be in Boston for work all week and conveniently one of my besties wedding showers was on Sunday so I stayed all through the weekend. It was an exhausting trip (though spending the weekend with some of my besties was awesome), but left me with some great food experiences because, as you may remember Massachusetts has awesome food allergy legislation that let’s me eat there with very little worry. Love!

My friend Nadira and I traveled to Boston together arriving around dinnertime on Monday. Having worked in the morning followed by a 4 hour train ride we were tired and hungry. We quickly dropped off our things and headed out to a nearby BBQ joint, Sweet Cheeks Q. The restaurant, which is fairly new, had been recommended by several people before our visit, but it wasn’t until we got there that I found out it was owned by Tiffani Faison, a finalist on Top Chef season one!

Don’t let that little one fool you, she is hot hot hot!

When we arrived all the tables were full, but the hostess informed us that we could sit at any of the counters along the window and would still get waiter service there. How cool! We chose seats, got comfortable and studied the menus as soon as our waiter handed them to us. Our waiter explained to us that Sweet Cheeks is a true Texas style BBQ which means everything is dry rubbed and you put the sauce on yourself. There were 3 sauces in front of us, Sweet Cheeks barbecue sauce, a HOT habenero sauce and a Carolina style vinegar based sauce.

House Bill 819, not your mama’s ice tea

Normally I’m not a big cocktail drinker, preferring beer or wine, but when the waiter recommended the House Bill 819, Nadira and I both decided to order one. The House Bill 819 is made from tea infuse whiskey with mint, lemon and simple syrup and, like all the drinks at Sweet Cheeks, are served in a mason jar. The drink was strong and delicious.

Pretty much a perfect meal

For our dinner Nadira and I both chose pulled pork on bulky rolls. For $6 more you can get one “cold scoop” side dish and one “hot scoop.” I went with the mac and cheese and sour cream potato salad and Nadira went with the potato salad as well and the barbecue baked beans. I had given the waiter my allergy card earlier and he went to check with the kitchen after I’d ordered. Our very sweet waiter returned to our table and told me that the kitchen wanted me to know that the food I ordered was safe, but since they do use a lot of the foods I’m allergic too they might be “in the air.” I politely replied, “But none of the things on my allergy card are in what I ordered and you segregate ingredients in your kitchen right? OK, than I’m good”

Mini-rant time: While I appreciate their vigilance let me clear up two misconceptions. 1. Reactions to airborne food allergies is extremely rare. Most of us with potentially life threatening food allergies can be near those foods with no problem, we just can’t eat them or touch them (and even touching them, if you immediately washed your hands would likely only trigger itching/swelling/hives and not anaphylaxis though I’m not picking up a handful of nuts anytime soon). 2. Again I truly appreciate that the restaurant is trying, but obviously if I’m eating at a restaurant, any restaurant, I already know that there are ingredients I can’t eat “in the air.”

A little while later our trays emerged from the kitchen and did not disappoint. O.M.G. I don’t even think I have the words to describe how good this was! The mac and cheese and potato salad were delish, but the pulled pork was the star of the show. It was everything you want in pulled pork; sloppy, juicy, meaty and slightly smokey. Nadira and I are both big fans of spicy food and the habenero sauce was not for the faint of heart. Neither of us had much interest in the Carolina style sauce instead dousing our sandwiches with the flavorful barbecue sauce which packed a little kick and then carefully adding a few drops of the habenero sauce (even for spicy food junkies this stuff was lethal!).

Heaven, otherwise known as butterscotch pudding

We both finished about half our trays and asked for the other half wrapped since we had a refrigerator where we stayed. We were stuffed yet somehow Nadira, who weighs approximately 15lbs, can somehow always find room for dessert. As you know I’m not a huge dessert person and even though when waiter described the butterscotch pudding with salted caramel top to Nadira it sounded like my perfect dessert I insisted I wasn’t having any. Then the waiter brought out the dessert and informed me that he’d double checked with the kitchen and it was safe for me and after that, and Nadira’s chiding me to split it, how could I resist?

The dessert came in a half sized mason jar which made it the perfect petite dessert to split. The pudding was smooth and creamy and not cloyingly sweet. The caramel on top was gooey, sticky perfection and the flex of sea salt played perfectly with its sweetness. I’d consider selling a kidney for that dessert. We left fat and happy with Nadira vowing she’d return on Thursday night before she left to go back to New York. Nadira does not make idle promises…

I forgot to take a picture before we dove in

On Thursday, after our day of meetings, Nadira headed back to Sweet Cheeks and Kate (yes vegetarians can sit in bbq joints) and I, who both had dinner plans later, joined her for a drink. Nadira ordered another pulled pork sandwich, Kate got the House Bill 819 and I went with a cocktail again, the Dollywood which was a mix of vodka, lemon cordial, lemon juice and sparkling wine. I forgot to take a picture of it, but I loved it even more than the House Bill. A few sips in Kate suggested she and I get a couple of biscuits with honey butter. The biscuits were enormous and neither of us could finish them which was sad because they were crazy amazing. A little crusty on the outside and buttery, soft and fluffy on the inside.

On Friday, after all of my meetings were over, my friend Heather picked me up so that I could stay with her and her husband Justin for the weekend. While we were talking I mentioned Sweet Cheeks which Heather and Justin hadn’t yet tried. We had tickets to a Sox game the next day and, after hearing my description, Heather requested that we go to Sweet Cheeks for lunch beforehand. That’s right people, I was there 3 times in one week! Does that say something about how amazing this place is? I didn’t bother with pictures at lunch, but I once again had the pulled pork with mac and cheese and this time coleslaw, Justin had the brisket on Texas toast with two sides and Heather had the ribs with two sides. Heather and Justin loved the food as much as I did and I made them promise me we could go back every time I’m in Boston.

The verdict:
Food rating: A+
Service/food allergy accommodations: A-
Overall rating: Made me want to lick my plate in public!

Colicchio and Sons Tap Room

I cannot believe how far behind I am on blogging! I ate at one of my favorite restaurants, Colicchio and Sons, two and a half weeks ago and I’ve only now had a chance to sit down and document it.

Colicchio and Sons is owned by one of my favorite celebrity chefs and host of Top Chef, Tom Colicchio. The restaurant itself is divided in to two parts, the formal Dining Room in the back and the less formal and less pricey Tap Room up front. I’ve eaten at the Tap Room 3 or 4 times and it never ever disappoints. Not only is the food amazing, the service is impeccable and it’s one of the restaurants that keeps my food allergies in their computer so I don’t have to go through the list every time I call and the wait staff is already prepped before I get there.

I had made plans with 3 friends who had never been there before and I was excited for them to have their first Tap Room experience. My friend Nadira and I work together so we travelled to the restaurant together to meet Janet and Paul who had arrived just a few minutes before us and were standing at the bar. I checked in with the hostess and headed to the bar to greet the rest of my crew when I did a double take in to the dining room because what to my wondering eyes should appear? My dad was having dinner there with a friend of his! Though my mom knew I’d be eating at the Tap Room that night she hadn’t mentioned it to my dad so it really was pure coincidence. My dad, who works in the city, had apparently called his friend Ed at 3pm and asked if he wanted to grab a bite and they picked the Tap Room.

We had a good laugh and then I went back to the hostess station to be seated and guess where our table was? Yup, you guessed it; right next to my dad and his friend. They were already being served appetizers when we sat down so we didn’t overlap with them for too long, but it was still a crazy funny coincidence.

To start, we shared a plate of raw oysters (yum!), but I forgot to take a picture. Upon my dad and personal wine guru’s suggestion we ordered the Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon for the table which did not disappoint.

When I’m on my death bed I’d like Tap Room bone marrow as one of my final meals. Please remember that.

I love bone marrow! It’s one of my absolute favorite foods and Tap Room probably makes the best I’ve ever had so I get it every time I’m there. I know some people think the idea of it is disgusting, but I can’t understand why eating muscle (ya know like what meat is) is any less gross than eating bone marrow. Bone marrow has a buttery texture and an earthy flavor and is heavenly. Tap Room used to make a version with “Drunken Onions,” but are now serving it with anchovies, another of my favorite foods. Nadira and I shared an order and we both went crazy for it in all it’s marrow-y perfection, but I do think I slightly prefer the older preperation. Either way though I was a happy happy girl!

You know you want me, you know I want you.

For my main course I ordered the ricotta cavatelli with short ribs with tons of ooey gooey cheese baked on top. Do I really have to tell you how that was? I mean come on it was like eating pure comfort! The weather that night was miserable and rainy and this dish was like being wrapped in a warm blanket. It was so hearty that I could only finish half and I intended to take the other half home, but I was having fun talking to my friends and I forgot to ask the waiter. I was so upset after we left and I realized I hadn’t asked for my left overs which just means I’ll have to go back soon!

As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge dessert person so I only get dessert when there’s something that I feel like I can’t live without so while the rest of my crew decided to partake in some sweets, which they raved about, I finished off with a cup of tea. Here is my only complaint, which is something I dislike in many restaurants, they bring your tea already steeped. I drink my tea very week so I prefer to make it myself because by the time it comes to me it’s usually already way too strong. Still it’s a minor complaint in an all around great experience.

The verdict:
Food rating: A
Service/food allergy accommodations: A
Overall rating: Made me want to lick my plate in public!

Restaurant Loi

Greek food how I love you, let me count the ways. I love you for your tomatoes and your olives; I love you for your feta and I love you for your lamb and seafood. So many of my favorite foods so often incorporated in to your dishes, how could I not love you?

We do Mother’s Day dinner on Saturday night instead of brunch on Sunday at a restaurant of her choosing. This year she chose Restaurant Loi, which we’d been talking about trying for a while.

Maria Loi, chef and owner of Loi, is considered the Martha Stewart of Greece having a successful television show and many cookbooks. About a year and a half ago Maria decided to take on the big apple and opened a restaurant two blocks from my apartment –  score!

I called ahead, as always, to let the restaurant know about my food allergies. The hostess who answered had several food allergies herself. We joked that we should compete to see who has more and she assured me she’d make sure the chef and waiter knew. This is exactly how every hostess should deal with calls about food allergies; take it seriously, but be warm and put me at ease. When we arrived at the restaurant and checked in the hostess informed me that she was the person I’d spoken to and I’d be well taken care of.

Stuffed grape leaves

 As an amuse bouche we were served Maria’s award winning stuffed grape leaves with yogurt dipping sauce. The amuse bouche and the complimentary bread are usually where restaurants fail on food allergic dinners. As is common, the amuse and bread were put on the table without anyone reassuring me that they were safe for me. I could’ve asked our waiter to check, but I didn’t bother. My parents said these were amazing though. 

Spanikopita

For my appetizer I had the Spanakopita, spinach pie, which is one of my favorite Greek dishes. It was probably the best Spanikopita I’ve ever had between the perfectly crisp , buttery phylo and the soft, flavorful spinach and feta filling. I could’ve eaten a pan of this. My mom raved about her Phylo Wrapped Shrimp with Pomegranate Sauce and my dad loved his baked Gigante Beans.

Seafood orzo

 Since I’d started out with one of my Greek favorites, I decided to continue the theme and my dad and I both order one of my go-to Greek dishes, Seafood Orzo. Again, this was probably the best version of this dish I’ve ever had. It was a mor subtle and refined version of a Greek comfort food classic. The spices were slightly differnt and so delicious and all of the seafood was super fresh and perfectly cooked. My dad loved his too and my mom said her Lamb with Lemon Potatoes was fantastic.

Mom’s lamb dish

When it was time for dessert the waiter told me that the kitchen thought the flourless chocolate cake would be the only dessert safe for me. I really don’t like flourless chocolate cake (way too chocolatey for someone like me who isn’t a big chocolate eater) and I was stuffed already so I just had a cup of tea. The service was lovely and showed true Greek hospitality (most of the staff is in fact Greek) and the best part is that at some point in the night Maria Loi herself came out of the kitchen to greet each table. I had met her once before when I had a drink at the bar and both times I was struck by how warm and accessible she is. I will definitely be returning to Loi! 

Greek wine

The verdict:
Food rating: A
Service/food allergy accommodations: A-
Overall rating: Made me want to lick my plate in public!

Otto Enoteca Pizzeria

Full disclosure, this is probably the 15th time I’ve eaten at Otto so I already knew what to expect.

Otto is owned by my number one most favorite celebrity chef, Mario Batali. I mean I really love Mario Batali, like I’d say I love him like I love a Kardashian and, trust me, that is the truest form I love  thatI have to offer. In case you’re wondering how Mario Batali feels about me (and really how could you not be wondering that), sadly we haven’t met yet, but I feel 100% certain that if we did he would love me as much as I love him and invite me over to his place to share a delicious meal with his family. Obv.

I’ve had the pleasure of eating at two of Mario Batali’s very expensive restaurants, Babbo and Del Posto, as well as two of the more moderately restaurants inside his fabulous Italian food market, Eataly. Otto, however, is my favorite go-to spot and I was back there again this past Friday.

The food at Otto is always great, they are fabulous with food allergies and the prices are super reasonable.  Otto was the first restaurant that started keeping my allergies on file in their computer system. These days many restaurants do that, but I’ll still never forgot that second time I ever made a reservation at Otto 3 or 4 years ago and, after typing in my last name,  the reservationist calmly said, “and I see you have the following allergies,” and proceeded to read all of my allergies back to me! Now whenever I walk in my server and the kitchen have already been prepped. How awesome is that!?

I often start out a meal at Otto by sharing a cheese plate with my dinner companions. Since there were 5 of us on Friday we went with 5 cheeses. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it, but I assure you it was great. The best part of the cheese plate though is that you get the most awesome bonus accompaniment of truffle honey. Nope you didn’t read that wrong; Truffle Freaking Honey!

I make you want to lick the plate, but you can't because you're in public and you're mother raised you better than that.

The main menu at Otto consists of pizza and pasta only and I have to sheepishly admit that I’ve gotten the same pizza all but two of the times I’ve eaten there. Both times I’ve strayed my choices have been delicious and I’ve taken enough bites of other people’s dishes to know that the Otto kitchen rarely misses, but I still hate to stray from my Romana pizza.

All the pizzas at Otto are thin crust roman style, topped with  variety of fresh, and often seasonal, ingredients. The Romana, aka my perfect pizza, is topped with tomato sauce, anchovies, capers, chilies and mozzarella. The chilies are nice and spicy which pairs perfectly with the tang of the capers and the brineyness of the anchovies while the creamy richness of the mozzarella cuts right through those strong flavors and keeps them right in check.

Table for five.

I am the perfect pizza and I'm drunk with power; all other pizzas must bow to me.

When dining at Otto for the first time, I always warn everyone that it’s imperative that they save room for dessert. Otto is famous for their gelato, especially their Olive Oil Gelato. I know that Olive Oil Gelato sounds weird at first, but once people try it they’re usually converted. Think about really good olive oil you’ve had in the past. I don’t mean the bottle of Filippo Berio you have in your pantry for every day use, I mean the kind they give you at a great restaurant to dip your bread in. The kind that is light, floral and a tiny bit sweet. At Otto they’re using the good stuff in their gelato.

I must admit though that the Olive Oil is only my second favorite flavor. My favorite gelato at Otto is the Caramel which is not overly sweet, but has more of a complex burnt sweetness to it, similar to the top of Creme Brule. Per a past suggestion from a waiter, I usually ask for a side of sea salt to sprinkle on top to make it Salted Caramel Gelato!

Of course I had already started eating by the time I remembered to take a picture.

As always the meal at Otto was great. We only had two glasses of wine between the five of us and the meal cost $40 each. $40 at a celebrity chef owned retaurant in Manhattan is like giving the food away.

One other awesome thing to note about Otto is that if you’re gluten free for any reason they can do all pizza and pasta’s gluten free.

The verdict:
Food rating: B+
Service/food allergy accommodations: A
Overall rating: Super Yummy

Restaurant Marc Forgione

Last night my parents and I went out to celebrate my mom’s birthday. At the birthday girl’s request we dined at Restaurant Marc Forgione. I had already set my mind to blogging about the experience and so took pictures of every course however, I didn’t pull out a pad and take notes instead choosing to enjoy the meal and my parents company.

To that end I’m realizing that my restaurant reviews are going to be mostly lots of pictures and one or two sentences about my overall experience because I’d rather enjoy my meal while I’m eating it.

Our meal at Restaurant Marc Forgione was amazing from start to finish. When we sat down our waitress simply offered us ice water which leads me to believe that they only offer bottled water upon special request. As I am fiercely opposed to bottled water so this immediately scored points in my book.

I’d called ahead, as anyone with food allergies should do, and told them about my dietary restrictions so the waitress was already aware of my needs when we walked in and assured me that the kitchen would take good care of me.

Perfect dinner roll type bread; crunchy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside served with caramelized onion butter.

After we placed our order we were given an amuse bouche. Mine was different from what my parents were offered since there’s had something in it that was unsafe or me (it looked like maybe poppy). I was given a ceramic spoon with a “One Bite Caesar Salad,” which involved molecular gastronomy too complicated to explain and literally burst in your mouth, next to a bite sized burnt orange square that was some heavenly spicy/sweet carrot creation. unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture.

Before the appetizers were served the waitress came to ask me if I could have soy sauce. I told her that I couldn’t, but I’d happily choose another appetizer. The waitress told me not to worry, the kitchen was happy to leave the soy sauce out and this was my reward:

Chili Lobster. Chunks of perfectly cooked lobster in spicy broth with buttery toased bread to soak it all up.

I ordered the filet mignon and short rib combo for my entrée. The picture came out a bit dark, but it was cooked to a perfect medium rare which is the most cooked that I will ever eat my meat. My theory is if it’s not mooing it’s time to eat.

Filet mignon, short ribs, bread pudding. The steak just melted in your mouth.

Along with our meal we sipped on a delicious Syrah.

2009 Domaine Yves Cuilleron St. Joseph Les Pierres Seches

I’m not usually that much of a dessert eater. I mean I like a sweet now and then, but I’m more of a savory kinda gal. Sometimes though, I have a dessert that makes me rethink my position on sweets and this was one of those times.

In addition to not having much of a sweet tooth, desserts can be difficult with my food allergies so I was thrilled when the waitress brought us our dessert menus and told me she’d already checked with the pastry chef and listed which desserts would be safe for me. Of the desserts she named, she recommended the S’mores tart telling me it was her favorite. I took her advice and man am I glad I did because it was amazing!

S’mores Tart with Toasted Marshmallow ice cream. Chewy/gooey/sticky texture. Pretty much perfect.

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