Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Black Horse Tavern - Newtown, PA

Well, tonight I had an appointment out this way, so I saw the signs for Newtown, and decided to take a ride into town to see if there was a little pub in town to grab a burger and a beer.  I have to say that driving into town, State Street, which seems to be the main drag, and all kinds of charm.  It reminded me of a little Princeton, or Bordentown, or even Collingswood.  Nice main drag with a few restaurants, bars, storefront, etc.  Very charming to say the least!

Walked in the side door, and realized there was a bar tot he left, as well as a bar to the right.  The bar to the right looked bigger, so I grabbed a seat at the bar and ordered a glass of wine.  They actually have a nice selection of wines.  Nothing crazy or over the top, no big names, but a nice selection.  I had a Napa cab, but for the life of me, I can't remember what it was, and their wine list online is not updated.

The bar had a good buzz for a Tuesday night.  Nice little crowd and people having conversations at the bar, and at the high tops surround the bar.  The bartender was friend, and quite honestly I don't think she was even old enough to drink herself.

Lots of great options on the menu, and my original thought was to have a burger.  Instead, they had a thin cut rib eye on the menu served with a mashed potato and asparagus, and I just couldn't pass it up at $20 or whatever the cost was.

My steak came out within minutes, and looked great!  Really nice char marks, and cooked absolutely perfectly.  While the steak was thin, it had a nice hot pink center.

This was a nice cut with nice flavors, but come on, who doesn't like a good rib eye?  The highlight here were the flavors from the grill.  The grill here is very nicely seasoned, with great smokey flavors that really added to the deliciousness here.  My bartender asked if I wanted some fresh ground pepper, but why ruin a good thing?

The mashed potatoes were good and buttery, and the asparagus had a nice flavor and texture to it as well.  All in all, what can I say other than the fact that I found another great little place with good, affordable food.  I'll definitely be back!  Cheers!

Black Horse Tavern
101 South State Street
Newtown, PA  18490
Phone:  (215)579-6152

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bouchon Bakery - New York, NY

What is a trip to New York without getting some delicious, baked pastries?  Well, it's a trip that is missing something!  But what is a trip to New York with a visit to Chef Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery?  Absolutely awesome!

Sure, there are plenty of people that feel that a croissant is a croissant.  There are plenty of people that cannot appreciate a good macaron, and there are even people who may not even like macarons.  But Bouchon brings pastries to the next level in my humble opinion, and every trip brings something different for me to try, and something different for me to take to go so I can bring it home and enjoy it tomorrow.

Today's trip brought on 3 different types of macarons.  First I opted for the vanilla, followed by the caramel, and finally the chocolate.  These are elegantly cooked cookies of sorts, with a nice crunch on the outside, and a soft chewy center on the inside of the cookie.  These are then filled with a cream of sort, and they are absolutely delicious.  I have to say that of the 3, the vanilla was my favorite, followed by the caramel.  Next time I need to get a few of the pistachio as well!

A trip to Bouchon wouldn't be complete without some croissants as well.  Croissants are by far one of my favorite pastries, with the buttery, flaky layers that are ever so delicious!  You can tell that they use the lamination technique here, where they make the dough, and wrap it around a giant piece of butter, folding it over and over, so there are hundreds of delicious layers.  This is definitely the case here, and what is there to say other than awesome.

Even with the regular croissants, I couldn't pass up the chocolate croissant as well, made using the same lamination technique, folded around 2 bars of chocolate.  I couldn't help but eat one of these immediately as I needed a little pick me up for the walk around the city, and as always, it was absolutely delicious!

I could probably go on for days about some of the other things at Bouchon!  From the other cookies, to the pastries, sandwiches, chocolates, brownies, etc, everything looks absolutely awesome!  Not only is choosing what to purchase a difficult decision, but being able to restrain yourself from eating everything before you get home is as well.  Today I actually did pretty well!  Cheers!  -F. Scott

Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center
One Rockefeller Center
New York, NY 10020
Phone:  (212)782-3890

Open Monday-Friday, 7am to 7pm
Open Saturday-Sunday, 8am to 8pm

Momofuku Ssäm Bar - New York, NY

If there is a restaurant in NYC that I have been dying to get back to, yup, it's Momofuku Ssäm.  From the casual ambiance to the incredible pork belly, I have been craving this place again for well over a year.  So with a gorgeous January day on the East Coast, I hopped the train out of Princeton, for a quick jaunt up to Penn.  From Penn Station, I hopped on the A/C line down to 14th Street, and then switched trains and grabbed the L train over to 3rd.  From there, it was an easy 2 blocks over to Ssäm Bar.  Such an easy trip really.

I walked in and was greeted by the lovely hostess and grabbed a seat at the counter, about 5 stools in from the door.  The service was quick, and a bus boy came over promptly asking if I wanted bottled, sparkling, or New York's finest water.  I quickly browsed the wine list in hopes that I would find a nice Rosé, and I did.  It was a 2010 Domaine La Suffrene Bandol Rosé (France, Provence, Bandol), and we'll talk about it more in another post on here eventually.

Even on Sunday, Ssäm Bar does a prix fix menu of sorts, where you chose 2 dishes as well as a dessert.  For starters today, I went with the dish that lured me here in the first place, the Steamed Pork Buns.  What is there to say about these other than awesome?

First off, do I need to say anything else other than pork belly?  I don't think so, as in my book, pork belly ranks at the top of the list, yes, even above the bacon!  Sin!  Say it isn't so!  But it is, sorry bacon!
This is cooked simply, with just some salt and sugar as far as I can tell, but the flavors are incredible.  This is served on a homemade steamed bun, with a hoisin sauce, cucumbers, and scallion.  Quite honestly, I don't think these even needed the garnish, but they did add nice flavors, and all of the elements worked well together.  But really, this is all about the pork belly and that is all that matters in this dish!  Pork belly, pork belly, pork belly!  ;-)

From here I chose the Duck Sandwich, and while this didn't blow me away like the pork belly, it was certainly tasty.  This is served on a great piece of bread, with iceberg lettuce, a spicy mayo, and pappadews. For someone who isn't a big fan of duck, this probably wouldn't entertain your fancy.  While I thought it was delicious, it isn't what I crave in duck, but having had it in one of my many prior visits, I knew that going in.  But even so, it was great, and I wouldn't have changed my mind at the after thought today even if given the chance.

Finally, I got my choice of a dessert today, and the Pear Sorbet with a pumpkin garnacha and blue cheese was calling my name.  In all actuality, I was really craving the pretzel cake truffles, but you have to make due with what was offered on the tasting pre fix.

Needless to say, the Pear Sorbet was absolutely amazing.  Nicely infused, elegant pear flavors, with a bowl painted with the crunchy pumpkin garnacha.  I figured these two would work nicely together, and they did.  The element that had me freaked ot a bit however was the blue cheese, but I have seen blue cheese work well in several dishes.  Let me say that there are not many things I like blue cheese on, but the shocked me as the different elements together worked flawlessly.  Was I disappointed in this?  Oh heck no, however, there is one thing that I was disappointed in, and we'll talk about that more below!

By this point, there were only a few single open seats at the counter.  I ended up getting to the restaurant just after 1PM, and the place was pretty full.  Tables seemed to come and go while I was there, and at one point, there was even a wait.  All the seats at the counter to my left were open, as were 2 seats to my right.  Half way through my courses, these were all full.  That being said, David Chang is still doing something right (not that I have ever doubted it), and word is still out there about this place.

Ambiance was comfortable, the service was great, the wine had a nice chill, and the food was great.  What is there to say other than what a great start to a beautiful, January, Pro Bowl day in the NYC?

As for my single disappointed, well, now that Milk Bar has opened just across the street, I didn't save any room to go there for something sweet post lunch!  But I'll be back soon enough.  From here, I hopped on the L Train again, and then walked over to the High Line for a nice walk to burn off some lunch!  And what an amazing lunch it was!

The million dollar question that everyone always seems to ask is, "How much is the pre-fixe weekend lunch menu?"  The answer is simple:  $25, and worth every penny.  Check it out for yourself, and let me know what ya think!  Cheers!  -F. Scott

Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 Second Ave
New York, NY

2010 Domaine La Suffrene Bandol Rosé

Had a glass of this today as Momofuku Ssam with lunch, and feel free to check out the review above for my full review of my lunch.

Nice salmon color in the glass with a fruity nose of strawberry, raspberry, grapefruit (really???), and citrus. Some alcohol on the nose, which seemed to blow off as the glass was emptied and this warmed up a bit.

On the palate, the first thing I noticed was the nice acidity.  Very nice fruits of citrus, some more grapefruit, and a bit of watermellon.  On the finish, some cranberry notes come through a bit, though the finish is short.

At $14 a glass, I got exactly what I expected, but you have to remember that these are New York prices, so you really can't complain.  Guessing this costs about this a bottle in stores, which makes it a realatively nice value, and cheaper than Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, though that is, and has been a favorite of mine for a long time.  But all in all, this went perfect with my lunch today.  Cheers!  -F. Scott

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Ferry House - Princeton, NJ

I have to say that it has been years since I have been to the Ferry House, so since my good pal John from my home roots in Illinois was in the area, I met up with him in Princeton, and we ventured to The Ferry House. I have had a restaurants.com gift certificate for their from Christmas of 2011, and have been meaning to use it, so tonight was the night.

We arrived at the Ferry House, and walked in to see just 2 tables seated.  The host was setting up a 6 top on the right hand side of the restaurant, and we waited for nearly 10 minutes to be greeted. Another gentleman was waiting as well, and this was his table being set up. We asked him how long he had been waiting, and he had stated just a few minutes. In the meantime, a waitress came over and asked if we had been helped, and we had sad that he was getting a table ready for us. He finally came back, and seated us. What he was doing in the meantime is beyond me as there were only 3 tables sat, and all the tables were set up. Very odd.

I looked over the menu as our waitress came over and read off the 3 additions to the menu. In past visits, I had always gone with one of the specials, but tonight nothing sounded interesting. Specials included their "signature" crab cocktail appetizer served in a martini glass, a Dover sole, a pork tenderloin, and I forget what else. Nothing overly innovative or interesting. The table next to us actually ordered the crab appetizer, and I was shocked that it wasn't even jumbo lump crab meat, not to mention the fact that it was served in what looked like a rocks glass, versus a martini glass....which really isn't a bad thing considering that was played out 10 years ago.

Poor John was having some stomach issues, and only ordered soup for dinner tonight. I started off with an appetizer of calamari, which came out in a large bowl. The calamari was breaded and fried, with a soy glaze, sweet peppers, and a pesto drizzle. The rings were nicely breaded in an Italian breadcrumb of sorts, and I am guessing that these are purchased pre-breaded and frozen. While they were tasty, there is much better calamari out there, though that doesn't say a whole lot. Calamari is calamari, and there is nothing innovative about it. Unless of course you go to Chef Luis in New Canaan, CT.

While we were waiting for my entrée and his soup to come out, we shot the bull as a few more tables filtered in. One thing I noticed was the fruit flies in the restaurant. Where are these things coming from...in January nonetheless. We both were swatting them away, and this is a bit disheartening. Is the restaurant dirty? Why are there so many of them?  It's cold outside, and this seems odd to me. I actually saw this mentioned in a thread on Chowhound recently and I didn't believe it. I can however say that this is a factual statement.

At one point here, our busboy came around behind me, grabbed the ice bucket sitting next to my chair on a pedestal, filled it with ice, and proceeded to grab the bottle of cabernet off the table and put it in the bucket.  I politely told him that it was fine on the table and didn't need to be chilled, and he just looked at me and said "really?"  I do appreciate the fact that he was trying to be helpful, but someone needs to give this young chap a lesson on wine...a lesson on good wine!  This wasn't no Yellow Tail!  ;-)

For my entrée tonight, I chose the filet mignon. When we used to frequent the Ferry House years ago, their steaks were always amazing, so I figured why not. This came out glistening and smothered in a reduction of sorts, served over a bed of mashed potatoes, 2 spears of asparagus, and topped with a tomato chutney of sorts.

The first thing I noticed was the size of the filet. For $35, I definitely expected more. As I put my knife on the filet, I noticed the rock hard crust, that was possibly from a high heat sear, or quite possible from a mediocre cut. As I cut into the steak, I could see that it was overcooked as I had ordered it medium. I probably should have sent it back, but I didn't as I was using a gift certificate, and I never like to cause a scene. While it was closer to well done, there was a small pink middle on one end of the steak.

The steak itself was tough, dry, and lacking flavor. The reduction on the steak did seem to help some, as did smearing it in the mashed potatoes. Overall, this was very disappointing, and for $11 less, I would much rather go to The Farnsworth House in Bordentown for the twin filet medallions wrapped in bacon and topped with jumbo lump crab meat, but that is just me.

Overall, it was a great night out with a good friend from back home, but the food at The Ferry House has definitely gone downhill over the years. Maybe Chef Trigg is losing motivation, or maybe Chef Trigg wasn't even there tonight. I know that his sous-chef has been with him for well over a decade, and I would definitely expect more.

In short, the highlight of the night for me was the 2008 Stefania Crimson Clover cabernet sauvignon that I popped and poured. What an absolutely stunning wine, and I cannot believe how "open for business" this wine is at such a young age. This was truly the best bottle of Stefania that I have had to date, and I look forward to many more of these.

As for The Ferry House, cross it off of my go to list in Princeton. The menu seems stale, and the restaurant needs a makeover. Call in Gordon Ramsay, and turn this back into the Princeton staple it once was! Cheers!

The Ferry House
32 Witherspoon Street
Princeton, NJ 08542
Phone: (609)924-2488

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Farnsworth House - Bordentown, NJ

Date:  January 17, 2011
Name of Establishment:  The Farnsworth House
Location:  135 Farnsworth Avenue  Bordentown, NJ  08505
Web:  http://www.thefarnsworthhouse.com/
Order:  Anything from the bar menu and one of the 20 plus draft beers!

I just wasn't feeling like firing up the stove and putting my chef's coat on tonight, so I took a little drive to Bordentown and hit up the Farnsworth House.

The beer menu here is awesome, and you cannot beat the bargains on the bar menu.  Tonight I hit up the steak sandwich with roasted red peppers, onion, and mushroom, and for $7 with fries, does it really get any better?

Great flavors and the perfect sized portion, cooked nicely on fresh, soft in the middle, crunchy on the outside bread.  Yet again another crowd pleaser, and again, one of the best meals you'll find around Central New Jersey for under $10.

My beer du jour tonight was the Avery White Rascal, which is a Belgium styled wheat ABV of 5.5%.  This would be great during the summer time, but was tasty right now too.

What can I say though, another good, inexpensive meal at the Farnsworth House.  Cheers!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Beauty & Essex - New York, NY

So from Death & Co, since we were just a few blocks away, I absolutely had to take John to Beauty & Essex!  Now, if you didn't notice Death & Co while walking past it, there is no way you would ever realize that Beauty & Essex was even here.

From the outside, it looks like an old pawn shop or antique/estate jewelry store.  But at the back left of the store is a giant door with a doorman, and once the door is open, you see and absolute vibe of a great place!  Sure, this too is styled after an old speakeasy, however, this place is done with some class!

On the right hand side as you walk in is a giant staircase.  Unfortunately, I didn't go up here to see what was there, but we were just stopping in for a drink or 2.  There seemed to be a lot of people going up and down, so who knows.

We grab 2 seats at the bar on the left before the dining room, and there were only 2 other people at the bar which probably has about 12 stools.  Opposite the bar is seating that was jam packed, all the way down the wall, with some tables, and chairs as well.  Definitely a cozy spot.

Towards the rear of the restaurant is the dining room, which looked absolutely gorgeous, and definitely had a great vibe.  There wasn't an open table that I could see, and again, considering it was a Monday, this is a good sign for the economy.  Or a good sign that this is a fun gathering place where the masses like to hang out.

As for the drinks, again, I would stay away from beer here and go the cocktail route.  I actually had a glass of Bordeaux, and while it cost $14, it was what it was in Manhattan.  The service from the bar was nice and friendly, and she was accommodating enough to take a picture for us.

The menu at Beauty & Essex looks nice, and the few entrees that I saw looked delicious.  Appetizers are from $12-$16, and entrees run $18-$52.

Looking forward to visiting for dinner one of these nights.  In the meantime, here is another fun NYC gem worth checking out!  And don't be afraid to go in...there really is a door into the speakeasy through the pawn shop!  Cheers!

Beauty & Essex
146 Essex Street
New York, NY 10002-2301
Phone:  (212)614-0146

Death & Co - New York, NY

When my good pal John Rueff sent me a text message before 6AM today, I knew it was going to be a good day, and that he was coming to town.  That said, I hopped the train to meet him for dinner, and after dinner we checked out a few places for cocktails that I have been meaning to try at the suggestions of friends.

First and foremost, if you didn't know what this place was, you would probably walk right past it.  But what is it exactly?  Is it a swanky bar and a hip place to hang out?  You bet!  Is it a small, cozy place that serves good drinks!  Oh heck yes!  Is it a place where you can grab some tapas and a snack?  Yup, it's that too!  Long story short, it's an old styled speakeasy that serves good drinks!

But that being said, this isn't a shot and a beer sort of bar.  Not in the least!  If you are going to take the time to go to Death & Co, do yourself a favor and stay away from the beer and the wine, and go for a cocktail.  The bartenders are not just drink pourers, they are mixologists, and some of them are genius!

The place itself is small and cozy, and I could see this place being absolutely packed on the busier nights.  Being a Monday, we took the last 2 seats at the bar, and stayed for a drink.

For the small plates menu, there are about 15 plates (including 3 desserts) to choose from.  Some of the winners include the Truffled mac and Cheese, served on 8 individual spoons, portioned into the perfect sized bites. 

Other favorites include the Lobster Brioche Rolls, Tuna Tartar, Crispy Pork Belly, and the Petite Filet Mignon.  Again, these are small plates, or "Bites" as I think they called them on the menu, so order several different things to tide you over.  I will say that there wasn't anything that was underwhelming in the least.

Service is also great, and the bartenders are cool.  The guy we had seemed to have a lot of liquor knowledge, and shared a story about Absinthe with us and the history of absinthe.  Interesting...from what everyone says however, order the "Saz Wha?" from Brian at the bar.  I will have to try this next time!

In short, if you are looking for a hip place to bring some friends to, or have some friends visiting from out of town, this is a good choice!  Check it out now, and remember who sent ya while this place is still on the cool list!  We'll be back for sure in the future.  Cheers!

Death & Co
433 East 6th Street (Between 1st and Avenue A)
New York, NY 10009
Phone:  (212)388-0882

Bar Americain - New York, NY

So tonight I took the train from Princeton up to NYC, to meet my good friend John from back home in Chicago for dinner.  I walked up the stairs to 7th Avenue at Penn Station, and hung a quick right to meet John at the Hilton Fashion District.  Needless to say, we left his hotel and started walking towards Times Square, so I suggested Bar Americain.

We walked in and the restaurant was packed, however, there were 2 open stools at the bar so we sat down and ordered a couple of drinks, and got some menus.   I looked at the wine list, and really wasn't in the mood for a Washington State cabernet, so I went the beer route, and had a hefewizen instead, and I think it was Pennsylvania perhaps?  Not sure, but regardless, it was tasty.

It's been a few years since Zelda took me to Bar Americain, and unfortunately, there was nothing that really jumped out and grabbed me from the menu, so I ended up ordering the Monday night special of Fried Chicken, with a side of fries.  John ended up ordering the same, with asparagus however.

The chicken came out quick, and had a great crisp to it.  It was juicy and tender inside, and had some great herb and spice flavors.  This was served with a side of a black pepper biscuits with a honey of sort on them, and these too were good.  What I really liked was the flavor from the pink peppercorn in the breading on the chicken.  This added a great element which I truly appreciated.

The fries were fries.  Nothing special about them, and frankly, they could have been a lot hotter than the luke warm that they were.  The chipotle mayo however is always delicious, and the same as what is served at Bobby's Burger Palace.

All in all, a nice bar dinner, but not sure the fried chicken was $29 worthy.  I think that Chef Capasso at West Side Gravy does a friend chicken every bit as good for half the price, but that is just me.  Service was friendly, food was tasty, and it's always good to see my boy from home.  Cheers!

Bar Americain
152 W. 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019