Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Big Apple Bites: Le Barricou, Brooklyn

Never order "the special." 

How many times have I heard Hubmeister utter that sage advice?  Several years and culinary letdowns later, I finally listened to him.  

Commonly known to people who have worked in restaurants, "the special" evolves from leftover or surplus ingredients the chef doesn't want to pitch, or it's a creative experiment that's being tested and tweaked before landing on the main menu.  When you take the plunge into "the special" pool, you might sink or you might swim.  And you might ask yourself, "Do I feel lucky tonight?" 

Unfortunately for Daughtress, she drowned in disappointment on our dinner visit to Le Barricou in Brooklyn. 

Daughtress currently lives in Brooklyn and wanted to give us a tour of the local scene in Williamsburg, so we ventured out of Manhattan.  Taking out my trusty Zagat Guide to New York City Restaurants, I flipped to Brooklyn and chose this French spot, which earned "very good to excellent" scores for food and decor, and also seemed reasonably priced.

Lest you be put off by my bold introduction, allow me to interject that I really liked this place.  The ambiance was charming and intimate, offering a romantic setting for couples -- and we saw lots of them.  A few candlelit tables were located outside the entrance, but because of the heat, everyone chose to dine indoors. Occupying a long, narrow space in a row of aging urban storefronts on Grand St., this cozy French bistro features a front room with a pretty dark-wood bar on one side and a smattering of tables on the other, and an adjacent dining area that stretches toward the back of the building. 

Ours was not the best table because we were sandwiched in a corner between the bar and the front window, and the wait staff had trouble serving us.  We ordered a bottle of Macon-Lugny white Burgundy, and Hubmeister was charged with putting it on ice and refilling glasses because the servers couldn't get to the bucket.  It was also uncomfortably warm inside, but I'll cut them some slack because the city was experiencing temperatures that I imagine might be found in Hell.

The oppressive heat was probably what drove Daughtress to select not one, but two specials:  a cold Cucumber Soup and a salad of Grilled Watermelon on Mixed Greens.  The soup was passable but a bowl of it was overkill, and the salad was a disaster.  The taste was off balance and she barely touched it.  The watermelon was devoid of sweetness, so any type of sweet and salty flavor contrast was missing.  The fruit possessed an unpleasant char and the dressing contained a mysterious ingredient that everyone at the table disliked.  It was a choppy night in the Sea of Specials, as Daughtress tried to stay afloat by sharing her parents' entrees. 

Hubmeister ordered a tasty and creamy Vegetable Risotto that he enjoyed, but I confess that I am the only family member who enthusiastically recommends trying this place.  I apparently made the best choice:  Coq au Vin.  Chicken falling off the bone and luxuriating in a delectable red-wine sauce was served over a heaping serving of some of the best mashed potatoes I have had anywhere.  The whole dish tasted as if it were lovingly prepared by a French grandmere.  This was comfort food defined, a perfect stew to order when there's a chill in the air. 

Pre-entree, both Hubs and I ordered house salads of mesclun dressed with Dijon vinaigrette, and they were fresh, bright and clean-the-plate good. We also reached a few times for the bread basket, which consisted of lovely baguette slices.

I would return to Le Barricou, but I am a sucker for rich, slowly cooked French food and an authentic Parisian bistro atmosphere.  Hubs could take or leave this place, but, really, how many vegetable risotto entrees are going to knock your socks off?

Will Daughtress give Le Barricou another try?  Probably not. 

Will she order off the standard menu from now on?  Do kids ever listen to their parents? 

Note:  No charge cards accepted but ATM on site.

Verdict:  Inviting neighborhood cafe.  Stick to the tried and true dishes.


Le Barricou on Urbanspoon


Monday, August 8, 2011

The Big Apple Bites: Adrienne's Pizzabar

If only a walk down Wall Street would bring some luck.  With so many uncertainties these days, there is one thing I know for sure:  If I were a NY trader right now (or probably any time, for that matter), I'd be drowning my sorrows on nearby Stone Street in the plethora of pubs and eateries flanking it.

Restaurants line the aptly named Stone Street.

If it weren't for the heat wave, dining al fresco may have won us over.

At the top of my list of hangouts would be Adrienne's Pizzabar. 

In a city that could be paved with pizza, you take note when you see this sign posted in a restaurant's window:

Named "Favorite Place to Eat Pizza"  by The New York Times?   Or how about these accolades:

Zagat rarely lets me down.

After enjoying the pizza at Eataly, I felt compelled to try it. 

Not your mama's pizza joint.

Like Eataly, this modern-looking establishment features Neapolitan pizza.  Sitting at the bar watching soccer on TV, and placing our order with the Italian bartender, we fell happily into the European vibe.  Service was somewhat aloof and there was a bit of confusion with Daughtress' order, but it was quickly remedied. 

What did I care?  My attention was focused on one thing and one thing only:

My 10-inch round of love.

Pizza Napoletana.  It tasted as good as it looks. 

The tomatoes were fresh and bright, the crust charred and crispy yet a tad chewy, and the garlic shavings and basil provided just enough seasoning.  It was an OMG moment.  Sorry Batali and Bastianich, this pizza reigns supreme.  I also saw several people consuming a thin-crust square pizza that looked favoloso


Adrienne's Pizza Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Big Apple Bites: Chelsea Market

After writing that last post about crummy museum food, I thought I'd tell you about foodster heaven over at Chelsea Market.

Chelsea Market is colorful, and quite handy if you are searching for green cactus pears. 

I loved this place.  First of all, this section of Chelsea proved one of my favorite areas of the city. With its red-brick buildings and neighborhood charm, it's a pleasant spot to wander.  It's also a perfect fit for a marketplace teeming with bakeries, restaurants owned by Iron Chefs (Morimoto), kitchen shops, produce markets, fresh seafood stores, delis, creperies, coffee bars, spice and nut vendors, and an assortment of other interesting food and merchandise targeted at foodoids.  Last but not least, it is home to Food Network, which is why you may have seen some of the purveyors in the market featured on Food Network programs. 

A welcome respite from the blazing inferno outside, Chelsea Market is a cool indoor food cave housed in a restored biscuit factory.  What?  No wonder I like it.

With several locations throughout the city, Amy's is a wise place to spend your bread.

A winding brick promenade led me straight to Amy's Bread, where I sampled a savory black-olive twist and the biggest sticky bun you've ever seen.  Good?  Are you  kidding?  The yeasty specimen had to be 4 inches tall and oozed with yummy, buttery caramelization.  I detected an ingredient not usually present in sticky buns, possibly maple syrup or molasses.

Bakery voyeurism.  Huge panes of glass invite nosy foodies to peek.


Amy's Bread in Chelsea Market on Urbanspoon

Next up:  Sarabeth's Kitchen.   Hubmeister and Daughtress sampled the pain du matin (translation:  bread of the morning) and a cheese-filled pastry. 

Folks enjoying the fruits of Sarabeth's Kitchen.

Meet the lovely Daughtress as she peruses the goods at Sarabeth's.

Sounds of "mmmm" resonated throughout the quaint little shop as the Food and Loathing family made their presence known.  Sarabeth's had several people sitting around drinking coffee and noshing on sweets in its pleasant little environment, but I understand it tends to pack 'em in.  I appreciated the calm.


Sarabeth's Bakery on Urbanspoon

A strong gravitational pull was drawing Hubs to Dickson's Farmstand Meats, a place boasting homemade hot dogs, but clearer heads prevailed and the estrogen-fueled members of the family yanked him away.  If Son of Hubmeister had been with us this trip, I know I would be reporting about those dogs right now.

Before I forget, I must mention the fresh -- as in still breathing on the crushed ice -- softshell crabs at the Lobster Place Seafood Market.  Boy, did they look good!

We arrived at Chelsea Market mid-morning, which was ideal, because the lunch crowd was piling in when we left for the next stop on the food train, Eataly.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Big Apple Bites: Petrie Court Cafe

How in the world did we end up hungry at a museum? It's an amateur mistake. With a gazillion restaurants in New York City, the last on my wish list would be one located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  But there we were, Hubmeister the Museum Freak and myself, hungry at 2 p.m. in a phenomenal museum, the fantastic bagels we savored that morning having faded into a happy memory.

As bad luck would have it, the Zagat-rated museum restaurant with the great view of the city, the Roof Garden Cafe, was closed due to the over-100-degree temperature, which left us with the choice of the cafeteria or the Petrie Court Cafe.  We picked the latter.

Floor-to-ceiling windows (right) provide a clear view of Central Park.

Petrie Court reminded me of an enormous, upscale hotel ballroom.  The clanking of dishes, waiters rushing about.  It's certainly nothing to write home about in the looks department, unless you are partial to monochromatic color schemes.  It is bright and airy, thanks to the great wall of windows overlooking Central Park.  Other than that, meh.  No warmth.  Lots of white and very museum-y.  Some people might like it, but it's not my thing, and we didn't have the benefit of window seating.

Capitalizing on its captive and hungry audience, this place zaps its clientele's wallets for the meals.  A Croque Monsieur is around $18.  Looked good.  I saw a lot of them go by.  But is a ham and cheese sandwich worth $18?  Yeah, I know.  It's New York.  Whatever. 

Immersed in this haughty atmosphere, I adopted the "When in Rome" mindset and ordered Traditional High Tea ($24).  

At High Tea, I had high hopes for the scones (top).  Read on.

The cinnamon spice tea was very nice; the little sandwiches - egg salad, a mini-croque monsieur (missing from photo because I grabbed that first), cucumber, and chicken salad (I think, I can't remember) - were fine bites, as were the dessert petits fours and raspberry tartlet.  The poppy seed cake stood out in flavor and texture.  I could have consumed a very large piece.

So much for the positive.  The rolls before the meal were terrible.  I had never seen people salt their bread   until this day, when I witnessed two patrons nearby take the salt shaker and do just that.  I was amazed when I saw the first person do it and astounded by the second.  This city is loaded with some of the best bakeries on the planet, so Petrie Court has no excuse for serving dry, stale-tasting rolls.  To make matters worse, the butter was served almost frozen, which prompted me to thaw the paper-wrapped pats under my hot tea cup to make it the least bit spreadable.  Yup, reminded me of hotel conference food.

Here's the topper, not only on my list of criticisms but also on my tea presentation:  the scones.  If you read my blog, you know I am a biscuit nut.  I make them.  I eat them.  I am obsessed with them.  Seeing the pretty scones perched atop the tea service at other tables cinched my order for traditional tea.  I was in New York City and I figured these scones had to be good.  These were not scones.  These were an embarrassment.  I can't even describe to you my disappointment, except to tell you that I started laughing as I tried to cut one in half and this is what happened:

To call them hockey pucks would be complimentary.

Hubmeister was still hungry after scarfing his entree salad topped with chicken, so he actually ate the scone fragments that exploded across the table. That should also tell you something about portion size. 

FYI - The bill was $71 (including tax and tip) for the tea service, a salad and a beer.  For that price,  I expect an exceptional lunch.  It was not.  We should have checked out the food trucks outside the museum and grabbed a quick bite on the steps.

Verdict:  Tourist trap.  Never travel without protein bars.


Petrie Court Cafe and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon