Bon Appétit Supper Club & Café

The Bon Appétit Supper Club & Café is a temporary restaurant set up across the street from my office. I just noticed it one day last week and by the end of this week it will be gone. Basically it is a marketing gimmick for Bon Appétit, some celebrity chefs and other food and dining-related companies. I was hoping that since it is all a marketing event that the food would all be free, but alas, it isn't: dinner, at the 'Super Club' is $125 a head (admittedly, this is for a five-course meal). Luckily lunch at the Café is much more reasonable (at least for New York): $7-9 dishes and cheaper sides and soups.

I've tried a few of the lunch items, including the Roast Beef sandwich with Marinated Red Onions and Blue Cheese, which was great. It comes on a peasant-style bread that is a nicely chewy yet crusty. Blue cheese is always a favorite for me, as are onions. I wasn't as impressed with Govind Armstrong's Tropical Rolls with Sambal, which were kind of a spring or summer roll filled with vegetables and mushrooms. I thought they were difficult and messy to eat and though I liked the crunchy texture of the vegetables (carrots, peppers, snow peas, and I think fennel), the mushrooms added an odd taste and slithery texture. Eventually the rolls fell apart before I could finish them so I mixed everything up, with the provided dipping sauce, into a julienne vegetable salad that I found easier to eat. I also really enjoyed Emeril Lagasse's Corn and Crab Bisque. It was creamy but not too rich and amazingly the vegetables in it (corn, scallions) remained fresh and al dente. There was a good amount of crab too! And don't worry, I didn't eat this all at once—being that this is across the street from my office, I've had a few chances to visit and sample things from the menu.

The whole atmosphere is interesting, though I can tell it is temporary. It reminded me of something a candidate for "The Apprentice" would put together. You can see wires taped down in some areas, and the dining room paint job is dark, and darkly lit most likely to hide anything unsightly. The walls are a dark blue, with 20+ foot ceilings and hundreds of little (2" by 6") mirrors strung from the ceiling. There are rows of high-top tables for seating that I imagine get changed out for dinner service. And at the head of the room is a kitchen are for live cooking demos. Unfortunately the demo the conducted didn't come with samples...we were just instructed to buy the cookies from the café. The café area is painted bright green, probably to make it seem larger, as it has gotten very crowded during the lunch rush. (The cashiers need to pick up the pace.)

But, finally, my hopes of marketing freebies were realized; upstairs they've got Häagen-Dazs giving away samples, along with Evian, Godiva and others. Plus you get a free tote bag if you spend more than $10, and even more free stuff if you pay with a Visa card. Who says marketing doesn't work?

This is New York City: This is Food

Visit NYC: This is food

From Gothamist:

One of the city's biggest industries is the tourism, and the city announced a major push to keep the tourists coming in. Mayor Bloomberg and other officials kicked off the "first-ever global multimedia communications campaign to promote New York City." An advertising campaign titled "This is New York City" will features outdoor posters, internet advertising and a TV spot. Plus, the NYCVisit website features ways for visitors to plan their trip.

I really like the "This is food" poster (at right) and was impressed by the dining section of the website. They've also got a cool commercial that will be part of the $30 million national advertising campaign. Looks like getting reservations at the best places is going to get even harder! Though the Wall Street Journal recently reported on "the rising influence of food blogs [that] has chefs plying Web critics with dinners and drinks to avoid bad write-ups." I'm still waiting for my call.

Bar Americain

An American brasserie, Bar Americain celebrates the foods of America with a healthy dose of the bold flavors Bobby Flay is most known for. ...Bobby combines his American menu with the energetic fast pace of the time-honored European brasserie.

This is my second brunch at Bar Americain, the first having been almost a year ago before I moved to the city. Both times though I was impressed with the creativity on the menu along with the impeccable service and expansive, elegantly designed dining room.

The restaurant is one huge room with 20-foot ceilings and kind of a 20's-style-meets-futuristic decor. Behind the bar is a massive mirror (of multiple panels) that dominates the wall, but balances with a few columns and other pieces that serve to divide the space and the cool five-foot diameter lights that hang over circular banquettes. Off to one side, you can see the kitchen and the raw bar, both things I appreciate. The whole space managed to maintain a sense of intimacy, in that I wasn't distracted by what was happening around me, yet keep an open and spacious feeling. I have yet to visit the mezzanine, which "provides an ideal vantage point for people watching with a slight respite from the bustle of the main floor below."

On to the food. From what I remember, the brunch menu hasn't changed too much in the last year, and that's fine with me: stick with what works. The menu is arranged more like a dinner menu, with appetizers, sides, the raw bar, and entrees listed, along with an selection of cocktails — with everything themed more around breakfast and lunch, than dinner, of course. There were so many dishes that were appealing, it was tough to settle on just one. Luckily I was able to taste a few others.

As I was craving Hollandaise, I ordered the Crawfish & Crab Cakes, with poached eggs and a tarragon Hollandaise. The dish was delicious, though the tarragon was a bit strong in the sauce. I almost wanted to order the Cajun Hollandaise from another dish (which looked amazing) but I didn't want to veer from the chef's choice for the dish. Another favorite at our table was the Blue Corn Fried Eggs. The menu doesn't do the dish justice: we had all passed it over until our server explained how it comes together with eggs over easy atop a large blue-corn 'chip' with chilies, black beans and crumbled cheese. I was jealous of V, who was enjoying every bite. Like this dish, others on the menu were typical of Flay's southwestern style, and they were all very original and well executed.

The Smoked Chicken Pot Pie comes in a ceramic crock with a sweet potato biscuit crust and was very fitting for the season, as it has begun to cool down. The Biscuits and Cream Gravy was tempting with artisanal ham (I wonder exactly what that means?), sausage and scrambled eggs. The previously mentioned Cajun Hollandaise comes atop poached eggs, Tasso ham, and a griddled tomato that looked amazing and also fitting for Flay's style. And the list of things I want to try goes on: an open-face omelet with peppers, mushrooms and goat cheese; Bananas Foster Crepes; and a Grilled Pizza, with smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and toasted garlic. Flay has really put together a great menu.

Finally, to top off the atmosphere and the food, the service too is top notch. Our server was friendly and attentive, he knew the dishes and drinks so well that he was able to convince several of us to change our orders. Still he knew too just the right amount of attention to give and stayed back during most of the meal, allowing us to enjoy the company and conversation at the table. Really, everything came together at Bar American for a great meal. I'm grateful to V's family for inviting me along to this and so many other great meals!

Café Boulud

Café Boulud pays homage to the food chef-owner Daniel Boulud grew up with in France and celebrates the food he loves in America. Café Boulud's dynamic menu, created by Daniel Boulud, Chef de Cuisine Bertrand Chemel, and Pastry Chef Eric Bertoïa, is divided among four headings that reflect Daniel's four culinary muses: La Tradition, the classic dishes of French cooking; La Saison, the seasonal specialties of the market; Le Potager, a celebration of the vegetable garden; and Le Voyage, the exotic flavors of world cuisines.

V's family was in town and specially selected Café Boulud for dinner after drinks at the Carlyle Hotel's Bemelmans Bar. (I was lucky the reservation was for after my class, though the restaurant was busy when we arrived, and we weren't seated until 30 minutes past our reservation.) The restaurant has an understated elegance, that in my mind was meant to put the focus of the experience on the food, not the room just as is noted on the restaurant website:

The dining room’s rich, wood paneled surfaces and plush upholstery in muted neutral tones pay homage to the elegant modernism of a 1930's Parisian rendez-vous, creating a sleek backdrop for the palate of flavors on Café Boulud’s eclectic menu. ... The space is decorated in subdued earth tones: banquettes in shades of cocoa, walls upholstered in sandy hues, ivory colored curtains, and custom wool carpeting inspired by traditional Tibetan design woven in shades of hazelnut, sage and caramel.

The menu's four different headings, plus an addendum of market specials were all so tempting it took us quite a while to each decide on what to order. There were two preparations of foie gras, lots of mushroom dishes, and plenty of seafood among just the appetizers! I ended up ordering the Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, from under the "La Tradition" heading. It was served with homemade ginger bread, roasted pear and Swiss chard. The presentation was beautiful, with the pieces of the dish stacked atop one another. The pear went well with the fattiness of the foie gras, which had a bit of a crispiness from the sear. For something I sample so rarely, this was a great execution.

The main courses were equally difficult to choose from: bacon wrapped veal tenderloin, roasted venison, rabbit "schnitzel," roasted glazed duck breast, a beef duo with short ribs and aged strip loin, plus sole, halibut and pastas. Each of the preparations was unique and fit within its respective heading.

I opted for the roasted and glazed duck breast, from under the seasonal heading. This too was served with chard as a greenery, oyster mushrooms and farro, which was kind of like a rice though it is a form of wheat. The duck was very tasty and tender. The glazed had a nice sweetness that wasn't to strong, it was nice to get a little in each bite. I also tried V's bacon wrapped veal tenderloin, which was served with polenta. "It was quite delicious," she commented. "the flavors were distinct in that the bacon didn't overwhelm the veal." I agree, though I actually thought the bacon could have been a little stronger in flavor. We both thought there could have been more polenta as it was just a small dollop under the veal.

I only got a bit or two of the Beef Duo, which V's mom ordered, but it was definitely an amazing dish. The braised short ribs were tender and so flavorful that even the small bite I tried filled my mouth with great, slightly salty, tastes. The strip loin was equally (but differently) flavorful—these flavors are hard to describe but both emphasized the meat's flavor rather than masking it with strong sauces or marinades.

To add to our dinner, the service at Café Boulud is almost too good. With several people serving us there was a little confusion about drink orders at one point, but otherwise the service was spot on. Our server was very attentive through the meal and the sommelier(s) recommended some great wines. When each course was served, a team of servers surrounded our table and on cue all of our plates were placed at once—it made for a nice effect.

Café Boulud is an excellent restaurant. The food and the service are top notch. The formal but calm atmosphere leads to a more mature (less trendy) crowd that befits the restaurant and Chef Boulud's intention of a Parisian rendez-vous. Thanks again to V's parents for inviting me along!