Archives for posts with tag: restaurant

When you really love a restaurant it’s kind of just as inexplicable as really loving a person. They’re nice, they’re witty, they love you… no one single big ol’ reason; you just love them. Black Cypress; love. Levys, Larkins, and Lopez; love. We can’t really sort out exactly why we like Black Cypress so much, why it’s more than worth the 15 minute drive across the state line, it just is. The food is good, and not like good for small town good, really dang good. And the space is intimate and just dark enough, there’s cool decor but not too much cool decor, the waitstaff is cool enough that you admire them but no so much that you fear them. They use amazing bacon from our friends’ pigs, they make dinner rolls that are better than you’d believe existed. I had braised pig trotters there last time; so good I almost cried. Ok, so, maybe I do know why I love Black Cypress. It is good. Good with no caveats, no sometimes. The same way that I love these people.

Kate has been telling me for ages that I must see Big Night, and finally, I’ve seen it. (And loved it.) It’s a sweet foodie movie about two Italian brothers running a restaurant, one back of the house, the other front. Primo, the chef, is heartbroken by the general American ignorance of real Italian food; he and Segundo’s restaurant on the brink of ruin while the glitzy spaghetti and meatballs, fake opera singer joint across the way flourishes. An opportunity for them to save the restaurant with a famous customer throws the two into preparations for the ‘big night,’ the namesake feast. They have a dreamy kitchen, high and open with a grand stove and butcher’s block at its center, copper pots dangling and clanging overhead, salamis hanging from the walls, baskets by the door overflowing with fresh leafy produce. The day leading up to the big night, the kitchen is full of helpers, chopping and stirring and sauteing with great anticipation. Flour and eggs and oil are transformed into smooth sheets of pasta, tomatoes turn into simmering sauces, a majestic timpano is carefully crafted. The big night itself is a ridiculous feast, the table a temple to food, its worshipers swooning with bliss by the last course. I’ll leave the rest out, so you all will have to watch it for yourselves. (And brace yourself for the perfect loveliness of the last scene. Might have squeaked out a few tiny tears.)

And of course you can’t watch this movie without jonesing for Italian food. And that combined with homesickness resulted in a deep, real need for meatballs. (My mom makes the best meatballs on earth, if you weren’t aware. Coming home to momma meatballs is perhaps one of the best feelings ever.) And then combine that with an aversion to reading The Aeneid, and you get caramelized fennel and onion, focaccia-crumb veal balls. Veal was the same price as pork at le Whole Foods, and fancy food gives me joy, so. Really good meatballs resulted. Patiently caramelize fennel and onion while watching 30 Rock, dry out focaccia in toaster oven, combine all with egg and oregano. Reflect on the sweetness of Big Night. Enjoy.

Wedged between a cabaret club and a tango bar, Le Pigeon is loud, their own light indie music blend supplemented by the competing base beats as well as the sounds emitting from the open kitchen at the center of the small space. Waitresses with tall hair and red lips, their forearms tattooed, marking them as Portlanders, weave between the three long tables, delivering foie gras in multiple forms. Decorated with funky found bits like porcelain owls and old chalkboards, Le Pigeon appears to be a casual neighborhood restaurant, the wood tables left uncovered and the bread plates a mismatched assortment of old saucers. But a look at the menu hints otherwise, and the food itself tells an entirely different story.

Met with the options of duck meatballs, sweetbreads, crab sausage, and foie gras in just the first half of the menu, it’s clear that Le Pigeon is more than just a hip neighborhood spot flinging out bowls of pasta. Unable to resist the slightly politically incorrect delicacy, we ordered the foie gras and the duck meatballs. The foie was beyond perfection, the strange piece of meat atop a tiny crumpet, crowned with orange mushroom marmalade. Done exactly right, the foie had the slightest crust that held up as the rest of the bite dissipated into fatty bliss, countered by the tangy marmalade. The duck meatballs were also good, though felt inevitably lackluster next to the foie despite their wreath of sliced black truffles.

After a completely one-sided discussion of how good the foie was, and a debate as to whether or not to just go ahead and get another, our entrees thankfully arrived, resolving the issue. The two men at the table got hanger steaks; described by the waitress as the cut that the butcher traditionally saved for himself. Hanging from the end of the ribs near the kidney, it gleans some of the rich flavor of the kidney, making it a more complex piece of meat than most. Marinated in soy and fish sauce, the steak had the surprising quality of sushi or carpaccio, the rare meat in the center delightfully flavored and delicately textured within the char of the outside.

Two of us got the lamb, prepared two ways on each plate; two chops cooked sous vide and a cube of lamb shoulder terrine. Cooked in a sealed package in temperature-controlled water, the sous vide method allows the chef to get meat to an exact temperature all the way through. Usually chefs sear sous vide prepared meat to give it the same look and variation of cookedness of traditionally prepared meat, but the men of Le Pigeon left them char-less, something I loved, relishing the intact flavor of the meat, and my mother hated, missing the diversity in texture. The terrine was excellent, less overwhelmingly rich than my previous terrine experiences, and paired with a mint pesto and tiny heirloom carrots in a delicate yogurt sauce. The last dish was a pan-seared snapper sitting atop a butternut puree, pleasing although perhaps less exciting than the other dishes.

The first part of dessert was a cheese plate: a soft simple goat cheese, a bit of Ossau Iraty, a sheep cheese, and a wedge of Bethmale, a delectable sheep and goat combination cheese, alongside persimmon ginger chutney and sesame crackers, devoured with delightful fingers. The second part was a goat’s milk panna cotta (If panna cotta is ever on a menu, I have to get it. Clearly.) aside a pomegranate granita and bee pollen shortbread, topped with a few glittering pomegranate seeds. The panna cotta was just the lightest bit goaty, tangy enough to make it interesting but still simple and milky, as panna cotta should be, perfect with the icy granita and crunchy cookies.

Le Pigeon is a special place. The chefs clearly love food, love their food, making its preparation the centerpiece of the intimate space. The atmosphere is at once cozy and enlivening, as the food is simultaneously un-intimidating and impressive.

(Written for Independent Study Project at NCF, p.s.)

Funky donut shop on 41, full of old men having their morning donut and coffee at a cracked linoleum bar. Heavy potato flour donuts, chatty proprietors. Asian tchotchkes. Apple-packed donuts. Good.

Once the coffee shop people started giving me the funny “are you homeless or do you really have this much homework” look, I scooped up all my scribbley papers and scuttled across the street to Yume Sushi to meet the other two A’s for dinner. Starving me had (really good) miso soup and (pretty ok) gyoza while everyone else patiently waited for their meals like big kids. Alex had fried rice, Ariana an assortment of pretty rolls, Anne a bunch of little bits and pieces because I like marking a lot of boxes on the fish form. Flying fish roe (which I think I really freaked out Alex by eating), spicy tuna (my favorite), regular maguro, and “sweet shrimp,” which I’d never had before. Usually shrimp sushi is cooked (training wheels sushi), but this was raw and really quite good (and accompanied by a decorative bug-eyed, antennaed tempura-d prawn head, always fun). And the tuna was awesome, I just tried not think about it too much- sorry Greenpeace. Pretty good sushi, pretty good little sushi bar. Full of misplaced Ringling hipsters and confused ancients trying to be cool, eating their sashimi with knife and fork. Even complete with the chatty posse of sushi dudes behind the bar, smacking around knives and rolling up delicate little crazy-named rolls for the masses.

Plate of sushi, boat of sake.

And after dinner, A & A finally agreed to go to White Berry (knock-off Pink Berry, yes) with me, much to my delight. I’ve been wanting to go to the overpriced, mod little yogurt joint all year, and Coldstone always wins out. But at last, I got my plain-and-green tea swirled yogurt with blackberries and fruity pebbles, which I happily  devoured, perched in my little space-age orb chair in the shockingly pink shop.

Possibly the best meal of my life. Five stars. Happiness. Joy. A twenty minute cab ride with a chatty Peruvian chef-by-trade, taxi driver-by-necessity brings you across the bay from shiny South Beach to the darker Miami Design District. A bright neon sign directs you to Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, a loud shadowy dining room with a bright bustling open kitchen at its heart. Date night types and important looking suits alike fill the place, alongside the hip beautiful people you imagine as the citizens of Miami. Lit primarily by big red fabric boxes hanging from the ceiling, the restaurant is New York-dark, and New York-packed. Waiters and their posse of assistants swirl around the restaurant, refilling water glasses with prettily repurposed wine bottles and explaining the unique menu.

Rather than apps, salads, and mains, Michael’s menu is organized like a clothing rack- small, medium, large, and extra large. Smalls and mediums are about equivalent to apps, a large a main, and an extra large either a shared plate or a very (very) ambitious main. Wanting to try as many of the enticing little dishes as we possibly could, the Larkwoods decided to get a smattering of smalls and mediums and share the whole lot. Excellent plan. After some good crusty bread, dishes started pouring out of the close-by kitchen, our little table overwhelmed by plates. Three perfect oysters (Dad’s favorite thing on this planet), mind-blowing mussels in a smoky tomato sauce with forbidden rice, lamb meatballs with feta that tasted exactly like Morocco, a warm smooth baked double yolk egg with salty cheese and crunchy sourdough toast, a salad of beets and meaty quartered heirloom tomatoes with creamy blue cheese, the most heavenly linguine topped with a sauce of shredded short ribs and handmade ricotta, an insane hunk of charcoaly grilled octopus with big beans and greens, and simply sliced okra broiled with salt and pepper.

This sublime smorgasbord all arrived in a ten minute span. I very nearly cried. Everything was so so so good. Not one thing was the tiniest bit off. The short rib stoked sauce melded with the soft ricotta into the most perfect pasta amalgam ever created. The meatballs made me feel like I had ducked into a little tiled restaurant off the Fes medina. The octopus had one of the best textures I’v ever experienced, coupled with this ashy summery charcoal taste, perfect on top of green olives and beans. The mussels themselves were heart-warmingly good, but the harissa tomato broth possibly even better. I wouldn’t let the waiter take the bowl till every last grain of forbidden rice had been fished out, every bit of broth sopped up with bread crusts. And all of this eaten with an eye on the kitchen, wrapped around the dining room and almost all in view, the Michael’s crew finishing their plates right by the bar, throwing pizzas and chickens in the big brick oven, carefully crafting perfect desserts right by the wait station. And… Seeing my five-pound camera, our charming waiter asked the kitchen if an over-excited little girl could perhaps take some pictures in the kitchen, to which they said yes! Trembling with happiness and excitement and fear, I scooted past the invisible dividing line between regular schmucks and kitchen gods and shakily snapped a bunch of pictures of the makers of my amazing meal. And after that, as if it could possibly get better, we got dessert.

 

 

Maple flan with a creamy cap, a tiny gingerbread ice cream sandwich, and a sweet poached pear. “A tent, a house, and a boat,” Dad said. Perfectly architectural and perfectly heavenly. (I’ve said heavenly about six times in this post.) Sweet smooth maple flan with this dense creamy topping, like Vermont and French heavy cream had  lovely lovely baby. Next to a smidge of spicy gingerbread ice cream sandwiched between crispy gingersnaps. Oh, heaven. Finished with chai tea for Annabelle, sweet German wine for poppa, happiness all around. A perfect meal. No food envy, no trying to describe a devoured dish, instead everything shared and tasted together. At Michael’s you see your kitchen, you see your cooks, you watch them make your meal, you think of them while you eat it and love it and share it and revel in it. The camaraderie of a home meal and the appreciation for the kitchen captured in a restaurant is something special.

P.S. all film shots, still learning.