Saturday, July 03, 2010

Dinner at Piattini

While watching "Best Thing I Ever Ate" on Food Network, Josh and I saw a segment with Donatella Arpaia raving about the gelato at Piattini. Since most restaurants we see on the show are located elsewhere all over the country, we figured we had to try this place because it's in our neighborhood in Brooklyn. Reviews on Yelp were very favorable, touting the service, great food, and perfect gelato.

We walked the twenty-some blocks to get there, and I was taken aback when I saw the front of the restaurant was completely empty. Bad sign. But the small dining area close to the swinging doors of the kitchen was nearly full. When we asked to be seated, it seemed like they had no idea what to do with us, and it took three different people coming by to tell us it would be a minute, that there's one table left. Half the restaurant was empty, but we got the ONE table left right next to the swinging doors to the kitchen. I was going into this with very high expectations based on the reviews and what I saw on Food Network, so I started worrying even more.

We had our menus, and finally placed our order. The bread was excellent, warmed on a grill with toasty grill marks to add texture. We had some issues with having water in our glasses. It appears that they were woefully understaffed due to the holiday weekend, or just didn't want to have more staff. We had to ask a couple times to have our water refilled. We got our appetizers quickly, Josh with his special of black figs with prosciutto. I got the baccala and potato pancake. While my pancake tasted good, I don't think it was worth $8 for one small patty half the size of my palm. Josh's saucer of freshly sliced prosciutto and two cut up figs was priced at $10. Our main courses arrived quickly as well. I had a spaghetti with spicy squid ink sauce and cuttlefish. It was great, just enough heat. Josh had the bucatini with pork jaw bacon and tomato sauce. Like mine, the pasta was perfectly cooked, having absorbed some of the flavor of the sauce, and the bacon wasn't too salty, and thinner than I expected (not in a bad way). I actually liked his dish more than mine!

For dessert, we shared pistachio gelato con brioche, basically, two scoops of gelato in a brioche bun. Very simple, but very delicious. The gelato was very good, some of the best I've ever had, but not by far, and the price tag of $8 was surprising. I was expecting $6 at most because we weren't eating in Manhattan. I've had gelato nearly as good from restaurants like Scuderia and Giorgione's.

So I think I need to go back to Piattini on a non-holiday weekend and see if the service is any better before I write it off entirely. The food was excellent, but pricey.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Salted Caramel Brownies

Yesterday, this recipe was posted on The Pioneer Woman. As soon as I read Ree's entry, I knew I had to make them. I love fleur de sel caramels and pretty much anything with the sweet/savory combination. My friends and I wound up deciding on having a pizza lunch at work at the last minute and bang! There's my excuse to make these brownies and bring them into the office!

A couple notes on the recipe:
  1. It says to bake the brownies 25 to 30 minutes. After 25 minutes, I pulled the pan out, and it was still wiggly. Upon wooden skewer test, the pick came out coated in raw batter. Clearly not ready, and it wound up taking about 37 minutes for me to get the brownies where I wanted them, moist crumbs clinging to the skewer, not completely clean. My oven temperature is accurate, thanks to the oven thermometer I go by. If the brownies were supposed to be liquid when I pulled them out of the oven, then I didn't notice any problems with how long I baked them because they were still chewy and fudgy in the end.
  2. I looked at the original recipe posting from Charlotte and it had 3 TBsp of gelatin required. A lot of reviewers commented that the caramel was extremely rubbery due to the huge amount of gelatin. I can see why Ree altered the recipe to just 1 TBsp + 1 tsp gelatin. Ree didn't mention putting the brownies in the fridge to set, as the other recipe said, so I popped the brownies with caramel topping into the fridge for about an hour. I tried to slice them at that point and it was a HUGE mistake. I have very sharp knives, and when I ran the knife across the brownies, it dragged chunks of brownie and strings of caramel with the blade. I gave up and put the brownies back in the fridge overnight. In the morning, it was perfect, so easy to cut. Because the flavor is so rich, I cut them into 1 inch squares, like petit fours.
These brownies taste divine. Bake them!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Post-Wedding Photo Shoot

Josh and I scheduled a post-wedding photo shoot back in January, setting it for a day during Josh's spring break. We felt that we didn't have much time to take formal photos with the craziness of our schedule and Josh's wish not to see me in my white dress until I walked down the aisle. By the time the ceremony even started, it was full dark outside, so we didn't have the opportunity for outdoor pictures.

We were so lucky with the weather today. There were a few snags on the way to the shoot, the big one being Josh forgetting his wedding ring, but luckily we weren't too far away from home to turn around to get it.

Josh had wanted to take our engagement pictures in Central Park, and I wanted to take them in Grand Central Terminal, and we couldn't agree, so we wound up doing them in Battery Park instead. For this photo shoot, we figured we'd go to Central Park so Josh would get what he wanted several months ago. We started the shoot at Bethesda Terrace, one of the prettiest attractions in the park, and ended with a shoot on a crosswalk outside of the park, with our photographer practically standing in traffic. I didn't realize that the cherry blossoms were already blooming, so we got to take some gorgeous pictures underneath a stand of them.

I think we got some really great pictures. I can see why a lot of couples do their formal portraits before the wedding. It was nice to take our time, and not have to worry about getting to the 120 guests waiting to spend time with us.

I also didn't have to worry about keeping my dress clean for a ceremony, because it was already done!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Chicago: Day 4

Lake Michigan

We started our day with lunch because we slept so late (the bed was so much better than sleeping on a floor, and I needed to catch up on lost sleep from the past couple days). We set out to tackle the two remaining food goals on Josh's list: Chicago hot dogs and Chicago deep dish pizza. First, we headed over to Portillo's Hot Dogs. My cousin had warned us that there would be more condiments than hot dog in a Chicago hot dog, and he was right. A standard hot dog, for less than $2.50, comes with mustard, relish, chopped onions, sliced tomatoes, pickle, and sport peppers on a steamed poppy seed bun. It was a messy meal, but very, very delicious!

After that, Josh and I walked up the Magnificent Mile, which is really just like Fifth Ave in NYC, lined with stores that have way-too-expensive products for sale. We went up to Giordano's for pizza, but the place was PACKED. Absolutely insane. There was no way we were going to wait that long for pizza when we had dinner reservations at 6. So we swung over to Gino's East, figuring it wasn't as popular as Giordano's, and hell, there was a LINE to get INSIDE. So we called in an order to Giordano's and walked around until the pizza was ready (about half an hour because it's so deep). We picked up our small pizza, which weighed a few pounds at least, and brought it back to the hotel to eat. After all that anticipation, we thought it was going to spectacular, but it turned out to be very disappointing. The best part of the pizza was the sauce. The cheese was this very thick layer under the sauce and so bland. The crust was very thick, but not tasty. I thought it was a dough lasagna.

Dinner was at Roy's Hawaiian Fusion. They're not just in Chicago, and actually have locations all over the country. I had the prix fixe, and the best parts were the appetizer and dessert, not that the short ribs were bad, in fact, they were extremely tender and yummy. The ahi tuna sashimi was amazing. It was umami on a plate, sweet and savory and salty all at once. It was so so good. I could have eaten six plates of the stuff. The dessert was a strawberry cheese cake with kaffir lime essence. The crust was amazing, and the cheesecake was so light. Josh had the Alaskan halibut, which came with a vegetable roll. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing spectacular either. I thought my meal was better!

And so ended our culinary adventures in Chicago. We had a really great time, and the city and its people were so incredibly kind. The architecture of the historical buildings we saw was gorgeous (see above). We had the nicest bartenders and servers at all the restaurants we dined in, and we would be happy to eat and visit Chicago again!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Chicago: Day 3

We spent the second half of our trip to Illinois in downtown Chicago, staying at the Hotel Sax in the River North area. The hotel was really great, a boutique establishment with fantastic staff and lovely decor. We booked our room through Priceline and got the lowest price, the "run of the house" rate, which meant that we didn't get to choose what type of room we got. We would be assigned any room that happened to be available. When we got there, we were going to be placed in a room on the sixth floor, but the clerk changed it to a higher floor with a river view without our asking. After a couple days of sleeping on the floor, a real bed was a very welcome sight for us!

We took a walk in the lovely warm weather that afternoon to scope out the area, and walked by Frontera Grill, only to find a line of a at least 30 people waiting for the restaurant to open. Josh didn't want to wait for a table yet because he wasn't hungry. We went back to the hotel, and Josh didn't feel hungry until nearly 7:30, which meant a 2.5 hour wait at Frontera. We put our names down and went to check out Roy's Hawaiian Fusion in the meantime, figuring that if there wasn't a wait at Roy's, we'd go there and try Frontera the next day. The wait at Roy's was an hour, so we went to a great wine and cheese bar/restaurant called Bin 36 in our hotel. They had an extensive cheese list, with prices starting at $2, and a great wine selection. A couple bucks would buy you a tasting of the cheese, enough for two people to split. It's not a lot of cheese, but if you want to try a bunch of cheeses, it's better to stay small and spend your money on a variety. There's a wine market inside the restaurant too, so if you like a wine, you see its bin number in the menu and find the number in the market, where each wine has an information card that you can take with you to remember for the future.

We wound up waiting just under two hours for our table at Frontera, and managed this by taking seats at the chef's bar, which is pretty much a bar in the area where food gets picked up. You don't actually see much cooking, and we did not see Rick Bayless either. Aside from that, our experience was excellent. You get a little dish of assorted roasted/spiced nuts (bottom left pic) and they're so wonderful. Spice, with a little kick, but no lingering burn. We ordered three appetizers, the Flautas de Carnitas de Puercocrispy (rolled tacos filled with Maple Creek pork carnitas, caramelized onions and black beans), serviced with spicy tomato-arbol chile sauce and arugula salad; Trio Trio Trio (a tasting of three ceviches: blue marlin, tuna, and shrimp & calamari); and Tostaditas (warm, just-made tortilla chips) served with two salsas (garlicky three-chile and roasted tomatillo with serrano and cilantro). They were all tasty, and generous portions. We did not come close to finishing the chips, and I wound up taking them back to NYC, and they were still crispy and tasty a couple days old.

For our entrees, Josh had Pato en Mole de Xico: red-chile rubbed Gunthorp duck breast with Xico's famous fruity, dark-chile mole served with Gulf-style white rice (studded with plantain and raisins), quick-cooked spinach, and plantain tostada (pic on left). I had Tacos al Carbon: wood-grilled chicken sliced and served with roasted pepper rajas, two salsas, frijoles charros, guacamole and homemade tortillas (pic on right). It was the first time we had mole, and it was fantastic, a mix of sweet, smoky, and savory flavors perfectly balanced to turn into a totally new taste.

For a celebrity chef who commands lines down the block for tables, the pricing wasn't bad at all. The bill came to $110 for all our food plus the three cocktails we had. We didn't have room for dessert because we were so stuffed!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Chicago: Day 2

Our second day in Illinois started with brunch at a place called Wild Berry. They had these decadent dishes, such as strawberry cheesecake pancakes. I wasn't feeling like having something really sweet, so I got a skillet dish instead. It was really good, and Josh tried to be all slick, telling the waitress to bring him the bill at the end, but everyone heard him and started the "who's paying the bill" argument way early. In the end, I grabbed it and we wouldn't let it go.

After brunch, we took a walk around this large park/nature conservancy. If you're a resident of the county, your party gets in for free, but if you're from outside it, you have to pay $5. It was really gorgeous and sunny that day. However, the sun tired Josh out and he took a nap when we got back to my aunt's place. He napped for about four hours. My cousin and I went to Gurnee Mills, once famed as being a two-mile long outlet mall. It has changed since we last went there, and it's a hybrid of regular mall stores and outlet stores. I got a good deal on sunglasses at the Banana Republic outlet (Josh and I were squinting rather terribly at the park) though.

We went out for Chinese food that night, which turned out to be very mediocre. The regular chef was on holiday because of Easter and they were very short-staffed.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chicago: Day 1

My cousin's baby girl and a gigantic remote that is probably intended for the near-blind.

Josh and I took a trip to Chicago to visit my relatives and his friend from college. We planned to spend the first two days of our trip staying with my family and the last two days of our trip staying in a hotel in Chicago to see some sights and hang out with his friend while accomplishing some specific food goals.
  1. Have a Chicago hot dog
  2. Have Chicago-style pizza (NOT from Uno's, because those are all over the country)
  3. Have steak from a steakhouse that is local to the Chicago area
  4. Have dinner at Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill
We wound up accomplishing goal number 3 our first night in Illinois. My aunt and uncle took all of us to The Backyard Steak Pit in Gurnee. Apparently, my dad really liked this place when he visited a couple years ago, saying it was as good as this other place (the Corner House) we used to go to when my relatives lived in Wisconsin.

I ordered a ribeye steak, medium rare, but I think it leaned more towards medium. Josh's hickory-crusted bone-in ribeye steak was perfect though. The steaks did come with accompaniments, and it was a very casual place. I didn't think it was the best steak ever, but it was a pretty good deal for the price.