"They're so...nice here."
"Yeah, that's their thing."
Kathryn and I went for another round of Restaurant Week 2006 (which is more like Restaurant Weeks, but whatever) this past Tuesday at Union Square Cafe. Restaurant Week ended today so if after reading my review you decide you want a $24.07 prix fixe lunch, you...can't. I'M SORRY. SO. SORRY. STOP LOOKING AT ME WITH THOSE PUPPY DOG EYES.
Union Square Cafe easily won me over better than DB Bistro Moderne, which Kathryn and I ate at last Tuesday. (It helps that USC's website doesn't blast music; if you wanna get on my bad side, interrupt my solitude with BLARING TRUMPETS.) While both restaurants had great food, USQ felt much more relaxed and welcoming compared to DB's...uh...stuffiness and loud decor involving monsterous flowers. USC is apparently known for their extremely nice service. If you want me to remember your place, you either have to offer mind blowingly delicious food (I won't forget DB's frozen vanilla plop, nuh uh) or offer good service. Preferably, you'd have both. I wouldn't say that USC's food was mind blowingly good (not that I'd want something to be so tasty that my brain explodes upon registering the sensory delight imparted on my tastebuds...or do I?) but it was better than most food I've had and didn't disappoint. (I suppose I could say it was pleasing instead of saying it didn't disappoint, but "pleasing" sounds so...fluffy. Like a mound of puppies. ...Wait, puppies are awesome! Nevermind.)
USC opens at noon, which was the time when a gazillion people, besides ourselves, made reservations. Over the course of our meal, more people came in just to wait to eat at the bar. Popular place? Yes'm.
Ah, ain't nothing more comforting than a basket overflowing with wheat-based goods, accompanied by a slice of churned milk. I'd seriously eat that every day (maybe include some honey for when I want to be fructosified) if I didn't think that would result in a carbohydrate coma. When I was little, most restaurants I went to provided bread baskets (they were mainly Italian), thus I always expected it. These days I rarely go to a restaurant that provides a bread basket, and it's probably for the best since bread is delicious and filling. So delicious. So. Delicious...
...Dude, we should have bread bars! People can get some kind of bread medley, akin to a cheese plate, with an assortment of olive oils or other dipping sauces (check out 101 Cookbook's olive oil tasting post; I actually read the whole thing, hot damn). And they can have...cake if they want. And chocolate. And...I guess that's almost like a bakery. Damn, I'm slow.
One of the best things in the bread basket was actually the flatbread. Kathryn and I agreed that it was like a giant Saltine, but hopefully better. (Don't we love Saltines? I LOVE SALTINES. So boring, yet so tasty.) She also informed me about the existence of Saltine eating contests guys have in college. Huh? I've never heard of that before, but apparently it's fun to watch guys suffer at the anhydrous hands of simple little crackers.
We ordered a side of garlic potato chips since that's one of USC's signature dishes. The flavor was just right--not too subtle or strong, but erring more on the side of subtle. Like any potato chip, they were crispy, although I suspect if left out too long they might become limp. Of course, there's no reason they would be left out too long because YOU'D EAT THEM ALL. I pride myself on being able to eat craploads of potato chips (they were one of the first junk foods I ate coming off the raw food diet and I recall saying something like, "Jesus, these aren't potato chips, but pure crack") but I couldn't stuff these down my hole like I would while mindlessly ruffling my hand through a bag of Kettle Chips, turning my hand a nice shade of oil in the process. You should think about these potato chips while you eat them. Eat slowly. Chew. Chewing is good. These chips are good. I wasn't completely enamoured by them, but I rarely eat savory snacks so I'm not one to judge.
And out comes the appetizers (you know, after we ate a crapload of bread and potato chips). After tasting a bite of Kathryn's "Apple, Caramelized Onion & Thyme Risotto with Taleggio and Parmigiano-Reggiano" (ACOTRTPR...damn, that's too long), one word came to mind: creamy. If I could extend that to two words: uber creamy. I've never had real risotto before, but my assumption is that this was some really good risotto. Creamy with a strong cheese taste, but not in the offensively cheesy sense. Hearty cheesy? Earthy cheesy? I don't know how to describe it exactly, but it was good, so what else do you need to know?
My "Roasted Chestnut-Polenta Cake with Pancetta, Mushroom & Fris�e Salad" (RCPCPMFS...wow, that didn't acronymize very well) was new to me, as I've never had real polenta. (When I say I haven't had "real" risotto or polenta, I mean that I've had something like that from a cooking class, which obviously doesn't count because we didn't really know know what we were doing, harhar!) The triangular polenta cake had a crispy surface and soft innards (which I'd compare to something else in order to better describe it, except all I can come up with is "polenta", which isn't helpful because it is polenta. The consistency reminded me a bit of the buffalo milk yogurt I had today and thick mashed potatoes; I'm sure that doesn't help you at all) with embedded chestnut bits. Sadly, I forgot what the sauce tasted like, which means it must've been pretty subtle. I think it may have been a little sweet, but I don't remember much else. I don't know what kind of mushrooms were sprinkled atop the polenta, but they were...you know, mushroom-y. Small. Soft. Cute.
I tried a plump, juicy beef cube off of Kathryn's skewer along with a bit of the bread pudding. The pudding may have perhaps been a little too strong in the cheese department to eat by itself, but I liked it, maybe more than the beef. I like beef but would it surprise you that one of my least favorite forms of beef is in a steak? I rarely ever eat steak and couldn't even tell you the last time I had it. The beef cube was steaky. I guess if I had to have steak in any form, cubed would be optimal (because that means I wouldn't have to cut anything, bwahaha).
I was very happy with my entree; fish rarely fails to please. I suck at cooking but even I wouldn't mess up fish too badly (I once pan fried a filet but moved it around too much, resulting in less "fish filet" and more "fish that look like it got mauled by a weedwhacker"). The monkfish was unlike any other fish I had eaten, not because of the fish's flavor but because of how it was cooked. The surface was lightly crispy, almost airy, and the inside was...normal fish consistency. It was the crust that I really liked. My other favorite part were the bits of preserved Meyer lemon. They were only a few bits on the plate, but the chef obviously knew that one only needed a miniscule piece to flavor something that is comparatively 5000000 times larger. Fish bit + lemon bit = deliciousness. The lentils and rocket were fine, but it was the fish and lemon I remembered best.
I didn't try Kathryn's dessert since as you can see, it contains two Robyn no-nos: coffee and alcohol. I'm sure it was delicious...to someone without my taste buds. Kathryn liked it.
I've rarely ever eaten butterscotch pudding or blondies in my life, so this was a good opportunity to try something new. The pudding didn't have a gloppy, Jell-O style consistency, but something more like flan or creme brulee. The flavor wasn't strongly like butterscotch, but in all honesty I probably have no idea what "real" butterscotch tastes like, so..nevermind that.
I smooshed together bits of the creme fraiche with the pudding while eating it, down to pointlessly scraping down the remnants. Why do I do that? It's futile! There's nothing left! Just don't lick the inside of the ramekin...NO LICKING, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! (Don't worry, didn't lick it. I really liked the pudding, but not to that degree.)
I'm pretty sure by this point that I just don't like blondies. They're not bad, and there wasn't anything wrong with USC's blondie bits, but all blondies (that I've eaten, which I guess hasn't been very many) share one fatal flaw: they're not brownies. I don't like all brownies, but they have the advantage of boasting chocolateness. I don't know what blondies have going for them. Sorry.
So that was the end of our roughly one and a half hour lunch. While I can't say my brain exploded with deliciousness, it was really good and one of my most enjoyable eating experiences in NYC, something I'd recommend to other people. The couple at a table next to us had ordered platters heaped with fries and scary-huge burgers along with two sides of macaroni & cheese and mashed potatoes. Oh my god...I know what I'm getting next time. Who's with me? You should've seen their spread; people around them were laughing (with them, not just...at them) because of the ridiculous amount of food.
After lunch, we wandered around until we ended up at ABC Home and Carpet to check out Michel Cluizel's section of the store. I wasn't in the mood to eat anything (GASP, STOP THE PRESSES) so I didn't buy anything. I guess I'll talk about it when I get the chance to actually eat one of their desserts.
Unrelated to last Tuesday, but still on the topic of food (obviously!), last Saturday I went to Diana's house for a Cantonese Chinese New Year's Eve dinner. My family wasn't big on CNY while I was growing up, or at least I don't recall eating anything special. The culmination of the holiday's excitment was when my parents handed my brother and me red envelopes full of cash, which I considered to be one of the perks of being Chinese (I haven't figured out the other ones yet). I was happy to join Diana's family for something homecooked and celebratory, after hinting to Diana that I had nothing to do and if she didn't invite me I'd stay alone in my room, huddled in the corner of my bed, suffering from Chinese food withdrawal while nearby Chinatown was a-hopping with hoards of Chinese people, through the power of consumerism and superstition, buying loads of junk to bring prosperity and luck in the New Year.
HAHA, just kidding. I think.
There's the spread. Altogether there were maybe nine people; Diana's mum made enough food for 20. Wow.
My favorite dish was easily the steamed fish (or "FISH!@#*&!#$"). I love a good simply steamed and seasoned fish. Maybe it's the mercury.
HAHA, just kidding. I think.
I'd say more but my roommate is going to bed soon. Yes, it's about 12:30 on a Friday night/Saturday morning. Even though she won't gouge my heart out with a stick if I stay up too late, she'll probably want to, thus this is where this entry ends.