Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse

You have to love Restaurant Week. Trying all sorts of new places. Restaurant Week is what brought Fork and Knife to Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse in Grand Central Station. Now, this seems like an unlikely place to try and in an unlikely location, but Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse has had fabulous reviews so Fork and Knife thought it worth a try.

The restaurant in located on the north/west balcony level of Grand Central’s main room. When you walk into Grand Central and look around, there is nothing pointing you to the restaurant – Metrazur has a sign – Cipriani Dolci has a sign – Michael Jordan’s? You have to guess.  When you reach the top of the stairs of the west balcony, you walk into the bar area for the restaurant. Jam packed with people who do not, apparently, understand the words ‘excuse me’ or ‘pardon me’, perhaps we should have tried ‘get out of my way’. But once you push past and through the bar area you reach a small lobby with a hostess.

Fork and Knife arrived at the hostess desk together. Fork gave the name for the reservation. The hostess asked if it was a reservation for two. Fork and Knife in unison said yes. The hostess proceeded to ask Fork if Fork would like to be seated while Fork waited for a dinner companion to arrive. Fork and Knife looked at each other, raised an eyebrow and looked back at the hostess. She figured it out.

By the way, there are two 8×10 photos of Michael Jordan tucked in by the hostess desk. If you didn’t crane your neck to see them you would never think that THE Michael Jordan was the same Michael Jordan that lent his name to the restaurant.

It was 5:45. The dining room, save for one table, was empty. We were shown to a table in the middle of the room, but we asked to move to a table near the balcony railing so we could look around beautiful Grand Central Station and people watch. No problem.

As our waiter handed us our menus he let us know that the Restaurant Week special menu was only available between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Not sure why at 5:45 he felt it necessary to tell us this, but what is interesting is that this time fact is NOT mentioned on the restaurant website, NOT mentioned on OpenTable.com, NOT mentioned on NYCgo.com. What if we had made out Restaurant Week reservation for 7:30? Would we have had to order from the regular menu? Seems this information should have been available somewhere so diners could make realistic plans for dinner.

The restaurant itself is beautiful. The whole place over looks the main hall of Grand Central, without the noise. We could see the beautiful constellation ceiling, the architecture, people running to catch trains, and all from the safety and comfort of our very large table, not spaced too closely to the ones next to us.

The menu for restaurant week was not overly exciting. There were two appetizers, three entrees, and two desserts (one of which they were out of).

Knife and Fork both chose the Marinated Mushroom Salad with frisee and goat cheese. Now, from this description, one would think this was a marinated mushroom salad with some greens and goat cheese. Nope. This was a frisee salad with some marinated mushrooms and two or three little dollops of goat cheese. Now, don’t get Fork wrong, this was a good salad. Good dressing. Nice sized portion. The frisee could have been trimmed a bit so that it was easier to eat and the heavy stalky end was gone. But, certainly, the salad was better than Cauliflower Soup!

Fork and Knife both also ordered the Filet Mignon with Whipped Sweet Potatoes and Mustard Greens. These were great steaks. Really big, great steaks. Very tender. Very flavorful. Perfectly cooked. They probably didn’t rest enough from the grill to the table, when we cut into them, there was a lot of juice. Even with that faux pas, yummy. Fork is not sure the same can be said about everything else on the plate. Let’s talk about the ‘whipped’ sweet potatoes. Now those words alone make this piece of cutlery envision light and fluffy sweet potatoes. Sigh. This was not to be. The whipped sweet potatoes on our plates were really loose and runny – reminiscent of baby food – and really unpleasant. The mustard greens were just wilted. They were good, but would have been better if sautéed with more garlic or a squeeze of lemon juice.

Before Fork and Knife were shown the Restaurant Week menu, our waiter brought the regular menu to the table and Fork’s eyes were instantly drawn t0 Hashbrown Potato Pie. Doesn’t that sound amazing!? What arrived was an 8-inch crispy disk. Sadly, before Fork was able to take a photo of the entire thing our waiter HACKED into it to plate. I would have preferred to do that myself. He actually used a spoon to attempt to cut through this crispy disk. What a mess. The top was crispy and brown. The bottom was crispy, but not so brown. The center more like lumpy mashed potatoes than hashbrowns. The potatoes were really good. Nice and creamy (minus the ‘hashbrown’ lumps), a lot of  fresh herbs flecked throughout. Fork may need to try this at home.

Pet peeve – one of the bus boys came to the table and without asking reached his arm across and took my plate. What happened to, ‘Are you finished?’, ‘May I take your plate?’ Seriously bad form.

Our last decision of the night was dessert. Not much of a decision. There was ice cream (only vanilla or chocolate) or sorbet (mango or raspberry).  They made it quite clear on the menu that it was ONLY one scoop of whatever flavor. There was also cheesecake on the menu, but none was even offered as a choice. The scoop was very generous. The sorbet very good – probably Ciao Bella. There was a cut up strawberry and a spring of mint. Mint that everyone feels is part of every dessert on the planet.

Was dinner good? It was okay. The service was good, the steak was good, everything else was passable. Would I go back? Nope.

Oh, wait!! IT NOW GETS WORSE – and this is not for the faint of heart! Also, don’t be sipping any beverages while reading. We will not be responsible for you spewing liquid while laughing!

Fork and Knife decided that before the long trek home we should visit the rest rooms. Fork asked the waiter where the rest rooms were and he graciously walked us over to their location. There was a woman standing in a vestibule before three mirrored doors. The vestibule was darkly painted and there was a high counter with three wall mirrors. She opened door number one, wiped down the toilet, made sure everything was clean and straight and let Fork in – I am sure Spoon had the same experience. I am sorry if this becomes a little graphic – Put my things down, unbuttoned slacks, turned, sat, looked up and was facing the back of the door. The back of the MIRRORED door! Fork was totally stunned. Is that me? Am I that fat? Wait a minute? I am going to the bathroom and I am watching myself! Who cares if I am fat! This was so WRONG on SO many levels. It was like some psychotic porno movie! Trying on bathing suits is far less humiliating than this. Totally flabbergasted, Fork quickly concluded what needed to be done – with a certain sense of shame, I might add! – and bolted from the chamber of torture.

While waiting for Knife to finish, I realized that where these bathrooms were located was the old entrance to Grand Central Station from 44th Street. You entered onto the balcony. There were two sets of french paned doors – three, a break, three more. There was about a 7 foot space between the outside doors and the inside doors. They made two walls, tiled them, added sinks and toilets and kept the original doors. Always a fan of keeping as much original architecture and structure, the original doors are a nice touch. BUT MIRRORED – MIRRORED and DIRECTLY across from the toilet!?

Knife’s experience was exactly the same and equally as shocking!

If anyone from Michael Jordan’s reads this…..PAINT THE MIRRORS THE SAME COLOR AS THE WALLS! It isn’t as if there isn’t a mirror over the sink. Trust me, no piece of cutlery in the world wants to see that much of themselves!

Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse ~ 23 Vanderbilt Avenue ~ New York, NY ~ 212.655.2300
Michael Jordan's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Maialino

Maialino! Maialino! Let me in! Come to the Gramercy Park Hotel and Danny Meyer and his wonderous team will not only let you in, they will treat you like family, make sure you are well fed, and have you leaving satisfied and thrilled to have been part of the experience. Just in case you think Fork bent a tine, Maialino translates to little pig from Italian.

Maialino, the newest jewel in the crown of restaurant king Danny Meyer, is located in the revamped Gramercy Park Hotel. And, true to the Meyer formula, this restaurant is different from every other Meyer restaurant, but with the same painstaking attention to every detail in every inch of the restaurant, a fantastic menu, and a staff that is knowledgeable and truly happy to be there helping you through your culinary adventure.

Spoon called Fork on the fly to see if perhaps Fork was free for dinner. Really? Is that a question that needs to be asked? Meet me at 5.30. We’re going to the bar room at Maialino. Well, alrighty then, Fork will be there – with bells on.

Maialino is the hot, hot, HOT place to be, so snagging a table in the bar room is easier than a reservation in the dining room. The portions are smaller (and less expensive), but the food is still fabulous, as is the service. But, beware, the bar room fills up quickly, so the earlier you get there the better. The restaurant is booked until mid-February, you could chance a walk-in around 5:30 or just be happy with the bar room, and happy you will be!

While Fork and Spoon were trying to decide what to start with, Spoon spied slim breadsticks on the bar and scattered around the high bar tables. Spoon asked a passing waiter about them, and the waiter brought some right over. What arrived was a slim glass lined with butcher’s paper and filled with slim, crisp, cheese sticks. They were small but packed a full wallop of flavor. Bread was also brought to the table, along with olive rolls, and semolina rolls. The cheese sticks are made on the premises.

All the breads and pizzas come from Sullivan Street Bakery. Fork remembers seeing an interview with Danny Meyer once and one of the most endearing things he said was along the lines of not knowing how to do everything well, so why do it half way when he can surround himself with people who know how to do it better. Such would be the case with breads coming from Jim Lahey.

Iced tea is fresh, bottomless, and filled without having to ask, as is the water. Nothing makes a guest feel more welcome than everything being refilled and refreshed before you realize you need or want it.

Our lovely waitress Genesa was very knowledgable about the menu. Not just about what went into each dish, but how it tasted, how it played with other things we ordered. What a treat to have someone so in tune with the menu taking care of you.

We started with Panelle alla Gricia. Panelle is a polenta fritter. This polenta was narrow and then rolled like a pinwheel. Rolled inside the panelle was guanciale (an uncured italian bacon, like pancetta, made from pig jowls or cheeks), and pecorino cheese. On the top of each was chopped fresh rosemary, a big hit of black pepper, and sea salt. Fork’s first bite brought Fork back to childhood and a sausage bread that AG made all the time. It’s a wonderful experience when something you eat brings you to a happy time in your life and a piece of cutlery that you love.

Next arrived Suppli al Telefono. Lovely croquettes made with a tomato risotto and mozzarella. Crisp shell, creamy risotto, wonderful mozzarella, diced tomatoes. What a wonderful flavor combination.  Suppli al Telefono is a roman rice ball dish that when hot and pulled apart the mozzarella is stringy. Someone, sometime, thought they looked like telephone lines and the name stuck – I kid you not. And, like the Panelle, one bite of the croquette brought Fork back to being just a Forklet and a wonderful dish from young days in the cutlery drawer. I know this is repetive, but isn’t wonderful when a simple taste can bring you back to another wonderful and perfect time in your life? The croquettes are served with a light tomato sauce for dipping. But, frankly, with the tomatoes inside the croquette, the dipping sauce is redundant.

Next arrived Zampina di Maialino. Fork was not too sure about this dish. Suckling pig’s foot! Sigh. Yes, Spoon, of course, Spoon, I trust you … BUT SUCKLING PIG’S FOOT! Fork is usually game for anything, and if Spoon wants to try it how bad could it really be? But Fork still sat waiting for the dish to arrive and walk itself onto the table. What arrived was nothing that was expected, a beautiful ring of tender, luscious pork, sitting in a pool of tender, tiny lentils with slices of celery and celery leaves. Very rich, very tasty, very unfoot-like!

While Spoon and Fork were sitting quietly, contentedly munching on our wonderful selections, sipping our bottomless iced tea, we were suddenly hit with food envy! We were watching dishes being placed on the table next to us, grabbing our menu, what is that, we need that, where is Genesa?

One of the things ordered was Carciofini Fritti. Fried artichoke hearts. Little tiny nibble of tender, crispy artichokes. There is a super light coating on the artichokes before frying with some herbs. Totally yum! We were so happy the cutlery next to us ordered this dish. The carciofini was served with and anchovy bread sauce. I don’t think Spoon or Fork tried this. The carciofini was certainly a stand alone and we didn’t need the sauce – and Spoon does not like anchovies.

In between the bar room and the trattoria are a bread station on the left and a salumeria on the right. You just want to stand and stare at the goodies on both sides. The breads and pizzas are beautiful. As mentioned earlier, they come form the Sullivan Street Bakery, and as you walk past you experience a treat for the senses, they look beautiful, they smell fantastic, and you already know how good they are. Not even the cutlery who live in fear of carbs could possibly resist these goodies.

And after looking at the prosciutto and speck and salame and fabulous cheeses, Fork and Spoon had to try a sampling (by the way, this is the advantage to eating small plates). We ordered the Assaggio di Prosciutti – a trio of prosciutti, each different and completely fabulous. There is Prosciutto di Parma, this is what most people experience when they have prosciutto; salty, tender, slightly leathery texture; Prosciutto di San Daniele, buttery in texture, salty; Prosciutto, La Quercia, the most wonderful domestic prosciutto, slightly more marbled than the other prosciutti.

Now, how can Fork and Spoon possibly have an assortment of prosciutti without cheese, a 3 selezioni, but with 13 to choose from, how can you possibly be able to choose – Genesa to the rescue again.  Fork and Spoon chose the Gorgonzola Cremificato, Taleggio di Bufala and the Testun Occelli. The Gorgonzola Cremificato has a higher water content of other gorgonzola cheeses. There are less veins and more pockets of the blue. Taleggio di Bufala is a semisoft cheese made from buffalo milk, very mild in flavor. The strongest in flavor was the Teston Occelli, a hard cheese with a very pungent smell and taste. All three fabulous!

While trying to figure out what was ordered next to us, Fork spied Panini di Porchetta on the menu. This was actually the largest of the dishes that we ordered. Succulent, flavorful roast pork on ciabatta. We’ll just eat the inside and leave the bread. The crispy skin, the tender pork – but, wait, the ciabatta soaked in all the juices from the porchetta.  Well, we’ll have just a tiny bit of the bread. Maybe just a little bit more. Does Fork need to tell you the bread was gone, as was the porchetta, all that was left was what seemed like an inordinate amount of fat on the plate.

All the desserts call to you! We were very tempted to order more cheese for dessert so we could try a few more, but we really were stuffed.

We’re so full. We’re so full we couldn’t possibly eat another bite. Oh, okay, we’ll take a little peek at the dessert menu. Torta della Nonna – Grandmother’s cake – served with a lemon caramel. Flaky tart shell, filled with sweet pastry cream made with ricotta, topped with toasted pinenuts. The torta sat in a pool of lemon caramel, and truthfully, this is what drew Fork and Spoon to this dish. It was barely placed before us when fingers dipped in for a taste. Rich, deep flavor with a huge hit of bright citrus, almost to the point of being more honey than caramel in flavor. The caramel would be great over gelato too!  The pastry cream was so light. It much have been from the ricotta. The tart shell thin and crisp, standing up well to the pastry cream. Nothing worse than a soggy crust! Pinenuts, toasted, scattered on top and dusted in powdered sugar. The thought and taste of the lemon caramel stayed with Fork and Spoon for some time, trying to decide if it was too honey like and not caramel enough. The lemon was a constant goodness!

Can the happiness of a Fork and Spoon be judged by anything better than an empty plate? We think not! Whether you try the bar room or the trattoria, Maialino will not disappoint. You will leave full, happy and thanking Danny Meyer for another wonderful oasis.

Maialino ~ Gramercy Park Hotel ~ 2 Lexington Avenue ~ New York, NY ~
Maialino on Urbanspoon

Boqueria

Tapas. Little plates. Many, many little plates. A little of this, a little of that. What better way to try everything on the menu than to go to a tapas restaurant. Such is the case with Boqueria. Boqueria, and the relatively new Boqueria Soho, are owned and run by Yann de Rochefort (formerly of Suba) and Chef Seamus Mullen. Those of you who love and follow The Next Iron Chef on the Food Network are familiar with Chef Seamus Mullen.

Fork and Spoon originally intended to try the Boqueria on West 19th Street. As we suffer from the luck of the cutlery, Boqueria on West 19th Street was closed! They were having their floors redone! We were lucky cutlery this time. Spoon was knocking around in the neighborhood before we were to meet and saw that the restaurant was closed, so we were quickly able to switch our adventure to Boqueria on Spring Street.

What a lovely restaurant. Long, narrow, warm colors, open tapas area in the window, small-ish open kitchen with seating at a bar facing the kitchen. The dreaded high tables with leather stools and leather banquets – these aren’t as high as other places the cutlery has been, but still a hike. The only problem with the seating is how close the tables are to each other. Painfully close. It isn’t the noise, the acoustics are fantastic. As the restaurant filled, the noise level stayed within an acceptable range. The problem with how close the tables are is the ability to get in and out of the banquet. You can’t. Your table has to move all the way to the right and the table next to you has to move all the way to the left – and that’s only if that table is empty!

But enough about the tables! Yes, they  have iced tea! Oddly, they don’t have hot tea. The iced tea is sort of bottomless. We had 5, and paid for 3. So it must be one free refill and then another charge. Sigh.

The food is fantastic! Absolutely fantastic.

Fork and Spoon started with Pan con Tomate – grilled bread, rubbed with tomato, garlic and olive oil. The bread was thin and crunchy grilled. They have amazing bread here – Sullivan Street bakery, natch! The tomatoes are fresh and flavorful, the tomatoes soaking into the bread, not big pieces of tomato. Scent of garlic, but not a strong garlic taste. Four nice sized triangles and one olive. One olive? Really?  Now you know that you have a solid relationship with another piece of cutlery when Spoon can bite half an olive – with a pit, mind you – and hand it to Fork and say, eat this, and Fork does without thought. (Oh, stop cringing!)

Fork had experienced a miserable, stressful day and was contentedly sipping amazing blood orange sangria and leaving all the ordering to Spoon. This could have led to trouble, but everything was perfect.

The next little dish to arrive was Datiles con Beicon (sorry for the lack of picture, but photographs of dates wrapped in bacon taken by ameteurs on the fly look a little like poo and do we really need that?). Dates, stuffed with almonds and Valdeon cheese and then wrapped in bacon and then cooked somehow so the cheese is melted and the bacon crispy. Valdeon is an intense goat and cow’s milk blue cheese. Fork doesn’t like dates – well, at least not until today. It is true, bacon makes anything palatable. The date was slightly sweet. The almond lent a crunch. The blue cheese, some saltiness. The bacon, a wonderful smoky, meaty crunch. We could have has more of these, but there were so many more things to try!

Next arrived Patatas Bravas. If you try Bocqueria, order these! Totally amazing. Well seasoned, crispy potatoes. So far so great. Drizzled on top of the crispy perfect potatoes was a marvelous, creamy alioli. Not too garlicy. Just perfect. As Fork and Spoon picked a few of the potatoes from the top, we noticed a red sauce under the potatoes. Just when we thought the potatoes were perfect, along came the salsa brava. Very smokey from the paprika, slightly tomatoey, a little kick to it, and so perfectly matched with the spicey potatoes and alioli. These were quickly, done, done and done!

And along then came Pintxos Morunos. Seared lamb kebabs marinated in cumin and lemon. Perfectly grilled and served atop a thick slice of toasted bread. On top of the skewers were thin slices of onion and a great salsa verde. Tender, juicy lamb, a background hint of lemon and cumin. The salsa verde had the slightest little bite of heat to it. Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, it did. And it still gets better from here.

One of the specials the night of our adventure was Arroz con Setas – Rice with Mushrooms. Crispy Bomba rice, very creamy, slightly crispy, with porcini mushrooms. Bomba rice is what they usually use for Paella. It absorbs three times its volume in broth. That has to be what adds the creaminess to this dish. The porcini lends a certain earthiness to the rice, and the Tetilla cheese a little tang and a slight – not unpleasant in any way – bitterness. Across the top of the rice were thin slices of oyster mushrooms that had been marinated in citrus. The marinated oyster mushrooms added brightness to the dish.  This was one of those dishes that you just can’t stop eating even though you are just so full. There were just so many flavors jumping around in your mouth.

The other special Fork and Spoon had to try was Chorizo y Garbanzo. The chorizo at Boqueria is made in house. It has a wonderful flavor to it with just a bit of heat. The sliced choriso was served over garbanzo beans, a wonderful broth and rainbow chard that had been braised. The broth was incredible. Again, smokey, earthy and the happy garbanzo beans swimming in it absorbed its flavor.

Our last dish was Croquetas Cremosas. The night Fork and Spoon were there, the combination of croquetas was chicken and mushroom. Three of each. The chicken sat atop a mojo picon sauce – very garlicy, slightly smokey from the paprika. The mushroom croquetas sat in a truffle aioli that was seriously good. Each golf ball sized croqueta perfectly fried and crisp on the outside. Very tender, but crispy shell. And that’s where our love affair with this dish ended. It took one bite of each croqueta for Spoon and Fork to look at each other, but the croqueta down, and sadly shake our heads. The mushroom one was like biting into cream of mushroom soup and the chicken like – sorry, Seamus – chicken ala king. The interesting thing, though, about the croquetas is trying to figure out how they make them. It’s crispy shell and then cream-o-mushroom soup. Curious cutlery would like to know…

Too full! Too full! Make it stop. Yes, we have too muh, we need to bring some home. Our lovely waitress Sarah asked – should I bring you the check? Check? You mean without DESSERT? Absolutely not!

And there was absolutely only one choice. Fork and Spoon knew this coming into Boqueria. Churros con Chocolate!  Churros are a traditional Spanish dessert of fried dough. Many of you may have tried churros at an amusement park. Fork’s local Costco even sell them. Well, believe me, this ain’t your normal every day churro! Light and airy, crispy, rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Makes your tines tingle. Served on the side was a little pot of chocolate. It wasn’t your usual little pot of melted chocolate. This is thick Spanish hot chocolate.  Not sweet, not bitter. Just perfect. Churros con Chocolate is just that perfect little somethin’ somethin’ sweet after a rich meal.

Now, here’s a turn of events for you. Boqueria, while they have iced tea, does not serve hot tea. Huh? Doesn’t the iced tea have to come from somewhere? It certainly wasn’t a mix. It was unsweetened. Tea bags or loose tea had to be involved.

All in all this place is fabulous. Great service – especially our Sarah.  Quick. Beautifully plated. Try to get seated so you don’t have a table on either side or make your dining companion sit on the banquette, getting out from between the tiny tables is murder!

Everything is so fresh. Most things prepared right as you watch. The cold tapas is in the front window. The kitchen open for all diners to see.  With that kind of scrutiny, you know the ingredients have to be top notch, the kitchen and tapas bar immaculate and there is really something great about watching your food prepared.

OH! And we had a treat this visit! We saw Seamus Mullen in the dining room – twice! He wasn’t cooking, but checking on the kitchen. Left, came back with dry cleaning.

Boqueria ~ 171 Spring Street ~ NYC, NY ~ 212.343.4255
Boqueria ~ 53 West 19th Street ~ NYC, NY ~ 212.255.4160
Boqueria Soho on Urbanspoon

Sweet Melissa ~ Happy Anniversary to us!

For those that have followed along with Fork, Knife, Spoon and our cutlery family from the beginning, Sweet Melissa is where the idea for the Culinary Adventures of Fork, Knife & Spoon was hatched.

What better way to celebrate a year of wonderful dining, good friends and numerous culinary adventures than to return to the scene of the original crime.

Same kind of frigid night. Same sort of dilemma. Where do we go to have a drink and dessert? The answer for Fork and Knife was again simple. Sweet Melissa.

Because the baked goods change daily and move quickly, the suggestion is to peer into the case, pick what you’d like and sit. That’s the problem. Everything looks so good, how do you pick just a few things.

The staff is friendly and happy to describe different tarts and cookies. Sadly, the descriptions only make these pieces of cutlery more confused, less able to narrow down the choices and seriously wanting everything in the case.

 The pate sucree crusts that the tarts are in is absolutely second to none. They stay crisp under whatever custard or fruit or filling comes their way.

Knife picked the fruit tart. Just exquisite. So much attention paid to every detail. The custard was so creamy. Slightly sweet. The fruit very fresh and delicious. The glaze of the fruit is very light and delicate, not sickeningly sweet like many fruit tarts unfortunately are.

Fork could not decide. Everything looked so good. Suffice it to say, Fork ordered TWO  – they’re small. Really. And besides, Knife would share.

First was the Lemon Meringue Tart. Again, the pate sucree tart, this time filled with sweet and tart, lemony curd.  In the center of the curs was a perfect dollop of burnished, marshmallowy meringue.  Just the perfect amount of sweet meringue to balance the tart lemon curd.  For some reason the tart was sitting in a little pool of raspberry coulis – good coulis, but not necessary. The bites without were far better than the bites with.

The third dessert has an ingredient that Fork can simply never resist.  Sour cherries. This was a sour cherry pie with a pistachio nut crumble. Too many favorite things to pass this pie up! The pie crust was light and flakey, not soggy at all. The sour cherry filling was – well, sour. Without the pistachio crumble it would have been a little too sour, even for Fork’s liking. The crumble was crisp, and sweet and buttery, you add pistachios into that and it’s terrific.

As Knife and Fork were leaving for this Adventures, ‘The Others’ sat with sad long faces asking about them having goodies. You would think that Fork left them in a cardboard box instead of a Christmas freshly baked good laden home.

But, as Knife and Fork were paying the check, Fork noticed the beautiful cupcakes in the display case and Fork’s tines were struck with guilt and cupcakes were brought back to the cutlery drawer. Beautifully decorated, light spongy cupcakes, sweet, fluffy icing. It doesn’t get much better than that.

All in all, it has been a terrific year of adventures, with incredible adventures, shared with wonderful pieces of cutlery. Thank you for following along in our adventures, we hope you continue to join us, either through reading or actually venturing out with us.

Sweet Melissa ~ 175 Seventh Avenue ~ Brooklyn, NY ~ 718.788.2700
Sweet Melissa ~ 276 Court Street ~ Brooklyn, NY 718.855.3410
Sweet Melissa on Urbanspoon

Co. ~ the dough rises again

Fork and Spoon and our darling Salad Tongs had the pleasure of meeting up for an adventure after much too long a time. While Fork and Spoon had previously been to Co., the Salad Tongs had not, and they were Jonesing for pizza. Oh, okay, we’ll have to sit in Co., and have fabulous pizza again. DRAT!

It is annoying that you cannot sit at a table until your entire party arrives, the bar is ridiculously small and there is no place to stand. The pizza is still totally worth it.

They have added a great virtual fireplace over the pass from the kitchen to the dining room. It makes the already inviting space even more so.

We sat in a great corner table for four. The tables in the center are larger and more communal. While we are friendly cutlery, we like to be a bit private and covetous of our time together. Now, imagine this, four foodies, ZERO cameras! We have photos from our cell phones and are hoping for the best. Please no boos.

There was a special appetizer the night we were there. Brisket braised in a wonderful gingery, star anisey, no one can quite agree on the flavor profile, broth. This was delicious.  Perfect for 4 pieces of cutlery to share. Fork tender. Broth that you could have taken a loaf of bread and sat in a corner with.  We would have asked for another serving, but apparently we were served the last helping.

Our waiter must have been new. At least we hope he was new.  He may have been new to planet Earth, perhaps to Co., definitely to ever having waited tables before. He was terrible!

But even our waiter could not stop us from enjoying the pizza to come! At least we hoped so! We ordered 4 different pizzas. After writing down the order he looked at us and said… so, that’s three pies? That was the second or third such ridiculous, I-am-not-listening-to-you comment, and it wasn’t the last. Fortunately there was another waiter hovering, and he seemed to be slightly more on the ball.

So many wonderful pizzas, how do you choose? The one we wanted to try again, Sausage & Fennel, was no longer on the menu – though our waiter said it was, and then started pointing at the meat selection and the cheese selection on the non-pizza side of the menu. We just sat there looking at him a little dumbfounded – as cutlery can do. We were back to square one and choosing!

We’ll start with a Margherita. Plain. Simple. Classic. Tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil. Doesn’t get simpler or better than that. Buffalo mozzarella has such a wonderful creaminess to it. So perfect on everything. The pizza was a little singed around the edges – a little more singed in spots than was palatable – but it was devoured.

Next? Could not have the Salad Tongs at Co. for their maiden voyage without sampling the Stracciatella pizza. So yummy. Crushed tomatoes, creamy stracciatella, peppery arugula. All this and a fabulous crust too! This really is a fantastic pizza. Stracciatella is a wonderful, not well known, not nearly used often enough Italian cheese, made from torn pieces of mozzarella.  Pizza number 2 devoured.

Pizza number 3, the Boscaiola. Crushed tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, pork sausage, mushrooms, onions and chili. Sweet, spicy, savory and meaty, all in one perfect bite. This was definitely the heaviest of the three pizzas. A lot of stand alone ingredients all together on one crust. Somehow it worked very well together. You would have thought there would have been a lot of competition between the major ingredients, but they just layered perfectly together.

Pizza number 4. The unusual pizza. The pizza right out of most comfort zones. That being said, the pizza that had to be tried. Brussels & Chestnuts. Fork doesn’t like brussel sprouts. Spoon loves them. The Salad tongs are split on yea or nay. The rest of the ingredients would save it we thought, or the brussels could be picked off. Well, no, they couldn’t be! And after tasting it, they shouldn’t be. This was not your grandmother’s brussel sprouts! These were thinly shaved and paired with a lovely bechamel sauce, parmesan, buffalo mozzarella, chestnuts, lardons and onions. All together they say, HOORAY! Chestnuts on pizza, how ingenious, and paired with lardons (bacon). This really was very good. Fork may have to change thoughts on brussel sprouts, as long as Fork can have them on pizza with all these other great ingredients.

All in all this was a great adventure – the company and the food, top notch. The service – terrible.

Still no iced tea! Seems strange that you can have hot tea and hot coffee, but that the thought of a cup of tea poured over ice is out of the realm of thought.

Co. ~ 230 Ninth Avenue ~ NYC, NY ~ 212.243.1105

Zafra

It began like scenes from the movie classic Marty:

Fork: What do you feel like doing?
Iced Tea Spoon: I don’t know? What do you feel like doing?
(unrelated chitchat)
Fork: So what do you feel like doing?
Iced Tea Spoon: I don’t know! What do you feel like doing?

And around and around we went. And then Fork remembered that one of the things on a list of silly things to do was to visit Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. For those of you unfamiliar, Carlo’s is the scene of the TLC hit reality show Cake Boss.

Ok, let’s do that. Well, HA. That’s all this piece of cutlery has to say. HA! Iced Tea Spoon, Fork and about 1,000 other people all had the same idea!

The line! Oh my! The line was down the street, around the corner, down that street! People in the alley hoping to get a glimpse of Buddy. Do you see all these people? All waiting to get in! We called and one of the sisters answered, we think it was Grace, and told us the wait was THREE HOURS, Buddy wasn’t there and if we came back after the Christmas/New Year holidays, and during the week, the place is empty!

Fortunately, Fork always has something on the tines.  And that’s where Zafra came in. Zafra is an incredible Cuban restaurant in the heart of Hoboken. The restaurant is not big, but it is warm and friendly and inviting. The staff makes you feel as though you come there every day – especially our wonderful waiter Javier – who, by the way, positively gushed about the restaurant and the chef Maricel Presilla. Maricel sounds like an amazing woman – a doctor of medieval Spanish history, co-owner of restaurants Zafra and Cucharamama, and Ultramarinos, a Spanish market and cooking demo space. Let’s not forget the Miami Herald columns, cookbooks and recent trip to the White House to cook for the first family.  And while Maricel makes magic in the kitchen, her partner Clara Chaumont, makes sure everyone in the dining rooms are happy and comfortable!

Well, enough about the owners! We sat at a lovely table for 2. The tables are all covered in festive oil cloth. The walls lined with great paintings – which it turns out were painted by Maricel’s father. They have iced tea, as well as a full bar, and some very interesting latin inspired non-alcoholic drinks.  The iced tea comes in huge glasses, with huge wedges of lime, and springs of fresh mint. The tea is delicious. The tea is NOT bottomless, and the iced tea is $4 a glass.  $4 a glass! Really!? So 4 of them is $16. And the words come out of Fork’s tiny tines again – do you know how much iced tea can be made for $16! But this little iced tea inconvenience should not discourage you from enjoying Zafra, and enjoy it you will.

We wanted everything on the menu. We kept looking and pointing, ‘Oh, look at that! I want that!’ We were able to narrow it down to three Little Latin Dishes. Everything is plated beautifully. A true understanding of beautiful food being as important as great taste. Ugly food has to be seriously good to makeup for that short coming.

While we were sipping our ‘golden’ iced tea and drooling over the menu, Javier brought over a basket filled with warm, crispy cuban bread. We just wanted to dive in, but with the wonders of the menu ahead of us, we refrained – a little.

Iced Tea Spoon eyed the Chorizo Encebollado. What arrived were thin slices of chorizo, pan fried and crispy at the edges. For Fork that could have been enough, but the chorizo was smothered in golden, slightly caramelized, sautéed onions. There was a scattering of green olives – kudos for them being pitted green olives. The chorizo was mild with just the slightest bit of a heat background, we add in the sweetness of the caramelized onions, and the briny green olives and you have happiness on a fork. And to just add that bit of polish, there were thin, freshly fried plantain chips for a garnish – beats the heck out of parsley any day!

Fork chose the Empanadillas con Pebre. Crispy empanadas filled with picadillo (which is one of Fork’s favorite childhood dishes). The dough was perfectly crisp and tender. Empanadas have a tendency to be doughy and not quite cooked through and that just ruins the entire thing. What made them even better was how beautifully they were closed. They were almost too pretty to eat – ALMOST! To go along with the empanadas was a Spicy Chilean cilantro sauce. A little spice, a little vinegary, a lot perfect. Absolutely perfect for dipping the empanadas. The sauce very much resembled a chimichurri. Now, we had a little dilemma, two empanadas and a bowl full of delicious sauce. See, there’s the reason for saving the bread! Perfect foil for the dipping sauce.

The third little plate was Papa Rellena. This was a Cuban take on an Italian rice ball – but, instead of rice, there’s fluffy, light, dense (yes, both at the same time) mashed potatoes – could anything with mashed potatoes possibly be bad? The inside was filled with a generous amount of beef hash. The entire thing was about baseball sized and more than enough for Fork and Iced Tea Spoon to share.  On the side of the Rellena was an Ecuadorian aji relish. I don’t think what ended up on our plate was the relish. It was raw sliced red onions that had quite a bite to them. There was a little cilantro mixed in, but nothing that resembled a relish, and certainly what people know as an aji relish – especially since aji are peppers and an aji relish is peppers, vinegar, oil, garlic. Isn’t it terrible when the kitchen thinks diners are dopey?  Raw onions do not equate to aji relish, not no way, not no how. But the rellena was so good, who really cared about the insignificant garnish which was left on the plate because it didn’t go with the rellena? Not this Fork.

Wait, there’s more! Hard to believe, right?

Iced Tea Spoon ordered the Articuchos. Skewers of moist, tender chicken in a Peruvian marinade before grilling. Four huge skewers. Very moist, especially considering how thinly cut the chicken was. The marinade was amazing. Everything we had throughout this adventure was so perfectly seasoned, very flavorful with a little burst of heat as it hit the back of your palate. Nothing scorching, just enough to make you sit up and smile. Along with the chicken skewers was a half of a roasted sweet potato. I liked the cut width-wise as opposed to lengthwise. It gave the dish a very rustic look. There were also amazing white beans and rice. The white beans were so creamy against the slightly spicy liquid. Just perfect.

Fork ordered Ropa Vieja. Loosely translated old clothes or ripped clothes. This is a classic Cuban dish. Shredded beef and peppers that were braised in a red wine sauce.  The beef just melted in your mouth. The Ropa Vieja was served with black beans and rice. Fantastic black beans. You know how black beans that have been sitting around have a tendency to get muddy? Not these. These were fresh and fabulously seasoned and so perfect with the beef. And, again, a generous portion of each. So much attention is paid to detail, every dish so beautifully plated, even the rice.

And what would a Cuban meal be without a plantain of some sort. But how to decide between tostones or maduros. Simple, sweet beats savory – especially when the rest of your meal has a bit of spice to it. Perfectly ripe, caramelized on the outside, sweet and tender on the inside. But there is no more room! Two very full pieces of cutlery sadly looking at a lot of leftover food that was happily taken home.

The rule is, there is always room for dessert. It is one of the tenets of the Fork, Knife & Spoon philosophy.  Especially when Javier suggested the Panqueques de Dulce de Leche. How can a little crepe filled with warm, gooey dulce de leche be filling? Not possible. They were perfect. Two panqueques – one for Iced Tea Spoon and one for Fork. Very light, rolled as opposed to folded, and filled with warm dulce de leche. It was the perfect little sweet necessary after a big, heavy, spicy meal.

This place is truly amazing. The owners are amazing. The food is amazing. If you are in the Hoboken area definitely go here. Heck, if you aren’t in the Hoboken area go here. The restaurant is 5 minutes outside the Lincoln or Holland Tunnel.

Maricel Presilla is the author of The New Taste of Chocolate, delving into the history and diversity of cacao, with wonderful recipes too; as well as other books about Latin history and culture.

Zafra ~ 301 Willow Street ~ Hoboken, NJ ~ 201.610.9801
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