The Stanton Social – LES, New York – Sunday 26 October 2014 – Brunch

Croque Monsieur Satays

Croque Monsieur Satays

Brunch is a completely different meal over here in New York than the all day breakfast that is the norm of Melbourne. For starters, The Stanton Social doesn’t even open until the very civilised time of 11am, which happens to be about the time we normally go for breakfast anyway.

What we didn’t quite realise is that TSS has a menu that is all about sharing rich morsels of loosely breakfast type food. Sharing around five dishes for two people is recommended, but when we viewed the size of the portions, and the rich flavours being amplified in each dish, we settled on three.

Chicken taquito

Chicken taquito

I ordered a Bloody Mary which uses fresh tomato pulp and it was different in a good way. The double espresso I also ordered was different in a very mediocre way and I realise that brunch is not all about coffee the way I’m used to. It happens that instead of ordering any more coffee I tried El Ray across the street which had a terrific blend, producing an espresso with depth and savoury hues.
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Catherine was served her sweet freshly squeezed OJ and we started on our first dish of pierogies filled with potato and goat’s cheese, topped with caramelised onions, with a sauce of truffled creme fraiche. The pierogies were not as soft as I expected but were a delicious start.

Next we turned to my favourite, the croque monsieur satays which could not be any more decadent. The muenster and gruyere cheeses were all encompassing, but not overpowering the ham and brioche, the later still maintaining its shape. It was the kind of dish you want to be able to eat again tomorrow, but only a small taste each time!

Pierogies

Pierogies

To finish we tried the chicken taquito which was the most normal of our dishes featuring good flavour from the chicken minced with spices, the red pepper sauce, and tasty guacamole rounding it out.

As you look around at the staff and customers you know this is one of the hip places for brunch in New York. If the sun went down you could easily see TSS transform into a vibing bar with no effort at all. It is a cool place that would be fun to see back home, but seems special to the big apple.

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Saxon + Parole – Bowery, New York – Saturday 25 October 2014 – Dinner

40oz ribeye with bone marrow béarnaise

40oz ribeye with bone marrow béarnaise

Early reservations is something I do so regularly that there is a good proposition I’m going to have a smooth transition into my older years. Normally it is to secure a booking or have time to go out later. This time I’m second guessing myself as we walk through a pumping bar area and front dining room to an almost completely empty room at the back.

The four of us sit down and by the time we’ve ordered some drinks and are having a chat reading the menu, the back dining room at Saxon + Parole is pretty much full and the second guessing is gone. It seems the airconditioning is either on (freezing) or off (okay) rather than temperature controlled, but that will be my one and only criticism of the entire evening. Food, wine, service, and company, could not have been better for our catch up and celebration with friends.

Oysters

Oysters

The menu is focussed on meat options for entrée and several modern starters that can be easily shared, including an impressive list of oysters. That is what takes my fancy and I try two sets of three from different places on the East Coast that produce smaller, more flavoursome, and less creamy varieties. They are so good I forget to even once try the vinegar, lemon or chilli accompaniments. The others try tuna tartare and grilled octopus which is definitely enjoyed.

Grilled octopus & calamari, potatoes, celery, lemon, chili spice, capers

Grilled octopus & calamari, potatoes, celery, lemon, chili spice, capers

There is an option for a 40 ounce rib eye that we all immediately want to try, so entrée is sorted. While the rib eye is $140, it comes with several sides of potatoes, salad, mushrooms and a rich bone marrow béarnaise. The rib eye, cooked medium rare, and chargrilled perfectly, just tasted incredible. Add some of the béarnaise and the flavour was turned up a further notch. It was serious steak heaven. Even greater a match was a ripper of a Chianti by Pacina, which had the earthy nose I love, leading to savoury, tobacco notes and a fine but rich berry, lingering on the palate.

Carrot cake

Carrot cake

Carrot cake is something I’ve rarely had for dessert outside of family get togethers at relatives houses as a child. Just like me, the carrot cake at S+P is all grown up! Absolutely divine is the best way I can think to describe it. Even Alana who doesn’t really eat dessert, thought it was amazing. Georg ordered the deconstructed cheese cake, which was tasty, but we expected something completely different.

Eggnog cheesecake

Eggnog cheesecake

It was one of those meals that had highlights that you do not forget quickly. When I hear ribeye and carrot cake I’m sure I’ll think of Saxon + Parole in years to come.

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Nougatine at Jean Georges – New York – Friday 24 October 2014 – Dinner

Goat's cheese and beetroot salad

Goat’s cheese and beetroot salad

Big Night’s Out. Having been working intensively for a few days after a lot of travel from Melbourne, Australia, I was comfortable in having a mini BNO. Mini because Nougatine is the bar and bistro of the highly acclaimed Jean Georges that is a feature of New York culinary history.

The fun part is that you are still greeted by the same reception, wisked to the left entering a room buzzing with the possibilities, and served in a style that is all class. For this there is still a price tag, but it is certainly not as great as the main event.

Peekytoe crab cake

Peekytoe crab cake

The menu is centered around seafood. Being our first night out in New York, we splashed out on a bottle of chardonnay from Burgundy, but there are a host of more reasonably priced options. The chardonnay matched both my dishes but in particular my starter of the Peekytoe crab cakes. There is definitely a combination of elegance and indulgence in the amount of crab in the cakes, and the flavour that results. Catherine’s beetroot and goat’s cheese salad is one of the prettiest dishes I’ve seen in sometime, and the taste was in harmony with the presentation.

Lobster burger

Lobster burger

For entrée I went all out decadence and ordered the lobster burger on brioche with pickles and gruyere. It was great but the spices added to the lobster pattie meant that I was eating it too quickly as the heat from the chilli increased and became addictive! The slow cooked salmon was huge, such a large fillet being perfectly cooked spoke volumes of the calibre of the chefs here. However, we are still not sure about the passionfruit based sauce, which didn’t detract, but didn’t enhance either.

Slowly cooked salmon

Slowly cooked salmon

Dessert was a highlight for me in a terrific meal. The chocolate cake is a signature of Nougatine and would be challenging to improve in any way. The ice cream offsetting the richness of the cake and equally delicious. The butterscotch pudding on salted caramel was really good too. Classically presented, it made me think about how good the main event might be.

Jean Georges warm chocolate cake

Jean Georges warm chocolate cake

Butterscotch pudding

Butterscotch pudding

Completely satisfied and buzzing from the experience, we set off for the New York City rooftops on our way to a very late night, which included a visit to Katz Deli!

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Oleana – Cambridge, Boston – Monday 20 October 2014 – Dinner

Duck shish

Duck shish

After a day of seeing the sights Boston has to offer, we were back around Harvard to try a Mediterranean restaurant that had been recommended to us by a colleague who worked in Boston for a year. On approach it was hard to spot, reminding me in a sense of the last time we ate near a famous US College at Chez Panisse.

Oleana has a neighborhood feel and once you are inside that comfort extends to the warmth of the room, both in literal and figurative terms. We were seated at a table in the main dining room and our waitperson explained the sharing nature of the menu, recommending a quantity of four to six dishes. From the start to the finish service was articulate and attentive with a manner that sat well with the convivial nature of the restaurant.

Apple Fatoush

Apple Fatoush

The first dish we shared set the scene for some terrific combinations of Mediterranean flavours, focussing on ingredients most seen in Greece. The Apple Fotoush salad was beautifully dressed with a burst of pomegranate in most mouthfuls. The ingredients including cos (Romaine) and beets were all cut nice and small to make it possible to combine the ingredients which were all fresh and vibrant, with a crunch from the crisp pita.

Moussaka

Moussaka

Next came the moussaka which had several points of difference to the norm. The eggplant layering the bottom presented as babaganoush, and crisp brussel sprouts topping the other ingredients. Fried mussels rounded out our smaller plates. They were nicely cooked, but lacked the zing of the other starters. The Turkish tarator sauce was delicious though.

Fried mussels

Fried mussels

In preparation for dessert we only shared one larger plate which was the duck shish with figs, beets, smoked wheat pilav and walnuts. It was a terrific amount of food and huge in flavour. Whilst contemporary, there was the inevitable thought back to places like Santorini, though unfortunately I didn’t see any duck going around the Caldera!

Saffron zoulbia, sekel pear, pomegranate sorbet and pistachios

Saffron zoulbia, sekel pear, pomegranate sorbet and pistachios

After such a good savoury experience we had to try dessert and one each for that matter. Catherine chose best with the “Saffron Zoulbia, Sekel Pear, Pomegranate Sorbet & Pistachios” which was a delicious combination of Middle Eastern flavours. My almond cremolata, chocolate panino and cocoa nib granola was restrained, with the almond cremolata a little dull, but the technique behind the pastry was executed with skill and my menu envy negated a little.

Almond Cremolata

Almond Cremolata

Full on a Monday night, with several larger groups, you could tell this is a constantly customed venue. As the wine from a good list flowed, the atmosphere grew, and everyone was satisfied and happy. Oleana is a great restaurant in a city reputed for its food and the chefs are dishing up innovative Meditteranean cuisine that speaks of its origins.

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South of Johnson – Collingwood – Saturday 18 October 2014 – Breakfast

Ham and Gruyere with Fried Eggs

Ham and Gruyere with Fried Eggs

Looking up the best Croque Monsieurs in Melbourne reveals a number of obvious results such as Chez Dre, but one I’d forgotten about was South of Johnson. I had a need and SoJo was going to fulfil it.

A couple of blocks down from Proud Mary, SoJo is also a bit off the beaten path and feels quiet on a weekend until you get close and see the crowd inside and out. On the two occasions I’ve been I’ve found the staff to be good and energetic, serving a hip and relaxed crowd.

I add fried eggs to the “ham and gruyere” to turn Monsieur into Madame. It is smothered in bechamel and the bread is so rich from the sauce and cheese that you almost could say the ham is holding it together! It is just what the doctor ordered.

Catherine’s avocado toast on the other hand is a bit plain. Toast with thick cut tomato, smothered in avocado. There is nothing wrong with it but there is nothing exciting either.

Crushed Avocado and Goat's Cheese

Crushed Avocado and Goat’s Cheese

The coffee is great and I order several long blacks through breakfast. Unlike many house blends there is a good level of interest and complexity and a slight fruity tone. I should have asked as it could be single origin, but they don’t mention if it is.

SoJo is a nice place for breakfast and definitely worth going out of your way for the ham and gruyere. It demonstrates to me the strength in our cafés as in many Capitals this would be one of the best cafés, not just one of the better ones in the area. We are extremely lucky indeed.

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Big Boy BBQ – Richmond – Thursday 16 October 2014 – Dinner

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Walking past a couple of times, and liking the name, was enough for me to check out Big Boy BBQ for a quick dinner.

It is thoroughly described on its menu but what sticks out to me is “slow food, fast”. It looks and acts like a fast food joint, but is serving slow cooked quality meats.

The similarities to a fast food joint make it a little uncomfortable and I almost walk out and on to one of the many Bridge Road competitors but I stop myself. I’m not sure why but going up to a counter, and ordering from a menu above it, has become intimidating to me!

Many of the options are for two people at the very least, so I order The New Yorker on Rye and a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. As I go to sit down in one of the comfortable booths I see a tray of meat go past and I note that if this sandwich is good I’ll be back with a group soon.

The New Yorker on Rye

The New Yorker on Rye

The New Yorker is a classic pastrami on rye with sauerkraut like slaw, and pickles, along with swiss cheese. The thin multi layered pastrami is delicious and surprisingly easy to bite through, adding to the enjoyment of the sandwich. It is a very good amount too, but I think that is fair for $15.

One thing I notice, and it is worth mentioning, is that the staff are nothing like fast food joint cashiers. Everyone seems happy, energised and there is a level of attentiveness in the service even though you order at the counter. It was quite refreshing. I was dining early and as it approached 7pm I was glad to see the joint get fuller and get some atmosphere.

Big Boy BBQ adds another point of difference on an increasingly good strip of Bridge Road in Richmond. It won’t be long at all until I’m back for the meat trays.

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What is an experience worth?

There is an incredible amount of talk at the moment, and a reasonable buzz, regarding a restaurant picking up from Bray in the United Kingdom, and putting down at Crown.

Like most visitors to Crown, there is a chance The Fat Duck will overplay its hand and go broke, or have the experience of a lifetime, riding lady luck for all she is worth. More than likely the migration will be successful, creating a ripple on take-off, a splash on landing, and glide through six months of calm waters before taking off again.

Heston Blumenthal is a business. Much like Greg Norman took an amazing golf swing and turned it into a multinational brand icon, Heston has done the same with his trade. Like it or not, business is business, and for his latest venture, possibly one of his most elaborate, the romance is deafened by the dollar signs.

Ordinarily, taking any business and moving it across borders is extremely difficult, requiring careful management and detailed organisation. No doubt Heston’s business advisers are responsible for a good portion of what you are paying for lunch or dinner between February and July 2015 at Crown. The staggering price tag per person for the tasting menu is $525. If you enjoy having a couple (or more) with your meal, and you tip, I find it hard to see a couple having dinner for less than $1,300 (and I am being rather conservative).

Why then are many of my friends in Melbourne putting their names down in the ballot? Because Heston and his advisers are geniuses. The marketing says that you are going to have an experience like no other, that you only have a short time to have that experience without travelling over a day on a plane, that if you don’t you may be left out of dinner conversations forever more, and that if you get a result in the ballot it is like winning lotto.

It is my belief that, in fact, the ballot will be undersubscribed (and potentially filled by high rollers). There is a remarkable difference between having an interest in dining somewhere, and forking out average weekly earnings to experience it. There is an even more exceptional difference in those who have previously dined at extremely expensive restaurants, and those who have watched a television show that is full of theatre and fun. I know this point can be taken the wrong way, but there is a certain skill (or delusion) in separating the dining experience and the cost.

Experiences I’ve had at restaurants like Per Se, Eleven Madison, Le Maurice, Arzak, Attica and Momofuku, have been easily talked down by the same people who are potentially going to pay a lot more for The Fat Duck. The arguments of being able to have ten meals that are almost as good for the same price, that the restaurant is full of snobs, and you just end up feeling intimidated, are all fair arguments at times. What it comes down to is the state of mind you are in when entering the restaurant, how the floorstaff shape your experience, and whether you can separate the price tag from each mouthful.

I have put us down in the ballot. I think not being able to pick a date is strange and I think the price is too high. One thing I suggest is not reading one review, one blog, speaking to one person who has been there before you. If I get a table I am going to try to go with as reasonable expectations as possible and not compare each aspect with the other restaurants I’ve been to. Hopefully I can do that, and hopefully it is one of the best dining experiences I’ve had.

At $525 I expect it will be a great experience, but there is a very good chance it will not be the best. I can live with that.