Delightful Dinner at Cultura

While planning for activities to do and places to eat during our long weekend in the Monterey/Carmel area for a friend’s wedding, I found this lovely Mexican restaurant called Cultura Comida y Bebida on one of Eater’s must eat lists. After reading many good reviews and perusing through great food photos on Instagram and Foursquare, I was convinced that this was where Rich and I would have dinner on our first night. So before leaving NYC, I made a dinner reservation for us. All we had to do was wait to the next evening to try Oaxacan style Mexican food!

It was a brisk and chilly night when we arrived in Carmel. Rich and I were not dressed warmly at the time. We had left hot and humid weather in NYC (felt like 100 degrees on some days), and the cool welcome of mid 50s to low 60s was nice, but it was a lot cooler than we had expected. Cultura was a quick drive from our hotel - it’s located in a small shopping square, about a three minute drive or if we walked, it would have be about ten minutes.

Inside Cultura, there were two main rooms. Left from the entrance was a smaller dining room with a bar and to the right was the larger one. The interiors were mostly dark wood with warm lighting. The seating area by the windows in both sides of the restaurant overlooked the pathway that ran through the shopping square and to the outdoor, communal tables. We chose to sit inside in the larger dining room since it was warm and we needed the warmth! Although there were heat lamps and fire pits at the outdoor tables, it was a bit cold for us to dine there. It would have been quite nice if it was bit warmer or if we dressed in layers.

Once we were seated, Rich ordered a cocktail but I stayed with water. As much as I wanted to try some of the cocktails and wine, I had come down with a cold once we arrived in California. To start we ordered some chips with guacamole, rock cod ceviche, and a unique snack named chapulines with chile and lime which were toasted and seasoned grasshoppers. At first Rich was not in the mood to try something new like the chapulines, but I was totally into it. However after a bit of convincing, Rich finally tried some of the grasshoppers and liked it.

Chapulines (toasted and seasoned grasshoppers) with lime and chili.

The rock cod ceviche was refreshing and light. A meaty, local white fish, it was seasoned with habanero, lime, cilantro, avocado, and jalapeno and was served with blue corn tostada. I enjoyed the tartness of the lime and the zesty of the cilantro that was tossed with the fish. Rich was a fan too. Our chips with guacamole were solid - nothing out of the ordinary but it was a good, chunky guacamole. These were nice dishes to prep ourselves for a hearty dinner.

Bottom left: Chilaquiles | Top left and center: Chips with the rock ceviche | Right: Guacamole

Next up were our main dishes. I ordered the chicken enchiladas and Rich chose the Cultura mole which came with smoked pork and saffron tortillas. The chicken enchiladas were out of this world When I took my first bite, I was blown away by the tartness of the lime and smooth, black bean puree and quesillo cheese. I felt like I could eat this every night. It was so comforting and delicious. The Cultura mole that Rich ordered was warm and tangy. He thought it was a good choice to warm him up on a chilly night. The sesame and orange flavors really complemented the smokiness of the pork and paired very well with the saffron tortillas. Our traveling bear Rilakkuma made an appearance at dinner with us. We thought he would want share this dining experience with his dedicated Instagram followers. He loved Rich’s mole with the smoked pork. Our main dishes were satisfying. I am so glad we decided to try them both.

Finally it was time for dessert. The choices on the dessert menu were enticing, but when we saw that there were churros, Rich and I were thrilled! Our churros were served with a warm chocolate sauce that had a hint of orange zest. When the churros were dipped in the sauce, you could say that Rich and I felt that it made our dining experience complete. Our savory and sweet taste buds thoroughly loved dinner that night. I would totally go back for the chicken enchiladas and the rock cod ceviche. Also the chapulines because that was something I had never tried before and not only was it new to me and Rich, the toasted and seasoned grasshoppers were an interesting and tasty snack.

For dessert, the churros and a chocolate dipping sauce with hints of orange and coconut flakes

Though I wish I was able to enjoy some wine and cocktails since I had just caught a cold, RIch liked the cocktail he ordered. I can’t remember what it was, but he thought it was unique. Would we go back to Cultura? Of course, definitely on our itinerary during the next visit to Carmel! There were many more foods Rich and I would have liked to try if our stomach allowed. We loved the food and the ambiance. The servers were nice and helpful when we were deciding on what to order. Overall, dinner was a pleasant and comforting experience. We appreciated the quaint and chill atmosphere of the town.. Apparently Daniel Boulud visited the restaurant a few months before. How nice to know a great chef had a wonderful time here too!

A Visit to Riverpark

For mid-September, the weather was still nice enough despite the evening chill but it still made a pleasant night for dinner here.  Riverpark serves no frills, modern American cuisine even though the atmosphere might seem that way with ingredients sourced from local farms and its own urban farm located next door. 

For the first course we chose the grilled quail to share. It was prepared with summer melons, baby fennel, and acacia honey glaze.  What excellent flavors! The acacia honey glaze was something I've never encountered before, and it gave the quail a nice touch of sweetness. The kitchen actually served it to us on two separate plates for easy dining.  How thoughtful of them!

Grilled Quail to share!

Next was the pasta course! We decided on two of the small servings of these dishes since the ingredients seemed more interesting and were not something that we ordered as of late elsewhere.  You can choose a small dish or a larger dish (two different prices) if you want it as a started plate or main course.

Cavatelli with smoked lamb.

Here we had the cavatelli with smoked lamb, shishito peppers, corn, and tarragon.  The flavor of the lamb did not overpower the sweetness of the corn and peppers.  Although the pasta was a bit too firm for my taste, I still enjoyed it very much.

The brisket ravioli we selected as our second pasta was a winning dish! How could you resist the tenderness and heartiness of the this slow cooked pork wonder? It was absolutely amazing. Wish we had more of this, but of course we had to leave space for the main courses, dessert, and more wine.
 

Brisket Ravioli was a tease, but what a good palate tease!

Now for the main course, my boyfriend chose the Grilled New York Strip Steak (major steak lover he is!), and I went for the Heritage Berkshire Pork Chop.  While his medium-rare steak was juicy and pretty much perfect of a steak of that caliber, I have to say that my pork chop was the better dish of the two. It was quite a large hunk of meat to tackle!  The meat was so tender and succulent. With the collards, grilled peaches, cipollini onions, and thyme, it was a complete A+! 

Grilled NY Strip Steak with heirloom tomatoes, chanterelle mushrooms, basil, balsalmic vinegar, and bordelaise (sauce)

Heritage Berkshire Pork Chop - it was massive, and yep, I totally ate it all.

Dinner would not be complete without a proper dessert. We ordered the frozen s'mores, because we were curious about the presentation as well as the taste.

Not what you imagined what s'mores would look like. A work of art, really!

The verdict: Fantastic! Wonderful! Amazing! This dessert consists of a toasted marshmallow semifreddo, milk chocolate ganache, and a raspberry-rose sorbet on the side.  Thought you'd see some graham crackers, did you?  I found out that the pastry chef here, Geoff Koo, is the SAME Geoff Koo who held that position at PRINT restaurant.  Glad to enjoy his delicious creations at Riverpark as I savored them at PRINT.  

Would I return? Of course.  My first encounter was Craftbar in Flatiron which I highly recommend for brunch and dinner.  Tom Collichio is a excellent chef/restauranteur, and I would love to try the food at his other acclaimed restaurants. 

Birthday at Marea

Oh my lucky stars!

I finally dined at the two-starred Michelin/Relais & Chateaux elite group member, best Italian/seafood centric restaurant and crown jewel of the Altamarea Group empire.

For an early birthday celebration, my boyfriend surprised me on August 15th with dinner at Marea! It's the one Michael White restaurant I've been wanting to go to for a longest time.  Tears of joy. Ohhh, tears of joy!

We both opted for the $99 four course prix-fixe dinner which consisted of a choice of crudo, oysters or antipasto, pasta, meat or fish, and dessert. There was a fantastic Italian white wine that we enjoyed as well, but I forgot which of my top three we selected - but I can tell you that it was an excellent complement to every dish.

On to the meal...

Amuse Bouche - Cubed, raw bluefin tuna

This was to prepare out palates for what's to come...seafood and all great things by Michael White & his talented team.

TRIO OF CRUDO

From the fine selection of crudo, I chose the maccarello - pacific horse mackerel, tomato, garbanzo, meyer lemon; cannolichi - marinated razor clams, baby fennel, peperoncino, and the branzino - local wild striped bass, sturgeon caviar, mussel vinaigrette. I was amazed when I first tried the crudo at Michael White's Costata in SoHo after hearing many great things about his crudo in general, and of course at Marea with its emphasis on coastal cuisine of Italy, I expected it to be out of this world. And, it was! The best way to describe it - you will really taste the freshness and refreshing flavors of the ocean. My favorite was the first one on the left - the pacific horse mackerel. The meyer lemon, tomato, and garbanzo made my taste buds dance. I loved it.

PASTA

Fusilli with Red Wine Braised Octopus and Bone Marrow

This was by far the BEST pasta I've eaten in all of NYC (until my trip to Emilia-Romagna, Italy that is, but Michael White exquisitely created a fantastic dish here). The perfectly al dente fusilli pasta and rich flavor of bone marrow with tender and chewy octopus was an A+++ in my book. I could have had more if that was an option. 

FISH

Grilled Cobia, Market Beans, Octopus Bacon,  Heirloom Tomatoes, and Kale Pesto

I was told that cobia is similar in taste to Spanish mackerel, so if I liked that, then I'd be happy with this fish. Since I am always game to try something new, I chose it and couldn't get enough of it. Its white firm flesh took on the flavors of the kale pesto really well and tasted great with the market beans and heirloom tomatoes. No strong fishy flavor at all!


DESSERT

Bomboloni - Italian Doughnuts filled with Lemon Verbena + Caramelized White Chocolate, and Strawberry Jam to dip them in.

These warm delightful bites and the "Happy Birthday" chocolate greeting were an excellent finish to a memorable meal. I was stuffed and very, very happy. Four courses over two hours plus a bottle of wine really add up, and all that food hits you with food coma at the end, but it's worth it. My boyfriend succeeded in carefully planning this sneaky and awesome surprise -- it totally made my night. That's another A+++ in my book! 

When you visit Marea, you'll find great a la carte offerings as well as a prix-fixe lunch option on weekdays, a prix fixe dinner option during evenings, and a prix fixe brunch menu on the weekends.  See ALL photos from Marea on my Flickr here.

Marea
240 Central Park South
New York, NY 10019
(212) 582-5100
http://www.marea-nyc.com/

 

 

Source: http://www.marea-nyc.com/

Rouge Tomate, the Final Feast

It was shocking when I found out that Rouge Tomate would be closing its doors on August 9th after its last dinner service.  Luckily I made it in time for a final dinner on August 8th.  I will really miss this place. Ahh, but the good news! They'll be relocating to a new location downtown soon, so you can expect to see more dining adventures about RT 2.0 from me here.

Dinner was fantastic as expected.  I have been tempted to order the prix-fixe dinner menu, but then again I think that there'll be 1) too much food to consume in one sitting or 2) something else will catch my eye, and I'll want to eat that instead.  My boyfriend and I decided on ordering from the menu a la carte, and that's where the party began. 

First. the wine. 

For a good time, drink wine.

I asked Pascaline, who recently was inducted into the Court of Master Sommeliers (hooray!) for her recommendation on a bottle. Preferably biodynamic and natural. I'm convinced that it's the insane amount of sulfites in other wines (even spectacular ones) that bring out my Asian glow to a cherry red, so when I'm Rouge Tomate, I try to stick to the biodynamic offerings. They keep me safe. I always place complete trust in Pascaline, because she knows best! She selected this red wine from the Loire Valley. A 2012 P'tit Luchini made by Japanese-Canadian winemakers.  To have Asians making great wine in France especially in the Loire region is impressive, and this one was a winner! The Vin de Soif style of wine translated from French means "wine to quench thirst." The wine did its job well, because we were extremely satisfied.

Amuse Bouche 

This is just a little something that is served before your meal to prepare you for what's to follow. (For future posts, I must take notes on the ingredients!).

Time to prep the palate!

Eggplant “Tartare”
Sunny-Side Up Farm Egg,  Garlic Confit, Sungold Tomato, and Pickled Fennel 

Could make you opt for a meatless day.

The first appetizer has been a favorite of mine since it was introduced on the menu early last fall, so of course I had to have it this one last time. It's been slightly modified from the first version - there used to be thin wafer-like strips encasing the eggplant tartare in a box-pinwheel shape. Surprise, surprise! Because it's made so perfectly to mimic the texture of a raw meat tartare like steak, tuna, or venison, you might forget you're actually eating all vegetables (and egg) after the first bite.

Arctic Char Crudo 
Horseradish Yogurt,  Trout Roe, Dill, and Pumpernickel

Why, hellooooo there.

Oh, another dish that I love to start off with. Ever since I encountered this during my first visit back in Summer 2009, I fell in love.  I couldn't resist the delicate texture and clean, mild flavor of arctic char. It's closely related to salmon and trout, but it's more sustainable, and it might even be better in overall taste. The slightly spicy and sourness of the horseradish yogurt together with the sweet and crisp trout roe, dill, and pumpernickel combined made intense delicious bites. 

Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Panzanella
Beldi Olive, Cucumber, Feta,  Basil, and Sherry Vinegar

No need for greens here.

This light and refreshing summer salad was a compliment of the chef. Thank you, Chef Andy Bennett! I enjoyed how the feta cheese really enhanced the flavors of the watermelon.  Never had a salad like this before.  I'll have to try my hand at this one day.

Barnegat Light Sea Scallops a la Plancha
Chickpea-Buttermilk Puree, Greenmarket Pole Beans, Spicy Romesco, and Marcona Almonds 

It never occurred to me to look up what "a la Plancha" meant all these years. Since the food at Rouge Tomate is either broiled, baked, grilled, or steamed, it made sense to me that "a la Plancha" (grilled on a metal plate) would be one of those cooking methods. (Thanks Google!). Here we have with these fantastic, fresh sea scallops.  These are one of the best tasting varieties I've eaten. They're sourced locally from the town of Barnegat Light, NJ. My boyfriend chose this as his entree, and he happily enjoyed every bite.  I tried a little of it, and I could taste the freshness of the scallop in each chewy morsel. The chickpea-buttermilk puree added a nice touch of acidity to it. 

Cow’s Milk Ricotta Gnudi
Asparagus,  Wild Mushroom, Spring Onion,  Wild Spinach in Parmesan Broth

During my last couple of visits in 2013, I've always ordered the gnudi. I had to have it once again. Just can't resist the lightness, fluffiness, and creaminess of this gnocchi variation. Each piece released a burst of extraordinary flavors and pretty much melted in my mouth. It's so good. SO very, very good. 

Seven Layer Chocolate Icebox
Salted Caramel, Banana, Coffee, and Almond 

Have you ever eaten cake that doesn't baking? That's what an icebox cake is - layers of crumbled chocolate, coffee, and almond bits packed together to create this masterpiece. The salted caramel ice cream was divine, and the torched banana on top pulled it all together. This dessert is also gluten-free and vegan as well - amazing!  Pastry Chef James DiStefano always seems to amaze me especially with the Chocolate Sphere Dessert (one of the RT menu originals in the early and most recent days - click here to see it)

Everything on the menu is created and cooked under the SPE Certified (health through food) guidelines and watchful eye of RT's in-house nutritionist, Kristy Lambrou. Nothing is deep-fried or uses saturated oils. Since all the food is either boiled, baked, grilled or steamed, you can rest assured that while eating a four or five course meal you're indulging in a healthy and nutritious way.  

Thanks to Rouge Tomate, I've learned a lot about the NYC restaurant scene and especially about phenomenal food and wine. This place will always be #1 in my heart despite the many contenders. I'm looking forward to visiting the new location. I hope the wait won't be too long, because withdrawal is already kicking in. 

Rouge Tomate
10 E 60th Street
New York, NY 10022
(646) 237-8977

http://www.rougetomatenyc.com

 

Celebration at WD~50

For my boyfriend's birthday, I surprised him with a celebratory dinner at WD~50. On the way there, I didn't want him know the direction we were traveling in. So we hopped in a cab, and I blindfolded him with my scarf. When we arrived, he couldn't believe his eyes. I think it was also because he got car sick, but it was worth it!

It was awesome seeing my friend, Reggie Soang, the Sous Chef, run the kitchen from the view at the Chef's Table.  I was hoping to see Chef Sam Henderson in action as Chef de Cuisine, but I think she was off that night.

Let's dive right in. We chose the tasting menu - 13 items of which 4 were desserts.  Instead of wine pairings, I opted for a bottle of Coteaux du Loir 'Eparses' Domaine de Bellivière 2010, a nice Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley to accompany our meal. Not sure I could have handle all those different alcohols in one sitting.

Course #1 - Oyster in its "Shell," Preserved Lemon, Snow Pea, and Hazelnut

The shell was edible, because it wasn't even an oyster shell. How cool is that? Made me think twice about it before I ate it.  "How is this possible? Edible shell? An oyster shell is hard and definitely something that you can't eat." Well, I was fooled! This "shell" was delicious!

wd50-1.jpg

Course #2 - Egg Yolk-Mashed Potato Ravioli, Caviar, and Cucumber

I made sure to cover that potato ravioli with generous coats of caviar. What an artistic display.  If this wasn't food, then it could definitely be a stand-alone art piece!

Course #3 - Avocado Pea Soup, Smoked Crab, and Pistachio 

WIth these three great foods combined, the result is a refreshing soup with striking flavors. Don't be fooled by the crab - it was tender and juicy. 

Course #4 - Charred Chicken Liver, Szechuan, Injera, Melon 

Wow. Each course continued to impress us! The intricate design and arrangement of the ingredients in this one was aesthetically pleasing to both the eyes and the palate.  For those of you wondering what injera is - it's an Ethiopian flatbread simliar to a crepe.  It's in here somewhere! I think it's next to the melon in the back of the photo. I remembered it being crunchy and toasted like a chip. 

Course #5 - Shrimp Grits with Pickled Jalapeno & Veal Brisket (for me)

Wish I could tell you how much my boyfriend enjoyed the grits.  I didn't taste it since I'm allergic t shrimp. My dish was substituted for veal brisket.  It was tasty, but I was distracted by the shrimp grits. It looked and smelled so good!

Course #6 - Bloodless Sausage, Smoked Marcona, Lily Bulb, Mushroom

We were told that the sausage is made from either rhubarb or beets (can't remember), and is vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free.  I'll eat anything I'm not allergic to, so it's win-win-win for me! I really enjoyed this dish. The sausage was light and chewy but not chewiness of the tough kind.

Course #7 - Black Bass, Parsnip, Pickled Ginger, Nori Mustard

Between courses 6-7, we started to get full, but that didn't stop us continuing our dinner! Seriously, the black bass was fantastic.  Slightly larger than the size of nigiri sushi and it melts in your mouth. 

Course #8 - Pork Collar, Poppy Seed, Red Bell Pepper, Tamarind

The pork was perfect. Two bites, too quick. I could have eaten another piece. That's what my gluttonous side thought.

Course #9 - Cured Duck Breast, Curds-N-Whey, Sweet Potato, and Rice Noodles

Another favorite of the evening! It wouldn't be complete with a fine tasting duck. The fried rice noodle added more texture, crunch, and beauty to this dish.  Not only were we amused by presentation and how to eat it, we loved the rich flavors of the duck breast and delicate meat. 

Time for dessert!

Courses 10-13 below with photos (click to enlarge).

  • Oat Meringue, Banana, Strawberry Yeast
  • Verbena Mousse, Rhubarb, Buckwheat, Camelina Oil
  • Ovaltine Cake, Marcona Almond, Cardamom, Sheep's Milk
  • Cookie Dough Ice Cream

And finally, a special mini birthday treat - popcorn ice cream cake. 

Thanks to Pastry Chef Malcolm for preparing this! 

I loved it. I loved it all. Chef Wylie Dufresne, you are an amazingly talented and creative man! My birthday surprise was a success. 

With it's final season approaching fast WD~50 will be introducing a new tasting menu that it'll be serving until it's last day on November 30th. So sad, I know. I'm hoping to go back and try the new menu as well as the vault menu ( which features favorite dishes from past tasting menus). If you're not looking to indulge in the either of the tasting menus, you can always sit at the bar and enjoy any two dishes (even dessert) for $25. Quite the deal, I'd say.

Maybe WD~50 will open up somewhere else in the city one day, in a non-hostile, rent rising environment.  I really hope so!

wd~50
50 Clinton Street 
New York, NY 10002
(212) 477-2900

http://www.wd-50.com/