Blue Hill Stone Barn : One Of My Best Meals Ever...

I woke up last Saturday feeling sick and sluggish. My cold allergy was at its peak and I had a throbbing headache.  Still I forced myself to get up because we had a brunch reservation at Blue Hill Stone Barns all the way upstate (particularly Pocantico Hills which is about 45 minutes from the city). I actually tried to move our reservations the night before because the weather forecast showed that it was going to rain the whole day Saturday. However, they told me that next available slot was in two months. (This gives you an idea of how difficult it is to get a reservation so you have to call months ahead!) With just a few more days here in the city, I had no choice. This was one of the things in my list of places to try before moving back to Manila. And so despite the gloomy weather and my allergies, off we went to the farm. 

Thanks to my determination, it turned out to be a great decision! I've eaten in a long list of restaurants in the city but really this was one-of-a-kind. Let me walk you through our whole experience...

Blue Hills Stone Barns is a four season farm and educational center owned and operated by Dan Barber (one of my idol chefs) and his brother David who is the businessman. They created a philosophical framework that aimed to increase consciousness about the effect of making everyday food choices. The ingredients used in the restaurant are sourced from the farm itself and the surrounding pastures. Remarkable, isn't it? It highlights the "farm-to-table" movement which I've been very interested in lately. 

We arrived there a bit early for our 11:30 reservation. It was a vast farmland of oh-so-green pastures. From the car, we saw various animals in different areas that were freely roaming and happily enjoying life (before they get to the table that is! oops!) . There was an available valet service but we opted to just use the customer parking area. As we walked towards the main courtyard, we passed the the greenhouse, the herb and vegetable garden and the small cafe beside the main dining barn
green escape from the city

the greenhouse

their mantra

 the courtyard leading to the main barn

the main entrance

The door didn't open until exactly 11:30 which was the first seating. We entered, checked in our coats and were promptly escorted to our table (together with the push and pull-in action as we sat - I noticed this because when I went to the restroom in the middle of the meal, our server did this again!). The main dining area was bright and homey - high ceiling with exposed iron beams which gave it a modern yet rustic feel. The mosaic painting of the actual farm on the back wall also caught my eye because it added to the bucolic ambiance. My husband Joel was in awe. Like a kid in Disneyland for the first time, he looked around in pure amazement. 

As soon as we settled down, the server gave us our menus. He explained that they don't give the traditional menu but instead presented us with a list of ingredients that were in season and available from the farm. These ingredients were to be used to create the "Farmers Lunch" ($85) consisting of 4 courses. There were also supplementary tastings that were available - organic cocktails ($15 each) and cheese course ($14) which we got. We were also asked if we had any food allergies or dietary restrictions to make sure they pick ingredients that suited our taste and diet. It was pretty exciting not knowing what to expect. 

We were offered soothing lemon balm spritzers to start the course...

Then a series of amuse bouche followed;

Skewered Asparagus Spears wrapped in Home-cured Pancetta and covered in Sesame Seeds Warm and lovely. Asparagus never tasted that good.

Mini Asparagus Burgers which I finished it in one bite.

Onion and Potato Bread with a block of butter

Prosciutto over Potato and Egg Fritata

House-cured Charcuterie

Fiddlehead Ferns with Red buds  and Homemade Yogurt over Wheat Crisps 
Feminine, pretty and intricate ...a delightful sensation inside the mouth.

Spring Soup served with a spoonful of Ramp (tiny and delicate spring onions) Marmalade which we had to spread on the toasted Brioche. A warm and comforting treat.

Our server presented us this platter to explain the feature ingredient "Fiddlehead Ferns" for our last savory dish. These ferns are special because they are very seasonal. Fiddlehead ferns are unfurled fronds of a young fern which have to be harvested at a very specific time because once they "open" and straighten out, they are inedible. 

Poulet Egg with Fiddlehead Ferns and Mushrooms mixed with Asparagus Broth
  The glass bowl was covered with rice paper coating with petal and herb garnish.  It hurt that I had to destroy the delicate crust to get into the soup.

 This was the Supplemental Cheese Course ($14) served with apple jam and pickled fig

Berkshire Pork with Asparagus Puree
Different cuts of their farm-raised hog cooked to perfect tenderness albeit a bit salty. 

Hazelnut Crunch with Coco nibs Ice-cream and Caramel 
Joel frowned when he saw the dessert platter because it meant that this was the last course. He didn't want it to end. 

The whole experience was absolutely incredible. And I have to say with all honesty that this was  one of my most amazing dining experiences ever. It was top notch from the breathtaking place, highly attentive service and the inventive and well-thought of food... in a FARM!

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, New York 10591
(914) 366-9600


Mario Batalli's Otto Enoteca : Delectable Antipasti & Olive Oil Gelato

We celebrated Coco's birthday last Saturday at the great Mario Batalli's Otto restaurant. It was complete madness in that place when we entered. We had an early reservation for our party but we lost it because no one got there on time (so Filipino what can I say?)! Gulp! However the consensus was not to look for another place and just wait for a table. And so we did....for 2 and half hours. Surprisingly the wait wasn't bad at all because we were able to sample their delectable Antipasti offerings by the bar;

Prosciutto ($9)

 Caprese ($8) - A spin on the traditional fresh mozarella salad - warm roasted tomatoes on top of mozarella and smothered with pesto and pine nuts. I always make this appetizer at home and I told Joel I will try this version since it was amazing.

Cheese Platter (5 kinds for $15). Jammy ordered Gorgonzola Dolce, Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta, Tallegio  and Caciotta. They served it side-by-side a platter of honey abd cherry & apricot preserves. The combination of cheese and the condiments was superb. The playful contrast of the saltiness of the cheese with the sweetness of the the honey and preserves was spectacular. 

The breadsticks and bread wrapped in brown paper were a treat too!

 They use a train ticker sign (like the ones in European terminals) for the wait time which was pretty cool. I've never seen anything like it. We were given a ticket with city/place name in Italy (in our case it was 'Pescara'). After more than 2 hours, we were up. I just had to take a picture of it.

Buccatini Al' Amatriciana ($9) - guanciale, tomato and pecorino - 

Prosciutto and Arugula ($14)

Vongole ($14) - clams, garlic, mozarella

Three scoops of gelati - creme fraiche, olive oil and dark chocolate ($7.50) with a wafer on top. The smooth olive oil gelato was sprinkled with salt which gave it a very distinct and innovative flavor while the creme fraiche was true to its name... light, nutty and slight sour. Thumbs up for both flavors. The third one was for Joel because I'm not really a dark chocolate fan.

For the 5 hours that we were there, I enjoyed the first part (appetizers) and last part (dessert) the most. The main course (pasta and pizza) was anti-climactic and very ordinary. Until the next time Iron Chef :)


Jordan's Lobster Farm: Live, Fresh Seafood

Jordan's Lobster Farm in Long Island is an hour and a half away drive from the city. Although it is a fairly long trip I must say, it's always worth the travel time. Last Friday, Joel, Henri and I together with our friends Christina and Angelo took a road trip to get out hands on a killer 11-pound fresh lobster.

Jordan's is an outdoor restaurant and seafood deli right beside the water. The place smells like the sea...it reiterates the quality and freshness of their wide array of seafood offerings! If you go inside, you will see the stack of lobster tanks where you have the liberty to pick the particular lobster (the size and weight) you want. We didn't have to go through that though because my husband called that morning and reserved the biggest they had...pretty smart!

Too start our meal, we shared their fresh shrimp cocktail ($10.95) and fried shrimp basket with fries ($11.95). I also had my staple New England Chowder ($3.95 for a 12-oz cup)...hearty, creamy and generously filled with clams unlike the usual ones that have more potatoes than clams.

Then came the heavy-weight maine lobster ($89)...deep orange and black in color, so fierce and intimidating. It was cracked in the middle with the chunky meat peaking out. You would think that the meat of a lobster this size would be gummy and chewy but it was still moist and tender. It came with containers of butter, lemon wedges and steamed sweet corn wrapped in foil. The four of us were determined to conquer the whole thing...but failed.  We threw in the towel after devouring 3/4 of it. It was just too much. We didn't want to walk out of there with an ugly feeling of throwing up. So we stopped when we were happily satisfied.

 Jordan's Lobster Farm is undeniably a great place to go for live, fresh seafood. Ahoy! :)

* Just to give you an idea of how big the lobster was... it's was big as our son Henri! :) *

Jordans Lobster Farm
1 Pettit Place
Island Park, New York 1158-2276
(516) 889 3314

Saigon Grill: Vietnamese Comfort Food

Vietnam will forever be a memorable and nostalgic place for me since Ho Chi Minh was one of the last cities we visited with my mom before she passed away a few years ago. We had so much fun memories going around this historic city and just food tripping! And thus, I've always been a fan of Vietnamese cuisine... it's simple yet distinct and notably healthy. Earlier today, we took Jon and Cindy to Saigon Grill, a tried and tested Vietnamese place in the Upper West Side. I knew exactly what I wanted to order even before we got there. I played it safe and picked our usual dishes. you can't go wrong with these...

For starters, I ordered a platter of Cha Gio ($6.25) - crispy fried vietnamese springrolls with filled with shrimp,pork, mushrooms, clear noodles, taro root and turnip served with lettuce and herbs with a nuoc cham sauce on the side and Goi Cuon Tom ($6.50) - soft salad roll filled with shrimp, bean sprouts, lettuce, fresh herbs and rice vermicelli with peanut plum sauce. Too bad I wasn't able to take pictures of it because we wiped it out instantly! 

Bo Luc Lac ($17.50)- stir fried teriyaki steak over high flame served with tomato and greens salad. This is a must-try! The cubes are well marinated and cooked perfectly, not too charred, tender and juicy. The salad is topped with thin and crispy tarot chips which are addicting! 

Xuong Nuong ($13.50)- grilled marinated pork chops with lemongrass served with pickle salad and nuoc cham sauce. The flavor of earthy and aromatic taste of lemongrass just goes so well with the pork. As you can see, we gobbled up the two of the three pieces before I had a chance to take a picture!

Although I can't say Saigon grill serves authentic Vietnamese (because I believe it's highly "americanized"),  it's the closest you'll get here in the city and I'm not complaining! 


Beyoglu : Turkish Delight

My mother-in-law had been raving about this chic Mediterranean spot she's been going to with her co-worker for many weeks and finally last Sunday, she was able to convince us to check it out. The place was already packed when we arrived and they told us that the wait was 45 minutes. Since we walked all the way already, we decided to wait it out. We sort of used Henri, our little boy, to charm our way into getting a table sooner...and it worked! Ha!

The space is consist of two floors although I didn't really get a chance to see the 2nd floor. The main floor is very offbeat East Mediterranean - orange and lime green painted walls, open glass windows, colorful mosaic tile tables close together. Their menu consist of an enticing array of Mediterranean mezes from the familiar hummus (chickpeas and tahini seasoned with garlic and cumin,$6) to Tarama (Carp roe caviar spread,$6)) and entrees like Kilic Sis (chargrilled swordfish with rice pilaf, $17) and Doner Kebab (vertically grilled thin pieces of lamb and beef over rice pilaf, $14.50). Mom highly recommended the Doner entree and said that she was going to order that so I told her I'd just get a portion from her and ended up just ordering a Beyoglu salad. Joel didn't really feel like eating lamb/beef that night so he tried the swordfish. Both entree choices turned out to be excellent! The lamb/beef slices were very tasty and nicely seasoned. Combining it with the grilled onions, tomatoes, rice and the yogurt (extra order) was fantastic! It was nice too with their soft semi-charred pita bread. Joel's seafood entree was just as exciting. The swordfish was juicy, buttery and wonderfully grilled. It's definitely a place to go for your authentic Turkish/Mediterranean fix! 

200 E 81st St. (between 2nd and 3rd Ave)
New York, New York 10028
(212) 650-0850


Megu Midtown: Mediocre and Pricey

Our friend Gaea celebrated her birthday last Saturday and we wanted to spend it somewhere extra special. We asked her what cuisine she wanted and immediately she said Japanese. After much deliberation and menu comparison, we decided on Megu Midtown which turned out to be a rather unwise choice. Food and service were below par considering the price you pay. Joel had the Omakase  which is the 8-course tasting menu and I ordered an appetizer and their shrimp tempura. 

This single sushi - Toro Tartare and Uni topped with Quail Egg - this was genius (mixing uni with quail eggs really made the uni extra creamy and silky). I finished that little piece ($10) in one bite! gulp!

The measly three piece Shrimp Tempura ($18) which was mediocre...the batter was too thick and I didn't taste too much of the shrimp.  I can make better tempura at home that's for sure. Although I liked the thought of serving it with green tea salt!

Joel's Omakase : 8-Course Tasting Menu ($125)

1st Course: Tuna Tartare with Russian Caviar and Wasabi Balls served over shaved ice and a ceramic spoon with soy-ponzu sauce

2nd Course: Breaded Asparagus Skewer with Lemon Wedge. Very ordinary.

3rd Course: Red Snapper over Julienned Vegetables and Nuts with Asian Dressing

4th Course : Delightful Sake Gratinee! Joel said this by far was the best course (compared to the previous 3 that came out). I have to admit this was really a pleasant and refreshing surprise!

5th Course: Sampler of Grilled Vegetables (mushroom, shishito peppers), poached free-range chicken cube, Grilled Ell with a compund butter (this was the best in that plate!) and tempura with green tea salt.

6th Course: 4 oz. Kobe Beef flambeed tableside on a stone grill and a platter filled with pebbles. This was suppose to be the highlight but Joel wasn't blown away. I took one bite and wasn't impressed either. 

7th Course : 5 Sushi Platter which we forgot to take a picture of...actually we got frustrated already and didn't really care anymore at this point.

8th Course: Dessert Sampler - Finally something to rave about. The stand-outs were the green tea filled profiteroles/cream puff and the green tea napoleones (thinkly layered cake) and the truffles. 

Gaea's Birthday Dessert Plate which we thought was complimentary but later found out that it wasn't ($25). But it's okay, we enjoyed every bit of sweetness and Gaea got to make her wish as she blew the two thin candles. 

Over-all, I would say that Megu Midtown is a place that you can try just once. Mostly for the cool Asian modern decor (high ceiling, chandeliers and opulent decor) with a black-red color concept, the uni with quail egg and the green tea dessert. I know we're not going back there anytime soon...or ever.

Megu Midtown
845 United Nations Plaza
1st Ave & 47th Street
New York, New York 10017
(212) 964-7777