Monday, May 21, 2007

Why Marco Polo Restaurant Sucks

We always wanted to try this place. It seemed to have that funny, old school charm. The kind of place where neighborhood kids go for dinner before prom or take their mothers to on mother's day. The atmosphere is very formal, waiters in tuxedos and heavy renaissance style decor. The food - stinks. It was all totally generic and uncreative. I ordered a very expensive Lobster Ravioli. It tasted like potato pierogies doused in marinara sauce. When the waiter asked how our meals were I told him I couldn't taste even a hint of lobster and instead of apologizing he said the lobster meat is pureed and mixed in with the potato. If it was, it must have been about a tablespoon of lobster mixed into a pound of mashed potatoes. I would never go back. I think it's the kind of place that can rest on its laurels because the old guard italians in the neighborhood still support it. For delicious, fresh, creative italian dishes try Fragole on Court Street or just go to Caputos for some fresh pasta, a ball of homemade mozzarella and one of their excellent pestos.

El Pitayo - Smith Street

We are always trying to find good mexican in the neighborhood. We gave El Pitayo on Smith Street a try last night. The margaritas were strong and tasty. We ordered some guacamole for the table. It was bland, needed salt, lime, and cilantro. It was also the kind where the avocado is pureed and creamy - like they added sour cream (why?!?). I ordered the Chuletas with Salsa Verde. The pork was overcooked, but the salsa was nice and spicy. Bear ordered Bistec Tampiquena. Also over done, but had a nice charred taste. The steak was accompanied by a cheese enchilada in a flavorful, sweet mole sauce. The menu was vast and the service was friendly. I would recommend going in for a cheap burrito and some drinks, but not if you want a real culinary experience. For that, Maria's Mexican Bistro in Park Slope is the definite winner. Excellent steaks, unique inventive dishes, delicious guacamole, and great lava rock dishes. For a great mexican brunch, try Alma in Red Hook. We recommend sitting on the roof and ordering the Eggs Oaxaca or one of the Tortas accompanied by the best mexican potato salad I've ever had. For standard tex-mex fare like enchiladas and burritos, try Lobo on Court St. Nothing special, but always satisfying.

Has anyone tried El Nuevo Portal on Smith? It's bare bones with a lunch counter feel, but we have a feeling it might be really good.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Shrimp and Eggs - Great Sunday Brunch

We just tried out this recipe from Mark Bittman, NY Times food columnist and cook book author. It's really simple, but tastes complex and deeeelicious. The sesame oil really adds something to the eggs. We suggest adding a lot of scallions, cut lengthwise into thin strips. Great sunday brunch.

See Bittman prepare it himself on a video feed from the NY Times...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bocca Lupo

Tried this place out last weekend for brunch. They just opened recently and I think they are still working out the kinks. The decor is just the way I like it - exposed brick, lots of wood and glass. The brunch menu offered assorted scrambled egg dishes, several egg-based panini, prosciutto and melon, cheese plate, etc. I had a scrambled egg panini with fontina and Bear had a scrambled egg panini with roasted red pepper sauce. The plates had some yummy pickled cauliflower and fennel and a sprig of fresh rosemary. The bread was tasty and the eggs well-prepared, but neither of us was wowed for the price ($7 or $8, i believe). Next time I would definitely try the breakfast bruchetta sampler - 3 different bruchetta, one looked like egg salad, another like some sort of mushroom or eggplant paste. Great coffee. We asked to look at the dinner menu, which was pretty similar but also offered some tramezzini, 1 pasta, and 1 risotto. They also offered a section of 8 or 9 bruchetta for $2.50 a piece. I think their main goal is to focus on well-made italian sandwiches with fresh ingredients. With a large all-italian wine list, I would go back for a bottle of wine and some bruchetta on a random night.

Tonight's Dinner - Chili Orange Shrimp and Beef Stirfry

I just came up with this one on the fly, but it turned out pretty good. Bear had seconds and thirds. The hangar steak at Fairway is only about $5.99 a pound and it's really good broiled. Fairway also has a good deal for jumbo white shrimp, also about $5.99 a pound. We buy them all the time to cook fancy meals on the cheap.

Chili-Orange Shrimp and Beef Stir Fry

1 Hangar Steak
1/2 lb Shrimp, peeled
1 can of mandarin oranges in light syrup
1 small carton of o.j.
1 white/yellow onion, chopped or sliced
1 red pepper, chopped
Sesame Oil
Soy Sauce
Sambal Oelek Garlic Chili Sauce (available in any asian food section)

Marinate steak in a mixture of OJ, Sambal Oelek, Soy Sauce, Honey, and little syrup from the can of mandarin oranges (a splash or two of each is plenty) and throw in the broiler

Sautee ginger, garlic, and onions in sesame oil for several minutes in a wok.
Add a 1/2 cup of oj, the remaining mandarin orange syrup and a handful of orange segements, soy sauce, Sambal Oelek, and Honey and cook on heat for several minutes

Add red pepper

Add 1 tablespoon of cornstarched dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water (this acts as thickening agent)

When steak is broiled to your taste, remove and slice.

Add peeled shrimp to wok and cook just until pink

Add steak slices to wok and cook for no longer than 1-2 minutes.

Garnish with chopped scallions

Serve over rice

The Sambal Oelek is pretty spicy, so if you can't handle the heat, use sparingly!

The steak can become chewy if cooked in the sauce for too long so add at the last minute, just so it gets coated with the sauce.

River Cafe

We tried out the River Cafe last Saturday for my birthday. Built on a barge nestled below the Brooklyn Bridge, River Cafe offers fairly traditional upscale fare in a romantic old gotham kind of setting. Upon arrival, you are met with a quaint cobblestoned driveway lined with twinkle-light adorned trees. The front lobby is filled with bunches of fresh-cut flowers. The dining room is long and narrow, a bar with a piano player on one end. We were seated side by side, I assume so we could both have a view of the water. It wasn't entirely comfortable, we felt as if we were watching everyone else eat and we couldn't look each other in the eye while talking. Another strange element was the cord from the little electric lamp on our table hung down between us. Bear accidentally unplugged it with his foot several times. I suggest specially requesting a window table (these were regular round tables).

The waitstaff were pleasant and quick with drinks and rolls with butter. We chose to do the $85 3-course prix fixe menu. There were an abundance of options for appetizer, entree, and dessert. I started with the appetizer special, a seafood duo. One on side of the long narrow plate was a seared hamachi over sushi rice and a sweet black bean sauce (tasted like hoison/plum sauce). On the other was a big eye tuna tartare marinated in sesame oil and garnished with scallion and pine nuts. The hamachi was decent, but not amazing. I liked the black bean sauce. The tartare was one of the blandest I'd ever had. There was no salt or acid of any kind to offset the sesame oil. Bear had Blue Fin tuna tartare. The tuna, which was wrapped in bacon, was stuffed with foie gras. The foie gras was warm and melty and creamy and the tuna was pretty flavorful, but on the whole this dish was also not amazing.

We were feeling a little discouraged, but when the entree emerged, all was redeemed. Both of our dishes were the kind that make your eyes roll back in your head at the first bite. I had monkfished cooked in pork juices, topped with a braised pork belly ravioli with a golden raisin puree. This was the best preparation of monkfish I have ever had. The fish was tender and sweet, complemented by the buttery salty pork juices. The golden raisin puree was a delightful accent. Bear had a branzino that was delightfully light and well prepared. I only had a bite or two so I will let him fill you in later.

The dessert was also a disappointment. I had a sticky toffee chocolate cake with a pistachio ice cream sandwich. While the toffee sauce was quite good, the cake was one of the worst I've ever had. Egg-y and bland and spongey. The ice cream sandwich was quite, but the chocolate cookies were really savory and kind of tasted like bisquick. Bear had an apple upside down cake with both an apple sorbet and ice cream. The main problems with these desserts was that they were overly deconstructed. Bear's had each element in a totally seperate space where they would have been much better piled on top of each other. The 2 toffee filled chocolate candies that came with the check were incredibly good though.

So, to sum up, even though the appetizers were just okay and the desserts pretty poor, it's worth at least one try for a special occasion. The ambience and service were great and the entrees were incredible. Keep in mind we were being pretty critical due to the place's reputation and the price. Bear took pictures of all of our plates, so stay tuned for his post.

Friday, January 26, 2007