racine’s

Racine’s is one of the places I am prepared to love everything about, and I almost do. The people are knowledgeable and friendly at the bar and the wines are beautiful. Unfortunately, the food was solid, but not stand-out. Maybe we hit them at a bad time. We were among the first to arrive, because we had planned to slide in before the crowds hit at Brushstrokes’ Noodle Bar, but had to find a new option when we discovered that our dream ramen place had closed the weekend before. We should stop for a moment of silence to remember the closing of the last of the great David Bouley Tribeca spots (except his special events space, which is also immensely impressive).

Let’s start with the star of the show. You really can’t go wrong with Racine’s amazing biodynamic wine list. The Mai & Kenji Hodgson ‘Faia’ Vin Blanc from the Loire Valley, was bright and minerally, chosen to complement our many small-bite selections from the food menu. Both the sommelier and bartender (we chose seats at the bar) were helpful in curating our choice.

It’s taken me a while to write this review, so I apologize for not remembering every dish. Our food journey began with the Chicken Wing Schnitzel with Lemon Aioli, which was a tasty bite of fried, deboned chicken wing – impossible to not enjoy. Next, the Buckwheat Blini with Uni and Smoked Carrot had nice components but didn’t come together as cohesively as we would have liked. Because we were set on noodles, we tried the deconstructed Pho – not bad, but not special either.

We’ll be back for wine, or just bring home from Chambers Street, but there are too many fantastic food moments in NYC to go back for the food.

russ and daughters cafe

We were even more impressed with Russ and Daughters Cafe on this visit. As part of the Stone Series Music Series, Bill Frisell was scheduled to play, and we made reservations well in advance. Emily, the General Manager, emailed my husband to ask if we wanted to be close to the music or in the back, where it was quieter. She gave us the perfect seats – close, but out of the way of the crowd. The bartenders were lovely also. Since the musicians performed in the bar section, the staff waited for breaks to add ice to the shaker for mixed drinks, gently lifted the wine from the ice bath, and tenderly placed each dish on the counter to avoid disturbing the music.

Kudos to the restaurant for sponsoring this series. A popular venue, yet management allowed people to stand and enjoy the show with minimal (or any) purchases. The concerts demonstrate a real commitment from the restaurant to the community.

Russ and Daughters Cafe specializes in smoked fish, putting its unique spin into dishes like Pastrami Russ, a pastrami-cured salmon sandwich similar to a Reuben.  The Chopped Liver with matzo escorted me back to my childhood days helping my mom prepare the communion “crackers” at our small town church and sneaking a couple for a snack. The fennel, dill, and capers added character to the Mixed Green salad. We finished off the meal with the Russ & Daughters Knishes – light, fluffy, with a hint of sharp mustard.

Our beverage choices included the Lower East Side, a fragrant gin cocktail with lime, dill, and cucumber. Derek couldn’t resist the Smoked Martini, gin-based, with the smokiness coming from a rinse of Laphroaig. It’s always nice to see more savory beverages. The Daniel Dampt & Fils Chablis was a bargain at $56 a bottle.

russ and daughters bill frisell updo

It was one of those crazy hot Manhattan Summer nights, so I ended up having to hack a pen into a hair accessory to beat the heat. All in all, it was a delightful evening of food, drinks, and music.

staycation 2018: day 5

We wound down our official staycation today beginning with a brunch utilizing our leftover Korean BBQ supplemented with some roasted potatoes, arugula salad, and a fried egg. Also, we were able to score one of the last bottles of Moussamoussettes Sparkling Rose on our Chambers Street Wine visits yesterday, making this the perfect morning feast. As you can see from the before and after shots, it was horrible.

The last formal act of Staycation 2018 was the tea service at the Bosie Tea Parlour. Our second visit was no less cozy and chic as the first. The best sandwiches were the most simple – cucumber/cream cheese and egg salad, with the cheddar/pickle a close third. All of the macaroons were yummy, but we preferred the Chocolate with Earl Grey. We fancied both of our tea choices (Black Toasted Coconut & Darjeeling Tumsong First Flush) so much that we bought loose leaves to bring home. Hands down, the soft, flaky scones were the star of the service.

The excess of our week wore us out so we decided on an afternoon nap to officially close out the run before heading to our friend’s going away party.

 

 

staycation 2018: day 1

What better way to shake off the stress of work and jumpstart the relaxation than a massage? We found a new place that is known as a go-to for fitness pros – Fishion Therapy Center. Nestled in the middle of Chinatown, it is not fancy, and pain is promised, but the use of acupressure, scraping, and other methods find your trouble spots and release the tension. I love the sign that says “legitimate massage only”. The best part – it’s only $68 for 90 minutes. Derek was quite red in spots after his session, and I feel loose as a goose after mine. Definitely expecting to sleep well tonight, but may have some soreness tomorrow.

The day actually started with a trip to Sadelle’s to grab a bagel breakfast, but we were disappointed to find that their to-go counter was closed due to an absent employee. Strange that a restaurant can’t figure out how to sell a few bagels using the staff in attendance. We found a suitable alternative at Olive’s, so it didn’t ruin the staycation. Also, an exciting twist – we won the Mean Girls lottery for tomorrow night, and our seats are front and center.

Next on the agenda was a trip to Despaña, which you already know is beloved to us. We picked up a bottle of orange wine at the adjacent sister wine store before ordering an assortment of tapas for a late lunch. The chorizo tortilla, lentil salad, bonito and boquerones sandwich, olives, and black sausage dishes were all satisfying and paired perfectly with the wine. We didn’t notice the gazpacho on the menu until later but decided to grab one to have for dinner with our leftovers.

Strolled into The Laundress for some fancy detergent for our sheets to deepen the relaxation at bedtime. Lovely people and lovely products. They even had detergents featuring our two prized La Labo fragrances – Rose 31 and Santal 33. We settled on the classic with a lavender scent. Can’t wait to try them out!

Our final stop of the day was to Jimmy at the James rooftop pool bar. I’ve been wanting to wear my swimsuit and take a plunge in the pool while sipping a cocktail all summer but didn’t want to waste the money on an all-day pass for an hour of dipping. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand the description from the hotel website and multiple other online reviews of the venue. Yes, the rooftop is open to non-hotel guests beginning at 5 pm, but no, the pool is not open. The “pool party” I was expecting apparently only happens on the weekends. We had two expensive and subpar beverages and then hightailed it off the rooftop.

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Jimmy at the James rooftop – not pool

Finished the day off with our Spanish leftovers while catching up on Sharp Objects and The Affair. Great start to the staycation.

 

wildair, revisited

One of the tough parts about living in NYC is deciding whether to venture out to one of the many restaurants on our wish list or to revisit one of our loves. With Wildair, deciding to go back also requires some planning because of its popularity. Fortunately, you can now make reservations but count on a few weeks out for a weekend night.

We only planned to order a bottle of wine with dinner but couldn’t turn down a glass of the Agnès et René Mosse, Moussamoussettes, a reddish-colored, sparkling masterpiece of biodynamicness, which is only available in the summer, as a starter. For the meal, we were steered towards a bottle of Denavolo Dinavolina, an orange natural wine from Italy. I also couldn’t resist trying a digestif of the 72 Tomatoes Liqueur – those who read my blog know I’m a sucker for savory/vegetal liquids. The server described it as tasting like a tomato vine smells. I don’t know that I agree with this narrative, but it was unique and nice finish to the meal.

Now for the food. I also have the dilemma when returning to an old flame whether to reorder a previous rewarding pick or embrace a new selection. We decided to choose both. An old standby was the potato darphin with hokkaido uni and jalapeno. When you get a bit of each ingredient on your fork, it becomes a perfect bite. New additions to our repertoire included the softshell crab with Meyer lemon and spring onion, lightly breaded with no greasiness accompanied by lemony, scalliony, and curried tartar sauce, and a sophisticated plate of chopped mussels with endive and smoked egg yolk.

If you are reading this, stop and go to the Wildair website to make a reservation for the next mutually available time. You won’t be disappointed.

     

    the four horsemen

    We really never go out for three splurges in one weekend, but the timing just happened to work out. Bohemian, Mission, and Four Horseman – the trifecta. Next week will be our make-up week – it was totally worth it.

    The Four Horseman has always been a prized natural wine choice for us, but the appeal of the restaurant rose when they introduced their $28 set lunch on weekends. We extended the binge a bit longer by starting with a glass of Domaine Mosse Moussamoussettes, which is a pink, natural, sparkling wine that is only available in the summer. For a bottle to enjoy with lunch, we needed some help finding the right fit for all of the courses. Billy brought three options (two whites and a red), and Derek and I both reached for the one he described as having oxidation on the nose with flavors of salt and flowers on the tongue. A golden, almost amber color, the wine had an almost silky fattiness and paired beautifully with the meal.

    four horsemen menu

    I have this strange thing where I always try to make my last bite the best. Out of the Ciabatta with roasted garlic oil; Radish Salad with walnuts, mint, feta and cumin vinaigrette; Chickpeas with romano beans, zhoug, and delfino cilantro; and Lamb Leg Skewers with grilled onions, yogurt, and dill, my final morsel was a piece of the ciabatta dipped in the oil. My second last bite was the ciabatta dragged through the last bits of yogurt, onion, and dill from the lamb course – it probably should have been my last because it was impeccable. You can see here that we didn’t leave anything.

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    There have been a few instances lately where the wine outshone the cooking, but not in this case. We almost forgot about the wine because the food was so delicious. Fortunately, we were able to savor the remainder leisurely after we finished with the dessert course of Orange-Almond Cake.

    four horsemen food 2

    mission chinese

    Mission Chinese is one of our most beloved places in the city, so we were delighted when we were able to make a last-minute reservation for 7:00 on a Saturday night. Our original plan was to check out Gitano, the Mexican pop-up in SoHo that has hosted many celebrity-spotting. I made the reservations before the palm-filled outdoor space opened, but after one of my team mentioned that they had been closed temporarily by the health department, it made sense to see if any reviews had been posted. After a quick search, I found only negative comments about the food and service, plus it didn’t seem the exterior atmosphere was going to be very comfortable with the Summer heat. We’ll probably try it for drinks at some point. So long Gitano; hello Mission!

    We arrived a bit early and headed to the bar for a apertif while we waited for our friends to arrive. I think this may be the first time we tried their cocktails, as we tend to just go for a bottle of Reisling to stand up to the intense heat of the food. This time we went for both since there were four of us. The drinks were delicious and fun; my personal favorite was the Phil Kallins – gin, coconut milk, kaffir lime, tianjin chili, ginger, lemongrass, and sesame oil. It had a savory quality with a slightly sweet creaminess. The chili-sesame oil really made it. Other standouts were the electric blue MSG Margarita (tequila, bitter melon, blue curacao, aloe salt, and citrus) and the General Tso’s Whiskey Sour (rye, pineapple, roasted peanut + sesame, ginger, chili, and umami bitters). I love how they sprinkle just a bit of seasoning on the top ice cube versus the usual rim.

    The Quick Mission Dinner is our go-to, but we decided to continue on our a la carte spree. One of our companions is gluten-free and vegan, and the menu was very accommodating for her. Wood Fired Celery, Effervescent Sichuan Water Pickles, Smoked Mushroom “Jerky” Fried Rice, and Vegan Mapo Tofu provided the base, and then the other three of us supplemented with Chongqing Chicken Wings w/XXX Spices and Kung Pao Pastrami. I don’t think it is possible for my husband to go to Mission without ordering the chicken wings, but I don’t discourage. The pickles, which are served with chunks of ice – I know, weird, right? – are spicy and exquisite. A lot of the dishes, including the wings and pickles, contain the spicy, numbing Sichuan peppers – you love and curse them in the same bite. The lobster fried rice is still my number one pick in the rice section, but the mushroom one is a worthy second. We’ve never had a dish at Mission that was anything less than extraordinary, and I’m so glad our friends were just as mesmerized.

    bohemian

    This is our 3rd or 4th time to Bohemian. I read about it a couple of years ago online, probably on the Eater secret dining guide, and sent an email pleading my case for access to the reservation line.

    I’m trying to think of something clever to warrant an invite, but my mind seems to still be on holiday. My husband and I are adventurous eaters (shirako and baby squid are two of my all-time favorite dishes) who are always looking for something different and delicious. We recently moved to NYC, and I read about Bohemian while searching for culinary experiences that celebrate food over hype. If you feel inclined to invite us, we would love to come for a visit.

    It worked! I love the fact that they gave us the number to call for reservations and still asked more about us.

    Thank you for contacting Bohemian New York. My name is Karen and I am returning to you on behalf of team Bohemian.  We, Play Earth, create hide-out spots in our favorite places across the world to meet and connect with people from a variety of experiences and backgrounds.  Our concept is to nurture the human connection within the confines of our intimate space, which is why we ask for a self-introduction or a personal referral from a friend.  Could you tell us a little more about yourself?  Where are you and your husband originally from?   How are you enjoying life in NYC?  It would be a pleasure to welcome you into our intimate dining space for a memorable evening.  I love shirako and baby squid too!  Although we don’t serve those traditional dishes here at Bohemian, we hope you won’t be disappointed with our eclectic menu filled with our passion to serve good food and hospitality.

    And we weren’t at all disappointed with the menu or the hospitality, especially tonight. Just a quick FYI and the only slightly negative thing you will read in this blog post – don’t arrive before 6 pm if you have the first reservation of the night in the Summer. The hallway leading up to the locked restaurant door doesn’t get any air movement and will make you sweat in less than a minute.

    But once you are inside, everyone and everything is lovely. You know it’s going to be a good meal when the bartender directs the same attention to chilling a glass for beer (by swirling ice water in the glass) as he does to the preparation of the cocktails. We began with two libations sharing a Japanese whiskey base – the Little Devil, a spicy and light number, and the Jaguar No. 2, a little heavier drink with egg white and a torched almond garnish. Both were well-balanced and delicious.

    We have always ordered the tasting course but decided to go a la carte this time to try new things. Plus, the tasting price has gone up from $63 to $80, which weighed in on our choice. People on Yelp say you should go for a la carte, but I think you should try one of the tasting dinners (there are two now – the other for $90) on your first visit, and then move to single servings.

    We ordered five dishes, which was one to two more than we needed with our lighter appetites, but is probably perfect for most couples. The Farmers’ Fresh Vegetable Fondue has always been a favorite of ours, so we selected it again. Yelpers discount it as “just” a crudité, but it is worth the $24 because each item nestled into the crushed ice bed tastes like it was picked right before serving – bitter treviso, sharp radishes, sweet carrots and juicy tomatoes. Another repeat was the Pan-Roasted Branzino (the small one) which is seasoned and cooked perfectly and served with more farm-fresh veggies. The anchovies really make the entree.

    New items for us were the Garlic Shrimp, Menchi Katsu, and Mushroom Risotto. The shrimp come out sizzling in a terracotta cazuela. No matter how much you know you need to wait for it to cool, it’s impossible to delay topping the grilled bread with the garlicy goodness, taking a bite, and burning your mouth. Same with the katsu, a beef version which comes in its own pouch. There is a bit of work involved to make your own condiment by grinding sesame seeds in a minature mortar and then mixing in sweet tonkatsu sauce, but it is totally worth the effort. We finished the meal with risotto (well, half of the risotto – we brought the rest back with us), made in the simple, clean style of Japan.

    Last, but not least, we come to the wine. A stable-y, light red called Romuaid Petit Chiroubles paired perfectly with the variety of dishes. $250 with tax and tip, so not an every-day meal, but a special experience to repeat every few months or as the budget allows.

    frenchette

    I gave my husband 17 choices in the $300-$350 budget range (including $100 for drinks) for our 12th anniversary, and he chose Frenchette. Several of our “natural wine” contacts had recommended the restaurant for its extensive and interesting list. The 14-day window for making reservations began on the day we were cheering on our friends in the NYC Triathalon, so there was only a 10:30 pm timeslot left by the time we remembered to check the Resy app. We decided to stop by the restaurant to beg, and the host was gracious enough to grant us a 6:30 pm reservation.

    As the time drew near for our dinner, our perusal of several reviews had worked us up into a frenzy about what to order – we wanted everything. Ultimately, we decided on the Sardines Marinées from the Amuses section, the Fluke Tartare and Brouillade from the Appetizers, and Duck Frites and Calf’s Liver for our Entrees. The sardines and fluke were an enjoyable opening. I especially liked the salty moments that presumably came from the sea beans in the fluke. As a lover of all things liver, I thought the calf’s liver was seasoned and cooked delicately, and the combination of mashed peas with a few crunchy pieces still in the pod made for an appetizing plate. We enjoyed the crispness the chef was able to achieve with the skin on the duck and the fries, but the dish was not overly memorable.

    The real standouts of the meal were the wine, the bread (chewy and tart with salted butter), and the brouillade. I’ve never had anything quite like this egg dish, which must take a great amount of skill and butter to attain the polenta-like savoury perfection. You can never go wrong with a topping of tiny escargots and garlic butter. Also, the last-minute decision to order the strawberry pavlova turned out to be a winner. Fresh berries surrounded creamy and crackling meringue with a touch of salt for a light and delicious end to the meal. The kitchen even added a candle to celebrate our special occasion.

    For drinks, we started with the two sparkling wines by the glass – one a full-bodied dry rośe and the other a funky, unfiltered biodynamic – both charming and perfect to cleanse the palate. The sommelier’s recommendation on a bottle to pair with our varied dishes was spot on. From the Bugey region in France, the La Vigne du Perron La Combe Aux Reves L’Eveil Du Loup 2015 was light enough to match the appetizers while also standing up to the carnivorous main dishes. It is one of the most balanced natural wines we have tasted, and I’m looking forward to trying more from this region.

    Thanks to Frenchette for a lovely anniversary experience.

     

    hemlock

    Hemlock was a place I had been wanting to try for their biodynamic wines, and we thoroughly enjoyed our bottles of cider and orange wine. The rest was just “ok’.

    The simple decor was lovely. The staff were friendly, but our server recommended that we order more dishes that we needed. It always drives me crazy when they insist you haven’t ordered enough and say it may take too long if you ask about ordering more items later. I normally don’t fall for it, but thought they wouldn’t lead us astray at a place like this. The food was perfectly fine, but nothing was amazing.  Combined with the lack of air conditioning, too much lacklustre food left me feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. We probably won’t be dining here again – there are too many amazing places we want to try or revisit.