Monday, December 29, 2014

Clinton Street Baking Co. & Restaurant, New York - Watch Out For The Queues!

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Just a few minutes walk down from the iconic Katz Deli is another well known eatery, Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant, which has been named by Lonely Planet as "New York's #1 breakfast spot" and as having the "best pancakes" by New York Magazine. Its success has led to outlets overseas, in both Dubai and Tokyo.

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The Place

Located along the leafy Clinton Street, the eatery doesn't take reservations for breakfast/brunch (only for dinner for 6 or more pax) so it's first come first served. You register your name with the counter and wait outside for your number to be called. We got there at about 830am on a weekday and the wait for a table was about 30mins (and they only open at 8am!).

Inside, the seating capacity is limited to 32 people. Some might call it cosy but I personally feel it's a little crampish. Window seats offer alot of sunlight but also the stares of hungry diners awaiting their turn. But having said that, you wouldn't have had a choice of seating anyway, at least not during brunch.

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Sugar Cured Bacon

This was one of the best perk me up I've had in a long while as far as bacon goes (another awesome one would be from Peter Luger). Lightly crisp, mildly sweet yet savoury whilst retaining the familiar taste of bacon. Inexplicably good!

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Clinton St. Omelette

Okay this was rather standard fare and didn't come across as anything worth mentioning about. We had the omelette with cheddar and mushrooms and it seemed a little limp and bland. You could probably get something similar at many of the brunch places elsewhere.

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Blueberry Pancakes

The blueberry pancakes were a delight to consume; Fluffy with a little charring on the surface for a nice crusty finish, filled with blueberries and topped with even more blueberries. However the pièce de résistance was undoubtedly the warm maple butter sauce. Smooth and rich with the saltiness of butter and the wild aromatic sweetness of maple syrup; potent combination. This ranks as the second best pancakes I've ever tried, with Pancakes On The Rocks in Sydney taking the top spot and The Pancake Parlour in Melbourne sliding down to third. 

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Bill

2 mains, 2 drinks and a side cost us a mere USD 48 (~ SGD 62) inclusive of a 15% tip. Pretty reasonable if you ask me. Food quality was quite good in general and I would have liked to try more of their dishes if not for the time constraint (we had a flight to catch to London). Service was personable as well and I'll be happy to drop by for some pancakes and bacon the next time I'm in New York.


Final Verdict:

Ambience: 6/10
Service: 7/10
Food: 7/10 (8/10 for the bacon and pancakes)
Value for money: 7/10

Overall: 6.75/10

Address: 4 Clinton Street (btw. East Houston & Stanton)

Contact: 646-602-6263

Opening Hours

Mon - Fri
8am - 4pm full menu dining
4pm-5pm cafe only (pastries/ coffee to go)
closed: 5pm to 6pm
6pm to 11pm open for dinner

Saturday:
open 8am-9am for pastry & coffee takeout only
open 9am - 4pm
closed 4pm- 6pm
open 6pm-11pm for dinner

Website: https://clintonstreetbaking.com/

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Per Se, New York - Worthy Of 3 Stars?

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Behind those blue wooden doors laid our lunch venue, a much vaunted 3 Michelin starred restaurant from the very same chef behind the acclaimed The French Laundry (3 Michelin Starred as well) in California, Thomas Keller. It was named "Best Restaurant in New York" by a New York Times' critic in 2011 and we were eager to see how it would fare against another 3 Michelin Starred restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, which we had just dined at two days prior.

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Interior & Menu

And once again, thanks to the efficient folks at the VI concierge who got us a reservation at the restaurant and a great corner booth seat on the upper level to boot! Do note that reservations are difficult to secure so do make them once they open up one month before your desired dining date.

The dining area wasn't all the grand (certainly not as nice as EMP's) but offered views of the surrounding Columbus Circle and Central Park (if you happen to score a window seat) from its 4th floor "vantage" point. That aside, we both had the 5 course meal with additional top ups for certain dishes.

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Amuse Bouche

Things got off to a flying start with the amuse-bouches. The bite sized gruyère cheese choux pastry was an instant hit; awesomely cheesy with a nice tough of saltiness. The salmon tartare and crème fraîche came wrapped in a crisp black sesame twirl - Not too fishy with a mild tartness and a lingering taste of black sesame.

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Oysters And Pearls

Served up warm, the sabayon of pearl tapioca came across as rich, creamily smooth and went very well with the lightly chilled white sturgeon caviar and plump island creek oysters.

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Tsar Imperial Ossetra Caviar

The Tsar Imperial Ossetra Caviar required a top up of USD 75 and I'm not too sure it was worth the extra money. Doled up on a bed of champagne finger lime granita and Kendall Farm's crème fraîche, the briny caviar hit the spot with the rich yet lightly tart crème fraîche but I didn't quite take to the champagne granita which came across as bitter. Better off sticking to the classic Oyster and Pearls dish!

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White Truffle Infused Custard

Per Se's signature dish, the white truffle infused custard served with a potato chip in an open top egg shell. Sublimely smooth with a distinct taste of truffle and a crisp chip for added texture and good measure. Very nice. 

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Complimentary Bread

On to the complimentary bread (gluten free apparently and baked in house), which came individually wrapped in a napkin to keep it warm. Salted and unsalted butter as well as a variety of salt (Hawaiian salt, sea salt etc) on the side. Crusty with a soft center but rather bland on its own. Still nice but not as good as the one from EMP in my humble opinion.

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Black Mission Fig Tart

I'm not a big fan of figs but this was decent. Crumbly base with a cheesy filling and the sweetness from the figs. Maybe someone who likes figs will appreciate this more. 

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Terrine of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras

Silkily smooth and topped with a a jellied layer of grape and peanuts, the terrine (similar to pâté) of foie gras was nothing short of excellent. The sweetness from the grape slices complemented the moderate gaminess of the foie gras and contrasted against the saltiness of the nuts. Best eaten with the side of flaky and buttery brioche. This was well worth the USD 40 top up.

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Jade Tiger Abalone "Picatta"

Maybe I'm more used to eating abalone the Chinese way as I couldn't quite wrap my taste buds around the softness of the abalone and its thin, pan fried till golden brown layer of flour. Would personally prefer a much firmer texture. Average at best in my humble opinion.

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Cuisse De Poularde

Now this was interesting. A combination of chicken thigh meat and mousse wrapped in chicken skin. The end result wasn't that intriguing though; Tender piece of meat with the creaminess of the mousse and mild sweetness from the base sauce. Tasted pretty good though!

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100 Day Dry Aged Snake River Farm's Beef

I love my steak and Per Se's 100 day dry aged beef wasn't particularly outstanding. Cooked to a perfect medium rare and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, the meat was tender with a bit of fat for that chewy texture. However the flavours were rather muted even though the Bearnaise gastrique sauce at the bottom did add a touch of sweetness. Nothing like Peter Luger I'm afraid.

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Lemon Bar

And on to desserts. Starting us off was a small serving of the lemon bar, a sponge like dessert with a layer of lemon and blackberry each. Topped off with fresh raspberries. Moderately tart and not quite my cup of tea.

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Pain Au Lait Ice Cream

The pain au lait (milk bread) ice cream had a mildly savoury and milky slant to it and was reminiscent of eating the actual french toast albeit of a different texture and temperature. Served on a crisp slice of brioche for added texture and slices of peach for that little sweetness.

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Hazelnut Milk Chocolate

A small rectangular block of hazelnut milk chocolate with dulce de leche (milk candy) and a solitary hazelnut; Small on presentation but big on taste. Nice and smooth with a distinct hazelnut taste without coming across as too rich. The salt granules scattered atop acted as a counterpoint to the sweetness of the dulce de leche. Very nice!

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Chocolate Selection

You get to choose from the 24 beautifully made in house chocolates as part of the dessert course. Classy! 

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Coffee & Donuts

One of Chef Thomas Keller's signature, the ubiquitous coffee and donuts. Fluffy and not too sweet cinnamon brioche sporting a nice crisp exterior coupled with a smooth cappuccino semifreddo.  Simple yet satisfying. 

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Sweets Stand

Nougats, macarons and assorted truffles to end off. I personally found the macaron shells a tad too soft whilst the nougats were a tad too sweet for my liking. Still a decent way to end off though.

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Bill

At USD 680 (~ SGD 880) inclusive of tips and taxes, this was one rather expensive lunch. Food quality was of a certain standard but definitely not up to par with what I would expect from a 3 Michelin Starred restaurant. Think Guy Savoy or Restaurant Gordan Ramsay. Service was so professional that it bordered on stiff. 

One thing to note, jackets are a must at Per Se, which doesn't quite sit well with yours truly (just for the record, I did wear a jacket). I can understand the rationale behind dressing up as a form of respect for the restaurant but I humbly believe that a good restaurant should be solely about its food (and in certain cases, service) and almost everything else is superfluous. But I digress.

Will I be back? Probably not.


Final Verdict:

Ambience: 7.5/10
Service: 7.5/10 (polished but stiff)
Food: 7.5/10 (good food overall but not outstanding)
Value for money: 5.5/10

Overall: 7/10

Address: 10 Columbus Circle

Contact: (212) 823-9335

Opening Hours

Lunch: Friday - Sunday: 11:30am - 1:30pm; Dinner Nightly: 5:30pm - 10:00pm

Website: http://www.thomaskeller.com/per-se


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One For the Road

A nice parting gift from Per Se, fragrant butter cookies in a restaurant branded metal container. Pretty nice!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Peter Luger Steak House, New York - A Legend, No Less

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It is said that no trip to New York is complete for steak lovers without a visit to the legendary Peter Luger Steakhouse, which currently holds 1 Michelin Star and has been voted "Best Steakhouse in New York" by Zagat for 30 years in a row. And so there we were on a sunny Saturday afternoon, thanks to a reservation courtesy of the VI concierge (reservations are a definite must and by phone only).

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The Place & Menu

Located about a 5-10 minute walk from Marcy Ave subway station, Peter Luger's Brooklyn outlet has been around since 1887 (the other Great Neck outlet since 1996) and even though the both of us had reservations, we had to join the snaking queue to speak to the counter about it. There were a lot of people in line who didn't have a reservation but opted to wait at the bar area for a table to open up. According to the gentleman at the counter, estimated wait time is about 1-2 hrs so yes, please make that reservation, way in advance if possible. 

The place had a cosy, old school steak house vibe to it, with lots of wood, mini chandeliers and wait staff (all male I observed) decked out in white aprons and bow ties.

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Complimentary Bread & Butter

The complimentary bread was plentiful and came with rather crude chunks of lightly salted butter on a plate. No frills and we took only a few bites to save space for our mains.

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Luger's Sizzling Bacon, Extra Thick, By The Slice (USD 4.50/slice)

These were the thickest, heartiest slices of bacon I've ever been served in any eatery. Crisp along the edges with a good amount of fat and minimal salt, the bacon slices went very well with Peter Luger's steak sauce; Mildly tart, sweet and spicy all rolled into one, a little like BBQ sauce (see steak below).

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Fresh Broccoli (USD 8.95)

The obligatory greens for the afternoon, steamed fresh broccoli for that nice crunch and to break the monotony of all that meat.

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Salmon, Grilled with Potato and Vegetable (USD 18.95)

Having stayed in Norway for a period of time, the wife was fairly blasé about salmon dishes. But she was all praise for this salmon. Crisp exterior coupled with sweet and flaky flesh with a tinge of oiliness. The accompanying creamed spinach was nicely smooth and creamy but the texture did seem a little like baby food. Now if only they served this in Singapore steak houses.  

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Small Single Steak (USD 48.95)

And now for the undisputed star of the afternoon and the main reason why I was there, the steak. Lightly seasoned with a dash of salt, the steak boasted a beautifully broiled surface with charred bits around the edges, belying a pinkish, perfect medium center that was ever so flavourful and tender. It was probably THE best steak I've had so far (step aside Mortons and Ruth Chris). Eat it on its own or with the special steak house sauce. Either way, it's bound to delight. And to save you the trouble of cutting up your meat, Peter Luger serves up their steak all cut up into chunks for easy sharing if you so wish. One of the best fifty bucks I've ever spent.

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Sweets

No fancy petit fours to end our meal, just gold foiled Peter Luger chocolate coins for that simple, nostalgic finish.

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Bill

The place is cash only (unless you have a US debit card or US cheques with ID) and our excellent meal cost the both of us USD 110 (~ SGD 140) after tips; Extremely great value for the quality of food. And contrary to what some folks have described as gruff service at Peter Luger, we were made to feel welcome and enjoyed our meal tremendously. I'll definitely be back in a heartbeat!


Final Verdict:

Ambience: 7/10
Service: 7.5/10
Food: 8/10 (9/10 for the steak)
Value for money: 7.5/10

Overall: 7.5/10

Address: 178 Broadway, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211. Other outlet at 255 Northern Blvd, Great Neck, N.Y. 11021

Contact: 718-387-7400 (Brooklyn)& 516-487-8800 (Great Neck)

Opening Hours:

Monday - Thursday: 11:45 am - 9:45 pm (last seating)

Friday & Saturday: 11:45 am - 10:45 pm (last seating, Brooklyn) & 11:45 am - 9:45 pm (last seating, Great Neck)

Sunday: 12:45 pm - 9:45 pm (last seating)

Website: http://peterluger.com/

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shake Shack, New York - Good Burgers, Fast Food Prices

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The queues were long and I was hungry. But I decided to grit my teeth and join the crowd as they queued for one of New York's most popular burger joint, Shake Shack. Starting out as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in 2001, Shake Shack has gown to multiple stores worldwide and a loyal following to boot.

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The Queues

After about a 20 minute wait, it was finally my turn at the counter and the order was quickly dispatched through via the less than friendly counter staff. Collection was a seperate line altogether by means of a beeping buzzer. Seats are limited but if you really want a table, bring along a huge dose of patience and agility (for leapfrogging your competitors to the next vacant table).

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Double Shackburger + Strawberry Shake

The double ShackBurger sported two 100% angus beef patties, lettuce, tomato and shack sauce. And it tasted great, much much better than your usual fast food joints like McD or the wee bit more upmarket Carl's Junior. Thick patties that oozed flavourful bovine juices but didn't come across as limp and perfectly seasoned with a touch of pepper and salt; All encapsulated within two soft buns and smeared with the mildly spicy, sweet and sourish, secret shack sauce. Delicious!

The strawberry shake was great as well. Thick and creamy without coming across as overly sweet and perfect for a hot summer day. I almost went for another burger and shake but stopped myself when I saw the queue.

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Bill

An awesome meal at USD 13.45 (~ SGD 17). What more can I ask for? Well, maybe shorter queues and an outlet in Singapore please. 


Final Verdict:

Ambience: NA
Service: NA
Food: 7.5/10
Value for money: 7.5/10

Overall: 7.5/10

Address: 691 8th Avenue(8th Ave & 44th St). Various other outlets in the US and worldwide.

Contact: 646.435.0135

Opening Hours: 11:00 AM – Midnight daily

Website: https://www.shakeshack.com/