Eleven Madison Park

>>  Monday, May 30, 2011

What's the hottest restaurant in New York right now?

Well, I know of one place whose chef won the James Beard Award for Best Chef New York City last year. And then, one year later, it nabbed another James Beard Award, this time as Outstanding Restaurant. On top of all these, it boasts a Michelin star, four stars from the New York Times (one of only seven restaurants!), and is named as one of S. Pellegrino's Top Fifty Restaurants in the World.

Something is definitely buzzing at Eleven Madison Park. Even though this restaurant has been around since 1998, things started to happen when owner Danny Meyer hired Swiss chef Daniel Humm as executive chef and Will Guidara as general manager in 2006.

More recently in September 2010, they made some even more bold changes. For one, they reduced the number of seats by about 30%. Their goal? - to make Eleven Madison Park more of a special destination, a place that offers a "rarified experience to a smaller number of diners."

The friendly, accessible neighborhood restaurant is joining the big leagues now. Gone is the option for a la carte dining in the dining room (you can still order that way at the bar). Even the simple one or two course lunch (only $28!) is gone. Everything is a tasting menu now: three to four courses at lunch; four or five courses at dinner.

The most interesting change? The menu.

Yep, that's it! No more fancy descriptions of the dishes and all their little components. Instead, your meal is inspired by the ingredients. Mr. Guidara calls this more like a "dialogue" since you can tell the chef what you like or don't like and he can take that into consideration.

This flexibility also allows the kitchen to be more nimble, giving them the ability to change items at moment's notice.

I've been wanting to try this place for quite some time now. I was thrilled when several New York food bloggers were willing to take an extended lunch on a Friday to join me for a special meal at Eleven Madison Park.

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Fresh Strawberry Pie with Sweet Balsamic Reduction + Giveaway!

>>  Friday, May 27, 2011

We'll take a brief break from the Eating Out in New York (again) Series for a little Friday dessert. :)

Oh tiny kitchen, why can't you fit everything?

One negative aspect of having a tiny kitchen is that you can't stock up on food. Lack of storage space basically forces me to pay premium prices for smaller packaging. I don't have a pantry. Instead, my snacks are stuffed in random kitchen cabinets.  In general, I try not to buy things in bulk.

Imagine my utter shock when I got a call from the front desk (at 8AM no less!) telling me to come down immediately to pick up a very perishable large shipment.

Bleary-eyed and hardly coherent (yes, she had awaken me from my slumber, after all), I went downstairs and brought the box upstairs. When I opened it I nearly gasped.

There were 8 twelve-ounce cartons of strawberries.

I was thrilled but at the same time a bit anxious as I glanced at my tiny kitchen.

Oh dear.

What was I going to do?

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Marea (lunch)

>>  Thursday, May 26, 2011

GNOCHETTI ruby red shrimp, controne bean puree, rosemary

A great way to enjoy Michelin stars on a "budget" is to visit during lunch (if they serve lunch - not all of them do!). Oftentimes, the menu has plenty of overlap with the dinner menu - just with lower prices and slightly smaller portions.

At Marea, the business lunch costs $42 and includes a primo (first course) and a secondi (second course). Depending on what you choose to order, this can be a fantastic value. For example, secondis on the dinner menu typically cost around $40 while the primos are in the $15-20 range. If you choose wisely, you can save more than $20 by eating at lunch instead of dinner.

Of course, if you choose pasta as your secondi instead, then it's not nearly as good of a deal, since the pastas only cost around $30 on the dinner menu.

Marea recently got "upgraded" and now is the proud owner of two Michelin stars. Considering the restaurant has only been around for 2 years, this is pretty incredible.

That must be why Marea was one of the two places (the other being Peter Luger) that Bryan really really wanted to visit during this New York trip.

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>>  Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Eataly is a dream come true for any Italian food lover.

What is Eataly?

Oh, just the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the entire world. The first one opened in Turin, Italy two years ago by a fellow named Oscar Farinetti. This past summer, Farinetti teamed up with Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich to build a second one in New York City.

This new one occupies 50,000 square feet of space in the former Toy building at 200 Fifth avenue. Inside, you'll find all sorts of hard-to-find Italian specialties, a number of Italian restaurants, wines, cheeses, and even various types of classes and cooking demonstrations.

It's every food lover's dream, which would explain why the place is always packed like a mad house.

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Peter Luger Steak House

>>  Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This post is part 1 of our Eating in New York (again) series. 

I've been hearing so much about this place.

First, there was the post + giveaway where I asked all my readers to share their favorite steak and/or burger places. This particular restaurant kept showing up over and over again.

Then, there was the winner of that same giveaway who, after enjoying the meal courtesy of the winning gift card, told us "the dinner was good, but not as good as Peter Luger."

And then there are the numerous accolades, such as Zagat's number 1 steakhouse 26 years in a row or the Michelin star. How many casual steak houses get Michelin stars?

When we found out we would be going to New York again this year, Bryan said, "there are two places I definitely want to try. Peter Luger and Marea."

I was lucky enough to land a 12pm reservation for four last minute, so we decided to meet up with some friends for lunch in Brooklyn at this super famous steak house.

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Eating in New York (again) and Giveaway winner!

>>  Monday, May 23, 2011

Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Building 

Congratulations to Vicki who won the Tapena Wines giveaway. Vicki said "I made beef bourguignon with cheeks once, it was so good! For the tapas, I'd have to go with the sardine cakes with salsa verde."

Thanks all for participating!

The past few years I've had the privilege of visiting New York City for work. Bryan and I have fun dressing up in our formal attire to attend an annual black tie event in Manhattan. In fact, Bryan buckled down and purchased a tuxedo this year to avoid having to rent in the subsequent years.

Of course, a fun "side effect" of this business trip is that I always extend it into the weekend, which give me and Bryan ample opportunities to try a bit of all that New York City has to offer!

Here's a peek at some of the upcoming posts you'll see in this New York series . . . .

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>>  Friday, May 20, 2011

Asana (noun) in yoga, a sitting position intended to restore and maintain well being.

Asana is one of several restaurants inside the Mandarin Oriental in Back Bay right next to the Prudential Center. The Mandarin hasn't been in Boston for that long, only about 3 years. Within that time, Asana is still trying to find its voice.

As many of you may know, the Mandarin Oriental is an Asian hotel, with headquarters in Hong Kong. When the hotel first opened, French Chef Nicolas Boutin (who has worked at several three star Michelin restaurants) left the Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental to come on as Executive Chef in Boston. Unfortunately, his innovative fusion of Asian and French cuisine wasn't that popular with Bostonians. Since then, Asana has taken a safer approach, offering local, seasonal New England inspired fare with an emphasis on fresh, high quality ingredients.

Asana's actually looking for an executive chef right now. Meanwhile, the current staff is doing an admirable job of delivering a wonderful assortment of farm fresh, locally-inspired dishes.

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Beef Cheeks Boeuf Bourginion + Wine Giveaway!

>>  Monday, May 16, 2011

Beef cheeks are so underappreciated. I first tried beef cheeks in Napa Valley at a lovely dinner at Nickel & Nickel Winery during the S. Pellegrino 9th Annual Almost Famous Chef Competition. I fell in love with the ultra soft texture, collagen-rich texture of the meat. It was much less dry, much less stringy than any meat I'd ever enjoyed. Later, I found out that beef cheeks are really really cheap, because no one wants them! Our local upscale market (Savenor's) sells them for $2/lb (unprocessed), or $6/lb processed.

Around the same time, a Spanish wine company called Tapeña (derived from the words Tapas (small plates) and Peña (close group of friends)) contacted me asking whether I would be interested in trying some wines that were designed to go with Spanish tapas.

Well, we ended up making a French dish to pair with the Spanish wine, so maybe you can call this a European fusion meal?

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The Art of Hand Pulled Noodles - Noodle making class in Beijing, China

It's arguably becoming a lost art.

Many of you might know that I'm a bit obsessed with hand-pulled noodles.

OK, I should clarify. My husband is obsessed with eating fresh, handmade noodles. As a result, I became obsessed with figuring out how to obtain them. After an exhaustive search of Boston, we realized that hand-pulled noodles do not exist in Boston.

So I set out to learn how to make them myself. It wasn't easy. I soon learned that the internet is sparse when it comes to information in English for making hand-pulled noodles. Sure, there's some information, but at the end of the day, I think a lot of the information is still hidden in China.

So when I went to Beijing last fall (after having made my noodle making Project Food Blog post), you know what I had to do. I signed up for a hand-pulling noodle class with a Chinese noodle master.

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Oven Roasted Golden Beets

>>  Saturday, May 14, 2011

There are some things that inherently taste so good, the best way to enjoy them is really with minimal preparation.

Ever since I discovered what fresh beets taste like, I've been a huge fan of them. Fresh beets, which you can simply cover with foil and roast in the oven, are healthy, easy to prepare, and taste absolutely delicious.

Who would have thought that peeling them first, and thus caramelizing them in the oven, would glorify this humble root vegetable to new heights?

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Lucca [Back Bay]

>>  Friday, May 13, 2011

Lucca Back Bay
After a long day of shopping in Back Bay, what's a hungry girl to do if she's craving good Italian?

Lucca Back Bay is the second outpost of the original North End location right on famous Hanover Street. Owned by the same people (Ted Kennedy, Matthew and Sean Williams), this location has Anthony Mazzotta working as the executive chef. Chef Mazzotta has worked in some pretty well known places, such as The French Laundry, Per Se, and Ken Oringer's Toro, before coming to Lucca Back Bay.

The food at Lucca is inspired by different regions of Italy depending on the season. The winter menu features Piedmont and Lombardy, while the the spring focuses on Umbria and Abruzzo. The summer highlights Sicily and Calibria while the fall focuses on Sardinia and Larzo.

Here's a look some dishes we enjoyed on a chilly day last fall.

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Bom Cafe

>>  Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nothing beats a local, neighborhood restaurant where the owners know the neighborhood, know the guests, and consistently dish out fantastic food.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you would know that Muqueca, a (formerly tiny) Brazilian seafood restaurant, is one of my favorite restaurants in the Boston area. Why do I say "formerly" tiny? Well, since my last post about Muqueca, which was only about a year ago, Muqueca has moved into a larger space down the street.

In some ways, this is a welcomed relief. The biggest limitation of the old restaurant was always the tiny space, which translated to looooong waits for a table. The bigger restaurant can accommodate so many more guests and the food is still just as good. Better yet, the new place has a liquor license as well.

However, in other ways, it's bittersweet because I'll miss that old space. That tight space made it cozy and intimate. Visiting Muqueca was like visiting a Brazilian family and having them cook a fabulous meal for you. The new place just isn't quite the same.

Well guess what? You might just have a chance to visit that old space again and relive some of the nostalgia.

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Wild Willy's

>>  Monday, May 09, 2011

Grass Fed Burger
The Rio Grande Burger - Roasted Green Chilies and Cheddar Cheese

I love it when I learn cool and interesting things from the community of readers of this blog. Close to a year ago, I conducted a giveaway where the question was, "what is your favorite steak and/or burger place?"

Two places showed up over and over again - enough for me to notice. One was Peter Luger in New York City (not a surprise, considering it actually won a Michelin star in 2011!! - post coming soon!). The other was this humble little burger place in Watertown called Wild Willy's.

I finally had a chance to try Wild Willy's the other day to see what all the loyalty and hype was about.

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A Belated Happy Mother's Day

5-Spice Dried Tofu (Jen's mom)

Man, time really flies doesn't it?

I can't believe it's already been a year since I wrote my first Mother's Day post. As I get older, I appreciate more and more what our mothers have done and still do for us. Many of my friends are young mothers right now, and it amazes me how much work goes into raising good, happy, and healthy children. It's a bummer it takes us so long to realize and truly appreciate it.

5-Spice Soy Braised Beef Shank and Tendon (Bryan's Mom)

This post is dedicated to our moms (Bryan's mom and my mom). Last year I had highlighted some favorite family recipes that our moms made. I ended the post by pointing out two special ones that had been passed down through multiple generations. At the time, I had no recipe to share. Ha ha, in fact, I had never tried making those dearly-loved family treasures!

Soy Braised Pigs Feet - Jen's Mom

Thankfully, since then, I have not only successfully conquered the dishes, I have written blog posts about them as well! (both were entries in Project Food Blog). In case you missed it last fall, below are two of our favorite family recipes, passed down through many generations from China and Taiwan.

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Tiny Urban Tidbits #19: My Visit to NPR's Studios in Boston

>>  Friday, May 06, 2011

Some of you might remember that I had my first radio interview last fall. It was during the tense, final round of Project Food Blog when Boston's NPR station, WBUR invited me to come in for a radio interview. They were interested in interviewing me because I had made this animated stop-motion video of Boston out of vegetables. They even called me and asked me to bring some radishes so they could eat them on air!

I've been meaning to share that experience with you, since I found it quite interesting. I'd never been inside a radio station before, and it was really cool to watch them stitch together live programs on the fly.

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Grilled Halloumi Cheese and Meyer Lemons with Spring Greens

>>  Thursday, May 05, 2011

Spring is finally, finally here. After a rough, rough winter, it really feels like a sigh of relief.

As you may know, I was in Greece a couple weeks ago. If any of you are thinking about getting away to "warm and sunny" Greece during the spring - forget it! It was just as cold there, if not colder than Boston. I ended up wearing all my warm clothes that I had intended for London (the first portion of my Europe trip). Ironically, London was warm and balmy by comparison.

Yes, I guess freaks of nature happen.

Anyway, when I was in Greece, I got to try one of my favorite cheeses there. Halloumi (or χαλούμι in Greek), is a traditional cheese originating from Cyprus. It is made from a combination of sheep's milk and goat's milk. What's unique about halloumi cheese is that it has a really high melting point, so you can safely grill it without it melting!

I am so in love with this cheese. It reminds me a bit of mozarella, but much more aged, complex, briny, and dense. It's almost squeaks a bit when you bite it, sort to like cheese curds.

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Michelin Stars Gallery

>>  Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Per Se
Joel Robuchon

I just wanted to let you know that I've set up a new Michelin Star Gallery. It's a quick way for you to see all the Michelin starred restaurants that I've written about on this blog. The above collage is just a sneak preview. To see the whole thing (plus names & links to all the restaurants), click here.

Explore, and enjoy!

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Trattoria Il Panino

It has been close to two years since one of our favorite neighborhood Italian haunt closed due to exorbitant rent increases. We always knew that Il Panino Express had another outpost in the North End. However, it's hard to choose a casual sandwich shop for dinner when you're literally steps away from the likes of Mamma Maria, Prezza, and Monica's.

So we never went.

But nostalgia can be a pretty strong force, and eventually I convinced Bryan to try Trattoria Il Panino "for old time's sake."

He finally relented and agreed.

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Towne Stove & Spirits

>>  Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Typically, if I see lamb souvlaki, Yangzhou fried rice, pappardelle with housemade ricotta,and lobster tempura all on the same menu, I get very very scared.

There's no way one restaurant could pull off all those dishes well . . .  or is there?

If you've shopped near the Prudential Center anytime in the last year, you must have noticed the brand new space right near the the main entrance of the mall. Towne Stove and Spirits is one of the newest ventures of Lydia Shire and Jasper White, arguably amongst some of the most famous chefs in Boston.

Towne bills itself as a warm, welcoming place where "people relax and enjoy steaks to share, lobster done eleven ways, and plenty of unexpected culinary surprises from around the globe."

One look at the interesting ingredients that dot the multi-national flag filled menu and it's clear - this is not your typical suburban chain restaurant unsuccessfully trying the multi-ethnic thing.

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>>  Monday, May 02, 2011

Bryan's family is from Southern California, so every Christmas we get the privilege of  enjoying a week of sunshine before returning to snow-piled-high Boston for the rest of the winter.

The past several Christmases, we never failed to seek out and visit (multiple times) the nearest Pinkberry we could find (usually about 7 miles away). Although I've tried many other frozen yogurt places, for some reason I have always liked Pinkberry the best.

Perhaps it's the bright, crisp yogurt flavor or the high quality of their fresh cut fruit. Whatever the reason, I always looked forward to Pinkberry as a treat - a once a year indulgence during my annual holiday trek out to California.

Imagine my sheer excitement when I found out that Pinkberry was finally coming to Boston! Not only that, a location just opened up right in Harvard Square a couple weeks ago.

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you can contact me at: jen[at]tinyurbankitchen[dot]com
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