Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Restaurant Review: Craft

I'm no stranger to fancy restaurants. I'm also no stranger to celebrity chef's restaurants--I've been to Bobby Flay's Bar Americain and Mesa Grill, eaten Morimoto in both the Philadelphia and New York City, Alex Guarnaschelli's Butter, numerous restaurants by Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, Kefi and Fishtag by Michael Psilakis, and an unconscionable amount of Danny Meyer's and Todd English's restaurants.

Yet I have never had quite the phenomenal experience that I had last night at Tom Collichio's craft. It was basically perfect, in every sense of the word--from the room, to the waiter, the drinks and the food. It was clear that each element of the restaurant was specifically chosen and the end result was as close to perfection as I've had the opportunity to experience.

My dad and I began the night, as always, at the bar. He had a perfectly mixed grey goose martini, straight up with a twist (extremely light on the vermouth) and I had glass of Syrah, slightly cooled at the perfect temperature. We also had a chance to watch the master bartenders make some pretty cool cocktails--the Firefly, by far the most interest to watch, which is made of gin, lillet blanc, absinthe and apricot brandy, and then set on fire. 
Shortly thereafter we were led to our table. One of the small things that made this restaurant just a bit smoother than other experiences was that we did not have to settle up at the bar--our bar tab simply transferred over to our table. Yes, it is a little thing, but it is also something that just makes your time there a bit easier for you.

Now the menu at craft is a bit...unusual. It is all a la carte and, if you are interested in a dish, you basically have to ask how it is prepared. The menu simply lists the ingredient and the cooking technique--no word on if there is a sauce or how it is prepared.

Selection of oysters

Of course, the two of us started the meal with an appetizer. Since oysters are my new favorite (semi-healthy, although that was a pretty gross discussion as I found out that you can get hepatitis from oysters, but I digress) appetizer, I ordered one of each kind offered: Beau Soleil, Blue Point, Naked Cowboy and Hama Hama. When they arrived, there was not a cocktail sauce in sight!! Quite unusual, and again, quite pleasant as the sauce was delicious.

So, for those of you who don't know, my dad has, in the past year, lost a ridiculously large amount of weight, started to eat healthier, and well...climbed a couple of mountains. Like...20,000 foot mountains. And works out every single day for hours on end. Yeah...I am adopted. It's become clear to me. Again, I digress--after looking at the menu and eying me over the top, I reassured him that i would not reveal to my mom (hi freddi!!) what I KNEW he was going to order to start...bacon. Crispy, fried, delicious bacon. And was it delicious and fatty and I could basically feel my arteries hardening, yet couldnt bring myself to care enough to stop eating because then the deliciousness would end. It was...amazing, but that word hardly begins to describe. Let's just say it was crispy fried bacon, and those of you who know what I mean, know what i mean.

Photo courtesy of Tom O'Brien who, without glasses on, is practically blind. Apologies for him.

Moving on to our entrees: I followed the fabulous advice I got from my delightful friend and colleague Kris and ordered the scallops--roasted and served with vermouth butter. They were perfectly cooked, just crispy on the outside and splendidly soft in the middle. My dad ordered the halibut, which is slow braised, did not come out hot, but was melt-in-your-mouth soft. It was phenomenal. 

As these were a la carte, we ordered sides to share. The pureed potatoes are conceivably the best potatoes I've ever eaten, and from a person who's last name is O'Brien, that's a huge compliment. As I ate, I was positive that at least a pound of pure butter went into the potatoes as they were so soft, but was pleasantly surprised that the butter did not overpower the flavor of the potatoes. After discussing with the waiter, I was reassured that, in fact, I was not continuing to clog the arteries that were sorely tested by the crispy bacon but instead, that the potatoes were made with only a negligible amount of butter (which in restaurant-terms is still more than I would use, but less than I expected) and, instead, the potatoes were pureed by adding extra virgin olive oil extremely slowly at the end. My dad and I resolved to try this technique at home immediately.

Besides the potatoes, we ordered Hen of the Woods mushrooms, which were good, but could not stand up to the deliciousness of our other food. We also split pea and bacon risotto, which was cooked to perfect and had the delightfully smoky taste of bacon. 

I adored how all of our food was served--even our entrees, which were, as I've said, a la carte, were in serving dishes and placed in the middle of our table. For most people, it would be the perfect way to share...for my father and I, it ended up as dueling forks, but nevertheless it was much easier to steal bites of his halibut while dodging his tines than when reaching across the entire table. Although, I must boast, I have become extremely proficient at stealing food off of his plate. Not that we don't share...which we do...normally. But this food was not normal, and we were not going to give up any deliciousness that was not hard won.

I must apologize for the lack of pictures, as I was too busy shoving my face with the best food of my life to waste time pulling out my camera. And I'm sure, from that statement, you can guess that i HIGHLY recommend craft, would die to go there again (and probably die if I were the one receiving the bill-thanks again dad's company!) and will walk by the restaurant longingly for the rest of my days. GO THERE. Seriously. This is not a joke. GO.

To visit craft, better can find the restaurant at 43 East 19th St, right off of Park Ave, and online at For those of you on a a slimmer budget, I also highly recommend craftbar, which can be found around the corner from craft at the corner of Broadway and E 20th.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Restaurant Review: Ditch Plains

So I'm obsessed with the new restaurant craze that is sweeping the Upper West Side--"sea shack cuisine". Basically the kind of food you would get on the side of the road in the real Northeast, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, etc. The kind of food that evokes memories of walking the beach as a child collecting shells. I'm a huge fan of this craze--I love Ed's Chowder House, Luke's Lobster, the Mermaid Inn. And, over the weekend, I tried Ditch Plains on 82nd near Columbus.

Now I've been to Ditch Plains' bar before when meeting friends. They have a fabulous atmosphere--bright walls and light colored wood and, that rare thing in New York restaurants, space. Tables arent crushed next to each other, you dont have to pull out the table for someone to fit against the wall. This place is huge. And their bar is amazing. I've tried tons of drinks there, and every single one is delicious.

While waiting at the bar for the rest of our party (there was 7 of us in total) I got the chance to try a couple of drinks I'd never had before. As always, they were spectacular. As my brother said, my first drink, the peach margarita, was "dangerous": exactly as it sounds, it was a margarita with peach liquor in it to give it a sweet flavor. As for "dangerous", this drink was not light--even with the peach in it, the taste was definitely of tequila. I also tried the guava guava, a mix of vodka, citrus and guava juice. Also delicious, also very high in alcohol...exactly how I like it.

Because there was a huge group of us, we decided to start off with appetizers. The crab dip, not pictured, was absolutely amazing...delicious cheesy crabby goodness. It's served with bagel chips, which is a nice change from the norm.

Nachos with BBQ Chicken
We also had the nacho platter, seen here (half eaten, I couldnt stop the greedy masses from grabbing some as I was trying to take a picture).  We added bbq pulled chicken to the already delicious nachos that come piled high with guacamole. Delicious.

Oyster platter
For our last appetizer, we ordered some Rapphanock River oysters (from Virginia) for a refreshing, and significantly lighter option. The lightness was a good thing, as our entrees were quite unusual, albeit quite delicious.

Lobster Roll

Now, the real test of a restaurant that serves "sea shack cuisine" is, in my opinion at least, the lobster roll. And the Ditch Plains lobster roll was...good. Not great. By far not the best option here. It had thick chunks of lobster, served on a potato hot dog roll, but the mayo and seasoning mix was...bland. To put it in perspective, I normally eat an entire lobster roll in about 4 minutes and then wonder what we're having for dessert. Now, yes, we did have appetizers, but I did not even finish half of my lobster roll. I think I just got bored halfway through.

Ditch Plains Chili
Same went for the chili. It was good, don't get me wrong. It just wasnt...great. Actually, it tasted a bit like sloppy joe mix rather than the Italian, spicy meaty mixture I prefer. And it was served with tortillas that look like theyre straight out of the box. Again, nothing wrong with the chili just nothing particularly right either.

Sloppy ditch dogs

Now these monstrosities on the other hand? These were heaven. Yes, this is exactly what it looks like. On the left...a sloppy dog, a hot dog on a toasted bun covered in sloppy joe mix. And on the right, the ditch dog, a hotdog absolutely smothered in delicious, velvety mac 'n' cheese. These two brilliant inventions combine to create a "sloppy ditch dog" platter. Oh yeah. Nothing bland about these babies. They were heavy and artery-clogging and absolutely delicious. Now the two gentlemen at the table who ordered these much preferred the sloppy dog, stating that it was like having a chili dog on crack. I however, far preferred the mac 'n' cheese, the ditch dog. Then again, I only had a couple of bites of each. After finishing, my dad said he would have to go run on the treadmill for about 5 hours to burn off all the calories. My mom, however, was dialing his doctor to get his arteries and cholesterol checked out. I guess it didnt help that we ordered fried candy bars for dessert.

All in all, Ditch Plains is a fabulous place to go if you want to splurge on some calories and some hefty drinks. I warn you, do not go if you are on a diet, trying to go on a diet, or are in the least bit worried about clogged arteries or a bad heart. Although I'm sure they already have the paramedics on stand-by. I would if I was serving platters of sloppy ditch dogs.

Find Ditch Plains online at, in the Upper West Side at 100 W 82nd St near Columbus, in the West Village at 29 Bedford St near Downing and, during the summer months, a Ditch Plains Drop-In opens at Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Restaurant Review: Zampa Wine Bar Kitchen

As part of Sea Salt n Pepa's revamp, I will be combining it with my restaurant review blog, Wining Foodie. As you all know, lovely readers, we can't cook every single day--it would be exhausting! This blog was originally developed to share my thoughts on restaurants I addition, visiting restaurants gives me inspiration for my recipes, so combining the two is a smart idea (if I do say so myself, which I did). Enjoy the new addition of Restaurant Reviews!

Last night was date night again with the boyfriend. I got a fabulous BlackBoard Eats special, and got 30% off at Zampa Winebar and Kitchen, so we trekked down to W 13th for some delicious wine and some small plates.

First, Zampa does not take reservations for parties of 2 during prime hours--their last reservation is at 4:45 PM and the first after that is at 10:00. So we were pleasantly surprised when we walked in and, although it was packed, a table of two was just paying their check. We looked over the wine list while we waited and within five minutes were seated. Big plus for a place with no reservations, as I very rarely actually go to places not on Opentable (shout out to opentable--obsession!)

We sat down and I was happy to see that there were a couple of wines I had never heard of, much less tried, before. The first was a Savuto, which our extremely knowledgeable waitress told me was a southern grape that was fruity but not overly sweet with a lingering finish. Spot on much? The boyfriend ordered a Barbera and was also very happy with his selection. The waitress then went on to tell us the specials--they had five small plates specials, two large plates and a fish of the day. We decided to stick with small plates and had a bit of a battle over which to order. When we did order, we got our small plates in courses because of the tiny table--our four choices would not all have fit on the table at once. We started with the lightest and then had our meat course.

Fava bean and Pecorino Crostini daily special

To start, I ordered one of the specials--a fava bean and potato crostini with pecorino. It was a nice size, with three thick slices of bread, but the puree was a little blase. I ended up salting it to give it a bit more flavor, but my boyfriend said he couldnt taste anything in the puree, much less potatoes. Still, it was a hearty starter and there was nothing to really complain about, besides the fact that it was a little boring.

Roasted Shrimp with Cannellini, Hot Pepper and Garlic Crostini

My boyfriend's starter was the antithesis of mine--flavorful, spicy and literally steaming. It was a crostini with a shrimp topping with cannellini beans and hot pepper. While flavorful, I was disappointed as the cannellini beans were undercooked. The shrimp, however, were delicious--just a hit of red pepper spice and perfectly cooked. But the best part was definitely the juices that came in the bowl. We used his crostini, and even asked for extra bread, to sop up the delicious mixture.

Grande Antipasti Toscano

For my meat course, I ordered the Grande Antipasti Toscano...a huge plate with a delicious selection of meats, cheeses and antipasto. On the plate was more of the delicious bread, three kinds of meats--proscuitto, sopresseto and coppa, two different cheeses (one pecorino and one delicious soft cheese that I never did find out what it was), with olives and artichokes hearts. Everything on the plate was delicious and the cheeses were a spectacular counterpoint to the meats.

Duck sausage special

For his meat course, the boyfriend chose to try the duck sausage special. It was two pieces of sausage served with roasted red peppers and grainy mustard. It was good duck sausage, good red peppers and good mustard. He was happy. wasnt anything special. 

All in all, we did have a fabulous time at Zampa. I tried two wines I had never heard of, the Savuto and an Aglianico, which were about as polar opposite in taste as possible but both of which were absolutely delicious. We had good food...not great, but nothing that had us complaining. 

Would I go back? Honestly, I doubt it. There are tons of good wine bars in the city, and many of them have food that really wows you. Zampa was cute inside, just like a wine bar should be, with specials and recommended wines written on chalkboards. But looks aren't enough when the food doesn't cut it. I think I'll keep searching for a wine bar that beats my favorite, Barcibo Enoteca on the Upper West Side (2020 Broadway, at 69th St, online at 

If you're interested in trying Zampa Winebar and Kitchen for yourself, you can find it at 306 W 13th St, between Eighth and W. 4th, and online at