Monthly Archives: December 2013

Restaurant Review : Willow Road (NYC)

A couple of nights ago I went to a fairly new restaurant on the outskirts of the meatpacking district in Manhattan called Willow Road (85 Tenth Ave b/w 15th & 16th).  I had read a few reviews on the place and most were very good so when it came time to suggest an alternate restaurant for the evening (Alder was our first choice but booked), I thought it would be a good bet.  It was an interesting experience and we had a fun evening but it’s not a place I would return to again as there are many more restaurants in Manhattan with better food and better service for the same price point.

The ambiance of the restaurant is quite nice and unpretentious, and I imagine if we had been there on a busier night it would have been more noisy.  It gives off the air of an old bar with dark paneling and dim lighting.  The bar area is quite welcoming and seems like the kind of place I would go as a local for a drink.  We were greeted with a smile and seated promptly.  The wine list is quite good and the menu is very interesting including some off the wall items like Boiled Peanuts and Roasted Bone Marrow.  We ordered the Delicata Squash, Fries, Short Rib Meatballs, Braised Octopus, and Fried Chicken.

So why wasn’t I blown away by this place?  The squash was very flavorful, albeit a bit salty.  The meatballs were ok and I know I can make better.  Their only saving grace was the marinara with a kick that accompanied them. The octopus was not chewy which is always good, but it had an almost grainy texture to it which wasn’t all that pleasing.  The fried chicken was a disappointment as I had read many reviews stating it as the best ever.  The chicken was good – super crispy on the outside and moist on the inside – however the description promised something with jerk spices and an orange honey glaze.  What we got was all honey glaze and no spice whatsoever; to the point that the chicken was too sweet even.  In my opinion, if you’re not really adding any spice to a food item, just don’t say so – a menu description sets expectations and this one failed miserably in delivery.  Sadly the fries were our favorite food ordered that evening.  They were thick wedges of potatoes that were well seasoned with herbs, salt and pepper, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside and served with a delicious dipping sauce.

One note for the owners of Willow Road – please either make the font on your menu larger or make the lights brighter.  It is impossible to read without a magnifying glass and a flashlight, and my age has nothing to do with it this time – it is THAT small!!!

My favorite snafu at Willow Road is the bar tender who claims to be a mixologist.  If that is indeed true, the owners should seriously send him back to mixology school.  My friend ordered the same drink off the menu three times and got three completely different drinks each time.  They weren’t even similar in the ingredients with one containing blueberries and the next containing ginger and cucumber water. We didn’t complain because each iteration tasted good and we were having fun, but thank goodness a glass of wine needs no mixing.

For all the hype around this newbie, I’ll have to pass on it.  I know it seems like I’m not having a lot of luck with restaurants in Manhattan lately, but I’ll make a side note on two restaurants I went to about two weeks ago that were very good – Craftbar and La Pizza Fresca – both in the Flatiron district.  The Arancini at Craftbar was the best I’ve ever had (sorry MM) and the pizza at Pizza Fresca is always fantastic. I needed to end the last article on a positive note after all.

And so I bring 2013 to a close and wish you all many adventures in the culinary world in the new year!!

Remembering Gray Rocks

Some friends and I decided to head up to Vermont for a little ski vacation just before Christmas this year and so that is where I am as I write this.  We drove up as soon as my son came home from school for the holiday break and we were definitely in for a big surprise…..warmer temperatures in the mountain than at home.  Any other time, I welcome the warmer weather but for a ski trip it is not exactly ideal.  As I have made my way around the mountain the past two days, my mind keeps going back to a little over twenty years ago when I first learned to ski.

The barely covered top of Okemo Ski Area

Most of my readers know that I was born in Mumbai, India in the month of May, probably the hottest month of the summer in a region of the country that doesn’t really ever get colder than 70 F; Not generally anyway.  Growing up, I was not exposed to skiing.  It is an expensive hobby and my parents just plain couldn’t afford to get us involved in it, nor did they even really think about it – they were too busy thinking about survival and paying the mortgage and those sort of mundane things.  In 1992 I was employed with a company that allowed me to travel a bit, and on one of my trips I was perusing through a magazine that contained an advertisement for a ski trip package to a place called Gray Rocks that was an amazing deal for one week for $999……Canadian!!!  It included everything – lift tickets, rentals, lodging, 22 hours of instruction and all meals.  With the exchange rate at the time, that was like 50 cents US (not really) and way too good to pass up. Plus I had recently decided I liked new adventures and this would most certainly qualify.  All I needed to do was convince a friend to go along which of course I did do and off we went up the NYS Thruway in my yellow Honda Prelude.  What I didn’t realize was that even in Canada, it’s pretty warm in April and so the bargain was a marketing gimmick – one that clearly worked.

All I can say is I came out of that week absolutely hooked on skiing.  I loved it!  I didn’t care that we were learning on slush and avoiding puddles most of the week.  Any more of a meltdown and it could have qualified as water skiing.  Over the next few years I fell in love with every aspect of skiing – waking up early to make first chair, making fresh tracks in new fallen snow, the cold beer at lunch time, the mystery of the trail never taken, the apres ski  adventures at the bar, etc. etc. etc.  And Gray Rocks became an annual tradition. 


My son learning to ski as age 4

Over the next fifteen years, I introduced the amazing school at Gray Rocks to my then husband, friends with small children, my family and so many more people.  My father learned to ski there at the age of 69.  Even my mother tried it once.  My son started lessons at Gray Rocks at the age of three and today can ski just about any terrain at pretty fast speeds.  We looked forward to going there each year, staying at one of their condos just one mile from the base and meeting the other skiers on the first day of class.  After a while we knew most of the ski instructors well and would even invite some of them over for dinners with the group or go out for apres ski drinks with them at local bars or over to the village at Mont Tremblant.  Over the years we even got to know many of the guests who went during the same week each year.

There was something magical about Gray Rocks that I can’t quite describe.  The resort was not fancy or luxurious but it was that sense of feeling like you were a part of a family that made it special.  If you lost a mitt or hat, someone would find it and get it back to you.  You could leave anything anywhere on the mountain without losing it.  We would always compare and compete which class we were assigned to based on the first day evaluations, class number one being the best.  My first time there I was in class 22 and my last year I finally was  assigned to class 1 – I had made it!!!  There was a lot of history in this place as it had operated as a teaching only mountain for many decades with a ski school, in my opinion, that was top notch

The small town of St. Jovite which was just a few kilometers away, too, was something special.  It had some great restaurants mostly specializing in French cuisine in rustic looking home spaces.  Two of my favorites were Le Cheval de Jade and La Ripaille.   Both restaurants had amazing food, friendly service and a wonderful ambiance that made dinner an experience all by itself.  My favorite place at Mont Tremblant was the micro brasserie Le Diable where I spent many an apres ski hour drinking great beer trying to numb the pain of my muscles that had been worked to their max by the ski instructor of that week.  Many of our meals were also cooked in the condo based on what we found at the local IGA on the day of arrival.  Lunches were often had at the mid-mountain Lucille Wheeler lodge where one could find the usual ski lodge foods along with local specialties like poutine or a few healthier choices too.  A Labatt with lunch would help get you kick started for the afternoon lesson.  Often we were so into the skiing that we would rush through lunch just to get a few extra runs in.

I don’t generally miss many things or places except home, but I truly miss Gray Rocks.  It shut down

Top of Champagne run at Gray Rocks

a few years ago after being mismanaged and poorly marketed by an owner who likely purchased it as a tax write off.  Everyone I know who went there with me was saddened by the news of its closing.  My son, to this day, will say “I wish we could go back to Gray Rocks” as we begin making our annual ski plans.  But we can only go back in our memories.  I have not gone back to St Jovite since then.  I imagine it has changed some.  I stay in touch with some of the ski instructors and get news here and there about the goings on and where others have moved on to.  I suppose life is full of closed chapters…. Gray Rocks is one of my favorites and I am truly glad I didn’t ignore that advertisement in that magazine so many years ago and decided to adventure into the world of downhill skiing.  It opened up so many possibilities and adventures for me in life.

So, as I ski in the warm temperatures, dodging puddles of water and grass patches and drink my Cuba libres (my official apres ski drink thanks to CC) by the fireplace at the end of my day, I can’t help but reminisce about the place I learned to ski and was lucky enough to take my son to also learn to ski.  I’m thankful for the experience that so many will not have and will never forget the tiny little ski hill called Gray Rocks!!

The required apres ski fire
The thick fog at Okemo at top of Solitude

Happy Skiing!!!

Dedicated to all the amazing ski instructors at Gray Rocks who were tireless in their efforts in teaching so many of us with great skill and patience.  Thank you all!!

Recipe : My Famous Chili (a mix of Texas & Cincinnati)

Posting this recipe as I got a request for it recently and happened to be making it yesterday for my ski trip to Vermont…..Enjoy JC…..Let me know how it turns out for you…

Ingredients

2 lbs London broil or any other lean cut of beef
2 cans tomato sauce
1 large onion chopped finely
2 Serrano chilis chopped finely
2 – 3 Cups water
5 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 Tsp ground cumin
1 Tsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 Tbsp Salt
1 Tsp  Cayenne (optional)
3 Tbsp dutch processed cocoa
2 15 oz cans Red Kidney beans
2 8 oz cans kernel corn
2 Tbs masa flour

Recipe

Cut meat into small bite sized pieces and brown on all sides in a large dutch oven.  Drain excess fat.  Add tomato sauce and water.  Stir and bring to a boil.  Add onion, chilis, garlic, cumin, thyme, chili powder, salt and cayenne.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes covered.  Add cocoa, cover and simmer for 30 minutes more or until meat is tender.  Add kidney beans and corn.  In a small bowl mix masa flour with enough cold water to form a thick slurry.  Pour into chili and stir well.  Bring back to a boil and simmer uncovered for 30 more minutes stirring occasionally.  Enjoy topped with grated cheddar, scallions or chopped onions!!  Serve with warm bread or homemade cornbread.  I like to add some chopped jalapenos and cheese to my cornbread but that’s a whole other recipe. 🙂

Note: For a hotter chili add 1 or 2 more serranos or 1 more Tsp of cayenne.

Note too: The chili can be slow cooked in a crock pot if you wish.  Add all ingredients except kidney beans, corn and masa into the crock pot and slow cook for 6 hours.  Add the beans, corn and masa in the last hour of cooking.



A Small Cocktail Party for 25

This year I opted to take a hiatus from my annual holiday party which typically sees anywhere from 40 to 80 guests.  I started the tradition in 1992 and it’s the first year that I chose not to do it due to my recovery from a recent neck injury.  But since I love to host and wanted to do something to celebrate that same road to recovery, I decided to host a smaller party to thank all the people who helped me while I was down and out for a few months and contributed towards it.  I really appreciate all these people who did so much for me from providing physical therapy to bringing over food to taking walks with me to inviting me over for dinners and in so many other ways.  And so last night, I had this small group of friends over for a cocktail party.  


The forecast looked ominous with snow and ice predicted and I woke up with one of my intense sinus headaches.  I had bought all my food and planned a menu and really hoped that the evening would not need to be cancelled.  Lots of warm compresses and a bit of Advil took care of the headache.  The snow started early and continued throughout the day.  I was determined and continued with my prep and cooking.  My friends M & R came over early to help.  Always more fun to cook for a party with others so we had fun and kept our fingers crossed.  A few “maybe” texts, emails and calls started coming through but we kept on going.  If no one came, the three of us would be gaining a few pounds that evening.  At 6pm, I went out and cleared off the steps and walkway and made a walking path on the driveway.  There were only about two inches of light fluff on the ground and I felt hopeful.  By 7pm I had received a couple of cancellations but some guests started arriving too.  I put out towels for the snowfilled shoes that were sure to trek in and began greeting those who braved the weather.  And so the party began……

Soup & Cava Stations by the Front Door

I had warm soup waiting for everyone at the door along with filled flutes of Cava – perfect for coming in from the cold.  The snow was left outside (well mostly) and I ended up with about 20 guests and we had a fantastic time.

When I host a party I like to serve food I can make ahead of time and reheat or serve at room temperature.  This allows me to enjoy the party and talk to my guests.  Planning ahead and making lists is key to the success of any party.  I prepare the house during the entire week, late at night, after work and dinner have been taken care of.  Sleep is not something I get a lot of before one of these but there’s always time to catch up after the party.  So my menu was……

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Salmon Roe marinated in Smoked Olive Oil
Asian Beef Salad
Spicy Thai Shrimp served chilled on a Himalayan Salt Block
Crostini with White Bean puree
Batata Wada (spicy potatoes fried in a coating of chick pea flour)
Spiced Rosemary Walnuts
Cheese/Salami/Olive board
Smoked Salmon with Capers, Dill & Red Onion served with Pumpernickel Bread
Meatballs (provided by PK)
Crudite with a Greek Yogurt Herb Dip
Desserts – Brownies, Custard Squares with Prunes, & Lemon Ginger Tart (provided by IN & MG)

Plate Tags
For drinks I kept it simple and served some Cava and lots of wine.  I had planned to make a cocktail but shoveling snow took away the time I needed and so it was skipped.  I don’t think anyone missed it.  Since it was going to be a somewhat smaller group I decided to forego the paper goods and use real plates, cups, etc.  I served the soup in espresso cups (borrowed some from neighbors) which is a great way for guests to walk around and sip the soup, and used small appetizer plates that I have collected over the years.  My only concern with the plates was that most people, at parties, will take a plate, put it down and lose it.  Well since I didn’t have enough plates to allow for multiple takings, I came up with the idea to tag each plate with festive looking binder clips and asked the guests to write their names.  This way plates could be put down and found again for refills.  

Asian Beef Salad with Watercress, Herbs & Red Chilis
Creamy Cauliflower Soup w/ Salmon Roe

Here are photos of some of the food….

Smoked Salmon with Dill
Spicy Thai Shrimp on Himalayan Salt Block

Crudite with Greek Yogurt Herb Dip

Happy Holidays and a Fun 2014 to all my readers out there!!!!!

Restaurant Review : Hudson Common (NYC)

This past Friday night I took my son to his first adult music concert at Lincoln Center to see the NY Philharmonic.  He’s been to their children’s concert series before and really enjoys music, so I thought I would introduce him to his first real concert.  We were excited to go despite the threat of bad weather and planned accordingly.
When I asked him where he wanted to go for dinner, I fully expected to get the usual answer of an expensive steakhouse or some fancy restaurant.  Instead he surprised me by saying he was in the mood for a good old fashioned burger.  Being that we would be going to the symphony, I couldn’t very well take him to the Shake Shack.  They have awesome burgers, but I wanted something just a bit more upscale but casual than a burger stand or a diner.  I also wanted to try something new.  After some online research, I decided we would go to Hudson Common on 58th Street in the Hudson Hotel.

The description for Hudson Common is of a casual beer hall with good, basic bar food such as burgers, fries, sandwiches, etc.  It sounded right up our alley and it was a short walk to our eventual destination.  Upon arriving at the entrance, it’s very difficult to even know you’re actually there as there are no signs.  We just guessed and followed the crowds up an escalator to the hotel lobby where someone greeted us and pointed in the direction of the restaurant. 

When we got to the restaurant, the “hostess” told us that most of the communal type benches were reserved that evening but there was one bench that wouldn’t be filled for another two hours that we could sit at.  She didn’t walk us over or provide menus or any other instruction.  Ok, I figured out that the menus were on some of the tables (not ours).  We looked over the menus I swiped off another table and decided what we wanted, but after waiting nearly 15 minutes, no one came to take our order.  So I walked over to the bar to see if we needed to order with them.  Here is what I discovered……

At Hudson Common, there’s an order window at the back where you place your order and pay, then they text you when your order is ready and you are supposed to go pick up your order, collect any condiments you need along with flatware and napkins.  Oh and if you want a drink, you have to go back to the bar for those and order & pay separately.  By now I was feeling like I was not just in a McDonald’s but one at a rest stop on the New York State Thruway.  But we were hungry so I ordered the food and we waited while sipping on some water and a Brooklyn Winter.  Oh yes, it took a full five minutes for the bar tenders to acknowledge my presence as they were too deep in a conversation among themselves.  When our burgers & fries arrived, I couldn’t believe how small they were.  I got a lamb burger and my son got their Common Classic.  Neither came with fries which we ordered separately.  The burgers were ok, nothing to write home about but they most definitely weren’t filling, even for our generally small appetites.  We had to eat again after the concert.

What bugged me about the whole experience was that I had just paid $48 for two mediocre burgers, a pint of beer, a glass of water and received absolutely no service whatsoever.  The so called beer hall isn’t even all that great.  I’ve been to so many better beer halls including Radegast in Brooklyn, Zeppelin Hall in Jersey City, Pilsner House in Hoboken and the Andecher Monastary Biergarten in Bavaria.  This one is pathetic in comparison to any of them in so many respects. 

All I can say is I would have been better off at the Shake Shack or convincing my son to go to a steak house to spend that much money.  Trust me, it wouldn’t have taken much convincing.  If you’re looking for food around Lincoln Center, skip Hudson Common. 

By the way, as we left the restaurant, I spotted a new place called “Red Cork” right next door which is a wine & tapas bar.  Menu looks interesting and the ambiance promising.  Will have to check that one out soon……
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