Friday, January 30, 2009

Italian & Portuguese at Convivium Osteria

I recently had one of the best meals I've had in recent months. I went with my family to Convivium Osteria (68 5th Avenue, between St. Marks Place and Bergen Street, 718-857-1833) last Friday, on one of the most bitter cold nights this month. It's an Italian/Iberian eatery, specializing in seafood, pastas and meats in hearty sauces, broths and combinations. The atmosphere is farmhouse rustic with dark wood tables & chairs and old-looking farm tools and implements lining the walls. It's cozy and charming and the waitstaff seem proud of what's being served.

We were seated in the back area as the front room and the downstairs room were both full. It was slightly chilly back there, despite the heaters they had turned on, but it was no matter to us, for we had the most delicious, hearty and well-prepared meals (with the finest seasonal and farm-raised meats and vegetables). A narrow, wooden staircase leads to the downstairs room which feels like it's part wine-cellar & part cave and is definitely a reason to eat here. It's like you're in someones special secret hideout, with only a handful of tables in the small space.

On to the food! We had a special appetizer of baby clams and chorizo in a tomato-onion broth, assorted seafood tapas for two, Baby Back Pork Ribs, Braised Rabbit and Gnocchi. The Appetizers were amazing. The clams were bite-sized, flavorful & plentiful and the chorizo was nicely spicy. The broth was full and hearty with onion and a bit of tomato. it was served in a gorgeous, dark tureen.

The seafood tapas for two included sardines (which were sweet and fresh), croquettes with melted cheese and fish, garlic shrimp and a fillet of a white fish. It was incredibly tasty and beautiful as well.

My sister started with the Arugula Salad which I think ended up being the only disappointment of the night. The greens weren't spicy, the dressing was a bit too sticky and sweet, but the cheese was sharp and strong.

I ordered the Pork Ribs served over a bed of polenta and covered in a tomato sauce that was thick and hearty. This dish was fantastic, with the meat falling off the bone and so juicy and tender. The polenta was thick and creamy and the sauce was savory and balanced the mild polenta well.

The Spinach and Italian Ewe Ricotta Gnocchi sprinkled with Asiago cheese were good, but the portion was on the small side. They were light and fluffy and perfect if you're not in the mood for a large meal.

The Braised Rabbit with Olives, Capers and Prosciutto was served over polenta cakes and a sprig of rosemary. This was the best rabbit I've ever eaten. It was tender and gamey, but not dry at all and so flavorful. Again, the polenta served a nice mild balance to the strong flavors of the rabbit, olives & capers.

I loved my meal here and will definitely be back again soon! It's a great place for a romantic dinner, or a celebration of any kind too!

Convivium Osteria on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mexican at Bonita

In honor of Inauguration Day last week, most of the businesses up and down Dekalb Avenue in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn were offering various sales and special meals. From Luau-type offerings of Suckling Pig with Pineapple for $20.09 to 10-25% off goods and services. It made me proud to be from Brooklyn, where people really know how to celebrate! I spotted this beautiful poster in the window of Madiba, where an amazing, packed dance party was taking place:

My friend and I decided to go to Bonita (243 Dekalb Ave., between Clermont Ave. & Vanderbilt Ave., 718-622-5300) where they were offering special Tacos Al Pastor with a shot of Tequila with Blood Orange Juice. This is what I got, and it was delicious. The amazingly tender pork was earthy and flavorful and came with small chunks of pineapple which added the nicest touch of sweet.

The tequila & blood orange juice was potent and gone before I thought to snap a photo. My friend ordered the Braised Beef Enchiladas which were also quite good. The meat was slightly smoky and they came with cotija cheese sprinkled on top. Delish!

Bonita is a really fun place with great wait staff and a good vibe amongst the customers. Granted, it was Inauguration Day, but the atmosphere is usually light and cheery. With another location on Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg, there's no reason for you not to go!

Bonita on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 26, 2009

Brunch at Maggie Brown

Last week, Maggie Brown (455 Myrtle Ave., between Washington & Waverly, 718-643-7001) was having a special brunch on Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I had the day off, so I met up with a friend to try the place out, which I've been wanting to do for years now! I liked it immediately, with the old signs for various liquors above the bar, and the dark velvety & metallic wallpaper. The waitress was pretty awesome too, from her infectious laugh to her wanting to guess what we were ordering for brunch. She was wrong on both counts, but I didn't hold that against her!

I decided to get the Steak & Eggs, medium rare and over easy, with potatoes and a green salad on the side. The steak was tasty and tender and the eggs were good, but there was a bit of uncooked white left which dropped it half a mark. The potatoes were seasoned nicely with salt and parsley and the salad was dressed with a light, lemony vinaigrette. The dish also came with two little pieces of sourdough-ish toast and a small container of raspberry jam. All in all it was thoroughly enjoyable.

My friend got the Mexican Vegetarian Lasagna made with corn tortillas and a small salad on the side. It was good, but a little weird, with maybe a little too much tomato sauce. It was solid and comforting though with mild flavors and lots of veggies inside (mushrooms, carrots).

He also got a bowl of Borscht, which was gorgeous and delicious. Warm, earthy and bright flavors that burst in your mouth.

I'm looking forward to going back for lunch and dinner!

Maggie Brown on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 23, 2009

Austrian at Cafe Steinhof

Searching for adventure, some friends and I picked Cafe Steinhof (422 Seventh Ave. at 14th Street, 718-369-7776) for dinner, not knowing what to expect. I don't know anyone who's eaten here, but I've been curious when I've passed it on other Park Slope excursions. It bills itself as "Austrian Comfort Food" and there certainly is a large assortment of Schnitzel and Sausage on the menu to satisfy those cravings, but there were other, more surprising items like whole fish, vegetable ravioli and Mussels.

The interior was a bit confusing to me. On the window sills there were the obligatory beer steins and 'old world' knick knacks, but on the center divider between the dining area and bar was a humongous potted palm, and on one wall about 10 photos were displayed with this as explanation: "These photographs were taken in various New York City neighborhoods during the period of 1981-1982." Not sure how that relates to Austria, but I still liked them, with shots of old Coney Island, Converse All Stars and short shorts & knee socks (on men). There were also lots of strings of lights that made the place feel festive, and everything was done in brown and red which made it feel cozy as well. Good for a cold January night. Some of the tables were too cozy though. We were initially seated at a round "table for four" that was too small for two people. We asked to move to the bench along one of the walls where we pushed two small rectangular tables together for more room.

All the main courses here come with some a vegetable and a starch (rice or potato). The sausages come with potatoes and either sauerkraut, lentils, red cabbage or salad. There are six soups and as many salads to start with, and a number of desserts (which were surprisingly good). We started with some salads. I chose the Iceberg & Watercress salad with Radishes. It was big, fresh & crisp with a light creamy dressing.

My friends chose the White Bean salad with Goat Cheese and Tomato which was good as well. Nicely portioned, with two huge slices of creamy, tangy goat cheese on top. Yum!

The Roesti (potato pancakes) were delicious, with a crusty layer of potato on the outside and soft in the middle. This came with a summer vegetable ragout (corn sliced off the cob & mushrooms) and fresh herbs. It was a bit heavy and buttery, but that's comfort food, right?

The whole Roast Trout was great - tender and flavorful - and the green beans that came with it were crunchy and garlicky and the roasted potatoes were well-seasoned and cooked perfectly.

The Bratwurst was salty and meaty and hearty. I chose the sauerkraut which was fresh and delicious. Not too briny or tangy, but just right.

The Sauerbraten was amazingly tender, and came with red cabbage (delicious) and potatoes. It was a huge portion though, enough for two people to share.

It was amazing that we had enough room for dessert. I think we were all so pleasantly surprised by our meals, that we were curious about the sweets. We got the Chocolate Custard and the Apple Bread Pudding. The custard was more like a mousse, thick and creamy, topped with whipped cream and slices of sweet strawberries.

The Bread Pudding was served warm with strawberries and creme fraiche and was incredible.

There was nothing left of any of these dishes. I really liked all the food here, and would recommend it to anyone.

Cafe Steinhof on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pizza from Francesco

The other night I met a colleague after work for drinks, and when I got home all I wanted was food, fast. And I only had two beers! It's on these nights that I am particularly thankful for Francesco Pizzeria & Trattoria which is the closest place for me to get slices. I shared these, so don't think I'm that much of a piggy. I can do three of thin crust pizza, but these slices are thicker and denser than those.

So, I got a plain cheese slice, a Pepperoni slice and a slice with Eggplant. The plain slice was good. I tend to like the sauce at Francesco, it's not sweet, it's got a slight touch of hotness and it's thick. There's also a good amount of cheese on the slice, but not overly so, and the cheese has browned in some areas, which I think makes it perfectly gooey.

The pepperoni is good too. It doesn't get covered in oil from the slices of meat which are perfectly thin and nicely covering the slice. Eggplant is one of my favorite toppings for pizza, and here the eggplant is cooked perfectly. It's sliced thin, so it's not stringy and gross, and it's breaded and probably fried, so it's tasty.

The crust on all the slices is perfect. Crusty on the bottom and at the outer edge, and slightly chewy. When the pizzas are fresh, the slices are great. Every once in a while you get a bum slice, but when you're not custom ordering a whole pie, your expectations should be a tad lower, I think. Convenience plays a big role here too. The fact that I can run down, get a few slices and be back in my warm apartment in just 5 minutes is important.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day!!!

What an exciting day, no matter what your political leanings. In honor of such an historical day, I'm posting the link to the video of (as of noon today) President Obama on "Check, Please!" back in August of 2001 when he was a State Senator, talking about his favorite dishes at a local Chicago eatery. Good to know our president can enjoy comfort food. As always, Happy Eating!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pastries from Marquet Patisserie

One thing I love to do on Sundays is get some good pastries and sit down with a coffee and the paper and read all morning. On this particular Sunday, I had a craving for the Apricot Danish from Marquet Patisserie (221 Court St., between Warren and Wycoff Streets, 718-855-1289). This little beauty is quite something to behold. The halves of apricot peek out from their cozy pastry nook, tasty sweet cheese is layered throughout, adding denseness to the flaky dough. It's not too sweet, is just the right size and is delicious.

My boyfriend wanted the Almond Croissant, a huge portion of flaky pastry with a layer of almond paste inside and almond slivers on the outside. This lasted us almost all day, as you cannot eat it all in one sitting. If you like almond flavor, then you'll like this. It's on the sweet side though, which adds to the necessity of eating it slowly.

I also got a Pain au Chocolat to round things out. This was pretty amazing. Real chocolate filled the interior, it was baked to perfection and was light and flaky and thoroughly enjoyable.

The coffee is good here as well, and while I've never tried the savory food, I hear they make a mean egg salad sandwich.

Marquet Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 16, 2009

Australian Comfort Food at Five Leaves

I finally made it over to Greenpoint to check out the much-hyped Five Leaves (18 Bedford Avenue, at Lorimer & Nassau, 646-510-6467). This is the spot Heath Ledger was working on opening with some friends when he passed away. Much has been written about it (the burgers specifically, which come with a fried egg and pickled beets as garnishes and was much-loved by Greenpointers), and I'm happy to say that the food definitely lived up to the hype.

The space is interesting, squeezed onto the odd intersection of three major streets in Greenpoint, across from Automotive High School and McCarren Park, closer to the G train than the L train, and the classiest place in blocks. It's a little bit the Williamsburgification of Greenpoint, but I guess it's inevitable with all the sprawl that's happening in the Burg. It is warm and cozy, but crisp as well, with tiled floors, huge edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling and fresh purple and white tulips in small vases on each table.

The menu was filled with yummy-looking small plates, salads and main courses, all of which appealed to me. They also offer Grass-Fed Beef and Organic Chicken. I wanted to maximize my eating experience so my friend and I chose a few of the starters to share. The House Made Ricotta with Thyme, Chestnut Honey, Figs, Maldon Sea Salt and Fruit Bread was amazing. The bite of the thyme and salt combined with the sweet honey on top of creamy ricotta with a raisin nut bread was fabulous. All of those distinct flavors totally worked together.

The Proscuitto with Shaved Fennel and Pomegranate was great too. The Prosciutto was salty and flavorful, the fennel was crunchy and the scattered pomegranate seeds (a favorite of mine) were the right touch of tart to round it all out. The house-made lavosh was OK; I would have preferred something denser as this was too airy and light.

The Radicchio & Watercress Salad with Roasted Acron Squash, Feta and Red Onion was huge, and delicious. Tons of creamy feta topped the crisp greens which sat on a thick slab of squash.

The two veggie sides - Celery Root Mash and Roasted Brussel Sprouts were perhaps the best I've ever tasted. The sprouts were soft, caramelized and expertly seasoned, which the celery root was creamy and topped with a spicy Harissa butter. YUM!

I'm definitely coming back here, to try the Oysters and the Burger, and try to save room for dessert.

Five Leaves on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thai from Cafe Chili

I hate it when you leave your regular, go-to places with the hopes of discovering something new and exciting only to come away frustrated and disappointed. That's what happened the other night when I ordered Thai food and decided to try a new place. Cafe Chili (172 Court St., between Congress & Amity, 718-260-0066) used to be Siam Garden which was a lovely spot my family & I used to dine at when I was in High School. It underwent a radical change a few years ago, and I have to say that I was sorely disappointed with my meal. I initially tried to order from Joya, but after getting a busy signal on 5 attempts and then having it ring for 3 minutes, I scrapped that idea. Anyone know if Joya even delivers?

So yeah, this meal was so blah. I started out with the Cilantro Corn Fritters because I'd never heard of them and they sounded interesting. What came were three mushy, doughy & greasy balls, with some kernels of corn and absolutely no taste or evidence of cilantro whatsoever. Ugh.

I also ordered the Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls. These were at least somewhat flavorful with shredded carrots and cabbage, but they were also totally oily.

I decided to get the Tofu Pad Thai since it's such a classic dish, I wanted to see how they prepared it. It turned out to be a bit bland, and the chunks of tofu, while plentiful, were dry and rubbery. Major bummer.

My boyfriend chose Panang Curry with Chicken which is described as Coconut Milk, Steamed Mixed Vegetables & Kaffir Lime. It was flavorful and on the spicy side, even though I asked for mild, and the "mixed vegetables" were only red & green bell peppers. The portion also seemed pretty small (the photo shows it in it's entirety).

All in all, a major let-down. I even checked out the reviews on Yelp which all say, except for one, that the food was pretty mediocre. With a number of better options in the neighborhood, I just don't see going back there.

Cafe Chili on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 12, 2009

Burgers at Bonnie's Grill

MMMMMmmmmm, few things are better than trekking through the driving wind and snow to get to Bonnie's Grill (278 Fifth Ave., between 1st Street and Garfield Place, 718-369-9527) where you can sit at the counter, watch the cooks prepare your food and warm up by the heat coming off of the grill. You can also choose from a huge number of bottled beer, or one of the 6 or so beers on tap. I chose a dark Espresso beer that was delicious, while my boyfriend stuck with a Brooklyn IPA. We each got burgers, but with different sides and toppings.

My Spiced Black Angus Sirloin Burger was with cheddar cheese (which went on grated, not in a slice), lettuce, tomatoes and pickles, with a side of fries. It was fantastic. It tasted like a backyard summer Barbeque, smoky and slightly burnt, totally juicy and deliciously meaty. The pickles were perfect too - not sweet or mushy - crunchy and sour dill. The fries were great too, crispy and not greasy.

My boyfriend got his burger with Swiss Cheese, lettuce & tomato and a side of their Vegetarian Chili. His was great too, and the chili was really nice - lots of beans and green peppers, not very spicy, and topped with cheddar and a touch of sour cream. Yum again! The only thing is that we ordered them Medium and both came back fairly rare. So maybe the trick is to order Medium Well to get Medium?

A lot of people were ordering the Wings, which are another of Bonnie's specialties, in addition to the Catfish Sandwiches. They also offered a Pulled Pork Sandwich which I'm definitely curious about; I might have to go back to try it out. There are tables in the front and in the back (some even with candles!), so if you're not into the counter thing there are options. All in all it's a great place for a great meal.

Bonnie's Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 9, 2009

Seafood at Petite Crevette

I had such a lovely experience at dinner the other night at Petite Crevette (144 Hicks St., between Union St. & President St., 718-855-2632), a seafood-heavy French restaurant on the border of Carroll Gardens and the Columbia Street Waterfront District (seriously, that's what it's called these days). It used to be on Atlantic Avenue but moved South to the Hicks St. location about two years ago. It was a slow Monday night, so we were seated in the back room which is super cozy, romantically lit and made me feel like I was in the French countryside, far away from my everyday troubles and concerns. Little lamps were scattered about, everything is dark wood or painted white and slightly scruffy, giving it that nice lived-in relaxed feeling.

The menu is written on chalkboards or butcher paper hung on the walls so you can see the list from every angle. There's the regular menu (fish, steak, salmon burgers) and a list of specials (catch of the day prepared a few ways). The front room is a bit colder and more brightly lit, so if you can try to get into the back room, which used to be Rose's Flower Shop. The old gold lettering is still on the window, adding to the vintage feel. The other nice thing is that Petite Crevette is facing the BQE (below street level at that point), so looking out the window the street feels wide open and spacious.

Then there's the terrific food; everything we ordered was delicious. We started with the Crab Corn Chowder and were served a great big bowl of the stuff. It was loaded with chunks of sweet crab meat, lots of kernels of juicy corn in a creamy, tasty base. I sopped up what was left with my bread!

I then got the Roast Cod with Capers and Mashed Potatoes. Let me just say that I LOVE capers. So salty & briny and they explode with flavor. The fish was tasty and tender and the side of veggies was perfectly garlicky. The mashed potatoes tasted great and were super creamy...but they were kinda on the cool side. I even asked for them to be warmed up, which I never do, instead I tolerate because I don't want to be a pain, but even then they came back just hot on the outside. Oh well, but not a big enough deal to affect how delicious the meal was.

My boyfriend ordered the Skirt Steak with Caramelized Onions. The onions were fabulous - sweet and tangy, and the steak was juicy and cooked perfectly. It was a HUGE portion, so we ended up taking it home to enjoy for lunch! YUM!

It is BYO, and there's a nice wine shop around the corner on Union where the owner will recommend something tasty. They do charge a corkage fee though, and it's cash only, so make sure you've hit the ATM on your way over.

Petite Crevette on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sweet Treats from One Girl Cookies

I treated myself to some cookies from One Girl Cookies the other day (68 Dean St., between Smith St. & Boerum Pl., 212-675-4996) because, well, sometimes a little sweet is needed. I hadn't been to One Girl in a while because I was a bit disappointed with the goods after they first opened. I'm happy to report that things have changed. I loved every one these little beauties, each with it's own girl's name.

First there was the Chocolate Chip Cookie (I didn't write down all the cookie names at the shop, so my information isn't complete!). This had a classic flavor, was a little chewy and cake-y and had a hint of vanilla. I liked it a lot more than the first Chocolate Chip I had here, which didn't have a good flavor at all.

To the left of that is the Cecelia - two Chocolate Cookies with Mocha Creme filling. This was great with a hint of coffee and a crispy, crumbly cookie - really yummy!

Then there was the Penelope - a butter cookie with apricot preserves. This was delicious - buttery and flaky with a burst of sweet apricot flavor.

My favorite out of the bunch was the Peanut Butter cookie with Coconut Flakes (again, no name!). YUM! Coconut, butter, peanut butter - how can you go wrong? This was absolutely fabulous, with so much flavor packed into such a tiny cookie.

I also got a Lemon bar since those are the BFs favorite. He said: "It's thick, subtle and gummy. The lemon isn't overpowering, which is nice, and the top is a little crusty which is a good balance to the sugar". He then declared it better than most. I thought the lemon was a good, true lemon flavor, but I prefer a nice buttery, chocolatey cookie.

One Girl Cookies on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 5, 2009

Breakfast Sandwich at Naidre's

Sometimes I want something more hearty for breakfast, and when I don't feel like I can or want to make something for myself, I turn to Naidre's (502 Henry St., at Sackett St., 718-596-3400, there's also one in Park Slope). On the weekends it can get very crowded, as their breakfast sandwiches, coffee and pastries are top-notch, so there isn't always a table available, especially if you're a large group.

On this particular occasion I got their version of the Egg, Bacon & Cheese sandwich on a sesame seed bagel. You can choose different bread (the flaky croissants are great), but the result is the same. A tasty, full-flavored breakfast sandwich with quality ingredients. There's a good amount of egg, the cheese is melty and the bacon is thick, salty & smoky.

They also have a coffee card thing, so for every nine coffees you buy, the tenth one is free! I live really close by, but during slower times, if there's a table free, I'll sometimes stay to sit and enjoy the neighborhood hustle and bustle while I eat. There's free wi-fi too.