Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Everything Old Is New Again: Savoy

It isn’t easy being a New York City restaurant. As soon as you’ve been opened for a year, you are instantly “so last year.” But a lucky few are able to make it past passé to permanent. In another lesson in my gayducation of local and sustainable foods, my papa bears took me to Savoy, and I don’t know why they held out on me for so long. Opened in 1990, Savoy is where it all started. Owner and executive chef, Peter Hoffman, was at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, when the Union Square Farmer’s Market wasn’t cool. Making every attempt to keep as many ingredients as local as possible, the menu is in a constant state of flux, with a laundry list of changes because this ingredient didn’t look right today or that ingredient isn’t ripe yet. This is how all restaurants should work, and luckily for Savoy (and all of us New Yorkers), it’s once again the hot trend in dining. The sexy allure of California cuisine and sushi in the 90’s threatened to snuff out local eating, but luckily it seems that we’ve all come to our senses.

The menu is small, but focused. I had a much harder time deciding here than at a restaurant with Pad Thai, Veal Milanese, and Chicken Pot Pie all on the menu. I was disappointed when I heard that they were out of the duck gizzard I was going to order, but in order to keep things so fresh, Savoy doesn’t keep a backlog of ingredients to use for the next day. Instead I went with a wild dandelion salad that had a black olive bagna cauda (a Piedmontese sauce made of garlic, anchovies, olive oil, and butter), heirloom tomatoes and basil. The salad looked simple, as if the greens were picked, brushed off, tossed in some dressing and brought in directly from a garden. However, the flavors were surprisingly sophisticated and complex. The sweet tomatoes and basil tempered the bitter greens, while the tangy bagna cauda gave the dish enough kick to make it exciting. Don’t let the anchovies scare you, they worked into the dish seamlessly and there was nothing fishy about it.

Word on the street is that Savoy is a master of pork, much like many of my friends, so when I saw pork on the menu, my pious Jewish eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. I had a confit of pork shoulder with braised collard greens roasted apricots and brandy. This pork was unlike anything I have ever had. The meat was succulent and falling apart with a skin so crisp that it snapped when you took a bite. The layer of fat behind the skin had transformed into a velvety layer of flavor. The collard greens and apricots were another play on bitter and sweet that worked just as well as the salad. The pork was one small cube about two to three inches around, but it was so rich, the last bite was a struggle.

As a side, we ordered potatoes roasted in beef fat for the table. It makes me cringe to type things like “beef fat,” but I don’t know if I’ll ever cook potatoes another way. They were salty, crisp, and flavorful without being greasy. If beef fat is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

For dessert I was a bit stumped because nothing really made my mouth water. I ordered a plum upside down cake for lack of a better choice. The cake came with plum kernel ice cream and plum syrup. Plum kernels live inside a plum’s pit and are related to the almond (as I learned that night). I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. The cake was a sweet cornbread with a warm layer of tart plum slices across the top. The cake wasn’t too sweet and seemed to get more enjoyable as I ate. The ice cream was nutty and cleansing alongside the dense cake. Unlike most rich desserts, I was able to (and did) clean my plate – I’m still not sure this is a good quality in a dessert, but for now I’ll consider this a positive.

The staff is knowledgeable and friendly and the décor is simple and homey. Both the upstairs and downstairs have working fireplaces that I would imagine make Savoy that much more cozy on a cold winter’s night. It seems that Savoy was a restaurant before it’s time and is now finally at the forefront of a trend it started almost 20 years ago.

Savoy – 4 Sparkles ****
70 Prince Street
New York, NY 10012

Monday, September 14, 2009

Idol Worship: Megu

I often say that dining is an experience, not just a meal. Whether it’s five different-sized forks splashed across a white tablecloth, a bubbling tableside shabu-shabu, or a four-story wine tower, a restaurant’s aura can make or break a dinner. From the moment you enter the long winding ramps of Megu, you can feel the energy and excitement build as you descend into the dramatic subterranean eatery. Megu is a modern Japanese restaurant with an emphasis on the modern. The dining room is a theatrical scene anchored by an ice Buddha in the center of the room. We were seated at the feet of said Buddha, much to the chagrin of many other diners. This constantly dripping idol is glistening under a spotlight; sitting in a pool of water adorned with floating candles and rose petals. If Moses dined at Megu, he may have thought twice about idol worship.

As we looked over the menus (beer menu, sake menu, wine menu, cocktail menu, and, oh… food menu), we began with crispy fried asparagus in an okaki batter (a spicy Japanese rice cracker) and tuna carpaccio in a spicy miso sauce with a glass of rosé champagne. The asparagus was possibly the best food I have ever had on a stick. It was tender and sweet on the inside with a spicy and salty crust that was crispy and crackled as you chewed. The subtle carpaccio was light and fresh with a tangy sauce and paper-thin hot pepper slices to bring the fish to life. The rosé washed it all down with ease, preparing us for the dramatic parade undoubtedly to follow.

As we continued to peruse, more confused now than before this first course, we were told most dishes were meant to be shared and in traditional Japanese dining sushi comes at the end of the meal. Always being one to do what I’m told, we ordered an array of different dishes and sushi. Then we sat back and watched as our selections arrived one by one.

First was garlic and soy marinated tuna with avocado and a wasabi sauce. The dish came as a stack of cubes of beet-red tuna sandwiched between two slices of avocado. The waiter mashed it all together at the table creating something that looked and tasted like a sophisticated Japanese guacamole. It was savory, tangy, and bursting with Japan’s elusive “fifth taste,” umami. The next dish to arrive was kobe beef croquettes – a cube of fois gras wrapped in ground kobe beef, breaded and fried. These little beefy globes were not only the best dish of the night, but also of my time here in New York. These croquettes were juicy, bursting with flavor and perfectly textured. I would rank these with Momofuku’s pork buns and one of my top five “must eat” dishes in New York City.

Still in the afterglow of the kobe croquettes, our main course arrived. We had slow cooked kobe beef with miso and mushrooms and a side of parmesan French fries with white truffle oil. I’m fairly certain the fries are not indigenous to Japan, but we just couldn’t resist something with truffle oil and parmesan. This was a surprisingly American moment in our evening. The beef tasted like a succulent and rich beef stew and the fries were light and decadent all at the same time. The beef arrived on top of a giant leaf perched on a hibachi and was expertly whisked onto a plate tableside. At this point we were so full, we were cringing as we remembered we still had sushi on the way.

Luckily, we did have the foresight to order one roll for the two of us, which was still two pieces too many. We ordered a spicy scallop roll. I’m used to spicy sushi rolls, but was intrigued by this variation with delicate scallops. It was superb. The scallops were sweet and incredibly fresh and somehow managed to shine through the very spicy mayonnaise. My only regret was that I didn’t forsake Japanese tradition and begin with this roll and devour the whole thing.

To see what makes Megu so special, one only need to look to its competitors. Megu is what places like Tao try to be. It doesn’t try to be hip, it is. It doesn’t try to reinvent traditional Japanese food, it does. And, it doesn’t try to grow with New York’s evolving culinary scene, it will.

Megu – 4 Sparkles ****
62 Thomas Street
New York, NY 10013

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Boy Butter

Every year, I approach my birthday not as a sprint, but as a marathon. In true Glitter fashion, August becomes Glitter Appreciation Month. After an evening soiree at a local bar of the gay persuasion, I decide to have a dinner with my close friends at the ultra chic Butter. As I’m becoming more immersed in the culinary world, I’ve been slowly working through my butter phobia and thought Butter would be the perfect place to do it.

I went with my usual crew of boys/bois/ladies and was lucky enough to also be hosting my cousin from Australia the same weekend. Before dinner, we made a quick stop at my cousin’s favorite bar in New York, Angel’s Share. The entrance is hidden and the best drink isn’t on the menu. Become a fan of the Glitter Gourmet on facebook and I’ll announce the details in a few days – just click the button on the upper right on this page ;)

After some perfect cocktails, we went over to Butter and walked through the long dramatic tubular entryway to the host stand. A well-put together gaysian walked us downstairs to the “more relaxed” Birch Room. I looked longingly as we went past the stunning Great Room, a half-moon shaped room with theatrical lighting. The Birch Room wasn’t without its whimsy. The walls and ceiling are covered with, um, birch, which does a moderate job of convincing you that you aren’t in a basement.

As we sat, our yummy waiter greeted us, but alas, he seemed more interested in my female cousin than the boy battalion, damn. I began my meal with a house-made charcuterie plate. The plate had salami, duck mortadella, and chicken liver on toast with aged balsamic. Overall, the plate was a success with some meat shining brighter than others, just like a walk on the beach at Fire Island. The salami was salty and tangy and the mortadella was a bit bland. The chicken liver came as a loose spread that tasted like an excellent upscale version of the Jewish classic, chopped liver. The other appetizer on the table was a sautéed squid with garlic breadcrumbs, herb pesto and lemon. This squid was tender and crispy and the garlic paired with the pesto worked well with the fried squid, without overpowering the dish.

It was around this time that the DJ started to spin…in the dining room. Butter, much like David Barton, is a place that has a DJ for no reason. Luckily we’re a bunch of young and hip guys who can handle a little loud music.

My entrée was a crispy duck confit with lentils, crispy onions and a chestnut honey gastrique. This dish sounds decadent and it was, but it was just too much on a plate. The duck confit was rich, but the fry that made it crispy also made the duck’s rich fat almost syrupy and gummy. The lentils with honey sauce weren’t light enough to cut through the dense confit. As it turns out, one can have too much of a good thing. I only ate half.

At about this point, we became significantly less young and hip as this sick beat became a little too bumpin’ for our taste. We suddenly became a set of middle-aged housewives at a bar mitzvah, “It’s so loud we can hardly talk. I can’t even hear myself think!” Luckily, by the time our entrees were cleared\, we gave up on speaking all together and just made faces at each other.

Much to my chagrin, our beloved DJ called for the birthday boy to dance. My friends and I all decided to make the best of the situation and made our way to the dance floor just in time to see our waiter walk by with my dessert, candle aflame. We ran back to the table to make sure I didn’t lose my wish. Dessert was raspberry beignets with a vanilla dipping sauce. These were glorified jelly doughnut munchkins and anyone who’s had Cookshop’s ricotta beignets knows that a beignet and a munchkin should have nothing in common.

While I’m getting better at eating butter, I haven’t quite conquered my phobia of Butter.

Butter – 2 Sparkles **
415 Lafayette
New York, NY