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La Sirene

La Sirene. 558 Broome Street (between 6th Avenue & Varick Street).  Website: www.lasirenenyc.com.

A couple years ago, my friend D told me about how her boyfriend wanted to plan a romantic evening and take her to a wonderful authentic French place in the city [duh, Manhattan]. D, being the keen and cultured on point lady that she is, instantly ruined his surprise and asked, “Are you taking me to La Sirene???  I LOVE that place!!!”  Ever since she told me how delicious and buttery and tasty the entire menu was, it’s been on my “to do” list.

Fortunately for me, Vin and I were invited to a press dinner at this acclaimed French eatery.  La Sirene, French for “the mermaid” or “siren” (obviously) is owned and head cheffed by Didier Pawlicki, an energetic jokester of a Frenchman who looooves butter.  Luckily, Didier knows how to use butter wisely and with skilled expertise, and we were dining with a crowd who sure appreciated the cuisine at this sweet, intimate setting in the heart of SoHo.  A fun host, an exciting menu to read, fine wines and spirits… this was a good start to a good evening!

Several appetizers and entrees were ordered by each guest so we could all sample and share.  The menu is rather extensive, so even our table of 6 wasn’t able to try all the delicious bistro offerings!  I ordered the mussels Creole, with French Caribbean spices and rum, cream, herbs and chorizo! Another reviewer ordered another preparation of steamed moules, and although the Rochelaises style was noted as the chef’s favorite, the curry and apples flavor didn’t wow us nearly as much as the Creole mussels.  Vin ordered the sauteed baby octopus a la Provencale which was quite rich with garlic and earthy mushroom and tomatoes, but it wasn’t the winning dish.  Our host ordered escargots for us to try, and this was the best appetizer on the menu.  I love the distinct serving dishes that are only used for escargots (or tiny cake balls!) and loved how the exquisite molluscs were drenched in butter and bathed in garlic. YUM. A perfect little bite in each shell.  I don’t understand how people are grossed out by eating snails if they’re down with having raw oysters or cooked mussels.  Properly prepared escargots are delicious! And Didier brought out fancy tongs for the escargots (Vin had a worried look on his face when I clacked them rapidly as they are reminiscent of ball grabbers haha), but using a fork to pull each tasty and chewy bite was fine.

Left: Moules Creoles; Top right: Escargots!; Bottom right: bread and the clamper!  =P

Left: Moules Creoles; Top right: Escargots!; Bottom right: bread and the tongs! =P

When it came to the entrees, the word “succulent” pretty much described everything we tried.  There are no light, airy, waste-of-stomach-space dishes that will leave you hungry at maison de Didier. Even the descriptions and exclamation points on the menu seem to forewarn you of how you will need some time to digest all these savory, tasty ingredients and how excited your tastebuds will be.  I’m really glad we shared all these plates because most of them were intimidating on a single individual’s GI system.  There is some no joke, serious, authentic French food here.

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Ponty Bistro

Vin and I were guests at another wonderful press dinner: Ponty Bistro.  We were invited to the original location near Union Square.  The owner and chef is from Senegal and honed his craft at Jean Georges, Mercer Kitchen, and even was a finalist on “Chopped”!!!  This place has been doing so well that Chef Cisse and his cousin just opened another location in UWS.  The fare is an elegant mix of sophisticated French techniques with great African flavors to energize your taste buds.  We tasted a delicious sampling of an off-menu lobster bisque soup with a hint of truffle oil; a light and crisp haricot vert and artichoke salad with shaved parmesan cheese; a refined and elegant dish called Saint Jacque de Chef with a perfectly seared scallop and savory roasted beets, asparagus and this unique orange marmalade sauce that reminded me of orange creamsicles; a poulet tagine that had fantastic peppery flavor in every bite of the tender chicken, mirepoix and couscous; and a superbly cooked grilled hanger steak with smashed potatoes, spinach and a bordelaise sauce.  Everything we tried had fantastic flavor and the ingredients melded so well.  We loved everything!

Drinks and dinner!

Drinks and dinner!

I’ve come to realize that perhaps I should base restaurant dessert reviews on staples, not necessarily specialties. For the past few press reviews, I’ve had tiramisu and variations of flan or creme brûlée.  These are becoming the standard, basic-issue dessert items and are starting to feel… “safe.”  Don’t get me wrong; I’ve said time and time again that tiramisu and flan are my absolute favorite desserts and when they’re done well it’s a great finish to a meal, but it would have been great to see some real diversity in the desserts presented here, especially at such a unique restaurant like Ponty Bistro.  Press dinners like these are perfect opportunities for chefs to take risks and test out new ideas.  New Yorkers are becoming very adventurous about food, and if Chef Cisse’s customers enjoy any of the appetizer and entree creations on the menu, I’m pretty sure they’d be open to a specialty dessert that is not offered anywhere else.  For example, I tried this cocktail made with bissap juice that I had never heard of before, and it was just my cup of tea.  It looked beautiful and was reminiscent of hibiscus, not a fake, sugary sweet flavor that would have ruined the meal.

The dessert menu is not posted on the website and I had hoped to try a Senegalese treat given the chef’s versatility and menu diversity.  But, as Chef Cisse has an amazing background from the top-rated restaurants in NY, it’s not a surprise he presented superb light as air and delicate dessert offerings like creme brûlée and tiramisu.
Crème Brulee with a hint of citrus

Crème Brulee with a hint of citrus

There was a heavy tone of orange zest, giving a citrus element to the creme brûlée. The custard had set nicely, and was creamy, smooth and not too eggy-tasting, as many custards can be if not executed properly.
Ponty Bistro tiramisu

Ponty Bistro tiramisu

There was a good coffee element to the tiramisu, which was smooth and soft in texture. The super light ricotta and cake/ladyfinger cookie portions were not heavy with booze, which is often times a pitfall with poor quality tiramisu. I preferred the tiramisu to the creme brûlée, as I felt that the creme brûlée had a touch too much orange zest in it. As I said before, everything was expertly prepared and the chef’s stellar culinary background shows.  One of these days, we have to come back here to try more items on the menu!

We just had dinner at the Empire Steakhouse on 54th and Broadway, right on the border of the wasteland known as Times Square. Vin just felt like going to a steakhouse, and even though I couldn’t eat much today, I happily accompanied as his date.  Since we knew that he’d have to finish most of my meal, we went straight for the basics as part of his “control” for ratings: entrees, one side, and dessert (no martini though).  He got the ribeye (apparently it was delicious =/ *sniff* I had half a bite of it) and creamed spinach (also good), I got the cold seafood platter (the lump crabmeat was very good!) and for dessert, creme brulee.

Quite possibly the most perfect creme brulee

Quite possibly the most perfect creme brulee – Photo by Vin!

Now, the attentive and knowledgeable waiter Tim recommended it and said it was the best dessert on the menu.  He ain’t kidding.  It was light and perfectly creamy, topped with the perfect amount of sliced strawberries so you could have a bit of tart to break up the sugar on sugar action of the dessert.  I only intended on having one spoonful of it, lest my insides fall apart due to the dairy, but I totally risked it and had another half spoonful it was so damned good.  Not too sweet, just the right amount of burnt sugar, and the not-just-for-show strawberries.  Creme brulee is Vin’s fave dessert, and I’ve made it a few times just for him.  But it was totally OK Vin said this to the waiter in my presence, “This is one of the best creme brulees in the city!”  I completely agree.

First baking projects post move!

My precious...

My precious…

Let’s just be quick about it, shall we?  I had to bake for 2 special little boys: one hasn’t even been born yet, and the other is one of my super cute, super crazy godsons.

Underwater cake collage

Underwater cake collage… complete with a lurking shark!

The theme for the baby shower cake was the ocean, so I played around with some ideas to use on a small cutting cake for the parents-to-be.  The first order of business was to ice the little cake in blue frosting.  I was going to cover it in fondant, but liked the effect of the bubbles in the frosting, so I just cleaned and sharpened the edges for my canvas.  Light brown sugar was pressed along the bottom of half of the cake; for some reason I didn’t want all of it covered in sugar and liked the half-and-half effect.  I had used star cutters to make fondant starfish before and they worked wonderfully, so I knew I wanted starfish.  Then I found leaf cutters meant for roses, but used the shapes haphazardly to create these great seaweed/algae pieces.  I bought a whale cookie cutter from my new favorite store, Sur La Table but it ended up being rather disproportional to the algae and starfish.  I mixed a small piece of grey fondant and shaped a shark fin on top, and carefully placed little schools of fish sprinkles around the cake.  I don’t even think it’s ecologically correct… I mean, do starfish hang around the bottom of the ocean and cling to seaweed like that?  Who knows.  It looked cute and was a nice and quick little project.

Ta daaa!  A crappy 360 video clip of the cake

The order included cupcakes, so I swirled the same blue frosting over vanilla cupcakes (side note: I LOVE my new oven.  It’s huge and bakes everything so evenly AND I don’t have to guess the timing and temperature anymore!  #inheaven) and used extra pieces of seaweed and starfish as cupcake toppers.  Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of the cupcakes BEFORE bringing them in =(

handmade fondant starfish

handmade fondant starfish. eww, what dry hands have I.

seaweed cupcake

seaweed cupcake

 

For my oldest godson’s 3-year birthday party, I whipped up a little bowling pin cake.  This little boy is one of the cutest little human beings on the planet, and he’s also one of the craziest.  haha  Since he’s my godson, of COURSE he gets special treatment and I just had to make a little SOMETHING for his party.  He’s currently obsessed with bowling and planets, so bowling pins and a ball that had Jupiter-like swirls it was.  And when I say whipped up, I mean, I hand shaped and cut 10 bowling pins with stripes and a bowling ball during the time it took for Vin to go on his morning run.  I iced that baby in minutes and added extra fondant stars, and voila… a little cake with knocked over pins.

Left: Look at that perfectly straight and clean edge. I'm GOOD.  Right: Fondant bowling pins for Timmy!!!

Left: Look at that perfectly straight and clean edge. I’m GOOD. Right: Fondant bowling pins for Timmy!!!

As soon as he saw it, he wanted to stand them up but didn’t quite get why I said no and that they’d be all sticky.  Later on, he was throwing a tantrum about having to take his shoes off and started yelling and crying, so I picked him up and took him to look at his cake.  Within in the span of 2 minutes, this little guy ate about 6 of the bowling pins.   Such an insane but adorable little kid.  <3

The birthday boy and his cake

The birthday boy and his cake

It’s that time of year again, you guys; Memorial Day, the start of summer, Vin’s birthday, a.k.a. the making of the most awesome cake of the year!!! Vin really is the best. He’s worked so hard to get in shape and become healthy, his food critique brand is really taking off, he’s always always thinking of me, and even after five years of marriage we’re still goofy and mushy and hold hands wherever we go. (And that’s NOT just because I’m clumsy and will probably trip on myself if I’m wearing heels.) I really love being with this guy, and one of the few things better than hanging out with my husband is enjoying delicious tasty food with Vin. InstaGr1st

Seriously, this is all cake and sweetness (except for the bowl and chopsticks)

As you may know, he is Mr. Johnny Prime, steak connoisseur. However, his reviews have expanded to include all really good food and great restaurants in general. Given that this past winter was so brutal and long, we were on a ramen and noodle soup kick, and nothing can warm your cold bones better than some delicious hearty soup! Of course this gave me the idea MONTHS ago to make Vin a ramen cake for this year’s birthday, but according to him, he TOLD me he wanted a ramen cake. Details, details. Haha So I started planning out his ramen cake… Read More

“Did you think I’d forgotten you?”– Frank Underwood. Man, I love that show.

One single square strawberry muffin with butter.

I hadn’t baked anything in 2 months and things had just gone to shit. Busy @ work, busy with other stuff, turning into a blob… I was so stressed and had sunken to new lows, eating chocolate (namely KitKats), cookies, Starbucks pastries and fries to quell the panic and busyness, and I even succumbed to eating… dun dun DUNNNNN Entenmann’s raspberry Danish. I sh*t you not. The 50% off price tag at the supermarket pushed me over the edge. The nutritional value alone made me feel like I’m a guilty shameful druggie with a deep dark food binge secret. This was extra bad b/c Vin has been eating super healthy for the past 2 months!

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The holidays and my birthday kind of just mesh into this blob of a season that is both fun and stressful.  I’ve given up baking something for myself for my birthday (it’s quite silly b/c I probably wouldn’t eat any of it), but sometimes I just feel like I HAVE to bake something.

That something ended up being cream puffs.  And for two weekends in a row I churned out loads of cream puffs.  They’re so simple and yet so pleasing and they became my go-to item for January celebrations.  I think I kept making them mostly b/c I liked hearing ppl say, “Ooooh, these are so good!” and I liked replying, “Oh, these things?  They were SUPER easy to make.  I just whipped them up really quick,” and then getting that “….” look in response.  I guess it was like the equivalent of when chicks are like, “OMG you look fabulous? What’s your secret?” and the woman in question answers with, “Oh, nothing really.  I don’t work out and I just eat what I want,” and your expression just says “Bitch!”  hahaha  Hey man, it was for my birthday.  I’M bringing in homemade pastries for MY birthday.  I had an excuse to be a bit of a d*ck.  =)

Chocolate and vanilla filled cream puffs

Chocolate and vanilla filled cream puffs

Anyway, the first cream puffisode (I just invented that word!) was for my family’s after-Christmas Christmas party.  We never celebrate holidays on the actual day b/c my mom’s fam is so huge and it solves the problem of who’s family we’re seeing for which holiday (seriously, our in-laws don’t know how good they have it =) and per usual, I didn’t have a lot of time to bake, so I decided to whip up cream puffs.

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Right after I won a prestigious NY news behemoth’s holiday party (and still wondering if it’s a conflict of interest since I work @ ANOTHER famous and notable NY-based news media organization), I had to bake for my company’s finance department holiday party.  Since I was really busy trying to wrap up year-end testing, I just planned on whipping up simple bite-sized eggnog cupcakes the night before the event and figured it would be quick and easy and get me off the hook for dessert. (I had threatened to go buy Chips Ahoy! cookies since I heard, “Oh, you should bring in a big [holiday themed item] made of cake for the Finance party!” 2345 times and I could refrain from blinking/staring/pointing @ the occupational hazard of dark bags under my eyes only so many times.)

Tasty, festive, sweet balls

Tasty, festive, sweet balls

HOWEVER… my friend A in the newsroom (a super talented pastry chef whose baked good photos should be in “Food & Wine”) told me about the annual dessert contest that happened to ALSO be the same day as the finance holiday party (it’s open to everyone at the company but the participants tend to be from News/Marketing/Sales).  At first I was like, “Whhhaaaaaaaa???!!!  Why didn’t you tell me sooner?  It’s less than 2 days before the contest! OH MY GOD WHAT AM I GOING TO MAKE I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME AAGGGGHHHH!!!” But after a brainstorming session with my esteemed baking buddy, I narrowed it down to a few ideas and thought maybe… just maybe, I can pull something off…

Quick shot of the winning display

Quick shot of the winning display

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Psych out.  This post is not all about sweet, sugary, calorie-laden cake balls.

Psych out. This post is not all about sweet, sugary, calorie-laden cake balls.

Oh God.  I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, but the following post documents my attempt at baking low cholesterol, high protein, non-dairy and *gasp* gluten free/low carb cupcakes.  Even the thought goes entirely against my principles. (Disclosure: Due to my own health issues, I am technically not supposed to eat a lot of the sweet goodies that come out of my kitchen, but I make them anyway using flour, sugar, fat, eggs and milk, just the way my grandma bakes as a proper old school baker should.)  The only reason I’m not vomiting in my mouth as I type this is because… apparently I’m a sorceress and I did not just spend the day creating a cardboard-styrofoam hybrid in my oven. My experiment actually tasted… good.

Healthy cupcakes masquerading as normal, fatty cupcakes

Healthy cupcakes masquerading as normal, fatty cupcakes. I tricked you!

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