Riverpark: A Tom Colicchio Restaurant

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I was really sad that I missed this restaurant earlier this month when it was listed on the original restaurant week list.  Though New York did extend their restaurant week event through the beginning of September, Riverpark did not decide to participate in it further.  So I tried to put the restaurant out of my head, but I found that I just couldn’t.  Finally one day, we were walking through the east side of Manhattan and the opportunity to go arose.

It was not the easiest restaurant to find, located near the NYU Medical Center and along the edge of the river, separated only by the freeway.  Though hard to find, the location offered a wonderful view.  The noise from the FDR Drive was quite disruptive, but I was still content with the setting on a whole.  The weather was pleasant enough that we opted for outdoor seating with the traditional dinner menu.  Apparently we were among the first to dine in this section of the restaurant patio, and we were continuously reminded of it by one particular member of the wait staff.  The environment of restaurant was new and sleek, classy but not arrogant and the kind of place I liked.

I began the evening with a pint of Founder’s Centennial IPA while I decided on dishes from the restaurant’s ever-evolving menu which changes frequently with the season and the availability of produce from their garden out in front of the building.

Our meal for this evening was kicked off with the Squid Ink Chitarra.  I had no idea what this would be and what chitarra is.  Apparently it’s not food, it’s guitar in Italian.  A tool that looks like a chitarra is apparently used to prepare pasta, which came to us tonight in a blackish color covered with small ring-shaped chilies and pieces of octopus, squid, and shrimp.  I now know why it has the name ‘squid ink.’  It demonstrated a good combination of sour flavor and the seafood.  I always prefer western style seafood on the slightly sour side with a heavy portion of lemon/lime juice, and this dish did it.  I actually can’t imagine it as a great entree, but I think it made the perfect appetizer, exciting me for the rest of my meal.

I was told the Roasted Leg of Lamb incorporated many highly recommended ingredients from their garden.  But, the taste of this dish was not as impressive as the appetizer.  The ingredients were of the freshest quality, except for perhaps the eggplant which was quite bitter.  The flavors and feelings varied from bite to bite in a strange way; they were light, but it was as though different sauces were spread throughout different regions of the plate, creating an intriguing melody of sensations.

The Duck Breast impressed more than the lamb.  It was nothing like Peking Duck, but then again I didn’t expect it to be.  The meat was cooked medium-rare, a difficult task as it commonly happens.  Surrounding it was a very filling wheat product called freekeh, which reminded me a lot of buckwheat from the Russian restaurants.  Not particularly delicious, but everything else on the plate was.  One intriguing piece was the sweet sticky rice-like clump in the corner of the dish.  I don’t know what it was, but combinined with the duck, it reminded me of a highly evolved American dish with Chinese origins far deep in its roots.  It’s indeed not fusion food, but it reminds me of it in a good way, something that’s rarely achieved by any restaurant.

Eventually we got our Black Forest Sundae, which the waitress complimented us on ordering.  For me, it was a great ending to a delicious meal: moist brownie covered with ice cream, whipped cream, cherries, and pistachio.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, though on a whole, it was relatively unoriginal dish.  I don’t like pistachio flavored ice cream much, but I did savor the few pistachios that were scattered around this sundae.

On a whole, this meal was fantastic, but it really gets lots of bonus points for the seasonality of the menu.  The food prepared this evening was perfect for a cool summer day like today and added significantly to my overall experience.  I have always been a fan of restaurants with regularly changing menus.  I’m not against them keeping staple dishes, but I love to see chef’s branch out and continuously try working with new dishes and new ingredients.  It is important that the top chefs don’t just sit on their laurels and strive to achieve more.  Only then will advanced culinary evolution be possible.

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Apiary

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Apparently there’s always a $35 prix fixe menu at Apiary, just normally not on Friday’s, the day we happened to decide to pop in.  It’s a good thing it’s still restaurant week.  I realized that I often pass this restaurant and have just never really taken notice to it.  At 5:30, we were able to enjoy the complete restaurant to ourselves, but even then the service was a little more sluggish than I would’ve preferred.  Today’s meal was enjoyed with a pint of Speakeasy’s Prohibition.

To start, we had the Chilled Corn Veloute and Baby Romaine Salad.  The salad was typical and did not strike out in any way that amazed me, a typical good salad is all I can say.  As for my corn soup, it was chilled and good, but also nothing so amazing that I could not forget.  I only know that the chilled soups are a delightful treat and a pleasant way to start a summer dinner.  About all I can recall thinking is that at least the corn is better than that in China, which doesn’t take much.

The main course consisted of Roasted Organic Chicken and Atlantic Merluza.  This here was an example of a good chicken that was not that good.  The chicken was not as flavorful as what I had sampled from the previous restaurants, and it was a classic example of a chicken that was not roasted perfectly, leaving a dry and hard to swallow feeling in my mouth.  At least it was organic though; I suppose that should make me feel a little better.   The fish was quite enjoyable though.  More memorable than the bass I had at Telepan, but it really just made me want some authentic bouillabaisse.  It was beyond satisfactory, but I quickly inhaled the fish, and slowly savored the little broth that I was given.  Perhaps I will have to seek out an authentic French restaurant next.

We ended the dinner a Trio of Ice Cream & Sorbet along with Vanilla Panna Cotta.  The ice cream was a typical chocolate and vanilla along with an atypical raspberry sorbet.  The raspberry was much more sour than I had really expected, but it was refreshing.  Unfortunately, I can’t say it was anything exceptional.  I think I could’ve scooped it out of any fancy ice cream shop myself.  As for the panna cotta, it was unimpressive compared to that of The Red Cat from a few days ago.  Not only was the dessert itself not as satisfying, it also was not showered with a large array of berries.

All in all, this is a good restaurant.  Perhaps it still may be a bit pricey for what it is though.  And unfortunately, for someone of my tastes, I can find versions of the same dishes that I enjoy much more at other restaurants.  A worthwhile experience, but I am not sure I’ll be back unless someone can convince me that I just chose the wrong dishes to sample.

Telepan


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This would be the third stop for me on restaurant week.  Here, one could choose from the typical $35 3-course dinner or a discounted version of their 4-course meal, available for $45 rather than $59, wine of course was not included at this price.  Again, I was not alone, so I had the opportunity to at least sample eight dishes, although I cannot say that I can judge them all fairly.  Sometimes the pleasure of a dish evolves as you eat, and for at least 3 of the dishes, I had no more than a single bite.

For the appetizer, we began with a Vegetable-Bread Soup and their famous “BLT” Salad.  I only had a spoonful of the soup, but from it, I could only say that it did nothing to impress me or entice me to try more of it.  The salad was very good, like a BLT sandwich with high quality ingredients, just with more greens and less bread.  I quite enjoyed the incredibly crispy bacon as well except for the fact that it was sometimes hard to get from the plate to my mouth using a fork.  The Chinese side of me really wanted chopsticks at times…

The mid-course consisted of Nettle & Wild Spinach Ravioli in addition to Lobster Bolognese.  The ravioli was quite pleasing, but small.  It only consisted of 3 pieces, and I took an entire piece from my dinner mate, apologies for them, but I liked it a lot.  As for the lobster spaghetti, it cost a supplementary $5 and though delicious, I am not completely convinced it was worth it.  The lobster was by all means delicious, and the spaghetti was well prepared, complimented with just the right amount of sauce.  The combination was great, but not great enough to convince me that the extra $5 was really worth it.  But I suppose you live and you learn.  I guess fresh lobster is not so readily available here as it is in Maine.

For our entree, my partner in crime as-per usual had Roast Chicken, whereas I indulged in the Wild Striped Bass.  The chicken here was well roasted, causing me to reminisce about the chicken at Maialino the other day.  The meat was very good, but I was not as impressed by the sauce and skin.  It did not offer the simplicity combined with the flavorful taste that I was able to indulge in the other day.  My bass was very good too, but not exceptional enough to leave a deep impression on me.  As this post is a few days overdue, I can no longer accurately recall my experience with the fish, therefore I can only presume that it was good, but certainly nothing that changed my culinary life.  She tells me that she thought I ordered scallop from the first bite…  Sadly, I can’t even remember if it tasted like scallop…

Dessert, however, is a different story, for I thoroughly enjoyed my Telepan S’more.  This was everything I loved about a s’more translated into a luxury dessert.  Chocolate brownie, marshmallow, graham cracker, and ice cream neatly stacked and each piece complimenting the others.  My only complaint would be that certain parts were a bit hard to cut with just my spoon.  But that most definitely did not detract from how satisfying it was to my palate.  The person across the table was not as impressed, which I can’t agree with.  But, I do agree with her assessment of her own dessert, which was the Crunchy Peanut Butter & Milk Chocolate Gianduja.  The first bite was amazing.  Every bite after that was an overload of sweetness and sugar.  If somehow they could make it less overwhelmingly sweet, it would be an ideal way to finish the meal.  It reminded us both of our overwhelmingly sweet experience of “The Works” Pizza at Max Brenner.  Though this was sweet, it still couldn’t compare to that pizza.  I personally blame the peanut butter.

The Red Cat

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Stop #2 on restaurant week is a popular American restaurant next to the NYC High Line called The Red Cat.  It was a busy restaurant and since I arrived early, I took a seat at the bar, which was surprisingly packed.  I was pleased to find my hometown brew of Troegs on their beer menu, but disappointed to find out they did not have any hops on tap.  I guess that explains why all the others situated at the bar were sipping away at glasses of wine.

Once I was seated for dinner, I was placed in a prime location, where the party in the picture above can be seen.  It was nothing special but the empty champagne holder behind us did make me wish we could afford some bubbly on ice.  Nevertheless, we continued forward with or restaurant week special, which at Red Cat was a 3 course dinner.  Today was dinner for a party of two which meant I would not have to enjoy my meal alone, and I could try twice as many dishes (except the fact that there was only one option for dessert).  So, I could try almost twice as many dishes.

We began with the Red Romaine Salad and the Gazpacho.  I only had a taste of the salad which I can only say was average.  There was a significant amount of ricotta salata cheese on the piece I tried which may have slightly skewed the taste a bit.  The leafy vegetables were gigantic, and a bit hard to manage at first; I approached my piece with the fold technique, to try to hold in most of the cheese and walnut vinaigrette.   Despite being a fan of both walnuts and vinaigrette usually, I could barely taste the impact of their dressing.  Perhaps I merely had too small a bite, but their romaine salad was not so impressive.  As for my own bowl of Gazpacho, it was cool and slightly spicy, perfect for summer.  Unfortunately something in there (maybe the cucumber) gave it more of a bitter taste than I would prefer.  I’m usually not a fan of bitter.  Perhaps that’s only because my taste buds are not “mature” enough.  I still cleaned the plate, but it was another appetizer that was average at best.

For the entrees, we enjoyed Pan Fried Brook Trout and Grilled Marinated Hangar Steak.  The trout was quite sizable, and whatever they did to cook it, it certainly absorbed a lot of the flavor, especially of something that was sour or lemony.  Again, from my small sample, it was delicious, but overpowered what I imagined should have been the natural taste of the trout.  The mushrooms on top were even more flavor-packed than the fish.   As for the hangar steak, it was well cooked to my liking.  But, as I’ve discovered most restaurants in New York seem to like to marinate their steaks in some kind of a sweet sauce, which unfortunately is not to my liking.  Still, the meat was well cooked to my order, and the quality of it was good, not great, but good.  Not much further to describe except that it was your above average tasting quality steak.

Probably the most delicious part of the meal for me was actually the dessert, which was Vanilla Panna Cotta.  The lemon grass passion fruit puree was a bit strange to my tongue at first, but it quickly adjusted and adored the taste.  It was like a mix of pudding, ice cream, and all the enjoyable desserts, surrounded by berries, which one can never go wrong with as long as they are relatively fresh.  It was sweet and cool and a nice blend of light flavors leaving a sweet aftertaste in my mouth to finish.

The meal did progressively improve for me, but I may have come into the restaurant expecting too much.  My honest opinion, judging from the crowd and the food, is that Red Cat was probably an amazing place that many from far and wide probably raved about during the first few years of its inception; but now, it has become a consistent establishment that maintains quality standards for food but is not longer the bright shining star it once was when it first opened its doors.  A bit sad, but not uncommon in the ever-evolving food industry of downtown Manhattan.