Club A Steakhouse

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Earlier this July, I bought a “dinner for two” coupon from LivingSocial.  I jumped on the deal during a time when I was craving steak.  Finally, two months later I was able to satisfy that craving.  Business casual was the suggested attire, so my date and I dressed nicely for the occasion.  Our reservations were set for 5:00 pm and unsurprisingly, we were the first at the restaurant.  As others trickled in, I saw that a majority of the diners around us were all participating in the same deal I had bought.

The coupon included a 4-course meal for each person in addition to a bottle of wine, either cabernet sauvignon or pinot grigio.  Since I was the only drinker, I decided a bottle of cabernet sauvignon since it would be better match with the steak.  To start we had the Mushroom Soup and Fried Calamari.  The Calamari was nothing out of the ordinary.  The mushroom soup really impressed me.  I was expecting the typical Campbell’s-like cream based soup with mushroom chunks/slices, but was surprised to find that their soup was a strange greenish color that was full of mushroom flavor but no mushroom chunks.  It was probably the best mushroom soup I’ve had in a while and it put a smile on my face.

We ordered a Hanger Steak and a Filet Mignon for our entrees with side orders of Mac and Cheese and Creamed Spinach.  The hanger steak was very good, but I thought the filet mignon was better.  My date had anticipated thus and let me enjoy the filet mignon, which was cooked medium and nearly perfectly.  Tender and a bit raw on the inside while nice and slightly charred on the outside, it really appeased and delighted me.  The creamed spinach was also delicious and smooth, although it felt a bit heavy after I ate a large portion of it.  The mac and cheese was good as well, but it was unimpressive compared to the S’mac we ate a few days ago.

Dessert was tiramisu and cream puffs.  The tiramisu was… edible.  But in the end I still couldn’t bring myself to finish it.  The cream puffs were good but it can’t compare the little dessert shops down in Little Italy such as Ferrera.  This place clearly does not specialize in desserts and could benefit greatly from hiring a new pastry chef.  From my meal, the dessert was the only real weak link in the entire meal, and I would’ve thought much more highly of the restaurant if I didn’t have to end the meal on such a low note.

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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.

Peking Duck House

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I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I was craving some Peking duck tonight.  It came suddenly, swiftly and in an unexpected manner.  A quick search on Google returned Peking Duck House.  There were two locations, and despite the one in Midtown East having slightly higher prices, I decided that the closer proximity was worth it.  So I thought I’d give it a whirl; my first Peking duck since I left Peking over a year ago.  Readers should note that I’m very partial towards authentic Chinese food, and in over a score of years, I have never found a westernized or fusion Asian restaurant that I’ve really liked.  Thus, I really truly hoped on the inside, that this one was relatively authentic.

The duck here was actually not bad, but not great of course.  And, I was pleasantly surprised that they actually did have a chef come out and slice the duck up before your eyes.  Although it was a poor slicing job, I was pleased enough not to say anything to the guy.  I have complaints too about the lack of crispiness in the skin, the not-as-juicy-as-I-would’ve-liked meat, and the lack of additional toppings like sliced garlic, etc.  Also, I’m not so happy that I couldn’t get two bowls of complimentary duck soup, or at least take the duck’s bone frame home with me, but I guess this isn’t mainland China.  However, the bottom line is that the duck was good enough to satisfy my cravings.  I did have very low expectations though, for where could I possibly find real Peking duck around here?

The real surprise was the size of things.  If an actual Chinese came to the restaurant and saw the food without seeing any Americans, they’d probably think this was a land of giants.  Everything about the duck was almost exactly the same, but bigger, except for the actual duck itself.  The pieces of duck were served in bigger slices.  The tortilla-like wrap was double the biggest wrap I’d ever seen in China.  The cucumber slices were probably three times in larger than usual and the scallion was also so thick compared to the norm.  I was not prepared for this.  I feel like the largeness of everything took away from the subtlety of real Peking duck’s deliciousness, substituting quality with quantity.

But again, I was adequately satisfied by the duck.  What was less exciting was our order of Chinese Broccoli in Oyster Sauce.  I felt it was more insight into what the normal dishes at the restaurant were probably like, big and bland.  Yes, the Chinese broccoli was also massive in size compared to what would’ve been presented to me in a Chinese restaurant in China.  It was also poorly cooked though, and weak in flavor.  I thought the garlic was delicious though, but that might just be because I like garlic a lot.  Still, at least I felt like it was relatively nutritious for me.  Even the complimentary oranges at the end were of low quality.  They only brought us four slices; I really wonder what happened to the other half of the orange…  At least we both got very appropriate fortunes from our fortune cookies.

I don’t really know if I’ll be back here again.  Maybe next time I’ll try out the other Peking Duck House in Chinatown and see if it’s any better/different.  The only reason I’d probably be back is if I end up staying in NYC longer and I suddenly get another craving for Peking duck one day.