Monday, June 27, 2005

Anticipating Mediocrity

Of course the geniuses at the Food Network got rid of the best contestant for the Next Food Network Star, Hans. (By the way, getting a show makes you, per se, a "star"?) But at least the voters were smart enough to choose the two guys over Deborah, the "personal celebrity chef."

And did you like Debbie's line when she was asked what she was thinking, just before they revealed the contest winner: "I'm anticipating greatness." Uhh... okay. You should have been anticipating whether you can pay for the bus fare back to your apartment.

And that line so clearly displayed why I couldn't stand her or the other woman. They are complete phonies. At least the other one knew how to cook. Throughout the contest Deborah looked like she was piloting the USS Clueless. On her little talk-show demo she ignored pork chops burning on the grill. Yet they kept her???

I'm sure the main force behind keeping her was that hideously ugly VP of marketing or whatever she was. She would always say how Debbie had a great personality. She probably can't heat up a Lean Cuisine, but so what??? Look at that personality. Ugh.

This explains a lot of what's been happening at the Food Network over the last few years.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Ivy Inn

A few words about a non-Long Island restaurant. Writing about my one and only experience with snails the other day got me thinking about my time in Charlottesville. The wife and I didn't get to try all the restaurants there that we wanted, but of those we were able to try, our favorite was The Ivy Inn, and we did get there a few times.

Unfortunately, I haven't come across a restaurant like it on Long Island. The menu is à la carte, but two people can have an appetizer, entree, and dessert for around $100 (including drinks), and the food is consistently quite good. (Although it looks like they've raised their prices a little since we were last there.) To get a meal of similar substance and quality on Long Island will normally run you at least $150. Perhaps the closest thing on Long Island is the Chachama Grill, which I reviewed in the past. But even then, if I recall, you also get salad with your meal, a variety of different breads throughout the dinner, and complimentary cookies at the end. You're not getting that at Chachama Grill or many other restaurants on the island.

If I had a complaint about the Ivy Inn (and I have to think to come up with any), it would be that the menu is more ordinary than interesting. So, though you probably won't get the nuance and complexity of flavors of the top restaurants, every dish is solid and delicious. One of the best dishes I've had at any restaurant, anywhere, is the medallions of pork or veal (I don't quite remember) tenderloins over fettuccine in a wild mushroom, cognac and cream sauce. And that's an example--reading it on a menu, you're thinking "Who cares?," but it was executed with perfection and was truly outstanding.

So, anyone going to Charlottesville or passing that way, or any Virginia alums or their spouses heading down there for a football game, check it out.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Review: The Lobster Roll

In my few years on Long Island I've found out there are a handful of restaurants that one has to try, simply based on tradition, not necessarily the quality of the food. In other words, one hasn't fully experienced food on Long Island until one goes to these places at least once.

One such restaurant is the Lobster Roll in Amagansett. Neither my wife nor I had ever been there, but we finally managed to make our way over there last Saturday. Nor had either of us ever had a lobster roll, from anywhere. So, we filled a deep gastronomic void on Saturday.

But what a disappointment. Where to begin? We ordered two lobster rolls and split an order of fried oysters. The lobster rolls are, of course, lobster salad served in a hot dog bun. The Lobster Roll, in its infinite wisdom, serves the lobster salad on a 6-inch potato bread bun. They do give you a fair amount of lobster, but it is completely out of balance with the amount of bread. And potato bread? How about classin' it up a little?

As for the lobster salad itself, I tasted only blandness and celery. I could not taste the lobster one iota and not even the mayonnaise. It's as if they had found a way to blend the ingredients together to mute every flavor except the celery. I mean, give me a little salt, something.

And the oysters were no better. Not only were they soaked with grease, but they tasted awful. I don't know if they were out of a can or old or had been dropped in the toilet or what, but egh. If that had been my first experience with oysters, I would never touch them again. (It reminds me of the only time I've had escargot to this point. It was at a place called the Bavarian Chef, about 30 mins. outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. The restaurant is otherwise quite good, but my then-fiancee ordered an escargot appetizer. Trying a piece, I tasted a pleasant batter on the outside but in the middle some horrid, putrid, foul, little black thing. I haven't had one since. I have a feeling escargot is not supposed to taste like that, but I can't quite pluck up the courage to confirm this suspicion.)

But I will say the cole slaw they served with the lobster roll was good. The flavors were well balanced, and it was sweet, which was a surprise. Of course, I don't quite see the wisdom in serving something cold and crunchy and containing mayonnaise (cole slaw) with something cold and crunchy and containing mayonnaise (a lobster roll), but maybe that's just me.

And the price? Two lobster rolls (on six-inch buns, mind you) and an order of fried oysters: $51 and change after tax. Yeah. I say buy a lobster from your local fish market for $8 and make the damn thing yourself. Not only will it taste better, not only will you save money, not only can you use a bigger bun, but you get to avoid driving through the Hamptons on a f*cking weekend.

Two lobsters: $16
A bag of hotdog buns: $1.29
Not having to drive through the f*cking Hamptons on a Saturday: Priceless

1 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The wrong way to present food.

I guess the guy was trying to make an artful presentation of his sandwich, but to me it looks like he dropped the plate on the ground, then took a picture.

He's got a Ph.D. in music! Run for your lives!

Watching the latest installment of Hell's Kitchen last night. Have you ever seen anything more pathetic than that fat guy shoving Gordon Ramsay's maitre de and declaring how mentally superior he was because he had a doctorate in music? That's right, the hierarchy of intelligence is:

1) atomic physicists

2) neurosurgeons

3) music Ph.D's

If fatboy had shoved me, I would've stuck a trombone up his arse.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Next Food Network Star

Watching this show last night. Of course the geniuses at the Food Network got rid of the wrong person. The two people the cut came down to last night were two of the best. Clearly, the worst performers were the fat guy, the black woman, and the porno-star-looking blonde. But, my God, if these 8 people were the best out of 10,000 submissions, then Dave Liberman is looking better and better.

Still, if the Food Network is going to add another show, I'd rather see an accomplished, well-known chef.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Post Review

Today I came across a review of Chachama Grill by Joanne Starkey from a few years back. She also has high praise for the restaurant, but seems to like it a little better than I do.

Where we have, apparently, a great divide in opinion is our view of the desserts. I was dumbfounded by this quote:

Dessert was the equal of any other course. My favorite was the chocolate mousse: not airy nor pudding-like but three dense, delicious scoops served in a martini glass.

I guess the mousse hasn't changed since then. But she liked the mousse dense? Gee, and here I was thinking the point of a mousse was, in fact, to have an airy texture. I guess I've spent all those hours whipping egg whites and heavy cream for nothing.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Review: Chachama Grill

This restaurant made its debut in the Zagat ratings this year with a gaudy food rating and allegedly reasonable prices, so we decided to check it out. It is quite good, but has its problems.

From 5-6 it offers a fixed-price of $35 per person for "any" appetizer, entree, and dessert. We arrived at 6:30, so missed the cheap eats. And our menus included the day's "specials," with those entrees probably averaging at least $30--so I suspect the early birds don't get to order from the "specials" menu.

I started with the pan-roasted quail. It was accompanied by a powerful red-wine sauce with a peculiar soy-sauce-like saltiness. It may have been nothing more, in fact, than highly-reduced red wine and soy sauce. The sauce was so strongly flavored it somewhat overpowered the quail. Presumably to lighten the dish overall, the plate also included a small salad of arugula with walnuts and roasted pears.

The wife had the "Oysters Rubio" (named after the chef). They were also quite good--though the sauce in the center of the dish--presumably a yellow pepper puree--was not great and, really not necessary.

For the entree I had a rack of lamb with, I believe, the same sauce served with my quail. It matched better with the lamb, since the gamy lamb could stand up to it a little better than the quail. The lamb came with a side of some kind of layered potato item (lasagna, casserole, whatever you want to call it). But it had the earthy, heavy flavor of olives, and was topped with a tapenade. I don't like tapenades or olives, so this side didn't particularly appeal to me, though the wife liked it.

The wife had the "surf and turf"--a huge lobster tail with filet mignon. The lobster tail lacked the sweet flavor of fresh lobster, and could have used some melted butter. The filet was wonderfully cooked and adorned with another strong red-wine sauce, though different from mine.

Then came desserts. This is the restaurant's biggest problem at the moment. Not only is the dessert menu boring (the appetizer and entree menus have some interesting choices), but the execution was poor. I had the napolean. Their version is simply layers of crispy phyllo dough and whipped cream with, on that day, fresh blue berries and strawberries. It was fine, but nothing special. My wife had the chocolate mousse. This was possibly the worst mousse we've both ever tried, and she couldn't even finish it. It seriously had the density and weight of hard chocolate ice cream.

While the early-bird special is a good deal, after tax and tip the bill came to $170. It was only after we left that it occurred to me "Why the hell did I just pay $36 for a rack of lamb?" And my wife's was $38. You can get rack of lamb at many top Long Island restaurants for often $25 - $28. So, the early bird special is good, but the restaurant makes up for it in the "specials" menu.

On a side note, while the decor was nothing special, there was something to catch the eye. Our waitress looked very much like the lovely Liz Cho of channel 7 news. Out of respect for my wife, I drooled only slightly. Even when the waitress was serving our dessert coffees and got some foam on her chest, I didn't offer to remove it for her.

Chachama Grill is a good restaurant that could be very good. It doesn't yet have the nuance and precision of flavors that the Louis XVI's, the Panama Hatties and the Mirabelles have. And it needs to work on its desserts. I wouldn't give it quite the high rating that it gets in Zagat, but only a couple points below.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars