Monday, December 21, 2009

Casellula Wine & Cheese Bar

I had been hearing about Casellula from a friend of mine for months and months.  He has been going there for years. During the summer I met him late one night for a glass of wine and a cheese plate.  The cheese plate was the draw for me, delicious, interesting and unusual as each cheese was paired with something unique. Of course I wanted to go back with more friends.  Then one day I received an email from Groupon for Casellula and I bought one (I should have bought many as holiday gifts).  It took months to arrange but finally it all came together tonight and I met two of my foodie friends who I love going out with.
I arrived first and after looking at the wine list ordered a lovely Riesling by the glass.  It was delicious with high acidity, an air of floral aromas, and wonderful minerality. The Selbach "Fish Label" Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany, $44 a bottle and $11 for a glass. Casellula has a very nice selection of wines by the glass with between 6-8 choices of each, sparkling, white, red and 3 roses, in addition to a good selection by the bottle.

Then I perused the cheese list which is a wonderful compilation from the US and Europe.  I counted a list of 40+ cheeses to choose from at $6 a piece.  Each cheese comes with a unique pairing that can be either sweet or savory and for the most part they are spot on.  I chose 3 and ordered 4. The Rivers Edge Farm Up in Smoke from Oregon is a smoked goat cheese wrapped in maple leaves, served with bacon and a maple syrup reduction was outstanding.  The Willow Hill Farm Summertomme from Vermont is an herby creamy sheep served with a burnt fig puree (just a figure of speech) it had just the right edge to go with the sheep.  The Banon De Chalais from France is a nutty cow cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves was served with a while chocolate cherry fudge- went so well, I never would have thought to pair it like that.  Last was another cheese from France that I let the waitress choose for us.  I do not remember what she called it but it was a firm cheese served with a roasted garlic puree so just ask for that one.  The cheese was the perfect back drop for the garlic.

When my friends arrived in addition to the cheese, we ordered a small plate of 3 meats for $10 the Chistorras and the Chorizo were good but .... the Speck  was very very tasty.  The chicken wings adobo which are not your typical wings came with a smokey blue cheese biscuit that was like saw dust.  The wings were good but again nothing memorable.  The house gave us an interesting dish of mozzarella and roasted peppers wrapped in bacon, it was good but not my favorite thing.  I think we should have gone for the Pig's Ass Sandwich and or the Braised Shortys which I saw while I was waiting.  Ah, there's always next time!!!!

And then there was the delicious and creamy chicken liver pate which was covered with house made creme fraiche and served with a persimmon-kumquat marmalade . Yes my friends this is the second well maybe thrid time I've enjoyed chicken liver pate. I still don't think it's something I will ever order left on my own, but if someone else orders it I will try it and if it's good you can bet I'll be spreading some on my bread!
Casellula is a small space and they get busy and loud.  You can stake your claim at the bar but if you want a table they won't seat you until everyone in your party has arrived.  Come early or very late because by 7pm you could wait for a table.  We were supposed to meet at 6:30 but my companions showed up at 6:45 luckily I claimed the three stools in the window because we would have waited an hour to sit at a table.  Keep in mind it gets very loud and with the exposed brick walls, sitting right next to each other can still be hard to hear. The crowd looked like your after work and neighborhood folks and varied from your 20 somethings to your 50+somethings.

The bill came to $94 for the 3 of us.  It's definitely on the pricey side (good thing I had that groupon) and the portions are small.  Though they did pour a good full glass of wine and I didn't want anything else to eat.  I've read lots of negative things about the staff and I will say this... I was greeted by a friendly woman behind the bar.  She took my name and put me on the list for a table. When I engaged someone they smiled and happily answered my questions. Other than that they left me alone other than taking my order and bringing the check when we requested it.  Maybe they've grown up or become more friendly.  In fact it seemed to me they were trying to be as non intrusive as possible. 

It's a little out of the way unless you're going to be in the theater district, being just west of 9th Avenue. It's pricey but at some point I'm sure I'll go again.  It's definitely worth checking out, if just for a glass of wine (not sure if they do 1/2 a glass) it depends where you're coming from or going to. 


401 West 52nd
Just West of 9th Ave.

5pm - 2am
No reservations.  CC Accepted

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lunch at Bouley

I’ve always wanted to eat at Bouley and I finally had the opportunity.  A friend’s Mom was taking him to lunch for his birthday and he invited me along with another food friend who also had never been. I must say I was impressed.  The dining room is opulent, open and designed for those large and small to easily get around and sit very comfortably.

The hostess sat us at an enormous table in the middle of the room. My only critique is that I’m small and the table was so large it felt like we were all sitting alone. Luckily the room is well designed and we could hear one another speak.  The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. The menu surprisingly reasonable for a 5+ course meal.  I'm not sure if the meal came with coffee or not.  But if you count the petite fours at the very end it would be 6 courses.  My friend and I already knew we were going for the tasting menu. As many of you already know I like to try a little of this and a little of that and tasting is what I like to do.  At 3 savory courses and 3 sweet courses one of which came with a dessert wine I think $48 is a bargain.  Yes, I could’ve done with only 1 dessert and a 4th savory course but I’m not complaining.  Well, I am a little bit.  The savory dishes were a good size nothing was tiny but they weren’t huge either.  The desserts on the other hand were full portions.  The plating was simple and I was more than sated at the end.

I started with the porcini flan with dungeness crab and black truffle dashi in a mini copper Dutch oven that was spectacular.  Every last bit I scrapped out was rich and flavorful, a highlight of the meal.  Next I chose the roasted rouget, a small red fish found in Provence in France, served with a black olive, tomato, coriander, and red pepper reduction and pickled fennel.  This I forgot to take a photo of. My three companions had the gently cooked baby skate (yes, that's what they called it) served with marinated fennel, summer herbs (even though it's late fall) and a warm gooseberry sauce.  I’d never had rouget before,and let me just say though my portion was significantly smaller than the skate, it made up in flavor.  The combination of ingredients surprised me (I didn’t think I would like this dish very much) but happily the flavors burst with joy on my tongue, mingling and lingering making me yearn for another bite. Each ingredient in the reduction came through on it's own and then the corriander note popped in delighting my senses, another highlight of the meal. Based on the selection the natural choice for my third course was the Long Island duckling with a Balinese pepper crust. This was served with a white truffle honey, julienne of snow peas, Tahittian vanilla glazed turnips, kohlrabi puree, verjus, and a ginger dressing. I don't cook duck at home for some reason.  When I see it on a menu I know that's what I'm having. The succulent meat burst with flavor and I was very happy all my expectations for a fabulous meal were satisfied. Again the combination of ingredients worked so well and I was not disappointed (as happens so often when expectations are so hight).

Next the dessert started.  Okay, I’m going to be very picky here.  No, it’s not just because I’ve spent the last 20 years baking. It’s not easy to eat 3-4 desserts at one time one right after the other.  I’d say for a 3 hour lunch (yes I took a 3 hour lunch on a Tuesday afternoon- gorgeous day too) a significantly smaller portion of sorbet could have been served in between the second and third courses, instead of 2 sorbets after the third course as a cleanser for the desserts to come. The lemon sorbet with pineapple carpaccio for example, would have been a great choice for the four of us to share (even with the reach across the table).  It was delicious by the way and the most beautiful of the desserts.  The creamy white lemon sorbet was in the center and the thinly sliced pineapple with it's green and yellow fanned out around it, came to the table with our main dessert course. I've jumped too far ahead so backing up...first the palate cleanser, a lovely plum sorbet with what I think was a blackberry or pomegranate granita in pear soup (it wasn’t on the menu). Next the piece de resistance, chocolate of course.  Again, I was surprised, not that it was superb and it was superb, I am not a huge fan of valrhona chocolate and I have become a chocolate snob. {I really should learn to be more positive}. I enjoyed the flavor of the valrhona.  Now they could be making a blend just for Bouley,I don’t know but it was delicious.  The valrhona chocolate soufflĂ© was light and chocolatey (spell it how you like) with a delicate crisp outer shell.  It was accompanied by a rich chocolate sorbet, Vermont maple and vanilla ice creams.  I was unable to finish the plum sorbet but I scraped every last bit of chocolate off that plate.  You wouldn’t believe the space my stomach made just for the chocolate.  My stomache looked up at me and smiled, don't worry it said there's plenty of room for the chocolate and ice cream.  I almost felt like I could have started the meal over again.

Luckily the petit four plate was small.  One of the best french macaroon cookies I've ever had.  Not because it was the most beautiful but because it was the most flavorful and not very sweet.  Thomas Keller move over.

Before we left..... I went downstairs to the bathroom I took a sneak peek into the private dining room- fit for a king. It was an accident actually, there were several doors, unmarked of course, and though someone said go to the left, I just can't follow directions, teeheehee.  This is a special place to go for a special occasion. All the praise I’ve ever heard about the food at Bouley and the staff are true.  I’m immensely grateful to have had a meal here. Now that I’ve been, I’ll be telling everyone I know and if I get back for dinner… I’ll be giddy with excitment. Now I have to get someone to take me to Daniel and maybe even Per Se.  I won’t hold my breath though as not only do I enjoy my own cooking there’s a lot of great chefs out there making delicious food, using local sustainable ingredients without breaking the bank.

Bouley Restaurant

163 Duane Street (at Hudson)
(212) 964-2525

Lunch: 11:30am -  3:00pm
Dinner: 5:00pm - 11:30pm