Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ample Hills Creamery

I know what you're thinking. Its 30 degrees outside, what business do I have eating, let alone reviewing an ice creamery in mid November? The answer is simply, it's that good. Ample Hills Creamery is the real deal. The brainchild of Brian Smith, who started off by selling his homemade hormone-free ice cream out of a cart in Prospect Park, AHC quickly grew so popular that a brick and mortar location was opened in Prospect Heights. 

Best known for their unique flavors and delicious varieties, you get the feeling here that whoever thought these flavors up may have been puffing a little too much of the funny stuff. My all time favorite has to be the Caramel Crack Caramel made of salted butter caramel ice cream with pieces of Deb's crack cookies, saltines, sugar and chocolate. Addicting, creamy, perfect. Munchies is a combination of pretzel infused ice cream with bits of potato chips, pretzels, ritz crackers and m&m's. There's also Maple Bacon, Stout n Pretzels, Drunken Pumpkin, and Ooey Gooey St Louis Buttercake amongst the 16 ever changing flavors.

Besides for the outstanding ice cream, the staff at AHC really go above and beyond and are so extra friendly. You are free to sample as many favors as you need to (and trust me, you will need to). There is also an adorable play space in the back complete with play kitchen and toy ice cream trucks that light up and sing. There's even a ledge for the kids to stand on to see the ice cream flavors (genius move guys). Trust me, your kids won't want to leave. And once you taste the ice cream, neither will you. 

So bundle up, this place is worth the trek, no matter what the weather. Ample Hills Creamery could very well be the best ice cream Brooklyn has ever seen. 

Neighborhood: Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Cuisine: Ice Cream

Bite Mark: *****

Good For: Kids, Kids at heart!, Birthday Cakes 

Ample Hills Creamery, 623 Vanderbilt Ave 

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Pickle Shack

What happens when you cross Shamus Jones, owner of  Brooklyn Brine's famous hipster-chic pickles with Dogfish Head Brewery owner Sam Calagione? The Pickle Shack (duh).

The Pickle Shack is the new Vegetarian centric gastropub located on 4th Avenue in Gowanus area of Brooklyn. It's a small 35 seat eatery with 8 draft beers on tap, a simple layout, and a menu full of salads, sandwiches and sides. 

Although not marketed as a vegetarian spot, and no "fake meat" in sight, the focus here is on hearty delicious vegetarian options, with some Brooklyn Brine pickles thrown in for good measure. There are a bunch of sandwiches on the menu, and the bread is baked fresh down the block at Runner + Stone.  Some other veggie-licious  grub I've sampled is the grilled kale, butternut squash salad with grainy mustard and a mushroom veggie burger with grilled onions and a side of pickle.

Although this place sounds like a pickle loving vegetarian's dream come true, honestly, the best thing I had the 2 times I visited is the fried hop pickles with lemon aioli. The kale salad was a little too sweet, and the fried oyster mushrooms too bready. On my last visit I shared the aforementioned veggie shroom burger and grilled cheese sandwich. Both were good, but probably not worth going back for. 

I would give this place one more try, they are still pretty new and getting their act together. In the meantime definitely pass by for a nice beer on tap and those crazy good fried pickles. 

Neighborhood: Gowanus / South Slope, Brooklyn

Cuisine: Sandwiches, Gastropub

Bite Mark: ** & a half

Good For: Beer on draft, Vegetarians, quick lunch, PICKLES! 

The Pickle Shack, 256 4th Ave & President Street

Monday, November 11, 2013

Antica Pesa

Welcome to the new, new Williamsburg. Say goodbye to hipster chic farm-to-table establishments, and hello to ultra posh hangout of Madonna and Morgan Freeman, roaring fireplace, mustachioed Italian men, and sometimes Jazz band.

The above scene describes the relatively new "modern Roman" restaurant, Antica Pesa that opened a few months back on Berry Street in Williamsburg.  The original Antica, located in Rome, has been run by 4 generations of the same Italian family and has a reputation for delicious Italian food and a celebrity clientele. 

I can't speak for their Italian counterpart, but here in Brooklyn Antica Pesa seems to be off to a good start. I like the ambience. It's fun. A large dark room (hence the terrible dark photos) with an awesome lounge area filled with overstuffed sofas is offset with white mod lighting and wood tables  giving it a rustic yet modern vibe. The crowd is a mix of young, cool people,  a lot from Brooklyn, with some Manhattanites and tourists thrown in for good measure. I read some reviews crying long waits and terrible service, but that was not my experience at all. Our waiter Alec, was a perfect gentleman; friendly, attentive, and well, adorable. Antica Pesa is perfect for a change of pace. Although I found the food to be good, not great,  it's not your typical neighborhood hang, and could be fun on the right night with the right crowd. 

After airing delightful bottle of rich red wine, a wooden chest arrives at the table with a selection of warm bread. This is always a good start. The food comes out in 3 courses. Autumn Salad with figs and artichokes, a Cheese Plate accompanied with honey and orange bitters and a Vegetable tasting (including beets, fried phyllo, and some interesting yet delicious hummus). Everything is tasty, if not mind blowing.

 Next up,  Cacio e Pepe, their signature dish. Wow. Creamy and buttery but not too overwhelming or heavy. Spot on. Best dish of the night. The Ravioli filled with potatoes and a leek cream, though presented beautifully, is hard and undercooked. Risotto with mushrooms topped with goat cheese is creamy and excellent. 

 Looking back, we probably should've stopped here. A selection of Mushrooms, roasted and fried, and the waiter recommended Bacala comes next. We liked the shrooms. They're tasty, the roasted ones more so than the fried which felt overwhelmed with breading. Bacala was just okay, the fish was small and somewhat bland. 

 Undecided for dessert, we went for the off the menu Homemade Gelatos. Tonight's included amaretto, white chocolate and pistachio. White chocolate was the best of the bunch if you have that sweet tooth craving. 

You'll have a good time at Antica Pesa. The atmosphere, attentive service, and cool vibe make up for some of the food shortcomings. And that cacio e pepe was really really good. 

Neighborhood: Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Bite Mark: *** & a half

Good For: Date Night, Fun Night Out, Entertaining Out of Towners 

Antica Pesa, 115 Berry Street bet 7th & 8th St 

Monday, November 4, 2013

France Roundup. First up, PARIS

4 days and 3 nights in Paris is really not long enough. Good thing we ate about 6 meals a day...

We hit all the main museums and attractions, but let's not kid ourselves, we were just killing time in between meals! "It was all about the food", is a complete understatement. Here you'll find a roundup of my food highlights. 

DAY #1

First stop, L'Avenue, 41 Ave Montaigne, 75008. +33 1 40 71 14 91

  • Atmosphere: Upscale, "see and be seen" type of place. Chic neighborhood, great outdoor seating and comfortable upstairs mezzanine area. 
  • Food: Solid. Straight off the plane, jetlagged and confused, we had a pretty good meal. Bloody Mary's, Tuna Tartare, great salads, and a nice al dente fresh tomato Rigatoni
  • Overall: Reminiscent of Cipriani's. The food is  good, but you are coming here for the scene. The waiters are professional, pretty, and curt. This place is not cheap, but you are paying for the atmosphere as much as anything else. 

 For dinner on our first night in Paris, we want somewhere authentic. A real French Bistro

Fontaine de Mars, 129 Rue St Dominique, 75007. +33 1 47 05 46 44

  • Atmosphere: Genuine French Bistro.  Small and cozy with tables crammed next to each other and a small bar in the front. There seems to be a lot of locals here, with a smattering of tourists. This is where the Obama's ate at on their last trip. 
  • Food: The waiter recommends a nice French full bodied bottle of wine that we thoroughly enjoy. The food itself is good, if not mind blowing. We started with special of the night, mushroom soup drizzled with truffle oil (not pictured), delicious poached eggs with some kind of cream sauce (you know I can never get enough eggs!) and a flavorful leek appetizer. The highlight is the delicious Dover Sole that the kitchen split for us, and the creamy mashed potatoes that come on the side. The Floating Island dessert was pretty cool too. Not sure exactly what it is, but it's a must order. 
  • Overall: I like this place. It feels very French. It's also a 3 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, should you desire an evening stroll after dinner. 

Next up, Market. And yes this is all still day one. A friend of ours is out having a late dinner here, so we joined for some appetizers and dessert, and sit next to a very cool and collected Lenny Kravitz! 

Market, 15 Avenue Matignon 750008. 01 56 43 40 90 

  • I like Market. Get the signature Jean George dishes like truffle pizza. Market is definitely a scene, more than a foodie paradise. The dessert sampler was pretty awesome.  

 Day #2

Start the day with some fresh Pastries bought at a random cafe near the hotel. You can't really go wrong with croissants, and chocolate brioche for that matter. 

After some touring, we jumped off the double decker bus in the Left Bank area of Paris, and walk some of the famous streets and shops. Lunch stop at Ralph's in the amazingly beautiful Ralph Lauren store on St Germaine

Ralph's, 173 bd Saint-Germain, 75006. 33 1 44 77 76 00 

  • Atmosphere: This place is just so beautiful. From the umbrellas to the tableware, to the staff uniforms, it's all so very, well, Ralph Lauren. Sit outside in the garden and just take a deep breath and enjoy. I can't get over how nice the outdoor patio area is. I wish I lived next door and I could just sit here everyday. Service is terrible, but it doesn't really matter.
  • Food: Fair. Caesar salad is nothing special. Smoked Salmon Tartine and Veggie Burger are better. Popcorn that comes to the table is addicting. 
  • Overall: Go. You can't not like this place. Expensive for what it is, but then again, so is most of Paris.

Late afternoon, Crepe stop, somewhere near the Notre Dame...
Nutella + Banana = amazeballs. 

Dinner time. I'm beyond excited that I secured a 7:30 reservation at the world famous, Le Chateaubriand for dinner tonight. Though some would disagree, this place did not live up to the hype. 

**Disclaimer here, I don't eat meat or shellfish (that is not kosher), so our lackluster experience could be partially blamed on accommodating our dietary restrictions**

Le Chateaubriand, 129 Ave Parmentier, 75011. +33 1 43 57 45 95
  • Atmosphere: First off, realize that this place is a solid 20 minute drive from central Paris. The place itself is extremely simple. As in, I thought perhaps I was in the wrong place. Rated one of the best restaurants in the WORLD, I was a little taken aback. But I am more than cool with a casual vibe, as long as the food is up to par.
  • Food: I really did want to love it. The chef comes over and explains that there is no menu, they just send things out. He seems more than fine with the no meat or shellfish stipulation. Things come out, one after another, but there is no WOW. Some things are good (ceviche shot, weird egg custard dessert), some just okay  (tomatoes covered in cheese, a few fish courses), and some just missed the mark completely (oily strange soup with floating radish, iced chocolate dessert, boring fried peppers).  
  • Overall: Although many claim it's a "steal" by the end of the dinner with the wine, beer, and tip, dinner for 2 people came out to over $200 US dollars. Not the most expensive meal in Paris, but by no means cheap! I definitely left feeling disappointed. At this level I expected every bite to be spectacular and the reality just didn't live up to my expectations on this one.  

Day #3

One of the best things we ate all trip, surprisingly came from the kosher falafel place on rue de Rosiers, in the heart of the Jewish District of Paris, Le Marais. This area is very hipster chic, with a ton of cool shops and little cafes that you can wander around for hours. 

L'As du Fallafel, 34 rue des Rosiers, 75004. +33 1 48 87 63 60 
  • There's about 6 other falafel places on this same block. They are all empty and there is a line 20 people deep here. And for good reason! This place is the sh*t. The real deal. Dirty, grimy, yummy Israeli food at its finest. The Falafel Pita is the thing to get, but the sauces and sides and pretty much everything else is damn good too. 

 A couple of hours later we find ourselves wondering around Plaza de la Madeleine, a chocolate lovers dream. Surrounded by some of the world's finest chocolate purveyors, the toughest decision is what to try first! Dried sugared fruit, delicious creamy macaroons (Pierre Herme had our favorite), or some salted dark chocolate by the piece? Purely for research sake, we must sample them all....

  • Jean Paul Hevin; 231 rue Saint Honore
  • La Maison du Chocolat; 8 Boulevard de la Madeleine 
  • Marquise de Sevigne; 11 Place de la Madeleine
  • Fauchon; 24-26 Place de la Madeleine
  • Hediard; 21 Place de la Madeleine 

Dinner day 3, we crave Italian. Told that La Grand Venise is the best Italian in town, off we go (another 20 minute drive) to our next food adventure.

Le Grand Venise, 171 Rue Conventionm 75015. +33 1 45 32 49 71
  • Writing this 2 weeks later, I'm still scratching my head over this one. It was a strange dinner. Not what I was expecting, but not necessarily in a bad way. Le Grand Venise is a small cozy space comprised of 2 small rooms. They do things a bit different here. Some examples. After 3 days of too much wine, I asked for a Vodka cocktail. I was given a BOTTLE of vodka, a glass, and no explanation. Next we were brought a Vegetable Garden in lieu of bread. Legit, I actually pulled tomatoes off of vines, cut up radishes, and peeled some peppers! All delicious and fresh, just a little strange. When we order we ask the waitress (who I believe is also the owner) if she can make us a nice vegetable starter, followed by 2 pastas to share for our main. We were not starving, just wanted a small taste of Italy while in France. Below is what came as a starter. A RIDICULOUS amount of food. The pastas (not pictured) are really good too. Everything was tasty, there was just an obscene amount of it. Highlight was definitely the Caramel Ice Cream that gets carved and shaved table tableside  This place is also a fortune, doesn't really matter how much or little you order, so beware and come hungry! 

Day #4
Breakfast at Angelina, then we are off via train to the beautiful quaint village of Avignon in the Provence region of France.

Angelina, 226 rue de Rivoli, +33 1 42 60 82 00 
  • Great last meal in paris. This place is perfect for breakfast or a tea time. It reminds me of a nicer version of Sarabeth's here in New York. Delicious pastries, fresh coffee, and yummy breakfast food. We got a Truffle Omlette, some pasties and their famous rich delicious chocolately hot chocolate or "Chocolat Chaud" with whipped cream.