Thursday, January 24, 2008

Restaurant Week Meal #3 - Mesa Grill

Once again Mesa Grill did not disappoint. Bobby Flay's first restaurant served up a great meal, and one that was a great value compared to the normal menu prices. For us restaurant week is a balance between having great food, but also getting the best value. It's always better when the restaurant is serving items from their regular menu, and not some low end menu they are using just for the two weeks of Restaurant Week. The Mesa Grill selections are straight from the regular menu, so it's easy to compare prices and you know what to expect if you go back after Restaurant Week.

Our dinner started with an exceptional bread basket - probably one of the better free bread baskets in the city. Two sourdough rolls, one cornmeal and rosemary scone, and one corn and chile muffin - all served warm. Just thinking about it makes me want one of the cornmeal and rosemary scones or the corn and chile muffin. The scone wasn't dry and the flavor of the herbs was a perfectly balanced against the tang of the cornmeal. The corn muffin was really crumbly, it had both yellow and blue corn and mild green chilies.

I started with 'Sophie's Chopped Salad', I had the salad the last time we ate at Mesa Grill for restaurant week and I loved it. This time it wasn't my favorite. It was a solid salad, but last time it was better. I think I figured out that Sophie's salad isn't always the same salad, it's whatever Sophie wants to make for the night. Wednesday night it had lots of olives, red kidney beans, garbanzo beans, cubes of a mild white cheese (maybe queso blanco or jack), tomatoes, a small amount of lettuce, and a few crispy tortilla chips - all topped with a pretty unremarkable vinaigrette. The dressing just didn't add to the flavors of the salad. Last time the dressing was fabulous and really made the appetizer much better. (OK, I just went back and read my review of Sophie's salad from last year - it has exactly the same ingredients and I thought Michael's appetizer was better! I should have read my review instead of relying on my obviously faulty memory and then I would have not ordered the salad again. It wasn't that it was bad, it was just uneventful. I could make the same salad any night of the week, I want special, something I won't make at home.)

Michael started with the Fry Bread Taquitos. It was a piece of fry bread (kind of like a thick flour tortilla that has been fried so it is crispy on the edges, but soft and chewy towards the middle) topped with pork and red cabbage slaw sitting on top of a mango habanero sauce. The fried bread was just as delicious as you would expect fried bread to be (hello, fried and a carb). The pork was tender and well seasoned. I think it was a jerk type seasoning, but I'm not exactly sure. It was flavorful without being overly spicy. The red cabbage slaw added a nice crunch and it toned down the spiciness of the habanero sauce. Lucky for me Michael was nice enough to share, so I finished off his taquito while he tackled the salad.

For dinner I enjoyed the grilled mahi-mahi. The fish was grilled so it had that good smoky flavor but was still moist on the inside - it was sitting on three different sauces one that tasted mostly like pineapple, a sauce that was spicy and made from cascabel chilies and one that was green. The green was maybe a cilantro sauce? The presentation was great the yellow and red sauces filled the plate and the green was just used as an accent. The pineapple sauce was a nice balance to the spicy cascabel chile sauce.

From Cascabel chilies [kahs-kah-BEL] (also know as chile bola) means "rattle" and the name refers to the shape of the chile as well as the sound the seeds make when a dried chile is shaken. The cascabel chile is deep red to brownish in color and when mature is about 1 1/2" in diameter.Cascabels are moderately hot and have a nutty flavor with a rich tannic and slightly smoky nuance. The chile is grown in many states in Mexico including Coahuila, Durango, Guerrero and Jalisco.

The fish was topped with more pineapple and green onions in a rustic/chunky salsa. On the side was an amazing risotto. It was creamy like traditional risotto but the flavors were very nontraditional. It was filled with chunks of pineapple and a spicy green chile (maybe jalapeno?) - so each bite was a mix of the creamy rice, sweet pineapple, and spicy pepper.

Michael had the Sixteen Spice Chicken. It is a signature Mesa Grill dish. I'm not sure what the 16 spices include, but they are nothing short of delicious. The flavors you get when you eat the chicken run the range of smoky and spicy to a hint of sweetness in the background. The chicken is tender and juicy - perfectly cooked. It was served on top of a roasted garlic mango sauce and with a side of cilantro pesto mashed potatoes. The potatoes looked as good as they tasted - they weren't green, but had a ribbon of the flavorful cilantro pesto running through their creamy white goodness. The potatoes muted the strong flavor of cilantro and the result was a nice balance of creamy potatoes with a zing of cilantro.

Finally dessert - Mesa Grill makes a great dessert. Oh to be a pasty chef!

I had the vanilla crunch profiteroles with hot Mexican chocolate sauce. I was served three cream puff shells filled with a home made vanilla ice cream that had a few crunchy bites, like rice crispies or corn flakes mixed in with the ice cream. They were sitting on a very thick and rich chocolate sauce that wasn't too sweet - just like Mexican hot chocolate. In the center of the three profiteroles was a big dollop of bourbon flavored whip cream - it was like a cloud of bourbon in the middle of the plate.

Michael had the warm banana run bread pudding served with sour cream ice cream and topped with some caramelized bananas. He was disappointed when it first came out, but it just took one bite and he knew he made the right choice. The banana bread pudding was not overly sweet and had a rich banana flavor. The bread pudding was sitting on top of a delicious caramel sauce. The sour cream ice cream was a small portion on top of the banana bread, it tasted like cold sour cream that had been somewhat sweetened. His dessert was so sweet the ice cream balanced out everything else on the plate.

We had a great dinner and a cool table on the second floor of the restaurant. We were able to look over at the diners on the first floor. There was a party of 6 girls who were pretty loud, one in particular had a voice that carried straight up to us. It was amazing the difference in the noise level when she was eating and when she was talking.

Thursday was dark - Michael had a work function and I had to cancel my lunch reservation due to work (wuh wuhhh). Friday we're headed back to Thalassa, time to give them another try.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Restaurant Week Meal #2 - Blue Smoke BBQ

Dinner started out with both of us being stressed due to the subway having problems.

I was so proud of myself for leaving the house with plenty of time to get to dinner. Michael was coming straight from the office (well I guess I was coming straight from the office too, it's just my office is so much better than his office).

I get to the subway station and no trains, no trains, no trains. I needed to take the local train to get to the correct stop - but it was getting so late I decided I would take the first train that arrived in the station. And yes, it was the express train - now I had a decision to make, get off and Grand Central and walk south 15 blocks or get off and Union Sq and walk north 11 blocks. I decided to get off at Grand Central, better to get walking than have to back track.

I hustled and made it to the restaurant in about 15 minutes. Michael was able to catch a bus and was about 5 minutes behind me. Neither of us knew what the problem was with the trains - but it was a very annoying way to start dinner.

The restaurant week menu had some interesting options, but nothing outstanding. We both decided to order from the regular menu. The prices on the regular menu aren't outrageous, in fact we ended up spending less than we would have ordering from the restaurant week menu. We didn't get dessert - but my jeans think that is OK.

We started with the deviled eggs. Who doesn't love the creamy goodness of a deviled egg? Their eggs have lots of house seasoning, called 'magic dust' (surprisingly it tastes very similar to seasoning salt - I know, shocking). For dinner I had the pulled pork. It is served a huge mound of finely chopped pork on top of a piece of bread with a large side of beans. The beans are kind of spicy and saucy, very delicious. The bread is my favorite part (it is a carb....), it soaks up the sauce and the grease from the port and tastes amazing. Michael had the lean beef brisket with is served with mashed potatoes. The beef briskets is thinly sliced and it well seasoned and tender. The mashed potatoes are plain, maybe mashed with some salt and pepper and butter. They are fabulous. The potatoes are topped with some crispy fried onions.

Once we calmed down from our train issues we were able to enjoy a nice dinner.

Tonight - Bobby Flay and Mesa Grill!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Restaurant Week - Winter 2008

And so it begins, 10 days of fabulous meals.

With no regard to my waistline, I once again made a full set of reservations during Restaurant Week. (And even though it is called Restaurant Week, it's really M-F for two weeks - in case you were trying to figure out how one week became 10 meals.)

Last night was dinner #1 at Metrazur.

Metrazur is part of the Charlie Palmer restaurant group and is conveniently located inside Grand Central Terminal. It was freezing last night, with the restaurant inside Grand Central we had minimal time walking outside in the wind and cold. The tables are set on the East Balcony - and most seats have a spectacular view of Grand Central with it's incredible ceiling (some of the seats have a view of the open kitchen). I thought it might be noisy, but the open space allows the sound to drift away. There is the general din of the station below and an occasional muffled train related announcement, but it adds to the ambiance.

We both started with the crab cake. The cakes were large and packed with fresh crab meat. The cakes sat on a bed of some kind of tasty slaw type salad. (I just read the on-line menu, the official description is a celeriac remoulade.) The plate also had a few dabs of a red pepper aioli. The cakes had a nice golden brown crust and just a few seasonings inside along with the crab. They were a great start to the meal. From what Michael could see in the open kitchen, they were one of the most popular appetizers being served.

For dinner Michael had the steak. It was a dry spice crusted sirloin (yes, I got that description from the on-line menu). The portion was decent, I didn't try any but it looked pretty tasty. The steak came with jus and turnip gratin. The turnip gratin was pretty much the same as scalloped potatoes, but they were served a little on the cold side.

I had gnocchi in a brown sauce with roasted chicken and mushrooms. The chicken was tender and had a nice slow roasted flavor. The mushrooms were a mix of wild mushrooms and they also had a great flavor. The gnocchi were average and the weakest part of my dish - I was expecting them to have a better flavor, but they were very plain.

For dessert Michael had the panna cotta (he does love those custard dishes) and I had two scoops of sorbet. The panna cotta was very nice, it was served with some fresh diced mangoes and strawberries on the side. I loved the sorbet - it was a nice refreshing end to the meal. One scoop was blood orange - it was tangy and not too sweet. The other scoop was coconut - it was creamy and delicious with that good feeling of being somewhere warm and tropical.

While the ambiance and service were very good the food was average. I probably won't go back to eat, but maybe for a drink in the bar.

Tonight - BBQ at Blue Smoke!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I received something new in the mail yesterday - a can of Sprinkles cupcake mix!

Turns out 'Sprinkles' is a cupcake bakery in Beverly Hills. They claim their "freshly baked treats have inspired long lines of devoted Hollywood stars and serious epicureans alike."

They sell their cupcake mix through Williams and Sonoma. I was lucky enough to have Bex send me a batch.

The cupcake mix is packaged in this really fabulous container. I just had to try it right away!

The batter was easy enough to assemble - one thing I found interesting, it was made with one whole egg and 2 eggs whites. The egg whites made the batter less dense and more spongy when baked.
I followed their recipe (included in the package) for frosting and of course used their signature 'Modern Dot' to finish the tasty little cakes. The frosting was the perfect consistency - I will definitely use this recipe for butter cream frosting again.
Here is the finished product:

My frosting skills have improved, no? I'm getting that bakery technique perfected.

Sprinkles bakery uses a unique dot color combination for each flavor of cupcake. They also only bake certain flavors on each day of the week - check out the flavor availability matrix at

Apparently they have a small kitchen and even if you special order you can only get the cupcake flavors available on the day you pick up your order. I like the concept and of course now I want to try the original. But what day do I go?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Arts and Crafts

It was the year of Christmas crafts. I received so many awesome hand made gifts - I just can't stand the cleverness of my friends and family.
Big Daddy O was in his workshop many a night creating wooden toys. Many of us received these little dragsters. The rubber bands hook around a nail in the back axle, a few twists and they are rolling down the hallway. He made mine out of oak so it would be heavier than Michael's, a big advantage in the world of wooden car racing.

Bex painted and decoupaged for her friends and family. I received this awesome tray, which was immediately put in to use in the apartment.

The front has this gorgeous photo of the kids.

And the back has my Christmas card from last year (well thought out T).

Mel decoupaged my gift box (not pictured) to match the Gossip Girl themed gift (and if you don't hear Kristin Bell saying 'Hello Upper East Siders' when I mention Gossip Girl you are missing an excellent show) and she embroidered a set of beautiful organic cotton tea towels. (I already bought the towels and embroidery designs, I'm so stealing the idea for next year!)

And finally Linda created these intricate Disney die cuts. Every piece was individually cut and glued to the backing. The die cuts pictured below are just a sampling of her work. She made me 21 different Disney designs.

Welcome 2008

To what do my wondering eyes does appear?

Why yes, it's the first post of the new year.

OK, the holidays are over - enough of the rhyme business. I've been sick all year! No really. But I'm on the road to recovery and I'm almost done with year end close (two very good things).

The cats really missed us over the holiday break, even Beckham was a lap cat for a few days. He is back to his usual skitterish antics now, but those were some good times we had last week.