Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Yay for Birthdays

Once again it was Michael's birthday - seems like it was just a year ago we were celebrating his birthday, oh wait it was!

Because of work and I don't know what else we decided not to travel for his birthday this year. After spending another birthday in the rain we will not be in NYC next July 5th!

His birthday kicked off early with cupcakes for the office. This time they were vanilla cookies and cream cupcakes with classic vanilla buttercream frosting and rainbow sprinkles.

The 4th of July was a drizzly day. We did go watch the huge Macy's fireworks display - but because it was raining we had our umbrellas open for most of the show. There is just something wrong about watching 4th of July fireworks from under an umbrella!

Finally it was Michael day. I tried to plan a full day of fun filled activities.

We started with lunch at craftbar - which I have decided is one of my NYC favorites. For the price point the food is excellent and the atmosphere is casual and comfortable. We began lunch with two excellent starters. Michael had the brioche with a soft egg, braised leeks, and white anchovies. While this may look like a hot mess in the photo it was amazing. The soft egg soaked in to the bread, but the bread still had a crunch to it. The leeks and anchovies added just the right amount of flavor to the egg and bread. I had chick pea fries with a black olive aioli dipping sauce. The fries had a very smooth consistency - I was expecting something similar to falafel, but they were almost like french toast sticks. The were slightly crisp on the outside and creamy but thick on the inside. The fries were dusted in course salt and the black olive flavor of the dip really added a bite to the dish. While my fries were tasty, Michael's dish was the clear winner of the meal.

For lunch I was debating between two sandwiches, I should have tried the more daring combination of spiced chicken, black olive, feta cheese, cucumber, and mint - but I went with the choice I knew I would enjoy but no new flavor combinations. My sandwich was market zucchini, mozzarella, balsamic onions, and basil. It was creamy from the cheese and all of the veges really worked well together, but I knew I could make that at home. Next time I will try something more adventurous. Michael had the orecchiette pasta with fennel sausage, oven-roasted tomato, and ricotta salata. The sweet sausage and tomatoes were a nice match with the bite of the ricotta salata. Because it was a holiday weekend and most New Yorkers know to leave town because of the weather the restaurant was quiet, it was the perfect way to start the day.

After lunch we headed to the high flying part of the day. I booked a short helicopter tour over NYC.

We took off from the Chelsea Piers area.

Then flew over Ellis Island

Next it was a fly by the Statue of Liberty

And then a circle over Governor's Island before heading uptown. Governor's Island is a former military base that has just been opened up for public use. It has a fort and bike's for rent and one of the newly installed waterfalls. You can see the waterfall in the front center of the photo - it is on the edge of the island and looks like a white smudge.

We caught quick views of midtown and Central Park before we set down. Our 12 minutes went by way to fast - it was a great way to see the city. (Oh and if you don't want to pay for the helicopter tour the Panoram of New York City offers almost the same views for $5.)

After the excitement of the helicopter ride it was time for Michael to unwind at a barber spa. He spent about an hour at The Art of Shaving getting a razor shave and scalp massage. It is a great guys only place that has a great vibe. I think he would go back any time I book an appointment.


After a bottle of wine at home we got all spiffed up and headed to Gramercy Tavern. Gramercy is a perennial New York favorite. It is always highly rated in Zagat and you really have to work to get a reservation. The founding chef was Tom Colicchio, the dining room is very comfortable and the service was impeccable. The main dining room serves either a 3 course menu or a 5 course tasting menu. We opted to do the 3 course menu and we both had things we never tried before. I must say some things were not exactly to my liking, but I enjoyed the experience of trying something different and expanding my palette.

I started with the black tagliatelle with lobster, mussels, and chorizo. The house made pasta was perfect – I’m not sure how it was colored, but the lobster was the star of the bowl. The appetizer was packed with flavor, but even with it being a pasta course it wasn’t too heavy. Michael started with the smoked trout. I really expected the trout to be like smoked salmon and be rather fishy tasting, but it wasn’t. It was light and delicate and not fishy – it was almost like a slightly smoky mousse, but it was a filet of trout.

For my main course I had the rack of pork and braised belly with baby turnips and fingerling potatoes. I was really curious to try pork belly; it was a key ingredient in many dishes this season of Top Chef. It was too fatty for my liking. It was like a big chunk of thick cut bacon, but with more fat than meat. I would have preferred the fat to be crispier. The rack of pork was very tender and lightly seasoned. The turnips and potatoes were mellow side dishes. Overall everything was well prepared and presented, but it was a little flat. Nothing really popped out on the plate. It was a very good meal, but I enjoyed my birthday meal at Gotham Bar and Grill more – that meal has become the standard all other great meals are judged against.

Michael had the striped bass with snap peas, mussels, and lemon-mustard sauce. Again it was delicious, but not the best.

For dessert I was having a hard time deciding – so many excellent choices. I finally decided on the blackberry streusel cake with blackberry lime sherbet. Our waiter was so nice he even brought me a scoop of their mint chip ice cream just because I was having a hard time choosing between ice cream and other desserts. The blackberry lime sherbet was amazing. The sweet blackberry mixed with a little bit of tangy lime was a perfect combination – not too sweet and not too bitter. The mint chip was also excellent, much like a Bryer’s or any other natural mint chip it wasn’t artificially colored green and the mint chips were high quality dark chocolate. Oh yeah, the blackberry streusel cake was good too. It was like a really good muffin with lots of berries and a nice streusel topping.

They spoiled Michael with his dessert - check out the presentation:

So much better than a group of waiters singing Happy Birthday while presenting you with a scoop of vanilla and a candle.

Micheal had the Grand Marnier mascarpone cheesecake with raspberry sherbet and garnish of fresh raspberries and pistachios. I don't think I had any bites of the cheesecake...hmm, I do know Michael ate everything on his plate except for the writing.

It was a wonderful meal and the perfect way to end the day.

Next year - Vegas!