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Romans Review

Romans
243 Dekalb Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11205
(718) 622-5300

Photo from NYTimes.com

Change comes fast to restaurants, especially in New York.  New spots open all the time and close just as quickly.  Chefs leave and menus decline, or places become so popular you can’t even get a table any more.  In our neighborhood of Clinton Hill/Fort Greene, Brooklyn some of our favorite places have closed just when we were starting to frequent them regularly.  When I took my younger brother to Pratt four years ago to check out the neighborhood and see the campus we went out to dinner at June, on Dekalb Ave.  We ate street side and talked about how it would be our spot while he was at school and the food was excellent.  Two years later it was closed and reopened as The General Greene.  After discovering L’Epicere, (a French market by day, family style amazing bring your own wine by night cafe) we had planned every major celebration there for the next five years.  It closed that fall never to reopen.  We waited almost a year before finally trying LuLu’s on Dekalb.  After loving it and taking everyone we knew there…yup, it closed, (something else will replace it in the next few months).  But I digress.

I guess I am thinking about change and the inevitable passage of time.  Things you think will always be often last only a brief moment.  The spot you went to every year your whole life suddenly no longer exists.  Ok, maybe I am getting overly dramatic…I just turned 30 so give me a break. That brings us to this week’s review.  It was my 30th birthday and Jess and I wanted to go out locally to celebrate just the two of us.  We were headed to Chez Oskar, our old standby, when we detoured and decided to try something new.  We vacillated between the menu at Ici and a new spot, Romans.  Romans looked warm and inviting full of people and lively music while Ici was essentially empty.  We followed the crowd. (I should note that we have always wanted to eat at Ici and it has been highly recommended…it will probably close.)

Romans (same group as Marlow & Sons, Marlowe & Daughters and Diner) opened up on Dekalb maybe six months ago.  It replaced our favorite Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood, Bonita.  (See the theme here?)  We mourned the loss of Bonita because of their wonderful margaritas, fabulous guacamole, fish tacos and enchiladas.  Life goes on, of course, and when it comes to restaurants life goes on quickly with no remorse.  Romans has been packed every night since it opened, we had to give it a shot.  Romans boasts a unique blend of traditional northern Italian cuisine with local produce and seasonal menus. The meal was exceptional, I just hope its still there when we go back with friends.

The wait staff was very friendly and helpful.  They explained that the menu items were quite small and they suggested we indulge ourselves in the traditional three courses of entrée, pasta dish and meat dish.  We started with two entrées: grilled asparagus with olive oil, shaved Parmesan cheese and topped with a fried egg, and Crostini with nettles, pesto ricotta cheese, and pickled shallots.  The grilled asparagus was the absolute winner; tasty, perfectly cooked and the fried egg was such a surprisingly wonderful addition to the dish.  The Crostini was excellent in conception, but the toast was clearly burned and we ended up with an ash flavor and a very hard piece of bread.  It was unfortunate considering the pairings on top.  The pesto ricotta cheese was so subtle, it would have been a velvety hint of pesto, but it was drowned out by the flavor of burned bread.  The pickled shallots were amazing, sweet and tangy.

Our second course for Jess was lamb agnoletti (sort of like little ravioli dumplings) in homemade brotto (broth) with braised scallions.  I had a lasagna with a white béchamel sauce, prosciutto and spinach.  The lasagna was the winner here; creamy ricotta and spinach with sharp prosciutto and lasagna pasta was pure decadence.  Jess’s agnoletti was a little too al dente for my taste but the lamb was so rich and flavorful.  The brotto was a deliciously subtle hint of lamb jus and braised scallions added an almost Asian influence to the flavor.

On our waiter’s recommendation we had the special fish, which was, a whole Porgy locally caught off Long Island (this was a real treat as I knew Jess would never order this on her own but since it was my birthday, she conceded). The fish was so delicate and cooked to perfection.  The fish was prepared with nothing more than the flavor of the grill and some lemon and herbs.  We ate it to the bones like Heathcliff and picked at the blackened head of the thing until there was little left on the plate but an eye and the skull.  I have had whole fish in lots of places including Northern Italy, and this ranked as one of the best I have ever eaten.

Maybe it was because we waited a little too long for some of the courses (someone definitely got our fish first and we waited another ten minutes for ours), or because it was my birthday but the staff came out with a complimentary mixed salad and also topped off our wine after we had finished the glasses we had paid for.  We ended the evening with an olive oil cake with fresh strawberries and cream.  I can’t really describe this dessert other than to say it’s worth the visit JUST for this.  It was so good I don’t think we spoke or took a breath while eating it.  Imagine the best strawberry shortcake meets a unique olive oil flavored white cake that is slightly dense, just sweet and crumbly?  Very hard to describe, so very good.

I will critique Romans for having exceptionally loud music that did not fit the décor.  I may sound like an old (30) man but we were half screaming at each other when we were talking.  With low lights and candles with an Italian café feel, the blasting hits were out of place.  The wait between courses was a bit long but the staff made up for it with freebies and excellent service.  Jess would disagree but I also thought the wine list had few affordable bottles and the by the glass selections were very limited.  In the end the price was not bad for the quality and no, after three courses with dessert we were not stuffed at all.  The portions are just right and nothing is heavy or over sauced.

I hope Romans is here to stay, at least until my next birthday.

— JV

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James Beard House

Chef Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene
The James Beard House
New York City
May 5th, 2010

Last week Brooklyn Plated took a wonderful field trip to the James Beard House for a six course, tasting menu with wine pairing by guest chef Linton Hopkins.  The cuisine paired a southern flare with traditional American cuisine.  In short the night was amazing and I felt honored to be apart of a real and very rare New York culinary experience.

The Beard House is a beautiful town house on west 12th street between 6th and 7th avenue.  After Beard’s death in 1985, a group of his friends answered a call from Julia Child to do something extraordinary with his home.  What became of the townhouse is now the Beard House and they serve up amazing events and dinners with special guest chefs showcasing their signature dishes.  As you enter the house you are greeted by the vast kitchen, which takes up almost the entire first floor.  Passing through the kitchen I was tempted to pluck an hors d’oeuvre off the tray being plated by the wait staff.  We exist the kitchen into the solarium (yes there is a solarium) that looks out onto a beautiful backyard.

We started the night in the backyard with a signature cocktail called The Harrier: gin, grapefruit juice and lavender essence.  This was the equivalent of drinking a spring morning.  Passed hors d’oeuvres included (in the order of mouth watering amazingness) a mini cornmeal blini with Crème Fraîche and Altamha River sturgeon roe, Pimiento cheese and B&B pickle fritter with pepper jelly, Levain crusted mountain trout with smoked trout roe and dill pollen, Sorghum glazed veal sweetbreads with crushed peanuts, and Border Springs spring lamb terrine with house made beer mustard.  Phew…it was a lot, and we successfully planted ourselves right near the door so we would get first dibs.  It also didn’t hurt that I was the only man in our party surrounded by beautiful women, (sorry Chris, you should have come) which I won’t rate like the hors d’oeuvres.

The main dining area is what used to be Beard’s living space and bedroom.  Our table was actually in what was once his bed nook, which oddly enough, had fully mirrored ceilings!  Flirty.

I will be forced to simply list the courses since there were so many.  It is safe to say it was one of the better meals I have ever had and the wine parings were really special.  My only real critique was the last main course of red meat was sort of eh.  I am not a huge meat eater and after our trip to Argentina, it takes a lot to wow me with steak.

Amuse: Asparagus agnolotti (essentially, a perfect little ravioli shaped like a football)

Paired with 2008 Simpson Vineyard Viognier.

First Course: Georgia wild shrimp, island clams, crab toast fennel and Cherokee leek broth. Yum.

Second Course: Skillet roast tilefish, creamed English peas, roasted Vidalia onions, crisp bacon and lettuces.  This was a personal favorite.  I had never heard of tilefish but it was very good and the crispy bacon with the fish was a wonderfully surprising flavor.  Paired with a 2006 Wile Yeast Chardonnay, which I LOVED, others at the table not so much, but it really opened up with the food.

Third Course: Roast South Carolina pigeon with Riverview farms cornbread and Cruze buttermilk, wild watercress and natural jus. Paired with 2008 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. And the winner is?…this dish.  I have had game bird in a few places and never have I had pigeon as perfectly cooked and tasty as this dish.  That buttermilk cornbread was like pancake batter and corn pudding puree.

Fourth Course: White oak Pasture beef to ways, pepper crusted and hickory smoked ribeye with short ribs and Appalachian ramps, morel fondue, pickled fiddleheads and marrow.  Sadly the best part of this grand finale was the fiddleheads.  Nothing really spectacular about this entrée except maybe the short ribs. The pairing of 2006 La Diligence Syrah was an excellent wine.

Fifth Course: Southern Cheese course with The Oracle 2005 a Bordeaux blend was by far my favorite wine of the night and the cheese was very good.  We had:

  • Sweetgrass Dairy Green Hill
  • Blackberry Farm Blue – excellent!
  • Spinning Spider Creamery Stackhouse – a triple cream that one of our friends thought tasted like cream cheese, but I loved it for the mildness.

It was also served with smoked blood orange and pecan levain.

Sixth Course: Woodland Gardens’ strawberry shortcake with strawberry sorbet ad mint cream.  This was served with an Old Hickory, a rather perfuming but refreshing cocktail of dry and sweet vermouth with orange bitters.  The shortcake was some of the best I have ever had, and I love strawberry shortcake.

This was a remarkable night and the chef coming out to answer questions topped it.  He was quite approachable and as I left shaking his hand it was as if I had stopped in for dinner at a friends house.

– JV

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Sushi D

Sushi D
207 Dekalb Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11205
718-858-0058

Jess and I love living in Brooklyn.  The list of reasons we love it would be long and in depth, but every once and a while we long for the life on the other side of the river.  When we lived on the Upper West Side one of the best things about our neighborhood was the endless array of food options, all of which delivered.  What does this have to do with a Tuesday review?  Well the truth is our neighborhood has very good restaurants; some of the best I have eaten in, but the choice is sometimes very limited.  Luckily we do have a great sushi restaurant and on Friday night we went out to Sushi D.

Sushi D is a blessing, because the only other sushi restaurant in walking distance to us (which will remain nameless) has made us both sick on multiple occasions.  Now you may be asking yourself, “Why would you get sick on multiple occasions?  That would mean you went BACK after getting sick!”  Yes, well sometimes you are lazy and you want to give people a second chance.  Sushi D on the other hand has never made us sick, rather it makes us full and very happy.

The menu at Sushi D is wonderful in that they change it seasonally and have wonderful specials.  The prices are very reasonable considering how good it is, and the sushi is always very fresh and tasty.  We have been enjoying the winter menu up until recently and we luckily caught it right before it changed.  Start with the Spicy Salmon Crisps, which consist of spicy salmon over rice crisps topped with roasted pine nuts and balsamic vinaigrette.  We always split a few rolls and the following are the usual suspects:

  • Rainbow Roll: Colorful Assortment Of Sashimi Over California Roll
  • Sunshine Roll: Spicy Salmon with King Crab and crunchy tempura flakes.
  • Volcano Roll: Spicy Tuna, Tempura Flakes + Avocado With Sriracha On Top
  • Happy Crab: (a winter menu special!) King Crab in a deep fried tempura shell with a balsamic reduction dipping sauce.

Shrimp Tempura, the jade roll (all vegetable) and the “D” Roll: Eel, Tempura Flakes Topped With Masago + Avocado, are also very good.  The salmon teriyaki is excellent, if not a bit too saucy, and the beef negimaki is also a favorite with savory beef wrapped around scallions.  I have had this appetizer in some of the best sushi restaurants in the city and the beef can be chewy and tasteless.  Sushi D does right and I often go there thinking about the beef negimaki in advance! Pair your meal with a Nagori saki (unfiltered and cold is best).

Sushi D is also extremely accommodating, and will make almost anything you like.  Jess is a huge fan of a spicy scallop hand roll and they make a wonderful version for us whenever we go.  The service can be a little slow, but they finally take credit cards (it used to be cash only) so that makes up for it.   They have great outdoor seating in the spring and summer so head out on a arm night and enjoy!  Kampai!

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Tuesday Review – Gennaro

Gennaro
665 Amsterdam Ave
(between 92nd St & 93rd St)
New York, NY 10025
(212) 665-5348

When our good friend Alicia came home from a year aboard in Florence she began a quest to find authentic northern Italian food in New York.  What she found was Gennaro, a tiny, cash only spot in the 90’s on the West Side.  You might overlook it entirely if you are even in that neighborhood, but once you eat there you will be making it a regular spot.

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San Francisco – Day 6

First Stop

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
415 487 2600

We started the day off with a drive to the Mission. We met our friends Mika and Ryan at, the one, the only Tartine! (I’ve been waiting all week for this).  We shared a Pain au Chocolat (perfectly bittersweet chocolate too) and a Breakfast bun made of orange and honey. We enjoyed our coffees and breakfast outside in the sun before heading out to Muir Woods.  Incidentally, we also took a sweet treat with us for the road…I title the last shot “Still Life with Meyer Lemon Tart in Redwoods”.

Second Stop

In-N-Out
798 Redwood Hwy
Mill Valley, CA
(800) 786-1000

We couldn’t come to CA without a visit to this institution.  We ordered cheeseburgers, animal style of course, with fries and chocolate shakes. Did you know you can get the fries animal style too?  A very enthusiastic 12-year old boy informed me of this well after I’d ordered but plan to try it next time. Who knew fast food could be so good?…California did.

Third Stop:

Zuni Café
1658 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 552-2522

And for a real change of pace, we decided to finish our amazing trip with a couple stops.  We started the night off with oysters and martini’s at Zuni.  We were given a mix of:

  • Eld Inlet Kumamotos (WA – win!)
  • Sister’s Point (CA)
  • Pearl Point (CA)
  • Drake’s Bay (CA)
  • Hog Island Pacifics (CA)
  • Little Skookum (WA)

Forth Stop:

Flour + Water
2401 Harrison St. @ 20th St.
San Francisco, CA
415.826.7000

I’ve gotten more recommendations for this place than any other in SF, including a random “have you been to flour and water?” from a shop owner in the Haight.  Our reservations were for 10 PM and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.  But it was packed and lively and very well decorated (both in décor and with hipster doofus’). Don’t miss the bathroom’s curio cabinet (a highlight) filled with old photographs and dried coral.  We started with a glass of Montepulciano at the bar and move to our table.

We ordered a Margherita Pizza (simple enough) to split as a starter (WIN!).  These thin crust Neopolitan pizzas actually competes with NYC. For dinner, I had the fried sunchoke and potato tortellis and James had the seafood stuffed tortellini verde with prosecco, fennel and tarragon. Both were served in simple subtle butter sauces that were very good and not at all rich.  We didn’t get pictures – camera ran out of batteries – but this is certainly a place to come with friends and plan on staying a few hours enjoying good wine and food. It was the perfect finale to a wonderful culinary week.

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San Francisco – Day 4

A little overcast today but to be expected.

First stop:

The Pork Store Cafe

1451 Haight St
(between Ashbury St & Masonic Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94117

(415) 864-6981

There really is no place on earth like The Haight, even at 9 AM on a Friday.  I’m never surprised by what and who I find lurking around there. What I am always surprised by is how much I love The Pork Store.  For a place where your elbows stick to the tables, it sure has a lot of history and some serious breakfast eats.  James had the Huevos Rancheros and I had the Piggy Special with 2 eggs, 2 pancakes and bacon. And don’t forget the biscuits.

Second Stop:

Naan N’ Chutney

525 Haight Street

San Francisco, CA 94117-3445

(415) 255-1625

This place is a prime example of why you should not judge a book by its cover.  I used to live on Fillmore and Page and there are MANY Indian restaurants in this neighborhood, including one of the best rated in the city (Indian Oven).  I’ve tried them all and found that Naan n’ Chutney was, by far, my favorite.   Not to mention the least expensive! We ordered the lunch portion of Chicken Tikka Masala and Daal with Naan.

Third Stop:

Café du Soliel

200 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94102

(415) 934-8637

I owe this place a lot. I spent most of my time here as I wrote my MA thesis…so it was only fair, for the memory’s sake to at least stop in for a cup of coffee. I mention it because they actually have tremendous open-faced sandwiches.  You can settle in and, for just the charge of an overpriced super-caffeinated cup of coffee, spend the whole afternoon.  It also has some outdoor seating and always seems to be sunny in this little corner…unlike the rest of this particularly chilly neighborhood. Gotta love micro-climates! Also, that’s a picture of our Mustang in front of my old apartment…in case you were wondering.

Forth Stop:

Chez Panisse

1517 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 548-5049

Chez Panisse is Alice Waters’ masterpiece. This was the night of Alice (after the meal we went to see “Alice in Wonderland”).  This is a wonderland of experiences (see what I did there?)…it never disappoints, even for the simplest of dishes.  This was a particularly special night as we were celebrating my friend Ashley’s birthday.  Her boyfriend Alex has an exceptional knowledge of wine (it is also his job) and I was surprised to discover you can bring your own bottles (for a corkage fee). Without fear of hyperbole, this was the best meal yet.  The service was exceptional.  The food was unfussy but standout, highlighting pairings and preparations. The key idea being slow food here.  We shared a bunch of appetizers and then our own dinners.

We started with a bottle of Bollinger RD Champagne from 1985.  The color was extraordinary, although you can’t tell from the pictures; a golden honey color that I’ve not seen on a champagne before. After the first course he opened a bottle of 1980 Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Pauillac (Bordeaux).  I’m not sure we’ve ever drank anything that old or ever will again.  It was quite an experience and I had to share because we felt so fancy.  Not to mention some probably the best wine I’ve ever tasted.

First Course:

  • Hog Island Sweetwater oysters
  • Pizzetta with leeks, Lucques olives and fontina

  • Bellweather Farm sheep’s milk ricotta and prosciutto with grilled chicories

Intermezzo:

  • Sunchoke Pudding souffle with celery root, wild mushrooms and creme fraiche

Main Course:

  • Soul Food Farm chicken al mattone (under a brick) with butternut squash gratin, kale, cardoons and capers

  • Grilled Elliot Ranch lamb leg, loin and chop with fried shoestring potatoes, turnips and black olives

Dessert:

  • Bittersweet Chocolate pave with caramel creme

  • Kaki Farm blood orange sherbet and blood orange ice cream

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San Francisco – Day 1

We’re here! And so excited to be…It was a little rainy when we landed but the sun came out a few hours later (par for the course).

First Stop:

The Grove
2250 Chestnut St
(between Avila St & Scott St)
San Francisco, CA 94123

We took a little walk around the neighborhood we were staying in (The Marina – hello, thank you fancy pants) to find we were very close to some pretty great places.  I used to frequent The Grove at the Fillmore location and loved the BLT’s.  It’s a perfect SF quick stop for lunch.

We had the French Onion Soup (which perhaps was an odd choice but we were distracted by it when the waiter brought it to the next table), a BLT and a Tuna Melt (after we were told they were out of the Cubano).

Second Stop:

Betelnut

2030 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123-4121
(415) 929-8855

Later last night we met Lexi and Dan for some pre-dinner drinks and quick bites at Betelnut.  This place reminded me of a Shanghai hideaway in the 1930s. Their website explains that “for hundreds of years in the bustling cities and fragrant harbors of Asia, a favorite and familiar place to savor distinctive local dishes has been the side street beer house, or pejiu wu”.

We sat at the bar, caught up with some nice Napa Cabernet and ordered glazed pork short ribs with thai basil & garlic (win!) and Mongolian hoisin pork, hand pulled with grilled pancakes.

Third Stop:

Canteen

817 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 928-8870

We had made reservations for the 8 PM seating at Canteen a few months ago. I chose Tuesday night for the prix fixe tasting menu.  I was VERY excited about this place as I’ve been hearing about it for years. There are usually three seatings a night and the seasonal menu changes weekly. It’s very small, with only 4 tables and the countertop (has an upscale diner feel) so reservations are necessary. People rave about the brunch and maybe we should have heeded that suggestion.  Although it was very good (a solid 7 out of 10) none of us were wowed.   Maybe if we’d gone on another night with some options we would have changed our minds.  Don’t be nervous that the bathrooms are located in the youth hostel attached next door and are shared with the SF Academy of Art students dorming in the building.  The best part of the meal (besides the company and the VERY good dessert) was the bottle of Parusso Dolcetto D’Alba , Brussa IT 2008 (the horror! We ordered Italian wine in CA – but it came recommended).

The menu:

Amuse Bouche – Crab cole slaw over cocktail sauce:

Appetizer: Asparagus Salad with breadcrumbs and hollandaise

Dinner: White Seabass with braised savoy cabbage, white beans puree and bacon

Dessert: Hazelnut and Rubarb Vacherin.

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