MM Goes to Hotel Chantelle: Let Me Tell…

…how awful this experience was for us. Usually on our Monday evenings, the Mavericks like to go for nighttime constitutionals before hopping on their respective trains home. (I’ll switch back to the more unpretentious 1st person now.) Since we’re so often on the Lower East Side, we usually pass one restaurant/bar that we’ve put on our list of places to dine, Hotel Chantelle, because it has what reads like a fantastic menu. We finally got our opportunity to dine on the rooftop one lovely Monday evening when the weather was perfect and we were both tightly wound from personal/career life and needed a break.

Upon entering the establishment, it looked like a dilapidated Parisian hostel. Keep walking and you encounter bamboo against walls painted with UV splatters enhanced by black lights—cliché, but whatever. All of a sudden this dark hallway opens up to a lovely rooftop bar and restaurant with white tiled floors and dark iron and wood accents and décor. This atmosphere seemed more promising and lent a little more hope as we perused the menu. Unfortunately, after having considered our options several times over, we still hadn’t been offered any service. Twenty minutes into waiting and still no one came to check on us! When we finally flagged a waitress down (mind you, we were about to get up and leave until we got her attention), we were greeted with curt responses, major attitude, and no apology. Would the food be worth this treatment? Here’s what we ordered:

To share
Deviled Egg Tasting – lobster & caviar / maple bacon & jalapeno / smoked salmon caper crème fraiche

Me
Kale Caesar Salad with Poached Lobster – crisp kale, shaved parmesan, garlic bread croutons, classic Caesar dressing
White Truffle Pizza – ultra-thin crust pizza, fresh sheep’s milk ricotta, mascarpone & goat cheese,
sautéed mushrooms, arugula, white truffle oil, shaved parmesan

Marissa
Snow Crab Claws – half dozen snow crab claws served warm, drawn butter, mustard aioli
Pan Seared Branzino – pan roasted filet of Mediterranean sea bass, topped with warm sautéed kale, capers, olives, baby tomatoes

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I’m going to keep this review short and sweet because I refuse to waste any more time on this place, so here’s the rundown: The deviled eggs were so mediocre, I would’ve been better off just hard-boiling some eggs on my stovetop and eating them plain, straight out of the shells. Marissa’s crab claws=basic and slightly overcooked. My salad, however, was possibly one of the best kale salads I’ve ever tasted, and my lobster was perfectly poached! This was Hotel Chantelle’s only bright moment, believe you me, because Marissa’s branzino and the accompanying sautéed veggies were so salty she could only eat the baby fillet. I tried a tiny morsel of it and almost spit it right back out onto the plate. The ocean isn’t as salty as that dish. My pizza was a crumbly mess, but tasted alright; definitely not anything to write home about—I’m mad I’m writing about this whole experience on this blog, honestly. OH! And to add insult to injury, our lovely waitress double charged Marissa’s credit card and it took forever and a day to dispute.

This place needs to be condemned, along with the waitstaff.

Maverick Monday Goes to Pão: This Is Not a Love Song…

…however, dear Reader, consider this a love letter of sorts to the owner and chef at Portuguese restaurant Pão, for regaling the Mavericks with the best of our Monday culinary excursions thus far. A bit spoiled by the authentic Portuguese fare I’ve feasted upon during my years in Miami, I did not expect such an all-around fine dining experience from this remote locale near Gotham City’s Holland Tunnel. Yet from the moment I stepped foot into this culinary sanctuary, a feeling that something special lay in wait portentously settled in my soul.

The worn, thickly varnished dark wood décor, stark white walls and tablecloths, and the billowing curtains on the open floor-to-ceiling trellis windows made one feel as if no longer in gritty Manhattan, but rather in old Lisbon itself, at a neighborhood haunt run by your good friend from down the street whose family came part and parcel with the cozy little bar, the little one doing homework, undisturbed by her father’s hearty greetings to newcomers and old alike. Next to the bar is a lifelike portrait of an apron-clad man wielding a knife in one hand and that day’s fresh catch of octopus in the other. This man looked quite familiar however, as if I had just glimpsed his visage mere moments ago; ah, my eyes failed me not! It was the chef in Pão’s very kitchen, painted by one of the wait staff years ago (he’s on the website’s homepage as well). This knowledge further solidified the good energy emanating from the restaurant’s pulse. We could only hope going forward that the cuisine would be just as fortifying for our bellies as the atmosphere had been for our hearts.

Our trusty friend, Groupon, provided us with two three-course meals accompanied by a bottle of wine of our choosing—I selected their green wine option which is specific to Portugal, therefore the obvious choice. Crisp, refreshing, just sweet enough and not too dry, our perfectly chilled bottle of Octavo Vinho Verde was just the thing to whet our appetites. Here is what Marissa and I ordered from our lovely and helpful waitress:

Marissa
Vieiras em Tomatada com Porto – Sea Scallops on Tomato Compote with Port Wine Syrup
Pargo com Espuma Batata – Snapper with Whipped Potatoes in a White Truffle Oil
Arroz Doce – Homemade Rice Pudding

Me
Salada de Polvo – Baked Octopus in Garlic/Parsley Vinaigrette
Bacalhau à Bráz – Sautéed Cod with Egg, Onion & Straw Potatoes
Arroz Doce – Homemade Rice Pudding

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In order to accurately assess our experience, we sampled each other’s dishes and were not disappointed in any way by any course.

The Courting Stage: Since the owner told us his scallops were voted one of the best in city, we simply had to test his word—his testament proved true. Firm, succulent and fresh, they were sublime in texture and taste. The tomato compote was refreshing and light; it paired well with the port wine syrup which tempered any possible tartness, yet wasn’t too sweet in and of itself. The baked octopus (I was compelled to order it after staring at the chef’s portrait on the wall) was equally divine; perfectly grilled and seasoned, it was firm, meaty and emitted just the right amount of oceanic essence. Paired with the lovely green wine, we Mavericks were falling in love with Pão rather quickly, and were ready to fall even deeper with our entrées.

Marriage: Marissa’s snapper was light and flaky, simply grilled atop truffled airily whipped potatoes. The dish was so fine and elegant that it stroked the palette like French silk. Pão was definitely no stranger to the nuances and subtleties that comprise truly fine dining without gilding the lily. I chose the bacalhau because it’s a very traditional dish that an authentic Portuguese establishment should always create perfectly—a litmus test of sorts. The chef did not let me down; it was truly delectable. The dish smooth, mellow and moist, not too salty, and the straw potatoes (think of shoestring fries) provided just enough crunch. Rather than pile all of the potatoes over the top, the chef married them into the dish with the cod, egg, and onion—a marriage made in heaven, believe you me. What God hath joined together, let NO man put asunder!

Ever After: The rustic arroz doce summed up the entire meal in its simple and unadorned beauty. Again, they win with their subtle use of fine ingredients; tiny bits of orange peel mixed into the velvety dessert gave each bite a burst of citrusy flavor that tempered the richness of the pudding itself. The cooking of the rice was timed accurately so it wasn’t spineless, yet not too firm that it hurt to chew. Spiced just right, we couldn’t be happier…until the owner complimented us with two glasses of smooth port wine and even smoother kisses to our cheeks. What a splendid ending to our evening.  Brava, brava!

You have captured our taste buds, our bellies and our hearts, Pão. I think of you fondly and anxiously await our next reservation. Until then I am…

 
Yours truly,
The Vickylicious

MM Goes to Mancora

Can we safely say that Groupon and Maverick Monday are BFFs? I’m beginning to think so because we scored another great online deal that treated us to Peruvian fare in the East Village (EVill) — $20.00 for $40.00 worth of food and drinks. Couple that with getting there in time for happy hour made the world a better place, even if only for a few hours and only for the two of us. So, eastbound and down we went to Mancora, known to be a neighborhood institution for quality food at decent prices.

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Named after Máncora, a town and beach resort in the Piura Region, in northwestern Peru,
“Mancora Restaurant and Bar takes you on a journey straight to the heart of the Inca Empire. Take the trip aboard plates of our fresh, authentic cuisine served up in a warm, friendly atmosphere. The comforts of a home-cooked meal meet adventurous flavors in every dish…Drawing on traditional staples from Peru and Spain, Mancora Chef Enrique Peraldo puts a contemporary spin on the classics. For the past 12 years at Mancora, Chef Peraldo has been dedicated to cooking his personal recipes for adventurous New Yorkers. Each dish is pleasing to the eyes as it is the taste buds, presented as tasteful culinary offerings to woo the American palate. Experience each one, from the richly flavored Pescado a lo Macho, a baked fillet of red snapper topped with seafood sautéed in a creamy sauce, to the popular Pollo a la Brasa, rotisserie chicken that arrives golden and crispy on the outside, but juicy and tender on the inside…”
With a description like that, I struck steak from my mind and went straight for the snapper. However before I go into the review, here’s what the two of us ordered:

Me
Pulpito a la Parilla – grilled baby octopus with panca sauce
Pescado a lo Macho – Baked fillet of red snapper topped with seafood sautéed with creamy sauce, served with rice

Marissa
Ceviche de Pescado – Sliced red snapper or shrimp marinated in fresh lime sauce with cilantro and red onion
Parillada de Mariscos – Mixed grilled seafood with panca sauce, served with rice or salad

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The rundown: My octopus appetizer was grilled perfectly; it was neither rubbery nor did it taste burnt. It was simply grilled without any seasoning except a pinch of salt, which adequately brought out the flavor of the ocean; the accompanying panca dipping sauce was good, but didn’t have enough punch to it (panca is a pepper). Marissa’s ceviche was light and fresh, but my taste buds told me there was something missing flavor-wise (the same feeling I got with the panca sauce). Not in love, however not disliking the offerings so far, I was still excited for our entrées. Again, everything was cooked spot-on and presented like beautiful seafood cornucopias, shiny shells and all. I would have loved my dish if it weren’t for the panca sauce again; this was one time I think salt and a little more seasoning could’ve done the trick (and mind you, I’m not a fan of salt). Also, my snapper fillet was too small and its flavor and texture was no match for the robustness of the shellfish. Marissa’s seafood mixed grill was saucier than expected, but tasty, well-seasoned and timed to perfection. We both finished everything on our plates.

Although Mancora didn’t exactly hit any high notes, the fare was decent. If given another Groupon deal, I’d go back and try the steak and get the grilled baby octopus again—that was the meal’s highlight for me. Now would I think to return on my own? Probably not, given that there are myriad restaurants to try in this food mecca, so many that we decided to venture someplace else for dessert! On our usual after-dinner constitutional, we went to the EVill’s location of Odd Fellows Ice Cream Co., where you can satisfy your cravings of savory and sweet at the SAME DAMN TIME! Thanks to the owner/creator’s pregnant wife’s cravings of “fried chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches … and salty-flavored ice cream,” Odd Fellows was born as well as their baby! Even though they were sold out of a few flavors by nightfall (I wanted to try their PB&J with Toast and Cornbread flavors), the glutton in me couldn’t order just one scoop, so I had one of Thai Iced Tea and another of Miso Cherry—AMAZING! I also sampled Chorizo Salted Caramel (don’t know how to feel about it, both good and weird) and Burnt Marshmallow (yum). Marissa had Thai Iced Tea as well. This place is perfection, especially if even Marissa, who doesn’t like dessert, loved it just as much as I did.

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Thumbs to the side for dinner. Thumbs sky high for dessert!

Maverick Monday: Boiled Over?

This past Monday Marissa took me to The Boil on the Lower East Side for seafood by the pound. The minute she told me about this place, I was sold. A longtime fan of the California chain, The Boiling Crab, I thought I’d always have to travel cross country to satisfy this craving: boiled shrimp/crab/crawfish/lobster by the pound with a seasoning of your choice–or an intense mixture of them all–served in a plastic bag. With corn on the cob and potatoes added to the mix, this is a seafood lover’s dream. Would The Boil be equally as good or better? There’s only one way to find out!

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Upon entering this venue of oceanic enchantment, we were greeted by hip hop in the speakers and two young Chinese men with spiky hair and baggy jeans, jamming to the beat while behind the host stand. I could already tell this was my kind of place; I was totally digging the energy and vibe. Past the bar where people were already drinking and chowing down, one of the cool dudes led us into the dining/kitchen area where the wooden tables were clad in brown butcher paper and plastic bag-lined metal buckets. The clean, brightly-lit and well-ventilated kitchen boiling pounds of crustaceans instantly made my mouth water in anticipation of all the tasty little bottom feeders. Can we dig in already?! Only after we address how hot/cute/beautiful our waitress was and her personality matched her appearance. Looking like Basketball Wives: LA’s Draya Michelle, but an Asian version from Kazakhstan, I was smitten and had to tell her so. I’d go back to The Boil just for her, screw the food! … Just kidding; never screw the food. Never. Here’s what we ordered:

Me
2 lbs of shrimp in garlic butter and Old Bay seasoning, medium spicy
Crème Chocolate

Marissa
King Crab legs and shrimp in garlic butter and lemon pepper combo (1 lb each), fire hot
An additional pound of shrimp, same as above

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Bibs on, we pounced on the food, rabidly digging into our bags and peeling and eating in silence. I was boiling over in happiness, joy, contentment, and any other word that expresses total elation. This was shrimp ecstasy for me! Approximately one pound into my shrimp, after allowing the corn and potatoes to sit and soak up the seasoning in the bag, I bit into my corncob and almost swooned at the garlicky, buttery sweetness; the potatoes were perfect as well, and I’m not really even a corn or potato kind of girl. But these?! Lawdamercy. Dessert was simple and delicious, a sweet ending to a fantastic meal. I ate it so fast I forgot to take a pic, so just imagine an old school to-go flan in an aluminum foil cup and you get the idea.

The bags of magic The Boil serves are worth their weight in gold and I can’t wait to go back! I will not be logging any frequent flier miles to Cali anytime soon with this place in my backyard. OOOO WEEE!

MM Does TT: Simply Z Best?

Due to another great online deal, the Mavericks went to ZBAR Restaurant and Sky Lounge on a Tuesday evening (it’s closed on Mondays), which made changing the name of our weekly dinner to “Tasty Tuesday” necessary. Having had our share of myriad tapas from all over the world and because Marissa had dined at ZBAR awhile back, I believe I subconsciously set the bar higher than usual. New York City has some pretty high caliber tapas bars and Spanish restaurants, so I really hoped this place wouldn’t disappoint.

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Being that ZBAR is a rooftop venue on the far west side of the city by the Hudson River, the eastern view of the Manhattan skyline was quite exceptional, and the floor-to-ceiling glass windows showcased it wonderfully. The bar/restaurant was trendily clad in white leather and brushed steel and dark wood seating, stone accents, mood lighting, and well-stocked liquor shelves. Their creative and delicious sounding cocktail menu thoroughly whetted my appetite for sinful libations, but I held off so I could properly enjoy our bottle of wine. All I could hope was that the ambience and presentation of the food (I did my research online and saw food pics) weren’t all fluff and no substance.

Our deal included one bottle of wine and 3 tapas dishes, but we ordered more, naturally. Please tell me whose appetite can be satiated on 3 shared tapas. Silence? Yeah, I thought so. Here’s what we ordered:

[Salmon] Amuse Bouche–complimentary
ZBAR Mussels (green garlic, tomato confit, fine herbs, chorizo oil, cabrales cheese, garlic croutons)
Mexican Ceviche (shrimp, agua chile, jícama, avocado, cilantro)
Carnitas de Atun (yellow fin tuna, wasabi chili aioli, avocado salsa)
Truffle Mac n Cheese with Lobster –not part of the deal
Mexican Vanilla Brulée Cake (Colombian coffee crumbs, dulce de leche sauce)—not part of the deal

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The rundown: It was a nice touch that we were given a complimentary amuse bouche of raw salmon flavored with sesame oil atop shredded cucumber; light, fresh, and just enough to get our taste buds warmed up for more, although I wasn’t quite prepared for the Asian-inspired flavor it offered due to the sesame oil (friggin’ fusion cuisine, I tell ya).

The first dish we sampled was ZBAR Mussels; the description totally didn’t match the reality. Where do I begin? Oh yeah, I remember because the overcooked little babies that were shrunken in their shells are hard to forget, unfortunately. Once I saw them I knew this was probably the only time I’d ever been happy to get a small portion. I didn’t taste any hints of chorizo oil or fine herbs, unless they were so fine they were undetectable. And I’d love to tell you whether or not I enjoy cabrales cheese, what it feels like and how it tastes, but I can’t because it was completely absent from the dish! Oh, let’s not forget the “garlic crouton.” Garlic crouton…is that what I read? You read that too, right? I’m going to call it what it really was, un-garlicky burnt toast. While I’m at it, here’s another misnomer for you: “tomato confit.” Tomato confit? How about tart and chunky tomato broth instead; I’d rather eat San Marzano tomatoes out of a can—same effect.  

So now I’ll ask you lovely readers, do you think the rest of the meal was just as tasty? I know you’re anxious to see what happened next. *cue evil laughter* … Mwa ha ha ha!

The Mexican Ceviche was tomato sauce with a few shrimp and unripe avocado hiding in the depths. This place really had a thing for tomatoes, because with all that sauce I don’t even remember if there was any jicama in the dish. As we’ve already seen, the menu descriptions were not at all indicative of what was actually plated, for I surely read jicama and not tomato sauce when I ordered this. Can you double check in case I was mistaken? Thanks for confirming that for me; I figured as much.

The only item that lived up to its description and tasted good was the Carnitas de Atun; I have no complaints for that one. The Truffle Mac n Cheese was decent; seasoned well, but not enough truffle flavor, and the lobster was not dispersed throughout the mini trough, it was just the one claw that they sat on top for presentation. It definitely wasn’t worth the $20 price tag. I’ve had better for less money. The Mexican Vanilla Brulée Cake was so light and airy, I wasn’t sure I was eating anything. It was too subtle! Crunchy crumbs mixed with vanilla foam did not make for a pleasurable experience. Bad on top of bad.

Wonderful conversation and company not included (as usual), the only thing I truly was the bottle of wine. Thank you baby jesus that they don’t own the winery! Marissa, I hope your last dining experience there was 1000x better than ours.

ZBAR, if you’re reading this, just stop with the fake fanciness. You’re clearly not an haute cuisine establishment, so enough with the false pretenses. I beg you.

Maverick Monday: Just Call Me Flipper?

Our last Maverick Monday (a couple of weeks ago—I know, I’m super late) found us all the way in Yonkers for Hudson Restaurant Week. Never have I ever explored this area, so what better time than when there’s a good food deal to be had? I’m so glad we are in agreement, dear reader. That’s why my fellow Maverick and I ended up at The Dolphin for a seafood feast. Before you even ask, no, we did not stick to the Restaurant Week options—we succumbed to offerings from the regular menu and threw caution to the wind. The following is a visual stream of our selections:

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Our appetizers were baked clams (me) and steamed mussels (Marissa); our second courses were seafood in tomato sauce atop squid ink pasta (me–I’m a sucker for squid ink pasta whenever I see it on a menu) and branzino simply grilled with herbs and fresh vegetables (Marissa—she’s a sucker for branzino every time she sees it on the menu). To round out the meal, I had homemade bread pudding with crème anglaise and Marissa cleansed her palette with sorbet; she’s not really a dessert person so we have to forgive her for her choice.

The rundown: The baked clams and steamed mussels were perfectly cooked and seasoned pretty well, however the tomato broth from the mussels was a bit tart for my liking. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case for my pasta dish; the tomato sauce was just right (I believe the little bit of cream tempered the tartness) and again, the seafood was cooked faultlessly. The downside was that the squid ink pasta—my reason for ordering this dish in the first place—was overcooked and felt borderline soggy while chewing it. If it weren’t for the sauce, the linguini would have become one congealed blob. Major points lost for this faux pas. Marissa’s branzino was basic, but tasty and grilled with precision timing; conversely, the vegetables tasted like they were on life support, in need of the lemon juice and jus from the fish to revive them. So far, the only well-rounded course was my baked clams. I was really hoping dessert was going end the meal on a high note, especially after all the hype our waiter gave to the bread pudding. One bite of it left me speechless…because I thought my teeth were going to fall out, it was so sweet. I didn’t even need to put sugar in my coffee, for if I did, I think I would have gone into a diabetic coma right then and there, and I’m not even diabetic! I saw the end of the tunnel only because of their coffee, which happened to be excellent; smooth, rich, flavorful and full-bodied, the coffee was liquid velvet. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a bipolar meal in my life. The peaks and valleys of our dinner left me confused and thinking whether or not there was something wrong with me. My taste buds were flipped out of whack and needed some rest. I was already planning a meal of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the next day. Marissa’s sorbet was average enough for me to think that I could probably get better from the freezer aisle at the supermarket. It served a purpose though, because it was an adequate palette cleanser.

Albeit I had a wonderful night, I will not be returning to this mediocre [at best] restaurant. If you’re going to serve a basic menu with simple and unchallenging fare, it should not be a challenge to eat it. I don’t need to go to all the way Yonkers for a good martini and few baked clams. Yes, I will travel for food. Good food.