Friday, February 12, 2016

This Must Be How Olive Garden Tastes to Other People

Linguine with Clams and Mussels in Saffron Broth -- Tree Bistro
Tree Bistro

Call us crazy, but once a restaurant has a particular dish featured on a national television program, they should not take said dish off of their menu for YEARS on end.  This has always been our issue with Tree Bistro which, despite having the linguine with clams and mussels in saffron broth featured by Danny Boome on the OBSESSIONS episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, did not actually offer this pasta for the majority of the five years we have been doing this blog.
Um, Do You Think You're Too Good for the Food Network? Because No One Is Too Good for the Food Network
Clearly, times are hard at Tree nowadays, as suddenly there is a "seafood linguine" dish back on the menu, along with the demarcation that this was the dish "featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate!"  It appears this ploy for publicity is too little, too late, as when we walk in for our 6:00 PM reservation on a Friday, the place is completely and totally empty.  
Do You Hear the Proverbial Crickets Chirping?
We are seated on the all-season patio by ourselves, Ginger positioning herself directly in front of the heater, and our solo dining experience would remain this way for the entirety of our meal.  It seems we're not the only ones that have grown fed up with Tree's "now you see it, now you don't" menu antics.
'Tis the Problem with Being Wishy-Washy With Your Linguine, We Suppose
We place our order, Vodka for the seafood linguine, and Ginger for the burger.  When we're asked whether or not we'd like an appetizer, it is all we can do not to reply, "No, we already ate a cheesecake," and we instead dive into the provided bread basket, all but polishing off all six slices by the time our waitress returns with the wine.  
Yes, We'll Take Another Loaf, Thanks
It is during this time that Ginger announces, as if she has had some huge philosophical epiphany, "I've come to realize that there are two types of people in the world: the fun people and the unfun people."  
Translation: Fun People Order a Bottle of Wine at Dinner (or Two or Three); Unfun People Don't
While we would consider ourselves squarely in the "fun" group, we're not sure the staff of Tree feels the same, as the person refilling our water decides to ask Vodka, "How did you hear about this place?"  (We assume they are trying to figure out how they got two more customers than usual on a Friday night.)

"Best Thing I Ever Ate," Vodka answers her, which is greeted with surprise, as if even the workers themselves had forgotten this place ever had their fifteen seconds of fame.
It Seems Instead of Serving Their Famous Linguine, Tree Was Choosing to Emboss Their Wine Glasses
Thankfully for Tree, our blog is about as popular as they are, so legions of people will not see our not-so-glowing review of their alleged Best Thing I Ever Ate linguine.  We say "alleged" because we are not convinced this is actually the dish that Danny Boome tasted on the show, being that we can't discern even the slightest hint of saffron in the broth.  
Someone Please Place "Saffron" on the Back of a Milk Carton, Because It's Missing
While the linguine noodles themselves are fairly pleasing, the accompanying mussels and clams are downright cold, and the broth itself is underwhelming at best, and overly salty at worst (even to our heavily salted palates).  
Cold as a Fish. Literally
Ginger's burger is similarly edible, but not all that special (especially when she manages to massacre it with her fork and knife, which is what she inexplicably tends to do to all burgers.  This practice causes Vodka to note, "You eat a burger in a very disturbing way.")
How Does This Possibly Happen?!
We want to say that this particular bowl of pasta is no better than what one could find at a local Olive Garden -- but then again, we love Olive Garden, so we don't wish to disparage them in such a way.  Instead, we think this dish must be like what other people -- the people who look down on Olive Garden -- taste when they go to the holiest of Italian chain eateries.  
Related Thought: Does Olive Garden Serve French Fries? Because They Should
Overall, we do not understand how one could ever be "obsessed" with this dish, and by the looks of the empty tables at Tree, it's becoming more obvious that no one really is.  Perhaps this should teach all restaurants a valuable lesson about ever removing a Best Thing I Ever Ate-featured dish from their menu: that not only will it hurt their attendance levels, but it will also do something much, much more disturbing: make them look completely "unfun."

Tree Bistro's Linguine with Clams and Mussels in Saffron Broth: 3 stars

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Always Eat Dessert First

Fromage Blanc Island Cheesecake -- Chikalicious Dessert Bar
Chikalicious Dessert Bar

It appears our recent foray around Los Angeles has inspired us to continue banging through the last few restaurants on our Best Thing I Ever Ate Manhattan list, as mere weeks after returning, we can be found traipsing through the streets of the East Village in search of our next meal.  
We Had Almost Forgotten What It Was Like to Eat With a Camera and Vodka Frantically Scribbling Notes
Our initial plan had been to meet at Tree Bistro, but being that the place doesn't open until 5:00 PM -- a full fifteen minutes away -- and that we have a patience of a couple of fleas with ADD, we decide to flip our itinerary and head to Chikalicious Dessert Bar first.  This means that we are going to consume a bevy of desserts before our actual dinner, which, all in all, does not seem like the worst plan we have ever come up with.
Particularly Because the Word "Bar" Is in the Restaurant's Name
We're not quite sure what has taken us so long to make our way to Chikalicious, other than the fact that we never really understood the concept of the place.  Within seconds of sitting down on its bar stools, it becomes obvious that we still don't, as we are incapable -- separately but equally -- of figuring out the menu.  
Here's Our Order: Wine and Cheesecake. Snap to It
While we are here to taste Johnny Iuzzini's Best Thing I Ever Ate BETTER THAN MINE dish, the fromage blanc island cheesecake, we also -- naturally -- would like to order some cocktails.  But, in a comprehension challenge that takes Vodka way too long to figure out, at Chikalicious, the only way to order the cheesecake is through the prix fixe menu, which includes an amuse and a plate of petit fours.  
Why Is All of This Menu Reading Standing Between Us and Our Booze?
While Vodka struggles with this concept, Ginger is currently in a full-on internal debate about the optional wine pairing that could come with the cheesecake, and it is not until one of the staff members walks us through the menu like we're illiterate kindergarteners that we finally seem to get the hang of it.
At This Point, We Wouldn't Be Surprised If We Inexplicably Ended Up Ordering a Pastrami Sandwich
We choose one prix fixe item, for which Ginger picks the wine pairing, and Vodka selects a glass of "Zinsanity" red wine, merely because it is just about the only one on the whole alcohol menu that does not seem to be sweet.  
The Lucy and Ethel of the Wine World
At Chikalicious, all of the desserts are prepared directly in front of you, as if they're craft cocktails at a hipster bar.  This may be a great concept for some people, but for us, it is distracting at best and awkward at worst.  
Are We Supposed to Talk to Each Other or Watch You? It's All So Confusing
The beauty of Chikalicious's creations cannot be denied, but frankly, we don't really care to see our sugar blended -- just bring us something to eat, and we'll eat it, no questions asked.  
Please Note Our Proximity to the All-Important Blender
We are given our miniature amuse dish, but what we are NOT given is a single clue as to what it consists of ("Tea?  It tastes like tea.  Do you think it's tea?" = repeat this ten times, and this is us trying to figure out what we're eating).  
Apparently, If You Want an Explanation at Chikalicious, You Have to Read the Menu
It is strictly "fine," as are our respective glasses of wine, but they are also not the reason we are here.  That honor belongs to the cheesecake, and when it is placed before us, even we can't deny that it looks exactly like something we would love.
Aka It Looks Like Melted Ice Cream -- Our Ideal Dessert Texture
Atop a pile of shaved ice, a rounded mound of... well, we have no idea what it is, really, but it is definitely not a cheesecake we're used to.

It is better.
What Is This Majesty?
"I literally would eat this for every meal," Ginger says after barely having swallowed her first spoonful.  
To Be Fair, It Was a Fairly Spoonful
Light and astoundingly fluffy, this cheesecake is more like a molded pudding than an actual cake, and it is topped by a solid pour of heavy cream.  Despite Chikalicious's open dessert bar atmosphere, we are still completely flummoxed as to how it was created, and the staff does not appear overly eager to reveal, well, much of anything.  
All We Know Is A Lot Seemed to Happen In That Blender
What we are certain of is that this cheesecake -- or "cheesecake," as the case may be -- just may be the best one we have ever had, both due to its creamy texture and its only lightly sweetened flavor.  
Could We Have Another to Go In Case Our Dinner Doesn't Work Out?
We have barely recovered from our love of the cheesecake when a tiny plate of three petit fours is placed before us.  
They're Not Kidding About the "Petite" Bit
While Chika herself does deign to tell us what each of them are, we're still too busy thinking about the previous dessert (and to be fair, getting loaded from our glasses of wine) to listen.  
The Infamous Chika, Partially Blocked by Vodka's Empty Wine Glass
We believe they consist of some sort of chai tea creation, and coconut marshmallow, and something that, when Ginger attempted to take her "half bite" of it, she ended up placing ninety-percent of it in her mouth.  ("Here's your half," she says to Vodka).  
Now You See It, Now You Don't
Vodka notes that the plate the petit fours have arrived on looks like something one could find in Epcot -- our highest form of praise -- which we nevertheless can only hope that the Chikalicious staff did not overhear, as we feel like we might just be the two biggest dopes to ever grace their premises.
Moral of Our Story: We Never Know What We're Eating and We Never Really Care
Having now effectively pre-gamed our dinner with sweet wine and cheesecake, we stumble out of the premises and onto our next meal, armed with the thought that always eating dessert first just may be a concept we could get behind.

Particularly, if said dessert is served at a bar.

Chikalicious Dessert Bar's Fromage Blanc Island Cheesecake: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Off the Map: Departing Los Angeles on a Wing and a Pie

Banana Cream Pie -- Bandera, Los Angeles, CA

Up until this point, we have loved certain aspects of Los Angeles dining experiences: the roominess of the premises, the relative quietness of the dining rooms, the patience of the waitstaffs, and the ease with which we have been able to taste our Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes, without so much as a side glance for our peculiar ordering style.

Unfortunately, all of this west coast charm comes to a crashing halt the second we arrive at Bandera.
Way to Ruin It for Your City, Chumps
We are here to buy a single slice of banana cream pie, as spoken about by Adam Gertler on the ORIGINAL Best Thing I Ever Ate special.  We have already decided, prior to arrival, that we would just ask for the pie to go and consume it while safely back in our upgraded Beverly Hills hotel room (mostly because Vodka already had to make Ginger promise to "just stay awake until 9:30," and we only had 45 minutes to go until she turned into a comatose pumpkin).  
Stay Awake: We Have Potassium to Eat
This proves to be the correct decision, as when we enter Bandera, not only are there no seats available, at either a table or at the bar, but the place is packed.  More packed than any place we have seen in LA thus far, including the chaos that was Bay Cities Bakery and Deli.  Besides being crowded as all get-out, it is also excessively loud, both from the tinder of hundreds of voices, and from the quartet of musicians which they have inexplicably decided to place in the middle of the dining room.  Meaning that no matter which way you turn, you cannot escape the deafening noise.
Putting the 'Band' in 'Bandera'
When we ask the host how we go about procuring a slice of pie, he sends us to the bar, suggesting we "get the bartender's attention."  Yeah, easier said than done, mister, as seven minutes later, we've yet to be able to track him down over the hoard of other patrons stacked in the area.
Finally, Ginger manages to place our order, and the bartender, to his credit, is just as pleasant as all others we have encountered in this fair city, despite his surroundings.

"I hate this place," Vodka announces while we wait for our container of pie to arrive, saying each word like there's a period after it.  And the more irritated Vodka gets, and the more Ginger starts to droop, the longer our pie takes to arrive.
Much Like the Sun Setting Over Our Los Angeles Journey, Our Patience Is Decidedly Waning
"How long can it possibly take to cut a pie?" we ask after at least ten minutes have passed.  Eventually, and not before we are ready to throw said pie in someone's face, the long-suffering bartender passes it over three people's heads in order to reach us, and we hightail it out of Bandera as quickly as possible.  When we reach our hotel, Ginger approaches a member of the staff and asks if we could get two forks.

"Are you Dutch?" he asks her.


"Dutch.  Are you from Amsterdam?"

"No?" Ginger answers, once again as if English really is her second language.

"You sounded like you had a Dutch accent," he insists.  "Where are you from?"

"Ah, so you ARE from Amsterdam!" he proclaims.


"New," Vodka whispers, trying to provide an English-to-English translation of the proceedings just so we can get out of here, forks in hand.

"What?" Ginger asks.

"New Amsterdam," Vodka explains.  "New York was called New Amsterdam."

"See, so you are practically Dutch!"  The fork purveyor is insistent on hammering his point home.  
At This Juncture, We Would Have Been Better Off Eating This Pie With Our Hands
When we are eventually able to escape from him, we return to our room and deposit the pie container on Ginger's bed.  Inside is a substance that looks a bit like slop, but whether that is due to Bandera's packaging technique or to our inability to effectively carry a to-go bag is up for debate.  
Funny That Fork-Man Seemed to Know We Would Need a Napkin, Too
The pie itself, while not completely offensive, is a bit on the bland side.  It's not really sweet, not really creamy, not really crunchy, not really... anything.  And there is just SO MUCH banana (including giant slices sprinkled throughout the container), that it essentially tastes the same as a plain old banana with some flavorless whipped cream on top.  Not only is this banana cream pie not good enough to warrant coming from a regular restaurant, it is certainly not good enough to be from a place as aggravating as Bandera.
What Is With All of the FRUIT?!
And with that, our Los Angeles Best Thing I Ever Ate adventure has come to an end.  In true form, the cheerfulness that LA had lulled into us over the past couple of days has suddenly dissipated, and we are ready to return to the land of abrasive waiters, cramped barstools, and our own bad moods.

Oh, New Amsterdam, there is no place like home.

Bandera's Banana Cream Pie: 2 stars

Monday, February 8, 2016

Off the Map: We're the Types of People Waiters Get Warned About

Braised Shortribs with Horseradish Cream -- Lucques, Los Angeles, CA

Fresh off a pot roast dinner, we ford the way to our next braised meat of the evening.  Ginger, in her continuing paranoia that LA is going to throw us out of the city for attempting to consume a single entree in one of their esteemed establishments, is nervous as we approach Lucques, particularly when she sees how crowded the dining room is.
We're the Restaurant Version of Squatters
Vodka, ever the more shameless of the duo, approaches the host stand and explains our conundrum: that not only are we approximately ninety minutes early for our reservation, but we're really just here to eat Frank Bruni's Best Thing I Ever Ate FRENCH FAVORITES dish, the braised short ribs with horseradish cream.  
In Other Words, Hand Over the Short Ribs and No One Gets Hurt
Trying to be as self-deprecating as possible in the hopes of acknowledging that yes, we know we're royal pains in the neck, and no, please don't toss us out on the street without a short rib to go, Vodka promises that we would be more than happy to sit at the bar (which Ginger's research has shown serves a different menu than the dining room -- one that does not include short ribs) and not take a table away from a more conventional customer, as long as we can be given our desired dish.
See How "Accommodating" We Can Be?
The host's reaction to this long-winded explanation?  Disdain?  No.  Resigned, bitter agreement?  Nope.  Abject refusal?  Not that either.

He says, and we quote, "Oh, absolutely.  Just go relax by the fire, and I'll work something out for you."

What sweet heaven is this place?!

As we try to contemplate what exactly about Los Angeles makes its residents so bloody affable, Vodka quips, "I'm going to go relax in the bathroom" while Ginger settles down on the couches in front of a roaring fireplace.  Moments later, we are escorted to a table, which, since we're not on a bar stool, we fear means we're going to have to explain ourselves all over again.
Yes, You May Have Heard of Us? We're the Ones Who Were Relaxing by the Fire
When our waiter arrives, Vodka begins, "So we're a bit of a problem: we only want one order of the short ribs, plus wine," and then smiles in a way she thinks makes her looks "sweet" (picture the Wicked Witch of the West grinning madly for an appropriate visual).

"Why would that be a problem?" the waiter responds pleasantly.

"Well, because there are two of us, and we only want one thing...," Vodka explains.

"That's not a problem at all!" the waiter assures us.  "It would be a problem if you wanted the short rib dish without the short ribs, but this is nothing!  The host already explained to me what your wishes were."

So at Lucques, not only are we the customers about whom the waitstaff talks about amongst themselves, and for once in our lives, it seems to not be with a negative connotation.

Our waiter then fetches us a basket of bread, which Ginger immediately begins consuming, despite the fact that just seconds before, she had been complaining about how full she was.  "He should have just not put the bread down," she says between bites.  "Put food in front of me, I'll eat it."  When we are given our wine, Ginger holds out her own toward Vodka and says, "Cheers," to which, without a word, Vodka removes the glass from Ginger's hand and places next to her own for a photo op.  
Drink AFTER Pictures -- The Rules Never Change, Ginger!
When Ginger is eventually allowed to drink, we discuss just what it could be that makes everyone we encounter in LA so nice.  Is it a quality of life issue?  The fact that people aren't stacked on top of one another?  The ever-present sunshine?  Or are all the wannabe actors here who are employed by restaurants and Uber and everything in between just, well, BETTER actors than those in New York?  Because if they're not genuinely pleasant people, they're certainly better at acting like they are.
Boom, Roasted, Grouchy NYC Waiters
We have a brief moment of panic when our plate of short ribs arrive, namely because there are PLATES of short ribs.  As in we both have our own plate.  With an enormous portion of the short ribs, horseradish cream, mashed potatoes, and assorted greens.  After all that, did our waiter misunderstand our desire for just ONE order?  Could this possibly be a split portion of the dish, because there is just SO MUCH food on each plate.
Picture This Plate Times Two
Rather than question the circumstance, we forge ahead and begin eating, and once again, even though short ribs would never be a meal either of us would necessarily order on our own, we can't deny that Lucques's version is delicious.  Even though as a whole, the dish is very similar to the pot roast at Jar, we are more taken with Lucques's version, more so because we think their potatoes and horseradish are better.  
In Other Words, We're More Taken with Lucques's Carbs and Condiments
We brace ourselves before looking at our check, half expecting to be charged for two separate short rib entrees, based on the sheer volume of food we received.  But in the continuing miracle that is LA's acceptance of splitting dishes, there on our receipt, plain as day, is the charge for just one plate of short ribs.  We are given a warm wave goodbye from both our waiter and the host as we exit the premises, which is in stark contrast to the usual Grinch-type reactions we elicit from restaurant workers in New York.  We practically skip out onto the sidewalk, high off of the pure humanity we've witnessed in this place (and truth be told, off of the wine, too).
Story of Our Lives: The Empty Wine Glass
As we settle into the backseat of our next Uber ride, heading off to our final Los Angeles Best Thing I Ever Ate stop, it seems our hearts, as they say, have grown three sizes today.

Well, they did for the next five minutes.  Until, in true Grinch-style, we were annoyed once again

Lucques's Braised Shortribs with Horseradish Cream: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Off the Map: Apparently, We Look Like Carb Eaters

Pot Roast -- Jar, Los Angeles, CA

For our final evening in Los Angeles, we have a double-header of meat.  By pure geographic luck, it turns out that two of our heartiest dishes -- at two of the nicest restaurants on our list -- are within a few minutes of each other.  Which means we're beginning our dinner hour with a pot roast, and ending it with a short rib.

Just don't ask us to define the difference between the two, because we have no idea.
One Piece of Meat Begets Another
Ginger, similar to our La Scala experience, has been concerned that both stops are going to be annoyed by our request to a) sit at the bar, and b) only order one dish.  However, when we walk into Jar, and find a nearly empty restaurant with an even emptier bar, her concerns are somewhat relieved.  
We Love Few Things More Than Eating Alone
We pull up two stools and remain the only two customers at the bar for the entirety of our meal, quite pleased, once again, by how much room there is to spare in this city.
When We Get Back to New York, We're Going to Start Pushing People Away from Us
"It's very nice in here," Vodka whispers, who is instantly taken by a locale that is both quiet and devoid of other customers.

"That was my fear," Ginger says.  "That we'd be the weirdos ordering one pot roast at the nice place."

"It's not THAT nice," Vodka retorts, placing both her camera and cracked phone on top of the bar.

"Put that away," Ginger hisses.

"My ghetto phone?"

"The camera," she insists.  "Wait until no one's watching."
What? You've Never Seen Someone Take Pictures of Their Wine Before?
To be fair, it's going to be difficult to ever not have any waitstaff watching us, considering they really don't have anyone else to look at, but Vodka temporarily complies with Ginger's request.  And after she is properly plied with a few sips of Pinot Grigio, it seems Ginger's remaining shame flies out the window, and she obediently begins pushing the bowls of bar snacks in front of Vodka's waiting lens upon request.
Less Afraid of Bar Snack Germs Than Usual Considering We're the Only Ones Here to Touch Them
Any Place That Provides Free Potato Chips Is Okay By Us
Back to the pot roast, when we request one order of Rocco DiSpirito's Best Thing I Ever Ate CRAZY GOOD dish, the bartender looks us up and down and then  asks, "Would you like a side of mashed potatoes?"  Well, of course we would like a side of mashed potatoes!
Come to Think of It, Just Bring Us the Whole Pot
"Apparently, we look like carb eaters," Vodka whispers once the bartender is again out of earshot.  Which perhaps hammers home the point that we could never really fit into LA.
All of Those Personal Trainers Would Have a Field Day with Us
Though neither one of us would ever choose to order a pot roast on our own accord, once confronted with this one, we have to admit that it is quite pleasing.  
Maybe Those Two Carrots Will Make Up for the Vat of Mashed Potatoes We've Just Consumed
The meat itself is cooked to a perfect tenderness, the accompanying drippings are savory and warm, and the side of horseradish adds a perfect kick to the whole endeavor.  
Fork Tender
We Get a Kick Out of You, Horseradish
While the entire dish needs to be doused with a solid helping of salt, we generally have no complaints, especially about the accompanying mashed potatoes.
NYC PTSD: We Still Huddle All of Our Dishes Together Despite the Fact That We Have an Entire Bar Top to Spare
"This is about as good as you get for pot roast," Ginger surmises.  And with that, just like Fred Flintstone himself, we shimmy off our bar stools and off to our next meat-centric meal.  Which, with any luck, will come with a side of carbs. 

Jar's Pot Roast; 4 stars