Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Is a Martini at 11am Inappropriate?

Garlic Shrimp -- Schiller's Liquor Bar
Schiller's Liquor Bar

We don't like to go to the Lower East Side.
To Be Fair, It's Not So Fond of Us Either
Our animosity toward the Lower East Side stems from its propensity for narrow sidewalks, non-hosed down streets, and an overflow of hipsters. It is no accident that even though there are two 5 star Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes on the Lower East Side (the French Onion Soup dumplings and grapefruit margarita), neither of us has returned once to have them again.

In other words, you're welcome, Schiller's Liquor Bar, that we have agreed to grace your establishment with our presence at all.
Oh, the Moral Sacrifices We Make for Best Thing I Ever Ate Purposes
Schiller's is the home of Tyler Florence's, he of widely-variable-San-Francisco-taste, Best Thing I Ever Ate WITH GARLIC dish, the garlic shrimp.  We arrive at Schiller's a full hour before our reservation time (in our defense, we tried to call ahead to alert them, but people on the Lower East Side do not seem to believe in ANSWERING THE PHONE).  
They're Too Busy "Not Having a Computer," But More on That Later
We are seated in the middle of the room without incident, and we get down to ordering.  And by "ordering," we mean "drinking."  It's nearly 11am already, after all.
The Term "It's Not Even Noon Somewhere" Was Born on the Lower East Side. We Better Do It Justice
"They have a wet ginger martini," Ginger states.  "Though maybe I should get something more appropriate for the hour."

"I'm getting an Old Man Martini," Vodka tells her.  And thus it is settled: martinis all around.
Old Man Martini = Stellar Name, By the Way
Along with the martinis, we order a side of French fries and a plate of the garlic shrimp (and thus make our waitress think that we are decidedly more hungover than we are).  Said waitress asks if we would like bread to mop up the garlic sauce from the shrimp, and who are we to deny ourselves any carbs?

Cut to: the bread arrives, and it is pretty much one serving of some questionable-looking loaf.
Well, THIS Will Never Do
"This is really all the bread they could spare?!" Ginger mumbles to Vodka as we take our first sips of the martinis, which are, in a word, sour.  And not that great.  But they contain alcohol, so, you know, down the hatch.
It's Not Even Mid-Morning Somewhere
"Could They Not Have Found a Less Hideous Section of the Peel?!"
Before we can drown our frustrations too deeply in second-rate booze, our food arrives.  Well, more specifically, a heaping cone of French fries (good portion) and a steaming dish of teeny, tiny, minuscule shrimp (bad portion) arrive.
Objects in Picture Are Larger Than They Actually Appeared
Naturally, we count said shrimp, just to prove a point.  And there are eleven of them.  Do you know how much this garlic shrimp dish costs?  $13.  By our calculations, that works out to $1.18 per (minuscule) shrimp.

Does this place think they're Le Bernardin?  We all know how well that place lives on in our memory (ahem).
Did They Ship This Shrimp In from the Pacific?!
The shrimp themselves are... garlicky?  Slightly.  Lemony?  OVERWHELMINGLY.  If anything, either someone made a heavy-handed mistake with the lemon in the kitchen, or this dish would more properly be called LEMON shrimp.  
That Yellow You See Is Not Butter. It Is Lemon
The garlic is playing second-fiddle here in a big way, and between this and the cocktails, Schiller's certainly seems to be fond of catering toward customers' sour tastebuds.
Have You Ever Heard of Salt? We Like Salt
While $13 buys you a few measly shrimp, what it does NOT buy you is any sort of plate on which to rest these crustaceans before placing them in your mouth.  Same goes for the bread and the French fries -- NO PLATES.  We are inconvenienced by this fact, if not enough to actually do anything about it (ie ask for plates).
We Prefer to Stew In Our Own Displeasure
The French fries are tasty, if nondescript, and if we ever came to Schiller's again (unlikely), we'd plan on ordering a burger, if only to get more bang for our buck.
Also, Because We Like to Eat French Fries
Our check arrives ("$46 for this nonsense!"), and Vodka, checking her phone, discovers that we have never been checked in for our OpenTable reservation.  One our way out, she inquires about this with the host:

"Could you check us in for our reservation on OpenTable?  I'll be penalized if you don't."
"We don't have OpenTable."
"But that's how I made the reservation."
"Right, but I can't check you in."
"Then how will they know if I showed up?"
"I tell them if you DIDN'T show up and we get $1 back if you don't."
"But we showed up."
"So can you check us in?"
"I don't have a computer."
Who's On First, Lower East Side-Style
Ginger, who is somehow understanding this guy's rationale more than Vodka, all but shoves Vodka out the door.  But between the puckering cocktails, lemony shrimp, and irrational reservation policies, Vodka looks like the undisputed sourpuss of the Lower East Side.

Schiller's Liquor Bar's Garlic Shrimp: 3 stars

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pour Us a Glass of All Your Alcohol

Bacon-Wrapped Lamb Chops -- Employees Only
Employees Only

Admittedly, it has taken us an awfully long time to make our way to Employees Only, considering it is located in the West Village and not in some far-off land, like Brooklyn.  But our reluctance toward venturing into the place stems from one of its signature characteristics: it's "sceney."
Sceney = A Place Full of People Who Care. We Don't Care
As previously stated, we greatly dislike "sceney" restaurants, because we much prefer early-bird-special, geriatric "scenes" than those where people try so hard to be fabulous.  Employees Only tends to attract this kind of socially needy crowd because it is modeled after a 1920s speakeasy, its front window proclaiming the space a psychic's office rather than the home of absurdly overpriced cocktails.
Fortune Says We'll Be Tipsy Tonight
Now, maybe we're missing something, but all of these speakeasy throwback establishments that keep cropping up are decidedly not our thing.  ALCOHOL IS LEGAL NOW, GUYS.  Drink up and stop making such a production about it.

Enough Complaining Considering We're Not Even Inside Yet
We make our way past the bar and toward the back dining room of Employees Only, where we are seated promptly despite our lack of reservation ("I really thought I was at the wrong place because you ALWAYS make a reservation." "I don't make reservations when you have to do so by phone.  I don't like to talk to people.")
We Did Not Receive One of These "Exclusive" Pamphlets
Within seconds of watching Ginger's face flicker in shadowy light, Vodka gets down to her most neurotic, yet completely necessary (if you live in her mind), task: she blows out the candle on our table.
Candle in the Wind, Indeed
You see, Vodka has decided that flickering candles have the same effect on her as strobe lights, which is really no effect at all, besides the fact that she doesn't like them.  Evidently, however, Employees Only is VERY into their lighted candles, as not one but two workers approach nearly instantaneously and attempt to hold a match to the wick.

"No, no, no, no, no!" Ginger manages to sputter.  "We don't like it."

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is reason number one why we will never be "sceney."
Employees Only, Pre-Onslaught of Sceniness
While we are technically at Employees Only to eat Rocco DiSpirito's Best Thing I Ever Ate UNDER WRAPS dish, the bacon-wrapped lamb chops, we are much more consumed by the cocktail menu, which is, in two words, EXTENSIVE and EXPENSIVE.
Are They Storing the Booze on the Roof?! Why Is It So Much?
Vodka eventually settles on the Vesper ("It has vodka AND gin -- it's like us in a glass") and Ginger, on the Ginger Smash (and based on the strength of said cocktail, that moniker is about to come to life).
Muddled Ginger = Name of Her Memoir
The Vesper, which is crisp, delicious, and ridiculously strong ("Pour us a glass of all your alcohol"), is right up Vodka's alley, while the Ginger Smash is less sweet than Ginger had anticipated.
Apparently, Cranberries Aren't As Sweet As She Thought They Were
Considering both beverages are $15, we think they could have been a little more heavy-handed with the pours, but by the end of round one, Vodka is already proclaiming, "This is my favorite drink ever," so all is not lost for Employees Only.
Vesper = How to Go Broke in a Glass
We order the bacon-wrapped lamb chops with salsa verde, the bone marrow poppers, the ricotta gnocchi, and the cheese plate.  As we wait, a small loaf of pumpernickel bread appears, with a spread which can only be described as "ranch dressing."  We lap it up heartily (though whether this carb consumption is due to the actual tastiness of the bread or the fact that we are currently awash in boozy cocktails is anyone's guess).
Bread with a Side of Hidden Valley
The lamb chops soon arrive, and after a second of trying to eat them daintily with a knife and fork, we soon begin gnawing on them, Fred Flintstone-style.
Where's Barney When You Need Him?
The chops manage to be crispy on the outside and extremely tender on the inside, and despite the prevalence of wrapped bacon, it somehow doesn't add much to the lamb itself.
It Seems Bacon Does Not, In Fact, Solve Everything
Instead, the salse verde is a much more beneficial accompaniment, and while we certainly enjoy said chops (especially because the meat is not too fatty, as we have had some epic fights with a certain restaurant concerning fatty lamb chops), we're not blown away enough to offer them more than four stars.
We're Sure Employees Only Is Devastated By This News
The bone marrow poppers are... interesting.  A small helping of bone marrow is stuck inside puff pastry poofs, and while we had enjoyed bone marrow when we tried it previously, primarily because it was salty, in Employees Only's greasy and not-all-that-flavorful preparation, we're not super into it.
Pretty, but...
...mostly full of...
In contrast, the cheese plate is the one component on this menu, besides the Vesper, which is something to write home about.  By this point, we are too three-sheets-to-the-wind from our drinks to remember what a single item on the plate is, but just know that all three cheeses, along with the accompanying lavash bread and various nut and oil accoutrements, are just about the best we have ever tasted.
They're Much More Generous With Their Cheese Than With Their Drinks
We Could Do Without That Green Nonsense Getting in the Way of the Bread
Looks Like Pita Crisps, Tastes Like Heaven
The cheese plate is so good, in fact, that it manages to make our usual favorite menu item -- pasta -- almost an afterthought.  The ricotta gnocchi with mushrooms are tasty enough (though Ginger seems to think they're the consistency of tofu, which is never a positive comparison).  They taste almost overwhelmingly like soy sauce, which is a relatively good thing, because that means they're salty, but overall, they just don't hold a candle, lit or otherwise, to the cheese plate.
Essentially Beef and Broccoli, Sans the Beef and the Broccoli
So Just to Confirm, That's NOT Tofu, Right?
For dessert, we settle on the chocolate pudding with hazelnuts, caramel, and a fudge brownie, mostly because it has the words "pudding, caramel, and brownie" in it.  Unfortunately, at the risk of sounding ridiculous (though this is never an actual "risk" we're concerned about), the dessert tastes so overwhelmingly of CHOCOLATE that all of the components get lost in a big blob of chocolate flavor.  At the very least, this dessert is begging for a dollop of whipped cream on top, and as it stands, we're not impressed.
You Heard It Here First -- Chocolate Pudding Can Indeed Be Too Chocolatey
Bring on Bill Cosby and His Pudding Snacks
We are also not into the astoundingly LOUD atmosphere which has by now permeated Employees Only's space.  To say we are now shouting at each other just to be heard above the din is no exaggeration, and the bar area is packed like a rush hour subway train.  After laying down a solid $86 a piece (as a note, we didn't even get an entree -- this "meal" of appetizers and cocktails cost $172), we push (literally push) our way out of the establishment, mumbling all the way about why people would choose to put themselves through this rigmarole on a regular basis.  When Vodka attempts to record this sentiment in her notes, she discovers the following day that what she has actually written is as follows:

"Who goes verte aaa a go-to place?"

And more than anything else, this nonsensical sentence proves why it is a good thing that we don't live in the time of illegal alcohol: you send us into a speakeasy, pour us a couple of glasses of moonshine, and we lose all powers of articulation.

Verte aaa, to you, too, Employees Only.

Employees Only's Bacon-Wrapped Lamb Chops: 4 stars

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Into the Boroughs: It Tastes Like the Baker Sweated on These Brownies

Sweet and Salty Brownie -- Baked, Brooklyn, NY

Well, it has happened: the clouds gathered, thunder struck, and Ginger moved to Brooklyn.  Life as we know it has forever changed.
Incidentally, This Is Ginger's New Subway Train
In order to prepare for her permanent accommodations on the other side of the East River, Ginger has recruited Vodka to go to the latter's shopping nemesis: IKEA. 
What Do You Mean We Have to Take a FERRY to Get There?!
Now, Vodka has never purchased a single item from IKEA, being that a) the place infuriates her and b) she is not exactly a minimalist.  But Ginger, who inexplicably throws out her bed with every move with mumbled fears about "bedbugs," is in need of something new to sleep on.
There Are Worse Things Than Staring At the Water on a Sunday -- That Thing Is Going to IKEA
While in Red Hook, because, well, we are NEVER in Red Hook, we decide to venture to Baked for Claire Robinson's Best Thing I Ever Ate SALTY GOODNESS dish, the sweet and salty brownie.  
We Need More Maps to Make Our Way Through Brooklyn Than We Did in San Francisco
Now, smoked oysters aside, we are generally quite fond of Claire's tastes.  Therefore, despite its location, we are optimistic about this brownie.  That is until it is handed to us, pre-wrapped in cellophane, looking decidedly on just the wrong side of "fresh."
How Long Have These Been in This Jar?!
Now, perhaps because 195 Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes have caused us to start hallucinating, we are fairly certain that the brownie Claire described on the show had caramel in the middle.  
And We DO Love a Salty Caramel Anything
For this reason, we chew hungrily toward the center of our brownies, desperate to find caramel where none exists.
Well, This is a Travesty of Epic Proportions
What gives, Baked?  WHERE IS THE CARAMEL?
This Place Is a Fraud
Instead of chewy, oozing caramel, we find only a completely mediocre brownie -- one that is more "cake" in texture than "gooey," and which is sprinkled with salt on top.
A Mere Trickling of Salt
That's right -- it is SPRINKLED with salt, and JUST ON TOP.  A nd rather than thick, chunky sea salt, this is squarely more of the table salt variety.  Essentially, it tastes like someone sweated all over a pan of brownies before packaging them as cellophane squares.
So, You Know, SUPER Appetizing
Besides tasting like perspiration (always a "plus" -- ahem), Baked's brownie is so rich that neither of us is capable of finishing it, and while we start out rather apathetically pleased toward it ("This could be 4 stars, I guess"), after a few bites, we are definitively more hostile ("Something really good doesn't go downhill as you eat it").
First IKEA and Now This?! Are You Trying to KILL Vodka, Brooklyn?!
We are flummoxed as to why Claire Robinson would ever make this Best Thing I Ever Ate choice -- not just because the brownie is not very good, but because the location is so inconvenient that we can't figure out how she even procured one ("Maybe someone brought this brownie to her right after she finished downing the smoked oysters and her taste buds were ruined").
Because when the IKEA Swedish meatballs are more tasty than the actual dish you came to Red Hook to consume, you know there is a problem.  
5 Star Dish
Perhaps it is time for the Baked staff to make their way to IKEA and invest in a new salt shaker.  And while they're at it, they should ask if they carry any caramel.

Baked's Sweet & Salty Brownies: 3 stars