become friends with a chef

22 01 2007

Last night was a reunion of sorts. My old suitemates, plus honorary ones such as boyfriends, headed over to Sapa, Patricia Yeo’s Southeast Asian-French restaurant, in Chelsea. The front is a bit nondescript, to the point where you would just keep on walking by the entrance and not even notice you had passed it. But inside, candles and globes of light add a warmth to the high ceilings and a sexy vibe to the whole place.

We went to Sapa because one of our good friends just started his externship there (yay!), so we thought we’d surprise him at work. Starting off with a Riesling Auslese, thanks to a timely Eric Asimov piece, which was nice and sweet, but not cloying at all. A bit on the expensive side ($49), but split among 5 people, not so bad at all. Then here is when the perks started kicking in. M sent us over glasses of champagne! Not sure what kind, but very tasty and bubbly.

On to the food. Instead of regular bread and butter, Sapa offers a basket of toasted pita bread with two types of dip, white bean and eggplant. Both spreads were really great, although I prefer the eggplant, which was very similar to babaganoush.
The rice paper rolls were well-made, nothing that special, except for the roll du jour, which was a ceviche piled on top of a round of the rice paper. Slightly spicy mouthful of jam-packed flavor. The lettuce wrapped beef satay were pretty good, although there was a little too much peanut butter sauce inside. Teensy bit gooey. C and I ordered the smoked swordfish carpaccio with seaweed salad. It was very meaty (as swordfish normally is) and hearty, not fishy at all. Very good, in fact. The seaweed, cucumber and orange slices went seamlessly together with the swordfish. I would order it again.

Thanks to M, we also had three other starters, steamed mussels and clams with a lemongrass-coconut broth, cocoa and peanut-glazed spareribs, and halibut baked in a banana leaf. The flavor in the spareribs reminded me of the Chinese dish, the thousand year egg, which has a gingery spiciness and lots of soy sauce.The mussels were decent, but I wasn’t big on the clams, which were too salty for me. The corn salad on top of the halibut was really flavorful and complimented the soft, subtle white fish.

As if that wasn’t enough, we still had main courses coming up. Sapa has this great $15 deal on Sundays, where you can get lobster, steak, chicken or fish. Most people had the lobster which was monster-sized. It was so soft and buttery, they must have injected it with several bars of butter before cooking it. It was served whole, which is always yummier, but a lobster bib would have been very helpful.
I had the steak frites, which was topped with a huge chunk of garlicky butter and came with this delicious dark(wine reduction?) sauce. The fries were thin and crispy, just how I like ’em.

Only one dessert was had by all, due to the unexpectedly overwhelming amounts of food. The chocolate lava cake, which was very thick and rich with a good dollop of cream on top. I wish I had enough room to savor the banana toffee bread pudding that came with sour ice cream, but I think my stomach shrunk from jetlag, so I wasn’t able to uphold my honor.

The service at Sapa was impeccable; all the waiters were incredibly nice to us and humored us when we were slow to order (or unable to pronounce Auslese). It also helped that it wasn’t all that busy that night and we were friends of the roll bar chef! The manager came over and asked us personally if everything was okay, it was just awesome how hospitable they were. Better than Gramercy Tavern in their own way. They also get brownie points for a pretty bathroom with a reflecting pool.

Bottom line – Go to Sapa! It’s a good date place (not that I’m an expert).

43 W24th St (at 6th Ave)

*pictures courtesy of WS*


Tea Time & Cous-Cous

21 01 2007

After a stately jaunt through the Neue Galerie, which has an enjoyable exhibit on Josef Hoffmann, the Austrian architect (his textiles are cute, a more upscale version of Ikea), I went for tea at Alice’s Tea Cup #2 (the first one is on the UWS). It is very similar to Alice No. 1 decor-wise. Cutesy Alice in Wonderland theme everywhere, including the bathroom, where flowers a la “we’re painting the roses red” cover the ceiling, half white, half red, and one in the middle half painted. There’s also a large looking glass hanging from a large ribbon that allow bathroom patrons to examine the miniature pictures of various scenes from Lewis Carroll’s book.

I was starving at this point, so I decided to go all out and try numerous nibblies. The butternut squash soup had a great texture, not all the squash was completely pureed, which lent itself to the lovely warm taste. A little nutty, not too rich (sometimes squash soups are too thick and creamy, and I’d like to see anyone finish a bowl of mouth-coating soup like that), and served with a rosemary foccaccia. I also had half of a curried chicken salad sandwich that included tiny chopped up pieces of apple and sprinkled with raisins, which I’ve tried before, so I knew it would be satisfying.

Alice’s scones are clearly the centerpiece around which this all revolves, which makes sense, since tea time in England is famous for its scones. They offer a myriad of different flavors every day. I ordered the eggnog chocolate chip, which had an interesting spicy kick that I’ve never encountered in a scone. It was a little drier than the other two scones K ordered. I would recommend going with the pumpkin or banana creme flavored ones which both had a glaze on top and were much more moist. All were served with a tiny pot of jam and creme; the jam was great, a little on the chunky side with lots of seeds and bursting with flavor.

I wish I could say more about the actual tea I drank, but I don’t know enough about tea to properly appreciate it. They have a several page list of all the different teas they offer, but I would say to choose your tea according to what you order to eat, since you want them to complement each other.

The service was very attentive and considerate. Our waitress was really thoughtful, asking if we wanted the last bite of scone before she whisked the plate away. But if you go at the wrong time, Alice’s is incredibly busy and I’m sure the wait is long. It’s worth it to go once, just to try tea time like the English, and marvel at the tea list, bathroom and scones.

A couple of hours later, I was all ready for dinner at Cafe Mogador, a cozy Moroccan restaurant in the West Village. It’s a dark, haphazard looking place, with a bar crowded to the nth degree. We had to wait about 45 minutes to be seated. Fortunately, there’s this really cool little used bookstore next store, East Village Books. So we perused the shelves for awhile before attempting our next charge at the door (I found a $4 copy of Esquire’s collection of fiction, a steal!).

Although the hostess was unfriendly and not particularly helpful, our waiter was genuinely nice and didn’t bother us too much when it was clear we had been talking and not looking at the menu at all. I had a ginger martini was quite tasty and refreshing, really strong too.

I had the Moroccan fish tagine which was a meaty, filling dish of white fish, potatoes and carrots. Quite tasty and they give you a surprisingly spicy hot sauce on the side. The potatoes were perfectly cooked, not too hard and not too soft, scrumptious with the chili sauce. Now, I was never a fan of cous-cous, having had a bad run-in with a cold version that was gross and pebbly. But I see the problem now, cous-cous only tastes good to me when it’s served hot and has sauce spooned over it.

I see why Mogador is so crowded, although after shelling over money for Alice’s Tea Cup in the same day, I was reluctant to part with $17 for my tagine, good as it was. It’s a fun place, though, and the bartender’s pretty cute, so I would go back, preparing myself for the long wait first.

Alice’s Tea Cup #2
156 E64th St (btw Lex & 3rd)

Cafe Mogador
101 St. Mark’s Place (at 1st Ave)