good shmeats

one food-loving vegetarian taking New York City's restaurants one plate at a time.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Chocolate Room - Park Slope

The Chocolate Room
86 Fifth Avenue (at Prospect Place)

Last March I took my visiting parents to The Chocolate Room, a chocolate boutique and cafe that conveniently happens to be located at the end of my Park Slope block. My father ordered a Bittersweet Hot Chocolate ($4.00), took one sip, and proclaimed it the best he had ever tasted (no small compliment from an 81-year old man).

The brainchild of husband/wife team Jon Payson and Naomi Josepher, The Chocolate Room serves a selection of artisanal sweets which appeal to an adult palate. Customers are ushered in by deep brown walls, dim lighting, and sophisticated music that lilts above the collective hum of patrons' conversations. A glass case of truffles, handcrafted by chocolatier Fritz Knipschildt, and including chili/tangerine, black currant and white chocolate/cardamom combinations, gleams extravagantly. But lest one wax too poetic, the menu also evokes a healthy dose of child-like chocolate euphoria (imagine walking into Willy Wonka's chocolate fantasy room).

The Hot Chocolate my father loved (as did my desert-mate on my most recent visit to The Chocolate Room) boasts a 60% Belgian bittersweet chocolate content. Served in petite brown mugs, the warm drink shares every luscious quality of a melted chocolate bar. I was tempted to use my finger to scoop out the remaining trace of chocolate which coated the inside of the empty mug, but reluctantly managed to resist. Somewhat less intoxicating is the Classic Hot Cocoa ($4.50), which comes infused with bourbon vanilla. The thought of this cocoa evokes memories of cozy winter nights, but delivers a somewhat bland, milky flavor and excessive foam in place of a thick marshmallow.

Guests at The Chocolate Room are treated to a complimentary nibble upon sitting down -my fellow diners and I received a tiny sliver of soft white cake in a puddle of chocolate ganache. After significant deliberation, we decided to try the Chocolate Room Pudding ($5.00) and one of the specials - a Chocolate Tart with raspberry sauce and vanilla-flecked whipped cream. The pudding was cling-to-your-spoon rich, and topped with an indulgent dose of soft whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Although the pudding's initial flavor was powerful, it did not ultimately lead anywhere. I enjoyed this dish, but missed the chocolate pudding my mother and I used to make, which revealed several subtle layers of flavor across the span of each bite.

The tart turned out to be truly special. A firm crispy chocolate shell encased a rich mound of thick filling. The monochromatic desert was surrounded by a brilliant red stream of raspberry puree, which cut smartly through the filling's rich sweetness. A pouty, full raspberry rested on the pillow of speckled whipped cream, crowing the desert. Visually stunning and decadent, this dessert was the highlight of our chocolate meal.

An experience at The Chocolate Room in Park Slope does not fade quickly. My father still mentions his favorite Hot Chocolate, almost a year later. I can still vividly recall the taste of tart raspberry sauce mingling with the sweet chocolate confection. Upon leaving I heard a woman at the table next to me (who had just been handed a menu) quietly breathe, "oh my!" I smiled knowingly at her excitement while, with a rather childish jealousy, secretly wished I could join her.

For a "sweet" article about this amazing husband and wife chocolate team, click here

Friday, February 17, 2006

Dumb conversation and silverware

video clip: My friend Ansel creating a cutlery statue at a veggie restaurant in Portland. We (Ansel, Tyson, Leah, and Alison) had been hiking and were hungrily awaiting what turned out to be an amazing plate of nachos, a veggie corn dog, and tempeh sloppy joes. The snippet of conversation is embarassingly stupid, and the clip is rather funny.

Video clip provided Alison's digital camera via Google Video

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Enid's - Williamsburg

560 Manhattan Ave at Driggs Avenue

We live in a city of extravagance - New York's culture of extreme (and extremely hip) fashion, food and music is a source of civic pride. And Williamsburg is unarguably an epicenter of this lifestyle - at least for now. But for those New Yorkers who dwell more towards the humble side of life, the city's hyper-extravagance can feel a bit alienating.

Enter Enid's - a combination brunch/dinner spot and late-night bar just off of McCarren Park (and the G train) in Williamsburg. Considering it's location, one might expect Enid's to be yet another vapid, glittering hotspot that attracts scenesters like, well, scenesters to cans of PBR. Instead, Enid's is a beacon of refreshing normalcy amidst New York's glitz and chaos.

Enid's certainly preserves aspects of hipsterdom: beautiful clientele and semi-ironic, salvaged-from-the-street decor like a vintage (rusty) liquor-store sign, an old-fashioned photobooth, and a large gold-sequined camel tacked up on the wall. Enid's consistently fills to overflowing on weekends with neighborhood locals looking for a late-night watering hole as well as a solid post-party brunch. But although Enid's attracts a hipster crowd, it somehow maintains a homey, welcoming quality that so many other trendy New York bars/restaurants seem to purposefully strive against.

The inevitable wait for brunch at Enid's is softened by mugs and self-serve pots of coffee (an ingenious trick used in restaurants across Portland, Seattle, and other soggy west coast cities, but seemingly undiscovered in New York.) I adore Enid's menu, which looks like a homemade zine cobbled together by a crafty teenager from recycled magazines and bits of fabric. I also love the inside of the menu for its unpretentious listing of Vanilla-Almond Challah French Toast ($6.95), Huevos Rancheros ($8.95), and unexpected side plates of Cheese Grits, Spiced Apples, and Collard Greens (all $3.00). In addition to self-serve coffee, Enid's also seems to model it's inexpensive prices off of West Coast restaurants.

On my most recent visit to Enid's I chose a dish that I had eyed for months but never tried: Leek and Potato Hash with Eggs any-style ($7.95). The smell of my brunch arrived before the plate did - a heavenly combination of carmalized leeks and sharp cheese melted into the hefty browned potato chunks. The deep-gold yolk of my eggs over-easy melted into the potatoes with a sigh (mine). The hash was accompanied by a bright, lightly-dressed salad that was in itself forgettable, but a welcome addition to the rather heavy meal I had chosen. My brunch-mate's french toast was sweet with subtle hints of almond, and accompanied by fresh fruit. (Real maple syrup unfortunately costs a little extra at Enid's, but is always worth it.)

In many ways, Enid's offers the best of both worlds - a hint of New York's insider scene, mixed with a vibe casual enough that you won't get evil stares for wearing sweat pants to brunch. Combine that with decently priced food (and beer in the evenings), and Enid's is sure to remain a neighborhood staple.

Diner's Tip:
After brunching at Enid's on a summer Saturday, head over to the green market in neighboring McCarren Park to check out the fresh local greens and baked goods.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Food Democracy with Marion Nestle

I'm feeling guilty. I went to a restaurant last Sunday for brunch, and I'd really like to review it. But I haven't yet. Granted I haven't had a free day or night to write since then...

I will write it within the next three days though, promise.

In the meantime, here is an amazing interview with professor and food writer, Marion Nestle. Enjoy.

p.s. Admitting my guilt is far more for me than for you - you understand.