Saturday, 31 August 2013

New York Series - Ed's Lobster Bar

One of the edgier parts of Manhattan is the border between Chinatown and Little Italy, and by edgier I mean a bit dodgier!  It also happened to be one of the four locations around Manhattan that we stayed during our month long adventure.  Our hotel was actually on the Bowery, which during the late eighties and nineties was one of the tougher parts of town, but for those brave enough, was also the cooler part of town with bars and nightclubs.  You could see the remnants of this even during our visit, but like most parts of Manhattan, the gentrification is happening.

We spent a bit of time wandering up and down the Bowery and parallel to that Lafayette Street, which eventually runs into 4th Avenue.  Around that neck of the woods is also Spring Street, which is perhaps one of the coolest streets in SOHO, so we had a great time exploring the neighborhood.  Like so many great places, we stumbled upon Ed's Lobster bar by accident when heading to SOHO down Lafayette Street and while we didn't go in at that time, I added it to my mental list of places to visit.

We eventually decided to go to Ed's on the worst possible night, it was raining and raining hard.  We were stuck walking between our hotel and SOHO when the heavens opened up and needed to get out of the rain, and quickly.  It just so happened that we were close to Ed's at the time and it seemed like the perfect place to see out the rain.  We ran laughing to Lafayette and fell through the front door to Ed's and were a little dismayed to see how busy it was, it was completely packed and there were people ahead of us in the queue to be seated.  Faced with going back out into the pouring rain or waiting, we took the sensible option and decided to wait.  It ended up being a good decision, the wait staff brought over the drinks menu and SC got stuck into a white.  It also ended up being a short wait and before too long we were seated at a table in the bustling restaurant.

Rockpool Bar & Grill - Part of the Neil Perry Empire

I love living in Brisbane, the climate is the best in the country and the food culture is developing at a rapid rate, but if there was one other capital I would live in, it's Melbourne.  There is a lot to love about Melbourne but the two things I love most about it are the food scene and the fact that it's the world capital of Australian Rules Football.  It doesn't hurt that it was recently voted the world's most livable city again (not sure why Brisbane didn't make the top 20).  The major problem with Melbourne, and really the only problem for me is the fact that that it's so cold in winter.  The cold is not my thing.

I recently found myself in Melbourne for a few days with a pretty full schedule, but had a couple of free moments and one free night, so I had to decide where I would go for dinner.  My flight arrived late(ish) which meant I couldn't get out of the city at a reasonable time to visit any foodie haunts, and since I was staying at the Crown Metropol, there was an abundance of options available at Southbank.  I thought I would hit up some of my twitter followers to check on recommendations (thanks for the RT Booma) and the restaurant most tweeted about was Rockpool Bar & Grill.

It was a good option.  Rockpool Bar & Grill is one of the fleet of restaurants by food genius Neil Perry and is one of the most awarded and celebrated restaurants in the country.  Its currently ranked in the top 25 restaurants it the Gourmet Traveller top 100 restaurants in the country and has had two hats from the Age Good Food Guide for a very long time.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

New York Series - Aureole

I have said it before, there are a lot of distractions in New York.  I would wager I am not the first person to say this out loud, and I certainly won't be the last.  I had grand plans of getting to New York, visiting a heap of great restaurants and then at the end of each meal going back to the hotel and diligently typing up the post and getting it online.  Ha! Right, it didn't work out that way.

Aureole was one of the first restaurants we visited while in New York.  We had landed in Midtown and were enthralled by the size and scale of the area.  Times Square is a hive of activity for what seems like twenty four hours a day, and that's just the beginning of the great stuff happening in Midtown.  We actually walked past Aureole a few times before we decided to check it out, but it had been on my radar from the moment I noticed that it was a Michelin Starred restaurant within walking distance of our hotel.

Aureole is the first restaurant of New York legend and multi award winning chef Charlie Palmer, who heads up the Palmer Group.  Chef Palmer graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and quickly worked his way up to the world famous River Cafe in Brooklyn.  Aureole opened up in 1988 and was the foundation of a chain of amazing restaurants right across America.  Charlie Palmer has been honored by the James Beard Foundation a couple of times and has was named the best chef in New York in 1997.

E'cco - 18th Birthday Celebrations

Philip Johnson's E'cco is one of Brisbane's most enduring and iconic restaurants.  A special occasion restaurant that made you want to make any occasion special, just so you'd have an excuse to go for your next visit.  More than a special occasion restaurant for the many regulars that love E'cco's approach to dining, relaxed and with amazing combinations of flavours.

I was excited and honoured to be invited along as a guest of Lucid Media and Philip Johnson to be part of the E'cco 18th Birthday celebrations.  I was joined by ABC news lead Karina Carvalho and her plus 1 and Jessalyn from Lucid Media to share in the celebration and work through some of the classic E'cco dishes of the last 18 years.

Well before I started blogging about food, E'cco was one of my favourite restaurants and I have had some exquisite meals over the journey.  Since blogging, I have been back often and I have written much about the restaurant (see posts here and here), so I was looking forward to sitting back and checking out the menu filled with Philip's favourite dishes.  I had only just landed from my New York visit, so I was a little jet-lagged for the visit and also had fresh memories of some amazing meals from Manhattan.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

New York Series - Daniel

With so many options for fantastic and amazing restaurants in New York, it's sometimes hard to decide on which one to visit.  We found ourselves with only a few days left on our amazing Manhattan holiday and wanted to go out with style.  We had already been to two of the best restaurants in New York, and coincidentally the world, in Eleven Madison Park and Le Bernadin, so how could you top that?  There are six three Michelin Starred restaurants in Manhattan, so that left four for us to choose from.

The Michelin guide has two ratings, one is the well known 'star' rating, but there is also the lesser known 'comfort' level.  The highest rating for comfort is five ribbons and is considered 'Luxury in the traditional style' and there are only two restaurants with both the 3 star and 5 ribbons.  So that left our choice between Thomas Keller's 'Per Se' and Daniel Boulin's 'Daniel'.  While we really wanted to check out Per Se, at the end of a month long holiday to one of the most expensive cities in the world, and at $290 per person for food only, sanity prevailed.

Not that Daniel is inexpensive, but Daniel offers both Degustation and a la carte, which provided a much more sensible option for us.  The tasting menu kicks in at $220 per person and there is a three course prix fixe a la carte option at $116.  Even better, because we were booked in for an early start, there was an option of a three course prix fixe, with matching wines, for only $130 which is amazing value.  

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Breakfast Series - The Foxy Bean

Recently a blogger buddy of mine was asked by the Courier Mail if Brisbane was the breakfast capital of Australia (see article here).  It's a really good question and one worth contemplating.  I know that from my recent visit to New York that the breakfast lifestyle is not universally adopted, in fact I couldn't get a decent breakfast in the month I was there.  I have also spent some time interstate for work and travel and have found breakfasts to be pretty good, but a little hard to find.  

The opposite is true in Brisbane, where I can't really keep up with all of the great breakfast joints around town.  Over the weekend I finally was able to visit the Foxy Bean at Woolloongabba, which has been a favourite breakfast spot of some friends of mine for quite some time.  The 'Gabba has rapidly become one of Brisbane's hot spots for dining and breakfast seems to be the new black.

The Foxy Bean is just outside the 'hot zone' of Logan Road and is tucked around the corner on Stanley Street.  We had a general idea of where to find the Foxy Bean when we drove over to the 'Gabba to check it, but still missed it on our first drive through and had to 'do a lap' to find the place.  Not that it's hard to find, we were just zipping by a little too fast!  There was not too much street parking available, so to avoid another lap we pulled in just behind the Foxy Bean and found a park (and ignored the sign indicating we might be towed).

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Cheap Eats - Lefkas Greek Taverna

I love fine dining.  I love great food produced by top quality chefs and amazing restaurants.  It's not all I love about food and eating, I also find nothing better than going to an old favourite and eating simple and tasty food.  What's even better is when it starts to get a little warmer and getting out and feeling the sun on the top of my head.

One of my favourite casual dining spots is Lefkas Greek Taverna over in West End, which recently reopened after extensive renovations.  Lefkas is a spot that I have been going to for a very long time and at times has felt like a home away from home and I was excited to see the extent of the renovations and remodelling.  Lefkas has now taken over the space next door that used to be Cantina and is now a very large and modern looking restaurant.  There are still remnants of the old inside of Lefkas, the traditional blue and white walls that remind of the Greek flag, but most of the space is now open with many more table and seats available in the restaurant.

Lefkas has always been one of the busiest restaurants in the Hardgrave Road strip of restaurants in West End, it's always been crowded and just a little uncomfortable to have a dine in meal.  It's because of this that SC and I almost always get take away, and head down to the Brisbane river to sit and enjoy a simple meal.

Kingfisher Cafe - Michelin Star at Toowoomba?

A little while before I started writing this food blog, on the behest of my in-laws I visited a restaurant that had quite enamoured them.  Knowing that I was a foodie and that I loved the idea of great chefs producing amazing food, they thought they could surprise me with a local restaurant.  I might add that they live in Toowoomba and I was pretty certain that I would not be impressed by what I found.

The restaurant was the Kingfisher Cafe and a little investigation prior to our trek out to Toowoomba had me intrigued.  I found myself looking at the story of a young chef who grew up in Toowoomba but had dreams, big dreams.  A chef who spent some time in Canada before heading to London to spend two years working with Cheffing royalty.  The young chef's name was Rick Osborne and he somehow found himself learning from Albert Roux and Michel Roux Jnr in a little restaurant called Le Gavroche, one of the most prestigious two Michelin Starred restaurants in Europe.

As if that was not enough, a stint back in Australia at Vue De Monde with one of Australias finest chefs Shannon Bennett was next.  When working with some of the best chefs in the world and then coming back and working with arguably the best chef in Australia, it would seem that the next logical step would be to open a fine dining establishment in a major city....  

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

New York Series - Meatballs

America is a melting pot of different cultures, which leads to an interesting approach to food and restaurants, especially in a city like New York, where there are hundred of different cultures all mixed together.  What's also interesting in New York is that foods from other countries and cultures get adopted and then taken as their own.  Of course this is true in many countries, there something unique about the way New Yorkers adapt food and grow its popularity. This can be seen with all sorts of food, most notably Pizza, but I also noticed that the humble Meatball also gets the New York treatment.

When wandering around New York, I kept finding Meatballs on the menu of many restaurants, and in fact found a restaurant chain dedicated to the humble fare.  Many countries have a variant of the meatball, countries like China are made with pork and usually steamed, while Danish meatballs are a mix of pork and beef and are often fried.  Many European countries have their own types of meatballs and each lay claim to having the original meatball, but the style of meatball most common in New York closely align with Italian Meatballs.  

In the United States, meatballs are most commonly associated with spaghetti, as in spaghetti and meatballs. There was a large number of Italian migrants that entered the country in the early 19th century, who assimilated the humble meatball dish (along with Pizza) into what is now known as Italian American cuisine.  I managed to get to a few restaurants in New York where Spaghetti and Meatballs were the focus and found that while there were similarities in the dishes, there were some very different approaches to this almost ubiquitous food.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Il Locale - Our Italian Table

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, a new Italian dining option has risen from the site formerly owned by Tomato Brothers in Nash Street Rosalie.  Husband and wife team Mark and Narelle Tognini have finally put a long held dream into reality with the opening of Il Locale (the Local).  

Rosalie is one of the dining hotspots around Brisbane and is resplendent with cafes and restaurants but nothing quite like Il Locale.  The site has been transformed from the bright reds of the former Tomato Brothers site to sexy black, and a much more stylish fit-out.  The site has been designed by the team from DNA and care has been made to create a space that is at once welcoming and relaxing.  The style and design of the restaurant has centred around the antique front doors that were sourced from Lebanon and help transform the location.  A purpose built open fridge gives a hint of the delectable food on offer once you walk through the stunning wooden doors.

I was lucky enough to be invited along to the launch party during the week to celebrate the pending opening and mix with a couple of hundred of Mark and Narelle's loyal friends and some other local food bloggers to test out the menu.  The menu is influenced by the traditional dishes of northern Italy, with an emphasis placed on dishes that have been cooked utilizing the wood fired oven.  There will be meats slowly cooked and traditional style pizzas with only the freshest and refined ingredients sitting atop thin crisp bases.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Chester Street Bakery & Bar - Bakery, Bar and Restaurant

A little while ago I was invited to a 'behind-the-scenes' look into the early development of Chester Street Kitchen, another Newstead dining option from Damien Griffiths.  Damien has slowly been building an empire in the Valley district and is best known for Alfred & Constance, the Limes Hotel and more recently Alfredo's Pizzeria.  After much hard work and perseverance, the Chester Street Bakery & Bar is just about to open.

Damien's approach to opening a new dining establishment is to come up with a great idea for a spot, then get the right team together to develop and finally test, test, test.  It's this approach that is making the Griffith dining spots so popular in the Valley and surrounds.  It's with this in mind that the Chester Street Bakery & Bar has been running 'test' kitchens all week to iron out any final 'kinks' and make sure he delivers a great dining experience from day one.  I was lucky enough to get along to one of the final test kitchens to give the menu a dry run.

Last time I checked out the Chester Street spot, it was still under development and was pretty much a shell with a huge purpose built baking/pizza oven.  I was keen to check out the finished product and was delighted to see a contemporary yet funky little dining spot that had lots of clean lines, yet still focusses itself around it's distinctive blue oven.  As the name suggests, there is a well stocked bar, which will be a great focal point as the weather turns warmer and the little alfresco area gets a workout.  There is plenty of room for casual dining, but also a great spot that could be used for larger groups or parties, also conveniently located near the bar.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

New York Series - Pizza

Pizza is one of the most recognisable and well loved foods across the western world.  There is no doubt that Italy and in particular Naples is the birthplace of the humble pizza, but you wouldn't think so when wandering around New York.  There is pizza everywhere you look, literally.  In fact a quick search shows around 800 establishments that sell pizza in Manhattan and if you extend that search to the greater New York area, its over 2,200!  That is significantly more than the 500 pizza restaurants in Rome....

What is it about the humble pizza that makes it so overwhelmingly popular in the US and in particular New York?  It seems as if the simple answer is that pizza is accessible and it's cheap.  I've been staggered walking around Manhattan and seeing all of the 'hole-in-the-wall' pizza joints offering pizza by the slice for $1.99, and the slices are huge!  Pizza by the slice is the predominant approach to selling pizza here and it can largely be credited to the first pizza joint in New York, Lombardi's, which opened in 1905.  Lombardi's made the very large and wide pizzas that can be folded up, which has now famously referred to as New York-Style pizza.

While there are many pizza joints that sell pizza by the slice, there are still many that prefer only to sell whole pizzas and not by the slice.  These pizza restaurants are generally proud of the fact that they sell whole pizza and advertise it clearly.  For my time looking for great pizza in New York I have avoided pizza by the slice and have looked for more traditional pizza restaurants.  Given the very large number of pizza joints in New York and the fact that I didn't want to put on too much weight on my trip to New York, I have limited my search for New York's best pizza to the better known pizza joints.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

New York Series - Balthazar

Almost everyone who gave me their New York list of places to see or do included Balthazar in their list.  This is not much of a surprise, Balthazar is pretty much on the top three of everyone's food list and is by far one of the most popular restaurants in New York.  For Brisbanites that's not a complete surprise, inside it looks almost exactly like on of our best restaurants, Tartufo.  There is a pretty good chance that the team that established the restaurant before Tartufo took over, Belle Epoque, used the popular New York dining spot as the inspiration for the interior.  It's uncanny.

Balthazar is located in one of the coolest streets in SoHo, which is one of the coolest districts in all of Manhattan.  There are so many great restaurants and shops in SoHo that you could spend a whole month just in that one area and still not see everything.  It's also bordered by other great districts, Little Italy to the east, Greenwich Village to the north west along with burgeoning suburbs like TriBeCa nearby.  It's often compared to London's SoHo and with good reason, both places attract a certain type of person that brings colour and excitement to an area.

We had spend quite a bit of time wandering around and exploring Soho and had thought about going to Balthazar a few times, but each time we went it was so packed we decided to go elsewhere.  I finally decided to bite the bullet and make a reservation for dinner, thinking that if we went a little earlier in the evening it would be a bit less hectic.  Boy, was I wrong.  We turned up for our 5:30pm reservation and the place was still packed and crazy, with barely a table available.  Even though it was busy our reservation ensured we had a great corner bench spot, even though out table was only a little bit bigger than a postage stamp.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

New York Series - Burgers

When coming the the US and in particular New York, one of the restaurants that was recommended most to me by friends was the Shake Shack, usually accompanied by a statement that these were the best burgers in the world.  I had a pretty good idea that 'burgers' were popular in the US, I mean, the biggest burger company in the world started out in San Bernardino, California.  Once I actually arrived in New York, I started to get a bit of a sense of how ubiquitous the humble hamburger was.  There are burger joints 'everywhere' and most menus, even in some of the nicer restaurants, have a burger on the menu.

Just what makes the burger so popular and in the States?  I thought I would try to find out by getting to as many different burger places that I could (and my waistline would allow) and find out for myself which was the best burger joint in New York.  Now I understand that this is a personal view and that everyone will have their favourite burger and favourite burger joint, this will be a totally subjective view of burgers.

I wanted to find out more about the humble hamburger, so I took to the internet (thanks Google) to find out a little about the background of a food most of us take for granted.  There is quite a dispute about who invented the hamburger but there is a common theme amongst many of the 'origin' stories that some Germans from Hamburg were involved.  One of the more interesting stories was that Louis Larsen created a hamburger in 1900 and sold it to some 'rowdy' sailers from Hamburg, Germany, and they named it after themselves.


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