Archive for December, 2007

Brasserie Beck

December 31, 2007

This was my second time at Brasserie Beck, with the first trip being excellent and this time just good. Clearly, it pays to get the right server here.

Brasserie Beck

The setting:
Brasserie Beck is huge with the restaurant divided into a bar, side tables, a chef’s table in front of the kitchen and prep area, and an aquarium-feeling side room backed by a wall of the wine “cellar.” The side rooms have a Belgian/northern French feel to them with giant clocks set out from the walls like a European train station. Both times I’ve been we’ve been seated in the blue “aquarium” room at one of the many large round tables.
In addition, I just love the bathrooms. The women’s room has a fantastic damask wall paper and great sinks, while the men’s room (my brother opened the door to show me) has a wall paper print designed with drawings of women’s fishnet-clad legs in a criss-cross pattern.

The service:
Here’s what makes or breaks Beck. Our first trip we had a waiter named Theo who was one of the best waiters I’ve had – great suggestions, good flow, and wonderful presentation skills. He picked excellent cheeses for our cheese plate and made some great recommendations for food. Also, the beer sommelier was a great addition. He asked us each what we like in beer and brought us each something perfect.
This time we had a waitress who was slow in taking our order, absent when food was presented (I STILL don’t know what was what on that charcuterie plate) and who made some kinda crappy beer suggestions. (Not to mention that she kept mispronouncing Alison’s Kwak beer as qwauhk instead of quack…I thought Alison was going to pop a vein). The dinner probably took an hour longer than it should have because of the slow service.

The food:
The beginnings and endings are probably the best things here, possibly because Belgian food is a little on the heavy side. The cheese plate and charcuterie plate are perfect beginnings, although the cheese portions are a little skimpy. Ask for the soft and slightly stinky cheese not on the menu (and I could kick myself for not writing down the name because it’s my favorite) as well as the Epoisse and P’tit Basque.
The spinach salad is to die for and the chorizo mussels round that out to a full meal. The presentation of the mussels includes a “free facial” as they arrive in a covered pot and the lid is lifted with a flourish and puff of delicious steam.
The pork loin was, on first visit, the hit of the table. This time around my father’s was too flavorful and mine just okay. Honestly, I make a better pork loin at home. The rabbit is good, but heavy and a little tough. For my next visit I have my eye (if I get an entree…I may not) on the lamb shank with white beans.
Dessert was fantastic: a pear tarte tatin with cinnamon and honey ice cream. OMG good.

Visit Beck, but don’t go on a Monday when the beer maestro is off, and try and sit with Theo for the best experience.

Best for: Fun, loud, large-party dinners with people who love good food and beer.

Worst for: Romantic couples seeking a quiet corner and a meal light enough to let you get physical as soon as you leave.

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Zola

December 15, 2007

Zola is a go-to place when I want to impress but not break the bank. After a recent birthday dinner, it will keep that status!

Zola

The setting:
This is one of the main reasons I keep coming back – Zola is sleek and chic with features linking it to the whole Spy motif. (Zola, incidentally, was the name of a famous spy – the restaurant is connected to the Spy Museum itself). Booths line the sides of the dining room and offer views through porthole openings into the kitchen. There’s also a really cool porthole view through the booths long ways looking from the lobby entrance to the back of the restaurant, and Plexiglas floor “manholes” that look down to a spy seal. The bathroom is found by pressing through a fake wall that swivels to become a huge door, flanked by two Bond-inspired lipstick red high-back banquets. In the main dining room are two huge ice-filled wine stations surrounded by all the accoutrement you’d want to see.

The service:
The service is always good here and they seem to take a team approach to serving. Before I have noticed what seemed to be extra wait staff or floor managers hovering in corners, although I failed to note their presence this time. The wine service seems to be one of the best things they do, offering to get a second opinion to help you make a decision, and offering to let you taste a glass of wine the same way you would a bottle. I’ve also always loved that they offer anyone wearing dark clothing a black napkin to keep that irritating white lint off your clothes. For this birthday, they also gave us the dessert free – something I never expect but am always pleased when it happens.

The food:
They have brought back the amuse bouche! It was fine but forgettable, although our appetizer of goat cheese and mushroom fondue was incredible enough for Brian to add it to his “last meal” menu. I ordered incredibly tender veal cheeks, although the accompaniments made the dish too heavy. Brian’s scallops were wonderful even though he found the potato rounds underneath the scallops to not really go with the dish. Birthday dessert (bombe, chocolate bombe) was dense and rich – not what I go for, so I only had a bite or two, but overall the meal was great.

Best for: Sexy, romantic dates or to impress someone who likes the chic scene.

Worst for: The underdressed and unimpressed who would rather eat at Ruby Tuesdays.

Firefly

December 6, 2007

I’ve been to Firefly several times for drinks, dinner, even book club. However, this is not the place to go for a business luncheon.

Firefly

The setting:
What I love about Firefly is how cozy it feels. The center “firefly tree” creates a warm and eclectic room centerpiece. Our luncheon was seated in the lounge area at a long table for 20 with a screen for privacy and great view of the falling snow outside.

Unfortunately, the privacy screen meant we missed the view of the firefly tree, but the beautiful snowfall outside made up for it.

The service:
Here’s where my qualm lies. Our server seemed nervous but nice, although it took an inordinately long time to get drinks and appetizers out to our table of 15.

When the main courses were brought out, my Cobb salad was COVERED in chives. Nothing about chives had been mentioned on the menu, and since I have a green onion allergy (odd, yes; deadly, no; a complete pain in the you-know-what because it gives me severe hangover symptoms, you betcha) I asked that I be brought another salad without the chives. It was taken back to the kitchen.

Returning, our server then presented me with the same salad again, saying, “Actually, these are chives, not green onions.”

Now let me just stop by saying someone who works around food for a living should know that chives are a type of green onion. They’re in the same food family. I’m not asking you to know that the lychee comes from an evergreen tree or even that sunchokes are a part of a sunflower, but you should know that chives, a very common ingredient, are a type of green onion.

You would have thought they had never heard of someone with food allergies. They were completely at a loss as to what to do. Instead of just making me a new salad without adding the chives on top (it’s not like it’s cooked together, people) they told me they didn’t know what to do and was there something else I would like? Yes, I’d like a burger if you can’t do the salad please, but since everyone is nearly done eating at this point, I’ll just take whatever you can bring out.

Everyone else’s plates were starting to be cleared about the time my salad – sans chives – finally arrived. I had to ask for my dessert and it was all very rushed because so much time had been spent waiting at the beginning of the meal.

The food:
We began with a matzoh ball soup, which had no vegetables other than some nearly pureed carrots in the broth. The matzoh ball itself was good – different than what I’ve had before – but good. It seemed to have some spice or herb that threw off the taste, perhaps a hint of cilantro.

With all the problems I had just getting my salad, it was hard to enjoy it because I was eating so quickly. It was a salad – meh.

Dessert was also incredibly rushed, but the little dollop of vanilla ice cream atop the apple crisp was a delight, and I wish I would have had more time to savor and taste, but as we were nearing the 2-hour mark, it was time to go!

Best for: Canoodling couples.

Worst for: Picky eaters with food allergies.

Vapiano

December 5, 2007

With its close proximity to work and my love of pizza, Vapiano and I were sure to hit it off.

Vapiano

The setting:
This may be my favorite thing about Vapiano – high red leather stools and booth, communal table topped with herbs like rosemary and basil, and a wall covered with red hats. How wonderful is that? It’s a little noisy and the tables along the back of the food service side seemed cramped when patrons line up to place orders, but it’s a great place for a fun lunch with your colleagues.

The service:
I think the lady at the pizza counter is trying to be funny, but it misses the mark. When I told her I wanted a proscuitto and mushroom pizza, she made me re-order it and say “fungi” because she thinks it’s a funny word. And she normally forgets my drink when I order it. But they’re friendly overall at the Vapiano counters.

The food:
Most of you know of my love affair with pizza. I even liked those frozen pizza squares they served in my elementary school cafeteria. Now that I’m older and, let’s face it, a bit of a food snob, I prefer my pizza to be a little snazzy, but not too snazzy!

The pizzas are thin crust and cooked in a brick oven. The ratio of cheese to sauce is decent, although it could use a bit more …spice… somewhere in the sauce. The pizza pictured above is a margherita with parmesan cheese curls added. Every time I go I ask for the pasta parmesan (the sprinkles, not the large pieces) but you would think they’d never head of someone sprinkling cheese on top of a cooked pizza!

Perhaps my favorite detail about Vapiano comes as you leave – they have gummy bears instead of mints in deep white bowls by the front door. And they even let me take a disproportionate number of pineapple ones!

Go for lunch, enjoy, and leave some of the white gummy bears for me!

Best for: A delicious place to spend a lunch hour.

Worst for: An important lunch meeting.