Casellula Cheese & Wine Cafe in New York City

By the time Sunday rolled around on my New York City trip, I’d had a lavish dinner, seen the opera that inspired the trip and battled the snow via a hearty bowl of ramen.  Now it was time for an intimate, relaxing dinner before heading to a jazz concert.

A glass of rosé wine and cheese plate at Casellula in New York City.

Cheese plate, a glass of rosé and New York City. Doesn’t get much better.

My friend Jess recommended Casellula Cheese & Wine Cafe when she heard I was headed to New York City.  She declared it her favorite place in the city—and I don’t take her opinions lightly.  (Besides, she has a master’s degree in cheese chemistry so when she tells you to go a cheese place, you go to that cheese place!)

Casellula menu and glass of sparkling wine in New York City.

Starting the evening with a sparkle.

Casellula is a cozy space with an eye-catching bar wrapping around one side of the restaurant and tiny tables sprinkled throughout the other.  Flickering candlelight creates an intimate atmosphere that could have easily doubled as romantic if I wasn’t alone or sitting near a group of girlfriends chatting about relationship problems. :)  Cheese and wine are obvious focal points of Casellula’s menus, but don’t skip over the food menu :: it’s worth trying a plate or two.

Cheese plate at Casellula in New York City.

A trio of cheeses, picked by Casellula’s fromager.

The menu has a handful of small dishes (ranging $5-$10) to accompany wine, not to mention the plethora of cheeses available to create endless combinations of cheese plates (all $6/each).  Medium dishes like salads and chicken liver pâté range $9-14 while larger plates like the Pig’s Ass sandwich (a house favorite) and smoky catfish sliders are around $11-15.

I started with a cheese plate, letting the Casellula experts pick my selections.  The cheese trio came accompanied with passion fruit curd and marshmallows, an unexpected combination that worked wonderfully well; another with apple chutney, adding a spicy/sweet component to the cheese.

Shrimp tacos at Casellula in New York City.

Spicy shrimp tacos were an amazing main course.

I happened to be seated at the bar next to the owner, who suggested the Shrimp Tacos ($11), with avocado salsa verde, black bean purée and chili lemon chip.  I never would have picked shrimp tacos at a wine and cheese bar, but I can honestly say they were the best I’ve ever had.  I loved the crunchy green peppers and slight limey taste and how the spiciness of the shrimp complimented the savory bean purée.

Chocolate cake covered in cream at Casellula in New York City.

Ending the night with my favorite dessert :: chocolate cake.

Casellula was one of those places I wanted to stay for hours, sipping on wines from their endless list and munching on bites all night.  But New York City–and the jazz concert–was calling my name.  So I ended my meal with a piece of Chocolate Cake ($9) topped with Meadowbrook Farm Cream.  I’m obsessed with chocolate cake and Casellula’s, paired with a Pinot Noir, was a fantastic end to a phenomenal dinner.

Go to Casellula for :: a casual, yet exciting dinner or just for wine and cheese.  Notes :: Open 7 days a week from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.  Reservations are not accepted.  Friend Casellula on facebook or follow them on twitter.

Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City

At what point does a craving reach obsession status?  What began as a vacation addiction to ramen while in Japan turned into a post-trip craving in Salt Lake City and soon I was tracking down the comforting bowl of noodles everywhere I went, from Los Angeles to Chicago and even Montréal.  So of course ramen was on my to do list while in New York City, especially once it started snowing.

People slurping away at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City.

People slurping away at Momofuku Noodle Bar.

I was recommended Momofuku Noodle Bar, the first of David Chang’s Momofuku empire that now includes five restaurants in New York City, all with impressive awards (including Momofuku Ko that has maintained two Michelin Stars for five years), plus establishments in Toronto and Sydney.  Chang is also co-creator of Lucky Peach magazine, a quarterly food journal published by McSweeney’s.

The tiny ramen shop, which has a Michelin Bib Gourmand recommendation itself, sits in the East Village surrounded by dozens of other Japanese restaurants each focused on a specialty like shabu shabu, curry or yakitori, inspiring the area around East 9th street to be dubbed “Little Tokyo.”  Momofuku Noodle Bar serves several types of ramen, seasonal small plates, fried chicken (advanced notice only) and their famous pork buns.

My friend and I arrived at Momofuku Noodle Bar on Sunday, craving ramen for warmth after a weekend of snow.  It was crowded and hectic, like a ramen shop should be, with bar seating and communal tables.  Reservations are only accepted for the fried chicken but they’ll take your number and send a text when a table is available, giving us enough time to explore the surrounding neighborhood.

A bowl of Momofuku ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City.

Ramen is perfect on a cold day. Or any day!

I ordered the Momofuku ramen, with pork belly, pork shoulder, a beautiful poached egg and the regular trimmings of seaweed, fish cake and green onions.  My friend picked the spicy miso ramen (with smoked chicken, swiss chard and sesame) but he ended up with a bowl identical to mine.  The broth was deliciously savory and slightly meaty and, when paired with a glass of momofuku sake, was the perfect remedy for the cold day.

The service was a bit frantic but the ramen was delightful, so we left pleased with bellies full of warmth to battle the rest of our day in New York City.

Go to Momofuku Noodle Bar for :: ramen. Don’t forget the pork belly buns (like I did!).  Notes :: Open for lunch Monday-Friday 12-4:30 p.m., weekends 12-4 p.m. and dinner Sunday-Thursday 5:30-11 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 5:30 p.m.-2 a.m.  Friend Momofuku on facebook and follow them on twitter or tumblr.

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Juni in New York City

My plane landed in New York City on Valentine’s Day around the same time all the men were picking up bouquets of roses and rushing down the street to meet their dates.  All of them were happily smiling, even those not yet with their lady friends, but maybe that’s because it finally stopped snowing.

Lobster, sea urchin and apple purée at Juni in New York City.

Lobster, sea urchin and apple purée at Juni.

My cab driver couldn’t believe I was on vacation alone, let alone dining by myself on the biggest date night of the year.  When I explained that I was excited to see how people reacted to my solitariness, he suggested he and his wife tag along with me.  Little did he know my passion for food probably surpasses that of most couples’ for each other, so dining alone on Valentine’s Day was a declaration of my love of culinary wonderments.

The trio of amuse bouche to start the meal at Juni in New York City.

The trio of amuse bouche to start the meal.

After changing into a little black dress (it was Valentine’s Day, after all), I arrived at Juni, the modern American restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood tucked underneath the Hotel Chandler.  Executive Chef (and co-owner) Shaun Hergatt’s impressive resume includes numerous awards from around the world, most notably two Michelin stars at his previous restaurant, Sho Shaun Hergatt, where I experienced his culinary skills in 2012.

The trio of amuse bouche to start the meal at Juni in New York City.

The amuse bouche were so cute!

Barely opened in the fall, Juni is already causing a stir in New York City’s food scene, wearing the banner of Best New Restaurant by Esquire and making Zagat’s list of 10 Sexiest Restaurants in New York.  For Valentine’s Day, the restaurant offered a five-course tasting menu with two options for each course for $175/person.

Three oysters with citrus blossoms at Juni in New York City.

Oysters paired with Cava is always a classic couple.

After starting with several amuse bouches, the first course was a trio of oysters with citrus blossoms and yuzu reduction, a refreshing start to the meal.  I loved how the taste of the citrus blossoms lingered after each oyster.

A layering of veal and pine nuts, polenta and quail egg and crunchy leaves.

A layering of veal and pine nuts, polenta and quail egg and crunchy leaves.

The second course took on a heavier route with veal tongue, polenta, pine nuts, pesto and a quail egg.  Intensely savory, the dish played the comfort chord well, using the polenta to balance the almost awkward texture of tongue.  The course was a striking contrast to the oysters and may have been better placed later in the meal.  (This dish is currently on Juni’s regular dinner menu, unlike some others I had throughout the night.)

Lobster topped with uni in apple puree at Juni in New York City.

My favorite course of the night.

Next came the Nova Scotia Lobster topped with sea urchin in uni broth with apple puree.  As expected, it was richness topped with richness, but done tastefully (pun intended) with the contrasts of tartness thanks to the apples.  Definitely my favorite course of the night.

Squab, rose petals and lovage at Juni in New York City.

The rose petals were a cute touch for Valentine’s Day.

The New York Squab with rose petals and lovage followed.  I’m a huge fan of squab for its juiciness and the crispy skin on this dish added a nice touch.  The squab jus had a touch of foie gras, upping the richness factor, but I never would have guessed it if the server didn’t tell me.  (This is also on Juni’s dinner menu.)

Pastry Chef Mina Pizarro's beet cake and rose milk ice cream at Juni in New York City.

Pastry Chef Mina Pizarro blew me away with the beet cake and rose milk ice cream. (Bad picture, great dish!)

I ended with the Beet Spongecake with rosemilk ice cream and chocolate.  The beet and rosemilk ice cream were lovely together, their light flavors kept the dish from being too much, while the chocolate boldly enhanced the overall dessert feel.  I loved the unique flavors and textures of the dish.

The Petit Fours finished the meal at Juni in New York City.

The “petit fours” ended the meal.

The attention to detail at Juni was impressive.  Each course was presented beautifully, the service was spot-on and they even had a little stool for my purse so it didn’t touch the floor.  (Something I adored about restaurants in Japan but haven’t seen anywhere else!)  Chef Hergatt came to my table to ask how my dinner was, astonishing on a night as busy as Valentine’s day!  Their website calls Juni “a personal affair between the guest and the chef” and I left truly feeling that was the case.

Go to Juni for :: an exquisite tasting menu showcasing the combination of simple, yet innovative flavors.  Notes ::  Open for lunch Monday-Friday 12-2:30 p.m.; dinner Monday-Thursday 5:30-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30-10:30 p.m. (4 courses/$90, 6 courses/$120 or a la carte); and breakfast Monday-Friday 7-10 a.m. and weekends 8-11 a.m.  Reservations are available online here.  Friend Juni on facebook here or follow them on twitter here.

Juni on Urbanspoon

Daikaya Ramen in Washington, D.C.

New Year’s Day in my family always consists of feasting on Japanese food.  Ever since I was little I remember my dad and aunts cooking for days leading up to the holiday, led by Chef Grandma, making rolls of sushi, marinating pork for roasting and cutting up dozens of brightly-colored unidentifiable objects.  There was nothing like combating the sugar overdose that was Christmas with the heavy salt intake of Japanese food on New Year’s Day.

Spicy miso ramen at Daikaya on New Year's Day.

Spicy miso ramen at Daikaya on New Year’s Day.

Last year was the first year in my life that I missed the annual feast because I was in Chicago.  Fearing terrible luck throughout 2013 if my first meal of the year wasn’t Japanese food, my friends and I tracked down ramen at Chicago’s Slurping Turtle and let me tell you a little secret :: ramen is the best cure for a hangover, ever.  Ever! 

So when I found myself away from my family for the second year in a row on New Year’s Day, this year in Washington, D.C., I thought I’d start a tradition of my own and find some ramen again.  (I swear it had absolutely nothing to do with ramen’s hangover-redeeming qualities.  Nothing.)  After asking around, several people recommended Daikaya.

The open kitchen at Daikaya.

The open kitchen at Daikaya.

Daikaya was just like the places I visited in Kyoto for ramen, with a large communal table, booths and bar seating.  The downstairs serves strictly ramen while the upstairs is an Izakaya with bar food, sushi and ramen.  (They even have brunch!)  They have five different kinds of ramen, focusing on the Sapporo-style (with thicker noodles and a lighter broth) and have a whole array of toppings to add to your bowl like extra noodles, soft-boiled egg, Irish sweet cream, corn, etc.

A bowl of spicy miso ramen at Daikaya in Washington, D.C.

Ramen is my definition of comfort food.

I ordered the Spicy Miso Ramen ($13), with a white miso base and bean sprouts that were sauteed in a wok to give them an amazingly awesome smokey flavor.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the ground pork (as I love the slices of pork), but it was a delicious cure for my hangover from my New Year’s Eve extravaganzas.  I mean… it was a perfect meal to start 2014.

Go to Daikaya for :: ramen!!  What else?  Notes :: Open Sunday-Monday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., and Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.- midnight.  Reservations are available online here.

Daikaya on Urbanspoon

From Scratch in Salt Lake City

Down the random street behind the Gallivan Center Ice Rink in downtown Salt Lake City is a new pizzeria called From Scratch.  There they are making nearly everything in house, even using an Austrian flour mill to mill their grains and baking pizzas in a wood-fired oven that doubles as the focal point for the restaurant.

The open oven and bar at From Scratch in Salt Lake City.

The open oven and bar at From Scratch.

The casual eatery has plenty of bar-style seating, a large communal table perfect for big parties and a bunch of smaller tables spread throughout the space, all in downtown-meets-country-chic decor.

The menu is a simple one-pager focusing mainly on pizzas but also offering pastas, burger and short rib entrees.  I was anxious to learn more about the Austrian flour mill I’d heard about but was disappointed that there was nothing on the menu explaining it.  Unfortunately our server declined to give us any information on it, too.

The interior of From Scratch in Salt Lake City.

The interior of From Scratch.

The wine list includes a handful of options in both white and red forms, ranging from $30-$110/bottle and $6-10/glass.  There were a few bottles I was unfamiliar with and when we asked our server for an explanation, she simply responded “It’s a blend” without any other description.  Luckily, From Scratch carries Honig, one of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs, which solved that.

The Risotto Cake appetizer at From Scratch in Salt Lake City.

The Risotto Cake appetizer.

The menu was uninformative about other things, too; like the size of the pizzas (our server explained they are 13″, personal size, but only after we asked) and we felt the description of the Risotto Cake was misleading.  Described as “Risotto Cake, wild arugula and fire roasted bell pepper sauce” ($6), the appetizer was deep-fried and lacked the consistently I cherish about classic risotto.

Fennel sausage pizza at From Scratch in Salt Lake City.

Fennel sausage pizza.

The pizzas range from $13-16 in price and from classics, like Margherita, to crazy, like Pumpkin Ravioli Pasta (with pumpkin sage ravioli, brown butter sauce and toasted pepita seeds).  We ordered the Fennel Sausage ($15), with creme fraiche, red and green onion and mozzarella.  It was a good mix of flavors, with the powerful fennel reminding me of Indian food.

The salumi pizza at From Scratch in Salt Lake City.

The salumi pizza.

We also ordered the Salumi ($15), with Creminelli salumi, speck, tomato sauce and mozzarella.  I would have predicted this to be the better of the two, but it lacked a focal flavor and ended up being very unmemorable.  I liked the sizes of the pizzas; perfectly big enough to split two pizzas between two people and still have left overs.

Popcorn Panna Cotta at From Scratch in Salt Lake City.

Popcorn Panna Cotta, the night’s dessert special.

From Scrach makes one dessert a night.  On the night we were there it was Popcorn Panna Cotta ($5).  The panna cotta had almost no flavor but was bombarded by the sugary overload from the crunchy caramel popcorn.  It was very unbalanced.

From Scratch has a great space in a good location, with plenty of potential to be an excellent restaurant.  I’d love to see some more information on their menus, better trained servers (especially in the wine service department) and some tweaks to their dishes and they’ll be set.

Go to From Scratch for :: A casual lunch or dinner downtown.  Notes :: Open Monday through Thursday 11 am-3 pm and 5 pm-9 pm; Friday and Saturday from 11 am-3 pm and 5 pm-10 pm.  Reservations are available online here.  Also, they validate parking for one hour at the Wells Fargo garage!

From Scratch on Urbanspoon

24 Course Dinner at Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C.

If gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, I’d been looking forward to sinning in Washington, D.C. weeks before I arrived in the city for my holiday trip.  I travel for food (and culture and opera) so each trip includes a “splurge meal,” an extravagant meal that I wouldn’t find anywhere else.  When I discovered the 24 course tasting menu dinner at Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C., it was exactly what I was looking for.

The final course, called Rocks, was chocolate, powder, pop rocks and gelato.

The final course, called Rocks, was chocolate, powder, pop rocks and gelato.

The Medieval priest Thomas Aquinas argued that there are six ways to commit the sin of gluttony beyond over-eating.  He also included eating too soon, eating too expensively, too eagerly, daintily and wildly to be under the category of gluttonous sin.  For the record, I’ve disagreed with Aquinas since I took Philosophy of Religion my freshman year in college and after reading his thoughts on gluttony, well, it solidified my distaste.

Chef RJ Cooper in the open kitchen at Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C.

Chef RJ Cooper in the open kitchen at Rogue 24.

Rogue 24 is the culinary creation of chef RJ Cooper, a James Beard-winning chef from Detroit.  He leads an impressive team in an open kitchen that sits at center stage of the restaurant, surrounded by tables of diners so everyone can see their innovative production in action.  The barrier between what happens in the kitchen and what’s delivered to the diners is completely evaporated, making you feel like you’re all part of the performance.

Courses 1-6 were bites: kumo, pinenut sable, sunchoke, bonbon, truffle, potato puff, duck's blood lavash at Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C.

Courses 1-6 were bites: (clockwise from left hand corner) duck’s blood lavash; potato puff (close up above left); truffle; sunchoke; pinenut sable; kumo oyster; and bonbon.

Rogue 24 is hidden in a back alley’s back alley, giving it a sort of speakeasy-type feeling of accomplishment of simply finding the location.  It’s all part of a fun excitement that surrounds the restaurant and once inside, the energy is bursting, especially with the glowing kitchen as the focal point.

Course 7. osetra with onion soubise, 8. sea urchin with concentrated carrot juice and prawn puff, 9. sweet romaine with aracona egg emulsion at Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C.

7. osetra caviar with onion soubise; 8. sea urchin with concentrated carrot juice and prawn puff; 9. sweet romaine with aracona egg emulsion.

I arrived at Rogue 24 on a normally-closed Sunday night, open only because of the surrounding holidays, so the restaurant was calm.  This gave me the chance to chat with Chef Cooper and his colleagues as they delivered my dishes, as well as get to know my servers and fellow diners.  It really created a community between us; by the end of the night, we all felt like friends.  (Or perhaps it was just the wine talking!)

10. swordfish with fennel, blood orange and truffle, 11. aji with radish, ginger and wasabi, 12. grapes spheres with olive tapenade and orange zest at Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C.

10. swordfish with fennel, blood orange and truffle; 11. aji with radish, ginger and wasabi; 12. grapes spheres (like eating a bubble) with olive tapenade and orange zest.

Rogue 24 only provides a tasting menu service in 16- and 24-course packages with optional wine pairings.  With “go big or go home” as my mantra, I picked the 24-courses ($135) with the wine pairing ($85).  The first courses were tiny bites followed by two-bite courses that slowly moved to heavier (but never much larger) dishes.  An early favorite was the clam chowder in the mini bread bowl.  (I’m a sucker for cute things.)

13. sepia with duck broth, 14. razor clam chowder with broiche and whipped lardo, 15. pigtail with candied cabbage and hot mustard oil at Rogue 24 in Washington DC.

13. sepia (cuttlefish) with duck broth; 14. razor clam chowder with broiche and whipped lardo; 15. pigtail with candied cabbage and hot mustard oil.

Courses progressed through fish to pigtail, a first for me.  It was surprisingly delicious, like a slow-roasted rib.  That was followed by a long favorite of mine, squab (aka pigeon) with grits and a fun take on veal :: veal “fibers” served in a mushroom.

16. squab with grits and dates, 17. veal fibers with parmesan, agaricus bisporus and truffle, 18. venison with squash, oatmeal and huckleberry at Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C.

16. squab with grits and dates; 17. veal fibers with parmesan, agaricus bisporus and truffle; 18. venison with squash, oatmeal and huckleberry.

Seamlessly the courses transitioned to a rich chestnut, pistachio soup.  It was a good course to allow me to reflect on what I’d had so far and dream of what could possibly be to come.  I should have known :: all that richness implied that desserts were on their way.

19. chestnut, pistachio, truffle parmesan soup, 20. glacier: lychee, lime, white chocolate, 21. earth: butterscotch, peanut butter and bananas at Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C.

19. chestnut, pistachio, truffle parmesan soup; 20. glacier: lychee, lime and white chocolate; 21. earth: butterscotch, peanut butter and bananas.

Cheekily named glacier, earth, rocks (pictured at the top of this post) and finally, happy endings, the desserts were rich, complex and deliciously sweet.  I loved the play with textures and temperatures, using ice cream, ice and gelato to keep my taste buds alive, even after 20 courses.

The final course of Rogue 24 was "happy endings."

Courses 21-24. simply named “little things/small bites.”

The final courses, thankfully, were tiny house-made candies delivered in a wooden box.  I’d been happily eating for hours, made friends with not only the chef and my servers but the girls at the table next to me.  It was a truly wonderful night and one of the highlights of my trip.  A 24-course dinner may be considered gluttony—therefore I may have sinned—but, damn, was it worth it!

Go to Rogue 24 for :: an unforgettable journey through food that you’ll never forget.  Notes :: Reservations are required but easily made online here.  Open Tuesday – Saturday, 6-11 p.m.  It’s a bit tricky to find so check out these directions before you head there.

Rogue 24 on Urbanspoon

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