Friday, May 7, 2010

Dining Etiquette. . . ?

I recently came across a fabulous little column at the NY Times called Dear FloFab, a diner's journal on etiquette both at home and when dining out by Florence Fabricant. It's smart, savvy, and a bit snappish. She writes with a hint of haughty elegance that conveys a certain dismay at the fact that today, most restaurant patrons, and home dinner party guests don't have a clue about manners while dining. It's right up my alley.

Seriously, though, what has happened to people's manners as they indulge and imbibe? Is everyone in such a rush to get through the meal that they forget to savor the experience, as well as act like civilized adults?

On the flip side, a little while back, there was a two-part series (also in the Times) written by a restaurateur serving as an instruction guide for restaurants (not the diners this time) on how to conduct themselves properly. It circulated among my foodie friends like wildfire. Just the name of it alone, 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do set the tone for the piece. These were some of my favorite (I won't even say 'suggestions,' because truly they were really) mandates:

8. Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment.
32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them.
78. Do not ask, “Are you still working on that?” Dining is not work — until questions like this are asked.

FloFab expressed a similar view on that last rule as well:
Q. What is the proper response when the waiter asks, “Are you still working on that?”
A. Sigh. I prefer to ignore the question. The waiter usually asks it when it’s not obvious that the entire table has completed a course. If everyone has finished I would probably say, “You may clear the table.” Otherwise perhaps the response should be, “No, we’re still slaving away.”

While that may be a bit over the top, it sure as hell gets the point across! It's a pet peeve of mine that waiters are forever clearing the plate of one member of the table before the others are finished. It creates an unnecessarily awkward situation if the finished diner feels like they devoured their food, while the remaining patron appears slow and may feel the need to rush through the rest.

[As a little sidebar on the topic of waiter etiquette, here's another critique, this time from Jezebel, of waiters who treat the mere act of women ordering dessert- one of my favorite things to do mind you- as naughty and sinister. Guess that makes me a dessert-loving vixen!]

Turning back to the 100 Things piece, while some commenters rejoiced, many others gave the author a lot of flack, claiming his restaurant would surely turn out an uptight and unfriendly venue. Perhaps, but isn't there some common ground here? Can diners and restaurant folks not meet in the middle, and both sides offer up a little common sense and proper etiquette?

This is especially important to consider on a date. Little touches like pulling out a chair, not talking with your mouth full*, or waiting to eat until your date's meal arrives too (if tragically, they are not simultaneously delivered to the table, See #60 above), never fail to impress.

(*One would think this is self-explanatory. I've been on dates before. It's not. FYI, my trick is to say, "Pardon me? I couldn't understand what you were saying just then." If he or she doesn't take the hint, move on to the next one!)

So the next time you're out on a date, put some effort into more than just selecting a romantic location, by also following up with your own class act. A little dining etiquette goes a long way in making a lasting impression.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hungry For Love NYC Takes a Road Trip!

This weekend, my sweetheart and I took a road trip upstate to the Red Hook/Rhinebeck area of New York. I highly recommend this as a little getaway for anyone looking for a change of pace and scenery from NYC life. Since this is a food-oriented blog, I of course want to focus on some of the delicious meals we ate while up in Red Hook.

As part of our stay at the darling Red Hook Inn, we seized the opportunity to partake in an intimate dining experience with their renowned chef, and co-inn proprietor. The b.f. and I were told to select our dinner entrees the day before our meal, so that Nabil, the chef, could purchase the ingredients that day. Talk about fresh food. When we headed down to dinner, we were delighted to discover that we were the only diners that evening, in a room that seats less than a dozen guests. It was like nothing we'd ever encountered before, a beautiful, but quaint dining room with soft music playing, and romantic candlelight at our table. I couldn't help but compare it to those episodes of Millionaire Matchmaker, where the millionaires reserve the entire restaurant to impress their dates. We were both entranced by the lovely ambiance.

Our first course was a Mediterranean salad with fresh chopped vegetables, seasoned with a delicate yet savory blend of herbs. It was more flavorful that most salads have any right to be. Next, we were served an incredible homemade soup of carrot, parsnip & ginger. Leaning more toward a puree, it was healthy and delicious, particularly demonstrating that you don't need heavy cream bases to win over a soup nut like my sweetie. While we dined, we also indulged in warm bread, and our own bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (byob worked out fantastically).

For the main course, he had chosen the filet mignon au poivre (well done) and I opted for the salmon fillet. I had a lengthy discussion with the chef the day before about possible sauce and seasoning options for the salmon (since I don't care for pesto, their usual offering). We agreed upon a light, tomato based sauce for the fillet. It arrived with couscous, honeyed carrots and asparagus. While I felt that the sauce turned out a little too thick and heavy for the fish, the salmon itself was tasty, as were the other side dishes. My b.f. happily devoured his steak, cooked just as he requested.

Finally delivered to our table, was, in my opinion, one of the best parts of the meal, the dessert. Homemade warm apple pie accompanied by homemade vanilla ice cream. I was in heaven. The apples were moist and the crust was flaky, and the whole dish melted into my mouth much too quickly.

Overall it was a wonderful dinner, expressed in both the quality of the food, the attention to details, and the attentive service throughout the meal.

I can't conclude this post without a nod to the breakfast upon which we feasted the next morning. Most bed & breakfasts offer some sort of standard spread for their guests, perhaps muffins, toast, croissants, coffee and the like. We never expected to first be escorted out to the backyard by the chef who pointed out the hens which had produced our forthcoming eggs. Now, I find that omelets can often be hit or miss, too loose and falling apart, or so well done that the edges appear charred. I love to enjoy a firm, but gooey-insided egg white omelet. Nabil whipped up two savory egg white omelets with a little American cheese and some of the same vegetables and herbs we relished the night before. The result was just as indulgently flavorful as our dinner.

The bottom line is, if you're looking for a quaint yet elegant b&b to enjoy a weekend getaway, check out the Red Hook Inn. Besides the delicious meals, we also loved our room (spring for Room 5- it's definitely worth it), as well as the private outdoor hot tub. Pat and Nabil are so attentive and thoughtful, I highly recommend this inn.

Finally, two other worthwhile restaurants in the area are the charming Tavern at the Beekman Arms- connected to the oldest inn in America! Historic and a pretty decent brunch. I enjoyed my french toast with cinnamon and sugar, while he had another delicious omelet. We also had dinner at a new restaurant in Rhinebeck called Arielle. More French/Provençal than Mediterranean (as it tends to be described), but a rather unique experience nonetheless. I adventurously tried the 'forage' plate appetizer: herbs and vegetables gathered locally by the Culinary Institute of America students. Certainly different! The pasta pomodoro was fresh and authentic tasting. Plus, like many of the local attractions, the atmosphere was both rustic and romantic. Both restaurants are set right in the heart of Rhinebeck, a very pretty area to explore as well.

Bon Appetit & Happy Travels!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Decoding the $$$$

Money talks, especially when it comes to picking a good restaurant.

We here at Hungry For Love NYC literally just stumbled onto the key for the price breakdowns over at MenuPages, after previous endless seeming searches for this very cipher yielded fruitless results. Eureka!

This is their key for price per average dinner entree:
$ = Less < $7
$$ = $7.01 -$12.00
$$$ = $12.01 -$18.00
$$$$ = $18.01-$25.00
$$$$$ = Greater > $25

Meanwhile, the folks at NY Magazine's restaurant search feature, prefer the more tasteful, subtle, and frankly "If you have to ask darling, you can't afford it" ranking system of:

$$$$ = Very Expensive
$$$ = Expensive
$$ = Moderate
$ = Cheap

Now, I love NY Mag, but really? As we say, Thank you Captain Obvious.

Finally, Hungry For Love NYC's own restaurant recommendation feature offers the following price points, appearing to fall somewhere in between:

I was starting to feel astonished at my own seemingly gold-plated system in comparison to MP, until I realized that their price is "per entree," whereas we are the bigger picture of "each," which frankly, can include an app, an entree, and maybe some dessert or a drink for good measure. Phew.

Bottom line is, your best bet is taking a look at the menu itself to get an idea of costs. It also helps to look at photos of the restaurant, if available. Then you'll know what kind of dining situation you're about to get yourself into, be it $$$$ = Expense Account or $ = Keeping It Real.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Way To Your Date's Heart is... With An "A" for Effort, Not a "P" for Perfection

Preparing a meal for your date or significant other can be a very intimate experience, with both potentially wonderful and disastrous outcomes.* I've learned over the years that it's not about the "perfect outcome," but about the effort you put into creating a meal and a nice ambiance for dining together at home.

*Let me just note here that cooking together is often even more fun, but that's a separate entry.

A few weeks ago, I went about cooking a big overblown meal (I don't do 'simple') for my sweetie. Now it came out delicious- in his humble opinion. But I thought it wasn't my best work, because I'd previously made a better version of the finished product- a vegetable lasagna. However, instead of just rolling with it and being thrilled that he happily gobbled it up, and asked for thirds, and fourths... I kept second guessing myself (out loud no less!)- how it would have turned out better if only I'd prepared it differently, or cooked one ingredient a bit longer, and so on. My self-critique didn't jive with the vibe of the meal. Finally, when he told me that he was just amazed that I took it upon myself to cook for him, and that was all he cared about, I realized that a 'home-cooked meal' is not just about making restaurant-caliber food, but also about creating a memory together. A little sentimental perhaps, but then again if you've got a great guy or girl on your hands, they won't be dwelling on whether your eggplant was a bit tough (guilty as charged), but the effort you put into preparing that meal, and savoring the image of dining together afterward.

So the other night, as I prepared to attempt another dinner, I decided to go a little easier on myself. This time, I whipped up chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms, artichokes and scallions, acorn squash with brown butter, cinnamon and honey, and broccoli rabe in olive oil and red pepper, plus some stuffed mushrooms to start off the meal. I tried to have more fun making this dinner, even as I undertook foods I'd only seen before on restaurant menus. I was proud of myself for sure, when the acorn squash turned out sweet and delicious, and the rabe (first blanched, then sauteed, quite a project!) was flavorful, but I also knew that if I messed up a bit, my guy wouldn't mind. Of course it doesn't hurt that he has a hearty, adventurous, and (thankfully) forgiving appetite. In the end, he appreciated the effort I put into creating our dinner, and this time, I was as wowed with the results as he was. Only not just with my own cooking, but with my more relaxed approach which culminated in an even more enjoyable evening together.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Recommendation Roundup!

Hey fellow foodies,

Here are a few of this week's recommendations which were requested from our readers. Enjoy and keep them coming!

Burger joints, UWS, $$
5 Napkin Burger just opened a new branch in the old Ollie's space at 84th/Bway. It usually garners rave, or at least high-end, reviews.

For a little more substance, and a little less style, give Shake Shack a try at 77th/Columbus. Be prepared for a bit of a wait though, depending on the day/time you go. They have delicious custards & concretes as well.

Another choice is Toast, with a fun, casual vibe, plus it's known for its burgers.

Finally, you can't go wrong with a low key American bar & grill staple like Firehouse, it's a neighborhood favorite.

Indian, downtown, (up to) $$$$$
Banjara- supposed to be a stand out in the midst of Indian Row in the east village.

Brick Lane Curry House- a nicer & bustling Indian spot.

Madras Mahal and Chennai Garden are a couple of popular vegetarian options to consider as well, located in Gramercy.

Chinese, UES, $$
Cafe Evergreen- garners much praise for its dim sum & varied menu selection.

Wa Jeal- known for spicy, Szechuan food.

Shanghai Pavillion- seems to be an UES favorite for Chinese, though on various foodie sites, it draws very strong opinions, in both directions... could be exciting to give it a try.

Thanks again to Hungry For Love NYC readers for your requests. Submit your restaurant recommendation request, and your dining hot spot results could end up in the blog next!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More Blog Shout Outs!

Thanks to NYC Foodie for the awesome food blog shout out! Show him some love & check it out here:

Cocktails & Daydreams - Part 3

Part 3 of the series on how choosing the right venue for drinks can create a lasting and favorable impression on your date.

Wine bars
Wine bars have definitely swept the city by storm. Here are a few worth checking out:

Buceo 95- 201 W 95th, b/w Amsterdam & Broadway
I love the red coloring at this bar, it's very romantic. Plus there's something quite intimate and almost conspiratorial about leaning over a narrow, tall table to whisper to your date. They have a delicious menu full of light bites worth indulging yourselves in. The owner is known to check in with the patrons as well. A great blend of seductive and comfortable, which is a hard balance to find indeed.

Bowery Wine Company- 13 E. 1st, b/w Bowery & 2nd Ave.
A nice little downtown find, an oasis of style in the middle of the East Village bar scene. Plenty of seating and room near the bar as well to chat up your date while sampling some great wines. And the grilled three cheese panini is quite tempting.

Clo Wine Bar- Time Warner Center, 4th Floor, in Columbus Circle
Imagine if Sadé and James Cameron (a la Avatar) got together and had a child. And that child was a wine bar. Now you've got the uber-modern Clo where you select your wine of choice via an interactive menu screen that doubles as the long communal table. Very slick indeed, especially when the wine dispenses after you insert your 'wine card.' Be forewarned, it is a tight fit. At least it's right in the bustling TWC, so you and your date can pop around to some shops afterward, or pick up some pastries at the Bouchon Bakery downstairs.

Here are a couple of new Hell's Kitchen wine bars that I haven't been to yet, but are on my immediate 'to try' list:
Ardesia- 510 W 52nd, b/w 10th & 11th
A modern and light twist on the typical wine bar, attracting good buzz so far. Plus it has the always coveted outdoor seating.
Xai Xai- 365 W 51st, b/w 8th & 9th
This dark and rich South African wine bar is relatively new to the area. Just walking by the spot makes you want to wander inside and taste the exotic vintages offered.**
**Here's an interesting little anecdote I just uncovered about Xai Xai- apparently if you're on a bad date there, the waiter will help you out by making a move right under your date's nose! My friend was there a little while back on a mediocre first date. Her dud of a dude made a trip to the bathroom, and the server slyly picked her up in that very small window. When her lackluster Casanova returned, the waiter informed him that he would be escorting the lady to dinner shortly thereafter. Her date yielded, and off they went. Talk about cojones!