Saturday, June 11, 2011

Foray into Brooklyn: Vinegar Hill House

Clam Pie, bacon, potato, parsley salad

As storied as the Brooklyn dining scene is, I rarely make it out of Manhattan for food. Being as far uptown as I am, the only place I've been to outside of the island regularly is M Wells. In fact, I think I've been to M Wells more times than any other restaurant in New York.

However, now that I have a reason to head out to the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn on a regular basis, I figured I ought to find some local eats. My first attempt was reBar, which would make a great place to get a drink, but wasn't so great for dinner. On the second attempt, I did find a delicious little place in Vinegar Hill House.


I walked past this place easily before realizing I missed it. It blends into the row of doors in this mostly residential street. The entire decor of the restaurant was rustic home. A small, open kitchen and a scattering of tables were surrounded by kitschy decorations you'd find at your grandmother's house.

I've heard the place can get packed (they don't take small reservations), but even by 7 on a Friday night there were still open tables. I'm guessing the neighbors are the type who roll in late, as do all New Yorkers for dinner seatings.

The menu is divided into small plates ($9-12), entrees ($17-25), with pastas ($15-17) and sides ($8) rounding out the options. They also have daily specials, including the sweetbread cannelloni pictured above. Both the cannelloni and the clam pie were great sizes for a single person. The pie was smaller than I imagined it would be, but rich enough that any more would be decadent. The clams gave it a fun texture to the quiche-like background, while the bacon carried the heavy flavor notes. I'm not usually a fan of parsley, but when dressed right, in what I assumed to be a buttermilk dressing, it properly cut into the pie's richness.

Sweetbread cannelloni, morels, blueberries

I'm always delighted to see sweetbreads outside the typical sauteed presentation. This is the first time I've seen them rolled into a cannelloni, something like an Italian pasta crepe. It's hard to go wrong with slow-cooked morels, and blueberries gave a hint of sweet and sour.

Red Wattle Country Chop, cheddar grits

While the appetizers were smaller than expected, the pork chop was much larger than I expected. Wholesome and simple in appearance, complex and satisfying in flavor. I loved the lightly charred exterior and light pink interior. By the way, USDA says pink pork (>145 degrees) is now okay! Of course every restaurant already knew that, and if you still have an aversion to pink pork, you're missing out.

Guinness chocolate cake, cream cheese frosting

The chocolate cake is the perfect way to round out the meal. The cake itself, as dense as it was, was hardly sweet at all. Instead, the Guinness gave it flavor complexities reminiscent of root beer or sarsaparilla. A healthy (in quantity, maybe not in nutrition) dollop of the frosting gave each bite the sweetness you expect in dessert. I love cream cheese frosting. If you're ever on the Upper East Side, check out Two Little Red Hens' red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.

Vinegar Hill House is New York affordable, which puts it in the upper scale for almost everywhere else. It's a casual spot, but shouldn't be dismissed for its ambiance. Every dish was a hit and I'll gladly go back.

Vinegar Hill House
72 Hudson Avenue,
Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn 11201


Friday, June 3, 2011

La Maison du Chocolat's Summer 2011 Collection

Summers in New York are unbearably hot and humid. It's tough without air conditioning, and much too warm for serving temperature of chocolate. Luckily, La Maison du Chocolat stores are kept at steady, optimal environments for chocolate. This summer, they're rolling out a few unique and limited items, while bringing back a few big hits.

My favorite item for the summer collection is the Chiberta set of five French Basque bonbons. I didn't know Baque country had chocolate, but apparently it's the historical origin for French chocolate. The Txokolate Iluna or "Solemn Ganache" is pure dark chocolate. For a change in texture, the Praline Macaron has pieces of crushed macaron shell within the ganache for a crunchy filling. The Etzia is a milk chocolate ganache with wildflower and chesnut honey highlights. This was my favorite of the five. For the more exotic, Almond Paste with Patxaran has an anise liqueur enhanced almond paste center. The Espeletako Piperra has a spicy pepper kick. These are available for a limited time, and while expensive, they are certainly unique ($24 for 10 pieces, $60 for 30).

The Salvadore Raspberry Mousse Cake makes its return. The cake was introduced a few months ago at La Nuit du Gateau, or the Night of Cake. Semi-sweet chocolate with raspberry highlights, this cake is available from one to twelve servings ($8-110).

During the summer, the stores serve chocolate, pistachio and caramel ice cream. They also have strawberry and raspberry sorbets ($4.50/scoop). The wild strawberry sorbet I had was fruity and natural. No artificial strawberry flavors.

For a limited time in the summer, the stores will have a Macaron Sylvia ($2.75 ea), milk chocolate ganache with notes of biscuits and honey. They usually sell two types of dark chocolate macarons, but I especially enjoyed this lighter one.

La Maison du Chocolat
You can purchase online or at any other of these four boutiques:

1018 Madison Ave
Manhattan, NY 10075
(212) 744-7117

30 Rockefeller Center,
Manhattan, NY 10020
(212) 265-9404

63 Wall St
Manhattan, NY 10005
(212) 952-1123

Short Hills Mall
New Jersey, 07078
(973) 379-5043

Photos courtesy of La Maison du Chocolat.