Friday, February 15, 2019

Flashback Friday - Oyster Bay Grille

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on January 31, 2014.

I'm only posting this because it was the restaurant at which last week's Flashback Friday rant took place. See, I'm not mean-spirited--just honest.

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I've been sorta curious about Oyster Bay Grille since it received a measly 1-star from Sun critic Richard Gorelick. Urbanspoon users give the place a 40% positive rating, with only five votes. This prompts me to ask two questions: 1) is it really that bad? 2) does nobody know the restaurant exists?

When they posted a tasty-sounding menu for Restaurant Week, I thought it was high time we found out for ourselves. Our dining experience was as uneven as expected.

The place is handsome, with dark paneled walls and soothing blue-gray tones. The space is oddly-shaped, however, and the bar area runs the length of the restaurant. Diners looking for a quiet experience will be disappointed when Happy Hour rolls around with its crowd of Loud Talkers and People Who Have to Yell to Be Heard Over Them. (Honestly. Nobody really cares to hear about your crappy job and your idiot boss. Stop drinking so much and shut up.)

We had already determined we would order items from the Restaurant Week menu, but took a gander at the regular menu as well. Ordering oysters at a place called Oyster Bay Grille seemed like a fine idea. We decide on two each of the blue points, Delaware Bay, and Honeysuckle varieties listed on a chalk board in front of the oyster shucking station. Our server immediately ran off to place the oyster order and then lingered behind the far end of the bar until the oysters were ready, rather than return to take the rest of our order. We expected service to be spotty for the rest of the evening, and while we had other issues, our waiter ended up being fine.

On to the food, which was better than expected from a 1-star restaurant. The man in charge of the kitchen has some skill, which was apparent in the lovely hash of sweet potatoes, andouille, asparagus, and corn that accompanied my fish. However, billed as "crispy-skinned," the rockfish was anything but. It was also unseasoned, but nicely cooked otherwise.

Mr Minx's lamb duo featured two fat and well-seasoned lamb chops and a chunk of fatty lamb belly on a dollop of lentils lightly flavored with cumin. The chops were perfectly-cooked and had a nice smoky grill flavor. I thought it was a very nice dish.

Starters of tomato-based crab soup and fried oysters were fine, if unremarkable. The remoulade that came with the oysters did not taste of the promised goat cheese, but the breading on them was nice and light. The soup needed a bit more spice, but it was pleasant enough.

The online menu suggested that a chocolate mousse flavored with Thai basil would be a dessert choice, which was intriguing. Instead, there was a chocolate cake that was like a cross between a brownie and a pound cake, flavored with cinnamon and cayenne, and served with a bit of caramel. The serving was ridiculously small (hopefully a non-Restaurant Week portion would be bigger), but it was pretty good.

The dessert that was more intriguing, the "candied bacon caramel cheesecake," turned out to be a combination of elements that didn't necessarily work together. The menu listed a pistachio brioche crust, Charlottetown Farms chevre, and goat milk caramel. The crust was indeed nutty and reminded me of baklava, but the cheesecake itself was lemon-flavored, which made the bacon seem like an intrusion. There was no hint of goat (the lemon was too strong), and the sauce on the plate seemed more like dulce de leche than a goat caramel. Take away the lemon, or keep the lemon and remove everything else, and it would have been fine.

So...while the food was good, between the noise level and the oyster incident, the visit was disappointing. Take from that what you will. The place seemed pretty busy, so our staying away isn't going to hurt business any.

Oyster Bay Grille
1 East Joppa Road
Towson, MD 21286
(443) 275-7026

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Eating Around New York

Mr Minx and I are serious eaters. We enjoy a wide variety of foods from all over the world. Asian food is my thing especially. Northern Baltimore County, where we live, isn't exactly a hotbed of good food, and really great Asian food is hard to find. So when we go to New York, we eat as much of it as we can get.

I like to stay in or near Koreatown, in Midtown Manhattan. 32nd Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway in particular is packed with Korean eateries, though there are some outliers on 31st and 33rd and across 5th. One can get bibimbap or barbecue 24/7, and fancy pastries and bubble tea most of the day. On our most recent trip to New York, we ate at two Koreatown restaurants, but also ventured elsewhere in the city for ice cream and pizza.

Our first stop of the trip was for a lunchtime feast of dumplings and noodles at Mandoo Bar. The soft and slippery udon with seafood was mild and soothing; the colorful steamed mandoo were variously filled with vegetables, pork, and seafood. All benefited from the mix-your-own-sauce collection of salty and spicy condiments found on every table. Personally, I prefer the fried mandoo, because I like a little crunch on the somewhat thick wrappers, but the steamed version was satisfying, too.

Later that evening, we visited Hao Noodle & Tea, which was written up here last week. Our lovely food tour guide, Daisy, remembered that Morgenstern's ice cream had recently opened a new flagship shop nearby, so we stopped in to sample a few of their 88 occasionally very unusual flavors.

When presented with that many choices, I have trouble making up my mind. I did manage to settle for cardamom lemon jam. The ice cream was strongly cardamom flavored with small pockets of a somewhat bitter lemon marmalade that contrasted nicely with the sweet spice and milky ice cream. Sadly, I didn't take note of what Mr Minx ordered, but he seemed to enjoy his flavors which likely involved chocolate. Daisy had a date-flavored concoction that was neither ice cream nor sorbet, with an odd grainy texture, that was saved by a dose of a very good hot fudge sauce.

After Morgenstern's, we trudged through the rain to Joe's Pizza, a slice joint on Carmine near Bleecker. Mr Minx, a proponent of NY-style pizza, really enjoyed the perfection of Joe's thin crust that audibly cracked when being folded. It's truly one of the best slices in town, relatively cheap and satisfying, too.

The next morning, after lattes at Starbucks (I know, but it was Sunday, they were open, and they are if nothing else, consistent), we walked the ten or so blocks to Bryant Park to check out the Bank of America Winter Village. The rain had stopped, but the clouds lingered. Still, it was a lovely winter day. We window shopped up and down the maze of tiny boutiques until we made a decision about food. Mr Bing was our first choice.

A few years ago, I saw Mr Bing at Urbanspace Vanderbilt. The food court was crowded and most stalls had lines; I found myself overwhelmed by foodie anxiety. Rather than choose something new to me, like bing, I quickly grabbed two tacos at one of the less-busy stalls, scarfed them and escaped the crowds. I resented my decision.

Jianbing is a traditional street food that originated in the north of China. Generally eaten for breakfast, this crepe-like pancake is coated with egg on both sides, smeared with various pastes and sauces, and folded. It can be filled with meat and veg, like our General Tso's bing. It's big enough to share, and fucking delicious. I won't pass up this treat next time.

Mian Kitchen was nearby, and we grabbed a couple of bao (fried chicken and pork belly) with a side of spring rolls. I enjoyed the spring rolls, which were piping hot and crispy, but was a little disappointed in the bao. The chicken was on the dry side, and neither were as flavorful as others I've eaten in town.

We also tried one of the famed liege waffles from the Waffles & Dinges outpost at Bryant Park. It was good, but I've had better.

Our plans for the evening involved visiting the tree at Rockefeller Center and checking out department store holiday windows. Barney's was a real bust; they didn't bother decorating at all. Bergdorf's windows were real winners, especially those dressed up with fake confectionery like cakes and gingerbread houses. From BGs we segued to the Parker New York Hotel (formerly the Parker Meridien) to hit up the fabled Burger Joint, a faux "dive" restaurant tucked away behind a curtain next to the hotel's front desk. The ambiance (posters, tons of graffiti on the walls and gouged into wooden tabletops) is very CBGB, but the food is classic Americana--burgers, fries, milkshakes, plus beer and wine.

The burgers were simple and very good, earning every "best burger in NY" accolade received in those glory days before the advent of the now-ubiquitous Shake Shack.

Much later in the evening, we enjoyed our second dinner at Samwon Garden, in Koreatown. Though it was nearly 10pm on a Sunday, most Korean restaurants in the neighborhood were packed, some with lines. Samwon Garden has multiple levels, so we were able to snag a table and order a few of the more interesting non-bbq items on the menu. The Honguh Kangjung, or deep fried skate wings with housemade Buffalo sauce were crunchy and overcooked and doused in a sauce more sweet than spicy (though it was spicy). Osam Bulgogi was another spicy sweet dish, this time with chewy chunks of squid and morsels of pork belly. The show stopper was a dish listed as a "side" - an enormous plate of fries with kimchi, bulgogi, and cheese curds, rather like a Korean poutine. I'm not crazy about fries in general, but I probably ate more than my fair share of this dish.

The next morning, we wandered around Chinatown in the chill wind, stopping for a porky plate of steamed dumplings at Chi Dumplings before ice cream at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. I am endlessly amused that the "regular flavors" at this tiny shop include durian and taro, but the "exotic" flavors include chocolate and vanilla.

After ice cream came....pizza! I haven't been to that many pizza joints in NYC, but I did realize that one of my favorites, Pomodoro, was not too far away from where we had wandered. We had a quick vodka slice before heading to the Strand to browse through books.

After the Strand, we found ourselves wanting three things: 1) a place to sit; 2) to pee; 3) something warm. We spotted Max Brenner and found everything we ever wanted. 

And churros with milk chocolate, caramel, and raspberry dips. Lattes on the side. So good and so welcome.

We left the city later that afternoon, full of happy food memories and already planning our next visit.

Mandoo Bar
2 W 32nd St
New York, NY 10001

Mr Bing
Urbanspace Vanderbilt
230 Park Ave
New York, NY 10169

Mian Kitchen
1065 Ave Of The Americas
Ste 2400
New York, NY 10018

Waffles & Dinges
Bryant Park
6th Avenue & W 42nd St
New York, NY 10018

Burger Joint
Parker New York
119 W 56th St
New York, NY 10019

Morgenstern's
88 W Houston Street
New York, NY 10012

Samwon Garden
37 W 32nd St
New York, NY 10001

Chi Dumpling House
77 Chrystie St # A
New York, NY 10002

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
5 Bayard St
New York, NY 10013

Pomodoro
51 Spring St
New York, NY 10012

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Flashback Friday - Shuck You Too

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on January 24, 2014.

Rereading this post made me angry all over again, especially the comments. The first one called my post "a mean-spirited review." What the ever-loving FUCK? I'm mean because I dared complain when my husband was injured because of the utter incompetence of a restaurant employee (or owner) and pretty much the entire staff (apart from the chef)? I didn't name the restaurant in the original post, nor did I actually review the food. I simply related a situation and my feelings about it. After all, it's my blog, so I can post what I want.

By the way, the restaurant was Oyster Bay Grille, and I am glad they closed.

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Sometimes I have to wonder why people go into the restaurant business.

It was Restaurant Week, and I chose a place we had never been to before because I thought their menu sounded good. The restaurant had a nice selection of raw oysters, so we decided to supplement our prix fixe dinner with a sampling of three varieties.

We could see the oyster shucking station from where we were seated. To my eyes, it didn't seem as though the shuckers had any idea what they were doing. They were wrestling with the bivalves, and each one seemed to take a while to open. I hoped that we wouldn't get a mangled mess.

When the oysters arrived at our table, accompanied by cocktail sauce, mignonette, and a grilled lemon wedge skewered by a single oyster fork, they looked quite nice. They were very fresh, but two of the three I ate had bits of dirt or shell inside and Mr. Minx ate one with grit in it as well. Moreover, the oysters hadn't been disconnected from their shells. Mr Minx found this out the hard way when he cut his lip on one of the shells during a vain attempt to slurp the creature out (the one at the top of the photo, which has quite a gnarly-looking edge on it.)

Blood ensued. Why does the tiniest cut seem to produce so much blood?

When a busser came by to remove our empty plate, I pointed out my husband's blood that was swirling around in the oyster shell. Our server had come back by that time and when he saw the carnage, the two of them scampered off together.

In a few moments, the man who had shucked the oysters came by, ostensibly to apologize. Now, let me give some pointers on apologies for restaurants. Restaurant Apologies 101, if you will. The very first thing to do is to say, "I'm very sorry." The next thing to do is to offer recompense. "Let me take the oysters off the check," or some such. And that's it. Then go away and let the diners finish their meal. Sticking around to make excuses like, "they were hard to open," and "this is why we put oyster forks out" are not acceptable. (Especially when there was only one oyster fork present, and it was jammed into the rind of a lemon. Were we to wrestle it out and then share it?) You work at a damn oyster bar--learn how to shuck a fucking oyster. Bleeding customers are not happy customers, and Mr Minx spent the rest of the meal in a foul humor. Especially when another man, presumably an owner or manager who had been randomly wandering, came around to say he saw something going on at our table. He did not offer an apology or anything else; it seemed that he was there simply out of curiosity. When each of these men returned to our table yet again, individually, to ask "you ok?" later on during the meal, it must have been the thought of liability niggling them. It just plain annoyed us.

Granted, the first man did say he was sorry, and he offered a free drink. Because alcohol on a cut would feel really swell. There were other things he could have done to make the restaurant seem more hospitable: send a warm damp napkin or paper towel to the table to help clean up the blood; offer a bit of Neosporin from the restaurant first aid kit. (Surely there was such a thing on hand?) I suppose we could have requested these things, but really, I don't think we should have had to. A restaurant's primary reason for existence, other than to feed people, is to make people happy. At the very least, not piss them off.

I did notice that the one who had shucked our oysters never went back behind the oyster bar. He wasn't dressed like an employee, so he was probably another owner "helping." He sure helped us decide never to go back, that's for sure.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Hao Noodle & Tea

I normally go to New York 2-3 times a year. A few years ago, I had the great fortune to make a friend with whom I share several things in common; number one on that list is food. When I visit the city, we get together for at least one dinner...and one supper. Yes, they are both on the same night, Hobbit-style.

Though there are places I might like to try, I always bow to her dining expertise. She had spoken highly of Via Carota, so we decided to meet there at 8pm one very rainy Sunday in December. I had Mr Minx with me, and he was looking forward to a dining adventure. Unfortunately, Via Carota takes no reservations and was packed. We were told to expect a wait that would last until 9:30. Weary and wet, I texted Daisy to tell her the bad news. She didn't believe the wait would be that long, but suggested a different restaurant near her present locale, a modern Sichuan place called Hao Noodle & Tea. We're always up for good Chinese food and agreed to meet her there.

The rain and cold had made us cranky, my feet were soaked through my shoes, I had to pee, and I didn't want to figure out how to turn ourselves around and find this place. Daisy stressed that it was only a few blocks away from where we stood, but we could call an Uber if we didn't want to walk. My Uber app didn't want to cooperate, so I called a Lyft instead. I should have known better. It's a rare occasion when Lyft doesn't do a bait and switch. They'll post one price when I summon the car, and then charge twice as much at the end of the ride. So while taking a Lyft to go the equivalent of 4 blocks was an outrageous idea to begin with, it was maddening to have them overcharge me yet again. Fuck them.

Damn good thing the food was good.

Until I got a cocktail, I was still a bit grumpy so let Daisy take over ordering for us. She had been there before, and everything she recommends is worth eating at least once and usually twice.

Food came out as it was ready, so cold dishes came out first: Lu Beef; Spinach in Ginger Sauce; and Le Shan Sliced Chicken in Szechuan Peppercorn and Chili Oil. Also known as bobo, bon bon, or saliva chicken (because it makes one's mouth water), the latter dish was incredibly tasty combination of cold steamed chicken, chili oil, black vinegar, sesame, and peanuts. Long after the chicken was gone, I was slurping up spoonfuls of the chili oil and peanuts.

The beef had been stewed in a spiced soy sauce and was extremely tender. The spinach was cooked until it was no longer astringent and dressed in a flavorful ginger and garlic sauce.

As the restaurant specialized in noodles we ordered two dishes from that category, much to the delight of Mr Minx. The Hand-Pulled Noodles Mixed with Braised Fresh Lamb was rich, yet somehow lighter than the pulled noodles with lamb I have eaten elsewhere. It also contained braised carrots, which I thought was unusual.

Dan-Dan Noodles involve a spaghetti-like noodle in a dry sauce of ground pork, preserved mustard greens, chili oil, and Sichuan peppercorns, topped with peanuts. I felt the seasoning was well-balanced--spicy but not too, a little sweet, a little numbing--making this best version of the dish I've tried yet.

There were still more peanuts on the Crispy Shrimp Saute, along with enormous dried chiles that had been cut into chunks. Nestled within the spicy-looking pile were lightly battered shrimp that were juicy and perfectly crunchy. Along with the familiar flavors of ginger and garlic was rosemary, which combined with the fried peanuts made this dish absolutely addictive.

Thought I didn't get to eat at Via Carota--at least not this time--I was pretty happy with our dinner at Hao Noodle that night. First dinner. We had dessert and pizza afterward. More on that in next week's post.

Hao Noodle & Tea
401 6th Ave
New York, NY 10014

Posted on Minxeats.com.