Saturday, March 7, 2009

Restaurant Review: Serendipity 3

Getting DH to go to Manhattan, just to "walk around", is like taking your typical 5-year-old to school when they don't want to go! Let's just say there's a lot of sulking, pouting and grumbling - stopping just short of a tantrum. He's not the kind who is entertained by the type of aimless wandering that I tend to do when I'm in NYC. Then he starts thinking about the driving, the traffic, the lack of parking ... *sigh*. It's my lot in life, dear readers. And I'm actually fine with it on most days, because I've learnt that if I really want to explore my beloved city, I have to do it on my own. Those are the days when I feel like Lewis and Clark, discovering new frontiers! Of course, Manhattan is not a new frontier, but everytime I visit it, I learn something new about it, discover a path I'd not gone down before, see sights that fill me with fascination and excitement. The feeling I get when I'm simply walking around Manhattan is very personal, but intensely fulfilling.

There is one thing that I find hard to do in the city if I'm just on my own - and that's trying new restaurants. Sure I can always check out new cafes, dessert places, bakeries etc. But to really experience a proper restaurant, you must go there with company. Part of enjoying the ambience of a restaurant is to have someone there you can share it with. Plus, you get to taste not just your own food, but also what the other person ordered! Selfish, but true.

Serendipity 3 (close to Bloomingdale's on the Upper East Side) has been on my list of must-try-at-least-once restaurants for a long time. I finally got the chance to go there for Saturday brunch recently with DH and two other guests. We got there 5 mins before they actually opened the restaurant, and there was already a line-up outside the door! Luckily, it wasn't too long and we were able to be seated as soon as the restaurant opened their doors. It was a lot smaller than I had imagined, but really cute and quaint! It's crammed with knick-knacks of all sorts ... tchotchkes out the wazoo! There's a lot of pink, a lot of Victorian-inspired furniture, some really bizarre pieces and definitely in the area of over-stuffed shabby-chic.

Our menus were gigantic - I think they take the prize for "largest menu card"! Think window-size! Our waiter was very sweet, and I had no issues with him, but I did think the overall service was a tad rushed. And let me just get this off my chest right away. That Frrrozen Hot Chocolate thingy this place is so famous for - not that impressive. It's more hype than anything else I think. 'Tis only my humble opinion, but there it is (the gods of New York will probably strike me dead with lightning for this!). I also ordered their Serendipitous Hot Chocolate, and it wasn't even hot! And the whipped cream guy went a little crazy - more cream than anything else. And having orange zest in your hot chocolate is a wonderful thing, but not if it's just on the whipped cream - that does nothing for the taste.
Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. This baby was bigger than my head! Not bad, but not great either.

The rest of the meal was pretty good. We ordered four different dishes, and three out of four were yum. The only one that went down in flames was the cheese ravioli (not pictured here - it was so sad looking that I just couldn't bear to show it to you!) which was dry and bland. Our other dishes were all winners. Here they are in order of my favorites:
Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast with Strawberries and Apricot Preserves - tastes exactly how you'd expect it to taste.

DH loved this Crepe with Creamed Chicken. It was scrumdiddlyumptious! Tasted a bit like chicken pot pie - and who doesn't love that?!

Finally, my favorite dish - Chili Omelette. Those southern flavors (chili, red onions, sour cream, toasted cornbread) are a great way to start the weekend morning right!

Verdict: Would I go there again? Yes! I enjoyed the experience overall. The noise level wasn't insane, so we could have a conversation in a normal tone of voice. Also, the check didn't damage our wallet too much. And definitely will be there before the restaurant opens at 11am on the weekend, because as we were leaving the line had gotten a lot longer, and so had the wait. Won't bother with the hot chocolate again, but will experiment more with the menu which had some interesting (albeit retro, but that's the whole point of this place) choices other than the brunch items, and all reasonably priced between $4 - $23. UNLESS you want to order the Guinness world-record-holding 'Golden Opulence Sundae' which will cost you a pretty $1000. No, that's not a typo.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TFF - Roasted Pears With Gorgonzola

Tyler Florence has smiled upon me once more. Somehow he figured out that I hadn't had any blue cheese for months, and I had begun to crave it. But what a great way to enjoy it. Juicy pears, creamy gorgonzola and crunchy walnuts - oh Tyler! So refined! Aren't you the same laid back guy who showed me how to make those smokin' Chili Cheese Dogs? And now you throw me a curveball by breaking out the gourmet inside?! Oh I see. You're trying to win me over by showing me how well-rounded you are, that you're there for me no matter what mood I'm in. Well well well Mr. Florence, you're sneakier than I thought. You're playing me. You tease. Watch yourself there, Tyler, I'm not like those other girls. But you do have a certain way about you. I've got to hand it to you - I'm hooked!

(Peek inside Muneeba's imagination during this discourse: Against a film noir-ish setting of blacks, greys and whites, Tyler is dressed like a manly private investigator - trenchcoat, fedora, wing-tip shoes - while I am the mysterious bombshell looking to hire him ... for his culinary skills, of course!)

Roasted Pears With Gorgonzola And Walnuts (see original recipe here)
Serves 4

4 Bosc pears, halved and cored, but not peeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
A few pinches of dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup crumbled good-quality blue cheese / gorgonzola
1/4 cup walnut pieces

2 tbsp honey


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Arrange the pears, cut sides up, on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, honey and sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper.

3. Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake 15-20 minutes.

4. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and spoon a generous teaspoon of crumbled cheese in the center of each pear half, return the pears to the oven and roast until they are tender and the cheese is soft, about 5-10 more minutes.

5. Meanwhile, put the walnuts on another baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Chop.

6. When the pears are cooked, transfer them to a serving plate and sprinkle the toasted walnuts over the top. Serve warm.

Verdict: These were just what I had hoped for. I can proudly submit them to Tyler Florence Fridays now. The key was to get some of the pear, gorgonzola and walnut in each bite. That made it a tantalizing mix of mellow sweetness, smooth creaminess and satisfying crunchiness. I personally was a little confused what I could pair this with, so I just ended up having two or three of these pear halves for lunch! And they were fine the next day too - just had to nuke them for a few seconds in the microwave. I had zero hopes that DH would go for this, since these flavor combinations are a little foreign to him. But I should know by now not to underestimate my guy! Turns out that he really liked them - he even asked for seconds. It's not like he was starving either - I got a genuine thumbs up from him. Men are more complex than we give them credit for ... sometimes.