Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ramp Season!

It was a gloomy Wednesday in NYC when I visited the Union Square Greenmarket a couple weeks ago. Rain was pelting my face, but I'd given up using my umbrella - it had been flipped inside out by the wind one too many times. Greenmarket purveyors tightened their grips on their tent frames as the wind threatened to blow their wares away. I had to dodge mutiple waves of harried commuters emerging from Union Square station as I made my way from stand to stand.

No one else but me seemed interested in buying produce that day. But that was my strategy in coming this particular morning. On a miserable day such as this, I could have my pick of the crop at the Mountain Sweet Berry Farm stand. Any other day, I'd have to show up at the crack of dawn, ready to battle NYC chefs and foodies for some of Rick Bishop's famous ramps.

Ramps, aka wild leeks, can be found throughout most of Eastern North America, as far north as Quebec and as far south as Georgia. Ramps taste like a combination of sweet scallions and garlic and are notorious for their pungent odor. Their emergence from the soil usually marks the first sign of Spring. Although ramps have been celebrated as a regional delicacy in annual festivals across Appalachia for decades, they've only recently been discovered by chefs and gourmands. Ramps have become so popular that they're almost endangered in some states due to overharvesting. Ramps (or gnovlichgraut,"wild garlic" in Pennsylfaanisch) were used extensively in Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine until they became overharvested at the turn of the century. Interestingly enough, this highly coveted plant is considered a noxious weed in Arkansas!

I have to admit, I've been slow to jump on the ramp bandwagon. My travel schedule over the last few years has often coincided with the short Northeast ramp season. But this year, I wasn't going to let another ramp season pass me by. I began collecting ramp recipes and paid close attention to alerts from
Lucy's Greenmarket report. The first ramps finally appeared in NYC at the beginning of April.

And here I was, finally, at the Mountain Sweet Berry Farm stand in Union Square Greenmarket, gawking at an endless display of ramps. A bargain at 2 bunches for $5, I bought as many as could fit into my messenger bag. As it got warmer throughout the day, I noticed an oniony odor emanating from my bag. No worries, I'd anticipated this smelly problem and quickly triple-bagged my stash with some extra plastic bags.

So what to do with all these precious ramps? A mini ramp festival of course! And I made sure to tell hubby Kris to warn all his co-workers about the possible smell that may come out of his pores over the next few days!

Cleaning ramps are a bit time consuming. The ramps were pretty dirty, especially the bulbs. I cut off the roots and removed the outer loose skin and any slimy membrane clinging to the stalk. I gave them a nice soak in a cold water bath, letting any dirt fall to the bottom of the bowl, then rinsed them several more times till clean and spun them dry in my salad spinner.

First up:
David Chang's Pickled Ramps. A sharp scallion-y smell hit my nose the moment I poured the boiling pickling liquid over them. While they were cooling down to room temperature, I couldn't help but sniff them everytime I walked by. I was really tempted to try one warm, but I finally put them away to "pickle" overnight in the fridge. They were perfect the next day - tender, sweet, with the shichimi togarashi providing a spicy kick.

Next up,
Scott Conant's Ramp Risotto. I made a couple changes to the recipe - I only had arborio rice on hand and I doubled the ramps to 8 (4 just seemed kinda wimpy). And boy did those ramps live up to their smelly reputation when I was chopping them up. But despite their pungent smell, they didn't cause me to tear up the way that onions or shallots do. Make sure you use a good quality white wine because you add some of it halfway through the cooking process so the wine flavor is still quite pronounced. The risotto was delicious - Kris said later that it was better than the ramp risotto he had at the Yankees Legend Suite. I was really surprised at how delicate the cooked ramps tasted, they imparted such a lovely sweet onion flavor to the risotto. I'll definitely be making this again.

I also wanted to make a ramp carbonara, so I searched the internet and found a recipe on for
Pasta with Ramps and Cured Pork. I used pancetta for the cured pork and rendered it till slightly crispy (I hate chewy pancetta) before tossing it with the pasta. Like the risotto, the ramp flavor was very mild but complemented the creaminess of the eggs and the crispy pancetta quite nicely.

I'd also heard that ramps and eggs were a perfect match, so I scrambled up some eggs with lightly sauteed ramps and shredded fontina cheese. Simple and heavenly!

Finally, I tossed the remaining ramps lightly in some olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper and grilled them till lightly charred. I'd meant to serve the grilled ramps with a garlic aoili, but we devoured them before I even remembered about the sauce!

Our favorite way to enjoy ramps? Grilled. Hands down. With a slight char on them, ramps become sweet and utterly irresistible. Even when prepared indoors on a cheap grill pan. Kris' 2nd favorite recipe was the pickled ramps. My runner-up was the ramp risotto (I even ate it cold one night while standing in front of an open fridge).

And just in case you were wondering, we honestly did not smell 'ripe as a ramp' afterwards.

So hurry to your farmer's market to get some ramps before the season's over! Or order them online
here. And prepare to fight me off at the greenmarket next year, cause I'm bringing a larger bag!

Rattray, Diana.
Ramps and Wild Leeks, a unique and delicious Spring jewel. website.
Allium tricoccum plants profile, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services website.

Weaver, William Woys. Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking. New York, New York: Abbeville Press, 1993.

The Union Square Greenmarket, still pretty in the rain!


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Weird Food Wednesdays: Scrapple

The recent paranoia about the swine flu has caused hog prices and related commodities to plummet, so I thought I'd do my part to support the hog industry by featuring something porky this week: Scrapple.

Scrapple (or panhaas) is a Pennsylvania Dutch specialty made from cornmeal, buckwheat and leftover pig parts. The hog is the king of traditional Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, and no part ever goes to waste.

Relax...according to the CDC, you can't catch swine flu from eating pork products (but you should still cook pork to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees F just to be safe).

To make scrapple, pig scraps are boiled to make pork stock, ground up offal is added for flavor, and the mixture thickened with cornmeal and buckwheat flour. The resulting pork mush is formed into a loaf, allowed to set, then sliced up and fried.

I live close enough to Pennsylvania Dutch country that I can find commercially prepared scrapple in my local supermarkets. My neighborhood ACME actually has an entire section devoted to scrapple. I didn't expect to have so many varieties to choose from - do I go with a more recognizable national brand or a local brand? Pork, beef or turkey scrapple? Which pig scraps make the most authentic scrapple, heart or snout? Liver or tongue? Every brand looked exactly the same - grayish speckled mystery loaves.

I decided to hang around in the processed meat section, reading ingredient labels, waiting for someone to show up and buy some scrapple (my loitering strategy totally worked when I was in the market for gefilte fish earlier this month, when there was no shortage of friendly shoppers offering me advice). I got tired of waiting after 10 minutes and just grabbed a package of the Hatfield pork scrapple - it had enough pork offal listed in the ingredients to give it some 'street cred' but it was surprisingly lean at 90 calories and 5 grams of fat per 2 ounce serving.

I followed the easy "brown 'n' serve" instructions on the packaging, using unsalted butter to grease the pan. I left the 1/4 inch slices undisturbed in the frying pan for around 8 minutes and they browned up really nicely. The kitchen smelled delicious while I was frying, like country sausage. I served the scrapple slices with scrambled eggs and home fries (breakfast for dinner).

Hubby Kris didn't know what he was eating but he really liked it. The pan fried scrapple was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, the texture reminiscent of a hoe cake. The taste was pleasantly porky and nicely seasoned with a bit of black pepper. Much milder tasting than I expected - I only got a hint of offal in the aftertaste.

Where to buy: If you live in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, D.C., chances are you'll be able to find commercially prepared scrapple in the processed meat section of your local supermarket. For everyone else, you can buy scrapple online from Stoltzfus Meats in Intercourse, PA here (and don't forget the shoo fly pie). And scrapple fans, declare your undying love for scrapple with an "I love Scrapple" t-shirt here.

I'm pretty sure that most people would like scrapple if they just gave it a chance. In fact, I think I'll serve scrapple the next time I have company over for brunch, perhaps even the variety containing pig snout. So in-laws, consider yourself warned!

Weaver, William Woys. Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking. New York, New York: Abbeville Press, 1993.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Fine Dining at Yankee Stadium

Hubby Kris was lucky enough to be invited by his friend John to Wednesday's matinee game against the Oakland A's in the new Yankee Stadium. And when he found out that they were Legends Suite Club Seats, he showed up bright and early with an empty stomach and a camera in hand.

The recession hasn't been kind to the
Yankee's club seat sales. If you've been watching home games recently, you'll know that the prime section of cushioned luxury seats behind home plate have been looking pretty empty, and Wednesday's rainy afternoon game was no different.

But Kris wasn't going to let dreary weather or lackluster turnout spoil his afternoon...

Here's a quick home video (last names have been bleeped out to protect the innocent, ie. those who were skipping out of work!):

Seats were really close to home plate - Kris yelled out Derek Jeter's name and he actually turned around to look:
John caught a ball that Yankee 1st baseman Mark Teixeira tossed out to the crowd:

The bi-level Legends luxury club suite (apparently you can enter 3 hours before game time and stay 3 hours after the game - that's over 9 hours of eating!):
Buffet style fine dining with "performance cooking" stations:

Wagyu beef, lamb cheeks, tandoori duck, halibut, ramp risotto, and fiddlehead ferns:
Kris was too full to try the wild boar borscht or the braised brisket mini sandwiches:
For dessert, Georgia peach streusel, chocolate chip cookies, and Ben & Jerry's ice cream:
Overall, Kris was mighty impressed with the food in the luxury suites. And it's not very often that he finds himself too full to try everything in the buffet. So...why was he still hungry enough to make me share my instant noodles with him when he got home?!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Weird Food Wednesdays: Grass Jelly

Christine, aka Mistress of Cakes, recently dared me to try grass jelly. She obviously doesn't know who she's dealing with here - not only have I tried it, I also happen to LOVE IT! The real challenge is convincing others that grass jelly actually tastes good.

Grass jelly (aka xian cao/chin chow/cincau/suong sao) is not actually made from grass, but from Mesona chinensis, an herb related to mint. The leaves and stalks are boiled down to extract the flavor and then the liquid is cooled to a jello-like consistency. Despite the intense obsidian color, grass jelly has a mild herbal taste. Hubby Kris says the slightly bitter taste reminds him of tea.

A basic way to enjoy grass jelly is to cut it into cubes and drizzle with simple syrup, honey, or maple syrup. In Southeast Asia, you'll find grass jelly being added to desserts such as ice kacang (the "everything but the kitchen sink" of desserts) or chendol. For an easy dessert, you can cut it up and mix it with canned lychee or fruit salad. I've also found grass jelly to be an excellent substitute for the chewy tapioca balls in bubble tea.

I always buy grass jelly in a can but apparently you can also get it in powdered form. The jelly slithers out of the can in one cylindrical piece (just like Oceanspray jellied cranberry sauce). Only 3 ingredients are listed on the label: Chinese jelly herb, water and cornstarch. A four ounce serving has zero fat, zero cholesterol, 2 grams of carbs and only 8 calories.

I asked my dad whether he knew of any related health benefits and he responded, "Chinese people think anything that looks miserable and tastes bitter is healthy!" Oh dear, here comes the
Jackie Chan backlash! My father thinks it's okay to say things like that because he is Chinese.

While I've never eaten grass jelly specifically for health reasons, a quick search on the internet revealed some medicinal uses: reducing temperatures/fevers (grass jelly possesses "yin" or cooling qualities), lowering blood pressure, preventing indigestion, acting as a diuretic, and increasing fertility.

My favorite way of enjoying grass jelly is in a drink my Auntie Hiok makes for me whenever I visit Malaysia. My cousin Jonah gave me a rough idea of how to make it, so I fiddled around with the proportions until it tasted good:

Phyllis' Grass Jelly "Special"

1/3 cup black grass jelly, chopped into tiny cubes or thin strips
1 1/2 Tbsps palm sugar* dissolved in 1/4 cup of boiling or hot water
1/4 cup of evaporated milk (like Carnation)
3/4 cup of cold water
ice cubes (optional)

Stir together ingredients in a tall glass. Serve with a straw or a long spoon. Enjoy!

*Note: Palm sugar is made from the sap of various palm trees. In Malaysia, palm sugar is dark brown, made from the sap of the Nipah Palm tree (giving the drink a rich latte color when my Auntie Hiok makes it). I've only come across the Thai variety of palm sugar, which is lighter in color but still adds a nice caramelly flavor to desserts. Sometimes labelled as "coconut sugar", you'll find palm sugar either in a tub (preferred) or in round hard disks (aka "palm sugar candy"). The stuff is the tub is softer, but make sure you scrape off any wax on the top before you use it. I still haven't figured out what to do with the hard disks, but I think you can grate, hammer, ice pick or nuke it into submission (more tips
here). If you can't find palm sugar, use dark brown sugar as a substitute.

Another easy drink is made by simply combining sweetened soy milk with chopped grass jelly. This combination is known as the "Michael Jackson" in Malaysia (however, my dad says this is "complete nonsense!" as the soy milk/grass jelly combo existed long before Michael Jackson was even born).

And if you're feeling too lazy to chop, you can always pick up a refreshing grass jelly drink in a can. I prefer the plain flavor (ingredients: grass jelly, water, and sugar) but it also comes in banana, coconut and honey flavor.

You can find canned grass jelly in the aisles of your local Asian food market. Usually it's near the canned exotic fruit (lychee, longan, rambutan etc). All the brands taste more or less the same. You can also order it online here. Grass jelly drinks are typically located in the soy milk (non refrigerated) aisle with the other canned fruit drinks. Palm sugar can be found in the Southeast Asian/Malaysian/Indonesian aisle, or included with the other varieties of sugar in the baking aisle.

So Christine, I dare you to try my grass jelly recipe. And I double dare you not to like it!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Review: Scarpetta

I've had Scarpetta on my list for a while now, and then I came across Time Out New York's 10 best things to eat in NYC (# 6 is Scarpetta's foie gras ravioli), and I knew I couldn't wait any longer.

I claimed the first reservation I could get on OpenTable, 5:30pm on a Wednesday. Who eats dinner that early? But I was desperate to try the ravioli before it disappeared from the menu.

From the moment we entered, the friendly staff at Scapetta made us feel very welcome.

We were seated in the main dining area which is flooded with gorgeous natural light from a ceiling of skylights.

My favorite little detail - all the mirrors in the restaurant were strapped in by leather belts (no worries - a wardrobe malfunction won't let them come crashing down on you, they're also secured by bolts.)

A bread basket arrived filled with stromboli (Kris' favorite), foccacia, and ciabatta, served with a mascarpone butter, eggplant caponata, and EVOO.

While stuffing our faces with bread, Kris and I began our "negotiations" about which appetizers to order; he wanted something heavier, like the creamy polenta or the short ribs, and I wanted something light (after a miserable day of rain and wind, the sun had come out and it finally felt like Spring).

Kris finally went with the braised short ribs with vegetable & farro risotto:

He loved it - simple flavors, meat was fall apart tender, and perfectly cooked farro.

And for me, the raw yellowtail with olio di zenzero and baked sea salt:

Slices of buttery fish, perfect amount of bitterness from the sprouts, a bit of acid from pickled red onion, crunchy Hawaiian sea salt added interesting texture and brought out the flavor of the yellowtail. This was also Kris' first time EVER eating raw fish. And guess what - he actually liked it.

For our entrees, we both wanted the foie gras ravioli, but ordering 2 of same dish would have been a crime with all the excellent choices available on Scott Conant's menu. So I unselfishly let my hubby get the the Duck and Foie Gras Ravioli with marsala reduction:

Kris let me steal a few raviolis - heavenly pillows of perfection, each bite so rich and flavorful, just melted in our mouths. And the marsala/duck jus reduction added an almost beefy flavor, which complemented the raviolis perfectly.

My "runner-up" choice was the black maccheroni with mixed seafood, sea urchin, and breadcrumbs:

Mmmm...more sea urchin, please! Luxurious pieces of sea urchin were lightly folded into the pasta, providing a lovely flavor of the ocean with every bite. The rest of the seafood (calamari, mussels, clams, shrimp) were all perfectly cooked and simply seasoned with a mild spiciness. The black maccheroni had a great homemade chewy texture. Truly memorable!

We were actually pretty full at this point, but Kris rarely leaves without ordering dessert. It was a struggle, but I managed to convince my chocoholic husband to order a non-chocolate dessert this time around, the olive oil cake with mascarpone cream, citrus salad, and tangerine sorbet:

Divine. Flavors came together really nicely, complemented by a balsamic reduction drizzled artfully on the side. The tangerine sorbet was cradled in a delicious sesame tuile - the sesame was a unexpected surprise but perhaps my favorite part of the dessert.

The cost of this wonderful meal: $100 (2 appetizers, 2 pastas, 1 dessert, 2 non-alcoholic drinks, before tax and tip). Well worth it! And the service was fantastic, our friendly waiter obviously gave us great suggestions about the menu!

The Verdict: Best meal we've had this year (so far)

355 W 14th St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 691-0555


Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Love Your Blog Awards and a little more about me...

This is a bit overdue, but thank you to Passionate Eater who’s graced me with an “I love your blog award”.

Passionate Eater’s a girl after my own heart, hitting 4 hot dog eateries in less than 2 days in her search for the best hot dog in Chicago.

Now that’s dedication!

So now it’s my turn to pay it forward by honoring 7 of my favorite food bloggers:

Heavenly Housewife at From Donuts to Delirium

Kenny T at Chic Eats
Kevin at Closet Cooking
Teanna at Spork or Foon?
Christine aka Mistress of Cakes at Maman and Gourmand
Screamin’ Mama at Fork in Food
Jason at Me So Hungry

All of these wonderful bloggers inspire, amuse, and sometimes surprise me with their serious dedication to food. They've also kept me going by leaving supportive, insightful and funny comments on my posts. Check out their awesome blogs when you have some time. You'll be hooked! (Also check out my recent Sisterhood Awards post for more great food blogs)

And now, here’s the part where I get to talk more about myself…

Heavenly Housewife, my doppelganger from across the pond, has tagged me to answer the following questionnaire. I’m so touched that she wants to know a little more about moi!

1. What are your current obsessions?
Duh – FOOD of course! It’s all I ever think about. I’m also a tad OCD about cleaning (but I’m working on that)

2. Which item from your closet are you wearing most often?
Ratty old pajamas and a hoodie – my husband refers to my daily outfit as “housekeeper chic” (not that I’m the resident housekeeper or anything)

3. Last thing you bought?
For myself? A dumb t-shirt with a tomato on it talking to a ketchup bottle - “Mom, Dad?!”

4. What's for dinner?
Leftover Chinese take-out (dining solo tonight, so the alternative would be ramen noodles)

5. Say something to the person who tagged you:
We’re definitely LOL (ladies of leisure) if we can lounge around in tracksuit bottoms and pajamas all day long!

6. What is your favorite recipe that you made?
It’s a toss up between my New England clam chowder and potato gnocchi (sorry kids, hubby Kris refuses to let me give out the secret recipes for these!)

7. Vacation spots you must visit before you die?
France (Paris, again)

Italy (Rome/Venice)
San Francisco (can you believe I’ve never been?)

8. Replaced Question: Weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
Sago Worm, but you probably already knew that.

9. What are you reading right now?

Just finished Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Pretty good, so I’ll be renting the DVD soon. And I'm slowly working my way through The Gefilte Variations by Jayne Cohen (a little too slowly, have to return it to the library in 2 days)

10. What is the last movie you saw and enjoyed? Rate it out of 5 stars.
Watchmen. Story was interesting but it ran a bit long. Gruesome in parts. Could have done without all the distracting shots of Dr. Manhattan’s giant blue dong! 3.5/5 stars

11. What is your guilty pleasure?
Junior Mints (I’m currently “on the wagon” – self imposed ban for 6 months)

12. What is your favorite smell?
Fresh silken tofu (weird, right?)

13. Best thing you ate or drank lately?
Duck and foie gras ravioli, last night at Scarpetta

14. Favorite cuisine?
Northern Indian

15. Famous living person who you most admire and why.
Hard to pick just one. Of course, domestic divas Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson, who’ve both survived hard times and are still at the top of their game. Gwyneth Paltrow – always so classy and poised, and she speaks multiple languages beautifully. And according to her good friend Mario Batali, Gwynnie can put food away like a truck driver (I love girls who can eat!)

16. Talk about one regret in your life?
Leaving beautiful British Columbia.

17. Who would play you in a film about your life?
I’ve been told that I look like Lucy Liu, but apparently all my Chinese girlfriends have been told that they resemble Lucy Liu at some point in their life!

18. What is one skill you would like to acquire?
Hand-eye coordination/balance. I suck at bowling, golf, baseball, volleyball, tennis (and all team sports)

19. Question I added: What 3 songs are currently on heaviest rotation on your ipod or CD player?
“Human (Pink Noise Radio Edit)” by the Killers
“Poker Face” by Lady GaGa
“1,2,3,4” by the Plain White T’s

Rules and Invitation to participate:
1. Respond and rework
2. Answer questions on your own blog.
3. Replace one question.
4. Add one question.
5. Tag 3 bloggers.

I am tagging:

Coconut Girl Connie

Christine, aka Mistress of Cakes

and my good friend Clayton, who blogs about his life as a father, husband, friend, youth minister (and about the Canucks!)

To those I've tagged, this is just an invitation - no pressure at all to answer any questions or to pass it on!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Weird Food Wednesdays: Kaya

If you think this post is about a certain recreational drug enjoyed by Bob Marley, then you are definitely in the wrong place!

The kaya I'm referring to is a delicious coconut jam made from coconut milk, eggs, and sugar. Kaya translates to "rich" in Malay (I feel my cholesterol rise just writing about it). Many versions of kaya can be found all over Southeast Asia, but my personal favorite is the pandan-flavored Nonya variety from Malaysia (tinted green from the pandan leaf, aka screwpine).

Hubby Kris first fell in love with kaya last year in Singapore. A common Singapore breakfast is kaya toast - thick white toast slathered generously with kaya and butter. Though kaya toast can be found in any kopitiam in Singapore, Kris was drawn to the flashier chain outlets, Bread Talk and Toast Box. Each morning, he would leave our hotel room before I woke up and return with a bag stuffed with every variety of kaya toast on the menu.

Here's Kris bidding farewell to Toast Box's requisite "cone of butter" at the Singapore Changi Airport:

We also found a golden-hued Hainanese honey kaya at T&T Supermarket in Vancouver (my mom always keeps a jar of this on hand for her favorite son-in-law):

Homemade kaya is apparently much tastier than the shelf version. But the recipes I've seen require at least an hour of continuous stirring over a low flame. And knowing my history with making custards, I'll probably end up with coconut scrambled eggs! I'll be sure to post a followup if I ever successfully make my own kaya (but don't hold your breath).

You can find jarred or canned kaya in the Southeast Asia/Malaysia/Indonesia aisle of your local Asian food market.

Forget the toast - just eat it straight from the jar!


Monday, April 13, 2009

At Vermilion

Once a month, we meet up with our friends Heather and Chris for a nice dinner in NYC. Heather was craving Indian food but her husband's not a fan of traditional Indian cuisine. The obvious solution was to go for Indian fusion, but we also needed a place that had vegetarian options for Heather. We decided on At Vermilion, the newly opened (and oddly named) Indian-Latin fusion restaurant with a separate and extensive vegetarian menu.

Reviews so far have been mixed, but I still had high hopes because the original Vermilion in Chicago has received several accolades since opening in 2004. Author Salman Rushdie proclaimed the original location the "best Indian restaurant I've eaten anywhere in America" and is one of the high profile backers of the NYC outpost. At Vermilion is also helmed by an all-female team (the owner, chef, and the chef de cuisine are all women). Top Chef trivia: Radhika Desai from Season 5 worked at the Chicago Vermilion for 2 1/2 years, moving up the ranks from assistant pastry chef to sous chef.

This was our first time trying Indian-Latin fusion. We were seated in the lounge because the main dining hall upstairs was hosting a private party. Our waiter explained that At Vermilion's concept follows the original spice route from India to Spain and finally to South America. A note at the top of the menu gently reminds us about the "girl power" vibe: "vermilion - the most vibrant of reds, connotes the essence and ebullience of the indian and latin american peoples, also translates into sindoor, a core symbol of indian femininity and a celebration of the beauty of women".

And then the food. Huge disappointment. Our degustation platter, a $20 tasting of 4 appetizers chosen by the chef, arrived on a giant white slab that almost covered the entire table. The size of the serving platter further emphasized how tiny the portions were (reminded me of that Citicard commercial, "It's like elf food!"). Our tasting included the mysore lamb chops (just OK), tamarind shrimp (nothing special), artichoke pakoras (blah), duck vindaloo arepa (too tiny to get any real flavor, but I did get a weird piece of non-edible spice pod in my portion). Heather's avocado "escebeche" appetizer was simply a sliced up avocado with some sauce drizzled on top.

The entrees were no better. Kris' NY strip streak showed up on another giant white slab (sorry for the terrible photos, the size of the serving platters made it so awkward to get a good pic). He said his steak was average, the sweet potatoes and apple slaw sides were uninspired, and although the dish was named "chimichurri new york strip", there was no chimichurri anywhere on the plate. At $32 we would have done better going back to Red Lobster.

My $26 Caldeirada de Peixe, a "Brazilian seafood stew with an Indian kick", arrived in a strange silver UFO-like serving bowl with zero kick, bland flavor, and missing the tomato rice. The moqueca mista at Sushi Samba is SO much better.

Maybe we should have ordered off the vegetarian menu. Heather seemed to enjoy her vegetarian thali, which included paneer makhni, chana saag, chana daal, naan, and pappadum. Chris ordered the degustation appetizer tasting as his main dish, but he specifically requested they not include the duck appetizer. But of course the platter showed up with the duck arepa, so our observant waiter quickly brought Chris a scallop appetizer on the side, explaining that the kitchen confusion was caused by the party of 200 people upstairs (but shouldn't the kitchen be able to handle a full capacity crowd on a Saturday night?).

I should have known better than to stay for dessert. But I was still hungry so I ordered what sounded like the most filling choice on the dessert menu - the "chari tukkra" (pistachio nut cake). It was warm and had a nice consistency, but had a strange cardboard aftertaste.

Kris ordered the molten chocolate cake, which was not molten in anyway. The presentation was interesting - Chris jokingly named it "the big bang theory". The non-molten cake came with a blueberry sorbet, which tasted overwhelmingly of cardamom, and some canned mandarin oranges dipped in chili powder (yuck!).

Heather and Chris shared the Vermilion Immoderation, a sampling of 3 desserts. Based on their puzzled expressions, I knew they were also dealing with some bizarre flavor combinations. The weirdest thing on their plate were these tiny ruby spheres - the flavor was unidentifiable, the texture starchy, like a molecular gastronomy experiment gone wrong.

Total damage for two people: $99 (before tax or tip) including 1 appetizer sampler, 2 entrees, 2 desserts, and 1 soda. Kris was pretty angry - for the amount of money we spent, he said it was the worst meal he's had this year. I guess the high prices are footing the bill for the cavernous 12,000 square foot space (twice the size of the original Chicago location) and to pay for supermodel hostesses to reposition the revolving door everytime someone came in the restaurant (no joke).

Before we left, our waiter asked us to fill out a comment card, but I couldn't bring myself to write anything. I probably should have said something nice about our fantastic waiter - he was knowledgeable about the menu, super attentive, and patient when we had tons of questions. Kris, worried about our waiter's job security, suggested I write "Start looking for another job!" (but that would have been mean).

The Verdict: Don't bother!

At Vermilion
480 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10017
(212) 871-6600