Monday, January 23, 2017

Vegetables Have Their Moment in the Sun: Dovetail

The amazing egg with truffle at Dovetail
Vegetarians often have to make compromises when dining with carnivores: choosing the lone pasta dish, making a meal of sides, or eating fish even if they really prefer to avoid sea creatures and the term pescetarian.

At Dovetail, on a side street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, everyone can be happy. The restaurant has either prix fixe meals or tasting menus, with plenty of choices for plant eaters and a special vegetarian tasting menu.

At a recent meal, (which I took a subway, a bus and a Via to arrive at - I had a few stops along the way) I started with grilled bluefoot mushrooms with salsify and jicama; my husband had the soft poached egg with potato crisps and shaved winter truffles. Both were excellent and so appealing that the other diners at our table all eschewed the meat to try these. Sadly, no one got the sun choke fondue with broccoli and gruyere - that will have to be another time.

The bluefoot mushroom appetizer
For my entree, I had to have the beet with grain salad, black trumpet mushrooms and thyme milk. This was a fantastic earthy dish, perfect on a winter night. It's so lovely that it's part of the regular meat menu, with ham (it didn't need it).

Perfectly cooked fish
My husband had striped bass with cauliflower and smoked grapes over yellow curry.

Chocolate souffle
We shared a cheese plate and bittersweet chocolate soufflĂ©  for dessert. The soufflĂ©  came with a pitcher of rich chocolate sauce to put in the center, and a scoop of sage ice cream that nicely offset the chocolate.

Rose cocktail with gin
The interesting cocktail list included an old fashioned made with kirsch and ramazzoti (an Italian amaro) and a lovely gin drink, a rose is a rose is a rose, with chareau (an aloe based liqueur), prosecco and a rose petal.

Cheese plate
Though Dovetail is not inexpensive, it also isn't outrageously priced.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Vegan Donuts - Yes You Can!

Some of the choices at Dottie's Donuts
I have a confession to make. I used to hate donuts. Or doughnuts.  I never know what to call them, so I'm going to go back and forth here.

When I was a kid, I attended a secular humanist Yiddish school on Sunday mornings and at break time, we had donuts and coffee.  I was about 8 when I started this. Maybe the donuts were bad, maybe the coffee upset my stomach, but I learned to love coffee and hate the donuts, which sat like lead in the pit of my stomach.

The maple cinnamon donut made it as far as the car
Then Dunkin Donuts came to Long Island when I was in high school. I used to go there with my boyfriend and we'd eat munchkins and complain about the weak coffee and gross donuts.

Even when I was pregnant, I resisted the lure of the donut. I worked at a parenting magazine when I was pregnant with my youngest, and every Friday, we got a delivery of several dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. These turned my stomach - could have been the pregnancy - but I avoided donuts for the next 19 years.

The cookie monster lurking in the back - amazing
Then came Dough. These doughnuts were nothing like the ones of ore; they used seasonal ingredients, organic produce and were healthy and low calorie.

OK, obviously the last part of that was not true. But I came to appreciate artisan donuts, with their unique flavor combinations and absurdly high prices.

I've since sampled the local doughnut scene in Portland, OR: Voodoo and Blue Star; Brooklyn: Doughnut Plant and now Dottie's Donuts, in Philadelphia.

Dottie's is vegan, which means no bacon on the doughnuts (I appreciate this - I've had doughnuts that have inadvertently picked up a stray bit of pork from a neighboring doughnut) and no lard used to fry the donuts. But they taste great - for anyone leery of this, rest assured that they have all that donutty goodness - rich icing, flavorful filling, cake-y, large donuts. And they are only $2.50 or so apiece.  At some cafes in New York, Dough's are $5 each.

The chocolate made it home, minus some of its glaze
We inhaled the Cookie Monster, a chocolate glazed donut filled with a peanut butter cookie and topped with chocolate sprinkles. It was divine. We also shared the maple cinnamon, with perfect glaze, the lemon poppy and simple chocolate glazed.  Then we ran the 90 miles back to New York. [note: we didn't eat all of each doughnut. We shared].

Dottie's is a little out of the way, a tiny unassuming spot in West Philly. I was test driving a 2017 Nissan Rogue, and going to check out the Eastern State Penitentiary, so this was a great place to fuel up before touring the prison museum.

There are only about a dozen or so flavors each day, so if you have your mind set on a certain flavor, you might be disappointed.  Or you just might have to return.

Note: Nissan loaned me the Rogue.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Off the Beaten track: Freek's Mill, Gowanus

BBQ kohlrabi over grits
Not long ago, the only reason to go to Gowanus was to strip a car. In fact, when my car was stolen years ago, someone tracked me down and told me where it was - in the Gowanus neighborhood, which at that time was mostly a wasteland between Park Slope and Cobble Hill (Boerum Hill hadn't been 'invented' yet either).

Times change, and the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, Ample Hills Creamery and Whole Foods have brought attention to this formerly desolate, industrial part of Brooklyn.

Another bright spot is Freek's Mill, around the corner from Ample Hills, but isolated enough that I felt like the late great Madeline Kahn in What's Up Doc, sent to a dilapidated building. But Freek's Mill, named for a mill that was built in the 1700s, is warm and inviting inside, with soft lights, exposed brick walls and candles.

High table in the front of Freek's Mill
The menu, of small plates, changes almost daily; some items stay, or are tweaked, but seasonal produce rules the day. Our waitress recommended 2-3 plates per person; with 5 plates split between 2 people, we were stuffed.

There was kale salad, of course, with Beecher's cheese, but we had had a lot of kale for lunch, so we skipped it. We were able to find more than enough vegetarian choices, though the Brussels sprouts sadly had bacon.

Roasted cauliflower with ricotta
Our favorite dishes were the roasted carrots with thick yogurt and crushed peanuts, and roasted cauliflower with ricotta. Both dishes were served cool and would have been better fresh from the fire. Then there was the BBQ kohlrabi, over decadently rich grits. I could have eaten a bucket of this.

Oysters roasted in the wood fire were also tasty but not hot, and it was a bit off putting that for a place where dishes are meant to be shared, the plate had 3 oysters. How many people go out to dinner in groups of 3? Every table was ether a pair or a foursome, so suggesting we pay for an extra oyster (which we did) seems like a bit of up-selling. Dishes range from $11-$23, but it gets pretty pricey if you eat 3 a person.

Carrots with yogurt and peanuts
The most expensive dish, scallops, was quite lovely, served with baby Brussels sprouts, (again, there were only 3) but it too was cool. And it came just minutes after we'd gotten 2 other dishes, so the pacing was a bit off. Maybe the staff needs more training; when Freek's Mill first opened, it had a no tipping policy, with the extra price built in. That model has changed, but it seems the high prices have remained. We asked our waitress to keep the scallops warm while we ate the other dishes, but she refused.  She also poured some wine on my husband but didn't seem to notice.

Scallops with baby Brussels
Cocktails are fantastic. We had the film noir, a take on a Manhattan with rye and homemade brandied cherries.  A bourbon drink with cranberry was every so slightly sweet but lovely. They were served up and properly icy cold.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

LaLa Land: Paean to the Car

Opening dance sequence: flying above gridlocked cars. Credit: Lionsgate
You can't set a movie in Los Angeles without involving cars. American Graffiti's thin plot even revolves around the teens who cruise on Saturday nights in their souped up cars.

But LaLa Land both embraces and makes fun of LA's car obsession. The musical starts with an epic traffic jam, one of those gridlocked days when you start thinking that you will never, ever emerge from this mess. Then a woman exits her car - and starts singing. And dancing. Others join in , and suddenly a traffic jam is a chance to actually jam.

Ryan Gosling, too cool for school in his convertible Buick. Credit: Lionsgate
One malcontent doesn't get caught up in the sining and dancing: Ryan Gosling's character, Sebastian, who is too busy fiddling with the cassette )!) player in his vintage Buick. The retro car is cool - it's a convertible - but it also establishes his character as a throwback.

And the other lead, Emma Stone's character, Mia, drives a Prius. This is mocked, too - when the couple leave a party, she says her car is a Prius - and the entire valet stand is filled with Prius key fobs.

Sebastian and Mia meet when she parks her car illegally, it gets towed and she walks into the club where he works.

Though I wonder why she didn't just call an Uber.