Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bits & Morsels: All about the ambiance

Muscovy duck, date puree, hazelnut, parsnip, and chorizo at Bobo.

It’s all about the ambiance. While food is important, the energy and atmosphere of a restaurant can lead to either a sad or sensational meal. Sitting in an empty restaurant with no background noise or buzz of activity can a dull (and depressing) experience make. Not to worry, Bobo and Il Valentino won't let you down with good food to match.

Last week I dined at Bobo with my friend, Sam Hamadeh. Bobo is located at 181 West 10th Street in a stoic brownstone with no flashy signage indicating that it's a restaurant. Since opening a little over a year ago it has become quite the downtown scene.

Candles on every table at Bobo.
The restaurant is smart casual so I wouldn’t go in jeans but don’t bother getting all dolled up. The first floor of the restaurant has a comfy bar and the second floor has a dining room and a lovely garden.

The dining room is one of the most charming in New York. Yes, it's a little on the dark side but the candles on every table create an angelic glow around the guests. There is a fireplace, which makes the space even homier and cozier, and there are antiques everywhere you look. It’s a very easy setting to relax and get comfortable in; and it's also good for conversation.

Bobo does not serve any bottled water in an effort to be more sustainable and create awareness in that arena. They filter their own sparkling water and donate a portion of the one-dollar charge to water-related charities. Now, the food: I started with an arugula salad and had the wild striped bass as my main course. The fish, which was tender and moist, paired well with the almond spaetzle and nutty brown butter. Sam had the ahi tuna for an appetizer and the Muscovy duck with date puree, hazelnuts, parsnips and chorizo.

All of the dishes we tried had strong flavor profiles and it didn't hurt that the food was served on a selection of lovely faux porcelain plates. Portions tend to be on the large size nowadays but Bobo's were spot on — allowing us (and others) to savor the food. [Bobo]
My dining companion Sam Hamadeh and guests of Bobo having fun in the garden.
Arugula Salad with orange, almond, and parmesan. Spicy broccolini with baked parmesan.
Seared quail with corn, spicy almond sauce and tomato vinaigrette. Seared scallops with cantaloupe, smoked bacon and shiso.
Ahi tuna with avocado, cucumber and cilantro. Wild Striped bass with almond spaetzle, haricot vert and brown butter.
Clockwise from top left: Maine Crab with celery, cashew butter and capers; Chocolate pudding; Cappuccino; Blackberry crisp.
Il Valentino, located at 330 east 56th street between First and Second Avenue, is an oasis. It's a “sleeper” of an Italian restaurant and unless someone tells you about it, you probably wouldn’t know about it. The room feels large although it's not; but it is organized in a clever way and doesn't feel like a typical cramped New York eatery. The service is appropriate and I didn't feel rushed at all. If you're a tomato and mozzarella salad fan, you should order it as a starter. At Il Valentino they serve it with artichokes and extra creamy mozzarella. The asparagus with melted parmesan is also a no brainer — asparagus with melted cheese, what’s not to like?

The menu offers a wide assortment of fish and pastas. My dinner partner had angel hair pasta with raw tomato sauce and artichokes that looked luscious. If you want a healthier dessert choice, order the strawberries with aged balsamic vinegar. The vinegar worked to enhance the sweetness of the berries without being too acidic. Il Valentino makes their own biscotti and they are really good. Where much of the biscotti in restaurants is rock hard (read: stale), these are fragrant, buttery, and almost flaky. On Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights they have a piano player and singer set up in the bar area. There is no cover charge and the pianist is quite good. He was playing all the standards and taking requests. Il Valentino wasn’t packed on this particluar night, but everyone there was definitely having a good 'ol time and enjoying life. [Il Valentino]
Il Valentino. Singer/pianist Barrett Taylor.
Mozzarella, artichoke, and tomato salad. Assorted salads.
Hostess/Bartender, Uche Anene. Wild Salmon with spinach.
Olives. Asparagus gratinee with parmesan cheese.
Strawberries with balsamic vinegar. Biscotti.
Apple tart. Cappuccino.
Now that chain restaurants are required to post calorie counts, the calorie campaign is being taken underground to the subway system. A new ad campaign just launched highlighting the amount of calories in certain foods and emphasizing the need to stay within 2,000 calories a day. The idea is that by having this calorie information salient it will lead people to making healthier choices. [The New York Post]

Franny's clam pie (Photo: Hannah Whitaker/New York Magazine).
Clam pizzas seem to be popping up everywhere. I feel like every pizzeria has started offering its own version of the classic. While clam pizza is not my personal favorite, many lick their chops at the thought of the great white clam pie. Here is a list of pizza shops that offer them ranging from the traditional version at Lombardi’s to the mozzarella and cockle pie at Otto. [New York Magazine]

Ranch dressing is making a comeback. I don’t know what it says about our tastebuds when clam pizzas and ranch dressing are the "thing," but it’s interesting either way. People are stressed out about the economy and uncertain about the future. These new food trends are a reflection of that. [Gourmet]

Taking pictures of food has gotten extremely popular. Many new digital cameras like the new Sony Cyber-Shot T700 actually have settings for food. The “Gourmet Mode” is a combination of macro and white balance functions for more focused pictures. [Food and Wine]

Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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