Thursday, July 27, 2017

Babbo, Benoit by Alain Ducasse and Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong - Manhattan

You must have read about the “cheap” and “classic” New York meals/dishes/restaurants we ate, and ate at.

This post covers 3 other meals. An Italian at Babbo which has one star in Michelin, a wonderful meal at the Alain Ducasse bistro Benoit which we stumbled on during our meanderings, and a raucous dinner at a Korean barbeque place called Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong.

We had wanted to eat at Babbo ever since we made plans. Babbo is helmed by the charismatic Chef Mario Batali who is instantly recognizable by his portly frame, blond ponytail, shorts and vividly coloured orange Crocs. Batali formed a partnership with Joe Bastianich a hugely successful entrepreneur and restaurateur and of late, winemaker, to open several acclaimed restaurants in USA. You must have seen Joe Bastianich on TV in the US Masterchef as well as in his show Restaurant Startup which ran very recently. Batali, Bastianich and Bastianich’s mother Lidia also co-own Eataly a mega supermarket of all things Italian – [edible of course]. Quite a powerhouse.

Babbo opened in 1998 to rave reviews. They fly in pastas, vinegars cheese and salt, from Italy, which, they say are unique in their taste and are the very basis of true Italian taste in food, with no substitutes. Personally, I agree to a large extent, probably with the exception of salt. If you think about it, cynically, Parmesan, Balsamic Vinegar, San Daniele ham are some ingredients which restaurants world over import. So what is the big deal? As far as pasta is concerned, we have learnt that true Italian dried pasta made by smaller companies [not Barilla] is just so much better that it is not funny.

Babbo is located in Greenwich Village in the area just off Washington Square. We turned up for our reservation, gave our names and were whisked to probably the worst table in the house, just by the toilets. Racist? Is the name Stonethrower an indication of a brown man as opposed to the name Smith? HRH the Queen of Kutch immediately protested and we were whisked to a better table at the very front of the restaurant alongside the main door!!! Note to self; make all bookings in John Smiths name. We were calmer but not at ease. Our table was by the window you see in the photograph.

A glass of Prosecco was ordered and we were asked if and what we were celebrating. “Nothing, particular” I answered, “just life”. The waiter dutifully smiled and handed us the menus. The food was good. This was not the red sauce and pasta type of food you associate with USA. This was genuinely good and fairly different Italian food. No complaints at all. The photographs will show all. I was quite surprised at the high level of chilli in some of the dishes. Not complaining, just pointing out.

Pigs Trotters Milanese

Grilled Octopus with “Borlotti Marinati” and Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrett

Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles

Spicy Two Minute Calamari Sicilian Lifeguard Style

Charred Beef Tongue with Romano Beans and Chianti Mustard

What struck me the most is something I have written about earlier. Babbo has a star in Michelin. I am not questioning Michelins judgement. We were at dinner. The restaurant is famous, and yet the casual clothes worn by punters, to me was upsetting. I mean, the waiters wore ties, the restaurant managers wore suits. To be fair, a large number of punters were wearing long trousers or jeans, but, shorts were around.

One day when walking we saw a very clean looking restaurant façade. We looked at the name and saw Benoit and the magic words Alain Ducasse below. We were quite surprised and walked up to see the menu that was at the entrance. Alain Ducasse is a mega chef. Through his many restaurants all over the globe he holds in excess of 20 stars in Michelin. You will recall the recent photograph of Donald Trump with Macron and Ducasse following a meal at the Ducasse restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower. Benoit served classic bistro food, something that we both absolute love. We had decided not to eat French food in USA, but this was an opportunity that was too good to pass up on. We strode in and made reservations for the next evening.

Do have a look at the menu here. It is mouthwatering. It is often said that a good roast chicken is something of joy. Many restaurants offer Roast Chicken for two, but we have never been tempted to order that. This time I was determined. They offered a ½ Roast Chicken. It arrived a beautiful golden colour. Juicy in the extreme, seasoned perfectly with a beautiful sauce. I now know why Roast Chicken is so loved. Wonderful dish.

French Onion Soup - One of my all time favourite soups

Half dozen Snails with Garlic and Parsley Butter. HRH the Queens favourite starter

Roast Chicken

A special of the day. Gnocci with Langoustines and Morels

A special of the day Dessert. Peach 3 ways.

Whats going on? Mismatched cutlery

The area around the Empire State Building is an ethnic Korean enclave in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, centered on West 32nd Street between Fifth Avenue and the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Broadway. This is in what is known as the Garment District and close to the legendary Macy’s. We have never eaten Korean food so we thought we should test the waters.

Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong stood out. It had a long line so we said this looks good. Subsequent research showed that we had actually lucked out. Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong is owned by a Korean wrestler and TV star. The restaurant was very popular and many celebrities had dined there from Anthony Bourdain to Ed Sheeran and Maria Sharapova. Pausing here for a moment. There is nothing to show that celebrities necessarily have good taste in food or have the same taste as you. So why should you go to a restaurant where celebrities go? I have no real answer. All I can say is that restaurants frequented by celebrities normally have decent food since taking them there will not embarrass the host.

This was our first Korean and Korean Barbeque restaurant. The place was absolutely full with people happily and noisily eating and drinking. Kpop blared over the speakers. The atmosphere was happy and jovial. Each table had a grill. Around the grill was receptacle. 1/3 of the receptacle was filled with beaten egg which cooked in the heat. A second third had a mix of all things, of, sweet corn and cheese which melted in the heat. The last third had some Kim Chi and raw onion which softened. The grill had a chimney which could be adjusted, to excavate the smoke caused.

On the table was an array of various condiments and staples - tofu, lettuce, rice and various pickled vegetables. We ordered Pork Belly and Kalbi [or Galbi] which is spiral cut beef rib. To explain a spiral cut would be cutting a rib so that it opens up like a roll of paper. The result is that you have thin lengths of beef which then cook very quickly. The waitress places the meat on the barbeque, monitors it, and tells you when it is ready. You can then make a sort of pouch with the lettuce, condiments and the meat and pop it into your mouth. The egg has cooked by now as has the cheese melted. The rice is mixed up and eaten. It was a very pleasant experience. I can imagine this being great fun with a bunch of friends – no Jains and vegetarians please – all having a few drinks and eating barbequed meat. A sort of Korean Kebab and Sharab evening.

The Kalbi - uncooked

Pork Belly - uncooked. Scissors ready to cut

Pork Belly on the fire. Note the Egg and the Corn & Cheese alongside the grill

The Kalbi on the grill

Suffice to say, we ate well in Manhattan.

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