Monday, February 23, 2009

Happenings: Ritz Carlton Chocolate Bar 2009

City Guy and I extended our Valentine's Day another weekend by attending the Ritz Carlton Battery Park Chocolate Bar 2009 on Saturday. For those of you who don't know, the Chocolate Bar is an annual event in the hotel's top floor lounge, Rise. I guess the pastry chef designs a few dozen chocolate desserts and for $75, you get to eat as many as you want. You also get a bottomless glass of champagne. Tip and tax included.

So, how was it? It wasn't quite what I expected. I expected a Willy Wonka-esque buffet of chocolatey goodness--everything from hot chocolate to cakes to pies to ice cream sundaes and everything in between. I was wrong.

The buffet consists of three stations--following this year's Carnival theme: ferris wheel, roller coaster and carousel--frighteningly lit, as you can see from the pictures. The ferris wheel and carousel featured the same dozen or so small plates of dense chocolate desserts. On the ferris wheel, the plated items go around in a circle. On the carousel, they're placed on the table. The roller coaster had lighter fare -- macarons and macaroons, chocolate popcorn, dipped apples and strawberries, marshmallow treats, truffles--and featured a soundtrack of roller coaster sounds and people screaming, which added to its spookiness (unintended, I think.)The fourth station - the waffle station - was the highlight of my night - freshly made waffles are drizzled in chocolate hazelnut sauce and topped with a banana ice cream. Yum.

The focus on confectionery meant no chocolate drinks, pastries or ice cream- unless I missed something. I would have loved a nice chocolate chip cookie or chocolate sundae. The buffet was in a small corner of the restaurant, so it didn't feel as grand as I expected. I applaud the pastry chef's ingenuity--the desserts looked great and reflected the theme well, but the chocolate itself was unmemorable--no tastier than chocolates found at any fine hotel's buffet.

Even my favorite items - the waffle and the chocolate-dipped macarons--can easily be bested by other chocolate purveyors around town. I can't clearly remember a single dessert from the ferris wheel. Other than the waffle and macaron, there were only a couple items I ate in their entirety and none I wanted seconds of. This event is clearly a money-maker for the Ritz.

With all that chocolate and champagne, we both felt sick by the end of the night and a bit underwhelmed. If you want chocolate overload, I'd recommend the annual Chocolate Show at the Metropolitan Pavillion instead.

The view from atop the Ritz is breath-taking - at night, you can see the Hudson River lined with lights. During the summer, this might be a really great place to meet someone for drinks.

Stuff I've Learned: Never Try A Restaurant For The First Time The Week Before It Closes

I've done this before. Before the Palm Court at the Plaza closed for renovations, I had afternoon tea in the space beloved by Eloise. I was disappointed. Any tea connoisseur knows a hotel tea should never feature tea bags, much less sugar packets. Ugh.

This time, City Guy and I went to Fleur de Sel for Valentine's Day--a week before it closed. To our credit, the announcement of the well-reviewed French restaurant had not been made at the time City Guy made our reservation.

The short of it is the food was "eh." Not bad, but not mind-blowing, which is what you expect for $200 a head. After finishing our five-course tasting menu, I left still hungry - and I'm not a hungry hungry hippo, fyi. The service was unexceptional. The restaurant was packed that night, and the servers were peremptory and neglectful.

So, this is the thing. A lot of restaurants are closing these days. And while your instinct may be to make a final reservations at that once celebrated institution....Don't. By the time they've decided to close, there's a good reason. What motivation do a bunch of people on the verge of unemployment have to do their best work? In this recession, the sad truth is that we're seeing natural selection at work in the food world--if you're mediocre, if your glory days are behind you, your days may be numbered. As much as I have a sentimental attachment to recently closed restaurants, they weren't that good.

To Fleur de Sel's credit, the space was beautiful. Made me sad to know in a month's time, the space would be stripped of all its charms. And the crumb cakes they gave us as parting gifts were really tasty.

But by far the most superb thing about my evening there was the company--my love of food always pales in comparison to my love of City Guy. Hope your V-day was a happy one. Fleur del Sel, how I wish I'd known you in your heyday.

On My Mind: A Rise In Subway Graffiti?

Before moving to NYC over five years ago, I took a self-defense course to arm myself against the muggers and thugs I associated with the City from TV and film. My NYC friends still laugh when I tell them that story. Since the Giuliani era, the city's been a bastion of safety. My guard eventually fell. My first year here I wouldn't take a subway past 10 pm. Now, I've been known to take the subway alone at midnight on the weekends.

But a couple weeks ago, entering the Rector St 1 train stop from the Morris Street entrance, I saw something I hadn't seen since moving here: a reminder of former ghosts. The pictures speak for themselves.It was ugly and dirty and I felt violated. Who could have done this? And why? Now that the economy's tanking and the city's bankrupt, are people just giving up? Is this the beginning of the end? Is a return to a Dinkins' era NYC in our future?

It's a funny thing - the minute someone trashes something you've incorporated into your identity, something as simple as your subway station, you instantly feel different about your neighborhood, your home.

Fortunately, a couple days later, returning to the stop, I saw someone had scrubbed all the graffiti away. Sanity was restored. But it's a fight that continues to wage. Just this past weekend, I saw a small tag on the stairwell wall. Someone's angry and wants to infect the rest of us with his /her misery. In the meantime, the MTA guy who cleans the Rector St stop is my superhero.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Great Find: Fishtail

I used to be a fan of Restaurant Week until I realized many participating restaurants (and often the ones with the most coveted reservations) don't do their best work during Restaurant Week. But, on Friday, Miss Fashion and I tried David Burke's new sustainable seafood restaurant Fishtail, and I had a really satisfying meal. To start, I had the lobster dumplings, which were wading in a red curry sauce. For my main course, I had their take on "Mac and Cheese," which features grilled calamari on pasta with parmesan, and for dessert, I had David Burke's signature cheesecake lollipops (cheesecake dipped in white or milk chocolate) served with a side of bubblegum whipped cream. The bubblegum whipped cream wasn't my thing, but the lollipops were great. With its whimsical depictions of fish on the walls, the upstairs dining room is bright, warm and inviting--like eating a casual meal in a friend's townhouse uptown. I look forward to going again and trying the many other tempting menu options.BTW, this photo shows the lull before the rush - the dining room was packed by 12:30 or so. We had a noon reservation.