Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BCD in NYC Holiday Special: Part I

by Erin and Xani

First off, my apologies for being MIA on the blog scene! In my defense, I was down in the bayou building homes through Habitat for Humanity (and yes, eating beignets and etouffee) for a week (just like last year) and only recently returned. The post about the fabulous NOLA eats is forthcoming, but first let us present the much-anticipated BCD in NYC Holiday Special posts!! Hooray!

We departed Baltimore on a rainy morning (about 36 hours after my last exam of the semester), and as we headed further and further north on the train (or the choo choo, as we call it) the rain turned to snow and it was like a winter wonderland!

Waiting for the choo choo in Baltimore

The view from our window on the Hogwarts Express!

It was nice to be inside the cozy train car (very Hogwartsian) while it was so cold and blustery outside. That is, until we arrived in NYC and had to go outside and try to catch a cab! After a few minutes in the blizzard, we caught a cab to Cousins Ann and Steven's house in the Flatiron district.

It was a special day since it was Ann's birthday, and we wanted to go somewhere cozy and delicious for her birthday lunch and to kick off the weekend. Ann mentioned she'd like to go to a French bistro, so I suggested the only French bistro I know in New York: Les Halles Brasserie. Yes, folks, THE Les Halles that is the subject of Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" and other books/TV shows of his. I'm not sure if he's even affiliated with the restaurant anymore, but I have read "Kitchen Confidential" more times than I'd like to admit, and the BCD fam has cooked from the Les Halles Cookbook (dark chicken stock, anyone?), so I was STOKED to get to eat there for real. Lucky for us, the restaurant was only about 3 (snowy) blocks away. A Christmas miracle, indeed!

We were welcomed into the restaurant and seated right next to a large window overlooking the snowy and bustling street. It was so lovely to sip wine and be warmed by the heater and talk with Ann and Xani. And then there was the food.

The view from our table - so nice to be inside

Xani and birthday girl, Ann

We started with some escargots and some gratinee (french onion soup). The escargots were wonderfully garlicky and buttery (and so hot I did some damage to my mouth) and so full of flavor. The gratinee nearly made me fall out of my chair. The soup itself was thick with caramelized onions and so intense in flavor from the dark chicken stock, then topped with a crouton and lots of melted gruyere. I hesitated to pass it on to Xani but I knew she wasn't afraid to use her butter knife on me...

Snails + butter + garlic = heaven

Just kill me now...

Next course: steak frites, duck confit, and moules! The moules were classicly prepared with wine and garlic and some herbs, and were delicious and not gritty at all. The crusty bread played a wonderful role here.

The steak frites was also fantastic. We ordered the hanger steak (I think?), cooked rare, and it was so tender and flavorful. (Another neat fact about Les Halles: they do all their butchering on site.) The steak was served with a pan sauce likely made by deglazing the pan with some wine and shallots and letting it reduce (probably finishing with a glob of butter, of course). This sauce was extremely familiar (and thus comforting) to me since BCD Dad often makes a similar sauce when we have steak au poivre at home.

The duck confit was good but it was outshined by the steak and other dishes. I did like, however, the salad served along side the duck, which was a frisee salad with little fried cubes of potato on top - delish!

And speaking of fried potatoes, let's talk frites. I hate to say it, but they were not THAT good. They tasted a bit old. It goes without saying that Xani's fries are far superior (and note that her technique is in part from the Les Halles Cookbook!). But, perhaps I feel this way because I always eat Xani's fries RIGHT out of the oven, whereas in a restaurant, the chances of that happening are relatively slim, right?

Clearly I didn't get the black nailpolish memo

Moving on to our last course: dessert. The birthday girl wanted coffee and profiteroles, and that's what she got. The ice cream was creamy and delicious with the warm chocolate syrup we drizzled on top, plus the nice texture contrast of the cream puff itself.

Action shot

The coffee came with a wee brownie!

We left Les Halles almost three hours after we went in, trekked back to Ann's apartment, and relaxed until it was time for birthday dinner. Yes, another meal. We went to the Hudson Cafeteria and met up with Ann's cousin on the other side, Brian, who was also celebrating a birthday, and his super-fun friends. Plus, Lauren (of Brooklyn fame) came to dinner! It was a very cool space (also Hogwartsian with big long tables and super-high ceilings), with a REALLY cool bar where we had drinks beforehand, and the food was essentially upscale comfort food. No pics of that meal except these fun birthday pics!

Happy birthday!!

It was a lovely time with everyone but we were VERY glad to get to Brooklyn and get some shut-eye in preparation for the rest of the weekend. BCD Holiday Special Parts II and III coming soon! Don't touch that dial (er...URL address bar)!

EP & X

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