Wednesday, February 24, 2010

iCi Review


It seems like new restaurants are popping up faster than I can find time to go out and try them. iCi, on the other hand, has been around for a while. Much like No. 7 before it, many people both on the blog and off have recommended I give it a try. I'd originally planned on going to No. 7 on Monday night before remembering that they're closed that particular night, so I decided to give iCi a shot instead.

iCi is a charming little restaurant on the south side of Dekalb just west of Vanderbilt right next to Tillie's. What I noticed immediately was how intimate the dining room felt. When you enter, it feels initially more like someone's home than it does a restaurant. The dining area is small but not cramped, and it's a great place to just sit and relax.

Billed as being "Fresh, seasonal, and local," iCi prides itself on serving a locally produced menu that changes often. The menu is, in the words of Frank Bruni, "extremely brief," which in this case is a strength. Much like No. 7, everything seems crafted with care, and while it shouldn't take you long to find what you want, I'll bet whatever you order will be good. One nice touch is that they always offer a price-fixed menu of one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert for $26.

The customary bread begins your meal, accompanied by some exceptional olive oil, which i always prefer to butter. I wish I'd remembered to ask where it was from, because the oil really was very good, and the basket of bread didn't last very long between the two of us. iCi offers a "To Share" section of their menu for tasty pre-meal nibblets, but we didn't take advantage of them on this trip. I have a feeling the olives and the cheese plate are definitely worth checking out though.


Eschewing wine (though they have what looked like a great wine list) and a share plate, we dove right into our appetizers. We seem to have caught the butternut squash bug, as both our appetizers had it at their core. I had the Butternut Squash Dumpling, served with toasted hazel nuts, fresh sage, and creme fraiche. The dumpling was firm and held together well, and the squash and sage were very flavorful. The hazel nuts added a bit of crunch and earthiness to the dish as well.


We also ordered a bowl of the soup of the day, which for Monday was a Butternut Squash Soup with fresh sage. So, take the dumpling and turn it into a soup and you have a rich, creamy soup that was just about perfect.


My ever-abiding love for sea bass dictated the choice for my main course, and I had the Sauteed Branzini, which is served with bacon and leeks along with yukon gold potatoes. Served whole but split and ready to be flayed open, the fish was soft and buttery. The bacon and leeks made for almost a stuffing. The potatoes were soft and tasty, but led me to discover my first, albeit minor complaint. I like the ability add salt and pepper to my dishes if needed, while apparently the proprietors of iCi think that's sacrilege of some kind. No table has any salt or pepper shakers to speak of! it's a minor issue, and I actually forgot to ask our waitress for any, but it's a minor quibble worth noting.


My date fell in love with the Portobello and Herb Gnocchi with fontina, fennel, and beet sauce. This was another very strong, earthy dish with a lot of flavors competing for your attention. There wasn't a single dumbling left on the plate, so I have a hard time coming up with any complaints.


Dessert? Yes, please. First up, the Honey Panna Cotta with blood orange syrup and cardamom. If you've never had a panna cotta before, it's a yogurt or custard-like dessert made from cream, milk, sugar, and gelatin. It's almost flan-like in texture, and iCi's version tastes very fresh and while certainly sweet, it's not overly so.


I had no choice but to order the Chocolate Cake. Since the demise of Loulou, I've been hoping to find a new favorite chocolate cake, and iCi is the leader in the clubhouse. Their version is served with lightly caramelized bananas and a thick banana and rum sauce, along with a big marshmallow sitting on top. I loved almost everything about this dish, from the very dense, brownie-like cake to the sweet and flavorful sauce and sliced bananas. But why the marshmallow? I really don't like marshmallow at all, and almost didn't order the dish because of it. It doesn't really fit at all, and I was happy to just toss it aside and enjoy the rest of the excellent dessert. If they substituted a small dollop of vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream? Perfection, I'm telling you. As it is, it was still very good and I'll order it again.

iCi is a fantastically charming restaurant that is right up there with the best that our neighborhood has to offer. Their winter menu is full of rich, earth-y flavors that reflect the season and local produce. I really can't wait to see what they have in store in the spring and summer. I'll be back to find out, if only to get another order of the chocolate cake.

Information:

iCi
246 Dekalb Ave
718.789.2778
http://www.icirestaurant.com/

Google Map

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentine's Day Eats & Activities

Clinton Hill Blog does the work so I don't have to. I've added some phone numbers and links to my reviews if they exist. I'm a big fan of Stonehome, Aqualis, and Tamboril in particular.

FULTON

Greene Grape and GG Provisions
Fondue tastings and wine tastings, Friday and Saturday.

Aqualis Grill
773 Fulton Street (between S. Portland and S. Oxford)
$55/person four course and champagne and/or wine included.
(718) 797-3494

Dajeh Restaurant and Wine Bar
919 Fulton Street (between Clinton & Waverly)
Caribbean-Influenced, Wine-Paired Tasting Menu for Valentine’s Day.
5-course tasting menu $129 per couple. Each of the five courses is paired perfectly with a different wine in collaboration with Wine Consultant Veronique Fitzgerald, DWS. (the price without wine: $105.00 per couple).
(718) 857-1616

Stonehome Wine Bar
87 Lafayette (between S. Elliott and S. Portland)
4 courses for $65 per person, with wine pairings add $40 per person. Seatings at 6, 7, 9 and 10pm.
For Reservations, call (718) 624-9443

Cure Beauty Bar
Valentine Special: Basic Mani/Pedi/ 1 Dozen roses/glass of sparkling wine – $90 or for couples $165 (which can be friends/Spouses/sibling etc.). Runs from Feb. 12th -14th. Must make a appointment and pre-pay by Feb. 11th 2010.
(718) 622-7100

Social Therapy Group
What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Prepare for Valentine’s Day by getting better at loving. Explore where you are with love and friendship and create more intimacy in your all your relationships. Come to a social therapy group and work at making your Valentine’s Day more loving. Come alone or bring your loved one –whether it’s your friend, your partner, your mother or lover. We will help you get better at creating loving conversations. Saturday, February 13, 2010, 11am – 1pm. Fee: $30/person or $50/couple or twosome.

Contact: Ann Green, 718-797-3220 ext. 319 or agreen@socialtherapygroup.com.

DEKALB

iCi
Brunch from 9am to 4pm and a $45 5-course-prix-fix Menu for Dinner from 5.30 to 11pm.
(718) 789-2778

Chez Oskar
$36 Prix Fix menu Sunday evening
(718) 852-6250

MYRTLE

Tamboril
$25 Prix Fix 5:30-11 on Saturday
Jazz music at 7 and 9pm on Sunday
(718) 622-5130

Chez Lola
$32 Prix Fix menu Sunday evening
(718) 858-1484


If you know of any others, pass them along and I'll update the post.

UPDATE:

Here's a fun, off the beaten path kind of activity:

Valentine’s Day Cocktails & Candles

Come alone or with your partner to a hot and waxy candlemaking workshop on Valentine’s Day. Make up to 6 pure beeswax candles outside in a romantically lit Brooklyn backyard. Warm up and have a cocktail at the studio-bar while hand-dipping your candles! Pure beeswax candles smell like honey and your candles will be beautifully irregular and burn for up to 12 hours. Dress festively & come prepared to spend the workshop outside. $50 per person, includes an amazing cocktail and making up to 6 beeswax candles.

Valentine’s Day
5:30-7:00

Spots are filling up quick so book yours now!
nmmontenegro@gmail.com
Nina and Mckendree

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Super Bowl Jambalaya and Other Party Favors

I love throwing parties, especially when there's food involved. I especially love throwing parties where there's food and football involved, and there is rarely a better time to throw a party involving food and football than Super Bowl Sunday.

So that's exactly what I did.

Now I'm not usually big on party themes, but having New Orleans playing in this year's game (and winning!) made for a nice chance to try making something I'd never tried before but have always wanted to - jambalaya. I love me a good, spicy jambalaya, and here was my attempt at it. I doubled the recipe amounts since I was cooking for so many people. For a more reasonably-sized portion, just cut everything in half.

New Orleans Shrimp & Chicken Jambalaya
Adapted from this post at http://neworleanscuisine.blogspot.com/

Ingredients:

Seasoning Mix:

1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 1/2 tsp White Pepper
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Fresh Thyme
1 tsp Rubbed Sage
1/2 tsp Dried Basil
1 tsp Black Pepper

2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
1 Cup Diced Andouille
1 Cup Diced Onion
1 Cup Diced Bell Pepper (I used a mix of green, red, and yellow peppers)
1 Cup Diced Celery
1 Cup Diced Fresh Tomatoes
1 Cup Tomato Sauce
1 1/2 Cup Enriched Long Grain Rice
3 Cup Chicken stock with a shrimp shell infusion (see below)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
4 Tbsp Minced Fresh Garlic
1 Cup Diced Chicken
1 1/2 lb Raw shrimp, with shells
2 Tbsp Finely Chopped Italian Parsley
6 Tbsp Finely Sliced Green Onions

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. De-shell the shrimp and set the shells aside. For the stock infusion, heat the chicken stock over a low heat with approximately 1 1/2 cups of shrimp shells. This helps mix the flavors of chicken and shrimp.

Mix together the onion, celery, and bell pepper. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot (or really a cast iron Dutch oven, which I don't have), melt the butter over medium heat, add the andouille and cook until it just starts to brown.

Add 1/2 of the onion, celery, and pepper mixture, cook until the vegetables are tender.

Add the diced Tomatoes and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato sauce and cook for another minute. Add the Rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the stock, the remaining onions, celery, and peppers, seasoning mix, Worcestershire, and the garlic.

Taste the broth for seasoning, particularly salt. Test the rice as well, you may need to add more water. Add the chicken, stir well and put the pot in the preheated oven. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes. After the twenty-five minutes, stir in the raw shrimp, parsley, and green onions. Place back in the oven for an additional 10 minutes, or until the shrimp are cooked through.

Once it's done, test again to make sure the rice is fully cooked. When I made this, the rice needed some more water, which I stirred in and cooked over medium heat on the range. I also added some crushed red pepper flakes and a bit of kosher salt at the end.

So the jambalaya came out great and was a big hit. It wasn't anywhere near the only thing I made, however. I neglected to take a picture of the entire spread, but let's explore some of the other goodies, shall we?

It wouldn't be an NFL party at my place without bacon-wrapped scallops, so of course I had a decently-sized batch of those. Some of them had no bacon because I got way more scallops than bacon, a serious oversight on my part.

My friend Kate also brought a wonderful batch of Cajun mac & cheese as well as some cornbread.

I got a big 10lb bag of frozen wings and ended up making 7-8lbs worth. To make these, I brushed each wing with olive oil before baking in the oven at 425 for an hour. Once out of the oven, a small batch were sprinkled with black and white pepper and garlic powder, while the rest were dunked in a mixture of 1 part melted butter and 1 part Frank's Red Hot, my favorite cayenne pepper sauce. Tough to have a good football party without wings, no? I also had an antipasto platter and a cheese platter along with tortilla and potato chips, but forgot to photograph those.

For dessert, in honor of the game being played in Miami, I made a key lime cheesecake. I hope everyone else had a fun and safe Super Bowl Sunday!