Tag Archives: usa

County, New York City

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New York in January is very cold. Not your average ‘a bit chilly’, but jeans-freezingly, ear-snap-offingly, flag-a-cab-down-quickly kind of cold.  This is week has been no exception with lows of -14c, and that was without the wind chill factor… Oh to be a polar bear. Or inside, under a duvet.

The writer of this blog has been to the Big Apple many times over the years, and I simply love it.  It’s the ultimate city.  Almost as good as London, Paris or Sheffield, but with something extra. It’s stuffed with cool.  People. Shops. Restaurants. Bars. Clubs. Shows. (OK, except those guys in Times Square who dress up as Buzz Lightyear and ask for cash if you want to take a selfie with them….). It never sleeps. You can get a drink any time of day or night. There are endless things to do and see. And it has the most diverse global recruitment plan for taxi drivers.

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When I arrived for this trip, the first thing I did was plumb in a New York based magazine to my Flipboard to see what would come back.  Eater NY grabbed my attention with an article covering The 38 Essential New York Restaurants for January 2015. With first night jetlag getting the better of me, a quick decision took me to the ABC Kitchen, a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant, based on the offer of a well-to-do burger.  Classy, I know.  But with no custard-based desserts on the menu, a rather outstanding ‘Sundae‘ grabbed my attention. Salted caramel and candied popcorn and peanuts.  I rest my case, your honour.

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The following evening, we ventured to find the next place on Eater’s list, namely the Gramercy Tavern, which was fully booked. A swift two doors up the road found a table at the fresh, funky and noisy County. Reminded me of a Swedish sauna with restored barn walls, stainless steel, funky carnival light bulbs and exceptionally tall staff.  Ultimately a way better choice, primarily because of the vanilla bean crème brûlée…

Initial impressions offered hope…!  Presented in a very French shallow oval ramekin, there were no fuss or frills.  The custard was room temperature smooth, with no hint of curdling, but missed the promised vanilla bean. Good-ish so far.  However, the caramelisation was hard and a little sticky on the teeth and the overall feeling was that it simply lacked something to make it stand apart from the others. Whilst well executed, a somewhat middle-of-the-road result meant County NYC can only earn itself an average 4 / 10.  Better luck next time…

Footnote: Hopefully you remember what you were doing and where you were on the 11th of September 2001.  I know exactly where I was. If you get the chance, take the time to pay your own respects at the 9/11 memorial. It’s beautiful and is a fitting tribute to those who perished.

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Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club, Durham

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Finding ways to enjoy oneself on a weekend when away from the family in a foreign country can sometimes be a challenge. You are missing them, but you don’t want to wallow in your own self inflicted pity, so what should you do. Simple. Call any available workmates, hope for decent weather and go and do something you’ve not done before. Today’s escapade involved a well known but less often played sport (at least in Europe) called American Football. Or as my American brethren confusingly refer to it, football.  Surely that’s football, where 22 players chase a round ball around a field for ninety minutes trying their best not to bite each other.  Seemingly not. That’s soccer. Perhaps we could solve this continental divide once and for all and agree on the name Association football. Not sure the marketing guys can do much with that…

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The location for this foray into USA-style football was the impressive Duke University, home of the ‘Blue Devils‘.  Their opposition were the equally superbly named ‘Virginia Tech Hokies‘. My only previous experience of the game was during my teenage years when annual school ski trips would coincide with the Super Bowl, the grand finale of the American Football season, and we would watch this helmeted showdown on a fuzzily tuned 14″ TV on the coach on the way to the airport.  Suffice as to say, none of the rules stayed with me, so you can imagine how many times we had to ask the locals for an explanation. The most confusing was seeing one of the eight or nine referees on the field throw his underwear on the field, only to have the stadium commentator refer to it as a ‘flag’…

It’s also no surprise that American Football is one of the most lucrative sporting series in the USA. And you can see why.  One hour of clock time covers the entire played game, yet the entire event lasts close to four hours! Imagine the volume of burgers, beers, bagels, doughnuts, TV rights and advertising that can be sold to fill all the spare space…  I rest my case. Perhaps comparing NFL team revenue to various small country GDP’s is a more eye opening stat…

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Post game sustenance was sought at the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, a beautiful country club surrounded by manicured gardens and a championship golf course. Thoroughly outstanding crab cakes were followed by a Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée  with Citrus Sugar Cookie.

Presentation was quietly decadent with simple fresh fruit flourish and the Citrus Sugar cookie. The ramekin was French-style shallow with a thick layer of darkly caramelised sugar.  It took two stabs of the spoon to breakthrough to a room temperature and very light, smooth and gently citrus-toned custard. Despite the title, I couldn’t spot the vanilla pods flecks, but that may have been to due to the exceptionally subdued lighting on the Bull Durham bar’s terrace. In particular, the very smooth and delicately citrus custard afford this evenings subject a worthy 8/10. Right up there with the best. 🙂

Footnote: It was freezing sat on the terrace, as evidenced the need for full outdoor gear, but why we resorted to wearing napkins on our heads whilst practising our pirate scowls is still a mystery.

Napkin Pirates?
Napkin Pirates?

Brasa Steak House, Raleigh, North Carolina

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Readers of this blog will know that I travel to the USA a few times a year, primarily to Raleigh in North Carolina.  It is a lovely place.  For a Brit, the weather is great pretty much all the time.   April and October are the best months with good temperatures and lighter humidity.  Since I first came here in 2005, a lot has changed.  Many blue chip organisations have large locations here, and as a result, a lot of local people have moved here for work = lots of traffic.

More importantly, the number of restaurants have grown exponentially and  there is a veritable plethora of choice.  My first real love was Second Empire, located in downtown Raleigh.  It’s an old Victorian era building with an exquisite menu introduced to me by my mentor and career educator Barrie Parker with a hugely varied menu.   My second love, was my first introduction to sushi and sashimi at the lovely, and somewhat low rent Waraji.  It’s nothing fussy or pretentious, just simple Japanese fayre simply presented with cold Asahi beer.

However, tonights quirky and somewhat left field brûlée was at another culinary first for me, at Brasa the Brazilian Steak House.  For those of you who have not had the pleasure of a Brazilian steak night, the concept is simple.  You control a Green or Red beer mat traffic light system.  Green = bring me meat, lots of of it, don’t stop.  Red = seriously, stop.  Do I look like I need more protein?!  (Cut to shot of Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote).

Once the meat is done, the desert offerings come to the fore.  And a Chocolate Brûlée was the choice in hand.  Lets just say it was ‘interesting’.  Spoons for the table were ordered, just in case.  In fact, it was interesting.  Overtly rich and dark.  Caramelisation under done but somewhat lost in the black depths of the chocolate.  In truth, it wasn’t really a crème brûlée in the traditions of Trinity Cream, but it did explore culinary boundaries that this kind of pudding should.  Take something and change it.  See what happens.  For me, it was just a tad too dark and heavy, and lacked the sweetness I hoped the chocolate would impart.  Perhaps they used dark rather than milk chocolate.  A good interpretation but only worthy of 5/10.

Zinburger, Durham, North Carolina

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Strictly speaking this shouldn’t make it on to the blog as it wasn’t on the dessert menu and it’s not a crème brûlée, but I’m all for drawing attention to things that made me laugh out loud and prompt swift orders with the waitress…  No need for a long review, simply a photo will cover this rather curious, but tantalising beverage!  I give you the Crème Brûlée shake. 

Front Street Grill at Stillwater, Beaufort, North Carolina

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Like many things in life, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.  Sunshine, fine wines, extended family members, sleep…  In my case, two nights in Atlantic Beach means two nights out and the potential risk that two brûlées may need to be consumed. So you can guess what happened next…  

The good news is that Beaufort is a pretty North Carolinian coastal town with plenty of old colonial architecture on Front Street and enough expensive yatchs moored in the harbour to suggest the dining opportunities would be varied and exciting.  You have to remember that this is the USA, so wind powered yatchs were somewhat in short supply which had me worried that we might be subjected to a ‘meat with meat’ menu!  Thankfully not…  

The Front Street Grill in set right on the water front with views out across the harbour, and at sunset it’s a lovely spot to eat.  

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Tonight was the night to ‘go proper southern’ with Shrimp and Grits, a first time outing for me, and outstanding it was too…  When the time came for dessert, the ‘rule’ was required to be enforced again, so a Butterscotch Brûlée was requested.  Our waiter proudly told us as an ex-employee of the Crabs Claw, this offering was ‘way better’, and he wasn’t far wrong.  A shallow oval ramekin provided the carriage with a light sugaring to cover.  No surprises here, but the custard proved to be a delight!  It was almost runny in consistency, but the very gentle butterscotch overtones really made it something special, like a Werther’s Original had been slowly melted into the custard.  Unique and quite lovely.   So, the waiter wasn’t wrong, it was better than the Crab’s Claw, and almost one the best simply because of that very light butterscotch undertone.  8/10.

Crabs Claw, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

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On a recent two week trip to the USA, I found myself being at a loose end over a weekend.  So I took a trip out to the North Carolina coast to Atlantic Beach.  Hurricane Irene caused significant damage when it passed directly through here in 2011 destroying everything in it’s path as only a Category 1 hurricane can do.  This was starkly evident given the state of the pier connected to the hotel which we were told used to be three times as long as it is today.

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As with any road trip, part of the fun is finding good places to eat! And AB was no let down… The sun was shining and after a week of trying to avoid burgers and steaks, I was looking forward to some good seafood. The ever helpful Tripadvisor made some suggestions and reservations were made. Crabs Claw is right on the beach and a ‘steam pot’ with various bits of seafood including a Alaskan crab claw was ordered.

However, you all know the rule about this blog, ‘If it’s on the menu, you have to order it…’.  And tonight’s offering was a coconut crème brûlée no less…!  Now, for me, this was a first: the brûlée arrived unprepared and our waiter ‘torched’ it at the table!  The result meant a little wait as the sugar cooled, but also gave time to check a few things out.  The custard was direct from the fridge, so quite cold, and in fact made it somewhat heavy under the spoon.  It was however smooth with no signs of curdling and the influence of what I assumed was coconut milk was a pleasant Caribbean twist on this classic. The caramelisation was pretty heavy and hadn’t fully formed under the blow torch flame.  That said, it was a simple effort prepared with a little flourish that suited the beach front location and the relaxed service that evening…  5/10.

DoubleTree RDU Airport, Raleigh, North Carolina

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I’m a bit of fan of Hilton Hotels.  It’s something to do with their attempt to be a home from home when travelling on business.  I’ve stayed in this particular hotel more than any other anywhere else in the world, and I like it.  It’s not the most modern; it’s not in the best location for socialising in downtown Raleigh; the pool is a bit small BUT the staff are genuinely friendly and they try really hard to fix the little things.  I’ll give you example.  Coffee should always be drunk with brown sugar but this is often quite tricky in the USA for reasons I don’t fully understand.  So I mention this point in passing to restaurant manager on one stay.  Four months later I return for a another stay and when picking up my morning Starbucks, he rushes over to tell me he’s put brown sugar on the mandated order list for hotel without prompting…!  Hotels really are defined by their staff – fantastic!

So what about the brûlée?  Well, after suffering through a burned tomato sauce wrapped around some penne pasta and BBQ chicken, to try and recover, the hotel restaurant offered up their interpretation of the classic.  It was presented in a small four inch bowl with a nice depth of custard, perhaps half a teaspoon, and was dressed with a single strawberry a dash of cream.  Despite this being a very tasty recovery from the main course, the sugar coating was granulated, the custard was overly sweet, was slightly curdled rather than being smooth, the cream turned out to be aerosol and the strawberry was very slightly old.   5/10.

Biltmore Estate Bistro, Asheville, North Carolina

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The story behind the wholesale jerseys history of the Biltmore Estate in Economy Asheville, North Carolina, is truly VERTRIEB fascinating.  Currently promoted as the USA’s largest privately owned family home, it one… is a wonder of design, stonemasonry and the vast wealth certain families held in history to behold.  In 1889, the wholesale nba jerseys construction of the 250-room French Rennaisance style Biltmore House was started by George Vanderbilt. Women  6 years later it’s finished.  After acting as the family home for 35 years, in 1930 the Vanderbilt family open the house to the public in the hope that it will increase tourism to the area during the Great Depression.  Today, Biltmore is a slick tourist attraction with wholesale mlb jerseys house, vineyard, gardens and hugely extensive grounds to explore.  I’ve visited twice, and & have only scratched the surface of what it has to offer…

But the reason why we are all here is to cheap nfl jerseys find cheap mlb jerseys out just how good bai the Brûlée offering from the Biltmore Bistro menu was.  Having the chance to visit Biltmore close to the Thanksgiving Holiday and Christmas meant the whole ?LE place was decked with tinsel, holly and spicy stuff, so I was pleased to see that the Spiced Cranberry Brûlée was 100% in tune with everything else going on.  It offered a superb christmassy feel with the spiced cranberry topping, but on this occasion, the sugar topping was too thick, with the custard a little heavy and lacking the all important vanilla notes.  That said, there was a satisfying crack from the caramelised sugar topping but the experience just a little out of keeping with the grand environment in which it was served. 5/10.