A few bites of the Apple

The recent radio silence – perhaps a welcome relief from my initial posts-per-week rate – can in part be attributed to a much-anticipated trip across the Pacific to the city so nice it was named twice.  Armed with a spreadsheet leaving little room for relaxation, and accompanied by a long-suffering travel companion (my younger sister), it’s safe to say that not a single opportunity for gluttony was wasted.  The sheer quantity of highlights on the food front makes bullet points the most appropriate format for a (chronological) round-up.

  • In LAX transit, airport food’s reputation was improved considerably at Wolfgang Puck Express, by way of a mushroom, goat cheese and rocket (OK, “arugula”) pizza.
  • A peach crumb muffin and apple crumb bar from Magnolia Bakery  (evidently they drop the “-le” from crumble States-side)  – yes, we forwent their signature item, the cupcake, for faintly more breakfast-appropriate options.
  • Crinkle cut cheese fries, washed down with Bud Light, at Yankee Stadium.  I felt my arteries harden with every bite.
  • Bagels from Ess-A-Bagel, consumed outside Tiffany’s (in homage to Audrey).  The queue told us were onto a good thing.  I had mine plain and toasted with strawberry cream cheese, and Sweet Tooth went for the cinnamon raisin option with chocolate chip cream cheese.

  • Pan-seared Montauk tuna caesar salad and a glass of Napa Valley sauvignon blanc (for comparative purposes) at Grand Central Oyster Bar, underneath Grand Central Station.  The fair-weather fish fan among us opted for the roast chicken, one of two non-seafood selections on the extensive menu.
  • New York cheesecake from Brooklyn Diner (inexplicably located near Times Square).  At 11pm.  Because there’s nothing like a healthy wedge of cheesecake to induce sleep.
  • A Red Hook Lobster Pound Maine lobster roll for me, and tacos for my sister, from Smorgasburg.  Something of a hipster food truck institution in Williamsburg, we happened upon a pop-up version at South Street Seaport.
  • The brilliantly-named Basic B ice cream (Mexican vanilla and black lava sea salt) from Ice and Vice on the Lower East Side.  Other flavours of note included Shiso Pretty and Milk Money $$$.
  • Cocktails, mini burgers and a cheese platter at The Palm Court at The Plaza.  My mint julep was served in a copper cup.  It cost $25 US.  Feeling like a character from The Great Gatsby almost justified the cost.
  • Toast from Underline, a café located (as the name suggests) under The High Line (a disused railway that has been converted into an inner city park and walkway).  To call it toast is to do it a disservice – try thick-sliced pain au levain, slathered generously with cinnamon ricotta, topped with fresh strawberries and pickled rhubarb, and finished with a trickle of maple syrup.   Sold.

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  • Intensely green split pea and spinach soup at Friedmans in Chelsea Market.  Unexpectedly served chilled, the shock of the first gulp was quickly replaced by satiated satisfaction.
  • More excellence on the icecream flavour name front at Big Gay Icecream.  I’d heard mention of the Salty Pimp (a dulce de leche-lined cone and vanilla soft serve, dipped in salted chocolate) and the Bea Arthur (the same base but dipped in crushed Nilla wafers) on an episode of Burnt Toast, Food52’s podcast, and could not rest until they were sampled.
  • Mexican at La Esquina.  Unbeknownst to me when I booked a table online, it’s a speakeasy: upon arrival at a nondescript taco joint, we approached a man standing by what looked like a door to the restrooms, and mentioned our reservation.  He picked up the phone, and waitress appeared at the door; she led us downstairs, through a kitchen, to a dimly-lit, cave-like bar and restaurant.  Feeling supremely in-the-know, we devoured queso fundido, plantain chips, and tacos, and overheard a woman at the table next door announce with a sigh that her doctor had recommended she lay off the Botox.

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  • Granola at Bluestone Lane, a chain of cafés run by Australian owners.  We visited the newest iteration, located in a converted church on the Upper East Side just along from the Guggenheim.
  • More creamy frozen treats at Milk Bar (I swear, the sweltering temperatures necessitated such conspicuous icecream consumption).  I had a crunchy cereal shake; as promised, it really did taste, delightfully, like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of cornflakes.
  • Pizza (in both fried and regular form), and an obligatory glass of red, at Eataly, Mario Batelli’s behemoth of an Italian food market.
  • A DKA (Dominique’s kouign amann) from Dominique Ansel, home of the cronut.
  • Matzo ball soup right where Harry met Sally, at Katz’s Deli.  The portion sizes of the beef brisket and pastrami sandwiches passing our table at regular intervals suggested that many a cow has sacrificed its life in the name of a hearty (kosher) meal at this famous joint.

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  • David Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar was superlative.  Buffalo pork buns with blue cheese, an heirloom tomato and plum salad, and a blackened bluefish sandwich with miso were polished off in no time, enhanced by the addition of the eponymous Ssäm sauce.
  • Emergency icecream from Morgenstern’s (it was still 30 degrees Celsius at 10pm and there was a queue down the street): salted caramel pretzel for me, bitter chocolate with salted caramel sauce for the sister.
  • A lovely brunch (smoked salmon and avocado on toast, and orange blossom pancakes) at Jack’s Wife Freda in the West Village.
  • I can attest that they do good icecream both sides of the East River: OddFellows in Williamsburg served a tasty caramelised white chocolate and roasted almond combo.
  • Much-acclaimed pizza at Roberta’s in Bushwick.  The purist went for the Margherita.  Swayed by the allure of heirloom tomato and prosciutto breadcrumbs, I had the Family Jewels and was so happy I did.

  • Almost scone-like chocolate chip and walnut cookies from Levain Bakery.  Given its proximity to our hotel, it was probably for the best that we didn’t discover it until the final days of the trip.
  • Confessional: I finally lost my Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough v-card at the U.S. Open.
  • The Black Label burger from Minetta Tavern had been recommended by at least two independent sources.  It did not disappoint.  The Rhubarb Sophie cocktail seemed compulsory for my trusty sidekick.
  • Breakfast at the austere Cafe Sabarsky.  In deference to the setting (the Austrian Neue Gallerie), I chose the apfelstrudel.
  • Peanut butter frrrozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3 (those rs are not a typo).  As indulgently ridiculous as it sounds, although perhaps not as ridiculous as the Golden Opulence Sundae, priced at a cool $1,000.00 U.S. (if only we’d been forewarned of the 48 hours’ notice required).
  • Soul food at Red Rooster in Harlem.  Spicy chicken wings, street corn, mac & greens, and Uncle G’s pastrami.  To commandeer the motto of another poultry-centric eatery, it was finger lickin’ good.

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  • Brunch at Sarabeth’s on the Upper West Side, in the form of morning crunch granola and coconut waffles with vanilla butter and mango.
  • A glorious dinner at ABC Kitchen in the Flatiron District.  Roast carrot and avocado salad with crunchy seeds, sour cream and citrus to start, followed by a spinach, herbs and goat cheese whole wheat pizza and fresh fettuccine with pistachio pesto, wax beans and cherry tomato, and a cookie plate and a faintly coconutty hot chocolate to finish.
  • Sticky buns and bagels from the institution that is Zabar’s as a fitting final meal (and don’t get me started on their cheese selection).

Then, armed with bus food in the form of M&Ms – both peanut butter and pretzel – and corn nuts, we jumped on a Greyhound to Washington DC for Labor Weekend.  The Capital’s culinary offerings did not disappoint:

  • We enjoyed a Puerto Rican feast at Mio: buñuelos de yuca (cheese-filled yucca fritters), chicken with charred corn salsa, arugula and crispy roasted sweet potatoes, and pionono de vegetales (roasted vegetables and cheese wrapped in ripe plaintains)
  • Toast again – this time with crème fraîche and berry compote – at Slipstream.
  • Not wanting to neglect our self-imposed icecream duties, gelato from Dolcezza.  Valrhona milk chocolate pearls and dulce de leche elevated my vanilla gelato to a thing of beauty.
  • #instafood: Shake Shack.  I had the Shake Stack (the best point of which was a crumbed portobello mushroom filled with cheese in addition to the regular beef patty) with crinkle cut fries.  The sister couldn’t go past the bacon in the SmokeShack.

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  • Zucchini bread and pumpkin ginger loaf from Baked & Wired in Georgetown.  Densely, moistly delicious.

A few beverage-related points of note:

In short, we certainly didn’t starve in The City That Doesn’t Sleep.  It’s a very Big Apple, though, and I can’t wait to return to nibble some more.

 

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A few bites of the Apple

Cornwall Park Café

I suppose one positive of an eight-o’clock-on-a-Saturday-morning airport pickup is beating the 10am brunch rush (look at me, all “glass half full”).  So it was that my sister and I found ourselves seated at Cornwall Park Café before 9am last weekend, my second visit since it opened a few months back.  They don’t take bookings, and it does get busy – the first time I visited was at peak hour on a Sunday, and it was buzzing – but outdoor bean bags, freshly minted-and-lemoned water, a Rush Munro’s icecream cart, and a booming takeaway coffee trade all help the wait-time to pass pleasantly enough.  Oh, and the view’s rather lovely.

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Inside, the clientele are almost exclusively clad in lycra; on the weekends, at least, the café seems to cater predominantly for the Cornwall Park exercise brigade.  It’s (almost compulsorily) child-friendly – some of the tables are adorned with paper for doodling, and there are menu options “for the kid in all of us”.  There are plenty of staff, in matching aprons, and they’re most attentive – my glass of sparkling water is never below half full (perhaps a reflection of my positive attitude, as to which, see above).

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The café is licensed and open all day, and the “winter edition” menu is correspondingly comprehensive: breakfast, lunch, sandwiches, treats from the cabinet, and a drinks list spanning two pages.  I am somewhat predictable when it comes to breakfast; if it’s not a delectable baked good, then it’s something from the cereal department.  I’m therefore more than happy with a menu featuring three such options: Bircher muesli, house made granola, and porridge.  Having sampled the granola previously, and given it is a chilly August morning, today the porridge sways me, served with “compressed” rhubarb and yuzu custard.  A warming bowl of oaty goodness appeals: the space isn’t what you’d call cosy, perhaps a nod to the mildly perspiring fitness bunnies surrounding us.

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Little Sister opts for spiced hotcakes served with mascarpone, “compressed” apple (evidently “compressing” fruit is the way to go), apple syrup, and apple crisps. Other options include house made baked beans, lambs kidneys with Pedro Ximénez cream, and eggs any style. The jars of lemon curd and preserves accompanying the toast on a neighbouring table look like the real deal.

The cabinet food also looks tempting, and the window continues to fill up as we sit and admire it.  Drinks-wise, aside from the obvious espresso range, there are smoothies served in mason jars (a phenomenon that shows no sign of letting up), a selection of teas, sodas, juices, and soft drinks, a wine and beer selection, and “other milky matters”.  There are even “deconstructed” options – mix-your-own hot chocolates, iced chocolates, and iced coffees.

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Somewhat unusually, our meals arrive before our coffees – no doubt a side effect of the high takeaway coffee turnover. The food gets the tick from us; Little Sister remarks that the apple crisps atop her hotcakes are reminiscent of our primary school lunch boxes on a good day. As for the porridge, other than the disappointingly cold temperature of the rhubarb, and an unnecessary floral garnish, it’s very tasty – who doesn’t love custard?  And when the coffees do arrive, and once they get my order right (second time lucky), the coffee (Allpress) is excellent.

The lunch menu’s appeal means a return visit is on the cards, a bistro is opening up later this year, and a creamery is in the works; all in all, Cornwall Park’s new eateries are a welcome addition to this pastoral oasis in the middle of Auckland city.  As we depart, a boot camp, replete with kettle bells, is in full swing outside, no doubt set to feed into the 10am shift and ensure another busy, lycra-filled day at the café.

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$43 for porridge, hotcakes, a flat white and a cappuccino

Open 7 days from 7:30am

Cornwall Park (by the band rotunda), Pohutakawa Dr, Epsom

http://www.cornwallparkeateries.com/

Cornwall Park Café

Miss Moonshine’s

Has anyone else noticed the recent spate of restaurants adopting names that feature variants of the female honorific?  Miss Clawdy in the Wynyard Quarter, Miss Ping’s at City Works Depot (with us no longer, but replaced by another femininely-named venture, Odettes) and, south of the Bombay Hills, Mrs Hucks, Mama Hooch, and Madam Kwong in Christchurch, not to mention the original Madam Woo in Queenstown.  This proliferation was highlighted for me on Saturday night, when a failed attempt to dine at the newly-opened Auckland branch of Madam Woo in Takapuna (fully booked – I blame the Josh Emmett effect) led us back across the bridge to Miss Moonshine’s in Ponsonby.  I don’t want to dwell too much on the possible feminist readings of this phenomenon, but it’s food for thought.  To be honest, I’m more interested in food for eating.

Which brings us to Miss Moonshine’s.  Secreted away on a back lot alongside The Street Food Collective, with lane access from both Ponsonby Rd and Mackelvie St, it’s a little hard to find, but worth the search.  Upon arrival, we are informed by a very pleasant front-of-house that there’s a half-hour wait; given it’s 7:30pm on a Saturday, this is par for the course, so we happily trundle down the road for a drink at Golden Dawn.  Barely a sip of wine has passed my lips when the phone rings to inform us that our table is ready.  Swift front end service?  Check.

The joint is going for a Southern BBQ vibe, and embraces the theme without overdoing it.  The use of gingham print, dropped Gs on the menu, and a giant painting of a cow on the wall may suggest otherwise, but I swear it’s executed with enough subtlety to stay on the right side of kitsch.  Seated under the watchful gaze of said cow, we surmise that she may be the eponymous Miss Moonshine.

Vegetarians may want to sit this one out; the menu expressly states that “we hope you wore your meat-eatin’ shoes”.  Well, I worked at a butchery for five years, and my carnivorous tendencies are well-known, so I’m in my element.  There are smaller dishes to start (featuring impishly-named “magic mushrooms”), the aforementioned meat “from the pit” (beef brisket, beef short rib, pulled pork, pork belly, beer can chicken, and lamb chops – all free range, naturally), a range of sides, and three sweet options.

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My dining companion is a mac n’ cheese aficionado, so mac n’ cheese balls served with pancetta and truffle mayo to start are compulsory.  From the pit, we choose the beer can chicken, patriotically made using a New Zealand beer (Garage Project “Pills n’ Thrills”) and served with smoked bone sauce and “house” pickles (the flavour of which evoked memories of a McDonald’s cheeseburger, in the best possible way).  To accompany, we choose butter lettuce with goat cheese and pecan crunch, and pig tail fries with “bobby john” (tomato chutney) and aioli – necessary with this spicy derivation of the curly fry.

Spurred on by our bovine overseer, we engage our second stomachs and order dessert: chocolate peanut butter cheesecake with pralines, and low’n’slow apple served with gingersnap cookie and moonshine custard.  These arrive swiftly – as Miss Mac n’ Cheese notes, there’s nothing slow about the service, even if the apple is said to be – and while the presentation is a little hokey (it’s been a while since star-shaped sprinkles have adorned my plate), the cheesecake nails it in the taste department.

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The drinks list is pretty gosh-darn fun.  There are two pages of cocktails (Fizzy Rascal, Gin Reaper, and Stubborn Ass, to pick a few choice examples), and moonshine (allegedly) features heavily as an ingredient.  There are even alcoholic slushies on offer.  However, with my mind still on the unfinished rosé abandoned at Golden Dawn, I forgo the fun, turn to the back-page list of “grapes”, and replicate my (admittedly unseasonal) order.

If the food is “grilliant” (I got that gem from the website), then the staff are brilliant.  From a slick start, to double-checking for food allergies before serving a nut-filled salad, to sporting off a top-notch moustache, to offering remote Eftpos machines at the table when it comes time to pay (it’s the future!), they hit all the right notes.  We leave protein-full and fancy-free, our meat-eatin’ shoes more than happy to have made it, albeit circuitously, to Miss Moonshine’s, and just a little bit relieved to escape from her baleful stare.

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$94 for a glass of rosé, one starter, one main, two side dishes and two desserts

Open 7 days for lunch and dinner

Lot 3, 130 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby

http://www.missmoonshines.com/

Miss Moonshine’s

The Black Hoof

Spanish cuisine is not the natural choice to pair with a biopic about one of France’s most iconic fashion designers.  But, fan of the non-sequitur that I am, after viewing Saint Laurent at The Civic Theatre on Friday evening as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, I decided that tapas were on the agenda.

City sister of Casita Miro on Waiheke Island, The Black Hoof declares itself “A Taste of Spain in the Auckland CBD”, a description that succinctly captures the restaurant’s M.O.  Upstairs on Wyndham St, Will Thorpe (maître’d) and Logan Coath (head chef) have done a pretty good job of transporting patrons to the land where a mid-afternoon siesta is a legitimate part of the daily routine.  With wooden floors, bare brick walls, high ceilings, and legs of cured meat hung precariously from the roof, the ambience could best be described as “rustic”. In using that adjective, I intend nothing pejorative (for those seeking an obscure Gilmore Girls reference, an “Emily-describing-Luke’s-diner” inflection is not at all intended).

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The term “tapas” has been unashamedly bastardised to the extent that it is now essentially a synonym for “sharing plate” (“tapas-style Japanese”, anyone?), so it is ironically refreshing to encounter the concept in its original form español.  In fact, it’s not just tapas on offer (here, identified as “small dishes”): there are also snacks  (para picar) and larger dishes (raciones), as well as a selection of Spanish cheese (queso) and, as if to prove that the charcuterie hanging from the ceiling is not just for decoration, a range of cured meats.  Two desserts (postres) round out the menu.

Two-and-a-half hours of movie means we’ve missed happy hour (Tuesday to Saturday from 5 to 7pm), but as is our wont, we sample from the extensive drinks list nonetheless.  Sherry is a speciality, but there’s also a long list of beers (including Estrella, to fulfil the Spanish quota), cocktails, and wines Spanish, South American and local.  A Campo Viejo Rioja and a Torres Chardonnay, suitably Spanish, are the orders of the evening.

Complimentary bread, to start, is served with a smoked tomato dip.  The bread itself is nothing to write home about, but then again, the Spaniards aren’t famed for their bread, the dip itself more than makes up for any shortcomings, and hey, it’s free.  A selection for small plates follow: jamón croquetas with aioli, leeks braised in butter, chardonnay vinegar, and thyme, grilled butternut pumpkin with kale, roasted pine nuts, and sultanas, and, my pick of the bunch, chicharrones – crunchy pork served with fennel, parsley, and lemon  (I sense a dangerous fondness for crispy fatty porky morsels developing).  To finish, we decide to sample one of the cheeses on offer, and rather than the vaguely familiar manchego we instead go for the harder ewes milk idiazábal.  It is served with tortas (oddly, but pleasantly, sweet), wafers, and quince paste (what are quinces, you ask?  These Bachelor references are just too easy).  The food is reasonably priced and not fussy; I hesitate to use the word twice in one post, but “rustic” again seems appropriate.

I pride myself in rarely suffering from order envy, but the generous paella pan polished off by a neighbouring table does nudge the green monster inside just a little this time around.  The accompanying jugs of sangría suggest that this group have got the right idea when it comes to traditional Spanish dining.

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Not at all overbearing, the service at The Black Hoof is cheery and generous; on a previous, memorable visit, a (potentially wine-induced and completely non-menu related) emotional meltdown on my part earned our table a free pity dessert.  Now that’s what I call hospitality.  There are often lunchtime specials on offer, and frequent visitors can opt to join the “Little Piggies” club; I have abstained thus far only because the moniker is perhaps a little too close to the truth.

On our way out (thankfully, sans tears this time), a poster informs us that next week is the establishment’s first birthday party.  Alas, we’re one week early for celebratory cava, but wish The Black Hoof feliz cumpleaños nonetheless.

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$110 for four glasses of wine, one dish para picar, three tapas dishes, and a serving of queso

Open from 12pm Tuesday – Friday and 5pm Saturday

Closed Sundays and Mondays

Level 1, 12 Wyndham St, Auckland CBD

http://www.theblackhoof.co.nz/

The Black Hoof

Ode to a brioche

If my calculations are correct, then sometime in the last few weeks, a milestone appears to have slipped by under the radar: at some recent juncture, I ate my 100th cinnamon, date and walnut brioche from Little & Friday.

It is only in writing this down that I realise how ridiculous it sounds.  But I’ve done the maths.  Slowly and surely, my ritualistic Saturday morning practice of driving across the Auckland Harbour Bridge to Belmont (or, on the odd occasion, through the Newton gully to Newmarket) for a trim flat white in a tulip cup and a brioche (heated, please) has led to the only century I’m likely to ever achieve.  I acknowledge this feat whilst maintaining steadfast wilful blindness to the associated calorific accretion.

The representative 100th brioche
The representative 100th brioche

My Polaroid mugshot made it onto the “regulars” wall at the Belmont premises briefly; thankfully, this feature appears to have fallen victim to a redesign.  For a brief, joyous period, Little & Friday supplied both Supreme Seafarers and Good One, placing my vice of all vices in dangerous proximity to my flat and workplace. The end of that supply relationship was perhaps healthy in stymying my consumption, but there are now whisperings of a Ponsonby Little & Friday outlet in the works…

There have been dalliances, yes – I partake in a date and orange scone on a regular basis, and have recently sampled the relatively new “blackboard” menu. But the brioche is my true spirit animal. Evangelically, I have spread the gospel – on a recent visit, all four of our number eschewed the extensive array of tempting treats and uniformly opted for the brioche.

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I could attempt to make a homemade version – I own the cookbook – but that would doubtless only lead to disappointment.  Once or twice, I have arrived before they’re out of the oven; the wait is but a small price to pay.  The savoury and chocolate variants look perfectly nice, but I can’t go past the spicy, nutty spiral of joy that has become my signature order.

It’s a cliché because it’s true: actions speak louder than words.  I think my obsession-cum-achievement is the purest way for me to express my adoration and gratitude for the baked good that’s been there for me through it all.

Here’s to 100 more.

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http://www.littleandfriday.com/

Ode to a brioche

The Glass Goose

For some time now, I’ve been championing the concept of Thirsty Thursday – or Thirstday, to save on syllables – and have been met with some resistance from my workmates.  There is, however, a committed core crew, and this week, instead of our usual Shortland St haunt, we decide to head further afield (all in the name of blog research, of course).

At the risk of cramming too many animal references into one sentence, The Glass Goose is the newest horse in the Federal St stable (or bird in the aviary, if you will).  Nestled upstairs, in the shade of the Sky Tower, the rooftop bar is “modeled off the idea of a glass house” and nails the indoor-outdoor flow concept.  We perch up outside in the bar area, next to the DJ, rather than inside, where the vibe is decidedly more “restauranty”.  Although it’s the middle of July, efficient outdoor heaters mean we’re toasty.

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The wine list is long and, save for a few stray Australian reds, an exclusively New Zealand affair.  We are more than content with our tried-and-true selections: Man O’ War Valhalla Chardonnay, Millton Chenin Blanc, and a Tiger for the non-wine drinker among us. There’s nothing out-of-the ordinary to be found – the choices are relatively mainstream – but all bases are covered.  There is also a comprehensive cocktail list spanning two pages and featuring such gems as The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, The Jaffa, and every Bachelor fan’s favourite, the espresso martini (yes, that’s two Bachelor references in the space of two posts).

Then, the food.  The grazing menu is designed for sharing (a concept hard to avoid this day in age) and is sorted by size: small bites (single-lamb-cutlet-small), medium and large sharing plates, a couple of “boards”, and a selection of sides.  There’s even a raw section, for those averse to food heated above 48 degrees Celsius.

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Evidently less discriminating than some on the food-temperature front, we find it hard to go past a side dish of duck fat potato skins with garlic and rosemary.  While suitably golden, I would have preferred them a little crispier (à la the equivalent offering next door at Depot).  For the sake of chip-based completeness, we also sample the more exotic option of eggplant fries: long strips of aubergine, crusted in fennel-seedy mix, and served with pistachio-yoghurt dip (I, all class, manage to dribble this down my front).  From the bites selection, we select the pulled pork slider and a portion of crumbed pork belly served with crunchy pancetta.  These are decidedly one-person portions, not suitable for sharing, and for that I’m selfishly glad – the pork belly is my highlight of the evening.  Another side dish – roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and honey – competently fulfils the evening’s vegetable quota.

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The dessert menu is waved under our noses, but we admirably, or some might say ashamedly, abstain.  Even the tempting devil of a salted caramel whoopie pie does not sway us tonight.  Next time, no doubt, we will succumb.

The staff are at first a little distracted, a little slow, but this can charitably be forgiven on the basis that they’re enjoying an unusually quiet Thursday night.  According to my companions, who’ve been here before, the place is already proving very popular of a Friday evening.  At any rate, the service warms up as soon as it becomes clear we’re needy and in want of food and attention.

Whether you’re riding out the inevitable wait for a table at one of the neighbouring “no reservations” eateries, in the mood for a casual drink, or seeking a commendable meal in its own right, The Glass Goose is a welcome and well-designed addition to the Federal St menagerie (sorry – couldn’t resist.  Someone stop me).

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78 Federal St, Auckland CBD

$105.50 for four wines, two bites, one medium sharing plate and two sides

Open 7 days, 11:30am – late

http://www.glassgoose.co.nz/

The Glass Goose

Phil’s Kitchen

When I told my parents I’d booked a table at Phil’s Kitchen for dinner on Saturday night, Dad’s response was, “Who is Phil?  And why doesn’t he have a dining room?”  Stoically ignoring the dad joke of the year and attempting answer those questions literally: Phil is Phil Clark, an alumnus of Meredith’s and SIDART (inter alia), with an extended stint on London’s restaurant scene under his belt.   As for my father’s second query, I assume “Phil’s Dining Room” just didn’t fit on the sign.

Situated next door to a typically-packed Canton Cafe, Phil’s Kitchen opened in late March this year and is a welcome addition to the busy Kingsland precinct, adding a touch of fine dining class to what is traditionally a cheap-and-cheerful locale.  The menu changes regularly and tonight it is mathematically pleasing: four starters, four mains, and two side dishes.  A three-dessert anomaly messes with the balance somewhat, but feng shui is restored by the wine list: two sparkling, four white, four red, two sweet, and all representing different varietals.  My glass of syrah from Redmetal Vineyards in the Hawke’s Bay is a local option, but French, Spanish and Italian drops are also on offer.

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Small and perfectly formed, spheres of house-baked bread are served warm, pre-buttered and studded with rosemary.  Their arrival is followed almost immediately by the starters.  We share two: crispy pork belly with musket grapes and hazelnut, and smoked marlin with grapefruit and truffle.  The hot-and-cold contrast between the two dishes is serendipitous ordering on our part, and the quantity is just sufficient to give us a tantalising sense of the quality to come.

Something of a hiatus between courses follows, but this is quickly forgotten when the mains arrive.  Between the four of us, we manage to cover all bases.  It is “fine dining”, I suppose, but it’s not pretentious: corn-fed chicken with field mushrooms and truffle; smoked duck breast with doris plum and cabbage (Doris has done a great job); slow-cooked kid/goat with peas, pumpkin and hazelnuts; poached salmon with beetroot, French white beans and pancetta.  The portions are generous and the flavour combinations pleasingly traditional.  Mum thinks the kid/goat tastes like lamb; Dad thinks there’s something decidedly goaty about it.  I’m just thankful for the menu’s clarity – slow-cooked kid without the reassuring “/goat” would have been slightly discomfiting.

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An appropriately hearty side dish of dauphinoise potatoes is served in a cast-iron pot; the green salad is perhaps superfluous to requirements.  We are preoccupied trying to identify the provenance of a white powder garnishing the duck breast – doesn’t it look a bit like goats cheese?  Can you taste a hint of caraway?  It is some sort of pureed nut?  It is, in fact, aerated duck fat, our learned waitress informs us, flavoured with fennel.  OK, maybe a little pretentiousness doesn’t hurt.  We tell ourselves that if it’s aerated, the calories don’t count.

Two of the three desserts seem suitable for the wintry tempest outside.  We share cinnamon doughnuts with soft caramel; lightly whipped cream laced with nutmeg perfectly offsets the centrepiece’s sweetness.  Dark chocolate cake is served in a manner best described as “broken”, fondly mended by chocolate parfait, salted caramel and roasted hazelnut.  Lemon and black plum meringue sounds virtuous by comparison, and it is hence ignored.

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Testament to the maître d’s efficiency, it takes a full two courses for us to realise that she is, in fact, flying solo.  The restaurant may be compact, but regardless, one waiter expertly handling the entire front of house is a laudable feat.

As if in fortuitous response to Dad’s initial (ironic) query, the man himself steps out of the kitchen and shakes my father’s hand as we leave.  There you go, Dad.  That’s Phil, and you’ve just spent a delightful evening in what is, in a strict sense, his dining room.

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479 New North Rd, Kingsland

Open from 5pm Tuesday – Thursday and 12pm Friday – Saturday

Closed Sundays and Mondays

http://philskitchen.co.nz/

Phil’s Kitchen