New York Bites — Day Two — Top Chef Kitchen

During our honeymoon in New York City in 2011, we visited all the “big” museums and did all the major tourist attractions, so this time around we decided to visit a few lesser known places. We were staying close to Broadway and Times Square and, to be honest, the restaurant selections around there can be pretty slim if you’re looking for something outside of the chain restaurant zone (and no, we did not visit Guy Fieri’s restaurant). K did a search on LocalEats.com and found a highly rated Korean restaurant not far away so we were off.

Tiny, spare and beautiful Danji was *exactly* what we needed after a night of fitful sleep punctuated by the honks, yells and sirens of the city that never sleeps. I want to *live* in Danji — it’s that pretty. From the crafty Edison bulb lighting fixtures, to the white brick, to the wall of spoons…

danji spoons …down to the amazingly clever menu drawers that conserve precious space.

danji menu drawer

Even more beautiful was the food. Simple tofu with ginger scallion sauce was simply the most exquisite bite of tofu I’ve experienced. It was clearly homemade, layers of light and fluffy beauty with a little crisp and a sprinkling of fairy dust. Seriously, I don’t know what this stuff was, but I would like to put it on everything I eat from now on because it’s magic.

danji tofuK had the dup-bob over rice with brisket bulgogi and I got the dup-bob over rice with spicy pork belly. Both came with kimchi (which tends to be a bit too spicy for my Minnesota palate) and a lovely, warm daikon beef soup. The pork belly was tender and the spicy sauce was just spicy enough for me, served over fluffy rice it was the perfect lunch in a bowl.

danji bulgogi dup-bobCelebrity spotting: As we were getting onto the subway, who else but Matthew Broderick was hopping off?! He’s starring in “Nice Work if You Can Get it” on Broadway — right across the street from our hotel — so we’re, like, practically next door neighbors. And yes, he’s still adorable.

We spent the afternoon exploring the New York Historical Society. They had an extensive WWII exhibit that was interesting and some lovely paintings of the Hudson River Valley, but the real score was on the fourth floor. Hundreds of years of art, artifacts and ephemera piled behind glass — statues, furnishings, medals, toys…history. It was wonderfully overwhelming and every layer you peered into you saw something new and amazing. Mind boggling fun. Then we took a chilly autumn afternoon walk through Central Park.

After a snack and a cat nap under 50 layers of blankets so I could warm up, we put on our fancy pants and headed to our big dinner at Top Chef Kitchen — the pop-up restaurant in Tribeca. The place was positively packed, but chefs Antonia Lofaso and Fabio Viviani circulated through the guests, greeting people and making sure everyone was happy with their food and beverages. The ceilings were high and flocked with stringy white chandeliers and the walls were lined in Top Chef orange. We kept it simple and I ordered Fabio’s tasting menu while K ordered Antonia’s tasting menu and we split each dish. We were also treated to the wine pairings that came with both.

Our amuse bouche was the opportunity to meet Fabio Viviani, who kindly welcomed us. Our first course was burrata, a sun-dried tomato and chipotle pesto (Fabio) and a crudo of fluke with grapes, pickled fennel and dill (Antonia).

Fabio Viviani Burrata Top Chef Kitchen

Fabio Viviani’s Burrata – Top Chef Kitchen – Photo courtesy of Bravo

The cheese was fresh, smooth and filled with cream and was nicely complemented by the sweet tomato and the spicy, smoky bite of the chipotle. The bubbles from the prosecco sweetly cut through every rich bite. The fluke was delicate and the warm taste of the grapes paired beautifully.

Our second course was lobster ravioli with tarragon, tomato and a crispy squash blossom (Antonia) and gnocchi with duck sausage (Fabio). The gnocchi were tender little pillows of wonderful with the savory duck sausage ragout sauce coating every bite.

Gnocchi with Duck Sausage - Fabio Viviani - Top Chef Kitchen

Gnocchi with Duck Sausage – Fabio Viviani – Top Chef Kitchen – Photo courtesy of Bravo TV

The ravioli were elegant and the lobster filling and tarragon played together gracefully. The crispy squash blossom was filled with herbed ricotta and was a delightful surprise.

Lobster Ravioli Antonia Lofaso Top Chef Kitchen

Lobster Ravioli with Tarragon – Antonia Lofaso – Top Chef Kitchen – Photo courtesy of Bravo TV

Our third course was beef short ribs with carrots and braised pistachios (Fabio) and braised veal cheek with polenta and roasted mushrooms (Antonia).

Both the veal cheek and the short ribs were fall apart/fork tender and luscious. Oddly, the braised pistachios were my favorite bit of the short ribs — I’ve never had them before and they had a distinct pistachio flavor, but were very soft and almost feminine.

Short Rib - Fabio Viviani - Top Chef Kitchen

Short Rib – Fabio Viviani – Top Chef Kitchen – Photo courtesy of Bravo TV

The creamy polenta and tasty mushrooms paired with the veal cheek were darn near the perfect bite.

Veal Cheek and Polenta - Antonia Lofaso - Top Chef Kitchen

Veal Cheek and Polenta – Antonia Lofaso – Top Chef Kitchen – Photo courtesy of Bravo TV

For dessert we enjoyed a chocolate torte with Nutella ice cream (Antonia) and a truffled Tiramisu (Fabio). The Tiramisu was rich and creamy and the torte was even richer and absolutely lush when paired with the ice cream.

Chocolate torte - Antonia Lofaso - Top Chef Kitchen

Chocolate torte – Antonia Lofaso – Top Chef Kitchen – Photo courtesy of Bravo TV

Special thanks to Bravo for use of the photos from their website. The lighting in the Top Chef Kitchen was very low and our photos certainly did not do the amazing food justice.

After we filled up on flashy food, we made a stop at Geoffrey Zakarian’s Lamb’s Club for cocktails — wonderful concoctions made with elderflower, gin, citrus, ginger, egg whites, bitters and more. Because an evening in New York City is certainly not complete without a stop for very glamorous, late night cocktails. Stay tuned for our final day in our whirlwind trip to NYC!

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