Monday, November 15, 2010

Out to Lunch: Bonsai Japanese Restaurant

There is one thing I've learned from writing restaurant reviews, and that is that politicians apparently love to eat out. Last week, it was Sands Point Mayor Leonard Wurtzel at Livorno, this week it was Sen. Craig Johnson at Bonsai Japanese Restaurant. Who might I run into next week?

Bonsai is an attractive restaurant with a variety of seating options, including regular tables with padded chairs, more traditional Japanese booths where guests remove their shoes and sit on mats, and a sushi bar. My companion and I opted for a regular table, but I did see other patrons in the traditional Japanese seating area. The restaurant is dimly lit, with soft Asian music playing in the background, punctuated by the sounds of chopping coming from the chef behind the sushi bar.

My friend and I started with hot tea, which was unusual tasting — almost fermented — but good. Bonsai has a lunch menu, valid from Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Options include Japanese standards such as teriyaki, tempura, and udon (noodles), as well as bento boxes and sushi. Most entrees are served with miso soup and rice, and range in price from $7 (for vegetable teriyaki) to $13 (for some of the sushi lunches). There is also an option for ordering sushi and sashimi by the piece.

I ordered the chicken teriyaki and my friend ordered one of the bento boxes. The waitress quickly brought our salads and miso soup to begin our meal. The salad was a small bowl of mostly iceberg lettuce with a piece of tomato and cucumber drenched in a ginger dressing. The dressing was good, but the salad was a bit pedestrian. The miso soup however was a joy — rich and salty with cubes of silky tofu, bits of scallion and dark green seaweed floating throughout.

My chicken teriyaki was served with a bowl of white rice, and exactly six string beans, two baby carrots and one piece of broccoli — all very lightly steamed. The chicken (two thin chicken breast pieces) was broiled and cut into strips then coated with a slightly sweet teriyaki sauce. The chicken was tender, tasty and well-cooked, but I would have liked a few more vegetables to go with it.

My companion's bento box was a sight to behold. Beautifully presented, this meal is quite a value for $10. It included shumai (steamed shrimp dumplings), gyoza (pan fried shrimp dumplings), a California roll, and chicken teriyaki, plus dipping sauces, wasabi and pickled ginger. My friend proclaimed the shumai to be "warm and delicate," the California roll "good, but a bit dry," and the gyoza "good, but possibly was frozen originally." She said that neither the gyoza nor the shumai appeared to have much in the way of shrimp inside.

As a nice touch, lunches include a scoop of ice cream for dessert. I chose the green tea ice cream, which was interesting and unlike "American" ice cream in that it wasn't particularly sweet. My friend had the chocolate ice cream and said that it wasn't particularly sweet either. Other choices included vanilla and red bean.

During our time there (on, I must add, one of the worst weather days we've had lately), the restaurant was doing a pretty good business, with about six tables filled at all times — including the one with Sen. Johnson. Service is quick and polite, and we were in and out in an hour — with leftovers! Chopsticks were provided at every table (ask if you'd prefer a fork).

Bonsai is appropriate for a business lunch as long as reading isn't involved (lighting is quite dim). Total cost for two, including tax and tip — $24.

* Note: This article was originally published on Port Washington Patch.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Food Shopping in Port Washington

Of course everyone in town has their own favorite grocery ... but if you're new to town, or looking for some recommendations... here are my favorite places to shop for particular foods.

Fruits and Vegetables - Without a doubt, North Shore Farms is the place for this. Their produce is fresh and plentiful, and they have pretty much anything you might be looking for from kumquats to tomatillos. They also have pre-made foods -- which my friends rave about, but I haven't really tried. Plus they carry groceries, so if you need cat food or toilet paper, you can get them (just be prepared to pay a little extra for the convenience). Fruit and vegetable prices are very good.

Meat - Uncle Giuseppe's is where I turn to for meat. Their butchers are friendly and helpful, and their meat is fresh. You can see that they take a lot of pride in their meat section, and I never question the quality.

Groceries - Of the two large supermarkets in town, I greatly prefer King Kullen, which is slightly smaller but better laid out. I can get in and out of KK much faster than Stop & Shop, and the cashiers are faster and friendlier as well.

Natural ("healthy") and Gluten Free products - King Kullen has an excellent section of "natural" foods including organic produce, frozen goods, and canned products. You can also find unusual products there -- such as the Juniper Berries that I needed for a certain recipe. In addition, they've expanded their gluten-free offerings as well. Uncle Giuseppe's also has devoted an area to gluten-free foods. And of course, Whole Foods (on Northern and Port Washington Blvds) is an option (although a crowded and very expensive one, so I generally avoid it).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Golden Earthworm CSA - 26 weeks of eating green

What, you may ask, is a CSA? And why does this fall under the category of Port Washington food?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which basically means that you are buying a "share" of a local farm and thus you will share in the profits (ie: vegetables) and losses (ie: less vegetables) of that farm. The Golden Earthworm certified organic farm is located in Jamesport, NY (WAY out in Long Island for those of you unfamiliar with the area). Luckily for me, and many other Port residents, the farm has a drop off point in Port Washington, right off of Main Street at the Grassroots Environmental center.

Once a week, for 26 weeks starting in the Spring and ending around Thanksgiving, I go with my shopping bags to the pick-up spot where cardboard crates are piled high waiting to be picked up. In each crate is an assortment of vegetables (and occasionally berries or melons) that are in season and were harvested that morning. You just cannot get fresher produce unless you're picking it yourself. Plus, each week you get an informative e-newsletter from Maggie, wife of one of the two farmers. The newsletter includes recipes and storage information about the vegetables. Maggie, farmer James and farmer Matt are young, industrious, and dedicated, and do a wonderful job with the farm and in communicating to patrons.

I've been a member of the CSA for the past two years (and my membership is already in for 2010). During those two years, I've eaten better and more diverse vegetables than I had ever imagined. There have even been vegetables that I got to try for the very first time via the CSA (rhubarb, kohlrabi, purslane, watermelon radish, Japanese salad turnips).

Is this for everyone? No. It's expensive ($550 for the 26 week season). It's unpredictable -- weather and growing conditions can affect your "haul." If you don't like cooking, it's not for you. If you don't like vegetables, it's DEFINITELY not for you. If you aren't creative enough to figure out what to do with three turnips, a head of red leaf lettuce, five sweet potatoes and a cabbage -- this isn't for you. BUT - if you enjoy cooking, are a vegetarian or eat a lot of vegetables, and are excited by the idea of trying new things.... this may very well be for you. If you want to support your community agricultural projects, shop locally, reduce your carbon footprint, and eat organic fresh produce, then this is definitely for you.

I love it. In fact, I love it SO much that I didn't write about it until I was sure our membership had been sent in for this year. Spots are limited, so if you want to sign up do so now. Information is available here -

Note - for those of you who want to pick and choose what you get, or don't want to make a 26-week commitment, Golden Earthworm produce is available at the Organic Farmers Market that operates out of the town dock on Saturday mornings during the summer. More on that as it gets closer to the season.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

La P'tite Framboise

In the past, I've steered clear of French restaurants. Too many creamy things, too many small creatures, and we won't even mention how I feel about snails... However, three girlfriends and I were planning on watching the movie "Julie and Julia" and we thought that going out for French food beforehand would be appropriate.

La P'Tite Framboise is located at the intersection of Main Street and Shore Road, in the site that formerly housed the popular Italian restaurant Pomodoro. The space, while not large, is charmingly decorated with marble topped tables and red banquettes.

We arrived at a little after 6pm on a Saturday night, and sat at the bar for maybe three minutes until a table was ready. [The bar is charming-- stocked with olives and a huge hunk of cheese for patrons to have with their drinks.] My friends had French martinis, which they said were excellent. I had a glass of red wine. We were soon seated in a cozy booth near the window. Within 15 minutes the restaurant was completely filled -- not an empty table or seat to be seen. Unfortunately, the noise level was commensurately high.

The service was impeccable. Bread was brought promptly, and our bread plates refilled as needed. (Which was often because the restaurant places not only butter, but a ramekin of pate on the table to have with the bread). The pate was wonderful. We polished it off as we were studying the menu, and a server brought more.

For appetizers, we ordered the mussels in garlic and white wine (which I didn't eat, but I'm told were excellent), and warm brie on toast with candied pecans and figs. I did try the brie (quite an accomplishement for me, given my fear of white squishy things), and it was quite good, especially with the fig balsamic reduction drizzled on it.

For the main course, I (and one of my friends) had the special of the night -- Côtes de Boeuf Braisées, which is braised short ribs in pinot noir reduction served over asparagus risotto. I can't recall having short ribs before and wasn't sure if a bone would be involved. It turned out to be a beautiful browned boneless piece of meat covered in a rich and savory reduction. The meat was so tender I didn't need a knife -- just a tiny nudge of the fork would make it fall apart. It was nestled on a bed of risotto, studded generously with asparagus. I'll admit to having a bit of trepidation about risotto, given the fact that it generally contains cheese. There was nothing to be frightened of however -- it was creamy but not cheesy or overpowering and the asparagus was perfectly cooked and spread throughout. I was practically moaning in ecstacy as I devoured my plate of food, and there was nothing left to bring home. My companions had steak au Poivre Vert (steak with green peppercorns) which looked wonderful and came with an unusual potato gratin and perfectly done haricorts vert (aka string beans), and Coquilles st. Jacques et Crevettes which was scallops and shrimps in a cream sauce (obviously not for me, but my friend liked it). Everyone was very happy with our meals and the service and we can't wait to visit this restaurant again. I'm especially looking forward to trying the Cassoulet, which is the Wednesday special.

For dessert, we shared a Creme Brule, one of my favorites (yes, I know it's white and squishy, but it falls into the "sweet" exception). It was ample enough for the four of us to share (we were pretty full from dinner).

I don't recall having this indulgent of a dinner in a long time. It was marvelous, and I highly recommend it. One note - the restaurant can be crowded and loud during popular hours, if this is a problem for you, go at an off hour. Public parking is available in the lot on Shore Road, about  a half block away. Dinner prices range from $9 to $14 for appetizers and $21 to $29 for main courses. The wine list was good -- with 5 reds and 5 whites available by the glass for $9, and bottles ranging from $28 to $44.  I highly recommend the Line 39 Cabernet from California, available by the glass. Lunch, brunch and dinner are served.

La P'tite Framboise
294 Main St
Port Washington, NY 11050

About me...

I think it only fair to be up front about this -- I'm a picky eater. A VERY picky eater. What do I mean by this? Well, we can start with big categories of things I don't eat... for example, anything from the sea, anything white and squishy (unless it's sweet), anything that came from a goat, anything that looks like an alien (ie: lobsters, crabs, shrimp, etc).

Now to my credit, as I've gotten older I've also become braver with my food consumption. Whereas 15 or 20 years ago you wouldn't catch me eating a piece of cheese, today you actually may. In fact, over the past 5 years or so I've greatly broadened my eating horizons (but luckily not my waistline -- thanks to mostly sensible choices). Not only have I become a less picky eater, but I've come to discover the great joy of food -- both cooking it and consuming it. So I thought I'd share some of the highs (and maybe lows) of eating in my neighborhood.  Bon Appetite!