Notes from some recent dining
- Wonderful brunch with 20 people (surprise party) at Miracle Grill. Everything went great from beginning to end - they held a large/private back room for us from 11:30-2, service was excellent - friendly, fast/flowing service of fresh coffee and drinks throughout, well timed serving of half the room and then the other half. Everything we got food wise was really good. Very picky group and everyone were happy with their meal. A lot of us, including me, hadnt been to the Miracle Grill in a while and were pleasantly surprised at how good the food still is. The huevos rancheros were great, eggs were fluffy and hot and the ranchero sauce very flavorful (blue corn pancakes with fresh fruit and a steak and eggs combo were also very good) I especially liked the grits, they looked thin when first arrived - but were very creamy and delicious. Only $20 a person with good tip.
- Dinner at Artisanal Sat night had highlights and disappointments - fondue was on/great; onion soup was amazing as always - crispy, multi cheese top and intense, rich broth; mussels were also very good, tender and lovely broth; and the after dinner cheese we sampled was heavenly (these haven't slipped a bit). BUT - some big disappointments that went with this meal our waitress had no knowledge of the wine list and could make no recommendations at all, and the sommelier was very busy. The servers were noticeably crabby & abrupt to the point of almost throwing dishes down. The steak frites (both the steak and frites) were sub-par. And we had 2 dishes that were really terrible - the fish and frites were almost inedible - the fish was tough, slimy and way over battered, and we tried a new dish on the menu - parmesan calamari with 3 sauces - the calamari was limp, and greasy, and sauces were very uninteresting (average tartar sauce, and sub-par tomato and some other bland red thing) Anything fried - from the frites to the fish - was not crispy enough, and was greasy and had that old/over-used oil taste. With any of these dishes we would have done better at any well regarded low-end bistro (we never mind paying $$$ for a good meal, but "ouch" paying those prices for such bad food) as many Chowhounds have noted the trick to eating at Artisanal is sticking to what they do best - cheese (mussels, onion soup, yum) but I'm very disappointed that other standards we've enjoyed here (like the steak and frites) have slipped.
- Dinner Friday night at Punch and Judy again confirmed what an all-around excellent wine bar and place to spend an evening with friends this is! Although a hot spot on Clinton - the vibe has a local/regulars feel and even on a Fri night and packed - it had a smooth atmosphere - an excellent mix of music (they use a packed ipod), sexy lighting, and amazing, attentive service. The exceptional staff is part of what makes this place great. From the manager to host to waitress - they all really know their wine selection, make great recommendations tailored to what your looking for, and check back frequently to make sure you like everything and are enjoying yourself! Their small menu is perfectly suited to a relaxed night of wine drinking - the Croque monsieur and French dip sandwiches are still made with quality ingredients and perfectly toasted (a bit disappointed that they are no longer served with a small side salad), there's a nice and inexpensive cheese and meat plate, the caprese salad with their own homemade mozzarella is so good, the warm breads with 3 dips are excellent! - big selection of great bread and a chipolte butter, olive butter and high quality olive oil. And the chocolate fondue is rich and decadent, served with bites of cake, fresh strawberries, blueberries and my favorite - banana slices dusted with walnuts. Corn and crab soup was a bit bland. We tried some wonderful wines in our $30 price range. We also tried a fantastic after dinner wine called - Tokaji - that comes from Hungary and is made from grapes infected with the disease botrytis. It has an unusual orange-ish color and an intense and bright flavor that is sublime!