Aside from being a whirlwind of shopping, eating, and various commitments, the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas has also been full of new experiences. I got my first Christmas tree, went to my first holiday party for work, sent and received holiday cards to and from "old" (college) friends, made a buche de noel by myself, and tried two recently opened restaurants.
The New York Deli in Carytown isn't technically new, but it was completely made over in the fall and has a different menu, atmosphere and clientele. What used to be somewhat of a grungy, mediocre deli is now an attractive bar/eatery that's open later than almost any other place in Carytown. I heard rumors that not all of the food was actually available at first because the owner spent so much money on redecorating, but I only ordered one item off the specials menu, so I can't attest to that being true.
What I can say is that the appetizer I tried didn't taste as good as the decor looked. It was supposed to be crab, spinach and artichoke dip, although I didn't taste any crab, nor did I detect any artichoke flavor or texture. The accompanying chips were homemade from flour tortillas, and they were slightly soggy but still tasty. Overall the appetizer wasn't inedible, and it wasn't overly creamy, yet it didn't stand out as anything special. I kept thinking that I could have made a better spinach artichoke dip at home, which isn't what's supposed to happen when you go out to eat. Despite the $2 rail drinks and PBR specials, I don't see any need to go back to the new New York Deli.
In contrast, Cous Cous, a Moroccan/Mediterrean venue, has already been graced with my presence twice. Located on Franklin Street in the Fan, the restaurant seems to be another success for the owner of Sticky Rice. Though Cous Cous matches the energy and hipness of Sticky Rice, it is a step up in sophistication. For example, I would never think of doing a saki bomb at Cous Cous, but it does happened from time to time at Sticky Rice.
Clearly, the owner didn't intend for a duplicate of the pan-Asian hot spot with Cous Cous. The menu includes a large section of "meze," which are essentially tapas, though there are also salads, soup and entrees to choose from. The wine list is diverse but manageable, and the two desserts I tasted were satisfying and rounded the meal out perfectly. I was especially fond of the Manchego Fritters (fried cheese balls with a mango coulis), the Kefka (meatballs), and the spinach, which was sauteed with apples and raisins. The food at Cous Cous, like its image, is elegant and unique without being pretentious.
If you've never tried a buche de noel, please let me know and we can make arrangements to change that. I wait for Christmas every year just for the dessert...an unbelievably delicious roll of white cake and chocolate whipped cream. If you can master a sheet cake and whip your own cream, it's not a hard confection to master. I guess I have high standards when it comes to the yule log, and I consider it a victory that I made my own mouthwatering version of one of my favorite desserts. The leftovers are in my fridge, although I'm not expecting them to last more than a day or two - some things never change.