Posts Tagged ‘NYC’

Has it really been a week? Things have been busy around here… For the past week or so, I took a break from coming up with new and delicious recipes to prepare for something that, well, seemed like a good idea at the time! Let’s recap…

I’ve gotten pretty into running since finishing up culinary school earlier this year as a way to fill my newly freed-up weekday evenings (and balance out all the Pistachio-crusted beignets and Cheesy Stuffed Peppers I eat all weekend long). As such, thought it would be a good idea to motivate myself by signing up for an organized race event. After running a 4M in April, a 10K seemed the next logical step, and so I wound up spending most of last week try to run far, and fast, and freaking out that I would trip over my own feet or cramp up and fall over on race day.

Race day was Sunday. Thankfully none of those things happened. The race went relatively well, though I think that’s due in large part to the amazing group of runners that were running 10Ks, half-marathons, and marathons alongside me for the RxR Long Island Marathon. This completely inspirational group of people kept me motivated, excited, and having a blast throughout the entire six-point-two miles – especially the seventy-one year old man who beat me by over a minute! He ran ahead of me for most of the race and every time I looked up to see the back of his tee-shirt, which read, “I’m old and slow – get over it!” I couldn’t help but laugh. It was truly a great experience!

In addition to thousands of other runners and hilarious old men, these cheesy chicken enchiladas are also to thank for fueling Sunday’s success. My parents and I whipped these up, along with a refreshing, limey bowl of guacamole, homemade white flour tortilla chips (these beat out every other chip I’ve ever had!) and a light corn salad. It was a Cinco de Mayo meal to go down in history – so delicious, especially with a cerveza served along side – but then, I learned last summer how amazing these enchiladas are. You’ve gotta try them out!

So, as usual, it takes me a while to get to my point. My point is this – even though I’ve been running instead of recipe developing, I’ve still been doing a heck of a lot of cooking (and not just enchiladas)! Except this time, I’ve been relying on my Google Reader – my link to the food blogosphere – to find the best tasting recipes around. And two of them in particular were just two good NOT to share – so here they are!

First up is this incredibly luscious, slightly spicy, extremely exotic Thai Chicken Curry recipe from Saveur magazine. The recipe comes from the Las Vegas restaurant Lotus of Siam, which many consider to make the very best Thai food in the entire U.S. At home, I make Thai red curry dishes at least once a week (blame it on my coconut milk addiction) because they can be light in fat and calories while still packing huge flavor, and are easy to make with whatever veggies and protein you have on hand.

I was completely surprised, though, that this restaurant-caliber curry recipe was so easy to make! In fact, the simmering-broth method actually proved to be easier than how I have been making curries for weeks now. By simmering the coconut milk and curry paste together, the broth thickens and the flavors meld, giving you a rich, spoon-coating sauce for the chicken and vegetables. Full disclosure: I used Thai Kitchen’s red curry paste instead of Panang curry, as the recipe suggests (I couldn’t find it), and added in some red bell peppers, but the dish still came out beautifully. We served it along with a Spicy Thai Brown Rice Pilaf (recipe to come). Even if the idea of making Thai Curry seems overwhelming to you, I encourage you to give this recipe a shot. It’s straightforward and relatively foolproof – a great way to segue into Thai cooking!

The second fantastic recipe I wanted to share is this Lightened Up Vegan Sundried Tomato Basil Pesto from Angela over at Oh She Glows. Holy freaking yum! This popped up in my GReader yesterday morning, and even though I hadn’t even made it to lunch yet, I immediately started drooling and scribbled down the ingredients on a post-it to pick up after work. Adam and I were planning to have a date-night dinner and this seemed like the perfect dish (the boy loves his pesto)!

Well, this recipe did not disappoint. Not only did the pesto come together in a flash – five minutes! – but the flavors and consistency were dead on. This has all the basil, garlicky goodness of a traditional pesto, but with an excellent added tang and sweetness from the sundried tomatoes. The walnuts are a creative and well-matched spin on pesto’s traditional pine nuts, and with a few sprinkles of nutritional yeast, you definitely won’t miss the parmesan cheese. It also goes quite well with a glass (or two) of Pinot Grigio, I might add.

Pesto is actually one sauce I usually steer clear of since it can often be loaded with extra fat and calories from cheese, nuts and oil – but this pesto was light and super packed with flavor, meaning a little goes a long way! Angela’s recipe made about 3/4 of a cup (as stated on her blog), and I found this to be about six servings – two tablespoons was more than enough per serving of pasta. We tossed the pesto-pasta with some roasted asparagus, sauteed mushrooms and spinach, and pan-roasted chicken breast – what a delicious dinner. Thanks Angela for the awesome recipe!

One more thing I wanted to mention. For those in the NYC area, there’s a great food festival coming up weekend after next (May 19th – 20th) called The Great Googamooga (crazy name, I know)! This food / music / art festival is going to be held in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and will feature over 70 food vendors, beer, wine, and music, as well as prominent chefs, artists, and food personalities who will be doing demos, giving talks, and meeting fans. I believe Googamooga is still giving out the occasional free tickets and tickets are also available to buy. I’ll be attending and blogging about Googamooga – hope to see you all there!

Well, that’s all for now! Stay tuned for some more great recipes coming up this weekend…

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted a full-fledged restaurant review on the blog, namely because cooking and developing recipe is where my head’s been at. But last night I had a meal so insanely great that I literally could not go without mentioning it. In fact, I’ve already bragged about this meal to half the people I know, so it seems pretty appropriate that I document it here.

In a spur of the moment decision, my mom and I decided to grab dinner in the city last night before I head off into the Caribbean for a whole week (yes, I know!!!) on Friday. After each having our own fairly decadent Easter weekend, we wanted to eat out, but on the lighter, healthier side. After a bit of Yelping and Googling, I stumbled upon Candle 79 on the Upper East Side. The neighborhood was right, and I found myself flat-out excited about everything on the menu, something that rarely happens. But with interesting dishes like Avocado-Coconut Tartar, Morel and Ramp Ravioli, and Tofu Vegetable Napoleon, I couldn’t wait to sample a few of the dishes at Candle 79.

Candle 79 is a cozy, two-story restaurant on East 79th street, distinguishable on a mostly apartment-lined street by its deep red facade. Inside the restaurant, the ambiance was very relaxed and calm – almost zen – in the dimly lit main dining room where large framed photographs of fresh produce dotted the walls. A soft-spoken hostess led us to the back of the restaurant, where a frosted  glass wall encasing the kitchen sat at the foot of a winding staircase. Up the stairs we went into a second dining room, right to a table at the front of the room next to a row of windows. Dinner over natural sunlight? Finally, a perk to going out to eat at 6 pm.

Another soft-spoken waitress approached, filled our drinking glasses with filtered water, and delivered our menus. We quickly decided on sharing a few dishes and ordered. Another server brought over an amuse-bouche, which was a crispy, garlicky crostini smeared with a creamy spinach puree. Though I couldn’t identify the other ingredients, I noted that it must be dairy-free given the jurisdiction of the restaurant, and was impressed at the ability to achieve such a rich creamy texture without cheese or cream. But Candle 79’s ability to impress me would only continue.

Our first course was a heap of creamy smokey hummus, drizzled with red pepper oil and served alongside an assortment of fresh olives, a full bulb of roasted garlic, thick slices of carrot and cucumber, and a flaky, melt-in-your-mouth grilled Paratha bread that reminded me of Na’an more than anything else. The dish was an awesome assortment of finger foods and dippable items, all light, fresh, and just enough to inspire a greater appetite. My mom particularly loved this dish and plans to recreate it as an hor d’oeuvre for some upcoming spring parties!

Next up we had the Arugula salad, a fresh bed of greens laden with perfectly grilled spring asparagus, artichoke hearts, baby chickpeas, caramelized shallots, and avocado. The salad was tossed in a highly addictive Ramp Vinaigrette, and as one who loves ramps, and even more so, incorporating seasonal produce into dishes, I loved this touch. The salad was absolutely perfect and I would eat this every day if I could. Note to self: make ramp vinaigrette!

Our third and final course was the Morrocan Spiced Chickpea Cake, and man, did this dish blow us out of the water. The burger itself was a thick, soft patty made of chickpeas and what tasted like sweet potato, with a nice crispy crunch to the outside. It was topped with a thick smear of fig-apricot-ginger jam, and rested on a bed of perfectly poached cauliflower and broccoli florets. All these stacked components rested on in a bath of insane green coconut curry sauce, and the plate was sprinkled with slivered almonds. We almost couldn’t decide if this was more of an entrée or a dessert, so pronounced was the natural sweetness of many of the ingredients. It was all we could do to stop ourselves from licking the plate!

In the end, over matching pots of Vanilla-Cinnamon Rooibus Tea for “dessert,” we both decided that we would gladly go vegan if someone would cook us food like this every day. At Candle 79, not only do you not miss the meat (or dairy), but the flavors are so intoxicating and the food so well prepared, that you feel like you’re being given a treat, instead of being deprived. Best of all, you leave feeling energized and healthy, rather than stomach-achy and weighed down. Even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian (god knows I’m not!), I highly suggest checking out this restaurant – you might be surprised how great you feel after a delicious meal of organic, farm-to-table vegetarian goodness!

Candle 79 is located at 154 East 79th Street at Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10021.

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This weekend will be the tenth and final weekend of my culinary school externship. If you had asked me six months ago if I planned to spend my winter in the hot kitchen of a Michelin-starred restaurant, I would have laughed and told you that it just wasn’t my plan. But as life constantly teaches us, plans change, and sometimes the things you experience when you’re where you least expected to be can teach you things that you needed to know. Even if you didn’t know it.

I’ve been pretty quiet about my externship on the blog the past several weeks. I won’t lie; a big part of that is the non-disclosure agreement I signed, which means I can’t mention where I worked by name. But I also have enjoyed having this experience without constant, active, written reflection. My tasks, my abilities, my thoughts and reactions toward what I’ve done and learned over the past ten weeks have been constantly changing, and now, with this experience coming to a close, my take-away from it is much more lucid than it would have been after, say, week 4.
With that, here are the top ten things I learned in the ten weeks I’ve spent as a culinary extern.
10. The sharper your knives, the less you cry. This isn’t just a great book, and it isn’t just true of chopping onions (though that’s one of the clearest benefits of sharp knives). It may seem tedious, but regularly sharpening your knives will save your butt every single day in the kitchen. I may have learned this the hard way; let’s just say that generally, dull knives = frustrating, forced work = sloppy results. Sloppy results make you look sloppy. So really, if your knives are sharp, you look sharp. It’s as simple as that.
9. Be early. This is true of most jobs, but especially true in the restaurant world. If you show up on time, you’re actually late. Being fifteen minutes early, even if it means taking a cab instead of the F train, can set the tone for your whole day. And when you’re working a 14 hour shift, that’s a long time to have a bad tone. Being early gives you the time to have foresight, and this value is totally within your control, so use it to your advantage.
8. Everyone in the kitchen has their own way of doing things. And when you’re an intern, they’re all your boss. So get used to being flexible. Just because things are one way today, doesn’t mean they’re going to be the same way tomorrow. Though this may be confusing at first, it’s not only okay, it’s actually great. This environment will make you more adaptable and resilient, and it’s most likely the source of many great ideas that come out of the restaurant you’re working at. Embrace this ever-changing environment, and you’ll be a lot better off for it.
7. Proving the people who don’t trust you wrong is the greatest reward. Here’s something I never experienced in the (count ‘em) five business internships I’ve had in my life. Some people flat-out just don’t trust interns. They expect you to mess up in irreconcilable ways, often, and even your smallest misstep seems to prove them right. During my culinary internship, I realized how the pressure this puts on interns is actually a crucial presence in the kitchen. It gets interns to the next level, it forces you to be better, to prove any nay-sayers wrong. And if you can change their minds about you, about interns, it’s the best feeling in the world.
6. Advil is a miracle worker. Nuff said.
5. Eggs are your new best friend. There’s one thing, and one thing only, that is going to keep you full and energized for the extremely active 7 hours between breakfast and family meal, and that is eggs. I’ve never loved eggs more than I have in the past few weeks, and honestly I’ve astounded myself with my ability to consume huge quantities of them. But a four-egg omelet with some whole grain toast and an orange consumed at 10 will keep the hunger rumbles at bay until at least 4 pm, at which point, you’re in the clear. When in doubt, a pocket full of dried fruit and nuts will also be a lifesaver.
4. Stay hydrated. This one might seem super obvious (it was to me), but I was shocked to see how many cooks around the kitchen didn’t keep a bottle of water on hand through out the day, some waiting all the way til right before service (six hours into their shift!) to hydrate. The average restaurant kitchen clocks in at around 75 degrees during prep (higher during service), and on top of your flannel pants, heavy chef’s coat, hat and all the manual labor you’re doing, dehydration happens quicker than you think. When in doubt, take a water break. It really does matter.
3. Your “limit” is about 50% past than you think it is. Before starting this externship, I frankly had no clue how I was going to handle working 22 hours in two days – on top of a 40 hour work week, no less. This schedule seemed impossibly daunting (especially for a girl who likes a Saturday afternoon nap), but I kept telling myself, as Nike says, “Just do it.” And where I thought ten hours, maybe twelve, of work was all I could handle, I found I was able to make it happen for 16 hours on Friday and 14 on Saturday. And now, I’m fairly certain we’re all capable of more than we think we are. Mind over matter – push yourself, and you might be surprised what you find!
2. Never make the same mistake twice. A friend gave me this advice early on in my internship experience, and while it made sense then, it’s only now at the end of this journey that I realize how important this message was. We all make mistakes; that’s an inevitable part of life. But learning from them – and learning how to avoid making them in the future – that shows growth. I’ll never forget a moment early on in my internship; the kitchen was swamped, and I was working on tickets for two big VIPs. Though the chef had told me in advance, I completely mixed up which VIP’s wife was allergic to nuts – and sent an hor d’eurve with nuts to her table. It never got out the door, but I was completely embarrassed at letting something so serious slip by. And from that point on, no matter how busy I was, every ticket I worked was triple checked. And it didn’t happen again.
1. Have a plan, or become part of somebody else’s. Another piece of important and true advice from a friend that has stayed with me as I’ve contemplated my next steps post-externing. In the culinary world, like many other industries, most people have a plan, an agenda, an ultimate goal they’re working for. This is especially true in New York City, perhaps the most opportunistic place on Earth. If you’ve become part of someone’s journey toward their ultimate goal, and they see that you can offer some value in reaching it, you better believe they’re going to try and make you a part of that plan!
And hey, if your plan matches their plan, more power to you. Sometimes the stars align like that (I think they call it synergy). But regardless of everyone else’s plans and how convincing they might sound, have your own plan. Stick with it. Find a goal that’s important to you, and work towards it. If you’re lucky, the people in your life who have the power to help will see your value and want to help you out. It can be easy to get wrapped up in things bigger than yourself, but if you only get one life, you deserve to make it your own in the way that makes you happiest.
That, at the very least, is my plan.

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‘Inoteca in the rain

Last night was a beautiful night. Not in the sense of the weather actually being beautiful, of course, but in the sense of beautiful company, delicate and endearing cuisine, and a warm sense of relaxation. To celebrate the start of my birthday week (girls have such things, don’t ask me to explain), I had dinner with one of my most favorite people on this earth, my college roommate, Lindsey. The oppressive one-hundred-degree New York City heat, which always seems to feel hotter than the same temperature anywhere else would, gave way to aggressive, relentless torrents of rain, and seeking solace within a cozy, warmly lit restaurant among the reassuring buzz of others’ conversations seemed the loveliest way to spend an evening.

While at the University of Maryland, Linds and I shared an affinity for many things; day trips to Baltimore’s Harbor East to peruse the sale racks at South Moon Under and food carts on the streets, spicy tuna rolls from a local “Japanese” take-out spot, and the occasional foreign film. Now, though we live in two different major cities with hundreds of miles between us, there are still certain commonalities that can’t be broken; a love for Anthropologie dresses and travel magazines (and traveling, though her passport has far more stamps than mine), turning any trip (small or large) into an excuse to buy a guide-book, French macarons, and of course, amazing food.

Preferably Italian food.

I am one-half Italian (though my palate is four-fifth’s Italian), and Lindsey studied abroad in Rome for several months during college. She was lucky enough to not just sample, but immerse herself in real Italian food culture, from the heart of Rome where she lived her day-to-day life, to the various Italian cities she traveled to. To my extreme envy and delight, she even visited the famous pizzeria of “Eat, Pray, Love” stardom, Da Michele in Naples. The stories, of both food and culture, have largely contributed to the placement of Italy at the top of my must-visit destination list. But more about that later…

This visit provided an obvious excuse to indulge at a restaurant I’d been hankering to try, but had since been lacking the proper occasion to do so. I engaged in my normal bout of poking around in my arsenal of restaurant search engines: New York Magazine, OpenTable, UrbanSpoon, Yelp, etc. But one spot kept stubbornly inching back into my mind, despite my desire to branch out from the Italian fare I so often quell cravings with. I had vague memories of Cara returning home from a dinner date with a faint glow that I quickly learned was more associated with the quality of the meal than anything else. “You have to go to ‘Inoteca,” she said with a hazy smile. “That may have been the best meal I’ve ever had.”

And so we went. For me, that required dodging through traffic on foot through the torrential downpour, arriving at the hostess stand soaked to the bone, and being pointed informed by the hostess where the bathroom was, in case I wanted to “dry off.” For Lindsey, it required easily hailing a cab as it started to drizzle, and arriving at the hostess stand looking fresh and collected. Typical.

But honestly, once nestled in a corner booth with two long-stemmed glasses of wine before us (white for me, Sangiovese for her), it was easy to forget about the pouring rain, endless heat, and anything else undesirable. Isn’t that the joy of a great meal with great company? The complete and utter escape it offers as you lose yourself in this brief but tangible window of time you’ve allotted to indulge in life’s most simple and basic pleasures – social enjoyment and self-governed gluttony.

‘Inoteca, like many of New York’s trendy and overly frequented restaurants, plays up a “small plates” menu. There are pros and cons to this style of eating: a pro being it enables diners to try a much wider variety of dishes than they would normally be able to; a major con is the price of these plates, while seemingly cheap compared to normal sized portions, add up very quickly and can result in spending much more on one meal than you’d budgeted. Hence the appeal to the restaurant as a business.

We started with a plate of bruschette, small yet thick and tender slices of Italian bread smothered with one of ten toppings. Our selection included some Italian classics like pepperonta, a veritable salsa of sweet roasted peppers, and caponata, a sweet and sour combination of roasted eggplant, raisins, and ripe acidic tomato. Another slice of bread was slathered with the best olive tapenade I’ve tasted; a tangy course spread of chopped green and black olives with excellent bite and a hint of savor. A plump mound of refreshing ricotta and minced tomato drizzled with green olive oil embraced another.

The winner for me, though, was far-and-away the mascarpone-fig bruschette. The round of bread was topped with a smooth cap of creamy mascarpone (pronounced maz-carp-oh-nay) that was so smooth and rich it was more like a layer of freshly churned sweet cream butter. For a bread and butter lover, this was pretty much a shoe-in. The sweet, dense slightly-dried fig in the center of the bruschette provided just the right amount of resistance and chew against the softer textures of the mascarpone and fresh bread. Washed down with a cold, tart sip of dry white wine, it was all I could do to refrain from kissing my fingers and gesturing a “bellissimo!” to the room.

To round out the meal (is really that gastronomically incorrect to have a meal of just bread, wine and condiments?) we ordered the romaine grigliata (grilled romaine salad) with a roasted garlic dressing. While I’m still not sure how I feel about grilled romaine – it reminded me a bit of a soggy salad that had been left out in the sun – the roasted garlic dressing was loaded with sharp parmesan, and I couldn’t get enough of the cheesy garlic goodness. Despite the questionable textures, the dish tended to work and we devoured every last bit, including the pickled red onion garnish.

For the main course, we shared the tagliatelle with roasted pork ragu (the pork was from a local farm, no less). Upon reflection, I’m fairly certain I would have enjoyed this pasta dish far more if I had not been stuffed to the gills with nearly half a loaf of bread, the cheese equivalent of half a cup of butter, and enough parmesan garlic sauce to ruin a lactose-intolerant’s week. That being said, the tagliatelle was fresh, dense and perfectly aldenté which I always find impressive with fresh pasta, and the pork ragu nailed the classic Italian sauce balance of savory, sweet, and slow-cooked. Have I had better pasta dishes? Probably. But in technique and execution, this pasta dish held its own in a city-wide sea of Italian trattorias.

It was with an extremely full stomach and elated mood that we left ‘Inoteca and dove back into the pouring stormy night. I snuck a glance back in at those dining, and observed the happy couples and groups of friends enjoying their company and a meal. That’s what I take away from ‘Inoteca – a place where socializing and enjoying great food are both paramount, yet of equal focus. This isn’t a “scene” where the food is showy but under delivers and all you care about is whether your picture will make it on Page 6. And it’s not a place where you need to sit in silent awe and reverence of your meal, any conversation centering on an avid analysis of each bite. It’s good, solid, delicious Italian in a comfortable, homey environment where easy conversation organically flows. Which is exactly how I picture it being in Italy.

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Today I have something very special to  share with all of you. And I promise, it’s worth the wait of sitting through my spiel as I get there. It’s also worth crossing bridges and braving $40 cab rides for. Just to give you a little context…

It all started late one Saturday afternoon. Five twenty-somethings sat lounging on some fallen trees and stumps atop a high, shady hill in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. After a day of flea market browsing and traversing some brownstone-lined blocks, it was upon this hilltop that we took momentary solace to rest our weary legs and share some stories.

After thirty minutes of swapping tales on our childhood pets (more specifically, we learned that nearly all of us had killed a hamster at some point), our minds started to wander to the outskirts of the park, where beer, food and opportunity lay beyond.

On a stump to my left, I noted that Graham, my friend who could undoubtedly be dubbed the iPhone King of the Northeast, was already wired in, scrolling away for a nearby watering hole to satiate our cravings.

Then, he looked up and smiled.
“I got it. I think you guys will be very impressed.”

The statement in and of itself seemed like a jinx; an unintended guarantee for ensuring a terrible time. But then…

That happened.

A little over an hour later, we sat contented in a round booth at Dram Shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and I felt like I had been dropped head first into an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate. It went a little something like this:

We were sitting in our round booth, finally seated comfortably and playing Jenga while waiting for our food to come, after patiently waiting at the bar while scouting the venue for a table to open up. Yes, Dram Shop operates under super-chill, very Brooklyn, who-cares-if-we’re-hipsters “Seat Yourself” policy. On the other hand, it also has board games, which is complete frosting. This particular dichotomy leaned strongly in favor of Dram Shop.

And that was all before the food came. When no one was quite paying attention, our ambivalent waitress rolled up with armfuls of plates heaping in a plethora of deep-fried goodness, the Jenga tower crumbled as if on cue, and the excitement level of everyone at the table rose a few decibels.

She set the plates down and walked away, and then I saw them. The one dish that had me the second it was set down on the table. The Deep Fried Macaroni and Cheese bites.

Except they weren’t just single bites – they were more like three bites in one, three ecstatic moments of complete foodie bliss. Even for a long-winded gourmand like myself, it’s hard to put such perfection into words, but I shall do my best.

To begin, you have the crust. A delicate, yet substantial, perfectly browned, crispy, savory and HOT shell of what appeared to be deep-fried Panko breadcrumbs, aching to crunched into and melt in your mouth. Inside, the macaroni and cheese was sublime – it was gooey, rich, salty and sweet, as the sharp Wisconsin cheddar just barely oozed out around the noodles and Panko crust. And in the center of the plate was a homemade ranch dipping sauce that provided just the right amount of tangy lubrication as these babies went sliding down into your belly, well on their way to making you very happy.

Obviously, we got some other noshings too, but after that, who really cares?

Alright, I’ll give.

We also ordered the Irish Nachos, which some in our party were surprised to hear did not include a tortilla chip of any sort. I was pretty excited for this dish; I’d had a wonderful experience with Irish Nachos up in Poughkeepsie, New York, while visiting friends at Marist College. The college’s main bar was famous for their Irish Nachos, so much so that if one dared to order this dish during a busy night at the bar, they could expect the plate to arrive at their table only half full, as hungry bar patrons would reach up and grab nachos off the plate as the staggering waitress attempted to plow through the crowds.

Thankfully, our’s arrived in tact.

Irish nachos are essentially what we all think of as nachos, but with French Fries instead of chips. Nothing wrong with that, eh? My middle school, French Fry obsessed self would have loved these, and my adult self couldn’t get enough of them either. We also ordered the trio of sauces, which made us the proud owners of a roasted garlic aioli (an Italian mayonnaise made with olive oil instead of vegetable), a chipotle mayo, and a house-made salsa.

For those of you keeping tabs, that’s a lot of sauce on this table.

But the crowning jewel of all the sauciness we were belaboring under was still to come – that’s right, it was the succulent barbecue wings, which were dripping in a thick layer of sweet sauce. For someone who likes but can’t always handle hot wings, this was right up my alley!

So after all that, it’s probably not hard to guess what my overall take-away on Dram Shop was. Great day-to-night bar (with the potential for a great night bar), fantastic kicked-up bar food, decent selection of craft beers, perfect place for groups – if you can snag a table, I’m in LOVE with the board games, and of course, if you order the deep-fried mac and cheese bites, none of this will matter because you’ll lapse into a food coma so blissful, you won’t even care that you’re in Brooklyn.

KIDDING! We all love Brooklyn!


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They say that life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.

Well, after months of plan-making and galloping along through life with an eye on the future, the future has happened, with time flinging itself forward at what often feels to be a break-neck pace, the pavement a blur beneath the tires 0f each week. I suppose there is a reason that the saying is not “blogging is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” With all of life’s various obligations creeping up on me, the blog has, at times, fallen to the bottom of my list of priorities, something I’m somewhat sad to admit.

But whether or not I’ve been photographing, writing, and publishing to the Internet, the past few weeks have been chock full of glorious epicurean experiences, happily punctuating the rush of the week, usually during the deep breath that has become the weekend.

This weekend, for example, there was a smorgasboard of cheese at a lovely wine and cheese party with friends. The round wooden table in a friends’ living room was weighed down with smoked gouda, aged white cheddar, manchego, gruyere, a caprese salad, succulent red grapes, almonds and walnuts. Cara and I chipped in together for a few choice items from Murray’s Cheese shop in the West Village, which, if you haven’t visited, is more than worth a trip. Murray’s has some of the best selection in New York when it comes to all types of cheese – hard, washed-rind, soft, blue – as well as some of the most knowledgable sales people around. I walked away from ten minutes in Murray’s with a tart and grainy bucheron (a soft aged goats cheese) and a d’affinois, which is similar to a brie but – if you can believe it – creamier, more buttery and more mild. When smothered on a slice of fresh baguette and topped with a drizzle of basil-infused oil, it’s no wonder this cheese disappeared in minutes flat. Many thanks to Corinne and Lauren for hosting such a fantastic girls night and gastronomical adventure!!

Smoked Gouda and Whole Wheat Crackerettes

Caprese Salad - Fresh vine tomatoes, mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Fromage D'affinois and Bucheron with soft baguette slices

Saturday proved to be one of the first nice days of the year(and by nice, I mean the temperature actually broke fifty and the typically overcast sky was occasionally pierced by the sun), and what better way to spend it than meandering through the city, starting in one of my favorite springtime outdoor spaces, the Union Square Greenmarket.

It was immediately apparent that New Yorkers and local farmers alike had been waiting patiently and eagerly for the weather to turn and farmers’ market season to swing into action. Union Square was a buzz with patrons bustling from stand to stand, gently squeezing tomatoes and smelling fresh apples while purveyors offered free samples and hopeful smiles, hauling more produce out of their trucks onto the rapidly emptying stands before them.

Aside from the Greenmarket usual – apples galore, every sort of basic vegetable from onion to shallot to potato, and of course a plethora of baked goods and cheeses – there were a couple of eye-catchers that made me (and every other amateur photographer/food blogger) stop to get a closer look:

Emu eggs! These things were about 8 to 10 inches long, a deep turquoise blue, and gently nestled in wicker baskets. After getting over the initial shock and awe of seeing eggs that appeared to belong to a pterodactyl, I couldn’t help but wonder – what else could you make with one besides the world’s largest fritatta?

I also couldn’t help swooning over these adorable mini-apple pies that lined a stand near the entrance to the market. Apple pie seemed an obvious choice given the abundance of every sort of apple at most of the farmer’s stands, but these cute little pies, just big enough for two, were one of the most enticing treats at the market on Saturday. Considering they’re still on my mind, it seems only a matter of time before I revisit the market and pick one of these up.

Despite the bountiful offerings of the market, the only thing I actually purchased was a container of microgreens that looked crisp, sweet, and the brightest shade of green – heaven on earth for any salad junkie. But of course, within minutes of leaving the market having purchased zero baked goods, hunger began to set in, and the agenda quickly shifted to lunch!

For some reason, Adam and I were both in the mood for noodles, and realized with a fair bit of excitement that we were just a few blocks away from Ippudo, the ramen-noodle haven. In retrospect, perhaps we should have known better. Of all the times we’ve attempted to dine at Ippudo, the ramen house’s popularity and allure have allowed it to evade us more often than not, and this Saturday afternoon was no different. As we arrived we were informed that the restaurant was already closed for its pre-dinner break, despite being absolutely packed with patrons. Dejected, we retired to the sidewalk outside Ippudo, which has quickly become where you’re most likely to spot us searching the Urban Spoon via iPhone app with hungry grimaces on our faces.

Locking in “Noodle House,” “East Village,” and one “$” sign, up popped Menkui Tei, a noodle house with 94% positive reviews within three blocks walking distance. Given our increasing hunger, we quickly booked it past the Cooper Union and made a beeline for the dingy, Chinatown-esque awning of Menkui Tei, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives having taught us never to judge a book by its cover.  

Inside, I’ve got to say – Menkue Tei was slightly bizarre. The decor resembled that of a low-budget neighborhood deli, complete with handwritten signs made from printer paper and magic marker adorning the walls, displaying the restaurant’s daily happy hour deals. Adam and I were easily the only Caucasian individuals in the joint, but I always take it to be a good sign of any ethnic restaurant’s food quality if patrons of its own nationality are eating there. It just seems like they’d be less easily duped.

Oh, and there was Elvis music playing.

We sat down and noticed a handwritten note that offered a great deal – “free” chicken wings for only 2 dollars with the purchase of any pitcher of beer. I quickly realized no one here was going to judge us, and so a frothy pitcher of Soporro arrived table-side, followed by some impressively spicy hot wings.

Since our lunch was following a large breakfast, we decided to share a bowl of ramen rather than ordering our own and settled on the Tan-Tan Ramen, a spicy pork ramen that looked extremely appealing in the lovely color photo inserted in the menu (gotta love casual Asian dining). Since we were sharing the soup, we also ordered some Gyoza, sweet and savory pork dumplings. Because after a week of butchering pork shoulder in class and studying all the various portion cuts of a pig, I realized – you really never can have too much pork!

Our ramen arrived, and after a brief struggle to divide the soup into two smaller bowls, we gave up and huddled over the table to share the one large bowl. We attempted the authentic art of ramen eating – that is, scooping up some soup in the flat-bottomed spoon, casually swirling noodles around your chop sticks, and creating a neat bundle of ramen-in-broth to daintly slurp up. Obviously we achieved nowhere near that neat an experience, but it sure was a delicious one; the combination of spicy, salty ground pork doused with scallions in a rich broth and the tender noodles went great with the cold, light beer, and this giant bowl-o-noodles quickly disappeared before our eyes. There was some debate over whether these noodles triumphed over Ippudo, and my vote was YES – they sure did.

The dumplings were also pretty darn good – these differed from the traditional Chinese take-out variety in that there was some sweet hint of herbage within the doughy confines – Thai Basil, perhaps? Regardless, these were completely addicting and vanished long before the ramen did.

When our Asian feast had disappeared, the only word to describe the feeling of sitting in Menkui Tei, filled with the sloshy warm goodness of spicy ramen and a slight beer buzz, while warbling Elvis music still tinkled in the background, was contentment. Dare I say that I actually preferred the under the radar, low maintenance vibe of this dive-y ramen house to the hype of Ippudo? I don’t play favorites, but…

Moral of the story? Depending on your next craving, head to the Village and weigh your options; head East for a taste of the Far East at Menkue Tei, or West for the lactose pleasures of Murray’s Cheese shop. Both are sure to satisfy!

Up later this week: a refreshing, mouth-watering, can’t-stop-eating-it orzo salad recipe and another look behind closed doors at ICE! Happy Eating :)

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In the world of Manhattan dining bests – best pizza, best food truck, best on-trend-cupcake – no genre of restaurant chomps on the bit quite so fiercely, nor has so much at stake (pun intended) as that of the New York City Steakhouse. With a selection that includes Benjamins, BLT, Del Frisco’s, and Wolfgang’s, few cities can serve up a medium-rare masterpiece like The City That Never Sleeps….

And of the best, none do their thing better than Peter Luger’s. The top rated steakhouse in New York for over two decades, few can deny that Luger has earned its rightful place in this spot, and I rest with the majority; an annual trip to the Peter Luger’s of Great Neck has been part of my family’s tradition for the past five years. And for the past five years, we all wait for weeks, with mouth-watering anticipation, until the date of the Luger reservation arrived, upon which time we would all feast to our hearts content, leave with stretched waist bands, and already the itching anticipation of another year-long wait.

But what, you might ask, makes Luger’s steaks not only special, but among the best in the country? Well, Peter Luger’s has been around for over 120 years, which is plenty of time to perfect their steak-selection process. Members of the Luger clan frequent the wholesale meat markets daily to scour for the best fresh cuts of Midwestern beef. Their criteria are stringent, and unwavering: only the short loin (a very tender and highly desirable portion of the porterhouse section of meat) can be used; the meat must come from cattle graded “PRIME” by the USDA; the meat must be a fresh pink color, with an even marbling of fat throughout.

 Yet again, proof that if you use the best quality ingredients, the masses will come.

If a cut of short loin is lucky enough to be selected, the folks at Luger’s bring it back to the restaurant and dry-age it in-house, in a temperature-controlled room where cool air circulates around the meat.

Now, upon first instinct, dry-aging might sound, well, kind of gross. Letting meat sit out in the open air is one of the first “no-no’s” most cooks learn. But in a temperature and circulation controlled environment, the process of aging can occur relatively risk free, working its magic. And by magic, I mean science. Here’s how it works (according to Wikipedia):

With a recommended aging time of four weeks, dry-aging enhances beef by two means:  First, moisture is evaporated from the muscle, creating a greater concentration of beef flavor and taste. Second, the beef’s natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscle, which leads to more tender beef.

And the result?

This is what Peter Luger’s is all about.

The restaurant itself is the perfect backdrop for these aged porterhouses. The rustic, Germanesque interior is laid out across several cozy rooms, in which broad tables are lined with white linens, which will inevitably be stained by the ravenous eating which ensues as soon as the steak is set down.

As soon as you are seated, a waiter instantly appears with a large basket of crusty, homemade rolls (the onion rolls are by far the best), sweet, creamy butter, and tureens full of Luger’s house steak sauce. Let it be known that their steak needs absolutely zero sauce, which is perhaps why the sauce is brought out with the rolls – the bread provides a mild, understated base to this delicious, horseradishy, tomatoey sauce. This sauce is actually rather surprising upon first taste, as it immediately tastes like a cocktail sauce from the inclusion of horseradish – but the traditional steak sauce notes can be detected upon further sampling, as the Worcestershire, tomato, and molasses flavors come through. Finger lickin’ good!

The waiters must be highly trained, because they also immediately take your drink order, all in one swoop. We had started out at the bar with the dirtiest dirty martini (and by that, I mean the best) I’d ever had. Obviously, the next logical step was a full bodied red, a rich Cabernet from Chile.

The Porterhouses are served family style – you can order the steak for two, three, four, or a steak for one, or the prime rib. We went for the Porterhouse for four, seared to medium-rare perfection, and the result was magnificent.

This steak tastes as though it were marinated in butter before cooked – so tender and smooth is the texture of the meat. It’s ridiculously flavorful, with tangy savory juices that ooze from each slice, a testament to the success of dry aging. Alongside, we had an order of creamed spinach – officially the best way ever to eat green vegetables – as well as hashed brown potatoes, and onion rings. All the sides are delicious, but with a show stopper like this steak, they were easily an afterthought.

And just when you thought eating several pounds of red meat was enough, enter Schlag. Schlag is essentially a German homemade whipped cream, but while the menu says “whipped cream,” what it really means is “churned-just-short-of-butter cream.” We all immediately doled huge scoops of this into our coffees, forgoing the normal sugar and cream.

We capped off the meal with a trio of desserts, all of which got an ample heap of Schlag – first, a rich, refreshing cheesecake, which even my brother, who is a cheesecake maven, couldn’t finish; a dense chocolate mousse cake that had a crisp chocolate crust I would liken to an oreo cookie. And my favorite, the traditional Apple Strudel, with tender, cinnamon-sugar slivers of apple wrapped in layer upon layer of crisp puffy pastry, topped with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Does this seem a bit over the top, perhaps a bit too much food for just one person?

What some call gluttony, I call opportunity…

So there you have it, friends – an evening at Peter Luger’s, in a nut-shell. So what’s the flip side? Well, this place is certainly not cheap. It’s a special occasion sort of place – where you go to celebrate an important birthday, or a new job, or a new baby. But when you think about it, really, what better way is there to celebrate life? Take the Luger Porterhouse Challenge – and get back to me!

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