Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Borscht at Veselka

Right before Mr. T and I travelled to Westchester for our holiday celebration with his family, I stopped by Veselka to try out their special Christmas Borscht. I grew up enjoying my grandmother’s version every year but I have yet to find one in the city as perfect as hers. Veselka’s regular borscht came the closest in flavor so I was excited to try out this version and see how it compared.

My walk over to Veselka was absolutely freezing! By the time I got inside I was dying for something warm and soothing. I took a seat at the counter and ordered myself a cup.

Within minutes I had a steamy hot cup in my hands. The wonderful aroma of fresh beets and dill was absolutely intoxicating. I couldn’t wait to dive right in.

Look at this beautiful ruby color. This soup was packed with chopped pickled beets and little dumplings filled with dried mushrooms. This was a Christmas Borscht! There was so much flavor going on in the soup- sour, earthy, sweet. If you’re not a big dill fan than stay away but for me this soup was awesome! I was so happy! The addition of a dollop of sour cream completed my lunch and I felt extremely comforted and satisfied.

This was an excellent way to start of the week long holiday vacation filled with tons of good food and family. Get some before it's gone!


Monday, December 28, 2009

Best of 2009

It’s that time of year again when I look back at the past 12 months and all of the places we have eaten at and realize- damn. I eat a LOT of food! Oh well- too late to go back and change anything now!

It was an up and down year for food in NYC. I saw a lot of places I love close down and a lot of great new places spring up to ease the pain. This is my list of the favorite foods I’ve eaten in 2009. Remember! These are not all new places! A couple have been around but this is the first time I had the privilege to enjoy them. Here goes:

Best Bread and Butter- Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Never did I think that bread and butter would even make it to my favorite foods list until Blue Hill completely floored me. Their butter was so creamy, rich and fresh, it tasted as if it had been churned only seconds before.

Best Amuse Bouche- Per Se Beet Cornette and Blue Hill Beet Burger
Honestly I don’t even like beets! But these two amuses changed the way I think about that root vegetable. Both of them had a rich meaty flavor that confused and delighted my taste buds in every way.

Best Sandwiches- Hot Roast Beef from Defonte’s and Porchetta’s Pork Sandwich
The year began with my infatuation of Porchetta’s deliciously fatty pork sandwich. However since Defonte’s opening only two blocks from my house I have to give their Roast Beef Sandwich a slight edge. Hot beef, fresh mozzarella, fried eggplant and plenty of au jus make this sandwich absolutely drool worthy.

Best Believe the Hype- Bone in NY Strip at Minetta Tavern
The absurdity of reservation times and elitist crowd didn’t mean a thing once this steak touched my lips. It was rich, buttery, bold and everything a great steak can and should be. I am still dreaming of my next return.

Best New Chocolatier- Bespoke
I have yet to have a chocolate from Bespoke that I haven’t loved. With flavors like French Milk Chocolate, Pretzel Carmel Delight and Pumpkin Bourbon bon bons how can you go wrong? The owner is just as sweet as her wares which makes each time I visit that more wonderful.

Best New Beer- Dogfish Head Sahtea and Terrapin Brewery Espresso Stout
I really got to hand it to DogFish Head for coming out with a great new line of beers this year. Everything I tried from the Red and White to the Squall IPA was exciting and innovative. Their Sahtea wins just because I think even my Mom would enjoy it’s chai tea flavor!

The Terrapin Espresso Stout I was lucky enough to have in Florida but haven’t been able to find back here in NYC. If you see this beer around please let me know because it was filled with delicious roasted hops and a smooth clean finish.

Best French Fries- The Breslin
The thrice cooking of these chips and liberal use of salt make these chips absolutely heavenly. Order one with a cask conditioned ale and you’ve got a great little snack.

Best Dessert- Banana and Passion Fruit Tarte at Aldea
I really loved everything about Aldea but the dessert stole the show. You can never go wrong with caramelized bananas and rum raisin ice cream.

Best Dish of 2009- Ox Heart and Dripping Potatoes at St. John Bread & Wine
Hands down the best thing I have eaten possibly ever. I can’t even describe how utterly glorious and divine this dish was. Words would not do it justice so I’m not even going to try. I would travel back to London just for a chance to eat one more time. Simply Wonderful.

Best Meal of 2009 – St. John Bread & Wine and Per Se Bar Room
The service at Per Se and plethora of little extra touches really made it a thrilling and special meal. The amazing new flavors and daring ingredients at St. John made it a delightful culinary adventure I will never forget. I cannot choose- they remain a tie.

Best of the Rest:
Momofuku Milk Bar- cookies, cakes, you name it
Big Wong- spare ribs
Babbo- Goat Cheese Tortellini w/ dried orange & fennel
Veselka- Borscht
DBGB- Coffee Carmel Sundae

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sugar Sweet Sunshine Banana Pudding

The Union Square holiday market has been up and running for weeks now. It’s always fun to walk through the various stalls and look at all of the scarves, jewelry, etc for sale. I go every year and to be honest, I’ve never actually bought anything there. Well except food that is! This year proved to be no different. I walked around all of the stalls and ended up stopping at just one- Sugar Sweet Sunshine.

We hardly ever seem to be in the LES anymore so it’s been years since I’ve enjoyed their delectable cupcakes, cookies and cake. I was so excited to see them here- only blocks away from my apartment! I eyed the cupcakes in front for a while but then decided on something even better.

What could possibly be better than their wonderful cupcakes? Their banana pudding.

Big pieces of juicy ripe bananas and crunchy sweet Nilla wafers and swirled into a creamy delicious vanilla pudding. It is ridiculously simple, ridiculously sweet and ridiculously good.

There’s only a few days left of the holiday market and then these bad boys go back to the LES. Get one before their gone! Oh and maybe pick up some presents while you’re at it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Breakfast of Champions

Yes this is my Sunday breakfast. A pint of Bud Light and french fries. Why would someone start their day like this? Football. It's the only answer.

After an extremely snowy and wonderful Saturday my friend and I woke up early and headed to McFadden's to watch our beloved team, the Buffalo Bills. We were in such a Buffalo state of mind what with the piles of snow everywhere and Christmas right around the corner.

McFadden's runs an amazing awesome special during the Bills game- all you can drink Bud Light and all you can eat wings for $20. Pretty good deal right? Unfortunately we were to hungry to wait for the wing arrival so we ordered up some fries to start. The fries were surprisingly tasty. They had just the perfect amount of crunchy skin and salty innards. The Bud Light wasn't too bad either!

McFadden's is by no means a destination food place but if your a Bills fan chances are you've been at least once in your lifetime.

The Bills unfortunately lost but we had a great time regardless. It rounded out a wonderful weekend spent with good friends and family. Saturday we got to see my relatives from Tennessee and the blizzardy conditions just made everyone's day. I am so ready for the holiday season!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bacon Overload!

I have probably mentioned Blind Tiger about a million times on this blog so far because it is my favorite place for beer in the city. Last weekend we stopped by to have a couple of beers and did something there we had never done before- order food.

We had both gotten up surprising early Saturday morning and it had been hours now since breakfast. We didn’t want a full meal to ruin our dinner so we decided to split a Grilled Cheese sandwich. Mr. T decided to add on Bacon onto the sandwich at the last minute for an additional $1.00.

Our sandwich came out looking and smelling wonderful! The thick crunchy bread had been slathered in butter and grilled to a perfect golden brown. The cheese inside was perfectly melted and the pickle on the side was everything a good pickle should be. But the bacon…

What to say except too much bacon! That $1.00 extra bought us about a half pound of bacon! And not just regular bacon, but Canadian bacon as well. There was so much salty meat stuffed inside this sandwich it was a little bit disgusting.

Luckily we enjoyed the Troegs Java Stout and Double Bock we were drinking so food didn’t matter so much. I think we’ll stick to what they do best- beer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pizza Bliss at Motorino

The Manhattan outpost of Motorino just opened a few months ago in the old Una Pizza Napoletana space. Saturday night after some fireside drinks at Shoolbreds we decided to walk over. We showed up around 7:00 and there was a 15 minute wait. The hostess suggested we get a drink next door and she came and got us when our table was ready. That was really nice. I always feel bad hovering over people while you wait for a table in small little restaurants.

Three of us were dining tonight so we decided to split two appetizers and two pizzas. No we are not pigs- the pizzas are actually pretty small.

I was really excited to see the Montly Cru red on the wine list from Brooklyn Oenology. I bought a couple bottles last time they were at the New Amsterdam Market and they were fantastic. Brooklyn Oenology specializes in New York State wines with original artwork from Brooklyn on their labels. The neatest thing is that their labels peel off so you can keep the art once the bottle is finished! The waiter had no clue what I was talking about until I peeled off the label to show him. See you can learn something new every day!

For out first appetizer we ordered the Fire Roasted Mortadella.

Fire Roasted Indeed! This came out with the most beautiful charred and bubbly top I’ve ever seen. Mortadella always looks so disgusting to me at the butcher but here I was ready to dive right in. They brought out some tasty bread on the side with huge hunks of garlic to accompany the meat.

Unfortunately the fire roasting only changed the aesthetic of the meat, the taste stayed the same. My companions absolutely loved it but I just have never really enjoyed the strange flavor of mortadella.

I pretty much stuck to eating our other appetizer the Mixed Green Salad.

This was a pretty basic salad filled with parsley, chives, red onion, olive oil and vinegar. It was a good salad but a little bit boring. Next time I would probably try something more adventurous like the beet salad. I don’t usually like beets but the addition of ricotta to the mix sounded very interesting.

Our first pizza was the Soppressata Piccante.

This was basically a regular margarita pie with the addition of soppressata, fresh chilies and garlic. Wow this pizza had a lot of different flavor profiles going on all at once. My first bite I really tasted the pizza itself- good slightly sweet sauce, soft mozzarella cheese and an amazing crush of fresh garlic. My second bite I really got more of the soppressata and chili flavor. The chilies gave the pizza a nice little kick and it was interesting to taste soppressata instead of pepperoni. This was a very great pie but the second one was even better.

The picture didn’t really come out but this is the Special Brussels Sprout. Oh my goodness this pizza was outstanding! They peeled the Brussels sprouts apart so they fell into different layers across the entire pizza with strips of pancetta and garlic mixed throughout. The nutty flavor of the sprouts and the sharp bite of the parmigano reggiano were a match made in heaven. Each bite was so utterly delicious I began to think that two pies were not going to be enough.

The best part about both of these pizzas however has got to be the crust. Oh that wonderful crust! It was so light, airy and delicious I don’t even know how to explain it. It was so delicate I felt like it could possibly melt on my tongue if I had been able to savor it for a minute. I usually leave my crusts behind- here I could have eaten a whole pizza of just crust!

The other thing that really made both of these pies stand out for me was the fresh ingredients. Before even tasting the pizza you could smell the wonderful aroma of each individual part. The rich tomatoes, the earthy sprouts, the enticing garlic, etc. These pies were made with a lot of good produce and a lot of love.

For $14 a piece these pizzas are not cheap. I could probably eat one whole pie by myself and I’m sure Mr. T could easily as well. However I think the price is worth it. I was happy at the end of our meal and didn’t think twice about the size of our check. We had excellent service, a wonderful bottle of wine and truly fantastic pizza. Motorino really hit the mark.

Brooklyn Oenology


Monday, December 14, 2009

Hallo Berlin Express

After we finished our wine and cheese at Casellula we decided to head somewhere closer to our final listening party destination for dinner. Unfortunately we had no idea what was in the immediate neighborhood and we ended up stopping at another bar just to get out of the frigid weather.

We decided to have a drink and research some places in the area before heading out intro the cold again. That’s when I realized we were right next door to Uncle Nick’s! I loved the grilled octopus I had last time I was there so we quickly finished our drinks and went over.

Unfortunately it was not to be. Uncle Nick’s was packed and we were running really short on time at this point. Then we noticed the Hallo Berlin Express across the street. We haven’t really loved the food or service at the regular Hallo Berlin but we were running out of options and it seemed like it would be quick so we went.

The first thing I noticed about Hallo Berlin express was the cheap dank décor of the space. From the bright yellow carnival like menu up front to the 99 cent store place mats- it just seemed like a dive. The next thing I noticed was that the cook was also the waiter and the cashier. Luckily there were only about 8 other people inside so he seemed to be managing it pretty well.

We were hungry and on a time restraint so I went ahead and ordered the Bauernwurst.

This sausage is a mix of beef and pork and has a nice spicy flavor from the mustard seeds inside. I thought it was really tasty and much better than the usual bratwurst I always get. Unfortunately this was going to be the best part of our meal.

The potato pancakes we split were crispy around the edges but too thick and mealy on the inside. The whole plate was extremely greasy and even the sour cream and applesauce couldn’t save this dish.

Mr. T ordered the Smoked Andouille cheese brat.

Okay now Mr. T forgot to say no mustard when he was ordering but went up to the counter before we got our food to give his request. The man behind the counter told him he couldn’t do it- the mustard was already on.

However the sausage was still cooking and the mustard was only on the bun. Why couldn’t he just give us another bun? He wasn’t exactly friendly so we just took the sandwich anyway and Mr. T didn’t eat it. I tried a bite and have to say it sounded a lot better than it actually was. I didn’t get any of that spice that andouille usually carries and the cheese inside was non existent.

The last part of our meal was actually the worst- the spatzle.

Come on now. Look at this dish. I’ve never seen a more depressing and boring version of spatzle in my life. This is really just a big bowl of spaghetti noodles. Maybe this is the version they make in Berlin but it doesn’t even come close the fluffy, buttery version of spatzle we had in Munich.

So basically Hallo Berlin Express really stunk. We got to our event on time but neither of us was too happy at that point. It was just a bad food night all around. Oh well- better luck next time.

Hallo Berlin Express

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy Saturday Wine and Cheese Edition

Mr. T and I were in Hell’s kitchen Thursday night to attend a listening party for friend’s new album. Casellula was only a couple blocks away so we stopped in for some wine and cheese.

I ordered a glass of Chardonnay and the Ricotta Crostini.

The Ricotta Crostini was absolutely delicious. The cheese was drizzled with sweet Orange Blossom Honey and then topped with hazelnuts and a little bit of lemon. How something so simple can be so delicious is beyond me. This was an excellent little appetizer to enjoy with some wine and I plan to recreate this myself at home.

Unfortunately the Crostini was the best part of Casellula for me. I thought the space was cozy but the wines by the glass were incredibly overpriced and the pour we got was definitely a little bit small. I think we'll stick with our downtown favorite Otto for our wine and cheese moments. Hope everyone is having a great Saturday!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dinner at Brasserie

My friend from Tarrytown came into the city on Friday and we had a birthday/holiday celebration of sorts. We started out the night with a little Midtown East bar hopping. We began with a drink at the Oyster Bar Saloon, then headed over to the Waldorf’s Bull and Bear and finally ended with a nice Belgian beer from BXL.

All of this beer drinking was just in preparation for the main event-dinner. My friend had a birthday gift certificate from Patina to use so we decided to try out Brasserie.

Walking into Brasserie I was a little taken back by the décor. It was a bit over the top and I kind of felt more like I was on a space ship than a fancy French restaurant. Luckily I had requested a booth when making the reservation so I felt much more in my comfort zone than if I had been at a table in the main area.

Neither of us was feeling like a huge meal so we decided to forgo appetizers and just stick with entrees. We ordered a nice bottle of Pinot Gris and munched on the bread and butter until our entrees arrived.

For my dinner I ordered the Grilled Branzino.

I absolutely love Branzino and this dish was about as close to perfection as you can get. The fish was unbelievably moist and seasoned with a wonderful mix of herbs and butter. The haricot verts were incredibly tasty as well. They were cooked with some caramelized onions that really brought out the flavor of the bean and brought it to a whole new level.

My friend’s entrée was fanstastic as well. She ordered the Sea Scallops with Morels, Cippolini Onions and a Butternut Squash sauce.

As with the fish, the Scallops were cooked perfect with a nice brown crust on the outside. I was a little bit worried about the combo of scallops and squash sauce but it turned out amazing well. The sauce and mushrooms gave the whole dish a very earthy feel that I have never experienced in a seafood entrée before.

We both pretty much licked the plates clean and were too stuffed to even think about dessert. Our bill came to $102 and with the addition of the $50 Patina birthday card it was only $51.00. That’s a great deal.

We finished out our holiday/birthday night with a drink at Rolf’s where the amount of drunk men in Santa suits and bad Christmas sweaters almost made me sick.

Overall I enjoyed my meal at Brasserie much more than I had expected too. The service was a little slow and the room was a bit gaudy but the food was amazing. I will definitely come back here next year when I can use my Patina birthday card.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Lunch at Aura

I was in the city for a training the other day and they gave us an hour for lunch. Unfortunately I was in the restaurant dead zone that is 34th street and 10th avenue. I usually end up eating a sandwich from Subway when I'm in this area but today I was determined to find something more exciting.

I walked over to 9th Avenue and came across Aura Thai. The menu looked pretty good and there were a couple empty tables so I decided to check it out.

The first thing I noticed once seated was the difference in the outside menu and the one they gave me inside. The outside one said each lunch entrée came with a your choice of a free appetizer. The inside menu said it came with the free appetizer of the day. When I found out that appetizer was a Veggie Dumping I was a little annoyed. Half the reason I choose this place was because of the free appetizer choice. A veggie dumpling is not something I would have chosen. However I didn’t feel like arguing with the waitress so I just placed my order and out came the dumplings

I was already kind of mad about the dumplings and the presentation of these didn’t make me any happier. The outside was incredibly gummy and the inside completely lacked in flavor. All I could taste was the sweet soy sauce on top. This was a very weak appetizer for a Thai place. I wish I had argued for the duck roll I wanted instead.

Luckily my entrée fared much better- Pad Kee Mao.

This is basically a rice noodle dish that has sautéed vegetables in a chili garlic soy sauce. The sauce was excellent. It had a ton of fresh basil inside which gave it just the right amount of heat and spice. They also gave me a ton of chicken. Sometimes Thai places skimp on the protein but here I had more than an ample amount of meat.

Aura ended up being a pretty decent place to grab lunch. The appetizer wasn’t good but the entrée was tasty and the service was fast and efficient. If I find myself craving thai again in the area I would return. I would just fight for my duck spring roll appetizer instead.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Joe's Shanghai

Okay this meal actually happened a month ago but I’ve been really busy lately and it got lost in the shuffle. Usually I would just skip it but this was one of my 2008 wish list and I finally got there!! Hooray!

Joe’s Shanghai is a little restaurant in Chinatown that is infamous for its’ soup dumplings. So infamous in fact that it has been featured in many travel food shows, Zagats, Frommers etc. The result? A huge ass line out the door every time we try to go.

However, on a Monday last month, after a great Yankees world series win the night before, Mr. T and I decided to take the day off and go to Joe’s Shanghai for lunch. It was about 2:30 on a Monday and it was still packed. We got the last two seats at a round table with a group of three twenty something tourists and an older solo woman diner.

The soup dumplings are so popular here they ask you if you would like to place an order as they hand out the menus. That’s one of the greatest things about most restaurants in Chinatown. They don’t beat around the bush. Service is always fast and efficient. About 10 minutes later, after some hot tea, our soup dumplings arrived.

Ahhh…I love eating soup dumplings. Taking that first bite off the top of the noodle, letting the hot steam smack you right in the face and then slowly devouring the pork nugget inside while carefully sipping up the soup. There’s really nothing else like it.

These dumplings lived up to the hype as well. The skin was perfectly thin so that the dumpling stayed in tack when I lifted it up but it broke easily upon the first bite. The broth inside was slightly greasy, in a good way, and packed with a ton of porky flavor. These are such a delish comfort food.

Okay don’t laugh, but our second dish for lunch was the General Tso’s chicken. Mr. T was angry with me for ordering such an Americanized dish at an authentic Chinese place but I really wasn’t feeling anything else. We had been up late drinking beers while we watched the game and I needed something pretty easy to settle my stomach.

The General Tso’s was actually really good. It was almost all white meat chicken and the outside was super crispy without that gross layer of fat and filler underneath you sometimes find. The sauce was pleasant enough but after the dumplings we were both too full to even come close to finishing the huge portion of chicken.

We ended up having a great time with the three tourists across from us who had been slightly overzealous in ordering. We watched as plate after plate arrived at the table until there wasn’t even a space for the teacups anymore. They ordered enough food for about 20 people!

I thought Joe’s Shanghai delivered solidly on the dumplings. It’s definitely a bit pricier than some places in Chinatown but still good food at a reasonable cost. Another one to cross off the list (even if it is two years late).

Joes Shanghai

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Black Hound Bakery

Are you sick of apple pie yet from Thanksgiving? Hope not. This is a picture of an Apple Pie I picked up from Black Hound last week when Mr. T had a hankering for something sweet.

I was intrigued first by the enormous dome top to this mini pie. How in the world did they get it to bake up this high? Then I noticed the description said this was a cookie dough crust with Granny Smith apples.

Whoa! Cookie Dough crust? What a great idea!

So I brought it home and we dug in immediately. As you can see there are a ton of apples stuffed inside this thing. I mean a ton!

Unfortunately it seemed that in the madness of all of the apples they forget to put in some sugary juice. The best part about an apple pie for me is that sweet, sticky, cinnamon sugar sauce that the apples create after baking. Part of me wonders if Blackhound macerated the apples first so there wouldn’t be as much of a gap between the crust and filling.

That method works fine when you remember to add the juices back to the apples before baking, which clearly they had not. This left the apple pie dry and boring. It’s too bad because the sugar cookie crust was absolutely wonderful!

I still love Black Hound but I’m gonna stick with what they do best- mini cakes. I’m leaving the pie baking to the NYC diners and Mr. T's mom- she makes the best.