Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Maoz Review

My work cafeteria so rarely offers inspiring enough options that I almost always default to the salad bar. But I often think, I could get something tastier and cheaper if I went outside. So on this day, I decided to try the newly opened Maoz Vegetarian just down the street for lunch. Maoz is an international chain serving primarily falafel pita sandwiches.

The place is tiny and there was a line out the door. I figured it would move quickly enough given that this is basically fast food. I was wrong about that. Because it was my first - and could possibly be my only - visit, I decided to go all out and try the Junior Meal deal: Junior Maoz sandwich with Belgian fries and a drink.

I ordered and paid first and got my drink. Then the guys behind the counter are supposed to have receipts telling them what to make, but they didn't have it together and had to ask me for my copy of the receipt to put together a wheat pita with lettuce and falafel. This was handed to me in a paper sheath at which point I moved along the salad bar choosing among a variety of pickled vegetables and sauces to add. At the end of the counter, another guy took my sandwich back to put into a waiting to-go bag. The glitch here was that the fries weren't ready and I had to wait for what seemed like a long few minutes in the narrow space.

Finally, back to the office I went with my lunch combo. The falafel was pretty tasty and it was nice to be able to customize my sandwich, though there wasn't much room to get a lot into that pita pocket. The fries were just okay and if I were to do it over, I would just stick to the sandwich. With the falafel being fried, the fries were just too much grease to handle at once. Nevertheless, the corner of 7th Avenue and 40th Street could have done a lot worse.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Oktoberfest at Shake Shack

Shake Shack is honoring the celebration of Oktoberfest with Shacktoberfest. There will be special sausages with different condiments added to the usual Shack menu as well as two new custard flavors. But hurry, these won't be on the menu for all of October, only from October 2 to October 11.

Weekend Roundup

The summer has not quite left us. On a dreary, rainy afternoon, the Van Leeuwen appeared before me to brighten my day with Earl Gray Tea ice cream. I knew there was a reason I had resisted any of the treats at Kee's Chocolate shop (no easy feat) when my friends and I made a post-brunch stop there.

Though I was already stuffed, I ordered a cone. I think I was happier for it. It always seems like it's more value for your money even if you don't want to eat that cone, but also, the act of licking an ice cream cone is just more fun than dipping into a cup. The Earl Gray ice cream was terrific - boldly made in such a way that I could distinctly taste both the black tea and the hints of citrus from the bergamot. The ice cream was a nice solid scoop that didn't drip down my hand before I could finish it. If Van Leeuwen were to manage to keep selling ice cream through the winter, I wouldn't let the cold stop me from coming back order more!

The brunch that came before this was in Noho at Hundred Acres, opened by the same owners of two other popular brunch spots, Five Points and Cookshop. The place was large and though it seemed to have the potential for being sceney, it was low-key enough to allow for a group of friends to catch up on conversation without shouting while still maintaining a bustling atmosphere. There is a diverse menu (with a couple of added specials) - a good mix of classics with a twist and some less-often-seen dishes and huge portions.

Our group indulged in chilaquiles; poached eggs with jalapeƱo grits and sausage; blue fish hash; smoked salmon with potato pancakes and a fifth plate to share between all of us - semolina raisin french toast with honey yogurt and caramelized pineapple. Everything was delicious with only the french toast being slightly less than great. I'd definitely return here and especially over either of the sister restaurants.

This weekend I also tried out a little nook of a place on the Upper West Side called Recipe. This narrow, intimate space with just a few tables in back serves well-prepared seasonal food. My dining companion and I chose a balanced trio of dishes: a tomato and buffalo mozzarella tart with basil pesto and black truffle oil; seared Hudson Valley duck breast with wild mushrooms, baby turnips and blackberries; and a special of red snapper with asparagus and parsnips.

The tart was a light puff pastry topped with all the ingredients, a perfect appetizer. The snapper had a nice crisped skin and a pure fish flavor - a dish that tasted good and at least had the impression of being healthy. The sliced medium rare duck also had crispy skin and was just salty enough and flavorful. The only misstep came with dessert. We ordered the special  - a black mission fig rum cake topped with pistachio ice cream. This was flat in flavor and the bottom was too burned to even get much of the cake out. When asked, we were honest with the staff about not liking the dessert and though we weren't offered anything else instead, the cake was, appropriately, taken off of our bill. If Recipe can keep it up, it should succeed as a nice, little neighborhood restaurant.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chicago: Green Zebra Review

There was a point in my life when I thought being a vegetarian might be a possibility. I ate chicken and fish, but felt maybe I could give those up. But as I've developed a love of food, I've broadened my horizons, indulging in other meats, and pretty much made the idea of being a vegetarian an impossibility. My enthusiasm for food means I am willing to try just about anything. Now I cannot imagine not wanting to eat pork in all its forms. I associate vegetarian with "limits".

When I am dining with vegetarians, I'll scan menus to make sure there is something available for them. And let me tell you, this has made me realize not many good restaurants actually make exclusively vegetarian dishes. So few restaurants that bill themselves as vegetarian serve more than bland, distasteful health food dishes that leave you hungry. I was impressed then when the unique menu of Green Zebra, which calls itself a "contemporary vegetarian experience", excited me. Not only were these vegetarian dishes, but ones that employed thoughtful juxtapositions of ingredients, many that I would consider under-utilized, such as farro or fava beans.

Our choices from Green Zebra's cocktail list: Bees Knees (North Shore Gin, lavender honey, lemon, up) and The Ponchatoula (Ron Botran Rum, Summer Berries, Mint, Rocks).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Small Bites

-It's a fine line between foodie and "foodiot". Those who know me or regularly read this blog, will know I'm guilty of some of this behavior. I just like to think I'm a nerd about it, not a foodiot.

-I'm a sucker for food markets. There's a new one in the basement of a church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

-Gourmet compiles a guide to street food across the country and the world.


-Midtown Lunch debates whether New York or Portland, Oregon, is the better food cart city.

-Despite Julia Child's ties to France, she is apparently not well-known there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Weekend Takedowns

Food events this weekend seem to be all about the takedown. Saturday, there's a chili pepper takedown at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and Sunday a lamb takedown at the Highline Ballroom.

Profiling the Pioneer Woman

I'm an avid reader of food blogs - my Google Reader contains a list of 29 that I'll regularly run through. And there are many more that, though not on my regular reading list, I often come across and am at least generally familiar with. But today, from a profile in the LA Times, I learned of one I had never heard of, The Pioneer Woman. It apparently has a large following (yes, she's one of those - she's pioneered it right into a book) for its step-by-step photography with the recipes.

After a quick runthrough, I now want to cook chicken tikka masala or bacon onion cheddar biscuits or how about some spicy molasses cookies?

Now if only I could get myself to a grocery store.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Modern Bar Room Helps Me Grow a Year Older

The other day, for my birthday, my friends suggested The Modern Bar room for pre-dinner drinks and appetizers. It was a perfect setting and the small plates menu lent itself to our purpose.

Philadelphia: Amada Review

My recent visit to Philadelphia happened to coincide with the first night of Restaurant Week there so of course a friend and I took advantage with a visit to Amada, which, according to my friend, is supposed to be the best tapas restaurant in the city.

When we arrived at this chic restaurant in Center City, we had a short wait in the long bar area, where we ordered our drinks: a crisp white Sangria and a violet Tequila martini. It was interesting to watch the violet martini being made, and yes, it was in fact violet. The friendly bartender explained that it was achieved through the addition of a type of pressed French violets, something that had been used around the turn of the 20th century but had disappeared for a long time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Getting My Fill

Here's Frank Bruni again. He writes about eating since he left his position as Times restaurant critic. During this time, he ate roast chicken for four nights in a row.

There is almost something scientific-seeming about this, eating the same thing from different places on consecutive days. A method for evaluating food, untainted - or less tainted - by cravings being satisfied, faulty memories or the distracting savoriness of other dishes.

Constant eating out can take its toll. Bruni writes, "In its wake I've noticed that I want to cook more than I ever did in the past, and on the few occasions over the last few weeks when I've been with friends and cooking was called for, I've found myself volunteering."

Chicago: Hot Doug's Review

Chicago is a hot dog town. But I'd been resisting a friend's recommendation of Hot Doug's because I don't like hot dogs. In fact, not only do I not like them, they nauseate me. But on a whim, I decided to just take a look at the menu. I discovered it was much more than a hot dog place; it had a long list of sausages, which I DO like - pork, chicken, even veggie - and tons of special sausages made from interesting ingredients. So it was, with extra time before my flight home, I decided to make the trek to Hot Doug's.

Aldea Review Update

Earlier this month I returned to Aldea for a second visit. The first time I gave it a rave. I was pleased to find that the restaurant continued to impress during this visit. The duck rice that was so good the first time went over well again. And here are several new dishes I was able to try:

Knollcrest Farm Egg with bacalao, black olive and potato
A small, but delicious mixture served in the eggshell.

Philadelphia: My First Cheesesteak

 My first Philly cheesesteak came from Tony Luke's at the Phillies ballpark. I decided to go all out and chose the wiz cheese and fried onions. It was a large sandwich- well for most people, but I polished this off easily! Though i generally dont eat beef I make exceptions for trying something that seems essential to the time or place. Yes, I believe in something as cheesy as food provides you a better sense of a place.

I enjoyed the saltiness of the cheesesteak and the idea that i was indulging in this very Philly tradition. Yet, it wasn't quite what I'd want out of an ideal cheesesteak. I'd want crispier or caramelized onions. Id want the meat to be more grilled with charred edges and oh, a toasted roll too. I suppose this is a question for the more experienced cheesesteak eaters/fans - what makes a perfect cheesesteak and are there versions like my idea of one?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ice Cream Truck Transforms for Winter

While I think ice cream remains a terrific dessert through the cold winter months, it seems many do not agree with me. So what happens to the ice cream trucks then? It seems Van Leeuwen is
transforming itself into an ice cream/coffee truck
Intelligentsia coffee.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Things to Look Forward To

Posting will be light this week as I travel. But get ready for a post about a highly anticipated dinner in Chicago. More to come on my first cheesesteak at the Phillies ballpark, a great Restaurant Week tapas dinner in Philly, and (I hope) on eating in Portland, Maine, from my guest bloggers. So check back!

Portland, Maine: Duckfat Visual Review

Here is a quick visual review of Duckfat restaurant in Portland, Maine. This comes from some guest bloggers who say more details will come at a later time.

French fries:

Peanut Butter & Jelly:

Meatloaf Panini with Pickled Onions:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Raise Your Rice Awareness

September is National Rice Month! There doesn't seem to be much real significance to this, but as a rice lover, I felt the need to mention it.

New Amsterdam Market

The New Amsterdam market has established itself as a monthly market at South Street Seaport. It returns this Sunday, September 13 in conjunction with a celebration of Henry Hudson. I am all for more open food markets in the city. I visited this one when it was held one day last summer and tried samples of razor clams and soups and breads. It was a really nice combination of vendors selling produce and those selling prepared foods or other edible goods. It was also where I first tried People's Pops, an interesting local popsicle operation. If you get a chance, I'd recommend checking it out.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Shake Shack Expands

Shake Shack is becoming into its own mini-empire within Danny Meyer's larger empire. Not only are there plans for it to expand to Dubai and Saudi Arabia, but New York is getting a third location, in Nolita.

UPDATE: And some people just don't know how to appreciate a good thing, like innovative custard flavors. I won't protest until I've tried and determined that there is something to dislike about them. But the attempt to bring together seemingly disparate ingredients is not enough to dissuade a tasting!

Fresh Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni may be gone as Times dining critic, but he's still writing plenty. For those who can't get enough of him, here's an essay on eating anxiety from The Atlantic Food Channel.

Tabla Bread Bar Visual Review

Tabla Bread Bar is one of my standby restaurants and one that I consistently list among my favorites. It's a great place with modern, non-traditional Indian food and a casual, but nice atmosphere. They make great fruity cocktails and flavorful food.

Here's a brief visual run-through one of my recent meals there:

Bread Bar Ceviche: Nova Scotia halibut marinated with mango chutney, peanuts & chilies

Manila clams in curry sauce

Coffee and Donuts

Despite having to work, I celebrated a lovely Labor Day with Shake Shack's Monday custard flavor, Coffee and Donuts, and some friends. The Shake line was intimidating - longer than I have ever seen it. It often rounds the curve on the edge of Madison Square Park, but I had never seen it snake so far as to nearly form a semicircle!

So it was with great glee that we marched up to the B line and immediately heard "I can help the next B line guest." It was so quick that we weren't even ready to order (not that there was much to consider - just a cone or a cup). And within minutes we were savoring creamy coffee custard with large chunks of cakey donuts that somehow managed not to get soggy despite being nestled in the custard. Here you can see my cup before tasting and a closeup post-excavation.

This was good enough that even after I finished mine, I was still happy to help my friend finish hers! Coffee and Donuts ranks in my top three Shack flavors alongside cake batter and Red, White and Blueberry.

Small Bites

-This might be more of a big bite than a small one: The Nation has put out a food issue that includes pieces by Dan Barber and Michael Pollan.

-On your next flight, you might have the option to purchase slightly better airline food.

-When will the cupcake craze die?

-There has been plenty of blogging about various recession specials for restaurants in New York City. The Wall Street Journal decided to check out a couple of prix-fixe menus a little farther afield, in the Hudson Valley.

-T magazine's Moment blog has a new food column by NYT dining reporter Peter Meehan.

-There is some inventive cooking happening in a country not often on the forefront of the culinary scene - Norway.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Buenos Aires: La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar Review

Food can be a cure for what ails you.

Let our last meal in Buenos Aires at La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar be a testament to that.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

An Outsider's View of the Times Cafeteria

A review for those who might actually be intrigued by what, to me, is the subpar Times cafeteria. I was more interested to see how well it could impress an outsider. No doubt, daytime options far outweigh the nighttime ones, but everything sort of has the same flavor and somehow I always end up back at the salad bar. And it's not really much cheaper than what you can get outside.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Small Bites

-Several restaurants around the city have spawned their own ice cream carts hawking ice cream from their storefronts. The Times taste tests several of them.

-And what better to go with ice cream than...Korean fried chicken! If you haven't had it, read Gourmet's essay about a first-timer. And then head to Mad for Chicken (formerly Bon Chon) in Koreatown.

-If watching Julie & Julia made you want to buy Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, don't bother says Regina Schrambling on Slate. Why? Because you'll never cook from it.

-When I am investigating a restaurant's worth, I sometimes check Yelp for a quick reference. But perhaps it is not to be trusted. Some places are rewarding or bribing people to give them good reviews. But I know never to trust only one source. I'm a more thorough researcher than that. Cross check!

-The Atlantic touts Jeni's Splendid ice creams, which Food in a Nutshell wrote about a couple of months ago when a Brooklyn market began carrying pints of it. If only I had known about this place during my years in Ohio.

Fall Previews

The Times annual Fall Restaurant Preview issue is out today.
Time Out New York and New York Magazine also released their lists this week.

The previews are a good way to see who is doing what and to get an idea of what's coming in different areas of the city. But I never take them too seriously for a good number of them never show up or are long delayed beyond the fall.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Shake Shack September

It's the first of the month and Shake Shack fans know what that means - a new custard calendar! I'm most excited to see the return of the Coffee and Donuts flavor because I missed my chance for that a couple of months ago. I'd love to meet the person who comes up with the Shack's flavors - he or she really seems to think outside of the box for flavor inspiration and brings together flavors I wouldn't otherwise think went together. Saffron? Pistachio? Who knew!

Monday: Coffee and Donuts
Tuesday: Red Velvet
Wednesday: Cinnamon Almond Horchata
Thursday: Balsamic Fig
Friday: Saffron Pistachio
Saturday: Caramel Apple
Sunday: Shirley Temple