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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Blog Bonanza

Yes, it's been awhile since I've posted, but I spent all weekend going to weddings and fancy luncheons.  It's a rough life I lead, indeed.  Since you've probably been bored out of your mind during my 4 day absence from the blogosphere, I figured I'd give a few things to keep the ennui at bay in case this ever happens again...

On Monday, Time Magazine announced their list(s) of the Best, Essential, and Overrated blogs of 2010.  This blog may not have made the cut this year, but I firmly believe it's only a matter of time before quinTESSential information is a household name and bookmarked on computers worldwide. 

I'm not sure I fully agree with Time's list (mostly because I'm not on it and am therefore bitter, duh), but they did shed some light on some new, interesting blogs.  In addition to blogs I already view on a regular basis (Apartment Therapy), I've particularly enjoyed checking out HiLobrow (compilation of random things that make you go "huh", The Oatmeal (cartoons providing instructions, stories, and quizzes - sounds weird; is actually funny), DoubleX (news from a female perspective - sorry, boys), and The Consumerist (product reviews, tips, and news - a marketing must).

When you stumble upon a few moments of boredom at the office or are in the mood for some 1 AM web surfing, try some of these goodies.  They have both the Time and THK stamp of approval.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cheftestant Showdown: Top Chef Recap, 6/23 Episode

This week, we learned that peanut butter is the worst thing ever according to Amanda and that Padma will be a great mom because all the middle schoolers want to give her ginormous hugs.  But more importantly, let's chat about where the chefs fall this week...
  • Angelo:
    • Innovation: 0 - Peanut butter and celery.  Are you kidding me?  If you're going to sabatoge someone, do it with flair - turn off your opponent's oven or something; don't make ants on a log.
    • Drool Factor: 0 - It's celery and peanut butter.  The judges should have laughed in your face.
    • Chef Likeability: 1 - Not a complete 0 because this is the first time we've seen a chef actively try to take down a competitor through conniving means...and we secretly like it. 
  • Kenny:
    • Innovation: 1
    • Drool Factor: 2
    • Chef Likeability: 4 - He weathers sabotage in style; however, he doesn't get the full 5 points because he seemed genuinely surprised to hear that tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable.
  • Amanda:
    • Innovation: 1
    • Drool Factor: 1 - Tom said it looked like a turd.  That comment alone made me gag, maybe even induce a little bile, but drool?  No I was def not drooling over turd.
    • Chef Likeability: 1 - Waaaay too confident for someone who has failed every challenge to date.  Plus she kinda reminds me of Leah from last season...not a good thing.
  • Andrea:
    • Innovation: 3 - She thought of ways to make classic kid-friendly (and typically fatty) foods healthy.
    • Drool Factor: 2
    • Chef Likeability: 4 - I think she could be the dark horse of the competition.  I'm just waiting for her to pop out of the weeds like the hyenas on the prowl for zebras in The Lion King.
  • Kelly:
    • Innovation: 4 - Love the oatmeal in the tortillas
    • Drool Factor: 3
    • Chef Likeability: 1 - I get it.  You made the tacos.  We ALL heard you.
  • Tiffany:
    • Innovation: 4 - Chocolate sorbet and sweet potato is an interesting combo that I never would have thought of...but may be making for dinner tonight
    • Drool Factor: 2
    • Chef Likeability: 3
Looks like this round goes to the ladies, with Andrea and Tiffany taking the lead.  Though I think the real winner was probably the guest judge.  He is a cute Mr. Clean type who's trying to eradicate childhood obesity.  You could tell he thought he was a tad cooler than the cheftestants...and I kinda agree.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bottoms Up at Boat Basin

Yesterday my agency held its company summer party at The Boat Basin, so hundreds of MediaVesters headed to the UWS for an afternoon of food and drinks.  The Boat Basin is one of those classic NYC summer spots for all those New Yorkers (myself included) who want nothing more to do during those few cherished warm months than to soak up the weather in a beautiful outdoor setting with a drink in hand.

You don't need a company party to enjoy the great atmosphere at The Boat Basin, so get yourself up there and bask in the summer sun.  The food is good but nothing so special...but do you really care when you're listening to music and catching the breeze off the Hudson? 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Toloache Today

Today, a few co-workers and I hit up Mexican restaurant Toloache for lunch.  Since we were heading back to work, we skipped the margs, but in the past they have been quite enjoyable.  Thankfully, I didn't need to be drunk to enjoy the food.  Since we had been there before, we knew the guacamole trio was a must.  Why choose between the regular, spicy, or fruity when you can have all three?  The fruity guac is my favorite.  It's filled with pomegranite seeds and chunks of apple, mango, and peach.  It's almost like they combined guacamole and sangria to create a summery treat...that you can eat all year round.  We also had a short rib bbq quesadilla to share.  It was good, but the fruity guac kept stealing my attention. 

We all got tacos for our entrées (I picked tilapia with jicama slaw and guac), which come two per order alongside a heaping portion of beans and rice.  After discovering huitlacoche awhile ago, I had to order the side of huitlacoche mushrooms.  I had previously only tried huitlacoche in corn soup form, and this was good but very woodsy.  Can food be musky?  Because they almost tasted musky.  Or if tree bark was a flavor.  Aaaaand now I sound like a crazy person.

You should keep this place in mind if you're looking for someplace to go pre-theater.  Since it's right around the corner from the office, we're big Toloache fans, but I don't think it's as good as its sister restaurant, Yerba Buena (mmmm). 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Now That's A Spicy Meatball!

On Saturday night, Matt, Greg, Susan, Dave and I headed to the LES to celebrate Susan's successful fundraising event for the Gulf Coast oil spill cleanup efforts.  Susan put together a fabulous New Orleans themed event (think: bloody marys, hurricanes, king cake, Popeye's, beads, and a great raffle) so a little afterparty was in order and The Meatball Shop was just the place.

This niche café recently opened to praises, and I've been itching to check it out.  The process is simple:

  1. Pick your meat: Beef, Chicken, Spicy Pork, or Vegetarian

  2. Pick your sauce: Classic Tomato, Spicy Meat Sauce, Mushroom Gravy, or Parmesan Cream

  3. Choose your style: Meatballs can be served as four meatballs in a bowl wih sauce and a piece of focaccia, as a slider, as a hero (with cheese if you'd like, served with side of arugula and apple salad), or as a smash (mushed up meatballs on a toasted brioche bun with cheese if you'd like, also served with arugula and apple salad) 
There are also some tasty sides on the menu, but I was way too focused on the meatballs to allow any side dishes to take away from their glory.  Our table was covered in meat and we shared around (though only the smash and sliders are pictured).  I worked on two of the items: the spicy pork meatballs in parmesan cream (served as just meatballs in a bowl) and the special smash.  There is a weekly meatball special, and this week's was delicious: buffalo chicken meatballs in a blue cheese cream sauce.  We decided to hold off on extra cheese so as not to detract from the sauce.  Both items were amazing.  The meat was moist and the sauces were rich.  I would like to sample some of the other combos, but I have a feeling it will be hard for me to deviate from the ones I just tried.

The restaurant is tiny and crowded (the five of us stood hovering over a two-top for our entire meal) but the food and the prices are worth any discomfort caused by the wait and the tight space.  The portions are large and nothing goes over $9.  To give you an idea how much I liked it, I woke up this morning, two days post-meatball feast, and I was still thinking about it. 

For all you folks with your minds in the gutter, you should be elated to know that when you go there, you get to say "balls" a LOT.

Shhh - Quiet in the Library

We were lucky enough to have out-of-town visitors on Friday night.  We were even luckier that they, along with one of their other friends, had already made the dinner/drinking plans.  After working all day, it's nice to reap the benefits of a night out without any of the hassle of planning.

We started the evening at Brandy Library, which was surprisingly more laid back than I anticipated.  I was worried we would feel out of place in jeans, but everyone seemed very casual and welcoming.  I couldn't stop looking at the walls.  I wouldn't call them walls - wall-to-wall shelving is more appropriate.  The shelves were stocked with all the alcohol, which should give you an idea of just how many different types of alcohol they carry (lots of wall space, no repeating bottles)...which leads me to the rather extensive menu.

The drink list was so long that by the time the waiter came to take our order, I was still on page 1.  Thankfully, I found something right away that I felt suited me.  It was called the seer sucker.  I can't tell you what was in it, and to be honest, I never looked past the name.  I love wearing seer sucker, so I figured I must love drinking it as well.  My thought process worked.  I took the waiters suggestion for drink #2 and found it tasty as well, but my heart (and my closet) will always belong to seer sucker.

Even though we were heading to dinner, we were starving so we ordered a couple of appetizers to calm our grumbling tummies while we finished our drinks.  The gougeres (cheesy popovers) were melt-in-your-mouth, the merguez-in-a-blankets were a new take on a retro fave, and the fois gras mac and cheese was gooey and scrumptious.

It may be all the way down in TriBeCa, but Brandy Library was worth the trip.  Tip: it's got a manly vibe, so if boys out there are getting sick of being dragged to girly bars by their ladyfriends, this one is a crowd pleaser.

Around the corner we went for dinner at Nobu Next Door.  It's not next door to the bar; "next door" is actually part of the name - thought I should clarify.  This little sister to Nobu reminded me how good high quality sushi is.  It also reminded me how expensive high quality sushi is.  The rock shrimp were amazing.  Plump shrimp in just the right amount of sauce.  I had the seared tuna salad for my entree (just tuna atop lettuce with miso ginger dressing - nothing special, but good) and tempura broccoli and sugar snap peas.  I also had a few bites of the omakase one of the girls ordered.  Omakase just means the chef prepares whatever he thinks is best.  It's exorbitantly priced but so unbelievably tasty.  After all the apps we'd already had, I didn't want to waste an amazing and expensive meal on an almost full stomach, hence the salad.  However, next time I want to splurge, that's where I'm taking my extra cash.

Lesson of the evening: TriBeCa is not to be overlooked.  Good bars and restaurants without the raucous behavior of other Manhattan neighborhoods.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cheftestant Showdown: Top Chef Recap, 6/16 Episode

Top Chef is, hands down, my favorite reality show.  Before I delve any further into this season's premiere, I would like to pose three questions:
  1. Where did Eric Ripert come from?  And more importantly, where have I been?  I pride myself on staying up-to-date with all the major food blogs, and I don't recall reading about him joining the judges' table.  No matter; welcome, chef.
  2. What happened to the Glad family of products?  I'm not sure why they dropped out and Dial jumped in.  What does body wash have to do with cooking?
  3. The Bachelor?  Stick to your own reality show.
Now for the recap.  I've created a set of criteria to determine the frontrunners of the season.  Let's see how our cheftestants are faring after episode #1 (all on a scale of 1-5):
  • Angelo
    • Innovation: 4 - The man made pasta out of potatoes that wasn't gnocci during the quickfire
    • Drool Factor: 3 
    • Chef Likability: 2 - Loses major points for extreme cockiness and excessive name dropping.  The only reason he didn't get a zero in this category is because his food backed it all up.
  • Kenny
    • Innovation: 3 - Cinnamon and coffee would not cross my mind as a rub for trout, but it looked yummy.
    • Drool Factor: 3 
    • Chef Likability: 4 - Not only did he seem nice and talented, the man was a downright machine during the quickfire.
  • Kevin
    • Innovation: 1 - Nothing new
    • Drool Factor: 1
    • Chef Likability: 2 - His restaurant is called Rat's.  In my experience, rats are the one thing you don't want in a restaurant.
  • Arnold
    • Innovation: 3 - Not sure if that cake was sweet or savory, but it looked yummy
    • Drool Factor: 2
    • Chef Likability: 0 - You may think his crazy dancing is funny.  I happen to find him incredibly annoying.  
  • Alex
    • Innovation: 5 - I'm very intrigued by deconstructed dishes and this one had that wow factor.
    • Drool Factor: 4 - I drool over unique stuff
    • Chef Likability: 1 - I don't dislike him, just don't know anything about him
In future episodes, I'll touch on more chefs, but since this was only the first episode and there are 17 chefs, I was a little too overwhelmed to talk about every dish/chef.  

Aaaand now I'm hungry.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Top Chef Agency

I am so excited about tonight's premier of Top Chef.  I can't wait to see a new batch of up-and-comers.  Tonight's post, however, is about another cooking competition, which I have dubbed Top Chef Agency.

Last night, some co-workers and I went head-to-head against six other agencies in a culinary showdown of sorts.  Four of the teams (ours included) worked on Menu B, while the three other groups attempted Menu A.  I am proud to say my team beat out all the other Menu B teams; however, when it came down to us and the Menu A winner, the another agency took home the grand prize. 

Since we're talking about the prizes, I have to admit, I'm not all too sad we brought home the silver.  The final two teams each won the same amount of prize money, but the grand prize winner also took home medals and a bronzed pan.  Trophies are nice, but what I really wanted was the money, anyway. 

The most exciting part of the challenge was actually being judged.  The panel of judges was made up of the executive chef and sous chef from Metrazur and the executive chef of Aureole (who had an awesome seersucker chef's coat, and if you've read my About Me page, you know I love seersucker).  These are two of the nicest restaurants in the city.  It's hard enough to get these men to cook for you; and here they are, eating my food.  Not just eating, complimenting.  One chef took a bite and said, and I quote, "Mmm, it's good."  As another was about to dip his fork into our dish, he remarked, "They charred the tomatoes.  That's cool."  You can't see me, but I'm patting myself on the back right now since I was manning the tomatoes.

Last night spurred some activity ideas: I want to have my own Top Chef competition among friends.  It would be a new twist on game night.  I would also like to take more classes at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), which is where the event was held.  If anyone wants to pony up the cash (I think it's somewhere in the $125 range), I would love a buddy.

I still think our dish should have won, and I am ready for a rematch - anytime, anyplace.  See below for pics of our bread salad and roasted tomato/herb/goat cheese pasta. 

Hummus Kitchen in Hell's Kitchen

Typically, I bring my lunch to work, but yesterday I was meeting a friend so I ventured out of the office.  Lindsay was in the mood for falafel, and I didn't think I knew of any place nearby that could satisfy her craving so we decided to walk until we saw something good.  A half-block into our walk, we were surprised to find Hummus Kitchen.

Lindsay and I both ordered the falafel laffa, which is a wrap filled with falafel, hummus, chopped salad, pickles, and tahini.  For only $1 more, you could add any appetizer, so I chose the burekas (one potato, one mushroom) and Lindsay got the cous cous.  The wrap was sufficiently large and I probably didn't need the appetizer, but I couldn't pass up a deal like that (the appetizers are usually $4 each).  I'm not one to drink on the job, but it also looked like there were some pretty sweet drink deals.

I was happy to satisfy Lindsay's yen for falafel and to discover a new restaurant near my office.  The food was good enough for me to decide that Hummus Kitchen will be added to the lunch rotation on the rare occasions that I don't bring from home.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Berries and BBQ

After cooking Friday and Saturday nights, I still had one more recipe in me before the weekend ended.  I may love to cook, but baking is not so much my cup of tea; nonetheless, I wanted to give it the old college try.  I heard crisps are the easiest things to bake, so I figured that would be a good entry into the baking world for me.  I picked up blueberries, raspberries, and pears from the grocery store and popped it in the oven with a brown sugar oat topping.  Not too bad for my first try, but it was a little too tart.  I was hoping the fruit would be sweet enough, but I think it called for a little extra sugar.  It did, however, give me the confidence to try again.

I carried my crisp over to Sarah's so we would have a nice brunch treat to snack on while we chatted and got ready for the real meal of the day: The Big Apple BBQ Block Party.  The Big Apple BBQ is an annual, two-day bar-b-que fest where pitmasters from across the country take over Madison Square Park and allow Yankees to taste real bbq.  It's always packed, but it's worth it.  Good bbq is not hard to find in my Southern hometown, but I've learned that Yankees have no idea what they're doing when it comes to bbq.  Once a year, that doesn't matter because the real deal makes its way to the middle of NYC.

At most food events, the cost of food affords you a mere taste, but at the Big Apple BBQ, $8 gets you a full plate of food (includes entrée and side) from any one of the 17 vendors.  One plate is enough food to satisfy you, but then you only get to try one thing, which is a grave injustice to the tummy.  I started with a pulled pork sandwich from Ubon's Barbeque of Yazoo.  I picked them for no reason other than the fact that I wanted pulled pork and they had a short line.  The line length was no idication of taste.  The sauce was sweet and the meat was super moist.  I'm not a big cole slaw fan, so I was a little disappointed that I wound up in a line serving it as their side, but my mouth was pleasantly surprised.  Best cole slaw I've ever had.  Seriously.  It was a little spicy and had just enough mayo.  If all cole slaw tasted like this, I would eat it by the barrel.

I was already full, but I needed to push forward.  When bbq is only  here once a year, I need to take full advantage of the occasion.  The next stop was Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Que for some spicy sausage.  I must admit, this time it was the side that inticed me, not the main course.  Though the sausage was amazing (both sweet and spicy at the same time), the main draw for me was the pimento cheese served on the side with saltines.  I love pimento cheese.  It is a Southern delicacy.  The second I saw it on my plate, my mind was flooded with images of my Mom packing pimento cheese sandwiches for a day on the boat.  It may look weird, but if made properly, it tastes amazing.  Since I can't find it in any of the grocery stores here, I may have to take to making it myself (though I'm not sure how that's done) because I now realize how much I miss having it in my diet.

I would have loved to taste more (there were ribs and briskets galore), but my stomach had reached its max.  You may have to wait a year, but I highly suggest you mark your calendars for The Big Apple BBQ Block Party next June.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Welcome to the Neighborhood

If you haven't noticed a new channel in your cable lineup, do yourself a favor and find the Cooking Channel.  The baby sister of the Food Network, Cooking Channel is all about food prep and less about crazy reality tv.  I admit, I love me some Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives, but it's nice to have a channel whose  sole purpose is to show the viewer how to prepare recipes.  I'm glad Food Network recognized the desire for a channel like this after they steered away from the platform in their original space.  It's kind of reminiscent of when MTV stopped showing music videos and attempted to create MTV2...except my bet is that Cooking Channel actually catches on.  It's currently 1 AM, and I can't bring myself to go to bed because I can't stop watching.

Wonton Weekend

Another night at home tonight.  What can I say, I guess I'm turning into a huge lame-o, but every once in a while, it's nice to have a really laid back weekend (especially after a busy b-day weekend like the one I just had).  It's not like I sat around doing absolutely nothing.  After the breakfast of champions mentioned in the previous post, I meandered around the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market, did a little shopping in Herald Square, and then met Raychel for a movie.  By the time I got back to my apartment, it was 8 PM and I was pooped and had no interest in heading out again.

On went the pajamas and I got ready for another night of cooking.  After learning how simple crab rangoons are, I decided I wanted to try my hand at making the Chinese treat.  I could have used a few more scallions, but other than that, I thought they came out really well!  I'm sure they would have been even better if I used lump crab meat, but I'm on a budget and the claw meat is half the price.  It's getting mixed in with cream cheese, so no one can really tell the difference, anyway.  I also decided to buck tradition and bake them instead of frying them.  I would like to say I made that decision in an attempt to be healthy, but we all know that doesn't really sound like me.  It was more because I knew I couldn't make a meal out rangoons, so I paired them with another wonton based treat, some gyoza (pork dumplings) that were pan-fried.  Health-wise, I think the calories cancelled each other out.  The gyoza were actually courtesy of my good friend, Trader Joe.  They're super easy and taste like they came from a restaurant.  I keep them in my freezer at all times and I suggest you do the same.  You'd think I would be a little sick of all the wontons, but you'd be wrong.
gyoza on left; homemade crab rangoons on right

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Good Dinner Makes for Great Brunch

Early in the week, I decided this would be a low-key weekend.  It has been a while since I tried out any new recipes, and I was feeling the itch to get back in the kitch.  I downloaded all sorts of apps onto my fancy phone, one of which - Epicurious - provides me with a recipe of the day as well as a pretty serious database.  It was there that I discovered a recipe for pea/feta/scallion mash that I served over nan bread.  This dip/spread has great texture, an interesting flavor combination (sweet from the peas, tangy from the feta), and a nice springy color.  All in all, a good way to start the meal, especially since I'm tired of using hummus as a go-to Mediterranean spread in a pinch.

Like I said, it was a good way to start the meal, but an appetizer is simply not enough.  For a side dish, I prepared asparagus proscuitto bundles.  Easiest thing I've ever made and maybe one of the tastiest.  As a child, smothering my veggies with cheese was the way to get me to eat my leafy greens.  Now, I think I'll eat it if it's covered in prosciutto or bacon.  For the main dish, I grilled scallops, squid, and octopus and served atop zucchini ribbons.  The pics don't do it justice - whole meal was delicious, simple, and bound to be repeated.

One of the greatest things about cooking for one is that I often have lots of leftover bits and pieces.  It's easy to get sick of leftovers...unless you repurpose last night's dinner as this morning's brunch like I did today.  I used the leftover peas and prosciutto, scrambled with eggs and some goat cheese I already had in the fridge.  Thanks to my leftovers, it was way better than a normal scrambled egg breakfast.
So I know it sounds like an incredibly lame Friday night, but I happened to enjoy myself and when you come to visit and try some of this cooking, you'll be very happy I spent an evening at home perfecting the recipes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gleecap: 6/8 Episode

I know I didn't report on the Season 1 finale nearly as soon as I should have, but you should know I'm a very important person with lots of things on my plate.  Enough excuses, time for the final Diva-meter of the season:
  • Black Dude (whose character's name we now know is Matt Rutherford) and Other Asian (character name: Mike Chang; name forever on this blog: Other Asian) actually got some speaking lines: +1.  In other surprising news, Santana and Puck usurp a solo (albeit a teeny one) from Rachel and Finn during a major performance: +2.  However, Quinn did not get a single solo (-1), probably due to the fact that she was popping out her bastard child.
  • Vocal Adrenaline decides to compete at Regionals with a song that showcases only one person in the entire group.  We love Jesse, but it's called "show choir", not "show person".  If they're all going to be awarded Range Rovers, everyone in the group should have to participate.  This aint American Idol.  -3
  • New Directions' clearly picked out their outfits to hide Quinn's baby bump.  +2 for good strategy.
  • The McKinley kids begin their performance with a dramatic entrance from the back.  Oh wait, it's not dramatic anymore because that's how they began their performance at Sectionals.  -1
  • Mama Fabray (original, not post-natal Quinn) says she left Quinn's father after she discovered his infidelity with "a tatooed freak."  +1 for the up-to-date cultural reference to Sandra Bullock.
  • In Josh Groban's 1st appearance he was attracted to Will's older, drunk mother.  This episode he's interested in Sue.  Apparently, he loves the messed-up ladies.  +2 because you could probably say the same thing about my own boyfriend.
  • Rachel's face when she says, "Screw that; we're gonna win this!" reminds me of her overzealous childhood dancing from the pilot: +1.
  • Olivia Newton John's acting seems to have gone downhill since her performance in Grease, -1.  Her face, however, appears to have remained exactly the same.  +2 (thanks, Botox!)
  • Kurt wears not one but two hats this episode.  One is a newsboy cap and the other is a sailor hat.  +2 because that was very diva (and 1920s) of him.
  • Song recap:
    • Journey Medley: Awesome.  +4
    • Bohemian Rhapsody: see above
    • To Sir, With Love: soooo unbelievably fitting +2
    • Somewhere Over The Rainbow: Neither here nor there; therefore, no points awarded or subtracted.
Total: 13--> The finale was as Diva as Gloria Estefan - a performer on Season 1 of VH1 Divas (circa 1998).  Much like the tiny Latina popstar proved big voices can come in tiny packages, the first season of Glee showed us a true TV hit can come from the unlikeliest of places.  Like Estefan, Glee is quite saucy, and I'm hoping they keep it that way.  Here's hoping Season 2 keeps us intrigued!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Birthday Burger

As the last hoorah of my b-day celebration, I took yesterday off to celebrate it like the holiday it is.  It was a perfect day:  I caught up on my DVR'd shows, read/people-watched in the park, and enjoyed a burger.

Burger spot brgr opened their 2nd outpost this weekend, and it is conveniently located around the corner from my apartment.  I didn't know they had health on the brain, and if I did, I probably would have dismissed the restaurant.  I think of neither my health nor the planet's well-being when eating a burger.  I'm usually too concerned with devouring delicious red meat to think of such things. 

brgr uses only grass-fed cows with no hormones.  This uses half as much fossil fuel as the grain-fed counterparts and results in beef with higher omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E levels.  Ok, so maybe it's not "healthy", but it's something different and makes me feel a little better about stuffing my face.

The menu is not huge, but they have some interesting toppings/combos.  I had the Rainforest Burger with gruyere, avocado, and herb mayo.  The avocado was placed atop the patty in large slices, which I much prefer to the thin layer of guac offered at most places.  I also added grilled mushrooms and onions - a good choice, if I do say so myself.  It was a good, greasy burger.  I'll definitely have to try the burger topped with a fried egg, because I find it intriguing.  My only complaint is that the meat was not as rare as I typically like.

I could not decide which fries to get, so I ordered The Trio: russet fries, sweet potato fries, and onion hay (thin frizzled onions).  The regular fries were a little greasy and extra soft (I know that's a turnoff for most people, but I love flaccid fries).  On the contrary, the sweet potato fries could have been cut a little thicker.  The onion hay was good, but there's only so much of that I can eat.  Next time, I'll probably stick with the original fry.

Although my thighs may not agree, I am pretty happy Jamba Juice vacated the space to make room for brgr.  It's still no Shake Shack or JG Melon, but it is a very welcome addition to the neighborhood.   

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Birthday Bash: Crossing Two More Places Off My List

It's official.  I'm entering my mid-20s.  I am a quarter century old and that scares me a bit, but that just means I had to make my celebration memorable.  My birthday may be Monday, but that's not a great night to celebrate, so I had my party last night.  Before the shindig actually got started, I went with a few friends to dinner at Cienfuegos.  If you've been keeping up with the blog, you've read my praises of Death and Co. and Mayahuel.  Three weeks ago, the good folks behind these two establishments opened Cienfuegos and I've been drooling ever since.  While Mayahuel is Mexican themed, Cienfuegos is all about Cuba, from the food to the rum based drinks to the lack of strong AC.

Everything we had was amazing:
  • Chickpea and Chorizo hash with a crispy poached egg (this was my favorite)
  • The cumin lamb chop special with soaked orange segments and avocado
  • Beef Empanadas with some sort of vinegar scallion sauce
  • Vegetable Empanadas with guacamole (surprisingly, I liked these better than the beef)
  • Crab Croquettes with guava
  • Drunken shrimp over sweet plantain mash
  • Sloppy Joe sliders (made with pulled pork)
  • Sandwich sampler (included a sloppy joe slider, a cuban sandwich, and a turkey/ham/strawberry sandwich)
  • Flan - some of the best I've had.  It was thicker than usual, making it like a combination of flan and my absolute favorite dessert, creme brulee)
  • Tres Leches - The cake was a little dry, but it was topped with some amazing meringe that made up for it
But don't think the food is the only reason to check out Cienfuegos.  First of all, it's just a cool place.  Walk to the back of Carteles cuban sandwich shop and up some stairs (be sure to watch out for the air ducts) to the hidden restaurant.  The green ceilings, pink walls, and pin-tuck benches whisked me away to Havana.  Just like their predecessors, the mixologists at Cienfuegos know their stuff.  The drink menu is an homage to rum.  There was so much to choose from and we were a little overwhelmed by all the options.  All drinks can be ordered by the glass or as a punch for multiple people.  We ordered a four person Anchor Punch, which had apricot, guava, and spicy ginger.  We also ordered a three person Rosa Verde, which had watermelon, pink peppercorn, and arugula - a wild card in my opinion.  Dave was super impressed because this cocktail was made with a Nicaraguan rum that he hasn't been able to get his  hands on since his travels in Central America.  Both punches were delicious and the tureens they came in were pretty serious, leaving me with a buzz to match.  I'll be going back.  Consider this list item crossed off.

After dinner, it was time for the party to get started so we headed to one of my favorite bars, Madam Geneva.  I suppose secret places were the theme of the evening because you have to walk through the Double Crown restaurant and push through a wall to get to the bar.  Gin is the name of the game at Madam Geneva's, but they have a stocked bar for non-gin lovers.  Their specialty is the selection of housemade jams.  The jams rotate regularly and reflect what's in season.  Last night, there was a pineapple and vanilla bean, apricot and spice, and rhubarb.  You tell the bartender which jam you like and whether you prefer vodka or gin.  They'll return with your poison of choice in a tumbler with a spoon of jam perched on top so you may mix your drink to your liking.  The pineapple/vanilla was the favorite of the evening.

Once it started to get hot and crowded, we headed across the street to Bowery Electric, which was packed so our hot/crowded problem was not really alleviated.  We lasted long enough to have a drink or two and take some pictures in the photo booth before we decided it was time for a more relaxed atmosphere.  Onto Pulino's which was conveniently about two blocks away.

If you've been reading any of the big food blogs lately, you'll have heard about Pulino's, the hot new pizzeria/bar by the guy behind Pravda, Pastis, Morandi, Minetta Tavern, Balthazar, and Schiller's.  The reviews spurred heat from the restaurant community, so I had to check it out for myself.  From the moment you walk in, it's evident you're dealing with the Schiller's crew.  Same black and white floors, lighting, and liquor bottles used as wallpaper.  Since it was 2 AM by this point, we figured we were entitled to another feeding and ordered two pizzas.  The first had mushrooms and pancetta, the second was topped with meatballs.  Both tasty, though I much preferred the former.  Loved the sauce and cheese, but the crust could have been a tad crispier and the meatballs could have used a little more spice.  Definitely not my favorite pizza in NYC, but it was a great place to relax after the crowded, sweaty bars that dominated the majority of the evening.  The best part was easily the bathroom.  Separate doors for men and women, but as Matt and I learned when we walked into our respective WCs at the same time, they led to the same big bathroom.  It was highly confusing.  Thankfully, I did not have to stand next to a boy at a urinal because there are two more doors, and this time, the signs indicating gender assignments didn't lie.
Birthday party officially deemed a success.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Captivated by Kefi

Dave knows how to keep me happy throughout my bday weekend - help me cross more restaurants off my list!  I'm rarely in the UWS, but we had to run and errand and found ourselves hungry for lunch in an unfamiliar neighborhood.  Since we were in the mood to explore, we decided to walk around until we found something that struck our fancy.  When I spotted Kefi across the street I had a "duh" moment - how could I have forgotten?!

As a huge Greek fan, I have been told by many that this is the place to go - I just never remember to make plans to try it.  Not only was I told the food is great, I heard it is reasonably priced - difficult to find when it comes to good Greek food.  Everything I heard was true.  Great food, very do-able prices, and a casual, airy atmosphere.  The menu offered more refined dishes than the simple gyro without feeling stuffy (ie: hostess and wait staff were in t-shirts and jeans).

We started with a plate of four spreads.  The portion was supposed to be for two, but it could have easily satisfied four diners (for a mere $9.95!).  Don't worry, we ate it all ourselves because each spread was too delicious to waste.  We also had the grilled octopus, which was served atop a salad of chickpeas and black eyed peas.  The octopus was a little salty but perfectly grilled.  I'm not sure how they were able to cultivate the yummy crust on the outside while keeping the meat so tender.  For his entree, Dave ordered the chicken souvlaki sandwich that was served with a heaping pile of chips and a small salad.  I had the sheep's milk dumplings with tomato sauce, sun-dried tomato, spinach, feta, lamb sausage, and pine nuts.  Yum central.  The dumplings were like the Greek version of gnocci.  Basically, I was eating delicious little clouds.  A dish like that at any other restaurant would have easily been at least $22, not the $13.95 we paid.

Overall, I loved it.  I'll be back - hopefully for dinner next time.

Tasty Tamarind

I kicked off my birthday weekend (it's a big birthday - I deserve a whole weekend) by crossing a restaurant off my list.  After hearing Susan talk/blog about Tamarind, the Indian restaurant was added to my ever lengthening list of must-trys.

I don't usually connect Indian fare with fine dining, but Tamarind takes Indian food to a new, sophisticated level.  I had a good feeling about the food from the amuse bouche.  This nan pizza thing was amazing.  It quite literally melted in my mouth and was a great way to start the meal.

The menu pulls from many Indian regions, so we felt the need to try a little of everything.  Instead of ordering on our own, we went family style to taste as much as possible.  After reading the following list of what we ate, you'll understand why I had to go straight home to lay down after dinner.
  • Appetizers:
    • Scallops in a coconut mint sauce
    • Bass and crab cakes
    • Lamb patties
  • Entrees:
    • Tandoor Chicken (very moist - dried out tandoor chicken is my biggest source of disappointment in Indian restaurants)
    • Chicken Tikka Masala
    • Another chicken dish in delicious sauce...I wish I could remember what was in it
    • Saag Paneer
    • Lamb Shank
    • Halibut in a coconut ginger sauce - Halibut is the last thing that comes to my mind when I think Indian, but this was my favorite dish of the night
  • Rice and Nan
Next time you're looking to go out for a nice dinner, don't think you're restricted to French and continental.  Tamarind showed me that Indian can play with the other kids on the fine dining playground.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Spice is Nice

I know I've mentioned this hardship before, but it is very difficult for me to live so far from a Chick-Fil-A.  This handicap became more obvious this week as my precious Chick-Fil-A debuted the new spicy chicken sandwich.  Forget the fact that I couldn't register for my free sandwich like everyone else; I just wanted to try it.

Well folks, thanks to my new hero, Patrick, I got my very own spicy chicken sandwich today.  You see, Patrick went to UGA, a school that takes children and turns them into brilliant adults.  So in the absence of a local Chick-Fil-A, Muhammad went to the mountain - or more accurately Paramus, New Jersey - via Zipcar to pick up a slew of the special sandwiches.  Never did I think I would use "special" and "Jersey" in a sentence together, but it looks like the Dirty Jerz has gained a cool point or two after supplying me with Chick-Fil-A (aka: crack).

As a consolation for missing my upcoming b-day party, Patrick met me in the middle of Times Square with a sandwich and a full cup of sweet tea.  For those non-Southern readers, sweet tea is the nectar of the gods that for some unknown reason is not available anywhere in the North.  Yankees are silly.  I guzzled the sweet tea amidst a swarm of tourists photographing M&M World but saved the sandwich for dinner to truly savor the experience.  Now that I've tried it, here's my official review: yum.  Way spicier than I imagined, but I can handle it.  They kept the pickles in there, which tasted even better on the spicy sandwich than the original.  I'm a fan.  Thanks to Patrick, the birthday gift bar has been set pretty high.  Boyfriend and parents, take note.

On Monday I'll be 25 and, therefore, able to rent a car.  Road trip to Paramus, anyone?

Can't figure out how to rotate the pic, but you get the idea

Gleecap: 6/1 Episode

Though I am sad to have just learned of Rue McClanahan's recent passing this morning (that saucy minx was my favorite Golden Gal), I am cheered by the fact that this week's Glee was a goodie.  The Diva-meter recap is as follows:
  • There are [multiple] Ohio show choir blogs? +1
  • Sue wears a track suit and pearls to her date with Shu. +3
  • Sue gets a placenta mask.  +4 because only divas and pageant moms can make impossible spa treatments happen and have no shame in exploiting babies.
  • Before Jesse pelts Rachel with an egg, the female lead in Vocal Adrenaline says "Do it Jesse.  Are you with us or not?"  -1 because it was a little too "gee willakers" peer pressure after-school special.
  • +3 for returning to the good ol' days of picking songs that fit the moment vs. a force fit into a Mr. Shuster assignment.  "Another One Bites the Dust" works with Vocal Adrenaline's intimidation message and Quinn's problems are perfectly channelled through her raspy James Brown performance.  -1 for regressing with the irrelevant "Good Vibrations" moment.
  • Preggo gals rubbing their bellies and swaying in the background of Quinn's number while practicing lamaze to the beat creeped me out.  -3
  • Sandy is always a pleasant surprise.  Less when he's dealing Chronic Lady, more when talking about his internet girlfriend, wearing a mini kimono, or in the case of this week's episode, screaming about needing rose pink.  +2
  • Ew.  Terri is sexually attracted to Finn because he's basically a 16 year old Mr. Shuster.  -2 for potential disturbing plotline.
  • Terri: "I thought Jews were supposed to be smart?"  +1 because we are.
  • Where's Emma?  I miss her mental instability...and her stellar wardrobe.  -2.
  • Sue's  favorite CarboGels flavor is appletini.  +1 for this quick mini surprise.  I would have imagined her flavor of choice to be something weirder and more sinister, like rocky mountain oysters.
  • Kurt storms out with the boys to defend Rachel's honor...and then is the first to retreat when given an easy out.  +1 because that diva is really one of the girls.
  • Terri helps Finn with his Glee assignment by using the iTunes.  +2 because out of touch grown ups always add "the" in front of words that never require it.
  • Kurt's high kick after winning Nationals: +1, just 'cause.
Total: 10-->This week's episode is the diva equivalent of Maria Carey.  I mostly chose Maria because I think Will was channeling her during his booty seduction of Sue.  I'm also thinking the slutty cheerleaders should probably do a version of "Touch My Body" sometime soon.

    Incredible Indy

    Wife beaters, jean shorts, and turkey legs - oh my!  No, I wasn't in Florida this weekend - I was at the Indy 500!  It was white trash central, and I loved every second it.

    Andy was pretty much the best host ever.  In addition to housing us, he set us up with ridiculously amazing seats directly across from the top drivers' pits.  Not only did I love the excitement of tire changes (yes, it actually is exciting), I loved the people watching.  I saw enough sunburned beer guts and girls walking around in cut offs and bikini tops to satisfy my own personal Jerry Springer quota for the year.  The spectacular seats also means we were directly across from Dario Franchitti Mr. Ashley Judd's pit and in perfect view of his win.

    Did you know you can bring anything into the track?  Really - anything as long as it's not glass!  That means that after a couple hours of tailgating, we each strapped a cooler to our back and headed to our seats.  Not only does this make for an incredibly fun event, it makes everything much cheaper.

    I think this may have to be an annual event and I suggest you consider it, too.


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