She’s a Small Wonder…

…and no, I am not referring to that cult fave TV show from the 1980′s about the little girl who was actually a robot.  What were the 1980′s, I ask you?  Such a weird time period…
ANYWAY…
I am referring to Julie Proios’ truly outstanding baked goods company, called Small Wonders Canadian Treats.  A Canadian expat in Upstate New York, Julie started the company to introduce Americans to her favorite Canadian sweets.  She uses all natural ingredients to produce such goodies as…butter tarts?  Nanaimo bars?  What the heck was this stuff?  After VERY kindly sending me some samples, I opened the box writhing with anticipation of these new sweets.
It was CHOCKED full of amazing looking cakes, tarts, and bars.  They all looked as if I had made them myself…if I was this good a baker…which clearly I am not.  The warm, rich scent of butter wafted out of the box.  And my sister, boyfriend, and I dug right in.  Here is my disclaimer-all of this stuff, absolutely ALL of it was OUTSTANDING.  I am reviewing a few of my personal faves, but you CAN NOT go wrong with ordering ANYTHING from this bakery…seriously.
That is the oatmeal blueberry cookie.  Entirely made from ingredients that I can pronounce, this cookie was everything you wanted an oatmeal cookie to be that it never was.  More a coffee cake in cookie texture than an actual cookie, this was moist, crisp edged, filled with soft and tart blueberries, hearty oats,and sweet with brown sugar.  No oatmeal cookie reaches the perfect balance between sweet and savory.  Oh yeah-except this one.  This one reaches it.  And exceeds it.
Becky agrees. Best oatmeal cookie we have ever had IN OUR LIVES.
Nanaimo bars….hmmm….how should I describe these?  How about cookie-brownie-frosting-chocolate-coconut bars from THE HEAVENS?!  These were THE BEST DESSERTS I HAVE RECEIVED TO REVIEW ON THIS BLOG, TO DATE! Seriously…amaaaaazing!  A crumbly, chocolaty, coconuty base-like an oreo almond joy. A cream cheese frosting middle layer, rich, sweet, and tender.  A thick chocolate top layer, deep and chocolaty.  This was a symphony of flavors and textures: smooth, crumbly, rich, sweet, slightly bitter, and just delicious.  I really cannot say enough about these nainamo bars…
…and the cherry one filled with sweet glaceed cherries is also amazing!
Travis can’t even believe how good they are!
And the famous Canadian Butter Tart.  This is the peanut butter chocolate variety, but we sampled the original and the chocolate caramel, too.
A light cookie crust, a pecan pie like filling with nutty peanut butter and chopped peanuts, and chocolate swirled throughout.
The taste test…
And by the next time I could stop Kyle to take a picture, the pie was already mostly decimated.  These butter tarts are so delicious.  Light, sweet, perfectly sized, with no cloyingly sweet, chemically aftertaste, because guess what…there are no chemicals in this!  This is really just a delicious dessert that would be at home after any fancy meal…or after school…or after a bad day…or right now…Why did we eat them all at ONCE?!?!
Julie is a first rate business owner and baker.  Not only does she make delicious, unique treats that are new to most Americans, but she is communicative with her buyers. sells for a fair price, and is concerned with how consumers like her product.  She is a one woman baking operation, and you can taste the care and passion in each of her products. I truly love this company and would recommend anyone visit their site and get some treats today!  Especially those Nainamo bars…and send them this way if you please!  After all, Julie truly is, a…you knew it was coming…”Small Wonder”

She’s a Small Wonder…

…and no, I am not referring to that cult fave TV show from the 1980′s about the little girl who was actually a robot.  What were the 1980′s, I ask you?  Such a weird time period…
ANYWAY…
I am referring to Julie Proios’ truly outstanding baked goods company, called Small Wonders Canadian Treats.  A Canadian expat in Upstate New York, Julie started the company to introduce Americans to her favorite Canadian sweets.  She uses all natural ingredients to produce such goodies as…butter tarts?  Nanaimo bars?  What the heck was this stuff?  After VERY kindly sending me some samples, I opened the box writhing with anticipation of these new sweets.
It was CHOCKED full of amazing looking cakes, tarts, and bars.  They all looked as if I had made them myself…if I was this good a baker…which clearly I am not.  The warm, rich scent of butter wafted out of the box.  And my sister, boyfriend, and I dug right in.  Here is my disclaimer-all of this stuff, absolutely ALL of it was OUTSTANDING.  I am reviewing a few of my personal faves, but you CAN NOT go wrong with ordering ANYTHING from this bakery…seriously.
That is the oatmeal blueberry cookie.  Entirely made from ingredients that I can pronounce, this cookie was everything you wanted an oatmeal cookie to be that it never was.  More a coffee cake in cookie texture than an actual cookie, this was moist, crisp edged, filled with soft and tart blueberries, hearty oats,and sweet with brown sugar.  No oatmeal cookie reaches the perfect balance between sweet and savory.  Oh yeah-except this one.  This one reaches it.  And exceeds it.
Becky agrees. Best oatmeal cookie we have ever had IN OUR LIVES.
Nanaimo bars….hmmm….how should I describe these?  How about cookie-brownie-frosting-chocolate-coconut bars from THE HEAVENS?!  These were THE BEST DESSERTS I HAVE RECEIVED TO REVIEW ON THIS BLOG, TO DATE! Seriously…amaaaaazing!  A crumbly, chocolaty, coconuty base-like an oreo almond joy. A cream cheese frosting middle layer, rich, sweet, and tender.  A thick chocolate top layer, deep and chocolaty.  This was a symphony of flavors and textures: smooth, crumbly, rich, sweet, slightly bitter, and just delicious.  I really cannot say enough about these nainamo bars…
…and the cherry one filled with sweet glaceed cherries is also amazing!
Travis can’t even believe how good they are!
And the famous Canadian Butter Tart.  This is the peanut butter chocolate variety, but we sampled the original and the chocolate caramel, too.
A light cookie crust, a pecan pie like filling with nutty peanut butter and chopped peanuts, and chocolate swirled throughout.
  These butter tarts are so delicious.  Light, sweet, perfectly sized, with no cloyingly sweet, chemically aftertaste, because guess what…there are no chemicals in this!  This is really just a delicious dessert that would be at home after any fancy meal…or after school…or after a bad day…or right now…Why did we eat them all at ONCE?!?!
Julie is a first rate business owner and baker.  Not only does she make delicious, unique treats that are new to most Americans, but she is communicative with her buyers. sells for a fair price, and is concerned with how consumers like her product.  She is a one woman baking operation, and you can taste the care and passion in each of her products. I truly love this company and would recommend anyone visit their site and get some treats today!  Especially those Nainamo bars…and send them this way if you please!  After all, Julie truly is, a…you knew it was coming…”Small Wonder”

This Little Piggy Went to Market

Is it just me or do you love a farmers market?  Forget the fact that it is a great, delicious way to get to know the city you are now in.  Think nothing of the fact that you get to meet vendors and ask questions to people who actually grow and prepare your food.  And let’s not even discuss the fact that many of the items at farmers’ markets are unavailable in grocery stores, and if you don’t get them here, you don’t get them.
Guys-farmers markets are samples GALORE! It is a cheap foodie’s DREAM to waltz around an open air market, sampling delicious meats, cheeses, sauces, and sweets for free.  And then if you like it-you can BUY it!  Usually quite inexpensively!  I mean…I seriously LOVE farmers markets.  And the best one I have been to in NYC was the New Amsterdam Market.  It is a market devoted to helping small and local businesses grow and sustain an ethical and delicious way of life!  Sometimes there are themes, and when Lauren, Kara, and I went to the Hudson Valley theme, we had a blast!  Here are the top highlights-though they were ALL great!
Schoolhouse Kitchen Mustards and Jams.  This stuff was so delightful! All the ingredients are natural and pronounceable and unique! Not the usual grape jelly, I’ll tell you that! My favorite jam-not that it was even a jam-was the squadrilla chutney.  Orange and chili made this the world’s most fabulous marmalade.  Tart, pleasantly bitter, slightly hot, with just enough sweetness to make this perfect for a breakfast companion for toast schmeared with ricotta.  Of course, it wouldn’t be too shabby with a chicken tikka wrap either!  And the standout here was the dill horseradish mustard.  Thick and sturdy, this mustard was the stuff dreams are made of.  It had quite a bit of horseradish kick, so if you don’t like the nasal clearing stuff, don’t get this…and if you don’t like the stuff…gosh I don’t know how you enjoy life!  It was balanced out by a little butter and flour in the mustard, and the naturally sweet, floral scent of the dill.  This was great on the cracker I tried it with, but it would REALLY shine with a turkey and Havarti sandwich…i mean REALLY…i bought some.  It was that good.  Get it.  For reals.
Cheese at the Vermont Creamery.  This was some kick ass lactose action.  I tried and LOOOOVED the Bonne Bouche.  So did the American Cheese Society, which awarded it the Best Goat Cheese of 2010 award. That’s serious street cred in the dairy world, yo.  Okay, I will stop trying to be cool like the young kids.  This cheese was an excellent example of an aged goat’s cheese-sweet, grassy, smooth, and creamy.  What set this goat cheese apart was the ash ripened rind-it was soft and slightly piquant-that is to say, mouth puckeringly tart, a welcome contrast to the delicate, soft interior.  This cheese rocked my world…which is why i took the rest of the samples right after I took this picture.  Sorry other cheese lovers…you snooze, you lose!
Tamale time!  Katchke Farms was serving up beet chips, fall vegetable tamales, and salsa verde for the measly price of $4. YES PLEASE!!!  I have long been a fan of the sweet, fresh, chewy-crispy, barely salty beet chips, but this was my first time trying a tamale there!
I just love tamales of any sort, so it was basically a given that i was going to like these. What i did not know is that I would be OBSESSED with them!  These were soft but not mushy, perfectly steamed in their corn husks, and mixed with sweet butternut squash and stringy, melting white cheese.  The tamale on its own was sweet, savory, and a myriad of textures, but the salsa verde really pumped this baby up.  Tart, spicy, salty, with fruity undertones, this was as good as any salsa I have ever had.  Ever.  I often buy jars of this at the Port Authority Farmers’ market, so I did not need any more for my stockpile. But Kara bought some. She is pretty smart-she knew I wasn’t going to share.  DEF the best jarred salsa verde EVER.
Table Tales was serving Sunday gravy and butternut squash soup.  Though Lauren did not attempt to put a dirty fork straight into the serving pot like the woman next to me (don’t worry, she was caught and kindly but sternly admonished-what a new york experience, right?!), she did ask for a sample of the butternut squash soup.  She swooned.  Literally, swooned.  That was enough to convince me to buy some of their jarred marinara sauce.  YUM!  I have been eating it like soup all week!  Intensely tomatoey, with a strong hit of garlic and laced with sweet basil, this sauce is not overly salted and has a gentle mouth feel from the addition of excellent olive oil.  All it needs is a microwave, some Pecorino Romano, and my mouth.  I will def be trying this restaurant soon!
Our final taste of the day was the namesake sandwich from Porchetta.  
I have once again failed you by not showing you a picture of the sandwich, but…well…you know why that was.  Sweet, luscious pork fell in salty, fatty ribbons in my mouth.  Piled on a soft roll that tore when I bit it, the  umami-licious juices moistening the bread…there were hints of rosemary and sage and HEAVEN!  My biggest bone to pick  was that there were far too few crispy bits of skin in this delightful pig bomb…it was great but could have been DIVINE with a few more shards of those yummy little cracklings.
Table Tales Café on Urbanspoon

Carb-tastic Pizza!

If you think I spend a lot of time in the financial district…you are right.  I want to put the word in on a reliable, if slightly pricey, trattoria-esque option!
Acqua Restaurant is located at peck slip downtown.  This is the oldest part of the city, and is covered in cobblestones and surrounded by buildings where Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill Cody used to eat and drink when they performed at Madison Square Garden!  I swear, it would have been so neat to grow up on the east coast-everywhere is living history!  I heard that Acqua is a casual but delicious option, so we sat down in the relaxed, open space.
We ordered the white pizza with potatoes, onions, prosciutto, and house made mozzarella.  WOW!  I forgot to get an upskirt shot because i SCOFFED this so fast!  This was reminiscent of one of my favorite CPK pizzas of all time, the late, great, rosemary chicken potato pizza.  Many a tears were shed when that pizza was retired.  But replacing the chicken with salty, silky, gently charred, fatty PROSCIUTTO?!?!  OK, this pizza raised the potato pizza BAR!  The crust was thin, crunchy at the edges, and tender within.   The potatoes must have been par-boiled because they were meltingly soft as well as fried to a crunchy crisp at the top layer.  The onions were sweet and umami-filled, and the mozzarella was the final taste layer of creamy goodness.  This pizza was not greasy, but had enough fat to keep it pleasingly moist, and was a salty, creamy, sweet, crunchy, umami filled flavor bomb.  I loved it and consider it on par with any pizza in the city.
We also got the fish of the day-a snapper, steamed and served with sauteed garlic and roasted potatoes. The fish was excellently, if simply, prepared, and the moist, sweet flesh sang with just a squeeze of lemon.l  The spinach was perfectly cooked, tasting of all it’s minerally, vegetal goodness without too much overwhelming garlic-just enough to remind me that life is worthless without garlic breath ;) .  The potatoes were also great-crispy, rosemary flecked, steaming hot and fluffy within..this place is rad with the tubers!
Great food, nice atmosphere, good service…are there any downsides here? Ummm…yes.  This was pretty overpriced.  The pizza was $16 and the fish was $26.  In the east village, those prices would never fly, and even in hell’s kitchen you can do better than that.  But this is the FiDi.  And pickins are slimmer.  So…they can overcharge.  Is it fair?  no.  Is it the way of the world?  yes.  Is it insanely expensive and overcharged? no.  Will I return?…Probably, yes.  For that pizza.  Because I love it.  And because in this neighborhood, it’s one of the only places to get this kind of meal…and because, once again, it’s carbs on carbs.  How can you really put a price on that?
Acqua at Peck Slip on Urbanspoon

Like Mother, Like Daughter

My love of indulgent lunches is well documented.  I love the luxury of taking your time, the feeling of playing hooky even if it is a weekend, and the pleasure of knowing you have time to work off your meal versus going into a food coma the second you get home, like when you have a big dinner.
Though heaven knows I do love a good food coma.
Wall and Water is  a new fancy, market driven restaurant in the Andaz hotel downtown.  Normally I would stay away from restaurants associated with hotels, fearing cottony bread and tired club sandwiches, but Marmie swore this place was great.  And I trusted her…cause, I mean, she did birth me and all.
The space was really gorgeous-we ascended marble steps to a high ceiling-ed space decorated in a modern and sleek way.  There were beautiful, rustic tables that perfectly contrasted with the modern, streamlined decor.
We also passed a huge raw bar with people shucking oysters, shaving prosciutto, and slicing cheese…my first sign that Marmie would not be letting me down.
When we sat down, we were served some very good, chewy country bread with soft salted butter and mild, creamy goat cheese.  The goat cheese was a welcome addition to the normal bread and butter offering, and while not especially thrilling on it’s own, I appreciated the effort.
And these little glass coke bottles.  The soda is so much more bubbly and cold this way…does anyone else agree?
Tomato soup.  No doubt, the best tomato soup I have had ever.  Anywhere.  Sorry, random train ride in Switzerland, circa 1999.  You have been replaced.  Marmie and I agreed that this soup was the very ESSENCE of tomato.  Bright, acidic, sweet, vegetal, with a hint of spicy red pepper flakes in the background.  It was finished off with just a hint of cream, so the soup was not one note.  More like pasta sauce than the traditional cream of mushroom soup, but with no extra flavors or seasonings. It was really just like eating hot essence of tomatoes. The nutty, chewy Parmasen crisp gave the soup the salty edge it needed. I am seriously bummed about tomato season coming to an end, and this was probably the best tomato dish I will have for awhile.  Really…this tomato soup kicked ASS. 
Smoked trout with housemade pickles and beets.  Marmie liked this more than I did.  I found the fish slightly dry and too flaky-it greatly needed the excellent pickles and savory-sweet beet creme fraiche.  The fish was just kinda blah-not bad at ALL, but not supple and gently salty the way truly great smoked trout is.  Marmie just loved it, but she tends to like subtler flavors than I.  So sue me.
Swordfish confit with black olives and parsley salad.  COME TO MAMA!  Wow, I have never had confit-ed fish and it is GREAT!  Swordfish is a meaty, thick fish that has a distinctive taste and texture, not ulike mahi-mahi.  Now, I love this texture and meaty taste, but marmie and many others find it offputting.  No more. The confit treatment takes out any “fishy” taste by gently cooking it for a long time in olive oil-or perhaps other fat.  All i know is, this was like eating the mildest, sweetest, most silky smooth ceviche ever.  It was similar to scallop sashimi, but with a richer taste.  The parsley salad cut through the rich taste of the fish, and the olives added a necesary salty punch.  This was some of the best swordfish I have ever had.  It was totally indulgent but really pretty healthy…forget that it was cooked in fat…yeah it was healthy…
Wall and Water Caesar Salad with bacon, anchovies, caperberries, and chicken.  This was an excellent caesar salad-nothing more, nothing less.  The produce was fresh, the dressing lemony, garlicky, and cheesy, and the caperberries were a welcome punch of tartness.  The chicken was well cooked but a little thick for my tastes-it could have been juicier and more evenly cooked-it wasn’t bad, it just could have been better.  The standout for this salad was the anchovy selection.  I had never had white anchovies, and let me say-YUM!  Soft, delicately flavored, not too salty umami bombs that just melted away in your mouth!  It really contrasted with the crispy bacon and cheesy dressing.  Just excellent-as was the salad.
The meal finished with these complimentary dark chocolate brownies-rich, deep, delicious!
And with that we were done!  We had other plans for dessert-to be documented soon ;)  The service was well above par, the surroundings lovely, and the meal fairly priced.  That is, it was on the more expensive side, but that is to be expected.  And, as expected, Marmie did not disappoint in her restaurant picks-like mother like daughter, eh?
Wall & Water on Urbanspoon

I’m a Spekulator

Did you know that I love waffles?  Well, I do.  Everything from crappy Eggos to decadent Belgian waffles at a hotel brunch…I love waffles!  For me it is a textural thing…I love the crisp edges with the fluffy innards…and of course the toppings.  Syrup, ice cream, CHICKEN!!!  Yep, waffles are pretty amazing.  
So when I passed the Wafels and Dinges cart downtown this weekend, I knew I had to give it a go!
Wafles and Dinges means waffles and toppings in flemish!  They specialize in the Belgian waffles known as liege waffles.  Now if you have never had a liege waffle…sorry, but you’ve never had waffles!  Liege waffles are special because they are incredibly light, a little chewy, and filled with these large grains of sugar that crunch when you bite them and make you remember that life is a wonderful and unexpected adventure.
Each waffle was made TO ORDER…you can imagine the scents wafting out of that cart! The last time I had a true liege waffle was over a year ago in Paris, and by the time I got to the front of the very fast moving line, I was drooling like a bulldog…Yep, I am pretty sexy.
Though there were toppings ranging from butter to nutella to ice cream, I opted for the spekuloos spread-what was it?  Why was it the owner’s favorite?  And what ever happened to baby jane?
…ANYWAY…
This waffle was OUTRAGEOUS…Easily the best waffle in America.  And I mean it.  Yeasty, fluffy, just barely chewy, with those big hunks of caramelized sugar pearls.  And that was the only sugar in this…the waffle was mostly savory with just sporadic hits of sweet.  and the spekuloos…
Gingerbread and peanut butter and graham crackers and LOVE. That’s what this tasted like!  Made out of crushed spekuloos cookies, this is the only place in  America that you can get the stuff!!  It is sweet, gently spicy, fragrant, indulgent, and nutty all at once…really, it is awesome stuff!
This is a great spot!  It is well priced, unique, and delicious.  And by the way…you can by a jar of the spekuloos to take home…and it is shockingly good all by itself on a spoon…um, i mean, I HEARD that it is good that way…and yes, my love of the stuff makes me a spekulator!
Wafels & Dinges (MOBILE CART) on Urbanspoon

Robatayaki Rendezvous

If I could only eat one type of food for the rest of my life, it would without a DOUBT be Japanese.  The flavors, cooking techniques, and food philosophies just appeal to me.  And it is SUCH a diverse cuisine!  Ramen, yakitori, sushi, curries, those truly adorable bento boxes(yes, I just called a cuisine adorable), and the open grilling cooking known as robatayaki.
 

Inakaya is a restaurant in the New York Times building that features traditional robatakaki cuisine, cooked in an open kitchen.  

The restaurant is big, but there are not many tables. That’s because the main attraction is a HUGE wooden bar that surrounds the chef’s space.  You sit and watch the chefs cook and then they hand the food over on a huge wooden paddle…

like this!  Excuse the horrid picture and the fact that I am easily entertained, but…it’s really quite unique and fun!

We first ordered the Tskune-ground chicken skewers with original “tare” sauce. These were standouts!  The meat was so wonderfully juicy!  There was definitely dark meat in there-that’s the moistest, fatty part of the chicken.  The skewers were soft, lightly spiced, and tasted so freakin AWESOME-like your Japanese nonna was making them at home ;)  The tare sauce is kind of like Japanese bbq sauce.  It tasted like sweetened soy sauce-sweet, salty, a bit acidic…it was heavenly with the moist, soft chicken meat.  You MUST order this when you come here!

Shisito peppers with fresh horseradish.  Delicious, but not unique.  Now, I LOVE shisito peppers-they are small green peppers that range from mild to medium spicy-you just pop them whole in your mouth and they are sweet, hot, a little salty, and charred.  These were great-especially with that sinus clearing fresh horseradish-but i wouldn’t call them totally unique.  However, if you have never had them-or, like me, love them-get an order for sure!

Roasted Mochi(rice cake).

OMG-BEST THING MAYBE EVER IN MY MOUTH!  (That’s what she said)

These were a taste and texture sensation!  Chewy, sticky, glutinous rice cakes were wrapped in crisp nori and basted in soy sauce.  They were then roasted so the soy sauce caramelized and became sweet, and the cakes got a crusty, charred exterior. These were AMAZING!  I really am at a loss to explain why they were so amazing-they just tasted like rice with nori and soy sauce.  It was just crispy, chewy, salty, and sweet. But it   was so amazing.  Sorry.  I am literally failing to describe the most delicious thing of the night.  But that’s because there are no words for the best things in this world.  How do you describe love?  Or passion? Or ecstasy?  Yes, I just compared this roasted mochi to ecstasy.  And I meant it.

We also got roasted rice balls coated in soy.  Because-honestly-can you ever have too much rice?  These were delish!  Densely packed sushi rice, grilled till the outside is crisp and caramelized, but the inside is moist and perfectly steamed.  These were just awesome little carb bombs for anyone who is a rice addict!

Grilled Japanese eggplant.  Coated in more of that addictive tare sauce (seriously….where can i GET some of this stuff?!), this was grilled until it was tender, but not meltingly falling apart.  This would be perfect for someone who is squeamish about eggplant’s texture-it still has that sweet flavor, but a bit more bite and NO slime factor.  

Our last dish of the night was Yellowtail collar.  I have never actually had fish collar before, but i have heard that some of the sweetest, most flavorful flesh is there.  And whoever told me that was NOT lying!!!  This was some seriously awesome fish!  Light, moist, flaky flesh with the DEEPEST meaty taste close to the bone.

There was a TON of meat here-easily enough to make a meal for one person-along with some of those roasted mochi balls!  By the end of this dish, it was all I could do not to pick up the collar and gnaw at the bone to get all the meat…Ok, so maybe I did that.  Don’t judge.  And that hot pink thing laying on the plate?  That is pickled ginger and it is a bomb of ginger-licious-ness!

At the end of the meal, if you spend a hundred dollars, you get to play a dice game to see if you can win a discount!  You can see how impressed my sister’s friend Travis is :) The aftermath is that we didn’t win…
Aah, the luck of the Jews…

This was a seriously great meal, and for all the food we got, and the quality of the food, I thought the price was really reasonable.  I didn’t even picture the excellent sushi or the melt-in your mouth pork belly we got, because…well…I was too busy eating!  This is a great restaurant to take your folks to, or a hot date.  It is fun, impressive, and unique.  And delicious.  So it’s inakAWESOME! (and no, I cannot resist making a pun)

Inakaya on Urbanspoon

Oh Nicky’s, You’re So Fine, You’re So Fine You Blow My Mind, Hey Nicky’s!!

Is it possible to over-praise a great sandwich?  The simultaneous comfort and excitement?  The endless possibilities?  The food that can be enjoyed solo or amongst friends? It is the great food equalizer. I mean, everyone from Queen Elizabeth to The Naked Cowboy loves a great sandwich!
Though probably not together…
I was visiting my mom downtown today and stopped in at the brand new Nicky’s Sandwiches for a bite to eat.  Nicky’s specializes in Banh Mi, that fabulous Vietnamese Sandwich.   I had heard that Nicky’s, which has a location in Chinatown, was supposed to be really delicious…and so DUH!  I was all over it like a fat kid on cake…or a banh mi
I ordered a classic Banh Mi from the very friendly cashier in the front, and a mere $5.50 later, I had a sandwich the length of my arm.  It was seriously huge-what a deal!  It was also toasted, so it was warm, and the scent of cilantro and roasted pork wafted up towards me.  I tried not to drool as I hurried to Marmie’s house.
The classic banh mi came with Pâté, Vietnamese ham, roasted ground pork, pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro and mayo on a toasted baguette.  You could choose white or wheat bread…and I’m no sucker…I went for the good old white.  I ordered mine spicy, but when I inspected the sandwich before breaking in, I realized no sriracha had been put on the sandwich. BOO!  Luckily, I had my own stockpile of the spicy stuff and applied it liberally before I dug in . You know my credo-if my nose ain’t running, it ain’t fast enough!  Then I bit in….

YUM! This is a GREAT sandwich!!  The sauteed pork was crumbly, hot, and salty.  The ham was tender and sweet, and the pate…oh LORDY the pate!  I didn’t look at it cause I don’t want to know what is in it cause I LOVED it!  So soft, peppery, and just funky enough to remind me that it was liver.  That rich, minerally taste just melted into the soft, fluffy bread.  the bread!  It was yielding and tender with just the barest crackle when my teeth sunk through it to the crisp, vinegar-y carrots and cooling cucumber.  The mayonnaise was creamy, the sriracha punched it up a hit, and the cilantro added the freshest, zippiest, herby zing to the sandwich.  Bread, Meat, Mayo, Veggies.  So All American.  So all Vietnamese.  So all delicious.  Filling, cheap, exotic,  and fresh.  Can there be anything better?  Oh yeah…next week they are adding pho to the menu :)  Oh Nicky, you’re so fine :)
Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Cookshop…Frankly, My Dear, It Gives a Damn

*this was cross-blogged yesterday with Michele of Radiant Rose-her blog is on the left on my blog roll.  But since I stupidly didn’t announce that yesterday…here is my review, reposted for your viewing pleasure!*
Chelsea, NYC.  Home to the brownstones I love, the gay men who love me (and yes, there are many), and the restaurant Cookshop.  I have heard about Cookshop forEVER.  It features a rotating menu of local and seasonal foods offered at very reasonable prices.  It is touted on food blogs and well recommended by friends so I was psyched to check it out for lunch with my mom!
We walked into a breezy, open restaurant with a small bar and a casual atmosphere.  The restaurant let in lots of natural light and the conversations of others’ echoed off the walls.  While some might be annoyed by this I say-grab a glass of wine, have a nosh, and get your panties out of their twist.  This is FUN!  This is CHELSEA!  A little noise is part of the enjoyment here!  Besides, it makes eavesdropping great…

And how did they make decorating with pumpkins look cool and not terribly hokey?  Whenever I try to decorate for Fall, it looks like Aunt Katie’s Kraft Korner went wild in the Halloween section.

Small bowls of large grained sea salt.  A luxury to those of us saline addicts, and a good sign.  It shows that the restaurant uses top quality ingredients and that the chef is open to people seasoning the food to their liking.  

Marmie and I split an order of the cabbage, potato, and bacon soup with horseradish cream.  The kitchen was awesome enough to put the soup in 2 bowls when we said we wanted to split it (EVERY place should do this-double dipping whilst sharing soup is too awkward!).  And I am glad that they did.  Because if Marmie and I had had to share this soup out of one bowl, she wouldn’t have had any of it.  This soup was DREAMY!  Broth baste, it was filled with verdant cabbage, creamy skin on russet potatoes, and lightly smoky, fatty bacon.  Mixing in the horseradish cream brought in a slightly spicy flavor as well as a richer mouth feel.  This was such a wonderful soup-filling without being heavy.  It was reminiscent of Rhode Island clam chowder-actually, the only way this could have been improved upon was adding some clams! The briny, salty flavor would have added a hit of freshness to the soup.  But really, I’m being picky…I licked this bowl.  With my tongue.  My mom only wishes I was kidding.

We then ordered the duck empanadas with chimichurri and guajillo sauce, accompanied by a watercress and radish salad.

Oooooh was this wonderful!  The ground duck was mixed with chives and garlic and tasted so wonderfully DUCKY.  Lean, meaty, and gamey in the most  delicious way. Mixing the greaseless, crisp pastry with the smoky guajillo and bright, parsley filled chimichurri was a total delight.  It was not overtly Latin American on its’ own, but mixing the pastry with those sauces brought in the spice, smoke, and heat normally associated with Latin American cuisine.  The watercress was peppery and the radishes were so young and tender that they were more sweet then biting.  I loved that!  So unexpected to have the radish be the sweet element!  

Marmie and I got the charcuterie board to share as our main.  Because…if you have ever met me…I love me some preserved meats and liver.  And Keeping Up With The Kardashians…I love that too

Here is the country pate-pork, beef, and/or chicken liver mixed with herbs and spices.  It has a spreadable texture, but is not totally smooth-there is still texture.  This was spicy with pepper and garlic and deep with pork taste-sort of like salami…yeah, I made short work of this baby.

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Here is the chicken liver pate.  MAMMA MIA this brought me back to my youth!  Marmie made chicken liver pate every Passover.  I remember seeing her gently saute the onions and liver, putting the mixture in the food processor with some cream, and HATED having to wait for the mixture to cool before spreading it on tasteless matzoh.  If chopped liver could make matzoh taste good, it was truly food of the G-ds.  And so it is here.  Creamy, light and intensely liver-y, it has a rich, irony-y taste that only chicken liver has.  This is all liver, no filler, and very few seasonings-you will only like this if you really like liver.  And if you really like liver…I really like you.

These are rabbit rilletes.  To. Die. For.  Delicate, sweet ribbons of tender meat mixed with creamy, unctuous fat.  Salt and pepper and my saliva were the only accompaniments.  Spread on the grilled bread with some of the provided hot mustard…it was insanely delicious.

Virginia Ham.  Unlike the Virginia ham I had tried in Virginia, this ham was unsmoked and unsalty.  Sliced transparency thin, it was edged with ribbons of the most creamy fat that melted the moment it touched the tongue.  The meat tasted like cold pork loin.  Sweet, light, tender…I think I am describing the perfect love affair…

This was the rabbit headcheese.    Only click that link if you have a strong stomach.  Headcheese is the mishmash of the offal world.  Heart, tongue, feet, and whatever else is left over is all mashed up with spices and fat to create a terrine.  I have never tried headcheese, for the (obvious) reason that how do you know what the hell is in it?  But it came with the butcher board, and who am I not to try it all, and…it was GREAT!  Marmie hit the nail on the head-it was like rabbit meatloaf!  Rabbit has a very delicate, only slightly gamey flavor that you will love if you like bison or aged steak.  And if you can get past the idea that you don’t know what is going on in there…you might kinda love headcheese!
With char grilled bread, sweet house made pickled cukes and bell peppers, and Dijon, beet, and hot English mustards, this butcher board was outrageously delicious and a total STEAL at $16!
We were going to lick the board, but thought that might be looked down upon…

Besides, we had to save SOME room for the sauteed spinach with onions, lemon, and chili flakes.  As straightforward and delicious as it sounds, this was toothsome, bright, sweet from the onions, and a perfect accompaniment for such a meat laden lunch.  Marmie thought it was a tad too spicy, but i thought she was a wimp.  Yep, i just called my mother a wimp.  Tough love, people.

For dessert (because, really…what civilized person doesn’t order dessert?!), we split the plum cobbler cake with vanilla ice cream and plum compote.

See that?  That is buttery, oat filled crumb topping atop sweet, tender cake enveloping large, juicy plums. Cinnamon, sugar, butter, plums. The ice cream on the side was more creamy than it was sweet.  The sauce on the side was more fruity than it was saucy.  The cobbler was more heaven than it was earth.
Any other questions?
Cookshop is a truly sensational restaurant.  It offers seasonal, local foods at incredibly reasonable prices-all of this plus 2 club sodas for about $60.  It is a beautiful space, with excellent service, and delicious food.  Also…there were some volunteer social workers eating lunch near us, and the management would not let them pay.  They were wearing t-shirts that named the organization they worked with, and were obviously there on their lunch break.  When they tried to pay, the waiter would not hear of it.  This is just classy.  It’s paying it forward.  It’s saying “thank you for making my neighborhood a better place to live”.  It’s saying that Cookshop gives a damn.  And so I think it’s important that we give a damn about Cookshop.  And, of course, the Kardashians.
Cookshop on Urbanspoon

Le Pigeon-a Guest Post from the Fabulous Michele of Radiant-Rose-1.blogspot.com

Portland Delight: Le Pigeon


Welcome to Portland, Oregon. Land of tattoos and bikes, rivers and bridges, a full city block of books (Powells!), a leader in the movement of eating locally and having a relationship with your food, 30 minutes outside of one of the best wine regions in the world, rain, rain and MORE rain AND home to some of the best restaurants and chefs around.

I feel pretty lucky to be a foodie in Portland. There is so much to choose from and there seems to be more everyday to explore and enjoy. The chefs here are just so passionate about what they do and how they do it. It’s an exciting world to be a part of, even as just a regular customer! But, I’m also lucky, both because of my business (fine wines) and my absolute passionate love of food and its creation, to have cultivated personal friendships and relationships with some of the best chefs in town.

One of my favorites being Gabe Rucker of Le Pigeon.

I remember back in early 2007 hearing the “buzz” about Le Pigeon. The restaurant is tiny and resides in a somewhat “sketchy” area of Portland (East Burnside). I heard the buzz about “using the whole animal” and “don’t be afraid to order the brains” and “the pigs foot terrine is the best thing I’ve ever had in my life!”. Well, sign me up!

I called several times that summer to get a reservation and was always out of luck. GRRR. It would be several months before I could hit it at the right time. The restaurant IS very small with just 3 long, communal tables and the chefs counter which overlooks the tiny and open kitchen. It’s quite adorable and cozy, with exposed brick walls and pictures of pigeons and other fowl. There are mason jars of preserved and pickled veggies and fruits and antique mirrors sitting on high shelves. You can observe the action in the kitchen from pretty much everywhere you sit but I do quite prefer the counter. It’s tough to get if you have more than 2 people though but 3 out of 5 times, I get it. It’s all the spin of the wheel and what the evening brings but I like to think a little bit is due the relationship I’ve cultivated with Gabe and his dining room manager, Andy Fortgang. This relationship was developed simply by my being a very excited, passionate and enthusiastic customer and bringing all of my out of town visitors to the restaurant. At some point, we (Gabe, Andy and I) talked about what I did for a living (with wine) and then Gabe & I ended up at the same Food & Wine magazine event in Pebble Beach one year and chatted some more and our casual friendship was born. These guys are great: super talented in both their fields (wine/management and cooking) and just good people all around. I love going in to dine and getting a warm hug from Gabe in addition to getting an amazing and, often, game-changing meal. Score!

A little bit about wonderkid, Gabe Rucker: Gabriel Rucker began his culinary career by dropping out of Santa Rosa Junior College’s culinary program when he was eighteen. He then held several jobs in the Napa Valley, where he is from, and in Santa Cruz. In Gabriel’s words he, “made salads for banquets, asked lots of questions, and learned lots of stuff,” and found enough freedom in the kitchen to develop his own style infused with creativity and honesty. In 2003 Gabriel moved to Portland and landed a job at Paley’s Place where he worked for two years. In 2005 he was hired as the sous chef at The Gotham Building Tavern. In June of 2006 Gabriel started Le Pigeon. This petite bistro brings Pacific Northwest fresh ingredients and a little Parisian joie de vivre to Portland.
Since then Gabriel has been named Portland Monthly’s Chef of the Year 2006, The Oregonian’s Rising Star Chef 2006, Restaurant and Hospitality Magazine’s Rising Star of 2007, Food and Wine Magazine named him among the Best New Chefs of 2007, and Le Pigeon was named The Oregonian’s 2008 restaurant of the year. Rucker stars in this year’s Oregon culinary tourism online campaign on the Travel Oregon/Oregon bounty web site. In his new role as Oregon’s food ambassador, Rucker traveled around the state, where he logged time with a cheesemaker, rancher, chocolate-maker, a brewer, a wine-maker and charterboat skipper.

So, here I bring to you my most FANTASTIC meal during my last visit to Le Pigeon in early September. I need to get back there STAT!!

My friends, Scott and Michelle Shanks, very cool and fun friends from years and years (we all worked together in Tucson, Arizona) were doing a vacation of a culinary, wine, beer and cocktail tour of the Pacific Northwest and shot me a great email that said: We are coming for a visit. The Pigeon??

But of course! 2 years ago they made their first visit to Portland and we dined at Le Pigeon and it was just awesome. They loved, I loved taking them and we got a great picture with Gabe in addition to some amazing food and wine. Perfection!

We were all so excited when I picked them up at their hotel and headed off for dinner.

Greeted at the door by Andy, our table was not quite ready so we opted for a half bottle of bubbles and a seat out on the park bench out front. There is nowhere to wait inside so luckily for us it was a warm, summery, non-rain evening in Portland and pleasant to be out in the elements. The restaurant was jamming busy but still, when I went in, Gabe came out from behind the counter and gave me a great hug. LOVE IT!

We were seated in one of the best areas in the restaurant, if you’re not at the bar, the corner table by the window. Cozy but roomy and with a view of all the action on the street and inside (much better, I say!). Scott is a very talented Sommelier at the Wynn in Vegas, so I thought I should let him choose the wine but I needed to chime in. We decided to start off with an absolute delicious bottle of Gruner Veltliner. I have had some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted at Le Pigeon. Andy is a master with his wine list and most times I go I just let him pick and surprise me. Both Andy and Scott agreed that this Gruner was pretty special and Michelle and I were delighted to let them lead us.

A little about Gruner Veltliner. I get so sad when wine directors tell me they don’t keep it on their lists much because people won’t order it because they don’t know what it is. It is one of my favorite white wine varietals and typically quite reasonable in price (under $20) in addition to being delish. Win-win!

Gruner Veltliner: is a variety of white wine grape variety grown primarily in Austria and in the Czech Republic. It has a reputation of being a particularly food-friendly wine.[1] It is made into wines of many different styles – much is intended for drinking young in the Heuriger (bars serving new wine) of Vienna, a little is made into sparkling wine, but some is capable of long aging. The steep, Rhine-like vineyards of the Danube west of Vienna produce very pure, minerally Grüner Veltliners intended for laying down. Down in the plains, citrus and peach flavours are more apparent, with spicy notes of pepper and sometimes tobacco.

Once we were happily sipping wine, we dug into the menu. We were fully committed to a complete dining experience: appetizers, main courses and dessert. And probably more wine….

Gabe changes the menu weekly, nightly…he is very creative and I have been there when they have just finished roasting a whole goat downstairs (I declined to “see it” when Gabe asked if I wanted to go check it out. Um, yeah.) and putting the succulent pieces into a gnocchi ragu. Amazing! Amazing….
So, everything is very fresh and seasonal. Once I saw there was pigeon on the appetizer choices, that was it. I love squab! And the restaurant is Le Pigeon. So, there you go. Also, the fish special that night was Barramundi. I also am a huge fan of Barramundi and rarely see it on a menu SO that was easy! We would get to dessert later.

Gabe came out to the table and said hello to Scott and Michelle and chatted with us for a few minutes. I really appreciate this personal touch (I also saw him serving several other guests later) and think it makes the experience that much more authentic. He made some recommendations and, you know, its hard to ignore the chef!

Now, Michelle and Scott also ordered some amazing food but what I’m remembering most is Scott’s Watermelon Salad with shredded Pigs Foot-a Gabe recommend. Yes, pig’s FOOT. It was one of the most wonderful dishes I have ever tasted. The flavors of the pork and the watermelon and sweet onion and greens and cheese….Oh, so delightful. Luckily, we are all old friends and have no qualms about eating off each others plates.

My pigeon was not only delish but presented oh, so lovely as well. The pigeon was a breast and thigh/wing with the foot slightly bent and in the air and it laid on some foie gras, grapes and reisling. The skin was crispy and the meat succulent and the richness of the foie gras combined with the tartness of the grapes was just heaven. It was also a great pairing with the Gruner Veltliner. YUM! As you can see here, I cleaned my plate and left only the foot….

Onto the main course, my barramundi was done to perfection with a crisy skin and laid over tomatoes and some lovely local beans. Barramundi is a flaky, white fish with some really nice fat to give it some weight and LOTS of flavor. Really stellar and not too filling because we were definitely having dessert.

But first, more wine, of course! It was time to move on to red and I requested a Chinon. I had my first bottle of Chinon at Le Pigeon at Andy’s recommendation and I’m just in love with it. Soft and smoky, I find I can drink with both meat, fish and veggies alike and also, with dessert, so it was a good choice for this portion of the meal, as I mentioned above, we were DEFINITELY getting dessert……

A little about Chinon wine: It comes from the vineyards around the town of Chinon in Touraine. the reds and rosés are made from Cabernet Franc (known locally as Cabernet Breton), with an allowance of 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. They are typically dry and light to medium bodied and go well with food. In good vintages the red wines can be cellared for 10 years or more. Cabernet Franc grown on the stony terraces of the area tends to be a young wine with dominant notes of blackcurrant and anise. The wines from the steeper rockier areas along the hills that separate the Loire from the Vienne tend to produce wines that are more tannic and express the more austere terroir in a range of alkaloid flavors that give the wines a mineral, gamey complexity and a strong tannic backbone. These wines also tend to develop a velvety depth of spice flavors as they age. Though typically thought of as lighter wines, reds from good producers and strong vintages can be full bodied and well structured for aging.

Now, I’ve eaten at Le Pigeon at least a dozen times. I’ve brought close friends and business acquaintances to the restaurant and we ALWAYS get dessert. And I ALWAYS INSIST ON THIS ONE:

Foie Gras Profiteroles

They are, quite simply, to die for. FOIE GRAS ICE CREAM. FLAKY PROFITEROLES, CARAMEL SAUCE, POWDERED SUGAR AND SEA SALT. Need I say more?

These are just so freaking incredible delicious. Savory and sweet. I literally lick the plate every time. Throw in some more Chinon, a French press of Stumptown coffee and we are good to go, baby!!

A perfect evening, in a perfect place with great people, incredible wine and thoughtful, exciting, ground breaking food. Oh, yeah and some tattoos and, sometimes, most times, rain. Perfect Portland.