Awash – My Entree into Ethiopian Food

Just when I think I know everything, that I have tried every food out there and have nothing more to learn or see in the gastronomic world, something new comes up and smacks me in the face.
Case in point…Awash.

Awash is a small restaurant on the UWS that serves Ethiopian food. I feel like I am the only person who has not tried it – well, the only one who HAD not tried it. So, when this small restaurant (heated to at least 85 F) could seat me late one night, I was ready to sit down and tuck in.

I have heard that Ethiopian restaurants are usually casual, communal affairs and I was envisioning a much more diner-like atmosphere. But this was nicely decorated linen tablecloths, and though it is clearly relaxed, it’s not at all “divey.” This is a great place for a date with an adventurous eater(I mean, I was so warm in that overheated restaurant that I almost took my shirt off – what bodes better for a date than that?).

The one thing it doesn’t have – silverware. You eat everything with your fingers and a stretchy, thin, spongy pancake called Injerea, that is faintly tangy, like sourdough. So wash up before you start to eat.
Sambusa
These meat filled fried pastries were my first clue that I was going to love Ethiopian food. The ground meat was spicy and incredibly savory. It had the cool edge of mint, the bite of onions, a spice from chili powder, and a myriad of other spices that made it sweet, savory, warming and lip tingling. It was similar to Indian and Moroccan food in the multiple taste sensations that were going on, but it had some earthy spices that were all its own.  The meat itself was tender and encased in a crisp, greaseless pastry that was similar to that of a samosa. Served with a bracing, vinegary mustard sauce to cut the fat of the beef, it was a delicious appetizer.

Special Kifto

Lean ground beef, jalapenos, and onions, served with Ethiopian butter and spices(mitmita). Served with Collard Greens and Lentils
The collard greens were fine, I’m sure. The lentils were probably great. Who the hell knows, really? Because I could not tear my fingers or tongue away from the kifto. This Ethiopian steak tartare was…dare I say it?…in contention for my favorite steak tartare in the city. Nothing like the traditional version, this had a medium grind, and was laced with rather sweet onions, crunches of very hot jalapeno, and a spice mixture that, while zesty, was warming and smoky rather than tingly-front-of-the-mouth hot. Most of that heat came from the jalapeno, which made the meat taste sweeter and grassier, made the sourdough taste more tangy, made the whole dish fuller and more delicious. The butter was not apparent, which is a great thing – it let the meat shine through as the main component without being greasy or heavy. This was a myriad of flavors – tender beef, spongy injera, crunchy veggies, and scoops of soft vegetables. Really, I can’t say enough wonderful things about this. You can get the mixture lightly sauteed if you are that sort of wimp.You can get the regular Kifto, too – that is the Kifito in the middle of the injera, and it was just great. But there is something about a meal that has mucus running out of my nose that really earns my respect. So stick with the special Kifto. And be aware – you will not be able to finish this.

We couldn’t, and we did our BEST.

Awash is a stand up restaurant – cheap, large portions, delicious food, and service that is…well, the service is sort of laughable. Not rude, but not what I would call…speedy. But the food is so great that I don’t even care. I am officially obsessed with Ethiopian food. It’s spicy, it’s raw, you eat it with your hands.
And we all know that’s how I like my food and my men.
Awash on Urbanspoon

Animal Style Grilled Cheese

The best thing about sandwiches isn’t always the meat. Sometimes it’s the bread. Sometimes it’s the vegetables. But, usually, folks…it’s the condiments. How much more delicious does a perfect burger get when it’s topped with pungent blue cheese? How much more tasty is a turkey sandwich when it is cloaked in tangy-sweet Russian dressing?  That’s what this sandwich is – an ode to all things condiments. It’s important that you don’t use artisinal products here, other than perhaps the bread. You want plain old ketchup, ornery mayonnaise, and the same cheese that you have in the house to gnaw on while you make dinner. This is all about elevating the mundane – so keep it mundane! The secondary players become the star in this sandwich, inspired by Serious Eats and In-N-Out:
Animal Style Grilled Cheese:
Ingredients:
1 Large slice bread (preferably sourdough rye), toasted
1 Onion, caramelized
1 Tomato, thinly sliced
1 Leaf iceberg lettuce, shredded
1/2 Serrano chile, diced, with seeds
Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Mayonnaise
Mustard
Ketchup
Worchestershire Sauce
Relish
White wine vinegar(optional)

1) Make your Russian dressing. The ratio that I use is 1:1:1/2 Mayonnaise: Ketchup:Mustard. You want the taste to be creamy from the mayonnaise and tangy from the ketchup, with just enough mustard to cut the sweetness of the ketchup. Add relish and Worcestershire sauce to taste – be careful with the Worcestershire sauce, because you don’t want the sauce to be overtly salty or fishy, just vaguely meaty and umami. I always use a splash of white wine vinegar to add a degree of sharpness to the dressing, but that is totally optional.

2) Turn a skillet on medium low, and spread the Russian dressing on both sides of the bread.

3) Put the bread in the skillet. There will be smoke, don’t worry about it(Also, your bread should be covered in dressing. Ignore my haphazard effort).

4) In about 3 minutes, or when the bread is crisp, flip it.

5) Top the bread with tomatoes, onions, cheese, and peppers.

6) Put a lid on the pan, and in 3 minutes, or when the cheese is melted and the bread is crisp, remove it from the pan.

7) Lay the iceberg lettuce on half of the bread.

8) Cut the bread in half, put both halves together to make a sandwich, and enjoy with additional dressing for dipping.

 This is one of those down and dirty meals. Something that you might eat yourself, but would be too embarrassed to admit. But why? This just proves what I have always known – the condiment makes the sandwich worth eating, NOT the other way around. The Russian dressing not only makes the bread crispy and golden, but becomes caramelized and sweet when it is fried into the bread. The sweet onions, juicy tomatoes and spicy peppers all play well off the sharp, salty cheese. If you choose a hearty, sturdy bread like rye, you get the additional textural pleasure of chew and crunch along with the oozy, melty, gooey quality of the cheese. That’s why it’s important to always use a condiment.

That’s what she said. 

Kimchi Jigae at New Won Jo

When the craving for something salty, garlicky, spicy and filling hits, there’s only one thing to get:
Kimchi Jigae. 
This Korean stew is filled with that most cherished of pickles, kimchi, and comes with a variety of other ingredients. It is warming, filling, and spicy enough to make me cry. Though I’m sure the best place to eat this is your Korean mama’s house, I don’t have a Korean mama. So, I have decided to take matters into my own hands and simply try every Korean restaurant in K-Town to discover the best version. 
Next up: New Won-Jo

This Korean restaurant, open 24 hours, was hopping at noon on a weekend, and there was a 45 minute wait to sit upstairs where we could barbecue at our own table. Luckily, I was all about the stew, so I got seated immediately.

Banchan

Not as good as Don’s Bogam – more muted flavors, and less interesting. The potato salad was not as creamy, the kimchi was not as spicy, and I was not a fan of the dried eel – too smoky and not sweet enough. The exception to this was the stewed chicken and potatoes on the far right. It was sweet-savory-salty that tasted similar to pork kakuni. The chicken was tender but not mushy, and the potatoes were perfectly steamed, soft and creamy. Really, it was so addictive that I could have eaten this over steamed rice and called it a day.

Kimchi Jigae.

This was so, so good. Spicy, garlicky broth with slightly wilted kimchi, slivers of pork, soft tofu, chewy rice cakes, and slippery glass noodles. It came to the table bubbling hot, so intense that I burned my tongue at first sip. So worth it. Not sour or sweet at all, not really even tangy. Just incredibly deep, with the meatiness of the pork and the faint oceanic taste of the anchovies in the kimchi enriching the broth and making it substantial and round. It made my nose run and my brow sweat, but try as I might, I just couldn’t stop eating it. It was restorative, warming, exciting, and complex. There is nothing familiar about it and that is the best part – chicken soup for the Korean soul? What the hell was I doing with matzo balls all these years? 
Won Jo is a reliable spot for Kimchi Jigae. Be prepared to be rushed in and out, but the price is right, the servings are plentiful, and between that chicken banchan and the Kimchi Jigae, you will leave full and happy. The only question is: is this the best Kimchi Jigae in town? I will just have to continue my search and report back. 
It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
New Wonjo Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I Love Tator Tots and Alcohol

I know, I know, I said the last post would be my last one of the week. But I wanted to include a few miscellaneous shots of food and drink that really deserve a spot on the blog. 
Foods for Which I am Thankful:
Cheesy Tots from Big Daddy’s
Fluffy, crispy, perfectly greasy tator tots covered in a blanket of mild, melty Cheez Whiz. 
Burrata-Anchovy Toast from D Bar
This tiny bar next to Donatella offers elegant cocktials, a dark, romantic atmosphere, and the ability to order anything off them menu form Donatella to be delivered to you at the bar. These crostini are the perfect accompaniment to an herbal cucumber martini: perfectly toasted bread, creamy burrata cheese, and a mild, slightly salty anchovy topping the whole thing. 
The Drinks at Mulberry Project
This unmarked bar in Chinatown offers you the chance to create your own bespoke cocktail based on an alcohol of your choice and the most seasonal ingredients at the greenmarket. My summery choice included slightly dry prosecco, sweet peaches, and savory charred rosemary. Be warded that no matter how much you love your drink, you won’t be able to order it twice – the bartenders insist on making you something new each time. Best to get reservations, and be warned that jeans and flip flops are not allowed (found that one out the hard way).
Say what you will about the rest of the food being sub par and the service being apathetic at best, but there is nothing like bellying up to the bar at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, ordering a dozen of the freshest oysters in town, and people watching. I dare you to dine there and not feel like Don Draper
99 Cent Pizza (slathered in vinegary hot sauce)
Really? Must I say more than this?
The only thing left to say is Happy Thanksgiving.

Momoya is Meh

I have been known to like chi-chi sushi restaurants before, so I figured I would give Momoya a try. It seemed a little pricey, but sometimes you get what you pay for, right?
The UWS location, small but not cramped, is upscale but extremely casual – the lunchtime crowd included moms with strollers, business people on lunch breaks, and know it all food bloggers wearing stretchy pants. 
Salad
VERY meh. And this is from someone who loves all those standard salads you get at sushi restaurants. This time, the mesclun greens were weighed down by the thick dressing, rendering them limp and tasteless. The dressing itself was far too sweet, without the spicy, pungent, tart quality that makes ginger dressing so delicious. 
Momoya Spicy Yellowtail
Spicy Yellowtail wrapped in Seared Yellowtail with Jalapeno Relish
This was a real conundrum. The yellowtail atop the sushi was incredible – buttery, mild, fatty but not overly so. The seared edges gave it a hearty taste while the rare inside was fresh and soft. The spicy yellowtail mixture, however, was incredibly bland. Was it tuna? Was it yellowtail? Was there any wasabi in there whatsoever? Additionally, the jalapeno relish didn’t have any heat at all. Too bad, because the quality of the seared yellowtail was top notch. 
Amsterdam Roll
Spicy Tuna and Shrimp Tempura Wrapped in Soy Paper
I don’t know what this was. A humongous glob of rice wrapped around some non-spicy tuna and some very well fried shrimp. Relatively tasteless and way too huge to eat in one mouthful. 
I mean, I ate it in one mouthful. But it was way too big, anyway. This was just…odd. Not great. 
Udon with Tempura 
First of all: Wow. Now, THIS is a portion size.  The tempura on the side was great – snappy shrimp inside crisp tempura breading, creamy eggplant and tender-crisp broccoli, all delicious with a sprinkling from the shaker of togashari pepper. The udon was also quite good – springy, chewy noodles with the perfect texture ina mild vegetable broth laden with meaty shitaki and tender enoki mushrooms. This was a great serving size and quite tasty. But the price was ridiculous – $13 for this? No. Sorry. Not cutting it. 
And sadly, Momoya isn’t cutting it. I can eat sushi with cheaper prices and better taste all over the city. Sadly, I can’t recommend this place. But I do recommend you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving – see you after the holiday!
Momoya on Urbanspoon

Peri Ela’s UES Turkish Cuisine

The Upper East Side. Not my usual stomping grounds, but for a chance to see Nigella Lawson speak at the 92nd St. Y, I will pay a ridiculously high cab fare and go to a neighborhood where the average age is 74, the drugstores close at 8 pm, and the food scene is usually bleak.
Usually.
Peri Ela is a tiny Turkish restaurant that you just know hasn’t been redecorated in about 30 years. Part grandma’s house with lace curtains and wooden tables, part 80’s nightclub with a full bar and overblown pictures of models, it feels quaint, odd, and anything but corporate. Add that to the somewhat confused hostess and waitstaff, and I somehow knew….I was in for a terrific meal.

Cacik

Smooth yogurt, crisp cucumber and just a touch of dill. Looser than tzatziki, and less garlicky. Not really tangy, more cooling. Simple and tasty.

Hummus

Creamy but with texture, hearty and nutty with tahini. Once again, the lack of garlic was apparent in a good way. It let the more subtle, gentle flavors of the chickpeas and tart lemon shine through.

Fried Vegetables with Yogurt Sauce

Thin slices of eggplant, zucchini, and carrots, shallow sauteed and served with an incredibly creamy, tangy yogurt sauce that had the pucker of lemon but the richness of cream. The zucchini was tender and sweet, the carrots were vibrant with just a bit of bite, and the eggplant was the star of the night. The eggplant pieces tasted confited because they were so creamy, soft enough to be eaten with a spoon, with crisp, caramelized edges. It was so sweet and meaty next to the tangy yogurt sauce. This dish was outstanding in every way. 

Manti

These Turkish ravioli are one of my favorite dishes of all times, and this was a very good representation. Thin skinned dumpling skin surrounded tiny parcels of spiced beef, all in yet another yogurt sauce – this time, very mild next to the tart, acidic tomato sauce with it. The beef was aromatic with cinnamon and coriander, and the dumplings, no bigger than the pad of my index finger, were simultaneously filling but light. Truly a pleasure. 

This whole meal was a winner. Though the service was a bit scatterbrained, it was prompt and very sweet. The prices here are moderate, the portions are large, and the food is wonderful. It’s almost enough to make me come to the Upper East Side just for dinner. 
Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Peri Ela on Urbanspoon

Jane – The Best French Toast in NYC

If you head to Jane for brunch, you need a reservation. I am not joking, this is not a test. You must have reservations, and even if you do, you might wait a little bit. Not long, just about 10 minutes. Not going to lie, the wait got under my skin, but it was handled pretty well, considering the throngs of people both in the restaurant and outside it. If you don’t have a reservation, have fun with your 2 hour wait.

The restaurant itself seemed casual, but to be honest, it was hard to tell. There were hip 20-something Soho-type beautiful people everywhere – standing at the bar, crammed 6 to a table, swinging from the rafters. Well, maybe not really, but considering that each of the brunch entrees comes with a complimentary cocktail, it isn’t hard to imagine. Bottom line – this place is crowded and caters to a young crowd. 

Not really my scene. But you know what is?

Farmer’s Omelette – Ham, Caramelized Onions, and Gruyere Cheese

A huge portion of scrambled eggs – creamy and done to a medium consistency. Onions caramelized so sweet that they were almost like sugar, nutty Gruyere cheese, and soft, salty bites of ham. It was so delicious and nuanced that it didn’t even need hot sauce – a first for me. Try as I might, I actually couldn’t finish the large serving – I like getting my money’s worth! Served with lightly dressed mesclun greens, it was a perfect brunch dish. Well, almost perfect:

Cheddar Grits

These made it perfect. An egg dish just needs a carby side, and these were fantastic. Creamy and thick enough to be eaten with a fork, the taste was smoky rather than tangy – it must have been smoked cheddar. There was heavy cream in there, and a light hand with the salt. These are a must order. 

Creme Brulee French Toast

Oh. My. Gawd. I am not into sweets in the morning, but this may become my exception. The bread was amazingly custardy and soft – it really tasted like cake more than French toast. The taste was more rich than sweet – eggy, creamy, heavily scented with vanilla but with only a light dusting of powdered sugar to bring out the sweetness. The crust was crunchy and golden, and dipped in real maple syrup, it is good enough for dessert. Absolutely my favorite sweet breakfast in NYC.

Jane is a scene. It is loud, it is crowded, and you might even have to wait for reservations. However, the portions are huge, they are very reasonably priced, and the food is just delicious. The eggs are savory, the grits are creamy, and the French toast is the stuff dreams are made of. So let me revise my first sentence: WHEN you go to Jane, you need reservations. Because there really is no IF.
Jane on Urbanspoon

Jazzed Up Miso Soup

Don’t ever let anyone me or anyone else tell you what you should like or how you should like it. With very few exceptions, what is the best is what tastes best to YOU! Whether that be chicken liver or food so spicy it makes you cry or a salad dressing made out of moldy cheese, if you love it, it’s great! As much as I love real recipes, I love mish-mosh recipes too, using pungent and spicy ingredients I have on hand.
I always have miso paste in the house. It is great as a marinade for fish or meat, as part of a salad dressing, or as a soup in its own right. I have kept packages of powdered miso in the house, but I find that miso paste tastes far deeper and more complex – more than salt, it tastes slightly fermented, sweet, and earthy. There is mild paste like white miso paste, and earthy pastes like red miso paste, and miso pastes that lie somewhere in the middle, like yellow miso paste – my favorite.  The only thing is – miso soup does not a meal make. But miso soup with a few add ins – well, that does a meal make. This isn’t a recipe so much as a guideline, reminding you that whatever you like is the right recipe, and the right way to make it.

Jazzed Up Miso Soup


Ingredients

2 Cups water
2 Tbls. miso paste
1 onion or 3 scallions, thinly sliced
Handful of asparagus tips, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach or other vegetables, chopped (be sure to use veggeis you don’t mind barely cooked – no long stewing processes here)
Handful of kimchi, chopped.
Handful each of cilantro and mint
2 Tbls. rice wine vinegar
1 Tbls. sambal olek, or 1 serrano chille, thinly sliced.

1) Boil the water.

2) Add the miso paste, stir.

3) Add the vegetables, kimchi, and herbs. 

4)Add the rice wine vinegar 

and chile paste.

5)Boil until vegetables are cooked to your liking and taste for seasonings.

6)Enjoy

See? I told you…this really couldn’t be easier. This is delicious with just a scoop of white sticky rice. It is also delicious with cucumber salad, maple soy salmon, or a few thin slices of London Broil set to poach in the boiling soup. The glory of this, though, is that it is perfect all on its own. The kimchi becomes soft and mellow in the soup, lending its pungent fishiness and garlic to the rest of the broth. The onions are sweet and slightly sharp, and the fragrance of the cilantro and mint is heady and intoxicating. The vinegar adds a pleasant tang and the chile adds a nose-clearing amount of heat. The miso itself is an umami, slightly salty background that manages to taste meaty and light at the same time. This doesn’t need noodles or a poached egg, but that would be delicious too. Bottom line – make what you want. Eat what you want. Make it how you want.

And don’t let anyone tell you that isn’t the right way to cook. 

Chicken Picatta

Chicken Picatta is one of my all time favorite dishes. What’s not to love? It’s buttery, its lemony, it’s pungent and just a little salty…any more good things and I would have to marry it. The recipe is extremely simple, and though it takes about an hour from start to finish including prep time, it’s worth it. Also…don’t even think of substituting olive oil here. Butter is judge, jury, and executioner…it’s the whole deal.
Chicken Picatta


Ingredients:

4 Chicken cutlets(no need to pound them)
1 Stick of butter
Juice of 4 lemons
2/3 Cup of wine
1 Tsp. capers, drained
1 Tsp. prepared demiglace (HUGELY important – do not leave this out!)
2 Cups flour
1 Tbsp. poultry or Italian seasoning

1) Put the flour, seasoning, and chicken in a large bowl or ziploc bag, coating the chicken. 

2) Melt the butter in a pan over medium high heat.

3) When the butter starts to foam, add the chicken to the pan (you may have to do this in two batches so the chicken doesn’t overlap).

4) When the chicken starts to turn opaque around the edges, wait about 30 seconds more, than check to see if there is a bit of a golden color on the chicken. If there is, flip it. If there isn’t, wait.

5) Leave the chicken on its second side JUST long enough to turn opaque. The chicken cooks a second time, and all you are doing here is sealing in the juices. You want it basically raw so it doesn’t overcook when it finishes cooking in a bit. Remove the chicken from the pan and reserve for later. 

6) Pour the wine in the pan. It will smoke a lot – consider yourself warned. Scrape up the tasty bits with a whisk – this is called deglazing. 

7) Add the lemon juice, capers, and demiglace.

8) Whisk to combine, add the chicken back to the pan, and cover.
9)Let it cook for about 15 minutes, or until the chicken is JUST cooked through. Taste for seasonings. 
12)Enjoy!
The secret to this chicken is twofold. The first is that you do NOT overcook it – you just brown it on one side to give it a bit of a crispy crust, and then gently poach it in the sauce so it stays moist and incredibly tender – these actually cut with a fork. The second secret is the demiglace – this reduced chicken stock is so rich and gelatinous that it gives the sauce all the salt that it needs, and adds a thickness and body that is otherwise difficult to achieve. The sauce magically seems to thicken with it and the residual flour left in the pan from the chicken. The butter makes the sauce rich, the wine adds acidity, and the capers add a tart punch that gives the sauce depth and roundness. This is delicious over pasta or mashed potatoes.

Give it a try and you will find yourself asking the same question as I: What’s not to love?!

Wild Edibles Oyster Bar – A Hidden Seafood-centric Gem

I’m an oyster lover. Can’t get enough of those briny bivalves.

So when a girlfriend suggested that we get together at Wild Edibles Oyster Bar, I was game. Wild Edibles is a seafood purveyor that has a stand in Grand Central Station and its own small restaurant in Midtown East. It carries incredibly fresh fish and offers a sustainability guide so you can see how sustainable the fish is that you are buying or eating. I haven’t ever bought fish from them, but have often ogled the goods in Grand Central Station.

The restaurant is tiny, with a small bar and a few tables. It is definitely casual and extremely focused on seafood. If you don’t like fish, or shellfish, don’t eat here.

But if you do…prepare to be amazed. You can choose from a variety of menu items, specials, or even just choose a fresh fish from the market case and design your own spices and marinades for it!

We went with a few oysters:

Kumamoto – small, sweet, creamy. A great beginner oyster. 
Skookum – like the Kumamoto, but with more body and richness. 
Salt Aire – Large, briny, pleasantly metallic. An oyster for oyster lovers. 
Beau Soleil – a classic oystery flavor. Mild, briny, with a very “oceanic” taste
Blue Point – Incredibly fresh and mineral-y. Full of body with a plump texture – one of my favorites of the night.
Canada Cup – Juicy and meaty, with a very tart, briny finish. Delicious with some cocktail sauce and a slice of buttered bread to cut through the salt of it.

These oysters were around $2.25 each  -not cheap, but absolutely worth it. So fresh, so delicious, so unpretentious. And every day there is a happy hour, where oysters are only a dollar. I will definitely be back for more of those marvelous mollusks.
Wild Edibles on Urbanspoon