Archives for February 2012

Ben and Jerry’s New Greek Frozen Yogurt

I recently got the opportunity (thanks, Feisty Foodie!) to sample Ben and Jerry’s new Greek Frozen Yogurt before this new product was released to the public. Now that the products are on the shelves, I figure I might as well let the cat out of the bag…

This stuff is almost stupidly good. 
Scratch that…it is stupidly good.

Ben and Jerry’s flavor developers (that’s right, they play with and eat ice cream for a living), explained how though Greek Yogurt is naturally lower in calories and fat and higher in protein than regular ice cream, this dessert isn’t supposed to be a health food. This is meant to be a different version of a frozen dessert, as rich and decadent as ice cream with the natural tanginess and health benefits of Greek yogurt (yogurt that has been strained to become thick and creamy). Greek yogurt is already used in cooking savory foods, so moving it over to frozen yogurt seemed a natural step, especially considering that Greek yogurt’s texture just lends itself to an indulgent dessert.
All that is fine and dandy, but let’s get down to taste, shall we?

Strawberry Shortcake -Strawberry Frozen Yogurt Topped with Shortbread Pieces
Hands down, my favorite of the day. Possibly my favorite pint of Ben and Jerry’s ever. This tastes exactly like frozen strawberry cheesecake – rich and creamy, with a delightful tang from the yogurt. The strawberry flavor is bright and fresh tasting, not at all fake or syrupy tasting. The chunks of strawberries are juicy, and the pieces of shortbread crust are buttery and retain their crunch. This would be fantastic served in between two shortbread cookies as a gourmet ice cream sandwich.
Who am I kidding…mine would never make it onto the cookies. I inhaled this.

Raspberry Fudge Chunk
Perhaps the most ice-cream tasting of all of the ice creams. The raspberries work quite well with the yogurt’s slightly sour texture, and the chocolate chunks are perfectly semi-sweet, rich enough to contrast with the raspberries and sweet enough not to be bitter. This is elegant, sweet but not crazy sweet, and the flavor pairing of raspberry and chocolate makes this refined enough for a dessert at a dinner party.

Banana Peanut Butter
Well, I’m not a big fan of bananas, so this is not my favorite. Though the texture is great, it’s really quite banana-y…something lovers of bananas would certainly enjoy. What I do like are the thick ribbons of frozen peanut butter that run rampant through the pint. Creamy, nutty, and smooth, the people at Ben and Jerry’s know what the best part of this ice cream is and they don’t skimp on it.
Actually, peanut butter is the best part of life. 

Blueberry Vanilla Graham Cracker
Sweet vanilla and slightly tart blueberry yogurts join with a sweet, crunchy, pleasantly decadent-tasting graham swirl. Why do crushed up cookies taste so great in frozen desserts? This is a more tart frozen yogurt than the other fruit-based options, and would be ideal in a milkshake or topped with some freshly whipped, lightly sweetened cream.
What shocks me is how delicious these are. They don’t taste like frozen yogurt, the really taste like ice cream – rich, indulgent ice cream. The kicker is that the ice creams are all around 200 calories per serving, while standard ice creams can be near 300 calories per serving. Though this isn’t a diet treat, it’s hard to ignore that fact. That strawberry shortbread frozen yogurt is the stuff I dream of – I have actually already gone through a pint of my own since I tried the stuff. I actually like it more than some of the other Ben and Jerry’s standard ice creams. These have a less cloyingly sweet taste, and are more about fresh, creamy flavors. I highly recommend them.
And, I mean, if you try it and don’t like it, don’t worry. You can always send the leftovers to me.
*Note: I attended this event free of cost.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*

Super Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is like sex: Even when it’s bad, it’s still good. I mean, even if the noodles are gluey, the cheese is processed, and the flavors are muted, it’s still carbs and ooey, gooey cheese…it’s still pretty fantastic. However, good mac and cheese can be positively transcendent. This relies on 4 secrets, which will all be covered in this simple and delicious recipe for creamy mac and cheese. It isn’t the crispy, baked mac and cheese with crunchy edges and a breadcrumbed top (though that is delicious, too). This is all about the silky smooth cheese sauce, al dente noodles, and those 4 secret steps:
Macaroni and Cheese

 1 lb medium shells, cooked and warm
About 1 lb. cubed cheese (cheddar, fontina, and Gruyere)
1 quart milk
4 Tbsp. flour
Worcestershire to taste
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
Mustard to taste
Cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper to taste
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbs. butter

 1) Sautee the shallot in the vegetable oil over medium heat until it is translucent but not brown.

 2) Add the butter,

 and the flour,

 and whisk. This is your roux. It will get pretty thick and doughy soon, at which point…

 3) Add the milk. Now, here is where you really, really have to whisk. It is going to be clumpy at first, and might appear like it will never smooth out. Keep whisking, because it will. If you have been going at it for 5 minutes, and there are still clumps, just run it through a strainer and return it to the hot pan. Really, no clumps here.

This flour-and-fat sauce is the base to your mac and cheese. This ensures that it is velvety and melty, not grainy or oily. It takes just a bit more time and makes a world of difference.  Now it’s cheesy time!

 4) Add the cheese, and whisk until all the cheese is melted.
Don’t just go willy-nilly here. Use some thought. A good mac and cheese is sharp, creamy, and nutty. So you need cheeses that embody all of these. Hence, this trifecta of cheddar (sharp), fontina (creamy), and gruyere(nutty). But you can mix and match – use mozzarella instead of fontina, use asiago in place of Gruyere, or pepper jack for the cheddar. As long as you keep those flavor and texture components in line, the mac and cheese will be tasty.

5) After about 7 minutes of constant stirring (so the cheese does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn), you should have a lovely, smooth, cheesy sauce, to which you should…

add the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings (including salt and pepper) as necessary.
Mustard and Worcestershire sauce are non negotiable flavor enhancers for this mac and cheese. They add depth, savory character, and an umami flavor to a dish that could otherwise be too heavy or flat. The cayenne pepper adds a kick of heat for those who like it, but even if you don’t like mustard, PLEASE add some to this dish. You don’t taste the mustard, you just taste the flavors of the cheese deeper and more clearly.

6) Mix the sauce with the warm pasta shells.
Elbow noodles are for the birds. They are thin and break easily, they turn mushy quickly, and they are boring.
You want medium sized shells. They are thick, so they can stand up to the thick sauce, they have a dip perfect for hiding pools of melty cheese, and they just taste better.
Always use shells. Or at least some wagon wheels.

 7) Serve.
This is the best mac and cheese ever. Incredibly creamy, with a velvety texture and a thick but still liquid sauce. The taste is sharp, umami, and pleasantly salty. You don’t taste the Worcestershire sauce or the mustard at all, but the addition of those ingredients make the sauce taste complex and deep – the nuttiness, the tanginess, and the mild milkiness of all the cheeses come out perfectly. The al dente shells filled with puddles of stretchy, creamy cheese sauce is almost too much to handle. This is almost too delicious and indulgent to eat.

But somehow, I know you will rise to the challenge. 

White Chocolate-Cranberry-Orange Shortbread

Here’s the reason people think they don’t like to bake: it’s a science, not an art. Too much baking soda, too little liquid, an ounce too much cream of tartar, and the whole thing is a wreck. Throw it over, start from scratch. It isn’t like cooking, where you can just taste as you go. You have to throw things in a bowl, mix it up, and hope that the alchemy of the oven works for you.
For people like me…this can be trying.
Luckily, there are a few very easy, foolproof baking recipes that are so easy, even an impatient, hasty, improvisational chef can make them.
Like this one:
Cranberry-Orange-White Chocolate Shortbread


2.5 cups flour
1 cup sugar, or to taste
3 egg yolks
2 sticks chilled butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
2 tsp. vegetable oil
zest of 1 orange
Okay, are you ready for this recipe?  Pay attention…

1) Dump all the ingredients in a bowl. 

2) Mix it with your hands until they come together in one doughy mass, then chill it for 20 minutes.

3) Pat the dough into a pan and bake it at 350 for 20 minutes, or until the edges turn brown but the middle still looks soft.

4) Cool completely, cut into fingers, and serve.

Yeah, that was so difficult. I mean, there was so much measuring. So much baking soda. Um, not. This is baking for idiots – add more sugar if you want, switch up the mix ins. And the result is fantastic – buttery, crumbly shortbread loaded with tart cranberries, creamy white chocolate, and a bright kick from the orange zest. Don’t worry about the unconventional ingredients – the extra fat from the yolks and oil keeps the shortbread from being too crumby or dry, making it extra forgiving for novice bakers.

Though, after you make a sweet treat like this, no one could call you a novice.

The Latham Hotel and Other Philadelphia Gems

Time to do a good ole’ fashioned round up of Philadelphia.
First up: The Latham

Philadelphia’s own diamond in the rough. This boutique hotel, right on Rittenhouse Square and walking distance from many major tourist attractions, including Reading Terminal Market, is an absolute gem. The hotel is undergoing a major renovation, with a new restaurant and bar set to open later this year. In the meantime, all the rooms have been redone in a sleek, modern style with premium linens and flat screen televisions. The rooms are not large, but they are decorated stylishly and manage to feel luxe and plush. The rooms are quite soundproof, and housekeeping comes as frequently or infrequently as you desire. The free wifi is a huge boon to this hotel’s draws – so many luxury hotels don’t offer this amenity, though these days, everyone needs it. Also, there is an ipod docking station.
The marble bathrooms, complete with Neutrogena toiletries, are utilitarian and come with plenty of towels. The shower head could be more powerful, but the bathroom is well lit, with a magnifying make up mirror and an outlet for shaving or hairdressing use.
The small lobby is light and well designed, with a nook offering coffee and juice in the morning and water the rest of the day.
Perhaps most notably, the staff at The Latham is as gracious and knowledgeable as the staff at any major hotel. Helpful, congenial, and ready to answer a question about directions or offer a suggestion for breakfast at any turn. This hotel is not a 5 star resort, but it is an excellent example of a boutique hotel. It is small, with luxurious rooms, a few special amenities, and a location that simply can’t be beat. I would not hesitate to return to The Latham or to recommend that my friends and colleagues stay here.One of the best places they pointed us was Little Pete’s.

This is where you head when you want something greasy and cheap, served to you by a middle aged harried waitress who at turns snaps at you and coddles you.

Right near Rittenhouse Square and just a stone’s throw from The Latham, Little Pete’s is a cash only 24 hour diner, serving up the greasy, filling meals that weekend mornings practically require.

Get a large omelette and a pile of homefries for a pittance. Order some turkey sausage alongside – homemade and juicy, it will fuel you for hour to come.

For an afternoon snack, also near Rittenhouse square, head to the sleepy little cafe, La Creperie.

The sweet crepes are standard, but the savory crepes really shine. This one, with creamy eggs, light creme fraiche, meaty mushrooms, and woodsy herbs de Provence is a treat that is both light and rich. It is the perfect snack before a tasting menu, when you have to curb your hunger briefly but not become too filled.
Philadelphia is a hell of a town, and a fabulous overnight trip from NYC.
For more information on Philadelphia, please contact Visit Philly.*Note: I received a press rate for my hotel stay.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*

Vetri – The Best Italian Restaurant In America

Rule No. 1 of once-in-a-lifetime dining: If you can drive there within 3 hours, go there.
Rule No. 2 of once-in-a-lifetime dining: If by some miraculous chance someone cancels a reservation at what Mario Batali calls the best Italian restaurant in America, you lie, cheat, steal, and do whatever you must to get to that restaurant and try that food. Because who knows when you will be able to score a reservation there again?
That’s pretty much what brought me to Vetri.

Vetri, run by Philadelphian and James Beard nominated chef Marc Vetri, is housed in an old brownstone, with a decor not unlike the house from Under the Tuscan Sun. From the moment you walk in, the hostess will ask your name, then know all sorts of things about you – the occasion you are celebrating, where you are from, if this is your first time dining here. Vetri’s team works hard to find out about its diners so when you arrive it is like you are arriving at an old friend’s home, filled with candles, rustic furniture, and intimate tables.

Every tasting menu (and the only menu here is the tasting menu) at Vetri starts with prosecco. This isn’t the cheapo stuff so often served at happy hours. This is a rounded, deep prosecco, with fruity and crisp, vegetal flavors. It is so delicious that I ordered another glass for my second drink, though there is an exceptional wine and liquor list from which to choose.

Amuse Bouches
This plate of delicacies is the first taste every party gets. From the upper left hand corner there is:
Calabrese Salami – smooth, plesantly fatty, with a hefty kick of Calabrian chiles against the sweet pork.
Salami – more peppery and slightly thicker cut, with more of a chew. Meaty, with a kick of fennel.
Vegetable Patty – incredibly savory, dense patty filled with vegetables, garlic, and onions, topped with an intensely nutty Parmesan cracker.
Pastrami Cured Foie Gras – thin, lucsious layers of foie gras torchon cured with pastrami spices. At first, the taste is pure foie gras – buttery and dense. Then, there is a smoky taste that plays against the foie’s natural richness and finally, hints of garlic and pepper that are undeniably reminiscent of pastrami. What is unreal is how well this works – rather than overshadow the foie, the spices compliment it, make it richer and more foie-like. The dollop of sweet peach mostarda is the perfect touch of sweetness.
Marinated Apples with Balsamic and Parmesan Cheese – an ideal palate cleanser, tangy and tart.There is also a beautiful bowl of crudites served with a balsamic creme so rich and sweet it might have been confused for honey.

The bread, both white and foccacia, are baked in house and excellent – airy, pliant, with well seasoned crusts. Served with a bowl filled with sweet Italian olive oil, it is difficult not to fill up on bread.
But you will be glad you didn’t.

Louisiana White Prawn with Zolfini Beans
A single prawn, so buttery and rich that it tastes like lobster. Easily the best prawn I have ever eaten. It cuts with a knife, but isn’t at all mushy – merely tender. The beans, al dente, burst in my mouth with the tastes of pancetta, rosemary, and the sea. The use of woodsy herbs like rosemary lends an unexpected earthiness to the dish, rending it irresistible.

Persimmon Salad with Arugula
How can something so simple hit the palate in so many ways? The persimmon is soft and very sweet – almost like dates, but with a bit more brightness. It is so sugary that the arugula tastes positively savory and even bitter by contrast. The Parmesan shavings on top adds the perfect salty, fatty touch to anchor this salad. This is a surprise winner of the menu.

Zuppa di Parre with Pecorino Romano, Swiss Chard, and Poached Quail Egg
This light vegetable soup is reminiscent of Spring, with its tender Swiss chard, flavorful broth, and delightfully salty cheese melting into the soup. The quail egg is the crowning touch to this soup, its  fluorescent yolk spilling into the broth, making it rich and thick. There are toasted polenta sticks at the bottom of the soup, soaking up the broth and the creamy yolk.

Sweet Onion Crepe with White Truffle Parmesan Fondue
This is one of Vetri’s signature dishes. The onions are caramelized for 10 hours before being layered into a crisp pastry shell, topped with Parmesan cheese, then placed on a bed of cheesy, truffle infused sauce. This is so delicious, it should be a crime. The onions are almost otherworldly sweet. They taste deep and sugary, just barely this side of burnt caramel. The pastry is crisp, and when dragged through the fondue, the bite becomes layered – heady, sweet, soft, melty, cheesy, and incredibly umami. When you go, please request this dish.

Spinach Gnocci with Brown Butter 
Another of Vetri’s signature dishes, this was my boyfriend’s favorite dish of the night. Simply spinach, egg, and cream are used to make these delicate little dumplings. Firm but not dense, they simply fall apart in the mouth, mingling with the smoky ricotta on top and the browned butter underneath. This showcases Vetri’s stellar technique – each pasta morsel is incredibly light and uniform, as if it were made by machine. But, of course, no machine could make pasta this well.

Squash Carmelle with Mostarda
This pasta is the one that still has me waking up in the night, reaching for it. Tender morsels of pasta surround pureed squash so sweet that it’s almost like piefilling. The mostarda sauce is piquant and tart, playing against the sugary aspects of the filling. A touch of fried sage on top adds some crunch, and the whole dish is so playful, so interesting, and so wildly delicious that it is-literally-the stuff of my dreams. The pasta perfectly straddles the line between savory and sweet, surprising the tastebuds at every bite.

Almond Tortellini with Truffle Sauce
Perfectly al dente pasta parcels hide cheesy, nutty, creamy, crunchy filling. Mild, and all about the texture, the truffle sauce was incredibly aromatic, light, and heady. It manages to be intense without being at all heavy. Topped with crushed amaretti cookies, Vetri again shows his exceptional palate, dancing between sweet and savory all in one bite.

Malloreddus with Bone Marrow, Fennel, and Orange
These shell shaped noodles are cloaked in a viscous sauce of fatty, rich bone marrow, sweetly caramelized fennel, and a heavy kick of tart orange zest. The combination of the hearty bone marrow and the fresh orange zest might be the best flavor pairing of the evening – it brings the marrow to life with a brightness that is not often seen in Italian food. The pasta, thick and served al dente, are the perfect shape to capture the meaty sauce in all its ridges.
Chestnut Fettuccine with Boar and Cocoa
By this point in the meal, it becomes clear that Vetri’s specialty is pasta. This fettuccine is the most incredible I have had anywhere, including in Italy. It is light and supple, retaining its chewy texture as it slides between the lips. The ground boar is hearty and very rounded – not at all gamy. It is really like a very robust pork, and mixes well with the earthy cocoa and the sweet mirepoix. This is pretty much bolognese on porky crack.

Bollito Misto
This is mixed boiled meats in a light, pungent, herbaceous broth. It sounds so mundane and even depressing – boiled meat in broth? But this is a subtle, carefully prepared melange of meats that is anything but boring. There is capon, fatty and wild tasting. There is delicate, soft lamb’s tongue, tender veal breast, and juicy veal loin. The meat is all flavorful, but none of it is overly seasoned – this is all about the pure tastes and textures of the different types of meats. Served in a very light, herbaceous broth that brightens the dish, this is something I am so glad I got to try. This is the whole point of a tasting menu – to get to try foods you would never ordinarily taste. It is trusting the chef to make the right decision and, then sitting back and enjoying the wild ride. 

Gin and Tonic Sorbet
This light lime sorbet, infused with gin, is a delightful palate cleanser – creamy and tart, with more than just a kick of pine-y gin, it is a natural segue from savory to sweet.

These came after a lovely dessert course featuring passion fruit filled beignets and a chocolate potlenta cake. There are gooey toasted marshmallows, sweet and tart pate de fruit and two macarons – cinnamon and gianduja filled. It is an elegant way to end a spectacular meal.Vetri is a perfect restaurant. It is very expensive, and a treat to be sure – as much as I might want to, I, nor anyone I know, could not afford to eat here very often. But it is worth the price. The service is absolutely sensational – we had two main servers during our meal, and each came by to chat with us and ask us about NYC and about how we were enjoying the food. They weren’t patronizing us to get a tip, they were chatting with us because they honestly want to know the people who come to their establishment. They clearly want to be there, and their enjoyment increased ours tenfold. The food was absolutely incredible – that butternut squash pasta was better than any I have ever had in Italy. The atmosphere was incredibly romantic.
All of this leads me to believe Batali knows what he is talking about.
And Marc Vetri has, unequivocally, the best Italian restaurant in America. 

Vetri on Urbanspoon

Devon Seafood Grill – New England in Philly

When I hear Philadelphia, I think cheesesteaks. I think scrapple. But classic New England inspired seafood? Not so much.

When I sat down at Devon for brunch, I had no idea what to expect. The dining room, fairly empty at 11 AM, was positively buzzing by the time we left two hours later. Reservations are a must for later in the day. The dining room is upscale casual, with high ceilings, dark wooden tables, and a few flat screen TVs at the center bar.

Cinnamon Roll
I ordered savory for brunch (as I always do), but these cinnamon rolls almost made me change my order. Brought to each table, these prove that the kitchen knows how to make sweet items, and make them well. This crescent roll, served from a baking pan still hot from the oven, has a thin golden crust that bursts to reveal steaming, doughy, stretchy insides. The dough is not sweet, so it contrasts with the sugary, cinnamon-y insides. The filling is ample, which is important – nothing like too much roll, too little cinnamon. 

Smoked Salmon Flatbread with Roasted Garlic White Sauce, Red Onion, Caper, Watercress, with Lemon Infused Olive Oil
The kicker here is how incredibly mild the salmon is, both in taste and texture. Not overly oily or sinewy, the salmon is thinly sliced and so delicate that it almost melts into the warm, crispy flatbread. It has the barest hints of smoke and salt, and retains enough ocean brininess to stand up to the creamy garlic sauce, the sharp red onions, and the pungent capers. The drizzling of lemon oil is the final touch to add some acidity to the dish – a light and delicious starter. 

Oscar Quiche with Crab Cake, Asparagues, Hollandaise, and Fruit Compote
This brunch-only dish is called the Oscar because a steak topped “Oscar” style means one topped with crab and asparagus covered in hollandaise sauce. That said…this isn’t really an apt name for this dish.
An apt name for this dish is “The creamiest omelette on the face of the planet.”
And, of course, that is a good thing.
The eggs are actually mixed with the hollandaise, then gently baked until they are incredibly lush and creamy – the eggs are cooked as loosely as possible while still being thick. It is almost like an omelette over easy. It is topped with a small citrus scented crab cake, made with large pieces of fresh, sweet crab. The vegetables served alongside are excellent – thick stalks of grilled asparagus, juicy tomatoes, a light salad dressed in a tart vinaigrette, and a small, fresh fruit salad. The eggs really blew my mind. I can’t wait to recreate this dish at home.

Orange Cream and Chocolate Tart with Pistachio Ice Cream
Following the awesome cinnamon rolls, the pastry chef again impresses. A thick layer of semisweet chocolate breaks through to reveal a tart orange cream. Though the shell is too soft and lacks sugar, the nutty, smooth ice cream is a perfect break from the sugar and richness of the tart. This is what I crave in a chocolate dessert – decadence, sweetness, and balance.

Devon is a place I would frequent again and again if I lived in Philadelphia. Though the service is a bit slow, it is perfect for a relaxed brunch. The prices match the decor and the food, and the food itself shows how well Philadelphian chefs spin New England cuisine. 

Devon Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon

Pod – More than Meets the Eye

I am that rare breed of woman who really enjoys being proved wrong.
Like I was about Pod, a trendy restaurant in West Philadelphia.

The vibe inside this hip place is bachelorette party-anime cartoon-Jetsons chic. Think changing LED lights, a revolving sushi counter, and namesake “pod” booths along the windows. The joint was jumping on a Friday night, but it seems very sceney – not really the type of place that would have great food. 
Being wrong can be so awesome. 

Lychee Margarita with Spicy Salt Rim
One of the best drinks I have had in recent memory. Smooth, high quality tequila with fresh lime and the sweet, almost velvety taste and mouthfeel of the lychees. The lychee erases the need for sweet syrups that give me sugar hangovers, and the spicy salted rim cuts through the burn of the tequila and the sweetness of the lychee. It is balanced and light – a perfect way to start the meal. 

Chicken Potstickers with Mustard Aioli
Crisp, thin wrappers surrounding juicy nuggets of chicken, onion, and ginger. Sweet and savory, there is another layer added when the crisp morsels are dipped into the zippy mustard sauce. There is a good kick of horseradish there, and the taste is far more mustard-y than mayonnaise-y, letting the taste of the chicken shine through.

Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice with Serrano Chili
Similar to the dish at Koi, with creamy, fresh tuna, the heat from a sliver of Serrano chiles, and that rice. That incredible rice – sweet, sticky, and salty with steaming insides and crunchy edges, crackling pleasantly next to the smooth texture of the tuna. It could have been a tad spicier, but, then, what couldn’t be spicier in my book?

Rockin’ Spicy Tuna Roll – Spicy Tuna Roll Topped with Tempura Rock Shrimp and Spicy Aioli

This is top notch sushi. Don’t let the flashing lights and admittedly frou-frou cocktails distract you – this sushi is excellent, on par with many serious sushi restaurants. Each grain of rice is perfectly al dente, slightly sweet with rice vinegar. The seaweed is nutty and crisp surrounding the smooth, fatty tuna. Crunchy rock shrimp, sugary and meaty within its light batter, drizzled with a spicy, not to say hot, aioli. Spicy, sweet, soft, and crunchy. With a quick smear of wasabi, this didn’t even need soy sauce. It is a fantastic sushi roll. 

Cauliflower Robata with Balsamic Teriyaki Glaze
The most surprising dish of the night. This totally vegan dish is incredibly meaty! The combination of balsamic and teriyaki is a double dose of umami, and paired with tender, almost creamy cauliflower, it’s an undeniably decadent tasting dish. Yet, it’s so light that it could be a diet food. Cooked on the robata, which is a Japanese charcoal grill, the outside is charred and crisp while the inside becomes soft, though not mushy. The glaze is sweet, sour, and piquant, and the result is memorable in every way.

Fluffernutter Spring Rolls with Dark Chocolate Sauce
Fried eggroll wrappers filled with marshmallow cream and melting creamy peanut butter. Dipped in a thin dark chocolate glaze, it’s bitterness cutting through the sweetness and richness of the eggroll.

It was warm and it was sensational.

Pod really proved me wrong. Though the vibe is kind of trendy, the food is anything but. It is expertly prepared, served by knowledgeable waitstaff, in a gorgeous, upbeat setting. I really can’t think of any place in NYC that matches food of this caliber with such unpretentious service. Nor can I think of anywhere serving better cauliflower.
And, trust me when I say that any woman would love to be proved wrong by dining here and enjoying it. 

Pod on Urbanspoon

Adour by Alain Ducasse – One Glamorous Night

I have great taste in restaurants. This isn’t natural – it isn’t like having great taste in food. It is work. It is reading blogs, posting on message boards, and poring over menus. It is calling a place every day for a week at exactly 9 AM to get a reservation, and it is budgeting both appetite and wallet carefully in preparation for the big night.
Okay, it might not be brick laying, but it’s work.
And when someone else takes the reins…I am utterly shocked.
Which brings me to my decadent Valentine’s Day date.

Since this meal was a complete surprise to me, I had no idea what the restaurant would look like or what the food would taste like. I knew only that it is located in the glitzy St. Regis hotel, specializes in fine French cuisine, and that Alain Ducasse is the executive chef.
The room itself is exquisite – a jewel box of a room. Elegant and extremely luxe, this is not the place to wear slacks. Ladies, throw on some heels, and fellas, bring a coat.

Torchon de Foie Gras with Apple and Date Marmalade and Toasted Baguette
Seared foie gras is my favorite food on the planet. Foie in torchon form, where it is lightly poached, then served chilled or room temperature, is a definite second place. It is more one dimensional in flavor and can have a somewhat sinewy texture, since it is very hard to devein- properly.
This changes all that.
The entire torchon is as smooth as butter, with just enough give without being soft. The genius in this dish lies not only in its expert texture and rich taste, but in its perfect seasoning. This is one of the most highly seasoned torchons I have ever eaten, and the results are amazing. The pepper brings out the meat’s sweetness, and the salt brings out the savory, umami tones of the torchon. The accompanying marmalade cuts through the fat of the meat and the baguette is airy, its warmth melting the foie. The greens add a final, crisp note to this perfect torchon.

Red Snapper “Vapeur” Fennel Fondant, Piperade Pauce
An evenly thick piece of snapper, beautifully filleted with nary a bone. Steamed until it is flaky on the outside and just barely opaque within, so it remains moist and soft. It sits on a pool of luscious piperade sauce, made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic. This Basque sauce manages to be zesty-spicy without being hot-spicy. It’s earthy, fragrant notes anchor the delicate fish and give it body. The fennel, sweet and licorice-y, adds a final sweet note to this savory dish. This could not have been prepared more perfectly.

Venison Medallion Poiverade with Roasted Chestnuts, Butternut Squash, and Root Vegetables
Having never tried venison before, ordering this was a no brainer for me. It is tender, but has a bit of chew – similar in texture to duck, but with the deep taste of boar. It tastes wild and earthy, much richer than beef but with that same full, rich flavor. At the same time, it is incredibly lean – I polished off almost this whole plate with no feelings of grease or fat overload. The seasoning is minimal to allow the venison’s natural flavor to shine through. The poivearade sauce is thick and glossy, with the texture of maple syrup and a taste similar to the rind of pastrami – peppery and herbaceous. The vegetables are delicious  -sweet chestnuts, buttery squash, tiny perfect beets, but nothing outshines the venison.

Colorado Lamb “Persillade” with Confit Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes, Potato Gaufrette, and Scallions
This is my boyfriend’s dish, and though I didn’t try it, it received rave reviews. Of particular mention is how beautifully each of these plates is presented. Each is a work of art -not a spot of demi glace out of place, not a lettuce leaf anything but pristine. The meat is butchered to perfection, the vegetables are trimmed to look like jewels, and the tableware itself is designed to showcase the color and aroma of the food before you even take a bite.

Dark Chocolate Sorbet with Buttered Brioche Croutons, Chocolate Sauce, and Gold Leaf
A thin disc of intensely cocoa-flavored chocolate (very dark and very rich) covers sweet vanilla creme brulee and creamy chocolate sorbet, icy cold and sweeter than it’s chocolate sheath. The hot chocolate sauce melts the disc, mixing hot and cold, sharp and soft, bitter and sweet all in one bite. The croutons add crunch to what has to be the most delicious chocolate dessert I have ever eaten.

Apple Sable with Granny Smith Sorbet, Calvados Emulsion, and Vanilla Cream
The world’s most elegant apple cobbler. Creamy sorbet so tart it is almost sour sits directly above apples that are caramelized deeply so that they fall apart, laden with sugar and butter. The cookie beneath the apples is perfect in its simplicity – more buttery than sugar, more crumbly than crisp. The Calvados emulsion is foamy and light, adding a slight alcoholic tang to the sweet, sour, delicious dessert.

I can’t do a wrap up of this meal like I usually do. I don’t know how much it cost. I didn’t go in with any expectations. And, quite frankly, I was too dazzled by the surprise of it all to care.
What I do remember is the delicious food. The unobtrusive, but ever watchful service. The romance of the place.
If you want your date to feel like royalty, take him or her here. Order the foie gras. And sit back and enjoy the look on your date’s face as (s)he realizes all of the work and planning of the evening has already been done. All that is left is to enjoy.
Which anyone surely will.
Sometimes, it’s its delightful to take the backseat.
Adour (St. Regis) on Urbanspoon

The Fat Goose – A Neighborhood Haunt

I had read only good things about Fat Goose, a seasonally inspired restaurant in Williamsburg, so when my girlfriends wanted to take the train to Brooklyn for an early brunch, I was only too willing to join.
The restaurant was dead empty, but we were brunching insanely early, at 11 AM.  The room is casual with polished wood floors, a roomy bar, and tables next to large plate glass windows. It isn’t big, but it is laid out well and manages to feel spacious. 

The coffee is worth a special mention. Brought in individual French presses, it is rich and deep, with butterscotch undertones and no scorched notes of lesser coffees. Too many places around town serve sub par coffee, and this is a delightful way to start the day.
Spaghetti Squash Bruschetta with Sundried Tomatoes
I had never had spaghetti squash, and this was a delight! Airy, charred bread is topped with thin strands of squash, bright vinegar, and soft, salty sundried tomatoes. A variety of textures and an overriding light, fresh flavor adds versatility to brunch, which is often a heavy meal. 
Case in point:

Huevos Rancheros
This is a good rendition of huevos rancheros, but nothing more than that. Runny eggs, fluffy rice, garlicky black beans. The tortilla chips are thick and freshly fried, but there is no hot sauce offered with the eggs. When asked for hot sauce, I got Sriracha. Really?
I mean I love Sriracha – would bathe in it if I could – but with huevos rancheros, I want some Cholula or something. A Mexican hot sauce.
Does that make me racist?
That’s what she said?
(guess that last one doesn’t really apply here)
This dish was good but not memorable. Luckily, the next dish changed all that.

Buckwheat Crepe filled with Swiss Cheese and Ham, garnished with Sriracha
Now, this is where Sriracha works. The buckwheat crepe is crispy and thin, filled with lakes of gooey Swiss cheese and thick nuggets of meaty, salty ham. The Sriracha balances out the saline, unctuous elements of the crepe, cutting though it with vinegar and chiles. This is highly recommended. 

I now know what the hype is all about. It isn’t about the mind blowing Kobe beef or the gorgeous waitstaff. It’s about a great neighborhood restaurant. The kind of place where you can bring a book, grab a satisfying meal, and get out of there for under $15. Nicer than a diner, not as stuffy or expensive as many other brunch places. I wish this were in my hood, but until it is, I can thoroughly recommend you check out Fat Goose.

Fat Goose on Urbanspoon
Popbar on Urbanspoon

Mexican Cheeseburger Dip

If you don’t like this recipe, I don’t want to hear about it. Just keep it to yourself, I don’t care.
Do I sound a bit defensive?
Perhaps that’s because this is THE TRASHIEST thing I have EVER made on this blog. And this isn’t a really classy publication in the first place. So you can imagine how embarrassing this dish is.
And also…how mind numbingly tasty.
Without further ado:
Mexican Cheeseburger Dip

1 lb. ground beef
1 15 oz jar queso
1 15 oz jar salsa
Chili seasoning to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste

1) Brown the beef in a skillet over medium high heat.

2) When the meat is cooked all the way through, with no pink, add the dry seasonings. You want a chili seasoning with no added salt, since the queso has quite a bit of salt already – the seasonings are just to add depth and heat. 

3) Add the queso to the pan.

4) Add the salsa. Combine, wait till it is heated through, taste for seasonings. 

5) Serve with tortilla chips.

I know this dip isn’t pretty. It sure isn’t healthy. But it is so delicious. Cheesy, creamy, spicy, beefy…just like the world’s best Taco Bell. So indulgent and unspeakably satisfying. No need to add sour cream to this, though some hot sauce wouldn’t hurt. Just tortilla chips, a beer, and your tastebuds.
And like I said, if you are too high brow for this…just keep it to yourself.
More dip for the rest of us.