Hurricane Sandy Relief

If you are one of the millions of people affected by Hurricane Sandy, I am so, so sorry. My heart goes out to you. New York and New Jersey have had massive power outages, flooding, and transportation closures and delays. That is nothing compared to the people who were hurt and killed by Mother Nature’s wrath. I was luckily unaffected, but I know that I was just that – lucky.

In case you want to know what you can do to help victims, click here.

For the rest of the week, Fritos and Foie Gras will be on hiatus out of reverence for those who have so much more to deal with than reading a food blog.

Once again, my most sincere good wishes to all of you who were affected.

Whole Wheat Cheddar Jalapeno Buns

So…I have this little secret.

No, it isn’t a third arm or the location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body or anything.

It’s…I am scared of yeast

Like really, super duper scared of yeast. Every single time I have tried to bake bread, it has been ahuge failure. Of gargantuan, leaden, gummy proportions. Awful.

So, I have declared the next few months as the season of yeast. I will be baking once a week until I can get a decent loaf of bread. I will post the more successful recipes here, and the truly awful failures…well, we will do a special post on those. 

Please note – I will be using a bread machine to do all of my dough kneading, then transferring to an oven. The idea of kneading is enough to give me a mental breakdown. If you don’t have a bread maker  then please just view these recipes as jumping off points and use your own techniques.

So…let’s jump into it shall we?

Season of Yeast #1: Whole Wheat Cheddar Jalapeno Buns (Adapted from Tasty Kitchen)

Ingredients:

1.5 and 1/4 cup whole wheat flour 

2 cups white flour 

1 1/4 cups milk, warmed to 120F

1/4 cup white sugar

1 beaten egg

2 tablespoons butter (cut into small cubes), plus 2 tsp. more melted for basting

1 1/4 tsp. rapid rise yeast

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

2 jalapenos, diced

1 tsp. salt

1. Load ingredients into your bread machine, according to the machine’s instructions. For me, that means liquids(including butter)…

followed by solids…

followed by yeast. Then, put the setting to dough and walk away until the mix ins feature beeps. 

2. When the mix in feature beeps (or about 20 minutes after the dough starts), add in the cheddar and the jalapenos.

3. When the dough is done mixing (time will vary, but for me it was about an hour and half , remove it and cut it in half. Be sure to remove the mixing paddle so it isn’t stuck in the dough!

4. Take each round, and on a floured surface, roll or pat it out to about 1 inch thickness…

then using a drinking glass or a cookie cutter, cut out 6 – 8 circles in the dough. 

5. Spray or brush with oil or butter, then lay the buns on a tinfoiled cookie sheet…

and cover for 25 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350F.

6. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the dough sounds hollow when thumped.

7. Allow to cool, then split and serve.

These turned out quite well! They didn’t  rise as much as I would have liked, but that is probably due to the whole wheat flour and the fact that I didn’t use active dry yeast  Next time, I would definitely try active dry yeast, and maybe a bit more of it. But the flavor was great – sweet and wheaty, with the salty taste of cheddar and the bite of  jalapenos. These would be great with scrambled eggs or as a bun for my bbq chicken. Like, I said, this bread was not perfect, but I feel like I’m getting there!

1 good bread made, 2,8884 to go…

 

Pulled BBQ Chicken Sliders

There is an exception to every rule.

There is one day when you DO hit all the green lights.

There is one episode per season where the Kardashians do that does NOT make me vomit in my mouth.

And there is one dish that I like less than lip-blisteringly spicy.

BBQ sauce. Don’t give me any of that cloyingly sweet, salty stuff, but if the sauce is too spicy, it’s just dominant. I want to taste the soft bun, the crispy coleslaw, the juicy meat. Thus, I invented my own pulled chicken recipe, with a bbq sauce that is made with beer, chili sauce,and just one habanero.

Hey, just one is practically baby food, okay?

The result is a sauce that is tangy and spicy, with just a bit of sweetness. Don’t substitute ketchup for the chili sauce – that sauce is the secret to keep the sauce from being too sweet. The chicken cooks until it is tender, then is shredded and mixed with the sauce.

My perfect exception to my “heat beats all” rule.

Pulled BBQ Chicken Sliders

Ingredients:

For chicken:

3 chicken breasts

1 jar Heinz chili sauce

1 onion, peeled and quartered

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1 habanero pepper, sliced

1 bottle beer (your favorite)

1 tbsp. chili seasoning (or a  mixture of cumin, chile powder, salt, and pepper)

1/3 cup white vinegar

2 tbsp. sugar

For sandwiches:

6 slider buns

2 cups coleslaw (This slaw is ideal for this sandwich)

1. Put all of the chicken ingredients on the stove over medium heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Cover the pot and walk away for 10 – 12 minutes.

I know, sorry. I try to make these recipes tougher so they seem more impressive but…I’m just a very simple person.

Stop laughing. Didn’t mean it that way.

2. When the chicken is entirely cooked through, with no pinkness, and starts to pull apart when prodded with a fork, remove them beasts and set them aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, dump the sauce into a blender, and whiz it until it is totally blitzed.

Now taste it – does it need more pepper, more vinegar, more sugar? Add it now. Then,  return it to the pan and let it reduce for about 20 minutes, or until it has thickened a bit. It won’t get thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but the texture will gain some viscosity.

4. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it with 2 forks until the meat is totally pulled. Then, combine the sauce and the chicken. When you are ready to serve…

5. Toast your slider buns and lay the chicken on there (with more sauce, if so desired).

6. Top with slaw and serve.

Now this is the kind of bbq I like. A combination of sweet tomatoes and spicy habaneros. Sour with vinegar and sweet from the sugar. The chicken is tender and very juicy, and the sauce saturates the buns, making them delightfully moist and flavorful. The topper of crisp. vinegary slaw provides the perfect counterpart – a fresh, herbal addition to this saucy, savory sandwich. I occasionally like to add some cheese to the bun before toasting, adding a sharp component to the dish.

Feel free to top this with hot sauce, if you so prefer. It’s not the way that I eat it, but hey…

I’m willing to make another exception.

Cemita’s NYC at Whole Foods

One of the best things about living in Manhattan is how easy it is to hop on a subway and in half an hour be in any borough of the city, eating fabulous food.

One of the worst things about living in Manhattan is being me. I’m lazy. If it takes more than 15 minutes to get there, I will probably just order in Chinese.

Like I said, I am really über lazy.

That’s why when I found out that Smorgasburg was doing a pop up at Whole Foods Bowery, I was all about it. A chance to try some of the vendors at Brooklyn’s famous weekly food fair without having to cross the river? Amazing.

This month features Cemita’s, run by Southern Californian native Danny Lyu, features the huge sandwiches which are its namesake, as specialty of Puebla, Mexico. Ten layers of tasty goodness fill these dishes, and tacos and fresh chips also available.

The space in Whole Foods is upstairs, with a few seats and a counter where you order. You see the meats being grilled, avocados being sliced, and sandwiches being assembled right in front of you. The open kitchen is totally pristine and the smells coming out of there are amazing – smoky, spicy, incredibly fragrant…if you aren’t hungry now, it’s just because you aren’t reading.

Chicken Tinga Cemita

Here are the ingredients in this:

And here is what it looks like:

And here is what it tastes like:

bread – fluffy, light, strong enough tos tand up to the fillings but soft enough to be easily bit.

black bean spread – smoky, hearty, fragrant with oregano

mayo – creamy

chicken tinga – unbelievable slow roasted pulled chicken. Spicy, garlicky, acidic form tomatoes and so juicy. Soft but not mushy, juicy, and tender. Like carnitas with the light, clean taste of chicken. Outstanding.

lettuce – insignificant

tomato – juicy, sweet, totally refreshing

pickled onion – sharp, tangy, strong, cutting thought he mayonnaise and cheese

cheese – oaxacan cheese – squeaky and firm, like cheese curds. Bland, but a welcoming blandness in the sea of spices

avocado – creamy, buttery, delicious as ever

papalo – a mexican and South American herb that is fresh and pungent. Somewhere between lemon, basil, and mint, this stuff is incredibly potent – the aroma smacks you in the face the minute that you even look at a cemita, standing out from the warm chicken and the yeasty bread. While it might be overkill alone, as part of the multilayered sandwich, it adds a fresh herbal note that brightens what could be a very heavy dish.

chipotle crema – smooth, smoky, a little spicy

Portabella Tacos with Lettuce, Sour Cream, and Salsas

Never, EVER have I had more satisfying mushrooms. Totally beefy, savory, charred and juicy…this was umami to the “nth” degree. Served in supple corn tortillas with crispy veggies, cool, sour cream, and 2 salsas (a garlicky red one and  tangy, spicy green one), this could almost make a vegetarian out of me.

The prices here aren’t cheap – a cemita will set you back about $10, including tax. But the servings are huge, and you could easily split a cemita and an order of chips with a friend and feel full for the whole afternoon. Sandwiches come quickly, the food is tasty, and…best of all…

You don’t have to go out of borough to get it, for the next month at least.

Smorgasburg at Whole Foods – making me embrace my laziness.

*Disclaimer: I did not pay for my meal. I was not required to write about the food, and the opinions expressed here are my own and unbiased.*

My Favorite Culinary Travels

I have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit. Growing up, my parents drove an ancient Aerostar van (roll up windows, oh yeah) and we had a cement floor in the living room because the carpet flooded and we never got it re-floored. That’s because all the money was ALWAYS spent on traveling. Sure, we went to some museums and saw a few sights. But the main thing we did was eat. We ate at fancy restaurants, at cheap holes in the walls, at storied places and at supermarkets. You already know how much I love Paris and Singapore, but here are a few other of my favorite international destinations.

Tokyo

I could live here. The culture is intoxicating – it is the exact opposite of American culture. There are whole brigades of workers who clean up the subway at every stop, the department store employees line up to greet you as the store first opens, and you aren’t supposed to walk with a beverage, even from Starbucks. It’s like visiting another planet, especially if you are a tall, fair redhead who suddenly has what is considered to be an ample bosom.

I love feeling so foreign, and that doesn’t even include the food. You just haven’t had ramen till you have had it at a tiny store where you order at a vending machine and are served by a somber man at a counter. The broth is universally rich and full-bodied, the noodles are bouncy, and the eggs are perfectly soft boiled, with delightfully runny yolks. You haven’t eaten yakitori till you have eaten it under the train tracks near the Shibuya train station, perched on overturned barrels, laughing with the businessman next to you as he tries to explain what it is that you are eating. The char is deep and smoky, the meat is at turns soft, springy, tender, and minerally, and when he offers you some beer, you must accept. You certainly haven’t had Japanese pizza until you have gone to Harajuku, sat in a pizza parlor that looks like My Little Pony mated with Little Red Riding Hood and an S and M shop. That pizza will be topped with corn kernels, octopus, Cheez Whiz, mark my word. We haven’t even touched on eating sushi for breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market! The food here is wonderful and weird, and Tokyo is a total trip.

via

Vienna

Can you say “sausage capital of the universe” Because this place is. During Christmastime, which is when I have visited, there are people in period costumes playing Mozart in the streets. There are classical music concerts in palaces and Christmas fairs every day for weeks. These fairs sell homemade mittens and artisanal candles but also incredible food. Sour, crisp pickles. Snappy and spicy pork sausages. Hearty, doughy pretzels, bitter and sweet with yeast. Go to Figelmuller for a weinerschitsel that my drapes over both sides of the plate and is so crisp and light that my sister describes it as “eating a cloud.” Go to Demel, where you order a coffee and choose from one of the seemingly hundreds of cakes on the menu, then cover everything with whipped cream and sit for hours, reading and watching the crowd outside hustle and bustle with shopping bags. And, by all means, order potatoes. Fried, baked, mashed, and dumplings – you can’t really have enough potatoes here. And with the magical feeling, you can’t really have enough Vienna.

Tel Aviv

Whoever told me that kosher food wasn’t good was a liar. A big liar who clearly ate at all the Passover dinners that I had to eat at my whole life. Kosher food isn’t only good, in Israel, it is amazing. I can’t recall any of the restaurants I frequented in Tel Aviv because it wasn’t supposed to be a culinary trip. But, oh, it became one. Piles of falafel, crisp and soft at the same time,  served in fluffy pita with tangy pickles and hot mango sauce called Amba. Garlicky hummus and velvety roasted eggplant.  Bricks of halva, so nutty and sweet that it tasted more like Butterfinger candy than anything else. Creamy cottage cheese, thick enough to eat with a fork and fatty enough to counteract the freshest tomatoes and sweetest lettuce imaginable. Go get a McSchwarma from McDonald’s – it might not be great, but it is incredibly fun. The old market in Haifa is a riot of fruits and vegetables, fish and meat. The atmosphere of Santa Monica with the history of the ages and food the likes of which I never knew existed.

Where are some of your favorite culinary destinations?

Baked Acorn Squash with Savory Sausage Stuffing

You should bake a squash.

Take my word for it. Baked squash is absolutely incredible. It can be sweet or savory, main dish or side, hearty or light.

Just bake a squash already…what, you need some proof that it’s going to be tasty?

How about a fantastic acorn squash recipe?

These cute gourds are small, inexpensive, and only have about 232 calories for the entire thing. Now, you fill that with a stuffing made with lean pork, plenty of white wine, and some homemade croutons…and you have yourself a meal that is perhaps a bit more caloric, but still warm, comforting, and perfect for a chilly autumn evening. As a note, please try this method for cutting the squash ..cutting it raw is really quite the feat!

Acorn Squash with Savory Sausage Stuffing

Ingredients:

1 acorn squash (halved and cleaned of innards)

1/2 lb. ground pork

1 dinner roll, broken or cut into small pieces

1 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, diced

3 carrots, diced

3 celery stalks, diced

4 oz mushrooms, sliced and cleaned

1.5 cups white wine, plus up to 2 cups water if necessary

2 sprigs each sage, thyme, and Italian parsley

4 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese

salt and pepper, plus cayenne if desired

1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy bottomed, tall sided skillet.

2. Add the carrots, garlic, onions, and celery. When they are translucent…

3. Add the mushrooms. Salt them to release their liquid, then let them sautee for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are all soft.

4. In that time, toast the croutons in the broiler for about 5 minutes, or until the bread is pretty well toasted. Then, remove them from the broiler and set aside.

5. Add the wine to the vegetables, and let the veggies soak up the liquid.

6. Add the herbs…

and the sausage. Cook for about 7 minutes, or until the sausage is totally cooked through.

7. In the meantime, set the acorn squash in a microwave safe dish with a bit of water in the bottom – not a whole lot, just half an inch or so. Then, microwave it until the flesh is very soft – I had to do it for about 15 minutes, rotating the dish once. There will be a lot of water in the gourd’s dip, but don’t throw it out! It is sweet and delicious, adding moisture to the stuffing.

8. Now it’s time to throw in your croutons. If you need more wine, add it. If you need more liquid but not more acidity, add some water or chicken stock. Do NOT be stingy here. Nothing worse than a dry stuffing.

And nothing more delicious than a perfectly saturated one. Here is where you can add the pepper and any additional spices. Taste it for seasoning and make sure that it’s to your liking.

9. Set the oven back on broil and pile the stuffing into the gourd’s centers. Don’t be afraid of really laying it on thickly here.

10. Toss on the Parmesan cheese and put it in the broiler for a few minutes, until the Parmesan cheese is golden brown and crispy.

11. Serve.

This is a really satisfying meal on a chilly night. The squash is so sugary and creamy, lending its sweet juices tho the savory, slightly spicy stuffing. The sausage is juicy and the bread becomes creamy, saturated with the pork’s fat and the crisp white wine. The sage and thyme lend a woodsy flavor to the deeply earthy dish, amping up the hearty flavor. The final topping of salty parmesan cheese is a crisp, nutty counterpart to the rest of the dish. This is delicious with a green salad, and any leftovers can be made into a delicious strata the next morning.

Toldja that you should bake a squash

French Roast Brings Casual Chic to the UWS

French Roast is the type of place that every neighborhood should be lucky enough to have. It is inexpensive but still has waiter service, has a large enough menu to entertain everyone but it is focused enough to cook everything well, and has servers who know who to keep a whole family happy as well as leave you alone if you just want to sit with your latte and work.

The place is uber crammed on a sunday brunch, but for lunch or dinner on a weekday, it is just perfect. Busy but not crowded, with enough staff to make sure that you aren’t waiting for too long without a menu or a coffee.

Endive and Frisee Salad with hearts of palm, blue cheese, and vinaigrette

A special that day, this salad mimics one of my favorites. Bitter endive, creamy and sharp blue cheese, and a bright vinaigrette. The tangles of stiff frisee and velvety hearts of palm vary the textures in this salad. Though it could have used a few walnuts, the salad was substantial for an appetizer.

Pumpkin Bisque

This other daily special was a highlight of the meal. Extremely pumpkiny and thick enough to coat the back of my spoon. It was none to sweet, picking out the buttery and earthy notes of the gourd instead of the sweet ones that are so often exploited. There are spicy backnotes of onions and thyme, followed by the rich, grounded taste of the bisque. Hot and creamy without being at all greasy, this is the perfect soup for any rainy day.

Mediterranean plate with hummus, babaganoush, carrot salad, and s Spanish eggplant

Just what you might expect from this establishment. Since it isn’t a Mediterranean restaurant, the food is a little one note, but since it’s a good restaurant, it’s a damn good note. Lemony humus, sweet and spicy eggplant, and some very garlicky babaganoush. This is not a must have on the menu, but it is a great option as a group appetizer or as a very nice light lunch with the warm pita that accompanies it.

French Roast is a gem on the often overpriced UWS. It is fairly priced, casual without being divey, and the food is genuinely delicious. Come here for lunch with a friend or alone and prepare to leave well sated.

 

Murray’s Cheese Bar – Small in Size, Big in Flavor

It’s not that a world without cheese would cease to exist for me. Rather, it’s that I simply wouldn’t believe in it. It would be the boogey-man, or some other scary figment of a child’s imagination.

I believe in cheese the way that some people believe in showering every day.

Murray’s Cheese Bar must feel the same way as I do. Run by the cheese-niuses (def: a cheese genius) this new restaurant right down the street from the Bleecker Street location of the shop had high acclaim from one of my favorite lactose loving gals. Of course, I promised to check it out ASAP.

The restaurant is very narrow and cozy. It manages to feel spacious thanks to a long, wide bar at which you can sit comfortably and order cheese and wine, though there are also a few tables. Come here with a close friend or 2 but not more than that you really want to be able to chat while you chow.

Ellsworth Creamery Buffalo Cheese Curds with celery and blue cheese dip

Squeaky, bouncy cheese curds, fried so that they are warm on the inside and crispy on the outside. Doused in a garlicky, spicy buffalo sauce, this is at least as good as my favorite wings- maybe even better, considering the high-end blue cheese dressing that accompanies it. Creamy and peppery with huge hunks of soft, assertive blue cheese. This is one of the best renditions of buffalo anything in the city.

Trio of dips with crackers:

Pimento Cheese, A Taste Of The South prairie breeze cheddar, pimento, paprika. Creamy, with hunks of medium sharp cheddar. A bit too mild for my taste, sweet with the pimentos and lacking any bite from cayenne or freshness from scallions. My least favorite of the dips.
Obatdza, A Taste Of Bavaria romadur, vermont butter and cheese creamery butter, horseradish, caraway. Easily the most unusual dish of the night. Romadur makes blue cheese look like low fat american cheese - subtly put, this stuff is stanky. Bottom of the sock drawer, wake up with your eyes tearing, stanky. I LOVED it. The soft dip had notes of wood, grass, and ocean air-  it was really that unique, all thanks to the fabulous ramudur cheese. The caraway brought out the woodsy notes, but butter helped tone down the strong flavors, and the horseradish cut right through the stank. If you love kimchi, steak tartare, or other strong foods…this may be for you!
Kopanisti, A Taste Of Greece feta, pepperoncini, dill – standard but tasty. Good, creamy Greek feta, none too bitter, mixed with tangy pepperoncini and grassy dill. Fresh, flavorful, and a crowd pleaser.

Haloumi with mint, lemon, and olive oil

Simple? Sure, but so well executed. The halloumi is crispy and salty, splitting to reveal melty insides, stretching like the  your favorite grilled cheese sandwich. The lemon caramelizes, turning sweet and deep in the oven, tempering the bright mint. A finish of sweet, rich olive oil brings the dish together in a way that proves that Murray’s really knows what it is doing.

Look, the food and atmosphere here makes it a destination eatery.  In fact, throw away the menu and just have the cheese-passionate staff choose your meal for you! If you like cheese, fair prices, and great service, you really must come here.

And if you don’t like any of these things, go find a technology blog, cause this one really isn’t with you.

Saag Paneer

Creamed spinach is one of my secret pleasure foods. I love the smooth texture, the taste of cream and nutmeg, and the slightly minerally, clean aftertaste of the spinach. To my mind, nothing goes better with a thick slab of prime rib than a Yorkshire pudding and some warm creamed spinach, topped with a flurry of salty Parmesan  cheese.

Not everyone appreciates my tastes though. Some people like their spinach to have some more kick, some more zing, and some more heft.

For those people, the way  to go is saag paneer. This Indian spinach dish is insanely easy to make, with mostly frozen ingredients, very little fat, and a few spices that you already – or at least, should – have in your kitchen.

Paneer is an Indian farmer’s cheese that is firm, a little salty, and cooks up beautifully, so it is crisp without and soft within. If you can’t find it, substitute halloumi – it should work perfectly.

Oh yeah, and I also threw in cauliflower, just because cauliflower is mighty tasty.

Saag Paneer (loosely adapted from Serious Eats)

Ingredients:

14.4 oz. package frozen cut spinach

1 10 oz. bag cauliflower

1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt, plus more to garnish

3 tbsp. butter

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

2 serrrano chiles, diced

1 – 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 package paneer or halloumi cheese, diced into cubes

1 tbsp. curry powder

2 tsp. each ginger, cumin, and coriander

salt and pepper, to taste

cilantro, chiles, and onions to garnish (optional)

1. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed stockpot. When it melts, add the chiles, garlic, onion, ginger, curry, coriander, and cumin.

2. Sautee until the onions are translucent and the kitchen is very fragrant, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the spinach directly to the pot.

4. Add the stock and stir until the spinach has started to defrost and wilt. Cover and let boil for about 20 minutes, checking to make sure that the spinach is not burning. Add more chicken stock if it seems to get absorbed too quickly.

5. Meanwhile, put the paneer in a very hot, dry nonstick skillet, and sear on one side until it is very golden brown. This should take about 2 minutes. Flip and do the same on the other side. You need not do it to every side, but it really should be crispy on at least 2 sides. Once it is cooked, set it aside on a plate.

6. Lowering the pan to medium high heat, add the cauliflower to it. Cook until there are some charred spots and the cauliflower is totally cooked through. Set it aside with the paneer.

7. Now, going back to the spinach, put the contents of the pot into the blender and blitz the whole thing for 3 or 4 pulses, until it is creamy and smooth.

8. Return it to the pot, put the pot on low heat, and…

9. Add the cauliflower and paneer.

10. Add the yogurt, stir to combine, and taste for seasonings, salt, and pepper.

11. Garnish and serve.

Okay, so maybe creamed spinach isn’t totally where it’s at. Because this…is…awesome. Creamy and tangy from the Greek yogurt, with the bite of chile and aromatic ginger. The paneer is squeaky and crunchy next to tender-crisp cauliflower and the blanket of rich spinach. This is perfect served alongside daal and some steamed basmati rice. The best thing is…it actually tastes better a day later, and even better the day after that. The flavors really develop and mingle the longer that it sits, and the spinach’s clean flavor mixes with the chile’s heat and the sweet taste of the caramelized onion. This is both hearty and healthy, something nice as we head into the meant-heavy winters.

I’ll never give up creamed spinach, but I surely am glad that I was forced to look outside my comfort zone.

Buon Italia, Txikito, and Hakata Tonton

I go out to eat a lot – at restaurants, at food trucks, and at street fairs. Though most of the food I eat is pretty tasty, some of it is really exceptional, and that’s the food we are talking about today – 3 recent bites that are so phenomenal that they deserve a post all their own!

Buon Italia Bruschetta Caprese

I have long loved this Chelsea Market store for its wonderful Italian imports. If it’s Italian, you can find it here. From truffled cheeses to Nutella the size of an Olsen twin, to homemade porchetta, everything Italian is either imported or house made here. I have come here many times for artisanal pasta, rich cream, and imported olives, but I have rarely stopped at the small counter just outside the store, selling prepared food. A recent lunchtime visit proved that I have been a moron, yet again. This is the best bruschetta I have had since I was a child in California. One bite of this brought me back to the first time I ever tasted the Italian delicacy. The bread is toasted but not thick crusted, so it can be easily bitten and its surface is saturated with sweet tomato juices. Overtly garlicky, strewn with floral basil and very light, clean olive oil. Salted enough to bring out the tomatoes’ juices, then finished with three slices of mozzarella so creamy that they could practically be burrata. This isn’t a particularly big or inexpensive bite, but it is so perfect that it is worth every calorie and every cent.

Albondigas at Txikito

This tiny Basque-style tapas (which are called pinxtos) restaurant is hardly a sleeper hit, but it has taken me way too long to get here. Along with the cinnamon and apple tinged sangria, the don’t miss dish here is the albondigas. These little lamb meatballs are juicy and soft. They are crisp and caramelized on the outside and robustly lamb-y on the inside. Served in a broth made with white wine, garlic, and chiffonades of sharp mint, the dish is at once bright and deep. I could easily make a meal of this alone, with a side of bread. That is the only issue I have with this dish – stop being stingy with the bread, folks! Give a gal a piece!

 

Hakata Tonton Pork Belly

When I ran headfirst into a ramen festival on the Upper West Side, I was reminded again how much I love this city. Where else can you head out for pancakes and eggs and find yourself walking amidst ramen, gyoza, obanyaki, and other Japanese delicacies?! Even at 10:30 AM, I knew what my first bite would be. Hakata Tonton is famous for making all things pork – ear, belly, shanks…if it comes from the pig, it’s at Hakata Tonton, and it is delicious. These freshly grilled pork skewers proved that the restaurant deserves its excellent reputation.

The smoky and crisp meat is tender, contrasting with bouncy ribbons of pure, opalescent fat. If you don’t like the texture of fat, this isn’t  for you, but I love it.  Slathered with a tangy-sweet Japanese BBQ sauce and a smattering of sesame seeds, I could have eaten this entire skewer then had another.

 But, as you see, there are just so many delicious bites in NYC – I always like to save some room for the next serendipitous dish.

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