The Russian Tea Room – A Breakfast Fit for a Czar

The Russian Tea Room reminds me of my paternal grandparents. Once, when I was in high school, my family went to dinner there with them. The walls were covered in blood red, there was gold glinting off of every surface, and my grandmother ordered vodka the way that I had never seen it before – drunk straight,out of a martini glass with a pickled onion. We ordered chicken Kiev, filled with buttery, parsley flecked sauce and caviar served with a dollop of sour cream and tangy sourdough blinis.

My grandmother tried to get me to try some venison, but that was when I still thought of venison as Bambi.

The Russian Tea Room has since undergone changes. It closed, it reopened  it was renovated  and it has added weekday breakfast. At a recent press event, I was lucky enough to try the extravagant, expensive offerings.

The room is as I remember it – restored to grandeur instead of totally redone. Over the top in the best way possible – all red and green and gold for the holidays. Dramatic Tchaikovsky plays while servers in imperialist-style costumes silently pour mineral water and offer glasses of tea with marinated cherries, the way that Nikolas himself would have drunk it. The feel is glamorous and theatrical and a little Disneyland. In a word – it’s perfect. It’s exactly what you want from The Russian Tea Room. I can’t even imagine how glamorous it would be to come sit in one of the secluded banquette and eat caviar from your lover’s fingers at a midnight dinner date.

Sorry, I know I’m not Carrie from Sex and the City. Just forgot it for a sec

The Czar’s Eggs

Soft boiled eggs, topped with salmon caviar and gold flecks. That’s right, gold flecks. Just in case you didn’t know that you were in the swankiest restaurant this side of the Odessa, this should remind you. The eggs themselves are lovely – soft but firm whites with thick, gooey yolks. The salmon eggs, briny but not salty, work well against the buttery yolk. They provide a bright pop of flavor that really mix up the textures and flavors. The accompanying sour cream and red onion are playful reminders of traditional caviar accompaniments. Though the blinis are well made, I did miss the crisp crunch of sourdough toast soldiers to dip into my egg yolk.

Not enough not to eat them, mind you.

Frittata with Cheddar, Bacon, Potato and Onion

An excellently made frittata. Softly scrambled eggs with lightly crisp edges and an airy, almost custardy center. Soft, sweetly caramalized onions were threaded throughout, as were woodsy time and fresh parsley. Thickly cut bacon is crisp and smoky, echoing the smoky taste of the cheddar, rich and tangy in its longs, melted strands. The best part of this frittata may be the hunks of creamy red potatoes, soft and fluffy in some parts and toothsome and hearty in others. Who knows why this is Russian; all I know is that it is delicious.

The Russian Tea Room is a total trip. Is it more expensive than your college education? Sure. Do you have to get dressed up to go? Absolutely. Is it worth it for a special occasion treat that calls to mind the glamorous days of old NYC? Worth it and then some. As Ferris Bueller would say “If you have the means, I highly recommend it.”: And as my grandma would say”

Next time, get the vodka.

Will do, Grandma.

Disclaimer: My meal was paid for by the restaurant. I was not required to write about my experience, and my opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort – the Gem of the Southwest

When you think of Arizona, you probably think of Senator John McCain, the University of Arizona (Go Wildcats!), and some pretty great Mexican food.

You might not think of incredible resorts, and that would be your folly.

One of the most luxurious resorts in Arizona is the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort, in the upscale Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. When I say luxury, I mean luxury. Southwest style, which means leave your indoor hallways and stuffy attire at home.

I mean entire cities built of rosy terra cotta, with outside hallways filled with cozy love-seats and wicker tables, perfect to bask in the sun with a cocktail or a good book. It is more like owning your own summer palace than staying in a snooty hotel – feel free to take your socks off and feel the warmth of the pink stone under your sun-starved feet. The weather here is always lovely, especially when fleeing the cold and wet northeastern winter.

Even the most basic rooms here are breezy and luxurious, with decadent linens, bathrooms with spa showers and large whirlpool tubs, and often small balconies where you can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while listening to desert birds awaken in the morning.

The feel of the rooms, casual but upscale, echos that of the resort – this is a place to bring families and relax with old friends, a place where you need not where makeup or even high heels are needed for dinner.  This air of relaxed luxury is one that is really only found in the southwest.

When you do bring your nieces and nephews here, be sure to check out some of the many pools in this fabulous resort - big ones, small ones, kiddie ones, and even a special one reserved for spa guests. Water slides, splash zones,  and cushy deck chairs surround all the pool areas. Though the vibe here is jovial and family friendly, there is always a server ready to take your order for a plate of nachos or a margarita. Word to the wise: all the margaritas at this hotel are top notch. Freshly squeezed juices, agave syrup, and top of the line alcohol properly mixed or blended to slushy-like happiness.

The Willow Stream Spa is an other worldly experience. You exit the realm of kids and swimming pools and enter total tranquility. Peace. Calming pools and aromatherapy saunas and outdoor atriums with herbal teas and freshly made muffins. There is a private pool, a reflecting garden with serene music, and…

This. A waterfall jacuzzi where the water pounds on your back and shoulders, gently beating stress out of your body. It’s literally impossible to leave this place with any stress.

As a neurotic Jew, I maintain that one cannot overestimate the joy of having even 15 minutes totally stress free.

 

The food at La Hacienda is just another magnificent aspect of this hotel. High end Mexican cuisine that is flavorful and inventive while also being seasonal and authentic to the flavor profile of Mexican food.

Richard Sandoval’s guacamole with carnitas is a buttery, porky revelation, and be sure to try the herb crusted filet mignon. Tender, meaty, lean, and full of spicy, smoky flavors.

Don’t miss the signature flaming Mexican coffee for dessert. Be warned, there is alcohol in there…and by “be warned,” I mean ask for a golf cart to take you back to your room.

The service throughout the resort is excellent – friendly and social without being in your face. You questions are answered with a smile, your needs are quickly and courteously addressed, and your surroundings could not be more beautiful. If this hotel were in NYC, it would be outrageously expensive. Though this is not a budget hotel, it is incredibly reasonable for the experience that you get. The resort is large and expertly maintained, there is a world-class golf course on site, and it is near many shopping centers and restaurants. I can’t recommend this resort enough, and hope that it is what you think of when you think of Arizona.

 It’s certainly more fun to associate Arizona with the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort than with John McCain

Disclaimer: I received a media rate for my stay at this hotel.

Sundaes and Cones – Far Out Ice Cream

Here’s a little secret – I am a pretty sub-standard food blogger.

That IS a shock to you, whether you like it or not!

I say this because I don’t always blog where I eat. Sometimes I go out simply to enjoy myself, with no plans to photograph or specifically remember any of the goodies I consume. That really lets me live in the moment without wondering if I captured the burger’s juiciness in photos or if it is cinnamon or ginger that I taste in a cocktail.

However…occasionally something I eat is so extraordinary that it stops me in my tracks and I start taking pictures mid bite, because I simply know that I have to share it with my readers (all 12 of you).

That happened to me this weekend at Sundaes and Cones.

This east village ice cream shop is small but well designed, with a few small tables and a large floor area to gawk at the ice cream flavors. On this cold night it was easy to grab some of the few seats, but on a summer weekend, I could imagine that it would be a take-out or nothing situation. This would be a very cute spot for a first date or a solo indulgence.

Now a word on the ice cream…you can get butter pecan or chocolate ice cream here. But why would you? Why when you can get flavors the likes of which you have likely never tried. Let’s go in order from most conventional to least:

Pistachio Almond

 This is undoubtedly the most nut forward ice cream I have ever had. The flavor is so concentrated that it is more like gelato than ice cream. It has that pure,  totally sharp flavor that usually only gelato has, but with the light, clean taste of the cream in the background. This is almost savory, but then has a touch of sugar that balances it into an ice cream. This is actually TOO nutty and rich for me, but the person who ordered it was a huge fan. Topping it with some of the shop’s freshly whipped cream might be a way to break up the almost aggressive nuttiness.

Taro

If you have had poi and hated it, welcome to the club. To me, it tastes like mud flavored glue. Thus, I had no desire to try this taro ice cream. Them someone ordered it, and I figured “what the hell? One bite won’t kill me.” And indeed it didn’t. In fact, it downright bowled me over. This purple hued ice cream, dense and clinging to the plastic spoon in purple streaks, tastes for all the world like a frozen brick of halvah! It is peanut buttery, Butterfinger-y, sesame-sugar tinged…nothing at ALL like poi! This is fantastic for anyone who loves peanut butter. And, by the way, anyone who doesn’t love peanut butter, needs a visit to the head doctor. This is highly recommended.

Corn

Sweet and fresh as cream with the simple, earthy taste of corn in there. It at first tastes like vanilla ice cream but then the taste of corn reverberates in the mouth, filing the entire palate and even nostrils with the buttery taste of popcorn. There are even kernels in there, miraculously soft and even juicy in the frozen cream. This is fantastic on its own and could be improved by only some of that aforementioned homemade whipped cream.

Now you see why I had to take pictures mid bite. You see why I needed to tell you about it. It’s enough to get me down to the east village on a freezing night and it’s enough to get me to try taro.

It deserves a blog post.

Kingswood – Not Living up to its Potential

There are a ton of small plates restaurants in NYC. It’s a market that is heavily saturated, and in order to stand out from the crowd or even last, you had better be pretty damn great at what you do. At the very least, the food should be delicious, the service should be efficient, and the prices should be commensurate with the experience.

Let’s see how Kingswood measures up, shall we?

This west village restaurant is dark and eccentric, sort of a Narnia-meets-Anthropologie feel. Think long wooden tables, a happening bar scene, and a cozy, but not cramped, feel. Perfect for a double date, dinner with a friend, or a quick drink at the bar.

Roasted Quail over fregola sarde with spinach

An auspicious start the meal. The quail is roasted until it has some lightly charred spots on the skin but the meat is still very juicy and woodsy, slightly pink in the center. Quail, like duck, can and should be eaten cooked medium at most. This quail, a cross between duck and pork to my tastes, is earthy, pleasantly musky, and very rich. The bones crunch pleasantly beneath the teeth, and some can even be eaten along with the supple meat. The fregola sarde, toasty and plump, are filled with the garlicky, meaty juices from the quail meat, interspersed with ribbons of fresh spinach. A wholly satisfying dish.

Smoked Trout Dip with Treviso and Baguette

Another great appetizer. The dip is smoky and mild, with no fishiness. It really tastes more meaty than fishy, with just the slightest salinity that lifts the dish from being too creamy and smoky. The treviso, dressed lightly so it is crisp and vinegary, cuts through the somewhat heavy dip. Served with tiny crostini, this is a knockout appetizer, though perhaps a bit expensive for the portion size.

Pork fritter with fried egg over frisee

Another tasty, though somewhat misguided dish. The fritter, crisp without and tender within, is a hearty porcine treat that desperately needed something other than a rich, gooey egg yolk to temper it. The yolk added some moisture, but also dulled down the already subtle taste of the pork. Some sort of vinegary, chile-tinged sauce would have really catapulted this dish from good to great. The portion size was also quite meager.

Steak Tartare

The biggest miss of the night. The meat is sloppily cut and a bit mushy. The feel of it is very wet, exacerbated by the quivering raw quail egg yolk on top – usually inviting and here way over the top. The seasonings are obscured and so is the taste of the meat. This is very disappointing, and too small to boot.

Kingswood…I wanted to love you. Most of your food was quite good. But it was also served in very small portions, especially given the price point – I actually had a post meal slice of pizza to quell my hunger. The service was also totally bizarre. The food was paced oddly – sometimes there were piles of empty dishes on the table, sometimes we were waiting for what seemed like years on end for our next dishes, and more than once, a wrong dish was delivered to our table. The staff was quite nice but totally haphazard and it created a rather disjointed dining experience, rather than a relaxing, smooth one. I can’t fully recommend this place – even though the quail was downright wonderful. However, with some work on the service and a readjustment of either the prices or the portions, I would be happy to give this place another shot. I definitely think that it has potential.

Lemon-Dill Chicken Meatballs

In the depths of winter, sometimes you need a break from stews and beef. Sometimes, you budget won’t allow for pricey shellfish and you need a little something more than grilled cheese. You need something filling, refreshing, and not too heavy.

You need these dill-lemon chicken meatballs. Don’t let the recipe’s simplicity fool you – it tastes elegant and complex, and is satisfying without weighing you down.

Best of all, you can make it with stuff you probably already have in your house.

Lemon-Dill Chicken Meatballs

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground chicken breast

1 egg

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 tbsp. dried dill

1 onion, diced

2 tbsp. Dijon mustard, plus 1 tbsp. reserved

.5/1 cup white wine

2 tbsp black pepper, plus more to taste

2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste

1 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350F, and combine the chicken, egg, dill, half of the onion, mustard, pepper, and salt, and mix until well combined.

 2. Lay the rest of the onions in the bottom of your baking dish, then form the meat mixture into meatballs and layer them on top.

3. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are totally cooked through and their juices run clear when pierced with a fork.

 4. Remove the meatballs and reserve them on a separate plate, then empty the contents of the pan into  a saucepan on the stove. There will be some white protein that is in the sauce, that is from the chicken and it is totally okay and delicious.

5. Put the pan on medium and add the wine, the rest of the mustard, and other seasonings. Let it come to a light simmer, then taste for seasonings. You may want to add more dill to the sauce itself, or some water if it is too acidic. Bottom line is that the sauce should be light and tangy without being sour.

7. When the sauce is to your liking, serve meatballs and sauce over noodles.

This is great for a dinner alone or for company. The meatballs are soft and moist, thanks to the fat from the egg. They are also low carb, since there is no sugar or flour anywhere in this recipe. The dill is grassy and fresh, reverberating with the fresh lemon juice. The onions turn soft and sweet, enriching the gravy’s flavor while the mustard thickens it. The cayenne adds a slight edge that keeps this from being boring.  This is wonderful over pasta, but is just as great over mashed potatoes or rice. Best of all, it is bright, fresh and ideal to jazz up a weeknight winter meal.

Well, no…best of all is that it tastes awesome

Post Thanksgiving Menu Ideas

I know, I know…you already have your Thanksgiving menu set. But…what about the day after thanksgiving? And the day after that? You need to use up the turkey, but how many sandwiches can you eat? You want other foods but you feel bad spending the money. You need some help, some direction…and that’s where I come in.

Don’t even say it…you’re so very welcome.

To use up the Turkey – Mole

This dish is often made with turkey instead of chicken, so using the turkey meat here is a no brainer. It takes awhile to prepare, but the taste is like nothing you have eaten for the last 2 days – spicy, smoky, zesty, and garlicky. It is tasty over rice, but would also be fantastic with leftover mashed potatoes or made into a saucy sandwich with leftover rolls.

To use up the veggies – Frittata

Look, this is an easy one. Whenever you have vegetables that are about to go bad, use them in a fritatta. Putting something with eggs and cheese is guaranteed to make it taste better. When the leftover veggies are delicious things like roasted Brussels sprouts, maple carrots, and saucy green beans, the frittatas are even more delicious. Don’t forget to toss some extra stuffing in there, especially if there is sausage in the mix.

To use up the stuffing – Monte Cristo Casserole

One of the best things about leftover stuffing is eating it in sandwich. To make this even better, make sure your stuffing is extra dense, moist, and fatty so it solidifies in the fridge and slices easily. The day or 2 after thanksgiving, slice it like bread and use it as bread in this monte cristo casserole. Just be aware that you won’t need as much milk mixture as the recipe calls for – cut it in half. Ham and cheese over hunks of cornbread mixed with onions, celery, and bits of browned sausage makes for a hell of a breakfast casserole. Afterwards, a nap is non-negotiable.

To take a break – Jazzed up Miso Soup

Keep some packets of miso soup and kimchi in the house so you can have something light, spicy, and palate-invigorating after all of the heavy, butter-forward food of the week. Your tastebuds will thank you.

When all else fails – Burgers

Because…dude…why not?

Happy Thanksgiving, and see you all next week!

Uncle Jack’s is More than Just a Steakhouse

Midtown West below 42nd street can be a little dicey. There are a lot of bodegas, a few apartment buildings, and – out of nowhere – a grandiose steakhouse out of another era.

Uncle Jack’s is a real meat emporium, It is big, it is dark, and it has fancy steak knives on the table. This is a place that you come to announce your promotion to your parents or have dinner with your boss. It’s a serious, traditional restaurant.

But it doesn’t have to be all about the meat – which some of us can’t eat at lunch if they want to avoid an afternoon nap.

Wedge Salad

Nothing new here, nothing you can’t get somewhere else…but this is done superbly. A huge portion of icy cold lettuce, crisp and fresh. Thickly crumbled bacon, smoky and salty, gives way to pungent shreds of red onion and juicy beefsteak tomatoes, spilling their acidic seeds. The dressing, creamy and clean tasting, comes with creamy clumps of Stilton cheese. It is sharp, funky, and adds a certain heft to the salad. Like I said, this isn’t new, but it is perfect.

Mahi Mahi with lemon beurre blanc and sautéed spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes

Fish in a steak restaurant?! Really? Who does that? If you are smart and dining at this restaurant, you will. This mahi mahi is delicious. It is soft but not mushy, flaky but still moist, and has charred parts where it touched the grill. The beurre blanc balances richness and acidity well, and the vegetables are especially notable. The spinach is so minerally and meaty, the tomatoes are so sweet and juicy, and the mushrooms are so umami and garlicky that they are worth ordering on their own.  They work well with the salinity of the fish and bring another dimension to the dish.

Uncle Jacks’ probably has great steaks. They certainly looked and smelled delicious, arriving at tables all around us. But they also have other wonderful lunch entrees that are a little lighter but just as tasty. The restaurant isn’t cheap and the service is a little stiff and brusque, but the food is really well done. Come here when you have a bachelor party or an office affair, and everyone will be satisfied, –  and carnivores alike.

The Perfect Filet Mignon and Steak Sauce

Do you know, I was never into filet as a kid?

Strip steak, sure. Flank steak, absolutely. But not fillet. It didn’t have enough flavor for me, and the way that it cut seemed all too easy, mushy even.

Then, as I grew older, my palate sharpened. I leaned the difference between Pecorino Romano and Parmesan cheeses, could decipher sourdough from white bread, and learned to appreciate the subtle, light flavor of filet.

Filet has no fat, so it must be cooked quickly and served rare to retain its juices. It has a light, totally clean flavor that, unlike fattier cuts, leaves you feeling satiated but not at all weighed down or bloated. It pairs well with a tangy,s harp steak sauce and, if cooked properly, can be cut with a regular knife.

Want the secrets?

Filet Mignon with Tangy Steak Sauce

Ingredients:

For Steak:

2 4 oz. portions filet mignon

lots of freshly cracked black pepper

For sauce:

1/2 bottle chili sauce

3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp. sugar

heavy glug of wine

1. Dump all the sauce ingredients in a pot, put the flame on medium/low, stir, and walk away. In 10 minutes, come taste it and adjust it for seasonings. If you like it…guess what? You are done.

2. Let cook for 15 minutes more, or until sauce has boiled and thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. In the meanwhile, turn your oven to preheat to 450F.

3. Season your meat on one side heavily with black pepper. Don’t salt until after you are done cooking the meat, in order to leave it moist and tender.

That’s what she said.

4. Get an oven safe, oiled skillet extremely hot over high heat, then drop the steaks in, seasoned side down. Leave undisturbed for 3 minutes. In the meantime, season the naked side of the steak, which should be facing up.

5. When the steaks flip easily, they are ready. If they resist your flip, leave them alone – they aren’t ready to turn. They should flip pretty easily when they are ready…

and they should have a fabulous sear!

6. Now, put the pan in the oven, wait for 3 more minutes for a perfect medium rare and…

voila! Let rest for at least 5 minutes to let the juices redistribute, and…

7. Serve with a dollop of accompanying steak sauce.

This fillet is cooked to perfection. The high sear results in a crisp crust and the little cooking time results in a pink, moist interior. The flavor is delicate and almost mild, but with that signature iron-y red meat taste. The steak sauce brings out the meat’s sweet notes. It is tangy, thick, and just the slightest bit spicy – as ideal for chicken or a burger as it is for this filet.

All those years before I ate this cut of meat, I didn’t know what I was missing.

Low Glycemic Tomato Risotto

This recipe really belongs more on a site called “Leaves and Lettuce” than “Fritos and Foie Gras.”

But I am posting it in tribute to my mom.

My mom who has taken me to an infinite number of bakeries, treated me to luxurious lunches, and taught me the fine art of latke making.

My mom who has, in the last few months, become a smoking fox. She has gone on a low glycemic index diet plan to ensure that she stays as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Low glycemic means that the food has a very low natural sugar content so your blood sugar doesn’t spike. It was really just to get her cholesterol in check, but as a side effect, she has gone from regular cute mom to hot mom.

She is basically one step away from Regina’s mom in Mean Girls.

Except that we never had a dog.

In her efforts to eat healthily,  she invented a few awesome recipes, and this is one of my favorites. It is vegan, low calorie, high fiber, and really tasty. It takes awhile to prepare but makes enough for massive leftovers. It is even better if you add some cheese, but I guess that takes away from the whole low calorie thing.

I’m going to ignore that and suggest you top it with cheese anyway.

Low Glycemic Tomato Risotto

Ingredients:

1 cup each bulgur, pearl barley, and quinoa

2 large portabello mushroom caps, cleaned and diced

1 bunch kale, cleaned and chopped/shredded

1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic

4 cups vegetable stock

2 tbsp. red pepper flakes

1 tbsp. salt

2 tsp. pepper

1. Toss the mushrooms, kale, broth, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and pearl barley into a very large stockpot. Put it over high heat and let it boil for at least 45 minutes, or until the barley is tender. It takes a long, long time to cook, but when it is plump and al dente, you are ready for the next step.

2.Add the other grains and seasonings and let cook for half an hour more, or until the little tail of the quinoa has erupted and the pearl barley is very tender.

By this time, the liquid should have almost all been absorbed, resulting in a thick risotto-esque texture. Taste for seasonings, and…

3. Serve.

This is shockingly tasty for being so easy (though time-consuming) and so frighteningly healthy. The onions are very mild, letting the minerally flavor of the kale and the sweet tomatoes come through. The garlic becomes soft and sort of mushes into the risotto, as mild as roasted garlic but without any of the overlying sweetness of it. The soft hunk of tomato and the meaty mushrooms rally make this feel substantial, adding an indescribably savory umami factor. The 3 grains release enough gluten to make the dish thick and rich – the nutty quinoa, soft pearl barley, and hearty bulgar each play its role. This would be great with some roasted chicken or meatloaf, of is swell all on its own with a little side salad. Though it would be great with some cheese, that isn’t how my mom eats it.

And she’s looking so good that you might want to follow her lead.

Barraca – Barockin Tapas in the West Village

Let’s get down to brass tacks – if you like tapas, sangria, and feeling like you are part of the cool crowd, get yourself to Barraca.

Barraca is a new West Village tapas restaurant by chef Jesus Nunez. The night that we were there, the NYC chef was actually walking around the restaurant between cooking in the back, which is sadly the exception and not the rule in NYC. Don’t even think of coming to this small, bustling restaurant unless you have a reservation. This is the crowd at 8 pm on a Saturday night:

And when you do have a reservation that will be honored promptly  you feel unspeakably cool walking past all of the attractive people huddling in front of the hostess booth, begging for a seat.

What, like I’m the only one with that kind of schadenfreude?

Albondigas

These little meatballs are more flavorful than their names would have you believe. The beef is soft and spiced with garlic, onions, and oregano. They are moist, laying in a broth of roasted carrots, turnips, and other root vegetables, making a sweet and savory bed for these heavenly meatballs. They are almost like a slightly spicier version of tsimmis.

Ensalada de Foie

That’s right. I can have my salad and eat my foie, too. Tender baby greens with a tart raspberry vinaigrette, crunchy candied hazelnuts, and fresh, firm berries. Alone, this would be a well balanced, refreshing salad, but adding the tender lobes of foie bring it to w wholly new level. Though the foie lacked a charred, crispy sear, it was cooked to the proper temperature, still slightly pink and meltingly tender. This is not a perfect salad, but such a good one that I would absolutely order it again.

Patatas Bravioli with ali-oli and brava sauce

Brava sauce indeed, because BRAVA to whomever invented this dish. Crisply fried hunks of potatoes, crispy  outside and unbelievably fluffy within, they are layered with fragrant saffron and pepper heavy brava sauce and garlicky, creamy ali-oli. It is french fries gone Spanish, and it is absolutely fantastic. As a bonus, they are great for soaking up the booze in the deceptively easy to drink pitchers of sangria.

Jaretta de tenerra

The veal shank of my dreams. Sweet and savory, mingled with softly caramelized onions, the deep tannins of wine, and the slightly salty taste of Cabreles cheese. It has an almost jamlike consistency, spreadable and pleasantly fatty on the pliant charred bread served alongside. For all the world, this is the Spanish version of pulled pork and Texas toast – indulgent, meaty, and totally satisfying.

Lechuga a la Brasa

We ordered this braised lettuce mostly as a lark. After all, who the heck eats braised LETTUCE? At a restaurant offering pork and foie gras nonetheless? Well, the joke was on my carnivorous friend ans myself. This is marvelous! Tender in some parts, crispy and charred at others, served with a sauce so garlicky that it would kill Dracula on the very spot. It is warm, slightly bitter, and surprisingly meaty  almost like bok choy, but with a decidedly Spanish kick. This is an absolute sleeper hit, and must be eaten to be understood.

Barraca isn’t cheap, but it isn’t priced out of its neighborhood or quality either. It is an upscale night out, great for a group of friends or a double date. It is delicious, the service is fantastic, and they actually managed to make me eat grilled lettuce.

Will wonders never cease?