Archives for June 2014

Goodbye to Greece

Before I wrap up my honeymoon recaps and move onward towards the wedding recap, here are a few bits and bobs:

20140430_092214 Welsh rarebit on a 3 hour flight

Because other countries rock and our domestic airlines are blah. The mushrooms are watery but the rarebit itself is surprisingly sharp and delicious.  20140430_171213 Frappes

All over Greece – like a super strong, espresso milkshake with pleasantly icy, crunchy bits. Nice! 20140502_151641 Magnum half ice cream sandwich/half ice cream bar

Um…yes. ’nuff said.  20140503_160608 A healthy lunch on the ferry to Santorini

People are obsessed with those mini bake rolls, but hey taste like flavorless bagel chips. Much better are the woodsy oregano flavored potato chips, and much MUCH better are the truly addictive paprika Pringles.  20140505_221026 Baklava and walnut cake

I can never get my fill of walnuts or honey.  20140507_102837 Huge pots of Greek yogurt

Just everywhere, ready to be mixed with homemade preserves.  20140507_132418 Peach liquor

At the coolest bar ever. It tastes like a  bellini but is much, MUCH stronger.

Can we go back tomorrow?

Puttin’ on The Ritz – Afternoon Tea Edition

So, you want to know what my number one favorite thing about Great Britain is?

It isn’t the royalty. It isn’t the respect for tradition. It isn’t the avant garde fashion.

It’s afternoon tea.

And nowhere…NOWHERE…have I had an afternoon tea experience like the one at The Ritz.

First, let’s get the cons out of the way.

1) You need to make reservations many months in advance. Think, as many as 8 months in advance. It books up that quickly

2) You only have 2 hours in which to enjoy your meal.

3) It’s expensive. Anniversary-40th birthday-once a year special treat expensive.

Now, the pros:

It’s the most beautiful, luxurious, over the top dining experience I have ever enjoyed. It makes Tocqueville look minimalist.

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Tea is served in this Palm Court, the original one that so puts the one at The Plaza to shame that it seems embarrassing that they should share a title. It’s all elegance and huge angel statues and live piano music and light and palm trees. Violet Crawley would be extremely at home here.

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It seems incredible that you will use each and every one of these pots and cups and creamers, but oh…you will.

20140508_132511 Not without a glass of champers first. Because what improves tiny tea sandwiches more than a crisp, icy glass of champagne? And don’t worry…it, like everything here, is bottomless.

That’s right…eat and drink until your pants burst open.

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Choose from any number of the exceptional teas on the menu. I recommend the passion fruit, which is one of the few teas that I can drink without totally gagging. It has a full, fruity taste with only a SLIGHT hint of hibiscus in the background. It’s also ostentatiously pink.

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Then it arrives…the glorious tea platter.

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Start with the sandwiches. Sharp cheddar and tangy chutney. Creamy egg salad with just a hint of bitter watercress. Freshly roasted turkey with rich mayonnaise and crunchy salt. Smoked salmon so mild and smooth at it fairly melts into the bread and long, thin slices of cucumber with dilled cream cheese.

I DARE you to order fewer than two more plates of these.

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Cakes and sweets

Peanut butter and chocolate macarons, a rich chocolate fudge cake, a rhubarb and cream sophisticated type of snowball, and a Napoleon to END all Napoleons. I mean Naploeon would have traded empress Josephine to taste half of this slice. The pastry is buttery and crisp but not too hard. It retains its texture between the layers of fluffy, airy vanilla custard. Some Napoleons are heavy and sodden with loose, lackluster cream, but this really does it right. The crowning touch is a thick, crackly layer of white icing – a sugary touch to an elegant dish.

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Oh yeah, you could make a meal out of these alone.

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But then, you would miss these. These lovely, buttery, flaky, soft, and creamy scones.

20140508_134601 Oh, you KNOW that I split those babies open and slathered them with fragrant strawberry jam and clotted cream so rich that it might actually BE Prince Harry.

20140508_141149 Don’t forget the sweet, moist marmalade cake or the sticky toffee pudding from the cake trolley. 
20140508_143548 And don’t forget, this stuff is all unlimited.  They keep bringing it until you cry uncle. They keep pouring and refreshing tea with white gloves and lovely British accents. They keep bringing warm scones and pots of clotted cream. And they don’t judge. no they don’t.

Trade in your car if you have to, to go to this tea. It – and the love handles it puts on you – will stay with you forever.

 Disclaimer: This tea was compliments of the Press team. I was not required to write about it, and my opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Sandwiches – America’s Pride and Joy

Quick break to say…Hi!!! I may be recapping Europe, but I am back in the good ole US of A and am indulging in what we do best:

Sandwiches. 

(and a couple of tacos)

Here is what I have been enjoying lately:

image (1) Al pastor tacos from Taqueria Diana

This East Village isn’t more than a  hole in the wall and the tacos cost less than $5 per, but they are delicious. Greasy and messy in the best way possible. The pork is slowly roasted on a spit with pineapple, then diced into sweet, salty, juicy hunks that fall apart if you look at them the wrong way. Get yours with some of the vibrant, cilantro-y guacamole and you won’t regret it. It’s not as spicy as I could take it, but nothing is, and this is as good sober as it is drunk – NOT true of all tacos!
image (2) Green chile mac and sliders from Mexicue

This Mad Square Eats spot was win and lose. The green chile mac is insipid and lacking in both real chile bite and sharp cheddary tang. The sandwiches, however, were great! The pulled chicken slider with cheese and pickles is juicy and bright with a vinegary, bright BBQ sauce. The brisket burnt ends chili is PHENOMENAL! Burnt ends are those wonderfully charred bits of meat and fat that get incinerated when a large brisket is cooked. They are only improved by the addition of a chipotle-rich sauce, horseradish crema, and some pickled jalapenos. Slap it all on a soft potato bun and y’all are in business.  image (3) Pomme Palais roast beef sandwich

Because trust fund babies want to eat well, too. This isn’t insanely expensive – it’s what you might be spending at a casual sit down place in the East Village, but the shop is cute enough to eat in and the sandwiches are GOOD. The roast beef is juicy and tastes like a great steak sandwich. It sits on bread that is floury and substantial enough to house the nutty Gruyere and horseradish mayo, but still tears apart easily. This is filling but not heavy – I work for the place, but I have gone back here and paid full price to eat it more than once.

image Fish tacos at El Toro Blanco

Shi-shi but really delish. Mild, flaky cod inside a puffy, crispy beer batter. It’s served in warmed flour tortillas with radishes, buttery avocado, and just a smidge of jalapeno aioli. So many places bury their delicious fish under mountains of goopy sauces – not necessary when the ingredients are so fresh and tasty. A squirt of lime is all that’s needed to complete this plate.

Puttin’ on the Ritz – Breakfast Edition

British breakfast is my second favorite part about England. These people really know how to eat. This is not a fruit salad and protein shake kind of country.

This is a country that eats breakfast, then conquers the world with cult rock music, okay?

And you can’t get a finer breakfast than at The Ritz Hotel.

This isn’t the Ritz-Carlton – don’t get it twisted. This is the sister of The Ritz in Paris, opened by Caesar Ritz himself. It has been around since the early 1900s and DRIPS Parisian opulence and beauty.

20140509_100207 The room is as plush and over the top as you might hope it is. It really is…pardon my corniness…ritzy. You see where there adjective  came from. Everything is covered in velvet and plated in gold.

DSC_1162 There is a rotunda painted with angels circling chandeliers held up with wreathes of roses.
20140509_100213 The butter is stamped with the regal R insignia.

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There are 2 kinds of SALT, for Pete’s sake! Finely ground if you are a ninny, and those large, flaky pyramids for those of us who know how to live.

Don’t wear jeans here, gentlemen. Brush that hair, ladies. You are served by an impeccable wait staff in morning coats who assure you that it is their pleasure to pick the pulp out of your freshly squeezed orange juice by hand so you don’t choke.

They are so convincing that I almost believe them.

The food is, thankfully, just as enjoyable as the atmosphere.

20140509_101028 What, you don’t like duck, quail, and hen eggs at your morning breakfast buffet?
20140509_101228 Oh, don’t worry, every entree comes with the buffet. WITH the buffet. That means that you can load up on genuine Scottish smoked salmon, figs from Jordan, and… 20140510_090726 yogurt so sweet and creamy that it might as well be called melted ice cream. You know, before your main course.  20140510_090900 And what a main course it is. Skip the pancakes and the bony and very fishy kippers, and go straight for the gold – The English Breakfast. Get it with black pudding that is so creamy and minerally-rich that you may stave off iron deficiency for life even if you become a vegan by lunch. The bacon is the fatty stuff that the Brits love, and the Cumberland sausage is fragrant with cloves and black pepper. The egg is poached beautifully, with a runny yolk and firm whites, or get it them scrambled to pale yellow, buttery bliss. Don’t forget that oven roasted tomato, sweet and juicy atop a meaty portobello mushroom.

Um, yeah…these people know breakfast. How to serve it, how to present it, and most of all – how to cook it.

This is an insanely expensive treat and though I couldn’t’ do it every day, it is a gift to myself that I will cherish forever.

Or at least until my heart explodes from eating all of that saturated fat before 10 AM.

Amaya – Tandoori Foie Gras is Just the Beginning

I think that you probably remember my love affair with London. If you don’t, then go check out those posts. I am now, and always, an Anglophile.

And I still LOVE Indian food in London. The stuff here – with the exception, perhaps, of Junoon – can’t even compare. Which is why I was so excited that, almost 4 years after my first visit there, I was finally able to get pictures of my meal at the Michelin starred, very fabulous, usually photography barring restaurant, Amaya.

20140508_202510 Amaya is still as bustling and busy as ever. It’s chic but not too precious – you can tell from the incredible aroma that people might come here to be seen but they stay to eat. This is a great date place or a spot for a night out with friends. 
20140508_203152 If you have to wait at the small bar for a few minutes, don’t think of it as the restaurant running late. Think of it as your opportunity to try one of the excellent cocktails from the wine and cocktail list. Go for the orange juice, prosecco, and gin concoction for something a little sweet and very refreshing.
20140508_203201-001 Or, order the absinthe lassi for a more savory, tangy drink that not only calms the stomach but actually increases your appetite. If you don’t like the faintly licorice-y taste of absinthe, ask for it to be made with gin. 
20140508_204614-001 The restaurant specializes in food cooked over an open grill – the kitchen is enormous and open air, and you can see tandoori ovens cooking chewy naan bread, sautee pans filled with fragrant sauces, and the grill cooking giant, sweet shrimp from Madagascar, lamb from Scotland, and any number of vegetables. It’s dinner theater with a twist – you get to taste the final product instead of being treated to a stirring rendition of “The Music Man” while dining on dry prime rib. 
20140508_205459-001 Chutney sampler

Oh, please get this. Smoky tomato chutney, traditional tangy mango chutney, diced peanuts, and a thin, hot tamarind chutney improve most things in life, but especially this intricately spiced food. The peanuts are a truly inspired touch – nutty, a little sweet, and pleasantly grainy for a textural contrast.  20140508_210625 Charbroiled oyster with coconut cream sauce

Be still my heart. One of my favorite oyster preparations on the face of the planet. Small, plump, and sweet. Covered in tasted panko with a touch of bright citrus zest. Served in a pool of rich coconut cream with a slight hit of curry. It’s unexpected and totally addictive – Thai coconut mussels gone upscale and even more mild. I could eat 1,000 of these
20140508_211218-001 Coconut crusted sea bass

Also tasty, but not the best dish of the night. It’s mild and flaky, infused with the light flavor of coconut and covered in crunchy coconut shreds with a hint of red pepper, but it doesn’t stand out. It’s hard to stand out in a crowd of this caliber.

20140508_211332-001 Pomegranate and rose raita

Delicious – and this is coming from someone who usually avoids rose flavored things like the plague. To me, rose is a keyword for “tastes like swallowing a bottle of perfume,” but these roses are purely ornamental – I couldn’t detect any rose taste at all. The pomegranate adds bursts of tart, juicy flavor to the thick, cooling yogurt. A must get, especially for the abundance of spicy dishes to follow.
20140508_211440-001 Tandoori foie gras

The most sensational dish of the night. One of the most sensational foie gras dishes ever. (Do I say that every time?) This is really something else. It’s foie covered in aromatic spices like coriander and ginger, and then flash seared until the outside is sticky and caramelized and the inside absolutely melts. It actually has to be eaten with a spoon, that is how fatty and lush it is.  20140508_212126 Tandoori broccoli

This ain’t yo mama’s broccoli. This broccoli is seared in a blazing tandoori until it is BARELY tender at the stalk and incinerated to a crunchy, salty golden brown at the top of the floret. It’s served with a creamy yogurt sauce that has a vaguely tahini-esque nuttiness. It’s so good that it’s barely vegetarian.

Oh yes, I went there. Don’t miss this. 
20140508_212342 Grilled quail

Perfect. The meat is JUST medium, with a hint of pinkness that leaves it juicy and savory without being too gamy. It’s almost sweet, like lamb, and tastes much more like meat than poultry. It’s split for you, so you can pick up the tiny pieces with your hand and eat the crunchy, burnished skin that is laquered with a sweet glaze. Don’t forget to drag it through the accompanying dots of fragrant cilantro and spicy chile sauces. This is awesome. 

This restaurant is just dreamy. The food focuses on fresh ingredients and careful spicing – don’t expect over seasoned, greasy food at this joint. The food couldn’t be better in any way and neither could the service. It’s prompt and informed but still friendly, and the manager himself came over to every single table to ask what diners enjoyed and what could be improved upon. Wow…now THAT is attention to detail. This meal is absolutely expensive, but you don’t feel fleeced. Really, you get what you pay for at Amaya.

It’s my favorite Indian food in one of my favorite cities. 

Fernandez and Wells – A Lunchtime Bummer

Before I get to the wonderful parts about London, let me cover the only ho-hum part:

Lunch at Fernandez and Wells.

I had heard so much about this mini Spanish chain. I wanted to love it. I even wanted to like it.

But, in this brand new branch, open only a day before we went, the service was so abysmal that I would avoid this entire enterprise like the plague.

I know, I know. They just opened, they are working out kinks. I know that. But in a chain this highly renowned, they should know to stock the bar before opening. They should know to employ people who can chill a beer glass before serving.

And two hungry people should be able to eat a sandwich in under 90 minutes.  20140509_145726 I mean, the space was so new that we could eat off the floor. Trust me, after sitting there for 70 minutes with warm beers (our third choice since the bar was so poorly stocked), we would have been thrilled to have found a crust of bread on the floor and eaten it. 20140509_152601 Cheese and meat platter

Good, if uninspired. The Iberico ham is sliced thickly so the meat has somehow, unlike the paper-thin slices to which I am accustomed. I like this thicker cut – it had a chew like a steak and the fat melted delicately on the tongue. The cheeses are sharp and salty, and the salami has a welcome, peppery bite.
20140509_152708 Little tartines on the toasted, olive oiled bread are the kind of teatime sandwich I can get into.
20140509_152856 Black pudding with egg mayonnaise on a baguette

Fatty and creamy and sinful and delicious. When the Brits say egg mayonnaise, they don’t mean hardboiled eggs with some mayo – they mean egg salad. And this egg salad is legit. It’s so creamy, with just a touch of piquant mustard and salt to bring out the rich flavor.
20140509_153038 The black pudding is crispy and light, with a slight minerality. It reminds me of scrapple, and echos the crunchy crust of the baguette. This is a sandwich that I could eat again and again.

If only I had that much time. Look, for the prices and the amount of food, the service was just horrible. Nice, but absentminded and SO SLOW. No glass of wine to apologize for the wait. No side salad with the sandwich. No nuthin! So, I shan’t be returning to this Denmark Street address. 20140509_155828 Just something I saw in a music store that’s too good to keep to myself.

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming…

For a technical error. Involving cobblestones, a Droid phone, and probably a large amount of Xanax.

Back on Monday with more delicious honeymoon eats.

Eating Like a Local – That’s Right, Fast Food

So, the last night in Athens…I let my new husband have his fantasy.

And no, it didn’t involve a Grecian house of ill repute – I’m not THAT great a wife!

It involved this:

20140507_201729 Yep, I let him try all the fast food his heart desired while we sat on our balcony and watched the sun set over the Acropolis. It was all from McDonald’s and some place called Everest that seems to specialize in puff pastry. 
20140507_201749 Buttery puff pastry and creamy, mild soft cheese from Naxos. 
20140507_201805 Crispy puff pastry with salty feta, sweet onions, and spinach – a spanikopita pie. 
20140507_201852 Flaky puff pastry with a hot dog inside. 

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Cheesy, fluffy bread topped with thinly sliced jambon de Paris (like prosciutto), bechamel, and more cheese. Golden brown, creamy, crunchy, and addictive. 

20140507_201909 Don’t even ask.  20140507_201937 I ate the whole thing. It was seasoned with oregano, covered in creamy tzatziki, and wrapped in a warm, fluffy pita. I’m only HUMAN, you guys. 
20140507_202409 Where else could you get salad dressing from McDonalds that includes genuine aged balsamic vinegar from Italy?

This isn’t a meal to be proud of. But as we sat munching our guilty pleasures, listening to jazz from the ipod and watching the Parthenon light up for the night, we couldn’t have felt more Athenian if we tried. 

 

Fly me to the (Honey)Moon

It’s not all about tzatziki and wine.

Sometimes it’s about flying there.

And, of course, eating while getting there.

So, without further ado, here is a pictorial breakdown of British Air business class’s  menu:

20140429_090227 Charcuterie plate with hardboiled eggs, meats, and cheeses

Tasty for an airplane but not for a restaurant. The meat is a little dry and the bread is a little cottony. However, the hardboiled eggs have velvety whites and rich yolks – fantastic.  20140429_090232 Muesli

This stuff is good. It’s like rice pudding with a creamy consistency and vanilla-y scent. It’s overtly sweet and has a very simple, comforting way about it – perfect when ou are settling in for a  6 hour flight.  20140429_092245 Smoked duck and beetroot salad

The duck is WAY too smoky – it tastes like someone dipped it in cigarette ash. Too bad, because the frisee is dressed with a little lemon juice and the beet salad is creamy and tangy – totally delicious. The duck is tender but that insanely smoky taste just ruined it for me. Luckily, the vegetables are delicious all on their own.  20140429_094011 Roses in the bathroom

Because, hi…honeymoon! 20140429_122051 Serve yourself afternoon tea from the pantry

Those little sandwiches are filled with sharp cheddar (as Nigella might say, it nearly scrapes the roof of your mouth) with a spreading of sweet onion chutney. Cheddar and chutney is a classic British treat and I wish that we ate it more here…it’s filling, multifaceted, and easy to make. The chips sound gross but are totally delicious. They don’t taste like chicken, they taste like chicken seasonings. Imagine baked potatoes with thyme, rosemary, black pepper, and garlic. That is what these chips taste like and they are great.  20140429_133533 Pre-arrival snack

Balik salmon – my fave in the world. It’s cured very gently and is fatty without seeming over the top or greasy. It’s so rich and soft that it ACTUALLY melts in your mouth. Creme fraiche is a little over the top, but that’s never a bad thing. The mozzarella is soft and drizzled with olive oil and the Serrano ham is excellent – pleasantly salty and wrapped around a sweet date. The shrimp in the back is anyone’s guess – I didn’t try it.

Plane food isn’t often amazing, but this stuff more than did the job before I fully committed myself to gaining 11 lbs in as many days.

Kleftiko at the Plaka

The Plaka is Athens oldest neighborhood. It is centrally located, at the base of the Acropolis, and is a collection of touristy shops and restaurants. It reminds me of Little Italy, but not in the way that New Yorkers think of Little Italy; the way that everyone else thinks of Little Italy. A cute place with fun restaurants and the opportunity to get dressed up in traditional garb and take an old timey photo.

Okay, maybe I made up that last part, but it does have some very cute restaurants. They are super touristy and probably all use the same kitchen that just runs under the length of the neighborhood, but what do I care?

20140507_122834 Adrianos Restaurant couldn’t be cuter or more touristy if it tried. Every menu is printed in about 5 languages, there is everything from souvlaki to hamburgers, and the courtyard is shaded with large umbrellas and lovely greenery. It’s relaxing but looks onto the bustling Plaka, for a bit of dinner theatre as you dine. Word to the wise – learn the Greek word for no (o-hee) for when the women selling roses, pashminas, and other things made in China come around to your table.
20140507_124345 Grilled halloumi and vegetables

Why is the cheese so lovely here? Even at this restaurant where no Greek person would be caught dead, the cheese is mild and bouncy, with a salty crust taht pairs well with the sweet grilled zucchini and eggplant. It’s ideal with the accompanying olive oil and tangy balsamic vinegar. This could be a meal in and of itself.
20140507_124349 Tzatziki

But then you would miss out on this. Yeah, the tzatziki really does just get better and better in this country. This is the only time on the vacation that we cound the portion to be a bit paltry, but what can ya do? It’s thick and rich; loaded with shredded cucumbers and spicy garlic. The dill is quite restrained but there is plenty of cracked pepper. What do you want from me, I just love this stuff.  20140507_130018 Gyros

Avoid at all costs. Dry, rubbery, and tasteless. Though, to be fair, if you order a gyro at a sit down restaurant instead of from a little stand where you can see the meat roasted on a spit, you get what you deserve.  20140507_130022 Kleftiko

This lamb and veggies dish is one of my favorite things I ate during the entire honeymoon. Kleftiko is a dish that was invented by (according at least one story) Greek rebels during an Ottoman invasion. The rebels would cook lamb in a pit far below the earth so that the invading armies couldn’t see  smoke escaping, thus exposing the hiding spot. It’s DELICIOUS. My husband said that it looked like it came out of a garbage can. Then he promptly stole all of it.  20140507_130100 The meat is incredibly tender and pulls cleanly away from the bone. It’s dripping in fatty, rich, lamby juices and the edges are crunchy and caramelized. The carrots are wonderfully sweet all on their own and the potatoes absorb those meaty flavors. It’s savory, filling, and wonderfully hearty. I could eat this until my pants wouldn’t button.

Adrianos isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it was a cheap and tasty lunch. The service was insanely slow – so be aware! However, it’s Greece. And I think that any restaurant in the Plaka would do the same for lunch.

So, Athens had some good food, but not the best.

Luckily, London was right around the corner.