California Dreamin: Lunch at Mendocino Farms

I recently accompanied my husband on a work trip to Southern California – my old stomping grounds! Though he couldn’t get over the right turns on red lights (yay!) or the lack of plastic bags in grocery stores (boo!), I managed to show him the fun side of LA in between meetings and talks. 

And by that, I mean the delicious side – like relative newcomer Mendocino Farms.

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This Beverly Hills location is unpretentious and casual – the idea is local, sustainable food offered at great prices in a fast/casual setting. You order from the hostess, pay at the counter, then find a seat and get your food in about 15 minutes.

This place is VERY Californian. The food is light and based on really fresh produce…

20140929_145017the soda is artisanal and free of artificial flavors and colors (though, ironically, is produced right in my own backyard),

20140929_145142And the outdoor seating area has picnic tables with benches covered in Astroturf. If you don’t like that, then you are missing out on life’s whimsy!

20140929_150001Chinese chicken salad

Is it just me or is it impossible to get a good Chinese chicken salad East of the Mississipi? I simply haven’t had one that compares to the ones out West, and this is no exception. Crunchy Napa cabbage, slivers of scallions and bean sprouts, crispy wontons, and tender roasted chicken breast all in a tangy sesame vinaigrette. The vinaigrette also has miso, which adds to the savory profile of the salad, anchoring it so it doesn’t seem too light for lunch. The vegetables are chopped so finely that you get a little bite of everything in each bite. The wonton strips are a little sparsely applied, but that could be because fried wontons are my kryptonite and I can never get enough.

20140929_150008Not so fried chicken

Next time, I would SO get this! That same roasted chicken rolled in rice cereal and put on a dense but not too crispy ciabatta bread with tangy mustard slaw, pickled onions, and herb aioli. It’s served with BBQ sauce on the side, but I prefer this au naturel. This hits all of my favorite points in a sandwich – hearty, vibrant, sour, crunchy, a little spicy, and properly saucy. The rice cereal is an inspired touch – it adds textural interest without taking over the other sandwich components. Don’t forget to ask for some mustard pickle remoulade on the side if you liek yours a little more wet – like I said, the BBQ sauce tends to overpower the sandwich, but the remoulade works better.

Mendocino Farms is the kind of place that I yearn for when I’m back in cold, dark NYC. I long for the airy, bright restaurant, with tons of space in between tables. I lament over the lack of well priced, inventive sandwich spots here that aren’t based on any cuisine, just amazing produce. I wish there was one of these here – I would eat here constantly.

At least we have plastic bags in Duane Reade.

New AA Business Class Dining Experience, Post Merger

I recently got to fly cross country on American Airlines. Usually, this wouldn’t be exciting new in and of itself, except that AA recently merged with US Airways. And the meal service subsequently changed, too. Which has quite a few AA  frequent fliers up in arms. Gone are the multiple course meals, gone are meals altogether on many medium haul flights. Many people think that this brings down the quality of American Airlines premium classes.

What did I think?

In a word…LOVED. I don’t know why, but this merger produced me with the finest meal that I have had on a domestic airline in years.

First off, let’s talk about the prosecco offered – it’s excellent. Bright but not acidic, tight bubbles, vaguely fruity aftertaste…it’s the ideal aperitif. To say nothing of the Tito’s Vodka on offer – a superior vodka that I serve at home all the time. Big, big fan of the liquor on hand.

20140926_202237Warm mixed nuts

Satisfactory as always – served in a different shaped dish, but the same old same old.
20140926_205412 Main meal (yes, all on one dish)

From the top left, going counterclockwise:

Asian shrimp and cucumber salad – surprisingly tasty! Thinly sliced cucumbers and onions in a tart and sweet rice wine vinegar dressing. It’s paired with some mild, snappy shrimp that is tastier than many shrimp I have had on international airlines.

Salad – the only downer of the meal. Fresh but utterly tasteless…where do you get corn that tastes like cardboard, anyway?

Filet of beef with mushroom sauce, sweet potatoes, and green beans – great! I mean the meat was really good! Not overly flavorful, but filet isn’t the most flavorful but of beef in any environment. What is impressive is that it was cooked medium rare and was quite tender. The sauce is overly salty but it’s not served on the steak, so it’s easy to avoid. The accompanying veggies are fine if not memorable.

Cheese roll  - um, it’s a warm cheese roll…is there anything wrong with that?

20140926_212305Ice cream sundae

Same as always, delish as always.

I thoroughly enjoyed the new AA dining experience. I loved that it was all served at once so I could chow down – I was starving and couldn’t have waited a moment longer than necessary for that bread. I had a great flight attendant and I loved the wine service as well. I’m no high end flier but so far, the merger hasn’t affected me for the worse.

Pass the prosecco and call me happy.

Work Trip Posting Mishap!

On a work trip and I thought the posting worked…how wrong I was!

See you tomorrow morning for a look at the new, post merger AA meal service!

Candied Apple Crescent Roll Challah for Rosh Hoshannah

I’m never going to be a master baker, okay?

The Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie will have to proceed without me next year.

But the problem is…I LOVE homemade bread. Just like Cher, I love to smell something baking in the house.

Alicia Silverstone Baking animated GIF

And this Rosh Hoshannah, I was determined to make it happen for my family.

In about an hour. With almost no ingredients in the house.

Lo and Behold…

Candied Apple Crescent Roll Challah

Ingredients:

1 tube crescent rolls

1/2 apple, diced into tiny pieces and mixed with a hefty hand of pumpkin pie spices and sugar.



IMG_1544 1. Take that crescent roll dough out of the package and smooth it into one thin rectangle. you want it as thin as possible – thinner than I made it – without the dough ripping. IMG_1547 2. Add the apples in a thin line all the way down the middle of the dough. You want a thin line so it doesn’t burst open too much as it bakes. Also be sure to extend it pretty far to the end of the dough, leaving just 1/4 of an inch or so naked without apples.

IMG_15523. Pinch the dough tightly around the apples to make a dumpling-like seam. Be sure to really push those edges together – they will burst apart as they cook  anyway, so take as much precaution as possible.
IMG_15584. Now coil that dough into a cute little snail.
IMG_15665. Bake for about 30 minutes, then cover with foil and cook for about 7 minutes more to prevent over browning.
IMG_15746. When the round is golden brown, serve immediately or wait and serve room temperature.

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This isn’t real challah – that wonderful, airy, eggy, brioche-like bread – but it’s a damn good substitute. It’s buttery and dense with a thin ribbon of soft, sugary apples. It’s delicious with butter or dunked into tsimis.

And it’s the sweetest possible to begin the new year.

L’Shana Tova 2014

L’Shana Tovah, y’all!

It’s a pretty big week for those of us who are Members of the Tribe, so I’m taking the day to spend with my family. I made some awesome food last night, but if I were making it tonight, I might make some…

Honey Mustard Roast Chicken

or some Brisket

with some Mashed Potato Souffle

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and maybe some Creamed Spinach, too.

See you tomorrow for more eats and treats.

That Time I Got to Go to The University Club

I went to a wedding the other night, and the bride knew that I was going to remark on the food.

I mean…how could I not? I’m not getting back in here anytime soon!

This shindig was held at The University Club…ultra fancy, ultra swanky – the kind of place that Jay Gatsby would risk hell and high water to frequent. It’s an immense building on 5th Avenue and the look is all dark wood, heavy tapestries, and gilded fixtures…you know the type.

I was SO glad that I put on deodorant…this isn’t the type of spot where stank will go undetected.

When we got upstairs to the ornate dining room, we were starving and I have to say that I didn’t know what to expect. Could a place this fancy and old school have food that would be appealing to the couples’ food savvy friends?

In a word – yup!

20140920_202337Mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes

This is as delicious as something that I would make at home, after carefully sniffing tomatoes at the farmers market and schlepping downtown to get tender mozzarella. This tastes like it was made by hand by someone who really cares about ingredients – who chose tart cherry tomatoes and sweet heirloom ones to compliment each other. Who dressed the room temperature mozzarella in a spicy olive oil and plenty of pepper. This is simple and delightful. The last of summer’s tomatoes to usher in the first of the new couple’s tomorrows.

Wow…when I am good, I am GOOD.
20140920_212800Rack of lamb au jus with wilted spinach and roasted potatoes

This lamb isn’t just wedding good…it’s RESTAURANT good! I don’t think it was the 2 martinis (because who DOESN’T love an open bar, amirite?), I think that it was just an excellently made plate. The lamb is medium rare -pink almost to the edges but not bloody or raw. It’s deep and robust, with peppery, rosemary scented jus that just cries out for those roasted potatoes. The lamb was really spectacular – I’m telling you that I couldn’t stop eating it.
20140920_222001Dessert buffet

The piece de resistance was the entirely gluten free dessert buffet. Creamy creme brulee, vibrant macarons, airy chocolate mousse, and more. As much as you wanted, all in tiny, bite size servings.

Actually, this whole meal was gluten free and prepared and presented so well that if I hadn’t known ahead of time, I wouldn’t have even guessed it. The pacing and service is excellent, the setting is stunning and the food is modern and delicious.

Unfortunately, you have to be a member to have your wedding there, but if you are or if you get invited there…I highly recommend dieting the week before. Because this is one wedding meal thta you will want to eat.

Off the Chain at Hillstone

I never think chain restaurants are going to be good. It’s that weird, uppity NYC thing of being a foodie in the age of locavoreism and popups. It’s stupid – sometimes places are just chains because they appeal to lots of people and make money. And why? Because they are delicious!

Case in point…Hillstone. Which used to be Houston’s. And in some places, still IS Houston’s…I think it has to do with those calorie counts that chains are required to print in their menus.

I had a very tasty lunch there. Expensive, but PERFECT for a business lunch or dinner. Oh yeah, and it’s the darkest restaurant in which I have ever dined.

20140917_142511Peruvian corn

Not the wonderfully plump, buttery, sweet kernels of corn that I expect when I read this on the menu, but tasty all the same. Somewhere between southwestern and Indian, it’s tossed with firm zucchini and spicy jalapenos in a buttery, cumin and coriander dusted glaze. It’s actually a great appetizer – grab that corn while you can, because pumpkin season approaches.
20140917_145052Ahi tuna salad with mangos, tomatoes, and avocado
20140917_145059 This is legit – too legit to quit, in fact. The ahi tuna is excellent quality – meaty in texture and mild in taste, crusted in a salty, slightly spicy rub that is complemented by scallions and tart ponzu sauce. The salad alongside is filled with sweet mangos and the butteriest avocado imaginable. It’s healthy but satisfying thanks to the myriad of flavors and textures. If you like Asian fusion – which I do – you will love this. 20140917_145121Fries

Shoestring. Hot, crispy, not too salty. Served with spicy mayo and standard ketchup. Just get them, already.

Please come here if budget isn’t an issue and you are on the Eastside. Or the middle fo the country. This is LEAGUES better than what I think of fast food as being. Service is great and so is food…don’t worry, I promise to still be snobby about most things.

Nighttime Brunch at Egg Shop

What’s a gal to do when the hottest brunch spot is not only way downtown and doesn’t take reservations, but also has a 2+ hour wait on weekends?

She has brunch for dinner, of course.

20140915_203241Egg Shop is the latest darling of the brunch world. It is – as it sounds –  a sweet, small, retrofitted eatery specializing in one thing: eggs. In bowls, on toast, and in every incarnation you can imagine. Though it’s supposedly bumper-to-bumper packed on the weekends, on a weekday night, it was positively deserted except for the pleasant waitstaff and enticing, tiny open kitchen.

20140915_204526 Egg salt and pepper shakers…come on…this is adorable.20140915_204609 Avocado toast with heirloom tomatoes and a poached egg

Thick, seeded toast smeared with buttery avocado and topped with sweet heirloom tomatoes and…

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a gorgeous poached egg. Tender whites, gooey yolk. Warm and comforting atop those juicy tomatoes and that lush avocado. This is so simple that you could make it at home…but you know you wouldn’t. I doused this with the homemade hot sauce and it was such a satisfying meal that I may just make it for myself tonight, after all.
20140915_204619Egg salad with fried chicken

The best fried chicken I have had in recent memory. I can’t tell you how good it is. Juicy with a thick, craggy crust and not too thick – perfect for eating between two slices of toast. The egg salad isn’t made with mayo but it’s still creamy and loaded with piquant, aggressive flavors like coriander, dill, and fresh herbs. It’s light and punchy instead of stodgy like egg salad often is.  It’s more of a spread, a backdrop, for that lovely fried chicken. This doesn’t need anything – not hot sauce, not mayo…nada. Just your mouth.

This place is kind of overpriced, but it was fun for a weeknight meal. The service is great and the food is delish. I would NEVER wait more than 20 minutes to eat here – 30 minutes max. But if I was int the neighborhood again, I would be happy to eat here again and try a Bloody Mary, too.

Long live evening brunch!

In and Around NYC This Weekend

After a week in the Berkshires here at Fritos and Foie, let’s wrap it up with a few awesome things to eat and do around NYC this weekend:

New York Bagel

House Trip NYC (IN ASSOCIATION WITH HOUSE TRIP)

This vacation rental site, popular in Europe, has created an NYC-centric food guide. I am featured with some of my fave restaurants and shopping tips, but more importantly, there are some other awesome foodies and bloggers featured – they have pointers that I have already taken to heart! The site is super user-friendly – there is an interactive map, a recipe section, and information separated into restaurants and local markets. Definitely check it out when you are deciding where to dine this weekend.

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North Festival by Honest Cooking

This festival is like a mini NYCWFF with classes, dinners, and other tasting events, all focused around Scandinavia. Though most of the events are over, you can still check out some cool events today and tonight. There’s a Danish dinner with wine pairings tonight and a special menu at Oceana with dishes like Norwegian fjord trout and grilled whole sterling halibut. If you are a seafood fiend like I am, one of these events might be up your alley!

Real Life Central Perk

I’m not a major Friends fiend, but even so, this is pretty cool. It is apparently a mini museum of the famous coffee joint where every girl who had a Rachel haircut yearned to lounge and drink lattes. There is a continuous loop of Friends episodes playing on the TV, original props like the big orange couch and gold espresso machine, and even free coffee on offer. This is mostly a gift shop with a small side of beverages, but I know that my sister will be parked there all weekend, so maybe that’s your thing,too.

And if you leave NYC…

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Do not get a Whopper on your road trip. They just aren’t as good as you remember.

Creative Crepes at The Starving Artist in the Berkshires

If you believe that you dine with your eyes as well as your mouth, I know exactly where to send you for a lazy Saturday morning breakfast in the Berkshires.

20140913_091839 The Starving Artist Cafe seems at first o be just a cute creperie on Lee’s main drag. You order at the counter then go to sit down at a small table or a window-side bench….20140913_091843 and then get to look at the gorgeous art gallery in which the cafe is housed. You like it, you can buy it! Sure beats seeing football on 3 screens in the local bar. 20140913_092800 Hot chocolate

Gargantuan, incredibly creamy, and none too sweet. Be sure to get it topped with the barely sweetened whipped cream, which only adds to the richness. This might put you into a food coma. It’s such a decadent way to start your vacay weekend. 20140913_093027Mexican crepe with scrambled local eggs, black beans, avocado, and scallions

Tasty, if lacking in the spice department.

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A really good counterpart to that hot chocolate. The crepe is crispy yet tender and chock full of scrambled eggs with melted cheese, soft avocado, and chewy black beans. Don’t skimp on the salsa, because the eggs aren’t spicy at all. But they are wholesome and delish.

20140913_093033Fruit cup

A good size, with delicious Asian pears and homemade granola. Win.

Loved this joint (though the espresso is dreadful). Fair prices, delicious food, and good service. Plus, decorations that can’t be beat.