Cherche Midi – Paris on The Bowery

I love a French bistro. Did y’all know that?

I love the elegance of formally dressed servers. I love the comfort of a basket of freshly baked, floury baguette on the table. I love the clatter of silverware, the hushed gossip at cozy booths, and the soft glow of tableside lamps or ancient crystal chandeliers.

Most of all, I love the food.

So, could I possibly love an updated version of all this at Keith McNally’s chic downtown eatery, Cherche Midi?

20141124_174640 The restaurant’s interior is totally charming, if a little overheated on a recent unseasonably warm autumn evening. The feel is casual but still special enough to be a birthday meal. The cocktail list is well curated, the wines by the glass are fairly priced, and the service is far more attentive than it actually is in Paris.  20141124_183449 The bread brought to each table is pitch perfect. There are slightly sour slices, small, light loaves, and a ramekin of creamy sweet butter that is soft enough to spread with ease. It’s a simple but effective first taste of the restaurant that says “relax and order that bottle of rose….it’s going to be a great night.”  20141124_183707 Anchovy toasts with Parmesan dip

A bam-pow-punch of flavor! This is strong, salty, and a little fishy – if you aren’t into anchovy, you won’t like these toasts. However, if you are, then you will love these buttery, toasty soldiers that are laden with pungent anchovies and verdant herbs. Though they are outstanding with the accompanying dip, you might still like this dish, just using the plain bread as a dipper instead of the toasts. The dip is all things lovely. Soft, smooth, nutty, creamy, and savory. It’s a cross between gently scrambled eggs and a savory creme brulee. Try though you might, you will NOT be able to resist swiping your finger along the inside of the vessel to get every last morsel of this molten cheese wonder. This is the signature appetizer and with good reason.  20141124_185949 Steak tartare

A classic done classically well. Hand chopped beef that is tender but not mushy, mixed with diced shallots, capers, and a hint of spicy mustard. It’s creamy but not goopy, so the egg yolk must be applied judiciously. I did miss some more Tabasco sauce and wish that this was offered in an entree size - the appetizer size is too small for an entree size for even the tiniest of appetites.

20141124_190009 The accompanying salad is lovely – bright and well dressed, a great foil for the rich meat. However, some crispy, salty French fries wouldnt be amiss.

20141124_175234 Cherche Midi is adorable. It isn’t a great deal, but it’s what you expect to pay for a lovely meal in a trendy part of town.The food is delicious, the service is great, and the vibe is just what you crave.

It’s  a little bit of Paris right on the Bowery.

Cherche Midi on Urbanspoon

Quinoa Salad and the Secret to Great Cookies

To get straight to the point:

20141130_085812 Eggs Norwegian at Landmarc

Where else can you get a high end breakfast at 8 am? Silky salmon, lemony hollandaise, and some of the greatest hash browns in town – they are crispy-soft, buttery and well salted. Don’t miss the very tasty, coarsely ground pork sausage. It’s robust and juicy – more like full on burger than an anemic sausage.
20141201_124639 Quinoa salad at Spring Natural Kitchen

So tasty and wholesome that it tastes like something that I would make myself. I can’t give any higher praise. This is something that tastes like it was made with care and love. Crunchy cabbage, toasted cashews, chewy quinoa, and a bright, acidic vinaigrette. This is feel good food that fills you without weighing you down – I can’t imagine a better lunch option.

20141128_152831 The world’s greatest cookies

They are just the plain old recipe on the back of the box, with COPIOUS AMOUNTS of Reese’s Pieces and M&Ms added. I mean copious. Pretend that you are a toddler who adds cookie ingredients with abandon. Because that’s how glorious accidents happen…adults hand over the reins and toddlers add WAY too much candy. Or, you know, just enough to keep the dough moist and tender, making the ideal soft, barely under baked cookies that are chewy, chocolatey, and irresistible. 

Phoebe would be so proud:

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Cha Pa’s – Vietnamese in the Theater District

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I hit up Cha Pa’s because I was in that part of town. And, of course, because I love Vietnamese food. When I lived in Tucson, there was the BEST pho restaurant  - Pho 88. I spent many happy calories there. Sadly, I have been less lucky with pho here in The Big Apple. So, I headed to Cha Pa’s to see if I could get my fix. 
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The restaurant is tiny and casual – come here in jeans and a t-shirt and you will feel totally at home.  20141122_182808 Spring rolls

Lovely! Crispy and light, but filled with a dense mixture of cabbage, beanthread noodles, and ground pork. Dipped in a light, citrusy-sweet sauce, it’s just what you want when you crave spring rolls. They are fragrant, well-balanced, and addictive.
20141122_183101 Vietnamese coffee soda

Like a coffee flavored egg cream. Not my style, but if you like egg creams and coffee, this will be right up your alley! Sweet, creamy, and lightly fizzy!
20141122_183540 Shaking Steak

WOW! I have never had shaking steak before, but this is outstanding! Flank steak that is so tender that it might as well be filet mignon. It’s coated in some sort of VERY light, crispy coating and then dressed in a sweet and salty glaze. It’s served over wilted watercress and pickled onions, which add dimensions of bitterness and tang. The steak is SO tender that you can cut it simply with your teeth. It’s sticky sweet, beefy, and very rich. I would eat this again tomorrow and simply have to try making it at home.

Cha Pa’s isn’t too expensive and I love the food. However, the service is abysmal and my co-diners were less than pleased with their entrees. So, I would come here if you are in the hood and the lunch specials are cheap. Or I would order in in my pajamas.

And I’m still searching for the pho of my dreams here in NYC.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For all my American readers, Happy Thanksgiving!

For all of my readers from other countries, Happy Thursday!

And for everyone who works on a holiday when most people get off – thank you so much. Thank you for keeping our hospitals, our fire stations, our grocery stores, and so many other parts of society running while many of us enjoy time with friends and family.

Much love and thanks to all of you for keeping my blog alive :)

See y’all next week!

Drunken Monkey – Cramped but Craveworthy

Let’s be very clear about something:

I love Indian food. All kinds of Indian food. Mild, spicy, Northern, Southern, pork vindaloo and vegan channa masala.

So if the restaurant is Indian, I am predisposed to like it.

Spoiler alert – I had a blast at Drunken Monkey.

Make a reservation, leave your bulky coat at home, don’t expect fast service, and anticipate being crammed in like sardines.

If it sounds like I didn’t enjoy my experience, than I have mislead you…because I had a great time. 

20141121_193657 The restaurant is minuscule and it’s really more of a bar with food than vice versa. It is REALLY small…cramped…a wee bit uncomfortable, even.

But also really fun. Loud. Boisterous. Buzzy and filled with laughter and intoxicating aromas wafting out from the kitchen.  20141121_193700 It’s a great spot to jump start the weekend.
20141121_200109 Army and Navy

This craft cocktail bar earns its stripes with this one gin based libation alone. It’s almost like a lemony Creamsicle cocktail. Light, creamy, citrusy, and sweet. I could drink it for dessert, but it works as an aperitif as well. I drank 2 of them over the course of the night and though I couldn’t detect the taste of alcohol, they didn’t skimp on it at all. Just ask my ‘hair of the dog’ Saturday morning Bloody Marys.
20141121_204138 Batata sev puri

You either love or hate these hollow crackers filled with tamarind water, chickpeas, and other ingredients. I love them – these aren’t spicy enough but they are sweet with the tamarind water and fragrant with cilantro. Pop them into your mouth all ant once and quickly, before they get soggy. The whole point here is to savor the difference in textures and temperatures – it’s ruined if you don’t eat it quickly.  20141121_204539 Tandoori chicken

The finest I have had outside of merry olde London town. It arrives in juicy, sizzling hunks on a plate hot enough to blister your skin on contact. It’s so incredibly tender and juicy that it seems to be dark meat, but it’s white – clean flavored with a charred, crispy outside. Dip it in the sweet and spicy sauces alongside for some of the best chicken you are likely to enjoy anywhere in the vicinity.  20141121_204801 Mutton kebabs

Hold the line, these are sublime. Coarsely ground sausages that are flavored with all of the best Indian flavors – fragrant coriander, smoky cumin, spicy garlic, and sweet onions. They are juicy and almost sticky on the outside with the mutton’s own fat. It’s earthy but not gamy – just like a very deep, complex lamb. This was my favorite dish of the night.  20141121_211525 Butter chicken

This is one of my favorite dishes of all time. Murgh makhani is where it’s AT. This is mild, creamy, and a little sweet - a great dish with which to introduce someone to Indian food. A creamy tomato sauce infused with garlic, cumin, and onions with soft, juicy pieces of chicken. The sauce is addictive, perfect to spoon over the basmati rice and warm, puffy naan served alongside.

The whole experience is rather intoxicating. It’s not relaxing, the service is SLOWWWW (though the servers are great, they are just always slammed), and dinner is pretty pricey. But it’s fun, the drinks are wonderful, and the food is delicious.

What more could you want on a Friday night?

Rutt’s Hut – The Hot Dog That is My Exception

I have always preferred hamburgers to hot dogs.

That’s just the kind of gal I am.

However, there is an exception to every rule.

And my exception…the one place where I would rather have a hot dog than a hamburger anywhere else on earth…

20141122_122307 is Rutt’s Hut. This hot dog stand and restaurant in Clifton, New Jersey is a schlep from wherever you are. It’s off the highway and though it’s hard to miss, thanks to its tall, iconic signage, it doesn’t seem like a destination-worthy eatery.

It, like, totally is.
20141122_122420 One part of the restaurant is a counter where you walk in, give your order, stand and eat, then leave. I actually love eating here because it feels so grimy and authentic – I have, on more than one occasion, seen an older man wearing a diamond pinky ring, come in with his young chauffeur and eat 2 rippers (hot dogs, fried until they burst) without getting so much as a mustard stain on his Armani suit, then walking out to conduct his business for the day.  20141122_123019 Of course, I also love sitting in what can only be described as an Elks lodge, totally preserved from the time that it was built in 1928. Carved wooden panelling, flourescent lighting, kids having parties in the back room and grandparents out for their Sunday lunches in the main room.  20141122_125538 Hot dog platter

Now these are the rippers. You can order them cremated, when they are fried until their skin is blackened and the meat is shriveled, but I like them standard. They are…so, so good. I don’t know if they are beef or pork. I don’t know if they are uncased or have vegetarian casing. I don’t know who supplies them or how many spices are in them. All I know is that they are  delicious. Crispy on the outside and so soft and juicy on the inside. Meaty and a little sweet and a little spicy and a little savory.

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Slather it with spicy mustard and their signature relish and enter heaven. The relish is tart, tangy, and must have some turmeric in there somewhere – it’s so yellow! The bun isn’t toasted (my least fave part of the hot dog – give me a warm and toasted bun any day of the week), but it’s still a class act wiener.

To say nothing of the absolutely ethereal creamy potato salad served on the platter. Doused, of course, with more of that piquant relish.

20141122_125546 Fries and Onion Rings

Get the fries with cheese, but skip the salty gravy. Get the onion rings because they are perfect. Shatteringly thin, crispy breading on sweet, caramelized onion strands. I prefer them with ketchup but more of that cheese wouldn’t be awry either.

Rutt’s Hut is the real deal. It’s just a cheapo, grimy hot dog joint with questionable service and a middle of nowhere location, but it’s heaven to hot dog lovers. Get yourself a ripper and an order of onion rings and spend your afternoon in culinary bliss.

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Yes, Rutt’s Hut. Yes, you are.

Melt Shop – More Than Just an After-Tot

Sometimes, you want a good grilled cheese.

And other times, you want to go to a grilled cheese restaurant after you have already eaten dinner and indulge in some tater tots.

I didn’t plan on it, it was a total after-tot…get it?

I know, my dad humor is wasted on you foodies.

I went to Melt Shop after dinner but before seeing the inimitable Aaron Lazar in “The Last Ship” especially for these:

20141122_191416 Loaded tots

Do you see anything wrong with this photograph? Because if you do, you should probably find a different blog – this one just ain’t for you. These are decadence personified – Yeah, Amurrica! Crispy tater tots positively LOADED with creamy cheese sauce, crunchy bacon, slightly spicy pickled jalapenos, and a generous shower of garlicky Parmesan cheese. This is too much and yet just enough. It’s over the top and low end. It’s crispy bacon and salty parmesan cheese. It’s wonderfully rich nacho cheese and tart, none-too-limp jalapenos. It’s just about perfect.

20141122_191307 Heath Bar crunch and Nutella-fluff milkshakes

As if you couldn’t guess…these are also exemplary. The Nutella-fluff is almost intimidatingly sweet, with ribbons of smooth Nutella and the sugary, sticky backnote of marshmallow fluff – only serious sweet tooths need apply to this one. The Heath Bar crunch is more my style – floral vanilla milkshake studded with chocolatey, crunchy bits of Heath Bars. Both shakes are thick but still sippable, which I like – I hate a milkshake that is too thick to sip with a straw. 

I have to go back for the sandwiches, I know this. But for quick counter service, a friendly and clean dining room, and a location literally at Broadway’s doorstep…you can’t do better than Melt Shop for a delicious snack.

Don’t make it just an after-tot. 

It’s Almost Thanksgiving…

…so of course I’m thinking about how to best cope with most of my extended family in my house at the same time, while a turkey that nobody likes dries to sawdusty ash in the oven, and my sister Instagrams fun pictures from her festive and stress-free “friendsgiving” out of state.

That’s right, I’m thinking alcohol. Bloody Marys, to be exact, because they ae appropriate to drink at any time of day, ESPECIALLY before noon.

Which is especially when I’ll need that little helper.

Of course, you might want to eat while you drink. In that case, check out my latest article for Chow.com.

Or just indulge in a glass or 6 of the real stuff.

Happy weekend!

Charming Charleston – One Fabulous Dinner at Husk

It’s been a long time since an American focused fancy restaurant has really wowed me. Maybe that’s because I generally prefer the assertive tastes and spices of Southeast Asian cuisine. Maybe it’s because if I have a special occasion meal, I want the pomp and circumstance that French restaurants offer. Maybe it’s because I have been known to eat a slow cooker full of meat and cheese dip on Superbowl Sunday.

Whatever the reason, I just don’t usually get fine dining American restaurants.

But then, I don’t usually get to eat at Husk.

Sean Brock’s restaurants have earned him cookbook deals, James Beard Awards, and the respect of the entire country – it’s easy to see why. Husk prides itself on being an entirely Southern restaurant. As in, everything that you eat has originated in the South and will be prepared in traditional Southern ways, with a few fusion and high end touches thrown in for good measure.

20141115_203652 The board that shows where the products come from each day. Pork, beef, fish, kale, sesame seeds…every damn thing comes from the South. It takes locavorism to a whole new level.
20141115_211738 Though this restaurant is widely regarded as one of Charleston’s best, but it isn’t at all stuffy. You want to wear a collared shirt or a cocktail dress, but you are greeted warmly and practically expected to pick up chicken bones with your fingers to be sure to get every succulent morsel. This place is perfect for a night out with real foodie friends.  20141115_214302 Benne seed rolls and pork butter

Sesame seeds are widely used in Charleston’s cuisine and are called benne seeds, from the African word for sesame seeds. The rolls are warm and fluffy – a little sweet and cottony for my tastes, but he butter absolves these of any evils. Pork butter. Sweet, savory, and a little salty. It compliments the slight nuttiness of the seed-topped bread and as it melts in yellow rivulets onto the rolls, it brings bread to a new level. Great way to start the night.

20141115_214753 Kentuckyaki Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps, Napa Cabbage and Shiitake “Slaw” with Toasted Peanuts, Cucumber-Lime Dressing

The best pig’s ears I have ever had – and I love pig ears. These were highly recommended by our gregarious server, and he was dead on. These put bacon to SHAME – they are so crispy, so crunchy, but not too hard or stiff to easily bite. They are infused with barnyard, porky flavor that is intense and complex – to me, it tastes almost like boar in its flavor. Not gamy, just deep. They are tossed in a sweet and salty Asian bbq style sauce. The ears are topped with a crunchy, tart slaw and wrapped in sweet butter lettuce leaves. This is an excellent balance of flavors and textures, using an ingredient that we don’t see too much up here in NYC. It’s also the restaurant’s philosophy in a single bite. Local ingredients, traditional techniques, fusion and high end flavors. Fantastic. I almost ordered another one of these for dessert.  20141115_214806 Wood Fired Clams, Sweet Corn “Chowder,” Hot Sauce with Herbed Chicken Fat, Mustard Greens and Crispy Chicken Skins

Finally, Jewish comfort food and Southern comfort food united in all of their savory glories. This is talk stoppingly delicious. Corn chowder is sweet and rich, but not at all greasy – it’s just rich with the corn milk and probably some butter. The clams are juicy and soft, offering some briny, salty flavor to the earthy soup. The chicken skins are…unreal. Almost like fried clams themselves, with a feather-light textures and crispy, potato-chip crunchiness. And get a load of that beautiful wooden serving bowl!
20141115_221719 Amberjack from Mark Marhefka, Roasted Cauliflower and Butternut Squash, Tuscan Lacinato Kale, Brown Butter

Amberjack is one of my favorite fish and I was incredibly pleased with this preparation. I liken this fish to a slightly firmer Chilean sea basS (Which I haven’T had in years, since it’s in danger of becoming extinct). It’s mild, soft, and extremely delicious. The brown butter is so..buttery. Nutty, rich, sweet. It really anchors the fish and is perfect with the tender kale. The squash is a little underdone, but the cauliflower is crispy, brown, and addictive.  20141115_224715 Espresso and Doughnuts

Espresso cake and doughnut ice cream. Super caffeinated and super sweet. I especially love the extra smooth ice cream with crumbles of doughnuts beneath.

Husk is a must visit when in Charleston. It’s so wonderful that it’s almost worth a trip just to eat there. I never really GOT Southern food before  I visited Charleston. This meal was delicious, the portions are great, and the prices are beyond fair. I can’t wait to go back for more pig ears.

I’ll see ya soon, Charleston.

Two Hits and a Miss

20141113_090929 Honey Haus latte

This tiny East Village coffee shop looks ho-hum from the outside, but don’t judge a book by its cover. This is the finest latte I have ever had in NYC, with some of the friendliest service. Get it with whole milk and you will absolutely marvel at the complex taste of the espresso. Deep, earthy, spicy, a little sweet, and – shockingly – not at all bitter. Either they roast their beans expertly, pour just enough milk to counteract the burn of the espresso, or both. It’s creamy, warming, and so tasty that it requires no sugar. Grab one of the 2 seats at the wee little bar at the window if you can, and watch the parade of humanity as you sip. 
20141113_170703 Drugstore cornstarch substitution

Lots of savory recipes need cornstarch, especially when making beef with broccoli (a technique called velveting that makes the protein tender). However, when it’s cold and rainy and mama has had a long day…she ain’t schlepping through Trader Joe’s just for a tiny box of cornstarch. Luckily, your local drugstore probably has the substitute in the grocery section. Gravy packets might taste like nasty sodium bombs on their own, but it’s almost ENTIRELY cornstarch with some salt. So, use it to velvet your protein or thicken your sauce, reduce the salt, and voila…the joys of cornstarch with none of the grocery store hassle. 

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Momofuku cookbook fish sauce vinaigrette

One of my favorite cookbooks, one of the worst sauces I have ever put in my mouth. Honestly…vom. Like putrid, rotten anchovies with a hit of spice. That’s it. Yigghhh. I guess I’m not as authentically Vietnamese as I wish.