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_203652The 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_224715Espresso 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.

Blue Smoke – My Favorite BBQ in NYC

I’m not a big one for BBQ. I would almost always rather have the Korean version or some steak. But, when the group wants some ribs and beers, I can hunker down with the best of them. This particular group voted to try Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke.

20141109_182410This restaurant is huge and casual – big bar playing sports on the televisions, massive tables, and Texan sized booths. This is perfect for a rowdy crowd of friends, a family with young kids, or some folks who want some wings and beer while they watch the game.


20141109_184455BBQ potato chips with blue cheese bacon dip

Sleeper hit of my LIFE! This is almost perfect - greaseless, crispy chips that are HUGE, smoky, and a little sweet. Then they are dipped in some of the greatest blue cheese dressing that I have ever enjoyed. I mean, really…excellent dressing. Super tick and tangy with hunks of salty, funky cheese, sharp chives, and crispy bacon crumbles. The only way that this could be better is if the chips were warm, which the menu stated that they should be. These are a MUST GET.
20141109_191320 Grits

Soupier than I normally have, but delicious. A little sweet, super buttery,and the perfect vehicle for the vineagary house made hot sauce. 20141109_191325 Sampler platter

A must get if , like me, you are new to this ‘cue.

Backyard chicken – surprisingly delicious! The chicken is charred and smoky, with a hefty dose of salt and pepper. Teh meat inside is juicy and prime for the tangy housemade bbq sauce.

Sausage – I wasn’t even fast enough to snag this.

Pulled pork – excellent. Tender but not cottony with an equal balance of meat, spicy, tangy, and savory flavors. Didn’t need any other accompaniment.

Ribs – the best. I would get these baby backs again any day of the week. Sublime - almost as good as Chinese ribs. A thickly burnished, lacquered surface with fatty, soft, meaty flesh. The favorite of the platter, especially when enjoyed with the sweet and salty pickles.

20141109_200213Chocolate layer cake

Nothing that great – a little dry, a little flat in the flavor department. The banana cream pie fares much better, but best of all is the espresso, served with a side of amaretto.

This place is great! It’ ain’t REAL down home ‘cue, but it beats the heck out of Dinosaur and it certainly scratches the itch for some great ribs and grits.

Upland – A Tasty, if Pricey, Neighborhood Bistro

First the moral: Don’t run to a new restaurant just because it’s on Eater’s hot list.

Now the story:

Last Saturday night, we rushed to our reservation at Upland, the much buzzed about new restaurant by chef Justin Smille, lately of Il Buco Alimentari. It’s a seasonal restaurant with California twists from his native Upland. I used to do improv matches in Upland all the time, so I was obviously eager to see how someone could make my hometown comfort food seem high end and special.

Upland is casual but trendy, with a long, oval bar and plenty of seating. The space is dark but not too much so, and seems perfect for a double date or a quick appetizer with friends before hitting the town.

20141108_190739 Potato bread and butter with smoked salt, chives, and lemon zest

A high point of the evening. The bread arrives warm and light, with a fluffy but not cottony texture. The butter melts quickly on the bread, imparting a slightly sharp, slightly citrusy scent to the bread. We devoured this loaf and would have gladly asked for another. 20141108_193652 Beef tartare with puffed rice, anchovy, and egg yolk

Meh. The seasoning is all off for me – mushrooms make it earthy to the point of tasting like dirt. The puffed rice seems textually incongruent and the whole thing lacks salt and spice. Some tabasco sauce or lemon juice would do wonders for this, because the beef is tender and hand cut and the yolk is wonderfully rich. Unfortunately, this falls way flat for me. 20141108_193701 Crispy artichokes

Very good, if uninspired. The artichokes come in full, meaty bites with clumps of super crispy leaves. They are like potato chips, but even better because of their garlicky-buttery-lemony bath. They aren’t too greasy or too salty – bar food done really  well. 20141108_195736Farro spaghetti with uni, scallion, and sesame

The best entree that we ordered (skip the branzino, which is fine but nothing more.) The pasta comes chilled and is naturally al dente, with a lovely, wheaty taste. It contrasts well with the briny, clean, almost sweet uni. This must be Santa Barbara uni, judging from its mild flavor. The cold, chewy pasta is tempered with nutty sesame oil, sharp scallions,and just a hint of heat. This is an excellent dish - while not destination worthy, its certainly a must get if you are here.
20141108_203801Cinnamon sugar doughnuts

Warm, light, sweet. Very tasty, especially with the stracciatella ice cream.

20141108_190338If this meal were half the price, I would declare it a triumph. However, for the pacing and the price…well, this is just not a great value. The food tastes like a very good neighborhood spot, but the hype is that it’s the second coming of you-know who. If this were billed as what it is – a lovely neighborhood joint – I would have loved it. So, if you go there with those expectations and very deep pockets – you will be impressed. And don’t miss the carbs here – bread, spaghetti, and doughnuts make a mighty fine meal here.

Upland on Urbanspoon

BBQ Chicken and Cheese Crescent Rolls

I took my cue from this off of one of those stupid commercials where the family all plays football together in the picture perfect backyard, falls into a pile of leaves, then scampers off to the gleaming kitchen for a quick meal that mom whips up while wearing size 2 jeans and smiling the entire time.

Needless to say, we are not that family.

We are a family who has frozen chicken burgers in the freezer, a jar of bbq sauce in the pantry, and a can of crescent rolls in the fridge.

Don’t worry, I promise that I served a salad and some roasted carrots alongside.

BBQ Chicken and Cheese Crescent Rolls

Ingredients:

1 package crescent rolls

1/2 lb. of ground chicken burgers (if you just have ground chicken, add some chopped onions, herbs, salt, and pepper to the mix)

3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

3 tbsp – 1/4 cup bbq sauce

hot sauce to taste

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1. Sautee the chicken until it is totally cooked. Add the cheese and mix through until it’s melted.

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2. Add the bbq sauce and mix to combine. Turn off the stove.

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3. Take out the crescent rolls and preheat the oven per the instructions on the carton.

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4. Take a small dollop of chicken mixture and spoon it onto the widest part of the crescent roll.

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5. Roll the crescent dough over once, then put a smaller amount onto the next little triangle section of dough.

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6. Roll around to complete your little crescent! Repeat for all of the dough, and don’t worry if some come out a little wonky looking – that’s okay!

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8. Bake on a greased baking sheet until the dough is golden brown on top, then serve the buns topped with hot sauce and extra bbq sauce.

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These are wholesome guilty pleasures. The dough is basically a carb and preservative bomb, but the chicken is lean, the cheese is filled with protein, and you can always eat salad on the side. These are creamy, spicy, and tangy. They are best when served piping hot, but someone I know eats them cold out of the fridge for midnight snacks. These would be awesome for a big party, since they can be served room temperature and are hand held.

It’s the closest that we ever came to being a tv family.

Snacks and Sips at Joe’s Pub

Earlier this week I went to a fabulous show at Joe’s Pub – a great cabaret theater downtown where there is, of course, a minimum. We went far above our minimum because we were hungry, but here is what you can expect:

20141013_185323A very well made, though ill photographed, dirty martini. It’s too bad that the picture is so terrible, because the stemware used is great (way less likely to spill than traditional martini glasses), the vodka is chilled to the point of icy, and there is just enough olive juice in there to make the drink border on savory without being salty. 20141013_185824 Fries with aioli

So good. Like gourmet McDonald’s.  No parmesan cheese, no truffle oil- just crispy, hot fries with Heinz ketchup and buttery, creamy aioli. 20141013_185842 Pickle plate

Good, if not especially memorable. Who doesn’t love a plate of snappy, vinegary pickled veggies?20141013_185831Homemade farmers cheese with seeded crackers

Okay, this is craveable. I would get it again in any restaurant. It’s a dense, creamy cheese that tastes almost like melted cream cheese. It’s layered with woodsy oregano and a pool of olive oil. Served with those garlicky seeded crackers, it’s just delicious.

The food is good and so are the drinks, but they are of course way overpriced – it’s a cabaret, what do you expect? The food isn’t as great as the offerings at 54 Below, but the entertainment is great, and after just 2 of those excellent martinis, you will have reached your food minimum and be in a great mood to enjoy the show.

California Dreamin: The Fabulous Burger at The Apple Pan

I couldn’t be any more in love with the restaurant featured in this post.

This is my #1 “don’t miss” restaurant in Los Angeles. I love it more than the fancy ones. I love it more than the iconic ones. I love it more than the new ones.

It’s The Apple Pan. And I’m going to let the pictures do the talking:

20140928_104333The Apple Pan. It’s been around since the 40s. which means nothing to East Coaster, but as Californians will attest, the only thing that’s been around as long since then are the La Brea Tarpits. My mom used to take me here for lunch and she knew a counterman who must have been 100 years old. She said he was 100 years old when she went there when she was a kid.
20140928_110212Get there early and line up or prepare to wait for a seat around the long counter. Enjoy your soft drink from a paper cone stuck inside of a metal holder.
20140928_110219 The menu isn’t long and it isn’t difficult. If you get the ham sandwich, you have failed your mission. All passengers aboard the shuttle die and your home planet is blown up. 20140928_110334 French fries

Johnny Rockets, weep your eyes out. The finest American fries…yes, anywhere. Golden, insanely hot, crispy without and fluffy within. Not too salty, not at all artisanal.

20140928_110706 Hickory burger with tangy hickory bbq sauce20140928_110711 Steakburger with piquant relish and sharp Tillamook cheddar cheese20140928_110858 Toasty bun, chargrilled burger, sharp cheddar, a swath of mayonnaise…and a head of iceberg lettuce. It’s a trademark move, shut up. 20140928_111847 Banana cream pie…20140928_112105 And dense, buttery pecan pie with a glob of the best whipped cream in the city. 20140928_112542That plaid wallpaper. The styrofoam plates for the ketchup. The way that the food smells better and better the longer you wait for a seat. This is the best part of California…the nostalgic part.

California Dreamin: The Tasting Kitchen

When I was a kid, Venice Beach wasn’t somewhere you went for great food. You went there to see the sights, enjoy the beach, and maybe eat some ice cream. You certainly didn’t schlep there for dinner.

Times have changed for the better.

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The Tasting Kitchen was a recommendation from some foodie friends who said that this place had great food and a very laid back, cool, LA vibe. The vibe is VERY LA…lighting is dark, music is thumping, and the place is PACKED to the gills. However, when our reservation was late, they didn’t comp us a drink at the bar. In general, I found the service a little lacking on the west coast. No matter though, we were seated before long at a comfortable table and taken care of by a very competent server.

20140928_210640 Rillettes

Fabulous. I wish that the picture came out better because this is a wonderful starter. The rillettes are soft and savory with ribbons of juicy pork in a buttery, well salted spread. It comes with garlic rubbed toast that adds a gentle spice and some tangy mustard that kicks up the flavor quotient another notch. This couldn’t be more delicious.

20140928_214232Oysters and salsify

Salsify is awesome! That’s what I took away from this dish. It tastes a lot like artichokes and has the meaty texture of hearts of palm. Here, its’ served browned and caramlized with a few nuggets of soft, briny oysters that bring out the veggie’s sweet, earthy undertones. This isn’t something I have ever had before and I can’t wait to eat it again.

20140928_215817Ricotta agnoletti

Good, if not especially memorable. The agnoletti are soft pillows of creamy ricotta in a sweet, tangy tomato sauce. I really can’t say anything else bad or good about it – I would stick with the Calabrian sausage pasta next time, which was garlicky, spicy, and totally craveable. 
20140928_221052Whole branzino with pine nuts and herbs

Delicious. Prepare for bones and you will be impressed. The fish is flaky, light, and saturated with butter and lemon. The pine nuts add an earthy, unexpectedly crunchy taste and texture to the fish.

The Tasting Kitchen has done the impossible…it has made Venice Beach a foodie destination. Not just for rollerblades and tattoos anymore, this ‘hood is now food-approved. Can’t wait to get back and try it’s neighbor Gjelina for what I hear are some unforgettable Italian dishes. Of course, first, you may have to pry those rillettes from my cold, dead hands. 

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!

BBQ Oven Fries

Did you know that if you keep potatoes in your fridge, they will last for, like, months?

I’m serious…I found a couple of potatoes in my fridge that I must have bought in 2012. They weren’t shriveled. There were no eyes growing – not one! There were no brown or mushy spots. It was like I had just bought them earlier that week. Wow.

So, I made a recipe that I haven’t ever made for the blog, even though it’s been in my repertoire since I was in elementary school. It was on my kitchen table growing up at least once a week. It’s the kind of homey, comforting food that is perfect for any weeknight meal. It’s not a fast recipe, but it’s almost stupidly easy.

And, oh, I make it with bbq sauce because my husband is WEIRD and doesn’t like ketchup.

BBQ Oven Fries

CollagesIngredients:

2 russet potatoes, washed, dried, and cut into about 8 long strips

1/2 cup of bbq sauce

2 tsp. olive oil

sprinkling of salt and pepper

IMG_14271. Preheat the oven to 425F. That hot temperature is very important, unless you want to be cooking for 8 days and nights. Drizzle  the potatoes with the olive oi, season lightly, and put them on a baking sheet. Then, pop in the oven for about 40 minutes or…

IMG_14322. Until they are golden brown on the bottom, when flipped over. They should have a nutty, savory aroma, and come on…you know what fries look like, right? Flip them and cook them for another 10 minutes or so, and then…

IMG_14363. Add the bbq sauce. Just pour it on then flip the fries over and pour a little more on those suckers. I like mine pretty saucy. Cook for another 10 minutes, or until the bbq sauce caramelizes and gets sticky and then…

IMG_14494. Serve.

Sorry there isn’t another photo, but these were gone in seconds – they always are. And why not? They are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. They are covered in a sticky-sweet sauce that clings to the fries and eradicates the need for any dipping sauce. And…msot of all…they are homemade. Even if you get a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and a salad in a bag, this is so wholesome and homey that you will feel like you made the whole damned meal from scratch.

Refrigerated potatoes FTW.