Norma’s is a Dud

Remember when I was so hoity-toity and proud about ignoring reviews and doing whatever the hell I wanted?

Wow, that was short sighted of me.

I recently went to the much maligned Norma’s in the Parker Meridien hotel. It is written up everywhere for serving huge portions of overpriced foods, for having lackluster service, and for feeling totally mechanical without any warmth.

I’m sad to say that the stories are true.

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The atmosphere is basically at the end of the hotel lobby – it doesn’t feel any more special than your standard Vegas hotel coffee shop. Which wouldn’t matter if the service were great. Or even good. But when you spend a majority of the meal flagging down your server to beg for some water and HEAVEN FORBID that you need hot sauce before you eat your eggs…it takes away from the uniqueness of the place. And even that wouldn’t matter if each entree wasn’t over $20.

Which, of course, each one is.

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Huevos Rancheros

Good. Not great. Not Cookshop, that’s for sure. The quesadillas are a great idea – decadent pockets of melted cheese and crispy tortillas topped with properly fried eggs. But there is no sour cream. No piquant pickled onions. The hot sauce is generic and the beans are watery. Don’t get me wrong, I ate this – it’s tasty. But it is not craveable. And it’s not worth it.

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The smoothie shot at the beginning of the meal was the best part. Guava, pineapple, orange, and passion fruit made for a surprisingly tropical way to start the day in chilly NYC.

However, it’s still not enough. Not nearly enough.

Do follow my review or don’t; the choice is up to you.

But dont’ say that that I didn’t warn ya.

Banana Bread Tricks and Tips

So I made some banana bread.

And it was incredible.

Used up almost done-for bananas, came together in a flash, and served double duty for breakfast and dessert.

However, it wasn’t my recipe.

So, to avoid being the kind of jerk who steals recipes, cuts in line when finding a parking spot at the mall, doesn’t like Bravo, etc…

I have decided to show you the finished product and direct you to the recipe, here.

Of course, I made a few variations:

fooood 1171. Add chocolate chips

Because, really…why wouldn’t you?fooood 119 2. Cream the butter for twice as long as you normally would.

This is a trick straight out of the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. It results in finely crumbed, rich, and creamy baked goods. Banana bread can sometimes be dense and rather brick-like. Creaming the butter and sugar for so long results in really aerated fat that makes the bread super light. Take 5 minutes – at least – for this step.fooood 1213. Bang the tin on the counter before you bake it

This gets all the air bubbles out so you don’t end up with those weird, large holes or tunnels.
fooood 1274. Eat it for 10 days.

Because this stuff lasts forever. Not like “oh it isn’t moldy so I can still eat it” forever.

Like for EVER ever. It stays fresh and moist, even in the fridge.

If it does start to get a little stale, just pop a slice in the toaster and serve it with butter for breakfast or with ice cream for dessert.

Now, go get some nearly rotten bananas and make this stuff!

Mother’s – Debris and Grits in The Big Easy

When you want breakfast in New Orleans, you have a few options. You can go to Cafe du Monde for some world class beignets. You can go down the street for a beer and a hot dog, at any time of day. Or you can go to Mother’s, one of the most delightful down home restaurants I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.

DSCN5404The line for Mother’s is unrelenting. From the time it opens at 7 AM, you will be on line for at least 20 minutes, usually closer to an hour. It moves quickly from outside to the cafeteria line up inside.
DSCN5405The walls of the uber-casual (verging on dumpy, but in that “you know you’re in for a good meal” way) space are lined with the rich and famous who have dined here.
DSCN5409 As you approach the counter where you order, you see the food in its steamed dishes – ham, grits, sausage, biscuits, and any other number of really traditional southern dishes. Bring some Lipitor. DSCN5413 And above all, stay on line. There are always enough tables and it moves so quickly. It’s worth it. DSCN5414 Bloody Mary

From a machine that usually dispenses fruit punch – what a brilliant idea! Especially when they are this tasty – really tomatoey and bright with a zippy, zesty spice and – thankfully – VERY little salt. It’s actually the flavor of the Bloody Mary, not a salt lick, that comes through. It’s strong enough to put a little pep in your step but not so strong that it will get you blitzed. DSCN5417 I just love a place that has 3 kinds of hot sauce on the table. FYI, that’s almost everywhere in N’Awlins. DSCN5420 Grits with debris

Yes, debris means garbage. And yes, I ate it. And it. Was. AWESOME.

You know when you make pot roast and there are all those wonderful bits of meat and crispy fat and charred bits at the bottom of the pan? THAT’S debris. The most savory, salty, meaty, crispy, juicy bits of the beef. Served to you with creamy (if under-seasoned) grits and a wonderfully round, homey tasting gravy. Add some Tabasco and it may just be the best breakfast that you ever ate.

Followed, of course, by a food coma.
DSCN5421 Ham

Mother’s is famous for it. It’s a little “hammy” for me. I prefer thin, salty Virginia ham, while this is thicker and a little more barnyard-y. DSCN5422 Biscuit

The biscuit to end all biscuits. Steaming hot and soft. The perfect mix between rich and light. Flaky enough to dissolve in your mouth but substantial enough to hold eggs and ham if necessary. Slather it with some of the softest, richest butter I have had outside of Europe. Don’t eat more than one because they expand in your stomach like those little animal sponges the minute that you have a sip of water.

The bloat is worth it. These biscuits are legit. DSCN5423The prices are dirt cheap and the food is wonderful. More than that, the atmosphere is really special. Where else can you stand in line with people so overjoyed at eating soon that no one pushes you? Where else does the woman behind the counter call you “hon,” and recommend that you change your order so you get the best the house has to offer? Where else can you sit with some of your favorite people in the world for an  hour and a half without being bothered for anything except another cup of coffee?

Mother’s is a must-visit in N’Awlins. And don’t forget to eat the garbage.

Breakfast at The Grand in Amsterdam

A lot of people don’t eat breakfast in the hotel on vacation.

They think it’s expensive – they are right.

They think it’s going to take away some of their appetit for lunch – they are right.

They think they won’t  get their money or stomach space’s worth – they are USUALLY right.

However, when it comes to Bridges in The Grand hotel in Amsterdam…yeah, you get your time and calories’ worth.

amsterdam day 2 066The moment that you walk into the large, modern space, you are greeted with displays of fruit and vegetables in tiny glasses. Not the normal under ripe melons here. No, instead you will have to make do with half globes of tart passion fruit, cubes of freshly cut pineapple, and salads made of the sweetest gem lettuce known to man. The creamy vinaigrette for the salad is especially addictive. amsterdam day 2 067

Don’t miss the cheese board – the Dutch DO, after all, love their cheese! Everything from hard, nutty gouda to logs of creamy, rich,  boucheron are on offer. Help yourself to a fresh baguette while you’re at it. amsterdam day 2 068Who knew that Holland was so filled with carnivores? The meat trays are sights to behold – row after row of prosciutto, ham, bresaola, and velvety smoked salmon. Way in the back you can see trays of yet more cheese – don’t miss the cumin flecked one. It’s a favorite in Amsterdam and was on many lunchtime sandwiches. It’s smoky and savory – a huge flavor punch in a Swiss cheese-like package. I can’t recommend it enough!
amsterdam day 2 071Hello, pastries. If you just want toast, don’t worry – the buffet also has little sprinkles. That’s right, Dutch kids grow up eating buttered bread covered in sprinkles each morning.

Lucky little Dutch kids.
amsterdam day 2 075Orange juice is something that I don’t usually consume in the morning.  Just because come on…why would I spend the time and calories to squeeze myself a fresh glass of orange juice? Oh, because it tastes like the first cloudless day after a long winter…that’s right. amsterdam day 2 076 The champagne is the good stuff – tight bubbles with a clean, mineral-y taste – but I wouldn’t get it again. I can’t help it – it makes me way too tipsy so early in the morning.

IMG_20130820_084306With your breakfast buffet, you get the choice of a cooked item. You can get an omelette or pancakes, but don’t be a chump. Go for the soft boiled eggs. And eat them a la Londoner.

And don’t forget to take your Lipitor. 

IMG_20130820_084825_648If you need a little something virtuous, ask for a fresh juice at the smoothie station. If nothing you like is in the glasses in front of you, the incredibly accommodating staff will make you whatever your heart desires – like, for example – a virgin raspberry mojito over crushed ice.

This isn’t a cheap breakfast but it is so luxurious and enjoyable that you will get your fill and be able to feel full right through lunch. And that makes it reasonable, right?  The surroundings are lovely, the staff is excellent, and the food is so delicious.

I think I have to start checking out more hotel breakfasts!

I was offered breakfast at a media rate. I was not required to write about my experiences, and all of my opinions are my own and unbiased. 

The Greatest Hash Browns Ever at The Grey Dog Cafe

I’m just gonna keep on posting these lost reviews and recipes…after all, I think only 12 people read my blog the first year it was up, so it’s new to everyone except my mom!

The Grey Dog Cafe is a review that is definitely worth revisiting. The location I frequented is sadly closed now, but this delightful mini chain has several other Manhattan locations, all equally well priced and tasty 

 The vibe in this location was eclectic and charming,  with small tables everywhere and large pictures featuring dogs. It’s the sort of home your odd Aunt Effie might have-filled with charming little oddities. Aah Aunt Effie…imaginary relatives are always the most charming, don’t you think?

You order at the counter from the large blackboard menu full of delicious sounding sandwiches, salads, breakfasts, and entrees, and then wait for your food to be delivered to your table. 

Look at this cool bookshelf – it’s the ideal place to have a relaxing solo lunch! Reading about eating while actually eating…that is one of life’s deepest pleasures.

Brie, sausage, and vegetable omelette

Simple and perfect. The omelette is gently cooked so the eggs are fluffy and creamy, not rubbery.  There are ribbons of melted brie, juicy hunks of sausage, and crisp veggies.  When the butter melts in luscious pools on the warm sourdough toast, there isn’t much more in this world that you need. Except these…


Hash browns

  Tiny shards of potato intermingled with sweet onions. They are fried within an inch of becoming charred, so the mixture is deeply browned but not burnt; like those tiny crispy bits of fries at the bottom of your french fry carton at a drive through mixed with the best fried onion strings in the world.  

 Carrot ginger soup with peanuts and chili oil

A showstopper.  Thin but powerful, like a ninja of the soup world.  At first bite, it is sweet, vegetal, and blazes with steam.  Then the softer nuances creep in-the crunch of the peanuts, the slight heat of the chili, the zip of the ginger.   With a few squirts of hot sauce to bump up the heat and salt quotient, it is perfect for a peckish gal like me.  

The Grey Dog Cafe is often just what the doctor ordered.  It is not haute cuisine or famous for the world’s biggest burger or anything like that.  It isn’t even worth a trip out of your way.  It is just full of fresh, delicious food in a laid back atmosphere. It has a great staff, fair prices, and a full bar to boot!  I could see people relaxing here with a book, a magazine, or a good friend. 

And, of course, about 3 plates of those hash browns.

 

The Grey Dog's Coffee on Urbanspoon

Aroma Espresso Bar – The Delight of a Boreka Surprise

On a weekend, there are a few breakfasts I enjoy.

I love a long, leisurely brunch with plenty of booze and luxurious food.

I love a greasy spoon dive with just a couple of eggs and an Advil to ward off the hangover.

I like an at-home breakfast eaten in my pajamas.

And I like a quick breakfast that is neither junky nor upscale – just wholesome, fast, and super delicious.

Enter: Aroma Espresso Bar.

[ox 638This small chain of coffee shops is serious about their lattes, Turkish coffees (dark and very strong), and other coffee drinks. However, it also has some pretty outstanding food. It is open at 7 AM, even on the weekends, and thought it’s empty early on, it fills up soon. The decor is bright and minimal – totally utilitarian and perfect for a solo or duet meal. There is a plethora of sandwiches and American-style options, but the Middle Eastern specialties are where the kitchen really excels.
[ox 640Boreka surprise

Maybe the best surprise since the finale of Mad Men! This boreka is like a cross between a croissant and phyllo dough – buttery, flaky, crisp on the outside but tender and even moist within. It’s served warm and sprinkled with nutty sesame seeds. Then, it is split and stuffed with tangy pickles, fresh tomatoes, salty feta, and sliced hardboiled eggs. Best of all, there is a drizzle of creamy, nutty tahini sauce. Tahini is what makes hummus so rich – it’s a thick sesame paste that is (to me) reminiscent of a less salty Thai peanut sauce. This sandwich is fresh, hearty but not greasy, and packed with flavor. It’s the ideal meal any time of day.

[ox 641Power bbreakfast

Of course, if you go this route you also get a winner. Two eggs any style you like, a brick of crumbly feta, fresh salad leaves and olives, a bowl of Israeli salad, and a couple of slices of thick multigrain bread. This is big enough for two people to share and it’s vegetarian, to boot! Try spending $12 and getting eggs cooked this well and tomatoes this juicy and ripe in your local diner or hoity-toity brunch venue.

aromaAroma Espresso Bar is so much more than its name intimates. It is fast, competent service. It is fair prices. It is friendly for families but spacious enough to sit alone with your book. Best of all, it is some really delicious and unique breakfast food.

That’s what makes it one of my favorite spots for breakfast, lunch, or dinner any day of the week. 

Maple Egg Grilled Cheese

It’s months like these that make me proud to be an American.

That’s because April is Grilled Cheese Month! Give me grilled cheese or give me death—that’s how the saying goes, right?

Well, Land O’Lakes has teamed up with Kitchen PLAY to celebrate grilled cheese.

Also, through the end of April, Land O’Lakes will donate $1 to Feeding America every time someone pins or repins a Land O’Lakes recipe on Pinterest. Just head to www.landolakes.com to find your favorite recipes, pin them, and start giving back.

And, with recipes like the one below, you are going to be pinning like crazy.

Grilled cheese is one of my favorite foods because there are so many ways to dress it up. It can be elegant or trashy and it is always just what I feel like. Even for breakfast.

You know, that time when grilled cheese isn’t usually served.

Keyword: usually.

The important things here are very thinly sliced cheese, so it melts evenly, and getting the fried egg right. Nothing is more disappointing than an overdone egg, and nothing is more delightful than a gooey egg yolk.

 

Except, perhaps, a gooey egg yolk atop a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

Maple and Egg Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Ingredients:

3 oz. Land O Lakes® Deli American Cheese

2 slices bacon, diced

2 slices sandwich bread

1 egg

1 tbsp. butter

1 dash chili seasoning (cayenne, pepper, salt, and garlic powder)

1 tsp. maple syrup

 

 1. Put the bacon in a dry, hot skillet and cook over medium-high heat for about 12 minutes, or until the bacon is very crispy. Take out of the pan and drain on a paper towel but keep the bacon grease in the pan and the pan hot.

2. Put both bread slices in the hot pan. After 1 minute, or when they are toasted, take one out of the skillet. Turn the other one and add the cheese.

 3. Top with the bacon.

4. Cover the whole thing with a lid, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 3 minutes, or until it the cheese is melted. When it is totally gooey, remove the cheesy bread and set it aside. Do NOT top with the other slice of bread.

5. Melt the butter in another skillet over medium heat…

6. And fry your egg. You want the whites JUST set and the yolk still runny.

 7. Put the egg onto the sandwich

8. Drizzle on the maple syrup and add the chili seasoning.

9. Now top with the other piece of bread, push down to puncture the yolk, and…

10. Serve.

This is everything breakfast should be— hearty, filled with healthy fats and protein, and just a little bit indulgent. Unlike traditional grilled cheese, which must be flipped, this can be made by somewhat clumsier chefs (my middle name isn’t exactly Grace). The egg, along with the cheese, acts as an adherent for both pieces of bread. The bacon is evenly distributed and the maple syrup adds a wonderful sweet taste to an otherwise savory meal. The crowning touch is, of course, the cheese. Tangy, soft, perfectly melted. It’s everything an ideal grilled cheese sandwich is.

So go pin this on Pinterest. And while you are at it, check out some of the other fabulous grilled cheese sandwiches participating in this program by clicking on the graphic below! Not only are you helping a good cause…you are gonna have a great breakfast tomorrow, too.

 *Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Land O’Lakes as part of the Kitchen Sidecar series. All opinions given are my own.

Rosa Mexicano Brings Mexican Breakfast to NYC

 I am supremely excited.

Mexican breakfast is finally coming to locations all over NYC. There are places that offer Mexican breakfast dishes, but now a full fledged Mexican breakfast menu is coming to an upscale Mexican chain so that you can get your spicy, savory morning fix almost anywhere in the city.

Rosa Mexicano’s breakfast menu hits this month, and it is gonna hit hard. At a recent press meal, I was very impressed.

Nopales con huevo

Yeah, it’s cactus. And, here, anyway, it’s pretty damned tasty! Citrusy with a texture similar to mushrooms, it isn’t at all slimy or dirty tasting as I feared it might be. It’s just a really nice, filling addition to a scramble filled with sweet red peppers and slightly spicy chiles. Served with a soft roll spread with smoky black bean paste and creme fraiche, this is a really hearty way to start your day without feeling weighed down or greased up.

 

Machacado con huevo

This shredded beef with eggs and vegetables is absolutely magical. In Tucson, carne seca (this dried, shredded beef) is a religion. Traditionally, slices of beef are cured in garlic, chiles, and spices, then set to dry on the roof in the dry Arizona heat. Then the beef, which is somewhere between jerky and pork floss, is shredded and turned into tacos or Macachado con huevo – a scramble made with fluffy eggs, sautéed onions, and this spiced, intensely flavored beef. The texture of the dish is soft but well textured with the chewy shreds of beef. the way to eat it is to layer it in a warm flour tortilla with some of Rosa Mexicano’s house made salsa. It’s one of the best breakfasts anyone could ask for, and was one of my favorite dishes of the tasting.

 Fried eggs carnitos hash

What’s a breakfast without pork, right? It’s an incomplete and ill though out one, and luckily Rosa Mexicano does not fall into this trap. The hash is soft and filled with sweet porky flavor, offset by a salty, bright tomato (ranchero) sauce. The sauce is redolent of garlic and cumin, accenting the pork’s natural flavor and the gooey, creamy egg yolk. the crowning touch is the habanero apple relish, a gelee substance that adds a very bright, fiery note to the dish.

Breakfast tamale with chile poached eggs and chorizo

Creamy. Spicy. Meaty. Cheesy. Polenta with smoky chile poached eggs. If you like grits you will love this. If you like LIFE you will lovethis. The standout at our table, and a gut-busting breakfast for sure. This is the dish that takes me into food coma territory.

Mezcal Bloody Mary

The smoky mezcal definitely comes through in this Bloody Mary, but the hit of alcohol is pleasantly tempered by the robustly flavored drink, filled with garlic and a very smoky chile rim. Don’t get this if you don’t like smoke…and feeling a little tipsy around 10AM.

Rosa Mexicano isn’t a cheap or fast breakfast. But it is so, so tasty. It’s not the same as eating tacos at a roadside stand or chowing down on migas at an abuela’s cafe, but it is the next best thing, by NYC standards. Look for the breakfast menu to hit February 23, and – like I said – it is gonna hit hard.

*This was a press event. I was not required to write about my experience and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Rosa Mexicano on Urbanspoon

Good Enough to Eat – Sweet in More Ways Than One

I recently got to go to one of those restaurants that I never get to go to, one of those places that always has lines out the door and down the block on a Sunday at 10 AM.

It’s called Good Enough to Eat, and you know what…it really is.

This cute little restaurant is a kitschy piece of Aunt Mae’s kitchen right in NYC’s UWS. It literally has a white picket fence outside and inside, and there are embroidered mottoes, on the wall, mismatched teacups on the shelves, and homemade cakes lining the counter.

If it were any cuter, it would have its own tumblr.

Though this spot serves all day straight though dinner, you really come here for the breakfast and brunch fare.

Fruit and cottage cheese

Groundbreaking? Hardly. Fresh, generously portioned, served with full fat cottage cheese – yes, absolutely. After quite a few sub par fruit salads in NYC diners and high end restaurants, this really deserves all the kudos i give it.

Pancakes with homemade strawberry butter

So thick, so fluffy, so airy yet rich and buttery…this is the pancake setting standard. It is substantial enough to stand up to a thick pouring of real maple syrup yet soft enough to cut with only a fork. Lightly vanilla scented, and perfect with the fruity, fragrant strawberry butter. Strawberries might be outta season but they sure do taste great when mixed with unsalted butter.

Unpictured is the thick cut bacon I go ton the side. When I mean thick cut, I mean thick cut. Almost like a salty, smoky, beautifully crunchy yet meaty hamsteak. Really awesome stuff.

Good Enough to EAt is a very nice brunch place, but not worth a 2 hour wait. Then again, what is? That being said, if you can go on a weekday or a weekend when the whole city is out-of-town, go there! The food is very tasty and well priced,and the service and atmosphere are positively sweet.

Come to think of it, I think this place should have its own tumblr.

It really is that adorable.

Good Enough To Eat on Urbanspoon

How to Make Saturday Breakfast Sandwiches

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Especially on weekends, when your day should not start until 12 noon at the earliest and should include reality tv, a disco nap, and a chance to go out and embarrass yourself in an inebriated state later that night.

TMI?

Anyway, while on a weekday, instant oatmeal might cut the mustard, that ain’t the way it should be on the weekend, when you actually have time to drink some heavily creamed and sugared coffee, putter around the kitchen, and put together a kick ass breakfast sandwich. Just take a few things into mind. 1. Cheese

Nothing too stinky, nothing too salty. The point of this breakfast isn’t to shock your tastebuds into alertness, it’s to gently wake them up and cradle them as they come into a day that will surely include some beers and baskets of fries. Something with a good meltability is mostly what you want. Some medium sharp cheddar, mozzarella, or even -ssshh- American cheese – works really well here.

2. Pork

Yeah, I said pork. Sorry to my kosher and halal friends. I apologize to the vegans out there. And little piggies…well, you are very cute but also very delicious. I’m never giving you up. Now, I’m flexible as to the type of pork – crisp bacon, soft sausage, scrapple, even thin sliced pork loin. What you want is the natural salty sweetness of pork – it just works really well with the rest of the sandwich.

3. Eggs

Don’t even think about using egg whites here. Just shut up. Scrambled or fried work well. If you fry them, be sure to do it on a medium high heat and finish them by steaming them with a little water under a lid, so the yolks raise up high and get pleasantly gooey whilst the whites are firm. And if you scramble them, be sure to season them well – eggs love pepper.

4. Bread.

Get out of there with your whole wheat, low gluten, fiber-riffic loaves. Don’t throw me a tortilla (not without some refeid beans and salsa, at least). Use a tangy toasted sourdough, a fluffy and airy biscuit, or some rich challah bread. Break out all the stops – you really want a full on, indulgent experience here.

5. Layer(starting with the cheese, so the warmth of the other ingredients melts it)…

it…

 

on.

6. Top with Sriracha, ketchup, or even maple syrup. Whatever floats your boat – this sandwich needs a little something saucy to really get it going.

7. Eat. At least three of them.

Is it Saturday morning yet?