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.

imageFish 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.

LV Bistro – Tasty Hotel Dining in Scottsdale

Eating at a hotel cafe is a dicey venture. Sometimes the restaurant’s food is delicious, using fresh produce, interesting cooking techniques, and accompanied by good service. Often, it is serviceable at best with standard dishes, industrial produce, and indifferent service.

So imagine my surprise when I walked into LV Bistro at the Scottsdale Princess and was greeted by not one but two servers who were genuinely happy to be of service. Not that fake corporate-plasters-this-smile-on-my-face attitude, but a genuinely kind attitude. Drinks were brought quickly, orders were taken promptly, and we could not have been treated any more like family if we were at my parents’ house.

The bistro , serving as the breakfast, lunch, and dinner cafe at the expansive resort is casual and sunny, with soaring high ceilings and a casual Southwestern flair. Overlooking the pool and the dramatic Arizona mountainside, the cafe is undeniably casual – feel free to come here in a cover up and flip flops.

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata with Foccacia Bread Stick, Tomato, and Avocado Oil

This is not my favorite iteration of the dish, mainly because it is so sweet. The balsamic is reduced to  a sticky, fruity syrup that is all too similar to the mild avocado oil and the burrata that is creamy to a fault. The cheese has no edge, no salty or firm component. It is all soft interior and no smooth exterior. The tomatoes, on the other hand, are excellent. Sweet, acidic, firm, and ripe with Arizona sunlight. I already mourn the tomatoes of the summer that I won’t see for another year on the East Coast, but here in AZ, the tomatoes are still ripe and juicy. This salad would have benefited greatly from some more salt or some bitter arugula. My sister, however loved the dish, and she is a major sweets fiend. If that is you, you might love this dish, too.

Southwest Spinach Dip with Roasted Poblano Peppers, Artichokes, and Tortilla Chips.

THIS is what I’m talking about – some honest-to-goodness Southwestern style grub. Fresh spinach and hunks of artichokes blended in a cream cheese based dip, flecked with charred bits of smoky, gently spicy peppers. The lemon served alongside is inspired – it gives the dish a bright, fresh side that isn’t normally part of it.

Served alongside freshly fired tortilla chips, this is an indulgent, creamy, smoky way to start your meal.

Margarita

If you visit Arizona, do yourself a favor and order at least one margarita at every meal. They do them right here. Get it with smooth silver tequila, fresh lime juice, and a splash of sugar syrup and you can’t go wrong. This version is tart, refreshing,a nd boozy enough to relax you but not so strong that you can’t stand up after drinking one.

 This is a really great hotel restaurant. While it isn’t worth seeking out if you aren’t at the resort, it is a reasonably priced option with well made food and a fantastic staff. Go for a light snack or a whole meal, order a margarita, and you won’t be disappointed.

A Salt and Battery – NYC’s Own Fish and Chips

If you have ever been to England, you have undoubtedly looked the wrong way when you crossed the street, marveled at how the entire country closes early on Sundays, and eaten fish and chips.

I don’t mean fried fish and french fries. I mean fish and chips. Fresh British fish, served  under puffy golden batter alongside fat, pale yellow chips, doused with sour malt vinegar.Preferably eaten standing up. Preferably eaten slightly drunk.

There is, thankfully, a place to pretty much recreate that experience on this side of the Atlantic.

A Salt and Battery has been in Greenwich Village for a several years – it has beaten Bobby Flay in a Throwdown, been touted as the finest fried fish by The Village Voice, and has been the late night haunt for many NYU students.

The tiny shop, in a row of 2 other same-owned shops offering British candy and tea service, has only a few stools and a counter. Read the menu on the wall and order fast – if you are lucky enough to snag a seat, do it now. And do it with someone you know well – the food here isn’t right for a first date.

Fried Haddock and Chips

The real deal. Thick, flaky haddock is mild and clean tasting under a puffy, perfectly crispy sheath of golden batter. It is moist within its greaseless cage. It sits atop beautifully fried potatoes, thick and creamy within, crunchy without – just like in London. Doused with vinegar and salt until my mouth puckered, this was the best fried fish I have had in this country, without a doubt. The tartar sauce was also good, though a bit less tart than I like.

 

Mushy Peas

The perfect food for those of you who love squash puree and carrots cooked to oblivion. These are verdant and fresh without being overly grassy. They are served piping hot and need only a touch of salt to make them the perfect accompaniment to the main event.

Coleslaw

Incredibly crunchy though being very thickly sauced with a heavy, creamy dressing. Traditional without being overtly  seasoned, it provides a cooling and crispy component to the meal, juxtaposing those gloriously mushy peas.Don’t miss it if you love coleslaw – it’s a solid rendition.

Deep Fried Mars Bar

What, you though that state fairs invented these?

Imagine the world’s gooeist brownie with a molten, creamy nougat center, enclosed in doughnut batter. Yeah. Share one…don’t try to eat one on your own.

Your heart will actually beat slower from all of the fat.

 

The food is great, the service is charming, and the price can’t be beat. Don’t expect fast food – this stuff is made efficiently, but it’s made to order. And it’s worth it. Grab a  Boddignton ale, a jar of malt vinegar, and sit down to wait for one of life’s great pleasures.

And, be warned, A Salt And Battery…next time, I’m coming for the eating challenge. And I’m not going home until I win.

Cemita’s NYC at Whole Foods

One of the best things about living in Manhattan is how easy it is to hop on a subway and in half an hour be in any borough of the city, eating fabulous food.

One of the worst things about living in Manhattan is being me. I’m lazy. If it takes more than 15 minutes to get there, I will probably just order in Chinese.

Like I said, I am really über lazy.

That’s why when I found out that Smorgasburg was doing a pop up at Whole Foods Bowery, I was all about it. A chance to try some of the vendors at Brooklyn’s famous weekly food fair without having to cross the river? Amazing.

This month features Cemita’s, run by Southern Californian native Danny Lyu, features the huge sandwiches which are its namesake, as specialty of Puebla, Mexico. Ten layers of tasty goodness fill these dishes, and tacos and fresh chips also available.

The space in Whole Foods is upstairs, with a few seats and a counter where you order. You see the meats being grilled, avocados being sliced, and sandwiches being assembled right in front of you. The open kitchen is totally pristine and the smells coming out of there are amazing – smoky, spicy, incredibly fragrant…if you aren’t hungry now, it’s just because you aren’t reading.

Chicken Tinga Cemita

Here are the ingredients in this:

And here is what it looks like:

And here is what it tastes like:

bread – fluffy, light, strong enough tos tand up to the fillings but soft enough to be easily bit.

black bean spread – smoky, hearty, fragrant with oregano

mayo – creamy

chicken tinga – unbelievable slow roasted pulled chicken. Spicy, garlicky, acidic form tomatoes and so juicy. Soft but not mushy, juicy, and tender. Like carnitas with the light, clean taste of chicken. Outstanding.

lettuce – insignificant

tomato – juicy, sweet, totally refreshing

pickled onion – sharp, tangy, strong, cutting thought he mayonnaise and cheese

cheese – oaxacan cheese – squeaky and firm, like cheese curds. Bland, but a welcoming blandness in the sea of spices

avocado – creamy, buttery, delicious as ever

papalo – a mexican and South American herb that is fresh and pungent. Somewhere between lemon, basil, and mint, this stuff is incredibly potent – the aroma smacks you in the face the minute that you even look at a cemita, standing out from the warm chicken and the yeasty bread. While it might be overkill alone, as part of the multilayered sandwich, it adds a fresh herbal note that brightens what could be a very heavy dish.

chipotle crema – smooth, smoky, a little spicy

Portabella Tacos with Lettuce, Sour Cream, and Salsas

Never, EVER have I had more satisfying mushrooms. Totally beefy, savory, charred and juicy…this was umami to the “nth” degree. Served in supple corn tortillas with crispy veggies, cool, sour cream, and 2 salsas (a garlicky red one and  tangy, spicy green one), this could almost make a vegetarian out of me.

The prices here aren’t cheap – a cemita will set you back about $10, including tax. But the servings are huge, and you could easily split a cemita and an order of chips with a friend and feel full for the whole afternoon. Sandwiches come quickly, the food is tasty, and…best of all…

You don’t have to go out of borough to get it, for the next month at least.

Smorgasburg at Whole Foods – making me embrace my laziness.

*Disclaimer: I did not pay for my meal. I was not required to write about the food, and the opinions expressed here are my own and unbiased.*

Murray’s Cheese Bar – Small in Size, Big in Flavor

It’s not that a world without cheese would cease to exist for me. Rather, it’s that I simply wouldn’t believe in it. It would be the boogey-man, or some other scary figment of a child’s imagination.

I believe in cheese the way that some people believe in showering every day.

Murray’s Cheese Bar must feel the same way as I do. Run by the cheese-niuses (def: a cheese genius) this new restaurant right down the street from the Bleecker Street location of the shop had high acclaim from one of my favorite lactose loving gals. Of course, I promised to check it out ASAP.

The restaurant is very narrow and cozy. It manages to feel spacious thanks to a long, wide bar at which you can sit comfortably and order cheese and wine, though there are also a few tables. Come here with a close friend or 2 but not more than that you really want to be able to chat while you chow.

Ellsworth Creamery Buffalo Cheese Curds with celery and blue cheese dip

Squeaky, bouncy cheese curds, fried so that they are warm on the inside and crispy on the outside. Doused in a garlicky, spicy buffalo sauce, this is at least as good as my favorite wings- maybe even better, considering the high-end blue cheese dressing that accompanies it. Creamy and peppery with huge hunks of soft, assertive blue cheese. This is one of the best renditions of buffalo anything in the city.

Trio of dips with crackers:

Pimento Cheese, A Taste Of The South prairie breeze cheddar, pimento, paprika. Creamy, with hunks of medium sharp cheddar. A bit too mild for my taste, sweet with the pimentos and lacking any bite from cayenne or freshness from scallions. My least favorite of the dips.
Obatdza, A Taste Of Bavaria romadur, vermont butter and cheese creamery butter, horseradish, caraway. Easily the most unusual dish of the night. Romadur makes blue cheese look like low fat american cheese - subtly put, this stuff is stanky. Bottom of the sock drawer, wake up with your eyes tearing, stanky. I LOVED it. The soft dip had notes of wood, grass, and ocean air-  it was really that unique, all thanks to the fabulous ramudur cheese. The caraway brought out the woodsy notes, but butter helped tone down the strong flavors, and the horseradish cut right through the stank. If you love kimchi, steak tartare, or other strong foods…this may be for you!
Kopanisti, A Taste Of Greece feta, pepperoncini, dill – standard but tasty. Good, creamy Greek feta, none too bitter, mixed with tangy pepperoncini and grassy dill. Fresh, flavorful, and a crowd pleaser.

Haloumi with mint, lemon, and olive oil

Simple? Sure, but so well executed. The halloumi is crispy and salty, splitting to reveal melty insides, stretching like the  your favorite grilled cheese sandwich. The lemon caramelizes, turning sweet and deep in the oven, tempering the bright mint. A finish of sweet, rich olive oil brings the dish together in a way that proves that Murray’s really knows what it is doing.

Look, the food and atmosphere here makes it a destination eatery.  In fact, throw away the menu and just have the cheese-passionate staff choose your meal for you! If you like cheese, fair prices, and great service, you really must come here.

And if you don’t like any of these things, go find a technology blog, cause this one really isn’t with you.

Bistro 14 – Making the Rehearsal Dinner the Main Event

When you go to a rehearsal dinner, you are mostly praying for free-flowing wine, food that is thoroughly cooked, and not to be seated next to a creepy groomsman. It’s no use to pray for the food to actually be good, because that just never happens. Except at this wedding. Thank you, Jamie and Larry, for being totally and completely obsessed about food.

Bistro 14 is a globally inspired eatery on Long Beach Island that specializes in the fresh seafood and produce of the area. It is open year round, but in the off-season, only on weekends. The feel is beach elegant, with an airy, wood paneled room with many windows.

Chowder

Whatever you do, whatever you order, GET THIS CLAM CHOWDER. For some reason, the folks on Long Beach Island make a fantastic clam chowder.. The clams are large and sweet, with a pleasant chew and a totally clean aftertaste. The broth is briny and acidic, brimming with fragrant celery, tangy tomatoes, and lots of sharp black pepper. This clam chowder isn’t anything new, but it is made so well that it seems like it is. If only every restaurant in NYC took such care with its clam chowder, I wouldn’t be so thrilled when I tried clam chowder here.

But, as fate would have it, I was.

Green Salad with Crostini

A few salad leaves, some fresh cucumbers and Jersey tomatoes, and some tart, bright vinaigrette. Nothing special, but again, something done with care. The vegetables are crisp and fresh and crisp, the dressing is applied sparingly, and the crostini is spread with light, creamy goat cheese that is none too grassy or funky. It works for people who love goat cheese and people who are wary of it.

Grilled Local Scallops, shrimp, and Crabcake with Herbed French Fries and Coleslaw

Seafood so good I would swear I was at a clam shack in Massachusetts or Maine. Succulent scallops, broiled until just cooked through, so rich that they required no butter. Large shrimp, expertly cleaned and absolutely as sweet as sugar. When I have shrimp like this, it reminds me why I’m not kosher. The crabcake is another winner, with large, mild hunks of crab combined with herbs and mayonnaise until they form a moist, satisfying cake. They don’t’ skimp on the crab here, and put enough seasoning in the mix to complement the crab, making it sweeter next to the savory garlic and herbs. The cocktail sauce is rather insipid, and the tartar sauce unmemorable, but the coleslaw was creamy, tangy, and perfectly crunchy. The French Fries are another winner – overtly garlicky and piping hot, but not too salty. I would have cleaned my plate if my boyfriend hadn’t “generously” offered to help me with my fries and crabcake…thank you?

Bistro 14 hosted a really great rehearsal dinner and I have no doubt that the food is just this delicious when you dine here a la carte. The chef was there at this dinner cooking, overseeing, coming out to chat with the bride and groom…it was a totally hands on situation. He is proud of all the food he puts out, and he should be. The price point is very reasonable, especially to someone coming from Manhattan, and if the service was like it was at this affair, it is more than competent. I mean, this restaurant did the impossible ..it made the rehearsal dinner part of the main event.

Bistro 14 Restaurant and Raw Bar on Urbanspoon

Jacob’s Pickles – Pickles and Pork on the UWS

The Upper West Side is home to some great whitefish and – now – some down home spicy southern cooking.

Jacob’s Pickles is a sprawling, brick walled restaurant on the UWS. It specialises in homemade pickles, artisanal  beers and cocktails, and good old-fashioned southern food. Though it is almost always packed, it is large enough to be seated without a wait, and also takes reservations. When I was there on date night, I saw a group of girls there for girls night out, friends coming out after studying at grad school, and a couple of families with young kids. This place really runs the gamut – more family oriented earlier in the evening, and a place to grab a few beers and get a little rowdier later and on weekends.

Allagash White

This beer is just as described – crisp, light, and extremely food friendly. It has enough of a yeasty, wheaty taste to stand up to spicy, hearty dishes, but is not so strong as to bitter or overly heavy. This is a winner among beer experts and novices alike.

Home-made Pickles

Hot Sours – sour and spicy pickles, with only a little heat. It is mostly spicy, and definitely not too hot for anyone who is a spice wimp.
Candy Red Beetsthese converted my boyfriend, a self-confessed beet-o-phobe, to a beet-o-phile. Sweet, thin sliced but with an al dente bite, and a bit tangy. These would be fabulous with a chunky blue cheese dressing, but they were also great on their own.
Sweet and Spicy Carrots – tender but with a bit of crunch at the center, these are a standout on a table full of delicious pickles. Gently spiced with what tastes like harissa, cumin, and maybe a touch of cinnamon, they are earthy and extremely fragrant. They give off a middle eastern taste that is entirely unexpected and at the same time harmonious.
Thyme Jalapeños – tasty, but the weakest of the bunch just because they were the least innovative. You can get similar things to these spicy, piquant peppers in the grocery store, whereas the other pickles are all totally unique.

Orange zest country sausage fresh cut fries,braised cabbage, spicy brown mustard

This sausage is coarsely ground, not smooth, tightly packed breakfast sausage. It is rustic and hearty, with a strong porky taste mixed with bright orange and a few of licorice-y fennel seeds strewn without, The fries are exemplary – fresh cut, skin on, and crispy, but even better is the cabbage. A soft mound of it, sweet and juicy, lays under the fries. So delicate and resh tasting, it is like sauerkraut’s more genteel sister. Delicious and perfect to cut through the fat of the sausage. Eat it with some of the accompanying mustard for a bracing punch of flavor.

Shrimp and bacon grits whole wild shrimp, bacon cheese grits

These shrimp are cooked with the head, then deveined and shelled for your dining pleasure. Briny and full flavored, these taste overtly like seafood - a bit muddy for me, but my companion wolfed them down. They are served in a garlicky,m savory broth and ladled over smooth, creamy grits strewn with crisp bacon and redolent of smoky pork fat. Pork and shellfish have a natural affinity for one another; the sweetness, saltiness, and smokiness balancing each other out, and when combined with luscious polenta, the combination works well yet again.

Jacob’s Pickles is heartily recommended. Service is fast and friendly, the vibe is relaxed, and the seriously long beer and cocktail ist is worth coming back for alone. But the food is so delicious and fairly priced, you won’t be able to deny ordering some pickles and a pork products.

 And what’s a better follow up to an UWS bagel and schmear than some shrimp and grits?

Jacob's Pickles on Urbanspoon

Jayson’s Pancake House – the Biggest Breakfast in New Jersey?

A destination like Long Beach Island has many breakfast options, all with cute names like “Gertrude’s Pankake Haus” and “Uncle Stevie’s Roadside Grill.” So many choices can be confusing, there is always the feeling that you are missing out on the sweetest cinnamon rolls, the freshest eggs, and the cutest knickknacks on the windowsills.

While on the quaint island for a wedding, the groom told us to check out Jayson’s Pancake House, saying that it served some of the most delicious pancakes in town. He swore on it so much that he came there to eat. On his wedding day.

If the man trusts this place to fortify him on the most important day of his life, the least I could do was trust him.

The restaurant is extremely quaint – a totally predictable beachside eatery with checkered curtains, sweet servers who often work at 2 different restaurants in town during the summer, and steaming cups of coffee brought round as soon as your tucchus hits the seat.

Eggs with Scrapple and Toast

2 eggs, cooked until the whites are firm and the yolks are thick but still runny. 2 pieces of wheat toast, served with mound of creamy whipped butter, melting into rivulets on the crusty bread. Scrapple, crunchy without and creamy within – onions and pork prevalent, blending well with the sweet maple syrup served alongside. Perhaps the most memorable component of this dish are the homefries – almost like Greek fries, they are thick cut and very crisp, with fluffy, buttery innards. Barely salted, they are purely potatoey, somewhere between chips and fries, and totally delicious when dipped int he egg yolk and some hot sauce.

Silver Platter Breakfast

This has most of the same food that I had (as well as some very fluffy, light, none too sweet pancakes), but in gargantuan portions. Enough to feed an entire army. Enough to feed an entire nation. Enough to feed a groom and a best man.

Maybe this meal was just great because we were celebrating the wedding of two great people. Maybe we were made hungry by the sea air. But I don’t think that’s all that it was. I think that the food here is really great, honest food, served by kind servers at very reasonable prices. Bring cash and bring your appetite.

And if you finish that silver platter breakfst…bravo to you!

Greenhouse Cafe on Long Beach Island

The trick isn’t always choosing the fanciest or the most locally sourced restaurant – sometimes, those aren’t even possibilities. If you are, say, in an oceanside resort town in the beginning of fall, many places may be closed for the season. If you are there with a huge group of people, your choices get even fewer. You may need to improvise, and this is where the trick turns from choosing the best menu to choosing the best item on the menu.

Greenhouse Cafe is a little eatery in the quaint seaside town of Ship Bottom, New Jersey. Think fudge stores, carousels, and lazy days of picnicking on the beach. This restaurant caters to the local family-oriented crowd and is thus casual, sunny, and leans to an all American bill of fare.

Rhode Island Clam Chowder

Let’s get one thing straight – this AIN’T Rhode Island clam chowder.  This is a mixture of Manhattan and New England chowder. What it misses in proper moniker, though, it makes up for it taste. This is one of my favorite chowders in recent memory! Thinner than many clam chowders and a dusky rose color, this soup has the best of both worlds. It has the buttery base and creamy potatoes of New England clam chowder and the gentle heat, aromatic celery, and juicy tomatoes of Manhattan clam chowder.

Even better, the clams themselves are fantastic – large and tender, with the salty-sweet taste that only fresh clams have. The small size of this is a  very hearty appetizer, but it is light enough to not be a total gut bomb.

Turkey Cheese Burger

if you are looking for the greatest burger since foie gras, this isn’t it. However, if you are looking for a very ordinary turkey burger served under a blanket of gooey cheddar cheese, with Jersey fresh vegetables, atop a crusty yet supple bun, here is your man! The burger is a little dense and dry, but hey; it’s not the speciality of the house. It is cheap, it is hot, and it is very serviceable when doused in ketchup.

This is what the Greenhouse Cafe is – very serviceable. The service is a bit brusque, but the prices are cheap, the place is clean, and the food is fine. In fact, the soup is sensational – trip worthy for sure. This is the whole point of this post – don’t order the prime rib at the Greenhouse Cafe. Don’t get the Cajun Chicken Pasta. Get the local seafood, a reliable sandwich or salad, and enjoy being with your loved ones.

Come to think of it…eating with loved ones is actually the best tip for enjoying any meal.

Greenhouse Cafe on Urbanspoon

A Surprising Dinner at Michael Mina’s Seablue

When it comes to food, it is hard to surprise me. I have eaten many different types of food at many different establishments. I cook. I read about food. I live and breathe it. You may impress me, but you will very rarely totally shock me.

Dinner at Chef Michael Mina’s SeaBlue was one of those rare occasions.

The restaurant, located on the casino floor of the Borgata, is this celebrated West Coast chef’s only East Coast establishment. Known for his decadent lobster pot pie, this restaurant draws inspiration from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors, using the fresh fish and produce from the Garden State. The restaurant is large and casual, but upscale enough for a nice dinner with wine. Be prepared that the restaurant is rather loud, but the noise comes off as a fun atmosphere, not too raucous for a couple of people enjoying their food.

Poached Maine Lobster with Gelee, Avocado Mousse, and Piment d’Espelette Mascarpone with American Caviar

Delicately poached lobster, tender and buttery, sitting atop a lightly acidic gelee. The avocado mouse is creamy and slightly peppery, accentuating the lobster’s sweetness. Best of all, the Mascarpone is rich and surprisingly spicy. The piment d’espelette has a slow, bright burn that works well with the delightfully sticky caviar, bursting with brine and salt. These ingredients all seem too rich, too flavorful, and not congruent, but they work. The result is a dish that is complex but harmonious.

Octopus Tagine with Preserved Lemons, Chickpeas, and Spicy Fava Bean Falafael

When asked how difficult it was to make the octopus, Chef Mina said in an offhanded way “Oh it’s a cinch. Just boil it for 4 hours before you pop it in the tagine.” This matter of fact approach he takes to even the most arduous tasks results in intensely flavorful and well thought out food, like this octopus. Except for Periyali, I have never had such succulent, sweet octopus. The tagine renders it tender enough to cut with a fork. The chickpeas, onions, and other vegetables in the mix have the signature spicy-sweet warmth of Moroccan food from harissa, cinnamon, and a touch of smoke (perhaps cumin?). The chickpeas are hearty and al dente, and the preserved lemon are tart, adding brightness to the long cooked dish. The falafel is otherworldly wonderful. Grassy and fresh with fava beans ,they have a rather intense heat that builds as you swipe it through the harissa flecked aioli. Eventually, the burn prickles through to the front of your mouth, not too hot, but more than just a little spicy. This won over several ocotphobes at the table, and was a huge winner of the night.

Loup de Mer with Zucchini Pistou, Heirloom Tomatoes, and Zucchini Fritters

Similar to branzino, loup de mer can be dry and rather fishy if not cooked very gently and carefully. Luckily, this was cooked very gently. The flesh is extremely moist, flaking off easily with the fork. Unfortunately, the skin is not crispy, which means that one of the best textural contrasts on a piece of fish is missed here. However, the zucchini pistou is earthy and fresh, the fritters are crisp outside and moist within, and the heirloom tomatoes add sweetness and acidity. New Jersey vegetables are showcased ideally here, accented with herbs and spices but mostly left alone to shine in their natural states.

Wagyu Beef 2 Ways – Seared Tenderloin over Oxtail Ragout and Roasted Romaine and Braised Belly over Aligot with Chaneterrelles and Bone Marrow

Wagyu beef is some of the most tender, most marbled, most delicate and luxurious beef in the world. Here, it is served 2 ways to showcase its versatility. The seared loin is cooked to medium rare, with a salty charred crust and a dark rosy interior. Soft but not mushy, with a light minerally taste that is in between beef and veal. There is nothing robust or abrasive about this taste, it is all about the depth and complexity – earthy and at the same time almost bright in its beefiness. Served over jammy oxtail ragout and a side of bok choy-like romaine, it somehow manages to avoid being a total gut bomb.  The Wagyu belly makes short ribs look like chicken breast – thick cut and tender, interspersed with globes of opalescent fat.  The aligot it is served with is the world’s cheeseiest  mashed potato – stretchy and thick enough to eat with a fork. The marrow is the piece de resistance – buttery, beefy, soft, goodness. All it needs is a piece of bread to make it complete.

I used the term “surprising” several times in this review. That is because this meal was, more than delicious, more than excellently served, more than fairly priced, was surprising. I have never had octopus cooked in a tagine. Mascarpone flavored with Southern French chiles and topped with caviar. Wagyu beef belly. Where does Mina get these ideas? Who does he experiment with? Though I don’t know the answers to these questions, I do know the not-to-miss restaurant in Atlantic City. Without a doubt, it is SeaBlue. The restaurant is a treasure chest of culinary surprises. 

*Disclaimer: The restaurants PR firm piad for my meal and stay. I was not required to write a review, and my thoughts and opinions are my own.*

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