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My Italy Bites: Trattoria Della Posta and Trattoria In Piazza

August 23, 2016

After we bid adieu to the beautiful coast of Cinque Terre, we made our way inland to the gorgeous tranquil rolling hills of Piemonte.  There was something absolutely magical and calming about the way the hills seems to leisurely unfold in front of us as we navigated often empty country roads in our tiny yet nimble Fiat 500c.  Even as I was clutching to the side of the armrest as we whipped around some ridiculously sharp corners I couldn’t help but relax.  We are in the country side now where everything slowed down with every sip of Barolo and Barbaresco and every breath of fresh air.

We settled down into our amazing agriturismo, Cascina Sant’Eufemia, a combination of working farm vineyard and bed and breakfast with a snack and a glass of Barbaresco.  And of course, a much needed nap to recuperate from the hectic pace of the first half of the trip.  Before we knew it, it was time to make our way to dinner in a tiny nearby town Monforte d’Alba near the heart of Langhe.  Trattoria Della Posta was situated in a country house that was renovated and restored by the chef owner Gianfranco Massolino.  The interior was warm and welcoming, with various rooms set up to receive diners.

As with all restaurants, dinner was offered as a set menu of five courses.  Excited to taste some of the regions specialties, we happily settled into our seats in the living room and eagerly awaited the arrival of our first dishes, a finely diced veal tartar with cheese and thinly sliced veal with cream of tuna, a regional specialty.  Even though both were meat dishes, they were both very light and refreshing, a great light start to the meal.

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We were next presented with a grilled sweet peppers stuffed with tuna cream, anchovies and eggs.

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And instead of repeating the same course, we asked instead to substitute for a colorful and refreshing salad with rabbit.

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The next course was a stuffed onion with cheese and sweet Bra sausage.  The delicious onion was cooked down until it just melted under the pressure of the knife, giving way to oozing cheese and savory sausage.  Definitely one of our favorites of the night.

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And now onto the pasta course.  First up was local specialty, tajarin with ragu.  Thin freshly made tagliatelle pasta is topped with a rich savory meat ragu.  I could have eaten an entire bowl of this tender pasta and been perfectly content for dinner.

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We were not done yet.  One last savory course, a shank of veal braised in Barolo wine.  The local wine imparted a great depth to the veal that was so powerful that the small portion felt more than adequate than the size might have belied.

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By the time we moved onto dessert, we were both quite stuffed but we must power on.  A little creme brulee and a tray of cookies to cleanse our palette.

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And because our waitress was so convincing, we couldn’t resist ordering a proper dessert.  The delicate millefeuille was layered with fresh fruit and an airy pastry cream.  It was so light that it almost doesn’t count right?

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For our second night in Piemonte, we decided to go with another local favorite, Trattoria in Piazza.  This time, we drove south west from the agriturismo and arrived in the heart of another little town, Montelupo Albese.  Trattoria in Piazza was much smaller in scale and modest than Trattoria della Posta.  The restaurant’s down home cooking that just as popular with the locals though.

We learned our lesson last night and instead of both ordering a full set of five courses, we chose to share one tasting and supplemented with a few additions.  The meal starts with focaccia and cured meats.

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Our first courses were light salads of smoked salmon and local cheese and mixed greens with poached chicken in a light lemon dressing.

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And when in Rome, we eat veal tonnata.  This time, a more rustic take on the dish, still delicious though with the tender paper thin slices of veal and a more textured tuna sauce.

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This was followed by a roasted tomato and onion tart.  Sweet and savory at the same time.

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We moved onto the pasta course with a hearty plate of flat pasta folded with a light truffle cream and mushroom.

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And no meal without a bowl of tajarin. Did I mention this is one of my favorite forms of pasta?  How can you resist the meaty cheesy strands of tender noodles that just seem never ending?

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And for our final course, we shared a delightful roast rabbit leg and loin.  This dish was finished off with shavings of white truffle that seem to dissolve the second it hits our tongue, leaving an aromatic memory.

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And finally, one dessert to share, a parfait of marinated peaches and cream topped with broken pieces of amaretto cookies.

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As it was with the previous night, once we made the reservation the week before, the table was ours for the entire night.  I love the sense of relaxation here in Piemonte where you don’t feel like you have every pair of hungry judging eyes on you as you linger over coffee at the end of the night.  You just take all the time in the world to enjoy the meal and let the night just quietly slip between you with each delicious bite.  I could stay here a little longer for sure.

Trattoria Della Posta | Loc. Sant’Anna, 87, 12065 Monforte d’Alba CN, Italy | http://www.trattoriadellaposta.it/

Trattoria in Piazza | Piazza, Via Castello, 4, Montelupo Albese CN, Italy

My Italy Bites: Eating Up and Down Cinque Terre

August 21, 2016

The five fishing villages of Cinque Terre were remote yet overrun with tourists all at the same time.  We spent a wonderful two days exploring the quaint villages that hugged the rugged terrain of northern Italian coastline.  Our first stop unintentionally became Monterroso when the ferry we hopped on at La Spezia was not able to dock near any of the smaller villages.  We hopped off the ferry in the biggest of the five villages in Cinque Terre right around lunch time so we made Gastronomia San Martino our first stop.

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It took us a while to find it in the winding and sometimes unmarked cobble stone streets of Monterosso so we were starving when we finally found Gastronomia San Martino.   This little casual pasta counter service shop was the perfect fit for a quick bite to eat.

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Daily selection of pastas and seafood salads and other savory dishes were all displayed so no need to know any Italian.  We pointed and nodded our way through our food order and found ourselves with three bountiful plates of mixed seafood salad with green beans and octopus with olives and potatoes, fresh squash and shrimp pasta and plump spinach ravioli with brown butter sauce.  We happily devoured our carb heavy meal with a half bottle of chilled white wine from the deli’s fridge.

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And for sweets, we stopped by a seaside gelato shop for some fragrant and refreshing lemon gelato before hitting the beach for the afternoon.  And as always, in a cup with a cone on top.

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We started our second day of exploring Cinque Terre with Riomaggiore, the southern most village via the train this time.  We had spent the morning roaming the farmers market in La Spezia right outside of our Airbnb so it was already nearly noon by the time we made it to Riomaggiore.

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We made a quick stop by Tutti Fritti before heading to the water.  This fry shop specializes in, you guessed it, fried goodies!  Featuring primarily fresh fried seafood with a few vegetables thrown in, this shop was perfect for grabbing a seafood filled cone that everyone seems to be enjoying throughout Cinque Terre.  The best part is that you can pick and choose which of the fried seafood you want in the cone.

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It took a little bit of aerobatics and careful maneuvering across giant boulders by the water before we found a comfortable spot in the shade to enjoy our lunch.  Just look at that beautiful view!

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We didn’t waste much time digging into our cone filled with mixed seafood, taking extreme pleasure in the plump fried sardines and anchovies.

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We supplemented our picnic with fresh focaccia bread, both classic and whole wheat, fresh local cheese and plump Italian plums we picked up in La Spezia.

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And we topped off this beautiful picnic with a few Italian sweets.

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After lunch, we continued our trek to Manarola and Corniglia.  Even though we had chickened out by taking the train from town to town, by the time we reached Corniglia, we were well ready for another break.  Lime popsicle, ice cream canoli and gelato sounded just about right for the occasion.

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And just across the cobble stoned street from the ice cream shop is a small local sandwich shop called KM0.  KM0 is focused on sourcing local meats and cheeses and other seasonal ingredients so this was a double win.

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Even though we had already eaten lunch, I couldn’t resist ordering us a sausage and cheese sandwich on focaccia sandwich to share.  It was perfect with a cold local brew.

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So there you have it, our highlights from Cinque Terre.  Casual bites featuring local ingredients and breathtaking views, there is no better way to explore the five quaint fishing villages of the Italian coast than nibbling our way up and down the coast.

Gastronomia San Martino Via San Martino 3, 19016 Monterosso al Mare, Italy

Tutti Fritti | Via Colombo 161 19017 Riomaggiore Liguria, Italy

KM0 Via Fieschi 151, 19018 Corniglia, Italy

My London/Cambridge Bites: Bone Daddies, The Eagle and Tayyabs

July 31, 2016

With only 4 short days in London, we had a lot of ground to cover.  One of the stops included slurping up some delicious rich ramen noodles at Bone Daddies late Sunday night.

We were there for the ramen on that rainy damp day but the sweet and spicy pork bones were just calling our names.  We couldn’t resist so we placed an order to gnaw on while we waited on our noodles.

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Then came the pipping bowls of ramen, tantanmen and tonkotsu, just as good as any of the best in New York.  We were happily slurping up the rich broth, glad to have popped by the shop in Soho just as they were getting ready to close for the night.

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Our culinary journey took us next to the town of Cambridge where we stopped by The Eagle for a blast from the past.  From the decor to the classic menu, it does seem like more has changed in this classic pub where scientists announced the discovery of the DNA.

One hearty steak and ale pie to start…

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And a plate of salt beef, gherkin and mustard with a bagel…

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And finally, ended the throwback lunch with a classic, sticky toffee and date pudding with clotted cream.  How much more British can you get?

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We ended our last meal in London with a trip to East London’s famous Tayyabs.  The rather large and chaotic restaurant was filled large groups enjoying platters of grilled meats and other delicious Indian/Pakistani dishes.

We started off with a few samosas…

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and paneer tikka…

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and of course, an order of their famous lamb chops, sizzling and grilled to perfection.

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What followed were a flurry of main dishes to share, including chickpea, lentil and eggplant curries…

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and I almost never leave South Asian restaurants without getting myself a plate of mutton tikki masala.  One of my favorite types of meat, these were cooked tender in a spicy tomato based sauce, perfect over rice or with naan.  A very strong note to end our British adventures on before we hop and skip across the channel to Italy.

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Bone Daddies | Various Locations | http://www.bonedaddies.com/

The Eagle | Benet Street, Cambridge, UK | http://www.eagle-cambridge.co.uk/

Tayyabs | 83-89 Fieldgate Street, London, UK E1 1JU | http://tayyabs.co.uk/

My London Bites: Saturday Mornings at Maltby Market

July 18, 2016

This is possibly the most tardy I have ever been on a post but better late than never or so I keep telling myself.  That is precisely how I found myself looking through photos from our London trip nearly a year ago.  I vowed to not let this slowly bleed over the one year mark so here goes nothing.

We spent one cloudy dreary raining Saturday morning exploring Maltby Market right off the Tower Bridge.  Nestled in a narrow alley way, the market features a myriad vendors of all types of little nibbles and bibbles.

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We peeked into the antique shops and after realizing that we couldn’t actually buy anything substantial to take back to the States with us, we settled down to properly explore the various food stalls which ranged from scotch eggs…

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… to skilled baristas pulling a beautiful cup of latte to…

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…a beautiful leg of cured ham on display.

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We were drawn in by the grilled cheese chefs and the punchy flavors they offered so one Stilton and pear grilled cheese to accompany our scotch egg please!

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And a lovely gin bloody Mary from Little Bird completes our brunch at Maltby Market.

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Maltby Street Market | Ropewalk, London SE1 3PA, United Kingdom | http://www.maltby.st

My London Bites: Worshipping Ottolenghi at NOPI

April 23, 2016

I have been obsessed with Yotam Ottolenghi ever since I first visited his Notting Hill location of Ottolenghi back in college.  Owning every single one of his cookbooks was just my way of showing how much I absolutely adore the vibrant and flavorful creations that Yotam and his team churns out.  Making his newest restaurant NOPI my first stop on a trip to London back last August was not up for debate.  Not even an overnight flight and a missed connection in Ireland can stop me from making my lunch reservation at the Soho restaurant.

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We were greeted by a dazzling spread of colorful salads and mounds of bread immediately upon entering the chic white and gold eatery.  This signature arrangement was a familiar sight for those who have been to Ottolenghi.  I had not even had the chance to stop for breakfast that morning so it took every ounce of will power not to reach out and sneak away a little bite while we waited for our table.  Lucky for everyone involved, it happened almost immediately.

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The seasonal menu here is broken down into nibbles, mains as well as wide range of starters and shareable plates for the table.  Since I am all about sharing, this was the most natural place to start.  A trio of small vegetable plates to start:  chickpea and mung bean sprout salad with blue cheese, burnt eggplant with black garlic, pine nuts, and basil, and finally a chickpea salad with sweet roasted tomatoes and crumbles of feta.  The chickpea salad with roasted tomatoes was the standout with its bold and robust flavor.

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A signature at NOPI is the burrata salad with lavendar honey and peaches.  Topped with roasted mustard seeds, this touch made the dish an interesting twist on the now ubiquitous burrata.

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For our main courses, we opted for the beautifully grilled artic char served simply with herb sauce and yogurt.  Perfectly cooked to medium, the fish was as fresh as can be.

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And to accompany it, a simple dish of blistered shishito peppers.

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The ultimate star of the show that meal was the twice cooked baby chicken with lemon myrtle salt and chili sauce.  Another excellent example of simplicity at its best.  The incredibly juicy baby chicken benefitted from a long and slow cook and marinate in flavorful Asian stock and a second roast for that amazing char on the outside.  The punchy bold chili sauce was just icing on the top.

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And finally, we were ready to move onto dessert.  Salted caramel ice cream sundae with a rich chocolate sauce and crunchy peanuts for topping was reminiscent of a Snickers bar.  We did not hesitate to dig in.

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And in true English fashion, an Eton mess, NOPI style of course.  The layers of fresh strawberry, crunchy meringue, sweet rose water cream and refreshing strawberry sorbet was topped with dried rose petal for a magical touch.  Every bite was refreshing and delightfully girly.

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Now that was a lunch well worth the journey across the pond for.  The menu here kept the tradition of Ottolenghi by celebrating the ingredients in a bold and vibrant way but just that much more grown up.  And if this was any indication of my adventures in London from here on out, I can’t wait to start exploring!

NOPI | 21-22 Warwick St, London W1B 5NE, United Kingdom | http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/

A Sustainably Delicious Meal at Seamore’s

April 23, 2016

Seamore’s in Nolita commands a prime corner spot in the busy neighborhood.  With soaring windows that floods the popular spot, the casual eatery focused on sustainable seafood is best enjoyed in the warm days of summer when everything is flung open to the streets.  And now that the warm weather days have finally graced us with their presence, I can’t wait to grab a seat in Seamore’s bright and welcoming dining room for a bite and pretend that we have been transported to a seaside town far away.

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Poke has been popping up everywhere in the city and there is a reason why it’s so popular especially in the summer.  Seamore’s version with tuna, avocado, ponzu and generous handful of scallions and peanuts is a particularly refreshing way to start the meal.

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And yes, fried calamari might be considered but that doesn’t mean they aren’t delicious, especially when they are crispy and fresh, paired with a citrus aioli.

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Offered with your choice of 5 sauces and three daily sides, the reel deal is always an enticing choice.  The firm yet tender tilefish simply grilled paired particularly well with the red curry sauce and a trio of heirloom tomatoes, string beans and kale salad rounded out the meal nicely.

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Those searching for a beautiful fried fish taco can also get their fill at Seamore’s but don’t caste aside the vegetarian option.  The flavorful roasted mushroom taco was just an example of how a delicious vegetarian taco can satisfy even a staunch carnivore.

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And the best way to round out the meal here at Seamore’s?  A trick question because there is only one option for dessert, soft-serve from Odd Fellows.  Luckily, soft-serve is almost always the best answer anyways!  Almond joy flavor during my last visit, in a cone or a cup.  Or both in our case with two spoons to share.

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Seamore’s | 390 Broome Street, New York, NY 10013 | http://www.seamores.com/

Spanish Tapas and Other Delicious Tidbits at El Quinto Pino

April 21, 2016

Stepping into El Quinto Pino is liking finding a little quiet sanctuary.  Tucked on a quiet street behind the London Terrace in Chelsea, the tapas bar is as petite as a restaurant can be even with the extension added a few years ago, just as adorable as the dishes it serves.

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Start the meal with a meat and cheese plate, Spanish style of course.  The picos and taquitos plate includes a punchy imported chorizo, za’tar marinated manchego, housemade Menorcan style spreadable sausage and artisanal olive oil bread sticks.

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Follow that deliciously spicy plate with a light bite of crispy corn cakes topped with sauteed mushroooms…

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And of course, pan amb Tomaca, three crispy slices of bread rubbed with fragrant garlic and tomatoes.  We opted for ours to be topped off with slices of anchovies for that extra salty bite.

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Another classic, gambas al ajillo, is a must have with plump shrimp and spicy kick from jalapeno.  Be sure to ask for an extra plate of bread to soak up every little drop of broth left over.

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While calamari a la plancha might sound ordinary, don’t pass these up.  The tender calamari pieces here are finished with squid jus, parmesan and black garlic.  All the flavors create a fantastic unami note to compliment the calamari.

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While I am a die hard fan of the paella at Socarrat, the fideua at El Quinto Pino puts up a good fight.  This Valencia style paella consists of broken noodle pieces mixed with plump shrimp, tender squid and aioli.

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Before you call it quits on the savories, be sure to put in an order of uni panini, a signature here at El Quinto Pino.  It is as simple as it sounds, sweet luscious pieces of uni pressed in between buttered ficelle bread.  A little bit of mustard oil for a kick, this indulgent treat is worth every bite of calories.

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Ice cream sandwiches take the form of a snowflake here at El Quinto Pino.  Dusted with abundance of cinnamon, the cookies are light and airy, a great contrast to the rich creamy filling.

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For the chocolate lover, the classic dessert of pan amb xocolata will satisfy your sweet tooth.  The seemingly dense block of chocolate ganache gives away to a creamy soft center of chocolate and olive oil.  The richness of the chocolate is balanced by the salt flakes and the grassy notes of the olive oil.  A delicious end to a culinary tour of Spain through bites of tapas and other tidbits.

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El Quinto Pino | 401 West 24th Street, New York, NY 10001 | http://www.elquintopinonyc.com/

My San Diego Bites: Tacos and More Tacos

January 3, 2016

Two full days in San Diego meant just enough time to enjoy the sun and of course, a few fish tacos here and there.

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Our hotel in Pacific Beach was only a block away from Oscar’s Mexican Seafood, a great casual spot to stop by for a bite or two after a day at the beach.

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The fish stew was full of fresh fish chunks and vegetables in a light chicken broth.  Delicious and light, a good prelude to the fresh tacos to come.

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You really can’t go wrong with any number of the tacos that Oscar’s serves, including a wonderfully crispy battered fish taco and the surf and turf.  Most came topped with crunchy cabbage slaw and fresh tomatoes and onions.  A smattering of cilantro and slices of avocado for creaminess, we happily devoured these with the plethora of hot sauces that were found on the tables.

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Aren’t these some of the most colorful fresh tacos you have ever laid eyes on?

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Our second stop for tacos, Puesto Mexican Street Food, did not disappoint either.  We popped by the La Jolla outpost of this popular restaurant for a quick lunch after our taco dinner at Oscar’s.

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Lunch started with guacamole and a bowl of grilled Mexican corn accompanied by a refreshing cup of frozen cinnamon horchata.

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From those, we moved onto the main event where I mixed and matched for a trio of tacos…

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… including a tuna asada with line caught bigeye and guacamole and a vegetarian taco with grilled mushroom and melted cheese.

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Of course, an order of baja tacos with chile crema, avocado and shredded cabbage for the table to round out the meal.

Whether enjoyed in a seaside shack or a hip La Jolla restaurant, fried or battered, fish tacos are must haves when visiting San Diego.  The sunshine and beach are just nice to haves when you are stuffing your stomachs full of tacos and Mexican food.

Oscar’s Mexican Seafood | 746 Emerald Street, San Diego, CA 92109 | http://www.oscarsmexicanseafood.com/

Puesto Mexican Street Food | 1026 Wall Street, La Jolla, CA 92037 | http://eatpuesto.com/

Brooklyn Dining Al Fresco at La Vara and Colonia Verde

December 7, 2015

Ok, so now that we are well into December, dining al fresco is no longer season appropriate.  However, given the warm spell we have been having lately, it might be still possible to squeeze in one or two meals in fresh air before winter finally descends.  At the very least I can relive some great memories from the summer of dining al fresco.

La Vara, sister restaurant to the adorable Txikito and El Quinto Pino, is tucked next to Cobble Hill Park on the quiet Clinton Street.  The outdoor space in the back was intimate, lit with strings of twinkling lights.  It made for quite a romantic spot for a date or just a nice low key catch up with a girlfriend.

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A few small dates to share with a glass of chilled white wine was just what the hot summer day called for.  To start, a crispy bowl of golden fried artichoke and anchovy aioli.

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Following the artichokes, a plate of crispy eggplant with honey, melted cheese and nigella seed.  What’s better than hot gooey cheese on bread?

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Two skewers of Gibraltar-style chicken hearts served with fresh herb salad and a lime-date vinaigrette isn’t for the faint of heart.  But they were so deliciously grilled to perfection with just the right amount of char and juicy center that even if you are just a tiny bit curious, you should give it a try.

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As a contrast to the fried artichoke and eggplant, the Persian cucumber and grain salad is the perfect counterbalance.  Lightly dressed with lemon and tahini yogurt, the salad was at the same time hearty yet refreshing.

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The meal should always end with a hearty bowl of the handmade Murcian pasta with goat butter and spicy ragu of goat.  Similar to a gnocchi, the handmade pasta was light and fluffy, the perfect vehicle for the delicious ragu.  Definitely a must for anyone who loves the flavor of goat.

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After the great meal at La Vara, I found myself a few neighborhoods away at Fort Greene in the beautiful dining room of Colonia Verde.  Recently reopened after an unfortunate fire, the neighborhood Latin restaurant boosted a wonderful rustic airy dining room with glass ceilings and open windows.

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The Latin inspired meal here started with duck confit tacos.  Not so much a taco but more resembling a burrito, these moist and juicy duck confit tacos were gone within seconds of arrival.

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I always have a soft spot for corn so CV summer salad was perfect.  Beautifully charred pieces of corn is tossed with cotija, cumin dressing and cilantro and tossed with toasted pepitas.  What’s not to love?

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A nice piece of rib-eye for two cooked blue in the middle was just how I like my meat.  A little dab of the housemade fresh salsa was all the beautiful piece of steak needed.

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And the favorite dish of the night?  A hearty bowl of red rice and lentils topped with roasted cauliflower, grilled eggplant, dates and smoky pecans.  The unexpected vegetarian bowl completely surprised with its bold flavors, savory and smoky and sweet, perfectly balanced all in one plate.

These two will definitely be on the top of the list for dining al fresco once spring returns, whether in the quiet cozy backyard of La Vara or the rustic airy dining room of Colonia Verde.  

La Vara | 268 Clinton Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201 | http://www.lavarany.com/

Colonia Verde | 219 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205 | http://coloniaverdenyc.com/

My Chicago Bites: Avec

November 1, 2015

A little overdue so I will be brief with this one.  Stopped by Avec on West Randolph with coworkers in Chicago back in June.  We couldn’t bear to face the potentially long wait at Au Cheval so Avec it was.  We waited for a brief moment, just long enough to start on a drink while basking in the setting sun on the sidewalk.

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The menu is seasonal so it changes quite frequently with many dishes meant to be shared.  Our meal started with a plate of Avec’s signature dish, chorizo stuffed dates.  Salty and sweet, made all the more better with bacon on the outside and piece of ciabatta to soak up all the delicious sauce.

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A smoked white fish salad on toast was a little messy to share but perfectly light and herbal with the mint and parsely generously scatter on top.

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A beautifully seared piece of salmon encrusted with Middle Eastern spices came with frisse and a beet salad.

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More seafood in the form of a branzino.  The whole shebang this time, head and tail all on.  A refreshing chickpea and currant salad with tangy onions and parsley piled high on top of the fish, beautiful and dramatic at the same time.

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For something a little more substantial, we dug into a burrata pizza topped with charred black kale.  The dough was paper thin with just the right amount of crisp bite and a blistered airy crust.    As simple as it sounded, the dish was quite memorable when the ingredients are fresh and execution on point.

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Finally a little plate of charred asparagus with romanesco sauce and grapes to round our meal.

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Of course, no dinner is complete without a little bite of sweetness.  The nutter butters were just what we were looking for.  One bite goodness of peanut butter candy bar and I was perfectly content with every bite of our meal here at Avec. 

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