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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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Dining al Fresco at Bar Primi

September 28, 2015

Dining al fresco in New York has such a short season so when it does come around, we all try to take advantage of it as much as we can.  We kicked off the season of outdoor dining with Bar Primi in East Village back at the start of summer.

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The easy and approachable setting of Bar Primi made it ideal for popping by casually for a catch-up dinner with girlfriends on a Friday night.  Dinner started with an order of stuffed meatballs in a light tomato sauce.

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Deliciously light but I could have used a little more cheesy filling inside the tender meatballs.

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Pasta is the star here so we decided to share a trio from both the traditional and the seasonal menu.

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Lamb amatriciana hugged strands of thick toothsome bucatini.  The rich sauce was topped with light snow cap of cheese.  Deliciously rich and heartwarming, this is definitely a standby classic that should be ordered for those in the meaty pasta mood.

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For the seafood lovers, the squid ink campanelle was a perfect bowl.  We loved every bite of the briny bowl of pasta coated with crab and garlic crema.  Just a few slivers of fresno for a kick every now and then, this bowl reminds me of summer at its best.

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Finally, we rounded out the pasta selection with an orechiette from the traditional section.  For the summer, these were tossed with salsiccia, spring peas and slivers of pickled shallots for a bite.  These were lighter than we expected, a new surprise.

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And just so we got our greens, an order of spicy broccolini with ricotta salata and spicy bread crumbs.

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Of course we couldn’t end our meal without a little bit of sweets.  After three bowls of hearty pastas, only the light airy tiramisu would do.  This traditional slice of tiramisu was just what I needed to close our a lovely meal dining on the sidewalk of East Village on a brisk summer evening with friends.

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Bar Primi | 325 Bowery, New York, NY 10003 | http://barprimi.com/

Tuome: A New Gem in East Village

September 14, 2015

It is not frequent that I find myself visiting and revisiting a restaurant within the span of a few months but there was just something about Tuome that kept me coming back.  A cozy charming New American restaurant tucked away into Alphabet City between A and B, Tuome has an ever changing and edited menu featuring seasonal dishes with an Asian influence.  The chef, Thomas Chen, has quite a resume from Eleven Madison to Commerce and that experience shows in the beautiful dishes that he presents, from the fantastic flavors to the elegant plating.

Despite the changing seasonal menu, there are a few staples that have earned their place on the small menu.  The classic American picnic dish, deviled eggs, are transformed into crispy decadent treat.  Topped with a little extra kick of chili, these creamy eggs are a little too easy to finish.

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Another staple is the beautifully grilled octopus.  Served with pork xo sauce, the bold flavors of the pork sauce and octopus were paired with a rich and creamy emulsion of brown butter and fingerling potatoes piped onto the plate tableside.

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As for the other starters that guest appear, one of my favorites was the blue crab topped mac n cheese.  Al dente pasta shells were coated with a light creamy massamam curry sauce.  The flavors were incredibly comforting, rich yet not overwhelming and cloying.

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Even though it is tempting to spend majority of time at Tuome focused on the innovative appetizers, there are some amazing larger plates that deserve your attention.  One of them is their well known pig-out for two.  Even though the name suggest something a little more crude, the actual dish might be one of the most elegant preparation of a roast pig that I have seen yet.  Berkshire pork belly is roasted until tender and the fat rendered until only a tiny thin layer of crispy skin is left.  A dab of chili sauce and a dollop of ginger scallion, these tiny pieces of pork made for the perfect bite.

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What made them even more memorable was the bowl of spicy peanut noodles that is served.  The chewy noodles has the perfect spring and the peanut sauce was just the right consistency and spicy kick.  One bite and you will be glad that you are given your very own bowl which I am sure you will hog close to your chest like I did.

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And when you have gotten tired of ordering the pig out for two or any of the other delicious main dishes, there is often an off-menu special dish meant to be shared.  Over the summer, I was lucky to have stumbled upon the fried chicken picnic for two.  A beautiful basket of crispy fried chicken arrived in a checkered cloth lined basket with golden brown waffles.

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Tucked inside the basket of goodness were two sauces, a buttermilk sauce and a spicy chili sauce, perfect for dipping the chicken or the waffles.

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The chicken dinner also came with a refreshing colorful slaw and to my delight, a bowl of the wonderful massaman curry mac n cheese.  This time sans blue crab but just as delicious as I remembered.

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And finally, in case you are like me and must have some vegetables on the side, my two favorite sides at Tuome are the brussels sprouts and the pea shoot.  The pea shoot is simply sauteed with fermented shallot and chili sauce, creating a depth of flavor often not found in typical vegetable dishes.  And as for the brussels sprouts, Tuome makes theirs memorable by adding not only raisins but also fresh grapes.  The sweetness is balanced by an unctuous pork xo sauce.

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Part of the reason why I love Tuome is the fact that the menu is so well edited.  There are only a few dishes in each section but all are so well prepared and approachable that you can hardly ever make a wrong choice.  The service is friendly and attentive, making the delicious experience even more enjoyable.  This is the kind of meal that makes me trek all the way to the Alphabet avenues, dragging all those willing along for the ride.

Tuome | 536 East 5th Street, New York, NY 10009 | http://www.tuomenyc.com/

My New Orleans Bites: Willie Mae’s Scotch House

August 4, 2015

“I think this might have ruined fried chicken for me forever.”

You know you have just stumbled upon fried chicken gold when you find yourself uttering these words.  That was exactly where we found ourselves for our last meal in New Orleans sitting in the middle of the dining room at the famous Willie Mae’s Scotch House.  The homey dining room was nearly empty only because it was barely 10:15 AM in the morning on a Tuesday but we meant business.  After all, it’s never too early to have fried chicken, especially when you are in the South.

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We had our suitcase in tow on our way to the airport but we knew we could not miss out on a meal here at Willie Mae’s.  Our friendly waiter pointed us to a few of his favorite sides which we were more than happy to listen to and placed our orders.

We started with a basket full of fried okra bites.  These golden nuggets were perfect for popping into your mouth as a snack or a side.

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They did not steal the show though from the fried chicken lunch that came out immediately after.  There is a lot of hype around this family owned spot that has been a mainstay in New Orleans through thick and thin.  With a reputation that stellar, it can be hard to live up to it, especially when you have been crowned as the best fried chicken in the US.  One bite into the golden crispy chicken pieces, we were believers.

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One of the biggest part of what makes a fried chicken memorable is the crust.  After all, the crispy golden crust is the first thing you break through.  The crust at Willie Mae’s shattered the second we bit into it, not heavy nor greasy but that perfect balance of airy yet crunchy.  The meat inside was so juicy and flavorful that even the white meat was something worthy of a sigh.  We were silent as we devoured the fried chicken, minus a few sighs of satisfaction here and there.

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In addition to mac n’cheese and green peas, we also ordered a side of green beans and gravy over rice. These might look simple and potentially boring, the beans were surprisingly full of flavor and the pepper flakes gave a lovely kick.

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We saved a little room for dessert and the bread pudding was just the right size.  Soaked in buttery goodness, the moist bread pudding was bite for bite heavenly.  Every spoonful was a golden caramel and the perfect consistency evenly throughout.  The humble shop of Willie Mae’s Scotch House in Treme embodied some of the very spirit of New Orleans in the delicious meals that the little restaurant churned out day after day.  There was not a better meal we could have asked for to end our culinary journey through New Orleans.

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Willie Mae’s Scotch House |  2401 St Ann St, New Orleans, LA 70119

My New Orleans Bites: Sweets Around the City

August 3, 2015

There is always room for sweets and that couldn’t have been more true than on our trip to New Orleans.  Here are a few spots we managed to squeeze in between the delicious meals we devoured.

District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew. was a cute spot in the Garden District to stop for a cup of cold brew pulled from the tap as well as gourmet donuts.

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The flavors change daily and ranged from some good old classics like cinnamon sugar and glazed to the adventurous like 5 spice and strawberry basil.

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We helped ourselves to a nutella mousse after watching the bakers in the back of the store brulee the bananas.  It was just the perfect sweets for our cold brew.

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Noodle & Pie showed up on our radar as we were searching for something sweet after our crawfish feast.  The casual Asian noodle spot near Tulane featured a small menu of house baked pies.  The butterfinger pie was a lovely balance of salty and sweet, a great take on the candy bar.

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The seasonal strawberry pie far exceeded our expectations with its sweet lightness.  The pie allowed the fresh fruit to shine through and we found ourselves fighting over the last bite.

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We were in dire need of a refreshing snack break after a long day of bike riding when we found ourselves in front of Hansen’s Sno Bliz at the riverfront.  The line was long but from speaking with a regular in line, there was never not a line at the neighborhood family owned staple that just celebrated its 75th year in operation.  More importantly, the icy treat was worth every minute in line.

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The family still worked the counter and that hot early summer day we found the granddaughter and great grandsons holding down the fort.  There was nothing fancy about Hansen’s process of churning out one snow cone after another but numerous bottles of syrup and gigantic blocks of ice.

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In addition to the classic fruit flavors, there are toppings that you can add onto the cones like the crushed pineapples that I added to my coconut flavored cone.

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More exotic flavors like Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk was also a hit with us.  The sweetness was just subtle enough making it still a refreshing snack.

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This brought us to the ultimate sweet treat of New Orleans, a plate of fluffy crispy beignets from Cafe du Monde.  We arrived early on Monday morning hoping to beat the crowd but no such luck.  The famous spot in the French Quarter was already packed with tourists seeking a bite of the beignets and a sip of the cafe au lait.

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After some serious stalking, we managed to find a spot at the edge of cafe and place our order with a waitress.  Not knowing whether or not she fully understood our order, there was nothing for us to do but wait.  Luckily, the wait was short and just like that, our plate of piping hot beignets and cafe au laits landed at our table.

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There was nothing to dislike about the pillows of pastry covered with copious amounts of powered sugar.  We washed it down with sips of the sweet and smooth cafe and just like that, the beignets disappeared, as fast as they had arrived.  The whole experience felt almost surreal, leaving us with only a dusting of powered sugar and the delicious memories of the light golden beignets.

 

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District: Donuts.Sliders.Brew | 2209 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130 | http://www.donutsandsliders.com/

Noodle & Pie | 741 State St, New Orleans, LA 70118 | http://noodleandpie.com/

Hansen’s Sno Bliz | 4801 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans, LA 70115 | http://www.snobliz.com/

Cafe du Monde | 800 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA 70116 | http://www.cafedumonde.com/

My New Orleans Bites: Katie’s, Frankie and Johnny’s, Parasol’s Bar

July 15, 2015

Unfazed by the heat and humidity, we rented bikes for day two in order to expand our exploration outside of the reaches of the trolleys and our feet.  New Orleans was a surprisingly bike friendly city with plenty of bike lanes earmarked for bikers throughout the town.  With our new mode of transportation in tow, we set out early on Sunday to venture up to Midcity just beyond the Bayou in time for brunch at Katie’s Restaurant.  The second we walked up to the unassuming spot in the middle of a residential area, we could already tell that this was a low key neighborhood spot with great food judging by the crowd outside.

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The menu here was straightforward but not without its New Orleans twist.  Besides the typical brunch staples of omelets and steak and eggs, there were beignets.  Not just any beignets, crawfish beignets.

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This was a delicious departure from the sweet fried doughy treat that we all know and love.  Instead, the beignet was stuffed with a decadent mixture of crawfish, mozzarella, provel, peppers and onions.  Topped with a rich slightly spicy jalapeno aioli, the sizable beignet was not for the faint of heart.  Especially when it also comes with a small cup of some of the best creamiest cheese grits I have had.

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Another Katie’s specialty was their cochon de lait.  Two pieces of Gendusa french bread was topped with their homemade cochon de lait and creole slaw for a little crunch.  As if the sandwich wasn’t enough, it also came with some deliciously light onion rings that were difficult to resist.

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And for something sweet, we sampled a plate of the lemon ricotta pancakes.  Three generous pieces of fluffy buttermilk pancakes were stuffed with creamy ricotta and perfumed with lemon zest.  Just like everything else at Katie’s, these were simple yet delicious.

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Needless to say, we indulged for brunch and took our time just soaking in the rays from our table on the sidewalk.  After sufficient time had passed for us to be able to mobilize again, we managed to stop by the Bayou music festival by the water and even hop by on the bikes.  Our afternoon ride took us through City Park and then further west before turning south towards beautiful Tulane.  Before we knew it, it was time for dinner and we had just the spot in mind, Frankie and Johnny’s.  Recommended by our bartender and neighbors at Peche the night before for its crawfish boil, Frankie and Johnny’s was just the low key spot for us refuel.  Located in Audobon, the restaurant stood alone between the residential neighborhood and the industrial waterfront.  One look inside the dark and homey restaurant filled with locals enjoying an early Sunday supper and we knew we had picked the right spot.

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We had come with one thing on our mind but it didn’t hurt to start with a small cup of gumbo for a little variety.

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And now onto the real star of the night, the crawfish.  And at just shy of five dollars a pound, we happily ordered 4 pounds of these delicious critters to start.  Served here rather simply with no sides or accompaniments, the crawfish boil here was truly just about the crawfish currently in season.  Cooked in a flavorful broth, the meaty crawfish easily came apart with a few quick nimble strokes which we mastered by the end of our pile.  The boil was spicy but the heat built up gradually on our tongue as we worked our way through the four pounds, culminating to a lovely warmth that never became overwhelming.  Even though we still had a little more room in our stomachs, our fingers grew rather wary by the end of our pile so we sadly had to call it quits after merely four pounds.  No where near the 5 pounds that our waitress supposedly can take down all by herself.

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Even though we had booked our lodging closer to the intersection of French Quarters and Treme, it seems that we just couldn’t stay away from the Garden District and St. Charles Street.  After a morning of meandering the blocks of the Garden District and poking our heads into Lafayette cemetery, we found ourselves at the intersection of Garden District and the slightly less upscale neighborhood of Irish Channel.  Hungry from our exploring, we were looking for a lunch spot when we came across Parasol’s.  

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Known for their poboys, Parasol’s was another no frill and no fuss spot, a sure sign of a good meal to come.  And it did not disappoint.  We chose to sit downstairs at the bar to keep our bartender company.  He in turn helped steer us from ordering way too much food.  As it turns out, the portions here like many other establishments in New Orleans can be quite large.  We started with a daily special appetizer, boudin balls with homemade gravy.  Deep fried spheres of delicious pork mixed with rice, these came four to an order with a side of fries.  The boudin balls were delicious enough on their own but a dip in that amazing homemade gravy took it to a whole new level.  In fact, the gravy was so delicious that I almost contemplated saving the leftovers for later.

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The gravy was so good that it almost stole the show from the real reason why we came, the poboy sandwich.  Even though it was really tempting to order two so we can try different ones, we chose to split a fire cracker shrimp on a roll under the guidance of our bartender.  The sandwich arrived piled so high with fried shrimp that the top barely stayed on.  The bread was toasted for sturdiness and crunch and slathered with mayo for a little creaminess.  The generous helping of the plump shrimp immediately started falling out of my hands as I tried to find the optimal bite of shrimp, lettuce and bread.  And I happily reported after polishing off my half of the poboy that there really wasn’t a single bad bite.  Another point for neighborhood spots off the beaten path!

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Katie’s Restaurant | 3701 Iberville Street, New Orleans, LA 70119 | http://www.katiesinmidcity.com/

Frankie and Johnny’s | 321 Arabella Street, New Orleans, LA 70115 | http://www.frankieandjohnnys.net/

Parasol’s | 2533 Constance Street, New Orleans, LA 70130

My New Orlean Bites: Cochon Butcher, Cochon and Peche

July 5, 2015

When we planned our trip to New Orleans in May, all I could think about was the delicious foods and lively music scene that awaits us.  All that planning but one thing we forgot to take into account was the weather.  Even though it was barely pushing 70s in New York, the heat and, most of all, humidity was overbearing.  This made exploring the city during the day a bit of a sweaty adventure but we soldiered on and started our New Orleans with a tour of French Quarters, still in a deep slumber from the night before.  When we made it to the other end of the French Quarter, it was time for lunch.  Our timing couldn’t have been better and I had just the perfect spot in mind, Cochon Butcher.

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The popular spot is located right off the edge of the French Quarter, bordering the Lower Garden District and the convention center.  This made it a magnet for hungry crowds which resulted in a dreaded line out the door, in the blistering sun.  When we finally made it inside, we found a well stocked butcher counter full of housemade sausages, sauces, and other spreads.  We placed our orders at the counter and went into the crowd of hungry lunch-goers in the large industrial dining room in search of seats.

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We were able to snag a seat at the bar in the back of the restaurant right before our food came out.  A tip for any future diners, you can save a lot of time and discomfort by skipping right to the bar where the whole menu can be ordered with the bartenders.

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And now for the food!  The first to arrive was a generous order of the sweet and spicy pickles to satiate our hunger.  The bowl was filled to the brim, studded with mustard seeds.

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Since Cochon Butcher is known for its sandwiches, we decided to stick with them for lunch.  A new take on the typical grilled cheese, the buckboard bacon melt came with generous thinly slices of buckboard bacon, melting cheese and collard greens.  The white bread was toasted to an even golden brown, just the perfect thickness for the sandwich.  I devoured this hot sandwich within seconds of it hitting our table.

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The muffaletta is a classic New Orleans sandwich and so we knew we had try one while in town.  The one at Cochon Butcher was already conveniently cut into four for easy eating.  Lifting up a section revealed a beautiful cross section of house cured meats, cheese and olive salad.  There was nothing revolutionary about the sandwich but just a solid muffaletta.

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We spent the afternoon after lunch exploring the Garden District, trying to burn off all of the calories we consumed.  Between gawking at the beautiful mansions in the neighborhood and sampling some sweets at District Donut and Brew and stopping for a drink at Commander’s Palace, the afternoon slipped right by us and it was time for dinner before we knew it.  Not terribly starving, we decided to forgo a formal dinner and make a meal with appetizers instead.

Our first stop of the night was Peche, a seafood grill from Donald Link just a few blocks away from Cochon Butcher.  The irony of the fact that we were dining at another Donald Link restaurant did not escape us.  After a short wait, we grabbed a seat at the bar and started immediately with half dozen local oysters.

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Since this was suppose to be only a nibble, I had to try really hard to edit the menu down to only two dishes.

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The first was a special for the night, a smoked drum salad with thinly sliced zucchini and toasted pumpkin seeds.  The firm white fish retained a pronounce smoky flavor that was tempered by the sweet zucchini slices, definitely a must for any fan of white fish salads.

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The smoked tuna dip might have seemed a bit duplicative but the flavor profile was entirely different than the smoked drum.  While the drum salad had lovely chunks of white fish throughout, the tuna dip was whipped until almost smooth.  And where the drum salad was bold and unabashed about the bold seafood flavor, the tuna salad was much tamer, a little sweet and subtly smoky.

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After we wrapped up our tasty bites at Peche, we found ourselves back around the corner from Cochon Butcher at Cochon, another popular Donald Link establishment and our second stop of the night.  We figured since we have already been to two of his restaurants, why not make it a whole day of Donald Link?  Cochon was packed when we stopped by and instead of cramming ourselves inside, we decided to take advantage of the slightly cooler night air and dine al fresco.

While Peche was clearly focused on seafood, Cochon was a little more eclectic and more earth driven with dishes such as chili braised pork cheeks, rabbit and dumplings and fried boudin.  Even though we already had oysters for the night, I have heard such good things about chargrilled oysters that we couldn’t pass it up.  The chili garlic butter dripped off the shells so we ate quickly lest we waste any of the delicious sauce.

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I love all types of liver and the fried liver with pepper jelly and toast lived up to the raves that our bartender at Peche and waiter at Cochon.  The slightly sweet yet savory jelly complimented the earthy depth of the fried liver and the scatter of mint leaves on top left a lovely herbaceous refreshing note.

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Because we haven’t consumed any greens all day, a plate of collard greens seemed necessary.  Even though these were cooked in pork fat, they still count right?

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If this was any indication of what was to come from the culinary scene here at New Orleans, we were ready with fork and knife in hand, ready to eat our way through the city.  For now, onto Frenchmen Street for some jazz and blues late into the night.

Cochon Butcher | 930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 | http://www.cochonbutcher.com/

Peche | 800 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 | http://www.pecherestaurant.com/

Cochon | 930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 | http://www.cochonrestaurant.com/

Uncle Boon’s Family Style Thai Rotisserie

June 29, 2015

Soho is one of last neighborhoods I expect to find good Thai food but just a few steps below street level is a wonderfully exciting spot called Uncle Boon’s.  It took a while for our eyes to adjust to the dark interior so for the first few moments, delicious flavors welcomed us to Uncle Boon’s.  The restaurant was lined with exposed brick wall and eclectic artworks and lights in every shape and form.

The funky personality of the Thai rotisserie translated into the dishes on the menu.  Instead of your typical Thai standbys, the menu was full of surprises such as frog legs and this sweetbread mee krab.  Chunky crispy pieces of meaty sweetbread sat atop a crispy crunchy noodle salad with dried shrimp, eggs, sawtooth herb and tamarind sauce.  The sweetbreads weren’t for everyone so I happily devoured them on my own.

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From the charcoal grilled goodie section, the sai krok ampai was a more popular choice that my companions appreciated more.  The meaty pork and rice sausage was kissed by the hot grill which left a beautiful mark.  The inside was everything one would want from a sausage, juicy and flavorful.

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The khao-soi kaa gai, a Northern style golden curry, was one of the few noodle dishes on the menu.  The thick gentle curry coated each thick strand of the supple homemade egg noodles.  Digging a little deeper will reveal the most tender piece of chicken leg, full of flavor from the curry, falling apart with the touch of the fork.

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The boneless beef ribs here were served a lovely Massaman curry, potatoes and green peppercorn.  Just like the chicken, the meat was cooked until it was at the tip of tenderness.

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Just because we didn’t have enough meat, an order of the pork belly seemed like the obvious choice.  The flavors were lighter, a thinner broth rather than the curry sauce from the first two.  Even though we appreciated the different flavoring, the pork belly didn’t nearly stand up as well to the noodles or the beef rib.

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Even though I was skeptical when our waitress suggested the grilled dorade to round out our dinner, it turned out to be a wise decision.  The fish was presented to the table whole, head and tail and all.  Grilled simply and served with charred leeks and two nam prik dipping sauces, the flaky flesh of the dorade was milky and tender, perfect juxtaposition to the heavier meat dishes.

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To offset all the protein, a plate of sauteed water spinach with garlic, chilies and yellow soybeans was just the thing.  Don’t be fooled by the few red chilies that stud the generous plate, they packed such a punch that could not be ignored.  I reached for the sticky rice almost immediately but couldn’t stop eating it, bite spicy bite after another.

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The food here came at such a pace that we had a hard time keeping up.  In the end, we had filled the round table full of plates and bowls.  Just like how a good family meal should be.

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Uncle Boon’s | 7 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012 | http://www.uncleboons.com/

My Seattle Bites: Lunch at Stateside

June 8, 2015

A quick lunch was all the time I had for on my last trip to Seattle in the spring.  The weather was unimaginably nice for spring in the Northwest that I almost wondered if I had a mistake moving out East.  Despite the sun, there was still a chill in the early April air so a seat right up by the huge windows at Stateside on Capitol Hill will have to do.

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I started lunch with dessert first with a Vietnamese iced coffee and enjoyed watching the dark brew drip slowly into that sweet thick layer of condensed milk at the bottom of the cup.

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The lunch menu was an abbreviated but the best dishes remained, for example, the delicious chili cumin pork ribs that comes in spicy or extra spicy.  So tender that the meat fell off the bones with a slight nudge of the fork.

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The ribs were only rivaled by the crispy duck rolls.  Fresh rice wrappers enrobed fresh herbs and crispy roast duck.  A little extra crunch for texture from the spring rolls, these felt so indulgent yet refreshing.

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For a Vietnamese inspired lunch, a bahn mi was not to be missed.  Just the right size, the bahn mi was a wonderful balance of savory liver pate and housemade Vietnamese mortadella, fresh herbs and vegetables and a hint of pork floss for extra flavor on a crunch baguette.  The best part about this was the option of pairing the bahn mi with a bowl of pho broth for dipping.  What an ingenuous idea!  A Vietnamese soup and sandwich combo if you will.

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And for something a little lighter, the tamarind fish broth studded with meaty rockfish, pineapple, taro stem, okra and a medley of herbs was a perfect choice.  The broth was tart, sweetened by the pineapple and tamarind and the flavor was just the slightest bit funky from the fish sauce that added depth.

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With just a taste of the delicious foods of Stateside under my belt, I will certainly be looking to return to this cheerful bright establishment on the hillside of Capital Hill.

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Stateside | 300 East Pike Street, Seattle, WA 98122 | http://www.statesideseattle.com/