Saturday, April 28, 2012

Comfort Japanese? Yes Please.

For some reason, spring has decided to be very rude and take back whatever nice weather it teased us with a week ago. So tonight, in the misplaced cold, my roommate and I decided to try out a new Japanese restaurant in our neighborhood: Kasadela, at Ave. C and 11th. The warm flavors of the tapas-style dishes, and the cozy atmosphere were the perfect remedy for the cold weather. We were even warmed up enough that we got Big Gay Ice Cream afterwards...

All the dishes that we got were excellent. If you're looking for a more unique Japanese dining experience, aka taking a break from the usual spicy tuna roll, then look no further. The prices are right, the service was great, and all around it's a perfect place for an intimate dinner. Here are some of the dishes we got:

Bok Choy sauteed with ginger, garlic, and scallions

Kimchee (spicy pickled vegetables--in this case, cabbage)

Beef teriyaki skewers. The beef was very well cooked and the teriyaki sauce was pretty addictive. 

Grilled chicken with miso and yuzu soy marinated vegetables

Ok this was soo delicious. Fried chicken coated in grated potato, served with a creamy jalepeno sauce. 

And I didn't even mention the huge sake selection they have. Probably because I know nothing about sake, but for anyone who does, I'm guessing this place will warm you up in yet another way. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ramen at Chuko

When I went to Chuko in Prospect Heights, I was really in need for some good ramen. The setting was all right: I was going with good friends, the weather was cold and dreary with a weird snow mist thing going on, and I had just finished with a long, loonnnngg day of work.

Thank goodness Chuko lived up to the hype, is all I can say.

First of all, I rarely find that the service at restaurants influences my dining experience that much, but our server was so enthusiastic and helpful, that it truly enhanced my whole meal. She was very knowledgeable about all the dishes, and was so eager to make recommendations and express her enthusiasm about the food, that I was excited before I even began eating! So I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to her, since I always respect when a server stands so strongly behind the establishment they work for and the food it serves.

Thanks to helpful Yelpers, I started off my meal with the fried brussel sprouts. Oh man, were these addictive! A heaping pile of quick-fried brussel sprouts, they were crispy on the edges and tender to the bite. The sprouts were doused with fish sauce and showered with chopped peanuts and chilies, rendering them tangy and salty and hot all at once.

Next came the main event. After much deliberation, I went with the white miso ramen with turnip pieces, a soft-boiled egg (although you have the option of hard-boiled), and pork slices (chicken is also an option). And of course, oodles of noodles.

The broth was mild but very well-balanced in flavor, and adding a heap of their homemade hot garlic oil (literally boiling scallion oil poured over garlic slices. It's amazing and addictive) added depth through its smokiness and, of course, garlic umami. Breaking open the egg and swirling the yolk brought a rich creaminess to the ramen.

And the noodles? They did exactly what they were supposed to: they had the perfect amount of bite, and gave me a great excuse to slurp my way through the dish. The pork slices were a welcome salty treat, and added a chewy yet tender, and intensely flavorful element to the velvety ramen. And the turnips were the most surprising ingredient of all! I was skeptical of turnips in my ramen, but the pieces were super tender and sweet. I think they were actually my favorite part of the dish.

Overall, Chuko not only provided the ultimate in comfort foods, but it was also such a learning experience for me, since up until now my only venture with ramen has been of the packaged, dehydrated variety. I had no idea that ramen could be made up of so many flavors and textures, all harmoniously converging into one bowl of heaven. Kudos to Chuko for making one hell of a ramen. My only other parting word is this: mmmm....

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Brunch! Tartinery and The Smith

A couple weekends ago, I spent wayyy too much money, but was rewarded with amazing meals, particularly in the brunch arena. First of all, there was the Tartine I got at Tartinery in Nolita. A Tartine is a French open-faced sandwich, and it is fantastic. At Tartinery, you can choose to have any of their traditional or creative topping combinations on Poilane bread which is imported from the  Germain-des-Pres bakery in Paris. Sound awesome? Well, it is. The bread is sliced thin, yet still manages to be hearty with a rustic texture, and is sturdy enough to support a generous helping of quality ingredients. 

I decided to stick to traditional French cuisine, and got the Ratatouille Tartine: oven-roasted peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and eggplant. The melty goat cheese on top lent a rich and tangy note to the vegetable-laden toast. The Tartine was accompanied by a delicate salad of romaine hearts with walnuts and really delicious, salty parmesan shavings. The whole meal was simple and done right, reminiscent of a quaint Parisian bistro. Although it was a bit pricey, it was worth it to diverge from traditional brunch food. Plus I felt like I was getting my money's worth, since it is clear that Tartinery takes pride in their ingredients and over-all presentation. 

And now let's go all-American at The Smith!! Oh my goodness, I only have great things to say about this place. Where Tartinery left me comfortably satisfied, The Smith, in appropriate American fashion, left me unable to move for a good ten minutes, and unbelievably satiated. I got the Country Breakfast, and substituted the ham steak for their homemade maple chicken sausage, which was probably the best decision ever. Besides the tasty sausage patties, which were smothered in rich gravy, the dish was comprised of cheddar jalepeno grits, melt-in-your-mouth scrambled eggs, and a buttery biscuit that was bigger than the palm of my hand. But don't worry, I still managed to eat it all. 

The walls of The Smith are plastered with black and white pictures and portraits from the early nineteenth century, connecting the diner even more with the food they're eating and the rich history behind it. Just being there, eating my biscuit, put me in the best mood, which is all you can really ask for at brunch. And so, when what I want is fantastic American fare, to The Smith I shall go. 

On a less romantic note, I can't wait to try their dinner after seeing a picture of their mac and cheese just now on their website... I may have to very know, for the blog. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Meme Mediterranean

This post marks a new era in my blog. Up until now, I have written long, romanticized posts; paragraphs filled to the brim with adjectives describing each food morsel that entered my mouth. I may still do this from time to time, as I am overcome with emotion from a recent food experience. But more often than not, my life moves very fast, and I want to be able to document my life through food on the go. I've found that I have too many great food adventures to write an ode to each one. And so, with that said, let's get on with it!

To welcome back my blog from the abyss, I want to start by highlighting Meme Mediterranean, aka my new favorite restaurant. I've now been there several times, each time better than the last. Memes is a tiny place in the West Village that is so clearly based on Moroccan home cooking that I feel as though my food was actually prepared by the owner's grandmother. The owner himself takes such pride in the food, as he walks around offering free samplings to the diners, that you feel like family, and his joy is contagious.

Each meal begins with a platter of marinated olives, pickled vegetables, and pieces of yummy olive bread, with fruity olive oil for dipping. I have discovered a delicious wine calling Tempranillo that warms me all over and seems to compliment everything I eat at Memes. It's not too full-bodied, but it's also not lacking in flavor.

I always start with their salad of red leaf and romain lettuces with roasted butternut squash, grilled Halumi cheese, and pumpkin seeds. Halumi cheese, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a cheese sturdy enough to be grilled while keeping its shape and firm texture. It's crispy, salty and DELICIOUS, while the butternut squash offers a sweet and creamy compliment to the cheese and crunchy seeds.

Another must at this restaurant: the merguez sausage. Merguez sausage is made from lamb, and Meme's merguez is so incredibly flavorful that it overwhelms the senses. Seriously, I didn't even know sausage could taste like this. The spices are so warming, with a slight spicy aftertaste, leaving you wanting more and more. With the creamy hummus and fluffy pita, it's literally a perfect combination of textures and tastes. 

Meme's piece de resistance: their chicken tagine. A big, warming stew of delicious broth and couscous with chicken that is falling off the bone. Apricots, raisins, spicy carrots and slivered almonds add such depth to the dish that you will spend the entire time trying to figure out what your favorite element of the dish is. Here's a hint: just close your eyes and take deep breaths, and the magic of the dish will transport you to the farm where their paprika is sun-dried and ground, overseen by Meme herself. Coming from someone who is usually a skeptic of the fruit and chicken combo, I am telling you to try this dish and you too will become a believer in Meme. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Playing Ketchup

I'll say first of all that this post has nothing to do with ketchup. When I was in elementary school, we would occasionally have a catch-up day, in which students were given the chance to catch up with whatever class they were behind in. However, me having a one-track-mind for food, always thought it was called "ketchup day." Needless to say, it made a lot more sense once I figured it out.

Anyway, my point is that I really need to play catch-up. I've gotten so caught up in the joys of New York spring and summer, that I have shamefully neglected this blog. But what better way to document and reflect upon my food adventures and discoveries than in these electronic pages! So instead of devoting a post to solely one culinary experience, I've decided to unload all my recent ventures into one amazing and picture-filled post. So get ready.

First I have to give a shout-out to the cupcake crawl that my coworkers and I recently went on. We hit up Babycakes (a vegan bakery), where I had a carrot cupcake top (pictured below) that was surprisingly moist and tasty. The textures of both the cake and frosting were denser than non-vegan cupcakes, but overall really enjoyable. We also went to Sugar Sweet Sunshine, where I got the "Bob," a yellow cupcake with chocolate almond buttercream.  A deliciously fresh and airy cake with a nice balance of chocolate and nutty flavors folded into the frosting...and at only $1.75 a pop?? Why yes thank you, I will indulge in a trendy cupcake on a budget.  Last we stopped at Butter Lane, and wow did it smell like butter. By that time, I was pretty cupcaked out, but I couldn't resist doing a peanut butter frosting shot (yes you heard me right). This place obviously takes pride in their frostings, since they offer about 15 different types, including grapefruit ginger and blueberry. The frosting was incredibly rich and delicious, and I look forward to going back and actually eating it on a cupcake to help cut the richness.

Speaking of rich textures, I recently went to S'MAC, a haven for mac and cheese lovers such as myself. It took me a while to decide between all of the very different but equally tempting varieties, such as Parisenne, made with brie and roasted figs, and Cajun, which is loaded with andouille sausage. Much to my accompanying friend's disappointment, I ended up getting the 4 cheese, which, although basic, I still thought was incredible. It is a mixture of sharp melty cheeses with al dente macaroni, all topped with breadcrumbs and served in the cast iron pan it was baked in. My friends who came with me thought the ratio of cheese to pasta was a bit much, but I don't know what they were talking about. Seriously good mac and cheese.

Okay, moving on to the vegetarian Thai cooking class that I recently took at Brooklyn Brainery, which was pretty awesome. The class, besides being super cheap ($30 for a 3 hour class, where we used great authentic ingredients) was also only 15 people, making for a very intimate setting. The teacher was pretty knowledgeable on Thai cooking, and we were provided a plethora of fresh ingredients commonly found in the Thai palate, such as Thai chilies, lemongrass, and galangal (similar to ginger). I really enjoyed the first dish we made, which was a spicy basil stir-fry (pictured below). For the protein, since it was a vegetarian class, we used yuba (otherwise known as dried beancurd) that had been reconstituted in water. The yuba's texture was definitely preferable over squishly, bland tofu, as the yuba was chewy, substantial, and nutty in flavor. Although I think my group used one too many Thai chilies, I really enjoyed the dish's complex flavors, where garlic, Thai basil and Kafir lime leaves were binded together with umami-driven mushroom soy sauce.

Just one more place I want to highlight! When my college friends and I had a much needed reunion recently, we went to a restaurant I've been wanting to try for a while. Buying a Groupon for it finally got me there, and my old roommates accompanied me. The place is called Maggie Brown, owned by the same people who run Olea and Pequena (and Moe's, RIP), two other great restaurants in the area. Maggie Brown is a casual neighborhood restaurant, specializing in Southern comfort food. And it was everything I wanted it to be and more.

In the picture above, please identify the various sources of joy. Exhibit A: perfect fried chicken, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, with greens and creamy mashed potatoes. Exhibit B: a cocktail of whiskey, lemonade, and watermelon. And Exhibit C: rich macaroni and cheese, with the slightly burnt top spilling over the sides. A+B+C=a perfect summer meal shared with friends, while sitting in Maggie Brown's picturesque backyard patio.

Phew, it feels so cathartic to share all of those wonderful food experiences! I promise to try and be more regular with my posts, especially since I will soon be moving to a new neighborhood, with its own vast array of restaurants to explore. I do want to take a moment and thank Brooklyn for all it has given me, in regards to my food education. I will definitely continue to come to Brooklyn to enjoy the great stand-by's, like Choice Market, and I highly encourage any New Yorker to make the trip out there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Finding the South in Brooklyn

This is a tale of a girl who had her first taste of the South, in Brooklyn. Those of you from the South, please refrain from passing judgment until after reading this post, and hopefully trying the place I am about to revere. That being said, let the story begin...

There is a place in Fort Greene that my friends and I had been wanting to try for a while, called The Smoke Joint. We passed by it once on a leisurely walk through the neighborhood, and I remember stepping inside and having the aroma of barbecue sauce wash over me instantly. Barely glancing at the menu, we knew this was a place we needed to dedicate a night to eating at. Always waiting for the right time, we let months go by before actually going there.

Finally, on a Saturday night with no plans and empty stomachs, we found ourselves craving stick-to-your-bones comfort food. We braved the lingering cold of March and walked over to Fort Greene. As we passed cute restaurants and wine bars, our motivation swayed slightly, but we persevered after remembering what awaited us.

And for the second time, the door swung open and I felt intoxicated as I inhaled the sweet and smoky scent of barbecue. Everything about The Smoke Joint excites the senses. The smells, obviously, but also the sight of steaming entrees and side dishes being carried from the counter, located right next to the front door, over to the tables.

Needless to say, we were overwhelmed. As soon as the server came over, instead of picking and choosing, we went the route of more is more. Was it enough that we ordered cornbread? No, we also needed corn on the cob, which was slathered with a chipotle mayo and sprinkled with scallions and paprika. And of course we needed collard greens. And french fries, tossed liberally in old bay spice. And macaroni and cheese that was bubbling on top and had a thick custard texture beneath. And our entrees came with coleslaw and pickles.

And then there were the entrees themselves. Oh, for the love of meat. As a girl who's only past encounters with brisket have been on Rosh Hashanah and Passover, I wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was a generous stack of moist and tender meat, begging to be doused in the hot sauces provided on the table for such an occasion. The commingling flavors of the smoky brisket, hot sauce, and crunchy coleslaw were deeply satisfying, with the tangy pickles completing the love affair. Even though I love my mother's Jewish brisket, while writing this post in bed, I could definitely eat some Smoke Joint brisket this very minute.

One of my friends ordered the hot links, which also did not disappoint, with a satisfyingly crackly exterior and an incredibly flavorful inside.

All around us, people were joyfully tucking in to their meats of choice and plentiful sides. There was a general feeling of camaraderie, because I think all of the diners felt apart of something special. We had stepped outside of Brooklyn temporarily, and had entered the bright South, its culture imbued with culinary traditions. Well, it was either that or the wide selection of bourbon that inspired the festive atmosphere.

There's really nothing else to say about the meal, except that afterward, my friends and I literally sat at the table for a good twenty minutes before able to move. And even then, we were only capable of moving to the bar across the street before needing to sit down again and rest. This is not a meal to be underestimated. When you go to the Smoke Joint, it's go hard or go home. In another month or so, when I'm finally hungry again, I can't wait to go back for my second dose of the South.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Donut Lovers Anonymous

My name is Julie, and I love donuts.

I have tried to stifle this affinity in the past, thinking donuts are an unsophisticated and particularly glutinous dessert. How could I rationalize choosing a half-stale Dunkin Donut over a cute cupcake, served up at some hip cafe??

But now, I have discovered Dough, a place that gives donuts their due, thus allowing me to make my love for donuts known. And lucky (or dangerous) for me, Dough happens to be two blocks away from where I live.

I first read about Dough in the New York Times, which highlighted its nutella cream-filled donuts, among its other kinds. Honestly, I became dazed and confused once I read the words "nutella" and "donut" in the same sentence, so the rest of the article was a blur. And later that morning, after two of my housemates had e-mailed me said article, I knew a trip was imminent.

So on a balmy day in late February, I walked excitedly with some housemates over to Dough. I just have to say, it really exceeded my expectations.

First of all, I smelled the delicious scent of sugar and fried dough from a block away. The smell wafted over to me and seemed to carry me through the front door straight to the quaint counter, where fresh batches of donuts were being carried out. I had gone to Dough with the clear intention of getting the nutella cream-filled donut, but as soon as I saw the other selections, I pretty much digressed to my eight-year-old self. I just stood there, staring at the donuts with my mouth open and my eyes glazed over.While my friends quickly made their selections, I still couldn't bring myself to choose just one. Should I get a nutella or chai-cream filled donut, or a classic glazed or cinnamon sugar? Or I could be super daring and get the hibiscus flower one! I was literally a kid in a candy store.

So obviously, I tasted all of my friends' donuts to help me decide. The glazed chocolate topped with chocolate nibs was extraordinary, while the chocolate with earl grey, although a really good donut, didn't quite deliver that punch of bergamot flavor I was hoping for. The cafe au lait was delectable, even though I don't even like coffee! This didn't actually make my selection process any easier.

Finally, after much deliberation, I chose the dulce de leche with slivered almonds on top. I'm embarassed to say that a contributing factor to me not going with the nutella-cream was that the cream filled donuts were smaller in diameter than the regular donuts. Not my finest foodie moment. But no matter, the donut was DELICIOUS. The dough itself was soft and yeasty and melted in my mouth. The dulce de leche glaze was creamy and added that level of sinful caramel flavor, while the slivered almonds lent texture and a nutty after-taste. So. Good.

Conclusion: Dough will definitely be seeing more of me in the future. For one thing, I still need to taste the nutella cream donut (and every other kind available). If you ever find yourself in the area of Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy, I highly recommend you swing by and pick up some donuts, either for yourself or as a gift to someone else. Once you try these, you too can become a donut lover.