Friday, September 28, 2007

Restaurant: S'MAC

I feel like Homer Simpson writing about this restaurant, and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe because I picture him taking one bite of their food and saying "MMMMM, S'MAC". Either that, or it makes me think of a blaxploitation film in the 1970's where someone is dealing S'MAC.

Ok, but I digress. For those who don't know about S'MAC, shame on you. This is the next generation of mac and cheese. I don't even like Mac and Cheese, or at least what I thought was Mac and Cheese. After having the Mac and Cheese at S'MAC a few times I am a convert. Calling it Mac and Cheese is like getting the DB Burger and saying you "had a burger for lunch". Each dish is made to order, with your chosen toppings added in and baked and served in different sized cast iron frying pans like you would find down south. Varieties range from All American, 4 Cheese and Cheeseburger, to the more out there Cajun and Brie. Plus, you have to try at least once the Buffalo Chicken. You even can "create your own" by choosing your different cheeses, vegetables and meat. Plus the portion sizes come small (Nosh) enough that you can order 3, share with someone else and not feel like too much of a glutton. Or if you really want a meal, get the "Munch". And if you happen to be from middle america, you'll probably want the "Mongo". Yeah, the names are a little Starbucksy, but I just love the word nosh so much, I'm willing to overlook this. I just love the choices here. They let you decide if you want bread crumbs on top, heck they even have whole wheat pasta if you want a little "health" in your food.

Oh, and just in case you didn't think it could get any better, it's really cheap, and there is a "S'MAC Happy Hour" where select Mac & Cheese combo's are even cheaper.

Favorite: Tie between 4 Cheese & Cajun
Least Favorite: Garden (damn vegetables are getting in the way of my cheese!)

Get some legal S'Mac

The Dish: Seared Barramundi with Yukon Gold Potatoes & Calamari

Sometimes when you eat out or cook at home or even have a snack there is a single dish or food that stands out, to the point where you don't need to write about the whole meal or everything you ate. Or maybe it's just lunch...

In this case it would be just lunch. Recently on a trip to the Grand Havana Room, I was lucky enough to order this delcious barrimundi (not pictured, I just thought this looked classy). The fish itself had a crispy skin from searing it in a frying pan, and was probably finished off in the oven. Flavored with some light herbs like parsley and oregano and thyme, the fish alone would have made the dish. The yukon potato slices and chopped up bits of bite size calamari added an even better contrast. Barramundi is a very mild whitefish, and the strong taste of potatoes and calamari were great when eaten together. Topped with a sweet red wine reduction and an earthy pesto like sauce without the garlic, and it made for a member of the clean plate club in no time.

Best way to eat each bite: piece of fish with skin, a potato, small piece of calimari, and a lil red wine reduction. Finish bite and repeat until full of happy goodness.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Condiment of the Week: HP Sauce

Quick, I say British, what food do you think of? Fish & Chips? Probably one of the few actually good British imported foods other than their various "pies". Similar to what I said about Lizano sauce, HP Sauce is like ketchup to the British. Well, actually, technically it is a "brown sauce" but it is the most popular, and pretty much all we know on this side of the pond. HP Sauce is a tangy blend of malt vinegar, spices and most importantly to me, molasses. Molasses is one of those ingredients that doesn't get nearly enough credit in cooking, and when something is made with it, man can you taste it. Ever eat a baked good and wonder, hmm what is that sweetner? That would be molasses. But I digress. There's also some fruit flavor, although I always felt that this was more of a subtle flavor than a front and center hear me roar type of flavor. HP is really good in sauces and marinades, but really excels when just eaten on it's own. I love topping burgers with it, or dipping french fries or even fried calamari! Ask a brit though, and it's really the best possible thing to eat fish and chips with.

Favorite Use: Fish and Chips. Especially if you first douse the fish and chips with malt vinegar when they are hot so it is absorbed, then dip in HP sauce and live the high life.
Strangest Use: Believe it or not, I've seen it used in mixed drinks, although for the life of me I can't find a recipe.

Beer of the Week: Sol

You gotta have Sol. Ok, bad joke, but seriously, you should have Sol. Do you like Corona, Tecate, or any other somewhat light beer that you drink with citrus? Then not only would you probably like Sol, but you would probably be impressed by it's crisp taste, but full of flavor more so than a Corona I feel. It's a very refreshing beer that actually is light enough to actually almost absorb some of the lime flavor when added to it, but not lose it's taste. And served ice cold, you feel like on of those Corona commercials just sitting on the beach with no care in the world. Mexican beer is very underrated, and this is probably one of those beers that flies under the radar because you don't see it in every single bar and i've never actually seen it on tap.

I've got Sol, and I'm super bad.

Number of Beers Drank in one sitting: 5
Pair with food: No, except a lime

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Restaurant: East Japanese Restaurant

By the name alone this restaurant sounds like your run of the mill sushi joint in Murray Hell frequented by people who like sushi, but don't strive for something different. Take a closer look, however, and the restaurant itself is a fun, different and entertaining experience. The sushi itself is good, nothing beyond your slightly above average spot in Manhattan, but it comes via a conveyor belt. Apparently this is considered "fast food" in Japan, but compared to our fast food, well I think we have a lot to learn. While you can get a seat at a booth, or at the fancy upstairs where you take your shoes off, the real fun is getting a seat at the sushi bar where plates of 2-5 pieces of sushi go by you freshly made for you to choose from. The plates are different colors and looking on the menu you can see they represent different prices, ranging from white (the cheapest) to black with gold and silver (of course the most expensive). Half the fun is trying to figure out what each sushi is, and trying new ones that look interesting, all the while stacking up your plates and deciding what to grab next before it gets by you. If you don't see what you want the chefs at the bar will happily make it for you, and waiters come often to see if you need anything off the menu or more drinks. The sushi ranges from your standard California roll and brown rice spicy tuna to anaconda/typhoon rolls, spider rolls and even a kobe beef sashimi ($10). Even desserts like lemon custard and some weird squishy balls come around with non-sushi appetizers like seaweed and other small salads.

Take a date or take a group, but either way, they will instantly love the idea of grabbing food as it comes by, and before you know it you'll have more plates stacked up than you thought.

Favorite Plate: Spicy Tuna roll - no mayo, just hot pepper flakes in the rice
2ND Favorite Plate: tie between Philadelphia Roll & Spider Roll

Sushi on a Conveyor Belt!!!!

Monday, September 17, 2007

What the heck do you do with...Tofu

The eternal love of vegetarians, and the undying hatred of everyone else is usually heaped upon this soy based product. Ask any meat eater and they will instantly ask you why? Why would you subject me to eating this, when I could have had meat. Chicken, beef, veal, pigeon, anything but Tofu. But ask a vegetarian and you will hear them talk about the variety of different tofu's, and how versatile of an ingredient it is. I tend to fall in the middle camp. As a meat eater, I would much rather have a dish made with meat than tofu, but I can appreciate tofu as a nice way to add texture and depth to a dish, or even to stand out on its own. Like chicken, tofu is very flexible and lacks in a distinct taste which is why it is often paired with strong flavors like chili, ginger, garlic and curries. Adding smoked tofu to pad thai is delicious, or mixing it into a vegetable curry works really well too. Many Japanese foodmarts will also sell marinated tofu with hot chili spices. Heck, softer tofu can even be used to make some desserts where you would never even know soy was being used.

So to those who say no to tofu, I say, give it a chance. It tastes like whatever sauce it's served in, and is quick and easy to make.

Favorite Preparation: Grilled tofu with a carrot ginger vinagrette at Rice

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Restaurant: La Taqueria

A good friend of mine is trying to get me to explore Brooklyn more, and thanks to my innate fear of the outer boroughs, and the denizens that lie within, I have been taking her up on it. Luckily, she's starting me off slowly with this great little Mexican place on 7th ave in Park Slope. La Taqueria when we went by on a Friday night had a line for take out (always a good sign) and a fun funky dining room with murals and and bright lively colors. The waitress was very friendly, and the free chips and salsa were on the table so quick I didn't even open my menu. The salsa actually caught me off guard, with a little more kick and flavor than your average run of the mill salsa that most Mexican places put out for you to fill up on while you decide if you want cerveza or margaritas. Despite the free chips, I had to try the nachos and wasn't disappointed. The chips, despite some reviews, were not soggy, and actually were nice and crisp. I mean, honestly who eats nachos slow enough to actually let them get soggy? The only thing I would have like was some jalapeno slices on top with the guac, sour cream, pico de gallo and cheese.

For a main course we both got enchilada's, mine a carnita's with a roasted tomato sauce, hers your standard green tomatillo chicken enchilada. My love of carnitas goes back to the really bad Desperado sequel, and this didn't disappoint. They were well cooked and tasty, and the sauce had a nice flavor too it. After a little hot sauce addition (it is Mexican after all) I of course cleaned the plate. The chicken enchilada's were also tasty. The only real issue I had with both was the tortilla's seemed awfully thick and felt like it was a bit much bread. But hey, after a few pacifico's and margarita's, your suddenly a lot less critical.

Overall it was a fun, funky little joint, and my one regret is that we didn't try the table side guacamole. Then again, we noticed on the way out that they don't use garlic in it, which always bothers me. It's not necessarily traditional, but I like the flavor that it adds. I will just have to save that for next time, when I also get one of their giant burritos.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Beer of the Week: Stella Artois

Stella, as it's more commonly referred to, was never a favorite of mine. I think I had some really skunky bottle back in high school and have not liked it since. Recently, however, I was lucky enough to have a few bottles left in my fridge and I figured "what the heck, it's still beer" and gave it another shot. Apparently Belgium doesn't just make good chocolates and boy was I surprised. A very light lager, it actually tasted like other "imported" beers that are light and easy to drink heavily like Amstel Light. It has a nice crisp finish, and seems to be much much better when on tap. Personally I don't see myself drinking it too often unless i'm at a bar, it's a draught and I don't want a heavy beer, and I don't just want a $4 bud light. Damn imports can really run up that tab!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Condiment of the Week: Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce

Among the thousands of hot sauces Sriracha is king, and anyone who even remotely likes a little heat with their food will agree with you. Personally, I buy this stuff by the giant squeeze bottle because I go through it so quickly. Usually many people don't even know the name of this sauce they just refer to it as the squeeze bottle hot sauce, or the hot sauce bottle with a rooster. Sriracha goes best with Asian foods, like chinese, thai, and vietnamese. Personally I also use it with mexican food and in a lot of marinades. Heck in college we use to just squeeze it onto crackers like it was a dipping sauce. Plus, with it's bright red color, thick consistency, and distinct chili flavor it makes for a nice finish on top of many dishes. While most hot sauces are thin and liquidy, usually with a lot of vinegar and burn your mouth like someone lit a match inside of it, Sriracha bursts with flavor and just enough heat to keep you honest.

Favorite Use: Generous squirts poured over Chicken with Broccoli
Strangest Use: Casey on Top Chef used it to make ice cream. Oh yeah, and also used poblano's, dried apricot and potato chips. I love Sriracha, but come on, did she really think this would actually taste good?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Restaurant: Frisky Oyster

The Frisky Oyster is in Greenport Long Island, but when you sit down it's like your in some hot trendy place down in Soho or the Meatpacking District. The music is mainly house, the walls are covered with soft flowery fabric with not too much light and candles on the tables. All the waiters and waitresses are attractive, and are extremely attentive. Oh yeah, and they even serve food too. Getting a table there this past Sunday for Labor Day weekend is clearly not an easy task, there were tons of people waiting at the bar and up front. I managed to have a nice glass of syrah to start while filling up on some bread (which you probably could get better at a sports bar). The appetizer, however, was great. Shelter Island oysters with an apple mignette went really nicely, but then again, how hard is it to make an oyster taste good when they are fresh. The mignette was just the right amount of acid, but I didn't really taste much apple. Other people at my table had some of their salads, one of which I have to admit I wish I ordered. The country salad came with crispy pancetta, roasted garlic and gorgonzola over some nice mixed greens. The crispy big chunks of pancetta alone were delicious, but paired with the rest of the dish it made for a really good salad. Sadly 1 oyster only bought me 2 bites of salad, a very unfair trade in my mind!

For a main course I had prosciutto wrapped scallops with a corn & bean salad on top of a yellow heirloom tomato gazapacho. The prosciutto was almost impossibly thin, but one bite and you knew that it was enough with a great combination of a perfectly cooked scallop and the smoky fattyness of the prosciutto. It was like an italian surf and turf. The corn and bean salad was actually cold, as was the gazpacho, which made a nice contrast to the right out of the frying pan scallops. The salad itself had a nice crispyness, but didn't fight the flavor of the rest of the dish. I was really excited for the gazpacho, since anytime I see it I have to order it, but half way through the dish, I didn't even realize I was eating it. The taste was excellent, but it was more of a yellow tomato sauce than a gazpacho, lacking the garlic and other vegetables that normally make something a real gazpacho. Still, it was an interesting take on a classic, and I found myself trying to eat all of it. Then again, this is usually the case...

Dessert left a lot to be desired, the strawberry rhubarb cobbler being way too tart, and the creme fraiche ice cream tasting like cold and nothing else. It's not even really worth writing about. Maybe I just ordered the wrong thing, cause the "best ever" key lime pie was delicious, and made me feel like I was down in Florida.

Overall, I would highly recommend Frisky Oyster, just be aware that their menu changes daily, so you never know what you might get. Not many vegetarian options, if at all, but there are non-fish dishes (usually italian).

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Beer of the Week: Newcastle Brown Ale

mmmm Beer. Ok, so I probably could say that about any beer other than Sam Adams (Sorry New England, but your taste in beer sucks). I order Newcastle anytime I see it's distinctive tap, it's like the sirens in The Odyssey even when I have decide to only have one. Newcastle for me is that perfect balance between a slight bitterness, and an aftertaste of sweetness that I love about a good beer. It is technically a "brown ale" although most people who aren't a bunch of beer snobs tend to group it in with other beer from England and Ireland like Boddingtons, Guiness, Bass and Youngs. Not to say I don't like the beers I just listed (maybe some future posts) but nothing compares to a well poured draught Newcastle, with some tasty "frosting". The slight hints of either chocolate or caramel nicely offset the bitterness, and although I don't know this for sure it seems to have a higher alcohol content than a lot of your average on tap beers.

Pair with Food - Possibly, but it is very filling and strong taste so not ideal
Average # drank on a night out - 3-4

Learn more about why you should let Newcastle get you drunk

Condiment of the Week: Salsa Lizano

This "salsa" is really more of a versatile sauce that I have fallen in love with from the moment I've tasted it. Lizano is the ketchup of Costa Rica, and you can find it almost everywhere over there, but hardly anywhere in the U.S. of A. In fact, I have yet to find a place in NYC or nearby that sells it, and have had to order it by the case from a Costa Rican mail order company.

Lizano has a very unique flavor, and describing it will not do it justice. Greenish brown and a smooth thick liquid, it has a very earthy and somewhat salty taste to it, most likely attributed to a variety of vegetables in it ranging from cauliflower to cucumber. Not spicy at all, as most people expect from a salsa, it is rich, and a very bold flavor that stands on it's own in almost anything.

Personally, I like to tell people once you use Lizano with Mexican food like a burrito you won't be able to eat it without it. I use it with any Mexican food or other latin food, particularly with rice and beans. I've also used it as a marinade for meats like chicken, turkey and beef, or for a sauce for meat. Vegetables and more starchy food don't go well with it, but I have mixed it in with chicken salad and tuna salad as a way to give it a different flavor.

Favorite Use: Poured generously on top of a chicken burrito.
Strangest Use: Chicken Salad sandwich, instead of oil and vinegar