Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beer of the Week: Blue Point Toasted Lager

A local brewery in Patchogue, Long Island, Blue Point brewery is known for its microbrews and seasonal beers that many a bar in New York serves with pride. Their most well known beer is a Toasted Lager, a delicious beer that combines great malt and hops, with a toasted caramel flavor that I cannot say I have ever tasted in another beer. When it first started being served in bars it was a bit of a novelty because it was both rare and delicious. Bars would run out of it so quickly, and you would have to switch to another beer after a while. This is no longer the case as I witness recently that places as far away as Hoboken have discovered that a flavored beer can still be a "guy" beer.

Unlike its fruit and chocolate beer cousins, the toasted flavor adds a tasty yet only slight hint of flavor, almost like lightly smoking a vegetable. When you first taste the beer you can clearly make out the toasted flavor, but quickly come to the realization that it is a rich and flavorful lager on par with much better known non-toasted lagers.

Number of Beers Drank in one Sitting: 3
Pair with Food: Yes, goes really well with light and subtle flavored food, such as fish.

Not to be confused with the Mussels

Monday, February 16, 2009

Restaurant: Pipa

Tapas, tapas, tapas. Sometimes I wonder if like saying candy man in front of the mirror three times they will magically appear in front of me like a wish come true. Is there any other concept that appeals to someone who loves food more than the idea of being able to taste so many different types of dishes without having to either waste food or stuff yourself? Having done my own personal exploration (although small) of Spain, and trying other cultures examples of tapas, I am always excited to try a new tapas restaurant. Luckily, a recent suggestion of a somewhat high-end tapas restaurant named Pipa did not disappoint.

Located within, technically, ABC carpet, Pipa uses their unusual space to the best of their advantage with low lighting, huge chandeliers and other furniture directly from ABC carpet. While you may wonder if people ever look at the price tags of these items and buy them, you are very quickly distracted by the vibrant bar scene (even on Tuesday when I went) and the mass communal tables that dominate the landscape. I highly recommend a reservation, unless your goal is to spend a long time waiting at the bar getting drunk and forgetting that you came for food. After being seated with about 20 other people, at an awkward corner of a large table, we quickly ordered a pitcher of Sangria before even opening the menu. Although delicious, I didn't find anything that special about the Sangria, but who can argue with booze?

The menu is vast, and separated into different types of tapas and bites to help you choose wisely. There are also larger portioned dishes that are entree size, but unless you really want Paella or other more standard Spanish fare, I would stick with the tapas. Why get paella at a tapas restaurant? That's like going to a seafood restaurant and ordering chicken. After a heated debate we settled on a handful of dishes, including a "mushroom coca", Spanish olives, "pulpo gallego", stuffed piquillo peppers, beef skewers, a potato dish and chicken croquettes.

The dishes ranged from great, to good, and downright bad, but luckily the majority fell into the great category. The standouts included the stuffed piquillo peppers, beef skewers and pulpo gallego. The peppers were stuffed with a rich mix of crab and shrimp and topped with a paprika based aioli that made for rich creamy goodness. The shrimp and crab mixture managed to stand up to the delicious sauce, and there is always a fondness in my heart for things stuffed into other things. Despite the inherent danger in skewers, I managed to eat the tender pieces of beef quickly and safely. They came with a pleasant, if forgettable, dipping sauce, but the meat was so perfectly cooked and marinated that neither of us bothered with the sauce after the first taste. The last of the great dishes was the pulpo gallego. A relatively simple dish on the menu, consisting of octopus, potatoes, olives and smoked paprika, it actually had quite a complex flavor profile that dances around on the tongue with each bite. Perhaps the most impressive part of the whole dish was the octopus, which almost melted in my mouth. While I do perk up in general when eating well-cooked octopus, this dish alone will make want to come back for more.

The olives we ordered were delicious, but then again, they are still just a huge plate of olives to snack on in between courses. The good dishes included a large circle of potatoes and chicken croquettes. I honestly could not tell you how the potatoes were created, and though they were tasty, I wish I hadn't eaten them and had saved room for more of the above mentioned dishes. The croquettes were actually quite tasty, but they lacked a strong and flavorful sauce to back up the crunchy and moist croquette. The most disappointing of all the dishes, although it had the most promise, was the Mushroom Coca. A flat bread topped with wild mushrooms, manchego cheese, caramelized onions, fresh figs, serrano ham, toasted almonds and truffle oil, it had pretty much everything you could imagine wanting. The problem, however, was that the ingredients didn't meld well together at all, and instead had many individual distinct notes that left the dish only half eaten. The wild mushrooms, combined with the truffle oil, caused a much too earthy taste, which dominated the sweetness of the onions and figs. Manchego cheese and Serrano ham, two standouts on their own, were fighting the sweet earthy flavor just for a place at the table. In the end, we ended up just eating the ham off the top of the bread and leaving the rest of the dish untouched.

Dessert, as often is the case, was not something I was craving, instead choosing to eat a few more olives since the plate was so huge. I'm sure they do some nice desserts, but when I'm at a tapas restaurant with such diverse and delicious options as Pipa, I will always order one more savory dish.

Tapas and Home Furnishings

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Condiment of the Week: Cucumber Raita

Defining cucumber raita as a "condiment" might be stretching the definition a bit, but I like to think that it should be classified with ketchup and mayo if more people ate it regularly in the US. Perhaps its Indian origins, and not many people actually knowing what it is has something to do with it.Raita , particularly the cucumber type, is very common in South Indian cuisine and is often served alongside traditional dishes whether here in the US, Britain, or India. It is cool and refreshing, providing a reprieve to many spicy dishes by giving your tongue a break it needs.

The primary ingredients are yogurt, mint, and cucumbers with a number of variations that can include cilantro, cayenne, paprika and toasted cumin seeds. Occasionally I have had it where it is very sweet, almost like vanilla instead of plain yogurt was used, and I do not recommend it made like this. The yogurt is meant as a foil to the spicy food you are eating, not as a primary taste to the dish. The idealraita has the flavor of the cucumber and the mint coming through on the palate, while the yogurt gets you ready for yet another bite of something that makes the tongue tingle with satisfaction.

Favorite Use: Topping spicy Indian food or on the side for naan dipping
Strangest Use: Marinade for chicken that gives it an unusual and tender texture and flavor.