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Archive for the ‘Mini Reviews’ Category

Breakfast? Good choice.

My Cousin Vinny is a special movie to me. It’s one of the movies I actually own on DVD. I only purchase DVD’s of a movie when I know I will watch the film again and again and again…Some day I will give you the full list (which includes 7 seasons of the X-Files).

Also, I kinda love the white streaks in Marissa Tomei’s hair. A lot.

At one point, I got really good at imitating her character, Mona Lisa Vito: Oh you smooooth tawker. You ahhh….

But I digress.

Vinny and Mona Lisa’s discovery of grits in a sleepy Alabama cafe is one of the best-played scenes in this movie and always has me laughing, especially when Vinny literally puts one single grit on his fork and Mona Lisa pulls out her 1980’s pink camera to document the novelty of it all. But you should watch it for yourself, via this very shady video I found on youtube:

So I know you’ve heard of grits. But have you ever SEEN a grit before? And would you know where to get some good ones if you wanted them?

Of course I have a suggestion, a Vinny and Mona Lisa approved suggestion: Egg in Brooklyn. These days Vinny and Mona Lisa would stand out in Williamsburg quite as much as they did in Alabama, but I think they would make the trip for the food.

I did this past Sunday and feasted on their Eggs and Grits platter (with sweeeeeet, sweet bacon):

As the short order cook from the video suggested, these are hominy grits, made from corn. A simple concoction made no less tasty because of its simplicity. I think the secret ingredient is butter. And love. But sometimes I get those two words confused. Like when I tell people, “I butter you.” Everyone gets confused.

But these grits were just the right amount of buttered. Not greasy as all, but whipped up into an impressively light and airy pile of lightly salted creaminess. However, there was no cream added. That is the magic of grits – they have a creamy texture, but all that is added is water and seasonings. It’s like the Southern corn version of risotto.

Along with my corn risotto, I ordered eggs (over medium style) and sweet bacon. I made some sweet bacon a while back on the blog, but Egg’s is truly something special: thickly cut strips of locally sourced pork bacon made just slightly gooey with sweetness. A must order.

In addition to the down home goodness of their food, the tables come accessorized with these:

Do you have any idea what happens when I spot crayons at the table? Here’s a glimpse:

* Pirate scene not created by me.

Also, I try to steal other crayon colors from adjacent tables.

So streak your hair, dress up in leather and get yourself to Egg for their grits and sweet bacon. You’ll butter it. And take a picture, it’ll last longer.

Overall Grit Eating Experience: The Big Lebowski – The Cult Classic

Egg
135 North 5th Street, Brooklyn New York 11211
phone: (718) 302 5151

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This month’s Bathroom of the Month Award goes to Slice, The Perfect Food! While not the fanciest or most polished in terms of loo decor, I walked out of that bathroom feeling like I had visited 1 part carnival, 1 part artist studio, with a dash of wacky/artsy boudoir (see the red crystal chandelier). And with the renegade Muppet art, the only thing missing was this. The large mirrors, tidy appearance, and parquet ceiling sure helped too. But honestly, this bathroom is all about the experience. Go check it out, and while you’re at it, order a Miki.

And if you need other suggestions, let’s review our week’s adventures:

On Monday, it was Marmo’s Birthday, and we gave you a Marmo Special: Farfalle with Sausage recipe.

Tuesday was all about pizza, and we checked out John’s Jersey establishment.

On Wednesday, the Landmark Loews Theatre and Sapthagiri Indian Restaurant hit a home run double feature and make my millennium.

Finally, we hone our crane kicks for the Gramercy Tavern review on Thursday.

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Today we have a little treat for you – a Jersey City treat.

On a recent outing with some friends, our friend Justin waxed poetic about the Landmark Loews Theatre in Jersey City. He went as far as to say it was his favorite place in New Jersey.

Really?…

Well, it might now be one of mine. Opening its doors in 1929, the Landmark Loews is more “Movie Palace” than “Theatre”. It is a decorative masterpiece that seats over 3,000, complete with balconies and broad, winding staircases.

And they still show films there. You can check out the full schedule here, but I went for a viewing of Beetlejuice, which I haven’t seen in forever. Let me tell you, both Beetlejuice and the Landmark Loews have something in common: they stand the test of time. It was quite an impressive experience to watch Tim Burton’s 1980’s humorous horror flick in this film cathedral.

It even has a display case filled with vintage candy wrappers! Food, design, crazy decoration and 1980’s flicks all in one outing – I could barely contain my glee! In fact, I didn’t contain it, and was bouncing around the place like a child hepped up on old-school Root Beer Barrels.

Justin also mentioned an Indian restaurant in the vicinity that we should check out called Sapthagiri.

I will say two things:

1. I don’t know that much about Indian food.

2. I FRICKIN’ LOVED this place. And here is why:

All the food we tried was excellent: well-prepared, plated, and demonstrating a wide range of tastes from sweet and mild to spicy and tangy. And the people were incredibly nice. And I am referring to BOTH the waitstaff (who brought us bonus mango-yogurt drinks) and the patrons (a nice Indian family seated next to us offered to help us out with the menu and point out all the good stuff  – SCORE!).

Here are some stand outs:

The Dahi Poori: these were crispy little buckets of the thinnest dough filled with chana, potato, tamarind and mint sauce. Upon biting into them, the savory and sweet filling ran into your mouth – a fine combination of flavor and texture.

Onion Kulcha: White flour bread topped with onion, red bell pepper and cilantro and baked in a clay oven. This was like the Indian version of pizza. The dough was so soft and flavorful, I couldn’t get enough. And check out the char spots! Some Neapolitan pizzerias I know of should take note.

Mango Lassi: This was the mango flavored yogurt drink. I admit, I was skeptical of it at first. I don’t usually enjoy drinking yogurt. But I downed this thing mighty quickly. And would do it again.

The Experience: The Shawshank Redemption – The Happy Ending

In conclusion, take a trip to the Jersey side for the Landmark Loews/Sapthagiri double feature. If you’re lucky, you’ll run into those very helpful patrons to point out all the tasty stuff (hint: everything!).

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So far in my quest to be slightly late for work….um, I mean find good coffee, I have visited the following caffeine-dispensing institutions: Kave Cafe, Ninth Street Espresso (two locations) and Eataly. We also featured an epic journey to the Van Leeuwen store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with bonus shots of the Panda truck (23rd and 6th).

I plan on continuing this research until I collapse in a heap of over-caffeinated exhaustion. Sounds pleasant, right? Anyway, I’ve been asking for coffee shop recommendations, and one that popped up was Joe the Art of Coffee. Joe has a few locations around Manhattan, but I chose to visit their 13th Street locale.

As you can see from the above two photos, the signage conveyed some very promising messages. I was intrigued.

The Scene:
The 13th Street location is a wonderful hodgepodge of art, mini tables and piles of pastries. A small flight of stairs brings you to the seating area, with the coffee counter just behind. In the mornings, there is usually a line up the counter, but there is plenty of entertaining art lined up on the walls to amuse you while you wait. Like this little number:

and at the tip jar:

The Coffee:
I ordered a latte (I may have mentioned this is my favorite coffee beverage). Sometimes I think good graphic design makes food and drink taste better. I’m definitely guilty of buying wine by the labels, and this to-go cup is an excellent example of well-designed, portable information:

But back to the latte itself! The taste was smooth and light. I would say I would have liked a little more kick – a little heavier on the espresso in the espresso-to-milk ratio, as I felt that the coffee flavor was too mild. However, the milk was steamed to a delightful, drinkable froth that wasn’t too foamy or too liquid.

I’m going to start giving points for latte art. This one was pretty good, but a little undefined – especially on that left side. I do like those feathery wisps that are seeping into the milky-white blob, though. And the leaf-topper is well done.

Coffee Drinking Experience: Top Gun

Overall, Joe the Art of Coffee is a great place to grab a giant scone and a morning cup, hang out at one of the little tables and listen in on other people’s conversations (I overheard a fascinating one between a teaching assistant and a professor….something about the conjugation of German verbs…). The latte taste was mild, but very well prepared. It just didn’t give me the “juice” I was looking for.

And yes, we will be giving out latte-art awards.

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John and I are as choosy with our Italian desserts as we are with our entreés (like pizza). I happen to be a tiramisú snob, and have turned up my nose at quite a few slices, while John will down well-made panna cotta like an Electrolux that’s just had its filter cleaned.

But the cannoli….Ahh…the cannoli. A perfect cannoli is a study in contradictions, a perfect blend of opposites in flavor and texture. As the holding device, the shell represents a challenge: It must be crispy and ever-so-slightly sweet. NEVER chewy or dense. With lots of airy holes for extra crunch.

The cream presents another challenge. First, it has to be ricotta cream. I know….I know, you may be thinking, “Who would fill cannoli with anything else?” If you asked that question, you’re hired!

You might be surprised to learn how many whipped cream filled cannoli I have encountered. And put down after the first bite, because that’s just wrong, people. WRONG.

Assuming that the filling is ricotta based, it should also be rich, thick in consistency and have a definite sweetness that is not overpowering. Light and airy are not characteristics of the filling – those belong to the shell.

Now a final word of caution: NO PRE-FILLING the cannoli shells. If you walk into a bakery and there are a stack of filled cannoli in the glass display case, don’t order them. They could have been sitting there since the Dharma Project’s last food drop.

The shells should be lined up, empty awaiting your order. Then, and only then, do they get their ricotta cream piped into them. This is because cannoli filling will make the super crispy and light shell a soggy, dense mess. True story.

As for toppings or additions to the cream filling, these are traditional and definitely allowed. I’m not a huge fan of succade, or chopped, candied citrus peel, I find that they don’t add much in terms of flavor and are just interruptions in the cream filling. Like speed bumps. I do, however approve of mini chocolate chips, either integrated into the cream or sprinkled on top. These do add flavor, and because they are firm, but not crunchy, an extra layer of texture. Pistachios often make an appearance, as does a nice dark chocolate dip. However, prepping the chocolate dipped varieties usually means pre-filling, so I’m not the biggest fan of this option.

OK, I think I’m done with my pastry-related tirade. Are you still here? I hope so, because Rocco’s cannoli are definitely worth the trip. To the West Village. In the pouring rain. And John doesn’t walk very quickly. So, if you’re going with him, you should know that.

Rocco’s has a lot of other treats that we didn’t sample. We went straight for the cannoli. But you might like to try some of these:

They sure looked tasty.

After navigating the somewhat confusing line (it seems that people just queue up in no particular order, and there’s no number system), we noticed the empty cannoli shells lined up in the back awaiting their creamy centers – a very good sign. We ordered 2, and got them to go.

Probably we should have enjoyed them at on of Rocco’s cafe tables. Instead, we ventured out into the pouring rain (did I mention that John walks slowly?) and to the PATH train to head back to Hoboken.

Both John and I are very impatient when it comes to food. We want to eat it NOW. Whatever it is. Now works. The train unfortunately arrived immediately, even as I was unwinding the intricately-laced bakers twine on the box.

John: “I have never wanted the train to NOT arrive before….” This said as I reluctantly returned the white box to its plastic bag.

Once on the train, all bets were off. Especially the ones saying “No Eating or Drinking on Path Trains”. John dove into his cannoli as I attempted to take photos of them on the moving train. Please keep in mind that we are professionals. You shouldn’t try this at home. Or anywhere.

I held off on eating mine as I wanted to take a nice glamor shot of it once back at my apartment (see the first photo for evidence of self-restraint). But I was curious, so I asked John some questions.

Me: “How is it?”

John: “Great.” (You might not think it, but this is actually very high praise from John).

Me: “Ummm…Could you give me more details? How’s the filling?”

John: “Awesome, man.”

I see.

Once I could sample mine in the comfort and stability of my non-moving apartment, I could tell that John was correct. It was a great cannoli. The shell was fried to perfection, and I detected a hint of cinnamon in the mix that added a subtle flavor. The cream was indeed awesome: a ricotta cream with very tiny and sparingly applied succade and topped with mini chocolate chips. I may have wanted the cream a bit thicker, but the flavor was true to form. The shell even maintained its crispiness throughout our soggy walk home, shattering as I bit into it (this is supposed to happen).

Rocco’s: a great place for awesome cannoli. Man.

Pasticerria Rocco
243 Bleecker Street
New York
New York, 10014

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I was able to scamper uptown today for Dorie Greenspan’s Pop-Up Cookie Bar and Food Blogger meet ‘n’ greet. I am extremely glad I did. The little box of cookies I have (“I’ll have one of each please!”) is now hiding behind one of my monitors so no one in the office spots it…

The Cookie Bar Pop up has popped down for now (the cookies all sold out), but you can check here for future engagements.

So far, I’ve enjoyed a Jammer, which is a combo of sablés, Sarabeth jam and streusel. It’s like a cake in cookie form. I especially loved the streusel topping and the thickly cut bed of cookie on which it was perched. In the cab ride back to the office I started in on a Chocolate Chunker, which is the winner for me. SO moist. Ridiculously so (probably because of the Valrhona Chocolate – cocoa, pure unsweetened, Jivara Milk Chocolate and Extra-Bitter) with whole salted cashews and giant dried cherries. It knocked my socks off. Well, it was either the cookie or the cab driver’s inventive traffic maneuvers.

Definitely head over to the Cookie Bar NYC website to stay updated on the next pop-up!

And thanks to Dorie Greenspan for the rad cookies. Yeah, I said the cookies were rad. So?

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Today is the kick-off for City Bakery’s 19th Annual Hot Chocolate Festival: A month-long celebration of molten, drinkable chocolate featuring a different flavor every day. Every single day. Talk about reasons to get up in the morning.

This morning’s reason was Banana Peel Hot Chocolate. City Bakery’s hot chocolate is characterized by a thick consistency, and today’s blend was no exception. It wasn’t too thick – no spoons would be standing upright. I mean, you have to be able to drink it. The banana flavor was wonderfully integrated. It was like drinkable chocolate chip banana bread (need a recipe for that, because I have one). Not too strong, and very balanced. As an added bonus, my drink had a nice little froth at the top that gave the drink a light and fluffy quality.

And if you’re feeling frisky, top it all off with one of their homemade marshmallows. They are like white sugary sponges. In a really excellent way.

I feel like it might be my duty to sample all the flavors for you. So you know what to expect. Would you find that helpful? Ok, good. However, if you want to know the plan, you can check out the schedule of City Bakery’s hot chocolate offerings here.

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GENTS! Do not let the swirly- girly pictures of chocolate and lace fool you – this post is for you. Ladies, this post is also for you, but we’ll get to that later.

As you are probably aware, a certain “holiday” is approaching. Valentine’s Day. I know…you are not a huge fan of the day. But instead of warming yourself by a bonfire of Hallmark cards or suggesting to Cupid where that pudgy bambino can stick his arrow, we must face reality: Valentine’s Day exists and  your significant other/partner in crime will most likely be disappointed if you overlook it.

What’s an upstanding gentleman like yourself to do? I’m going to tell you.

Even while working within the confines of traditional Valentine’s Day gifts (chocolate and flowers) you can be original. I have done the research for you (you can thank me later) and will be offering you suggestions during the weeks approaching the Grand Lovers’ Fest.

Suggestion the First: Chocolates from Cocoa V!

If I see a box of Russell Stover I’m going to have a fit. Cocoa V’s chocolates are legit. They are also vegan, if you care about stuff like that, and you might. Consequently, they are all dark chocolate. Dark, rich, intense, with an infusion of flavor…well, I’ll get right to it because I taste tested some of them, and have picked a few favorites.

First Up: The Creamy Peanut Butter:

This ain’t no Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. A dark chocolate outer shell encompasses a dense truffle center of chocolate and peanut butter whipped together into a frenzy of flavor. Proof of harmonious cohabitation!

The Salted Caramel:

Salted caramel is one of my new favorite flavor combinations. It falls into the “chocolate-covered-pretzel” food group. Sweet aaand salty. The only bittersweet thing about this bon-bon is realizing you ate them all. And it’s a work of art too! Look at that fabulous painted purple swirl wrapping around the diamond shape of the truffle.

Pecan Praline:

This rose-dusted, oblong beauty encases a smooth whipped center interspersed with chopped pecans. A hint of salt gives the usual praline flavor a tartness that adds a dimension of taste beyond the expected.

And now a word about flowers. The word is YES. But roses? No. This is just my opinion, but I find roses on Valentine’s Day a little….played out. Yeah, I said it. Try something like this instead:

Behold the Gladiolus (or Gladiola, whichever you prefer, Wikipedia seems to like both)! Dramatic, beautiful, colorful….just like your lady friend, yes?

Or perhaps your lady would prefer some Ocimum basilicum also known as Basil.

To me, no flower smells better than a bunch of fresh basil. Any man who brought me a bouquet would know what to expect that night. Pesto, that’s what. Yup.

So, my merry band of gentlemen readers (I’m assuming there are a few of you), heed my advice! You can feel free to hate on Valentine’s Day, but make the best of it. And Ladies, if you like what you read here, pass it on to your fellow. Maybe he will get the hint (if you drop it like a bowling ball on a concrete floor).

For more information on Cocoa V, check out their website here.

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The other week I took a quick trip to ABC Kitchen for the very first time. Please hold your WHAT-TOOK-YOU-SO-LONG’s, as I honestly don’t have a good answer. Finally, an opportunity presented itself and I was able to squeak out of work on time AND snag a choice spot at their bar.

I was flying solo for this adventure, and I generally like the experience of dining out alone. I can concentrate on the food a bit more (I find John’s constant chatter about his hair distracting at times). The only drawback is that I sample fewer dishes. Consequently, this will be a mini-review. (As an aside, I suppose I could have ordered an 8 course meal all to myself while sitting at the bar, simultaneously sipping all their drinks, but that would probably have attracted a lot of unnecessary attention).

First, a word about the ambiance. ABC Kitchen is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. I couldn’t stop looking around me. The style of the first floor of ABC Carpet & Home has been organized into a restaurant with fantastic results. The weathered wood rafters are offset by textured and pristine white walls, while intricate light fixtures dangle delicately from above to create some impressive mood lighting (that is extremely bad for food photography in the evening).

The menu is organized into the usual categories (such as appetizers and entrees) but also includes a Market Table section, which is ABC’s version of a small plates selection. I decided to order from this list and chose the following:

The Crab toast with lemon aioli: The quote I got from the bartender/waiter on this dish was, “This is my favorite thing on the menu, and I don’t like crab.”  SOLD!

Crispy delicata squash, maple syrup and grated goat cheese: I didn’t actually need a hard-sell on this one, but I was waffling between this and some other choices, so to throw me back into the squash camp, my waiter said, “This dish has everything: salty, sweet – with a little drizzle of maple syrup and tang from the cheese.”

I also ordered a basil ginger fizzy drink that was exceptionally refreshing, even in the wintertime.

Photo by Amy Cao, AmyBlogsChow.com

The Crab Toasts arrived: four chunky slices of just-browned sourdough with fresh, white mounds of crab meat piled on top. The crab meat itself was incredibly mild-flavored, with just a hint of sweetness. The large chunks (as opposed to stringy shreds) of meat allowed me to really sink my teeth into this one. And the lemon aioli provided just a hint of tang, which you could augment by squeezing some of extra lemon wedges provided along side. It was an incredibly light dish that I could envision passing around at a summer BBQ (stand by for test kitchen experiments on this one).

I left no crab behind, and was subsequently greeted by my new love: crispy delicata squash. A light drizzle of maple syrup served as the stage for bangle-bracelet-sized squash rings ensconced in a fine, crispy shell.  The grated goat cheese provided just a touch of smooth, creamy saltiness, making this an achievement in both texture and flavor combination.

Like I said, I was in love. I glanced sideways to see if anyone would notice me licking my plate. Finally deciding that would be bad form, I settled for tweeting out to the world, “I am in love with a squash.” I think that was my most popular tweet ever, judging by the responses. People wanted details (which I gladly gave them), and one even requested to know the name of my love, the squash. This last request left me feeling a little cheap: I never asked it’s name. I was waaaay too involved it dragging it’s delicate fry overcoat through the syrup and then adorning it with tiny crumbles of cheese before devouring it.

Well, this just means one thing: I will need to go back. Hopefully it’ll give me a second chance. And a third…

Oh, and if you want to follow us on Twitter so you can continue to hear about the squash love affair (why wouldn’t you?) you can do that here.

*Photo of dining room from nymag.com (I put it in that fancy floral background, which is an illuminated piece of art outside ABC Kitchen).

Overall Experience: The Godfather – The Perfect Game


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Today we bring you a comparison review. Since it is still pizza month and we like to stress using fresh ingredients on pizza, we bring you a review and comparison of three hunks of mozz (muzz) from three different places.

From left to right we have pictured mozzarella from:

1. Fiore’s Deli in Hoboken, NJ

2. Eataly in New York City’s Flatiron District

3. Lisa’s Deli in Hoboken, NJ

First, we would like to say that this is obviously not an exhaustive list of possible places to purchase fresh mozz. What about the Bronx? What about Little Italy? And so on….We will just say this: we know. We thought we’d start small. An intro, if you will, into the world of comparison tasting, with a few easily accessible candidates.

So, without further ado, here are our thoughts:

1. Fiore’s: This rendition was very tasty. It was lightly salted, which gave the cheese more flavor overall. It was not overpowering, but just right. Compared to the other two, it was a denser cheese. The color was also darker, an off-white instead of a bright white. I’m not really sure what that means, but I just thought it should be noted. This would be a great cheese to put on a Margherita pizza, as you wouldn’t have to add any salt. The flavor from the mozzarella would be all the seasoning you would need (excepting basil).

2. Eataly: This version was fairly bland in taste. It was unsalted. The texture was milkier, and it was definitely the softest of the bunch. This may have been because, while the other two were removed from their watery holding pens when I purchased them (many times fresh mozzarella is packed in water until it is ready to be used), this one came with its own little portable aquarium (tupperware container filled with water). We liked this softer texture, but weren’t blown away by flavor. This would be an excellent cheese to use on a pizza that had flavor from other toppings – pancetta or a similar meat for example.

3. Lisa’s Deli: This little one was also unsalted, and had a texutre somewhere in the middle of the other two in terms of softness….not too soft, not too firm, but juuuuuuust right. However, it didn’t pack a whole lot of punch in terms of flavor. This would be a nice mozzarella to use for a Caprese salad: sliced tomatoes placed on top of slices of cheese, crowned with a few basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

So instead of declaring a winner from these three, we feel like they all have their strengths and are appropriate for different uses. We are going to keep looking for THE mozzarella, though, so if you have a suggestion for one you would like us to try, please leave it in the comments section. Also, if any of you would like some mozzarella, I have a TON of it in my fridge right now. I think I was a little overzealous in my cheese purchasing.

* Disclaimer: The funny faces drawn on the cheeses in no way represent any real or actual person. I just thought it would be funny to give cheese faces that kind of look like gangsters. But not real gangsters. Just imaginary cheesey ones.

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