Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bad day at work for H. So-so day at work for me. Nothing like a combination plate of store-bought and home-made leftovers for dinner to round out this Thursday:

- my pork cabbage rolls
- cha siew rice from Chinatown
- remnants of my semi-home-made bah kut teh from last night's dinner


Friday, August 6, 2010

Hecho en Dumbo (now on the Bowery in Manhattan)

Hecho en Dumbo was a well-known Mexican eatery when it was at its original location in Brooklyn. The entire restaurant moved over to Manhattan earlier this year (I think) and has managed to retain its large following.  I was secretly pleased I was able to snag a prime seating by the open kitchen bar at the back of the restaurant when I arrived at 7.30pm on a Tuesday night.  Shortly thereafter, the restaurant was filled to the brim with young Manhattanites.

Hecho en Dumbo

354 Bowery
(between 3rd St & Great Jones St)

My dinner began with a wonderfully cool and refreshing drink of horchata - a beverage made from a mixture of ground nuts.  This was followed by the picaditas de jaiba - 2 patties of ground masa topped with generous mounds of fresh and sweet dungeness crab meat and each topped with a sliver of avocado.  It was such a perfect summery dish I only wished I had more!

Picaditos de JaibaPicaditos de Jaiba Closeup

The condiments that came before the meal went so well with everything too, there was a red and a green chili sauce plus some chunky tomato salsa:


The next appetizer we had was Esquites.  This was a tiny pot of corn kernels, cooked with some spices in a creamy sauce.  Totally decadent, especially when you love eating corn as much as I do!


We tried their pozole rojo, which is a clear soup made of pork and hominy. The flavors were tart and spicy but I wasn't too crazy about the overall taste... I wasn't too crazy about the gigantic kernels of hominy either. Didn't take any photos of this dish.

Our 'entree' was the Tacos de Langosta - lobster tacos. All was good again. The super fresh and sweet chunks of lobster came wrapped in mini flour tortillas with some fronds of raw pea shoots and a sliver of perfectly ripe avocado. The juices from the lobster oozed out with every bite and oh what a bite each was!!!!

Tacos de LangostaTacos de Langosta Closeup

Thursday, August 5, 2010

An Evening in Brooklyn

Al di La is a restaurant that's been on my list of restaurants to try for years.  YEARS!  I'd always been impressed by how the reviews remained stellar after all this time.  Finally, on a Friday evening recently, I decided to hit it.  The restaurant has a no-reservations policy and a lot of the reviews comment on how long the wait could be.  So I decided that I'd dine alone since it's always easier to get a seat if you are just one person and I also decided I'd eat at Al Di La Vino, which was an extension of the original restaurant, was right next door to the original Al di La and shared the same menu.

Since I was going to be in Brooklyn and I'm the CHUBBYgourmet for a reason, I decided to also leave some stomach space for the newcomer Seersucker - been really craving some good shrimp and grits.

Al Di La Vino

607 Carroll Street
(between 4th Ave & 5th Ave)
Parkslope, Brooklyn

I was lucky indeed!  There was already a wait by the bar for larger groups of people but as a solo diner, I was seated right away on a stool by the bar.  I definitely wanted to try their signature dishes with my first foray into Al di La.  I began with the Sepia with Oxtail on Polenta.  It was definitely tasty and had a good amount of heat from the chili that flavored the gravy.  I also liked the perfectly creamy texture of the polenta.  My only complaint was that the polenta was definitely quite bland and there wasn't quite enough of the oxtail and gravy to go with the entire dish of polenta:

Al Di La's Sepia and Oxtail on Polenta

The cazunziei was definitely the winner in my mind.  The sauce was what made it so amazing.  To me, it tasted like a pool of butter, parmesan cheese and poppy seeds.  All that texture and flavor was just begging to be slurped up, licked up and mopped up, every last drop.  The faint sweetness from the beet and ricotta stuffing and the super thin and tender ravioli pasta that encased everything certainly helped to round out the entire dish and served as a really good backdrops to the fabulous dish.

Al Di La's Casunziei

I'd certainly come back again just for the casunziei, but I may still dine solo just to beat the crowds.


329 Smith St
(at Carroll St)

The shrimp and grits were just meh.  The flavors overall were ok.  However the bits of ham were rubbery and  I was surprised that the gravy was a bit watery.  The shrimp was fresh and large but it didn't save the dish.   I don't feel like I'd come back again.

Seersucker's Shrimp & Grits

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Delicious Sammich!

I tasted this recently, on a day at the beach (Long Island Beach to be exact).  It was truly wonderful!  My friend got it from Parisi Bakery in NoLIta.  It was ham, American cheese, tomatoes and some freshly-cracked black pepper on a round, semolina roll.  The heat from the sun melted out the cheese a little by the time we were ready to eat the sandwich and actually made the sandwich really perfect.  I've also heard their peppers are really delicious too.

Parisi Bakery

198 Mott St
(between Kenmare St & Spring St)

Parisi Bakery's Ham and American Cheese on a Semolina Roll

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hester Street Fair

I've heard SO much about the Hester Street Fair over the past year. I finally checked it out a few weeks ago with some friends. And BOY am I glad I did. The fair was amazing!!! Granted, it was a lot tinier than I expected. However, the quality of the vendors more than made up for the lack in size. I have to admit that there are a few hit-or-misses - I'm definitely not a fan of the too-dry pulled pork sandwich for example. However, I did love the mini cupcakes (wish I remembered the name of the stall) and the shrimp roll from Luke's Lobster.

Luke Lobster Bar's shrimp roll - really fresh and sweet little baby shrimp on a hot, buttered roll:

Luke's Lobster's Shrimp Roll

The swedish meatballs with help-yourself pickles, help-yourself lingonberry sauce and boiled baby potatoes - the meatballs tasted really home-made but were a tad crumbly/dry. The gravy was delicious. The pickles went super well with the rich gravy. The lingonberry sauce also went well with the dish:

Melt Bakery's Baklava Ice Cream Sandwich

The cupcake lady/stall - her cupcakes were my favorite, especially the cupcake with passionfruit buttercream. The little bite-sized cakes were really moist and the french buttercream she uses on all her cupcakes were literally the icing that topped the cake:

Hester Fair's Mini Cupcakes

The passionfruit french buttercream cupcake from the cupcake lady/stall - OH that French buttercream is sooo wonderful!!!!:

Hester Fair's Passionfruit French Buttercream Cupcake

Melt Bakery's ice cream sandwiches and ice cream baklava sandwich - I didn't get to try these but I thought the baklava ice cream sandwich must be really decadent:

Melt Bakery's Baklava Ice Cream Sandwich

The macaron parlor - the macarons were overall so-so.  The flavors were definitely interesting (earl gray tea, passionfruit, honey butter, bacon etc) but I'm not sure if they were truly amazing in taste .... :

Macaron Parlour

Macaron Parlour's Bacon MacaronMacaron Parlour's Passionfruit MacaronMacaron Parlour's Honey Buttercream MacaronMacaron Parlour's Red Velvet MacronMacaron Parlour's Hazelnut Macaron

ABC Kitchen

Hello there!  It's been a while.  I was busy the last few months.  Getting ready to get married this October :D.  Food-wise, I've tried not to miss out on too much though.  Here's my latest update on ABC Kitchen.  This is Jean Georges Vongerichten's newest restaurant, located inside/beside the ABC Carpet and Home store by Union Square.

ABC Kitchen
35 E 18th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South

I've been wanting to try this restaurant since it opened.  At first, the buzz was light and the description of the restaurant was not super exciting ... something along the lines of "white," "spartan" and "organic" came to my mind.... like a plain white t-shirt...  then the reviews started coming in, to the point where I could no longer brush off this newcomer as yet another restaurant in the whole farm-to-table genre.

Reservations seemed predictably difficult to secure but I managed to score a reasonable one a few weeks in advance for a large party on a Friday night at 7pm.  Note that there are 2 entrances to the restaurant, one on 18th street and another through the ABC Carpet and Home store itself.  It was a little weird, the entrance through the store because it is technically the 'back' of the restaurant and I was awkwardly looking for a hostess to announce my arrival to... the reception desk was positioned only at the front of the restaurant so you need to walk through the entire length of the restaurant in order to speak to someone that can help seat you.

That aside, the restaurant space that greeted me was gorgeous.  Lots of white, as I had always expected, but softened with warm lighting, plenty of pale wooden tones and softly edged furniture.  Our table was made from a patchwork of wooden pieces formed to look like a giant slab of tree trunk - kinda cool.

Our waiter was sleepy in his manner but he delivered the specials without much fanfare and showed up whenever he was needed - service was adequate in summary.

The restaurant wasn't full throughout our meal.  Especially before 8pm and later around 9pm, I saw plenty of empty tables... I suppose everyone only really wanted to be there at prime time but not otherwise?

The menu was quite simple, organized and with just a few selections per section:
1. Market Table - small bites to share
2. Appetizers - salads, soups etc
3. Pastas
4. Pizzas
5. Entrees
6. Sides

My overall verdict of ABC Kitchen is that I want to come back again! The food was generally tasty with lots of clean flavors. There was one disappointment (the overly salty black bass) however, the calm atmosphere of the restaurant plus the generally good food makes me really want to come back again. We tried a lot of dishes that evening, my favorites were all the toasts (crab, tomato and liver), the halibut, the bowtie pasta and the donuts with bacon chocolate sauce. Here's the break down:

The tomato toast - simplicity on a crusty piece of bread, it was simply thick-ish, well-toasted slices of bread, seasoned with what tasted like gruyere cheese and topped with a generous layer of freshly sliced, raw tomatoes - SO much flavor with these few ingredients, it was brilliant:

ABC Kitchen's Tomato Toast

The peeky-toe crab toast - it had a generous layer of fresh and sweet crab. It was also served slightly warmed so the wonderful aroma of crab was enhanced and wafts up enticingly whenever you take a bite:

ABC Kitchen's Peeky Toe Crab Toast

The chicken liver toast - nothing much to look at but it was packed with a lot of flavor. It was rich, earthy, gamey and luxurious, all in one bite:

ABC Kitchen's Chicken Liver Toast

The roasted portobello and celery leaves - another winner. I don't know what they roasted the portobello with but it was like concentrated mushroom essence. The celery leaves was a wonderful juxtaposition to the meaty, juicy mushroom flavors:

ABC Kitchen's Roasted Portobello w Celery Leaves

The pretzel-dusted calamari appetizer with marinara sauce and mustard aioli - I thought this was the most pedestrian although most of my dinner party really enjoyed it. The calamari was crunchy and tender; well-made, but nothing extraordinary:

ABC Kitchen's Pretzel-Crusted Fried Calamari

The roasted carrot and avocado appetizer salad - there were a lot of rave reviews online about this dish so I was expecting a lot and.... I was a bit disappointed. It all tasted good, the roasted carrots were sweet, the micro greens gave the dish a nice touch of chic-ness but there was nothing out of the ordinary in the flavor combinations:

ABC Kitchen's Roasted Carrots and Avocado Salad

The kasha and bowtie pasta w veal meatballs - definitely a stick-in-your-ribs dish. Kasha is another word for buckwheat. The sauce was just really rich, savory and tasty, perhaps not a great choice for our hot summer weather but that aside, it is just such a great dish on its own:

ABC Kitchen's Bowtie Pasta w Meatballs

The organic crispy chicken w escarole and mashed potatoes - this dish was very simple but in a good way. The skin was definitely very crispy and the chicken was very juicy. All the flavors were super clean.:

ABC Kitchen's Crispy Chicken w Mashed Potatoes

The black seabass with chilies and herbs, red bliss potatoes and spinach - this broth in this turned out to be overly salty. We didn't send it back to the kitchen but we should have. I really wish they had bothered to re-taste their sauces because the seabass was otherwise cooked perfectly:

ABC Kitchen's Bass

The steamed halibut w shitakes, avocado and asparagus juice - the halibut was definitely better than the seabass. The fish was super moist and tender. The sauce was a bit overly citrusy to me. However, it was definitely another tasty entree option:

ABC Kitchen's Halibut

The sundae with salted caramel-peanut ice cream, candied popcorn, whipped creme fraiche & chocolate sauce - there can be nothing wrong with this dessert:

ABC Kitchen's Sundae

The donuts with bacon chocolate sauce - the texture of the donuts were amazing - cakey but still light as air. The bacon chocolate sauce went so well with the donuts, I'd definitely highly recommend this dessert:

ABC Kitchen's Donuts w Bacon Fudge

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Toronto Ahoy! (part deux) - Splendido

Part 2 to my part 2.  I wanted to send off my final evening in Toronto with a blast, gastronomically.  After searching through a few sites, I got word of Splendido.  It sounded like an upscale, modern Italian restaurant.  Management changed recently but apparently the standard has remained.  Its menu presented dishes that have an Italian flare but also combined with a slight twist that made them sound fresh.  I was game!

Since the restaurant sounded like it was a popular place that required reservations and I wanted to do a walk-in, I decided to show up early just in case.  When my cab pulled up in front of the restaurant, a cute valet guy immediately opened my door, except I didn't know he was a valet guy until later and was pleasantly confused for a while about how wonderful Canadians can be, opening taxi doors for complete strangers.  The restaurant was quite empty at about 6pm on a Wednesday evening.  I was immediately seated at one of the two bar tables by the large window at the front of the restaurant.

I'd already pretty decided what I was going to order prior to looking at the menu.  Thanks to the Internet these days, I had read in advance that the foie gras parfait and the butter-poached lobster risotto was the way to go.  And that's precisely what I ordered.  Except that the waiter threw me a curveball - the special of the day was parpadelle with morels and English peas.  That reminded me that it was spring and morels were in season!  I simply LOVE morels, they have such a rich and deeply savory flavor.  When in doubt, order everything.  So that's what I did.  Two appetizers (foie gras parfait and the morel pasta) and one entree (the butter-poached risotto) for me please, thank you very much!

First off, I must say I'm very impressed with the bread served at Splendido.  They presented a basket of country or whole-grain bread.  This was served with a very nicely room-temperature cube of salty butter and a little trio of olives, grissini sticks and a blob of hummus-like dip to swipe the grissini sticks in.  The country bread looked nicely rustic but very ordinary.  But oh my, the crust was so chewy and its flavor was amazing!!!!! One of the BEST breads I've had in a very very long time.  I couldn't get enough of this bread!  The bread was soft and very tasty and I even devoured the entire crust, when I'm not usually a crust person.  It was so delicious!  Already I knew this meal was going to be good.

The foie gras parfait came in a form that I wasn't expecting from the name 'parfait.'  Instead it came as a thick slab served atop a plank of natural wood and flanked by a thick slice of butter, crusty brioche and a tiny pot of macerated medjool dates.  This was pure decadence.  I'd read that the pate was made of a mix of goose and chicken livers hence more affordable but the smoothness and richness wasn't lost at all.  The slab of liver pate was so generous that the dish can definitely be shared among two, even though I finished it all up myself.  The sweet, alcoholic date also melded well with the richness of this dish.  A great started.

The second course to arrive was the morel special.  What a lovely, simple, well-executed and delicious dish.  The morels were perfectly cooked and infused itself into the cream sauce that it was served with.  The parpadelle was freshly made and perfectly al dente and yet also wonderfully chewy.  I loved this dish, just the right touch of richness to fend of the nip of early spring and yet still with the brightness of the English peas to remind you that warmer weather is on the way.

Then finally, came the butter-poached lobster.  It looked truly mouthwatering.  Taste-wise, even though it was very good, if I had to choose, it was my least favorite.  The butter-poached-ness didn't really come through so much for me.  Certainly, the Maine lobster used was generous, very fresh and sweet and cooked perfectly, however, it simply tasted to me like a simple poached lobster, the butter poaching didn't seem to make a marked difference.  Nevertheless, the flavors used were still very good.  There was a very appetizing tartness to the cream sauce, perhaps from mascarpone that was used in the risotto.  The raw pea shoots strewn on the dish as a garnish also added a nice touch of freshness to the overall dish.  I still enjoyed everything.

By this time, I was near the verge of explosion and unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for my health) could not stomach another morsel of food.  Hence I had to pass on dessert (admittedly the dessert menu was rather brief and didn't sound as interesting).  The restaurant was hopping by the time I was ready to leave.  The crowd looked happening and beautiful.  I was glad I was done with my meal though.  I really needed to walk around to help my digestion and very much looked forward to the long walk back to my hotel.

88 Harbord Street between Spadina Ave and Sussex Mews