Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Restaurants in 2013

I thought that since summer is quickly drawing to a close that I would post an update on the restaurants that I said I was dying to try in 2013 (and one from 2012).  We're not doing quite as well as last year in knocking restaurants off the list but we are trying!  I made reservations at Torrisi Italian Specialties for mid-September so that will take care of another restaurant.  Go us!  And I am determined to hit one of the Pok Poks, Red Farm and Khe-Yo by the end of the year.  I only have four months left so I had better get cracking.  The others will probably stay on the list for at least another year...  There are a few other restaurants that recently opened that I am dying to try, so I added them at the bottom even though they weren't on the original list.
  1. Brooklyn Fare (still dying to go but it's totally impossible to get reservations and really pricey)
  2. Locanda Verde
  3. Torrisi Italian Specialities and Parm (should also add Carbone and ZZ's Clam Bar)
  4. Empellon Cocina
  5. Pok Pok NY and Pok Pok Phat Thai
  6. Biang
  7. Red Farm (the new UWS location is set to open in late September so I am determined that we will try it by the end of the year)
  8. The Marrow
  9. Roberta's and Blanca
  10. Acme
  11. Khe-Yo
  12. ABC Cocina
Runners Up:  M. Wells Dinette, Pig and Khao, Sripraphai, Boulud Sud, Yunnan Kitchen, Red Rooster 

Runner Up from 2012: John Dory Oyster Bar

Of the restaurants we have tried, I have to say that Biang, Acme, Pig and Khao and Boulud Sud were all very different, but pretty fabulous nonetheless.  The Marrow was good, but not quite as good as the others.  Part of that might be due to the fact that we ate a meal that would have been very well suited to a cold fall or winter day in mid-July, when it was 90 degrees outside.  I should mention that we did have a fantastic corn salad there that might be one of my favorite side dishes for the year.  Yunnan Kitchen and John Dory Oyster Bar are probably the next level down.  The meals I had there were good, with a few memorable dishes, but they couldn't quite live up the meals we had at some of the others.

P.S.  I think it bears mentioning that we went to a number of other fabulous restaurants that weren't open yet when I wrote this list, including Mighty Quinn's Barbecue and Uncle Boon's, both of which are serious contenders for my favorite new restaurants of 2013.  This year's list is going to be a little all over the place because there are some restaurants we visited in Austin, TX (random but true) and Europe that definitely deserve to make the list.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Broccoli Rabe with a Hint of Pork

I was really intrigued when I saw a recipe for broccoli rabe in Naomi Duguid's Burmese cookbook.  Broccoli rabe is not a traditional Asian ingredient so I had to pause and take a look.  I'm a big fan of broccoli rabe, but Alex doesn't enjoy the inherently bitter flavor of broccoli rabe quite as much as I do.  And to be perfectly honest, it took me awhile to learn to like it.  I keep hoping that one day it will grow on Alex too.  Left to his own devices he likely would not have made this recipe, but I took the decision out of his hands by going to the farmers' market near my office and picking up the broccoli rabe specifically to make this recipe.  Unsurprisingly, he said the dish was "fine" but "not his favorite."  I knew going in that would be another dish that I would probably like more than him. There are a few things I can say unequivocally about this dish.  First, it has a lot of flavor.  Broccoli rabe has a lot of flavor in and of itself, but as with the other recipes we have tried from Naomi Duguid's Burmese cookbook, the dish picked up a surprising amount of heat and flavor from simmering for 3-4 minutes.  Second, it seems that all of the recipes from this cookbook are quite... wet.  It seems that the Burmese are really into simmering dishes in very thin sauces.  The Chinese tend to add cornstarch slurries to their stir-fries to thicken the pan juices into a sauce.  They also tend to stir-fry rather than simmer.  Given the dishes we have made from our cookbook, it seems that the Burmese have a different (but equally flavorful) philosophy. 

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Watermelon Gazpacho

For the past few years I have gone on a summertime gazpacho kick.  What tends to happen is that Alex and I make at least 2 batches of gazpacho (some more traditional than others) over the course of the summer and I find it hard to resist gazpacho when it makes its way onto the menu at some of my favorite restaurants.  This summer I have expanded into trying the various take-out gazpacho offerings from my favorite soup and lunch places.  For the record, this summer I have been particularly into the Andalusian gazpacho from Zabar's (which I think is better than their traditional gazpacho).  I'm not exactly sure why, but I have been fixated on the idea of watermelon gazpacho since last summer.  I can't remember ever trying watermelon gazpacho but it sounded delicious, refreshing and oh-so summery.  I looked at a number of different watermelon gazpacho recipes and this recipe from CHOW seemed like a good starting point.  I meant to play with it a little more, but we ended up making it almost exactly as written.  I wish I had played with it a little more because there are a few changes I think I would have made.  I would have cut down on the amount of garlic, used shallot instead of onion and maybe cut down on the amount of vinegar.  Of course it's easy to say that I would have made those changes after the fact, because those are the same changes that I would make after having tasted the gazpacho.  I found the gazpacho slightly harsh and acidic.  I'm not really sure how to explain it, but it had a lingering aftertaste that I didn't find altogether too pleasant.  When I first tasted the gazpacho it didn't immediately strike me as harsh or acidic, but the more I ate, the more those flavors seemed to intensify.  We let our gazpacho hang out in the fridge overnight on the theory that the flavors could really meld that way and maybe that was the problem?  Maybe this is the type of soup you need to eat right then and there because given too much time the flavors overdevelop?  Who knows.  Either way, this wasn't our most successful gazpacho ever.  I am thinking that for our next gazpacho experiment we will make this Cucumber Gazpacho with Shrimp and Melon, which I considered (and discarded) for this batch because I decided I wanted a gazpacho that was more melon and less other stuff.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Heirloom Tomato Salads (Take 2) - Shirazi Salad and Heirloom Tomatoes with Black Garlic and Basil Vinaigrette

For the past few weeks I have been going a little crazy with the heirloom tomatoes at the farmers' market.  I can't help myself.  Ever since I discovered just how wonderful heirloom tomatoes can be I have been a little obsessed.  Between the heirloom tomatoes and the fresh corn at the farmers' market I have a bad habit of focusing on them to the exclusion of all other vegetables.  And then I have to scramble to find new and interesting recipes to use all of the corn and heirloom tomatoes ASAP because neither of them have a good shelf life.  If I were a more strategic farmers' market shopper I would only buy ingredients with a better shelf life - like zucchini and/or eggplant.  Anyway, I bought somewhere between 2 and 3 lbs of heirloom tomatoes at the farmers' market last Friday and then had to figure out what to do with them over the weekend.  I wanted to try something new and since we had a lot of tomatoes, I decided to make a recipe from our Susan Feniger cookbook (Heirloom Tomatoes with Black Garlic and Basil Vinaigrette) and a recipe that I had bookmarked from Bon Appetit for shirazi salad with heirloom tomatoes.  There is an heirloom tomato tart recipe that I have been dying to make, but it's just too time/labor intensive.  I am going to try to make it before the end of the summer but I make no promises.  The other thing that keeps me from making the recipe is that it requires turning on the oven, which is the absolute last thing I want to do on a hot summer day, no matter how delicious the end results might be...

Alex and I disagree over which recipe we preferred, which happens from time to time.  He preferred the Susan Feniger recipe, whereas I preferred the shirazi salad.  As soon as I took a bite of the shirazi salad I knew it wasn't going to be his favorite.  Alex has a healthy suspicion of parsley and dill when used in abundance and Middle Eastern cuisine can be a little aggressive in its usage of parsley.  I really like the flavors of both, so I didn't have a problem with it but I wasn't surprised to hear that it wasn't his favorite tomato salad ever.  If you look at the picture after the break you will see how heavily herbed this dish was.  As for the Susan Feniger recipe, it was very tasty.  I always love the combination of tomatoes and basil.  But I didn't think it really distinguished itself from other tomato-basil salads we have made.  Perhaps if we had the black garlic (which has a pretty distinctive taste) it would have made more of an impression?  I don't know.  Our tomatoes also had a ton of juice so they thinned out the vinaigrette a lot and it didn't really coat the tomatoes as well as I had hoped.  Perhaps we should have drained some of the tomato juice first but I didn't want to waste any of the tomato-y goodness...  It was delicious (as far as I am concerned, it would be nearly impossible for a salad made with ripe heirloom tomatoes, basil and balsamic to not be delicious) and I would eat it again, but I don't think it will stand out in my mind in comparison to all of the other heirloom tomato salads.  If I can track down some black garlic in the coming weeks I will have to try it again (and maybe drain some of the juice) and see if that makes a difference or not. 

I have another 1 1/2 lbs of heirloom tomatoes that I picked up at the farmers' market yesterday.  Later today I will sit down and figure out what I want to make next...

Recipes after the jump!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Chicken in Tart Garlic Sauce and Everyday Cabbage-Shallot Refresher

I don't have a lot of experience with Burmese food, but I got pretty excited when I saw that Naomi Duguid had a new cookbook.  Hot Sour Salty Sweet is one of my favorite cookbooks and I'm always thrilled to try new cuisines and cookbooks, especially when I have reason to think that they might be good.  Given the author and the general beauty of the cookbook I had pretty high hopes from day one.  For our first meal I bookmarked a number of recipes and then let Alex pick which one(s) to make.  One of the great parts of being an attorney is an endless supply of flags and post-its, which I put to good use marking documents (as well as cookbooks).  He picked the chicken and I decided that we should make the simple cabbage-shallot salad to serve on the side.  It didn't occur to me (although it really should have) that both recipes would be on the spicy side.  I'm pretty good at entirely ignoring aspects of a recipe while salivating over it.  I usually do that with the amount of time it will take to make something (long marinades or braises always kill me), but it never really occurred to me just how many cayenne chilis these recipes called for.  Granted, the chicken is much spicier than the cabbage-shallot refresher, but neither one is suitable for people with a wimpy palate.  If you like just a hint of heat, go with the cabbage-shallot salad and maybe cut back on the chili a little.  I would pick an entirely different entree because the spicy punch of the chicken really makes the dish shine.  It's spicy and funky and fun.  The next time I make the chicken I will probably cut the amount of water in half and/or add a little cornstarch slurry to the dish to thicken it up a bit.  The ju-ju (for lack of a better term) is pretty thin and watery, but if you thickened it up a bit I bet it would be delicious.  The chicken itself absorbed a ton of flavor from the ju-ju - heat being one of the predominant flavors, along with the savory flavors of ginger and garlic and the tartness of the lime juice.  It was really good, and very different.

As for the cabbage-shallot refresher, I would totally serve this with both Asian and non-Asian meals (with a few minor twists).  For instance, I could totally see skewing it a little Latin and using it on top of tacos or serving it with enchiladas.  I liked how bright and fresh it was.

Recipes after the jump!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Thai-Style Radish and Watermelon Salad with Sizzling Ginger-Lemongrass Tofu

Clearly I am fickle because I just found my new favorite watermelon salad.  And I think I declared my previous favorite (Hugh Acheson's Watermelon-Feta-Arugula Salad with Serrano Chili Vinaigrette) about two weeks ago.  So it had a short but well-deserved reign.  Both watermelon salads have a wonderful balance of sweet, spicy and savory, but this one won by a nose.  I think it was the addition of the Thai basil and radishes.  I really liked the crunch and the slight peppery flavor of the radishes, as well as the peppery fragrance of the Thai basil.  And the fish sauce.  I don't know.  It just works so well.  I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about the radishes with the watermelon, but it worked.  It's light and refreshing, but full of punch Asian flavors.  And Asian flavors beat feta cheese for me 9 times out of 10.  I really enjoy feta cheese but I love fish sauce.  After eating a fairly heavy meal at The Marrow last night (duck schnitzel, crispy kale with scallops and bone marrow with uni anyone?) and greasy Chinese at my desk for lunch, I really needed something light for dinner.  This salad couldn't have been more delicious.  Note to those who don't love spice - you're going to want to cut back on the amount of sambal oelek and chili or seed your chili prior to throwing it in.  Just like Hugh Acheson's recipe, there is some fairly serious kick to this dish.  Another note, if you're a Top Chef nerd like I am, it's kind of funny to compare recipes between Tom Colicchio and Hugh Acheson since they are both judges on the show and Hugh was a contestant on Top Chef Masters a few seasons ago.

We served the watermelon salad with sizzling ginger-lemongrass tofu.  We had a block of handmade firm tofu from The Bridge that I picked up at Fairway that I wanted to use and I wanted something different.  So we went with another recipe from Food & Wine that sounded like it would be a good pairing with the watermelon salad.  If you can find tofu from The Bridge in your local Whole Foods I would highly recommend it.  It had a really nice firm, but still creamy texture and it had more flavor than your average block of supermarket tofu.  It was really good.  I can't wait to try it in other dishes.  As for this dish, it was good.  I'm always surprised how much flavor a dish can pick up by just sizzling some aromatics.  And it did go very well with the watermelon salad.  I would totally make them together again in the future.

Recipes after the jump!