Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lavash is Loverly

"This looks like shit," I said to JP when the extremely youthful waitress, who'd raved about Lavash's eggplant starter only moments before, slid it in front of us. He agreed. "But wow that is some really good shit," I added as soon as I shoveled a little of this unctious mushy wondrousness onto a square bit of lavash and into my mouth. Parsley, yogurt, olive oil adding lotsa flavor to the roasted eggplant ... we scraped the plate clean. Mmm, Persian food, good ...

While JP got a very nice chicken in pomegranate walnut sauce with a heaping pile of rice, he definitely thought my dish bested his. I thought so too. Big, spicy cubes of medium-rare grilled salmon with generous cuts of fresh veg plus plenty of rice—it's really good stuff. And for $9.95, it's a super bargain. My penny-pinching mother would approve.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Piqueo's Does Peruvian Just Right

It's been a while since my visit to Piqueo's out in Bernal Heights so I can't remember all the deets pertaining to the meal. Suffice it to say that we three enjoyed almost every bite of the small plates we sampled throughout the night. A bottle of the very tasty Albarino made our vigorous debate around the McCain vs. [fill in the blank] Democratic candidate race for the presidency more palatable: SW—a self-proclaimed Democrat—was telling us she might vote for the old fogey Republican, which met with an uproar (JP's and mine), so much so that the lady sitting next to us "couldn't help but overhear" (read: eavesdrop) and thought we'd like to know the results of that night's primaries (Obama won).

Piqueo's seafood medley over creamy white beans.

Mini crab cakes with a zesty sauce.

Yummy porky pig empanada.

Perfectly seasoned paella.

Usually, I'm anti-banana leaf-bundled tamales, but this one was mighty tasty—no trace of the off-putting leafy flavor on the masa.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tasty Eats at Troya

It was my b-day over the weekend, and I wanted to try some place new. I didn't want too fancy, needed it to be in a convenient spot for PH who was coming from Marin, and didn't want the ho-hum usual suspects in the Cal-French, Cal-Italian, Cal-whatever zone. All arrows pointed to Troya, a newish Mediterranean-Turkish eatery in the Inner Richmond helmed by the former chef of well-regarded Moroccan resto Aziza (another place I really need to try).

We started with our single-serve cava (sparkling wine from Spain) bottles (these would be a big hit on the plane), then moved right into some really tasty starters.

Troya's Mediterranean spreads were triply nice: a humble hummus, soury-tart cucumber yogurt topped with olive oil and (our fave) a pleasingly sweet red bell pepper and walnut creation.

We loved the borek, flaky crisp phyllo pastries stuffed with a heavenly (and molten) spinach, pinenut and raisin medley accompanied by a tongue-curling feta spread.

And the gorgeous seared lamb melted in our mouths—the slices were so moist and tender. "Is that even cooked?" asked PH. "Trichinosis what?" joked JP. We didn't care. Really we couldn't stop ourselves from eating every bit of that rare-raw lamby.

As for our entrees, thumbs up all around. PH coveted my handmade manti, mini wontons filled with braised lamb and drizzled with yogurt and lemon. So I split it with her, and scored some of her super-rich vegetarian moussaka. Both dishes were just a touch underseasoned. No worries. A few taps of the salt shaker made things right. Would much rather the chef lean towards less salt than too much.

All in all, a really lovely visit. Though, when it comes to the spice profile at Troya, I'd say we toured the Mediterannean more than we did Turkey (and JP, who went to Istanbul, agrees).

Monday, April 14, 2008

Beretta Hits the Bull's Eye

When my pal at Urban Daddy plugged brand new Beretta, citing Bourbon & Branch as well as Slanted Door/Jardiniere mixology transplants as the reason why you'd wanna go, I didn't hesitate. Ten days after the doors opened, AC and I hit the Mission bar and restaurant. When we arrived just after 6:30 on a Thursday night, we found plenty of seats to be had. When we left a couple of hours later, it was standing-room only. Looks like Beretta's a hit with the 30-something yuppie scene already. And I can see why. The lovely cocktails—using top-shelf liquors and fresh ingredients—were only $9 each. AC and I decided to dabble and ordered 4 different drinks between us—from a refreshing citrus and gin beverage to a super-smokey mezcal and homemade pineapple syrup concoction called the Single Village Fix.

Of course, we needed some food to go with those stiff drinks. So, we had a sardine en saor dish that didn't thrill AC, but was OK by me. Not the best sardines I've ever had, but a nice little sweet-tart snack to start off with. Next up was the fried cauliflower with garlic and capers—cooked to the perfect crispity-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside and seasoned beautifully.

It was the fragrant rosemary, mild potato, bitter radicchio and stinky (in a really good nostril-flaring way) gorgonzola grilled pizza that had us oohing and aahing. The toppings married so well together with a fine complement of textures providing the right balance of crunch, chewiness and ooze. We were so pleased. I can't wait for my next trip to Beretta to try more of their specially crafted cocktails and mouth-watering 'za.

"We aim to please ..."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Province Chinese Canteen's Special Sammies

So Yosh told me about this place she'd found down in Tribeca, Province Chinese Canteen, that makes these tasty sandwiches comprising a sesame-studded bun and an assortment of mostly Chinese-style marinated meats and pickled veg. I said, sign me up. I'm not a big fan of your regular sammy, but these sounded properly gourmet and unusual enough to pique my interest. So we met my last day in NY and ended up spending almost 3 hours in the sparsely decorated eatery, working our way through these yummy treats on a cold, drizzly day.

The short rib and kimchi sandwich (OK, this one's Korean—and though it wasn't my fave of the bunch, I liked it well enough).

The special sammy—mackerel with pickled onion—was my fave. I was surprised—one because I'm usually not a big fan of this particular fish, and two because the intensely flavored soy-based marinade threw me off, making me think at first that this was meat of the terra firma variety. So much for priding myself on having a refined palate!

The spicy pork sandwich with pickled daikon radish (that's just yellow food coloring there, and yes, this one's also more Korean than Chinese) was really really good—the well-seasoned meat was tender, and the pickles added a nice punch and crunch against the softness of the springy bun. I'd definitely get it again.

Province Chinese Canteen has a good thing going. Me likey.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ramen Setagaya Is Pretty Good

... though I still like Minca Ramen Factory better. New York magazine waxed poetic about this place, so I took my li'l cousin to the East Village eatery to try it out.

Turns out Ramen Setagaya's oyako-don, "crumbly pieces of minced chicken like the kind you’d find in a Thai larb, topped with a soft-cooked egg and served over rice (" was the dish that reigned supreme. A must-try for sure. (I'd go back just for this bowl of tasty goodness. Sorry for the blur. The damn thing just wouldn't sit still. Ha ha.)

There's my cousin, YJ ... she suffered through my photo-snapping with a smile. And she's the one who first sleuthed out that the folks working Ramen Setagaya weren't Japanese; YJ spent her tween to teen years in Seoul, so she could tell by their accents that even though they welcomed us in Japanese, they were really Korean. Indeed, moments later, I overheard the girls serving us gabbing in our parents' native tongue.

Could that be why the pork ramen wasn't—in our opinion—the best we'd ever had? I mean, according to NY mag, the noodles are cooked against a timer that has them "perfectly al dente." Yes, they were al dente, but the broth, though lovely, wasn't as lip-smackingly rich and briny as I'd hoped it would be (Minca's is).

Still, it's a nice addition to the neighborhood. I mean, who can say no to slurping up a big, heart-warming bowl of charsu ramen on a blustery cold night? Not me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Schiller's Brunch Bonanza

I didn't make it to old haunt Schiller's Liquor Bar for brunch when I was in NY in January, so I was bound and determined to get it on the food itinerary this time around. A good thing too: It's just as wunderbar as I remembered it to be—never too long of a wait, a friendly and energetic staff, deliciously potent daytime cocktails (SV and I had the sweetly sparkling mango martini while YSH quaffed down the bracing bloody Mary), and fabulous sweet and savory selections. Because I'd been going heavy with the meat all weekend long, I decided the brioche French toast with fresh fruit would suit me best. It was just what the doctor ordered. There's no need to go on ... the picture really says it all, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, cooking school mate SV went for the super rich and creamy croque Madame and managed to work her way through most of the honkin' dish ...

while ex-cook buddy YSH (with some cajoling on our part; she was actually thinking about eating healthy—mais NON. Not for Sunday brunch at Schiller's!) ordered up the artery-clogging (and oh so worth it!) eggs Hussard poached with ham, tomatoes, mushrooms. The lovely ovos came topped with Hollandaise sauce, sitting in a pool of succulent bordelaise sauce (traditionally made with Bordeaux wine, bone marrow, a super intense beef sauce and shallots). YSH was worried it might come out too salty, but the Schiller's cooks did it up just right. Well done!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dell'anima Delivers

With the mediocre Resto still weighing on my mind, I was really hoping that "new and very noteworthy" in the case of Dell'anima was right on, especially since the four of us were suffering from some serious hunger pangs. We got to the snug West Village eatery, fronted by Babbo and Del Posto alums, to find it packed to the rafters. (Thank god for opentable.) As soon as we sat down, we got crackin' and ordered the bruschetta and octopus to fill our empty bellies. Here's how it went:

A bowl full of grilled fresh bread lathered with garlic and olive oil came out with a delightful assortment of spreads: garlicky parsley pesto, sweetly addictive raisin chutney, chunky chickpea doused in olive oil, a super smooth garlic confit and a creamy cloud of ricotta salata. We asked for another serving of bread (and out it came all done up)—couldn't let any of the amazing toppings go back to the kitchen. If the bruschetta was this good, we wondered if Dell'anima could keep it up and deliver on the rest.

Cut to the chase: The generous helping of grilled octopus pleased us all (even JA liked it, and she says tentacled sea creatures typically turn her off)—spongey and tender, skillfully seasoned, sitting atop a mess o' zesty cannelini beans and grilled endive. Our anticipation for the entrees was now at fever pitch.

I'm happy to report that Dell'anima earned raves all 'round. We'd all decided on the pastas, made fresh daily. I had the tagliatelle with bolognese sauce, and it was pretty damn good—almost as good as the irresistable rendition at my fave NY Italian joint Supper. JC's buckwheat pasta with brussels sprout slivers (below left) was spot-on—the broth-based sauce hit just the right savory note.

DY's spinach pasta puttanesca (above right) was a rainbow of zesty tart flavors, while JA's bowl of risotto dotted with sausage and salumi was just the right blend of creamy and firm whole grains. I've seen so many overcooked, clumpy and gummy versions, that I usually never order risotto. I'm glad JA did so that I could steal some of hers.

Phew. The pressure was off. I'd redeemed myself from having chosen Resto for dinner the night before. Big sleepy smiles were plastered on our faces as we stumbled out the door and home to bed.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I Heart Quality Meats

So the reason why I was out in NY again was because MB and LH were having a party for their recent nuptials at City Hall (when I got the text that they were getting married in just a few minutes' time, I about fell on my ass ... and I told MB so). Fashionable foodie that MB is, she smartly picked Quality Meats as the site of said celebration. AvroKO (designers of other hip, upscale restaurants like Sapa, Stanton Social and PUBLIC) managed to find a balance between rustic and modern—lots of wood paneling mixed in with stainless steel and ceramic tiles with meat locker details in the form of pulleys and lights dangling from butcher hooks.

This cool (yet warm) interior beckoned us in (that's JC and DY noshing above), but it was the amazing food streaming out of the kitchen that kept us there for hours (that and all the good company of course) ... from miniature mentos-sized burgers to tiny beet-goat cheese-scallion salads on skewers to a side table groaning with platters of house-made charcuterie, salty and pungent slabs of cheese, jars of wowza sweet pickled pineapple and red pepper marmalade along with fresh hunks of country bread.

There was more. A tower of shellfish comprising oysters, clams, and fat and fleshy curlicues of shrimp accompanied by a medley of dipping sauces. A steak station complete with a cook in whites serving up slices a la minute. And the pièce de résistance: a sundae station with the works ... ice creams included super-creamy coffee and doughnuts, butterscotch oatmeal cookie and orange creamsicle sorbet. And toppings? You name it, they had it. I went easy with just a modest helping of caramel sauce on my 2 scoops.

Hallelujah for Quality Meats. Happy married life to MB and LH.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Resto Disappoints

Imagine my excitement when I saw deviled eggs on the menu of this new and very noteworthy restaurant. (I love eggs in all its forms—the deviled kind is no exception.) Too bad they were so salty—both the eggs and the potato croquettes beneath 'em. What a buzz kill. Oh well, I figured the entrees would make up for the less-than-stellar start to the night's food foray.

Nope. Not a chance. I was sorely disappointed with this run-of-the-mill Resto, as were JC and DY. Sure, it was nice to get served up some tasty Belgian beer on draft, but the food just wasn't that good. Certainly not good enough to earn a "new and very noteworthy" nod.

Though the beef cheek carbonnade (braised and resting atop a tower of frites) came out with the right texture (i.e. fork tender), it was blah and bland ... whoever used a heavy hand on the deviled eggs shoulda saved it for this dish instead.

The gruyere-burger wasn't bad. But DY found fault with the supermarket-bought bun, while I would've preferred a more slender version of fries. If I were in a diner and got this plate, I'd probably have given it a thumbs up, but heck, this ain't no diner and New York magazine talked it up so much that I was expecting a burger of heavenly proportions ... not so. Not even close.

Sigh. This was certainly not an auspicious start to my weekend sojourn to NYC ... more to come.