Saturday, October 31, 2009

Locanda Verde with My Girls

We three—YSH, MK and I—used to work in the Tabla kitchen back in the day, but YSH and I chucked it in, while MK went on to work for Andrew Carmellini at 3-star A Voce, then left to go help him open up Locanda Verde down in Tribeca—it had been getting tons of great press, so we were super excited to drop by for brunch.

MK sent out Karen DeMasco's pastry mistra compliments of the kitchen—a platter of delicious muffins and things from lemon rosemary to blueberry polenta and pumpkin spice with little ramekins filled with lovely whipped honey butter and homemade preserves.

She also sent us the most luscious sheep's milk ricotta scented with truffle honey, accompanied by "burnt" orange toast.

YSH's main was the shrimp and creamy grits with poached eggs. All of it perfectly seasoned and spiced, the shrimp perfectly cooked in Locanda's big wood-fired oven.

I got the heavenly lemon ricotta pancakes with fresh blueberries and meyer lemon curd. So light and fluffy. The lemon curd gave a tangy lightness to the dish.

That does it. Locanda Verde is now my new fave brunch place in NYC.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn

... really does feel a lot like rustic-Americana resto Freemans—minus the stuffed caribou and elk heads. Super cozy and quaint (it's decorated with carved wooden owls, needlepoint and exposed organ pipes at the bar), the newish eatery is nestled in a cute little neighborhood going by the same name, Vinegar Hill. And for the most part, it puts out really tasty food.

Thanks, SV, for making the suggestion to go to Vinegar Hill House to find out what all the fuss has been about.

Vinegar Hill House's chicken liver mousse came crowned with a healthy sprinkling of pistachios. We dug into the lovely spread to find a beautiful pink blush of the creamiest pate. It was absolutely divine. The pickled vinegary onions helped cut the sinfully rich mousse.

SV and I loved the butter and fava bean special—perfectly cooked and seasoned in a buttery chicken broth swimming with chunks of bacon.

I'd been on a corn kick of late so was super excited about trying the corn salad side dish. It didn't disappoint. The kernels were deliciously sweet, fresh and juicy, and were generously tossed with fresh Parmesan. Given the chance, I would eat this every day.

The boneless braised short ribs weren't the best I'd ever had in that they were ever so slightly underseasoned and just a touch on the dry side—though thankfully there was enough jus in the bowl to make up for the lack of moisture in the meat. However, I did love the accompanying heirloom tomatoes dressed in a Maytag blue cheese dressing and the crunchy garlic croutons.

All in all, it was a really lovely visit. I'd be happy to go back the next time I make the trip out to NYC. You got that, SV?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ippudo Ramen Is To-Die-For

Momofuku ain't got nothin' on Ippudo. Well, OK, David Chang's take on the pork bun is pretty damn good (see left) with its slathering of hoisin sauce and dice of scallions. But I gotta say I prefer Ippudo's (below), which is bathed in a spicy, tangy Korean-like marinade, splattered with a good dose of mayo and given some nice crunch with a leaf of iceberg lettuce.

Don't get me wrong. Momofuku is solid. I make a point of dropping by every time I'm in NY. But having now discovered Ippudo, I know that's where I'll be going from now on. This last visit, I went for lunch with my cousin and had me the Momofuku chilled spicy noodles with Sichuan spiced sausage, spinach, and candied cashews (above); the seasoning wasn't right—the noodles were bland while the sausage and spinach were salty—and the whole thing sat in a pool of blow-your-ears-out insanely hot chile oil. I like spicy, but not when you've gotta take a 10-minute half-time break to stop sweating and wait for the pain on your lips, in your mouth and your ears to subside. Blerg.

On my first, second and third visits to Ippudo, I had the most amazing noodles. This here's the spicy tonkatsu ramen. The broth is super succulent and savory—it's as if the pig bones had been simmered in the liquid for days.

On another night, my cousin and I RAN the 4 blocks from her place to Ippudo to make the 11:30 pm cut-off (we made it with 4 minutes to spare), and we weren't disappointed by the kogashi miso ramen—yummy noodles in a dark, rich broth made from roasted miso, topped with slices of berkshire pork, fish cake, bok choy, and glazed with a layer of oil.

I also adored Ippudo's akamaru modern ramen—the original tonkatsu soup noodles with Ippudo's special sauce, miso paste and fragrant garlic oil, slices of simmered berkshire pork, cabbage, onions, kikurage and scallions.

SB enjoyed Ippudo's shiromaru hakata classic ramen—the original tonkatsu soup noodles with slices of simmered berkshire pork, kikurage, red pickled ginger, menma, a 1/2 hard boiled egg, sesame and scallions.

I think it's safe to say that I managed to hook at least 3 other pals during my forays to Ippudo. Can't wait to go back. "Ramen is Japan's soul food," says Ippudo's website. I can see why.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Good Times at Tia Pol

Tia Pol was the last of my top 3 NYC old fave food haunts that I absolutely had to hit before my 2-week trip came to an end. And so, I made plans to go with my 3 fun-fab foodie cousins.

We had a blast. All of us have been to Barcelona, MC2 and YJP more recently than others (just this past summer, in fact). My trip was in 2006, a good 3-plus years ago, but I still maintain that Tia Pol's tapas are the best ever ... better even than a lot of what I had in Spain.

Tia Pol, originally run and owned by a husband-wife duo hailing from Catalunya, is now under new ownership. But the food remains as exquisite as ever. Based on the oohs and ahhs resounding at regular intervals around the table, I think it's safe to say my cousins agreed.

What follows comprises maybe a quarter of the parade of plates that came to our table—and which we inhaled with great gusto.

Gambas a la plancha (head on shrimp) — a lot of work, but well worth the trouble.

Uni special — creamy fresh and ultra-smooth. A little scoop of sea urchin on the crusty bread with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of salt = a sweet taste of the sea.

Croquetas de jamón y croquetas del día (ham croquettes and croquettes of the day) — the latter being croquettes filled with potato and blue cheese. We ordered these crispety-crunchety, heavenly deep-fried cakes at least 4 times.

A pile of blistered peppers generously covered in large flakes of sea salt.

Tortilla española (potato, egg and onion omelet) — Tia Pol's version has a super creamy texture. It's almost as good as a version I've enjoyed made by an accomplished Barcelonan home cook that I know.

Pulpo la ideal — Galician-style octopus terrine doused in paprika-spiked olive oil and served with small potato balls. Pretty good, but probably one of my least favorite dishes.

Chorizo con chocolate — palacios chorizo with bittersweet chocolate, then topped with sea salt and saffron. A must-have when I go. Incredibly simple and incredibly good.

Taquitos de atún relleno de boquerones — tuna stuffed with marinated white anchovies. Nice but nothing too special, truth be told. But then again, we'd been wowed by so many of the dishes preceding and following this one that it didn't really matter too much in the grand scheme of things ...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Beeline to Caracas

You just can't get this kind of food in SF: super addictive Venezuelan-style arepas and empanadas at always jam-packed, hole-in-the-wall Caracas in the East Village. This was one of my top 3 gotta-have-it good eats during my visit to NYC (the others were Barrio Chino and Tia Pol). I was not disappointed.

I introduced my cousins to this awesome eatery and told 'em to get one of each. I always get the De Pabellon empanada—the crunchy puff of deep-fried sweet corn dough is filled with savory shredded beef, black beans, white salty cheese and sweet plantains.

This time around I coupled that with the La Jardinera arepa, an open pocket of unsweetened masa stuffed with grilled eggplants, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions and guayanés cheese.

I think it's safe to say that the girls had fun devouring all of the goodies laid before them. I did too. Love Caracas.

Butter Lane Cupcakes

MB took me to a newish cupcake bakery, Butter Lane, on 7th and A, where you could mix and match your choice of mini cakes with a pretty awesome list of frosting ranging from peanut butter and coconut to strawberry and lemon. I decided on a vanilla cake and lemon icing combo, and it was absolutely divine.

Had I left it at that one visit, I would've gone back to SF telling one and all that Butter Lane is leaps and bounds better than my long-time fave Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery.

But alas, I went back for a second visit and found my sophomore cupper didn't meet my expectations—the banana cake was a bit dry, the coconut in the icing tasted a tiny tad raw. Sigh. It was still a good cupcake, but Sugar Sweet remains my number one.

And how.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Revisiting Barrio Chino

There are a handful of places I have to go back to when I visit my old stomping ground, downtown NYC. One of 'em is Mexico City-style taco and tequila bar/resto Barrio Chino in the LES. It still kicks ass.

Since I manage to get out to NY rarely—maybe once or twice a year if I'm lucky—I invariably end up ordering the same thing: my all-time fave dish, the chile en nogada. That and a couple of coconut mojitos, and I'm set for the night. Woooot.