Saturday, March 31, 2012

Peruvian Paella at Mochica

My Barcelonan friend IM declared there's no such thing as Peruvian paella, and she should know as she's quite the accomplished cook and made probably one of the best versions of this classic Spanish rice and seafood dish I've ever had.

But I figured I'd give Mochica's seafood paella a try, especially as my other dining mate AM assured me the food at this SOMA establishment was super tasty.

Indeed, AM was right. My dish was deliciouschock full of fresh clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp and fish, perfectly cooked to a moist-tender done-ness and well flavored with saffron, paprika, parsley and garlic. IM was also right. This was more like a seafood risotto than a paellaI was missing the crunch from crisped-up rice scraped from the bottom of the skillet.

Nonetheless, I still enjoyed my meal, and the lively company as well.

Bacon Bacon — Not Your Mama's Banh Mi

Bacon Bacon's banh mi doesn't follow any strict conventions of what a typical Vietnamese sando should taste or look like. And it doesn't really matter. Because Bacon Bacon's version—with its crumbly, well-seasoned pork meatballs, strips of hunky bacon, and loads of pickled tangy carrots, fresh cilantro, cabbage and jalapeno—works. Ever so well. See for yourself.

Need I say more?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Gorgeous Food at Soto

I've gotta say that 2 Michelin-starred Soto was probably the highlight of my food forays during my last visit to NY. And that's saying a lot considering the line-up included such heavy-hitters as Marea, dell'anima and The Dutch. Chalk it up to a confluence of food beautifully arranged and wonderfully composed, a relaxed and easy atmosphere with uber friendly service, and of course JP's fine company.

One of the standouts of the night: Soto's humble, homemade soy dish comprising the creamiest black sesame and white sesame tofu, served with wasabi, soy sauce, and topped with soy foam. Ever so good.

Another Soto fave: the chawan mushi—the airiest of egg custard soups made with chicken broth, thin slices of shitake mushroom, ginkgo biloba nut and a whole shrimp.

Grilled unagi cooked to the exact done-ness—to a medium-rare. Oftentimes, even at the best sushi restaurants, I find the unagi can be overcooked and/or fishy. Not so at Soto.

Thin slivers of fluke with scallions, ginger shoots, shiso leaf, sitting in a pool of ponzu sauce. Refreshing and harmonious this was.

Black trout carpaccio drizzled with a hint of truffle oil, capped with caviar and chives, served with a crispy, bright watercress salad. I loved how every dish had so much going on and yet made perfect sense on the palate.

Fatty tuna-like-buttah tartare with creamy avocado sitting in ponzu sauce, more caviar, chives and a chiffonade of seaweed. When I ordered this "house special," I kinda thought this was something I'd seenand eatenso many times before. I mean, tuna tartare and avocado, right? But holy cow. Soto's version was like no other. It blew me away.

The silkiest slab of braised black cod sitting in the lightest soy broth, served with shimeji mushrooms, radish and mountain potato. This is absolutely my favorite type of fish, and Soto handled the sable with so much loving care. I could certainly have had another order—except for the fact that we'd inhaled quite a a bit of food already (not all dishes pictured).

Steamed chunks of lobster layered with a luscious uni mousse, lightly drizzled with truffle oil, topped with a crispy piece of smoked uni (wowza), tiny scoop of caviar and scallions. The rings of crispy lotus root and cucumbers served as the perfect, crisp-fresh foil to the decadently rich seafood main.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

My Fave NY Cupcakes

My number 1 and 2 cupcake venues in Manhattan are:
1 - Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery in the Lower East Side
2 - Butter Lane Cupcakes in the East Village

What I like about Butter Lane is that you can mix and match from a variety of cakes and frosting to create your own oh-so-pretty cupcake. Pictured here are the chocolate cake with salted caramel and chocolate frosting, and vanilla cake with salted caramel frosting.

What I like even more about Sugar Sweet Sunshine is that the cakes are always moist and springy, and they're humble (and less pricey) than all the rest—like the cupcakes of my childhood bake sale days. Pictured here are the Sunshine (yellow cake with vanilla buttercream frosting) and the Strawberry (strawberry cake with cream cheese buttercream frosting).

NY's 2011 Restaurant of the Year: The Dutch

NY Times food critic Sam Sifton writes, "The Dutch, ladies and gentleman, is my restaurant of the year." He's not the only one touting the Dutch's merits. NY magazine's food writer Adam Platt and food blog Eater NY second his endorsement as do a number of other food critics and bloggers. Of course, such overwhelming praise is going to make me sit up and take notice.

But what clinched it for me—and made me call for brunch rezzies as soon as I knew I was visiting NYC—was foodie friend KG's rave review of the place as well as the fact that former cook pal and current sous chef to Daniel Humm (of Eleven Madison Park fame) MK had agreed to join us. Having worked at Locanda Verde for chef Andrew Carmellini, who also helms the Dutch, I was pretty sure her presence would ensure us a good experience.

I had no idea of course that her roommate was working the pass as The Dutch's expediting sous chef. And that she was going to send out equally as many dishes—compliments of the chef—as we'd ordered. No complaints though. We loved everything that hit the table, including Kierin's pastry board made up of a blueberry buckwheat muffin, apple-cheddar scone, and my fave the light and airy, still warm out of the fryer, sugar-dusted donuts.

Also amazing was the fluffy stack of buttery almond French toast accompanied by sweet, rum-soaked slices of bananas foster.

My order of fried eggs with creamy smooth hominy grits, crumbled chorizo and salsa verde was probably the most modestly sized plate at brunch. A good thing too, since wave upon wave of food kept streaming out of the kitchen, and I was happy to make room for a little bit of everything.

"How's the fried chicken?" I asked MK. "Slammin'," she replied without hesitation. She was right. That hefty platter carried probably the best crispified and juicy chicken parts I've ever had the pleasure of mauling. The butter-honey biscuits were pretty tasty too, though I will say I've had better, softer, flakier biscuits from other purveyors (the biscuits at Brenda's French Soul Food, for example).

“Of all the great pie bakers in New York City, the current champion is probably a young woman named Kierin Baldwin, who runs the pastry department at The Dutch ... ,” writes Sam Sifton. Here, here.

Yay pie, and yay MK and The Dutch.