Sunday, June 8, 2014

Top Toast of 2013

Twenty-thirteen. The year I travelled to five countries: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam and Thailand. The year I directed a business school musical and then performed the show on a broken foot (great story), and then graduated from said business school. The year I left Chicago and all it's culinary delights behind - after over ten years - to start over in New York City with a brand new career, and a new life in the big city. This was a good year.

1. Bun Cha - Hanoi, Vietnam

Truly the best way to visit a country where you are very unfamiliar with the language and culture is to see it with someone who lives there. Luckily, one of my travelling companions to Vietnam/Thailand had a close friend from high school living in Hanoi, who took us to one of his favorite street-side Bun Cha places. Seated atop little plastic stools, we used chopsticks to dip noodles, meat, and greens into a sweet, vinegar-y sauce and chowed down. Truly delicious - and more proof that the world's best food isn't always in Michelin-starred restaurants - it can be often found right on the street.

2. Puerta Cerrada ("Closed Door") Dinner - Ituzaingo, Mendoza, Argentina

In Argentina, that land of fantastic wine and grass-fed steak, the culinary highlight of our trip was a closed door dinner we attended during our time in Mendoza. Essentially, the owner of a gorgeous home within the city opens his doors to strangers (who have, of course, made reservations by email in advance), and hosts a dinner party. The set menu included a wine cocktail hour, passed hors devours, salad, appetizers (delightful little empanadas, soft bread and butter, other bites and vegetables), wine (of course), a main course (steak, pictured below), and desserts (dulce de leche, fried sweet delights). About twenty guests were seated at tables indoors and on the outdoor patio, bathed in the glow of strings of little white lights. The atmosphere was magical, and the food was nothing short of fantastic. A truly memorable evening and meal.

3. Papaya Salad - Orange, Ko Phi Phi Island, Thailand

Ko Phi Phi, iconic location of "The Beach", is about as close to paradise as I've ever experienced, even if it was pretty full of tourists (and understandably so). Turquoise waters wash up on pure white sand beaches, the locals are friendly, and the scuba diving is top-notch. We stayed on the more "quiet" side of the island, in a tree house at Viking Nature Resort. Highly recommended. On the walk between our side and the other side of the island (lined with bars, hostels, and college-age Australians), is a small shack of a restaurant called Orange, run by a strange, cackling lady with a pet monkey. It had been recommended to us by our scuba instructor - and predictably, it was fantastic. The papaya salad was especially fresh, spicy, and incredibly delicious as part of a post-scuba, pre-beach lunch.

4. Shrimp Risotto - Near Plaza Serrano, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Our first night in Buenos Aires, we took to exploring the hip, fun neighborhood (Palermo Soho) around our hotel. We headed to Plaza Serrano, where there was a big open-air art and craft market, and dozens of bars and restaurants with doors and windows flung wide open to the warm late-summer breeze. After walking the streets around the Plaza for a while, we came upon a small, new restaurant that a Canadian couple sitting outside convinced us to try. I didn't write down its name, and now I can't find it on the internet - but trust me, it's real. Sure enough, the food was completely fantastic - from a pate appetizer, to our main courses (shrimp risotto pictured below), to the orange ice cream and brown butter cake dessert. Seated at our table on the sidewalk, taking in the sights of the evening, it was a perfect moment with a perfect meal.

5. Totto Ramen - New York City

Even though I only spent four months of 2013 living in New York City, having done some pretty exciting food tourism in other countries the former months of the year (see numbers 1-4 above), I would be remiss not to call out one of my favorite New York eateries discovered in 2013. Ramen is becoming 'a thing' now (you can even get it as a bun to your burger), but Totto Ramen does it best. With two locations in Hell's Kitchen, the long wait is worth it for the reasonable prices and the hot, salty, steamy bowl of noodley deliciousness. It was ideal when the polar vortex descended over New York last winter, and remains a delicious comfort any day of the year (except for maybe those really super hot summer days). Next up: a trip to Japan to see how Totto compares to the real stuff.

For more frequent food updates including where I'm eating, what I'm cooking, favorite bites, drool-inducing pictures and so forth, follow my blog Things I Ate in New York on Tumblr and check back here for longer, less-frequent recaps and updates.

Happy noshing!

- Lisa

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Top Toast of 2012

Twenty-twelve: a whole year as a full-time MBA student. Four countries visited (China, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru). One Inca Trail hiked. One Summer internship in New York. Three top toasts.

1. Bacon Waffles - Good Enough to Eat (New York City)

Bacon and waffles surely isn't a novel concept, and certainly GETE is not the first restaurant to discover the brilliance of putting juicy chunks of Applewood Smoked Bacon directly INTO the waffle. However, theirs is the first, and continues to be the best, I've tasted. Add some strawberry butter and real maple syrup, and you're in for a breakfast treat, every time. It's become my Upper West Side brunch go-to.

 2. Fresh Catch Fish, Smashed Plantains - Baru Islands, Colombia

Sometimes the experience and the setting is as important as the quality of the food itself. On this day during our idyllic vacation in Colombia's Baru Islands (about an hour's boat ride from Cartagena), we were served fresh-caught fried fish, local smashed plantains, and a light salad. On the beach. Under the palm trees. Surely, everything tastes about 10929182 times better in such a setting. However, this was one I would still enjoy at a restaurant in the states. If they could make it this well.

3. Thai - Flex Mussels (New York City)

As a person who didn't start appreciating oysters and mussels until a few years ago, this place quickly became my favorite spot for dinner with friends or a date. Wonderful ambiance, eighteen or so different mussel pot preparations, delectable fries, and craveable doughnut desserts - all at a price that won't break the bank. And, it's not impossible to get a reservation if you just plan a few days in advance. Fancy that. This picture is terrible, so you'll just have to take my word for it and try it yourself! :)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Where You Can Find Me These Days

Things I Ate In New York: A Tumblr

I've started a new Tumblr to chronicle my journey through the culinary delights of New York City... my home for the summer (and maybe for longer!). Now that taking pictures of food is "a thing" (which as you know, loyal readers, I've been doing since 2007), and attention spans (including mine) are shorter, I'll be doing most of my food blogging over there now, save anything that requires more of an explanation, rant, or exultation (which will be here). Hop on over via the link above and follow me to get all the latest updates!