Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Top Toast of 2014

After you move to New York, they say it takes two years to feel like you really belong there. 2014 was a year of transition and change, but when I felt uncertainty in my new city, it was often great meals with great people that provided the patient, compounding affirmations in my decision that kept me going and growing.

My top toasts of 2014 are thus varied: several homemade dishes and even one original recipe made the cut this year, along with some truly exemplary dining experiences from a Michelin starred restaurant to a truck in a field. However, all carry fond memories of those they were shared with.

10. Grilled Chicken BBQ Pizza (Homemade!)
In an effort to replicate that CPK recipe we all know so well, I grilled a chicken breast, shredded it with two forks and soaked the meat in Sweet Baby Ray's, then topped an olive-oil-brushed lightly-grilled crust with drizzled BBQ sauce, round mozzarella slices, red onion, cilantro, the chicken, and gouda. Consumed with Matt, Lisha, Jessie and Mom!

9. Goat Gouda Truffle Grilled Cheese, Rye House
Thanks to my friend Jake, my new dairy-based-obsession this year was goat gouda. Put it in between grilled bread drizzled in truffle oil, serve it with a Manhattan, and KNOCK ME OUT I'm done. Consumed with Kate and Erica.

8. Boozy Brunch Cookies (An Original Recipe!)
Are you the type who likes to get drunk off your dessert? Well look no further. In an effort to gain street cred at my company's annual Holiday Cookie Bake-Off, I upped the ante this year and put not only bacon in my cookies, but bourbon too. And maple syrup. But I have to say I think the kicker was really the maple-bourbon frosting (delightfully STRONG!) and the candied bacon garnish. Along with real street cred, I won the prize for "Most Original" (for the second year in a row!). Mission accomplished. The whole recipe can be found on my Tumblr here. Consumed with fabulous co-workers.

7. Mee Goreng, Café Asean
My friend Nicole introduced me to this really lovely little Malaysian restaurant in the West Village, which serves traditional dishes including this savory stir fry. A cross between Thai and Chinese, but completely delicious, totally fresh, and surprisingly affordable for that area! I've since returned several times.

6. ABC Kitchen
ABC Kitchen has been on my list since before I moved to New York. And when I finally had the chance to try it out for a work lunch, it did NOT disappoint. Luckily that team were sharers, and I truly was delighted by everything I tasted. Standouts included this dessert, the Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sundae garnished with caramel corn, and the Ricotta & Farm Egg Raviolo in brown butter sauce: one giant, incredibly rich ravioli with a soft egg and cheese inside... in butter. Full. Stop.

5. Pappardelle with Fresh Corn Pesto

I've kept this astonishingly delicious and easy summer pasta recipe to myself for way too long. After my friend Jake (again!) introduced me to it a few summers ago, it's become a seasonal staple. Serve it over soft, succulent ribbons of the best of all pastas - pappardelle. Preferably homemade. :P Consumed with good friends on the rooftop. See also: 30 Days of Rooftop, a goodbye serenade to the one redeeming feature of my old building.

4. Pure Thai Cookhouse
While this picture doesn't say much, trust me: Pure Thai Cookhouse in Hell's Kitchen is HANDS DOWN the best Thai in New York City. Yes, I'll keep an open mind. Sure, I might keep trying other places. But if you have a chance to eat here, TAKE IT. Menu highlights: Green Papaya Salad (pictured, low-light be damned), Steamed Vegetable Dumplings, Pad Thai, Mango Sticky Rice.

3. Egg & Sausage Pancake, Outer Borough (Smorgasburg)
The year's runner-up "best thing I ate from a truck" award goes to this DELIGHTFULLY sweet, savory, chewy, spicy roll from Outer Borough, a Smorgasburg staple. For the uninitiated, Smorgasburg is a huge food market held in Brooklyn on Saturdays and Sundays with close to a-hundred-some-odd stands, each specializing in exactly one very specific kind of food. Lots of them leverage cultural fusion (you can get pretty much every kind of taco you can imagine), and Outer Borough's mission is to serve great Taiwanese comfort food - with some twists for the American palate. Aside from the secret sauce, the thing that really makes this dish is the crispy-yet-chewy pancake it's rolled in. YUM. Consumed with Greg & Rosati, because if you visit me from out of town you can expect we're gonna hit the Smorg.

2. Gramercy Tavern

No pictures! Because that's their policy, and also the light was too dim to capture anything in a way that truly reflected its deliciousness (remember rule #1: can you get a good picture? If not, don't take it!). I joined my parents and siblings here for a magical night in September to celebrate my mom's 60th birthday (note: she is still skinnier and in better shape than both me and my sister). We did the tasting menu and it did not disappoint; my highlight was the squid ink tagliatelle with lobster. Like any good restaurant they continue to change their menu with the seasons, so naturally I can't wait to go back and be delighted anew. Plus, they have a cookbook! People who buy me presents, pls take note.

1. Chipotle Pork Rolled Quesadilla, Calexico
This immaculate piece of heaven was hands down the best thing I put in my mouth in 2014 (no joke). Sweet, bar-b-quey chipotle pulled pork oozes together with melted cheddar, pickled red onions and Monterey jack cheeses, inside a rolled and toasted flour tortilla. Served with a side of chipotle "crack" sauce to make certain that your head sufficiently explodes. 5/5 will eat again. And again. And again. Consumed with Lisha at the Vendys!


For more frequent food updates including where I'm eating, what I'm cooking, 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, 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! :)