Sunday, September 30, 2012

Q&A | Christine

The first Q&A sesh to welcome the fall season is with Christine, a former colleague of mine during my first bean counting job. We worked on an awesome team together, and we had a blast working with each other. The more we got to know one another, the more we realized we both had a shared love for dining out and trying new foods (including L'Artusi, Kajitsu, Bohemian, and El Almacén as well as Dirt Candy around the corner after attending the eponoymous cookbook launch party together). Not only is Christine a smart cookie, she is also one of the best food enthusiasts to go out with -- she'll try anything once, which makes selecting spots to go out together that much easier. While we spend nearly a third of the year tied to the demands of the bean counting universe, we both make the conscious effort to get away from all that, aka, making time for a decent meal other than company/client-funded takeout and meet up for much-needed cocktails or glasses of wine. I look forward to more gluttonous adventures with Christine, because I do not doubt on bit  that we will eat our way through many amazing things together.

Thanks again to Christine for taking the time and participating in this month's Q&A!

Christine (on the right) with her sisters eating dessert at Serendipity IIIs for the first time.


New York, NY

Fine dining: My first ever fine dining experience was at Annisa and I still can’t forget it.
Casual dining: Recently I went to Le Sans Coulette and fell in love with the place. It’s really good french food for a great price, and the appetizer is very interesting. They give you a huge basket of fresh vegetables, bread/pate, and a rack of cured meats to eat to your heart's content -- majority of the reason why it is now my favorite restaurant.

When I’m in the hood/it’s 4 am: Mamouns Falafel, Artichoke, Banh Mi Saigon, 16 Handles, Jimmy Johns
When I'm a cog in the machine:
 Chopt, Just Salad, Subway, the many corporate  cafeterias of Restaurant Associates

Disaronno (i.e., amaretto) on the rocks -- it makes you look like a cool scotch drinker without actually drinking the stuff (good for those who can't drink scotch). I also enjoy india pale ales (IPAs), moscato, and shots of anything.

Gordita Crunch from Taco Bell, I still remember when they came out with the concept. It's pretty amazing, but for every Gordita I eat, my extremely reputable foodie credibility slowly dwindles away,  thus why it is a (now not so much) secret indulgence.

I don't always cook, but when I do, I make banana bread from scratch. My friends say it’s really edible. I'd like to say I have a secret recipe, but it's the third hit you get when you Google. Shhh!

Taiwanese braised bamboo with rice. My dad tries to make it in the States, but it's always better at my grandfather’s in Taiwan. 

I love Vietnamese food but have never been to Vietnam, so I would love to explore and try some authentic Viet cuisine. Other delicious getaways include a trip to Taiwan to get reacquainted with its amazing night market junket and a road trip to Maine for a seafood feast with a pit stop at the Ben 'n' Jerry's Ice Cream Factory in Vermont for the real deal (see cookbook response).

Adam Richmond of Man vs. Food. Every time I watch him, I feel a combination of hunger, jealousy, and repulsion. A vicious cycle I go through every night  from 10-11 PM.

My dad is the chef of the house. My mom will cook, but only if it's a life or starving-to-death situation. That being said, when I was about 8 years old, she made dinner once when my dad was out of town --  fried rice with ham, peas, eggs and corn. I haven't seen her cook since and probably never will since she claims I am now a grown up and can feed myself.

Tough bread, overly salty food, and overcooked fish/meat.

All (I have the sweetest of tooths), but if I had to be specific: corner piece chocolate brownie, key lime pie, cupcakes of any flavor and macarons, which they say are the new cupcakes.

This past birthday my friends gave me my first "cookbook" of Ben 'n' Jerry's recipes and an ice cream machine. Ice cream party TBD, and everybody's invited.

The classic bon appétit.

The first food blog I ever got into was Food Porn Daily (SFW). Other sites I tend to visit are Food Gawker and Tom Haverfoods (a funny site based on Tom Haverford from the television program, Parks and Recreation). Okay, the latter isn't actually a food blog, but it's food related/a great procrastinator. And of course Four Tines, but purely because I'm featured and am now famous.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Etcetera | Friday Fanfare, 2012.09.28

Another happy Friday to you! Hoping you are staying dry in the city today -- crazy storms we're having. Marcus and I have a long weekend of ahead of us -- we'll be playing hooky from work on Monday and Tuesday in honor of Marcus's birthday this year. Looking forward to sharing all of our conquered eats from this four-day celebration over the next week or so. Also, I am so very psyched for our upcoming weekend trip to Charleston, South Carolina with Alice and Jimmy over the first weekend of November. I love planning trips, especially when it comes to maximizing sights and eats in a limited span of time (two and a half days, to be precise). More on that soon!

Anyways, wishing you the best weekend ahead! :)

The counter bar at Pegu Club in SoHo.

This week's noteworthy eats:
  • brunch at RSVP with Erin, including foie gras dumplings
  • "super fancy" grilled cheese sandwiches at Little Muenster with Lisa and Marcus, including grilled fontina and gruyère cheese sandwich with membrillo (i.e., quince paste) and prosciutto
  • drinks with Eleanor at Pegu Club (can't stop going back to this awesome spot!) -- they know my weakness for guava, especially with my current favorite, the Vida Guayaba (mescal, Licor 43, honey syrup, lemon juice, and guava)
  • my own version of the above-mentioned grilled cheese sandwich using delicious goods from Murray's Cheese Shop

Some ruminating reads:

In case you missed it:

A roundup of drool-worthy recipes:

On the blotter for upcoming noms:
  • Six solid oyster happy hours recommended by Gothamist.
  • Chris Cannon, former business partner to Michael White, and former chef de cuisine of Ai Fiori, Chris Jaeckle, are collaborating to open All'onda (Italian for "of the waves" which means soupy when referring to risotto). I was a fan of Ai Fiori during Chef Jaeckle's tenure, so I'm very curious to see what he'll have cooking up here!
  • Already on the move to make ressies at Ichimura, the sushi bar over at Chef David Bouley's Brushstroke! Pete Wells' review in The New York Times this week just sealed the deal.
  • Serious Eats New York rounds up great grilled cheese sandwiches in New York City as well as covers the opening of Dorie Greenspan's new bakery, Beurre and Sel (French for "butter and salt"). Marcus and I will be hitting up the latter this weekend, so I'll be sure to report back!
  • It's the weekend before Marcus's birthday, so we'll be nomming all weekend long, including dinner at Sakagura; quick bite at our favorite taco joint, Dos Toros; trying out David's Tea for the first time; brunch with my mom over at Clinton Street Baking Co. (she and Marcus still have not tried its heavenly pancakes yet); drinks at Pegu Club; and baked goods at Maison Kayser (can't wait to "break bread" here!).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dinner | Little Muenster

Last Sunday, after trying to get into The Meatball Shop with no avail, Marcus, Lisa, and I paid a visit to Little Muenster in the Lower East Side for some dinner grub. James, a former colleague of mine, had raved about it for quite some time now, so I was glad that I'd finally be able to report back.

Little Muenster (gotta love that name!) was opened by Adam Schneider and Vanessa Palazio, basing a lot of the grilled cheese menu offerings on "creative flavor mash-ups on their favorite pastas," including one sandwich with leek confit, Gruyère, chèvre, and pancetta. It may better explain its tagline of offering "super fancy grilled cheese." Another thing that makes Little Muenster quite the kickass joint is its delivery service -- not only do they offer it in the surrounding neighborhood but customers can request the sandwiches "be cooked on premises or delivered toaster-ready to protect against sogginess." Plus, the to-go packaging includes not only aluminum foil wrapped around sandwiches but also the boxes containing them allow the heat from them to vent.

Couldn't get an excellent photo of the Little Muenster sign out front, so I resorted to using this cute window mirror to capture it!

The menu is written on chalkboard painted cheeseboards/oven trays. Note there are no substitutions.

The coolest part of Little Muenster is this spiffy cheese grater chandelier. Really awesome!

Each sandwich came with a cabbage side salad as well as these well-made wooden trays. Marcus had the chipotle-braised chicken with jarlesberg, cotija, and cilantro crema (#2). A very Mexican-spirited grilled cheese sandwich, the chipotle part of it gave the kick, while the blended cheeses with cilantro cream overlaid it an extra flair of flavor.

Lisa had the savory blend of butternut squash with asiago, parmesan, muenster, and sage brown butter. Given from the description alone, you know it's going to be incredibly rich and undoubtedly cheesy. Even for a cheese lover like Lisa, it proved to be a little overwhelming for her, but still delicious nonetheless. It'd be perfect so split this with someone and order a soup to go with the half.

Lisa also had the tomato soup which was nice and thick with a little smokiness to it. It's the best complement to any of the sandwiches on the menu.

I had the prosciutto with fontina, Gruyère, and membrillo (i.e., quince paste). The taste of the quince fruit is like a cross between an apple and a pear, and it somehow had the same culinary magic with the prosciutto as its classic pairing with a juicy slice of melon. Packed with a formidable crunch from the well-buttered, thoroughly toasted slices of bread, this sandwich is a solid winner.

Despite the heaviness from our sandwiches sitting in our stomachs, Lisa and I still managed to make room for dessert. The bread pudding was sprinkled with a generous helping of confectioners' sugar, resulting in moist cubes of vanilla-flavored bread.It was the savory kind of dessert where it wasn't overly sweet or rich but instead a lovely punctuation to a relatively intense dinner of melted cheese between bread slices. Recommended to share!

Findings: Little Muenster may rival my devotion to Morris Grilled Cheese and Milk Truck Grilled Cheese. I like that it offers menu items much different than the others (besides the essentially classic kind with bacon) so there is no culinary redundancy in the grilled cheese sammy market here in New York City. It seems as if the menu at Little Muenster changes every so often, so that promises new experiences each time you may go. The storefront may be small, but don't let size fool you one bit. The kitchen is cooking up some remarkable combinations of melted cheeses, savory proteins, and other gourmet ingredients. Plus, the bread pudding is pretty great, too.

Price point: $8.75 for each grilled cheese sandwich, $4.50 for a cup of tomato soup, $2.75 for dessert.

--September 23, 2012

Little Muenster
100 Stanton Street
New York, NY 10002

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fresh Find | best iPhone apps

I thought it'd be interesting and practical for me to give a rundown of the iPhone apps that I frequently use and swear by as a food enthusiast and blogger. Here goes!

{1} Immaculate Infatuation (free from the AppStore): These guys have such great taste when it comes to restaurants. They know what's good and what's not, and they're not too shy to say what's what. This app basically organizes all of their reviews in a mobile-friendly format, including filters, ratings, and a rundown of what's good/not good. Let's just say this powerful little app has saved me in many a pinch.

{2Matchbook (It) (free from the AppStore): Some stroke of fate had me stumble upon this app's Twitter account, which eventually led me to download the app itself. Using the database of Foursquare, Matchbook provides a dynamic list tracking service for those restaurants/shops/places you stumble upon during whilst being out, visiting other cities, conversing with a friend, reading an article, etc. You can add the restaurant by manually noting the city and then searching for the said spot, or you can use the GPS option for something nearby (i.e., walking past it at that very moment). The name comes from "a time when people would take a beautifully designed matchbook from a restaurant to remember it." Helpful aspects of this app include attribute tags, marking a place as "Want to Go" or "I Went", and a note section for additional details you wish to include. No more lists written on napkins or random notepad documents scattered on your mobile -- it is the dynamic "notepad" for the restaurant/shopping world.

{3} MenuPages (free from the AppStore): I use this a lot when I need to check out a restaurant's menu when needed (for prices and offerings) while I'm on-the-go.

{4UrbanDaddy (free from the AppStore): Another useful app when you are out and need an impromptu suggestion on where to grab the best x for a certain y occasion with z individuals/people (what Urban Daddy calls "The Next Move"). It has really interesting filtering function based on time of day, where you are (based on GPS or whatever designated neighborhood you select), who you are with (e.g., significant other, friends, parents, colleagues, etc.), what you want to eat/do (e.g., meal, dessert, dancing, coffee, drinks, etc.), and what kind of place you are looking for (e.g., old school, low key, swanky, hotspot, etc.).

{5}TweetBot ($2.99 from the AppStore): This is what I use for keeping up with those whom I follow on Twitter. It's probably the best Twitter clients (plus it's a bargain price!) I've seen out there that has a great interface that is both user-friendly and easy to read. The customizable tab bar and "smart gestures" make it easy to navigate through your Twitter account, follow conversations, save links to an external reader app (e.g., Readability, Pulse, Instapaper), etc.

{6} bitly (free on the AppStore): Great link-shortening service/tracker, especially for traffic/click statistics and decluttered links for tweeting, especially while mobile.

{7} Instapaper ($3.99 from the AppStore): What's great about this app is that it keeps track of all of the articles, blog posts, links, etc. that I don't have time to read as I stumble upon them and saves them all neatly in one place so I can read, archive, favorite, and delete accordingly. What I also love about Instapaper is that it can be linked directly to TweetBot, thereby allowing me to send any links I see attached to tweets I'm reading directly to my Instapaper account. For someone who does A LOT of reading of RSS feeds collected on my Google Reader account, this is a godsend. I can even sync the articles so I can read them offline before I leave for my underground commute in the morning -- either on my Kindle or my iPhone!

{8} Snapseed ($4.99 from the AppStore): Very versatile for editing camera phone photographs, especially to make them blog-worthy quality or even for Instagram uploads. The ability to easily adjust white balance, contrast, saturation, ambiance, and brightness makes it worth the $5 spent on this app! There are some fabulous filters as well!

{9} TripIt (free from the AppStore): As a compulsive planner, this is an awesome app for organizing all of your travel information in one place -- flights, ground transportation, hotel information, sightseeing plans, dining reservations, etc. -- with relevant information such as times, flight numbers, addresses, confirmation numbers, etc. I used it on my recent trip to Block Island, and it saved me a lot of trouble and hassle.

{10} Foodivide ($0.99 from the AppStore): This article on the headaches of splitting a restaurant bill from The Guardian mentioned this crazy cool app that magically resolves any dispute or "mental math" that may cause confusion, or even worse, a ploy by a sneaky individual in the group who thinks he/she can pay less because there aren't enough accountants at the table to notice. Or the situation could be that some individuals drank more than others, or someone ordered more food, etc. Either way, there will be no more whipping out of calculators with Foodivide. You type in single amounts on the app's number pad and drag the amount to these "virtual plates" that appear on the interface, each representing an individual at the table. There is also an option to split amounts against how many individuals "shared" a given dish or a bottle of wine by typing the amount on the number pad and then clicking the "scissor" icon and selecting how many with which to split the amount. Then you drag this "splitted amount" to each of the respective plates. And voilà -- headache-free bill-splitting! Hands down, the best 99 cents I have spent recently to preclude any mathematical disputes.

{11} WineStein (Pro) (free from the AppStore): A personal digital sommelier at your fingertips, so when you're planning to cook a meal, you can figure out what wines go best with it and how. Or you can go the other way around and look for dishes that go well with certain wines/grapes.

{12} (free from the AppStore): I'm always craving for the next best food cart/truck, so this is a nice, visual map of food carts/trucks near your current location, including their latest Twitter status to indicate more details.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Feasts & Affairs | Outstanding in the Field 2012

Last week, Marcus and I found ourselves returning back to Brooklyn Grange in Queens for another farmer dinner hosted by Outstanding in the Field (OITF) with Linda, John, and Ralf in tow (sad Jess, John, and Lynnette couldn't join us this year, though) -- only this time, Chefs Benjamin Towill and Chef Nick Wilber from The Fat Radish had curated our literal farm-to-table dinner that evening. As we've done in the past (it's certainly a ritual now :P), Linda and I bought our tickets for this event way back in March. Hardcore fans, we most certainly are! So much, in fact, that this time, we solely picked the dinner because of its location (I mean, c'mon a rooftop farm in Queens -- who can say no to that?!), as well as our familiarity with Brooklyn Grange from the farm dinner we attended last year, before the folks at OITF even announced who the guest chefs would be. We didn't even know we'd be graced with the presence of these two wonderful chefs from The Fat Radish until a week before the date -- Linda's guess was they were waiting for some kind of dramatic impact. Either way, it was a pleasant surprise for all of us -- Linda and I even were saying we'd been meaning to get our butts on over to the Lower East Side to check out The Fat Radish, so what better way to experience it than with OITF?! :P

We were met with another last minute change a couple days before the dinner. Due to some "bureaucratic hurdles" encountered by the OITF team, the location of the dinner was moved from Brooklyn Grange to La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez, a location that Linda and I were familiar with from the farm dinner in New York City two years ago with Print restaurant. La Plaza Cultural is a beautiful space and much easier to get to, so it wasn't disappointing news.

{1,3,7} So around 3PM that very Wednesday, our group arrived to La Plaza Cultural where {4} we got comfortable, {8,11} put down our plates (after all, OITF has always been BYOP), {2,5,6,10} explored the community garden a bit further, and {9} selected our seats at the dinner table.

Traditionally, OITF has set the "long table" at farms, at gardens, on mountaintops, in sea caves, on island, and at ranches -- wherever its tours would take the table.

As I've written before, the mission of OITF is "to reconnect diners to the land and the origins of their food and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it," and as a "restaurant without walls," each and every dinner hosted by the organization ensures the "consistent theme of honoring the people whose good work brings nourishment to the table." With that being said, the ingredients for these farm meals are almost all local (many times, sourced within inches of your seat at the table!) and generally prepared by a celebrated chef of the region (which, in our case, are the guys from The Fat Radish). To read more about OITF, please see the organization's history section of its website!

Normally, the course pairings for these OITF dinners (at least the ones I've been to) usually are wines. So it was a pleasant surprise to see that {3,4} the first pairing (for the hors d'oeuvres) was a cocktail -- The Basil Brush, which happens to be on the menu at The Fat Radish's new sister restaurant called The Leadbelly, is a blend of gooseberry, {1} fresh basil, {2} elderflower, and {5} Brooklyn Gin. Later, we just happened to be sitting next to Joe Santos, one of the co-founders of Brooklyn Gin, so that was really neat! They also started pouring a glera (i.e., the grapes used in prosecco) produced by Bisson from Treviso, Italy with a 2011 vintage to go with the second course.

The first course consisted of three hors d'oeuvres: {1} red and golden beet lollipops with hazelnuts and horseradish, {2} Noble Road cheese crostini with Brooklyn Grange rooftop honey and dried bee pollen, and {3} coronation chicken (i.e., combination of precooked cold chicken meat, herbs and spices in a creamy mayonnaise-based sauce with curry powder) lettuce wraps with a mild yogurt sauce. All three were well done. The beet lollipops were ripe and nutty; the Noble Road cheese was creamy and very brie-like (Linda even commented that the cheese was as if brie and goat cheese had a baby together) and the honey added a light sweetness to it; and the lettuce wraps were divine, as the lettuce itself was really delicate yet was able to hold the dollop of coronation chicken salad without wilting.
Gratuitous pre-dinner photograph of me, Linda, John, and Ralf! And as usual, our table possibly rivaled that evening as the honorary title of the rowdy "drinking table" -- loud and proud!

{1} The organizers, Jim Denevan and Leah Scafe, gave a brief background on OITF and how it stumbled upon La Plaza Cultural in the past. They later introduced Ross Martin, the landscape architect of the community garden's grounds. {2} Later on, Ben Flanner from the Brooklyn Grange farm, came over to greet the guests and shared which of menu's ingredients were sourced from his farm (i.e., heirloom tomatoes, kale, various herbs, jessup, beets, cilantro, and honey). {3} The team from The Fat Radish came out once all the courses had been served, thanking everyone for coming as well as OITF for asking them to be a part of this dinner.

Founded in 1976 by local residents and "greening activists," La Plaza Cultural used to be a series of vacant city lots covered in rubble and trash. A Latino group, CHARAS, cleared out truckloads of refuse, "determined to reclaim the neighborhood from a downward spiral of arson, drugs, and abandonment." Working with architect Buckminster Fuller, "a geodesic dome" was built in the open plaza and began staging cultural events. Green Guerrillas pioneer Liz Christy "seeded the turf with 'seed bombs,'" planting what are now the towering weeping willows and linden trees. During the 1980s, the garden was "under attack by developers seeking to build on the space," and after countless court battles, La Plaza Cultural was finally preserved in 2002 as part of a landmark settlement, which had saved several scores of gardens across New York City. Armando Perez, a CHARAS founder and former District Leader of the Lower East Side who was brutally murdered in 1999, "recognized the power of gardens to bring communities together" and consequently, La Plaza was aptly named after Mr. Perez in 2003.

{2,5} Once hor d'oeuvre and mingling hour was over, we grabbed our plates and sat down at our seats, to be met with the rest of the evening's menu. {1} Our pairings (done by Craig Atlas, a sommelier from NYC) moved onto riesling produced by Dirler-Cadé from Alsace, France with a 2010 vintage and a pinot noir produced by Robert Sinskey Vineyards from Carneros, California with a 2009 vintage, respectively for the third and the fourth courses. {7} The second course following the first of hors d'oeuvres was the grilled end of summer squash with heirloom tomatoes and a kefir lime dressing (made using olive oil, egg yolk, kaffir lime juice, and Thai chili). It was the idyllic dish to bid farewell to the ending summer days -- crunchy and smokey squash, juicy and sweet tomatoes, and a wide array of green herbs. The kefir lime dressing was what made it come together and so distinctively different with its South Asian flavors. {6} Next as the third course was the beet root tart tartane with an herb salad (i.e., parsley and watercress) and Pipe Dream goat cheese. While the tartane's pastry was flaky and savory and the beet root earthy with fruity qualities, the goat cheese was what did me in. It was gamier than I was expecting, and for someone who is still an amateur when it comes to cheeses, it pushed my limits as to how far away from my cheese comfort zone I could handle. {9} Before the next course came out, there was a bit of a commotion at the other end of the long table -- lots of cheering and applause. Turning our heads, we found this gentleman, down on one knee, proposing to his girlfriend. It was really cute and very fun to be a part of this beautiful moment.

{4} The main course that evening (i.e., the fourth course) was a roasted leg of lamb with wilted kale and mustard greens, with a side of {3} couscous with coriander seeds and cilantro as well as an heirloom bean salad with cumin yoghurt and sprouts. From since we arrived at La Plaza, there was lots of roasting action happening, as the scent of smokiness from the leg of lamb wafted throughout the grounds. It was nice to finally see these teasing scents brought to fruition. Though the lamb was overcooked in some slices/areas, it was still super flavorful and juicy. Served cold, the sides were refreshing and complemented the roasted lamb very nicely, though having them served warm may have been even better. {8} Last, but not least, was the fifth course for dessert -- a warm spiced plum cake with oat crumble and whipped mascarpone -- paired with a perfect moscato d'Asti from Piedmont, Italy produced by Vitorrio Bera & Figli with a 2011 vintage. Resembling a loose muffin, the dessert was crumbly, subtly rich, and spiced up with the trappings of the impending fall season. The moscato d'Asti, as always, was the ideal ending to a fantastic meal, as if I were biting into a piece of peak-ripened fruit.

Pink skies from an almost sunset.

Findings: Outstanding in the Field proved to be another satisfying success. The season's bounty spoke wildly in the curated menu done up by Chef Nick Wilber and Chef Benjamin Towill of The Fat Radish and was only underscored by the refreshing Basil Brush laced with Brooklyn Gin (my new go-to brand!) and the complementing wine pairings by sommelier Craig Atlas. Although we only heard from the folks at Brooklyn Grange about that evening's ingredients as well as met Joe Santos from Brooklyn Gin, the spirit of the local farms and purveyors was still very tangible in the fresh greens, vegetables, and protein that we so voraciously ate through family-style. While we had our hearts initially set on this farm dinner being on the rooftop of Brooklyn Grange, La Plaza Cultural had its own distinctive charm as well. 

Thanks to the teams from OITF, The Fat Radish, Brooklyn Grange, and all of the other farms/purveyors (see below) for orchestrating yet another noteworthy dinner to be included in the annals of my personal gastronomic history. 

Price point: $230 per person for a five-course locally supplied dinner.

--September 19, 2012

Outstanding in the Field
P.O. Box 2413
Santa Cruz, CA 95063

La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez
southwest corner of Avenue C & 9th Street
New York, NY 10009

The Fat Radish
17 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002

Brooklyn Grange*
37-18 Northern Blvd
Queens, NY 11101

Brooklyn Gin*

2116 Jacksonville Road
Jobstown, NJ 08022

Paffenroth Gardens
95 Little York Road
Warwick, NY 10990

Friday, September 21, 2012

Etcetera | Friday Fanfare, 2012.09.21

Happy, happy Friday! Here's this week gratuitous round-up from yours truly! Have a super duper weekend, enjoying the first initial days of the fall season! Wahoo!

Farm dinner with Outstanding in the Field at La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez.

This week's noteworthy eats:
  • gnocchi with homemade meat sauce
  • another amazing five-course, farm-to-table dinner with Outstanding in the Field, curated by the chefs of The Fat Radish
  • great dinner with Marcus, Jess, Jill, and Jen at Jones Wood Foundry -- fish 'n' chips and cider all the way!
Some ruminating reads:
In case you missed it:
A roundup of drool-worthy recipes:
On the blotter for upcoming noms:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Etcetera | Four Tines, 2.0

I am very happy (and incredibly excited!) to announce that Four Tines and a Napkin has stepped up to a better version of itself (well, aesthetically at least). I solicited the awesome illustrating-calligraphy talent of Molly from Molly Jacques Illustration to assist me in bringing to life a vision I have had for my little blog here for the past year or so. What I was looking for was a simple design (perhaps with some fun typography mixed in) that included an illustration of a fork, dining utensils, and/or napkin as well as the "ode to gourmandise and epicurean delights" tagline. And that is exactly what we worked so hard over the past couple weeks to unveil as the heralding of Four Tines 2.0 -- seriously, sound the bugles and drums, and look up! It came out even better than I had imagined in my head -- my favorite part being the tailored marks surrounding the text (nearly resembling the fluid movement of cloth napkins) in contrast to the stark and bold sans-serif text (with the Art Deco-esque "E" so fun).

So long, Four Tines 1.0. It was a fantastic run for the past two years -- Getty Images really got my sense of humor with this one. Thank you for being so reliable and easy to create within (please don't laugh) Microsoft Paint before I had gotten my hands on Photoshop. I'm sure you'll continue to make cameos here and there!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dinner | S'MAC

Last week, Jess and I got our fix of macaroni 'n' cheese over at S'MAC (which stands for Sarita's Macaroni & Cheese) in the East Village.

This beloved comfort food joint was created by husband-and-wife team, Sarita and Caesar Ekya. When they were eating one day at Peanut Butter & Co. (another comfort food-centric restaurant in the West Village), Mrs. Ekya wondered (in a half-joking, half-serious way) how cool it would be if there were a place that served PBJ, grilled cheese, AND mac 'n' cheese. They both laughed and went on their way, but for some reason, the idea couldn't be shaken, and nine months later, in 2006, Mr. and Mrs. Ekya opened up S'MAC, serving up ten variations of mac 'n' cheese.

Inside S'MAC -- very bright oranges and yellows (fittingly so, of course). Even the ceiling light fixtures resemble elbow macaroni! The cast iron skillet pans hanging on the wall delineate the different sizes offered at S'MAC. The smallest is Nosh, next sizes up are Major Munch and Mongo, and the largest size is Partay! We had no idea that the Nosh size would be THAT sizable (especially with the price), so we decided to err on the side of caution and ordered that size. All of the mac 'n' cheeses come with a generous sprinkling of bread crumbs. There is also a "make-your-own" option as well, so you can get pretty creative if you want to!

Jess decided to go the classic route, and ordered the All-American ("nostalgia at its finest") with a blend of cheddar and American cheeses. The mac 'n' cheeses at S'MAC are casserole style (just how I love it), and the combination of breadcrumbs and cheese covering the macaroni creates a really nice and delicious faux-crust. It's crunchy, toasty, and cheesy, providing a great textural contrast to the creamy and soft cheesed macaroni. It also comes scorching hot in those black, cast-iron skillets with a quilted potholder and a wooden trivet. With that being said, the All-American is the no-nonsense version on the menu -- just straight up cheese and elbow macaroni -- which is ideal for those who are purists of this comfort food form.

I decided to try something a little different, so I went with the Alpine with Gruyère and slab bacon. The aforementioned crust is nearly mind-blowing, and the combination of Gruyère and bacon was fantastic. This might be one of those really? things to complain about, but the slab bacon (I should've known from the description right there) was cut really thickly and spread out unevenly, so it was hard to gauge whether I'd have enough bacon to go with each bite of cheesy macaroni. But really, did I have much to complain about? I mean, it was HUGE chunks of bacon after all.

Findings: Overall, I think there is some delicious stuff cookin' over at S'MAC. Its location is perfect, attracting the hangover crowd as well as college students (and let's face it, any reasonable adult) yearning for that childhood indulgence. Satisfying for the stomach and very easy on the wallet, S'MAC offers an array of different kinds of mac 'n' cheese, spanning all kinds of cuisines bound to appeal to any hungry palate. When comparing it to the other mac 'n' cheese haven, macbar, in SoHo, I would say that I like the breadcrumb crust better at S'MAC while I prefer the gourmet selections at macbar (as it's more fitting to my own tastes). Either way, they're both solid places to find a generous helping of mac 'n' cheese at a decent price for any jonesing that may occur late at night. Definitely adding this to my list of late-night cheesy binges (plus, Artichoke Pizza is around the corner).

Price point: $4.75-7.25 for Nosh-sized macaroni and cheese.

--September 13, 2012

S'MAC (Sarita's Macaroni & Cheese)
345 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003

Friday, September 14, 2012

Etcetera | Friday Fanfare, 2012.09.14

Happy Friday, everyone! Here's this week's installment of Friday Fanfare for your reading enjoyment -- have a great day!

View of Roosevelt Island from the Roosevelt Island Tram

Some noteworthy eats from this week:
  • Mexican cheese fiesta fondue and dark chocolate fondue
  • vaca frita (skirt steak, avocado, fried eggs, and rice) from Calle Ocho
  • hors d'oeuvres at the Dirt Candy Cookbook launch party with Marcus and Christine
  • hot dogs from Asiadog with Marcus
  • pork yeero pita with Prassino tzatziki (i.e., Greek yogurt spread with basil, shredded cucumber, garlic, and lemon zest) from GRK
  • Alpine and Classic mac 'n' cheeses from S'Mac with Jess

This week's list of ruminating reads:
In case you missed it:

A round-up of drool-worthy recipes:

On the blotter for upcoming noms:
  • Chef siblings Eli Sussman (line cook at Mile End Delicatessen) and Max Sussman (chef de cuisine at Roberta's) will be signing their new cookbook, This is a Cookbook: Recipes for Real Life, at Williams-Sonoma Columbus Circle on Saturday!
  • Team from Fat Radish opens new oyster restaurant called Leadbelly this week!
  • Lovely review by Adam Platt of New York magazine on Battersby in Brooklyn.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Wanderlust | Block Island

Over Labor Day weekend, Marcus and I decided to make at trip out to Block Island, Rhode Island, after having heard wonderful things about the destination from Linda and Shayna. So here's a little summary -- everything we did, what we liked/disliked, logistics, and some beautiful glimpses into our awesome trip over the course of two and a half days (Friday through Sunday afternoon).

I took this little snapshot so my friends and family knew to where we were headed -- that it was an actual island and not some figment of our collective imaginations! :P Approximately thirteen miles south of the Rhode Island coast (and fourteen miles east of Montauk Point on Long Island), Block Island is separated from Rhode Island by the Block Island Sound. The Island is sometimes referred to as New Shoreham and has a population slightly over 1,000. In 1614, Block Island was charted by the Dutch explorer Adrian Block, who named it after himself (previously referred to on maps as "Claudia" by Giovanni da Verrazzano and "Luisa" by other explorers, both after members of the French court at the time).

We took the Hampton Jitney coach bus (i.e., the Montauk line) from Manhattan, going all the way through Long Island to its last and final stop in Montauk. The Jitney has convenient connections to and from the Block Island Ferry (conveniently located in Montauk) Friday through Monday of peak vacationing season, so make sure you inform the bus coordinator of your plans for Block Island! {1,2,3} The Block Island Ferry from Montauk is run by Viking Fleet, departing for Block Island at 10 AM and returning to Montauk at 5 PM daily. the ride is about an hour each way and moves pretty quickly. {4 through 12} The Ferry docks at
Champlin's Marina through the Great Salt Pond. There are also ferries that run from New London, Connecticut as well as Point Judith and Newport, Rhode Island.

{1} We stayed at the quaint Narrangansett Inn (per Linda's great recommendation!), which we found to be pretty central to everything on the Island (not too north/south), making everything quite accessible and quieter. There are options for rooms with a private bath or ones with a shared bath (you'd ultimately be sharing two full baths with 4-5 other rooms). We opted for the latter, as it was just the two of us staying only two nights (about a $60 difference per night). It was pretty comfortable overall and very immaculate. {2} Plus, take a gander at this view from the Inn's porch -- so gorgeous and peaceful! {4} Across the street is Dead Eye Dick's, probably our most favorite dining spot of the entire trip, so much so that we went there twice during our two and a half day span. {8} The outdoor seating area of the restaurant overlooks the Great Salt Pond from its southeast bank. {3} I can't tell you how much I enjoyed the oysters offered that weekend (i.e., ones from Noank, Connecticut) -- I had about a dozen over the trip's duration. They were sweet and plump, needing very little lemon and hogwash. {5} The calamari was lightly battered and fried with a sweet-and-spicy sauce, and {6} the cocktails there (i.e., spiked Arnold Palmer and a spiked strawberry lemonade) were great for easing us into the mood for the rest of the trip (read: relaxation). {9,11} Lunch here is great (lobster BLT with avocado on amazing marble rye bread and a shrimp po' boy), as well as {7,10,12} dinner (lobster fettuccine with mascarpone and truffle oil as well as "surf 'n' turf" with shrimp and filet mignon).

Cars aren't at all necessary to enjoy everything there is to see on Block Island. Your best bet is renting mopeds/scooters or bicycles, the latter of which Marcus and I both rented. There are places to rent both types of wheels on the island, so we just went to the Block Island Boat Basin to rent bicycles, which was conveniently located behind the Inn (helmets, locks, basket and/or rear rack with bungee are included). The cost for us was about $40 for one day and $10 for each additional day (average about $25 per day per person).

It is less than a ten minute ride into town, where {3} we made a stop at the Block Island Chamber of Commerce to pick up a nicely illustrated map for $1 of bike trails (across the parking lot from the New London Ferry) and {1,9} passed by these cool walls with hanging buoys. We parked our bikes and {5,6,10,11} headed to Pebbly Beach located right behind {2,4,8} Ballard's Inn. The water was chilly, but after a while of easing into it, it was really nice. The waves were calm for the most part, and {8} we even did a relatively intense walk over the jetty to admire the view of the beach from a decent distance into the ocean. Ballard's Inn has a decent bar for beachside drinks (especially of the frozen sort -- daiquiris, frozen margaritas, piña coladas, lemonade, etc.). After the beach, we walked back towards town, where we tempted ourselves with a box of salt water taffy at the Star Department Store.

Our first evening brought us to {1,4} dinner at Sharky's Restaurant, which included some {2} panko-fried soy-ginger salmon, {3} chicken tenders, and {5,6} chicken and shrimp fajitas. The food wasn't horrible at all, but it wasn't necessarily anything to write home about -- it was decent overall. After dinner, we took a evening stroll which lead to savoring some strawberry lemonade sorbet from Beckett's Authentic Gelato as well as {7} enjoying hot beverages outside in front of a warming firepit (both a part of The National Hotel). We walked back to the Inn that evening, {8} passing by a calming view of Harbor Pond.

After a great night's sleep, we had a very full day of sights and eats ahead of us the following day.

Before our morning bike ride up to Sandy Point, we knew we had to have a relatively filling breakfast if we were gonna somehow muster up the energy and strength to bike the four miles up there. {1} The obvious answer was to go to Payne's Donuts (also conveniently across from our hotel) {2} for its infamous "Killer Donuts" which come in plain, sugar, and cinnamon. They were so soft, and if you go early enough, super warm, as they had come right out of the fryer. Needless to say, we went back the following morning for another "killer" fix. {4} Frozen lemonade (aka Del's Lemonade) is another prevalent offering found on Block Island. {3,5} After our first bike ride up to Sandy Point (more on that shortly), we headed to Three Sisters for lunch, as we had heard fantastic things about its sandwiches. {6} I had the Hippie Sister sandwich which had assorted fresh veggies (including cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, avocado, tomatoes, and red onion), freshly made hummus, and romaine lettuce in a veggie wrap, while {9} Marcus had the Twisted Sister sandwich with fresh turkey, bacon, cheddar cheese, avocado, lettuce, and tomato on a sub roll. If there is a casual lunch spot you hit up whilst on Block Island, this is definitely it. Great after a long bout of whatever outdoor activities in which you choose to partake. {11} Ice cream is quite ubiquitous on the Island, including the famous Ice Cream Place located directly in town, {8} with dozens of flavors. We can personally recommend {7} moose tracks and {10} rum raisin. But I'm sure any of the others are just as delightful.

{1} As I probably already mentioned, Block Island is very bicycle-friendly. Bicycle racks are installed outside most establishments, which certainly promotes this green form of transportation. Thus, when I saw this traffic sign, not only did I think it was cute, but it shows that residents and drivers know to be cautious while driving because chances are, bikers will be on the road, too. {2} Anyway, after our dangerously delicious doughnuts (alliteration is necessary here), we set forth to Corn Neck Road from the Inn, which would eventually lead us up to the North Lighthouse. {4} Four miles (and lots of huffing and puffing) later, our severely overworked bodies made it there at last. The biking trail proved to be more difficult (read: WAY more) than we had anticipated -- even gradually inclined parts of the road were incredibly rough -- and biking there without a drop of water in tow was also unwise. Angered fists went up in the air whenever pairs on mopeds effortlessly buzzed right past us. {3} We did stop and see Settlers' Rock (i.e., a rock with a plaque marking the landing site of the European settlers on Block Island in 1661) as well as {6} the scenic Sachem Pond, {5} but unfortunately we didn't have enough energy to walk to the end of Sandy Point and see the North Lighthouse up close. If we wanted to make it back to the central part of the Island without a hitch, we had to save our energy for the climb back down.

Luckily, the ride back down wasn't too bad -- after all, what goes up hill must come down hill. Lunch at Three Sisters was the best cure for our worn down selves, gearing us up once again for another bike trail this afternoon -- this time, only to the Southeast Lighthouse and Rodman's Hollow. Though the distance to the Southeast Point was half of what we trekked through that same morning, it was even more grueling than that morning ride. Relentless steep inclines matched with the beating rays of sun did us in, but we pushed ourselves so we could see it all. {1,4,5} The Southeast Lighthouse, built in 1874, stands above {2,3} the Mohegan Bluffs, which drop 150 feet to the sandy beach and crashing surf below.

If getting down to the
Southeast Lighthouse wasn't enough, {
1,3} we also were determined (however drained we were from the previous bike trails) to haul on over to Rodman's Hollow. Named after the family that purchased the land in 1684, the Hollow was formed at the end of the last glaciation period in New England (approximately 22,000 years ago) when the glacial meltwater eroded the southern end of the island, flowing over seventy miles to the sea. During the glaciation period, much of the world's water was locked up in ice (i.e., sea levels being lower) and Block Island was larger in relation to this. As a result, three large kettleholes formed when the huge ice chunks mixed in with the melted glacial deposits. Unlike ponds which have clay bottoms and hold water (about 350 of these small depressions exist on the Island), the bottom of Rodman's Hollow is porous and is about twenty feet above present sea level. {2} There are also many hiking trails within the Hollow, all of which I would love to explore during our next visit! {4,5} The bike back into town, towards the Inn, was very carefree compared to the rest of our day (yay for downhill breezes!).

1,2,3,4} Our last day on Block Island, we woke up around 5:30 and biked into town so we could watch the sunrise. Glad I was able to get these shots -- it lasted only about a minute after the first round speck appeared on the horizon. With our bodies still aching from being out of shape and biking so much on Saturday combined with waking up at the crack of dawn (literally), we decided to bike back to the Inn to get some shut-eye before going out for brunch.

{1,3} Brunch brought us back to Tap & Grille, located on the porch of The National Hotel. While lunch and dinner are pricier (about $$-$$$ depending on what you order), breakfast here is quite the deal. {2,3} Marcus and I each got an omelette (mine was a western with ham, peppers, onions, and cheese; Marcus's had spinach, sausage, and tomatoes), both under $10. Can't beat that! And they totally hit the spot -- simple breakfast was all we needed!

We had a leisurely afternoon after that -- did some minimal shopping, walked around town, climbed the jetty at Pebbly Beach, grabbed some coffee and tea from Juice 'n' Java before it closed early that day, and sat outside on the porch of the Narrangansett Inn to enjoy the view of the Great Salt Pond and all of the outdoor activities it had to offer.

All in all, Block Island was one of the most relaxing places I've ever visited -- everything is very laid back and care-free. It's a place for whatever you want to make of it -- whether you want to kick your feet back, do some outdoorsy things like biking, hiking, paddleboarding, etc. It is an unpretentious and a very quaint place to be. Plus, everything is pretty reasonably priced (unlike what you may find in Cape Cod or Martha's Vineyard). Looking forward to making it an annual destination! :D

--August 31, 2012 through September 2, 2012

Hampton Jitney

Viking Fleet

Champlin's Marina

Narrangansett Inn
1 Ocean Avenue
Block Island, RI 02807

Dead Eye Dick's
218 Ocean Avenue
Block Island, RI 02807

Block Island Chamber of Commerce

Ballard's Inn
42 Water Street
Block Island, RI 02807

Star Department Store
1 Water Street
Block Island, RI 02807

Sharky's Restaurant & Bar
596 Corn Neck Road
Block Island, RI 02807

Beckett's Authentic Gelato

Tap & Grille
The National Hotel
PO Box 189, Water Street
Block Island, RI 02807

Payne's Donuts
1 Ocean Avenue
New Shoreham, RI 02807

Three Sisters
443 Old Town Road
New Shoreham, RI 02807

The Ice Cream Place
232 Water Street
Block Island, RI 02807

North Lighthouse & Southeast Lighthouse
Corn Neck Road
Block Island, RI 02807

Rodman's Hollow
Peckham Farm Road
New Shoreham, RI 02807

Juice 'n' Java
235 Dodge Street
Block Island, RI 02807


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