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I finished my last night as a line cook two Thursdays ago. Naturally, the following morning I hopped on the Bolt Bus with Paul up to New York City for the weekend.

I absolutely love this city – as a food and culture mecca for our country, there is so much to see and experience. New York is sensory overload, but I love every moment of it. I think I might have tired Paul out a little with my intense sightseeing, but I ask, how can you stop in a city that is so full of energy and life? So, with that said, yes, we did a lot in a short amount of time, especially in the realm of eating. Here’s my food log for the trip:

Friday Highlights:

City Bakery (Flatiron): My go-to spot for chocolate chip cookies. They are the best I’ve found in the city to date. It’s also a great lunch spot.

City Bakery's chocolate chip cookie.

City Bakery’s chocolate chip cookie.

Chocolate chip cookie: Mostly butter, absolutely divine and full of rich chocolate.

Wasabi green pea-crusted tofu:Incredible texture and seasoning. Wow.

Hot/cold drinking chocolate: These are individually packaged containers of hot or cold drinking chocolate, a speciality of City Bakery. Warm it up or, chill it or enjoy it room temperature.

Saturday Highlights:

Treehaus  (Midtown East): Quick, fresh food that tastes pretty good, too. I liked this spot because there are so many options, whether you’re there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was my choice for breakfast both days in the city (it was right next to our hotel).

Blackberries, strawberries and mango: Fresh and perfectly ripe. These were a great topping for the Greek yogurt that I also bought.

Egg White Omelette with Turkey Sausage, Arugula, White Cheddar Cheese and Tomatoes: Tasty and light, but also satisfying.

Iced Coffee: So much better than the Pret-a-Manger lukewarm iced coffee I had earlier that day.

Katz’s Deli (Lower East Side): A famous New York Jewish deli, known for its gangantuan meaty sandwiches. Everyone, even vegetarians, should go at least once.

The pastrami.

Pastrami – A meat monster, but an absolutely delicious one. The meat was moist, well brined and seasoned perfectly. It’s especially great with spicy brown Gulden’s mustard. Be prepared to feel full.

Pastrami, pickles and reuben.

Pastrami, pickles and reuben.

Reuben – Another meat monster, but covered in sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese. Messy.

Pickle plate – Forget the fries, pickles are all you need. These deliver a much-needed burst of acidity that cuts the fat in Katz’s sandwiches. They also lend a nice crunch.

Buttercup Bake Shop (Midtown East): A cute bakeshop worth a stop (if you’re in the area) for its attractive layer cakes and cupcakes.

This didn't last long.

This didn’t last long.

Carrot cake: The carrot cake really caught my eye. The slice was a generous size and the cake itself was moist and not too sweet. Just the way I like it.

Peking Duck House (Midtown East)

Peking duck with its traditional accompaniments.

Peking duck with its traditional accompaniments.

Peking duck – The duck arrives to your table whole, golden brown and crispy. Like some kind of theatrical performance, a chef butchers the duck right in front of you, presenting the table with a platter of sliced meat. To accompany are scallions, cucumbers, thin pancakes and hoisin sauce. It’s a simple dish to eat – spread hoisin sauce on one of the pancakes, top with a few slices of duck, one or two pieces of scallion, cucumber, wrap it up and enjoy. All in all, a lot of fun, and quite tasty, too.

Sunday Highlights:

Smorgasburg (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

Apparently, Saturday is the big day for this gigantic, outdoor foodie paradise, also located alongside the Brooklyn Flea. Sunday was more than satisfying, though, as there were dozens of vendors offering everything from porchetta to homemade kim chi. I love this market because it is the perfect embodiment of New York’s innovative and diverse food offerings. Oh, and the postcard city skyline in the background is pretty cool. Here’s a few of the spots we visited:

McClure's Sweet and Spicy Pickles.

McClure’s Sweet and Spicy Pickles.

Big Bao's Pork Bun.

Big Bao’s Pork Bun.

Big BaoPork bun topped with fried pork rinds and hoisin sauce (Just YUM.)

McClure’s Pickles: Sweet and spicy pickle chips (Definitely hot, but tangy and addictive)

S’More BakeryFrozen s’more (A big, frozen marshmallow and two small pieces of chocolate smushed between two gram crackers. An interesting idea ,but a bit of a let down. I kind of just wished it had been an ice cream sandwich instead.)

And last, but not least…The Brooklyn Brewery (Williamsburg, Brooklyn): This craft-brewery is a short walk from Smorgasburg. We hung out in the tasting room for a few hours, sampling the brewery’s beers. The laid-back atmosphere feels like an escape from frantic New York City life across the river in Manhattan. My favorite beer by far was the Brooklyner Weiss Beer, their version of a Hefeweissen. It ‘s everything a Hefeweissen should be, with light tones of banana and clove.

Mmm beer.

Mmm beer.

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I spy gravy. Lots of gravy.

Call it a heart attack on a plate: the Hot Turkey Sandwich with Mashed Potatoes from Dutch Eating Place, a lunch counter inside Philly’s Reading Terminal Market.  Sliced, roasted turkey breast in between two slices of bread, smothered in gravy. Next to this is a heaping portion of mashed potatoes smothered in more gravy. To accompany are cole slaw and cranberry sauce. This one brought me right back to Thanksgiving dinner.

Paul and I discovered this sandwich during a day trip to Philly last week. At first, I was confused. Why so much gravy? After some thought, I think I understood what was going on here. Professional chefs might hate you for admitting it, but trust me, it’s often true: Cheese, bacon or gravy makes everything delicious. The cooks at Dutch Eating Place must have thought, “Let’s just make all of our food extra delicious by dumping gravy all over it, no matter what it is.” It’s kind of brilliant, if you ask me. Even though the slices of white bread were a bit soggy and lifeless (I actually wished they had been toasted), I still ate every last bite on my plate.

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Embrace the gravy.

If turkey isn’t your preference, then you can order the same sandwich with roast beef (pictured, above). We noticed that this particular gravy had a darker color than it did on the turkey sandwich. My guess is that previous gravy was made with turkey or chicken stock, and that this gravy used beef stock.

This monster sandwich is just one of the gems you’ll find at Reading Terminal Market. I love this place, but thank God I don’t live close by. I’d probably weigh 1000 pounds.

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Captain Cookie & the Milkman, a mobile bakery.

Captain Cookie & the Milkman, a mobile bakery.

If you read my blog, then you probably know one of my biggest weakness when it comes to sweets: chocolate chip cookies. It’s nearly impossible for me to resist a warm, chocolatey cookie, straight from the oven with a chewy center and crisp edges.

With that said, I’ve embarked on the sweetest mission ever: to find the best chocolate chip cookies in Washington, D.C. Over the past few weeks, I have been working on an article for Serious Eats, a food blog based out of New York City. I chose seven of the best chocolate chip cookies in the District and organized a slideshow with my own photographs as well. Expect the article to run in the next few weeks.

J. Chocolatier, a bakery in Georgetown.

J. Chocolatier, a bakery in Georgetown.

In the meantime, I’ve created a map of my favorite spots for chocolate chip cookies in the city. Use it as a quick guide to see what’s around the area you’re in. And hey, you never know – you might live next door to the best chocolate chip cookie in D.C.

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A New York City Review: Bowery Eats

Having just walked two miles from New York’s Penn Station with a 30 pound backpack on my shoulders, a heavy pea coat in one arm and a large pizza cookbook I’d just bought from Eataly in the other (Impulse buy? I say YES.), I was more than ready to sit down. I arrived at Chelsea Market, a large indoor market with gourmet food shops and eateries, during prime lunch hour, when seating was scarce. I decided to kill some time in one of the shops, Bowery Kitchen Supply, until the rush died down.

Bowery Kitchen is a beautiful store that is loaded with every sort of home and commercial kitchen item you could imagine. I picked up a reasonably priced whisk and spatula (as if I could possibly carry more?). As I was standing in line, I heard a woman behind me shouting out order numbers and handing out sandwiches tightly wrapped in white paper. How had I missed this?

Bowery Eats.

Bowery Eats.

Apparently, I’d walked past this tiny deli several times without noticing it. Nestled alongside aisles of cutting boards, mandolins and commercial deep fryers is Bowery Eats. A rectangular chalkboard shares Bowery Eats’ selections. Be forwarned:  the menu is enormous and everything looks good.

For once, I knew exactly what I wanted. The French Tuna: white albacore tuna, black olives and capers tossed with olive oil, mixed greens, tomato and a vinaigrette on your choice of bread. The combination of well, everything, on this sandwich just sounded incredible. For my bread, I chose a whole-wheat baguette.

Several other options caught my eye: the Homemade Roast Beef with onion, watercress, tomato and homemade horseradish, the French Cuban with roasted pork, ham, Swiss, pickles and Dijon, and the Juan Manuel with chicken, prosciutto, Muenster cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo.

It’s nice to know that if nothing appeals to you (which will probably not be the case), then you can choose from a large list of meats, cheeses, veggies, dressing, breads or wraps and create your own sandwich.

Thankfully, by the time I received my sandwich, Chelsea Market had emptied out a little and I was able to find a seat. Phew. It had never felt better to sit down. I unwrapped my sandwich and took a good look. Initially, the amount of tuna seemed sparse, overtaken by a forest of mixed greens and a whole lot of bread.

Greens galore?

Greens galore?

Fortunately, the bread was delicious: perfectly crusty with a nutty, subtle honey flavor. In fact, this bread was so good that it actually took away from the flavor of the tuna. I probably should have chosen a more neutrally flavored bread. Perhaps a wrap? That’s okay. I’d much rather have an ingredient that is too good any day.

The tuna, however, was the true winner in this sandwich. I wished there had been about twice as much (again, this could have been due to a poor bread choice). I did notice that the black olives were cut the same size as the capers, the kind of attention to detail I like to see. The olives and capers brought the otherwise bland tuna to life: the capers gave saltiness and the olives a slight bitterness that were balanced perfectly by the lemony vinaigrette. The greens gave vivid color, texture and a little crunch, too. On the other hand, the anemic tomato did absolutely nothing for this sandwich. Flavorless and even a bit mushy, this poor guy just didn’t make the cut. I know it’s not the right season for tomatoes, but that’s why we have hydroponics, right?

The French tuna sandwich has all the components for greatness, with varied flavors and textures. Just make sure you choose your bread wisely. Oh, and don’t show up with about 40 pounds worth of stuff you’re lugging around town. That probably didn’t help.

It’s too bad Bowery Eats isn’t exactly close to me in D.C. Even so, we’ve got our own share of sandwich gems here, notably Fast Gourmet near W and 14th Street. And the Chivito, their signature sandwich, really is that good. I guess you’ll just have to go and find out for yourself.

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Hello from New York City!

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A tagine at Chelsea Market’s Bowery Kitchen Supply.

Right now, I’m at Chelsea Market in New York City. Look what I stumbled upon at Bowery Kitchen Supply – a tagine! If only I’d had one when I made my lamb stew a few days ago. I’m tempted, but I’m not sure I want to carry this thing around the streets of New York for the rest of the day. Not to mention I’m already carrying a heavy backpack (containing the laptop I’m typing on right now). Oh, and I’m also carrying a bag with a pizza cookbook I bought at Eataly, Mario Batali’s flagship restaurant/gourmet Italian market. The book is actually shaped like a pizza – how cool is that? Here’s a photo of it: http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ly67rvbyZz1qhn421.jpg.

One of the best I've had (and that's saying a lot!).

One of the best cookies I’ve ever had (and that’s saying a lot!).

At Bowery Kitchen Supply, I picked up a large whisk and spatula. I’m also carrying two dangerously good chocolate chip cookies from The City Bakery. So far, so good.

I just finished a delicious tuna sandwich with black olives and capers from Bowery Eats. Stay tuned for a review!

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Thinly sliced roast pork, brocoli rabe and provolone cheese. Who knew that this combination could be so heavenly?

I remember the first time I tried the Pattison Avenue at Taylor Gourmet on 14th street. The bitterness of the rabe balanced the saltiness of the sliced pork. And the cheese, well, cheese is always delicious. The sub roll was actually a little bland, but effectively soaked up the excess pork juice from the meat.

I soon developed an obsession with the roast pork, brocoli rabe and provolone sandwich. Determined to find out the origins of this sandwich, I did my research. Casey Patten and Matt Mazza, two Philadelphia natives, opened Taylor Gourmet in 2008 because they wanted to bring the Philly hoagie culture to D.C.

In fact, all of their sandwiches are named after streets or notable landmarks in their home city. Taylor Gourmet’s sandwiches are made with roasted in-house meats, including turkey, ham, beef and pork.

Patten and Mazza have opened several locations in D.C., including the 14th Street location I visited, one on H Street, one on K Street and another in Bethesda. The modern, industrial design is used for all of their locations as well (thanks to NYTimes.com for the above photo). Although Taylor Gourmet is expensive for lunch, the sandwiches are thoughtfully made with quality ingredients.

So there’s Patten and Mazza. But that’s clearly not where the roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich started. What inspired these guys to create the Pattinson Avenue?

It turns out that this sandwich can be traced to a vendor located at Philly’s Reading Terminal Market called Tommy DiNic’s. (No, he’s not the only guy in the city who sells roast pork and broccoli rabe, but he’s definitely one of the most well-known.)

This large indoor market has a pretty interesting history. Reading Terminal Market opened in 1892 to house food vendors who had previously operated outdoors along streets in downtown Philly. Market Street, a main thoroughfare in the city, was one of the most popular spots for these vendors. Due to complaints of residents and sanitation concerns, the city decided to ban vendors from selling their products on the street.

With the new law in effect, Philly’s street vendors found themselves without a place to sell to their products. Reading Terminal Market was the perfect solution to this problem. With an enormous refrigeration system, vendors could produce and sell their food more efficiently than before.

Today, the market is filled with every type of vendor imaginable. There are bakers, farmers with fresh produce, dairy and cheese farmers from the Amish country, butchers, and more.

Tommy DiNic’s has been a mainstay in the market since 1954. Specializing in slow-roasted, sliced pork and roast beef sandwiches, DiNic’s represents the traditional Philly hoagie.

Knowing this, I knew what I had to do. So, I booked a seat on the MegaBus and bolted up to Philly for the day. My first stop -DiNic’s at Reading Terminal Market.

The market was a foodie’s dream, with every type of vendor you could possible imagine. I wrestled through the throngs of people and made my way to DiNic’s. I ordered my sandwich with confidence. “Roast pork broccoli rabe and provolone cheese, please.”

This sandwich felt like it weighed five pounds. I carefully unrolled its paper wrapping. Dear God. The sandwich was a foot long pork monster. I took a few photos and stared in awe for a few seconds.

My first bite – I tasted melted Provolone cheese smothered over juicy, tender and perfectly seasoned pork. This was some of the best roasted pork I have ever had. Taylor Gourmet, while good, didn’t hold a candle to this.

DiNic’s sandwich had personality. From the sharp melted Provolone to the succulent sliced pork to the spicy, bitter broccoli rabe, every flavor sang. Even the bread, a soft hoagie roll that perfectly contained the sandwich fillings, was unique. It’s amazing that I finished most of this sandwich without the mass of toppings falling out.

Because I didn’t want to carry the rest of the sandwich around Philly with me, I decided to pull an Adam Richman and take on the entire thing. Actually, Richman visited DiNic’s during the Philly episode of his eat-feat show, “Man Versus Food.” He ate the whole hoagie with ease, but then again, he’s had practice at this.

By the end, the cheese began to get to me. There was just so much of it, probably a little too much. In classic Richman style, I stuffed the remainder of the sandwich down my throat before my brain could tell my stomach, “STOP EATING FOR GOD’S SAKE!”

Success? Well, yes. But then I felt sick, but sick in an extremely satisfied way. I waddled around the rest of the market, buying a few Philly soft pretzels and chocolate chip cookies for later. Much later.

DiNic’s roast pork and rabe sandwich is one of a kind. Unfortunately, Philly isn’t in my backyard, so it will probably be some time before I go back. Then again, this isn’t such a bad thing, considering this sandwich could feed a family of four.  In the meantime, I’m glad to see places like Taylor Gourmet showing diners what the Philly hoagie is all about right here in the District.

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There is so much promise in buying a $5.00 cookie made with Jacques Torres chocolate in New York City. This kind of cookie has the potential to be great, specifically because it is backed by a name known for high quality chocolate.

I remember this cookie well. I bought it in New York City’s Chelsea Market. I was even asked if I wanted my cookie warm or room temperature. For $5.00, I felt that my purchase was going to be well-worth it.

Unfortunately, this cookie did not deliver. I asked for my cookie warm, but it felt more like a sad attempt to mask a cookie that was already stale. The “cookie” part was bland and hard as a rock, while the chocolate had a bitter, burned flavor, like it had been left in the microwave for too long.

I was disappointed, but I finished the cookie anyway. My hands and face were also covered in this ridiculously expensive chocolate. I’m pretty sure Jacques Torres was just having a bad day, so it’s hard for me to pass judgement based on this incident. Still, it was not worth my $5.00.

When I look for a good cookie, I look for several things – quality of chocolate, distribution of chocolate (does it use chocolate chips, chopped chocolate or both?), flavor of the dough, and crispness versus chewiness.

Potbelly, a popular sandwich chain with numerous locations across the country, has a store a few blocks away from my apartment. In addition to my usual sandwich, I always buy an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. (Thanks to dfw.com for the image.)

The cookie is crisp on the outside and soft in the center, just the way I like it. The melted chocolate chips are small enough not to make a mess. The cookie is somewhere in between thick and paper thin. This cookie is much better than the one I previously mentioned, and it’s $1.25.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to learn the hard way that you don’t always have to visit an expensive, fancy-schmancy bakery with an internationally renowned name to find an excellent chocolate chip cookie. I didn’t have to try to find Potbelly’s cookie, either. They are so abundant I might as well build a house out of them. Wait, a cookie house? Hmm…

Corner Bakery, another sandwich/coffee/desserts chain in D.C., is another winner on my list. The “Monster Cookie” (Pictured, left – thanks to runnersworld.com for the photo.) combines chocolate chips and M&Ms, making it much more chocolatey than Potbelly’s. The cookie is also crisper than Potbelly’s, but it is just as soft in the center. As a result, the contrast of the outside and the center of the cookie is more intense.

This cookie is incredible, and it’s $1.50. There’s a location in Union Station I frequent, but they are all over the city (as well as across the country!).

Grocery stores can also be a good bet for delicious cookies. I have been a fan of Whole Foods’ chocolate chip cookies for years. These cookies tend to be softer and less crisp than the last two I highlighted, but the chocolate chips are rich and flavorful. I also like BJ’s chocolate chip cookies, as well as Harris Teeter’s (My mom used to pack these in my lunches when I was in middle school).

Despite the winning cookies I mentioned above, there really is nothing better than a homemade, freshly baked cookie. If you have a good recipe, take the time to bake your own. I think it makes a difference.

Here is a great recipe I received at culinary school from one of my instructors, Chef Somchet. I like to use Ghirardelli chocolate, which packs the most flavor out of any other chip I’ve ever used.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Ingredients

• 4 ½ oz. Crisco
• 4 ½ oz. soft butter
• 8 oz. sugar
• 8 oz. brown sugar (dark)
• 2 eggs
• 1 egg yolk
• ½ tsp. vanilla
• 14 oz. AP flour
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. salt
• Sea salt (optional)
• Chocolate chips
• Chopped chocolate bar

Instructions

1. Combine Crisco and softened butter in mixer (can use a hand mixer or a KitchenAid mixer).
2. Add brown sugar and sugar, and then cream with butter and Crisco.
3. Add the yolks and eggs slowly, one at a time.
4. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together, and then add to the other ingredients. Mix well.
5. Add vanilla and continue to mix.
6. Stir in chocolate chip and chopped chocolate with spatula.
7. Use ice cream scoop to place dough onto a sheet tray lined with Crisco.
8. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
9. Sprinkle the top of each cookie dough cluster with sea salt (optional).
10. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.

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