Sunday, April 13, 2014

I'll Have Half

The Bryant Park area is not the most food truck dense part of town. There are some good ones here and there, but not much to write home about (not that anyone writes home anymore).  The jewel by my office is Phil's Steaks, a philly cheesesteak truck.  My discovery of this tasty truck came when I asked a a co-worker if I could have one of his fries, a daily thing, and it was one of the best fries I had tasted in awhile. He said he got it from Phil's Steaks.  Intrigued, we setup a lunch date and headed to the truck.

Phil's Steaks has a variety of options, from cheese whiz, to provolone, veggie, and special. You can order a 6 inch or a 10 inch.  The provolone 6 inch is $7.95 and the 10 inch comes in at $9.95. Most people might think to order the 10 inch since it is really a better deal.  But the 6 inch may be the size you actually want, so even though it is slightly higher priced per inch, it is friendlier on the waist line.  

One friend ordered the 10 inch, and the other asked to split a 10 inch with me.  With fries on the side, it was definitely a big enough lunch.  Jay and I felt very full after fries and 5 inches of steak, and Mo felt like he needed someone to wheel him back to his desk after the 10 inch and fries.  What was great was that I knew I could go back by myself and get a 6 inch, just enough lunch.

The next day, I found myself at the new schnitzel place on my block, called Schnitz.  I ordered a $10 chicken schnitzel on a pretzel roll. When it came out, I thought, WOW, this is way more food than I want to eat.  I ate half, waited an hour, and ate the other half, and automatically regretted it. I should have saved the half for the next day.  What would be even more amazing though is if I could simply order half of the schnitzel sandwich.

My hunch says that a lot of places are not going to start offering half portions, although I think it could work in certain situations. At the steak truck, you are charging more than half price, so there is a financial profit there.  And people pay for self control. Of course, you could order a 10 inch and save half, but that requires your ability to say no to the second half, which is very, very challenging.

If you are looking for some ways to cut back on excess, and save some cash, just have half, and save the rest.

How much would you pay for self control?

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Monday, April 7, 2014

Little Prince French Onion Soup Burger

The latest adventure of the Burger Brigade took us to SoHo, to try Little Prince's French Onion Soup Burger.  At a whopping $18, expectations were high.  Previous visits of the Burger Brigade include Lafayette and The Marrow, two very premium Manhattan burgers.  The bar has been set quite high. 

Upon arrival, after a cab ride with some very strange music, we were seated in the very small dining room.  The waiter brought us the menus, but we barely accepted them, knowing that we wanted four burgers, medium rare.  

When the burgers arrived, the patty being held by a fancy english muffin, with a tasty set of fries on the side, we did a burger cheers with the buns and took our first bite.  Since it is a french onion soup burger, it had emmental cheese and caramelized onions.  I can't say the flavors exactly matched french onion soup, but they were definitely good.  The fries were extremely tasty, and I had no trouble taking them all down. 

This burger wasn't quite as good as the ones at The Marrow and Lafayette, but it was definitely very tasty, which I noticed by the fact that I was the first to finish.  I also think it didn't match in price, meaning that $14 would seem more appropriate.

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Made That: Stuffed Squash

This post comes at a somewhat untimely moment, as we move into spring and our winter squashes will leave us behind.  But there is still some time!

Mark Bittman put a recipe for stuffed Butternut Squash in the Times, so I decided to give it a whirl. After chopping off the necks and slicing the Butternut Squash down the middle, I already knew I was in for a treat.  Once you hollow out the bases, you realize that you have a perfect base for stuffing. Before I even made the stuffing, I started dreaming of what I could stuff this with in the future.

I roasted the bases, and they came out perfectly.  You take the skin off, so you can eat the whole thing. The stuffing consisted of mushrooms, more squash, and the seeds.  It came out pretty nicely, but I would have love to add some cheese, bake it again, and have a cheesy dish.  Overall, they made for pretty satisfying lunch dishes.

Armed with inspiration, I started going to town on google, looking for more stuffed squash recipes. I came across one for stuffed acorn squash, a squash I became familiar with during a January cooking adventure. This recipe was slightly different because you do not remove the skin, and instead stuff it and eat out of the squash.  I was cooking dinner for my Mom, and thought I would give this a whirl.

Boy, was this dish easy.  After slicing the squash in half, I simply roasted it on both sides, once with oil and another time with butter and balsamic.  I made kale and pecans on the stovetop, which took very little time.  After stuffing the squash, I added some parmesan cheese and put it back in the oven. The flavors were great.  More importantly, the presentation was beautiful.  I would love to serve this to dinner guests in the future just because it's so beautiful.  Quinoa would make a great addition to this dish, if you wanted something a bit heartier.

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bill's Bar & Burger

My first trip to Bill's Bar & Burger was back in November 2009, over 4 years ago.  The burgers and fries were tasty, the atmosphere great, and all around, a positive experience.  I've returned a few times since, and it always leaves me satisfied.

Last year, my company hosted a 2 hour happy hour at the Bill's Bar and Burger near 30 Rock.  They passed trays of wine and beer, sliders, and a few other bites.  It was a good time, and we did not hesitate to book it for another party this year.

Upon walking in to the party, which was hosted in the basement space of Bill's, I was greeted by several servers, one of which had wine, another of which had beer, and a third of which had buffalo chicken bites.  With two choices of beer, I started with a pale ale, and quickly reached for the buffalo chicken bite. After taking a bite, I told the server that I intended to eat several of them, and that if he sees me, he should not hesitate to come my way.

After eating three buffalo chicken bites, a tray of mini corn dogs came out.  We devoured those, and grabbed more of the chicken bites for in between.  Then out came the tater tots.  I could eat these apps all night. I didn't have to though, because they were setting up a slider station, with chips, guac, and salsa. Although the food was good last year, the way this food was presented was perfect.  Having the sliders out as a permanent fixture meant eating one when needed, which came after the 4th beer.

As I mingled with co-workers, I saw some people drinking bottled beer.  Turns out that the passed beer is just an easy way to make sure everyone has a beer, but you could also go to the bar and order a beer, from a list of what seemed like 40-50 beers!  They had tons of beers on tap, and even more bottles.  I had an Allagash White, an Ommegang Witte, and a few more.

What really impressed me was the service.  There was at least 10 waiters to our 80 or so guests.  One guy was kneeling at the end of the table, chatting with us, and so a server brought him a chair.  And then the servers started taking drink orders. It was an open bar, and instead of expecting people to get their own beers, they were happy to get one for you at the bar.

The servers ended their night with a bang, by passing out milkshakes!  We had several.

If you are looking for a great place to host an event in Midtown, with awesome food, amazing hospitality

Monday, March 10, 2014

Union Square Greenmarket Revisited

I went to the Greenmarket on Saturday.  How could you not when it was 50 degrees outside?  It is so glorious when the first hint of Spring comes in March. You can feel the outdoor brunches, picnics at Central Park, and sundresses coming to you.  It's the beauty of the changing seasons.  As we wait for spring, people anticipate that rejuvenation they need.

I have the great pleasure of eating lunch with 6 or so co-workers everyday in the pantry.  We like to say that we eat like civilized people, at a table, and not at our desks. Some of us are a bit gourmand as well, so it's not quite as easy to eat your stuffed butternut squash at your desk. But as soon as it warms up, these lunches will move to Bryant Park. It changes the whole day.  It's refreshing, relaxing, and almost feels indulgent.

On that glorious Saturday, I was a little hungover, but I needed to get out of the house, so I went to the post office, Trader Joe's, and then strolled around the market. I wanted to make another kale salad. With the determination to become a better cook, I find that making the same recipe with different variations is really helping me learn.  It's committing the steps to memory.  And it's giving me the chance to learn from the mistakes of my first attempt and improve on them in the second attempt.  By the end of 2014, I may only have 10 recipes perfected, but at least I'll have a repertoire of dishes.

Pink lady apples called to me. The market has so many colorful fruits and vegetables that you can't find anywhere else. I found a different kind of purple potato, and thought that a green, pink, and purple salad sounded glorious. The best thing I bought though was a bottle of wine. As I was browsing, I saw a sign for Anthony Road Wine Co.  I visited this winery in the Finger Lakes back in November and it was fabulous.  They have stand at the market every Saturday.  I tasted a few wines and selected a Devonian white, which had been released just a few days prior.  How nice it was to leave Union Square with vegetables and wine!  It really can be a one stop shop.

With spring on the way, I imagine even more trips to the market.  I am excited for a seasonal market change, with new sources of cooking inspiration.

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Thursday, March 6, 2014

AYCD Brunch Lives

Last week, the legality of AYCD Brunch was put into question.  Eater reported that restaurants cannot serve unlimited drinks for any set period of time for a fixed price. New Yorkers were up in arms.  What were they going to do?  Go to brunch and order a set number of cocktails?  NO WAY!  We want as many cocktails we want. After a few days, the reports were deemed incorrect. Brunch falls under an exception, that it is an "event" and you can serve unlimited drinks at an event.  Phew.  Bullet dodged.

AYCD brunch is no stranger to my Sundays.  I've traveled to the likes of Calle Ocho, Vamos!, Macondo, and a few others.  In an attempt to branch out, I decided to try Co Ba, a recommendation from Adela who had heard it was tasty from her friend Jean, blogger behind essential luxuries.  I made a reservation for 3 people on a Sunday.

We had a lovely table by the window, and were only 1 of 2 parties in the restaurant at 12:30.  By the time we left at 2:40, a few more parties had joined, but generally, this place is not your typical, rowdy, AYCD brunch spot.  Why is that?  Well, it's a Vietnamese restaurant.    The brunch is not very typical. Eggs Benedict and waffles are not the luscious words on the page.  Rather, Bahn Mi, Pho, and Sweet Lemongrass Tofu are the types of words you read.

This special is $21.95 for an entree and all the drinks you could drink.  They have lychee bellinis, which are very tasty, mimosas, and vodka limenade, which I ordered.  It tasted sort of like a mojito, and it was fabulous.  WAY better than drinking a ton of orange juice and champagne, in my humble opinion.

The Pho & Banh Mi combo called to me, as it was 12:30 and I had not eaten all day.  When it arrived, I was amazed at how much food it was, and wondered if I could eat it all.  Alas, I devoured it.  I got the tofu banh mi, which was fabulous, and the pho, which was pretty good.  

Two hours of fun and $29 later, I was pretty pleased with my experience.  I thought it was a good deal, with a nice environment, which restored my faith in AYCD brunch being something other than a club party.

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

National Pancake Day, Nutella Style

Happy National Pancake Day!  In honor of this very momentous occasion, I decided to participate in Nutella's Show Us Your Pancake Smile, which meant making Nutella pancakes.  Nutella provided the chocolatey goods for experimentation.  The rest was up to my creativity!

Pancakes are a Hoffman holiday tradition. Every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Father's Day morning, I wake up to make the pancakes. My Dad particularly enjoys them and asks for them on other random nights that I stay at home.  He says "Are you staying over tonight? If so, maybe we could have pancakes for breakfast?"  My holiday pancake making has really evolved from the drip pancakes in a carton, to pancakes in a box, to pancakes from scratch.  

Your ingredients
For my Nutella pancakes, I did a little research on the internet.  But then I decided to follow my gut. My usual pancake recipe has never failed me.  Why not take this recipe and add Nutella?  

As you can see, my recipe is pretty old.  I printed it out at least 5 years ago, and have used it ever since. And I wrote one note on it: "More Flour" because it needs more flour.  

My plan was to make this recipe, pour less batter on the pan, add the nutella, and pour batter over it. 

Put dry stuff in the bowl. Mix. Put wet stuff in. Mix.

The first struggle I had was realizing that my kitchen is WAY smaller than my parents. Although I've always known this, I didn't feel the difference until I had to make pancakes.  I usually setup two pans.  The first, bigger pan, I use to make the pancakes, and just as they are finishing, I move them to the second pan so I can start making more pancakes in the first pan while letting the second pan pancakes get a nice finish. You sort of have to see it to understand it, but I can tell you that this doesn't work in my apartment.  The two pans set off the fire alarm. And it was hard to keep the pancake batter, the nutella, and the spatula close by.  But, I would make it work.

I poured some pancake mix on the pan, and added the nutella.  Nutella is an interesting texture.  It doesn't pour out of the container, because it is not liquid-y enough.  I spooned out the Nutella and plopped it in the middle. Then, I poured more pancake batter to cover it.  A few pieces of advice:

  1. If you drop it on and it's too thick, it forms a mountain. When you pour the batter over it, the batter spreads out too far. 
  2. If you try to use a knife to spread it out, it thins the batter out. 
  3. Best case is to use a small amount of Nutella, and then use a spoon to very, very lightly swirl it. 
Those are my big lessons from the kitchen.  My biggest surprise was that they looked exactly like the pancakes I usually make.  The Nutella was so nestled inside that you couldn't see it. I kind of liked it because it made me feel like I could serve these pancakes with a lovely surprise.  Although I hadn't tasted them yet, I felt they were successful. Why not try another type? 

What if the WHOLE pancake had Nutella in it? What if I just took the Nutella, poured it in the batter, and made the pancakes that way? I felt like this was too easy and would probably be a disaster, but it was worth a shot.

Two heaping spoonfuls of Nutella added to the batter made the batter a perfect chocolate color.  When I poured it on to the pan, it was pretty thin, so I added more flour to thicken it up.  The first one started to burn, so I tried again.  By the third one, it was not burning and cooking somewhat nicely. 
Now, it was time for the taste test. I took one Nutella stuffed pancake and one Nutella pancake, and set them out for my breakfast.  The Nutella stuffed pancake was pretty good.  It added a nice chocolate flavor and was not overwhelming.  Some of the Nutella was melty, but it mostly remained intact.  The Nutella pancake was really just a chocolate pancake.  As soon I forked into it, I knew what it needed - chocolate chips. Obviously it tasted chocolatey, but I think chips would have made it the perfect chocolate pancakes.

It was quite the day of experimenting for me.  But in my effort to cook more in 2014, I enjoyed this Top Chef challenge.  

Interested in Nutella?  Check out their website.  To close out this Spread the Happy day, I am offering a jar of Nutella to the first person who tweets the following: 
  I want to Spread the Happy and make my own Nutella Pancakes  .  

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cheese Alert: Astoria Bier & Cheese

Astoria is a faraway land for me.  I'm a downtown girl with downtown and Brooklyn friends.  A few friends live in Queens, but not many, so invites to ride the N almost to the endare infrequent.  When I was invited to a party at The Strand Smokehouse, I decided to make my trip worthwhile.  An old classmate frequently checks in at Astoria Bier & Cheese, and after perusing the menu a bit, I knew I would have to check out it out sometime.  A mere 6 minute walk from the The Strand Smokehouse, I knew the opportunity was now.  

I hopped on the N train to journey to Astoria.  To be honest, Astoria really isn't that far from my apartment, but it is a solid 45 minute trip, and not a minute less.  When you get off the N train at Broadway, you are in the bustling neighborhood of Astoria.  There is no shortage of bars and restaurants, and food trucks too.  

Astoria Bier & Cheese is a beer and cheese store (duh) with two counters and a few tables for dining. The store section is small, but focused, with craft beers and exotic cheeses.  The selection is not nearly as extensive as Good Beer, but these shops are hard to compare. Good Beer is much more of a store, with flights and pretzels available for purchase.  There are only 3 tables in the back of Good Beer, which are not very inviting. My friends and I still patronize this spot though because the beers on tap are fabulous, and who doesn't love a beer flight? Astoria Bier & Cheese has more artisanal products for purchase, outside of beer, such as cheeses, jams, etc.  The focus is the harmony of cheese and beer, with an adjacent wine store if wine suits your fancy.  The space for dining is more inviting, and the menu is way more than pretzels.

Now it's time for my big confession.  I display obsessive behavior when looking at a menu online prior to dining. Reading a menu can be as thrilling as reading a page-turning novel.  The difference is that the words on the menu are inviting you to make a choice, to select which words sound the best and most appealing to you.  The pressure to choose the right words come with the assumption that I may not return to this spot again, since my Foursquare to-do list is too long to warrant several repeat visits.   

Eating tasty cheese was on my list, but the sandwich menu has so many delicious words like Scharfe Max, Prosciutto, and Pretzel Bread.  Later, at The Strand, a friend told me that Astoria Bier & Cheese used to only have cheese, and later added its extensive sandwich menu.  

The bustling front counter was quite full, so I headed to the back for a seat.  Upon sitting, a server came by with a food menu and said "What kind of beer do you like?"  Read those words carefully.  It wasn't what beer do you want, but what beers do I usually like.  Satisfaction is key here. Although it is not uncommon for a beverage establishment to allow you to taste before purchase, it's not quite as common for the server to help you in that initial selection, using their expertise to please your palate.

I wanted to play his game, but I knew I was going to order the Beer and Cheese pairing plate, for $18. The opportunity to explore 4 beers matched with tasty cheese sounded like fun.  My mind toyed with ordering a sandwich, but I just couldn't eat that much (rather, shouldn't).  But more on dining alone another day.  

Less than 10 minutes later, a cheesemonger of sorts presented my tasty cheese plate along with my beers.  He described all four cheese in depth.  The first, a taleggio, is a lighter taleggio, and creamy in texture.  The second, a manchego, is "just a standard manchego" but tasty. The tete de moine is shaved off of it's cheese block and resembles trumpet mushrooms.  He pointed to the block of cheese to show me. The last, his favorite, was an Oregon blue, and it's really the only blue he likes to eat now. They were paired with a Hefeweizen, Rye Ipa, Stout, and Smoked Porter. I asked what the breweries were, and the server said they were up on the board, which I couldn't see from my seat.  So, he went to the board, came back, and named the breweries.  This kind of service at a simple beer and cheese shop is just really impressive to me.  

With a knife in hand, I slithered off the first piece of taleggio.  It was delightful.  I took a nice sip of the hefeweizen, and it was a match made in heaven.  On to the next cheese - the manchego.  It was a simple manchego as he described, but perfect.  The Rye IPA was new to me, and I enjoyed it very much.  The flower shaped Tete de Moine called to me next, and as soon as it hit my mouth, my taste buds took me back to my restaurant days.  We served this cheese.  It was like reuniting with an old friend, with a stout to match. Stouts don't tickle my fancy, but I was happy to indulge in this pairing.  I ended with the blue - the kind of blue that I would serve to someone who doesn't usually like blue, since it's light in flavor.  The smoked porter is something I would absolutely never order, but loved.  What a great way to discover a new beer.

One pass through all of the cheeses, and I was on to the next pass.  Each pairing a second time proved how great the matches turned out.  You might be thinking - how awesome could they really be?  The perfect match meant that the beer didn't fight the cheese. Moreover, as I went to eat the next cheese, the cheese before it didn't linger or stick to my palate.  The beer washed it down nicely, prepping me for the next cheese.

After finishing the cheese, I noticed I still had about half of each of the beers.  At first, I was worried that the cheese plate would be too large, and I would feel disgusting after eating so much cheese. When it came out, it was slightly smaller than I expected, but I told myself not to be mad. I should be pleased that the cheese portion was appropriate for my consumption.  Had I also purchased a sandwich, I may have been to able to eat the beer with the sandwich.  Alas, I just drank the beer and moved on.  I guess there could have been slightly more cheese, but I won't complain.  

My excitement over going back is just endless.  I want to try so many more beer flights and destroy their sandwiches.  The N train will call to me again. 

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Deal Alert: Bait & Hook

Oh, northwest corner of 14th and 2nd, how you've suffered over the years.  Home to a fast food trifecta, Nathan's, Arthur Treacher's and Pizza Hut I believe, its doors closed to make way for The Meatball Factory, in October 2011.  My meatball sub was rather tasty, but this place did not last. Another shuttering meant another potential rebrand for this corner.  Come September 2012, less than a year after Meatball Factory opened, new signs appeared with the words "Bait & Hook."  It's been a year and a half, and Bait & Hook is still owning this corner. My first visit was in January, followed by a visit two weeks ago. Will this place last, I just can't say.  But until it goes away, I will continue to patronize this spot.

Back in January, wanting to see my friend Sejal, we opted for a night of $1 oysters.  Bait & Hook offers $5 beer and wines, $6 wells, $1 oysters, and $3 fish tacos during happy hour, which ends at 7 p.m.  We arrived at 6:30, eager to take advantage of the deal.

We ordered 18 oysters and a round of drinks. While sipping on vodka sodas, which were expectedly mediocre, we waited for our oysters.  After 30 minutes, deep in conversation, we finally asked the waiter "Hey. Where are the oysters?"  He sighed, since he had forgotten about the oysters.  These things happen, but in a restaurant with only 4 patrons, we expected more.  The oysters took an additional 20 minutes to come out, and by that time, we descended on them like vultures.  They were good, and worth the wait, as we received a round of free cocktails for the wait.  

The service was nothing to write home about, but the writings on the wall were more persuasive. When walking to the bathroom, I noticed that Wednesday is Ladies Night, with happy hour ALL NIGHT. Two weeks later, when Adela decided to organize ladies drinks, I offered Bait & Hook as a perfect Wednesday suggestion.  My hope was that service would be better the second time.

For round two of Bait & Hook, we got a table.  We ordered 3 dozen oysters, fries, fish tacos, and about 3 rounds of drinks.  The oysters still took awhile, but were not forgotten.  The fries were quite tasty, and the fish tacos were a decent addition.  The bar was a bit more crowded this time, but still a relatively empty spot.  For three drinks, a dozen oysters, some fries, tax, and tip, I left $35 on the bill. Three hours of fun at $35 works for me.  

Your mind may not be blown, but your wallet will be happy, and your endless consumption of oysters will certainly bring you joy.

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Deal Alert: Mighty Quinn's BBQ

A mere 14 months ago, Mighty Quinn's BBQ found its home on the corner of 2nd avenue and 6th street.  It promised to bring delicious and affordable bbq to the city, a big promise to make to a community of bbq eaters, who judge on authenticity.  The food can't simply meet the standard of "tasty."  It must be real.

Venturing to this bbq spot was forever on my brain.  As its popularity was on the rise, and talks of longs lines became the buzz, I knew I had to experience it for myself.  My eyes would look in longingly, but my stomach knew I could not face this place alone  I dreamed of this lonesome adventure, over-ordering and taking some home, but I feared it would dilute my experience.  I called on a friend and neighbor, Amol, to join me in this quest, to which he called on a co-worker, Noah, to join us in our quest.  Three strong would optimize the experience.  

I arrived at 8 p.m., fearing a line that my over-hungry stomach could not bear.  I was only 10th or 11th in line, to which my stomach was pleased.  Amol and Noah arrived to join me, and we perused the menu from afar, knowing that as we drew near, decisions would be made.  

"The brisket is a must" said yelp, friends, the world.  "The sweet potatoes are stupid good" said Megan, who only uses the word stupid when describing something spectacular.  "Do not miss out on the pickled vegetables" said Eugene.  Armed with advice, I knew brisket, sweet potatoes, and bring on the pickled vegetables would be my order.

But what about everything else?  Amol could not decide between a half chicken and chicken wings. I must note that chicken wings do not always fall top of mind at a bbq spot, but they are usually "stupid good."  My stomach spoke up and urged Amol to order the half chicken, and as a group, we could split the wings.  "Genius" he said, to which I obviously replied "That I am."  Noah ordered the ribs, thank goodness, and based on his very jovial disposition (we had never met), he seemed like the type to share. 

When you approach the meat, your eyes tell your stomach to get ready for something good.  I ordered my brisket and sweet potatoes, and proceeded to check out.  Yes, this is a counter based restaurant, but a hostess of sorts will be more than happy to help you find a place to sit at one of the few stand-alone tables or at the large communal last supper style table.  The cashier said "That will be $12."  Wow.  I gladly reached for my credit card to give this restaurant 12 dollars for a heaping pile of brisket, pickled vegetables and slaw (they come with your meat) and the sweet potato and pecan mash.  I gave Amol a few bucks for my share of the wings, and once seated with our trays of food, I was amazed that $15 was going to get me access to so much deliciousness.

My fork went to the sweet potatoes first, and third, and ninth, and fifteenth, etc.  This side container for $3.25 was more than enough for me and my companions to share.  Next, I picked up a wing.  I was entitled to 2 in this order of 6, and I devoured them heartily.  They were very tasty, quite flavorful, and in no way a waste.  Next, I decided to dig in to my brisket, tender, bursting with flavor, and hardly in need of much extra sauce.  After a few bites, I shared some with Noah.  And after a few more bites, I realized I was only 60% through this meat.  In order to savor the meat (that's what she said), I grabbed a to-go container.  My co-worker had a piece, Perilla had a piece, and my hungover self enjoyed the rest two days later, on sourdough bread with eggs.  My, oh my.  

Noah offered me a rib, which I did not turn down.  It was tasty, but not as good as my brisket.  As usual, I regretted not ordering fries, and resisted the urge to ask the stranger next to me for one of his fries.  

Mighty Quinn's is quite the deal.  For a mere $15, I had ribs, wings, brisket, slaw, which I failed to mention can come vinegar based instead of mayo based (win!), sweet potatoes, and a few bites of half chicken.  Go with a group of 4 or 5 friends, and simply order 1 of each meat.  You will have no regrets.

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Vegan Sushi?

I am not a vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, herbivore, or carnivore.  If I were to label myself, I would say I am a nonberrytarian, which is one who does not really eat berries (obvi).  But that would still be somewhat false since I love smoothies and other berry based food, just not straight up berries.

Naturally, a vegan based restaurant doesn't draw me in, although I am not opposed to vegan food. Strolling through Chelsea Market one day, and making the loop from Lucy's Whey all the way around to the Italian market, I was stopped by a man giving out free samples of sushi at a place called Beyond Sushi.  The rice was purple, the ingredients were vegetables, and it was pretty tasty.  I didn't explore much else, other than a quick glance at the menu to see that the rolls were more "unique" with no spicy tuna in sight.

Flash forward a few months later, and I've decided to try Beyond Sushi's East Village location, for a quick roll before hitting the town and drinking too much.  The place is rather quaint, with pictures of the rolls hanging on the wall.  I knew it was mostly vegetable based, but didn't realize it was vegan until I read the menu more closely.  Each roll, with its unique combination of mushrooms, asparagus, or mango seemed delightful, with healthy rice to contain the ingredients.

After perusing the menu, I selected the Green Machine, with six grain rice, cucumber, asparagus, and basil marinated veggies, topped with jalapeno wasabi.  One roll is $6.65 for 8 pieces, coming in at $7.25 after tax.  This may be $1.00 more than your spicy tuna roll, but with 8 pieces instead of 6, I found it pretty reasonable.  More importantly, a quick sushi roll before going out is great if you have 8 or 9 pieces, like at Whole Foods.  Six pieces is never enough.

I sat at one of three tables, and waited just a few minutes for my roll.  It was beautifully presented, and looked like the picture on the wall. The wasabi dollups on top are a real winner here, making this roll feel more like the special rolls at sushi restaurants.

The Green Machine was delightfully tasty, healthy, and left me feeling good about myself.  You may think this isn't real sushi, but it doesn't purport to follow the traditional sushi model.  It's "Beyond" sushi.  Duh.

Located on 14th and 2nd, I imagine a few stops here after work to pick up a quick, healthy dinner.  I am looking forward to trying some of their other dishes, to see how they stack up.

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Burger at Lafayette

There's no place like Manhattan for a pricey burger.  It's quite common to charge upwards of $16 for some of the finest burgers in town.  It seems a bit absurd at times though to spend several dollars to grab a burger with a friend.  Yet, the burger has been elevated from a common form of grub to a potentially exquisite dish, sometimes matching up to its sticker price. And Lafayette, with its $19 cheeseburger, defines exquisite burgers.  

Upon entering Lafayette, your eyes become immediately distracted by the bakery to your right, drawing you in with the smell of freshly baked bread and the scent of assorted pastries.  You are already intrigued by what lies ahead.  This restaurant tactic is sort of ingenious.  By showcasing something tasty, your stomach begins to prepare itself to eat something delicious, setting a good expectation.  Of course, pictures of food can do the same, but we all hate pictures of food on menus.   Instead, we turn to Yelp to mentally prepare for what a restaurant has to offer, but this is still not as strong as walking in to the site of delicious food.

The restaurant at Lafayette has an old world classic French vibe, where dining al fresco seems to fit the setting perfectly.  Alas, in the month of February, we are seated (5 of us) at a very large booth, with a table fit to feed a king.

Our journey from midtown during the workday was specifically to order this burger, so without even a glance at the menu, we ordered 4 Brisket Burgers, with caramelized onion & raclette, coming in at the whopping price of $19 each.  You must be thinking that I meant to write 5 burgers.  My co-worker Adela suggested splitting one, and I jumped on the opportunity.  We both sensed a food coma by eating an entire burger at noon on a Friday.  And to our advantage, if it turned out to be mediocre, we were only $9.50 worse off than when we arrived.

The burgers arrived approximately 10 minutes later, followed by a very late bread basket.  The juicy meat is what should stand out, but you simply can't take your eyes off of the sheer number of fries. How could one person eat all of these fries? It was in that moment that we knew that splitting a burger was probably the right move.

My hands reached for the fries immediately, and they were quite tasty.  I prefer my fries a little bit bigger so that they are prime for dipping into mustard and assorted aiolis.  But they were still tasty.  As I ate the fries, another co-worker took 1 bite and was elated.  Not only did he love the burger, but he said that he planned to return here many times to eat this burger.  For $19, it clearly was as exquisite as its price tag led on.

The bun, the caramelized onions, the raclette, and the meat were quite the combination.  Caramelized onions seem to really elevate a burger, and I find it almost essential to burger success these days.

We didn't finish the fries, but we sure did try.  I imagine myself hitting up Lafayette again, to sit at the beautiful bar with a lovely glass of wine and this delicious cheeseburger.

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Monday, February 17, 2014

Deal Alert: Happy Hour at Flex Mussels

Last Wednesday brought slush, freezing rains, and slow trains.  Alas, I had to cancel my reservation at Glasserie, which is pretty far out in Greenpoint.  In an attempt to salvage the night, my friend and I re-routed to Flex Mussels on West 13th.  We planned to meet at 6:30, which happened to be Happy Hour.

When I arrived at 6:30, the restaurant was pretty empty, which was to be expected at that hour on a treacherous weather day.  The host was very friendly and seated me at the bar and setup placemats.  It was 6:40 when my friend arrived, and we chatted for a few moments before reading over the menu.

The Happy Hour menu is pretty great.  You have discounted drinks, but more importantly, discounted food!  You can order select mussels with fries for $15.  The mussels offered are usually $19.50.  I don't believe that fries are offered with all mussels, in which case the stand alone fries are $5, but don't quote me on that. Either way, you are saving between $4.50 and $9.50.  A half dozen oysters is also half off, for only $9 instead of $18.  They have a few other options as well - more than enough for you to simply order from the happy hour menu and be satisfied.

We settled on oysters and Mussels Fra Diavolo (tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, etc.) from the Happy Hour menu.  As we munched on bread, we perused the full mussels menu, which is very impressive.  I would consider using this as a mussels cookbook.  The various broth combinations are incredible.  The French Onion has caramelized onions, gruyere, and croutons. The Fungi has wild mushrooms, bacon, garlic, cream, and rosemary.  We ultimately settled on the Thai mussels, with curry coconut broth, lemongrass, kaffir lime, coriander, lime, ginger and garlic.

The ambiance of mussels in pails is really everywhere in this restaurant.  First, our pail of bread arrived. And later, when I turned around, I noticed that the lighting also had pails on them.  They were really cute, and somehow not cheesy, touches.

The oysters came first, and they were delightful. The mussels came next.  These buckets of mussels are insanely large.  They probably have 30 mussels in each.  The Fra Diavolo was pretty good, with just the right amount of tomato sauce.  The Thai mussels though were epic.  After eating 2 pieces of bread early on in the night due to hunger, I found myself indulging in another piece and a half, just so I can get in that broth.  I also dipped my fries in the broth.

As the night went on, and we ate mussel after mussel, all of which opened beautifully, this place really started to fill up.  Some people had to wait a few minutes for their reservation.  The bar was overflowing.  It was so crowded!  For such a bad weather night, I was impressed.  I imagine this place is pretty bumpin' all of the time.

We heard the donuts were good, so we decided to end with something sweet.  The donuts were 4 for $10.  We order Chocolate, Fluffernutter, Salted Caramel, and Meyer Lemon, and split them all.  They were well worth the money.  They were all great, with Meyer Lemon being my favorite.

I really can't wait to go back here.  I would love to sit here for another happy hour, while also ordering some regular menu items.  I spent $37 for oysters, lots of mussels, and dessert.  I was pleased.

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How are those 2014 Resolutions shakin out?

Fourty-four days into 2014, and I already feel the need to evaluate my progress on the resolutions I set forth.  Resolutions are well known in the category of things left behind, like that one sock that sticks to the dryer wall at the laundromat, never returning to its rightful place in the drawer.  Unlike a well thought out project plan with various stakeholders and deadlines, only you can hold yourself accountable to personal goals.

Too often, one decides that the resolutions they made were no longer of value to them, which is why they get de-prioritized.  The rationalization is that the the need to give up soda is no longer important, or going to the gym 5 days a week is deemed not as valuable as staying at work late or making new friends at a bar.  

As each day passes, priorities can change, and with that, your resolutions should evolve.  I went with a theme-based resolution, so that I can continue to find new ways to stick to that resolution, while also reacting to whatever my current situation may be at the time.

Become the best version of yourself is my guiding principle for 2014.  You can refresh your memory from this earlier blog post.  In some ways, I am still deciding what this means, which buys me some time.  But the origin of the goal was finding myself at home at night, watching a terrible Netflix series, and feeling like I should be doing something more productive, exciting, meaningful.  

My first two attempts at achieving this goal were in the realms of cooking and reading.  I share a kitchen with a small, 10 pound cat, and realized that I hardly spend my weeknight evenings experimenting with food even though I have the space and the tools to do so.  I've stayed away from cooking overcomplicated dishes for fear of spending too much money purchasing various spices and ingredients that may go bad.  A box of basil from Trader Joe's may only cost $2.50, yet it never fails that half of the basil goes to waste.  

Alas, I decided to start simple, perfecting my farro risotto from a mere lunch dish for one to a more elaborate dinner party dish with squash and ham.  I baked cake batter cookies, a few tasty sandwiches and delicious meatballs.  A 2 week stomach virus certainly prevented some exploration, but that has passed.

My venture into reading more has so far had the outcome quite opposite to the usual resolution.  I seem to have become an addict, and somewhat hermit like, in my constant need to read.  My desire to turn it up on reading was that I envy those that are well read, that quote articles and books on the daily.  I started by opting in to a $5 deal for unlimited New York Times online and iPad for 3 months.  I've adjusted my alarm clock to 20 minutes earlier and find myself in bed every morning reading the paper. 

On Saturdays, that 20 minutes extends to 40 minutes, reading through the Times Magazine and catching up on other articles from the week.  How will I keep this up?  I love this addiction, and do not want my interest to fade.  One mechanism is to form a habit.  I read New York Times Today everyday. It's a short piece with some information on what's going on in the city today.  I feel I now need this information in order to leave the house.  Is a particular train not running?  Did the mayor really drop the Groundhog?  It hasn't been this cold since 1896?!  

As for books, I've read 7 books so far.  One Monday evening, I spent 4 hours on my couch reading a book. I also travel a bit more often on Metro North to visit my new nephew, so I get some great stretches of reading in. I again worry this addiction will wear off.  The key is to always enjoy what you are reading.  The moment you pick up a book and can't get into it, you forget about the book, and you forget about reading.  It's also great to borrow books from friends.  I hate having things that don't belong to me, so if I borrow a book, I tend to read it relatively quickly.  

Well, this post seems a bit self-congratulatory, although not intentionally so.  I think resolutions are very challenging, so I've decided to check in on myself often.  Quarterly may make more sense, but the hardest part is getting started, so check in with yourself more often, early on, so that you can get the ball rolling.

Resolutions are often thought of as ways to disappoint yourself.  They should be ways to challenge yourself.  And they should be exciting, since the outcome should provide some benefit to your personal growth.

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I Made That: Farro Risotto with Acorn Squash and Ham

You already read my triumph with Farro Risotto.  Knowing it's deliciousness, I felt I could serve it to others.  An interesting aspect of cooking for yourself is that flavor is key, but visual appeal takes a backseat sometimes, since your eyes are the only eyes on the dish.  With guests, this obviously takes the driver's seat, as no one wants to serve their guests a ghastly looking dish.

Knowing this dish needed more pizazz for my guests, I decided to add ham and brussels sprouts.  I wanted ham because the first course, the Kale Salad you read about yesterday, had no meat, and I felt I needed meat for my guests.  The brussels sprouts were intended to add both flavor and color.

In my Farmer's Market initial fail of no tomatoes or basil in site, there were also no brussels sprouts. Seeing squash everywhere, and knowing that my initial Farro risotto recipe called for squash, it seemed like a great choice.

I spy with my still very baby blue eyes a butternut squash.  I know this ingredient.  I've made it before. I will make roasted butternut squash.

But then I see an acorn squash.  It's big, like a pumpkin, and heavy.  I pick it up, and a shopper next to me says "Oh that is so delicious.  You should buy that."  She was my Farmer's Market guardian angel.

How does one cut this acorn squash?  Like I said yesterday, the beauty of the Farmer's Market is access to people who know ingredients.  I say to the squash purveyor: "Excuse me.  How would I cut this?" He says "Hand it to me please.  Now, put it down like this.  And then get a knife, a really good knife. Do you have a good knife?  Ok good.  Put the knife right here.  You really got to get that knife all the way in.  Then, pull the knife all the way down.  You have to be careful.  Once you cut it on both sides, you will easily be able to slice the squash into pieces."

Challenge ACCEPTED.  I said "Great.  I'll take it."  And he responds "That will be 3 dollars."  My Farmer's Market guardian angel turns to me and says "You get to experiment for 3 dollars.  How cool is that?!"  I thought, wow.  That is pretty cool.  In that moment, I felt so empowered.  I was going to make this delicious squash for $3, and if it doesn't work out, I am only 3 dollars worse off.

Armed with Farmer's Market power, I take this squash home and get that knife in there.  Once in, I didn't think I was strong enough to pull the knife down.  I wedged it around a bit, and with lots of strength, pulled it down.  I did the same thing on the other side and it split open.  I scooped out the seeds and started slicing.  As you can see from the picture, you have natural slice points, so it's not that hard once it's already in half.  I roasted it with brown sugar and after 50 or so minutes, it was ready.

The flavor was perfectly sweet, and melt in your mouth good.  I took the skin off, diced it up, and mixed it in with the risotto.  It really became part of the risotto, mixing effortlessly.  I was afraid it would be too chunky, but it was the opposite.  I still think the brussels sprouts would have made this dish look better, but the flavor was spot on.

My days of cooking acorn squash are just beginning!

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl