Thursday, January 27, 2011

Alternate Dining Option: Whole Foods

Ever have one of those nights where you don't quite feel like going out to eat (happens VERY rarely for me, but does sometimes occur) and also don't feel like going through the trouble of cooking? When the stress of the work week has me feeling too lazy for either, my choice is almost always to stop at Whole Foods and make a meal out of their incredible Prepared Foods section.More and more Whole Foods stores are popping up around the country, and many of the big cities have several Whole Foods Markets. Here in Manhattan we have 8 locations, and I'm lucky to work 1 block from and live 6 blocks from one of them. I will often stop there on my way home when the mood strikes, and last week, I did it twice.

There are a few different stations at Whole Foods with prepared food:
-Fresh sushi
-Hot food meal station
-A la carte hot food station
-Salad station
-Deli counter with tons of cold but freshly prepared foods

I usually pick a few things from each to create healthy meals that are both delicious and colorful. Here is what I came up with for the 2 dinners:Rotisserie Chicken, Butternut Squash, Steamed Spinach, Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Fresh TomatoesSoy Parsley Salmon, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Steamed Spinach, Indian Bahjia Vegan Pancake, Arincini

Whole Foods is the perfect meal option when you just don't feel like going out or cooking yourself. Do you enjoy prepared foods from Whole Foods? Or another supermarket? Let me know, I'm always looking for new places to try.

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cheap Eats: Cherin Sushi

One of my favorite things in NYC dining is the concept of BYOB. There aren't a ton, but my girlfriends and I have managed to find most of them. One of our favorites is Cherin Sushi in the East Village on 6th Street between 1st & 2nd Avenues. Cherin is incredibly cheap (we're talking $3.25 for a Tuna Avocado roll), delicious and a fun place to dine with friends.
(The funny thing about this picture, which I got courtesy of, is that the picture of the girls sitting at the table is actually of some of the friends I went to Cherin with this time! Too funny.)

A few nights ago we made a reservation for 8 to have a girls night at Cherin. We had to wait a few extra minutes for our table, but nothing too crazy. Cherin is a tiny restaurant, and there is almost always a line for tables, so we didn't mind. Once the 8 of us finally sat, we started opening the bottles of wine we had brought and chatting away as girls usually do.

When it came time to order, I decided on Miso Soup, Garden Salad, Ashlee Roll (tuna & avocado), Shrimp Tempura Roll & Tricia Roll (tuna & yellowtail on top of avocado & crunch). Most of the other girls got a similar amount of food, and before we could say "BYOB" our food was in front of us.The sushi at Cherin is always fresh and delicious, and the rolls are a good size. I wasn't even able to finish all the rolls I had ordered, and I have a very large appetite!

Everyone enjoyed their food and when the bill came, the total per person was $16 without tip, which is an amazing price for a sushi feast. We each paid $20, and left the restaurant full & happy. Cherin continues to be a reliable spot for cheap, delicious sushi, but be sure to either arrive early or make a reservation if you want to get a table.

What are your favorite BYOB spots in NYC? I also love 11B Italian Food in the East Village and Eatpisode/Hi-Thai Thai Food in LES. Let me know, I'm always looking for new, great BYOB places.

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Are You Ready For Some Meatballs?

I will start off by saying that no one, NO ONE, will ever make better meatballs than my dad's mother used to make. Now that we've established that fact, I can move onto the best meatballs not made by a member of my family. I heard about The Meatball Shop this past summer after it opened early in 2010, and I've personally been to the Lower East Side spot twice.
For those of you New Yorkers who are unfamiliar with this house of meatballs, I ask you, "Have you been living under a rock?!" The Meatball Shop guys (I am referring to co-owners Daniel Holzman & Michael Chernow) are everywhere!
Recently they were featured on The Jimmy Fallon Show. More on them later.

As a side note, I've been following another NYC foodie blogger named Megan whose blog is called This Girl Can Eat. If you haven't read her blog, you're missing out! I saw the post she did on The Meatball Shop and she mentioned that they were going to be putting on a 6-course meatball feast at the James Beard House and that tickets were still available. I immediately tweeted at her to find out if she was going, and such was the start of a lovely foodie friendship. We ended up getting tickets to the event and meeting up to enjoy the meal together. It's true that we both prayed the other wouldn't turn out to be a total sketchball, and we were pleasantly surprised to find out that we had a ton in common.

I'll spare you the details of two foodies bonding over meatballs and just tell you about the meal itself because It. Was. Fabulous.

We checked our coats and were shown into the James Beard House through the kitchen. But what's this? The Meatball Shop guys themselves are in the kitchen preparing the meal? So cool! We both stood there and geeked out for awhile before continuing into the main room for some Prosecco. We stood around getting to know each other and out of the kitchen came the first 3 courses:
1. Miniature Maryland Crabmeat and Potato Chip Meatballs with Old Bay Dipping Sauce
2. Miniature Buffalo Chicken Meatballs with Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce
3. Reuben Meatball Sliders with Sauerkraut and Thousand Island Dressing

Words can't even describe how incredible these 3 meatballs were. The Crabmeat and Potato Chip meatball tasted like the best crabcake I'd ever had. The buffalo chicken meatball tasted like the best boneless wing I'd ever had. And I was plesently surprised by the Reuben meatball because I'm not a huge fan of sauerkraut. They were all amazing!
At this point my dining companion wanted to go say hi to the Meatball Shop guys because she has been exchanging messages back and forth with them, so we stepped back into the kitchen. We found Daniel Holzman hanging out in the kitchen with his mom and he couldn't have been happier to talk to us. Talk about gracious! This guy was so nice! We chatted with him for a few minutes and we could tell he was genuinely a nice guy. I'm always happy when the good guys find success. They deserve it!

We finished up our chat and headed upstairs to the dining room for the main courses. We were seated at a table for 6, but we barely said a word to the other 4 at our table. Maybe it was rude, but my new foodie friend and I had only just met and we had so much to talk about!

One by one, the meatballs (and wine!) arrived:

Mushroom–Lentil Soup with Chicken Meatballs paired with Fattori Runcaris Soave
Mediterranean Lamb Meatballs with Braised Kale and Classic Tomato Sauce paired with Cesani Ireos Chianti
Spicy Pork Meatballs and Spicy Meat Sauce with Soft Polenta paired with Parusso Barbera d’Alba
Every course was better than the one before it, but they were all delicious. The wines paired perfectly with the meatballs and by the time I was finished, I was satisfied and happy.

I looked on the menu and saw that there was 1 more pairing left:
Walnut Meringue Sandwich Cookies with Chocolate Ice Cream with a Port ToddyI only planned to take one bite so I could write about it honestly. And then once I took a bite, I was only going to take ONE more bite. And then, the whole darn thing was gone. Whoops. It went so perfectly with the spicy Port Toddy that oozed with cinnamon that I couldn't help myself. It's hard to say I'm "not a dessert person" after I basically lick my plate. Oh well, c'est la vie!

After we finished the meal, Daniel & Michael got up and thanked everyone for coming. We stood up as we realized that a glass of Prosecco, 3 glasses of wine and a port toddy meant our heads were spinning and giggled ourselves all the way back downstairs. We saw Daniel on our way out and he personally thanked us for coming and not for one second did I sense anything insincere about him. He is truly an awesome guy who has not let his overnight stardom go to his head. Like I said before, these guys deserve all the success they have coming to them, and I wish them nothing but the best. Keep those meatballs coming!

At lunch, they announced that 2 more locations would be opening, in the West Village & Williamsburg. Amazing! I can't wait for many more meatball meals at The Meatball Shop.

What are your thoughts about a restaurant that only focuses on one type of food? Love it? Hate it? Can't live without it? I fall into the last group in that list. I can't wait for more foodie adventures, but it will be hard to top this one!

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

No, it's not Christmas. When I start to see that trendy girl in sunglasses pop up all over the city, I know it's time for one of my favorite things in the whole world: nycgo's Restaurant Week!!Going on my third year living in NYC, this is my 5th NYC restaurant week (3 Winter RW & 2 Summer RW). When I lived in Boston, I always took part in the Beantown version of the event, but it's no great surprise that New York City has some of the best restaurants in the world, and this is the perfect way to experience the amazing food that NYC has to offer.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with how Restaurant Week works, let me break it down for you. For 2 weeks in the Winter & 2 weeks in the Summer, many restaurants select a few dishes to appear on a special menu that usually (but not always) consists of Appetizers, Entrees and Desserts. If you go for Lunch, you get to choose one from each section for a price of $24.07. If you go for dinner, the price is $35. At many restaurants in NYC, entrees can cost between $30-$40, so this is really a great deal. This season's Restaurant Week will take place from January 24-Feb 6.

Every time Restaurant Week rolls around, I make as many reservations as possible and invite many different groups of my friends to dine with me. I usually make 1-2 reservations for Patrick & me, one for myself, Lauren & Jill (usually at BONDST, yum!) and a few more for other groups of friends. Winter Restaurant Week 2011 has me visiting:
1. Primehouse (Gramercy Steak)
2. BONDST (Noho Japanese/Sushi)
3. Riverpark (Colicchio's new Kips Bay Modern American spot)
4. Nobu Next Door (Tribeca Japanese/Sushi)

I am also considering Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill and French spot Le Cirque because both menus look incredible, but seeing as I have 11 reservations (Restaurant Week & non-Restaurant Week) scheduled over the next month, I think I'll have to settle for just 4 Restaurant Week spots this time around.

I can't wait to share my dishes with you. If you live in NYC, what restaurants will you be trying for Restaurant Week?

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Adventures in Cooking: (Mom's) Chicken Soup

During the winter, I tend to get a few nasty colds and can generally just feel gross. The best remedy for this is my Mom's Chicken Soup recipe. When Patrick wasn't feeling well a few weeks ago, I tried this recipe for the first time and found it easy & delicious, so I wanted to share it with you.

1 4-5 lb chicken cut into pieces (bone-in)
1 package of carrots
4 stalks of celery
3 parsnips
1 Spanish onion
1 bunch dill (washed & diced up, remove stems)
4 32 oz cartons of either Swansons Natural Goodness Chicken Broth or
Progresso Chicken Broth (no MSG!)
Salt and Pepper

1. Wash chicken parts and add to pot
2. Peel carrots and cut into chunks, wash and cut up celery, peel and cut parsnips into chunks and add all to pot
3. Dice onion into small pieces and add to pot (Ever wonder how to cut an onion without crying? Click here.)
4. Pour all 4 cartons of broth into pot
5. Add dill and stir it into broth6. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer (should be a slow, rolling boil)
7. Cover pot partially
8. Simmer for one solid hour and then take from heat
9. Remove all chicken pieces and de-bone. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and put back into pot
10. Let soup cool for about an hour and then take a large spoon and skim off the fat from the top of the soup
11. Make either noodles or rice and add to soup. I personally prefer pasta, but you can use any number of items. A good tip is to not add this ingredient to the large pot of soup, but to keep it on the side and add to each portion as you eat. This way, the pasta/noodles/rice won't get soggy in the soup
12. Season with salt and pepper (to taste)

What is your favorite thing to eat when you're feeling under the weather? Chicken soup is a classic, but really any soup will do for me. You can also alter the vegetables based on your own taste. I love the taste of parsnips, but you could also use potatoes if you like potatoes better. Let me know how you would alter this recipe.

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie

Monday, January 10, 2011

Brunch Spots: good restaurant

Weekend brunch is one of my favorite things about New York City. For me, combining two meals into one means I can pretty much go wild and eat whatever I want. Such was the case this past weekend with brunch at good restaurant in the West Village.

Patrick and I originally wanted to go to Cafeteria for some Mac & Cheese, but even at noon the wait was 1/2 hour. We were way too hungry for that, so I suggested we try good. I'd only ever been for drinks, and Jill had been telling me the brunch was awesome, so we decided to give it a try. We walked to the restaurant and saw that it was fairly busy, but they told us the wait would only be about 15 minutes. Then two seats opened at the bar, so we took our name off the list and sat there. Thus began one of the very best brunches I have ever had.

On the bar sat a tower of amazing-looking pastries including Cheddar Cornbread, Pumpkin Spice Bread, Buttermilk Biscuits, Orange Sour Cream Doughnuts and several others. We ordered cappuccinos and decided to order the basket of 3 pastries for $10 to try a few of them. We got the Cornbread, the Pumpkin Bread & the Doughnuts and sat sipping our drinks while we waited.In the meantime, the bartender/our waiter told us about the brunch special: Baked Eggs served with Sausage in Tomato Sauce, Pecorino, Mushrooms & Creamy Polenta. While all the items on the menu looked incredible (Lemon Ricotta pancakes, Banana-Stuffed French Toast, Breakfast Burrito, etc.) Patrick and I both chose the brunch special.

Our basket of goodies came to the table and it was a LOT of food. We began to go to work, and started with the doughnuts, which were served drizzled with glaze and piping hot. These doughnuts were amazing. Rich, moist and bursting with the flavor of oranges, I enjoyed every bite. The doughnuts weren't overly sweet at all, so for me, they were just perfect. I finished my doughnut and moved onto the Pumpkin Spice Bread which was also served warm and was also very yummy. Patrick agreed with me, and we both saved our Cornbread for our main courses.The enormous plates were set down in front of us, and the smell was intoxicating. We both went in for a bite and agreed on the dish with a collective "mmmm!" The eggs were perfectly runny, the sausage was tasty and well-seasoned, the cheese was (of course) delicious and the polenta was creamy. Each bite was better than the one before it, and when the dish was paired with the Cheddar Cornbread, it honestly blew my mind. I had never had one single brunch dish that tasted better than this, and both of us completely cleaned our plates.To add to the experience, my water glass was always kept filled, the staff was very friendly, the decor was charming and the prices were reasonable. While we were eating, Jill was leaving the Equinox next door so she stopped in to say hi, and I let her know that she had made a wonderful suggestion.

If you're looking for a better than "good" brunch option on the weekend, try good restaurant in the West Village. They don't take reservations, but you can always try to get a seat in the bar area, and even if you can't, the food is well worth the wait.

I still want to hear about your favorite brunch spots! I'm also curious about what time you typically head to brunch. I usually go around noon-1pm, but have definitely gone much later if the night before was a late one. I'm lucky to live in NYC where acceptable brunch hours are 11am to as late as 5pm.

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie

Friday, January 7, 2011

Overrated: La Palapa West

When dining out with friends, I can overlook less-than-perfect service if the food is great. Last night, at La Palapa in the West Village, the food was mediocre at best and the service was just plain bad.

When I lived on the east side, I always meant to try the East Village version of the restaurant but never got around to it. When my friends, Jill & Lauren, suggested we try the West Village location last night, I was eager to go. The 3 of us dine out together frequently, and we've had some amazing meals together. Unfortunately, last night wasn't one of them.

When we sat down, all 3 of us agreed that we wanted to share the chips, pico de gallo & guacamole appetizer to start. At $8.95, I was expecting a huge bowl of fresh guacamole, much like the portion at Mexican joints like Vamos in Gramercy and all the Mercadito locations. Not the case. We were given a small white bowl of guacamole that wasn't fresh with a haphazard heap of chips. Not impressed.

When we looked back over the menu to make our entree selections, I was intrigued by the fish taco platter for $18.95. I thought the price was a little high for 3 tacos, but being a fish taco-lover, I was willing to pay the price. It came with a side of rice and beans, and I requested that they just make the order double rice. Lauren got a platter of different types of fish mixed with a few tacos and Jill ordered a steak taco, a pork taco and a side of rice and beans.

And then we waited... and waited... and waited... I sipped on my white sangria, which was the highlight of the meal because for $8 I got a small pitcher of the beverage, but even my sangria ran dry long before the food came. After almost an hour of waiting, Jill asked the manager to check on our food, and it came out a few minutes later. Well, Jill & Lauren's food came out, mine took an extra 5 minutes, but what's 5 more minutes when you've already waited an hour?

The second I took my first bite, I knew I didn't like the tacos. The fish was chopped into tiny pieces and the sauce covering it tasted, frankly, gross. I suffered through the first taco, and mostly just ate the rice, which was thankfully good. I took the fish out of the 2nd and 3rd tacos, filled the tortillas with rice, and ate my $18.95 rice tacos. When Jill took a bite of my fish, she commented that it "tasted like cleaning solution." Not good.

Both of their meals were better than mine, but no one was impressed with the food. We won't be back to La Palapa, and my craving for fish tacos went unsatisfied. I'll have to get to Mercadito soon! Their fish tacos are awesome!

If you're a fish taco fan, where are the best you've found in the city? Do you like them covered in sauce (I don't!) or just a fresh piece of fish with some veggies (I do!)?

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fabulous Evening: Beauty & Essex

As I've mentioned before, there are few things as exciting to me as an incredible dinner out in NYC. Making the reservation, perusing the menu before the big night, having a drink at the bar while waiting for the table, finally sitting, ordering, taking the first bite. I'm not sure where my food obsession came from, but my heart was practically racing as Patrick and I walked into Beauty & Essex Thursday night, the new Lower East Side joint from Chris Santos of Stanton Social fame. If you haven't read my post on Stanton Social brunch, click here before continuing.I've been reading rave reviews of the restaurant since it opened a few weeks ago, so I really couldn't wait to see the champagne lounge in the ladies' room for myself. To make the night even more exciting, I had been Tweeting back and forth with Chris Santos for a few days, and he told me to ask for him when I got there. More on that later.

We walked through the funky pawn shop and opened the door to the restaurant. I was blown away by how beautiful the space was. High ceilings, dim lighting, beautiful accents, vaulted ceilings and a winding staircase set the mood for our night. We gave our name and went over to the bar for a drink. I ordered a Golden Peacock (cucumber hangar one & junmai sake, granny smith apple, pineapple & mint) and it was honestly the most delicious cocktail I had ever tasted. Our name was called and we were shown to a table for two in the main dining room.
When we opened the menu, we decided we would share several things between the 2 of us. We landed on the Chicken Fried Oysters with apple, bacon & braised spinach and the Yellowtail Crudo with caramelized citrus yuzu, avocado & cilantro to start. When the waitress took our order, I quickly asked her if she wouldn't mind letting Chris Santos know that Rachel was here. I wasn't expecting anything because I didn't want to get my hopes up, but it doesn't hurt to ask.The first thing the waiter brought to the table was an amuse bouche, 2 small "Caesar Salad" bites. There was a tiny bit of romaine and caesar dressing on a small round crisp. They were delicious! Then our appetizers came out and my mouth began to water. The Chicken Fried Oysters, something I've never had before, were crispy and flavorful without being the least bit greasy. The Yellowtail Crudo had a nice, fresh taste and the avocado was ripe and added a nice texture and flavor to the yellowtail. We enjoyed the appetizers and opened our menus back up to decide on what to eat for our main courses.Beauty & Essex dinner, like Stanton Social brunch, features small portions meant for sharing. Since we had already decided to share, this worked out perfectly. We couldn't pass up the 18 oz. Classic New York Strip or the Brick Pressed Chicken with creamy mascarpone polenta & sweet roasted tomato salad. At the last second, we added a side of Brussels Sprouts to our order to make our moms proud (and because we secretly love them!) While we were waiting for our food, I noticed Mr. Santos had come out onto the floor of the restaurant to greet some other diners, and my heart jumped. I was beyond excited at the prospect of meeting a chef I respected so much. I remembered how amazing it was to meet Wylie Dufresne at WD-50, and I truly hoped I'd have a chance to say hi to Chris.I made a quick trip to the bathroom so I could check out this free champagne I had been hearing about. Right there, in the ladies' bathroom, was a private champagne bar! Incredible! Why haven't any other restaurants done this?!

I went back to the table, and when the food came, I knew we had made the right selections. The steak was perfectly cooked medium/medium rare and the chicken looked juicy. I was impressed at the portion sizes, imagining they'd actually be a lot smaller. Both dishes lived up to our expectations. The steak was great, very well-seasoned and came with 4 side sauces that Patrick had a blast with. I'm not a huge sauce person, so I let him have at it. He said they were delicious, so I'll take his word for it. The chicken was as juicy as it looked, with a nice skin on it. The polenta under the chicken was a little too spicy for me, but had a unique taste that I did enjoy.
We basically licked both plates clean, and then we started our usual dessert discussion. It goes something like this:

Patrick: "Do you want to get dessert?"
Me: "Nah, not really."
Patrick: "Well, if I order something, will you share it with me?"
Me: "I'll probably try a bite, but don't order based on what I like, get what you want."
Patrick: "Okay, you'd eat the (insert dessert name here), right?"
Me: "Sure, why not?"

And then he'll order something that he knows I would eat. This time, it was the Apple Pie with Cheddar Ice Cream. Cheese? And ice cream? I had to try it! The small pastry that the apple pie came in was also cheddar, and nothing on the plate was at all sweet. This was my kind of dessert! Savory? Yes please! I was blown away by how much I enjoyed this so-called "dessert." Good thing Patrick is good at sharing. I pretty much attacked the ice cream and loved every last bite.By the time our bill came, I was both full and resigned to the fact that it just wasn't my night to meet Chris Santos. Bummer. Then I looked down at my phone and saw that he had tweeted at me again. "are you still here? I just went up to say hi and your not at the table?!? I'm sorry if I missed you!!" I was floored! I wrote back letting him know I was still there and where I was sitting. And then I waited. Finally, he came out of the kitchen and started making the rounds to a few other tables. We figured we'd go stand near the entrance and wait for him to be done chatting, and then he started walking over to us. I couldn't believe I was about to meet him!

I stuck my hand out and introduced myself, and as soon as he shook our hands, he started talking with us as if he's known us for years. He told us about the restaurant, the food, the menu... we were chatting up a storm! I had a huge smile plastered on my face. Then he asked if I had been upstairs yet and I told him I hadn't. He personally took us upstairs to show us around. A private tour of the restaurant by Chris Santos? Was I dreaming? After showing us around and chatting for a few more minutes, he lead us over to the bar and ordered a round of drinks on him. I seriously couldn't believe this was happening. He thanked us for coming and told us to let him know when we planned to come back.

Chris Santos is an incredible chef, an accomplished restaurateur and one of the nicest, most down-to-earth guys I have ever met. Thank you, Chris, your food and your visit with us truly made our night! We will absolutely be back.

To my awesome readers, have you ever met one of your favorite chefs? Were they nice? Which chefs would you like to meet? Everyone should put Chris Santos on their list, he's a great guy!

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie