February 26, 2010


After a busy Saturday, ABF & I were in Long Island and getting pretty hungry. He took me to a nearby Italian restaurant where he assured me they served fantastic vodka sauce. I'm a sucker for a good alla vodka sauce, but I was still reserving judgment/managing expectations until I tasted for myself. The restaurant, Angelina's, had parking nearby (Parking! What a luxury!) and is also right near a major road and the Long Island Rail Road stop. It was going full-tilt when we walked in around 8pm on Saturday. The noise was surprising at first--dozens of tables filled with families, including kids of all ages, but everyone seemed to be having a great time. This place is definitely buzzing with a fun, friendly energy.

I started with a glass of the house Cabernet, which was delicious AND affordable (5 dollars for a very generous pour!) Our server was super friendly (without being intrusive) and gave us plenty of time to make up our mind--it's a pretty big menu. We also had a basket of Italian bread and buttery, delicious focaccia to get us started.

Each entrée comes with a salad or pasta. I opted for the Caesar, which was easily big enough to share (and yes, I did). It was creamy, garlicky, with just enough dressing (don't you hate it when your lettuce is drowning?), and just plain scrumptious. I ate almost every bite of this. Crunchy, fresh, two forks up.

My entrée was the Chicken Semi-Freddo, which had been marinated in balsamic vinegar, grilled, and then topped with cubed tomatoes, red onion & basil. It sounded super bruschetta-y to me, but it didn't quite taste like it. The tomatoes were just okay (it IS still winter, after all), but the chicken was delicious. You could just barely taste the balsamic in the background, but the chicken itself was tender and delectable. Also, THREE pieces of chicken breast? They saw I'm just one person, right? This came home with us (along with the remaining meatball) and went to good use later for ABF's dinner later in the week.

ABF had tried the meatballs before, so he knew those were good. We got 4 of those on the side. The red sauce was delicious, and they were substantial and satisfying without being clunky and too heavy. They had a smoky, garlicky taste to them, and they were deeelicious. I ate one right away, and finished off another half of one later.

ABF ordered the Chicken Verde--lightly breaded chicken cutlets smothered in broccoli and mozzerella cheese. It came with a white wine/lemon sauce that was good, although I would have liked a bit more lemon myself. I had a bite and it was good, but for once in my dining experiences with ABF, I did not have order envy. Until......

Spaghetti with vodka sauce. Not just any vodka sauce. AMAZING vodka sauce. I can't quite figure out how theirs is different from just about every other I've tried. Is there a hint of Parmesan in there? Is it light on the oil? They are doing something different, and that something is noteworthy. This sauce is light, smooth, not at all greasy, with an incredible depth of flavor. It's cravetastic, and you can bet your bottom dollar I'm getting this and only this next time. This from the girl who hardly ever orders pasta when she eats out!

Overall, it was a delicious trip. You should check it out next time you're in the neighborhood. I'll be there, hunkered down in the corner, happily eating my vodka sauce (perhaps wiping away a single tear of happiness) and side of meatballs. Mmmmmm...

February 25, 2010

Crepe Night

The owners of Smorgas Chef recently opened up a new venture in their downtown Manhattan location. Crepes du Nord (which I discovered has put a link to MY BLOG on their site! Thanks, guys!!!!) is a fusion crepe restaurant with French & Scandinavian flavors, and as I'm on Smorgas Chef's email list, I got a note about this new opening. It's a very small place, only 18 seats, so it's not really the place where you throw a big 'Grand Opening.' Instead, the email offered, they would give us a free bottle of champagne with dinner if we came in before March 1st. Oh yeah, we sure did...and we throroughly enjoyed our bottle of Veuve de Vernay Brut. It was dry, only slightly sweet, and our server kept those glasses filled all night, God love her.

The only requirement was that each person order 1 crepe, but we planned to do that anyway! There is also a deal that lets you get 1 savory and 1 sweet (dessert) crepe for 15.95. I wasn't sure we'd be able to combine that with the champagne, but our server said absolutely. Ring-a-ding-ding, I do love a tasty deal!

ABF ordered the soup of the day, a chunky tomato soup with garlicky croutons and a scattering of fresh chives on top. I had a scant spoonful and thought it was tasty, but I was saving room for dessert, so I didn't want to try too much of it. ABF seemed very happy with it. It was also a decent portion for an appetizer--more than a cup, but not a huge heaping bowl.

They have an excellent assortment of savory buckwheat crepes, and about half of them are vegetarian. The crepe with black forest ham, Jarlsberg cheese and mushrooms called out my name. My crepe, pictured above, was delicious. It wasn't too thick or heavy, and the buckwheat was a nice, nutty flavor. I was worried the buckwheat might overpower the ingredients, but instead it was a perfect, buttery background to the filling. The mushrooms were fresh and raw, apparently added to the crepe at the last minute so as not to make them wilt. I ate every single mushroom without a second thought. :) I didn't see a lot of prosciutto, but the cheese and the mushrooms were tasty without weighing me down at all.

Did I mention the FREE BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE? Oui?

Once again, however, I would soon have dish envy thanks to ABF's choice: herb-roasted chicken with ratatouille (first crepe pictured in this post). Holy moley--this dish was a keeper. I mean, mine was really good. HIS was GREAAAAAAT. I helped myself to two bites, and made a mental note to come back to order one all for me. The chicken was moist and tender and herby--but not reeking of rosemary, and the veggies were soft without being mushy--a lovely mix of zucchini, squash, and tomatoes.

The star of the show here, though, is the dessert crepe. I saw Nutella and instantly pounced on that option. Mine was a crepe with Nutella, bananas, and vanilla ice cream on top. The dessert crepes are flour-based and a bit lighter, except mine was a bit more cooked, as I think they wanted to make sure the Nutella was really melted and super oozy.

ABF's crepe was perfect---exactly what I think of with a crepe. Soft, yielding, slightly spongy, and a dream to eat. His had fresh blueberries and while the menu said it came with ice cream, it came instead with heavy cream. I shared some of my ice cream with him, and that is a definite must for this dessert.

Were these the most amazing crepes I've ever eaten? Well, no, those would be either my Mom's, or the savory one I ate years ago somewhere in a small town in France. But these are very good, and hey, if you don't have that kind of travel time, this is a great spot for good food at an excellent price! It's a tiny spot, but you don't feel cramped, and the server is just lovely. Check them out and let me know what you think!

Also, check their website for any new promotions--right now they're offering a free glass of champagne through May 2010!

February 24, 2010

Back to IKEA

ABF & I have made many a trip to IKEA over the past few months, and we hit up the cafe one Saturday for an early dinner.

ABF & I were on the exact same page that day. You can't go and NOT get the meatballs--it's their thing! They are always tender and delicious. But we wanted to try something else for the second dish, and in my mind , it was NOT the cold shrimp salad. Instead we got the chicken fingers, which is something I haven't ordered for myself in ages, but it was exactly what I wanted at the moment. And these were great! Not greasy, not heavy, just juicy white meat with a savory breading. WIN.

We also split the 'Greek salad,' which comes with Italian dressing, so I guess it's more of a 'Mediterranean salad.' Either way, it was crunchy, fresh, and satisfying. This was a good pick, and a nice balance to our heavier entrées.

I've never been a super huge fan of the desserts there, but the offer that day piqued my interest: princess cake (I'm not a policeman, I'm a princess!-name that movie). Someone near us said "It looks like half of a tennis ball!" I remained undeterred and picked up one for us, along with a surprisingly delicious cup of hot coffee for 99 cents (free refills at IKEA!!)

The princess cake is basically a soft sponge cake with a thin layer of raspberry jam and fluffy cream, coated in a thin, almondy layer of marzipan. ABF isn't the biggest fan of raspberries, but even he liked this dish. I loved it, of course! It was light, not too sweet, and delicious. It cost a whopping 1.99, and since we split it, it was as affordable as it was yummy.

I resisted the urge to bring home a package of these--better that I have to travel to taste one. Better for my waistline, that is. ;),p.

Arriba, Arriba!

When I was working at the talk show (years ago now!), I would order about once a month from Arriba, Arriba on 9th Avenue. My go-to dish was always the enchiladas suizas (tomatillo sauce!), and the dish was huge and delicious and satisfying!

A bowl of chips and salsa came right away to our table. I'm an admitted salsa snob, but ABF & I both really liked this version. It's a bit thinner than what I usually make, but it tasted fresh, chock full of onions, and tangy--so good that I didn't even mind that it was mild!

Flash forward a few years later, and ABF and I found ourselves on the Upper East Side for a former coworker's birthday party. It didn't start til 8 or so, so we popped into the Third Avenue outpost of Arriba Arriba for a quick bite. It was a Friday night, and we didn't have a reservation, but we still got immediate seating! Woo hoo!

I got a house margarita on the rocks, and it was an affordable 6 bucks for happy hour! Me gusta! It was tart, slightly sweet, and puckery, just the way I love them.

ABF got the soft taco/enchilada combo. The red sauce was delicious and tomatoy and perfect with the tender beef. I even had a bite of the taco, and it was great. Fresh veggies, tender tortilla, and wonderful seasonings. It was a plateful of yum.
I went with my usual suizas, you know, to see how they'd stack up against the West Side version. These did not disappoint. Tender chicken, tangy tomatillo sauce, and delicious, delicious refried beans. I didn't really mess too much with the rice, but it was fine. I'm just not a rice fan. Both dishes came with a side salad that was really good--more than just an afterthought: crispy, crunchy ribbons of romaine lettuce, sprinkled with suprisingly fresh tomatoes and a bright, citrusy guacamole on top.

I was also happy to note they had fast and friendly service. The lighting is a little weird, mostly dark with strong, strong, interrogation-type mini spotlights glaring down in points, but overall it was a fun place. We were in and out without feeling rushed, and we both enjoyed our meals there very much! I wouldn't say make a special trip, but if you're in the neighborhood, definitely try Arriba Arriba! Yum!

February 22, 2010

The Beekman

ABF & I tried to stop at Les Halles on John Street for steak frites one frosty night, after our awesome wine tasting, only to be turned away because there was a private party going on there. My first thought was 'Hey--does this mean the recession's over?' and the second was 'boo--no mussels.'

ABF is no stranger to the Financial District, however, so he led me around the wobbly, confusing streets to another one of his favorite, but rarely visited, haunts: The Beekman.

The kitchen was about to close, so our server (who had a brogue as thick as Irish butter, she did) warned us that we had to choose quickly. I think she meant to come off a bit severe, but it's really tough with that accent! Nonetheless, we did as we were told and quickly made up our minds.

I ordered the Shepherd's Pie, even though I knew it would come nowhere close to my mother's. Back in my picky eater days, this was a clever way for her to get me to eat veggies BESIDES mashed potatoes. By, you know, swaddling them with mashed potatoes. I still remember how hers smelled and tasted..and while this one was different from hers, it was still delicious. The brown gravy was so fantastic I could not get enough of it. It was a decent serving, too--the dish is very shallow, but it was still more than enough for one person.

ABF's fish & chips were solid: well cooked, the fish was still juicy, the outside wasn't too greasy, and the fries were thick and crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. I might have had more than three. ;) The tartar sauce was good, too, and I'm not usually a fan.

We both had piping hot, delicious food in our bellies in mere moments, and walked away sated and happy. While our server rushed us to order, she didn't hustle us out of there once we got our food. The Beekman isn't 'cheap,' per se, but it's not outrageous, either. I'd say most entrees fall around the 11-14 dollar amount, but there were also decent specials on the board. Oh--but the house Merlot? Yeah, skip it. ;)

Sweet, Sweet Culture

ABF & I strolled through the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in Midtown NYC this weekend. We are saving the Tim Burton exhibit for a less crowded day, so we were happy to wander the halls and see the Van Goghs, Matisses, Picassos, etc. After a few hours, our stomachs got grumbly and we wandered over to the cafe. Oddly enough, there are no sandwiches on the menu! It's just soups, salads, appetizers, or desserts! Guess which one we picked. ;)

Pistachio Sundae. Sigh. THIS was outstanding. The salty/sweet pistachios had a wonderful crunch to them. We quickly ate up the ones on top, and were delighted to find many more strewn throughout the sundae. The pistachio ice cream was subtly and deliciously flavored, and smooth as silk, and the vanilla was super smooth as well. At the very bottom of the glass, we found a still slightly-crunchy vanilla biscuit (cookie ;).

The sundae cost 8 dollars, which, true, might be more than you might normally pay in a restaurant. However, every bite of this was decadent and sacrilicious, so if you figure it was 4 bucks per person, it suddenly seems like a perfectly reasonable splurge. (Ed: ABF's comment on this post prompted me to put in a side story I initially ommitted!) This sundae wasn't just delicious--it was also attention-getting. The couple sitting next to us had just taken their seats when we got our sundae. The girl, a bright, bubbly blonde gal, gasped in amazement and said to me, "Excuse me, what is that you're eating?" I answered and assured her that it was indeed as good as it looked. She went on rapturously to her date about how much she loves ice cream, how she could eat it no matter what the weather, she looooves pistachio, and oh my goodness, did she mention how much she loves ice cream? So what does her date say? "Eh, I'm more of a sorbet person." and instead orders the lame bowl of 4 tiny scoops of sorbet for them to SHARE.. Jerk. I think ABF and I both wanted to pull her aside and tell her she could do much, much better

We also had coffee--regular coffee for me, 3 bucks and quite strong, while ABF had a latte, which was quite pretty. I appreciate that they take the time to heat and foam the milk for even drip coffee! After we'd finished our coffee, our server came by and cheerily filled up both our cups (no extra charge!) A free refill policy anywhere is always a noteworthy event in NYC. The service was also attentive and welcoming--we didn't feel rushed at all.

We left feeling satisfied but not overly-stuffed, and we carried on for a few more hours in the museum after that.

Later, we joked about going back to MOMA just for that sundae. But I'm pretty sure neither one of us was joking.

February 18, 2010

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Chocolate and mint--one of my all-time favorite combinations. ABF is a fan, too, so I figured I'd try whipping up my own homemade ice-cream in time for Valentine's Day. It's not a HUGE day in my mind--I don't buy into what I think can sometimes be over-the-top, unreasonable expectations many women (and yes, some men) hold onto for this day. But hey, I love spending time with ABF, and I'm glad I have him, so why not put together a fun dessert after a fun day?

ABF is a big fan of brownies with walnuts on top (not mixed in, but just placed on top within the last 5 minutes of baking--big distinction!), but I wanted something else to go with it. I came upon this recipe, but as I didn't have fresh mint on hand, I used spearmint tea bags to infuse the cream. I could have used peppermint extract, but I thought the tea might be a softer flavor. I used 4 tea bags, fyi. Long story short, this was a FAIL. It tasted like peppermint tea with milk in it (gross), and it was awful. I decided to try again with fresh mint instead.

This recipe is a bit labor intensive: you wash and dry the fresh mint (99 cents for each beautiful bunch at my corner market!) before adding it to half the milk/cream mixture. You bring the heat up a bit to steaming (not boiling) and let it sit, repeat, then add the egg yolks to make the custard base. This smelled DIVINE.

Once the mint had sufficiently infused the milk/cream mixture, it was time to whisk in the egg yolks and make the custard. You can see the universal sign for 'your custard is ready,' the line made through the custard that doesn't run. I had a few eggy bits left (I rushed a bit this time while tempering the egg yolks) but no worries, the strainer took care of that. Then it was time to cool the mixture and then put in the ice cream machine!

ABF and I took turns cranking the ice cream machine, 4-5 turns every 5 minutes. In about 20 minutes (more than halfway through an "Office" episode), it was ready! I spooned it out, took a taste, and felt the sad trombones sound their 'wahhh wahhhh.' Sigh. It wasn't...great. The mint flavor was too harsh, and overwhelming, and the ice cream was a little too---creamy? Does that even make sense? It was better when it had a brownie to soak into, but it just wasn't as good as, well, Haagen-Dazs. I'm all for making things myself, if they taste better than what's available. This, however, did not. It was an awful lot of work for a so-so result. Sigh.

It's not going to waste, however. This ice cream makes EXCELLENT milkshakes. Not so helpful for the 'bridesmaid 2010' program, but tasty all the same. If you have some hands-down-winner recipes for ice cream, I'd love to try them! Please email or leave them in comments and I'll give them a go! AFTER the wedding in May, of course!

February 17, 2010

TJ's Almond Pastry

While wandering the aisles of Trader Joe's with ABF on Super Bowl Sunday (before the game, of course), this tasty-looking pasty caught my eye. Pithiviers (French in origin, oui) are apparently a puff-pastry dessert with almond cream filling. ALMOND? Yes, please. Later that week I baked it up, figuring it would go nicely with a cup of my Amaretto coffee from Fairway.

It doesn't get much easier than this: open box, place on parchment paper covered baking sheet, and let the oven do the work.

My oven runs a little hot, so it didn't take long for the pastry to puff up and brown all over. I let it sit for a few minutes, but couldn't help, well, helping myself to a little piece while it was still warm.

My first thought was that these aren't nearly as sweet as I expected, which is good AND bad. Yes, we could all probably dial down our sugar intake, but it was a little short of what I was hoping for as far as desserts go. I suppose that's why the serving suggestion shows it sprinkled with confectioner's sugar! Instead, I decided to add some thawed-out frozen blueberries (Trader Joe's again) and their juice. This was MUCH better. The pastry soaked that liquid right up and turned a lovely purple. It's also not really a 'cream' filling, but more of a paste, which is fine. I would have loved a little more almond flavor, but I found that developed more as these cooled. Not enough to my almond-craving levels, but still smooth and tasty. I think next time I'll whip up a little fresh whipped cream, too.

They're definitely worth another purchase--and at around 4 dollars, deliciously cheap eats! woo hoo!

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