March 31, 2010

Victor's Cafe, parte uno

As I've mentioned before, my coworkers and I get treated to lunches out every few months or so by one of our supervisors. We all vote on a place to go and every time we've been fortunate to get to try delicious food and just relax and have a nice time. This visit was to Victor's Cafe in midtown. I hadn't been here in years, but I was more than happy to go back there!

We ordered a sample platter of appetizers. It included yucca fries, tostones (smashed, twice-fried plantains), ham croquettes, chorizo and sauteed veggies, and maybe even a tamale or two. I'm not a tamale fan, and yucca is too starchy for me, tho I tried a bite of the fry. I even skipped the tostones, because I much prefer the fried plantains (we'll see those soon enough!), so I stuck to the chorizo (yummmmmmmmmmm) and the croquette (also yummmmmm). The menu says this platter is for two people, but we shared it with at least 8 people (my sampling is to the right, above)!

THE star of the appetizers, however, and the one bite that will keep me coming back, was the Ceviche de Pargo, red snapper ceviche with lovely bits of mango and avocado and red onion and deliciousness propping up tender, tangy bits of soft, smooth fish. See how gorgeous it looks? It tastes a billion times better. Holy mouthfeel, batman. This is something I would never have ordered on my own, but I enjoyed it more than anything else on that table!

Victor's has a wide range of dishes, from seafood to vegetarian to steak, but all I wanted that day was a Cuban sandwich: a salty, tangy, satisfying Cuban sandwich. It runs about 11 dollars, and comes with vegetable chips. Mmm...ham, roasted pork, mustard, pickles, and melty Swiss cheese, all smooshed together into layer after scrumptious layer. I took half of this home for lunch the next day, and it was even more delicioso! I even enjoyed the chips, which were light and crunchy and airy.

I also got an order of the plantanos maduros (fried ripe/sweet plantains) to split with a coworker, though we ended up sharing them with everyone. These were yummy! Sweet but not too sweet.

The two men at the table (our group is mostly women) at the table ordered the special, whole fried branzino. You could also get it roasted, but the server recommended it fried. This was not only beautiful, it was astoundingly moist and delicious (yes, my boss offered me a bite, perhaps not knowing I'd so take him up on it!)

This beauty here is a mixed greens salad with Asian Pear, Manchego cheese, baby candycane beets, and grilled salmon, drizzled with a sherry vinaigrette. This got two thumbs up from both the women who ordered it.

My friend Mel ordered the chicken salad with chunks of mango. I thought it tasted good, but not amazing, and Mel says she probably wouldn't order it again. Unfortunately, she's allergic to seafood, or I would have slid that ceviche her way to make up for it!

Another gal from our group, Jenna, got the Enchiladas Camarones, Jumbo shrimp sauteed in a sauce of tomatoes, garlic, onions, peppers, thyme, and white wine, served with white sweet potato mash. I think she really enjoyed this! And she took the photo for me so I didn't have to lean all the way across the table--thanks, Jenna!

We also shared a lovely bottle of this Argentinian Malbec. I have had some not-so-great Malbecs, so I don't usually lean toward them. This, however, was lovely. The wine is fruity but strong, and its tannins grip your entire tongue with its tingly force. It was just a perfect complement to all dishes. And a nice segue into dessert...but that, dear readers, will have to wait for another post. My fingers are tired, and now I'm hungry after looking at all of these pictures.

March 25, 2010

I'm Fondue You, Too!

Another meeting of the bridesmaids happened recently, though this was non-wedding related! Heather, Laura & I met to celebrate Laura's new job (WOO HOO!) and toast her newest adventure. Laura narrowed it down to a few places in the Lower East Side, but a quick glance of the Bourgeois Pig's website lured me in with the promise of half-off wine!

I walked up to the location and didn't see any outdoor signage--just a vague-looking possible entry where a man was talking on the phone. I slowed down, surveyed the scene, and the man paused in his conversation. Here's something to know about me: I long ago stopped caring if I look silly or foolish or not cool enough. I had friends to meet and wine to share, so I just flat out said "Where is the door for this place?" Turns out it was the door, and I think the man was the manager. He led me indoors and I saw my friends smiling at the bar--what a lovely feeling that is, to be greeted by friends in an unfamiliar place!

The place is dimly lit, luxuriously decorated, and quite the buzzing spot. We were happy to sit at the bar, where our helpful bartender and server was friendly, not at all distant, and offered great advice for our selections. We'd been considering 2 different fondues, and when we mentioned the mushroom, he absoutely gave it high marks. We ordered it, and it was yea, verily, quite good. Mushrooms, fresh thyme, sherry and the traditional Gruyere and Emmenthaler cheeses came together in a wonderful way.

The savory fondue comes with an assortment of bite-sized yummies: roasted artichokes, peppers, and other veggies, bread chunks of several types (including olive!), fresh fruit, and some delicious roasted herbed potatoes. The potatoes were probably everyone's favorite part--cooked just enough to be tender, but not so tender that they fell apart in the swirling, swoon-worthy cheese. Mmmm....Cheese. The tart apples were great with the cheese, and so were the grapes! We enjoyed this with a lovely bottle of red, the 2006 Domaine Remejeanne, a Rhones Valley wine blend of Grenache (love!), Syrah and Mourverdre. This had peppery notes, strong tannins, and went perfectly with our cheese fondue.

Then it was time for something sweet.

We all agreed quite quickly on the dark chocolate with chili and cinnamon. Triple awesome! The heat was very mild, never too much, and the cinnamon was an excellent addition. We dunked strawberries, grapes, bananas, pound cake (with cranberries, a bit too tart for me), and decadent, melt in your mouth brownies. Ohhhh, the brownies. SO good.

We thoroughly enjoyed our hours here. The staff were all super-welcoming and helpful, not at all pretentious, just friendly, glad to see you types. I highly recommend this spot, and I will gladly return!

March 24, 2010

Have Wine, Will Travel

My trip home from visiting Texas was an adventure all its own. My flight landed in Baltimore about 30 minutes late, but my connecting flight was delayed by 2 hours. Which turned into 3. Which turned into 4. Ah, travel. Upon hearing I'd have a good few hours to burn, I wondered where I'd go to get some food and kill some time. I turned to my right and saw Vino Volo a mere 20 steps from my gate! Sweet serendipity!

I ambled up to the bar, took in my surroundings, and opened up my menu. The bartender said hello and asked how I was doing, and I gave my trademark smile and replied that I was doing much better now that I had somewhere to be for my 2-hour delay. He seemed... yeah.. pretty uninterested. Wow, sorry I'm so boring! Back to the menu, where one glance was all it took to decide on my order...

And then they tasting of three world reds from South Africa, Argentina, and Spain. Delightful! And a mere seven dollars! Seven!

Each glass (or tasting) comes with little paper doilies (?) that have the wine's name, background, flavor profile, and a brief description. I loved this!

I saw it posted somewhere outside Vino Volo that they serve food, so once the bartender came back, I asked for that menu, too. They categorize the foods by which go better with red, white, etc., and smack at the top of the 'red' category were the braised pork mini tacos. I ordered the half portion for 5 dollars. FIVE!

This was deeelicious, and a perfect pairing with the 3 wines. They really brought out the zing in the sauce, and the meat was a nice foil, especially with the peppery South African Shiraz. Even the tortilla was soft and delicate. I would have liked just a little more lime juice on the sandwich, but hey, I'm in the middle of the aiport, right? I'm just happy to be here at this point!

This was a lovely little place, even if the bartender wasn't the friendliest sort, at least not with me (he seemed super chatty with everyone else---was I looking THAT bad, or did he think my few attempts at striking up a conversation were New Yorker for 'leave me alone?' We'll never know....). I thought it odd that he never checked in on me, didn't ask if I was enjoying my food, needed anything, etc. He was chatting with everyone else but me...odd! Most people like me, dammit!

While I enjoyed the people watching and plane watching--you could see Southwest planes taking off right outside the window--I didn't linger as long as I would have, had I felt just a bit more welcome. Still, my bill came to a whopping 12 bucks (15 with a 25 percent tip) and I did enjoy the wines I tasted, plus the sandwich was just enough to keep me going in the middle of a long haul home. I saw they have locations in JFK, Newark, and a host of other airports, so I will definitely pop in to the next one I see.

March 23, 2010

Schnipper's Kitchen

Imagine my surprise to find a juicy, finger-licking good burger in Times Square! And it wasn't outrageously priced, either! I had just picked up my bridesmaid dress with two other bridesmaids, and as it was nearing 7, we stopped for a late but quick dinner at Schnippers, located in the New York Times building. Laura had eaten here before and said it was really good. I was thisclose to ordering their fish taco (still on a kick from my Texas trip), but at the last second I asked the girl at the register if the taco was better than the burger, and she said you HAVE to get the burger here. I saw one with roasted poblano chilies, and my decision was made. Green chile cheeseburger with a Blue Moon beer on the side, please! We saw them make each burger to order from hand-made patties (not the frozen, industrial type) and toast each roll as the order arrived, too.

Look at this beauty! Toasted roll, oozing cheese, juicy burger. My stomach is growling just looking at this photo again. It's a bit of a jostle at times (they give you a vibrating remote device that goes off when your order is ready), depending on how busy it is, but the wait is not long, and oh-my-tastebuds is it worth it.

Laura didn't hear my last minute change, and went with the fish taco. She said it was okay, but not great. She opted for the grilled fish, which she said was pretty bland. It wasn't bad, just not as noteworthy as the burger. Now we know. ;)

Heather opted for the regular cheesburger, and hers looked lovely. It came with a bright red tomato, crisp green-leaf lettuce, and a melty slice of cheese.

We also tried the sweet potato fries (Laura's recommendation) and the onion rings. I love onion rings, and these were good, but not outstanding. The sweet potato fries, however, were perfect. Salty, crisp on the outside, and so so satisfying. The sweet potato flavor really came through. It was perfectly salted, nicely balanced, and they were light and yummy.

As I mentioned earlier, I went for the Green Chile Cheeseburger. I've been FEENING for Poblano chilies this week, and this temporarily satisfied the craving. This burger was soooo good. The cheese was gooey but not gritty or greasy, and the chilies were perfectly roasted, with just a hint of heat in the sauce to ramp it all up.

My burger was 8.99 with no sides, but I so felt it was worth it. It's also not a huuuge burger, so I didn't walk away feeling overstuffed. I recommend this place if you're in the area!

Schnippers Kitchen
620 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10018
(212) 921-2400

March 22, 2010

Berryhill Baja Grill

I was visiting my former roommate (when we lived together in NYC) Ann in Texas the other weekend, and my only request for food was that of the Tex-Mex variety. Ann was a sport and indulged me all 3 nights. One of those nights we made the short drive to Berryhill Baja Grill in Houston's Montrose Area. I didn't realize at first that it was an order-at-the-counter sort of spot, but I caught on quickly.

We ordered the appetizer sampler platter, 2 frozen ritas, and I ordered one 'original' fish taco, because the few reviews I'd read had raved about the fish tacos there. The girl at the register got us our drinks, gave us a number, and we set out to get our seats, a nice comfy booth toward the back of the place.

I started with the regular margarita, frozen. Normally I'd get a regular, rocks and salt, but you had to go to the separate bar for that, and it was JAM-PACKED that Sunday night. I didn't want to waste any time waiting in line when I could be visiting with Ann, so I went the easy route. This was actually good--not sicky sweet, it packed some seriously tart zing to it. Yum.

There is a big old chips & salsa bar where you serve yourself. You can also get what appeared to be some sort of pickled veggies (carrots, onion, jalapeno) and all the lemon and lime slices you can hope to handle. I poured myself a few plastic mini-cups of the chunky salsa and headed back to our booth.

The sampler platter came with chicken flautas, chicken quesadilla, beef tamales, and generous dollops of sour cream, guacamole, and pico de gallo. The flautas were wider than I'm used to, but still good. The chicken quesadilla was delicious--better than expected. But the tamales? The tamales were outrageously good..and I don't normally care for them! I never, ever order them myself. To me, they usually taste mushy and starchy and just are not my thing. But the tamales Ann & I shared were flat out fantastic. The tender chunks of meat were perfectly seasoned, not too salty, and incredibly satisfying. I was quite surprised. And happy.

The original fish taco is fried, which I realize isn't as healthy as grilled, but this was the one I read about in all the reviews. Sadly, this wasn't my favorite item. It was good, and I was hungry enough to eat the whole thing, but I wish it had a little more zing. The most outstanding part of the whole dish was the fresh tortilla, which had more depth than I expected. A lot of places use their tortilla as a basic food-containing tool--this tortilla stood out on its own. Job well done!

This margarita? A strawberry-lime swirl: delicoso. I didn't even mind the small chunks of strawberry in it!

All in all, a taste-bud pleasing visit--I would definitely give the fish taco another chance, and try the grilled version as well. And the tamales--oh, we will meet again! See you next time, Houston!!!

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