Monday, January 19, 2009

everybody LOVES cookies

i'm a bit of a rare bird, a + t readers. i like to keep my water filter on the window sill because i'm convinced that the sunshine, and moonlight do just as much to purify my water as the actual filter. i like to lecture my friends on the importance of NOT refrigerating tomatoes, EVER. even if it makes the boyfriend + i argue. i know what a good tomato is supposed to taste like, and refrigerating it does not work. i also like to have a cookie if i'm watching my weight. well, this happens for a number of reasons. as soon as u make your mind up 2 deny yourself something, you find that u crave that single thing. for me, that's sweets. typically, i dont even want them, but once i start gearing up for something that requires me to slim down, i find myself wanting 2 suddenly bake a batch of brownies.

blessings 2 my friend 4 introducing me 2 cookie party. it's this lovely bakery + party experience in hanover new jersey with some of THE most delicious cookies i've ever tasted. the basics of each cookie are simple, good creamy butter, light sugar and just the right amount of flour to bind them to make each cookie light, toothsome and delicate. i was gifted a box of different kinds, to make a decadent holiday breakfast of this morning with my darling, relaxing over cups of tea.

the site has all sorts of cookie descriptions, but since the very first taste, i had my favorite. the s-cookie is like no other. it's immensely buttery, without being greasy, sweet without being cloying and crumbly without falling apart in your lap. it is, quite possibly the very best cookie i've ever had. second in line is the chocolate dipped s-cookie, drizzled with milk chocolate. the delicious lemon italian knot seems to be laced with something sophisticated, like limoncello or meyer lemon and gives the illusion of having a well portioned, diet friendly bite of light, lemon cake, only without a shred of guilt. the cream cheese drop is delightful, with it's glaze giving off a touch of liquorice or anise + it has the same satisfying cake like texture of the lemon knot. we started our morning off with the delicious chocolate cookies and peanut butter balls, reminiscent of some elementary school treat. it made this lovely snowy day seem like childhood all over again.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

buzina pop

ahhh the new year, with new brasilian food! we decided to go on a special saturday lunchtime date to celebrate our anniversary, and to a restaurant i'd not heard of!

buzina pop is a beautiful, bohemian, brasilian restaurant on the upper east side. even in the january cold, it gives the feeling of a botequim in rio or buzios with beautiful touches of bright green glass 
distressed wood + casual fabrics. the upstair seating
 even featured a 'boutique' selling dresses + bracelets + things for the beach. 

we settled into a booth, ordered some cocktails - a rather tasty and fiery bloody mary for him, and a ' ze de caixao'  a sort of punched up caiprinha with ginger, honey and mint added. i decided to forgo the mint to keep my palate from being overwhemled.  i like my cocktails simple... the menu offered brasilian food in the style of a LOT of restaurants in the country, light, innovative, eclectic, all while still being simple. 
because we were starving, we ordered a casquinha de siri. for those readers who arent familiar with brasilian food, the best way to describe it is a small crabcake like dish, with coconut milk, dende
oil and lime, but this version often features a bit of cheese to bind it. the casquinha was delicious; the sharp flavor of the fruit juice cleansing the mouth after each fresh mingling of the crabmeat and small grinds of cheese. 

to follow, i ordered the pupunha carpaccio, a smallish plate
 of seared scallops, over a carpaccio of fresh (unheard of in this country), large hearts of palm. the plate was delicately dressed with a fine hazelnut-honey vinagrette with fine ribbons of mint and basil to tie the sweet together with the clean, fresh taste of the seafood. although the two scallops seemed a rather miserly portion, in keeping with the new year, i didnt order a mid-course. 

i tasted a bite of my beloved's ipanema sandwich, a lovely reminder of the beautiful misto-quentes of brasil, stuffed with grilled shrimp, a slice of fresh pineapple and some breadcrumby-herbacious stuffing. the bread seemed freshly baked, soft and crunchy where it should be, and the flavors together, 
 were completely satisfying. the entire meal was healthy, delicious and although it was lunchtime, we felt sure we'd eaten well enough that we deserved dessert.

the first thing we noticed on the dessert menu was the avocado mousse. this was a fabulous take on a brasilian breakfast favorite, the batido de abacate, which is just a sweetened, avocado milkshake, but with chocolate nibs and some syrup added for decadence. the pudding was rich, sinful and sweet, but with avocado as it's basis, completely healthy.

buzina pop is rumoured to be moving downtown. this lovely gem does seem a bit out of place on it's corner on the upper east, but i cant imagine a more perfect setting or a more perfect menu. 
A. a good solid A.

Friday, January 2, 2009

marsha brown, new hope pennsylvania

HAPPY NEW YEAR, foodies! i know i'm behind, like always, but it's a new year + we here at spices + vines have a new attitude!

i'll start right off catching up where we left off and that was a holiday dinner at marsha brown in lovely new hope, pennsylvania. a friend's mom was visiting on a december weekend and we decided that after a day of traipsing around in the cold, we needed some yummy creole food 2 warm our bones. enter marsha brown. the restaurant is housed in a century old de-sanctified old church on the same beautiful strip of main street that houses all those boutiques in the town. we settled in for some pre-dinner cocktails and took in the menu.

the first few standouts were the salads. we each chose a different one, my favorite being the hail caesar, even though i'd ordered the sexy dried fig with goat's cheese and walnuts. the caesar was garlicky, crisp, lightly dressed and opened the appetite perfectly. another friend ordered the chopped salad and never spoke one word, so it must have been exquisite. the other chose the beet salad, but i refused a taste rather than anger myself over another salad i hadnt ordered.

as a starter, two of us decided to split a rather large crabcake. as you can see from the photograph, it was so fragrant and tantalising that we couldnt wait to properly photograph it before digging in to taste. it was seasoned aggressively with black pepper, barely there breadcrumbs, and hints of herbs to just complement the jumbo lump. having grown up on the northwest coast of florida, i like to think i know a thing or two about crabcakes. this one was baked under the broiler, it seemed rather than pan fried and it made the difference. this one was crispy and flaky and moist all at the same time.

being a southern girl myself, i opted for the eggplant ophelia, a dish that seemed very familiar to me, according to it's menu description. it was described as a bit of a crabmeat, shrimp and eggplant casserole. it arrived at the table, elegant and stately, atop a creamy sauce and like the crabcake, it was delicate while being spicy and the slices of eggplant were oooked (baked? sauteed? i'm willing to experiment a few times trying to find out...) to tender perfection. the vegetable yielded to the fork without resistance, and the balance between the spice of the seafood and spices to the smoky quality of the eggplant and it's creaminess was mindblowing.

the girls ordered a mixed grill of beef tenderloin and split a whopping three pound lobster between them and the tiny taste i had of those convinced me that whoever the chef is at marsha brown definitely had a lot of love 4 the south. the steak was tender, cooked to temperature and surprisingly simply salted and peppered (a rarity in a lot of non-steakhouses) and the lobster was superior, served up with clarified butter, laced with a bit of garlic for good measure. the properietors of marsha brown are to be commended and lauded for bringing the authenticity of good creole food to the northeast in such an elegant environment, with such care. i think it's safe 2 say, i love the place. it gets an A. even without dessert.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

notes on italia

it's been about (who knows how many) months since my return from the land of all things tasty, and now that i've carried the guilt for FAR long enough, here is the update on all the fantastic things i was able 2 sample on my culinary vacation. this is a lovely breakfast sent to our room daily. i believe the italians call this colazione, but that word doesnt sit so well with me. the delicate little mandarins and apples we took along our walks to the forum and colosseo but the fantastic cafe latte, tea with hot milk & the fantastic WHOLE WHEAT croissants filled with apple filling and sweet, european butter 2 spread over the whole lot was all luxuriously gobbled up before we considered going back 2 sleep, just 4 an hour or 2.

our first night out was a casual one, as our driver (a suspected gigilo) took us 2 a 'locals' place 2 watch roma play some team or another. the place was no frills, and we werent 2 convinced when we ordered bruschetta and the tomato that topped our bread was nearly devoid of color. as a supermarket snob, i am a HUGE fan of bright red tomato, often only buying the holland style, hydroponic tomato here at home. well, upon tasting the little toasts, my friend + i nearly fought over the appetizer. there must be something in the soil, something about the perfect amount of olive oil and salt mixed with the simple tomato, because we have never in life had bruschetta so good, and fear we might not have it again... what followed was a plate of scampi risotto so creamy, so flavorful that i believe i blacked out... and because we were so unconvinced of this place, there are no photos of this meal. sadly...

next door 2 our little residenze hotel, was a fantastic + tourist filled restaurant called pizz
a imperiale. the owner, a lovely man, with sparkling blue eyes who spoke fluent english and portugues (YAY!) and was well traveled throughout brasil, so we were immediately welcomed. unsure of old world wines + how many euro we could spare tasting wines, we opted for the bottom shelf italian equivalent of chardonnay called frascati and worked over the menu looking for a repeat of our lovely bruschetta from the previous night. imperiale did not disappoint, with offerings of the toast topped with chopped mushrooms + truffle oil + the classic bruschetta naturale, with beautiful red tomatoes. we chased our treats with bottle after bottle of ferrarelle sparkling water + discovered what might be the most seductive, simple plate of melanzane parmgiana in the world. we loved it so much that we found ourselves returning to imperiale day after day ordering the very same thing. a lunch for two with a half bottle of frascati, the two bruschetta + two orders of melanzane cost us 31.50 €.

it's safe 2 say that ALL our eating experiences in roma were great ones, and the single one that was not was in vatican city, and we wont tell u anything about the place, aside from the fact th
at it's named arlu's, and is not recommended. if u're headed 2 vatican city, plan on stopping by a supermarket, pack some cheeses, fruit + salumi + plan 2 picnic after u've walked thru. a few surprises were a place called cafe tazza d'oro. although we didnt have coffee (a sacrilege), i discovered a few new chocolates that will haunt me until i get my hands on them next. the first was from a well known swiss chocolatier, lindt, but this one was laced with peperoncino, a hot pepper and was perfectly balanced in spice + sweetness + creamy mouthfeel. sadly, it's only sold in italy, not online + not at the lindt stores, even here in nyc. the second is one whose name i've forgotten after all this time, but now i'm planning 2 tear up the house 2 find the wrapper with the name on it... another real treat was discovering a sicilian pasticceria called ciuri ciuri that made not only gelato, but fantastic little sweet ricotta filled fried ravioli, perfect with a bitter, creamy espresso.

it's no secret that rome left a mark on my heart + it left a significant mark on my palate. upon returning, nothing was tasty enough, nothing was rich or simple enough in taste. the sm
artest thing i did was shop. shopping, not in boutiques, but in food shops, where i could bring the feeling of italia back 2 my kitchen. the simple knorr packettes of 'just add water + butter' risotto are better than most that u can buy in restaurants here in the US. the luxury of being able 2 have a little taste of italy at home is the best souvenir u could bring home.
Posted by Picasa *update* nov 9, 2008:: the chocolate i fell head over feet for, with the name i couldnt recall is venchi, cuor di cacao 

Monday, July 21, 2008

catch up (no, not THAT kind!)

happy new year (yes i know it's summer) food lovers!!

i've traveled far & beyond, so the next few posts will be the best recollections of culinary adventures and velvetly nights out.

recently, i had a mouth stuffing night of fantastic moroccan food. on a saturday of entirely too much sun, too much walking around in that sun & too many things on the 'to do' list to even whip up a salad, the man & i went just around the corner in brooklyn 2 a place i'd once had brunch. babouche on fifth avenue in brooklyn did not disappoint. careful not to order too much food, as we normally do, we opted to stick close to the moroccan fare, rather than order 'french' leaning dishes and in this fashion, were determined to only have wines from tunisia or algeria. sadly, the wine from tunisia wasnt available, the rose from morocco was also not to be had, so we settled on a red from algeria that was so light it could have been chilled to further explore it's juiciness as we waited for our appetizer.

in classic french fashion, we were offered bits of baguette (both white and with a bit of caraway seed mixed in to some loaves) with moroccan olive oil, heavy with fruit and pepper. we both swooned at the delicious fragrant oil (again, we were exhausted and starving, making any sustenance all the better) while waiting for our zaalouk to arrive. the succulent, chilled eggplant was rich with harissa and peppers and tomato and the perfect amount of garlic to not be overwhelming to the spices in the harissa and the saltiness of the few fantastic olives which were rained in. we snapped up the entire order with pita bread which was sadly only lukewarm and were sated until our next course.

the couscous aux legume was fragrant with tender chickpeas, carrots, bits of cabbage and plump raisins. each pearl was perfect and separate, filling the mouth with a warm comfort, even on a 90 degree night. the garnish of a few slivers of the resplendent perseved lemon accentuated how creamy and lush the simple couscous was.

the brouchette de crevette were 4 baked shrimp, amply seasoned and herbacious and cooked just to the point that they were velvetly and meltingly tender, not an easy task, as often the shrimp are undercooked for fear of the dreaded tough, tasteless result or just plain blasted so that nothing saline or tender remains. chopped sweet garlic and cilantro dressed the shrimp so much that i was inclinded to 'suck the head' as they do back in panama city, but i resigned myself to be a lady & kept with the fork & knife. the kebab dish was served without it's traditional spear, over a lovely mixed mesclun salad, with enough of that delectable perseved lemon to drive the tastebuds mad. alongside were a salad of rich, ripe olives, cured and salted just so as to provide a balance to the dish.

desert was the crown jewel on this beautiful night. layers of pastry dough, almost like that left over from a b'stilla were dusted with chopped toasted almonds (delicious) and a bit of rosewater scented cream (creme anglaise? - EGGS? the HORROR!)and sliced strawberries (unnecessary as the rosewater cream could stand on it's own). the desert was accompanied by the quintessential mint tea, flush with sugar and infused with rosehips, giving only a hint of their existence behind the freshness of the mint.

we sat back and sipped our tea out of glasses so small they were more like moroccan shot glasses and took in the atmosphere once more. the lighting was perfect, with beautiful wooden lanterns let light thru star patterns and henna lanterns illuminated the smooth cream colored walls so that everything appeared candlelit and mysterious. the only complaint we could come up with (and we absolutely were too tired to be bothered by ANYTHING this evening with such delicious fare) was that the music kept moving away from authentic arab music to techno or neo-soul or something other than african. this was remedied by a quick chat with our host, who immediately revamped a playlist on an ipod to something more our liking. the beautiful decor did nothing but lend itself to an atmosphere of relaxation, smiles and enjoyment. it's pretty enough to just have a sit down at babouche and not even experience how fantastic the food is.

we gave babouche 4 our of 5 stars for a wonderfully tasty experience and will definitely go back for more and more and more...

Monday, November 26, 2007

ayza wine bar, cafe fuego updates, holy basil

down the street from the ballroom studio is a smallish wine bar, very sleek & super modern. i'd passed it everyday for the last 6 weeks between auditions, meetings and training and scoffed at the elegant, but pretentiously priced menu. $11 for hummus? we were still in a part of new york that wasnt so clean & elegant, so why the big ticket price on a small appetizer? needless to say i walked past, turned up my nose everytime & didnt give ayza a chance... until i saw that i needed a big beautiful bowl filled with red wine one day that the rain came down incessantly and that there was a $8.95 prix fixe lunch! the offerings included a fantastic coffee cup of soup, either arugula creme or butternut squash and a selection of really fresh and tasty panini, toasted perfectly. the smoked chicken breast was lean, succulent and the cranberry mayo was a perfect complement to the irish cheddar slice on the small sandwich. the teensy salad that accompanied it was dressed with a delicate truffle infused oil and perhaps a sherry or champagne vinegar, with toasted almonds or walnuts (depending on the day) , moroccan olives and tiny pear tomato. the portion was small and perfect, just enough 4 a meal not to be stuffed. the wine selection by both the glass and the bottle was impressive, but the super nice staff & management havent quite learned all the p's and q's of customer service.
when 4 girls all order the prix fixe lunch, but each orders a different glass of wine, it's not for us to 'sort out' the overcharge the waiter made *we ARE guilty of having separate checks!* and not be taken care of when we bring still MORE people into your establishment. they get a C+ for the oversight & inability to make the correct adjustment.

cafe fuego has become our new after danceclass favorite on saturdays, but the restaurant has a few inconsistencies. pinchos arent ever the same. sometimes lacking salt, sometimes with a delicious flavor as if they were cooked over oak, sometimes just tender & perfect. same with the gambas al aljillo. our first order came out perfect, swimming in garlic infused oil with beautiful flecks of red pepper, but the second order came out bland, as if the chef had suddenly decided that sunflower oil was better. while the service & fantastic salsa, gypsy & cuban music make up for the inconsistencies in the kitchen, we still havent stopped being a slave to the place or it's fantastic truffle and porcini macaroni and cheese... B

holy basil in the east village has elevated the thai food in the area far above what it was 5 years ago when i was there. the flavors are fresh, the heat is well placed on the palate and there is a wide offering of tasty dishes for a place with plastic coated menus. the decor appears to have been moved from middle of the road asian to authentic, buddhist inspired and really, the only thing that inhibits a really intimate dining experience is the unfortunate placement of the bar and the decibels diners are speaking at. B+

Monday, November 5, 2007

the black duck, cafe fuego & artepasta

it'd been recommended to me time after time, and on friday, on a date (gasp!), i had dinner at the black duck! it was a perfect setting on a really cold autumn night. we stumbled in without a reservation, at peak time, and were able to snuggle up to the cozy fireplace and hold hands while we waited the few minutes for our table.
service was quick, the wine list was thorough and the dishes were simple and presented without fanfare. my date ordered the blackfish special, which was a perfectly seared white, flaky filet with crispy skin over a bed of fluffy, traditional mashed potato (no skin, no garlic, no truffles, no fuss) and haricot vert. the vegetable was a really young bean, tender & delicate and we shared bites in between kisses (gasp!!). my first course was a beautiful pumpkin soup, with crème fraîche and it warmed me after walking blocks in the cold, deciding on a restaurant. it was creamy without being overpowering and sweet without crossing over into cloying. as a main course, i ordered the chicken, something i wouldnt normally do, but i was baited by the promise of porcini mushroom risotto, and as someone who hates cold weather, risotto is one of the things i look forward to once the mercury drops. a half chicken arrived, perfumed with thyme tucked beneath the crispy skin, and the flesh was juicy and succulent. the portion was too much for little ole me to finish, but my date enjoyed the boneless thigh (th chicken's, not mine) and the rest that i wasnt able to eat. for dessert, we were presented with a tart-like pumpkin pie. the pastry surrounding the filling was too thick, too dense and wasnt flaky in the way pastry should be. once we cut thru the bits too cumbersome to eat, the pie was delicious. nutmeg-y, creamy, not too much like custard & garnished with toasted pecans and delicately spiced whipped cream. although i didnt realise the black duck was a sister to one of my favorite south beach restaurants, it still gets high marks for making a first date a really special one.

after weeks of watching halle, making plans to go over to what i'm calling 'gabriel's place' (cafe fuego), i'm happy to report that armangac and truffles has finally had the opportunity to check it out! three girlfriends & i popped in for lunch, ready for the cuban specialties of ropa vieja, pernil & of course, beans & rice. the atmosphere was exacty as we'd been told, with lots of dark wood, candles (even in broad daylight) and were surprised to find that the menu is no longer cuban, but now 'world tapas'. to the restaurant's credit, the website does clearly state - world tapas - but we were prepared from reading reviews, for cuban! we settled in on a bottle of bone-dry malbec from the Broquel vineyards in argentina, which worked well with all the different dishes we ordered, but probably would have been too harsh a finish to drink on it's own.

a round of beef tenderloin pinchos were ordered by two of us. we expected a skewer or two of the succulent meat, but no less than four per order arrived with a different sort of chimichurri that i was really pleased with and made up for the fact that these were almost under seasoned, or lacking salt. the jury is out on which is the case... the goat cheese & beet 'chiva' was fresh & crisp, the tuna tartar was well received with a beautiful chipotle and ginger cream complementing the avocado, and my friend who ordered the skirt steak never said a word until she was done, so it must have been fantastic! the yuca fries were greasy and delicious, but not to be outdone by the greaseless tostones (two orders QUICKLY disappeared between us four) and the mojo de ajo which accompanied them was fresh, bright & perfectly garlicky. i ordered my tapas staple of gambas in garlic & olive oil. the tureen of shrimp were almost undersalted, but the generous amount of garlic and red pepper flake that perfumed the olive oil they were swimming in made up for it. the small dish was served with pita bread triangles (whole wheat ones rather than white could have been the only improvement) and all was deliciously devoured!

on sunday, i met a distressed friend (hi lisa janel!) for an early supper at an italian we'd yet to try. artepasta's website boasts huge portions (not necessarily our style) and a family atmosphere. we arrived at the end of brunch, but were still treated to the unlimited mimosas/champagne and were able to order from the dinner menu. to start, we selected the 'toasted' ricotta ravioli, which were actually fried, but were SO good that we couldnt complain, instead we both made sure we tried to get the lion's share! we both ordered the shrimp scampi, which was accompanied by a small serving of broccoli (still crispy!) and capellini. the scampi dish was unremarkable, especially considering the spoils of our staple down the street at gusto, but it did the trick, and the ravioli & the friendly service really made the difference. we'll definitely head back to artepasta for casual ravioli bites...