Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Houston...land of Blue Bell and...surprisingly good food.

Okay, let me just start by saying that my favorite coffee house (courtesy of Houstonian friend, Blaire) burned down on Halloween this year. Total cry time. It was adorable. In the Montrose district. And now sits aside a completely ruined antique shop.

On a happier note: my cousin took me to this place called Barnaby's on Sunday for lunch. This. Place. Is. Awesome. And for a California girl like me, I took much delight in seeing dishes named after San Diego, Petaluma, Mill Valley, and other California cities. Hehe. I'm a little California-centric...no shame. But really, this place is adorable. It's named after the owner's childhood sheepdog, and sports a very youthful atmosphere in a sophisticated way. They offer great homey dishes in astronomical proportions. Want a salad? You're going to need to split it to even make a dent. I got a guacamole and cheese burger with fries (California girl loves her some avocado, and needed a fix after turkey and cranberries galore all week). The cousin got a grilled chicken sandwich, and took half the chicken home to use atop a salad later in the week (note: huge portions, still). If you do go, ask to swap out the fries for sweet potato fries. I didn't realize this was an option until we were leaving. Drat! (Sorry...no pic....totally forgot in the pre-airport lunch scarf and scramble)

We (being the fam bam) grabbed lunch with some old friends at Niko Niko's on Friday...err...Saturday? The past week is a blur. Anywho...it's a total dive Greek restaurant on Montrose. But amazing in all the right ways. You order at the counter, they give you a buzzer, you find a seat, then when the buzzer rings, you scarf your falafel, gyros, whatever is Greek to your heart's content. I think it was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and it does not surprise me one bit. This place was hopping and so much fun! It's a little like the Fuddrucker's of Greek food (though nothing tops Greek Town in Detroit).

Another Houston find is, again, thanks to Blaire: Ouisie's Table. Now, it's been almost 4 years since I've been there so I have no specifics for you but the atmosphere is great and I remember the food being...well...I don't remember any food going back to the kitchen if that says anything. It's definitely a more upscale local. Check it out!

And while you're in Texas, or the South, or some parts of the Southwest, please go to your nearest grocery story and get some Blue Bell Ice Cream. Even better, make a point to go to the factor. Below you will find my Texas family branch's emergency supply of Blue Bell. Yeah, they'er serious about their ice cream. And for a good reason, too!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Home for a Weekend

I went home last weekend for Veterans day. Whenever I go home, I expect to have a nice, relaxing weekend and this is NEVER the case. Friday was full of appointments and visiting a friend with a broken leg in San Francisco, so lunch was on the go. I'd been hearing about a new french cafe that opened up in my home town for about 6 months now, but had yet to experience it first hand so Friday was an opportunity to try it for myself.

I give you La Boulange, a cafe and bakery in Lafayette. I got their club sandwich, a side salad with balsamic, and a dirty chai (Chai with a shot of espresso...try it! It's amazing!)

(I finally realized I have a camera with me always...thank you, iPhone)

I scarfed half the sandwich in the car before getting a few minutes to eat the rest outside in the gorgeous Bay Area fall weather before an appointment. Holy, moly! It was amazing!

They also carry a HUGE assortment of breads, pastries, tarts, you name it. Apparently they're the go-to salad joint in Lafayette now, too. My salad was just lettuce and balsamic, but they've got a bunch of fancier ones on the menu as well.

The night before, my sister also brought home pear, grapefruit, pistachio tarts for the fam bam for dessert. Also glorious. The grapefruit was a little weird and added a bitterness that I wasn't crazy about, but if you handed me a tub of the pistachio base I'd be eating it for days--no joke. It's that good.

Well...that is all for now. Fall quarter is almost over at school, and I could not be happier for that. Cruising to the finish line in June after the new year begins. In the meantime, mostly eating in and on the go from home.

3597 Mt. Diablo Blvd.
Lafayette, CA 94549

Now I'm going to jump back in time a bit, to the night before when I grabbed drinks with an old friend from American Conservatory Theatre's Young Conservatory. She lives in San Francisco now, and suggested Fly Bar on Divisadero at Fulton. It was my first bar experience in San Francisco and I wish I hadn't been so sleepy (5am wakeup calls for crew practice will do that to you once 9pm rolls around...lame, yes. I am old. Get over it.). I got a Mangorita (note: they only serve beer, wine, sake, and soju...which I'd never had before and is amazing). The soju in my Mangorita was smooth and didn't burn like tequila would have. No pictures, cause that was not on the forefront of my brain at the time. That's a work in progress.

762 Divisadero St. @ Fulton
San Francisco, CA 94117

Last feast of the weekend occurred at Jardiniere in San Francisco (note: I spent 3 of my 4 days at home in San Francisco...so much for relaxing at home!). The familia went out for dinner on Saturday to this adorable, Art Deco restaurant just around the corner from Symphony Hall, the Opera House, etc. As soon as we walked in, I turned to my mom and said, "I feel like I'm in the lobby of a Disney Cruise Ship," because it felt like we were in Ariel's domain. Ha. We opted to go just as the performance crowd was headed to their respective entertainment for the evening which, if you're not seeing anything, is the way to go.

Dinner started off with an escarole salad with persimmon, pear, currants, and hazelnuts. We all then split fussily with wild boar and kale (THIS WAS THE STAR OF THE EVENING...as in, we should have ordered 4 instead of 1). I would go back just for this dish. For my main course, I got braised veal shank with polenta and autumn vegetables. It was good--I wish my veal hadn't had so much fat on it, but I wasn't insanely hungry at that point so it didn't matter to me. Dessert included a cheese tray, chocolate panna cotta, and pumpkin cake to share between the 4 of us. Now, I'm not much for panna cotta but this chocolate panna cotta was to die for. Between that and the fussily, I was a happy camper. But the meal did not end there. They brought us miniature macaroons (the French kind, not the coconut kind which are far less impressive): chocolate, amaretto, and...oh...I'm forgetting the third...probably a berry or pistachio. But all glorious in their own way. This is a pricier, special occasion restaurant, but worth a trek into the city.

300 Grove St.
San Francisco, CA 94102

That is all for now. I am careening towards finals week so nothing fancy for a while, but stay tuned for recommendations for Whistler, Canada over winter break!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Summer in New York

I got back to California last week after 3 amazing months in New York interning for a casting company. While there, I was able to hang out with my best friend on an almost daily basis, explore the city with friends from school upon their move out there to do the actor thing, and, obviously, eat amazing food.

Because I have now lived in New York for an entire season, I think it's safe to say: the number of amazing restaurants in New York is incredible. I think there are somewhere around 48,000 restaurants. Hearing that statistic, my jaw dropped while making me really excited to continue exploring New York even more once I'm there for good.

The below restaurants are more of a summary of some of the best restaurants I ate at. These all had some sort of special occasion around it like having friends in town, parents in town, or birthdays. List is short, passion and love for these new finds is anything but.

While my parents were visiting with my sister and doing the college tour thing, we ate at Felidia on Saturday night and Perilla with my best friend in tow on Sunday night. Both were incredible, though I think I slightly favored Perilla.

Felidia, owned by Food Network's own Felidia Bastianich, was a truly gluttonous meal. We ordered 4 of every course (one for each of us) but ate almost everything family style. 4 salads, 4 pasta dishes, 4 desserts later, we were stuffed and waddled our way back to their hotel. We literally couldn't finish everything there was so much food (my family likes to order a lot and try everything, but many of the main courses, particularly the pasta, can be split because it's A LOT). Some of the highlights of the meal included wine from Lidia's own winery in Italy (which is both good and bad since they really do push her wines) and the coffee truffle risotto, a special for the night. The risotto was really interesting, and just confirmed that though I am a foodie, my palate is not quite up to par with the elite food community. I think truffles taste like dirt. Seriously. This risotto was no acception. I think my dad was the only one in the family to like it (it's been two months so my memory isn't as vivid as it could be). Overall, the meal was an adventure somewhere in the same vein as Babbo (just realized Babbo has NOT been addressed in my blog yet...see below) though not quite as out there. Definitely a keeper if you're looking for a nice Italian meal that isn't your typical Little Italy fare.

243 Est 58th Street
New York, NY

Perilla, on the other hand, was so much fun. The items of the menu were some of the most creative I've ever seen and the price tag on everything isn't atrocious. Perilla is probably best described as American fare with inspiration from all over the world. To start off the meal, they have some really great cocktails, but the absolute highlight of the night (I'm skipping straight to main courses) was the farro risotto (uhh...can you tell we like risotto in my family?). Literally, if you gave me a popcorn bucket of this stuff I would be scraping the bottom of the barrel within an hour it was that good. Another great side was the creamed corn...never a bad idea. One of the more quirky items on the menu was popcorn popped in duck fat. The dish my dad got had this on the side, otherwise we would have ordered off the bar menu just to try it. They were good. Interesting, rich and delicious. Dessert was a collection of 5 desserts (BFF was with us, and while she's not a dessert person, if she wants to eat out with our family we make her order dessert...I think she's becoming a dessert advocate finally) the star being the souffle (a special that night) and the raspberry jelly doughnuts. No one in our family is much for doughnuts, but these were fresh...and pretty darn amazing. My mom ate one and went back for a second one, ending her doughnut fast of 20 years they were so good.

9 Jones Street
New York, NY

One of my good friends Blaire popped into New York for a night before heading upstate for summer stock. She knew one of the hostesses at Mexicana Mama Centro just south of Union Square and wanted to say hi so we wound up eating there too. Holy Mother of Mexican Food, this place is INCREDIBLE. After eating there with Blaire, I kept trying to nudge friends to eat there with me again and finally succeeded once my friend from home, Vince, came into town and he and BFF and I went to play catchup. Both times I ordered the Tostada de Ave which is the PERFECT size if you want a good size meal that's not Cheesecake Factory sized. In addition to that, chips, salsa (made fresh there!) and their daily margarita special (Cantaloupe the night Blaire and I went) you will leave more than full. For a really amazing Mexican place, the prices aren't too bad. My tostada is $10 and a burrito runs around $12.75 (not quite Chipotle priced, but WAY better!).

Mexicana Mama Centro
47 East 12th Street
New York, NY

BFF turned 22 my last weekend in town which allowed me to add two great locations (one not so much a restaurant) to my list. For dinner, we went to Via Della Pace on the Lower East Side for some killer Italian with a really laid back staff. When scouting out the place, they had no problem making a reservation for 30, reserving their whole wine celler for the 30 of us, prepping the cakes we bought, and just allowing for a great evening for all in attendance. The bruschetta list is about a page long and while I was trying out the vegetarian thing that week and opted for your standard bruschetta, they had some amazing looking kinds with goat cheese, meats of all sorts, you name it. My main course was pasta and while this wasn't anywhere near as adventurous as Felidia's it was cozy and homey. I got the ravioli di carciofi...raviloli with asparagus and parmesan inside in a sage sauce with sun dried tomatos. What's not to love about all of that? Oh, and if you go, get the red sangria. Epic.

Post dinner we went to a dive bar then do a club, Arlo & Esme which is a bar upstairs and a club downstairs. Cover charge was $5, which is nothing compared to some of the other clubs in Manhattan and this place is so much fun. By the end of the night, the music was a little to loud (my ears were bleeding for like 2 days afterwards) but I wasn't sure if it was sobriety rapidly arriving, fatigue setting in, or the DJ being a jerk. Regardless, it was a blast. If you want a really great show at the end of the night, make sure you're one of the first people out of the club when they kick everyone out and watch all the sloshed girls in 4" heels panic as they realize they have to descend 2 steps to get to the sidewalk once they're out the door. This is me being totally candid right now, but a guilty pleasure of mine is observing the trashed of the trashed.

Via Della Pace
48 East 7th Street
New York, NY

Arlo & Esme
42 East 1st Street
New York, NY

Right, so back to food...

CUPCAKES! I am so into this cupcake thing (really great blog entry about cupcakes and why cupcake bakeries are so amazing here). I've had them all: Crumbs, Sprinkles, you name it. But Pinisi's cupcakes top everything. Hands down. We're talking red velvet to die for, almond cake with chocolate ganache, and my FAVORITE: lavender with cream cheese frosting. Can we pause for a minute while I drool at the thought of one? My friend Jeremy was with my when BFF took my Pinisi virginity and had brilliant idea: twist off the bottom of the cupcake and put it on top of the frosting. Cupcake sandwich! Brilliant! Much less messy. :)

128 East 4th Street
New York, NY

I seriously cannot believe I haven't brought up Babbo yet. It's right off of Washington Square, and my family has eaten there twice now. Once with a good friend's family upon moving her into college and once with just the family. This is one of Mario Batali's restaurants and it provides some very, very adventurous Italian food. We're talking lamb's brain in your pasta, beef cheeks, and beef tongue, but there are absolutely more normal sounding dishes here. If you want to eat at Babbo, you have to call one month ahead of time by the date otherwise, I wish you the best of luck in getting in when you want. Seriously, call when they open or you won't get a table. This restaurant is on the pricier end of things, but if it's a night to celebrate all things Italian and creative, drink wine, and leave with food baby twins definitely put this on your list. The Mint Love Letters and the Sweet Potato Luna raviolis are my absolute favorite. My family actually bought the cookbook and made these last winter break because we missed them so much. Order a handful of dishes to share because they're so rich. That makes it more fun to taste thing anyways. :) They also have this side that is grilled corn or something. Get that too. You'll want a whole plate to yourself. But be nice and share.

110 Waverly Place
New York, NY

And while we're on the Batali note: Po, another restaurant of his in the West Village, is great too and much more afordable. This is much less adventurous than Babbo, but much easier to get a reservation.

31 Cornelia Street
New York, NY

Now for three bars. One more club, one wine bar, and one classy dive bar if you can even call it a dive. No, it's not a dive. It's just amazing.

Happy Endings was the location of a birthday party for a friend of mine. It's way down on the Lower East Side and when we got there, the awning said Xie He Health Club and we all went, "Uhh...where are we GOING? A health club with bouncers? This is bizarre." It was great fun though and incredible use of space. They took an old health club and made it into a bar/club/lounge. We had a private area for the birthday party and it was in an old steam room. No joke. So much fun. The DJs were great and the bartenders were super nice. I'm personally not one for crazy clubs (Note: Arlo and Esme was nuts, but fun because we had such a close group dancing together) and Happy Endings was great before about 1AM when the huge crowds started rolling in. That's just me, though. If you like dancing with an outrageous amount of people, 1AM is the time to arrive.

Happy Ending Lounge
302 Broome Street
New York, NY

Lastly (though I may very well add to this list in a week when I remember more), Sweet Afton in Astoria is a darling little bar off of 30th Ave. The wood walls make it super cozy and the drinks are well designed. I've heard the food there is good, though haven't personally experienced it. If you like pickles (I don't, but you might) they have a pickle juice cocktail that I've heard is quite fun.

Sweet Afton
3009 34th Street
Astoria, NY

Lastly, a wine bar I fell in love with despite some really interesting company that night. Ha. Aria is located down in the West Village and boasts a wine list of solely female vintners. Huzzah for that. But aside from loving that little tid-bit, the atmosphere is quite lovely. Wine glasses are only $6-$8 and they have a large table that is great for groups or to make friends with your neighbors. I believe they close at midnight or so, but if you're there before closing and just keep the place alive late into the night you might be treated with some bar food like meatballs (delish ones at that) while the staff closing up shop. ;)

117 Perry Street
New York, NY

That is all for now. I'm sure I'll add some more within the next week or so granted I have time between moving back to school, auditions, crew meetings, and class.

Happy eating!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Little Update

So it's definitely been a while...like...months since I last posted and I am not without good restaurant recommendations, I promise!!! I'm just crazy busy in New York interning all summer, slowly collecting an arsenal of business cards for restaurants. I guarantee you a HUGE post in September when I get home and regroup after 3 months in this crazy city.

On another note, I have asked for a snazzy new camera for Christmas. If I don't change my mind in the next 5 months, I'm sure there will soon be foodporndaily for you here on my own blog. Mmm...food porn. Click, Drool, Repeat. Then clean the bodily fluids off your keyboard. But seriously, go look. It's amazing.

Eat, Cook, Live, and Love.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cooking at Home

So while most of these blogs are about restaurants, cafes, etc., it probably goes without saying that I eat at home most of the time. When that happens, I have a few favorite cookbooks that are AHHHHMAYZING:

My current favorite is Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways to Incorporate Whole & Natural Ingredients Into Your Cooking by Heidi Swanson. My roommate, Annie, discovered it at Anthropologie a few days after my birthday and wished she had uncovered them before my birthday so she could have given them to me. I went out with birthday money the next day and bought it cause everything looks sooooo yummy. It's divided up into Building Your Pantry, Grains, Color, Superfoods, Natural Sweetners aka everything is super heathy and the cookbook is really well rounded. There is pasta, sushi, cookies, salads, soups, dips, granola, and more. I've only cooked out of it a few times, but the spine is already starting to show much love.

Another book Annie discovered that I bought as well is Fast, Fresh & Green: More Than 90 Declicious Recipes for Veggie Lovers by Susie Middleton. Veggies, veggies, and more veggies. I've started to eat a more vegetarian diet since veggies are what we're supposed to eat mainly anyways. I can't tell you the last time I cooked meat on my own at home. And when I do, it's just salad toppers. This book is divided up by the technique used to cook the dishes and gives suggestions as to what to eat them with.

Some other favorites:

The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. Alice was a pioneer in organic, local cooking. The cookbook explains what is in seasonally so you can go to the farmers market to pick everything up depending on what time of year and your location. I actually picked this one up after reading that Natalie Coughlin, Olympic medalist, cooks out of it.

Clean Food by Terry Walters. This is a seasonal guide to eating close to the source, per the cover. It's great because the pages are colored based on the season so, like with The Art of Simple Food, you can just turn to the "Spring" section, or whatever, and head to the farmers market.

Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero is great for anyone who is vegan, vegetarian, allergic to soy or gluten, eating a low/reduced fat diet, in a hurry, or unable to find more obscure ingredients. All recipes are labeled so it's easy to find what you need if you have any restrictions. The recipe that caught my eye, and quite honesly the only one I've made thus far, is the Lemongrass Asparagus Risotto. It was so good. I made it with a friend who also loves to cook and he said you can leave the mint out if you don't like mint. I like mint, Adam, so there. It's staying.

That's all for now. I'm sure I'll uncover more and more cookbooks as time progresses. If you know of any great cookbooks, let me know! I'm always up for fun kitchen time.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Birthday Dinner in Laguna Beach...How could I forget??

I just turned 21, and for my birthday, I decided to go to a restaurant I've been scouting for some time now: Tabu Grill in Laguna Beach. It caught my eye on Zagat over a year ago with it's score of 29 for food...there is no restaurant in San Francisco, New York, Paris, or Rome with a score of 29. AKA: Tabu Grill is AMAZING. And Lord, was Zagat right. I went with two girlfriends, one a foodie, and the other, a self proclaimed foodie after this meal. Her words from dinner: "I just realized what good food really is." I can't even begin to describe everything. We had potato ravioli, I had an asian pear salad with almonds, I got short ribs, we all split bomb.com macaroni and cheese, guava creme brulee (sounds weird...was actually really good), and the thing that three girls would obviously order: flourless chocolate cake. I literally died and went to heaven on my 21st birthday. To top it all off, they've got a great wine bar and this wine-o-in-training got a wonderfulArgentinian white. Seriously...it's a little pricey (especially for college students...thanks for the birthday treat, Mom and Dad) but for a special occasion, absolutely worth every penny.

Tabu Grill
2892 South Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

New York...Updated

Just got back from a short little stint in New York packed with interviews, shows, and, of course, food. Two great new places for meals, both down in the East Village are Veselka and Atlas Cafe. Also hit up a great place for unexpected desserts: Momofuku.

Veselka was featured in Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. It's open 24 hours a day, which means you can get your fix of amazing Ukrainian dumplings, salad, soup, burgers, or rice crispy treats the size of your face. Seriously, I kept skirting the recommendations of this place cause I though, "Meh...I'm not really a Ukrainian food person," but when a few friends of mine nudged me to go with them I was excited they had gotten me to go. I got honey and port braised short rib pirogues (Ukrainian dumplings) and sweet potato fries. So, so good. My friends got the potato pirogues (with a little bit of cheese to add flavor) and sauerkraut and mushroom pirogues. Much to my surprise as one who's not too keen on sauerkraut or mushrooms, the latter weren't too bad. While we were leaving, we all got a cocoa puff treat (a rice crispy treat with cocoa puffs, chocolate chips, and marshmallow chunks) to split. It was all so good and definitely a place I'll be hitting up when I'm down there late at night and get the munchies.

144 2nd Ave.
New York, NY 10003

My last afternoon there, I got lunch with a friend at NYU at Atlas Cafe (also down in the East Village). I'm usually not one to get overwhelmed by restaurants, but the size of this menu is incredible. The walls on both sides of this hole in the wall cafe are covered in omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as coffee, smoothies, and shakes. I got an omelette with chicken, sun dried tomatoes, pepper jack, a bagel, and salad. It was an awesome way to leave the city. The one thing I was unimpressed by was my chai tea latte. It was really watery. Stick to the food. Also, while I didn't get any dessert, the friends I went to Veselka with said Atlas has great desserts too!

Atlas Cafe
73 2nd Ave.
New York, NY 10003

Lastly, I had some great, out of this world dessert at Momofuku Milk Bar (also in the East Village...I was under the impression I hadn't spent much time down there this trip...guess I was wrong. Haha). It's a little place attached to a much larger restaurant. The Milk Bar has a very avant guard take on dessert flavors. I got a cookie with chocolate chips, cornflakes, and marshmallows. I also tried the cereal milk soft serve, which is probably one of the most bizarre things I've ever tried (up there with guacamole flavored tortilla chips). It's a texture thing...I just wasn't about it. But lots of fun in concept, and the cookie was awesome. To try next time (if I'm feeling gutsy): the compost cookie--pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, and chocolate chips. I mean...it's on their menu and teh cookie is trademarked...it's gotta be good, right?

Momofuku Milk Bar
207 2nd. Ave.
New York, NY 10003