Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Miracle

Rachael Ray can keep quiet for a whole 20 seconds.

Source: The Food Network's FN Dish with Amateur Gourmet's Adam Roberts

Monday, February 25, 2008

Too Much Time...

...on someone's hands. This Hello Kitty extravaganza is actually a Japanese Bento box. In other words, somebody's lunch.

Source: Sanrio

Friday, February 22, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tea for Two

Did you know that a venti drip coffee at Starbucks contains 480mg of caffeine? Even their decaf has 20mg. Because caffeine tends to give me heart palpitations, I've started to drink more tea (an average cup of tea has between 40 - 60mg), particularly rooibos (caffeine free).

I've always liked a good cup of tea. Ok, I lie - not always. When I was a kid, the only tea we had around the house was that familiar red and yellow box of Lipton's, and it was always served with sugar and lemon, or when someone had a cold, honey and lemon. Lemon was a constant. Now, I think it's fine for iced tea, but I abhor it in hot tea. When my family visited London for the first time in 1976 and tried English Breakfast with sugar and cream, it was a revelation. I could get into drinking tea this way! It was like dessert in a cup, sweet and creamy, but also the tea flavor was bold and not obscured by the strident flavor of citrus. And to this day, that's the way I prefer my cuppa camellia sinensis.

Some teas aren't meant to be had with milk, or sugar for that matter. Over the years I've come to appreciate herbal teas, served neat, and always have tea with Chinese food (jasmine or hurn peen) or sushi (green, preferably genmaicha). It aids with digestion, and somehow just seems right.

I'm drinking more tea than ever these days and have been exploring different brands. Our supermarkets carry the usual suspects: Twinings, Celestial Seasonings, and the ubiquitous Lipton's. I do like some flavors of Celestial Seasonings, particularly the Madagascar Vanilla Red and the impossible-to-find Roastaroma. We keep tins of loose Twinings Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea in the cupboard, but their quality seems to have declined a bit over the years. Lipton has a place on the shelf as well, but only for use in iced tea. Mr Minx and I like to brew up a few plain orange pekoe bags along with several flavored tea bags (usually CS Zingers) in a saucepan of water, and dilute it with enough cold water to fill a gallon jug. This is our usual summertime libation.

As for new and different teas, I stumbled upon the difficult to pronounce Tea Gschwender, a German company that sells its wares here in the US via a shop in Chicago and online. They have a large selection of teas, from black to white and everything in between. I particularly like their red, or rooibush teas. Not actually a tea, rooibos is a member of the legume family, the leaves of which are used to brew a tealike beverage that is completely caffeine-free and full of beneficial phytochemicals.

Another recent discovery is Zhena's Gypsy Teas, an all-organic, Fair Trade product. The rose-flavored Gypsy Love is delicious, with or without milk and sugar.

Mr Minx and I tend to like our tea on the strong side. A tea bag dunked in water just doesn't do it, and we don't mess around with cutesy pots and infusers. Instead, we use our trusty 4-cup Mr Coffee. Two bags in the basket, or a couple tablespoons of loose tea in a coffee filter, brews up quite a nice pot. Several pots, actually. Sometimes I can get two or three out of a single batch of leaves before it starts to taste weak. My current favorite is Winter Magic (pictured above), a rooibos from Tea Gschwender, with cinnamon and almonds bits, cardamom husks, red sandalwood, and cardamom seeds.

I still drink coffee a couple of times a week - decaf - but have really started to prefer a cup of tea most mornings. What's your favorite caffeine-delivery method?

Take Action!!

If the recent beef recall makes you sick, write to your Senators and Congressmen to let your voice be heard! The Humane Society of the United States makes it easy by providing a form on their Web site with which to do so. I've already gotten a response from Senator Mikulski, so I know my concern over the mistreatment of cows AND the danger of downers entering our food supply has been noticed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Boccaccio

Because it seems so easy to make Italian food at home, Mr Minx and I seldom eat in Italian restaurants. But I thought it might make a nice change from the usual if we chose someplace in Little Italy for Valentine's Day. I didn't want to go to the red-sauce places of my childhood (Sabatino's, Chiapparelli's, Vellegia's); perusing OpenTable.com, I found Boccaccio. Not only did the Northern Italian menu sound yum, they had free valet parking, always a plus in Little Italy on a holiday or weekend.

The place doesn't look like much from the outside, and the entranceway is a bit dingy, but the dining rooms were cozy, with light walls simply decorated with floral prints, and heavy white cloths on the tables. We were seated next to the wine room, which was appealingly lined with bottles of the good stuff. After I was seated, the maitre d' brought me a long-stemmed rose and joked that my husband had requested it specially. As did the male companion of every woman in the place. The rose had little scent, but the air was otherwise perfumed with the intoxicating fragrance of freshly-made strong coffee.

The menu was a special one for Valentine's Day, with some regular menu items and some new ones. I loved that it wasn't prix fixe, as I find that most places charge up the wazoo for regular menu items that could be had for far less $ on a non-holiday. (Sorry, I like going out to eat for Valentine's and New Year's but I am not a sucker.) We decided on a collection of seafood dishes, starting with Mr Minx's lobster bisque and my calamari. The bisque was a beautiful example of the genre, a true bisque and not a flour-thickened cream soup. It was a deep orange and strongly flavored with lobster stock. Delicious. My calamari was served with both a spicy harissa aioli and a light marinara. The generous portion was lightly breaded and even more lightly cooked to the perfect texture. A tiny bit salty, but it was probably the best-cooked calamari I have eaten.

For entrees hubby chose black and white taglierini served with mussels, clams (both in shell) and calamari in a herby garlicky olive oil-based sauce. Although the portion seemed small (at least by Minx standards), the squid ink pasta made the dish very rich and filling, and the sauce was delectable when mopped up with selections from the bread basket.

I had the jumbo shrimp and scallops with vegetable risotto in a pesto pistachio sauce. The dish was almost too beautiful to eat with its creamy emerald sauce topped with three large shrimp and four perfectly cooked, barely-opaque scallops. The risotto came as a small timbale wrapped in thinly sliced zucchini. The chef clearly thinks presentation is as important as flavor, a sign that the meal was made with care.

We washed down our seafood with a lovely Pinot Grigio.

For dessert, we had the house-made tiramisu, a light affair with spongy cake and delicate flavors. Also tried was the profiteroles filled with caramel-flavored cream and topped with homemade chocolate sauce. Mr Minx had some of that aromatic coffee; my sip revealed it to be way above par for restaurant coffee and I wish I could have had a cup for myself. Unfortunately coffee after wine, even decaf, keeps me awake at night.

I really liked the old-fashioned quality of the place. Our waiter had a mellifluous Italian accent and was polite and charming, as were our busboys. Water was refilled constantly, and we never felt rushed during the entire meal. We will definitely go back to Boccaccio in the future.
Boccaccio on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mesa Grill

When I was in New York last week, abandoned to the big city alone by my traveling companion who went home sick, I decided I wasn't going to settle for a slice of pizza at the restaurant next door to the hotel. No siree, I wanted real food. My first choice was Alex Urena's Pamplona, but when I called Mr Minx to arrange my reservation via Open Table, he informed me that the earliest I could get in was 8pm. That wasn't going to work, as I hoped to be snugly tucked into bed by that time, catching up on the sleep I missed the night before. I felt a small pang of guilt that I would be experiencing a possibly wonderful meal without my dearest at my side (or across the table), so I wasn't too bothered about not getting in to my first choice. I decided Mesa Grill would work just fine, as my hubby had been there with me twice before, both in NY and in Las Vegas, and I wouldn't be experiencing anything new. Plus they had a 6pm ressie available.

I don't like eating out alone. The alone part doesn't bother me so much as the chance that some other random alone stranger might want to join me, or at least talk to me. And I'm not fond of random strangers, period. One of the first occasions that I had to eat alone was when I visited England back in 1989. I stayed in a hotel in London for a few days myself before heading off to visit friends in the country. I felt so uncomfortable dining alone in the hotel coffee shop, a place I had visited so many times before in the past with my family (my family has a "regular" hotel in London, despite the fact that we visit only about once a decade or so), that I ate the rest of my meals in my room. Once I even resorted to thawing a boil-in-bag curry in a hot bathtub and eating it tepid, just to avoid the sympathetic stares of other diners.

That was a long time ago, and I don't care as much what strangers think of me. (Still don't like talking to them though.) So I left my purse and anything else that might make me look muggable at the hotel, picked up a paperback, and walked confidently to my destination. There, I was given the choice of sitting hidden away upstairs, or on the banquette in full view of the dining room. Uncharacteristically, I chose the banquette.

After much menu deliberation (because I wanted everything on it), I ordered the yellow cornmeal crusted oysters with green curry sauce and mango pico de gallo, followed by the cornmeal crusted chile relleno filled with acorn squash, sage, and goat cheese, served with fig-cascabel chile sauce, and a side of sauteed spinach. The oysters were beautifully presented: a row of oyster shells, each with a spoonful of bright green sauce topped with a crisp oyster and a bit of mango garnish. The shellfish was wonderfully tender and the Thai style curry sauce had just the right amount of heat. It was so good, I mopped it out of the shells with selections from my personal bread basket. (I didn't get any of the two-tone corn muffins, which disappointed me, but the little rolls were delicious). I love chiles rellenos in all of their piquant/crusty/oozy glory. This one was a far more elegant version than I have experienced before, with mild and savory flavors inside and a dark rich sauce (which was a kissing cousin to the one Mr Minx did not enjoy at Bolo, although prepared with a much lighter hand) with chunks of fig. The spinach was simply but perfectly prepared, still bright green yet cooked long enough to remove its astringent quality.

I went for broke and had dessert as well. Because there was nothing cornmeal-encrusted on the dessert menu, I instead chose a huge slab of chocolate coconut layer cake served with a wee scoop of lime sorbet. The coconut must have come from coconut milk, as the flavor was present but not as the typical waxen shavings. I couldn't eat the whole thing, but it was very good.

And the whole time I was eating, I felt perfectly comfortable. The staff was charming and attentive, and no strangers approached me. I did notice another solo diner farther down the banquette, but we paid each other no mind. I felt powerful, capable, strong. (Until I got the check, at which point I felt a little broke as well.) I left the restaurant, hailed a cab immediately, and found myself snuggled down in front of the TV by 8pm. And the next day, I dined alone again, at db Bistro Moderne, but you've already read that post. ;)

Mesa Grill
102 5th Ave
New York, NY 10011
(212) 807-7400

Mesa Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 08, 2008

But Was it Worth $32?

In a word, no.

I had been wanting to try the burger at Daniel Boulud's db Bistro Moderne for some time now. The all-sirloin patty is stuffed with both short ribs and foie gras and served on a parmesan bun with a side of frites. It also costs $32, $75 if you want fresh truffle shavings on top.

During a cab ride this past Wednesday, going from one Fashion Week event to another, my friend Diane and I passed db Bistro Moderne, and I thought of that burger. So on Thursday, when I fortuitously happened to turn down 44th Street while walking to the Bryant Park tents, I had my opportunity. I decided that if the restaurant could accommodate a single diner without a reservation, I'd have that burger. If not, I'd forget about it and find something else for lunch. As it turned out, there was a free seat at the bar. I ordered my burger and eavesdropped on the conversations around me.

Across from me was a Korean couple speaking in their native tongue. They were well-dressed and she had a huge Louis Vuitton bag parked on the seat next to her. On the other end of the bar (which was really just a tall table for eight) sat the most pretentious threesome I have encountered in quite a while. Two men and a woman chatted about nothing at all with an air of importance. They spoke in some weird French/British hybrid accent that sounded exactly like the Maya Rudolph/Fred Armisen Nuni characters on SNL. It was all very superficial and strange, and at one point the woman exclaimed, "I'm so glad to be here with two of my favorite people!" I kinda felt sorry for her at that point.

Before my burger arrived, I got a little amuse geule of raw salmon with a itty bitty dab of Meyer lemon sauce, a couple of juice sacs from a pink grapefruit, and miniscule shavings of cucumber. It was absolutely delicious! The salmon was impeccably fresh and the acidity of the grapefruit matched perfectly with its oceanic unctuousness.

Then came the burger. It was a huge thing, height-wise at least, cut in half to display the filling. It was served perfectly medium-rare, with bloody juices soaking into the bun. But it was difficult to eat and very messy. The bun was a little small and since it was soggy, hard to handle. The meat itself was very fresh, but seemingly unseasoned, even with salt and pepper, and far far too lean for a burger. The short rib - usually one of my favorite cuts of beef because it is fatty and delicious, was stringy and dry and also flavorless. And the small bit of foie gras was sadly overcooked (properly prepared foie should be almost melting in texture, like room-temperature butter). It also was not seasoned. The accompanying fries, on the other hand, were perfect - slender, crispy, and salted. They were served with a trio of dipping sauces: ketchup, mustard, and mayo. I would have been satisfied with some home-made mayo, but this stuff seemed to be Hellman's.

They were selling the hell out of that burger though - I saw at least a dozen come out of the kitchen, served to everyone from businessmen to skinny fashionistas who ate every last morsel. But I wasn't impressed.

Has Daniel Boulud been fooling everyone? Well, no, if the rest of his menus are anything like that amuse, he does know what he's doing. I think he should stay out of the burger business though.
DB Bistro Moderne on Urbanspoon
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