Archive | March, 2011

Grape and Basil Crumble

30 Mar

I have yet to master shopping for fresh produce in NYC.  With only 2 of us and a NYC apartment, I try to shop in small batches to make sure things don’t go bad.  However, as many a day does not play out the way we expect, and we wind up eating out a LOT more than we should, I have the inevitable problem of having to throw too much food away. It makes me want to cry… wasting all that food.

So when I had a whole bushel of grapes that were a few days from being too soft, I had to ask myself “How do I use up a lot of grapes before they go bad?”  This is when I got creative…

First, there was mixing grapes with brown sugar.

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Then it was “what can I do that will make this unique?” and the spice cabinet was opened and basil was sprinkled and with a moment of both bravery and hope, I threw it all together.

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Then topped it with the leftover crumble I had from the Drunk ‘N Nutty Pie.

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And I popped it into the over and prayed.  I removed it when it was bubbling and starting to brown.

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And it was good.  BOY it was good. I actually wished I had added MORE basil.  The flavors were incredibly complimentary.

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So today’s lesson in baking: Don’t be afraid to mix in spices that wouldn’t ordinary be thought of as baking supplies.  Enjoy the creative spoils.

 

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Fudged Fudge

23 Mar

I have heard horror stories about fudge.  And I have also heard that you can make it in the microwave and no one will notice.  When looking for recipes one day, I decided to try the latter one and see how it turned out. 

I only had deep pans, and I was concerned about getting the fudge out.  So I greased up the sides and put parchment paper on the bottom (cut to size).  Turned out perfectly and came right out.

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And it was easy to make multiple varieties just by mixing it right in the pans (that I made small to have a few flavors).  This one had white chocolate chips in it.

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I then just used a simple bench scraper to cut into squares.

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And we had perfect little servings of fudge.

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 I still had some leftover sweet glazed pecans from the cheesecake, so I added them to one batch. (This wound up being my favorite)

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It was remarkably simple, tasty, and the texture was actually BETTER than many homemade fudges I have tasted.  Next time you need to make an impressive dessert with about 10 minutes of hands on time, look no farther than microwaved fudge. (Let the fact it was so damn easy stay our little secret)

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RECIPE
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Microwaved Fudge
(borrowed from AllRecipes.com)

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (optional.  I tried white chocolate chips and pecans.  I think it would be amazing with pretzel pieces, fruit, or peanut butter)
  • I also added a bit of salt after melting until the chocolate was to my liking

Directions

  1. Line an 8×8 inch square dish with aluminum foil.  (if you want to make multiple flavors, use a smaller pan.  And when I tried to use aluminum foil, it wouldn’t get flat and I didn’t want wrinkled in my fudge, so I just buttered the containers and put parchment paper on the bottom)
  2. 

  3. Chop chocolate and place in a large, microwave safe bowl with condensed milk. Microwave on high, stirring once or twice until chocolate is soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir until completely smooth. Stir in vanilla and walnuts. Spread in prepared pan.
  4. Refrigerate 2 hours, until firm. Cut into squares.

Bar’rique: An awesome new addition to the West Village

21 Mar

I was with friends in the West Village and texted a coworker, Sam, who lives in the neighborhood for a recommendation on where to have dinner.  He said we should definitely try Bar’rique (on Bleecker between 6th and 7th Aves, right next to Murray’s Cheese Shop).  I checked the menu and reviews on my phone and all looked good, so off we went.

It definitely has a wine bar feel, with high tables and focus on the bar.

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They also have a small, open kitchen and we had the fortune of sitting right outside.

 

We started with some delicious, but over-priced crostini.  I got the ricotta with honey and almonds.  It was about 3 bites, and cost $4.  It was good, but I’m not sure if it was $4 for 3 bites good.

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The rest of the table also tried the truffled white beans with beets and the prosciutto with cheese, peppers and capers.

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Mike thoroughly enjoyed the prosciutto one.

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For entrees, Mike got the burger.  I was surprised to see that the pickled vegetables on top included jalapenos.  I took a piece of burger from the bottom and it was very flavorful.  Nice char.

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Mike also said the burger was fantastic, juicy, and the pickled vegetables were a great compliment.  We all enjoyed the fries.  Perfectly crispy.

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Our friend, Eden, got the Mizuna salad, which is a Japanese lettuce with cinnamon roasted pears, parmesan, candied hazelnuts, and hazelnut vinaigrette.  He really enjoyed it, and I meant to try it by completely forgot.  That combination of salad ingredients is right up my alley.

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I chose the braised short ribs. They came with honey glazed turnip and Anson Mills white grits.  I am usually not a grits fan, but whatever the Anson Mills brand is, it’s fantastic.  The turnips were just perfect and holy cow… the short ribs were holyfuckinawesomelydelicious.  They had such a great flavor, on such a great sauce, over great grits.  I was totally blown away by this dish.  An easy 9 on the Nom Scale.

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Our waitress, Sarah, was incredibly attentive and sweet.  She also informed us that this place just opened in January.

Overall, everyone walked away from this meal saying what a gem this place is.  All our food was outstanding, and even the wine we had was great.  While the crostini was over-priced for the serving size, I found the rest of the menu reasonable for the caliber of food and portions.  Not cheap by any means, but completely worth every penny.  They focus on sustainable farming and wineries and have a seasonal menu that changes with the best ingredients.  It is very obvious that there is extra care in the way this food is prepared, and I highly suggest trying this place before the rest of the world finds out.  It won’t be empty on a Saturday night for long!

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10


Water Bathing the Pumpkin Cheesecake

16 Mar

 The last time I made the pumpkin cheesecake, I made the ultimate cheesecake faux pas. It cracked. Badly…

So how do you prevent a cheesecake from cracking?  It’s so simple.  Waterbath!

First, you just put some aluminum foil around the base of your springform before pouring in your cheesecake.  I usually use 2 layers.  The goal of this is to prevent any water from leaking IN.

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This is the perfect time to do some doublechecking that you have a pan to set your springform in (it’s a lot harder to figure this out once its filled).  I usually use my roasting pan.

Then you pour in your cheesecake filling and set the springform in the bigger pan.  Next, you put about 2 inches of water into the bottom pan.  My understanding is that the water keeps the cheesecake from getting hot too quickly and then from getting cold too quickly. 

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Once you bake it according to the recipe, rather than taking it out of the oven immediately, turn the oven off and crack the door.  Let that cool for about 30 minutes to an hour (or until you can remove it with your hands).  Then put it on the counter to cool for about an hour.  THEN put it in the fridge.  Yes… it’s a process,  but this version looks so much better:

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And what’s that on top you may ask? Oh just some sweet glazed pecans.  They are easy to make and fantastic as just a snack or as a topping for many things (especially pumpkin cheesecake).  All you do is heat 1 Tablespoon each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar with 1/2 cup brown sugar until it bubbles.

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Then toss the pecans into the mixture and toast it for about 6 minutes, stirring constantly, until the pecans are toasted and most of the liquid is absorbed.

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Then you can turn them out onto a Silpath (or parchment paper/foil/etc) and separate them with a fork.  Cool to room temp (in the fridge to speed it up) and enjoy. 

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Angelo Sosa’s New Restaurant: Social Eatz

14 Mar

Social Eatz opened up this past Thursday and, being the Top Chef Sluts that we are, we were there on Saturday to try it out. As long time lovers of Xie Xie, Sosa’s previous NYC establishment that specialized in Asian style gourmet sandwiches, we were excited to try this new place. We were bummed when Xie Xie closed, especially because it was so close to our apartment and because I was in love with their 1000-year-old ice cream sandwich.

The interior was very orange and black. It was a nice, modern setup with almost as much bar seating as table seating. Unfortunately, they did not yet have their liquor license when we were there. I’m curious what type of interesting cocktails will be available.

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We were given a chef appetizer… however, it was about 3 mouthfuls for 5 people. Kinda silly when we’re talking about marinated raw veggies. I couldn’t have them due to the peppers (this was an ongoing problem) but consensus was that it just wasn’t anything special… as we expect at least a little special from Sosa.

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Appetizers proved difficult for me, as all of them had peppers in them and there was no way around it. This was especially upsetting since everyone said the apps were the best part of the meal.

First up was the crispy spring rolls. It had chunks of shrimp and ground chicken with diced jicama, shredded cabbage, mushrooms, scallions, and cilantro. It had a duck sauce made from calamansi, which was described as “a citrusy Filipino fruit with a sweet and sour essence.”

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Everyone agreed that they were great. Excellent crispy outside, good portion, and flavorful.

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Mike said that the ribs were delicious, fell right off the bone, and it was a hearty 3-piece portion. They also had a “nice kick” to it, which meant I couldn’t eat them. Boooo.

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One person ordered the chili kissed tilapia. It was light, white fish brushed with thai chili, sauteed and garnished with fresh green tomato salsa and avocado. She enjoyed it and said that it did, indeed, taste “chili kissed.”

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Mike chose the bibimbop burger which was ground beef topped with a slow cooked egg, shredded carrots and cucumber, and lettuce. Calling this “bibimbop” made me think of a few traditional items that were missing, especially the rice and the mixed vegetables (especially the zucchini).

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Mike very much enjoyed the burger. He said it was a little soggy, but the flavors all worked very well together and tasted very asian.

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And what could be wrong with an egg on a burger?

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I ordered the bulgogi burger. Now I LOVE bulgogi. There is something amazing about the sweet marinade that gets put on the tender grilled beef at traditional Korean restaurants. Perhaps it’s because I have been eating bulgogi for years, both homemade (thank you Esther!) and in restaurants, but I really didn’t find anything bulgogi about this. I had to order mine without kimchi, and I wonder if Sosa was relying on the spice to inspire the flavor. I was disappointed.

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They called the cucumber topping “cucumber kimchi,” and while they said it didn’t have peppers, I’m pretty sure it did and I had to strip it off mine to maintain feeling in my mouth. And the bun? It tasted like a grocery store, soggy, bland bun. Man I was upset. I was really expecting more.

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And the fries? Everyone enjoyed them, but then we found the secret… red pepper spice on top. I had to send mine back for a regular batch which were bland. Very bland. McDonald’s bland… and not crispy enough. Man what a bummer.

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After the incredible success of the ice cream sandwich, we had to try dessert. We sampled both things on the menu.  First up was the yuzu cream puffs. They were described as “pillowy puffs filled with a sweet, creamy yuzu curd made from the tart japanese citrus fruit of the same name.” When I hear cream puffs, I think more pastry than zeppoli, but I was kind of glad that these had a granulated sugar coating rather than the overly sweet craziness of cream puffs. The yuzu was definitely a bit tart, but I enjoyed it. Just not as much as I wanted to.

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We also sampled the chocolate toffee brownie, which I had heard good things about. It was described as a “double-rich chocolate brownie warmed and glazed with a sweet toffee topping.” It was DEFINITELY rich, and definitely chocolatey… but when I think toffee, I think crunchy toffee. A few sprinkles of the crunchy type would have made this awesome, but alone it was just a good, warm brownie with a caramel sauce. It also came with cereal milk, which I always think is better in concept that in execution, but it wasn’t bad.

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The service was pretty rough.  I will give them a pass because they’re BRAND new, however, the same guy tried to deliver the wrong food three times.  And one time was when dessert was still on the table… rough.

I’m also a bit confused on the name.  Why Social Eatz?  What about this place is social?  I was thinking maybe they were going social media and would have some ipad menus or some interactions online, but so far, I see nothing remotely social about it.  Not even really in the way it is set up (tables are slightly common… but not really).  Hmmm.

I REALLY wanted to like this place. So much so that I just kept trying to find positives as I wrote this review, but what it came down to was just that it was disappointing. Nothing was special enough, flavorful enough, or interesting enough to be what I would think of as Sosa. Xie Xie had novelty about it, but it was also just fantastically delicious. If this wasn’t Sosa’s place, I don’t think I would have thought about it a second time. It just tasted like an average burger place with a different concept that wasn’t well executed. I got to see a bit “behind the curtain” since I had to have mine without the spice. It made me realize that spice was so relied upon, that the rest of the dish was just average. When I go to a place like this, I expect them to execute on a delicious dish, whether or not it is spicy.

Bummer Angelo. Total bummer.

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

Colicchio and Sons: Tasting Menu + Wine Pairing

11 Mar

Mike and I perused our Grubbit List in search of where Valentine’s Day (well… weekend) would take us this year.  We continued the tradition of totally splurging on food for special occasions (rather than expensive gifts).  We decided on Colicchio & Sons as we have been watching Chef Tom for years on Top Chef he was a 2010 James Beard Outstanding Chef.

Our reservation was for 6pm, and when we arrived at 5:45pm, we were informed that the dining room didn’t open until 6 and were invited to take a seat at the bar.  It wasn’t that full, however, it took a good amount of time to get a drink.  This was really the only misstep of the evening.

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We were the first seated and I was impressed by the expansive space, including a huge glass wine bar separating the dining room from the more casual Tap Room.

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The space appeared to be all about the vertical lines and columns.  Reaching up into space.  Even the candles were designed with this aesthetic.

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The back of the restaurant had a huge mural on the wall. We’re pretty sure it’s supposed to be the Highline, but we could be mistaken.

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(Enough about the decor… what about the food?!)

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The menu had many enticing options.

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And I was very tempted by the roasted pork with crispy brussels sprouts.

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But we decided to go whole hog and get the full tasting menu… WITH the wine pairings.  OH BOY.  (They had a VERY heavy pour on the wine pairings… it was about 3/4 of a glass each time… times 8 courses and I can’t remember the cab ride home… WHOOPS!)

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We were soon greeted with the most fluffy, buttery, warm rolls.  They were in a little skillet pan and topped with sea salt.  Before we knew it… they had vanished.  But another tray replaced it almost as fast as the first one disappeared.  The butter with it was surprisingly bland, but it was the perfect temperature.  And the buttery rolls more than made up for it.

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First up was the cauliflower panna cotta with nantucket bay scallops & black truffle.

(Wine: Blain-Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet 2008.  Very nice on its own.  Even better in combination with the earthy truffle flavors).

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The crunch and sweetness of the apple on top was a nice add on, and I liked the layering of the cauliflower on the bottom.  This dish was a perfect mash of flavors.

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Our next dish is probably the most amazing thing I have ever eaten in my life.  And I have eaten some AMAZING things!  I couldn’t believe how good this was, especially after the description of duck egg, confit gizzard, & parsnip.  There were rich, savory notes with sweet, creamy texture and the crisps on top.  Holy crap this was good.

(Wine: Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2008.  I was in love at first sip.  I will be ordering a case of this.  It had a very honey flavor and was absolutely perfect with the dish)

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I wish licking the plate was not so frowned upon at restaurants…. so I went with the next best idea.

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Next up was Hawaiian blue prawns with pork ballotine and artichoke salad.  The prawn was sensational.  Full of flavor.  Mike even called it “the best prawn EVER!”  I’m not quite sure where the artichoke part came in, but I still very much enjoyed it.

(Wine: Lopez De Heredia Rioja Blanco Crianza Vina Gravonia 2001.)

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Pancetta wrapped monkfish with black truffle and beets was served next.  I love monkfish, as I think it tastes a lot like lobster, and the beets and pancetta were a great foil for this.

It was around this time that Mike mentioned that we had not needed salt yet.  Impressive for salt lovers like us!

(Wine: Jean Grivot Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Aux Bourdots 2007)

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Next up was red quail with canterelles, bok choy, and licorice jus.  I was nervous about the licorice, as I’m usually not a fan, but this really came together.  There was a nice helping of quail (unusual) and the chanterelles were plentiful.

(Wine: Bodegas La Cartuja Priorat 2009.  It was very aromatic and perfect with the quail)

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The roasted wagyu sirloin was served with a bone marrow beignet (a bone marrow beignet!), salsify & truffle syrup.  The steak was perfectly cooked with char and the little crunchies on top were delish.  The bone marrow beignet was a fried mush of deliciousness that just exploded in your mouth.  More please!

(Wine: Paverno Vaona Amarone Della Valpolicella 2006)

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I was not familiar with salsify, besides that it was a vegetable, and I still can’t say I know what it tastes like.  But it created a lovely pillow for the perfectly cooked steak.

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I was actually bummed when the food was over and dessert was coming.  Dinner was such a satisfying set of dishes that I was scared dessert wouldn’t be as good.  Luckily, I was wrong.

The vanilla creme fraiche panna cotta with citrus, Prosecco grapefruit, and persimmon sorbet was PERFECT.  I thought this would be bland, but it was complex and had great flavors without being at all overpowering.  A great dish to serve after the steak.

(Wine: They replaced the wine originally listed with a Moscato d’Asti Cal Du Sindic 2009.  I was THRILLED as the original list was champagne and I’m not a fan.  This was DELICIOUS and perfectly sweet without being too much.)

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Last up was a chocolate souffle with a milk chocolate-earl grey parfait and cinnamon custard, candied cashews, & milk chocolate ice cream.  Honestly, the souffle was sadly a bit overcooked, but the flavors were delicious.  I also think it was hazelnuts instead of cashews, but who’s counting?  All the little pieces around it were VERY good, but I honestly did prefer the panna cotta.  According to my notes, in the picture below, the milk chocolate earl grey parfait is on the bottom, the cinnamon custard is on top, and the chocolate ice cream is in the middle.

(Wine: Broadbent Malmsey 20 Year Maderia… which I think was a port… but like I said… fuzzy)

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As I love at the end of the meal, they brought us out some petit fours.  These were shortbread with berry and dark chocolate filled with something something something and something something something.  Yeah… the 3/4 pours of wine with each dish make my brain as fuzzy as this picture.

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But I do remember thinking that the texture in this filling was perfect enough to take a (blurry) picture of.

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Then came something that put this dining experience over the edge… they sent us home with muffins for the morning!  How adorable.  And OMG were these good (and I don’t use an awful phrase like “OMG” lightly people).  I was hurtin’ when I woke up the next day after all that wine, and these muffins were like a little piece of heaven.

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Overall, Colicchio and Sons was one of the best meals I have EVER had.  Mike and I ranked it as number 2 on the list of all-time favorites (narrowly beating out Bottega (in Napa), Momofuku Ko, and Le Bernadin, while falling JUST short of WD-50 (since that was such a unique dining adventure).  I’m sure the healthy pours of the sensational wine helped lubricate my love for this place, but I thought it was absolutely sensational.  Not a single bad dish in the tasting and some that were SENSATIONAL.  I think the duck egg, confit gizzard, & parsnip dish alone deserves 10 Nom Points.

Total Nom Points: 9 out of 10


Albert Hall Tavern- Back for Brunch

9 Mar

Yes… I am writing another post about Albert Hall Tavern.  I can’t let new meals come up and not try them!

We managed to get there to try their brunch.  I was hoping a bit for some bumped up, fancy brunch choices.  But it’s mostly just the classics here.  Here’s the menu:

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Then they have a number of items from their dinner menu.

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Mike chose to get the smoked salmon bagel, which came with capers and smoked cream cheese.  The salmon was REALLY fresh and full of flavor.

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They had no fried potatoes of any kind (bummer), so we split my second favorite hangover brunch food… a side of the bacon (extra crispy).

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I got the eggs benedict with Canadian Bacon and “tomato hollandaise.” I’m not sure what made the hollandaise tomato, but it was good.  And the ham and eggs were cooked perfectly.  I wish it were served on a potato pancake, but that’s probably just my incredible fascination with fried potatoes during brunch.

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Albert Hall Tavern is one of the very few places in the neighborhood that do all-day brunch.  It has a lot of classic items, and while I like a little more panache in my brunch, this was still a very good classic brunch menu with well cooked comfort food.  (I just wish they had damn good potatoes! Or something like The Heap from Thumbs Up Diner.  I feel like Chef Bill could do a damn good heap)

Atlanta Nomming: R. Thomas Deluxe Grill

7 Mar

My last Atlanta Nom with Mark and Sara took us to R. Thomas Deluxe Grill.  I was amused to see that the owner loved parrots so much that he had cages of them around his restaurant…

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His entrance…

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His waiting area…

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And on his menu.

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He was definitely a parrot fan!  The story as I remember it was that this place was originally very small, but grew so much in popularity that they wound up putting a (very green) tent with heat lamps outside for the patrons.  The tent was so green that it actually made everything inside glow green.

 

 

It was a pretty cool space.

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I started with the “Blue Moon” Yerba Mate (which was free with a Four Square special!)  It tasted like it could cure just about anything, and was delicious to boot!

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Mark went with the french toast (which was buttery and delicious).

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With the smashed potatoes and (delicious) gravy.

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Sara showed more great self control and got the seaweed salad.  (Man I wish I could eat like that!)

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I went with the Benedict Thomas.  It was on nine grain toast (that was way too tough to cut through, sadly) and homemade hollandaise (which was missing something).  I got it with ham which was delicious, and the poached eggs were perfect.  I wanted to like this more.

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I even tried to get an action shot!

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Sara ordered a slice of the vegan cake (which was HUGE!) and I was shocked that not only was it good for vegan dessert, it was just good!

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Overall, I think this place was fun, but they could definitely use a little influx of seasoning.  And the parrots are fun.

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

Atlanta Nomming: The Vortex

4 Mar

By the time we ended up here…

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I was shocked my stomach was still holding up and I knew I would probably put on 10 pounds in this weekend.  Atlanta can eat!

So what was this crazy place? The Vortex Bar & Grill.

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They are known for their burgers and crazy attitudes.  They actually have so many awards that they had to start decorating the ceiling with them.

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Their menu is quite humorous and is worth reading.  They have rules that sound like The Soup Nazi has gone to hell and started making burgers.  Enjoy:

The decorations were like TGI Fridays… also in hell.  And the entire place glowed orangey red from the lights.

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We were STARVING by the time we made it through the hour+ wait, so we started with some sweet potato fries.  They came with a spicy sauce and a marshmallow sauce.  Marshmallow sauce!

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And THEN we found out they had sweet potato TATER TOTS!  Mmmm tots.

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I’m pretty sure this was the Hell Burger… with a roasted jalapeno on top.  I stayed FAR away from this.

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I went with the Yokohama Mama burger, which had teriyaki glaze, melted jack cheese, and a grilled pineapple.  I think the combo of meat and pineapple is always fantastic.

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And it was cooked just a little past medium… but still was VERY juicy.

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Overall, you go to the Vortex because of the atmosphere… but the burgers are damn good too.  It wasn’t the burger heaven I found just a few days prior at Flip, but it was still well worth the wait.

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10


Atlanta Nomming: Thumbs up Diner

2 Mar

The idea of another diner after the previous night was not thrilling… but Vicki assured me that the place we were going to meet Mark (my best friend from growing up) and his girlfriend, Sara, was well worth it.  And then we found ourselves trying to talk a homeless man into not stealing our car prior to heading into the Thumbs Up Diner.

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The menu was HUGE!

 

I was informed that the hot chocolate was good.  And I just loved the cup it came in.

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Though it really “got me” when I started sipping.

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And then sipped some more. How cute!

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I was advised to try The Heap, which is seasoned potatoes topped with cheddar/jack cheese and topped with 2 eggs of any style.  You could then add various things to The Heap and it all came served in a cast iron skillet.  Nom Nom Nom.

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The skillet made everything nice and crispy where it touched the pan (like Dol Sot Bim Bim Bop in Korean restaurants)

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They really are quite customizable while having the same basic dish.

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I got veggies and smoked turkey in mine.  It was SO good.  I crave this now, a month later.

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Sara went healthy and got the egg white omelete

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And then the waiter brought us a pancake… that no one ordered… but we got to keep anyway.  Mark said it was famous because it tasted more like a cake than a pancake.  That is exactly true.  Very sweet.  Too sweet for me, but if you like your pancakes sweet, this is a special one.

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I WANTED so badly to be able to finish my Heap.  It was so damn good that leaving even a bite seemed cruel.  But when it came down to it, there was so much food that I didn’t even come close.

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Overall, the Thumbs Up Diner gets my thumbs up for their Heap.  It was perfect comfort food.  Everything I could want, and will want again, over and over and over again.

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10