Thursday, October 24, 2013

Global Bites without the Flights: Brazilian at Berimbau

Last week, I asked MK to join me on my next Global Bites without the Flights.

When asked where he wanted to travel to, MK suggested Rio. I spent a weekend in Brazil when I studied abroad in college but we traveled to Iguazú Falls instead of Rio de Janeiro. I highly recommend catching these waterfalls if you find yourself in South America. They are absolutely breathtaking.

While I doubt I did much research on Brazilian cuisine when I was there back in 2005 (way before my travel obsession started), I did a little googling before our dinner last week. I may have printed out the Wikipedia page on Brazilian cuisine and cross-referenced it with the menu at my chosen Brazilian place, Berimbau, but that wasn't necessarily the nerdiest thing I did last week.

Here's the lowdown on Berimbau:
  • Named after a Brazilian percussion instrument
  • Intimate setting
  • Cuisine from Minas Gerais, a region just a little inland from Rio and the Atlantic
  • Featuring a Brazilian photography exhibit on the walls with gorgeous scenes from the country
  • Bedford & Carmine in the West Village (perfect for an after-dinner intro between MK and Marie's Crisis Cafe)
The national drink of Brazil is the Caipririnha - made from Brazil's national liquor, Cachaça, distilled from sugar cane. These are traditionally lime, but I ordered mine mango-flavored. The gentleman had a Bossa Nova, a drink named after a type of Brazilian music.

Imagine my distress when one of my highlighted appetizers wasn't on the menu handed to us. I had been looking forward to the Salgadinhos (Brazilian pastries with chicken and yucca), but Berimbau no longer serves them. Instead we ordered pulled pork, sausage, and carnitas Pastels (Brazilian empanadas) and a plate of Pao de Queijo, literally cheese bread. The sausage empanada was my favorite but I would eat all three of them all day every day, with no complaints. The Pao was fluffy and tasted a little like this quiche I sometimes make in the winter which is obviously really yummy because I make it.

We went splits-kies on the entree which was a great idea because I definitely overappetized (this is a common predicament in my family). Brazil's national dish, Feijoada, described on the Berimbau menu as, "Traditional black beans stew with pork prime meats served with rice, collard greens, fresh orange slices and farofa." Farofa is yucca flour which our waitress recommended mixing with the rice and stew. We each got our own plate of rice, greens, oranges, and the farofa. The Feijoada was flavorful and delicious but I think even without the apps, it would have taken me a few days to finish on my own, but it wouldn't have been a bad few days.

{food pics by special guest photographer, mk}


Monday, October 21, 2013

A Nightmare in the West Village

As I summarized in this post two autumns ago, I normally HATE being scared. But despite this, I've always been interested in paranormal stories of ghosts and aliens, even writing a research paper in high school on supposed UFO encounters (I never claimed to be cool). It's almost as if *because* I'm so scared that I'm even more interested in learning about these things. Or maybe I just *think* that I hate being scared but I actually enjoy it. This is all making my brain hurt a little.

Anywho, Kater and I have been talking for a while about going on a ghost tour in Manhattan and thought it would be fun to do on a night near Halloween and, why not, during a full moon. We researched a few tour options and decided on Ghosts of NY. Our tour guide, Annie, was incredible. She was extremely theatrical and passionate which brought so much more life than what I would have imagined to a tour about the dead.

The tour started off on West 3rd Street, in between a building where Edgar Allen Poe used to live (later destroyed in favor of an NYU building) and the current home of Anderson Cooper - an old firehouse that he gutted and that is rumored to be haunted. We traveled all around the West Village from there. Most haunting stories begin with a tale of a tragic death. It is said that if someone may have unfinished business or may not be accepting of his death, he may stick around.

On West 10th Street, we walked by a house called "The House of Death," where Mark Twain actually lived for a little. It is considered the most haunted house in Manhattan but is smack dab in the middle of $20 million brownstones. The house is said to be possessed and Annie even said a tiny prayer that nothing evil from the house would leave with us that night - yikes! On Gay Street, we learned a few stories about hauntings in two neighboring houses of several spirits, including one who wears a top hat and is said to be seen in the streets sometimes outside of the house. Marie's Crisis Cafe, on Grove Street, which I wrote about this summer, has had several employees reporting paranormal activity, as I spoke about with one of the managers when I was there.

The most eerie part of the tour for me was definitely while we were sitting in Washington Square Park, and it wasn't just because of the several large rats that kept darting back and forth across the paths. Did you know that most of Manhattan's parks served as burial grounds at one point in the city's history? That's certainly something I'll be thinking about the next time I'm trying to relax on my zebra-print blanket with an iced coffee and a crossword puzzle. Manhattan, of course, started at the south end of the island and then was built up from there. At one time, the area where Washington Square Park is was far away from where everyone lived and became one of the first mass burial grounds in the city. 20,000 bodies are buried just a little below the fountain, the arch, the pathways, and the grassy areas where we sunbathe. The public gallows used to be right by the fountain. So after hearing this, of course we were a little freaked out.

We sat on the park benches for quite some time while Annie told us several scary stories (which I'm now realizing all strangely feature women...):

  • A story of a woman who was murdered and found in a well who apparently haunts the Manhattan Bistro, as the sealed well remains in the basement. The accused murderer's lawyers were none other than Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, who got the accused off scott-free.
  • The tragic story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 which killed over 140 young women, some of whom are said to haunt the area today.
  • The story of a woman who was hung on a tree in the park for being accused of stealing from the family she worked for (although most agree she did not). The tree still stands there today.
  • A recently-buried woman who supposedly haunted a store clerk repeatedly one night back in the day by stealing bottles of milk from his store to draw attention to the fact that she still had a baby alive with her in her coffin. (This is where my jaw dropped and I said "No. What?!" out loud.)
I thought after this tour I wasn't going to be able to sleep well, but I suppose I've become a little braver over the years. I was expecting to revert back to the days when I'd be by myself in my parents' house and run to the cookie jar in the kitchen and then race immediately back to the couch with my heart racing. I had, for some reason, convinced myself that that particular couch was the only safe haven in my house. Of course I was never so scared where forgoing cookies for my safety was an option. 


Friday, October 18, 2013

Global Bites without the Flights: Ethiopian Cuisine at Awash

The next continent I want to travel to is Africa. I have a craving for it like you wouldn't imagine, but I am having trouble taking the plunge and actually planning a trip. This is mostly because of two issues - where within this huge continent do I go and will anyone accompany me there?

Before I suck it up and just book tickets on a whim by myself one night (it'll happen soon, I can feel it), I thought I could at least start to explore the continent's cuisine as my third entry in Global Bites without the Flights.

Last week, Kater and I met at Awash in the East Village to catch up on her recent Eurotrip and to try out Ethiopian food. The first thing we did was decide on a wine. I'm not a big wino - I would much rather have beer, vodka, or chilled Patron - but when eating Ethiopian, do as the Ethiopians do. A traditional Ethiopian meal is served with tej, a honey wine. We sampled two, a regular dry honey wine and one that was similar but with blackberries as well. The blackberry wine was way too sweet for an entire meal so we went with a bottle of the Sheba Tej, which happened to have been made in New York, but it still counts.

Kater and I ordered a combo of two meats and three veggies - these descriptions are from the menu, the bebere sauce is made of chili peppers and other spices.
  • Tibs Wat - Beef strips cooked in specially seasoned berbere sauce
  • Yebeg Alicha - Tender lamb cooked in butter with onions and green peppers
  • Gomen - Collard greens cooked with onions, garlic, and green peppers
  • Yemissir Kik Wat - Split red lentils cooked in berbere sauce
  • Yater Kik Alicha - Yellow split peas cooked and seasoned with onions, peppers, and herbs
Ethiopian food is served on a flatbread called an injera. It is similar in function to Indian naan, but soft and thin. To eat your meal, just tear off a small piece of injera and wrap it around whichever foods you want - no utensils necessary. I don't think I've ever had any of the veggies before (I eat *maybe* three vegetable servings a year) and was pleasantly surprised with all of them, especially the lentils. The meats were delicious - the beef was very spicy and although I didn't realize at first that some of the lamb was still on the bone, once I figured that out, I was pretty happy.

There were two things that Kater and I forgot about while eating Ethiopian though. One is that Ethiopian food is typically eaten with just your right hand, I think we may have used both and not focused on the rules. Two is that we did not perform gursha, the act of feeding each other as a sign of friendship and love. I have a feeling if we had ordered another bottle of that honey wine, gursha may have happened. Something to look forward to for next time.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Better Out Than In": a Banksy Treasure Hunt

This month in New York City, the sun set earlier, the leaves changed colors, and the media's favorite topic finally shifted from Cronuts to Banksy, the famed graffiti artist. Each day in October, as part of the exhibit "Better Out Than In," Banksy (@banksyny) posts a picture on Instagram of a new work and the area of town it is in. The media immediately goes croNUTS in search of the new piece.

I have absolutely been loving this display of creativity in our streets and the attention it's been getting, and the fact that it's all basically a treasure hunt makes it even better. Check out this site for the full exhibit (and seriously, check it out!), but some of my favorites so far have been:
  • Spraypainting the words "The Musical" under other random graffiti words and phrases
  • A slaughterhouse truck riding around the meatpacking district with tons of stuffed farm animals making distressing noises
  • A stand set up by Central Park selling original works of "Street Art" for $60. Only eight canvases were sold as nobody knew it was Banksy's work but they're estimated to be worth $30,000 each. Imagine knowing that you walked by that stand and didn't even look twice?
  • This:

I hadn't yet ventured out to see any of Banksy's works in person but I saw on Instagram this morning that his latest work was in Tribeca, where I work. A few hours later it was public that it was on Staple Street, a tiny alley off of Jay Street, and just a few blocks from my office. I took advantage of a rumored evacuation drill (I am *not* walking down 24 flights of stairs) and snuck out to go see it for myself and I'm glad I did.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Day Trippin' - Dam, I Wish I Was Your Lover

I've lived in NYC without a car for over three years now. Whenever I need to get out of the city, it's usually to see family in NJ, or for a friend's wedding-related event, or back to school to Delaware. I definitely have not taken enough day trips to explore what else New York has to offer aside from the city. New York is a pretty big state and it is way more than just this tiny packed island that I am obsessed with.

A few weeks ago, on the most beautiful September Sunday, MK and I Zipcar'ed up the Hudson to Croton Dam, a nice hour drive north of the city. The only thing I knew about the dam prior to going was that it somehow provides water to NYC. All I expected out of the day was a fling with nature, which I don't normally get these days, but I had no idea how beautiful it would be. 

I'm no stranger to sitting in a park on my zebra-print blanket with a friend, but I definitely hadn't done this in an area as quiet and relaxing as Croton Dam. It is the perfect spot to get away from the mania of the city and enjoy bagels, goldfish, Milanos, and not one, but two flavors of Gatorade. We brought a crossword puzzle and a frisbee - and only almost hit someone in the head once.

After laying in the park for a while, we explored the area more by walking across the dam's bridge and doing a little bit of hiking down near the water. We were met with this gorgeous sight (no filter) and more.

One of the best things about a day trip is driving back with a view of the city lights coming on as the sun is setting. An even better ride involves rapping to the best of the early 2000s with the windows all the way down and the heat all the way up. And if the song your driver is most embarrassed about owning suddenly plays from his phone over the speakers and it happens to be one of your favorite songs of all time, well that's just *dam* perfect.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Global Bites without the Flights: Belgian Frites at Pommes Frites

Last fall, I visited my friend Davesh in Amsterdam when he was living there. Over a drizzly weekend, we explored three cities in Belgium. For 48 hours, we lived on chocolate, frites, and waffles. There are several Belgian restaurants in New York City and many places to get Belgian waffles in particular, including one of my favorites, Wafels & Dinges, but for this Global Bites without the Flights feature, I'd like to focus on those frites.

Davesh and I planned a Belgium reunion on Monday at Pommes Frites, the famous East Village place to go for Belgian-style fries. Belgians have been frying potatoes since the 1600s. Rumor has it, American soldiers in WWI thought they were in France while discovering the dish which is how they became known as "French Fries" instead of "Belgian Fries." Frites can be found at almost every corner in Brussels and are often served in paper cones and with mayonnaise.

It was only right that it happened to be raining when we decided to go to Pommes Frites since it rained in every city we visited in Belgium. We definitely deserved our fries after our intense Yoga to the People class nearby.

This is apparently my post-yoga hair

What makes Pommes Frites special is that the potatoes are fried twice - once to cook and once to crisp. Pommes Frites has the traditional European mayo of course, but also a wide variety of sauces to try, including Parmesan peppercorn, blue cheese, wasabi mayo, and Irish curry, to name just a few. If you are scared of commitment (aren't we all) or want a few extra fries, you can try any of the sauces you want with a few bonus fries before you order. Davesh and I got a large cone to share, with regular mayo, "especial" sauce (mayo + ketchup + raw onions), pomegranate teriyaki mayo, and cheddar cheese, because little is better to me than cheese + potatoes.

These fries sure brought us back to Belgium as planned. We made sure to reminisce about our weekend there while we dipped away - the only thing that would have made it better would have been some Belgian beer to sip at the same time.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Global Bites without the Flights: Laotian Food at Khe-Yo

As I’ve been basically only able to think about traveling for the last year and have finally stopped being anxious about not having another trip on the agenda, I decided to start a new feature on this blog. I’ve been thinking about doing this for over two years actually, and started this project once with an ex of mine but it didn’t progress very far (nor did the relationship).

One of the things I love about NYC is that it doesn’t feel like you’re in the same place the whole time. It’s a different feel whether you’re in the West Village or Upper East Side or hanging out by South Street Seaport. And beyond the neighborhood differentiator, I love that you can find little pockets of international influence everywhere. You can easily travel the world without a plane ticket.


On Thursday, Caitlin, my foodie friend and blogger at amourfou(d), and I went to check out Marc Forgione’s new restaurant in Tribeca - Khe-Yo, which is the first Laotian restaurant in NYC. I’ve never been to Laos, but when I was traveling Thailand earlier this year, many people I met had been all over Asia and suggested going to Laos on my next Asian trip. It is apparently similar to Thailand but less developed in the tourist sense, making for a more authentic travel experience. One of the best parts about Thailand is the beaches and Laos is landlocked, but the culture seems to be similar nonetheless. Laotian food is similar to but still different than food from Northern Thailand.

Before we ordered, the waiter recommended that we eat with our hands, typical in Laotian culture, which was not going to be a problem for us. It even states on the menu “Sticky rice tastes better when you eat it with your hands.”  Sticky rice is the “bread and butter” of this restaurant (and of Lao cuisine) and is served in a colorful basket of with two sauces on the side – one that is light and delicious but incredibly spicy (to the point where I almost asked for milk) and one that is thicker and eggplant-based. People in Laos eat more sticky rice than any other culture in the world and when you are finished eating, it is customary to put the top back on your rice basket.

Here’s what we ordered – the names & descriptions are from the Khe-Yo menu:

  • Pork Belly & Shrimp Crispy Rolls, Home Style with Bibb Lettuce, Perilla & Sweet Carrot
  • Smashed Green Papaya Salad {Tam-Mak-Hoong} with Green Market Cabbage & Crushed Peanut
  • Chili Prawns {Goong-Phet} with Ginger Scallion Toast & Thai Basil
  • Lemongrass Berkshire Spare Ribs {Ping-Sien-Moo} with Smashed Long Bean & Heirloom Tomato

Tam-Mak-Hoong, the papaya salad, is one of the more famous Laotian dishes and was yummy, although it felt more cabbage-y than papaya-y. The pork belly rolls came with noodles and big lettuce leafs to wrap them up in, if desired. The prawns were huge and looked even larger because they came with the heads and legs attached. The sauce was thick and spicy and the toast was tall and covered in scallions. The spare ribs were a small serving but perfect in flavor and melted in your mouth.

Each dish came with several sides and sauces to mix and match. Definitely go here with someone who you don’t mind double-dipping with because you will want to do some experimenting with each bite. You can mix everything - my favorite combo I tried was the spare ribs wrapped up in the Bibb lettuce and noodles from the pork belly rolls, topped with both sauces that came with the sticky rice.

You know it’s a good dinner date when you hear the description of the dessert and don’t even have to check with your dining partner to see if you’re going to order it. As soon as the waiter described the off-the-menu special of vanilla rice pudding with apples and peanut brittle, we both said “yes”. I would still be eating it right now if it were at all possible.

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