Sunday, October 26, 2014

A #1 Meal in the Buff(alo)

Earlier this month, I was heading to Buffalo, New York with just enough free time for a meal. Per usual, I did extensive research and found the number-one-rated restaurant in Buffalo, Martin Cooks, on TripAdvisor. I was intrigued by reviews touting "Foodie Heaven," "Perfection Every Time," and "Most unique dining experience in Buffalo." To see that the lunch was actually affordable with all these great reviews solidified my decision.

My dining companion and I arrived around 12:30 for lunch and as soon as we walked in, we looked at each other and said "yep, this is going to be awesome." The building looks industrial and Brooklyn-y and is actually home to a few other restaurants as well, with apartments on the floors above. I found out later that day that one of my twitter buddies lives in the building. What I would do to live in this building now that I've experienced Martin Cooks...

The brick walls, the exposed pipes, and the open kitchen make for a comfortable, inviting atmosphere. We decided to sit on the stools at the bar so that we could watch the chefs at work. I asked the gentleman who brought us our menus, waters, and meals if he was Martin, he quickly said, "No, Martin cooks!" and gestured toward the open kitchen to Martin. "You want to talk to him? Go ahead and say hi." We walked a few steps into the kitchen and exchanged a few words but Martin was quite busy seasoning a beautiful porchetta so we went back to our stools quickly and gushed about how great this place was, even before we had a chance to try anything on the menu.

The menu had a handful of delicious-sounding items as "Apple, Bacon, Cheddar, and Peanut Butter Sandwich," "Acorn Squash, Quinoa, Swiss Chard, Red Onion, Bacon," and "Meatloaf Patty Melt with Smoked Onions, Swiss & Cheddar Cheese." We wanted to make the most of our experience, so we decided to get three meals and share. When we ordered, I started to say, "Can we please share..." and the gentleman serving us said "You don't want to share" in a teasing manner. I quickly continued, "but what if we get three meals??" and he smiled and said he would allow it.

"Our Signature Green Pancakes with Raita & Harissa" came out first, separated kindly onto two plates. What made them green was spinach, jalapeño, green onions, and cilantro. They came with a yummy white yogurt sauce (the Raita) and a chile pepper paste (the Harissa) as well as some more greens on top. The pancakes were phenomenal. We each had to force ourselves to stop eating 3/4ths of the way through to save room for our other two lunch items but I wanted badly to go on. The limitations of my stomach are more of a detriment to my life than anyone realizes.

Our next two dishes came out at the same time. The "Braised Short Ribs with Rice & Pickled Vegetables" were so tender and perfectly seasoned, but as I've had short ribs a number of times, I did not find them especially different than others I've encountered.

The "Porchetta on Ciabatta & Fried Egg" was just to die for. There was also a hint of spicy mustard on this open-faced sandwich. This was now four major food items together that I love but had never had even two of at the same time. This dish was just gorgeous and I felt bad cutting it (poorly) in half to break the yolk and make a mess of it. I made sure that even after I couldn't fit anything else in my belly, I took one last bite of this one.

I am 100% returning if I find myself in Buffalo again, especially given that the menu looks like it changes frequently. A meal like this stays with you, and not just for the afternoon afterward when you feel like you'll never be able to eat another thing for the rest of your life. 


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Get More NYC | "Welcome to New York"

Taylor Swift and I lead pretty different lives. She doesn't host trivia or have a blog or drop her phone twelve times a day, at least as far as I know. She has a cat and way more followers on Instagram than I do. But today I discovered that T Swizzle and I actually do have something more in common than a sorted dating history.

We both felt the same way when we moved to New York City - like NYC had been waiting for us to arrive, like we would change the second we moved here, like we belonged. Tay Tay's new track, "Welcome to New York," from her forthcoming album, 1989, touches on this feeling of arriving in the city where you've been dying to live, while learning to accept that the city is not always going to love you back as much as you love it.

{YouTube link} <--- if viewing from a smartphone

"Everybody here wanted something more,
Searching for a sound we hadn't heard before"

"Welcome to New York, it's been waiting for you"

"Everybody here was someone else before"

"The lights are so bright but they never blind me"

"Like any great love, it keeps you guessing,
Like any real love, it's ever-changing,
Like any true love, it drives you crazy,
But you know you wouldn't change anything"


Monday, October 20, 2014

Global Bites without the Flights: Ukrainian Cuisine at Veselka

The last time Kat and I found ourselves in the East Village on our way to Big Gay Ice Cream, we passed Veselka at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 9th Street. We both expressed desires to try the spot famous for serving Ukrainian food to the masses for the past 50 years. I made a mental note of it for our next date *and* the return of my favorite foodie feature, "Global Bites without the Flights."

That next date came a few weeks ago when a catch-up session with my favorite neighbor from college was long overdue. We dined al fresco as there won't be many more nights you can comfortably sit outside for a whole meal and a cold beer. The beer of our choice was of course a Ukrainian one, Obolon, fresh from Kiev, which we both enjoyed.

When thinking about Ukrainian cuisine, pierogis come to mind quickly. At Veselka, there are eight varieties on the menu. Since Kat and I did not want to make some of the pierogis feel bad about themselves, we ordered a plate with one of each, steamed instead of fried. The best pierogis in my opinion happened to be the more traditional ones - potato, cheese, and "meat," which turned out to be some sort of beef. The spinach + cream cheese, goat cheese, and broccoli + cheese were also tasty. I have to admit, I did not love the sauerkraut + mushroom or the sweet potato ones.

Kat and I also split a Beef Stroganoff (sliced beef, slow-simmered, in a mushroom sauce, over egg noodles). This was a safe order but it screamed "comfort food" to me, so we went with it over the Borscht, a traditional soup made of beetroot. I don't know if I like beets, and a soup full of beet juice is probably not a subtle enough way for me to find out.

You really shouldn't do a Global Bites without a dessert, but instead of something from the dessert menu, we chose a breakfast item. We ordered a Blintz, a crepe-like dish stuffed with a "lightly sweetened Farmer's cheese" and served with applesauce, raspberry, and a sweet cream. It was delicious but was probably *too* stuffed with the cheese. I couldn't finish my half. I did finish my beer though. That's what really counts.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

What You Get For Waking Up in Montreal

Sometimes when I travel, I book a hotel deal in which breakfast is included. This usually works out well and I feel fueled for the day ahead and hit the ground running, but it is not the way I wanted to roll on our recent family jaunt to Montreal. As per usual, I received plenty of food recommendations from friends before heading to the Great White North. I quickly noticed a pattern from my list of suggestions - that the breakfast foods in Montreal were going to kick booty and I wanted in on all of it.

Here are my picks for Montreal Mornings:

Montreal has an intense French influence so obviously I was excited about the crepes. The World Wanderer recommended this particular creperie in Old Montreal, and it did not disappoint.

Créperie Chez Suzette does not open until 11 so on a normal weekend day, this would be perfect for breakfast. Since we only had a few days in town and were up and at it early, we stopped in for a late lunch instead, at 2:50. A sign outside and our waitress informed us that all crepes ordered before 3:00 would be half off so we spent the next ten minutes panicking about what to choose from the extensive menu. "We don't have time to order drinks! Worry about that later!"

Miraculously, we were able to order three half-priced crepes given our limited time to decide. We ordered two meals and one dessert to share. I would say that we split them all evenly, but I'm pretty sure my dad was spooning all of the excess sauces off the plates.

We stuffed our faces with:

  • La Supreme de poulet - The Chicken Supreme (which sounds like a Burger King sandwich) - stuffed with tender and juicy morsels of chicken, served with a mushroom sauce
  • La Parisienne - stuffed with Brie cheese, fresh apples, and served with 100% pure Quebec maple syrup
  • La Jamaiciane - with bananas, strawberries, Chantilly cream, ice cream, and a delicious Belgian chocolate sauce

Le Cartet is an adorable spot in Old Montreal for a yummy sit-down breakfast. I love a breakfast with many different tastes and that is exactly what I got. I ordered the poached eggs, which, in my experience, many places mess up, usually because the whites are a little too runny. These poached eggs were the most perfect I'd ever had. I also loved all the sides - the country bread toast, potatoes, grapefruit, orange, pineapple, and strawberries. I obviously didn't eat the greens because I am who I am.

When we sat down, I had noticed that the magnets on the wall spelling out the name of the restaurant said "El Cartet." I thought for a second we'd ended up coming to the wrong place and that this wasn't where my coworker had recommended, but at some point during the meal, one of the servers went up to the wall and fixed it.

I am pretty obsessed with the artwork that was on the wall I was looking at the whole meal instead of paying attention to my family. James Kennedy {link to artwork here} does some pretty amazing pieces with the shapes of individual continents carved out of a dark metal background. If anyone is looking for expensive Christmas gifts for me, this is the way to go.

(3) St-Viateur Bagel

I'm clearly a huge fan of New York bagels {read my latest love letter here} so of course I had to see what the deal was with Montreal bagels. I'd read that some (gasp!) think that Montreal bagels are better than those in NYC! I'd tried a Montreal-style bagel from Black Seed Bagels this summer, but I still had to try a real-life one while I was there. It is said that there are two choices for Montreal bagels and they've been battling for decades - St-Viateur's or Fairmount's. Most of what I'd read stated that in recent years, St-Viateur's has won this race, so it was to there I dragged my family.

Although Montreal bagels are indeed smaller than New York's, I was delighted when instead of just one bagel, I actually received a bagel and a fourth on my plate, which also led me to believe that someone in the kitchen had a nice snack of the rest of that bagel. 

The bagels are indeed delicious but are more similar in looks than tastes to New York bagels. They are denser and chewier and if I hadn't known what I was eating, I may not have guessed it by taste alone. While the bagel was quality, I did misstep by ordering low-fat cream cheese because it tasted more like sour cream than the low-fat stuff I am used to. I ended up stealing some of Katie's chive full-fat cream cheese and continued on my way.

When we finished our breakfasts, we ordered a few bagels to go and enjoyed them later in the day. My dad and I got cinnamon & raisin, my mom had a poppy, and my sister won this round with her rosemary & sea salt bagel. Next time I am in Montreal, I am ordering the rosemary & sea salt by the dozen. With full-fat cream cheese and lots of it.

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