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Archive for the ‘Dining Out’ Category

It’s a little strange to jump right in with a post after over a year of not blogging, but, I’m ripping the band-aid off. Let’s do this!

Thus far, autumn has been chock full of delicious, hearty comfort food. Perhaps it’s the change in season or the change in my own personal scenery, but I’ve felt re-inspired with what I’m creating in the kitchen, and what I’m choosing when I eat out. Here are some of the more delectable and inspired foods I have been cooking, or just straight-up eating, lately:

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While I helped make these cheesy taco cups, the inspiration was all from my boyfriend’s mom, Robin. We made these together for a Mexican themed family party a few weeks ago, and they were a huge hit! To make, layer wonton wrappers, cooked taco beef, crushed tortilla chips, mexican shreeded cheese, and refried beans twice in a cupcake tin. Fill each cup with these layers, then bake until crispy and bubbling. Top with sour cream, cilantro and chives!

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After bookmarking the recipe months ago, I finally made EatLiveRun’s epic babaganoush soup! I’m fairly addicted to babaganoush (the word and the food), so this soup was a no brainer. I definitely did not expect it to be as out-of-this world flavorful and addictive as it was, though – I even went back for thirds! Stir in some grilled chicken for a heartier meal.

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This dish has been a cold-weather staple in our house for over a year now – braised red cabbage with bacon! It’s a bit reminiscent of sauerkraut, which is a fall-winter favorite of mine, but it’s heartier due to the red cabbage and shorter cooking time. The salty – sweet- sour combo of this dish will keep you coming back for more. Inspired by by Kelsey’s Essentials.

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The Apple Crisp pictured above to the right was a throw-together dessert one Friday evening, but it turned out amazingly well. I took three huge honeycrisp apples from the Farmers Market, peeled and sliced them and tossed with some brown sugar and cinnamon. Then, I topped them with a combination of rolled oats, brown and white sugar, butter, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice. Baked at 350 for about an hour, it was to-die-for! Just don’t skimp on the butter.

Also, the dish on the left is taco-smothered sweet potatoes – also a quick and easy dinner that is so SO satisfying!

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Roasted Sweet Corn! Can anyone get enough of this in the fall? It’s such a seasonal must. I had this corn a few weeks ago during a pumpkin picking expedition to Harbes Family Farm on Long Island’s north fork. They literally DIPPED each ear in a vat of butter. DIPPED! Enough said.

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Inspired by the new location in NYC, last Friday night I attempted to make Umami burgers based off this recipe from the owner. While the burgers tasted great (helped in large part by the heap of caramelized onions), I think the lack of ratios or measurements for the Umami flavorings hurt me. I under-seasoned, and this wound up tasting like a regular, albeit delicious, burger. Thankfully, the oven-roasted rosemary sweet potato fries more than made up for the lack of oooooh-mami!

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Okay. The waffle pictured above probably deserves it’s own post, a trophy, and a holiday named after it. This was consumed at Queens Comfort, an epic hipster brunch spot on 30th ave in Astoria, on Saturday. It’s called a Caramel Apple and Buttermilk Bacon Waffle, which sort of says it all. Basically, a super fluffy, apple laden waffle topped with caramel syrup and huge chunks of crispy bacon. Be still, my heart.

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Not a great photo, but above is the soup I made monday night when Adam and I were both feeling a cold coming on. Inspired by Iowa Girl Eats, this is Spaghetti (squash) and Meatball soup. I loved that it’s a heartier, more marinara-y (it’s a word) version of tomato soup, but full of Italian turkey meatballs and crisp spaghetti squash. This came together in 30 minutes and hit the spot in curing our sniffles.

Reliving these delicious meals and moments from the past month put a smile on my face, and hopefully it will help you feel re-inspired in the kitchen as it has me!

What fall foods have you been cooking lately?

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In a couple of weeks, I’m making a big move and headed to a new apartment for the first time in three years.  Since the summer of 2009, I’ve called the Upper East Side of Manhattan home – and what a wonderful three years it has been. But as much as I’ve loved the wider sidewalks, quieter streets, and hop-skip-and-a-run to Central Park of my neighborhood, I’m looking forward to heading downtown for the next phase of my life.

In recent weeks, many a balmy evening or lazy saturday have been spent meandering around the streets of the Lower East Side (namely, Orchard Street), peeking into shops, grabbing a beer at the just-opened Landbrot, or noshing on cheap, delicious eats. If there’s one thing that LES has perfected, it’s the quick, no-frills, ten-dollar meal. From the Meatball Shop on one end of Rivington to Prosperity Dumpling on the other, you can have a satisfying, taste-bud-tingling meal for less than the standard $20 bill, which many New Yorkers have come to consider the new minimum tender. As I’ve become painfully sick of paying $9 for almonds at The Food Emporium, this neighborhood comes as a much-needed breath of fresh air.

And I already have my favorite spot. Ideally located within steps of our new pad, Taqueria Lower East Side  was first introduced to me by some friends who have reputations for being excellent Mexican food scouts. I stopped in Taqueria for a quick snack one afternoon – just a simple carnitas taco, setting me back just $2.50. What? Yes. And while my expectations were in line with the price tag, they were quickly flipped on their head – each of the five bites it took to down this  shredded pork taco were simply heavenly.

I’ve been back three times since then, and I haven’t even moved to the neighborhood yet. It’s just that good. I also can’t get enough of the cheesy West-Coast-Meets-80’s-Revival decor, or the fact that they play eclectic music while screening 80’s Tom Cruise movies on the flat screens over the bar.

Dinner at sunset on Saturday was spent noshing on Taqueria’s excellent guacamole, which I find to rival both Dos Caminos (my NYC restaurant standard), and my roommate’s guac (personal standard), especially since it is consumed with still-hot freshly made corn tortilla chips. And while at Market Price, usually around $7, it’s one of the pricier menu items, it’s also a hefty portion and sure to satisfy, with a spicy kick to boot.

Other menu favorites include the tacos, obviously. In order starting with the best, my favorite is the bistec (steak), followed by chorizo (hot sausage), carnitas (pork), and fish. But really, they’re all varying shades of excellent.

Steak Taco

Carnitas Taco

Fish Taco

I also love the Chicken flautas – shredded chicken encased in tightly wrapped, deep-fried corn tortillas, served on a bed of lettuce, green salsa, topped with cheese and drizzled with queso fresca. My better half, on the other hand, prefers the tostadas: a crispy flat corn tortilla topped with (in his case) shredded pork, lettuce, salsa, avocado, cheese and more queso fresca. The only down side is you have to eat it with a fork and knife.

To drink, the touted options include margaritas, house-made sangria, and Mexican beer. While the sangria is good, it’s not great, and a beer is just as authentic and refreshing, while a good bit cheaper. We were less inclined to fill up on drinks, as you quickly fill up on the food here, especially when guacamole is on the table.

Moral of the story? I’m already infatuated with Taqueria, and haven’t even moved on to the quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas, or sopas sections of the menu. Chances are high that this will be my new LES eatery of choice, and perhaps a nice change from my go-to pizza joint on the Upper East.

What are your favorite NYC cheap eateries? If you’re not living in NYC, what’s your favorite cheap eats spot in your city?

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Let’s see, where did I leave off….

Our next two days in California took us up the coast through Santa Barbara, to the small Danish town of Solvang, where we indulged in a very  “Under the Tuscan Sun”-esque experience. By this point I thought I’d be used to the constant surprises of the California landscape, but once again the town’s facade swept me away.

Solvang itself looked like a town you would find nestled in the Alps, not just 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara. The town was decidedly branded as a mini-Copenhagen, complete with wood-framed rustic architecture and Danish-themed signs everywhere.

But the main draw of Solvang is the vineyards. Solvang is part of a small wine region in Southern California that was the stage for the movie Sideways, which helped catapult the area to popularity among tourists and locals alike. JD, who had visited before, suggested we hire a driver to take us from vineyard to vineyard, but after scoping out a map of the area, one idea particularly caught our eyes – Bike Rentals!

For just $20 each, we secured four bikes (individual bikes, not the four-seaters pictured above) for the rest of the afternoon. We set off down a footpath that led to the main road all the vineyards are located on, and after just ten minutes of biking, we had left our Danish town behind and had arrived in what looked like the south of France! Rolling golden hills, fields of cows and bales of hay, grazing horses beyond wooden fences…

And of course, vineyards!

Our first stop was Buttonwood Vineyard, which was by far our favorite stop of the day. We wound up hanging out here for over an hour, sipping our way through a seven-glass tasting, chatting with the sommelier, Brian, and eventually buying a couple of bottles to stash in our bike packs. The grounds of Buttonwood were beautiful – as a family owned and operated farm, the grounds had more than just grape vines – there were various fruit trees and a stunning garden full of benches and paths to meander.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from the beauty of Buttonwood, but we had a few more vineyards planned, and were also starting to feel our stomachs rumble. We headed to Rideau Vineyard next, another gorgeous property where the tastings were held in an old mansion with warmly lit, antique-filled rooms. As we settled in for our next tasting, we spotted the mansion’s actual kitchen, where a very enticing sign was hung:

As we were increasingly starving, we ordered two tapas plates and moseyed out to the backyard where we set up camp with our wine and had a leisurely lunch of cheeses, cured meats, nuts, airy breads and dried fruit. It was the perfect meal to accompany our tasting.

The rest of the day was spent biking up and down Alamo Pintado Road, as we headed to Blackjack Ranch Vineyards and Winery where the movie Sideways was filmed, and back down to Buttonwood to say hi to Brian one more time!

We finally made it back to Solvang as the sun was setting, and spent the last minutes of the afternoon camped out on our hotel’s pool deck, enjoying a bottle of Blackjack’s “21” Chardonnay and taking in the summer sun.

The whole town of Solvang seems to fall asleep when the sun goes down, but we were determined to make the most of our evening, so we headed over to a popular Italian restaurant in town called Cecco, just a short walk from our hotel around nine pm. We’d heard great word of mouth about Cecco in just the few hours we’d spent in Solvang so far, and we’re psyched to try it out.

Of course, we brought our own bottles of wine from our vineyard adventures, and our waitress happily decorked one as we were seated at our table. Thus began a quite excellent feast of Italian food that impressed even us spoiled New Yorkers!

We started things off with the “Polpette,” boar meatballs with rich tomato sauce, wilted kale and oregano. These meatballs were each huge, and so delicious – they were tender, mouthwatering sponges for the tomato sauce that made the whole restaurant smell like my grandma’s house. We soaked up every last drop of that sauce with extra bread.

For our main courses, I opted for the ravioli, which were mushroom ravioli in a buttery, sage-filled mushroom cream sauce. Considering I rarely eat ravioli and usually save it for special occasions, this dish totally exceeded my expectations. The ravioli themselves were very good, filled with a light mix of mushrooms and ricotta, but the sauce is what really took this dish over the edge. It was a buttery, savory infusion of sage, rosemary, and mushrooms that I probably would have drunk with a straw, given the option. As it were, I didn’t leave a speck on the plate.

I even sopped up some of the sauce with this delicious pizza that Cara ordered – the Cinghiale pizza with wild boar sausage, tomato, smoked mozzarella and kale. It was fantastic, both straight up, dipped in mushroom-sage sauce, and eaten cold on the car ride the next day.

As for the rest of the group, we had one Shrimp alla Puttanesca, and Braised Beef Cheeks on a bed of Polenta. Both diners were very happy with their entrees.

For dessert (how can you say no?!), we went with tiramisu, one of Cara’s favorites and a dish that is increasingly growing on me. I find that tiramisu can often be… just off. Either it tastes like it’s been soaked in rum, or its way too soggy, or the flavors clash. But Cecco hit this out of the park – their tiramisu was dense and moist, but not too wet, with the perfect balance of coffee and liquor flavors. The drizzle of chocolate sauce and scattering of raspberries was a great touch… well, I should know, since I ate nearly all of them!

After dinner, we were all in a sleep food-fueled mood, and since all of Solvang was already asleep, we headed back to our hotel where we channel surfed and dozed off well before midnight. What can I say, when you’re in wine country, staying away past 11 pm just isn’t in the cards!

Our food adventures in Solvang ended Sunday morning with a marvelous surprise. We awoke to discover that JD was missing, but quickly noticed him outside through the window. He was walking toward the hotel carrying a tray of four coffees atop a nondescript cardboard box. But we all knew what that meant.

Breakfast!

Discovered on a previous trip to Solvang, JD had brought us back a breakfast specialty from the Solvang Restaurant in town: Aebleskivers! These pancake balls are a Danish delicacy,  made by pouring batter into a special heated griddle with round molds. As the batter cooks, it is slowly turned in the mold to form the signature ball shape. I’d never had anything like this, but I’d describe it as the delicious love-child of Italian zeppolis, Belgian waffles, and regular old pancakes. In case you couldn’t tell, that means they were ridiculously yummy and addicting. They are served topped with powdered sugar with a sweet, fresh raspberry jam for dipping, smothering, dunking, etc. Hands down, one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had!

It was with bellies full of Aebleskivers and heavy hearts that we bid Solvang goodbye! But don’t worry, there are still a few more food adventures to come for the last day of our dreamy California vacation…

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I just got back from my first trip out to California, and man, was it a whirlwind adventure!

We – that is, my roommate, boyfriend, and self – arrived at LAX late Thursday night and were greeted by one of our closest friends, JD, who moved out to LA a few years ago. This was not only our first trip to visit him, but our first trip to the West Coast AND the first time we’d seen each other in over six months. Needless to say, the anticipation and excitement were  all running high!

Once we landed, we headed to our friend’s pad in Echo Park and crashed out, since it was close to 3 am East Coast time. Plus, we had a jam-packed schedule for our trip and wanted to kick Friday off bright and early.

And so we did, as our Friday morning began with a home cooked California-style breakfast (it only took me a few minutes to take over the host’s kitchen) made from farm-fresh ingredients from JD’s local market. Sweet local honey on hearty slices of whole grain bread, buttery wedges of ripe California avocado, thick-cut bacon from a nearby farm, and of course, sunny-side up eggs sizzled right in that bacon fat.

It’s not every day you have a breakfast like this, and we dug deep in to fill our bellies for the first stop on our trip: Griffith Park!

We headed up to Griffith Park, just a short drive from JD’s digs in Echo Park, arriving well before noon, and thankfully, before most of the crowds and heat. This gave us ample time and space to circle around the observatory and take in the views of surrounding LA (though the morning fog / smog hindered our photos) for the first time. Personally, I couldn’t (and still can’t) get over how geographically different LA is from New York. I can’t help but compare all cities to the horizontally limited, vertically stacked layout of NYC, and Los Angeles could not have been more different. Between the sprawl, the lack of taxis, and the juxtaposition of palm trees and mountains, it was hard to remember that we were technically in a “city,” not the ‘burbs. Only the small cluster of smog-obscured  sky scrapers served as reminder.

After checking out the observatory, we began a hike up into the mountains as the sun rose and heat mounted. Once again, my mind was blown by the diversity of terrain out west – one minute we were in a foggy valley surrounded by palm trees; the next we were up on a dusty mountain path, trekking past scrubby dessert bushes and passing wild coyotes. The comparative landscapes were both beautiful and intriguing, as there was always something new to look at.

Not too long into our hike, our stomachs began to grumble and all talk turned to lunch. We headed back to the car with the promise of true-blue West Coast fish tacos on the menu. And these did not disappoint…

We pulled into a divey take out spot that only had three things on the menu: fried halibut tacos, fried shrimp tacos, and drinks! Sure made ordering easy, so I opted for two fish and one shrimp taco. We watched as the cooks pulled thick pieces of fish out of batter and dropped them straight into a vat of bubbling oil, where they sizzled and popped for a few minutes until declared done. Then, they went straight onto doubled-up hot corn tortillas, and were passed over to us.

In one corner of the shop stood a counter with several types of relishes, salsa and sauces. My tacos got topped with some shredded Napa cabbage, pico de gallo, the house salsa: a sweet red radish chutney, and a small squirt of sour cream, which I can safely attest made up the strangest assortment of taco toppings I’ve ever come across – but it looked and smelled delicious! We headed outside to snag a table in the breezy shade, and dug in.

Absolutely delish! West Coast fish tacos did NOT disappoint; the fish was still hot and insanely crispy, which played nicely against the cold crunch of cabbage and refreshing notes of the pico and radish salsa. I started with the fried shrimp tacos and couldn’t believe how mouthwateringly scrumptious they were, but they were quickly upstaged by the fried halibut, which had the creamy, flakey texture of the fish upping the game. Three tacos equaled the perfect lunch, washed down by some refreshing iced water.

Once our bellies were full, it was onward and upward to our next adventure – touristy Hollywood sightseeing. Since as New Yorkers we get our fair share of crowds on a daily basis, we passed on walking around the heart of downtown Hollywood with the throngs of tourists; instead, JD gave us a wonderful tour of Hollywood by car. And by this, I mean that we spotted an actual Hollywood Tour truck, and wound up tailing it for over an hour.

That tour led us past all the hottest Hollywood sights, including the Osbourne Mansion, Kodak Theater, and tons of celebrity houses – we even saw Sean Kingston in his driveway! It was all in good fun until we inadvertently followed the tour truck into a cul-de-sac, and realized the driver was on to us when he shouted over his loud-speaker, “You’ve gotta pay for this tour – and I’ve got your plate numbers!”

Whoops! After that, we figured it was probably time to ditch the tour – and hunt down a snack.

We did a bit more driving and wound up in Westwood, the cute college town surrounding UCLA. The promise of ice cream sandwiches hung in the air, and we made tracks to Diddy Riese Cookies, a small spot with a line out the door.

Okay, here’s the deal. This was pretty much the best dessert spot ever. Warm, gooey, chewy cookies in all sorts of flavors are used to make homemade mix-and-match ice cream sandwiches and ice cream sundaes with cookies, fudge and whipped cream. All for about two bucks!!  The boys opted for ice cream sandwiches, while Cara and I each got a sundae with an extra cookie (which would be two cookies per sundae. That’s right… don’t judge).

That would be a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge, a peanut butter cookie, and a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. Sighhhh. We sat outside in the sun and totally blissed out while dipping chewy, melted soft-baked cookies in custardy ice cream. One of these is needed in New York!

After a crazy day of indulgent delights and a dozey car ride back to Echo Park, we were all on board when JD suggested we head to his favorite vegetarian restaurant for dinner, figuring we all needed some nutrients after the tacos and ice cream. Luckily, he scored a reservation at the small, chic Elf Cafe, so we walked over (yes, we walked in LA) during golden hour to snag our table on the sidewalk. Elf, gloriously, is a BYOB restaurant, and we wound up working our way through not one, not two, but three bottles of wine during dinner. Hey, when in Rome, right?

Ever since my life-changing dinner at Candle 79, I’ve been fascinated with the creative fare at vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and Elf did not disappoint. We started off with the Tahini-Avocado puree, an avocado-laden spin on hummus that was served with warm, doughy pita slices, sour oil-cured olives, and whole cloves of roasted garlic. This dip was extremely addicting, and of course, we wound up requesting extra pita.

Another starter rounded out our appetizer course – cornmeal and herb dusted buffalo oyster mushrooms with a blue cheese cream reduction. These crispy mushroom bits were almost like fries, but the real winner was the blue cheese sauce, which was more like a blue cheese butter that melted, dripping all over the warm pita bread. Insane.

As the sun set, we switched the red wine and our main courses arrived.  I went with the Morrocan Vegetable Terrine, which was, to be honest, just okay – a little one-note in both flavor and texture (and color, from the looks of this picture).

The other’s seemed way more satisfied with their entrees – a decadent, creamy wild mushroom risotto, the baked tart with thyme and garlic, stuffed with roasted tomatoes, fingerling potatoes and smoked mozzarella, and the special which was stuffed grape leaves with crispy risotto cakes. Though this food was vegetarian, overall it felt indulgent and soul-satisfying – we were not left wanting at all.

Which is exactly why we finished the meal off with dessert 😉 It’s hard to resist ordering dessert when you have four friends to share with! Elf only had two desserts that night, and we went with the Banana Tart. After a few glasses of wine, I must admit, I couldn’t tell whether this was vegan or gluten-free (was there a crust, or just caramel?) but one thing is for sure – it was delicious. The bananas were layered in a criss-cross fashion, dripping with a caramel sauce and topped with plump raisins. The dish was served with some cream sauce, which we daringly drizzled all over the tart. The bananas were so tightly packed, they were almost dough-like in consistency. This was such a high note to end the meal.

After that, we meandered around the corner for a few more beers, where I learned that strawberry beer is never a good choice, before calling in a night. After all, we had another big day ahead – in Santa Barbara wine country! For more on that, stay tuned….

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This weekend, I was invited back to Old Westbury Gardens on Long Island for their annual Taste of Spring event. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you might remember that  I attended (and blogged about) the Taste of Spring for the first time last year.

This time around, I brought my whole family along with me since it was my mom’s birthday weekend, and we all had an amazing time at the Gardens. We got extremely lucky in that the sun was shining and the weather was pretty mild compared to how cold it’s been, which really allowed us to appreciate to the gardens’ breathtaking views and ambiance.

From six to nine, we visited various tents that were set up behind the Garden’s main house (read: mansion), which were filled with treats from the event’s caterers and purveyors. We wandered around the stunning main mansion, sampled endless bites, sipped local wine and beer, and mingled with friends. All in all, it was a wonderful night.

This year, the highlight for me was the spread put out by Sterling Affair, which has had possibly the best “tastes” for two years in a row now. Both the mushroom risotto and trout salad in purple potato cups were out of this world, and their display was elegant and modern!

Across the patio, there were not one but two tables with taco tastes. First was this amazing pulled pork tacos – so simple, but savory, saucy and satisfying with just the right amount of heat. But my favorite were the ahi tuna and mango salsa mini tacos with micro greens from K Pacho! No party like a taco party 🙂

Another favorite back from last year was the thick, juicy, unbelievably tender beef filet served up by Bryant and Cooper steakhouse, which was served with a thick, dreamy mushroom and shallot sauce. It was meltingly tender.

Totally in character for me, I had two top desserts picks. First was a poached pear with Gorgonzola whipped cream and a white wine reduction. This brought me right back to our culinary school poached pears, that I topped just about every pie and pastry with since I couldn’t get enough. The tart bite of the Gorgonzola cream complemented the super sweet pear really well.

The other was the pistachio-crusted beignets. Oh. My. God. These were unreal. I must have ate about twenty of them, as I kept going back to grab more (and when the Sterling booth quickly ran out, I felt kind of guilty). A dense, cakey doughnut filled with a raspberry jam, and rolled in crushed pistachios and a slight bit of sugar – absolutely addicting! I’m already brainstorming all the confections I need to try this crumbed pistachio topping on. I’m thinking pancakes might be first…

Sixpoint and Blind Bat Breweries were also there, doing really enjoyable and informative beer tastings. Though there was delicious wine flowing as well, this year we really couldn’t get enough of the beer! The Golden Ale, also known as Hell Gate, from Blind Bat was my favorite – a slightly maltier version of a traditional Pilsner – crisp and refreshing!

Finally, my friend Ashley who is a reporter for Long Island cable provider Optimum was at the Taste of Spring, covering the event, and interviewed me about the event since this was my second year attending. I’ll be sure to post a link to the video on the blog as soon as that hits the web.

Hope everyone had a great weekend! What do you do to celebrate the start of spring? 

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted a full-fledged restaurant review on the blog, namely because cooking and developing recipe is where my head’s been at. But last night I had a meal so insanely great that I literally could not go without mentioning it. In fact, I’ve already bragged about this meal to half the people I know, so it seems pretty appropriate that I document it here.

In a spur of the moment decision, my mom and I decided to grab dinner in the city last night before I head off into the Caribbean for a whole week (yes, I know!!!) on Friday. After each having our own fairly decadent Easter weekend, we wanted to eat out, but on the lighter, healthier side. After a bit of Yelping and Googling, I stumbled upon Candle 79 on the Upper East Side. The neighborhood was right, and I found myself flat-out excited about everything on the menu, something that rarely happens. But with interesting dishes like Avocado-Coconut Tartar, Morel and Ramp Ravioli, and Tofu Vegetable Napoleon, I couldn’t wait to sample a few of the dishes at Candle 79.

Candle 79 is a cozy, two-story restaurant on East 79th street, distinguishable on a mostly apartment-lined street by its deep red facade. Inside the restaurant, the ambiance was very relaxed and calm – almost zen – in the dimly lit main dining room where large framed photographs of fresh produce dotted the walls. A soft-spoken hostess led us to the back of the restaurant, where a frosted  glass wall encasing the kitchen sat at the foot of a winding staircase. Up the stairs we went into a second dining room, right to a table at the front of the room next to a row of windows. Dinner over natural sunlight? Finally, a perk to going out to eat at 6 pm.

Another soft-spoken waitress approached, filled our drinking glasses with filtered water, and delivered our menus. We quickly decided on sharing a few dishes and ordered. Another server brought over an amuse-bouche, which was a crispy, garlicky crostini smeared with a creamy spinach puree. Though I couldn’t identify the other ingredients, I noted that it must be dairy-free given the jurisdiction of the restaurant, and was impressed at the ability to achieve such a rich creamy texture without cheese or cream. But Candle 79’s ability to impress me would only continue.

Our first course was a heap of creamy smokey hummus, drizzled with red pepper oil and served alongside an assortment of fresh olives, a full bulb of roasted garlic, thick slices of carrot and cucumber, and a flaky, melt-in-your-mouth grilled Paratha bread that reminded me of Na’an more than anything else. The dish was an awesome assortment of finger foods and dippable items, all light, fresh, and just enough to inspire a greater appetite. My mom particularly loved this dish and plans to recreate it as an hor d’oeuvre for some upcoming spring parties!

Next up we had the Arugula salad, a fresh bed of greens laden with perfectly grilled spring asparagus, artichoke hearts, baby chickpeas, caramelized shallots, and avocado. The salad was tossed in a highly addictive Ramp Vinaigrette, and as one who loves ramps, and even more so, incorporating seasonal produce into dishes, I loved this touch. The salad was absolutely perfect and I would eat this every day if I could. Note to self: make ramp vinaigrette!

Our third and final course was the Morrocan Spiced Chickpea Cake, and man, did this dish blow us out of the water. The burger itself was a thick, soft patty made of chickpeas and what tasted like sweet potato, with a nice crispy crunch to the outside. It was topped with a thick smear of fig-apricot-ginger jam, and rested on a bed of perfectly poached cauliflower and broccoli florets. All these stacked components rested on in a bath of insane green coconut curry sauce, and the plate was sprinkled with slivered almonds. We almost couldn’t decide if this was more of an entrée or a dessert, so pronounced was the natural sweetness of many of the ingredients. It was all we could do to stop ourselves from licking the plate!

In the end, over matching pots of Vanilla-Cinnamon Rooibus Tea for “dessert,” we both decided that we would gladly go vegan if someone would cook us food like this every day. At Candle 79, not only do you not miss the meat (or dairy), but the flavors are so intoxicating and the food so well prepared, that you feel like you’re being given a treat, instead of being deprived. Best of all, you leave feeling energized and healthy, rather than stomach-achy and weighed down. Even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian (god knows I’m not!), I highly suggest checking out this restaurant – you might be surprised how great you feel after a delicious meal of organic, farm-to-table vegetarian goodness!

Candle 79 is located at 154 East 79th Street at Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10021.

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Despite the fact that I love to cook, love to eat, and am a quote-“foodie,” over the past year I’ve eaten out a surprisingly dismal amount. Between work, school, externship hunting, and cooking at home often for both practice and the blog, eating out fell by the wayside. So along with a slew of other resolutions, when 2012 rolled around, I vowed this would be the year I got back on the New York City restaurant scene. Adam and I instilled a weekly Thursday night date with plans to try new restaurants more often, and at the very top of our list was “Sauce.”

Sauce opened late last year on the Lower East Side, just a few blocks from Adam’s apartment, which meant we both walked past it multiple times a week. At first we were intrigued by the restaurant’s sign, which instead of being emblazoned with just the name, was covered in endless white words upon a black backdrop: “ricotta” “grass-fed” “meatballs” “butcher” “for sale.” We heard that the neightborhood newcomer was owned by the same guy who runs “Lil’ Frankies,” which we love, and “Supper” in the East Village, and our interest grew. But it took us until weeks after the restaurant actually opened to spot the small, glowing orange script on the front door that read, simply, “Sauce.” Oh. Right!

So we planned a date, and one Thursday night, had a thoroughly enjoyable evening at Sauce on Rivington Street. Despite being closely jammed next to other couples in a row of two-tops, we were able to focus on each other, and the food, which proved to be the restaurant’s main draw. Sauce has mainly small plates, sort of an Italian spin on “tapas,” so we started with their signature meatballs, which were reminiscent of my grandmother’s and melted in your mouth. We moved on to the raw escarole, apple, and ricotta salata salad, speckled with castlevetrano olives and pine nuts, and despite our trepidation over the raw escarole, devoured ever bite of the well balanced dish.

A small bowl of handmade butternut squash tortelloni in a rich brown butter sage sauce (my favorite) along side a plate of rustic, braised grass-fed pork and beef with a caramelized pear polenta, and I knew there was no going back. We had found a true neighborhood gem; one that was well-priced, casual yet trendy, and struck a balance of excitement with its open kitchen, but comfort with its rich dishes. After four plates and much bread, we were full but not bursting, so we opted to order one more dish.

The stuffed pepper.

I’d jealously observed some other diners enjoying this small, gratined creation, and had no hesitation in ordering it. When it arrived at our table, the breadcrumbs crispy and browned, the cheesy oozing as our forks cut into it, the excitement built. And from the first bite to the last, it did not disappoint.

I’ve had plenty of stuffed peppers before – from homemade Italian, to the more Eastern European chopped-meat-and-rice variety, to even those obnoxious Stouffer’s frozen ones (thanks, college). But never had I had one loaded with chewy, dense farro and sweet, fennel-laced sausage. So rich! So creamy! Such complex flavors! I knew as we walked out of Sauce that night I would have to recreate this at home.

And so, I did. My rendition, I’ll admit, is perhaps slightly cheesier than Sauce’s – I  opted for more mozzarella than breadcrumbs on top, to give it more of a cheesy pizza-type topping. But the filling is that same sweet, tomato-based farro and sausage medley that makes Sauce’s stuffed pepper so unique. As I made these Friday night, I literally was jumping up and down with excitement (and trust me, I got teased for that), because I so rarely cook this richly for no reason, and because I could tell it would be oh, so worth it.

And it was. You’ve gotta try this. That is all.

Farro & Sausage Stuffed Peppers – makes 6 portions

Inspired by Sauce Restaurant 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of uncooked farro or spelt berries
  • 2.5 cups of chicken broth
  • 3 green peppers, cut in half from stem to base, with seeds and gills removed
  • 8 ounces of ground sweet Italian pork sausage
  • 1/2 a medium onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 8 ounces of plain canned tomato sauce
  • 6 ounces of water
  • 1 teaspoons  chili powder
  • 1 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 tablespoons of Italian breadcrumbs

Method

1. To start, cook farro by combining the 1 cup of uncooked farro with chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for about 50 minutes or until farro is tender, but retains its chew.

2.  Remove seeds and membranes from peppers and rinse well. Fill a large pot about with an inch or so of water and top with a steamer. Bring water to a simmer, add peppers and cover. Steam for about 10 minutes or until tender-crisp. Alternatively, you can boil water and cook peppers in boiling water for 10 minutes.

3. Place the olive oil, sausage and onions in a large skillet. Cook over medium high heat until the onions are tender and the sausage is brown. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the tomato sauce, water, chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, and basil; bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 10 minutes

4. Meanwhile, preheat your oven on the Broil setting.

5. Once the sausage mixture has simmered for 10 minutes or reduced to a sauce consistency, add the cooked farro, half of the shredded mozzarella cheese, and half of the parmesan. Stir well until the cheese has melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon sausage-farro mixture into the steamed peppers.

6. Top each pepper with a bit of the remaining shredded mozzarella, Parmesan, and breadcrumbs. Place in the oven and broil until the top of each pepper is bubbling and golden, about 5 to 7 minutes. Serve immediately.

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