Feeling French in Brooklyn

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Last month I made a last-minute trip to Brooklyn to visit my friend Melissa for the weekend. I arrived on Saturday and left on Sunday, and I think the whole visit clocked in at around 27 hours. We made the most of our time together and had a lot of fun wandering around Brooklyn, eating and drinking everything in sight. On Saturday afternoon, we stopped at Sweet Melissa Patisserie for some tiny desserts.

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We first discovered Sweet Melissa in the summer of 2009 and immediately fell in love with the adorable décor and delicious pastries. Plus Melissa obviously loved the name. She took the quaint bakery in Park Slope as a sign that she needed to move from Richmond to New York, and that when she did, she needed to live in Brooklyn. Later that year, Melissa moved to Brooklyn. I visit a couple of times a year, and I don’t think we’ve ever skipped a trip to Sweet Melissa. It’s not the best bakery in Brooklyn, but it’s pretty good, and it holds sentimental for me. This was the first time I had gotten the mini desserts and I am so glad that I did. We split them while sitting on a park bench outside the bakery. I’ve never been to France, but it all felt very French to me.

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The next morning we continued to indulge our Francophile tendencies by traveling to Williamsburg for brunch at Le Barricou. I was a little nervous that I was not hipster-cool enough to fit in at this restaurant (or in this neighborhood), but I managed to blend in just fine. We slipped into the restaurant around 10:00 AM with no wait, which was a nice surprise. We had expected a long wait, but it seems that we were just early enough to get a table before the rest of the neighborhood shook off their hangovers and ventured out in search of greasy food, coffee, and mimosas.

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A new development during this New York trip is that Melissa is on an espresso macchiato kick. I had forgotten how much I liked them, so I followed suit and had a few macchiatos during my trip. The one at Le Barricou was not the best, but it did give me a jolt of energy. Kyle has poetically described mornings in Paris spent people-watching while sipping dark, rich espresso and idly chewing on pieces of baguette. Kyle didn’t really care for Paris but he fell in love with its espresso. I wonder if the experience at Le Barricou would have reminded him of his time in France or if it would have just reminded him of his last trip to Brooklyn.

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The French country style décor and the brunch menu certainly felt French to me. The vegetarian egg white omelette that I ordered might not have been very authentic, but it was tasty. The egg whites were fluffy and stuffed with delicious seasonal vegetables. The potatoes were perfect, which is a word that I don’t use often, because I’m always trying to think of ways to improve upon the dishes that I eat, but I wouldn’t change a thing about these herbed fried potatoes. The side salad had a light citrus vinaigrette that provided a bright contrast to the heavy potatoes.

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We cleaned our plates, which was not an easy task. The food was rich but it was so mouth-wateringly delicious that we couldn’t stop going back for more. I had not eaten to the point of pain in a long time, but this meal left us both completely stuffed.

One nice surprise about the meal at Le Barricou was the great service. I expected a little better-than-you attitude from the wait staff, with their tight pants, ironic facial hair, messy hair buns, and bright red lipstick. However everyone we came in contact with was very friendly and helpful, no attitude or snark at all. Maybe it was my messy bun and my skinny jeans.

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As we finished our meal, we reflected on how slightly French our short weekend had been. Walking back to the train, Melissa talked about her business trips to Europe over the last year. She said that Denmark felt really weird for her (but kind of awesome) because, being fair-skinned with long, straight, brown-blonde hair and grey-green eyes, in Denmark she was surrounded by people who looked exactly like her. I can’t imagine what that would be like, since I have always lived in pretty racially diverse areas, and have never really felt like I blended in to a crowd of people who looked exactly like me. I then wondered aloud where I would go for a similar experience. Having a mix of European ancestors in my family tree, including Irish, German, and Swedish, I don’t think I look anything other than American. Without skipping a beat, Melissa said,

“I always thought you looked French.”

Maybe it was the tiny pastries, the double shot of espresso, or the oeufs that made Melissa think that. Or maybe there’s something to it? Upon further consideration, I’m pretty sure the only thing that makes me look French is my default facial expression: bored.

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But when I want to feel French and can’t afford the transatlantic plane ticket, I know where to go.

Sweet Melissa Patisserie, 175 7th Ave, Brooklyn, NY

Le Barricou, 533 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY

Kyle and I are packing our passports and taking a little getaway this week (not to France). However, sometimes we like to feel like we’ve been transported to another country without shelling out for the expensive flight and hotel room. Food can do that for you; so can ambiance. I recall an innovative low-budget at home date night while we were in college, that involved stir-fry, chopsticks, pillows on the floor, and a kung fu movie marathon.

What do you do to feel like you’ve traveled to another country while staying in your own town?

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Everything Bagel Sprinkles or: I Left My Heart in a Brooklyn Bagel Shop

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One of the reasons I am so glad that January is finally here is that I am a little bit closer to my next New York trip. A couple of months ago, I marked January 25th on my calendar and the countdown began. I am just three weeks away from my next trip to the city that never sleeps, and I’m so excited I can hardly sleep already. For the last seven years, I have traveled to New York City at least once a year, and I never made it there in 2012. My plan is to make at least two trips in 2013 to make up for it.

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When I spend a long time away from the city, I start to feel nostalgic about the times I have spent in the big apple. There are so many different things that draw me to New York that I probably couldn’t count them all (although it might be fun to try, perhaps in sonnet format). One of those things is the bagels and flavored cream cheese. Bagels in any other city just can’t compare. Everything bagels in particular are a special treat that I always try to have when I visit New York. Oh how I miss them when I am away.

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I recently came up with a way to curb my cravings for New York bagels and I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you may have seen a sneak peek a few days ago. Everything Bagel Sprinkles are really easy to make and a great seasoning for bagels and more. I have personally found these very useful when my local coffee shop sells out of everything bagels and I have to make a multigrain bagel work instead.

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All it takes is a few of these sprinkles and I have a multigrain bagel in an everything bagel’s clothing. I think these would also be great on a veggie sandwich, baked into focaccia, or sprinkled on a savory snack like hummus (why not?). One of the ingredients is sea salt so you may need to watch your intake, but you can always dial down the level of sodium by cutting the amount of salt you add to the mix in half.

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I have just two more caveats when it comes to this stuff. First, it’s going to make your breath smell. . .

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Sprinkle shots consumed by a professional blogger on a closed kitchen course. Do not try this at home.

. . . delicious! Just kidding, the garlic and onion can actually be a little aggressive so watch out for that. This does not stop me at all (it’s totally delicious). You might want to buy stock in Trident gum immediately.

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Second, if you store this in a jar or canister, make sure you give it a few good shakes before sprinkling. The smaller pieces (sea salt and poppy seeds) tend to sink to the bottom rather quickly. You should shake or stir the mix before sprinkling so you will get an even dispersion.

Everything Bagel Sprinkles

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Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons dried minced onion
  • 2 teaspoons dried minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Preparation:

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Adjust salt to taste. Store in an airtight container. Shake before using.

19 days ‘til NYC!

NYC Foodie Date: Planning a Picnic in Central Park

Kyle and I went on a trip to New York City recently and we filled our days with food and fun. I recapped one of of our foodie dates last week and here is another. On this day we decided to sleep in and have a leisurely tour of some of New York City’s finest food shopping and most beautiful outdoor scenery. We started our day with a couple of bagels at La Bagel Delight in Park Slope.

Hola, avocado cream cheese

Stuffed with the heavenly combination of dense crusty bagels and flavor-packed cream cheese, we got on the F train and sipped our iced coffees. We took the subway to Chelsea, a neighborhood on the west side of Manhattan. Soon we were in Chelsea Market, a gigantic food emporium filled with trendy gourmet specialty shops. This is one of my favorite places in Manhattan and I was so excited to show my good-eats-loving companion around.

While in Chelsea Market, we visited a large kitchen supply store, a very cool wine shop, a brownie bakery, a cupcake bakery, a dairy bar and more. We were planning a picnic for later in the day, so we picked up some essentials along our trip. For example, bon bons from Jacques Torres. Totally essential.

We also visited One Lucky Duck, a juice bar created by the same folks who are behind Pure Food and Wine. I ordered a Thai green juice that included greens, pineapple, cilantro and lime. It also tasted very strongly of celery. We loved it!

The guy on the right is making our juice. He kept putting more and more vegetables in there; I could tell it was packed with nutrients.

From the Chelsea Market we took a little walk towards the water and did some shopping in fancy designer stores (not buying!). Kyle loved seeing the limited edition reproductions of vintage clothing and accessories at Levi’s, and I enjoyed admiring the beautiful patterns and silhouettes at Diane von Furstenberg. After getting our shopping fix, we hopped a train to Columbus Circle and picked up the core picnic items at Whole Foods. Then we headed to a nearby wine shop that agreed to open and recork a bottle for us to take into the park. It is not legal to consume alcohol while in Central Park, so I’m not going to tell you that we did.

Also on the menu: a veggie wrap, a wedge of aged mahon, and a bag of organic Ranier cherries. And bon bons of course, how could I forget? We dined near Strawberry Fields on the west side of the park, in a small clearing between the trees. We could see other people walking by on the paths just twenty feet away from where we sat, but they never saw us due to the bushes and trees around our picnic spot. It was a great balance of liveliness and solitude.

The weather couldn’t have been better. As the sun started to set, we chatted about all kinds of things, while spitting the cherry pits into the bushes and savoring the last few crumbles of Mahon and sips of Monastrell. It was a very relaxing end to an exciting day, full of new experiences and flavors. If you are looking to expand your culinary horizons while maintaining a romantic cozy vibe, I would recommend this date for you. Throw yourself into the hustle and bustle of the gorgeous Chelsea Market and the busiest Whole Foods I have ever visited, and then relax in a hidden picnic spot in the park while you reflect on all you have learned. Possibly under a young cherry tree near Strawberry Fields.

NYC Foodie Date: Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

Kyle and I went on a summer vacation to New York City last week, and I’m excited to show you all the fun foodie dates we went on while we were there. Some were budget friendly and some were splurges, but all of them were a great time. On our first morning in New York, we went for a budget option. This was one of my favorite days of the whole trip because it was filled with miles of walking and exploring and a lot of great food.

We started with bagels at Montague Street Bagels in Brooklyn Heights. This was Kyle’s first NYC bagel!

These weren’t the best bagels I’ve ever had, but they’re better than anything I’ve tried in Richmond, VA. They were delicious, and you can’t beat the location. Montague Street Bagels is just a few blocks away from this beautiful view. . .

Call me sappy, but it’s true: I never get tired of seeing the Statue of Liberty.

From the bagel shop, we walked through Cadman Plaza Park and entered the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian path from the stairs on the Washington Street underpass. Together we walked the 1.3 miles across the bridge, stopping to read the bronze history plaques and to take some pictures along the way. The pedestrian path is divided with cyclists on the right and runners and walkers on the left as you travel from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

The views are incredible and the walk is fun! This is an activity you can enjoy in the cooler months as well as the warmer months, although the winter walk is a bit breezier.

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Hey there, Melissa!

When you enter Manhattan from the bridge, you are near the NYPD headquarters. From there you have easy access to the financial district, TriBeCa, and Chinatown. On this trip, Kyle and I headed north towards Chinatown and stopped in at RBC NYC on the way. RBC has amazing espresso from a super fancy machine called the Slayer. One of these machines will set you back $20,000. The java did not disappoint.

Kyle traveled to France once and started every morning with an espresso and a pastry. He said that this espresso was the closest thing to European espresso that he has had in the United States. It was rich and oily, which sounds gross but it was actually really tasty.

I started talking coffee with the guys behind the espresso bar and they told me all about what makes the Slayer so special. This machine applies the pressure to pull the shot on a curve, gradually increasing and then decreasing the pressure from the beginning to the end of the extraction. Most espresso machines only have two pressures: on and off. The theory behind the Slayer is that the pressure curve pulls a better shot. The barista can also manually control the rate at which the pressure changes while the shot is being pulled.

After a little cawfee tawlk, they let me behind the bar to take some pictures of their fancy machine!

The barista controls the pressure by sliding the brown lever above the portafilter from left to right during the extraction. It was really cool to get the behind-the-scenes tour of how everything worked. After coffee, we took a walk through Chinatown. We found this vegetarian market that had rows and rows of vegetarian food, some dry goods and some frozen.

After walking around crazy Chinatown, we landed at Vegetarian Dim Sum House on Pell Streeet for lunch. I had heard great things about this place, and all the reviews were right. The food tastes fantastic and it’s a great value for the money.

We started with complimentary tea and then had five amazing dishes. . . for eighteen dollars! Wow, we ordered way too much food. We could only eat half of it and took half home to snack on over the next couple of days. This is definitely a pick that you should not miss if you are a hungry vegetarian wandering around lower Manhattan.

To conclude our budget friendly date, we hopped on a train to Midtown and did some window shopping before heading home to freshen up. We had a pull-out-all-the-stops super fancy date that night at Candle 79. The mood lighting was not conducive to food photos so you’ll have to take my word for it. It was an amazing meal.

Whether you go over the top with a fabulous date at Candle 79 or you go budget-friendly with a make-your-own fun value date, there are plenty of places in Manhattan to have a tasty foodie date. Check back later this week for some more of my favorite spots for delicious dates in NYC.

NYC Eye Candy

Kyle and I just got back from our whirlwind vacation in New York. Here is a quick peek at what we did and saw on this trip. More details later!

And while we are reviewing the highlights, did I mention that I met Rachael Ray?

It was an unbelievable trip and I look forward to sharing all my favorite NYC dining picks with you soon!

Motorino, Manhattan, NYC

As you may already know, Kyle and I are on vacation in New York City. We arrived on Monday afternoon and met up with our friend Melissa for dinner that evening. Her first suggestion was Motorino, a pizza place in the lower east side. After some discussion of alternative options, we all decided that Motorino was a great choice. We arrived at the small restaurant around 7:30 and were told that it would be a ten minute wait.  No problem, we walked around the block. When we returned the host came outside and told us this:

“I hate to do this because it’s really rude but I have a table available now for you but I would need it back around 8:15. Or you can wait another ten to fifteen minutes and take your time.” We must have looked at him quizzically because he immediately began to explain.

“We have a celebrity coming in and I need your table for their party at 8:15.” We looked at our watches and looked at each other. It was almost 7:45. I thought about how we had been traveling all day and were looking forward to catching up with a good friend over a bottle of wine and a Neapolitan pizza. Now I don’t have anything against 30 minute meals, when I’m cooking them in my own kitchen out of a Rachael Ray cookbook, but on this night I just wasn’t in the mood. I suggested that we wait for the next table and take our time.

Motorino makes Neapolitan style pizza in the gorgeous oven pictured above. They have a good beer and wine list, and they offer a “perfect pizza wine” which is a sparkling red blend that we really enjoyed. I don’t know about how well this wine pairs with pizza; it didn’t seem like an earth shattering life changing combination. However it was delicious, and perfect for a warm summer evening.

We ordered three pizzas and shared them all. I loved the Margherita, which was topped with a tasty tomato sauce, fresh basil, and fresh mozzarella. The crust was crispy and doughy all at once with a delicious char from the oven. As we dug in, we were joined by the celebrities of the evening. That’s right, there were more than one. Kyle played it really cool.

Melissa and I struggled to be cool too. We covertly took pictures.

We finished our meal as their pizzas were coming out. We didn’t want to leave them behind. We ordered tiramisu and another bottle of wine. It wasn’t hard to eavesdrop because although we were in a crowded restaurant, we could hear the woman of the hour loud and clear through the whole meal. For a tiny lady, she’s got a big mouth!

When we paid the check, they were finishing up. Guy Fieri left first, followed by a gaggle of guidos. Then the rest of the guests at the table of ten stood up and started to walk out. As soon as they left, we bolted out the door. See, I didn’t want to interrupt her meal but I was eager to say hi. Blame the second bottle of “perfect pizza wine” – I walked right up to her and said “Rachael! Hey Rachael, can I get a picture please?” She whipped around with a big smile on her face and said,

“Yeah, sure. Why not? Hey guys, how’s it going?” I shoved the camera in Kyle’s hands and leaned in to pose, afraid that the moment might pass if we didn’t seize it immediately. Then Rachel Ray laughed and said, “How great is that? You didn’t even ask him to take the picture, you were just like, ‘take this’ and he did it! What a guy, huh?”

 

What a guy indeed. I’m having the time of my life with my very best friend in the city that never sleeps, and I hope it never ends!

NYC Restaurant Week Winter 2011

Well it’s been two weeks since my trip to New York. . . shall we talk about it?

Lucky me, a trip to see my best friend coincided with Winter Restaurant Week. We didn’t even plan it that way originally, but it worked out beautifully. After scouring the NYC restaurant week menus online for vegetarian options, we decided on Savore, a little Italian restaurant in SoHo. Melissa and I wanted to try somewhere we probably never would have ventured into otherwise, and Savore sounded delightful. We were joined my Melissa’s cousin Becky, who was also visiting the city for the weekend.

We started with a bottle of the Tomaiolo Chianti Classico Reserva 2005.

It was a nice house chianti that warmed us up and helped us ease into the bread course, which was served with a tasty white bean puree. See, we had really been looking forward to a glass of wine and we needed the warming up, because despite having a reservation, we waited thirty minutes in a blustery doorway for our table to be ready. This place was packed on a Friday night. We stood in the entryway as bus boys brought chairs in from outside (?) and filled them in around the already jam-packed tables. We were finally seated at a table in the front window, crammed between a frozen pane of glass and a table of two diners who probably would have preferred a little more privacy. But I thought, hey, it’s a family Italian restaurant. You can expect a little closeness, and the more the merrier, right?

We ordered from a three course prix-fixe menu and quickly settled into our cozy surroundings. After all, the wait and the awkward seating arrangement no longer mattered; we were just happy to catch up with friends as we waited for the appetizers to arrive.

Melissa ordered the mussels.

The portion was huge, and we were thinking there was no way we would be able to handle three courses of this size. Unfortunately, only half the mussels were properly cooked and the rest came out raw. Big bummer, but at least Melissa still had room for her entree. I, on the other hand, devoured almost every bite of my appetizer, “Belga,” shredded endive with pears, walnuts and gorgonzola, dressed in balsamic vinegar.

Soon after I cleaned my plate, the very attentive waitress refilled our glasses of wine and returned with the main course. Melissa had filet of salmon with fresh tomato and asparagus, sauteed with prosecco.

Becky had the taglioini with shrimp and fresh tomato.

I had the triangoli, filled with squash and tossed in a light truffle puree with green peas.

The squash filling and the sauce were great, but the pasta was underdone and almost impossible to eat. I felt like I was swallowing rocks with each not-quite-al-dente bite. I thought for sure that an Italian restaurant in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood would deliver a delicious fresh pasta, but it turned out to be chewy and tough. I don’t know if it was because it was a busy night or what, but I was pretty disappointed. The conversation flowed anyway and we had a really great time, telling funny stories and reminiscing about past adventures, so I just sucked it up and enjoyed my pasta filling and truffle sauce.

Thankfully, Savore turned it around with dessert. I had the chocolate bread pudding in a chocolate-strawberry sauce. It was divine.

Melissa and Becky both ordered the tiramisu, which did not disappoint.

To top it all off, the maitre d’ came over to apologize for the long wait, and he brought us a collection of complementary drinks. We had limoncello and two dessert wines, and we thought it was a very nice gesture given the rough start to the meal. We sipped and laughed until we had not a drop to drink left, and then tried to motion to a waiter for the check. By this time the dinner rush had died down quite a bit, and there wasn’t a waiter in sight. It took us 20 minutes to flag someone down, which was quite an ordeal.

While Savore tried to redeem itself with a sincere apology and a strong drink, sadly it failed. Luckily we had a fantastic time in spite of the mediocre service and food. That just goes to show you the influence that delightful dining companions can have on your meal.

So as not to end on a sour note, I do have good news to share. While I was so excited to experience NYC restaurant week at Savore, the star meal of the weekend was at a dark and sophisticated Korean restaurant that we wandered into the next night, at the end of a long stroll through SoHo and TriBeCa. Kori delivered superb service and fantastic food. This might have been the best kimchi I have ever tasted.

And a mean soju cocktail! Witness a lovely new take on the traditional mojito.

The photo of the tofu bibimbap is even darker than these and not worth posting, so you’ll have to visit Kori and see it for yourself. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised, like me. Funny how these things work out, isn’t it?