A Quick Visit to Portugal

(By way of Chelsea, that is.)

In looking for a middle ground to meet a visiting friend, and somewhere new and novel to us both, Mac and I landed on Lupulo. Located on the ground floor of the Eventi hotel, and connected to the kitchen at L’Amico, Lupulo boasts a casual, cool and informal scene that feels almost foreign within the confines of Manhattan. Fair enough, now that we learned that the white tiles and much of the décor were brought from Portugal to mock the rustic feel of an authentic Portuguese pub.

Naturally, much of the cuisine is seafood, given the typical fare of Chef Mendes’ homeland of Lisbon. The must-have item that absolutely blew our minds was the Shrimp Porridge. Sounds funny, right? A savory style bread pudding base is mixed with another softly cooked egg and garnished with a few shrimp. The result is a fluffy and delicate appetizer that entices you to savor its richness ever so slowly. Better luck next time – this thing was gone in record time.

To note, the espargos (asparagus) with meyer lemon and sorrel was to die for and the beets dish was equally unique.

Most surprising to me was the Beirao New-Fashioned – a take on our famed favorite but with Chamomile infused Bulleit Bourbon, Aperol and Licor Beirao. Beirao is an herbal liquor that lends a distinct flavor to the drink that is balanced nicely by the sweetness of the aperol.

I will note, this is not a place to go alone – I’d suggest sharing and taking some time to try the plethora of offerings.

P.S. The name itself means “hop” in Portuguese. And the Portuguese word for small plates “Petiscos” is just the cutest lil thing – don’t ya think?

Doyers Delight

Doyers Street is a funny little corner (literally) of this ever-so-intricate city we call home. With all of maybe eight doorways – including a beauty salon, employment agency and Chase Bank — it’s certainly not a street I’d choose to duck down, especially late at night. Or lone. Or ever, really, if it weren’t for the gems within. Nestled among family-run dim sum parlors and Chinese herb stores, Doyers Street boasts some unsuspecting and almost seemingly-accidental greatness.

Doyers is home to three of my favorite locales in all of lower Manhattan, each offering a distinct specialty. First is Apoteke, a botanical-based speakeasy, located at 1 Doyers Street. While the staff may take a hot second to warm up to you, the craft cocktails are fresh, unique and just downright delicious. Once you find your way through the hidden entrance (an old restaurant-front) it’s quite easy to decompress in the prohibition-era setting for at least one cocktail. Also a great place to take a mixology class should that strike your fancy.

Just a few doors down at 13 Doyers is Nom Wah Tea Parlor — a self-proclaimed “Vintage dim sum parlor” dating back to 1920. Nom Wah encapsulates everything I’ve ever wanted from dim sum. A fluffy pork bun, light-as-a-feather shumai, and ice-cold Tiger. They also randomly serve Brooklyn Lager, which is just always appreciated.  Saddle up at the bar without the stress of potentially missing the cart of the one thing you wanted. Heaven.

Lastly, right between the two — at 11 Doyers — is Pulqueria, or as I call it “The Mexican speakeasy in Chinatown.”  Now this place not only serves a mean mezcal-rita, but also hosts some great DJ’s during the week.  A fantastic place to host a party or just have a night out, the queso and mole are forces to be reckoned with and the atmosphere just can’t be beat. Here Taco Tuesday is alive and well.

The Wing Addiction Continues: Lucky Bee

Lucky Bee cracked their doors on the LES just a month and a half ago, and the opening menu is absolutely bangin’. Another incredible example of Asian-inspiration (see Bar Goto post below), these salt and pepper wings are fried to perfection (almost fluffy!) and come with tamarind prik nam pla, a traditional Thai sauce with an acid kick. Our other favorites were the steamed pork and sesame dumplings, which were surprisingly light and fresh and the green papaya salad, which had just the right kick.

Noffs and Bennett (of Fat Radish) are taking a farm-to-table approach to Thai street food and the ambiance is to die-for. There’s a huge bar covered in fresh ingredients – think avocados, peppers of all colors and various fruits — taking up the center of the restaurant and tables are squeezed against the walls on all sides.

To boot, they offer happy hour deals daily until 7:00 p.m. and the spicy margarita is splendid ;)

Okonomi // Yuji Ramen ::: A Ramen Omakase Experience

Tucked away on Ainslie Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is a 12 seat restaurant called Okonomi // Yuji Ramen.  This Japanese breakfast spot transforms on weekend nights into a ramen omakase spot where there is only one seating per night. Here the attention to Japanese culinary philosophy is unmatched, the creativity is thoughtful and detail-oriented, and the ingredients are fresh, seasonal and local whenever possible.

Omakase: A Japanese tasting menu consisting of dishes selected by the chef

Okonomi: “As you like it” – which is funny because they make no exceptions. They also only serve one beer and one type of sake (out of tiny little cups I might add!)

So our 11 course ramen omakase began…with many takes on the ever-so-trendy dish and ingredients. All of the broths are fish based, we learned, plus chicken and pork bones picked up from the nearby Meat Hook.

Some highlights:

-          Almond-Milk Dashi (the team also is one of few restaurants to use almond pulp in some recipes)

-          Miso Risotto

-          A Ceviche served with a Rice Chip and Seasonings

-          Monk Fish Liver Ravioli

-          Crispy Ramen with Sliced Fish

-          Shaved Squid

-          Rice Noodles with Radish Shavings

Last but not least, the restaurant is committed to having the least amount of waste possible and discards only one bag of trash per day!

Bar Goto

Pegu Club is a staple when it comes to New York City cocktail bars. It is and will remain a mixology bar that allows you plenty of space, wondrous concoctions and a setting that suits just about any occasion or company.  It’s no wonder, then, that Kenta Goto’s first solo project, Bar Goto, embodies yet another perfect Manhattan locale.  Similar to Pegu’s format, Bar Goto is first and foremost a place for cocktails. The bar takes up nearly half the space, leaving only a few small tables against the wall. For your first visit, I suggest the Sakura Martini, a sake and gin based concoction that comes with a cherry blossom floating perfectly in the center.

Whatever poison you choose, it is guaranteed to be mixed with the utmost care and served delicately in the most elegant fashion. The bartenders also make a fantastic gin martini.

Should you stay for a bite (which you most definitely should) the Miso Wings are not to be missed. I was pleasantly surprised by the Kobu Celery as well, which is coated in sesame oil, shiso flakes and sesame for the perfect crunch to kick-off a light meal. Goto’s specialty is okonomi-yaki – savory Japanese pancakes made of eggs and cabbage — with unconventional fillings like pork belly, rock shrimp and cheddar cheese. These dishes are a thing of beauty, each served with house-blended Okonomi-sauce, dried bonito flakes and pickled red ginger.

In the end, the décor is clean and minimalist, the food and drink simple enough to appease your every want, and the flavors just flawlessly satisfying.

 

Christmas Treats

In our house Mounds bars are a crowd favorite, particularly in the fun size variety. So as a holiday treat we turned that dark chocolate and coconut combo into a decadent dessert.  The result was moist center sandwiched between two layers of dark chocolate cake, glazed in mocha and best served with vanilla ice cream.

Merry Christmas, all!

 

Masala Dosa

After eating our way through northern India, somehow I’ve returned home with a favorite food more typical of the south: masala dosa.

Masala dosa is a giant, thin crepe typically made from rice flour that is rolled around a small amount of curried potatoes, called potato bhaaji. The pancake is crisp and slightly sweet and the potatoes are not dissimilar to what we might call hash browns. The pancake and potatoes are typically served with various chutneys (coriander, ginger and coconut) and daal (simmered lentils) which you dip bites and pieces into.

Dosa is a common breakfast dish and street food, and we found it on most menus along the way. We also developed an affinity for cheela, a similar food item more typical of northern India but made with chickpea flour instead.

To make the pancakes, rice or chickpeas and various pulses are soaked in water and ground finely to form a batter. The batter then ferments overnight and is mixed with water until the right thickness is reached. The batter is then ladled into a hot tava (a gigantic round skillet) that is lightly greased. Once the crepe is done it’s either folded into fours or rolled like a wrap, in the images you see here.

Indian comfort food at its finest!

 

Carne Cruda 7x in Seven Days

Julie and I had a list of old and new things we wanted to consume over our six days back in Italy. Things like the classic aperitivi “Spritz” (Julie takes Aperol, while I prefer the slightly more bitter Campari) – As much mozzarella di bufala as humanly possible – Barolo, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Pelaverga, Nascetta and Franciacorta…at wineries and bars around the region – but above all, carne cruda.

The Piedmont region of Italy where we lived, studied and worked over the course of 2012-2013 is known namely for the wines listed above, a few types of formaggio and its more than perfect veal and beef. So perfect, in fact, that it’s most often consumed raw. This Langhe classic is featured on nearly every menu in the area, and is typically Fassone veal thigh beaten and finely chopped with a knife.

Our favorite locale for carne cruda is a tiny local wine bar called Centro Historico, located in the village of Serralunga d’Alba. On the hottest day of the year to date, we sat in a window seat on the second floor, overlooking the castle’s three towers as the bar’s proprietor, Alessio, popped a bottle of Franciacorta for us and got to working on our meal. Following a gorgeous caprese, and pasta dish, it came time for my favorite plate. At Centro Historico the crudo lies on a bit of olive oil and is sprinkled with Maldon salt. The only other accoutrement is a slice of lemon, if that is your preference.

The Piemontese cows are known for producing beef that is very lean and low in cholesterol, hence the coloring in the photo you’ll see here. But even though it’s marbling is minimal, the meat is tender and juicy, time after time. This small plate’s preparation is simply melt-in-your-mouth perfection, particularly when compared to the more complicated tartare preparations in the States. No capers, no boiled egg, no mustard – and I wouldn’t recommend asking for those ;) Though, when the season is right (October-November) the one addition that even further heightens this pleasurable dish is a bit of shaved fresh truffle.

NIPIGON Whitefish Fry

This one we’ll try more than twice. In fact, it’s an over 26-years-running-and-til-the-day-I-die tradition, that’s how much we like it.

Passed down from my great grandfather to my grandfather and then to my parents and now us kids, the yearly whitefish fry is the simplest joy my food memory can recall. You see, up in northern Michigan and the surrounding areas, whitefish is the white, flaky, local catch typically found on every restaurant menu. Prepared baked, sautéed, planked (surrounded by mashed potato glory), encrusted, or sprinkled with almonds (amandine), the only time we really choose to have it fried is at home.

Sourced from the Native American fishery just down highway 73, the guys there debone full fish for us and then we cut it into individual portion sizes. Simply coated in an egg wash and lightly dusted with flour, salt and pepper, the fish is layered in parchment and ready to go. Meanwhile, those not in the elbow deep in whitefish in the kitchen are prepping the pan that my great grandfather Menard used for this and only this purpose. Once the coals on our ancient Weber are ready to go, the secret frying grease (Two cans of Crisco. I kid you not, this stuff is still legal…) is added to the pan. When the oil sizzles at the flick of mom’s martini (those of you who had the pleasure of meeting my grandfather, Frank, will understand this step in the process), the fish goes in for a flash fry. Removed one by one with a slotted spoon just moments later, each golden brown piece of perfection is placed neatly between layers of paper towel to remove any excess grease.

With mashed potatoes, salad and local corn, we enjoy every last morsel as a glorious sunset closes out the day. Sadly I don’t think words can describe the light and airy flawlessness that is this meal, time and time again. But you’re always welcome to join us for your own taste of Great Lakes, NIPIGON style.

Meat Sweats in Memphis

The city of Memphis has SO much to offer. There is an incomparable heritage and passion present in Memphis eateries, offering everything from Vietnamese and Italian cuisine to expertly crafted local brews like Wiseacre.

But I have to be honest, when it comes down to it, there are a few things that just can’t be beat in the city that’s home to the blues. And those are Gus’ Fried Chicken, Rendezvous Pulled Pork Nachos, and the BBQ Shrimp at The Second Line. Those guilty pleasures of mine are by no means extraordinary, but rather basic (highly caloric) and well executed plates. Furthermore the ambience of each locale, the no frills of Gus’ – the relaxed ambiance of TSL – and the obscene allure of Rendezvous…it’s hard to resist. I did learn on my last trip to Rendezvous that they arguably also have the best brisket I’ve had in the south. Furthermore TSL’s cocktail program is hands down unbeatable in Tennessee. Above all the soul of the food in that city will warm your heart no matter where you come from or what your purpose is for being in Memphis.

And in the end, once you feel to full to stand, take that last sip of hurricane and hit the dance floor at Raifords. That time warp will cure anything that ails you, or at least distract you for a little while.