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Monday, December 9, 2013

Dinner in Abu Dhabi: Hatam

I landed in Dubai and got picked up to go immediately to Abu Dhabi, which is approximately an hour and 15 minutes drive away. The first culture shock of the trip was the driving. It was apparent that speeding was not only acceptable, but it was a way of life. The 8-lane highway afforded plenty of space on the road but if you have a car behind you creeping up, you better get out of the way fast before they get aggressive. The driving was stop-and-go despite the lack of cars on the road. My driver slammed on the breaks every so often, then he'd hit the gas after. By the end of the trip, I discovered that the people of United Arab Emirates do this on purpose to avoid getting tickets by speeding sensors. I was very grateful to have an empty stomach at this moment, but it wasn't long before I fill myself with a big middle eastern dinner....

The name of the restaurant was Hatam. Located in the Marina Mall, we sat in balcony seating at this Iranian restaurant. We started with a few orders of hummus and Iranian bread. The waiter brought over a plate of raw veggies and cheese to wrap in the bread with hummus. The greens were delicious. The salads were simple yet mind blowing with toasted pita chips and a sweet vinaigrette. The rice came with dried berries, it was flavorful and aromatic. For my entree, I had the kebab trio with fish, lamb, and chicken. I ignored the french fries on my plate because, well, this is Abu Dhabi not McDonald's!!!!

Let's not forget, this is a dry country so water was my cocktail of choice. It's amazing how much money you save on a dinner bill when you don't order drinks! This opened my eyes to a new way of living that I could bring back to the states with me. But I won't. 

As we were exiting the restaurant I noticed the booths were very private with curtains that can be drawn to conceal guests. The purpose of this is to allow the local women in full burkas to expose their faces while eating without men and other patrons seeing them. 

This was my first experience in Abu Dhabi and already it's quite another world. I think I'll be back!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Frankfurt Street Meat

It would be my luck to walk out of my hotel and find a street fair filled with street meats and popular German dishes. I followed my nose to the first vendor who had a giant metal swing full of meat hanging over a fire pit. It worked for me. For €2.80 I got the "original thüringer". I didn't know what to expect, but it sounded like a good place to start. I got a plate of sausage and fries. I drowned the plate in ketchup and mustard and devoured it on the spot. 

Locals were feasting on weinerschnitzel and curry wurst on their lunch breaks. Some were ever enjoying a glass of wine from the truck designated for drinks with high top tables out front resembling an outdoor bar scene. Some girls ordered thin crust pizza made-to-order from a cheese truck. Point to your cheese of choice and in just minutes you will have a personal pizza to go.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Comfort Food in Frankfurt

Klosterhof was the name of the quaint, cozy tavern where we escaped the cold, damp air of Frankfurt for a hot meal. We were told all tables were on hold for reservations, though it was barely 5PM. We navigated to the bar to find cozy booth-type seating in a section at the bar. 

We drank what Frankfurt is known for, apfelwein and bier! The apfelwein tasted like apple cider (Magner's or Bulmers), mildly carbonated and delicious. For dinner we ordered straight comfort food. Hot and spicy beef goulash soup. It was exactly how it sounds, and it warmed me up inside. This restaurant came up in my google search for "best goulash in Frankfurt" and it did not disappoint. We also had the weinerschnitzel with mushroom sauce and dough dumplings which was heavy and absolutely incredible!

The only downside to this place is the cash-only rule. Frankfurt had a lot of that. The total cost for this night out wasn't even €25.

Friday, October 18, 2013

My 10 Weirdest Tastes Around the World

'Weird' food could be perfectly normal food to someone living in a different culture. It could be a familiar food to us, but challenges our sense of taste when manipulated by flavors and odd combinations. But the reason I try it all is because you just don't know if you've found something special until you taste it.

With that being said, there have been plenty of regrettable food choices in my day. For example, pickle back shots. What. The. F! Why is this shot showing up on chalkboard bar menus around NYC?! It's the hipster version of a dirty martini...I think. Take a shot of something brown (Jameson?) and chase it with the green stuff. Yuck. If I wanted my ankles to swell I would at least eat the pickle. But to drink a shot of pickle juice is just wrong.

Below is my list of weird foods from around the globe. The good. The bad. And the ones that had me craving a tongue razor to shave away each suffering taste bud....

1. Chicken Ovaries
Kyoto, Japan
I went to a yakitori dinner in Kyoto, which was made up of multiple skewers of chicken bits. I went with the flow, and let my yakitori-specialist friends do the ordering. We tried everything from gizzards, to knuckles, to butts. The idea of ovaries on a stick was horrifying and intriguing. I almost mistook it for a cherry tomato skewer when it arrived. I rubbed it into the sauce and took a small bite. Yellow ooze spilled from inside and I have to say it wasn't bad. After all, isn't it just an egg yolk essentially? This ovary could've been an egg someday but us American tourists stole it away in vein of my food goals. 

2. Kangaroo
Sydney, Australia 
On several menus around Sydney I saw kangaroo pop up. Kangaroo filet was most popular. By the end of the trip I had realized that I still hadn't tried it. As a last resort, I picked up a bag of spicy kangaroo jerky in the airport. When I got home I tried it. The idea of eating kangaroo was just sad, so I think that affected my opinion of the snack. I'm not a jerky fanatic anyway but if I had a choice, I'd go beef next time. 

3. Whale
Reykjavic, Iceland
Minke Whale was my appetizer choice at a restaurant called Fish Market in Reykjavic, Iceland. I was told it has a similar taste to steak, so what could be bad about that? It came to our table raw in the center, and seared on the outside. The plate was garnished with radishes and a ginger soy dipping sauce. Upon my first bite I think the flavor isn't bad. Then I start to chew and I envision Free Willy. I am not sure if this was totally in my head, but it had a blubbery texture. Needless to say, I won't try whale again! My second piece almost came back up. Grossy. (Disclaimer: Minke whale is not on the endangered species list. That ain't cool.)

4. Snails
Paris, France 
Who knew I would love slugs! I'm not sure what I love more; the snails themselves, the buttery pesto sauce they are swimming in, or the utensil to clamp the shell to remove them! The experience was all around incredible at La Jacobine. The escargot was not too chewy, and full of flavor. A perfect evening in Paris with good wine and good company. 

5. Cookie Beer
Brussels, Belgium
I don't think it's quite as genius as the peanut-butter-and-jelly combination but I definitely didn't say no to this cookie beer. At the Delirium Cafe in Brussels, there are over 3,000 different beers to choose from. I happened to pick some of the strangest like Cookie Beer, Coconut Beer, and Banana Bread Beer. Cookie beer still had a full beer taste, but had hints of cinnamon sugar and actually tasted like cookies. Interesting. It may just be my new drink of choice!

6. Black Peppercorn Ice Cream
New York City
These days ice cream has no limits. With liquid nitrogen, I am pretty sure any flavor can be made. Squid ink, avocado, and lobster flavored ice cream has been made throughout the US, but I have yet to attempt those flavors. Baby steps. At Il Laboratorio Del Gelato in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the flavors aren't your typical chocolate chip and vanilla swirl. I recommend sampling flavors like chestnut, cheddar cheese, or in my case, black peppercorn. It still had the sweet taste of milky ice cream, but I found myself mildly choking on the spicy a good way! I know it sounds strange, but I think it totally worked. This could be the future of sweet-meets-savory desserts!

7. Jellyfish
Tokyo, Japan 
Well, anything with sesame sauce really can't be that bad. It came to my plate, compliments of the chef, at the Shinjuku Hilton one night. Jellyfish is very accommodating. It will adapt to any flavor, in my opinion, the way tofu would. Regardless, if you don't enjoy the crunchy texture you may not like it any way. I've tried it since then in New York and Hong Kong. It has been, by far, the best with sesame sauce!

8. Sea Urchin
Sicily, Italy 
In no way do I actually consider this to be a "weird" food now, but my first time trying sea urchin (or, 'uni') I was a bit scared. The texture is soft and mushy, or as an anti-uni friend of mine said, "like a loogie." I got past the texture because the flavor is out of this world. It's briny, salty and nutty. This particular time in Sicily, I was fortunate enough to enjoy it straight from the shell. It was the freshest uni I've ever had and I'll never forget how lucky I was to try it in its purest form. 

9. Century Old Duck Egg
New York City
It's not really a century old but it's old enough to be long past expired by my standards. Century eggs are actually preserved for several weeks or months in a mixture of clay and ash. The result is a green yolk surrounded by a brown translucent gel, and a major fart aroma. Typically served a variety of ways in Chinese culture, I tried it in congee, a rice porridge with pork. Straight from Chinatown in NYC. Each bite of egg was creamy, yet gelatinous in an unfamiliar way that my body was rejecting. If I let my mind be open to it I think I might actually like it. You see, I love eggs. Especially a yolk that's cooked just right (a tad runny). And this egg yolk could work its way into my heart, maybe someday.

10.  Chicken Feet
Hong Kong
I paid a visit to the worlds most inexpensive Michelin Star rated restaurant, Tim Ho Wan, in Hong Kong. It's a famous dim sum spot where the wait can be hours before getting a chance to eat at one of the restaurants few tables. The taste of the chicken feet was nice. The flavor was not the problem. It was the fatty skin-on-bone thing that got me shivering upon first bite. The texture was just too fatty for me. I guess if it were fried I'd probably enjoy it more! 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Madison Square Eats

Twice a year, food vendors come together under tents in Madison Square Park for a month long food fair. This season it's open September 27-October 25 daily, 11AM-9PM.. I finally got around to it at its half-way mark. It didn't disappoint.

It depends on what caliber of fat you are, but for me, I can drop a heavy penny on tasting multiple snacks from all the vendors. My advice? Do a lap, scout out the menus, and hoard your selections at a table if you can get one. There's something special about packing a tiny table with endless international food items that don't mix, and it will surely lead to your inevitable bout of diarrhea. 

Still with me? I started at Hong Kong Street Cart for breaded, deep-fried snow crab claws. Three for $10. Kind of pricey for me, but it was pretty amazing dipped in the spicy sauce. I washed it down with a Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale ($9) from The Cannibal. After this round of food I knew I'd have to get thrifty and budget myself. Chase bank is so ready and willing to text me a notification that I've hit rock bottom in my checking account...again. 

Next stop, Asiadog, for a Vietnamese bâńh mì hot dog ($6). Whoa. I started feeling full (probably the beer) so I pinched some tin foil around half that dog and put it in my pocket for later.

I got some backup. A friend came on down for her lunch break to meet me. We went to Slide for a fried chicken and cheddar waffle slider ($6). A little dry, because I think I missed the bite with the cole slaw and pear marmalade at first, but delicious.

The truffle mozzarella crepe from Bar Suzette was scary good ($8). We made our way to Seoul Lee Korean BBQ for a chicken sesame taco and a bulgogi beef taco ($3 each). Drooling. Also gassy now.

Finally, a Nutella rice ball from Arancini Bros ($3). A sugary sweet ending. The center was rice pudding with a dollop of Nutella, and the crispy exterior was rolled in cinnamon and sugar. It was all washed down with a Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. Black Duck Porter from The Cannibal ($9). 

New York City, why do you taste so good?

Monday, October 7, 2013

NYC's Best Happy Hour's for Food & Drinks

 A gal pushing 30 can still appreciate a good brownout (blackouts are soo college) and happy hour is exactly the place to achieve that state of mind. What's better is crawling into bed before it's even 9pm to avoid the late night social scene! Everyone does that, not just me... Right? 

These days happy hour doesn't necessarily mean watery light beer and vodka so cheap even the most seasoned street drinker needs to drown it in cranberry juice. Specialty cocktails and craft beer are being seen more and more all over NYC happy hour menus. Even food! And I'm not talking about wings and Irish nachos being half off because "the game" is on. Eww, grossy! I fear THE GAME because it can only mean hot sauce breath, Bud Light, and loud man-barking is near...

Me and my sophisticated lady friends frequent any happy hour that serves $1 oysters and other finger foods to nibble on while we rack up a bar tab so high you would wonder how our wallets survive full price. Read up on the following happy hours that will leave you feeling full and a bit off-balance.

1. Lobster Joint 
Lower East Side - Houston St. (Between Orchard & Ludlow)
Weekdays between 4PM-7PM you can drink $4 specialty cocktails and beer. The beer selection is wild. With seafood themed craft beer like Lobster Ale and Oyster Stout you are bound to try something new, or stick to seasonal brews by Bluepoint and Harpoon. Load up on dollar oysters or get a quick buzz with $4 vodka oyster shooters. The best part is the $4 sliders (lobster/crab cake/fried oyster). My favorite is the lobster slider because there's plenty of meat. Three of these and you got yourself a full size lobster roll, half the price of anywhere else in the city. Excluded from happy hour pricing is the $9 Lobster Claw Bloody Mary, which I come in for any time of day. It's a meal in a glass with plenty of garnishes to crunch on while you wait for happy hour to start.
2. Mermaid Oyster Bar
West Village - MacDougal St. (Between Bleeker & Houston) 
The happy hour menu is so extensive I don't see why they bother with a full menu! Dollar oysters are only the beginning. Happy hour food includes different kinds of oysters and clams, shrimp corn dogs, shrimp avocado sliders, and fish tacos. Drinks include wine, beer and Martini's like the Hot & Dirty (vodka, olive juice, Tabasco). The atmosphere at Mermaid is lively with a sea theme and an open front and a few tables facing the street. I sat at the bar, where goldfish were served like trail mix at a dive bar. I love a good theme! Happy hour is available at tables, not only at the bar. 
3. Ken & Cook
NoLita - Elizabeth St. & Kenmare St. 
This is a tiny place with patio seating, great for brunch and happy hour! The happy hour is from 4PM-7PM. Though the menu is small, it's just right. Shrimp cocktail with seaweed salad, cheese boards, and raw oysters and clams will be just enough to compliment several glasses of discounted wine and beer. 
4. Gyu-Kaku
East Village - Cooper Square (Village Voice Building)
This friendly Japanese BBQ restaurant and bar is open all day for lunch, dinner, and happy hour. Happy hour runs from 11:30AM-6PM daily, and even 9:30PM-closing on week nights. Drinks are all half off, so for me that means $3 Sapporos and $5.50 Lychee Martini's. As far as food goes, the entire menu for Japanese BBQ is discounted. Bar food like bibimbap, spicy tuna crunch, and wasabi shrimp all range from $3-$6. 
5. Lure Fishbar
SoHo - Mercer St. & Prince St.
With a standard happy hour from 5-7PM, there's not a lot of time to get that strong buzz. But for now, you must go and take advantage of those two hours! This seafood restaurant has discounted bites like deviled eggs with caviar, lobster croutons, and champagne cocktails. Lure has a way of making luxurious snacks affordable. 
6. Izakaya DoDomPa
Lower East Side - Clinton St. (Between Stanton & Rivington)
Japanese small plates with beer has never been more affordable than at this happy hour! Certain weeknights have certain specials. Tuesday, for example, is dollar Sapporo night from 5-7PM! Compliment you beer with a plate of takoyaki octopus balls. Other nights involve an ALL-YOU-CAN-DRINK sake special. Be careful, you may be crawling home. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Parisian Bistro

We stumbled upon La Jacobine down a narrow cobblestone street in the 6th Arrondissement filled with endless bars and bistros. As it turns out, Paris is filled with affordable eating. With pre fixe menus and limited options, you can get a taste for what each restaurants signature dish is, while indulging in classics like French onion soup, creme brûlée, and cheese boards. 

I gravitate towards the places with long lines, as I imagine what they are serving must be good. At La Jacobine (Rue Saint-André des Arts), I was intrigued by the crowd that surrounded the entrance. While all other restaurants in the area still had empty tables, this place was full. We sat at a tiny table in the corner. For €26 each we had two courses. 

The appetizer came with a generous portion of pâté layered with gingerbread and apricot jam. This combination was incredible, and for this alone I will come back to Paris! The escargot was hot, buttery, garlicky, and divine. I never had escargot (aside from a french restaurant in the Dominican Republic, does that count?) and this experience set the bar high. Each snail (correct?) was piping hot, not at all chewy like I imagine the slugs on my doorstep to be, and flavored so deliciously in pesto sauce. It was much better off they were doused in sauce to avoid seeing them in their true form. 

On another note, I got into my car this morning on my way to work to find a slug wedged into the door crack right above the window. It was a big one. I scraped it off with a stick (okay, someone else did it for me) and I drove off with a slimy imprint of this late slug on the side of my car to remind me of that delicious night in Paris where my eyes were opened to another world delicacy. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

World's Tiniest Wine Bar in Paris!

L'Avant Comptoir

I read about this tiny, standing-only wine bar in the heart of Paris. I was sold when I heard they serve tapas style French plates like foie gras skewers. I'm a sucker for hole-in-the-wall hidden gem types. Each of the menu items are printed on plaques hanging from the ceiling. The staff wasn't too keen on helping us translate so we decided to take a chance on two items that looked good from the menu photos.

A savory macaron was presented to us so delicately, how precious! Right away I saw a chunky, brownie looking piece of meat between two cake cookies and I knew that was blood sausage! Upon the first bite I noted the flavor was tolerable, but had the sweetness of a macaron. I was really confused and borderline grossed out. I'm not there yet. My palate just isn't sophisticated enough for a blood sausage macaron.

Next, a small plate of sauteed pork belly. It was awesome. I tried not to eat so much of the fat, but it was inevitable. We enjoyed a glass of rose with the two small plates. At the bottom of the glass, there was a powdery residue. I'm not sure what that was about, but I drank it anyway.

We tried a chocolate coconut crepe here as well, but I won't even discuss it. It was dry and bland. The man use his bare hand to sprinkle coconut all over it and I just wasn't down for that.

I would give this experience a B. It was not outstanding but I'd be willing to give it another shot! I'm heading back to Paris tonight, stay tuned for more...

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Cheapest Richest Meal in Paris

The setting for the meal was a street bench on Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris, right across the street from the meat shop Boucherie de Saint Germain.

Hunger struck as we passed a bakery. For €0.60 we got half a baguette. Next door was the meat shop, Boucherie de Saint-Germain. We pointed to the leg of cured meat and gestured to get a couple slices. We also ordered a slab of pate. Both meat items were under €8. With those three simple ingredients, we were able to make a savory baguette sandwich that was crispy, flaky, rich, and creamy. The only thing missing from this sandwich was some kind of sweet fruity jam to offset the saltiness of the cured meat and pate.

In the end I felt like a queen enjoying a pate baguette for under €8.50. It was the greatest meal of the trip, simply because it happened organically, it was authentic, and there was zero tourist persuasion involved. There's nothing like a street bench lunch with a side of people watching.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Me, a Baguette, and Paris

As we all know, the national carb of France is the baguette. In France alone, ten billion baguettes are sold each year. If you educate yourself now, the search for the perfect baguette will be swift and easy.

Make sure you go to a bakery dedicated to bread, and only bread. Forget the food markets where bread may have been sitting on the shelf for a few hours. Go to a place where each loaf of bread has pointed ends, a tell tale sign that it has been hand made. Rounded ends typically means it was machine made, so try to avoid those. The bread should have a crispy hard exterior with an airy fluffy interior. Squeeze the loaf to make sure it's warm and fresh before your purchase. By the time you finish your inspection of the bread you will look like an anal Parisian or a psychotic tourist.

With a crazed look in my eyes and my mouth watering, I inspected the bread at Eric Kayser. This was where I found the best bread in Paris. For €1.10 I was able to buy a whole baguette, and shamelessly eat it on street immediately after purchase. Nothing from New York compares. With multiple locations in Paris, you are bound to stroll upon one of the Eric Kayser locations during your travels. And when you do, I beg you to indulge!

F your diet and eat the baguette on the spot. Do not use portion control, eat it whole because you can taste the culture of Paris when it is that fresh! Eat it right away and worry later! There's always ex-lax and water to wash away that post-vacation bloat when you get home. There is a national campaign in France promoting baguettes by reminding citizens they are a good source of protein and fiber and a vital part of a healthy diet. Though the fact is the French are eating half the bread that they did 50 years ago, it still remains a staple of their daily diet. Do you see any fat French people? I don't. All the more reason to indulge!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

That Time I Got To Have The Suite Life

I got lucky somehow with the opportunity to stay at The Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas in one of their nicest suites! The wraparound terrace suite is 1200 square feet, with a 500 square foot balcony that wraps around the corner of the hotel. The room was equipped with a full kitchen, two full bathrooms, a separate bathtub located just behind the bed wall, a washer/dryer, and other amenities like bathrobes and slippers. The hotel offered us a high floor upgrade with an eastern view and we took it over the view of mountains or partial strip view. I figured this would be special so I took it. Our views included the Paris Hotel's Eiffel Tower, and the Bellagio fountains.  Normally, this upgrade is $125/night but we were given the rate of $65 because we would only be staying one night. They always get you with the add ons in Vegas, but this was worth it. 

The whole night was spent on the terrace drinking wine, watching the fountain show every half hour, and even catching a few scenes of The Little Rascals screening at The Cosmopolitan pool down below. The weather was just cooling off at sundown with the low being a steamy 88 degrees. It felt good after a few photo ops and a few bottles of wine. The balcony couches were so cozy I could've stayed there all night or hosted a party and had a few extra guests crash there. Instead, we made our way downstairs for dinner at STK, where we stuffed ourselves with steak and seafood. My only disappointment was waking up the next morning and realizing there's no coffee machine! Even a HoJo has a coffee machine! I was kind of expecting an espresso machine but then again, the 'full kitchen' wasn't actually equipped with anything except two martini glasses. We had to call down to requested wine glasses the night before. Overall it was an exquisite experience and I vowed to someday stay at wraparound terrace suite at The Cosmopolitan Hotel again. 

Late check out was requested (duh) so we spent the last hour or two of our stay at the pool. How genius is it to have AstroTurf instead of concrete, cushioned lounge chairs instead of metal, and chaise lounges in the pool? It made the 104 degree temperature feel a lot cooler.