I have a confession to make. Up until recently, I have been operating in my kitchen without any sort of legitimate food processing device. I know, I know, a truly unimaginable feat for someone who possesses my culinary talent, though what can I say—come talk to me when you’ve paid off all of your student loans. For the past couple of years I’ve relied on my trusty Magic Bullet, a solid little piece of machinery, (and one which boasts, undeniably, the most captivating infomercial on current circulation. What other infomercial features a hang-over-battling, charming man named Berman, a cigarette wielding grandma named Hazel, and duo of specious and potentially fornicating hosts?) though one which lacks size and durability. Thus, when my bullet died a couple of months ago, I have been forced to live in food processing obscurity. Fortunately, this all changed when my lovely girlfriend bestowed upon me the mother of all kitchen appliances—the Cuisinart Prep 7® 7-Cup Food Processor—Boom!

I was straight giddy when I took the beast of its box. Having not been food shopping in almost two weeks, my pantry was running pretty thin, but as excited as I was, I needed to decimate something fast.

Last week I stumbled upon a recipe for homemade hot sauce that I was linked to from one of my favorite blogs, SeriousEats. The link took me to The Paupered Chef an unfamiliar site for me, though one which was definitely intriguing. The recipe called for items which I had actually had, so considering my poorly stocked cupboard, homemade hot sauce seemed like a no brainer.

Here is the original link if you want to check it out: Paupered Chef Hot Sauce Recipe

I stayed pretty true to the recipe except I substituted pre-ground spices for whole one’s, and instead of dried Chile’s de Arbol, I used some nondescript Thai chilies I bought at my local Asian market.

For my first ever homemade hot sauce it wasn’t bad, though I think there is definitely room for improvement. The first thing that caught me was the intensely hot aroma. This stuff was spicy. When I popped the lid off the Cusinart I couldn’t help but cough—waaaay hotter than my beloved Shiracha. Upon tasting the sauce my palate was inundated with the taste of sesame, and a little too much by my standard. Also, my sauce was a bit runnier than the one illustrated in the original recipe.

Like I said, the sauce wasn’t bad, though as an aspiring hot sauce enthusiast, I think I can do a little better. Next time I’m going to take it easy on the sesame, and maybe add some mustard seed, more salt, and a whole lot more garlic.

Oh, and for your viewing pleasure, the infamous Magic Bullet infomercial (part 1):


A quick update… 

I tired Sky Burgers, again, and it was good, again (also, the restaurant is called Sky Burgers, not Sky Burger as I previously mentioned). This time around I went for the Papa Sky Burger—8 oz. of beefy goodness with cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, sautéed onions, and a side of fries. 

I was a little worried when the burger arrived considering my stomach was in a bit of a frail state following a night of celebrating my birthday, but I managed to get the Papa Burger down with no problem, for as you all know, grease cures hangovers.

Amidst eating I blacked out in a rage of hunger, though when I came to I had about half a burger left and was being subjected to a truly horrible cover of The Doors classic “Light My Fire” playing in the background. Realizing that it was my duty to provide an update, I slowed myself down and analyzed the situation. Fresh tasting beef, good veggies, good burger, that’s what Sky Burgers provides. They even have a wide array of goofy sides that you can order with your burger, like spicy chipotle mango relish, which my girlfriend tried and wasn’t half bad.

I can say, conclusively, that the Sky Burger Papa Burger is way better than what Nectar’s, KKD, and Vermont Pub and Brewery has to offer. The jury is still out on Rira.

My only knock on Sky Burgers is that the establishment itself is a little cheesy (the kitchen door says “Burger Lab” on it, for example), but that fact can be overlooked for alas, it is merely a burger joint.

Sky Burger has my recommendation. Go check it out.


If there is one thing that the city of Burlington seriously lacks it is a good and reliable burger. Of course, you can find a plethora of burgers on the menu of most restaurants and eateries in town, though what I’ve come to find is that none of these establishments are able to consistently step up to the plate and construct a burger worth remembering. I have recently determined it as my task at hand to find this mystical praiseworthy burger, my holy grail. Along the way I will not hesitate to convey the wretchedness of a bad burger, and without further adieu, my take on the Burlington burger scene.

Before I begin, it would probably be best for me to define my parameters for a “good burger” prior to decimating every bad one that I have consumed over the past couple of years:

First of all, when talking burgers, fast food is automatically excluded. It just doesn’t count. That also goes for places like Al’s French Fries, one of my favorite greasy spoons in the area, but quite frankly, they are just a notch above fast food. What I want in a burger is very simple, yet for some reason very hard to attain: quality beef, fresh vegetables (lettuce, tomato, and onion), a hearty bun, and good cheese. Additional fixings are certainly nice to have as an option, but really, the only thing that matters in a burger is the beef, those three simple vegetables, and the bun—all else pales in comparison.


Perhaps the biggest travesty of them all is The Nectar’s burger. Nectar’s is one of Burlington’s most well-known bars, and I suppose you could also qualify it as a “grill”. Nectar’s is probably most famous for their music scene, attracting both big and small acts to play on their stage, even gaining some national recognition for being the launching pad of the popular band Phish, as it was at Nectar’s where Phish first began playing shows back in the 80’s. When I first moved to Burlington, Nectar’s was of the most reliable places to get good bar food in town, though about two years ago they renovated their entire establishment, removing one of their two kitchens and drastically downsizing the other. Not only did they destroy their kitchens, but at the same time their whole menu changed as well, and their ingredients suffered. The Nectar’s burger was once a Burlington institution that always provided the same satisfaction whether it be at 12:00 PM or 2:00 AM. Now when ordering the Nectar’s burger you are too often served an overcooked, underwhelming, small burger accompanied by soft tomatoes, discolored lettuce, all on an oversized English Muffin—an utter abomination. It’s just disappointing to know what the Nectar’s burger once tasted like because the new and improved denigrated burger is a waste of $8.00. At least they still have gravy fries.

Kountry Kart Deli is another place where the burger is a common option. Personally, I don’t think KKD makes anything that is worthwhile (their only saving grace is that they stay open something like 22.5 hours a day) so these words should come by no great surprise, but nonetheless, people seem to like their burgers. Similar to the Nectar’s burger, KKD lacks virtually every component that makes a good burger, starting with the beef. For whatever reason, I have tried the KKD burger many times and undoubtedly, I am left continually unsatisfied. KKD makes “The Vermonter”, a 1/2 lb. patty, and “The Flatlander”, a 1/4 lb. patty, though whichever sandwich you choose, expect to be served something drier than a popcorn fart. Without about three packets of ketchup and two of mayo the thing is hard to get down. The burger itself is not their only problem though. KKD uses, on all of their sandwiches, perhaps the worst bread known to man. Frankly, they should be embarrassed for all of their bread products are disgraceful—nothing better than oversized hot dog rolls. Moreover, it doesn’t help that their accompanying vegetables make Nectars’ seem like a salad at the Four Seasons; mealy tomatoes, ugly lettuce, puny onions. Honestly, it’s making me angry just thinking about it. Both KKD burgers are utter failures in the burger world.

Rira, the cities local Irish pub, is perhaps a glimmer of light in the burger hell to which Burlingtonians dwell. The Rira burger is usually heights above both Nectar’s and KKD, but it too has its shortcomings. All of my stated “good burger requirements” are met at Rira, so for that they should be proud, and they even also feature a long list of unique accoutrements. Maybe even the best part about Rira is that Wednesday is half-priced burger day. All of these positives, though, simply don’t outweigh the fact that sometimes the Rira burger is not up to snuff. I have gotten great burgers from Rira, and I have gotten less-than-great burgers from Rira. It’s like a crapshoot, and for that reason only I can’t sing their praises. If they could find a way to get their kitchen staff consistent, then maybe this article never gets written. When they’re on, they’re on, but too often the Rira burger is nothing special—much better, in any case, than the two aforementioned holes in the wall.

Next we have the Vermont Pub & Brewery, also known as the Brew Pub. I haven’t had a Brew Pub burger in about a year and the fact that nothing in particular comes to mind when thinking about it sums up my opinion of it pretty succinctly. If it wasn’t good enough for me to remember anything specific, and it wasn’t bad enough for me to actively hate it, than I can conclude that it was just alright, and thus not worth ordering. For that matter, I can’t recall anything too great that I’ve had at the Brew Pub, and I don’t really see anything special about their beers either. If I’m in the mood for a good, locally brewed, small establishment beer I’m most certainly walking a block down the street to American Flatbread…I bet they would make an excellent burger.

Really, this list could go on and on, but it would just reiterate the same few points: bad, overcooked beef, weak vegetables, unsatisfactory roll. If you name me anywhere in Burlington that makes a burger I’ll find you an easy shortfall, it’s just fact. While Vermont procedures some damn good cheddar to go on the burger, Burlington seems yet to have figured out the burger part, in actuality, the most important part.

All of this leaves me to, perhaps, the coming of the burger messiah; a brand spanking new burger joint: Sky Burger. Sky Burger opened up a couple of weeks ago on the corner of lower Church Street in place of the defunct Tilley’s Café. I was walking down the street last week when I spotted it out of the corner of my eye; fancy silver lettering, nice paint job, Sky Burger? Armed with curiosity I crossed the street and walked into the establishment only to find a pretty solid set up. Sky Burger is a fairly large place with plenty of room, nice TV’s, and a really good looking bar. I’m not really sure who is going to choose to spend their evenings drinking at Sky Burger, but for whoever it is, it looks like they will be very comfortable.

After I entered Sky Burger I asked to see a menu just to check things out (I had just eaten and wasn’t terribly hungry), but considering I had gone out of my way to see what was up, and given my taste for burgers, I decided to order a 4 oz. “Baby Sky Burger” just as a snack. I waited for about 15 minutes, which was a nice sign indicating that they make everything fresh (since the place was empty), left Sky Burger—burger in hand—eating as I walked down the street. Now, granted, this was only the baby burger, but I have to say, it was good. My Baby burger had the greasy, beefy, goodness that a proper burger should exude, good bun, and fresh veggies! Is this the remedy I was looking for? Can Sky Burger satisfy my undying thirst for ground beef and cheese? The answer to these questions remains to be seen, but I sure as hell intend to find out soon by picking up the “Papa Burger” to see what Sky Burger is really all about. I’m feeling optimistic. More to come, stay tuned.


 

Ah yes. On Saturday night I became the proud owner of one beautiful 7 oz. container of D’Artagnan rendered duck fat. There I was, minding my own business, walking through the halls of my local food market (City Market to be exact) when I spotted something of pure unadulterated splendor: packaged duck fat. Never before had I seen duck fat for sale in the dairy isle, and the second I picked up the container I thought about popping the top and eating it straight, right then and there. Quite simply, the label reads “D’Artagnan Rendered Duck Fat: Better than Butter”. Sold!

Duck fat. The fat of champions. The most gourmet of gourmet cooking oils. There are so many things that I love which are made with duck fat: duck confit (currently my favorite entrée), frites (French fries) fried in duck fat (see my post about Montreal), potatoes roasted in duck fat, sautéed asparagus in duck fat, the list could go on forever. Basically, if you add “in duck fat” to the end of any sentence, the chances are I will find it 300 times more appetizing—inanimate objects not excluded. Maybe even the greatest fact about duck fat is not that it makes virtually anything taste better, though additionally it is one of the healthiest cooking oils to work with. As referenced below, duck fat provides all the taste of butter (only BETTER!) with the nutritional value of olive oil—astounding!

“…what many are unaware of is the health benefits to duck fat. Duck fat contains 35.7% saturates, 50.5% monounsaturates (high in linoleic acid) and 13.7% polyunsaturated fats.(Which contains Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential oils). This compares to olive oil which is: 75% monounsaturated fat (mostly oleic acid) 13% saturated fat and 10% Omega-6 linoleic acid and 2% Omega-3 linoleic acid. The main difference between chicken, turkey and duck is that duck contains more linoleic acid, which chicken and turkey contain a higher amount of polyunsaturated fats. It appears that duck and goose fat is more like olive oil than it is like butter or beef.” — http://greenmarketrecipes.com/poultry/health_benefits_duck_fat.htm

Since making the purchase I think I have used duck fat in every meal that I’ve made for myself–eggs, toast, chicken cutlets, spinach, pasta–it’s deliciousness can be transferred onto anything. And on the even brighter side, it’s only a matter of time before my first heart attack. I’ll keep you posted…


Last night my girlfriend went for a night on the town, and decided to dine at a fairly unknown, nondescript Italian restaurant in Burlington, L’Amante. L’Amante is located on College Street, directly across from Burlington’s newest Vietnamese Restaurant Saigon Bistro (which you all should check out as well; very tasty Duck stew). I’ve walked past L’Amante countless times and have always wondered where the hell this place came from? Every time I get involved in a conversation regarding Italian restaurants in Burlington, I have never once heard L’Amante mentioned. Why does this place not gain any recognition? It’s in a pretty solid location, the ambiance seems very nice, and let’s be honest, Burlington isn’t exactly overwhelmed with favorable Italian restaurants, so why is L’Amante not in the mix? My goal was to answer this question.

I first found out about L’Amante a couple of years back but had never had inkling to step inside its doors until one fateful evening. As I was walking back to my house on a brisk December night, I spotted a former economic professor of mine looking fantastically drunk, waltzing around like Kanye at the MTV Video Music Awards. He was singing for shits sake, in clear sight from the window. I have a great deal of respect for this professor, and once I learned that he is a patron at this potentially fine establishment, I knew that I needed to give it a try.

I made a 6:30 reservation, which at the time seemed a little unnecessary, but in retrospect was a great call (it got very busy as the night went on). We arrived a little early and were ushered to a nice table in the restaurants main dinning room. L’Amante has a very nice ambiance, notwithstanding that it was fairly dark which made it a little hard to read anything. After our server greeted us with our menus we ordered a bottle of Chianti and continued exploring the dinner menu. We were both extremely hungry so deliberating about what to order was a bit of a task. Our server returned with a basket of bread accompanied by chicken liver pate (nice!) and butter. I immediately went to town on the chopped liver and continued to neglect the menu until noticing a prosciutto appetizer and promptly placed an order for it. Despite the fact that I was totally psyched on the liver, what kind of Italian restaurant doesn’t serve olive oil with their bread? Answer that however you will, but L’Amante does not, loosing immediate points with me.

Before I knew it, a massive plate of prosciutto was planted in front of us—good lord. I’m all about prosciutto, but I felt like we had just slain a whole pig. As we were enjoying the deliciously salted slivers of meat, we decided on two entrees to share and ordered them; Potato gnocchi with slow roasted pork, tart cherries, rosemary, and balsamic, and Orange marinated, boneless trout. There’s just something about gnocchi and slow roasted pork that captivates me. Last time we ate at another one of Burlington’s Italian establishments –Trattoria Delia– I ordered practically the same entrée.

Amidst a good conversation about the philosophy of ethics, that’s right, our entrees arrived and we were eager to dive into them. I started on the trout, which simply put, was excellent. Trout is one of my favorite fishes, and this dish was cooked to perfection; a large filet of extremely light, appropriately flakey, and properly marinated fish. Its flavor was not overwhelmingly orangey, nor was it too fishy. It was clear that the catch was very fresh, exactly the way it should be, and exactly the way I expected it to be—great dish.

After devouring about half of the trout we decided to exchange meals. I can’t say I was too happy to give up the fish, but the gnocchi was certainly calling me name. My first impression of the gnocchi was that the pasta itself was a little too mealy. It wasn’t bad by any standard, though compared to what I have had in the past (i.e. Trattoria) it could have been fluffier. Next the slow roasted pork was rather though, not at all what I would expect from “slow roasted pork”. Lastly, the tart cherry sauce was too tart. At first it was nothing to note, but nearing the end of the dish I felt like I was halfway done with a cherry pie—way too sweet, way to sour. I could barely finish the gnocchi, and had I not greatly enjoyed the trout, and stuffed myself with prosciutto, I probably would have been far more irritated.

We finished our wine, continued our conversation, which has now moved onto political philosophy and postmodern thought (I mean we were in semi-formal attire, would you expect anything less?), and paid the bill. The meal was good, not great, but good—solid for Burlington. Three quarters of it was very enjoyable, but the gnocchi could simply not be ignored. The pasta was poorly made, the pork was poorly cooked, and the sauce was entirely too bitter. I’d give the dish a C+ at best, whereas Trattoria gets an easy A (not to mention their version of the dish is served with “braised wild bore”—far more exotic [sic] badass, and thus far more desirable).

I was glad we chose to dine at L’Amante. It was reasonably priced, the menu (for the most part) was very good, it had a very nice atmosphere, and the staff was pleasant. Maybe I was just dealt a bad hand with the gnocchi, but next time we go for Italian in Burlington, Trattoria Delia, not L’Amante, will be the destination.


Being the uninspired morning person that I am, I oftentimes neglect to make myself lunch for the day and am forced to show up at work empty-handed. Today, unfortunately, was one of those days. “Office food” as it is sometimes referred to, is a typically a depressing notion. My office, located in Waterbury, VT, is not exactly a hub of culinary innovation, so suffice it to say that I do not usually get excited for the prospect of having to purchase and eat office food (except, that is, on Mexican Fridays!).

So today when one of my colleagues suggested going to Subway for lunch, I did all that I could to prevent myself from punching a hole through my computer screen as I agreed to his proposition. I swallowed my pride and thought, what the hell; I’m entitled to a $5 Meatball Marinara foot-long every now and again. We drove to Subway, and after searching for a parking spot for nearly 10 minutes, I entered the establishment’s fog-covered doors seething.

After glaring at the menu for a brief minute, I noticed something of a surprise—the Subway Hot Pastrami?! In shear disbelief, I asked the woman behind the counter to show me a cut of the meat. She opened up a container and pulled out a little plate filled with what looked like legitimate pastrami. I couldn’t believe it. It even had proportionate fat distribution that packaged pastrami has seldom been able to achieve. It looked real.

Once again, I said what the hell, and ordered up a half a pastrami sandwich. Clearly, since we are dealing with Subway, my accouterments would surely be less than pleasing. Let’s go through a little run down of pastrami necessities, and Subway’s lack-there-of:

1) Rye Bread – no dice.

2) Spicy Mustard – they actually have it!

3) Cole slaw – don’t think so.

4) Sliced Dill pickle – surely you jest.

Ultimately, I decided on “Hearty Italian” bread, Swiss cheese, and had them toast the sandwich in an attempt to make it seem more authentic, hopefully. What I was presented with was not much to write home about. The sandwich was oozing with fatty juices, which was just plain unappealing. Additionally, not having rye bread is a detriment to any pastrami sandwich, and the Hearty Italian did not do much to impress my palate. The mustard was weak, and the Swiss wasn’t plentiful enough, but most importantly, the meat was generally inadequate. The pastrami was way too greasy, a tad chewy, and just did not contain nearly enough flavor—though, having said all that, I have certainly tasted worse.

Overall, Subway’s hot pastrami was pretty substandard. Surprisingly though, the quality of the meat was much better than I ever would have anticipated. Next time I am forced to endure a lunch break filled with Subway, I think I’ll stick to the meatball, or as I like to call it, “the bathroom extravaganza.”


Lately I have been really into slow cooking things. A couple of weeks ago I roasted a pork shoulder for about 6 hours and shredded it into a nice pulled pork meal. Simply delicious. This past weekend, in an effort to change things up a little bit, I decided to slow cook a piece of beef. When slow cooking beef, there are many routes to go, and a plethora of cuts to choose from. Having been raised on Jewish cuisine (see my posts on pastrami), there seemed to be only one logical conclusion to my slow cooking desires: Brisket. Just the thought of moist, tender, meaty brisket made my mouth water long before I had even purchased the massive hunk of meat.

Going to the mountain on Saturday for a beautiful day of snowboarding, I decided to pre-order my brisket while we were in the lodge for lunch. The guy sitting next to me at the bar seemed to find it rather odd that I was asking the person on the other line to “make sure it’s a nice cut, and DON’T even think about trimming the fat.” Clearly, I thought, this guy knows nothing about meat, judging especially from his hideous one piece ski suit and glass of chardonnay.

We finished the day of skiing and on the way home stopped by the market to pick up my meat. I was a little surprised to find that the 5 lb. brisket went for about $20.00, I suppose only because my 4 lb. pork shoulder was something like $4.50. The young girl at the checkout counter looked at me with a gaze of horror as she rung me up. I think she was a vegetarian. What the hell is with these Vermonters and their seemingly intense fear of beef? Man up, enjoy life, clog an artery!

The recipe I used is pretty much an exact copy of Ms. Paula Deen’s, and even though it was tagged as “Texas Style”, and I was going for more of a “Palm Beach”, “New York”, or “Israel Style”, Paula has never steered me wrong before.

Paula also likes dogs.

I got home, plopped the brisket in the fridge to be dealt with in the morning and went about my night.

The next morning I began preparing the brisket at about 11:00 AM, combining the spices in a bowl to make a nice rub. [Note regarding the rub, which is annotated below: It is very important to use kosher salt in this recipe. Using conventional table salt (which should never be used anyway) will result in the rub, and impending flavor of the meat, being entirely too salty. The explanation for this is that kosher salt crystals are far bigger than the conventional table crap. This essentially means that 1 tablespoon of table salt is equivalent to about 4 tablespoons of kosher salt. Again, stay away from Morton’s (unless that is you’re using it for tequila shots, which is honestly the only reason I keep it in the house).] And I digress.

After coating the meat in the rub, I placed it in a roasting dish, covered it with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour. [Another note: allowing the brisket to marinate in the rub is not nearly as important as it is for something like pork. A pork shoulder requires maximum marinating time (overnight) because when cooked, the meat itself produces much less of its own juice than does beef. Also, unlike roasting pork, the brisket will essentially be braised in the beef stock/Worcestershire mixture, allowing for sufficient flavor infusion.

After allowing the oven to pre-heat, I diced up my onion (I actually used shallots which is highly recommended, and are in fact more flavorful than onions) and covered the brisket with the tiny bits. The cooking aspect is relatively uninteresting other than the fact that as I mentioned, the brisket was pretty much being braised, which was a surprise to me. The liquid surrounding the beef was practically boiling, and the aroma coming from the oven was cotdamn scrumptious. My roommates were actually angry with me for tantalizing their taste buds.

Lo and behold, about 4 hours later the brisket was finished roasting, and looked awesome. I let it rest for about 15 minutes and then went into it with my Cutco. carving set, which for the record, could take your hand off. The meat truly exhibited that fall off the bone consistency (despite the fact that there was no bone), and compared to Thanksgiving turkey carving (which was the last time I donned a carving knife and fork), the brisket was a breeze. We ate with some sautéed green beans and purple potatoes—check these out (http://www.recipetips.com/glossary-term/t–35073/purple-potato.asp).

Overall, the meal was excellent. I gave myself a nice pat on the back for a job well done. If you like brisket or slow cooked meat in general, I highly suggest trying out this recipe. It is super easy, and unless you a) cannot read, b) use TABLE salt, or c) enjoy desiccated meat, then I guarantee that you will love it.

Also, regarding the Texas v. Jewish style brisket—I’m convinced there is no difference. This brisket tasted exactly like the kind I’ve been eating at Passover Seder’s my entire life. A true Mitzvah!

 Brisket

Ingredients

  • 5 pound Beef Brisket
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons of kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 bay leaf, crushed
  • 4 pounds beef brisket, trimmed
  • 1 15 oz. can beef stock
  • 1 medium/large onion
  • 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

 Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Mince onion.
  • Make a dry rub by combining chili powder, salt, garlic and onion powders, black pepper, sugar, dry mustard, and bay leaf. Season the raw brisket on both sides with the rub. Cover the roast with the diced onions. Place in a roasting pan and roast, uncovered, for 1 hour.
  • Add beef stock and Worcestershire sauce and enough water to yield about 1/2 inch of liquid in the roasting pan. Lower oven to 300 degrees F, cover pan tightly and continue cooking for 3 hours, or until fork-tender.
  • Slice meat thinly across the grain. Top with juice from the pan. 

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I traveled to her home city, New York, to celebrate our one year anniversary (insert joke about my sappy weekend retreats and your lack of interest here). We got on the road with no real plan, though what we did know is that we wanted to A) eat good food, and B) have a fun Saturday night in New York City. After a series of miscommunications and bad planning, we didn’t get on the road until about 10:00 PM, which meant we were looking at a 2:30 AM arrival…awesome. Added to the mix was that it was raining ferociously and the roads remained foggy for most of the ride…ideal! After throwing back two 5-Hour-Energies (completely ineffective) and 3 coffees (jarringly effective) we made it there in one piece, albeit pissed off and exhausted. The plan was to spend the night at the girlfriend’s Mom’s house in West Chester, and head to our hotel on Central Park West in the morning. Did I mention that I am a baller?

Waking up, I insisted that we eat a light breakfast in preparation for a soon to be heavy lunch consisting of world class New York deli. We ate at this little diner in Scarsdale and I ordered a mushroom, spinach, ham, and Muenster cheese omelet. The only reason why I even mention this breakfast is due to the fact that Muenster cheese is the standard at this place, which in my opinion is perhaps the easiest and most formidable way ANY diner could improve their breakfast options. Muenster cheese is delicious, and its melty, and its delicious. I want some right now. Some people don’t even know about Muenster cheese and this fact makes me sad. For all of you people, please go buy some. Make a grilled cheese, a turkey sandwich, eat it straight! Just do it soon.

 We took the train to the city and checked into our hotel at around 3:00 PM. The place, the New York Athletic Club, was amazing, right across the street from the park. As I mentioned, I’m a baller…

 It was a pretty odd hour of the day to eat, and were still pretty full from breakfast so we decided to hold off on the deli (for today) and go for some light tapas before a nice dinner later that night. In the meantime, my task was to find a classy restaurant for later. After scouring the internet and debating among French, Italian, Japanese, or Indian, we finally settled on Nocello, an Italian restaurant at 257 W 55th street. The place was pretty close to our hotel, and they had an 8:30 reservation available so we took it. I also made us reservations at the Gotham comedy club to see a midnight show after dinner.

 Walking around for a bit we stumbled upon a Greek café right around happy hour. Some drinks and an order of grilled octopus later we left happy. The next stop was an Irish pub for some pints of Guinness. No real explanation for this, it just seemed like a good idea at the time, and indeed it was. Guinness is so good, I don’t order it enough.

 From there we walked around the park a bit then headed to Nocello, who deem themselves “The best Italian Restaurant in New York”, though I would have been pleased if they were the best Italian restaurant within a 15 block radius. We arrived at 8:30 and only had to endure a very short wait before we were seated at a nice table in the back of the restaurant. Our waiter soon appeared, and while his Italian accent was endearing, his patronizing tone was a little insulting in assuming that we wanted the cheapest bottle of French Cabernet on the menu. I promptly corrected him that we were not in fact saps, and he brought over a nice medium-bodied bottle of Chianti.

 Even though it didn’t take us long to decide on what we wanted, the waiter was again pushy as he returned with our wine. We decided to order two entrées and share them both, ultimately deciding on Vitello Frascati (Veal with artichoke hearts and Frescati wine sacue), and the Risotto special (Risotto with shrimp and fried scallops).

 Surprisingly, our entrees came out entirely too fast. I never thought I would ever say those words but it happened. Literally 30 seconds after we were served bread and olives, our dinners were plopped down in front of us. Again, a little insulting. These jokers were trying to push us out of their fine establishment faster than fish tacos make the jump from delicious to deadly.

 The dishes themselves were excellent. I started on the Risotto. Maybe I hadn’t eaten Risotto is quite a while, but this was perhaps one of the top two Risotto’s I have ever had, the other being in Venice, Italy. It’s amazing how such a dynamic flavor can be compounded in a little grain of rice. Each bite seemed more delicious than the last as the Risotto radiated aromas of fresh seafood, cream, and garlic – three flavors that combined beautifully. I could hardly put the fork down, though glancing over at Jacqui enjoying the veal I decided that a swap was necessary. The thinly sliced veal topped with a light artichoke wine sauce quickly made me forget about the Risotto. Deep down I think that I could eat veal three times a day for the rest of my life. Yeah, I know how evil it is to slaughter baby cows, but hey man, who am I to upset the food chain? If we weren’t supposed to eat veal than it wouldn’t be so damn good. That’s at least how I justify it to myself…I wouldn’t have done to well in the Garden of Eden, that snake had quite a compelling argument.

 After savoring our dinners for as long as we possibly could, we polished off our bottle of wine, and asked for the check. Although we left satisfied, it can’t be ignored that the staff at Nocello were, simply put, assholes. You can’t rush people out of your restaurant based their appearances. I was dressed the part in my blazer and Jacqui looked amazing in her dress, but these wise guys figured I couldn’t leave a decent tip. So guess what, I left only a decent tip. And I normally pride myself on being an excellent tipper. We left having enjoyed a very delicious dinner, though next time I’m looking to get a good Italian meal in Midtown, Nocello will not be on my radar.

 Next we cabbed it to the Gotham. The headliner of the show was Paul Mecurio, tagged as an Emmy and Peabody award winning writer and comedian, formerly of the Daily Show – sounded good to us. Arriving about a half an hour prior to the show started, we were ushered downstairs to a bar where we were informed that any drinks we ordered now would not count towards our two drink minimum. Great, I thought, tomorrow is going to be rough…

 A little horn went off at the bar signaling to us that our show was about to start. Getting there so early, we reserved a table in the very front and someone led us right there, to the VERY FRONT of the stage. I quickly realized that this may have been a bad idea, as I readily expected to be taunted and my girlfriend hit on by likely hilarious comedians. The first two comics up were pretty funny. I don’t remember either of their names, though they managed to make fun of three other couples who weren’t us so I was feeling pretty good. Next up was Rob Riggle, which was a completely unexpected surprise. Rob Riggle is a former Marine Officer, Saturday Night Live member, and perhaps most famously, Daily Show correspondent. This guy is hilarious and we were both very excited when we heard his name. Riggle got on the stage and promptly scanned the room for women, identifying individuals while pointing to them and saying “I’d do you…I’d do you…I’d do you”, before he pointed right at my girlfriend and proclaimed, “We’re doin’ it tonight”. I couldn’t tell if she was flattered or insulted, though we were all laughing our asses off. He went on to talk about run-down-stadium men’s rooms, the state of Kansas, movies, and before I knew it Vodka Tonic number 1.5 of my 2 drink minimum was down the hatch. He also mentioned a new movie he was filming in New York with Will Farrell, so look out for that. Riggle left the stage to a roar of applause, and next up with the headliner, Paul Mecurio.

 I didn’t know anything about Mecurio though he proceeded to give us his brief bio; went to law school, became a corporate lawyer, quit and became a successful standup comedian. This dude is my hero. As Vodka Tonic number 3 was being gulped down much of Mecurio’s set escaped me, though I do specifically remember him and I sharing a “pound” as he leaned off stage following our terse back-and-forth about Gold Bond Medicated powder (the stuff in the green bottle). After the show ended we ran into Mecurio by the bar and he gave Jacqui his autograph as I causally mentioned to him that he was now a great inspiration of mine. I don’t think he heard what I said, but he chuckled likely remembering me as his Gold Bond compatriot.

 From there, things got a little hazy. I remember going to a bar close by called Jake’s. I insisted that we go in because as some of you may know, Jake is my name. The place was pretty empty, and we got a drink a piece, which the bartender doubled for free…THANKS a lot, not at all what I wanted. My girlfriend was able to neither confirm nor disconfirm that we took a cab back to our hotel, but we came to the conclusion that we must have after we woke up in bed the following morning.

 As planned from the day before, we were going to meet the girlfriend’s dad at the Carnegie Deli for a quick meal before we headed back to Vermont. The deli was only about five blocks from our hotel so it was quite an easy walk, despite the rough shape our bodies were in. I was fully confident though that a healthy serving of some of the world’s best pastrami would make me feel better, and that it did. If you’ve read some of the previous material on this blog than you know that I love pastrami. It is irrefutably the best deli meat to ever have existed. When done right, it’s steamy, salty, peppery, meaty, absolutely delicious, and as you all should know, the Carnegie Deli has some of the best around. Having dined there before, knowing fully what to expect, and taking into consideration the frail state of my digestive system, I split Pastrami and Rye with the Jacqui. The half a sandwich was more than enough as I struggled the finish both the Pastrami and my Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry Soda. We left full, and extremely pleased to have once again visited a famous New York landmark Deli.

 From a culinary standpoint, the trip was then over. Our ride home consisted of beef jerky, Red Bull, salted cashews, and hot fries. When we finally arrived at our house in Burlington, I was totally spent and eager to watch game 4 of the World Series. A great weekend in New York, filled with awesome food, and good times left me in dire need of rest. Until the next time, be easy New York, it was good to see you again…and most importantly, screw the Yankees, GO PHILS!!!


soft pretzel logo

This past Labor Day weekend I ventured home to Philadelphia to embark on a weekend of catching up with friends, swimming, damaging my liver, and of course, seeing my family. I hadn’t been back home in nearly 4 months and was experiencing some serious Illadelph withdrawal. It’s a shame that I couldn’t spend more time back home, Philly is an amazing place and I really miss the hell out of it – but I take what I can get.

Now when I come home for any period of time there are a number of food related rituals which I have to address – namely (1) eat a cheesesteak, (2) get a Chicken Mole burrito from Santé Fe Burrito, and (3) take a trip to Wawa. However during this brief trip I was only able to accomplish the first two on my list, as Wawa and myself were unable to reunite, once again.

 A little explanation:

I have to attribute my recent lack of motivation to visit Wawa whenever I am home to the fact that they changed there hoagie rolls. One upon a time, for 21 years of my life, Wawa carried only the finest, freshest, most delicious Amoroso’s rolls. But around a year ago, the Wawa corp. opted to shift their bread making operations from the trusted Amoroso factory in Philadelphia, to Omni Baking Co., based out of Vineland, New Jersey. As a result, Wawa now saves a ton of money through buying their bread from a manufacturer who operates out of a tax-free-zone, though it was we the loyal Wawa patrons who suffered.(http://www.philly.com/philly/jobs/industries/retail/20080727_PhillyDeals__Wawa_hoagie_rolls_now_from_Vineland.html). The Wawa rolls I once adored have now morphed into something just a tad superior to the glorified hot-dog rolls I have spoken of before on this blog (not to mention, and despite what they claim, a 6 inch is no longer 6 inches, and a classic is no way EVEN 9 inches). It’s really a damn shame; and Wawa has unfortunately gone down hill.

I still enjoy a Wawa hoagie. And no one can ever take away from my fellow Philadelphians and I, the countless Wawa runs we’ve made throughout all hours of the day and night. But something is clearly missing from the place I once so deeply loved.  

sante fe burrito

We all know how good cheesesteaks are, so I won’t even bother touching on that point here. Though I will say that unfortunately, I did not get a cheesesteak from my all time favorite steak spot, Jim’s on South Street. Say what you want about Jim’s, but that place holds it down. What I do want to harp on though, is the excellent Chicken Mole Burrito I ate some Santé Fe burrito. Ever since the Santé Fe Burrito opened up about a mile away from my parent’s house some 10 years ago, I cemented that they make my absolute favorite burrito – The Chicken Mole. Mole sauce carries a classic Mexican flavor, as its incredibly complex recipe exudes hints of chocolate, chilies, and some 20 other spices. Chicken, like many other Mexican dishes, is pretty much the only meat served with mole (at least that I’ve ever tried). Who ever thought to put chicken mole in a burrito is a genius. Seriously, seriously good stuff. Really, no other burrito I have ever had has such a unique and dynamic flavor. I think I could eat a chicken mole burrito everyday for the rest of my life.

Continue reading ‘Ode to the Philly Soft Pretzel’


montreal_skyline

Montreal Quest: Part Un

Restaurant Bombay

This past weekend I had the privilege of taking a mini vacation to a gorgeous city just north of the border, Montreal, Quebec. My girlfriend’s Mom was nice enough to take me along on their annual family summer getaway, and needless to say I was very excited to get out of Burlington if for nothing else than to share some surely awesome food experiences. Finding out months ago that we would be making the trip, I had been brimming with anticipation, looking forward to enjoying an authentic French meal – something which neither Burlington nor my wallet could justly afford. As an avid Anthony Bourdain follower, I have long desired to experience the delights of one of his most eulogized dishes, the highly controversial, classic French staple Foie Gras. The dish remains illegal in Vermont, though our barbaric neighbors to the North could care less about animal rights – a fact which I was extremely happy with and quite excited about. Before embarking on our Canadian retreat, I announced enthusiastically in the car that foie gras would be entering my stomach at some point during the weekend. Its hefty price tag would surely not deter my motivated palate. The foie was my holy grail, and in Montreal I would be Arthur – rather Graham Chapman, the Monty Python great.

Leaving work early on Friday (man! did that feel good) I sped home so we could get a reasonable start on the drive. We got on the road at around 5:00 PM, and arrived in Montreal only about 2 1/2 hours later. It’s amazing how simply crossing an imaginary line can expose such immense cultural differences. On one side of the border everyone speaks English. Though when driving only 2 miles across it seems like you’ve been thrust into rural France. The drive up certainly provided for some interesting sights. Unbeknownst to all of us, Montreal was hosting some sort of hot air balloon festival that weekend. As we were driving through the suburban outlying lands of the city, we all noticed about twenty-or-so hot air balloons floating in the distant sky – a beautiful sight. Though, out of the corner of our eyes we noticed what seemed to be dark alien space ships dissenting to the earth. Now I’m not one to believe in aliens, monsters, ghosts, or the like, but I swear to you, these things looked like death-causing UFO’s seen in something like Terminator 3. All that was cycling through my mind was Jack Nicholson’s comical performance as the President in Mars Attacks – which by the way is one of the top 3 alien movies of my generation. As we approached the flying objects they soon became to take shape. The man-destroying UFOs quickly morphed into a smiling bumble bee and his friend a goldfish. Needless to say I felt like an idiot, though was slightly relieved.

We finally arrived in Montreal and found the bed and breakfast where we would be staying. The place was great, though we didn’t waste much time inside and promptly hit the streets in search of some food. This was not my first time in Montreal, though I can hardly say that I know the city. We were all very excited to walk around and experience what this French-Canadian metropolis had to offer. Starting out on rue de Saint-Catherine (the one street with which we were all familiar) we wanted to eat somewhere else, seeking unchartered territory. Turning on to rue de Saint-Denis we quickly decided that one in the seemingly endless line of restaurants would suit us well. The street was filled with restaurants, bars, cafes, lounges, and there seemed to be an overwhelming emphasis on enjoying the warm summer night. While I love Burlington and greater Vermont, part of me misses desperately the heartbeat of a living city. There was action, movement, and presumably endless possibility wherever we turned our eyes. One could easily get lost in the liveliness of Montreal – a sort of vaguely relevant opportunity that that I hadn’t experienced in far too long.

We walked up and down the street, debating on what kind of cuisine struck our moods and finally deciding on Indian. There were probably 10 Indian restaurants that we passed, though knowing virtually nothing about any of these places we picked one at random and entered. Firmly cementing our decision, the simply titled Restaurant Bombay was not too fancy, smelled great and was ready to seat us. We ordered some Naan to start and then began to peruse the menu. Naan is one of the many types of delicious Indian flatbreads. Its flaky crust and soft interior makes an excellent substitute for the common table bread we are used to. Good Naan tastes just like a croissant, just flattened, bigger, and void of French snobbery, easier to pronounce.  

Upon entering Restaurant Bombay I knew that I wanted lamb. Unlike many European inspired cuisines, lamb is a meat offered in virtually every Indian dish. After examining the rather long menu, I ultimately decided on Lamb Vindaloo. I was warned by the waiter that this dish was “very very hot“, though the news hardly fazed my decision. That dude was certainly not lying as the Vindaloo proceeded to make me sweat, a lot. Combined with the humid summer air I was soon in a pool of my own perspiration. [Note: a common theme everywhere we went in Montreal was that NOBODY LIKED AIR CONDITIONING! And I thought these Canadians would PREFER frigid temperatures.] Compared to any Indian food I have had in the past 4 years in Burlington, this stuff was outstanding (sorry Indian House). The lamb had that perfect fall off the bone consistency (though of course there was no bone) while the very spicy curry complimented the meat and potatoes swimmingly. I promptly ordered more rice for it was the only thing which eased the pain or swallowing. Taking a look across the table at my girlfriend’s brother eased my senses. Mike also decided to flex his muscles and order the Vindaloo, albeit with beef. And while I was having a tough time, this kid was downing water and sweating bullets like someone about to have a colonoscopy in Tijuana. The table shared an order of Palak Paneer, a dish which I had never before tried, though too was quite tasty. Paneer is a type of South-Asian farmer’s cheese, with a texture similar to that of Feta, and a taste similar to any type of milk curd (http://www.tasteslikehome.org/2007/11/i-did-it-i-made-paneer.html). The dish is a spinach based concoction, served over rice or with Naan. The Paneer itself was also very good, though by the time I was finished with the Vindaloo my stomach had just about all it could handle. We left the restaurant, headed back to the hotel and I proceeded to wallow in pain while simultaneously loving the great meal we just had. That night I dreamt of Pepto-flavored ice cream and candy machines full of Tums. One can easily imagine how I felt the following morning – spicy food is like crack. I sometimes give me stomach more credit than it can handle.

Montreal Quest: Part Duex

L’Express

Despite the delicious Indian food we had eaten the night prior, I was still craving a French meal – and a French meal only. We spent the next day exploring the city, riding bikes, walking around, seeing this and that. Montreal has a public bike program in which one has to pay a small fee ($5 flat rate, plus something like $1.30 for every additional hour) and gets to ride a bike around anywhere in the city. There are bike stations all over the place where you can return or rent a new one at will. Other cities have similar programs around the world, but this was the first time I experienced it first hand. Very cool stuff. Sweet bikes too.

Jacqui’s Mom had been recommended that we eat at a French café somewhere close to our vicinity called L’Express. Looking in one of our handy tourist guide books, I found L’Express in the section of the book describing French Restaurants – nice. After a long stroll around the city we set out on a mission to find this French eatery, though much to my dismay we failed repeatedly to find the place. We must have walked around the block 3 times, surely looking like confused tourists wielding an oversized map, rocking fanny packs, walking around with our shirts firmly tucked ALL the way in. Jokes aside, we actually were those people with the map…

We ended up getting so frustrated on our search that we quickly bailed on the idea of a good French dinner and settled for another French Canadian favorite – crepes. And when I say settled, I mean settled. The crepes weren’t terrible, though I was expecting much much more. My ham, cheese, and mushroom crepe was far from fantastic. The place reminded me of a Swiss chalet with an identity crisis – minus the snow, beer, and chocolate. Us Burlingtonians (man, am I now a Burlingtonian…sorry Philly) are privileged to have an awesome crepe joint in the Skinny Pancake. I do even remember what this place was called, though what I do know is that the Skinny Pancake puts it to shame. Staying with the whole French theme I could go for Skinny Pancake’s Bella Bella Crêpe Confit right now. That’s right, Duck Confit in a crepe. What more can you ask for? The answer to that question is a chessesteak on a Kaiser roll, topped with fried salami, onions, tomatoes, and Thousand Island dressing, (otherwise known as the Schmitter – http://www.mcnallystavern.com/) mmmm.

One bright spot was Jacqui’s order of pretty tasty escargot. But, honestly, what wouldn’t be good baked in a vat of garlic and butter. I would eat rocks if they were cooked like that escargot. We left the restaurant that night glad to have eaten, though despite what was said (or not said) I knew that we all yearned for the goods – we had to have them. As Kramer once emphatically asked George: “Do you ever yearn?” George simply replied: “Yearned? I’ve never yearned. I’ve craved. Constant craving!” Like the great thinker George Costanza, I myself had a serious craving for foie gras.

We spent the next day exploring Montreal’s renowned botanical gardens. Suffice it to say that the gardens were quite beautiful, though the humidity was reaching unbearable heights. After sweating off another 5 pounds we ate some popsicles, grabbed some water and broke out like Shawshank. I even raised my arms and looked up at the sky, begging for some precipitation – though in un-fantastic climax the rain did not come. We had to head back to Burlington in a couple of hours, which left us just enough time to sit down and have a late lunch/early dinner. I didn’t really want to push the envelope and demand a French meal (I had been complaining pretty consistently since we first embarked) though after the previous nights lackluster dinner, everyone wanted to get a quality bite to eat. Alas, we again turned to L’Express. And this time we would find the place or die trying.

I don’t know what our issue was the day before; though this time we found the restaurant with ease. To our defense L’Express does not have a sign on their façade, rather their name is only visible on the ground next to the sidewalk. A little pretentious if you ask me, though this after all was a French restaurant and I was prepared for even the most arbitrary smugness. I have to say I was kind of nervous when we walked in. I had been anticipating this moment now for months, and I wanted it to be a perfect as I had imagined (how nauseatingly sappy, I know). We were quickly seated on a table near the front window. It was lucky for us that we choose to eat at such an awkward hour, for shortly after we sat down “reserved” signs were being placed on virtually every surrounding table. I was brimming with fervor when Jacqui suggested that we order a glass of Chardonnay, a request which I happily obliged. As we sipped the wine and read through the menu there were a number of items which caught my eye. Jacqui and I quickly agreed that we would split an order of Steak Tartar with frites (French fries) for our main course with gazpacho and salad for an appetizer, plus wait for it…the foie gras terrine. At first I was a little hesitant to order the foie. After being treated to such a lovely weekend, the thought of spending thirty plus dollars on a hockey puck sized appetizer just seemed cruel. Jacqui’s Mom finally insisted that I order the foie, and I accepted contending that I contribute to the bill. We all agreed and at last, placed our order. First to come was the gazpacho and foie gras. You should have seen my face when our server put the plate in front of me. To sum, pure joy – I was damn excited. [Note: I feel as if I should elaborate on my severe desire to try foie gras. Growing up as a Jewish kid, I frequently snacked on chopped liver and crackers, a delicious, protein filled quick eat. After learning about foie gras, how it is not only the finest liver one can eat, though one of the finest meals one can have, and given my love for chopped liver – I knew that I needed to try it.] Its presentation was not exactly fancy (though I’m not sure how fancy a liver pâté could possibly be), a foie pâté sitting in the middle of a round plate, surrounded by toasted crackers and tiny cubes of jelly-fat. As the dish was served like I would typically eat chopped liver I felt right at home. Spreading a healthy schmear of fattened goose liver onto a toasted slice of French bread, I topped the appetizer with a jelly cube and dug in. The easiest way to explain the taste is really, really good, rich, flavorful chopped liver. Though unlike standard chopped live, foie gras is in its purest form – no filler, just liver and natural fat. The aroma was very irony with almost nutty essence, though perhaps most importantly; it maintained an undeniably welcomed meaty flavor. Its texture reminded me of semi-soft butter – thick and creamy. The taste was so opulent that it lingered far after I had swallowed, and even after I sipped my wine. As I chewed, tasted and swallowed I immediately wanted another. My plate was bare within minutes. Before this glorious encounter I had known not really what to expect of foie gras. Though following shortly after my first indulgence I was hooked – plain and simple, foie gras is the real deal.

When our entrée arrived I was not yet ready to let go of the foie memory. “No tartar! Stupid steak, worthless mush, I thought to myself. “Give me more of that precious liver ”. Though once the plate was put down in front of me, it didn’t take long to realize that steak tartar is excellent in and of itself, and I was still really hungry. I quickly popped a frite (French fry) into my mouth and was in awe. “Damn, this has seriously got to be the best fry I’ve ever had”, I said aloud. It honestly was. I never asked, though I’d be surprised if the frites were not fried in duck fat. They were so perfectly crisp on the outside while soft and gooey within. Really, I have never tasted a fry so good. It may be a shame to say, though the fries outweighed the tartar, which was very good – though not quite as eye-opening. I don’t even really remember the rest of the meal because after the foie, the tartar, and a couple of those fries, I was in another world. This WAS the meal I had been dying to have. As we left L’Express I knew that my Montreal experience had been complete – a truly awesome meal to affectionately highlight a great little trip. 

 

Restaurant Bombay Rating: 4-phones

L’Express Rating: 4-phones

….Foie Gras & Frites Rating: 5-phones