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


Sadie Katz
189 Bank Street
Burlington, VT 05401

  sadie katz logo

 Lately I have been participating in a bi-     weekly routine, one which begins painfully, and actually commences quite   favorably. For whatever stupid reason I have yet to establish a direct deposit for my paychecks, (physically holding your money in hand is enormously gratifying) so every Saturday I have to wake up out of a drunken slumber and get over to the bank before it closes at 12:00 PM. And for all readers who mock my struggles of having to wake up at 12 on a Saturday, you clearly are not a friend of mine, and I certainly did not see you at Esox at 2:30 on Saturday morning.

So for the past couple of weeks I have been making this journey, getting up at 11:30 AM and riding my bike down to the bank on Main Street in Burlington. Conveniently, Bank North is literally right across the street from City Hall Park, which every Saturday hosts this great farmer’s market (http://www.americantowns.com/vt/burlington/events/burlington-summer-farmers-market-2009-07-25).I try to get myself over to the farmer’s market regularly, though unfortunately I only seem motivated when I have to get to the bank.

Moving on…

After exiting the bank (and after parking myself by their water cooler, pounding about 7 glasses) I wandered over to the farmer’s market. Low and behold, who do I run into, non other than my buddy Jon Dom and his girlfriend Sam. Dom was at Esox last night (at least I think I remember talking to him) so kudos for him for getting out of bed. We were all hungry and soon began pondering what to get to eat. We thought that surely something in the market would strike our fancies, though we couldn’t bring ourselves to make a decision. [Note: Sometime soon I have to write a post about the farmer’s market. They have a ton of great food options, fresh produce and locally grown, grass feed meats.] I had tried pretty much all of the prepared food at the market in the past, so I was open to explore other options. We decided to walk to a CVS to get some iced tea and mull over our decision, when suddenly, Jon and I both noticed the same establishment out of the corner’s of our eyes – the Jewish Deli Sadie Katz! Having both been exposed to a large amount of delicious Jewish cuisine, we both quickly agreed upon Sadie Katz as our final destination. Naturally we complained that whatever sandwich we ordered would likely be over $10, though we swallowed our pride and entered. As soon as the pungent smell of deli hit my nose I knew exactly what I wanted – Pastrami on Rye, with mustard and a side of cole slaw. Jon ordered “The Rachel”, which is a pastrami Reuben with cole slaw. Our sandwiches were $8.50 a piece, rather steep for their size, so I was initially a little perturbed (and also, they forgot my pickle – a deli faux pas if I’ve ever seen one).

Sadie Katz makes sandwiches in two sizes: Burlington Big for $8.50, and New York Huge for $16.00. Now, I haven’t had a pastrami sandwich in New York for a few years, and maybe inflation has done a number on deli meat, though $16.00 for a sandwich!? Surely you jest, Sadie Katz. Well actually, the famous Katz Deli in New York sells their pastrami on rye for $15.00, and something tells me that their pastrami annihilates anything found in Vermont, not to mention the likely significant size discrepancy.  Anyway, we got our sandwiches to go, strolled back to the park and ate on the steps in front of city hall. I’m almost positive that I have eaten pastrami from Sadie Katz before, though biting into that sandwich, I experienced something new (for Vermont, that is), something simply delectable. I looked around still chewing and with a big grin on my face I exclaimed, “this is pretty damn good pastrami“…and it certainly was.

Now I know what you must be thinking, “but Jake, you’re not even from New York. What do youknow about good pastrami”? Well, as a person who is from an area with a sizeable Jewish population, one with many a good-deli, and as someone who has been to New York countless time and has eaten the finest sandwiches the city has to offer – I tell you, I know my pastrami. This pastrami, from Sadie Katz, was very very good. The meat was perfectly seasoned; it encapsulated a wonderful array of spices which titillated the palate – sweet, salty, just awesome. The pastrami itself was an excellent display of the how deli meats should look, a beautiful marbling of muscle and fat, full of flavor, extremely tender, and just barley steaming after exiting the oven. I finished the sandwich rather quickly and gazed over at my friends still eating…I am indeed a very fast eater.

Really, the sandwich was excellent, at least as far as the pastrami is concerned. I think I am going to have to buy a pound from Sadie Katz and make a pastrami sandwich my way. The only two complaints were that the rye bread, while very tasty in itself, was relatively tiny compared to the Jewish Rye I am used to. That, and perhaps the most significant knock, is that overall, the sandwich was pretty small. When I make a sandwich at home it is significantly bigger than what was given to me at Sadie Katz. This is something that should never happen when you get a sandwich from a Deli, not to mention a “Jewish” Deli! Despite the fine quality of their pastrami, I think the people at Sadie Katz should go and take a lesson from my boys at Henry Street Deli in maximizing the customer’s utility. Those guys know how to make a large and tasty sandwich.

Even though the pastrami on rye at Sadie Katz is far to small, and a bit overpriced, they do indeed serve by far the best pastrami I have tasted in Burlington. As stingy as I may strive to be, I can’t deny myself of the goods, and Sadie Katz has certainly got ’em.

Rating:   4-phones


It has been a while since my last post. I recently graduated from college, started a new job, and needless to say, have had a lot on my plate over the past couple of months. Though frankly, I have just been straight up lazy as of late (at least in terms of my food blogging)! There are a large number of culinary encounters I could speak of since the last time I have updated this site. Though instead of writing about one specific restaurant or meal, I have decided to write about a variety of things I simply would like to talk about, encapsulating hopefully, my recent relationship with food.

 I have to say, one of the most important restaurants in my life is one which I have written about previously – the quaint, unassuming, hole in the wall, amazingly delicious Vietnamese prize of an establishment – Pho Huong. I am proud to say that my friends and I are now regulars at Pho Huong, which we simply and affectionately refer to as Pho (pronounced fuh). Since the first time we dined at Pho, my love for Vietnamese food was born. Additionally, since that first eye-opening experience, I have been motivated to try a wide variety of not just Vietnamese food, though Asian food in general (albeit I was already a serious lover of Japanese cuisine). In addition to Vietnamese, I have recently fallen in love with Thai food. Having once been the boy who hated curry and feared what it would do to his stomach, I have transformed into the man that will taste every curry imaginable, one who loves to cook, eat, discuss, and think curry. That though, is for another time…

pho huong

 I don’t know a better, more elegant word to describe Pho Huong than awesome. This place truly is, awesome. Now, maybe it’s not the fanciest place I have ever dinned in, maybe their menu is not quite as diverse as I once dreamed, though these are the things that I love about Pho Huong. This is a place that you can walk in at any time, any day of the week, expect to be seated within 5 minutes and have an exotic, delicious, exciting, and inexpensive meal in front of you in what seems like no time. I have never ordered anything from Pho Huong that I have not adored. They are as consistent as they are authentic – great food, highly personal atmosphere, fast, cheap – no bull. This place is perfect for any occasion, whether it be a causal dinner with friends, quick take out after work, or a romantic meal with a significant other. If there is one restaurant in Vermont that I can call home it is most certainly Pho Huong. I hope that this establishment continues to experience the great success they seem to be enjoying. The family owned and operated Vietnamese culinary gem is really a treat – a dream for someone who loves to try new and exciting food, in a comfortable setting without breaking the bank.

 Now even after experiencing the joys of Pho Huong a couple of times, naturally, I wondered if other Vietnamese restaurants can offer the same that I have come to expect from PH. We have tried other Vietnamese places, Pho Deng in Winooski, Vietnam Restaurant II, in Burlington (gotta love a painfully simple name for an establishment) among others. These places were, suffice it to say bad, in comparison to Pho Huong. More expensive, obnoxiously overdone (or hauntingly dingy) atmospheres these other, less authentic Vietnamese operations are plainly not as good as PH. Now I can’t say that I’ve been to every Vietnamese joint in Vermont, hell not even close to all in the Burlington area. But I can wholeheartedly tell you that I never want to try another as long as I am in Burlington – as long as Pho Huong is still cranking out the delicious joys that they continually bring to my friends and I. There’s no point, I’d simply be setting myself up for dissatisfaction. For everyone who is reading this, and if you are you probably have, go out and try some Pho Huong – you will not be disappointed.

 Menu Suggestions:

#15, Bun Thit Nuong (Pork Vermicelli) Thinly Sliced Char-Grilled Pork with Egg Rolls. Served Over Rice Vermicelli. Sprinkled with Crushed Peanuts.

 # 5,Pho Tai (Beef Noodle Soup) Thinly Sliced Flank Steaks with Rice Noodles in Beef Broth

 Everybody Get Your Roll On….

 Now, onward to a much more pressing issue in my life…VERMONT SIMPLY DOES NOT COMPREHEND WHAT MAKES AND WHAT IS A GOOD HOAGIE ROLL! And if you don’t know what a hoagie roll is, then shame on you. If it makes you a little more comfortable, a hoagie roll is (sigh) a sub roll, though infused with all that is great about Philadelphia. Hoagie rolls cannot be obtained in Vermont, without of course, placing a large order to one of our beloved Hoagie manufacturers in Philadelphia i.e. Amoroso’s Rolls (http://amorosobaking.com/) – something which I have often contemplated doing. I have been struggling through this painful void in my sandwich life for 4 years now, and needless to say it has been tough. But, alas, just only a couple of weeks ago, upon stumbling on this great little Thai market down the street from my house I discovered something amazing…

 After browsing through the aisles of That Phat, the market which I now frequent, I noticed a container full of rolls sitting next to some bins of assorted fruits. Upon inspecting the rolls, I picked up a bag, looked at them, felt them, and was in awe about how they resemble my estranged hoagie roll. It’s been a long and painful search all over the state of Vermont to find something that I can put my deli meat on – and I couldn’t wait to unpack these babies and load them up with some turkey, mustard, and Muenster cheese. After grabbing a few other things to buy (curry paste, baby bok choy, a chicken heart here and there, ect.) we went to the counter to pay. Still brimming with anticipation and holding these seem to be hoagie-esque rolls in my hand, I inquired to the cashier where these rolls came from. With a big smile, and broken English, the guy looked at my girlfriend and I and said “Oh yeeeah, we get from Boston. Nothing like that around here. Very good“. Ha! This guy gets it. He has felt my pain! He knows what it is like to eat a sandwich on some real freaking good bread, and he was lucky enough to be in a position to do something about it – to order these rolls, and have a great impact on his, and my life! Jacqui and I just looked at one another and laughed (she knows from my incessant complaining how I loath the bread in Vermont). I went home a happy man, and suffice it to say I was even happier when I tasted that wonderful, fresh, delicious bread. Yes. One of my many concerns is no longer a problem (now if I could only watch the Phillies every night, buy some Yuengling from Pearl St. Beverage, and get a real cheesesteak I could consider never going home – just kidding, I love you Philadelphia!

 I do feel that I should elaborate on the whole Vermont bread issue. Vermont bread, for the most part is actually pretty good. There are tons of local, artisan bakeries around who produce some really tasty stuff. You can find a wide variety of these delicious artesian breads at most super markets or farmers/specialty markets. Though, whenever you order a sandwich (in hoagie or sub form), you receive one of the saddest things I have ever seen. Just go ask anyone who has ever gotten a sandwich from Kountry Kart Deli (except Vermonters, for they know no better). The sandwich always comes on this bread – this horrible, ugly, super-soft, spongy, white, tasteless, small, inadequate bread. The Vermont-style hoagie is a sandwich on an elongated hot dog roll, utterly unfathomable for any self respecting Philadelphia who has ever tasted Amororso’s – simply not OK. Now, if one wants a sandwich on some good artesian bread, which I myself enjoy from time to time, that’s fair. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some joker who asks if I “would like sprouts” call it a hoagie (or a sub, or a hero, or an anything but what it is – straight garbage)!

Pho Huong Rating (Revised): 5-phones


Sakura

09Apr09

Sakura 2 Church St

Burlington, VT 05401

(802) 863-1988

Last night after a long day of classes, my girlfriend and I decided to treat ourselves to an early sushi dinner before beginning a long night of studying. Both Jacqui and I maintain an allegiance to Burlington’s most esteemed and most delicious Japanese restaurant, Asiana House, though in an effort “to change things up” we decided to dine at Sakura. Additionally, Sakura offers lower prices than their neighboring competitor, and being jobless students, we are frequently drawn to relatively inexpensive offerings.

Arriving around 5:30 PM, the restaurant was virtually empty. I had never stepped foot in Sakura, in fact I did not even know that it existed until recently. My first impression of the restaurant certainly was not greatly impressive in terms of aesthetics. Especially when dinning in a Japanese restaurant, I appreciate simply, yet authentic signs that you are enjoying a foreign cuisine. Other than the sushi bar, this place did not suggest Japanese food. Going to the bathroom was yet more indicative of this rather plain establishment, which appeared to have been a recently converted restaurant from a college town bar.

Our waiter arrived promptly, and knowing what we wanted ahead of time, we ordered our meals. Being the cutesy couple which we are, we ordered two of the same meals – Miso soup, and “Sushi Pond”. The Sushi Pond meal was a simple chief’s choice 6 piece sushi nigiri with an additional tuna maki. It was a cold evening, and the miso soup did a great job of warming us up and preparing us for our sushi. Good and traditional miso soup. The sushi arrived soon after we finished our soups, and much like the restaurant, its appearance was less than visually stunning. The sushi looked fine, though again, I appreciate some sense of authenticity or adornment in my meal’s preparation, and such was not presented. The plain blue plate certainly did not prompt the same enthusiasm in me as say – a boat platter, or even just a simple decorative dish. Aesthetics aside, the sushi itself was not bad. The tuna roll was standard, light and tasty. The nigri was respectable, filling and flavorsome, though it was simply not as good as what is offered at Asiana House. It seemed fresh, though the high quality was just not there. I have certainly eaten less appealing and worse tasting sushi in my day, so Sakura is not on my bad list – I should say, not even close to being on it. Though for my next sushi endeavor – with sufficient funds, of course – I will most likely opt for a fine meal at the Asiana House.

 

Sakura Rating: 3-phones


A Day In Miami

18Mar09

Miami Part 1: Day

Having recently returning back to Burlington from a lovely spring break vacation in retirement-laden Southern Florida, I feel obligated to write about one of the most pleasant food endeavors of recent memory. I traveled with my girlfriend to Florida, spending 5 days on Hallandale beach – relaxing, sleeping, reading, swimming, and getting some much needed sun. Prior to embarking on our sun-soaked escape, I contacted my friend Jake from high school, a senior at the University of Miami, to see if we could get together one day. We ended up driving down to Miami, and despite the horrible traffic, we made it there with most of the day to spare. Being the prototypical tourists we were, wanting to get a feel for the more generic, trendy, and lavish Miami scene, we decided to spend our day on South Beach. Walking to the beach from our far away parking space, the three of us spotted a tiny Israeli café on one of the side streets we were gliding through. My girlfriend, having recently traveled to Israel in January deiced that she was in dire need of some Shwarma. Shwarma is a staple middle-eastern fast food dish. A sandwich like pita wrap filled with various meats (beef, pork, lamb, goat, or chicken), topped with zesty tahini sauce, and freshly cut lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. Having not eaten since the early morning I was certainly game for some Shwarma, and what seemed better than this hidden Israeli mini-restaurant. Walking in this place was a treat. We were the only non-Hebrew speaking patrons, though no glares were give as we were promptly seated. The whole process was quite fast, “Three Shwarmas, and three Maccabees, please”. Maccabee is one of Israel’s few domestic beers, which I had never had – but Hey, when in Rome…or should I say when in little Italy.

Our meals arrived in what seemed like 2 minutes, fresh, steamy, and deliciously pungent. We had not specified what kind of meat we wanted, and to my pleasure we were served chicken Shwarma. Its not so often that I eat Shwarma, but it was truly delectable. Perfectly curry-seasoned chicken bits tossed with fresh vegetables, tahini sauce, and side of freshly cut French fries put a smile on my face. We washed our pitas down with the beers, paid the check, and were off to the beach. Unfortunately I forgot, and foolishly did not write down the name of this gem of a café. But it will definitely be in my memory of “good eats,” and hopefully I will some day find my way back.

South beach is truly a spectacle. It seemed like there was a Porsche, followed by a Ferrari, and a Bentley two cars back on every single block. Well dressed, tall, beautiful people roamed the streets, each with some apparent purpose to make their boyfriends jealous or catch the eye of some sort of surely sleazy talent scout. I felt like I was in Los Angeles. The beach scene was typical. More beautiful people, lots of drinking, amazing sun, clear skies, and blue ocean. We stayed for what seemed like hours, soaking in the sun and taking the occasional dip. We left once the sun had vacated, and a homeless man started peeing on the nearby sand. As we were battling the horrific traffic trying to get back to Jake’s house, he decided to make a reservation at his favorite sushi restaurant for later in the evening – Matsuri. Sounded great to me.

Miami Part 2: Night, Matsuri

Matsuri 5759 Bird Rd Miami, FL 33155
(305) 663-1615

We finally arrived back at Jake’s house eager to shower, collect ourselves, and drink some more beers. What the hell am I doing in Vermont. His back porch is the paradise I so often dream was my everyday reality. A heavily, and diversely wooded yard with exotic looking trees and bushes is what he looks out to everyday. Meanwhile, I look out my window and see hard, icy snow banks and grey sky’s. Godamnit. Enjoying the crisp Miami night on his porch we realized it was 7:30, time for some sushi. Jake was relentless in his praise of this place, though I was naturally skeptical. We arrived half-drunk, underdressed, famished, and tired from the long sunny day – the maitre’de seemed less than impressed. Nonetheless, we had a reservation, and the 45 minutes wait did not apply to our clever asses, thanks Jake. Matsuri seemed like a typical, popular, and highly regarded sushi restaurant. The long and narrow dinning room was very crowded. The walls there plastered with photo-mat quality bamboo forests, a pleasant and refreshing touch. We were seated on an end table, closets to the sushi bar. I am continually fascinated with sushi bars. They appear so simple, though the food produced is so carefully crafted and unpretentious, yet visually stunning. Furthermore, sushi chefs are right there in front of your face. They can’t afford a high pressured freak-out, or bad day drama to get in their way. They need to constantly remain calm, composed, and on point – ready to pump out countless tasty fish filled rice concoctions.

Jake ordered a plethora of appetizers and one unagi roll (eel), while my girlfriend and I were going to play it simple – the Matsuri Combination A, two salads, two miso soups, and lastly two pieces of octopus sushi. The Matsuri Combo came with 12 pieces of assorted (chef’s choice) sashimi, 6 pieces of assorted sushi, and a tuna roll. Still maintaining our day long buzz, and sitting on a rather thin wallet, we neglected to order any sake. Sushi without sake?! Some might ponder the atrocity, but try being a student on vacation then come talk to me. Despite the rather unpleasant demeanor of our server, our food arrived quite fast, good luck today I suppose. The combo platted looked phenomenal. We were dying to start inhaling the fabulous looking rectangles of fresh, raw, and aesthetically stimulating fish. Though, prior to our feast, Jake insisted on us trying a piece of one of his apps, Beef Sashimi Carpaccio. This dish was similar to a typical Carpaccio, though with a revitalizing Japanese twist. Raw (sashimi style), paper thinly sliced beef, topped with a rich yet subtle teriyaki glaze. Very, very good. But enough play, now onto the sashimi.

The chef’s choice for our Matsuri combo sushi portion was two pieces of Toro sushi (raw fatty tuna), two paces of Maguro sushi, (raw lean tuna), and two Ebi sushi (cooked shrimp). The sashimi included two Toro, two Maguro, two Hamachi (yellowtail), and two Hirame (halibut). Eating our sashimi was an invigorating, orgasmic, almost out-of-body experience. I’m not sure whether the day had truly taken toll on our stomachs and minds, or this was in fact the best, freshest, most scrumptious fish we had ever tasted. I tried to savor each bite, though eating every beautiful chunk of raw fish was better than the last. I could absolutely not slow down, my belly wanted more. With some miraculous form of self-restraint, we managed to saved the best for last – two pieces of both Toro and Maguro sashimi. The deep maroon blood-like color of the maguro is a beautiful specimen of Japanese cuisine. It just looks and tastes so damn good. Rich, but somehow light, refreshing, and full of flavor. The tuna seems to simply dissolve in your mouth. We had one of each (how democratic), and the main course had unfortunately come to a close. Followed with some green-tea ice cream the and a little ginger to clean the palate, we left Matsuri feeling blessed to have just fooled the seas gods into letting us pilfer some of their most prized specimens. After much debate, my girlfriend and I came to the conclusion that what we had just partaken in was the consumption of the best sushi of our entire lives. Now, I say confidently, that we both have a fair amount, and even a reputable amount of sushi experience. I don’t know whether it was just the day we had, that particular night (it was in fact a full moon), or whether Matsuri is actually that good, but I say with firmly that Matsuri served the best sushi I have ever eaten. Truly excellent. If you are ever in Coral Gables be sure to check it out. My only concern is that I now fear my next sashimi endeavor will simply not live up to what we ate at Matsuri. Time will only tell.

I apologize for not providing any pictures for this review. I was not intending on writing about Matsuri, though it was so good I just had to.

Matsuri Rating: 5-phones