Bacon and Beer Classic NYC

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Bacon is delicious. Beer is refreshing. What about lots of bacon and lots of beer. That’s even better. Where can I get lots of these in one place you ask? Queens, at Citifield, home of the Mets on April 24, 2015. The Bacon and Beer classic hits a few cities in the coming weeks, with New York next weekend.

There will be over 50 local breweries plus dozens of restaurants boasting lots of delicious pork products, among other things. Many of them I’ve never tried, but look forward to tasting.

Tickets are still available for both sessions. The early session seems to be sold out, but the evening session from 7-10 (or 6-10pm with a VIP pass) are still available.

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Balzem Mediterranean cusine & wine bar

In the heart of NOLITA sits Bazlem, a nearly year-old Mediterranean restaurant and bar that boasts more than 15 wine varieties available by the glass. Come in for happy hour and grab a glass for just $6 on select glasses, plus $5 tapas and $5 beers.

You’ll be sucked in when you wonder down the long wooden, rustic bar and exposed brick that runs along both walls. The inside feels warm and homey, while also very Mediterranean.

I’m a huge fan of tapas restaurants as they enable you and your group to try a number of dishes that is typically impossible to do otherwise. Balzem’s chef, Balahan Bobus, has created a menu that is deeply Mediterranean and brings out the full flavor of the various seafood options with bright citrus and herbs.

While I was able to try a number of dishes, a few are ones you can’t miss.

You’ll want to get the Branzini ceviche which is served with arugula and dill. It’s fresh, clean and the fish doesn’t get much fresher. Next, be sure to get three (yea I said three) of the octopus. If you’re by yourself, this may be ambitious, but with a group, get three. The spanish pulpo is marinated and grilled in red wine and served with arugula. The octopus is perfect.

A couple other winners include the Prosciutto wraps with burrata and roasted peppers. Normally I think of Prosciutto wrapped Mozzarella, but here, it’s creamy burrata.

You may be thinking, I like tapas, but I want to dive head first into a full entree portion, after all, you’re really hungry.  In that case go with a grilled brochette of lamb or ribeye, rare of course. If you’re so inclined to get a side, then the truffle mac and cheese is great, but rich and heavy, so be warned.

I don’t like Tiramisu. At Balzem, I could have eaten the entire Tiramisu. It was that good. I don’t know if you’ll have room for dessert after all the above, but if you do, get the Tiramisu. There are lots of places to eat in this area, but not many boast such an eclectic wine selection and delicious octoput, so put this spot on your list.

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Farmigo – Greenmarket meets CSA

In the past, I’ve been a big fan of joining local CSAs to get my vegetables for a good portion of the year. The major benefit, aside from getting awesome fresh produce to cook, is that you support local farms.

The past year, I opted out of my CSA in favor of picking things up at farmers markets or simply at the grocery store. Enter Farmigo. I was recently introduced to a new service that is the best of both worlds.

Farmigo connects local farms and other area purveyors of local products, enabling you to order them online and pick-up near where you live. Pick-up locations are mostly people’s apartments or a school. I could opt in to offer my apartment as a pick-up spot. The best part is, you arrive to find your bags already filled with the goodies you selected online.

The cost of many of the items is about what you would pay going to a local farmers market in New York City. A delicious, local, truly free range dozen eggs costing $5, which is the price I paid for said eggs elsewhere. Each week there are specialty items, from frozen pies ready to bake to a potato leek soup kit and awesome sauces and crackers.

If you’re interested in trying it out, you’ll get 40% off your first order. Sadly it only seems to be available in New York and the bay area in California.

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Le Village

About two years ago, I visited Table Verte, a vegetarian French bistro, the only one of its kind in New York City. Since that time, Chef Didier Pawlicki has rebranded the restaurant as Le Village. Many of the vegetarian and vegan options remain on the menu, but now you can get a rich Coq au Vin to go with your vegan Brussel Sprout appetizer.

In my opinion, with Chef Didier in complete charge, the food quality has increased dramatically. The restaurant still remains its location on east 7th street, a few steps from Avenue A. The policy of BYOB, also remains, with no cork fee (got to love that).

Now, the food. I sampled a number of the signature dishes, include the Soupe a l’Oignon (French onion soup). I’ve had this soup many times in the past, including in Paris, and this soup is rich, full of depth and can absolutely stack up to the best I’ve ever tasted. Small, house-made croutons, warm melty cheese, what more can you ask for out of a soup?

 

The other appetizers I tasted were the Brussels Sprouts with balsamic glazed strawberries. An odd sounding combo that actually works. It’s a bit peppery and has a nice bite. The other appetizer that you may require a loan to eat, since it’s so rich (though not expensive), is the ravioli in creme sauce. When I think of ravioli I think of Italy, but in this case, France kills it. Would be a nice side as part of your meal, to share.IMG_0147

The two entrees I tried were the coq au vin and the eggplant lasagna. Of these two, I would and could eat two portions of coq au vin. The chicken, bacon and delicious multi-day broth, is just superb. The lasagna was no slouch, and the eggplant was nice and soft, not tough like it can be served.

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To end the meal, we had the banana brule, which may not be my favorite type of desert, really gives a nice end to the meal, without being overly sweet.

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Le Village really offers a warm, cozy atmosphere and well prepared French dishes. Many bistros in New York have long menus with every single classic French dish, most of which are not well prepared. Le Village offers less items, but each is well crafted and thoughtfully prepared. I shall return.

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Flight – Upper East Side

FlightNYCInteriorHDR3SmFormally Dresner’s, Flight is a new gastropub that offers numerous beers, wines and spirits, all of which are available in flights. The restaurant features a bright, glass enclosed, café area in front, a long wooden bar and plenty more tables throughout.

Happy hour is an ideal time to stop in, as the offerings include $5 small plates, $5 glasses or wine, select beers and $7 specialty cocktails. The beer list is quite extensive, giving you the option to try larger more prominent craft beers as well as smaller, less common beers. You can never go wrong with anything from Sixpoint.

The menu options are vast and includes several dishes with a Thai and other Asian influences. The best of these dishes was the steamed PEI mussels with Thai style coconut curry sauce. There are other sauce options, but stick with the spicy Thai version.

If you’re not sure which direction to go, the seafood flight let’s you sample a crab cake, calimari and a roasted jumbo shrimp. The winner here was the crab cake, which can be ordered on it’s own, with a mango-pineapple-papaya slaw with lime vinaigrette.

For a larger, more substantial meal, there are pub classics like fish and chips, fried chicken and rack of lamb. Sandwiches also fill the menu, so you can come in for lunch and not be stuffed to the gills, while enjoying a tasty cheeseburger.

Before you go, don’t sleep on the sticky toffee pudding. Maybe even get some iced cream and combine them for the ultimate dessert. While Flight featured some delicious gems, the menu may be a bit too large for it’s own good and offering a bit too wide of an array of options. The prices however are very reasonable for the neighborhood and is a great place to stop and enjoy a pint of beer.

 

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Spiegel

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A restaurant doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive to offer a great meal. In fact, these days, with a small baby, going out some place fancy will be few and far between. A place like Spiegel, nestled in East Village/Lower East Side, is perfect for a delicious meal in a casual setting, without compromising on quality and taste.

I’d consider Spiegel to be a casual restaurant that is open early (7 am) until late (1 am). The mornings feature amazing coffee and house made croissants, best enjoyed around the semi-circular bar. And your lunch and dinner rangers from a tasty burger with crispy fries to a schnitzel plate with rice and a side of your choosing (go for the cumin roasted beets).

A little more on the coffee. Owner Shmulik Avital brings in coffee from California roaster Verve, which boasts rich, somewhat sweet coffee, that is only available on the east coast at Spiegel (for now anyway).

The friendly and inviting environment was on full display in my visit. Many around the bar knew each other, or if they didn’t, they were already friends. Spiegel seeks to be a neighborhood spot where you can gather to watch soccer or tennis on the big screen, while peering through into the open kitchen below. The beer and wine selection is also quite nice, with many of my favorites in the brew departments (Dale’s Pale Ale and Guinness).

I sampled a number of appetizers, salads, entrees and sides, as well as several desserts cooked up by the chef. I’ll dive into some of my favorites…

The baked feta comes out in a warm skillet with a smokey, spicy tomato and eggplant sauce with olives, served with warm pita. This is a nice sharing plate for you and your friends. The zucchini fritters were lightly battered and very flavorful paired with tzatziki sauce and a small arugula salad — you know, to make you feel like the fried food is more healthy. The salad I enjoyed most was the kale salad, which featured a number of other fresh veggies and a pomegranate vinaigrette.

As for the entrees and the accompanying sides, the grilled salmon with crispy potatoes, roasted fennel and tomato chimichurri was a winner. I might prefer the salmon rare, but the potatoes were how I like them. The schnitzel plate is enormous, as is EVERYTHING (whose complaining there) and the chicken is perfectly crisp and adds a touch of spice. The sides include cumin roasted beets, Moroccan carrots and broccoli with tihini. Each one is quite large, so order accordingly.

The dessert that I favored most was the baked apple pie/tart. It is full of apple and cinnamon goodness surrounded by a warm crisp crust. Add ice cream and I think I could eat it forever.

If you’re in the mood for an inviting casual restaurant, where everyone will know your name (well, in due time), then Spiegel is the place for you. And if you really love the best espresso around with a fresh croissant, then this is definitely the place for you!

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Sous Vide for the home chef

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Photo from Anova Precision Cooker®

I love kitchen gadgets, especially ones that make tasks easier or produce things that you are used to seeing at a restaurant. I don’t know what I’d do without my Benriner Japanese Mandoline Slicer , microplane or Cuisinart Immersion Blender. One thing I have always wanted to do at home was cook sous vide.

This is the method of cooking foods, sealed in a bag, under a temperature controlled water bath. This way of cooking enables you to take a beautiful NY strip steak and cook it to a perfect medium rare throughout. Or, you can cook some asparagus or an egg to a perfect creamy yolk center. The possibilities are endless.

Most high-end restaurants use an expensive, large version of this tool, such as the sous vide supreme. These are expensive and bulky, not really useful for a home chef, especially one who lives in New York City. The size and price of this technology is starting to come down, with options available for as little as $200 from Sansaire and Anova. These new versions fit right into your pot and are fairly easy to use.

And then it happened. Just yesterday, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, of Serious Eats’ Food Lab column, posted about a new model from Anova, the Anova Precision Cooker. This particular version, available to the public in the Fall, was being sold via Kickstarter, with prices as low as $99 for the first 1,000 backers. Currently you can still get one for $145, less than retail, but it wont last long. I swooped in and was able to get one at the $99 price, hoping it will be shipped in the September/October time frame they’re promising. As with most kickstarters, having learned from personal experience, there are usually unforeseen delays. Fingers crossed that I have this sucker by Thanksgiving.

This new model will bring about a new standard for home cooks looking to try sous vide. The new system will even be bluetooth enabled, letting you select recipes from your phone and program the unit with the swipe of a finger. The source code will be available, letting developers create new apps and recipes for the anova cooker.

If you’re looking to get one early with this kickstarter, it’s worth a shot. If not, this will sell to the public for $169 once released. I know I can’t wait.

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