Nai Tapas Bar: Where traditional meets modern

Spain has long been a pioneer when it comes to molecular gastronomy. Despite the closure of elBulli several years ago, Catalonia is full of restaurants that have taken what Ferran Adrià did masterfully for decades and brought it to a wider audience. Across the ocean in the United States, restaurants have been showcasing similar techniques with great success. In NYC however, I have not seen this type of cuisine mixed in with Spanish food. Until now.

At Nai Tapas bar, which has been open for about five years, Chef Ruben Rodriguez has been serving up classic Spanish tapas from recipes from his mother and grandmother. More recently, Chef Rodriguez has steered the restaurant toward using a mix of classic and modern dishes. Dishes like fresh oysters topped with lemon air, showcase both the classic raw mollusk along with a modern molecular twist — delicious lemon air that is heavenly.

oyster 2Nai intends to expand to the second floor of the east village location with more seating and an open kitchen that will feature a tasting menu style seating of the modern Spanish delights that have joined forces with the traditional dishes like garlic shrimp. As far as I can tell, this would be the first of its kind in NYC.

Other highlights from the night include the Tostada de Lubina, which was a chilean sea bass wrapped in toast, topped with serrano ham wrapped asparagus.

sea 2The favorite of the night for me was the spicy chorizo over piquillo pepper and toast topped with fried quail egg and melted manchego cheese. I could eat the plate of these.

toast 2

In addition to the great variety of food styles and tastes, the wine list is also well designed, giving a wide range of options. There are also pitchers of sangria, because what would a Spanish tapas restaurant be without one of those.

The chocolate stuffed churro was a perfect end to the meal. I would highly recommend checking out Nai for some classics done right and for some other dishes that showcase familiar ingredients in new ways.

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La Sirene – France in NYC

rabbit stew


New York City is jam packed with French and Italian restaurants, maybe more than any other cuisine in the city. The problem you face when picking a French restaurant is that you either end up with a high-end restaurant with exorbitantly high prices. On the other end of the spectrum are the mid-level French bistros that offer a few decent dishes, but mostly don’t evoke the feeling of a true French bistro.

Enter La Sirene. Chef and Ownder Pawlicki Didier has been serving up some of the best French food in the South Village for more than eight years. The restaurant itself is unassuming, but charming, and the recent addition of a wine list (plus the BYOB option) make it a one stop shop for delicately prepared classic French dishes along side a nice glass of red wine.

Having been to many restaurants in Paris, I can say with certainty that the dishes at La Sirene are truly authentic. You will not find a better onion soup anywhere. There are also other delicious appetizer options including the escargots, which are not overly garlicky and a baby octopus salad with garlic, parsley, tomato and mushroom. Portions are also plentiful.

The entrees offerings range from gnocchi with truffles and a white sauce to cassoulet, which may be a winter dish, but Chef Didier couldn’t keep it off the menu. I tried a few dishes but was blown away by the rabbit stew. Rather than a big bowl of stew, the rabbit is served on a plate with a wonderful mushroom and white wine sauce and rice. The dish is outstanding and if you’re not a rabbit eater, this will change your mind.

One thing you can’t forget to do is save room for dessert. After all, the French make the best ones (well, a lot of them anyway). The best thing you can do is order the Tarte Tatin with ice cream. The next best option, if you have a sweet tooth and lots of hungry mouths to feed is get the Choux Chantilly. No place around has this chantilly stuffed profiteroles and they are incredible (and big!!).

Needless to say I have only great things to say about this restaurant. There wasn’t a bad dish served or tasted. The staff are friendly and helpful, offering suggestions when asked. Chef Didier has kept his doors open for the past eight years for a reason: French food at its finest.

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Guest Post from Baacco: Picking Quality Wines

Choosing quality wine might seem tricky – after all, how can one tell what’s in the bottle if it’s not been tasted? It’s easy if you find a wine reviewer that you tend to agree with, but not all of them have a palate that agrees with every imbiber. European reviewers tend to lean towards more balanced wines, with a solid acidic structure, lower alcohol and good varietal or regional characteristics, like this excellent Cotes du Rhone from Chapoutier.

American reviewers, such as Robert Parker or James Laube tend to enjoy over-extracted ‘fruit bombs’ that are not to everyone’s liking, such as this Cab Sauv from Stonestreet in California. You might wonder why these wines consistently receive such a high rating, but its roots are most definitely qualified and quantified, even if they may not be to your personal taste.

When we judge the quality of a wine, we look for balance of all the elements: fruit, alcohol and acidity/tannin, and not one component should stand out more than the rest. Even a hot-climate wine can have excellent balance though, like this Pinot Noir from La Crema in California. This is due in part to a gestalt approach to quality winemaking that starts in the vineyard. But can you determine the quality of a wine just from looking at the label? Probably not. And you certainly can’t depend on the price tag, either. Best bet is to do your homework. Find a reviewer whose opinions tend to align with yours, and check vintage charts when you can. A wine that is great in one vintage may not be so great in another. And then again, an excellent, boutique or small production producer, like Hartford Court (Calfornia) or Alvero Palacios (Spain) is almost always reliable, in that they are always focused on putting their best face forward.

For more information, check out the Baacco website.

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Sourdough starter: something you do want growing in your kitchen

starter 1


I’ve been wanting to try out my own sourdough starter for a while now, mostly at the urging of @jakqlin and her blog A Huckleberry Over My Persimmon. Seeing her pictures of sourdough pancakes and biscuits should be reason enough to want to try this out at home.

Many sites I came across, in doing research, say you need to buy an established starter from the interwebs. I opted to do it on my own. Will it be as perfect as a 100 year old starter? Maybe not. But there is something rewarding about growing your own yeast.

There are many guides to starters and I sort of used a mix of a few different ones. The three things you are going to need are a big jug of filtered water, flour (rye or all-purpose) and a mason jar (though you could use something similar). Oh, and the fourth thing is time.

The first picture on this blog is the initial mixing and just after a few hours. Below is after a full 24 hours. You can see the bubbles forming. Having had my starter going for just a few weeks, I’m not an expert. For some more tips once you start, check out the joy kitchen’s post. She has great advice on how to maintain your starter.

starter 2


Things I’ve learned:

  • When you feed your starter in the first week, you can use a smaller amount a few tablespoons of water/flour
  • After about a week, you can start storing it in the fridge when you don’t plan to use it
  • If your jar starts to really get nasty and crusty on the side, take your starter out and put into a bowl and clean your jar. Once you’ve discarded starter, you can go back to the jar.
  • The more flour you use to feed the starter, the more you’ll have to discard and cook with.
  • “Discard” doesn’t mean throw away starter. It means you can cook with the “extra.” Sourdough crackers are a great option, or biscuits, or pancakes.
  • You want to use starter that has been out and fed for a few days in baking bread, as you’ll want all that juicy yeast.
  • if you notice a brown liquid on top of the starter, simply pour it away. This means you waited too long between feedings or your ratio of flour to water was including too much water.


Recipe/Ingredients (version of this recipe from Nourished Kitchen)

Filtered water
Cheese cloth
rubber band

Day 1:
Whisk 1/4 cup flour with 3 tablespoons water in a bowl or jar. Cover with cheese cloth and seal with rubber band. Leave on counter. 12 hours later, repeat with 1/4 cup flour and 3 tablespoons water. Cover.

Day 2:
12 hours after previous feeding, in AM, add 2 tablespoons flour and 1 1/2 tablespoons water, repeat after 12 hours

Days 3-5:
By this point, your starter should be bubbly, rise some, fall, rise again. You want to continue feeding, now just 1 tablespoon flour and just under 1 tablespoon water. You will probably have around 2 cups of starter. Now you can remove 1 cup to use in biscuits or crackers. The remaining starter can be placed in the fridge, sealed or continued to be kept out, with daily feedings until you’re ready to use in baking.

If you bake a lot, keep it out and feed daily. If you bake weekly or less, simply place in fridge. You’ll need ~2-3 days of feeding to have it ready to bake with.

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Bacon and Beer Classic NYC


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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