Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Restaurant Review: Aldea

I can sum up this post in one sentence: at the end of the meal, I said to Ari, "I wish we had just gotten here so I could eat it all again". The food was unbelievable, it was definitely the best I have had in New York (although I haven't actually been to that many restaurants here). Located on 19th and 5th, at the edge of Chelsea, Aldea opened up about nine months ago and seems to be doing very well. Chef George Mendes is the son of Portuguese immigrants and has some pretty hefty credentials backing him up (Bouley, Lespinasse, Le Zoo, among others), and clearly knows what he is doing. The interior is modern and narrow, letting the food take full precedence. Next time I am definitely going to request to be seated downstairs next to the open kitchen, but the ambiance upstairs was still lovely. An eclectic mix of music played over the sound system, including the Shins. The entire staff was lovely and very informative.
But most importantly, the food. We had a hard time deciding on an appetizer, but ended up choosing the crispy pork belly with szechuan pepper, thin slices of apple, and a maple reduction ($9). The first bite was heaven. Think of the best bacon you have ever eaten, but then in addition to the crispiness, it also melts in your mouth with just a hint of sweetness and pepper. This set the tone for the whole meal, and we were both a little worried that the entrees wouldn't live up to the same deliciousness. Luckily, we were wrong and both were excellent. I had the scallops with farro risotto, cucumber, and blood orange ($28), and Ari had the Arroz de Pato ($24), a paella-like dish with duck and sausage. My scallops were perfectly seared, and the cucumber farro set them off nicely. A little yogurt provided a tangy contrast to the sweetness of the blood orange on top. Ari's Arroz de Pato was excellent as well, the sausage spicy and aged, the duck perfectly cooked and topped with duck cracklings for crispiness. Our waitress said that they snack on it all night long. We each had a glass of Aragonês & Syrah, Chaminé, Alentejo, from Portugal ($10), which was excellent. I haven't had a lot of Portuguese wine, and as expected, it was a perfect accompaniment.We finished the meal with a carmelized brioche, served with blood orange gel and creme fraiche pink-peppercorn ice cream ($10) and the sonhos ($10), or "little dreams". Which they were. The brioche tasted like extremely light French toast, its sweetness offset by the spice of the peppercorns and the sourness of the blood orange and creme fraiche. The sonhos were like the best donuts I have ever eaten, covered in sugar and served with three different sauces: chocolate, orange-mandarin compote, and apple cider caramel. However, somehow it all managed to not be overpoweringly sweet. Our waitress gave us each a glass of muscat from Greece to go with the desserts, which was really lovely and light without being cloying.
This is definitely a place for a special occasion (at least on my budget), but it was well worth every cent. They do have a three course lunch special for $20.09, which I will absolutely be returning for...and maybe someday when I have a real job I can try the fois gras terrine.

A look of complete satisfaction after the first bite of arroz de pato -- what more do I need?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wine 101: Brooklyn Wine Exchange

It has been a regrettably long time since my last post about wine (I have yet to expound on the charms of the wine section of Trader Joe's), but Ari and I ventured to Brooklyn this weekend for a little free wine. The Brooklyn Wine Exchange, in Cobble Hill, opened in December, and from all of the people in there on Saturday afternoon, seem to be doing pretty well. Even more excitingly, this week and next weekend they are offering free wine classes! I obviously couldn't pass up the chance. This week was Wine 101, a basic run through on the six most common grapes in the world. There were around 30 people in the class, first come first serve (we got there about half an hour early and perused their selection in the meantime). The instructor also talked quite about how wine is made in much of the world, the fermentation processes, and the role of terroir. The class itself lasted almost two hours, and there was an option to become members and buy the wine we tasted at the end. Anyways, onto the selections:

Elki Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Elqui Valley, Chile): I'm not usually a big fan of whites, but this Sauvignon was very light and quite pleasant. The color was almost translucent, the taste quite acidic which I like, with an almost sparkling feel and lots of citrus flavors.

Francine & Olivier Savaray Chardonnay, 2006 (Chablis, France): This is one of the largest wine producing regions in the world, reknowned for their chardonnay. You could almost taste the chalkiness of the limestone earth, and there were definite mineral flavors, in addition to some peach and dried apricot.

Shelter Pinot Noir, 2006 (Napa Valley, California): I know there is a lot of talk about pinot noirs, especially after the movie Sideways, and I didn't really understand it until now. I guess I just haven't had good ones. This particular vintage, however, was wonderful. The color was a light garnet, and I immediately smelled raspberries and chocolate. The taste was even better, slightly acidic with a hint of floral notes, but even more chocolate taste and lots of fruit. Somehow, it escaped being too sweet, and the texture was really lovely and velvety. This was definitely the standout of the group for Ari and I, but at $30 a bottle it is also the most expensive. Worth it for a special occasion, however. (Or if you are not on a college student's budget)

Michel Torino Estate "Don David" Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Cafayete Valley, Argentina): Cabernet is not necessarily my first choice on a wine list; but this was a good choice to show a typical one. The color was lovely, very dark and opaque, and the smell was quite earthy and I thought I detected a hint of tomato. The taste was also rather earthy with a hint of oak and smoke, with just a little sweetness at the end. Since this is aged in oak barrels, it makes sense. It would be a great accompaniment to a steak with some chimichurri.

Marquis Phillips Merlot 2008 (South Eastern Australia): This wine was quite a bit sweeter, with definite floral and strawberry notes. The taste also had some apricot and peach tones, and was quite fruit forward. There was lots of body and it was very smooth.

Von Buhl Reisling Medium-Dry 2006 (Pfalz, Germany): This was my second favorite, a lovely pale gold and translucent reisling. It was not overly sweet, like some can be, but had just a hingt of lemon and citrus fruit, with apricot and a bit of a minerally taste. Perfect acidity.

Overall, this was a wonderful experience and I hope to go back soon. The staff is clearly very knowledgable and passionate about wine, and I thought they had a great selection. They have a really great space, with the section for classes set up around long tables in the back, surrounded by wine and books on wine. For more information go to: brooklynwineexchange.com.

Bar Jamón

This weekend was very productive, as far as blogging goes. I was lucky enough to get to see my friend Liz from high school who goes to the New School in New York, and works at Mario Batali's Casa Mono. We met at the wine bar next door, Bar Jamón, which serves tapas and has a very extensive wine list. This was my second time at a Mario Batali restaurant (Otto was the first, which I regrettably never wrote about. Perhaps that will be a future post when I go back), and I must say that both have been very excellent experiences. Bar Jamón is a little more casual and cheaper than its sit-down counterpart, and the menu is pretty simple. The space inside has a great atmosphere, but is very small so you will probably have to wait for a table or a space at the bar. (The above picture is at a rarity -- perhaps when it was closed) We left our fates in the hands of the waiters, who Liz knew, and they served us some very excellent red wine (semi dry, medium body) and we decided to get the pan con tomate (crispy baguette topped a tomato and garlic mixture) and a plate of jamón (fitting), served with more baguette. Even though I had already eaten dinner, it was a great midnight snack. I will definitely be returning, hopefully next time for more food and to try some different wines.

Tapas range from $3-$30, and wine ranges anywhere from $7 for a glass to upwards of $1000 for a bottle (maybe someday...). Located at 125 17th Street, Manhatten.

Picture from http://newyork.metromix.com/content_image/full/896998/560/370

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Zucchini Bread

This was definitely the only way that my mother could get me to eat zucchini when I was little. For some reason, adding lots of sugar made it taste so much better -- and though I do eat zucchini now as an actual vegetable, I haven't lost my love for this moist, wonderful bread. I didn't have my mom's recipe, sadly, but I used one from one of my favorite blogs instead, which from the tastes of the batter I tried seems to be nearly as good.

Zucchini Bread
(from smittenkitchen.com)
Adapted from several sources

Yield: 2 loaves or approximately 24 muffins

3 eggs
1 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini (if you have a BEAUTIFUL new food processor like Zoe does, this takes 10 seconds
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
1 cup dried cranberries, raisins or chocolate chips or a combination thereof (optional)
(Personally, I like the traditional bread with no additions)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease and flour two 8×4 inch loaf pans, liberally. Alternately, line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Mix in oil and sugar, then zucchini and vanilla.

Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt, as well as nuts, chocolate chips and/or dried fruit, if using.
As someone without a dishwasher and an inherent dislike for doing dishes, I only used one bowl and added all this after -- just make sure you mix very thoroughly.

Stir this into the egg mixture. Divide the batter into prepared pans.

Bake loaves for 60 minutes, plus or minus ten, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Muffins will bake far more quickly, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.
This only improves over time, so it will be even better the next day!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I look forward to the Dining In section of the New York Times every week. There are inevitably delicious sounding recipes (usually saved and of which most are sitting in a notebook, waiting for their turn to be made) wine reviews, and news about restaurants around the world. So imagine my delight today when the feature article is about Vancouver, and not only that, but about one of my favorite restaurants that I have ever visited! Vij's is a small family owned place, with new takes on traditional Indian cuisine. When I visited Vancouver with my family a few years ago, it was recommended to us by the owners of the bed and breakfast we stayed at, who went there all the time. The restaurant has two parts: a lounge and take out area and the actual restaurant. I don't remember exactly what I had, but it was some kind of portabello mushroom curry that was unbelievable. In addition, I particularly remember the mango lassi and the naan as being especially good, and my sister got a chai that makes one from Starbucks seem like watered down cinnamon tea. This was no ordinary chai -- you could taste all of the spices individually, while none of them overwhelmed the others. It was spicy and sweet and mysterious, exactly what chai should be and what I imagine it would have tasted like 200 years ago to the explorers who ventured to India. Of course, I had to get the cookbook. Regrettably, I have only made a few of the recipes as many of them call for hard to find spices and ingredients, but Vij's Family Chicken Curry is delicious. If you are anywhere near Vancouver, I would highly recommend this place.

From the New York Times:

"First is Vij’s, an extraordinary Indian restaurant that Vikram Vij opened in 1994. Vij’s is notable for its intricate regional interpretations of Indian food — grilled sablefish in a fiery mango reduction curry, for example — and for its all-female kitchen staff, as well as for its curiously non-maddening policy of taking no reservations (beer and free snacks in a pleasant lounge help) and its graceful, deeply efficient service. For food, try a plate of chickpeas stewed in star anise and date curry, served over grilled kale, and see if your universe doesn’t expand. Eat lamb popsicles in fenugreek cream curry and color yourself groovy. More naan to scoop that all up, another I.P.A. to wash it down? These come in a flash, accompanied by a smile." (Sam Sifton, "If Meals Won Medals", 3 February 2010)

and their website: http://www.vijs.ca/index_in.htm

images from http://www.scallywagme.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Vijs.jpg and http://www.dmpibooks.com/get/img/book_image/XL-eh9zm8fp.jpg

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mushroom, Shallot, and Bacon Quiche

I haven't made quiche in ages, even though it is inevitably delicious and not very complicated. Ari and I decided to make this last night, and even though my camera is still broken so there are no pictures, I thought it turned out quite well. The great thing about quiche is that you can pretty much put in whatever flavors you want, so there is lots of room for moderation. We also had some carmelized onions left over from making pizza the other day, so we threw those into with excellent results.

Mushroom, Shallot, and Bacon Quiche (adapted from epicurious.com)

1 refrigerated pie crust (half of 15-ounce package) (you can of course also make your own but this is fine if you are in rush)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2/3 cup chopped shallots (about 3 medium)
5 cups sliced assorted mushrooms (such as chanterelle, stemmed shiitake, oyster, crimini, and button; 12 to 14 ounces) (we used portabella and shiitake)
4 slices turkey bacon or bacon
4 large eggs
2/3 cup half and half
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups (packed) coarsely grated Fontina cheese (about 7 ounces), divided (we used Gouda, and you can also use gruyère)


Preheat oven to 450°F. Unroll crust completely. Press firmly onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter deep-dish glass pie dish. Bake until light golden brown, pressing on sides of crust with back of spoon if crust begins to slide down sides of dish, about 17 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

Meanwhile, melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms; sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté until mushrooms are tender and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer to plate; spread out to cool slightly.

Cook bacon in microwave or oven until crispy (about 15 minutes).

Whisk eggs, half and half, milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg in large bowl to blend. Stir in 1 cup cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and bacon. Pour filling into crust. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese over quiche.

Bake quiche until puffed, golden brown, and just set in center, about 45 minutes. Cool 30 minutes. Cut into wedges.