All Posts Tagged ‘Restaurants

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A look back — 2015 in review.

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A week late because that’s how life works.

2015. What a year. Truth be told, it was a doozy. I got to stroll through Paris on a perfect summer’s night and I got to relish the view from atop Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai. I also experienced the absolute punch in the gut of my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and have spent much of the year coming to terms with what that means for him, for me, and for our family. I left an old job, I got a new job, I left New York! I laughed (a lot), I cried (a lot, mostly behind closed doors but occasionally in the middle of dinner with friends because they are wonderful and they care about me immensely), I cooked and ate a lot a lot (some healthy, some not so healthy, some downright indulgent). The highs were really high and the lows were really low, and I end the year on a different coast than I started. And through it all, this little blog o’ mine was a constant source of comfort and a creative outlet and a way to connect with all of my people (all 35 of you).

So in celebration of all that was, here are a few highlights of the culinary variety that I will cherish from 2015.

Favorite Things I Ate in 2015
Dumplings with Black Vinegar & Chili Sauce in Flushing, NY: Do yourself a favor the next time you find yourself in the New York City metropolitan area: take the 7 train all the way to the Flushing Main Street stop, head across the street to the New World Mall and take the escalator down to the basement food court (just go with me on this one). Look for the two little ladies in the corner making dumplings by hand. Run to them as if they are your long lost surrogate Chinese grandmothers. Order one of each kind of dumpling (the pork and chive are my faves) and dive right in (don’t forget the black vinegar. Never forget the black vinegar). They’re cheap, authentic and crazy delicious. You’ll work up an appetite on the commute out, but your efforts will be handsomely rewarded.

Brillat Savarin Cheese in Paris, France: How can you go wrong with French cheese? The answer is you cannot. But when I laid my hands on this creamy slice of heaven for the first time (shout out to the cheesemonger in Montmartre who steered me in this glorious direction), it was like I had never eaten cheese before. Rich, creamy, perfect for slathering on a freshly baked french baguette. Did my cholesterol suffer as a result? Definitely. Was it worth it? Hoooooo boy was it ever. (P.S. they sell this cheese at Whole Foods so get thee some toute suite).

Kauai Waffle with Mango & Bananas and Coconut Syrup at Hanalei Coffee Roasters on Kauai, HI: Hi, my name is Tina and I don’t like sweet breakfast foods (Hi, Tina). I know, I’m a weirdo but give me bacon and eggs over pancakes any day of the week. Except Saturday, June 20th, 2015, when I first experienced the Kauai waffle. This tiny coffee shop on the North Shore of Kauai churns out these bad boys for locals and tourists alike, and you’d be a fool to pass on them. They’re light and fluffy and I swear the fruit gets picked off of a tree out back, sliced up and placed directly on the waffle because it is the freshest fruit I’ve ever tasted. Also, coconut syrup. Who knew? A revelation.

Sushi from Shoga in Sandpoint, ID: Yes, that’s right, the best sushi I had all year was from a sushi bar in Idaho. Deal with it, snobs. The fish was crazy fresh, the sushi rice was on point, and I’ve never had better spicy tuna. Look ‘em up the next time you’re in North Idaho (because I know that’s a regular destination for all of you); their sister restaurant, 41 South, is also a treat.

Pan Roasted Cauliflower at Imperial in Portland, OR: My first truly great meal after my return to Portland! This city knows what it’s doing when it comes to food (see here please), so I wasn’t at all surprised that my meal at Imperial was fantastic. But the star of the show was the pan-roasted cauliflower with hummus and cara cara oranges. You know when cauliflower gets nice and brown and crispy and caramelized and it’s just the best? This was that x 1000. The rich earthiness of the cauliflower was perfectly paired with the brightness of the oranges and the hummus just rounded everything out in the best, creamiest way possible. Had I not been in a public setting, I definitely would have licked the bowl. But maybe I also did lick the bowl anyway? #sogood

Favorite Things I Cooked in 2015
Ricotta Toast w/ Lemon & Honey: Simple, easy, can be done a thousand different ways. Toast had a moment in 2015 and I was right there to try ‘em all. This one, however, came out on top for me (closely followed by OG Avocado Toast), due to its simple, fresh flavors of Spring.

Cacio e Pepe: This was the dish I came back to most in 2015. There really is nothing more satisfying than a simple bowl of pasta and cheese, and it’s so easy to throw together and so easy to jazz up, I will eat cacio e pepe for many years to come.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake: Showstopper! This was a fun one. One of those recipes that you try on a whim and you probably don’t make very often because it’s, shall we say, rather labor intensive. But it was equally as delicious and was a big hit among my rhubarb-loving coworkers. Plus, it’s real pretty.

Chicken Tortilla Stew: My favorite Fall/Winter dish, this one got a lot of people talking. It’s spicy and tangy and it warms your insides, perfect for an afternoon of football or a Saturday night dinner party or reheated on a chilly Tuesday. It’s all things to all people, the everyman’s stew. And it’s just crazy good.

Cinnamon Rolls & Bacon on Christmas Morning: OK, I’ll amend my ‘no sweet breakfast foods’ to include one item — I LOVE cinnamon rolls. So this year I thought I’d make them from scratch for Christmas morning (these ones, if you’re curious). And they were great! They aren’t beginner’s baker territory (any recipe that spans over multiple days is not for a beginner in my book), but they were worth the effort. Fry up a little bacon along side and you’re all set. Heart attack! Come at me.

Favorite Food Memories of 2015
Brunch at Russ & Daughters in New York, NY: Such a quintessential New York day. You get out of bed early, throw on about 16 layers of clothing and head out into the sub zero temperatures. Gotta get those bagels, y’all. I met a few favorite friends and we sat around in our cozy sweaters and gobbled up our perfect bagels with perfect lox and perfect cream cheese and it was heaven. Lots of laughter, lots of coffee, endless potato latkes. A cozy respite of warmth from an otherwise chilled to the bone day. I love New York for days like these, they are what makes the city so goddamn special.

Dinner at Bistroy Les Papilles in Paris, France: Bold statement — this was my favorite restaurant meal of 2015. I mean, they had a bit of an advantage going in, seeing that this is a tiny bistro in Paris run by a Michelin-starred chef that is also a wine shop and you choose your dinner wine by grabbing a bottle off the wall. It feels like you’re being invited into the chef’s home to eat, and eat you do, incredibly well. The entire meal was perfection — from the delicious wine to the falling off the bone lamb shank (oh, the lamb shank), to the gorgeous cheese course to the creme brûlée for dessert. My dinner date and I stumbled out of the restaurant as if in a fever dream, not quite sure what we had just experienced was real (also, we were probably drunk). It was insane, I still dream about it, I won’t ever forget it.

Tart night in New York, NY: Bolder statement — this was my favorite home-cooked meal of 2015 (not really a bold statement). My absolute favorite nights are those that come together spontaneously. You go in with no expectations because you’d had no time to build it up in your head, and you end up having the best of times. A roof deck with a perfect view of Manhattan at dusk doesn’t hurt either. What started as a wild experiment in baking ended in a laughter-filled night with favorite friends, gobbling up summer’s bounty and washing it down with endless rosé. Good food, good friends, good wine — what more could a girl ask for?

Clamming on Long Island, West Islip, NY: One of the saddest things I can think of is the potential of a shellfish allergy. I don’t have one, THANK GOD, but if I did, there would be tears. And because I don’t have a shellfish allergy, I was able to fully embrace digging around in the sand of the Great South Bay lookin’ for clams with my favorite LI residents. Clamming is not a graceful exercise; it mostly involves wading around in hip deep water digging your heels into the sand waiting to feel the bump of a shell. Clamming is not a speedy exercise; it takes a few hours at minimum to produce a take large enough for an actual meal. But. BUT. When you take these puppies home, scrub ‘em up, and steam them juuuuust enough to open with a little white wine and garlic and fresh herbs, it is all WORTH IT. Man, is it. Company wasn’t too shabby either.

Lunch at Machine Shed, Davenport, IA: This was a bittersweet memory. There was the joy of having most of my Radeke family together again at one table, something we haven’t done in many years. There was some really, really good fried chicken and biscuits. Maybe the best I’ve ever had. And there was the ultimate realization, through a few simple interactions, that my father is sick, and things will never be the same. I walked away from that meal with two things: One — the belief that family is everything and moments like that are not endless, so you better cherish them while you can. And Two — a butter dish shaped like a cow.

So much good in 2015, and so much good to look forward to in 2016. I hope all of you had memories to cherish from the last year, thank you for sticking with this crazy ride of mine along the way!

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sunday dinner: gnocchi pomodoro with fresh mozzarella.

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Guys. Hi! Guess what? I moved to Portland, Oregon. Say whaaaaat?! Yes, Plumber’s Daughter has gone West. Well, returned to the West is more accurate. My roots are here, my family is here, and now, after a nine year stint away, I’m here.

This was a big move, and one that came about rather quickly. To be honest, I wasn’t ready. New York and I were in a committed, long term relationship. He was about to put a ring on it. But, as Hugh Laurie so astutely observes, ‘It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready,’ so here I am, in a new/old city, writing a new chapter. And you know what? So far so good.

Here are the things that have happened since I moved to Portland:

  1. It’s been raining like a motherfucker. Harsh words, yes, but when Oregon is breaking rain records, you know it’s serious. Where oh where have you gone, my beloved sunshine? Can we please do lunch soon? Call me.
  2. I’ve taken up loom weaving. Hey, if you’re going to move to the hipster capital of America, you should probably take up a super obscure craft. Here’s to many a sexy afternoon spent in a yarn store.
  3. So much has changed, and yet, so little has changed. I drove (drove!) past the Thai restaurant I basically lived in in college and it’s still freaking there. Fried bananas and thai iced tea for life, y’all. At the same time, entire new neighborhoods have sprung up that didn’t exist when I lived here before (did you know that Portland also has a neighborhood named Brooklyn? I sure didn’t).
  4. New city, new chapter, new JOB. Three weeks in and I’ve figured out where my office is and where the cafeteria is. That’s success in my book. #onboarding

I’m on the right track here in the PNW, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss New York. The city will forever live in my heart, and will always be a major player in my kitchen. One of the last dinners I had in NYC was at one of my faves, Frank, a tiny hole in the wall East Village red sauce joint. It’s classic New York. Classic Italian. And you don’t go to Frank without ordering the gnocchi. A straight forward dish, Frank’s gnocchi is simply red sauce and pasta with a little basil. And yet, it’s the most comforting thing you’ll ever eat, and it’s one of the things I miss most about the city that never sleeps.

My version of gnocchi and red sauce has a few ingredients not seen in Frank’s version, namely the welcome addition of fresh mozzarella. It captures the spirit of Frank, and the spirit of New York City, and it will be my go to when I miss the city the most.

This dish is a breeze to bring together — if you can boil water and operate an oven, you can master this business. Enjoy it with some good crusty bread to soak up the extra sauce, a big ol’ glass of red wine, and friends/loved ones who won’t judge you for making weird guttural noises at the table and licking the bowl because it’s just that good.

If I can’t be in NYC, this is certainly the second best option.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Gnocchi Pomodoro with Fresh Mozzarella
Serves: 4 appetizer portions or 2 entree portions

You will need:

¼ cup plus one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 sprigs fresh oregano
4 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh basil plus more for garnish
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ yellow onion, diced
1 28-oz can tomatoes, diced or crushed
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup half and half
1 package fresh gnocchi pasta
10 small cherry-sized fresh mozzarella balls, halved
½ cup parmesan cheese, finely grated

Kitchen equipment: large oven safe sauté pan, large pot

Ahhhh, just looking at the ingredients of this dish gets me all kinds of excited. So much YUM up in here.

Start the pomodoro sauce. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add all of the fresh herbs (with the exception of the basil to be used for garnish) and toss quickly to coat the herbs in the oil. Cook for approximately 5 minutes until the herbs are crisp. The goal here is to infuse the herb flavor into the oil which will bring a brightness to the pomodoro sauce. Once the herbs are crisp, remove them from the oil and discard. Add the garlic and onions to the oil and cook until fragrant and translucent, about 5-7 minutes, turning the heat down slightly if necessary so you don’t burn the garlic (burnt garlic = bitter = bad).

Add the tomatoes to the garlic/onion mixture, making sure to include all the juices from the can. Stir to incorporate and season with salt, pepper and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes until the sauce reduces and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in half and half.

Cook the pasta. Heat some generously salted water to boiling in a large pot. Add the gnocchi and cook for approximately 3 minutes, until pasta floats to the top of the water. Remove the cooked gnocchi from the water and immediately transfer to the pan with the pomodoro sauce, spreading evenly.

Bring it all together. Set your oven to broil, ensuring you have an oven rack in the top position. Add the halved mozzarella balls to the pasta and sauce, distributing evenly among the gnocchi. Sprinkle the grated parmesan over the top of the pasta and mozzarella and drizzle with the extra tablespoon of olive oil. Season with a bit more pepper and red pepper flakes if you like. Place the pan in the oven on the top rack and broil for 5-7 minutes, watching closely, until the cheese is melted and the gnocchi are crisp and golden brown. Remove from oven, top with basil garnish and serve immediately.

Warm and rich and cozy and bright, all with a little kick. New York City in a bowl. The perfect reminder of my favorite city, and something to cherish in the new place I call home.

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where to eat (& hang) in nyc: gotham west market.

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The sell I got was, “Let’s meet around noon on Monday. We should really go to Gotham West Market because it’s great and you’ll love it…”

“…but it’s kind of a trek to get there.” Okaaaaaaay.

Never one to shy away from a bit of an adventure, I hopped on the subway in Brooklyn, rode into Manhattan, and full disclosure, got off at Union Square and took a cab the rest of the way to the corner of 45th St & 11th Ave. Listen, I don’t mind a good hike in the big city, but walking three avenue blocks from the nearest subway stop is pushing it on one of the only days all summer that was above 90 degrees.

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When I arrived at my destination, however, I could tell immediately that the journey was worth it. The Gotham West Market space is airy and bright, with an industrial vibe that is cool but not ‘too cool’, if you know what I mean. It’s what a cafeteria for adults should be — a little schmancy, full of great food in a fun atmosphere, and enough variety in seating that everyone feels like they’re sitting at the cool kids’ table. There are great nooks to tuck into, whether to break out your laptop and get down to work or to catch up with friends over a bowl of killer ramen (I did both).

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The vendors range in offerings from tacos (Choza Taqueria) to coffee (Blue Bottle) to ice cream (Jeni’s! YUM) to the aforementioned ramen (Ivan Ramen), and while I didn’t sample from every vendor, all of them seemed to bring their A game when it comes to design and to the quality of food and drink.

It also looks like there will be opportunities for new vendors to join the party throughout the year (for example, according to GWM’s website, Jeni’s Ice Cream is a ‘2014 Summer pop-up’). More variety means more reasons to return, something I plan to do often.

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For me, this is the ideal place for several reasons. First, if I want to grab lunch and hang by myself while I get a little work done, it’s great. In the three hours I was there, it was never too raucous (although it was during the day on a weekday, so not sure what it’s like around dinnertime), so it works well as a creative environment where you can still concentrate.

Second, it’s a great option when you have guests in town, as it’s a unique, ‘New York experience’ that’s not a straight up tourist destination. With the variety of offerings, everyone can have what they want without too much coordination or fuss.

And third, and I wish I had thought about this before, it’s actually a great starting or ending point for a nice little bike ride along the Hudson (this one was my friend Jaime’s idea, and she seemed to highly enjoy it, even in the heat of the day). Grab a Citibike downtown and ride up the Westside Highway to grab lunch (there’s a Citibike station at 46th & 11th) or head to the market first then work off that ramen with a post-meal ride. Or do both. Go crazy with it.

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However you arrive at Gotham West Market, and for whatever reason you’re there, you’re in for a treat. With food halls popping up all over NYC (next stop, Berg’n), it’s sure to be a popular spot, and GWM has great legs to stand on. I’m excited to see what’s to come for this unique (and delicious) Hell’s Kitchen gem.

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where to eat in nyc: dino.

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photo source: ka.va design.

photo source: ka.va design.

Today is the first day of Spring. And while NYC does not seem to have received that message just yet, it gives me hope, people. HOPE. Hope that I can finally put away my sleeping bag coat; hope that the weather forecast will no longer include the phrase ‘polar vortex’; hope that dining al fresco becomes a viable option again.

And when that happens (please, please let it be soon), you will find me at Dino in Fort Greene. Oh my, let me count the ways I love this Brooklyn gem. It’s that cozy neighborhood joint where you go to laze away the evening over a bottle of wine and good conversation. The menu skews Italian, the pastas are made in house (heart you, carbs), and the wine is reasonably priced and very drinkable. The best thing? That would be the garden patio in the back — a leafy respite from the buzzing city beyond. I just want to sit out there with a bowl of bucatini amatriciana and a glass of chianti and sigh contentedly because this is the life.

The service is attentive but low key, as if you’re a guest in someone’s home. The menu changes fairly regularly given the focus on seasonal ingredients (me thinks they take full advantage of the farmer’s market at Fort Greene Park down the street), and I’ve never been disappointed with any of my choices. Given its fairly traditional approach to Italian fare, it’s not going to blow your mind, per se, but the combination of atmosphere + fresh, homemade food + reasonable prices = winner in my book; the perfect spot for a date or weeknight dinner with friends (and they’ve got a pretty killer brunch, too).

So take my advice: when the city thaws, pop over to Brooklyn (so hot right now), and sit for a spell in the garden at Dino. Have that glass of wine, have that bowl of fresh pasta, and take a breather from our beloved but chaotic metropolis. It’s so worth it.

You can find Dino at 222 Dekalb Ave. in Fort Greene; closest subway is the Q at Dekalb Ave. or the G at Clinton-Washington Aves.