Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Hungry Rush

Food is rarely the focus at a wedding. That is typically true, unless, of course, you are attending a Roach wedding - where the bride cares, the mother of the bride cares, the maid of honor most definitely cares, and all of their friends and family care too! This past weekend, I attended my sister's wedding. While the entire weekend was absolutely amazing and words simply cannot do it any justice, I can attempt to fill you in on the delicious food that was consumed at the various events. If the setting and traditions were not enough to make you feel like you were in the south, the food surely did the trick.

The Bridesmaid luncheon was held at Redfield, a Virginia Historic Landmark that was built in 1853 in Halifax County by James R. Edmunds, my great-great grandfather. This classical villa-style residence served as a plantation home and sitting inside the estate, we were immediately brought back a few centuries. As we were surrounded by southern history, our plates echoed southern food. The hostesses had brought twelve boxed lunches from
Sally Bell's Kitchen located in Richmond. Each lunch contained a chicken salad sandwich on their homemade rolls, a cup of potato salad or macaroni salad, one deviled egg, a cheese wafer topped with a pecan, and a cupcake - not quite a light lunch that a typical bride might want the day before her wedding! I am pretty sure each item is made with Duke's mayonnaise - the secret to most amazing southern food. These delicious box lunches brought back memories of my childhood and made us all so happy to be bridesmaids to a hungry bride.

That night, the party moved into downtown Halifax for the rehearsal dinner. While the chic interior of Molasses Grill takes you far from its small town location, the cuisine remains true to its setting - serving excellent southern inspired food. For those who had visited Halifax in the past, they were shocked that such a sophisticated restaurant has entered the scene. And, for those who had never been to Halifax before, they were completely taken aback by a restaurant in such a small town serving New York quality food. The sweet potato crusted salmon was perfectly prepared in a butter sauce. But, it was the simple dessert - chocolate and vanilla mousse - that was the talk of the evening. Just when I thought I was full, I somehow had room for an entire champagne glass of this rich dessert and could not quite figure out why this usually basic dessert was so much more tasty than usual. It was nearly impossible to leave any behind - a great way to guarantee that the bride would go into food coma to ensure a great night's sleep before the next day's festivities.

The wedding day started out with a bang. It is hard to go wrong with a Brunswick Stew gathering at Easley Downs. A party at the farm is always guaranteed fun, but even more so when a pot of stew has been slow cooking for nearly 24 hours out in the yard. Brunswick Stew is the ultimate southern cuisine - a thick, spicy, tomato-based stew that could almost be the soup form of BBQ. This is more than a full meal on its own, but a slice or two of corn bread served as a great way to soak up all the flavors. And, for those with a sweet tooth and to truly bring us back to our childhood, we were served mini Mississippi Mud Pies. They may look like brownies, but the gooey chocolate and marshmallow interior takes the dessert to a new level. Overall, the farm feast was a wonderful last meal as a singleton for any bride and groom.

Since the bar had been set high at the gatherings leading up to the actual wedding, it was obvious that guests were excited for the main event at the breathtaking Berry Hill Estate. Within minutes of the start of the cocktail portion of the evening, every one was wowed by the passed hors d'oeuvres - in particular, the fried oysters on Ritz crackers. This is a specialty from the Country Club of Virginia in Richmond who so generously donated their recipe to the wedding. It was refreshing to see the bride and groom enjoying these delicacies and even eat a whole meal throughout the night. But, the number one, most talked about item was the dessert - caramel cake from Caroline's Cakes. There is no need for an actual wedding cake when you can serve something as delicious as these cakes. As with almost all of the southern fare served throughout the weekend, this cake is extremely rich and flavorful. I have had many caramel cakes in my day - and this one is hands down the best. With its seven layers of yellow cake and caramel icing, you only need a thin slice to do the trick - but I am pretty sure I saw several people heading back for seconds, maybe even thirds.

With such a southern feast all weekend, the only thing left to do was dance. The minute Complete Desire hit the stage, the guests hit the dance floor and never looked back. It was a good thing every one had stored up on food to carry them through the night. In my books, dancing makes a wedding - and hungry guests will not last long on the dance floor. So, in the end, whether people realize it or not, even at weddings, it all comes back to the food. Serve it up and people will dance the night away.

Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Rush! Our glasses and forks are raised to you!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Socarrat Paella Bar

Paella is often overlooked or just gets a bad rap - especially for those of us who have spent limited time in Spain. I am definitely guilty of breezing right past it on any Spanish menu recalling my disappointment the few times I actually did order the rice dish. In the past, if I was craving a rice dish, I would immediately head to an Asian restaurant - never thinking twice about a Spanish option. Under seasoned yellow rice with an assortment of poorly prepared seafood and meats never quite did it for me. So I will admit I was a little nervous about heading to a restaurant whose name actually included "paella," but after hearing several rave reviews from friends and critics, I figured I had to give Socarrat Paella Bar a shot. After basically being forced to order paella, as it is the all too obvious feature of the restaurant, I now have a new found appreciation for the authentic Spanish dish and feel the need to tell other Spanish restaurants the secret of Socarrat Paella Bar.

Socarrat is located in a tiny space on 19th street. The restaurant can hold about twenty five people at a time with one table up front and one long table through the middle of the restaurant. While it was wonderful having the front open to fresh air on a warm fall night, I envision this with closed doors as the perfect, cozy winter date spot. The menu is made up of two sections - tapas and paella - ideal for sharing since the paella servings are for two at minimum. While the paella is obviously the focus, the chef places equal importance on the tapas as we were overly pleased with each dish we ordered. We started of with a traditional Spanish tortilla. I was a little hesitant to order this since I held similar feelings about this dish as with paella - I have one too many poorly prepared Spanish tortillas. However, we realized that this could be a true test for any Spanish restaurant - a successful tortilla equals truly authentic Spanish cuisine. Socarrat nailed it on the head - this was one of the best versions of this simple Spanish specialty. The fried artichokes were also simple, but prepared perfectly as they were not overly breaded or fried. My favorite of the tapas was a dish made up of snow peas, fava beans, asparagus, fresh corn, tomato, and serano ham. I had originally thought that this would be a cold dish, but the warm combination was a welcomed surprise.

The flow of food was constant. I appreciated how every dish came out as it was ready and at the right temperature. However, when it is time for the paella, you definitely need to clear the way as the large cast iron skillet takes up nearly the entire table. We shared the paella Valenciana - chunks of pork rib, rabbit, snails, scallions, sugar snow peas, and asparagus. I had never even heard of these options in any other version of paella. Not only was it a great combination of vegetables and meat, but I found the rice preparation to be amazing. Since it had been cooked into the cast-iron skillet, the rice was slightly charred - making it full of flavor. As you near the end of the dish, the waiters come around and actually scrape the bottom of it so that you can savor every morsel - really taking in the true flavors. As with the rest of the diners that night, we cleared our skillet.

Since we had been so nicely surprised by other basic dishes all night, we decided to round out the meal with what we thought was a basic cheesecake - not something I would typically order. And, as with the tortilla and the paella, I was wowed. It was actually served in a brulee type dish - and had the crust of a key lime pie (one of my favorite crusts). The inside was made with goat cheese - and was such a great dish for someone who often prefers a cheese plate to an actual dessert. Unlike a typical cheesecake, this was far from heavy and was actually the perfect balance between savory and sweet. If someone were to tell me that they were opening a new and improved Cheesecake Factory, perhaps even called Cheesecake Bar with this on the menu, I would head there right now. It just goes to show - you should never judge a book by its cover. All it takes is a little authenticity - and even the most overlooked dishes can come to life.

Socarrat Paella Bar
259 W 19th St
New York, NY 10011
Phone: (212) 462-1000

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nantucket Dreaming

I still cannot believe it. Yesterday morning on my run, I was heading home and pretty much ran right into the Nantucket Lightship parked in the Battery Park harbor! I honestly thought I hadn't quite woken up and that I was still dreaming. Seeing the red lightship brings back all kinds of amazing childhood and even adulthood memories - we have been going there every year of my life. I wanted to grab the person running next to me and jump up and down pointing, sharing with them the excitement I was feeling. Nantucket really is my happy place. And of course, with happy places, comes great food shared with family and friends. I spent the rest of my run thinking about all that I love about Nantucket. Immediately, my thoughts turned to my favorite culinary adventures while on island - definitely the complete opposite of any cheap eats I have currently been frequenting. I decided I would balance out the Recession Edition with a Splurge Issue and write about a few of my favorite restaurants on the island.

If there was only one restaurant I was able to go to while in Nantucket, it would be The Company of the Cauldron. This is a tiny restaurant located in the middle of town where the menu changes each night. For two separate seatings each night, the entire restaurant is served the same meal - usually consisting of an appetizer, a salad, a main course, and a dessert. The first day we arrive in Nantucket, we stop by the restaurant to reserve the night with the best menu of the week. The rest of our nights are based around this crucial decision. Not only have I never been let down by a night out at the Company, but I actually even get a little sad when the night is over. I cannot decide if its the cozy setting, the delicious farm-fresh food, the friendly staff, or the live harp that make you feel like you never want to leave.

Another must is a newer addition to Nantucket - Water Street Restaurant. Located in the old Vincent's Pizza joint, this is a great spot for nearly all occasions. From an informal meal to a take-away lunch to even an elegant dinner - whatever you are in the mood for, the food will not disappoint. The bottom floor is the formal dining room where the concentration is new-American, organic fair. While the food is amazing on all levels, it seems that the regular crowd is usually found on the top floor in the bar-room. I think the vacationers appreciates the more relaxed setting and the flexibility to order from both the bar menu as well as the dining room menu. The final option is the bakery located on the ground level to the left of the restaurant. This is a wonderful choice for treating yourself to a gourmet day at the beach. Don't forget to grab one of the homemade cookies - hopefully they will have some ginger ones left by the time you get there.

I could go on and on about the culinary scene in Nantucket, but I'll wait to do that after my next trip out there in June. However, one last spot to think about is Black Eyed Susan's. I go here for two small reasons - brunch or BYO dinner - and one big reason - excellent food. While the restaurant is tiny and takes no reservations, it is well worth the wait. The food is prepared behind the bar that takes up the majority of the restaurant. In the mornings, you will not be disappointed by any of the egg dishes and the grits. By evening, you will find everything from the freshest seafood to hearty pasta dishes to even Asian-fusion items. While this would not quite make any form of cheap eats list, the BYO aspect will make you feel a bit better about some of the other splurges you have been indulging in while on island. Although, just remember, it wouldn't be a vacation without treating yourself in one way or another.

Even after my run, I spent much of my day dreaming about Nantucket - and how it was only a mere 7 months until I would be back there. I am still not certain what the lightship is doing in the heart of New York City. It seems so out of place with the high-rises of wall street on one side and those of Jersey City looming in the distance. But, I guess it just goes to show that I am never really that far from my happy place. No matter the season or the place, there will always be a piece of my heart in Nantucket - and it just so seems that a part of Nantucket will always find me.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Recession Edition

Times are definitely tough right now - no question. But, you still have to eat! I have decided to make a quick list of restaurant options for those on a budget (and we probably all should be). Apologies to the uptowners, but my cheap eats are definitely concentrated in the downtown region. So hop on the subway, come visit, and let's dine!

Hummus Place - 71 7th Avenue South (at Bleecker)
Westville - 210 W. 10th St. (between west 4th and Bleecker)
Ghandi Cafe - 283 Bleecker St. (between 7th and 6th avenues)
Wogie's - 39 Greenwich Avenue (Charles St.)
BLT Burger - 470 6th Avenue (between 11th and 12th streets)
Moustache - 90 Bedford St. (between Grove and Barrow streets)
Cafe Asean - 117 West 10th St. (between Greenwich and 6th Avenues)
Piadina - 57 West 10th St. (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues)
Zampa - 306 West 13th St. (between 8th and 9th Avenues)

Lil Frankies - 19 1st Avenue (between 1st and 2nd streets)
Dumpling Man - 100 Saint Mark's Place (between A and 1st Avenues)
Cafe Himalaya - 78 East 1st St. (between A and 1st Avenues)
Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches - 150 East 2nd st. (between A and B Avenues)
Cafecito - 185 Avenue C (between 10th and 11th streets)
Boca Chica - 13 1st Avenue (at 1st street)
Dok Suni- 119 1st Avenue (between 7th and 8th streets)
Momofuku Ssam Bar - 207 2nd Avenue (at 13th street)

Kuma Inn - 113 Ludlow (between Delancey and Rivington)
Spitzer's Corner - 101 Rivington (at Ludlow)
Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop - 129 Rivington (at Norfolk)
Teany - 90 Rivington (between Orchard and Ludlow)
Zucco: Le French Diner - 188 Orchard St. (at Houston street)
Bruschetteria - 92 Rivington (between Orchard and Ludlow)

OMai - 158 9th Avenue (between 19th and 20th streets)
Nooch - 143 8th Avenue (at 17th street)
El Cocoter0 - 228 West 18th St. (between 7th and 8th Avenues)
Chelsea Thai Wholesale - 75 9th Avenue (Chelsea Market)

- 222 west 79th Street (between Amsterdam and Broadway)
Dinosaur Bar B Que - 646 West 131st St. (at 12th Avenue)
Cafe Frida - 368 Columbus Avenue (between 77th and 78th streets)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Do Hwa

Korean BBQ is such a great concept - especially for New Yorkers. You get to go out to dinner in a space much cleaner and nicer than your cramped apartment, you can claim you actually cooked your dinner, and you don't have to worry about the clean-up. The trick is finding the Korean restaurant where the actual food served and setting are equally as stellar. While the majority of Korean restaurants are condensed in midtown between 31st and 36th streets, they are typically focused on the food, leaving much to be desired when looking at the surroundings. However, the trouble is that as soon as a Korean restaurant ventures off of this turf, the quality of food often becomes second-rate with the setting moving to the forefront. Do Hwa, while far from NYC's K-town, actually knows how to serve up top-notch Korean food in a trendy setting.

For those of you who are not familiar with Korean BBQ (gogi gui), it is the practice of grilling meats on a gas or charcoal grill that has been built into the center of a table. The meats have been prepared with Korean ingredients and spices - and so while you do the actual cooking, the success of the food really is in the hands and prep work of the kitchen. It is honestly pretty hard to screw up on the grilling! Another perk about Korean BBQ is the amount of food that arrives regardless of what you order. There are about 10 different side dishes ranging from pickled kimchi to sauteed mushrooms and broccoli that are served prior to the meats - all are at your discretion to eat with the BBQ or on their own. I will definitely admit that some of the items can be a little scary and even hard to identify. But, for the most part, they are great accompaniments. And, once you cook the meat, you wrap it in lettuce leaves, add the appropriate sauce, and pile on any of the side veggies that you choose. I think my favorite additions were the sprouts and the green beans tossed with sesame seeds.

We ordered two different meats to grill up - thinly sliced rib eye beef in a soy sauce and garlic marinade as well as thin slices of pork in a spicy red pepper marinade. The pork was my favorite - both the preparation and the sauce were excellent. In addition to the meats, we ordered another main - Hwe Du Bop - a traditional rice and vegetable medley topped with salmon and tuna sashimi. While we were surprised that this was actually a cold version of Bibimbop, it ended up being a great compliment to the hot meal we were cooking in front of us. Sauces seem to be the thing here - as this dish was also eaten by stirring in a red pepper sauce. One final (and delicious) addition to our meal was the shrimp, squid and chili pepper scallion pancake. This was totally unique- perhaps even a Korean form of a pizza? Well, maybe not in taste since there really was no cheese or sauce, but at least in presentation!

I think it would be nearly impossible to leave any sort of Korean restaurant hungry - especially one where every dish was so good. At Do Hwa, they give you a choice of soup or salad with the meats and even the side salad was deliciously dressed with a soy sesame vinaigrette. Since the food was so well prepared, I really have spent little time talking about the setting - but, the atmosphere is totally appealing as well. So, the next time that you feel like cooking, but you can't seem to make it to the store - and you just don't feel like serving or clearing a single plate, Do Hwa will be just the place to do it all for you. I guarantee you will even end up impressed by your own cooking skills!

Do Hwa
55 Carmine St
New York, NY 10014-4305
Phone: (212) 414-1224

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thanks Readers!

Tonight I realized exactly why I write this blog. My sister Carrie and I had been at a "free" make-up trial earlier in the evening - and by free, I mean, we had make-up applied to our faces and then we were convinced to buy nearly every product we came in contact with. Looking pretty glamorous, if I do say so myself, we decided that we couldn't just head home - despite the fact that our purses indicated otherwise. Realizing we were right around the corner from The Smith, there was no longer any question about calling it a night. As I had mentioned just a few weeks ago on my last visit there, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be back. I just had no idea that every one else I knew would be there too!

Within five minutes of sitting down, we looked across the restaurant and saw my step sister Lindsey sitting at a table with one of her coworkers. Carrie and I were thrilled that someone we actually knew was going to appreciate our new makeovers! Having just moved to the neighborhood, she admitted that this wasn't her first trip since reading my review. About ten minutes later, in walks the other Lindsay in my life - one of my oldest high school friends and biggest supporters of the Hungry Roach. She was meeting up with her younger sister and several of her friends from home - her second trip there since first reading my post! Fifteen minutes later, enter Carrington - another high school friend - meeting up with Lindsay and her crew - no real surprise there, but we were still pleased she saw us all dolled up. Besides (as usual) loving everything we were eating, Carrie and I spent the meal cracking up at our great fortune. After running into so many people and being able to show off our new look, I think we actually got our money's worth on the "free" trial. As if knowing 8 different people throughout the restaurant was not enough, when we were leaving the restaurant, we realized that Kristin, one of Carrie's bridesmaids, had been sitting behind us the entire night. The scenario became so absurd that I really thought I was imagining that she too was there (coincidentally at the table directly next to my stepsister)! Kristin also came clean that she was dining at The Smith after having read my post.

So, a big thanks to all of my supporters - keep reading and eating out! I hope every one enjoyed their meal tonight as much as I did. I am definitely thinking The Smith owes me one. See you at The Redhead this weekend?

Friday, October 3, 2008


It is a good thing that Macondo did not exist during the days of the original Martignetti Liquors. The Latin American street food served within this restaurant or at the easily accessible bar window out front could have gotten myself and many others into some serious late-night trouble! Not only is Macondo located directly next to the infamous former outpost, but the food really is delicious and reasonably priced.

At three months old, Macondo has an eclectic setting, providing many options for diners. The front
part of the restaurant offers an open window with a counter and several stools - a great choice if you are in the mood for a quick bite and a drink. The bar wraps around into the restaurant where the outdoor diners will soon flock as the cold air has officially set in. The long cafeteria-style tables in the middle of the restaurant make this is a great place to come with a group. And, yet in the back, there is the option of smaller tables - still very casual. While the overall attitude is very relaxed, the setting and decor actually create a trendier vibe. This provides a nice balance if you can't quite decide what you are in the mood for - the overall experience will, no doubt, end up deciding for you.

Since last week's visit was a celebratory evening, I decided to start off the meal with their signat
ure cocktail which also happened to be the oddest drink on the menu. The Aguacate cocktail is made up of a combination of honey, agave nectar, midori, cointreau, lime juice,tequila, AND avocado! And while I do not normally order frozen drinks, I did not regret my decision - the list of ingredients alone was unbelievable. The avocado added just enough flavor to separate this cocktail from a typical margarita. Sipping our exotic cocktails, we intensely studied the varied menu which is broken out into several sections - salads, small plates to share, ceviches, empanadas, arepas, tacos, cocas (flatbreads), boquadillos (sandwiches), rellenos (mini croquettes), and sides - phew! We decided it was best to cover all grounds - nearly hitting up each and every category.

I really appreciated that everything was brought out as it was ready - providing a constant flow of delicious food. At the same time, I was impressed with how different, in both presentation and taste, each dish was from the next. As first-timers, we surprised ourselves with an almost flawless order - polishing off nearly every item on the table. The absolute winner of the night was the Buenos Aires Cocos - grilled skirt steak with arugala, jalapenos, red onions, tetilla, cabrales cheese and chimichurri sauce. I had never thought about a Latin American form of pizza - but this did the trick - and I may now have a new category of types of pizza I crave. A more traditional dish, the lamb barbacoa tacos prepared with tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and queso fresco in mini flour tortillas was another one of my favorites. The flavors were exceptional and the lamb was perfectly pink.

We also ordered several smaller plates that should not be overlooked. The front runner in this category was the ceviche - sliced salmon and avocado with soy ginger sauce. Through this dish, the chefs are able to pull off Asian flavors while maintaining fresh, authentic ingredients. We also loved the chorizo and shrimp rellenos with pablano aoli. Unlike many croquettes, there was not too much breading and fried exterior - really highlighting the ingredients inside. And finally, I cannot leave out the Brazilian style meatballs with guava sauce and tetilla cheese. These were tiny, but full of flavor.

I really could write about each and every dish that we ordered, but I do want to leave something to be desired!
As I left Macondo last week, I was excited to know that I now have a reason to return to this part of town - an area I had always loved. At the same time, I was convinced that my late night escapades on Houston and Allen had come to a close, but it would be safe to return when in need of Latin-American street food. However, it was only a few nights later over the weekend that I found myself at White Rabbit, a new favorite bar, and discovered it is just one block away from Macondo. I have a feeling that Houston and Allen are back in my life this year. I guess it's only a matter of time before I frequent both in the same night!

157 E. Houston St.
New York, NY 10002
Phone: (212) 473-9900