Monday, June 29, 2009

Baoguette meets Pho Sure

I (and the west village) had been feeling very left out from the banh mi craze that has been sweeping across much of New York. I kept reading about one opening after another of these trendy Vietnamese sandwich shops sprawling from the east village to midtown and even over to Brooklyn. I kept thinking that surely these tasty and affordable Vietnamese sandwiches would creep over to the west village, but it certainly did not happen right away. Well, I should never have doubted it's arrival. Not only did banh mi make its way west, but it did so with a companion. Baoguette's third location has paired up with Pho Sure, a pho shop. As if you didn't already know that I am a fan of this neighborhood, I really could not have dreamt up a better combo!

For those of you who are totally lost right now and are thinking that I'm speaking gibberish, banh mi and pho are Vietnamese specialties. For the sandwich lover, banh mi is a baguette traditionally served with thinly sliced pickled carrots and daikon, onions, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and a form of roasted or grilled meat. For the soup fanatic, pho is a thinly sliced meat and noodle soup. It just so happens that I fall into both categories. At lunchtime, when most people are so often deciding between salad vs. sandwich or salad vs. soup, it's always soup vs. sandwich for me. And, as times are tough, this is often a dinnertime debate as well. While it took its precious time getting to me, Baoguette/Pho Sure certainly fits right in with the current state of our economy - especially when sticking to the basics.

If you are up for a tiny splurge, I really urge you to order the jicama rolls made with Chinese sausage, dry shrimp, basil, and peanut sauce. These are extremely light and fresh, yet much more tasty than the traditional summer roll (which I usually end up ordering in an attempt to be healthy, but quickly regret my decision after one bland bite). Thanks to jicama and Chinese sausage, two of my favorite ingredients, this was not the case. To also stray from the signature (or rather name dropping) dishes, the pork vermicelli is another great option. This cold noodle dish is served with lettuce, herbs, and peanuts. As with all their dishes, you can regulate the intensity of the heat by adding their red sauce to please your palate.

But, if you truly want to take advantage of reliable, affordable options, go straight for the banh mi and the pho. Both are great and for very different reasons. And, both are offered in traditional and non-traditional options. The banh mi can be ordered mild, medium, or spicy, whereas the pho, like the vermicelli, is self-adjusting. I loved the classic banh mi - pork terrine, pate, pulled pork and fresh herbs served with crunchy carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, and jalapenos. Despite the high number of ingredients included, the sandwich was actually quite manageable - not the least bit overstuffed (one of my biggest complaints about store/restaurant made sandwiches). The pho was definitely a heartier size, although I still somehow managed to nearly clean my bowl. There is also the option of ordering additional soup ingredients which could quickly turn the meal into a feast (and no longer as affordable). I say stick to the basics and you will walk away pleased. And that's pho sure...

Baoguette/Pho Sure
120 Christopher St.
New York, NY 10014
(212) 929-0877
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Say Cheese

After nearly six years of attending events in New York City - celebrating countless birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and even new babies - I thought surely I had seen it all. Well, just when I thought I had done it all, I recently discovered that I was mistaken. In fact, as I was so quickly enlightened, I learned that my latest culinary excursion is available to you in your very own backyard (or kitchen). I have attended wine tastings, beer tastings, even cheese tastings - but never before in the comforts of an apartment. Just say "cheese" and call up Murray's Cheese Shop for an afternoon or evening of a sampling of their finest. For the lactose intolerant out there, start popping your pills. This will definitely be worth it.

This celebratory evening started with passed hors d'oeuvres and bubbly in one of my favorite apartments on the upper west side. This was a great way to pad the stomach before full lactose invasion. Although, in all honesty, I couldn't wait! And I know I wasn't the only one eyeing the blocks of cheese so prominently displayed on the kitchen counter. It didn't take much for our very own Murray's expert Taylor to grab the attention of all twenty adults, eager to learn what the evening had in store for us. To sum it up - 6 cheeses and 6 wines, with a huge emphasis on the cheese. I give Taylor a great deal of credit for the beautiful display of dried fruits, nuts, breads, and crackers surrounding the cheese. But, in the end, they were hardly a distraction from the main attraction.

The cheese
was presented in order of richness- the lightest being served first. Even though cheese is one of my favorite foods and I have had more than my share over the years, I am not going to pretend like I knew the names as she presented them. I did, however, notice I was able to at least recognize each taste - certain that I have at least sampled a cousin version. We started the evening with Monte Enebro, the 2003 award winning goat cheese from Spain. While the interior was extremely smooth and rich (allowing me to identify it as a goat), as I tasted closer to the rind, the flavors were much stronger - different from most I had tasted. The next cheese was Brillat Savarin, a French cow's milk delicacy. To quote its namesake, the famous French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, "a dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye." I couldn't have said it better to sum up my favorite cheese of the night. This reminded me of a gooey, Camembert at it's best - a butter cream delite!

We were then transported back to the States with the Jasper Hill Farm Winnemere from Vermont. Another cow's milk treat, this is what gives stinky cheese its name. While it was the rind that truly was the most potent, the aroma can often turn away customers immediately. I made it past the smell and embraced the woodsy flavor underneath - and actually went back for seconds. It was then back to Europe for the Pecorino Foglia de Noce. On to the sheep's milk and very familiar flavors. This lightly peppery hard cheese reminded me of what I so often buy at the market. While I more than recognized the makers of the next cheese (basically my staple during my college days) - Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, I was nicely surprised by the variety that Taylor offered us. This was unlike most cheddars I have tried as I tasted underlying nut and fruit flavors within - resembling more of a Gouda in the end.

And for the grand finale.... Enter Fourme d'Ambert - a blue cow's milk cheese straight from Roanne, France. While I usually prefer blue cheese on salads or burgers, this was actually a great "starter" blue. The flavors were not too overwhelming, yet had a nice, rich finish. In fact, it actually did well serving as a stand-in dessert course. And, despite having sampled 5 cheeses prior to this one, the Fourme d'Ambert was not lost in the shadows. Taylor did an excellent job of serving small portions as well as spacing out each tasting. We had ample time to socialize, enjoy our wine, and forget about the previous "course" - allowing us to officially cleanse the palate. And, in the end, all plates were cleaned as well. It was such an enjoyable, informative evening. The only problem with hosting such a great event in your very own kitchen is the risk of guests overstaying their welcome. Not that I did or anything... Many many thanks to my favorite American-British-Brazilian-African family!!

Murray's Cheese Shop
4 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 243-3289

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

And the WINNER is...


ACC, also know as ACE, hails from Virginia, currently lives in San Francisco, and will soon be the proud owner of All Modern's Blomus Asia Teapot. Thanks to my roommate for helping me out with the random drawing this morning. This just goes to show that upping your odds (an additional entry was included for her tweet) never hurts! That first tweet was certainly worth it, Miss Conrad. I look forward to featuring a picture of Anne Curran with her beautiful, new teapot in her new apartment next month.

Congratulations!! And thanks to all for sending me such great stories of travels to Asia and/or your favorite teas. I love how the Hungry Roach readers are so well-traveled and well-caffeinated. Keep traveling and drinking exotic teas for me!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reminder: Final day for All Modern Giveaway!

Today is the last day for the giveaway. The Blomus Asia Teapot featured below on the Hungry Roach is valued at over $75 - so this is a great free deal! Short comments, long comments, all comments welcome! Just go to the post below and submit your very own comment before midnight tonight. The drawing will take place on Tuesday and winner announced on Wednesday!

Friday, June 19, 2009

All Modern Giveaway!!

It's your lucky (rainy) day! So, it's mid-June and it's been nothing but rainy and cold for the past week in NYC. And, sadly, I've been told this is not just an NYC epidemic. The cold rains have hit the Eastern US - and no one is happy about it. Well, I've got something that will both turn that frown around and warm you right up. I'm really excited about the Hungry Roach's first Giveaway with and the chance to offer you a FREE Blomus Asia Teapot. I only wish that I could join in on the fun!

All Modern offers an excellent selection of modern furniture, home accessories,
and lighting brands ranging from Knoll, Heller, Blomus, Alessi, and more. Their very cool, modern kitchen and bar accessories, in particular, are extremely appealing to me. While today's giveaway is for this unique teapot, I encourage you to check out the many other products that they offer from their extensive website. I already can't wait for when I can decorate my very own apartment. Baby steps. In the meantime, I'll stick to the kitchen and live vicariously through the winner of the Blomus teapot.

This contemporary stainless steel teapot comes with a detachable filter - guaranteeing an easy clean-up for the true tea drinkers (aka, big fans of loose tea). For more details on the teapot, go here. Inspired by European designers and engineered by German craftsman, Blomus offers the highest quality of stainless steel kitchen items that certainly win the Hungry Roach stamp of approval.

OK, onto the fun part - How To Win:
  • Submit a brief comment below on my blog telling me EITHER your favorite travel experience in Asia (involving food, of course) OR your favorite kind of tea, where you get it, and what's so great about it
  • Want to increase your chances of winning? Include in your comments a link to a post of an announcement on your blog OR a link to a tweet about this contest.
The Giveaway will be open until Monday, June 22nd at Midnight. I will announce the winner on Wednesday, June 24th! Make sure that your email address is accessible in your blogspot profile or leave it at the bottom of your comment so that I can contact you if you are the LUCKY one! The one catch - this is only open to residents of the US and Canada.

I never thought I would say this in June. But, stay dry and warm - think Tea!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

DBGB Kitchen & Bar

Before you get too comfortable, I suggest grabbing your phone. You may want to just go ahead and dial (212) 460-5777 so that your phone is ready to go immediately after reading this. I haven't been this excited about a new restaurant in awhile. And I'm not even sure what has excited me the most - the fact that Daniel Boulud just recently opened a gourmet sausage restaurant, that it is located downtown, or that the setting and food were close to perfect just four days after its opening. DBGB, located down the street from the 2006 shuttered music club CBGB, has already put this block back on the map. You may have already walked right by the unassuming #299 written in white chalk on the glass door. But, once you know what is on the inside beyond the glass walls that surprisingly enclose a new, hopping restaurant, I challenge you to pass by without grabbing a beer or a bite.

DBGB is doing it right. The space is excellent. The entire restaurant has a very comfortable, laid-back vibe, made up of a casual front room, offering tables and a large bar, and a more upscale back room, scattered with both booths and tables. No matter where you are sitting, the food will be excellent - and well priced. While sausages and burgers are definitely the signature dishes here, the menu offers much more. And, I encourage you to be bold and branch out, and, as usual, embrace the practice of sharing. We started the meal with a few appetizers - tuna crudo with harissa-sesame sauce, cucumbers, radishes and crispy rice and then asparagus, fried egg with duck proscuitto, cracklins, and mustard-egg dressing. Both were delicious, but the egg dish is a must. I have tried many versions of this dish recently and this one ranks with the best.

Those that know me best know that sausage is probably my biggest weakness (well, besides bacon). In all fairness, I should probably just admit my soft spot for pork products. So there was no question that the next stage of dinner would involve sharing several of their homemade "links, bangers, and saucisses." We devoured both the Beaujolaise - pork, mushrooms, onion, bacon and red wine link with lentils du puy, followed by the Tunisienne - spicy lamb and mint merguez with lemon braised spinach and chickpeas. These were excellent - especially the Beaujolaise. I could taste each and every ingredient that had been brought together to create this perfectly homemade link. There are several others that I am eager to return and try, although I know it will be extremely hard not to order this one again. We also did not get a chance to try any of the burgers, but each and every one that passed our table made our heads turn. They were the perfect size followed by the perfect aroma. I will be honest that after the time the second burger passed by our table I immediately regretted not ordering one. But, once I took my first bite of our final dish, the handmade strozzapreti pasta made with braised veal, spring peas, zucchini, and tomato, I was actually glad to have gone in another direction. This al dente pasta was extremely well prepared topped with another excellent testament to DBGB prepared meat. In the end, sticking to any kind of meat will do you just right.

We were definitely on a roll at this point and decided to prolong the meal with the comforts of an ice cream sundae. While tempted by the coffee combination, we went with the apricot-pistachio, a less classic option. Their homemade pistachio ice cream was topped with marshmallows, vanilla cookies, caramel sauce, apricot coulis, and whipped cream. I was in heaven. While I had gone in to the night with tunnel (sausage) vision, I was walking away with so much more. It's going to be a long time before I tire of this menu. And, if you haven't already done so, pull that phone back out. You can go ahead and push send now.

299 Bowery
New York, NY 10003
(212) 460-5777
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

La Barra

Since traveling to Mexico in March, Mexican restaurants have become so much less appealing to me. It's not because I consumed too many tortilla chips and guacamole while down there, but rather, the contrary. The food was just so good that I know I will just be disappointed by most New York City restaurants' attempts at the cuisine. In fact, in my own attempts at avoiding mediocre Mexican food, my cravings have definitely heightened over the past several months. It was not until I received a call from La Barra to stop by the new Cevicheria in the lower east side that I decided it was time to at least give them a shot at satisfying those cravings. And, let's just say that my days of pining away for authentic guacamole are over.

The team behind La Barra, while living in the US for the past several years, hails straight from Mexico. This was not only apparent in the upbeat vibe of the staff and the chefs in the open kitchen, but even more so the minute the guacamole and tortilla chips were served. These were identical in both taste and presentation to the Cesiak and Tulum guacamole I had thrived off of at least daily during our 5 glorious days in Mexico earlier this spring. As I spent much of my vacation trying to figure out why guacamole down in Mexico was so much better than the variations served at some of the fanciest, most expensive restaurants in New York City, I did the very same during my meal in the lower east side. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to crack the code. While the question still remains, I can at least share the location of the secret recipes with you.

The rest of the meal continued to remind me of the fondest culinary memories of my Mexican journey. Besides guacamole, ceviche was another staple throughout the vacation. And it just so happens that this is a specialty of La Barra. Their mixed ceviche with scallops, sea bass, and shrimp was excellent. It was hard not to slurp down the entire bowl of this refreshing combination. As the weather slowly starts to warm up, this is the exact dish that I know I will be seeking out - and thank goodness I know exactly where to find it. Who really wants to be sent on a goose chase in hot, humid temperatures? In the ceviche category, I was also really impressed with the surf clams served with habanero, lime, cilantro, onions and olive oil. I had never had these types of clams before and loved the taste, texture, and preparation. Just when I thought I had tried all of my old favorites, two different tostadas were placed in front of me. Maybe I had never had a proper tostada before, but these were out of this world - like no others I have tried. Both the crab served with salpicon and avocado as well as the yellowtail tuna with chipotle mayo, avocado, and pico de gallo were excellent. Again, every ingredient used just felt so fresh and crisp.

I definitely did not come home from Mexico raving about any of the desserts. I will admit that I was there during Lent and so I really didn't indulge in any. But, based on the reviews and culinary expertise of my travel companions, I certainly did not seem to be missing out. However, I think if they had sampled a tres leches cake, I may have quickly found reason to break Lent. La Barra's tres leches cake would have definitely been worth it. This overly moist sponge cake, soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream, would make me forget about Lent any day of the week. And while dessert may never really be the highlight of Mexican cuisine, I will definitely no longer be as quick to overlook it. Don't get me wrong - guacamole and ceviche are still at the very top of my list. It's just that now knowing that I can get the real deal of my personal Mexican favorites right here in New York City, my summer has now been made!

La Barra
250 Broome St.
New York, NY 10002
(212) 260-3900
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Grill from Ipanema

Traveling and eating are almost always on my mind. In my world, the two go hand in hand. Food is at the center of any vacation and cultures define nearly every dining experience I embark on. Even when just eating out locally, the food I consume almost always takes me to another land. Right now, South America is on the top of my travel wish list. While this may have something to do with living vicariously through one of my closest friends' recent honeymoon, the continent has long been calling my name. The history, the endless possibilities of outdoor excursions, and the amazing cuisine could not be more perfectly suited to my interests. And since 2009's travel schedule is basically set in stone for me, my South American dreams will just have to remain a fantasy. In the meantime, I will use my fork to take me there.

A recent trip to Washington, DC definitely took me a step closer geographically. But, it was the meal at the Grill from Ipanema in Adam's Morgan that truly transported me to the heart of Brazil. After one sip of their signature caipirinha, I was ready to tell people I had been to the Copacabana. It also probably didn't hurt that it was the perfect Spring evening (after what felt like solid weeks of cold rain in New York) and we were able to comfortably sit outdoors - as I imagine this possibility at all restaurants in Brazil. However, whether inside or out, this is a festive restaurant - entertaining both couples and groups through their authentic drinks, cuisine, and music.

Everything on the menu reflects the flavors and spirit of Brazil. We started with an appetizer of traditional spicy sausage sliced and sauteed with onion. This was delicious and perfectly prepared with a charred exterior. We then decided to mix it up in true vacation style and go for alligator, a dish that is a rarity in America - especially north of the wetlands. At this point in the evening, there was no longer any indication that I was still on American turf given the plate in front of me and the amount of Portuguese being spoken around me. And, I was nicely surprised by this delicacy. This meat which actually tastes like a combination of fish and chicken can be considered a healthy alternative to more fatty meats. The alligator was lightly breaded, fried, and served with a spicy honey mustard sauce on the side. Believe it or not, there was nothing but lettuce left on the plate in the end! For the main courses, we reverted back to more traditional items, but were very impressed with the quality of the meat and the authenticity of the preparations. My favorite, the grilled steak of picanha served with black beans, rice, collard greens, and farofa (grounded yuca roasted with garlic and butter), was served with a fresh vinaigrette sauce. The meat was extremely tender and there was enough of it to feed several hungry Brazilians (and probably one large American).

While the portion size was the only indicator that hinted at the reality of my actual American location, the ability to linger and enjoy the outdoor setting kept me in my own fantasy land for the rest of the evening. Traveling really comes down to how you choose to define it. Whether it involves a ten hour plane ride, a five hour train ride, or even a 3 block trek, a great journey is all about the experience and food involved. And whether you live in Washington, New York, or even Brazil, the Grill from Ipanema will transport you to that place we all truly desire where you can actually kick back and enjoy a quick adventure.

The Grill from Ipanema
1858 Columbia Road, N.W
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 986-0757
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):