It's not often that I blog about a chain restaurant, but on my last trip to DC I had brunch at Le Pain Quotidien and decided it was worth writing about. I was so excited to finally hang out with Cora and the future Mrs. Cora. We had to wait a bit before our party of 4 could be accommodated. The worst part of standing around was that I could see several of the sweet treats behind the glass. I held out from buying anything while waiting. When we finally sat down my stomach was screaming. When I first realized where we were going, I was a bit surprised because their menu has never led me to believe they had much more than pastries. It turns out not all Le Pain Quotidiens are created equal. This one had quite the expansive breakfast menu. (Apparently that's what they do in LA, CT, DC and 2nd and 50th.) We started with Belgian hot chocolate. I've never had Belgian hot chocolate. They serve you milk in a large mug and give you a small vat of chocolate. You pour in the chocolate and tada!
CoRa ordered the Belgian Waffle.
Pretty tiny portion if you ask me, but tastefully decorated with fresh fruit and powdered sugar. I'm guessing CoRa is watching his figure in anticipation of the wedding. The future Mrs. CoRA also went all healthy on me.
That is an Omelette with Avocado. It wasn't on the menu, but apparently she's got the hook up. Ms. O order the Paris Ham & Gruyère Omelette.
It actually looked pretty good. If not for the ham part, I might have gone for it too. I decided to go with the Chicken Chorizo & Cheddar Omelette.
Yummers! The harissa on top was my favorite part! The chicken chorizo tasted great and it was just the right amount of cheese. I'm skeptical of omelettes because they add way too much cheese, but this one was just right.
Overall, it was a pretty good experience. The wait was pretty bad, but the most annoying part of being in there was the constant reminder of "organic". It was all over the menu, on the servers' shirts, and even the jam. I mean jeez get over it!
Friday, March 30, 2012
Thursday, March 29, 2012
To close out our fantabulous dinner spectacular, we made dessert! Earlier in the week, Bestie sent this recipe for Twiks bars. My mouth instantly began to water. The recipe is really quite brilliant and for the most part easy to execute.
For the shortbread crust:
12 ounces (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced, plus more for greasing the baking dish
15 ounces all-purpose flour
3 ounces sugar
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
For the caramel layer:
10 ounces sugar
4 ounces water
3 ounces heavy cream
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
For the chocolate layer:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 ounces unsalted (¾ stick) butter, diced
We started by making the shortbread crust…which we actually made before the Thai Mussels. First, preheat the oven to 350˚F. And line a 9×13-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and knead the ingredients until the dough comes together. (The original recipe suggests a paddle attachment mixer, but since I don’t bake often I don’t have one. Turns out my hands work just fine!)
Transfer the dough to the baking dish and press into an even layer. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
The most challenging part was making the caramel layer. Combine the sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil for 11 to 13 minutes, or until caramelized. The sugar will be fragrant and a deep amber color when it is caramelized. Remove the pan from the heat and dip the bottom into an ice water bath for a second or two. Literally, only for a second or two. Bestie and I got a little eager so we put it in the water again which was a mistake. The caramel was all of a sudden hard and we had to take some time to heat it up again so it would melt.
After dipping it in water for a second, slowly stir in the cream and butter and then stir in the rock salt. Pour the caramel over the shortbread and spread evenly. Let cool to room temperature. I have to say I looooved licking the extra caramel out of the pot. I could eat caramel all day!
The last step, making the chocolate layer was pretty easy. I melt chocolate all the time; I could probably do it in my sleep. Combine the chocolate and butter in a bowl and place the bowl over a small pan of simmering water. Keep stirring until the chocolate melts. Pour the chocolate mixture over the caramel layer and spread evenly. Let cool for a couple of hours, or until set. Okay I lied the caramel wasn’t the hardest part. Waiting for it to set took forever!!
Once they were finally set, we lifted the parchment paper onto a cutting board. Cutting the bars was easy using a hot knife.
OMG the bars tasted amaaaazing! Everything from the shortbread to the caramel and the chocolate. It was the perfect combination! Actually, and this is tough to say, but I liked it more than the real Twix bars! Hats off to Hungry Cravings for this special treat and a big thanks to my Bestie for bring so much cheer that weekend :)
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Before Bestie arrived, I had spent a lot of time combing through the various magazines for a great dinner recipe. We started with the Thai Mussels and after taking a break from eating, Bestie and I made the oh so simple Wasabi Salmon recipe that was featured in the March issue of Bon Appétit.
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. wasabi paste
1 1” piece ginger, peeled, finely grated
2 large garlic cloves, finely grated
2 6-oz skinless salmon fillets
1 lb. baby bok choy, halved
2 cups (packed) finely shredded green cabbage
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
This was seriously one of the easiest things to make! Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat a large rimmed baking sheet for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mix mayo and wasabi in a small bowl. Stir in half of ginger and half of garlic. Season the fish all over with salt and pepper.
Place bok choy, cabbage, and mushrooms in a large bowl. Drizzle with oil and add remaining ginger and garlic. Toss to coat; season with salt and pepper. Scatter vegetables across one side of baking sheet. Arrange salmon on the other side. Roast, stirring vegetables occasionally until salmon is cooked through about 10 – 12 minutes.
Divide vegetables among plates; top with salmon. Serve with wasabi mayonnaise.
Okay wow! The one sheet meal was definitely a good idea. Clean up was easy, the vegetables were crispy and the salmon was perfectly cooked. I ended up making the other two pieces of salmon that we bought later in the week using the same recipe. Yes, it was just that good!
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
A few weeks ago, Bestie came to visit. We decided that it would be best for just to make dinner together because we have never cooked together. I mean I heart restaurant dining as much as anyone, but it was nice to stay in and make something delicious. We ended up having a multi course meal. We started with a simple recipe for Spicy Thai Mussels.
½ stick butter
½ cup grape tomatoes, seeded, chopped
2 tbs minced garlic
2 tbs chopped peeled ginger
2 14oz cans unsweetened coconut milk
2 tbs Thai red curry paste
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, more to garnish
1 tsp salt
3 pounds mussels, scrubbed, debearded
Melt the butter in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, garlic and ginger; sauté about 2 minutes until the garlic is tender.
Mix in the coconut milk, curry paste and ½ of the chopped cilantro and salt. Simmer for 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
Add the mussels; cover and cook until the mussels open, about 5 minutes.
Discard any mussels that don’t open.
Transfer to serving bowl and garnish with additional chopped cilantro.
These were incredibly easy to make and absolutely delicious! Mussels have previously intimidated me because I thought it would be too hard to make them. But this recipe was straightforward and I loved it. We soaked up a lot of the broth using bread. There was some additional broth left over so later in the week, I added potatoes and relived the fantastic meal again. I can’t wait to try mussels with a different broth soon!
Sunday, March 11, 2012
It’s a little embarrassing how long it took me to get to Hill Country Chicken. I mean, I’ve been planning to go for quite some time but just didn’t make it there. I will say after heading to Momofuku for fried chicken last year, I envisioned hitting up all the fried chicken joints I could handle. Mr. M agreed this would be a worthy endeavor and I was psyched. Truth is I’ve been slow rolling, but now I’m feeling a little reinvigorated by our trip to Hill Country. Ms. O and I had both spent some time looking over the menu in advance so when we arrived, we agreed that the best thing to do would be to get both the Hill Country Classic and Mama Els’ Recipe.
I thought I would be able to pick one as the best or my favorite. Alas, both were crispy on the outside but moist on the inside. They were both flavorful and fabulous! The Fire-n-Ice Pickles in between were a good addition. We also helped ourselves out to quite a few side dishes. My favorite was the Blistered Corn Salad.
It contained celery, tomatoes, red onions and a little something to give it a kick. Definitely an unexpected treat! The Creamy Coleslaw was also a pleasant surprise.
I don’t typically love coleslaw because most of the time there’s too much mayonnaise. This one was well balanced and the cabbage was crunchy, not mushy. You can’t have chicken without biscuits!
These biscuits were best eaten when warm. As they cooled the fresh flavor remained, but they were at their prime when we first got them. The French Fries were another gluttonous addition to our meal.
There was nothing remarkable about the fries. They weren’t bad, but they didn’t blow my mind either. The food at Hill Country is great! The chicken is definitely the star of the show, which makes sense considering the name. But don’t sleep on the side dishes because they are great supporting stars. My only complaint about Hill Country is the basket situation. Considering how much food we ordered, we could have really used some plates! We picked up a couple of extra baskets so we could use them as plates, but you know what would have been great? Plates! Perhaps they have some and we just missed it, but for the most part it looked like a basket only situation. You should also keep in mind that it's counter service so best to have someone grab some seats while another person gets the food. That way you're not left holding your tray with nowhere to sit.
Monday, March 5, 2012
A few months ago, I was minding my business walking north on St. Nicholas Avenue when I noticed that Mojo had disappeared and Cedric Bistro had appeared. I was intrigued but never really had the time to check it out. Then Ms. R suggested we meet up one night and see what all the fuss was about. The space on the corner of 119th and St. Nick is a prime location. We got a great seat by the floor-to-ceiling windows. We chatted for a while then placed our order. Ms. R ordered a Cheeseburger.
It was a monstrous slab of beef! The side salad and French fries were generous portions. She enjoyed it but didn’t think it was fantastic. I ordered the Fish and Chips.
I know, I know. Why did I think it was a good idea to order Fish & Chips at a French bistro? They probably put it on the menu for anyone who doesn’t know what to order. The fish was caked in batter and didn’t even look like fish. Once I got through the layer of batter, the fish was moist and well seasoned. But I was so turned off by the batter that I couldn’t really enjoy it. I should have gone with the duck. Our dessert had an unfortunate addition so they brought us a new one.
The Chocolate Mousse was extremely rich and I definitely got a chocolate high. We couldn’t finish it. I left Cedric feeling 50/50 about my experience, but leaning towards giving it another try. I refrained from writing my review because I felt partially responsible for my experience. Don’t get me wrong, every dish at a restaurant should be perfectly executed, however I likely picked the worst dish on the menu. I was fortunate when my family surprised me with brunch at Cedric for my birthday. The brunch menu was more to my liking. Way too many of us ordered the French Toast.
We all enjoyed it. MJ, my 23-month old nephew also approved, especially after he drowned each piece in syrup. It was nice that they had turkey bacon, but it wasn’t particularly delicious. The best looking and tastiest dish was the Ratatouille Omelet.
Ain’t it a beaut?! I definitely had major food envy. Thankfully Y-squared was kind enough to let me have a bite. YUM! Stewed vegetables sandwiched between eggs. It was delicious! The Omelet with Spinach and Goat Cheese was a little less good looking.
Apparently it tasted good though because by the end of the meal the plate was empty. The highlight of the meal came at the end. Just as I got up and ready to leave, I was told we weren’t done. And BAM!
Out comes Crème Brulee for meeee! It was remarkable! Much better than the mousse from earlier in the week. I could have licked the bowl if I wouldn’t have embarrassed my family. My SiL also got dessert for her birthday.
The Profiteroles looked so great that MJ picked up a spoon and started licking his lips before digging in. It was a sweet ending to an awesome birthday weekend. I’m glad I waited before writing my review for Cedric. I can’t guarantee I will return for dinner but they’ll definitely see me for brunch again.
Saturday, March 3, 2012
I heart my mama bear like no other. For her birthday, the family got together and had dinner at The Hudson House in Nyack. It was a spectacular affair and we had a wonderful time. We started with a few small plates. The Gnocchi of the day was my favorite.
Bite size pieces of potato gnocchi with arugula in a light tomato sauce. As I write this, my mouth is watering a bit. The Surf & Turf also made its way onto our table.
A 4 oz Filet Mignon was served on a bed of spinach and topped with one shrimp. It was also served with crabmeat tater tots. I generally stayed away from this dish but couldn’t help but pop one of the “tater tots” into my mouth. YUM! That warmed up my taste buds to devour the Lump Crab Cake.
It was jam packed with crab and served on a bed of shaved fennel. Scrumptious! They also had a special small plate that night, Pheasant.
It was perfectly crisp and served on a bed of mushrooms. I didn’t care much for the sauce but the bird had perfectly crispy skin and was incredibly tender inside. Yum! Soon after our entrées started arriving. With all the beef eaters in the family, it was no surprise that steak was a favorite on our table.
The massive Porterhouse was apparently quite tasty as were the potatoes, however the broccoli rabe was underappreciated. Even more steak arrived on the table.
Apologies, but when it comes to beef I can’t say I know the difference unless I’m paying attention. This was also a tasty cut because by the time I turned around, there was no trace remaining on the plate. Mama Bear ordered the Rainbow Trout.
It was a good-looking piece of fish, served with warm fingerling potatoes and sautéed spinach. I was quite pleased when she let me sample it. The potatoes and spinach were perfect. The crispy skin of the trout was delicious. I only wish it was a bigger piece of fish. Not to worry, I was thrilled with my Duck two ways.
The delicious confit and the slices of duck breast were laid on a bed of sweet potato puree. There was also some Brussels sprouts on the plate. I pretended they didn’t exist. Just too green for my liking. The Free Range Chicken was quite impressive.
I’m usually unmoved by chicken, but this one, served with a side of potato & leek gratin was remarkable. It was moist and flavorful. The chicken vinaigrette was excellent and likely why the chicken stayed so moist.
The experience at The Hudson House was nothing less than fabulous. The food was excellent and I realized I shouldn’t have had such low opinions of Rockland County dining. Hudson House often has a lot of specials, so you will likely have to deal with the server spending an inordinate amount of time reciting the long list. Once you get past that though, there are great options and you will certainly enjoy your meal.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
On one of the many mild winter days that we’ve had, I enjoyed a fabulous press dinner at Fiorini. Owner, Lello Arpaia, designed the restaurant.
It is a beautiful space with colorful seats, it boasts a full bar and the columns are covered in fabric to keep the noise level down. I felt quite at home in the space, as did many of the other patrons dining at the same time. The restaurant was moderately full on that particular Tuesday. Each dish at the restaurant is prepared at the moment and there are 5 - 10 specials available every night. After settling comfortably into my seat, I leaned back and waited for the food to arrive. The Antipasti selection began with the Polpo al Ferri.
Those plump Mediterranean octopus were perfectly grilled and served with tomato, caper berries, olives, arugula and red onions. The portion was extremely generous. The grilled octopus was succulent and well seasoned. I was definitely more impressed with the Burrata.
A plate of creamy imported mozzarella, roasted peppers and asparagus. I nearly slid off my seat when I started eating this dish. The roasted peppers were my favorite part. They were well seasoned, possibly soaked in balsamic vinegar. I LOVED IT! Once we moved on to the pasta, I was very excited. When the perfect plate of fettuccini landed in front of me, my eyes reacted and my stomach knew what was coming.
The pasta literally melted in my mouth. Admittedly, the sauce was not spectacular but the past was so tasty that it just didn’t matter. By far my favorite dish of the evening was the Risotto Al Frutti di Mare.
The risotto was perfectly cooked in seafood broth with crabmeat, diver scallops, shrimp and calamari. There were huge pieces of crabmeat and the scallops were to die for! I was especially impressed with this dish because of the level of skill required to pull it off well. Considering all the different types of seafood have varying cook times, it is easy to screw it up. This dish was perfectly executed and I highly recommend ordering it. The seafood was generally fantastic. The Pan Seared Scallops were another favorite.
The crust was crisp, but the inside was tender. The sauce was a simple white wine sauce with lemon, caper berries and fresh parsley. Another well-done dish that left my tummy satisfied. When I first reviewed the tasting menu, I was really looking forward to the Petto D’Anatra. When it arrived, I was quite pleased.
The pan seared duck breast was served with poached pears in a dry vermouth sauce. OH. EMM. GEE. The flavors really shined through on this dish. Duck is a fantastic meat and Fiorini definitely knew exactly what to do with it. As though the meal wasn’t fabulous enough, the dessert really was over the top. We started with the Zuccotto.
A slice of three chocolate and passion fruit mousse cake. It was remarkable. The chocolate was rich but the passion fruit helped to balance so that it was not overwhelming.
I loved it. Our grand finale was the Baba.
An authentic Neapolitan dessert, it consists of a sponge cake that is light and airy and filled with mascarpone cheese custard. The cake is also served with a bit of rum that the diner can add. Apparently some people complain about how much or how little is included in the dessert. My experience as Fiorini was incredibly enjoyable. Lello joined just for part of our meal and as he spoke about his restaurant experience and his family, it was clear how much he loves the business. He is planning on running a special Neapolitan menu in the near future. I will definitely return to try the dishes offered from that menu!