Fig and Olive Fifth Avenue During February 2017 Restaurant Week

Restaurant Week is really hit or miss for me.  Sometimes, I have a great experience, and I feel like I tried a new place without committing to a full fledged bill.  Other times, I am disappointed and feel that the restaurant pre-prepared everything and I’m a sucker.  I had a great experience though, at the Fig and Olive right off Fifth Avenue.  I had an appointment at Pronovias a couple doors down, so it seemed like the perfect idea.  It was $29 well spent on a very leisurely lunch.  Okay, well plus $5 for scallops in my paella and extra $ for a bottle of wine…  I said it was leisurely, didn’t I?!

The appetizers were fresh and pretty.  I had the cold salmon appetizer with pomegranate arils and a nice salty soy type sauce.  It was refreshing, tasty, and peaked my appetite for the entree.  My mom chose to have a the carrot soup.  They brought the soup bowl with the “dry” ingredients first, and then they poured the liquid into the bowl separately.  I love when restaurant do that!  I think it elevates the dish and the whole dining experience.

Here is a good close up of the salmon appetizer:My mom and I both opted for the seafood paella, and paid the extra five bucks for scallops.  The consensus was that seafood was excellent and well-cooked, but the rice was very creamy and lacked that crunch and crispness that paella should have.There were two options for dessert, and we tried both.  One was a little pot of chocolate mousse topped with vanilla cream, and a little crunch nougat cookie on the side.The other option was a shortbread-type cookie spread with cream, topped with plumped berries and pistachio bits.I loved the fact that the cookie had the sugar coating on all the edges.  It was a good touch of sweetness, and it reminded me of those Danish butter cookies that are sold during the holidays.I would say Restaurant Week was a success!

3.5 Yelp

4.5 OpenTable

4.0 TripAdvisor

 

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Try This Trick for Moist Cornbread. (And Stop Using Butter-You’re Gaining Weight and Clogging Your Arteries!)

I have been cooking up an absolute storm these days.  I love cooking familiar comfort foods, but I try to make them as low calorie as I can — no, that doesn’t meant taste-free!  Cornbread is an absolute favorite of mine.  I’ve tried a lot of different variations with substituting buttermilk with vinegar and skim milk, substituting out sugar for honey, using butter and applesauce, just butter, etc.

Recently I found a great recipe that I adapted to my own liking.  One of the biggest changes in this recipe in comparison to other cornbread recipes, is soaking the cornmeal really well in milk.  I cannot believe I have not tried this before!  This has proven to be one of the best strategies I’ve ever tried for moist cornbread.  For my recipe, I used fat free organic milk from Freshdirect, which I find to be more creamy than any other skim milk I’ve tried.  (Usually skim milk is very watery.)  Soaking the cornmeal in the milk is really what makes this cornbread extremely moist.  And just because I feel adding corn into the cornbread makes it more authentic, I added a whole cup of corn.  Let’s not delay…here is the photo evidence and the recipe…

Look at that beautiful color right out of the oven:Here it is getting sliced up and distributed (yeah, it’s going pretty fast lol):Extreme close up of my new favorite cornbread with the cold cilantro and pinto bean salad I made peaking from the bottom right corner:

Moist Luscious Cornbread with Corn Kernels (Adjusted from AllRecipes.com Homesteader Cornbread)

1.5 cups cornmeal

2.5 cups fat free milk

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

0.5 cups honey (original recipe calls for 2/3 cups of sugar but it was too sweet for my liking)

2 eggs

0.5 cups applesauce

1 cup defrosted frozen corn (if you don’t let it sit at room temperature for a little while you’ll be gritting corn between your teeth)

Butter to grease the pan

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and butter a 9×13 pan.
  2. In a separate bowl mix the cornmeal and milk and let it sit for 10 minutes.  Mix it around well every now and then.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, first mix together (using fork or whisk) the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Then mix in the honey.
  5. Finally, add the cornmeal/milk mixture, two eggs, and applesauce.
  6. Stir in the cup of corn.  Stir well until mixed. Pour into buttered pan.
  7. Bake about 30 minutes and make sure you’re checking on it after the first 20 minutes or so.

I will be making this in place of any of the other recipes I’ve tried.  This recipe takes the cake for the most most cornbread out of so many of the ones floating around on the internet.  Of course, it also depends on your taste.  Some people prefer their cornbread sweet, others prefer it airy and cakey, and some like it dense and packed.  This recipe is definitely one that’s moist and dense.  Unbelievable!

 

Locanda Verde: A Hustling and Bustling TriBeCa Italian Restaurant

I’d heard about Locanda Verde a few times, before I went.  People had raved about the food, and commented on the interior of the restaurant.  Well it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting, as it was packed with people, and a little less fancy than I had anticipated. This is a great place to come when you’re looking for a more modern Italian experience in a busier environment.  (The same goes for the contemporary interior.)  So if you want a sparsely populated, quiet dinner, I wouldn’t recommend this place.  Locanda Verde has more action and noise than you’d want on a quiet date.

Here is the interior: As you can see, it was pretty crowded and the bar scene was lively.  As we were waiting to be seated, people just kept pouring in!

We had a great table for two by the window, but it did face the construction across the street.  Oh well, it was still nice to face outside.  They had an extensive wine list, and we opted for a bottle.  My preference is always dry red full bodied wine. There’s more of that construction I was talking about…The wine is poured and ready to go.  I always like to order a bottle of sparkling wine.  I like it for hydration, digestion, it’s a good palate cleanser, and it prevents hangovers if you have too much wine 😉  I really think the bottled water at restaurants needs to be cheaper like it is in Europe.  The restaurants in the US make way too high of margins on it. As an appetizer we shared the Steak Tartara Piemontese, and the Burrata.  Both appetizers were excellent, and the tartare was made just like I like it. The Burrata:Wonderful appetizers…For main dishes, my fiancé and I both got pastas.  My fiancé had the My Grandmother’s Ravioli:For a main dish I ordered the Bucatini Nero with mussels and “saffron crema.”  I happen to love black pasta, and whenever I see it on a menu I tend to order it.  It’s just such a novelty, since at the grocery store you only see regular or whole wheat pasta.  This pasta was a lot more creamy than it looks in the photo below.  Had I known how creamy it was, I wouldn’t have ordered the Burrata in addition to this pasta dish.  My suggestion is so to get one or the other unless you really like cheese and creamy sauces.  We didn’t get dessert this time, but maybe I’ll try it in the future.  I’ll be back here, and I’ll for sure get the tartare again.

This is a great place for a group of maybe 3-6 people.  It’s spacious enough, and the environment is conducive to louder conversation.  There are a lot of great reviews on the brunch here, so I’ll be trying it soon!

Links to reviews:

3.9 Yelp

4.6 OpenTable

4.0 TripAdvisor

Don’t Be Lazy About Dinner: Make a One-Pan Drumstick Veggie Bake

I cooked A LOT over the holidays, and I’ve been recovering from it slowly.  For dinner this week, I really wanted something nutritious but a one-pan dish that I could put in the oven after work.   So I decided to make a chicken drumstick and vegetable bake.  I’ve made this many times before when I’m pressed for time but want a home cooked meal. 

Now for my ingredients, I always use organic chicken because you just can’t trust the chicken anymore.   I had a lot of vegetables on hand, and others I had ordered with a small grocery delivery.  The purpose of this dish is really to just keep it as simple as possible.  If you only have green peppers and potatoes on hand, then use those.  (One time I made it with grape tomatoes, potatoes, and mushrooms.  So be creative with what you have lurking in your vegetable drawer! I put some photos of that one below.) 

I also mixed everything directly in the roasting pan.  I wasn’t kidding when I called it “one-pan dish.”  Rough chopped onion..Garlic:I had a leftover lemon in the fridge so I thought it would be flavorful to cook the chicken with some lemon slices on top. I had leftover carrot and celery sticks from hot chicken wings.  Don’t waste your time cutting things finely because the ingredients will bake down too much. I added some brussel sprouts and mushrooms I had, and small potatoes chopped in half.  Mix all the vegetables in the pan, drizzle them with olive oil, and season them.  I used salt, pepper, paprika, garlic salt, and a hint of cumin.  Then I arranged the chicken on top, drizzled olive oil over it, and seasoned the drumsticks directly on the pan.  I cooked them on top of the vegetables so that all the chicken juice could melt through the veggies. Then arrange the lemon slices on top of the drumsticks.  Add a little water to bottom of the pan. About the height of your pinky from the bottom of the pan. I cooked mine for about 1 hour 10 minutes on 425F degrees. My vegetables and chicken were densely packed, but if you’re using less vegetables and your pan is less full, you can cook on 400F. The final product!It looks beautiful and colorful on the plate, and I had leftovers for a second night of dinner, as well as lunch for myself the third day. Here’s the one I made with grape tomatoes a while ago lol even lived in a different apartment then!One-Pan Chicken Bake

Ingredients:

– 4-8  drumsticks (I only had 5. You can use thighs or whatever you have.)

-one onion and garlic cloves to your taste

-potatoes, mushrooms, whatever you have 

-olive oil

-salt and pepper

-paprika/cumin/thyme or spices you prefer more

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400F (425F if you have a mountain of vegetables like I did.)

2. Roughly cut all the vegetable and put them in pan. 

3. Drizzle with olive oil and mix vegetables. Then add all the salt, pepper, and spices and mix vegetables. 

4. Add chicken on top.  Season chicken. 

5. Bake for 60-75 minutes and keep an eye out on the progress. 

Enjoy!

Cut at the New Four Seasons in Tribeca: Wolfgang Puck Picked the Soundtrack 

I live so close to the new Four Seasons that I see it everyday.  Wolfgang’s restaurant, Cut, is on the first floor of the Four Seasons. My fiancé and I have been meaning to try the bar and restaurant since they both look so nice from the outside.  This time we tried Cut’s bar, because we were already headed to dinner somewhere else.

You can enter the restaurant through the main hotel entrance, or you can go from the side door. Here’s the main hotel entrance:I went through the main entrance, and I suggest taking it for the full experience.  Nonetheless, here is the side entrance that leads directly into Cut:img_2120The bar area is dimly lit, with comfortable velvet seats, and all the decorations in a rich burgundy and gold theme.  There are large squiggly line neon lights everywhere.  img_2060My fiancé is from Seattle and he heard Nirvana playing in the background so he couldn’t hold back from making a comment about the music to the bartender.  The bartender was very engaging, and she explained that Wolfgang Puck himself handpicked the playlist.  I thought that was really interesting because I always think of these mega-celebrity chefs as completely disconnected from their restaurants.

Our drinks below are an espresso martini and a Manhattan.  The bartender accidentally spilled while making Mr. Seattle’s drink, so he ended up getting a little extra since she had to make an additional mini-batch–not the worst outcome!img_2059Also, kind of a random note but something I appreciated…  There’s a one-person restroom right outside the bar, so you don’t have to go trekking through the hotel lobby.

Having only tried Cut for drinks, I was happy with my experience.  I’ll come back again for another round and dinner!

 

Brandy Library is a Reminder of Why Sometimes You Should Pay $25 Per Drink: People Swing From Ladders to Bring Your Liquor

Going to Brandy Library reminded me of why I love good whiskey, scotch, and bourbon.   I went for pre-dinner drinks before eating in the neighborhood.  The average price of the whiskey/scotches are around $25-$30, but in terms of environment and service, you get what you pay for.  If anything, you at least get to sample a new spirit that you haven’t tried, before buying a new bottle for your home collection.

The entrance to Brandy Library plays to its name.  There are bottles lined up in different rows at the entrance.  Unlike a lot of other more exclusive bars that try to obscure their entrance, the stairs and door are prominent–kind of like an urban library.My dapper guy checking out the scenery before he strikes:The inside is lined with books and bottles, on floor to ceiling shelves. This is a picture from the inside of the bar facing the entrance:Those little egg lights on each table were very unique and helped set the dim lighting and calm mood.  Here’s our little nook at the corner of the bar:My fiancé and I each gave our preferences and the brands that we usually drink. The server came back with a suggestion, and let us each try a sip before we moved forward with our order.  One really cool part was watching our server climb a ladder in order to grab the proper bottle.  Loved it. They gave us a complimentary snack of warm mini popovers.  Look, I know the purpose of these salty snacks is to make you more thirsty, but I don’t care, and it’s a nice gesture.  Especially when you’re paying well over $20-$30 per drink pre-tax. The whole experience here reminded me of how much I love some of my favorite scotch whisky brands. For those of you who are curious, here’s a concise answer to the difference between bourbon vs whiskey vs whisky vs scotch.  Here’s another good article that has pictures and examples of the brands 🙂

I hadn’t tried Dalmore before and I got it for my 30th birthday while I was in London. Dalmore has really become a go-to scotch whisky for me.  (I also love that it came with two glasses!)Here’s one of my other go-to’s.   Don’t mind the drab-looking corporate housing decor behind the box. Here it is all poured out and ready to go.  I know, it’s a glass with little hearts on it–girls like scotch-whisky too.  (I also had just bought these glasses from Waitrose, the British grocery store.)It’s Thursday today.  Cheers to the weekend almost being here!  Grab yourself some nice scotch whisky and contemplate your future 😉

What’s the Deal with Peter Luger? Gimmick or Must Go? A Review of a NYC Steak Establishment. 

For his 29th birthday, my fiancé wanted to go to Peter Luger in Brooklyn.  I made the reservation about 5 weeks in advance.  (I didn’t know I had to make it so far in advance, but my fiancé gave me a not so subtle hint to do it.)  You also have to call for a reservation, as they do not use OpenTable.  Up until the day we were supposed to go, I had not looked at the menu.  All I knew was that the place is cash only, it’s old, and it’s known for steak.  (Note: They take debit cards now, but still no credit cards.) The day of the reservation, I finally looked at the menu.

I was initially very disappointed when I took a closer look. The appetizers were basic and uncooked.  One of the appetizers on the menu was sliced raw tomatoes, another appetizer was sliced raw tomatoes and raw onions–both were $14.95 each.  I glanced further down the menu and Ceaser salad was another option–yippee.   The sides were all large batch items that are pre-prepared–fries, German potatoes (hash browns), creamed spinach, unseasoned broccoli, etc.  Regardless, we decided to give the place a try to see what the hype is all about.  It is after all a NYC establishment.

We had a pretty late dinner reservation and arrived around an hour and a half early, let them know that we were there, and if possible would like to be seated early.  (In the meantime, we went next door to Velvet Lounge for an apertivo.)  Ultimately, Peter Luger seated us almost 40 minutes earlier than our reservation.  The service that far was excellent.  We really liked our table, and we were in a little nook that provided privacy and a good view.  Bread was immediately brought to our table (not warmed), and the Peter Luger sauce was already at the table.img_2121I asked the waiter what the sell was with this raw tomato and onion on the menu.  He explained that the tomato and onion were to be eaten together with bacon and the Peter Luger sauce.  I was hesitant to pay $14.95 for raw roughly sliced vegetables and another $5.95 per bacon slice, but I wanted my fiancé to have the full experience and we ordered it…  ($14.95 plus $5.95 x 2 for bacon…$27.85…oh boy…) We put in the rest of our order and let the ride begin.

First came our Peter Luger bottle of cabernet sauvignon and the appetizer.  Once the bacon appetizer arrived, my fiancé and I dug in:We assembled the appetizer as per the instructions: Alright this combination really was delicious, but I’ll probably buy the Peter Luger sauce and make it on my own at home.  For $27.85 I can make at least 8 servings of this at home.  The sauce tastes kind of like barbecue sauce and cocktail sauce mixed together.  Tomato, onion, bacon, and sauce close up:The medium rare steak and German potatoes arrived next.  (We also ordered creamed spinach but it never came, and at that point we were too full and didn’t care anymore.) The steak arrives pre-cut and ready to share.  It was $103.90 for steak for two.  The steak for two/three/four etc. is the only thing on the menu.  You don’t have multiple choices like at other steakhouses, because Peter Luger is know for their special aging process of the meat, as well as the particular T-Bone/Porterhouse cut.I will admit that the steak was perfectly cooked and extremely flavorful–medium rare gone right.  The steak didn’t really seem seasoned, but the meat itself was excellent. Here’s a close up of the main event:We did not order dessert, and instead opted for after-dinner cognac, since there was no grappa on the menu.  In the meantime, our server brought us each a few gold foil wrapped Peter Luger chocolate coins.  I thought that was a quaint touch. The chocolate coins were also imprinted:One unique and interesting thing was the to-go bag.  The bag was lined in aluminum foil, and when the server came they just put each hot item into the aluminum part, and put your bread on top. This way you have a different bag for each item and the juices don’t mix. We finished our cognac and headed out. Since we had some leftovers of the steak, some potatoes, and two sticks of bread, we decided to make steak and eggs for breakfast. Steak……plus eggs……make a great brunch…My fiancé and I had great steak and we’re glad we tried Peter Luger, but neither of us think we’ll go back.  The experience felt a little gimmicky and we didn’t think it lived up to the hype.  It felt like something to check off the NYC bucket list, rather than go back to repeatedly.

I had great service (minus forgetting the spinach), but I can see how friends and colleagues of mine have felt shuffled through the dinner or said that the servers were short with them.  My colleague shared that he went there with a few people, and the server was curt and dismissive.  He went up to their table and basically said, “so what do you want, the steak for 4, potatoes, and spinach?”  Of course, that was not my experience, but observing other waiters, and the extremely fast moving pace of the restaurant, I can see that happening.

The steak was cooked perfectly, and the house brand Cabernet was excellent.  (The sauce was good too, but sauce won’t bring me back to a restaurant.)  The lack of more sophisticated restaurant appetizers, unseasoned side dishes, and ambiance didn’t leave me hanging for more.  I think the restaurant could greatly improve by adding some better appetizers and less cafeteria tray-style sides.  I understand that the restaurant is trying to preserve the authenticity, and keep it simple and focused to what they’re known for–steak–but something is definitely missing.  It was missing basic components of an expensive meal–ambiance, and menu items you can’t duplicate at home.

Links to reviews:

4.1  Yelp

4.0  TripAdvisor