Sunday, August 16, 2015

Big Jones, Chicago

The Whiskey Bar
I go to Chicago frequently for business but I always stay in the suburbs which makes it very difficult to get downtown to go to some of the best restaurants in the US.  But this evening I found a restaurant that was a James Beard semi-finalist just north of Chicago, Big Jones.  Big Jones serves southern comfort food with it's roots from Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and Appalachia.  The restaurant is on Clark Street north of downtown among food establishments both old and new.  I was very surprised to walk in at 7pm and not see it bustling but it is the summer and it was a Wednesday but I could see it on a Friday night, filled with both families and single hipsters alike.
Fried Green Tomates
Big Jones is all about the food experience they stick with their theme from the alcohol all the way to the desserts.  The cocktails are unique and many are built around their featured liquor Whiskey but not just limited to.  I am not a big drinker but do like a citrus cocktail from time to time so after some convincing that my Hurricane would not be the same as Pat O'Briens sugary concoction I went with it.  Good way to start the dinner not a featured Whiskey drink but a great drink all the same.
Pickled Vegetables and Fruit
Benne Crusted Crab Cakes
We started out with several Appetizers including Fried Green Tomatoes, Benne Crusted Crab Cakes  and Pickled Vegetables and Fruit.  The Pickled dish included some really unique vegetables and fruit, including Sally Lunn Bread and Sweet Butter. Yep I said Fruit, in fact a Green Strawberry, the veggies included Fiddlehead Ferns, Yellow Beans, Pea Stems, Hearts of Palm and Cucumber (I thought that was called a Pickle).  This dish even though it sounds simple it is very different and from the reception at the table it was a big favorite.  The Fried Green Tomatoes were great and were topped spicy Remoulade and pickled Shrimp,  Very tasty, crunchy coating and well cooked. The Crab Cakes were coated in Benne sitting on an Acorn Squash Puree topped with a light Curry Sauce.  The Crab Cakes were loaded with Crab and the unique Benne coating was crunchy and light the Curry Sauce created a great unexpected taste.

Shrimp and Grits
Famous Fried Chicken
Chicken and Dumplings
The main course was as Southern Home Cooking as possible.  Fried Chicken, Shrimp and Grits annd Chicken and Dumplings.  I picked the Fried Chicken because it is their specialty, the dish comes with Butter Beans and Voodoo Greens (Whatever they are they are good).  the Fried Chicken is dredged in Cornmeal and Fried in Leaf Lard, Ham Drippings and Clarified Butter.  Talk about a Fried Chicken with a great tasty crunchy crust and moist inside, this chicken was great.  By the way the half chicken is a very large serving so you can share.  The veggies that accompanied it were savory and dripping with all things fat and tasty.  My Colleagues had Shrimp and Grits and Chicken and Dumplings.  When I grew up one of my favorite dishes I would make with my mom was Chicken and Dumplings, I would take Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup lots of white meat from a boiled chicken and dumplings made with Bisquick.  Big Jones does not use my recipe, theirs is really home made, their stock is not as creamy, their egg dumplings were not like the baseball size I used to make and the Chicken was accompanied with Butter Beans and Carrots.  Overall lighter than expected and worth trying.  Last but not least the Shrimp and Grits (which was my second choice looked great and my colleagues said it tasted great.  they said the shrimp was perfect and just a slight amount of heat to give it that Gulf Coast experience.
Sinful Dessert
If you feel full do not look at the dessert menu because you will definitely break down and partake, like we did.  We picked the home made butter pecan with donuts which was slathered with a whiskey syrup.  I try to avoid desserts but this one was fantastic just a lot of good flavors.
Next time you are in Chicago I would recommend if you want to try great Southern home cooking come to Big Jones

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Paper Dosa Santa Fe New Mexico

Chef Karuppasamy
Sunset In Santa Fe
Every now and then you need a change of scenery.  We decided to pack up the dogs and move to Santa Fe for 2 weeks.  Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the US over 400 years old when it weas the capital of Northern Mexico.  It is at 7000 feet and has clean air and great weather patterns that change very quickly and create some awesome colors in the sky and against the hills.  On this trip we decided to do away with the more high end restaurants and go to the latest newer openings of highly regarded restaurants.  On one evening we went to Paper Dosa which features South India Cuisine.   Paper Dosa is outside the main Historic Santa Fe and sits in a small center off of Cordova Avenue.  The interior is larger and was light and open, you could see the kitchen from every table.

Dosa with Potato filling Sambar and Chutneys
Delicious Lamb Curry
Dosa is a fermented crepe made of rice batter and black lentils.  The Dosa is served with Sambar (Lentil Based Stew), coconut chutney and tomato chutney.  If you are a vegetarian or Vegan Paper Dosa has great dishes for you.  But along with the great choice of Dosa's you can also order Lamb, Prawn or Chicken Curry.  
We love Indian food so we took a sampling of the entire menu we got two Dosa's and Lamb curry.
A Dosa is served with a potato filling that has different flavor choices like Masala, White Truffle or Spinach and Fennel.
The Dosa is kind of a do it yourself burrito where you spoon out the flavored potato filling and add the Chutney's.  I broke pieces off of the Dosa and made it more of a Taco than a Burrito.  The Masala Potato stuffing had great heat and the chutneys provided a great cooling effect.  The Truffle filling was less hot but was filled with great flavor.  The Lamb Curry was tender and was packed with flavor and heat.  We definitely ordered too much for 3 people but I have to admit it gave us a great opportunity to sample this Southern Indian cuisine that was new to all of us.  Next time you are in Santa Fe make sure to stop by Paper Dosa.  

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mamnoon Seattle

Baking Khubz

Mamnoon Means Thankful

We went to another great restaurant this week in Seattle's Capital Hill area Mamnoon.  This area has undergone a transformation with many new restaurants and stores, there was the largest Starbucks I had ever seen where they roast the coffee, have entertainment, serve sandwiches, almost half a block in size.
When we walked in the hostess had read my blog and talked to me about some of posts in NYC.  It was a great way to start the evening.

Mamnoon Story

Mamnoon is a recent James Beard Semi Finalist in the Northwest and features food from the Middle East.  What is unusual about this restaurant is that the owners are restaurant rookies, Wassef and Racha Haroun.  Wassef worked for Microsoft as a project manager before leaving and starting the restaurant with his wife.  The food reflects his childhood when he and his mother spent time in the kitchen preparing traditiona Syrian dishes. During the creation of the restaurant the Harouns bought in their family members to help their new chef Garrett Melkonian recreate the tastes and techniques they enjoyed growing up. The Harouns have been able to create an open vibrant venue with great food and an impressive following. The restaurant space is what I would call industrial warm with a large area for baking on your immediate right and tables interspersed all the way back to the kitchen pass area.  The bakery is an entertainment venue with the baker kneading, baking and checking the final product before it is brought out straight to the tables.

Our Meal To be Thankful For

The food centers around breads which includes Khubz, Labneh, vegetables and exotic spices which create great marinades and sauces.  Mamnoon drink selection  is a lot more fun than other restaurants.  Each of the drinks incorporates a middle eastern spice or fruit to differentiate from any other drink you would ever buy, there was even a drink with curry.
Shish Taouk
Mamnoon is the perfect restaurant to enjoy small sharing plates, that way no one misses out.   We started the meal with Breads and spreads both creamy Hummus and Bateresh.  The Bateresh was made from charred Eggplant, Labneh, Lamb Ragu and Pine Nuts a very hardy and savory spread for the Khubz.  What a great way to start the meal!  We then were treated to two different types of dumplings one more like an Empenada, the Sambusek which tasted savory from the Feta and sweet from the fig Marmalade and Pomegranate, yummy.  The other Kibbeh which was more of a fried torpedo looking cracked wheat dumpling filled with Beef served with Tarrator for dipping (most likely wher Tartar Sauce came from).

Some of our Favorites

The last four main course dishes were all excellent but very different.
Dolmeh which is prevalent in many countries in the Middle East and is a vine leaf wrap stuffed with aromatic rice and sauteed vegetables with a hint of mint presented in a sweet and sour sauce.  The Shish Taouk is a Chicken Shish Kebab.  Mamnoon's preparation was with large chunks of chicken breast that had substance while stil being moist full of flavorful spices and  lemon very delicious.  Turlu is a vegetarian dish which is a flaky Phyllo pie crust stuffed with Tomato, braised vegetables, Armenian rice, Coriander and Urfa Beiber for heat and a lemon and cilantro pesto which had a bitter tart bite.  This was my stand out dish of our evening it had so many complex tastes and each bite was a little crunch from the crust and the perfect combination of filling and spices. .
Black Cod
Colorful and Delicious Turlu
Our last entree was a perfect prepared dish, Samkeh Harra, Roasted Black Cod seasoned with Aleppo Chili and Garlic served with some crushed pine nuts to add texture with delicate blanched pieces of Napa Cabbage with Mint leaves.  The Black Cod which is my favorite fish was perfectly seasoned and cooked and the simple cabbage with the mint leaf was unique, simple and tasty.
We were treated to Mazaher which was served in a large white bowl it is a concert orange blossom snow (finer Snow Cone Ice), whipped Labneh, Citus Syrup and Honey.  You take your spoon to mix it together till is becomes more of a Gelato texture that is colored light orange by the honey and citrus syrup.  Everyone then dives in to eat it communally with a spoon.  It is a Middle Eastern version of the snow cone but sweeter.

Definite Must Go In Seattle

I would highly recommend a meal at Mamnoon, great unique food, good service and lots of fun.  Seattle has many great restaurants Mamnoon is definitely a great choice.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Il Buco Alimentari e Veneria

Beautiful Cured Meats
Il Buco is a Restaurant, Wine Bar and Market specializing in old world Italian food and drink.  David and I had a reservation and as luck would have it we got the two seater at the kitchen counter.  I do not think it was originally designed as a counter to eat at but we certainly enjoyed the location.  The team of chefs that is at Il Buco are definitely some of the best at their craft.  One area that Il Buco has focused on is their cured meat program.  I am a huge fan of cured meats so even though a little bit of a meal spoiler I could not resist the meat and cheese plate combined with their awesome bread and olive oil.  The problem with ordering this is that it tends to fill you up and in this case there were a lot more tastes to come.

Fortunately we ordered several small dishes that could be shared.  Our first dish was t\mushrooms that were sauteed in olive oil and garlic and served with Reggiano and alfalfa sprouts.  There were an assortment of mushrooms with different textures combined with the sharpness of the cheese and the tiny crunch of the sprouts the dish overall was very satisfying and unique.  Next compliments of the chef we had braised Quail quarters, cooked to perfection, moist savory and seasoned perfectly, a very nice holiday gift.

Now a little bit stuffed with two more small plates on the way it was time to buckle down and get the pallet ready for Bucatini Cacio e Pepe which is a thick spaghetti like noodle with a hole in the middle with Pecorino Romana and Black Pepper.  The pasta was cooked perfectly there was  heat from the black pepper and creaminess from the Sheep's Milk Cheese which made this a tasty dish.  Our last dish was a Veal Ragu with cherry tomatoes the Veal Sugo was cooked to perfection and left that nice rich coating on your tongue that lasted for hours.
Il Buco produces well made high quality Italian food, combined with helpfulness and passion from our Server Eric the evening was memorable and a good recommendation for great Italian Food!!

Tertulia the Gathering Place in NYC

Christmas Spirit at Tertulia
My buddy Tariq and I both love Spanish food especially Tapas. So when researching where the best tapas were served in NYC I kept on coming up with Chef Seamus Mullen's restaurant Tertulia. Located in the West Village Tertulia's look and feel is very
similar to many of the restaurants in that area.  When walking in, the bar is on the left near the front of the door and as you get by the folks either drinking or waiting for a table the restaurant opens up to 20 tables.  The kitchen open in the back so you get to see the food being prepared.  The best word to describe Tertulia is cozy.  I spent two weeks in Spain last year and got to really understand some of the great Spanish dishes that are served Tapas style.  At Tertulia there are a few menu items that have been taken from Southern Spain and transformed to more articulate dishes with flavor refinements, featuring ingredients and spices from Morocco.
Potata Bravas
Great Ale Cocktail
Tertulia has some great drink items one that I liked was ale cocktail with some bitters, lime and sharp sweet spices.  We started off with their version of Potatoes Brava, Nuestras Potatas which were more crisply deep fried potatoes and covered with a Pimenton Garlic Aioli.  We both liked the crispiness of the Potatoes and the Aioli provided some heat with bite from the garlic.  We also ordered the Coles de Bruselas, fried Brussels Sprouts with Sobrassada and Pork Belly bits with sheep's milk yogurt.  Over the last 2 years I have had many Brussels Sprout dishes the big differentiator was the fat from pork belly and the spice from the Sobrassada with a cooling effect from the yogurt.  One dish that can never be overdone because they consitently provide a good taste are the Pimentos de Padron.  Padron or Shishito peppers with just the right amount of sea salt.  These were cooked perfectly and seasoned with flaked sea salt that added a great salty crunch.
Moving on our final 2 dishes were both amazing, the Cordero al la Brasa, Grilled Lamb Belly with with marinated Eggplant and Garlic Labne.  I love any meat belly and the lamb belly was delicious with great fat to meat ratio that is savory, the eggplant provided a bite and was so good we wished we had more.
Simple Perfection
Lamb Belly
Finally one of the most simple but tasty dishes was the Broccoli.  Many of us growing up hated 3 things Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower and Broccoli.  Tonight we had 2 out of the 3 and the Broccoli dish although very simple looked fantastic.  It is simply a large Broccoli Floret with Lamb Bacon bits covered in a egg white that has been poached in olive oil to make it fluffy like a donut and savory like a fried egg.  It was topped off with some Manchego Cheese to give it a little bit of a creamy bite.
Tertulia is definitely on my list for great tapas in a cozy environment.  They provide a different style of food that is enhanced by Chef Mullen.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Uncle Boons NYC -- Great Creative Thai Food

Uncle Boons 
My best choices for restaurants are former James Beard Semi Finalists, this is where I found Uncle Boons.  Uncle Boons is in NoLita off of Spring Street, down a set of stairs slightly below street level. It is like walking onto the set of South Pacific a little bar and a kitchen pass to the right and several tables to the left.  Lots of palm frons and Polynesian decor.  This is a restaurant that you should get reservations because it is small and very popular.  The menu is one page and full of share-able items so everyone can enjoy.
To start with you are brought out Mieng Kim a snack from Thailand that is a Betel Leaf topped with dried shrimp, chiles, toasted coconut and dipped into a Galangal sauce and popped into your mouth.
Mieng Kim
Chicken Banana Blossom Salad
Kabocha Squash
Thai Escargot Green Curry
The leaf is tender with a little bitter bite and the dried shrimp are crunchy and salty all this combined with dried coconut and a dip of the  Galangal sauce makes it a scrumptious way to start the evening.  I always have to remember that Thai food can be very spicy and although I like spice I listened very carefully to what our server said about ordering certain dishes. Knowing that we would get into some spice we ordered the Boon's Brew which had essence of lime, chiles and coriander which would help cut through the heat,
We started out the meal with Hoi Tak, Green Curry Snails topped with crispy Garlic.  Thai Escargot, the Green Curry really enhanced the flavor and the crispy garlic added some tasty texture to the dish, not too spicy just the right amount of heat.  Next was the Yum Gai Hua Pli which is a very meaty chicken salad with some real heat that is addictive. You would take one bite and go that is not bad , then it would grow and intensify but instead of saying it is too hot your mouth says I want more of this really satisfying dish.  Served with the Chicken are Banana Blossoms and crispy shallot so each bite had substance.  Kang Yang Muay Thai is a dish traditionally served at Thai boxing matches and it is a delightful dish served with Roti for you to make little tacos.  You take the chicken the salad and fold it with the Roti and dip it in the sauce for a great taste.  We ordered a side Haw Mok Phukk Tong which is a Kabocha Squash in a Red Curry Custard and toasted Pumpkin Seed to add some crunch. There were so many flavors going on with the previous dishes that this was a great heat cooler but got lost because of great tastes of the other dishes.  To wrap up the dinner we had their Milk Toast desert which is a Brioche saturated with Condensed Milk and sweet Thai spices, Delicious.
Overall this is one of these restaurants that has great food and an opportunity to enjoy over and over again

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Betony -- A Charles Dickens Meal -- Great Eating Experience

From the Upper Level
What makes a meal memorable?  For the last 4 years and 130+ posts the meals I remember were great food, unique ambiance, great service and a fantastic experience.  Most of the restaurants I review have the first 3 elements but the fourth element, fantastic experience is earned.  It usually involves a restaurant team member that asks more than how do you like your meal.  Betony is a restaurant that will stand out in our minds as a great experience. 
When you walk into Betony you observe the vastness of the space and the combination of the brick from the original infrastructure and the contemporary architectural touches that give it an edge of newness.  We were seated in the upper section where there you could look down on the NYC bar scene below.  Where we were seated there is very fine detail that has been added to the walls.  One side there is this very old world wood panel and on the other there is a cement laminate with designs and hand written French sayings. There was a lot of thought put into the entire environment to make it unique.  The overall ambiance of the restaurant gives you the feel of formality without the need to be dressed formal or act formal, it is warm and comfortable.
Blue Corn Croquette
Yogurt and Beets
The menu is very direct and the combinations of flavors could keep a diner busy for many visits.  On this night they were featuring a holiday special of Pheasant and all the trimmings almost like the meal from the Christmas Carol.  We really did order this because it was our holiday treat and a unique way to round out a trip to in NYC during the Christmas week shopping, crowd watching, holiday decoration and awesome store windows.   

We started with an Amuse Bouche of pickled beets combined with horseradish, fennel and yogurt.  The beets were sweet, the horse radish had heat, the yogurt was tangy and added the right amount of fat.  We ordered as an appetizer the Blue Corn Croquettes with Cilantro and Aleppo Pepper it was like a New Mexican potato puff crunchy, creamy spicy.

Pheasant Perfectly Presented
The staff came out to our table to present us the Pheasant before it was prepared for us to eat.  It was sitting in a bid of herbs and we felt like Tiny Tim seeing his Christmas Goose.  Very soon after that the entire meal was brought out which included roasted Peruvian Potatoes in brown butter, sautéed Swiss Chard with lemon and garlic, grilled "Hen of the Woods" mushrooms a spiced apple and cranberry Chutney, a Pheasant Leg Confit, a meat tart with game hearts and gizzards flavored with Foie Gras and Black Truffle with a sauce of Foie Gras, Black Truffle and Madeira. The Red Necked Pheasant from D'artagnan was sourced from Scotland and was cooked on a Yakatori grill perfectly medium rare, moist and hint taste of the herbs.  Pheasant is very difficult to cook because the lack of fat, the chefs at Betony created a perfect dish and accompanied it with the sweet and spicy chutney.  Each of the accompaniments were simple, the Potatoes were sweet, the Chard was just crisp enough and the "Hen of the Woods" mushrooms added a great texture to the meal.  One of the standouts of the meal was the heart and gizzard tart which was
Heart Tart
delicious with a great savory and spicy bite.  Overall this meal 
Colorful Chard
was done perfectly and we were satiated and satisfied, the service had been great, if we had walked out at this point Betony would have gotten a good review.  Through out the night the floor staff had paid a lot of attention to the clients.  One of the team, Eamon Rockey spent some time with us and asked us about the meal and we got into the discussion of the blog and the menu.  It was apparent that Eamon had a passion for fine dining and we shared some great places that we had been to.  At the time we did not realize Eamon was the GM of the restaurant.  I asked Eamon what his favorite item on the menu was and he was adamant that they had the best Short Rib anywhere.  I was skeptical, when I think Short Rib I think slow cooked beef smothered in a Madeira Sauce that falls off the bone.  Something that I have cooked at home.  Eamon asked us if we had room to try their Short Rib and with a little bit of hesitation from me and prodding and challenging from him we reloaded for meal number two.

Short Rib Perfection
The Short Rib from Betony is the anti Short Rib served at every other restaurant I have reviewed.  It was like eating the finest piece of Waygu beef, tender marbled with just the right amount of fat.  It was served with a mustard sauce, a grilled onion and a stuffed Brussels Sprout filled with Foie Gras and Truffle and a small smear of mustard. On top of tat they served a smoked whipped potato which were addictive. Bottom line Eamon proved me wrong with a Short Rib that is so right.  This is the reason I love to go to great restaurants because people like Eamon change the meal to an experience that is memorable.