As I mentioned last week, I recently went on my dream trip to Ireland. I’ve been planning this trip since I was a teenager and let me tell you, it was everything I thought it would be and more. On one of the last full days in Dublin, my mom and I decided to visit the main “must-sees” — Kilmainham Gaol for a short history lesson on the 1916 Easter Rising, the National Museum of Ireland to peek at the bog people, Temple Bar to see this popular nightlife spot and this boxty house.
Boxty is a traditional Irish pancake made mostly of grated and mashed potatoes. It can be cooked in various ways (boiled, on a griddle, fried, etc.) and can be served plain or with a mixture of toppings and stuffings. Basically, boxty is one versatile, fluffy pancake.
Since we only wanted a quick bite to eat so we could continue exploring Dublin, my mom and I decided to order light and share. The portions are more than enough to keep one person full, so sharing two dishes and a bottle of Guinness was super satisfying. And, with dishes between 15-20 euros, I’d consider this a reasonably priced find for Dublin. Note that if you are looking for a breakfast boxty, plan on eating late. Like most other restaurants (and sights) in Ireland, things open late and close even later.
A couple of weeks ago Cathy and I were in Thailand for an annual trip we do with our girl friends from college. Last year we went to Spain, and this year we decided to give Southeast Asia a try! We had a wonderful time, starting in Bangkok, heading north to Chiang Mai, and finally south to the islands Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. One of the highlights of our trip was a Thai cooking class we took in Chiang Mai.
The cooking class was run by a company called Asia Scenic, and we would highly recommend the experience. We started the day at the local market where our guide showed us where the locals would buy their ingredients, followed by a garden tour where we learned about and harvested all sorts of Thai spices and herbs including three types of basil, lemongrass, green onion and chives.
Stir fry: pad see ew
Soup: tom yum
Vegetable spring roll
Curry Paste: panang
Curry: panang with chicken
The teacher taught us how to chop and grind the ingredients for prep work, and we each had out own wok and cooking station outside where we followed demonstrations and cooked our own dishes! The class was very well organized and informative. We learned all sorts of interesting tidbits along the way. For example, did you know that Thai people rarely eat Pad Thai? The natives tend to eat more curries and rice dishes rather than noodles, which you would never guess from looking at menus in all of the restaurants in Thailand!
Cathy and I realized how easy most Thai dishes are to make (with the exception of fresh curry pastes- it took about 20 minutes of hard labor to pound the fresh chilli peppers and herbs!)
The best part about the class was that they gave us a cookbook at the end, so we can continue to make Thai food at home!
I recently finished reading Danny Meyer’s book “Setting the Table.” Danny Meyer is a New York City icon within the food industry, and one of the greatest restauranteurs of our time. His philosophy on business and hospitality is unique and noteworthy, and his work in the industry has been an inspiration to me personally. I highly recommend this book, especially to those immersed in the New York City food scene, as it offers fascinating insight into the thought process and labor behind Danny’s restaurants, menus and impeccable service. For instance, you get to learn about Danny’s lengthy research journey across the US to sample the best burgers and custard, and the long hours spent in the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park developing the perfect frozen custard concoction for Shake Shack with the help of Eleven Madison’s pastry chef at the time. Every time I bite into a Shake Shack burger since reading “Setting the Table,” I think of Danny’s long journey to create the perfect blend of sirloin, chuck and brisket, and I understand the reason it’s so good.
Danny Meyer opened his first restaurant, Union Square Cafe, in 1985. Being Danny Meyer’s original restaurant, it has obviously been on my “list” since I moved to NYC, however reading “Setting the Table” was what finally pushed me to make the reservation. Union Square Cafe is a product of Danny Meyer’s year spent in all of the finest trattorias in Italy and brasseries in France in his 20’s after he left his successful career in sales. Danny took all of his favorite elements of the European dining experience and brought them to life in NYC with his vision of Union Square Cafe. Today USC may not be the trendiest spot in NYC, but it sure is reliable. Reliable is serving some of the highest quality yet simple Italian cuisine, coupled with some of the best service in the city.
It was truly a unique experience to dine at Union Square Cafe after reading the book and truly having an understanding of Danny Meyer’s story. I noticed things about the dishes and service that I otherwise would have overlooked had I not gained a sense of Danny’s fine-tuned attention to detail, style and philosophy through his book. USC met all of my expectations. (Note I did not use the word exceed simply because I have the highest expectations for Meyer’s establishments based on experience). Bravo Union Square Cafe, a New York classic with outstanding food and service.
21 East 16th St. New York, NY 10003
What to Order: Fritto misto, any pasta (I had the spaghettini with flaked sea bass), roasted chicken, cannelloni beans, broccoli rabe
I’ve been wanting to try Traif for quite some time, but I get lazy on weekends and it takes a lot to get me out of Manhattan. (Note: Traif is in Brooklyn). Furthermore, Traif is a fairly hard reservation to get, so some advance planning has to go into it. Luckily my good friend did plan ahead, and made a reservation for 6 and dragged us all to Williamsburg for the night!
And I’m sure glad he did…Traif was absolutely incredible. It’s a small and cozy restaurant with a charismatic open kitchen and a backyard patio. The food is served tapas style (my favorite), so you get to try a bunch of different things. There was not a single dish I didn’t absolutely love, which is rare for a small plates place; I usually find that there is at least one dish I could have done without. The waiter suggested about 2-3 plates per person, which ended up being a perfect amount of food.
A few things to note about this restaurant: 1) It is NOT vegetarian friendly. Pretty much everything was heavy on pork, shellfish or some other kind of meat (hence the name, Traif which means non-kosher). No complaints from my end, but don’t bring your vegan or kosher friends here. 2) Most of the dishes are served in multiples of 4, so I would suggest going with a party of either 4 or 8. We had a (ravenous) group of 6, which was a bit tough and resulted in fighting over the last two pieces of each dish.
I’d say if I HAD to pick my favorite dish, it would be the baked muenster, pictured below. Keeping in mind I am a cheese lover, this was the most decadent and delicious melted cheese plate I’ve ever had. It was literally a pot of thick, baked muenster cheese, so thick that you couldn’t dip like fondue; we had to use knives to cut pieces of the cheesy, gooey goodness. This is one not to be missed, but then again I could say that about so many other dishes here as well!
229 South 4th St. Brooklyn, NY 11211
What to Order: Spicy Bigeye Tuna Tartare, Hampshire Pork Belly, Strawberry-Cinnamon Glazed Ribs, Baked Muenster Cheese, Broccoli Rabe
*Note: The menu seems to rotate quite a bit, but these were some of our favorites in April 2015!
In my book, Otto wins best pizza in NYC. (Gosh, it may even be my favorite overall restaurant in NYC!) I’ve tried some of the more esteemed spots, like Keste in the West Village, but somehow I can’t let go of Otto. Otto is one of Mario Bartoli’s more casual (and cheaper) restaurants, but he certainly does not skimp on taste or quality. I first fell in love with Otto after a taste of their signature truffle honey, which comes with any cheese selection. Oozey honey with generous speckled black dots of truffle, I could not think of a better accent to a decadent cheese selection. (Side-note: the triple cream is my personal favorite in the cheese selection).
Once you get past the cheese, we come to the pizza. The crust is perfectly thin, with just the right proportions of cheese and sauce. The prosciutto arugula is one of my favorites, with deliciously thin slices of high-quality Italian meat that you see being sliced as you enter the restaurant. The white pizza is also one to try- I’m not usually a huge fan of white pizza, but man it’s good here. The monster of all Otto pizzas is the truffle pizza, which I have now found twice on the specials menu. It’s much pricier than others on the menu, but SO SO worth it. After all, I did say it was the best pizza in New York; for that I’m willing to dish out. Hefty shavings of white truffle dot the pizza, and you will find an egg cracked in the middle. The only time I’ve eaten something with this much truffle was a black truffle risotto at Melisse in Los Angeles. And on a pizza? Yes please.
Otto also has pretty good pastas, and the sides are great to even out your meal with some greens. The carbonara pasta is particularly good, but I wouldn’t make a trip to Otto just for the pasta. I’m a pretty big fan of the brussels sprouts as well, but be warned these are served room temperature (the waiters will “warn” you of this- I guess customers have complained in the past?). I’m still at the point where I try not to repeat restaurants too much, but this is one of my few staples, it’s just too good. One last warning: You may experience a “truffle hangover” the next day, that’s how decadent this place is. But absolutely worth it.
1 5th Ave. New York, NY 10003
What to Order: Selection of Cheese with the truffle honey, truffle pizza, brussel sprouts, caprese salad