It’s holiday season! And in my case, chocolate season. Winter is a great excuse for me to order and receive fancy truffles, caramels, and toffee under the guise of ‘gift sampling,’ that rarely makes it to the actual ‘gift-giving’ phase. This might also explain why, for the past five years, I’ve given members of my family used books, socks, and framed chocolate wrappers. I’m considering getting an L.L.M. so I can milk the impoverished student gig a few years more. Sorry, Mom. Enjoy your gently used sweater. Continue reading “Poco Dolce Bittersweet Chocolate Nut Tiles”
In a brief editorial by ‘First We Feast,’ the author decries the classic stereotype many people have about ethnic cuisine- we want it, but we don’t want to pay high premiums for it. In assuming that position, the food and the culture creating it is cheapened, relegated to a lower premium than steak or more European restaurant fare. The worth of Asian and Mexican cuisine can be just as high as that of Italian or French, as seen especially in restaurants like Shang Palace, with a level of authenticity as high as their less expensive counterparts. With this in mind, I was curious to try Besito, a John Tunney restaurant in West Hartford based on high-end, but authentic Mexican cuisine.
Continue reading “Besito, West Hartford, CT”
The Bedfellow and I took a trip to Newport this weekend to check out the folk festival. While we were watching Beth Orton and Shovels and Rope, and not watching Beck play ‘Sexx Laws’ because he was too busy exploring his emotions, we were invited to take a side trip to the Capital Grille in Providence to check out this year’s Generous Pour event.
As you know from last year’s event, seven to nine wines are selected, generally around a theme or specific region, and are offered at an upcharge of $25 per person to be paired alongside a three or four-course meal so diners can sample the entire selection without opening full bottles. This year centered around California wines above 90 points, playfully named ’90 in the Shade.’ We started our meal with a few appetizers, and the first three wines.
With these appetizers and the classic Capital Grille breadbasket, filled with flatbread, poppy rolls, and raisin brown bread, were the three whites- a 2012 La Crema Pinot Gris, 2011 Matanzas Creek Sauvignon blanc, and 2011 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay. My favorite was the sauvignon blanc, which had a curious varietal flair to it, almost musky and caramely, with a highly perfumed nose and snappy, bright finish. The Freemark and La Crema were also tasty, neither oaky nor overly dry, but not as memorable in terms of their uniqueness and pairing alongside the food.
The filet was cooked perfectly, plenty rare in the middle and juicy pink on the outside, but had a few technical flaws that detracted from the simple flavor of the meat. For one, the entire plate was swimming in a flavorful parmesan, garlic, and butter sauce better suited to a plate of pasta than to two delicate and expensive proteins. While I’m hardly objecting to butter on steak, one of life’s greatest pairings, the amount was downright excessive and coated each bite. The lobster was enhanced by this, as it was slightly overcooked, but the steak just felt overly heavy alongside such a decadent sauce.
The Bedfellow isn’t crazy about Parmesan, so I alternated between bites of steak and fries throughout the meal. The fries were excellent and very crispy, and loaded with cheese and just the slightest hint of truffle oil and cilantro. The cheese made it difficult to get one fry without tearing a few others off it, as it melted them into one large metafry, but was still delicious alongside the meat.
Our other sides were massive, the creamed corn being the Cinderella story of the night, perfectly balancing the gap between overly rich, dairy-heavy corn and plain vegetables with the bacon and, presumably, the bacon fat melting into the corn. It was fresh and served rustically with some larger segments of corn as if it had been recently shucked. Smoky and very summery.
Fortuitous circumstances have put me in possession of a vintage Eames chair, so now I can sit alone in the dark and watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in style. My part-time employment as an anime wrangler was fleeting, and I’ve taken up tutoring to supplement my lavish lifestyle. Of course, this leaves me with free days, so I’ve been thrill-seeking and friend-searching on the side to see what adventures I can get myself into.
I am literally going to die.
I’m done. I’m dying, my insides are decomposing, and I’m going to die. And I feel so clean.
I’m on a juice fast. It’s the worst. I mean, I feel great, slightly delirious, and I fall asleep at stop lights, but I can already feel my stomach aching for a burger. Obviously, with my couture food tasting lifestyle, it’s difficult to maintain such a diet while still sticking my mouth in the latest and greatest delicacies from Chez Mac Do and Wendy’s. I enlisted the Bedfellow to help me eat this burger while I watched her, on the floor, from across the room, while I cried silently into my sweet green and lemon water.
The new Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger features some new ingredients and some old ones- bacon, cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato, and smoky mustard sauce (from the flatbreads, I imagine) along with Cheddar cheese sauce atop a pretzel bun. Pretty intense, and at $4.89, pricier than the standard bacon burgers but hopefully worth the price. It’s a fairly weighty sandwich, and very visually appealing, with lots of sauce, veggies, and a shiny, toasted bun.
The Bedfellow liked it, though found the pretzel, which I’d consider to be the main draw of the sandwich, bland and not very tasty. It wasn’t sweet like some pretzel rolls, and had no salt on top. I would have found the inclusion of rock salt fairly audacious given the assault of savory ingredients already inside the burger, but was pleased to hear that she thought the rest of the salt balanced out the boring flavor of the bun. Though if you’re going to make a pretzel bun, why bother making it at all if it isn’t going to taste very good?
Luckily, it didn’t overwhelm the rest of the burger, which was satisfying in its composition. Although she found the cheese and mustard sauce difficult to tell apart, she liked the sweet and smoky flavors, which leads me to wonder if Wendy’s has adjusted their mustard sauce recipe after testing it in March. The arugula blend was a nice touch, too, and gave a splash of color alongside the relatively anemic-looking tomato and yellow and brown color palate of the meat and cheese. Red onions balanced out the richer flavors. The cheese provided another good boost of salt and softness atop the burger, but was overwhelmed by the thicker, gooier cheese sauce. Unfortunately, with the success of the toppings, the burger itself was dry.
When 50% of the components- pretzel and burger, are outshone by traditionally secondary items within the composition of a sandwich, cheese and bacon, it seems that it would not prove to be successful. However, it was saved by the quality and abundance of the remaining toppings. The Bedfellow said she would certainly get it again given the chance. I’d be curious to know who is supplying the pretzel buns for Wendy’s, or whether they are recipes from another company, tweaked to taste as they do. If this is a permanent addition to the menu, I would hope they add a little more of that eggy, saline flavor so quintessential to pretzels themselves.
I’m totally a celebrity. My UPS guy thinks I’m a legend, to the point where I have to give him my autograph every time I get a package. Geez, stalker much? My sexuality is mystical, my Levis are unwashed so the denim stays pure, or at least until the washing machine in my unit is fixed. And I get plenty of exciting packages in the mail, circulars notwithstanding. Recently, Dove sent me a package that wouldn’t have been out of place at the Oscars, or at the very least, the Outstanding Performance in Telemundo Series Awards. Candles! Lip balm! Doublemint! Hand soap! It’s perfect for both the mint lover and the obsessive compulsive cleaner in you. And thankfully, I have both.
I told myself I’d be able to gently coax Sir Kensington’s new creamy, white sauce, known in some circles and areas of the Midwest as ‘mayonnaise,’ without any awful, bodily puns, but it appears I’ve blown my humor wad a little early. Luckily, I have four jars of this stuff to make up for it. Yes, your favorite gentlemanly purveyor of condiments has filled the condiment coffer (I assume you all have a condiment coffer) once again with their release of two mayonnaise flavors, Original and Chipotle.
The new mayonnaise flavors are simplistic and clean in design on both the inside and outside of the package, as their original ketchup counterparts are. Minimal in ingredients, minimal in frippery. I’m excited to see a specialty food company working with mayonnaise- since Empire Mayo’s plethora of flavor releases, it’s been popular, but rarely done with other craft brands. Sir Kensington’s reputation and quality will hopefully open the doors for other companies to try their hand at eclectic mayo, too. And just in time for the Fancy Food Show (4th year running!)!
The new Gourmet Scooping mayonnaise, tested against an unnamed national brand rhyming with ‘Smellman’s,’ performs brilliantly- any pretense of awkward scooping is mitigated by the thick, creamy texture, lightly dotted with flecks of black pepper and a faint citrusy aroma. It’s the Greek yogurt of mayonnaise- a cut above the rest, with a more nuanced tang and acidity. It is also saltier than I expected it would have been. However, when analyzed on its own, the forefather of what I hope will be a golden age of artisanal mayonnaise, it falls a little short of my expectations.
I tried the mayonnaise in the two most important contexts- as a topping alongside a burger, and as a sauce for fries, the latter of which I picked up in Amsterdam, along with potential second-hand LSD flashbacks. What I liked about the European mayonnaise was that it stood on its own while acting as another way to enhance the glorious fries. It added another layer of shiny and rich to an already shiny and rich food without making it unnecessarily fatty. It’s lubricant for the soul. Did I expect that in Sir Kensington’s? Absolutely. Sir Kensington’s did for ketchup what society inexplicably did for Lena Dunham- validated the existence of a boring and overused staple of wiener-gobbling and brought out its insouciance. It was simple, but packed a punch.
While the mayonnaise was good, it had neither the indulgence of its European brethren nor the reimagined style of the brand’s initial frontrunner. It’s basic- high in quality, but essentially mayo v1.5. The chipotle is extremely well-crafted, despite suffering from the same high expectations as a result of Sir Kensington’s reinventing the wheel. Chipotle mayonnaise has been done before. That doesn’t mean that I’m not happy that Sir Kensington’s made their own version, but it does mean that my standards will be elevated when testing it. This is a clean, generously-spiced version, and is the Jekyll to the mild Hyde of the original. It reminds me of samourai sauce, and its pungent flavor lingers on the tongue and works well with the richness of the original base. Sir Kensington’s has taken a bold risk in releasing this line of spreads, but needs work before they can distinguish themselves from the crowd. As a gourmet version of a commercial brand, I’d have been content, but with a craft company as renowned as this in the specialty food world, I expected more.
Peanut butter cookies! For my day off. And by ‘day off,’ I mean, ‘day to do more work,’ and by ‘work,’ I mean, ‘drink and halfheartedly peck out a paper on feminism and cookbooks.’ But I’m drinking responsibly, MOM, by eating as I sip. And I am eating these cookies from HannahMax. I do not recommend pairing them with gin. Also, if you’re like me and have repeatedly confused HannahMax with Ashley Madison, you’ll be pleased to discover the former is about as wholesome as the latter is not. All natural ingredients and delicious flavors. The only obvious flaw is that cookies that are as thin and easy to eat as chips are potentially life-destroying.
Sea salt and peanut butter almost takes on a savory flavor. It’s the least sweet of the four flavors I tried, and was my personal favorite. While as with most products advertising a salted component, I would have liked to see more salt, this was still a solid cookie, especially with the addition of salted chopped peanuts.
The packaging is the only flaw I personally had trouble with. While I enjoy the concept of dessert as chips, roughly 60% of each package was cookie crumbs. I feel as if this had less to do with the cookie itself as it did with the container, a malleable, resealable bag. Something similar to a Pringles can would allow the cookies to stay within their concept of chips and not get so frustratingly mashed up in the process. It just made it messier and a little more shameful to eat in one serving while watching Twin Peaks. I mean, sitting around in a sweatshirt. I mean, working?
It’s rare that I find myself in Harlem, much less way up in Washington Heights. My business typically takes me to Manhattan, my pleasure to Brooklyn, and the rest tends to fall somewhere in between. Winding up the hills and under the bridges uptown, falling into step with the sweet scent of incense and the bustling warmth in the air reminded me of a brusquer Tangier. I made my way up to the Heights, where I had a date with a cocktail at Marcha, a charming new Brazilian tapas and cocktail bar.
The atmosphere is too cool for school, part chic nightclub-inspired with glowing neon tiles embedded into the bar and part relaxed, bright eatery, with peppy banana-yellow chairs and steel accents creating an intimate, excited place. And before you go reaching for your G&T (ahem, before I go reaching for my G&T) remember, there’s a killer cocktail list. I started with the Caipirinha, the minimalist Brazilian answer to the mojito, with raw sugar cane cachaça liqueur, lime, rum. Marcha puts their own twist on it by adding tangy cashew juice, a zippy flavor that added to the bright flavors of the lime zest.
We went through their cocktail list with ease- many were riffs off classic cocktails, which we found were more reliable than some of their original creations. The slender mojito was jazzed up with elderflower liqueur, and a frothy pisco with egg white, passionfruit juice, and a dried rosebud went down with a creamy, effervescent flavor. Some of the drinks- the Jack Tea, for example, with Jack Daniels and a curious mix of black tea, pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and ginger, were strangely flat in flavor despite their flavorful ingredients. The drink was offered hot or cold, the former may be preferential.
With cold drinks in hand, we worked our way down a good portion of the menu, starting with an order of classic calamari. This iteration was perfectly crispy and erred toward the thin side, making for deliciously poppable rings rendered even better with the addition of smoky paprika sauce.
My dining companion tried the mushrooms in a lemon-cilantro sauce. Mushrooms, as you know, are my kryptonite, so I did not partake. She found them flavorful and tender, but almost sharply acidic and not as creamy as she expected them to be.
From there, we moved on to two of Marcha’s flatbread cocas, the first with crab meat, goat cheese, tomatoes, and jalapenos. The flatbread base was generously topped with tender shredded crab tossed with melted goat cheese, almost like crab dip on crispy crackers. The tomatoes detracted from the richness of the dish, though, and watered down the creamy base. I would have liked more than one jalapeno per piece, as the flatbread needed a little more of a spicy kick.
Our second flatbread was similar- flank steak, goat cheese, tomatoes, cabbage, and jalapeno. This was delicious in flavor, as the meat was flavorful enough to stand on its own, but had some issues in conception. The tender slices were the unfortunate downfall of the flatbread, as one bite sent the toppings slipping off the back. While smaller chunks of steak wouldn’t have as much of a visual impact, it would certainly make it easier to eat.
We finished up the meal with two more tapas, starting with albondingas, little pork and veal meatballs with tomatoes and cilantro, and a sumptuous red wine and demi-glace sauce. These were fantastic, as I found myself munching on them the more I drank. The sauce, though, almost outshone the meatballs, and was perfect to dip with the extra bread.
These croquetas were the last savory of the evening, with chicken, green plantains, and a chili aioli. A classic snack, and surprisingly heavy on the plantains, which I much appreciated. Not much to report here- just a great, solid finger food.
We finished up our meal with two desserts, a glass of port, and an espresso. The desserts were fantastic and made in-house. Our first, a clever yucca caviar pudding with strawberry sauce, served in a martini glass. This was a very neat take on rice pudding, the starchy flavors and creaminess still very much intact, with nice chunks of yucca. The dessert was well-balanced and didn’t rely on the strawberry sauce to provide an overload of sugar.
Our last dessert was a compact version of tres leches cake, rolled up into a neat roll with a condensed milk sauce in between. Fluffy, and again, deftly made without too much sugar. The perfect ending to our meal. Marcha has some work to do before it rises to the level of Richard Sandoval or Nixtamal’s deftness of spicy treats and drinks, but it offers a solid libation foundation upon which its plates can shine. It is obvious that they excel at elixir, but don’t discount their varied menu. Thanks again to the PR team and staff at Marcha for having us- our meal and drinks were comped, and we had a wonderful time and appreciated the great service.