Brunch at Murray’s Cheese Bar, New York, NY

I’ve mentioned before that brunch is a big affair for me. Welp, now that baby has her first real job, plus school and various assorted debauchery, anytime is brunch time, provided I’ve ten minutes, a handful of dry cereal, and a hardboiled egg. But you know that doesn’t really cut it. I need real brunch, with real forks, real hipsters, and real food, damn it, and as luck would have it, Murray’s Cheese, a New York epicurean staple, introduced their weekend brunch and invited me over for a taste. Finally, brunch I could schedule in and prepare for! Over a springy Sunday morning, I sampled cheese-filled treats aplenty.

It doesn’t get much better than starting with bellinis…unless said bellinis are lychee and black cherry-flavored. Lychee fared better, the yeastiness of the Processo mingled nicely with the floral notes. Black cherry was delicious, but the fruity flavor was omnipresent and pushed out the more delicate flavors of the wine.

As we were guests of Murray’s, I shot them a quick email before I came over- simple in premise, but direct: “What should we get?” Their response met mine with a succinct, “As much as you can.” And holy cheese, were they right. We got a phenomenal spread of food, its versatility proving Murray’s deft hands with delicious cheese. We started with a cheese plate, arguably the best of the selection, though I’m biased just coming from a life of cheese plates in Paris.

 Each order of the cheesemonger’s selection comes with the cheesemonger, carefully pointing out and describing her selections and pairings with both housemade and artisanally produced condiments. We asked for the strangest and funkiest, and we definitely got it, starting with the Hudson Flower, cave-aged at Murray’s courtesy of the Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. with a blend of lemongrass, juniper berry, cracked black pepper, and paprika. This was paired with a housemade rose tea petal jam, and was my personal favorite of the bunch. Floral, spicy, and, as the cheesemonger said, “I feel so girly whenever I eat it!” Me too. Kinda.
The next was a Beaufort d’Ete, transporting me straight back to France with its creamy, eggy, pungent flavors and a crumbly, honeyed sweet edge. Man, was this nostalgic. They paired it with pickled spicy carrots whose lingering spice deftly cut the richness of the cheese. It was better with the wild boar soprasetta than the delicate shavings of proscuitto as the former helped coax out those spicy notes even more. We finished with a perfect Fourme d’Ambert, yet another tug at the old heartstrings for me. This had a funky, pervasive sea salt and musk to the core, with an aggressively stingy bite, just pure chalk, salt, and cream. Paired with the delicate, although strangely solid white sea salt honey and prosciutto, it was something I could have eaten by the pound.

After the cheese plate, we started in on the brunch menu. We wanted an even divide of sweet and savory, so we decided to start with the Illegal Doughnut, two thick slices of Pullman’s bread stuffed with cream cheese, bacon, and fried with a creme brulee crunch. Delicious, and certainly rich, as it was over three inches of fried, creamy goodness on a plate, but I wished the cream cheese filling had been seasoned or spiced in some way, or at least whipped to cut the sheer density of the plate. In this case, it seemed as though a block of cream cheese had been placed in between the bread, which is all well and good, but at a place that specializes in cheese, cream cheese should not go ignored.

Our other large plate was the Alpine Eggs, described as the “fondue of eggs” by both our server and the PR team. These were monstrous in size and flavor- two pillowy English muffin halves with ham, grilled mushrooms (B generously ate the ‘shrooms off mine) and a perfectly poached egg on top to be drizzled with what seemed like an endless pot of tangy, smooth cheese sauce. Everything worked well in this dish, and I happily scraped the plate and dipped anything I could in the sauce- a fork, crackers, my pinky finger, though I did find myself craving a little spice to counter some of those creamy flavors.
Surprisingly, the two sides we ordered made more than a complete meal themselves, and actually ended up being our favorites. Murray’s, please know that I could eat those grits ad nauseum. I would cook them and never, ever leave the house, so creamy and infused with cheese they were.  The Tickler cheddar was sharp and savory, and melted so well that long after the dish had cooled down, the cheese was still gooey and yielding with each bite. I prolonged our brunch by at least an extra fifteen minutes just so I could nibble on this. With the scrapple, it was likely one of the best brunch meals I’ve had in the last year.

Ohhh, the scrapple. My discreet notes to myself, scribbled on both my phone, and, after its untimely battery death, my hand, best sum up my feelings toward it: “Holy damn, scrapple, you crazy.” Crazy indeed- tender, with every last edge crispy and crunchy. Murray’s is off to a great beginning. Their individual items need tweaking, but it’s a solid start to what I imagine will be a stunning final menu. We left stuffed with leftovers in hand and decided it wouldn’t have been so awful to fall onto the subway tracks and die afterward. There’s no shame in being star-crossed brunch lovers.

(FTC Disclosure: Murray’s generously comped our cheese plate and invited us in to what was likely the very last two-top in a ten-mile radius on such a beautiful spring day. Seriously, everyone in the tri-state area was brunching that day, so muchos gracias.)

Food for Thought on DOMA

Let’s take a little break, just for a day or two.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments against DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law promoting traditional marriage, or marriage between one man and one woman. Yes, some states have legalized gay marriage, and that’s damned important, but  DOMA denies gay couples of the federal benefits- 1,138 of them, to be exact, that heterosexual couples receive simply by signing the dotted line on their marriage certificates.

What does this mean? It means that you can live with a partner for 30 years and still be forced to pay an estate tax on their estate as you’re not recognized as their spouse. It means no family and medical leave to care for your domestic partner. It means that even if you fall in love in Germany, eventually, you’ll have to leave your partner behind when you go back to the States because your spouse is ineligible to immigrate as a member of your family. The weddings are wonderful, the equality is mounting, but it’s not quite there. It doesn’t make me want to fall in love and tie the knot, because speaking from experience, nothing is worse than going through a big, fantastic, meaningless gesture only to wake up the next day and realize that nothing has changed.

So why bring this up? It’s important. But this is a food blog! I know. But you and I have one thing in common. You read this blog. I write it. I’ve chosen (and adore!) to keep my scope to fancy food, strange edibles, and everything in between. Like it or not, it’s an outlet, however small, and you deserve to know that there’s a real, live person writing these reviews, someone with thoughts and desires like you. Maybe they’re a little pickier, but I digress. And, as I care about food, this is also something I care about, deeply, as a gay woman.

Here’s a secret: I’m not the ideal poster child for marriage equality. I’m not young enough to be considered cute and precocious anymore, and I’m not elderly and partnered and dying to tie the knot. I’m unattached, unfettered, and barely thinking about tomorrow’s breakfast, much less getting hitched. And until I send in that first seat deposit to whatever law school will have me, I can’t be considered the Sandra Fluke of gay rights until I can actually argue coherently about them from a legal perspective. So, I’ll admit, that doesn’t leave me with a whole lot of heft.

But I have desires. And one of them is that someday, I want to know that if I decide to settle, in some long, weird distant future, that I can choose to do so, do it, and move on without getting the throw rug yanked from under my feet. No strings attached. No skim-milk marriage. Full-fat, rich, decadent, unctuous, gorgeously attired partnership at the same level anyone else is at.

Here’s me in Morocco. Jesus, I am so adorable. I’m really cute. Just look at that shirt! Trust me, you want me to be happy and well-fed and partnered. Because I want that, and I’m going to fight for it. And I’d rather have you join me than stand in my way.

That’s all.

So if you like this website, if you read it and enjoy it, if it saves you money, makes you think, makes you laugh, just remember: the support you give for marriage equality (and all LGBT rights!) is for me. And you like me. And I like you.


Here’s where you can go to learn more:

Dole Fruit Crisps Apple Cinnamon

Does the idea of following through with a recipe send you into a shock so cataclysmic that you enter a catatonic state? Are you so fearful of measurements and temperatures that your psyche literally shuts down? If so, Dole Fruit Crisps may be diagnostically appropriate for you. Filled with chunks of real fruit, a delicious oat and brown sugar crisp, and the comforting, calming effect of a Valium placebo, these innovative instant desserts allow you to escape to a blissful, premade fantasy world both inside your mind and mouth.

Dole sent over a selection of their new Fruit Crisps, along with a pair of fluffy socks, a cozy scarf, and an aromatic candle specifically for this purpose. I’ll admit, I was confused at first- did they want me to eat the Fruit Crisp or seduce it? But on a more serious note, I’d like to personally thank Dole for rescuing me from the brink of this existential suicide. I, too, was afraid to cook or bake because I saw no point in the exhaustive motions and eventual, self-hatred motivated caloric binge, but now I don’t have to. Not only does each Fruit Crisp only have 120 calories, it actually tastes like dessert.
As many critics drink water or eat a neutral food so their palate is objective and cleansed, so did I with the supplemental comforting clothing, stripping down to nothing but the scarf and comfortable socks. I observed both to be very cozy and was immediately lulled to a relaxed state, as they reminded me of beds and grandmothers, with the notable exception of my lonely nudity. I lit the candle, too (from a local New York candlemaker, which I wholly commend) and within mere hours, my studio was filled with the tantalizing scent of fresh apple crisp. Bam, it smelled like I actually did something for three hours. I felt accomplished and very cozy. With that in mind, I highly recommend setting the mood in such a fashion.
Then, I cracked open the Fruit Crisp. I decided to try Apple Cinnamon, as I was feeling frisky and spicy from all of the new things I’d done.Dole recommends trying their Fruit Crisps warm—personally, I prescribe them that way. Frankly, there’s no other way they should be eaten, as the difference in heating is the difference between crying yourself to sleep and writing a motivational Tweet. They taste awful when they’re cold. But warm, these are fantastic.  
The fruit is soft, and the base sauce, though weirdly gelatinous, is filled with spices and lets the flavor of the apples shine through without overpowering them. The crisp is heavily spiced in this – I can’t speak for the other flavors, but in this one, it was perfect, with a heavy cinnamon and nutmeg flavor. Dole nailed all of the aspects of a crisp in bite-sized, two-minute form. Both my hunger and mental stability are back to a maintained, relaxed state. Thanks, Dole! Remember, do not use Dole Fruit Crisps if you are in any way sensitive to delicious fruit, dazed with ennui, or allergic to fluffy, fuzzy socks.

Lean Cuisine Salad Additions Asian-Style Chicken

This week on Chopped: Pre-Spring Break Edition, or as we call it behind the scenes, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, What am I supposed to do with all of this hummus?” we encounter a plethora of ingredients our intrepid chef has never reached for before, much less made the effort to consume, including, but not limited to granola-infused peanut butter, a sack of clementines atop a bookshelf that came off as clever and hip, but quickly rotted, a haircut inspired by Marlon Brando and a Titanic-era Leonardo DiCaprio, and aging Lean Cuisine Salad Additions.

Spoiler alert, also, real talk: do I look like the type to eat salads? Absolutely none of the current stereotypes I cuddle up to would eat a salad, I know this because I’ve tried and failed. So, Lean Cuisine, that, and my apathy about buying vegetables in quantities not befitting a single, dour human being compels me to try your new kits with spaghetti. Store-brand spaghetti, that chicken is too pallid for the fresh stuff. That, and the fact that it took about 15 minutes before I realized that filling my Firefox tabs with recipes and looking at them would not suffice my actual bodily hunger. Tant pis.

I’m not including a recipe because it’s a little reprehensible, but suffice to say, it includes peanut butter, a ginger-sesame dressing out of a salad kit, copious amounts of hot sauce, and closed doors. However, I also realize none of you read this blog for moral culpability, so I’m inclined to also tell you solely because it doesn’t entirely matter. This salad kit is delicious when it isn’t used for salad. My favorite part? The pineapple and yellow carrot pieces. While I may not have prepared this correctly- I don’t own a microwave and don’t care to go to the convenience store to ape theirs five blocks away, so I thawed the chicken and veggies instead for a few hours, that may have been what improved them. Sticking them in the microwave, according to conspiracy theorists and eco-minimalists, leeches all of the flavor out of them and renders them mushy and unpalatable. Here, they retained a little snap and remained firm and bright. Paired with chow mein noodles tossed in sriracha (noodle-on-noodle action) it was a great dinner, and two more great lunches.

Also, holy chicken, Batman. Either corporations are getting hella deft at mimicking food (a quick glance to the ingredients reveals this to be slightly true, modified tapioca starch) or they’re just using better chicken. This tastes, feels, and for all intensive purposes, is real and quite tasty. And better than buying and/or thawing large chicken breasts. So, Lean Cuisine, my lassitude is your gain. Four for you, Glen Coco.

Hungry Jack Premium Cheesy Hashbrowns

It’s rainy and exhausting here, and as Spring Break looms over me, I find myself dwindling to a set of groceries best relegated to homeless shelters and overpriced co-ops. One of these miraculous finds was a carton of instant hash browns conveniently left by the previous owner, along with over 30 ice pops and the lingering scent of stale Marlboro Reds. Last month’s dinner is today’s breakfast, according to the shelf stability of Hungry Jack’s instant Cheesy Diner-Style Hash Browns.

I’ll be honest, I’m polarized when it comes to diners. I’m picky about what I like, and in 90% of cases, according to my highly specified and not at all limited scope of New England diners and their ensuing hash brown-related fancies, the hash browns are greasy, unappetizing, and never crisp enough for my desires. I like my hash browns like I like my women- cheesy and on the dry side. And continuing off that hideous analogy, on a scale of one to Hitch, Hungry Jack delivers a product better relegated to speed dating. 

Admittedly, these are convenient when you’re heading to court or to bed, at all hours of the night, if not hash browns of the highest or prettiest caliber. They are frighteningly easy to make for a food once described as “a food with a reputation for its widespread availability and easy satisfaction of oral needs.” This brings that to a whole new level. Hot water in the milk- er, potato carton, for twelve minutes or until your masochism is satisfied and then into a hot pan and you’re set.

For dehydrated food shards with a stark resemblance to toenail clippings, the potato pieces are firm and crisp up nicely with a little olive oil. Cheesy? It’s more like cheese-flavored salt, but I’ll save the smoked, aged goat cheese for my next post.

Marcha, New York, NY

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.