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.

Mountain Dew Kickstart Energizing Fruit Punch

Mountain Dew Kickstart is released today, much to the chagrin and delight of bearded babyfaces all over the world. Maybe it’s just my curmudgeonly tendencies and complete inability to understand idiomatic phrases, but “Kickstart” doesn’t hold too much power for me. The last item I owned that functioned primarily via kickstarting was from 1978 and met an untimely death via theft, and vibrated weakly in between my legs for a mere $5 fill-up. Kickstarter is a scary company where the dreams of hipsters live and thrive, so you’ll have to excuse me for being a little dubious of Mountain Dew’s Kickstart, the latest in a long, quirky line of breakfast-themed sodas following slowly on the heels of the Taco Bell-exclusive Mountain Dew AM.

After a long day of copy-machine mangled documents and succumbing to the realization of how damned uncomfortable Hunter boots are in a mildly heated office environment, regardless of their animal magnetism and raw power, I needed a boost slightly more powerful than my regular combination of sweatpants and Elliot Smith. Enter Mountain Dew Kickstart in Energizing Fruit Punch, stage left, accompanied by the Bloodhound Gang. If anyone is a prime candidate for extra energy, it’s me. I mean, Birkin ain’t got nothing on those eye bags, if you catch my drift. Punchline: I’m exhausted!

Right off the bat, this is a drink you don’t want to confuse with regular fruit punch, because its kick of caffeine puts it in a category of danger even more lurid than the normal stuff. It’s not something you want to serve to toddlers, but also doesn’t seem to be nearly as potent as most energy drinks on the market. It’s sweet and sticky, like fruit punch and Mountain Dew, and ends up tasting a lot like the bug juice they used to pour into us at camp, minus the irritability and sunburn. As an aside, I like that the accompanying adjective to this is “energizing” rather than something creepy and implicit, like “rockin'” or “brain-meltin'”. It seems mature.

Would I serve this to teenagers? Only if I was making them perform hard manual labor. Is it for coffee drinkers? Well, the caffeine is equivalent to a cup of coffee, and somehow I can’t see my mom replacing her daily mug of joe with a can of this every morning before she heliskis to work. It seems inappropriate for kids, and it’s just not strong enough for regular energy drink users. Thus, it’s difficult for me to precisely envision who the core demographic for this group is- it seems to be best suited for the bicurious of drinkers, “bi” in this case referring to Vitamin B-curious, of which this contains 80% of your daily recommended value. Drink away, my minions. I’ll stick to my coffee and 90’s grunge.

MiO Fit Arctic Grape and Berry Blast

Your locally-sourced badass and resident free-range bachelor is back on the prowl, ladies and germs, the prowl for delicious dainties and stupidly expensive condiments. It’s the time of year when Google’s advertising aggressively starts steering me toward camera auctions, wedding rings, discount leather apparel, and of course, drink mixes. Well, screw ’em. I don’t need more chaps or a robot’s recommendation on where to buy my condiments! I’ve found exciting things right here, you see. While MiO Fit might not be new or etsy-endorsed, it’s delicious and as always, convenient sandwiched in between a busy girl’s schedule of court, gym-ratting, and weekly trips to the spirits shoppe.

I decided to be intrepid and mix this not with water, but with dusty craft tonic water. Needless to say, Hendricks has never tasted better. MiO Fit, in both Arctic Grape and Berry Blast, has the tang and nostalgic flavor of old, discontinued Gatorade, and I say that with only the most plaintive of emphasis. Both flavors are redolent with sodium and vigor for all of your personal exertion needs and don’t taste half bad– pleasantly, they are on the other end of the MiO Energy spectrum and forgo sugar more than their counterparts. Arctic Grape is my personal favorite of the two, mainly because Berry Blast tastes like the Berry Lemonade released last May with a little more salt. 

While the MiO brand has somewhat run its course, Sassy Gay Friend now taking the role of Sassy Gay Queen and commenting on the latest David Ives fiasco between sips of Aperol, I still enjoy that they are condensing our beloved, albeit bulky drinks of yore into handheld versions for the modern day.

Red Bull: Blue, Silver, and Red Edition

Christmas is over, the bounty of Thanksgiving leftovers has come and gone. Soon, the world will be getting ready for New Year’s Eve, the unloved drunken baby of the winter holidays. These days, staying up late and getting drunk is roughly as edgy as a Snuggie-wrapped newborn. Fresh on the heels of surviving yet another threat of an apocalypse, we need to up our game and appreciate life as the Mayans could not. And what better to up it with than three new flavors of Red Bull, the official drink of 2007, er, 2013?
Well, maybe you should wait before answering my rhetorical question, because it turns out there are a few better things to celebrate another orbit with than Cranberry, Lime, and Blueberry Red Bull, like milk, chocolate milk, milkshakes, straight up caffeine yo, soda, ice cream, raw sewage, Go Go Juice, champagne and scotch, chocolate syrup from the bottle, and bleach, to name a few palatable beverages off the top of my head. Despite an aggressive and patriotically-colored marketing campaign in all of the countries for whom blue, white, and red are relevant (suck it, Belgium!) these liquid Benedict Arnold Palmers are shameful mars on an otherwise decent year.

Classified in “editions” like some sort of limited release Encyclopedia Brittanica set or a numbered Audemars, the terrible triad features a sleek can design aping off the majesty of the Lamborghini without the finesse in engineering. In fact, the only thing they have in common with the cars are their mutual shared usage, or in the case of the Red Bull, incorporation, of motor oil. At least, as the texture of these drinks would imply. If motor oil wasn’t used in the composition of this beverage, someone on the staff was surely drinking it. I don’t see how it made it off the production line otherwise. The drinks are viscous and lurid in color, moreso than the traditional Red Bull and have an aggressive, slightly sinister overarching sweet scent to them, like the drink itself is trying to conceal its contents and drug you.

The first of our ill-fated ingestibles is the Red Edition, not unlike the Red Edition your piss will later be emulating. This is easily the most offensive of the drinks, mollified only by the fact that it is the sole soda of the three to not contain the creepy-sounding “bleu brilliant FCF” food coloring. However, it comes out of the bottle as red as the can, smelling like Jell-O powder. It tastes like a mixture of various red-colored and red-flavored hard candies, with a flat, sweet flavor and a sour aftertaste, not tart like a cranberry ought to be, but metallic. Next is the lime-flavored Silver Edition. This one goes down with the least resistance with a seltzer-like flavor, but has a powerful Windex nose. I’m thinking that this would make a fantastic knock-off Sprite. We’ll call it “Spite.”

Finally, the most intriguing of the special flavors, blueberry Red Bull, which sounds like the first of many unsuccessful cocktails on the Absentee Parent happy hour menu. This has a mild blueberry flavor, with a slightly acidic aftertaste like blueberry yogurt, but the resemblance ends there and it tastes like Warheads. I won’t even recommend this for New Year’s Eve cocktail shenanigans. If you need to chug these to stay up until midnight, you are either twelve, or out of touch like this MAD Magazine hilarity. Either way, the perfect demographic for these weird limited editions. I still wish I could have tried Mango Fratboy Heave. Stay classy!

Pago World of Nature: Asia, Africa, and Amazon

Sometimes my best-laid efforts tend to fall apart. It’s not that I don’t try hard, or that I don’t put enough effort into the game, it’s more what I see as a crossing of wires. A little bit of handiwork that trips me up every time. What I’m trying to say is, even when I make a grocery list, even when I set myself a budget, write prices down, and pass by the 15 Euro three-pack of truffled mustard, a salty tear in the corner of my eye, inevitably, strangely, somehow, 10 Euro’s worth of limited-edition juice makes its way into my basket.

I honestly don’t know how this happened, especially when I’d spent ten minutes mentally calculating the best value of juice I could potentially purchase, given the number of fruits in each bottle and the price per kilo. Why I’d then gone and picked up the most expensive juice, put it in my basket, and then hurried back for its siblings, remains a mystery to me.

And yet, here we are.

My initial reaction is to blame Dillinger for my Pago addition, yet realizing that this addiction manifested itself long before and after his departure brings the blame squarely back in my quart. I see what I did there. Regardless, I’m now the proud owner of three empty bottles of limited-edition Pago World of Nature juice, in Africa, Amazon, and Asia flavors. They sound like a majestic theme park attraction. These are special, not only because they are themed, much like a half-hearted Bat Mitzvah, like the above three continents/places-that-begin-with-A-because-gee-Pago-America-didn’t-want-to-anyway, but because their fruits are sourced exclusively from these continents/loosely-defined regions as well.

Pago Asia has Thai pineapple with Indian mango, Taiwanese lychee, pure coconut water and tamarind and 100% less Szechuan pepper, much to my dismay, Pago Africa has South African grapes with pineapple, pink guava, the marula “elephant” fruit, and hot pepper, and Pago Amazon has Brazilian oranges, passion fruit, bananas and the acerola, which I’ve heard some women find to be extremely sensitive to the touch. Pago Amazon, you devil!

With all three juices, I could taste the raw, harsh Vitamin C radiating down my throat, scalding any and all germs on its way to my digestive system. The Amazon unfortunately bore the brunt of this vital assault, and combined with its overarching sweetness, ended up tasting like a fancy Juicy Juice, minus the story and the idyllic innocence of childhood. Pago Asia fared better, its sweetness tamed by the coconut water and earthy notes of tamarind. It was my favorite of the three, and had a nice tang to it. It was the only one whose components all shone through. Pago Africa was a tough one. I wanted to love it as I am conditioned to love almost anything that contains hot peppers and grapes and baby elephants, but was unimpressed by the muddled flavors and abrasive prank-levels of spice at the end of each sip. Pago describes its World of Nature array as having a “dazzling, worldly presentation.” Ultimately, though, this cross-continental trip was derailed by inconsistency and the juice equivalent of handsy TSA agents.

Elixia Chocolat Limonade Artisanale

This week on the Fabulous Misadventures of Foodette in Europe, watch Foodette get locked out, and then reacquainted with her apartment, enjoy the trials and tribulations of the French home repair system, get entertained by Dillinger in fine style at a hotel, and cry while eating peanut M&M’s in one hand and swig Beaujolais Nouveau with the other. Hashtag classy, my friends. Hashtag classy. Yes, getting locked out of my apartment justifies being one week late. However, now that we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming, we can celebrate my return by talking about something as awesome and as magical as a unicorn on fire. The opposite of Chevy Chase. The finesse of skinny jeans and cowboy boots. Chocolate lemonade- sorry, chocolat limonade, from a company bold enough to call itself Elixia. This shit is real.

I all but screamed like a toddler when I saw this at the Chocolate Salon, an event that sounds exciting but in reality, was a giant shopping mall full of chocolate and full of people whose average height put me somewhere around ass level. Nevertheless, I escaped with two treats, one of which was this artisanal carbonated beverage. Surprisingly, their booth was sparsely populated, presumably due to peoples’ fear of life-changingly wondrous drinks.

However alluring the tantric combination of chocolate and citrus fruit may sounds, though, it is regrettably a pairing best left to the recesses of the mind, much like Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy fanfiction. To put it simply, Elixia Chocolat is the “Two Princes” of lemonade. It’s clever, it’s catchy, it’s ground-breaking in its enthusiasm, and it even has an element of class. However, its kitschy undertones forever relegate it to the bottom shelf of sodas, and consequently, early 90’s jams. There simply isn’t any substance to it. Hardcore critics call it abrasively unappealing, for me, it performs as a novelty and then quietly dies.

Elixia tastes kind of like a Tootsie Roll, and kind of like Perrier, and kind of like Sprite, but nothing like any of the three in particular. It’s bitter, tangy, and a little depressing. I wanted to like it as much as I wanted to put effort into the post I’m writing about it, and we can all see how well both of those turned out. Ultimately, both the sexy frothy brown lemonade and sexy writing block were poured down the sink. Hey, is Girls on Netflix?

Fanta Chateau Grokiff (Elderflower and Citrus)

I can justify many purchases, but rarely does soda make that list, the reason being that while I can’t suffer through low-calorie desserts, meat, or Wasa crackers, diet soda is actually something I enjoy. Yes, I’m one of those jerks, the kind who will tell you without prompting that they’re happier to have aspartame shakes or aspartame flippers in forty years than diabetes. I’ve even held off on trying all the Japanese Pepsi flavors I love so dearly. But now the cap is on the other bottle. Fanta France has me entranced and in love with its strange, French flavors. It has wooed me, wined and dined me, given me Fanta clap, and I still want more.
Although I’m sure this is a decade-long bottled (zing!) expression of the jaw-dropping terror and arousal I felt as an eleven-year old sitting in the dark of my local movie theatre at a showing of Girl Next Door (sorry, Mom, I never did see Ella Enchanted that night) watching the Fanta girls whiz by on jet-skis singing their trademarked theme song, I’ve always had more of an affinity for Fanta than I have for any of the other tinted, fruit-touched sodas on the market. And now that Fanta has incorporated one of my other favorite past-times into their soda, wine and pretension, I am now irresistibly compelled to buy it and nothing else. Your marketing dollars at work, people!
I cannot convey to you how amazing this is without buying each of you a ticket to France, taking you to my Monoprix on the Metro, and buying you a bottle to take home in addition to the special extra baggage cost imposed by Every Airline Ever, Incorporated. But I’m not Oprah, (ed. note: BlogHer, am I Oprah? Can we look into that?) so all I can give you are photos and a whimsical sip-by-sip essay because screw you, Robert Parker Jr. This is delicious. Fanta has managed to not only make an adorable soda label design, but the drink inside is the best non-artisanal elderflower drink I’ve ever had, somehow ranking above IKEA’s Swedish craftsmanship.
The elderflower is the most present flavor, with citrus notes to boost its tartness after each sip. It has the price of a store-brand beverage and the quality of one with cursive writing and a man burning $500 bills embossed on the label. It’s definitely sweet, with a thick, sugar-heavy texture, but matches that with plenty of effervescence and a good tang to offset the sugar, like more complex, herbaceous lemonade. I really enjoy it, despite my moral objections to sugary water. And the label. That label will literally be taped to my wall after I have finished the soda. Chateau Grokiff, from the coveted 2010 vintage, is officially my new 100-pointer under 99 cent recommendation, a phenomenon that certainly doesn’t exist in the wine world.I almost hate it for not going all the way and incorporating a cork, glass bottle, and actual alcohol. But their chateau is a drawing of an inflatable castle. I believe we’re done here.

Vitamin Water i-Create (Peach, Raspberry, Vanilla)

It takes a special breed of creepiness to scroll through Facebook comments on corporate pages. Seriously, you’re better off finding more coherent reading in bathroom stalls. There you’ll find many a plea for coupons, usually in return for sexual favors or forehead tattoos, as well as some entertaining campaigns for spin-off products. (“Hey, Oreo, please LIKE my awesome new cookie product, SPOREO, the Oreo for gardeners!!!”) Sometimes, in rare moments of hilarity, corporate campaigns result in trolling. Anonymous has sent Pitbull to Alaska and Justin Bieber to North Korea. In the case of a recent Vitamin Water Europe contest to create the next flavor, it actually resulted in something delicious.

Coming straight to you from a tourist trap slash bagel kiosk in the heart of Paris, here’s the Vitamin Water i-Create in peach, raspberry, and vanilla. It smells like the latest perfume collaboration between Nickelback and Will Smith’s Daughter, Excretion Swag and has a similar color. Surprisingly, the vanilla is subtle and enhance the fruits without adding a fake, sugary flavor. The raspberry takes a backseat to the peach, the strongest note in the drink. It reminds me of a novelty hybrid rather than a layered set of flavors and eventually felt a little one-noted, if tasty.

Although this bottle was approximately 20% smaller than the bottles in the US and cost about 200% more ($1.50 vs. $3.20 USD) the serving size was just enough for me. I felt like any more of it would have been overwhelming to drink, as the quirkiness of the flavors, like many quirky things (Zooey Deschanel, giant eyeglasses, and Pinterest) gets irritating after a little while. Nevertheless, it definitely beat dragonberry and garbage (+grape) and whatever we’ve got going on across the pond. Also, it was released in the classiest of ways. “The party, hosted by Rick Edwards, was held in the sumptuous surrounding of Shoreditch’s Lounge Lover, where guests sipped on delicious peach, raspberry and vanilla i-create cocktails.” Bang, Coca-Cola. Your move!

Foodette in Gay Paree: Savories at the Supermarket

Bonjour from Paris! I’m settled in, navigating the metro system, and most importantly, doing more grocery shopping for your edification. Don’t think that all my time has been spent at the local KFC- I’ve been busy baking up a storm, prowling the local supermarkets, and eating all the horse steak and cheese that I can handle. Busy days.

Today, I thought it would be fun to feature some of the stranger drinks and savory items at the supermarket, as the last time was mainly slanted toward sweets. As a bonus, I also have a bizarre takeout menu that showed up in my mailbox that should give you a fun peek at the stereotypes and fashions that make it out of the States and into European culture and reference.

The drink selection in grocery stores sticks to a certain formula, slanted toward juices and water with some sparkling beverages and soda thrown in, and incorporates a range of flavors that we are not accustomed to back in the States, blackcurrant and peach making frequent appearances. Also, sweet panther soda. Thanks, Schweppe’s! For the record, I’ve seen all kinds of whacky Schweppe’s flavors but am not sure if it’s the equivalent of Polar flavored seltzer with Schweppe’s branding or if these are flavors added on top of regular Schweppe’s ginger ale. I do know that grape ginger ale sounds like an absolute recipe for disaster. You live and learn. Or you learn and DIE.

And really, what would a trip to the grocery store be without some bizarre, moderately sexualized beverages that in no way imply a hidden contract merger between Coke and Viagra? Meet Lxyr (Skyn?) the confident, self-reliant cola with what looks like a craigslist ad written under its name. Hot bubbles? Really? I didn’t buy it, for fear that I would dazzle all the ladies in Paris and would then have nothing to do for the next six months. Le sigh. Really. Best enjoyed with Orangina Rasta, which is apparently tropically-flavored with notes of drug rug and Bob Marley posters. These aren’t drinks so much as they are identities that you casually take a sip from every so often. Jeez.

As for the food, they’re certainly more creative in the prepared lunch and dinner department. No longer do you have to settle for the banalities of Spaghettio’s. How about pasta carbonara? Pizza with ham? Happy hour salmon cornettes filled with cream cheese, chives, and mayonnaise for dipping? The world is your oyster- which, by the way, aren’t too difficult to come by either.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Speed Rabbit has some things they’d like you to know. For starters, Speed Rabbit would like to list what America is not: pussies, little girls, and Toyota Camrys. And according to Speed Rabbit, whose extensively documented menu will likely be the only record of the USA that survives the upcoming election/Mayan apocalypse/Adam Sandler film, America is monster trucks, car wash girls, Nebraska Beef, and Cap Code. I’ll let that speak for itself.

Spindrift Water Raspberry Lime

When it gets especially hot here, we like to joke that the cats turn into cheap, waxy chocolate due to their tendency to melt into puddles on all surfaces when it’s above 65 degrees, only to solidify when they find a cool spot or air conditioning. Luckily, our superior evolutionary benefits (sweating!) and supply of awesome sodas prevent us from melting away. One of the most recent breakout brands we’ve added to our libation portfolio is the increasingly awesome Spindrift. It was wonderful to see them at the Fancy Food Show and sample their latest line of drinks, Spindrift Water.

Billed as an adult alternative to soda, Spindrift joins sophisticated drinks like Izze, Hot Lips, Hint, and Ayala, to create a light, refreshing version of the drink we all love to hate on. You won’t find Coke here, though I’d love to see what they could do with such an iconic flavor profile. Instead, they’re trying out three new flavors of ten calorie “water” with fruit pulp mixed in. We tried them all, and loved the Raspberry Lime the best. This was perfect on a 98 degree day.

The soda has a more austere, less rich feel than the standard Spindrift but with the same boldness in flavor and fruit-forward acidity. This one has a delicate, floral aftertaste, with all the tart, bright flavors of raspberry in a less concentrated form. I was surprised that the lime didn’t make as much of an appearance, but it still offered a zesty, somewhat bittersweet counterpart to the fruit. It’s definitely a drink to come back to repeatedly, as its subtle flavors make each sip pleasant and curious. For ten calories, you could do a lot worse! This offers artisanal flavors and a rustic texture with the bits of fruit pulp that remind me of homemade sodas.