A Fall Pie Party Potluck in NYC!

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Pecan Pie

On the first Fall weekend in October, a bunch of food bloggers showed off their pie baking and eating skills at an event that was fun, informative and filling. Pie Party Potluck was in its third year, hosted by Jackie Gordon and Ken Leung. I’m happy to say I schlepped a chocolate pecan pie on the subway, and it arrived in one piece.

Fall Spread

Pie Party Potluck was held at the ICE Culinary Institute‘s modern campus in downtown Manhattan. Appetizers made by culinary students kicked things off, along with beef and chorizo empanadas from Girl in the Little Red Kitchen to whet our pie whistles. Luckily, there were things to distract us from just eating pie for three hours straight. An ICE instructor did a demo on perfecting pie crust, and we also toured the new campus. It was a great excuse to see the new facilities. Did you know there’s a room just for roasting cocoa beans and making chocolate? Now you do.

With an overwhelming number of pies, each of us took home leftovers. Though much of the pie eating became a tasty hodgepodge of flavors, I truly loved the Restaurant Fairy‘s Curried Aloo Gobhi Pie. It was spiced just right, and the perfect hearty Fall pie. Nice work, Malini!

Fall Cocktail

Thanks to a lively and knowledgeable bartender, I learned about Mizu Shochu, a delicious and pure spirit from Japan. It doesn’t burn like most alcohol does, and it was great in a Fall cocktail of fresh apple juice, lemon juice and cinnamon syrup. It was great on its own, too, served with a cucumber slice.

 

Thanks to some other generous sponsors, there were cookware giveaways as well. For bloggers attending the event, Cabot Creamery provided dairy coupons, and King Arthur Flour gave us flour coupons for making our pies. Thanks to all the sponsors, and Jackie and Ken, of course, the potluck was a real hoot for everyone involved.

Balzem Brings Mediterranean Delights and Warm Energy

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Balzem
202 Mott St. in SoHo
balzem.com/646-837-7033

 

The air in Balzem was positive and lively as a few writers gathered for a menu with wine pairings. Wine racks and vintage mirrors lined the walls, and an orange glow filled the room. The warm and intimate space seats 58, with long communal tables and some smaller tables. A few sidewalk tables will be available in June.

 

Prosciutto-wrapped burrata

Prosciutto-wrapped burrata

pan fried Spanish octopus on arugula

pan-fried Spanish octopus on arugula

 

A perfect place to pregame at the bar with drinks and snacks, Balzem offers $1 oysters, $5 mezzes/tapas, $6 wines and $5 beers every day but Saturday. Oysters and branzini ceviche aren’t a bad way to impress a date. My favorite appetizer was prosciutto-wrapped burrata on top of green pepper slices.

The food varied from new and fresh to familiar and well-executed. I’ve never seen a branzini ceviche on a menu, and I thought the fish was very fresh and flavorful this way. The grilled ribeye brochette (skewers) were perfectly cooked and hard to put down. They were served with warm flatbread, herb dip and yogurt dip, but the meat was completely delicious on its own.

The only food that felt heavy and rich were two sides: potato truffle gratin and truffle mac & cheese. Of course, they were delicious and shared amongst the table. The rest of the food was light for restaurant food, with simple ingredients executed well. This a great spot if you want a tasty dinner that won’t weigh you down – and there’s plenty of wine to help you along the way.

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Drinkable Art and More – Review of Little Fox Cafe’

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

62 Kenmare Street
310-637-2301/littlefoxcafe.com
Nolita

 

Inside Little Fox

Inside Little Fox

Little Fox has the cool kind of Nolita vibe that one would expect from a cafe in, well, Nolita.  It doesn’t try too hard – the interior is minimalist yet homey and reclaimed wood from the recently demolished Kenmare Hotel comprises the, rather excessive, all-wood interior which may be why that although this spot hasn’t been open for a year yet, it feels lived in – tried and true. A counter chock-full of baked goods and a few taps (one even has their signature cold-brewed coffee flowing from it!) welcomes and entices, while the chalkboard menu and cardboard cutouts on the wall let you know just what you’re in for – all the cafe basics: lattes, cappuccinos and teas, croissants and muffins, and a selection of salads and sandwiches for lunch.  Wine and beer are also available all day at Little Fox.

 

Latte art! – by Mike Breach

Latte art! – by Mike Breach

Stop by Wednesdays from 9:30-1:30 and watch latte artist Mike Breach create some pretty amazing art… in your latte.  Mike will “paint” your portrait in your latte foam, a feat so amazing that you won’t even want to drink it once he’s done.

My latte at Little Fox did not have my portrait in it, but alas was a solid latte nonetheless.  And my everything bagel with cream cheese, although decidedly not adventurous, came delightfully grilled instead of toasted and was all I could have hoped for in a bagel; salty, nutty, creamy… and slightly charred.
Aside from the likenesses drawn in latte foam, you’ll also get some interesting characters who frequent Little Fox.  The Nolita address has young up and coming entrepreneurs, DJs, actors, and the like filtering in and out of their neighborhood spot ensuring some supreme people watching at any time of the day.  

 

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A Flavor Tour of the Pan American Highway – Review of Oficina Latina

BY ELENA MANCINI

24 Prince St.
Nolita
(646) 381-2555 / www.oficinalatinanyc.com/

Inspired by 1950s road races on the Pan-American Highway,  Oficina Latina recreates the feel and flavors of the Latin American countries along this famed 30,000 mile highway that stretches from Argentina to Alaska.  The restaurant pays homage to this history with vintage race car photographs, original helmets and lots of sundry memorabilia and an original menu and extensive list of spirits drawn exclusively from the regions along the southern regions of the Pan-American highway. Thus the lively full-service bar here features a selection of 100-plus tequilas and mezcals, 100-plus rums, piscos and cachacas, and a South American wine list. For fans of mixed drinks, any margarita would be a surefire here, and the ginger lychee mojito ($13) yields its own flavorful drinking pleasures. Wines by the glass are in the $10 range.

Oficina Latina

Ginger Lychee Mojito at Oficina Latina

Oficina Latina 2

 

In the hands of lesser restaurateurs, a restaurant like this might have turned out gimmicky or akin to theme-centric restaurant that is often found among corporate franchise, but not so with Oficina Latina. It completely eschews the soulless cookie-cutter approach. Owners Max Busato and Paolo Votano have poured their passion into Oficina Latina making hand-on decisions about every decorative nuance of the restaurant from the reclaimed wood around its bar fixtures to its 1920s original tin ceiling and the vintage Latin-American religious artifacts and kitsch that adorn its fireplace and communal dining area. A cursory glance at the menu will reveal that equally judicious scrutiny went into the menu composition here.  Encompassing a wide range of tapas and pinchos and a mix of meat and fish dishes, the menu is expansive and ethnically balanced to ensure that it reflects all of cultures of Latin America. Selections and combinations reveal not a superficial approach to an arbitrary concept, but  a passionate pursuit for inclusion and authenticity. Chef Abraham Trinidad executes the expansive menu with talent and finesse. 

Following is a rundown of some of the dishes I had during a recent dinner:

The dinner opened with a basket of crispy plantain chips and habanero sauce. An addictive combination which required restraint in order to proceed with actual meal or the luxury of abandon with the restaurant’s cocktail list.

Oficina Latina 4

Ceviche de Calamari y Vieras

 

The Calamari and Scallop Ceviche was exceptional. Fresh and cooked to the optimal texture , it was a flavorful and generously portioned starter.

Pulpo a la Parrilla

Pulpo a la Parrilla

The grilled octopus was expertly charred and was butter-like tender to the bite. It came paired with roasted white potatoes and dressed with a Extra Virgin olive oil and cilantro, and was my favorite dish, and not only because I love octopus.

Tuna Skewers and Grilled Mixed Vegetables with Fruit on a Skewer are also great tapas choices here. They come minimally seasoned and perfectly grilled allowing the flavors of the ingredients shine through.

Abrebocas

Abrebocas

Fried blood sausage, chorizo and arepitas served with chipotle mayonnaise, also known are abrebocas, or appetizers at Oficina Latina was both hearty and tasty and a dish that championed Latin-American flavors. Particularly enjoyable about this dish were the lean and smoky slices of grilled chorizo and the crispy Venezuelan-style arepitas. The blood sausage was tender and yielded its content to the first fork poke.

Braised lamb Shank with slow-cooked vegetables and plantain puree was a beautifully composed dish and a great choice for a wintry night.

Tres Leches

Tres Leches

Passion and Love Shot

Passion and Love Shot

The Tres Leches Cake here–also prepared by Chef Trinidad– was a lighter version of the typically much richer Mexican dessert, and  highly enjoyable. The pleasures were compounded as it came served with a shot of “passion and love.” Evoking sinister indulgences, A miniature decanter of artisanal Venezuelan rum is served  on a mirror platter with an orange wedge and rows of ground coffee, cinnamon and raw sugarcane. The idea is to chase the rum shot with the orange rubbed in a mixture of the coffee, cinnamon and sugar. The result is one of gratifying warmth. You must experience it for yourself.

Oficina Latina has a young, energetic vibe and lends itself to fun and informal gatherings.

Tapas are in the $8-$15 range. Entrees in the $20-$23 range.

Oficina Latina is open daily for a 12$ prix-fixe brunch ($15 with a cocktail), Monday-Sunday.
Happy Hour is from 4-7, Monday – Friday.
 
Oficina Latina on Urbanspoon

 

Home of Manhattan’s Best Banh Mi Sandwich – Review of Sao Mai

BY ELENA MANCINI

203 First Ave.
East Village
(212) 358-8880 / Sao Mai 

East of the East Village bustle and trendiness, this family-run East Village Vietnamese restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese fare and the best Banh Mi Sandwiches on the Manhattan side of the East River.

Vegetarian Bahn Mi

Available in six varieties including pho, sliced pork, grilled chicken and vegetarian, these sandwiches make a quick, nutritious, flavor-packed meal that’s easy on the wallet (priced between $6-$7). The Bahn Mi are prepared on baguettes are consistently fresh and crusty with a soft and chewy middle. Independent of the filling you choose, the kitchen always strikes the right balance between bread and ingredients. Their vegetarian Bahn Mi is among my favorite comfort-food lunches. Prepared on two warm halves of choice baguette, they’re stuffed with toothsome strands of sauteed bok choy, straw mushrooms, seedless cucumbers, shredded carrot and abundant swaths of cilantro, the sandwiches and seasoned with lemongrass,  sriracha mayonnaise, that provides a subtle and reverberating pitch of complex heat. In sum, it’s a light, filling lunch that delivers high-flavor rewards.

Pho’ Sao Mai

Front: Summer Rolls; Far: Spring Rolls

Lest one think Sao Mi is just about Bahn Mi, flavor mavens and fans of traditional Vietnamese fare will find other  sections of its menu will prove well worth exploring. The Pho Sao Mai will not disappoint. A flavorful broth, rich in tender strips of brisket, sprouts, rice noodles and a medley of herbs will consistently hit the spot. Adding appeal to  Sao Mi’s attractions is its steal of a lunch menu, which includes the choice of an appetizer, entree and a soft drink, all for $10. Sweetening things further,  both the Bahn Mi and the Pho are included in this deal!

Ga Gary – Chicken Curry

With a wide variety of vegetarian options on its menu, Sao Mai is also a smart choice for a low-key dinner that guarantees value, quality and flavor. Pity that wait staff has not yet mastered the walk-in dinner crowd on weekends. During these times, the  friendly service  can turn into a source of frustration for those who do not suffer extended waits and uneven food delivery times lightly.

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Delicatessen Summer In Soho Tasting Event – Review of Delicatessen

BY STEPHANIE AMY COLLAZO

Delicatessen
54 Prince St
Soho
212-226-0211 / delicatessennyc.com

Downstairs seating area. Photo provided by Delicatessen.

            Delicatessen is known for being a NYC eater’s favorite stop for their lobster mac and cheese, but unknown to the general public if you slink your way through the crowd and down the stairs hidden in plain view you will find yourself in an entirely different atmosphere. 

            Entering the downstairs dining area of Delicatessen you find yourself surrounded by bright lights and a green seating area.  Looking for a taste of their signature cocktail of the night, I made my way to the mini bar tucked away down a short hallway near the bathroom area.  Once inside the dimly lit bar I admired the dark décor featuring black walls lined with a variety of glass bottles. 

Minibar. Photo provided by Delicatessen.

            While waiting for the bartender to make me a “Tilly,” fresh strawberries and lime muddled together with pomegranate and Satisfaction vodka, a line quickly developed behind me and didn’t dissipate until the end of the night.  This cocktail was amazing to say the least, you could barely taste the alcohol, which makes it dangerous for the careless drinker.  The flavors of the mint, strawberry and pomegranate meshed well making for the perfect summer cocktail.

Flash Fried Tuna Avocado Roll. Photo provided by Delicatessen.

            I decided to take a seat in the mini bar area, which could hold up to 20 seated guests.  Soon after I was joined by a fellow food blogger and the waiters began to bring out the long awaited sampling menu.  We first sampled the Flash Fried Tuna Avocado Roll ($14) which came with a creamy sambal chili sauce.  My acquaintance, who is not a fan of tuna, loved this dish.  We had to have about three pieces each, it was so good.

Tempura Mozzarella and Tomato Salad. Photo provided by Delicatessen.

            Next we had the Tempura Mozzarella and Tomato Salad.  The tempura mozzarella added a different texture element that was unexpected, but greatly appreciated.  After about four samplings of the mozzarella and tomato, we received the Pork Mole Tacos ($11).  The pork in the tacos was so juicy that I needed two napkins, but I am not complaining.

Sweet Sesame Chicken Lettuce Wraps. Photo provided by Delicatessen.

            While we didn’t get to try the Smoked Chicken Tacos ($11) that we had read about in the sample menu, we did receive a sample of the Sweet Sesame Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($10).  I found these a bit difficult to eat as they were tiny and the juice from the chicken dripped everywhere.  The chicken was sweet with a hint of spice, I would have liked them a bit more if they were bigger and less messy, but I have no complaints about the flavor. 

            Next we got a chance to sample three desserts off of the new menu.  First we tried the Cheesecake Lollipop, which is included in their “Hostess” Dessert Plate ($9).  The Cheesecake Lollipop was coated in white chocolate and the cheesecake filling was smooth and a bit lemony.  Following the cheesecake was the Chocolate Layer Cake ($10), this was your basic chocolate cake layered with chocolate ganache, very rich and dense.  Last but certainly not least was the Maple Bacon Beignet ($9).  I had been waiting for this since I arrived and I was not disappointed.  This dessert combined two of my favorite things bacon and crème anglaise.  The beignet was kind of like a bacon donut and the bourbon crème anglaise that they served on the side for dipping was the perfect glaze for that donut. 

            Though this was my first time visiting Delicatessen it certainly will not be my last.

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What’s On… Crosby Street?

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

What’s On… Crosby Street?

Downtown Manhattan

Photo by Carolyn Onofrey

Bordering Soho, Nolita, Little Italy, Chinatown and the West Village, Crosby Street is best known for its wide (though not overwhelming) selection of high-end boutiques where you can get anything ranging from a designer handbag and lingerie to refurbished vintage furniture and stationary. The west side of the block is a part of the historic cast iron district of New York; the east side however, unfortunately did not make the cut due to a large fire in 1884 destroying a large portion of the block.  Crosby Street is still a wonderfully quaint area with refined shopping and some great neighborhood food finds, some even paired with the shopping destinations Soho is known for!

9 Crosby Street – Imperial No. 9 (Inside Mondrian SoHo Hotel)

It’s all about the whimsy at Imperial No. 9 where seafood is the name of the game.  Executive chef, Sam Talbot (winner of Top Chef Season 2) created a sustainable seafood menu comprised of sharing plates.  Though some say the atmosphere, complete with mirrored tabletops and glass chandeliers, upstages the food no one can deny it’s a great place to grab a drink with someone you care to impress.

Imperial No. 9 – Photo courtesy M.T. on yelp.com

Imperial No. 9 – Photo courtesy M.T. on yelp.com

 

9 Crosby Street – Mister H (Inside Mondrian Soho Hotel)

Although Mister H has only been for a little over a month now, it is quickly becoming the IT spot with the fashion crowd in Manhattan.  The door may be near impossible, but if you get past the doorman, walk into a vintage inspired Chinese lounge dreamt up by Armin Amiri (mastermind behind, now defunct, Socialista) and dance the night away.

Saturday’s Surf

31 Crosby Street – Saturday’s Surf

Where do you go to buy a surf board in Manhattan?  Saturday’s Surf, of course!  Stop by for an interesting selection of surf inspired apparel, home furnishings, art work, and even coffee.  The baristas are seriously cool Aussie’s who know how to make a mean cup. In nice weather, relax with your coffee in the laid back patio space at the rear of the store.  Gnarly, dude.

33 Crosby Street – In Pursuit of Tea

Selling a large variety of tea by the cup or loose for enjoyment at home, In Pursuit of Tea is a tea shop for the serious tea drinker.  The friendly staff is knowledgeable and more than happy to chat about the product, even offering classes for the tea enthusiast.  Check them out online for a larger selection of all things tea.

33 Crosby Street – Ñ

Upon entering this tiny Spanish tapas restaurant and bar you’ll find it easy to forget you’re in New York, especially on flamenco nights when dancers crowd the tiny bar area for a true treat.  Stay for solid tapas and sangria and get cosy with your company.

On the corner of Crosby and Broome – L’Orange Bleue – 430 Broome Street (Entrance on Crosby)

Another stop in the area with flamenco nights (do I sense I trend here?), as well as other chances for live music, L’Orange Bleue is located in an airy French/Moroccan inspired space.   Simple food accents the great atmosphere.  Come early with friends and stay late.

79 Crosby Street – The Crosby Bar

A part of the swank Crosby Street Hotel, the Crosby Bar is a playful stop on Crosby Street featuring Afternoon Tea and Saturday Night Screenings in their private theater.  The prices are excessively Soho (read: expensive), but for those who can, why not?

On the corner of Crosby and Prince – Savoy - 70 Prince Street

(Entrance on Crosby)

You’ll feel like you’re walking into your parent’s dinning room at Savoy.  The New American cuisine can be hit or miss and when it’s a miss, it’s just not worth the price.  The ever changing seasonal menu and fresh ingredients however, make it a tempting stop when you’re in the neighborhood..

Housing Works Bookstore and Café

126 Crosby Street – Housing Works Bookstore Cafe

The Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is a part of the Housing Works organization; a community for those living with HIV and AIDS.  Proceeds from the Cafe go to the organization.  Stop by and enjoy a cup of coffee while you browse the used bookstore and support a great cause!

The back entrance at Puck Fair

Puck Fair (Back entrance on Crosby) – 298 Lafayette Street

Slip into the back entrance on Crosby or walk around the block for the main entrance, whatever your choice you will be greeted by 20 beers on tap and another 50 in the bottle.  The über beer geek will appreciate the draught beers which are kept at optimal temperature do to a high tech tap system.

A gigantic samosa from Lahore

132 Crosby Street – Lahore Deli

The Lahore Deli lies on the block between Jersey Street and West Houston and serves some super fresh, super flavorful Pakistani food.  Popular for lunch, especially with the Cabbies who often crowd the place, this is a great find if you’re working nearby or craving Pakistani and willing to travel to this otherwise sleepy block.  *Try the chai and samosas (just $1 ea.!) for a late night snack.

 

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