Category Archives: Reviews

Dangerously Delicious Pies for Pi Day

Happy Pi Day Everyone! In honor of this auspicious day, we are covering one of our favorite pie places, Dangerously Delicious Pies, which has few stores scattered across the US, including DC, Baltimore and Detroit. We visited the Washington DC store (1339 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002), which was pretty tiny, but had enough counter space for 4 people to eat in. Dangerously Delicious pies has an assortment of sweet pies, savory pies and quiches. At the DC store, you can choose from a selection of half a dozen or so pies by the slice, which are available in-store, but there are many more flavors available if you call ahead and order a whole pie for pick up. A whole sweet pie will run you $30, a whole quiche ($32)  and a whole savory ($35) pie; and if you are going by the slice, sweet slices are $6.50, quiche and savory slices are $7.50.

What we enjoyed most about DDP was the huge variety of different pie varieties (we are sweet pie purists). Among the dozens of pie flavors available, you can get typical varieties like Apple Mixed Berry and Key Lime. However, we were more intrigued by flavors like Chocolate peanut butter chess, Caramel Apple Crumb, Mobtown brown (pecan pie topped with a layer of melted chocolate ganache and caramel) and the Baltimore Bomb (Baltimore-native Berger cookies in a vanilla chess filling). When we visited, there was a tempting variety of seasonal winter sweet pies. We sampled the chocolate pecan pie and the winter berry pie (apples and mixed berries with winter spices like cinnamon and cardamom). Both were delicious! M also liked that you could order a glass of milk to wash down your pie (plus the heaping helping of whipped cream)!

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How to make St. Joseph’s Day Bread / Pane di San Giuseppe

One of our favorite – but lesser known in the US – food holidays is right around the corner: St. Joseph’s Day. St. Joseph’s Day is widely celebrated in Italy and the among the Italian diaspora in the US and elsewhere on March 19th. We have previously covered some St. Joseph’s Day sweet treats, including the perennial favorite zeppole. However, one of the showstoppers on St. Joseph’s Day is actually St. Joseph’s Bread (Pane di San Giuseppe). You can find recipes for Pane di San Giuseppe at Kitchen Link and Mangia Bene Pasta. It is a bit more of a complicated bread, but it also allows for it to be sculpted into equally complicated shapes, like staffs, carpentry tools, and wheat, which are a must on the St. Joseph’s Day table. This altar below, from Trapani in Sicily is probably as detailed as you can get!

Pane di San Giuseppe by Carlo Columba

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The best ceviche in Lima at El Mercado

peruM is a ceviche aficionado, so we did a lot of research to find the best ceviche in Lima, Peru before we arrived. In terms of Ceviche, anyone visiting Lima is absolutely spoiled for choice. Ceviche, which is basically an art form in its native Peru, is simply raw fish or seafood “cooked” in citrus juice and chiles (known as “tiger milk”). However, in our research, we found a few ceviche-centric picks that rose to the top, including El Mercado (Hipolito Unanue 203, Lima, Peru) in the trendy Miraflores neighborhood. Mercado is the brainchild of chef Rafael Osterling, and it is known for offering both traditional and nouveau takes on ceviche.

There are no reservations accepted  at El Mercado, so in order to get a table, people line up outside before opening time (maybe using the word “line up” is too strict) to get a table. We heard that lunch was an easier sell than dinner, so we waited outside for the restaurant to open for about 45 minutes. When the restaurant finally opened up at 12:30 we were among the first 20 to get in – and we were very happy to have secured a table (though, to be honest, the restaurant wasn’t full at that point, so we probably could have just arrived when it opened, but YMMV). The restaurant itself was partially open to the elements, and live trees grew straight through the floorboards. We enjoyed the woodsy, convivial environment, and it really felt like you were eating outside. We also liked that there was an open window to the kitchen where we saw a bevy of female chefs at work.

We were surprised by the sheer size of extensive menu of tiraditos, causas, ceviches, salads, sandwiches, sushi and more substantial wood-fired dishes like lobster and whole grouper. If your taste is not necessarily for ceviche, there will still be dozens of options for you. There are inventive starters including a suckling pig spring roll and scallops in spicy ceviche “tiger milk.” Despite all this choice, we were most intrigued by the two classic categories of Peruvian appetizers: tiraditios, thinly-sliced fish with citrus; and causas, Peruvian potatoes mixed with chilis and other fillings like fish and avocado. We decided to sample the Causa Tumbesina, with yellow Peruvian potatoes, shrimp, crab and avocado (42 Soles), which was a delicious mixture of textures and mild spiciness that we were not expecting.

However, the stars of the show are Mercado’s ceviches, of which there are 8 varieties, inspired by different areas of Peru, and the ingredients local to each region. In a dish with relatively few component, every element of the ceviche has to be absolutely perfect, and M certainly has a critical eye for ceviche.  Unique options included the “Galactic ceviche” with Lemon Sole, Bull Crab, and Scallops Cooked in Lime Juice and Sea Urchin “Galactic Milk.” We selected two different types of ceviche: the classic Lenguado (55 S): Lemon Sole in Lime Juice, Chili “Tiger Milk” Red Onion, Cilantro, Iceberg Lettuce, Sweet Potato & Corn and the more avant-garde Norte-Norte (54 S): Sea Grouper, Cockles, Shrimps, Green Banana Majado (fried mash) & Chili.

The seafood in both ceviches was super fresh and delicate, and was some of the best fish we had ever tried. Each was garnished simply with large Peruvian corn kernels- choclo– and mashed sweet potatoes or plantains. The flavors of each ceviche were clean, simple and not over-complicated. M admired the technical perfection of the Lengaudo ceviche, with its perfectly uniform slices of fish, and just the right amount of onions with a pungently citrus-y tiger milk that was not overpowering. Mercado’s rendition was basically a template for everything a classic ceviche ought to be. We were struck by the purple color of the Norte-Norte ceviche, and the tantalizingly smoky flavor of the chilies. Upon consideration, M deemed the Lenguado as his favorite ceviche of the trip. We would highly recommend Mercado for all things seafood, but if you are ceviche lover, it is a must-try!

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Pastry Post-Doc: Tee-Eva’s pies and pralines in New Orleans

NOLAFlagNew Orleans is one of our favorite food cities (heck, ANY type of city) in the US. Unfortunately, it seems like NOLA only enters the general public consciousness around Mardi Gras Time (which is right around the corner). We like to go to New Orleans on Super Sunday, the big Mardi Gras Indian parade day, and while there is a ton of street food available at the parade, the standout was sweet potato and pecan pies from Tee-Eva’s. When we were at Super Sunday in 2016, we happened upon the ebullient Miss Eva Perry herself, selling her homemade pralines and pies to the crowds, and chatting with everyone like they were old friends. And we have to say, this was the best pecan pie we have ever had! Fortunately we found out that Tee-Eva also has a long-standing bricks and mortar shop (5201 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70115), so you can sample some delicious treats (and full-sized pies) any time you are in NOLA. Definitely take some time to explore outside of the French Quarter and visit Tee-Eva’s! teeevas

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Wood-fired Baja Californian cuisine at Leña Brava

Mexico FlagBy now, it is pretty much common knowledge by now that Rick Bayless has something of a Mexican food empire in Chicago. In 2016, that empire grew by two more – Leña Brava (900 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL) and Cruz Blanca. These two restaurants are more modern, updated spots in the always-buzzing Randolph Street corridor in the West Loop. Cruz Blanca’s is a brewery with a taco bar, and Leña Brava is all about the wood-fire grilled seafood, Baja California-style. When choosing between the two we knew we had to go with the wood fire! In any case, they are basically connected, so you don’t necessarily have to choose -if you want to grab an after-dinner drink at one or the other.

laminado The interior of Leña Brava is sleek and stylish, and seems to draw a similar crowd, fitting with the location. The massive wood-fire grill is one of the features of the restaurant, and it is in full view of diners on the first floor. Not everything is wood-fired, though. The menu is divided into both hot and cold items – in sections called “ice” and “fire.” The cold menu is composed of oysters, ceviches, seafood cocktails, aguachiles (similar to a ceviche, but with a super-spicy broth) and laminados (raw sashimi-style fish – above). On the hot side of the menu, you can get grilled fish, pork belly, scallops or even roast chicken for two. We decided to sample items from both the hot and cold sides.lenapastor

From the cold side we knew we had to start with a ceviche – there were 3 versions ($15-16) – classic Lena with albacore, lime and ginger; spicy Verde with yellowtail and green chiles; and the Asian-inspired Maki with nori, sushi rice and avocado. We tried the verde version, we were also intrigued by the laminado, so we picked the Hiramasa, with yellowtail, chamoy and papaya ($15). From the hot side we tried the scallops in salsa macha, these were oven-grilled with pasilla-almond salsa and mashed plantains ($25). Finally, we couldn’t resist the wood oven-roasted black cod with “al pastor”-style marinade and a sweet pineapple salsa ($27), inspired by our favorite tacos al pastor with a bright-red chile and achiote marinade. The fish in each of the dishes was extremely fresh. The raw preparations highlighted the unique flavor combinations of sweet, sour, spicy and acidic really well, and we especially loved the unique flavor combinations of the laminado. We were also impressed by the surprisingly delicate “salsa macha” and we just may have to steal the idea of an almond-based salsa for ourselves. Both of the hot seafood dishes were cooked perfectly, and we felt that the wood fire definitely imparted a little extra flavor to the sear.

scallopslena

We also appreciated the variety of unique desserts (prickly pear ice cream with grilled pineapple, for example)  and the selection of teas from the Rare Tea Cellar (we sampled the hibiscus mango). On the beverage side, there are also a large amount of specialty cocktails, rarely-seen Mexican wines and over 100 Mezcals, one of the biggest lists anywhere. We finished our meal with creamy horchata custard topped with puffed hibiscus-scented rice and blueberry preserves – a flavor combo we never knew we needed in our lives. We really enjoyed our meal at Leña Brava – everything was fresh and the flavor combinations were memorably innovative. Leña Brava felt very different from the more buttoned-up Topolombampo and the more casual Frontera Grill, and was definitely modern and accessible. We can’t wait to go back and try more off of the menu. Maybe next time we will get a grill-side seat!

lenabrava

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Vintage Food Valentines

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, whether you are celebrating or not, I think you will get a kick out of these quirky, vintage food Valentines featuring anthropomorphized food – and a lot of puns…. breadvalentine cakevalentine eggvalentine kettlevalentine popcornvalentine teavalentine2

 

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Pastry Post-Doc: Chiacchiere for Carnevale in Italy

ItalyAs we enter mid-February, Carnevale / Mardi Gras / Carnival is right around the corner! It’s never too early to start planning some sweet treats for the festivities. In Italy, Carnevale is a big deal, and Mardi Gras (or Shrove Tuesday) is celebrated with sweet, fried dough fritters called Chiacchiere. The simple-to-make Chiacchiere is popular throughout Italy, and goes by many regional names including Frappe, Cenci, Guanti and Bugie. There is a tradition of serving fried dough or doughnuts on Mardi Gras (think beignets, paczki and malasadas), in order to use up all the sugar and fats in the house before the austerity of Lent sets in, and Chiacchiere is no exception. Here are a few traditional Chiacchiere recipes from Academia Barilla, Cooking with Rosetta and Napoli Unplugged.

chiacchiere

Chiacchiere by Chefpercaso

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Sampling Unique Turkish Food in Avon at Istanbul Grill

turkeyWe have had a lot of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food in our day, and to be honest, a lot of it tends to run together. So we are always glad to happen upon spots that serve more regional dishes beyond the ubiquitous kebabs and hummus. At an unassuming strip mall in Avon, we found a hidden Turkish gem doing just that: Istanbul Grill (35840 Chester Rd., Avon, OH). One thing that sets Istanbul Grill apart is that it serves some slightly more unusual (and authentic) Turkish dishes you won’t see elsewhere. For example you can get kebabs over diced bread, a serving style that is common in Turkey, but I haven’t really seen much in the US. They also serve Lahmacun ($13.49) on Sundays – a Turkish pizza-style flatbread topped with ground lamb. istanbulgrill

The decor at Istanbul Grill is simple but comfortable, with bright red walls and enlarged photos of Turkey hung throughout. We received a basket of fresh Turkish flatbread while we perused the substantial menu, with an assortment of meze, salads, kebabs (filet, lamb, chicken, shrimp and doner) and specialty meat dishes. Though there are some vegetarian options, the menu is very meat heavy. We started off with two distinctly Turkish starters: a riff on Tzatziki sauce – Cacik ($6.99) – which consists of yogurt with dill sauce, and Sigara Boregi ($7.99)- fried phyllo filled with cheese. Both were delicious and comforting, and we think we’d take Sigara Boregi over mozzarella sticks any day. For mains, we ordered the Iskander kebab – lamb and beef carved off a spit, like gyros, served over diced bread with a mild tomato sauce (seen below – $16.99); and the Hunkar Begendi (aka Sultan’s Delight – $17.99) – which was lamb with bell peppers in a tomato sauce, served over pureed eggplant and cheese. We haven’t seen either of these mains on a menu before – so we were excited to try something new.

iskanderkebab

For dessert we finished up with Kunefe ($6.99), a hot dessert with shredded wheat topped with cheese and sugar syrup, which goes perfectly with a hot cup of Turkish coffee. Both main courses were perfectly spiced, and we enjoyed the eggplant and bread as alternative sides to the more common rice. Though the prices seemed a little high, you make up for it in portions, and we were left with enough for the leftovers for the next day. A final plus, the service was friendly and attentive throughout. We highly enjoyed everything we sampled at Istanbul Grill and we look forward to working our way through the Turkish menu and coming back for some Lahmacun!

 

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The weird and wonderful world of Japanese Kit Kat Bars

greenteakitkat

Green Tea Kit Kat by Smallbrainfield

JapanKit Kat, the chocolate-coated wafer candy from Nestle, is experience a bit of a publicity resurgence in the US, due to a popular series of quirky ads featuring Chance the Rapper. However, nowhere is Kit Kat more popular than in Japan, where the humble Kit Kat bar is only a jumping-off point for fanciful flavors and gourmet Kit Kat creations. Kit Kat was introduced to Japan in 1973, and has since become ubiquitous convenience store treat, as well as a popular gift for students and a present for friends and family when traveling. In Japan, the different flavor varieties of Kit Kat are seemingly endless – there are nearly 300 – including anything from strawberry cheesecake to plum to wasabi. Now there’e even a Sake-flavored KitKat. When we visited a candy store in Chicago’s Chinatown, we were able to sample the sweet potato and green tea Kit Kats. The sweet potato flavor basically tasted like white chocolate, but the green tea flavor was really excellent! If you are hankering for some unique Japanese-flavored Kit Kats, check out Amazon – you can get a variety pack, or pick up bags of esoteric flavors like Pumpkin Pudding. And just when you think it couldn’t get any weirder – enter Kit Kat sushi!

kitkat

Kit Kat display in Tokyo by jpellgen

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Chai and Momo at Chiya Chai Cafe

Nepal FlagWho would have thought that Logan Square in Chicago would be home to a cafe with amazing hommade Chai and Nepalese food? We wouldn’t have either, until we came across the eclectic Chiya Chai Cafe (2770 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL). The main draw for the Chiya is the amazing array of Chai teas. One of my pet peeves is when you go to cafe, order a chai, and they don’t even hide the fact that they are just pouring your drink out of a box of Oregon Chai concentrate…and then charging $4.50 for it. Not so at Chiya, the brainchild of longtime tea importers, where all of the chai is brewed in-house. Along with their signature masala and spicy masala chais, you can get a variety of interesting non-traditional chais in flavors like Salted Caramel, Vanilla & Nutmeg and Orange & Ginger. Each flavor profile I have tried has been delectable, but my favorite is Pistachio & Cardamon. It is also nice that you can choose between black, green and rooibos teas, though on my last visit, the server gave me black tea twice when I had asked for rooibos.

chiyacafe

The vibe at Chiya is bright and airy, with large windows overlooking Milwaukee Ave. Going with the coffeehouse vibe, Chiya also serves coffee and continental pastries like cookies, muffins and croissants if you happen to be in that mood. However, it was the mango lassi that most caught our eye for dessert. Though you will see people tapping away on laptops with mugs of tea while utilizing the free Wifi, don’t think it is just a coffeehouse. With a compact food menu alongside its teas, Chiya is actually a legitimate Nepalese restaurant. We are always glad to see Nepali food, which is only available at few places in Chicagoland, including Mt. Everest in Evanston.momoc

At Chiya, you can get a basket of steamed Nepali dumplings, momo, in a variety of flavors (pork, veggie and even bison, $8). There is also an interesting range of side dishes (many of which are gluten free, $3-6) including a green apple raita, samosas, and curry fries. For the bigger appetite, you can get curry bowls ($9 small, $12.50 large) and savory pie in flavors like chicken balti and spicy minced pork ($8.50). We ordered the vegetable momo and spicy pork vindaloo curry bowl. The momo dumplings were made in house, steamed to order, and came out perfectly formed. The kale, bell pepper and mushroom filling was delicious, as were the two spicy dipping sauces. The pork vindaloo had some nice heat, and a slightly different flavor with the addition of fenugreek and mustard seed.  Despite all this, the creamy, yougurt-y green apple raita just may have been our favorite dish of all. currycAt first glance, it may seem that Chiya Cafe is trying to be too many things at once. As if the current options were not enough, for dinner, they also open up the larger dining room in the back and serve more substantial meals and alcohol. However, somehow it all works. The Nepali small plates and the chai work well together, and we were happy with everything we sampled. If you are a tea fan, make sure you sample some of the real stuff at Chiya Chai cafe. You’ll never be able to drink boxed chai again.

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A classic Wisconsin Fish Fry at Colony House Restaurant

One of the last things we did before we left the Chicago area was to have one of the most authentic experiences in the Midwest: a classic fish fry at a Wisconsin supper club. M went to grad school in Wisconsin, but somehow we managed to escape this tradition over the years. Sure we had fish frys before, but not a real, official, down-home Wisconsin fish fry at a supper club with all the fixins. We are talking all-you-can-eat fish. Our friend K had recently moved to Wisconsin so we figured she would be the perfect person to experience a fish fry with. K did some research (we knew we were good friends for a reason) and she found the perfect place: the Colony House (25811 119th St, Trevor, WI 53179), located 45 minutes south of Milwaukee.

colonyhouseext

Colony Club is located pretty much in the middle of nowhere in a white wooden house, and when we arrived on Friday night it was pretty crowded. Colony House couldn’t have been more Wisconsin-y if it tried: when you walk in, you will think you have stepped back in time into a 1960s supper club. We arrived a little bit early for our reservation, so we sidled up to the bar. K got the official cocktail of the Wisconsin supper club, the Old Fashioned, which she deemed excellent. Before too long we were led to the basement dining room for our fish fry experience. The basement kind of looked like the interior of a grandma’s house – with wood paneling, nautical-style chairs and tables and tchotchkes. To be honest, it was perfect! The photo below is of the upstairs dining room since the basement was too dark. The upstairs room is a little more subdued.

colonyhouse

There were other things on the menu, but of course we were there just for the fish fry. The Friday fish fry at Colony House comes with a few options – you can get all you can eat Icelandic Cod ($9.95), or a set portion of other fish for a slight up-charge (Perch, Pike, Bluegill or Smelt $10.95-12.95) – any type of fish selected can be beer-battered or fried. For the side dishes you get potato pancakes or fries along with applesauce, family-style sides of sour cream (of course), rye bread and coleslaw. We got an order of Cod alongside Perch and Bluegill, both fried. Everything we sampled was delicious – the fish was moist, the batter was golden brown, light and crispy, and the potato pancakes were surprisingly scrumptious. If we had to choose again we would have probably all gotten the Cod with the potato pancakes. We were really happy with our experience at Colony House, it may not have had the best fish of all time, the but fish fry itself was just what we needed. Colony House was the perfect place for a relaxed night out with friends, and a real piece of Wisconsin history.

fishfry

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Around the World at Compass Rose in Washington DC

Sometimes it’s hard to know which type of cuisine to choose when deciding on a restaurant, especially when traveling in a city with as many great options as Washington DC. When we were in DC we found some great restaurants from various countries, but we also found a great one that covers a bit more ground: Compass Rose (1346 T Street NW, Washington, DC 20009) in Washington DC. Compass Rose is a globetrotting restaurant with a little bit of food from a bunch of various countries. According to Compass Rose, “So while it’s great to travel around the world, we understand that’s not always possible; instead of waiting for the smells and tastes on a great trip, we’ll bring them to you—in a cozy row home right in your own neighborhood.” Each dish at Compass Rose is listed alongside its country of origin, and the selections rotate frequently, and span the globe. Some examples off the menu when we visited include arepas from Venezuela, bhel puri chaat (kale, puffed rice, potato and tomato) from India, anticuchos from Peru and lamb kefta from Lebanon.

compass

When we saw that they had one of our Brazilian favorites, shrimp moqueca, we knew we had to visit. It can get pretty crowded, and there are no reservations, we made a point to stop in early. The atmosphere at Compass Rose is pretty romantic: with low lights and wooden tables in a few connected rooms. There is also a special secret room in the back for people ordering the set menu (which is by reservation), when we visited it was a Bedouin Tent theme, with a selection of North African dishes. The international theme even goes to the cocktail and wine list, which spans less commonly-known wine regions like Lebanon and Hungary.

smorrebrod

We could have picked any number of the eclectic dishes, but we eventually landed on:

  • Camarão na Moranga (Brazil) – shrimp curry with coconut milk and dendê oil (Palm oil), served inside a small acorn squash. This seemed like a riff on the Northeastern Brazilian dish moqueca – shrimp in a creamy sauce – and is what initially drew us to Compass Rose. Happily, this was probably our favorite dish of the night. We have never had a moqueca served inside anything but a bowl – and the squash bowl was a great addition.
  • Smørrebrød (Denmark – above) – house-cured trout, with trout roe and edible flowers. The presentation of this dish was amazing, and we were very impressed by the house-cured fish, giving us a real taste of Scandinavia.
  • Grilled Calamari (Greece – below) – served over red quinoa, with toasted pistachio & feta cheese salad, and doused with lemon and oregano. We were surprised how big this dish was! The calamari was deliciously tender, with an acidic punch and without chewiness.
  • Kogi Ribs (Korea) – Berkshire pork with a sweet-hot honey-ginger scallion marinade. The ribs were delectable, and had a great touch of sweetness along with a little bit of spice.
  • For dessert we got Crema Catalana (Spain) – A Spanish version of creme brulee. This dessert was tasty, with a hint of vanilla, but we were sad that it was so small!

octopus

Everything we sampled at Compass Rose was delicious, with fresh ingredients and clean flavors. If we went back, we would also order the Georgian flatbread – Khachapuri – with cheese, egg and butter. We saw a few being served at tables all around us, and it looked beyond delicious! Compass Rose is the perfect place to temporarily cure your wanderlust, we really liked everything we tried. Whether you are feeling like Spanish or Korean, Compass Rose will have something for everyone in your dining party.

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Cypriot Cuisine at Zenon Taverna in Astoria, Queens

cyprusThe neighborhood of Astoria in Queens, NYC is known for its huge Greek population (which is still growing today), and accordingly, you can find some of the best Greek food in the city (and country) in this one neighborhood. It also means that a diversity of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine not seen elsewhere abounds. We were happy to find that one of the few Cypriot restaurants in the US was located in Astoria, Zenon Taverna (34-10 31 Avenue, Astoria, NY 11106 ).

zenon

Cypriot food is similar to what most Americans think of as typical Greek food, but with more Middle-Eastern influences, given its history and location. The menu at Zenon is staggering, with a huge option of cold and hot meze appetizers including favorites like hummus and tzatziki as well as more unusual options like quails and stuffed mushrooms. For entrees, there are dozens of pitas; chicken, lamb and fish platters; as well as meat and veggie samplers. Each day, there are also upwards of 6 specials including: Keftedes Kypriaki ($10.50 S / $17.99 L) pork and potato meatballs; Louvia me Lahana – blackeyed peas with Swiss chard ($6.50 S / $12.50 L)and pastitsio (a lasagna-like layered lamb dish). We didn’t really know what to pick, so we went with 2 samplers to share among our group, along with an appetizer of char-grilled octopus ($17.95) and Cypriot rabbit stew on special for the day- Kouneli Stifado ($19.95).

meze

The Cyprus Meze sampler ($24.95 a person) came with a total of 16 meze – 8 hot and 8 cold. Everything was bright, fresh and delicious, but there were a few standouts. Zenon did a great job with classics like tzatziki and hummus, but we really loved some of the more unusual choices like the tarama – carp roe with potatoes and the fresh, vinegar-y pantzarosalada – beet salad. In terms of the hot dishes, there was a heavy emphasis on fish and pork. We highly enjoyed the smoked pork loin – lunza, the loukaniko spitisio – Cypriot pork sausage cooked in wine – and the keftedes arnisia – garlickly lamb meatballs. Of course another winner was the baked sheep and goat milk cheese halloumi, doused with lemon juice. The octopus appetizer we ordered was another favorite, and the special-of-the-day rabbit stew cooked in red wine was tasty, if a little game-y.

octopusmeze

If you leave room for dessert, there is baklava and semolina desserts like siamali and halouvas, which you can wash down with a traditional frappe or Greek coffee. Alas, we did not leave room, since our Cypriot Meze order was so huge! We are a big fans of Greek food, and we really enjoyed trying something a little different at Zenon. One caveat – they are cash only! This is not a super-cheap place, so we went to the ATM in advance instead of testing our luck with the ATM around the corner. We recommend you come to Zenon with a crowd – there are so many dishes and mezes to share – the more, the merrier!

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Battle of the Nam Khao Tods in Chicago

thailandOne of our favorite Thai dishes is the Northern Thai specialty Nam Khao Tod. It is a more unique dish that is pretty hard to find at most neighborhood Thai restaurants in the US, but we happily found that there are two places in Chicago on a stretch of Western Avenue that both serve Nam Khao Tod – Spoon Thai (4608 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL) and Rainbow Cuisine (4825 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL). Spoon Thai is a longtime favorite for more authentic Thai dishes in Chicago, and Rainbow Cuisine is a relative newcomer on the scene, but is producing great Northern Thai specialties. In an interesting twist, the chef from Spoon Thai, Wanpen Phosawang, actually left to open Rainbow Thai with her husband (and we have been using the recipe from Spoon Thai at home). Since Nam Khao Tod is so hard to find – we knew we had to try the two Chicago contenders head to head.

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Nam Khao Tods head to head

The Challenge: Nam Khao Tod is a complex dish made with a great combination of clean flavors: Northern-style nam / naem sausage, red onion, red curry, chili peppers, fresh ginger, limes, peanuts, fish sauce and cilantro. However, making the dish itself takes some finesse – especially when making the crispy rice – which requires deep frying rice croquettes, discarding the soft bits and breaking apart the crispy exterior. The mix of textures and sweet-sour-salty-acidic flavors is what makes Nam Khao Tod so special.

The Winner: The dishes were about the same price and size – Spoon Thai’s ($9.95) is on the left, and Rainbow Cuisine’s ($8.95) is on the right. The dishes both had all the key elements of nam khao tod, however Spoon Thai’s also had the addition of carrots, and was served on a bed of lettuce. When comparing the two, we agreed on a clear winner: Rainbow Thai. The rice was much crispier (a necessity) and the flavors were all melded together much more coherently. The nam sausage in Spoon’s version was also somewhat undercooked. Though both Nam Khao Tods were delicious we have to say that Rainbow Cuisine handily won the Nam Khao Tod face-off. If you want to try a new Northern Thai dish, make it this one.

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A Taste of Scandinavia at Karelia Kitchen in Toronto

finlandsweden_flagcanadaWe are starting the year with a tip about what may be the best brunch place in Toronto. Karelia Kitchen (1194 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6H 1N2, Canada) is dedicated to all things Scandinavian for brunch, snacktime and dinner. Karelia’s brunch is a mix of continental, Canadian and Scandinavian flavors with dishes like Pitti Y Panna ($14) Swedish-style potato hash with dill, bacon and eggs; Herring Two Ways ($14); and a grilled cheese made with Canadian Oka cheese ($12). For something more savory, there is also a huge variety of smorrebrod – open faced sandwiches in varieties like salmon, shrimp and beet ($10-12). In true Scandinavian fashion, coffee is a major feature of the cafe, and there is also a wide assortment Scandinavian pastries for a true Swedish-style fika coffee break. It can get pretty crowded for brunch, so reservations are recommended. But even if you don’t have a reservation, you can order at the counter to go.kareliaEven with all of this selection, our favorite thing about Karelia Kitchen is that they have Pulla Bread! Pulla bread is a traditional Finnish cardamom bread, which is particularly hard to find pretty much anywhere in North America, and this quest is what initially led us to Karelia. Pulla is a relative of the Swedish cardamom bun, kardemummabullar, and may be found in braided loaves like brioche, or in smaller rolls (as seen below). Served with clotted cream and lingonberry jam, a pulla roll is a prefect not-too-sweet accompaniment for fika or breakfast (or a snack). If you have the chance head over to Karelia to sample the excellent pulla bread and more!

pullabread

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Pastry Post-Doc: Greek Vasilopita for the New Year

GreeceOne of our friends’ mothers recently gifted us a large Vasilopita cake in the shape of a fish (which seems to be one-of-a-kind)! Fish or not, there is a long tradition of having Vasilopita – an orange-flavored cake topped with nuts – on New Year’s Day for good luck. Much like a king cake, there is a hidden trinket or coin in the cake that is said to bring luck to the person that finds it. Vasilopita is popular in Greece and the Balkans, and I have seen several permutations of the cake: some including multiple tiers, or a vanilla glaze. Here is a two-tiered Greek version from Epicurious, a glazed version from My Greek Dish, and a Vasilopita with a more bread-like consistency from Bowl of Delicious. Happy new year! Ευτυχισμένος ο καινούριος χρόνος!

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Vasilopita by Resturante Kaialde

 

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A Trip to Macau at The Bakery at Fat Rice

MacauWe visited Fat Rice a while ago, and since then they have opened up The Bakery at Fat Rice (2951 W. Diversey Ave.) serving unusual Macanese-inspired treats. The Bakery at Fat Rice has a cute retro pink logo and an inviting handpainted wooden “Pastelaria” sign featuring an egg tart in a starburst (swwn below). The inside is brightly colored, with big windows, and brightly-colored floral oilcloth seats. What could be more inviting?

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The main draw is the pastry selection – and there is a large pastry case filled with goodies taking up one wall. They also have tasty coffee, juice and tea drinks, plus the hard-to-find chocolate Milo drink that is ubiquitous in Asia. On our first visit, we wanted to try some of the sweet and savory dishes. We ordered a Pork Floss Pig bun ($6) – an interesting combination of savory and sweet topped with shredded dried pork. Plus, it is shaped like a pig, who could resist? We also sampled a coconut-topped sweet roll filled with bright purple ube yam paste ($5). Both were delicious. However, this is only scratching the surface – if you really want to go savory you can get a corned beef or hot dog roll. Other sweet options include a guava bun and a bolo menino: a pine nut, almond and coconut cake.

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Finally, we get to the main event – the egg custard tarts. Known as pasteis de nata in Portugal, these came to Macau through Portuguese explorers, where they then found their way into China to become the ubiquitous egg tart. At each stage of travel, these tarts are somewhat different. The Portuguese egg tart is more custard-y while the Chinese variety is less sweet and heavier on the egg. The Macanese variety tends to fall between the two. Though tasty, the Fat Rice Bakery version ($3) reminded us more of a Chinese egg tart. We prefer the Portuguese sweetness, but truth be told, we have had many better, cheaper egg tarts.

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Everything we tried was very good, but the $4-6 per-pastry prices struck us as a little steep.  However, the originality of these pastries in the Chicago bakery scene is really what makes them stand out. We will keep The Bakery at Fat Rice in mind for special occasions!

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What to drink for a Chilean Christmas: Cola de Mono

chileLooking for a beverage to serve at your holiday feast, and wanting something a little different than Eggnog? Try some Chilean Cola de Mono – literally “Monkey Tail.” Cola de Mono is similar to a White Russian and contains milk, coffee, aguardiente, spices and and sugar – served chilled. No one is quite sure where the name “Monkey Tail” comes from, but theories abound: it will have you swinging around like a monkey, it was originally bottled in discards from the Spanish Anisette brand Anís del Mono, or another apocryphal story that it is a morphing of the name of former president Pedro Montt (who had the nickname “Monkey”). Here are simple recipes from Eat Wine Blog and All Recipes. Salud!

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Cola de Mono from Restaurant Kaialde

 

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A Taste of Sierra Leone at Sumah’s in Washington DC

sierra_leoneWe recently dove into Liberian food in Philly, and we were excited to find Sumah’s Sierra Leonean restaurant on our visit to a major hub of international cuisine – Washington DC. Sumah’s (1727 7th St NW, Washington 20001) is located just south of Howard University in DC, and is a simple mom and pop place with a bustling take-out counter, bright green walls and only a few tables. Sumah’s menu is fairly simple: you can either order a medium ($14) or large size of any dish with beef or chicken ($16)- you just choose the sauce. It also appeared that you could potentially choose the starch for your dishes: including jollof rice, fermented cassava fufu and gari – cassava mush – but there was only jollof rice on the day we were there. You can also get a small cup of sauce as a side order ($8) if you really can’t decide, and you can choose multiple sauces for medium or large platters for a surcharge.
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When we entered Sumah’s we were given a complimentary tasting plate of all of the sauces by the affable owner- some of which we had before and some that were totally new to us. It was a good thing he introduced us to all of the sauces or we would have never known what to pick from the simple descriptions alone. Here are the sauce selections:

  • Peanut butter sauce – similar to other west African peanut sauces with tomatoes and palm oil
  • Spinach – The greens dishes all seemed pretty similar, though the spinach was the lightest and least oily of the three, and was seasoned with garlic and fish.
  • Cassava leaves
  • Potato Leaves
  • Okra – Great non-slimy okra preparation, which is a rarity
  • Krain Krain – krain krain leaves with palm oil and fish
  • Tola – a seed unique to the region, with palm oil
  • Egusi – a colorful stew with squash (egusi) seedsspinach

We ordered a side of the spinach sauce, and a medium platter with a mix of tola and egusi sauce and chicken. The medium alone was more than enough for 2 people (or more), as you can see from the filled container on top. The stews were delicious and hearty, and definitely good for those of us who like palm oil. We also received a free order of fried plantains for dessert, which we gobbled up of course. We also recommend the super strong and delicious house-made ginger drink. We definitely recommend Sumah’s for a taste of the hard-to-find cuisine of Sierra Leone. The dishes at Sumah’s reminded us of Liberian food, but other than the jollof rice, it seemed pretty distinct from other West African countries like Ghana or Senegal. We’d definitely go back!

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New twists on Italian classics at Monteverde in Chicago

ItalyChef Sarah Grueneberg’s new pasta restaurant in Chicago, Monteverde (1020 W. Madison, Chicago, IL), has earned so many accolades in the past year that it is hard to keep up (check out some awards from Eater, Food and Wine and GQ for starters). That means it is also pretty hard to get a reservation now (and probably even harder with each passing day), so plan to book far in advance and aim for early tables if you have to (we booked 4:30-5 PM each time). We visited Monteverde once over the summer and once over Thanksgiving weekend – and both times we were completely blown away by our meals. The vibe inside the restaurant is friendly and casual, with a comfortable, rustic-chic interior. We were able to site outside in the summer but the inside seating is nice and cozy in winter, too.
monteverde The focus of the menu is the handmade pasta, which is divided into two categories – Pasta tipica (classics) and pasta atipica (less traditional riffs on classic dishes). Intriguing “atypical” selections included a duck egg ravioli with pork and a wok-fried arrabiata with gulf shrimp. More traditional pasta dishes included pumpkin-filled tortelloni. Appetizers, called “snacks,” included raw hamachi and octopus spiedini. Small plates included country ham with buffalo mozzarella and mushroom and polenta stuffed cabbage. Monteverde also has a good wine menu and some distinctive non-alcoholic drinks including Sicilian lemonade in the summer and spiced soda in the fall.

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On each table there are homemade crunchy breadsticks/ grissini to much on, though at times we wished we had more substantial bread so that we could sop up all of the sauces. Everything comes out as it is prepared, so it is best to order and plan to share – we ordered one large plate, 2 small plates and an appetizer. From the pasta atipica side we chose the Cacio whey pepe – a new take on cacio e pepe with Mancini rigatoni, pecorino romano, ricotta whey and a four peppercorn blend ($14- above); as an appetizer – Proscuitto butter toast – topped with  with radishes, dill, and lemon ($6); and as a small plate – Burrata on thick slices of ciabatta, winter squash, balsamic, brown butter, roasted endive and pinenuts ($17). At the table, each one of us had a different favorite from the selections: the prosciutto butter toast was silky with a crunch; the cacio e pepe was toothsome and a little spicy; and the creamy burrata was perfectly complemented by the fresh bread and the roasted squash.  On our visit over the summer we also tried a few different small plates: the ‘Njuda arancini -rice fritters, tomato, olive oil poached tuna ($8 – below); and the Little Gem salad with avocado and crunchy vegetables ($13). The slightly-spicy ‘njuda filling was a great riff on the classic Sicilian snack, and while the salad was good, it was as original as other offerings.

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At each visit we ordered the piece de resistance, a higher priced and larger dish –  the Ragu alla Napoletana ($41 – below) – with fusilli rustico pasta, cacciatore sausage, soppressata meatballs, tomato braised pork shank and wild oregano. This a dish you definitely HAVE to share, since it is probably enough to serve 2-3 as main course, or 4-5 in addition to other plates. If you are ordering the Pasta alla Napoletana, we would recommend 1 extra pasta small plate and 2 other apps for 4 people (which will likely still give you leftovers). Though the description may make it sound like glorified pasta with red sauce and meatballs, it was way more complex than that. This amazing dish was our favorite of the night. The tender on-the-bone veal shank was our favorite meat preparation, and for once we actually enjoyed the “red sauce” at a restaurant! Completely delicious, hearty and homey, this dish was at once simple and sophisticated – a must-order!

raguallanapoletana

Each time, we managed to barely save room for desserts. We sampled the homemade Cannoli in the summer, which was delicious. In the fall we got to try the seasonally-appropriate apple crostata with cinnamon ice cream and caramel sauce. The crostata was particularly tasty and we appreciate that they make the desserts seasonally-appropriate. Beyond the mouth-watering food, the ambiance and service at Monteverde are also great. Everything was scrumptious, and provided a fresh little twist on an Italian classic. It is rare that we like everything we ordered equally, but Monteverde may be the exception to that rule – we can’t wait to go back and try more!

cannolimonteverde

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