Category Archives: Reviews

The perfect Portuguese food experience at Botequim de Mouraria

If you want to eat at Boutequim de Mouraria (R. da Mouraria 16A, 7000-585 Évora, Portugal) you have to plan in advance. There are only nine seats, and a single seating for lunch and one for dinner. Moreover,  there are no reservations – you have to wait. Our party of 4 got there at 1130 AM for the 1230 opening on a weekday, and there was a family of four already there waiting. Despite these restrictions, we really encourage you to go – this was probably the best meal we had in all of Portugal. The Botequim de Mouratia is basically a bar, where you sit at the counter and watch the master of ceremonies, Domingos Canelas, and his wife Florbela cook a classic Portuguese meal and entertain. The bar itself is tiny and old fashioned, lined with vintage photos, wine bottles and the flags of the nations of every visitor that have dined there (a lot at this point).

The menu is small and simple, and at first glance does not really seem like anything different than at any Portuguese corner restaurant. However, you won’t feel lost, and you are free to pick and choose and customize. In essence you just ask Domingos what is good, and he will make it for you. What really sets this place apart is the level of detail paid to every single ingredient and preparation. For example, when picking out the fresh figs to serve with our presunto (jamon serrano) he threw out at least three because they were not up to his standards before settling on the perfect picks. He carefully sliced off each slice of presunto by hand. Our first course was a classic: of fresh figs, melon and hand-sliced presunto from a leg kept right in the middle of the bar (13€). The figs were the best we ever had and the combination of all three together was divine. Next, we sampled a local goat cheese baked with marjoram (4.50€) . The ultimate farm to table appetizer, this goat cheese is from a local farm only a few miles away. I could have eaten this whole dish myself, though we shared it between us. As a complement to the cheese there was fresh crusty bread and fig jam that was delectable enough to eat on its own.

Seafood is an art in Portugal, so we knew we had to sample some here. We each ordered a langostine, which was advertised as “shrimp,” with a whopping price of 80 Euros a kilo. Domingos told us that each shrimp was about 500 grams, which is about half of a pound – so HUGE, but of course we were not envisioning the proper size – even when given full information. So lo and behold that we were surprised when a  giant shrimp came out for each of us – to the tune of 20€ each. However, even with that steep price tag – it was worth it – these shrimp were the most delicious, tender and flavorful ones we had ever eaten. We could have made an entire meal out of these alone.

For mains we tried the wine-braised pork loin (14.50€), other options included fish and steak (13-16€).  The pork loin was a simple cut, but deliciously prepared in a clean wine sauce. One order was more than enough to serve the both of us. On the side were homemade chips and a simple vinaigrette salad. This was the best version of the classic Portuguese meat and two sides we have ever had. Though each sounded simple, the whole was more than the sum of its parts. Throughout the dinner Domingos chatted amiably with guests, and plated, served, and described everything himself.

All of the desserts were displayed on the back of the bar, and they all looked delicious – we didn’t know what to choose. Of course, Domingos then suggested that we tried one of everything. The mixed dessert plate consisted of: a fresh fig in syrup, a queijada, fig and chocolate cake and an almond and coconut Morgado cake. The fresh fig again was a revelation. Before this trip to Iberia I don’t think we had every really had fresh figs (certainly not common in the Midwest), and now we can’t get enough of them. We also like the appearance of the figs in the pound cake with chocolate chunks.

There is an extensive wine selection and Domingos will happily will choose a wine for you, and of course he is extremely knowledgeable about the wide selection of Alentejan wines.  Our dining experience lasted about 2 hours, and we never felt the least bit rushed. You can tell all of the pride that Domingos and Florbela take in their restaurant, and it really shows through in the service and the food. The lunch reminded us of the Japanese dining experience presented in Jiro Dreams of Sushi – a master at the height of his craft in a tiny, well-curated restaurant. If we went back to Portugal, this would definitely be our first stop. Boutequim de Mouraria serves amazing, simple Portuguese food that is worth waiting for!

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BienMeSabe: Venezuelan Arepas in Chicago

When we go to NYC, we always enjoy getting arepas – Venezuelan corn masa patties with a variety of fillings – but we didn’t really have a go-to arepa spot in Chicago (pupusas, yes, but not arepas). When we were back in town, my sister recommended we try BienMeSabe (1637 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613) in Ravenswood, a new arepas spot that has been making waves in the Chicago food scene. Apparently, it is even becoming a go-to place for MLB players from Venezuela. The inside of BienMeSabe is clean and simple, and an attractive seating option is the large outdoor patio. BienMeSabe was so new, that when we visited, the mural they were putting up on the wall was not even finished being painted. Another key feature of BienMeSabe is that it is BYOB. When we got there on Sunday for lunch, many people were enjoying the BYOB option on the patio.

BienMeSabe’s menu mostly consists of arepas with a variety of veggie and meat toppings, each running between $8 and 10. We sampled the Reina Pepiada (Chicken Avocado Salad & Gouda Cheese), Caribbean (Caribbean Cheese, Plantain & Avocado), and the After Party (Roasted Pork, Gouda Cheese, Avocado slices). If you are not in the mood for arepas, there are also meat-heavy mains including grilled steak, fish, and the national dish of Venezuela, Pabellon Criollo. We began our meal with the shrimp tostones and the fried yuca. The shrimp tostones consisted of grilled shrimp on top of fried green plantains, and were particularly good, we really loved the spicy avocado-based Guasacaca salsa. We were also excited to see that we could get some classic Venezuelan drinks: chicha – a rice milk drink similar to Mexican horchata, and papelon con limon limeade.

The areaps are decently sized for the price, and they are not stingy with the fillings. The arepa toppings were good overall, but a little bit of a hit or miss. The roast pork on the After Party was flavorful and tender, and we think it was our favorite arepa of the day. Though the fried plantains on the Caribbean arepa were delicious, there was just too much of the somewhat flavorless shredded cheese. And for me to say there is too much cheese, there really has to have been a lot. Despite this, we really enjoyed the arepas overall and we are happy to have a Venezuelan place in the hood. We will definitely be back to BienMeSabe to sample some of the other arepa varieties and maybe a tres leches cake!

 

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Brazilian food and culture in Astoria, Queens

Today is Brazilian Independence Day, so I think some Brazilian food adventures are called for. Whenever we visit a a city in the US we always check to see if there is a Brazilian food or cultural outpost. You’d be surprised at how many places have a hidden Brazilian gem. However, one of the best places for Brazilian food in the US – that is no secret – is the Astoria neighborhood in the NYC borough of Queens. Astoria is perhaps most famously known for its sizable Greek population, though in recent years it has become an amazingly diverse place. Along with an influx of other Latin American and Middle Eastern cuisines, Astoria has become more Brazilian in the past decades and there are the food establishments to prove it.

Our first stop in Brazilian Astoria is always Rio Market (32-15 36th Ave, Astoria, NY 11106), which is definitely the biggest Brazilian grocery store we have seen in the US. They have pretty much every Brazilian dry good you could hope for: coffee, cookies, Guarana soda, sauces, tea, rice, beans, soap, shampoo, and even Brazilian soccer paraphernalia and Havaianas. What sets them apart is their wide selection, and the fact that they also have rarer fresh foods like queijo coalho – the cheese on a stick you can buy on Brazilian beaches – and picanha steaks. There is also a small cafe in the front of the store that serves simple dishes, feijoada, pão de queijo and coffee. A new feature is that you can order products from Rio Market online!

However, for Pão de Queijo, you must stop at New York Pão de Queijo (31-90 30th St.) aka Astoria Pão de Queijo or just Pão de Queijo. This hole in the wall restaurant reminded us pleasantly of a typical urban corner restaurant in Brazil. You of course have to get the Pão de Queijo, but there are also salads, acaí bowls and X-Burgers (Brazilian Portuguese for Cheeseburger – the X is pronounced “Sheese” – get it?).  Within Astoria there are also a plethora of restaurants tapping into a variety of Brazilian food traditions beyond just the churrascuria that is the most known in the US. Point Brazil, Copacabana, Minas Grill, Villa Brazil and Kilo Astoria are kilo restaurants in the Brazilian style (a buffet where you pay by weight). Kilo restaurants are on every corner in Brazil, so it is  only appropriate they have made their way to Astoria, too. Favela Grill and Beija Flor are more, modern, slightly upscale restaurants with live music. And at Casa Theodoro you can get Brazilian-style pizza, which is a genre unto itself. If you want to get a taste of Brazil while in NYC, definitely wander around Astoria!

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A Cevicheria: The best ceviche in Lisbon

peruEven since M first visited Peru in 2004 he has been on the hunt for the perfect ceviche. Even when we are not looking, sometimes a place specializing in ceviche will present itself. When we arrived in Lisbon we had heard a lot of buzz around A Cevicherica (R. Dom Pedro V 129, 1250-096 Lisboa, Portugal), and the word was that it was one of the best restaurants in Lisbon, ceviche or not. A Cevicheria is helmed by Chef Kiko Martins, who has a growing empire of restaurants around Lisbon.

CevInterior

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The Secret History of Melrose Peppers

Would you believe it if I told you there was a pepper unique to Chicago? No, I’m not talking about the ubiquitous sport peppers on a Chicago-style hot-dog, I am talking about the Melrose pepper. Melrose peppers are a type of sweet pepper ranging in color from green to red, that are mainly grown in the Chicago area (though now you can order seeds and plant them anywhere). Below are some green Melrose peppers we found at Mariano’s – you can see how they look like hot peppers – but they have no heat.

Having grown up in Chicago, I am surprised that I have not learned about the Melrose pepper’s existence until now. A recent Chicago Tribune article featuring the peppers was my first introduction, though my mom says that my Italian grandmother used to mention Melrose peppers. The peppers actually have their roots in Italy, and the seeds were brought over to Chicago by Neapolitans Joseph and Lucia Napolitano in 1903. The pepper that they transported grew wild in Southern Italy, and really took to the soil of Chicagoland, specifically the Napolitano’s home Melrose Park (from where they get their name). The peppers proliferated throughout the gardens of Italian-Americans in Melrose Park, and became a Chicago classic over the decades.

Outside of home gardens, you can also now find the peppers in August at Caputo’s and Mariano’s supermarket locations throughout Chicagoland (I would recommend that you call for availability). You can also buy seeds here, here, here and here (which is what we plan on doing next year). You can prepare Melrose Peppers similarly to bell peppers, though they are not as pungent, and are sweeter. A popular Melrose Pepper recipe is stuffing the peppers with Italian sausage, and the Tribune has another recipe for stuffed peppers along with other preparations. We have tried Melrose Peppers a few ways, and even though we do not like green peppers (or at least one of us doesn’t), we really enjoyed the taste – and history!

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Copenhagen Coffee Lab: Third Wave Coffee in Lisbon

The call is coming from inside the house! This may be the first time that I have written a post about a place from inside the place itself, so here I am sitting in Copenhagen Coffee Lab (R. Nova da Piedade 10, 1200-298 Lisboa) writing this post! The coffee scene in Lisbon is very particular. The coffee is very strong, comes from only a few national producers, and is usually taken in tiny shots like espresso standing up at a bar. Barring that, you can get various dilutions with milk and sugar. When espresso exists it is often in the form of Nespresso pods, which seem to have taken the entire city by storm. All of this is fine, but sometimes you just want some really good coffee. Thankfully, Copenhagen Coffee Lab, a new third wave coffee shop, has opened in the cute neighborhood of São Bento.
In Scandinavia coffee is king. While in Copenhagen we tried what was purported to be the best coffee in the world. Copenhagen Coffee Lab makes no such bombastic claims, but I can definitely say that this is the best coffee I have had in Lisbon. And, this place is actually run by two Danes, and imports all of their coffee from the Copenhagen Coffee Lab in Copenhagen, making it sort of a cross-country mini-chain. At Copenhagen Coffee Lab (Lisbon) you can get your full range of espresso-based drinks, from a single shot to a flat white to iced coffee, a dirty chai latte and beyond. For those with more refined tastes you can also get filter coffee made in a V60 (4€), Aeropress (4€) or French Press( 6/10€).

For the non-coffee drinker there are hot teas, chais and house-made iced teas (a rarity here). They get their Chais from David Rio in San Francisco, and they are very tasty, though sometimes they will run out for a week when more is being ordered from San Fran. Along with the full coffee, there is a nice selection of foods and snacks including Swedish style kanellebullar cinnamon rolls, muffins, knækbrød flatbread with spreads, yogurt, oatmeal and creative salads for lunch. This is the perfect place for vegans or vegetarians, or anyone who wants a laid-back brunch with great coffee.

Moreover, what drew us to Copenhagen Coffee Lab is that it is also a great place to study and work, which is no secret because the place is full of people with laptops on most days. True, this may also be a little off putting (and we are contributing to the problem) but there are still plenty of people just chatting. There is also a larger communal table in back where those working tend to congregate. The crowd seemed to mostly be foreigners, and my hunch is that Lisboetas have not quite embraced this type of third wave coffee that deviates so far from their traditions (and there are no pasteis de nata sold here). Whether you are looking to use the free Wifi or not, Copenhagen Coffee Lab is a must for any coffee fiend in Lisbon.

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The Best Gelato in Lisbon

At the start of our latest trip we lamented openly the lack of gelato in Lisbon, but little did we know that, since our last trip in 2015, there had been something of a gelato renaissance in Lisbon. We’re talking about Italian-style gelato here, not ice cream (though Lisbon has that too, the most famous ice cream maker being Santini) Now gelato shops seem to be popping up everywhere (especially anywhere tourists happen to be) but most of it is just meh. But never fear, there are now some great places to get gelato in Lisbon, too.

The gelato renaissance all started with Nannarella (Various locations, main location São Bento), which was founded by expats from Rome. One of the original founders of Nannarella, Filippo Licitra, then split off on his own to start rival Gelato Davvero (Various locations, main location Cais de Sodré). We can attest that both of these gelato places are the real deal, after having visited each several times. The locations are pretty much only walk up counters, but fortunately Lisbon is replete with parks and other places to enjoy your cone. So which one do we like better? It’s hard to say…both of these are delicious, but each has their pros and cons. For each of the following categories we have selected a winner.

  • Prices – Draw. Prices were comparable for either a cup or cone, for Davvero a Piccolino was €1.75, a Piccolo, €2 (seen above), Medio €3, Grande €4, and Grandissmo €5. Anything above a medium is just huge. You can also get half liters and up of gelato in boxes to take home (1L is €16 at each place). For Nannarella, there are fewer options, a small for €2, medium for €3 and large for €3.50. At the top end Nannarella is a little cheaper, but Davvero lets you get larger sizes.

  • Wait time – Davvero. As M can attest, I hate to wait in line. However, I did wait in line 30 minutes for Nannarella (see above, which was just bordering on too much. The waits at Davvero were much shorter, so take that for what you will.
  • Ambiance – Draw, slight edge Davvero. Each place has only storefront outlets with nowhere to sit, except the Cais de Sodré location of Davvero that has both indoor and outdoor seating, which is right on the square.
  • Extras – Nannarella. You can get whipped cream for free at Nannarella. Maybe they also have it at Davvero, but we have never been offered this topping. At Nannarella you can also get a mini cone to put on top of your cup for 20 cents – a great idea we have never seen before.

  • Generosity – Nannarella. For the small cup size, Davvero allows 2 flavors. Nannarella (above) allows unlimited flavors, which basically means you can get 3 scoops or more, as I did here with chocolate, salted caramel and pistachio. The scoops were overall more generous at Nannarella.
  • Taste – Draw. This is a tricky one, and probably relies more on personal preference than anything. The consistency of both gelato is smooth and creamy, and the flavors are delicious, and not artificial at all (we used pistachio as a test for this). Neither of the pistachio gelatos are bright green, and both taste delicious and natural. At both stores you can get classic flavors like strawberry, coffee, hazelnut, chocolate chip and vanilla. However, we liked the salted caramel more at Nannarella, though Davvero’s sour cherry was the fast favorite of our travel buddies. Each location has special flavors of the day, and there are even some more unique flavors like basil (Nannarella) and cheesecake (Davvero).

Overall, Nannarella, the original may have a slight edge over Davvero, though we wouldn’t turn up our noses at either. We are just grateful that Lisbon is experiencing a boom in gelato!

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Classic Portuguese Cuisine in Lisbon at Crisfama

portugalOn every corner of Lisbon there are little family restaurants – tascas – that serve a small menu of Portuguese classics with a wine selection. Often the menus (bacalhau, grilled fish and steaks) and atmospheres at each of these places are pretty similar (though the quality certainly runs the gamut), and it is hard to know which one to try. When attempting to cut through the dizzying quantity of tasca, we got a tip though, the the best tasca in town is Crisfama (R. Cruz de Sta. Apolónia, 58/60A, 1100-188 Lisboa), where everything was fresh, high-quality and cooked to order. CrisfamaCrisfama is on a backstreet on the outskirts of Alfama, the medieval quarter of Lisbon. It is a little bit of a trek to get there, but getting off the tourist track when it comes to food is definitely a good thing. The restaurant has only a handful of tables in the simple, clean dining room, so it is absolutely essential to make a reservation. Moreover, Crisfama is only open for a few hours for each lunch and dinner, so be sure to plan accordingly. The restaurant seems like a two-person show with the affable owner and his wife running the front and back of the house, respectively. The owner/waiter Fernando is an amiable host, ready to give recommendations, pour wine heavily and exchange in some witty banter in English or Portuguese while his wife mans the kitchen.sardinhas

For starters you get the typical Portuguese couvert of bread and olives, along with a choice of local Portuguese cheeses (€2-3). We ordered a round of soft goat cheese with herbs and a semi-hard sheep cheese. We are constantly impressed by the huge varieties of goats cheese in Portugal, and it is always fun to try a new variety. For mains, you can get either seafood or meat dishes for prices so reasonable that they will astound you. Everything is less than €12 (the bacalhau tops out the menu at €11.50), and for that price you can get a whole fish or a huge steak. Other specials included grilled octopus, bitoque (steak with an egg), bifana (pork sandwich), and duck with rice. Side salads are a shockingly low €1.25, and you can even get fresh fruit by the piece.

peixeIn the mood we for seafood, we ordered sea bass, tuna, dourada and the ultimate Portuguese classic, grilled sardines (€8.5 for each seafood plate). Each came with a side of potatoes and green beans, and the sardines came with a side salad. Each fish was cooked perfectly to order, and this was some of the best, freshest fish we have had in Portugal – everything was absolutely delicious. And as you can see, they didn’t skimp on portions. To wash down your meal, each glass of house wine is only €1.

semifreddoFor dessert there is a refrigerator case with an appealing variety of cakes, tarts and semifreddos. We heard that the chocolate orange semifreddo was sublime – so we ordered two – and it lived up to the hype and was basically the perfect treat for a hot summer day. From start to finish, we enjoyed the attention to detail at Chisfama, and it was definitely the best traditional Portuguese food we have had in Lisbon. With great prices and great quality for classic Portuguese food – you won’t find a better deal in Lisbon.

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Eating our Way Around Lusophone Africa at Mesa Kreol

brazil angolaGuineaBissauFlagImageOne of the most interesting things about the Lisbon food scene is the proliferation of restaurants with foods from former Portuguese colonies. Brazilian, Angolan, Cape Verdean and Goan foods and restaurants abound in the city. When we were showing some friends around town, we wanted to find a place that would give them a taste of food from around the Lusophone world. We stumbled upon Mesa Kreol (Arco Portas do Mar, 1100-035 Lisboa). Mesa Kreol gives you that around-the-world trip by offering only the most iconic dishes from several former Portuguese colonies, all with a contemporary twist.

MesaKreolMesa Kreol is located at the foot of Alfama, the old quarter of Lisbon, which is perhaps more known for its fado music and small restaurants serving grilled fish. The restaurant is clean in tidy, and only foreigners were eating at the absurdly early hour of 7 PM (like 4 PM in the US), though the restaurants seems to be popular with a mix of locals and visitors alike. The menu was brief, and was divided into starters, meat and fish. For starters we had to sample the strawberry gazpacho, not traditional at all, but spicy, delicious and refreshing.  Other starter options included an octopus escabeche or linguiça sausage with goat cheese. For mains we went with the more traditional dishes, Moamba from Angola, Caldo de Mancarra from Guinea-Bissau and Brazilian shrimp Moqueca. Other national dishes included the cachupa bean stew from Cape Verde. Less traditional offerings included the tuna steak, Mozambican shrimp, and a Moroccan tajine.Moamba

Moamba is the national dish of Angola, and is made with whole chicken, drenched in palm oil, tomatoes, okra, spicy malagueta pepper, bell peppers and other veggies. We were warned by the server that this was a “greasy” dish, which may have been a needed warning for those not familiar with palm oil, but it was not really a greasy dish at all. The Caldo de Mancarra – a rich peanut stew with whole chicken – was delicious, and reminded us of other groundnut stews from West Africa. We sopped up every possible bit of sauce with the rice.

MoquecaandMancarra

However, the hit of the night may have been the shrimp moqueca, a classic Brazilian dish of coconut milk, palm oil and bell peppers that we have enjoyed many times in Brazil. M deemed deemed Mesa Kreol’s version as one of the best moquecas he had had outside of Brazil, which is pretty high praise. This version came with delicious fresh shrimp and it was replete with palm oil, which is a necessity. We were too stuffed for dessert, but tempting options included Brazilian Sagu (tapioca pudding) and chocolate cake. Mesa Kreol is a great introduction to the foods of former Portuguese colonies. It is a true culinary trip around the world in only one place!

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Finding Kakigori in Barcelona

On our recent visit we stayed in the charming Barcelona neighborhood of Gràcia, and after dinner one night we decided to explore dessert options around the main square. While there were a smattering of typical gelato places, we were most interested to see a Japanese shaved ice shop on the corner: Mr. Kakigori (Pl. de la Vila de Gràcia 3, Barcelona, 08012)! Kakigori is a traditional Japanese shaved ice, flavored with syrup, and it is currently making a comeback in Tokyo (and apparently making inroads in Europe as well).

True to Japanese Kakigori style, the ice was shaved off a rotating cylinder by hand – check out the ice in action. You can choose from 2 sweet syrup flavors for each size, ranging from strawberry to mango to coconut, with additional toppings like condensed milk and fresh fruit. We ordered a small – which turned out to be huge – with passion fruit and green tea flavors. Along with the shaved ice, you can also get Japanese pancakes called doriyaki, with savory fillings like tuna, or sweet fillings like red bean paste and Nutella. The kakigori is was perfect for a hot night, and we loved the refreshing change of pace!

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How to Celebrate the 4th of July in Portugal

USA-flagportugalWe are currently in Portugal for the 4th of July, which got us thinking about whether or not we could put together a US-style cookout here. Being abroad has definitely enlightened us to what other countries think of American food, and what American foods have just not crossed the ocean. Previously, we had lamented the lack of peanut butter – we had found some at an Indian grocery – but now we have found jars twice at run-of-the-mill grocery stores at semi-reasonable prices. So it seems that peanut butter is making in-roads, but there is still a dearth of BBQ and tacos. At the Continete megastore (think WalMart) in the gigantic Colombo Mall we saw an American food section in the “foreign foods” aisle – but it consisted mostly of Old El Paso products. Burgers and craft beer, two staples of the 4th of July cookout are actually getting to be pretty popular in Lisbon, especially burgers. Case in point, the aptly named “American Music Burguer” we spotted near the University.

BurguerThough cookouts in Portugal usually include fish, if you are planning to do an American-style 4th of July cookout, most fresh meats, fruits and veggies should be readily available. However, we have also found a resource to get the esoteric-to-Portugal ingredients you may need – the “American store.” Yes in Portugal, there is a such a thing as an American store – Liberty Store (Largo de São Sebastião da Pedreira 9D, 1050-010 Lisboa). Liberty Store is stocked with such goodies as Pringles, Pancake Syrup, Beef Jerky, Barbecue Sauce, Funfetti cake mix, and the like. The strangely-named Glood (several Lisbon locations) has products from all over the world, including a sizeable US selection, with a few slightly healthier options. The products available at either store are only the most mass market of mass market – but each definitely carries products you cannot find elsewhere. Liberty Store even has solo cups, an essential to every 4th of July cookoutLibertyStore

 

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Celebrate Victoria Day with a Victoria Sandwich

Today, May 22, is Victoria Day, a holiday to celebrate historical British monarch Queen Victoria’s birthday. Of all places, this is not a holiday in the UK, but in Canada! One classic treat to have on this date is Victoria Sandwich, named for the queen. Despite the name, this is not what North Americans would think of when they hear the word sandwich – it is actually a cake! Another name for this treat is Victoria sponge (as in sponge cake), and it consists of two sponge cakes filled with raspberry jam and cream in the middle. I first heard of this cake when it was referenced many times on the Great British Bake-Off! You can find a recipe for a classic Victoria Sandwich on BBC GoodFood, Jamie Oliver and Urban Hounds.

Victoria Sponge by Gordon Plant

 

 

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A great new butcher in Cleveland: Saucisson

When we left Chicago, one of the places we were saddest to say goodbye to was our favorite butcher shop: Homestead Meats in Evanston. When we got to Cleveland, we were super happy to find lots of great fresh meat purveyors at the West Side Market – however nothing quite fit the bill of a single location where we could get fresh meat, house-made sausage, charcuterie, prepared meals, and more. With a new addition to Slavic VillageSaucisson (5324 Fleet Ave, Cleveland, OH 44105) – we feel like we have found a Cleveland butcher replacement for our beloved Homestead Meats.

Saucisson is a fell-fledged butcher and you can see back into the kitchen where everything is made – we were also excited to learn that they are offering sausage-making classes – the next one is on Saturday, May 20 (call for details). Saucisson is a labor of love for founders and owners Penny Barend and Melissa Khoury, which started out as a pop-up at Farmer’s Markets, before opening their own bricks and mortar location. The new Saucisson space is clean and bright, with a fully-stocked cooler and freezer full of along with stock, soups, and lard. Saucisson had a variety of beef and pork cuts for sale, alongside a variety of pates, bacon, jerky, rilettes and esoteric sausages, all made/butchered in house. We sampled the German-style currywurst, the Oaxacan black mole sausage and the Filipino longganisa (a sweet breakfast sausage). Quite the spread  – though we think the Mole sausage was our favorite! Every week the selection rotates, so be sure to call ahead if you want something specific.

One of the other great features of Saucisson is that they have rotating food menu every day, which you can take out or eat in store (check out Facebook for the day’s menu). On the night we visited there was Italian chicken meatball soup ($5) and pulled pork tacos ($8). Though not a traditional taco, the super tender and flavorful pulled pork stole the show, smothered in green salsa, cotija cheese, slaw and pickled onions. Yum! Saucisson is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m to 7 p.m so be sure to time your visit properly. When we visited on a Friday night at 6, we got the last of the food.

Even more promising – the Saucisson team was super excited to potentially help us out with some custom butchery – we of course wanted to see if they could make the Brazilian classic cut of beef, picanha. They assured us that with a little advance notification, they could pretty much make anything. This stretch of Slavic Village is just starting recover from the housing bubble and economic downtown, and Saucisson is a welcome addition to the neighborhood’s commercial center. But Saucisson would be a great addition to any Cleveland neighborhood. We look forward to becoming regulars!

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Brunch with a Brazilian Twist at La Sirena Clandestina

brazil It’s always a delicate balance finding somewhere to go out to eat on a weekend for lunch – note that I say lunch – not brunch! Fortunately La Sirena Clandestina (954 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL) strikes a nice balance between lunch and brunch dishes, and is sure to please people with all kinds of palates. La Sirena Clandestina has an eclectic menu with lots of Brazilian flourishes, based on Chef John Manion’s childhood in Brazil – they even have our favorite cheesy bread on the menu – Pão de Queijo – though it sadly wasn’t available when we visited.  We are always looking for new Brazilian tastes, so we were definitely looking forward to sampling La Sirena’s mix of Brazilian flavors and local ingredients.

SirenaSteak

The weekend daytime menu at La Sirena is a mix of sweet and savory, brunch and lunch. On the brunch side of things you can get their take on Eggs Benedict, with soft shell crab and Brazilian malagueta peppers ($18) or chilaquiles with plantains and salsa verde ($15). For those going more savory, you can get a grilled hanger steak with a fried yucca “tot” ($18) or the “El Che” (a take on the Cuban sandwich – $13) – achiote roasted pork loin with ham, Swiss cheese and pickles. There are also some nice, healthier vegetarian options including the Kale Salad ($9) and the white bean hash with avocado and chimichurri ($15) Among our group we ordered some options from each “type.”

SirenaEgg

One of our favorites, the hanger steak was perfectly tender and well-accented by the garlicky sauce – we also appreciated the whimsy of the yucca “tater tot.” Another hit was the Tapioca Nordestina ($12) – which was similar to a beachside dish that is popular in Brazil. This consisted of manioc flour crepes stuffed with cream cheese and topped with strawberry and rhubarb compote. This was a combination of flavors we didn’t expect – but worked really well together, and was not too sweet at all.

SirenaTapioca

As an added twist on brunch, instead of the typical mimosa, you can get a variety of mixed drinks with Brazilian cachaça, along with aguas frescas (the juice of the day was chamomile lemon) and teas from Rare Tea Cellar. The vibe inside the restaurant is relaxed and casual, with vintage Brazilian tunes playing in the background (think Os Mutantes and Elis Regina). The space is not very big – so reservations are recommended. We highly enjoyed our eclectic brunch at La Sirena Clandestina, and it was a great spot for the pro and anti brunch crowds alike.

LaSirena

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Karam Kitchen’s Catering Success Story

We are so happy to hear about stories of immigrants using food to make connections and find success in their new homes. We previously featured Honeydoe catering in Chicago, and we just learned of another successful venture by Syrian refugees in Hamilton, Ontario, Karam Kitchen. Karam Kitchen is run by Syrian female chefs Rawa’a Aloliwi, Dalal Al Zoubi, and Manahel Al Shareef, and two American/Canadian women, Brittani Farrington and Kim Kralt, who run the logistics of the business. Karam Kitchen was kicked off by a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, and is now up and running and taking catering orders (and recently ran a second Kickstarter to get a delivery van). Saveur has a great feature about the start of Karam Kitchen and People of Hamilton focuses on the women involved in the project. Karam means generosity, and you can definitely see the generosity in the amazing spreads of Syrian foods that Karam Kitchen prepares.

Karam Kitchen by People of Hamilton

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Ramen Misoya, the original Ramen-ya in Chicago

We are happy that authentic Japanese ramen has exploded as a trend in the US, and now you can find great ramen in most US cities.  If you’re looking for the starting point of this wave of ramen in Chicago, you have to go out to the northwest suburbs, where Ramen Misoya (1584 S Busse Rd., Mount Prospect, IL 60056) was the first authentic Ramen-Ya (ramen restaurant) in the Chicago area, starting in 2013. Little did we know, but Ramen Misoya is actually a chain, with a few locations throughout the US and Japan, and now a downtown Chicago outpost (213 E. Ohio St.). Despite the influx of ramen restaurants in Chicago, one of our favorites is still Ramen Misoya.

Ramen Misoya is a tiny place with maybe only 8 tables, and a small amount of counter seating, so get there early. The menu may seem overwhelming at first, but there are 3 main varieties of broth to choose from, and you can get 5 versions of meat and vegetable toppings for each broth. The three miso-based broth options are Kome, Mame and Shiro: the Hokkaido-style kome ramen is made with a rice-and-soybean miso, and is the darkest and most full-bodied; the Nagoya-style mame is slightly bitter; and the Kyoto-style shiro is the lightest miso variety of the trio, and was described as having a fruity flavor. All ramen comes topped with ground pork, green onions, sprouts, and menma (fermented bamboo shoots), but with each broth you can can choose from assorted vegetables, Cha-Shu pork, spicy and kimchi varieties ($9-$13 depending on the toppings).

There are also a few special varieties of ramen including the creamier, richer Tokyo miso pork tonkatsu ($9.50) and the Kyoto miso tan-tan sesame ramen (above – $9.90). One of the best part of the ramen is that you get to customize your bowl with extra toppings including tonkotsu fried pork, extra noodles, nori sheets a, miso egg, or even a pat of butter (all for small extra charges). We like to start out with a small assortment of appetizers including a tasty gyoza dumplings ($4.5) and chicken kaarage (fried chicken, $3.50 small, $7 large).

We have tried all of the different broths, and each one has been delicious, though we think our favorite may be the special sesame broth, which you can not get at many other ramen places. Ramen Misoya excels at everything from start to finish: the noodles are also delicious – toothsome and springy – a perfect complement to the broth. The portion size is pretty big, too, and one bowl of ramen usually lasts us two meals. As an added plus, you can also get one of our favorite Japanese desserts there – taiyaki – a fish shaped waffle-like treat filled with sweet red bean paste. If you are looking for great ramen at the place that kicked off the ramen craze in Chicago, definitely visit Ramen Misoya.

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Taqueria El Mezquite: our go-to tacos in Pilsen

Mexico Flag Sometimes, we go to a place so often, we just start to assume we have written about it on ETW. This tends to happen with our most favorite restaurants, many of which do not end up getting a review until years after we first go there (thinking of you Greenbush Bar). In that vein, we are finally getting around to reviewing our favorite taqueria in Pilsen. We have eaten our way around Pilsen, and our favorite go-to place is still Taqueria El Mezquite (1756 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608).TacosMezquite

El Mezquite is a classic mom and pop place, with simple red booths and an expansive menu of Mexican favorites. Our classic order at El Mezquite is tacos. The tacos are a reasonable $2.25 and come on delicious corn tortillas with the classic onion and cilantro. The taco menu is huge and you can get chorizo, carne asada, chicken and all the typical varieties. But what also sets Mezquite apart is that you can get harder-to-find fillings like nopal (cactus), tripe, and specific types and cuts of beef like lomo encebolloado (ribeye with onions), suadero (flank steak) and cecina (dried beef). They also excel at our favorite taco variety: pork al pastor. Even though they don’t have a trompo for Al Pastor, these are some of Matt’s favorites – the flavor is good, with a nice char.

Enchilada

Though the tacos are our starting point, we have also eaten through a bit more of El Mezquite’s menu, and have liked everything we’ve tried so far. Other favorites include the huaraches $7.95 (thick corn tortillas with a variety of toppings – we like the squash blossoms), and the chicken mole enchiladas ($7.25).  On the weekends they also have the traditional stews like menudo (beef stomach stew) and pozole (pork and hominy stew) – which you can get by the plate or even by the gallon. We also recently tried their hearty migas soup, a pork bone soup with bread and epazote native to the Tepito neighborhood of Mexico City, something we have not seen on any other Chicago menus.

Migas

However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg – you can also get freshly squeezed juices (like the vampiro, with oranges, beet and carrot), milkshakes, great horchata and tepache. If you have your own favorites we haven’t mentioned, it is definitely worth checking out Mezquite’s full menu of burritos, tortas, and dinner specials. Everything we have ever tried at El Mezquite has been good, and the prices are so reasonable. If you are in the hood and looking for a good place for tacos (and some Mexico City specialties) definitely make your way to El Mezquite.

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The Classic Anzac Day Treat: Anzac Biscuits

New Zealand FlagAustraliaApril 25th is Anzac Day, one of the biggest holidays in Australia and New Zealand – and are best celebrated with Anzac biscuits. Anzac biscuits (what we would call a cookie in the US) are oatmeal cookies with dried coconut, with the special secret ingredient of golden syrup – popular in British commonwealth countries. So what is Anzac Day? Anzac Day is basically the equivalent of US Memorial Day, and honors Australian and New Zealander service people. It is held on the anniversary of Australia and New Zealand’s Entry into World War 1 at the Battle of Gallipoli. Popular mythology is that these biscuits got their name because they were sent overseas to the soldiers (since they contained no perishable ingredients), however the name itself is only recorded as going back to the 1920s. BBC Good food has a classic recipe, though Anzac cookies vary in texture from crispy to chewy (recipe seen below) to soft. Anzac biscuits are now such a beloved classic, that they have inspired other desserts with a similar flavor profiles, like cookie bars and ice cream sandwiches.

Anzac.jpg

Anzac Biscuits by Ruthy Stinkface

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Thai at Banana Blossom in Cleveland

One of our favorite things in Cleveland is the surprising proliferation of quality Southeast Asian food. We have tried over a dozen Thai places in the area, but we keep coming back to Cleveland stalwart Banana Blossom (2800 Clinton Ave, Cleveland, OH) – it is our favorite, consistently solid spot for Thai classics in the city. Banana Blossom has been holding down an unassuming corner in the Ohio City neighborhood for a while, before it was the artsy, bustling neighborhood it is today. Banana Blossom is bigger on the inside than you might think, with a peaceful ambiance.

You can get all of your favorite Thai dishes at Banana Blossom, but we feel they are all executed better than you would normally find. The menu has a wide selection of salads, soups, noodle dishes and curries. There are some more unusual dishes like Prik Khing Salmon (Deep-Fried Salmon with String Beans and Our Homemade Prik Khing Sauce – $15.95) and roasted tamarind duck ($18.95). Despite the broad offerings,  when we go to Banana Blossom we usually stick with our classics: Pad See Eiw (stir-fried wide rice noodles with chicken and shrimp, eggs, carrots and broccoli – $11.50), and Penang Curry (a medium-spicy curry with chiles, coriander, kaffir lime peel, galangal, bell pepper, string beans, baby corn, eggplant and basil leaves – $12.95). Sometimes we will also start out with a refreshing papaya Salad (with string beans, tomato and peanuts – $8.95), which is also pretty spicy!

The service is quick and efficient, and you are never left waiting too long, even when it is busy. M also likes that he can get a legitimately spicy Penang curry (you can specify a heat level of 1-5). The portions at Banana Blossom are generous, and there are a wide variety of proteins: Chicken, Duck, Beef, Pork, Shrimp, Salmon, Tofu or Vegetable. Banana Blossom even has a full bar, though we usually just stick to the Thai iced teas ($3)! We have never been disappointed at Banana Blossom, and if you are looking for some comforting, classic Thai food in Cleveland, definitely visit!

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Zoma Ethiopian Cuisine in Cleveland Heights

It seems like every day, a new restaurant is opening in Cleveland, news we are always glad to hear. Recently, Cleveland added a second Ethiopian restaurant to its burgeoning dining scene, Zoma (2240 Lee Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118), a place we have been dying to try for months. Zoma was opened in late 2016 by Ethiopian expats Zeleke Belete and his wife, Betty Kassa. Zoma is small, and fills up pretty quickly, so it is best to call ahead and get a reservation. We were lucky enough to barely squeeze in on Friday evening, sitting around a small traditional table, or mesob. The menu at Zoma is compact, but hits all of the Ethiopian classics, with nine meat dishes ($13.99-17.99) and six vegetarian dishes ($ 11.99-12.99). We were happy to see some of our favorite dishes were there, including spicy chicken stew (Doro Wot – $15.99), with berbere spices and onions; mild beef stew (Alicha Wot – $14.75) with garlic, ginger and turmeric.

The best way to try a little bit of everything at Zoma is to get a sampler. You can get a veggie sampler with either 4 or 5 items ($14.99 or 15.99) or a combination platter ($18.75) with spicy beef stew, mild beef stew and two vegetarian menu items. Since we were 3 people, we upped the ante and got the Zoma Special combo ($32.99), a combination of beef tibs, spicy beef stew, mild beef stew, spicy chicken stew, homemade cottage cheese and 5 vegetarian menu items. Our vegetarian selections were the split red lentils with berbere, split yellow peas with onions, chickpeas, green peas and carrots with tomatoes, and cabbage and potatoes with garlic and ginger curry. We started off our dinner with vegetarian sambusas ($3.5), the East African version of samosas, filled with chickpeas and accompanied by a super-spicy plum hot sauce.

As you can see from the photo above, the injera flatbread came out fully loaded with our selections. Using the extra injera on the side, we sopped up all of the stews. All of the dishes were delicious: the meat was tender, and all of the dishes were expertly spiced. Nothing was too spicy, so this would be a great place for newcomers to Ethiopian food. We especially liked the spicy beef tibs and the split yellow peas, and we loved being able to try all of Zoma’s offerings. The only downside is that you have to pay for each refill of injera ($2), the spongy flatbread that serves as a utensil. I guess that keeps us injera fiends in check. Zoma also has a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony on Sunday afternoons, and you could preview the Jebena (coffee pot) setup in the dining room. We can’t wait to go back for the coffee ceremony and another crucial injera fix.

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