Category Archives: Reviews

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.

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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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A Taste of Ukraine at Veselka in NYC

The iconic, long-running Veselka (144 Second Avenue, NYC) has been on our list of “to visit” places in NYC since we started going there regularly in 2006, but somehow we never made it there until our last trip over the Winter. It is kind of hard to pin Veselka (which means “rainbow” in Ukrainian) down. On the face of it, Veselka is a 24-hour Ukrainian diner – but with slightly higher prices and a huge line of club kids waiting to get in every night after hours (or at pretty much any time). Still, on the menu you can get Americanized brunches and the waiters rush you through with an efficiency that will make your head spin – bringing it back to a diner feel. In any case, Veselka has been serving up comfort food in the East Village since 1954, so we figured they must be doing something right to still attract crowds after all these years.

There are no reservations – so we had to wait about a half an hour for our table of five. Fortunately it was an unseasonably warm day so we didn’t mind just people watching outside (a prime area for that activity). The menu at Veselka is extensive, and there are two basic genres of food available: American diner food and Ukrainian specialties. At our table we went with a little of each. On the Ukrainian side, the favorites were clearly the pierogies – or varenyky in Ukrainian – you can get them boiled or fried, with a myriad of fillings like cheese, sweet potato, mushroom, meat, and even the more esoteric goat cheese and spinach – all served with applesauce, onions and sour cream on the side. They also make a hearty borscht beet soup (either vegetarian or meat-filled- Pint $4.95 and Quart $8.95), and a classic Ukrainian “Hunter’s Stew” dish called Bigos with Kielbasa, roast pork and onions ($17.25). For even more Ukrainian flavor, you can also get kasha (buckwheat groats) and potato pancakes as side ($4 each). On the American side of the menu, you can get breakfast all day including waffles, omelettes, and pancakes with all of the trimmings. Burgers and other sandwiches like the Reuben and egg salad round out the offerings.

M got a Veselka signature sandwich: the Baczynski ($15)which was piled high with Polish ham, Ukrainian salami, Polish podlaski cheese, pickled vegetable relish on pumpernickel. M really enjoyed the sandwich – but it was too big to eat in one sitting – even for him. I ordered a platter of 7 varenyky ($11), which was also a popular order at our table – and with good reason. The varenyky were the stars of the show, and the mushroom and goat cheese and arugula varieties were deemed to be the favorites. Opinion was split on if fried or boiled varenyky are superior, though I think my personal preference is for fried. To finish off the meal, Veselka has a range of diner favorites  – you can order one of their ‘individual’ pies – which are really quite big! We got a New York staple – the black and white cookie – and a miniature banana cream pie ($7.50). Veselka serves up good, hearty comfort food with an Eastern-European flair – and we can’t think of a better place to get dumplings at 2 AM.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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!

Vasilopita.jpg

Vasilopita by Resturante Kaialde

 

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