Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Riding Away the Wine and Baguette...

Fortunately I can have my cake and eat it, too. Thanks Marie Antoinette! With the Paris Velib public biking system in full swing, looks like excessive calories, wine, and cheese won't force me to buy new pants once in Paris!

You can read about it here at the Conde Nast Traveler Daily Traveler blog.

I've already tried the bike, and let me tell you, it's a thrilling rush that left me a) sweaty with soar calves and b) wishing I had a helmet to preserve my life.

But totally worth it!

Tongue Thai-ed...

How did I not know about this place after living in the West Village for 2 years? Wild Ginger, a splendid little Thai restaurant on Grove Street is a great choice for brunch during a lazy weekend. For $9.95, you get a drink (soda or white wine), a salad, and a main course that will not only fill you, but leave you smiling.

Let’s just say I chose the soda, ginger ale to be specific, since I didn’t need any more alcohol after that Saturday night. I also chose the Wild Ginger salad, a simple and hearty helping of lettuce with carrots and cucumbers in a creamy white dressing. It was no where near as sweet as the mango salad, strips of juicy mango with carrots and cucumbers.

I added on an order of spring rolls to have something fried. I heard it helps hangovers. The rolls were piping hot and flaky as I dipped them into the savory brown sauce. They were vegetable rolls for sure, but they almost tasted like pork. I love meat, so I wasn’t complaining!

The chicken Pad Thai that followed was killer. Red peppers and basil with a do-it-yourself squeeze of fresh lime juice blended perfectly with the chicken and soft, delectable noodles. I had to take a breather after the first half, but I put my chopsticks to work and cleared the plate before paying the check.

Between the sizeable salad and the healthy portion of Pad Thai, I was brimming with satisfaction. Wild Ginger definitely serves up some of the best Thai that I’ve had in a while, and at reasonable prices. Wish me good luck finding comparable Thai in Paris!

Milk Flan to the Rescue!

I’ve had a lot of falafel, a lot of Mediterranean food, a lot of pizza – but Moustache in the West Village surprised me. Tucked away on Bedford Street, between Grove and Barrow, this tiny restaurant specializes in all sorts of Mediterranean dishes. Nothing super fancy, but definitely classy.

There was a wait, even if just a few minutes – clearly the locals liked this place. The service was quick and polite, and when the waitress put her hand on my shoulder, I was in love. So homey! We ordered baba ganoush with whole wheat pita for an appetizer. It was savory and abundant, to say the least, with three tasty olives garnishing the middle of the plate.

Then onto the entrees: a chicken kebab platter and a Moustache pizza. The chicken was delicious, swimming in a puree of lentils, cilantro, garlic, and I THINK lemon juice. The chicken was juicy and the puree was phenomenal with many layers of flavor developing at each taste.

The pizza was a very thin crust topped with tomatoes, onions, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella cheese. Each little slice was amazing and satisfying, mixing traditional Italian pizza with something spicy and exotic. The menu said it was just parsley and chili, but I’m still not convinced. It was more like magic, I’m sure.

But the happiest part was the Muhalabia for dessert, a milk flan swimming in a red berry sauce. The sauce, I’m pretty sure, was strawberry, not raspberry as I initially thought. But the flan was loaded with sweetness and a jasmine perfume that I adore. Add some crushed pistachios on top and you arguably have the highlight of the meal.

With entrees hovering a little over 10 dollars, the price was right. And with attentive service and extremely memorable food, the entire package gets two thumbs up for this neighborhood treasure.

Chili Peppers and BYOB...

Nothing screams “good Indian dinner” like chili pepper lights, friendly service, and an awesome BYOB policy. Such is Milon, the East Village gem located in a mix of Indian restaurants at 1st Avenue and 6th Street.

The d├ęcor itself draws you in as much as the maitre d’ outside who is competing with three others to get you to eat at their establishment. The choice is easy if you’re into super kitschy and delicious restaurants.

Underneath a canopy of red chili papers and sparkling lights you can join other locals in cozy and not-altogether uncomfortable quarters. After a look at the menu, you’ll realize why there isn’t so much space. For about 10 bucks you can have a small feast. Appetizers under 5 and entrees under 9 – perfect for all wallets.

Cheesey Poori bread and chicken Pakora fritters were a great wait to start off the meal. The chicken tikka masala, chicken madras, and the garlic and onion naan are absolutely delightful and filling, as far as my Western palate is concerned. It was all made better by the bottle of wine I brought from Trader Joe’s that the waiter opened for me. The waiter topped off our meal with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that cooled off our mouths, happily.

I’m always tempted to try one of the other 3 restaurants, who all share the same 2 addresses. But I can’t bring myself to tempt fate when every experience at Milon is so pleasant. The waiters all wished us a good night and shook our hands as we left. Next time I’m back in New York, you can bet I’ll be back.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cheesesteak please, hold the Freedom Fries...

It’s been a long time since I’ve been a tourist in my own town, but yesterday I decided to hit the streets of Philadelphia armed with a knowledgeable local and a camera. We visited historical Philly, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the oldest street in the city. We visited the homes of Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin, and Edgar Allen Poe. We hit up Rittenhouse Square, the French Quarter, Washington Square District, and even the Italian Market.

But no day in Philly is complete without two things: Tasty Kakes and cheesesteaks. Of course I hit up the first 7-11 I could find to purchase some of the sweet Philly confectionaries. A peanut butter “Kandy Kake” is chocolate-peanut butter perfection. If you haven’t had one, you must figure out how to get one outside of the Philadelphia area.

But the cheesesteak, much more renowned nationally, is equally as elusive outside the Mid-Atlantic. Geno’s has been doing the Philly Cheesesteak since 1966. Situated in South Philly across from rival Pat’s, Geno’s is the more vibrant of the two popular steak places. With a very strict ordering policy (a steak whiz with = a steak with cheese whiz and onions) and an English-only policy, it can be intimidating.

The patriotism is a little over the top (Speak English tee-shirts are only $10 and Freedom Fries are available) but the steaks are worth the $6-7. Soft bread with thinly sliced steak and melted cheese and perfectly grilled onions – what more could you want? The sandwich isn’t large by American standards, but I was surprisingly full when I finished it. And though it may seem unhealthy, there is much less grease or mess than I thought – not that I’m espousing it as health food or anything.

Maybe next time I’ll try Pat’s, but either way, I should get my fill of cheesesteaks now before I head back across the pond!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Go to Sweden without your passport!


I know I just got back to America, but my European tendencies have struck already. This time, Sweden. The place: IKEA in Brooklyn.

As if brushed steel and efficient storage units weren’t enough for me, the IKEA cafeteria served up a lunch to be reckoned with. I’ve never actually had Swedish meatballs, but I fell in love. For under 7 bucks I got a plate full of the bite-sized treats with a delicious brown gravy. Next to them were homemade mashed potatoes and a dollop of lingonberry jam, reminiscent of cranberry sauce.

And to boot, all of the delicious food at the cafeteria is available near the register, so you TOO can enjoy Swedish meatballs and lingonberry jam in the comfort of your tastefully decorated Scandinavian-inspired home.

So here’s the plan: Make a day of it! Take the free ferry from the South Street Seaport to the IKEA. Shop around for some wonderful light fixtures and textiles. Break for meatballs at the cafeteria, and enjoy the ferry ride back to Manhattan. Good time guaranteed.

Ex-pat no longer...

It may be the culinary capital of the world, but after 6 weeks, I learned that Paris isn’t all confit du canard and steak frites. In fact, my brief sojourn was actually devoid of all that I think to be “French,” replaced instead with falafel, couscous, and beer. Of course I’m not complaining.

That said, my return to America has been the beginning of real vacation eating for me, and I’m loving it (as I snack on pizza pretzels, utterly American). My arrival in New York was highlighted by much American food, including burgers at the Stand on 12th Street (with mayo, bacon, and hard boiled egg). I also visited Brother Jimmy’s by Penn Station for my first ever “po’ boy” sandwich. Fried shrimp and Cajun mayo? Sign me up.

And in keeping with the heart-healthy theme, I capped my week in New York with lunch at Silver Spurs on Broadway in the Village, my favourite diner in town. I devoured the De Senator burger, a quarter pound of beef, avocado, bacon, cheese, lettuce, and tomato on an English muffin (see photo). I still feel like I need to go for a run several days later to work that off.

Nothing in Paris compares to this wanton mass of food, which, I must add, is too big to wrap my mouth around. And then there are the French fries that I am convinced are beer battered. You can’t find that in the Marais.

It’s nice being surrounded by so much American food, but some differences are marked. Restaurants don’t always provide water and bread. Tipping is again a concern. Additionally, menus are all in one language, for better or worse. I’m back, I suppose!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ode to Kennith

Some people aspire to fame. Others to fortune. But my good friend Kennith aspires to something beyond all of that -- the peach melba.

This delicate dessert of poached pears, vanilla ice cream and rasberry sauce is anything short of a mirachle. It's a norm in most Parisian restaurants, though it's not quite a hit in the States. That is, not yet, if Kennith has his way.

When Kennith and John came to Paris, the peach melba was nearly a daily staple, and with reason. It's delicious AND it includes at least one serving of fruit. Not bad. It's part of the reason they frequent Paris.

Need to know how to make one? It's not too hard. Here's a recipe for the melba from scratch, but you can cut a lot of corners and still have a fantastic result. Canned peaches work just fine. No need to poach your own! Ice cream and ready-made rasberry sauce are all you need to add. Top it all off with some whipped cream. dig in with a spoon, and you're practically in France!

Kebab Rekindled

GOT IT! So during the past 6 weeks in Paris, I've rekindled my relationship with the doner kebab. But alas, I must depart from it yet again (though only for a few weeks!).

Here in Paris, as opposed to Germany, there are ALWAYS french fries nestled within the pita. And the meat could be lamb or chicken -- one never knows. The salad is generally lettuce, tomato, and onion with none of the fanfare of the German counterpart.

At 4,50 to 5 euros, who can complain? You can even get your shaved meat and salad on a fresh baguette -- if you make it to the restaurant before they run out. But beware of the doner men. Most are sweaty, angry, and more inclined to speak broken English if they think you're not French.

If you're in Paris, the BEST doners are in the Latin Quarter, right by the St. Michel Metro stop. The tiny winding streets are at the same time quaint and bustling with tourists, but worth it for the variety of doner vendors.