I eat: Traif

Our experience at Traif could not have started out any worse. We arrived 30 mins late because I thought our reservation was at 8:30PM – it was actually at 8:00PM. The hostess offered us the bar since our table had obviously been given away and we accepted. As we were settling in and figuring out what to order, the hostess came by and said she would be able to move us to a table (outside in the patio area) if we didn’t mind waiting about 10 minutes. Even though it actually turned out to be more like 20 minutes, we were so delighted and grateful! The hostess was more than awesome :) .. too bad I can’t say the same for our waitress.

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Amuse bouche – Moroccan lentil soup

Delicious and oh so comforting on a cold, rainy night.

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Seared scallops, butternut squash, huckleberries, pistachios, sage

The scallops were perfectly cooked and I loved the sweet and nutty aspect of the sauce.

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Crispy pork belly, cauliflower, peperoncini, romesco, parsley-garlic

Hmm, honestly, I don’t really remember this one. Not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose. The dish was just not memorable either way.

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Butterfish carpaccio, grapefruit, avocado, mint, sesame, soy

The avocado enhanced the creaminess of the butterfish and the grapefruit brought a refreshing element to the dish. YUM!

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Gemelli pasta, blue crab, fresh black truffles, braised leeks

I’ve read many complaints about this dish, specifically regarding the lack of crab. While I agree that there could have been more crab (who doesn’t want more crab?), this dish was one of my favorites. The crab was not the star of the dish, but I couldn’t have cared less because I’m a sucker for truffles.

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Joe’s chopped chicken livers, balsamic-bacon toasts, rosemary & shallots

LOVED. LOVED. LOVED this! The balsamic drizzle added a bit of sweetness and paired well with the chicken liver pate.

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Salt & pepper spicy white shrimp, golden pineapple, sweet potatoes

When I read salt & pepper spicy shrimp, I didn’t expect to see this; I was thinking more along the lines of Asian salt and pepper shrimp. Although I liked the shrimp itself, the combination of pineapple and sweet potatoes didn’t work for me.

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Seared foie, fingerlings, ham chips, sunny egg, maple, hot sauce

This dish reminded me of the foie gras loco moco at Animal (one of my favorite dishes EVER). It wasn’t as good, but certainly isn’t far behind. How can a dish with foie, potatoes and egg not be good?

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Sautéed veal sweetbreads, roast mushrooms, green garlic, spinach

By this time, we were so damn full, our buttons were about to pop off. I liked the earthiness of the mushrooms and green garlic, but the dish would have been much better had the sweetbreads been accompanied with something that would have provided a contrast in texture instead of spinach. Henry isn’t a big fan of sweetbreads because of the texture so even though I was already extremely stuffed, I basically finished the dish myself. oof.

We definitely learned the hard way that 8 dishes is wayyyy too ambitious! No regrets though, we had a great meal.

Verdict: 4/5
Traif
229 S 4th St
Brooklyn, NY 11211

It’s My Birthday And I’ll Do What I Want To

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I knew exactly where I wanted to celebrate my 27th birthday.

NYC.

I purchased our plane tickets 4 months ago and had been counting down ever since. Now that it’s over, I feel empty inside and have nothing to look forward to until our snowboarding trip to Utah next March. Le sigh. #firstworldproblems

To save money, I took a chance and booked a room for Henry and I at the Verve Hotel. The hotel received great reviews on both Yelp and Trip Advisor so it made my decision a little easier to make. The Verve Hotel is located across the Queensboro Bridge in Long Island City and is within a 5 minute walk of 3 subway stations: Queens Plaza (E, M, R), Queensboro Plaza (7, N, Q) and 39th Ave (N, Q). By staying in a hotel one subway stop from Manhattan, I saved us about $600. Awesome, right? I saved us even more money since we took the AirTrain/Subway instead of a taxi from JFK. The AirTrain cost $5 and took us to the E line (Sutphin Blvd/Archer Ave). From there, we used our unlimited 7-day Metro pass and took the E line to Queens Plaza. A taxi ride would have easily cost $50+.

As with all the trips I plan, this one revolved heavily around food. I shouldn’t even say that anymore since it’s basically a given.

Our first meal in NYC was chicken and rice at halal cart (53rd and 6th). It has NEVER, EVER disappointed me. I love it so much. We even picked up two plates on our last night to bring home!

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mmMmmm… white sauce

We also had a delicious brunch at Shopsin’s, a little shop located in the Essex Street Market.

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Tip: The menu is HUGE so look it over online and have a general idea of what you want before you arrive at Shopsin’s. Oh, and taking pictures is frowned upon (yes, the cook actually shook his head at me), but I did it anyway.

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Oyster scramble (CS10) and Blisters on my Sister (Mexican)

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Mac and Cheese Pancakes w/ Bacon .. UHHHMAZING

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was ride a bike around Central Park. I guess the 4th time’s the charm since the weather finally cooperated with me!

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We rented bikes from Bike and Roll (Columbus Circle location). A full day rental costs $44 and a “day pass” costs $49. With a day pass, you are allowed to return the bike at another Bike and Roll location. This was a great option for us since I wanted to bike down to Battery Park City.

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A quick pit stop at Luke’s Lobster for lunch…

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… before riding along the Hudson River and finding this …

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I really thought the obstacle course was drawn by Bike and Roll! It was actually for a kid’s event the previous week. LOL! :D

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After a 14 mile bike ride, we treated ourselves to gelato from L’arte del Gelato. SOOO GOOD!

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Mokaccino, Mascarpone, Pistacchio

Since we’ve already visited the Met and AMNH, we decided to check out the USS Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

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Our day passes from Bike and Roll were also good for $5 off the All-Access Pass ($35) at the Intrepid, which included general admission, audio tour and 1 simulator ride (general admission itself is $24). Head sets were not provided with the audio tour. Instead, you held up the device to your ear and listened as you would with a cell phone. Some would probably find this tiring and annoying, but I didn’t really care too much. I only felt inconvenienced when I wanted to listen and take pictures at the same time.

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Did I mention that I love planes?

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TBM-3E Avenger and FJ-3 Fury

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Flight Deck

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F-9J Cougar and F-11F Tiger

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F-14 Tomcat and A-12 (precursor to SR-71 Blackbird)

A birthday trip wouldn’t be complete without a birthday dinner, right? Well, make that two.

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Marea and Eleven Madison Park

Thanks, Henry! ♥

——–
NYC Eats & Activities (+our verdict):
Verve Hotel, 4/5
Halal Cart, 53rd & 6th, 5/5
Shopsin’s, 4/5
NYC Bike & Roll, 4/5
Luke’s Lobster, 4/5
USS Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, 4/5
L’arte del Gelato, 4/5
Doughnut Plant, 4/5
Laduree, 4.5/5
Shake Shack, 4.5/5

I eat: Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca

The most anticipated restaurant of the NYC leg of Foodcation 2010 was Mario Batali’s Babbo. Since reservations are accepted one month prior to the calendar date requested, I made sure I called on July 21st at 7AM, ON THE DOT (the restaurant reservation line opens at 10AM)!

1-212-777-0303 … BUSY.

Instantly, my heart sank. For the next 20 minutes, I was in agony. If Saturday night didn’t work, I only had 2 more nights in NYC to eat at Babbo! SHIT SHIT SHIT!

I redialed and redialed, and redialed and redialed. I was so used to the dial and hang up routine that I almost didn’t notice when I finally got through. A lady with a British accent picked up and asked me to hold some more. I waited and waited, and waited and waited. Finally, the lady picked up again and I told her the date and time that I wanted. “No problem,” she said. Really? That’s it? I almost had a heart attack for nothing. Awesome.

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Babbo is located in Greenwich Village, a couple of blocks away from another beloved restaurant of mine, Harold Dieterle’s Perilla. Lodged between two brownstones, Babbo would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the large contrasting letters that adorn the front of the building and the small crowd that usually forms outside, waiting for a table. Luckily for us, we were seated promptly upon arrival.

Having already studied the menu beforehand, I had a pretty good idea of what we were going to order. I decided to forgo the tasting menus and order a la carte. But since my list was pretty long (I was interested in 2 antipasti, 6 primi pastas and 3 secondi), I asked our waiter for his advice. “Is this too much food?” seems to be a question I ask at every restaurant :). He suggested that we order one or two antipasti, cut our primi pastas down to three and the secondi down to one or two. Even though it was difficult to eliminate dishes, it was good advice. The portions at Babbo were pretty generous so had we ordered what I originally intended, they would have had to roll us out of the restaurant.

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The antipasti dishes were great. The “Grilled Octopus” was perfectly tender and the limoncello vinaigrette lightened up the intense charred flavor. Comparing Babbo’s grilled octopus to the grilled octopus at Bottega Ristorante (Napa, CA), I would have to say that Babbo has the upper hand, primarily because of the refreshing vinaigrette. As for the “Steamed Cockles”, the spicy tomato based broth that they were bathing in was sooooo delicious – definitely give me more bread so I can sop it all up, delicious.

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Next up was the highlight of the night: Babbo’s infamous “Black Spaghetti”. I can’t even describe in words how amazing this dish was; I can only drool as I think about it. Best pasta I’ve ever had, HANDS DOWN.

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The other two pasta dishes we ordered were delicious as well, my favorite being the “Gnocchi” (with braised oxtail). Though the “Lamb’s Brain ‘Francobolli'” had great flavor and the pasta was perfectly al dente, I couldn’t really tell that I was eating lamb’s brain; the filling was a lot more ricotta cheese than lamb’s brain. Francobolli means stamps in Italian and as you can see, the edges make the ravioli look like such. Cute right?

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Lamb or duck? That is always the question. This time we chose duck. Remember when I said that Bottega‘s duck confit was the best I’ve ever had? Well, it still is in my book, but Babbo’s “Duck” (with endive marmellata, Babbo pancetta and cherry vinaigrette) is a very, very close second.

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We ended our meal with a “light” dessert. We actually saw the table next to us order the “Assortment of Gelati and Sorbetti” and thought it looked pretty good. My favorite gelato turned out to be the one that I thought I would like the least: Olive Oil. (Side story: So about the table next to us… guess who? Julianna Margulies, her husband and two friends! Apparently it was one of the friends’ birthday and EVERY DESSERT on the menu was ordered as a birthday surprise!)

So, did Babbo live up to the hype? Assolutamente!

Verdict: 5/5
Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca
110 Waverly Pl
New York, NY 10011

Foodcation 2010: My Never-Ending Love Affair With NYC

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been to NYC, the city never ceases to amaze me and I find myself falling even more in love.

For our annual trip (last year was the Pacific Northwest, read here and here), I decided to create our own US foodie tour. First stop? NYC, of course.

We took an early morning flight to JFK on JetBlue. This was the first time I’ve flown JetBlue and if it weren’t for the cheap airfare (in comparison to other airlines) and no charge for the 1st bag, I probably would never fly JetBlue again. The terminal at LAX is HORRIBLE – the line to get to TSA was a total disaster. Before flying JetBlue, I had envisioned it being comparable to Virgin, given the TV screens and radio channels, but it’s not; JetBlue kind of reminds me of Southwest.

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After landing at JFK, we took a taxi into the city ($60 including tip: $45 flat fee + $5 toll + $10 tip). We booked a room at the Best Western Bowery Hanbee Hotel located at the edge of Chinatown. For those who are budget conscious, this is a great hotel, if you don’t mind the stench of the streets as you walk outside (don’t worry, you can’t smell anything inside). The hotel is conveniently located a block away from Grand St. Station (B, D) and a couple of blocks away from Bowery Station (J, M). From these two stations, you can get/transfer to anywhere in the city! The hotel offers complimentary continental breakfast (served until 10AM), but the selection is very limited: hard boiled eggs, make your own waffles, various pastries and fruit. To save money, the breakfast is sufficient, but NYC has so many good breakfast/brunch places to offer so go on, splurge a little!

[Source: Website Photo]

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So besides eating, you can’t go to NYC without doing some touristy things right? Right. Since we were in NYC during the summer, I thought it would be cool to check out Coney Island. A 50 minute train ride down to the south end of Brooklyn, Coney Island is home to Nathan’s, where they hold the annual July 4th international hot dog eating contest, and the world famous Cyclone roller coaster.

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If you’ve ever ridden on Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and thought, wow, this ride hurts… well, let me tell you, the Cyclone at Coney Island is 100 times worse. Basically we paid $8 each to experience the roller coaster OF DEATH. Not only was it extremely jerky, but at every drop, I thought I was going to fly off and die. Now, I consider myself a thrill seeker; I’ve been sky diving and this experience was way more terrifying than jumping out of a plane. TRUST.

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Being that it was a Saturday, there were many people walking on the boardwalk or laying out on the beach. As we strolled along the boardwalk, we came across a large gathering of people and dance music blasting. Apparently, a dance circle formed in the middle of the boardwalk. There were only a few people with enough balls, or alcohol in their system, to get their groove on in the middle. The half-naked man in the blue pants and the boy in the red definitely stole the show.

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Coney Island was an interesting experience. Yes, it’s “dirty” and a little “run down”, but so is the pier in Santa Monica. If you’ve never been to Coney Island, it’s definitely worth a trip. But remember, Cyclone = ROLLER COASTER OF DEATH.

We took the train back and stopped at York station just so we could walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

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After so many failed attempts, I can finally say that I did it! But honestly, it wasn’t that impressive. Having biked across the Golden Gate Bridge, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge just pales in comparison.

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Walking from end to end took approximately 40 minutes, and that’s with stops to take a few pictures. If you want to walk across the bridge, I suggest starting from Brooklyn since you will be facing the skyline instead of having it behind you.

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During our time in NYC, we also visited the Met. Although the “suggested” admission price is $20/adult, you can actually pay whatever you want since it’s more like a donation, but please don’t be cheap; the Met is worth every penny. And by the way, the museum is HUGE. If you’re interested in visiting the Met, you should really plan your way around beforehand – look at the museum floor plan and map out which exhibits you want to see. As for me, I headed straight for the Egyptian exhibit…

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I passed through the American Wing and Medieval Arts…

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… to make my way to the Greek and Roman art exhibit.

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All this took about 4 hours and I didn’t even get to hit the SECOND FLOOR! :(

What about shopping? Well, instead of shopping for clothes, I went shopping for a knife! I’ve been itching to buy another knife since it makes so much more sense for Henry and I to each have a “good” knife to use while we’re cooking. Not having to wait for each other and rewash makes all the difference!

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Korin is a distributor of exquisite Japanese chef knives, beautiful tableware and restaurant supplies. Their showroom/store in located in downtown NYC. Many chefs refer to Korin as a candy store and that’s exactly how I felt when I ventured inside.

With the help of the resident Knife Master, we purchased a Misono 440 7” Santoku. It is just as sharp as our Wusthof, but a bit lighter, which I’m starting to really appreciate.

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And that was that. Sadly, 4 days just flew by so quickly. Next stop: Philly.

I’ll end with 2 things that I must have in NYC…

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Shake Shack

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Halal Cart (53rd and 6th)

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NYC Eats (+our verdict):
Ippudo, 4/5
Russ & Daughter’s, 5/5
Katz’s, 4.5/5
Nathan’s, 3/5
The Stanton Social, 3.5/5
Shake Shack, 5/5
Halal Cart 53rd and 6th, 5/5
——–