Crunchy Granola Gal –> Insightful Appetite

As much as I loved being the crunchy granola gal, we all grow up and things inevitably change. And so, in hopes to blog under a more apt title, I’m moving on over to my shiny and new blog, Insightful Appetite (insightfulappetite.com). Please update your links and readers!

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Marc Forgione 1621 Harvest Menu

New York can be an incredibly lonely city. Walking amongst throngs of people, one can easily become overwhelmed with a sense of anonymity that sometimes overwhelms even the most independent of souls. Though I grew up here and my immediate family is just a subway ride away, I feel a tinge of sadness when I walk down a quiet street alone on a bitter cold night. Maybe I just have SAD, or I hate the cold weather, but I find these fleeting sentiments inescapable.

Take last Friday night, for example. I exited the subway station around 10PM and found myself on a practically deserted and snowy TriBeCa street. I had dinner plans with BT at Marc Forgione, and immediately questioned why a celebrity chef would have a restaurant in such a quiet neighborhood (digression: turns out, TriBeCa has more restaurants than I thought). My inquiring mind was quieted as soon as I stepped foot inside the restaurant, which was packed. Bad weather doesn’t stop New Yorkers from a fun Friday night out in any neighborhood on any night of the week.

The interior of the restaurant was like the New York that small-town folk with that city itch must dream of before they actually get here. There was a buzz of exuberant, youthful energy – and this isn’t to say that the crowd was young – but it felt young. The dress was casual yet classy, a fine balance created by a rustic interior yet high-class clientele.

Once seated, we barely glanced at the menu because we knew we wanted the 1621 Harvest tasting menu, the five-course Iron Chef-title-winning meal that Forgione prepared as a recreation of the first Thanksgiving feast that surprisingly didn’t involve turkey of any kind. All in all, there were gin and bourbon-based cocktails, an amuse bouche, a sweet potato soup topped with clams, mussels and cod, duck sausage atop cornbread and shaped like sushi, lobster tail, sunchockes, and some smokey cedar chips brought tableside for a quick minute by Mr. Forgione himself. After all of those courses and this neat little production (which I like to call Marc’s fireside chat), the venison arrived.

Stuffed venison loin, butternut squash, juniper jus, black trumpet mushrooms, sage

And later, the richest and most delightful fruit cobbler I’ve ever eaten. Truly. I am speechless:

Dried fruit cobbler, hickory nut crumble

There’s so much living going on in New York at every second of every day, and I sometimes forget this. Though it sounds silly, dining experiences such as these make me feel more alive than ever – like I’m a part of something (in this case, the upper-crust New York lifestyle, or Marc Forgione-food-celebrity-land) so much bigger than me and my teensy existence. And I’m okay with being small, because that’s what being a New Yorker is about: wanting to make some sort of splash so that we don’t go entirely unnoticed in our time here, but survive just under the radar with a few moments in the spotlight. Once noticed, even if just for our fifteen minutes of fame, the lonely New York becomes a warm and welcoming city to call our own.

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The Cubanito

Last night, I took a quick viaje to Cuba.

cubanito

Chocolate hazelnut mousse, peanut butter crust, Cuban coffee ice cream

Okay, not quite. I had dinner with three of my old co-workers at Calle Ocho, a Cuban restaurant with a large and airy dining room that makes you feel as if you’ve teleported from the slushy New York streets into a Caribbean resort. After two fish courses (snapper ceviche and pumpkin-seed crusted mahi-mahi) and two glasses of Tempranillo, my taste buds delighted in this lusciously sweet and decadent dessert. I dug around for the peanut butter pieces first, toppling this wondrous tower and finally scraping clean the chocolate dusting.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this Thursday night outing. Two of my three coworkers live close to the restaurant, located on the Upper West Side, a neighborhood where I will be spending more time after helping the boyfriend move this weekend. The rest of my weekend will be spent helping BT pack away his (and my) belongings, removing walls that separate bedrooms (goodbye, Saturday night privacy) and dining out because we’ll just have to pack away the kitchen. Wish me luck.

For my New York friends out there: any Upper West Side favorites – food, drink and otherwise? This lower Manhattan/ Brooklyn gal needs some insider tips!

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Privileged Pain

I’ve been taking a lot of yoga classes lately. In these past few months, I’ve learned to invert myself in ways I never thought possible. I’ve stretched my hamstrings deeper than ever. Heck, I even bought one of those yogi-toes mats that I thought only dedicated yogis purchased.

I’ve become accustomed to different styles of yoga, different levels of spirituality that instructors infuse into their practice, and varying class intensities. I’ve lost pounds of water weight after hot yoga classes, refueling promptly afterward with wine, a hearty meal and a frozen cupcake or two. I’ve also tried to throw a little running into the mix, which resulted in 3.3 miles on a treadmill at a nearby gym I faked interest in joining, followed by the return of a few old aches and pains (welcome to my snow day Thursday).

Upon reflection, I’m becoming one of those yoga people I never thought I’d mirror in any way. Here I am, buying deals for studios all around New York to get my yoga-fill as often as I can. I make time for this newfound outlet in my life, but only when it’s fun and doesn’t get in the way of my silly food and drink adventures. But I’ve got a complaint (shocker, I know). A major one that’s been nagging at me for weeks, that’s only stirred by listening to incessant teacher appraisal.

So often I’m told during a yoga class that I should congratulate myself for being here, for being present and showing up to a yoga class on any particular day. For surviving the heated room, for sweating out Saturday night’s alcoholic binge at 10AM the morning after, for pushing myself to the max.

But wait a second… I’m here because I chose to be here. Because I’m a privileged, upper-middle-class white chick who can actually afford (with the help of groupon and livingsocial deals, of course) to take a class after my standard, nine-to-five job that allows for a wondrous social life outside of work. Or in my case, mommy and daddy’s bank account and a part-time social work internship that leaves me feeling overly privileged when I’m told to pat myself on the back for surviving an $18 yoga class.

Not to say that hot yoga, a tough track workout, or any type of exercise is easy. As my running blogger-friend Sarah describes, “running is about suffering a little bit.” But us fitness-focused-folk seek out the pain because we want end results, be it to become a faster runner, hold really cool balancing postures such as this, or attain an overall sense of good health. And the fact that this luxury is afforded to us – the ability to choose what in our frame of reference are a few moments of excruciating pain – makes us extremely lucky.

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Dining and Drinking in Philly, Day Two: Reading Terminal Market

Welcome to Day Two of the Dining and Drinking in Philly series! If you missed my recap of Day One, check it out here.

I awoke after the previous night’s over-imbibement with a killer hangover that only hurt more with a looming 12PM hotel checkout time. Showering and getting ready for our final morning in Philadelphia, BT and I managed to check out only twenty minutes late. We had a 4PM bus to catch, so we wanted to keep our explorations pretty low-key for the day. A friend of mine from the Philly area recommended we go to Reading Terminal Market, a large indoor marketplace (that was once a train station) with several food vendors. We were able to walk to the market from our hotel, forcing us to finally brave the winds. It was rather painful, but there were many sweet rewards upon our arrival to the market.

BT’s first stop: one of the many Amish bakeries. He wanted a cider donut, but they had run out, so he settled for jelly.

amishjellydonut

Full of sweetness from the night before, I wasn’t ready for a pastry just yet. But everything looked delicious. I was more intrigued by the fact that actual Amish people were here selling their home-baked goods. Yes, I’m a social worker and understand cultural competence. But real Amish people? C’mon, that doesn’t happen every day! Though I’m kind of tactless with the camera, I refrained from taking a picture of one of them. Sometimes I do in fact practice self-control. Only sometimes.

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Moving onto our next stop, BT bought his breakfast of champions: diet coke, manchego cheese, and jamón serrano from one of the many meat and cheese shops. I told him he was being very European. Yes indeed.

meatandcheese

Overwhelmed by choices as to what I should eat, I started off my market brunch search with a bold cup of Old City Coffee. I ended up with a “Euro salad” from Mezze, which translates into bunch-of-greasy-ingredients-atop-two-romaine-leaves-salad. The salad was rather boring, but I wanted to keep things simple since I really just wanted one thing: ice cream.

mezzegreasysalad

But first, we stopped by the famous Termini Brothers for a cannoli. The line for one of these things took forever only because they freshly squeeze the creamy stuff into each fried cannoli shell as you order. That may sound gross, but it’s actually a beautiful thing. This was all for BT (he is Italian, after all). My picky dessert palate was frolicking in frozen treat-land, despite the fact that it was ten degrees outside.

cannoliprocess

cannoli

Finally, my time had come. Before us was Bassetts Ice Cream, touted as American’s oldest ice cream company.

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I figured if I ordered the ice cream in a sugar cone I would get a smaller portion, which is probably for the best, right? Not exactly. Here, they give you two humongous scoops that end up in a cup eventually, as this was the little cone that couldn’t. I opted for cherry vanilla, which had real chunks of cherry. Paradise was found once again.

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Reading Terminal Market was a great way to end our short vacation, as it’s full of eats and treats only found in Philly. I was also happy to leave behind the insane crowds, which were anxiety-inducing, might I mention.

Upon my return to New York, I decided I would try to eat maybe a little less indulgently for the next couple of days. This plan was spoiled quickly, as my coworker, whose party I was attending that night, turns out to be a domestic and baking goddess. This is what I was faced with:

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Philadelphia Food Binge 138

Philadelphia Food Binge 139

Sometimes, my friends, just saying no is foolish.

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Dining and Drinking in Philly, Day One: Brunch at Sabrina’s, Dinner at Zahav and Late-Night Cocktails at the Franklin & Mortgage Investment Co.

My two days in the city of Philadelphia passed very quickly, as BT and I bounced from hotel, to feeding destination, to museum, to drinking destination, and right back to feeding hour once again. Each activity, for the most part, was bridged by a cab ride. How else does one explore a city on foot in  single-digit temperatures? (Did I mention the blustery winds?) A couple years back I wandered the streets of Berlin in January, and because that was painful enough I feel as if I’ve done my time (hard life I lead, I know) and I have zero guilt in eating and not running, but slipping into a heated taxi and exploring the city as best I can, depending upon the next destination and the driver’s chosen route. Call me a wimp. I don’t care.

Anyway, first stop on the Philly recap tour was brunch. We had arrived late Thursday night, enjoyed dinner and drinks with one of BT’s friends, and woke up on the late side on Friday, finally arriving at Sabrina’s Café around 1PM. I usually cross-reference my chosen dining spots in new cities with multiple “best of” lists on different websites. Sabrina’s seemed like a trusted local spot, and I think I nailed this one. Kudos to me. Below is a picture of the scene, after the lunch rush left. When we arrived, every table was full, as were all the seats at the kitschy diner-style bar.

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My dining partner was slightly less amused by my picture-taking habit. The boy bought me the camera as a birthday gift, so he has no right to complain.

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Our cheerful waitress brought us coffees and approved our menu choices off of the specials list. BT ordered some sort of a chicken-chorizo-tex-Mexy wrap kind of deal sans wrap and swapped the home fries for a salad. Yeah, he’s been spending too much time around me. I’m a good/ bad influence.

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I got an absurd omelet special that had roasted pear, caramelized red onion, goat cheese and some other star-quality ingredients with a side of multi-grain toast and salad. This was a monstrous plate of deliciousness that I, the hungriest little girl around, managed to finish. Needless to say, no afternoon snack was necessary, and it’s good we were travelling by cab because I may have wobbled out of the restaurant in a food coma. It happens to the best of us.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, taking in culture and whatnot. Yeah, we’re college grads who like to exercise our brains (not just our stomachs) every once in awhile.

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I’m always impressed by these reconstructed rooms at museums. And pretty colors, like the rendition above of the Four Seasons. I’m like, so cultured, I know. After returning to our hotel, we relaxed for a bit (cough) before our late dinner reservations at Zahav.

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Zahav is, according to their website, a modern Israeli restaurant that brings the authentic flavors of Israel’s culinary heritage to Philadelphia. The head chef, Michael Solomonov, was born in Israel, grew up in Pittsburgh, and moved back home in his late teens, taking a job at a restaurant where he learned to cook. Like many American Jews, I went to Israel on a birthright trip, but don’t remember the food being this tasty. I guess modern here translates to Israeli food slightly modified to appease the new-American-influenced-American taste buds? I honestly feel as if every restaurant I go to these days is more “new-American” than anything else, but Zahav certainly sets itself apart from the rest with authentic spices, legit ovens for baking laffa, and some of the tastiest hummus I’ve had since my trip to Mimi’s in Brooklyn.

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Because we were super early for our 10:15PM reservation (restaurant week made getting an earlier reservation three days before impossible), we sat at the bar for awhile. I ordered the British Mandate, an inventive mixture of black tea-infused gin, lemon,  and orange bitters. The tea taste really shined and this was unlike any drink I’d had before. A good start to a solid meal.

hummus3

Restaurant week involves five courses, so when we were seated (30 minutes early!) we had to order a bottle of red to pair with all the food we were about to enjoy. Obviously this was necessary, right? We went with a light-ish Pinot Noir, Undone. Not my favorite, as something bolder may have matched the spicy flavors better, but give me wine and I’m a happy girl. I got over it, especially after the first course, the hummus-tehina with house-baked laffa arrived. The hummus had a creamier texture than most “authentic” hummuses (hummai?) I’ve ordered at restaurants, and it paired perfectly with their house-made chewy bread.

salatim2

After the salatim (Israeli salads) arrived, I delighted in the array of laffa-hummus-salatim sandwiches I could make. There was twice-cooked eggplant, tahini-beets, spicy cucumbers, carrots, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t remember at the moment. The waiter explained the details to us. I should’ve taken notes, but that may have been a bit off-putting. Just a little.

friedcauliflowerhaloumi

For the second course, we chose two (per person) of eight or so choices. First pictured is the fried cauliflower: labaneh with chive, dill, mint and garlic. The waiter encouraged us to order this over the salmon, and these cauliflower bites did not disappoint. Next pictured dish is the crispy haloumi: sheep’s milk cheese, apple, pomegranate, and Serrano. I’m not much of a fried-food kind of gal, but these were phenomenal. Cheese? Fried? Dear. God.

crispysweetbreadsbrusselssproutsalhaesh

Next up was BT’s choosing, the crispy sweetbreads: chickpeas, green Chile and lemon. I took a bite of chickpea, but I don’t do cow thymus glands. Again, not my style, but it looked rather appetizing, I’ve gotta say. Finally, we finished course two with Brussels sprouts al Ha’esh: whipped feta, Ramadan bread, or Brussels soaked in a ton of olive oil with cheese on top. Why must restaurants douse vegetables in absurd amounts of oil? I mean yeah, it’s delicious, but I do love the vegetable sans olive oil. Oh well. Vegetable-beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

beefcheek

For our entrees, BT ordered the braised beef cheeks with chestnuts, celery and pumpkin rice. I ordered the crispy branzino with local potatoes, peppers and poppy seed. Thank goodness this entire menu is composed of small plates, because I was running out of stomach space by the time what was supposed to be the main course arrived. The fish was delicious, yes, but I was kind of fooded-out at this point.

branzino

But there’s always room for dessert, right? Smile We chose the hazelnut and date rugelach with quince and hot sachlab and the almond semifreddo with chocolate crisp. And coffee, just because.

dessert

Overall, BT and I were blown away by this meal. Sure, I question roots of “authenticity” of many ethnic spots I eat at, but who am I to judge? I just spend a ton of money at nice restaurants, and if the food and service is great, I’m more than likely to return. The food was spiced wonderfully, exuding bold but not abrasive flavors. The salatim and hummus starters were my favorites of the five courses, along with the amazing rugelach at the end. The interior of the restaurant was rustic, homey and classy all at the same time. This was by far one of the best dining out experiences I’ve had in awhile (and I wasn’t even in New York!), and on our way out we felt the need to let Michael know. When he found out we’re New Yorkers, he told us to check out Traif in Williamsburg, where his friend Jason is the head chef. One glance at Traif’s entirely non-Kosher-friendly menu and I’m totally down, so lookout Traif, I’m on my way, as per Mr. Solomonov’s suggestion.

Bellies full and just a tad drunk, we hopped a cab over to the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.  to discuss our mortgage and lending options. Or rather, as this speakeasy so eloquently hides in its basement entrance, to drink. Our Philly friend had taken us here the night before, where we were impressed by its elaborate menu on par with Little Branch, Death & Co., Cienfuegos, and a couple other New York City speakeasies we’ve frequented. And so we returned, already significantly buzzed but ready to get our drink on. BT had read all about this Philly speakeasy in Boozehound, an informative and fun foray into the world of fine spirits that I bought for him, on a whim, as a Christmas gift. It’s nice to be an informed consumer… er, boozer.

cocktail2cocktail1

We were lucky enough to get Richard as our waiter, who had greeted us on our way out the night before. Richard is the kind of cocktail waiter everyone wants: he knows the menu and you totally wish he weren’t waiting on you so instead you could drink with him. He made some quality recommendations for us on our second night, starting me off with a drink so aptly called the queen bitch, which was a near-lethal combination of guyanese rum, cocchi americano, genever, blanc vermouth, and absinthe, served up. Pictured above on the left, this small but mighty bitch of a drink had a strong flavor, as Richard promised, despite my dulled and drunken taste-bud-state. Later, I ordered a drink off of the menu that Richard thought I might need called the restraining order. This drink (pictured above right) was a fine mixture of reposado tequila, aperol celery bitters and orange peel. I’m super excited to channel Colin Shearn, the vodka-averted bartender and owner of FM&I Co., and recreate this one at home. It was simply that good.

BT and I happily exited the bar at Philly’s 2AM-ish closing hour, drunk enough to go home without complaints. I’ll still argue that New Yorkers have way more drinking stamina than inhabitants of any other city, as our 4AM curfew wins over everywhere else. Regardless, with drinks such as those I consumed over a five hour period, 2AM is a good time to go home. Besides, we had another day ahead of us in Philly. Stay tuned for a briefer recap of day two. If you’ve made it this far, kudos to you, blog readers. I’d mix you a fancy cocktail if I could.

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Give-and-take

Happy Saturday! I rarely dedicate time on weekends to blog, but I wanted to drop in for a quick hello. I’m writing this from a hotel room in Philadelphia with a soundly-sleeping boyfriend beside me. BT and I decided to make a quick two-day trip to the city of brotherly love since we’ve clearly caught the vacation bug since our ski getaway in Colorado and now e-mail each other while at work about future vacation plans. Since when did I become such an explorer? My incredible ability to never leave New York for months at a time (and not lose my mind) is waning, and I find myself dreaming up different lifestyles in various cities. Regardless, I’ll be on my way back to New York later this afternoon and will be able to spend Saturday night in the city that truly has my heart. Not to say that Philly hasn’t treated me well (recap of eats, drinks, fun and more drinks to come), but Saturday night in my city can’t be beat.

Before I begin my last day in Philly, let me share a meal I cooked (contrary to popular belief, I still cook often, despite the fact that this blog has become a recounting of my over-the-top dining out habit) the night before we left. I arrived home from work on Wednesday evening after skipping out on two workout opportunities, cardio kickboxing (don’t ask) and hot yoga. Neither seemed appealing, and I wanted some quality time in the kitchen in order to prepare something satisfying and delicious for myself and BT. I also was eager to spend some quality time, as always, with one of my best friends, my closest confidant and partner in (foodie and otherwise) crime. Because I overanalyze every situation, I felt guilty for passing up a workout opportunity to make dinner for my boyfriend. What kind of pseudo-feminist am I? Have I given up on taking care of me just to cook a meal for the man in my life? These thoughts were running through my head as I stirred a pot of spicy black beans, pounded some chicken breasts and covered them in a homemade spice mix, and mashed avocado to make my mean and spicy guacamole. Once the meal was prepared, I ran off to my local nail salon to get a quick manicure in anticipation of our mini-vacation. Upon my return to BT’s apartment, the man of the hour (for whom I spend many a night awaiting to eat late dinners with) greeted me with a boquet of red roses and a sneaky smile on his face.

It was a simple gesture, red roses on a Wednesday evening just because. And my skipping of a workout, giving up the kind of me time I consider important, was my gift to BT. Relationships, I was reminded, are reciprocal. A give-and-take kind of game, if you will. I give food and take flowers, and in my mind this is a pretty sweet deal.

Alright, that’s enough of my dabbles in deep thought. I’m off to explore Philly before my return to New York. But I must get to the original point of this seemingly random weekend post: I was given the opportunity to write a guest post by my amazingly talented and awesome friend Leslie over at the whole plate! It’s my attempt at being brief in describing my search for passion and purpose in a career as a twenty-something. Happy weekend reading, friends!

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