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New York’s Best Restaurants
Apr 6th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

My five-star reviews:

High Tea at Kiran’s Restaurant – Houston, TX
Dec 19th, 2014 by donuts4dinner

My NYC ladyfriends and I have been really into the idea of high tea at fancy hotels lately, so when my boyfriend and I found ourselves in Houston through the weekend earlier this month, I wondered if I could find some Texas-style high tea full of brassy ladies with hair as tall as the heavens. I never expected to see Indian high tea in my search results, but Kiran’s is as beloved around there as BBQ and Mexican food.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

High tea is served on Saturday afternoons beginning at 2, and reservations are required for the four-course, $35 menu. For an extra $3, you can add on a glass of Champagne, lemonade, or spiced cider to start. We tried the lime-lemonade with tiny chopped fresh herbs floating throughout and the cider with hints of Indian spice. The cider was obviously more seasonal, but the lemonade really said brunch to me.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
herbed lime-lemonade

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
spiced cider

Then our first tea arrived, a boiled masala chai with cream and sugar, just the way Chef Kiran Verma likes to drink it. It turned out to be just the way I like to drink it, too. I tried to savor it, but our waiter generously refilled it for me when I failed.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
masala chai tea

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
mushroom and feta samosa with fig chutney

I loved this take on the traditional samosa, with the bright flavors of the fresh vegetables and the rich flavors of the fig chutney and balsamic vinegar. It was incredible to me how well the slice of red pepper complimented the mushroom and feta filling, and I wondered how the idea of the pairing ever came about.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
tea sandwiches

Instead of the usual tiered serving tower to share, we were each given a plate of Indian-inspired finger sandwiches and accoutrements:

Waldorf chicken salad
tandoor-smoked salmon with dill
paneer pakora with tomato and basil
vindaloo deviled egg
peanut butter with hazelnut ganache with passion fruit jelly

And then there was what I’d describe as an Indian hummus in the little bowl, with some of the fluffiest, chewiest naan. I loved all of the different flavors on the plate, from the traditional chicken salad perked up with some pomegranate seeds to the deviled egg made extra devilish with curry. My favorite thing was the strips of fritter with the bright, spicy tomato sauce. And the hint at the sweetness to come with the take on PB&J was a nice way to finish the course.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
petit fours

Our scones didn’t make it to the table somehow, so next was an assortment of little desserts in very seasonal flavors:

pumpkin cheesecake
pecan pie
lemon tart
mousse cake

It was a nice combination of sweet and tart, creamy and crunchy, chewy and melty. Everything was fresh and delicious, but I missed the Indian flavors on the plate and would’ve loved to see how the restaurant could put their twist on these classics.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
apricot and cranberry scone

The scones, when they made it to us, were a delicious mix of apricot and cranberry, flaky and chewy and sweet and sour in all of the right ways, with that thick layer of crunchy sugar on top. Clotted cream and beautiful chunky preserves were served on the side. I love how the scone is such an unassuming thing, so dry and crumbly-looking, and yet I think about eating one at least once a day when I’m not.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

Kiran’s is a dark wood and thick table linens type of place, and the tea-time harpist playing Christmas carols really added to the atmosphere of ladies who lunch. My boyfriend felt a little conspicuous when we arrived right at 2 p.m. and he was the only gentleman in sight, but there were at least four by the time we left. The service was friendly yet very professional, and the staff was more than happy to let us sit for three hours with our tea and our scones and our tiny sandwiches. And really, that’s what I love most about high tea: taking hours to eat what could take five minutes. It somehow feels fancy to be leisurely, and tea at Kiran’s made me feel all kinds of fancy.

Kiran’s
4100 Westheimer Road
Houston, Texas 77027 (map)

Chavez Mexican Cafe – Houston, TX
Dec 8th, 2014 by donuts4dinner

I’m in Houston, Texas, with my boyfriend at the moment and am astounded by how much Mexican food these people have access to. I know we’re lucky in NYC to have a little bit of everything, but I’m suddenly feeling very deprived with only one taco joint on my block back in Brooklyn. Here, there are family-owned Mexican places next to huge Mexican chain restaurants next to slightly different versions of the huge Mexican chain restaurants. Driving across the Katy Freeway, my mouth waters right and left at all of the neon signs. So I was here for less than 24 hours when I started searching Yelp for the best Mexican food in Houston and found Chavez Mexican Cafe.

Chavez Mexican Cafe - Houston

We started off with a big bowl of corn chips with two homemade salsas, one spicy and one sweet, and then ordered everything on the menu. j/k, the menu is gigantic, but we ordered enough food that our server told us there were plenty of take-home boxes in the back. And here I thought my appetite would be appropriate in Texas, where everything’s supposedly bigger.

Chavez Mexican Cafe - Houston
queso flameado

This melted cheese with chorizo, mushrooms, onions, and poblano peppers was set on fire before our eyes and served with flour and corn tortillas. The cheese was super chewy and dripping with all of the oils and juices from the meat and vegetables. Wrapped up like a little gift in a tortilla, it was the kind of savory guilty pleasure bite that made me unable to stop eating more of it.

Chavez Mexican Cafe - Houston
shrimp tacos

With sauteed shrimp, all of the creamy and crunchy toppings you can think of, and those floppy corn tortillas. The lemon cream sauce made these nice and bright, and our server brought us an extra bean soup because we were sharing them. The service here was very friendly and attentive in general, but I really noticed this one little extra.

Chavez Mexican Cafe - Houston
bean soup

Chavez Mexican Cafe - Houston
deep-fried avocado stuffed with beef, chicken enchilada

Apparently whole deep-fried stuffed avocados exist elsewhere, but I’d never heard of them until I saw the menu for Chavez Mexican Cafe. I got mine stuffed with beef and cheese because one of the reviews I read said that it doesn’t even make sense how tender the beef is here. I expected the big chunks of meat inside to be chewy despite that review just based on their size, but they really were fork-tender and a nice contrast to the creamy avocado and its crispy coating. A chicken enchilada, rice, and refried beans rounded out the plate, and all of them were flavorful in ways that made them compete with the avocado to be the stand-out element of the dish. The rice and beans were so good I’d make a meal of them alone.

Chavez Mexican Cafe - Houston
inside the deep-fried avocado

Chavez Mexican Cafe - Houston
pollo con crema

I persuaded Jack to order this grilled chicken breast covered with sauteed shrimp, Mexican crema, and chipotle just so I could try it. We usually eat low-carb, and I was excited that such a great unbreaded entree option existed, but I also really needed to try that deep-fried avocado. The chicken was pounded thin to make it sort of like a meaty flatbread, and the sauce that I expected to be overly rich was actually acidic and light.

Chavez Mexican Cafe - Houston
margarita

Margaritas are $2.49 during happy hour, which happens to last all day Monday to Wednesday. And they’re only $4.99 regularly, so, you know, get them every day.

Chavez Mexican Cafe - Houston

Chavez Mexican Cafe is a really, really unassuming place, as you can see from the decor. We loved the booths along the side walls that felt very private, but apparently the place gets crazy on weekend nights, and for good reason. Every bit of food we had here was fresh, clearly made with love, and bursting with unexpected flavor. Chef Chavez came out of the kitchen to tell us about leaving his well-paying former job behind to work hard doing what he’s passionate about, which is making Mexican food that just tastes great. He says he feels a little bad that the other Mexican restaurants around him sometimes sit empty when there’s a line out the door at his . . . but not that bad.

Chavez Mexican Cafe
2557 Gessner Road
Houston, TX 77080 (map)

Can’t Quit You, Bareburger
Dec 2nd, 2014 by donuts4dinner

I’ve been a pretty bad food blogger lately, in part because I’ve been a pretty bad restaurant-goer lately, in part because I’ve been a pretty great home-cooker lately. (If you’re looking for recipes involving all manner of melting cheese on things you find around the house, I’m your gal.) But my friends and I were all still off our diets on Saturday night last weekend after Thanksgiving, so we headed off to find some sloppy Brooklyn Heights Mexican food. But on the way, my boyfriend decided he wanted Bareburger, because there’s really nothing sloppier.

I only had my camera phone with me, so the pictures are crappy, but I think they give you a good idea of what Bareburger is all about, which is DEEP-FRIED STUFF on top of JUICY THINGS, with a side of BACKFAT and BELLYROLL. I got the brisket burger, which is stacked with smoky brisket, pepperjack cheese, raw red onions, smoked paprika mayonnaise, and panko-crusted butter pickle chips. They recommended bison for the burger patty (there’s also elk, ostrich, wild boar, lamb, turkey, etc.), but I said NO and took mine with beef. Of course. And I mean, it’s just sort of unfair; there are crispy fried pickles on top of the thing and in between the buns. I’m not going to not love this.

Bareburger NYC
brisket burger

Of course we split a side of onion rings and fries (the Bare Snacks size, not the Bare Sides size, because the much-larger Snacks size also comes with four dipping sauces), and then I had the Banana Fritter Sundae, which was their organic vanilla ice cream topped with caramel sauce, studded with deep-fried fritters, and served with toasted walnuts, which I asked for on the side, because nuts ruin ice cream and everyone knows it. The ice cream was pretty standard, but the fritters were super crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside and full of that special much-better-flavor that bananas have when they’re cooked.

Bareburger NYC
banana fritter sundae

And that, of course, led to GIANT BEERS, which my friend Kim is so tastefully modeling below. This is the medium size. She couldn’t actually lift the glass with one hand until the beer was half gone. But the best drink, if you ask me, is their Moscow Mule, which they pump full of tangy, spicy, legitimate ginger and then plop a piece of candied ginger in.

Bareburger NYC
Kim, ready for 600 fluid ounces of whatever this is

Sometimes I try to quit Bareburger for the sake of my wallet, because that brisket burger is $14 on its own, and I’m not a woman who’s going to forego the fries. It’s not even my favorite burger in NYC, and Shake Shack is even closer to my apartment. But sometimes I just really want the tallest, fattest, finger-lickingest burger I can get my hands on, and Bareburger has it.

Bareburger
149 Court Street
New York, 11201 (map)
and a bunch of other locations

Egg Fast Low-Carb Ice Cream Recipe
Oct 2nd, 2014 by donuts4dinner

A couple of months ago, I read about the egg fast on the low-carb blog I Breathe I’m Hungry and decided to try it for myself. I had the same amazing results she did during the five days I did the fast, and since then, I’ve been using an egg-heavy diet as a great way to get the weight back off after a weekend of eating towers of tea sandwiches and scones with my ladyfriends or reviewing pizza for my column. I love the taste of eggs and think they’re basically the perfect health food, so finding the I Breathe I’m Hungry low-carb egg fast ice cream was so exciting for me.

Egg Fast Low-Carb Ice Cream

The texture is amazing, so ice-cream-like that you’ll never believe how few ingredients are in it . . . and that none of them are milk and cream! Heavy whipping cream seems to stall my weightloss if I use more than a couple of tablespoons a day in my coffee, so a whole bowl of regular low-carb ice cream is out of the question for me if I want to lose weight. But this egg fast ice cream doesn’t affect me at all, and it’s suuuuuuuch a pleasure to eat. The problem is that I don’t care for the taste of Splenda in her recipe from all of the sugar-free syrup. Artificial sweeteners really stand out to me sometimes, so I was left with a lot of Splenda aftertaste with the original egg fast ice cream.

So here’s my take the very excellent I Breathe I’m Hungry Egg Fast Frozen Custard:

INGREDIENTS

8 oz cream cheese (right out of the fridge is fine)
1 cup water
10 egg yolks (use the leftover whites for a berry meringue)
1.5 Tbsp Torani sugar-free syrup (caramel is my favorite, but take your pick)
1/2 cup xylitol (Xlear Xylosweet is the one I use; it tastes just like sugar to me)
pinch of salt
optional: 1 tsp vanilla
optional: 6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

INSTRUCTIONS

In a medium microwave-safe bowl, plop the cream cheese into the water and microwave on high for a minute and a half. Whisk them together until you get a smooth, frothy mixture. (I like to use a hand mixer to make it easier.) Add the sugar-free syrup and egg yolks and whisk again until smooth. If you want to give it a richer flavor, whisk in the vanilla. If you want to make the chocolate version, whisk in the unsweetened cocoa powder.

Microwave the mixture on high for 30 seconds, and then whisk it again. Repeat this 5 times. (I think the idea is that if you do all of the microwaving at once, you’ll end up with cooked eggs in your ice cream, which I can tell you from experience is gross.)

Chill the mixture in the refrigerator or freezer until it’s cold, and then process it your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (I have the Cuisinart ICE-21 and absolutely love it.) When it looks like you just have a few minutes left (just keep testing it with a spoon until you start getting a consistency you like), it’s a good idea to add in 3 Tbsp of any liquor you like. Something like whiskey is going to give it a little flavor, while something like vodka will leave the flavor alone; the point is just to keep the ice cream from crystallizing when you freeze it.

It’s going to be a little melty still when you pull it out of the ice cream maker (hence my pictures), but it’ll be perfect after a couple of hours in the freezer. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

Egg Fast Low-Carb Ice Cream
spinning in the ice cream maker and looking like a butt

Egg Fast Low-Carb Ice Cream
the super rich chocolate version

Egg Fast Low-Carb Ice Cream
the buttery caramel version

Egg Fast Low-Carb Ice Cream

Egg Fast Low-Carb Ice Cream
with raspberry whipped cream and unsweetened baking chocolate chunks

Egg Fast Low-Carb Ice Cream
the final product in my Tovolo Ice Cream Tub

The New Brunch Menu at Ted’s Montana Grill
Sep 29th, 2014 by donuts4dinner

If you’re like me, you probably think of Ted’s Montana Grill as a place for business deals, happy hours, and big, juicy bison steaks. The Midtown location in NYC is great for all of those things, with its hardwoods and low lighting and intimate booths, but when Creative Communications Consultants invited me in to try a complementary meal at Ted’s Montana Grill, they encouraged me to give the newly-revamped brunch menu a chance.

Because Ted’s is in a more business-oriented part of town, I would’ve never thought of it for brunch, and the massive space was pretty quiet when we arrived at 1 p.m. An hour later, though, things were filling up, so I guess it just takes people a little time to make their way uptown. The staff told my boyfriend and me that when designing the new brunch menu, they wanted to please the people who were there for breakfast foods and the people who wanted to eat the Ted’s signature items no matter the time of day, so we ordered a mix of the two.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

There’s a dim lamp in each of the high-walled booths and a map of the American West covering each table. It’s very handsome and atmospheric.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

We had just come back from a trip to the Philippines, so my boyfriend adorably tried to order a glass of pineapple juice. Ted’s doesn’t have that, but they do have fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices with thick paper straws.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Some nice half-sour pickles arrived for us to savor while we admired the gigantic bison head on the wall behind us. These were perfectly salty and still retained so much of their cucumber flavor. I wanted to put them on a burger immediately.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC
bison short rib hash

They’re not lying when they say everything is made in-house here; we could tell that the sweet corn had been cut right off the cob for this dish. It was filled with tender, fall-apart bison short ribs with tons of BBQ flavor. They tasted so beefy, yet with just a hint of something extra. The rich flavors of the onion and peppers hit us first, but then a little brightness from the cucumber came in at the end. There was so much depth in this plate; certain bites had a combination of flavors that made me pause to enjoy the bliss.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC
Absolute Best Fish sandwich

I’m a little bit skeptical when you start using too many superlatives, but this really was one of the finest fish sandwiches I’ve had. The breading was crunchy but not too thick, the cod was so flaky it didn’t want to stay contained in the breading, and the grainy bun added earthiness and made the sandwich feel more upscale. I’m such a tartar sauce snob, but this one was very flavorful with its chives and capers and totally passed my test. The coleslaw was so tangy, and I loved the green onion in it. And the fries–OMG, perfect. They were like county fair fries, super crispy and with the skin still on, extra salty and oily without being greasy. This wasn’t only a great fish sandwich but a great plate all around, where even the side dishes were stars.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC
huevos rancheros

This isn’t usually something I’d order (I want carbs on carbs with extra meat for brunch), but the manager told us it was one of her favorites and that we’d want to eat the house-made tomatillo salsa on everything. Apparently the chef had a Latino friend consult on how to make it extra-authentic, and we did think it was a winner. It actually tasted like it had mango or pineapple added to it, but it turns out that was just the natural sweetness of the tomatillo. It gave us a slow burn in the back of the throat, tamed by the egg and crispy tortilla. It could’ve actually been spicier for my taste, but this was a really hearty dish, great for vegetarians who still eat eggs.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC
French toast

This is exactly what I want from French toast. It was like someone took the very best banana bread from their grandma’s kitchen to make this. The outside had a crunchy coating, and the inside was nice and fluffy, not too dense. The bananas on the side were cooked down to sugary-sweetness, and they imparted a little of their flavor onto the dollop of smooth whipped cream. Even the butter served alongside the dish somehow seemed exceptional, just because it was salted. I would order this every time, with a short rib hash to take care of the part of me that loves savory alongside my sweet.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Growing up in Ohio, my family farm was down the road from a field full of bison, and my mom used to take my little sister and me to the field on summer afternoons to visit them. I have such fond memories of those times and remember how majestic I used to think the bison were, so it sort of warms my heart that Ted’s Montana Grill brought the bison back to the American table and made a market for bison farmers. On top of that, I loved everything I ate at Ted’s. I’ll think about that tender short rib, those county fair fries, and the crispy coating on the French toast for a long time to come, and with bottomless brunch cocktails, I know other New Yorkers are going to love this new menu, too.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

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