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The Tasting Menu at Agern
Mar 30th, 2017 by donuts4dinner

Had you asked me a week ago if I had any interest in Nordic cuisine, I would’ve given you something like a polite, “Sure, I’m interested in all cuisines!” And then, you know, gone back to eating my tacos. But if you’d prefaced that question by mentioning that the chef at Agern, the restaurant inside of Grand Central Terminal, has a restaurant in Iceland called Dill, I might have thought differently. I LOVE dill. And it doesn’t hurt that the owner of Agern is the same guy who helped found Noma in Denmark, which has been named the best restaurant in the world, oh, I don’t know, four times?

Click here to read more ≫

Kellogg’s NYC in Times Square
Sep 26th, 2016 by donuts4dinner

I try to avoid carbs and sugar in my day-to-day life, so I never let myself have cereal for breakfast. I can’t tell you the last time I ate it, but I’m guessing it was in college, and it was probably something with “fiber” in the name so I could feel like an adult. But I secretly love cereal and was delighted to learn that Kellogg’s NYC opened in Times Square and that I’d need to eat a huge bowl of the stuff in the interest of reviewing it. The sacrifices I make, you know.

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Duran Sandwiches Brings Europe to NYC
Aug 11th, 2016 by donuts4dinner

Last week, I was surprised by a visit from to Tom Szebeni, the CEO of Duran Sandwiches with a huge box of his handmade European-style open-faced slices of wonder. I knew I was getting a complimentary taste of his creations, but I never expected that the President himself would walk over from their first U.S. location in NoMad to deliver them. But after talking to him for ten minutes, it made perfect sense. The guy just oozes passion for what he’s doing. He explained to me that he worked on the Budapest version of the reality TV show “Big Brother” for years and used to leave the dark studio (and his 48 monitors showing people stuck in a house doing the most mundane things) to get sandwiches across the street at one of the Duran locations. He wanted something more, though, so he decided to leave TV and spend weeks in the shop learning to make the sandwiches so he could bring them to NYC. He kept emphasizing how this is real food. Food that someone cared about when they made it.

I was like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve eaten sandwiches before, buddy.” And then I opened the box, and a light shone down from heaven.

Click here to read more ≫

The NoMad Restaurant: What I Tasted, and What I Immensely Regret Not Tasting
May 13th, 2016 by donuts4dinner

The little group of friends I eat all of my cow stomachs and whole suckling pigs with all love Eleven Madison Park but don’t want to necessarily drop $300 on a tasting menu on a random Wednesday night. Luckily, there’s The NoMad restaurant in the NoMad Hotel, where Chef Daniel Humm is serving the same elevated food for, you know, the same elevated prices, but at least you can only order two or three courses here if you want to save your pennies. The service was as kind and polished as you’d expect from a restaurant by this chef, the atmosphere as dark and cool as you’d expect from a hotel that’s as much known for its bar as anything. As with EMP, most of the food you get at The NoMad is a really great version of a thing you probably already like–I’ll never forget the “picnic” I had there once–but this is also the kind of place that’ll also make you like food you thought you didn’t.

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First Look at Beetle House, the Tim-Burton-Themed NYC Bar
May 3rd, 2016 by donuts4dinner

When I found out that Beetle House, a Tim-Burton-themed bar and restaurant, was opening in the East Village, I immediately texted my best friend in Ohio and asked if that was catalyst enough to make her buy a plane ticket to come visit me. She said, “That sounds terrifying, actually.” So I made reservations right away with my other friends. Not to spite her exactly but because I was still sure it was going to be great. During the first week of soft opening, I was hearing about a man dressed as Beetlejuice leading semi-annoying renditions of “Jump in the Line (Shake, Señora)” and a background soundtrack comprised entirely of Danny Elfman songs. I told my boyfriend that it didn’t matter if the cocktails were expensive and the food sucked, because this was obviously just a novelty bar meant to pull in tourists for one night at a time. These are the same owners of the Will-Ferrell-themed bar, Stay Classy New York, after all. They surely aren’t meant to be taken seriously.

Beetle House NYC

Since Beetle House was still in previews when we went (and will be until May 6th), it was cash only, by reservation only, and serving a limited menu. The menu was pretty cheeky, though, with its disclaimer about their meat supply being innocent New Yorkers and its items like Edward Burger Hands, Charlie Corn Bucket, and Eggs Skellington.

After chatting with the super friendly (not even just by NYC standards) owner who was doubling as our server and finding out it was she who’d developed the cocktail menu, my friends and I ordered all of the available drinks to start:

Beetle House NYC
Alice’s Cup of Tea, Barnabas Collins

Alice’s Cup of Tea was their take on a Long Island iced tea and just as strong but with heavy notes of peach that made it perfect for summer. The Barnabas Collins was the whiskey cocktail, not so sweet despite the brown sugar thanks to two kinds of bitters.

Beetle House NYC
Beetlejuice

Tequila, blackberry, and lime made this really refreshing and easy to drink. All of the cocktails were very strong but well-balanced, so I could’ve had several of these but really only needed one to get to a good place.

Beetle House NYC
Jack Skellington

Our table agreed that this one was just weird. Bacardi rum, creme de coconut, lime juice, crushed ice, and orange zest. There was no reason it tasted so funny to us, except that we weren’t on a banana-shaped raft off the coast of a tropical island.

Beetle House NYC
Edward Burger Hands

A bison burger with bacon, pepperjack cheese, quail egg, sriracha cream, avocado, and tomato on a honey garlic bun. The table next to ours got a much better-looking one, but don’t let the mess on the plate dissuade you. My friend the burger snob was impressed that it was actually cooked medium-rare and loved that the quail egg was broken on the side for dipping. The menu didn’t mention that the burger came with a side of garlic whipped mash, which made the $16 price tag make sense.

Beetle House NYC
Victor Van Pork

Smoked BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño jelly, sweet slaw, and pickled egg on a honey garlic bun. It’s a summer picnic in a sandwich, with all of the spicy and smoky you’d expect.

Beetle House NYC
Love It Meat Pie

After reading the description of this–cornbread, sauteed chicken, romano garlic cream, peas, carrots, peppers, onions, and jalapeño jelly–I thought it sounded like a kind of chicken pot pie. But our server told me that it was “just everything in a bowl”. Not exactly crystal clear, but I asked my boyfriend to order it anyway so I could see. It turned out to be the best thing I tasted that night (and, you know, I tasted everything). It really was just all of the ingredients in a bowl together, with the cornbread absorbing all of the flavors rather than just sitting on top, as in a pot pie. I’m not sure what kind of magic they throw in there with everything, but it had the flavors of a bowl of Thai curry. Except with way more stuff and way less broth, which is sort of the dream.

Beetle House NYC
Cheshire Mac

I ordered this because I had to know what $24 mac & cheese looked like. It was seven cheeses (seven!), garlic and sea salt breadcrumbs, and sweet stewed tomatoes. It was a massive plate that took all four of us to finish, and it was just . . . special. Even without meat, I wasn’t sad to have spent $24 on it. (That said, I’d sure rather spend $18 on it if this became a regular place for me.) I loved the crunch of the breadcrumbs that added just the right amount of buttery sweetness to the pasta, and then the tomato sauce just put it over the top in terms of comfort food.

Beetle House NYC
cherry cheesecake

They had run out of the Wonka Bar Chocolate Cake with actual chocolate bars between the layers of cake, so we opted for the cherry cheesecake instead, which was not a mistake. One of the owners’ moms makes all of the dessert, and we could taste it. This version had big sour cream flavor and a thick, buttery graham cracker crust. It was $12, which was a bit of a surprise to us when we got the bill, but it was a good-sized slice, and YOLO.

Beetle House NYC

A lot of the initial Yelp reviews dock stars because this place is so small, which I find adorable. Is this your first day in NYC, Yelpers? Yeah, restaurants are small here.

Beetle House NYC

Beetle House NYC

In the end, I left Beetle House feeling like it was nothing I expected it to be and just what I want a good East Village bar to be. There was no costumed Beetlejuice (they tell me he’ll be there on the weekends, along with side show acts, magicians, and zombies). There was no Danny Elfman music. There wasn’t really a whole lot of Tim Burton, truth be told. It was actually, as their website says, “a bar and restaurant in the East Village of NYC with an atmosphere and menu inspired by all things dark and lovely”. I would’ve thought the Beetlejuice guy was kitschy and fun to take pictures of, but I wouldn’t have wanted him there pretending to levitate every time I wanted to casually drink a This is Halloween! cocktail with pumpkin liqueur, cinnamon liqueur, apple liqueur, apple cider, ginger beer, and lime. And hearing the Danny Elfman score for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure would have been charming, but listening to The Smiths, The Cure, and Joy Division was way cooler. It seems like the owners are making this a neighborhood bar during the week and a novelty bar for the weekend. Unfortunately the prices don’t make it the kind of place you can go every night, but I’m hoping they’ll work that out after the soft opening.

Beetle House
308 East 6th Street
New York, NY 10003 map

Emmy Squared, Detroit-Style Pizza in Williamsburg
Apr 27th, 2016 by donuts4dinner

To me, the Clinton Hill pizzeria Emily is famous because my neighbor and her husband own it. My boyfriend and I started going there because they offered everyone in our building a free dessert, and there aren’t many places I wouldn’t go for a free s’mores calzone. We kept going to Emily because it turned out the pizza was really the epitome of what great NY wood-fired pizza can be, with an airy, crisp crust that wasn’t hard and overly chewy. And then all of NYC went there, too, not only for the funky pizza concoctions (like the Colony with pickled chilis and honey) but for the award-winning burger that the Internet couldn’t stop talking about. Now there’s Emmy Squared in Williamsburg, an offshoot offering Detroit-style pizza because it wasn’t enough for Matt Hyland to just be a master of NY pies.

Emmy Squared

Emmy Squared

Emmy Squared
crispy cheddar curds

These things must be triple-battered, for all of the crunchy stuff that falls off of them onto the plate as you pull them apart. Growing up in Ohio, we asked for “extra crispy stuff” or “more crunchies” at Long John Silver’s to get a little pile of fried batter on the side of our hush puppies. These are the adult version of that. Dip those little nuggets of cheese into your spicy “sammy” sauce or tomato sauce, and don’t forget the crispies.

Emmy Squared
The Emmy — mozzarella, banana peppers, onions, ranch, side of tomato sauce for dipping

Emmy Squared
Glorious thick crust, loads of toppings, I love you.

Emmy Squared
Art.

Emmy Squared
Angel Pie — mozzarella, ricotta, mushrooms, Truffleist mushroom cream

Emmy Squared
Roni Supreme — sauce, mozzarella, lots of pepperoni, calabrian chiles

When I was a kid in Ohio (and truthfully, up until about five years ago), Pizza Hut was my favorite pizza. The popular pizzas in Ohio–Donatos, Massey’s, every mom and pop shop in my little town–had the Midwestern cracker crust, but if my pizza wasn’t piled on an inch of bread, I wasn’t interested. Emmy Squared takes the idea of that pan pizza and makes it so your stomach won’t explode. It has that same crust that rises up along the side of the baking pan, but here, the cheese spills over the side and fries up crispy to give the crust a crunch and a buttery-ness that you can’t get with wood-fired pizza. And the dough at Emmy Squared isn’t a brick that expands in your stomach; it’s a light, airy thing just weighty enough to support the loads of toppings.

I ordered the Roni Supreme to harken back to those days when we used to use the crispy curled-edge pepperoni of Ohio pizzas as bowls for other toppings. It wasn’t for the faint of heart, with clumps of chile seeds to make your eyes water. My boyfriend’s mom got the Angel Pie, because mushrooms are a hot commodity back in her native Poland, where every member of the household is a fungus-picking expert in the forest. We all loved the texture of the ricotta and the sauce replacement of truffle cream. But our favorite was The Emmy, which we added sausage to like hedonists. But of course it was going to be our favorite, because it had all of the best things in life: banana peppers, red onions, and RANCH. Homemade ranch, with extra herbs in it to make it green. I didn’t even know there was a way to make regular ranch better. I couldn’t stop exclaiming about how this was my new favorite pizza. And it wasn’t just the Moscow Mules talking.

Emmy Squared

Emmy Squared

Remember GreenBox from an episode of “Shark Tank“? Emmy Squared uses them! How environmentally responsible and convenient!

Emmy Squared

Emmy Squared
364 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211 (map)

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark in Vienna, Austria
Apr 12th, 2016 by donuts4dinner

Early last year, my friends and I were planning a trip to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Athens, so I pulled up the ol’ San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best list to see if that part of the world had anything to offer. Lo and behold, #15 was smack-dab in the middle of Wien (that’s Vienna in German, see; I’m getting you ready for your future trip there), a modern Austrian restaurant perched on a canal of the Danube River in the middle of a 19th-Century park. Steirereck promised the white gloves and unnecessary decorative plates stacked beneath each dish that I love but also tons of fresh local ingredients that I would have never heard of. Adventure!

I was able to request a reservation through the English version of the Steirereck website and received a confirmation the next day with the exact date and time I’d hoped for (this was four months in advance of our travel date), but I had a question. Four of us were sure we wanted to try the tasting menu, but one friend didn’t think she was ready for five hours of eating and wanted to order a la carte. I replied to the confirmation email and basically told them, “Don’t worry, we’re going to be drinking enough alcohol that you won’t mind if one person isn’t eating.” They didn’t reply. A week before our dinner, though, they wrote to reconfirm my reservation, so I took the opportunity to ask again. The reservationist replied,

Thank you for your confirmation!

Don’t worry you can all order on stage.

We are looking forward to your visit.”

My friend imagined herself on a stage at the front of the restaurant, ordering samples from the cheese cart over a microphone. But we just let it go, because adventure!

Having crammed two weeks of vacation clothes into one carry-on bag, I was woefully underprepared for our fancy dinner and arrived in the 60-degree evening wearing sandals, no tights, a sleeveless dress, and a Gap hoodie. The hostess still totally took it from me like it was a real coat and gently folded it over her arm to hang for me without any hint of judgement, god bless her. Aside from the lingering fear of the stage-ordering, things were going great.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

Steirereck seems to be set up like a clover, with each leaf representing a different room with rounded edges overlooking the park. It meant that even with the restaurant completely full, we were only sitting in a room with a handful of tables. Which was lucky, because while the other tables were full of austere Europeans, our table was doing wine pairings and having a really good time of it. It was the staff’s fault, though! They seemed to take great joy in seeing if they could entertain the Americans and kept making jokes about carrying us out to our cabs after the wine pairings and telling us to let them know if we found worms in the salad because it was so fresh. Their humor was so dry that we would all laugh, wait for them to leave the table, and then ask each other, “Wait, he was joking, right?” It was the perfect kind of service for us, a bunch of normal people faking like we were fancy in a different country.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
austere!

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

We all ended up going for the tasting menu with wine pairings, so we never found out what ordering “on stage” was like, but we started off with cocktails in case nine glasses of wine wouldn’t be enough. Mine was this celery cocktail with housemade vermouth, an “Arabian mountain herb” grown on their roof, and rosemary.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The bread cart was overwhelming to a carb-lover such as myself, but there was a nice blood sausage loaf for the one person at our table who wanted to balance his carbs with protein. I chose the white bread with lavender and the double baked sourdough.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
double baked sourdough, white bread with lavender

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
bacon butter with hemp seeds, sage butter with chia seeds

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

After our first wine pairing was served, a huge spread of tiny dishes arrived:

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
allergens

Apparently Austria has 40 different allergens that have to be displayed on a menu lest someone die from eating hidden mustard, so the restaurant cheekily decided to make dishes featuring all of them. We each received a card naming all of the dishes, the allergen they contained, and a description of who the allergy generally affects. (Eggs: It is possible to be allergic to just the yolk or the white. Most common in children under the age of five, most people grow out of it after a couple of years.) We had things like wheat cracker with pericon, crayfish tomalley with salsify and lovage, peanut with sweet corn, and the worst offender of all,

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

CELERY. Which we got a whole plant of. The little ribs dangling amidst the stalk were soaked in verjus & vermouth salt, but we were told to eat as much of the stalk as we wanted to. (We did not.) Other highlights were the duck egg with tons of chive, and the sour milk dip for the cucumber.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
young carrots with fennel, coconut and reinanke

Glazed young carrots, carrot and fennel salad, marinated wild fish (reinanke, a kind of salmon, spicy carrot and fennel juice. Lots of fruity, sweet flavor in a savory course.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
peppers & melon with olive herb & venus clams

Grilled preserved yellow peppers, roasted muskmelon, braised Jerusalem artichoke, Taggiasca olives, Venus clams cooked with tamarind, ginger, and lemongrass.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
celeriac & peas with hazelnut & verbena

Confit young celeriac with peas, pea shoots, and hazelnuts, sautéed salad hearts, celeriac-citrus sauce with pepperoncini, and wild celery herb. So much lime flavor!

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
redondo courgette & chanterelles with buckwheat & plum

Sauteed chanterelles, barbecued and steamed redondo courgette (zucchini), avocado and plum marinated in lemon, roasted cashews, spiced green tomato jam, and French sorrel. I loved the spiciness of this one.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
alpine salmon with porcini, cucumber, passion fruit & pepperleaf

Raw “branded” alpine salmon, Mexican pepperleaf inflorescence, verjus-infused radish, grilled porcini, cucumbers with mustard seed and dill, borretsch leaf, passion fruit cucumber juice with pepperleaf oil, fried pepperleaf pearls. We liked the layers of cucumber with dill and porcini with lemon, accented by those crunchy pepperleaf balls.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
amur carp with Job’s tears, kohlrabi & pandan

Pan-fried amur carp, kohlrabi marinated with balsam vinegar & panda oil, Job’s tears crisp, sourdough bread creme with crunchy Job’s tears seeds. Standouts included the crispy fish skin and the way the creme broke up the acidic dish.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
quail

I failed to record more detail about this, but it was quail with this wonderful sesame sauce.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
venison with squash, baby artichokes & orange blossom

Roast Hochschwab venison, butternut squash cooked in brown butter with orange blossom and rosemary, baby artichokes glazed with Madeira and thyme, red onion and radish chutney with horseradish. The chutney was the favorite element of everyone at the table, and isn’t this just about the prettiest plate you’ve ever seen?

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

For those who didn’t opt for the plated cheese course, a cheese cart came loaded with everything from the mildest hard cheeses to the stinkiest washed-rinds. My boyfriend had the restaurant choose a progression of four for him, but you can have the whole cart if you like.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
sweetened vanilla “fresh cheese” with physalis & cereals

Unpasteurised “fresh cheese”, preserved and dried “Little Buddha” physalis, frozen “fresh cheese” whey with toasted hemp seeds, black sesame, amaranth, and coconut. The server plated this in front of us at the table, cutting into the cheese so the whey would drip through the mesh. The physalis (or cape gooseberry or Peruvian cherry, depending on where you’re from) came in preserved and freeze-dried forms to provide different textures.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

Drunk Katie can’t keep her camera still!

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
peach with lemon agastache & basil

Peach poached with lemon agastache flowers and verjus, basil and sorrel creme, marinated peach, and basil beignets with basil sugar.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
basil beignets

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
raspberries with roses, fig leafes & sesamy

Raspberries marinated with rose-vinegar, set sesamy milk, fig leaf snow, rose petals preserved in apple vinegar, “weinviertler” water leaf, and baked raspberries with sesamy.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
medlar, violets and crepes

Crispy deep fried crepe with Japanese medlar (or loquat fruit) and violet jam and powdered candied violets, strawberry mint, lemon verbena, and violet petals marinated with violet syrup and medlar juice, medlar kernel and violet ice cream. This was an extra course the restaurant brought us just to try, in case our stomachs hadn’t exploded already.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

Another gift from the restaurant, these were traditional poppy seed noodles that were too savory for me for dessert, but my Polish boyfriend with all of his poppy seed desserts at family holidays loved them.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

We’d seen this cart at other tables in the restaurant, with a distinctive buzzing sound emanating from its core. BEES! I was so sure it was just a recording but wanted so badly for a restaurant to just be casually wheeling a live hive around the place. The lady at the table closest to us was so scared of being attacked, though, that her server had to show her the little speaker inside to get her to calm down.

Our server pulled out the honeycomb to scoop a bit off for each of us onto little wooden spoons and then offered us tastes from each of six jars of honey made from the nectar of different flowers from different regions of the city. There was also nougat, little jars of watermelon that tasted like cubes of honey, and honey covered in white chocolate.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

At seven courses for $142 and $75 for the wine pairings, Steirereck felt like a steal. The food all tasted so fresh and so full of exotic things we’d never tried before (physalis! medlar! crunchy pepperleaf balls!), and the service was somehow exactly what we wanted all of the time. When I sneezed, I was handed a package of luxurious Relais & Chateaux tissues, and each dish was accompanied by a card with the title of the dish, a description of the ingredients in it, and then notes about elements like reinanke that we may not have seen before. But when we wanted to have a drunken good time with the staff, the white gloves came off. The allergen spread is one of the most memorable things I’ve ever eaten, and I loved the way the restaurant had plenty of those novelty moments to delight our eyes but also made sure the food stood up to the experience. All in all, this was just what I would expect from a many-Michelin-starred restaurant in the U.S., only everyone had great accents and we were sitting on the Danube.

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

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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