Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dosey-Dosas @ Saravanaas

A few weeks ago, Greeshma introduced me to the wonderful world of dosas.  Admittedly, I have a very limited knowledge of Indian food (I can count all my Indian food experiences on one hand), but as a fan of spicy seasoned food, it's something I can definitely get behind !

Greeshma had heard great things about Saravanaas, so Saravanaas was where we went.  We could smell the restaurant from the street as we exited our cab, and it smelled heavenly to our ravenous stomachs. 

I asked Greeshma to order everything, and unfortunately my camera died before everything was properly captured, but here's a sneak preview.  I am sure I will be back soon for some more dosa action. :- )

Mango lassi and Greeshma's hand.  Everyone
had a lassi at the table, so I had one too!  Thick with a lovely
mango flavor.  Awesome companion to my spicy entree.

Our starter: the idli vada - mini steamed rice patty and lentil doughnut served with a variety of chutneys and sauces.  I looooved the lentil soup and dunked everything I could into it.

Closeup of the lentil doughnut. 
Why is every kind of doughnut so delicious?

Greeshma and her monstrosity of a masala dosa.
After seeing this, I realize dosas are the best friend I never knew I had!
Mildly spiced potatoes were found waaaaay in the very center of this madness.  It was fun watching Greeshma attack it !

Dosas, as you can gather, are thin crepes made of rice and lentils and can have potatoes spread thin between the crepe or hidden in the center of a crepe funnel (like above).  I had the spicy dosa, which I would totally get again.  The potatoes were amazingly hot and spicy; utter love at first bite.

Han tip: Mega food baby alert for Saravanaas: the food is deceptively more filling than it appears.  Please wear elastic pants or babydoll dresses when you dine here.  You'll thank me later.

81 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Saravanaa Bhavan on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Enjoying the good life at the London Tea Room

In the middle of downtown St. Louis, there exists a slice of British heaven. Adjoined to a beautiful furniture store called English Living, the London Tea Room (a mother-daughter team owns both the furniture store and the tea room - how sweet is that) makes me want to lift my pinky while sipping my tea - not because it's the proper thing to do, but because the tea is just so darn good, and the atmosphere is super quaint.

As you can see, they have a huuuuuge variety of teas. Many are organic and fair trade, and all are delicious. You walk in, order at the counter, and hope to god that you have enough willpower not to order all the pastries in front of you. Thankfully, Marie and I are regular Tea Room patrons, so we exercised some discipline and knew exactly what we wanted. We ordered: a large pot of Iron Goddess of Mercy tea (an oolong tea from TAIWAN - holla!), two scones with devonshire cream and jam, strawberry salad for Marie, and 1/2 croque monsieur + 1/2 apple cheddar salad for me. This may seem like a lot of food, but... okay fine, it is a lot of food. We have no shame.

Let's start with the tea and scones. Doesn't Marie look like a young and proper English lady? What I love about the tea room is that instead of giving you numbers for your order, they give you different Tube (London's subway system) station signs. A-dorable. I've been to London, but I never knew there was a Covent Garden stop, so in addition to stuffing my face, I learned something new. Score. Another reason I love the tea room is that your tea always comes in charming china. Makes me smile.

The Iron Goddess of Mercy is outta this world tasty. So fragrant, and no bitter aftertaste. Definitely our favorite. I could drink it all day. (You can too, because the tea room also sells their tea loose-leaf in 1/8 pounds.)

The scones are ginormous. I got a black currant scone, because I'll order anything with the word 'currant' in it. Done and done. The scones arrive warmed up, which is a nice touch. I like my scones a bit softer and more moist than their version, but hello: devonshire cream + jam!! Put that stuff on, and any dryness is quickly overlooked.

I can't get enough of the devonshire cream, and apparently the owners bring it back straight from the UK. Book me on the next flight to London, please.

Then came our lunches. My apple cheddar salad - pictured here with my croque monsieur - was pretty good, but I thought the sharp cheddar cheese was a little overwhelming, and I would have preferred more apple. In addition to the few slices on top, I would have loved cut-up pieces tossed in throughout.

Also making a special appearance in the above picture is my beloved Honda CRV, which I plan to drive until I'm 50. You can't see from this distance, but there's a huge scratch on the side. And on the other side. And little scratches all around. Oops.

The tea room makes a mean croque monsieur. I love sandwiches that have just a few slices of meat, because it allows the sandwich to be flat and pressed perfectly. Today's sandwich could have been pressed a little longer, since I like my food to be piping hot and dripping with cheese, but it was still quite yum.

Marie's massive strawberry salad is my favorite of their salad offerings. The strawberries are always fresh, the vinaigrette is pleasantly sweet, and the pecans provide a nice little crunch. It comes with goat cheese as pictured, but if you're like me and would run away at the slightest mention of goat cheese (ewww!), substitute guyere cheese instead, and the combination works great!

I'm sorry. I know how people feel about goat cheese, but I just can't take it. And neither can Han. Hence we are bffs.

Before I leave St. Louis, I plan to hit up the London Tea Room at least a hundred more times. And next time I'd like to try their Afternoon Tea. Bring on the assortment of small cakes! For now, I'll leave you with another picture of scone + devonshire cream + jam. Instant love.

London Tea Room
1520 Washington Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63103

ViVi Bubble Tea Break

Diana introduced me to the wonderful delight that is bubble tea back in high school.  But if you do not have a Taiwanese best friend in life to introduce her native drinks, I can try to explain this concept to you!

Bubble tea is basically a liquid beverage with tapioca balls.  The most common flavor, and my favorite, is pearl milk tea: milk + tea + boba / bubbles, but bubble tea places typically have a myriad of milk tea flavors in addition to various fruit slushes.

I find that there are often two schools of people when it comes to bubble tea:
  • There's the one group who loveloveLOVES bubble tea (Diana and I fall in this group, naturally).
  • There's the other group who HATES bubble tea.  Their faces >>SCRUNCH<< at the thought of bubble tea like I do at the thought of goat cheese.  These people either a) do not like to chew things while they drink, b) cannot get past the dark brown round things floating in the drink. 
So, if you feel you are prone to the second, perhaps you should not try bubble tea, but if you're open minded, enjoy chewing fun, bouncy tapioca balls and can multi-task while you drink, then definitely venture out and try this beverage.

I've frequented several places in Chinatown, but am retrying them all again for the sake of documentation, and because everytime I enter Chinatown, the boba beckons to me like a mother bird calling its young.

Last week, I made a pitstop at ViVi, a bright friendly spot hip with young Asian girls--a group I still wish I fell into ;(. 

ViVi offers both cold and warm tea options. I selected the latter, as warm bubble tea is a real treat: the tapioca balls become softened and wonderfully bouncy.

More often than not, Vivi is just okay; it will satisfy your bubble tea cravings but is nothing to write home about. This recent visit was fairly solid though.

On the plus: it is the only place that I know of in Chinatown offering a frequent shopper card.  Buy 5 drinks, get 1 free and save 20% on future purchases.  Not bad!

Say hi to Homer when you go!

ViVi Bubble Tea
49 Bayard Street
New York, NY 10013-4950
(212) 566-6833
Vivi Bubble Tea on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 29, 2010

New Roma Pizza + A Slice of People Watching

People from New York are very proud of their pizza, and while I recognize the beauty that is the quintessential newyawwkpizza (!!), I find myself occasionally craving a simple, fat slice with cheese that stretches as you pull it away with a monster bite (a la Ninja Turtles style).

And a spot that has the gooey cheese I lust for is New Roma Pizza, a narrow railroad strip of a pizza place at the corner of Essex Market.  The pizza is not a destination for foodies by any means, but it's basic, and sometimes basic is all I really need.

When you enter New Roma's, you select premade pizza (they offer a variety of specialties like barbequed chicken and basics), and they quickly pop it in the oven for a quick heat and serve it to you on a paper plate. The pizza is always perfectly hot when it comes out, and the cheese perfectly melted.

The slice is larger than my face, and my face is pretty big.  

New Roma's has a handful of wooden tables to eat at, but I much prefer to sit along the bar, a front-row seat to the Lower East Side with only a glass window separating you from the sidewalk on the other side.

This is the view you will get when you eat here:

You could be sitting right here!

And there's always something to see.  Always.  The first time I was here, a bum stood on the other side and yelled at me for 10 straight minutes.

This time, a family decided to park outside the front.  They had a plastic bag inside an otherwise empty stroller.  I watched a little girl run to the stroller, grab a square jelly doughnut (Diana, you know the one), and then I saw the mom pull a chocolate doughnut out for her little son.
She then held the unbelievable chocolate doughnut for her son to eat.

And then as I reached for my cell phone to take a picture for Diana
(because I know she would have totally appreciated this cute scene with
our beloved Doughnut Plant confections), this scene broke out:

The kid proceeded to puke his chocolate guts out.
I had no idea how so much chocolate could come out when
he had only taken one small bite!

Then the mom proceeded to stand there for a full minute as the
kid cried his eyes out with puke running down his entire shirt
and pants.


There are so many places to eat in the Lower East Side (as my previous posts can attest), but if you are just dying for a quick slice, New Roma's is not bad.  And you can get lucky and watch little kids puke!

New Roma Pizza
116 Delancey Street
New York, NY

Il Laboratorio del Gelato: Serious name, serious gelato !

Ever since tasting the brilliant flavors of Cafe del Hidalgo in St. Augustine, FL, I have been on a perpetual search for divine gelato in New York.  The search brought me to Il Laboratorio del Gelato on Sunday.  The weather was cold and damp that day--the perfect setting for an outdoor stroll and a cup of ice cream.

The potential for Il Laboratorio was high:
1. Located on the Lower East Side, where all my beloveds are, dangerously close to Doughnut Plant for a one-two calorie punch!
2. The ridiculous list of flavors including Mexican cinnamon, Thai chili chocolate, wasabi and more.  Ree-dic-u-lous!!

Il Laboratorio has a small storefront on Orchard and Delancey. 

You cannot see the flavors until you are right at the window, and they feature 10 flavors each for gelato and sorbet. 

Today's gelato flavors included salted caramel, ricotta, sage, amaretto crunch, marscapone.  Salted caramel looked ridiculous with a gooey layer of caramel.

You can select 2 flavors for the small and 3 in the medium.  I opted for a small, since I had taken part of that amazing brunch experiment earlier, and selected marscapone and cinnamon (predictable). 

The texture of the gelato was sooo smooth and pure and lovely.  The cinnamon was beautiful. 

The small was a perfect portion of indulgence without the guilt.
Still, with the splendid flavors, and the uhhh-mazing cinnamon, I am totally going to rock a medium with three flavors next time.  Cafe del Hidalgo, you may have met your match !

95 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002-3112
(212) 343-9922
Il Laboratorio Del Gelato on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Brooklyn Brunch Experiment

There is nothing I love more in life than breakfast, so receiving the opportunity to participate in a ***BRUNCH COOKOFF*** would be an incredible dream come true.

That dream came true today, courtesy of The Food Experiments, a brilliant idea crafted by culinary ingenues Theo Peck and Nick Suarez.  Past food experiments have included: tacos, cheese, beer and chocolate.  I finally caught wind of these food experiments this week for brunch, and boy, not a moment too late !

Warning: serious photo overload forthcoming !

The event was held at The Bell House, a transformed warehouse on 9th St between 1st and 2nd Avenue (warehouse-city!). 

We waited outside for a cool 30 minutes.  A long line quickly emerged after us.  Tickets were sold out online a couple days before the event, but they had a very limited (read: 10) amount of tickets available on the day of the event.  Greeshma and I were lucky enough to be part of that 10!

Contestants were lined among a snake of tables, proudly standing behind their culinary wares.

Nearly every contender was gracious and friendly, eagerly explaining the ingredients of their brunch bites.  The overall theme appeared to be bacon, which appeared in about 85% of the entries.  I love bacon (of course!), but apparently vegetarians were not as pleased. 

Here's the parade of food!

Cornbread cupcakes with bacon buttercream frosting. Jalapenos
added a nice subtle punch to the cornbread, but was otherwise typical.

Tamales.  Solid tasting tamale, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Rosemary-brown sugar Belgian liege wafels with maple-cardamom
roasted D'Anjou pears and Vermont maple syrup, pear reduction, candied black
walnuts with fleur de sel, Point Reyes blue cheese and wildflower honey
whipped cream.  Total mouthful on the ingredients, and all the flavors were
nice, but Greeshma and I enjoyed the pears best.

The pig and fig quiche had interesting flavors, and yes, bacon.  It was topped with some dressed greens.
This was Greeshma's initial favorite.

The contestant with the quiche above.

Touted as the best non-kosher french toast.

Self-acclaimed brunch pirates with the following entry:

Crispy bread exterior (yum) with softish egg center, bourbon sauce and sausage.

Redneck caviar: duck confit donuts & bacon marmalade
The duck confit tasted beefy, and the raspberry jam was very nice!

What my plate looked like during our first "break,"
breaks were dictated by the limited plate space we had.

Greeshma having an awesome time.

Italian Breakfast Bocce: lemon glazed puff pastry filled with blueberry
pistachio marscapone.  This had the potential to be very delicious, but
the lemon glaze was mouth-puckering sour and seized all mouthbuds immediately.

Tony Santoro had my initial favorite entry: fig, honey and OJ tamale
(a sweet tamale?!) with CINNAMON ICE CREAM AND DULCE DE LECHE.
o.m.g. i. know.
The cinnamon ice cream was amazing.
His plates below:

Closeup of the sweet tamale + cinnamon ice cream + dulce de leche.
Tony encouraged us to eat it like a shot, so we tossed them back quickly.
I had two. :D

My next favorite entry was called "Full Brunch" which featured
a toasted crostini, luscious scrambled eggs, deliciously sauteed asparagus and rabe,
and duck prosciutto.

Did I say duck prosciutto?

Yes.  And I meant it.  Duck prosciutto!
It was as smooth, sumptuous and sexy as it looks.
Total. Yum.

Chicken and waffles?  Had to be the worst dish of the competition.
The chicken was completely overcooked and oversalted, and the 'waffle'
just did not resemble much of anything.

Break II of my mushpot of a plate.

I think these little spoons were supposed to be "shots."  They were little
globules of liquid.  I liked the white one more than the red (white was more sweet),
but Greeshma preferred the reverse.

Piping the cream into the sea urchin quiche (below)

Sea urchin pretty (with bacon)

Sea urchin quiche exposed.  The flavors were very unique...but was hard to enjoy.

And last but not least, my ultimate favorite of the day:
orange blossom scones with earl grey and honey ice cream.
The ice cream was melted and completely absorbed by the scone creating
an utterly fantastic confection.
And yes.  We totally got two of those too. :-)

All in all, the event was a complete blast - being able to try 20 dishes for $25 is so, so, so, SO worth it !  I cannot wait for the next food experiment !