Foodie Weekend in NYC

20150614_114344As I’ve mentioned before, my husband and I used to live in New York City when we were single, and our romance with the town is still going strong. We visited NYC again for a weekend getaway recently and had a good foodie time.

Like anywhere else, restaurants can be hit or miss here.

The Hits:

Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque–We tried the large pulled-pork sandwich at their stall in Smorgasburg and loved it; tender and delicious.

Distilled–An upscale gastropub in Tribeca with a good brunch menu. We went here for brunch on a Sunday and were blown away by the country-fried duck and waffle. The generous chunks of duck meat are shredded and fried in batter and served atop a waffle with the taste and texture of a pillowy buttermilk biscuit; a total umami bomb. Bonus: The popcorn, on the house, is sprinkled with what they like to call “magic dust”, which I’m guessing is Old Bay and/or paprika, salt and pepper, with the popcorn cooked in leftover oil infused with the yummy flavors of other dishes they’ve been cooking.

Duck and Waffle

Rosie’s–A Mexican restaurant in the East Village situated in a bright, airy space and offering “authentic”, elegant food. In the middle is an island where people are busy shaping handmade tortillas. The stuffed pepper appetizer was meh; small and bland. But the raw oyster salad was delicious and refreshing. For my main, I had the carne asada; tender, grilled skirt steak.

The Misses:

Gato–Bobby Flay’s new restaurant in Noho did not live up to our expectations. The shrimp appetizer was oversalted, and the steak I ordered for my main was mediocre. The portions were small and the menu was overpriced, given the portion sizes and the quality of the cooking. Gato’s been getting rave reviews from food critics, but I don’t agree with them. I could’ve cooked some of the menu better at home, really. One bright spot: the grilled octopus appetizer was perfectly seasoned and cooked (but still way too small to be filling).

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Hato Popo in Vancouver

wild sockeye salmonWe’ve only been in our new home city, Vancouver, for two weeks, but we’ve already become regulars at the new Japanese restaurant Hato Popo, located downtown on Robson St.

We ate dinner there our first night in the city. Exhausted, jet lagged and hungry, we sat down, hearing Guy Fieri’s voice in the background. “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” was on one of the two TVs in the nearly empty dining room; a comforting sound because I like to have cooking shows in the background when I putter around at home.

On our first visit, we ordered ramen, sashimi and a few rolls. I was impressed with the soft-boiled egg. It seemed to have been boiled in the broth so that the intense flavor of the broth was concentrated in the egg white. The wild BC sockeye salmon sashimi was excellent; buttery, melt in your mouth, and subtle but full of flavor.

The next two visits, we ordered sashimi and sushi plates. The quality of the fish was incredible. You’ve got to try the salmon, tuna and scallop, either as sashimi or on pressed rice. They’re so good, you’ll want to close your eyes and savor the oily, fresh, delicious fish.

This place is unassuming. The interior looks like any middle-of-the road Japanese joint–bamboo décor and small tables. But the sourcing of ingredients and the chef’s knife and plating skills are excellent. Working behind the counter, he exudes calm efficiency as he prepares dishes. This is a man who knows what he’s doing, and he’s proof that amazing things are possible in quiet corners.

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Chicken and Rice

chicken and riceChicken and rice is a classic. There are lots of ways to make it, and, I must say, I’m pretty proud of my take.

We just moved to Vancouver, an amazing city that happens to be our new post, and we’re in temporary housing, which means I have to get used to cookware that’s not mine. There have been some glitches in my first meals here in this kitchen, but the chicken and rice I made last night turned out well. It’s packed with flavor and is a very pretty plate.

Start cooking the rice first (try a 15 min. head start) because it will take longer to cook than the chicken.

Ingredients:

For the rice:
3/4 cup brown rice
1.5 cups water
olive oil (desired amount)
half a bag of baby carrots, sliced into small circles
1 package of arugula
salt (desired amount)
hot sauce (desired amount)
fresh squeezed lime (desired amount)
parmesan cheese (desired amount)

Put the water, rice, olive oil, carrots, salt and hot sauce in a large pot and bring to a boil. Stir, then lower the heat to simmer. Cover and stir every 5 min. or so. until the rice is tender (will take approximately 30-45 min. to cook). Add more water if necessary. When the rice is almost cooked, stir in the arugula, lime and parmesan. I recommend adding a lot of parm for bold flavor (try 1/3 cup).

For the chicken:
4 chicken thighs
1 large roma tomato, sliced
1/4 large onion, sliced

Heat up olive oil in a skillet, and lay the tomato and onion on first, then place the chicken on top of them. Cook on medium-high heat, turning the chicken over and cooking until both sides are golden.

When the rice and the chicken are both cooked, plate the rice as a circular bed and place the chicken on top.

Enjoy!

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Lyon Hall

Lyon HallWe spent about two weeks in the Washington, D.C., metro area after the Keys as part of the transition to our new post. We stayed at a lovely apartment building in Clarendon, Virginia, which was close to several good restaurants.

One of our favorites became Lyon Hall, which serves American bistro fare. Monday is dollar-oyster night, and we were amazed the first time we went for it. The oysters were large and creamy. They were so good, we had a hard time stopping ourselves from going overboard with our orders. I still haven’t gotten over how great the oysters were.

A word of warning: The quality is inconsistent. The second time we went for dollar-oyster night, the oysters were small and didn’t have much flavor. We were disappointed, but at least you have recourse to the regular dinner menu, which ranges from juicy, large burgers to more high-end fare, such as steak and duck. I recommend the bohemian sausage platter; order it with salad on the side to counteract that artery-clogging goodness.

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Key Largo

Key LargoIf you’re looking at the photo above, you’re probably thinking something’s a little off. The scene is beautiful, but the photo’s slightly lopsided.

Essentially, that sums up my experience of the three weeks we spent in Key Largo.

We booked a house rental online, attracted to its location right on the beach. The photos were great. The house was radiant with light. And the price was right; relatively inexpensive for shorefront property in the Keys. We thought the low price was because the house was in a retirement community.

When we drove into the neighborhood, we were greeted with the sight of trailer homes. My first thought was: We’re in a trailer park. My next thought was: We’re in a trailer park?!!!

Well, this was unexpected. And unwanted. Spending three weeks in a trailer when we were supposed to be on vacation was not my idea of a good time. My impression of our new digs was made worse when we opened the front door. The must hit my nostrils and made me dread our stay even more. I was not a happy camper.

Granted, the place was clean, and the view of the ocean was amazing. But I couldn’t get over the smell. Honestly, I never did. The double-wide trailer would’ve been fine, if the owners didn’t have white shag carpet that looked and smelled like a holdover from the ’70s. That was a major source of must.

We made a run to Kmart and bought scented candles, rearranged the furniture–which also smelled of must–put sheets on the couches to hide the smell, and opened all the windows to air out the place.

It took several nights for me to acclimate. Eventually, I made my peace with it and kept in mind that we had an amazing view and a whole lot of outdoor space to use. And we certainly used it.

We rented a kayak for a week–a great deal at $99–and launched right off the beach in front of the house. We explored the small keys along the coastline, getting a great workout each time and seeing the sights. The water was shallow, and it was cool to look down and see coral, fish, and even sharks. One day, we kayaked out to a bar, pulling up and tying off for a lunch break. A unique experience, and a lot of fun.

We also did some diving in Key Largo and Islamorada, choosing to go mostly with Conch Republic Divers. I was amazed at the abundance of fish at even the shallow sites–a big change from Jamaican dives.

We even did a day trip to Key West, doing the drive over the famed bridge connecting the Keys.

We took advantage of every day by making sure we got out and did something. All the physical activity was tiring, but if you’re into being active, you know how good that feeling is: the deep satisfaction of exhaustion that comes from fully living.

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Fish in the Florida Keys

Florida Keys fish

We’ve been spending a few weeks in the Florida Keys, enjoying life oceanside. We took a “party boat” out one day, the term for a charter boat that packs in customers and takes them out to fish on the ocean. We chose to go with Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada, a sportfishing capital of the U.S., and, luckily, the boat wasn’t packed. There were 15 customers, which meant plenty of room to hang out on the deck.

The boat took us out about 45 min. from shore to a spot about 150 ft. deep. I’ve never been fishing before, but working a rod and reel is pretty easy to get the hang of. I enjoyed the ritual of putting bait on the two hooks, letting down the reel, and chillaxing while waiting for a bite from some tasty creature below. This being my first fishing experience, I wasn’t expecting to catch anything, but I did bring up a few fish; most of them too small to keep, but hubby and I each caught a nice snapper as trophies for the day. One guy to the left of us, an old-timer from the Florida panhandle, caught an amberjack that was more than 3 feet long. A beautiful fish. We couldn’t rival it, but we were still happy with our catch of the day. When added to the 3 lionfish we caught while diving earlier, it made for a full and lovely dinner.

After I scaled and gutted the fish, we laid them on foil and surrounded them with parboiled potatoes, or potatoes that are boiled for 15-20 min. to start the cooking process. We placed pats of butter on top of the potatoes and the fish, as well as chopped onions, tomatoes, and bacon. We baked the dish in the oven at 425 degrees for about 30 min. You’ll know it’s done when the fish flakes off easily. We enjoyed our meal on the screened porch of our rental home, overlooking the ocean, taking in another beautiful day in the Keys.

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Surfcomber, South Beach, Miami

Surfcomber MiamiWe’re on the road for a while in between posts, and we stopped in Miami for a few days, staying at Surfcomber in South Beach. It’s a modern, luxury hotel with funky design touches (see red cow in photo). The lobby is sleek and inviting, with a bar at one end and a green-walled library at the other. The staff is generally friendly, although the valet seemed disgruntled (perhaps because he has to stand in humid air all day long).

I recommend staying here if you’re in South Beach. It’s on Collins Avenue, very close to Lincoln Road, which houses a large, open-air mall. The back of the hotel faces the beach.

The room we stayed in was small and didn’t have a balcony, but the king bed was comfortable, and the bathroom was very stylish with a glass shower stall and high-end toiletries.

No coffee maker in the room, but there’s complimentary coffee service in the lobby in the morning, with your choice of USA Today, The New York Times, and Wall Street Journal papers (I’m a journalist, so I care about the papers!). I prepared my coffee with soy milk and honey, and it tasted like a cafe treat.

If you’re in South Beach, you should definitely try a cubano. The best bets are the small shops instead of the big restaurants. We got cubanos for $7 each at a hole in the wall a few blocks from the hotel, and they were fantastic–huge sandwiches thick with ham cold cuts, cheese, and shredded pork. I ordered mine with black beans on the side, and we headed off to the beach to chow down and enjoy the Miami sun.

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