A Happy Birthday at Torrisi Italian Specialties

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012 | Posted under Manhattan, Reviews

You know you’re officially old when you start eating meals at 5:30 in the evening. In the case of my birthday dinner this past weekend, our reasoning for eating this early wasn’t because Husband J and I wanted the early bird special. Torissi Italian Specialties is just that popular. It’s also the size of my living room (okay, more like half of my not so big NYC apartment), so there are only so many people that can fit here. By 6pm, the entire restaurant was packed. After my meal there, I can see why.

Torrisi does not allow flash pictures, which is understandable in such a tight space. Please bear with these pics as I show you our extremely flavorful and rich meal there.

Oysters? Yes, please. Instead of a mignonette on the side, the oysters were already dressed. Husband J, the seafood expert, gave the thumbs up to these local oysters from Montauk, New York (about three hours away).

Torissi Italian Oysters

That was a expertly seasoned beginning to what was going to fun and flavorful meal.

Just so you know, if you get a reservation at Torrisi, don’t plan on perusing a menu. There is a set four course menu and actually a small group of people get a 20 course menu (you’ve got to reserve well in advance for that), so everyone’s getting the same thing. The menu changes weekly, so consult the website before you go. For some strange reason, I kinda like being told what to eat. 🙂

After our oysters, the march of the antipasti began. There were four, each very different from each other.

Warm Mozzarella DaVero

This lovely little ball of mozzerella was lounging the most flavorful olive oil with just a sprinkle of chunky salt to bring out the flavor.

Torissi Italian Warm Mozzarella

I almost asked for the name of this olive oil because it really took the mozzarella to a different level.

We didn’t have the cheese by itself. It came with this crispy elevated version of  garlic bread, whose ingredients were described to me, but I forgot when I ate a bite. I usually don’t care so much about garlic bread, but my goodness. Crispy with dried tomato. Wonderful.

Torissi Italian Garlic Bread

Tomato Panzella 

Torissi Italiam Tomato Panzella

I love the end of summer for the bounty of tomatoes, and this dish highlighted them well. The pickled red onion really added some zest and crunch when eaten with those sweet tomatoes.

Beef Carpaccio, Broccoli & Mushrooms

Torissi Italian Beef & Broccoli

I have to admit that I wasn’t in the mood for raw beef (and I may never be), so Husband J took the lead on this one. There are two things that you need to know about Torrisi and this dish:

#1 The chefs here are always playing with the idea of what Italian food is. This is actually their translation of Chinese beef and broccoli into an Italian dish. Weird, yeah? There’s still the beef and the broccoli element, except it’s raw beef instead of stir-fried, and that broccoli is actually in a tempura batter.

#2 There is flavor in every single element on that plate. Sometimes l think chefs throw ingredients in a dish thinking you won’t notice that it doesn’t taste as good as everything else. Those pickled mushrooms, with their depth of flavor, could have been their own antipasto. I appreciate chefs’ attention to detail.

Dungeness Crab Straciatella

Torissi Italian Dungeness Crab Stracciatella

When I think of straciatella, I think of gelato. This dish was essentially a crab soup (a mussel broth base) with poached egg, and I want to say some rice (the waiters did a good job of explaining things, but it was my birthday, so I did a poor job of taking notes). This was by far my favorite of the antipasto since I love a good seafood soup. The weather has already started to cool a little here in New York City, and this was warm and comforting.

Did I mention that was all antipasti? We actually shared the carpaccio and the mozzarella, but the other two were individual for each of us. It was finally time for the past course.

Calamari, Rings (Torissi’s designation not mine) with a Spicy Pepperoni  Sauce 

Torissi Italian Calamari Pasta

I don’t really know what else to say this dish other than I kept telling Husband J that I wanted to recreate this at home. Simple, a nice spicy kick, and firm but tender calamari really is the perfect late summer pasta dish to me.

Did you notice yet that we haven’t gotten to the main course? Yes, that’s next.

We just got each of the main dishes.

Halibut with Black Olives & Anchovy

Torissi Halibut Black Olives Anchovy

I ate this primarily, and I have to say that it wasn’t necessarily my favorite of the evening. It was nice to finally have something light after some of the rich food we had before. The halibut was poached and overall rather pleasant, but nothing too exciting.

Devil’s Chicken

Torrisi Italian Devil's Chicken

Can you tell I was getting lazy with the pic taking? Anyhoo, I still wonder how chefs get chicken to be so soft. My favorite part of the dish was the hidden spice of the tomato sauce and the cooling house-made yogurt paired with it.

Since it’s my birthday there was no way we were going to miss the special dessert available that night.

Coconut Chocolate Cake

Torissi Italian Specialties

Do you like Almond Joy? Then you’ll like this…plus, I love the ginger ice cream with the rhubarb.

House Pastries

Torrisi Italian House Pastries

Clockwise from left: Cannoli, Tri-color Cake, Celery Spongecake, Chocolate Truffles. Surprisingly, I wasn’t ready to burst after all of this food (close though). Who doesn’t love mini-desserts?

While it was definitely on the early side, I was very happy with my birthday dinner. Even if I am making my slow march to middle age, at least it will be a delicious one. 🙂

Torrisi Italian Specialties
250 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 

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Feeling at Home at the Home Hotel, Buenos Aires

Monday, July 23rd, 2012 | Posted under Argentina, Hotels, Reviews

A hotel review? It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Home Hotel in Buenos Aires was our little home away from home for the first part of our time there (We spent three days at beginning of our trip in B.A. before returning again after our time in Patagonia).

I’ll say that I tend to like hotels with a little “oomph”? Some might call it trendy or a little chichi, but I’m going to say that if I’m not going to be sleeping in my comfy bed at home or sitting on my couch, then I’d like to enjoy my surroundings. Home Hotel’s swagger was definitely about its design and vibe, and that’s okay with me.

Like most city hotels, our room at Home Hotel wasn’t very big. I chose the Standard Plus room, which is a step up from the slightly smaller Standard room.  There was essentially room for a bed, side tables, a desk, and a credenza for the TV. That was fine with me since when I’m visiting a new city, I like to be out and about anyway. The room was bright, simply decorated but colorful.

Home Hotel Buenos Aires Bed

Home Hotel Buenos Aires TV

Home Hotel Buenos Aires Desk

Fancy? Nah, but it definitely did the trick in between our days and evenings pounding the pavement in Buenos Aires. I also appreciated that the bathroom was bigger than the one in my own apartment.

Home Hotel Buenos Aires Shower

Our shower: Big shout outs to the Home Hotel for the ample (and I mean AMPLE) shower gel.

While our room was simple, I have to say that my favorite parts of Home Hotel were the public spaces, particularly the bar and pool area.

Home Hotel Lobby The Lobby

Because it was late summer in Buenos Aires, Husband J and I spent a fair amount of time hanging out near the pool and bar area. No, we weren’t downing drinks, but Home’s pool area really was a little garden respite from the busy streets of Buenos Aires. We spent time here just reading and enjoying the late summer breezes. If you do want to know, the drinks were very good. We made friends, with the bartender, Elina, and we chatted about Buenos Aires in English and Spanish (She encouraged me to practice). We dug our time at the hotel just as much as hoofing it around Buenos Aires. It was nice feeling like we could come back to the hotel and really just hang out, if we wanted to. I know that should be a no-brainer for a hotel, but you’d be surprised at how many places DON’T have that kind of atmosphere.

Home Hotel Buenos Aires Garden

The garden: They even decorate the trees!

Home Hotel Pool Area

Home Hotel Buenos Aires Pool Area Close-up

Home Hotel Buenos Aires Bar Area

The bar area and outside dining area

 I know some people enjoy a pros and cons list for reviews, because let’s be honest: Nowhere is perfect.

Pros

1. Friendly and helpful staff. From the front desk to the bartenders, every staff member was helpful and went out of their way to make sure we got the most out of Buenos Aires that we could. Whether it was calling taxis or restaurants (There were many closures for Easter weekend), the staff took care of us. In case you’re not interested in practicing Spanish, everyone speaks good to excellent English.

2. Cute guidebook with suggested restaurants, bars, shopping and activities. I loved this little book that we received at check-in filled with suggestions from the hotel. Even with my preparation (okay, occasional over-researching), I still found a few places to try and even went to some of the recommended clothing stores. I’m not a big shopper, and I had to stop myself from buying a few things.

Home Hotel Guidebook

Our mini-guidebook courtesy of Home Hotel

3. Palermo Hollywood location – Home Hotel is located in the neighborhood of Palermo Hollywood. I was worried about not being in the center of much of the restaurants, shopping and nightlife in the well-known adjacent Palermo SoHo neighborhood, but being a fifteen minute walk away is not a downer. I like that Palermo Hollywood was actually a little quieter than Palermo SoHo. There are lots of restaurants, shops, bars, etc. right on Honduras, the street where the hotel is located. We probably could have stayed in Palermo Hollywood for eating and evening options if we wanted to.

4. Great breakfast including made-to-order items upon request. Aaahhh…the hotels serves their medialunas warm, plus eggs, spreads, fruit, coffee and more.

Home Hotel Medialuna

One of the better medialunas that we had on our trip was from Home Hotel

Cons

1. Far walk from the the subte – Taxis are cheap in Buenos Aires. To cut down costs, Husband J and I actually took Buenos Aires’ subte (subway). Home is close to a 15 minute walk (depending on your pace) from the Ministro Carranza stop on the D Line, and it did get a little old after awhile. At least you’ll get some exercise in.

2. Palermo Hollywood location – While I did like being in Palermo Hollywood, it was a walk across the train tracks to Palermo SoHo (Don’t worry. It’s not dangerous). It wasn’t a total inconvenience, but being in Palermo SoHo would have allowed us to be even more centrally located to some of the places we would have liked to go.

3. Paying more for Easter Weekend – I hate mark-ups. We would have had to pay more regardless of where we stayed in B.A. on Easter weekend, but that doesn’t make me feel better.

My main cons were location-based, and the folks at Home can’t really do anything to change that.

So, fun, comfortable and not over-the-top, made Home Hotel feel like home to me. By the way, Husband J was looking over my shoulder as I wrote this post and kept mentioning how much he had liked the hotel. When he does that, I know I picked a winner.

 

Home Hotel

Honduras 5860

Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

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Blogging While Brown 2012 – 5 Reasons I’m Happy I Went

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 | Posted under Blogging, Reviews

This past weekend I went to a blogging conference called Blogging While Brown. I have to say that I couldn’t have had a better experience for my first blogging conference.

I should mention some background. While I’ve got a lot of “blogging friends” or “internet friends” (as Husband J says), most of my real life friends have no interest in social media (outside of Facebook), don’t understand Twitter and think my blogging is my cute little activity. 🙂 I have to admit that I was looking forward to the conference because I’d be surrounded by people who understand what it’s like being an internet content creator (it ain’t easy!).

While I’ve been able to meet a variety of great bloggers, in my past blogging life I’ve often felt like the only one or one of very few Black or Latino bloggers writing about certain topics (like travel!).  That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but I believe in the fact that a variety of perspectives and visual representations of diverse people should be present in all forms of media including emerging media like blogs. My choice to go to Blogging While Brown (“BWB”) was not only about learning more about blogging in general but also to get inspired about my role as a blogger of color in an online world that often sidelines us (just my opinion, of course).

Since I often think in lists, here are 5 reasons why I’m glad I went to Blogging While Brown:

1. I met a really nice down to earth, friendly, diverse group of bloggers.
I’ve not always heard the best things about blogging conferences. I’ve often heard from some people that the atmosphere can be cliquey, impersonal or just downright unwelcoming. I have to say that I was able to meet so many cool people this past weekend. The conference was small enough that I could have multiple conversations with people throughout the weekend but large enough that I still didn’t meet everyone. Bloggers came from all over the country (shout out to my new Jacksonville, Florida  friends!) and wrote about everything from relationships and beauty to health and politics. Some folks had been blogging or writing professionally for years, and others were new to blogging. It was nice to get perspectives from all levels of experience.

Me with Erika Kendall of A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, a great blog about health, exercise, body image, food justice, weight loss and more. Girlfriend has over 72,000 Facebook followers! Talk about reach!!

2. Many of the well-known and successful bloggers openly shared themselves and their experiences. 
I’ve often heard that when some bloggers hit “the big time”, they are not so friendly at conferences like these. Yet at Blogging While Brown, many of the the most successful bloggers with well-known sites were very friendly and accessible. Case in point, one of my favorite bloggers, Patrice Grell Yursik, of the blog Afrobella.

I was such a fan girl when I met Patrice. I’m very happy that she posed with me. 

I started reading Patrice’s blog years ago when looking for resources for my wedding blog for Black women with natural hair (i.e., not chemically straightened). While not the first natural hair blogger, she’s really the first in that niche to translate her blogging into bigger opportunities. She has partnered with M.A.C. to produce her own shade of lipgloss and has also live tweeted from the red carpet at the Oscars. She’s really taken her blogging to another level. She was so nice to me, super down-to-earth and really honest about her experiences during her panel (I missed it, but followed the tweets on the BWB conference hashtag).

3. I learned new things that will help move me forward as a blogger (and even some things I didn’t think I needed).
I thought I knew a little about SEO, but I learned a ton about it from Luvvie Ajayi’s SEO 101 panel. The panel on blogging and brands was probably the most helpful for the future, and I really liked the honesty of the panelists representing advertising and public relations firms (Big shout out to Jennifer Polk, VP at Edelman Digital, for our nice talk during the conference). Moral of the story for that branding panel: be genuine, honest, and ethical when dealing with public relations agencies and brands. I’ll probably never want to publish a book (just being honest), but I thought many of the issues discussed during that panel were important in understanding how to export your blog to another medium. I would have loved a TV panel that talked about more than television news because I think many bloggers can become more than guest talking heads (TV hosts maybe?).


The “Your Personal Brand: It actually IS all about You” panelists from left to right: Adria Richards, Scott Hanselman, and Luvvie Ajayi 

4. The conference paid attention to important social justice issues. While many conferences focus on monetization, branding and content creation, I really did appreciate the fact that the conference emphasized the importance of blogging in moving forward social issues and alternative narratives. From addressing AIDS to community organizing, the conference tackled subjects that are affecting communities of color. I’m working on an online project that has nothing to do with travel or food, and this inspired me to move it forward because the conference reinforced to me the need for vital socially conscious and relevant information online.

5. I never knew what to expect from the engaging speakers and my fellow attendees.
From the hysterical presentation by Scott Hanselman and Luvvue Ajayi, which had me rolling on the floor to the Twitter haterade and in person interrogation of the founder of Media Takeout, Fred Mwangaguhunga, there were definitely parts of the conference that kept you on your toes and laughing in your seat.

Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas. I check out this site from time to time and enjoy the insight. I LURVED his T-shirt. 🙂

While the conference was great, here are some things I would change:

1. It’s not cheap. Although the conference was valuable, it was not cheap ($250 before late registration). Most blog conferences aren’t though, so I can’t say that BWB was out there in terms of costs. They did include breakfast and lunch both days though. Speaking of food….

2. I’d love more healthy food options for breakfast and lunch. A crudite plate wouldn’t be so bad. Some fruit? Help a sister out. 😉

3. I would have liked to know what speakers were going to discuss in the panels beforehand. While I didn’t need a full outline, sometimes knowing what was going to be discussed would have helped me make a decision about breakout sessions beforehand.

I have a feeling the conference will be farther away next year, and I hope that I’ll be able to attend again some time in the future. I was definitely re-inspired and felt energized about blogging in a way that I haven’t been in a long time. At the very least, the conference made me understand my little voice here is important, even if I don’t have the hits, Facebook likes and Twitter followers that others say I should to feel important and valued as a blogger.

A big thanks to my fellow conference attendees and to the conference organizers for a stimulating and fun weekend.

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Kutsher’s Tribeca

Friday, January 27th, 2012 | Posted under Manhattan, Reviews

Having grown up in New York City, I feel like I know my way around Jewish cooking. I do not suffer a bad bagel. I eat my matzoh with butter (or just plain), and I know the difference between rugelach and hamentaschen (and by the end of this post, you will, too!). While I still haven’t been to a Passover seder, I do like a good brisket. With the largest Jewish community outside of Israel here in New York, it’s hard not to have access to or a basic understanding of Jewish food.

I love a good bagel.

When I heard about the opening of Kutsher’s Tribeca and its attempt to re-imagine many traditional Jewish dishes in a fresh, contemporary gourmet style, I knew I had to check it out. I also knew that my dining companion had to be New Friend M, after hearing stories of her mother’s legendary latkes back in December. Plus, it’s Restaurant Week(s) here in New York, so the perfect time to sample a new restaurant’s menu.
Kutsher’s Tribeca – I love the ceilings.
By the way, big props to the staff at Kutsher’s who were both friendly and knowledgeable. The service was great all around.
I was so torn about what appetizer to get. I told New Friend M that I had never tried gefilte fish before. Why? Well, much of the gefilte fish I’d seen was usually sold in these awful looking jars. Fish in a jar? No, thanks. At the same time, if stores stock it, someone must be eating it.
Something about fish in a jar just doesn’t sit right with me.


Gefilte fish is essentially a poached fish ball/almost pate-like spread made of deboned minced white fish (and/or pike fish), breadcrumbs or matzo and onions. It’s usually served as an appetizer with grated horseradish mixed with beets and a dash of lemon juice.
Wild Halibut Gefilte Fish
with horseradish beet tartare
New Friend M mentioned that her mother makes her own gefilte fish from scratch and that this was a pretty close second. I am a total gelfilte fish convert now. Kutsher’s uses halibut instead of the traditional pike, includes bits of carrot, and there was nothing preservative-laden at all about this fish. It tasted fresh and homemade to me. The horseradish had a just a hint of bite and was not overwhelming in the least. It was not going to overpower that fish, and that made it the perfect partner.
I admired New Friend M’s matzo ball soup from afar. I’m going back for this. She said it was superb. Usually matzo ball soup has more than one ball. 🙂


We were both hungry, and I couldn’t leave there without having Kutsher’s latkes especially since New Friend M loves them. I didn’t get a picture of the latkes, so you’ll just have to see a better version below. 🙂

The latkes come with a trio of caviar as shown here or with apple compote (the more traditional option that we had)

For the main course, we both had the

Wild Mushroom & Fresh Ricotta Kreplach
with walnut pesto, olive oil schmaltz, and fresh black pepper sheep’s milk cheese

Despite my familiarity with Jewish cuisine, I’d never had kreplach before. New Friend M told me to imagine tortellini or dumplings, but Kutsher’s version surprised us both. These were like huge filling pieces of potato filled “ravioli” (but not really…it’s hard to describe). This is such a comforting dish and again made me feel as if I was eating something more homemade than anything. The cheese and the pesto worked quite well together. I had to tell myself to save room for dessert, so I left some on the plate.
Yay for dessert!

Cookie Plate
from left to right: rugelach, hamentaschen and rainbow/tri-color cookies

Rugelach is made of a cream cheese dough that is shaped almost like a mini-croissant or rolled like a wrap, and the filings range from dried fruit to cinnamon. My mom loves these, but we always bought them at the supermarket. These are the freshest rugelach I’ve ever had. Ever. Apparently, they are baked daily at Kutsher’s. I can tell.
Hamentaschen are cookies shaped into a triangle with a fruit filling. I’m not into tri-color cookies, but I can appreciate anything with a layer of chocolate on the top. I also think they are traditionally Italian-American (maybe?).
Black & White Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich
with a thick chocolate dip

I love black and white cookies, and then there’s vanilla gelato wedged in the middle. Yes! Plus, chocolate sauce? Fuggedaboutit!

Zach Kutsher (the grandson of the owner of the original Kutsher’s, an upstate New York country club) and his partners are on to something here. This is just good food period, and I hope Kutsher’s stays around long enough for me to learn even more about Jewish cuisine.
P.S. – If you keep kosher, I don’t think this place is kosher certified.

Kutsher’s Tribeca
186 Franklin Street
New York, NY


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Mary Queen of Scots

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 | Posted under Manhattan, Reviews

Nope, this isn’t a European history lesson. I was pretty tickled at the idea that there is a gastropub with a Scottish touch that opened last year here in New York. When I think of Scotland, I’m usually thinking of golf, tartans, kilts and pretty scenery. Food? Not so much. Since they are cousins of the English, I’m just not on the lookout for quality Scottish food. Now I’m thankful that Mary Queen of Scots (MQS) opened to show New York City what good Scottish inspired food can be.
The booths at Mary Queen of Scots are fun for a group.


The bar area

I went to MQS unintentionally twice in one week, and I can say that if this is how they eat in Scotland, I’m on my way there. My second time, I went with New Friend M, and we started out with cocktails and some of the small plates. New Friend M saw something that she recognized on the menu:
Devils on Horseback

Devils on Horseback are essentially a riff on bacon wrapped stuffed dates. Some recipes call for prunes instead of dates (I’m glad MQS went with the dates), and the stuffings vary from mango chutney to cheese, almonds or smoked oysters.
We also made sure to include a veggie (why not?). I’d had this dish only a few days earlier, but I was ready for another taste.
Fried Boozy Brussels Sprouts
with whole grain mustard

As I get older, I am so happy to have discovered Brussels sprouts. Fried and with tangy mustard? A revelation. I’m always looking for news ways to enjoy this vegetable, and I may need to try make this at home.

New Friend M had to run leaving me to stuff my face alone.


Roasted Duck Breast
with Butternut Squash, Pumpkin Seed Dressing & Honey and Sage Jus

I was pretty shocked at the size of the duck. It was so thick and so succulent it reminded me more of the texture of a pork chop. MQS’ duck was so juicy, and the jus added a nice sweet herb taste after a dipping. Fun!

Banofee Pudding
with Coffee Caramel Sauce and a Graham Cracker Bowl with a dollop of freshly whipped cream

I am not a pudding person, but for some reason I was in the mood for banana flavors. Usually pudding is so thick and reminds you of the type of pudding that Bill Cosby used to hawk on TV. MQS’ pudding was airy and smooth as silk. Perfectly whipped cream is always a great topping.
Is this authentic Scottish fare? I’m not sure, but I’m sure the beauty of Scotland sure makes for some good inspiration.
Mary Queen of Scots
115 Allen Street
New York, NY



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