Vin's sneaker cake

Vin’s sneaker cake

*Because I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say “Just Do It TM” in the headline.

OK, this is a SUPER LATE post, but I figure it’s fitting since VIN IS RUNNING THE NYC MARATHON SOON!!!  This counts as carb-loading, right???  Now look at the pics….

Another year, another birthday for Vin. He started running last year for health reasons and now he’s one of those obsessed runners (meanwhile, I’m still a lazy bum that sleeps all the time as pointed out by the NYT), so the OBVIOUS cake this year was a sneaker.  To be specific, a replica of his sneaker.  The obsessed runner is very particular about his running kicks, and I wasn’t able to check out his actual shoe at home (we are physically glued to the hip when I’m not traveling and Vin is not running) so I sneakily asked Vin, “Oh heyyyy, baby… what’s the style name of your sneaker?  I think I saw it on sale and I know you wear a certain style so I wanted to make sure it was the same one…” So he told me, I looked it up, printed out enlarged pics of every angle of this shoe in black, and then hid the images under a pile of junk mail on my work bench.  (Vin NEVER looks through the stuff on my work bench; he only looks at the mounds of random shit piling up with disgust and dread and wants to throw it all out =P)

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The Malt House FiDi.9 Maiden Ln, New York, NY 10038. Website: www.themalthousefidi.com

The Malt House

The Malt House

Vin and I attended a press dinner for the Financial District outpost of the Malt House with some of our food blogger friends, and we instantly felt like we were in the modern day Manhattan version of “Cheers” at this American tavern.  This downtown location is wayyy roomier and nicer than the one in the Village; like the sophisticated older brother version compared to the fun frat brother digs.

The Malt House - main bar

The Malt House – main bar; Photo credit: The Malt House

The Malt House Fidi has the largest collection of whiskey in downtown Manhattan, as evidenced by not one, but TWO beautiful bars.  This place also has an intriguing and tasty cocktail list, an extensive beer menu, and one of the best deals for whiskey flights in town.

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I have always wanted to dine at El Bulli.  Unfortunately, I am not a famous or super rich person with time and funds to go to Spain and experience Feran Adria’s wizardry and now… it’s closed.  I hate-watched that “No Reservations” episode where Bourdain gets to hang out with the grandmaster like it’s no big deal and I pined for that molecular gastronomy magic.

BUT, a taste of El Bulli was brought to meeeee!!!  Well, Vin and I (and a few of our food friends: Malini @restaurantfairy, Jean-Phillipe @ijustwanttoeat, Kim @pinkpignyc , Naakai @naakainy and @bonviveurnyc) enjoyed a lovely mini version of this with Nai’s multi-course tasting menu for a lovely press dinner.  Chef Ruben hails from Galicia and is a product of several generations of restaurant chefs.  His tapas bar in the Village is named after his mother, as “Nai” means “mother” in Galician.  The restaurant opened up about five years ago, but within the past year the chef decided to evolve and not only serve Spanish tapas. We were lucky enough to try some of his experiments, and he plans to serve a test kitchen-only tasting menu in April.  Based on what we tried this evening, Vin and I already plan to come back just for that.

First impression of Nai Tapas Bar: this joint is in the fun part of town in the East Village!   You walk in and there’s this unassuming atmosphere with exposed brick and wood tables give off a dark, earthy vibe… But you’re in for a treat. The 4 star food and happy, efficient service doesn’t match the homey, casual environment at all.

Mango sangria!

Mango sangria!

They have a dangerous sangria selection of six different variations.  I tried the mango, which was pleasantly not super sweet with a nice white wine base and fresh orange and apple slices. It’s like drinking really good juice and you just tell yourself it’s healthy and good for you b/c there’s fruit floating around in it.  =)  And for those of you who prefer beverages straight from the bottle, there are quite a few Spanish craft beers and Spanish wines that have been imported from (obviously) Spain.  Top notch booze selection means we’re off to a good start!  =)

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The Malt House. 206 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012. Website: www.themalthousenyc.com

MH is for MALT HOUSE!

MH is for MALT HOUSE!

Vin and I were invited to a press dinner at The Malt House in the Village.  As I walked in my first thought was, “Whoa.  A place like this wasn’t here when I was at NYU!”  I was used to, how to put this lightly, seedier and cheaper and more rambunctious venues that more often than not resulted in bad decisions, like hangovers from crap booze and stomach aches from crap food.  No, if a place like The Malt House was around when I went to NYU, I’d probably be a broke but well fed regular!

BEER FLIGHT

BEER FLIGHT

As soon as I walked in, I could tell this was a welcoming, neighborhood joint that only accommodated friendly riff raff  =)  This was an Irish-American tavern that was custom designed with the 3 Rs: reclaimed, recycled and reused materials and exposed brick and wood to make an atmosphere that was both rustic and charming, but modern and refined at the same time.  The Malt House has been in business for three years, and there was a good sized crowd on a weekday evening enjoying their beer and bites.

Gimme some (brown) shugga... I AM your neighbor! "Hey Ya!"-- Outkast

Gimme some (brown) shugga… I AM your neighbor! “Hey Ya!”– Outkast

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Taureau

Taureau. 558 Broome Street, New York, NY 10013  Website: www.taureaunyc.com

Tonight’s lovely press dinner is brought to you by a repeat guest: Didier Pawlicki, the energetic owner/chef of the romantic La Sirene.  Both restaurants share the same kitchen yet have completely different concepts.  Taureau is all about fondue and only about fondue and is probably the only all fondue restaurant in the city.  I had slight qualms about an all fondue restaurant ever since a sad, traumatic experience at The Melting Pot (tres gauche), but Didier worked his magic again to make this another fantastic food fest.

fondue pots down the table

Fondue pots down the table

I remember walking into La Sirene thinking, “Oh, it’s cute in here,” but with Taureau, it was intimate, dark and sexy. My initial thought was, “How does it relate to a bull?” since Taureau means “bull” in French, but the enigmatic Didier had all this thought out: the element for the astrological sign Taureau is “earth” and all the ingredients and components were from or of the land.  AND, this side of the premises had a raw feel that reminded me of a wine cellar, with slightly arched ceilings and exposed brick decor.  Had it not been for the window looking out to the street, we could have been dining underground!  Quite ingenious how this whole concept ties together, Didier.  Very smart.  He also takes pride in creating the fondue recipes and pairings himself.  You may ask yourself, “Really, how complicated could it be to just melt something?” The chef really considered the additional ingredients that would compliment the melted cheese or bring out the flavors of the sides dipped in the fondue pots for each course so that every pairing and combination would work.  He really is a creative genius.  I’m convinced this guy could mastermind a plan to take over the world and no one would realize it until it’s too late.  =)
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Byblos

Here we go again with another press dinner with Johnny Prime!  This time Vin and I were invited to a lovely Lebanese place in NoMad/Flatiron called Byblos.  It’s run by husband and wife team (awwww!) Sabeh and Sonia Kachouh.  The space was a wide open L-shape (get it?) with an inviting bar near one entrance and spacious main room by the other entrance.

We’ve been seeing a bunch of Lebanese joints pop up in the city and wondered what all the buzz what about.  Byblos is a trendsetter though, serving Manhattanites with family recipes for the past 20 years.  We got an education in Lebanese food, and kids, it’s not just all hummus and pita bread.

Crudite!

OK, OK… so we DID have a hummus dip made of chickpeas and tahini with a hint of lemon, garlic and olive oil.  It was smooth and creamy, the way hummus should be!  The other Mediterranean standard mezze known as baba ghannouj (or ghannoush) was brought out and… I actually didn’t hate it.  I usually dislike eggplant and shy away from it, but chef Sabeh’s recipe for the charcoal grilled slimy vegetable was expertly prepared with the staples (again with tahini, olive oil, lemon and garlic).  The best of the three dippable appetizers was the beautiful, spicy red pepper muhammara puree with some crushed walnuts for crunch.  It had sweet and heat at the same time and I wanted to slather it on everything!

tabouleh, dips, grape leaves, zaatar pies

tabouleh, dips, grape leaves, zaatar pies

We were also in for a special treat when zaatar pies appeared on the table. They were made of homemade dough and baked like pita bread, BUT there was a thick spread of this thyme, olive oil and sumac blend pesto on top with sesame seed sprinkles and a hint of salt for flavor.  These carb slices were delicious, and when I put a dollop of muhammara on it… this was my favorite bite of the evening.

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La Sirene

La Sirene. 558 Broome Street (between 6th Avenue & Varick Street).  Website: www.lasirenenyc.com.

A couple years ago, my friend D told me about how her boyfriend wanted to plan a romantic evening and take her to a wonderful authentic French place in the city [duh, Manhattan]. D, being the keen and cultured on point lady that she is, instantly ruined his surprise and asked, “Are you taking me to La Sirene???  I LOVE that place!!!”  Ever since she told me how delicious and buttery and tasty the entire menu was, it’s been on my “to do” list.

Fortunately for me, Vin and I were invited to a press dinner at this acclaimed French eatery.  La Sirene, French for “the mermaid” or “siren” (obviously) is owned and head cheffed by Didier Pawlicki, an energetic jokester of a Frenchman who looooves butter.  Luckily, Didier knows how to use butter wisely and with skilled expertise, and we were dining with a crowd who sure appreciated the cuisine at this sweet, intimate setting in the heart of SoHo.  A fun host, an exciting menu to read, fine wines and spirits… this was a good start to a good evening!

Several appetizers and entrees were ordered by each guest so we could all sample and share.  The menu is rather extensive, so even our table of 6 wasn’t able to try all the delicious bistro offerings!  I ordered the mussels Creole, with French Caribbean spices and rum, cream, herbs and chorizo! Another reviewer ordered another preparation of steamed moules, and although the Rochelaises style was noted as the chef’s favorite, the curry and apples flavor didn’t wow us nearly as much as the Creole mussels.  Vin ordered the sauteed baby octopus a la Provencale which was quite rich with garlic and earthy mushroom and tomatoes, but it wasn’t the winning dish.  Our host ordered escargots for us to try, and this was the best appetizer on the menu.  I love the distinct serving dishes that are only used for escargots (or tiny cake balls!) and loved how the exquisite molluscs were drenched in butter and bathed in garlic. YUM. A perfect little bite in each shell.  I don’t understand how people are grossed out by eating snails if they’re down with having raw oysters or cooked mussels.  Properly prepared escargots are delicious! And Didier brought out fancy tongs for the escargots (Vin had a worried look on his face when I clacked them rapidly as they are reminiscent of ball grabbers haha), but using a fork to pull each tasty and chewy bite was fine.

Left: Moules Creoles; Top right: Escargots!; Bottom right: bread and the clamper!  =P

Left: Moules Creoles; Top right: Escargots!; Bottom right: bread and the tongs! =P

When it came to the entrees, the word “succulent” pretty much described everything we tried.  There are no light, airy, waste-of-stomach-space dishes that will leave you hungry at maison de Didier. Even the descriptions and exclamation points on the menu seem to forewarn you of how you will need some time to digest all these savory, tasty ingredients and how excited your tastebuds will be.  I’m really glad we shared all these plates because most of them were intimidating on a single individual’s GI system.  There is some no joke, serious, authentic French food here.

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Ponty Bistro

Vin and I were guests at another wonderful press dinner: Ponty Bistro.  We were invited to the original location near Union Square.  The owner and chef is from Senegal and honed his craft at Jean Georges, Mercer Kitchen, and even was a finalist on “Chopped”!!!  This place has been doing so well that Chef Cisse and his cousin just opened another location in UWS.  The fare is an elegant mix of sophisticated French techniques with great African flavors to energize your taste buds.  We tasted a delicious sampling of an off-menu lobster bisque soup with a hint of truffle oil; a light and crisp haricot vert and artichoke salad with shaved parmesan cheese; a refined and elegant dish called Saint Jacque de Chef with a perfectly seared scallop and savory roasted beets, asparagus and this unique orange marmalade sauce that reminded me of orange creamsicles; a poulet tagine that had fantastic peppery flavor in every bite of the tender chicken, mirepoix and couscous; and a superbly cooked grilled hanger steak with smashed potatoes, spinach and a bordelaise sauce.  Everything we tried had fantastic flavor and the ingredients melded so well.  We loved everything!

Drinks and dinner!

Drinks and dinner!

I’ve come to realize that perhaps I should base restaurant dessert reviews on staples, not necessarily specialties. For the past few press reviews, I’ve had tiramisu and variations of flan or creme brûlée.  These are becoming the standard, basic-issue dessert items and are starting to feel… “safe.”  Don’t get me wrong; I’ve said time and time again that tiramisu and flan are my absolute favorite desserts and when they’re done well it’s a great finish to a meal, but it would have been great to see some real diversity in the desserts presented here, especially at such a unique restaurant like Ponty Bistro.  Press dinners like these are perfect opportunities for chefs to take risks and test out new ideas.  New Yorkers are becoming very adventurous about food, and if Chef Cisse’s customers enjoy any of the appetizer and entree creations on the menu, I’m pretty sure they’d be open to a specialty dessert that is not offered anywhere else.  For example, I tried this cocktail made with bissap juice that I had never heard of before, and it was just my cup of tea.  It looked beautiful and was reminiscent of hibiscus, not a fake, sugary sweet flavor that would have ruined the meal.

The dessert menu is not posted on the website and I had hoped to try a Senegalese treat given the chef’s versatility and menu diversity.  But, as Chef Cisse has an amazing background from the top-rated restaurants in NY, it’s not a surprise he presented superb light as air and delicate dessert offerings like creme brûlée and tiramisu.
Crème Brulee with a hint of citrus

Crème Brulee with a hint of citrus

There was a heavy tone of orange zest, giving a citrus element to the creme brûlée. The custard had set nicely, and was creamy, smooth and not too eggy-tasting, as many custards can be if not executed properly.
Ponty Bistro tiramisu

Ponty Bistro tiramisu

There was a good coffee element to the tiramisu, which was smooth and soft in texture. The super light ricotta and cake/ladyfinger cookie portions were not heavy with booze, which is often times a pitfall with poor quality tiramisu. I preferred the tiramisu to the creme brûlée, as I felt that the creme brûlée had a touch too much orange zest in it. As I said before, everything was expertly prepared and the chef’s stellar culinary background shows.  One of these days, we have to come back here to try more items on the menu!

We just had dinner at the Empire Steakhouse on 54th and Broadway, right on the border of the wasteland known as Times Square. Vin just felt like going to a steakhouse, and even though I couldn’t eat much today, I happily accompanied as his date.  Since we knew that he’d have to finish most of my meal, we went straight for the basics as part of his “control” for ratings: entrees, one side, and dessert (no martini though).  He got the ribeye (apparently it was delicious =/ *sniff* I had half a bite of it) and creamed spinach (also good), I got the cold seafood platter (the lump crabmeat was very good!) and for dessert, creme brulee.

Quite possibly the most perfect creme brulee

Quite possibly the most perfect creme brulee – Photo by Vin!

Now, the attentive and knowledgeable waiter Tim recommended it and said it was the best dessert on the menu.  He ain’t kidding.  It was light and perfectly creamy, topped with the perfect amount of sliced strawberries so you could have a bit of tart to break up the sugar on sugar action of the dessert.  I only intended on having one spoonful of it, lest my insides fall apart due to the dairy, but I totally risked it and had another half spoonful it was so damned good.  Not too sweet, just the right amount of burnt sugar, and the not-just-for-show strawberries.  Creme brulee is Vin’s fave dessert, and I’ve made it a few times just for him.  But it was totally OK Vin said this to the waiter in my presence, “This is one of the best creme brulees in the city!”  I completely agree.

First baking projects post move!

My precious...

My precious…

Let’s just be quick about it, shall we?  I had to bake for 2 special little boys: one hasn’t even been born yet, and the other is one of my super cute, super crazy godsons.

Underwater cake collage

Underwater cake collage… complete with a lurking shark!

The theme for the baby shower cake was the ocean, so I played around with some ideas to use on a small cutting cake for the parents-to-be.  The first order of business was to ice the little cake in blue frosting.  I was going to cover it in fondant, but liked the effect of the bubbles in the frosting, so I just cleaned and sharpened the edges for my canvas.  Light brown sugar was pressed along the bottom of half of the cake; for some reason I didn’t want all of it covered in sugar and liked the half-and-half effect.  I had used star cutters to make fondant starfish before and they worked wonderfully, so I knew I wanted starfish.  Then I found leaf cutters meant for roses, but used the shapes haphazardly to create these great seaweed/algae pieces.  I bought a whale cookie cutter from my new favorite store, Sur La Table but it ended up being rather disproportional to the algae and starfish.  I mixed a small piece of grey fondant and shaped a shark fin on top, and carefully placed little schools of fish sprinkles around the cake.  I don’t even think it’s ecologically correct… I mean, do starfish hang around the bottom of the ocean and cling to seaweed like that?  Who knows.  It looked cute and was a nice and quick little project.

Ta daaa!  A crappy 360 video clip of the cake

The order included cupcakes, so I swirled the same blue frosting over vanilla cupcakes (side note: I LOVE my new oven.  It’s huge and bakes everything so evenly AND I don’t have to guess the timing and temperature anymore!  #inheaven) and used extra pieces of seaweed and starfish as cupcake toppers.  Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of the cupcakes BEFORE bringing them in =(

handmade fondant starfish

handmade fondant starfish. eww, what dry hands have I.

seaweed cupcake

seaweed cupcake

 

For my oldest godson’s 3-year birthday party, I whipped up a little bowling pin cake.  This little boy is one of the cutest little human beings on the planet, and he’s also one of the craziest.  haha  Since he’s my godson, of COURSE he gets special treatment and I just had to make a little SOMETHING for his party.  He’s currently obsessed with bowling and planets, so bowling pins and a ball that had Jupiter-like swirls it was.  And when I say whipped up, I mean, I hand shaped and cut 10 bowling pins with stripes and a bowling ball during the time it took for Vin to go on his morning run.  I iced that baby in minutes and added extra fondant stars, and voila… a little cake with knocked over pins.

Left: Look at that perfectly straight and clean edge. I'm GOOD.  Right: Fondant bowling pins for Timmy!!!

Left: Look at that perfectly straight and clean edge. I’m GOOD. Right: Fondant bowling pins for Timmy!!!

As soon as he saw it, he wanted to stand them up but didn’t quite get why I said no and that they’d be all sticky.  Later on, he was throwing a tantrum about having to take his shoes off and started yelling and crying, so I picked him up and took him to look at his cake.  Within in the span of 2 minutes, this little guy ate about 6 of the bowling pins.   Such an insane but adorable little kid.  <3

The birthday boy and his cake

The birthday boy and his cake