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Cafe Habana (Manhattan, NY) – Corn Never Tasted So Good

May 4, 2010

The above picture may not be the prettiest one to grace this blog but you know what?

Aesthetics don’t always matter. Flavor does.

Cafe Habana’s grilled corn is one of those things you have to try if you haven’t yet. The description sounds simple enough: It’s just an ear of corn that has been grilled, sprinkled with cheese and spices with a hearty squeeze of lime. However, knowing that makes you no less surprised upon your first bite.

Cafe Habana’s grilled corn is the unification of salty melted cheese, tangy lime juice and sweet corn.

I think I’m going to get another one tomorrow.

Cafe Habana
229 Elizabeth St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 625-2001

Café Habana on Urbanspoon

Max Brenner (Manhattan, NY) / Syrup Desserts (Los Angeles, CA) – East vs. West Waffles

January 30, 2010

When I went to NYC in December, I had the opportunity of going to a wondrous place called “Max Brenner”. Walking through the doors was like walking through a curtain of chocolate – you were immediately greeted with the smell of it and its warm embrace. I remember loving Max Brenner’s carefree, sugar-loving establishment and wishing that something like this existed in LA.

Little did I know, there already was.

Stumbling upon Syrup Desserts was like walking into LA’s adult version of Max Brenner. Not quite Candyland, this was the more sophisticated version for those who enjoyed a good french press with their sugary delights. You may not drown in chocolate at Syrup Desserts, but you can definitely appease your sweet tooth here.

Now comes the question: Which one is better? I can’t say for certain, but I do know this: They both make a mean berry waffle.

Max Brenner

“It’s so simple. All you have to do is just really love chocolate!”

If Max Brenner were the Willy Wonka of NYC, I would be the girl who got stuck in a tube because I was drinking too much chocolate out of the river. (Yes, the short little rotund one.)

Max Brenner is just a happy-go-lucky kind of place. Open until 2AM, it’s perfect for a midnight snack or, in my case, a warm cup of hot chocolate on a cold New York night. They’ve got half a dozen varieties of hot chocolate on their menu, each made with your choice of either dark, milk or white chocolate. I personally recommend the dark Mexican hot chocolate – the spiciness in that cup kicked the cold right out of me!

After hungrily eyeing the neighboring table’s Tutti Frutti waffles for five minutes straight, I figured I should order a plate of my own. The waffles themselves were a bit dry but the mountains of strawberries compensated for it. The berries were ripe and sweet and had just a hint of citrus to punch things up a bit. The vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup were eaten separately – There was no need to load that waffle up any more than it already was, it was great as is.

Max Brenner
841 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Max Brenner, Chocolate By the Bald Man on Urbanspoon

Max Brenner in New York

Syrup Desserts

If parking downtown wasn’t such a pain, you’d find me at Syrup Desserts every weekend, fork full of waffle in one hand, coffee in the other and a lonely laptop sitting in front of me. (Hey, I only have two hands!) Any establishment that serves both LAMill and Intelligencia coffee already gets an “A” in my book. Add some of the best waffles I’ve had in recent memory and you’ve earned yourself that extra plus.

Syrup Desserts serves three types of waffles: buttermilk waffles, Belgian waffles and liege waffles. Again, with the help of Wikipedia, I shall define my food. Liege waffles are:

“a richer, denser, sweeter, and chewier waffle. Invented by the chef of the prince-bishop of Liège in the 18th century as an adaptation of brioche bread dough, it features chunks of pearl sugar, which caramelizes on the outside of the waffle when baked.”

In other words, it’s pure deliciousness.

(Side tangent: My food photo skills are slowly getting better! YAY!)

As mentioned, the waffles are noticeably chewier than your typical Belgian waffle but I personally like the consistency. I was surprised to find blueberries baked inside my waffle; they were a welcome addition and didn’t soggy the waffle at all.

As for the accompanying blackberry jasmine ice cream, I could eat vats of the stuff. Although my dining companion Austin thought they had overseeped the blackberry jasmine tea, I loved the bold blackberry flavor and the heavy tea aftertaste.

I can already tell Syrup Desserts is soon going to be one of my regular late night stops. The last time I was there, I noticed they have a Mexican hot chocolate on their menu too – if it’s as good as Max Brenner’s, I’ll never leave.

Syrup Desserts
611 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 488-5136
Twitter: @syrupdesserts

Syrup Desserts on Urbanspoon

Syrup Desserts in Los Angeles

Russ & Daughters (Manhattan, NY) / Katz’s Deli (Manhattan, NY) – I <3 NY + Anthony Bourdain

January 10, 2010

I think it’s safe to say: Everyone loves Anthony Bourdain.

I have yet to meet a person who has been indifferent to him, let alone hated him. I, myself, can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with the man – It was way back when (you know, back when The Food Network was actually a legit food network) and I was watching A Cook’s Tour on TV. Bourdain, as usual, was in the middle of some far off land and had just taken a bite of the regional iguana dish. It was at that moment he spoke the words that stole my heart. He said:

“Unbelievably horrible. I just want to die. I mean really bad. I want to dip my head into a bucket of lye, you know, pull my eyes out of their sockets and jump off a cliff.”

(Yes, THAT’s the kind of stuff that makes my heart flutter.)

It was at that moment, I knew – Anthony Bourdain WILL NOT bullshit you. If something is horrific, he WILL tell you. On the same note, if he says something is awesome, you better believe it.

Fast forward to November 2009 – I was in the process of planning my first trip to back to NY since the beginning of the millenium and I conveniently stumble upon Anthony Bourdain’s list of 13 places to eat before you die, 3 of which were located in NYC.

Is this a sign? (Maybe.)
Is the King of My Heart trying to tell me something? (I doubt it.)
Am I going to heed his call? (OF COURSE.)

(Note: If you’re an Anthony Bourdain hater out there, please – stay hidden and don’t comment. I like being young and naive.)


(Okay, NOW comes the part about the food.)

Spots 8 and 9 on Anthony Bourdain’s bucket list are just a block apart, which makes them easy to knock off the list. Katz’s Deli and Russ and Daughters are two NYC institutions that have been around for the last century, give or take a couple years (Katz’s opened in 1888, Russ and Daughters in 1914), and they’re both still serving the same things they were when they first opened.

Russ and Daughters

If the day I went was representative of a normal day at Russ and Daughters, be prepared to WAIT. Even though it was pouring outside, this little place was packed to the brim with people, waiting for their smoked fish and Jewish sides.

While others were stocking up on pickled herring and latkes, I had my eyes on a lox bagel with the works (i.e. onions, tomatoes and capers). You get your choice of lox – I chose the Scottish salmon as it was supposed to be “the perfect union of silky texture, balanced smoked, and total sophistication”. I waited 30 minutes for my little bagel sandwich, then rushed over to Katz’s with my goodies all wrapped up in a bag.

I finally got the chance to chow down later in the day and the lox was just as it was described – the texture was smooth, the flavor had just a hint of smokiness…it was some great lox. I almost wish I had just ordered the lox by itself – while the bagel itself was fine, they had smeared on too much cream cheese (at least, for my taste) and had sliced the onions and tomatoes a little thin.

Russ and Daughters
179 E Houston St
New York, NY 10002
(212) 475-4880
Twitter: @loxpopuli

Russ & Daughters on Urbanspoon

Katz’s Delicatessen

The crowd in Katz’s was just as big as the one in Russ but, luckily, I didn’t have to wait – my sister from another mother, Jenn, had been waiting in line at Katz’s while I was waiting in line at Russ. (Tag team!) I found her sitting at a table, sandwich already split in two, patiently waiting for me to deliver my part of the deal.

Katz’s pastrami is so moist, it just flakes apart in your mouth. It’s probably the best pastrami I’ve had to date…but that’s not saying very much. I’ve yet to try LA’s pastrami institution (i.e. Langer’s) so I don’t know how the East compares with the West. Plus, at the end of the day, Katz’s pastrami sandwich is a $15 pastrami sandwich.

Is it worth the price? *shrugs* It is good though.

Katz’s Delicatessen
205 E Houston St
New York, NY 10002
(212) 254-2246
Twitter: @katzdeli

Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon

Ippudo (Manhattan, NY) – Noodling in NY

December 26, 2009

(Did the above catch your attention? Good.)

I love my ramen broth rich. None of that salt-based stuff for me, I love slurping pure liquid porkiness.

However Ippudo’s akamaru modern ramen, with its tonkotsu broth made from boiling pig parts (mmm…pig parts), is more than liquid porkiness – it has a different dimension that I haven’t tasted in a bowl from Los Angeles yet.

Perhaps it’s the addition of the miso paste and garlic oil that makes Ippudo’s broth so tasty. Or, maybe it’s the braised chunks of pork belly (a supplemental topping) that made this bowl of ramen seem so fatty and delicious.

All I know is that I dread craving Ippudo. Busy season’s coming up and there’s no time to fly to NYC for another bowl…

Ippudo NY
65 4th Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 388-0088

Ippudo on Urbanspoon

Le Bernardin (Manhattan, NY) – A Fishing Story

December 17, 2009

Seeing that Le Bernardin is arguably the best seafood restaurant in the nation, it seems fitting to begin this review with a fishing story of my own. Like most stereotyical fishing stories, my story starts with an outrageous claim and ends with no proof that what I claim ever existed…but trust me, it’s true.

I was at Le Bernardin on Saturday night and was *THIS CLOSE!* to…*dramatic pause*…ERIC RIPERT.

Yes, you read that correctly, I SAW ERIC RIPERT. I watched him wander from the bar to the dining room, stopping by and chatting with the patrons at each table. I watched him walk from the dining room to the kitchen, disappearing behind the swinging doors. However, I did NOT see him drop by my table and, by the time I thought of asking to meet the chef, he had left for the night. No picture, no proof…all I have is disappointment and regret for not jumping him when I had the chance.


Luckily, that was my only disappointment that night.


It’s times like these that I absolutely hate my inability to write eloquently. How do I describe my 3-star experience at Le Bernardin beyond “Just…WOW.”? Where do I begin to describe the dishes we were served, how can I convey to you the thoughts that ran through my head with every bite? I can only hope that pictures do more justice than words – there are so many words one can use; I can only use the ones within my reach.

Of the three prix fixe options at Le Bernardin (4-, 7- or 8-courses), my dining companion Jenn and I both ordered the 8-course Chef’s tasting menu, complete with wine pairing. After completing our meal, both of us agreed – the wine pairing was a MUST. Some dishes were amazing with or without the pairing but others were elevated to that next level (to the level one would expect from a restaurant like Le Bernardin) because of that one sip. Highly recommended.

Amouse-Bouche: ?

Unfortunately, I forgot to write down what we were served for the amuse-bouche but it wasn’t a standout dish in any fashion so I’m not sure if it matters. There was something odd about the texture of the dish – it was little mushy and I couldn’t quite figure out if it was from the seafood or from the accompanying puree underneath. The foam (made of mushrooms, if my memory serves me correctly) complemented the other flavors well; however, the texture was still very distracting.

Course 1: Smoked Yellowfin Tuna “Prosciutto”; Japanese Pickled Vegetables and Crispy Kombu (Pairing: Muscadet ‘Clos des Briords’, Pepiere, Loire 2008)

The smooth smokiness of the tuna played well against the crisp sweetness of the Japanese pickles. I admit, I did without the crispy kombu (a type of seaweed typically used in Japanese cooking); it may have added a hint of saltiness to each bite but it was also a battle to break it into pieces.

Course 2: Poached Pastured Egg; Osetra Caviar; Mariniere Broth and English Muffin (Pairing: Krug, Grande Cuvee)

When first looking at the menu, there were three dishes that caught my eye and ultimately resulted in my choosing the Chef’s tasting over the Le Bernardin tasting, this being the first. The egg, perfectly poached, floating in a pool of broth, rich with the flavor of white wine and mussels – it was divine. The dish just asked to be sopped with the two strips of lightly toasted English muffin (and I, of course, gladly obliged, sopping the running yolks and the broth as daintily as I could).

Course 3: Seared Langoustine, Mache, Wild Mushroom Salad; Shaved Foie Gras; White Balsamic Vinaigrette (Pairing: Gewurztraminer, Cantina Tramin, Alto Adige 2007)

The second of my three must haves, this was a prime example of a good dish elevated by an excellent wine pairing. The course, by itself was a solid dish – the langoustine was tender and the there was just enough foie to add a hint of flavor to, but not overwhelm, the other components of the dish. However, the wine brought out the sweetness of the langoustine, creating a very pleasant taste all together.

Course 4: Pan Roasted Monkfish; Hon Shimeji Mushrooms; Turnip – Ginger Emulsion; Sake Broth (Pairing: Chassagne Montrachet, 1er Cru Chenevottes, Bernard Moreau 2006)

Typically, I’m not a huge monkfish fan – I enjoy some of the flakier fishes and monkfish tends to be a bit too dense for me. However, I polished off the fish, along with everything else, in order to taste as much of the sake and miso broth as possible. (Le Bernardin may be known for seafood but their sauces and broths are what really make the dish and compliment the natural flavors of the seafood.)

Course 5: Crispy Black Bass; Braised Celery and Parsnip Custard; Iberico Ham – Green Peppercorn Sauce (Pairing: Rioja, Reserve ‘Vina Ardanza’, La Rioja Alta, Spain 2000)

A psuedo Top Chef groupie (I’m not a true groupie as I missed most of seasons 3-5), I was excited to see a dish featured in the Le Bernardin challenge of season 5. It was suggested that we enjoy the creaminess of the parsnip custard (served separately) in between bites of the bass, a welcome change from the saltiness of the ham and peppercorn sauce and the braised celery.

Course 6: Baked Lobster on a Bed of Truffled Foie Gras Stuffing; Brandy Red Wine Sauce (Pairing: Chateau Haut-Bages Averous, Pauillac Bordeaux 2001)

Lobster with foie and truffles – this could be the definition of luxury. The fattiness of the lobster against the foie was fantastic, although I actually could have done without half the lobster (the portion size was rather large in comparison to the other courses and it just got heavy after a while).

Course 7: Creamy Goat Cheese Spheres, Concord Grape, Candied Walnut, Black Pepper (Pairing: Torrontez Sparkling-Deseado Familia Schroeder, Patagonia Argentina)

The third of the three, this was easily my favorite course of the night. The goat cheese popped in my mouth and mixed in with the sweetness of the walnuts and grape – not quite a sweet and savory but more something perfectly in the middle. With a sip of the paired sparkling wine, I was in heaven.

Course 8: Caramelized Corn Custard, Hazelnut Praline, Brown Butter Ice Cream, Popcorn Tuile (Pairing: Ron Zacapa Rum, Guatemala)

Another not quite sweet, not quite savory but perfectly in between dessert, this was another favorite, partially because of the novelty of the popcorn tuile. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple piece of sugar; however, it tasted exactly like a freshly popped kernel of corn.


…There’s really nothing left to say besides that.

Le Bernardin
155 W 51st St
Manhattan, NY 10019
(212) 554-1515

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon