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Marea (Manhattan, NY) – This Is Food Porn.

May 20, 2010

Before reading any further, please first watch the following Youtube clip from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations – Food Porn Part II. (Start watching at 3:10 – That’s when it starts getting gooooood…)

Okay, now that I’ve made you hungry, I’ll also make you jealous: The sea urchin and lardo? The burrata and lobster? The octopus and bone marrow?

I ate that. ALL OF THAT.

I find it fitting that Marea is established right across the southern border of Central Park. When I think of Central Park, I think of a lush, green oasis in a concrete jungle; when I think of Marea, I think of a modern, bright dining room in a sea of older, dim restaurants.

Although the fundamental characteristics between Marea and other NYC fine dining establishments are the same (e.g. big windows, crisp linens, glass centerpieces, etc.), there’s something about Marea that is so visually appealing to me. Maybe it was because I went to Marea on a perfectly sunny spring day, but the whole space just seemed to sparkle the moment I walked in. This has to be one of my favorite dining rooms thus far.

Marea’s lunch menu is simple – a two course business lunch for $38, with each additional course costing $19 (although, looking at their online menu now, they’ve increased it to $42 and $21, respectively). The “Ricci” (i.e. the sea urchin and lardo) is not on their lunch menu but after seeing the above No Reservations episode, I begged my way to an order.

(Note: I am going to start transcribing quotes from the No Reservations episode because, honestly, can I describe the following better than King of My Heart? I don’t think so.)

“Two fat sacks of sea urchin roe, plumped with goodness. The briny, swollen membranes held aloft by two tiny chariots of toast. A gossamer thin sheet of lardo, lightly cured pork fat from the mountains of Tuscany, draped over the top and ever so slightly heated, allowed to wilt, to melt over the aroused golden pillows, like a dying swan.” – Anthony Bourdain

Ricci – Sea urchin, lardo, sea salt.

A side tangent: I recently had a very similar dish – uni on toast with olive oil – at Church and State in Los Angeles. There, the olive oil seemed to overwhelm the sea urchin and gave almost a greasy consistency to the uni. This was not the case at Marea.

The sea urchin and lardo, in this instance, were complimentary – Each component maintained the qualities that make it delicious and the other only enhanced the overall taste. The uni was buttery, the lardo was smoky…I only wish we had ordered more.

“Combine seafood and cheese – it’s just not done! It’s like catching your parents having sex! Instinctively, it’s like eww! But not this time…This time it tastes like shame. Delicious, delicious shame.” – Anthony Bourdain

Astice – Nova Scotia lobster, burrata, eggplant al funghetto, basil.

Lobster and burrata. Burrata and lobster. Can you really go wrong? Burrata, by itself, is on my list of favorite things. (Coincidentally enough, sea urchin and bone marrow are also on that list.) Add lobster and it’s become an ever higher ranked favorite!

I was originally worried about the texture of this dish – as Anthony Bourdain already stated, lobster and cheese aren’t really supposed to go together. However, the lobster was firm enough to provide some contrast against the soft burrata.

“It starts innocently enough – hand made fusilli and baby octopus, tossed and mingled together with…OMFG, NO! Bone marrow! The unearthly product melted into and fortifying the sauce like some celestial butter.” – Anthony Bourdain

Fusilli – Durum wheat pasta, red wine braised octopus, bone marrow.

Ordering a pasta dish for lunch after devouring a pasta tasting dinner at Babbo the night before is risky. Finding out that pasta dish can hold its own, even after a full pasta tasting menu, is both relieving and exciting.

The fusilli had great texture, perfectly al dente, and had a great chewiness to it. The octopus was tender, not at all tough. As for the bone marrow? Finding bone marrow was like finding buried treasure – my eyes lit up with every chunk of fatty marrow I dug from underneath the pasta.

To conclude: In the spirit of food porn, let’s just say eating at Marea would be the money shot. (And I’m just going to leave it at that.)

240 Central Park South
New York, NY 10021
(212) 582-5100

Marea on Urbanspoon

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck (Manhattan, NY) – A Salty Pimp and My Big Gay BFF

May 15, 2010

(Picture taken by Jenn)

In a city where ice cream trucks are parked every other block (I think I passed at least four on the way to the BGICT), the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck is one worth finding. Although it may look like a standard ice cream truck from the outside (that is, if you ignore its colorful logo), the flavor combinations that have been known to come out of this truck are anything but standard. Using ingredients such as curry powder, wasabi pea dust, olive oil, sea salt, sriracha…This ain’t your neighborhood ice cream truck.

On this particular day, I was on the search for a choinkwich – a caramelized bacon chocolate ice cream sandwich that Jenn, the other half in my NYC fooding adventures, describes as: “fatty goodness + cold goodness + chewy goodness = heaven“. However, once I found the truck, Doug, the nice guy in the truck, said they weren’t selling them that day. (Story of my life.)

So, I reverted to Plan B: “Doug, what would you recommend to a girl from LA who has never had a big gay ice cream before?”

I got a Salty Pimp.

Again, the above may look like a standard chocolate dipped ice cream cone, with its creamy vanilla ice cream and a crispy chocolate shell, but layered between the ice cream and chocolate is are drizzles of sweet dulce de leche and sprinklings of sea salt. Once you try it, the crunch of sea salt almost becomes a natural accompaniment to the vanilla, chocolate and caramel – specifically, it enhances the flavors of both the chocolate and caramel in this sweet and savory concoction.

And, like that, with a lick of my Salty Pimp, I was sold. The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck is my new big gay best friend.

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
New York, NY
Twitter: @biggayicecream

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck on Urbanspoon

People’s Pops (Manhattan, NY) – The People Want Shaved Ice!

May 12, 2010

I feel like I miss out on some things by living in Los Angeles. I’m not talking big things; I’m talking about the little ones that you only experience by living in a different city, a different state, a different coast.

For example, hand shaved ice – I’ve never had my shaved ice shaved by hand. I’ve been told it’s very common on the East Coast, with many street vendors shaving ice by hand on the sidewalk. However, I’ve only had ice shaved by a machine, behind the counter of some Asian tea house in the San Gabriel Valley or at a night market in Taiwan. Therefore, seeing this for the first time boggled my mind:

(Yes, the idea of someone running a blade across a gigantic block of ice to make shaved ice is so novel to me that, when I saw it in action, I had to take a video of it.)

People’s Pops is where I had my first hand shaved ice. Located in the famous Chelsea Market in NYC, you can find them at their brand spanking new counter that they just recently moved into about a month ago. The counter, completely covered with popsicle sticks, is simple and classic, and their popsicles and flavored syrups mirror the same characteristics. With all their products made from fresh fruit obtained locally, you can really taste the difference.

Unlike the typical artificial tasting sugar water, the syrup used in my bartlett pear shaved ice was sweet but not overly, rot your teeth sweet. The pear flavor wasn’t as pure as I imagined it to be – you know, that pear taste where you almost feel like you have pear grit in between your teeth – but it was definitely much better than the fluorescent red and blue colored stuff you get at the carnival. The hand shaved ice adds texture to the ice so you more of a crunch with each bite. And, unlike normal artificial shaved ices, I actually wanted to drink (and did drink) the melted slush at the bottom of my cup.

People’s Pops’ popsicles are refreshing too, but I think the shaved ice is still my favorite. Maybe I just like watching them hand shave ice…

People’s Pops
425 West 15th Street
New York NY 10014
Twitter: @peoplespops

Gloria’s Cafe (Culver City, CA) – Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

May 11, 2010

This spring must be the season for TV appearances! Yes, yours truly has hit the small screen again! This time, I’m not plugging myself but one of my favorite Mexican/Salvadorian restaurants in Los Angeles – Gloria’s Cafe.

If you’re wondering if my 5 seconds in the spotlight influenced my glowing review, then you’ve never had Gloria’s sopa de 7 mares. I wasn’t lying when I said it was my favorite thing on the menu; I would bathe in that broth if I could. The seafood overflows from the bowl, the octopus and the squid are soft and never chewy, the scallops are succulent…

…I think I just made myself hungry.

So here’s my huge congrats to Gloria’s Cafe! You deserve all the publicity you get!

(Read my original review on Yelp.)

Gloria’s Cafe
10227 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 838-0963
Twitter: @gloriascafe

Gloria's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Nakkara (Los Angeles, CA) – A Feast for Food Bloggers

May 7, 2010

When Kevin of kevinEats invited me to a food blogger/PR dinner at Nakkara last week, I was ecstatic. The opportunity to meet and mingle with Kevin and other Los Angeles food bloggers in person seemed like a fun experience. Plus, I was on vacation – what better way to relax than to eat a good meal with individuals of similar interests?

Of our party of six, I was last to arrive (I’m usually very prompt! I blame my lateness on the lack of metered parking in the area). I walked into the dining room and recognized a few familiar faces – Danny of Kung Food Panda and Diana of Diana Takes A Bite, both of whom I first met through Yelp, and Kevin and Christina of Food Je T’aime, whom I recognize from their online accounts. The last member of our party was Amy of The Roaming Belly, whom I got to know throughout the course of the night.

For this dinner, Nakkara organized a special 13-course Thai inspired meal that showcased a variety of their dishes, both on and off menu.

Nakkara Mieang Kum – Toasted coconut, cashew nut, dried shrimp, diced lime, ginger, Thai chili, red onion, mieng sauce.

We started with the light mieang kum, a lettuce wrapped bundle of coconut, cashews, dried shrimp and lime. They recommended eating it one bite; however, I just couldn’t do it (surprising, I know – I do have a pretty big mouth). Therefore, I think I was table to taste each flavor more distinctly. The bite with the tiny wedge of lime was my favorite – a sharp tart citrus to offset the pile of toasted coconut.

The next two courses – the filet mignon skewer in a green curry sauce and the garlic lamb – were particularly tasty because of the preparation of their respective proteins. A simple dish is so easily ruined by poor meat preparation, but there was nothing to worry about here – both were moist and tender.

The fourth course, a duck spring roll, was reminiscent of Peking duck, especially due to the inclusion of the hoisin sauce.

Big Surprise! – Shrimp, squid, crabmeat, coconut milk, red curry paste.

The Big Surprise had a table consensus of being one of the favorites of the night. A custom created metal serving plate from Thailand was used to serve individual sized balls of crab, shrimp and squid. The red curry and coconut milk were flavorful and helped keep the shredded crab meat moist.

We continued our 13-meal course with two soups for our 6th and 7th course. Similar in taste, the tom kha soup included coconut milk while the tom yum soup was a clear hot and sour broth. Both were typical of soups one would find at any standard Thai restaurant.

If you’ve never had green papaya salad, I would say that the one at Nakkara is a good representation of what a Thai green papaya salad should taste like. I liked the crunch of the green beans with the unripe papaya. Plus, the salad had just enough heat to get your tongue tingling but not overwhelm you with spice.

Crying Tiger – Flame grilled rib eye steak, dried chili pepper sauce.

The Crying Tiger was my other favorite dish of the night. The steak was cooked medium rare (the only way to cook a steak!) and topped with a tangy, peppery sauce. I distinctly remember the dish being served cold, although I’m not quite sure if it was supposed to be that way or if we just spent too much time photographing it.

The last four entrees of this 13-course meal came out, family style, around the same time as the Crying Tiger. The catfish was moist and flaky. The soft shell crab was paired with a rich red curry sauce. The fried rice had just enough beef and shrimp for each member of our table. The seafood pad thai was overflowing with seafood.

Mango and sweet sticky rice.

We ended our meal with mango with sweet sticky rice. Seeing that I haven’t seen many mangoes at the market (granted, I don’t go to the market all that often), I was hesitant about the ripeness of the mango. I shouldn’t have been – these were soft, juicy and sweet, without any gristle or stringiness. It was perfect with the sweet sticky rice.

As you can tell, I had a great time at my first official food blogger/PR dinner. Thanks again to Kevin for putting it together and thanks to all my fellow food bloggers for their delightful company!

Nakkara on Beverly
7669 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 937-3100
Twitter: @nakkara

Nakkara on Beverly on Urbanspoon