Travel: Bay Area Taco Roundup

One of the things that nearly every New Yorker laments (besides the obvious, like the tourists and the un-air conditioned cars in the subway) is the lack of good Mexican food in the city. Of course, that's a generalization, and there are plenty of great places like Dos Toros and Empellon al Pastor (also Rockaway Taco, RIP, is still the best fish taco I've ever had.) But for inexpensive, consistently good tacos, California always wins. Ari and I were in Sonoma and Oakland last week for vacation, and I had tacos a total of four separate times (I know, I think I have a problem.) Here's where we ate (plus a couple of favorites from other trips):

Sonoma

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El Molino Central The standout at this seasonal taqueria was actually the pork tamale–super moist with plenty of meat, and just as good reheated the next day for breakfast with an egg on top. An excellent place to stop for lunch if you're in wine country, plus they have a nice outdoor patio.

Taqueria Los Primos Cheap, delicious, super filling. We got two carnitas tacos, two chorizo tacos and an horchata bigger than my face for a grand total of $12–plus it came with free chips and homemade salsa.

Oakland

Cactus All I'm going to say is go quickly and get the crispy chicken tacos. You'll thank me.

San Francisco

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Sweet Woodruff Not your typical taqueria, this coffee shop nonetheless had delicious breakfast tacos filled with bacon, eggs, queso fresco and pico de gallo. The iced coffee was pretty spot-on as well.

Tacolicious This relative newcomer is already a mini-chain in San Francisco and Palo Alto, and does not disappoint. I had the chorizo and potato, short rib and carnitas tacos and all were equally delicious (plus the avocado salsa made everything better.)

Would love to hear about your favorite Mexican places in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Where to Eat in Paris

This is certainly not a definitive guide on where to eat in Paris, but it is where we ate. Everything was SO GOOD. Seriously, I don't know how a simple ham sandwich is so much better than it is here (not to mention the fact that a half baguette piled with saucisson sec or ham is 3 euros.) I know that Parisian restaurants have gotten a bad rap in the past for being snooty but everywhere we went was so lovely (it does help to at least attempt to speak French, though I would recommend that for any foreign country.) Le Servan: We ate here for Ari's birthday, and while everything was great, we particularly loved the blood sausage wontons with sweet and sour sauce (sounds crazy but they were delicious) and the slow cooked beef. Expect French dishes with plenty of Asian twists, about $120 for two (with wine.)

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Le Relais d'Entrecôte: Maybe a little touristy, but this steak frites-only restaurant is a classic for a reason. Reasonable prices, addictive sauce and super crispy fries make it a great option for picky eaters, and the three locations are very convenient.

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Bones: This newish place from Australian chef James Henry was empty when we arrived at 7:30 on a Tuesday, but quickly filled up and with good reason. The bar has small plates, but the 55 euro tasting menu was stellar, highlighted by housemade bread and butter, steamed oysters with mignonette and amazing roast duck. The innovative menu changes nightly, and you can book ahead online.

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Lulu La Nantaise: We randomly stopped in this little crêperie along the Canal St. Martin because we were starving, and it ended up being such a gem. Reasonable prices and a great selection of both sweet and savory crêpes make it a perfect lunch place.

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Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki: This tiny and beautiful pâtisserie was just down the street from the apartment we rented, and had a gorgeous selection of Japanese-influenced pastries (think matcha croissants) and great coffee (which, unfortunately can be hard to find in Paris.)

Apart from these, there were innumerable boulangeries and cafés that we stopped in for a sandwich or a quick glass of champagne-you really can't go too far wrong.

All photos from my Instagram.

The Bachelor Farmer

As many of you already know, Minneapolis is getting to be kind of a big deal. It seems that all of a sudden, lutefisk and mashed potatoes are being replaced by innovative new restaurants serving "Nordic-American" food (I'm told this is the newest trend). Of course, those of us that are from there know that this is not a new phenomenon, but rather one that has been in the making for quite some time -- but it's nice to know that the rest of the country is discovering the greatness of Minnesota as well. (See here and here). Of course, I don't get to visit home as often as I(/my parents) would like, and since I have been hearing about all of these new restaurants, it has been even harder. When I was home in May for my sister's graduation, my mom tried to get us a reservation at the newest of these -- The Bachelor Farmer -- to no avail. So she decided to make a reservation 3 months in advance, for August. After waiting practically all summer, we finally made it there last weekend. And believe me -- it was worth the wait.

Since we all wanted to try multiple things, we decided to order a number of items and split them. My dad, being a full-blooded Norwegian, had to start off the meal with a glass of aquavit (it's worth noting that they have multiple kinds). Not to my taste, but the herbal notes were certainly refreshing. We then commenced with beets roasted in duck fat with house-made cow's milk cheese and the duck liver pâté. Both were delicious -- but the pâté had even my mostly-vegetarian sister eating multiple pieces.

I then decided on an heirloom tomato salad with aioli and the steak tartare (I can never resist), while the rest of my family chose a variety of entrées, including duck, halibut, and poached eggs with spinach. The tomato salad was one of my favorite items -- the tomatoes were almost like candy, and they were perfectly complimented by crunchy croutons and the garlicky aioli.

We then finished the evening with a few desserts -- including a smoked vanilla ice cream that was pretty unbelievable. My favorite, however, was a peach upside-down cake that perfectly captured the flavors of summer. After dinner, we walked partway across a bridge over the Mississippi -- a perfect Minneapolis night.

Fette Sau

I'm pretty sure that trying to be a vegetarian is an obligatory part of any Wesleyan student's education. And many, I'm sure, succeed. I attempted to be a vegetarian the first semester of my freshman year and was actually pretty successful -- until Thanksgiving, that is. The turkey, ham, and my mom's excellent stuffing were just too much. Ah well. I don't think it was meant to be anyways -- I love barbecue and fried chicken FAR too much to try to give that up. Not that I'm knocking those who do choose to be vegetarian -- I actually quite enjoy tofu and I think that in many cases the environmental impact of eating meat can be too much.

However, this is not a post about the moral implications about eating meat. Rather, this is a post about excellent barbecue, at a marvelous place in Williamsburg called Fette Sau. Not vegetarian friendly -- you literally order meat by the pound. Options are limited, but that's alright with me. All of the meat is smoked for hours on location (a rare feat in NYC), and you can choose from a few options and rotating sides. Go with the brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. Just trust me. For sides, the German-style potato salad is a perfect foil for the smoky meat, and the baked beans are cooked with the burnt pork ends, making them wonderfully smoky and hearty. The meat is served with doughy rolls and the long tables are scattered with various barbecue sauces, including a spicy one and one laced with mustard. Fette Sau (which, appropriately, means Fat Pig in German), also has a great whiskey selection and multiple beers on tap to wash down your meal. Go on a night when you can sit outside, as the four long inside tables are always packed. You'll know you have arrived when you smell smoky, succulent pork wafting onto the street -- and how can anyone resist that?

(Clearly, not me, since I went twice in the span of a week.)

Pete Zaaz

Imagine this: pizza smothered in crème fraîche, thinly sliced potatoes, green onions and, of course, bacon.  Sounds like a dream, I know. But it's real! I promise. And you can find this, and several other types of non-traditional pizzas at Pete Zaaz in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I am of course always excited about new and good food within walking distance of my apartment, and Pete Zaaz certainly does not disappoint. I have now been there a few times and the baked potato pizza is a clear winner so far, but pretty much everything I have tried has been great. Many of their pies have rather outlandish combinations (like the current "Pretzel Parm" with garlic béchamel, smoked gouda, and fried chicken) but they absolutely work. On our last visit, we also tried the Reuben Stromboli, a smart take on the Reuben sandwich with corned beef, spicy mustard, and sauerkraut stuffed inside a stromboli.

Though they don't have a wood-fired oven, each pizza is made to order and still ends up nicely charred in their convection oven. The other great part about Pete Zaaz is their garden in the back -- since the interior is rather narrow and has limited seating, the back provides a lovely and more open setting to enjoy your pizza. And it's BYOB -- so really, what more do you need? Word is that they are going to start having movie nights during the summer as well, which would really just put it over the top. And I'll let you in on a little secret: instead of grated parmesan or red pepper flakes to add to your pizza, Pete Zaaz has instead created its own spice blend, consisting of a few herbs, spices, and -- crushed Cheeze-its. Genius.

 

On a side note -- I am FLOORED by all of the wonderful comments on my previous post on my grandmother's rhubarb pie recipe. THANK YOU all for your incredibly kind words -- I love sharing recipes with all of you, and it has been so lovely to "meet" new people and discover new blogs.

Restaurants: Bar Corvo

Since moving to Crown Heights in November, I have gotten a few "huhs" as responses when asked where I live in Brooklyn. However, if you haven't visited Crown Heights lately, I would highly recommend a visit. More affordable than Park Slope and Prospect Heights, and fairly bursting with new businesses, Franklin Avenue seems to be hopping at all hours of the day. Even though I have only lived there for a few months, I have already enjoyed being able to walk to great restaurants and coffee shops in  the neighborhood (a feature sorely missing from my last apartment). The newest of these is Bar Corvo, which, if you are familiar with Brooklyn geography, is technically in Prospect Heights as it sits on Washington Avenue.

Situated in an old building that has housed many a restaurant, Bar Corvo has integrated older aspects of its design, including original wallpaper and glimpses of the many-layered painted brick walls, as part of its decor. The food is northern Italian, perfect for A. and I (who studied abroad in Bologna). We went late on a Friday night, and there was still a wait at 9 pm, which, in this area of Brooklyn is not the most common. I enjoyed a spritz  of prosecco and aperol (my favorite drink while in Italy, and hard to find here) while we waited in the narrow bar area. The long dining room is divided into two sections -- the first includes the bar and pasta bar, with 15 or so seats lined up alongside, and the back is comprised of a large communal table and smaller individual tables. It looks like there is also a garden, but since temperatures in NYC have dropped back down to the 50's, we didn't venture back there.

We had a pretty hard time deciding what to order (do we get a pasta and a main course? Or two appetizers and a pasta??), but in the end we opted for the semolina gnocchi with wild boar ragù, the pork chop with polenta and kale, and a side of the house-made foccaccia. Not the lightest of meals, but certainly delicious. The gnocchi were light and airy, nicely complimented by the complex and earthy ragù. The polenta was perfectly creamy, offsetting the horseradish-covered pork chop very well. My favorite, however, was the foccaccia. Never one to pass up a bread basket (I could never do the Atkins diet), this foccaccia was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, simply seasoned with fresh rosemary and fleur de sel -- which A. is now obsessed with. Since we ate there last week, he has actually said the following to me several times: "Do you know what would be perfect with this? That fleur de sel!" -- whether he was talking about pesto (post to come shortly) or vegetables. It was excellent.

Being rather full, we decided to skip dessert, but I look forward to coming back (especially in summer) to sit on the back patio and enjoy a glass of prosecco. A little slice of Italy, only a few blocks from my apartment -- doesn't get much better than that.

 

Restaurants: Little Brother

I'm not quite sure how this happened, as I come from Minnesota -- land of lutefisk, not so much of barbecue. But somehow, over the last year or so, I have become kind of obsessed with southern food. This isn't really a new trend, especially in NYC where (lucky for me and Ari) there are tons of great options for barbecue and fried chicken. (I mentioned a few in a previous post). However, I'm always looking for options that don't necessitate getting on a train, and that's where Little Brother comes in.

It opened last winter in a tiny, industrial space on the strange wasteland of Atlantic Avenue and Clinton Avenue next to the excellent Hot Bird bar. The first time I went was in January, and it was freezing. Even with our mild winter, we ate with our coats on. However, the food certainly helped warm us up, and their simple menu is the perfect length to order a few things to share. I'm a fan of the barbecue chicken and barbecue pork sandwiches (always with extra spicy barbecue sauce), which comes with pickles and vegetable slaw on top. The prices are reasonable enough to warrant ordering a couple of sides, of which I highly recommend the french fries (though I may be biased. I could eat french fries every day. Seriously) These, however are a whole different ball game. After they are fried, they coat them in the same spice rub they use to marinate the meat, and the result is a sweet-spicy-tangy kick that complements the crispy fries perfectly. The collard greens are very good as well, although i thought they could have used a little more flavor. Overall, a great place to go when you want a cheap dinner and don't wnat to venture too far from your apartment (at least for me). An added bonus: in warm weather, you can order the food to eat at Hot Bird and enjoy it outdoors with a cold beer next to their fire pit.

Mabel's Smokehouse & Banquet Hall

If you had told anyone five years ago that New York City would be bursting at the seams with barbecue restaurants, they most likely would have laughed at you. However, now New York boasts some excellent barbecue and Southern restaurants, many in the style of the cuisine from Georgia and Alabama. Some notable places include Pies n' Thighs, the Commodore, Georgia's Eastside BBQ, and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Though these places boast excellent fried chicken, biscuits, and grits, something was still missing. Enter Mable's Smokehouse & Banquet Hall, located in Williamsburg.

Mable's brings real Oklahoma-style BBQ to an area that doesn't know much about it (not, being from Minnesota, that I can claim any authority). Immediately upon entering, you feel as though you have left New York City and entered a bar somewhere in Texas. The space is large, industrial and unpolished, with neon signs and long wooden tables. It's a slow night, and one of the cooks drinks a beer at the bar, chatting with the bartender and a couple of friends. The heavenly smell of smoked meat wafts from the open kitchen. There aren't many choices on the menu -- ribs, brisket, pulled pork, a veggie bbq option, and a handful of sides. Ari and I decide on the deluxe platter to split, so that we can try the most items. The platter includes three types of meat (clearly, we skip the veggie option), three sides, pickles, coleslaw, and Wonder bread. We chose candied yams, collard greens, and potato salad for our side dishes, and the entire platter arrived steaming on a cafeteria tray within minutes. Slightly panicked but also ecstatic about the amount and variety of food, I added everything to my (paper) plate in order to try it all. The ribs were crispy and caramelized on the outside, and tender and well-seasoned. The brisket seemed to fall apart when it touched the fork. I thought the pulled pork was rather on the dry side, but then, I generally like my pulled pork to be slathered in bbq sauce. The potato salad and coleslaw were classically creamy, nicely offsetting the smokiness of the meat. I also very much enjoyed the pickles and pickled jalapenos, which had a crisp acidity without being overwhelmingly bitter. I did not, however, like the candied yams, which were too cloying in a marshmallow-maple sauce.

Overall, Mable's is a good addition to an already restaurant-heavy neighborhood. I love trying new types of food, and it was interesting to see the differences between the all of types of bbq we now have in the city. While some dishes could use improvement, I would certainly recommend it for large parties and rib fanatics alike -- although vegetarians should probably stay away.

Tilia

Though I usually write about restaurants in New York, as that is where I live most of the time, this past weekend I was lucky enough to be home in not-so-snowy Minnesota. The trip was filled with family, food, lovely Christmas traditions, and more food (including, for better or worse, lutefisk). However, aside from the lye-soaked cod, one of the nicest parts of the trip was a lunch yesterday at Tilia with my family.

I had heard rave reviews of this restaurant from Twin City-darling Steven Brown from several sources, and couldn't wait to go as soon as I arrived home. Situated in the lovely Linden Hills neighborhood of Minnapolis, "tilia" is actually Latin for the Linden tree. Though Brown has worked at many of the Twin Cities' best restaurants, this is his first solo venture, and I couldn't wait to see if it lived up to the hype.

Fittingly, as soon as we walked in the door of the restaurant at 1:15, the host told us it would be at least an hour wait for five people. My face fell -- as I needed to leave for the airport in two hours, that would have been impossible. However, with a little flexibility (fitting five people into a booth), we were able to be seated immediately. Our server was engaging and funny, and had many recommendations. We ended up sharing several dishes, including pork belly with lentils and apple chutney (stellar), french fries (salty and marvelous), and the fish taco torta (crunchy and creamy and spicy all at once). However, I would have to say that the two stand-out dishes were on the sweeter side. The first was called, whimsically, "Millionaire's Bacon". This consisted of crispy-succulent bacon drenched in -- wait for it -- salted caramel sauce. More a dessert than a side dish, this was rather remarkable. Though I couldn't eat ore than a few bites, the saltiness of the bacon offset the sweet vanilla of the caramel perfectly.

My other favorite dish was the butterscotch pudding topped with crème fraîche. Wonderfully creamy, with subtle vanilla undertones and lovely butterscotch flavor, the crème fraîche added a nice tart note to the sugary pudding. This was accompanied by a perfectly made macchiato.

Overall, Tilia surpassed all of my expectations. The service was a little slow at times, but understandable given how busy their lunch service is. It feels like a real neighborhood restaurant, an excellent place to meet a friend for a glass of wine (or a beer from their excellent list). Make sure to share everything.

Ladurée

I am a little embarrassed to say this. I'm not a very patient person, so I don't particularly like waiting in lines, whether it's at the bank or to get into a bar. However, I waited in line, in the cold, for 20 minutes to buy macarons. Yes, those little French cookies that seem to be made of air and butter and goodness.I first heard about Ladurée when I was visiting friends in Paris during my semester abroad during college. We couldn't afford many dinners out, but all of us could afford a cappuccino and an exquisite little cake at Ladurée, one of the oldest pâtisseries in Paris and the inventor of the macaron as we know it. They now have several locations, but the one we went to felt like stepping back into a 19th century salon. You almost expected women in bustled gowns and men with top hats to step through the doors at any moment. I don't remember what I ordered, but I know it was some combination of hazelnut and chocolate deliciousness. We left feeling incredibly elegant and sophisticated, proud that even we, on college student's budgets, could afford some of the luxuries of Paris. Imagine my excitement when I heard that Ladurée was opening its first American outpost right here in New York over the summer. Being that the Upper East Side is a very long ways from Brooklyn, and the lines were around the block, I stayed away for months. However, on Friday I gave into my longings and ventured up to Madison Avenue and waited in line. It was cold, but everyone who was waiting was so excited just to get inside the pastel-colored shop. The macarons were artfully arranged by flavor, and you have the option to buy exquisite boxes by the dozen. I decided on six flavors -- cinnamon-raisin, sea-salt caramel, vanilla, lemon, coconut, and raspberry. To be honest, I was still a little hesitant since the macarons are flown in from Paris every day, which seems slightly excessive. However, after the first bite of sea-salt and caramel, all of my doubts melted away. I have had macarons before, but this was entriely different. The cookie was soft but with a lovely crunch to the outside, and the filling was pure caramel -- spiked with a hint of salt to keep it from being overly sweet. The following flavors were just as wonderful. It's not something I could spring for every day, but it's nice to know that there is a little slice of Paris in New York.