Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Amsterdam - Bikes, Coffee Shops, & Canals, Oh My!

Nothing says Amsterdam like bikes, coffee shops, and canals.  Bikes are literally everywhere!  In the streets, parked everywhere, and darting in and out of traffic like kamikazes.  No one wears a helmet, there weren't many baby seats (I saw a ton of babies riding in the front basket/handlebars), and people can text / smoke / hold groceries, all while riding.  Coffee shops are on every other corner and there is a significant difference between coffee shops and cafes.  I had 'coffee' at a number of places and couldn't find any strong enough (I even tried the coffee baked brownies and nada). My 3 favorite places were 2e Kamer, Barney's and Stone's Cafe. Last but not least are the canals - nothing says, "welcome to being lost" like trying to read the names of the canals in the dark: Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Oudezijds Achterburgwal, or Prinsengracht.  The best way to explore a city is by getting lost - you discover things that you would not have ordinarily found (like the "all you can eat" cheese samples).       

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Paris - The Foodie Mecca

The whole cafe scene in Paris is a culture all of its own.  You sit down, order a drink, and watch life pass by.  Good luck trying to get a check/bill (AKA l'addition) after asking two or three times for it (it was amusing the first few times, but my New York patience ran thin).  A 15% tip is already included in the price of food/drinks which would explain the slow service.  Aside from that, we had a number of great meals.  Here is the rundown:

Day 1
- Laduree
- Malakoff
- Chez Andre

Day 2
- L'Alsace
- Symposium

Day 3
- La Flamme Cafe
- La Bonne Franquette
- Tutti Sensi
- Le Mere Catherine
- La Galette Des Moulins
- Le Relais De L'Entrecote

Day 4
- Le Pure Cafe
- Amorino
- Les Deux Magots
- Le Flamme Cafe

Day 5
- Bostrot de la Tour Eiffel
- Boulangerie
- Le Fumoir
- Le Grand Colbert

Day 6 
- Laduree
- Le Comptoir
- Le Relais De L'Entrecote

My main discovery in Paris were macaroons from Laduree.  I've had coconut macaroons before (which are no where close to related), but these were addictive from the first bite.  The worst part about it is that they make them in every possible flavor: vanilla, pistachio, raspberry, dark chocolate, lemon, etc. Luckily, I was able to find them in NYC at Bouchon Bakery (the pumpkin macaroons can inspire a new religion).
You can't go to France without eating frog legs (its like going to Spain and not having tapas).  And guess what?  They actually taste like chicken wings with less meat.  We had them at Le Grand Colbert (where they filmed Somethings Got To Give) and they were pretty good in their sauce (I practically drained the sauce with the bread).  The veal stew was amazing there too, which is surprising because you would think it would be a tourist trap. 
Same thing goes for french toast - you can't go to France and not have it (no matter how clique it sounds).  Laduree (again) made an incredibly perfect fluffy french toast - without cinnamon or eggs.

My favorite place was Le Relais De L'Entrecote.  There is always a big line outside, but it passes quickly.  The brilliance of the place is that they only serve one thing: steak au poivre.  You sit down and they ask you how you want your steak.  They serve you a salad and then comes the best part: 2 servings of crispy fries with steak and an amazing pepper sauce.  The concept is so simple, but if you do two things perfect, you can't go wrong.    

Notable places that I wanted to go to, but didn't have advanced reservations: L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Du Pain et Des Idee (closed because of holiday), Aux Lyonnais, and Frenchie.
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An American in Paris

I finally made my foodie mecca to Paris in November for the gf's birthday.  We were originally supposed to go for my birthday, but the flights were super expensive due to the aftermath of the Iceland volcano.  The weather was surprisingly pleasant (mid 50's) and the people were not unfriendly as automatically presumed (people think the same about New Yorkers).  Here are a couple more of my observations:
  • The Metro is easy to navigate and the trains come every 6 minutes (it beats walking 7 miles a day, taking expensive cabs, or collecting blisters/strawberries)
  • Man + Dog = Homeless Man (it seems like every homeless man owns a dog)
  • I'll never understand the half glass shower door - why can't it be a complete sliding shower door?  I always soak the floor, even with a towel on the floor.  
  • Sauces and butter make everything better.
  • In tight quarters, you can catch a whiff of the smelly underarm phenomenon - I guess that's why the French perfected perfume (but nothing beats deodorant).
  • People are kissing everywhere (its hard to go 10 minutes without seeing a kissing couple)!
  • Even in 40 degree weather, people still eat/drink at outdoor cafes.
  • Beware of gypsy beggars - they'll try to swipe anything they can off of your table.   
  • Everyone is well dressed - from young children to old people to men (I don't think they sell sweatpants in Paris).     
  • Strangers take the absolutely worst pictures imaginable (nothing is ever centered, they never wait for people in the background, cut off your head, etc.).  I'd rather continue to take my own self portraits.
Working in Lower Manhattan, I pass a ton of tourist everyday and always wonder why they take pictures of random buildings, parking garages, and street traffic.  I'm guilty of the same offenses on vacation - I have quite a collection of churches, fountains, statutes, and buildings.

I actually had enough patience to wait until there are no people or traffic.... 

Luckily, a lot of people speak English because I butchered French with my made up English-Spanish-French mashup.

Hotel concierge: Bonjour!  (translation: Hello or Good Morning)
Me: Monsieur! (translation: Mister!)

I bumped into countless people and instead of saying "Excuse e Moi" or "Pardon!", I would say "Miso!" (which is half of 'permiso' in Spanish which means "excuse me")

I bumped into the legs of a waitress and hit her with every french word I knew (mumbled in a inaudible whisper): "Bonjour, cote de boef...." (translation: Hello, side of beef....)
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Best Thing I Ever Ate: Oysters @ Aqua Grill (210 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012)

Prior to my "Oyster Renaissance", I've only had oysters a few times in my life (and each time it felt like I ate the bottom of the ocean floor).  It brought me back to my early childhood when I was forced to go with my mother to the women's room at the beach (that Fulton Fish Market smell completely traumatized me).  Anyway, my "Oyster Renaissance" happened after a trip to Montauk, NY in the early summer.  My girlfriend ordered a dozen Blue Points and I hesitantly dug in - the secret was in the condiments: a little squeezed lemon, cocktail sauce, and horseradish.  After that, I ordered oysters everywhere - I couldn't get enough of that "raw and shouldn't be doing this" feeling.  The absolute best (and I mean the best) place for oysters is Aqua Grill.  No other place compares in variety (over 30 different oysters) and freshness.  My favorites have been Blue Point, Kumomoto, Peconic Bay, Moonstone Belon, and Raspberry Point.  Go and order a mixed 2 dozen for yourself and you be the judge.                    

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Psychology of Apple Picking

I finally went apple picking with my family / girlfriend at Lawrence Orchards (honestly, I was lured in by the apple cinnamon donuts and warm apple cider).  My initial game plan was to get 2-3 apples of each type and call it a day.  That plan quickly went to hell when I realized that there were over 20 types of apples (idared, empire, delicious, fuji, rome, granny smith, mutsu, and other cross breeds).  The problem got further compounded with smaller empire apples (because you need more) and bright colored rome apples (because you need more).  The consensus in each orchard row was I needed more (and keep in mind that I'm not particularly fond of apples). The end tally....11 pounds of apples, a 9 pound pumpkin, and my new found ability as a goat whisperer.       

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thai Coconut Chicken Curry

1.5lbs - Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast (cut into cubes)
1/2 - Yellow Onion (chopped)
1/2 - Orange Pepper (cut into one inch strips)
1 - Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1 - Handful of Green Beans (chopped)
1 - Can of Baby Corn (cut into thirds)
3 - Cloves of Garlic (minced)
4 - Tomatoes on the Vine (cut into quarters)
13.5oz - Coconut Milk
1 - Tablespoon of Chili Paste
1 - Tablespoon of Fish Sauce
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Curry Powder
Ground Ginger
Sriracha Chili Sauce

1) Cut and season vegetables with salt, pepper, curry powder, ground ginger, and 1/2 of the grated nutmeg
2) Cut and season chicken with salt, pepper, curry powder, ground ginger, and 1/2 of the grated nutmeg
3) Cook chicken with minced garlic in olive oil
4) Once chicken is cooked, add vegetables and let them cook until they are soft
5) Add coconut milk, chili paste, fish sauce, and Sriracha Chili Sauce and let simmer for 25 minutes
6) Add it over linguine or white rice

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Best Thing I Ever Ate: French Toast @ Buttermilk Channel (524 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231)

There are two Buttermilk commandments that I had to learn firsthand: 1) They don't serve brunch on Saturdays (I learned this after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and the 2 miles it takes to get there) and 2) They do not serve alcohol before noon on Sunday (which was a Rick James smack to the face because you get a free mimosa, bellini, or sparking wine with brunch).  After learning the system, I ordered the pecan pie french toast.  If I'm at any restaurant and I see pecan pie for dessert, blinders automatically come up and I can't read the other desserts.  Anyway, the pecan pie french toast came out and I had enough will power to actually take a picture before I dived in and didn't talk (or breathe) for 7 minutes.  It was quite an Usher "OMG" moment where I could hear the lyrics in my head: 

Baby let me love you downnn
There’s so many ways to love ya
Baby I can break you downnn
There’s so many ways to love ya
Got me like, ooh myy gosh I’m soo in love
I found you finallyy, you make me want to say
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh,
Ohh myy gosh
I marveled at the engineering prowess of a pecan pie crust with candied pecans embedded into the "french toast".  My girlfriend ordered the cheddar waffles and pork chops pounded thin (and I barely noticed during my 7 minute eating blackout - the only proof was the picture I don't remember taking).  
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Best Thing I Ever Ate: Pancakes @ Cafe LULUc (214 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201)

After spending an hour Googling the best breakfast and brunch places in NYC on Sunday morning, I came up with nothing new.  I decided to check out Buttermilk Channel again (their pecan pie french toast is utterly ridiculous).  We arrived at noon (based on learning lessons from the last 2 times: they are closed on Saturday for brunch and they do not serve alcohol prior to noon) and were told that it would be a 45 minute wait.  Their food is good, but it isn't starve for another 45 minutes watching people teasingly enjoy their food good.  My girlfriend checked her iPhone (AKA our weekend compass) and found a nearby place with great reviews.  We got there and they sat us outdoors in their backyard patio area.  I ordered their pancakes with mixed fruit and nearly had a religious experience.  They were buttery crispy on the outside and fluffy enough to absorb the maple syrup (after countless pours).  The pancakes were so amazing that I actually considered shaking the cook's hand.  Did I mention $6 bellinis (that seemed to be mostly champagne)?  Bring cash because they don't accept credit cards.          
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Monday, May 10, 2010

Be a Tourist (Even in Your Own City)

I'll never understand how some people will ride in a plane for 7 hours to see "must see" sites, when they have some of the best sites in their own backyard.  I'm fortunate to have been born/raised in New York City, where you could conceivably find anything you can think of (Cameroonian restaurants, tattoos at 4am, or a Naked Cowboy).  Its amazing how many New Yorkers have never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, been to the top of the Empire State Building, or ice skated in Rockefeller Center.  My only regret is not going to the crown of the Statue of Liberty (I've been to Liberty Island) or the observation deck of the World Trade Center (I've seen the view from Windows on the World). My suggestion....come up with your own Bucket List and knock out all of the local things first.       
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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is Everything Overrated?

There is definitely a relationship between expectations and disappointment.  The more I look forward to something, the more disappointed I get.  I'm learning to trust Yelp less and less (I'll try the most mentioned dishes at restaurants, but it seems like people are easily impressed).  Here are a few lessons that I've learned:

1) You can't go wrong with Pork (pork belly, pork tacos, pork buns, pulled pork, pancetta)
2) You can't go wrong with Brunch (except when you're waiting in the cold for 2 hours on Valentine's Day - I hate you Clinton Street Bakery!)
3) Risotto is an art
4) Just because something has truffle oil in it, doesn't mean its automatically good (I think I might have a truffle oil fetish - along with basil, cilantro, and lemon zest)
5) Alcohol makes every meal better
6) Never rule out eating anything (I used to hate mushrooms and who would have thought that I would have liked pate/foie gras/duck)
7) There's nothing worse than a good meal and a bad dessert
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The Top Feels So Much Better Than The Bottom

I haven't gone skiing in a couple of years.  I used to organize day trips with friends to Hunter Mountain, Windham, or Mountain Creek and we always seemed to drive home in blizzard conditions.  I've tried snowboarding once (I did well until the back of my helmet-less head met the slope), but I prefer the control and less demanding nature of skiing.  The rivalry between skiers and snowboarders is fiercer than Team Edward vs Team Jacob.  Personally, I have a pet peeve for the snowboarders who sit lined up, taking up the whole slope (the physics of stopping my 230lb frame going downhill at 30mph is like trying to stop a wave in the ocean).  Anyway, enough about my dislike of hipster snowboarders....

I recently went skiing with friends at Mt. Snow, VT and my rustiness definitely showed.  After "conquering" the bunny slopes, I hopped on the ski lift ready to take on the mountain.  I should have known that things were off to a bad start after I wiped out getting off of the ski lift (first time ever).  I should have checked the slopes map before getting on the 20 minute lift - my only option down was intermediate blue slopes.   There is nothing more humiliating and demeaning than having to walk uphill to retrieve lost skis, trying to put your foot back in the binding, all while sliding downhill.  Did I mention that we went skiing during a heatwave (70 degrees) and I went skiing in a t-shirt and no gloves?  There is nothing more fun than skidding to a stop on your forearms and hearing the most dreaded words ever: "Are you ok?"   That phrase scars more than any pain!  My only saving grace (on Day 2) was the Belgian waffle cabin I found at the bottom of the slopes....mmmm waffles.  
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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Top 10 Movies of the 80's / All-Time

Deciding on the Top 10 movies of the 80's is an impossible task.  The list could  also be interchangeable with the Best Movies of All-Time.  Growing up an 80's baby, they each have a special sentimental value. If I come across them on cable, I'll stop and watch every single time.  Here is my Top 10 in no particular order:

1) The Goonies: quite possibly the best movie of all time.  There is no better kid's adventure movie out! A group of friends face foreclosure from a country club that wants to expand and demolish their homes.  They go on an adventure to find One Eyed Willy's buried treasure and encounter booby traps while being chased by the Fratellis (a family of criminals).  

2) Coming to America: the funniest movie of all time (Eddie Murphy in his prime).  A young African prince comes to the U.S. (Queens, NY) to find his queen.  He was looking for love and pretended to be a pauper to find someone who wanted him for him (not status or riches).  

3) The Karate Kid: the biggest underdog movie.  A high school senior moves with his mom from Newark, NJ to Reseda, CA (how he's not tough enough growing up in Newark, who knows).  He meets a girl and endures beating after beating by her ex-boyfriend and friends. His building's handyman teaches him karate by doing everyday errands repetitively: painting, car washing, and sanding the floor.

4) Ferris Bueller's Day Off: how many of us want to do this every day of our professional lives?  Call out sick, pick up your friend/girlfriend, borrow a ferrari, go to a Cubs game, pretend to be Abe Froman (sausage King of Chicago), and sing in a parade.

5) Back to the Future: this movie put time travel on the map.  A teenager goes back into time (1955) and disrupts his parents from falling in love.  He has to repair their courtship, try not to be erased from existence, and find a way back to 1985. 

6) The Karate Kid II: After Godfather 2, this is the next sequel that beats the original. Can Daniel LaRusso's life get any worse: his girlfriend dumps him, his mom moves to Fresno for work, and he goes to live with his building's handyman (Miyagi).  Miyagi gets news that his father is dying in Japan and Daniel decides to tag along.  While in Japan, Miyagi meets his ex-bestfriend (Sato) and his nephew Chozen who harass them about having no honor (Miyagi fled Japan years ago because he didn't want to fight Sato to the death over a woman).  Any movie with a typhoon, crane dodging, ice block breaking, a tea ceremony, and a fight to the death deserves to be better than the original.       

7) Weird Science: every adolescent/teenage boy's dream - being able to create the girl of your fantasies through a computer.  

8) The Shining: after the Exorcist, this might be one of the scariest movies of all time.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

9) Glory: 5 words: Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington.  If you're not touched by this movie, there is something wrong with you.  There can't always be a happy ending. 

10) A Christmas Story: I watch the movie marathon on TBS every year.  Red Ryder BB gun....you'll shoot your eye out!

Honorable Mention: Scarface (too clique to make the list), Full Metal Jacket (the boot camp scenes are priceless), Stand by Me (didn't have enough gas to make the list), Indiana Jones  series (too hard to pick one because they're all great).
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