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Eating in Morocco, Part 2: The Cheap Stuff

14 Jul

Abandoned fruit... for the taking?

I have just over a week left in Morocco, and I feel like I’ve run the gamut of restaurant types. I’ve eaten everywhere from a stand in the middle of a crazy, smoky square in Marrakesh to restaurants in opulent old houses that suddenly appears at the end of a dark alley in the medina of Fez. I’ve also

Pistachio nougat

eaten at all the in between places—restaurants in gas stations, which is apparently a big thing, and the little places scattered across the town I’m in. I’ve found that my most memorable meals have come at the extremes of the spectrum. Donuts fried in front of you at a sweet stand, sprinkled with sugar and eaten standing up in a split second. Tables groaning under plate upon plate of different vegetables, and that’s just the first course. The stuff in between tends to blend together into one big tagine. That’s not to say that you can’t get great food at the mid-range restaurants, it’s just harder to tell if the lemon chicken tagine is going to be sublime or just mediocre.

Super decadent chebakia

Unusually, these sweets were actually behind glass!

Let’s start with the cheap stuff. We’ve walked through a whole bunch of medinas (the old section of Moroccan cities) at this point, and every time we pass a food stall (usually either dried fruits or sweets), I crane my neck and sometimes succumb to the temptation to dig in. In Marrakesh there were carts everywhere selling different kinds of nut paste/nougat thing. I got some pistachio, which was delicious—very sweet, I think sweetened with honey, but the pistachio flavor shined. In all the medinas you’ll also find pyramids of honey-soaked sweets, often covered in flies and bees. The most ridiculously indulgent (in the best way possible) are the chebakia, made from dough that is deep fried and then doused in honey and orange blossom water. Also delicious are little envelopes of pastry, coated in honey, filled with almond or peanut

Almost like a peanut butter sandwich...

paste. And while we’re on the topic of peanuts, one of my friends bought what she described as a “Moroccan whoopee pie” from a vendor in the Fez medina. It was two puffy almond-meal cakes sandwiched around a peanut butter filling—utterly delicious, and an excellent breakfast. Freshly squeezed orange juice also abounds in markets, but I was drawn instead to the tea stalls in Jma al Fna in Marrakesh. Instead of the ubiquitous Moroccan mint tea, this was a heavily spiced cinnamon—I had to buy some, it was so delicious. Everything you want American chai to be.

And I almost forgot all the fruit! Watermelon cut off the “tasting melon” at a souk and given to us for free with the toast “to your health.” Piles of dried dates and figs in every market you come across. Being forced to eat prickly pear after prickly pear from a cart before finally convincing the owner that we actually want to buy some to go. I may be lacking for fruit on campus, but there’s certainly tons to be found on the streets.

Dates, dates, dates

But on to the real food. We had dinner one night in Jma al Fna, the square in Marrakesh that turns into a crazy, smoke-filled riot of the senses at night. Food stalls crop up out of nowhere starting around five o’clock. Our group of ten sat down at one and I think just ordered everything on the menu… the food just kept coming, long after we had eaten our fill. It seemed pretty typical street

I'm going vegetarian when I get home...

food—lots of skewers of meat, though the spicy red sauce we requested was an excellent accompaniment, and one of the few actually spicy things I’ve encountered in Morocco. The price tag, however, was close to those at upscale restaurants outside Marrakesh, a sad sign that Jma al Fna is more a tourist than local attraction at this point. Cheap food does abound, however. At a souk in Azrou a couple days later I finally tried a merguez sausage sandwich for about a buck—though tasty, I found the flavor a little too distinctive for my taste. Distinctive of what, I could not tell you… perhaps too lamb-y, it just wasn’t my favorite. The brochette (kebab) at the same stall were extremely fatty, salty, and delicious, however. I’m going to have to stop here because I am off tomorrow morning on my next culinary adventure, to an oasis in the Sahara. Who knows what they eat out there! So you will have to hold on just a little longer for tales of opulent lunches that left us practically comatose.

Merguez sandwich in the perfect setting, a souk (photo by David Wong)

Resturant Review: Founding Farmers Brunch

12 Jul

Heaven in a brown paper bag.

Brunch. Founding Farmers. These are two of my favorite things, and combine them with a group of friends reminiscing on the previous night’s activities, some bloody marys and fried dough topped with sugar, and you have a pretty perfect couple of hours.  Founding Farmers has delicious food for all three meals- their mission is to support farmers and provide sustainable and quality food options, which means everything is very fresh and very delicious.  If it weren’t for the excellent brunch items I would say save a trip there for the dinner menu, which includes steak, maple glazed salmon, and amazing flatbreads.  But since they do also serve one of the best brunches in DC, you will have to resign yourself to trying multiple meals there.

Chicken and waffles and gravy, oh my.

I’ve been to Founding Farmers for brunch before, but this article on their beignets meant I was clearly well past due for another trip.  I am usually a strict savory breakfast type, but sweet menu offerings such as overstuffed French toast, which comes stacked like bricks on a extra-large plate, and the aforementioned beignets have me rethinking my eggs-and-bacon loyalties.  We got an order of beignets for the table, and literally ceased talking for 5 minutes as everyone devoured the crispy and sweet fried dough topped with powdered sugar and served with chocolate, caramel, and raspberry dipping sauces.  For my brunch main course, only after much consideration and indecisiveness, I ordered the Chicken and Waffles- one large waffle with two eggs, a crispy chicken tender, white gravy and maple syrup.  Although this had a lot going on, all of the flavors and textured melded perfectly together, to the point where I was eating bites of chicken and waffle with both the syrup and gravy heaped over top.  The white gravy was creamy and flavorful, and the chicken was cooked to a perfect crispness.  My only minor complaint is that the poached eggs were from a mold, which weirdly rubs me the wrong way, because eggs should not be shaped like cones (told you it was a minor complaint).

One serious bloody mary.

Other orders at the table included the Pastrami Hash, which looked and tasted delicious, although seemed like much less food than the other over-sized offerings.  I am tempted to try that and some of the other hash dishes in the future though, as well as the pan scrambles.  I was also convinced to try my first Bloody Mary here- I’m usually more of a mimosa girl, but figured the Founding Farmer’s Bloody Mary would be a pretty excellent one as an introduction.  I wasn’t wrong- it was very peppery and filling, and certainly woke you up in the morning.  It took me the better part of an hour to finish the whole thing due to the spicy-tomatoy-ness, but I would definitely count it as a new-experience success.  All in all, there was not much about this brunch I would change (the business of Founding Farmers on a Sunday morning is one drawback, but Founding Farmers is always busy so I usually assume I won’t be seated until 15 minutes after my reservation anyway), and I only wish I had room in my stomach for more than one main course with all of their selections.

Eating in Morocco, Part 1

3 Jul

The aftermath at Dar Naji in Rabat

Somehow I blinked and I have been in Morocco for a little over a week already! I am studying abroad here for four weeks, and will hopefully be writing a few posts about the (so far delicious) food I encounter. My program is based at a university in a small town in the Atlas mountains. We have a generous meal plan, but unfortunately the food is pretty bad, which probably makes everything I taste outside the walls seem infinitely better. Thankfully, we have a lot of trips built into our schedule (and the program gives us a food budget for them!), so I have already been able to try quite a few Moroccan specialties.

Kefta tagine

The first thing I wanted to try, of course, was a tagine– the ubiquitous stew-like dish named after the clay pot in which they are cooked. (I bought a tagine for about 2.50 yesterday, and am excited to try cooking with it, if it makes it back to the States in one piece!) One of the most common tagines is kefta, which is usually beef (I believe) meatballs in a tomato sauce, with an egg on top. Though delicious, this seemed pretty similar to something I could get back in the US to me, and I probably won’t order it too often if there’s something more interesting on the menu.
There definitely were lots of interesting things at the first proper restaurant I went to, Dar Naji in Rabat. We arrived in Rabat pretty late after a 3 hour bus ride, and our professor pretty much just ordered the entire menu for our group of ten. This was excellent for my food-reporting, as I got to try just about everything, and discovered what I will definitely order again.

Beef and prune tagine

My favorite (which was also my request) was the tagine of beef aux pruneaux. I guess this would translate as “with prunes,” though I think English needs a better word to convey how the prunes become one with the beef and make it slightly sweet, while the prunes themselves took on savory flavors from the beef. (On a side note, I’ve found most menus so far to be in French, with no Arabic at all. Being the only one in the group who speaks French, this means I am quickly brushing up on my food vocabulary.)
Someone else in the group also noticed that brain tagine was on the menu, and requested that we order one to give it a shot. Not being one to pass up a new food experience, I tried it as well. The brain was in a tomato-y sauce, and I really didn’t think it had a strong flavor in itself. The texture reminded me of scrambled eggs– not at all off-putting, but I wouldn’t feel the need to order it again.
The other tagines included chicken with lemon, beef with vegetables, fish, and kefta. I loved the lemon sauce with the chicken, but found the meat itself a bit dry… I think my next tagine will have to be chicken so I can see if this is a common problem. The setting of Dar Naji was also beautiful… we were seated at a low table on the terrace, which had a canopy covering and overlooked the medina (old city) walls. And it was all reasonably priced, at about $5 per tagine.

Beautiful vegetables...

The other memorable restaurant we visited was in Meknes, but I am a terrible reporter and failed to take down the name. This was also opulently decorated, with the walls lined with tons of cushions that we quickly sank on to, exhausted by the 107 degree heat outside. Our professor ordered us some mixed vegetables to start… although for once they came with serving spoons, everyone was so hungry that we did it the traditional Moroccan way, using bread to transport the food most efficiently from

...were quickly devoured

serving plate straight to mouth. The vegetable were all cooked in various spiced sauces, and served cold. The green marinated peppers were probably my favorite, though the carrots were also unexpectedly sweet and delicious.
I ordered cous cous as a main course, which is another Moroccan specialty usually served on special occassions, and though it usually comes with meat I requested it be left off because I just didn’t feel the need for it. The resulting tower of cous cous covered in vegetables was excellent. The vegetables had some sort of sauce on it that tasted faintly buttery, but I couldn’t really pin down what was in it. But it seeped down into the cous cous and made a delicious dish that was perfect for lunch, not nearly as heavy as a tagine.
I have so much more I could say but I think I will leave it there in order to save some things for another post! Bislaama.

A mountain of cous cous, covered in veggies

Resturant Review: Serendipity 3 in Georgetown

2 Jun

These are only the appetizers. Oh boy.

Brace yourselves, friends, because this one is going to be a doozy.  The newest Serendipity 3 opened in the heart of Georgetown on Memorial Day, and I was lucky enough to be invited to a friends-and-family preview night on Saturday.  One of my friends got four of us in for dinner, and, since we are all both foodies and fatties, we proceeded to devour a 3-course-plus-cocktail meal.  It was unfortunate that our next destination was up a very long hill.  Note to self: don’t eat that much ice cream before going anywhere other than your couch.

Weaver: "Wait. Will you take my picture already?" Thanks for the free food!

Weaver: "Wait. When are you taking my picture?" Thanks for the free food!

For appetizers we got the crab and artichoke dip, and a truly inspired choice of onion rings.  We all gasped as the tower of perfectly battered and fried rings descended upon us.  These were seriously the best onion rings I’ve ever had- cooked through and soft in the middle, with a crunchy thick shell, Parmesan cheese over them and dipping sauces on the side.  The crab dip was slightly overshadowed by the onion rings, but it was also great- lots of big chunks of crab in a not-too-creamy sauce with a nicely browned top.   For mains I got the Full Monty- chicken breast with bacon, pepper jack, arugula, and BBQ sauce on ciabatta bread. It was quite good- my only complaint was that the bread was a bit dry and I ended up eating much of the sandwich without the it.  Also it could feed a family of four.  The equally-large-portioned spaghetti and meatballs was also yummy, with ricotta on top of the meatballs and thick spaghetti.  The veggie burger and crab cake sandwich that rounded out our table were received very favorably as well.  On the downside, the sweet potato fries that were an option with sandwiches were not the best I’ve had (our batch wasn’t very fresh)- you would be better off getting the steak fries, which were tasty.

The Full Monty Sandwich.

After all of this, you would think we might call it quits before dessert.  But as anyone who has heard of or been to a Serendipity knows, dessert is their claim to fame, and their trademark “Frrrozen Hot Chocolate” is the most

Dessert!

famous offering.  We got one of the regular frozen hot chocolates and the red velvet sundae.  The hot chocolate was delicious- it’s just what you would imagine, basically hot chocolate mix mixed with ice and topped with whipped cream.  I like that it isn’t the consistency of ice cream, more a blended chocolate drink that makes it easier to eat/drink.   The red velvet sundae was an aggressive dessert choice- it is literally a huge piece of red velvet cake, on top of a also huge sundae.  To take this over the top, even the sundae glass is resting in a pool of hot fudge.  This was more intimidating than the hot chocolate, but very good, although the cake itself was a bit dry (since it rested in a pool of chocolate and ice cream, this didn’t matter too much).  Serendipity was a delicious and indulgent dinner, but make sure you bring at least two or three friends to share all the courses with if you want to be able to walk afterwords.

PS. Oh, did you think I forgot the drinks?  Come on now.  All of them were pricey but good, and unsurprisingly over-the-top.  I recommend the champagne with elderflower and an edible hibiscus in the bottom.  I think it was called the Fourth Prince. Opulence at it’s finest.

This blueberry mojito came with lots of fruit-accessories. I was skeptical. But it was good.

Resturant/Fast Food Review: Shake Shack

26 May

A very full plate.

If the past couple of weeks is any indication of how my summer is going to go, I feel I will be contributing much more to the restaurant/happy hour review section of this blog than anything else.  I’ve only made dinner once this week due to beautiful summer DC weather and friends working near me, which means we are taking advantage of every happy hour or dinner avaliable to us.  This is certainly not something I am complaining about, especially since it means I have an excuse to try all of the places I’ve been meaning to go to, or, as was the case last night, to go to new places around town.

Shake Shack has somewhat of a cult following in New York, and although I’ve never been to any of the NY

Necessary close-up shot of the burger

locations, I have always heard wonderful things about it.  DC is a city that has many, many burger places, and more popping up every other week it seems (I also recently went to Thunder Burger in Georgetown, delicious in a more upscale burger way), but Shake Shack comes with a reputation that made it a must-try for me.  Luckily, it met and even exceeded my expectations (and given that I live next door to Rays, I have high burger standards).  The meat-cheese-bun-sauce ratio on the classic Shack burger was perfect, the American cheese and grilled meat melting into the much-talked-about buttered potato roll, which, I have to say, was one of the best hamburger buns I have come across.  The fries were great too, crinkle cut and salted to perfection.  One friend who I went with said she had found the fries overcooked the first time she got them, but credited this to the craziness and long lines of the opening week a few days earlier.

The intimidating cheese-explosion Shake Stack (this was pre-explosion of the cheese-stuffed mushroom)

The regular burger and cheeseburger don’t come with any toppings automatically, but the Shack burger does come with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and the special tangy Shack Sauce.  Another tempting item is the vegetarian ‘Shroom burger- a breaded and fried portobello mushroom stuffed with copious amounts of cheese.  If you are really ambitious you can also get the Shake Stack, a cheeseburger PLUS the mushroom stuffed with even more cheese.  I didn’t try this but definitely will some point soon- as my roommate so eloquently put: “it looks like your burger is spitting up cheese”- never a bad thing in my book.  On the Shake side of things, you can get regular shakes, or “concretes” which are more like blended ice cream you eat with a spoon.  I got the Washington Monu-mint flavor (flavors tailored to the city you’re in, adorable), which combined chocolate ice cream, marshmallow mint swirl, and cookie dough pieces.  I inadvertently ordered the larger size, which was way too much ice cream for one, but luckily the perfect amount to share between three very hungry girls.  Although it was quite the combination of flavors, it was delicious, and the Presidential Sweet with peanut butter and chocolate is also said to be excellent.  Since the DC location is 2 blocks from my office, I predict many more trips in the coming weeks and months, and I fully intend on trying pretty much everything on the menu (except maybe the ice cream dog treat- but even that sounds pretty good.)

Restaurant Review: Cafe Dupont

5 May

Mmm, meat. Steak tartare at Cafe Dupont

Our Easter weekend full of delicious home-cooked food in Virginia was finished off by an excellent meal back in DC: dinner at Cafe Dupont. Mother Spice was staying in the attached Hotel Dupont for the night, and we decided to keep it simple and have dinner downstairs.
Roxie had been to the bar (Bar Dupont. Are you catching on to the naming scheme?) before for their happy hours, 4-6 every night, when their usually $11 cocktails are half price. Of course, the opportunity for these cocktails was not passed up at dinner. Roxie and her roommate Lily are partial to the Alan’s Love, and Mother Spice enjoyed the Dupont Imperial.

Fresh pea risotto

Choosing what to eat proved to be much more difficult than choosing cocktails, however, as none of us was starving but pretty much everything on the menu looked tempting. We eventually decided to split appetizers– Lily and Mom shared a pea risotto that looked excellent, while Roxie and I decided the time had finally come to try steak tartare. I enjoyed it very much– it was excellently spiced with a velvety texture, though the steak flavor was very subtle.

Heaven(ly scallops) on a plate

For mains, Roxie and Mom both got the mussels with saffron– huge buckets of mussels, with accompanying french fries. While the mussels were delicious, to me, the letdown of the night were the fries. Not quite chunky fries and not quite the thin, crispy variety, they weren’t excellent but that didn’t stop me from stealing many. Lily got the appetizer crab cake as her main, which she polished off sharply. And though I was tempted by the steak frites (and well, everything) I ended up getting seared scallops on a bed of lemon risotto, with asparagus and a ramp pesto. Words cannot express how much I loved this dish– seasonal, with three huge scallops perfectly seared and complemented by the creamy risotto underneath. I also appreciated the modest portioning (well, except for the amount of mussels)– I am always a bit put off by restaurants that give you enough for two people.
Nonetheless, we were too full for dessert. An incentive, perhaps, to return again, although I didn’t really need one.

Restaurant Review: Hudson Restaurant and Lounge

19 Apr

Short rib with mac and cheese and fried onions

My roommate had a Groupon to Hudson (25$ for a 50$ gift card) so we decided to go on a roommate-date and celebrate spring and jobs and grad schools.  Since we had the gift card we ordered a lot of food, all of which was delicious.  Hudson has a modern-American feel and is smart, but doesn’t make you feel like you have to be dressed up to go there.  The food is also what I would describe as “Modern American”- things like Matzo Ball Soup, Tuna Tartare, Short Rib Tacos, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, and assorted brick oven pizzas.

Sangriaaa

We obviously started with a pitcher of white sangria (described as serving 6-8 people, yeah, ok. There were probably 4-6 glasses in there). The sangria was described as “white sangria fusion of martin codax albariño, grapefruit, pear, sage, and lavender with cabo wabo reposado x-rated fusion margarita topped with sweet lime espuma.”  Wow, that is quite the description, but basically it was grapfruity and good, but very tart.  It was a little hard to finish the pitcher just because you got so full from all of the juices in there, but I would recommend at least a glass or two.  They also have many other specialty drinks that sound equally complex but good.

To start we shared two “tasters”- Tuna Tartare with avocado and cucumber, and a Duck Confit Leg.  The tuna was delicious, very fresh tasting and bright tuna that went well with the avocado, and they gave you crispy wontons to scoop it all up with.  The duck was also great- duck can sometimes be dry or overly fatty, but this was cooked well and very flavorful.  The tuna was an appetizer sized portion, but if you weren’t too hungry the duck with potatoes and sherry sauce could fill in for a main course.

Tuna Tartare

For the main course I got the Braised BBQ Short Rib, with smoked Gouda mac and cheese and onion rings.  Since I have a hard time resisting mussels whenever I see them on a menu, I was very pleased that Lily ordered them so I could try some- these ones were Maine Mussels with a Thai curry and coconut sauce.  My short rib was good, but the plate got extremely messy.  The mac and cheese under the meat could have probably been a main course by itself, and you would have to be very hungry to finish it all.  The creamy mac and cheese went well with the crispy onions and tender short rib, and my only complaint would be that together it was a rich dish, and a tiny bit salty for my taste.  Lily’s mussels were yummy- the Thai curry sauce was light and not overpowering, and we got Parmesan Truffle fries as well that were good, although could have been crispier.  But put truffle on anything and I will eat it so I was certainly not complaining.

All in all this was a satisfying and tasty meal, and I would go there again for a special occasion or just when I want to treat myself.  The happy hour specials are good, and they have items on the menu (such as pizzas) which are quite affordable and I’m sure every bit as good as the more expensive options.

Restaurant Review: Brunch at Peacock Cafe

27 Mar

Eggs Benedict- the perfect Sunday morning meal

I know brunch isn’t a meal that one has every day, but it holds a special place in my heart, especially when the weather is warm and you are allowed to sit outside for hours drinking iced coffee and eating eggs and pancakes and bacon.  Despite the fact that it is supposed to snow today, we did have a brief glimpse of spring in DC last week, and Gina and I took advantage of the sunshine to get an outdoor brunch at Peacock Cafe in Georgetown.  I’ve been going to Peacock with friends for ages, and have many fond memories of Sunday brunches spent re-hashing the last night’s dramas over mimosas and poached eggs.  They do pretty delicious lunch and dinner things as well (the Caesar salad is one of the best I’ve had, and make sure you get a side of shoestring fries), but brunch is, in my opinion, where Peacock shines.

Bananacinos!

On the beverage side of things, they have an amazing smoothie and juice bar, which lets you customize a smoothie with whatever your heart and stomach desire.  They also have a selection of recommended smoothies on the menu, and if you need your jolt of espresso in the morning, the bananacino smoothie is to die for.  Bananas mixed with a shot of espresso and honey seems like an odd combination, but trust me, it works.  The aforementioned mimosas are also good if you’re in the mood for something stronger than coffee.  The brunch menu has a wide selection of food, and you have the option to order sandwiches, salads, and burgers from the lunch menu if you want to.  But for me, it’s all about the breakfast items.  I’m more of a savory breakfast person myself, so always go for the egg-centric options, but they also have pancakes and waffles which have gotten rave reviews of friends.  The pancakes come with bananas and walnuts in warm maple syrup, and the waffles with strawberries tossed in balsamic vinegar, and both of those descriptions always have me reconsidering my faithfulness to eggs and bacon.

I am extremely partial to any good eggs Benedict, and these versions do not disappoint.  You can get classic eggs Benedict with ham or smoked salmon, or upgrade for poached eggs with lump crab meat.  I’ve had the crab eggs Benedict, and while good, usually go for the classic with black forest ham and a wonderful

Corned beef hash

Hollandaise sauce.  The eggs are always poached to perfection, with set but still runny yolks that get everywhere and can be mopped up with the (bonus!) pile of fries that comes with them.  Gina got the corned beef hash, also not something one usually makes at home, which came in a big skillet of beef and onions with more perfect poached eggs on top.  It was also very good.  If you feel your main brunch course isn’t enough, the Applewood smoked bacon side order is seriously some of the best bacon I have ever had- smokey and just sweet enough, it will be gone from your plate in seconds.  There are lots of brunch items I haven’t tried yet, such as the omelets and a very classed-up breakfast sandwich, but this is a brunch in DC that is not to be missed.

Eating in Andalusia: Tapas

12 Mar

Seville orange trees

As Roxie told you, I spent my spring break in Spain this past week, visiting my boyfriend, Brett, who is studying abroad in Seville. I spent most of my time in Seville, but also managed to get to Cadiz and Cordoba for short trips. And basically, I ate. A lot. Thankfully the tapas culture allowed me to do this, because we could have lunch at one, a tapas at four, a couple more at nine… etc. But at least I had the excuse of having to report back on all the varied dishes for you readers!
So this is my attempt to put down the best things I had. In some cases, there were really good restaurants where everything was just amazing. In others, there are local dishes that I’m sure would be excellent no matter where you get them.
Let’s start with the most prevalent dish around: Iberican ham (jamon Iberico). Legs of this cured meat are hanging in absolutely every restaurant in Seville, as well as almost any place you can buy food. The carving of the ham off the leg is apparently a prized art form, and is pretty engrossing to watch. The trick is to get pieces with a good ratio of fat and meat. The ham is delicious, but I have to admit that combined with the many chorizo, prosciutto, and other cured-meat dishes and sandwiches I had, I had basically filled my salty-meat quotient by day three and had to move on to other things.

 

Lots and lots of ham at a market in Triana

Another big Spanish dish is bacalao, or dried and salted cod. Both times I had this it was battered and fried, and reminded me somewhat of fish sticks… but with an amazing actual-fishy, salty, taste. The balance of flavors was perfect for me, and I couldn’t imagine getting sick of it.

Lots of bacalao at the market

...And fried to perfection

 

 

 

 

 
As for other dishes, croquetas are on almost every menu. I most frequently saw spinach ones and ones with various meat fillings… basically the filling is mixed with herbs and lots of delicious things, then shaped into oblong rolls, covered in breadcrumbs and fried in olive oil. The spinach ones at Taberna Coloniales (below) were great, but Brett said he had never had any as good as the ones his host mother makes. I was lucky enough to try these when she invited me over for dinner, and they were absolutely outstanding. She explained to Brett for about five minutes what was in them, but the gist I got was: lots of delicious things, including about three types of meat. I still haven’t figured out how they get so soft and creamy, but hopefully Brett will get the recipe from her some day.

Mama's croquetas

She also served us an amazing Spanish tortilla, basically a huge omelet filled with potatoes, but she had also made some delicious garlic-y sauce that oozed out of it. We tried another Spanish tortilla just outside the mosque at Cordoba when we were a bit peckish– we got a huge slice for one euro, but it couldn’t quite live up to Mama’s.

Spanish tortilla in the courtyard of the Cordoba mosque/cathedral

We also noticed signs all around Cordoba for snails, which I hadn’t expected in Spain. Brett is apparently a big snails fan, and so when we passed a sign with a picture of a very happy snail saying “Our snails are cute and fat,” he had to go inside. He ordered the snails in a green salsa, and they were indeed the fattest ones I have ever seen. I don’t like snails quite as much as him, so I only had a couple, because honestly the size kind of freaked me out (not like the tiny snails we had in Greece, that you see as the background to this page). I will not deny that they were delicious, though.

Super fat snail

In addition to these dishes, there were two restaurants we went to in Seville that really stood out to me: Taberna Coloniales and Madraza. We went to Coloniales my first night there, which turned out to be excellent timing… I was tired and hungry, so we got there super early for Spain (around 8:30, I believe). This meant we were seated right away, and actually had to wait ten minutes for the kitchen to open before we could order. I say this is good, because by the time we left there was a huge line waiting to eat… it is clearly a very popular spot, and you can see why, because the food was excellent. Other than the Spinach croquetas mentioned above, my favorite dish was the Pechuga de Pollo con Salsa de Almendras, or chicken breast in a creamy almond sauce. We ordered a medium (rather than tapas) portion because we were sharing with a bunch of people, and it was huge and delicious. The Secreto Iberico was basically a steak of cured, salty, pork, and was also very tasty, but I kept going back to mop up that almond sauce with the french fries that come with everything in Spain.
The other stand-out restaurant we went to was on my last night. Madraza has many of the standard Spanish dishes, but also featured some Middle Eastern-inspired dishes, which was a nice change. My favorite was definitely the pollo al jerez, or chicken in a sherry sauce with pine nuts and super-juicy raisins. Again, the sauce was completely addictive. The chicken with coconut curry, while unexpected, was also seriously good. Madraza also demonstrated one of the tricky things about tapas– most of the tapas were around 4 euro, which may seem a little steep when the typical price of a tapas is in the 2-euro range. However, tapas portion sizes can vary hugely– here, they were enormous, and we each ordered one and shared them. This meant I had an extremely filling meal and tasted many different dishes for exactly 4 euro. I don’t know if I’ll be able to face the over-priced tapas places in Washington again.
So basically, all of the food was incredible, and I may attempt to re-create some of the best dishes in the next few months. But for now, look out for a post on desserts and drinks in Spain, coming soon!

Eating Our Way Through Brooklyn

23 Feb

The Red Hook waterfront

Mother Spice is off gallivanting in India (supposedly for work, although when we talked to her she seemed to be at a spa on the beach), so Gina and I came to New York for the weekend to keep our long-suffering father company.  The three of us decided to go on an adventure to Brooklyn, spurred by a trip to Brooklyn Gina and Father Spice took over the summer, which led to Father Spice discovering Brooklyn at about the same time The New York Times did (see: this).  Our trip to Brooklyn turned into us eating at no fewer than three places in one afternoon, visiting Williamsburg, Red Hook, Cobble Hill, and driving through multiple other places while Father Spice both a) gave us history lessons (always fun!), and b) went into a 30 minute discussion with himself about why it was a mistake that we didn’t think more seriously about moving there when we first came to NY.

Oops, we ate half of this before remembering the picture

We ended up grabbing lunch at a decent-but-nothing-exciting Thai place in Williamsburg, and then went on to Red Hook, original home of Red Hook Lobster Pound, a spattering of little boutiques among the old industrial buildings, and our destination: Baked.  Baked has been featured both on Serious Eats, for being the Best Cupcake in New York, and on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”, for their salted chocolate brownie.  So it was pretty inevitable that we would be going there to sample some butter-laden goodies.  We tried the red velvet cupcake with cinnamon frosting, the salted brownie, and a pumpkin chocolate chip pound cake.  All three were delicious, and I can absolutely see why one would go to Brooklyn just to stock up on brownies.  The cupcake was somehow both much moister and much lighter than any other I have tried (and trust me, living in a combination of DC and NY means I eat a lot of cupcakes), and the frosting was amazing and airy without being at all too sweet or cloying.  The salty-sweet combination of the brownie was also sublime, and it had a very rich, gooey, chocolate texture.  The pound cake was ordered as an afterthought by Father Spice, but was (surprise, surprise), also awesome, very moist and cakey with a great flavor combination of the pumpkin and chocolate.

Prime Meats steak frites

After some more history lessons while looking out over the docks in Red Hook and driving around Prospect Park (did you know it was designed by the same person who created Central Park, which was inspired by a park in Liverpool, aka Father Spice’s hometown?), we headed over to the Carrol Gardens area for an early dinner at Prime Meats.  Prime Meats is well known in Brooklyn and was recommended to us by a family friend who seems to have eaten at every “best restaurant” in the city.  They take no reservations, but we got there at about 5:45 and only had to wait 10 minutes before being seated.  The atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed, and there were lots of families there while we were eating.  It was noisy without being overwhelming or annoying, and the brick walls and wood finishing with tealights around the window contributed to the casual feeling.  It was also quite reasonably priced for such a lauded place in New York City- it wasn’t cheap, but was less expensive than we thought it might be.

Brisket with cabbage and juniper berries (whatever they are)

The menu is very simple and only has a few main items on it, including a roast chicken, burger, steak, and brisket.  Gina and I split the duck salad to start, which had pieces of shredded duck as well as some slices of duck breast, with apple and toasted pumpkin seeds.  It was very good, as was Father Spice’s celery salad with a simple but delicious vinaigrette dressing.  For the main courses, I had steak frites, which was a very generous and well cooked steak with great fries, Father had the braised brisket with cabbage and juniper berries, which had come recommended to us and was also delicious, and Gina had the burger, which looked great and was finished by her in approximately two bites.  Seriously, I looked over about a minute after getting our food and it was gone already, so I’m gonna guess it was good.  I would definitely go back here under many circumstances- it would be a fun place to go with family, or with a group of friends for a casual but very tasty dinner.  And it’s within walking distance of the Carrol Gardens subway stop, so if you’re in NY consider taking a trip across the bridge for this, I promise you won’t be disappointed.