Friday, January 27, 2012

Free Mini Pies

Today (well, before midnight) was Australia Day, and Pie Face, the new Australian pie shop that opened this week, gave out free mini pies (or coffee) all day. Of course, we weren't going to miss that promotion! We got 2 mini pies and a sausage roll. Full pie recap to come.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cafe Manhattan

The next stop on my block by block adventure was Cafe Manhattan. This is one of those "generic deli" types which has sandwiches, salads, soups, Asian noodle soup, pizza, hot/cold bars, etc. I visited these types of places a lot when I first started working in midtown so I don't go as often anymore.

I had no idea what I wanted. I walked around all the stations and the hot/cold bar. I didn't particularly want to get the hot/cold buffet because that's what I always used to get there. It was a little late for lunch so some of the options were gone, but I eventually ended up at the hot entree section and opted for the chicken gyro. I knew it wouldn't be as good as anything we got in Greece (especially not The Little Wishing Well!) but I hoped it would be good.

The chicken gyro (also available in lamb) was served with waffle fries for $6.95. The gyro consisted of grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, red onion and tzatziki in a pita.

I did like the gyro. The grilled chicken was nicely flavored, the tzatziki had a good touch of garlic, and the lettuce, tomato and onion added a refreshing crunch inside the doughy pita. I would get this again if I found myself back here.

As I waited for the gyro to be cooked on the grill, I did pick up two things from the hot/cold buffet.

The tofu triangle, stuffed with peppers, scallions, onions and sesame seeds, is found at a lot of hot/cold buffets and is always one of my favorite items. I haven't had it in awhile and also hadn't had tofu in some time, so I picked up a piece. I was also really in the mood for some chewy pasta, after spending too much time reading this thread on favorite pasta shapes last night, so I got a few pieces of pasta. It was a nice refreshing add-on to the gyro.

At a "generic deli" what station would be your go-to place?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tuk Tuk Boy

Ever since I started working in midtown, I have always wondered why there weren't more Thai places here. Considering how many Thai restaurants there are in Hell's Kitchen (and another one just opened), it's strange how few there are in the business areas of midtown. I know there are some (and even walked all the way east to Dee Daa when it opened) but nothing close to my office until I heard about a Thai cart at 50th and 6th near the end of last year - Tuk Tuk Boy.

Tuk Tuk Boy has a short menu of Thai favorites, including dumplings, spring rolls, pad thai and curries. They also had two specials today - tom yum soup and mansamun curry (no photo of that sign as it was blowing around in the windy rain).

Although I love chicken basil and massamun curry, I decided to go with the pad thai since it's a good Thai staple. I heard mixed reviews about Tuk Tuk Boy's pad thai but still wanted to try it for myself.

I thought that the pad thai was good. I've definitely had better but this wasn't as bad as some of the reviews. My biggest complaint was that it was a little too oily. A lot of pad thai dishes are on the drier side, which I like. There was a good amount of chicken, bean sprouts, scallions and peanuts to mix with the noodles, and the portion size was quite filling. Although it wasn't overly salty while I was eating it (like our awful Outback grilled meat), it must have been decently high in sodium as I drank a ton of water after lunch today. I would go back to Tuk Tuk Boy, since sometimes I just want Thai food and it's the closest option. Maybe next time I'll try a rice dish.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese

The Shack Shack custard flavor that most intrigued us this month was cinnamon cream cheese. Since it's the Monday custard, we had two more options to try it. M went to pick it up today just in case we loved it and wanted more next week. We weren't sure what it would be like.

While picking up the custard, M was chatting with one of the Shake Shack-ers about the flavor and what toppings might match it. It was a nice surprise when they gave us some cookie dough to try with the custard!

M's thoughts:
The custard definitely tasted like cinnamon and sometimes I got some of the cream cheese undertone. I liked the chocolate cookie dough, but those bites tasted more like chocolate fudge with some custard on it. Generally I thought this custard was OK. Not my favorite, but I know chocolate hazelnut is right around the corner if I'm in a custard mood (tomorrow!).

A's thoughts:
This custard was pretty good. You could definitely taste the cinnamon and cheesecake flavors. The cookie dough didn't really pair well with the custard, and I think it actually overpowered the custard entirely. On its own the cookie dough is always just fine, but it really didn't fit here. Looks like the Shake Shack employee will need to think of something else. In the end, I enjoyed the custard, and it served to remind me of my questioning of why they didn't add any sort of cream cheese frosting flavor to the red velvet.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese
A's rating: 7/10
M's rating: 6/10

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Eat Your Vegetables

On our last visit to Costco, we saw a bag of chips we had never seen before. It was called Eat Your Vegetables and made by Snikiddy (like the cheddar fries my mom has and that we liked), so we decided to try it. They only had one flavor at Costco - sea salt.


Our bag looks just like this except that it's the 20 oz size. (Of course it's huge, it's Costco!) The chips include actual vegetables so they're healthier (not as healthy as actual vegetables, but sometimes you just want a chip). This flavor has potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and navy beans.

Based on my first look and first few bites, the chips reminded me of those wonton chips you get at Chinese restaurants. I usually avoid those because they are so unhealthy. (Although, now that I'm thinking about it, they haven't had those chips recently either at restaurants or with takeout.) Unlike the wonton chips, these are actually (relatively) good for you and don't leave your hands full of oil and grease. After eating some more, they reminded me of potato skin chips (but they still smell like wonton chips to me). Either way, I liked them. A thought they were pretty good too.

Looking at the website, they also have jalapeno ranch and sour cream & onion flavors. We definitely want to try those. We really like sour cream & onion potato skins and ate an entire bag of the Tato Skins chips in one night when we found them a few years ago for the first time in a long time (speaking of which, haven't seen them since - any ideas?). Wonder how these will compare. If you've tried these, what do you think?

Barley and Brussels Sprouts

For the January cookbook project dinner, I chose two recipes out of the Williams-Sonoma eat well cookbook: farro salad with artichoke hearts (for the main course) and sauteed brussels sprouts with olive oil & lemon peel (for the side dish). I didn't intentionally set out to cook a vegan meal but those were the ones that came up in a random flip of the book.

For the main course, farro salad with artichoke hearts, I had to substitute barley for farro due to the failed farro hunt, so I guess it's really "barley salad with artichoke hearts."

The recipe called for the following ingredients:

- Semi-pearled farro - substituted pearled barley (used about half the package, $1.60)
- Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (used about half the jar, $3.50)
- Artichoke hearts (used a 12 oz jar even though the recipe listed 14 oz, $5.49)
- Red wine vinegar (the bottle cost $1.99 but didn't use too much)
- Olive oil (we already had this, $0)
- Red onion ($0.63)
- Parsley leaves - substituted cilantro because I like it better (used a little over half the cilantro, $0.62)
- Toasted pine nuts - I skipped this due to an unfortunate experience with pine nuts where it screwed up my sense of taste for days
- Salt (we already had this, $0)
- Freshly ground pepper (we already had this, $0)

The total for the barley salad portion of the meal, adjusting for what we actually used, was about $13. Not too bad. We were a bit shocked at how expensive the sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts were. We thought that buying them while we were out in Queens would be cheaper than going to a grocery store in Manhattan but it doesn't seem like it was that different. Costco would have been the best but I don't need multiple gigantic jars of these things.

The barley salad came out pretty well. It definitely passed the color test and was a very healthy meal. The recipe was very straightforward - just mix all the ingredients together. The hardest part was cooking the barley since I have never done it before, didn't read the directions very carefully on the package, and spent a long time on it. But I love barley and the nuttiness of it really came through.

I would make this again but next time I would follow the instructions for the barley and also add a little more salt. A thought it was a little acidic and that some more salt would have helped with that. Also, the red onion was a little sharper than I would have liked (and I love onions), so hopefully the onion would be milder next time. I am, however, happy with my replacement of cilantro for parsley, and think that turned out well.

For the side dish, I decided to try something else for brussels sprouts instead of A's usual brussels sprouts with chestnuts and sage, and did the brussels sprouts with olive oil and lemon peel. (Although, since we skipped the lemon peel, perhaps "with olive oil and lemon" would be more accurate.)

The recipe called for the following ingredients:

- Brussels sprouts (2 lb bag from Costco, $3.99)
- Olive oil (we already had this, $0)
- Lemon zest strips - we made a decision together to skip this since neither of us particularly love lemon peel
- Sea salt (used regular salt, $0)
- Ground pepper (we already had this, $0)
- Lemon juice (we already had this, $0)

Since we had all the ingredients other than the brussels sprouts, the total cost of "new" items was only $3.99. Combined with the barley salad, that meant dinner was under $20 for 2 people. Excellent deal. Cooking vegan meals really does save money.

The texture of the brussels sprouts when they just finished cooking was perfect. They weren't tough and chewy, and were tender but not mushy. However, making the barley salad took longer than I was expecting, so they sat in the pan a little too long. The green color dulled and they got a little softer as they sat. I'm not sure we would make this again because the other brussels sprouts recipe tastes a little better. I think it's the sage which adds a lot. The lemon juice here didn't do much, even if healthier than chestnuts.

It was a good start to the cookbook project, although I ate way too much food for dinner. We are taking turns doing the cookbook project since our kitchen is way too small to cook together, and I can't wait to see what A chooses next!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Great Farro Hunt

Lesson of the day: If you're going to cook with an ingredient you've never used before (and never looked for at the grocery store before), do some research first.

Tonight I'm cooking dinner for our first cookbook project of the year and picked a recipe that included semi-pearled farro. I know I've eaten farro before and really liked it, but have never cooked it or bought it before. I didn't think it would be very difficult and I thought farro was fairly common. If not at the regular grocery store, I thought it would be simple to find at a natural foods store or someplace like Whole Foods. However, if I had done my research, I would have learned from sites like this that it's not so easy! It seems like the easiest place to find semi-pearled farro is on Amazon, although, since it's from Italy, it's kind of pricey. I'm sure there must be someplace near us that carries it, but where?

We went to Costco and Pathmark when we were out in Queens for our car maintenance but found no farro. I searched Whole Foods finding nothing, but, after asking the workers (who were very nice and helpful), they directed me to a small area of the pasta section which had three bags of farro. But it was whole farro, not semi-pearled farro, so that wasn't going to work. While at the store, I looked at the products section of the website for the nearby natural foods store and they had no results for farro at all. After locking up my muscles walking in the snow all day, I didn't want to trek around looking for farro (especially if the mission would fail in the end) and decided to start looking for a substitute.

After researching, I decided to go with pearled barley. Let's see how this turns out! And I think it's safe to say I've learned my lesson about buying farro...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Red Velvet Custard

The Friday custard this month at Shake Shack is the red velvet custard. It's a vanilla custard with actual red velvet cake mixed in.

M's thoughts:
I'm a fan of red velvet - cakes, cupcakes, etc - so I was excited to get the red velvet custard. I think the red velvet custard was one of the first we ever had down at the Madison Square Park location. I remember big chunks of red velvet cake and being pleasantly surprised that the custard had actual cake mixed in. That remains my favorite part of this custard - the cake. When you get sections with not much cake or where the cake has broken up a lot, there isn't much flavor and it's very plain. But if you get a section where there are bites of actual cake, it has a nice cake flavor. That said, nothing about the cake flavor would make me think red velvet specifically in a blind taste test - just cake. But, considering cake batter ice cream is my favorite Coldstone flavor, I clearly like cake flavors.

A's thoughts:
I wanted to like this a lot, but I just couldn't. When I think red velvet cake I think red-colored cake and cream cheese frosting. This custard was vanilla custard with some crumbled red-colored cake mixed in. It made for a decent enough custard, but there was just no cream cheese frosting flavor. That's really what I look forward to the most with red velvet cakes so it was really disappointing. If it was just vanilla with red cake then sure, it's good. But it really fell short of red velvet.

Red Velvet
A's rating: 6/10
M's rating: 7.5/10

JJ Hong Kong Cafe

Today was another day of wandering around wondering what to do for lunch (this lack of inspiration is really troubling to me). I came across this place and wasn't sure if I had just never seen the Hong Kong bubble tea signs before or if it was new. The data on my phone was being completely uncooperative (it was like being back at Epcot during the Saturday drinkfest at Food & Wine) so I couldn't find out much. But I ventured in anyway.

It was a little disorganized and crowded in the small shop, and a bit of a wait before they finally took my order. However, the wait time between ordering and getting my meal wasn't too bad. Their credit card machine wasn't working so they gave 10% off the bill to everyone. That was nice.

I decided to go with the lunch special which was an entree and soup, and got the black pepper chicken.

It was a container of white rice (they also offer fried rice) which seems to have the same soy-based sauce lining the bottom that I have gotten in similar dishes in Chinatown. (Chicken and tomato over rice comes to mind.) The chicken was peppery, but not spicy. (It had a spicy symbol on the menu.) It came with an assortment of vegetables - celery, peppers, zucchini, cabbage, and carrots. They probably would have included broccoli if I hadn't ordered it without it. I thought it was OK but not fantastic. I was expecting stronger flavors from the chicken and vegetables, but, while fine, it wasn't that exciting. I was, however, happy with the rice in sauce as it reminded me of the good stuff I like in Chinatown.

For the soup, I got the chicken wonton soup. It came with two of those large wontons, which had a mild but nice flavor, some lettuce and green onions. It was nice to get some soup on a cold day.

I haven't found much info on this place so I guess it's relatively new. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) I would like them to do well since I like HK style dishes and want bubble tea near the office, and if they're new (and they might be, as streetview shows me a jewelry store), the slightly disorganized nature of my experience makes a lot of sense. I would give it another try but might order something else next time. And hopefully next time, it won't be 20 degree wind chills and will be warm enough to walk around with some bubble tea!

JJ Hong Kong Cafe is located at 37th and 6th in midtown Manhattan.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crave Crispy Chicken

Crave Sandwiches, in a space formerly occupied by a map store, opened last week. Today was another "I have no idea what I want for lunch and don't have the energy to think about it" day (not liking this pattern of feeling uninspired) and I decided to head over to one of the street carts we like since I had no other ideas. On my way there, I saw that Crave had opened and decided to try that out instead.

The interior of Crave is very clean and minimal. They have breakfast, sandwiches, salads, and Intelligentsia coffee. I liked that the sandwich making line was completely visible from the waiting area and that all the ingredients were out in the open.

I decided on the crispy chicken sandwich. They were out of wheat so I went with white bread. The breads (all of which are baked fresh every day) are all different sizes and I'm not sure how that affects how much of the other ingredients are put into each sandwich.

The crispy chicken sandwich contains natural chicken, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers (red and orange), onions, tomatoes and balsamic. I liked the light seasoned breading on the chicken and that the chicken was pounded into thin slices, how they used a thick slice of mozzarella and not a deli slice, and the freshness of the vegetables. From their promotional materials, they use all natural products from artisan companies, so it looks like quality ingredients are their focus. I was expecting the same old sandwich but it was actually pretty good.

The sandwich cost $7.50 (it's a little more if you get it on a hero) and was a very reasonable size. I would go back and get this again (or try the turkey sandwich) at some point. There are a lot of boring mediocre sandwiches offered in this area (and I eat enough of them due to my catered lunches at work) so a good sandwich is always a good find.

Chocolate Hazelnut

Gianduja, a combination of hazelnut and sweet chocolate, was one of our favorite Shake Shack custards from last year. We liked it so much that we started researching Torino, Italy, the home of gianduja, in the hopes that we would someday be able to visit. This year, Shake Shack's January Tuesday custard is "chocolate hazelnut." We were assuming that this would be the same as gianduja, but thought they just changed the name (because people didn't know what gianduja was?).

The chocolate hazelnut custard had a similar flavor to the old gianduja, although it seemed a little heavier on the hazelnut in this batch (no complaints). Chocolate and hazelnut is always such a fantastic combination (and the heart of one of my favorite desserts ever, the hazelnut dacquoise from The Modern) and this was just as good as the gianduja we had last year. There was, however, a textural difference compared to all the custards we've had before. This custard was creamier, thicker and more like chocolate mousse or pudding in texture than any other we have tried. The creaminess just made it that much better. We probably could have eaten an entire container of this last night instead of just a double cup. Chocolate hazelnut/gianduja definitely remains one of our favorites.

Chocolate Hazelnut
A's rating: 10/10
M's rating: 10/10

Little Italy Pizza

I was really out of it today, and couldn't even muster enough energy to think about what to do for lunch. The easiest thing to do was to take a walk around the block (to try to get in some minimal amount of physical activity) and then continue the block by block challenge. After the soup cart, the next place on the block was Little Italy Pizza (or, as the sign says, "The World Famous Little Italy Pizza" or, as the foursquare page says, "Little Italy Gourmet Pizza & Pasta Parlor"). I had ventured in once or twice before on other days when I couldn't decide what to do for lunch but had never actually ordered any food there. (Yes, there were days in the past when I couldn't decide what to do for lunch and would walk in and out of multiple places before giving up and getting something.)

Little Italy Pizza is a long-ish restaurant. There is ample seating in the front and middle of the restaurant, and the pizza counters and ordering area are in the back. Along the walk to the ordering area, I enjoyed looking at the various statues of pizza makers.

I'm not sure what's wrong with the guy on the left side...

At the back, you're confronted with many, many choices. There were over 10 different pies on the counter (and most of those were half pies, so there were even more options) and the menu on the wall also listed heroes, calzones and other options. I didn't really feel like I wanted pizza since I just had some this weekend, so I went for an eggplant parmigiana sandwich.

It took awhile to get my order, but I think it's because they needed to make it fresh unlike some of the slices which you only need to heat up in the oven. When they gave me the bag with the hero in it, I was shocked by how much it weighed. The hero was less than $6 and quite heavy, by weight alone. It was a very generous portion of eggplant parmigiana.

The sandwich was a bit messy, as parmigiana sandwiches tend to be. There was a good amount of sauce, but not too much. The eggplant itself was breaded well (but again, not too much) and was not dry at all. It was a pretty good parmigiana sandwich, but just a really large size. I liked it, but found myself craving something light and refreshing for dinner later to balance out the day.

While waiting for my order, I listened to them call out the other orders people were picking up. There were a few other parmigiana sandwiches (mostly meatball) and lots of specialty slices. It doesn't really make sense to get a plain NY-style slice (if they even have them; I didn't see them in the window but wasn't really looking) at a place like this when you can just go to the nearby 2 Bros for $1 slices. The most popular slice seemed to be the calamari. About 80% of the people there at the time picking up slices got a calamari slice and then something else. Seems like that might be the thing to get!

It's an interesting thing I've realized from doing the block by block challenge. Even though I check things off the list as done, it seems that, to really experience a place, maybe you need to go twice, applying all of the knowledge you gained the first time. I know one thing for sure - next time I go to Little Italy Pizza I am trying that calamari slice!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Potbelly Wrecking Ball

Potbelly is a Chicago-based sandwich chain that has recently found its way to New York. M has written about them before and also about her love of their sugar cookies. It took me a little longer to get there even though it was always one of my favorite sandwich spots in Chicago.

Now, everyone has probably heard of In-n-Out's "secret" menu which clearly is no longer a secret. Potbelly has one too. One of these items is what I ordered: the Wrecking Ball. One of their signature sandwiches is the Wreck. A Wreck consists of salami, roast beef, turkey, ham, and swiss cheese. I normally throw this on a whole wheat hero with all of the toppings minus mayo. Now, I had heard of the Wrecking Ball some time ago but had never had a chance to get one. It's basically a Wreck sandwich with some of their meatballs thrown in as well.

Wrecking Ball

I wish I had gotten a better picture as I seem to have missed the creme de la creme of this sandwich, the meatballs. As sad as I am about my picture taking skills (or lack thereof apparently) I was exceedingly happy with my sandwich choice. The normal Wreck is flavorful already with so many different cold cuts piled in, but the added meatballs add a different texture to the mix along with even more flavor. It's a great sandwich, albeit a tad pricey, and probably something I would reserve more for special occasions. I would definitely recommend trying it at least once, though.

Salt on the Barbie

Now that Carrabba's, our Sunday go-to place when we visited my parents in Staten Island, is closed, we are trying out some other places in the area. Tonight's dinner was in the same shopping plaza at Outback Steakhouse. We were in a great mood after the awesome Giants win over the Packers and were hoping for a good meal. We had been there before and had been satisfied with our experiences in the past.

Service was a bit slow from the start. Our server was very nice and kept the drinks full, but the kitchen seemed really slow. We got through two loaves of honey wheat bread before our appetizer arrived. The bread is a little sweet so it's not my favorite type. Also, for me, today it seemed a little dry.

For appetizer, we got the Alice Springs chicken quesadilla, which usually comes stuffed with grilled chicken breast, sauteed mushrooms, bacon, melted jack and cheddar cheeses and served with a side of honey mustard sauce.

The quesadilla was ordinary and seemed like something we could make ourselves. It was just pieces of grilled chicken, a few sliced mushrooms (there weren't even mushrooms in every piece) and cheese. Since we got it without bacon, there wasn't much depth of flavor to it. We were expecting something more than the simple quesadilla we got. The honey mustard sauce wasn't bad and I used a lot of it.

After another long wait, our entrees arrived:

Looking at the plates on the table, it looked like we had a really healthy meal. Clockwise starting from the top left corner, my mom got the grilled chicken on the barbie (seasoned grilled chicken served with BBQ sauce) with seasonal mixed vegetables (cooked in oil instead of butter), my dad got the grilled Norwegian salmon with the same mixed vegetables, A got the ribs (drenched in BBQ sauce) and chicken on the barbie (same chicken but just a smaller piece) which was served with Aussie fries (seasoned fries), and I got the grilled chicken on the barbie with green beans. We thought we were making really good choices!

There was one problem with the entrees and it affected all the entrees. They were all so salty, almost to the point of being inedible. With the chicken, we tried pulling off the top layer, which made it more bearable. Unfortunately for my dad, in addition to the salmon being fairly well done, there is no top layer to salmon to pull off and it wasn't possible to get rid of the salty part. A noted that his ribs were also really salty - not from the BBQ sauce but from the ribs themselves. The vegetables luckily were not that salty and somehow A's Aussie fries were less salty than our grilled chicken. It was like they just dumped an entire container of salt on the grill or mistook teaspoons in the recipe for tablespoons. No idea what happened in the kitchen, but everything off the grill felt like it went through a salt bath before getting to the table.

To management's credit, they did offer to make the dishes again, but considering the time and how much we had already eaten, we really didn't want another set of entrees. They also said that next time we could order it with no seasoning or light seasoning. But who would find this level of sodium to be edible? I cannot believe that a recipe would call for that level of salt, so much that it made my lips burn. If we got this again, I think we would have to ask for light seasoning, but I really don't know how anyone can stomach this if it's the "regular" seasoning level. I think we're still feeling the effects of it hours later.

There aren't a ton of dining options right near the grocery store, which is usually our last stop during the weekend (and we try to eat close to save time), so we'll probably return to Outback at some point. Hopefully next time the kitchen doesn't have such a heavy hand with the salt!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My First Steak 'n Shake

Opening day for the new Steak 'n Shake Signature in Manhattan was my very first time having Steak 'n Shake. Even though I spent a few years in Chicago, they don't have any locations in the city and we didn't take any special trips to the suburbs just to get steakburgers. Seeing A's excitement about the arrival of steakburgers, I was excited to finally try it.

I have always loved the logo design

Me having my very first steakburger

Since it was my first time at Steak 'n Shake, I didn't get any of the specialty combinations and stuck with the original double cheese 'n fries. For $3.99 (so cheap by NYC standards!), you get a double cheeseburger and fries. My cheeseburger consisted of two steak patties with American cheese, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, onions, ketchup and mustard (i.e., everything but mayo).

I thought the burger was good. I didn't know what to expect except that it was a thinner burger, which is how I like it. Since we just had shackburgers the day before, it was hard not to compare to Shake Shack. I think I still like Shake Shack better, but the Steak 'n Shake burger was pretty good. The first few bites didn't wow me but I think it was a little too much bread at the start, which didn't allow the flavors of the burger to shine through. Once I got to the middle and it was really just burger, cheese, onion and mustard, I thought it was a pretty good burger.

The burger came with a small container of fries. (I am still amazed by how much food you get for just $4! Best deal ever! Well, maybe not ever, but it's a good deal.)

The fries were skinny and very lightly salted. They were fine but clearly come in second to the burger. I liked that the portion of fries was smaller so I didn't have to eat too many.

I was happy with my first visit to Steak 'n Shake and can't wait to go back. It's an affordable tasty meal and they have a whole bunch of different burgers to try. The guacamole and the mushroom ones sound really, really good, and they also have chili steak franks that look interesting. I think it's safe to say we'll go back again. Welcome to NYC Steak 'n Shake!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bayridge Sushi

Tonight we found ourselves in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with M's parents and we decided to try Bayridge Sushi, recommended to us by a few people.

We started with a special appetizer of pizza with salmon:

Not the most attractive dish, but it was tasty. There was a thin crispy crust on the bottom, a layer of creamy avocado, sashimi style salmon and a lot of sauce. This was a great start to the meal.

We ordered an assortment of 9 rolls which arrived in one of those big sushi boats:

Forgot to take a separate photo of the yellowtail scallion roll (which was nothing special and seemed to be missing scallions), but here's a closer look at the other 8 rolls.

Clockwise from top left: tuna tartar roll, chicken tempura roll, Ginza roll, salmon avocado scallion roll

Tuna tartar roll: The tuna tartar roll (5 pieces) was also on the page of specials, described as a tempura roll with tuna on top served with chef's special sauce. M wasn't sure what a "tempura roll" was, but it was just rice wrapped in seaweed and fried. The tuna topping was kind of like poke - cubes of tuna (instead of being chopped finely like other tartares), seaweed salad and bean sprouts. Although it was nice to have something different like tuna tartare over a roll, the tempura roll part of it just felt unnecessary as it didn't add anything other than texture. We think it might have been better to just order tuna tartare.

Chicken tempura roll: The chicken tempura roll (5 pieces) contained fried chicken, avocado, cucumber and caviar inside. There were 2 large pieces with chicken sticking out (A got one of these) and three middle pieces (M tried these). This one was OK, but nothing special. There wasn't much about it that screamed out that it was fried chicken and not fried something else. The chicken tempura was rather bland, and A couldn't pick up much else flavor-wise.

Ginza roll: The Ginza roll (6 pieces) had cooked salmon with onion and "crunchy caviar" outside. Not really sure what crunchy caviar is, but this seemed just like your usual roe. A didn't really experience any textural difference from the "crunchy" caviar, and he could barely taste any saltiness from the roe. M liked this one because of the crunch and flavor of the onions, but it didn't seem to be a favorite at the table. The cooked salmon and onion was an interesting change to the normal sushi we've had.

Salmon avocado scallion roll: This roll (6 pieces) should have had salmon, avocado and scallions (kind of self-explanatory), but just like the yellowtail scallion, there were no scallions. It's like they ran out of scallions but forgot to mention it. It was a little less noticeable here than in the yellowtail scallion roll since this roll is often just salmon and avocado. It was your basic salmon avocado roll and had a nice clean flavor.

The rolls in this second collage all had 8 pieces, much easier for a party of 4 to split:

Clockwise from top left: Mexican roll, pink girl roll, T roll, 007 roll

Mexican roll: The Mexican roll had crunchy spicy tuna inside, avocado outside and spicy sauce on top. Their spicy sauce isn't very spicy but this roll had a nice texture and flavor. It was probably M's favorite, although a close tie with the next roll on this list. A thought this was just okay. Once again he didn't really get any textural differences from the crunchy portion of the roll, but at least the flavors were good.

Pink girl roll: The pink girl roll had eel and avocado inside with spicy crab meat on top. M thought the spicy crab here was much stronger than the flavors of the eel and avocado. It was really tasty and M's second favorite. The spicy crab was not spicy at all in A's opinion. He also agreed with M's assessment that the crab was pretty much all you could taste in the roll. For someone that really likes eel in sushi, this was disappointing.

T roll: The T roll consisted of spicy tuna, eel, avocado and salmon with spicy mayo and eel sauce. They didn't mention it on the specials board but this roll was wrapped in soy paper. M liked that it had a refreshing flavor. Once again, A didn't think this was spicy at all. (It's a common thread here - nothing labeled spicy was really that spicy.) The roll tasted nice and fresh, but it just didn't do anything to wow him.

007 roll: This roll was labeled "most popular" on the menu and had shrimp tempura and cucumber inside with crunchy spicy tuna on top. This was the first of the tempura/crunchy rolls that A actually got some sort of crunch. On top of that, the flavors were very good, and it was probably A's favorite roll of the night.

Generally, the sushi was good. A was a little disappointed by the sushi as he didn't think it was anything that special. They were missing some key elements, and he didn't think the elements presented really reflected what the descriptions were. M didn't think they were the most amazing sushi rolls we have had but that it was good. Definitely better than some of the places she's gotten for delivery at work. The prices were quite reasonable as well.

To close out the meal, they brought us a plate of red bean, green tea and vanilla ice cream on the house:

We had originally gone to Bayridge Sushi because we had heard that they had all you can eat sushi (for $20/person) but since we didn't see it on the menu, we ordered an assortment of rolls. When we were leaving, we saw a table with all you can eat forms so it looks like they do have it but you just have to specially request it. A was disappointed that he did not get all you can eat sushi. Oh well, next time!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Steak 'n Shake Preview

Today was opening day for the new Steak 'n Shake Signature in Manhattan. To celebrate, they offered free burgers for a year to the first 150 people in line at the 10 am opening. We weren't going to wait all night to get free burgers (since after all, they're under $5!) but we definitely wanted to check it out on opening day.

A full recap later... but here's a teaser pic of us with our opening day steakburgers!

A Filoti Layover

After a relaxing time in Halki where we had loucomades and citron, we continued along the winding road to the next town, Filoti. It was a cute town built on the side of the mountain, and looked like it was bigger than Halki. As we passed through the town on the main road, we saw a few cafes and it looked like the entire town was out having their afternoon coffee. We decided to join them and got a table at this cute little cafe. It was another relaxing stop.

A got a frappe. He ordered it without milk, and that was a mistake. Normally he doesn't take sugar with his coffee, but something about frappes scream out to need some sweetness. It tasted very good as a cold, frothed coffee drink, but it was just missing that sweetness to make it great. That doesn't take away from the fact that it was still excellent coffee, though.

Since M doesn't drink coffee (it puts her to sleep), she just got an orange juice. The juice was fine, not as good as the fresh squeezed juice we got that morning at the hotel, but it was refreshing.

Our stop in Filoti was a nice break before a harrowing drive to Mt. Zeus and then continuing along the winding mountain road to our furthest stop, Apiranthos. We loved taking part in the daily routine of the locals and treasured our brief stop in town.


The town of Halki in Naxos wasn't just home to delicious loucoumades. It was also the home to the Citron (Kitron) distillery museum.

The Kitron distillery in Naxos first opened in 1896. The drink is made from citron trees found on the island. Currently, the alcohol is only found on the island of Naxos and not exported anywhere. (We thought we wouldn't find many items from Greece here in the States but we found a lot, even the cookies, in Astoria. However, we did not find citron yet.) You can get citron in Halki or at the citron bar down in Chora, which we had passed by before. The rich history and the ability to walk through the old distillery attracted us to the museum during our visit.

When we went to the distillery museum, they offered us a free taste of the citron. It's available in green, yellow and clear varieties. The yellow is the strongest, the clear is medium and the green is the lightest and sweetest variety.

Our favorite is the green Citron. The alcohol is still strong (the green was about 30%), but the green one did have a pleasantly sweet taste. We liked it so much that we considered getting a bottle to bring home but thought transport home would be too difficult. Citron is one of those products that you can only get in Naxos. We hope to return one day and will definitely check out the citron bar since we didn't have time to go there during this trip. If you happen to be in Halki, drop by the distillery museum. It's a quick stop and free!