Saturday, September 29, 2012

Banana Bread

Banana bread has been on the Shake Shack custard calendar before, but we didn't have a chance to try it until this month.

So, so crowded at Shake Shack so couldn't get in to take a photo of the usual custard sign

We were both really excited to try this since we're fans of banana bread. Shake Shack somehow managed to capture the exact flavor of banana bread - bananas and walnuts and spices - in a smooth custard. This was a much better "banana" offering than their bananas foster custard in our opinion. We really liked this custard, and it's one we'd probably get again.

Banana Bread
A's rating: 7/10
M's rating: 6.5/10

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Food and Wine Festival 2012

The annual International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot begins this weekend (September 28).  We won't be able to make it this year (sadly) but if anyone going to the 2012 Food and Wine Festival is looking for some info on last year's offerings, we're here to help!

First, our reviews of the kiosks. It looks like this year they have most of the same kiosks as last year (Brazil and Portugal are not returning and are being replaced by Florida and Terra which sound pretty good). Not all of the food offerings are the same, but some of our old favorites are back! Here are our reviews (of the food, not the drinks, unless the kiosk only had drinks), with some notes on this year's changes in menu, thanks to Disney's awesome site.

(All the same offerings)

(All the same offerings except the lamb chop now has mint pesto and potato crunchies instead of potato-goat cheese salad. Kind of sad since our favorite part of the lamb chop last year was the salad.)

(The waffle and chocolate are the same, but this year the mussels are in Hoegaarden beer broth, instead of roasted garlic cream, a change that sounds awesome to us.)

Brewer's Collection
(Very similar to last year's offerings except this year there is Schofferhofer Grapefruit, which I am intrigued by.)

Goodbye Brazil kiosk... until next time (when hopefully the feijoada doesn't come out like hot dogs and beans)

(There is filet mignon (which looks like it's from their Le Cellier restaurant) instead of salmon, but otherwise the famous cheese soup and sausage + polenta are back.)

(Same offerings except the ropa vieja has cilantro rice instead of white rice and the jerk chicken has mango chutney instead of mango salsa (just different in name?). Hopefully this improves the dishes.)

(Same offerings but different artisan cheeses)

(Only the pork pot stickers remain from last year's menu. Not sure how chicken satay is Chinese, but mango tapioca pudding sounds quite good.)

Craft Beer
(Mostly similar offerings)

Lemon chiffon, white chocolate macadamia mousse, and tres leches verrine dessert trio from last year

Desserts & Champagne
(Completely different set of desserts - A is most intrigued by the dark chocolate mousse with chili and salted caramel, and I can't decide whether I would prefer the yogurt panna cotta with orange cake, raspberries, and pomegranate, or the lemon custard verrine with blueberry compote - but we would most likely end up getting the trio if they offered that again)

Fife & Drum
(We had frozen Red Stag lemonade; this year it's regular Red Stag lemonade and Red Stag honey tea lemonade. This year's offerings sound good, but I can tell you which of the 3 would be the best on a super-hot Florida day.)

(All the same offerings)

(A new menu - I think I would choose the roast bratwurst in pretzel roll (although it is similar to something from last year) and A would pick the schinken nudel since he doesn't know where else he could get it.)

(All the same offerings plus spanakopita. Love spanakopita.)

Greek feast at a lagoon-side table. Spanakopita would look quite nice joining those dishes.

(All the same offerings)

Hops & Barley
(All the same offerings except the lobster claw cuddler is chilled with herb mayonnaise instead of warm with butter, and there is a Maine home style clam chowder.  I think I prefer last year's, but A would pick this year's.  We both would go for the clam chowder, for sure.)

(All the same offerings except the cheese selection is slightly different and the fisherman's pie is lobster and seafood, and not just lobster and scallop.  So it's basically the same.)

(The ravioli and cannoli are repeats, but they switched out the shrimp pasta for salsiccia e papacelli napoletani. Italian sweet sausage sounds like a winning dish.)

Japan (parts 1 and 2)
(They've changed up the offerings here - they still have the CA roll, but the spicy tuna & salmon hand roll, karaage hand roll, and the sukiyaki beef pan are new additions. Sadly our favorite - the tuna and salmon sensation (like poke) - is not returning.)

New Zealand delicacies ... I could go for one of those sliders right now!

(It looks like they renamed the beef taco and that there is natilla de cajeta instead of flan, but otherwise the same offerings.)

(Same offerings except the Harissa chicken roll (which I did like) was swapped out for merguez sausage with grilled peppers and onions. That sounds delicious. Merguez is yummy.)

New Zealand
(Same offerings except lamb meatball instead of lamb slider - should be the same except sliders are easier to eat, and who doesn't love sliders?)

(The golabki that we liked is gone, but in its place is zapiekanki - a toasted mushroom, caramelized onion and cheese bread - which sounds amazing.)

Last year's Portugal kiosk which is not making an appearance this year

(All the same delicious offerings)

(The beef rendang is back, and we're not unhappy to see the bland Singapore noodles replaced with a seared mahi mahi.)

South Africa
(Instead of the confusing bunny chow, there is a spinach and paneer cheese pocket, which also confuses us because that sounds Indian.)

South Korea
(We both loved the bulgogi last year, but they substituted a mung bean pancake with shrimp and kimchi sauce this year.  That sounds pretty good too.)

The 2 new kiosks list culinary offerings that sound incredible and I'm sad we're going to miss them.  Florida has an arepa (and, as you know, we love arepas) and a shrimp ceviche, while Terra has vegetarian chicken curry and chili. Sounds interesting.

Hops and Barley had some of our favorite dishes - the lobster roll and the pumpkin mousse were fantastic.

After we got back from the festival, we made a list of our favorites. The big winners among the kiosks were Scandinavia, Hops and Barley and New Zealand, along with a few others.

Some final tips (without having to buy any special tickets or do any special planning):

- If you can, avoid going to the festival on Saturday unless you want to drink around the world like all the other Saturday festival-goers. Lines are long, the park is crowded, it smells like alcohol everywhere, and if you just want to try the food, you're going to be waiting a long time for small portions and have nowhere to eat them.

One of the emptier areas of the World Showcase on drink around the world Saturday - you can see in the back how packed the pathways are

In the center of the World Showcase on Sunday afternoon... the crowds are gone. Could never have taken this photo on Saturday.

- Put your money on the reloadable cards that you can buy throughout the festival.  It makes paying very easy and you can wear your "cash" on your wrist.

- Get the festival passport and get the stamps from each kiosk. It's a nice souvenir. (And if it's the same as last year - don't forget the final stamp like this one!)

- Be prepared for good food but don't expect the most amazing food ever. (None of the dishes made our 2011 favorites lists.) It's still a theme park, it's still a festival, and you're still in Florida instead of some other country (although this year there is the Florida kiosk).  A Greek salad or grilled Greek cheese isn't going to be as good as the food in Greece, but it's still a fun adventure.

- If you're going to eat around the world like we did, go to the park hungry, don't rush and try everything! (And hopefully you're there for more than one day...)

We can't wait to go back to the festival another year and hope there will be lots of great new kiosks!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Figs and Goat Cheese

One new custard that intrigued us this month was the figs & Coach Farms goat cheese custard.  Last year (thanks to Timehop's refreshing of our memories) they had figs and honey, so we were interested to see if we would like this one.

M's thoughts;
I wasn't sure what to expect from this one.  It's been almost 2 weeks now since we had it, and most of what I remember is how thick and how rich it was.  It was a bit hard for me to eat more than a few spoons of it because it was so rich.  I don't really remember much fig flavor, just the thickness and heaviness of the custard.

A's thoughts:
I think I remember faint goat cheese flavor, but I really can't remember. It wasn't very fig-y, though, that much I remember. I don't remember it being very memorable or good. I doubt that we'll ever get it again.

Figs & Coach Farms Goat Cheese
A's rating: 4/10
M's rating: 4/10

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Soom Soom

I'm lucky to work in an area that is blessed by having lots of falafel options.  I love falafel and it's one of my favorite vegetarian dishes.  I didn't plan on having a Meatless Monday yesterday but it ended up that way when I decided on Soom Soom for lunch and a Greek salad for dinner.

Soom Soom in Midtown West is a tiny storefront with a couple of stools to stay & eat and a lot of takeout orders.  In addition to falafel sandwiches and salads, they have other Mediterranean items like sabich (sandwich with egg, eggplant, potato, hummus - like what A got at Taim) and burekas, and sides which include multiple types of fries.

Since it was my first time at Soom Soom, I decided to go with the original, which was a falafel sandwich with about 3 or 4 falafel balls in a wheat pita (you had a choice between white and wheat).  After you get your sandwich, you move on to the salad bar where you can pile on as much stuff as will fit in your pita. I got the tomato and cucumber salad, lots of seasoned onions, a pickled celery salad, artichokes, and a quinoa salad, before I thought my sandwich would overflow onto the counter.

This was a tasty sandwich.  The toppings were good, the falafel was well-flavored, and the sandwich was satisfying and filling. I really liked the onions, and the celery, quinoa and artichokes were unique. The only difficulty is that you only get one trip through the salad bar and it's not always easy to layer the salad bar toppings in with the falafel all the way to the bottom.  Pita breaks easily if you try to stretch it apart too much to add lots of salad! It's one reason I have switched to the salad bowl at Maoz -  so I can pile on as much salad as I want (since I love the salad bar).  The falafel salad option at Soom Soom is much more expensive than Maoz and breaks my $10 target, so I think I will just have to stick with the sandwich there.

I am very intrigued by the burekasabich (which is exactly what it sounds like) as I don't think I've seen this anywhere else.  Maybe I'll try that on a day that I'm really, really hungry and going to the gym.

Soom Soom has multiple locations but the one near me in Midtown is on 46th between 5th and 6th.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Free Snacks are Good

We just returned from a short happy trip to Chicagoland (wedding! baby! yay!), which means there are more places we get to write about - both old favorites and new discoveries.  Going to Chicago these days doesn't really feel like a vacation since we lived there for so long but we really enjoy our return trips to the city.

We kicked off our trip with a very late arrival at the airport (so late that they printed late on our baggage tag and we just made it to board), something neither of us wishes to repeat.  After finally settling in to our seats and calming down from the stress, we got to enjoy snack time on the plane! 

Snacks, I'm guessing over Pennsylvania/Ohio, but my LiveMap didn't work

Since we were flying JetBlue, that meant we got free snacks. And not just a small cookie, but real snacks. Everyone in the rows around us stocked up on multiple drinks and bags of chips (dinnertime flight).  I opted for water and iced tea (a decent sized Arizona can!), along with sea salt Popcorners and Fritos (which are new to JetBlue), while A got water and Coke Zero with caramel Popcorners and Terra Blues.  (On the way back (night flight so no pictures), we pretty much got the same thing except for the snacks - A got caramel Popcorners and I got Fritos.)

I love flying JetBlue for a number of reasons, but the unlimited free snacks is a big plus when domestic flights usually means nothing but expensive (and not great) food. It's much more like the international airlines which still feel like you are entitled to eat something real with your ticket price. Go JetBlue!

Friday, September 7, 2012

AQ Kafe

Over Labor Day weekend, after a bird crapped on my head, we went for lunch at AQ Kafe, a Scandinavian cafe near Columbus Circle. We like Scandinavian food, with its clean and healthy dishes, but hadn't yet tried this cafe.

We split two dishes.  One was the gravlax sandwich (cured salmon, red onion, avocado, mustard), which also came with a side salad.

Gravlax sandwich

Salmon, greens, avocado and mustard

We have had better gravlax but this sandwich wasn't bad.  The salmon tasted fresh and clean, the greens added a nice crispiness, the avocado and mustard added creamy texture and flavor.  The bread was probably the weakest part of the sandwich as it wasn't anything too special, and I had trouble biting it.  The side salad was pretty much mixed greens with a light coating of dressing. It was fresh and clean which was nice to have but not amazing.

The other dish we split was the Swedish meatball entree (meatballs, pickled cucumbers, lingonberries, mashed potatoes, cream sauce).

I liked the arrangement of this plate, separating each part of the dish into its own section. It looked so uncluttered.  The mashed potatoes, cucumbers and lingonberries were fairly standard and about what you would expect from them. 

The meatballs came covered in the usual gravy, which in this case was necessary since the meatballs themselves were a little dry (especially in the middle). I'm not sure if it's because the meatballs were of a slightly larger size than some other Swedish meatballs we've had, but after biting into them, we had to add more gravy to them each time in order to improve the flavor and texture. We've definitely had better meatballs.  Might even say they are better at Ikea, which offers them to the masses at a fraction of the price.

Our meal at AQ Kafe wasn't bad, but it wasn't as good as the other Scandinavian food we've had.  We've only written here about the Scandinavian kiosk at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival but we liked those (small) plates more.  The other thing about AQ Kafe was that prices were pretty high. Not that surprising since it's a (non-Ikea) Scandinavian place, but another reason we might not return.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Peach Pie Oh My

Back on July 4th, we tried Shake Shack's special Blueberry Pie Oh My concrete and loved it.  We noted then that we had missed out on Peach Pie Oh My and hoped to get it the next time it came around. Over Labor Day weekend, Shake Shack ran a few more specials to celebrate the end of summer - corn dogs and Peach Pie Oh My! 

Like the blueberry concrete, this was vanilla custard with a slice of peach pie mixed in.

Although we really liked the blueberry pie concrete, the peach pie one failed to impress (and it was not because of our high expectations).  It looks like soup in the photo and it was fairly melted when we got it, but I don't think that was the problem.  The pie just didn't mix in well.  It felt too soggy and like glue in the custard.  There were peaches, but the concrete itself didn't have a lot of peach flavor if you weren't eating a peach piece (which were whole and not broken up at all by the mixing).  Maybe blueberry pie just mixes in better.  We didn't really like it. But we've heard so many great things about it, so maybe we will give it another try next year (and just hope this was an outlier experience).

Chicken Soup Night

Last night at work, I ordered delivery from Noodies, a neighborhood place that A and I tried for lunch one afternoon back in June. I was in the mood for good soup and remembered how much we liked their noodle soups that day.

I started out with some steamed dumplings, which we also tried last time. (I had actually forgotten we tried these before since I just remembered the mushroom dumplings.)

I liked these dumplings (and am generally a fan of kanom jeeb).  The combination of ground pork and shrimp with crunchy water chestnuts and fried garlic works well.

I also tried a second appetizer - koong pun aoy, something I didn't think I had ever tried before at any Thai restaurant.  The menu described it as "minced shrimp, curry paste, string beans, kaffir lime leaves and sugar cane, served with a sweet and spicy peanut and cucumber relish."  I had no idea what to expect.


What it turned out to be was a fried shrimp ball on a stick of sugar cane.  The small pile of salad that came with it (aka the relish) reminded me of the flavors and texture of papaya salad (without the papaya).

The shrimp ball and salad were both good.  The shrimp ball wasn't as crispy as it probably would be at the restaurant, but it had a long, rainy trip to my office.  There were so many flavors in the fried ball along with little pieces of string beans, and I really liked it, especially with the sweet and spicy red sauce.  Not the easiest thing to eat at the office but it was good.

The last time we went to Noodies we tried a beef noodle soup and a shrimp noodle soup.  This time, I was in the mood for chicken soup and ordered the gai toon.  According to the menu, this consisted of thin rice noodles, stewed chicken, braised daikon, bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, and goji berries.

I am certain that this would be better at the restaurant. I always forget when ordering noodle soup that the restaurant will usually deliver it to you in pieces so that the noodles don't get soggy and don't fall apart. It's a good and practical method for delivery but you lose some of the great parts of noodle soup from having to combine it yourself right before eating.  But while you may lose some of the textural benefits, a good noodle soup will usually taste just as good when delivered.  This one definitely did.

I loved the complex flavor of the soup, the stewed chicken which fell apart easily, the spices in the broth, the daikon that was soft and comforting, the juicy shiitake mushrooms, the al dente noodles. I'm not sure why the goji berries were included, but since they're healthy and I like them, I have no complaints. I would definitely like to try this at the restaurant one day so I can see what it's like to get it all combined together.

It wasn't a perfect delivery experience - the order took a bit to be confirmed and then they were a little late - but it was a rainy night and I know from experience that they are a small and busy shop.  I definitely recommend a visit.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Rice the Great

I haven't tried that many new places for lunch lately.  There's been a lot of Potbelly, Earl of Sandwich, Just Salad, Hale and Hearty, and catered lunches.  Not that there's anything wrong with that in my opinion, but I just haven't felt inspired to branch out. I blame the topsy-turvy summer for leading me toward the familiar and lessening my lunchtime experimentation.

Today I wandered around a lot, as usual, but decided to try someplace new - the Rice the Great cart sitting down the block from some other street food favorites on 50th Street.

Rice the Great's menu focuses on one thing - rice pilaf.  You can mix in beef or chicken, but otherwise the platter is the same.  Rice, meat, salad.  They had samples to try, which I appreciated, since I was a bit hungry after all my wandering around.

I decided on the chicken platter, which came in a giant box for only $6.  Half the box was taken up by the salad - mixed greens, tomatoes and cucumbers with oil and vinegar - and the other half had the rice pilaf, chicken and sauces.

I liked this lunch.  The salad was refreshing and light, which balanced the chicken and rice fairly well.  The chicken had a mild seasoning and wasn't dry.  The rice had a bunch of different ingredients mixed in - carrots, chickpeas, onions, raisins and a variety of spices.  Despite all the ingredients, the rice alone didn't have a tremendous amount of flavor.  But combined with the chicken and the sauces, it had more flavor yet still felt healthy. I actually appreciated that it appeared to be light on salt because too many places go overboard with it.  The white sauce was like tzatziki and the red sauce (which I expected to be hot sauce) was tomato-based. Both were good.

It was nice having a healthy, affordable freshly prepared option for lunch. I would give this another try.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

September Custard Calendar

New month, new custard calendar.  Shake Shack actually put this up on Facebook yesterday so we had a preview of the new flavors before August was even over. While there are a number of returning flavors, there is also one really fascinating new one (figs and goat cheese!).

Among the returning flavors that we previously reviewed are coffee and donuts (Monday), PB&J (Tuesday), red velvet (Wednesday), buttery caramel cocoa nib (Saturday) and oatmeal creme pie (Sunday).  We had liked buttery caramel cocoa nib (even if it wasn't one of our all-time favorites), had some mixed feelings on coffee, red velvet, and oatmeal creme pie, and didn't particularly like the PB&J formulation.  It's possible some of those have improved or maybe it's just personal preference, because someone must like them if they're back!

Banana bread (Friday) has been on the calendar before but we've never gotten around to trying it.  Maybe this will be the month. And the one we're definitely going to try is the "figs and Coach Farms goat cheese" (Thursday). Very intriguing.  Maybe it will be like the quark gelato we saw in Maui.