Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Our Year in Food: 2014

2014 passed by in such a blur. We cooked more this year than we have in any other year before. We still went out to restaurants but with less time out, we tried to make every visit count. It also meant we went on a lot of food crawls to try to sample as many different things as possible on the weekends. Other than our brief stops at Caribbean island ports on the Quantum, this was another year that we stayed domestic. We missed our big international food trips, but we still had some wonderful food adventures this year. Here's our overview of our year in food.

The first restaurant meal we ate in 2014: New Year's Day lunch at Mission Cantina. All the tacos, tostadas, and sides that we tried are completely gone from Mission Cantina's ever-changing menu, but someday hopefully we'll get around to writing about it.

The first homecooked meal we ate in 2014: A combination of old and new - panko chicken tenders with leftover sauce from the bistro chicken from last New Year's Eve plus a warm black rice and butternut squash salad.

The last restaurant meal we ate in 2014: Late December lunch at Tabata Noodle, our go-to neighborhood place for ramen, to warm up with some gyoza, ramen, and tan tan men.

The last homecooked meal we ate in 2014: A made New Year's Eve dinner - seared scallops with cellophane noodles on a bed of garlic spinach and mushrooms. First time making seared scallops! We love trying and learning new things.

# of different restaurants we tried in 2014 (together and separate): 205. Considering how many meals we ate at home, I was really surprised that we broke 200, but I guess we made the most of our time out!

Cities explored (outside the NYC metro area): Las Vegas, NV; Chicago, IL (and its northwest suburbs); San Juan, PR; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Trois Ilets, Martinique; Bridgetown, Barbados; Basseterre, St. Kitts.

# of new Shake Shack custards reviewed: 10. Double the number from last year. Our favorites from the new ones we tried were coconut marshmallow and golden sponge creme cake.

Most visited restaurant of 2014 (together): Windjammer Marketplace on Quantum of the Seas (10x, mostly due to limited options on the cruise ship). Runners-up were New Spring Garden (last year's winner, 8x, thanks to family dinners) and fast casual spots near my parents, Panera and Qdoba (both, 6x). From non-Quantum and non-family meal spots, the most visited were Meske, Don Antonio, and Obao, all in Hell's Kitchen (all, 4x). How crazy is it that our most regular spots, averaged out, were visited once per quarter?! So blessed to live in a place with so many delicious choices.

Progress on WorldEats challenge: We revamped the way we document the challenge, so we won't be listing countries here. But by the end of this year, we've blogged about food representing 39/196 countries and eaten even more.

2014 blog series that will someday be completed: Las Vegas winter escape, Chicago long weekend, Quantum of the Seas cruise extravaganza.

Favorite overall meal of 2014: Our anniversary dinner at Cosme. We'll write more about Cosme next year, but it was absolutely incredible and worth the wait to get a table. Fantastic addition to the NYC food scene.

Looking forward to more good eats in 2015!

A's Favorite Food Memories 2014

So like the last few years, M and I have decided to write up our favorite food memories for the past year. 2014 was different from previous years. We didn't have a big, food-centric vacation that dominated our lists, but we did get to explore the world through our World Cup eating challenge and M's 52 week cooking challenge. Here are my top 10 favorite food memories of 2014 in no particular order:

1.   Uni Tostada - Cosme (NYC)

This was a dish that opened my mind up. I love uni, and I love bone marrow, but I had never thought to put them together. The crisp blue corn tostada provided an amazing crunch and base, and the bone marrow salsa added a beautiful richness, but the true star of the show was the uni. It was so fresh, and you could definitely taste the sea with this dish. When you paired everything together it all melded into a seamless, perfect dish.

2.   Lobster Pibil - Cosme (NYC)

I usually don't go out of my way to get lobster. I find that, for the price you end up paying I just don't find the value to be worth it. Sure it's tasty, but I'd rather split the cost of a lobster dish into two dishes to try. I'm really glad we got this dish, though. The lobster pieces (claw, knuckle, half tail) were so sweet and tender. There was no chewiness to them at all. The black bean puree mixed with the avocado leaf puree offered richness and body, and the chorizo added some saltiness to balance out dish.

3.   Gorgon - Otto's Tacos (NYC)

After M showed me a picture of what this special "off-menu" item looked like, I knew we had to try it. It's a San Antonio style puffy taco filled with their carne asada, chopped onions, cilantro, guacamole, and a serrano chile crema. It's a gut bomb, but at the same time it's one of the most delicious things ever. I would eat this again in a heartbeat, but you need to make sure to only order when they're not busy. Since it's a special order they have to make it fresh so it takes some time.

4.   Cevapi - Cevabdzinica Sarajevo (Astoria, Queens)

As part of our World Cup eating adventure, M and I were fortunate enough to try food from some new countries. One was Bosnia, and we made a special trip out to Astoria for cevapi, which are a homemade sausage. The spice mix is obviously a secret, but it was delicious, and when paired with their homemade bread, chopped onions, and ajvar was an amazing dish.

5.   Crab Spaghettini - Jamie's Italian (Quantum of the Seas)

On our big vacation of the year, we found ourselves on a boat in the Atlantic with limited food options. All that said, we did find a really nice meal at Jamie's Italian, the restaurant designed and created by Jamie Oliver. This dish tasted and felt really clean and fresh. The crab was sweet and delicious, and the pasta was simply prepared with olive oil and garlic.

6.   Herbs Spring Rolls - Chada (Las Vegas)

The reason this dish resonated with me so much this year was that it was so different than anything else I had ever eaten at a Thai restaurant. Sure, I'd had fresh rolls and summer rolls in the past, but this was something entirely different. I couldn't quite place the flavor, but the herbal nature of the vegetables was so refreshing and so bright. The filling was warm and added a nice balance of salt to the dish. It's something that I would love to have again.

7.   Nam Prik Ong - Lotus of Siam (Las Vegas)

This is something that is something else. It's often described as a spicy pork and tomato dip that gets served with sliced vegetables. Obviously there's much more to this than just being a simple dip. In the end, the only way I know how to describe this is as one of the best and richest bolognese sauces ever. I would pour this all over pasta and eat this every day if I could.

8.   Hungarian Pancake - Smak-Tak (Chicago)

On our most recent trip back to the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago for a wedding, we made a trip into the city to get some Polish food. Chicago has a thriving Polish community so we knew our best chance of getting something for the World Eats Challenge would be there. I'm not sure why it's a Hungarian pancake in a Polish restaurant, but it's a specialty of Polish cuisine apparently. It's a massive potato pancake folded over and filled with gulash with red cabbage slaw and sour cream on the side. It's hearty, it's filling, and it's amazingly delicious. This is one of those dishes where you eat it and instantly need a nap. I'm also pretty sure that's exactly what I did.

9.   Arepa Con Queso - Arepa Lady (Elmhurst, Queens)

M and I have always talked about how we want to find the Arepa Lady in Queens. She's famous for her amazing arepas and also for her insanely inconsistent hours. Often times she doesn't even show up to her spot until right around midnight. Recently she had also opened up a brick and mortar store, and we really wanted to check that out, but people always said that the cart was still better. Luckily for us we were able to get to the Viva La Comida street festival where she and her cart were vending. She has two options available, one made of corn and one made of choclo (a Peruvian large kernel corn). The one I selected was the corn version. It has a subtle sweetness from the corn, but it's stuffed with cheese, griddled, and then covered in more cheese. 

10. Home cooking (NYC)

This year M did a lot of cooking at home. She unofficially participated in the Reddit 52-week cooking challenge, and it turned into a lot of amazing meals. I'm highlighting four of them here as these were my favorites. For TV inspired she made Hawaiian Garlic Butter Shrimp inspired by Hawaii 5-0. It was such a rich, amazing flavor. You could really taste the butter and garlic paired with the sweet shrimp. For street food she went Mexican and made esquites. Charred corn mixed up with chilis, garlic, scallions, cilantro, spices, and mayo ended up being one of our most favorite things she made all year. For "American" she made Hoppin' John and Collard Greens, and the collards were unbelievable. I'm a huge fan of collards, and these rivaled almost every other one I've had in restaurants. For Belgian week she made Carbonnade and Stoemp, Flemish Beef (M used chicken) and Beer Stew and Mashed Potatoes with mixed in vegetables. We'd had carbonnade while in Belgium, and this was just as rich and sweet as we remembered. The stoemp was filling and a perfect complement to the rich stew.

M's Favorite Food Memories of 2014

I can't believe it's the end of the year and time for another top 10 food memories list already. We didn't travel that much this year, which is probably why half the list is from New York, but we still had a lot of great food memories to choose from. So here's my top 10 (in no particular order).

1. Cevapi from Cevabdzinica Sarajevo (Astoria, NY)

The cevapi we got for our Bosnia visit during the World Cup challenge was probably my favorite meal of the challenge. It was the first time I'd had Bosnian food and I was hooked. I was ready to ditch the rest of the day's food crawl plans and just eat more cevapi. The grilled sausages, raw onion and ajvar together were such a delicious combination. Add in the soft and fluffy lepinja and it was an excellent lunch that I can't wait to have again.

2. Spicy herbs spring roll from Chada Thai (Las Vegas, NV)

This spring roll got penciled in on the top 10 list back in January when we tried it at Chada. The spring roll consisted of a soft rice paper wrapper lined with lettuce leaves and stuffed with ground pork, ginger, onion, lemongrass, wild cilantro, mint, kaffir lime leaf, and basil vinaigrette. Tons of herbs but all complementary and not clashing one bit. Somehow they combined to form a roll that was both delicate and full of intense herbal flavors. It tasted like something I had before and liked, but I couldn't quite place it, maybe something from Jitlada. All I knew was that I could eat this every day, given the opportunity. It was so light and fresh, exactly the type of thing I want on vacation.

3. Garlic grilled chicken from Charlie Brown's Fresh Grill (Staten Island, NY)

I'm probably as surprised as anyone reading this to find a dish from a chain restaurant on this list, but I can't stop thinking about this garlic chicken. The chicken breast was cooked perfectly, and was juicy and full of garlic flavor. It was accompanied by some roasted potatoes that were completely covered in garlic, as well as brussels sprouts, which I had expected to be roasted but were instead lightly fried and drizzled with balsamic. This dish just screamed rustic to me and it's the type of thing that I wish I could recreate at home. (How do they get it so garlicky?!) We had just disembarked from the Quantum a couple of days before and this dish was better than almost everything I'd had on the cruise. It was also my first "real" flavorful meal after recovering from the food poisoning/stomach virus/bug thing I picked up on the ship, so it was especially good.

4. Uni tostada from Cosme (New York, NY)

We planned to eat at Cosme from the minute we heard it was in the works and obsessively followed it until its opening. Once we finally got there, it absolutely surpassed our already high expectations. The dish that was the best for me and completely transporting was the uni tostada. A tostada made in-house from their usual purple (or blue?) corn and fried up, topped with bone marrow salsa, avocado, jalapeƱo, and a very generous amount of uni... It was so good. I took one bite and I could taste the salty air and almost feel the sea breeze, as if we were indulging in the tostada while sitting on the beach. It was a perfect bite and just zapped all of winter's cold right out of my mind.

5. Flying fish sandwiches from Cuz's Fish Shack and Harbour Lights (Bridgetown, Barbados)

The one thing we knew we wanted to eat in Barbados was flying fish and our first stop was Cuz's Fish Shack for a flying fish sandwich. It was really good, as was the fried flying fish sandwich we got later in the day at Harbour Lights, but that's not really why they're on this list. This is one of my favorite food memories because it was the perfect beach day that I had daydreamed about the entire time leading up to vacation and the perfect summer day that I didn't really get to enjoy all year because of my various ailments. Flying fish sandwiches on the beach, rum punch in hand as we basked in the sun, perfect turquoise water and soft white sands. This was everything I wanted our vacation in the Caribbean to be. This was a day that I was extremely thankful for every minute we were there and one that I will never forget.

6. Camarones al ajillo con trifongo from El Jibarito (San Juan, Puerto Rico)

A picked this one out when we were at El Jibarito (we were sharing and I ordered the alcapurrias and bacalaitos) and I can't stop thinking about the trifongo. I can't put my finger on what I liked so much about it, but it's a mixed mofongo with sweet plantain, green plantain, and yucca. Somehow that combination, mashed together and fried up, just won't get out of my head. It was better than I ever imagined it would be. It was paired up with some super garlicky shrimp, peppers, and onions in butter sauce, and together, they were great.

7. Garlic prawns from Lotus of Siam (Las Vegas, NV)

One day we'll get around to recapping our visits to Lotus of Siam. This time, we got something new - the garlic prawns. Everyone talked about the garlic prawns and I was expecting some good, crispy fried salt and pepper shrimp, but what we got was so much more. In addition to frying the shrimp, Lotus also fries the shells. The result is a thin crispy shell that tastes just like you're eating a shrimp chip. I love shrimp chips and I was so surprised by how great those turned out to be. I'm not sure how we're going to handle subsequent visits to Lotus because our "must order next time" list keeps getting longer and longer. This is definitely on mine.

8. Gorgon taco from Otto's Tacos (New York, NY)

We've already posted about the amazing "secret" Gorgon taco that you can get at Otto's Tacos, so you know how much we love it. It's completely unhealthy but I love these puffy tacos.

9. Super onion chips from Superdawg (Chicago, IL)

I love onion rings so there was no way we were leaving Superdawg, the famous drive-in hot dog joint in Chicago, without getting their super onion chips. They're like onion rings but in smaller pieces, so you don't have that problem where you bite into a ring and the onion separates from the breading. These were perfectly breaded and fried. I could have eaten an entire meal of these super onion chips and was so sad when they were gone.

10. 52 week cooking challenge

Home cooking has really become a part of my life and this year I took part in my first 52 week cooking challenge (even if I did it unofficially). I'm pretty proud of sticking with it and finishing it, and I learned so much along the way. Over the past 52 weeks, some of our favorite meals have come out of dishes that I made for the challenges. Among our favorites were Southern night (Hoppin' John and collard greens), Belgian night (carbonnade and stoemp), Hawaiian night (garlic shrimp and mac salad), and the incredible esquites that we've gone on to make several times because we love them so much. I am so glad I decided to do this challenge, and it definitely deserves a spot on this list.

So much good food in 2014. Bring on 2015!

Los Perros Locos

Earlier this year (this post has languished in drafts for so long), M was reading Eater when she came across the sad news that Los Perros Locos, a Colombian hot dog joint down on the Lower East Side, had closed. We only made it down there once during their 20 month tenure but were hoping to go again to try more in connection with our Colombian WorldEats quest. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen since the shop is gone (even though it may return in other forms according to the post), but to say goodbye, it's probably a good time to finish off our post on our first (and only) visit.

We had been wanting to try Los Perros Locos since we heard of their opening, since (a) we love hot dogs, (b) we like Colombian food, and (c) we really enjoy trying out fast food from other cultures. At some point, we picked up a voucher for a really sweet deal, so we used that on our only visit there. With our voucher, we got 3 beef hot dogs, 1 salchipapas populares, and 2 cervezas for just $18!

We started out with our cervezas. A went for a Presidente as he drank many of them in the past when out with coworkers. It's a clean pilsner with little in the way of bitter hoppiness, but it's a refreshing beer overall. M had never heard of Aguila beer, but chose it anyway, solely because it was a Colombian beer. From what she remembers, she liked it, but it's been a while and she's not very good at describing beer anyway, so sorry, no other details on the Aguila here.

We were very excited about the salchipapas (fries) and it was our favorite part of the meal. We got the salchipapas populares (waffle fries with hot dogs, salsa rosada, and salsa verde). These are everything you would imagine them to be. Crisp exterior with a soft potato interior on the waffle fries paired up with melted cheese, cut up hot dogs, and two creamy salsas. Heavenly.

We got 3 hot dogs with our voucher so we picked:

Amero-Perro (their version of a chili dog - beer and cocoa infused beef chili, shredded Vermont cheddar, chipotle kraut, crushed Fritos, ChipZana [chipotle + apple] sauce)

The crushed Fritos were a little odd, and neither of us really were sure what to make of them. Yes, they added texture and that heavy corn flavor the chips are known for, but they didn't fully mesh with the rest of the hot dog. It was odd, though, since this was essentially a chili cheese dog which should go well with Fritos considering that's what goes into Frito Pies. The chili cheese dog part of it was good though.

Mexi-Max (sriracha pico de gallo, chipotle kraut, ChipZana sauce, salsa verde, queso cotija, crushed Fritos)

Again with the crushed Fritos, although they seemed to work better here. This hot dog was similar to the Amero-Perro in that it had the chipotle kraut, ChipZana sauce, and crushed Fritos, but the differences certainly stood out. We're big fans of salsa verde and queso cotija so we knew we'd really like the flavors on this dog. The sriracha pico de gallo was really refreshing and offered just the right amount of heat.

Chimi-Churi-Chori (chorizo, grilled Provoleta, homemade chimichurri, aji panca aioli, crushed potato chips)

This was our favorite, and we figured it would be. We're both really big fans of chorizo because of its distinct and powerful flavor, but adding in the grilled Provoleta, chimichurri, and aioli enhanced the flavors so much. The crushed potato chips didn't add as much flavor as the crushed Fritos from the previous two hot dogs, but they added that same unique texture.

Overall, we had a good meal at Los Perros Locos with lots of tasty things that we hadn't had before. The voucher meant we basically got our meal for half price and it was a great deal. We definitely wanted to return, but sadly that will not be happening now. It was pretty packed the night we went so we were surprised to hear the news of their shuttering. Hopefully Colombian hot dogs will pop up elsewhere soon!


It's sometimes puzzling to me the recommendations you get from a concierge, but you can never really judge unless you're getting a suggestion for a city you actually know. We had family visiting earlier this summer, and they requested from the concierge an Italian restaurant that was close by the hotel, affordable, casual, and appropriate to bring a toddler. The concierge came back with Osteria del Circo, a restaurant with $20+ pasta dishes and a bit of an upscale vibe. In the end, there were no issues, the food was good, and we didn't get too many weird looks from other people, but it's not exactly what I would have picked given those parameters.

Circo had a pretty great complimentary bread basket. They had lots of options - breadsticks, regular bread (multigrain maybe?), and focaccia. I made a beeline for the focaccia, which was wonderful. I think I ate too much focaccia, but it was so soft and tasty that I couldn't stop.

A's brother ordered some fried zucchini chips for the table ($10), which came with some sort of garlic aioli. (This match-up of zucchini chips and garlic aioli must have stuck in my head when the time came around for our homemade zucchini chips.) The chips were good, thin and crispy, and the aioli had strong garlic flavor, which we liked.

I got the tagliatelle verdi alla bolognesa ($24), which was homemade spinach tagliatelle with a bolognese ragu. I love spinach pasta and the tagliatelle was done well, perfectly al dente. The bolognese sauce was rich and meaty, and just the right amount for the pasta. I was very happy with this pasta dish, although it was a little expensive for pasta bolognese. Of the two pastas, we preferred this one in the end.

A got one of their signature dishes, the garganelli al nero di seppie e frutti di mare ($28), homemade squid ink garganelli with shrimp and calamari ragu, chili, and cherry tomatoes. The pasta wasn't bad at all. A thought that it was, perhaps, not worth the price paid, but with seafood you expect to pay a little more. The cherry tomatoes added a nice bit of sweetness to the dish, and the shrimp and calamari ragu were really tasty. There was no chewiness to the seafood, and it was just the right balance of sweet and salty from the ragu ingredients. The garganelli was a nice pairing too as it had a good amount of bite to match with the bite of the seafood.

In the end, the pastas were excellent, and we enjoyed the zucchini chips and the focaccia, but it was a bit on the expensive side (for us). The pasta prices were more on par with places we go for "nicer" dinners or special occasions, although I guess it was a special occasion in some ways since family was visiting. We had a good experience though, so overall it was a nice night.


Another place we stopped at during the Viva La Comida festival (previously here) was Potala, a Tibetan street cart usually located in Jackson Heights that sells momos. We love all sorts of dumplings and Potala had been on our list of places to try, so we were definitely going for momos.

For a very affordable $5 (their regular price), you get 8 momos, and the momos are not tiny. We got 8 beef momos and they came in one of those large styrofoam boxes with a small container of hot sauce (not pictured for some unknown reason).

I forgot, when biting into my first momo, that they can be really juicy and sometimes a little closer to soup dumplings in that respect, so it sort of spilled a bit before I realized it. The momos were so juicy and good. The meat itself was so flavorful that it didn't really even need hot sauce, but we added it anyway because we wanted to see what it tasted like. It was definitely hot, a lot more lingering heat than we were expecting, but it was good. The outsides of the momos are chewy and doughy, but just the right amount and not too thick.

The momos were quite filling, especially after the arepas (which we'll get to soon, hopefully), so it was a good thing we got the 2 things we wanted most at the start of our eating extravaganza. We would definitely pick up a box of momos again from the Potala cart. They were delicious!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Spicy Hummus Dip

Next up in the Trader Joe's hummus trials: the spicy hummus dip ($1.99). The main ingredients in this hummus dip are garbanzos, tahini, oil, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and red bell peppers. For the most part, the dip is really smooth but you can see the little bits of peppers in it. 

This stuff is incredibly addictive. It's creamy, a little bit zesty, and really delicious. It would be pretty easy for one person to finish off an entire carton in one sitting (and I may have gotten close a couple of times). Good thing it is only 350 calories for the whole container and is usually in stock at Trader Joe's.

Buy Again? Definitely yes (and we already have).

TJ's hummus rankings: Spicy Hummus Dip > Roasted Garlic Hummus


We love Burmese food, but it's really difficult to get in NYC. There's only a handful of places and the few summer food fairs/fundraisers, which are definitely not enough for a regular fix of our favorite yellow tofu salad. So when we saw that Philadelphia had a Burmese restaurant with great reviews located in Chinatown, not far from where we were going to be all weekend, we knew we had to try it.

After we finally arrived in Philadelphia and checked in to our hotel, we went all the way over to the ballpark for the baseball game, only to find out a short time later that it had been rained out and rescheduled for the following day, so we had to find other plans for the night. It was a pretty simple decision. We were off to Rangoon for dinner.

One of the hardest things to do at Rangoon was narrow down the menu to a manageable number of dishes since we couldn't have leftovers and didn't want to roll ourselves in the rain back to our hotel room. We ended up deciding on 5 dishes, which may sound like a lot for 2 people, but when it comes to stuff we like that we can't easily get at home, I guess our stomachs expand.

We got:

Burmese tofu salad ($7, all prices from 2013, not sure what they are now): homemade tofu with garlic, sesame, coriander, fried onion, lime leaf in a tamarind sauce.

This salad was a slightly different variation from what we usually get at the food fairs. The slices of yellow tofu were soft and smooth like always. The toppings and sauces were a little different from the versions we've had before, but they were good. It wasn't our favorite dish of the night, but we were so happy to eat this again. Since we can never guarantee that we can make it to the food fairs and the only other restaurant where we've ever eaten this is in Los Angeles (recap to come eventually), we were happy to find somewhere closer than the West Coast where this dish is affordable. (The only place in NYC that we know has it all the time is really pricey.)

String bean and peanut salad ($7): string beans, peanuts, onions, sesame, tomatoes, dried shrimp, lime juice, seasonings.

We saw this dish advertised in the window as winning an award, so we knew we had to try it. Although it was tasty (everything at dinner was), it was probably our least favorite of the appetizer selections. It reminded me a little bit of a salad version of string bean belacan. It was light and fresh.

Firecracker lentil fritters (3 for $6): ground lentils with blend of onions, mint and chili spices.

These balls of lentils and spices were deep fried deliciousness. The lentils and spices together were so tasty, and very complementary with the sour pungent garlic sauce on the side. Although it wasn't listed in the menu description, we tasted lots of cumin, and we really love cumin. The fritters were crispy on the outside and the mashed up interior was so spiced and flavorful. These fritters were so, so good. This made A's favorites list last year.

Rangoon house noodle ($9.50): flat rice noodles served with diced chicken, onions, tomatoes and red bean sauce.

The chicken seemed a little more like minced or ground chicken than diced chicken, but it was great that way because it soaked up all the flavors. The dish was like a wet version of stir-fried noodles with thick rice noodles. The sauce and toppings were great. It reminded us of something that we couldn't quite place in our memories, but overall, we really enjoyed it.

Burmese vatana bean fried rice ($8): fried rice with vatana beans and fried onions.

This fried rice was the biggest surprise of the night. We had no idea what vatana beans were but they showed up a few times on the menu, so we thought we'd try them here. Google said they were something like white or yellow peas, and they tasted a bit like baby chickpeas. They came in the fried rice with fried onions on top. It was incredibly delicious and there was this smokiness pervading the rice that was so appealing. This was on my favorites list from last year, as there were plenty of days at home when I just wanted to eat this again.

We had a Burmese feast that night and we left incredibly happy, despite the fact that the temperature had dropped and the wind was whipping the rain around outside, rendering our umbrellas completely useless. It was so cold walking through Chinatown that my teeth started chattering. In mid-July! Probably better that we spent the night indulging in Burmese comfort food instead of at a baseball game...

Rangoon is located at 112 North 9th Street, Philadelphia.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Off to the Windjammer

Windjammer Marketplace, Royal Caribbean's buffet, was our first stop once we boarded the Quantum of the Seas, partially because I was really, really hungry (didn't eat enough for breakfast, apparently) and partially because our cabins weren't going to be ready for over an hour. We couldn't start exploring the ship while lugging our duffel bags around, so why not kick off the trip with some lunch? [As a side note, I know in our last Quantum post we said we were going to talk about each venue in a single post instead of recapping chronologically, but we tried it, it was too unwieldy, and we've decided to go back to telling our story in order, repeating places as needed.]

Source: my parents' camera because I can't find my own picture of the buffet

Our first lunch is almost always at the buffet, since options are limited on day 1. Apparently there were other venues open for lunch when we boarded (like the smaller cafes), but we didn't know anything about that. Unless you've researched this in advance, I'm not sure how you're supposed to know this, since they didn't give out any list of venues or operating hours or anything like that. (It's on the schedule (which they call the Cruise Compass, since I'm sure we'll mention that in the future) in the cabins, but almost all the cabin floors were still closed, so we didn't have a copy.) So we just went to the buffet.

The Windjammer was packed when we got there, as apparently everyone had decided it was time for lunch. People were rushing everywhere. Almost every table was taken. The only available tables we found were outside on the back deck. Luckily it wasn't absurdly cold for December, but it still was cold enough for down coats and hoods while eating. The view was nice though, as you could see from Staten Island and the Bayonne Bridge clear across the river and over to the Lower Manhattan skyline.

At least the outdoor deck had a nice view of Bayonne, even if we had to eat in our down coats

A and I, pre-cruise, had been pretty excited for the Windjammer. Even though the buffet is not usually our favorite dining venue on a cruise, this one looked great in the photos we had seen. So many different islands of food, so many different categories on all the signs, so many options! After seeing all that, it was a bit of a surprise to me that I ended up wandering around for a long time trying to find enough to fill up a plate to eat. Lines were long, people were pushing everywhere, some of the food looked a little blah and uninspiring. On top of that, there wasn't really that much variety there and the dishes were repeated across islands and sections. I hoped that this was only because it was the first day and they were trying to feed the masses as simply as possible.

While searching for food, I found the strangest looking tzatziki I've ever seen

What helped with the hunger while searching for food was that the first place I went was the cookie section. We had heard so much about the freshly baked cookies that would be made all day on the Quantum and were so excited for soft, warm cookies all day long. I ended up munching on a coconut cookie while getting lunch and waiting in lines. It was a little crispier than I prefer and very buttery, but it served its purpose.

My first plate, which took surprisingly long to put together

I eventually ended up getting a small sandwich (tuna, if I remember correctly, which was fine), rice (nothing special), Spanish rice (fine), Mexican corn salad (pretty good), Indian fried fish (fine), Chettinad chicken curry (pretty good but needed more spices), and tilapia (good). We didn't take any pictures of A's plates at lunch (not sure why not) but he got quite a bit of the same things (like I said, not a ton of options) but also some salmon (dry). On the second go-around, I finally found the taco bar (fine), as well as the chicken shawarma (good), and got an oatmeal cookie (way too crispy). I just couldn't find enough things to eat while dealing with the crowds and gave up. There would be plenty of food to eat later.

My second plate at lunch, where I finally found the taco bar

Overall, our first visit to the Windjammer was fine, but nothing special. Although it's always crowded at cruise buffets and people always act like they haven't eaten in weeks, I can usually still manage to navigate the crowds and find plenty of things I want to eat, but not this time. We hoped that our unimpressed feelings were the result of first day issues - too many people and a rush on the food might make things less than stellar. But the Windjammer served its purpose, to fuel us for the afternoon, so we could explore the ship and try to figure out everything Quantum would have to offer over the next 2 weeks. As for the food, we were really looking forward to kicking off the real dining experience at Silk that night. It would be our first taste of Dynamic Dining and we couldn't wait to try it!