August 31, 2009

Westvleteren - The Holy Grail of Beer

We had the good luck of being at the right place a the right time to have the Westvleteren 12 from Brouwerij Westvleteren, the most sought after Trappist beer that is arguably the best beer in the world. First we were discussing good Belgian beers with the owner of a bar, and then suddenly, we were drinking a beer so good it would put most beer or even any other drink to shame.

Poured from a 12oz bottle into a chalice (standard Chimay glass) at room temperature, the Belgian quadrupel drank more like a cognac than a traditional quad. Dark fruits are apparent, with rich date and fig, a little brown sugar...enough fruit and rich flavors to balance the alcohol of the beer so it remains smooth. There was no harsh edge or burn even on the finish. Some of the alcohol was noticeable on the nose but this beer was so enjoyable.
We could not believe how drinkable and balanced this was at 10.2% ABV. The bottle itself was over 4 years old (the 12 can age longer than most wines).

Our friend also had the Westvleteren 8 (dubbel style) which we offered to buy along with the rest of the 12 but to no avail. Either way, we are grateful for having the pleasure of tasting the best beer in the world. At least we didn't have to wait several hours in a car in rural Belgium for a small allotment.

If you come across any, don't pass up the chance to taste or buy. It is worth it no matter what it costs. A true once in a lifetime beer experience. We wish we had a couple of bottles to age at home.

Westvleteren 8 and 12 are only available (legally) through the brewery at Abbey of the Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren.

August 30, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Our United Nations-Inspired Meal

New York City is home to the United Nations - and to so many people from around the world. After finding kangaroo meat at a local butcher shop, we wondered how many other interesting ingredients we could find to make an United Nations-inspired International Dinner for our adventurous and non-adventurous family members.

And so, thanks to FoodBuzz and VISA Signature, we were able to explore New York City, find and cook some very interesting ingredients from different countries, and get our family's reaction

August 29, 2009

Union Square Greenmarket - Year-round Farmers Market in NYC

Every Saturday we're in the city, we try to head out to one of the many farmers' markets in Manhattan. With today's rainy weather here in New York City (plus our preparations for tonight's 24, 24, 24 Foodbuzz dinner - please see tomorrow's post for details), we're probably going to stay indoors. Instead, we hope to brighten your day with (sunny) photos from the largest farmers market in Manhattan: Union Square Greenmarket.

This is where lots of great restaurants (e.g. Union Square Cafe) buy their ingredients. (If you get up really early and get there around 8AM on a Saturday, you can follow chefs and restaurant employees around to see/buy what they get).

Huge red and white onions.

Rustic peaches.

Yup, those are purple peppers! We bought one, but after cooking, they turn green. Our friend Mardi had the same experience with purple beans and wrote about why they turn green.

Eggplants and zucchini and summer squash, oh my!

Red and yellow tomatoes.

If you look closely, you can see purple carrots amongst the orange ones. We've eaten these raw before - it's only purple on the outside (and orange on the inside). So after lightly peeling them, some of the purple color is gone.
Purple radishes (they tasted milder than the regular ones below)

Red currents

The Union Square Greenmarket is on Broadway (at E 17th St.) in New York City. It is open year-round.

August 28, 2009

Top Chef Master Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill - Chicago, IL

Like many others, we enjoyed watching the competition on Top Chef Masters every week. It's like regular Top Chef, but without the cattiness and initial filler episodes.

One of our favorite competitors, and eventual winner, was Chef Rick Bayless. His respect for Mexican cuisine and use of fresh and authentic ingredients won us over. We couldn't wait to dine at Frontera Grill!

The restaurant itself was casual, vibrant, and tight. We actually had to walk through the kitchen to get to the restroom. This was fun because we could see the kitchen staff prepare various dishes (we're pretty sure we saw Bayless' sous chef who also appeared on the show's finale).

So with the restaurant's last glass of the Shakira margarita (we're not sure how that happened), we eagerly awaited our meal. The margarita (above, $10) was fresh and fruity, made with guava, pineapple-infused tequilla, lime, and crimson hibiscus.
A savory snack to start and Frontera's own hot sauce. We had the sauce on our tortilla chips - it reminded us of Valentina hot sauce.

Trio, Trio, Trio ($16) - A ceviche sampler with housemade tortilla chips...finally a $16 ceviche actually worth the price! From left to right:
Ceviche Fronterizo: lime-marinated Hawaiian sunfish with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, and green chile. This tasted the lightest and freshest of the three.
Ceviche Yucateco: steamed organic shrimp and calamari tossed with lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama, and cilantro. The shrimp were huge and this ceviche had a spicy bite at the end from the habanero.
Ceviche de Atun "Chamoy": Hawaiian Ahi tuna with jicama and red chile-apricot salsa. The sauce gave the tuna a sweet smokey taste.
Pescado a la Veraniega ($23): Garlic marinated dayboat Mahi Mahi served with salsa (made with fresh ingredients from their rooftop garden), pea shoots, and Yucatan-style achiote rice.
We do not usually order Mahi Mahi because we find it is often overcooked. This fish was moist, not dry, and went well with the fresh, sweet salsa. We also love the abundance of pea shoots we have had during our trip to Chicago - wish we had a rooftop garden!
Barbacao de Borrego ($23): Red chile marinated Crawford Farms lamb slow-roasted in banana leaves with mashed potatoes and pea shoots on the side. A nice balance between the rich tasting lamb and spicy chile rub with salt and coffee bitterness.
Empanada de Cerezas y Queso Crema ($8.25): Flaky pastry turnover with filling of cherries, cream cheese, and goat cheese. It came with goat cheese ice cream and cherry-apricot salsa (with pretty edible flowers). The ice cream definitely tasted like goat cheese and the overall dish tasted earthy and tart.
Prior to our Chicago trip, we had dined at 2 of the 5 finalists (Anita Lo's Rickshaw Dumpling Truck and Chiarello's Bottega). Our Chicago trip brought us up to 4 (Art Smith's Table 52 and Bayless' Frontera Grill), leaving Hubert Keller's Fleur de Lys in San Francisco left for us to visit once we saved enough for it!

Frontera Grill is located at 445 North Clark Street in Chicago, IL.

August 27, 2009

Healthy lunch in Wrigleyville

While we were in Chicago, we were lucky enough to get tickets to see the Cubs with a few friends. So we headed up early to Wrigley Field to check out Wrigleyville and grab some lunch. We were amazed by the number of fans who were already lining up to get into the stadium 3 hours prior to game time!

We walked up to the northern part of Wrigleyville to Uncommon Ground, a local restaurant that features fresh ingredients from nearby farms (and from their rooftop which houses the 1st certified organic farm in Chicago).

We were definitely in Cubs country!
Sapient Trip Ale ($7): A bottle of a Midwest craft beer from Dark Horse Brewing in Michigan. A good way to start off your late morning before a baseball game. A hard to find beer with decent body and hops, this tripel beer will not wear out your palate. The restaurant has a small but very good beer list, which includes Surly, Goose Island and Bell's.
Slagel family farm burger ($11): We added aged cheddar (+$0.75) to the burger. The meat was so tender and juicy you could have this tartare style, we would recommend this rare like we had.
Sunshine Salad ($13, large): Since the restaurant had its own garden, we had to have the salad and we were not disappointed! Lots of organic greens and seasonal farmer’s market vegetables (including red and green peppers, broccoli, carrots, and chanterelle mushrooms), avocado, sunflower seeds & sprouts, with an apple cider vinaigrette and seeded flatbread. It was one of the best dishes we have ever eaten - and we don't usually order salads as entrees!
Uncommon Ground is located at 3800 North Clark St. in Chicago, IL.

August 26, 2009

Square Donut at Doughnut Plant

How could we resist? It had been awhile since we last indulged at Doughnut Plant and we were in the area. In addition to our favorite creme brulee doughnut, we also bought the square peanut butter doughnut with blueberry jam filling.

What did our first square doughnut taste like? This doughnut was fantastic! The peanut butter glaze melted in our mouths - it was so smooth. The blueberry jam filling took us back to our childhood...when our families would stop by the roadside fruit stand and buy fresh blueberries. Chef and owner Mark Israel - you are a creative genius!

Doughnut Plant is located at 379 Grand St. (at Norfolk St.) in New York, NY.

The Gage vs The Art Institute of Chicago

Though we both have a love for food, we have other interests that differ from each other. So there are a few times when we do not agree on the best way to spend an afternoon in a new city.

While we were in Chicago, one of us wanted to spend some time at The Gage Restaurant and Tavern, an Irish bar/restaurant, while the other wanted to go across the street to The Art Institute of Chicago, a renowned art museum conveniently open late this summer until Labor Day (with free admission too!) on Thursdays and Fridays.

Our solution? Split up for a couple of hours and choose our own adventure. Here are our side by side photo tours, begging the question, "Which experience would you choose?"

Left: Bloody Mary with Guinness ($10): This was surprisingly good - The Guinness made the Bloody Mary lighter and very easy to drink. You could easily drink 5.
Right: American Gothic by Grant Wood
Left: Scotch Egg with mustard ($8) was pretty good (can't go wrong with a hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage and deep-fried), but at $8 was a bit pricey...
and Poutine with Elk Ragout ($8) was unfortunately not like the authentic Montreal poutine (it needed better cheese curds).
Right: Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (as seen in the movie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off!)
and The Triptych Window from the Avery Coonley Playhouse by Frank Lloyd Wright
Left: Founders Dirty Bastard ($7): Despite a great selection of beverages (including a Scotch tasting menu), whenever Founders beer is available, that's what we'll be drinking.
Right: Woman Descending the Staircase by Gerhard Richter
His and Her drinks:
Left: Another Founders Dirty Bastard
Right: Forbidden Fruit ($12): This was a bright, crisp, and summery drink made with citrus vodka, pomegranate liqueur, prosecco, and fresh grapefruit.
And to end our adventures, we both walked around to enjoy the Windy City at night (all of these photos were taken at Millenium Park).

The Gage is located at 24 S. Michigan Ave in Chicago, IL.
The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 S. Michigan Ave

August 25, 2009

Hunan House Restaurant

After failing to score cheap tickets to the Mets game with a couple of friends, we decided to take the 7 train one stop over to Chinatown in Flushing, Queens. With our friend's trusty Blackberry, we searched for the best restaurants in the area and landed on Hunan House Restaurant. We've never had Hunan cuisine before (we soon learned it's a flavorful and very spicy cuisine!) and were glad we ventured to this restaurant.
Instead of baseball peanuts, we had steamed ones!
Special Chow Fun, Hunan style ($5.95): This rice noodle dish was filled with shrimp, pork, carrots, mushrooms, and other vegetables. It was not spicy like the other dishes, but was plentiful and substantial.
Sauteed greens ($8.95): It was nice to have these garlic-sauteed greens to offset the heat from the other dishes.
House special Tofu in Casserole Dish ($9.95): This is comfort food with a big kick! Lots of spice in this wonderfully flavorful dish.
Sauteed Pork Liver, Hunan style ($8.95): You can see the chopped red chili peppers in this dish. The livers were nice and soft - and the sauce was, of course, nice and spicy!

Hunan House Restaurant is located at 13740 Northern Blvd in Flushing, Queens.

August 24, 2009

Hot Doug's - Gourmet Hot Dogs that are Worth the Wait!

What would cause otherwise rational people to line up in 90F+ sunny weather for over an hour and a half? If we told you we waited for a few hot dogs, would you still think we were sane?

Our sanity aside, the 5 sausages (plus duck fries!) from Hot Doug's made up one of the best meals we've ever had!

(Yes, the wait was long, but we passed the time enjoying our ice cream, talking about the menu with others in line, and watching a very brief and subdued ice cream truck turf argument).

So many choices! When we reached the front of the line, we ordered from Doug himself - a friendly and, despite the contained chaos, pretty relaxed guy.

Here was our Hot Doug choices, in preferential order:
#1 Why we came here - Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage ($9) with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras mousse, and Sel Gris. Heavenly! This was so rich, earthy, and indulgent - definitely worth every penny!
#2 The Salma Hayek (formerly the Madonna, the Raquel Welch and the Ann-Margret) ($4): We added sport peppers onto this (andouille sausage) and still did not find it very hot. It was overall very tasty, like a spicy hot Italian sausage with tons of toppings.
Duck Fat French Fries ($3.50) - Only served on Fri and Sat, these crispy, savory, and surprisingly not too greasy French Fries were fantastic.
#3 or dead last - Atomic Bomb ($7.50): This was the controversial one between us. If you can handle the heat of multiple habanero peppers, you can handle this "damn spicy" pork sausage with blood orange mustard and habanero-jack cheese. We both love spicy foods, but after one bite, only one of us was able to still feel our taste buds!
#3 or #4: Elk Sausage ($8): This came with Bacon-garlic mayonnaise and beer-washed truckle cheese. It was rustic plus who could resist a sandwich with bacon, beer, and sausage all in one?
#4 or last - The Cognac Lamb ($8): The lamb sausage itself was good, but the sauce was too subtle to match the taste of the meat. Perhaps a minty sauce would taste better with the lamb.
Hot Doug's is located at 3324 North California in Chicago, IL. The place opens at 10:30am - it's worth the wait - just get there early!

Quick and Easy Pasta dinner: Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Inspired by yet another Jacques Pepin recipe, this complete dish only takes as long as it takes you to boil pasta. We made this recipe last Friday - so we adapted his recipe with any ingredients left in our fridge. Basically we make a raw sauce and let the hot pasta cook it a bit.

Chef Pepin used anchovies and fresh peas in his version - we opted to go vegetarian and added zucchini and yellow squash. Feel free to add more vegetables and cheese to your liking - after all, we just used what we had on hand!

1/2 package whole wheat spaghetti
1 heirloom tomato, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 Spanish onion, chopped
3 mushrooms, sliced
1/4 zucchini, diced
1/4 yellow squash, diced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
hot pepper flakes, to taste
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
olive oil

Boil water for pasta.
Combine all of the other ingredients together into a mixing bowl.
Cook the spaghetti.
Microwave the bowl of vegetables for 2 minutes or less. Alternatively, warm the vegetable mix on the stove top. (This is to warm the mix so the pasta still remains hot).
Add the pasta, and some pasta water, to the bowl and mix together.
That's it! We'd love to know if you've made this dish and how it turned out!

Orin Swift Cellars

Orin Swift The Prisoner wine
One of our favorite California producers is Orin Swift Cellars. You've probably seen this distinctive label, at left, on a bottle of The Prisoner, their flagship wine.

Though we are not usually big fans of very ripe and wines, The Prisoner is a lush style that actually works. The Prisoner is all about big fruit, alcohol and with enough freshness to keep it from getting boring. The wine is a blend of Zinfandel with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono and Grenache. We fortunately have a few of the 2005 vintage left (it's been sold out for a long time) and have recently been drinking the 2007 (about $34). We've had this wine with steak, roasts, or by itself.