Friends


Walking down the aisle

Sara and Dad walking down the aisle

I was fortunate enough to attend Angel and Sarah’s wedding in Guatemala last weekend and was it a lovely affair! The sanctuary serene, the bride blushing and the groom could not stop grinning throughout the whole event.

Table setting

Table setting

 The reception was set in a room draped with white curtains and twinkly lights, the tables set with giant bouquets of flowers in shades of cream and amber.

wedding cake

wedding cake

The cake too, was white and accented with curlicues of gold, and inside a creamy, moist marble cake. According to the bride, the cake tasting da to be done long distance, with Angel’s aunt transporting slices of cake from Guatemala to NYC, but the extra effort was definitely worth it!

hors d'oeurves

hors d'oeurves

The table numbers were replaced with 16 cities that had special meaning to the wedded couple. Needless to say, I was on the New York table, with my coworkers and some other friends, noshing on savory and sweet appetizers to amuse ourselves whilst we waited our turn at the buffet table.

A very full plate

A very full plate

Truth to be told, I was a littled disappointed that Angel opted for a posh do at the Casa Santo Domingo instead of a bbq at a ranch, complete with a roasted whole cow. Oh well… Still, the buffet was varied and very tasty. Of the three meat entrees, I remember the pork with fruit salsa to be really moist and tender. While the savory choices were more continental, desserts had a local flair. I enjoyed the killer flan, but the giant green figs steeped in honey and anise water was a little too much even for me, the avowed saccharine fiend.

the garter tradition

the garter tradition

This has nothing to do with food, but I love the picture! Anyway, here’s wishing the Solis a very long and loving marriage!

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Potato Pancakes
Potato Pancakes
Online communities. Gotta love them. The genesis of my trip to Veselka came about when I commented on Jon’s facebook status that same weekend we both hit the slopes. Then we found mutual facebook friends, Mabel and Alex and decided to meet. Jon chose Veselka as it happened to be bookmarked on Jon’s Yelp.com to-do list.
Veselka is an extremely popular joint in the East Village but luckily spacious enough such that a 20 minute wait was all that took to secure us a nice 4-top in the middle of the action, so we could see what was being ordered around us. I liked the atmosphere of the place, with great natural light, a buzzy feel, friendly servers and a black-and-white wall mural I would love to haul home, if only I could afford it. The expansive menu is split into typical American diner and Eastern European standards, and we had a lot of ground to cover. Thank God for healthy appetites!
Beety borscht

Beety borscht

I generally consider brunch a one dish meal, but here at Veselka, wracked by indecision, we decided to order our overflow decisions as appetizers. I warmed up with a hot cup of borscht, packed rimful with beets, onions, carrots, dill and tender beef, the flavors rich and slightly sourish. Then I joined the rest in devouring a plate of potato pancakes, crisp fried but a little doughy and blintzes, think crepes stuffed with ricotta and doused with raspberry sauce. Not bad, a little bland.
As we were halfway through our appetizers, the oversized plates of “real” food came and we had to rearrange the table settings for everything to fit. A stack of kasha pancakes, oddly gray and with a nutty flavor graced M’s breakfast plate.  My tomato and feta omelette was rather mediocre, the only saving grace being its overwhelming, sides off the plate size, meaning ample leftovers for a second meal.
pierogies and other stuff

pierogies and other stuff

The boys fared better. J’s meat platter was a manly entree, the famed meat combination platter comprising of everything stuffed and delightful. Pierogies are little dumplings filled with ricotta and meat, while a hefty lump of stuffed cabbage revealed more meat and minimal cabbage.  From the starter salad and soup to the main affair, J was well pleased. A’s meal was a plate of bigos, a traditional Ukrainian stew that is “fit for a hunter” according to the menu. Again, not necessarily something I would order for my lunch, but for A, substantial, tasty and he needed no help polishing the casserole of meat, sauerkraut, meat, potatoes and more meat off.

Bigos!

Bigos!

   Overall, a very satisfactory dish. I got to tick off a neighborhood staple off my to-do list, Jon got to yelp about it, and we all got to catch up. Now, if facebook technicians can invent a share a meal function….
Veselka
144 2nd Ave (corner of 9th st)
Lamb dinner at Michelle's

Lamb dinner at Michelle's

I’ve not been home for the last 7 Christmases. As a result, the holiday season has meant less about spending time with my real family and more about the friends that I’ve spent time with during this cheery season. This year in particular, friends have been opening up their petite New York apartments left and right to this foreign transplant, debunking the urban myth that New Yorkers do not cook and use their ovens to store magazines.

At Michelle’s, I enjoyed a delightful 6 hour dinner with 4 other women. We poured over Michelle’s wedding pictures between bites of cured meats and cheese and a bottle of chardonnay left over from her vineyard wedding. I stole the recipe for her spicy spaghetti vongole and ate an impossible amount of roasted lamb chops crusted with garlic, rosemary and thyme, bloodily rare and perfectly matched with a jammy malbec. To end the night, champagne and berries with sinfully rich Devonshire cream and promises to do girls’ night in more often.

A Christmas feast

A Christmas feast

At Andrea’s, her husband Dimitar was at once host, sommelier, server and dish washer while the women noshed non-stop on food ranging from home made to blatantly store bought. Andrea’s food showcased her Eastern European heritage, making cheese pastries, a vat of Russian salad, roast pork loin and sour cabbage. Jiyoung brought over at least 50 fried dumplings that were gone in a flash while we toasted Father Christmas on hot spiced wine and Cafe Zaiya’s very light and spongy Buche de Noel complete with a meringue Santa perched on the log. Presents open, and stomachs fed, we then proceeded to play with Dani, the Pantchevs’ baby boy, who was well behaved and all smiles everytime a camera was pointed in his direction. The boy could be a model!

Vietnamese roll - a good specimen!

Vietnamese roll - a good specimen!

Yanru’s post-Christmas affair had a South-east Asian flair as she served Vietnamese spring rolls; Pad Thai; and a Singapore rojak with Asian pear substituting for turnip and ham ching beng for fried crullers. This was a most hands on dinner, with Ruoying and I in charge of spring roll wrapping duty, resulting in rolls of varying lengths and fullness, and Yanru saving the leftover mint by boiling aromatic mint tea to go with a selection of cakes and tarts.

cookies on a windowsill

cookies on a windowsill

The holiday is not just about eating, but also about gift giving. Home made presents are in vogue this season so I joined Katherine and her friend for an afternoon of cookie making. A studio with a bit oven and a single cookie tray is not the ideal location for mass cookie production, but with some creative adjustments, Katherine made it work. As we shaped and burned dough, drizzled Pollockesque swirls of chocolate on coconut and oatmeal cookies and went trigger happy in bright red sprinkles, the room was suffused with a deep buttery scent. This must be the scent of Christmas.

Chicken Malabar? couscous, salad, yuenling, coke and wine

Chicken Malabar? couscous, salad, yuengling, coke and wine

My first meals in 2009 are also worth mentioning. Instead of being cooped up in the city, this year’s first few days were spent on snowy Stratton, VT with friends, some old, some newly acquainted. While the skiing was on occasion painful to say the least, the food was always good (barring the sorry plate of chicken tenders at the ski lodge). Katherine planned quite an international spread, as we cheered in the new year on Mediterranean chicken. The two Bens, in a valiant attempt to cook, manipulated pounds of spaghetti in a pot that could be larger and almost (but not quite) scorched turkey bolognese made by Papa Nesbeda carted all the way from New Jersey. We then went pescatarian on salmon on Jan 2nd, and attempted to wrap the biggest and ugliest Mexican taco on our final dinner. Snacks were on hand at all hours, tubs of Phish food and Chubby Hubbies passed around, and a 24 egg plate of scrambled eggs by Prescott devoured. A table filled with food, a room full of friends and laughter. A blessed New Year indeed.

Forget what savvy advertisers have been telling you. Disney is not the happiest place on earth. Costco is. Well… at least for a money pincher with 12 mouths to feed for a weekend, and a grand old budget of $200. While Walmart staggers you with the breadth of choice, Costco stuns you with sheer quantity. Family sized is clearly the way to shop. For an urbanite used to shopping for one (i.e. buying 2 bananas, an avocado and 2 bars of chocolate at the bodega), it was refreshing to purchase 10 pound bags of chicken drumsticks and a clamshell of washed salad greens enough to feed a dozen yet cost the same as a lunch salad in my Manhattan deli, filling the car’s trunk at one go. A brick of cheese at Costco costs as little as 2 slices from Murray’s, albeit without the cheesemongers and the stickers with cute animal figures that informs if the cheese was made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk. Even the shopping carts are larger than life, big enough to truck a few people at once. As we got to shopping, my menu ideas changed with the sight of excessive food. Instead of a 2 pound pack of ground beef for my bolognese sauce, I ended up with 5. What to do? Make beef tacos the next day. And the giant bag of baby carrots ended up in the salad, the stew, was roasted as a side and eaten raw throughout the day. 

Best of all was the post shopping meal, when my fellow partners in crime and I noshed on jumbo hotdogs from Hebrew’s National replete with do it yourself condiments and a hand crank onion mincer, and washed it down with a 16 ounce cup of flat soda. All for $1.50 each. While sitting on a picnic table inside the warehouse. Gray’s Papaya, even with your recession proof deal, you lose.

Costco

Multiple locations with the closest in Queens

www.costco.com

It had been an awful awful week at work, and as Friday rolled in, all I wanted to do was go home, order Chinese takeout and then crawl into bed and not get up for the next 15 hours. Unfortunately, I had to honor previously made plans with friends and as dinner time approached, made my way up 80 blocks to Pisticci, Sarah’s (our dinner mastermind) favorite Italian restaurant in Manhattan. With an Italian grandma, that is no small praise indeed.

It is easy to see why Pisticci earns Sarah’s praise. The decor is charming in a quirky, kitschy way, with canary yellow wallpaper on one end and a mural of painted bookcases (replete with painted hardcovers) on the other. The pieces of art available for sale are electic and original. The service is friendly, quick, laidback and non-obtrusive throughout dinner, and no one attempted to rush us through our very long meal. Last but not least, the food is straightforward and very tasty. We shared a heaping bowl of spaghetti and meatballs to start, with the pomodoro sauce done just right, not too watery nor tart. I was having dinner with a group of carbophiles so after spaghetti came more heaping bowls of pasta, all al dente and slick with a myraid of tasty sauces, the most memorable being Chri’s fresh tomato and mozzarella mixture and Joanna’s rich, lemony broth that was as seductive as advertised on the menu. My bowl of fresh maltagliati (ie “badly cut” pasta similar to my favorite mee hoon kuay) was one of the heaviest dish, the pasta mixed into a thick lamb ragu and topped off with ricotta as if it was not rich enough. Not too distinguished, but it was a comforting dish suitable on a very cool night.

We then slowly whiled the night away with coffee and desserts which like the savory dishes were simple, traditional and delicious. Katherine’s bowl of fresh whipped cream and fruits was no doubt the most decadent, but the most delicious? I’ll give that honor to the hefty brick of moist coconut cake and the chocolate mousse that was not too sweet, super-smooth and without the grittiness that sometimes plague mediocre mousses. The evening went quickly, as we passed around desserts, shared stories of our lives, and talked about everything, from food trends to books to politics. We finally left the restaurant after an epic 4 hour meal (3.5hrs for me the latecomer). After a very trying week, dinner with friends in a welcoming spot such as Pisticci was exactly what the doctor had ordered.

Pisticci

125 La Salle Street (Between Broadway & Claremont Aves)

www.pisticcinyc.com

Want to make a guess where I was last weekend?

There was a wedding on a sandy beach, azure waters and blazing heat. There was also a lot of fruit drinks and saltwater snails to eat. Snails with meaty flesh and pink shells by the name of conch.

Got it? No? Ok ok….

I was in the beautiful Turks and Caicos Islands in the West Indies for Katy’s lovely albeit steaming hot outdoor wedding where Katy ended up dancing in the swimming pool in full wedding regalia.

After the celebrations, I then turned my attentions towards conch eating. In an island where 90%+ of foodstuffs are imported, conch is perhaps the only export Turks and Caicos boast of having. In fact, there is so much conch on the island that there is a commercial farm on the island of Provo (population 22,500), and an annual festival regaling the wonders of the chewy, crunchy, shellfish-like meat.

conch salad

conch salad

Of all the dishes I tried, conch salad was probably my and the other girls’ favorites. The chewy and mild meat, when served on a pretty half conch shell, tossed with spicy jalapeno, shredded vegetables and tangy lemon made a a very refreshing appetizer and entree, especially in 90+ degrees.

conch fritter

conch fritter

Conch’s pretty tasty fried too as I found out, whether mixed into a tasty cayenne spiced batter (albeit too heavy on the batter)…

curried conch

curried conch

or pounded flat, crusted and fried like schnitzel cutlets, sitting in aromatic pools of mild curry sauce.

conch crepes

conch crepes

While the previous conch dishes had a tropical sensibility about them, cream smothered conch crepe – the 2007 conch festival winner – was definitely continental in nature. Mushrooms and red pepper coulis added earthiness, while fresh green scallions saved the dish from being overly heavy. Conch was also served in a rich creamy chowder flavored with bacon at the wedding, giving the New England clam chowder a run for its money.

In case one was wondering what else I ate, the answer is not much. Being carless on the island made us instantly captive on the resorts, where we were subjected to better than average but still institution hotel food. When my other options are hamburgers and such, I choose conch. Suffice to say, I  was all conched out!

Alan and Jocelyn, congratulations once again on your marriage and thank you so much for inviting me to your beautiful wedding! Here I am holding up to my end of the bargain, with a post on your yummy multi-tiered wedding cake. Sure, its kosher and dairy free, but it wasn’t as bad as Alan had warned me about. The sponge cake was nice and fluffy with a light tinge of lemon flavor, and cool-whip frosting ain’t bad either. Besides the wedding cake, I also ate both desserts, licking clean the plate of warm and gooey molten chocolate and cherry cake, as well as the apple and cinammon crumble. Truly a sweet wedding!

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