Thursday, June 30, 2011


"You must go to Taim... You must go to Taim"
My sister haunted me with these words ever since my last trip to NYC last November.  "They make the best falafels EVER!", I kept hearing her say it.  I didn't get a chance to go on my last trip and she was quite persistent that I make the trip this time.  For someone who's not into falafels, or deep fried food for that matter, her acclaims had led me to wonder how good this place actually is.  To led my sister, a non deep-fry eater to rave about the food, this place must be something special.  

On my last day to roam NYC, despite having a rather large brunch a few hours earlier, it wasn't about to stop me from making a trip to the last place on my list, Taim, home of the best falafels.  Located in the West Village, we arrived the small and humble space to find a long line up of patrons (mostly in their 20's - 30's) spilling from inside the shop.  Although it wasn't so much a sit-down spot, and more like a get in and get out kinda deal with techno mixes blasting in the background.   It didn't really go with the setting, perhaps some Jack Johnson or something more alternative would be better, but I didn't mind :)

If Taim was a clothing line, I think it would probably be a Lululemon kind of place; healthy, humble yet in trend, and expensive.  Their falafels are always freshly fried and because they use the 'freshest' ingredients.  Somehow. they made me feel healthier after eating them.
NYC that day was scorching hot.  Luckily, nothing quenches thirst quite like their pear, mint, lemonade smoothie concoction which instantly rejuvenates you like miracle water.

If you are on the go, their wraps are quite popular.  There was a variety of middle eastern/Mediterranean salad and platters to choose from. Since we already had lunch and just killing time before dinner, we picked the falafel platter to share.   I believe it was around $11-12, which was not exactly a cheap bite.  There were 3 types of falafel; red (roasted red peppers), orange (Tunisian spices), and green (parsley, cilantro and mint).  They were all really tasty, but my favourite was the green since it carried a lot more herby flavours.  The crispy bites were sitting on top of creamy hummus and sided with salad, tabouleh, and whole wheat pita bread.
Sauces: Tahini (sesame seed paste..creamy with a nutty hint), amba (mango pickle sauce..sweet and tangy, yumm), and hot sauce (for an extra kick).

Hands down, these were really good falafels.  They were super crispy on the outside, tender inside without the overly grainy texture.  The spices they put in make them that much more delicious.  You don't really need any condiments or sides to enjoy them.  The tabouleh and salad were refreshing.  The hummus was smooth, creamy, and fluffy.  The pita was toasty and not dry or stale (always a plus).  Despite its higher price than average and me being full from the start, the dish was worth the value.  

Taïm on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Summer is here at Ideya Latin Bistro

Ideya Latin Bistro is a Caribbean latin restaurant which takes influences from many latin regions and giving its dishes a contemporary twist. The atmosphere was very lively and laid back, a great spot to chill out on a hot summer evening with your date or a group of friends. The restaurant was decorated with Caribbean murals, and cool colour tone such as white concrete and lime green walls.  In such a tropical setting, you almost feel like you're on a vacation.
Yay, something that's not just tortilla chips and salsa! The first batch of plantain chips and salsa is complementary.  While the second batch will cost you extra $4.50, you will probably be addicted right after the first bite and asking for more.  The plantain chips were crispy and fun to eat.  The salsa had bits of mangos in it and was freshly made.  We just couldn't stop eating them!
Mojitos and summer go together hand in hand like, as Jay-Z would put it, "Nike Air and crisp tee".  As Ideya is known for its specialty in mojitos, you cannot go there without ordering one.  The guava mojito ($12) was excellent.  It was refreshing, slightly sweet and tangy, not to mention stiff.
Our appetizer, pato de chocolate, or seared duck breast, chocolate, orange sauce and stewed leeks ($12) could've been an entree on its own.  With a little French cuisine influence, the dish was a combination of sweet and savoury.  The duck breast was tender, a hint of sweetness of the chocolate came through and toned down the gamey taste of the duck.
The second appie was bacalaitos, beer battered salt cod fritters with guava marmalade ($9).  The deep fried fish cakes had crispy, flakey, chewy texture.  The guava marmalade was sweet, tangy, and carried the fruity guava taste that I love.
A Salvadorean classic, papusa ($10) with roasted chicken stuffed corn masa cake refried bean puree topped with salsa and pickled cabbage.  While the traditional Salvadorean papusas are made with soft tortilla with soft, paste like filling, Ideya's version is more of a tower, much like a gordita.  I thought the masa cake, which was a thick cornmeal tortilla, was too thick and I wish there was more melted cheese stuffed inside since the bites were a bit too dry.
 Up next was chuleta a la diabla ($21), or grilled chipotle marinated porkchop with tomatillo (green tomato) sauce.  The flavours and smokiness of the marinated grilled pork really came through, although the pork was a bit over-grilled and tough to chew.  I loved the vegetables with tomatillo sauce, which wasn't acidic like red tomatoes and was like a lighter version with the savouriness of a gravy.
The meal was completed with a dessert, guava empanada $8 (I seem to have a theme going on here).  Ideya actually has a descent list of desserts to choose from; chipotle & chocolate cake with tomatillo sauce, ginger coconut float with ginger beer, coconut ice cream and molasses spice cookie, and a sundae with banana frita and spiced peacans.  Mmmmm they all sounded really tasty and exotic.  The empanada was really good.  It was very similar to an apple pie with a flakey pastry and caramelized fruit inside.  

Ideya offers not only variety, but also a contemporary flare in Latin cuisine.  I really enjoyed the mojito, exploring the menu, and trying out their dishes. Given the opportunity, I would return again for more plantain chips.

Ideya on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Giorgio's of Gramercy

 We walked into Giorgio's of Gramercy the following day, once again with empty stomachs.  Once we stepped inside, my first impression was "wow, this is really dramatic".  The impression I got was Boom! Welcome.  The restaurant was decked out with deep red wall colours accented with black trimmings, chandeliers, and abstract gold paintings.  The three of us sat down and ordered 1 prefixe lunch ($25), and 2 (appetizer size) pasta dishes.

 The starter of the prefixe lunch, fried oysters with creamed spinach and chipotle remoulade was ... hmm how can I describe it in just one word? exquisite? unreal? delightful? I can go on forever! Speaking of which, I think I need MORE!!

 The prefixe entree selected, seared scallops with peas, trumpet mushrooms, risotto and decorated with balsamic glaze.  The seared scallops were perfect.  The risotto, although not soggy or starchy, it was rather boring on its own and, thus, served its purpose as a supporting role.

I was so happy with the penne alla vodka $8 I ordered (the word "vodka" stood out on the menu lol).  It was saucy, and tasty with the right consistency.  The sauce, made with sun dried tomato and vodka was tangy and creamy like a rosee.  The penne did its job in holding the sauce, the panchetta was nice and smoky while the asparagus added extra crunch. was delicious....For a short asian girl, the "appetizer size" pasta was a descent size meal for me.  It filled me up just right without having to overstuff myself.  For guys though, this will probably be too small and can only pass as a starter.  

The other pasta dish, seafood linguine ($9), was surprisingly not that impressive nor memorable.  There was nothing special to it in terms of flavours.

The dessert, s'more bread pudding, took days to come out.  Okay, I exaggerated.  But despite our plea that we were in a hurry, it still took quite some time for this decadent to arrive.  Thi was in a hurry to go back to work but he longed for a taste and hoped that, by stalling some time, perhaps the dessert would come out any second.  With no luck, he left the restaurant saddened.  As he dazed off, dreaming about the s'more pudding, it obviously arrived the moment he stepped out the door.  Meanwhile, Pepe, after 2 seconds of contemplation, decided to chase after him to come back for a taste of the long awaited s'more. The waiters couldn't help but chuckle..  She called out his name several time as she ran after him, with no response.  The chef, on his smoke break, took notice of the fiasco and decided to lend a hand.  In his deep and loud raspy voice, he roared "THiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!"  It worked, he finally caught Thi's attention.  He shook his head, "you shouldn't leave a lady hanging like that."  To him, all he saw was a boy leaving a restaurant, ignoring his girlfriend who was frantically running after him and screaming his name.  Did they have a fight? How cruel,... how sweet.  Anyways, Thi came back and savoured a few bites of the spongy, warm, and rich chocolate marshmallow cake topped with vanilla gelato and graham cracker.  It was sooo good.

Giorgio's of Gramercy on Urbanspoon

Bocca Restaurant & Bar

On the first day of my second trip to New York, I had my first Italian meal at Bocca Restaurant & Bar located in the Flat Iron District.  My sister took notice of the bistro offering of an enticing deal of $9 Lunch Madness for all the appies and main dishes for lunch.  As we arrived and stepped out of the sun,  we were immediately greeted by the warmth of the ambience; dark wooden ceiling panels, warm tone dining area accented with deep red furnishings and lighting fixtures, decorative Italian wine bottles.  It was definitely a nice atmosphere to sink into, relax, unwind, and leave the stress behind.  While the restaurant was fairly quiet around noon, the patrons (aside from us) were mainly grown ups (mid 50's and up), but business seemed to pick up with a steady flow of patrons coming in and out.  Service was very attentive. The first part of the dining experience was so far so splendid.  Now for the second part, the food!

First off, their bread dip of sun dried tomatoes, onions, mint and olive oil with crusty sourdough was already impressive.
The first starter to arrive, veal meatballs in tomato sauce topped with grated parmigiano reggiano.  I was disappointed there were only 2 meatballs for $9 and they weren't that big.  They tasted alright, a bit spongy, but also carried a lot of flavours.

 As for starter, I knew I couldn't pass on crispy polenta as its name seduced me on the menu; "polenta croccante con funghi selvatici".  And I sure wasn't disappointed when I took a bite of that extremely crispy exterior of the polenta to find the delicate texture inside.  It may seem simple, but this could very well be the most sophisticated crispy polenta I've had.  At this rate, I was happy to eat the polenta with anything, including the earthy sauteed wild mushrooms topped with grated parmesan that came with it.  The only downer was that the dish was gone too quickly for my liking.

Now I don't mean to boast, but out of the 3 main dishes we ordered, we all agreed that mine was probably the best.  My entree, rigatoni alla norma consisted of al dente pasta tossed in rich coloured tomato sauce with juicy tomato chunks, eggplants, and topped with grated ricotta salata.  It was hearty and I could keep eating it for a long while without getting sick of it.

Thi's entree was my second favourite; maccheroni pasta tossed with sicilian sardines went pleasantly, and unexpectedly, well with the raisins.  I had no idea the 2 flavours between salted fish and raisins would harmonize and blend so well together.  I definitely want to experiment with that in my home kitchen next time.

Peps was quite predictable with her order.  For some reason, her instinct always tells her to go for fish and it's always either a hit or miss.  In this case, I don't think any of us was too enticed by the tomato braised tilapia.  Although it had a fantastic presentation and impressive portion size, the flavour of the tilapia fell quite short with a mundane texture you quickly grow out of.  

By the time we finished our entrees, I was ready for a nap.  Although inside I was dying to try their desserts, there was no room left at that time.  Now as I'm writing this post, I'm left with the dreaded "I wonder...".

Bocca on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Weekend in the Okanagan: The Food!

Hillside Estate Winery & Bistro

Located in Naramata, Hillside Estate Bistro was our first stop for lunch.  After wine tasting, we weren't as impressed by the wine as much as their tasty rustic dishes made with fresh ingredients.  There, we enjoyed a very complete meal along with attentive, friendly service.  See the menu here.  

Wine tasting weekend in the Okanagan

The Vineyards

I knew my sister's passion for wine runs deep, but I had no idea it was developing into an obsession until she took us on a getaway trip to the Okanagan last weekend.  Each typical day involved grandmother and I passing out in the car by mid day, and most often me begging my sister, "No more for today...I can't go on" and "Granny...Make her stop...." Average humans simply can't keep up with her pace.  Regardless of the overwhelming experience, we got to taste some of the most amazing wine this land had to offer along with the most beautiful, picturesque scenery reminiscent of eastern Europe.  I'm definitely no wine expert but I could confidently say that I've tasted some of the best wine that came out of BC (some better than Napa).  I mean, you don't really need to be too knowledgable to know the difference between good and bad wine.  For me, they have to include these characteristics; scent (fruity or floral aroma for white wine), body, level of sweetness, and a smooth finish.  We came across so many of the good ones that we ended up with 3 full cases by the end of the trip.  So if you are not familiar with BC wine already, I definitely recommend exploring the Okanagan and see for yourself what they have to offer.   I suppose we will make another trip down in the summer once the fruits are ready for harvest at the orchards.  Last year, I tasted the sweetest nectarines, peaches and apricots from the Okanagan and I'm still yearning for more.

3 days, 26 vineyards, 35 bottles of wine later....

Vineyards we visited:
-8th Generation
-Silkscarf (love)
-Dirty Laundry (love)
-Sleeping Giant (love)
-Thornhaven Estates (love)
-Black Widow Winery
-Hillside Estate Winery
-Elephant Island Orchard (love)
-Stag's Hallow
-Church & State (love)
-Red Rooster (love)
-Hester Creek (love)
-Forbidden Fruit (love)
-Noble Ridge vineyard (good chardonnay and meritage but not my cup of tea)
-Road 13
-Wild Goose vineyard (love)
-Crownest Vineyards (Taj!)
-Burrowing Owl (great chardonnay)
-Nk'Mip Cellars
-Silver Sage
-La Frenz
-Blasted Church
-Painted Rock

8th Generation


 There's a meaning behind the name "Dirty Laundry".  There are 14 naked girls in the steam.  Can you spot them all?
Dirty Laundry

Dirty Laundry

Church & State

Road 13

Hester Creek

The Family

I probably won't list all the ones we purchased, but only of the ones that really stood out.  First and for most, Sleeping Giant pumpkin wine really captivated me when I heard of the name.  When I tasted it, it was everything I expected and more.  It tasted just like pumpkin pie; sweet yet subtle, with hints of cinnamon and ginger, definitely something more unique than the average grape wine. Now that I think back, I can't believe I didn't buy more than one bottle.  Yummyyyy!! 
Thornhaven 2009 Gewurztraminer (not pictured) has a distinctive lychee note, but not too sweet.  It smells and tastes so nice, great for pairing with Thai food (especially with papaya salad! MMMMMM).

 From one fruit wine to the next, I have to give it up for Elephant Island apricot wine.  Before I sipped it, I was embraced by a wonderful fragrant resembling jasmine.  Wow, this one was also something special. I just really love fruity wine :)  Another honourable mention from Elephant Island (they make many wonderful fruit wine) was the black currant wine.  We were told that the first 2 sips would taste completely different from each other, and it did! The first sip was tart, while the second and third sip got sweeter and sweeter.  It was pretty cool.
 Hester Creek Late Harvest Pinot Blanc, mmmmm.. the sweet nectar of the Okanagan valley.
Originally made for an east indian restaurant in Vancouver, Crownest Taj spiced wine is one of a kind wine that has developed a reputation even after the restaurant was closed down.  The owner decided to keep carrying the wine as patrons from the restaurant came knocking on his door asking for more.  The spiced wine, serve chilled, goes extremely well with curry and spicy food.  It is not overly sweet and has a hint of cinnamon and either spices.  For only $13.50/bottle, it's quite an amazing deal.  I'm glad they haven't discontinued the wine yet, but the only way to have access is to drive all the way down to the winery. 

Although not mentioned here, we also bought a few bottles of the red wine.  I'm more of a sucker for white wine, but both my sister and I agreed that this year is the year of the white, while the red is only so-so.

Check out more information on the vineyards and map here.