Archive | September, 2010

Mediterranean Meal at Vareli in Morningside Heights

29 Sep

In a neighborhood filled with debt-strapped students, newly-opened Vareli has a tough road ahead. Westside Market owner George Zoitas and chef Amitzur Mor, of Food Network’s “Chopped” fame, have teamed up to open this new “Mediterranean-inspired” spot that’s a step up for the restaurant scene in Morningside Heights that’s dominated by chains and diners.  Hopefully Parents Weekend Season will sustain them through the fall, because Vareli has a lot of potential.

My Trusty Sidekick and I decided to check out Vareli last Saturday for a little date night action. Here’s the breakdown:

Location: 2869 Broadway at 111th Street, Morningside Heights

In one word: Mediterranean

Food: We started by splitting the Tomato Salad appetizer ($13), made up of big sesame-roasted croutons and thick slices of local heirloom tomatoes marinated in oregano and sherry vinegar, garnished with slices of red onion and jalapeño, morrocan olives, and a handful of delicate sprouts. It was delicious.

When I go out to eat I try to order things I couldn’t necessarily prepare at home, so I have to say, I wasn’t on board with this appetizer initially. But, the flavor and texture combination won me over. Sweet and slightly garlicky, the heirloom tomatoes had amazing natural flavor that worked well with the light and slightly tangy marinade. Combined with the heat of the jalapeños it was a party in my mouth. I also loved the croutons which were crunchy on the outside and softer in the middle.

See the sesame seeds roasted with the croutons? They must have been roasted in a little bit of olive oil because they had a great nutty and fruity flavor.

For my main course I ordered the Pan Seared Scallops ($23) with leeks, asparagus, pearl onions, and peas, all sitting on a lovely drizzle of breakfast radish and asparagus coulis and garnished with fresh flat leaf parsley and little bit of dill.

A coulis is a very thick sauce made from puréed and strained vegetables (or fruits, in the case of desserts). This one, made from aspargus and breakfast radish, gets its orange color from the breakfast radish.

The scallops were very well prepared–seared perfectly on the outside and tender and juicy in the middle.  I really loved the slightly carmelized flavor of the roasted veggies, especially the pearl onions.

The dill was a delicious surprise, and, with the parsley, added a bright freshness to the dish.

Trusty ordered the Sautéed Dorade with Gigante and Fava Beans, Kalamata Olives and a Roasted Red Pepper Coulis ($22).

Look at that giant bean peeking out from under the fish!

Trusty was kind enough to permit me a bite or two of his fish, which I really liked.  If you haven’t tried dorade before I think you’ll probably like it. It’s a small white fish with tender meat and a rich flavor similar to Red Snapper–very unoffensive. Traditionally a fish from the Mediterranean sea, in the past decade the dorade has become available in NYC mainly via Israeli cooperative Ardag (some interesting info on their operation here).
The fish was tender, seasoned well, and tasted delicious with the roasted red pepper coulis. (I want to try making a coulis at home. Anyone have any good recipes?) With the hearty and starchy fava beans this dish was a little bit like a lighter, fish-centric version of steak and potatoes.

Before we visited Vareli I had scanned a few Yelp reviews and knew that their Chocolate and Toffee Bananas dessert ($7) was coming up big. So, to end the meal we decided to split this. Man was it good.
This is the dessert to order at Vareli–you don’t even need to look at the menu. The dense dark chocolate mousse, nestled on a pool of delicious, rich toffee-banana pudding and slices of carmalized bananas dusted in chocolate slivers is divine.

Check out the density of that dark chocolate mousse. Mmmmmm.

Definietly a great end to our “date night,” until Trusty joking offered me his hand and said, “Well, it was nice to meet you” and pretended to imply that there would not be a second date.

Drink: Vareli has a great (and ginormous–3 pages!) beer menu with tons of affordable $5 options. If you’re not in the mood for beer, you’ll get good value with one of Vareli’s 1/2 Liter Carafes for the table.

Service: For a newly opened restaurant, we agreed that Vareli’s service operated very smoothly. Our waitor was attentive and personable, and our water glasses were well tended.

Vareli's 20 foot copper bar has the potential to become pretty much the only classy late night hot spot in the neighborhood.

Scene: When Trusty and I do date night, we do it right. I.e. we’re trained to go for the early bird special, even if there is no special being offered.  Hopefully we’ll snap out of it once we finish grad school. In this case, we showed up at Vareli for 6:45 reservations on a Saturday night. Even at this early hour, the restaurant was quite crowded. There were a few other couples, some young families, and what appeared to be several groups of professorial types (“It just irks me to see the comma used in that manner” was overheard. No joke.)

The soft, low lighting and wine barrel tables makes for a rustic feel that’s on the cheesy side, but overall Vareli’s look is inviting. Check out the long polished copper bar–very posh for Morningside Heights. I can see this quickly becoming the spot for unofficial Columbia GSB happy hours.

Dress: No dress code, really, but the dressier side of jeans and top will work best since this is a pricier place in the neighborhood and people are bound to dress up a bit.

Delivery: Not available.

Cost: By calculations we were in the range of around $70-$75 (about $35 per person).  Of course after Trusty’s line he got to pick up the check.

Students of Morningside Heights, never fear. If you don’t $35 bucks to splurge on dinner in the name of Date Night you could do Vareli on the cheap. Their menu has lots of Mediterranean-inspired small plates to share, as well as some less expensive entrées, including lamb and beef burgers that are getting great reviews on Yelp.

If you like, try: Kefi in NYC’s Upper West side, Masouleh in Chicago’s Roger’s Park

Some Southeast Asian Snacks and Spectacular Pie at Fatty Cue in Brooklyn

26 Sep

If you’re a fan of Fatty Crab, a New York cult favorite that offers funky, Malaysian-inspired food, you’ve got to check out Fatty Cue, the new effort by the Fatty Crew to bring some Southeast Asian barbecue to Brooklyn.

While the weather's still nice, ask to sit outdoors in Fatty Cue's "alley patio."

My Trusty Sidekick and our friend, Omar, headed out to Williamsburg to try Fatty Cue because we enjoyed our last experience at Fatty Crab. While I don’t eat meat and Omar doesn’t eat pork, based on Fatty Cue’s online menu we were confident we could find a few small plates to share, and we were right. We ended up ordering a few items from their “Snack” section (these are basically large appetizers or small plates to be shared), starting off with the Smoked Eggplant Nam Prik ($12).

Smoked Eggplant Nam Prik

This was an interesting Asian interpretation on dip and crudités. The Eggplant Nam Prik, which is the spread in the small bowl, has a texture similar to a chunkier baba ghanoush, but because Fatty Cue smokes all their eggplants, the flavor is incredible–like roasted eggplants times ten. Our Asian-inspired crudités included sliced veggies like pieces of bok choy and radishes, as well as slices of green mango, which was slightly bitter. Other dipping options were Chicharrones (fried pork rinds), and Krupuk (shrimp chips). The strong aroma of the Krupuk was slightly off-putting, but I found I liked the shrimp chips best. You can see them piled up at the bottom center of the plate–they’re basically deep-fried crackers flavored with prawns, except they have a really unusual texture that’s sort of along the lines of popcorn. My suggestion is to dip the shrimp chip into the smokey eggplant Nam Prik, then add a few leaves of cilantro on top–it’s actually quite a nice bite. The fresh herb, the smokey eggplant, and the salty shrimp flavors balance each other nicely. It may not for everyone, but if you like shrimp be sure to give this snack a try.

View from the alley: Fatty Cue's indoor bar scene

Our second snack was Fatty Cue’s Bobo Chicken, which is roasted with Asian spices like lemongrass and ginger and served with a delicious, sweet and spicy dipping sauce made of red onions, chili, and cucumbers ($16).

Fatty Cue's roasted Bobo Chicken

While I didn’t try the meat here, Trusty and Omar vouched for its tastiness, raving about how moist the meat was. I can say that the dipping sauce, which I enjoyed on a shrimp chip (I had really bad breath at the end of this meal), was spectacular. I’m a sucker for sweet and spicy condiments, but this is truly one of the best I’ve tried. The diced cucumber in the sauce was a surprisingly nice touch–it added a little bit of a cool, refreshing crunch that was great with the hot and sweet combination.

We ended our snack visit with some dessert by sharing two pieces of home-made pie from Allison Kave of First Prize Pies ($6 per slice). This partnership was a genius move by Fatty Cue. I have to say, these two pieces of pie were the best pies I’ve EVER tasted–no exaggeration. Unfortunately, because the lighting was so poor at this point, our photos didn’t come out so well, so I’m pasting some pictures from Kave’s website below. Our first slice was a piece of her S’mores pie–ooey gooey delicious toasted marshmallow over  a thick layer of creamy milk chocolate ganache, all brought together with a sweet graham cracker crust.

We really enjoyed sitting in Fatty Cue's outdoor alleyway. But, you can see from our photo the lighting wasn't so great at this point.

The second slice was a piece of Chocolate Peanut Butter pie with a pretzel crust. So good. The crunchy, salty pretzel crunch was a great contrast to the rich and fluffy peanut butter cream topped with a thin layer of dark chocolate.

Lucky for me (and you!), Kave offers her pies online, so if you can’t make it to Brooklyn you can have them shipped to your front door. Actually, I think I hear the buzzer now…

5 Amazing Finds Under $50 from Supermarket, the New Etsy

25 Sep

Watch your back, Etsy, there’s another website featuring arts and crafts products by independent designers, and it’s called Supermarket.

While Supermarket doesn’t yet have the range of products or designers using their site that Etsy does, it’s well worth the browsing time. Items are split into three main divisions: “wear + carry” (clothing, accessories, etc.), “space + place” (home goods, etc.), and “paper + prints” (stationary and posters). Unlike Etsy, there isn’t a “Vintage” category, so most products are home-made, though many from recycled materials. You can search by key word or designer, or sort by “Newest,” “Most popular,” or “Most comments.” To purchase anything, you’ll need to set up an account first.

Here are 5 amazing finds under $50 that we found on Supermarket:

Check out Tamé, the design label of a Montreal based craftswoman, for their eclectic leather knot necklaces that have been featured in Real Simple. Their signature design comes in different colors or multi-color combinations, but we like the versatile black option below.  A great deal for only $30 .

We love the life-like detailing of this delicate small hydrangea flower necklace, from Boston-based designer Twigs and Heather. Cast in silver from an actual flower, it has an interesting history behind its design. As the designer explains on Twigs and Heather’s Supermarket page, “My twin Kerry loves these plants. She nurtures them and they grow beautifully. I wanted to cast one for her and I am thrilled with the results.” It’s these unique stories that make Etsy and Supermarket products so meaningful.  For only $45, this sweet and petite necklace would make a great gift or stocking stuffer. The price tag even includes the sterling silver chain, shown below.


Looking for something with minimal, streamlined design? Check out this $32 threaded moonstone necklace, from Austin, Texas designer Anne Kiel.  Hanging from a wire so thin it’s almost invisible, this natural faceted moonstone adds visual interest right at your throat. Bella, I think this necklace is for you.

How about an accessory that’s functional? Look no further than this $38 “Spare Pocket” by Po Campo, based out of Chicago. Designed with bikers in mind, this product is made out of water-resistant fabric and cinches around your ankle, arms, or bike bars to provide you with “just enough room for the necessities, with reflectivity to get you noticed.” We love this product but, Po Campo, we have to point out: no way is anyone going biking in red heels!

Finally, with chilly fall weather around the corner, we love this $32 hand crotched “Smugglers” neck warmer in Spice from Pittsburgh designer Nina Ramone. Made from a mixture of lambs wool and acrylic yarn, Ramone guarantees it’s “always soft, never scratchy.” The warm Spice color feels perfect for autumn, but if you don’t agree you can customize your order in any one of a dozen plus available shades (see below).

Fall 2010 Trend Alert: Plaid Madness!

13 Sep

This fall, designers have got it plaid! Expect to see plaid making a strong appearance in stores throughout 2010. However, it seems especially perfect for fall; when you get that back-to-school feeling, throw on a plaid shirt or skirt! If you’re interested in adding a little plaid to your wardrobe, here are some items that fit the bill.

A look from Christian Dior Fall 2010 runway.

If you’re in the mood for plaid, you can’t go wrong with something from Burberry! When you feel slouchy on a rainy day, their charcoal check rain boots make it easy to dress up. You can find them for $225 on Zappos.com:

The charcoal version of Burberry's traditional caramel check pattern gives the classic a twist.

If you want to dress up for realsies, this Perthshire plaid dress, $168 at Anthropology, is a great example of schoolgirl plaid with some personality:


I like the way this skirt is gently gathered into a soft flounce–very fun. The visual interest created by the asymmetrical neckline also adds a little attitude to an otherwise polite plaid.

For a great plaid dress at a more affordable price, check out this black and ecru buffalo plaid dress, $69.99 at Modcloth.com:


This dress is an example of Buffalo Plaid, which uses large squares (usually) of two main different colors- often red and black (the lumberjack plaid). I love the cowled neckline and hip pockets which create a great hour-glass silhouette, while the pyramid-studs on the elasticized belt gives it a little edge.

Since the plaid trend will carry over into winter, look to this Miss Sixty plaid belted coat–$148 at Nordstrom.com–to keep you warm:


The square buttons and shoulder epaulets update the coat and add a touch of this season’s military flare, while the waist-defining tie belt makes for a flattering look. I also like the front yoke flaps which highlight the coat’s oversized asymmetrical collar. Besides framing your face, these flaps will keep out the cold–a happy marriage of fashion and function.

Another way to incorporate plaid during the fall and winter season is with tights. Try these Launch plaid tights, $24.99 at Modcloth in a warm brown and blue Glen plaid pattern (FYI–like Buffalo plaid, Glen plaid usually has only two or three colors at most. The fabric is usually in tones of gray, brown, black or navy, with one stripe in a contrasting bright hue, like the blue here.):


Pair with a tailored brown skirt–maybe one with crisp pleats–for a great office-appropriate look.

Another easy and inexpensive way to add some plaid to your wardrobe is with a scarf. I really like the bold look of the green and blue color combination in this O’Neill plaid scarf, $31.95 on Zappos.com:

These days you’ll see a lot of women wearing scarves indoors, draped or tied around their neck, almost as a layer in a layered look; it’s an easy way to add a pop of color to an outfit. If you’re a fan of this look, check out this red plaid “collar” from Urban Outfitters ($19.99–was $38.99):

Could this be the pinnacle of hipster fashion? I love the bow shape, and think this “collar” idea is a great idea for any girl with a plaid fix. But, I think you need to wear it underneath a cardigan so it’s a more casual, layered look. Otherwise you run the risk of looking like a giant lumberjack baby wearing a giant plaid bib.

Finally, a plaid headband is an effortless way to add just a touch of plaid. Try searching Etsy for tons of beautiful, handmade options. Here are a few I found:

Love the autumn colors and adorable rosettes in this one! Only $8.50, by FoldingChairDesigns.

This Burberry inspired headband is a steal--only $13 at MrsBowtheMommy.

Easy and Healthy Friday Night Dinner: Salmon with Roasted Carrots, Sweet Potato, and Colored Cauliflower

10 Sep

Fall semester began this week, and with the first week of classes were some quick take-out meals and half dinners (nothing like a couple handfuls of Kashi cereal). As a result, tonight Trusty and I were craving a healthy, satisfying dinner, and nothing seemed to fit the bill better than a thick piece of fish and some hearty roasted vegetables. So we splurged on two pieces of wild Alaskan King Salmon and picked up some carrots, a sweet potato, and a package of colored cauliflower. Colored cauliflower, you say–what’s that?! We said the same thing. A little research revealed this information:

  • Orange cauliflower contains 25 times the level of Vitamin A in the traditional white variety. The color comes from a natural mutation originally found in cauliflowers grown in a Canadian field in the 1970s.
  • Green cauliflower has been available in the US since the early ’90s. It’s actually cross between broccoli and cauliflower (and to me tastes more like broccoli than cauliflower).
  • Purple cauliflower is caused by the presence of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which also is found in red cabbage and red wine. It has a milder taste than traditional cauliflower, but is still very creamy, sweet, and slightly nutty.

    Delicious and pretty!

The preparation for this meal is wonderfully minimal. And lucky me, Trusty did all the cooking. Basically, you cut, season, then throw everything into the oven. This makes clean-up easy too–everything is roasted on baking sheets covered in aluminum foil, so you just throw the foil away–no scrubbing involved.

Here are our cast of characters: 1 sweet potato, a package of colored cauliflower, 2 carrots, and just under 1 pound of Wild Alaskan King Salmon (not pictured: 1 lemon (he's camera shy)).

Because the veggies will need to cook longer, get them prepped and in the oven first, then prep the salmon. When the veggies have 15 minutes left to cook, slide the salmon into the oven and there will be just enough time for it to cook, then rest, before the veggies finish up and it’s time to eat!

yum yum yum

To prepare the vegetables:

  • First, wash your veggies! Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.
  • Slice the carrots and sweet potato into wedges–either quartered or halved depending on the thickness. If you didn’t buy pre-sliced cauliflower, cut it up into florets.
  • Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil. This makes for really easy clean-up.
  • Place the carrot and sweet potato wedges on one baking sheet, and the cauliflower on another (this is because the cauliflower take a little longer to cook, so they need their own tray). Drizzle a little olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) and sprinkle salt and pepper over both trays of veggies.  Then, sprinkle some garlic powder over the cauliflower, and some chili powder over the carrots and sweet potatoes (this is only personal preference!).
  • Put both trays in the oven. Sweet potatoes and carrots will need about 30-35 minutes, and the cauliflower will need  about 40 minutes.

To prepare the salmon:

  • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and add a dab of olive oil to the spot where you’ll place the fish fillets (this will make it easier to remove them).
  • Sprinkle salt, pepper, chili powder, and garlic powder on the salmon fillets. Slice up a lemon and add some slices on top.

    Cooking salmon in the oven is my favorite way to prepare it, or almost any kind of fish. It's hands-off and fool-proof, as long as you take the salmon out of the oven when the fat begins to appear. In my opinion it's the best way to keep a piece of fish moist, flakey, and flavorful.

  • Put into the oven (preheated to 400°F) for around 10 minutes (these were thicker pieces of salmon–about 1.5 inches–if you have a thinner fillet, you won’t need as much time).  When the fat/protein begins rising to the surface/sides of the fillet (it’s a whitish liquid), remove the fish from the oven and let it rest for 3-5 minutes.

Enjoy!

Look how pink and moist that fish is--YUM! King Salmon is especially delicious because it has a higher oil content, which gives it a rich (but not fishy) flavor and firm meat.

Ravioli Extravaganza Part 2: Pea, Mint, and Parmesan Ravioli

10 Sep

Here’s Part 2 of Ravioli Extravaganza–Pea, Mint, and Parmesan raviolis!!

The ingredient combination for this filling was inspired by the amazing recipe for Ricotta Ravioli with Pistachios, Peas, Mint, and Parmesan, that I made this summer with my Aunt Mary Kay. Instead of being part of the pasta topping this time sweet peas, fresh mint, and salty Parmesan team up to make the filling inside the pasta.

If you’re looking for Part 1 of the Extravaganza (Mushroom and leek ravioli), click here. I hope to get Part 3 (crab and cauliflower) up soon!

Pea, Mint, and Parmesan Ravioli

Note: For this recipe, you’ll need a hand blender, a blender, or a Cuisinart to puree the ravioli filling. This recipe makes approximately 25-30 raviolis.

The mint-pea combination in this recipe is killer. The raviolis are so fresh and delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional “ribbons” to garnish
  • 10-15 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (plus additional to salt your pasta water)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 package of  Egg roll wrappers (we used Nasoya brand, in case you’re curious)
  • olive oil
  • 1 egg (for egg wash)

Directions:

  1. First, you have to cook the peas, but you don’t want to overcook them. So, start by preparing an ice bath in your sink to shock the peas with, to make sure they stop cooking.
  2. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add peas and flash cook them–30 seconds to 1 minute–until they are just tender. Pour them into a colander so the hot water drains out, then plunge the colander with the peas in it into the ice bath.

    Using an ice bath to stop the peas from cooking will ensure that they're sweet, flavorful, and bright green! We eat with our eyes, too, right?

  3. Roughly chop up the mint leaves, put them into a bowl, and add the peas, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Use a hand blender until the ingredients are combined. They should still be slightly chunky–you don’t want them pureed.

  4. Crack open the egg and add a spot of water, milk, or cream (whatever you have in the fridge will work). Whisk it up with a fork. Voila, your egg wash, which will be the glue to hold your pasta sheets (eggroll wrappers) together.
  5. Place an eggroll wrapper on a clean, flat surface.  Use a brush to cover the pasta with a coating of egg wash. Put a small amount of pea filling in each of the four corners of the pasta sheet (be sure not to overstuff them–you’ll just end up with pea filling escaping into the water when you go to boil your ravioli). Then, take a second sheet and place it on top, pressing the edges down to seal. Use a knife to cut the sheet into your four raviolis. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. As your finished ravioli begin to stack up, douse a little olive oil on top of them so they don’t stick together.
  6. Bring a pot of salted water to a gentle boil, and add a little bit of olive oil to the water (again, to prevent the ravioli from sticking together). Boil ravioli in small batches–should take about 2 minutes per batch–and remove with a slotted ladle or spoon.
  7. To serve, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan ribbons. Adding some freshly ground black pepper on top is also delish!

    YUM!

Fall 2010 Trend Alert: Half Moon Manicure

6 Sep

Want to nail this fall’s latest trend, and look cuteicle while doing it? You’ve got to try a Half Moon Manicure.

Also known as “The Cuban,” “Moon,” or “Gatsby” manicure, this trend puts a twist on an old classic–the French Manicure–by reversing it. Instead of white tips, the inner half moon shape at the base of your nail is white or left bare. Rumor is the Half Moon was invented in the 1920s by a manicurist for MGM Studios, though I haven’t been able to find out any specifics. Popular in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, the Half Moon Manicure has  been making a comeback since it appeared on the runway in Thakoon’s 2009 collection. This Fall, expect to see this chic, clean look everywhere; according to Elsa Deslande, the manicurist for the Dior fall couture show,“It is ‘le must’ in terms of elegance.” Well, ok, Elsa. We’ll take your word for it!

Because the technique for a Half Moon manicure can take some trial and error to master, initially, you might want to go to a salon to test-drive this look. If you like it, here are some ideas for making it easier to do yourself, and for taking this trend to the next level:

  • Use a “Stencil”:
    • Get some 3-Ring Binder Stickers from your local drugstore or office supply store, unpeel the sticker, and place them on the base of your nails. Then paint 1-2 coats on the top part of your nail, and when the polish is dry, remove the sticker, and you’ve got sleek Half Moons. This idea comes from Miss Glamour Girl blog and I love it because these stickers are easy to find, easy to use, and inexpensive–they’re the perfect tool to create a neat, flawless Half Moon.

Love this idea from Fab-YOU-lous Annie for a perfect half moon mani at home.

  • Go beyond the standard “French” colors:
    • Try using the reverse French Half Moon pattern, but with non-French-Manicure-colors, for a fashion-forward look. Word on the street is that the trendiest nail polish colors this Fall will be dusty rose, khaki brown, and a subtly minty gray–but if you’re not into those shades, pick your favorite and make the Half Moon your own. Take Dita Von Teese–she’s been rocking this look in retro lipstick red:

Ooo la la!

  • If you really want a high-fashion look, do a Half Moon + French Manicure:
    • Thakoon chose this look for his runway show, and I have to say, it’s not easy to pull off. But, if you want to make a statement with your nails, this might be for you. Here’s how Thakoon did it in black and white–you can see the half moon shape of the base of the model’s nails are white, then she has a black base polish, then white French manicure “tips” on the top of her nail:

Could you say this look is too matchy-matchy since she's also wearing a white blouse with a black collar?

What do you think?