Oatmeal will make it all better

Seriously, when it rains, it pours… and if you’re me it sometimes also turns into a God-forsaken “wintry mix” and then you get locked INSIDE your apartment (yes, it’s totally possible and yes, it’s a COMPLETE fire hazard) and then everything’s broken and nothing’s fine and you end up crying alone in your apartment stomping your feet on the ground and pouting about the world sucking. So, uhm, yea, that was my Monday.

Which is why today absolutely called for something happy, fun, and comforting, and because I’m obviously talking about food, tasty too. Enter OatMeals, a cute little Greenwich Village shop specializing in jazzed up oatmeal, both sweet and savory (which I’d never heard of) and lots of toppings and ingredients to choose from.

Looks like dessert but really it's fig and Gorgonzola oatmeal

Looks like dessert but really it’s fig and Gorgonzola oatmeal

I, for one, love a good bowl of oatmeal. There’s something about soft, warm food that just soothes me, and after the harrowing Monday I had, calming comfort was right up my alley. (I’ll psycho-analyze myself here and say this is probably some deep-seated association going back to baby food. What do you think?) At OatMeals you can have a water base or a milk base, you can go the traditional route with something like brown sugar and cinnamon or fruity with something like pineapple and mango topped oatmeal in coconut milk, you can call it dessert with graham crackers, dulce de leche and whipped cream or make it a meal with something savory, which is exactly what I did.

This beats the hell out of the instant stuff I usually make at home.

This beats the hell out of the instant stuff I usually make at home.

With ingredients like bacon, manchego, and truffle oil, all of the savory options seemed good, but I went with the Fig & Gorgonzola oatmeal in the Mama Bear size. (How adorable is that? Instead of small, medium and large, they have baby bear, mama bear and papa bear.) My creamy milk-based oatmeal was covered in a chunky layer of Gorgonzola crumbles, dried figs and a thick swirl of syrupy balsamic vinegar. It definitely wasn’t the peaches and cream or brown sugar and bananas I’m used to, but I liked it. The Gorgonzola gave it a salty, cheesy flavor and the figs and balsamic glaze added a tangy, sweetness that wasn’t too sugary or dessert-like but reminded me of risotto almost.

Did it fix the crapfest that was Monday? No, not really, but it was a tasty distraction and just the right, subtle reminder I needed that everything wasn’t actually broken.  Just some days require a little bit of oatmeal and a cathartic cry, that’s all. Bring on the rest of the week.

OatMeals  on Urbanspoon

Comfort on the bucket list

In the almost four years since I first moved to New York I’ve made good progress on my New York bucket list.

          – Go to a Knicks game. Check.

          – Visit the Statue of Liberty. Check.

          – See a TV show taping. Check. (Letterman and The View!)

          – Visit all five boroughs. Check.

       – Meet Jay- Z. CHECK. (Ok, so this wasn’t on the list but it happened, so ha! Take that, bucket list!)

And now I can finally cross off one more thing, something that had long been sitting toward the top of the list: eat chicken and waffles at Amy Ruth’s in Harlem. CHECK CHECK CHECK!

chicken and waffles

Amy Ruth’s chicken and waffles aka The Rev. Al Sharpton

But unlike visiting the Statue of Liberty or going to Staten Island, eating at Amy Ruth’s is something I won’t be content to do just once and be done with. No no nooooo. I want to eat at Amy Ruth’s again and again, until I can’t stand the sight of another fried chicken topped waffle, until all of that delicious southern style comfort food offers me comfort no more. And that day, for the record, I’m sure will never actually come.

Officially on the menu as The Rev. Al Sharpton, Amy Ruth’s chicken and waffles are a serious affair. The waffle itself is massive, probably about eight inches in diameter and maybe an inch and a half thick. Doughhy and pillowy soft while still maintaining a slight toasted edge on top (perfect for little pools of butter and maple syrup!), the giant waffle was topped with two large pieces of golden, crunchy-skinned fried chicken. Some people perfer to keep the syrup strictly on their waffles, but not me. I like to slow-pour it all over the chicken and the waffles, so everything gets a sticky sweet coating, and each perfect forkful is a combination of sweet and savory, juicy and crunchy, sticky and amazing.

My NYC bucket list still includes seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and going to a baseball game (Yankees or Mets, I don’t really care), but one thing I’m not crossing out is going back to Amy Ruth’s for more chicken and waffles.. I’m keeping it on the list as a fixture so I have an excuse to go back a million more times.

Amy Ruth's on Urbanspoon

Drinking hot chocolate is a perfectly good alternative to wearing a scarf

Not quite sure how, but sometime between the time I got to work this morning and the time I left in the afternoon, I lost my scarf. It was a very warm, deliciously soft cashmere scarf that I really enjoyed. For those of you not in New York, let me tell you, today was the wrong day to lose a scarf. There’s really no good time to lose a loved accessory, but today was a particularly crappy day to have done it, since it was (and will continue to be for the next few days) absolutely freakin’ FRIGID outside.

Throughout my shift, before I realized I’d seen the last of my scarf, I had debated getting hot chocolate when I got out. I went back and forth in my head asking myself whether I should spend more money, whether I needed the extra calories before going to the gym, whether I really wanted to sit somewhere and drink hot chocolate alone. The second I realized my darling scarf was gone and I had a cold walk with an exposed neck before me, the decision was made: screw this, I’m getting hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate and a warm cookie really do wonders for a cold afternoon

Hot chocolate and a warm cookie really do wonders for a cold afternoon

And so I came to find myself sitting in front of a large, warm chocolate chip cookie and a steaming cup of caramel hot chocolate at Jacques Torres, not giving a frozen NYC rat’s ass about the missing scarf. (Side note, I like to think it was the universe’s doing, since the scarf was a present from an ex’s mom and so is perhaps best off on someone else’s neck now.)

I usually go with JT’s wicked hot chocolate, a spicy, dark chocolate affair, but this time I went with the caramel hot chocolate instead, which was buttery and velvety smooth, comfort in sweet liquid form.  The cookie, a good four inches in diameter, oozed with large melted chunks of chocolate, and added all the more chocolatey goodness to my afternoon sugar binge. Even though the day only got colder and greyer, I was warm and tingly inside, so chock full of chocolate I didn’t even miss that ol’ scarf anyway.

A light wallet and a happy stomach

Even though it’s impossible to forget, this city constantly reminds me what a ridiculous place it is. Where else would you pay $45 for two vodka Red Bulls (ahem, The Box, I’m looking at you)? And where else would paying just slightly under $2,000 a month for a STUDIO apartment be considered a good deal? And where, please tell me, would it be reasonable to pay $79 for a roasted chicken?

Sigh. Here in New York. But you know what, I’ll keep paying for all of these outrageous things because there’s no where else I’d rather be. (Well, except London, where I’d relocate at the drop of a dime if possible. No joke. London, call me. We could be so good together.)

I was skeptical right from the get-go of the $79 roasted chicken on the menu at the NoMad Hotel’s restaurant. I mean, really, $79? Do you know how many whole, organic, happy, well-adjusted, all-natural-diet fed, shipped straight-from-some-idyllic-farm-where-they-ran-around-living-in-perfect-poultry-bliss chickens I can buy for $79? Yet everyone raaaaaved about the new restaurant, said how beautiful it was and how amazing the food was and what an incredible job Chef Daniel Humm (previously of Eleven Madison Park…another pricey food mecca in the city) was doing there. So I said fine, like I say fine to the pricey drinks and to the ludicrous rent I pay, and went to see what the fuss was about.

And well, I get it. The restaurant is beautiful, the scene is stylish and cool, the food is delicious, and the chicken? The chicken will make you wonder whether you might possibly ever eat such a ridiculously good, eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head-in-food-ecstasy, wonderful and oh so succulent bird again.

My humble, fat kid opinion? This place is worth the hype. Yes, it is stupid expensive but it’s gooood. And as I’ve said before, I’m a firm believer in occasionally treating myself to something nice. Not usually to a $79 chicken, but this time yes. Below, my dinner with coworkers at the NoMad Hotel’s restaurant.

Butter-dipped radishes with fleur de sel

Butter-dipped radishes with fleur de sel

From the tapas style “snacks” portion of the menu we started with the butter-dipped radishes and fleur de sel. Like chocolate dipped strawberries, each little radish was coated in a thin butter shell, which really did a lot to make these not feel like rabbit food. Clean, crunchy and bright, I was a fan.

Beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish

Beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish

Also from the “snacks” section, was the recommended beef tartare with cornichons and horseradish. The beef tartare itself was delicious, creamy and flavorful with a subtle tangy hint and the little toasts that came with it were perfect bread specimens if you ask me, toasty and crunchy on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside.

Bread

Bread to beat all bread baskets

Next our waiter brought out a loaf of some of the craziest looking bread I’ve ever seen. It had a greenish-purplish color to it and looked like it might’ve been picked up off the floor in some enchanted forest, the kind where you could do that and find delicious bread. There were bits of rosemary, thyme and other herbs baked into and on the bread and the consistency itself was soft and doughy.

Whole roasted chicken stuffed with foie gras, black truffles and brioche

Whole roasted chicken stuffed with foie gras, black truffles and brioche

And then, the $79 chicken. Not that it softens the blow much, but I’ll mention that this dish is meant for two. After much deliberation, my coworker and I decided that as much as we hated to pay about $40 for chicken, we really just needed to know what this was about. So here’s how it works: the waiter brings out this beautiful, almost-glowing whole roasted chicken in a pan, with what looks like a whole bouquet of aromatic herbs sticking out of one end. They show you the chicken, you ooh and ahh, and then they take it away for a moment.

Part 1: chicken breast with stuffing, lentils and Brussels sprouts

Part 1: chicken breast with stuffing, lentils and Brussels sprouts

What they do is they take apart the chicken and bring it back served two ways. First, on separate plates, two  large pieces of juicy, tender chicken with the most perfect, just-right crunchy skin, served on a bed of rich, hearty lentils and plump, soft Brussels sprouts. Underneath the chicken breast, warm black truffle laced stuffing of brioche and foie gras. I mean, really, this chicken was fancy. Everything was just… perfect. Delicious, decadent and absolutely perfect.

Part 2: Chicken’s dark meat served with mushrooms and truffles in a creamy, butter sauce

Then, in a smaller, sort of cast-iron dish was the chicken’s dark meat, served in a rich, buttery sauce of mushrooms and truffles.  Again, totally over the top and decadent but so, so, SO good. I could easily have eaten this whole $79 chicken production by myself it was so fantastic.

Carrots

Slow-roasted carrots with cumin, wheatberries and crispy duck skin

To accompany the chicken, the waiter recommended we get a vegetable, so again taking a cue from our pricey poultry, we ordered the $20 carrots. (Pause to freak out and consider the excessive amount of carrots you could buy for this amount at the market. Ok, now stop.) These fancy roasted carrots were long, elegant, stylish things, all glazed and dressed up with cumin and crispy duck skin for a completely new and so much better carrot experience than I’ve ever had.

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey dessert

And finally for dessert we shared the much lauded milk and honey, a plate of ice cream, brittle and shortbread that won points for color, flavor, texture and consistency in my book. The ice cream was milky and thick, the brittle and shortbread crunchy and buttery in a caramel, toffee way (even though one coworker said she was stabbed in the mouth by a particular shard of brittle) and the dehydrated milk flakes were crisp and airy, like pieces of sugary meringue.

Compliments of the pastry chef

Compliments of the pastry chef

But just when we thought it was all over and we could leave with lighter wallets and heavier, happier stomachs, out came one more thing: an assortment of sweet treats from the pastry chef. There were macarons, fruit gelees  and what turned out to be my favorite, lapsang souchong truffles. They were smokey, rich and chocolatey and if I had a dozen of them in front of me, I’d probably go through all of them.

So yes, like so many other things in this absurd city, dinner was expensive. But you know what? Like this crazy, sucking-my-bank-account-dry city, it was awesome.

The NoMad on Urbanspoon

Not those kind of balls

Some people like to kick off the weekend with drinks, and while I’m usually right there with those people, this weekend, which for me officially began at 3:30 this afternoon, started off with balls instead. No, not those kinds of balls. Octopus balls. Yea, no, still not those kinds of balls. Jeez, c’mon, an octopus doesn’t even have those kind, does it? Either way, we’re getting off topic here. I’m talking takoyaki, delicious fried Japanese savory snacks.

As soon as my shift ended I walked over to the tiny Otafuku in the East Village, known and loved for their takoyaki and other Japanese street eats, and got an order of octopus takoyaki.  Otafuku has them in three varieties— octopus, cheese and plain— but from everything I read online (i.e. a million and one gushing reviews) octopus was the way to go.

Otafuku

Octopus tokoyaki from Otafuku. The weekend has officially begun

For $6 I got half a dozen golf ball sized, fried-to-a-golden-brown-on-the-outside-and-gooey-hot-on-the-inside balls filled with octopus, scallion and pickled ginger. The guy at the counter handed them to me naked and asked what I wanted on them so I asked him what was good. His answer? “Everything.” Letting him go to town on my balls (you’re loving this ongoing balls thing, aren’t you?) I watched him dress them up in a drizzle of mayonnaise, a generous all-over pour of okonomi sauce (a thick, tangy, sweet brown sauce), a dusting of aonori ( crushed up seaweed) and finally a topping of bonito flakes (bonito being a type of fish).

Always a fan of mixed textures and tastes in my food, I liked that the octopus balls were slightly crunchy on the outside put softer and a bit creamier on the inside. The sweetness of the okonomi sauce also paired well with the tanginess of the mayo, both making for a thick, tasty sauce to go with the subtle flavor of the octopus.

The only thing that could’ve made my start to the weekend even better? A frosty beer to go with my balls.

Otafuku on Urbanspoon

A cheeky start to the year

For me, 2013 didn’t officially start until sometime in the early afternoon of January 4th. That’s precisely when, on my first day off of the new calendar year, I walked over to Perla, the Greenwich Village restaurant I had been food-lusting over since opening last year, and ate one of the most outrageously delicious sandwiches I’ve had… possibly ever.

BAM! just like that, 2013 was suddenly off to a phenomenal start and I could feel it in my bones that everything was going to be ok this year. It would all be more than ok. It would be delicious and amazing.

This will probably remain one of the top meals of 2013, you wait and see

My edible omen came in the form of Perla’s open-faced beef cheek sandwich, a mountain of tender, braised meat on thick toasted bread with porcini mustard, all topped with two eggs, of the glorious, sunny side up variety, and a heap of crispy shoestring fries to go with it.

Beef cheek, which apparently tends to be tough, is braised or slow-cooked to really tenderize it. This particular beef cheek went through that and then some. It was some of the juiciest, softest meat I can remember eating, almost just falling apart in the best way as I shoveled it in my mouth. Add rich, thick egg yolk and a slight, but spicy, kick from the mustard and you’re looking at a serious foodgasm waiting to happen. (No really, think the “I’ll-have-what-she’s-having” scene from When Harry Met Sally. No faking.)

It was one of those meals where I walked out of the restaurant with a little pep in my step and a smile on my face. If I could whistle, I would have. This year’s gonna be good, I thought to myself. My full, happy stomach was telling me so.

Perla on Urbanspoon

Cozy up with congee

As it happens every year in January, the twinkling lights are gone, once happy Christmas trees are now piled up naked  on sidewalks, and the holiday parties have all dried up. But the thing everyone seems to be bitching about most is the cold, the frosty temperatures and face numbing gusts of winter in the city.

But as it also goes every January, I’m eating it all up with a spoon! A soup spoon, that is. Soup season is upon us, people, and just that should make everyone quit their pissing and moaning.

Christmas night, when it was blustery and frigid, a friend and I went out for Chinese food at Congee Village on the Bowery, and for the first time ever, I tried congee. Game changer, guys, game changer. Congee, not really a soup but a savory Chinese rice porridge instead, is exactly the kind of thing meant to be eaten on cold nights. It’s a reason to wish for cold nights, if you ask me.

It's not exactly soup, but this chicken congee will give any ol' chicken noodle a run for its money

It’s not exactly soup, but this chicken congee will give any ol’ chicken noodle a run for its money

We shared a few things over dinner but the chicken and mushroom congee was far and away my favorite. The chicken added just enough salty flavor  to spruce up the otherwise plain rice, making for a subtle, satisfying and just all around comforting winter meal. Creamy and warm, with the  consistency of oatmeal, I could eat a bowl of this stuff every night for the rest of winter. And it’s only just begun, so cozy up and get yourselves some congee, winter haters.