Cheese, cheese and more cheese

I used to imagine that being allergic to shellfish would be pretty damn awful because it would mean you’d never hold a soft, warm lobster roll in your hands or taste the velvety sweetness of lobster bisque on your tongue, but recently, because of a friend who is lactose intolerant and gets horrible gas when he eats cheese, I have to change my answer. Not being able to eat cheese would be the worst thing EVER.

Which is probably why my lactose intolerant friend does what I would do in the same situation, and that is completely disregard his body’s inability to deal with dairy (and his friends’ inability to deal with his flatulence) and eat it anyway. If your friends love you, they’ll love you even when you’re gassy, I suppose.

All of this crossed my mind last week when a friend (of the lactose tolerant variety) and I ate at  Murray’s Cheese Bar, the restaurant/bar spinoff of perhaps my favorite store in all of Manhattan, Murray’s Cheese Shop. Murray’s, which I’ve proclaimed my love for before, is basically a cheese wonderland. They have every color, smell, texture and type of  cheese you could ever want and the new Cheese Bar, just a couple of doors down, showcases a lot of those cheeses in different forms including cheese plates, dips, spreads, sandwiches, desserts and more.

Ellsworth Creamery Buffalo Cheese Curds… fried cheese with more cheese. YES.

My friend and I started with the fried Ellsworth Creamery buffalo cheese curds, quirky, squeaky chunks of solid, soured milk that go into the cheese making process.  These looked like tater tots or boneless chicken wings in their bright reddish orange coats of tangy, hot buffalo sauce and to complete the look, they came with celery sticks and a thick, chunky Black River blue cheese dip. The way I see it, you just really can’t go wrong with cheese-on-cheese action.

Bibb Lettuce Salad: healthy without having to sacrifice being delicious

In a half-hearted attempt to be healthy, my friend suggested the bibb lettuce salad from the greenmarket portion of the menu. If all salads included juicy nectarines, fat, crunchy marcona almonds, fennel, Rogue Creamery smoky blue cheese  and perfectly crisp pieces of prosciutto, everyone would eat more salads and I’m pretty sure the world would be a better, happier place because of it.

Rarebit cheddar burger

Rarebit cheddar burger and pour-your-own beer-cheese sauce

To round out the savory part of our meal, we also split the rarebit cheddar burger, an openfaced, fat hunk of Ottomanelli meat topped with a thick, dark sauce made of  Prairie Breeze cheddar and Left Hand Milk Stout (beer AND cheese? GENIUS.) which came in a little gravy boat of sorts so that it could be poured on to your heart’s content. (My heart was well beyond content and I’d be lying if I said the thought of pouring the sauce directly down my throat hadn’t crossed my mind.)

Coeur de Creme: a creamy sweet, cheesey ending

Finally, for something sweet, we shared the coeur de creme, made with Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery creme fraiche Ben’s cream cheese, and at the very bottom, a jammy, tart, red currant curd.  The dessert had the consistency of a thick, whipped cream cheese (which I prefer over the regular kind) and the creamy, sweetness of cheesecake, sans the crust. The red currant at the bottom of the glass was just enough to give a very subtle, fruity swirl.

All in all, a great cheese themed dinner in a fun, cute new restaurant (also good for grabbing a drink, by the way). But the best part? Being able to enjoy it without the unfortunate gastric consequences of stinking up anyone’s air.

Pigging out in Chitown

While I might appear slothlike, I’m really not, and especially when I travel, I like to hit the ground running. Even after a taxi-flight-taxi combo, the extra added annoyances of flight delays, last-minute carry-on bags having to be checked, and spending almost 3 hours wedged into the dreaded middle seat, as soon as Flaneur and I got to our hotel in Chicago I wanted to go OUT. There was a restaurant I was itching to go to and the next day just wasn’t soon enough. What if I died in my sleep and never made it?

So instead of kicking back and relaxing,  off we went in search of The Purple Pig, a restaurant one of my friends in San Francisco raved about and insisted I go to. Next time I see this friend, I owe her a drink at the very least because The Purple Pig was ridiculous–in the best way. Fireworks and a parade wouldn’t have made for a better welcome to the city.

Below, some food porn from our first night in Chi-town:

First out, from the antipasti section of the menu, were the fresh spring peas and bacon with spearmint. Fattest, most delicious peas I’ve ever eaten. I could eat this all day, every day.

Peas unlike any I’ve ever had.

From the salad portion of the menu,  rabbit panzanella with mixed herbs and lettuce, crispy capers, pickled fiddlehead ferns (that’s one of the curliecues in the left corner) and black truffle vinaigrette. Panzanella, a type of italian bread salad, is one of my favorite easy dishes but this took it to a whole new level. So many colors, flavors, textures. So. Much. Deliciousness.

A crazy heap of panzanella. Crazy good, that is.

Then from the fried items: sardines with shaved fennel salad and lemon vinaigrette. This is one of those dishes that makes you wish you were on vacation at the beach somewhere, maybe in Italy. But then when you realize you’re not, you’re still ok because you have these damn tasty sardines in front of you, and that’s more than enough.

Fried sardines: salty, tangy and just perfect.

Next, from the a la plancha part: pork jowl and grilled asparagus with oyster mushrooms and fried duck egg on top. This was probably, no definitely, my favorite. The pork jowl was tender and meaty, and when that perfect, orange duck yolk spilled over it? I could have cried if I wasn’t busy stuffing forkfuls in my mouth.

Pork jowl and fried duck egg. The people sitting next to us were blatantly staring at us while we ate this, food envy written all over their faces.

Last in our succession of savory eats, the pork neck bone gravy with ricotta from the smears section of the menu. A hearty, saucy, rich dish served with crunchy toast for smearing and dipping, this was a great example of what i consider comfort food.

Pork neck gravy and ricotta smear. As in, I want to smear this all over my mouth.

And then finally, dessert.  It wasn’t easy choosing but at the server’s recommendation, we went with the Sicilian Iris, a ricotta and chocolate chip filled fried brioche. Sounds magnificent doesn’t it? Oh, and it WAS. Something like a cross between a canolo and a bombolone, this thing was unreal. When it came it out, it looked like a round, fat, sugar-dusted donut but inside, it oozed, warm creamy ricotta with dark chocolate chips. Totally decadent, and so, so, so very good.

Sicilian iris: the sweet lovechild between the canolo and the bombolone

Not only was this one of my favorite meals in Chicago, but one of my favorite ever. I’d go back to Chicago just to eat at The Purple Pig again.

The Purple Pig on Urbanspoon

Sister, sister

DNA is about where the similarities end between my sister and me.  She’s loud and sassy. I’m quiet and sarcastic. She says I dress like Mr. Rogers. I say she dresses like a hoochie. She drives fast with the music up and the windows down. I prefer to walk.

We speak differently, live in different states, have different hobbies, listen to different music, date different types of guys, and don’t even look alike, if you ask me. (Further supporting my theory that I am, in fact, adopted.)

And now, because life’s dealt her a particularly bad hand, we don’t even eat the same. Because of a serious health problem she’s developed in recent years, my sister— brace yourself cause it’s ugly —is on a sugar-free, fat-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, vegan diet.

I kid you not, folks. My heart breaks a thousand times for her. No sugar, fat, wheat or dairy. That leaves what, air??

This presented major food problems for my visit to Miami. We’d be going to eat but where the heck could we both go?

“Don’t worry,” she said drearily. ” I can usually find white rice and grilled chicken on any menu.”

Uhm. No. Not happening. Not on my watch.

I turned to my vegan and vegetarian friends in Miami, and found just the place: Metro Organic Bistro.

With the beau and our mother also with us, we set out for the design district eatery that boasted lots of fresh, organic, healthy and vegetarian friendly options.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit skeptical. I can’t help it. It’s the sugar-crazed, fat-loving carnivore in me. But Metro Organic Bistro, I’m happy to say, completely floored me. If this is what being super healthy was like, sign. Me. UP.

Dinner went like this:

Entree 1: my mom’s

My mom ordered the braised chicken (free range and natural, thank you very much) with truffled polenta and organic green beans. The polenta wasn’t as creamy as I like it, but the truffle flavor made it buttery and smooth.

Entree 2: my sister’s (not vegan)

My sister ordered the tuna Nicoise, though not a vegan option (hey, she’s new to the game). Fat, juicy hunks of yellowfish tuna came on a bed of organic greens, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, boiled eggs, onions, Nicoise olives and anchovies. She doesn’t like anchovies but I do, so guess where those little guys wound up?

Entree 3: Mine

I went for the Mahi-Mahi, a tender, juicy, lemony, grilled (and wild caught) steak topped with shaved fennel and watercress, topped with a zesty cilantro drizzle. Everything was organic, but more than that, everything was vibrant, colorful and crazy delicious.

Entree 4: the non-De Angelis at the table

Last but not least was Flaneur’s. He opted for one of the specials not listed on the menu: a plump and wonderfully juicy and smooth piece of salmon, so perfect it seemed to just melt on your tongue. Underneath it was a mound of red quinoa and broccoli florets, to lend it an earthy, veggie goodness.

Dessert 1

And because no meal, healthy or otherwise, is every complete without dessert, we got two to share amongst the four of us, though I’m pretty sure the boy and I did most of the damage. First was the chocolate bouchon a la mode, a warm chocolate lava-cake paired with a creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with some of the fattest blackberries I’ve ever seen. When the gooey, warm chocolate inside poured out, it was like dying and going to healthy food heaven.

Dessert 2

Our other dessert was another special not on the menu: a fig tart with mascarpone and more juicy blackberries. The tart was sweet and nutty, with a taste reminiscent of roasted chestnuts, and fat little chunks of figs throughout. Being the fig-fiend that I am, this was perfect.

In the end, there was no pork belly or lard, nothing deep fried or oozing with cheese, but everything was delicious, clean and healthy. And that’s something my sister and I, different as we are, both agreed on.