It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Rolf's german restaurant... like being INSIDE a Christmas tree

With the exception of my hatred for Kenny G. and all other pseudo jazzy, easy listening versions of classic Christmas music, I freakin’ love everything about the holidays. I love the twinkling lights and the smell of Christmas trees, movies like It’s A Wonderful Life and Bad Santa (Billy Bob is a dirtbag but there’s never been a more hilarious Santa), the parties, the dinners, the presents, and— you guessed it— the holiday treats.

Egg nog! Cheers to that!

Without even having to think twice about it, I can tell you my absolute all-time favorite in December is egg nog. While I’ve had a few different ones this season and Ronnybrook continues to be the best, the prize for most fun and festive definitely goes to Rolf’s egg nog. Served over ice, spiked with Southern Comfort and garnished with a dash of nutmeg and a cinnamon stick, Rolf’s version gives me the same giddy feeling I got as a kid on Christmas morning. (You know, before I learned Santa didn’t exist and my parents were liars.) Rolf’s itself is the most insanely decorated, holiday-crazy, Christmasy place I’ve ever been to with the exception of maybe Disney World during December. Everyone in New York should absolutely go at least once to this Gramercy german restaurant. If you go and don’t feel even a little flicker of holiday cheer, then you my friend, have no soul and a dusty piece of coal for a heart.

Chestnuts, another great holiday snack

Another favorite of the season, though thankfully not as disgustingly gluttonous as egg nog, are roasted chestnuts. The woodsy, nutty, almost-burnt smell as they roast, the warm, soft inside, the cracking them open and chipping away at the toasted shell— I love them. I want to sit in front of a fireplace on a snowy night and eat dozens of them. Even though I have to buy them from a street vendor with mechanic hands and impatiently eat them on the subway, I still love ’em.

Now if stores would just cut the crappy Christmas tunes. I mean, really, Michael Bolton’s A Swingin’ Christmas? No. Just no.

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Vietnam on the brain (and stomach)

Lately I’ve been on a serious Vietnam kick. After reading Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour, a collection of stories based on some of the episodes of his Travel Channel show No Reservations, I’ve decided that’s where I want to go, Vietnam. He also wrote about Portugal, Morocco, Spain and Cambodia among others but it was his chapters on Vietnam that really hooked me. I did some other reading, checked out Lonely Planet, and even thought, hell, let’s see what a round trip ticket might cost me. The answer? A lot. Duh, no surprises there. But even if they were giving away airfare, I couldn’t take the time off so yea, so much for that plan.

My wanderlust hopes might’ve been dashed but I still had Vietnam on the brain. More than anything, Bourdain had got to me with all his talk of Vietnamese food. So since I couldn’t make it to the actual country, I went in search of the food.

Vegetable spring rolls

Bao Noodles, a cozy bistro-like restaurant on a quiet stretch of second avenue close to my apartment, had good reviews and I liked it from the start. It was cute, our waiter was smiley and chipper without being obnoxious, and the menu had lots of things on it without being completely overwhelming. Continue reading

Tapas style

Up until this weekend, I had never been a huge Mario Batali fan. Not because I had anything against him, but more because I didn’t know much about him. He was a jolly looking red haired guy with an Italian name and a show on the Food Network. He seemed likable enough.

After Friday though, I’m ready to submit my application for his fan club. Flaneur and I went to Casa Mono, the Gramercy Spanish-style eatery that Batali is co-owner of, and since then, I’ve become a believer. Big time.

Casa Mono is cozy and small, with a cluster of tables packed closely together on the main floor and the rest of the seats lined up around the bar and cooking station. Lucky for us, we were seated right in front of all the action, right where we could see the cooks at work and hear the meat sizzling as it hit the grill.

We shared everything, tapas style, but for the first round, I ordered the calamares fritos. They were juicy and tender on the inside with a light, crispy, seasoned fried outside. The salty, tangy seasoning dusted on top went perfectly with a twist of lemon and the subtle taste of the calamari.

Calamares fritos

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