Home with a croqueta preparada

I have yet to hear a compelling enough argument to make me want to move back to Miami, (especially when I keep reading headlines about the city facing serious climate-related issues and one day sinking into the ocean) but let me tell you, Cuban food always gets the closest.

Cuban is pretty much the unofficial cuisine of Miami and as I’ve said several times here before, I miss it all the time. For as many and as varied as the food options are in New York, there just don’t seem to be that many Cuban ones so I’m often left wishing I had what’s so easy to get in Miami.

But after moving to Crown Heights last fall I’m now just a couple of stops away from a Cuban spot I had been meaning to try for some time, Pilar, the Bed-Stuy restaurant named after the Brooklyn-built boat Ernest Hemingway had in Cuba. (Is that not a great name and explanation?)

The restaurant is cute and laid back, with a mellow vibe and just enough cool factor to remind you that you’re still in Brooklyn, but not so much that you wish you’d worn something different (’cause that’s a thing, for me anyway). The menu hits all the classics: cafe con leche, maduros, Cubanos (as in the eponymous sandwich), ropa vieja and vaca frita to name a few, but I knew what I was getting the second my eyes landed on it, the croqueta preparada.

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It’s a slightly ridiculous thing really: ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and my favorite part, croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes), all smeared with mustard and sandwiched between two pieces of Cuban bread, toasted and pressed together to make one tight, dense, absolutely delicious meal.

Pilar’s croqueta preparada was great, getting the combination of different flavors and textures just right: the crunchy buttery bread, bright, tangy pickles, the spicy bite of mustard, gooey, melted cheese, juicy ham and tender roast pork, and then the soft, breaded (’cause it’s the weekend so I say, yes carbs on carbs!) ham croquetas to round everything off.

I’m not exactly ready to move back to Miami after eating at Pilar, but that croqueta preparada was definitely to make me want to check out flights for a potential weekend there in the near future. And as my mom can attest, it’s not just anything that makes me want to do that.

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Street meat: Iceland edition

Hot dogs are so tasty that these Icelandic ones are eating their own kind!

I know they’re made out of weird animal odds and ends, and really, as an adult who occasionally is concerned with what she puts in her body, I should mistrust and dislike hot dogs… buuuuuuut, I just can’t. I friggin’ love ’em. I really do. I love hot dogs.

In Iceland, like New York City and Chicago (both whose dogs I’ve eaten),  they’re pretty proud of their weiners. And rightfully so, because even though I only ate one icelandic hot dog  during my trip, it was a great one.

How do you say DELICIOUS in Icelandic? Cause that’s what this hot dog was

SS Pylsan is the Oscar Meyer of Iceland and based on their ubiquitous SS logo, they seem to have a monopoly on the hot dog scene.  Unlike regular ol’ American dogs, theirs have lamb meat added into the mystery meat mix, which is probably why they’re extra tasty. I like to eat my hot dogs however the locals do so I ordered mine with everything, which meant one long, skinny hot dog dressed up with a sweet remoulade, mustard-mayo mix and my favorite part,  crunchy fried onions.

Cheap (definitely the cheapest thing I ate in Iceland), easy and delicious, if you forget about the hodge podge of animal parts that go into making a hot dog, what’s not to love about them? They’re great… all over the world!

Just the excuse I was looking for…

I routinely look for any excuse to not eat at home. We’re out of olive oil? Let’s just eat out.  We have friends in from out of town? Let’s just eat out. It’s Friday? Saturday? SundayMondayTuesday? Let’s just eat out!

But one of my more justified reasons for eating out is NYC Restaurant Week, because really how can you not take advantage of three courses over lunch for $25 or three courses at dinner for $35? I certainly can’t, not in these trying economic times.

So last week, Flaneur and I set out in the name of Restaurant Week for lunch at David Burke Kitchen at the James Hotel in SoHo. And let me tell you, dear reader whoever you are, I will be using one of my many bullshit excuses to eat there again soon, cause it was good.

Asparagus and burrata salad… not sure how something topped with a giant ball of cheese is “salad” but hey, I am NOT complaining

To start things off, I ordered the asparagus and burrata salad, which wasn’t so much a salad as it was a beautiful stack of watermelon, yellow tomato, prosciutto, asparagus and creamy, milky burrata, with some drizzles of olive oil and sauces and a few juicy cherry tomatoes. Packed with colorful flavors, everything was clean and bright and delicious. A larger portion of this would make an amazing entree.

Tuna tartare tacos, so pretty and so delicious

The boy on the other hand, ordered the tuna tartare tacos, which would’ve given me major food envy, had my appetizer not been so damn good itself. Three crunchy taco shells were filled to the top with buttery, smooth avocado and tuna tartare and then topped with tobiko (flying fish roe, so I learned). Not only was this great tasting, but the color of the tobiko was one of the most beautiful jewel tones I’ve ever seen. I wanted to eat it and wear it all at the same time.

Softshell crab BLT: a pretty good way to get over mistrust of creepy crustaceans

For my entree, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and ordered the softshell crab BLT. Not that I don’t enjoy crab but I usually don’t like eating shellfish that still resemble the insects-of-the-sea that they are. (Whole lobster? Negative. Freaks me out.) But when it came out— the small crab hanging out belly up with all his little creepy legs in the air, sitting on top of a stack of toasted bread, tomato, chipotle mayo, and thick bacon— I knew I’d be ok. I chomped into it and forgot I ever had a problem with creepy crustaceans in the first place. To go with it was a tasty basket of fried vegetable chips.

Black sea bass with baby shrimp and spinach

Flaneur, who’s allergic to shellfish, ordered the black sea bass, which he somehow didn’t realize (even though it was plainly written on the menu) came loaded up with baby shrimp. (Guess whose mouth those ended up in?) But even sans shrimp, the sea bass was good, plump and clean under a bed of spinach and tomato with olive oil swirls and a thick, spicy mustard sauce.

Drunken brownie with mint-chocolate ice cream, bourbon caramel sauce and chocolate cherry lollipop

And then, my favorite and yours (or possibly just mine), dessert. Being the choco-whore that I am, I went with the drunken brownie, a fat, warm brownie topped with mint-chocolate ice cream and a cherry-chocolate lollipop. But really the kicker was when the waiter poured hot bourbon caramel sauce all around it on my plate. For a split second I wanted to ask him to pour it straight into my mouth but that probably wasn’t very lady-like.

Individual pie oozing with fat blueberries

The boy went with the fresh blueberry tartlet topped with a scoop of butter pecan ice cream. While I definitely loved mine more (chocolate fan through and through), the mountain of juicy, fat blueberries made this a pretty good second choice.

Thankfully, restaurant week is never just a week, so I might just have to go back there and check out dinner too. And if restaurant week is over, I’ll just have to pull out some other random excuse from my ever-full bag-o-BS excuses.

David Burke Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Eating my way through the Windy City

This might just be me, but it seems like every time I take a vacation, be it a weekend jaunt or a longer trip farther away, I  immediately feel like I need another vacation just to recoup from the first one. After last week’s long weekend in Chicago, where I went with the beau for three days of being a tourist and one of being a wedding guest, I not only need another vacation but a serious detox, juice cleanse, boot camp and possibly a jaw-wiring procedure, too.

I had never been to Chicago and so felt the need to eat my way through the city like someone on death row at his last meal— except for four consecutive days. (Not counting the gorging we did on the first night we landed, more on that later.) I’ll keep telling myself that the miles and miles we walked around the city countered our obscene caloric intake, but really, deep inside, past the thick layers of adipose tissue, I know better.

Behold, the Chicago style hot dog. A whole lotta tastiness right there.

All talk of my morbid obesity aside, Chicago was a great city that I thoroughly enjoyed and would happily visit again. We had lots of good food, ranging from quick bites at holes-in-the-wall to fancy meals at trendy restaurants, and several others in between. In the end though, one of my favorites was a Chicago food icon, the famed Chicago style hot dog.

We had a couple during our weekend in the city, but our favorite ( because yes, the boy and I discussed this and came to a mutual agreement) was at foodlife, a crazy, kind-of-overwhelming foodcourt of sorts near the Hancock Tower. It met all the requirements of a true Chicago style dog and most importantly, it was friggin’ delicious. If you’re like me prior to my Windy City visit and don’t know what constitutes a Chicago dog, it’s a Vienna beef hot dog in a poppy seed bun, topped with chopped white onions, sweet relish, spicy pickled pepperoncini, crisp cucumbers, juicy tomato wedges, a sprinkle of celery salt and a nice squirt of mustard. Absolutely no ketchup. (Apparently its considered sacrilege.)

While I think New York is a better city than Chicago, they definitely have us beat in the hot dog department, hands down.

Stay tuned for more Chi-town adventures in gluttony…

Which came first, the heart attack or the Scotch egg?

Every once in a while you have to throw caution to the wind and say to yourself, “I don’t care how ridiculous this is. I don’t care how fattening it might be. I don’t care if I know good and well I shouldn’t eat this. I want it and dammit, I’m going to eat it.”

Granted I say this more often than is probably healthy, it’s what first came to mind when I flipped to the food side of the menu at West Village bar Wilfie & Nell and read the description for a Scotch egg: a hard boiled egg wrapped in sage pork sausage, breaded and deep fried.

Behold, a Scotch egg!

WOA! What in the name of all things fun, fried and fatty is this about? Who cares! I’ll take one! And why stop there, when there’s grilled cheese sandwiches on the pub grub list? Add one of those too, with Irish cheddar, please.

In my own defense, I was splitting this with the boyfriend, and we were with a group of friends who were all eating the same thing. One guy even ordered two meat pies. See, I’m not the only one with a healthy appetite.

When the waitress came back with baskets of Scotch eggs and several plates of grilled cheese sandwiches, meat pies and other bar fare, I was egg-cited. (Get it? Scotch egg? Egg- cited? Meh, never mind.)

Grilled cheese sandwich: a classic for the ages

I love eating things I’ve never had before, especially if they’re foreign or weird and unusual, and on top of that I love, love, looooove grilled cheese sandwiches. Here I was, about to get both!

The egg, which came cut in quarters and with a small side of thick, wholegrain mustard, was in a word, phenomenal. How something so small could pack so much loud, unique flavor is mind-boggling to me. A little smear of the mustard on each bite, and that egg was gone in a matter of minutes, perhaps even seconds.

Mmmm warm cheesy goodness

The grilled cheese sandwich, which also came with a side of the thick, slightly spicy mustard, was great too. The cheddar, from Dublin, Ireland according to the menu, was a creamy white and not the school bus yellow most often associated with this cheese. The bread was toasted to a deep golden perfection and pressed just enough so that it wasn’t squished flat. It was hot without being scorching, just enough that it melted the cheese, making it ooze out in delicious gooey strings. Even the few pickle slices on the plate were tasty, and since they were just a little on the spicy side, Flaneur let me have them all. Win!

I had been to Wilfie & Nell before, but it was a super-packed weekend night and everyone I was with kept their consumption to the liquid variety. Actually, it was so busy that I never even saw a menu. I was just handed a beer without even knowing what this bar was capable of feeding me.  But now that I know there’s a menu and what’s found opposite of the beers and the liquors, I might have to make this a regular spot. That Scotch egg just demands to be eaten more often, no matter how ridiculous it is.