Mini version, massive deliciousness

My mom does this thing that probably only I find irritating: the woman loves to speak in diminutives, which in Spanish, exist for every freaking word. In English, a small table is just that, a small table. In Spanish, it’s una mesita. A small dog? Un perrito. A small house? Una casita. I don’t know why, but it just gets under my skin.

img_7896So when my roommate told me about these things called mofonguitos, the diminutive of the Carribean dish mofongo, I grit my teeth for a second and maybe got a twitch in my eye. When I saw the pictures, however, my only question was when are we having these?

And so we found ourselves at the very tippy top of Manhattan, squeezed into a small table at a no-frills place called Bombonada, while Spanish music blared from the kitchen and we stuffed our faces with one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, handheld versions of the normally plated mofongo.

img_7893Traditionally served as a heap of mashed fried plantain, topped with a stew-like sauce, cheese, rice and a protein of your choice, here the plantain mash was used to make palm-sized cups that were then filled with all manner of tastiness: shrimp, ground beef, pork, chicken, all saucy and juicy, topped with a thick layer of gooey, melted cheese.

At first glance, they kind of look like the potato skins from Friday’s that I so dearly loved as a kid, but these, totally different, were worlds better. We had a few different kinds, (not all photographed because honestly, they just weren’t on the table long enough to get their photos snapped before being devoured) but I think my favorite might have been the ground beef, because it was so rich and hearty, completely over the top and gluttonous.

Yes, the name still kind of grates on my nerves but when something is as ridiculously good as that, I could forgive an annoying name any day.

Rainy day beach feast

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You know, just a colorful day at the beach.

If I’m at the beach and the sun is out in all its glory and so am I, letting it all (or most of it) hang out in a bikini and sunglasses,  I try to watch what I eat. (Puppy belly’s not a sexy look for me.)

But if I’m at the beach and the sky fills with dark clouds and then bursts open with buckets of rain, the way it did last time I was at the beach with friends, the only thing to do is head for cover… and food.  Since we were near the cluster of food stalls on Rockaway Beach’s boardwalk at 97th St., that’s where we ran, huddled under umbrellas while the rain blew in sideways.

There were lobster rolls, arepas, grilled cheese sandwiches and tacos, each stall sounding more appealing than the last, but it was the farthest one, the one tucked away at the very end, that we beelined to: the Bolivian Llama Party. (I told you I love llamas, no?)

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Nachos, Bolivian style.

First out were our Bolivian nachos, a gorgeous, colorful mountain of quinoa tortilla chips and plantain chips under and over pools of black beans, creme fraiche, cheese sauce, scallions, Llajua (a fiery Bolivian hot sauce) and magenta hued pickled onions. And to make a good thing great my friend added pulled pork. While I’m a fan of good ol’ fashioned lowbrow nachos, these were a fun twist, full of zest, flavor and spice.

To take our rain induced gorging up a notch (or three), we ordered the enormous triple pork sandwich, a delicious behemoth of tender roasted pig, thick-cut home cured bacon, and my favorite indulgence, pork belly, this one with just the perfect crackling edges to complement the fatty meat. Topping it all was a spicy mayo like sauce, shredded pickled carrots and cilantro, making this one of the messiest yet most-worth-the-juices-running-down-your-arm sandwiches I’ve encountered.

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A hot mess… in the sloppiest, best ways

For good measure, we also had a few orders of BLP’s papitas, or fries, some of the cilantro kind, crunchy and piping hot, tossed in garlic, white wine and pecorino and drizzled with a bright green sauce made from quiquina, a Bolivian cilantro, and then the queso papitas, also crispy and crusty, coated in a thyme, salt and aji mix.

We needed something to wash down all those delicious carbs and calories, so we also tried both of BLP’s homemade sodas, the golden maracuya, a bright, bubbly passion fruit lemonade and the I-want-a-lip-color-like-this mora-hibiscus soda made from blackberries and hibiscus flowers.

Sure, no one’s tan was any better than at the start of the day, and our hair was more rained-on frizzy than wind-swept beach wavy, but our bellies were happy and full, and mercifully hidden under our rain-spattered shirts.

Move over, madame

I hold as a universal truth in my heart that almost everything is improved by being topped with a fried egg. (Maybe not desserts, but you know what, if someone were up to the challenge of making one work, I’d be happy to try it.)

It was in the picturesque little town of Sintra, just outside of Lisbon, that for the umpteenth time, this proved to the be the case. A friend and I were a perusing the menu at Estrada Velha, a small bar along the main tourist-packed road, wondering if the shop owner who’d given us the recommendation had steered us wrong, when  amidst the sandwiches and salads, I saw something that caught my eye: a francesinha.

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Allow me to introduce you to the francesinha

A sandwich originally from Porto, on Portugal’s northern coast, a francesinha is basically a Portuguese spin on a croque madame or croque monsieur (madame being with a fried egg, monsieur without, though the francesinha doesn’t have different names for this.) Instead of ham and béchamel sauce, the francesinha, has different kinds of meat inside. The one I had in Sintra had thin slices of salami, roast pork and ham, and instead of béchamel, there was a layer of gooey melted cheese. Plopped right on top? My favorite and yours (or possibly just mine), a fried egg. Finally, taking one step farther away from the croque madame/monsieur, the francesinha came in a shallow pool of a slightly spicy, sauce, almost like a tomato soup.

The whole thing was a saucy, sloppy, wet, delicious mess best attacked with a fork and knife. The sauce,  really more of a tomato and beer broth, was perfect for soaking the bread in, softening everything and blending the flavors.

I’ve always loved a good croque madame but I think I just might like this Portuguese francesinha a bit more. Maybe my universal truth about fried eggs needs to also include a good sauce.

Mission (Chinese Food) Accomplished

Man oh man do I love the satisfaction that comes with crossing off things on my to-do lists. Even better still when that satisfying feeling of completion comes along with the happy, stuffed high of a great, big delicious meal.

Such was the case earlier this week when a friend and I finally, after talking about it over and over and meaning to go for the past year or so, went to Mission Chinese Food, the tiny, much-raved about Americanized Chinese food joint made famous in San Fran and now also located in the Lower East Side.

Dinner service starts at 5:30pm and hungry folks line up outside before the door’s even unlocked and neon sign turned on just to claim one of the few spots in the no-reservations restaurant. Right there in that line, was us, ready to scarf down our hipster Chinese grub version of an early bird special. Even though I hate early dinners, especially when the sun’s still out, I’d gladly do it again because the food totally, if you ask me, lived up to the hype.

Chili margarita

Chili margarita

To celebrate our success at A.) getting our acts together and finally making it to the restaurant and B.) actually getting seated right away, we ordered ourselves some drinks. The chili margaritas, with their orangey pink color, citrusy bite and toasted chili kick were the perfect way to start things off.

Mapo ramen

Mapo ramen

Food at Mission Chinese comes out as the kitchen finishes it and for us, first out was the mapo ramen, a generous bowl of fatty pork broth, seaweed, coddledegg, mapo tofu and ramen noodles. Like many of the dishes here, this one wasn’t shy about being packed with bright bold flavors and a fiery kick that had me breaking out in full on nose sweats. (You know, when the bridge of your nose beads up with spicy food induced sweat. Not exactly my best look.)

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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.

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Sorry vegetarians, this lunch isn’t for you

Lumpiang barquillos: crispy, crunchy, meaty tastiness

Recently, while hanging out with one of my quasi-vegan friends, she pointed out that I’d been neglecting my non meat-and-dairy eating blog readers. (All two of them.) Looking back at my recent posts, she has a point. And while I fully mean to write something soon that will appeal to my herbivore friends, this particular post is not the time. In fact, if you’re still reading and you don’t want to hear about me eating various parts of a pigs face, then you should probably just come back another time.

For someone like me, who constantly wants to be somewhere else in the world and would be content to spend the rest of her life traveling, New York is the best place to live. Where else can you eat from every corner of the world without leaving the city? Last week, during what was one of my days off from both work and my pseudo-diet/healthy eating regime, the beau and I had lunch at  Maharlika, a Filipino restaurant in the East Village.

We started our lunch with a shared order of lumpiang barquillos, long, thin, crispy, crunchy rice paper rolls filled with a blend of beef, pork and water chestnuts. With them came a tangy, chili sauce and a little mound of sweet shredded carrots, both which were great garnishes and enhancers for the meaty, yet delicate barquillos. Their long, rolled up shape reminded me of the taquitos we used to eat in college (usually not in a completely clear state of mind) but way better. These Filipino barquillos would be dangerous during a bout of the munchies…

Sisig: a skillet full of piggy deliciousness

But now the part where I eat pig face. Pampangan-style sizzling sisig seemed almost like a tongue twister when I read it on the menu but once I got past the name and on to the description, I was all about it. Pig ears, snout and belly, (cooked three times) with garlic, fried egg, bird chilies and lemon with garlic rice. Seriously, how, unless you were like one of my aforementioned non-carnivore friends, could you not be curious about a plate like that? I wasn’t sure what that would look like, or if I was really ready to see a snout in front of me, but when it came out, a small skillet with what looked like corned beef hash topped with a fried egg on top, I was so ready. The waiter chopped and mixed everything up in front of me at the table, putting down a small wooden bowl filled with fluffy, white garlic rice  and a tiny dish of garlic and chili infused vinegar next to the skillet. And let me say, for those of you interested in a foray into eating animal faces, this is the way to go. The sisig, with its mix of meaty, rich pig parts, spices, bright tangy flavors of vinegar and chilies was delicious, like the cooler, more exotic, more interesting cousin of a plate of breakfast hash.

You can always bet on the greatness of food topped with a fried egg

The beau, ever along for the ride on my search for good eats,  had the iLog lunch. (Not an Apple product, but a play on Ilog, a municipality in the Philippines.) This particular entree comes with your choice of sausage, so Flaneur went with the longsilog, a spicy sweet longganisa, or pork sausage made with garlic. Inside, the meat was orangeish in color and had a bright, spicy sweetness that was delicious in its own right but even better when dipped in the bright orange-yellow yolk of the sunny side egg. Also on the plate, was a a mixture of pickled Filipino veggies to add a sweet, tangy edge to the rich meat and egg. And like the sisig, the iLog lunch also came with garlic rice, the best base for all of the colorful flavors on the plate.

So vegetarian friends, I’m sorry there wasn’t much for you here this time. Everyone else, get yourself some pig parts Filipino style. It’ll make you appreciate the fact that you eat meat.

I came, I saw, I stuffed my face

Back in Italy, the people of Napoli (i.e. the original guidos and forefathers of the American breed) revere San Gennaro as the patron saint of their southern city. Here in New York, you might say Saint G is the patron saint of zeppole, sausage sandwiches and the absurdly un-Italian fried Oreo.

Every year for a week in September, the Feast of San Gennaro fills the streets of Little Italy (what few haven’t been completely consumed by Chinatown) with dozens of vendors selling these carnival foods and more, along with all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs. (T-shirt reading “Not only am I perfect, I’m Italian too?” Yea, file that under treasure.) Everyone and their mother seems to go and it’s kind of a crowded mess, but starting last year, the fine folks at Torrisi Italian Specialties took it upon themselves to bring a little bit more of a gourmet edge to the Feast, by offering eats from actual restaurants.

Below, my highlight reel, with food so good San Gennaro himself would be getting in line. (A small miracle in and of itself, since Italians struggle with the concept of forming lines.)

Pork tonata from The Breslin

First stop was at the trifecta of awesomeness, the temple to April Bloomfield: the stand from The Spotted Pig, The Breslin and The John Dory Oyster Bar. The pork tonnato, a sandwich made of thinly sliced roast pork and creamy mayo with tomatoes, wispy slices of onion and arugula, on a fat, round, flour-dusted bun.

Cucumber cooler
 To wash down the hunky sandwich, and to provide some refreshment on what turned out to be an unexpectedly warm afternoon (damn you summer, will you just go already?), was the bright green cucumber cooler. Made with what looked like straight cucumber puree and seltzer water poured over ice, it was an interesting drink with a bubbly, soothing coolness.  The only thing that might have made this drink better was alcohol, maybe an ounce or two of gin. (Even my conservative drinking beau agreed.)
April Bloomfield’s jelly doughnut
Also from the Bloomfield crew, what could be the textbook definition of a superb doughnut: one of the most perfectly spherical, wonderfully delicious, plump full of rich, ruby red strawberry jelly and sparkling in the afternoon sun in its coat of sugar. I could eat these till I keeled over dead of a sugar overdose.

Brrrwich from BYGGYZ

Finally, there was the one thing my friend and I loved, but my Italian boyfriend and her Italian husband hated (further proof that Italian men are in fact, crazy), the Brrrywich ice cream sandwich from BYGGYZ, a coming-soon sandwich shop from Dewey Dufresne. Made with shockingly minty ice cream, the same sparkling white as freshly fallen snow, and dark, crumbly chocolate cookies, this was the ice cream sandwich version of a York Peppermint Patty on steroids. I love the combination of mint and chocolate, so this thing blew my mind.
I’ve never followed saints much before, but I think San Gennaro might’ve made me a believer this year.