food

A Weekend in Chicago

Last weekend, I went to Chicago to visit my good friend Lindsay, who moved there a few years ago. Even though I got in late Friday night and left Sunday afternoon, I still managed to see/do/eat a ton. Lindsay was a fabulous host and planned a great weekend–we really packed in as much as we could for my very first trip to the Windy City!

Lindsay lives at the intersection of two great neighborhoods–Old Town and Gold Coast–and is just a few minutes from the lake. So on Saturday morning, I woke up early and went for a run along the Lake Trail. It was chilly but sunny and I was excited to see so many other runners out. I thought Boston was a big running city, but it’s got nothing on Chicago–I’ve never seen so many runners out at once.

I planned to go for a short jog, but ended up running about 5 miles from North Avenue to a little past Belmont Harbor. The scenery was so pretty that I didn’t want to stop, not even to take pictures. I did manage to snap these few, though:

Afterwards, Lindsay and I walked south through the Gold Coast. Her neighborhood is so pretty–lots of stately old houses, leafy green trees and tulips blooming along the sidewalk.

We made our way to North Michigan Avenue, which is basically Chicago’s Fifth Avenue. Once we reached the downtown area, Lindsay headed back and I continued on.

Before going to Millennium Park, I inhaled a few tacos at Frontera Fresco (I figured I might as well try Rick Bayless’ Macy’s outpost since I didn’t have a res at the actualВ Frontera!) and made a cupcake pitstop at the super-cute Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique for a red velvet fix. (Yum!)В 

Millennium Park is just as cool as it looks in photos. Thanks to the nice weather, lots of other people were out photographing themselves at Cloud Gate

…and scoping out the animated Crowd Fountain faces.

I spent some time admiring the tulips (they were blooming all over the city!)…

…and chillaxin’ in the Lurie Garden.

Then I headed into the Art Institute to explore the gorgeous modern wing and some special exhibits.

I met Lindsay in the West Loop for dinner. The industrial area has a hip, up-and-coming vibe that kind of reminds me of Williamsburg–except without swarms of hipsters. We had dinner at The Publican, a fairly new restaurant that focuses on beer, pork and seafood. (Um, how can you go wrong with that?) The space was designed with a beer hall in mind, so there’s lots of natural wood and large, communal tables.

We ordered a few small plates. My favorite was squid with farro, oranges, cheese and chorizo vinaigrette.

We topped off the evening with drinks at Maude’s, a cocktail bar with a retro vibe. (Slightly blurry photo–I’m still getting used to using my new camera in low light!)

Next morning, we walked through Lincoln Park to Floriole Bakery and Cafe, one of Lindsay’s favorire daytime spots. I can certainly see why she frequents it–I’m already planning to try to replicate the bacon and arugula sandwich I had there.

On the way back to the Gold Coast, we stopped at the Lincoln Park Nature Boardwalk. Check out the amazing view of the skyline!В 

Of course I couldn’t leave Chicago without having deep dish. So before I boarded the bus for the airport, Lindsay and I had an early dinner at Lou Malnati’s. The local chain’s Gold Coast location has a nice seating area with comfy chairs looking out onto the street and we were lucky to snag window seats. (Especially since all the pies are made to order and take at least a half hour.)

The pizza was exactly how I’d hoped it would be–thick and bready with a crispy crust and a fresh tomato sauce. I inhaled two slices. (And now that I’m writing this, I wish there was a good deep dish place in NYC!)

It’s a good thing I had that pizza, because my flight home was a bit of a disaster. It was delayed, due to bad weather in NYC. And when the pilot attempted to land at LGA, the wind made him overshoot the runway–which we skimmed before taking off again so we “didn’t end up in the water.” We ended up flying to Philly, refueling there, then turning around and flying back to LGA. I got home at 3 a.m.

But that was the only dark spot on the weekend. Thanks again, Linds, for being such an awesome host–can’t wait for my next trip out there or your next jaunt out east!

A Happy Saturday (and Sunday)

happy saturday

I’ve been spoiled. My two favorite people have made the trip from Maryland to NYC two weekends in a row. And this weekend, I had the added bonus of having our friend, Doug, in town, as well. So to celebrate our converging in NYC, we spent the entire weekend doing what we do best: Eating.

Saturday was the kind of day I’ve been craving for so long: Warm, sunny, gorgeous and perfect for whiling away hours outside. (As in, it FINALLY felt like summer–which I’ve been counting down to before winter even began.) We headed across the river toВ Smorgasburg.

Not surprisingly, tons of people had the same idea. The lot was crowded, but we didn’t have to wait very long for food. Between the four of us, we amassed quite a spread: a gigantic carnitas sandwich from Cemita’s, a chicken schnitzel on a pretzel roll from Schnitz NYC, loroco and pork papusas from Solber PapusasВ (my personal favorites) and a pizza from Pizza MotoВ (which had, to my delight, a runny egg on top). Everything was reeeeeeeeally delicious.

schnitzel, cemita, papusas

pizza

After eating…

mal with schnitzel

…we just hung out enjoying the sun and view of the Manhattan skyline.

mal and peter

We’d planned to hit Brooklyn Brewery next, but a crazy line outside discouraged us from even bothering with it. Instead, we made our way to Berry Park‘s roof deck–and that ended up being way nicer. (Brooklyn Brewery, you need an outside space!) The place was packed, but we amazingly managed to score seats.

heather

Yay! We got seats!

mal and me

mal and peter

A couple hours (and beers and girly huckleberry lemonades, on my part) later, we moseyed back across the river for shopping and Korean BBQ.

On Sunday, we all headed out to Long Island to celebrate Peter’s father’s bday. His mom–always the amazing cook–put together an awesome spread of cheeses, meats, bread and veggies, plus hardboiled eggs from last week’s Easter celebration. (How gorgeous are these? Mariana explained that she just places herb leaves flat against the eggs, carefully wraps them in stockings and then boils them with onion skin.)

easter eggs

I was sad when we all headed off in our own directions, but glad to squeeze in a 5 mile run to work off the weekend’s calories. (And I’m already looking forward to heading down to Maryland next weekend–after my trip to Chicago this weekend!)

(Second photo via Smorgasburg)

A Pre-Season Saturday on the Shore

Ocean City Boardwalk

More beach pics! Several weeks ago, before it suddenly became summer, I felt like I needed a change of scenery, no matter how brief. So I decided it was time for another quick trip to my summer share in Maryland. My goal for the weekend (besides, of course, savoring the time with Mal and Peter) was to spend time on the beach and dip my feet in the ocean–no matter what the weather was like.

I didn’t get the warm, sunny weekend I was hoping for; the sky was grey and overcast. Still, Ocean City was well on its way out of hibernation. Restaurants and bike rental stands were open for business and groups of people ambled down the boardwalk.

Ocean City beachWe headed straight for the beach.

Ocean City beach

I accomplished my mission…

Toms

…and, in the process, dropped one shoe into the frigid ocean and frantically chased it down before a wave swept it out to sea. (So much for not getting my jeans wet!)

M&P, Ocean CityI would have stayed on the beach forever if it weren’t so cold. After about an hour, we brushed the sand off our feet and departed for warmer activities–namely, eating and outlet shoppingВ one state over in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The Blue Crab

On the drive up, we stopped for lunch at the Blue Crab in Bethany Beach. The restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside or inside–just wooden booths, checkeredВ linoleum floors and a few framed photos on blue walls. But our meal was fantastic.

Hush puppies

The hush puppies were В amazing–light and crispy on the outside and the ideal balance of sweet and savory. (1,000 times better than the ones we had at Hooper’s!)

Crabcake

I was tempted to get the all-you-can-eat crab feast that most of the patrons were indulging in, but decided against it since it was only lunch. Luckily, the crabcake I ordered was the best I’ve ever eaten. It wasn’t heavy, greasy or bready; it was just fresh jumbo crab, perfectly broiled and seasoned.

But next trip: definitely going for the big feast!

Homemade Fish Tacos

I don’t know why, but it’s nearly impossible to find really good fish tacos in NYC. (Or Mexican food, in general.) You’d think, with the number of amazing restaurants and chefs here, plus diners’ high standards, someone would be known as “THE fish taco guy.”

A couple years ago, Ryan and I actually went on a quest to find the best fish tacos in NY. We very creatively designated Fridays “FTF”–for “Fish Taco Friday”–and ate at a different Mexican place each week. Over a couple months, we tried out La Esquina, Mole, Mercadito, Pinche Taqueria, Dos Caminos, the now-closed Bonita, just to name a few. And while some were good–at the time, Pinche was our winner–none was knock-you-flat-on-your-back extraordinary. They were always too salty, too bland, too heavy or too soggy (in the case of the fried guys).

It’d been a while since I had fish tacos (I think my FTF experiences jaded me), but recipes for them in Real Simple and Mark Bittman’s column in the Times magazine inspired me to concoct my own.

I made Bittman’s slaw first by slicing a cucumber into half moons and mixing them with half a minced jalapeno, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and 1.5 tbsp lime juice. (I would have made a more authentic slaw using shredded cabbage, but I had just eaten my way through one head the previous week and didn’t feel like doing it again just for this meal.)

Fish Taco Slaw

Then, riffing on both recipes, I brushed a 7 oz. tilapia filet with olive oil, rubbed it with dark chili powder, sprinkled on salt and ground pepper and juiced it with lime. While it broiled, I heated the corn tortillas.

Corn tortillas

I was really surprised at how good the tacos looked when I assembled them…

Homemade fish tacos

…and even more shocked to discover that they tasted better than most of the places we tried on our FTFs.

Weekend Cooking: Jordan Pond Popovers

Acadia National Park

Last summer, I spent a long weekend at Acadia National ParkВ with my then-boyfriend.

Acadia National Park

We hiked to the top of five mountains (which sounds more impressive than it is–the tallest one, Cadillac, is onlyВ 1,530 feet)…

Cadillac Mountain Sunrise

…saw the sun rise from the top of Cadillac, which is the first point in North America that daylight hits between October 7 and March 6…

Acadia National Park

…and took a bunch of ridiculous pictures.

Popovers at Jordan Pond House

On our last day, we ate at Jordan Pond House, a restaurant in the park known for tea and popovers. I hadn’t had a popover before, but was pretty enamored at first bite. The warm pastries were chewy on the outside and light and airy in the center–almost like a less flaky, less buttery croissant that had been puffed up. We ended up bringing home the restaurant’s official popover pan and recipe.

I don’t know what triggered it, but a popover craving hit me last week. So on Saturday morning, despite having a full eating agenda on my weekend calendar (Indian buffet Saturday night at Chand Palace and Sunday brunch at Fred’s), I decided to whip up a batch.

There are three things I like about the Jordan Pond popover recipe: 1) It’s drop-dead simple. 2) It only requires a few ingredients that are, for baked goods, relatively healthy (no heavy cream or butter). 3) It makes six pastries–so you don’t end up struggling to eat/give away a dozen for days afterward.

Flour, Eggs, Milk

You mix two eggs, 1 cup milk (I use skim), 1 cup sifted flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a speck of baking soda…

Popover Batter

…fill each popover holder halfway and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes and then at 350 degrees for another 15-20 minutes. (Don’t open the oven door when changing temperature.)

Popovers

And voila! No trip to Maine required. (Though the view from the Jordan Pond House lawn is a little more tranquil and scenic than that of my Washington Heights apartment.)

The Bubbles

Amazing Chinese in Dyker Heights: New Spring Garden

My family usually celebrates Chinese New Year in Manhattan, but last year, we had an especially hard time getting a reservation. All of our favorite places were booked, so we ended up at the monstrous Jing Fong, which, while decent for dim sum, was overwhelmed during the height of holiday dinner service. We waited forever for each course and, quality- and service-wise, the meal didn’t measure up to dinners of new years past. To ensure we wouldn’t have a repeat experience, my family moved our Year of the Rabbit dinner across the river to Dyker Heights in southwestern Brooklyn.В My grandparents recommended New Spring Garden (912 65 Street, Brooklyn), a restaurant I hadn’t been to or heard of, and made an early reservation.

New Spring Garden Restaurant

It couldn’t have been a better choice. The service was first-rate. The courses came out at a good pace and the food was very fresh. We started with jellyfish with preserved vegetables (which had a nice seaweed salad with the veggies), followed by crispy jumbo shrimp and two types of pork: salt baked pork chops and Peking pork chops. Then the food started coming at a faster succession. We had scallops with black bean sauce, braised tofu and veggies, Chinese broccoli, and traditional lamb stew with bean curd. Lo mein (noodles symbolize longevity) and a whole chicken (also considered a lucky dish during New Year’s dinner) rounded out the meal.

jellyfishcrispy shrimpbraised tofu and vegetableslo mein

I don’t know much about Dyker Heights, but it borders Sunset Park and I assume some of the Chinese population has moved outwards from there. I’m finding that this area has some of the best authentic Chinese food in NYC. New Spring Garden is within a few blocks of East Harbor, a Chinese restaurant that Anthony Bourdain featured on No Reservations and has, in my opinion, stellar dim sum. If the neighborhood weren’t so hard to get to (we rented a Zipcar), I’d be there every weekend.

New Spring Garden Restaurant