restaurants

Eddie Huang on NYC’s Food Culture

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I’ve been reading a ton this summer, and recently finished Eddie Huang’s memoir, Fresh Off the Boat.

In the book, Huang retraces his rough upbringing in Florida—constantly dealing with blatant, violent racism—to a life-changing few months in Taiwan, to law school and beyond in NYC, where he launched a street clothing line and opened Baohaus, his successful restaurant.

Huang’s voice is distinct—slang-inflected and and at times rambling. His ’90s hip-hop references and matter-of-fact observations had me laughing out loud. And I appreciated how he didn’t sugarcoat just how tough it can be as an Asian-American. I could certainly relate to dealing with ignorant people while growing up, and even now.

But by far, my favorite part of the book was the end, when things started looking up for Huang. He discovered the amazing breadth of the NYC food scene and eventually found his own place in it:

I liked how we all took ownership in the city, its culture, and its food. We still argue all the time about soup dumplings. Tourists and cornballs love Joe’s Shanghai, but everyone knows it’s Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao holding down in Flushing…we’ll go on and on about how great the lox and whitefish are at Russ & Daughters, but how undeserving their bagels are. The biggest travesty in downtown New York is that you have to buy your lox at R&D then take the train up to Ess-a-Bagel to put together a proper lox, caper, red onion, cream cheese, on sesame or salt bagel. We wish 2nd Ave Deli was still on Second Avenue, we worry about the old man’s health at Di Fara Pizza, and we still don’t understand how people can go to Szechuan Gourmet and order from the American Chinese menu while we get busy with the chili leek intestine casserole and a Diet Coke.

But despite the misfires, overhyped openings, and super-restaurants that mar the landscape, New York is the best eating city not named Tokyo or Taipei, and we owe it to the people Fresh Off the Boat. From the old chick selling churros on the Sunset Park D train to the stray cat crawling over the counter at Fort Greene’s Farmer in the Deli to Peter Luger’s in Williamsburg to Great N.Y. Noodletown on Bowery to Shopsin’s on Essex to Baohaus on Fourteenth to La Taza de Oro on Ninth Avenue to Sapporo on forty-ninth to the golden elevator at Kuruma Zushi to Lechonera in Harlem to SriPraPhai in Woodside to Mario’s on Arthur Avenue, it’s an army of first- and second-generation immigrants that feed this city.

I couldn’t help but smile when I read those two paragraphs—because it’s all 100% true!

I’ve had awesome meals at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, Szechuan Gourmet, Great N.Y. Noodletown and SriPraPhi. I’ve eaten more Ess-a-Bagels than I could ever count. (In fact, that was my “poverty diet” lunch for years, when I worked across the street from the shop. I was making so little money that all I could afford was a bagel with nothing on it, because it only cost $1 and filled me up for hours.)

And we really do worry about the old dude’s health at Di Fara! Because if he goes, who will make the pizza?!

Plus, whenever I ask myself if I could ever leave NYC, the same few things remind me that I couldn’t: My family. Ballet. And the food, for exactly the reason Huang states: all the immigrants from around the world, cooking their specialties and serving them up to hungry, curious and appreciative New Yorkers.

Not something you find in every city!

(Image via Friends We Love)

A Long Weekend in New Orleans

I try to take an end-of-year trip each time I find myself with a few unused vacation days in November or December.

In 2013, I put my last two days towards a trip to London. At the end of 2014, Evan and I spent a long weekend in New Orleans, right before the holidays.

I had high hopes for a Christmassy trip, with warm, humid weather in the low 70s. Unfortunately, it was chilly, rainy and cloudy for our entire trip.

Still, we had a great time—it’s hard not to, in NOLA! The city is unlike anywhere else: gorgeous architecture, a European vibe, great music and lots and lots of amazing food!

Evan and I flew in on Thursday night. We checked into our B and B, the Green House Inn, on Magazine Street…

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

…and settled into our room.

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We were starving, but since it was after 10 p.m., most restaurants were closed. So we headed right to Bourbon Street. Our first stop was Killer Poboys, a little shop run out of the divey Erin Rose Bar. We both inhaled shrimp poboys (which were prepared banh mi style, with shredded carrots, cilantro and Sriracha aioli) and Abitas.

Killer Poboys, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Afterwards, we poured the rest of my beer into a to-go cup, and walked down Bourbon Street. (Another reason I love NOLA—it’s kind of nice to walk down the street with your drink!) We ducked into a few bars, and Evan got one of those infamous hand grenade drinks.

Of course, we couldn’t leave the French Quarter without getting beignets. We topped off our night with a few, plus cafe au laits, at Cafe Du Monde.

Cafe DuMonde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Beignets | nycexpeditionist.com The next morning was chilly and gloomy. We walked down Magazine Street to Mother’s, a NOLA institution that opened in 1938. The restaurant is super-casual, and known for its ham.

Mothers, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

You walk in, grab a menu, and wait on line to give your order at the counter. Afterwards, you take your number, find a table and wait for someone to bring you your food.

We were lucky—since it was a rainy weekday, there was only a short line. But on weekends, it can span all the way out the door and down the block.

Evan and I shared a crawfish etouffee omelet, a biscuit and a side of Mother’s famous ham. That omelet was one of the best things we ate on the trip. The etouffee was rich and went perfectly with the eggs.

By the time we finished eating, a steady, chilly rain was falling.

Mothers, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Wandering through the neighborhoods to check out the architecture wasn’t an option. So we decided to ride the streetcar through the Garden District and scope out the grand homes adorned for Christmas.

Unfortunately, I walked us past the streetcar stop a few times. I hadn’t realized that not all stops are obvious—like at Saint Charles and Poydras, if there’s no streetcar coming, regular cars drive right in that lane! After we found the stop, we waited nearly a half hour for a streetcar to arrive. By the time it did, we were soaked.

Still, we tried to take in as much as we could, through the wet, foggy windows.

Garden district home, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We rode the car to the end of the Saint Charles line, and back. At that point, we were hungry for lunch. We opted for Peche, the latest restaurant from renowned NOLA chef Donald Link. True to its name, it specialized in seafood.

It was the perfect meal for a soaked, chilled couple. Everything we ate was fabulous and fresh—Gulf oysters, gumbo, catfish and greens in chili broth, shrimp over pasta in an Asian-style bolognese.

Oysters at Peche, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com And chocolate banana cream pie! I would go back to NOLA just for a slice of that.

Afterwards, we walked back to the Green House Inn. We were tired and cold from being in the rain all day. Luckily, the inn had a (clothing-optional!) pool and hot tub in the backyard, surrounded by plants.

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

That night, we weren’t too hungry because we’d been eating all day. But we felt we couldn’t miss out on a NOLA dinner. We cabbed it to Jacques Imo’s. I loved the place, from the moment we walked in. The main dining room felt like you were at a friend’s house. Strings of Christmas lights hung from the walls and the table cloths had funky patterns. The overall vibe was warm and cozy.

I wish I could go back and re-eat everything we had that night—when I wasn’t drained and slightly stuffed. Because it was all outstanding. We started with a piece of cornbread, followed by their house salad—a bed of baby spinach with one fried oyster on top. I have to say, it was the best fried oyster I’ve ever eaten.

For our entrees, I had shrimp etouffee—which was completely different from the etouffee we had that morning. It was lighter in a tomato-based sauce. Evan had stuffed catfish. Somehow, we finished everything.

Jacques Imo's, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

The next day, we left the city to go swamp kayaking. The rain had stopped, though it was still cloudy and chilly. We booked a trip through New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours, and drove 40 minutes to Pearl River.

Driving to Pearl River | nycexpeditionist.com We met our kayaking group at a rest stop off the highway. Talk about swamp country! The rest stop looked exactly how you’d imagine one in the Louisiana boonies. Our group leader, who had grown up right on that swamp, helped load us into kayaks. Evan and I shared one, he in the back, me in the front.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Since it was December, the swamp was mostly bare and grey. It had a quiet beauty, though.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We paddled among cypresses and tupelos.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Occasionally, we came across abandoned boats and river shacks.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Unfortunately, we didn’t see any alligators.

Except in sausage form.

After kayaking back to the rest stop, our guide told us that the gas station there actually serves great alligator sausages. We had to try one—and she was right! It was delicious.

Later that evening, we went to Bacchanal, a place two of my co-workers had visited on separate trips and raved about. It’s located on a corner in the Bywater, an area I find romantic and mysterious. I was hoping to walk around and check out the architecture, but that didn’t happen this trip. Still, I was glad we spent the evening there. Because Bacchanal is truly a special place. It’s a wine and cheese shop in the front, where you can sample wines and buy a glass. You can also pick out cheeses that they’ll plate for you. You then enjoy both, plus other food from their kitchen, and live music, in the backyard. Cheese plate at Bacchanal, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com On the night we were there, a band was playing NOLA-style Christmas music. (And you know how much I love Christmas.) A drummer, tuba player and violinist played jazzy, melancholy takes on the classics.

Bacchanal, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Evan and I lingered for a while, just enjoying the sounds, food and overall atmosphere. I’d been wanting to experience a bit of Christmas in New Orleans, and I found it at Bacchanal.

We left when the band was winding down, but headed right to Cafe Du Monde. We couldn’t leave NOLA without another round of beignets. 

Cafe Du Monde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Cafe Du Monde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

4 Great Places to Eat in Philly

Last week, Evan, the special guy in my life, had a special birthday. (The big 4-0!) And since there’s no better way to celebrate than by getting out of town, that’s exactly what we did.

Due to our schedules, we only had 24 hours to go somewhere over the weekend. So I narrowed our options to places within a two-hour drive from NYC. Since we’d recently taken trips to Hudson, NY; Vermont and the Berkshires, we knocked similar destinations out of the running. (And yes, I will post some photos and recaps from those trips, soon! :)) Evan wasn’t interested in Atlantic City. And Boston and D.C. were a little too far for a 24-hour trip. We decided to head to Philadelphia, a city that most of us New Yorkers often neglect to explore, despite it being less than two hours away.

Unfortunately, it rained the entire time we were there. As a result, our plans for wandering around different neighborhoods were quashed.

On the upside, we ate some really good meals and otherwise relaxed in our hotel room. (We stayed at the Four Seasons—excellent service and big rooms, but definitely old school decor.)

Here’s where we ate:

Barbuzzo

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Our dinner reservation was actually for Sbraga, but we arrived in town too late to dine there. (Sbraga stops serving at 11—and we weren’t ready to head over until then.) So we went to Barbuzzo, a Mediterranean place that serves dinner until midnight. We were pretty happy with how that worked out!

The place was still hopping when we arrived at 11:30. All the pizzas, pastas and small plates on the menu looked delicious and we had a hard time narrowing our options down to a few dishes. We opted for a charcuterie board, a pizza with spicy wild boar sausage, and—my favorite plate of the evening—butternut arancini.

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For desert, we shared a salted caramel budino—a decadent custard over a dark chocolate crust, topped with rich caramel.

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While our server could have been friendlier, I couldn’t have been happier with the food. I’d make a trip back to Philly just for the arancini and budino!

 

Wedge + Fig

Evan and I can both eat cheese until the cows come home (har har). So when choosing a brunch spot, we both gravitated to Wedge + Fig, a cheese shop in Old City that also serves meals.

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Inside, the space is sunny and cheery, and our server was super-friendly. While it seemed like a travesty not to get an ultra cheesy dish, I was seduced by the NOLA—poached eggs on top of homemade cornbread. Luckily, Evan’s strata had more than enough cheese, and I helped myself to a good deal of it.

 

Sonny’s Famous Cheesesteaks

Of course we couldn’t leave Philly without getting  cheesesteak. Right before getting back on the road to NYC, we stopped at Sonny’s, which Alan Richman and several other critics recently declared, in GQ, had the best cheesesteaks.

Evan and I split one cheesesteak with onions, peppers and provolone. (I know, Philly natives! I couldn’t bring myself to order Cheez Whiz!) It was really tasty, with a nice kick from the peppers. The sandwich was also surprisingly light and not a bit greasy—we devoured it in minutes. And had this conversation:

Evan: That was so good. I could seriously eat another one.

Me: God, so could I. Um, there’s actually another cheesesteak place a few doors down. Should we get another one there?

I’m sure you could guess what we decided to do.

 

Campo’s Deli

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A few minutes later, at Campo’s, we ordered almost the exact same sandwich: a Philly cheesesteak with provolone, onions, peppers and mushrooms. Evan and I ate it on the ride back to NYC. Campo’s sandwich was more of what we expected a cheesesteak to be: juicy and heavy. The mushrooms gave it a nice, rich flavor. Though overall, I preferred the lighter version at Sonny’s.

We’ll have to go back to Philly when it’s not pouring and chilly, and explore the city beyond its restaurants. But we definitely had an awesome time eating our way through our 24 hours there. (And Evan, I hope you had a very happy bday trip!! xoxo)

(Images via Barbuzzo, Wedge + Fig, TripAdvisor and Yelp)

A Long Weekend of Great Eats in London

Whenever anyone asked me how my trip to London was, my automatic response was: “It was amazing! I ate sooooooooo much!!” Which prompted most people to respond: “Really? I thought the food wasn’t that great over there.”

I can’t speak to how London’s overall dining scene is, since I was there for such a short time. But everything I ate was fabulous. Reen planned an awesome itinerary for my trip, which revolved around two of my favorite activities: eating and wandering around. Each day, we trekked for hours, getting to and from every restaurant.

I couldn’t have asked for a better arrangement. Along the way, I saw tons of the city and walked off a fraction of the calories we consumed. And, best of all, we got to catch up on everything that’s been going on with us on opposite sides of the ocean, for the past year!

Some highlights:

Despite flying in on a red eye, I was still game for a long walk from Reen’s Marylebone apartment to Spitalfields. We had a late lunch at the English Restaurant, a wonderfully old school place. It’s housed in building from the 1670s, and the interior has gorgeous wood floors and dark wood booths. The restaurant has a lovely menu, which includes some refined takes on British standards. We shared a delicious salmon roulade and an omelet.

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Later, we had drinks with some of Reen’s co-workers. I don’t remember either of these two things from my previous trip to London, but I’m convinced we need both, in the States: The ability to stand outside a bar and drink. (As long as you’re in a designated area.) And mulled wine. Seriously, it’s one of the most amazing drinks I’ve ever had. How has it not infiltrated bars on this side of the pond?

The next morning, we embarked on another long walk to Maltby Market. Along the way, Reen led us down Drury Lane, which she knew I’d love for one reason:

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…there are a bunch of ballet shops within a few blocks of each other! Of course, we stopped into a few.

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The Bloch store was my favorite. It was new and pretty with all their shoes displayed on the bottom floor. At Bloch, and the other stores, women and girls were getting fitted for their pointe shoes. It’s funny—and comforting—how ballet rituals are similar, no matter where in the world you are.

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After crossing the Thames and walking along the south bank for a while, we came to what appeared to be a row of garages under a bridge. We’d arrived at Maltby Market.

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On weekends, each of the garages houses a pop-up restaurant or food stall—but they’re only open until they run out of eats, usually between 2 and 4.

Reen had chosen Bea’s of Bloomsbury for brunch. When we arrived at their garage, we were dismayed when we saw their door down—we’d thought we’d missed our window of opportunity!

Then we realized you could walk in through a small door within the door…

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…and into a cute, makeshift restaurant!

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Bea’s has a simple brunch menu with staples like pancakes, french toast and poached eggs. I opted for both the pancakes and a poached egg and a side of smoked salmon.

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Bea’s also has maple bacon, which is the most amazing bacon I’ve ever eaten—sweet, salty and crispy, all at once. Sadly, I was too busy chowing down on it to take a pic!

Afterwards, we stopped into the other pop-up shops. My Cup of Tea had gorgeous-looking blends and elegant accessories.

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A few steps down, Comptoir Gourmand was selling some of the prettiest pastries I’ve ever come across.

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I wished I could have sampled everything, but I was so stuffed, that I just opted for one of their Portuguese egg tarts, which I devoured a few minutes later. So delicious! The filling was thicker and richer, and the crust more flaky than the Chinese ones I’m used to eating.

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On the other side of the bridge is Maltby Market’s Ropewalk—which meant even more amazing-looking food and cocktails!

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Again, I wanted to try everything. Reen highly recommended the Bad Brownie Company, so we got one to go.

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To return to Reen’s place, we walked back along the south bank of the Thames, passing sights like Tower Bridge.

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We eventually hit the Southbank Christmas market. Unlike Maltby, this place was packed—a complete sea of wall-to-wall people! It had a German theme, so all the booths looked like little wooden chalets. We purchased cups of mulled wine to sip as we walked. Though, thanks to the crowds, I could barely drink it!

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We crossed the river right near Big Ben, which looked gorgeous in the sunset. So much so, that we asked someone to take this touristy photo of us!

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The following morning, we walked to Notting Hill for brunch at Granger & Co. Reen had warned me that we’d have to get there early, because there’s always a line. She wasn’t kidding!

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Luckily, it moved pretty quickly.

I loved the aesthetic of the restaurant—the big windows and wooden ceiling.

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Everything on the menu looked fantastic, as well. Since I was already doing a great job of eating my way through every place we hit up, I opted for the full Aussie breakfast. It was great, especially the eggs—though I wasn’t able to finish it!

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Even though it was drizzling, we walked around Notting Hill. The neighborhood is adorable, with pretty little houses and boutiques.

We stopped into Ottolenghi, the deli/patisserie from the chef/cookbook author of the same name. (He wrote that Jerusalem cookbook, that’s been everywhere!)

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The salads looked so good, but at that point, I was stuffed nearly to the point of self-loathing.

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So Reen and I got a few treats (a cupcake, chocolate-dipped macaroon and lemon tart) to go.

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I was still full on the walk back to Reen’s place, but since I was so hooked on mulled wine, I couldn’t resist the chance to stop for a glass. We ducked into the Swan, one of Reen’s go-to spots. The owners of the pub were super-friendly, and they gave us two very tasty mince pies to go with our drinks. (I think we could use some more mince pies, here in the States, as well!)

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That evening, we went to St. John for dinner. The restaurant features local, seasonal ingredients, and its menu is comprised of small plates for sharing. Reen and I each selected two. I chose the kohlrabi, brown shrimp and cucumber salad. It ended up being my favorite dish of the trip—and that’s saying a lot! The salad was light and refreshing and perfectly dressed. I also chose the whole crab with mayonnaise, which was among the most popular dishes at the restaurant, that night. Nearly all the other diners were eating it, too. I don’t think you can go wrong with whole crab. We ate ours sans the mayo, and were glad we did, a few minutes later.

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Reen’s two picks came out next, and they were probably the two richest plates on the menu. The fois gras and duck liver toast was amazing, but also the heaviest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. After just a few bites, I was stuffed to the point of self-loathing. Reen was, as well. We were nearly in pain when the Jerusalem artichokes came out—covered in a creamy sauce. Yet, we still managed a few bites.

At that point, we were ready to explode. Still, we got two of the puddings, anyway—because we had to try dessert, as well!

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The next morning, Reen had work, so she recommended I get breakfast at the Providores and Tapa Room, a cute restaurant in her neighborhood.

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Even though I was meeting her for lunch just a few hours later, I had to try the Turkish eggs: poached eggs on yogurt with hot chili butter. I would happily eat that for breakfast every day, if I could!

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My last meal in London was at Spuntino, another awesome place Reen knew of. It’s nondescript from the outside; I’m don’t even remember seeing a sign. Inside, it has an underground feel, thanks to the distressed subway tiles, exposed brick and bare lightbulbs.

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We shared a pulled pork slider, the slaw and the mac and cheese—one of the creamiest and most delicious I’ve ever had. It was more than enough to fortify me for my tube ride to the airport and flight back to NYC.

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…I also cannot thank Reen enough for being the best host (and friend!) that I could ask for! Thank you, thank you, Reen for making my trip so wonderful!

The Argentine Experience

A few years ago, I was in Beijing for a travel story, and one highlight of that trip was going to Black Sesame Kitchen. At the cooking school/private dining space, I met chefs and then watched them make knife cut noodles, stuffed my own dumplings, and chatted with others in my group over good, paired wines. The meal was one of the best I’d ever eaten, and a hell of a lot of fun, too.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to do something similar in another country. And while researching stuff to do in Buenos Aires, I found what looked like an equivalent.

The Argentine Experience started out as a puerta cerrada, but has since moved into a large, new space in Palmero Hollywood. It emphasizes that it’s not a cooking class, but rather a dining experience where people participate in a few key steps.

So basically, they have chefs who do all the hard work (mixing, measuring, seasoning), and guests do one or two things at the end. (i.e. stuff that can’t mess up the meal.)

As a New Yorker who rarely cooks, that sounded fine to me!

I went to the Argentine Experience on my third night in BA. Upon entering the space, I was given a welcome cocktail that I quickly gulped down once I saw that we all had to don crazy-looking checkered aprons and chefs hats. (Luckily, glasses of Malbec followed!)

Once again, I was lucky to have a diverse group of dinner-mates. Besides me, there was a Brazilian couple who lived in Switzerland, two Australians, a travel agent who was from Peru but lived in BA, and an American who was interning in BA. Our hosts for the night were a Brit and an Argentinean.

They introduced the first task at hand: Making empanadas.

empanadas of argentina

We each received a round of dough…

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…which we then stuffed with stewed beef, cheese, veggies and Malbec-reduced onions.

empanada fillings

Everything smelled so good that I overstuffed mine—I could barely pinch it closed. (You can see a little of the filling spilling out!)

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Once we’d stuffed them, they were whisked away to an oven somewhere behind the scenes. We were then given another piece of dough—but this time, our empanadas had to be in the shape of something, and our hosts would select the best one as the winner.

…they assured us that they’d already seen X-rated empanadas formed to look like every possible body part.

Once we’d all finished our entries, they, too, were taken to the oven.

Then first empanadas we made reappeared. They were delicious.

cooked empanada

And soon, our funny-shaped empanadas returned, as well.

Because I have zero artistic talent and a one-track mind, I made a pointe shoe empanada. The winning entry was a crab.

My pointe shoe might not have been the most attractive, but it was certainly tasty!

pointe shoe empanada

The main course didn’t require any work, on our part. We just had to choose how rare we wanted our steak.

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After eating the steak (every bloody, juicy bit) with potatoes, carrots and more Malbec, I was ready to fall into a food coma. But there were two more components to go.

First, we learned how to prepare and drink mate, the traditional Argentinean tea-like beverage. We filled our mate cups with leaves, shook them a few times to get the dust out, put the straw in, and poured in water. (I only had a few sips because it’s very caffeinated, and enjoyed its bitter taste! Normally, mate is a social drink, where everyone sips from the same straw, but due to the nature of the dinner, we all had our own.)

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For the grand finale, we made our own alfajores: cookies with dulce de leche sandwiched between. And rolled in shaved coconut and dipped in chocolate.

…can someone please open an alfajores shop in NYC? We have specialty food places for practically everything else!

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Before saying goodbye, we posed for silly group pictures. Here, we’re saying, “Que te pasa?”—or, “What’s wrong with you?”—with feeling!

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(I actually ended up having dinner with the Brazilian couple the next night! I needed a break from all the meat I’d been eating, so I went to Osaka, a Japanese place across the street from the Argentine Experience. As I was sitting at the bar deciding what to have for dinner, the couple was seated right next to me. We ended up having the bartender select an array of dishes to share, and chatted as we each sampled all of them. It was one of those serendipitous moments that tend to happen when you’re traveling, but rarely at home!)

(Group photo via the Argentine Experience)

NOLA Buenos Aires

The second puerta cerrada I visited was NOLA Buenos Aires—and I was glad I did! It ended up being one of my favorite meals of the trip.

NOLA’s chef, Liza Puglia, grew up in the Big Easy. She lived in NYC for a few years, attending the French Culinary Institute and working as a line cook at Hecho en Dumbo. While backpacking in El Salvador, she met her boyfriend, Francisco, a BA native. Three years ago, she moved to BA, and for the past year and a half, they’ve been running NOLA out of their gorgeous Palmero Viejo home.

I had apartment envy from the minute I walked in. The space has a high ceiling with exposed brick and beams, and a gorgeous open kitchen.

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Liza and Francisco were lovely, and the perfect hosts—so warm and welcoming that I felt like I was visiting old friends. I was first to arrive, and I chatted with them over a glass of champagne, as we waited for the other guests.

Soon, an Aussie solo female traveler, a few years older than me, arrived, as did the British couple I’d met at Casa SaltShaker the night before. (Like me, they were making the rounds of BA puerta cerradas!) Five American women on a girlfriend getaway rounded out our group. (The Americans, I might add, were almost an hour late. Note to anyone planning to visit a puerta cerrada—please come on time! Otherwise everyone ends up waiting or starting without you!)

True to NOLA Buenos Aires’ name, the flavors are inspired by Liza’s hometown, along with her affinity for Mexican cuisine.

Everything was fantastic.

soup, tartare, pork shoulder

The first course was gumbo with homemade bread. As a nod to the local cuisine, the gumbo had chorizo instead of andouille. Next came salmon tartare with avocado and roasted corn on a sope—it was a perfect, refreshing palate cleanser. The main course was slow cooked pork shoulder over grits.

Dessert was one of the best I’ve ever had: bananas foster bread pudding.

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As each course was served, Francisco introduced the paired wine. Each one was local, mostly from Mendoza, and all were fantastic.

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NOLA also hosts a weekly beer night on Thursdays, featuring Francisco’s home-brewed beers and Liza’s southern recipes.

I was bummed I wouldn’t be able to make one of those events—but it’s on my list of stuff to do the next time I’m in BA!

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(Liza also has an awesome blog—check it out here.)

On Dining Out Solo

A few weeks ago, Grub Street ran a great post on the benefits of eating alone at restaurants. Krista Simmons, the writer, broke down the stereotype that solo diners are “sad, lonely people with no friends” and gave a number of reasons why eating alone is actually kind of awesome. Chief among them: You can really focus on the food and make friends with the restaurant staff–which could lead to VIP service. As Will Guidara, general manager and co-owner of Eleven Madison Park and NoMad, confirms:

I don’t think there’s anything more flattering than someone sitting and having dinner in the dining room alone…With a single diner, we really get the opportunity to interact with curious eaters. You know they’re really there for the food.

I found Grub Street’s post very timely because I recently decided to dine solo more often. For all of my adult life, I’ve never had a problem doing things on my own: taking dance classes, traveling, going to concerts. I attribute my comfort in doing so to the traveling I did in college and my early 20s. Whether I was going solo to an all-day music festival in Sydney or seeking out amazing dim sum in Hong Kong, I quickly learned that not having someone to join you isn’t a reason to forgo an experience. You really can have a good time on your own terms.

I do a lot of activities alone in NYC, but I realized I’m way more apt to dine solo when I’m in any other city than my own. I never hesitate to get a table for one when traveling. But that thought rarely crosses my mind in day-to-day life. I should be just as motivated to take advantage of great food in my hometown (which happens to be one of the world’s premier culinary destinations), as much as I do when I’m in a place where my time is fleeting.

Another motivating factor: I live way uptown in Washington Heights, but recently joined a gym in NoHo. I work out there just once a week (on a non-ballet day, of course) and love having an excuse to be in the area–there are so many restaurants and new ones open all the time. I feel like I should take advantage of the eating opportunities, whether or not a friend can meet for a late dinner.

So a few weeks ago, when I didn’t have post-gym plans, I took myself out to dinner. I was craving a good cocktail and pork buns (I know, my four miles on the treadmill undone right there). So I went to Booker and Dax, the David Chang/Dave Arnold cocktail bar. I got a seat at the bar and chatted with the bartender and the guy next to me, who was also by himself. My “Son of a Peach” tequila drink and pork buns were phenomenal (as anyone who’s been to Momofuku knows). And I happily tucked into them, savoring the flavors and not missing a dinner companion one bit.

Do you ever dine out alone? What’s been your experience?