Monthly Archives: July 2011

South Beach Bringing the Heat

As you can see, or so the title implies, “Miami” is still stuck in my head.  Damn you Will Smith and your catchy lyrics.  And as the song plays on, so do my Miami posts.

Night two in Miami could have been a total disaster.  I mean, where is there to go after the magnificence that is Casa Tua but downhill?  But Michelle Bernstein saved the day, or night really, with Michy’sMichy’s is a modern bistro in North Miami Beach, about 20 minutes away from South Beach.  Michelle Bernstein is a celebrated Chef, winning the James Beard Award in 2007 for Best Chef South.  She has also been featured on the Cooking Channel, which is how I found out about the restaurant.  I knew the moment I saw the Deep Fried Apple Pie A La Mode, featured on Unique Sweets, that it was a dessert I could really sink my teeth into.  So, with high hopes, and an empty stomach, I visited Michy’s.

To start, we ordered the Peruvian Style Ceviche, with the Seafood of the Day, Ginger, Lime, Chilies, Corn, and Sweet Potatoes.  The Ceviche was clean but flavorful.  The ginger and chilies added an element of heat to the cool dish.

The Creamy Polenta with Truffle Poached Egg and Bacon Bits was a clear choice from the get-go.  This is the best polenta I have ever had, and yes, I understand the weight I am putting on this dish.  The moment my fork perforated the egg, it exploded into the smooth polenta.  The Bacon Bits should actually be referred to as Bits of Bacon, since they in no way, shape or form resemble the imitation Bacon you find in the Supermarket.  They only enhanced the already delicious dish.

As a palette cleanser, if you will, we ordered Kumamota Oysters, petit and flavorful gems.

The Duck Confit was not your typical duck confit at all.  It was crispy, and served along a Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad, tossed in a Sicilian Blood Orange Marmalade and mustard vinaigrette.  I enjoyed the Duck Confit, but I loved this salad.  I found myself repeating the ingredients over and over so I could replicate this dish at home.  (Stay tuned; there just might be a Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad in your future).

The Sautéed Prawns and Handkerchief Pasta with Fava Beans, Kale and Seafood Nage was a favorite of the table.  Here’s your fun fact of the day: a Nage is a flavorful liquid used to poached delicate foods (shrimp in this case).  The liquid is thickened with cream or butter.  The large noodles were delicate but sturdy enough to hold the vegetables.  I liked this dish, but what I really enjoyed the most was being able to point out the ingredients used to make the Nage.  Thank you French Culinary Institute.  This Bite-Sized Blonde is forever indebted to you.

The Short Ribs Falling Off the Bone, which is actually what they are called on the menu, was served over a Parsnip Potato Mousseline, Natural Jus, and Roasted Root Vegetables.  It was hearty and rich, but not enough to make me forget the dessert I had been waiting for all night.

Deep Fried Apple Pie A La Mode.  More like A La Amazing.  The first thing you notice with this dessert is the great, big sphere of milky vanilla ice cream, speckled with pieces of toffee.  Yum, but even more yum when paired with deep-fried apple pie.  Sure, you could really deep fry about anything and it would taste good.  But good is just not good enough to describe this dessert.  The deep-fried dough is crispy as can be and the warm apple pie filling is luxurious.

What a way to end Miami…on a sweet note!

6927 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, Florida

Party in the City Where the Heat is On

When I think about Miami, I think of palm trees, night clubs, and of course, Will Smith…I mean how can anyone not love that song, or love to hate it at least.  (Apologies now if you are still singing this song at the end of the day.)

Palm trees and night clubs are great, but never do you hear someone say Miami has great food.  Miami is just not a front-runner is the culinary world, and no, I am not hating on Miami because I hate on the Heat.  (Let’s Go Knicks!)

Don’t get me wrong, Miami has great restaurants, just not that many.  They are hard to come by without a little hard work.  And lucky for you, this Bite-Sized Blonde did all the hard work this weekend.

My first stop in Miami was Casa Tua, which means “your home” in Italian.  This hotel, which is really more like a private residence, has only five private suites.  I didn’t stay here, but I did have the privilege of dining in the restaurant.  Yes, you heard my correctly, PRIVLEGE.  This restaurant is special, and you feel that the minute you walk into the lush garden terrace.  The restaurant is designed to feel like you are in someone’s home; it is adorned with photographs and bookshelves piled high with books and trinkets.  Even the menus are special, decorated with personal photographs for an intimate feeling.

I would be remiss not to mention the enormous open kitchen that embellishes the dining room.  Although I didn’t sit in front of it, I had a pretty good view; Cameron Diaz and A-Rod were at the table next to me.   While this Bite-Sized Blonde might not be a celebrity, I was certainly treated like one.  The service was outstanding.  Our waiter, well versed in the menu, helped us pick a perfectly hued Rose and well as a number of exceptional dishes.  He made sure they were stacked so we could savor each and every one.

We started with The Branzino Carpaccio with Pink Grapefruit and Toasted Hazelnuts, which was enhanced by crisp scallions.  The carpaccio was everything that carpaccio should be, light, refreshing, and delicious.

We also enjoyed The Grilled Octopus with Borlotti Beans, Celery and Red Radish which was tender and creamy from the beans.  The celery and radish added a unique element of texture to the dish.

Spinach Salad is usually something I stay away from in a restaurant with endless options.  But as it was a recommendation, I decided to ignore my initial instincts and give it a chance.  Boy am I glad I did. This spinach salad was anything but ordinary, with prosciutto, fresh figs, fried red onion and balsamic dressing.  The spinach, along with a few sprigs of basils, was cut into beautiful ribbons, mixed with the fresh figs and fried onions, tossed in the balsamic dressing, and then wrapped up in the prosciutto like a beautiful present.   Gosh, I love an early birthday gift.

The Casa Tua Tuna Tartar was prepared more like a beef tartar, with olives and capers.  It was an interesting take on a classic dish.

The Tagliolini with Maine lobster and fresh tomatoes was a dish I couldn’t pass up, and do you really blame me?  The sauce was sweet which complimented the succulent lobster so effortlessly.

For the grand finale, we ordered the Grilled Waygu Skirt Steak with Baby Cipollini Onions and Roasted Mini Sweet Bell Peppers.  The juicy meat was smoky and woodsy from the rosemary yet sweet from the onions and the peppers.  When such a simple dish has such complex flavors, you know there’s a great chef behind it all.

Casa Tua is a great restaurant, and not just for Miami.  This restaurant would be successful in New York and Los Angeles.  You know why? Because exceptional food, outstanding service and a warm atmosphere are like love, universal and hard to come by.

Casa Tua
1700 James Ave
Miami Beach, FL

The Simple Things in Life

Everyone needs a partner in crime, PIC for short, and mine just happens to be an artist extraordinaire.  This talented, tall drink of water created my logo.  And now her work is reappearing on my blog, but this time in the form of a post! So, without further ado, I present to you, the one and only ‘Simple Palette’. 

By: The Simple Palette

How many of you have visited a Shopping Mall and made “The Food Court Rounds”? Yes, I’m talking about circling the food court once, twice, maybe even three times and taking a toothpick sample from each food station and filling your stomachs up, scoring some free lunch. I won’t deny it; I’ve done it a couple of times and have been left satisfied. The eclectic array of choices in a food court, I believe, is the ultimate buffet. It allows you to satisfy all your cravings within one sitting (or in this case, standing).
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy going out for a fine meal and lucky for me, 99.8% of the time I am graced with the company of the most passionate food connoisseur I know, the princess of food herself, the Bite-Sized Blonde. (I even try and bring her on dates, but for some reason she thinks the dude wants to be alone with me and wouldn’t want my best friend there?? The more the merrier, no?). This Simple Palette has a different approach to food. Couch. Beer. Bowl of Cereal (currently, Honey Nut Chex) Baseball Game. Just thinking about that dining experience gives me chills. A tiny plate, with one piece of slimy black fish, 3 baby carrots and fancy shmancy rice on the side… hmm, not exactly my ideal meal. My meals always come with a KISS… Keep-It-Simple-Stupid!
Allow me to get back to the point of my guest blog post… the place that I have been visiting in the food court ever since I was a little Simple Palette, the place that makes me salivate when thinking about lunch, is the one, the only… “Ragin’ Cajun”! I mean seriously, how can someone NOT love this place? You can find it in all food courts, Roosevelt Field, Syracuse, Hamptons…And on many occasions, I’ve even gotten the Bite-Sized Blonde (hesitant to admit her admiration of course) to indulge in a small plate with chicken, rice and one side. Chicken being none other than Bourbon Chicken, and the side obviously being String Beans. (If you want to make the move to two sides, I suggest the corn.) Disclaimer: due to the shortage of string beans being grown in the Hamptons, corn was opted to stand alone as the vegetable alternate.   Oh! And don’t forget to ask for extra sauce on the white rice… this is really the key to pulling this delectable dish together! No special herbs used that an ordinary person wouldn’t recognize, no eyes or tentacles left on the plate, and just enough food to fill you up… who wouldn’t be satisfied?! Call me naive if you like, but this Simple Palette knows what she likes and sticks to it!
As I, the Simple Palette sign off, I leave you with this…Don’t judge food by its
store front and/or chef but to keep an open mind to all, or should I say, mall food… and to always, Stay Simple!
PS. Go grab yourself a strawberry frosted donut with sprinkles for dessert… chances are there will DEFINITELY be a Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner!

So-So Sosa

Social Eatz is a restaurant and bar located in Midtown which opened a few short months ago.  Angelo Sosa is the Executive Chef and owner of this atypical jaunt.  If his name sounds familiar, its because he was on Top Chef.  Or maybe because he recently opened a sandwich shop, Xie Xie, that closed a little more than a year after opening its doors.   Based on the service, food, and location, I am predicting the same outcome for Social Eatz.  Sorry Sosa, you’re restaurant is just So-So.

Let’s start at the beginning, with your name! “Eatz”? Really? The “Z” is about as cute as the “E” Chuck E Cheese. Unfortunately, the name is not the only resemblance to this kids’ colonnade.  Social Eatz, much like Chuck E Cheese promotes being social.  So, the tables are on top of each other.  Seriously though, they are ridiculously close.  Two separate parties share a bench.  So, whether you like it or not, you are on a double date.  Just close your eyes and pray the couple next to you isn’t fighting or making out, not sure which would be worse.

The décor also resembles that of an arcade, minus all the cool games.  This might make sense for let’s say, Johnny Rockets, which serves “classic American food” aka the kids menu.  But, the menu at Social Eatz is anything but juvenile.  It actually appears to be pretty well thought out, with unique flavors and combinations.

And the similarities to Chuck E Cheese continue…The staff is dressed as if they are working a kid’s birthday party, which is also the way they act.  They are friendly in an “I’m the entertainment at your 7th birthday party” kind of a way.  Listen, nice wait staff is better than the alternative.  But come on people, this is midtown Manhattan, not Middletown, NY.   This quirky restaurant just seems utterly confused.

If the food was amazing, all of this wouldn’t matter as much.  But the truth is the food needs some work too.  The Noodle Salad was swimming in the plum ponzu sauce.  It was too cold, which means it had been sitting in the refrigerator waiting for some idiot to order it.  I just happened to be that idiot.  The Hot Wings were actually pretty tasty, although they had a few tablespoons too many of sauce.  They were just exceptionally small, like the size of a pigeon’s wings small.  Also, there were no wet naps.  Come on now people; that is a rookie mistake.  The Chicken Corn and Coconut Taco looked exactly like the Chili Kissed Tilapia Taco.  They tasted the same too.  The star of this meal should have been the Bibimbap burger, which was topped with pickled carrot and cucumber and a slow cooked egg.  The flavors were actually unexpected and intriguing.  However, the egg was over-cooked which made the burger really difficult to eat.

So-So so long Sosa.  Wish I could say I enjoyed my meal, believe me I do.  But this Bite Sized Blonde will not be returning to your restaurant.

Social Eatz
232 East 53rd Street
New York, NY

The Devil is in the Details

There are a few remedies I believe in whole-heartedly: Advil – for headaches, Zinc if you are about to get sick, and Chocolate – for just about everything else.  Sleepy? Cranky? Heartbroken? Grab a piece of chocolate and all is well in the world again.

Chocolate, although effectual enough to stand on its own, is elevated when it morphs into an enchanting devil’s food cake.  Devil’s food cake is the ultimate chocolate cake.  Not only is it rich, but its creamy in a way that no ordinary chocolate cake is.  There’s a reason they call it devil’s food cake.  It is unapologetically decadent.

Do you know what you get when you make something decadent even more delicious? Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cake.   Whoever said you don’t bring sand to the beach never had a slice of this cake.  I wish I could take credit for this godly creation, but unfortunately, this was not a Bite-Sized Brain Child.  I found the recipe for this Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cake on Bakerella, an amazing baking blog.  I was entranced by the pictures of this cake;  it truly epitomizes the term “food porn.”

This cake was even more delicious than it looks if that’s event possible.  Although, these pictures are pretty sweet!!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cake

1 devil’s food cake mix
3 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 cups chopped peanut butter cups (plus more for garnishing – I used 1 whole bag)
8 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 9-inch cake pans with non-stick cooking spray. Line with wax paper and coat paper.  In a large bowl, beat cake mix, eggs, buttermilk and vegetable oil on low for 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for 2 minutes. Scrape down sides after 1 minute. Fold in 2 cups of the chopped peanut butter cups. Pour batter into pans and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cool the cakes completely.  Place chopped dark chocolate in a medium bowl. Bring cream just to a boil and then pour over chocolate. Whisk until chocolate melts. Add peanut butter and whisk until smooth.  Trim each cake layer so the tops are flat. Place one layer on a cooling rack and pour 1 cup frosting on top. Spread evenly with a spatula. Add second layer and pour remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Smooth out with spatula.

Allow frosting to set for a minute and gently press remaining chopped peanut butter cup pieces all over top of cake. Place in refrigerator for about an hour to set. Remove and serve.

When I Grow Up…

When I grow up, I want to live on the corner of Commerce and Barrow. I can picture my charming apartment now, just above my Bite-Sized bakery and restaurant. It is one of the most beautiful blocks in Manhattan. It looks like it’s straight out of a fairy-tale, which is why it is the perfect setting for my storybook ending and dreams come true. Until then, I will just have to visit my favorite block when I visit one of my favorite restaurants, Commerce. Commerce is a quaint, contemporary American restaurant with a menu that is as seductive as it is robust.

The restaurant buzzes with energy from the crowd and the staff. You can tell they actually want to be there, which let’s face it, makes a world of difference in the service industry. And you know what else makes a world of difference? A phenomenal breadbasket. Commerce serves 3 different kinds of breads, right out of the oven, which goes a long way with this self-declared Carb Connoisseur. The only problem with the breadbasket? Filling up before you even get your meal! It’s impossible to resist the warm pretzel, onion and garlic rolls.

Do yourself a favor – sample each roll and then walk away from the breadbasket. Repeat after me, “Put down the rolls and no one will get hurt.” You’ll want to save room for the Roasted Sweet Potato Tortellini. The plump tortellini are filled with a sweet potato puree and tossed in a beurre noisette with toasted hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds. Beurre noisette is brown butter, which is rich and nutty. The concentrated flavor of the butter accentuates the hazelnuts and plays off the tart pomegranate seeds to create a luscious dish.

The Summer Vegetable Fricassee with Truffle and Poached Egg is also a must have. A thin parmesan crisp sits delicately on top of a poached egg. The egg, once punctured, oozes into the vegetable stew. This creamy dish is as flavorful as it is colorful.

The Ragout of Lamb with a Soft Rosemary Pappardelle is as comforting as it gets. The wide al dente noodles are the perfect platform for this tender meat. The green hued pappardelle tastes fresh which balances out the slow cooked flavor from the lamb ragout. A bite of this dish feels like a great hug.

The Classic Veal Meatballs are actually not your classic meatballs at all. In fact, they’re paired with polenta and barbeque sauce rather than the “classic” tomato sauce. This dish was not what I was expecting, but it was delicious.

So back to the seductive and robust menu. There were at least half a dozen other dishes that I wanted to order. You know what that means, don’t you? I guess I’ll be getting to know my future neighbors sooner than later. 

50 Commerce Street
New York, NY

Not Your Standard Grill

On a beautiful day, the best seat in the house is at a table outside, right? Well not if you are at The Standard Grill.  Don’t get me wrong, sitting outside is great.  But why sit outside, when you can sit inside at the Chef’s Counter?  That’s right.  The Standard Grill has a glorious chef’s counter.  There are about a handful of seats at this counter that face a window into the kitchen.  You get a firsthand look into the life of a chef, and for this Bite-Sized Blonde, that experience is priceless. 

Even if your sights aren’t set on being a chef one day, this is still a cool experience.  It’s like dinner and movie, or in my case, brunch and a show.  I had a mint lemonade to start which was super yummy.  The lemonade was freshly squeezed and mixed with a handful of mint leaves; such a refreshing way to start a meal! I couldn’t decide between the burger and the olive oil poached eggs, so I ordered both.  Hey, you only live once. 

The eggs were divine.  They were served floating in a shallow bowl of spicy olive oil with a side of grilled French bread.  I ordered a side salad to go along with my eggs; I love mixed greens with eggs.  Try it some time; it rocks! The eggs were perfectly cooked.  The yolk ran into the olive oil which was the ideal mixture of creamy and spicy for my bread.  The salad, as simple as it was, was also great.  The greens were crisp and they were dressed with just the right amount of vinaigrette. 

The burger, which I had the privilege of watching being cooked, was awesome.  It was charred yet tender.  The bun was soft but sturdy enough to handle the juicy meat.  The fries were crunchy and salty, just the way I like ‘em. 

So, the next time you are in the mood for a not so standard brunch, make a stop at The Standard Grill, and don’t forget to indulge.  You can walk it off on The Highline after.

The Standard Grill
848 Washington Street at 13th Street
New York, NY

You Know What They Say About Big Meat

Torrisi Italian Specialties – by day, a sandwich shop that is anything but regular and by night, a distinctive restaurant.  You would think Superman was behind this creative concept. This 18-seat restaurant is located in Nolita.  The shop turns from an Italian deli into a restaurant at 5:00 pm, which is when you can come in and put your name down for a table for one of three seatings: 6:00, 7:45 or 9:30 pm.  They don’t take reservations by phone, but I promise it’s worth the extra effort.

Torrisi has a pre-fixed menu that changes daily.  You get 4 antipasti, a pasta course, a main dish, and a tray of house desserts.  At $50, it is a great deal.  The warm mozzarella is an antipasti staple, and for good reason.  This grapefruit sized sphere of deliciousness is drizzled in olive oil and dusted with fleur de sel.  It is breathtaking.  Forget a diamond, just put this work of art on a ring for me and I’ll be a happy girl.  The cheese is served with garlic toasts.  They are heavily dusted with tomato powder and then covered in herbs.  Good thing this cheese can stand on its own because I did not enjoy the toast.  The tomato powder resembles cheddar cheese powder for popcorn.  And, I was afraid to smile for 20 minutes for fear of all the herbs being stuck in my teeth.  The garlic toast was, however, the only disappointment of the night.

The second antipasti was a scallop dish.  The scallops were thinly sliced and then drizzled with the braised broccoli.   The braised broccoli had such a deep, concentrated flavor, which accented the light scallops perfectly.  It was unexpected, and you know how this Bite-Sized Blonde likes to be kept on her toes.  The scallops were followed by a homemade pepperoni – topped with a lightly cooked egg yolk and served next to an herb salad.  The second my fork touched the egg, it exploded onto the plate. The pepperoni, looked like a meatball, and at first, tasted like a meatball. And then bam! There’s a pop of pepperoni flavor to wake up your palate.    Fried spring onions, served in with a chive yogurt sauce, were the last of the four antipasti.   This lightly fried nibble was like a sophisticated bloomin’ onion.  Need I say more? After antipasti, we got a small cup of grapefruit sorbet as a palette cleanser.  It’s all in the details baby, and this is an important detail that cannot be overlooked.

There is usually only one pasta dish of the night, but this Bite-Sized Blonde was lucky enough to sample two of the incredible pasta dishes Torrisi has to offer.  The first was the Dirty Duck Ragout.  I saw the Dirty Duck Ragout on an episode of Unique Eats and knew I had to try this dish.   The Dirty Duck Ragout is smoky and rich.  It is balanced by perfectly cooked Germelli pasta.  The second pasta dish, which was not on the menu, was Chicken Liver Ravioli.  Now, before you think I’m nuts for loving this, hear me out.  Chopped liver is made from chicken liver, which is exactly what the ravioli filling tasted like.  It took on a hint of carmelization to bring the liver to another level.  The ravioli were complimented by a light and sweet tomato sauce.

Your main is a choice of surf or turf, and we went with the turf.  We got the Bone-In Short Rib and the BBQ Lamb in a Molasses Vinaigrette.    The Bone-In Short Rib looked like a piece of meat for Fred Flintstone.  You know what they say about big meat, big…flavor.  The rib was intensely flavorful from the grill.  The BBQ Lamb was also delectable.   It was smoky yet light.  The molasses vinaigrette was a bright addition to the dish.

The dessert at Torrisi is a sampling of house pastries, including rainbow cookies and cannoli.  They’re good, really good.  But this Bite-Sized Blondes likes something I can dig my fork into.  Of course, I ate every single cookie anyway.

Torrisi Italian Specialties
250 Mulberry Street at Prince
New York, NY