Wednesday, September 30, 2009

NYC Trip: Levain Bakery

Destination: Levine Bakery Manhattan, NY
167 W 74th St
New York, NY 10023
(212) 874-6080

Must Tries: 6oz. Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies!
Healthy Options: The cookies were designed by Tri-athletes.
Price: $3.75 a cookie.
What to Expect: A small bakery located on the basement level of an apartment building. It is a pretty much to go establishment baking the best cookies!

My Experience: I learned of Levine Bakery from the 4th Season of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown! The bakers of Levine beat Bobby Flay with their chocolate chip walnut cookies! The story goes back to 1994 as these two founders were training for an Ironman. They set out to create the perfect cookie which would help them meet their calorie needs and sweet cravings.

I showed up around 9am and the cookies were just coming out of the oven! The cookie was moist and chewy with the perfect composition of melting chocolate chips and walnuts.

Now this is not your normal cookie. At 6oz this cookie it's huge!
The size of the cookie allows it to have a crunchy exterior which still having a warm and soft interior.

The cookies are very dense and filling, beware!

NYC Trip: Fried Dumpling

Destination: Fried Dumplings, Manhattan (Chinatown), NY
106 Mosco St
New York, NY 10013-4321

Must Tries: Fried Dumplings!
Healthy Options: You made it this far, just enjoy!
Price: 5 dumplings for a $1!!!
What to Expect: Fried Dumpling is a small hole in the wall on a alley street in New York’s Chinatown area. The space is small and crammed but the flavor and price cannot be beat.

My Experience: I learned of the Fried Dumpling by reading a excerpt in the New York Times which listed local NYC chef’s favorite Cheap Eat locations. Two chef’s listed Fried Dumplings as their low price getaway.

With a dollar in hand I decided to give Fried Dumpling a try.
The menu was simple, dumplings! That's all!

Dumplings were being made by hand behind the counter.

This small operation was run by two people.

Most visitors took their orders to go.  

The handmade process looked tedious, the dumplings were stacked upon each other and cooked to order.

The final product was hot and juicy dumplings. The skin was thicker than most dumplings I have had at Houston establishments. It was the perfect cheap snack while making out way on foot through Manhattan.

Friday, September 25, 2009

NYC Trip: Di Fara Pizza Brooklyn

Destination: Di Fara Pizza
1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn NY 11230

Must Tries: Pizza!
Healthy Options: Just have the pizza! It’s an experience!
Price: Under $30 bucks for a large pizza, $5 a slice.
What to Expect: Take the subway to Brooklyn, the corner shop in about a block from the station. This place has a funny schedule so check the website and plan accordingly. On this day the shop was opening at 12 noon, I showed up at 11:15 am to find a line about (12) twelve people deep. The shop itself is tiny beware!

Expect a wait, Di Fara has only three oven slots and Dom DeMarco's, referred to as "Dom" makes every pizza himself!
*Locals ordered a whole pie and a slice. I soon found out that the slices come out quicker which will help during a two hour wait!

The space is tight and the wait is long, but every pizza is a show and camera flashes brighten every move that Dom makes.

Dom has a few helpers who collect the money and grate some fresh cheese every now and then. But he personally did all the work this morning. 

Dom often just adjusted the pizza with his bare hands.

Before the pie is handed to you, Dom personally tops it with freshly cut basil (which he cuts with a pair of scissors) and douses the pie with olive oil. 

Freshly cut basil

The final touch! Olive oil

Others in the shop said Dom known the locals by name! After my 1.5 hour wait my pie was ready and Dom asked to meet the purchaser of this pizza. I walked to the counter nervous and hungry by this time, he asked "Are you Will?" I answered in the affirmative. He then said, "Thank you, enjoy." 

I made my way to the table and saw this masterpiece of pizza which many argue is the best pie in all of America!

The flavor was out of this world! After the first bite, I realized the shame that was commercial pizza joints! I realized what I was missing all these years! I realized the journey and wait was worth it! The pizza was thin with a crispy crust. The sauce, cheese and fresh basil created this new yet comforting flavor. I am not sure what the purpose of the olive oil was but it gave the pizza a buttery effect when eaten. The olive oil did not make the pizza soggy at all.

Then and there I realized this was pizza!

To sum it up, I hope I get the chance to make it back to Di Fara. It was the best pizza I ever had!

NYC Trip: Nathan's Famous Coney Island

Destination: Nathan’s Famous, Coney Island, NY

Must Tries: Nathan’s Famous Hot dog!
Healthy Options: Next to the hot dog stand is a walk up grill. You can get chicken and burgers, but why would you come this far to hold back! The hot dogs are less than 300 calories.
Price: Under $6 bucks.
What to Expect: Take the subway to Coney Island, as you leave exit the station it will be across the street. There is ample outdoor seating under umbrellas.

My Experience: Countless years of watching the legendary Nathan’s 4th of July hot dog eating contest fueled my need to visit this hot dog shrine. The dogs and chili cheese fries where well worth the journey from Manhattan.

My mind was set on enjoying a hot dog but then I saw chili cheese fries on the menu board and thought to myself, "When in Rome!"

The hot dog casing had a perfect snap effect when bitten into. The bread was toasted slightly over a flat grill and was the perfect finishing touch to this perfect dog. I recommend you make it down to the board walk and try one for yourself. 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Darband Shish Kabob

Darband Shish Kabob
5670 Hillcroft
Houston, TX 77036

Must Tries: Any of the kabobs, flat bread, hot tea.
Healthy Options: Grilled chicken and vegetable kabobs, hummus.
Price: Under $10 bucks.
What to Expect: Darband’s is a very casual place. Walk up to the counter and order from the picture menu, all dishes are served on styrofoam plates but the food and the low price can’t be beat.

My Experience: I have been a customer of Darband’s for several years now, my younger sister introduced me to this hidden gem a while back. The price and casual atmosphere have been a great place to get away and enjoy some fresh Iranian food. The specialty here is kabobs! You can choose between chicken, lamb, beef, or ground beef. The menu can be confusing but the pictures do help. The service is quick so listen out for your number to be called. 

The flatbread is baked fresh and served hot.

The hummus was good but I must say it was not a strong point.
Each dish is served with rice, charbroiled onion and tomato, fresh basil, parsley, and radishes.

Stick around after your meal for a complinmentary pot of hot tea!

Burger Quest: Christian's Tailgate (aka Christian’s Totem)

Info: Christian’s Tailgate (aka Christian’s Totem)
7340 Washington Ave, Houston, 77007, 713-864-9744

Must Tries: Hamburgers!! Cheeseburgers!!
Healthy Options: Not many, just get the burger!
Price: Under $6 bucks.
What to Expect: Christian’s tailgate is an Ice House just north of I-10 which serves up cold beer and great burgers, what more is there to say?

My Experience: The never ending Burger debate in Houston always revolves around two or three small joints and Christian’s tailgate is always in the mix. Critically acclaimed the "Best Burger in Houston", I was up to the challenge. When you walk into this Ice House don't expect a waiter or fancy appetizers. Just walk up to the bar and select the burger of choice and decide whether to go with the fries or onions rings (or do as I did and get both) and enjoy a cold one from the many beers on tap.

The burger and side of choice comes in a basket. I tried my luck with the 1/2 pound burger. The huge 1/2 beef patty was not greasy but moist and tender. Well cooked with the perfect grilled taste the burger is prepared to your liking and served on a toasted bun. There was no special sauce or high-end toppings, just a good old fashion beefy burger. This was the Hole in the Wall Burger Joint I have been looking for. I had to use both hands when enjoying this masterpiece.
Though greasy, the onion rings and fries were a perfect match to a great burger and a cold Blue Moon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Burger Quest: Hubcap Grill Houston, Texas

1111 Prairie St
Houston, TX 77002

Must Tries: Hamburgers!! Cheeseburgers!! Grilled Greek Chicken Sandwich, Frito Pie Burger!
Healthy Options: Grilled Chicken sandwiches, sweet potato fries.
Price: Under $7 bucks. CASH ONLY
What to Expect: Hubcap is a small shack hidden in downtown Houston which servers some of the best burgers around. Not much indoor seating, but a great small alley which usually has a nice breeze.

My Experience: Hubcap has made its name by serving great tasting burgers. The self acclaimed “King of the Downtown Burgers Joints” is a Houston must. You can’t go wrong with a traditional burger or cheese burger. Recently I read of Hubcap’s specialty burgers, one in particular, the Frito Pie burger, caught my eye.

The Frito Pie Burger
The Frito Pie Burger consisted of a ½ pound all beef patty topped with chili, cheese, fritos, onions and sliced jalapenos all transported in a fresh bun. The burger was just as good as it sounded. The burger got a little messy at times but what would you expect from a Frito Pie Burger. Each bite was muy Bueno. The familiar flavor and crunch of the Frito Pie and matched with a good burger was a joyous experience. This was not a add pepper or ketchup or how can I make this better burger. This was a wow, now that's tasty! If only I had a snow cone to go with it.

Pictured below is the classic cheeseburger with sweet potato fries. The beef is well seasoned and never frozen. The fresh bun completes the whole experience. Always fresh and toasted just enough to add a small crisp. The sweet potato fries were crispy and a perfect addition.

Breakfast in Houston: Baby Barnaby's

604 Fairview St
Houston, TX 77006-2904

Must Tries: GREEN EGGS! French toast, oatmeal topped with whatever you want!
Healthy Options: Oatmeal, eggs, Bob’s Healthy Plate (I haven’t tried yet)
Price: Under $10 bucks.
What to Expect: A very casual breakfast place with a “Austin” feel to it. There is usually a line but the food is well worth it.

My Experience: When it comes to breakfast I like to play it safe with pancakes or my Mexican breakfast default plate Machacado con Huevos. I read about Baby Barnaby’s and their “Green Eggs”, which I of course was reluctant to try. My curiosity got the best of me, and I am glad it did this morning.
The plate consisted of scrambled eggs, spinach, artichoke hearts and jack cheese served with chicken apple sausage, potatoes and wheat toast. This dish was loaded with flavor and color. The eggs and vegetables blended perfectly to create this perfect get out of bed dish. 

While waiting to order I noticed a table nearby had a delicious looking bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh fruit and nuts. Upon inquiring with the waiter I was told you can top off the oatmeal with your choice of toppings. Here pictured below is my creation of banana and walnut oatmeal! 
Last but not least the French toast! I was told after that the French toast can also be topped off with your choice of toppings. Here pictured below are the sweet and tasty topless version. I found the French toast to have a nice crisp exterior.
I look forward to returning to Baby B’s and testing my topping combinations. The buzz on the street is they have good migas, we will have to find out…soon.

Breakfast in Houston: The Buffalo Grille

Buffalo Speedway @ Bissonnet                           Voss & Woodway
3116 Bissonnet                                                       1301 S. Voss Road
Houston, Texas

Must Tries: Cinnamon Coffee, Huge Wheat Pancakes, Breakfast plate, Biscuits!
Healthy Options: Wheat pancakes, omelets, huevos rancheros.
Price: Under $10 bucks.
What to Expect: A large wide selection of breakfast choices which include Migas, Wheat Pancakes, fresh fruit and grits.

My Experience: Buffalo Grille is a great place to have breakfast. I don’t know what they put in their coffee but it is the best! The service is quick and always dependable. There is usually a line but it does move fast. The wheat pancakes are huge! This is a great place to start your morning.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

In the Kitchen: Chinese Dumplings

The Art of Chinese Dumpling Making: Lesson #1
The Chinese dumpling is a perfect comfort food. Houston has many “proclaimed” best dumplings establishments. I too have made the quest to find the “Ultimate Dumpling” in Houston’s Chinatown to only find a handful places which I enjoy equally the same. When allowed the chance to have a lesson in Chinese Dumpling making I jumped on the opportunity. It was actually easier than I expected.
Filling: When selecting a filling choose what you like. Take this opportunity to add your flavor and twist to your dumplings. For this first lesson my instructor chose spiced ground pork and finely chopped jicama. My favorite spot for dumplings in Houston's Chinatown uses Cilantro and Pork. (Previous Review of X-Café)
Dumpling Wrappers: Dumpling wrappers can be found at Asian Markets. In Houston’s China town they are at every supermarket. Wrappers are usually found in the freezer section.

Begin by laying out the thawed dumpling wrappers.

Spoon the filling onto the wrappers. Allow ample space for folding.  
Brush the edges of the wrappers with warm water to help the wrapper adhere when folding.  
Fold the Wrapper Over and apply pressure to the edges.
The first few dumplings I made looked like Empanadas.
I was quickly taught the multiple edge folds which is characteristic of Chinese Dumplings.  
Next Boil the Dumplings until tender.
Quickly brown the dumplings by pan frying them.
Dumpling Sauce: Mix soy sauce, vinegar and sesame seed oil. Feel free to add sugar or chili flakes to adjust the sauce to your preference.
Dip the dumplings as you eat and enjoy!