Tag Archive | Chef

Jarlsberg Cheese Celebrates 60th Anniversary With Fabulous Party at Aquavit, NYC!

Cheese Wheel
Jarlsberg 20 Pound Cheese Wheel! (All Photos By Gail)

One of my favorite perks of writing this rad blog is being invited to a really nice press party; one where quality food, drink, atmosphere and fun people all come together to create a memorable experience that I just can’t wait to share with readers. A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate (and thrilled) to attend the 60th Anniversary Celebration for Norway’s most famous cheese, Jarlsberg – and what a fabulous bash it was!  Jarlsberg is popular here in the states, but you might not know much about the rich history of its Norwegian heritage.

jarlsberg-party-invite

Created in 1956, using an original Norwegian recipe, the Jarlsberg brand of cheese has been exported to the United States for over 50 years and is one of America’s most loved and best-selling brands of specialty cheese. It is named after Count Vadel Jarlsberg, whose estate was on the Oslo Fjord near where it was first manufactured. Known for its mild, mellow and nutty taste — unlike any other specialty cheese  — Jarlsberg is classified in the U.S.  as a Swiss/Emmenthaler type cheese. Jarlsberg (pronounced: Yarls Berg) cheese is one of America’s favorite specialty cheeses, and it’s a crowd-pleaser when served on a cheese board, for snacking, delicious in a sandwich, in an omelet, baked, or melted on top of a burger — and its exquisite melt-ability makes Jarlsberg an ideal choice for fondues. Most surprisingly, because of the process through which it is made, Jarlsberg is naturally lactose-free!

Buffet Spread

The party was held at Aquavit, a Michelin-starred, Scandinavian restaurant in midtown, which provided an elegant backdrop, complete with gracious, first class service for this special occasion. Jarlsberg CEO and President, John Sullivan was present, along with other Jarlsberg executives, who each addressed the gathering, and later were happy to mingle and chat with guests. We were also introduced to Aquavit‘s Executive chef Emma Bengtsson, who created a special menu for the evening that included Jarlsberg Cheese and other Norwegian Specialty Cheeses.

Here are some photos of the amazing food!

The Brown Cheese
What Everyone Was Talking About: Gjetost (AKA The Brown Cheese)

Shortly after I arrived, I was asked repeatedly if I had yet tried “The Brown Cheese” — which was the buzz of the buffet.  You can see what they were talking about on the right side of the platter in the above photo. Made under the Ski Queen brand (a subsidiary of Jarlesberg’s parent company, Tine) this Norwegian cheese is called Gjetost, and it includes a mixture of cow and goat’s milk. Gjetost has a unique, sweet flavor due to the way in which it is processed. The milk is cooked until the sugars in it have caramelized, giving the cheese its distinctive brown color and sweet flavor. The milk is then curded and pressed. This distinctive “brown cheese” (brunost) became popular as a skiers’ snack and thus was given the label Ski Queen. It is widely popular among Scandinavian-Americans, and children especially are drawn to its sweet flavor. I must agree, it was uniquely delicious! Brown Cheese!

Snofrisk Soft Cheese Spreads

Another Tine brand is Snøfrisk cream cheese spreads, which  are made from 80% goat’s milk and 20% cow’s cream. A touch of salt is added and that’s it: there are no artificial additives, preservatives or colorants. The creamy consistency of the cheese makes it perfect for use on a cracker, bread or as a snack together with fresh cut vegetables, nuts or honey.  Snøfrisk is the creamiest, lightest cream cheese I’ve ever tasted! At the party, we got to try  the original flavor as well as two of  four flavored varieties, Red Onion & Thyme and Wild Ramson Garlic, which will soon be available to buy here in the States along with Dill and Horseradish flavors.

Jarlsberg Cheese Crisps

Also present on the buffet were Jarlsberg Cheese Crisps, which are a new product for the brand. These incredible savory, crunchy baked crackers are handcrafted in small batches, and made with freshly shredded Jarlsberg Cheese that is immediately sprinkled on top of the crunchy crackers just prior to being baked. Jarlsberg Cheese Crisps take the mild, mellow and nutty flavor of Jarlsberg Cheese and bake it into a delicious crunchy snack. The Cheese Crisps in come in four flavors including Rosemary & Olive Oil and Mediterranean Sea Salt (pictured above), as well as Chipotle and Garlic & Herb. They are sturdy enough to hold a variety of toppings, and taste especially fantastic with a glass of red wine!

Cheese Snack Sticks

Also new to the brand are Jarlsberg Cheese Snacks, packaged cheese sticks which were cleverly hiding among the twigs of this centerpiece. At just 70 calories per snack, I threw a couple in my bag to take home!

Crowd Shot

The party got pretty crowded, but if you had trouble getting close to the buffet, there were no worries, as passed hors d’oeuvres from Chef Bengtsson were also offered.

Appetizers

Cheese and Snack Plate

Everything was so yummy!

The Bar

There was also a full bar with top shelf alcohol, and they would make any kind of drink you wanted. It was amazing!

Negronis

Look, a tray of Negronis!

Cosmo and wine

Cosmos and Wine made us feel fine!

Scotch and Aquavit

They were also serving authentic, chilled Aquavit (above, right). Aquavit (“Water of Life”) is an important part of Scandinavian Drinking Culture, where it is often enjoyed during festive gatherings, such as Christmas dinners and weddings, and as an aperitif. Although the recipes can vary, this Aquavit was vodka infused with cardamom and figs. It tasted like sweet fire. Skol!

Party Crowd

Thanks to both Jarlsberg and Aquavit for a truly wonderful evening!

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La Loteria: Serving Winning Mexican Food in NYC’s West Village!

La Loteria Skulls
Above Image Courtesy of La Loteria, All Food Photos By Anne Raso

If, like me, you happen to have lived in California, where they have excellent Mexican food on every corner, you already know that being a Mexican food enthusiast in NYC can be, shall we say, disappointing. It’s no secret that NYC restaurants can get a bit lost when it comes to delivering consistently excellent Mexican food. While many places do an acceptable job, or get two or three things (say, Guacamole) right, I’ve lost track of how many Mexican Restaurants not only miss basic details like baking the enchiladas in sauce (duh), but  also do weird things like putting Goat Cheese in the Quesadillas. Seriously, no me gustan.

But I never give up on my quest for great Mexican food, and that journey recently led me to La Loteria, a “Cocina Mexicana Moderna” on Seventh Avenue South that lives up to the hype of its 4.5 Star Yelp Reviews! Taking its name from a Mexican card game similar to American Bingo, La Loteria continues that sense of playfulness with its decor that features vibrant framed prints of La Loteria Cards and handmade Day of The Dead-style Mexican sculptures and figurines. The restaurant’s interior has a bright and modern feel with many endearing, traditional touches that lend it a distinctive look among its culinary competition. Props to whoever designed this space.

Operated by Chef Julieta Ballesteros (who also owns Crema and Los Feliz) and business partner Jaime Herrera, La Loteria’s well-focused menu doesn’t get distracted from what makes an excellent taco, while also bringing in fresh seafood, and taking just the right creative liberties with Mexican favorites like Flautas and Empanadas. The result is one of the best new Mexican Restaurants in NYC, maybe ever. Worleygig.com was recently invited to enjoy a tasting menu of some of La Loteria’s signature appetizers. Here’s a look at what we ate:

Guacamole Tradicional

Of course, we had to start with the Guacamole Tradicional ($13), served with still-warm, housemade chips. It tasted as good as it looks, with a hint of jalapeno added for a kick, and the tortilla chips were light, crispy and  delicious! You can add chicharrones (crispy fried meats), including ancho chile-dusted pork belly, to your Guacamole for an additional $5 to $7. This appetizer easily serves three adults.

Trio of Salsas

Complement your meal with the Salsas Del Valiente ($10) a trio of Specialty Salsas (also served with chips) that includes (left to right in the above photo): Roasted Chile de Arbol, Salsa Verde Cruda, and de Cacahuate Enchilado — a chunky/creamy, peanut-based salsa. Really nice!

Ceviche

The Ceviche de Pescado ($14) is made with a fresh fish of the day, and ours featured fresh-caught Red Snapper, mixed with the customary lime and citrus juices along with chunks of ripe  avocado, tomatillo and pickled cucumbers. La Loteria’s Ceviche is among the freshest and most flavorful I’ve ever eaten, and I highly recommend it if you are a lover of fresh seafood.

Tostaditos de Atun

Tostaditos de Atun ($14) are an array of mini-tostadas topped with a slice of fresh, chile-rubbed and pan-seared tuna, resting on a dollop of guacamole and dressed with sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, chipotle aioli and sweet mango salsa. It’s a ton of flavors in a couple of perfect bites.

Empanadas

Empanadas (Mexican filled turnovers) are a favorite of mine and La Loteria’s Empanadas are made with the flakiest, most tender pastry imaginable. We tasted two varieties including De Flor De Calabaza y Huitlacoche ($18 for three) which are stuffed with squash blossom, devil corn, chihuahua cheese, yellow bell pepper coulis and cotija cheese. Also on the menu are very savory empanadas De Papa con Chorizo ($14), filled with spicy potatoes, Mexican chorizo, cream, pasilla sauce (made with Pasilla Chiles) and cotija cheese. You can’t necessarily tell by the photo, but these Empanadas are huge and very filling!

Flautitas De Pato

I am also highly recommending the Flautitas De Pato en Trilogia de Salsas (Small Duck Flautas with Three Sauces, $16). Here, rolled corn tortillas are stuffed with juicy, shredded duck confit, corn and caramelized onions and then fried crispy, before  being topped with a colorful medley of avocado tomatillo, mole poblano (very chocolaty!) and chipotle aioli. This is a great plate to share.

Churros

For dessert, we were served two specialties of the house: warm Mexican Churros with Chocolate and Caramel Dipping Sauces (who doesn’t love churros?), and the Guava Pie, which are small tarts with layers of flan custard and sweet guava compote, then topped with whipped cream and sliced toasted almonds. Very original, light and delicious!

Guava Pie
Guava Pie

Service was friendly and accommodating all around. We didn’t do any drinking on this visit but we heard that La Loteria makes a mean Jalapeno Margarita! We’ll look forward to a return visit to try their take on Queso Fundido (Quesos Flameados) with homemade corn tortillas and many other Modern Mexican classics!

La Loteria is located at 29 7th Ave South (Varick Street, between Bedford & Morton). Hours are Sunday – Thursday, 12 Noon – 11:00 PM and Friday – Saturday 12:00 Noon – 2:00 AM, with a Happy Hour Daily from 4:00 – 7:00 PM. Call (212)858-9096 or visit them on the Web at This Link to make a Reservation.

Yes, it Exists: Food Truck Magazine

Food Truck Magazine Cover
Photos By Gail

This morning, I was walking to my office when a guy dressed in full on Chef Whites handed me what I thought was a takeout menu, but which turned out to be a copy of Food Truck Magazine. Apparently, Food Truck Magazine is now a thing. This makes sense since Food Truck competition shows are all over the TV and there are even Food Trucks parked in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see page 10 for a story on this hot button issue).

The premier issue of Food Truck Magazine has Shaquille O’Neal on the cover promoting Soup Mobile, his new joint venture with the Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame. Their catch phrase : “Soup For Me!” Also inside its informative pages you will find a very timely editorial on how Food Trucks should have Letter Grades, just like brick and mortar restaurants (I agree), announcements for new Food Trucks around the city, and a review of the recent John Favreau film, Chef – which, appropriately, is about a chef who owns a Food Truck!

Food Truck Magazine is clearly an idea whose time has come. I look forward to reading future issues! Visit them online at Food Truck Magazine Dot US. Mangia!

Food Truck Magazine Back Cover

Jonty Jacobs Debut South African-Style Biltong Shop in Greenwich Village

Jonty Jacobs Store Front
All Photos By Gail

At last month’s Summer Food Fete, we discovered a few favorite new specialty foods, one being a South African cured, dried meat snack called Biltong – which is very tasty – from an indie company called Jonty Jacobs.

Store Interior with Antelope Head
Jonty Jacobs Store Interior

Jonty Jacobs is so crazy about Biltong (the owners are from South Africa) and so convinced that New Yorkers will love it as well, that they have just opened a small Biltong and gourmet packaged food shop on Christopher Street, in the heart of the West Village.

Biltong Samples
Fresh, Hand Cut Biltong!

The Jonty Jacobs brick and mortar shop will allow patrons to custom-order their biltong by choosing the type of biltong (traditional, grass-fed or aged), lean or traditional, with or without spice and cut-style (chunks, shreaded or – for the aged biltong – prosciutto-style thin-cut).

We attended the shop’s soft opening in early July and had the chance to further sample not only their Biltong and other dried meat products, but to also enjoy wine pairings from the Mandela family vineyard and delicious South African style braai (BBQ)!

Mandela Wines
Mandela Family Wines Flowed Freely

Chef Hugo Uys at Work

South African chef and entrepreneur Hugo Uys (whom Jonty Jacobs has retained to consult on menu development) was on hand to grill up some delicious sausage and kebabs.

Grilled Sausage Sandwich
Grilled Sausage Sandwich

Grilled Kebab Meat
Mmm…Kebabs

Stocked Shelves

The store will also offer prepackaged droewors (dried beef sausage) available with or without spice, boerewors (south-african style sausage) available in regular beef, grass fed, lamb or pork, sosaties (marinated and skewered meat) available in all beef, beef, lamb and pork or lamb and beef. Additionally, they will carry a select range of truffle products, caviar, cheese, smoked fish, dips and South African snacks such as cookies, chocolate, dried fruits and teas.

Stocked Shelves

Stocked Shelves

Surely Jonty Jacobs can be to South African expats what Meyers of Keswick is to NYC’s transplanted British!

Jonty Jacobs is located in the heart of the West Village at 114 Christopher Street (between Bleeker & Hudson), NYC. Visit them on the web at Jonty Jacobs Dot Com for Store Hours and More Information.

Packaged Biltong

Zengo Previews Its New Test Kitchen Menu for “Japan to Mexico”

Zengo Interior
Zengo Serves Gorgeous Food in a Gorgeous Setting (Photos By Gail, Cocktail Photos Courtesy of Burke Communications)

Foodie Fans of The Worley Gig know that one of our very favorite dining destinations is the Asian-Latin fusion restaurant, Zengo, conveniently located adjacent to Grand Central Station. While the menu is consistently delicious, Zengo is dedicated to continually changing things up. And in this case, change is good!

Every few months, Chef Richard Sandoval and his culinary team at Zengo research and develop new recipes featuring the cuisine and spirits of one Latin and one Asian country. The result is a menu of specialty plates and cocktails that showcase the flavors and techniques from each region. The featured new dishes are marked with a special “TK” symbol on the menu, noting that they are exclusive and available for a limited time. The current “Test Kitchen” menu, unveiled at Zengo in January, is dubbed “Japan to Mexico,” for which Chef Sandoval drew inspiration from the rich and flavorful street foods of Japan and Mexico to create the new Test Kitchen menu.

Recently we were invited to enjoy a Tasting of the Japan to Mexico Test Kitchen Menu and were wowed once again by the Chef’s finely honed skill at blending and accenting the flavors of these two distinct cuisines. Here’s a review of what we ate:

Calamansi Old-Fashioned

It’s always fun to start off a meal with a potent and refreshing cocktail and Zengo features two new ones for Japan to Mexico. The Calamansi Old-Fashioned is made with Japanese whiskey, fresh Calamansi juice (similar to Orange Juice) and Agave Bitters. Surprisingly, this tastes like a fresh Blood Orange cocktail with no overpowering Whiskey taste and not one hint of bitterness. Delicious!

Shiro Margarita

Also on the cocktail menus is the Shiro Margarita blending Nigori Saki with 100% Agave Blanco Tequila, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and house-made sour mix. The Shiro Margarita is light and tart and will brighten the taste of whatever you are eating. These go down very smooth!

Octopus Carpaccio

Next up on our selection of TK small plates was the outstanding Octopus Aguachile Tiradito: an unbelievably tender Octopus carpaccio flavored with Ginger Green Chile broth and White Soy, tossed with crisp Asian Pear and luscious, ripe Avocado and garnished with sprinkling of Nori and Sesame Seeds. This was the most delicious and visually appealing presentation of Octopus I have yet tried — and that includes the Octopus and Chickpea Salad at MP Taverna, which is just insane.

Shrimp Tempura Rolls

Zengo is famous for its excellent sushi and vegetarian maki rolls and they’ve come up with another excellent offering in the Achiote Shrimp Tempura Roll – a Tempura Fried Shrimp with Avocado, Jicama Chile Lemon, Charred Scallion and dressed with a light Chile Toreado Aioli. I enjoyed dipping pieces of this roll in the dressing from the Octopus dish!

Pork Belly Sliders

Elevating Mexican Street Food are the Terikayi Pork Belly Gorditas “Sliders” – Fried Pork Belly with a sweet Teriyaki glaze, nested on a crispy Masa cake “Bun” with Oaxaca cheese, Guacamole, Caramelized Pineapple and Pickled Chiles for just a little bit of heat. If you’re a Bacon fan who’s looking to try something new and different, you’ll want to give this a try.

Lamb Shank

In the realm of hearty entrees, Zengo adds the Kabayaki Glazed Lamb Shank Barbacoa – fork-tender lamb marinated in a Ginger, Chiles and Tamarind glaze, served atop a bed of fragrant Arroz Verde and garnished with tender-crisp Pickled Carrots. The bones in this look intimidating, but the meat literally just falls away as soon as you prod it a bit with your fork. I loved the contrast of textures and flavors in this delightful dish.

Avocado Panna Cotta

And last but not least we sampled an unusual take on a traditional dessert, the Avocado Panna Cotta – Fresh Avocado Custard, served with tangy-sweet Tropical Fruit Salad and garnished an added crunch of Chocolate Cookie Crumbs. The mildly sweet true-Avocado taste of the Panna Cotta gets a kick from the chopped fruit and syrup accompaniment and the unexpected crunch of the cookie morsels add a fun texture to this not-overly-sweet ending to a fine meal.

Please note that all food photos in this post are representative of a group tasting presentation and expect the dish may look somewhat different when ordered for just one person.

Zengo is located at 622 Third Avenue (at the corner of 40th Street). Dinner is served Monday through Saturday from 5:00 PM onward. Lunch is served Monday – Friday from 11:30 AM -2:30 PM. For reservations, please call 212-808-8110 or visit their website at This Link. The Mexico-Japan menu is featured through March 31st, 2013 at all Zengo locations including New York City, Denver, Santa Monica and Washington D.C.

Raymi Peruvian Kitchen Offers a 6-Course Tasting To Spice Up Valentine’s Day

Raymi Tables and Bar
All photos Courtesy of EM50 Communications

Nothing says “I Love You” on Valentine’s Day quite like a really amazing meal that you don’t have to cook yourself! Luckily, Raymi Peruvian Kitchen and Chef Erik Ramirez are providing couples the necessary ingredients to spice up their romance with a Peruvian influenced Valentine’s Day. I’ve been to Raymi before and I can tell you, the place is gorgeous and the food is excellent!

Starting at 5:00 PM on the 14th, the Flatiron favorite is offering a six-course tasting menu (in addition to its regular a la carte menu) giving diners an array of options depending on their appetite. The six-course tasting menu ($65 per person) will feature three starters, two main courses and a decadent dessert to share. An additional wine pairing is available for $25 per person to compliment the blended flavors in the vibrant cuisine.

Raymi Ceviche

Each dish at Raymi is created to excite and tempt the palate from the first bite of aphrodisiac oysters all the way through to the rich chocolate dessert. Potential paramours will start with Oysters, followed by Lobster (causa, aji amarillo potato puree, avocado, spicy mayo) and Beets (mizuna, crème fraiche, haucatay, pistachio). For a third course, diners transition to the main courses of Halibut (a lo macho, mussles, shrimp, calamari, aji panca cream sauce) and Braised Short Ribs (seco, cilantro). A decadent chocolate dessert for two will complete the meal on a sweet note.

Raymi Meat Skewer

Every guest who participates in the tasting menu will receive a complimentary glass of champagne to start off the night and a rose will be placed on the table. Further setting the fine mood of the evening, Diners can revel in the romantic melodies of a live band, Christelle Durandy Quartet who will be performing a collection of Latin American genres such as Peruvian Valses, boleros and tangos.

Raymi Cocktail

If six courses is a bit too indulgent, Raymi’s full menu, featuring traditional and modern plates such as hanger steak, prepared in two different ways, seafood with jasmine rice, or the choice of an array of flavorful ceviches and tiraditos, will also be available. At the end of a deliciously romantic evening, every guest will take home a small gift bag containing housemade granola and a card for a free Pisco sour to be used at a later date.

Raymi Peruvian Kitchen is located at 43 West 24th Street (between 5th and 6th Aves). Please call 212-929-1200 for Reservations.

Teqa Revisited: Murray Hill Modern Mexican Gets a New Chef!

Teqa Pulled Pork Tacos
Sure, Teqa Still Does a Mean Taco, But There’s So Much More You’ll Want to Try (All Food Photos By Anne Raso)

It’s a fact that Foodies can get Fickle Fast. Even restaurants that have laser-like focus on a successful culinary groove may need to change things up in the kitchen sooner than anticipated. On a review visit to traditional Mexican eatery Teqa back in the late summer of 2011, this self-proclaimed ‘Taqueria & Tequileria’ was savoring its position as a hip newcomer and was all about promoting a ‘Tacos and Tequila’ vibe that would attract a fresh crowd to its Murray Hill neighborhood. But it wasn’t long before anyone with a Mexican food hankering could find Tacos and Tequila every few blocks. It was clearly time for a re-think, as Teqa came under new ownership, bringing in a new Chef, 28-year-old Steven Cruz (a private catering expert also formerly of the Lower East Side’s Orchard House).

Earlier this month, we were part of a large group of bloggers and journalists invited to dine at Teqa, meet Chef Cruz and sample many of his new dishes for ourselves. And while the menu has been revamped (think now of Teqa as a culinary equivalent alternative to Dos Caminos for when you’d rather not drop $100 on dinner and drinks), Teqa still feels comfortable and familiar. The cocktail menu still includes a full page, triple column listing of specialty tequilas offered behind the bar; and yes, Teqa’s cozy yet modern dining room still flaunts that amazing Tequila Bottle Chandelier by designer Johnny Swing. Here’s a walk through some of our favorite new items!

Teqa Avocado Ensalada

Our dinner kicked off with potent cocktails and a “family style” service of many of Teqa’s new featured appetizers, so everyone got a chance to try many things. The Avocado Ensalada (pictured above, $12) is a refreshing mix of carrots, frisee, cucumber, hearts of palm and chives dressed with a pleasantly sweet cilantro lime vinaigrette and, of course, a generous portion of rich ripe avocado.

Teqa Chips and Dips

The Chips & Dips ($15) deliver three varieties of Salsa, plus freshly-made Guacamole to be scooped up by both quick fried plantain and house-made tortilla chips, which is a nice take on a traditional antojito!

Teqa Guava Chicken Wings

Another sure to please starter is the Guava Chicken Wings ($10) — a generous portion of tender chicken drumettes grilled in a Guava BBQ Sauce with cilantro chimichurri dipping sauce on the side. Finger lickin’ good!

We also really enjoyed the Crispy Calamari ($12.00), which is lightly cornmeal crusted and served almost like a salad tossed with crisp Nappa Cabbage and a Chipotle Agave Aoili. Honestly, this is the best Calamari appetizer we’ve had in any NYC restaurant, ever. Tuna crudo lovers will absolutely want to try the Tuna on Crack ($16.00): Sushi Grade Tuna, avocado, cucumber, Sriracha, toasted sesame seeds and chive cilantro oil served with tortilla chips! Delicious!

Teqa Boneless Short Rib

The night’s superstar entrée selection proved to be the Boneless Short Rib ($25) one of Chef Cruz’s specialties. Preparation begins on this truly outstanding dish when Cruz arrives at the restaurant at 10 AM to begin braising the ribs for a total of seven hours. Tamarind BBQ Sauce adds flavor before and the dish is served simply over a roasted corn puree and topped with cilantro oil. Even though this is just one rib, it is a huge portion and the meat is so tender and lean it would fall off the bone if it was not already boneless! High Fives all around on this one.

Teqa Grilled Skirt Steak

Meat lovers should also check out the ample Grilled Skirt Steak ($28), marinated in chipotle adobe for 14 hours, then grilled to order and served with grilled scallions, yucca fries and chimichurri sauce.

Teqa Churros

Stand out desserts include a plate of traditional Mexican Churros (yummy donut sticks, $6) which arrived to the table crispy and hot from the fryer, dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with both dulce de leche and chocolate tequila sauces for dipping.

Teqa Chocolate Pudding

Another of Cruz’s new additions to the Teqa menu is the Crema De Chocolata ($8), a divine milk chocolate pudding which was light and luxurious but more substantial than a mousse. Just a dollop of whipped cream kicked it up a notch to sheer perfection. Cruz confessed that he adds a splash of tequila to all of his desserts!

Teqa is open late most nights and has what looks like a fantastic Brunch on the weekends that we are looking forward to checking out. Thanks to Teqa and Chef Cruz for hosting such a fun and delicious dinner!

Teqa is located at 443 Third Avenue (near 30th Street). Hours are Sunday and Monday 4:00 – 10:00 PM, Tuesday and Wednesday 4:00 PM – Midnight, and Thursday to Saturday 4:00 PM to 2:00 AM Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday starting at 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Phone 212)213-3223 for reservations or visit their website at Teqa Dot Com for menus and information on special events.

Gail Meets Chef Fabio Viviani!

Gail and Fabio Viviani

When you’re as dedicated of a Foodie as me, Celebrity Chefs are the new Rock Stars — and from Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain to Jonathan Waxman and Rocco Dispirito, I have met many of the best. But no previous personal collision with culinary genius has matched the heights squee-worthiness attained by my recent chance meeting with former Top Chef contestant and all around Fabulous uber Hottie, Fabio Viviani! I love him! Fabio happened to be shilling for Bertoli Olive Oil at last week’s Editor’s Showcase at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, and he was just as charming and charismatic in person as he is on TV. Fabio Viviani!

Bertoli Olive Oil Display
Bertoli Olive Oil Booth Display

Fabio was gracious enough to pose for a photo of us together and, as you can see by my face, this was a moment I will not soon be forgetting. But it wasn’t actually the first time I had seen Fabio out and about while I was on a Food blog related excursion. Two years ago, I was having drinks and snacks Upstairs at The Kimberly Hotel when I noticed a guy sitting at the table directly behind me who had what looked like a Sock Monkey clearly visible in his rear jeans pocket. Yes, I just typed that. A split second after my initial observation, Sock Monkey guy turned his head and I immediately recognized him as Fabio, who is one of my favorite contestants from Top Chef, ever.

I was just emboldened enough by alcohol consumption to have said something pleasantly confrontational to Fabio at that time, but his party was made up exclusively of very attractive women who were all clearly fawning over him, so the timing was a bit off. Minutes later, he was gone and I thought I had missed my chance, so thank you Bertoli Olive Oil and Editors Showcase for providing my a true fan moment with Fabio. And thanks Fabio, for your delicious food and just being you.

Restaurant Review: Coming Full Circle at Circolo45

Circolo 45 Exterior Shot
This and Interior Photo By Gail. All Food Photos By Anne Raso

Ask a random sampling of Manhattanites if they can tell you the location of Bond Street and most will likely either scratch their heads or offer that it must be somewhere in the Financial District. Because Bond Street is an enchanting enigma of NYC real estate, a kind of Urban Shangri-La, if you will. Stretching for just two short blocks above Houston, nestled between Broadway and Bowery — and still paved with cobblestones from the days when New York City was in its youth – Bond Street offers a mix of unique public art, both definitively modern and gorgeous historic architecture, and best-kept-secret foodie destinations. It’s appropriate then that 45 Bond Street is the address of Circolo45, an intimate Italian Trattoria featuring fresh takes on traditional favorites and exceptional, old world service.

Circolo 45 Interior Shot

Recently renovated just nine months after its initial opening, accents such as pastel-painted walls in the bar area and white-painted brick in the rear dining space, minimalist, line drawn portraits hung  throughout the restaurant, and the variable candlelit “mood lighting” all fit right in with Executive Chef and General Manager Daniele Sicuranza’s vision of Circolo45 as an Italian Retreat with a “simple, yet vibrant” atmosphere. The varied menu’s emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and an extensive offering of homemade pastas echo the themes of simplicity and comfort in a setting that elevates the dining experience.

Tizi Cocktail

We started off our evening with one of Circolo’s specialty cocktails, the Tizi; a rose-colored elixir similar to a Cosmopolitan but with Elderflower syrup added. Delicious! I like my cocktails fruity and potent, and this delivered on both counts.

Eggplant Parmigiana
Eggplant Parmigiana with Tomato Sauce and Basil

Our cocktails put us in a nice, relaxed mood to peruse the impressive menu, which seems to offer a taste of the various regions of Italy to please every palate. The Appetizer section alone was overflowing with dishes I felt excited to try just from reading their descriptions. Agreeing to go with the classics, we chose to split the Meatballs Florentine Style and the Eggplant Parmigiana (both priced at $12.00). The Eggplant Parm, a perfect size for sharing which arrives with a golden cheesy top, is extremely rich and creamy, more so than I’ve tasted with this dish when ordered at other restaurants. I’m told that the mousse-like texture is owed to additional baking time. If you want the taste of eggplant to really stand out rather than be hidden by the flavors of other ingredients, this is the dish for you.

Meatballs
Meatballs Florentine Style with Tomato Sauce

The Meatballs, served in a ramekin with tomato sauce, sliced bread for dipping, and fresh rosemary, have very little binder added, so they are meaty and satisfying. These are also a good sharing size, especially if you want to sample several items from the menu without getting too full before your main course arrives!

Two starter dishes I’d definitely like to try on a future visit are the Arancini (Fried Rice Balls with Ragu, $10) — which are always a comfort-food favorite – and the Vitello Tonnato ($13), featuring cold, sliced Veal served in a Tuna Sauce. I had this dish once before, at Da Silvano on Sixth Avenue back in the nineties, and I’ll never forget it. It would be interesting to discover if Circolo45’s offering could compare with my fond memories.

Spaghetti with Black Truffles
Spaghetti Alla Chitarra Con Tartufo Nero Estivo

From Circolo’s extensive selection of fresh, house made pastas we chose a signature dish of the house, the Spaghetti Alla Chitarra Con Tartufo Nero Estivo: Fresh Egg Spaghetti with Black Summer Truffle ($20). The thick, al-dente cooked noodles are similar in size to Japanese Udon noodles for a hearty bite. This dish is perfectly seasoned and fragrant with truffle oil as well as a generous addition of sliced Black Truffle. We  reflexively asked our server for grated cheese but were advised to just try the dish sans cheese and let the truffle richness prove itself to be flavor perfection on its own. She was right; no cheese was needed.

Other delectable pasta choices include one of my favorites, Traditional Lasagna Alla Bolognese ($13), and the Paccheri Alla Genovese; Pasta served in a Veal Shoulder Ragu, cooked slowly in the oven ($15). I can imagine that the Veal Shoulder Ragu is exceptional, based on the next dish we tried.

Beef Shoulder

Another specialty is the Spezzatino Alla Toscana, Beef Shoulder oven-baked at low temperature served with tender, golden Potatoes, Tomato and Basil ($24). This wonderful dish is comparable to a pot roast or rustic beef stew. The meat is fork-tender and the large chunks of potatoes are cooked perfectly. If you are not sharing this, you will have enough to take home for a second meal (as I did, and it was even more delicious the second time)!

Steak and fish lovers will also find lots of tempting selections on Circolo45’s menu– from an oven-baked, Salt Crusted Branzino for Two ($54) to a reasonably-priced selection of steaks which we understand are prime cuts!

Brussels Sprouts

A generous side of Roasted Brussels Sprouts (all sides are just $5) could easily serve three people. The tender sprouts are roasted using very little olive oil, in case you are counting calories!

Chocolate Souffle

Circolo45’s dessert selections change daily and we let our excellent server surprise us. Giving us enough time for our food to settle a bit, she returned from the kitchen with a gorgeous and feather light Chocolate Souffle ($9.00). Light and crispy on top and just oozing with a rich Valhrona Chocolate center, this souffle is a few cuts above the ubiquitous warm /molten chocolate cake you see on every menu in town. A perfect ending to a rich and satisfying dining experience. We look forward to a return visit!

Circolo45 is located at 45 Bond Street Between Lafayette and Bowery. Hours are Monday to Sunday, 5:30 – 10:30 PM. Please Call 212-375-0323 for Reservations. Visit their Website at Circolo 45 Dot Com.

Brother Jimmy’s BBQ Murray Hill Celebrates 5 Year Anniversary with Block Party Feast!

Brother Jimmys Exterior

Brother Jimmy’s BBQ’s Murray Hill location proudly celebrates its 5 year anniversary this month. The popular southern BBQ restaurant and nightlife outpost has consistently served up quality cuisine, flowing cocktails and great memories as patrons continue to “Put Some South in Yo’ Mouth.” Now, in an effort to give back to the community that has allowed Brother Jimmy’s BBQ Murray Hill to thrive, the restaurant will host a Backyard BBQ Block Party on Tuesday, August 20th from 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM at its Lexington Avenue and 31st Street location.

Brother Jimmy’s Backyard BBQ Block Party will feature free concession stands to anyone passing by, with enough food to feed over 1,000 people. Brother Jimmy’s BBQ fans will be able to enjoy cotton candy and popcorn machines, along with many signature dining favorites such as Frickles, 500 Pulled Chicken Sliders, 150lbs of Rib Tips, Cole Slaw, Corn on the Cob and refreshing home brewed iced tea and lemonade. A BBQ Block Party would not be complete without a whole hog smoking right alongside the sidewalk. Executive Chef Eva Pesantez will be serving up the whole hog into over 1,000 signature Brother Jimmy’s BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches.

Brother Jimmys Interior

“We are thrilled to reach this milestone in Murray Hill,” says CEO Josh Lebowitz. “Brother Jimmy’s BBQ Murray Hill has grown into a community of regular customers. The least we could do was put together this Backyard BBQ Block Party to show how much we appreciate their continued patronage until the next celebrated anniversary.”

All Brother Jimmy’s BBQ fans are encouraged to make their way over to Lexington at the corner of 31st Street on August 20th to partake in the festivities!

Brother Jimmys Signage