Tag Archives: Chef

Dining at Uskudar, NYC’s Best Turkish Restaurant!

Uskudar Interior Shot
All Photos By Gail

Heavyweight Champion Mohammed Ali once said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” Promoting itself as a Taste of Istanbul in the Heart of New York City, Uskudar Turkish restaurant’s 30-year dedication to authentic and delicious dishes has earned them a reputation for serving the very best Turkish cuisine in the City. Stop in for a visit and you will soon discover that the food speaks for itself.

Olives

Uskudar’s Chef/Owner Ibrahim Ozdemir began his 40-year career in the restaurant industry baking bread in one of Istanbul’s biggest hotels. When he opened Uskudar on the upper East side in 1987, his objective was to serve dishes whose flavors could transport diners to his homeland, if only for a few hours.

Turkish Bread

Ozdemir still bakes the fluffy, chewy bread that arrives at your table hot from the oven, and he takes care that every dish he serves is as fresh and authentic as possible. Even the lamb they serve is butchered on site. Uskudar’s extensive menu offers something for every palate,  including chicken, seafood, lamb and an array of vegetarian dishes. The narrow space is warm and cosy, with exposed brick, and back & white photographs of Istanbul landmarks adorning the walls. With the attentive, friendly service, you will feel at home right away.

I dined at Uskudar with a friend who had been there many times before, and she had been talking to me about the restaurant for weeks before we were able to finally a make date. There were so many dishes that she wanted me to try that we ended up ordering way more food than two people could possibly eat, but it was worth it.

Mucver and Borek

Two must-try appetizers are the Mucver — shredded zucchini fritters fried to a golden brown crispiness on the outside, but moist on the inside —  and Borek — crispy pan-fried phyllo rolls, stuffed with crumbled feta and spinach. Both taste great topped with a little dollop of tangy homemade yogurt.

Meze Platter
Mediterranen Meze Platter

An excellent way to sample many different tastes is to opt for the Mediterranean Meze Platter, featuring generous portions of assorted vegetarian appetizers including Yalanci Dolma (Grape leaves stuffed with rice, black currants, onions, pine nuts), Spinach Tarator (Spinach dip made with  labne — a strained-yogurt cheese — with garlic, and minced walnuts), Hummus (traditional Chickpea dip with tahini, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice), Fasulye Pilaki (White Kidney Beans with scallions, tomato, garlic), Ezme (Tomato, onion, parsley, and walnut spread), and Patlican (Smoky eggplant dip with garlic, yogurt, herbs). Two hungry diners could easily make a satisfying meal from this selection of exotic and flavorful dips, accompanied by a basket (or two) of fresh bread and a generous pour from the wine list. If you are dining with a group, the Meze Platter can easily serve as an appetizer for three to four people. It’s huge!

Chicken Yogurt and Rice
Chicken Yogurt and Rice Pilaf

For an entree, I wanted to try a dish that I had not tasted before, but which had familiar ingredients, so I chose the Chicken Yogurt, which is chunks of chicken breast baked with sautéed pita and yogurt in a little casserole dish. Like all entrees, it comes with a side of your choice of rice or vegetables, and I chose the fluffy rice pilaf.

Chicken Yogurt Close Up

Here’s a close-up shot, where you see that a few colorful peppers and tomatoes have been added for flavor and texture. The chicken in this dish is absolutely succulent, and perfectly season. The sautéed pita maintained the consistency of a firm noodle, and the yogurt blended with the natural juice of the chicken to create a light sauce. This dish was excellent, and it would also be a good choice for a non-adventurous diner (we all know them) who had not tried Turkish food before.

Vegetable Casserole

My dining companion wanted to try the Vegetable Casserole, because although she eats meat, it was one of the few dishes she had not tried before. This dish is very simple,  comprised of a variety of vegetables such as carrots zucchini, potatoes and onions stewed in a tomato sauce, and served with a side of rice or vegetables. My friend asked if she could have a bit of both rice and vegetables as her side, and they were happy to accommodate her.

I will admit that after enjoying so many delicious appetizers, I purposely ate only about half my entree (taking the leftovers home), because I knew what was coming up next: Dessert!

Uskudar Dessert Menu

Uskudar makes all of their authentic Turkish desserts on premises, and while they may have unfamiliar names, you will surely recognize Baklava, a pastry made with many layers of flakey filo dough, baked with nuts and honey syrup. There are also Turkish versions of Flan, Chocolate Pudding, and Rice Pudding on the menu.

Turkish Dessert Trio
Trio of Desserts

Since my friend is a regular customer, she asked our server if the kitchen could put together smaller servings of three of her favorite desserts for us to share. Again, they were happy to do so. Here’s what we ate.

Baklava

This is the Baklava, which is studded with chopped pistachio nuts, gooey with honey, and very rich. One tiny piece was plenty after such a large meal.

Kadayif

This dessert is called Kadayif, which is a pastry that’s very similar to Baklava, except is it make with shredded wheat.

Kayisi 2

Last but not least, you must try the Kayisi: Pouched Apricots stuffed with a whole Almond, and topped with sweet Whipped Cream and finely chopped Pistachios. This sweet treat is simply divine, and I will order it every time I come back to Uskudar. Amazing.

While menu prices are very reasonable, Uskudar also offers a three-course price fixe lunch for just $19, and a three-course ‘early bird’ dinner (served 4 – 7 PM) for a mere $27 — which are unbelievable bargain prices for Manhattan restaurant dining. Whether Turkish cuisine is your favorite, or you’re just in the mood for trying something new, be sure to put Uskudar on your radar to enjoy an unforgettable culinary experience.

Uskudar is Located at 1405 2nd Avenue (Between 73rd & 74th Streets), Just One Block from the 72nd Street Q Stop, In NYC. Uskudar also offers outside catering, and they can host private parties, or small corporate events. Visit Their Website at This Link for More Information!

Benares Indian Restaurant: Cozy Fine Dining in Tribeca

Table Top Art Shot
All Photos By Gail

If you’re looking for delicious and authentic Indian cuisine in NYC, it really isn’t hard to find. There are even a few neighborhoods — like East 6th Street or Curry Hill — with a concentration of reliable eateries that can satisfy any craving you might have for Indian Cuisine from a variety of regions. Great Indian restaurants are everywhere, but I have a couple of favorite places that stand out for me as being worth going out of my way for, and one of those is Benares. My foodie friend Anne and I attended an event at Benares back in 2012 to celebrate the opening of its now-former midtown location, and I still recall the delicious small bites and refreshing craft cocktails, along with gracious service and a comfortable but classy vibe that we experienced. So I jumped at the chance to revisit Benares now that the restaurant has relocated to Murray Street in Tribeca. We felt welcome the minute we walked in the door.

Continue reading Benares Indian Restaurant: Cozy Fine Dining in Tribeca

Japanese Confectioner Malebranche Launches Maru Cha Cha Cookie With a Fun Party At The Whitney!

Maru Cha Cha Packaging
All Photos By Gail

Food and Art go together; so what better venue could there be for throwing a cookie launch party than an actual art museum? We were recently invited to the Whitney Museum of American Art on Gansevoort Street to celebrate leading Japanese French-style confectioner Malebranche’s U.S. launch of its Maru Cha Cha matcha-based  biscuits, and the evening was a terrific mix of food, art and Japanese culture.

Whitney Museum Exterior Elevation
Whitney Museum with the High Line in the Foreground

The event went beyond the traditional cocktail party to include not only cocktails and delicious passed appetizers, but also tastings of the unique Maru Cha Cha cookies, including an indulgent Trifle dessert recipe by James Beard Award-winning Chef Michael Anthony. Guests had the chance to meet and mingle with the Japanese brand-influencers behind Malebranche  (a high end bakery in Japan) and to learn what Matcha — the key ingredient in the Maru Cha Cha biscuits — is all about.

Continue reading Japanese Confectioner Malebranche Launches Maru Cha Cha Cookie With a Fun Party At The Whitney!

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!

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