There’s no doubt about it: it’s a scorcher out there. On a hot summer night in NYC, you want three things: cold drinks, delicious food, and air-conditioning — and if you can add a little atmosphere, all the better. If you find yourself in Hell’s Kitchen, looking for a break from the heat, a refreshing cocktail and some hearty eats, I recommend a new restaurant that tics all the boxes: El Cartel. Open for just over a month, El Cartel specializes in Colombian cuisine, serving a variety of regional favorites including fresh Shrimp Ceviche, Cazuela de Mariscos, Red Snapper, Chuleta de Cerdo, homemade Empanadas and a sampler platter known as Bandeja El Cartel (more about that coming up). Continue reading El Cartel Brings Colombian Home-Cooking to Hell’s Kitchen!
It is no secret that eating and watching television are two of my favorite things to do in the world. And considering the fact that one of my favorite shows of all time is Bravo’s Top Chef, it did not take much prodding to get me to purchase tickets to attend former Top Chef contestant Carla Hall’s Pop Up Restaurant/dinner event at David Burke’s In The Box restaurant at Bloomingdale’s. Tickets to this event were offered, at what most people would consider to be kind of a steep price, through the Living Social website, but the expense proved to be so very worth it. Because Carla’s food is just insane!
It was especially fun to be joined for this spectacular culinary evening by my good friend Diane (a.k.a.”Diaaahhne!”), as she is also a fellow Top Chef fan and especially a fan of Carla’s. Following are photos and brief descriptions of the food we ate, which you will notice get progressively blurrier as the evening wears on, due to the unique cocktail pairings that accompanied each course, of which I was drinking many. Enjoy!
This tiny rice ball packed a lot of flavor, being perfectly crispy fried, and stuffed with tender rice and a plump mushroom morsel, all nestled on a tiny puddle of spicy remoulade. When we ate this thing, Diane and I agreed that it was the best food we had yet eaten in our lives. Little did we know that we would feel similarly about each piece of food we put in our mouths that evening.
Carla’s unique take on what she calls “inside out” Mac and Cheese comes off like a cheese stuffed tortellini made of most tender pasta you can imagine. The buttery, savory sauce was further enhanced by crumbles of crispy, salty bacon. I used a spoon to get every drop of the sauce. It was pure heaven. Best thing you ever ate, times two.
The Cocktail pairing for this course was called “15 Ingredient Sangria,” with a medley of 15 ingredients that I believe mostly included fruit and also seltzer to make the sangria effervescent.
Up next was Carla’s Southern specialty, Hot Chicken Bite, which rivaled my grandmother’s fried chicken for its insanely delicious, super-crispy fried skin. People who have not experienced super-crispy fried chicken skin have really not tasted one of the most delicious things that you can lay upon your tongue. This perfectly succulent fried chicken thigh was set on a tiny square of white bread, because that is how they serve it in the south, and was accented by a spicy hot Tabasco-like pepper sauce for that extra kick. The accompaniment/garnish of chopped fresh tomato and cucumber salad helped to cool the fire. Finger lickin’ good, as they say
Accompanying the spicy chicken was a sweet and refreshing Strawberry Margarita with House-Infused Strawberry Tequila. I’m not super crazy about the taste of tequila, but this is fantastic.
You can see that the photos are now in somewhat-less-than perfectly sharp focus, because at this juncture I have had three cocktails within a relatively short period of time. Not to mention, but you can see I am about you, the fact that by now the energy level in the room has kicked up a few notches and people are getting a little crazy over this delicious food. There was a lot of clinking of glasses going on and rampant moaning about how, OMG, this was the best food anyone had ever tasted and how surely we could now be at peace with death after having eaten such a fantastic meal.
Nothing goes with red meat quite like red wine. And you know how I feel about red wine.
You should not be too surprised to hear that I had great difficulty even spooning a few mouths-full of Carla’s delightful banana pudding into my gaping maw after stuffing my face with all of her mind-blowing gourmet dishes and drinking myself into a stupor. I did my best.
Man, what a nice cocktail!
I forgot to mention that at the start of each course, Carla came out from the kitchen and talked to us about the next dish we would be eating, its inspiration or origin, and how the ingredients worked together to make it super special. Later, as the evening was winding up Carla made sure to stop at every table and talk to each person, to pose for photos and just to be her amazingly cool and talented self. This Pop Up dining event was Carla Hall’s second session of these dinners that she’s held at David Burke, so be on the lookout for her to show up doing something like this again in the future. I do my best to enjoy my life, and to treat myself to nice things when the opportunity arrives to do so. Like I said, it was a pricey evening, but it was one that was worth every penny and an experience I’ll never forget. Carla Hall!