Category Archives: International Restaurants

{ Yauatcha in Soho, London }

R0062306

15-17 Broadwick Street
London, W1F 0DL
+44 20-7494-8888

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By my third night in England, I was craving sushi. I googled a handful of different Asian hot spots throughout the city but was unable to snag a last minute reservation before 11:30 pm. This may not have posed a problem for a posh English chick looking to grab a light bite before the club, but for my hungry American ass….no can do! I needed food and I needed it fast, so I settled for the first Asian restaurant that I could get into:  Yauatucha in Soho.

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Yauatucha is a Michelin star-rated Chinese restaurant, specializing in dim sum. I would also argue that they specialize in the art of perfect cocktails, with unique recipes and beautiful garnishes for the glass. The specialty cocktail list is longer than most restaurants’ a la carte menu! After much deliberation, I opted for a Black River Martini, made with Johnnie Walker Black label, apricot liqueur, Drambuie, blackberry and apple juice (£10.30). It was the perfect blend of strong liquor and sweet fruit–a little dangerous, might I add!

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Choosing from the extensive dim sum menu is a rather difficult task. All of them are incredibly original, fusing flavors from the East and West in little dough balls that keep you longing for just one more bite. My personal favorite was the Roasted Duck Pumpkin Puff with Pine Nuts (£5.50). 

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Let me break it down for you: Melt-in-your-mouth roasted duck and pine nuts stuffed inside sweet and sticky pumpkin rice, deep fried to a golden perfection, and topped with delicate greens to make the dough ball resemble a pumpkin! This is certainly not traditional dim sum, but it damn sure is memorable.

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Next in the plate rotation was a more traditional steamed dim sum with Spicy Pork Szechuan and Peanuts (£4.60). If this had come to the table first, I probably would have loved it, but it seemed so uninspiring following the decadent Pumpkin Puff. It was tasty, but boring and predictable.

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The final appetizer to arrive at the table was the Prawn and Beancurd Cheung Fun. I’ve never had cheung fun before so I didn’t gravitate towards it on the menu, but the waiter convinced me to order it, claiming that it was one of his favorite meals. I was disappointed and thought the dish was barely mediocre, with too much prawn filling and too little rice noodle. I didn’t love the way that the textures came together, but I am glad to say that I tried it.

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I’m all about symmetry, so to follow my 3 rounds of appetizers, I decided to keep things in balance by ordering 3 main plates. I am obsessive….I am aware.

I’ll start with my favorite of the three entrees, which was the Mongolian Style Venison with Butter and Black Pepper Sauce (£20.50). As a Pennsylvania resident, venison tends to conjure up images of the Poconos mountains and my Uncle poking fun at reindeer stew. It is not a protein that would consider a delicacy or decadent. Again, the waiter persuaded me into ordering this dish and boy did  he redeem himself for the Cheung Fun mishap! The meat was lean and well seasoned, and the veggies were crisp and bright. The black pepper sauce was rich but complimented the tender venison.

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Up next was the Stir-fry Rib Eye Beef in Black Bean SauceI thought the meat was good, but the sauce was way too salty. I found  myself washing down each bite with a large gulp of water to rinse out the sodium. Skip the bean curd.

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Lastly, I tried an order of the Stir-Fry Vermicelli with Prawn and Squid (£10.30). I had high hopes for this traditional noodle dish, but they fell flat because the seafood was almost non-existent. There were two or three baby prawns and only a handful of squid. The noodles had great flavor and it made for a nice side to the rich meat entrees, but I wouldn’t suggest ordering this as one’s main dish.

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Overall, I would definitely go back but just for the exotic cocktails and inventive dim sum! The over-priced entrees are hardly worth it and limit the number of flavors that you can experience during your meal.

 

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Filed under Asian Cuisine, Bars, Cocktails, Dessert, Gluten Free, International Restaurants, London Restaurants

{ Sketch Restaurant in London: The Gallery }

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9 Conduit Street
London WIS 2XG
+44 (0) 20 7659 4500

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I rarely save obligatory tourist sights for my last day when traveling in a new city. And this is a rather difficult feat for me, provided that I am, by nature, a procrastinator in all other aspects of my life. I quit procrastinating in travel, however, after my recent trip to Barcelona—a city that I must revisit since I left without ever laying eyes on Parque Guell. I saved that monumental attraction for my final day in Spain, spending the rest of my time (and money) on binge drinking and partying down by the notoriously shitty beach. I planned to visit Picasso’s masterpiece on June 31st, before flying out to Prague. But the 31st never came because there are only 30 days in June, and thus I left the city with a month-long hangover, very little cultural enrichment, and hardly and cash.

Since then, I have made it a point to get my sightseeing done first. But due to the limited space and late reservations, I was forced to save the London Eye experience for the last night of my trip…which turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise, because it was the perfect note to end my trip upon! I also indulged in one of the most incredible meals of my life after seeing the beautiful views of London from the top of the Eye.

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Where did I dine, you ask?

9 Conduit Street in Mayfair, London.

If you are into food, art, fashion design, or architecture, then you may be familiar with the address. The opulent townhome has served as the headquarters for the Royal Society of British Architects, the atelier of Christian Dior, and is currently home to the 2 star Michelin-rated French restaurant run by Executive Chef, Pierre Gagnaire.

Even if French food isn’t your cup of tea, if your pockets are deep enough, I suggest that you at least pay a visit to check out the unique ambiance. The décor is parallel to none; with each room in the space taking you on a journey that is evocative of trippy dream. There are three different dining rooms—each one offering a different menu and price point—as well as two ultra posh cocktail lounges. The whole venue is a riot of color and an onslaught to the senses. But the loud and quirky design makes this Michelin restaurant feel, dare I say, comfortable?!

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After studying all of the menus, I chose to dine at the Gallery, which is the more informal restaurant space with more reasonably priced menu items. British artist, Martin Creed, has transformed the space into a serviceable museum of modern art with eclectic chairs and one-of-a-kind dinnerware.

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To start, I ordered the Chestnut Velouté with white truffle oil, and pan-fried squid sautéed with garlic and cherry tomatoes (£15). It was velvety, rich, and every bit delicious. I cleared the bottom of my bowl with the trio of freshly baked breads that were brought to the table (£4).

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The second appetizer that I tried was the Dublin bay prawn tempura with haricot beans and aubergine, accompanied by an Osframpi sauce (£25). The prawns were delicious but sadly, there were only three of them—typical French portions! I didn’t expect the vegetables would also be deep fried, and I found them a bit bourgeois in contrast to the otherwise haute cuisine. The osframpi sauce was magical, however, due in part to the fact that I’ve never tasted one before. Essentially, it is a puree of wild berries balanced with some sort of lemon acidity to cut the sweetness. I did not use it for the prawns, but rather as a spread for the breadbasket.

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For my entrée, I ordered the Cannon of lamb roasted en crépine, Niçoise socca, swiss chard pomponette (£28). The lamb was cooked to perfection and the sauce dressing the plate was to die for, but I have had better cuts of meat before. I cleared the plate none-the-less, which easy to do at a French restaurant—oftentimes in just two bites!

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To accompany my main dish, I ordered a side of the homemade pumpkin and chestnut gnocchi (£6), which were fabulous. They were so delicate with all of the vegetables minced into perfect little cubes, and the pasta was browned on the outside and tender and chewy on the inside.

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There was little hesitation when it came to choosing a dessert; naturally, I opted for the chocolate one: Sketch Chocolat, which is a dark chocolate box filled with vanilla cream, nougatine, dried fruits, caramel syrup and coffee genoise. On the side, of the box was a little shooter filled with pistachio ice cream with pineapple and mango coulis (£10). I also got the suggested after-dinner drink, The Whisk Away, made with Laphroaig Whisky and Kalua (£7). The coffee notes in the dessert and cocktail complimented one another beautifully.

All in all, Sketch is about the experience: the art, the atmosphere, the service, the exotic bathrooms! Sure, the food is very, very good, but it is the ambiance that is over-the-top. I would certainly return, possibly in some high heels next time, with slightly lower expectations of the food.

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Filed under Bars, Brunch, Cafe / Bistro, Cakes, Cocktails, Coffee Shop, Cookies, Cupcakes, Dessert, French Restaurants, International Restaurants, London Restaurants, Lunch Spots

{ The Crabtree in London } ****

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020-7385-3929
Rainville Road, London
W6 9HA

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I arrived in London around 11 am on a Sunday morning after a long 10-hour traveling experience without eating any food. Needless to say, I arrived in London hungry and ready to begin my food chronicles. My first meal was a proper Sunday Roast from The Crabtree in Fulham, which is a quaint and cozy little spot with a traditional English menu. The three roast options included: chicken, beef, and pork belly. I went for the beef with horseradish sauce, while my friend opted for the heavier pork belly with applesauce. Each was served with a Yorkshire pudding and gravy, roasted root vegetables, a stewed red cabbaged, and pureed butternut squash.

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Unfortunately, I was so hungry that I devoured mine without actually taking the time to process all of the flavors, so there isn’t much to say other than the fact that it was delicious. I cleared the plate within a few short minutes, excited to cross Yorkshire pudding off the “to-eat” list for London. One down, and twenty or so to go!

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I did love the atmosphere of the place though, especially as it was fitted out for Christmas with a beautiful tree and all sorts of lighted Holiday decorations. The bar seemed like a cozy place to grab a drink in the winter and during the summer months, they have a gorgeous outdoor patio equipped with grills for barbequing.

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Filed under Bars, Breakfast, Brunch, Cafe / Bistro, Cocktails, International Restaurants, London Restaurants, Lunch Spots, Take-Out

{ The Borough Market in London }

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Whenever I go into a city, I feel pressured to eat—and drink—just about everything in sight. In a brief two-block stroll, I can usually find time to eat a pastry, sample a gelato, snack on an over-priced French macaron or chocolate, down a cup of fancy coffee, and possibly even grab a cocktail of some sort. It’s down right impressive, albeit slightly sickening to my friends that are forced to dip into every corner shop café with me!

Why does the city send me into this preposterous food frenzy, you ask?

Because I am from the suburbs!! The suburbs of Philadelphia, no less: a place where good food requires some serious gas mileage and planning. You can’t find an authentic Italian restaurant, a crab shack, a sake lounge, and an artisanal chocolatier all within the same one-mile radius! If you want Indian, you drive to Iselin, NJ. If you want Italian, you drive to South Philly. If you want French, you’re shit outta luck. My point is, that you’re driving if you want to get good ethnic foods. So when I see Cambodian sandwiches, ramen, French pastries, and kebabs all within the same street, I get beside myself and feel the urge to try it all simply because it is there!

My most recent trip to London kept me eating around the clock because of the seemingly endless number of cafes and pubs, each one more adorable than the next. I plan to give a full review each meal, but I want to start off with my absolute favorite food experience in London, which doesn’t take place in a restaurant at all, but rather an open-air food market called the Borough Market.

My idea of heaven is an endless Borough Market where every vendor has free samples and they don’t judge you for taking more than one, instead they encourage it! The food is free, and it has no caloric value, and you never feel full so you can just keep on eating, and eating, and eating. #FatGirlProblems

The Best Prepared Meal Item: Thai Green Curry Paella with Chicken & Seafood over Rice. I did my research on the market before going (aka Googled the shit out it to see what other bloggers were saying!) in so that I could make an informed decision on what to eat once I got there. I read that the Paella place was one of the best, and I can confirm that it was better than some seafood dishes I had in Spain. It was creamy and flavorful and the rice was tender without being mushy. A food experience that was borderline otherworldly.

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The Best Cheese: The Borough Cheese Company’s 15 mo. aged Comte

It was the first cheese we sampled going into the market, and we continued to go back for more samples until we found ourselves just pounding down his entire platter one sample after another. Then it got awkward and we decided we were obligated to make a purchase, which was noshed down that same evening. I ate it like a slice of watermelon, right down to the rind, holding the wedge between my two hands.

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The Best Exotic Item for Purchase: Tartufaia Truffles’ White Truffle Honey

Need I say more? Truffle + Honey = guaranteed foodgasm

I might just have to fly back for more once I eat it all, and for only 5 pound a jar, it is the best bargain in London!!!

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The Best Eat at Home Purchase: West Country Preserves

I bought the Spicy Gooseberry with Cumin Seeds, which is more savory than sweet. It pairs well with chicken and meat, but also toast if your taste buds are like mine! I also bought one of the Ginger Curds, which is a sweetened yet naturally spicy spread that pairs lovely with toast and desserts. My friends got the pure Ginger Preserves, which were intensely flavorful but also amazing. The man knows how to sell too—he loves encouraging samples! I think I tried all 32 varieties before selecting my final two for purchase.

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Other Items I purchased and loved:

 Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella – So creamy and tender. I coupled these bad boys with some sliced tomatoes and avocado wedges when I got back home and they were lovely.

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Date and Walnut Bread from The Flour Station– I was on a date kick after my trip to Harrods (where I bought the best dates of my life!), and so I decided to get loaf of this bread. It turned out to be my breakfast pregame and late night snack for the remaining days of my trip. A fabulous purchase!

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Roasted Porchetta Sandwich with Applesauce and Rockett on Ciabatta – this was not my favorite, as I found the meat a bit too fatty and difficult to swallow. That being said, I did love the deep rosemary flavor to the meat and the pairing of the sweet applesauce, which is something I will replicate at home in the future.

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Mulled Wine – It was my first English mulled wine experience, so I will have a special place for it in my heart, but I went on to have much better from street vendors at the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. And priced at 4 pound a cup, it was difficult to catch a buzz!

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Chocolates and Fudge from Burnt Sugar– I loved the chocolate covered honeycombs made with rich dark chocolate, but learned that fudge is not really my thing. It might be the only food that I can say isn’t one of my weaknesses.

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Filed under Bakery, Baking, Breakfast, Brunch, Cocktails, Coffee Shop, Cookies, Dessert, International Restaurants, London Restaurants, Markets

Ilili *****

ilili
212.683.2929
236 5th Ave (corner of West 27 & 5th)
New York, NY 10001

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I am the kind of foodie that seeks out hole in the wall restaurants,  loves eating sketchy street foods, and believes that you can get 5-star quality food from a truck. That being said, I also do occasionally enjoy going to hyped up,  “mega restaurants” in the city to determine whether or not they are really as overrated as the NY Times critics claim.  This past weekend I went to Ilili, where chef-owner Philippe Massoud is combining traditional Middle Eastern and modern Mediterranean flavors to create inspired and upscale Lebanese dishes. The atmosphere is nothing short of grandiose with seating for over 300 people, in a bi-level restaurant space that is broken up into multiple cozy lounges and dining nooks.
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My friend Liz and I took our seats in one of these little cubbyholes and began to salivate while reading over the menu. I asked our waitress to recommend the best three dishes on the menu, and without an hesitation at all she replied, “the Chankleesh, the brussel sprouts, and the Ilili candybar dessert.”Her confidence was convincing so we got started with an order of the Chankleesh, which is a creamy feta cheese combined with ripe tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and za’atar spices ($10). It sounds simple and it is, but every single ingredient is top  notch quality and each flavor is perfectly balanced. It was also the first dish to arrive at the table and in my starving state, it was anxiously anticipated and quickly scarfed down. I used the warm and pillowy soft pita to pick up the bits and pieces and tomato that remained on the plate and soak up the remaining oil and za’atar spices.
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Finally our cocktails arrived. I ordered the From Beirut with Passion, which is a basil cilantro mint infused vodka with sparkling passion fruit juice. It is served on the rocks and it is the perfect blend of herbal and sweet, without being too fruity.
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I preferred it to Liz’s Poison Sumac Margarita with tequila, orange liquor, pomegranate juice, and lime. 
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Next to arrive at the table were the Brussel Sprouts with grapes, fig jam, walnuts, and minted yogurt ($14). Almost every table in our nook had an order of these, and I totally understood why after my first forkful–they are the absolute BEST!!  A unique combination of flavors that transform an basic every day veggie into a over the top Lebanese comfort food. So rich and delicious. In fact, chef Massoud posted the recipe on the website (click here for the link!)
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Liz is into shrimp so we also split an order of the Black Iron Shrimp with jalapeño, garlic, and cilantro ($15). I thought the shrimp were a bit tough, and would probably opt for a different appetizer next time, as they were nothing special in comparison to rest of our meal.
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For the main entree we shared the Mixed Grill Meat plate for two ($64). We figured this would be the best way sample a variety of meats on the menu, exposing us to the greatest amount of Lebanese classics. The meat plate included chicken shish taouk, kofta lamb kebabs, and lamb chops along with a side of ratatouille and a garlic whip trio, which is a heavenly emulsion of oil and herbs.
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My favorite meat on the plate was by far the lamb kofta which is basically a Lebanese meatball that is rolled into the shape of a sausage link.  The word kofta is derived from the Persian word ‘Kufteh’ meaning mashed, which represents the ground meat (oftentimes lamb) that is then mixed with cumin, coriander, parsley, mint, onion, and garlic. I ate a lot of kofta while traveling in Croatia and these were just as authentic and delicious as I can remember.
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The lamb chop was cooked to perfection and seasoned straight through. I was cleaning the bone shamelessly, holding the chop between my two fingers. The chicken was juicy and tender but not nearly as flavorful as either of the lamb dishes.
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 Despite my feelings of overwhelming fullness (let’s face it, none of these dishes were light), I had embarked on gluttonous journey that would not be complete without dessert…..and two of them!
We ordered the Ilili Candybar3, which is a chocolate lovers dream plate consisting of rich chocolate ganache, a chocolate Lebanese ice cream with hints of caramel and fig, and a white chocolate sesame sauce with crumbles of pistachio ($12).
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Ilili is known for this dessert and chocoholic Liz looked like she was having an out of body experience with each bite, but I seemed to prefer the Labne Cheesecakes which were rich, smooth, and creamy ($10).
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Overall the meal was one of the best dining experiences of my life from the food to the atmosphere to the service. The service is impeccable by the way. The wait staff knows the menu inside and out, which is incredibly important at ethnic restaurants, and they can help any indecisive dinner arrive at a good ordering decision. Your water glass will never go empty an the delicious pita basket will be refilled continuously throughout the meal. I had no expectations for Ilili because I really hadn’t read any reviews prior to my meal there (very unusual for me….as I normally like to get acquainted with menu pages and yelp reviews before I dine somewhere new), but I left feeling justified with every penny spent. A perfect meal at a reasonable price. I cannot wait to go back!

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Filed under Bars, Brunch, Cocktails, Dessert, International Restaurants, Mediterranean Cuisine, New York Restaurants

Cuba Libre ***

cuba libre
 
215.627.0666
10 S. 2nd Street (2nd & Market)
Philadelphia, PA 19106

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This past month featured Restaurant Week here in Philadelphia, and I had the opportunity to check out Cuba Libre with a couple of friends. The beauty about restaurant week is that you get to sample multiple courses from a  prix fixe menu at a reduced price. In this case, we were each allowed to choose two appetizers, one entree, and one dessert for $35. But before we even had the opportunity to look at the food menu, we were distracted by the longwinded cocktail list, which includes 14 uniquely flavored mojitos!

Feeling pressured to try at least one of these specialty cocktails, we decide to order the Classic Mojito and sample it amongst the table. The mojito was  fabulous but definitely not something that should be in conjunction with a heavy meal, and so we opted for a pitcher of Red Sangria to drink with our dinner ($37.50 and we got 8 glasses from it). The sangria was good, but nothing extraordinary (it is also not very strong, as 3 full glasses did not get my 100-lb self even remotely tipsy!).

Cuba Libre Red Sangria

But onto the food, which is what we came for in the first place! To start, our server brought us a nice basket of bread with an o-u-t-r-a-g-e-o-u-s mango butter. This light, almost whipped, butter transformed the bread into a sweet french toast-like dessert. Honestly, the flavored butter was probably my favorite item brought to the table all evening. It was memorable and unique.

Cuba Libre Bread and Mango Butter

For my first appetizer, I ordered the Pulpo con Berenjenaswhich is a truffle and citrus marinated baby octopus that is then grilled and served atop a Haitian eggplant salad.  The octopus was cooked perfectly and wasn’t rubbery in the least bit. The flavors were all well-balanced and the portion size was perfect, leaving me wanting one more forkful.

Cuba Libre Octopus

The Eight Hour Guava BBQ Ribs, on the other hand, were not as good as I had hoped they would be. I had high expectations for these “award winning” St. Louis cut pork ribs, glazed in a Guava BBQ Sauce with jicama-Sambal salad, but they were VERY fatty with hardly any meat at all. Very disappointing. Sad face.

Cuba Libre Guava BBQ Ribs

Others at the table ordered the Empanadas stuffed with pulled pork, roasted poblano pepper, and charred tomatoes;

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as well as the Sopa de Frijoles Negros, which was sweet rather than spicy; and finally the signature Cuban Tostones, which are twice-fried green plantains with a garlic-mojo dipping sauce. I thought the tostones and mojo sauce were both bland compared to those I’ve had at other Cuban restaurants.

Cuba Libre Tostones

Sensing that the Cuban food not up to par with what I had grown accustomed to in Miami, I decided to deviate from a traditional Cuban dish for my entree. Instead, I ordered El Pollo del Solar, which is a lime-garlic marinated chicken breast with caramelized onions & steamed kale, served with a black bean croqueta and a sweet and sour mango gravy.  Technically, the chicken was cooked perfectly–juicy and succulent, but flavor-wise the dish was really lacking. I didn’t think the chicken was well seasoned, in fact I couldn’t detect any garlic notes and the black bean croqueta was very, very dry. Not even the mango gravy could restore it’s moisture content. The kale on the other hand, was very soft and delicious, as well as the mango gravy that bathed it.

Cuba Libre Pollo del Solar

Everyone else at the table ordered the traditional Arroz Con Pollo, which is saffron-scented rice, combined with boneless chicken thighs, wild mushrooms, green peas, Manzanilla olives and a hard-boiled egg. Garnishing the dish was an asparagus, palacio chorizo, and roasted Piquillo pepper salad, finished with a splash of Estrella Damm beer. The dish was enormous, and had beautiful presentation with the bright yellow color of the saffron, and the contrasting green of the peas and asparagus. I stole a couple of forkfuls from my friend Liz, and enjoyed them thoroughly, although it is not a traditional Cuban Arroz con Pollo. It was much lighter but very tasty in a unique way.

Cuba Libre Arroz con Pollo

For dessert, I (predictably) ordered the Tres Leches de Caramelo, which is a vanilla sponge cake soaked in three-dulce de leche flavored milks with a mocha moose.  I am a tres leches connoisseur, and this one was right up to par.

Cuba Libre Tres Leches

The other dessert that was ordered was the Dulce de Leche Ice Cream. Ice cream is ice cream. It was good!

Cuba Libre Dulce de Leche Ice Cream

Overall, I’m not in a hurry to go back to Cuba Libre for dinner. But, I am very interested in going back for a night of salsa dancing and mojitos (and maybe some bread with mango butter?!?!). Having spent 5 years living in Miami, I got accustomed to traditional Cuban food that was priced insanely cheap. This being said, I find it difficult to spend an exorbitant amount of money on Cuban cuisine that doesn’t satisfy my craving for the classic dishes. The restaurant atmosphere was very cool though and the mojitos are worth the trip.

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Filed under Bars, Buck's County, Cocktails, Dessert, International Restaurants, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Restaurants

El Tule *****

Ceviche at El Tule

609.773.0007
49 N. Main Street
Lambertville, NJ 8530

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Located in a town with a fiercely competitive restaurant scene, El Tule distinguishes itself with a unique menu that features both Peruvian & Mexican specialties. They have a casual, no-frills dining room adorned with traditional Incan tapestries and artwork, and the vibrant color scheme combined with the festive images transports you to some other Latin American world from the moment you walk in the door. If your lucky enough to go in the spring/summer, they also have a nice outdoor patio area where you can enjoy your meal al fresco!

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Just don’t let the relaxed nature of the dining atmosphere fool you about their food. El Tule takes their cooking very seriously, and no detail is overlooked in the foods preparation, presentation, or service (which I will admit was a bit slow when they first opened, but I assure you it has gotten much, much better!). It is clear that the presentation of each dish has been well contemplated and then artfully executed. The flavors are well developed, seasoned, and perfectly balanced. And the servers (which seem to be family)  are genuine experts on the cuisine, that can help you navigate the exotic menu, which can be intimidating for first time Peruvian diners!

And although both cuisines are excellent, I highly recommend ordering one of the unique dishes off the Peruvian menu when dining at El Tule. Sure their quesadilla is great, but how often can you find fresh ceviche in Bucks County?!

And that brings me to my next praise for El Tule; their ceviche is among the best that I have ever had, in Bucks County and beyond! Here are a look at my 3 favorites, which can be conveniently sampled in their tasting platter called the Trilogy Ceviche.

El Tule Trilogy Sampler

Ceviche Limeno, which is fresh Corvina marinated in lime juice with red onions, cilantro, and hot rocoto pepper garnished with sweet potato, yellow corn, and potato. 

El Tule Ceviche Limeno

Ceviche Mixto, which is fresh Corvina, shrimp, octopus, and calamari marinated in lime juice with red onions, cilantro and spicy rocoto pepper with sweet potato, yellow corn, and potato. Tigre de leche.

El Tule Ceviche Mixto

Ceviche Chifa which is fresh corvina fish, pickled vegetables, micro-herbs, and crispy wontons in a black-sesame leche de tigre dressing. This one might just be my favorite because the Asian flavor makes it so unique!

El Tule Ceviche Chifa

Some of my other favorite Peruvian specialties served at El Tule include:

Peruvian Chicken & Rice Soup with Cilantro Pesto. This is my go-t0 lunch in the winter because it warms you from the inside and keeps you feeling satisfied all day long. The cilantro pesto brings a very fresh flavor to dish which helps lighten the otherwise heavy chicken stew.

Chicken and Rice Soup

Taboule Quinoa Salad, which is traditional Inca style taboule garnished with avocado, boiled potatoes, and cilantro dressing. This very light and fragrant quinoa salad with a distinct lime flavor makes a nice lunch pairing with a soup!

Quinoa Tabouli Salad

Red Snapper & Crab Meat Tacu Tacu, which is a pan roasted fillet of red snapper on top of a black bean tacu tacu bathed in a light creamy Rocoto pepper and crab meat sauce. The rocoto pepper is a spicy pepper native to the Peruvian region, and it works beautifully to help balance the light cream sauce that bathes this dish. As you can see, they certainly aren’t stingy with the crab meat either!

Red Snapper & Crab Tacu Tacu

If you aren’t ready to explore the flavors offered by the Peruvian menu, you can play it safe by ordering one of the more familiar entrees on the Mexican menu. My favorite menu item from the Mexican menu would have to be the Quesadilla El Tule, which is a massive grilled flour tortilla filled with shredded beef (or chicken), roasted bell peppers, mushrooms, sauteed onions, and cheese served with sour cream and guacamole! I recommend the shredded beef, which is outrageously tender and abundant!

Beef Quesadilla

Overall, nothing but 5 stars for El Tule!

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Bhatti Indian Grill *****

Bhatti Restaurant

(212) 683-4228

100 Lexington Ave

New York, NY 10010

CHECK OUT THE MENU!

What sets Bhatti apart from the millions of other Indian restaurants in Curry Hill?

It’s BYOB with NO CORKAGE FEE!!!

I went for dinner with my girlfriends last night and had a fabulous meal. It’s the perfect spot for twenty-something-year-olds that are just getting their start in the Big City–it feels modern and fancy, but it’s budget friendly, and the food is truly delicious. I will certainly be back….again, and again, and again!

[ Note: Order the Bhatti grill specialties rather than the curried sauce dishes. You can get Chicken Murgh Masala and Chana Masala anywhere in Curry Hill, but finding succulent and juicy grilled meats is a little more difficult. So order from the Bhatti when eating at Bhatti! ]

When eating Indian food, I always recommend ordering a bunch of plates to share amongst the table because the food is heavy by nature. The flavors and textures can also get repetitive if you order just one item for yourself. I mean, after 3 or 4 forkfuls of creamed spinach, you start to crave something with a little more substance! So we did a family-style Indian feast last night, and here are the highlights:

Indian Cracker with Sauces

To start the meal, we ordered one Vegetarian Kebab Sampler and one Meat Kebab Sampler. I was far more impressed with the selection of grilled meats from the Bhatti, but then again I am a carnivorous foodie! Highlights from the meat appetizer platter included:

Bhatti Meat Sampler Platter

Bhatti Ki Chaamp,  a succulent lamb chop marinated in traditional Indian spices and then grilled to perfection. Dip it in the spicy cilantro-mint chutney, and swoon….

The Tandoori Murgh, boneless chicken cubes marinated in yogurt, ginger, garlic, and spices, was hands down the star of the platter. In fact, I decided to order another portion to accompany my dinner!

Tandoori Chicken Murgh

The Raunaq-e-seekh, which is a traditional seekh of lamb mince, flavored with herbs and spices with a colorful gard. 

My favorite Vegetarian appetizer was the Bhatti Paneer Tikka, which is spiced cubes of soft cottage cheese, marinated in yogurt and spices, grilled to perfection and served with bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes. 

Bhatti Sampler Plate2

For dinner we shared the Saag Paneer, which is a rich dish of creamed spinach and spices, studded with fresh cottage cheese. Put this over a little bit of the long grain rice, or soak it up with some fresh Garlic Naan, and you will be in heaven. The Garlic Naan at Bhatti is a-m-a-z-i-n-g by the way. It is served freshly baked with just the right amount of ghee and garlic.

Bhatti Garlic Naan

I requested that we order my go-to Indian entree, and my friends indulged me by allowing me to get the Chicken Murgh Tikka Masala, which is marinated boneless chicken cubes, grilled, and then stewed in a creamy tomato sauce.  I order this dish all time, and thought that Bhatti served a very tasty version of this classic Indian entree.

Bhatti Chicken Tikka Masala

I also could not resist ordering the Chana Masala, which is a dish of curried chickpeas, stewed in a creamy tomato sauce with onions.  It was incredibly rich, but so are most oil-laden curry pots in Indian restaurants.

Bhatti Channa Masala

And, lastly, we shared an order of the Lamb Rogan Josh, which was probably my least favorite of the curry dishes. The combination of the heavy meat with the indulgent sauce really through me over the top after having grazed on so many other rich dishes.

Bhatti Rogan Josh

Overall, I would recommend ordering

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{ Moroccan Mint Tea & Kendall’s Bikini-Body Elixir }

Over the past year and a half, I have spent more time living in hostels than my own home. And for those of your familiar with backpacking culture, you know that means a lot of free “bread and butter” breakfasts with bottomless cups of instant coffee. But hostels aiming to achieve a more “boutique feel” (a.k.a. a 5 star review on HostelWorld) use breakfast time as an opportunity to distinguish themselves by offering an occasional egg, crepe, and/or specialty beverage, which I shall refer to as the national elixir. By my third destination, I quickly realized that every country has their own sort of elixir—a natural liquid remedy (often taking the form of tea) intended to solve the problems that hostel owner’s perceive travelers may experience while visiting their country.

For example:

  •   In Portugal, we were served hot water that had been boiled with fresh lemon peels, which was intended to reduce the bloat and swelling from a late night out in Lisbon. Kudos to Portugal for creating a successful remedy that shrunk my belly and my hangover headache.
  • In Peru, it was mugs of hot water steeped with coca leaves to help combat the altitude sickness. I drank this stuff around the clock and still struggled to carry my own body weight around, but I like to think it helped.
  • In Colombia, they served us every kind of tropical fruit juice you could possibly imagine (my favorite being the coconut-lime combination). I don’t think it’s supposed to “cure” anything though, because there aren’t too many ailments one can suffer while on the beautiful beaches of Colombia!
  • In Spain, I was still drinking Sangria around breakfast time so lets just say that’s the national elixir.

And lastly, there is Morocco, which is rather well-known for it’s Moroccan Mint Tea! Although after visiting, I am convinced they just drink so much of it because the regular tap water is unsafe. I mean, why not boil out the bacteria and add some mint and sugar to disguise the funny taste, right?! Anyways, I loved it! In fact, I loved it so much that I have continued to make it on a daily basis since my return home.

And, in addition to their beautiful aroma and flavor, mint leaves also have incredible health benefits (which Dr. Oz touched on in his tv show that aired yesterday: http://watchingdroz.blogspot.com/2012/05/watching-dr-oz-51412-swimsuit-slimdown.html). Some of the key benefits of the leafy green are:

  • Helps stimulate bile production, which helps you digest fat better
  • Soothes the stomach in cases of indigestion and inflammation
  • Relieves nausea and headaches
  • Helps with respiratory disorders, coughs, and asthma
  • Helps eliminate toxins from the bloodstream

Traditional Moroccan mint tea (as I was shown to prepare by an indigenous Berber woman), has a little too much sugar to be consumed on a regular basis so I have modified the recipe to enjoy it more frequently. I will provide both recipes though, and you can choose which to make! I will say that my modified version is great for reducing bloat, which is very helpful with swimsuit season upon us!

{ Traditional Moroccan Mint Tea }

Boil out 3-4 cups of water, and pour over green tea leaves in a teapot (you can also use tea bags if you don’t have loose leaf tea available).

Immediately add about 15-20 fresh mint leaves and stir in 3-4 tablespoons of sugar.

Mix with spoon to combine and cover with lid. Allow the tea to steep for 5 minutes.

To ensure proper mixing of the ingredients, fill each of the glasses with tea and then return liquid to the pot (this prevents the sugar from settling at the bottom of the pot!).

Then pour a glade for each person, holding the teapot from a very high point (this helps the liquid to cool as it fills the glass).

Then sip and enjoy!

{ Kendall’s Bikini Slim Down Elixir }

Boil out 3 cups of water and pour over 3 green tea bags in a ceramic teapot. I like to use Chinese Green Tea from the Asian Market (Assi Market located in North Wales is great for those of you who live in Bucks County!)

Immediately add 10-15 fresh mint leaves, which I like to get straight from the garden!

Then add 1 tablespoon of agave nectar or honey to the pot and stir.

Cover pot with lid and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Garnish a glade with a sprig of mint, pour, and enjoy.

NOTE: If you don’t finish the whole pot of tea, put the leftover in the refrigerator and enjoy it chilled the following day. It makes a delicious and refreshing iced tea too!

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Food Porn: Cuzco, Peru

My friends and I decided that we would end our 6-month South American adventure with a bang, and do the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu before flying home for good. And given that the Inca Trail is a rigorous 4-day, 50 km trek, reaching a height of 4,200 meters (I was not aware of any of these “minor” details before paying my deposit), I had an excuse to eat whatever I wanted while staying in Cuzco the couple of days beforehand. I needed to bulk up before this climb….and I certainly did!

Peruvian food is one of my favorite types of cuisine because it has such a wide variety of national dishes ranging from soups, to fish, to poultry, and even llama and alpaca meats! Below is a collection of photos, documenting my most memorable meals:

Lomo Salteado  - Lomo Salteado is a traditional Peruvian dish with Asian influence that can be found everywhere. It is strips of sirloin steak marinated in vinegar and soy sauce, that is then stir fried with red onion, parsley, and tomato. It is usually served alongside rice (image #2), atop french fries, or on a sandwich (image #1).

Dieta de Pollo – The quint essential comfort food, dieta de pollo is a delicate chicken noodle soup. I ate a bowl of this stuff before almost every meal, and I found that most Peruvians eat a bowl of soup before their entree as well–a soup society…I like that!

Aji de Gallina – Another classic Peruvian dish with a surprisingly French influence! French chefs, put out of employment by the social upheaval of the French Revolution, traveled to the New World and settled in Peru, creating a cuisine that blended local Peruvian flavors with French styles and techniques. Aji de Gallina consists of shredded chicken in a spicy cream sauce, flavored with cheese, garlic, nuts, and rocoto peppers (spicy Peruvian peppers). It is normally served with white rice and/or french fries.

Rocoto Relleno – As I mentioned before, Rocoto is a very spicy Peruvian pepper. Therefore, when you break down the Spanish name, a rococo relleno is a Peruvian stuffed pepper…a very spicy one at that! This particular dish originates in the city of Arequipa, but is now served all over the country! It is can be filled with beef, vegetables, and cheese, among many other things. The one in the photo above is even deep fried!

Pollo con Arroz – Chicken and rice has never tasted so good!! Peruvians know how to prepare a chicken that literally melts off the bone and the cilantro flavored rice that accompanies the poultry is out of this world!! The raw onion and tomato garnishes add a fresh crisp texture to the hearty dish.

Pollo Relleno con Alpaca in Elderberry Sauce – This was our way of easing into trying alpaca. We weren’t going to order an alpaca fillet outright, so we tried a chicken dish that was stuffed with bits of alpaca first. The dish was then finished in an elderberry reduction (elderberry being very popular in Peru), and then accompanied by sautéed vegetables. What does alpaca taste like, you ask? Chicken. Go figure!

Pisco Sour - When in Peru, have a Pisco or two!! Pisco Sour is a popular Peruvian cocktail that dates back to about 1900, getting is name from the Quechua word Pisco, meaning bird. The drink is made from Peruvian grape brandy (pisco), lime juice, syrup, ice, egg white, and Angostura bitters. It is mixed in a blender so it comes out frothy and full of citrus flavor.

Assortment of Causas - With over 8,000 species of potatoes native to the Andean region, it is no surprise that Peruvians use a lot of them in their cooking. A causa, in its most basic form, is a mashed yellow potato dumpling mixed with lime, onion, chili, and oil. The potato mixture is then stuffed with any combination of avocado, chicken, canned tuna, and shellfish. We decided to try the seafood sampler version, and it was light and lovely.

Chicharron de Pollo – Chicharron normally refers to a dish containing pork rinds, but since that didn’t particularly appeal to me, we decided to order the chicken version of the dish instead, which tasted like good ole’ American fried chicken. The fried chicken thighs were then finished with a garlic, ginger, and panda chili sauce, which was out of this world (and every ounce fattening!).

Peruvian Tequenos - Tequenos are not really Peruvian by nature, but these were because they were filled with lomo salted and aji de gallina. Anything stuffed and then deep fried is generally delicious, and this was no exception. I particularly loved the spicy rocoto dipping sauce that accompanied the tasty appetizer.

Tallerines Saltados con Pollo – If you have ever been to Peru, you will have noticed the incredible amount of Asian (chifa) influence on the food there. This is because the Spanish brought Chinese slaves to the country and with them they brought their national cuisine. One of the very popular Asian inspired dishes is Tallerines Saltadas, which are essentially lo mein noodles with poultry or beef (poultry in the photo above!).

Pollo en Salsa Rocoto with Quinoa Tabouli – This was supposed to be served as a sandwich, but since the restaurant ran out of bread, I ordered it as a deconstructed plate of ingredients. The elements included: chicken sautéed in a spicy rocoto pepper sauce, sautéed eggplant and caramelized onions, quinoa tabouli salad, and french fries. The platter had an awesome mix of Peruvian, Asian, and Middle Eastern flavors.

Alfajors – Alfajors are shortbread cookies filled with dulce de leche spread (a.k.a caramel). They are popular all over South America, but prepared slightly different by every country. For example, Argentina coast them with chocolate, Chileans in Patagonia fill them with berry flavored jams, and Peruvians simply serve theirs with a dusting of powdered sugar. We got this plate of petite alfajors and fruit jams complimentary with our bill at Chi Cha de Gaston Acurio, and we all agreed that they were the best alfajors we had on our trip (sorry Argentina….)

{ San Pedro Market in Cuzco, Peru }

Woman selling her herbs and spices.

Baskets of dehydrated rocoto peppers and dried fruits.

Enormous loaves of bread, which can be found everywhere in Peru.

The line up of fresh juice bar stands.

Sam pulls up a chair and tries a juice. Have it at the stand though, because if you ask for it to go they give you a plastic bag with a straw:

To-Go cups are so American.

Where the Peruvian locals go to eat.

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