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La Brigada ***

Estados Unidos 465
San Telmo, Buenos Aires
(+54) 11 4361.5557

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Lets face it, you’re going to get a good piece of steak no matter where you decide to eat in BA (I would honestly consider beef the cultural glue here…like music is to New Orleans). But if you’re on the hunt for the absolute best parrilla in terms of atmosphere, service, and quality of food–as most visiting tourists are–then you will certainly stumble across the name La Brigada at some point in your search (albeit be on Google, at  your hotel concierge, or local word of mouth).

Located in the heart of San Telmo and filled with gaucho/futbol memorabilia (all Boca, of course!), La Brigada is considered a major contender for the title of best parrilla in Buenos Aires, competing alongside Cabana las Lilas, Don Julio, and La Cabrera, just to name a few. One unique feature that has helped to set La Brigada apart from the rest, is that they serve the steak by cutting it with a spoon–a testament to its tenderness. Naturally, upon hearing word of this, I went to witness it myself!

The atmosphere of the place is very old-school, not dingy in any way, but broken in (as all well-loved things are). Images of cows and futbol players hang side-by-side on the walls, and crisp white linens and shiny crystal glasses adorn the tables. Upon entry, you will submit your senses to the heavenly and pungent aroma of steak, which will have you smacking your lips in anticipation of your meal. Cue the ordering frenzy!

My friends and I started our dinner off with a nice bottle of Rutini Malbec and then embarked on the delicious and abundant bread basket. Next we shared an order of Provoleta, which is a wedge of provolone cheese gilled in a cast iron skillet until it turns a delicious golden color at the edges. The provoleta was served nice and hot, and I thought it was very tasty. Although, I must admit I tend to like mine with a little more “umph.” You know, sautéed onions, peppers, and herbs (I acknowledge that it’s not traditional, but I am a modern and progressive 22-year old).

Next we ordered a simple Mixed Green Salad with Tomatoes and Onions, tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette. A salad is a salad, need I say more?

Now we get to the stuff that really matters…..the STEAK! My friend and I decided to share the whopping 30-ounce Baby Beef (mainly because this is the cut rumored to be served with a spoon…I’m a sucker for presentation) and it was enormous! Note: The portion below is on my half of the steak!

Unfortunately though, they did NOT cut it with a spoon. Not my meat, not no ones, which was a rather big disappointment. The quality of the beef, however, was incredible. It was a couple of inches thick, with just the right amount of marbled fat, and it was cooked to perfection. I asked for it medium and it actually came out medium (this is to say as American’s would define medium). I have found in Buenos Aires that they often overcook the meat, so to see red drippings on the plate when I finished was a refreshing change.

Two of my other friends ordered the Bife de Lomo in Peppercorn Sauce, which was an absolute disaster. The peppercorn sauce had some sort of metallic aftertaste (almost inedible) and the steak was completely overdone, despite their requests for medium-rare temperature. A french chef would have been appalled seeing a steak with absolutely no red hue. In fact, it was so bad that neither of them finished their meals. And it is this inconsistency between a fabulous steak and a horrendous steak that leaves La Brigada with just 3 out of 5 stars.

The Potatoes au Gratin (or shall i say, Batatas a Gratinada) were fantastic though!!! They were creamy, and cheesy, and probably my favorite part of the meal. They came as an unexpected complimentary side to the Bife de Lomo, but were large enough to share among the entire table. Likewise, the French Fries were also very tasty!

My other friend (already a getting a little tired of beef), decided to order the Chicken Parmesan (or Milanesa Suprema Napolitana de Pollo). Given the size (which you can see below), she  was able to spare me a couple of bites and I thought it was delicious. I wouldn’t normally order chicken at a well known steakhouse, but I was impressed by the dish.

Last but not least, we ordered a Creme Brûlée  and round ofcafe con leches for dessert. The creme brûlée was spot on and a perfect way to end our meal.

Overall, I would be willing to give La Brigada another chance because half of the meal was great, but I do prefer La Cabrera and Cabana las Lilas as it stands right now (and I plan to try Don Julio this coming week to make my final judgement!).

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Filed under Buenos Aires Restaurants, International Restaurants

Trattoria Toscana *****

 
553 State Route #1
Whippany, NJ 07981
973.386.0303

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Everyone knows that New York is host to wealth of fantastic Italian restaurants–Marea, Babbo, Del Posto, Scalini Fedeli, Patsy’s, Carmine’s (just to name a few)–but outside of the city, off of route 1, lies a “hidden gem” by the name of Tratattoria Toscana. I use quotes because although it has a very inconspicuous location, it is well known among foodies, locals, and Italian’s looking for a proper pasta with gravy. This place is always jam packed and the delicious food being served is worthy of such loyal patronage.

Rodolfo Monti and his son, Giacomo (with names as authentic as their food), are the owner and chef of Trattoria Toscana, and although their menu offers a variety of well-loved Italian classics, their culinary speciality is certainly from the Tuscan region.

To start, I suggest the Sliced Pears, Prosciutto, and Shaved Parmesan Cheese ($13) or my personal favorite, Mussels cooked in Spicy Tomato Broth with White Wine and Garlic ($11). Another great way to sample the menu is to split a pasta dish or two between the table as an appetizer. The Amatriciana cooked with pancetta, onion, tomato, and pecorino cheese is very flavorful red sauce with a delicious hearty bacon flavor.

For my main dish I ordered the Braised Short Ribs in a Chianti Wine Reduction, served with Parmesan Risotto and Garlicky Broccoli Rabe. As if all of these plate components aren’t already my favorite things to eat, they were also cooked to PERFECTION! The meat just seemed to fall apart each time I poked it with the fork, and the risotto was a perfect creamy compliment to the flavors of the Chianti wine reduction. The pair was like an upscale, Italian version of mashed potatoes and gravy. And the broccoli rabe, which can be a hit or a miss for many restaurants, was out of this world good. The garlic seasoning was just right and it was cooked without being too mushy. This dish certainly makes my list of Top 10 Food-gasm experiences.

My mom ordered the Tilapia Livornese topped with capers, black olives, caramelized onion, and tomatoes and served with oven-roasted potatoes. Stealing a small forkful from her was a challenge, thats how much she enjoyed it. The fish was light and buttery and the sauce was incredible.

My dad, on the other hand, opted for something a little bit richer–the Lollipop Lamb Chops in an aged balsamic reduction, served with risotto and roasted potatoes (see photograph at top). As you can see in the photograph, the lamb is cooked to perfection with a bright pink hue in the center of the meat. The balsamic reduction had a nice flavor but thankfully was used sparingly, so as not to take away from the quality taste of the meat. And the potatoes–although just a side component on the plate–were also very nicely done with a crispy outer shell and piping hot center.

After finishing with our main courses, we ordered a round of cappuccinos and a large piece of Homemade Ricotta Cheesecake to share as a table. The coffee was nothing special but the cheesecake was very delicious. It was not too dense or too sweet, and the fresh berries and whipped cream around the edges of the plate were great addition to each bite. A perfect way to end a fabulous meal!

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Filed under Cocktails, Italian Restaurants, New Jersey Restaurants

Corner Shop Cafe ****

212.253.7467
643 Broadway (and Bleecker)
New York, NY

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I was preparing to photograph my lunch today (a couple of delicious chicken quesadillas), when my phone alerted me that I had “insufficient memory space” to store the images. Considering that I upload and delete my photos as I write reviews, this notification means that I am seriously behind on blogging (too much eatting, not enough writing!). I was forced to go through my collection of food photos and decide which images looked the most decadent, deleting the others that were not up to par. This sounds like an easy task, but choosing which images to part with was a painstaking process. Needless to say, my quesadillas were cold by the time I finally finished. In order to make space for future reviews, I will be backtracking a bit and intermittenly posting some articles on New York grub.

The first review is from one of my favorite lunch/brunch spots in NYC–The Corner Shop Cafe. Their menu is an eclectic mix of sandwiches, pastas, salads, and eggs but these often simple dishes are far from the ordinary here.  The Corner Shop Cafe has mastered the art of delivering the classics with a whole new twist, taking them to another level. For example, their PB & Banana Grilled Sandwich which comes on cranberry raisin bread dipped in french toast batter, served with honey and minted berries ($9). Clearly, this is not your mom’s PB & J!

Some how I fought the temptation of ordering this mastermind creation (along with the Creme Brûlée Dipped French Toast ($11)), and instead opted for a lighter lunch of Steamed Mussels in a white wine garlic sauce with parsley, peas, and tomatoes ($12). Let me tell you, these mussels were fan-freaking-tastic! The mussels themselves were plump and fresh, and the sauce was out of this world. The herb parmesan crostini soaking in the bowl was also a very nice touch and made the meal more satisfying.

My friend Sam ordered Brie & Basil Panini with aged tried cheese, oven roasted tomatoes, and prosciutto on a toasted ciabatta roll ($13). Again, a very common menu item, but executed perfectly. The ingredients were all very fresh, from the salty to prosciutto to the flakey bread, and the side salad was dressed perfectly with a nice light vinaigrette.

My other friend Ariana went all out and ordered the Truffled Poached Eggs on Toast Platter with two organic poached eggs atop grilled asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and drizzled with truffle oil served with grilled ciabatta bread ($10). A little bit of food jealous crept up on me when this plate was brought to the table. You know when you second guess your meal decision and get grumpy because another person’s food at the table looks better. Ariana was kind enough to fed me forkfuls every now and then though, so it lowered my post-order dissonance. Everything on the plate was fantastic and for the menial price of $10, it tastes even better!

We also all shared a bowl a Cream of Tomato Soup ($7), which paired great with my herb parmesan crostini. I highly recommend this soup because they only use enough cream to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. You can see by the color of the broth that the cream isn’t too overdone or heavy. It begs for grill cheese dipping!

Also, the prices on the drinks were very reasonable. We had a couple of Mimosas and a round of Chardonnay for about $10 each. I am looking forward to going back to the Corner Shop Cafe as soon as I return to the states!

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Filed under Cafe / Bistro, Coffee Shop, New York Restaurants

b-Blue Natural Bar & Deli ****

Armenia 1692
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Palermo SOHO
(+54) 4831.7024

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There are an infinite number of cute sidewalk cafes and restuarants in Buenos Aires. There are little vegetarian spots, tea houses, ice cream parlors, and even places strictly devoted to the sale of coffee and chocolates. The task of choosing just which one to spend your afternoon at can be quite overwhelming, especially in the crowded Palermo area. As I was walking to the gym the other day, I passed by at least 18 adorable cafes, each one begging me to abandon my work out plans and indulge in something delicious and homemade. I tried to fight the urge, but finally caved when I passed by bBlue Natural foods. I could see the salads being served in enormous porclain bowls and almost every table had a brightly colored fruit smoothie on it. I couldn’t resist.

I took a seat and ordered the b-Pollo Salad, which is a bed of mixed greens with shredded chicken marinated in honey, soy sauce, and dijon mustard, topped with sundried tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, carmaleized onions, and croutons, and tossed with your choice of dressing (39 pesos). Personally, I like the bBlue house dressing with olive oil, vinegar, blueberries, lemon, honey, and mustard. It adds a sweet fruity flavor to the salad, which is a nice contrast with the sundried tomatoes. So far, this place serves the best salad in Buenos Aires (in my opinion, of course!). The portions are huge and they aren’t stingy with the meats or the cheeses. Also, the ingredients are incredibly fresh and absolutely everything is homemade. Ohh and finally a place that serves a non-mayonnaise dressing!! Major brownie points for that!

Since my first time at bBlue, I have become a regular and I have yet to have a bad meal. Another favorite salad of mine is the b-Deli Salad, which is a bed of baby spinach, lemon-marinated mushrooms, cubes of brie cheese, and toasted almonds, tossed with your choice of dressing (39 pesos) (I like to put the homemade pear dressing on this salad).

In addition to the salads, bBlue also makes incredible gourmet sandwiches!! They have all sorts of spreadable cheeses and aiolis, so the sandwich isn’t dry. My personal favorite so far is the Pollo Sandwich served on French bread with chicken marinated in honey and soy sauce, sliced tomatoes, caramelized onions, portobello mushrooms, melted gruyere cheese, with dijon and mayo (38 pesos). The sandwich is then served with side of incredible herb roasted potatoes and a ramekin of ketchup. The picture really doesn’t do it justice, but imagine a gourmet chicken cheesesteak, and that’s this sandwich.

Ohh, and I almost forgot….the POMEDLADO!!!! It’s like a lemonade, but one hundred times better becasue it is made with grapefruit juice, honey, fresh ginger, and a hint of mint (13 pesos). Seriously? It redefines refreshment.

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Filed under Baking, Buenos Aires Restaurants, International Restaurants

Green Cafe ***

Assortment of Macarons at Cafe Green

212.677.0666
377 1st Ave (between 23rd and 22nd)
New York, Ny 10010

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When you graduate high school, you move out of your house, and leave for college to start life on your own. Yes, I am aware that this is a politically incorrect over-generalization, but please do not take offense if you didn’t follow this path, because I’ve learned first hand that the chief value in going to college is that it’s the only way to learn it really doesn’t mean jack shit. Look at me for example, I went to a well-respected private university (go Canes!), and sure it was the best for years of my life, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am currently unemployed, with no income, in debt, living at home. Dropout Kelly on the other hand, has just been promoted to a management position at McDonalds, which provides a steady income, and she doesn’t have $160,000 of student loans to pay back. She also has a much healthier liver and knows what the heck a W2 form is. Now you’re going to make the argument that I will eventually get a better job than Kelly that provides me with a higher pay because I have a formal education. And it’s true that economists report that college education adds many thousands of dollars to a person’s lifetime income. But don’t we then spend this extra income sending our kids to college?! It is a vicious cycle really. And don’t even get me started on the girls who just go to college looking for a MRS degree…J-date is only about $30 a month and college is about $10,000. Do the math and save yourself the money.

Anyways, enough of this ridiculous tangent on education. The point is that I went to college and established my own way of living and doing things, and now I am forced to live back at home where I can no longer comfortably live in my particular manner. I cannot just roll out of bed and cook my breakfast in my underwear…shirt and pants are required. I cannot drink my orange juice straight out of the container…I need to use a small “juice” glass. I cannot leave the house without reporting where I am going and then giving an estimation of when I will be returning (and I need to call if I am later than my estimation). I cannot buy groceries and put them in the fridge with the confidence that they will be there later. In college, everyone has their own shelf in the fridge and you eat only what is on your shelf (unless you come home drunk and eat half your roommate’s box of Special K…but you admit it with shame the next morning and buy them a new box). At home, family is family, and what’s mine is yours is the name of the game. That means that the lifespan of a package of Oreos is about 36 hours.

It’s been one week and I needed some space of my own, so I headed out to New York City to meet up with a girlfriend from college that was visiting. As soon as I stepped out of Penn Station, I was overtaken by the aroma of delicious street food and from then on my mind was strictly on getting something to eat. In a hurry to meet my friend, I decided to stop at Green Café for some coffee and cookies. I got a delicious Cappuccino and the absolute best Macarons that I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.

There was an assortment of about 20 different flavors to choose from, all of which were displayed in a glass bakery case. I tried the Wedding Almond flavor and Casis (which is infused with currant flavoring). Personally, I preferred the sweet almond flavor over the tartness of the casis, but the textures on both were incredible. Ohh, and if you didn’t realize by now, the cookie I am referring to is a macaron, not to be confused with a coconut, chocolate-laced macaroon. I love those too, but a macaron is a cream-filled cookie sandwich, made from egg whites, almond powder, and a pinch of sugar. They usually come in very bright colors, that vary according to flavor. Some of the other varieties that I didn’t get to sample include; pistachio, caramel, crème brulee, espresso, raspberry, mango, vanilla, nutella, passion fruit, and lavender.

Assorted Macarons

Café Green has a small little seating area, and serves up healthy items for both breakfast and lunch such as omelets, paninis, and wraps. I would definitely go back for a macaron the next time that I am back in the city! I would have brought some home, but you can only imagine how quickly these things would be eaten given that Oreo’s usually only last a day and a half.

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Filed under Baking, Coffee Shop, New York Restaurants

Patagonia ****

Assorted Empanadas at Patagonia

305.361.0662
260 Crandon Blvd
Key Biscayne, Fl 33149
(Other Locations Available)

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Today I ran my first 5 k. It’s been on my bucket list for a couple of years now, and tonight I got to cross it off…go me! I must confess that it wasn’t actually as difficult as I thought it was going to be, but I sure was scared as hell when my roommate and I first pulled into the parking lot where the race was to begin. We pull up and notice that there are people who have literally run to the race, instead of driving to it. They have showed up to the 5 k and it looks like they have already run a 10 k. They are at the registration stand huffing and puffing and all red in the face, and they haven’t even received their number tag yet. God damn over achievers. Then as my roommate and I are registering, we are surrounded by those token die-hard athletes who are stretching in crazy Yoga-like positions and psyching themselves up for the run. I just kept thinking 5 k only means 3 miles right? I mean these people just looked too serious for whatever I was about to do; we were clearly not the same caliber of athlete.

At this point I am attempting to pin my little number paper to the front of my shirt (aka sticking myself in the belly with the pin several times), when I hear a horn go off and notice about 200 people running towards me. I turn to Ariana and we agree that yes, the race has started without us and we need to move before we are stampeded. We are told that we have to start at the beginning of the line and so we start running towards the runners who are running towards us. They must have thought we missed the memo or something. We are the last people to start the race, but we pass about half of the runners before the first mile. We finished the race in under 30 min and as soon as I crossed the finish line I turned to Ariana and said, “Foooooood….I want an empanada!”

So we headed back to the car (I felt so bad for all the people who ran here and now had to run home) and we drove to Patagonia, which is a little Argentinean café slash market. Bottom line is that it has the best empanadas that I have ever tasted. I ordered my three favorites; The Chorizo, The Spicy Beef, and the Capresealong with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. The reason that I love these empanadas so much is because of the pastry dough that they wrap the meat in. It is so buttery and flaky, and a beautiful shade of golden brown. The spicy beef is my favorite, but spice haters beware, because it is actually spicy. Ariana thought it was too spicy and gave me hers (jackpot!) but she loved the chorizo one (unfortunately for her, I didn’t reciprocate and give her one of my empanadas, I took the spicy one as a gift!). It was an incredible meal to celebrate our accomplishment…wejust sat there outside all sweaty and limp, chowing down our South American breakfast together at 8 am—perfect way to start a day!

***Note: The 4 star rating applies to the empanadas only. I ahve tried some of the other entree-type foods here such as the Chicken Milanesa and the Skirt Steak with Chimichurri, but I would rate those as very basic and average…probably about 3 stars.

 

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Corrado Bakeries ***

Almond Croissant

212.774.1904
(They are located all over New York)

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Before going to sleep on our last night in New York, I realized that I would want to pick up a quick breakfast before heading to the airport. I remembered that there was a great little bakery near the apartment and decided I would stop there in the morning to grab some food because as we all know, airport food is not only over priced but it is atrocious. So sure enough I got my butt out of bed extra early (which I would only do to satisfy my belly) and walked down to Corrado Bakery. I got analmond croissant, a ham and cheese croissant, and two fresh squeezed orange juices. The almond croissant was oddly disappointing, since I love their almond macaroon cookie (soooooo good). It didn’t have enough almond paste in the middle in my opinion so the almond flavor was lacking. The ham and cheese croissant was much better—I ended up eating it instead of my boyfriend. However, the best thing I have had from this bakery is the portobello and goat cheese sandwich, which sounds so simple but the foccacia bread that it is served on has a wonderful rosemary flavor and it is so much more flavorful than you would expect. If you like goat cheese as much as I do, then you have to try this sandwich. Also, the freshly squeezed orange juice is awesome…it just comes in the littlest cup so you have a couple of sips and it is sadly gone.

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