LA’s Fabulous Food Gems: Furaibo

January 11, 2011

I have a weakness for Japanese cuisine  – it’s comfort food for me.  I’m also a big fan of restaurants that serve  small plates because it allows me to try a variety of dishes.  Furaibo’s izakaya style is pretty much perfect for me – small portions of Japanese food shared by everyone at the table.  The authenticity goes past the food – the woodsy look and feel with tatami rooms in the back is reminiscent of what you might find in Tokyo.  It’s very reasonably priced, AND they are open late – 11pm during the week, 11:30pm on the weekend. Most importantly, the food is amazing. I’ve never had anything here I didn’t like, so even if you don’t recognize many of the dishes, you can’t really go wrong.

*pictures to come soon*

Menu Must-Haves:

Agedashi Tofu: Furaibo is where I feel in love with this delicious dish, and I have yet to find it done better anywhere else. The tofu cubes are lightly fried making their seasoned coating a perfect golden crisp. They sit in a warm dashi sauce and are topped with finely chopped daikon. I always add a few dashes of chili powder for extra flavor, and often end up getting 2 orders because I just can’t get enough!

Satsuma Imo: Quite possibly my favorite croquettes ever.  Golden sweet potatoes mashed into a smooth consistency then formed into hockey puck sized patties, coated in panko crumbs, and served piping hot with a side of sweet katsu dipping sauce, slice of butter, and spicy mustard.  This one is not to be missed.

Age Nasu: This dish is very similar to Agedashi Tofu, but uses succulent cubes of eggplant instead. There is not a hint of bitterness or toughness in the skin and the vegetable goes so well with the dashi sauce. Even if you don’t like eggplant, you will like this.

Yaki Onigiri: So simple, but oh so good.  A triangular shaped ball of steamed rice brushed generously with soy sauce and then grilled. Doesn’t get more authentic Japanese than this.

Soft Shell Crab: These days you can find soft shell crab on most seafood restaurant’s menu, but this one is definitely a stand-out. The crab is coated in a thin tempura-like batter, fried, and accompanied with a ponzu sauce, finely chopped chives, and minced daikon radish.  I’ve enjoyed this dish with people who don’t even like seafood and are surprised to find they love eating a whole crab – shell, legs, and all.

FURAIBO

website
2068 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025-6230

(310) 444-1432

LA’s Fabulous Food Gems: Bacaro L.A. Wine Bar

October 18, 2010

I’ve been frequenting this cozy wine bar since it first opened a couple of years ago, and while I loved it then, it’s only gotten better, and my love for it has only grown stronger. There are countless wine bars in LA, but it isn’t easy to find one that places just as much focus on the quality of the food as it does on the wine selection.  This place accomplishes just that and more, and is yet another spot where I’ve never ordered something I didn’t like!  An intimate space in the USC area, Bacaro serves a great selection of delectable small plates ranging from creative crostinis with toppings like mascarpone, fresh ricotta, olive tapenade, or blue cheese, to perfectly cooked  steak flavored with thyme and lemon, and desserts like Nutella panini and bread budding.

Bacaro Crostinis

Food and drinks are all priced very reasonably: Individual plates are $8, or every 3 plates for $21.  The daily wine and beer list is written on the wall-sized chalk board.  And it wouldn’t be a wine bar without a cheese plate option!  You can get creative by mixing and matching various artisinal cheeses with sides like walnuts, honey, dates, and more.

Menu Must-Haves:

Eggplant stuffed with Ground Lamb Leg: This is a relatively new addition to the menu, and it is absolutely phenomenal.  The balance of garlic, herbs, and spices in the ground lamb is just right.  Eggplant is tender and surrounded by a crisp breading. The genius combination is topped with a delicious yogurt sauce and a “lemon chip” – the crunchy citrus in each bite brings all the components together perfectly. If you were to order just one item, this should be it.

Eggplant stuffed with Ground Lamb Leg

Steak with Thyme and Lemon: Petit filet mignon is grilled to perfection (and cooked to your liking) then sliced into six moderately thin pieces, flavored with fresh thyme, sea salt, lemon and served with an extra wedge for added acidity. If you’re like me and LOVE meat, you must come for their “Beefsteak Sundays” (first Sunday of every month) and try the all-you-can-eat steak and wine. What more could you ask for?

Steak Thyme and Lemon

Cauliflower: If you’re on the fence about this vegetable, this would be the place to try it – you WILL enjoy it.  The white florets are just slightly crisped on the outside, left tender on the inside, and drizzled with a spicy sauce.  So simple, but a delicious and healthy option.

Spicy Cauliflower

Bacaro Burger: This isn’t just any burger – trust me. A healthy sized, juicy patty is placed on a thick square of toasted brioche bread with a slice of fresh tomato, grilled onions, and parsley, served open faced and topped with a secret sauce that is out of this world.

Bacaro Burger

White Bean Bruschetta: The bruschetta dish includes four generous slices and you can choose two different toppings.  I love the white bean topping so much I always order a double helping of it! Toasty fresh baguette topped with a blend of white beans, extra virgin olive oil, and lots of garlic.  Seriously yum.

BACARO L.A.

facebook page

bacarola.com

2308 S. Union Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90007

(213) 748-7205

LA’s Fabulous Food Gems: Wat Dong Moon Lek Noodles

October 11, 2010

There are countless Thai restaurants in LA. Heck, there’s even a Thai Town.  But this Silverlake family-run hole-in-the-wall is by far the best Thai food I’ve had in this city.  They have menu options you won’t find at other Thai restaurants. Not to mention, the flavor explosions you experience with every bite of every dish is incomparable.  What I love most is that their menu options incorporate a lot of Thai street food-like dishes; The deliciousness that Thai people eat IN Thailand, and not what has been adapted to American taste.  It’s the closest to the food I’ve had in Bangkok that I’ve found in the US.

Wall Menu Mural

The restaurant is small and cozy, with the food items presented as a beautiful chalk drawn mural (in addition to the individual paper menus for easy reference.)  Everything on the menu is very reasonably priced, with most dishes ranging $5-$15 each, and almost everything is under $20. The owners and servers are so hospitable, it’s as if you’re dining in their home. Ask for the dessert specials – they are all homemade, deliciously presented, and make you feel like you’re dining in an upscale restaurant.

Must-haves:

Larb Tod: I literally have dreams about this dish.  Little balls of ground chicken coated in an aromatic batter of lemon grass and keffir lime, lightly fried to a crisp, and served with cabbage and herbs.  Wrap the chicken in the cabbage and top with the herbs (and some hot sauce if you can take it!) It’s one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.

Larb Tod

Beef Noodle Bowl: This is actually Wat Dong Moon Lek’s speciality, and it’s easy to see why.  Rice noodles swim in a very tasty broth, topped with tender slices of braised beef and fresh scallions.  Not only is it so much more gratifying than most noodle soups you’ll find, it’s bursting with flavor.  It comes in a small and large size and is very shareable!

Beef Noodle Soup

Spicy Basil Crispy Pork Belly: There are almost no words to adequately describe the goodness of this dish.   Ask for green peppercorns to be added and you’ll have it made.  The chunks of crisp pork belly combined with the spicy, tomatoey sauce and little crunchy peppercorns served over fluffy rice make you wish the food was being replenished with every bite you take.

Wat Dong Moon Lek Spicy Basil Pork BellySpicy Basil Crispy Pork Belly with Green Peppercorns

Minced Pork Noodle Salad: Now THIS is my kind of salad. The warm pork, chopped red onions, cilantro, lemon juice, and other authentic Thai herbs and flavors are tossed with cold glass noodles and presented with fresh cabbage slices.  I love the mix of the warm and cold – it adds even more depth to this refreshingly yummy “salad”.

Minced Pork Noodle Salad

WAT DONG MOON LEK

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watdongmoonlek.com
(323) 666-5993
4356 Fountain Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029-2226

LA’s Fabulous Food Gems: Intro

October 11, 2010

While there are a number of cities in the US that are considered “culinary meccas” and have thousands of amazing places to eat, I think there are two key things that really set Los Angeles apart in the food world:

1) The variety of ethnic restaurants

2) The ‘strip mall’ phenomenon

Some of LA’s  best eateries can ironically be found among the many strip malls that are ubiquitous in this urban sprawl.    I went to see my favorite TV personality, Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations), speak at Royce Hall (UCLA) a few months ago and was thrilled when these were two characteristics he cited when asked what he thought made LA’s food scene so great. What can I say, great minds think alike.

Because I’ve tried too many amazing places to name (and still have so many more to explore), it’s almost impossible for me to have a “favorite” restaurant.  So, I decided to share a list of some, and I emphasize – SOME –  LA restaurants that I consider to be true gems – a few of them very hidden gems.  Most of these picks are ones that aren’t talked about a lot and that deserve much more attention.

Look out for a post on each of them over the next few weeks, hopefully with just enough tantalizing info to spike your interest enough to go check them out.

First up…Wat Dong Moon Lek Noodles in Silverlake.

View of Los Angeles from Runyon Canyon

Comfort Cooking: This Would be My Last Meal

September 13, 2010

I’ve been asked so many times “what’s the best meal you’ve ever had?” and I always rack my brain, sifting through the thousands of amazing meals I’ve eaten, but am never able to pick THE one. Coming back to Lebanon this year, and eating quite possibly the most amazing home cooked meals that anyone could have, reminded me that no restaurant or celebrity chef in the world could ever match up.

A large lunch at home with the family is a part of my grandparents’ daily routine, and there are never less than 3 or 4 dishes on the table, each crafted with the finest culinary skills by my self-taught grandma who has been cooking for over 60 years. Not only does she still cook multiple courses every single day, but she continues to make the best homemade pickles, jam, and other delicacies whose quality could never be matched by store bought products.

Every time I go to Lebanon, my grandma knows there’s one particular dish that I absolutely love, and she goes out of her way to make sure she has the necessary ingredients ready to make it. I crave it. I dream about it. And then I talk about it and can’t wait until the next time I can eat it. If I could pick my last meal, this, my friends, is what it would be. It includes 3 of my favorite things: Pasta. Meat. Marrow.


Spaghetti with goat meat in a tomato based sauce. The spaghetti is perfectly al dente. The meat couldn’t be more tender and falls right off the bone. While it sounds like a relatively simple dish, I know that hours of preparation went into it, allowing for the flavors to develop perfectly, making each bite taste like heaven.

The bones are left in the dish and have absorbed all of the goodness from the sauce. This is definitely my favorite part of the meal – hitting the bone against a small piece of pita bread until all the creamy, extremely rich marrow comes out. Seriously orgasmic.


As if this wasn’t enough, at this particular lunch, my grandma had also made one of my all time favorite side dishes – Sambousek – pastry dough that’s been stuffed with spiced ground beef and pine nuts, and then lightly fried until crispy. I could eat these all day. Every day.


And then to top it all off, dessert includes fried plaintains topped with sugar. These aren’t just any plaintains. They’ve been flown in from Nigeria and then sliced thinly and perfectly fried until the outside has a very slight crunch, giving way to a soft – but not at all mushy – center. They just don’t taste the same anywhere else.

….A month later….

I  already desperately craved the pasta. And I had a few weekend hours on my hands. Luckily, I had sat down with my grandma and she gave me the family recipe, step by step. Since it’s pretty difficult to get goat meat here in the US, I substituted with beef short ribs. I have to say, for my first attempt, it was deeeeelicious. The fat from the meat combined with the slow cooking made the sauce super rich and hearty.

I can’t divulge this recipe quite yet, but I will give away a little trick I learned that can be applied to other saucy pasta recipes — only partially cook the pasta in boiling water and then let it simmer in the sauce the rest of the way – instead of just having the sauce coat the pasta, this allows the noodles to actually absorb the flavors from the sauce while it’s cooking – trust me, it makes the biggest difference!

Perfectly Palatable Chicken Parmigiana

April 3, 2010

This has become one of my favorite meals to make when I feel like something saucy and warm, but don’t have time to spend hours on a traditional hearty dish.  It’s simple and a great crowd pleaser (kids and adults alike), or even perfect to eat alone with enough left over for lunch the next day.  There are hundreds of Chicken Parmigiana recipes out there, but I promise you this will be one of the most flavorful ones you’ll find, and it’s sure to hit the spot.  Details like using the same pan to cook the chicken and the sauce, as well as the added herbs in the breadcrumbs will make the biggest difference in the final product.

Chicken Parmigiana

For 2 people

WHAT YOU NEED

  • 2-4 chicken breasts
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 cubs of breadcrumbs (add some dried oregano, garlic powder, black pepper, and dried basil for extra flavor)
  • 1 large shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tablespoon Red Chili Flakes (or more if you like spice like me!)
  • 1 large can or 2 small cans of pealed Roma tomatoes (chopped) or tomato sauce
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • About half a box of spaghetti
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup of shaved Parmesan cheese
  • Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

HOW TO MAKE IT

  1. Heat oven to 375 F.  Start heating a big pot of salted water over high heat, covered.
  2. Chop up the shallot into slivers.  Mince the garlic cloves.  Set aside
  3. Beat the eggs in a bowl.  Set another bowl aside filled with the breadcrumbs.  Make a third bowl for the flour.  Line these up like an assembly line with a clean plate on the end.  Order should be: 1) Flour 2) Eggs 3) Breadcrumbs
  4. Coat 1 chicken breast in the flour.  Once completely coated, shake of the excess, and coat in the egg.  Shake of the excess and cover in the breadcrumbs.  Once completely covered, set in the clean plate.  Repeat until all of the chicken breasts are prepped.
  5. Cover the bottom of the skillet with extra virgin olive oil and heat over medium heat.  After about a minute, add the chicken breasts to the oil.  Cook for about 7 minutes then turn each chicken breast over.  Cook for about another 7 minutes.  To test if they are done cooking, cut a small slit and see the meat is opaque white in the center.  Once cooking is complete, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
  6. In the same pan, over medium heat, add the garlic, red chili flakes, and shallots.  Once the garlic sizzles and starts to turn golden and the shallots soften, pour the chopped tomatoes and all their juices or the tomato sauce.  Add salt and pepper and stir. Be sure to scrape the chicken bits off the bottom of the pan and mix into the sauce.
  7. Cook the tomato sauce until it’s simmering.  Simmer for about 10-15 minutes.
  8. About 5 minutes into the simmering, add the pasta to the boiling water.
  9. Set the chicken breasts in a Pyrex container.  Turn off the heat on the tomato sauce and pour the sauce over the chicken breasts.  Cover with the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
  10. Place the Pyrex in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and golden on top.  If necessary, turn on the broiler for the last minute to get the nice cheesy browning effect.
  11. Once the pasta is done cooking, strain, and either add a bit of butter or olive oil, and some salt and pepper.
  12. Serve the chicken and pasta together.  Yum 🙂

Massive Mounds of Meat – The Best BBQ in Texas

February 18, 2010

As mentioned in my first post, my New Year’s trip to Austin basically revolved around my meals.  Naturally, it being my first trip to Texas, my top priority was to have the best BBQ I could possibly find.  I didn’t want anything fancy, trendy, or touristy – I was looking for the real thing.  While having dinner on my first night in Austin, I asked a local where I needed to go to get the best of the best.  Without hesitation, he said “You have to go to Lockhart – it’s the BBQ capital of Texas”.

Lockhart is a tiny town about 30 mins south of Austin. There are four famous BBQ restaurants, and all had rave reviews, but I chose the one that had been recommended to me: Kreuz Market (pronounced “Krites”).

Even though it was 3pm, the place was PACKED.  I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like during peak lunch hour!  I loved the family style, casual ambience. There were two giant rooms of huge wooden tables and each room had a long line – My friend and I strategized – he took the condiment line to pick up some jalapenos and avocados, and I tackled the meat.  While I was waiting and pondering what to order, I noticed this awesome sign and knew this place was as real as it gets:

Meat is ordered by the pound and served up on butcher paper.  The place didn’t even serve sides – they had their priorities straight.  I wanted to try EVERYTHING on the menu so I asked for half a pound of their pork ribs (which is what I was most excited about), a quarter pound of prime rib (a friend I made while standing in the 25 minute long line said I HAD to try it), one regular sausage, one jalapeno-cheese sausage, and ¾ pounds of beef brisket for my friend.  I was salivating as I watched the man take the prime rib straight out of the smoker and cut it into thin, juicy slices.

They threw in some pieces of sliced bread and saltine crackers, but I knew I wasn’t going to be wasting any stomach space with those.

Now, I’m usually a hot sauce kind of girl but I didn’t even dare ask for BBQ sauce as I was told it would be taken as a major insult.  And sure enough, as soon as I bit into my first rib, I knew why the sauce wasn’t needed – the flavor explosion in my mouth was insane, and the meat was so tender I barely had to chew.  I can safely say the peppery spice rub made these ribs the best I’ve ever had.

The sausages were incredible – glistening and juicy, they had just enough spice for my taste.  The casing was super thin and the sausage was deliciously flavored with hints of jalapeno that didn’t over power the meat.

The prime rib lived up to its rave review – It was so tender and meaty.  Not a lot of spice was incorporated, but it didn’t need it; The cut of meat and the way it cooked in the smoker did enough to infuse the perfect amount of flavor.

My friend and I left Kreuz Market extremely pleased with ourselves for getting through almost 2 pounds of meat.  Even though I didn’t have many points of comparison in the land of BBQ, I knew I had experienced one of the best.  Next time you are in Texas and in driving distance of Lockhart, you can’t pass up a stop at the famous Kreuz Market.

KREUZ MARKET

www.kreuzmarket.com

(512) 398-2361

619 North Colorado Street, Lockhart, TX 78644-2110


Puff Pastry Rocks My World

February 1, 2010

If there’s one thing for which I have consistently had a weakness for as long back as I can remember, it’s puff pastry.  Its flaky, buttery, crunchy-ness is irresistible and can be used to make anything from savory hors d’oeuvres to delicious desserts, and even works amazingly well as a crust for cheese (ie. Brie), or even meat and fish in so many different ‘encroute’ style entrees (salmon and filet mignon are great options for this).  It comes in the form of shells that can be filled with saucy goodness, or in sheets to be cut up in any shape desirable.

When I was invited to take part in another friendly ‘BBQ and sides’ cook-off at a get together last weekend, this crowd pleasing and simple appetizer came to mind immediately: Puff pastry rounds topped with tomatoes, basil, melted mozzarella, arugula, and Parmesan cheese.  Not only is it a dish I could prep everything for in advance and easily assemble at my friend’s place, but it involved Puff Pastry – enough said.

It turned out to be a hit, and it actually received 2nd place which allowed me to walk away with a super soft and comfy Fuzzy Wuzzy “Snuggie” type blanket! I thought I’d share the recipe so that others can enjoy this super easy dish that works great as an appetizer when entertaining, or even as a snack for yourself!

Puff Pastry Rounds with Tomatoes, Basil, Mozzarella, and Arugula

[Makes 8 Rounds – each about 4 inches wide]

WHAT YOU NEED

  • 2 Puff Pastry Sheets – defrosted per package instructions
  • Small Handful of Flour
  • 2 Table Spoons Tomato Paste
  • 2 Table Spoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • A Handful of Fresh, Chopped Basil
  • 3-4 Roma Tomatoes Cut into Thin Slices
  • Fresh Mozzarella (Bufala or Burrata recommended) – 8-10 thin slices
  • Sea Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
  • Pinch of Sugar
  • Handful of Arugula
  • Parmesan Cheese – to grate
  • 2 Heavy Bottom Baking Sheets and 2 sheets of Parchment Paper

WHAT TO DO

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 425 F
  2. Lightly flour a surface where you can lay out the defrosted puff pastry sheets. Choose a round item in your kitchen to use as a guide to cut your pastry sheets into circles – a large coffee mug works great, and should allow you to get about 4 rounds per sheet.
  3. Vigorously poke each round with a fork.  Lay the rounds on a sheet of parchment paper placed on a baking sheet. Cover the rounds with another sheet of parchment paper, and then place the second heavy bottomed baking sheet on top – this will keep the rounds flat by preventing them from rising.
  4. Bake the rounds for 16-18 minutes, or until golden brown.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the tomato paste, basil, and olive oil in a bowl.  Add about half a teaspoon of freshly ground pepper, and a pinch of sea salt to taste.
  6. When the rounds are done baking, remove from the oven and add the tomato spread you just made on each one – like you would on a pizza.  I like to add a little extra black pepper at this point.
  7. Lay 2-3 slices of the Roma tomatoes on top of the spread and sprinkle some sea salt on each one.
  8. Place 1-2 slices of Mozzarella on the tomatoes.  Add a pinch of salt, and a pinch of sugar on the cheese.
  9. Put the rounds back in the oven (uncovered) for about 5-10 minutes – or until the cheese melts and slightly bubbles.
  10. Once the rounds are out, top them each with a few leaves of arugula and shaved Parmesan cheese, and these crispy, flavorful bites are ready to be enjoyed!

Puff Pastry Round with Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella, Arugula

*Adapted from a recipe in No Fuss Dinners: Deliciously Simple Recipes for Cooking After Work by Caroline Marson

My Version of a TV Dinner – A Healthy, Easy Recipe for a Quick Meal!

January 12, 2010

As I was driving home after a long day and late night at work, all I was looking forward to was turning my brain off, sitting on the couch with my trusty DVR, catching up on the latest episodes of How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory, and, of course, since I was starving, I wanted something to eat that was tasty and healthy, yet quick and easy. I used my commute home to think about what I could concoct in less than 30 mins with things I had left in my pantry, fridge, and freezer, since I definitely had no energy to make a trip to the grocery store.  Here’s what I came up with!

[This will make about 1 meal, with just enough left over to take to lunch the next day!]

Flavorful Shrimp Spaghetti…with a Twist

WHAT YOU NEED

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Enough to coat the bottom of a saute pan
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic – each sliced into quarters
  • Dried Red Chili Flakes – amount depends on your spice-tolerance. I like a lot 🙂
  • Palm-ful of shredded Sage Leaves – totally optional, I happened to have some left so threw them in for extra flavor
  • Handful of cherry tomatoes sliced in half lengthwise
  • 5-7 Frozen, Uncooked, Peeled Shrimp, Chopped into bit size pieces – I like the “Argentinian Shrimp” from Trader Joe’s, but any kind works.
  • 1-2 Handfuls of Sliced Cremini Mushrooms – Shiitake Mushrooms would work great too
  • 1 Cup Dry White Wine
  • 1 Lime or Lemon
  • About half a box (1/2 lb) of Spaghetti (or any other long pasta you have on hand)
  • Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper – to taste

HOW TO MAKE IT

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil with the garlic and chili peppers over medium heat until the garlic turns golden brown.
  3. Add the sage leaves, and saute for about 1 minute.
  4. Add the mushrooms, and saute for about 2-3 minutes, or until they start to soften.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper at this point.
  5. Throw in the cherry tomatoes and toss so everything is coated.
  6. After about 2 minutes, move everything to one side to make some space in the pan, and add the shrimp there. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper.
  7. At this point, put the spaghetti in the boiling water.  Depending on the thickness of the pasta, it shouldn’t need more than 6-8 minutes to complete cooking, but keep an eye on it and taste occasionally after the 6 minute mark.  If the pasta is just soft enough so it’s not crunchy, but still has a slight bite (“al dente”) you’ll want to move the pot away from the heat and add a couple cold glasses of water to stop the cooking.
  8. You’ll notice the shrimp start to become opaque after about 2 minutes. Flip the pieces over.  After another 2  minutes or so, toss all the ingredients together so they are combined.
  9. Pour in the white wine and let the mixture simmer over medium-high heat until the alcohol cooks out – about 2 minutes.
  10. Squeeze about half the lime or lemon’s juice in and stir to combine. Lower heat back down to medium.
  11. The pasta should be done by now!  Lift the noodles (shaking off excess water first) into the saute pan and combine with all the other ingredients (reserve the pot of water you cooked the pasta in).  Add salt and pepper to your liking and squeeze the rest of the lemon/lime.  Continue to saute the entire mixture over medium heat for about 2 minutes.  If the mixture is too dry for any reason, add a ladle or two of the pasta water.

Super Refreshing Arugula, Watermelon, Feta Salad

WHAT YOU NEED

  • Baby Arugula – you can find this at almost any grocery store, pre-washed in a bag.  It has a nice, spicy flavor.
  • A handful of Watermelon chopped into bite size cubes – Trader Joe’s sells mini-watermelons that are perfect.  You can also buy the pre-cut kind.
  • Crumbled Feta – “Athenos” is a great brand to go with.
  • The juice of 1/2 Lime or Lemon
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste

HOW TO MAKE IT

  1. Combine all the ingredients right before you want to eat it. Toss. Eat!

~ESSENTIAL SIDE NOTE~ To round everything out, since you opened a bottle of white wine to make the pasta, pour yourself a glass for extra relaxation – it goes great with the meal!

My Austin Adventure – Day 1

January 6, 2010

As the end of 2009 was fast approaching, and I found out that I was getting an entire week off work, I decided that I needed to plan a mini-trip to close out the year.  Now, normally when I have an opportunity to travel, my mind (and stomach!) automatically goes to international destinations…Turkey, Egypt, Argentina, Chile, Philippines are among many of the countries next on my list to explore.  This time, however, I realized how much of the US I have yet to see and I knew that I wanted to start discovering some of the most fun cities America has to offer.  After much brainstorming, facebook friend advice, and online searches, I decided on Austin in the big state of Texas.  Granted, not a city where people normally think of taking a “vacation,” but I had only heard about how great of a town it is, how fun the live music scene can be, and come on – I’ve ALWAYS wanted to experience REAL Texas BBQ!  I was finally going to get my chance.

Naturally, when I travel, I tend to plan my days around my meals.  It’s not even intentional!  Just kind of happens.  This time, I hopped on the plane and made my way to the city of the Long Horns (who will be going down in the national championship this week!!  Sorry, the SC Trojan in me couldn’t hold back) with absolutely no plans or agenda – my favorite way to travel and eat.

I checked-in to a totally hip yet classy eco-friendly boutique hotel called Hotel San Jose on South Congress in the historic district of Austin, on the south side of the city.  It was perfect!  There was a cozy outdoor lounge right off of the lobby complete with a fire pit and heaters, and where live music is played regularly.  The rooms were modern and simple, but very comfortable and large with a sitting area, bedroom, bathroom, and even a little patio sitting area.  Service was impeccable – the guys at the desk really took it to heart and talked to me for a good 15 mins when I asked them for some dinner recommendations.

One of their suggestions was Lambert’s – they described it as one of the best “American” food and BBQ places in Austin that also has live music – The two exact things I came to this city for.  I was sold.   I walked in and the sound of live jazz couldn’t have been better!  The place had a woodsy but slightly trendy feel – appropriate for being in downtown.  I sat down, ordered a glass of Malbec, and perused the menu. The decision was not easy, but I went with the Fried Green Tomatoes with Crab Salad appetizer and Country Style Pork Ribs with a side of Green Chili Cheddar Grits.  It was deeeeelicious.  The ribs had so much flavor, I didn’t even feel the need to use any of the 3 BBQ sauces that sat in front of me – which is saying a lot considering I put hot sauce on almost everything.  It was my first time eating grits and I was pretty impressed.  I could totally see how they can have just about any flavor mixed in, and be eaten at any time of day.

Despite the fact that my stomach was telling me to stop, I decided to order the super creamy, velvety, decadent Smoked Chocolate Pudding topped with salted cream for dessert.  To go with it, I had to ask the bartender to make me a Hot Toddy since I’d never had one and he claimed it was one of his specialties.  I definitely didn’t regret the decision.  He mixed the drink in front of me (so now I can make it at home!) – a shot of bourbon mixed with enough hot water to fill the glass, a pinch of nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, a couple whole cloves, a cinnamon stick, a squeeze of lemon, and a few spoonfuls of honey stirred in.  Hands down one of the best cocktails I’ve had. It was spiced perfectly and totally warmed my insides.

The next morning, I took an awesome 2 mile walk  from my hotel to Progress Coffee in east Austin (@ProgressCoffee).  I had heard so many great things about this place.  It was even recently featured in Bon Appetit Magazine’s “Top 10 Best Boutique Coffee Shops” list! Great ambience: There was outdoor seating – which is always a plus for me, free WiFi – great for the students, and the music volume inside was just right to create both a comfortable social scene and conducive study environment at the same time.  I ordered the 5th Street Turkey Sandwich with Chips and Salsa – the bread was fresh, the chips were crispy.  It was an all around good lunch.

I had so much fun at my next stop.  Most people probably would have looked for some good shopping spots or local tourist sites to kill the time in the afternoon, but when I found out that the flagship Whole Foods market (aka. “Carmen’s heaven” as my friends describe it) was right on the west side of downtown, I got way too excited for my own good and had to check it out immediately.  I will proudly admit that I spent over an hour just walking around the place wishing that it was MY local Whole Foods market in LA.  They had everything you could think of:  From the multiple specialty eateries (vegan/vegetarian, seafood, pasta, paninis, etc), to the expansive meat and seafood sections, to the dedicated area for wild mushrooms in the produce section, my mind was racing with all the things I could make.  I could easily go on forever if I mentioned every detail so I’ll just highlight some of my favorites:

A Chocolate Bar complete with a tantalizing chocolate fountain, a number of different house-made chocolate candies and truffles, at least 5 varieties of chocolate covered apples, piles of toffee, bark, chocolate covered nuts, and so many other things I had to walk away from before completely over indulging.

The Cheese Counter – I walked up to it and had to shut my mouth after realizing that my jaw had dropped.  I felt like I was in France. They had just about EVERY kind of cheese you could want, from the rare moldy goat cheeses, to Brillat Savarin – a luscious and decadent cow’s milk triple cream brie cheese that has the creamiest, richest texture of any cheese out there. It feels almost like ice cream, and goes great paired with dates and/or walnuts.  It’s pricey, but totally worth it, even for a sliver. You’re missing out on one of life’s finest pleasures if you don’t taste it!

Naturally, I’ll follow the cheese with the amazing Wine Section. This part of the market felt like a dedicated wine store in and of itself, complete with a wine tasting counter.  There was an awesome selection of domestic and international wines, as well as  great deals on many varieties, including a few different types of Champagne and Prosecco (which was appropriate since New Year’s Eve was right around the corner).

Finally, I have to highlight the Nut Roasting Counter. What really excited me here was that you could make your own nut butter totally fresh.  It was like a self-serve frozen yogurt shop – there were canisters of the roasted nuts where you pull the lever and watch the nutty, buttery goodness pile into plastic containers.  They had the standard nut options, but I loved that they also offered peanut-chocolate and almond-chocolate – 2 combinations you can’t really find pre-packaged and mass distributed. To top it all off, they had very fresh nut oil and honey dispensers, including varieties infused with flavors like lavender.

Little did I know at this point what was to come…and that my second day in Austin was going to entail more than 4 meals, a celebrity owned cafe,  never ending smoked meat, and the best Belgian beer, but I’ll have to wait until my next post to share the delicious details.

HOTEL SAN JOSE

www.sanjosehotel.com

(512) 852-2350‎

1316 South Congress Avenue, Austin, TX‎

LAMBERT’S

www.lambertsaustin.com

(512) 494-1500

401 West 2nd Street, Austin, TX 78701-3802

PROGRESS COFFEE

www.progresscoffee.com

@ProgressCoffee

(512) 493-0963‎

500 San Marcos Street, Austin, TX‎

WHOLE FOODS (Flagship)

www.wholefoodsmarket.com

(512) 476-1206

525 North Lamar Boulevard, Austin, TX 78703-5411