Friday, April 30, 2010

Ranoush: great food, overbearing service

I went to Saleem's on the loop a couple of years ago and thought it was pretty mediocre. The falafel was dry, the pita was cold, and it was all very dark and dingy. Now Saleem's is called Ranoush under new ownership (i'm guessing), and though the 'new' restaurant still serves Middle Eastern cuisine, everything else is different. Better atmosphere and definitely better food.

Our meal was absolutely delicious. The only downside to our meal was an overzealous red-headed waitress. She must have asked how we were doing twenty times, and she rushed us to order and to pay our bill. Total turn-off.

But back to the glorious food. We started with the Traditional Mezza for Two and split it between the four of us as an appetizer.

We were all wowed by the amount and quality of the food. The baba ganoush was nice and thick, the hummus came with some whole chickpeas, and it all was accompanied by a basket of warm pita. Pita served warm is so key. The cheese fatayer (pie stuffed with feta, fresh parsley, and onion) was to die for.

I loooooove falafel, and I was not disappointed with Ranoush's. It was hot and crispy on the outside, and soft but not too dry on the inside:

The kibbeh's (traditional Syrian dish of fried balls of spiced meat and burghal) outside texture was also hot and crispy and yum.

I love the fun shape of the kibbeh! I didn't love the inside as much, but that's only because I don't like gamey meat, and I have a feeling the meat inside was ground lamb.

So after this appetizer plate was only about half-eaten, our waitress came and asked if she could take it away.

What. the. heck.

I can deal with slow waiters, annoying waiters, even waiters with attitude... but the second you try to take away my delicious food, you are dead to me. There was so much food left on the plate! I could NOT believe taking it away was even a possibility.

And after our entrees came, she tried to take our app plate away AGAIN. I was about to punch her in the face. And I usually try not to punch people.

Seth and Jake ordered the beef shwarma, and Deirdre ordered the lamb shish kebab. It all looked like this:


I got the batenjaan bil foren: baked aubergines, onions, green and red peppers in a tomato sauce.

Did you know that aubergines = eggplant? I had no idea. I'm glad my meal partners are more vegetable-savvy than me.
I never had this dish before, so I don't really have a good comparison, but I really enjoyed it. The slight bitterness of the eggplant went well with the tang of the sauce. It heated up well the next day, too.

All I know is that the rice was fluffy and perfect!
Can't wait for my next visit to Ranoush...

But that red-head better NOT be there!

6501 Delmar Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63130

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More Congee Bowery and J'Chanceux Macaron Impulse Buys

Last Saturday, I convinced myself to get out of bed with the promise of comforting congee to nurse my unfortunate cold. 

So Congee Bowery it was (my new obsession), but this time I made it out there at the more respectable time of 12:30 p.m.

Apparently, during the day, the waitresses double as food prep people, and they use the dining room to prepare massive quantities of Asian vegetables.  Later, a guy tried to buy some of these vegetables from them, and it was a painful 5 minute conversation with a huge language barrier.  He did not get any of these vegetables.

More duck and meatball congee.  This time, my congee had more ginger and duck skin, which I especially enjoyed.  My love for poultry skin is probably one of the more disgusting (though insanely delicious) things you'll find out about me.

I branched out and ordered pan fried shimp noodles.  They are just basic flat rice noodles with tiny bits of dried shrimp and scallions.  Super greasy, but tasted fine in small doses.

Congee Bowery is the best cheap date.

 After filling up on congee, I wandered back to the Spring St subway stop.  I was minding my own business, when my eyes immediately strayed to this glass case:

Macarons are just so gosh darn pretty.

The glass case belonged to J'Chanceux, a small bakery that is attached to Green Apple, known for their organic ice cream.  A super nice Asian woman named Vivien opened this shop about a year ago, and she was sooo nice and letting me take a billion pictures of her confections.

I stared at all the options.

What the.


So I walked away with only two (and you didn't think I had any self-restraint!).

Left: Jasmine, Right: Peanut Butter (you know it, baby)

One day, Diana, our macarons will have glorious feet like this.

The Jasmine had a nice creamy buttercream inside.  There was a subtle tea taste.

Hello, beautiful.

Mmm.  Tasted like a fun Nutter Butter.

I really did enjoy the J'Chanceux macarons, not only because of their brilliant colors, but the texture was good: moist with just the right amount of chew and a slightly crisp shell. It might be a touch too soft (as you can gather from the demolished appearance of the macaron after just one bite), but I did not mind it too much.

Diana's favorite macarons remains Madeleine Patisserie, however, I think I might rank J'Chanceux as my current favorite due to the more varied and inventive flavors.  In analyzing my photos, I had completely overlooked the "Cinnamon Cream Cheese" macaron, so this will be a note to self to inspect this tiny shop a little closer next time.  I was pretty pleased with this impulse buy !

98 Bowery
New York, NY 10013-4750
(212) 965-5028
Congee Bowery Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon  
202 Mott St
New York, NY

Joy and Frozen Custard @ Ted Drewes

Studying for law school finals is the opposite of fun. Your brain hurts, your butt grows, and the days and nights sort of blend together. Which is why study breaks are a must.

Deirdre, Emily, and I had our hearts set on a Donut Drive-in study break, but God must have said, "not today," because the place was closed an hour before we got there. Luckily, it's near the famous frozen custard stand that has fed St. Louis since 1929. Ted Drewes is probably the third thing that people think when they think St. Louis: 1) the Arch, 2) the Cardinals, and 3) Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. In fact, it was recently named the #37 tastiest place to chow down in the nation by the Travel Channel!

During great weather and on weekends, the line can be a bit daunting. Today, not so much. Yay.

Some of the specialties:
You're thinking, "What the heck is concrete?" Concrete is what TD is famous for, and it can be described as "custard blended with any combination of dozens of ingredients, served in a large yellow cup with a spoon and straw. A concrete is blended so thick that it and its spoon do not fall out when the cup is turned upside-down." Thank you, Wikipedia - I'm waiting for the day I can quote you in legal briefs.

Here's Deirdre enjoying her Fox Treat:

And Emily's All Shook Up (or some name like that, with reese's and bananas):

Pillowy, creamy, and yumilicious.

They both ordered minis, and I would have done the same if I knew that was an option. Instead, I ended up with a regular strawberry shortcake which looked humongous, but I ate it all anyway. Because it was that good.

Apologies for the mess, but I wanted to show you the shortcake on the bottom. This thing was Amazing. The vanilla custard itself was soooooooooo smooth and creamy. How do they make it so smooth?! Wish I knew. I could have eaten a gallon. They put the vanilla custard over shortcake and then top the whole thing with strawberries and strawberry sauce. Sounds pretty standard, but it was really fabulous.

The serendipitous perk about ordering a regular-sized item is that you get to keep the plastic cup it comes in. Perfect for holding random things at home.

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
6727 Chippewa
St. Louis, MO 63109
(additional location on S. Grand)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Impulse Buy: Doughnut Ice Cream Sandwiches at Peter Pan Bakery

It was another lovely day in New York yesterday, and I found myself with an extra half an hour before the Poprally event, wandering around Williamsburg.

Such a nice day, even the pigeons were hanging out on the rooftop.

Somehow, as fate would have it, I found myself yet again staring at these through the glass of the one and only Peter Pan. 

I need these.

I had a half hour of time + stomach space + a promise I had made to you to come back for their doughnut ice cream sandwiches?!  The stars have aligned my friends.

The interior.

I asked for a doughnut ice cream sandwich and was given the option of a red velvet or chocolate cake doughnut.  You don't even have to guess which one I picked.  The ice cream flavors were limited also: strawberry or mint chocolate chip.  It took me a few seconds to imagine the flavor combinations of a red velvet doughnut mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwich (have you ever seen so many nouns next to each other?), so I played it safe and got the strawberry.

This is what the end result looked like!

In the end, there was so much ice cream, I ended up knife and forking it.  The red velvet doughnut strawberry ice cream sandwich was a solid flavor and texture combination, and it tasted better when I let the ice cream melt a little and get absorbed into the doughnut.  I could only imagine that if they used the glazed red velvet cake doughnut to make the sandwich (they had used naked cake doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar for mine), the crackling goodness of a sugar glaze would really take this one over the top !

After, I headed to the Poprally event and watched the artist print hundreds of LP album covers for us to take as souvenirs.  Trang and I had misunderstood the event's description and thought we would be able to silkscreen also, but apparently the collaborative aspect of the event was him printing and us taking.

I miss silkscreening. :-(

The exhibits inside PS1 were a bit controversial (total understatement) but this picture is totally PG and pretty neat: the floor of a massive room was completely covered with records.

Records, records, records!

And that was Saturday afternoon !

Peter Pan Bakery
727 Manhattan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY‎
Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 24, 2010

NY Nights: Bistro Cassis + Madame Butterfly + Junior's

Last Friday, Greeshma and I had one of those perfect New York nights. 

We met for dinner at Bistro Cassis, a charming French bistro on the Upper West Side that is tres romantique at night, with candlelit tables.  

Greeshma, at Bistro Cassis, with opera bow in her hair!

Our perfect dinner included the following cast of characters:

Warm French baguettes.  I ate about ten of these that night after befriending the patient bread server.

Escargots a la Bourguignonne (snails with garlic herb butter sauce)

Moules a la Creme de Pernod (Mussels sauteed in garlic and oil with a touch of Pernod and cream)

Haricots Verts (string beans)

Greeshma delighted with the culinary performance thus far. 

Everything was so-so-so-so delicious!

The escargot were cooked perfectly, not rubbery in the least.  After you finish eating the escargot, you then dip your bread into the dish and collect all the herb goodness left behind!

This is how I ate at least five pieces of bread.
I ate the next five pieces of bread by dunking them into the cream sauce served with the mussels.

The mussels were fresh and super plump.  I could eat a million of them.

The haricots verts were also sooo delicious for being just skinny string beans.  Very crisp and flavorful.  They totally inspired me to buy a bag of frozen haricots verts from Trader Joe's recently. Mine will not be as flavorful, but I will just think about Bistro Cassis as I eat them and reminisce.

After eating copious amounts of bread and sauce, we walked over to catch NYC Opera's production of Madame Butterfly.  I know very little about opera, so I had no idea whatsoever of the tragedy that would ensue three hours later, but I found the crazy plot a bit shocking to say the least. 
Cast at final bow, with the conductor

Meanwhile, during the performance, the salt imbued in our dinner had made Greeshma and I crazy-thirsty for some desserts, so not knowing many stellar late-night dessert spots, we directed our cab driver to take us to Junior's!

Junior's is a bit of a hokey spot in that it is smack dab in the middle of Times Square and has a huge sign boasting the best cheesecake in the entire world.  It's tourist central.  But it is also super-delicious-cheesecake central.  Sometimes, tourist spots are not too bad.  Especially when you have a craving for sweets at 11 p.m.!

My favorite: The Strawberry Shortcake Cheesecake.  Every strawberry shortcake should have an entire wedge of strawberry cheesecake tucked inside.

Mmm.  Gotta get a bit of everything.

What is this wall of chocolate chips?

Why, it's Greeshma's chocolate mousse pie with a side of cheesecake!  This hefty slice is good for at least three whole servings!

Greeshma, wondering if she is in heaven (because heaven will totally look like this!)
And that was our entire night!  French fare, Italian opera and good ol' fashioned American cheesecake!

225 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10023

1515 Broadway
New York, NY