Grand Central Oyster Bar, the Sequel

IMG_2560

I know what you’re probably thinking.  Grand Central Oyster Bar, AGAIN? Yes, I do wonder about it myself as to why I even bother blogging about Maya and my food adventures in New York City when we go to the same few places over and over and over again … but please forgive me. We are two creatures of gastro habit.  We like what we like.  And I like to document our trip here so we can look back and reminiscent, even if I’ve written about this place twice on this blog already (here and here).  wink

IMG_2570

But look! We ordered grilled scallops, something other than oysters this time for a change! Isn’t that an improvement? Oh, wait, what? We ordered the same thing before? Okay, fine, I give up. I’m sorry. There, are you happy?

We certainly were, after two dozen fresh oysters and a plate of scallops drained in butter, all washed down with a (few) bottles of lovely Chardonnay.

I Wasn’t Shaken to the Core

shake shack

(Photo credits: www.onthesetofnewyork.com and  www.adashofcinema.com)

The movie, “Something Borrowed,” got me interested in Shake Shack. Then I started reading all the raving reviews about the burger shop on the Web and got even more intrigued.  I’m not much of a hamburger person, but I am a culinary ambulance chaser, so naturally, I felt the need to try it and see what the hype was all about myself.

Yet the last two times I was in NYC, I was a pseudo-vegetarian, so I had to forgo the opportunity to decipher the mystery behind a hamburger and frozen custards that seem to bedazzle the entire island of Manhattan. (I go through the “I ain’t gonna eat no meat no mo” phase probably twice a year, which lasts about a month each time, and they somehow always landed on days I traveled to NYC.)

shake shack 2

I walked by Shake Shack on Madison Square Park on several occasions but never got in a (long) line for the famous hamburger. These photos were taken during my trip two years ago, while I slide glanced the patrons enjoying the juicy burger with envy.

This time around, I was committed to trying the burger, once and for all.  Maya and I went over to the original Madison Square Park location hungry and ready to grub on a Sunday afternoon (we even walked 30-some blocks from our hotel in Midtown East to work up our appetite) only to find that the tiny shack that stood in the middle of the petit park was temporary closed for renovation!  What the #$@!##%*&#! cry

Well, when life throws you a lemon, you go for lemon gelato, right?

eataly with maya

We were a little too hungry and annoyed to go over to its other locations so we decided to eat at Eataly across the street instead.  We were bummed about Shake Shack but weren’t complaining too much about the unexpected change of plan because Eataly is pretty awesome, evident from my previous posts here and here.  Yes, we like this place a lot.

IMG_2534

One look at this lovely charcuterie plate (SALUMI MISTI: An Assortment of Artisanal Salumi) and we were saying, “Shake who?” lol

IMG_2536

These are melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

IMG_2539

AGNOLOTTI del Plin con Sugo d’Arrosto: Housemade Meat Filled Pasta with a Veal Reduction, for Maya.

IMG_2540

TAGLIATELLE al Ragù di Manzo: Housemade Tagliatelle with Short Rib Ragù and Parmigiano Reggiano® for me. This was amazing.  We finished our amazing lunch with a few delicious scoops of gelato.

You might think our day ended with this, but not so fast. We actually did make it out Shake Shack later that night.

IMG_2555

We got to go to the one in Time Square, after watching Gigi on Broadway, which, I’m sorry to say, was pretty awful. I thought the actual performance was good but the dialogues were way too long and often pointless, and the story itself was a blah. The theatre was empty so at least we got to move down quite a bit from our original, nose-bleed seats to get our money’s worth.

IMG_2559

Shake Shack was a mad house, even at 11:00 p.m., packed with tourists and locals alike. The line went out the door but it only took a few minutes to get to the front.  Maya spotted an actor in line (I forgot who she said it was), which was very New York!

I ordered the single Hamburger. I guess when you order the hamburger here, you can’t assume that it automatically comes with the usual lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion. Instead, you have to ask for them specifically, otherwise you’ll get a burger just with a beef patty and two buns.  Not knowing this, I ordered mine with extra raw onion (which I always do when ordering burgers) and the guy thought I only wanted a burger with, well, onion slices. Good thing I clarified it with the cashier beforehand or I would have been super disappointed.

Well, speaking of being disappointed, I must admit that I was a bit confused. The hamburger was decent, but mediocre at best.  Even after eating two (don’t judge — I was hungry), I couldn’t understand what all the buzz was about.  I thought In-N-Out was 3,425,462 times better and burgers from other shops, like Counters and Umami, were much juicier and flavorful than then the ones I bit into here.

Perhaps we are too spoiled with so many gourmet burger options in LA and PDX? I don’t know for sure, but you can be the judge if you’re an Angeleno, because Shake Shack is coming to West Los Angeles in 2016.

Maybe the burger just needed a little more Salt N Pepa.

Cronuts

IMG_9309

Maya and I finally got to experience the real Cronut during our recent trip to New York City. The famous croissant and donut hybrids were sold out on our last visit, so we decided to make it our priority to get our hands on them this time around. We dropped off our luggage in Midtown and made a beeline to Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho.

IMG_2491

There was already a line, about 20 people deep, when we arrived around 9:00 a.m. We had to wait for about an hour just to get inside the shop, which was another 20 minutes or so. We were a bit surprised because we thought the Cronut fever has died down by now, especially with all the other donut shops and patisseries offering copycat treats, but that surely wasn’t the case. The lady in front of us, a regular, told us that the line is usually much worse earlier in the morning.

IMG_2493

The Cronuts were already packaged in a yellow box and stacked near the register to speed up the line. Maya ordered a cup of coffee and I grabbed a cup of Earl Grey tea and seated ourselves on a small table near the door.

Now, the moment of truth …

IMG_2496

What I liked:

The Cronut definitely tasted more like a croissant than a donut, unlike some imitation faux-nuts (or “do-ssant”) at neighborhood 24-hour donut shops. It tasted like a very sophisticated dessert. I enjoyed the slight chewiness of the dough as well.

What I didn’t like:

A little too much pastry cream in the middle. The flavor of the day was strawberry and although I enjoyed the sweet and tangy combination of the berries, the cream tasted slightly off to me. I would have loved to try the simple vanilla pastry cream instead.

The verdict: ★★★★☆

IMG_2499

Extra: We ordered bake-to-order mini Madeleines. They were good but weren’t eye-popping or anything.

IMG_2497

I Love Lollipop Love

IMG_2340

I love the idea of making things from scratch. Like, from scratch scratch, as in I-want-a-sheep-so-I-can-make-my-own-yarn scratch. But since owning a sheep is not feasible at the moment, I resorted to making lollipops from scratch, like, you know, from sugar.

Here, I made Basic Lollipops from the book, Lollipop LoveDessert First’s Anita Chu’s third and newest dessert cookbook that came out last month.

I’ve been a fan her blog for years, and I admire her so much that I even asked her to be my friend on Facebook. And I jump up in joy, like a teenage girl at a boy band’s concert, when she occasionally leaves me sweet comments. Her stunning photography and warm writing style makes me feel like I’m reading a beautiful spread on a glossy magazine while sipping tea in Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris.

IMG_2327

Despite the fact that this was my first attempt at making candies from scratch (I’m made caramel but never hard candies), I think they turned out pretty well. Working with sugar was a little scary because the liquid can get really, really hot (up to 300 degree F), but I managed not to burn myself or turn the sugar into caramel (or worse, to a black tar). Pouring the liquid into a mold was a bit of a challenge, especially because you have to work very quickly, but it got easier by the third or forth cavity.

The only mistake I made was using a flavor oil. I used a strawberry flavoring liquid I purchased from LorAnn Oils and it created a slightly medicine-y taste. I think I put too much but I think I’ll be sticking to natural flavors going forward.

IMG_2433

I tried out another recipe from the book the other day. This time, I tried the Peach Iced Tea Lollipops recipe. Instead of the peach tea, I used Rose Royal black tea from my favorite tea house, Lupicia. I brewed two tablespoons of tea leaves with a cup of hot water and mixed that with sugar. I LOVED the flavor (reminded me of the candy version of a popular Japanese tea, Gogo no Kocha, or Afternoon Tea). I might reduce the tea leaves to one tablespoon instead of two next time since the brew came out pretty strong.

I hope you pick up the book and start making some delicious homemade candies free of artificial ingredients!

Try the World: Marrakech at Your Doorstep

IMG_2409

Subscription services are everywhere these days. There’s not a day that goes by without encountering video footage of eager customers unboxing their newest deliveries, whether they be clothes, body care products, snacks or whatever, on the Internet. Some do it because they received a free box to review, while others, like me, are doing it completely on their own. Either way, I bet companies are totally stoked to receive so much online exposure from eager bloggers and YouTubers posting their reviews on social media. Time has certainly changed from the days of newspaper and magazine subscriptions.

There’s my thoughts on a service called Try the World, that delivers gourmet items from a selected city in the world on a bi-monthly basis. This month was Marrakech and I received small but lovely edibles from one of Morocco’s largest cities.

IMG_2406

Inside the box were: Organic couscous, canned sardines, a jar of couscous sauce, a box of palmier, culinary Argan oil, and a jar of Kefta rub (mix of cumin, paprika, Morita peppers, mint, coriander, cilantro, and cinnamon).

In all honesty, I’m not sure if they are worth $39 (which includes shipping though) but I’m happy with the box since it allows me to try out things I probably won’t otherwise. And you can’t beat the cuteness of the Tiffany-blue box everything comes in. The box also comes with a description of each item, as well as a Culture Guide booklet with some tidbits of the city. They add a very nice touch.

One commitment I made upon starting this subscription is that I’m going to eat / use the items I receive as quickly as I possibly can. I decided that I won’t let them sit in a fridge or a pantry for me to forget. With that in mind, I polished the box of palmer in two days, and I had couscous and the sauce for dinner last night.

The Couscous sauce was good but it tasted more like salsa, so I added some cinnamon and brown sugar to bring out the North African flavors.

Of all the subscription services out there, I think Try the World is my favorite. The deciding factor for me was the Tokyo box. I didn’t get it but saw a bunch of pictures online and the items that were included were very legit. That’s when I knew that the company wasn’t run by someone who just went to a local ethnic supermarket and grabbed what they thought were “authentic.” I felt like they actually knew what they were doing!

I think it’s a little pricey but I love it, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to expand their culinary repertoire.

Oh, and here’s the free Venice box I received when I signed up.

IMG_2367

Inside the box were: A bag of coffee, dark chocolate, chocolate-covered cherries, small jars of pear jam and honey, a can of olive oil, and a jar of anchovies.

IMG_2375

Here’s the “What Can I Find in My (insert city name) Box” card, along with …

IMG_2381

Culture Guide.

Skylark Stole

IMG_2287

Introducing my latest finished project: Skylark Stole from the book, Custom Knits Accessaries, by Wendy Bernard. It was knit with four skeins of Frog Tree Meriboo MW yarn in purple (7511).

IMG_1985

My friend T visited me from Portland a few months ago, and brought with her four skeins of lovely, 70% merino wool / 30% bamboo blend from her neighborhood yarn shop called Dublin Bay Knitting Shop for my birthday. The awesomeness was two-fold: I’ve never worked with these soft blends before and I was dying to try; and this wonderful gift came from a non-knitter! How cool is this? Someone who’s never knit got me one of the softest and lovelies yarns I’ve ever owned!

She told me that staff at the shop who recommended this yarn was confident that I would love it. They were absolutely correct about that!

IMG_2274

Blocking an intricate lace is such a treat. I love watching the design come to life simply with a pull of the blocking wires. This is when you realize your time and energy spent knitting this garment was totally worth it. (It can also be a major heartbreak, however, when you discover a mistake or two you didn’t notice until now … eek!)  By the way, I folded the stole in half to block because I didn’t have enough room to stretch out the entire thing flat.

As for the knitting, I have to confess that I got confused by the pattern at first. Looking back, I’m a bit embarrassed to even admit this since Wendy’s patterns are always, always impeccable, and this one was no exception. I just didn’t read the direction carefully enough. Mea culpa.

My confusion was from the eyelet pattern repeats. I needed to add this 4-sitch eyelet repeat before each, 21-stitch chevron pattern plus one at the end  (for a total of four times) and not just at the beginning and the end of each RS row I incorrectly interpreted. Because of this, I had eight wandering stitches that I just could not find a home for!  Once I figured it out, knitting this stole was a breeeeeeeze.

The pattern is simple but interesting enough that kept me engaged throughout the entire project. I think placing markers after each pattern is key. I recommend that you utilize those little rings as much as possible. I even put one after two garter stitches at the beginning and end of rows for good measure!

IMG_2286

I had to think of an interesting way to photograph the finished stole. I thought about just laying it flat on the floor to showcase the design but I was afraid that my two year old will get to it and rip it out before my eyes (and she will)! So I decided to just hold it against the white wall.  I hope you can see the lovely lace pattern from these photos.

Here are other ways that I’ll be enjoying this stole.  It’s so versatile, I can wear it as a stole or a scarf.  I have a feeling that I’ll get a good use out of this garment all year long!

IMG_2277

IMG_2299

IMG_2302 IMG_2304