Cilantro UWS

Last night my husband and I went to Cilantro on the Upper West Side for $10 Fajita Night.  We’ve been to this location many times and we are familiar with the food and service.  We’ve always known that both the food and the service are inconsistent.  For example, the vegetable fajitas one night might be just a bunch of onions and green bell peppers and another night, there might be a cornucopia of grilled zucchini, eggplant, portobello mushrooms, yellow squash and a smattering of onions and green bell peppers.  The service one night might bend over backwards to make sure you are enjoying yourself and another night, you may have to ask 4 different individuals for more tortillas (like last night).

So, we have established the fact that this location is inconsistent, yes?  Why do we keep going back?  Well, $10 fajitas is a pretty good deal and 50% of the time, the service and food are good.  Sometimes they are even good on the same night!  Haha!  Now, the reason I write this post today is that last night was the worst ever.  I need to vent about it.

Last night as we sat down, we were brought our basket of chips and salsa and our glasses of water.  We placed our order quickly as we knew why we were there and what we wanted.  I ordered my usual vegetable fajita and my husband ordered his usual steak fajita.  The food was unusually slow to come out last night to the point where we actually polished off the basket of chips and salsa and were about to ask for more when the fajitas finally arrived.  We immediately noticed problem #1: the restaurant had run out of onions.  I asked the server, “No onions?” and he said “What? Oh yeah, we ran out of onions.”  This was not a huge deal but my husband’s dinner looked more like Chinese pepper steak than steak fajita.  Before that server left, my husband asked for more tortillas as this restaurant never gives us enough.  Problem #2:  the waiter said “There should be enough there.”  My husband said “Trust me, we’ll need more.  Can we have 4 or 5 more?”.  The server, with his shrewd bargaining skills, said “How about 3?”.  Fine.  Except, they never came.  So, we asked another server for some tortillas.  She brought 2.  We ate those in about 2 minutes.  We asked the same woman again, “Can we have some more tortillas, please?”  They never came.  So we asked the man who appeared to be the manager for some tortillas.  He brought 2 tortillas.  We gave up our fight for tortillas.  After having to ask for extra tortillas 4 different times only to have them rationed out to us on every other request, I told my husband to go ahead and enjoy those last 2 tortillas and I ate my veggies plain, with a knife and fork.  We finished our meal and we paid the check, asking for the change.  Enter Problem #3: they only brought the paper part of our change and kept the coin part!  What the hell is that?!?  Did they run out of onions, tortillas AND coin change???  Needless to say, we were quite frustrated with the evening as a whole.

You may be wondering, “Will you be going back?”.  The answer:  Probably.  “Why?”  Because, I haven’t found a better fajita deal in town and this one happens to be in our own neighborhood.  No subway ride necessary.

I do appreciate you letting me vent to you.  Feel free to vent to me anytime.

Roman Holiday

My husband and I have just returned from our “babymoon” in Italy.  We stayed in Rome for 8 nights and took a day trip to Florence.  We chose Italy for our babymoon destination as it was our #2 pick for our honeymoon.  This was my first trip to Italy but my husband actually lived in Rome while studying abroad in college.  How nice to have my own personal tour guide!

The weather in Rome and Florence was as expected for January… cool and wet.  Our transportation to and from Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome was expertly handled by Rome Cabs.  We stayed at Hotel Giardino in the center of ancient Rome.  For the price, location and hospitality of the staff, this place can not be beat.

Now, for the food.  My husband and I easily ate our weight in pizza, pasta, gelato and bread.  We did not take any photos of the food we ate as we did not want to stick out like sore thumbs.  A few places that I can recommend to you are:

Virginiae, located at 41 Via di Parione – we ate here twice we loved it so much.  We recommend the osso bucco (braised veal shank), the coda alla vaccinara (braised oxtail), the coniglio (rabbit) cacciatore and the rigatoni all’Amatriciana.

Pizza Ciro, located at 43/45 Via della Mercede – we ate here twice as well.  The pizza here is so delicious I swear I am starting to drool right now just thinking about it.  The crust is flavorful and the perfect balance of crispy/soft and chewy.  The toppings are fresh and simple.

Il Gelato di San Crispino, located at 42 Via della Paneterria – this gelateria is the most sterile eatery I have ever seen and the gelato is fresh, all-natural and heavenly.  The flavors are pure and uncomplicated.  I enjoyed the pistachio and date while my husband liked the hazelnut and chocolate chip.

We both refrained from partaking of any vino as I am expecting and my husband doesn’t like to drink alone.  He did, however, enjoy some espresso (I abstained from this as well but it sure did smell good!).

We truly enjoyed our Roman holiday.  Now we are eagerly anticipating the arrival of our little bundle of joy!

If you find yourself in Rome in the near future, I hope these recommendations are helpful to you.

Link of the Week: Maytag Dairy Farms

The people who know me very well, know that I have a fixation on all things Iowa.  Everything from caucuses to cheese.  I’m just joking about the caucuses, but I am serious about the cheese.  My favorite American blue cheese comes from Maytag Dairy Farms in Newton, Iowa.

I first learned about Maytag blue cheese when I was in college (in Iowa) and I was watching Emeril Lagasse on the Food Network cooking with Maytag blue cheese.  I heard him say “…Iowa…” and I was shocked that Iowa made a cheese that I had not yet heard of.  So, the next time I went home for a holiday, my mom and I hunted down this cheese and made ourselves every recipe we could find that called for blue cheese.  I’ve been hooked ever since.  It is the only cheese I use in my traditional blue cheese dressing and Buffalo wing dip.  I also love to make Maytag blue cheese butter to dress up steaks.

You can find Maytag blue cheese in most specialty cheese departments but if you can’t, you can mail order it directly from Maytag Dairy Farms.  Now that football season is here, why don’t you make some homemade blue cheese dip to go with your Buffalo chicken wings?  But be careful, once people taste the Maytag, they’ll want to come to your house every time to watch the game!  That being said, Go Iowa Hawkeyes!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

My husband and I enjoyed an early dinner with our good friends, Alyson and Lamar, tonight at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Harlem. After having our fill of ribs, chicken, brisket, sausage and an array of sides, we somehow had room for dessert. My husband’s choice reminded me of a pie that I make for him on occasion. He loves peanut butter and chocolate paired together and this dessert fits the bill for him quite nicely. It tastes like a big, frozen Reese’s peanut butter cup!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

1 (14oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 (8 oz.) container frozen non-dairy whipped topping, thawed
1 (6oz.) Oreo pie crust

In a large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and cocoa powder; mix well.
Add peanut butter and mix well.
Fold in whipped topping.
Spoon into crust.
Cover pie and freeze 6 hours.
Garnish as desired and serve.
Freeze leftovers.

Local vs. Organic

I have a question… Which is the best way to buy: Local or Organic?

There are many ways to debate this question and tons of research to support each side, I’m sure. Buying local products reduces the amount of fossil fuel burned in transporting the products to us, thereby reducing the emission of greenhouse gases (which have their own snowball effect of global disaster) into the atmosphere. Buying organic products reduces the amount of chemical pesticides and fertilizers (which can cause a variety of medical problems) we ingest.

If we had to choose one or the other, which would be the best option? Obviously, I would like to always be able to choose local and organic. I am, after all, a girl who wants to have her cake and eat it too (as long as it’s local and organic). Unfortunately, this is not always possible. One source of comfort for me is that buying a product that is either local or organic has to be better than buying a product that is neither.

So I ask you, Dear Reader, to offer your advice on this matter. Please leave me your comments and if you have friends who might be able to impart some wisdom on this subject, please send them over. I appreciate any and all opinions.

Thank you!

Foreign Food Night

You may have noticed that my husband and I skipped Foreign Food Night for July. I forgot to address this earlier (sorry), but we skipped it because the first weekend of the month was the 4th of July weekend and we were in Philadelphia visiting friends. The only foreign thing I tasted there was a really great Shiraz from Australia (yum)! So, we are going to pick back up in August. This time it’s my turn to choose which restaurant (remember my husband chose Nam last time)…

I have been trying to figure out what type of cuisine to choose for the last few days and I am leaning toward German. I don’t know why, exactly. German food, to me, seems to be a lot of sausage and meat and I am not much of a meat eater. Still, something is pulling me in that direction. I Googled “authentic German restaurant NYC” and came up with Zum Stammtisch, a restaurant in Glendale, Queens that appears to be inaccessible by subway. A friend of mine has recommended Lederhosen in the Village, so that’s a possibility. The menu at Zum Schneider in the East Village looks good but they seem to get mixed reviews.

Do any of my NYC readers have any suggestions on where to go to get my German food fix? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated….

Ode to Iowa

The recent flooding in the Midwest brings to mind my love for the great state of Iowa. Although I was not born or raised in Iowa, I did spend 4 very important years of my life there while in college. During this time in Iowa, I met some wonderful family farmers and I learned how difficult, yet rewarding, their job is. I have the utmost respect for family farmers and believe whole-heartedly that they deserve our support. Their farms are situated on some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. From the gently rolling hills to the green fields to the mighty rivers, it is all so pure and sweet.

I am not alone in my adoration of Iowa. The state has been immortalized on Broadway in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, in works of fiction such as Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County, in films such as Field of Dreams and in paintings such as Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

What homage to Iowa would be complete without mentioning Iowa’s contribution to our culinary lanscape? Iowa is often referred to as “the nation’s breadbasket” as the state is the the US’s #1 producer of corn, hogs and soybeans as well as a major producer of cattle & calves and dairy products. From this great agriculture comes great cooking. Today I searched amazon.com for Iowa, narrowed down by Cooking, Food & Wine, and found 1,478 results! That is a real testament to the deliciousness that is Iowa. One of my favorite cookbooks is Best of the Best from Iowa. Every recipe I have ever used from this book has been fantastic. From beverages to desserts, these recipes are infallible. These are recipes that anyone will enjoy, whether you’ve been to Iowa or not. And thanks to globalization, no ingredient is out of reach.

I encourage you to seek out and enjoy some delicious Iowa products. You’ll be glad you did.


Landscape 6 by Citizen110

Amy Ruth’s

My husband and I had dinner at Amy Ruth’s, a restaurant famous for it’s Southern cuisine, in Harlem tonight. This restaurant has been a favorite of celebrities, locals and tourists alike since opening in 1998. They are well known for their waffles, topped with everything from fried chicken to ribeye steak to fried catfish. The highlights, in my opinion, were the corn bread and the waffle topped with fried chicken wings. The corn bread is warm, soft and moist. The waffle is soft and fluffy while the chicken wings are crispy and deliciously seasoned. The lowlight was the “cheesy grits” which were under seasoned and simply topped with some shredded cheddar cheese. Their potato salad was very good as was the honey-dipped fried chicken. The macaroni and cheese was good but needed a bit of salt and pepper to bring out the flavor.

Here are some photos:

Corn Bread

Waffle with Fried Chicken Wings

Honey-Dipped Fried Chicken with Potato Salad and Mac-n-Cheese

Cheesy Grits

My rating (out of a possible 5):

Nam

As I mentioned yesterday, my husband and I went to Nam for Foreign Food Night. I must say, this month’s Foreign Food Night was a success. Nam is a lovely space in Tribeca with the most gracious service you could ever hope for. They are quick to refill your water glass, capable of answering any questions you may ask regarding the menu and their timing of courses could not be better.

We ordered 2 appetizers to share:

Grilled Lemongrass Beef Rolls

Rolls of grilled lemongrass beef with basil and bean sprouts wrapped in fresh rice paper served with a peanut dipping sauce. The grilled flavor of the tender, thinly sliced beef was delicious and the fresh basil added such a bright flavor while the peanut sauce lent an earthy aspect that we really enjoyed.

Steamed Mushroom Raviolis

The second appetizer was a steamed “ravioli” filled with mushrooms and topped with fried shallots, fresh basil and a lime broth. This dish had good flavor but was a bit difficult to serve and eat. The ravioli pasta was a limp rice paper and the filling fell out when we tried to distribute each ravioli to our plates. Once we got the raviolis in place, they were difficult to handle with our chopsticks. Problems aside, the dish was very tasty.

Crispy Red Snapper

My entree was a fillet of crispy red snapper in a chili lime sauce. Delicious! The skin of the fish was perfectly crispy and the flesh was moist and flaky. The chili lime sauce was out of this world and was soaked up nicely by a side of sticky rice.

Five-Spice Grilled Beef Wraps

My husband ordered one of the daily specials: 5-spice marinated grilled beef served with angel hair rice noodles, crunchy peanuts, mint, cilantro, lettuce leaves for wrapping and a chili lime sauce for dipping. He said it had excellent flavor and he really enjoyed the crunchiness provided by the peanuts as well as the fresh flavors of the herbs.

Coconut Panna Cotta

For dessert, I ordered the coconut panna cotta served with tapioca and a sesame tuille. I would have to say this dessert was only okay. The panna cotta had nearly no coconut flavor and an odd, lumpy texture. Additionally, the tapioca seemed a bit out of place in this dish. The sesame tuille was obviously affected by yesterday’s humidity as it was far from crisp.

Chocolate Mousse with Orange Sauce

My husband’s dessert, on the other hand, was great. He chose the chocolate mousse with orange sauce. It had intense chocolate flavor yet was light as a feather. The orange sauce complemented the mousse well as orange and chocolate do tend to make a delightful duo.

Overall, the night was wonderful and I would definitely recommend Nam to a friend.

My rating (out of a possible 5):