Tag Archives: Restaurants

There’s more to Orlando than Mickeyland (Part II of II)

On our way to brunch in New Smyrna Beach we drove through Cassadaga, which is nicknamed the “Psychic Capitol of the World.”  Even though I am not a big believer in psychics, I was intrigued, so we stopped and I took some photos.  The town has lots of medium/psychic shops, a hotel, and a spiritualist camp.  The main street is even called “Spiritualist Street.”

Colorful psychic storefronts

Kind of curious about psychic therapy...

On Saint Patrick’s Day we ate at the Swamp, which is a fun alligator-themed restaurant.  There were lots of fake alligators at the entrance and they actually served gator meat.  The restaurant is known for fish, so I ordered catfish with vegetables and hushpuppies because I had never had them before.  My friends also ordered fried pickles to start because they wanted me to try a Southern specialty.

Fried pickles

Catfish, hush puppies, string beans and mushrooms

The back of the Swamp restaurant

On my last full day in Florida, we went out to brunch at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill restaurant in DeLeon Springs state park.  The restaurant features grills on every table where you can cook your own pancakes.  I’ve been to several Japanese restaurants where you cook your own food, but I had never seen this pancake style.  I LOVED it!  We ordered pancakes and some toppings for the table and were given two batters (one white, one multigrain).  I also ordered iced coffee and was brought an entire pitcher.  They are very big on drinks in Florida!  Haha.  After brunch we went on a hike in the state park, which was lovely.

Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant (as suggested by the name, the restaurant is in a former sugar mill)

Make your own pancakes!

DeLeon Springs State Park


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Happy Holidays and a “Progressive” Seder at Joe Doe

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!  I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend!

All of my favorite holiday things (chocolate bunnies, egg matzo, pretty flowers).

The largest Easter bunny ever at Jacques Torres Chocolate Shop in Chelsea Market

This evening I attended a “progressive” Seder at Joe Doe, which is the first time I have ever celebrated Passover at a restaurant.  For my non-Jewish readers, Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the Exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  The first two nights of the eight-day holiday we observe by holding Seders, which are meals where we retell the story of the Exodus.

The first night of Passover I attended a Seder at my relative’s house.  For the second night my friend Bunny and I decided to go to a restaurant together.  I did some research and picked Joe Doe after reading this NYTimes article.  The ironic thing is that neither of us likes traditional Jewish food much, but it felt wrong to go out for sushi tonight.

The dinner was $65 per person, which is more than I usually spend on a meal, but it was a good price for four-courses in NYC and the atmosphere was great.  I had never been to Joe Doe before and found it very cute.  The bar was decorated with household Judaica to add a homey feel.  They played a lot of traditional Jewish music, a Debbie Friedman camp song, and a couple prayer songs (two versions of the “Four Questions”).  There were Maxwell House Haggadahs  (Seder books) available, but it was optional if you wanted to use them.

The food itself was good.  It would have been nice to see more vegetables, but it veered closer to traditional Jewish fare, though presented better than I’ve seen at any home Seders.  I have retyped the menu below and posted some photos of our fun meal.

Joe Doe ‘Progressive’ Passover 2012

$11 Elijah’s Punch…Chateau de Montifaud Cognac, Manichewitz, lemon, soaked cherries

First Course

Joe Doe Seder Sampler….maror, charoset, chicken liver, fried matzo

Second Course

Jewish Wedding Soup….chicken meatballs, matzo balls, pickled vegetables

Third Course

Slow Roasted Brisket….horseradish potatoes, parsley, upland cress

Fourth Course

Komish Cookie Sandwich….dark chocolate, cherry filling

Festive decorations

Bunny and the first course (Seder sampler)

Second course (Jewish Wedding Soup) - note I have never heard of Jewish wedding soup before...I think it is a spin on Italian Wedding Soup

Third course (brisket) - sliced thinner and with more visible fat than I'm used to, the presentation was also better than I'm used to.

Fourth course (dessert!) - I'm attributing my flush cheeks to heat from the kitchen and/or a single glass of Manischevitz AKA grape juice


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There’s more to Orlando than Mickeyland! (Part I of II)

I recently went to Orlando to visit family friends.  On my first day, my friend Renee and I went on a scenic boat tour around Winter Park, which is a former resort town fifteen minutes north of Orlando.   I had no idea that there were such beautiful lakes and canals in Florida!  I loved seeing the historic mansions around the lakes and  I would definitely recommend the boat tour.

Pre-Winter Park boat tour

After the boat ride, we went to the Mennello Museum of American Art, which is a small museum that features the work of folk artist Earl Cunningham.  I liked Cunningham’s brightly colored paintings, but the museum’s sculptures and grounds especially impressed me (the museum overlooks another lovely lake).

Cute sculpture on the grounds of the Mennello Museum of American Art

We also attended the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, which is a huge outdoor arts festival that takes place one weekend a year in downtown Winter Park.  It was a lot of fun walking around and visiting all of the booths (there were over 260 artists!).  My favorite booth featured the work of Michael Gard, whose hanging wire sculptures reminded me of people dancing in the sky.  We were planning on visiting the Morse Museum of Art, which has the largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany glass in the world, but we were exhausted from the festival.

Michael Gard's dancing scupltures

I had many memorable meals in Florida.  My friends wanted to me to see a typical Central Floridian restaurant so they took me to the Southern chain restaurant, Sonny’s Bar-B-Q.  I ordered sweet tea and was brought the largest glass I have ever seen in my life!  The waitress came around with refills, but the first glass had more than enough sugar for the day.  They gave us to go cups to take home the excess sweet tea.  I have only been to one other BBQ restaurant in my life, but I thought the BBQ was good and I liked the variety of sauces (sizzlin’ sweet, smokin’, sweet, and mild).

The biggest glasses EVER

Pulled chicken, garlic bread and steamed broccoli (I swear this tasted better than it looks!)

Another day we had a lovely brunch at the Grille at Riverview, which is a restaurant in New Smyrna Beach that overlooks the water.  The views were stunning!  The food was also very good.  I ordered plaintain crusted crab cakes and found the portions to be very generous.  I also tried my first bloody mary.

Grille at Riverview

Plaintain crusted crab cakes

Please stay tuned for part 2!

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The Anthony Bourdain Fan Club Post

Dinner at Les Halles

I recently read Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain’s memoir about working as a chef in the restaurant industry.  This was my first book by Anthony Bourdain and I really enjoyed it.  His writing voice sounds just like his speaking voice!  There were some funny parts and he’s very likeable, despite his disdain for vegetarians and people who order sauce on the side (I’m afraid he wouldn’t like me much because I have a tendency to do the latter).

The book received a lot of press for exposing the dark side of the restaurant business.  He does make the typical restaurant kitchen sound like a more savage place than I would have imagined, but somehow I already knew that breadbaskets are recycled and you shouldn’t eat fish on a Monday, so those parts weren’t shocking revelations.

My only gripe about Kitchen Confidential is that I would have liked to know more about Bourdain’s personal life and the gaps between his cooking jobs.  He mentions multiple times that he is a recovered heroin addict, but he doesn’t discuss this in depth.  I realize Kitchen Confidential is a food memoir and Bourdain has free rein to write about whatever he likes, but it would have been interesting to know more about how he recovered, since so few people survive heroin addictions.  I was also curious to know more about his wife (now ex-wife) who he occasionally mentions and to whom the book is dedicated.

Steak tartare

On a recent evening I was reading the book when my dinner plans fell through.  I was on the Les Halles chapter and had wanted to try the restaurant for a while, so I decided to go there solo.  Les Halles is a traditional French brasserie in Murray Hill where Bourdain worked as executive chef until the publication of Kitchen Confidential, which launched his career as celebrity chef/author/foodie extraordinaire.  He is still considered the “chef-at-large,” but I doubt he spends much time there.

I arrived around 9PM and was surprised that the restaurant and bar were very crowded, although I took the one available seat at the bar.  I’m hesitant to order my favorite French entrée, steak tartare, unless I’m in a very reliable establishment, but Les Halles fit the criteria.  I read online that they are known for making the steak tartare tableside and to order.  Since I sat at the bar I missed the show, but the bartender did ask if I wanted it hot, medium, or mild.  I picked medium and I think it was the largest portion of steak tartare that I’ve ever seen and also the best that I’ve had in NYC.  The steak tartare came with a side of French friends and a small salad.  Les Halles is known for their French fries and while I thought they were good, the steak tartare was more impressive.  After the meal the gentleman sitting next to me bought me a baby Guinness shot (Kahlúa and Baileys).  I had never had one before and while I found it a bit overly sweet, it made for a nice ending to a lovely meal.


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Vegetarian Meatballs in Williamsburg

Last night I went out to dinner at the Meatball Shop in Williamsburg. I feel a bit unoriginal writing about the meatball shop, since I first read about it in blogland (here, and then here).  I am not a huge fan of meatballs, but after reading so many rave reviews, I was intrigued.  I also read that there are ridiculously long waits at the original Lower East Side location, so when my friend invited me to meet her in Brooklyn, I decided it would be good time to try their newer location.  Relatedly, sometimes I forget that Williamsburg is only 10 minutes by subway from Union Square and provides a nice change of scenery, and always amusing people watching.

Williamsburg building with an owl on top (I think it was fake).

Rooftop owl

We arrived around 7:15 PM and there was no wait, but the place was packed.  My initial thought was that the décor was cute, but the acoustics were bad.  I was impressed with the ordering system (you checked off your order on a laminated menu and then gave it to your server).  The food was served suspiciously fast, but then again it’s a single specialty item restaurant, so I guess it doesn’t take them long to prepare.  I ordered the “naked balls,” which were described as, “Four Meatballs Served with your choice of sauce and a piece of Focaccia Bread.”  You could chose from five types of meatballs (classic beef, spicy pork, chicken, vegetable, daily special) and five types of sauce (classic tomato, spicy meat, mushroom gravy, parmesan cream, and pesto).  I selected the vegetarian balls with pesto ($7) and ordered a side of steamed spinach ($4).  My friend ordered the vegetarian balls with classic tomato sauce, served on pasta.

unphotogenic meatballs and spinach

We were both disappointed with our food as everything was very, very salty.  Even the steamed spinach tasted salty!  While I liked the pesto sauce, the meatballs themselves were definitely not one of the better vegetarian entrees I’ve eaten.  We were initially given a carafe of water, but it was taken away once we finished it, thus leaving us with no water for the rest of our meal.  I asked for more water and it was eventually brought in a glass, but no more carafe (apparently they can cook meatballs faster than they can pour water…humm).

The best part of the meal (and almost redeeming factor) was the dessert, which in my excitement I forgot to photograph.  My friend and I split an ice cream sandwich ($4) and we got to choose two cookies and an ice cream flavor (cookie options = chocolate chip, pb, brownie, oatmeal raisin, ginger snap; ice cream flavors = chocolate, vanilla, expresso, mint, caramel, and daily special of pb).  We selected a chocolate chip cookie, brownie cookie, and peanut butter ice cream.  The ice cream was delicious and the cookies were good too.

Overall the meal was OK, but the dessert was the only part I would want to repeat.  If I ever go back to the Meatball Shop, I would probably try the classic beef meatballs, because maybe that’s what the hype’s all about?  I feel like I missed something.

The Meatball Shop/170 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn/(718) 551-0520 OR 84 Stanton Street/New York, NY/(212) 982-8895

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Tofu Made 4X-Daily: EN Japanese Brasserie

Main room/semi-communal seating at EN Japanese Brasserie

Last month I took my boyfriend, Charles* to EN Japanese Brasserie for his birthday. Charles is a Japanophile, so I picked the restaurant by googling “best Japanese restaurants nyc.”  EN Japanese Brasserie is a chain in Japan, but the West Village location is their first restaurant in the US.  I was particularly excited that it specialized in izakaya (Japanese style tapas), since we go out for sushi a lot and it seemed like an interesting change.  I was sold when I read that the restaurant makes fresh tofu four times a day (6:00, 7:30, 9:00, 10:30).

When we arrived at EN Japanese Brasserie I was impressed by the décor, although not too pleased that we were seated at something resembling a bar/communal table (I think the individual tables were for groups of four?  I’m still not quite sure because I made our reservation about a month in advance).  On a related note, they also had cool/authentic looking Japanese party rooms, but they seemed more appropriate for large groups.

Charles ordered a flight of sake, which gave him the choice of three of six types of sake and came with a side of yasai chips (taro chips?).  I ordered a cucumber and vodka cocktail, which was very refreshing, but contained seemingly no alcohol.  I would probably choose the sake flight if I could order again.

Sake flight and chips

Since the restaurant specializes in tofu, we each ordered tofu, prepared in different ways.  I had the “freshly-made scooped tofu,” which you could get warm or chilled.  It was definitely the smoothest and softest tofu that I’ve eaten.

Freshly-made scooped tofu

Charles ordered Goma Dofu Age Dashi, described as, “sesame tofu lightly fried in a savory dashi broth with an array of mushrooms.”  It was delicious, although we found it amusing that it tasted so completely different from my tofu dish (tofu is versatile! hehe).

Fried sesame tofu

We also ordered a raw tuna and avocado salad and three types of o-banzai (small Kyto-style dishes).  For the o-banzai we choose eggplant, asparagus, and mushroom dishes.  I didn’t take photos of the salad or the o-banzai because I didn’t love any of them (though the mushrooms in peanut sauce were memorable).

Overall EN Japanese Brasserie was nice (good décor and service), although pricy, which I knew beforehand.  Considering I only really liked the tofu and drinks, I wouldn’t give it a high recommend, but I’m glad I tried it.

EN Japanese Brasserie/435 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014/(212) 647-9196

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent.


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