I recently made a much needed trip to visit my two best friends in the world April and Jen. It’s kind of a long story, but I have known April since I was 10. And when I moved to Boston for graduate school I met Jen. In 1999, April moved up to Boston and we all lived together. Jen and April hit it off immediately. So it’s pretty convenient for me that my two closest friends are super close and now live in New York City. Over the years my visits to New York have evolved. They used to include drinking wine at the apartment, getting dinner and drinks and then hitting bars until 4 a.m. , and pretty much not getting out of bed until at least noon. Now, it’s mainly dinner and drinks, with an occasional glass of wine enjoyed beforehand and we are out of bed by 9:30 to walk around the city. But the big emphasis is always food! This recent trip proved no different.
Friday night, after I had just flown in we went to the Turkish Grill, right around the corner from Jen’s place in Queens. I absolutely love Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food. You pretty much cannot go wrong in ordering. We started off by getting a bottle of Turkish wine, which was interesting. it was very spicy with a dark, red fruit taste. It was not a super full tasting wine and probably could have used a little more time in the bottle, but it was not a bad buy. And I always like to try different types of wines.
For dinner, we ordered a bunch of stuff to split. We started off with an order of babaganush. It’s kind of hard to mess up this smoked eggplant dip, and they didn’t! It was superb. We then got the Sigara Borek, which is pastry dough stuffed with feta and fresh herbs. WOW! This was a great light summer appetizer. The pastry dough was not super doughy or overwhelming. You could really taste the herbs and the tang of the feta. Our next course included the Cheese Pide and the Doner Yogurt dish. The Cheese Pide was essentially cheese bread with tomatoes. Once again, a pretty safe pick. And it did indeed deliver and was even better when it was dipped in the yogurt sauce of the Doner dish. Lastly, we chose the Doner Yogurtlu. This was a little bit of a departure for me. Mainly, because the dish involved bread crumbs. It also included vegetables and lamb, but there were a smattering of bread crumbs mixed in as well. While the bread was awesome in the yogurt sauce, I felt that they put more bread that meat or vegetables. So while I did like the dish, I might try something new the next time we visit. All in all, it was a very pleasurable dining experience.
For brunch on Saturday morning we headed to another one of Jen’s close by haunts – La Flor. It was a tiny place serving Mexican food and a pretty diverse brunch. We started off with a bread basket full of scones and muffins. You HAVE to get this if you go. It is awesome. The blueberry scones were that perfect blend of sweet and savory that I love about scones.
We went with a big group of people, many I did not know, so I am just going to post their food photos. I did not eat all of these, so I cannot do much describing. But as they say a picture tells a thousand words, and these pictures have me salivating.
I can really only speak on the last dish – because it’s mine. I am a sucker for omelets and pretty much solely order them when I go out for breakfast or brunch. On the day we went this was the omelet special with Portobello mushrooms. It was tasty, nothing out of this world. But it was a solid omelet with lots of cheese and mushrooms. Jennifer also swears by the tropical fruit french toast.
For my last meal in NYC, we had a couple of options and even went to Otto, Mario Battali’s Enoteca Pizzeria joint in New York. But I was feeling sick and hungry, it was loud and there was an hour wait. So we went to our second choice which was Bar Paya, a Peruvian tapas restaurant located in the East Village. I had very high hopes for this restaurant. The chef – Matthew Kenney, is fairly well-known and his last project was the high-end raw-food restaurant and culinary academy 105 Degrees in Oklahoma City. Instead, it was a bit hit or miss. The meal started off with a great hit – the wine. The yummy Tres Palacios Carmenere was an absolutely delicious deep red fruit wine with some hints of earth. I loved it and it was perfect with our dinner. It was recommended by our waitress.
I am going to start with the hits. Similarly to the previous night, we split a bunch of different dishes. We started off with the Yuca fries and the lucuma mustard. I really loved the texture of the fries. I know some may disagree, but I like the thick and very starchy flavor of Yuca. And while I did like the lucuma mustard, I did not really taste a lot of the lucuma. Lucuma, is a tropical fruit with a flavor similar to sweet potatoes. It just never stood a chance against the bold flavor of the mustard. But what does? That’s why mustard is one of my least favorite condiments – it overpowers all other flavors.
Another standout was the sweet potato, spinach, pepper and goat cheese paya, which is essentially a flatbread. I’ll be honest I was not expecting much, but the flatbread was one of my favorite dishes. The tartness of the goat cheese was a perfect companion to the sweet potato.
And another wonderful dish we picked was the Peruvian guacamole with, lobster, shrimp and aji amarillo. I already love guacamole, but add some delicious seafood and a yellow chile pepper and you have a winner. I was impressed by how much shrimp and lobster were actually in the guacamole, but I also liked that it did not overpower the flavor of the guacamole. I would like to add that I did not really taste a lot of the chile pepper.
The two biggest disappointments were the chickpea-potato, avocado, farmers cheese, harissa, heart of palm and herbs causa and the meatball, green olives and coriander paya. Causa’s are a very traditional Peruvian dish that is essentially a mash of vegetables – mainly potatoes. What I was really blown away with by the causa is the blandness. I could not believe a dish with all of those yummy ingredients including harissa, could be that boring. But it somehow managed to be almost tasteless. The meatball, green olive and coriander paya was also somewhat bland and then compound that with the fact that the meatballs were SUPER dry. The meatballs were just unacceptable for such a nice restaurant.
And last, but not least our waitress advised us to get the chocolate tart for dessert. She thought it would go very nice with our wine. And she was spot on. I was actually not in the mood for dessert, but one bite of this delicious concoction and I probably elbowed Jen and April out of the way to eat most of it. It was a very dense chocolate tart topped with a delightful vanilla sauce. We all raved about this dessert.
One final note, I really love writing this blog because it is a chance for me to re-live and re-visit these memories. And since I definitely do not get to see Jen and April as much as I would like – life and distance get in the way all too often, this blog allows me to feel like I am there again with them. I love you ladies so much and I thank you for hosting me. And I look forward to more dining experiences with you -wherever they may be.