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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Fork in the Road: Istabul, Turkey Part I

This past October, my most favorita travel partner, Kerri and I traveled to Turkey for 8 days and spent it with what I like to call 'authentic locals'.  We had some lovely and fun experiences thanks to our gracious host, Ali.  We were very lucky to have a super knowledgeable guide taking us around Istanbul after having guides that were not-so-interesting on other trips.  Our trip was definitely enriched by having Ali giving history of landmarks, neighborhoods and most importantly, history of the empires. 

The evening we met, we made the decision to jump in a cab and head to a 'real' fishing town for dinner.  For those that apparently think Ortaköy is a fishing town (like us), you are wrong.  Instead, we head for Forsa Balık Restoran, a restaurant in the town of Samataya. 

Outside, overlooking the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and a full moon, we dined on the Sea of Marmara's bream and sea bass.  Naturally, the fish was fresh, and tasted as such; though I would choose grilled over anything fried. 

We had meze of muhammara (a spread having both Circassian and Syrian origins, prepared with from Aleppo pepper paste, ground walnuts, tomato paste, bread crumbs, garlic, and spices.  This was the best version I had in Turkey) and deniz borulcesi (looks like seaweed, tastes like seaweed...hey, it is seaweed but surprisingly delicious- always served with a pungent and tangy vinaigrette).
Ali ordered us an arugula salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes and carrots.  Why is it vegetables in other countries taste so much better? 

Me (left), Ali (center), Kerrita (right)

Ahhh, the Grand Bazaar.  Don't like it.  Especially the haggling.  Kerri and I went on a search forever looking for Kara Mehmet Kebap Salonu in the Bazaar and finally found it in a serene courtyard.  This courtyard is a perfect retreat from the bustle of the Grand Bazaar.  Let me tell you, this was worth the 45 minute search. 

Our pita appetizer

Unbelievable, tender, spicy meat kebabs served over rice and with cacik (yogurt, chopped cucumber with finely chopped garlic and mint leaf)....actually, the best we had in Turkey.  It should be, the guy has been cooking them for over 30 years. equally delicious chicken kebap over rice with sumac onions and cabbage.  Even after this heavy food, we didn't feel the slightest bit sluggish.  That's sayin' something!

Kerri's Çay (Turkish tea) from next door served with a tiny Turkish Delight and my Turkish coffee.  I might be the only person that actually loves Turkish Delights.  Bring um on!

Iç Cebeci Han No: 92, Grand Bazaar

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Fork in the Road: Trio (Austin, TX)

Trio at the Four Seasons in Austin is mostly known for their incomparable Sunday Brunch; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the dinner.  Considering how much I love the Four Seasons, I thought this would be a homerun.

Texas Shrimp with Chili Cocktail Sauce, but lacking chili.

The Republic Square Salad boasts housemade farm cheese, variety of colorful peppers, cherry tomatoes and a bizarre puffed rice addition.

Trio of melons with goat cheese and bacon would have been delightful had the melon had sweetness.

Quail with leek and pecan (another Texas favorite) dressing and blood orange marmalade.  Not surprising this was the overall standout in the appetizer section.  Quail was perfectly cooked and blended well with the acidity of the blood orange.

Again, unsurprisingly, the steaks are what to order here.  14oz bone-in Ribeye cooked perfectly medium-rare.

Grouper atop green mole, pea shoots and radish was under salted.  The fish was cooked nicely, but tasteless.  I was hoping for the mole to make the fish really pop, but it disappointed.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Fork in the Road: Local Foods (Houston, TX)

I have been waiting a lonnnggg time to see Houston finally beef up with inexpensive and tasty lunch spots.  It used to just be places like Goode Company BBQ/Taqueria, Cafe Express, Nit Noi, but now you have a places like Relish and Local Foods, brought to you by Chef Dylan Murray of Benjy's.

Chef Murray uses the local farms and seasonal foods to create his menu and I love the concept of any of the sandwiches can be prepared as salads.  Unfortunately, I wish I had gone with my gut and ordered the crispy chicken sandwich because the turkey sandwich components were there, but somehow missed the mark.  The pretzel roll, amazing.  Freshly sliced turkey, present, but dry and the accoutrements did not help.

Since my brother's discovery, and obsession, began last year with banh mi's, that is what he ordered.  He mentioned what I was thinking, which was the $10.5 price tag of the sandwich which was the 'most expensive banh mi' he's ever ordered.  This is usually a sign it won't be as good as you want it to be.  It was good, not great.  The element that saved these sandwiches, and their price tags, were the sides.  My favorite was the kale with raisins, pinenuts and parmesan.  The savory parmesan paired nicely with the sweet raisins. The four bean side with edamame, kidney beans, green beans and garbanzos was hefty, but good.  Cabbage slaw with edamame, bean sprouts and lemongrass vinaigrette was a interesting take on slaw and texturally.   Less impressive were the beets, but I suppose I don't really love shredded beets, with pistachios or not.

Now, ironically, what I thought were the best foods, were the salads.

The Spicy Szechuan Tofu salad with broccoli, sprouts, black rice and a mint-kaffir vinaigrette was lighter than you would think, although it drowned in dressing.

Saved the best for last....arugula, shrimp, wheatberries, cranberries, Texas honey pecans, pecorino and lemon-thyme vinaigrette. YUM YUM YUM.  Light and easily one of the best shrimp salads I've had.

Who wouldn't want to go Local Foods when you can get fresh ingredients AND see this little guy?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Brooklyn Star

Rare is a word to describe my travels to other boroughs and what a shame it is.  I mean, Brooklyn is the new Manhattan of dining and beyond, right?   The moment I set foot in The Brooklyn Star, it's a love of the wooden tables, silver globe lighting, Mason Jar glasses.  Upscale country. 

And upscale drinks.  The Gordons Breakfast of gin, cucumber, hot sauce and lime is my quintessential summer cocktail...light, refreshing, and the hot sauce packing the slightest punch. 

Oh, the Bloody Bull.  Vodka, housemade beef broth (admittedly this is not difficult to make) and pickled beans.  Reading 'beef broth' makes it seem heavy, but it isn't and it does what it is intended to do.  Hair of the dog!

I was torn between the breakfast torta, masa cakes or the fried chicken and waffles which are the obvious choice.  Fortunately, I went against the grain and ordered the masa cakes with housemade chorizo, black beans and poached eggs.  Always one to shy away from poached eggs, I might again after this dish.  All elements jived so wonderfully with the masa starch, almost-refried-textured black beans, tender choizo and pico.  It was so good.

Perfectly sweet without syrup blueberry Johnny Cakes, eggs, thick has brown disc ala Potato Darphin and house bacon.  My only compliant was the bacon.  I love a piece of bacon fat, but not whole pieces of lardon as a breakfast side.

I can't wait to go back and definitely worth traveling short distances for!