Balaboosta [Manhattan]

Balaboosta; n. A Yiddish term meaning the perfect housewife, homemaker, a wonderful mother, cook & gracious hostess. she does it all and she does it well!

That’s the description that can be found at the top of their website  and is a perfect way to describe the warm, homey atmosphere in the Mulberry Street restaurant.

While I was running late to meet a few women for brunch, they had already started on cocktails and the Mediterranean Sampler [house made hummus, labne, matbucha, za’atar pita]  Since being introduced to za’atar at the Bronxville Farmer’s market a while ago, I’ve loved the flavor profile but can never really nail the application.

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That is what made my drink so perfect – imagine a middle eastern margarita.

“Lily” Za’atar infused tequila, mezcal, grapefruit, ginger syrup, lime, black saline

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I cannot rave about the cauliflower appetizer enough [lemony + crispy], but the shakshouka I had as my main was incredible. The only real complain from those of us who ordered it was that it was so incredibly hot that in eating it I felt like I was melting from the inside out. Even on a cold day, the physical temperature of this dish was a bit overwhelming.

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The flavor was incredible, and the grilled bread was just enough to soak up the tomatoes and spice. I’m definitely thinking of recreating this at home – which would take some thought because my cast iron pans are quite large and Mister is really focused on not deviating from his chocolate chip pancakes routine in the morning.

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Dumpling + Noodle, Bronxville

Oddly enough, my last meal before my flight to Puerto Rico, and my first meal back from the airport were both at Dumpling + Noodle in Bronxville.

Located at 26 Palmer Avenue, parking can be a little tricky during the day but there are plenty of metered spots.

On my first visit, my sister had a ramen bowl, while Mom and I shared two appetizers and an entree.

030.JPGMost importantly, can we discuss these chopsticks? I was so excited to use them, maybe I just don’t get out enough.

For appetizers, we shared the House Special Bun [filled with roast duck, scallion, cucumber, and hoisin sauce] and an order of Shrimp Summer Rolls [shrimp, lettuce, cucumer, carrot, sweet basil and rice noodles wrapped in rice paper, and served with special sauce]

The buns were so good; think perfectly flavorful meaty goodness inside the light fluffiness of wonder bread that isn’t gummy.  It was really light but in a fat/carby good way.

The summer rolls were good, but I don’t think I would order them again.  They were very fresh, light and perfectly “summer”; unfortunately they were incredibly cold, not as flavorful, and difficult to eat.  With the first bight, each portion would shred in your hand without warning.

033.JPGOn a whim, I ordered the House Special Sir-Fried Hand Made Sliced Noodle with roast pork.  The name of the dish is a mouth full, and the plate was a belly-full. I’m glad Mom and I shared this, because neither of us could have comfortably finished off this plus the appetizers.

Again, the pork was very tender and flavorful; the vegetables crisp, but the shining star on this plate was the noodles.  They’re dense and chewy in a way that leaves no doubt that they are truly hand made and sliced.035.JPG

They were so good, that I ordered them on my second visit as well.  No shame.

Mister and I visited the restaurant in our blurry, sleep deprived haze that seemed to hit us full force when we returned from vacation.  Unable to figure out how to feed ourselves, we went for full flavor and easy.

Since we were there mid-day, we went for the lunch special.  There are two options, which you can see on their website; but we both went for the $8.95 option which is a drink, salad, small dish, and entree.  Ordering was as easy as possible, with the options clearly listed on the short, special menu.

Drink: Thai Iced Tea

Small Dish: 2 Fried Dumplings, served with salad

Entree: Stir-Fried Handmade Sliced Noodle with tofu

Knowing how delicious their noodles were from last time, I was aching to try some dumplings; the other half of their namesake.  These gigantic beauties did not disappoint.  They were chewing, flavorful and fried without being greasy.

Mister started with the 2 spring rolls, and ordered the General Tao chicken.  The spring rolls were significantly smaller than the dumplings, and nothing to rave about from what I recall.  The chicken was crispy, without the mystery gristle of most takeout. Both of our portions were more than adequate for the inexpensive lunch portions.

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I think I could easily go for just the dumplings and noodles a few more times, and its nice to see a restaurant doing what they’re named after so well.

Crave: Albany, New York

This past weekend was spent in Albany, while it was a little cooler than it has been it still doesn’t feel like the holiday season.

Saturday evening, I had signed up for the Albany Last Run 5k.  I was grateful that it wasn’t super cold, since I ended up still having to run with two pairs of pants, a tank top, a long sleeve shirt, and two workout type sweatshirts, a headband, and knee high socks.  Once I got going, it was great, but I felt like I was sucking ice into my lungs which didn’t make the hills of Washington Park very friendly.

Thankfully, I had prepared by wolfing down half of a sub from Andy’s about two hours before race time.

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That was a really great sub, easily one of our favorites.  Unfortunately I can’t remember what it was beyond the fact that it had some meats and muffaletta spread on it.

Anyway, back to the Albany Last Run 5k; It was a really fun crowd, and once again solidified for me why I love running 5ks; there is a sense of camaraderie, like we’re all here doing this stupid thing at once and we’re excited about it.  That and I always think its like running in a parade, which makes me feel pretty darn special. I hope to eventually move up to 10k, or even longer distances, but at the same time I think there is something fun about the less competitive, more accepting 5k races.

Post race, I took a very hot shower and then we celebrated my 28 minutes of athletic movement at Hollywood on Lark Street.

There was after a beer (or two), and a round of pool at Hollywood; one of the staff members was talking about how he had just ordered food from Crave.  Now, Mister and I are not fans of the food at Hollywood, but for someone in their own kitchen to admit they prefer takeout said a lot.  So it was decided, we were going for some burgers.

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I knew exactly what I was craving, and went with the build your own burger option.

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Turkey burger, with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, bacon, and avocado.  It was really, really good.  It felt like the healthiest, freshest fast food burger; in that it was slightly gluttonous, but still not greasy or heavy in my stomach.  I scarfed it down pretty fast.

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I know, turkey burgers don’t look that great.  But I knew what I wanted, and this hit the spot.

Mister went with the Black and Blue burger.

“Peppercorn crusted beef patty, Gorgonzola, caramelized onion, arugula, horseradish garlic aioli.”

He really liked it, and we honestly offered each other bites but I was too invested in my own meal and vice versa.  Which is rare!

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Mister did love the way the burger was cooked; we’re both fans of a rarer burger.

We also decided to split some Loaded sweet potato fries.  These were crispy and pretty tasty.  I appreciated that they weren’t mushy, which is the reason I’m usually hesitant to go with sweet potato fries.  (Mister prefers them though) They didn’t come with any special dipping sauce, despite what was listed on the menu.

This was a pretty solid meal, and we’ll probably go there again, but not too often.  It was about $30+ for our two burgers, a shared order of fries, and a shared iced tea.  I know its good stuff, but I definitely saw frozen fries in the back, so I’m not sure how much is genuinely homemade etc.  I’ve read about this place with the quality of ingredients being a huge selling point, but frozen fries are frozen fries regardless of what you put on them.  I also can’t really say that we crave burgers all that often, now that I think about it.

 

 

While a lot of people are gearing up for Thanksgiving, I started indulging a little earlier.

This past weekend Mister came down to Westchester so of course there were the requisite downstate bagels and pizza; there was also cheese, cupcakes, cake, and a list of snacks.

Saturday morning, we went to Mount Kisco Bagel Co. pretty early.  The last time we went closer to the afternoon, the line was out the door and lets just say Mister and I aren’t exactly patient people.

We are huge fans of black and white cookies, so when we saw a black and white cupcake on display, I eagerly added that to our order.

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Oh yea, we ate that thing of beauty in the car within minutes of leaving the parking lot.  Moist, buttery cake topped with thick icing.  [then we went home and ate bagels, no regrets]

Saturday afternoon, we ran some errands and found ourselves hungry enough to navigate Stew Leonard’s for some food to take home.  Thankfully, this wasn’t Mister’s first trip to Stew’s, because seriously that place is overwhelming on my fiftieth time going there; there is a lot going on.

We picked up some really good food from their hot bar, and a bowl of fruit for good measure.

Saturday night, we headed to Stamford for a birthday party.  Mister’s brother had ordered Dinosaur BBQ, and we were responsible for providing the cake.

I’ll admit, I panicked a bit; I wasn’t familiar with any bakeries in the northern Westchester or CT area.  The last thing anyone wants to do is bring a bad cake to a party.  Everyone remembers bad cake.

Thankfully, I read a ton of yelp reviews and settled on The Pastry Corner in Mt. Kisco.

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Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. It was really great, and the staff of the Pastry Corner were all genuinely nice to deal with.  Highly recommend.

Sunday, I was a sleepy monster.  All the carbs, and lots of barking dogs running around made me feel like a bloated sweat pants monster.  But we pushed through that for some pizza before Mister headed back to Albany.

We went to Pelham Pizzeria, which is my favorite for slices near Mom’s house.  This was the first time, however, that I ordered something other than pizza [well I mean, I addition to the pizza I scarfed down, don’t worry. ]

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I got Escarole and Bean soup to go, and ate it for a late dinner last night.  They packed it with some Italian brea, and I added some Parmesan on top.  This was really good stuff, with little chunks of pancetta and a surprisingly complex broth.

I could have easily eaten the entire quart, but thankfully I forced myself to save half for lunch today.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to focus a little more on healthy eating before the gluttony of Thanksgiving.

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week: Xaviers X20 on the Hudson

A long time friend suggested we try a Hudson Valley Restaurant Week dinner, and I eagerly perused the very long list of menus.  Historically, I think any restaurant week can be hit or miss, and reading the menus is the key factor in whether the experience will be something that will inspire you to return to a restaurant, or an experience where it’s obvious the kitchen isn’t even trying.

I narrowed it down to a few restaurants, and we eventually decided on Xaviers X20 on the Hudson.  There menu didn’t repeat all of its ingredients in every dish (i.e. shrimp salad, shrimp pasta or beet salad, chicken and beets) which to me always comes off like the restaurant is trying as little as possible.   [Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s a strong bias that I use as a helpful guideline for restaurant week]

To start, I hit a butt ton of traffic coming from the Bronx to Yonkers.  Thankfully, they offer valet parking right at the front entrance of the restaurant since I was hungry, and late for meeting my friend.  [Valet was $3 with validation from the restaurant]

The restaurant itself was really beautiful, all glass and right on the water.  Though it was nighttime and there wasn’t much of a view, there was still a very impressive feeling to the space.  The service was equally as impressive, although they could have used a few less people. I’ve never seen quite so many people working in one space; there was a man who took our drink order, another man who brought bread, another man that brought the food, another man who cleared the plates.  A lot going on, and it was sort of interesting to see an all male waitstaff, I’m curious if this was an intentional choice.

Restaurant Week Menu

Restaurant Week Menu

I wanted to treat myself to a cocktail after a day of work and traffic, and the Valley Cider Martini [Viskill Vodka, Warwick Cassis & Hudson Valley Apple Cider] was perfect.  It was full on cider, with an adult kick on the finish.  And I loved that they put it in this refined glass instead of the typical, wide martini glass.  This one felt special, but maybe I’m just a total weirdo.

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First course, I chose the Green Onion and Black Truffle Risotto.  So good, this was definitely my favorite course.  It was all cheesy, smooth, rich goodness.  I know sometimes in an upscale restaurant, or during restaurant week (or both in this case), the portions can be on the stingy side sometimes; honestly this was just enough that I wanted to lick the bowl but didn’t feel like I needed a nap somewhere in a dark corner.

Green Onion and Black Truffle Risotto

Green Onion and Black Truffle Risotto

I did think that little paper doily was a very strange touch in such a modern restaurant.  As I look back over the picture, I’m wondering what the thought behind that one was.

Catskill Mountains Brook Trout with Garlic & Lemon Crumbs

Catskill Mountains Brook Trout with Garlic & Lemon Crumbs

Main course, I chose the Catskill Mountains Brook Trout with Garlic and Lemon Crumbs, served with root vegetables & portobello hash, watercress & Ronny Brook Sauce. It had a great flavor, and I loved the crunchy “crumb” topping.  Honestly, I would have preferred less fish and more veggie. There was a few cubes under the mountain of fish, and it would have been a better textural and flavor contrast.

Pumpkin Pannacotta

Pumpkin Pannacotta

This pretty little dish was the Pumpkin Pannacotta [ Spiced Cake Vanilla Syrup & Amaretti Cookie]  Yum.  It was the perfect few spice/sweet bites to end the meal.

Satisfying dinner, and it genuinely made me want to go back and see what the regular menu has to offer.  The restaurant is known for being pricey, but now that I’ve seen the level of food and service, I think it could be worth it for a date night splurge or special event.

Fed Like Family

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Last night Mister and I went to Ferrari’s restaurant for an abundant meal of carbs served in an atmosphere that I can only liken to a Grandmother’s living room. It was perfect.

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Upon arriving you wait in this cozy, slightly cramped, bar / vestibule. The bar tender appears to be possibly the owner, maybe family of the owner. He was friendly, welcoming: greeting regulars by name, teasing the staff, and making sure everyone felt at home while they waited.

The hostess popped back and forth from the mysterious dining room and the bar area, promising we would be seated in no time even without reservations. Sure enough, we were taken back there in under 15 minutes or so, though the wait was as enjoyable as the dinner to come, serving as an introduction to family atmosphere.

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The wood paneling. The framed family pictures. Mismatched dishes. It was just like someone had pushed the couches aside only moments earlier to set up extra tables for the expanding dinner party.

Service was efficient, the waitstaff seemed to appear at just the right moment to take orders and deliver food, while leaving us plenty of time to talk and relax with the cold wine.

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The bread basket that arrived was good quality bread but it was cold and sad. I didn’t want to waste any calories or stomach space, so I pushed it to the side once our salads arrived. Included with entrees, we both requested the house dressing. It was a slightly more complex Italian dressing that worked perfectly over the perfunctory mixed salad. These salads are the hallmark of local red sauce restaurants, highlighted by sharp cheese and sweet roasted red peppers.

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Starting with fried calamari, we were delivered these light, crispy morsels of tender squid. They weren’t the least bit chewy, and I was able to fully enjoy the salty, lemony goodness only made better by the bright sauce served on the side. It was thick with plum tomatoes, and lighter than their marinara.

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Mister chose chicken Parmesan, while I went with their Chicken Antonio. These giant chicken dishes arrived crisp with bowls of pasta. My chicken was egg dipped, crispy, but sitting in a perfectly tart sauce of lemon, wine, and garlic. I wanted a spoon to really enjoy the sauce on its own, it was that good. Light and decadent.

The chicken Parmesan was crispy in its breakind, thin. Neither chicken cutlet was dry or over cooked, which is sometimes the downfall of such giant portions or basic dishes. Ferrari’s marinara sauce is anything but basic. With the perfect consistency, neither too thick nor thin, with a bright tomato flavor I surprised myself with how much I liked it. Normally, I find marinara overwhelming when it’s costing my entree and my pasta, but this sauce was sweet without being cloying and had an actual depth of flavor. I just barely regret not ordering some.

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Instead of marinara, I requested garlic and oil on my linguini. Mister went with Alfredo on his spaghetti, and the table was covered with an overwhelming amount of food. According to their menu, pasta is cooked to order and to allow for extra time for this. The pasta was certainly al dente, mine came dripping with garlicky unctuous oil.

The only downfall, aside from the cold bread, was the side order of meatballs Mister ordered as an afterthought. They had the most unpleasant texture, and I’m not even sure how to politely describe them. It took effort to swallow my one bite; soft and squishy like white bread, with an aftertaste I would equate to the taste left in my mouth if I mistakenly breath in to deeply near the container of dog food. These were pretty terrible. They were not frozen, but they were not crispy on the outside and had a puréed, bready texture.

Meatballs aside, we had a fantastic night. We were not rushed in the slightest, even with a line out the door once we left. Our stomach full of garlic, chicken, wine, and pasta it was one of the best date nights we had in a while. Although pricy ($81.00), we have enough leftovers for at least two more meals. But it was more than the food or the price, it was the lighthearted feeling of a warm room filled with conversation and laughing. Shared meals and family reverberated from the wood paneling. Hardly weighed down from the gluttonous meal, instead I left relieved of the week’s stresses, lighter in spirit.