Restaurant Reviews

Run– Don’t Walk– to kiki’s in Chinatown

If you were to walk down Division street not looking for it, you may never notice Kiki’s, the new Mediterranean restaurant and brainchild of the Forgetmenot family. Its cream awning fits right in with the Chinatown vibe, as big, red Chinese characters line it. There’s no sign, no neon lights, no indication that behind the doors awaits a magical Mediterranean experience that is otherwise inexistent in the neighborhood.

After a quick browse at the menu, you’ll know you’re in for the real deal: Greek staples like Tzatziki yogurt dip and kalamata olives with feta cheese to start, vegetable-heavy dishes and delicate seafood to continue, and hearty lamb and beef entrees, moussaka and pastitchio will keep you full until dessert.

The first thing to catch my eye on the menu was the melitzanosalata: a “simple smoky eggplant mash.” You can win me over with just about anything with eggplant, especially if it resembles baba ganouch, so I was sold. It arrived to the table accompanied by thick slices of warm grilled bread, the perfect vessel for dipping. The mash was sweet, like roasted garlic, with a little spice, a hint of lemon and topped with toasted walnuts. A very well rounded dip to prep my palate for what was to come.

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Next we ordered the grilled octopus and a traditional Greek salad, meaning no lettuce, simply a beautiful melange of tomatoes, cucumber, green peppers, paper-thin red onions, Kalamata olives and a gorgeous slice of feta cheese. The salad was the tiniest bit overdressed for my liking in olive oil, lemon juice and herbs, but delicious nonetheless (cue: crusty bread). The octopus, on the other hand, was some of the best I’ve had in the city. It was so tender that the instant you put it in your mouth it begins to melt. Flavored with a lemon-garlic sauce that complimented, rather than overpowered its delicate flavor, the taste of this dish still lingers on my tastebuds and has set a new octopus standard for the rest of NYC.

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Finally, we received Briam, a dish of mixed roasted hearty veggies, like eggplant, zucchini, peppers and potatoes. This dish was as delicious as it was unassuming. A vegetarian’s dream that will also please the meat eaters. I could eat this dish regularly. Along with the Briam was Lamb Frikasse, the most tender, fall-off-the-bone lamb shank I’ve had. It was blanketed beneath and sweet and rich sauce made of braised fennel, romaine lettuce and lemon cream. Though it was definitely the heaviest thing we ate, it rounded off our otherwise light dinner very well.

Had I not been too full for dessert, the cheesecake would have been a priority. The sweet cheese layer looked cloud-status fluffy, atop an exceptionally thick and crumbly crust. Another point of intrigue was the “real deal” Greek yogurt, topped with your choice of either walnuts and honey, sour cherries or homemade fruit preserves. I guess I’ll save those for a later date.

It would be in your best interest to get to kiki’s before the rest of the food world finds out about it. There’s still time to walk in at the dinnertime rush, have the table of your choosing and an uninterrupted meal to remember. I have no doubt that Kiki’s will join the other all-stars of the Lower East Side soon enough and when that day comes, all bets are off.

Press Perks: Umami Burger Williamsburg Opening

One of the benefits of working for a food magazine (besides the awesome food and experience, of course) is getting invited to press events at restaurants, bars, hotels, food fairs and more. I’ve done everything from learn about stout beers, to taste some of the finest oysters to watch an entire cow be butchered. My most recent adventure lead me to Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the opening of Umami Burger, and boy, was it worth the commute on the L train.

The atmosphere of Umami Burger is pretty much what you’d expect from a Brooklyn burger joint: hanging bicycles, long bar with an impressive draught, cool music and ironically placed next to a sweetgreen. My boyfriend and I were greeted by friendly, informative staff and a myriad of drinks, sides and burgers to try at our disposal, so try and try we did.

We started off with their beet salad, accompanied by spicy arugula, smoked almonds, mounds of a fluffy ricotta-goat cheese combo and a truffle vinaigrette that is to die for. The flavors and textures were so well balanced– now we understood why they call themselves “umami.”

Next came the burgers and sides: the original Umami burger, the K-BBQ burger, a specialty to the Brooklyn location, a side of Korean BBQ sweet potato fries to accompany the K-BBQ burger and a plate of their house made pickles.

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Please excuse the poor lighting.

I get why the Umami burger is so popular and classic. It embodies everything good about any type of burger– or sandwich for that matter. The perfectly cooked freshly ground beef tastes how a burger should: fresh and meaty, without that lingering “packaged ground beef flavor,” as I like to call it. Shiitake mushrooms and caramelized onions add a nice hint of earthy richness, while the roasted tomato keeps it lively. Topped with a Parmesan frico (Parmesan cheese that’s been baked for a few minutes until it melts and then hardens into a chewy, crunchy cracker type thing) and this burger certainly has it all.

The K-BBQ burger was a horse of a different color. It really did taste like something you would get at a Korean BBQ restaurant, which is what I loved about it, but I found the actual burger patty to be somewhat lost among the caramelized kimchee and Asian slaw. Nonetheless, I enjoyed both.

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The sweet potato fries were topped with kimchee and goat cheese. Though they were accompanied by four different specialty sauces, they were delicious as they were. And the pickle plate, which included not just cucumber but also beets, carrots, turnips and fennel, was delightful and unexpected.

I have to say though, one of my favorite parts of the evening was the cocktail menu. We tried about five different drinks, each completely different and delicious. You can tell a lot of thought went into crafting these cocktails, a detail I greatly appreciate about any bar or restaurant.

So thank you, Umami Burger, for giving me a reason to cross you off my NYC restaurant bucket list, even if you were all the way in Brooklyn.

A Feast Fit for a Queen

So now that it’s officially been forever since I last blogged, I’m finally making a conscious effort to get back into blogging, thanks to this phenomenal and inspring article by Josh Ozersky. He gives a unique perspective on how to be a successful food writer, and although I’m still trying to figure out how I can fulfill all of his seven commandments, I figured I’d start with (what I believe to be) the most important:

Write everything out. Whole sentences. The right words. A beginning, a middle, an end. It doesn’t matter where. Write out blog posts. Write out tweets. Write out Facebook posts. Write texts, if there is time. And do it often, as often as you possibly can. Get your reps.

I recently moved to Union Square, aka the mecca of all things delicious, especially brunch. Not that finding a delicious brunch in New York City is a hefty task, but finding a brunch with a great cocktail, great service and at a reasonable price is a little harder than you’d think. Lucky for me (but maybe unlucky for my wallet), Feast is right across the street from my home, and this past Saturday, I fell in love.

My boyfriend and I trailed in on a rainy afternoon, post-workout and ready to drink. We were hungry, excited and, given the weather conditions, had nothing else to do that day and figured may as well indulge a little.

The first thing I noticed upon walking into Feast was the atmosphere. It was cozy and comfy, and juuuusst trendy enough to make me feel like I was getting a good meal, without feeling like it was hipster overload. Mason jar glasses, wooden tables and exposed lightbulbs was all it took to win me over.

The way their brunch works is you pay $26 for a choice of cocktail or unlimited coffee, a variety of adorable small plates to begin with and an entree. UM, HELLO, that’s like, a TON of food for a very reasonable price in NYC. Plus, you are definitely going to leave full and satisfied until dinner.

There is probably nothing I dislike more than when you go to a tapas or small plates restaurant with, lets say, 4 people, and they bring you tapas in quantities of 3, or some other number that just isn’t conducive to sharing. Well, lucky for me again, Feast doesn’t do that. See what I mean:

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How cute is this?! The top plate included two slices of warm, cinnamon-y, moist zucchini-carrot bread, two perfectly sized fluffy scones, and two slices of a moist challah bread topped with cinnamon apples. Like grandma’s house during the holidays. The bottom plate had two glasses of greek yogurt with fresh blueberries and homemade crunchy granola, two glasses of a refreshing watermelon apple juice and two bruschetta toasts. Remember, it’s late summertime, so these tomatoes were so sweet, juicy and bursting with flavor. The garlic was a nice touch, too. The BF and I were smart in saving half of each pastry until the end of the meal so we had a little bit of dessert. 🙂

We always share plates when we go out because we both want to experience as much as we possibly can while still remaining financially responsible. So, we shared:

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The baby back Benedict  a perfectly poached egg atop fresh, creamy grits, sauteed spinach and an insanely delicious corn cake, all topped with barbecue hollandaise and, oh yeah, accompanied by a juicy-tender baby back rib off the bone (!!!). I know it’s pretty hard to mess up eggs Benedict, but this was by far one of my favorite versions. You could tell every element was homemade and carefully executed right before it was brought to the table. And what could be bad about starting your day with ribs?! We also shared:

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Smoked salmon with a red flannel hash and poached quail eggs. Can you see those tiny white balls at the left side of the plate? Yep, those are quail eggs. They’re so tiny and adorable, and I’m truly impressed that someone had the hand skills and time management to perfectly poach them. The salmon was buttery and smooth, and provided a nice contrast to the crunchy crostini and tender beet-laden potatoes. While the Benedict was on the heavier side, it was nice to have a lighter dish that was just as delicious and fulfilling.

I think I was so focused on the food that I forgot to take pictures of the cocktails, but they stood up to the food in quality. I had a peach bellini and the BF had a beer-y mary. We ordered seconds.

If you can’t tell, I have fallen in love with this place. I’m already looking forward to coming back to try their dinner, and maybe even their whole-hog Monday!

So thank you, Feast, for making my rainy Saturday just a little bit brighter.

An Evening at Doi Moi

Don’t get me wrong; I love the food scene in New York City. It’s the cream of the crop. But a part of my stomach will always have a soft spot for Washington, DC, as I have just spent the last four years of my academic life there. DC is a bit more manageable of a food city: You still have all your choices of cuisine, with a little less competition, and a little more attention to detail. Last month, I made my first trip back to DC since graduating, and I knew I wanted to go somewhere very special to bring back all of those great food memories. Doi Moi is 14th street’s newest Vietnamese restaurant, brought to you by the owners of Proof and Estadio. My expectations were high, as I have dined at both other restaurants and proudly call them two of my favorite restaurants (and dining experiences) in the District (I even had the pleasure of reviewing Estadio for GW’s newspaper). Doi Moi did not disappoint. Let’s start with the menu, shall we?

1. Everything on the menu is meant to be shared. Point for Doi Moi

2. Everything on the menu has one of two spice rankings: “spicy” and “really spicy.” Point for Doi Moi (love me some spice)

3. There’s a whole section dedicated to curries. Point for Doi Moi.

4. Two words: Fresh produce. Point for Doi Moi.

I treated my best (and luckiest for still being in college) friend, Chelsea, for her birthday, so naturally, we went all out.

We started with Crispy Pork & Shrimp Spring Rolls with a chile dipping sauce. The rolls were- per the name- crispy, full of fresh veggies, not the least bit oily, and a great way to start off the evening.

Next we ordered sliced raw scallops that came with chiles, lime, lemongrass, crispy garlic and cilantro. These scallops were by far the freshest, cleanest tasting scallops  I have ever tasted. They were buttery and smooth, and the Asian flavors didn’t mask their taste, but rather enhanced it. I could have eaten a whole extra plate.

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We also ordered the duck breast red curry, with pineapple, cherry tomatoes, kaffir lime leaf, and sweet basil. The duck was succulent and perfectly cooked, and the spices left just the right amount of heat and flavor on my palate.

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I had read on Yelp that the Blue Crab Fried Rice at Doi Moi is the best dish on the menu, so we had to order it. Although it looked similar to a Chinese take-out version, it tasted fresh, and was full of tender cooked veggies and sweet, juicy crab.

Finally, we shared a cup of soft serve ice cream- half lemongrass, half coconut. I know what you’re thinking: Lemongrass is not meant to be eaten in dessert. But let me tell you, the combination of the two were a perfect palate cleansing sweet note to end on. Not too heavy but just sweet enough to leave us feeling full and truly satisfied.

My experience at Doi Moi more than exceeded my expectations. I am already thirsting to go back the next time I made it to DC.

Happy birthday, Chelsea!

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Tropical Chia Pudding

I’m at it again with my chia pudding recipes. As I mentioned previously, I’m so in love with this breakfast option that I hope to come up with many versions to satisfy any craving, season or flavor profile. First up, Tropical!

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As summer slowly turns into fall I thought it’d be nice to have a breakfast recipe that still reminds me of warmer times. I found this great bag of organic shredded coconut at Whole Foods and, alas! My brain started turning.

This recipe tastes like a cross between a piña colada and a mango smoothie. Um, hello, does breakfast get any better?! Here’s the recipe for a single serving (since I know how tricky cooking for one can be): 

2 tbsp. chia seeds

⅔ cup light coconut milk

2 tbsp. toasted coconut*

½ cap pure vanilla extract

2 tbsp. chopped tropical fruit- I used papaya and mango, but I think banana, kiwi, or melon would work beautifully as well

liquid stevia, honey or sweetener of your choice to taste

In a mason jar, combine chia seeds, coconut milk, vanilla and sweetener. Seal the jar and shake well. Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight. When you’re ready to eat, top with coconut and fruit.

*To toast coconut: preheat oven to 350. Spread coconut on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Bake in increments of 5 minutes, checking and stirring each time. Coconut burns very quickly, so keep your eyes- and your nose- on it!

Sunday Afternoon Tea at Sisters Tearoom

I know it has been months since I last blogged, but now as a funemployed college graduate- yes, I said funemployed- I finally have some time on my hands. After an exciting annual trip to Blossom Music Center for my all-time favorite concert, Dave Matthews Band, last night, I woke up this morning in desperate need of some sustenance. I spent the afternoon with my mom at Sisters Tearoom in Mentor, Ohio, and let me tell you, my stomach- and my soul- is very satisfied.

After having years of catering experience, two sisters, Julia and Teresa, wanted to try their luck with a tearoom. They’ve been in business since March 2013, and they’ll be glad to tell you business is booming.

The house itself is the epitome of cute. Each of the three dining rooms is full of tables with mismatched teacups, saucers, water glasses and table cloths, not to mention antique artwork, old family photos and little trinkets that you would never be able to buy anymore. Hues of pink and green align the wallpaper and drapery, and like I said, none of the place settings match with each other, which I love.

The "Dining Room"

The “Dining Room”

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Mismatched!

Although there is a full a la carte menu, my mom and I went the traditional route and had the afternoon tea menu, which included one scone, four tea sandwiches, four mini desserts and a pot of tea each, for only $15! There is also a high tea menu which includes soup and salad, but I couldn’t fathom the thought of any more food than we were given.

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All of the food came out together on traditional stacked tea plates. Up top were the scones- soft and warm, clearly fresh out of the oven, served with homemade lemon curd and clotted cream. The flavor of the day was lemon poppy seed, which paired perfectly with the tart yet sweet curd. On bottom were our tea sandwiches. We chose four sandwiches each out of six, and ironically, my mom and I chose the same four (I guess the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree). I had an open faced cucumber sandwich with green goddess cream cheese and dill, a mild curried chicken salad with grapes on a croissant, a roast beef sandwich with horseradish mayo on a cheese roll and an open faced egg salad sandwich on a piece of bread cut out in the shape of a star. Each sandwich was flavorful, properly dressed and delicious. I think my favorite was the curried chicken salad sandwich, not only because I love curry so much but because the combination of savory curry with sweet red grapes on a buttery croissant was just divine. It was also the biggest sandwich, which is never a bad thing.

For dessert we had a selection of light as air chocolate cake with a chocolate sauce drizzled over the top, sweet  pineapple upside down cake- maraschino cherry and all, a dense and delicious coconut macaroon, and, my personal favorite, a lemon-lavender cake with the perfect flavor balance between the two star ingredients. Sometimes lavender desserts can be a bit overpowering, but this cake was perfection.

And you can’t have afternoon tea without a pot of piping hot tea, now can you? With a selection of over a dozen teas, I went with a maple blackberry tea. It had just the right amount of fruity and sweet notes, and since I like my tea extra sweet, I was delighted to see the sugar cubes were actually shaped into little teapots and cups! I told you this place screams adorable.

Altogether my mom and I had an excellent experience at Sisters Tearoom, and I can only hope my funemployment streak goes on long enough that I will have a chance to return!

Sisters Tearoom
8595 Mentor Ave.
Mentor, OH 44060
(440) 290-6556

Happy Hour at Hank’s Oyster Bar

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that for 21 years of my life, I went despising oysters. Slimy, chewy and salty, the small and delicate mollusk just wasn’t my thing. However, one summer night at a luxurious Huang family dinner at Eataly, Rick Huang, Chelsea’s dad, changed my mind forever. With just a sprinkling of lemon juice and cocktail sauce, my pallet was overwhelmed with a pleasing and unexpected combination of flavors and textures that I had never experienced before. I began shooting oysters like I was a pro.

This newfound love has lead Chelsea and me to seek out DC’s best oyster happy hours, and needless to say, I think we have found it at Hank’s Oyster Bar in DuPont Circle. Offered Monday through Friday from 5- 7, the happy hour specials truly can’t be beat: $1 oysters, $4 bar snacks and discounted cocktails aim to please any hungry oyster-loving patron. Already well into the Thanksgiving mindset, we decided to go on Monday after class.

The Hank’s atmosphere is a welcoming one, with a narrow entranceway and bar leading to an intimate lounge that seats about 16. The dim lights and relaxing music set the mood for an aphrodisiac-filled dining experience. Chelsea and I went pretty hungry but left satisfied after ordering- and devouring- 2 dozen oysters, truffle popcorn, chips and pan roasted onion dip and a selection of three cheeses. We had two different types of oysters from Virginia, both uniquely savory and briny, naturally accompanied by lemon wedges, oyster crackers, homemade cocktail sauce and vinegar. The potato chips were visibly homemade, perfectly salted and crisp, without being too greasy, and the onion dip was sweet and rich. The truffle in the popcorn was more prevalent in scent than in taste, but was still delicious, and the selection of cheeses offered a wide variety of taste and texture. We also shared a beer flight complete with five different beers of what Hank’s considers to be more of their “hoppier beers,” and a wine flight of a Tinto, Malbec and Cabernet. I was quite pleased with the drink selections.

12 beautiful Virginia raised oysters

Truffle popcorn and chips and onion dip

Our beer flight: yet another example of why I dislike dim lighting in restaurants

I genuinely have no complaints about Hank’s Oyster Bar, and am already looking forward to returning for another happy hour. I have heard they have a phenomenal brunch, as well, so you can bet that I will be checking that out- once I’m back in DC and digested from Thanksgiving!