dinner

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.

Curried Acorn Squash Soup

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As I’m trying desperately to stay warm this winter, I’ve managed to find ways to appreciate the season: via root vegetables, leafy greens and citrus! The winter’s most plentiful produce has made its way into many of my meals, and this weekend, my trip to the Union Square Farmers Market resulted in this hearty, comforting pot of curried acorn squash soup. I must admit, I was looking for butternut squash, but when the only thing I could find was acorn, I seized the moment and the end product left me pleasantly surprised (I didn’t know how sweet acorn squash could be!). You can tweak this recipe as much as you like, whether its changing up the type of apple, squash, seasoning, or adding other winter ingredients like leeks or parsnips. The pos-soup-bilities are endless!

INGREDIENTS

1 4-lb acorn squash

1 large carrot, peeled and chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 tart apple, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp curry powder

salt and pepper

4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock

DIRECTIONS 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse squash and poke various holes in the skin using a fork. Bake squash for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the carrots and celery and saute until they begin to soften, about 7 minutes. Add the onion, apple, curry powder, salt and pepper and cook until everything is tender, about 10 minutes more. Add the stock and lower the heat until the squash is cooked through.

Once the squash is soft and cool enough to handle, peel the skin and break into pieces. Add the squash to the soup and simmer for about 5 minutes more.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Add any additional salt and pepper if necessary.

The soup will keep up to a week and freezes wonderfully!

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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An Epicurious-Inspired Taste of Spain

The Epicurious app has successfully proven that the folks at Bon Appetit know what they’re doing when it comes to social media and iPhone apps. I find myself utilizing this app for recipes more than I do cookbooks, websites or- dare I say it- my own imagination. The other night I was inspired as I was browsing the “Spring Dinners” category and came across salmorejo– a cold Spanish soup made with tomatoes, almonds, garlic and breadcrumbs. I used to have this soup at least three times a week when I studied abroad, and even reading the name made my mouth begin to water. I decided to craft and entire Spanish meal around salmorejo and Epicurious. The supporting characters? “Arroz” con pollo (rice with chicken, similar in flavor to paella but way less complicated to make) and a light dessert of Valencia oranges with a spiced wine sauce. I put “arroz” in quotations because while the original recipe (and, of course, name) calls for long grain white rice, I wanted to try something healthier and heartier and substituted quinoa. I also used boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders instead of a whole chicken.

The salmorejo recipe was perfect. It took me right back to sitting outside at a Spanish cafe, sipping soup from a mug on a sunny Sevillano day. The recipe is so simple and satisfying, if you’re a fan of gazpacho I highly suggest you try this next time. The arroz con pollo made way more food than I expected, but I was perfectly okay with that, as it was so flavorful, healthful and authentic, I’m happy to have leftovers. I really enjoyed the quinoa substitute. The dessert was a great way to round off a healthy Spanish meal. It was refreshing yet packed with flavor, and while the original recipe didn’t call for it, I added mint and whipped cream, and wouldn’t have it any other way. So thank you, Epicurious, for letting me relive my semester abroad for the night. I was truly satisfied with my meal, would give it four forks, and would definitely make it again. Here are the recipes:

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SALMOREJO

INGREDIENTS

3 pounds ripe tomatoes

3 slices white or wheat bread, cubed and toasted

1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds

4 garlic gloves, roughly chopped

1 tsp Sherry or white wine vinegar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS

Cut tomatoes in half and squeeze seeds and pulp into a strainer set over a large bowl. Press solids to release as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids, core and chop the tomatoes and add them to the liquid. Combine the toasted bread cubes, slivered almonds and garlic in a food processor. Blend until well chopped. Add tomatoes with liquid to blender in batches, pureeing until very smooth. Add Sherry vinegar and blend. With blender running, slowly add olive oil and puree until emulsified and frothy. Season with salt, pepper and more vinegar if necessary. Chill until cold and serve in mugs or tea cups. Optional: garnish with Serrano ham, a chopped hard boiled egg, slivered almonds, chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives or a drizzle of olive oil.

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“ARROZ” CON POLLO

INGREDIENTS

1 package boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, roughly 10 pieces total

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp paprika

2 cups quinoa

1 1/4 cups dry white wine

1- 14 oz. can diced tomatoes including juice

1 3/4 cups low sodium chicken broth

3/4 tsp crumbled saffron threads

1 dried bay leaf

1 cup frozen peas (do not thaw)

1/2 pimiento-stuffed green olives, coarsely chopped

DIRECTIONS

Pat chicken breast tenders dry and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over moderately high heat and brown chicken, about 4 minutes per side and transfer to a plate. Don’t worry about the chicken being done, it will finish cooking later.

Add onion, bell pepper and salt to the pan. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, paprika and quinoa and stir for one minute. Add wine and boil about 2 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. Stir in tomatoes with juice, chicken broth, saffron and bay leaf. Add the chicken back to the skillet with any juices from the plate. Cook, covered, over low heat until chicken is cooked through and quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in olives and peas (the peas will thaw the second they hit the hot pan, which is why you don’t need to thaw them ahead of time). Discard bay leaf and serve.

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ORANGES WITH SPICED WINE SAUCE

INGREDIENTS

1 750-ml bottle dry red wine

1 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

8 oranges

3 tbsp chopped fresh mint

whipped cream

DIRECTIONS

Bring wine, 1 cup sugar and cinnamon stick to a boil in a large saucepan. Boil until reduced to 1 cup, about 18 minutes. Remove sauce from pan and cool completely. Finely grate the peel of two oranges. Mix zest with 1 tablespoon sugar in a small bow and set aside. Peel all eight oranges and cut between the membranes to release the segments into a large bowl. Divide the oranges among 8 bowls. Drizzle the wine sauce and divide the mint leaves. Top with whipped cream, then sugared orange zest.

French Onion Soup with Parmesan Croutons

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Well, it’s finally snowed in Cleveland, and snow calls for one thing, and one thing only: a piping hot bowl of soup. There is nothing more comforting than a big bowl French onion soup, with sweet and tender caramelized onions, salty crunchy croutons and an ooey gooey layer of cheese. This recipe is a great way to spend a snow day at home, as it is very time consuming. But trust me, its well worth the effort and love.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 large French baguette

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

2 large vidalia onions, sliced lengthwise and then thinly sliced lengthwise

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1 dried bay leaf

3/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 stick unsalted butter

2 tsp all-purpose flour

1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Chardonnay

1 1/2 cups water

4 cups vegetable stock

cracked black pepper to taste

thinly sliced Gruyere cheese

DIRECTIONS

To make the croutons:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Cut up baguette into 1-inch cubes and let sit out to dry for 30 minutes to an hour. Toss the croutons in olive oil and half of the parmesan cheese and spread evenly on a sheet pan. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the croutons and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, tossing halfway through, until they are firm and golden. Remove from oven and let cool. Croutons can be made up to three days in advance.

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croutons before and after

To make the soup:

Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add onions, thyme (leaves will fall off the sprigs during the cooking process), bay leaf and salt. Cook over medium heat for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring frequently, until onions are tender, sweet and golden brown.

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onions before and after– look at how much they shrink!

Add flour and stir for two minutes. Add wine and stir for another two minutes. Add water, vegetable stock and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes, until flavors are well combined. Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Preheat broiler and ladle soup into oven-safe bowls. Top with enough croutons to cover the surface area of the soup and lay thin slices of Gruyere cheese on top of croutons. Broil soup in oven until cheese is golden and bubbly, 3-4 minutes. Soup will be very hot!

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the assembly of the soup process

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!