Friday, September 30, 2011

Happiness is a Rainbow Cake

Good to the last bite
One of my favorite people in the world just turned two. And when Alexi's artistic mother Loree had visions of the most perfect mile-high rainbow-colored cake for the birthday celebration, she had no idea where to turn.

Armed with just a magazine photo as inspiration, mom found her way to Bayonne, NJ-based baker Nurys Dominici of Nurys Cakes. A mother of young kids herself, Dominici started the business last year when she kept ending up as the designated birthday cake maker for the many children in her life. Her specialty is Dominican butter cake filled with pineapple marmalade, guava or caramel sauce.

A giant, candy colored cake can easily look better than it tastes, but in this case, Dominici's gateau is moist and flavorful, and not overly sugary. It was also devoured by the party crowd - young and old.

Looks like Dominici's rainbow cakes could be ideal for lots of celebrations these days. That includes weddings.

Nurys Cakes
917 463 4046

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Good Eats from the Toronto International Film Festival

Luma's deconstructed shrimp salad...
The Toronto International Film Festival recently wrapped, and while I was there working as a publicist on a few titles, food was never far from my mind. And fortunately the food scene is as international as the festival itself.

Downtown Toronto's Entertainment District is the brand new home to the festival, where activity centers around the TIFF Bell Lightbox, a 6-story complex of state-of-the-art cinemas and film related exhibits, as well as two noteworthy restaurants from famed Canadian group Oliver + Bonacini (as in critically acclaimed Canoe and Jump).

And Luma's warm octopus salad
Canteen is a sprawling street front, corner cafe for all day dining and fine people watching. If you're on the go, or between screenings, grab a freshly made sandwich or gourmet salad.

The Lightbox's second floor restaurant, Luma, serves global and Canadian fare in a chic, relaxed space.

Standouts include the warm grilled octopus salad with pickled eggplant and romesco ($16/23), and shrimp salad ($16/23), a deconstructed plate of tender shellfish and veggie spring rolls. Other light dishes include the lobster burger ($21), and beef tongue pastrami on pretzel bread ($9). Weekend brunch service just started.

Chances are you'll hit the Entertainment District on a night out in the city. Home to four national sports teams, theatre, opera, concerts, and rows of clubs, the area just added a new dining hot spot The Shore Club, across the street from Roy Thomson Hall, home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (and site of big film premieres). This swanky Canadian steak and seafood chain screams "Mad Men" and martinis. Even the appetizers like fresh oysters and spicy popcorn shrimp ($14) are seductive enough to heat up the night.

Le Select Bistro
If you're craving authentic French fare, Le Select Bistro is a short cab ride into the Garment District. With 1200 wine labels and a classic zinc bar, the bustling bistro easily transports you to the side streets of Paris.

Don't leave without trying the sensational soo yook ($10) from Swish by Han. This thinly sliced beef shank is braised for 48 hours and topped with spiced greens and mustard seeds.

Soo yook packs a flavor punch
And if you venture off to Little Portugal, another must try is Porchetta + Co, a five seat sandwich shop that gets rave reviews for serving one of life's greatest foods: Italian slow roasted pork sandwiches ($5.95-$8.95).

Make sure you fly Porter Airlines to Toronto. Even their complimentary snacks are delicious.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Best Veggie Burger in the East Village

Who needs meat with a veggie burger this good?
I am far from a vegetarian. But something about this exceptional quinoa veggie burger ($10) called out to me at the newly renovated East Village institution, Sidewalk Cafe.

The 26-year-old Sidewalk reopened last month after a six-month renovation. It's like the very average looking nice girl at school who finally lost weight and got a makeover. Wow, she looks good. But not in an overdone, slick way. Same chilled Sidewalk, just better. That goes for the menu too.

Good eats
Consulting chef Felipe Donnelly cleverly took Sidewalk's signature menu of simple, great value bar food, but just made it better.

And his wildly popular quinoa veggie burger is a perfect example. The 'meaty' burger is tender but crisp on the edges. The batter fried onions add depth and texture. And the vegan balsamic vinegar/mustard slaw is tangy and crunchy.

Come by during weekday lunch hours and get it as part of the any burger and beer daily special for $10. Dinner entrees include homemade mushroom ravioli ($12), spaghetti + meatballs ($9), and grilled skirt steak ($18). A full bar includes creamsicles and other spiked milkshakes for 10 bucks.

The staff is proud of the new look and will gladly explain that the spanking new walls actually come from a deconstructed barn in upstate New York. Some things haven't changed. Like the nightly live music in the upgraded back room. And still no cover charge.  And happy hours every day from 3-8pm.
Lookin' good, Sidewalk

94 Ave A @ 6th St.
212 473 7373

Sidewalk Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Poco Delivers Big Flavors with New Chef

Delicious shrimp ceviche with grilled pineapple
When Poco opened on a busy corner of Alphabet City in 2009, it came with an award-winning chef - Abe Lopez, champ of  the Food Network series "Chopped." Lopez excelled with creative twists on tapas staples, and when he moved on, the dining experience suffered.

Enter Chef Angel Bolanos of Stanton Social. The spark is back in a big way. And Bolanos' lifelong love of food and travel is served on each small plate.

Before culinary school, the Queens native spent his teen years living in Ecuador. As young as 13, he traveled on his own throughout South America, picking up cooking techniques along the way. He can wax lyrical about the intricate differences between rice in Ecuador, Peru and Columbia. He can also tell you what it is like living in the rainforest where protein of any kind was king (he admits staying away from the larvae and grasshoppers).

Braised brisket arepas with pico de gallo
His Poco kitchen is heavily - but not exclusively -  influenced by Latin flavors. The selection of ceviche is tantalizing, especially the shrimp with grilled pineapple, slivered almonds and chilis ($10). Its bright, citrusy crunch is met with just the right amount of heat. The braised brisket arepas ($8) are also tender, flavorful mouthfuls.

You might not expect a Vietnamese curry on the menu, but that's why Bolanos is a chef to watch. His signature dish is the pan seared scallops ($13) in a bowlful of the most delicious curry with king mushrooms. We literally picked up our bowls to drink every last drop of the rich fragrant sauce. And then encouraged the table next to us to follow suit.

Dreamy scallops in Vietnamese curry
Bolanos admits it's taken him 10 years to perfect. As a former chef at Vietnamese restaurants, he was compelled to master this creation after his very first try was an admitted disaster. I dream of this dish now.

The assertive menu is well edited for grazing: inventive tapas, ceviche, grown up mac 'n' cheeses, sliders and sharing plates. Bolanos is busy creating his autumn menu and is especially excited to introduce his butternut squash and smoked pork knuckles, as well as Brussels sprouts with cranberries and cashew crunch. And for the sweet tooth, look out for a fig souffle, and quinoa brownie.  Bring on fall.

33 Ave B @ E 3rd St
Tues - Wed, 5pm - 1am
Thurs - Fri, 5pm - 2am
Sat - Sun, 11:30am - 5pm
Sat, 6:30pm - 2am
Sun, 6:30pm - 1am
212 228 4461

Poco on Urbanspoon