On the Road: Thanksgiving Weekend in New York

Going back to work after a holiday weekend is pretty much the worst thing ever. Okay, I’m sure there are worse things, which I just can’t seem to think of right now.  But, I’m glad to have this day over with.

Anyway.

Chester and I avoided Black Friday shopping and spent the day getting the house all festive for Christmas and went to see the Muppets (if you grew up watching the show, it’s a must see. I’m pretty sure I was grinning from ear to ear for most of it). Then, on Saturday, Bridget and I headed up to New York to shop, eat and most importantly, to see Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway. The weather has unseasonably warm around here lately, and while it doesn’t exactly feel like Christmas yet, it made for a great day of walking around the city.

After dropping our bags at our hotel, we headed over to Craftbar, for lunch/belated birthday celebration for me. Craftbar located on Broad is one of Tom Colicchio’s restaurants and is located on Broadway, near Union Square.

When we arrived around two, the restaurant was still serving their brunch menu, in addition to the regular menu of snacks, salads, pastas, and entrees. We both ordered from the latter. The server was really knowledgeable about the menu, including recommendations for cocktails and wine. He suggested a red wine for Bridget and helped me decide between the two cocktail options I was considering. I ended up with something that was similar to a Tom Collins, but had earl grey infused gin in it. Refreshing. I can’t remember the name of either. Sorry.

We split an order of pecorino risotto balls, which were served piping hot with a spicy tomato sauce. They reminded us of the rice croquettes that Bridget’s grandmother makes, but the gooey cheese was a nice touch.

For an entrée, Bridget chose the pork belly, which was served with brussel sprouts, poached egg, and sweet potato puree. It was really tender and pulled apart easily with a fork. I had the veal ricotta meatballs, which were served over house made spagehetti. The meatballs were light and delicate and the tomato sauce was slightly sweet. The only drawback for me was that the pasta may have needed to be cooked a bit more, as it was slight chewy.

They must have known I was coming, because the dessert list included a peanut butter and jelly sundae. The peanut butter ice cream, which was creamy and rich, but not overly sweet, was topped with grape jelly syrup (tasted exactly like my favorite Welch’s variety) and a generous handful of caramel corn, which added a bit of texture and saltiness.

Photo stolen from Bridget

For the rest of the afternoon, we burned off a few calories shopping, and then it was time to make our way over to the Broadhurst Theater for the show.

It goes without saying that Hugh Jackman is pretty adorable. And, also, really talented. He’s not just Wolverine, folks. He can sing. He can dance. He flirts with everyone in the audience and embarrasses late-comers as they take their seats. During the two hour show he performs some of his favorite songs from the likes of Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein and Peter Allen (whom he won the Tony Award for portraying in The Boy From Oz back in 2003), interspersed with antidotes about his life, family and career.

At the end of the show, he auctioned off two of his sweaty undershirts for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. He invited the winners backstage after the show to meet him, and Bridget and I almost took out our credit cards, but figured it would be difficult to explain the charge to our respective husbands (one shirt fetched $10,000 and the other $6,000).

On the way to the theater, we noticed that there was a Shake Shack right near our hotel, so we stopped there on the way back for burgers, fries, and shakes to bring back to our room. I’ve heard that Shake Shack was the inspiration for Stephen Starr’s Square Burger. This may be the case, but the Shack is a million times better.

The burgers were cooked to a medium rare, so they were juicy and flavorful. The fries were pretty standard—crispy and salty—but they were crinkle cut, so they get extra points in my book for the novelty factor. The vanilla shake has earned a place (along with Nifty Fifty’s, of course) on my list of best milkshakes ever. It was thick and creamy and I was so sad when it was all gone. I will be first in line when the Philadelphia location opens in Center City next year.

Amazingly, we woke up hungry the next morning and headed to Trattoria dell’Arte, right across from Carnegie Hall. This is one of our go-to places when we come up for a show. They have an excellent antipasto bar with just about anything you could ever want, from mozzarella, to Italian meats, to grilled vegetables. We opted just for brunch—light and sweet Panettone French toast for me, and rich spaghetti carbonara for Bridget (with the egg, bacon, and carbs, it does make a good breakfast dish if you think about it!)

And, with that, it was time for me to catch the train back to Philly and for Bridget to make the long drive back up to Boston. But, we’re already planning our next trip to see another show in the winter and/or spring (Book of Mormon and the upcoming revival of Evita are on our list).

The only good part about the weekend coming to an end was that I got to head back to the gym today. And, not a moment too soon.

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An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert

Source: Ticketmaster via Uwishunu

If you’ve been following along for a bit, you probably think that all I do is eat. I want to assure you that I do like to do other things. For example, when I got an e-mail from the Kimmel Center in the late summer about their upcoming season I checked off a bunch of shows that I wanted to see (and then my calendar filled up with other stuff and all of my grand plans went awry for the most part).

One of the things on my list was “An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert” at the Merriam Theater. Chester and I are both fans of Bourdain’s show No Reservations on the Travel Channel. We watch it with an equal amounts amazement that he’s still alive from all the poor lifestyle choices (drinking, smoking, drugs, ingesting bizarre foods, etc.) he seems to have made over the years and jealousy that his full-time job involves food and travel. We didn’t really know anything about Eric Ripert, except that he is the chef/owner of several restaurants, including 10 Arts in the Ritz Carlton Philadelphia and the Michelin starred Le Bernardin in New York.

We were about to purchase tickets on our own when we learned that the Drexel University Alumni Association was hosting an event in conjunction with the show, so we went with them instead (I’m such a loyal dragon). There was a pre-show reception at Valanni, a Latin tapas restaurant just down the street from the theater. I’ve eaten dinner there before and I remember liking it, but it’s been so long that I can’t really remember all the specifics. At the Drexel reception, they served Serrano Ham Croquettes and they are reason enough alone for you to make a reservation today.

Okay, enough about food. Back to the show.

Bourdain, in person, is just like he is on his show—funny, edgy, and unable to complete a sentence without peppering it with curse words. Ripert is the opposite—refined, soft-spoken, and just…French. Still, they had the type of good rapport you often see between longtime friends.

They started off the show with a mock interrogation. Bourdain questioned Ripert about his immigration status, and Ripert grilled Bourdain to find out if he still calls himself a chef after being out of a kitchen for so long. Both are formally trained and know the ins-and-outs of the restaurant business and it was interesting to hear them reflect on their respective careers and debate all kinds of food related topics.

For example:
The Food Network: Bourdain hates everyone associated with it, with the exception of Ina Garten. Bourdain exhibits a particular dislike for Guy Fieri and his wardrobe, but Ripert seems strangely charmed by the “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” host.

Gordon Ramsey: Ripert himself was trained in kitchens in France and subject to the type of abuse and insults that Ramsey has become famous for. He admitted that when he started running his own kitchen, he treated his staff in this  “old school” way, but soon came to realize that it wasn’t the way to get results or motivate people. He is pretty offended by the way Ramsey treats aspiring chefs on Hell’s Kitchen. I’ve since learned that Ripert is a Buddhist. No wonder he’s so nice.

Best Place to Visit for the Food: Both suggest heading to Asia, particularly Singapore, Korea or Thailand. If only those fares would come down…

Travel Etiquette:  Bourdain encouraged the audience to go out of their comfort zones while traveling. To paraphrase, he suggested everyone treat their vacations to foreign countries like their at their grandmother’s house. Leave you vegetarianism, veganism, and other self-imposed restrictions at the door. Eat everything that’s put in front of you and/or whatever that street vendors offer you, “because that’s what you do in Grandma’s f-ing kitchen.”

At the end of the show, Bourdain and Ripert took questions from the audience, which ranged from the must-have tools for home cooks (good knives) to the way to tell if bone marrow is properly cooked (never pink) to why there is a glass ceiling in the kitchen for female chefs (both chefs disagreed with this last question. And, it’s a particularly silly one to ask in this city, when you consider that women head up several kitchens at well-known restaurants. In fact, up until recently, Jennifer Carroll was at the helm of 10 Arts).

One of the final questioners asked the two chefs their favorite places to eat in Philly. Neither one of them really had good answers (Ripert cheated and said 10 Arts, but redeemed himself a bit in my eyes by mentioning Zahav and Parc, too). Maybe next time they visit, they could use a tour guide to show them all that the city has to offer. I know someone they could call.

Chinatown Night Market

October is one of my favorite months of the year, but it always seems to be the busiest. I guess that the first hint of fall in the air snaps everyone back to reality after three months of summer mode and we pack as much as we can into its 31 days. Work and the rest of my life are always seem extra busy in October, which is why I started to write this post more than a week ago and am now just getting around to putting it up.

Anyway.

The Food Trust launched its Night Market events last year and they’ve quickly become a Philadelphia tradition. The concept is based on the night markets traditionally held in Asia and brings together entertainment, artisans, and food in a residential area. Many of the well-known, as well as the new players, in Philadelphia’s food truck fleet participate. Despite the fact that there has been one held in South Philly (where I live) and University City (where I used to work), Chester and I didn’t get around to experiencing the festivities until a couple of weeks ago, when the fourth Night Market was held in Chinatown.

When we arrived at around 8 p.m., the market was in full swing, with live music, dancing and throngs of people making their way down 10th Street, which was closed to traffic.

We picked our way through the crowds to make it to our first stop The Dapper Dog. This truck serves all-beef hot dogs with a variety of toppings, from fried egg to mac and cheese to asparagus. At the Night Market, the truck was offering a traditional Chicago Dog and a Cheesesteak Hot Dog. You’ve probably been reading long enough to guess which one of us ordered what.

The truck uses Sarcone’s hoagie rolls as the vehicle for their creations. While Sarcone’s is awesome on its own, I’m just not a fan of overly chewy, thick bread with a hot dog. Give me a traditional potato roll any day. But, The Dapper Dog’s version of the Chicago Dog was spot on—even Chester, who hails from Chicago and has had many a hot dog in his day, was impressed.

Our next stop was Chewy’s a new food truck that specializes in burgers, fries, sandwiches, and salads. The blue cheese slider was well seasoned, but pretty basic. The kimchi slider was unique and much more memorable. The fries were a bit disappointing, as they were limp and soggy (but did bring back memories of food truck dinners in college). I’ve read a few more reviews about  Chewy’s since the Night Market, and the tater tots are getting a lot of buzz, so those might be a better side dish option.

You all know by now that I spend most of the time planning what I’m going to have for dessert. There were quite a few dessert options to choose from at the Night Market, but I had my sights set on sampling the gourmet cupcakes from Sweetbox Truck.

 

Sweetbox was offering several flavors that night (including a Pumpkin Spice, which was really tempting!), but we kept it simple and went with a Vanilla Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache.

Oh my goodness. With the first bite, you can tell that the ingredients that the bakers use are extremely high quality. The cake was moist and delicious, and the icing was not overly sweet. They were on the softer side, which made them a bit tricky to eat, but perhaps that was because it was a bit warm that night. Overall, these cupcakes were heavenly, and I see a quite a few trips to Love Park, where Sweetbox is frequently stationed, in my future.

The crowds had started to thin out a bit, so we went off in search of Guapos Tacos, Jose Garces’ mobile outpost. I love that the truck is covered in bottle caps, by the way.

We shared a chipotle short rib taco, with onions, radish, cilantro, crema and queso fresco. The short ribs were juicy and well seasoned, as though they had been marinating all day. This was one of the highlights for me, and I wish I had saved enough room to try one of the other flavors as well.

Our last stop was Yummy Yummy, for Hong Kong egg waffles. Yummy Yummy had a stand at the Market, but the waffles were only available from the shop on (52 North 10th Street).

These doughy sweet treats are made from eggs, sugar, flour and evaporated milk and produced on a special griddle that gives them their fluffy, egg shape. The outside of the waffle was crispy and golden brown, but yielded to a tender, creamy center. These could be habit forming.

And, with that, we called it a night.

Overall, the Night Market was a fun experience. A few tips, if you plan to go: Pack your patience as the lines are long. We waited about 20 minutes or so at the beginning of the evening although the crowds did thin out as the night went on. The price point at most trucks is about $5 and portions were quite generous. So, pace yourself and don’t expect that you will be able to sample every single thing on offer.

I’ll be keeping an eye out to see where the next installment of the Night Market will turn up. In the meantime, I’ll be stalking some of the other trucks that I missed out on at the event, as were so many things that we just couldn’t get around to sampling.