Sunday, February 19, 2017

New York Oyster & Beer Festival

Hot off the tails of our last foray into the food festivals at Beer, Bourbon & BBQ, we visited the New York Oyster & Beer Festival this weekend and had a shucking good time!

I wasn't sure what to expect, since a lot of the food festivals we've been to have been, shall we say, meatier.  They typically drew crowds of people looking to get wasted and fill their stomachs from time to time with food.  In fact, I spoke to a woman pouring Crabbie's ginger beer who also worked a previous food festival and she mentioned how at the more meat-centric or alcohol-centric ones, people wind up puking in the corner or passing out drunk on the tables.  So I imagined at an oyster festival, we'd see a few more khahis and polo shirts and boat shoes.  The crowd was actually pretty diverse, so it was interesting to see that people from all walks of life enjoy oysters, probably like a condensed cross section of the history of oysters (plentiful and considered food for the poor back in 19th century England and New York; now considered a delicacy for posh folks).

This food festival was also unique compared to any other we'd been to: every shucking station had a crate of ice and hard-working dedicated staff shucking each shell carefully.  Then there'd also be Tabasco sauce (red and green), lemon and lime wedges, and shallots.

Putting it out there: I am no connoisseur of oysters myself.  I'd only really had them a couple of times in the past.  I don't know the difference between oyster types, but I figure I know what I like, just judging by taste and texture.  The ones I really liked were, I think, called Mayflower.  To me, it was important to have tried a few so I could pinpoint the features of oysters that I liked that features that were less desirable.  Mayflower oysters were much sweeter, whereas others were of course very briny and salty.  There were also some varieties with the most beautiful shells: spiky and gnarled like a gray Cloyster Pokemon.

We also tried some fantastically creamy clam chowder and oyster pate on crostini.  The piece de resistance was a "clam bake" where we got some clams cooked in Old Bay seasoning, potatoes, and two styles of cooked oysters: one with garlic and parmesan and the other with - get this - barbecue sauce and goats cheese.  Whoa!  The garlic and parmesan one was of course delicious (how could you go wrong?) but the barbecue sauce-goats cheese one was my favorite. Weirdly, the flavors are both really overpowering, so sadly the composition of this dish was not very well balanced at all, but the gooey goats cheese and tangy barbecue sauce would have made anything taste delicious.

What to drink with all these oysters?  Well, we had some tried-and-true favorites like Strongbow Cherry Blossom, Guinness, Smuttynose, and Crabbie's.  A nice addition to the lineup was Veuve Clicquot...ironically Alex spilled his fresh glass across the table so we needed a refill immediately.

Thoughts on the New York Oyster & Beer Festival?  It was certainly different from anything else I've ever attended, in a good way.  I got a little out of my comfort zone to try a food I wouldn't normally order at a restaurant.  These turned out to be fun, squishy, chewy, salty, wet little nuggets that honestly...don't sound too pleasant, but is probably an acquired taste. Yet I also encourage you, if you're not so into oysters either, go out and try them!  Think of it like beer tasting or wine tasting: the next big fad will probably be oyster sommelier!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Tour 2017

Another year, another awesome trip to Beer, Bourbon & BBQ!  I was really excited to try all sorts of beers at this event, since during our winter vacation in Eastern Europe, we had loads of amazing beer every single day (blog post to come!) and I've finally become a beer drinker.  However, because I wanted to sample lots of beer, I kept in mind the adage "beer before liquor, never sicker" I abstained from the "bourbon" third of the equation.

One of the most unique beers we tried early on was the Sarnac S'more Porter.  You read right, s'mores!  This beer was a little cinnamon-y, a little vanilla-y, and leaves you with a marshmallow-tasting finish.  It was so wild sipping s'mores in beer form!

I tried a few different variations of familiar beer brands, including a more crisp and dry Angry Orchard cider, Smuttynose, and Wells Banana Bread.  Possibly a bad idea to have so much beer in such a short amount of food break!

Pork was at its prime here!  We had delectable bacon (of course), pulled pork sliders from Louie's BBQ Pit, pulled pork sliders with jalapenos from Dinosaur BBQ, and likely pulled pork sliders from other fabulous barbecue restaurants as well. There was also a delish pulled pork mac & cheese...I mean, how could you go wrong!?  The absolute best food, though, was the whole pig carving demo: we got a plate heaped with freshly carved, steaming, glisteningly juicy pork.  My first bite had a fragrant, yet subtle, hit of garlic.  The pork was perfection.

And now, for something completely different...

For those of you who are not beer fans? I found the beer (cider, rather) that most resembled a fruity cocktail drink: Strongbow's Cherry Blossom cider.  The cider itself is bright red and was extremely sweet and, therefore, delicious to me. It's definitely not a typical beer, and felt so indulgent and fun.

And because Beer, Bourbon & BBQ coincided with Lunar New Year this year, I obviously had to have some Tsingtao!

Last, but certainly not least, in my drunken stupor I found one of my favorite beers of the day: Abita's Coffee Stout.  Again, this beer is more sweet than usual, but it's so rich with chocolate and coffee notes and actually relatively light and refreshing compared to other stouts or porters!  Unfortunately, I was at my upper limit of beer consumption so I only had the tiniest sip, but this is going to be a beer that I'll seek out.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Great British Partake-Off: London Edition

Cheerio, dear readers!

My bad for the very long hiatus this time.  The thing is, your Veritasty friends had been cavorting (also working full time jobs, etc. etc.) around London and other faraway locales from late September last year to right after the new year.  We're back home in New York now and swamped with work and life, but finally decided to carve out some time to share our absolutely delightful journey, both food-related and otherwise, for the last few months.  Here's our series that I'm going to call...The Great British Partake-Off!!  Part one of many...


A little backstory: Alex got an opportunity to work abroad in his company's London office, and they were going to put him in corporate housing for free.  So, Sandra decided to take full advantage of this opportunity and move there as well. Practically everyone in my family thought I was taking a sabbatical and going to London for vacation, but on the contrary I actually worked harder and longer hours there.  The great thing for me was that while Alex went to work at 9am on the weekdays, I didn't have to sign in until early afternoon (2pm GMT being 9am EST) so I could wander around the city at my leisure.  I had some good jogs in the morning, some terrible jogs as well, and great introspection time while looking at the beautiful, ever-changing, unique, and diverse city of London.  We got to explore London together on the weekends, as well as experience some wonderful day trips and weekend trips.

It's a thing...

A little more backstory: Alex and Sandra met in London in January 2010 while studying abroad!  See, London holds a very special place in our hearts for that reason.  A few weekends, we revisited our old stomping grounds around King's Cross, Bloomsbury, Angel, and Bedford Square and it meant a lot to me that we had stayed friends and developed this blog together all these years after.  (Plus we're getting married and stuff too, but just shows how important Veritasty is to us...) It was great to go back now as working adults, rather than poor students, so we could actually enjoy ourselves at shops and restaurants instead of scrimping for every pence and pound.

I was therefore able to witness London several times over the course of the last seven years and I do believe that it's improving in many aspects: cleanliness, safety, modernity, and most  A lot of people still believe that British food is unpalatable, but we heartily disagree.

Here are a few highlights of the gastronomical delights London has to offer, da real MVPs.

Most frequented foodie destination: Borough Market
Alex's corporate housing was in an incredible location.  We were right between St. Paul's Cathedral and Tower of London, just two blocks north of the Thames and two blocks south of Bank and the Royal Exchange.  There was a Sainsbury's around the corner so I could go get a pint of milk in my PJs in a pinch.  I walked to the West End nearly every day, and on the days I needed some peace and quiet, I wandered the silent canals and residential blocks in St. Katharine's Docks. One of my favorite places to visit was less than 10 minutes away across London Bridge: Borough Market.

A little unfortunately, Borough Market has become so popular that it's insanely crowded on weekends and around lunch time.  I'd always go about 10am on weekdays to grab a latte from one of the local vendors and then weave amongst the stalls of local cheeses, artisan pastries, bread baked literally across the street from the market, charcuterie, glistening cakes, stuffed-to-the-brim jelly doughnuts, sugar-coated Turkish delights, freshly baked flaky sausage rolls, quintessential English pies with various flavorful twists, vegetarian Indian street food, Egyptian street food, Jamaican street food, Thai street food, goats cheese products...and that's just the first half of the market.  On the other side, you'll find more cheese (in fact, your nose will find them before you even get there), rustic breads, truffles, olive oils, fresh seafood on ice, a food vendor cooking huge pans of paella and laksa curry from the fresh seafood from next door, farm-grown produce; the list goes on and on.  There's also highly rated fish and chips and pulled pork sandwiches and jamon and tapas on the street that cuts through the market.  Absolutely a feast for all the senses.

Brunch with a view: Duck & Waffle
When my best friend Jackie came to visit us, we headed to the very popular Duck & Waffle restaurant, located at the 40th floor of the Salesforce Building.  It was near impossible to get a reservation, but we were lucky that someone had just cancelled.  The panoramic views were a little obscured on that cloudy day, but you could nonetheless make out the striking view of the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe Street) literally right next door, and it was fun to see all of London spread out beneath us like a Lego set: Clerkenwell here, Shoreditch there.  The restaurant served all duck-related dishes; we had pigs ears (okay, not duck-related straight out the gate, but still yummy), duck congee, duck leg confit on a waffle (duck & waffle, of course), and duck egg en cocotte with truffle shavings, tons of melted cheese, and toast soldiers for dipping.  It was an expensive and highly sophisticated meal, but also had elements of play-with-your-food playfulness and was undoubtedly delicious.

Brunch with no views, just low-class and kick-ass: Full English Breakfast at Cafe Rossi in Southwark
Alex spent two weeks in London in 2013 for work, and he stayed near this greasy spoon called Cafe Rossi and had perhaps several not regrettable (in the sorry-not-sorry sense) meals here.  It seats maybe 20 people in the cramped back area, on sticky tables and sticky chairs.  There's a gyro on a spit at the window, and a glass case of fluorescent foodstuffs.  Honestly I would have passed over this place a million times and wouldn't have dared eating here until Alex recommended it.  We had one of our first full English breakfasts here and it was incredible.  Like, incredibly huge, incredibly fattening and greasy, but also incredibly delicious and hearty and satisfying.  It comes with beans, sausages, ham, mushrooms, fried eggs, chips, and buttered toast.  I probably skipped over the black pudding, but still I only ate about half.  The second time we came, I thought I was rather clever in ordering about half the items a la carte, but found myself missing that feeling of gorging one's self with something so indulgent as a full English breakfast.  I've had a few full English breakfasts here and there, and although I can't say definitively that Cafe Rossi's was my favorite, it was certainly memorable for being our local greasy spoon.

Meals worth waiting for: Dishoom
Our first full day was a Friday and I had to sign on to work at about 2pm, so we went out for a brief walk in the morning that culminated in lunch at Dishoom, an Indian restaurant that Alex had visited and enjoyed.  Dishoom was opened by Iranian folks and designed to be like a club back in the classical days of old Bombay, maybe in the 1960s or so (this isn't just my imagination: they have menus and pamphlets printed in the style of old newspapers that espouses this story). They serve mostly small plates, and of course you'll find the staples of curries and roasted meats, but in a much more refined and delicate style.  We had their famed dishes, chicken ruby and daal with naan.  The chicken ruby is a fairly sweet curry with chunks of succulent chicken.  The curry is so packed with spice, but balanced so it's not overwhelming. The daal is thick and rich.  Often when I have daal, it's a watery side dish, almost like an afterthought.  Even the chutneys are fantastic here - a few times, I'd been starving waiting for my meal, so I'd just dip my fork into the mint yogurt or the spicy orange sauce and just slowly and imperceptibly eat the sauce straight up.  Oh my ghee.  I still dream about Dishoom.  If Dishoom ever opens in New York, I'll be on that line, stat.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pig Island 2016

Happy 5th birthday to us!  Another year, another brilliant trip to Pig Island.  As always, we're very grateful to Jimmy Carbone and his team at Food Karma for organizing this event and being gracious hosts.  I would have loved for it to be about twenty degrees cooler and a bit more overcast; it was sweltering and I came home with a pretty gnarly tan!  But no matter, the plentiful food and drink were still enjoyable.

In past years, I've tried to pinpoint a recurring theme or motif that inspired the chefs: last year we saw a lot of chicharrones and pork rinds, whereas past years there were lots of tacos or sliders.  I think this year's theme was a little broader and more international: fusion pork dishes.

One of the standouts was a sandwich from Hudson & Charles of pickled pork shoulder in a banana calamansi BBQ sauce.  We spoke to the chefs, who told us calamansi is a citrus fruit like a cross between lime and orange, commonly used in Filipino cooking.  The pork was super tender and had a slightly tangy flavor, owing to the calamansi and a pickled papaya slaw.

Another memorable and very attractive dish was from Insa: a Korean-inspired braised pork wrapped in a thin sliver of pickled radish and sprinkled with green onion and sesame.  The pork was delicious, but the highlight of this delicate wrap was the stark contrast of black sesame seeds against the white wrapper, which I had originally assumed was a very pale tortilla.  It was very creative and felt fairly light and refreshing.

Of the most stunning displays, Gaseiro e Bom supermarket probably takes the cake.  They had a huge pig torso rotating on a spit over hot coals.  Their dish was Portuguese roast pork; although they didn't explain exactly what distinguished the Portuguese style, I thought I tasted some citrus and something tangy as well.

Other chefs and restaurants cooked up bahn mi sandwiches, souvlaki in pitas, pork with eggplant caponata, pig bone ramen broth, bratwursts, ground pork on a crisp black tortilla almost like a ultra-thin crust pizza, medianoche sandwiches...the international flavor was certainly everywhere, and undoubtedly delicious!