While on our recent trip to New York City, we of course had to try a steak at Peter Luger, often cited as the best steakhouse in the USA. We called 6 weeks in advance for a Friday night dinner reservation for 2 and the only time slot offered to us was 9:45 pm. I was later told by those in the know that they hold back tables for locals and regulars...as unknown tourists we were shunted into an unpopular time. It could have been worse, they were still seating people at 11:00.
It was raining so traveling by public transport was out. Because of the apparent difficulty of finding a taxi in Brooklyn we hired a car service to take us. This worked out fine and made it easy to return to our hotel after dining.
Luger's was packed, noisy and bustleing. Luckily we managed to snag a seat at the long bar and our table was ready on time. It's clear that one doesn't go to Luger's for atmosphere unless one likes that run-down German beer hall feel. My martini was truly ghastly so I switched to beer after one sip. We didn't bother with the wine menu having heard it's not impressive. Beer actually goes quite well with the food.
We were seated in a room upstairs. Not a great room for those who want to see and be seen but perfect for us. Unlike the downstairs rooms which have bare wooden floors, the upstairs is carpeted and conversation at the table is actually possible.
At Luger's only tourists look at the menu. Heh. There is really only one thing to order and that is the Porterhouse for 2 or more. As accompaniments we ordered the German Fries (hash browns) and the Creamed Spinach. Also a couple pieces of the famous bacon to start. First up was a very nice bread basket with 3 types of rolls...all delicious, particularly the onion rolls.
On the table is always a gravy boat of Luger's Steakhouse sauce. I'd heard that one must never put it on the steak but it goes well on the salad and rolls. Honestly, to me it just tasted like a watered down version of shrimp cocktail sauce...basically ketchup and horseradish with a squeeze of lemon. I don't get the allure.
The bacon, however, lived up to its reputaion. Easily the best bacon I have ever eaten. The only thing that confuses me is that it is referred to as Canadian bacon when it is clearly cured pork belly rather than tenderloin. Still superb.
The steak arrived quickly. This is not a linger over your courses restaurant. It was already sliced and before I could get a picture the waiter had served our plates. That took me by surprise.
The steak was cooked perfectly medium rare and served on a sizzling hot plate, apparently the plate it was broiled on. Lots of fat pooled in the bottom of the plate to spoon over each serving.
The plates after serving:
My companion tried to cook the meat further on the sizzling plate as it was a bit too rare for him. Worked pretty well.
The potatoes were quite good, almost blackened and crispy. The spinach was meh. Tasted more like flour and milk than cream to me.
So was this the best steak ever? I'm hard pressed to think of a better steak I've eaten. It had that deep, bloody, almost minerally flavor that denotes a well-aged prime steak. And it was very tender but still had a nice chew. Supposedly Luger's gets first pick of all the top prime meat produced here, and then dry ages it in house which may explain why it is so good. It was well-seasoned though I don't believe the melted fat was butter as is claimed. Maybe tourists get oil instead?
Definitely worth a visit for any serious steak fan.
For years I have dreamed of trying the renowned pastrami at Katz's Deli in New York City. As a serious fan of good Jewish-style deli, I've lived in frustration in Houston and the Bay Area unable to obtain anything deserving of the name pastrami or corned beef. I satisfied my deli cravings vicariously by reading dining reports of those fortunate enough to eat in NYC, and based on those reports felt certain that Katz's pastrami was the king. And so it is.
I finally had the opportunity to eat there last week.
Thanks to many reports and insider tips, I knew the best way to order. When you enter Katz's you are given a ticket like a movie ticket. Don't lose it! And don't sit down and receive table service. Go directly to the deli counter and stand in line in front of one of the deli servers. Hold a couple bucks in your hand so the deli person can see it and know they will be tipped. Order your sandwich. They'll hand slice it, first giving you a generous sample. They'll place your sandwich on a paper plate and throw some pickles on another plate. Give them your ticket and they'll write the amount you owe on it. Put your tip in the cup, take your plates and then go find a table. If you want something to drink like a beer, go back up to a different area of the counter.
I made a terrible ordering mistake. Even though I had been assured many, many times that their pastrami was the best, I just had to hedge my bet by getting half a corned beef sandwich and half a pastrami sandwich.
The pastrami, identifiable by the black pepper coating, was absolutely superb...by far the best I've ever tasted. It was juicy brisket with just enough fat and a depth of flavor that wasn't overwhelmed by the pepper coating. It was enhanced by being hand sliced the old-fashioned way. I think Katz's is the last NYC deli that hasn't switched to machine slicing.The corned beef was very good but paled in comparison to the pastrami. Don't bother with it. (Also, be careful with those tastings you get at the counter. I was already full by the time I sat down!)
The crispy pickles were just the way I like, barely cured. They hadn't even reached the half-sour stage.
Katz's has no atmosphere to speak of. It's basically a dive, but an authentic one with a long history dating back to 1888 when it first opened.
Oh, you haven't lost that ticket they gave you on the way in? You need it to get out. Hand it to the cashier at the door and she rings up your purchases. $50 charge for lost tickets.
This is my first ever entry in IMBB (Is My Blog Burning). I'm excited to be joining the fabulous food blogging community.
We encountered this delicious bean dish in tavernas throughout Greece, usually served at room temperature as an appetizer. One advantage of this dish is it can be cooked 1 or 2 days in advance. It improves with age. For more about our 3 weeks in Greece last spring see Exploring greek food.
Gigantes Plaki1 c dry gigantes or large lima beans
Soak beans in lots of water to cover over night or boil beans in lots of water for one minue and allow to sit covered for 1 hour. (These beans soak up lots of water). Drain beans. Return to pot and cover with lots of water, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, add 3 bay leaves, cover and simmer. Check every 15 minutes. Beans are done when they are just soft through-out. They will cook a bit more later. (Mine took 30 minutes to get done). Drain beans (save water) and remove bay leaves. In same pot heat olive oil. Saute onions til soft. Add garlic and saute for a few minutes. Add tomatoes plus their juice. Add rigani, bay, wine, honey and S & P. Allow to simmer for 15 minues or until well amalgamated. Add beans to sauce. Add enough reserved bean water to keep beans juicy but not soupy. Barely simmer for about 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend, or if you prefer, bake beans at 325. Beans should be meltingly tender but not quite falling apart. Add lemon juice, vinegar and 1/4 c parsley. Remove from heat. Serve hot or at room temp. Garnish with chopped parsley and dill. Makes 4-6 side dish 8-10 appetizer servings.
Las Vegas was low on my list of places to visit until I discovered Lotus of Siam which serves the best Thai food I have eaten outside of a private home. Now I make excuses to head for the hedonistic city in the desert.
Lotus of Siam offers a full Thai menu but specializes in authentic Issan (northern) Thai food. Located in a run-down strip mall in an out of the way neighborhood in Las Vegas, the restaurant surprises diners by serving delicious dishes prepared with quality ingredients. Don't let the outward appearance scare you off! This is fabulous food at amazingly reasonable prices.
It's important to order properly to get the most from the dining experience. I first always ask if the owner, Bill, is present. He is a charming gentleman who will gladly pull up a chair and chat with you about the food which he is deservingly proud of. If Bill isn't present we ask for Tony, our favorite waiter. We just ask for them to bring us what is best that day, always including some of the Issan specialties. What follows is a fabulous feast.
Some of the "don't miss" dishes:
Nam Kao Tod consists of minced sour sausage mixed with green onion, chile, ginger, peanuts, crispy rice, lime, nasturtium and mint. This is one of the best dishes I have ever tasted anywhere. The crispy rice, which is deep-fried, has an incredible texture and nutty taste that stands up well to the strong spicing. The combination of flavors is awesome. The last time we ate there we actually ordered two plates for 3 of us so we wouldn't have to fight over it. That is how good it is!
Nua Dad Deaw is another must have. Described on the menu as Beef Jerky Issan Style it consists of deep fried marinated slices of beef with a home-made sauce. The texture of the meat is much more tender than actual beef jerky but it does possess a certain reminiscent chewiness. The sauce is deep and smoky in flavor. Together they make for a very unique dining experience.
Those are the two dishes we always order though everything else we have tried has been excellent.
Pork satay was tender and luscious.
Koon Tenn consists of grilled shrimp with spicy sauce served on a bed of cabbage. Delicious and fiery hot!
Fried Chicken Dumplings with sweet and sour sauce.
Dessert at Lotus of Siam is a treat. The house made coconut ice cream with warm sticky rice and fresh mango is lovely and addictive. No picture.
Pictured above, the coconut ice cream with fried banana roll. Yum.
Another bit of advice: most of the entrees are under $10 except for the Charbroiled Fresh Water Prawns. The prawns are offered in 3 different sauces, each costs $28.95. During our first meal at LOS we gave them free rein and they served us the Prawns in a spicy sauce. The menu specifies 2 prawns but they served us 3 (there were 3 of us) for the same price. We were quite shocked when we saw the bill but if price is no object for you, I encourage you to order them. This was an outstanding dish. The prawns are actually flown in from a river in Thailand and they are huge, the size of a small lobster tail. I love lobster but I have to admit these were sweeter than any lobster I have eaten and more tender. The sauce was marvelous and I ate every last bit of it with a spoon directly from the serving dish. But it's very expensive compared to the rest of the menu.
The restaurant has a very nice, well-priced wine list specializing in German wines that go well with the spicy food. Speaking of spicy, diners can specify the heat level they prefer on a scale of one to ten. We usually go for 6.
I just can't rave enough about Lotus of Siam, both the food and service. We have eaten there 4 times now, most recently in late October, and only once were we disappointed and that was on 4th of July when they were clearly short-staffed. A multi-coursed dinner for two with a bottle of wine runs less than $100.
On our way from Kona to Hilo, we stopped in Waimea to have lunch at Merriman's. The positive reviews of Merriman's are warranted. We so enjoyed the food that we stopped again for lunch on our return trip a few days later.
Pictures of first lunch:
Coconut curry grilled chicken with peanut dipping sauce, Vegetable and cucumber namasu, jasmine rice. The chicken was spicy and tender. The namasu was pleasantly pungent.
Signature Lunch Dish: Black vinegar braised Chinese short ribs drizzled with hot mustard, Waimea tomato and arugula, Jasmine rice. The meltingly tender, deeply flavored rib meat sat atop feiry hot Kimchee. I loved it.
Congo bar with Tahitian Vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. I am now seeking a congo bar recipe...crisp cookie-like outsides surrounded a dense mousse-like chocolate center.
Pipikaula sandwich with pumpkin-celery root soup. The creamy soup was garnished with shredded jicama, carrot and wasabi. Pipikaula is a Hawaiian smoked beef, similar to pastrami but without the pepper bite. It was tasty but I couldn't help thinking about those fabulous ribs from the previous lunch. Still it was nice to try an unusual Hawaiian specialty.
Kalua pork barbecue sandwich with slaw and steamed red potatoes. Merriman's BBQ sauce was a nice balance of sweet and hot.
Coconut creme brulee.
The chef, Peter Merriman, was a member of the original group of Hawaiian chefs who started showcasing native-grown foods back in the early 1990s, putting Hawaiian cuisine on the culinary map. He is still going strong and has recently opened a cafe on the Kona coast.
Lagniappe: Our waiter told me how to cook the marvelous black-vinegar ribs. It's simple. Braise boneless beef ribs til tender in a liquid made of Shoyu, Balsamic vinegar, garlic, shallots and ginger. I tried it (forgot to take pics) and the ribs turned out great.
For more recipes check out the website: Merriman's website
I brought more than memories home from Greece. We were so taken with Greek cucumbers and tomatoes that we decided to grow our own. During our last week in Greece we stopped at every nursery or likely looking store to buy seeds to no avail. We finally found some seed packets in a small curio store in Athens. We bought tomato and cuke seeds as well as horta (wild green) seeds.
We planted the tomato and cucumber seeds in May and they have flourished. We ate our first home-grown Greek salad tonight. The Greek tomatoes, Greek cucumbers and red onions all came from our garden. The bell pepper, olives and feta were purchased. (The feta was added to individual servings at table as my husband does not eat cheese!) The salad was simply dressed with drizzles of EVOO, lemon juice, dried Greek oregano and S & P.
I was amazed at how sweet the tomatoes and cukes were. Despite the different growing conditions, the vegies had the same taste qualities that made me fall in love with them initially in Greece. Unfortunately, the seed packets give no clue as to vegetable variety. What am I going to do for seeds next year?
To serve with the salad I decided to make the dish that my companion ordered throughout Greece because he just couldn't get enough of it; Stifado, a Greek beef stew. The Greeks also make it with veal and lamb.
An example of Stifado as served in Greece:
I cobbled together a recipe from various sources as follows:
olive oil (not EVOO)
2 lbs of braising beef, cut in 1" chunks
12 boiling onions (not pearl onions---they should be about 1 1/2"-2" diameter), peeled
3 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 t fresh thyme
1 T dried oregano, crumbled
3 bay leaves
pinch of cinnamon
5 whole cloves
1/2 t cumin
2 c red wine
2 T balsamic vinegar
S & P
Dredge meat in flour and brown in oil in batches in large Dutch oven. Remove meat to a bowl. Cut cross in base of onions. Add more oil if needed and saute onions for about 10 minutes til starting to brown. Add garlic and saute for a minute. Return meat plus juices to pot. Add remaining ingredients. Season with S & P to taste. Bake at 350 til meat is tender, about 2 hours.
Here is a not very pretty picture of the stew when almost done:
The stew formed it's own luscious thick gravy. It was pronounced a great success. Four of us finished off the whole amount! Serve with a crusty loaf of bread and Greek salad for a lovely and very Greek meal.
I was pleasantly surprised by a recent lunch at Mustards Grill in Napa Valley. Three of us dropped by on a Sunday without reservations. I had low expectations, never having read a review of the restaurant.
The wait was about an hour but the staff was very accommodating and agreed to call us at a nearby winery when our table was ready. We were seated about 50 minutes later. The decor is nothing special but the restaurant had a lively buzz. It was a very hot day in Napa so I asked the staff to recommend a refreshing drink. They brought me an excellent mojito made with absolutely fresh mint. Perfect to combat the heat.
Our first appetizer was onion rings. They had been sliced almost paper-thin, lightly battered, fried, and piled high on a dinner size plate. Plenty to share and served with a spicy house-made ketchup. We also ordered lemongrass pork lettuce wraps; basically a plate with 4 arranged leaves of lettuce, each topped with shredded vegies and a generous hunk of pork. We rolled the lettuce around the toppings and dipped into nuoc cham. The pork was about half an inch thick, very tender and well marinated.
One main dish was an almond-mustard coated salmon served atop garlic mash and a medley of green and yellow string beans. A good sized thick portion of salmon was perfectly cooked. The crisp crust provided a nice counterpoint to the salmon without overwhelming it. The string beans were freshly picked and cooked al dente. Very nice dish.
We also had hanger steak. I am sorry to say that I was out-voted when it came to doneness. Me: medium rare. Two of them: medium to medium well. Democracy in action. Drastically over cooked as it was, the steak was still tender which tells me it was a decent piece of meat. The steak was served with caramelized onions and fries and an incredibly delicious watercress dipping sauce. The sauce was a freshly made mayonnaise with lots of lemon and enough watercress to add a peppery bite. I couldn't resist eating it plain with a spoon.
When we left the restaurant we walked through the kitchen garden, a lovely series of raised beds. It was obvious why certain ingredients, the mint and string beans, tasted so fresh.
Overall, a very nice lunch in Napa and reasonably priced.
The Uros Indians of Peru live their lives on a man-made island that floats in Lake Titicaca. The lake is 14,000 feet in altitude, the highest navigable inland lake in the world. It's cold for much of the year. Yet, this tribe chooses to live there. Maintaining the island is a year round job. Every day parts of the island succumb to rot and every day new parts are added by the inhabitants. The island is constructed of a native reed that grows along the shore. During our visit we were given a piece of the reed and instructed to peel and eat it. It was quite refreshing, full of fresh water.
The island was an odd and fun place to explore because...due to the reed structure...one's feet sunk about 6 inches deep with each step. It really was like walking on a water bed.
Unfortunately, the Uros did not move to the island by choice. In the early 1500's, the conquistadores invaded. At that time the Uros tribe lived in the mountains surrounding Lake Titicaca. Shortly after the invasion, the Uros were conscripted to work in silver mines for the Spaniards who were intent on returning to Spain with great riches. Within 10 years over 90% of the Uros population was wiped out due to conditions in the mines. The remaining 10% decided to escape. They built a floating island and paddled out to the middle of Lake Titicaca. The Spaniards did not follow them and so they survived.
Their life today is very different than in the past. They rely on the tourist income, but also fishing. They dry fish and use it to barter for other items they need. There is a one room schoolhouse that educates the children to the high school level. At that point the only way to continue education is for their parents to rent an apartment in Puno, the nearest city. The trip to the island takes too long to commute on a daily basis.
Fishing boat and island:
On the 3rd weekend in July many towns and villages in the Peruvian state of Cusco celebrate the Festival de las Virgenes de Carmen. I had the good fortune to observe the festival this year in the village of Pisac, near the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The heart of the festival was a procession that began at the church and encircled the village. Hundreds of villagers participated, at times there seemed to be more participants than observers.
Apparently, preparation for the festival starts a year in advance. The various neighborhoods in the village form "teams". Each team sponsors a specific group of participants. The groups consist of 10-20 people all of whom wear indentical costumes and march (or dance) in the procession. Each team selects one member to fill the roll of Majordomo. The Majordomo has many responsibilities including paying for and making the costumes for her group as well as hosting a 3 day feast/openhouse the weekend of the festival. As you can see in the pictures the costumes are extremely elaborate and beautiful. I had assumed they were recycled from year to year but instead they are made fresh. This clearly entails quite an expense on the part of the Majordomo. Supposedly, it costs the family of the Majordomo an entire year's earnings. However, it is believed that every $ spent will be returned to them in the form of good luck!
I was for some reason expecting the procession to involve "real virgins" a la Miss Peanut Festival or Miss Artichoke Festival in the USA. Rather, the virgins were inanimate "dolls", carried on a platform on the shoulders of participants. Pisac had two virgins.
The Cuckoos: This group dressed to resemble the cuckoo bird make bird sounds...they must not utter human words while in costume.
The Demons: Many groups represented various sorts of demons. They try to get close to the Virgins but are repelled by other groups. Demons and Virgins must never mix!
The Spaniards: Mocking the Conquistadores.
Blue Eyes: Not sure what this group represents but I found their blue eyes and pink skin interesting.
Hats: Throughout Peru the native tribes distinguish themselves from each other via their hats. These are particularly lovely.
The Feast: A majordomo sets-up for the 3 day feast.