Mama Says

27 Apr

eggsaladI was very happy with my recent stay at Mama Shelter’s Paris location. I stayed there because its creator, Cyril Aouizerate, also has the restaurant Maimonide of Brooklyn (MOB), a very cool vegan restaurant in New York. It was after eating there and talking to an employee that I found out about Mama Shelter, so when I was planning my trip to Paris, I knew just where I had to stay.

It just so happens that the hotel has a fabulous restaurant, and a pizzeria and bar. I ate at the restaurant after a long day of sightseeing and exploring the city. There aren’t many dinner spots near the hotel, and it was too late to venture very far,  but I’m glad because otherwise I might not have tried the hotel’s restaurant. Sometimes hotel restaurants can be not very good and pricey, catering to the guests who don’t feel like going out, but going to Mama Shelter’s restaurant is like going out.  It’s very popular with Parisenes, not just guests. The lively atmosphere transports weary travelers into a vibrant dining scene that was packed minus a few tables.

Browsing the menu, which assures readers that “Mama LOVES  you” and “Mama FEEDS you,” everything looked amazing.  I settled on the MAMA Salad with iceberg lettuce, cucumber, radish, red onions, tomatoes, and hard-boiled egg, to start, and the vegetarian parmentier with tarragon, ratatouille, and parmesan cheese, to finish. I also tried a glass of the 2012 Cotes de Gascogne Colombard Sauvignon from Domain de Ménard, and although I’m no sommeiller, and generally don’t even like wine, this one was actually really good. There was no after taste, and it was very fruity; it pretty much tasted like juice.

parmentierThe salad was very good although there was an overload of cherry tomatoes. The egg was cooked perfectly: very soft, and I think the yolk was taken out and mixed with a bit of mayonnaise and then put back in. The parmentier, which means pie, was served in the oval Pyrex dish in which it was baked. It consisted mostly of potatoes with some pepper, onion, and other vegetables typical of a ratatouille, but it didn’t have as much flavor as I had imagined. Other items of interest on the menu: green lentils, vegetarian summer rolls, crispy chicken salad, eggplant mushroom ravioli, macaroni and Gruyère, seared salmon with vegetables and chinese noodles, Thai sauce spices and coffee roasted codfish, and grilled flank steak with homemade fries. The menu goes on, accommodating many tastes while remaining within a reasonable price range. In euros my salad was 14, the parmentier was 15, and the wine was 6. Some items on the dessert menu were apple crumble, handmade sorbet and ice cream, and molten chocolate cake.

pooltoysThe decor of the restaurant (and hotel) designed by Philippe Starck, who seems to have thought of everything and more, is a whole other topic, but vital to the dining experience. The blackboard-painted ceiling is covered with a mélange of pastel-colored chalk graffiti. The playfulness continues to the tube lighting chandelier above one long table that is completely covered with kids’ pool toys, all bright, and some animal-like. Seating consists of a mix of couches, patio chairs, and stools. Tables are also lit by votive candles and dim lamps. Pots hang from the ceiling near the kitchen area, some over lightbulbs, making it hard to decipher where decoration ends and practicality begins, which is to say, the case for the whole establishment, which makes partaking in any aspect of it very entertaining.grafitti

Helmut Newcake: Paris’ First 100% Gluten-Free Patisserie

14 Apr

helmutcasePastries are as much icons of Paris as the Eiffel tower is, so I was very excited when I found this 100% gluten-free patisserie, cafe, and tea room in not only Paris, but one’s of its newest trendy neighborhoods, the area around the Canal Saint Martin. The Canal Saint Martin is in the 10th arrondissement between the Gare du Nord and the Place de la Republique. Features of the neighborhood are footbridges over the canal, walking and biking paths, and plenty of cute boutiques and restaurants, one of them being Helmut Newcake, whose name is a play on that of German-Australian photographer, Helmut Newton.

This cafe is a great stop for brunch, lunch, or afternoon tea. There’s a vast array of pastries, and a daily menu for savory dishes which they often post on their Facebook page. Behind the magical deli glass are picturesque confections including Eclairs, Madame de Fontenay Chocolat, fruit tarts, cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies, and sweet breads, among others. Their menu features dishes such as a green salad, cream of zucchini soup, a spinach and goat cheese quiche, and risotto with prawns and fennel. When I was there for lunch I had the salad and soup, the latter of which was a bit creamy for me, but still delicious. The salad was very fresh and light. I didn’t have too much because I wanted to save room for desert.

helmutpuffI had a Chou a la creme (creme puff) alongside my red rooibos tea, both served on, and in, adorable china decorated with flowers. The cream was thick and vanilla-y, and the bread part was very soft and moist, with a little bit of powered sugar sprinkled on top. It was probably the best cream I’ve ever had, something that my Clover whipping cream and hours of Thanksgiving whisking are no match for. Even with cream being a main part of the pastry, I was happily surprised at how light the whole thing was; it was indulgent but didn’t feel heavy in my stomach afterwards. I also bought a chocolate cookie that I enjoyed later that day midway up the steps leading up to the Sacre Coeur as I admired the view of the city in front of me. The cookie was really good, it wasn’t  typical chocolate chip, but more of a cross with a sugar cookie and a snickerdoodle because there weren’t a bunch of chips, and there was a little bit of cinnamon.

Two day later, with my suitcase rolling behind me, I set off from my hotel near the Pere Lachaise in the 20th arrondissement and walked across a good chunk of the city to have a spot of tea and slice of ginger lemon spice cake before jet setting back to Florence. It was a sunday, when only a reservations-required  brunch is served, but I was still able to have a quick tea and treat since there was room.

helmutpatioI really liked the decor of Helmut Newcake; it reminded me a lot of Brooklyn because of the general light and airy minimalism mixed with items from Ikea, and worn-in, mix and match china sets. It’s modern, rustic, and fun. One of the walls of the main room is exposed beige stone, then there’s an interior covered patio with white walls featuring a couple of pieces of bright pop art. The patio is separated from the main area by glass windows and a door which bear the restaurant’s name. The seating is a mix of patio chairs, and more comfy, sofa-like ones, and the china sets go from white and blue with flowers, to red with oriental patterns. On part of the stone wall is a system of shelves which houses items for purchase like organic teas, cereals, dried pasta, and condiments. Also over there is an assortment of pastry-themed books to look at, including a cookbook for Babycakes, a popular vegan and gluten-free bakery with locations in LA and NYC.

For more gluten-free eating in Paris, there’s a chain of natural food stores called Naturalia which seemed to pop up just about everywhere I walked around. There’s also another gluten-free restaurant called No Glu at which I only tried a mini carrot cake muffin because its lunch hours were just about over. The menu looked pretty good, and unlike Helmut Newcake, they’re open for dinner, but it seemed like reservations would be necessary. The decor in there was pretty Brooklyn-esque too, but in the more, dark, sleek, and with lots of wood, way. Then of course there are restaurants than can accommodate those who are gluten-intolerant. Over all I was pretty pleased with Paris’ gluten-free and natural foods options.

It’s Hard To Believe That Kale Used to Be a Peasant Food

12 Mar

kale crosConsidering the popularity of kale in the US, and the automatic price increase it often induces upon all dishes and drinks in which it is contained, it’s hard to believe that it was ever seen as anything but a symbol of health and wealth. In Tuscany, kale had always been connoted with peasants who had no choice but to eat it in the winter when there would be little else left in the garden, and when they didn’t have the means to buy much from the market. The kale leaves could be conveniently and frugally picked as needed, without needing to cut down the whole stalk.

ribollitaA popular use of the nutrient-packed leaves was, and still is, Ribollita, a classic Tuscan soup which I had the pleasure to help make and eat as a part of a new club initiative at NYU in Florence called La Raccolta, meaning ‘the harvest.’ Along with the school’s head gardener  (or more officially, the Horticultural Curator at Villa LaPietra, Nicholas Dakin Eliott) and two of the cooks here, we chopped up onions, carrots, celery, chard, potatoes, cabbage, and kale. First the onions were sautéed, and then water and the other vegetables were added.  Once the potatoes were cooked, it was time to add the beans. The soup calls for already cooked cannellini beans, a third of which were mashed up to thicken the soup. The final ingredient is the bread. It’s actually best to use stale bread, which is very economical if you have leftovers, but fresh is okay too. A little bit of salt, pepper, and olive oil were added to taste, and then it was ready to eat. It wasn’t the most flavorful soup, but it was pretty good; definitely hearty and healthy.

kale sautWe utilized more kale by sautéing  extra leaves in oil with garlic, which we then put atop oven-toasted bread to make crostini to eat with the soup. Another thing, which we made with chard but I suppose could be made with any green, was my favorite part of the meal. It was a rather mushy mixture composed of potato shavings sautéed in olive oil. We had put cut up pieces of bread in the oven and then mixed them with balsamic vinegar and peperoncino flakes which we added to the sautéing potatoes. Then the chard was added. Once complete it was perfect for spreading on toast or even on its own. I think it had the most flavor and spice out of the three components of our kale-centric menu. Though the soup wasn’t technically ‘Ribolitta’ (meaning reboiled) because we had only just made it, it was still a great culinary experience and opportunity to enjoy some authentic Tuscan cooking.

Gluten-Free in Italy: Surprisingly Easy

26 Feb

B6B48C44-E3D6-40A7-B37A-54859E72035B22I don’t know if I have even the slightest bit of gluten-sensitivity, but I enjoy eating gluten-free. It doesn’t mean no carbs, but just no wheat or related grains like spelt, barley, and rye which contain the protein gluten. I thought that when I came to Italy for my semester abroad in Florence it would be impossible to eat the way I like to; I didn’t even know that the term “gluten-free” would be familiar here. The amount of gluten-free discoveries I make everyday or week never ceases to amaze me. In the land of pasta, pizza, and paninis I never though I would be eating so much quinoa, rice, beans, and vegetables.

It turns out that Italian cooking isn’t all about the wheat, it’s about seasonality, and does contain a lot of vegetables. Whenever I go into the fruit and vegetable stand around the corner from my apartment, which is very often, everything just looks so good that I end up buying so much, but luckily the prices are way cheaper than in New York. The spinach and arugula leaves are huge, and very flavorful, and the Tuscan Kale is actually from Tuscany! There’s also fennel, carrots, green beans, tomatoes, eggplant, turnips, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and much more, and everything is so fresh, and often grown in Tuscany.

Besides the vegetables, there are many natural food stores that sell beans and grains, and gluten-free pasta made out of corn. Many of these markets also carry other gluten-free goodies like cereal, cookies, breakfast/snack bars, non-dairy milk, nuts, nut butters, and dried fruit, including the best goji berries I’ve ever had which are squishier than usual. It’s nice to be able to experience the Italian culture and food without giving up my staples. There are even a few caffés I’ve seen that serve fresh vegetable juice, although I haven’t tried any yet. I like my juice on the go, but in Italy, nothing is really “on the go.”

There’s even a gluten-free bakery that has everything you’d find in a normal one: fresh-baked bread, mini pizzas, and pastries (all really good).  There are traditional sweets made in Italy during Carnevale, and they have them too! I’ve tried the Cenci, which are like sweet crackers and not as good as the lighter and crispier gluten-full ones, but I liked their frittelle better. Frittelle are like donut holes but mostly hollow, with a little bit of some lemony rice pudding lining the inside: really good. There’s a gluten-free grocery store, which I haven’t been to, but my friend who is gluten-intolerant has and said that it’s great. Instead of the one little section devoted to gluten-free foods that only some markets have, this is the opposite, with the majority being specifically gluten-free.

Many restaurants here have special gluten-free menus which makes enjoying Italian pizza and pasta easy. I’ve even heard about one girl’s host family where the mom makes fresh gluten-free pasta for her daughter. It seems like every Farmacia, of which there are many, always keeps a few gluten-free items, like pasts, in stock. In the square by my apartment there’s a once a month local and organic market with the likes of fresh-baked bread, jams, produce, herbs, wines, and some non-food items like ceramics and soap. I was so excited when I saw “senza glutine” signs on some of the baked goods. I tried one which was made using chickpea flour that had a texture reminiscent of a fritatta. It was also made with leeks and maybe some chives, and was pretty tasty although a little heavy.

It seems like the Italians are more on top of their gluten-free stuff than in the US where it’s almost more of a trend then a serious health issue. The plethora of “senza glutine” options is very welcoming,  showing how aware and caring the food industry is here.

And of course almost every flavor of gelato is gluten-free, so that makes finding something to eat even easier.

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L.A.’s Best Menu

16 Feb


Everyone knows a restaurant that’s really great but isn’t a place they’d want to eat at every night. Gjelina,on Venice Beach’s ultra hip Abbot Kinney Boulevard, defies the norm with its extensive, diverse, and ever-changing menu. If the location and industrial chic interior aren’t enough to convince passersby that this place is worth a go, trying to get a reservation will. Reservations are available one month in advance, but can get pretty full around 3 weeks before your date. When I was leaving around 9pm there was still a wait that had walk-ins being told to come back past 10pm. Unlike many see-and-be-seen restaurants, Gjelina is also a place to eat, a lot.

The menu is overwhelming and exciting at the same time, so it’s best to go with a few other people and try a variety of Gjelina’s offerings, as the plates are also meant to be shared. My table started with lots of salads including one of burrata and heirloom tomatoes dressed simply with olive oil, balsamic, basil, and a touch of salt. It was probably the best Caprese-esque salad I’ve had outside of Italy; the ingredients were so fresh, and I could taste each aspect’s individual qualities even when eating them together. Then there was the avocado and beet salad with hazelnuts and a citrus and sherry vinaigrette. It seemed to be an odd combination at first, but everything worked very well together. The creaminess of the avocado cut the acidity of the beet and vinaigrette, and the nuts added more texture. I always love a kale salad and take any opportunity to have one. The one here was made with Tuscan kale, shaved fennel, bread crumbs, and ricotta salata. The cheese balanced the bitterness of the green, and the breadcrumbs made it similar to an earthier version of a Caesar, but with a lighter dressing. The last salad was a huge cloud-like heap of Coleman lettuce; simple light green leaves lightly dressed and very refreshing, whetting my appetite for the richer dishes to come.

For my main course I ordered the duck. It’s not that common to see duck on a menu, and many people are opposed to eating it, but I actually really like it, so I’m always excited, and inclined to order it, when I see in offered. Duck is often combined with sweet accent flavors; apple and cabbage in this case. It was crispy duck confit, and  the best duck I’ve ever had; so tender and delicious that, hungry or not, it was irresistible, though I managed to save some for Heidi who probably has expert taste after all the leftovers she’s had from some of the best restaurants. Gjellina is well-known for their pizzas, so I had to try some of one. Ours came with maitake mushrooms, taleggio, carmelized onions, and beet greens with a mix of herbs, chili flakes, and parmesan to sprinkle on top. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. There are also a bunch of vegetable side dishes, like wood roasted cauliflower with garlic, chili, and vineagar, and  grilled king oyster mushrooms with tarragon butter, lemon and sea salt, but we just ordered the okra which was fun because I don’t see them served often nor had I eaten them in a while. It was nice how they weren’t very slimy, because okra often get that way.

I was way too full for dessert, but the menu features the likes of housemade gelato and sorbet, Banana and Chocolate Bread Pudding, and Ricotta and Cardamom Fritters with Huckleberry Jam and Creme Anglais.

Gjellina is open all day everyday, well, from 11:30 on weekdays, and from 9 on weekends. There’s also GTA (Gjellina take-away) nextdoor, an upscale deli that I would frequent way too often if I lived nearby.

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Mill Valley’s Hippest Hangout

24 Jan

MVBeerworks-9Mill Valley needed a place like this: somewhere young and new; a place that’s not full of families and empty-nesters.

Originally just beer and bar snacks when it opened a few years ago, Beerworks underwent a recent expansion to include a full kitchen that cooks up a full menu. The offerings change fairly often, but there are always many vegetable-centric small plates, as well as main courses featuring seafood and meat.

In August when the full menu debuted, the food was a little dissapointing, but since then the restaurant recieved 3 stars (Excellent) from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Bauer who also included in it his top 10 new restaurants of 2012. On my recent visit, the food proved to be better, and the hour wait was additional evidence that they must be doing something right. This destination spot was also just recognized for their Four Brothers California brew by the Good Food Awards. Beer dominates the backside of the menu, (or front depending on your priorities) with a huge selection that varies but seems to always feature many local brews, as well as some from other parts of the state and country, and some from Europe, particularly Germany and Belgium. Wines and ciders are also menu.

The narrow space offers an array of mostly communal style seating, with low tables in the front, high tables in the back, a long high bar area, and a few low seats on the short side of the bar. My party sat at a hight table in the back, which was not as uncomfortable as I though it would be. The lively atmosphere and warm lighting helped make the night cozier. I really like the slender gold rimmed beer glasses with Beerworks’ deer logo on them. Even the smell of the place is good, which has reminded me of Brooklyn ever since I first walked by years ago; it’s probably the beer, dark wood furniture, and candles.

We started our meal with some small plates to share: cauliflower with lemon and chili flakes, and roasted brussels sprouts. A little later, I recieved my kale salad. The cauliflower was succulent and delicious and I wanted to lick up the sauce from the plate, but resisted. The brussels sprouts were well cooked and yummy as well. My salad had a little more dressing than I would’ve liked, but no alterations to the plates are allowed, otherwise I would’ve gotten the dressing on the side. But I still had no trouble eating the whole thing. I love kale period, but the salad, which also came with onions and beets, was pretty good.

My main course, the red trout, was supposed to come with artichokes, which was part of the reason I ordered it, but they had just run out without telling us. There were cranberry beans on the plate instead, but when I asked about it, they offered to bring me out a vegetable dish of my choosing, so I chose more cauliflower since it was very good and I didn’t get much of it from the shared plate. The trout had crispy skin and had some spice to it. It was cooked very well: nice and moist, but other than the spice and some oil, I didn’t think it had much flavor. Overall I think the vegetable dishes and atmosphere are the best parts of Beerworks. I was still a little underwhelmed by some of the food, but it is pretty good and definitely worth a visit. They’re open for Blue Bottle Coffee everyday form 7-3, for weekday lunches from 11:30-3, weekend brunches from 10-3, and dinner everyday from 5.

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Go For The Jerk Corn and Stay For The Atmosphere at This See-and-Be-Seen Jamaican Hot-Spot in NYC

19 Sep

It’s not expected for a restaurant on the thoroughfare of West Houston, dividing trendy-yet-touristy SoHo from NYU-dominated  Greenwich Village, to be so popular and unique. It also isn’t expected for such a venue to takeover practically the whole block, with the two-roomed restaurant, adjacent record store, and adjoining juice box and bake shop.

Walking into Miss Lily’s requires some crowd weaving and a bit of realizing that your hearing will suffer a little that night. This is no reason to be discouraged, as the atmosphere and food is worth it. Miss Lily’s is like nowhere else I’ve been to in New York. It’s almost like traveling to another country, which is probably what the folks behind this Jamaican bar and restaurant, who include Serge Becker, had in mind. The space is reminiscent of both a diner and a club. It’s cozy, colorful, and packed with music paraphernalia: tables painted with records, record  sconces, walls painted like speakers, and speakers covered with the Jamaican flag. There are even drinks named after songs.

This restaurant is pretty new, and I’ve read good things about it, two important criteria for choosing a dinner spot, but I also went for the jerk dishes. As a kid I shied away from eating jerk anything because I though it would make you a jerk, but I’m no longer afraid. I was eager to try something with the famed seasoning.

I ordered the green salad to start , and tried some of the jerk grilled corn. My first bite was from the corn, and it was amazing, better than I could have ever imagined. The not overcooked kernels were rolled in a little butter and  jerk seasoning, and then in toasted coconut shavings. It was sweet and spicy, with a little bit of nuttiness from the coconut, which I know is not a nut, but does have a similar flavor, especially when toasted. This side dish is a must for anyone who thought butter and salt was enough.

Then I got started on my green salad, a generous, large plates-worth of greens topped simply with some halved cherry tomatos, and what looked like shavings of carrot and jicama, and dressed with a simple vinaigrette, but a little overdressed. The starters came out incredibly quick, in what seemed like only a few minutes after ordering, and the main courses were out before I was even done with my salad. The large portion of jerk chicken, a deal at $19, came with some fresh cucumber slices, a refreshing break when the chicken got a little spicy for me. There was also a delicous fruity and gingerery chutney-like sauce that tasted great with the chicken, and even on it’s own. The chicken was slow cooked and grilled with a jerk sauce glaze; it was cooked perfectly, not dry at all, and there was just enough seasoning to not be overly spicy. If you’re into spicy, though, there’s an extra spicy sauce brought in a bottle along the dish. The chicken also came with a side of rice with a a few beans in it, which I didn’t even know was part of the dish, but ate anyways, making for a very complete and tasty meal.

P.S. Try to get a seat in the back room, as the front one gets flooded with people, especially on a Friday night, but likely on most nights. Or hop over to their bake shop and juice box where items similar to those at the restaurant are served, as well as inventive fresh juices and shakes concoted by Melvin Major Jr., a juice veteran who previously worked at LifeThyme, and who the New York Times said “may be New York’s first celebrity juicer.”

P.P.S. Listen to Radio Lily on their website to get a taste of their tunes!


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