Posts Tagged ‘Pizza’

Campo Fina – Healdsburg, CA

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 by virginia


By Thursday, all of our friends had arrived in Healdsburg for the wedding festivities. First we stopped at the Healdsburg Bar & Grill for a group happy hour on the back patio, and then we walked along Healdsburg Avenue in search of a restaurant for dinner. Campo Fina drew us in with it varied Italian menu and immediately available seating.

At first we were crowded around a small round booth by the door, which was cozy and intimate and perfect for conversations, but not practical for the amount of food that would wind up on the table. Fortunately some more tables opened up in the front and we were able to spread out more comfortably.

Because we were all couples with different food preferences, we decided to order our own dishes rather than share with the table, even though the menu is pretty conducive for sharing. Josh and I decided to split two appetizers and a pizza so that we could try several dishes.

First up was the burrata cheese with grilled bread, prosciutto, and aged balsamic. It was a twist on our favorite mozzarella/tomato/prosciutto dinners that we indulge in almost weekly during the summer. The burrata was soft and milky in the middle and while the prosciutto was very lean, it still melted in mouths. The aged balsamic was intense in flavor and very sweet, which contrasted nicely with the salty prosciutto. There was arugula on the plate as well, adding a bit of bitterness to cut through the richness of the burrata. The grilled bread doused with good olive oil was the perfect vehicle for the ingredients. Even though it was a simple appetizer, we enjoyed it so much that it inspired us to grill our bread and eat more burrata all summer long.

Burrata with grilled bread, prosciutto, arugula, and aged balsamic

Burrata with grilled bread, prosciutto, arugula, and aged balsamic

Our second appetizer was pork belly sliders. We had enjoyed the pork belly biscuits at Chalkboard the night before so much that we were in the mood for more pork belly. These were served with fig and red onion marmellata, sauerkraut, and pickled mustard seed. The pork belly wasn’t as crispy on the outside but it was still tender and deliciously fatty. The fig and red onion added a sweet glaze to the pork, while the sauerkraut provided a tangy contrast and crunch. The mustard seeds were a nice touch, adding a little extra burst of flavor with each bite. My only complaint was the bread, which was just toasted white bread buns. They were soft and squishy and pretty mundane, especially compared with the delicate biscuits from the night before. Plus there was too much of it, which detracted a bit from the delicious pork belly.

Pork belly sliders

Pork belly sliders

For our main course, we split the salsiccia pizza, which was topped with sausage and roasted spring onions. I liked the mellow onion flavor that the roasted spring onions brought to the dish, and the sausage was also pretty mild, which I prefer. I would have liked a little bit more cheese (it was definitely on the saucier side), but overall it was a pretty tasty pie. The crust was nicely browned from the wood-burning oven and had good flavor and chew to it. We also traded slices with other people at the table and tasted a fantastic spiced lamb pizza (it was a special that night) as well as pizza calabrese, which was unfortunately did not have enough calabrese salame on top.

Pizza salsiccia

Pizza salsiccia

We were wavering on dessert but after hearing what the special of the day was, we couldn’t pass it up. The dessert special was grilled peaches with vanilla gelato, topped with olive oil and sea salt. The grilled peaches had a nice savory quality to them, which made them the perfect pair for the sweet gelato. The fruity olive oil bound the two components together, and the sea salt just put the whole combination over the top. As someone who doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth, it was the ideal dessert for me.

Grilled peaches with vanilla gelato, olive oil, and sea salt

Grilled peaches with vanilla gelato, olive oil, and sea salt

Overall, we enjoyed both the food and the atmosphere at Campo Fina. While it was a more casual and warm environment where we were at the front of the restaurant, we discovered a huge crowd out back in the garden area where it was more like a boisterous party, complete with a bocce ball court. The dishes we tried were well prepared and flavorful, though nothing extraordinarily complicated or fancy. The prices were pretty reasonable, and I liked the “smaller plates” aspect that would allow you to share dishes. Service was friendly, and our waiter introduced us to a local trousseau gris wine that was fruity yet crisp – definitely one of the favorite wines we tasted during our trip. I would happily go back there again.

Campo Fina
330 Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA

East Side King and Via 313 – Austin, TX

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by virginia

Food trucks are pretty mainstream in Austin. Everywhere we went, there would be parking lots with multiple food trucks set up in what seemed like permanent locations, with Christmas lights strung up, picnic tables, and other assorted outdoor seating. It’s pretty different from NYC where food trucks park on the street and have to move to different locations each day and deal with parking tickets, street cleaning schedules, etc., and we knew that we couldn’t leave Austin without trying a few of the most popular ones.

We were pretty full after our incredible meal at Franklin Barbecue, so even though we walked miles around the city to burn off the calories, we didn’t have room to try as many places as we would have liked. The top of our list was East Side King, which is owned and operated by Paul Qui, the winner of Top Chef Texas. There are many East Side King trucks located throughout Austin, and we were hoping to try the one at the Grackle (which has since closed), since it was outside in front of the bar, which would have made it easier for us to sit there and eat with J.

Austin (and Texas in general) has super strict rules about children not being allowed in bars that don’t serve food. We tried to get into multiple bars on Sixth Street to listen to live music but were turned away every time. Some places even specified “no babies” on their signs that decreed no one under 21 was allowed in, so it’s not just a matter of trying to deter under-aged teens and college students from trying to sneak in. Unfortunately, the East Side King truck at the Grackle was catering a private event that night, and so we went to the next closest location, at the Liberty Bar, which was just up the street. However, the truck is located behind the bar, and to get there, you have to walk through the bar. Josh checked at the door, and they confirmed that they wouldn’t even let us walk a baby through to get the truck out back. So we did what we had to do – park on the street, have Josh go in to order and pick up the food, and then eat in the car.

East Side King at Liberty Bar

East Side King at Liberty Bar

It worked out pretty well, as the food was neatly packaged in takeout containers that allowed us to eat easily without making a huge mess. First we tried the brussels sprout salad, which was fried brussels sprouts with shredded cabbage, onions, and assorted herbs tossed with a sweet-spicy sauce. The brussels sprouts had a good char on the outside and had a nice texture to them – not mushy. The dressing and the herbs gave the salad a southeast Asian flavor, and it was both sweet and savory at the same time. There was lots of mint, basil, and cilantro, which made it quite a refreshing dish that was well balanced. The salad was topped with a deep fried mantou bun.

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprout salad

Next we tried the Thai chicken karaage, which was a fusion of Japanese fried chicken bites with Thai flavors. The chicken was crispy on the outside and juicy in the middle. The sauce was similar to the dressing for the brussels sprouts, though a tad sweeter and stickier. Again, the fresh herbs mixed in helped bring balance to the dish.

Thai chicken karaage

Thai chicken karaage

The beet home fries were pretty intriguing – I love beets but I’ve never thought about deep frying them before.  The beets weren’t exactly crispy, but they had a distinctive shell on the outside, and the inside was smooth and creamy. It was like frying had concentrated the roasted beet flavor, making them less earthy and more sweet. There was kewpie mayo (sweet Japanese-style mayo) on the side topped with schichimi togarashi, which is a Japanese spice blend. We didn’t use a lot of the mayo though, as the beets were delicious on their own.

Beet home fries

Beet home fries

Lastly, we tried the Poor Qui’s buns, which is roasted pork belly on steamed mantou buns with hoisin sauce and cucumber kimchi. Pork belly buns were pretty trendy in NYC at one point, and this was a fairly standard version, though still solid. The pork belly wasn’t as melty as I typically prefer, but the cucumber kimchi added a little twist to the usual fare. I just wish there was more filling overall, as the innards were pretty skimpy compared to the bun.

Poor Qui's buns

Poor Qui’s buns

Overall, we were pretty impressed with the dishes we got from East Side King. Even though Josh had to carry the food through the bar outside to us, it was still hot and fresh when we dug in. Everything we tried packed a punch of flavor, especially the brussels sprout salad. It’s definitely something I want to try recreating at home. The only thing I might not order again was the pork belly buns, but there were plenty of interesting-looking things on the menu that we didn’t get to try.

After polishing off the food from East Side King, we continued up the street to Via 313, a pizza truck parked outside of the Violet Crown Social Club. Again, J and I stayed in the car while Josh ran out to order. It took about 15 minutes for our pizza to be ready, but we were parked just across the street so Josh was able to stay inside with us while we waited for order to come up.

Via 313 pizza truck

Via 313 pizza truck

Via 313 features Detroit style pizza, which a thick crust, square pie, similar to a Sicilian. However, the cheese is layered directly on top of the crust, and the tomato sauce is drizzled on top of the cheese. We ordered a plain cheese, so that we could taste the classic version of the pizza.

Classic Detroit-style cheese pizza

Classic Detroit-style cheese pizza

The crust was lighter and more airy than a usual Sicilian, though the very middle was a little doughy. The pizza is baked in a pan, so the bottom and sides are nicely browned. The cheese covers the entire top of the pizza, all the way to the edges where it gets all caramelized and crispy – that was the best part. The sauce was tangy, not too sweet, though I did wish there was a little more of it.

Underside shot

Underside shot

Overall, I had to admit, the Detroit-style pizza was pretty good. We’re NYC pizza snobs, but I could see the appeal of the thick yet crispy crust, the browned cheese edges, and the sauce on top. Via 313 makes a fresh, hot pie that we really enjoyed. J took down a whole slice by herself, and she’s pretty picky about her pizza.

Even though we spent the last night of our trip eating in our car, it was a fun experience, as we got to try innovative and well prepared food that is astonishingly cooked on a food truck. It’s pretty incredible, considering I used to complain about the size of our kitchen when we lived in NYC. The only downside to dining in the car was that we couldn’t enjoy any beers while we were eating, but that was a small sacrifice to be able to taste such great food. Unfortunately we weren’t able to hit all the spots that we wanted to try, but I do hope that we’ll be back in Austin at some point in the near future.

East Side King (multiple locations)
@Liberty Bar
1618 1/2 East 6th St.
Austin, TX

VIA 313 (multiple locations)
@ The Violet Crown Social Club
1111 East 6th St.
Austin, TX

Molly’s Restaurant & Bar – Hanover, NH

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 by virginia

Molly’s was always one of my favorite restaurants when I visited Hanover back during my college years. The menu was broad, the prices inexpensive, and the food good. Plus they had the perfect gimmick for college students – $2 margaritas that were strong and tasty. At first, there was usually a weather-related caveat to the margaritas, ie., $2 until the weather went above XX degrees (there are some cold winters up in NH), $2 while there was snow on the ground, etc. Whenever the weather or temperature reached the threshold, the sign would be crossed out and a new bar was set, which basically meant they always had $2 margaritas. Now, returning a decade later, I was happy to see they did away with the caveats and just offer $2 margaritas all the time on the menu.

While I really wanted to get a margarita for old time’s sake, we had done a bit too much pre-wedding partying the night before and were not in any condition to partake; I stuck with water while Josh had iced tea. I dove into the bread basket and was surprised to see that it was the same exact bread that they had always served – a soft peasant-style loaf with shredded cheese baked into the crust. To be perfectly honest, the bread isn’t great. It’s doughy and dense, and even the cheese can’t save the crust. However, it is the perfect vehicle for the honey butter that comes with it, which is airy and sweet.

Bread with honey butter

Bread with honey butter

I used to crave Molly’s artichoke and spinach dip in college, and so of course we had to order it on this visit. This dip was around well before spinach and artichoke dip became popular and started appearing on all chain restaurant menus. It was also always a more elevated version, with large chunks of artichoke hearts and browned, bubbly cheese, and it used to be served with crostini. When I saw that the dip now came with pita chips, I was worried that it had gone the chain restaurant route and would be chips out of a bag alongside overly-processed spinach dip with little cheese and artichoke. Fortunately, I was wrong. These chips were made from real pita bread and were crispy on the outside but still chewy on the inside. The edges of a few pieces got burned, but there were more than enough chips on the plate. The dip itself was just as I remembered, maybe even better. It’s intensely garlicky with a bit of a peppery kick and lots of gooey cheese, and artichoke is definitely the star of the dip. You need a fork to place the pieces on the pita bread, and the spinach mixed into the dip is more of a garnish. That’s why it’s artichoke and spinach dip, and not the other way around.

Artichoke and spinach dip

Artichoke and spinach dip

Josh go the Express Lunch, which I was also happy to see them still offering. It’s a salad and half a pizza for about $10. Josh picked the caesar salad, which has a lemony and garlicky dressing and tasted exactly as we remembered. However, there wasn’t enough dressing on the salad, which made it a bit bland. The shredded parmesan on top helped a little though.

Caesar salad

Caesar salad

For his half pizza, he chose the Summer Salad, which was new to us. It’s a thin crust pizza brushed with garlic butter and baked with prosciutto, tomatoes, and fontina, and topped with arugula after it comes out of the oven. I’m usually not a fan of baked prosciutto on pizza, but this was cut into small pieces and crisped up in the oven rather than getting chewy. It was hard to see the pizza under the huge pile of arugula though, which was not necessarily a bad thing since we both love arugula, especially when it’s dressed with lemon. Plus the salad helped cut through the richness of the fontina and the garlic butter. It was a pretty good pizza, although I was pushing him to order our old favorite instead, the Got Yer Goat, which is pizza topped with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil.

Summer salad pizza

Summer Salad pizza

I was also tempted to try something new from the menu but I went the nostalgic route and ordered my old standby, the chicken avocado sandwich with grilled chicken, bacon, swiss cheese, guacamole, lettuce, and tomato on a brioche roll. I think back then it was served on a roll similar to the bread basket bread but sturdier, and there were slices of avocado rather than guacamole, which made it a messier sandwich. However, I liked this version and found it easy to eat. There’s nothing spectacular about it but the combination is pretty classic and it tastes good. The sandwich comes with fries that are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Chicken sandwich

Chicken avocado sandwich with fries

Overall we found that there was still lots to love about Molly’s. The food is almost the same as we remembered, but they’ve also made some menu updates and changes. It does have a bit of a chain restaurant feel to it with its primary focus on salads, pizzas, sandwiches, and burgers, but the dishes are more carefully constructed and prepared, taking quality ingredients into account. The booths in the front are great for people watching on Main Street, and there’s plenty of space in the back room for large groups. It’s definitely a great college town restaurant with reasonable prices and good variety. We’ll definitely be going back the next time we’re in town, hopefully within the next decade.

Molly’s Restaurant & Bar
43 South Main St.

Hanover, NH

Ben’s Chili Bowl and Pizza Mart – Washington DC

Thursday, September 5th, 2013 by virginia

We only had half a day of sightseeing in Washington DC before we needed to head back north for our next destination, Philadelphia. It was fine by me because it was the hottest weekend of the summer and I really wasn’t feeling up to doing too much walking around (107 degrees + 7 month pregnant belly = not a happy camper). We did a short circuit of the major landmarks closest to our hotel – the White House and the Washington Monument.

The White House (true story: we sent the Obama family J's birth announcement and we got a congratulatory card in return. Obviously sent by a staffer, but still a cool keepsake for J!)

The White House (true story: we sent the Obama family a copy of J’s birth announcement and we got a congratulatory card in return. Obviously sent by a staffer, but still a cool keepsake for J!)

Looking up at the Washington Monument

Looking up at the Washington Monument

The Lincoln Memorial was within sight but simply too far away in the heat. Instead, we cooled off in the air conditioned Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Why that particular museum? I wanted to see the Julia Child exhibit. Unbeknownst to us, the exhibit had closed in January (it later reopened, and is now part of the new FOOD exhibit), and I was pretty disappointed to have missed it. However, the Star Spangled Banner exhibit is really incredible, and worth a visit on its own.

The Lincoln Memorial in the distance

The Lincoln Memorial in the distance

After driving around to see some of the other sights that we weren’t able to walk to (ie., the Capital Building, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial), we headed over to the U Street Corridor to another Washington DC landmark: Ben’s Chili Bowl.


It was a little past lunchtime so we were able to get seats at the counter right away. It was cool to be in the middle of all the hustle and bustle and see all the workers in action behind the counter.

View from a counter seat at Ben's Chili Bowl

View from a counter seat

The menu is posted on a board, and we zoned straight in on the chili half smoke. The menu isn’t very broad, although you can get hamburgers and other sandwiches. The main feature is obviously the chili, which you can get on pretty much anything.

The menu board

The menu board

Josh and I each got a chili half smoke. A half smoke is a smoked sausage that is half beef and half pork. It looks like a hot dog but is fatter in size and a lot more flavorful. The casing had been browned on a griddle, which gave it a good snap, and the texture of the sausage was firmer than a hot dog, which helped it stand out from underneath the chili. The chili itself was delicious. The meat is ground pretty small but as whole, it’s thick, savory, and has a nice kick to it. Rounding out the chili half smoke was a slather of mustard and some raw chopped onion.

The infamous chili half smoke

The famous chili half smoke

We also shared an order of fries (the chili half smokes come with potato chips on the side), which were fresh out of the fryer and piping hot, but otherwise fairly standard. We probably should have gone for the chili cheese fries, if only to be able to eat more of that delicious chili.

A side order of fries

A side order of fries

On our way out the door, we stopped to look at all the half smokes crisping up on the griddle.

Half smokes piled up on the griddle

Half smokes on the griddle

Overall Josh and I both loved Ben’s Chili Bowl. In addition to having great chili and half smokes, the place just has so much history and character. It’s definitely a DC landmark that you shouldn’t miss out on.

After leaving Ben’s, we headed to the Adams Morgan neighborhood in search of a ginormous slice of pizza. I wasn’t a huge fan of the now cancelled tv show Food Wars, but sometimes the food depicted on the show just called out to me. The Pizza Mart vs. Jumbo Slice episode stayed in my memory (probably because I love pizza and couldn’t get enough of it while I was pregnant), and we decided to try a head-to-head battle ourselves. Unfortunately, Jumbo Slice was closed, which only left us with Pizza Mart.


The inside of the shop is a bit dingy, but that’s never stopped us before. There are a few small tables in the front and some counter seating, but it looked like most people took their food to go. Josh and I decided to split one jumbo slice, since we had just filled up at Ben’s Chili Bowl right beforehand.

Jumbo slice from Pizza Mart

Jumbo slice from Pizza Mart

To get a better perspective on just how large this jumbo slice is, it was more than twice the size of my hand and covered two paper plates.

Jumbo slice vs. my hand

Jumbo slice vs. my hand

Size aside, I actually found the slice to be pretty decent. It was similar to NYC pizzeria style pizza and had a good flavor to it. It wasn’t overly cheesy, though it could have used slightly more tomato sauce. But the sauce was tangy, the cheese was nicely browned, and the crust was thin.

The underside shot. Folded in half, each half was like one super long slice of regular NYC pizza.

Is this also a can’t miss landmark? Definitely not. But it was fun trying to manage the absurdly large slice of pizza, and I enjoyed eating it. Josh wasn’t as impressed, but he’s more of a pizza snob than I am (it horrifies him that I enjoy eating Elio’s). At $5 a slice, I can see this as a great, cheap place to grab a quick bite after a night of drinking.

Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U Street NW

Washington, DC

Pizza Mart
2445 18th St NW
Washington, DC

Casa Bella

Monday, December 12th, 2011 by virginia

We used to go to Little Italy all the time for our weekly Sunday night dinners with Josh’s family. We had our favorite standby, Buona Notte, but went there so often everyone eventually got tired of it. We bounced around a few other places, like Angelo of Mulberry Street and Pellegrino’s, but nothing else stuck. The annoying part about walking down Mulberry St. is the people standing outside each restaurant trying to get you to go inside. They can be quite obnoxious, and we tend to avoid the pushier places. Since we didn’t have any real idea of where to go, we just looked at a few menus posted outside and picked a place that seemed to have a lot of people dining. That’s how we ended up at Casa Bella.

The restaurant is pretty big and has both indoor and outdoor seating (weather permitting, of course). They gave us a nice round table next to the window so we could people watch a bit, and it wasn’t too loud inside so we could still carry on a conversation. Our meal started off with a basket of Italian bread, which was pretty standard but tasty with butter. It had a nice crispy crust and a chewy inside.

Basket of carbs

There were five of us at dinner so we decided to share a caesar salad for two and a margherita pizza for our appetizer course. The caesar salad was well prepared, with lots of crisp romaine tossed in a creamy but light caesar dressing. There was lots of grated parmesan on top and some crunchy croutons.

Caesar salad

The pizza was pretty good for a place that doesn’t specialize in it. The crust was thin and crispy, with good color on the bottom. The sauce was tangy, not too sweet, and the cheese on top was browned and bubbly.

Margherita pizza

Underside shot

For our main course, I chose rigatoni alla vodka while Josh had chicken parmesan. The vodka sauce was a touch too creamy for my preference, but the flavor was there. The tangy tomato sauce helped cut through the richness, and the sauce was well seasoned. The rigatoni was cooked nicely to al dente.

Rigatoni alla vodka

Josh’s chicken parmesan was a massive piece of pounded chicken that was well breaded and nicely fried. The edges were browned and crisp, and the breading stood up under the thick covering of melted mozzarella and tomato sauce. I stole more than a few bites off his plate but luckily he didn’t mind since the portion was so big.

Chicken parmesan

Overall we were pleasantly surprised by the food at Casa Bella. We had initially written it off as just another Little Italy tourist trap but the food was solid. The menu is extensive and features the usual classics, and the red sauce is tasty enough to carry a lot of the dishes. Prices are average, with apps around $10-$12, most pastas around $15-$18, and regular mains in the $18-$22 range. Definitely not cheap, but reasonable, especially given the location. It’s not a special or spectacular place, but it’s one of the better places we’ve tried in Little Italy. I’d be happy to return.

Casa Bella
127 Mulberry St. at Hester St.
New York, NY

ABC Kitchen

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 by virginia

Back in October, we had a wonderful meal at ABC Kitchen in honor of Lisa’s birthday. I was having a hard time finding a place that would seat 7 of us during prime dinner hours on a Sunday, and ABC Kitchen was the only available restaurant that interested me on the Open Table search results. It’s a restaurant that has gotten a lot of buzz since it opened, and it was named the best new restaurant at the most recent James Beard awards. I usually shy away from buzzy places, preferring to wait until the hype has died down, but I had read plenty of good reviews from reliable sources so we decided to give it a shot.

We were seated at a round table in the front corner of the main room, giving us a great view of the room and its modern decor. It’s pretty minimalist and kind of industrial, but also elegant and classy. Our table was made from knotty wood and sort of rustic, reminiscent of a tree trunk. I loved the chandelier above us, which was silver with white ceramic flowers all over.

Gorgeous chandelier

The menu is fairly extensive, with several different categories to choose from. In addition to appetizers and entrees, there was market table category with various items to be shared, as well as pastas and pizzas. The menu prides itself on focusing on organic and local foods, so dishes change with the season. I had a tough time deciding on what to order but we ended up having a nice variety on the table so we got to taste a lot of different dishes.

The meal started out with some slices of slightly sour rustic bread, olive oil, and french radishes. The bread was fine, if a bit standard, but I loved the radishes. They were fresh, crunchy, and not too sharp. We ate them whole with just a bit of salt sprinkled on top.

Bread, olive oil, salt, and french radishes

We got a few market table items to share for the table. First up was a bowl of olives that were zesty and briney. They were marinated in olive oil and citrus peel, which gave them a nice brightness.

Marinated olives

Next was an order of roasted beets topped with housemade yogurt. The beets were sweet and creamy, and the yogurt added a subtle tanginess.

Roasted beets with housemade yogurt

Lastly, we all shared a pizza with jersey tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and fresh basil. The pizza had a whole wheat crust, which I was a bit nervous about since I generally don’t like whole wheat breads, but the wheat flavor was very subtle. The crust had a crispy bottom and a nice chew on the edges. The buffalo mozzarella was creamy, and the tomato sauce was fresh and tangy. It was a very good pie.

Whole wheat pizza with jersey tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and basil

Moving on to the main portion of our meals, Josh and I split the raw diver scallops and the crab toast for our appetizer course. The scallops were thinly sliced and topped with market grapes and lemon verbena. The dish was beautifully presented in a scallop shell sitting on top of a bed of ice. The raw scallops had a lovely firm and meaty texture to them, and they were lightly dressed with olive oil and citrus. The combination with the grapes was a refreshing blend of tangy and sweet.

Raw diver scallops with market grapes and lemon verbena

The crab toast was technically under the market table section, and it was definitely big enough to share. It was a huge piece of toasted bread topped with tons of crab meat mixed with some dill and lemon aioli. The crab was fresh and sweet, and I liked the earthiness brought by the dill. It was a big serving for an appetizer but we didn’t have any trouble finishing it.

Crab toast with lemon aioli

For our entrees, Josh and I split the black sea bass and the roast suckling pig. The black sea bass was topped with chopped chilies and herbs and served over a bed of spinach and baby potatoes. The chilies added a nice kick to the otherwise simple dish. Lisa asked for her order to be less spicy, and the kitchen willingly obliged. The sea bass was cooked perfectly, with a nice sear on the skin and delicate flaky flesh. The broth in the bowl tasted a bit of ginger, and the whole dish was clean and well balanced.

Black sea bass with chilies and herbs, baby market potatoes, and spinach

The roast suckling pig was my favorite dish of the evening. It was outrageously decadent, with crispy crackling skin and a plum and smoked bacon marmalade on top. The meat was melt in your mouth tender, and I loved the sweet/smokey combination of flavors. I also enjoyed the braised turnips on the side, with the slightly bitter greens that helped cut through the richness of the dish. I almost didn’t want to trade plates with Josh, though I did enjoy the sea bass as well.

Roast suckling pig with plum and smoked bacon marmalade and braised turnips

I don’t normally take pictures of other people’s food or comment too much about dishes that Josh and I didn’t order, but the minute I saw Alice’s fried chicken, I knew it would be something special. The piece of chicken was absolutely massive, with both dark and white meat, and fried to a perfect crisp. The batter was delicate and not remotely greasy, while the chicken inside was juicy and succulent. It was served with collard greens (yum!) and a hot butter sauce.

Fried organic chicken with collard greens and hot butter sauce

Even though we gorged ourselves during the meal, we still managed to save room for dessert. I ordered the seasonal glazed doughnuts while Josh selected the sundae. The seasonal glaze was currant, though it didn’t really have a distinctive flavor. The other flavors included chocolate glazed and a raspberry jelly doughnut. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. The doughnuts were just meh, not freshly fried or very flavorful. I never got into the whole doughnut craze that hit NYC, so maybe I just don’t appreciate them as much. I thought these were just marginally better than Dunkin’s though.

Currant glazed, chocolate glazed, and jelly filled doughnuts

Josh’s sundae, however, was pretty fabulous. It featured salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts and popcorn, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce. It was like a carnival in your mouth. While the ice cream was more caramel than salted caramel (it reminded me of dulce de leche ice cream), the peanuts made up for the lack of salt and the popcorn added a nice crunch. It wasn’t overly sweet, and the ice cream was a refreshing finish to our decadent meal.

Sundae with salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts and popcorn, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce

Overall we were all pretty impressed with the meal we had at ABC Kitchen. The food was fresh and well executed, and for the most part, the flavors of all the dishes were spot on. We enjoyed every single one of our shared market plates and appetizers. In addition to the crab toast and raw diver scallops that Josh and I ordered, the other diners at our table enjoyed the lentil soup, pretzel dusted calamari, and tuna sashimi. All of our entrees were hits as well. Only my doughnuts and the buttermilk panna cotta with huckleberry dessert fell flat (the panna cotta was deemed too firm and sour). In terms of service, we had several people waiting on us and they were all efficient and attentive. In honor of Lisa’s birthday, they brought her a small chocolate cupcake with a candle in it. The only drawdown to the restaurant, I think, is the price. Appetizers average around $15, and entrees around $30. Not super expensive by any stretch, but definitely not cheap. While I would love to eat here often, it will be more of a special occasion kind of place for us. Nevertheless, I think ABC Kitchen deserves all the buzz and hype it receives, and I will gladly return for another meal.

ABC Kitchen
35 East 18th St. between Broadway and Park Ave. South
New York, NY


Thursday, October 6th, 2011 by virginia

Gnocco is an Italian restaurant in the East Village that I’ve read a lot of good things about. The menu is pretty extensive and there were many things I wanted to try. We ended up going there for a small birthday celebration on a Friday night, early enough that we could get a last minute reservation but still at a pretty decent time.

The restaurant is broken up into two long narrow rooms, and there is a nice garden out back with several tables. The place definitely filled up but it wasn’t so loud that we couldn’t carry on a conversation across the table. After we placed our orders, we settled in and munched on the bread they brought us, along with some fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. The bread had a decent crust and a chewy interior. It had a slightly sour tang to it, which paired well with the olive oil/vinegar combo.

Bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar

We decided to get a few dishes to share as appetizers. First was the Affumicata pizza, which was topped with Italian sausage. The menu said the pizza had smoked mozzarella on it, but we asked them to switch it to regular mozzarella, which they did without any issue. The pizza was probably about 12″ in diameter, a decent size. The sauce was sweet and tangy, and there was plenty of mozzarella on top. The sausage was mild in flavor, which I actually preferred since it didn’t overwhelm the rest of the pizza. The crust had a nice char along the edges, though the middle got a bit soggy under the weight of the sauce, cheese, and sausage.

Pizza with mozzarella and sausage

Since we were at Gnocco, we decided to get an order of the gnocco appetizer. It featured homemade deep fried dough that was served with assorted Italian cold cuts. We were not quite sure how to eat the gnocco fritto, since some were puffier than others, but we ended up draping the cold cuts (it looked like an assortment of prosciutto and salami) over them and eating them like crostini. The dough had a nice crispy exterior and a slight chew to them. Flavor-wise, they reminded me a bit of the fried wonton noodles that you get at Chinese restaurants, but they were pretty good with the salty cold cuts. It was an interesting dish, nothing spectacular, but still tasty.

Gnocco fritto - deep fried dough

Prosciutto and salami to be eaten with the gnocco

Lastly, we got a plate of gnocchi to share as well. The gnocchi was served in a tomato sauce and topped with dollops of buffalo mozzarella and strips of basil. The potato gnocchis were just slightly dense but still pretty soft and fork tender. The tomato sauce was on the sweeter side but not overly so. The mozzarella added a rich creaminess to the dish, and the fresh basil really elevated the flavors of each component.

Potato gnocchi with tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, and fresh basil

For our entrees, Josh and I shared  the orecchiette pasta and the tartufata pizza. The pasta, which was perfectly al dente, was tossed with spicy Italian sausage and broccoli. There really wasn’t a sauce for the pasta, so most of the flavor came from the sausage. The only detracting component was the broccoli, which was mushy and bland. I wish they had used broccoli rabe instead, which typically has a better texture and a slight bitterness that pairs well with sausage.

Orecchiette pasta with spicy sausage and broccoli

Even though we had already ordered a pizza as one of our appetizers, I couldn’t resist ordering the tartufata pizza as one of our entrees. The pizza features fresh mozzarella, truffle sauce, mushrooms, and speck. Yes, I’m a truffle freak. Truffles and mushrooms are an unbeatable combination, and the pizza did not disappoint. The aroma of the truffle sauce was wafting off the pie but taste wise, it wasn’t overwhelming. The speck, a salty cured and smoked ham, helped cut through the richness of the truffle sauce and the cheese. The crust on this pizza was better than the sausage one we had earlier. It was light, slightly crispy on the bottom, and held up better to the toppings. My only complaint was that there wasn’t a whole lot of mushrooms on the pizza, and they were pretty unevenly distributed. Nevertheless, this was a terrific pie and I would definitely order it again.

Tartufata pizza with fresh mozzarella, truffle sauce, mushrooms, and speck

Underside shot

Overall I was pretty impressed with the food at Gnocco. The pastas that we had were well prepared and tasty, as were the pizzas. I wouldn’t say they’re the best pizzas in NYC, but the tartufata was excellent and is definitely something that I’m still craving. I thought the gnocco appetizer was a bit weird, though there was nothing really wrong with it; I just found it slightly boring, but the cold cuts were good. Service was efficient, although the waiter was a bit heavy handed with the wine pouring. Nevertheless, prices are pretty reasonable and the menu has a lot of variety on it. It’s a good place to go with a small group, as everyone will find something they like. It did get a bit loud though when the place filled up later in the evening, so go earlier if you want to be able to hear each other talk. I would definitely go back again, as there were other things on the menu I wanted to try.

337 East 10th St. between Ave. A and B
New York, NY

Re-visiting Fat Sal’s Pizza

Saturday, June 11th, 2011 by virginia

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve written about delivery pizza. Anyone remember our quest to find the best delivery pizza in our neighborhood? So that quest kind of stalled out, mostly because we never did end up finding a go-to place. We did settle between two options, La Traviata on West 68th St. and LJ Pizza on 10th Ave. La Traviata seems like a higher quality pie but the crust is a bit thicker than we’d like. LJ’s sauce is a bit too sweet but they have great sandwiches and are a bit cheaper as well. Either way, nothing really stood out as the best delivery pizza in our area, and believe me, we’ve pretty much exhausted our options at this point.

So a few weeks ago, we got a very interesting email from a person saying he was the owner of Fat Sal’s and that he only recently read our original post from August 2009 where we got a pizza delivery that looked like this:

Our first impression of Fat Sal's pizza

Obviously, we were horrified by the state in which our pizza arrived. There had been a mix up with our address on the order, so given the circumstances, we decided to give Fat Sal’s another chance. The pizza arrived a bit disheveled, but nothing like the first time. Still, we weren’t really impressed with the pizza, and decided to write the place off as a lost cause.

So coming back to the email that we got from the owner, he said he wanted to apologize and correct the bad impression that we had even though it was a delay of a year and eight months since our original post. He also offered us a free dinner and hoped that we would be happy with the way the food arrived, as well as the quality. Needless to say, Josh and I were pretty shocked to receive such an email, especially after such a long time since those posts. We were impressed that the owner still saw the need to write us an apology, and his offer of a free dinner was very generous.

While we decided against taking him up on his offer, we did decide to give Fat Sal’s one last shot, to see if the pizza had improved since our last order. We placed the order online, making sure to put in the correct address this time, but we didn’t give any indication of who we were or reference the owner’s letter. The pizza arrived pretty promptly, and we popped open the box eagerly to see how the it looked. To my shock, as I flung open the top, a slice of pizza went flying through the air and landed on the floor. I grabbed the slice (5 second rule!) and quickly replaced it, all the while laughing hysterically. Apparently the box had been accidentally closed on the slice so that the lid was stuck to the cheese. If I had opened the box a bit slower, the slice would have just fallen back into the box, but because I had opened it so exuberantly, the momentum caused the slice to fling into the air. It really wasn’t a big deal, but given the circumstances and our past history with Fat Sal’s, it was pretty funny.

Where the slice stuck to the box

Once I replaced the slice, the pizza looked pretty good. The crust was thin and properly browned. There looked like a good ratio of cheese and sauce, and the pizza was still hot, which is always important.

A slight pie mishap but no harm done

The pizza was pretty good, better than I remembered. The crust was thinner and crispier, but still had a nice chew. The cheese was not too thick and the sauce had a zippy tang to it.


Slice up close

The bottom of the crust had a nice char but wasn’t overcooked. I like a good amount of browning but I hate it when there are black spots that just taste burnt. This was a nice balance and made the crust delicately crispy rather than crunchy.


Underside shot

We also got a meatball hero, which I was a big fan of the last time we ordered. On the ordering website, I forgot to select the “parm” option so it came without cheese, but the meatballs were still flavorful and pretty tender. The red sauce on top was great, not too sweet with just the right amount of acidity to cut through the richness of the meat. The bread was toasted so it was crispy on the outside but still soft and chewy on the inside.

Meatball hero

Lastly, we got an order of garlic knots. They were a bit chewy and slightly cold but were covered in lots of tasty garlic. Popping them in the oven to reheat briefly really improved their texture.

Garlic knots

Overall we were actually pretty pleased with our order from Fat Sal’s. We could see that it had improved in quality since the last time we ordered, back in December 2009, and the food arrived pretty quickly. There was a slight mishap with the slice stuck to the box but nothing major like the first time we got a pizza from there. The food is very reasonably priced, on par with most of the pizza places around here, and we found a $3 off coupon on their website that we were able to print out and use without any issues. I’d definitely consider Fat Sal’s the next time we have a pizza craving. Kudos to the owner for sending us that email because if we hadn’t heard from him, we probably wouldn’t have ordered from there ever again, and we wouldn’t have known their food had improved. In the end, we were glad that we decided to give the place another shot.

Fat Sal’s Pizza (multiple locations)
730 1oth Ave. at 50th St.
New York, NY

Restaurant Pizzeria Bar (Aguas Calientes, Peru)

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 by virginia

After we took the bus down from Machu Picchu, we decided to grab a quick lunch before we had to catch our train to Cusco. The main square is right by the bus station in town so we went there to look for a place to eat. There are lots of restaurants to choose from, but there are always people standing outside each restaurant waving menus around, trying to get you to go in. It’s kind of annoying because we wanted to look at menus first before we decided where to eat, and it was hard when you’re constantly being accosted by people trying to get you to go in. We ended up deciding on pizza, so we actually went into the only restaurant where no one bothered us. I’m not sure exactly what the name of this restaurant was, as the sign above the door just said Restaurant/Pizzeria/Bar.

If you’re facing the fountain and the Inca statues in the square, the restaurant is to the right, in the middle of the row of restaurants. It’s on the ground level, with balconies overhead. We sat just outside the restaurant, still in the shade but we enjoyed the fresh air. We toasted our success in climbing Huayna Picchu with a few Cusquena beers, which were cold and refreshing.

There were lots of different pizzas to choose from, and some of the combination of toppings sounded pretty interesting. We ended up choosing, appropriately enough, the Machu Picchu pizza, which was topped with sauce, ham, chorizo, hearts of palm, oregano, and cheese. The first pizza they brought us, however, was not what we ordered, though we didn’t figure that out until after we each taken a bite of our slices. Oops! They had given us a veggie pizza by mistake, which had peppers and onions on it. We probably should have realized right away because there were peppers and no meat, but we thought maybe the meat would be underneath all the cheese. They were really nice about the mix-up though, and let us finish eating our slices while they fired up the correct pizza for us.

Veggie pizza with peppers and onions

We could definitely see the meat on our new pie, which had thin slices of chorizo and lots of pieces of ham strewn on top. There were also long strips of hearts of palm, which I thought was an intriguing pizza topping. I like hearts of palm in salad, but it didn’t seem like something I’d put on pizza. It actually added a nice crunch and a bit of tanginess that helped cut through the saltiness of the chorizo and the richness of the cheese. It was a good combination of flavors.

Machu Picchu pizza with sauce, ham, chorizo, hearts of palm, oregano, and cheese

There was definitely a lot of cheese on the pizza, though not a lot of tomato sauce. They were also pretty heavy handed with the oregano, as the top of the pizza was just covered in green flecks. Flavor wise it was pretty subtle though, so I didn’t mind all the herbs on top.

Lots of cheese and oregano on each slice

The crust was a bit thicker than the pizza crust at Inka Wasi but it had good flavor to it. I don’t know if it was baked with eucalyptus leaves but I thought it tasted a little floral. There wasn’t much charring on the bottom but it was still slightly crispy.

Underside shot

Overall we liked the pizza at this unnamed pizzeria. It’s definitely a low key joint, not as polished as Inka Wasi in terms of atmosphere and decor, and the menu wasn’t as refined. There was a lot of variety on the menu though, and the location couldn’t be beat. We were right on the main square and could people watch. It would be a nice place to hang out in the afternoon for a drink and some snacks. Prices were pretty reasonable, as our medium sized pie with all those toppings cost 32 soles, or about US$12. I’m not sure how helpful I’m being since I can’t give you the name or the exact address of the restaurant, but if you’re really interested in going just look for the Restaurant/Pizzeria/Bar sign on the side of the plaza closest to the bus station – it’s not too hard to find!

Restaurant Pizzeria Bar
Aguas Calientes, Peru

Patsy’s Pizzeria

Sunday, January 9th, 2011 by virginia

Patsy’s Pizzeria is one of those NYC institutions that I’ve read about but have never gone to, much like Gray’s Papaya or Katz’s Deli. Maybe this will be the year that I finally get around to trying all of these places. At least I can finally check Patsy’s off the list, as Josh and I enjoyed a good meal there with Alice earlier this week.

There are many Patsy’s Pizzeria locations around the city but we went to the one closest to our apartment, on the Upper West Side. It’s sort of tucked in on the corner of a residential street so I had never noticed it before, but it has a nice cozy dining room and an old school pizzeria feel to it. It’s not a huge location but because it was a random weeknight there were plenty of tables available, and we were seated right away.

We decided to split a salad, pasta dish, and a pizza. The salads and pastas can be ordered either individually or in a family style portion. We asked our waitress if the individual portions could be split between the three of us, and she recommended that we get a family sized salad and an individual pasta, since we were also getting a large pizza to share. After we placed our order, we were brought a basket of rolls to munch on. The bread had a nice crispy crust and a soft, chewy interior. Pretty tasty, and a nice surprise since you don’t always expect pizza joints to bring you bread.

Tasty carbs

The family sized salad we ordered was much bigger than we anticipated and could have easily fed twice as many people, but I didn’t mind because I was craving fresh vegetables. We picked the Insalata Siciliana, which was lettuce with roasted peppers, black olives, capers, anchovies, carrots, tomatoes, and artichokes, topped with shredded mozzarella. It was tossed with a light Italian dressing, and while I liked that the salad wasn’t overdressed, I thought the dressing was slightly bland. The salad itself, however, was a nice mix of ingredients, flavors, and textures. The capers and anchovies added a nice saltiness, the olives and artichokes provided a slight sourness, and the roasted peppers and tomatoes balanced it out with a bit of sweetness.

Family sized Insalata Siciliana

The pasta we chose was the rigatoni bolognese. The individual portion size was plenty of food, and we each had a large scoop of pasta with enough leftover for my lunch the next day. The bolognese was meaty but not super rich. It had a sort of red wine flavor to it though there wasn’t a lot of tomato sauce to bind the meat together. It was decent, though definitely a pizzeria style of bolognese. The rigatoni was a good match and cooked to a nice al dente.

Rigatoni bolognese

The main attraction at Patsy’s, however, is obviously the pizza. Alice and I are both pizza purists, generally opting for the plain cheese or margarita pizza, especially when we’re trying out a new place for the first time. As such, a plain pie was exactly what we ordered.

Plain margherita pizza

My first impression was that there was a decent amount of cheese on the pie, something that I always find lacking on most of these kinds of margherita pizzas (ie., Grimaldi’s and Lombardi’s). There was a lot of sauce though, which was slightly sweet and a bit tangy. Sometimes I wish I could get more cheese and less sauce, but overall it wasn’t too unbalanced. I did like the big leaves of fresh basil scattered on top.

Saucy slice

The crust was my favorite part of the pizza. It was thin and crispy on the bottom, but not tough or brittle. The edge of the crust had a nice chewiness to it, and I liked that it wasn’t overly charred. I know charring is a big thing for a lot of NY style pizzas but I’m not a fan. This was browned enough that it had a nice toasty flavor, but not burnt.

Underside shot

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the food at Patsy’s Pizzeria. It doesn’t get the greatest reviews online, and while I still prefer the pizza from Lombardi’s and Grimaldi’s, the pizza was very well made, plus Patsy’s has better variety in terms of other foods. The salad and rigatoni bolognese were both very tasty, and there are lots of different options to choose from. It’s pretty reasonably priced, and the family sized portions make it a good place for large groups. It’ll definitely be on our rotation for our Sunday night family dinners. I’m glad that our new year of good eats and exploring new places is getting off to a good start!

Patsy’s Pizzeria (multiple locations)
61 West 74th St. between Central Park West and Columbus Ave.
New York, NY