Archive Page 2

Arriving in London & Oxford Trip

As I’ve alluded to / stated in previous posts, I’m spending my first semester of university in London. Having spent just over a week here, I’m actually pretty well acclimated already! I haven’t really experienced any culture shock, miserableness, homesickness, etc., that sometimes comes with moving to a new country. Part of this is due to the fact that I don’t really have time to fret about it; each school day, I have to wake up , commute (walk to the tube, take the tube, walk to school), have class, commute home, study, commute back, have another class, commute home, etc. Obviously, the commute is the most time consuming part. But it’s worth it.

Before our classes even started, though, we took a trip as a group to Oxford and spent a couple of days there. Aside from a few group seminars and a group dinner, I was able to mostly explore the city on my own.

While there, we stayed at Wadham College (the courtyard of which is pictured in the former photo). And, on the first day, we were given a tour of some of the colleges and buildings; it was amazing to see.

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Lloyd Taco Truck

I know, I know. Everyone’s been talking about, following, eating, and reviewing Lloyd’s Taco Truck for what seems like years now. But, I have excuses! One: Lloyd almost always sets up for lunch at around 11:30 AM until 1:30 PM. During the school year (roughly 9 months out of the entire year), I’d be sitting in a classroom or in a cafeteria realizing that great tacos were just… a 20+ minute drive away. And that leads to two: even during the summer months, I don’t have access to a car until late afternoon; it seemed like getting up at 10 AM to hop on a bus for over an hour just to eat a taco was not worth it. Anyway, with a few days left in Buffalo, it was crunch time – I wanted to try Lloyd’s before I left. When I realized that my mom’s needing to be downtown for something a few mornings ago coincided with Lloyd’s decision to set up at Synacor near the waterfront, I immediately decided that I’d drag along my cousin and sister with me, and we’d all go down and get tacos for lunch.

After waiting in a short line, the four of us placed our order: two beef tacos, one chicken taco, two regular nachos, crazy corn, and a few drinks. For $15, we all received a quality yet cheap lunch that we took down to a few benches by the harbor to enjoy.

Least exciting were the regular nachos, ordered by my sister and cousin. Plain tasting nacho chips were drizzled with queso and red salsa; they were fine, but nothing extraordinary. I’m refraining from being too critical of these as I’ve repeatedly read that the tricked out nachos (served with a meat, onions, jalapeños, sour cream, etc.) are excellent; it’s hard to criticize regular nachos for being regular.

But I – at least – really came to try the tacos. I ordered two – one beef, one chicken – and was thoroughly impressed. Each taco was filled with meat, cabbage slaw, cheese, a choice of sauce (varying in spiciness), fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime; they’re also wrapped in double-layered corn tortillas which hold up very well to the fillings. I added a bit of Lloyd’s Rocket Sauce to mine (in the little cup) which was impressive in both taste and heat – I enjoyed the tacos much more with the rocket sauce on them. Overall, Lloyd’s tacos are the tastiest, freshest, and most authentic tacos in Buffalo, and far surpass mediocre taco-flinging establishments like Mighty Taco and ETS.

Another highlight: Lloyd’s crazy corn. It’s charred corn, dipped in garlic-chili butter, and drizzled with queso and a spicy sauce. The amount of flavor that exists in just one bite of the corn is phenomenal. It’s spicy, savory, fresh, hot – corn taken to another level.

Much to my dismay, I’m not going to be able to grab lunch at Lloyd’s until I return to Buffalo in December. But with rumors floating around of a second Lloyd’s truck, there’s definitely something to remain excited about. So, don’t wait as long as I did, and – if you haven’t already – grab some food at Lloyd’s as soon as you can!

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Good Eats in Manhattan – Part One

This past week, my friend Dana and I stayed at my cousin Megan’s house for a week. Over the course of the week, we had some really good eats around Manhattan. In this two-part post, I plan on just casually overviewing and sharing them.

Think Coffee: On our first day, we grabbed a quick breakfast / lunch at Think Coffee on Mercer St. in the Village before an afternoon of shopping in NoHo. In a word, Think Coffee can be described to Buffalonians as SPoT. It’s a quasi-chain with a few locations around downtown Manhattan, the vibe is artsy and eclectic, and the food and coffee are both above average.

We ordered a round of cold-brewed iced coffees; they were truly good – smooth and slightly acidic without any lurid bitterness. The food was good too: Dana’s prosciutto and tomato sandwich was the most impressive and loaded with flavor while the quiche Megan and I split was just average. Overall, we weren’t blown away by anything we had. The atmosphere was both comfortable and energetic though – this coffeehouse is mostly frequented by NYU students – and was a great way to the start the day.

Etcetera Etcetera: After we’d shopped for hours and spent a bit too much money, we took the yellow line back uptown and met Megan’s cousin for dinner in Hell’s Kitchen. I’d picked Etcetera Etcetera after doing a bit of reading online: it seemed like this was an upscale and innovative, modern-yet-authentic Italian restaurant – it was. We sat down in the modernly decorated dim dining room and, after perusing the menu for quite some time, decided on our entrees (some of which are entree sized at $20-ish, and others which are appetizer sized at $13).

What arrived first was a basket of delicious garlic bread soldiers with a really tasty olive tapenade. After that, our entrees came: Dana’s tagliatelle with mini lamb meatballs, oven dried tomatoes, arugula, and Pecorino Romano; Megan’s (vegetarian) gnocchi with grilled portobello mushrooms, roasted red onions, crispy ricotta salata, and parsley; Kayla’s (gluten-free) risotto with roasted artichokes and smoked mozzarella; and my casoncelli alla bergamasca, or veal-raisin-amaretto ravioli in a sage and butter sauce, topped with crispy pancetta. As we ate, we came to the conclusion that these were some of the best pastas we’d ever had. Each homemade pasta paired beautifully with the chef’s choice of flavors. Mine in particular was outstanding – unabashedly rich and flavorful; without a doubt, it’s the best pasta dish I’ve had in my life.

The dinner never took a downturn. Our entrees were followed with complimentary biscotti and a chocolate crunch-type cookie and the dessert that we ordered, a pistachio semifreddo with blueberry sauce. It too was exemplary: the texture was velvety, the flavor was of pure pistachio, and the sauce was both tart and sweet – it complimented the semifreddo dome perfectly. As we walked out of the restaurant, we were all thoroughly impressed; we’d been hoping to have a dinner of such a high quality while in Manhattan and we’d certainly received it.

Continue reading ‘Good Eats in Manhattan – Part One’

Tomato, Lemon, and Basil Risotto

Well, it took until the third week of August, but I’ve finally made something that just absolutely, unequivocally, and unabashedly screams summer. Maybe it’s because the wet spring forced the tomato harvest so late. Whatever the reason, summer’s “here” now! For me at least. Even though I leave Buffalo until December in just three short days and am so excited to go to London, I’m kind of disappointed that I’ll be missing the rest of the years’ farmers’ markets – especially those Niagara grapes. But after making this dinner – a bright and flavorful summer risotto – I’ll feel more content about leaving. It’s like something important has been accomplished. Closure.

Quite frankly, this is the best risotto I’ve ever made. It’s built upon layers and layers of in-season flavors and is succulent without being heavy or rich-feeling. And, for the first time, I made this risotto using a tip from Cook’s Illustrated; the risotto technique is altered so as to reduce constant stirring but still retain that creamy-yet-separate nature that risotto should embody. The main flavors? Tomato, then basil, then lemon – each complimenting each other perfectly, but the emphasis is truly on these summer-fresh tomatoes. I used a combination of Roma, Sweet Cinderella, and some organic heirloom medley I found at Dash’s (only necessary because too many of the former two were already eaten plain). But really, any combination of tomatoes will work in this dish – as long as they’re flavorful; to make it simple, just go down the local farmers’ market and ask the grower which their favorite tomato is that week.

As for the making of the risotto, it’ s typical, really: sweat some onions with kosher salt, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Throw in some diced and seeded tomatoes (or, if using small cherry-type tomatoes, halve and thrown in), cover, and let steam for about ten minutes. Then, after the rice is added and toasted, things change a bit: instead of adding ridiculously small increments of stock and wine, a whopping three cups of stock are added – enough that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom and thus doesn’t need to be constantly stirred. For all traditionalists (and to ensure proper texture), though, the risotto is finished with the classic “add and stir” method. Lastly, I left a significant amount of sliced tomato and basil chiffonade aside as a raw garnish. When mixed into the plated risotto, it adds a superbly fresh flavor to the dish and looks great as well.

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Sweetness_7 – Both of Them

It’s been over two years since Sweetness_7 Café opened on Grant Street in Buffalo’s West Side and nearly a year since Sweetness’ second location opened on Parkside. Since then, I’ve heavily frequented the Parkside location but had never made it over to the original café. However, that changed this past Saturday; I walked over to Grant St. after my weekly trip to the Farmers’ Market and enjoyed a great brunch with a few friends.

The two locations – while not identical – share a variety of similarities. Both are decorated with dark woods and mixed antique furniture, have display cases showing off different pastries, quiche, baked goods, etc., and carry an identical drink menu. Each location has cozy but ample seating and, most importantly during the summer months, outdoor tables and chairs. Even the service is the same across the board: it’s not excellent or perfect, but definitely not bad – it could just use a touch of fine tuning and speediness. The only real differences lie in the food menus: the Parkside location’s consists of solely crepes while the Grant St. one offers a more typical selection of breakfast and lunch foods.

Over my trips to the Parkside location, I’ve admittedly ordered the same thing (maybe too) many times: the Nutella crepes. Why? They’re simple, but amazing – and consistent. On my first time or two ordering these last Fall, the crepes were a little off; something was wrong either with the batter or the cooking execution. Ever since then, though, they’ve been flawless. Clearly, any kinks have been worked out. I’ve also tried the Afterglow crepe, which is filled with lemon curd and kiwi; it’s a refreshing option. Sweetness_7 also offers savory crepes, served with things like chicken breast, spinach, and béchamel. One of my favorites was actually a special that I haven’t seen offered again since I had it at the beginning of this year: it was essentially a pierogi crepe, filled with mashed potatoes, onions, and peppers. It was outstanding, and I’d definitely order it again.

No matter which location, Sweetness’ drink selection is impressive and authentic. I’ve tried their frappes (blended coffee milkshake), iced coffees, and espresso. The frappes are very good, much like those from Caffe Aroma, SPoT, or even Starbucks. They’re nothing extraordinary but certainly fine. Likewise, the iced coffee is strong and fresh – made interesting by options such as “American”, “Italian”, or “Vietnamese” which change the drink slightly; my favorite is the Vietnamese iced coffee which comes mixed with sweetened condensed milk. Most memorable is the espresso menu; my favorites are the “cubano” (espresso brewed with cane sugar) and the “romano” (espresso brewed with lemon zest). Each are beautifully potent with their personalities altered by the additions of the sugar or lemon zest. The cubano in particular is a great shot for any first-time espresso try-ers, as the sugar somewhat tames the potency of the espresso.

Continue reading ‘Sweetness_7 – Both of Them’

Frozen Key Lime Pie

Given 30 extra minutes on Sunday, this post would’ve been published by Monday. But, I was busy packing for my trip to NYC (see: future post!) and simply ran out of time. Either way, my mom’s birthday was Sunday and, naturally, I made dinner: it’s the best present I could give. On the menu? Shrimp Fra Diavolo and Frozen Key Lime Pie.

But this post is about the Key Lime Pie. It’s a recipe I’ve been using for years – really. I first saw it on an episode of Barefoot Contessa (recipe: here) and have made it countless times since. It’s a simple recipe: a graham cracker crust filled with a one-bowl no-cook filling. I’d always used regular limes for this, but Tops (yes, Tops) had bags of fresh key limes when I went; without a second of hesitation or realization that I’d have to juice upwards of 50 limes, I bought a couple bags.

But other than the juicing of so many limes (or so few, if you use typical supermarket limes), this recipe is ridiculously easy and impresses every time.

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A Goodbye Dinner at Bistro Europa

One of the restaurants I’d most wanted to visit for the last, well, year, was Bistro Europa, the eclectic little eatery on Elmwood near W. Utica. With a mere two weeks left before I head off to London (one of which will be spent in NYC), having dinner there was near the top of my “things left to do” list. Luckily (and coincidentally), my friend Rick gave me a gift card to Bistro Europa for my graduation gift – something he knew I’d use with him! So, we decided last night to head over there and have a “goodbye” dinner.

We initially wanted to eat outside as it was a beautiful evening; however, the alley next the patio had a stench of garbage emanating from it that was incredibly unappetizing. So, we sat inside. The interior of Bistro Europa is small and appears pieced together from different parts: white, rectangular, ornate tables sit adjacent to plain, wood, square ones. The walls are decorated with various Eastern European pieces – the most notable must be the large wooden sign above the bathroom that translates the world “toilet” into different languages; it’s almost kitschy but works. But overall, it’s a mature, respectably decorated bistro that appeals to a more refined crowd.

We started off the meal with the Steak Tartare ($14), which was plated with lemon-dressed arugula, shoestring potatoes, bone marrow, a raw quail egg, and, separately, celery root puree. After assuring Rick that yes, this raw beef would be safe to eat, we tremendously enjoyed our appetizer. The sharp lemon vinaigrette, peppery arugula, and thin, crispy potatoes offset the succulence of the steak and puree perfectly. It whet our appetites without being over-indulgent; we couldn’t have picked a more perfect appetizer.

For our entrees, I chose one of the night’s specials: potato-crusted Diver scallops ($25), served with herb-roasted potatoes, a corn-saffron “emulsion” sauce, and – not listed on the menu – tart blueberries. Simply put: it was outstanding – most importantly, the Diver scallops, themselves a treat to have, were cooked perfectly. The potatoes were flavorful, and the robust emulsion tied the dish together; it was even plated to look as if it were pouring out of a scallop shell! And the blueberries? Unexpected, but they were tart enough that it added a wonderfully whimsical aspect to the dish.

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