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Levon's Obsessions

A gal whose obsessions lie within fat, sugar, carbs, caffeine, and beverages that could strengthen the heart or seal up a womb.

Archive for the category “Levon’s Top Obsessions”

The Best Mexican Food in Brooklyn.. Tepango

Brooklyn is full of surprises, and Tepango Taqueira is no exception. I didn’t know this little Clinton Hill corner diamond on Myrtle and Classon had this kind of remarkable cuisine tucked inside. ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ in this instance certainly still holds true. Stopping in for some quick mexican food before Brooklyn Tap House and running out on the sandwich I ordered at the gas station was by far the best, trifling decision I ever made. The previous gas station shenanigans across the street is for another entry..

That’s neither here nor there. The focus should be on the Tepango treasures I devoured before Tap House….
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The Tacos Bistec and the Quesadillas Con Carne were insane.  Flavorful, with unquestionably fresh ingredients, I couldn’t have asked for better results to an impulsive, last minute decision. It was perfect and divine.  In my previous travels, I have had some really incredible mexican food.  Mainly in LA and Dallas.  I have to say, never would I have expected Texas and California style authentic Mexican food to be attainable in ‘err uh Brooklyn.  Well it is, and it most certainly gets my Obsessionista stamp of approval.  So next time you’re in Clinton Hill, be sure to stop by.  Thank me later.. oh and, stay away from the gas station across the street.  Buen provecho!!

 

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Taste of the Nation NYC 2014

Sponsoring the annual Taste of the Nation NYC event, I assumed we would have some sort of laborious obligation prior to the event.  Which was perfectly fine given the dynamics.  No Kid Hungry is an ongoing initiative and close affiliate in which the overall objective is to raise awareness, engage the public, and raise money to feed hundreds of thousands of children. We arrived hours in advance to help load in the vendors’ food and materials.  Since that was my heaviest ordering day of the week, I spent the majority of my time taking orders on my laptop in my makeshift office space in the wardrobe room.  Hours after everything was strategically set up, we were given wristbands and asked to stay for the VIP cocktail reception.

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This was bittersweet since I was far from fabulous that day and not at all dressed for the occasion. I had to suck it up and go to the ladies room to primp myself into the most presentable shape possible.  I figured I’d just lurk around the event looking like the overworked journalist in all black and grey, and knee high, flat boots, yet chic and smart looking enough to be present.

There were countless restaurateurs and vendors displaying their trendiest creations possible, in addition to falling into the theme of healthy cuisines.  From the delectable crab puffs at one booth, to Nios‘s seared scallop and crispy pork belly, accompanied with white sweet potato puree, pickled ramps, and fava bean salsa..

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..to Red Rooster Harlem‘s jumbo lump crab salad Ssam with Yuzu mayo and pickled chili..

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There were several notable moments that put a euphoric look on my face like the shrimp on shrimps moment I experienced at Alder NYC‘s booth with
Maine sweet shrimp, green papaya salad, and peanuts on an amazing skin textured shrimp cracker..

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There were other moments where your true food knowledge versus your personal palate were tested.  Like the Quail egg en gelée with American caviar from Balthazar. Balthazar has some of the most amazing pastries in the neighborhood of Soho, as well as countless other locations.  So I was curious to try something on the complete opposite end of the sugary spectrum, which is what led me to the golden speckled egg.

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Poached quail is truly an acquired taste, as are certain types of cordials and spirits, as are everything in life that comes on a plate, or in a styrofoam bowl at a $200 – 400 ticketed charity event.  If this were a Paris Fashion Week show, let’s just say this would’ve been the Lanvin finale piece that made every bit of since to the Parisiennes in the tent that watched the entire show/collection and knew the entire story.  To the street pedestrians however, it would’ve left them in a slight state of bewilderment.  Let’s just say after swallowing the egg and wandering off to the next tent/I mean booth, if I weren’t on such a strict diet I would’ve downed the first shot of bourbon in sight..

Other dishes on display included L&W Oyster‘s smoked cantaloupe oyster shooters which were delightful and refreshing..

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..Minton’s North African spiced lamb loin was a pleasure to digest, along with the pleasant culinary staff that I spoke to about their location and their sibling restaurant The Cecil..

..my favorite art piece at The Cecil (artist unknown..)

..my favorite art piece at The Cecil (artist unknown..)

I also had the opportunity to chat with Chef Banks White as well, mainly about distributor stuff. Chatted up to the point of forgetting to take a picture of the savory loin..

Miss Lily’s and their incredible jerk chicken chutney dish was, very Miss Lily’s..  It was was piercing in flavor and colorful.  No different than what I’ve experienced at their restaurant in the West Village. Their staff at the TONNY event were replicas.

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..and this extraordinarily, naturally flavorful and robust dish which was a vegetarian’s sanctuary.  I believe this was the Hamachi Crudo from Bill’s Food & Drink ..

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..situated next to its sibling restaurant The Lion, with their cocktail explosion.

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I was in heaven and hell at this show due to my gluten/glycemic free diet I’m on for the next few weeks.  I did however triumph not having a single cocktail, wine, or shot of caffeine the entire evening.  They looked amazing though..

Overall it was a successful event and I had a great time and appreciation for the limited dishes I was allowed to indulge in.  Anything involving food and passed hors d’ouevres from the top 80 restaurants in NYC, and the notion of donating 10 meals for every dollar raised with the various proceeds and silent auctions, I’m all for it. It definitely warrants my stamp of obsessionista approval, and I definitely look forward to doing it again next year..

 

 

 

 

 

Hotel Chantelle NYC – The Most Amazing Cocktail

I had one of the most incredible cocktails tonight.  It was such a ridiculously genius interpretation of a mature apple cider that this rooftop mixologist at Hotel Chantelle poured into my glass.  So great even, it warranted a break front the obsessionista hiatus.  A dear friend invited me out to what I would remember as the spot on the LES/Lower East Side, with the most amazing cocktail. …possibly ever.IMG_20140412_204616

This incredible alcoholation (“alcoholic creation” I trademarked it first..) had Stoli Salted Caramel Vodka, apple cider and lemon.  Those three ingredients will soon be a staple in my liquor cabinet.  Entitled the “State Fair”, that’s exactly where I felt like I was after the third one..

Although I’m tempted to just make this entry about the drink alone, I can’t. I would be remiss to omit the amusingly tiny, yet Manhattan appropriate, “sharable for three” snacks that later came out.

Let’s just say with a side ramekin of drawn butter, and a cream based dip with a ton of parmesan shavings.. you can only imagine what followed..

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Normally when I Instagram or blog, I automatically transition into food stylist mode.  However three State Fairs later, all the rules went out the window.  This was essentially a shared plate of lobster roll, split crab claws half shelled, and some incredible goat cheese or mascarpone (can’t remember) flatbread with arugula, mushrooms and shaved parmesan sprinkled in truffle oil.

Even though this entry was about the show-stopping cocktail, there were obviously a lot more attractions at the Circus, or “State Fair” sponsored by the lovely Hotel Chantelle. One of my most memorable attractions hands-down being the flatbread.  It was truly incredible, as the model/bartender subtly suggested.

Cheers!

 

The Bird Circling the Yard in SoBe – Yardbird, Miami Beach

My first assumption about the popular south beach restaurant Yardbird was – attractive food in a trendy, prohibition’esque bar with a modern twist, that taste wise would be a far cry from the heavily seasoned, cholesterol heightening, soul caressing southern cooking that I once knew before macaroni came in five artisanal cheeses.  I figured this was another South Beach interpretation of Marcus Samuelsonn’s Red Rooster in Harlem, minus the NY accents, along with every other emerging fine dining, southern restaurant I’ve been to in the past year three years.  I had all kinds of assumptions about what the food should taste like but probably wouldn’t, and I expected the price points to resemble that of a drastically inflated soul shack minus the soul, with a slight adjustment to the presentation.

My first interactions were with the friendly, and uber hip bar staff, along with the perky bus boys floating around, and the even keeled hosts.  Everyone had a pleasant and charming demeanor.  The restaurant itself had a ton of energy and zest.  This possibly due to the overflow of patrons from the NBA Finals and the ABFF (American Black Film Festival).  I caught it at that perfect time of the day when they’re in the midst of transitioning over from lunch to dinner, entitling you to that perfect spot at the bar before the dinner crowd starts to trickle in.

I have to admit, Yardbird was pretty refreshing.  It offered the ambience, the décor,

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the stereotypical beautiful south beach people, and the unique, damn near artistic, menu.  The menu was a really eclectic twist on traditional southern cuisine.  It offered items such as the chicken meatloaf drenched in parsnip puree, sweat tea brined southern ribs, signature fried chicken n’ watermelon and cheddar cheese waffles.

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Photo Courtesy of Yardbird Southern Table and Bar

The side fixings and appetizers included items such as chicken and sweet potato dumplings, fried green tomato BLT, and housemade strawberries and ricotta.  Along with my favorite, the macaroni and cheese with about a million different cheeses.  After having an extensive conversation with the bartender about the 99 different types of bourbons they had on deck, me being the black sheep that I am, went with the handful of vodka selections they had and ordered the Ketel One Lemon Drop vodka martini.

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To even further compliment the theme, the bartender went to the back to freshly squeeze some lemonade to top my drink.  Only I would go to Mexico and order rum, so this not so rare occasion of me ordering vodka at an old school, down south, whiskey house themed restaurant in the middle of South Beach, should not be surprising at all.  Need-less-to-say, my martini was perfect, and even provided further inspiration for my entrée.  Having dined at my share of upscale southern style restaurants, I couldn’t wait to see whether this place was going to truly defeat the odds and provide a unique yet true to the tradition southern experience, or if it was going to come off like the rest of the upscale trendy southern cuisine ***clears throat fancy soul food establishments..  I secretly hoped that it wouldn’t live up to the hype, giving me ammunition to write an article on how soul food has become a lost and over-gentrified art, etc etc.  However, after seeing and tasting my fried chicken and macaroni and cheese from Yardbird… I knew it simply wasn’t going to be one of those writes.  My food was absolutely delicious.  It was.  It respectfully gave homage to the traditional art of dipping heavily battered chicken into a pan of piping hot oil and being solely responsible for the ultimate demise of one’s ability to do anything for the next two hours.

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It was perfectly seasoned and prepared.  It had the right combination of seasonings perfectly married together, was beautifully presented, colorful, flavorful, rich, and filling.  The fried chicken was tasty, the macaroni was exquisite, and it was just enough.  Portion-wise, it wasn’t fine dining to the point where you have to pick at it for an hour in order to secretly fill yourself up.  It was truly a good meal.  Overall, with the super savvy wait staff and bartenders, it was truly a divine experience.  Thank you Alyssa, and thank you Imani.  I am glad you made the recommendation.  It was an absolute treat, and I would definitely give it a Levon’s Top Obsession recommendation if you’re ever in South Beach for the summer.

Truluck’s – San Diego, CA

Sometimes after a night of unexpected flight delays, rental car snafus, and hotel comps due to short staff headaches, the fraction of energy you have left at that point is devoted to heading to the first place one of your friends mention.  As luck may have it, San Diego doesn’t have a shortage of good restaurants, and therefore if a place is recommended by one of your well traveled friends, ditch the Locals/Yelp app (for once) and just go.

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I’ll just say that never in a million years would I expect a bar of this caliber to offer such a low priced happy hour.  Then again if there are secret hh gems like The Palm and Morton’s that only the frequent travelers and hh connoisseurs know about, then I guess it makes all things possible.  Lucky for me, I caught Truluck’s happy hour by a hair and was able to get their featured Sauvignon Blanc for $6.  With a smooth vibe and piano bar’s theme, it made for a perfect date spot even.  Its ambience was definitely appropriate, and therefore was able to salvage my mood to a certain degree.  It also meant sipping on anything outside of the white wine family simply was not an option.

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Truluck’s in University Center would’ve easily qualified for Happy Hour Obsession of The Week if it weren’t for the fact that I completely bypassed the hh menu and went straight to the regular menu.  It was for no reason in particular other than me simply having the urge to delve into the dinner menu offerings.  The light fare menu had a very generous selection of goodies but I went with the crab cake from the massive sized menu.  The one that always takes up the most space at the bar, causing everyone near you to start rearranging their place setting.  It was simply delicious, and was what you would expect of fresh catch SoCal seafood dining.

imageAfter another glass and a then expanded appetite, I decided on the  Swordfish Pontchartrain for a main entree. Smothered with crawfish tails, shrimp and blue crab in a spicy piquant Creole sauce, it was a flawless execution of this cajun style fish.  If it weren’t so busy at the bar I would’ve definitely summoned the bartender for a piece of bread to slam dunk into its amazing sauce.

With the classy yet not stuffy ambience, beautiful decor, gorgeous bar, expectedly sharp bar staff, great food, and surprisingly economical happy hour, I’d say Truluck’s serves as a great choice for anyone.  My experience allowed me to forget about all my traveling woes and focus on the things that really matter in life.  ..Great food in beautiful towns.

Post Juanita Didn’t Disappoint – Baker’s, Detroit

You know your foodie chord has been touched when you start writing at the table where your food sits. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit is forcing me to do just that. For starters, I couldn’t wait to have the stereotypical debate about what real soul food is, given my southern North Carolinian roots and expectations, but I also couldn’t wait to see what their soul food menu was going to entail.  Contrarily, Baker’s showed me the midwestern side of southern cuisine and pushed me into a nostalgic place that wreaked of House of Prayer on Beatties Ford Rd in Charlotte, NC circa 1996.

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After downing a plate of fried chicken wings, baked macaroni and cheese, collard greens and cornbread, all I can say is post-Juanita did not disappoint. Juanita was the old cook that left within the last year and caused quite a stir due to her soulful culinary gift to mankind. I am here to tell all Livernois locals, there is no need to fear. Juanita’s recipes are still in tact.  So stop by when you’re in town for a little bit of live jazz, but more importantly some good ol’ post-Juanita soul food, and some extremely generous pours on the spirits. Cheers!

Max’s Cheesesteaks – Philadelphia, PA

Once you put on your hood blinders and bypass all the hood antics and foolery taking place outside of Max’s on Germantown and Eerie, all of your lunchtime dreams will come true. Whether you’re coating your liquor drenched stomach from the night before, or fulfilling your midweek cheesesteak craving, this is your place in Philly. In my case I was doing both. I watched Kyree (sp?) work his grill magic..

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I exchanged a few words with the really pleasant lady cashier, allowed the music blaring over from the bar area to demotivate me for my remaining workload, and quickly headed out. I sat in my car, opened my massive 7″ sub and went to town.

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I’m not sure who does the measuring at this place but I love them. The 13″ (I mean 7″) sub that I unwrapped like a kid on Xmas, was out of this world. Mr “alright, alright, alriiiiiiiiight” himself -aka- Kevin Hart was right. Max’s on Germantown truly does have the best cheesesteaks in Philly. If not in the country, truthfully.

Happy Hour Obsession of The Week – Pele’s, Jacksonville FL

With entrees like slow roasted kaluah pig, salted duck pizza, and broken meatballs I knew I’d be foolish enough to try this place. A spectacular fool’s choice it turned out to be as well as wallet-friendly, but foolish-sounding initially.

Whether you’re going on Magnifico Mondays, Ladies Night Wednesdays, or any day between 3-6:30pm, Pele’s Wood Fire has a pretty awesome happy hour amongst other things.  The biggest treat of all being the Wood-Fired Limoncello Wings.
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Wood-Fired Limoncello Wings with shaved parmesan, crushed red pepper, oregano, and orange zest $3.95, Chardonnay $4.00

The wings were incredible, the sauce was amazing, and the shaved parmesan did more justice than damage.  The human element of the dining experience consisted of an “at home, in your favorite cousin’s living room” personal element, with a “I have been serving patrons for years and could do this with my eyes closed” level of customer service.  The service was impeccable, and the place was cozy with a really familiar vibe.

The food was actually in-house, and as one would imagine, local produce made for some really fresh ingredients being both refreshing and delightful.

I actually enjoyed,  and was so much impressed with the happy hour offerings that I stayed long enough for dinner.  I got another glass of white wine and ordered the Croxetti Pesto.
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Pesto Croxetti with spinach, caramelized onions, pine nuts and pecorino romano in a white wine reduction

It had a great presentation, the portion wasn’t massive which really allowed you to carefully consider all of the ingredients, the sauce was flavorful but not overpowering, and the pasta was fresh.  It was incredible.

All in all, I would unquestionably list this experience at Pele’s Wood Fire as the Happy Hour Obsession of The Week, not-to-mention one of my Top Obsessions.  If you have an uncompromising palate for fresh pasta for dinner, or if it’s after work and you have $10 to spare, this modern Italian-American spot would be an excellent choice in the Riverside neighborhood of Jacksonville.

Salt Creek Grille – El Segundo, CA

Recently writing about Pera made me think of a really wonderful restaurant in El Segundo.  Salt Creek Grille is a very calming restaurant to say the least.  From the inside to the outside it has a very tranquil setting, sort of like Koi, but with a non-Asian menu and theme.  The man-made creeks, mini waterfalls, firepits, etc in the outside area are stunning.  It’s very similar to what you’d expect at a spa or resort.  It’s refreshing, and even with the massive amount of filled tables and the jam-packed bar, it still managed to have a quietness about it.

Photo Source LA Ink / Discover Los Angeles Site

To go with the all natural ambience, Salt Creek Grille also offers a very organic menu.  Like a lot of restaurants in and near LA, they offer fresh ingredients from a local produce.

I went with the Coffee Encrusted New York Steak.  It was awesome.  It was garnished with baby wild arugula & blue cheese, and came with roasted Yukon gold potatoes & bourbon caramel.  It was cooked to perfection, it was tender, and the accompaniments were fitting.

My FPIC who recommended this amazing place, ordered the Spaghetti Squash and Ricotta Ravioli.  It had corn, slivered almonds, snow peas, capers, cherry tomatoes, and kale & sweet heirloom tomato marmalade.  I tried her dish and although it was quite eclectic in taste, it was light yet filling, and it offered made-to-order pasta which I constantly crave.

There’s nothing like fresh, healthy food in a relaxing environment with a charming decor.  Salt Creek Grille – El Segundo was a great experience indeed.  It would definitely warrant a revisit.

New Brazilian Obsession – Bossa Nova LA

I saw an online banner on the hottest restaurants in LA the other day and immediately thought of my late night Sunday Greystone Manor excursion that immediately led to Bossa Nova in Hollywood a while back.  After a typical long night that one would expect of promoter etiquette, table service politics, and several bottles of adult juice at this extremely selective supperclub, quite predictably a post club food run was inevitable.  Berri’s is normally my first choice when running the streets late night in the city of cherubs.  However a new love was found that night thanks to one of my friends and her recommendation of what is now one of my favorite Brazilian spots in W. Hollywood.  I have frequented both the Sunset and W. Pico locations several times since, and am consistently satisfied.  I can always rely on a refreshing conversation with the hostess staff while waiting on my carryout order to take back to the hotel, and the food itself is absolutely incredible.  Depending on when you go, it’s not at all surprising to run into several noticeable celebrities, artists and industry types.  For the most part though, it’s a very family and couples friendly environment.  Food-wise I always gravitate towards the pasta due to my first incredible virgin Nova experience.

This was the Sunset Pasta w. Asparagus, boneless Chicken Breast, Onions and Mushrooms in a Cream Sauce.  It was very generous in portion, and it was exceptionally good.  I’ve also had their Tiriri Pasta..

Although a quite tasty dish and very popular according to my new hostess friend, it doesn’t pack as much flavor as the Sunset pasta.  The Sunset has a little bit more zest.  Their menu is amazing so you really can’t go wrong with any choice.  This I promise.  There’s nothing like fresh pasta made with fresh ingredients after a night of  **clearing throat** organized industry chaos.  So next time you’re in W. LA or any part of Hollywood, try it out.  Be careful though, you just may have a new Brazilian obsession in LA.

Fox Restaurant Concepts Blanco, Phoenix

As I mentioned before, my foodie palate is non-discriminate based on visual, and whether it’s brown paper bag or expensive dishware I like what I like.  If I haphazardly stumble across the next great food item, I owe it to you – my readers, to inform you of such hallmark discoveries.  In this case my major discovery was at the moment, truly seemed like the country’s best quesadilla.  For me a quesadilla is a safety net.  Whenever I go to a new Mexican spot without the luxury of time or patience to experiment with their menu, that is exactly what I order.  So when I found Fox Restaurant Concepts Blanco at the Phoenix Airport, I ran up to the little “to go” section of the restaurant and ordered the Three Cheese Quesadilla with the chicken.

Having a boarding flight, with little time to waste before they called my section, I ate it straight from the box.  When I tell you this was one of the best, actually scratch that – this was the best chicken quesadilla I have ever had in my life, I tell you the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  For one, this quesadilla did not just come with your standard Monterey Jack and Cheddar, but with a three cheese blend of Oaxaca, Asadero, and Manchego.  It also came with pico de gallo and Crema Fresca.  I rarely find quesadillas made with Manchego.  That may have been what possibly put me over the edge and made me look like a homeless person that just received their first meal of the week waiting at the gate.  So there you have it folks, Fox Restaurant Concepts Blanco, conveniently located at the very busy Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.  Serving you the best quesadilla in all of Phoenix, if not the nation.

Emporio – Nolita NY

Emporio at 231 Mott St in the Nolita neighborhood of New York falls under the Aurora Restaurants, and rightfully so.  It is an excellent representation of the group and has an amazing decor, ambience, waitstaff and food that falls right in line with the Aurora reputation.  Emporio embodies all the elements needed for the perfect, yet not too formal, laid back Italian restaurant.  It has all the elements to make the right impression on your first date or to just have a really good Italian experience – charm, personality and a menu that is completely in Italian, the official seal of authenticity.  Walking through the quaint front section of the restaurant which passes through the rustic, open kitchen space, definitely for the moment, puts you in the middle of Sicily somewhere.  The food itself is positively soul stirring.  As one would expect at an authentic Italian restaurant, the ingredients are fresh and the pasta is made to order.  The seasonings in the Agnolotti were absolutely breathtaking and I was head over heels for the valley of mushrooms.   The chicken was equally as good. ….I was happy.

Agnolotti – stracciatella cheese filled pasta with wild ramps and porcini mushrooms

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