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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 “Restaurant Reviews”

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..

 

 

 

 

 

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Minton’s Playhouse – Harlem

After going to the Minton’s Supper Club reception the other week in Harlem (ok fine, I’ve slacked, it was several months ago..) it was a no brainer where I’d be heading that perfect Saturday evening in Harlem with my number one guy. The food presentation from the reception never left me, nor did the owner’s full historical recap, not-to-mention revival tale of the landmark location.

mintonsreceptionThe intrigue re-emmerged at our 8:00pm reservation that evening, and I was still a bit shocked about how such a rich history at this foodie gem had remained hidden until I discovered it a few months back.  Well the secret was definitely out, and Chef Banks White and Executive Chef Alexander Smalls now both have a face to go with these impeccably plated creations.

That night all the mouth-watering hors d’oeuvres from the previous Minton’s Supper Club re-opening came full circle.  The biggest hit being the mini crab cakes, with the prosciutto wrapped asparagus not at all being short of flavor, and the spicy Cajun prawns immediately punching you with intensity.

Saturday we started with the Grilled Shrimp and Charred Okra, and the delectable and nearly orgasmic, Smoked Gouda and Gruyere Mac and Cheese.  Out of the one million and five mac cheese combinations, this is truly my favorite.  It was incredibly moist and flavorful, which really leads me to believe there was possibly some truffle oil involved.  But I guess I’ll have to keep guessing and experimenting in my kitchenlab to figure that one out.

We then went with the Cremolata Crusted Grouper…mintonsfish

…and the Smothered Lobster and Shrimp Casserole.

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The Lobster Casserole was simply everything.  I had to take several pauses to truly absorb what was happening at our table.  The magic in that plate was indescribable.  I tasted my FPIC’s grouper, which had a nice texture and vibrant presentation, but in all honesty the lobster completely overshadowed and stole the fish’s moment.  It was the showstopper.

With the old skool crowd, the old skool band, and even the old skool “jackets only” rule, it truly was reminiscent of Old Harlem and what I’d imagine the Renaissance feeling like. It made me step back a few decades, but the food unquestionably crossed over into the now.  Minton’s Supper Club aka Minton’s Playhouse is certainly making its resurrectional mark in this age of Harlem gentrification.

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.

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.

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.

South Coast Deli Santa Barbara

Why am I writing about a pressed Panini??  Because it was slamming.  That’s about the only reason I can come up with.  South Coast Deli in Santa Barbara, CA was packed every day at lunch while I was in Santa Barbara for work.  After caving to all the pressure one day I finally discovered what the hype and commotion was all about.  Their Roast Beef con Limon panini was one of the best paninis I’ve ever had.  Period….
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Roast Beef con Limon (roast beef & jack cheese w. Cilantro lime mayo, green onions & shredded cabbage)

SCD is a popular lunch deli with good, fresh food in bulky portions.  Random traces of backpack hiphop playing in the background for no reason. Delicious lunchtime treats.  Would it be far-fetched to say I’d drive all the way back next time my company sends me to LA?  Probably.  However the deli was definitely one of the top on my lunchtime/random deli lists…

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Diva – Soho NY

Quite eventful evening this was.  Apparently Kenyans get wild.  They do actually… Or at least from my experience this particular Friday night at Diva in Soho NYC.  Aside from the lively evening, a relatively satisfying Red Snapper was the lasting impression I walked away with from Diva Soho. The martinis were reminiscent of your older brother’s Kool Aid circa 1992, and the Lemon Drops were like someone’s grandmother’s lemonade, literally.  However it’s not as satisfying and fulfilling when someone’s grandmother’s lemonade is $12 a pop. On the flip side, the snapper and vibrant, Kenyan-embodied ambience played an integral role in my salvation for the evening.  The fish was a win.  Not to mention the Kenyan dj.  The Kool Aidy cocktails however, I could pass on in the future…

Oven Roasted Red Snapper with tomato salsa and arborio rice

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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