Restaurant Review: Rahi in New York City

Last night Jon and I had date night at a new Indian place called Rahi in the West Village that came highly recommended by my little sister (shoutout to lil’ G!). It was really delicious, and I’d very much recommend it to anyone looking for creative Indian cuisine in the city.

For starters, we split the paneer appetizer (this was probably our favorite – fresh paneer cheese in tandoori), and the octopus (grilled, and served in a tumeric coconut foam).

For mains, Jon and I each had the soft shell crabs in black ink with mango curry, which we’ve heard was the best thing on the menu. We also got a side of naan and saag. The soft shell crabs were absolutely scrumptious – perfectly crispy and juicy inside.

It wasn’t cheap, but we left extremely full, and everything was delicious!

Also, back by popular demand, Jon’s one line review:
“Amazing food! But I was starving so I wouldn’t trust that opinion”

Here are the details, if you want to check it out: Rahi (60 Greenwich Ave, New York, NY 10011).

Review: Sarita’s Pupuseria in Grand Central Market (Downtown, Los Angeles)

Grand Central Market  is another gem in Downtown LA. It’s a dusty old place that has been in operation since 1917, and has lots of stalls that sell super cheap vegetables, tacos, Asian rice bowls, fish, ceviche and more.

Recently Grand Central Market has been going through some big changes. A new breakfast place called Eggslut opened up a few weeks ago, and just last week a fancy cheese shop opened up. While it’s nice to see some new things in the market, I really hope the affordable old-world food stalls can survive the gentrification!

One of my favorite classic stalls in the market is Sarita’s Pupuseria. If you haven’t had them before, pupusas are cornmeal pancakes, filled with cheese and vegetables. In addition to the classic cheese, at Sarita’s you can have pupusa fillings ranging from mushrooms to spinach or jalapenos. They also serve their pupusas with complimentary spicy coleslaw, which really livens up the softer taste of the pupusas.

I’ve tried out some other dishes at this stall, including the plantains, but you really want to stick with the pupusas here – they’re the best thing on the menu.

Jon and I went to Sarita’s for breakfast today and it was delicious as always!

Jon’s Review: A delectable combination of cheese and whatever the other ingredient is.

Here's a picture of Sarita's. If you enter the market on Broadway it'll be one of the stalls on the right.
Here’s a picture of Sarita’s. If you enter the market on Broadway it’ll be one of the stalls on the right.

Sarita’s Pupuseria. Grand Central Market. 317 Broadway #41, Los Angeles, CA 90013, (213) 626-6320, Open everyday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Review: Nickel Diner (Downtown, Los Angeles)

Our lives have changed a lot in the past month. We moved out to LA so I could start a new job as a pollster for a Democratic political consulting firm, and we found a beautiful loft in a historic office building in Downtown to call home.  Jon finished up his DPhil, and is commuting back and forth between Oxford and Los Angeles until we get married.

Downtown LA is an incredible place to live, but it’s certainly a place of stark contrasts.   For many years, Downtown was a seedy ghost town of abandoned old office buildings. It’s recently gone through a significant revival, due in part to creative reuse laws that made it easy to convert empty buildings to lofts. Some of the most amazing old vaudeville theaters and gorgeous architecture in the United States is crammed into a few blocks here. But, it’s also the location of LA’s “Skid Row” – the homeless capital of the United States. In Downtown Los Angeles, within three blocks, you have a sushi restaurant that only has $165 per person menus, and large homeless shelters that sleep hundreds. I haven’t yet found stats on the income inequality in this neighborhood, but it’s soul crushing.

DTLA is also a culinary hub, with lots of cheap grocery stores, and new inventive restaurants sprouting up all over the place. It’s also where LA’s Central Library is located, so a treasure trove of cookbooks are right around the corner from us.

So far, one of our favorite DTLA neighborhood spots is Nickel Diner. As the home of the legendary maple-glazed bacon donut, it might not sound like a gluten-free breakfast spot. But, from huevos rancheros made with corn tortillas, to omelets with sides of polenta, there’s a lot on the menu for gluten-free folks here. Today for breakfast, I had an egg scramble with smoked salmon, cream, and chives, with a side of polenta and maple syrup. Mmm!

This isn’t gourmet food, but if you’re looking for classic old-fashioned diner dishes with a modern twist, this place is fantastic.

Unlike the old days, you can’t get anything on the menu for a nickel, but at under $10 a dish, the prices aren’t horrible either.

I have a long commute to work, so my internal body clock is set to wake up very early. Normally, I find it annoying that I can’t sleep past 7am on weekends, but on the plus side, it means that Jon and I always get to Nickel Diner early enough to miss the weekend brunch crowds (pictured below)

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Nickel Diner, 524 South Main Street, Los Angeles, CA, (213) 623-8301

Review: Pham Sushi – Best Sushi in London?

I’m about to wrap up Jamaican cooking week, but thought I’d add a new London restaurant review to the mix – Pham Sushi. I am a complete sushi addict. Hands down, my favorite thing about growing up in Los Angeles was the delicious and cheap sushi at places like Noshi Sushi, and I’ve been missing good sushi like crazy over here in England.

This month, Jon and I tried out a few sushi places in London, and Pham is definitely our favorite place in the city so far. Pham operates both a formal restaurant and a more low key sushi takeway shop across the street. The fish is incredibly juicy and fresh – it really melts in your mouth. Both times that we went, I ordered a bento box and sake, and Jon ordered Japanese beer and the house sushi special.

The bento box comes with different types of nigiri sushi everyday. One time it came with mackerel nigiri which was absolutely AMAZING – a perfect mix of slightly salty fish and sour vinegared rice. It would never have occurred to me to order mackerel sushi, but now it’s one of my favorites.

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Jon’s House Sushi Platter

Jon’s Review: “This is possibly what God would make if he was a sushi chef.”

Pham Sushi, 159 Whitecross St  London, Greater London EC1Y 8JL, 020 7251 6336, Near Old Street Tube Stop. Closed Sundays.

Other sushi places we tried this month, which weren’t as good as Pham were: Eat Tokyo near Piccadilly Circus, the all you can eat sushi buffet at Hi Sushi in Covent Garden, and Ichiban in Brixton.

Japan Centre near Green Park actually has great cheap sushi for takeaway, and they also sell a wide range of Japanese products. Japan Centre’s sushi is a great cheap snack before a West End theatre show! Definitely better than comparable takeout sushi options Wasabi and Yo Sushi.

Review: Mulu’s “Pop-Up” Ethiopian Night in Oxford, UK

IMG_2736I am really into Ethiopian food, and when I was an undergraduate student in New York City, I used to love eating at Zoma, an incredible Ethiopian place in Harlem. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any Ethiopian restaurants in Oxford. However, I recently found out that there ARE incredible “Pop-Up” Ethiopian nights in town, where Ethiopian cooks take over local restaurants for a night, and serve up some amazing eats!

I’ve gone to Mulu’s Ethiopian “Pop Up” Night at the Magic Cafe in Cowley three times now, and have not been disappointed. The chef, Freha, grew up in Ethiopia, and used to run a local restaurant with her family there. She now recreates her family’s recipes at the pop-up in Oxford. Mulu serves a wide range of both meat and vegetarian dishes, and although their traditional injera bread is not gluten free (some recipes are), the organizers of the event- Freha and David – have been extremely accommodating, and always provide gluten-free bread for me to eat.

The last time I went to Mulu’s was two Saturdays ago, and as always, I had an amazing meal with friends. We also sampled their “Tej,” which is a traditional Ethiopian honey mead wine, and it was fantastic. After dinner,  Freha provided a showcase of Ethiopian dancing.

If you’re interested in booking the next Ethiopian night at Mulu, or want to get more information about their Ethiopian feasts, you can email mulu.info@gmail.com

Review: Door 74 in Oxford

When I first moved to Oxford almost 4 years ago, I thought that the majority of restaurants in town were quaint independent restaurants. Then, the first time I went to London that year, I was surprised to find out that almost ALL of them are chains (Cafe Rouge, Branca, Patisserie Valerie, Brasserie Blanc etc.) So, I’m always pleased to find a new tasty local restaurant in town that’s completely homegrown and unique to Oxford.

One of my favorite new truly local places is the romantic restaurant Door 74, which could be described as simple “British” cuisine. I went for the first time last December, and had a phenomenal halloumi salad as an appetizer with caramelized onion, balsamic reduction, and roasted butternut squash. Jon and I wolfed it down, and decided on the spot that we’d have to come back to try their three-course Valentines’ Day menu.

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A picture of the interior of Door 74

So, we went back on February 14, and it was incredible. In addition to a holiday appropriate kir royale, I had a french onion soup to start (completely vegetarian), followed by wild mushroom risotto, and a local cheese plate. I can’t wait to go back on another special occasion!

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French Onion Soup (starter)

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Risotto with wild mushrooms (main)

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Cheese dessert plate

Review: Bookbinder’s Pub in Oxford, UK

IMG_2612Bookbinder’s is a quirky neighborhood pub in the upscale Oxford neighborhood of Jericho. It’s one of my favorite places to spend a mellow weekday evening, and the atmosphere reminds me of two other places I really like (1) the club room of the fancy-schmanzy 21 club restaurant in New York City and (2) Pavilhão Chinês, a bar I went to once in Lisbon, Portugal.

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Bookbinders is decorated eccentrically, with random collectibles – train sets, old ice skates, beer coasters, and old photographs – placed on the walls. There’s also a “music room,” with old records and sheet music.  During the Christmas season, they serve delicious mulled wine and cider with spices and raisins. (I am convinced it’s the best mulled wine in Oxford, because  I’ve sampled the drink in almost every local Oxford pub.) They serve food as well, but I haven’t had the chance to try it.

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The Entrance to the “Music Room” at Bookbinder’s

Last night, Jon and I stopped in after a formal three-course dinner to grab drinks and play a few rounds of our favorite card game – Shithead. Bookbinders has a terrific board game collection, with all the classics -Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, etc.

A quick practical tip for the gluten-free folks: If you’ve been gluten-free for awhile, you know that beer is off limits. However, alcoholic cider is gluten-free, as are all forms of hard liquor. Last night, I had the cider on tap, and it was perfect.

Review: Scoops Icecream in Los Angeles, CA

Scoops is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. It’s located in a trendy enclave called “Hel Mel” – the unofficial bike district of LA. I first heard about Scoops because it’s in the council district of a local politician I interned for in college, and after going one afternoon with coworkers, I was hooked.

What I love about Scoops is how whimsical it is. Everyday, the owner dreams up new crazy icecream flavors, and you never know what you’re going to get. Other than the staple flavor, brown bread (which sadly isn’t gluten-free veggie appropriate), every flavor changes daily. There’s always a vegan option or two.

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Here are the owners of Scoops (picture courtesy of Serious Eats).

My favorite flavors include strawberry poppyseed balsamic, thai iced tea, and green tea jasmine. Also, the prices can’t be beat! For a little over $2, you can get “one scoop” which includes two different flavors.

Scoops also sells its icecream in Golden State cafe on Fairfax Ave., but the Hel Mel location is the best.

Review: The Karczma, a kitschy Polish gem in Birmingham, UK

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There are few things I love more than “kitsch.” I grew up going to presidential libraries in the United States, scouring vintage shops to add to my growing collection of antique vintage election pins, and falling in love with local town brass band concerts in rural New England. I love old-timey American diners and Norman Rockwell-style schmaltz. Last week, Jon and I were flying through Birmingham on our way to a ski vacation in the Alps, and decided to plan a date night out on the town before flying out. I found a review in the Guardian for the kitschiest sounding restaurant in the city and decided we absolutely had to go check it out!

The restaurant is called the Karczma, and is a traditional Polish place, located next door to a bleak concrete Polish cultural center. The interior of the restaurant consists of a fake thatched roof, sheepskin chairs, nostalgic murals of Polish farmers, and a TV permanently set to a Polish news channel. But if that’s not enough of a draw, the food is PHENOMENAL.

Jon and I started out our dinner with some vodka – his was flavored with grass, and mine had a delicious subtle honey aftertaste. We decided to splurge on some starters – I had a wonderful pickled whitefish dish with diced onion. Jon had (AVERT YOUR EYES DEAR VEGETARIAN READERS!!) fried sheep cheese wrapped in fried bacon. Needless to say, he loved it.

For mains, I had a fried trout, with just the perfect balance of crisp skin and smooth silky interior. The sides included a generous heaping of mashed potatoes with a slight flavor of vinegar, and a side of sauerkraut. Jon had a portion of meat and wheat – some hearty pierogis.

The only downside is that there did not seem to be very many options on the menu for strict gluten-free vegetarians, but if you love fish, you’ll find Karczma heavenly. Check out the menu here: http://www.thekarczma.co.uk/. It’s pretty reasonably priced as well. Our meal came out to somewhere around 30 pounds for the two of us.

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“More vodka, please!”

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