Saturday, September 20, 2014

Guest Post: Road Trip: Shake Shack — New York City, NY

Sacha here! You might remember me from Erin's review of Tacos 46. I am also known as @zigged.

Our 2014 family road trip took us east to visit my dad in New Jersey + enjoy adventures in Ocean City, MD, and New York City. The itinerary I planned included stops at restaurants that are reported to be culinary gems. This time: Shake Shack's Theater District location.

Many moons before our trip I knew where we'd have dinner in NYC. But a few days before we left I realized that we'd need a place for lunch too. Up until that point I assumed we'd pack it but, let's be real, two teenage girls from Indianapolis were not going to willingly go to Manhattan with sandwiches in their bags. So I asked Anil Dash where to go and of course he suggested this place. #duh

We arrived around 11:45 AM and were ordering by around noon, which is a pleasant departure from some of the stories I've heard. An employee handed us menus when we queued up (AKA "waited on line" to New Yorkers) so we knew what we wanted when it was our turn. My BFF from high school, who I hadn't seen in 10 years, met us there moments before it was our turn to order so BING BANG BOOM everything worked out perfectly. We got a buzzer that lit up when our order was ready a few minutes later and we ate standing at the bar-height counter where we had been waiting. Tables were snatched up before the previous occupants could fully depart.

We each got a ShackBurger® ($4.75) and a drink plus we split two orders of fries, one plain ($2.85) and one cheese ($3.85).

So...cheeesburgers. I mean, yeah, they were good, but they won't change your life. Thin patties cooked medium and served with a tangy secret sauce—I'm not sure why people go so bonkers about them. The fries were standard crinkle cuts*, you know, like at Culver's. The cheese sauce has a Cheez Whiz consistency and unremarkable flavor and wasn't in abundance on our order. I liked the burger, and I would get it again, but I wouldn't go out of my way or wait in a long line for it.

*Apparently some locations serve different fries and that has been controversial. And apparently Shake Shack will be bringing back a new and improved version of the crinkles to all locations by the end of this year. More details here.

This spot features a selection of frozen treats created just for this location. Various items on the menu had the potential to be tempting, including the custard flavor of the day (Devil's Food). The Girls got shakes, vanilla and strawberry, but I didn't try either of them because I was excitedly chatting with my BFF from high school. This may have been different had one of them gotten the flavor of the day.

Shake Shack
691 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10036

BONUS: Here's a recipe for making a copycat burger at home, reverse engineered by an enterprising food writer, should you be so inclined.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Miracle Sushi & Modern Asian Cuisine

My friend Suzanne (aka @indyfoodswap) had mentioned to me that she had tried Miracle a couple of times and was intrigued by the menu—but she had only tried a couple of things and wanted to try others. We grabbed the hubbies and made a date night. While the sushi sounded good, and we knew we would order some, the small plates part of the menu is what is so interesting, so we ordered a bunch of things.

They also served us some complimentary amuse bouche (bouches?), because even though they have been open awhile, we ended up there on their grand opening weekend. They gave us a little tofu number with bits of cucumber and hot sauce and an Asian-style devilled egg. It had an interesting flavor with some wasabi but the egg whites were strangely firm. Nice touch though.

We each picked a small plate to share and honestly, they were all good. We all had different favorites. Not surprisingly, mine was probably the tuna tartare ($9). It was interesting, more of a minced tuna than diced, making the texture softer. Loved the perfect, panko-crusted soft-boiled egg on top. It was cooked exactly the way it should be. There was also a bit of spicy mayo on the plate that was nice to liven it up a bit. Another favorite of the group was the sweet chili grilled scallops with the pork belly fried rice and citrus beurre blanc ($15). I have to say, I kind of burned myself out on scallops in the past, and they are so often cooked to death, but these were done just right. Nice crispy caramelized exterior and soft interior. Hubby was a huge fan of the fried rice and I liked that they brought a bit of a citrus component in for balance.

The braised short ribs ($11) were also tasty—they were served in an ultra rich beef broth and had chestnuts, fingerling potatoes, carrots and onions. This is a good hearty and intensely rich dish.  Hubby also loves his little birds, so we tried the crispy roast quail with sweet and spicy noodles ($10).  This one wasn’t bad, and everyone seemed to enjoy the noodles the most—it was just kind of hard to share that one little bird between 4 people. I liked the scrambled egg touch to go with it—an interesting touch. I always love a random egg showing up here and there. A side of frites ($3) filled the starch void—they were flavorful with some ginger and garlic, although I could pass on the ketchup served alongside—I would rather have a spicy mayo or something like that to dip them in.

We also ordered several rolls to share. Overall, I would say while the sushi was good, the small plates were more interesting. I think maybe I liked “The Flaming Dragon” ($15) the best. There was shrimp, avocado, cucumber and spicy soft shell crab inside and avocado, seared tuna, eel sauce, spicy mayo and Sriracha on top.  One of the things I liked about the rolls here is that although there is a lot going on in many of them, they remain in bite-sized pieces. I hate it when you feel like you want to cut it in half. As for this particular roll, the ingredients were good—I could have lived without the Sriracha—seemed unnecessary and dominated all the other flavors a bit.

I liked the acid in “The Miracle” roll ($11). It had spicy tuna and tempura flakes inside and then super white tuna on top and a sweet wasabi sauce. There were also very thin slices of lime on top. I am undecided how I feel about this trend in sushi—if they are truly paper-thin, I enjoy it and the citrus it adds, but if it is just a hair thicker, the skin of the fruit is too chewy. These were on the border. One piece I ate it and the other I picked it off. The wasabi in the sauce was fairly mild, which I appreciated as I often find wasabi overpowers delicate fish.

The final roll was the “Crispy Unagi”($10). This one had shrimp, avocado and lotus root inside and fried eel, eel sauce, and sesame seeds on top. Also a nice size and good flavors—you have to like the slightly sweet/soy flavor of the eel sauce to really enjoy this one. The kitchen did a good job of varying the textures in the rolls giving the right amount of crunch to balance out the rich fish/avocado, etc.

We also shared a couple of desserts—the mandarin orange icebox pie ($6) and the banana spring roll ($6). Unfortunately, both of these were the weakest parts of the dinner and I was a little sad to leave the dinner on a down note. The pie was strangely gelatinous and just didn’t have a lot of flavor. The banana spring roll was kind of dry and filled with mainly what I think was apple instead of banana, because the fruit was pretty firm. Anyhow, I think the strength of this restaurant lies in other areas of the kitchen and I would just skip dessert.

The interior is pretty simply done in shades of gray—may be a bit stark for my taste, but is modern and clean. We had a nice meal and I would certainly go back and try more things. They are certainly making some creative things and most of the staff was extremely friendly and accommodating.

Miracle Sushi & Modern Asian
12505 Old Meridian Street
Carmel, IN 46032
Miracle Sushi and Modern Asian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 15, 2014

Plow and Anchor - Revisit

Hubby and I wanted to check out Plow and Anchor again now that they’ve been open awhile and settled into their groove. They definitely are—the service was spot on all night, drinks delivered quickly and food paced perfectly. I was also happy to see the place so busy—it was Devour Downtown and I am sure that helped bring people in. I then ended up meeting some girlfriends there a week or two later for lunch—so, bonus, you get two meals in one post.

We started with an order of the salmon tartare ($9)(I’ve been wanting to order this since I have seen it on the menu). It was delicious. Super fresh chopped raw salmon, mixed with lots of capers and dill (hubby isn’t as big a fan of dill, but I loved it). Lots of lemon and some crème fraiche dollops alongside. The salty housemade fingerling chips went great with it, even though you need to eat them like a garnish on your fork because they’re too small and delicate to scoop with. There was a raw quail egg on top as well adding a luscious creamy texture to the whole thing. It was as good, if not better, than I expected and I will be hard pressed not to order it every time it’s on the menu. It’s a little on the smaller side—we shared it, but I could easily eat it on my own.

The fried fish tacos ($5 each) were great as well. We ordered two and we were each glad we got our own. Lightly battered lake trout (I think the fish changes though) was tender and juicy and topped with so much deliciousness—lots of dressed cabbage, guacamole, harissa adobo sauce, as well as crema. There was exactly the right amount of ingredients to make for a perfectly balanced taco, both in textures and juiciness, but also with spice and acid. They served a lime wedge alongside and you didn’t really even need it (and you know that’s saying something coming from me). Another hard to pass up item for me.
For our mains, I had the ricotta gnocchi ($18) and hubby the duck entrée. They were both very good. We argued over which was better. I liked that even though the gnocchi was rich and creamy, there was a fair amount of lemon and other flavors as well. There was arugula, which gave it some pepperiness, the lemon zest as I mentioned, and some mushrooms giving it different texture from the creamy gnocchi and earthy flavors. It was still so rich I couldn’t finish it all, but really tasty. Hubby’s duck dish had a layer of crispy seared fingerling potatoes topped with wonderfully cooked duck (nice and pink) and N’duja sausage, which now may be one of hubby’s favorite things—it’s a softer sausage and added a salty kick to the dish. It was topped with a runny egg and a corn/herby sauce. There was also a saffron aioli underneath that added just the right amount of tanginess. A really well executed dish.  Hubby couldn’t stop talking about it while he was eating it.
I really wanted to try a cheese course for dessert because we hadn’t to date, so we did. Overall, it was a really nice job. There were five different cheeses, in varying flavor profiles and firmness. I liked that there was a couple of blues, because they are some of my favorite kinds to eat at dessert with something sweet—like the preserves they served here. The bread was also good, although maybe a little thinner and more toasted would have been ideal. My only complaint was that as much as I love olives, I don’t feel like they belong on a dessert cheese board. Give me some nuts or dried fruit. Leave the olives for an appetizer cheese board.

A week or so later when I met some girlfriends for lunch, it was all I could do to not order the fish tacos for lunch, but I was able to resist when I saw the lobster roll ($19) on the menu. You know I love a lobster roll. I did not manage to not get the salmon tartare and split that again with one of my friends as an appetizer. As delicious as the first time. I could eat this all day. When I got my lobster roll, I questioned it. The lobster just looked plain, not like I was expecting. However, there was aioli hiding under the lettuce (normally the lobster is tossed in it) and there was a seasoned butter that seemed to be mixed with the lobster meat as well. The wedge of lemon also helped. They dressed it more like a po boy with lettuce, pickles and red onions. Like I said, different from what I was expecting, but still good. As good as the tacos? No, but I’m glad I tried it. 

I also had a bite of a friend’s broccoli bisque ($7) and enjoyed that as well. It was a chunky soup, the way I like it. Hunks of broccoli and Portobello mushrooms. Loved the fried leeks on top. There was also a Serrano ham and melon plate ($8) that was simple and tasty—the melon sweet and the pork salty. There was a bit of balsamic and some pieces of fresh basil. The kind of bites that just taste like summer. A bite of another friend’s BLT ($10) was not as successful—it was one of those sandwiches that were too big and sloppy to eat without getting frustrated. I think they should lose the third piece of bread and try to make a more cohesive sandwich on this one. Great ingredients—Goose bacon, guacamole, egg, tomato, lettuce and aioli—but just a mess to eat.

All in all, I’m psyched to have Plow and Anchor to add to my “favorite restaurants” rotation. It is good to have the list expanding again instead of shrinking.

Plow and Anchor
43 E. 9th Street
Indy  46219

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Guest Post: La Terrazza Ristorante Italiano — Cherry Hill, NJ

Sacha here! You might remember me from Erin's review of Szechwan Garden. I am also known as @zigged.

Our 2014 family road trip took us east to visit my dad in New Jersey + enjoy adventures in Ocean City, MD, and New York City. My father and his wife took us out to dinner on the last night of our stay as an early celebration of my upcoming birthday. Their choice: La Terrazza Ristorante Italiano.

To start we shared two orders of calamari. We tried to get one order of grilled and one order of fried but the server said they were all out of grilled. (Not sure how that happens...?) In any case, the squid was tender and the breading was light and crunchy, which was just how fried calamari should be. It came with a wedge of lemon and two sauces, a marinara and a roasted red pepper. Don't be fooled by the photo—the plate was full but we swooped in like vultures before I remembered to snap a shot.

Four of us chose entrées that came with house salad, which was spring mix topped with two grape tomatoes and a drizzle of a creamy balsamic dressing. The dressing made the salad palatable—I'm not a big fan of spring mix because I think it feels and tastes like weed leaves—assuming you like dressing that is thick, smooth, and a teensy bit extra tangy. I thought two tiny tomatoes was a little skimpy, though. My dad got Caesar salad and The Kid got no salad, neither of which I have an opinion about.

I got one of the specials: lobster ravioli in a lobster cream sauce with shrimp and lump crab meat. The ravioli were red in color and stuffed full of lobster; I couldn't tell if there was any ricotta in there at all. The sauce was creamy, flavorful, and packed with seafood. I really enjoyed this dish. I imagine it would be good with a little cracked pepper on top but I only thought of that in retrospect. I ate all six ravioli + everything else on the plate besides the 3 or 4 shrimp, which I gave to The Kid.

The Huz got one of the specials: two crab cakes served with a cream sauce and a roasted red pepper sauce (same as with the calamari), with roasted potatoes and asparagus on the side. I did not try the crab cakes but he enjoyed them and the sauces. I heard him tell my father they were full of crab meat. I did try the potatoes and they were roasted to perfection with just the right about of herbs and spices. The asparagus had the right amount of tooth, too, based on the crunch I heard when he ate it.

The Kid got the shrimp Caesar flatbread. This seemed to be baked with the meat and then scattered with a chopped Caesar salad on top. She was disappointed that it had more crab meat than shrimp. (Well, she was surprised it had any crab meat, although I guess that's from not really reading the menu.) She chose it because she didn't want a heavy entrée and I'm not sure if she ate only half because she wasn't hungry or didn't like it. I didn't taste it but it looked appealing.

The Honorary Kid got lasagna. She ate most of it before declaring, "There's a lot of meat in there." I suspect she doesn't know what bolognese sauce is. I tasted it and picked up a pronounced nutmeg flavor, which must come from the béchamel sauce, and was glad I hadn't chosen that as my dish. The lasagna I'm accustomed to eating does not taste like nutmeg.

My dad got one of the specials: pork chop stuffed with broccoli rabe and roasted peppers and served in a marsala sauce, with roasted potatoes and spinach on the side. I didn't taste this because ① he was sitting across the table and ② I don't like broccoli rabe. He enjoyed it, though, and took about half home, which indicates that the portion was extremely generous (AKA my dad likes a large meal and to eat until he's quite full).

My dad's wife got...I'm not sure, really. I think it may have been one of the specials. I remember her choosing the pasta (capellini), and it looked like a frutti di mare-type dish, but I wasn't paying close attention and I forgot to ask.

Overall we really enjoyed this meal. More than one of us had leftovers boxed up and all of us left full and happy. Some of us didn't super duper love it but that's not a reflection on the quality of the food we were served but more on our choices.

My dad and his wife wanted to take us here because they loved La Posata, which recently closed, and they heard the chef had moved here. We found out from the server that the new chef wouldn't be arriving until August; what we ate had been on their standard dinner menu. The new menu will be some of these items, some La Posata items, and some new items. I expect the quality and taste will be at the same high level since both places serve(d) delicious dishes.

La Terrazza Ristorante Italiano [BYOB]
1401 Marlton Pike East
Cherry Hill, NJ 08034