Sunday, January 26, 2014

Taking A Bite Out Of The Big Apple

After my brief stay in Boston, I traveled to the city that never sleeps, New York City.  Unfortunately, a good deal of my time in NYC turned out to be spent with my head over the toilet with the stomach flu...yuck!  Leave it to me to be away from home to stage in a few restaurants in the city and have to call in "sick" before they even met me.  So now I officially know how much it stinks to be sick and away from home in a tiny, sometimes freezing cold apartment.  Oh the joys of a big city!  All that being said, in the 10 days I was in the city, I did get the chance to do some pretty exciting things.

Back in June, the hubs and I came to New York.  It was a half Christmas, half graduation present in which I was allowed to eat anywhere I wanted.  Awesome gift, right?!?  In fact, I just realized that the trip was before I started this blog and, therefore was not included.  Maybe I'll do my own version of "Throw Back Thursday" and hit you with an awesome food tour blog of NYC...stay tuned.  Obviously, I wasn't able to eat out often on this trip, but I did get to hit one new find before the boom hit my tummy.  Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to one of the most unique bars I've ever been to...anywhere...Amor y Amargo.

I can take no credit for that beautiful pic, I got it off their website.  In fact, I enjoyed myself so much here that I forgot to take pictures of anything!  If you ever find yourself in NYC, especially on the weekend, you MUST go here for brunch/lunch and you MUST order the Chicken IN Waffles. 
Yes, you read that right, Chicken IN Waffles.  Again, not my pic...thanks google!  But mine looked pretty much exactly like this, with a few more jalapenos scattered on the plate.  I tried this dish, and this bar, as a recommendation from a good friend from college.  I've always been hesitant to try chicken and waffles since I've never been a huge fan of mixing savory food with sweet flavors.  If I can give you one piece of advice, put this particular dish on your food "bucket list".  Trust me, it will change your life.  The chicken is breaded in waffle batter, hence the "in" instead of "and", and served with spicy maple dipping sauce.  The waffle on the plate is just a good ole fashioned Eggo, but put it all together and you come pretty close to brunch nirvana.  Cocktails here are also a necessity, I mean it is a bitters bar after all.  I tried two of their coffee concoctions which consist of a fancy cocktail with a little bit of cold coffee.  Now that's a brunch cocktail!  I spent lots of time talking to the bartender and listening to her educated people who came in and out while I was there.  She even gave me my own little tasting of some goodies behind the bar I had never heard of.  Super awesome girl!  Straight forward in their cocktail creations, Amor y Amargo doesn't have any fancy sodas or juices.  Their cocktails are straight up and made with things that can be easily purchased either in their store or easily found at your local liquor store.  This will become a staple for me on any future trips to New York! 
Now that I have your mouth all watery...time to talk business.  I had two stages scheduled while in the city.  And although I didn't get to stay at them as long as I would have liked...thanks again stomach bug...I did get to both of them.  First up was a mid-town jewel called Oceana.  Located at Rockefeller Center, I had never seen anything like this restaurant kitchen before.  It was HUGE!  Probably at least 50 kitchen staff there while I was.  Each station was stacked with it's own sous and executive chef.  Something a small town NC girl had never heard of before.  Specialty here is fresh fish and seafood.  They even have their own fish walk in cooler...yeah, it's that big...and probably one of the most impressive things I've seen in a kitchen so far.

Culinary friends, tell me that's not bad ass!  No changing out yucky fish tubs here, that is a custom made fish board with draining so the fish constantly stays on ice.  Yeah, that's only one of their walk ins!  Although my time here was short, I decided something this big just wasn't for me.  I didn't want to go to a big college because I didn't want to get lost in the crowd.  I think my feelings about big kitchens goes the same way.
My second stage was at a "little known" bakery, Dominique Ansel.  For those of you outside the culinary world, I probably only have to say one word for you to know who this guy is...cronut!  Yep, he's the creator of the pastry delight that has taken the world by storm.  This kitchen was a lot of fun.  The staff was constantly joking around and I felt I fit right in.  Constantly evolving, the bakery never rests on it's laurels on what "works" but continues to raise the bar in the bakery and pastry world.  If I ever open a bakery one day, this is the kind of place I want to run.
Now over a week later, I'm heading home in the morning.  Living in the city, however brief, was quite an experience.  I learned that snow in NYC is beautiful when it's falling and almost instantaneously turns to grey mush as soon as it hits the ground.  I learned that the subway is the best way to travel and super easy to soon as you figure out the difference between the uptown and downtown sides of the street.  Most importantly for me, I learned it's not a place I really want to live.  It's crowded, it's noisy and it's super expensive.  Years ago, I thought about moving to NYC pretty seriously and, obviously I still was considering it now.  However, it's not going to happen.  I'm not built for the big city.
Now it's time to go home, to both my big and little baby, and stay there for more than four days...hopefully! 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Back in the USA!

After nearly four months and 25 hours of a LONG traveling day, the fam and I made it back to the states!  Happy dance!  Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have traded the experience I got oversees for anything...but nothing compares to sleeping in your own bed!  I will admit that I had a mild panic attack in seeing all the toys and space we had to come home to.  Being made to live more simply for a long period of time really puts things into perspective as far as what you truly need and don't need.  I see a major spring cleaning coming to the Jones household...soon...but not just yet.

With only four days to spend in the land of sweet tea (GOD did I miss that!), I'm off once again.  This time, sans the  This next mini-adventure will consist of eleven days spent between Boston and New York City.  Excited?  Yes.  Thrilled about packing up and getting back on another airplane?  NO!  Either I go. 

First stop, Boston.  Technically, Cambridge.  I spent two days here staging in a restaurant called Craigie on Main.  For those of you who don't know, a stage is technically a working interview in a restaurant and, typically, the last step in the hiring process.  After all, in a business like this, it's pretty much necessary to try someone out before you bring them in.  Anyone can make their resume sound good.  Not every one can hack it in the kitchen.

Why here?  First, a little background.  I first heard of this restaurant back in March when the hubs and I were planning our fifth anniversary trip to Boston.  We got engaged in Boston and thought it would be fun to go back.  We had the pleasure of eating there during our trip.  It was amazing, and I was hooked.  The executive chef and owner, Tony Maws won a James Beard Award in 2011 for Best Chef Northeast (one of the many acclaims he's had during his career).  For those of you outside the culinary world who don't know what this is...think of it as the Oscar's for cooking...yep...he's bad ass.  One of my culinary instructors at the time found out I went there and gave me the book "Back of the House" to read.  It chronicles a year in which the author spent shadowing Tony and all the other team members at Craigie.  The whole time I was reading it, I couldn't help but think how this place sounded like it would be a wonderful fit for me.  So...I submitted my resume complete with a cover letter only an adoring fan could have written, never expecting to hear anything back.  BUT...I did!   And after months of emails, phone tag and actual conversation, I had my time staging at Craigie!

My two days there were nothing short of amazing.  The team worked like a well oiled machine.  Everyone helped everyone and everyone's back.  I've never seen an entire group of cooks work like this team worked.  During service the first day, I spent time watching the guys on the meat station keeping pace with the ever calling orders, time with the fish guys and track of the tickets.  My biggest job here was pulling the pig's heads and bone marrow out of the oven, dropping the ribs in the fryer and basically trying to stay out of the way.  Later in service I had a chance to go over to garde manger and plate up amuse bouche for the last 10 or so tables.  The second night, I spent downstairs plating desserts.  I had a prep list just like everyone else.  I came to the meetings and reported on my progress, like everyone else.  I made mistakes, just like everyone else.  And I had a blast.  Both nights when things came to a close, I got the chance to sit down, have some dinner and talk about my experiences with one of the chefs.  Here's the yummies they had for me..

And here's some of the yummies I got to make for the guests...

Next stop...New York City...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Do's and Dont's of Dublin

Our last week in Ireland was spent in Dublin.  In total, this is the third time I've been to Dublin but the first time I was there for more than two days with the chance to properly explore the city.  Thanks to the help of a very friendly waitress in Cork, we had a long list of things we wanted to do.  So here are my tips for the dos and don'ts of exploring the capital city.

DO go on a "drinking tour"......DON'T do it all in one day

Dublin is home to not one but two of the most well known names in alcohol, Guinness and Jameson.  Both factories are incredible and worth a visit.

Guinness - Whether you are a fan of the dark brew or not, the Guinness factory is a must see.  Guinness, which also owns Harp and Smithwicks, is still brewed in Dublin just as it has been since 1759.  The actual brewery itself is closed to the public, since it would be very dangerous to have people touring such a large facility.  However, the Guinness Storehouse is open for guests daily.  The seven story storehouse takes you through the brewing process, the history of Arthur Guinness and the 9,000 year lease on the factory as well as providing guests with a tasting experience or teaching you how to pour the perfect pint.  Exploring each floor is self guided, though there are audio guides available, and takes some time.  Don't put yourself on a time limit here.  There are so many interesting facts found within.

Jameson - Although Jameson, along with Middleton and Powers (my personal favorite), are now brewed and distilled in the town of Middleton just outside of Cork, one of the original factory buildings still stands in Dublin and provides a wonderful guided tour with all the information you wanted to know on the whiskey, how it's made and the history of the company.  John Jameson started the distillery in 1780 when he came to Ireland from Scotland...yes, the man responsible for perhaps the most well known Irish whiskey in the world is Scottish.  The informative tour ends with a tasting of Jameson and, if you're one of the lucky few, a comparison taste to a Scotch and American bourbon.  I got to participate in that part of the tour and was fascinated of the differences of the drinks side by side.  I mean, it's a hard job whiskey tasting, but someone's got to do it!


DO go see a traditional music and dance show......DON'T eat the food

Ok, so this may not be the case with every place, but I'll give you our experience.  We bought tickets for the "Irish Nights" show at the Arlington Hotel.  The dancers were amazing and the musicians even better.  The lil one and I even got picked to come dance up on stage at the end of the evening.  The only draw back was the food.  As with most "dinner shows" more focus is put into the entertainment than the food.  That was the case here.  So, if you find yourself wanting to enjoy a wonderful show without a ticket price and an underwhelming dinner, I have a trick for you...sit at the bar.  There was a fair amount of seats at the bar where people enjoyed their drinks along with the show.  That would definitely been the way to go!

DO go eat some traditional fare......DON'T let the crowds fool you

Has anyone ever told you when you are traveling never to eat anywhere that isn't busy?  Yep, I've heard that too.  But some of the best traditional food we had in Ireland was in places where there weren't many people eating...they were all drinking.  We found such luck at a little pub called The Celt.  There were a few people eating, but more were bellied up to the bar for a pint than ordering off the menu.  Food here was delicious, the owner was inviting and we happened upon some wonderful Irish music before we left.  There is a more upscale restaurant next to it as well as a B&B if your looking for a little more than a pint and some Bangers and Mash.

DO have a drink in Temple Bar......DON'T spend all night there

If you've never been to Dublin, you have to check out Temple Bar at least once.  Every cabbie and local will probably tell you to avoid this area, that it's a tourist trap.  They are partially right.  BUT, it is a good tourist trap if you want to have one or two drinks.  You can find some good music here too, but the pints are pricy, so don't hang out for too long unless you can afford the steeper credit card bill at the end of the night.

DO go to several museums and churches......DON'T go to Dublin Castle (and expect to see a castle)

Ireland is full of history and full of museums.  Make sure to check out as many as you can without over doing it.  Many people see that Dublin has a castle and immediately want to check that out.  My advice, don't waste your time, you will be disappointed.  There is only one small tower left from the original castle, so to say it's underwhelming is an understatement.  With all the other sites of Dublin to explore, I wouldn't choose this one.  Here are my highlights for you.

The Leprechaun Museum - This would be a good time whether you have kids of not.  It's a storytelling museum where your guide takes you through the history and myths that fill Irish folklore.  At one point, you even get to be the size of a leprechaun in a giant's house.  If you're here without the kiddos, visit at night and hear the darker side of the legends and even get to participate in the stories yourself.

Liberty College and The Book of Kells - If you enjoy history at all, this is a must for your visit to Dublin.  The Book of Kells is a beautifully written and illustrated manuscript of the four gospels dating all the way back to 800.  After exploring the history as well as the book itself, you pop out in a fantastic library called the Long Room.  Definitely worth a look!

Saint Patrick's Cathedral - First constructed in 1191, this Cathedral is the only one we visited in our entire trip that wasn't Catholic.  It is actually an active Protestant church.  Beautiful inside and out, the lil one called the Cathedrals castles themselves.  It's open to the public and has daily services.  They do ask that no pictures be taken during worship, and strongly suggest coming back for a visit once the service has concluded.  It got me thinking.  With all the churches and cathedrals we have visited, if you are an active member, can you have your wedding here?  It would interesting to know that all it takes to get married in Norte Dame or St. Patrick's is a good attendance during church...however, I think there's probably more to it than that!

After nearly four months away, it's time to head home...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


It's about time to get back to the business of a good ole food blog!  I know the title sounds like it's going to be about wine...but it's the only play on words I had.  And besides, Ireland is all about beer and cider, not wine.

For New Year's week this year, the family and I were in Cork.  This was the first time I've been to this lovely city.  If you ever get a chance to visit Ireland, put this gem on your list of places to visit.  It's also close enough to little towns like Kinsale and Blarney to do a nice little day trip.  So today I give you the yummy places to eat while you are there!

Best Breakfast - Liberty Grill

This little gem has only been open on the weekends for about a year or so and already they are doing more than enough business to justify the extra hours.  In fact, I think this place is so well known they could probably be open around the clock and still have customers, but who wants to do that right?!?  The Eggs Benedict melt in your mouth and my lil one devoured her "pancakes" (or crepes) as fast as I could cut them up.  The Irish tea here is spot on, but more than that, they actually make a good cup of coffee.  Not espresso, not latte, coffee.  Very hard to find!

Best "Non-Irish" Cuisine - Crystal Inn Chinese Restaurant

While there are some really good pubs serving really good bar food all over Cork, and Ireland for that matter, there comes a time when you want something different.  This place was just down from our hotel so we decided to give it a try.  Really glad we did too!  The menu here has a variety of Chinese dishes as well as some basic sushi and a very attractive looking Bento box.  I got a roasted duck lo mein that was one of the best noodle dishes I've ever had.  Don't be surprised if you make a few friends while you are here too.  There are only a few actual tables.  Since those were all booked, we sat at one of the community tables which is just a long table with benches on either side.  We met a lovely Irish man in town visiting a friend, who the lil one immediately began to call grandpa, and a group of Malaysian students who were down from studying in Belfast.  Either way, the food and the company are quite nice!

Best Burger - Gourmet Burger Bistro

If you like burgers, then you'll love this place!  And if you don't like burgers, this place will either convert you...or what am I saying...who doesn't like burgers?!?  Anything you can think to put on a burger, they will put on a burger.  Each one ever has a certain "country" flare complete with the flag from that country holding your burger together.  I got "The Vampire" a wonderful burger topped with sautéed mushrooms and a wonderful garlic mayonnaise.  The hubs got the "Full Irish" which comes complete topped with bacon, black pudding and a fried egg.  If you're not feeling a burger, they had great looking salads as well as some chicken dishes.  I overheard our waitress was from Dublin, and she was nice enough to send us an email full of suggestions for exploring Dublin (stay tuned!)

Best Place for a Quiet Drink - The Mutton Lane

We stumbled upon this place coming out of the English Market.  If you are staying in a place and capable of cooking your own food, make sure to hit up the English Market for some of the best produce and protein in Ireland.  You can also find some interesting cheeses and spreads along with something good to wash it down with.

Mutton Lane is a small pub located just outside the English market.  It was so named since the alley in which it is located is where they used to bring the lambs to market to be slaughtered and sold.  A bit of a gristly tale, but the history of the pub is evident and the drinks are served up cold and quickly.

One week more in Ireland.  Stay tuned for some exploration of the country's capital city...