Category Archives: Drinking

Oh my, Malai!

I won’t bore you by waxing philosophical about brunch. If you’ve read this blog even once before, you know it induces a tiny o for me. Courtesy of my fashionable friend and former colleague, NB, Malai Kitchen in the West Village is now at the top of my brunch list.

Malai Kitchen is in the location where Tom Tom Noodle House used to be. Tom Tom had been an okay place for food – better for beverages, especially their coffee drinks – but Malai is definitely a welcome replacement.

Saturday morning – NYE day – I found myself on the patio, enjoying a mimosa and pondering what to choose from the short, but well-curated brunch menu. For me, it was a toss-up between the Banh Mi French Toast (they had me at flambeed bananas) and the Thai Eggs Benedict. To complement my sweet mimosa, I opted for the more savory of the two dishes.

Malai’s version of eggs benedict features coconut biscuits topped with spinach, Thai basil, shrimp and poached eggs with a Thai chili hollandaise. If that wasn’t enough, it was paired with a green-curry rice prepared in the style of cheese grits. I’ll give you a moment to marinate on all of that.

*It’s okay…keep thinking*

*I’ll give you another second*

*Wipe your mouth, you’re drooling*

The biscuits had just a slight hint of sweetness that proved to be a nice contrast to the heat from the hollandaise sauce. The creaminess of the poached eggs was nice with the texture of the shrimp and the basil provided a nice note and some additional texture.

Then the faux grits – heretofore referred to as “grits” – oh the “grits”! Spicy with green curry and a bit of sriracha. Despite the fact that they were just slightly too spicy for my palate, I couldn’t stop eating them. So delicious. And, the mimosas were just the thing to douse the fire that occurred in my mouth. I love that mimosas can be multi-purpose.

Malai serves its brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. The patio is great – especially right now while it is still warm and sunny in Dallas – and I have it on very good authority that lunch and dinner are just as satisfying as brunch. I plan to find out for myself quite soon.

Spicy deliciousness

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Date night on Henderson

October was a month of many dining experiences across the country. Vegas. NYC. Tennessee. Chicago. In the midst of them all, the hubster and I managed to carve out a night to dine at Hibiscus here in Dallas. He was already a fan, having dined there on numerous occasions with colleagues. I, however, was a newbie…which was embarrassing enough seeing as how Hibiscus isn’t new to Dallas (and after almost nine years, neither am I).

We arrive and are escorted by some of the nicest hosts I’ve ever met to a cozy booth near the front of the restaurant. Great view of the whole place. The whole place just feels warm and comfortable. Clearly upscale but not pretentious. Ahhhh…an oasis in this jungle that is Dallas.

More crab than cake. Perfect.

Jumbo lump crab cake to start. Served with avocado, tomato and greens. Simply prepared and nicely cooked. Was it the most special crab cake ever? Not really, but the ingredients were fresh and the dish wasn’t overdone. Most importantly, there was enough for us to share, so we didn’t have to argue over who got the last bit, as often happens when you get a crab cake appetizer made up of multiple small cakes. I have mentioned that I like to eat, right?

Taters and shrooms

Hub went with a steak for his entree. Put that guy within five miles of a steak and he will sniff it out, have it prepared to a medium rare and take it down with a side of whipped mashed potatoes and roasted wild mushrooms.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Scallops

Me? Well, clearly I have a refined palate (okay, not really, but it is certainly something to shoot for). I opted for the dayboat scallops, which were served with corn, tomatoes and…BACON. Yes, that wonderful, salty, indulgent pork product. It really does make everything better. And to think, I’d been missing out on this for most of my childhood. Good thing I’m making up for it now.The scallops were perfectly cooked. The corn mirrored the slight sweetness of the scallops nicely. And the saltiness of the bacon was a great contrast. Happy tummy. Happy girl.

But date night isn’t date night without dessert. Get your head out of the gutter – I’m talking about dessert of the food variety. Anything else would totally change the nature of this blog. Normally, we would order one dessert and split it. In this case, we were jonesing for different items, so we splurged and each got a dessert. Ice box pie for the hub – with crushed Butterfingers, vanilla ice cream, oreo cookie crust and chocolate ganache. So delicious that he ate the whole thing. And Hibiscus doesn’t skimp on the dessert portions.

Apple, walnut and lavender foodgasm

This girl had the sour cream apple pie, topped with walnut crumble and lavender ice cream. This dish comes all bubbly and hot. If only I’d had the stomach space to shovel the entire skillet of goodness into my person. Alas, I did not. I do wish that I could buy a tub of their lavender ice cream though. Wow.

For once, the drinks didn’t have a starring role in the evening. They were good – hubster started out with one of their signature cocktails – a gin-based drink that seemed to make him quite happy. To accompany the entrees, I selected a half bottle of a Patz & Hall Pinot Noir. Opted for something reliable, that we know well. The kicker was that the waiter ended up bringing us a normal sized bottle. We ended up taking home the rest of the bottle as a souvenir. It’s nice when you’re given a gift that keeps on giving. Now if only I could have figured out how to box up the rest of that apple pie…

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Viva Botero

You know those snobs…those bastards…who like to think of food as bordering on art? I’m one of them. Go ahead and laugh/curse/snort/whatever. I’ll wait.

Okay. Hope you got that out of your system. Since I find that food and wine can be a means for expression as much as dance, music, paintings and the like (it is called the culinary arts, after all), I’m especially a sucker for a restaurant whose concept fuses art and fine cuisine. Which is why I was thrilled to end up at Botero inside the Encore in Las Vegas.  

Side note: I find very little to be liked about Vegas, but there are so many great restaurants in a concentrated space, the thought of it triggers a mouthgasm for me.

Anyway, Botero is named for the Colombian artist, Fernando Botero, who is famous for his paintings of exaggerated (read: fat) figures. Original works hang throughout the restaurant. And, with the menu from Chef Mark LoRusso, fat is how you will feel upon exiting this restaurant.

My Botero experience began at the bar with a much-needed Manhattan after a long day. I should mention, I was in Las Vegas for work, not play. So, this drink was purely for sanity. Upon being seated, having been the one who made the reservation, I was presented with the wine list….er…wine binder. The list was an oenophile’s playground. All the stars are there. Everything from Napa favorites like Screaming Eagle to French Grand Crus that I’ll never be able to afford like Petrus, Haut-Brion and Rothschild. As I wisfully perused the list, I opted for two distinctly different cabernet sauvignons for the table. One from Pride Mountain Vineyards. The other from D.R. Stephens. We went with the Pride first, as it was a bit lighter. The Stephens was saved to accompany the steaks that would come later in the meal.

Caprese

To start off  the meal, I went for the heirloom tomato caprese salad. A good caprese salad can turn any day around. The tomatoes were beautifully unfussy – simply dressed with oil, salt and pepper and a slight drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Accompanied by pillowy buffalo mozzerella, fresh basil and microgreens, it was a light and fresh way to lead into the main course.

It is at this juncture that I should mention I could have made an entire meal out of the side items offered at Botero. They got my attention with jalapeno creamed corn. Made me drool at the thought of goat cheese polenta. And won me with the truffle mac n cheese. Had I not been with work associates – some of whom I was seeing face-to-face for the first time – I may have just buried myself in the mac n cheese and eaten my way out. But alas, I had to behave like a proper adult.

As it relates to steak, I’m a very simple, predictable girl. Petite filet for me. It is generally about the maximum amount of cow I can consume in one sitting and the cut is just so tender. And, when in the hands of a pro, it genuinely is a little slice of heaven.

Oh the carnage!

Botero’s petite filet is 8 oz. of greatness. Wonderfully crisp on the outside and beautifully pink – when ordered medium – on the inside.  All of Botero’s steaks can be ordered one of three ways – traditional, pepper or chimichurri. I’m a sucker for a good chimichurri sauce, so I went for it.

When the ingredients are this high-quality, very little additional accoutrement is needed. Props to Botero for high standards. As a diner, you’ll appreciate it. And you should, because you’re paying for it. The petite filet all by itself costs $50. But, it’s Vegas, right?

In the photo – note the bit of truffle mac n cheese that the upper right of the plate. I kept myself to 2 helpings of that size. Nothing short of a miracle.

You might be thinking to yourself, that must be the end of the meal, right? Who could keep eating after all of that? Answer: me.

Enter the dessert menu. I was craving something chocolate to go with the remaining bit of D.R. Stephens cabernet gracing my glass. The wine was velvety smooth, with nice tannins and balanced fruit. Who wouldn’t want some chocolate to go with it? I opted for the milk chocolate bon bon lollipops. It was great for sharing with my companions, not super heavy like a chocolate cake or torte would be, and featured vanilla bean ice cream as one of its main ingredients. Alas, no photo, as the group dug in pretty quickly and the camera phone got caught in the crossfire.

I thoroughly enjoyed this restaurant. Respectful treatment for great ingredients is always a quick way to my heart – via my stomach, of course. I likely couldn’t afford to eat at Botero on my own dime unless I saved up for quite some time (options for wine are few under $200), but it is certainly a worthwhile spend if you’re in Vegas and looking for a special dining experience. Of course, at a restaurant of this caliber, the service was quite good as well. So, next time you find yourself winning in Vegas, take that first $500 of your winnings, set it aside, and enjoy a night at Botero. I assure you it will be far more enjoyable than watching the dealer take your money, because the house usually wins, no?

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Let me eat cake

I love dessert. Love. Love. Love. Have I mentioned I love dessert?

After dinner with friends – thank you mushroom ravioli with chicken, artichokes, spinach and creamy marinara – I asked the good people at Kathleen’s Sky Diner for my dessert options. Now, I like any place that brings me a multi-tiered display of cake choices. Even better when they say these magical words:

“Someone else ordered a slice of double fudge cake to-go and left it here. I can give it to you for free if you want it.”

Excuse me, free dessert?

Um….yes please!!!!

My slice of double fudge cake and I came home. After getting to know each other for a bit, we decided to open a bottle of wine. The mood was right, so we went for it. Enter a bottle of 2005 Licorella, a Spanish red wine produced by Cellers Unio and imported by Miller Squared, Inc., out of Buffalo Grove, IL.

On its own, the wine is just okay. I’d drink it on a random night (it is Wednesday after all) but knowing what I know now, it requires chocolate. The cake itself was rich and smooth. Moist cake with icing that was sweet, yet restrained. Add the wine, and you ended up with hints of cinnamon that weren’t in either component, yet appeared when the two were combined.

A beautiful marriage was made tonight. In my mouth. Make one happen for you. Your taste buds will thank you…even if your hips don’t.

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They named a drink for me

The folks at Tillman’s Roadhouse in the Bishop Arts District were awesome enough to name a specialty cocktail the Sassy Sara. Now, obviously this wasn’t actually named for me (note the absence of the ‘h’ at the end). However, the bartender offered to tell people they really meant it for me when we were there last weekend celebrating Robin’s 30th birthday. So, thanks sir. Appreciate you identifying my inherent sass upon our first meeting. Must have been the fact that I was a chick ordering Bourbon.

Nom nom nom nom

After an annoying wait, despite having a reservation (this seems to be a theme for me lately), our group of six sophisticated ladies were seated. There are many things I love about Tillman’s: they call their brunch “Blunch”, their servers wear plaid shirts, the private room in back is gorgeous, s’mores are on the menu, and they start your meal with a bowl of truffled popcorn. Yes. Popcorn drizzled with truffle oil. It takes everything I have in me not to pick up the bowl once all of the corn has been devoured and let the remaining truffle oil drip into my mouth. But as mentioned previously, I’m trying to be a sophisticated lady.

Time to order wine. The generous gals at the table send the wine list over to me to make a selection. As the biggest wino of the group, it is always my pleasure to peruse a restaurant’s wine list and (more often than not) pick something none of us has tried before. On this particular evening, I opted for the Innisfree Cabernet Sauvignon from Joseph Phelps Vineyards. I’d never tried this wine before – but I have warm feelings about others that I’ve tried from JPV, so I assumed this would be pleasing as well. Fortunately, my intuition was right on this one. The year 2006 isn’t as talked about as 2005 as it relates to Cabernets coming out of the Napa Valley (the growing season started a bit late), but I’ve had some pretty tremendous 2006s and this was no exception. The fruit was nice and balanced, with relatively smooth tannins (next time I’d decant) and it paired nicely with the delicious burger I was to have later in my meal. And at just $66 on the wine list – a rather good buy as well.

Heirloom tomato salad

As mentioned in previous posts, Robin and I are forever on the hunt for the world’s best fried green tomatoes (FGTs). But really, we love tomatoes in nearly all their forms. Which is why, when it is this time of year and an heirloom tomato salad is on the menu, we order it. And in the case of Tillman’s version, they go a step further to fully win my heart by incorporating grits into the dish. The photo doesn’t really do it justice due to overexposure, but the tomatoes were incredibly ripe, fresh and delicious, dressed simply with oil, salt and pepper. The accompaniment of baby arugula had just enough zip to it to help balance the creamy, coffee-enhanced grits. Again, I had to remind myself “sophisticated lady” so as not to pick up the plate and lick any remaining bits before they cleared for the next course.

Which brings me to the second-most gluttonous part of my evening. I haven’t mentioned the first? That’s right – because dessert was the most gluttonous. Keep your pants on. I’ll get there. Anyway – for my main course, I elected to go with the 7th Street Burger – Tillman’s creation of wagyu beef, goat gouda, jalapeno aioli, baby arugula, tobacco-fried onions…all on a challah bun. I think I just had a tiny o writing about it. So imagine my reaction when this beefy masterpiece landed in front of me.

I even hid my tots from you in the picture.

And let’s not forget the side of tater tots that came with it. You may be thinking, “tater tots? really?” Yes, really. Much like the popcorn starter, these tots have been grown-upified. Tillman’s adds chevre and truffle butter to its version, which has a crispy exterior and a creamy, mashed potato-like interior. These are not for sharing, friends. When you order them, keep every last one for yourself. Just remember to go to the gym the next day.

With my belly full of indulgent animal products, it was time for dessert. I may be relatively small in stature, but this girl loves to eat. Plus, if you’re headed to this Oak Cliff gem for dinner, you would absolutely be remiss in not ordering their tableside s’mores. This dessert is meant to be shared family-style, as they bring you a long board with three types of marshmallows, homemade graham crackers and chocolate. Oh, and a giant flame at one end. Each person at the table gets a skewer for roasting the marshmallow of his/her choice – choose from coffee, orange or caramel – then you grab your cinnamon graham and piece of chocolate and let the gooey, melty party commence in your mouth.

Like Girl Scout camp, only fancier.

Now look, I love desserts in all their forms. And I have yet to meet a s’more I don’t like. But since this blog is about having an opinion, here it is. If I were to attempt to improving upon this nearly-perfect dish, I’d first opt for a slightly thicker graham cracker. The thin, crispy style is nice, but doesn’t really hold up well enough to the marshmallows and chocolate, given their size. A slightly thicker base and greater crunch ratio would be helpful for the overall texture and handling of the dish. Next, the chocolate. I realize milk chocolate melts better, but given the strong flavors of the marshmallows, dark chocolate may prove to be a better foil. Finally – the flavor profiles in each of the marshmallows (yes, I tried all 3) were spot on, but the size/shape/consistency of the caramel ones is different from the others and is a bit tougher to handle over the flame. But in the end, this sophisticated lady sucked it up and ate that particular marshmallow right off the skewer.

All in all, a great night. Robin was serenaded by the staff and received a special birthday treat. Many glasses of wine and specialty cocktails were consumed. And we all left with full, happy bellies. So, here’s to #30  Robin. Looking forward to our next decade of dining adventures.

 

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Just a little nosh

I’d waited and waited…a restaurant called Nosh. It was like the mother ship calling me home. I mean, that might have been one of the most-used words of my childhood. Every Sunday when we would go to my Zada’s, his wife would always ask if I wanted a “little nosh” even if we had just eaten dinner. I think I was being punished for being thin.

Fast forward – and I’d seen the restaurant Nosh a couple of doors down from my regular salon. And, I knew it as the former location of Aurora. Add to that, my gal Robin had been there before and raved about the short ribs…I was in.

So my gal pals and I make a reservation for 8:45pm. Thanks Open Table for getting us in. We arrive a couple of minutes early and are told we’ll need to wait at the bar for a few minutes. After dodging servers, we land a couple of stools at the bar. Thanks to the cute bartender Moses (actual first name, Aaron), we were able to enjoy a cocktail to accompany our wait. After gossip and questions about Moses’ tattoos…we realized that it had been an inordinate amount of time since we’d arrived. Thus – it was time for a second drink.

It was also about this time that I started asking for freebies from the hostess. I mean – what’s the point of a reservation if you are going to end up waiting an hour for a table, right? I manage to score us some free hummus…despite the hostess’ protestations that she was likely to get in trouble for comping us something if management found out. Really? Perhaps I should have told her up front about my blog and maybe they might have been more accommodating. Surely the avoidance of a scathing review is worth a plate of so-so hummus. Did I mention that we got charged for all of our drinks too?

I guess I should note – we could have been seated sooner had we been willing to settle for spots at either the food bar that overlooks the kitchen (would have forced the 3 of us to sit side-by-side which doesn’t really facilitate conversation plus it was about 110 degrees there) or at a high-top in the bar. At that point, it was a matter of principle. I made a reservation – I expect a proper table.

And after an hour and five minutes, we received that proper table. We were assured by the hostess (whom, by now, I shouldn’t trust) that our waiter was awesome. Let’s put it this way – he was so the opposite of awesome, it wasn’t worth it to me to remember his name for this post. Plus, the only time his name was ever mentioned was when the hostess said it; he didn’t even bother introducing himself when he greeted our table. We should have left and headed for the Jack in the Box drive through immediately. But…it turns out that we’re gluttons for punishment.

There are FGTs under there somewhere

We order their special appetizer of the evening – fried green tomatoes (FGTs). Robin and I are, after all, on the prowl for the best fried green tomatoes. These were pretty tasty and were different from others I’ve had. This one was almost a fusion of traditional FGTs and a caprese salad, given the addition of fresh mozzarella on top. Either way, it beat the hummus, but still doesn’t measure up to the FGTs at Hattie’s or Screen Door.

Get ready for the most grievous offense of the evening. You ready? I already know that I’m going for the short ribs. I mean, they’re accompanied by cheddar grits. Done and done. Jennifer is thinking scallops or tuna but hears the siren song of the cheddar and bacon potatoes that accompany the beef tenderloin medallions. What’s a girl to do? Ask for a substitution, of course. What is our no-name waiter’s response to this seemingly small request? “I’m not going to be the one to ask for that.” Seriously? Seriously.

Now, I can’t help myself. So of course I ask, “Aw…is there a little bit of strife between the wait staff and the kitchen tonight?” At this juncture, NNW backpedals a bit and notes that the menu kindly requests no substitutions but reiterates his original statement. What’s that sound? The sound of your tip dropping exponentially.

Braised short ribs and GRITS!!

After all of this, you’re probably wondering…what about the food? Well, the short ribs were good, but inconsistently cooked. I had one that just melted and fell apart just as any good braised short rib should. Then I had another that was crazily tough. Perhaps this particular guy didn’t get his fair share of the braising liquid, I don’t know. Had the texture been consistent, my reviews would have been better, despite my irritated mood. The grits kicked ass. So, at least there was that. The rest of the table seemed to enjoy their food as well – yet I didn’t see anyone whipping out pen and paper…er…I mean, their iPhones – to write home about it.

Lest I forget. Midway through our meal, we see a girl at the table next to us get the tenderloin medallions with a side of those delicious potatoes. One look and Jennifer decides she just has to have them, so we order a side a la carte. Note – the kitchen staff is far more generous with the side items when they accompany an entree than they are when you actually pay the a la carte price and order them solo. At least, this is the case with the potatoes.

Tiny pot o' potatoes.

We had dessert – but it isn’t really worth mentioning. It was chocolatey. It was tasty. It wasn’t memorable. The pecan pie I currently have baking excites me more, to be quite honest. That’s a big statement, actually, because there isn’t even the least bit of chocolate in said pie.

All in all, what’s my official verdict? I’m sure Nosh is a perfectly lovely restaurant on a Tuesday night when there is a steady flow of customers but the place isn’t bustling. The food is solid – not terribly creative – but everything was properly seasoned and (aside from my lone short rib) cooked quite well. But on a busy Saturday night, avoid it at all costs. The shoddy service will overshadow the food. At least, it did for me. Saving grace? The girls and I wanted to debrief and vent about our experience, so it gave us an excuse to go out for drinks after. To the guy we met at Marquee Grill in Highland Park Village: I’m still waiting on the bottle of Pappy Van Winkle you promised. Chop chop.

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Steak Tuesday

At one point, the hubster and I had tried to start a tradition of having steak every Sunday, affectionately (and creatively) known as Steak Sunday.

Now that you’ve recovered from the awesomeness of the name, I’ll tell you that it didn’t last very long. Getting the grill going and all that jazz proved to be too much for some lazy Sundays. So, imagine my surprise when the hubster offered to grill steaks tonight. Whee!! I think it might have had something to do with the fact that I was mowing the lawn this evening. Maybe it was guilt steak. But who cares?

Tuesday night deliciousness

Ribeye seasoned with just salt and pepper, cooked on the grill to a medium rare, paired with broccolini and potatoes. So simple and yet, so delicious. And, incredibly indulgent for a weeknight. The fact is, it didn’t really take all that long. Granted, Mike is a whiz when it comes to doing his mis en place (fancy term for having everything prepped and ready to go prior to cooking), so things tend to happen in a more timely manner for him. But , the steaks only took about eight minutes to cook and then took a few minutes to rest. I think the longest part might have just been getting the coals going.

*checking to verify that was the case* 

Yep – that was the most time consuming part. Not too shabby, huh? 

Now, if you’re like me, the thought of standing in front of a grill during a Texas summer heat wave sounds about as appealing as clawing out your left eye. So, if you’re not a heat-seeker like the hubster, you can totally make this meal from the comfort of your air-conditioned kitchen. Sear the steaks in a pan on the stovetop first then finish them off in the oven to achieve the desired doneness and maintain juiciness. Oven-roast the potatoes and saute or steam the broccolini, and you’ll end up with a similar result, minus the smoky flavor. 

Pronounced "who" not "ho"

Paired with tonight’s dinner, for once, was not wine. Largely because, few things are as satisfying on a hot day (especially after mowing and trimming the lawn) as an ice cold beer. On the menu tonight, one of my all-time favorites: Hoegaarden. A Belgian-style wheat beer, with citrusy and zesty notes. Pale and cloudy in appearance, it has a light flavor and, for me, pretty much goes with anything. It has been my summer beer of choice for some time now. If you like Blue Moon, but sometimes wish it was a bit lighter (as I often do if I’m in for a marathon evening), then this is an excellent alternative

Good thing I hit the gym last night and yoga tonight, because now I can end the evening with some mint chocolate chip ice cream. So, if someone asks me how today was, my answer will most definitely be, “delicious.”

By the way – the dogs even got some leftover steak bits. This is what Gryf looked like throughout the entire meal: one ear inside out staring at both plates, anxiously awaiting the inevitable. According to all of the chop-licking and tail-wagging that occurred, I think he liked the dinner too.

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