Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the category “Restaurant Reviews”

Gluten-free cookies that actually taste like…cookies! — The Butterfly Bakery review

Anyone who reads my blog on semi-regular basis knows that my mom is gluten-free by way of Celiac disease. We don’t keep an entirely gluten-free household, but she keeps plenty of gluten-free alternatives for herself, and she’s always looking for new ones to try. (Because, believe it or not, many gluten-free baked goods aren’t so, well, good.) I also often make sure if I’m cooking or preparing food that it’s either entirely gluten-free or easily adaptable for her.

So, needless to say, we were both totally excited when the Butterfly Bakery in Clifton, NJ, contacted me about sampling and reviewing some of their gluten-free baked goods.

Funnily enough, the Butterfly Bakery started out of owner Brenda Isaac’s desire to create tasty baked goods for her dietary-restricted mother. Isaac’s mother was a diabetic, so she started experimenting with sugar-free baked goods in 1998. Fourteen years later, the Butterfly Bakery now has multiple lines that include gluten-free, no sugar added and 100% whole grain.

Naturally, the question on everyone’s mind is…gluten free baked goods? So how do they taste? Well, not half bad! The Butterfly Bakery sent me a package of chocolate chip cookies and a package of blueberry mini muffins to taste. When they arrived, it was clear they did not hold up to shipping well–some of the cookies had started to crumble and a couple of the muffin tops had separated from the base. Otherwise, though, they were in decent shape (as in, not a package of crumbs.)

See? Only the top couple of cookies took the brunt of the damage. (This is how they arrived.)

Luckily, they tasted better than they looked. Of course, as soon as the package arrived, Mom and I dug right in. It was like Celiac Christmas. The cookies actually had a really nice nutty, almondy flavor, though they were nut-free. (Most likely, the flavor came from the brown sugar or the Teff flour in the recipe–more on that in a minute.) I was, admittedly, surprised by how addictive these cookies were! The downside, though, was the texture.  The crumbling in the package was not a one-time fluke. They had a really nice flavor, but they were too messy to eat. We literally stood over the sink as we nibbled on them to catch the crumbs. Perhaps the recipe could benefit from some kind of extra binder, like honey or molasses. Then again, maybe it’s a trade-off for the freshness. (Many packaged gluten-free cookies are more processed; these are pretty much oven-to-door.) And if that’s the case, I can handle that.

Some of the tops were dented, while a couple (like the one down in front) were totally separated. But really, the top’s the best part of the muffin anyway, so it’s kind of like they were doing the dirty work for us!

Fun discovery: the cookies actually benefit from refrigeration. Instead of leaving them out on the counter, we refrigerated them (also instead of just eating the whole batch.) When I ate another one after it had been in the fridge overnight, it held together much better and was much easier (and even tastier!) to eat. So fridge=happy gluten-free cookies. The flavors were more pronounced, and the overall cookie had a better, chewier bite.

I wasn’t quite as enamored with the muffins. They looked just like any other packaged blueberry mini muffins you’d buy at the store (minus the shifting tops), but the texture was a bit more…off. The muffins were grainier and grittier than a regular wheat-based muffin and, like the cookies, fell apart easily. These were more obviously gluten-free. That being said, they were still chewy and sweet and tasted like a blueberry muffin. I wouldn’t buy them over regular muffins, but they’re still a solid option for those who maintain a gluten-free diet. My mom liked them enough to finish off the package while I was on vacation. I have a feeling they became more than a couple breakfasts.

So…their secret to gluten-free baking? They use teff flour, a flour ground from an Ethiopian grain similar to quinoa or millet.  Both the light and dark varieties of teff have a nutty flavor: the white teff has a chestnut-like flavor while the darker teff can have an almost hazelnut-like flavor. (And there we may have some of the nutty flavor in the cookies!)

Teff has 14% more protein than normal wheat flour and is full of other nutrients like potassium, vitamin B, iron, thiamin and calcium. It is also high in fiber and naturally gluten-free.

Both the tub of 13 chocolate chip cookies and the package of 12 mini muffins retail for $5.99 at the Butterfly Bakery web site. You can also buy Butterfly Bakery products in grocery and specialty stores nationwide or on Amazon.com. The coolest part? The Butterfly Bakery has a request form on their site than you can print and fill out to take to your local grocery store’s bakery department to request they carry Butterfly Bakery products!

Now I’m not going to say these are health foods. They are still cookies and muffins (which have an undeserved false “health halo” for what is really an icing-less cupcake.) That being said, for someone with dietary (gluten) restrictions, they’re a great alternative and a way to indulge without having to go for processed or unappetizing substitutes.

I’ll tell you this–they got my mom’s stamp of approval, though she admits it’s been so long since she’s had “real” baked goods that she may not be the best judge. But what’s even better? I couldn’t stop eating those cookies, either! (The muffins? I could take or leave them.) But the cookies definitely get the gluten-free AND the gluten-full (not a word, but now it is!) stamp of approval!

Advertisements

Restaurant Week Chronicles: (the very belated) Part 2

I realize it’s been more than a week since my first Restaurant Week post. And, no, it is no longer Jersey Shore Restaurant Week–I’m belated. But, I capped off my week by going off-the-menu for Restaurant Week at Monticello’s in Red Bank.

Technically, Monticello’s did not participate in Restaurant Week.  However, it was a new restaurant during the course of that week, so I’m going to count it. Also, I needed something to make Part 1 feel complete. (This was supposed to be a three-party series, but we really wanted to go to Tre Amici in Long Branch, but it never worked out–problem after problem! Someone really didn’t want us to go there! Alas, there will be no “Mockingjay” to my “Hunger Games,” and you will have to settle for a duology.)

Anyway, I apologize now because there are no pictures from Monticello’s. Kevin and I went with a big group of friends we did theater with, so between all the catching up there was no time to stop and take photos (well, not of the food anyway.)

Monticello’s is BYOB, which is great and easy on the wallet, considering the menu’s a bit on the pricey side. The best part, though, is that if you bring in a bottle Cabernet, Rioja, Merlot, Zinfandel or Shiraz, they will make it into sangria using their special house recipe. And it is YUMMY! (We brought Shiraz for ours.)

Unfortunately, from a culinary perspective, that was the best part of the meal (aside from the bread, maybe–piping hot and soft!) Otherwise, I’d say the food was okay at best. I’ll be honest, though, I was quite jealous, because while I didn’t enjoy my food much, everyone around me seemed to love theirs. I even sampled a bit of Kevin’s Duck Breast over Papardelle with a rosemary Merlot sauce, and it was superior to mine.

To start, my friend and I split fried calamari. Now, I will preface this with the fact that I am very, very picky about fried calamari. I only recently even started eating it, and I only like it when it is cooked perfectly. Any rubberiness and I’m out. That being said, I found Monticello’s calamari to be tough to chew and a bit rubbery, though the breading and sauce were tasty. (I finished chewing off the breading before I finished the calamari itself though, which was sort of a weird sensation.) My friend, on the other hand, loved it. So, maybe I’m just picky. (Not maybe, I am picky.)

I still had faith in my entrée, though. I was in a simple mood and went for a very basic dish: gnocchi with pesto. I love both of these things, especially a good, bright, herbal pesto.  This pesto wasn’t that. It was creamy (what?) and very garlicky, but had almost none of the fresh bright crispness that I love from pesto. It felt heavy and hot, not cool and light like a pesto should, especially over something as dense as gnocchi. The gnocchi themselves weren’t great, either, and started to feel to mushy as I ate. I couldn’t finish the dish despite the fact that I was still hungry. Not at all what I was expecting.

However, the evening for me (thankfully) was not about the food, but the company. Good friends, good wine and good conversation can make up for even the worst of meals. (Still, a good meal certainly ups the ante!)

I would give Monticello’s another chance, as long as I stay far away from their pesto sauce and fried calamari. Everyone around me raved about their dishes, and they all had larger, heartier entrées. Maybe that’s the secret to Monticello’s–the Chicken Saltimboca over the pasta with sauce. I’d give it another shot, but I’d go in skeptical.

No time for pictures of food, but always time for pictures of friends--our group at Monticello's

 

The Restaurant Week Chronicles, Part 1: Trinity and the Pope

It’s the most wonderful time of year! No, not Christmas–Jersey Shore Restaurant Week!

Seventy restaurants in the shore area are participating this season, offering prix fixe, three-course dinner menus for $20.12 or $30.12.  Needless to say, choosing which one (or ones) to try is a daunting task–I wish it was Restaurant Month!  But, for our first outing, Kevin and I settled on Trinity and the Pope in my favorite town, Asbury Park.

Trinity and the Pope participated in the last Restaurant Week and was high on our list, but we never made it in for dinner. That wasn’t happening again. It’s cuisine is unique to the area–Cajun/creole/New Orleans-inspired. I have very little experience with Cajun cuisine, and though I may have “played it safe” (I don’t like very spicy food), I still found it delicious!

Trinity and the Pope menu

Trinity and the Pope Restaurant Week menu

From the restaurant’s web site:

Trinity and the Pope refers to the common ingredients between the different cuisines of Louisiana: Creole, Cajun and the Nouvelle New Orleans Cuisines.

Trinity is the bell peppers, onions and celery. The Pope is garlic.

And oh yeah, they make quite the tasty combination.  But enough frivolous chatter–I know we all want to get to the food!

To start, I ordered the Wild Mushroom Short Rib Raviolis. Sounds like no big deal, right? It isn’t, until you know my secret: I hate mushrooms. I like the flavor they impart in sauces, but I can’t stand the texture. So typically, I instantly dismiss any menu item with the word “mushroom” prominently displayed in the name, but this one spoke to me. And I’m so glad I listened. I’m not going to lie, there was a big pile of chopped mushrooms left on the plate when I finished, but not all of them. Folks–I ate mushrooms! (And I didn’t hate them!)

As a matter of fact, I loved this appetizer. The raviolis were dressed in a wild mushroom brandy cream sauce that was just so rich and luscious and inviting. The raviolis themselves were filled with yummy, tender pulled short rib. There were only three raviolis in a serving, which made a perfect appetizer portion between the heavier meat and the rich sauce.  But I easily would double (or triple) the order for an entrée.

Wild Mushroom Short Rib Raviolis

Wild Mushroom Short Rib Raviolis

Kevin ordered a little more within his comfort zone–Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders. (Though let me tell you, I was *this close* to ordering those myself, too.)  I was only allowed one bite (boo!) but it was enough to catch the tanginess of the barbecue sauce with the zest of the chipotle cole slaw. Yum! It was like a sophisticated barbecue.  You know, the knife-and-fork and glassware kind. (No red Solo cups here.)

Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders

Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders

We also got a little crazy and did the unthinkable–we ordered something that wasn’t on the Restaurant Week menu. (I know! Crazy!) We wanted a real taste of New Orleans cuisine, so we ordered a side of hush puppies to jazz up our meal. Hush puppies are essentially fried cornbread studded with vegetables–in this case, corn and peppers. Basically, it’s a whole bunch of goodness wrapped up in more goodness and then deep-fried. Oh, and then they top it with their zesty remoulade sauce and I’m left wondering where creole-New Orleans cuisine has been all my life.

Hush puppies

Hush puppies

I went much more classical French for my entrée, though I’m fairly unfamiliar with French cuisine. However, this dish has convinced me that I should start delving my way into French food. I ordered Chicken Thigh Coq au Vin. “Coq au Vin” is French for “rooster with wine” and is a French method of braising chicken with wine, lardons, mushrooms (more of those pesky mushrooms!) and garlic. Typically coq au vin is made with Burgundy wine, but Trinity and the Pope’s version uses Pinot Noir.

The braising creates a rich, bold flavor that makes you forget you’re even eating chicken–both Kevin and my mother, when she tasted my leftovers asked, “This is chicken?” It takes on a much heartier, more robust flavor, almost like pork or even red meat. Braising the meat also keeps it super succulent and juicy–more so than most other chicken I’ve eaten in my life.  I could gush about this chicken all day, but I won’t, because it was served with a creamy, slightly spicy herb risotto and grilled asparagus. I love risotto, and this one was not exception.  I recently saw a recipe for risotto online and it seemed easier and much less intimidating than I originally thought–maybe one of these day I’ll try to make it at home.

Chicken Thigh Coq au Vin with Herb Risotto and Grilled Asparagus

Chicken Thigh Coq au Vin with Herb Risotto and Grilled Asparagus

Kevin had his sights set on their steak dish from the moment we saw the menu–a barbecue balsamic basil-marinated hanger steak topped with crispy shallot truffle compound butter. Again, I was lucky to get even a little taste, but that butter packed some serious flavor! I’m not a huge steak eater, but Kevin cleared his plate. The steak was served over whole-grain mustard smashed Yukon Gold potatoes with broccolini. Despite the mustard in the potatoes, they were strangely sweet. I’m a huge broccolini fan, though, and so is Kevin, so that was a welcome surprise on the plate. (It was supposed to come with grilled asparagus as well, but this opened us up to some veggie-swapping.)

Marinated Hanger Steak with Mustard-smashed potatoes, broccolini and crispy shallot truffle compund butter

Marinated Hanger Steak with Mustard-smashed potatoes, broccolini and crispy shallot truffle compound butter

Like I said, Kevin cleared his plate, but I took a good meal and half’s worth of my entrée home. Mainly because I wanted to save room for dessert–for me, bourbon bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. For Kevin, a chocolate-chip blondie with pistachio ice cream.  The bread pudding was gooey, if not borderline mushy, with a hint of that bourbon kick.  I was so full after the rich meal that I couldn’t finish it off, but the vanilla ice cream was cool light after the heavy meal. The blondie really tasted like a chewy, thick, supersized chocolate-chip cookie. I don’t care for pistachio ice cream, though (or pistachios, for that matter, even though the ice cream tastes nothing like the nut.)

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Chocolate Chip Blondie

Chocolate Chip Blondie

 

 

Of course, we had to wash it all down. Kevin went all-out for the New Orleans feeling with a Hurricane–fruity, rummy and everything a Hurricane should be.  I broke from the ordinary and ordered the Ginger Lemonade, a cocktail of Citron vodka, fresh lemon, fresh ginger puree and Angostura bitters. I love ginger, especially with lemon, so I was actually wishing for more lemon in this drink.  It was certainly ginger–at times, almost too much so.  Though, even after that big meal, my stomach felt good, so I guess the ginger did some good after all!

Trinity and the Pope was a great kick-off to restaurant week, and I can’t wait to go back to sample some of their regular menu.  They also offer happy hours, live music and other fun things during the week.  In addition to great food and hopefully great entertainment, Trinity and the Pope is housed in an old bank building from 1919 in the heart of downtown Asbury. The brightly colored Mardi-Gras inspired decor juxtaposed with the early 20th century woodwork creates a fun, inviting and unique atmosphere. Really, Trinity and the Pope is just a place you want to be.

Trinity and the Pope is owned by chef and restauranteur Marilyn Schlossbach, who, through her company Kitschens, also owns several other Asbury Park restaurants: Langosta Lounge, Dauphin Grille and Pop’s Garage. She also owns Labrador Lounge in Normandy Beach and Kitschens Catering.

Brunch at Porta

I wrote a post in late February praising Porta Pizza in Asbury Park, but I mentioned that they did much more than just dinner–including weekend brunch.  Well, keeping true to my promise, I checked out their brunch on a cold, drizzly, early Spring Saturday, and I wasn’t disappointed!

I met up with a friend of mine, Carolyn, for what seems to be becoming our semi-monthly (or six-monthly, as the case may be) meetup. And as much as I’ve been waiting to try brunch at Porta, funnily enough, it was her suggestion. (Great minds think alike, I suppose.)  So, this past weekend, we headed to Asbury Park in the rain and the cold to meet up for what turned out to be a spectacular brunch.

Porta serves brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Not wanting to be late to the party, Carolyn and I arrived just after 11:30.  I was expecting the place to be packed, but maybe because it’s still relatively unknown, or maybe because the weather was exceptionally atrocious, we were the only two people in the restaurant. People began to trickle in once we were settled in with our cappuccinos, but we seemed to constitute the entire “early” crowd. (By the way–good, big, inviting cappuccinos–and this is coming from someone who can make a cappuccino!)

Porta’s brunch menu is unique and varied, with a mix of their usuals and brunch-only options. They offer sweet and savory, breakfast and lunch, ranging from pizza and salads to french toast and fritattas.

We agreed that the best and only way to do this brunch was to try multiple things and share them.

Luckily, we have similar palates so this did not prove too much of a challenge. We started with a house-cured salmon appetizer with crostinis, marscapone cheese and chervil.

As you can see, I couldn't wait long enough to get a picture before I dug in.

I’m a Jewish girl, New Jersey-born and raised. Lox and cream cheese is pretty much a staple in my life, and I will try almost any and all variations on it. (Lox–smoked, cured salmon–is one of the only seafood I actually like. That, shrimp and fried calamari.)

This one was so good I’m afraid I’ll never be able to eat a regular bagel with lox and cream cheese again.  My first thought when the plate arrived was, “I wish they gave us some lemon to squeeze over the fish.” But as soon as I tasted it, I realized it was already there. The salmon was finished with lemon, olive oil and garlic, and the spicy-citrusy taste was bright and abundant. With the smooth, luscious marscapone and crispy-chewey crosinis, I was in a Jewish-Italian heaven.  I could have ordered three plates of that alone and been perfectly content.

Well, almost…we also ordered lemon-ricotta pancakes which were the lightest, fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever seen. As Carolyn put it, “much more cake than pan.” They were served over ricotta cheese with a vanilla brown butter syrup and macerated plums.  I didn’t expect a big punch of lemon, since in a pancake or similar baked good, the lemon flavor is typically subtle and underlying. But these pancakes packed a lemon punch! The lemon flavor was intense, but not fake, and most definitely a pleasant surprise for a lemon-lover like me.  And, I need to find out how to make such fluffy pancakes.

It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!!!

We had decided we were also going to try their butternut squash pizza, which neither of us had ever seen on the dinner menu, and sounded like quite the savory-sweet experience.  When the waitress informed us they were all out, Carolyn and I looked at each other like sad children for a moment before settling on the roasted tomato fritatta with smoked mozzarella instead.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of cooked tomatoes, but they weren’t overpoweringly sweet in this dish.  The arugula served over the fritatta helped too, I’m sure, as did the homemade focaccia that came on the side.  We sat close to the pizza ovens that are out in the open, and I watched the chef make our focaccia bread–the smell was intoxicating to this starving girl, and it looked so yummy! The fritatta was tasty, but ended up overshadowed by the salmon and the pancakes–it’s the only dish we didn’t finish. (Really, we were just too full–and too focused on our pancakes.)

Fritatta with that wonderful-smelling focaccia that made me so hungry!

So, that’s two down for Porta, and I would recommend their brunch to anyone.  I actually really want to take my mom since a lot of their brunch options are seemingly gluten-free, like the fritattas and other egg-inclusive dishes (braised Beluga lentils with quail eggs, for instance.) Even the salmon appetizer–the crostinis tasted great, but they’re really just a vessel for carrying the cheese and the salmon.  They’re not a necessity.  Carolyn ate some of the leftover salmon and cheese once the bread ran out and she agreed, she didn’t miss them.

OK, so next up, I guess I will have to check out Porta’s nightlife.  Or gluten-free pizza Tuesdays.  Or spaghetti and meatballs Sundays. Or… the list goes on.  All I know is I want to go back to Porta over and over again.

Porta Patens Esto. Nulli Claudatur Honesto. “Be the door always open. Be it not closed to any honest person.”

First off, I’d like to apologize for the lag in posting. The last couple of weeks have been utterly crazy for me; I started up working full-time again, but didn’t quit my old job, plus I’m in the rehearsal process for a show that opens in three weeks. So I’m working 6-7 days a week and going to rehearsal, which unfortunately leaves little time to cook or enjoy a nice meal out.

But Monday I had a half day at work, so Kevin and I took the opportunity–and free time–to go out for a nice, sit-down meal. He and I have this little thing we do where we try to go to a new restaurant every month. Monday was our February opportunity though, admittedly, we cheated on this one a bit. We chose to go to Porta in Asbury Park, N.J. It was brand new to him, but I had been there. Just once. And not for dinner. I just went there after work late one night with a friend and we split a pizza and a carafe of their house red wine (more on that later.) So really, I hadn’t experienced Porta to its fullest, so it was still fair.


Porta is a pizzeria by name, but it is so much more than that once you step inside its wide white doors. The building looks like a converted garage, complete with three large bay doors on one end that open up to their patio and outdoor bar (dubbed “Porta National Park”) in the warmer seasons. Inside, Porta is arranged family-style, with large picnic-style tables rather than traditional individual seats. The back wall is lined with antiqued wooden doors, and in clear view sit their wood-fired pizza ovens, imported from Italy, with the open prep and cooking space. Porta also has a large bar, complete with a great wine list and varied beer options. (“Porta” is Italian for “door,” hence the door theme.)

By night, Porta becomes a bar and nightclub complete with a DJ, live music and dancing. But by day (well, Monday evening), it had a unique, modern-classic feel, pumping standards through the sound system rather than Top 40 dance beats. It mixed sophistication with a backyard feel.

But enough of that. Really, this is about the food. And the food is no less unique than the space itself. While the menu is small by normal standards, its anything but boring. Mostly appetizers and pizza with a few pasta options, Porta keeps it simple while keeping it special.

For appetizers, we ordered two salads to share: The Winter Caprazy and the Cavolo Nero. The Winter Caprazy is exactly what it sounds like: a seasonal take on the classic Caprese salad. This one included slow roasted tomatoes, black garlic and fresh oregano.

Full disclosure: I’ve never had black garlic or fresh oregano (only dried.) I’ve been missing out. Black garlic, while it looks a bit scary, is a sweeter, richer cousin to what we know. And fresh oregano blows the dried stuff out of the water. Upon eating it, I got that distinctive bite and slight hit to the sinuses that confirmed I was indeed eating oregano, but the flavor was so much milder and fresher than its spice rack counterpart. Where has this been all my life? Needless to say, everything worked together pretty well, with the roasted tomatoes imparting a sweeter, heartier flavor than the raw version. I don’t love roasted tomatoes, but this definitely made a pretty good winter version of one of my favorite classic Italian salads.

However, I don’t think the Winter Caprazy can hold a candle in creativity next to the Cavolo Nero. Tuscan kale, shaved sunchoke and watermelon radish with garlic crostini and parmigiano reggiano in a lemon-garlic dressing. This was my first introduction to kale, and what a way to start! This definitely makes me want to eat kale more often. My only complaint about this salad would be that the toppings (sunchoke, watermelon radish, garlic croutons) were a bit too scarce. As good as the kale was, it was a bit boring without the accouterments and we left some on the plate once we finished everything else. But it was delicious. I love radishes, so this was a treat to me, especially with how beautiful shaved watermelon radishes are.

Sliced watermelon radish. Photo via SmartSeeds

I need to find some watermelon radishes and use them in everything I make. Everything. They taste great, and they’re gorgeous! (New goal.)

Moving on…

Kevin, being the pizza-lover that he is, obviously could not resist the major part of Porta’s menu: the pizza. He ordered an Italian Stallion with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, Gorgonzola, sweet Italian sausage and long hots. (I could insert a joke here about him being an Italian stallion, but I’ll pass for his sake.)

As much as he loves pizza, Kevin hates blue cheese, but he bit the bullet and tried it on this pizza. And he didn’t hate it. Overall, he thought the pizza tasted great, but the generous drizzle of olive oil (and probably the grease from the sausage) made it a little soggy for his liking. He boxed half up to take home and said he’ll try to crisp it up in the oven before eating the leftovers.

I was in a pasta kind of mood that night, so I went ahead and ordered off their small, but not limited pasta menu. I went a little off the beaten path with a wild boar ragu with rosemary papardelle, rosemary, sage, red wine and parmigiano reggiano. If you hadn’t told me this was wild boar, I wouldn’t have known. But I’m so glad I tried it. It’s, unsurprisingly, very similar to pork, but a bit heartier and beefier. Sort of like a delicious pork-beef hybrid all stewed up and served over pasta.

Oh right, the pasta. Between the rosemary papardelle and the rosemary in the sauce, I expected a double whammy of in-your-face rosemary. But instead, it was subtle and underlying and I had to really look for it at times. Still, I ate almost the whole thing. Hearty, warm and inviting. It almost made me forget it was nearly 60 degrees that afternoon.

Pizza; Photo via http://www.pizzaporta.com/

Not the Italian Stallion, but another one of Porta'a pizzas. Photo courtesy of Porta Pizza.

And of course, what better to complement a great meal than some house red wine? Porta has a nice Italian wine list, but the standout is their house-made red and white wines, which can be ordered by the glass or the carafe. I’ve been here twice and only ever had one wine–the house red, a Cabernet. I thought about switching it up at dinner, but I figured, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Next time I’ll have to try their house white and eventually branch out to their other wine selections.

Kevin went a more traditionally American route–pizza and beer. Porta seems like the kind of place that would have tons of local and craft beers on hand, but most of their beer list is surprisingly generic. They have a few crafts, including three varieties of Six Point. Kevin had the “Bengali Tiger,” which he said was very pine-y with a citrus finish. He equated it to Pine Sol at one point, which I assumed was a bad thing, but he seemed to enjoy it. I picked up on the pineyness but not as much on the citrus. However, the back of the can did quote William Blake’s “The Tyger.” (Plus one for Six Point.)

Porta’s minimalistic atmosphere and inspired take on locally-sourced ingredients may be far too hip and trendy for some, but I actually found it a relaxing and enjoyable Monday evening. Is Porta a bit hipster? Yes. Are the food, drinks and service worth it despite that? Absolutely. It’s nestled on an obscure little corner of Asbury Park, right between the bustling downtown and the boardwalk and offers a casual retreat that’s still leaps beyond traditional pizzeria fare. So, if you’re looking for an original, quality meal in a quaint, casual environment, head for Porta.

Porta also runs several specials throughout the week, like gluten-free pizza every Tuesday and a 4-course family dinner every Sunday night. They weekend brunch every Saturday and Sunday and, of course, the club/bar scene at night.

I’ll have to check out the nightlife sometime and see if it lives up to the weekday fare. Come summertime I’ll have to give this another go too, of course.

Eataly: An Italian Food Mecca

Eataly NYC inside banner sign

First off, I want to apologize for the long wait between posts. I wrote this whole post, and then WordPress lost it, and it took a few days to get it all back together. Moving on…

Earlier this week, my boyfriend Kevin and I went to New York City and to the most glorious home of Italian food: Eataly NY. Eataly is not just a market and not just a restaurant; it is a combination of market, cooking school and 12 different eateries. The collaborative project of Oscar Farinetti, Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich, Eataly NY at 200 Fifth Ave. at 23rd St.  is the only U.S. location of the culinary collective. Before New York City, Eataly opened seven locations in Italy and six in Japan.

Now, Eataly is not for the light of heart. This is not your average, run-of-the-mill market. It’s massive, and encompasses everything from fresh exotic produces and full butcher counters to beer, wine and caviar. It has aisles upon aisles devoted to olive oils and pestos and balsamic vinegars behind lock and key. Shelves of spices from all over the world line the walls, surrounding bakery counters, fresh and dried pastas, and, of course, all those restaurants.

Shelves of spices from all over the world lined the aisles

Red, pink and black salts. Yes, a shelf just for salts, and there wasn't just one.

Our dinner: Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto san Danielle, Mortadella, Prosciutto Cotto, Speck and Salami with Ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, Cacio Marzolino, Taleggic and Gorgonzola. Condiment plate of honey, figs and candied citrus peel.

Yes, those restaurants. The various small eateries are interspersed throughout the space, each with its own niche of Italian cuisine. We stopped at La Piazza, a stand-up eatery right in the middle of the action. Literally, you stand at small, counter-like tables. The menu at La Piazza is antipasto-style, with mostly Italian meats and cheeses as well as selections of Italian wine and beer. As first-timers, we jumped right in with a meat and cheese sampler plate and a mozzarella classico with fresh basil.To complement, I had a lovely, medium-bodied glass Barbera d’ Albi and Kevin had an Italian golden ale.

While we were both familiar with the traditional cured prosciuttos, the prosciutto cotto, or uncured prosciutto, was new to us. While it wasn’t awful, it wasn’t necessarily something I’d return for. It seemed a bit reminiscent of deli ham, nothing special. I think I’ll keep taking my prosciutto cured.

The speck was the pleasant surprise of the night, though. Prosciutto is often compared to Spanish Serrano ham, though I think the speck is even more similar in flavor to the Serrano, but with a buttery, soft, melt-in-your mouth texture. It was like an elevated prosciutto.

For the most part, we both loved everything on the meat plate, except the mortadella. (I’ve never been a fan of mortadella–it reminds me of boiled ham.) Otherwise, an exciting culinary journey.

The cheeses were just as exciting. Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta and Gorgonzola were familiar, but I was new to the Cacio and Taleggic. I’m a big fan of the first three, particularly Gorgonzola, which paired deliciously with the figs and candied citrus peels from the condiment plate. The Taleggic, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, reminded me of a milder Brie. I enjoy Brie, but I generally find the rind too bitter and pungent, and too much can be overpowering. With the Taleggic, I ate it rind and all, and found the milder flavor welcoming. This too, like Brie, paired quite well with the sweet accoutrements. The Cacio Marzolino, a sheep’s milk cheese, had a nutty flavor, slightly reminiscent of a softer Parmesan. However, it was my least favorite of the cheeses and the only one we left unfinished.

The other part of dinner: Mozzarella Classico with basil

We are both longtime fans of mozzarella, so naturally, we enjoyed the classico thoroughly. Sometimes, I’m very easy to please: the freshest, most delicious mozzarella and fresh, snappy basil make me a very happy person. Add a glass of red wine (check) and I’m perfect.

My initial hope was that we would hop around from eatery to eatery, sampling some of the best Italy has to offer, but we filled up too much on meat, cheese, wine and beer. But, of course, we did leave room for dessert. Eataly houses all of its sweets, espressos and cheeses together, and we wasted no time exploring what may have been my favorite part of the store. In addition to freshly ground espresso, marscapone cheese and fruit preserves were several counters of delectable pastries, colorful chocolates and creamy gelato.

Kevin's dessert: Italian hot chocolate and tiramisu

Kevin got his favorite–tiramisu–and a rich Italian hot chocolate. But, this is no Swiss Miss. It is thick, rich and velvety, more like melted chocolate with a touch of milk than chocolate-flavored milk. The ever-so-slight bitterness of the dark chocolate prevented the hot chocolate from becoming overwhelmingly sweet.

My Lemon Baba (Limoncello-soaked cake filled with pastry cream, topped with a candied orange peel and raspberry)

As much of a chocolate-lover as I am, I was seeking something sweet and fruity to complement the meat and cheese I ate. I had a Lemon Baba, an Italian cake soaked in Limoncello, filled with pastry cream and topped off with a candied citrus peel and raspberry. (More of that citrus peel! I really did love them.) It was sweet and tangy, light and fruity, and the perfect way to finish off the meal. The tangy acidity cut through the richness of the meat and cheese. And of course, what better way to finish off the day then with a perfect, authentic Italian cappuccino? It brought me back to my days in Spain sipping cafe con leches on my way to class. (For those that don’t know, I studied in Valencia, Spain for six months. And, boy, did they know how to make a good cafe con leche. Even McDonald’s there had good coffee. But I digress.) Fewer things in the world make me happier than a great cup of coffee (even fresh mozzarella and good red wine.)

With our stomachs filled and our taste buds satisfied, we returned to our browsing. It’s pretty much impossible to walk out of a place like this empty-handed, but since we did have a whole train ride back to New Jersey to deal with, we limited ourselves to one loaf of bread each. We each went for a soft and crusty rustic bread, Kevin an Italian rye and me a raisin. I still have about half the loaf left. The tangy sourdough flavor and the sweet raisins have made for some delicious breakfasts.

One of the walls of the wine shop

In addition to the main space, there is also an entire separate wine shop next door. I went to seek out a bottle of the Barbera d’Albi I drank with dinner, but sadly, they were out. Otherwise I would have had one more purchase to add to my list.

All in all, Eataly was a fantastic experience. But, I barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer, so I’ll just have to return. It’s produce-driven eatery, Le Verdure, tops my list of must-trys, as does its aplty-named La Pasta and La Pizza. Perhaps one of the most intriguing draws of Eataly is its rooftop restaurant, Birreria.

But one of the best things about Eataly is probably its mission: Eat Better, Cook Simpler. They work on the practice of cooking what they sell and selling what they cook, with a real focus in high-quality, natural ingredients. However, they don’t do it without a bit of cheekiness. Their “policy” states that 1. The customer is not always right. 2. Eataly is not always right. 3. Through our differences, we create harmony.Eat Better Cook Simpler banner

If you’re ever in New York City (or not, but want to–and should–be) and love all things Italian, head over to Fifth Ave. and immerse yourself in the culinary haven that is Eataly. I promise, you won’t be disappointed as it quite literally has something for everyone.

Oh, and if you do find yourself there, please, let me know what you thought of it, what you did, what you ate, etc.! I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences there.

A few more shots from the Eataly market:

Fresh octopus

Some of the priciest selections, champagne and caviar, behind a locked display case

A selection of focaccias at the bread counter

Butcher counter

Colorful chocolates in the dessert section

Post Navigation

In the kitchen with Kath

Old favorites...New discoveries. Fresh and easy!

Heike Herrling

...but it tasted good

Danny's Kitchen

Food that creatively inspires...

Chicken Soup for the Sole

Cooking with no one but a pan and a plan.

Kicked,Bitten, & Scratched

writings from the mind and heart of a veterinary technician

Bookery & Cookery

A catalogue of my literary and culinary pursuits and perusals.

...our traveling without moving!...

Not just another WordPress.com site!

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

Communications & Legal Studies

Keep me posted @ IC Library

Ink-Drained Kvetch

Journalism, media and work in the digital age

Ethical Martini

The home of media ethics and martinis

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.

Raven Montana B.

The meaning of it all.

%d bloggers like this: