Vegetarian Dim Sum House – Chinatown, New York

Vegetarian Dim Sum House - Chinatown New York

Vegetarian Dim Sum House

Chinatown, New York City, New York

This night began earlier when my hostess, bartender extraordinaire Miss Chockie, took me to La Maison Cointreau for an evening of booze-soaked education and history of Cointreau. A handful of drinks with just enough small bites to keep me upright later and it was time for real sustenance. My hostess and I grabbed a cab from Greenwich Village to Chinatown where we met up with Jake, Miss Chockie’s vegan fiance. Admittedly, when I’d been told we were heading to a vegetarian dim sum restaurant I was worried. Not just the usual omnivore-who-is-desperately-in-need-of-meat kind of concern, but the legit concern of someone who is soy sensitive due to a wonky thyroid.

Chockie reassured me….well, at least I think she did. To be honest, this night is kind of hazy in my memory and my phone with all of my notes died approximately five days later. In my hand. While I was on a hunt for bagels and Indian food. I found both, thank goodness, but getting to Philadelphia the next day proved to be a feat I’d not prepared for since before the dark ages of not owning a cell phone. Dark days, my friends, dark days.

Continue reading

Masa of Echo Park

Masa of Echo Park

Masa of Echo Park

Masa of Echo Park was initially published in 2011 for the The Place: Los Angeles. I have since updated and expanded the review.

“Echo Park is the urban Mayberry,” says Rhonda Reynolds, co-owner of Masa of Echo Park, a mom and pop restaurant on the corner of Sunset and Lemoyne, famed for their Chicago style pizza. She couldn’t be more correct. Though it’s easy for locals and visitors alike to breeze through this west downtown neighborhood on their way to West L.A., Echo Park has a lot going on for itself. The first incarnation of Masa of Echo Park was not initially a restaurant, but a car dealership! Built in 1922, the building housed roadsters for the discerning motorists of the rapidly expanding Los Angeles population.

By the 1930′s, however, the building was tricked out as the Carty Bros. Bon Ton Market & Van De Kamps Bakery, handing the keys over to Sarnos Family in the 1950′s for Carmelli’s Italian Bakery, Market and Coffee Shop; then in the 1970′s El Carmelo + Carmelo’s Cuban Restaurant & Bakery had run of the place. It took a break some time in the 1990′s before being bought and done up by Rob Rowe and Rhonda Reynolds, who officially opened Masa’s doors in 2004.

A Chicago native with extensive experience in Chicago pizzeria’s, Rob not only knows his pizza, but imports signature Chicago staples such as: Scala’s authentic hot Giardiniera and “well-seasoned pans lovingly forged in the Windy City”. Otherwise, all produce is fresh and local. With friendly marigold walls and country kitchen chic style, Masa is welcoming in both atmosphere and attitude.

Homemade Garlic Bread and Marinara
Homemade Garlic Bread with Marinara 5.95

Knowing our pizzas would take forty minutes, my friend Natalie and I kicked off our meal by demolishing the garlic bread: an entire loaf of bread made in-house, toasted & drizzled with olive oil, fresh chopped garlic & Parmesan cheese, served with warm, house made marinara sauce. Neither one of us could name its rival. If I weren’t intent on finally devouring the elusive Chicago Style Pizza, I would have very much been content with this basic appetizer and the salad below.

Manchego Salad 9.95

Rhonda, one of the owners, kindly sent over the unrivaled Manchego salad: organic baby lettuces, dates, granny smith apples, candied walnuts, Manchego cheese and pear dressing, drizzled with a balsamic reduction and olive oil. It almost made Natalie and I feel like we had enough “green points” to justify digging into our own deep dish pizza’s.

Lots of Cheese - Masa of Echo Park
Lots of Cheese 15.95
Mozzarella, Romano & Buffalo Mozzarella…lots of it

Natalie, a staunch pescaterian (she eats seafood), went for this trifecta of cheesy goodness and declared it an instant hit. I cannot comment personally, because she would have stabbed the back of my hand with her fork were I to have gone after a bite.

Custom Chicago Pizza - Masa of Echo Park
Custom Chicago Style Pizza $20.95
Genoa salami, pineapple, mushrooms

Small pizza’s start at $13.45 with an array of toppings costing $2.50 or $3.50, depending on which list you pick from. All of mine came from the $2.50 list, which means my small pizza cost the same amount as a large from the prefab list. I’m not saying it isn’t worth every penny, but I do caution you to make sure you have someone to help you eat all of this! I only ate two slices before I had to call it quits in order to leave room for dessert (and trust me; Natalie and I were in desperate need of wheelbarrows to haul our butts outta there, we were so full!). I gave the leftovers to my family. The consensus was unanimous: extraordinarily quality pizza. Fresh as the morning sun, I could taste the ‘homemade’ with every bite.

Croissant Bread Pudding - Masa of Echo Park
Warm Croissant Bread Pudding 8.95
Chocolate, almond & butter croissants baked in vanilla custard, warm caramel drizzle

Natalie and I were careful to only have two pieces each of our respective pizzas, for we promised ourselves the famed warm croissant bread pudding: chocolate, almond & butter croissants, pan baked in vanilla custard and drizzled with warm caramel sauce. How can I describe such bliss, other than to compare it to the Highlander: There can only be one.

Having only heard tales of the elusive Chicago style pizza my whole life, I was eager to finally check the deep dish pizza off of my ‘foodie bucket list.’ A cozy spot good for family, date night, small and large friends night out, Masa of Echo Park is not only worth a try, but worthy of visiting time and time again.

Masa of Echo Park
1800 West Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 989-1558

Masa of Echo Park on Urbanspoon

Ocean Avenue Seafood – Santa Monica

Menu - Ocean Avenue Seafood

Ocean Avenue Seafood in Santa Monica

Disclaimer: Ocean Avenue Seafood is now closed, and being replaced with Water Grill. Both restaurants are owned and operated by Kings Seafood Co. This article was first published The Place: Los Angeles, June 2011. I’ve updated it a bit and offer it as reference.

As soon as I saw the words “Raw Bar” I knew we would be eating at Ocean Avenue Seafood restaurant for this Santa Monica feature. Oh, little oysters, how do I love thee? There was no question in my mind that I was going to order the Oyster Sampler, a dozen of six selections of the finest oysters from all over the globe. Patience, I told myself, don’t look like a fanatic and scare the nice waitress in training. So I ordered a lime Ricky (not on the menu, but definitely something I recommend since the bartender perfected it with little instruction from me) and started to peruse over the menu.

Fried Calamari - Ocean Avenue Seafood
Fried Calamari

Patience flew out the window, though, as soon as my then-boyfriend cracked open the menu and saw fried calamari. While not my first (or even second) choice as far as appetizers go, I will readily admit that it was the most accurately cooked fried calamari ever, without a trace of rubbery texture.

Oyster Sampler Platter - Ocean Avenue Seafood
Oyster Sampler Platter

Forget patience and professionalism and bring on my sweet little mollusks and let me at ‘em! Accompanied with freshly grated horseradish, lemon, cocktail sauce and a red wine vinegar mignonette sauce I tried very earnestly to savor each one and record their flavors. In other words, I tried my best not to be a savage and down them in under a minute. My favorites were Blue Point and Beausoliel, both extremely creamy and silky in texture. Falsa Bay was probably my least favorite, only reserved for purists seeking out potent flavors of briny waters.

Tristan Island Lobster Tails
Tristan Island Lobster Tails

Crab Stuffed Shrimp - Ocean Avenue Seafood
Crab Stuffed Shrimp

It was difficult for both J and I to pick an entrée, but seafood outings are so few and far between, it was decided go big or go home. He went with the Tristan Island Lobster tails while I settled on the crab stuffed shrimp. Both came with garlic mashed potatoes and seasoned sautéed vegetables. For allegedly being one of the most uninhabited islands in the world, the waters off of Tristan Island sure does produce some tasty lobsters. Meaty and juicy, it is safe to say that these were the filet mignon of the sea. It was tough to pull my attention away from the lure of crab cakes, but my crab stuffed jumbo shrimp was the plump and succulent best of both worlds, with the added bonus of a light dill sauce.

Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding
Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding

How on earth we had room for dessert, I will never know. I place all of the blame on J, who could convince me to gorge myself into any food coma. We went with one of our favorites and ordered the warm chocolate bread pudding. Delivered to us fresh and piping hot from the oven, we delved in spoon-first, enjoying the delicate cocoa flavor mingled with the vanilla bean and raspberry sauce, the latter of which we both thought could be done without.

I would say lunch is just as divine as dinner, if not more so as we were able to sit in the covered patio and have a lovely view of the ocean. White linen and wicker furniture with heat lamps for blustery days and chillier evenings are the epitome of beach chic here in SoCal restaurants. The staff was friendly and helpful with menu knowledge. As Water Grill will be replacing Ocean Avenue Seafood, I’ll put their info here instead.

Water Grill
1401 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Maximiliano – Highland Park

A Morning in Highland Park

Maximiliano – Kinda Old School Italian

I’d had my heart set on Maximiliano for a number of months, with a number of items on their tantalizing menu tempting me, all stemming from descriptive wording on their website to luscious images from local food bloggers making the rounds on the internet. Three particular selections on the menu kept crying out to me, and when opportunity arose to feature Highland Park for a magazine, I leapt like a salivating cat underneath a dangling piece of bacon. Mmmm. Bacon.

A Morning in Highland Park

A Morning in Highland Park

With my brunch buddies Steffie and Evan in tow, we carpooled over and made our 11am reservation (not precisely a necessity, but it never hurts!), scoring rock star street parking alongside the brick building that now houses the restaurant. The dream child of Chef Andre Guerrero – born and raised in the adjacent neighborhood of Glassell Park – Maximiliano is a welcome second feat, as his first “baby” (the much celebrated Oinkster), is already the stuff of legends. Inspired by the Italian flag, the interior of Maximiliano was just old school enough to give us security that a fantastic meal was shortly to arrive, and modern enough to put us at ease in a friendly, airy, and bright environment. Just the setting brunch in Los Angeles ought to be.

Baker's Bread Box - Maximiliano, Highland Park
Baker’s Bread Box $7

Hearing our hunger pangs rumbling, our waiter encouraged us to order the Baker’s Bread Box, a literal box filled with a selection of breakfast pastries, made in-house. Our box was bursting with incredibly moist zucchini bread, orange ginger bread, raspberry mini muffins, and scones along with fresh cream. I laugh now to recall that I did not think we would finish it; nearly every bite was devoured in a ravenous frenzy. My favorite was definitely the zucchini bread, while Steffie and Evan both took a particular liking to the orange ginger bread.

Convincing my friends to go with those menu items that I had dancing around in my head, like the visions of sugar plums to the slumbering children of the holiday poem, was not as monumental a task as I had been anticipating. Possibly because the frenzied gleam in my eyes clued them in that to question my cravings would be disastrous.

Maximiliano Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict - Highland Park
Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict $14
country potatoes

The first main to arrive was the smoked salmon Eggs Benedict, and in my opinion, a brunch just isn’t a brunch without some variety of Eggs Benedict. An oldie but goodie, it featured wilted spinach with generous portions of salmon adorned with two of the most perfectly coddled, yolky eggs, topped with house-made Hollandaise. A true-blue staple for brunch traditionalists. Maximiliano also offers applewood bacon confit Eggs Benedict as an alternative.

Carbonara Pasta with Bacon Confit - Maximiliano, Highland Park
Carbonara Pasta $12
bacon confit, poached egg

Carbonara with Bacon Confit and Poached Egg - Maximiliano

Our second main was on the unconventional side of the menu: Carbonara Pasta with bacon confit and poached egg. The wide noodles had an al dente freshness to them that told me they were made in-house that very morning (there really is no pasta more satisfying than when it’s made fresh), and the bacon confit was more like the texture of chunked ham steak, so juicy and meaty, with a tenderness I do not normally associate with bacon. I ate the bulk of this dish, already scheming on who else I might be able to talk into coming out for another brunch date just so I could indulge in this creamy, meaty, eggy, carbohydrate paradise again.

A Morning in Highland Park
Maximiliano Bloody Mary $8

While mimosa’s are the standard drink for brunch here in L.A., I’m actually a bigger fan of bloody Mary’s. However, I am persnickety about them, and this peppery, spice-laden vegetable circus was too busy for me. It was a whole buffet of flavors going on in one glass, and I had to enlist my friends to help me polish it off. Really excellent if you like your Bloody Mary’s to have multiple layers of pepperiness, but I’d pass next time.

Ricotta Pancake with Lemon Curd and Berries - Maximiliano, Highland Park
Ricotta Pancake $8
lemon curd, fresh berries

A Morning in Highland Park

After many savories, it was time to indulge our sweet tooth with the ricotta pancake, complemented with a generous dollop of lemon curd and a sprinkling of fresh berries. It was our just desserts to max out on, bringing our bellies to maximum brunch contentedness.

With excellent service, quality food, moderate prices and just the bright kind of atmosphere I like to brunch in, it’s a no brainer that I’d definitely recommend and return to Maximiliano. Ciao!

5930 York Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA

Maximiliano on Urbanspoon

The Failte Hotel Bar (Killarney)

The Failte Hotel

Steffie and I were all set to go on a Ring of Kerry tour, which we booked through Bus Éireann at Parnell Station. However, on the Sunday we were to go – two days before our departure from Ireland – we learned that our tour had been cancelled due to not meeting the minimum requirement of attendees. Faced with the prospect of wasting one of our precious few last days, we decided to be adventurous and do as the clerk suggested: transfer the fare we paid to a new ticket and go explore downtown Killarney on our own. The Killarney National Park was not but one kilometer from the drop-off area, so we had the entire day to explore its expansive grounds. As I’ve learned now, this stop is often skipped or grossly squished into an official Ring of Kerry Tour, so in hindsight, I am extraordinarily pleased it turned out this way.

One day (when I’ve returned to Killarney National Park to take proper pictures) I’ll post about the Park itself, but here are some highlights in the meantime:



Clouds over Killarney


Ross Tower Castle
Ross Tower Castle

Ah, yes. Ross Castle. It was exceedingly windy when Steffie and I walked through the Park and made it to this late 15th century landmark. We didn’t take an official tour, but we enjoyed playing around outside and seeing the historical documents and models of what Ross Tower was like back in its heyday. We were in mutual agreement over our love for the ever so fashionable murdering hole.

After our day at the Park, Steffie and I walked back through town, where time straddled that awkward limbo between lunch and dinner. Our last bus did not depart until around 7′clock, so after killing some time in gift shops and browsing the menus posted outside the hotels, pubs, bars and restaurants that weren’t closed due to it being a Sunday, we finally settled on The Failte Hotel Bar.

Owned and operated by the O’Callaghan family, The Fáilte Hotel is a bar, restaurant and hotel all in one. Their popularity was evident as soon as Steffie and I stepped inside; boisterous cheering and jeering from regulars and tourists alike filled the bar as The World Cup played on a couple of television screens.

Interior: Failte Hotel

After a long day of walking and nature, Steffie and I indulged in some libation – Bulmers for her, Jameson & Ginger for myself.

Finches Dry Ginger Ale
Finches Dry Ginger Ale

Finches ain’t playing around; when they say dry, they mean it. This isn’t your sugary Canada Dry stuff. Impeccibly crisp, this mixer makes for

Heaven on the half shell
Oysters on the Half Shell

Oyster obsessed that I am, I could not resist another chance at devouring Irish oysters. As you can see, though, these poor little mollusks were horribly butchered and mangled by someone at Failte Hotel Bar who does not know how to properly shuck an oyster. Mercifully, I put them out of their humiliation and devoured them quickly.

Fish 'n' Chips
Fish and Chips
mushy peas

Steffie’s last fish and chip meal of our visit. Just look at that behemoth of golden crispy deliciousness. Really gorgeous piece of fish; flakey, moist and flavorful with only a squeeze of lemon needed for that extra boost of flavor. The chips (not pictures) were equally praiseworthy, and Steffie preferred these simplified peas to the minted peas she came across at other eateries.

Guinness Casserole
Guinness Casserole
beef, onions, carrots & side of potatoes

I don’t know about you, but that does not look the least bit like a casserole to me. Fáilte, I do not think that word means what you think it means. I was imagining, well, something not quite so reminiscent of stew. Oh, well. I played along and ate it up anyway, seeing as it was a blustery, manic weather sort of day, the likes of which I’ve only ever experienced in Ireland. The beef was tender, not dry or chewy in the least. I thought some fresh mushrooms would have been a nice addition, but again, still good. I’m unsure if this was the same portion they gave to everyone, or if by virtue of hearing my American voice, they assumed I would expect a comically large portion. Either way, despite my enjoyment of this dish, I was definitely unable to finish.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding
sherry treacle

Our first encounter with Sticky Toffee Pudding brought our meal to a richly decadent and thoroughly satisfied finish. Neither of us cared for the sauce on the side, going for the sherry treacle, which added an appreciative zing to the otherwise dense but oh so delicious pudding.

As this meal was three years ago, I am sure many menu changes have happened at Failte Hotel Bar. Neither the pudding nor the casserole appear on the online restaurant or bar menus. Still, it was a hearty end to another jammed-packed day in Ireland, fill us up with good eats and good memories.

The Fáilte Hotel Bar & Restaurant
College Street, Killarney
Co. Kerry, Ireland
Telephone: 064 6633404

Glimmering Waters
On the road back from Killarney

Review: Pete’s Diner (Capitol Hill, Washington D.C.)

St. Patrick's Day Brunch - Pete's Diner

iPhoto has these pictures listed as being taken on Saturday, March 16th when I know for a fact that I was at a Needlepoint Show at the Woodlawn Plantation on Saturday, and I ate lunch there. So these photos must have been taken as the first of our St. Patrick’s Day festivities of sitting around and munching/drinking. Though I do not doubt that this hefty brunch is a response to some hefty drinking that may or may not have taken place on Saturday night.

We arrived to Pete’s at a decent enough hour where there was still adequate space for our party of four. A snug space, Pete’s utilizes all of their area by employing the use of family style picnic table to run lengthwise down the center of their establishment. These were empty when we arrived, which is where we sat, but filled by the time we left forty five or so minutes later.

Everyone inside was all-smiles and familiar greetings, as KD and company frequented Pete’s over the years. They enjoy it for its non-pretension and simple, soak-up-the-booze grub.

Tuna Melt  - Pete's Diner
Tuna Melt with fries ($6.95)

KD decided lunch fare was sounding too good to pass up, and went with her go-to sandwich: tuna melt with fries. Knowing her as I do, she would never order this unless a place made it to her liking (and health requirements of no onions). I had a taste of the fries, which were nice and crispy on the outside a hot and starchy on the inside.

Blueberry Pancakes and Scrapple - Pete's Diner
Blueberry Pancakes with Scrapple ($7.95)

The #2 special original called for 2 pancakes + 2 eggs + meat of choice. I asked for this, but omitted the eggs, ordered the blueberry pancakes (kept it at a reasonable stack of two) and bypassed the ham/sausage/bacon options for Scrapple as my meat of choice. Scrapple – if you’re unfamiliar – is a Mid-Atlantic staple of leftover pork offal combined with cornmeal, buckwheat flour and spices. I grew fond of it whilst living in Pennsylvania as a child, much to my mother’s horror, and would often dine on it when I stayed with KD and her family. It is typically cut into rectangular slices as you see above and pan fried. For me, the only acceptable way to eat it is a combination of savory and sweet with a drizzle of maple syrup.

Not to be outshone, the pancakes were grilled to a perfect golden brown, with a handful of big, juicy blueberries in each. Two was the perfect number for me, as a full short stack would have been just one too many.

Omelette and Toast - Pete's Diner
Ham and Cheese Omelet ($7.95)

I’m unsure if Angela ordered the ham and cheese omelet and added tomatoes, or ordered the Western omelet and omitted the onions and green peppers. It doesn’t matter; the point I wanted to make with either is that the staff is beyond accommodating. Between my, Angela and Guille’s orders, we all adjusted one or two or five items with our dishes. I didn’t take a picture of Guille’s order, because it is essentially the above sans toast and home fries.

Asian Decor - Pete's Diner

From the outside, Pete’s is an all-American greasy spoon joint. However, inside is cherry blossoms, paper lanterns, family alters, incense and other relics from a faraway homeland left behind for new beginnings. The menu, however, reflected no indication of the owners ethnicity or cultural background; it was strictly traditional American mom and pop diner fare. There is no amount of museum going, monument visiting or history studying that can capture the true essence of America or what it is to be an American like this real life situation did so succinctly.

Pete’s Diner
212 2nd Street SE
Washington DC, 20003


Mon-Fri 6a-3p
Sat-Sun 7a-3p

Review: The Sweet Lobby (Washington D.C.)

The Sweet Lobby

I’m not going to lie, Marge. It was too cold and too crowded to get a shot of the exterior of The Sweet Lobby, a Capitol Hill sweet shop dedicated to gourmet cupcakes and European treats such as macarons, madeleines, éclairs, shortbread, canelés and more. Had it not been overbearingly crowded, I would have probably sampled a bit more, but as it was, I just wanted to get a cupcake and get out of there. No time to waffle in the cupcake house! Har dee har har.

The Sweet Lobby is the brain child of Dr. Winnette McIntosh Ambrose, an engineer who balances her work in the area of vision research with owning and operating The Sweet Lobby. Within months of opening, Winnette won an episode of Cupcake Wars on The Food Network, which inspired my interest in TSL as I wanted to see if their cupcakes compared to my local (and favorite) cupcakery, My Sweet Cupcake, also winners of Cupcake Wars. I realize this is likely comparing gala to fuji apples.

Coconut Cupcake - The Sweet Lobby
Coconut Cupcake ($2.75)
coconut cupcake | cream cheese frosting | shredded coconut

This the is the cupcake my friend KD went for, one of her usual go-to cupcake flavors as it regularly satisfies any straight up coconut craving. I appreciate the gracefulness in this cupcake’s simplicity, and that the coconut flavor comes from not just a pile of shredded coconut lazily scooped on top of a vanilla cupcake, but from the base cake itself.

Strawberries and Champagne Cupcake - The Sweet Lobby
Strawberry Champagne Cupcake ($2.75)
strawberry champagne cake | white chocolate fudge filling | champagne buttercream frosting

As soon as I caught sight of the menu, I zeroed in on two flavors: chocolate mint and strawberry champagne. The chocolate mint was nowhere to be found, however, which fueled my determination to own and consume the last strawberry champagne cupcake. I had a small handful of people in front of me, but thankfully, none of them ordered this cupcake and it was all mine!
The cake was extremely soft and moist, with fresh strawberries baked into the cake. The frosting wasn’t this overbearing pile of sugar, but a hearty dollop of rich, creamy buttercream. The inside white chocolate fudge was also a surprise, and definitely contributed to the moistness. It’s an understated, elegant flavor that I recommend.

One quibble I had was that one or two cupcake flavors that are supposed to be available on Saturdays were not. I’m guessing their daily specials might have a “once we’re sold out, we’re out” policy, and they’re replaced with daily flavors. Thankfully, the special flavors seem to rotate throughout the week, so one does not have to get up early to beat the Saturday crowd.

While I could easily walk away from The Sweet Lobby and continue to call My Sweet Cupcake my favorite cupcake stop, I would never hesitate to recommend them. Their dedication to creative and classic flavor pairings is commendable, not to mention their unique Cupcake Lab, where they encourage customers to order their own desired flavor combinations. Definitely something to think about upon my return to the neighborhood.

The Sweet Lobby
404 8th Street SE
Washington DC 20003
Metro: Eastern Market Station

Monday-Thursday: 10a-9p
Friday & Saturday: 10a-10p
Sundays: Closed