7/17/15

Sundaes on Sunday with Sugartooth Tours

For many, summer is the time to don bikinis, travel to foreign places, and enjoy the extra hours of sunlight in the evening. While I'm not knocking any of that, summer--for me--is the time to gorge on ice cream (especially when it's 90 degrees out and NYC is so chock full of new "artisanal" creameries that I have tons of catching up to do!).

The most perfect way, I've found, to load up on sweets of any kind is through a Sugartooth Tours. I joined them for their first 2015 Ice Cream Summer Sundays Frozen Treats Tour last weekend. Even though my GI system has started rebelling against dairy in the ever-so-slightest way (TMI?), I grabbed a pack of Lactaid at Duane Reade and met up with the group at our first stop, Chloe's Soft Serve (25 E. 17th St.).


Our tour guide Alyson

Good news! I didn't even need the Lactaid here because all items only have 3 ingredients--fruit, ice, and cane sugar. We sampled frozen fruit pops (I had the pineapple), and it was so refreshing I can't even tell you. I also thought the pop was "creamy" in nature, even though there was nary a dairy bit in it! I'll definitely be back to sample their soft serve!

Pineapple Pop

Pineapple Pop
Next up was a place I definitely DID need my Lactaid for--Sundaes and Cones (95 e. 10th St.). This is an old school-style ice cream parlor. Our guide Alyson said it smells like waffle cones--and boy does it! She said she hopes that is what heaven smells like :) The storefront may be old school, but the flavors are NOT! We sampled avocado, red bean, taro, and sweet corn ice cream and all were as delicious as they were unique. But our sample here was the cookies and cream milkshake. Yummo!



Rachel and I enjoying Sundaes and Cones
The ice cream selection
Cookies and Cream Milkshake

Our third stop was a lesson in probiotics. Yogorino (657 Broadway) serves both gelato and frozen yogurt and we were able to sample a small size tart yogurt with 2 toppings--I chose dark chocolate and strawberries. I loved how the chocolate hardened on my frozen treat and I would highly recommend adding a fruit for some added natural flavor.


The awesome rotating gelato selection
My yogurt
Rice to Riches (37 Spring St.) is one of my all-time favorite places in NYC and somewhere that I always make sure out-of-town visitors experience. New Yorkers love their single ingredient-focused establishments, and this one takes the cake, or should I say the rice pudding? With several different flavors and toppings (try the french toast with "blessings"), Rice to Riches is also very tongue in cheek. "You MUST read all the signs on the wall," Alyson told our group. And yes, you must.

Rice to Riches
The flavor selection
My treat
This should be the new motto of this blog
Then we made our way down to Little Italy for a lesson in economics. If you can afford to only keep your storefront open for 5 months of the year, you will make your neighbors very jealous. M'O Il Gelato (178 Mulberry Street) does just that, and they make their gelato fresh every single morning. I sampled the coco flavor (coconut), and was super impressed by how creamy it was. We learned that gelato has a higher milk fat than ice cream (hence the creamier texture), but also that it melts faster than ice cream--which you would know if you've ever had a cone of stracciatella.

The selection at M'O Il Gelato
A small coco
The outside of M'O
Selfies in Little Italy!
Our last stop was probably the one I was most looking forward to. The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (65 Bayard St.) is a legend among New Yorkers. I first visited there after a trip to Thailand when I was craving some tropical flavors. Their selection includes black sesame, red bean, green tea, and much, much more. On the super hot Sunday we visited, the line was out the door and practically around the block. Thankfully we didn't have to wait in it as Alyson went in and grabbed us each a small green tea mixed with mango. It was the final dessert in a meal of desserts and it was well worth it.

Line out the door
Rachel and I with our ice cream
Green Tea and Mango ice cream
Once again the folks at Sugartooth have not failed to impress me with not only their knowledge of NYC and dessert (in this case ice cream) culture, but they have given me a heck of a good time and a lot of yummy eats. To close, I'll leave you with something I recently heard that cracks me up every time:

I scream. You scream. The police come. It's awkward.

6/24/15

Rediscovering the "De-chained" CPK and Loving It

Ever since I moved to NYC, I've had a very strong aversion to chain restaurants. Why should I eat at a place that I can eat at anywhere in the country when I have the best restaurants in the world mere footsteps away?, I thought. 

However, California Pizza Kitchen has always had a special place in my heart as it used to be the go-to birthday spot when I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles. I always knew about the CPK, as it's affectionately known, at 30th Street and Park Avenue, but have never been nostalgic enough to visit during my almost 7-year NYC tenure. But that all changes now.

California Pizza Kitchen NYC

Monday night I had the opportunity to visit CPK--the only location in Manhattan (so is it really a chain? Haha!)--as they celebrated their 30th anniversary and their new mission to "dechain the chain."

I first got a tour of the newly redecorated space, featuring a chalkboard and a wall of herbs at the entrance, reclaimed wood table tops, and scenic NYC photos adorning the walls. The space already feels more welcoming than your typical, cookie-cutter franchise.


Next, I was given an apron and whisked into the kitchen with Head Chef Brian Sullivan (who developed the iconic BBQ Chicken Pizza more than 20 years ago!) and NYC pizza chef Juan who both taught me how to make a pizza and (here's the best part) TOSS THE DOUGH! My first attempt ended up with me breaking holes in the dough, but try number 2 got some serious air and I transformed it into CPK's Wild Mushroom Pizza ($13.49) with 5 different types of mushrooms, 3 cheeses, garlic, and scallions. Yum!

Stretching pizza dough at CPK
Juan teaching me to stretch the dough
Tossing pizza dough at CPK
Oops! Popped some holes!
Tossing pizza dough at CPK
That's a winner!
My Wild Mushroom Pizza
My Wild Mushroom Pizza
At this point, I was finding flour in my hair and covering my arms--tis' the life of a pizza arteest!--but I was having a blast. Then I sat down with CPK CEO G.J. Hart, one of the nicest people I've ever met, who along with Chef Brian walked me through some of the new menu items and cocktails.

The first drink I tried, my favorite of the evening, was the California Roots, a Svedka vodka concoction with muddled avocado, mint, and agave sour rimmed with fennel salt. Talk about unusual! I also tried G.J.'s creation, The Executive Decision, which has Casamigos tequila blanco, muddled mint, fresh agave sour, Monin organic agave nectar and fresh lime, and I thought it was like vacation in a glass. Lastly, I sampled the Blueberry Ginger Smash, which cleverly mixes Jack Daniels with agave nectar, Domaine de Canton ginger, fresh blueberries and lime and cranberry juice into a delightful fruity libation. I told G.J. I could see these drinks going for upwards of $16 at some Manhattan hot spots, but he told me the price point was about half that depending on which CPK you were visiting!

California Roots cocktail
California Roots
The Executive Decision cocktail
The Executive Decision
Blueberry Ginger Smash
Blueberry Ginger Smash

Next, the food! Delicious, delicious food! When I used to come to CPK as a kid, I would always reliably order the BBQ Chicken Pizza. While the old classic is still on the menu, the items that surround it are new, improved, and focused on seasonal ingredients. Case in point, the California Fields Salad (half $9.99, full $13.49) is comprised of gorgeous field greens with fresh watermelon, sweet strawberries, feta, and California pistachios, topped with a housemade Champagne vinaigrette.

California Fields Salad
California Fields Salad

I also tried the new Maine Lobster Flatbread ($10.99), a wonderful dish for sharing, it features real Maine lobster meat, mayo, fresh herbs, arugula, and shaved red onions on a parmesan flatbread. It's like a pizza version of a lobster roll, and I LOVE lobster rolls.

Maine Lobster Flatbread
Maine Lobster Flatbread

For main entrees, I sampled the Tricolore Salad Pizza ($12.99), which is a salad lover's dream! It features a different take on the crust--caramelized honey and parmesan lend it to be thinner and crispier--cooked and then topped with field greens, tomatoes, and shaved parmesan tossed with housemade Dijon balsalmic vinaigrette.

Tricolore Salad Pizza
Tricolore Salad Pizza
I also had a clever take on a gluttonous dish, their Shrimp Scampi Zucchini ($14.79), which had half regular pasta and half noodles made from zucchini (aka: zoodles!) sauteed with lemon, garlic, and white wine. This entire dish is only 470 calories!

Shrimp Scampi Zucchini
Shrimp Scampi Zucchini

Lastly, my favorite entree of the night was the Hearth-Roasted Halibut ($23.79) served over grilled asparagus and butternut squash farro and baby kale. I could eat this morning, noon, and night, and it's a good thing too because the size of the piece of fish they give you is ginormous! Definitely enough for 2 meals for me. And the farro adds a truly unique touch.

Hearth-Roasted Halibut
Hearth-Roasted Halibut
Of course they didn't let me skip out on dessert, and neither should you. Both the salted caramel pudding ($4.99) served with black cocoa cookie crumbs, whipped cream, and sea salt and the Butter Cake ($6.79) served with ice cream and whipped cream are decadent options to end your meal.

Salted Caramel Pudding
Salted Caramel Pudding
Butter Cake
Butter Cake
I go to a lot of restaurant events, and I must say the hospitality I received at CPK was top notch. You could tell the people who work there enjoy the company for more than the fact that it gives them a paycheck--there's true passion behind the food and drink. Their prices are also fabulous! Lunch specials range from $9-11 from M-F, 1-4pm, and they also have happy hour specials.

Me with CPK's head chef and CEO
From Left: Head Chef Brian Sullivan, me, and CEO G.J. Hart

G.J. also told me that CPK is committed to the communities they operate in, offering fundraising events as often as they can. They are also relaunching their grocery store branded items, so keep an eye out for those in the coming months. I also took home a copy of the CPK cookbook, so maybe I'll be trying some of their creations for my next dinner party!

The CPK Cookbook
The CPK Cookbook
CPK Cookbook inscription
Love the inscription!

It's official, I've been converted (partially) back to the chain. CPK, you have thoroughly impressed me and I'll be singing your praises for a long while.

Disclosure: CPK hosted me for this event and paid for my food, but all opinions are my own.


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6/23/15

Your New Go-To For Snack Attacks

Searching for a snack that will get you through your afternoon, or even a nice, no-mess addition to a picnic in Central Park? I recently came across Crispy Fruit by Crispy Green, specifically the mango and Asian pear flavors, and I loved them so much I had to share. 


Each snack pack comes in a convenient tear-open packet and what you get is 100% pure fruit. It's been dehydrated of course, but don't confuse this process with the typical drying method we've seen produced by several supermarket brands. The way Crispy Fruit is made preserves the true flavor of the fruit with no added sugar. The result is a light, crispy texture with maximum taste.

Crispy Fruit are available for purchase throughout NYC at stores like Gristedes, Garden of Eden, and Balducci's. Comment below which is your favorite flavor!


Disclosure: I received free snack packs of Crispy Fruit but all opinions are my own.

6/22/15

Get Your Greek On at Eons

The Chipotle model has obviously proven so successful for Mexican food, so it's no surprise we've seen numerous other cuisines steal the build-it-yourself meal restaurant and make it their own. The Greeks have done it this time with Eons in Murray Hill (633 Second Ave @ 34th Street) and it's bound to be your new go-to for fresh, flavorful food.

Eons Greek

Walking in, you get the view similar to what you seen in Chipotle--a line of people waiting to choose their base (here you get you meal served as a pita, over rice, or over salad), protein (chicken, pork, shrimp, octopus, steak, lamb, salmon, or veggies), and toppings (tzadziki, garlic spread, feta spread, eggplant, humus, or something called lado sauce). Then you can choose from a variety of veggies and condiments to top off your meal.

We met the owner Anoush and she sweetly walked us through our options and made some recommendations.


Eons Greek counter and menu

Anoush making my lunch
Anoush making my lunch
Proteins!
Proteins!
More proteins!
More proteins!
Toppings!
Toppings!
Prices range from $7-$15 (with octopus by far being the most expensive). I opted for salmon over rice and have been craving it for lunch ever since! The fish is super flavorful and you can tell that it hasn't been sitting there for days just waiting to be served. The tomatoes which topped my bowl were some of the reddest I've ever seen and I would definitely recommend you not skip the lentils! Also they serve Boylan's sodas, so Eons officially gets 2 thumbs up.


Anoush also brought us a sample of Eons' spreads. The humus was, well, not my favorite, but all the others were great, especially the garlic spread! Mmmmm. No vampires here!

A spread of spreads
A spread of spreads
Our lunches
Our lunches
If you live or work in the area, Eons would be a great place to pick up lunch or dinner. And if you're anything like me, you'll even have leftovers! Don't be afraid to splurge for bigger ticket items like the salmon because they are fresh and definitely worth the few extra bucks.

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