Showing posts with label cocktails. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cocktails. Show all posts

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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6/19/15

Satisfy Your Crustacean Craving at Ambrose Beer and Lobster

Last month the Seaport got a new venue that has our vote for awesome summer hangout spot. Ambrose Beer and Lobster (18 Fulton Street) hosted a fun-filled event featuring the longest lobster roll I've ever seen, music by DJ Kalkutta, and an appearance by Dashca Polanco from Orange is the New Black.

Ambrose Beer and Lobster

 First things first, we headed for the bar. Vaction-y drinks we sampled included the Starboard--Absolut Mango, watermelon juice, and Saint Germain--and the Shipwreck--Sailor Jerry rum, Malibu, Bacardi, lime juice, and grenadine. Just add sand :)

Ambrose Cocktails
Ambrose Cocktails
The decor is great. Very shipwreck meets fun times. There's even a giant lobster!


Ambrose Beer and Lobster


Ambrose Beer and Lobster

The food was just want you'd want while sipping a beer outside on the cobblestones. We tried the giant pretzel with spicy honey mustard and cheese sauce, lobster avocado lettuce wraps, truffle fries, and the aforementioned lobster roll. Can you tell they like their lobster here? Dascha Polanco likes it too (see below!).

Giant lobster roll
Giant lobster roll!
Awesome in New York with Dascha Polanco
Look who we met!
 lobster roll
Lobster roll
Dascha Polanco loves the lobster roll too!
Dascha Polanco loves the lobster roll too!
Lobster lettuce wrap
Lobster lettuce wrap
Giant pretzel
Giant pretzel
Truffle Fries
Truffle fries

Check out Ambrose Beer and Lobster for a warm summer evening of fun and let us know what your favorite menu items were!

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5/5/15

What You Missed at Thrillist's 2015 Taco Knockout

Remember when I told you about an epic taco event taking place this past weekend? Well, it was flipping fantastic and indeed epic.

Thrillist Taco Knockout pinataThrillist Taco Knockout event


Thrillist's 2015 Taco Knockout drew more than 600 people to the Hudson Hotel's Tequila Park Taqueria on Saturday May 2. There were pinatas and sombreros and tons to eat with 10 different tacos from NYC restaurants all competing for the acclaimed Taco Knockout belt. 

The 2014 Taco Knockout belt
Armed with empty stomaches, my pals and I had a mission to try all 10 in the 4 hours we were allotted and we felt the mission was more than doable. We were given our cocktail tickets and a fancy blue chip in which to vote for our favorite.


First things first...Milagro cocktails! I tried the "Freshest Margarita" while my friends sipped on the "Paloma Milagrosa."

Milagro cocktails at the Thrillist Taco Knockout event

Margarita at the Thrillist Taco Knockout event

Then we got right down to it. Here's the listing of tacos in the order we tried them and our thoughts on their merits:

Chef Alfonso Ruiz & Chef Tom Casatelli’s Sunset Pork with chipotle pineapple pork, pickled jalapeno corn tortilla, picked red onion & chipotle crema: This creation from Ho'Brah was a fairly standard taco, but delicious nonetheless. The meat was cooked nicely but the flavor combination was nothing special.

Sunset Pork Taco from Ho'Brah
Sunset Pork Taco from Ho'Brah
Chef Robert Cho’s Cho Nut Taco with smoked brisket, bacon, smoked kimchi, bourbon chipotle sauce, cheddar cheese, fried ramen crumble on a buttered fried tortilla with powdered sugar: This was a real flavor explosion from the chefs at Kimchi Smoke. They combined traditional Korean flavors with downhome-style BBQ deliciousness. The powdered sugar and fried ramen crumbles were unexpected yet welcome.

Cho Nut Taco from Kimchi Smoke
Cho Nut Taco from Kimchi Smoke
Tequila Park Taqueria Executive Chef Geoff Rudaw’s Chicken Vindaloo Taco with mango chutney, raita & crispy mee krob noodles: This was my favorite hands down and the one I voted for. I love it when flavor combinations from different ends of the world meet and this taco epitomized that concept. The only thing we wanted was a bit more heat.

Chicken Vindaloo Taco from Tequila Park Taqueria
Chicken Vindaloo Taco from Tequila Park Taqueria
Executive Chef Jesús Nuñez’s Taco y Olé with beef oxtail, fried egg cream, piquillo pepper, crispy jamon Serrano, herbs and pickled veggies: This taco, from Socarrat Paella Bar was another flavor fusion. We also appreciated how colorful it was, and I was a big fan of how the sauces mixed well in each individual bite.

Taco y Olé
Taco y Olé from Socarrat Paella Bar
Chefs & Owners Eduard Fraundeer & Wolfgang Ben’s Crispy Chicken Schnitzel Taco with ramp remoulade, radish and Austrian pumpkinseed salsa: "I love ramps," my friend exclaimed as she took a bite into this taco. The chefs from Edi & The Wolf really threw a curve ball with this taco, both because it was the first hard shell we had tasted and also because...schnitzel!?! It was much enjoyed, especially because of the ramps.

Crispy Chicken Schnitzel Taco from Edi & The Wolf
Crispy Chicken Schnitzel Taco from Edi & The Wolf
Chef Thomas Kelly’s Smoky Carnitas Tacos with manchego, crispy tortilla strips, corn salsa & creamy chipotle: Food truck cum storefront Mexicue went all-out comfort food with their taco. All together I thought it tasted reminiscent of a cheeseburger, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. My only complaint about this taco was how much liquid spilled out whenever I tried to take a bite. Definitely not something to eat on a first date.

Smoky Carnitas Tacos from Mexicue
Smoky Carnitas Taco from Mexicue
Chef Barry Frish​’s Buffalo Chicken Taquitos with family secret buffalo sauce and bleu cheese/ranch dip: When we first saw these creations from Taquitoria, a conversation was instantly sparked on the glories of Costco taquitos my friends and I apparently both devoured in middle school (those were the days). These babies were served with a combination sauce that had a bit of a big kick. The glory of the dipping sauce was though that you could control how much you wanted. Thanks for the walk down memory lane Taquitoria!

Buffalo Chicken Taquitos from Taquitoria
Buffalo Chicken Taquitos from Taquitoria
Executive Chef Adrian Ramirez’s Mahi Mahi BLT Taco with grilled mahi mahi, chipotle-piloncillo bacon, shredded lettuce, lime pico de gallo, agave cilantro aioli: Frankly, I'm surprised we didn't see more fish tacos. This version from La Esquina was perfect for me and almost earned my vote although my friends thought it was a bit too spicy. The thing that most impressed me about this taco was that the chefs were making the tortillas right in front of us. Talk about fresh!

Mahi Mahi BLT Taco from La Equina
Mahi Mahi BLT Taco from La Equina
Executive Chef Sasha Shor’s House-Cured Smoked Pork Belly Taco with poblano lime ranch and hot pink pickled onions: Talk about flavor! This taco from Tres Carnes was the ultimate in mega-rich taco with homemade pork belly that melted in your mouth. I also got a kick out of the hot pink onions.

House-Cured Pork Belly Taco from Tres Carnes
House-Cured Pork Belly Taco from Tres Carnes
Executive Chef Brian Tsao’s Beef Bulgogi Tacos with wonton skins, Asian pear, kimchi slaw, toasted sesame & scallion: Last but not least, this taco from Mira Sushi & Izakaya wins the award for most likely not a taco, but it was still good anyway. The crispy wonton shell gave it an interesting flair and the beef was flavorful.

Beef Bulgogi Taco from Mira Sushi & Izakaya
Beef Bulgogi Taco from Mira Sushi & Izakaya
Other scrumptious food items available throughout the event were super-creamy guacamole from Rosa Mexicano and all sorts of churros (some with bacon bits and dulce de leche and there was even a chocolate fountain!).
Guacamole from Rosa Mexicano
Guacamole from Rosa Mexicano
Churros
Churros!
There was also fantastic entertainment by DJ Dirty Digits, percussionist Jimmy Lopez and flash mob performances by the Northeast’s finest mariachi band, Mariachi Tapatio de Alvaro Paulino and folkloric dance group Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Nueva York. 

Mariachi Tapatio de Alvaro Paulino
Mariachi Tapatio de Alvaro Paulino
Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Nueva York
Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Nueva York
Where can I get one of those dresses?

As the event wrapped up and everyone yearned for their stretch pants, Mexicue was awarded the 2015 Thrillist Taco Knockout belt for their Smoky Carnitas Taco.


Chef Barry Frish from Mexicue wins the Taco Knockout
Chef Barry Frish from Mexicue wins the Taco Knockout
And lastly, here are some snaps of my and my friends with our taco-eating hats on...literally :)

Friends at Thrillist's Taco Knockout

Friends at Thrillist's Taco Knockout

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! Celebrate responsibly, please!