Monday, August 31, 2009

Food in Finland

In honor of it being the last week of summer, before the holiday weekend, I will devote this week's posts to food I ate on my awesome trip to Finland this summer. There were trips to other places (like Sweden & Estonia) and food eaten there that I'll write about too. I have some readers in that neck of the woods, and hope to hear what they think about what I've written.

Today I will be featuring the food I ate during my days in Finland. My first stop was the Kauppatori (open market) in downtown Helsinki, right on the harbor where the big cruise ships depart for Sweden, Estonia & Germany. There are huge bins of berries of all kinds, potatoes, mushrooms, fish, baked goods and did I say berries? It was amazing, seeing bins full of strawberries, blueberries, cloudberries, green & red gooseberries, and red & purple currants. Look how beautiful!

I made sure I got some strawberries (so sweet!), some gooseberries (so tart!) and one Korvapuusti (my friend & host's favorite baked good; it's a sort of cinnamon roll, lightly sweet, not very sticky but really nice as a subtle sweet treat). They're also topped with the large kind of sugar crystal which adds to the sweetness.

Berries are incredibly abundant in Finland and you can pick wild berries everywhere - in parks, on the side of the road, while hiking. And so we did, in Nuuksio National Park, about an hour northwest of Helsinki.

Salmon was another item I had been told to eat before my travels to Finland, and I made sure to get a lot of it while I was there. It was so creamy & buttery, unlike any salmon I've ever had. One of my particular favorites was the Salmon Soup at Cafe Esplanad, (Pohjoisesplanadi 37, 09 665 496‎), on the main drag in downtown Helsinki. Made with tons of butter, potatoes, lots of dill and big chunks of salmon, it was perfect on the one cool, rainy day I had there.

On the morning we arrived back from our trip to Stockholm, we stopped for breakfast at Tahti Baari (The Star Bar), (Puutarhakatu 15, 358 2 231 9046) the only place open in Turku at 8am on a weekday! It was a little bleak, but our breakfast sandwich of ham, egg, salami & cheese on dark rye bread with butter was delicious.

The coffee was weak and the breakfast doughnut was greasy, but when nothing else is open, it hits the spot!

The other bits of Finnish deliciousness I ate in Helsinki were the Karelian Pies. They're made with a Rye crust (the Finns love their dark bread!), stuffed with either a rice or potato filling and sometimes topped with egg butter (mashed boiled egg & butter). Served warm they are such a delight. I ate many of these while I was there!

I also had occasion to have breakfast at Cafe Engel (Aleksanterinkatu 26, 09 652 776‎) just opposite Senate Square and the big, white Lutheran Church on top of the steps. They make great coffee and offer a number of different breakfast meals including the French breakfast (with croissant), the English breakfast (with sausage) and the Cafe Engel breakfast (with a boiled egg). Below you can see the French breakfast which was quite nice, and very filling, with fresh fruit & vegetables as refreshing garnishes.

As you can see I ate well during my travels in Finland, and I barely scratched the surface. Let me know if you've eaten at these restaurants or if you have recommendations for my next trip!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Breakfast at Cafe Gialeti's

Oh breakfast, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I rarely use the word 'favorite', but I might just feel like breakfast is my favorite meal to eat out at a restaurant. And I love finding new places to do such eating. So it went that a friend and I happened to go to Gialeti's Cafe (1658 8th Avenue, at the corner of prospect Avenue, 718-768-0500) recently for breakfast, and to check the place out. It's mostly a breakfast & lunch spot, althought they are open until 8pm most nights. You place your order at the counter and your food is then brought to you at your table. It's very casual and laid-back, with a seemingly everyone-knows-each-other local Park Slope/Windsor Terrace vibe going on. I immediately liked it.

My friend got two eggs scrambled, Italian toast and a bowl of fruit. It wasn't exactly on the menu, but they made just what she wanted and she was very happy with her meal. Look at that fruit! Kiwis, strawberries, bananas, blueberries & raspberries, all fresh & sweet & perfect! I never see a side of fruit like that!

I felt like I was taking a chance when I ordered the Blueberry pancakes, but they were delicious. They were moist, fluffy and filled with blueberries. There was even a little sprinkling of cinnamon sugar on top which I thought was a super nice touch.

I also got the side of fruit and thoroughly enjoyed it. The bananas were perfectly ripe, the berries burst with flavor, even the kiwis tasted good!

I really liked this place and if I'm ever in the area in need of some sustenance, I'll know where to go. Not necessarily a place to go out of your way for, but an awesome local spot serving quality food.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Brunch at Fioré

Fioré (284 Grand St., between Havemeyer and Roebling, 718-782-8222) had been recommended to me almost a year ago and while I still haven't tried it for dinner, I had the good fortune to go there for Brunch recently. Even though it was noon, there were only two or three other tables with people at them so we were seated right away - always a plus at Brunch. It's nicely decorated with wooden farm tables, seating two or four, throughout the dining room, a long wooden bar along the right side and a small backyard in the rear.

We ordered two items off of the specials menu - the regular menu had all the standard fare, poached eggs, pancakes, plus pizza and panini - but the specials menu was enticing. Of course, we got one savory, one sweet. There was an Omelette made stuffed with potatoes, leeks, sausage and Gruyere cheese and it was delicious. Just a bit of cheese to make it gooey, but not overpowering, just a bit of sausage to lend flavor and lots of leek, which were tenderly sauteed. This came with homefries that were not as crispy as I prefer but were good, and a side salad nicely dressed with a viaigrette.

Our sweet option were the Apple Almond Pancakes with crispy bacon. The outside of the pancakes were coated with slivers of almonds and inside were caramelized slices of apples. It was actually too sweet for me. There was no need to sweeten the apples prior to cooking, and the pancakes were a bit on the greasy side. They weren't awful, just disappointing as they sounded so good. I think I was expecting more of an almond flavor, and tangy apple, instead of the sweet, heavy cake on my plate. MORE than enough for two people.

I definitely liked it and will go back to try it for dinner, as that's what I've heard is so amazing at Fioré.

Fiore on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dinner at Hibino

A cousin of mine was in town from Austin and since she studies Japanese, we thought it'd be fun to go to Hibino, (333 Henry St., on the corner of Pacific St., 718-260-8052), an authentic Japanese restaurant that offers more than just sushi to sate your appetite. It's a simply decorated, clean and open space, and we were seated in the back, near a window.

There is a large menu with appetizers, salads, entrees and Daily Obanzi, Japanese-style tapas. We ordered a mix of everything, with mixed results. I started with the Kamo Salad with duck, mizuna, daikon and carrot in a shiso dressing. The pieces of duck were plentiful, the dressing was tangy and sweet and everything was crispy & fresh.

I also got the Hirousu, a soy broth simmered fried tofu cake, which is handmade there on the premises. It was interesting; kind of dry, with an even consistency. It tasted slightly sweet, but overall was kind of bland. It made a nice reprieve from the more strongly flavored items, but it wouldn't be good as the only thing you ordered. Maybe the fresh homemade tofu is better?

I also got a side order of Tsuke Mono, Japanese pickles, an assortment of pickled veggies, some of which were delicious, some were a bit too funky for me. Not sure what everything was though.

There were two orders of the Yaki Nasu, the roasted eggplant from the Obanzi menu, which was not a hit at the table. It too was a bit bland, and had a chewy consistency. Maybe it's an acquired taste?

The Edamame was perfect - tender, well-salted little pods of green that burst in your mouth.

There was an order of Hibino Teriyaki Chicken which was great - light, tender and mixed with organic Spring vegetables.

The Salmon Miso Zuke was terrific as well. The fish was cooked to perfection, the sauce was lightly sweet and savory and the vegetables weren't overcooked one bit.

Another item from the Obanzi menu were these Daikon nugget things. Breaded and fried, they were just a bit too hard for me. My BF loved them however; another acquired taste!

We did get some sushi too. The Salmon Salad Roll and an Avocado Roll. The sushi was some of the best I've ever had. Fresh, soft, flavorful - all the ingredients popped, instead of getting lost among the mix.

I will definitely go back to Hibino for more of their sushi; it's clear that they take pride in what they're doing and pay close attention to the details.

Hibino on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dinner at O'Barone

I have a new favorite restaurant! O'Barone (360 Van Brunt St., between Sullivan & Wolcott St., 347-599-2758) has been open for three weeks now in the old 360 space in Red Hook and it's absolutely, positively wonderful. I arrived there with a whole crew - my almost-83 year old grandfather, who doesn't speak louder than a whisper, my mother, step-father, my 14 year-old sister and my boyfriend, PLUS my parents' neighbor, her daughter, whose 15th birthday was that night, and a friend of my sister's. Luckily we got there on the early side, so we pretty much had that whole place to ourselves. The waiter was excellent - energetic, funny, capable, easy-going, and dealt with the chaos that was us with aplomb. AND...the food was great.

The chef is Italian-Austrian, and manages to mix the two in interesting, creative and delicious ways. We started out with a bunch of salads, each substantial and flavorful. There was a salad on the menu made with head cheese that we were inquiring about, but none of us was adventurous enough to order it. Well, the chef sent the dish over anyway for us to try it. Yeah, the concept is kinda gross, but I actually liked it. Never ate it in my life, and don't think I'll actually order it, but it was good. Covered with slices of radishes and shredded carrots, atop a bed of arugula, dressed with a light vinaigrette, it was fresh and flavorful.

The salad I did order was the beet salad, which came with goat cheese and apples on a bed of spinach. This was fabulous, and well-proportioned, with enough goat cheese to go with almost every bite. Tangy, creamy, deliciousness with terrific beets. Yum!

My mom got the lentil salad which was mixed with potatoes and green beans and was served on a bed of mixed greens. I didn't get to try it, but she loved it.

My grandfather got a smoked tuna salad with barley, tomatoes & scallions with arugula that he ate up heartily and enjoyed. Everything was just so fresh and lovingly prepared, it was a pleasure to eat there.

For my entree I ordered the Tagliatelle with Mushrooms. Homemade pasta is the best, and this was great, with big slices of Porcini Mushrooms.

My boyfriend got the smoked salmon pasta which came with plentiful chunks of fish, tomato and orange & Yellow bell peppers. A perfect dish for a summer evening.

My sister chose the Spinach & Cheese Ravioli, also homemade, which were tender and flavorful, not oily or greasy, in a butter & cheese sauce.

My step-dad got the lasagna which was nicely browned on top with plenty of melted cheese. It was vegetarian, which I prefer, with a meat-less sauce so all the other delicate flavors can shine through.

There was also this dish below that I can't even remember - I think it's duck with a citrus-y salad on the side.

So, the food was great, and the chef even came out to check on us and talk food, his background (born in Milan, Austrian mom), and having a restaurant in the neighborhood. But the DESSERTS - they were glorious creations, and heavenly.

This chocolate concoction was incredible - it was a chilled, chocolately zabaglione-type custard, dusted with cocoa and accessorized with real whipped cream. It was light and fluffy but deeply chocolately and good on a hot night.

But my favorite favorite dish of the night was this lemon ice, served IN a whole lemon with the end of the lemon jauntily placed on top like a cap. It was tart and icy but smooth and delicate at the same time. The presentation was gorgeous and everyone ooohed and aaaahed when it came to the table.

They also have a pretty good wine list so you don't have to worry about bringing your own. So go there! It's great, they're great.

O Barone on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lunch at Calexico

So, I had to try out Calexico (122 Union St., between Hicks St. & Columbia St., 718-488-8226) for myself, and I have to say, I was disappointed. Yes, the Crack Sauce is delicious, but the rest of the food just didn't cut it. On top of the mediocrity, the food delivery from Sysco & IBP in the middle of our meal really turned me off. Maybe it's left over from college cafeteria days, but mostly it's my knowledge of what these huge corporations mean in terms of food quality (low) and cost to the environment (high), not to mention how the animals on these "farms" are treated. There is so much good food available, it's a shame that this place isn't buying from a local butcher, or a local produce grower. Everybody seems to love this place, and maybe I'll get some flack, but I've gotta stick to my guns here.

I ordered a cheese & bean taco and a tofu quesadilla. The taco comes on two soft corn tortillas and was pretty good. Drizzled in crack sauce (a thick, creamy, spicy mayo concoction) and served with a wedge of lime, this might be the only thing I'll get here again. The tofu quesadilla had very firm chunks of tofu wrapped inside a crisp tortilla. Yes, you can dunk it in a big dish of the sauce, but that's all I ended up tasting.

My boyfriend got the Pulled Pork Quesadilla and a Tofu Torta (a sort of grilled sandwich/panini-type thing). The pulled pork was gross. Oily, not flavorful and did not go so well with the sauce. The Tofu Torta again was stuff with bland, hard chunks of tofu. I understand the point of this place is the meat, but I keep coming back to the source of that meat and my stomach turns. There was also air conditioner drip landing in a puddle on the table next to where we were sitting that didn't look like it was being addressed. What's up with that? Maybe they'll wise up and start buying better quality ingredients, but until then I'll take a pass on Calexico.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cheese & Bread at The Clover Club

I had imbibed at The Clover Club (210 Smith St., between Butler St. Baltic St., 718-855-7939) before, but never had tried their food until recently. There were a bunch of items on the menu that caught my eye (like the homemade potato chips fried in duck fat and the deviled eggs served four different ways), but we stuck to a simple & traditional cheese & bread plate. With three cheeses and two breads, it's perfect for a light snack shared between two people. This night's plate came with a Gloucester (sharp, flaky), a Piave (nutty and complex) and a Rosso de Langa (a deliciously creamy Italian brie that you can get just down the road at Stinky Brooklyn).

There were slices of French bread and slices of a darker bread with raisins and walnuts that was a terrific match with the Rosso de Langa. The music was great (Ray Charles, Koko Taylor), and the drinks were tasty too (albeit a bit pricey). I chose the Mai Thai (Rum Agricole, White Rum, Lemongrass syrup, kafir lime leaves and lime juice) which was refreshing and a touch spicy. Gotta get back for those deviled eggs!

Sunday, August 9, 2009


I will be away this week & won't be posting. Please come back next week for more tales of Brooklyn dining. Happy eating!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Lunch at Eat

I'm sorta confused as to what this place is called now. For years my boyfriend and I used to go here when it was Eat Records, the pancakes, eggs and bacon were the best and crates of the real deal lined the walls while off-beat avant-garde music filled the space. Now it seems to be known as just Eat (124 Meserole Ave., between Manhattan Ave. & Graham Ave., 718-389-8083) and there are only a few crates of records there, but what remains is pretty awesome. If you do a search online, "Eat Coffee LLC" comes up, but I understand they don't sell coffee to go anymore, much to the chagrin of online commentators. I spoke with the waitress a little about the menu and was told all of it is based on what's available at farms both really nearby (Rooftop Farm) and sorta nearby (upstate a little). Eat also hosts a CSA with the produce from the upstate farm and the chef creates the menu around what's freshest and in season. What you get is really good, tasty, quality food in a relaxed, comfortable environment.

There are appetizers, crostini, soups and sandwiches to choose from and everything sounded really enticing. I started out with a green salad made with greens from the Rooftop Farm, two kinds of radishes and topped with cheese from Consider Bardwell Farms (love them!). It was slightly bitter, really fresh and very flavorful with a light dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. I highly recommend it!

I also got the special Bahn Mi sandwich made with boiled eggs, carrots, parsley and daikon. The bread was crusty, and the ingredients just popped! So fresh and bright and yummy.

My BF got the Frittata made with asparagus that was gorgeous AND delicious to boot. Served cold, with a small salad on the side, it's perfect for a hot summer day.

I was sad to see Eat Records go, and they definitely went through some growing pains, but it's current iteration is wonderful and I hope more people go there to support a true local, community-oriented business!

Eat Coffee LLC on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dim Sum at Pacificana

Congratulations to Best View in Brooklyn for winning a copy of Andrew Coe's new book, Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States. Here is a post she wrote about Dim Sum in Sunset Park. Enjoy!

After several less-than-patient attempts to partake of dim sum at Pacificana, I have finally experienced the legendary tidbits and nibbles above the Chase bank on 8th Avenue and 55th Street. I went with a friend who speaks and understands Chinese, and she also was familiar with some of the items I hadn't ever seen. The servers did translate the dishes, so don't worry if you don't know Chinese.

We started out by ordering Chrysanthemum tea instead of the regular green tea. So good. Let it steep for a while after it gets to the table. Fanny also told me that it's polite to tap the table with your fingertips while the server (or your friend) pours tea for you. It basically means "Thank you for pouring my tea."

Other highlights we ordered were shu mai, shrimp dumplings, and some crunchy goodness wrapped in squishy goodness. Fanny had to eat most of that since only the crunchy-squishy goodness was sans meat. We then saw a bun/pastry cart go by. Fanny picked out the durian and egg custard plates. I was a little dubious about eating the durian pastry (pictured below) because I had seen that bizarre foods show with that food guy on that food channel. The durian vendors in his show were stationed far from everyone else due to the smell of the durian fruit. It's also banned in touristy hotels in China and Singapore! Fanny assured me that the taste (and smell) is much different post-cooking than fresh. I would have tried it anyway, just to try it.

However, it was really good! The durian filling is kind of like cooked but uncaramelized Vidalia onions. It was all I could do to save one to bring home for my better half.

The photo below shows some of the other items we tried. From right to left: the egg custard tarts were also quite tasty. Very eggy flavor, and sweet. The greens were excellent, and it was a good thing we ordered them. Nice to have something to help things move along. The turnip cake has chunks of turnip and some pork in it. I did try a little of the turnip chunk, and it was tasty. On the far left is an almond pudding. Very sweet and very good. In fact, it was particularly tasty as a way to cut some of the bitterness of the greens. There is also some hot sauce on the table. You have to order that specifically; just ask for "hot sauce."

The entire meal, Fanny had been talking about fresh tofu pudding. She hadn't had it for years, and we didn't see any going by in the carts. After we'd already ordered an obscene amount of plates (we were there to try lots of stuff - we didn't finish them all!), I saw a server scooping wobbly white stuff into bowls. I'd found it! I was very pleased to make myself useful at Pacificana. So, of course, we had to order a bowl of fresh tofu as well. It was a perfect ending, actually. Very light, the tiniest bit sweet, and it actually tasted like tofu...not spongey shoelaces like some of the pre-packaged tofu can be. Here's what the serving looked like before we attacked it.

What surprised me about Pacificana most was how crowded it was. I mean, it was 11:30 AM in the middle of the week! I thought there would be SOME people there, but the place was FULL. And when it started to thin out at about noon, a new wave of people came in. I have to say, we spent a lot more time there than most. At first we were seated with the maternal side of a family (grandmother, mother, three girls), they finished up while we started, and then a couple of White women came in and they were seated with us. (We three were the only White people there, by the way. Coincidence? I guess we got the kids'/White people's table.) The two women were out of there within 20 minutes...quick lunch. A third party was being seated when we finally had our bill tallied. Perhaps a lot of people use it as a quick, relatively cheap way to have lunch. Anyway, I was amazed by the amount of people in that huge space.

I'll be back, for sure. I know that on the weekends it's best to get there quite early. We were seated almost immediately, so weekday lunch is pretty easy. Enjoy!

Monday, August 3, 2009

More Cookies!

I seriously love cookies. I think they are my favorite sweet snack, if I can go so far as to name something my favorite. But really, a good cookie is the best way to have a bit of dessert without committing to a major situation. Chocolate Chip Cookies are the absolute best, if and when they are made well, and I'm always on the lookout for good cookie.

I recently tried the Chocolate Chip Cookie from Jacques Torres in DUMBO (66 Water St., between Main St. & Old Dock St., 718-875-9772). It was incredible, almost as big as my head and loaded with huge, dark chocolate chunks. It was a bit underdone and overly sweet for me, almost uncooked in the middle. It was still a fine cookie though, and I didn't have a problem finishing it.

Then, one day recently walking in Greenpoint, I stumbled upon Cookie Road, (94 Franklin St., at Oak St., 718-383-8094), a new coffee/sweets/sandwich shop run by it's very friendly owners. They have colorfully painted the outside of their corner shop in bright orange hues which already has got opinions flying. I liked it and liked the seats outside under the awning, perfect for all the rainy days we've been having. I tried two of their cookies, but there are many other options. One was Peanut Butter and really tasted like Peanut Butter, not some imitation, or flavoring, but real peanut butter. It was flaky and dense, and really good.

I liked the Rocky Road cookie more though, I think because I prefer chocolate. This was a double chocolate cookie with pecans & chocolate chips and sprinkled with mini marshamallows on top. This was a good cookie! Chocolately and moist, it went excellently with a glass of cold milk.

I didn't try their coffee, which has had mixed reviews, but am definitely happy to go back to support them and my cookie habit!