Spicing up Brunch with Paprika

This past Saturday I enjoyed a hearty brunch at the East Village’s up-and-coming unassuming eatery Paprika. With a crowd shortly after their 12pm brunch opening, I figure that East Village dwellers are tweeting phenomenal reviews across the web or their $12 brunch is JUST that good. Could it be both? I was about to find out.

First off, arriving at Paprika at 12pm was the smartest thing we could have done. On my walk over I noticed enormous crowds waiting outside of other St. Marks favorites like Cafe Orlin and Cafe Mogador – tsk, tsk. By 12:45, Paprika was already packed with large groups of hungry brunch fiends like myself. And who could really blame us with a $12 brunch including coffee or tea, orange juice, and a healthy selection of main courses — we were pumped!

Our party of five ordered the Scrambled Green Eggs, Polenta and Salsa Cruda and the Mushroom and Fontina Omelette with Sausages and Tomatoes. Both dishes were absolutely delicious – beautifully presented, aromatic, and satisfying! The pesto in the green eggs made the dish bright and flavorful and tasted wonderful with the fluffy polenta and salsa cruda. The mushrooms and fontina in the omelet were also very tasty although I could have done without the accompanying sausage. But despite the richness of the omelet, the staff was polite enough to substitute egg whites for me at no charge – so I had no complaints!

I’d absolutely recommend this rustic, homey restaurant for brunch or dinner! I look forward to returning for their specialty – Northern Italian Cuisine! And in addition to their budget friendly brunch special, Paprika also offers a

two-course $15 prix-fixed dinner Monday – Thursday from 5-7pm. If you’re lucky, you may even experience a celebrity spotting!

PAPRIKA

110 St. Marks Place

Between 1st & Ave A

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The Allure of Alta

Imagine being transported to a wonderful Spanish home with an endless selection of  mouth watering Catalan cuisine you could only indulge in a foreign land. Well, guess what, its not as far away as you thought.

Known to some as a West Village staple, Alta is a wonderful restaurant for any occasion. Their extensive menu accommodates anyone from the experimental foodie to the locally sourcing vegetarian. Despite Alta’s discrete residence, tucked away on West 10th street, New Yorkers have been in-the-know about this neighborhood gem for ages and for good reason.

We enjoyed everything we had from the crispy brussels sprouts and Catalonia flatbread to the tantalizing torija dessert, which I cannot find a recipe for anywhere! The decor, the rich flavorful tapas, and the phenomenal wine made for a memorable evening, though leaving more to be desired… There’s about twenty or so other tapas I’ve yet to try!

But if I can leave you with one recommendation it would be to order a bottle of the Celler Cecilio L’Espill (Vintage 2000). This smooth Catalonian wine, made in Priorat, Spain,  perfectly compliments any of Alta’s tapas and your palette!

Dishes I tried…

*my favorites

Carpaccio Of Beef horseradish créme frâiche foam, orange supremes

*Crispy Brussels Sprouts fuji apples, crème fraiche, pistachio nuts

Lamb Meatballs spiced butternut squash foam, toasted sesame seeds and lebne

Skewer of Grilled & Maple glazed Duck Breast foie gras emulsion, Marsala reduction

*Coca (Catalonian Flatbread) oven roasted mushrooms, fresh ricotta, truffled boschetto, herbs

*Torija (Dessert) marcona almond croquant, mandarin sauce, lebne sorbet, and grapefruit air

ALTA

60 W. 10th Street

A Lucky Strike

Last night some of my closest friends celebrated our friend’s engagement at Lucky Strike. Lucky Strike is the ultimate destination for both activity seekers and party goers. A high class lounge parallel to a 26 lane bowling alley sounds like the perfect place for a date — a little bowling and drinking never hurt anyone, right?

But last night I was there for one thing only, to celebrate one of the most anticipated engagements to date. And since the elaborately decorated lounge was located conveniently behind the bowling alley, we had the privilege of witnessing the actual proposal and luckily he didn’t strike out! She said YES!

Following an adorable proposal, we surprised the beautiful bride AND groom to be in Lucky Strike’s lounge and celebrated over champagne and hors d’oeuvres which included fried macaroni and cheese bites (the bride’s favorite) serves with marinara sauce, vegetable plates, and spinach and artichoke dip with accompanying pita wedges.

Lucky Strike was the perfect place for this wonderful couple to celebrate their engagement and to replicate where they first met — Badger Bowl in Madison, WI (go Badgers!).

Congratulations Lauren & Adam!

(ps – I highly recommend Lucky Strike for dates, birthdays, engagements, or just plain ol’ bowling)

Lucky Strike

624-660 W 42nd Street (at 12th Avenue)

646-829-0170

The Best and Worst of Aruban Cuisine

After spending three consecutive Christmases in Aruba I’ve had the privilege of surveying a great deal of Aruba’s restaurants with offerings varying from fanciful Italian delicacies to authentic Aruban prepared fruits of the sea. And I’ve found that despite the decor (elaborate or simple), the cuisine (Asian Fusion, Italian, or Aruban – or casual), or the service (which is mostly quite poor), all of these restaurants left me feeling equally disappointed, unsatisfied, and slightly cheated.

Living in New York has made me incredibly spoiled. If I want the freshest organic milk Manhattan has to offer its either across the street at the Food Emporium or a short subway ride away. If I get a sudden craving for delicious Indian food it is four blocks away. Good Italian food, one block – ten blocks for REALLY good Italian. And so on.

In Aruba if I want good anything I go to one of the now four Dunkin’ Donuts or a cute local shop called Dushi Bagels. I know, great name. A lot of things are coincidentally named Dushi in Aruba- boats, restaurants, drinks- you name it. And why? Maybe because in the native Arubian language of Papiamento, Dushi means precious. And let me tell you, on an island full of awfully plain restaurants, Dushi Bagels is a precious gem. This quaint, incredibly friendly “coffee shop”, located right outside of the Playa Linda, serves great salads (especially their crab salad), turkey burgers, egg sandwiches, and draft beer! Most importanly they have a lovely staff which is tough to come by in Aruba.

Aruba claims to be “One Happy Island” but their restaurants state otherwise. Despite the many duds I came across this past Christmas there were a few shining stars to be found.

Iguana Cantina

This causal Mexican eatery really hit the spot. With all you can eat fajita Wednesdays, the Levine family took advantage of this fabulous find which is centrally located across from the Holiday Inn.

Yemanja Grill

With Christmas vacation always comes my dad’s birthday and Yemanja Grill was a great place to celebrate! Aruban Decor and a sophisticated menu delighted our party of eight. And if you arrive early and stick to the appetizers and the grilled Salmon, you’re guaranteed to have a great meal. Just be sure to pay in cash as the service here is no better than the rest of the island.

Chef’s Table

Our favorite restaurant of three years. Ahi tuna appetizer and entree are excellent as are their salads and fish soup. The rest of the food is as plain and simple as is expected. But their desserts are a dime a dozen! Chef’s table uniquely serves all of their desserts in tall shot glasses!

Other restaurants I’d like to try….

Pago Pago

Screaming Eagle

Morandi

Places to stay away from…

Blossom’s (inside the Hyatt)

Cuba’s Cookin’

Scala

New Amsterdam Market

Last Sunday morning I was pleasantly greeted with newly shucked oysters, artisanal cheeses, homemade pastas, organic vegetables, rustic breads, and other coveted specialty foods at the New Amsterdam Market on South Street. With only four markets per season, this wonderful market of delightful fare was overflowing with local residents by noon. Everyone looking for the same thing… the best local produce the tri-state area has to offer.

My favorite vendors were

Basis Foods, selling local produce at affordable prices

Saxelby Cheeses, mouth-watering cheese that will literally melt your pockets (its just that expensive)

The Ravioli Store, dozens of homemade pastas you just can’t pass up

Taza Chocolate, just try their vanilla chocolate rounds-yum!

Porchetta, the best damn pork sandwich out there

The Bent Spoon, all I can say is… Ricotta Ice Cream

New Amsterdam Market Oysters

New Amsterdam Market Garlic

New Amsterdam Market Taza Chocolate

New Amsterdam Market Homemade Pasta

There’s Vodka in my Fruit

Vodka Fruit CocktailOver the last few years my alcohol preference has gone from vodka soda to beer or wine. But for special occassions, I’ve been known to have a cocktail or two. And after being introduced to vodka fruit, I think I’m going to be indulging in more scandalous cocktails more often.

On my trip out to Fire Island this weekend I was pleasantly greeted with a fairly large container of what my friend Mike calls Vodka Fruit. Although this wonderful concoction is bursting with flavors, I was surprised to learn that its merely the combination of two luscious ingredients fresh fruit & premium vodka. Since this incredibly simple recipe was already a success, I became excited by the possibility of enhancing its flavor with other fairly typical pairings like mint, simple syrup, or any  number of liqueurs.

But until I test the waters, I’ll stick with the basics:

VODKA FRUIT RECIPE

Vodka Fruit

Ingredients

  • One handle of premium vodka such as Grey Goose or Ketel One (DO NOT CHEAP OUT)
  • 2 pounds of fresh fruit (strawberries, pineapples, mangoes, oranges, nectarines and watermelon are all good choices. DO NOT use apples as they oxidize and will ruin your fruit mix.)
  • One 3-4 quart plastic container

Preparations

  1. Wash and cut fruit into bite size pieces and place in plastic container.
  2. Pour vodka over fruit until the contents of the container is full.
  3. Let vodka and fruit soak for TWO FULL DAYS prior to eating.
  4. Enjoy the succulent vodka soaked fruit on day three and the refreshing vodka fruit cocktail on day four.

*Serving Tip: This winning combination is most definitely a crowd pleaser and even makes a nice after dinner drink/snack. I highly recommend serving it at a party or small gathering. Its vital that the fruit soaks for a two day period so that it absorbs as much vodka as possible. And don’t forget to use premium vodka!

$12 Challenge Here I Come!

So the vote has been cast and soon enough I will be a contestant on Food 2’s $12 Challenge. With wit, sarcasm, and creativity I will surely trump whatever my contender dishes out. Unfortunately I won’t have much time to mentally prepare before the shoot, as our direction is given by our potential love interest, I have now been told I can bring a secret ingredient along with me!

WHAT IS MY SECRET INGREDIENT?
It is pretty tough to just bring ONE ingredient with me. But the “secret ingredient” can be anything I want from a good luck charm to a zester. This ingredient is key for the camera because if picked correctly it will compliment my dish perfectly and ultimately lead me to victory!

As of course I have NO idea what to bring with me, so I’ll put it out there for suggestions from my fans. You are fans, right? Well, in any case, I hope someone out there will inspire me with a killer ingredient that will wow both my potential love and the audience!

Be creative!