Around the BLOCK

Best Dishes of 2013

Written By: Mary Bloch - Dec• 20•13

I love pulling together this annual post. It gives me the opportunity to relive special moments from the past year, most of which revolve around food. Not because of the food itself, though my readers may find that hard to believe, but rather because of who I was with and what occasion we may have been celebrating. All of the photos below were taken when I was dining with friends or family, and in most instances the occasion was simply that we were together. To me, there’s nothing better. Enjoy the holidays and being with the ones you love.

Octopus–Extra Virgin

Tomatoes--my house

Tomatoes with burrata–my house

Roast Chicken–The Nomad in New York City

Beet “sandwich”–Mintwood Place in Washington D.C.

Cauliflower and snake beans at Voltaire

Porchetta—From Dario the butcher in Panzano, Italy

Burger and cottage fries–Rye

Seafood Pasta at La Pineta in Italy

Reuben–Webster House

Fresh pea soup–Bluestem

Corn soup with chiles, clams and seaweed–Novel

Cheeseburger–Husk in Charleston

Brussels Sprouts–Zaytinya in Washington, DC

Bistecca Florentine in Tuscany

Grilled Broccoli with Smokey blue cheese–The Girl and The Goat in Chicago

Chile rellenos–Port Fonda

 

Taco Republic

Written By: Mary Bloch - Dec• 11•13

I was very excited to try the new Taco Republic restaurant when it finally opened after the usual construction delays. Beautifully positioned to capture the overflow from its across-the-street neighbor Oklahoma Joe’s, I had watched its transformation from a former gas station and was intrigued by the new setup. Part indoors, part out, this place is made for hanging out and enjoying a beer at happy hour. The ambiance the restaurateurs have created is oh-so-very-cool. Brilliant, really. When it’s nice out the whole space is open, but that space can still be utilized when the temperatures dip. It’s the latest in a growing line of successful restaurants developed by bread & butter concepts, the group that also owns Urban Table, Gram & Dun and BRGR.Taco RepublicTaco Republic patioTaco Republic

So it was with a sense of anticipation that I stopped by for lunch one afternoon.  It was a chilly day, so the soft walls on the outdoor area were down and the heat lamps were full throttle. My friend and I started with guacamole which came with a huge basket of chips. We ordered salsa verde on the side. There’s a squeeze bottle of rojo salsa at every table which reminded me of the big bottles of barbecue sauce that grace the tables across the street. The red salsa was a bit sweet, but it had way more flavor than the green, which needed a major shot of hot sauce to give it heat and a reason to eat it. The chipotle salsa, I noted on a subsequent visit, packs some heat though it doesn’t have a ton of chipotle smokiness.Guacamole and salsa verde--Taco RepublicChicken taco and pork mole taco--Taco RepublicBeans and rice at Taco Republic

The menu consists of cheese dips, tacos, tortas and even tamales. Tacos are categorized by meat, chicken or veggie; I tried  the Puerco Rojos with shredded pork, black beans, sautéed onions and peppers, as well as one with grilled chicken, mole and chipotle slaw. In both cases I thought the sauce and fillings were better than the actual meat, with both the chicken and pork being a bit on the dry side. If they could find a way to keep the meats moist, those tacos would be flying out of the kitchen. I had sampled several tacos at the Taco Republic truck that roams around town and was more impressed with those offerings, perhaps because the tacos were churned out on a smaller scale.Queso Fundido--Taco RepublicTortilla Soup--Taco RepublicHalf-Roasted Chicken with Charro Beans--Taco RepublicFrito Pie--Taco RepublicTaco RepublicTaco RepublicTaco Republic

On another visit, we started with a decadent queso fundido with melted Chihuahua cheese, roasted poblano peppers and chorizo, served with flour tortillas for scooping. We resisted the temptation to eat the whole cazuela lest we ruin our appetites; it would not be difficult to make a meal of it. It made great leftovers the next day. We followed that up with a rich and satisfying tortilla soup, the kind that is thick, not brothy.  Each dip into the cute crock produces a spoonful of avocado, chicken, cheese and, of course, strips of tortilla.

Upon seeing Frito pie on the menu, we couldn’t resist ordering it since it’s a rarity outside of New Mexico where the unusual dish was invented. It typically consists of Fritos that have been smothered with a beef, bean and cheese topping, but we chose Taco Republic’s chicken chili version instead. It was served the traditional way, on top of Fritos still in the bag. If you like sweet and salt, this dish is for you.

The wood-fired chicken was originally a carry-out order only, but now it’s a menu item in a half-chicken size. It was served with Charro beans and rice, and corn tortillas for making mini-tacos. The chicken was smoked and very moist, creating a nice option for those who might want a healthy menu option.

Next I hope to swing by and grab some street tacos to-go for breakfast; the menu is short but looks very sweet.

Taco Republic is a work in progress, but one with a huge upside. Though the food doesn’t yet hit on all cylinders all the time, for the most part each of my meals were satisfying and I’ve left wanting to return. And the way the restaurant was devised is just SO inventive. It’s the sort of joint I would imagine you’d find in Portland, Oregon or Austin, Texas, two big food destinations that are full of fun and unique venues. And it’s important to note that this restaurant is in capable hands with the Gaylins at the helm. I suspect that next spring, it will be THE patio of choice for lazy afternoons and Happy Hours. There’s no question we have plenty of Mexican restaurants around town, but how many score so high on the cool factor scale?

Taco Republic on Urbanspoon

Private Dining in Kansas City

Written By: Mary Bloch - Dec• 05•13

It’s not quite too late to get on the phone…but almost! You can also save this list for occasions other than holiday parties.The Reiger private dining room

http://blog.visitkc.com/2013/12/03/private-dining-kansas-city/

Broccoli Rabe with Cavatelli and Harissa

Written By: Mary Bloch - Dec• 02•13

Pasta doesn’t have to be bad for you.  There are plenty of recipes that don’t include cream or meat, and if you buy wheat or rice pasta instead of one made with white flour, you can partake without guilt.

A new pasta dish I just discovered is for veggie lovers, and those who enjoy spice. Using both harissa and smoked paprika, it’s packed with flavor and quite easy to pull together. This particular recipe does call for cheese, but if you use it in moderation, it’s still going to be a lighter dish than those rich holiday meals which we all indulge in at this time of year!

Here’s the recipe from Food & Wine, let me know what you think!

Broccoli rabe in the sauce after roasting

1 1/4 pounds broccoli rabe, ends trimmed

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 Fresno or jalapeño chile, seeded and thinly sliced

2 teaspoons harissa

1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

1 pound cavatelli (or other short shape)

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

1/2 cup packed mint leaves, chopped

1/2 cup packed parsley leaves, chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. In a bowl, toss the broccoli rabe with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the broccoli rabe on 2 baking sheets and roast for 15 minutes, until crisp-tender, then chop.
  2. In a deep skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic, chile and harissa and cook over moderate heat, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and smoked paprika and cook until tender, 2 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta, cooking water and 1/4 cup of Parmigiano to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the pasta is coated in a thick sauce, 2 minutes. Stir in the herbs and serve with more cheese.Orchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and harissa

Pecan, Caramel and Fudge Pie

Written By: Mary Bloch - Nov• 25•13

Are you panicked that you don’t have time to make a Thanksgiving dessert? Help is on the way in the form of one of the easiest pies you will ever make. All you need are some chocolate wafer cookies, pecans, chocolate, and a few other ingredients like whipping cream and corn syrup. You can make the whole dessert in 30 minutes and it might be the dish that gets the most compliments on Thanksgiving. Chocolate wafer crust

The recipe calls for a 9 inch pie pan, and you can see from the pictures that mine, at 10 inches, was too large. Using an 8 x8 square pan and cutting the “pie” into bars is another option. Just improvise; it’s hard to mess this up!IMG_0166Adding chocolate to the pecan mixtureIMG_0171

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pecan-Caramel-and-Fudge-Pie-101822

Finding the Perfect Wine for your Thanksgiving Feast

Written By: Mary Bloch - Nov• 18•13

Thanksgiving will be here in the blink of an eye. In addition to planning your feast, why not give some thought  to what wines will best complement it? You deserve to drink something that will highlight the countless hours you spend preparing that gorgeous bird with all the trimmings. rose wine

I’m a firm believer that you should drink what you enjoy without consideration of the connoisseurs’ rules. Most experts would tell you that white wine is the most appropriate selection with turkey, but with so many health studies extolling the virtues of red, the color white has certainly fallen out of favor.

Regardless of your preference, take an inventory of your buffet table before deciding upon a varietal. The intensity and flavors in the wine should match that of the cuisine. Unoaked Chardonnays match up well with cream sauces and giblet gravy, while Sauvignon Blanc works best with butternut squash, oyster stuffing, Brussels sprouts, and even mashed potatoes. Riesling stands up to spicy foods as well as sweet desserts. Viognier is a fashionable grape of the moment and would be a pleasing, all-purpose choice.

Of the red varietals, Pinot Noir is a safe choice. But keep in mind the cornucopia of delectable and rich options sitting on that groaning sideboard. Zinfandel has deeper flavors to match such fruity dishes as cranberry sauce, and Shiraz/Syrah will bring out the best in that peppery, spicy, and oh-so-rich sage stuffing.

First Taste: Libertine in St. Louis

Written By: Mary Bloch - Nov• 10•13

Josh Galliano’s name means as much to St. Louisans as Colby Garrelts’ or Michael Smith’s means to Kansas Citians. Galliano is a recipient of Food and Wine’s Best Chef-Midwest award and a multiple James Beard award nominee. His latest venture is a neighborhood eatery in Clayton called Libertine.Libertine in St.Louis

Diners first walk by the very cool looking bar that utilizes rustic wood and subway tile. The dining room is in the back part of the space, offering a bit of separation in terms of noise and ambiance.Libertine--St.Louis

I went on a busy and loud Saturday night with my parents, but fortunately the restaurant had a Roaring 20’s theme going on and they liked the music. The menu is fun, but it isn’t easy to find something for those who may not be adventurous, except perhaps for the hamburger. I spied one at the table next to us- on a beautiful bun with cheese smothering the double patties, it was accompanied by a gorgeous pile of crisp French fries.Sunflower Seed Fried Rice--Libertine

Libertine--Octopus Pozole

The menu itself is organized by food category–meat, fish, vegetable and seafood, with the appetizers and smaller meals at the top of each list and  larger portions at the bottom. I ordered sunflower seed fried rice with Chinese bacon, sprouts and pickled carrots and octopus pozole, both of which were in the middle of their respective lists. Though our server, who had not been well-trained, brought them both out at once instead of coursed out, they were both interesting and flavorful. In fact, though it may not have been an authentic pozole, it rivaled any I’ve had in New Mexico; the octopus was prepared perfectly and added an unusual and welcome twist to the dish.Mahi Mahi fish special--LibertineCrab curry--Libertine

Each night the restaurant serves a pan roasted fish of the day served with General Tso’s Mushrooms, Wilted Sprouts, Golden raisin and scallion relish. On this night, our server told us it was tuna, though it turned out to be Mahi-Mahi.

The crab boil curry was one of the smaller dishes, but it had a nice kick to it and the lo mein noodles were the perfect foil for all that curry sauce.

I had never seen the Korean spice togarashi used as a pepper crust for tuna, but now that I’ve had it, I will definitely try it that way at home. The tuna also came with creamed corn, Nduja sausage vinaigrette, roasted peppers and pickled corn. My sister asked for a vegetarian substitute for the sausage vinaigrette, which our server said she would take care of, but it came dry. Fortunately the corn carried the day.

The “candy bar” on the dessert menu was a hit. Made with Salted Caramel Semifreddo, Hazelnuts, Ganache, Chocolate Dacquoise, it was definitely meant to be eaten with your hands–using a fork would have sent it flying across the table. It was a fun way to finish a delightful dinner.Libertine--Candy Bar

Given Galliano’s pedigree, I imagine the menu will change at least seasonally , giving diners a chance to sample more of his creativity and also allowing an opportunity to find dishes that appeal. And despite reading rather mixed reviews before my visit, it’s only a matter of time before this imaginative restaurant hits its stride.

 

The Libertine on Urbanspoon

First Taste: Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant

Written By: Mary Bloch - Oct• 28•13

Chuy’s was just what I expected. It is a chain after all, another in a growing line of chains that now populate Country Club Plaza.  And though I prefer Southwestern cuisine to TeX-Mex, I figured I should try it. And now that I have, I’ve done my duty.Chuy's

Some of the food was good, and the portions are certainly substantial. If you have small children, it’s a great place to take them since there are lots of distractions. In fact, for those who remember the original Houlihan’s look with old tools, furniture and the like hanging from the ceiling, this is the Mexican version of that “style”.Chuy's

Chips are brought to each table in a basket and are  refilled with a mini shovel. A slushy pico de gallo comes with, though the menu also has a long list of house made salsas that diners can request, ranging in spice from mild to very hot, featuring different peppers. We tried the Hatch green chile and the tomatillo, both of which were fine, but not exciting. The Hatch green chile salsa was the perfect addition to the chile con queso that we had picked up at the Happy Hour Nacho bar, which is displayed in a portion of a car trunk.  Chuy's Happy Hour Nacho BarThe bar features the same chips and salsa that are brought to the table, along with the queso and ground beef.  It’s all free from 4-7 P.M.Salsas--Chuy's

We started with a bowl of tortilla soup that was chockfull of pulled chicken, corn, carrots and tortilla chips. It tasted very much like Grandma’s chicken soup, but adding more of that Hatch green chile salsa did wonders for it.Tortilla Soup--Chuy's

One of the Chuy specials is the Southwestern Enchiladas, stacked blue corn tortillas with pulled chicken, green chile sauce (a different green chile sauce than the Hatch) and a fried egg on top.Southwestern Enchiladas--Chuy's Each entrée comes with  Mexican rice or green chile rice, and refried or Charro beans. In addition to the enchiladas, which definitely tasted better than they looked, we ordered a Fajita chicken burrito smothered with red chile sauce. I had high hopes when it was placed before me, as the sauce was deep red and obviously made with chiles rather than tomatoes. But unfortunately, in addition to being too salty, I don’t think the chile powder had been throughly cooked into the sauce. However, the Charro beans that were stuffed inside the burrito and both rices were quite good.Burrito smotheres with red chile sauce--Chuy's

Tortillas are made on site, but even those seemed a bit doughy.Homemade tortillas--Chuy's

SO, I’m glad I tried Chuy’s, but I’d rather expend my calories at Rudy’s, Poco’s, Fiesta Azteca or El Patron, all of which are locally owned and serve up more authentic and pleasing Mexican fare.Chuy's

Chuy's on Urbanspoon

It’s never too cold for ice cream…or gelato

Written By: Mary Bloch - Oct• 20•13

http://blog.visitkc.com/2013/10/08/we-all-scream-for-gelato/

Gelato

The NoMad Hotel Dining Room–New York City

Written By: Mary Bloch - Oct• 13•13

Anyone who reads my blog or listens to me on the KCUR Food Critics show knows that my husband doesn’t like to spend a lot of money on “fancy” restaurant meals. So it was with some trepidation that I booked a table at The NoMad hotel in New York to celebrate my son’s birthday last month. I had heard it was a beautiful space and, since we hadn’t been to Eleven Madison Park where owner/chef Daniel Humm made his name, I figured this would be a way to experience Humm’s cuisine on a less formal scale. Not inexpensive by any stretch, but less so than the $195 multi-course meal at EMP.

The dining area is divided into 4 very distinct rooms–The Atrium (the largest and loudest), the Library (a gorgeous bar that serves light snacks), the Parlour (smaller than the atrium but still humming), and the Fireplace (the smallest and quietest). Each room is gorgeous, but I asked for a quiet room in advance because I wanted to be able to have real conversation rather than having to shout across the table. We lucked out and got a table in the five table Fireplace room. I don’t  know if they have a real fire in the winter, but this was summer and the fireplace was filled with candles to create a lovely glow.

Corn with corn cream--The Nomad

My husband was so impressed with the service throughout the evening that he didn’t complain about the hefty bill. Everyone who came by our table (and there were many) had been beautifully trained to provide smooth, knowledgeable and friendly service, not a surprise really since Eleven Madison Park was originally a Danny Meyer restaurant, so Daniel Humm learned hospitality at the knee of a master. But it did elevate the evening beyond the enjoyment of a good meal.

Fluke--The Nomad

Every dish was visually striking and there was an intensity of flavor in each bite. Here’s what we had:

CORN
ROASTED WITH TOMATO, BASIL & CORN CREAM

FLUKE
MARINATED WITH TOMATO-DASHI & LEMON VERBENAP1020068

LAMB
GLAZED WITH ROMAINE, CUMIN & YOGURT Crab and Meyer lemon pasta---The Nomad

TAGLIATELLE
KING CRAB, MEYER LEMON & BLACK PEPPER

SUCKLING PIG
CONFIT WITH PEACHES, ARUGULA & BACON MARMALADESuckling Pig with Peaches and Arugula--The Nomad

CHICKEN
WHOLE-ROASTED FOR TWO: FOIE GRAS, BLACK TRUFFLE, BRIOCHE Roast chicken for two--The NomadChicken breast with truffled mashed potatoes--The Nomad

CHOCOLATEThigh and vegetables--The Nomad
MALTED GANACHE WITH CHOCOLATE FONDANT & MALT ICE CREAMChocolate---The Nomad

STRAWBERRIES
POACHED WITH ANGEL FOOD CAKE, RICOTTA & ANISE HYSSOPStrawberry with angel food cake, ricotta and anise--The Nomad

 

The chicken is the specialty of the house, and is based on a similar dish served at Eleven Madison Park. The entire bird is presented at the table with a flourish, and then taken back to the kitchen where the breast is plated for two, and served with a fricassee of  thigh meat, mushrooms and shallots that is presented on the side in a cast iron vessel. The chicken’s stuffing of foie gras, truffles and brioche transforms what could be a very pedestrian dish into an incredibly rich indulgence.

What we all noticed is that the menu description of each dish paled in comparison to what we ate. To say I ate a bowl of corn doesn’t begin to express the nuances of the dish, either in the  preparation or the presentation, and so it was with everything we experienced that evening.

The NoMad is a treat for all the senses. Without question it was a lovely spot to celebrate a special occasion.

The NoMad on Urbanspoon