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Meatstravaganza at Picnic Garden!

It’s hard to believe we’re almost two months into 2012. DH and I started off our new year with a seemingly ridiculous resolution to complete a 30-day vegetarian challenge, just to see if we could do it. As a result, January went by in a whirlwind of tofu, egg, cheese, and various vegetable matter. We avoided restaurants during that month for the most part, lest we be disappointed by the various menu options which we could not consume, so perhaps we saved some money. Upon completion, however, I wasn’t sure what we really had to show for it, other than a burning desire to consume meat. Meat. MEAT.

Unsurprisingly, February has become a bit meat-centric. We marked the completion of the challenge with a victorious visit to HILL COUNTRY BARBECUE MARKET (map!) where we stuffed our faces with beef brisket (lean & moist varieties) and pork spare ribs, 1 1/2 lbs total.

Time to dig in.

The barbecue was flavored very well, but a bit too salty. The free bread that came with our meat helped balance it out, but our tongues were kind of done by the end. I would love to just have a sandwich next time.

Meanwhile, we had been eyeing another contender for our post-vegetarian stint, but decided against going right away because it was a bit far. Like, Flushing, Queens far. And so, PICNIC GARDEN (map!), home of an unbelievably glorious concept called the ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT-KOREAN-BBQ had to wait for another day…

…but that day finally arrived this past weekend! Let the hedonistic meat-consumption begin!

You could smell the meat grilling from 2 blocks away...glorious for visitors, probably terrible for the neighbors.

We first discovered the existence of all you can eat Korean barbecue joints while we were in Los Angeles (yes, in between all that healthy eating, ha!), and had resolved to find a similar experience on the east coast. Manhattan’s Koreatown does not offer this kind of deal, based on our highly scientific Googling, so the choice was to trek to either Queens or New Jersey. The Queens location was closer and more accessible by public transportation, so off we went.

And goodness, what a mess the traveling was. Attention, all ye internet readers, check the train schedules! We decided to take the LIRR (which would have arrived closer than the subway 7-train), but managed to miss BOTH the departing and return trains by 5 minutes, and they only run once an hour on the weekends. Whoops. Uh, time for some loitering around Penn Station? Once we did get on the train, it was a 20-minute ride, plus a 4-block walk in the snow to finally get to the restaurant.

But it was totally worth all the trouble.

By now, we were desperately hungry and hoping to still be able to catch the lunch price ($23 per person on weekends, something significantly higher for dinner). We were quickly seated by a very efficient hostess/waitress/meat-cutter, who turned on the grill at our table and then left us to go pick out the well-marinated animal parts which would soon be charred to deliciousness in front of us.

THE BUFFET. BUFFET OF MEAT. And other delicious things.

For what is basically a meat palace, the name “Picnic Garden” might not be the best description of the offerings available at this restaurant. It rather makes me think of laying on a checkerboard blanket and eating watercress sandwiches. That thought, however, was quickly dashed.

The big ticket items. Galbi, short-ribs, spicy pork, and other meaty glories.

I liked this setup even better than our experience in Los Angeles, where you had to ask the waiter to bring you more meat. Here, you pick and choose exactly what you want, and there is no shame in going back for seconds, I mean, fourths. There is also a variety of prepared ban-chan side dishes (mmm, good kimchi and potato-egg-apple salad), rice, and soups (the seaweed soup is out of this world, slurp slurp slurp), which I thought were terrifically tasty and just as worthy of merit as the beef/pork/chicken/seafood.

The aroma is swoon-worthy. Come on, cook faster!

The waitress kept good attention to our table and cut up our meats into bite-sized pieces as they cooked, stopping by every once in awhile to give them a little stir for even grilling. When they were done, we made our little lettuce wraps and heartily munched with satisfaction.

Just look at that. Not my fault if you lick the screen.

Several rounds later, we were pretty much stuffed to the brim. We polished everything off with some fresh orange slices, and finished just in time for the end of lunch. For about $50 total before tip, that was a great value.

Word of caution, as iterated by many voices on the internet, YOU ARE GONNA SMELL OF MEAT WHEN YOU’RE DONE. Oh yes, the smell will linger for hours, reminding you of the glory that was your meal, and causing all your friends with noses to froth with jealousy that they didn’t get to go. Or you’ll just smell like some meaty weirdo around strangers.

Heeding those words, we wore easily washable clothes which we knew would go straight into the laundry once we got home, and brought a garbage bag to stuff our winter coats into. It feels a little weird to go to such lengths, but those tiny drops of meat grease will splatter, and the aroma will soak into your coats, so better to bag than having to head to the dry-cleaners.

And after you’re done, you can go across the street to this place:

PUPPIES PUPPIES PUPPIES

I like how the PUPPIES x3 are bulleted. And were there ACTUAL adorable little doggies inside? The answer is yes.


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Memories of London and Its Gastronomic Variety

Hello internet, I’ve been absent from this blog for a little while, but it was for a good reason. In November, I indulged in a separate writing project and completed my first NaNoWriMo (“National Novel Writing Month”), typing out over 52,000 words of a story which hopefully makes some sense. It was just for fun, and I don’t know what will come from this, but I enjoyed spending some time on fiction-writing, if only for 30 days. Since then, December has been all about the holidays, and I’ve discovered that it is quite difficult to get to the computer when one hand is holding a drumstick or a forkful of mashed potatoes for about half the month.

But now I’m back, if a littler fatter, and I’m bringing the food stories. To start, here are some additional highlights from London, covering a little more ground beyond just a proper afternoon tea:

1) London is the home of a great variety of ethnic cuisines. A top selection, of course, is Indian food. On our recent trip there, DH and I spent our first evening at PUNJAB (map!) in Covent Garden and had the best welcome ever.

The smell of delicious cooking softly wafts outside...

The exterior is fairly unassuming, but a peek through the window and you will see that it is a packed house for dinner. We gladly wandered through the neighborhood during the half-hour wait for a table, and were immediately seated upon our return. The restaurant interior is a bit maze-like, and our table was in one of many cozy rooms filled with people happily chatting and scarfing down their meals. The atmosphere was really fun and boisterous. We spent a long time looking through the menu, which had a lot of tempting options, and in the end, decided to go with the classics of Punjabi and Anglo-Indian cuisine:

PAPADUMS - totally addictive. We asked for a second order. And those sauces/chutneys/pickles! I wish I could take them home with me.

Sweet lassi - makes the yogurt lover in me go woooooo

Butter naan in your face! I could eat this at any time of day, any day. Nom nom smack smack. Mmm, bread.

Butterrrrrr Chickennnnn!!! It was the first time we ever had this classic punjabi dish, and it was awesome. Like, "let's put the whole dang spice rack in this dish" awesome.

Saag paneer. Sassy cheese and spinach ohhhh!

And the British "national dish", chicken tikka masala!

We tried very hard to savor every bite and not eat like vacuum cleaners, but it was really tough when all the food was so soft, tasty, and begging to be devoured. Each dish had its own unique taste and the chicken was super-tender, pairing very well with our side of basmati rice. When we finally came up for air and started digesting, we saw that the patrons around us were a mix of South Asians, Anglos, and tourists, and everyone looked equally satisfied with the plates in front of them. DH and I were convinced when we waddled out of the restaurant that it was a solid choice.

And the price? Yeah, every dish is less than 10 British pounds. Yessss.

2) After our Punjab dinner, we were totally in the mood for more chicken for the rest of our trip. Lucky for us, a dear friend and recent transplant from the States introduced us to NANDO’S (map!). Nando’s may be a chain establishment, but it serves up some mighty good chicken of the Afro-Portuguese variety.

In case you don't know what they're all about. It's CHICKEN. Chicken made with love.

There are multiple locations in London (and astonishingly, in Washington D.C. too! I am so there!), and we went to the one in the clean and spacious Jubilee Place mall in Canary Wharf, where we feasted on “peri-peri chicken” and its accompaniments. I liked the restaurant setup. A hostess seated us, then we went up to the cashier to place our order, and a waitress brought the food to the table a few minutes later. Easy!

Yowza.

We also got some pita bread with a red pepper dip.

Yeah, these were all gone in about 3 minutes.

The chicken tasted ridiculously fresh. My mind is blown as to how something of this quality exists in a fast-food-ish context. Next time I am in the D.C./Maryland area, I have to try the U.S. version to see if it’s just as good. I hope it is! (I also recently saw the Nando’s marinating sauce for sale in NYC, so I’ll be picking up a bottle soon.)

3) And then it was time for some coffee. I try to make a point of visiting a good coffee shop in each city we visit, and by now I’ve gotten just a teensy bit tired of the Brooklyn-hipster aesthetic. Sure, if it’s seriously good coffee, I’ll drink it out of a barrel served by a hobo (SOOO indie), but we’re across the pond now. How is London going to serve its coffee to me?

THE NORDIC WAY. Oh.

I love NORDIC BAKERY (map!). I had researched the location online to find a place to rendez-vous with another dear London friend (who happens to have quite a soft spot for the Nordic countries and was glad to meet there, yay!), and had already fallen for the bakery’s website! (Oh, sweet Helvetica font!) Seeing the space in person confirmed my expectations, and it was a wonderfully simple and relaxing place to catch up and have a quiet conversation.

There are some tall ceilings, and the surprisingly un-tacky wood walls had a nice calming effect. Pretend you're in the woods, now!

The latte and hot chocolate was quite tasty as well.

Sugar and caffeine make the world go 'round. Round and round in cute Teema cups.

When I’m back in London again, I’ll have to come and try the actual baked goods. I was eyeing their pastries, but my stomach was still full of chicken then. Next time, pastries. Next time I will eat you so much.

4) Finally, to top off our trip, what else could we eat except good ol’ British fish and chips? And where else could we eat them except for a place with a name as cool as MASTERS SUPER FISH (map!)? I wanted to eat some super fish. Wouldn’t you? So DH and I took a stroll across the Hungerford Bridge and down to the Waterloo area, which was decidedly residential and unexciting, except for this chip shop. We were the first customers, charging in eagerly just as they opened for business that day.

When it comes to chip shops, does divey-er equal better? Maybe.

Our waitress brought us some bread and fresh cooked shrimp (shell on) as complimentary appetizers and we proceeded to peel and eat the sweet and salty little prawns with gusto.

I would have seriously paid some poundage to eat a whole bucket more (I'm not even sure they were on the menu), but we were there for the fish.

And maybe some calamari…

Batter, A++ would fry again

Fried cod and plaice with chips and mushy peas. YUM.

Goodness gracious, let’s get a closer look:

Ah, lovely fish. Your death was not in vain. It was such a tasty fate. A fate covered in tartar sauce.

This is the kind of fried food no one should ever have to feel guilty about. The crispy coating was so light and clean-tasting that you’d almost think it was good for you! The fish, of course, was very fresh and flaked in just the right places. Totally worth it, and again, very reasonably priced for SO.MUCH.FISH.

So those were my top picks for London, but I’ll throw in two more suggestions: anything at the supermarket section of Marks & Spencer (amazing prepared foods that put Whole Foods to shame; I ate tons of their fruit salad) and the many, many amazing selections at the outdoor Borough Market (produce that puts the Union Square greenmarket to shame; omg tomatoes):

"Fruity Beauty Cocktail", with honeydew AND cantaloupe that tastes good? I'm sold.

It's tomatosplosion here on culturesplosion.

So what’s that they say? Cheers? Yes, cheers. Now go eat!


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Saturday at Smorgasburg!

I have to thank my fav restaurant buddy for introducing me to her colleague as “my friend with the food blog,” because this new acquaintance then went on to give me the scoop about SMORGASBURG (map!), a cool Brooklyn food fair that happens in Williamsburg every Saturday.

Curious about this weekly event (organized by the same people who set up the Brooklyn Flea markets), DH and I picked a glorious day to visit.

Ok, maybe not so glorious. Where's the sun??

The sky was not nearly as beautiful as in all the press photos, but I wanted to try those fried anchovies I had read about, darn it! So we braved the rain and gloom under a tiny umbrella while making our way east from the L-train stop, and thankfully saw that a good number of other people had also made the same trek for a chance to taste some good Brooklyn yums.

So many places to try! First stop: BON CHOVIE (omg, their website is great. I’ll never think of anchovies the same way ever again. Apparently they are the rock stars of the sea?)

Tiny oily fish are effin' metal, dude.

We weren’t hardcore enough to go for “heads on”, but no matter. They were delicious! That smoked paprika aioli on the side was pretty special too.

And to think, you guys could have been canned and sitting on the shelf of a supermarket somewhere for MONTHS. This is a much better fate for you, fishies, I promise.

After that tasty little appetizer, we were on the prowl again. This time, we wanted something carby, with a little more heft. Ooo, what’s that over there?

Pupusas? PUPUSAS.

A little background. Pupusas are a Salvadoran food – thick tortillas filled with any variety of amazing things. (Long confusing story short: the first time I tried them was in Scotland, homemade by a Taiwanese-American girl who learned about them while visiting Latin America. A truly global treat.) And now here was SOLBER PUPUSAS, dishing them out! We ordered a traditional pork one and a fish one. They came with curtido (pickled cabbage), tomato sauce, sour cream, and jalapenos. Then we also grabbed some juices at the Red Jacket Orchards stand.

Time for a bigger photo:

I really like the colors in this picture.

Ohhhhmyyygodddd. These pupusas were totally gold. The combination of the tortilla, meat/fish, and all the condiments was just the most amazing mouth-happy experience ever. Not only was there a good taste, but the curtido gave each bite an excellent crunch, so the texture was great too. We scarfed it all down like animals, it was glorious.

So now we totally had the hunger. More carbs and meat, please?

Hmmm, that BOCATA stand smells pretty good.

Who can say no to sausage on a roll? One please!

I didn’t get the combo, which would have come with a side of fried shishito peppers, but they let me have one as a sample, and it was very good! (On a later occasion I bought some fresh peppers and tried to make an approximation at home. It’s a great healthy snack/app!) The sandwich itself, though, was also top-notch.

*CHOMP* Mmm, chorizo sausage and manchego cheeeeese...

Now, what about dessert? We need a unique baked good:

A stroopwafel. Perfect!

This bit of cookie-caramelly goodness was courtesy of the nice lady at THE GOOD BATCH stand. I haven’t had a stroopwafel since my visit to Vandaag way back (has it been 10 months already??), and this was a good specimen. I also got some AMAZING iced coffee from GRADY’S COLD BREW to go with it.

I am such a fiend for well-brewed coffee. Tiny bit of milk, no sugar needed. ZERO BITTERNESS. That is what I need. NEED I tell you.

I was tempted to buy some of their concentrate. Enough great coffee to last quite awhile! Maybe next time, though.

These lads know their craft well.

And they gave us our change all in $2 bills! Is that so hipster? I think that's kind of hipster.

In case you were ever wondering what the back of a $2 bill looks like. It's the presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress. NOT the signing. Factoid for the day.

Although I also really wanted to try a popsicle from the PEOPLE’S POPS stand, I was just a little too full and the weather was getting just a little too cold, so we had to pass on it. However, just a couple of weeks later I stopped by the stand at Chelsea Market (another foodstravaganza under one roof) and got my chance to sample their frozen goodies:

Roasted red plum. CHOCK FULL of fresh fruit. I had no regrets.

I would love to go back to Smorgasburg again on a better-weather day and try more selections. There were a lot of other choices that looked appetizing. If you want an opportunity to sample the new wave of artisanal, independent foods that are originating out of Brooklyn nowadays, this is a good chance to graze all in one place.

And after you’re done stuffing your face, you can open up your wallet at the vintage market around the corner!


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Hill Country Chicken – Cluck cluck! Munch munch!

I am all in favor of the recent fried chicken revival in New York City. Who doesn’t love an excellent bird well-spiced and fried crispy?

DH and I discovered HILL COUNTRY CHICKEN (map!) completely by accident one weekend. We were searching for lunch, and after stumbling around for many blocks, delirious with hunger, we saw the cheerful yellow and white striped awning by Madison Square Park and decided to give the place a try.  It’s not like the line for Shake Shack nearby was getting any shorter.

The front door handle is shaped like a wishbone. You "break" it when you open the door. Ha!

I was familiar with the name of this chicken joint, but had not given it much thought in the past. I had no idea that the inside was like stepping into a time warp!

Where are we?

It’s a little hard to tell from just the photo, but the decor is a real throwback to a 1950s country kitchen. I was feeling a twinge of scenes from Back to the Future or Pleasantville, just with more fried chicken and pies.  The furniture is all retro, and the service/display area has mid-century kitchen cabinet details. Meanwhile, a comforting stream of softly twangy music is piped in from the tall ceilings. I was completely hooked.

Oh yeah, and the food was amazing too.

pies pies pies pies pies pies PIES

They have a pretty good variety on their menu, but it all focuses on what they know best: the chicken. We stuck to the classics and went for the special “Mama’s Coop”, which was suitable for 2 people with a thigh, breast, wing, and drum (mix of dark and white meat), two biscuits, two sides (we went for coleslaw and carrot-n-raisin slaw in a vain attempt to counteract some of the fattiness with veggies), and two mini-pies  (we got banana cream and double cherry).  We also ordered a mint ice tea to wash it down.

This tasted about 10 times as good as it looks.

Whoaaa, this was insanely delicious. The chicken was perfectly cooked, and the meat really did just fall off the bone. The pies were also excellent and tasted very fresh. (They put those 99-cent mini-pies you can get in a box at delis to shame!) It was the best meal for two ravenous city dwellers, and we happily munched away. In-between bites, I took a look around, and everyone else had the same ridiculously satisfied “I am eating awesome fried chicken” look on their face. Really, there is a face for that, and you can find it here.

Worth a return trip!


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Macaron mania at Ladurée!

The weather was beautifully sunny on Columbus Day, so it was the perfect opportunity for me and my mom (visiting the city for the day) to make the pilgrimage to the highly-anticipated and wellcovered LADURÉE (map!) in the Upper East Side.  I’ve always had a weak spot for macarons, so of course I had to come and pay homage to one of the greats.

Different from other pastry shops, Ladurée has a pedigree. Cue the wikipedia article! (“It is known as the inventor of the double-decker macaron, fifteen thousand of which are sold every day. They are still one of the best known makers of macarons in the world.”) And this was the first location in North America, woo! No wonder people were going crazy. I had heard about the lines from my friend who visited the first weekend the shop opened, and was sure that the excitement would have died down a bit by now, but no such luck. We arrived after 5pm, and there was still a respectable queue of eager eaters ready and waiting.

Yeahhh, we were about 20th in line. I guess it could have been worse, though.

Just look at those displays, tempting all the pedestrians!

While we all waited politely under the awnings, we took turns and passed back a menu of the selection that awaited us.

How can I possibly choose??

Finally, we got through the door and were greeted with? Another line! This time, a little shorter, but it was pretty much a “get in, get in line, buy your macarons, get out please, thank you” kind of deal. Completely understandable, given the amount of people waiting, but I had hoped to browse the store a little more. The decor is really quite gorgeous, with delicate pastel details. It is everything that you could expect from an authentic Parisian macaron shop. I snapped a quick photo before being given the “no-no” by a clerk, oops! Too late.

A little piece of Paris in New York City.

While waiting on the “inside” line, we tried to figure out the pricing. The macarons themselves are $2.70 each (I am curious to see if it rises in the future), and there is a semi-complicated set of prices for various fancy boxes in different sizes and designs. From what I gathered, if you buy 7 or fewer macarons, you will automatically get a little non-descript wax-paper bag, nothing special. If you buy 8, you get a little paper box that fits 8. You can also get a paper box that fits 15. And then there are sturdier keepsake-type boxes (aka “prestige” and “crystal” boxes) which I imagine would be used for gifts. It’s all a really fascinating system, but we were content to dole out the extra dollars for the eats and not the packaging this time around.

Not content to have to choose, we decided to go with one of each of the 13 flavors and double-up on the popular chocolate, caramel with salted butter, and raspberry.

Success!

Slim boxes, specially-made for 8 macarons.

Once home, I had a fun time with the unboxing:

Macarons are really such an art form...

I probably had a little too much fun setting up this shot.

Ok, last one. Onto the eating!

We were very precise and egalitarian with our taste-testing. Every macaron was split into quarters and shared among four people for a thorough taste-testing. Here are the unscientific results of all the flavors, on a scale of 1 (bleh) through 10 (yumtastic):

1) Lemon (citron) – quite yummy, not too tart but super citrusy – 8
2) Rose petal – “it’s like prancing through a spring meadow” but also like you’re just eating a flower – 5
3) Peanut – good nutty taste, but nothing mind-blowing – 5
4) Vanilla – like a crème brûlée in macaron form – 7
5) Cassis violet – wonderfully moist and berry-tasting, very memorable flavor – 9
6) Cinnamon and raisin – all that is good about this taste combo. It’s like essence of cinnamon and raisin bread, but without the bread! – 8
7) Orange blossom – a bit too meringuey, just kind of like orange some some flowers – 4

Super moist filling

8) Coconut – mmm! If you like coconut, you will like this. Has the chewy coconut bits in it for a full-textured experience – 7
9) Pistachio – a traditional selection, very good nut flavor. You can’t help but feel classy while eating it – 9
10) Coffee – uh, tastes too coffee-ish, like an espresso sugar bomb. It was too intense. We needed a palate cleanser afterward – 3
11) Caramel à la fleur de sel (caramel with salted butter) – they sell this caramel by the jar at this shop. It is pure decadence, but may be a bit too gooey-sweet for some tastes – 7

A second later and it would have fallen apart between my fingers. Very delicate...

12) Raspberry – little crunch seeds, with a great fresh raspberry flavor. Not cloyingly sweet, just right – 9

Raspberry macaron says "eat me!" At least, that's what I imagine it saying.

13) Chocolate – this is the only one that made me audibly sigh. The fudge in-between tasted like perfect chocolate, a teensy bit on the dark side, with an incredibly smooth and creamy texture – 10!

Ok, so it really shouldn't be a surprise that the chocolate one is the best. I mean, come on, if they can't get chocolate right then they totally don't deserve their accolades! No disappointments here!

So did we end up slouched on the couch with macaron crumbs on our faces and shirts when we were done? Uh, yeah. That Ladurée cranks out some pretty good stuff.  It’s not all perfect, but the fruit-flavored and chocolate macarons are really excellent and a notch above the rest. Must go back again soon for more of the favorites!


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The Village TeaRoom + Formosa: Gems of almost-upstate New York

Sometimes, the noise and craziness of NYC gets to be too much and a short getaway becomes necessary. When this happens, DH and I take a train ride on Metro-North and head up to the leafy glory of Dutchess and Ulster counties. When we get there, what else do we do but eat?

First stop upon arrival, FORMOSA CUISINE (map!) for some fab Taiwanese food.

Don't let the clip art deter you. There's good food here.

Located across the road from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, this restaurant has a pretty unassuming exterior, but there’s quality where it counts. Inside, the Asian-styled wooden decor, complete with ceramic pagoda tiles above the bubble tea bar area, is clean and cozy.

Try everything.

They have an extensive menu, but for the uninitiated, I highly recommend sampling the “Taiwanese Deli” selections on the first page, which has a number of popular Taiwanese staples. Here’s a rundown of my favorites:

Popcorn chicken with crispy basil!

Omelet with scallion pancake

Homemade Taiwanese style sausage

Steamed small minced pork buns (aka soupy dumplings!)

Oyster omelet (a gooey treat for the adventurous!)

I also really like a couple of traditional dishes from the main menu:

Taiwanese beef stew noodle soup

Taiwanese style mei fun. Sooo delicious.

And finally, we can’t forget the sweeties:

Strawberry, mango, and ice cream over shaved ice. This was an insane dessert, enough for 4 people.

ICE CREAM bubble tea. Maybe I just don't get out enough, but I've never seen this selection even in NYC. And there are duckies on the cup! Bonus points!

The prices are incredibly reasonable so you can try lots of different things, and it’s perfect for those who want good food on a budget. I can see why the place is popular with the college kids, but it’s a terrific spot for anyone.

Not content to stick to the east side of the Hudson, we make our way by car across the Mid-Hudson Bridge and head north to New Paltz. There, we stop at THE VILLAGE TEAROOM (map!) for some light fare and a good cuppa!

Tucked away from the street a bit, it's alll about the country farmhouse style...

Cute chalkboard drawing near the entrance. This is a popular place among the locals for afternoon tea.

Also right near the entrance. CAKES! And wait, what is that in the corner...?

....OMG, IT'S A HONEYBEE CAKE! Ok, we're eating that later.

We are seated upstairs, which I imagine is a good place for private events, and we happen to have the area all to ourselves! The waitress, who is super sweet and probably has calves of steel after running up and down those stairs all the time, happily explains all of our menu questions. We decide on the Ploughman’s Lunch (Cabot Sharp Cheddar, Organic Multi Grain Bread, Cornichons, Stone Ground Mustard, Seasonal Fruit, Lamb Pie, Plate of Cookies & a Pot of Tea) and choose the Lapsang Souchong tea.

All this for $16! I love non-city prices. Also, it seems silly to get excited over mustard, but that was some REALLY GOOD mustard.

The lamb pie, also amusingly called a "dingle pie", is perfectly spiced and very tasty. I would come back just for this.

The tea, with a great smoky flavor, goes perfectly with the savory food. We even get a little hourglass timer at our table to make sure the tea steeps long enough before drinking. Too cute!

And of course, we finish up with some of that awesome cake:

Bzzz! The bees are made of chocolate with almond wings. Genius.

Meanwhile, as we munch and sip away, a slight warm breeze drifts in through a side door and I hear the faint chirp of birds outside. I am feeling some serious relaxation, just what I was looking for! This is terrific.

After all this eating, we also stop by the WATER STREET MARKET (map!) for a little stroll to walk off some calories. There is a great antiques shop there, full of fun curiosities, but we also enjoy visiting a shop called “The Cheese Plate” to buy the obvious (mmm, aged Canadian cheddar).

There are more good places to share, but I’ll have to save that for another post. In the meantime, if you ever want a break from the city madness, just hop on the train and you’ll know where to go!


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Eating healthy in Los Angeles!

In case you couldn’t figure it out from most of my posts, I am based in NYC. It’s a lovely city and a foodie’s dream, but sometimes it can get a little intense. When it was time to take a break from all the cramped spaces and pavement, DH and I headed to LA and all its sunny west coast glory.

The traffic is as horrifying as the stories say, but it was worth braving the highways in order to get to some truly awesome food experiences. Our friends from California have been telling us forever about the terrific fresh produce offerings in their state, and you know what? It’s all true.

1) ZINC CAFE & MARKET (map!)

Lunch on a sunny day!

The interior. Ahh, lofty high ceilings and lots of elbow room.

It’s hard to describe the offerings here, but let me put it this way: imagine some iceberg lettuce. This place serves THE OPPOSITE of boring iceberg lettuce. The ingredients are all very veggie-centric, but the kind of vegetables used and the flavors they have are so robust and hearty that they stand on their own very well. Everything is also amazingly fresh since it’s grown in-state, and even when we venture into cheese and butter territory, I feel like it’s notches above standard fare.

You can order sandwiches and entree dishes on the menu...

...or get food by the pound.

We went with a selection of veggies, mac and cheese, and a grilled cheese sandwich (yeah, we like cheese):

An explosion of color and nutrients!

I like my mac 'n cheese by the brick.

Delicious non-mouth-scrapey bread, and that whole grain mustard was insane. Truly the king of mustards.

The whole atmosphere of this place was so airy and relaxing, a perfect place to get lunch before heading to the beach! I grabbed a latte for the road, which was also delicious.

2) LEMONADE (map!)

Fresh and cheery interior. (It's soooo California!!)

Treats and lemonade menu

Again, there are plenty of things on the menu such as sandwiches, but the main draw is the seasonal and rotating selections from the “marketplace” (check out the menu, page 2). It’s priced by portions, not weight, but you can get half-portions if you want more variety on your plate.

This photo only captures half of what was available that day. Decisions, decisions.

We totally went nuts:

NOM NOM NOM NOM

NOM SOME MOAR

Don't forget the lemonades! Sweet sweet sweet.

Cake! Yay yay for red velvet!

Is it possible to have a near-religious experience while eating beets and kale? For this place alone, I’d go back to LA in a heartbeat. We ate our food outside on the deck near some shady bushes and potted sunflowers, in perfect weather. I’ve never been so full and happy from eating vegetables before, and from that moment forward, I knew I could never go back to the deli-tossed salads of Manhattan. Until a branch opens over here, though, I’ll just have to gaze longingly at photos for some solace.

Don't worry, sunflowers! We'll be back to visit soon.