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Friday, October 12, 2012

Midwestin' - Trip to Chicago, Illinois, and Oscoda, Michigan

So I headed back to the good ole midwest for a work trip and shoot.  Some new awesome restaurants and also a little travel review for those who love fishing!

First stop was Chicago where I managed to be there on what must have been the most beautiful day of the year.  The city looked gorgeous.


For our client lunch we hit up a brand new restaurant, Tavernita, which is a Spanish tapas restaurant with a really trendy, chic vibe.  We ate almost the entire menu so I'm just going to recommend my top favorites from the meal. 

Photo Credit: Tavernita Website

Hamachi with avocado, lime, jalapeño and cucumber - The fish was fresh and the toppings added just enough spicy sourness to make me gobble these down.

Corn pudding with shrimp, poblano chile and herb salad (they put the shrimp on the side for me) - I might as well have face planted into this dish.  It was creamy and slightly salty and slightly sweet and oh yeah... DELICIOUS.  Best thing on the menu.

Pork belly sliders with pickled red onion and fruit jam on a brioche bun - a complexity of flavors that resulted in finger-licking meaty goodness.

Lamb sausage with dijon mustard and house giardinera on an east coast roll - much spicier then anticipated but a very unique taste that definitely excited my taste buds.

Beet & artichoke salad with mixed greens, pickled shallot and valdeón blue cheese - again a lot of interesting flavors and also a lot of different consistencies.. soft beets, crumbly cheese, crunchy artichokes, etc.

The rest of the meal was very good to but just didn't meet the expectations built by the first five dishes I mentioned.  You can check out photos of the rest below though.

Chicken a la plancha with escalivada and castillo extra virgin olive oil

Croquetas with fermín serrano ham, saffron aioli

House-made ravioli with artichoke, ricotta, arugula, piquillo peppers, olives, and saffron butter


And then there was dessert which was super tasty.  I would TOTALLY come back here again.  And I heard their cocktails are amazing.


I desperately needed to walk off my giant lunch so I decided to take advantage of the weather and visit the Bean!  The actual name of this sculpture is Cloud Gate and is made of stainless steel plates that have been welded together so seamlessly you can't see the seams.  And then of course it has been highly polished so that it glitters in the sun.  It looks like it's made of liquid mercury and you can stand next to it to take crazy photos.  I planned on stopping by for a minute and ended up there for almost an hour.  You can see my favorite crazy photo below.


Since I was on a roll with checking things off my Chicago bucket list, I decided to hit up the second to last game of the Cubs baseball season.  They are absolutely terrible and were playing the Astros who are also terrible so it wasn't much of a game, but I was there for Wrigley Field to be honest.  The stadium is AWESOME because it is so old-school.  The scoreboard is still manually updated by a person and since the walls are relatively low all the restaurants bordering the field have rooftop decks where you can sit and watch the game from the outfield without actually attending the game.  Definitely the way to go since the food is probably better and the drinks are cheaper! We had fun cheering on the Cubs even though they lost - their terrible record at least guaranteed us great baseline seats for $30 each.  Glad I made it to a game!  Next time it will have to be a Bears game.


With another great trip to Chicago under my belt, I hopped on a plane to Detroit, Michigan, where I picked up a rental car and started my 3.5 hour drive north to Oscoda.  The drive up was gorgeous with all the leaves changing color for fall.  I finally arrived at the AmericInn around 7pm to check in.  The hotel was a rustic, log cabin esk accomodation.  I'd been "upgraded" to the $75/night king bed room with a view.  It was huge and very homey.  The reception was also very kind and friendly.

Photo Credit: AmericInn Website

I met up with the production crew (like I said I was there for a shoot) and we headed to what appears to be the only real restaurant, Wiltse's.  I swear the entire town had turned out to the restaurant because they'd heard we were there.  It was probably the coolest thing that's happened in the past five years.  Everyone was so warm and welcoming though.  It was like being adopted into a new family.  For dinner I had to try the special, Michigan Walleye, pan seared.  It literally melted on my good.  I was very impressed that a restaurant in essentially the middle of nowhere could have such tasty yet simple dishes.


The next morning we woke up at 5am and headed to the Au Sable river to start fishing (the shoot).  It was really dark and somewhat cold that morning but within an hour it was completely light... and unfortunately drizzling.  This drizzling elevated into a full fledged downpour about halfway through our excursion and lasted for about an hour and a half.  We were soaked to the bone.  Towards the end of the afternoon the clouds burst apart and the smiley Michigan sun dried us right up.  Oh and we caught a 17lb King Salmon which really crowned the day as a perfect trip downstream.  I probably never need to come back here now that I've seen it but if you are looking for a place far away from the bustle of the city with breathtaking nature and very friendly people I highly recommend Oscoda.

Weekly NYC Blog Post - 10.12.2012

Exploring the extreme West and extreme East of the city and Brooklyn this week!

Gallow Green
For those of you who have been to Sleep No More they recently opened a rooftop restaurant and bar that is SUPER cool.  It looks like a secret garden hidden on a rooftop overlooking the stars.  VERY romantic and yet still fun for large groups especially if you order a punchbowl!  I feel like you could throw your wedding here and not buy a single decoration.  One of the secrets of the place is there are actually six bathrooms you just have to go to the other side of the bathroom area to find the other three.  Also if you ask nicely they will give you really warm, comfy blankets since it can get a little chilly.

They have live music that fits right in with the 1920s theme and even actors wandering around the restaurant to speak to you, never dropping character.  I've been there twice in the last two weeks and I LOVE it.  I've eaten almost everything on the menu but my top favorites are the "Blonde in Peril" cocktail, the grilled corn crostini, pulled brisket toast, the cheese platter, and the scotch quail eggs.  Oh and the Claret Cup punch - that's a must.

Photo Credit: TimeOut New York



I think I mentioned Coopers the other day as a great bar to hang out and drink while watching sports. I think I also mentioned that the food looked questionable.  I lied.  I had the pancakes for brunch the other day and both they and the potato fries that come with them are outstanding.  Soft and melty...mmm.

For those of you who follow the blog you know how much I loved Empellon Taqueria in the West Village so I had to check out the sister restaurant in the East.  We tried both the Tamal Colado with Chicken, Achiote and Epazote and the Wheat Tamal with Shredded Pork, Chorizo and Red Chile.  The Tamal Colado was spicy and good but the shredded pork one was amazing.  The pork was mouthwatering...


Next up was the Squid with Black Mole, Potatoes and Sour Orange Mayonnaise.  I don't order squid all that often because it's not a favorite but for squid this was REALLY good.  The mole sauce really added to the meat and the mayonnaise was more decoration then part of the dish so it didn't overwhelm anything.  The potatoes were oval and were cooked just enough to have a tiny bit of crunch to them.  

Lastly, the Pork Belly with Popcorn Pozole was delicious and came with piping hot tortillas and hot sauce.  Beware the hot sauce as it is no joke though!  

Overall it was a very nice experience and our waitress was sweet and very well informed.  She provided great recommendations on both cocktails (which were excellent) and the food (she recommended the squid).  I think it's a little too bunched in terms of seating to be a perfect date spot because you feel a little exposed but would make a great place for anything from family dinner to group birthday.  I would strong recommend even if I don't necessarily need to come back.

After dinner at Empellon Cocina up the street, my friend said that he had heard of this cool underground-esk tequila bar that doesn't have a sign.  We wandered down 6th street on the lookout and came upon Mayahuel.  He had not idea if it was the same underground tequila bar but hey WHO CARES?  It had the most extensive drink menu I've ever seen and one of the coolest interiors.  I LOVE this place.  I will come back here nine million times so I can try each of the delicious nine million drinks.  WINNER.

 Photo Credit: Mayahuel Facebook


I believe the original wine bar is located in TriBeCa but they now have a location in the East Village.  It's small, dark and expensive (kind of reminds me of Anfora in the West Village).  I liked it a lot - had port and wine.  Very good for a date although maybe a little small for a group.  I shall return.

Photo Credit: Kelly B from

Yerba Buena
I've heard SUCH good things about this place.  My close friend comes here so often that they have a custom named drink called the Josefina that she helped to create.  When I ordered it and said my friend had recommended it the bartender knew exactly who I was talking about!  That was kind of awesome.  And so was the drink.  We spent about two hours here trying a bunch of different cocktails - all of which were really tasty....and really alcoholic.  Beware those with empty stomaches!  I will 100% be back here to eat too.  The food looks incredible.  Oh and they played Gustavo Lima so additional points for that.

Photo Credit: Yerba Buena Website


Grey Lady
So this place had a bit of a line when we rolled up around 12pm but who can blame them after seeing the massive amount of fun you have on the dance floor here.  The front room was packed with people so we escaped to the back bar which was pleasantly clear of people.  Granted we had about 20 people with us so we made our own party but still.  The 80s music was absolutely epic and we danced the night away.  We liked it so much we are coming back for the next birthday (I'm serious it's already on the books)!

Photo Credit: Grey Lady Facebook

Uncle Charlies LES
Before Grey Lady we started out here (the original plan was to go to Hotel Chantelle across the street).  This place feels really divey to me (the picture here seems classier than I remember...) however I still loved it.  The line for the bathroom is long, the beer is crappy and cheap and the dance floor is filled with slightly creepy people but for some reason it felt strangely homey.  I can't explain it at all!  I should've felt the opposite!  Will probably have to come back to rectify this weird feeling.

Photo Credit: Uncle Charlie Website


The Smile
First off, thanks to this restaurant, I have now decided that Bond St. is my favorite street in New York.  It has the craziest looking buildings!  I was already in a good mood walking to this restaurant and then as soon as I walk in the look and feel of the place matched it's street home perfectly.  Unfortunately the service was pretty terrible... the waitress brought one drink at a time until we suggested she use a tray and then another waiter up-ended my espresso all over my section of the table (lucky I'm a fast mover or my sizzling legs would have been crying for a lawsuit).

The biscuits here helped my mood as did the steak and eggs and the peaches with ricotta cheese.  I have never ordered steak and eggs for breakfast/brunch because I've always thought that sounds gross, like something you would order at Denny's.  Turns out this place does it perfectly.  YUM.  And the peaches and ricotta were also delicious although very sweet and a large portion so I recommend sharing.  If I was in the area I would come back here just because of the ambiance and the good food but probably wouldn't go out of my way.



Brooklyn Star
I've sworn to myself for months now that I would start checking out Brooklyn and I can finally say I dedicated a full weekend to it!  First stop was Brooklyn Star for some DELICIOUS southern food.  We started it off with fried pig tails (yup just what you thought I said) which really looked and tasted like porky buffalo wings.  I was glad I tried them although not good enough for me to order again.  A little too tough.

Next up was the Fried Green Tomatoes with Duck Confit, Frisee, Radish, Pickled Mustard Seeds and Smoked Molasses Vinaigrette which was the best dish of the meal.  God it was good. It was crunchy and meaty and tomato-y and oh yeah, good.

We finished it off with the Molasses Brined Pork Chop with Braised Collards and Smoked Onion Rings.  It was super soft and not chewy at all due to being brined and the onion rings were crunchy yet sweet.  

Also as the resident NYC biscuit snob I must say I have found a tie with Zoe's biscuits.  These were DAMN good.  The cornbread in a skillet was also melty and incredible although we got it with bacon and jalapenos added which I didn't like as much.  I think I'd prefer plain.

Overall this place was delicious and had the best sides of any restaurant I've been too so far.  It kind of reminded me of a Brooklyn version of the Redhead.  The service was impeccable as were the spicy margaritas.  It's fairly large and wasn't a long wait even at primetime on a Saturday so it could make a good date spot or large birthday party.

Lovin' Cup
After Brooklyn Star, we headed to Lovin' Cup which had been recommended by someone as a good lowkey hangout (we weren't in the mood to party).  The house draft was actually really good (a blonde of some sort).  It was super easy to get a table, not too loud so that you could chat easily amongst your group and our waitress was very friendly and attentive.  And we were there during prime Saturday night hours!  I would totally come back here although not until I've checked out some other places.

Surf Bar
We wandered here for a hot second after Lovin' Cup and it was okay.  I wouldn't need to go back - the margarita I had wasn't particularly memorable...

Two Door
The last of the Williamsburg haunts I hit this weekend.  This place has a great vibe (I even got artsy with Camera+ because the atmosphere was so cool).  The food was also delicious. 

I started off with the Homemade Pigs in a Blanket with mini beef and chicken sausages in puff pastry crescent rolls with brown mustard and spicy ketchup.  I am a huge fan of PNAB anyway but these were SO tasty.  All six were gone in about six seconds.

For my main course I went with the Short Rib Sliders with crisp onion straws & sweet slaw on brioche buttons.  These were also really good and so were the sweet potato fries that came with.  I feel like sliders tend to be too bready so I actually ate the second one without the bun which just amped up the flavor that much more.  Would definitely come back here.