Monday, July 29, 2013

1618: Brunch

I'm afraid it's nearly impossible to describe how fantastically delicious 1618 Seafood Grille’s brunch is. I would spend every Sunday morning here for the rest of my life if I could. It’s not as expensive as you might think, especially if you don’t order a cocktail, but as soon as you read the mouth-watering descriptions, you'll be ordering one. Nearly everyone in the restaurant was sipping on a yellow or orange drink.

The 1618 Mimosa will just about knock you on your butt. Clementine Vodka, Ginger Liquor, Fresh Orange Juice and Sparkling Wine give quite the twist on the traditional brunch favorite. One of these and you’ll be good for the rest of the day. The Little Brother combines Chipotle Vodka and Bloody Mary Mix in a Balsamic Reduction-drizzled martini glass, garnished with a slice of Raw Ahi Tuna, ceviche style, if you will. The acidity of the Bloody Mary Mix and Balsamic Vinegar cook and flavor the tuna ever so slightly, so it’s best to save that bite until the end. This is spicy and robust – it will wake you up. The Pamplemosa combines Citrus Vodka, Grapefruit Juice, and Sparkling Wine. This cocktail is pink, flirty and lovely for summer. The Day After features Tito’s Vodka, Pickle Juice, Spicy Bloody Mary Mix, freshly grated Horseradish, Lime Juice and three olives on a skewer. Wonderfully spicy.

Homemade muffins are served with salted butter and strawberry jam. The seasonal varieties I sampled were Blueberry one morning, and Banana Pecan another. Delightful. After perusing the menu for the 100th time, I settled on what just might be the most delicious morsel I’ve put into my mouth all year long: a Buttermilk Chive Biscuit, served open-faced, topped with Canadian Bacon, Hot Soppressata, a Fried Egg, Avocado Salsa, Grilled Red Pepper and Havarti Cheese. The flavors are perfect together – the Avocado Salsa cools your mouth from the salty Soppressata (a spicy salami), and the Fried Egg yolk runs all over the plate, giving you a chance to use that fluffy biscuit to sop everything up. My mouth is watering just thinking about it again. This is what dreams are made of. It is sensational.

The Sweet Potato Biscuit is savory, not too sweet, featuring notes of Cheddar Cheese. The open faced-biscuit offers three juicy pieces of perfectly seasoned Pork Tenderloin on a bed of wilted Kale, and is topped off with a Poached Egg. The other side of the biscuit presents three slices of tomatoes on a bed of Lingonberry Cream Cheese. This spread is super creamy and tart, much like the hybrid of a raspberry and a blackberry. It is a perfect complement to the savoriness of the biscuit.

Alongside these works of art, you have your choice of indulgent sides. Anything from Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese, to Grilled Asparagus and Cheesy Hollandaise, to my choice – the Cinnamon Roll. Warm and gooey in the middle with notes of lemon, it was larger than the biscuit, and what we're all looking for in the perfect breakfast pastry. Or side dish.

The Breakfast Tacos are also not to be missed. After having several taco varieties at 1618 Wine Lounge, I knew these would be tasty. Plump Blackened Shrimp, salty Chorizo and fluffy Scrambled Eggs fill grilled Flour Tortillas, and are topped with shredded Lettuce, Pico de Gallo and Jalapeño Sour Cream and Manchego Cheese. I missed the heat from the jalapeno, but the cool cream was much appreciated, and the Manchego was the perfect cheese choice, bringing wonderful saltiness.

The Potato-Crusted Alaskan Halibut is presented in true 1618 fashion, as all of their dishes tend to be aesthetically pleasing. The juicy fish is stacked on top of a Bacon, Spinach and Cheese Quiche, with a Deviled Egg on the top of that, surrounded by Brussels Sprouts that have been sautéed in Duck Fat and Bacon, drizzled with a Tobasco Cream Sauce that warms the back of your throat. I think Chef Neal takes everyone’s favorite words and ingredients and puts them together. Everything he makes is a masterpiece.

I will be back to work my way down the menu, all the way to the Bacon and Eggs Cocktail. Service is spot-on, and it’s clear that everyone is working together toward a common goal: making the customer happy, comfortable and blown away. I definitely was.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

World War Z

Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena
Marc Forster
Running Time:
1 hour, 46 minutes

Zombies are the new vampires. They're everywhere these days. That being said, I didn’t mind “World War Z.” Brad Pitt seems to slide into the role of “Superdad” fairly easily these days, but the role of “Superhero” takes a little more effort. As a former UN employee, Brad, as Gerry Lane, is blackmailed into helping stop a zombie epidemic before the apocalypse occurs. In order to keep his family safe on a US Navy vessel, Gerry must travel into the unknown and find a solution. Sounds simple enough. Though it slowed down in the middle, the crumbs and clues left throughout the film lead to a plausible and riveting conclusion.

Based on the 2006 novel by Max Brooks, “World War Z” definitely gives you a few jumps and a reason or two to clutch your armrest or your sweetie. The brief exposition allows you to peek into the comfortable, crave-able life of Gerry, Karin and their two daughters, in the peaceful suburbs of Philadelphia. Five minutes later, Gerry is fleeing with the fam through the streets of Philly, running from something...not quite human. His former UN buddies rescue them from the top of an apartment building in a helicopter and they flee to safety. Of course. We’re watching this movie because we know the protagonist will life, and surely he has connections and a plan.

The film quickly turns into "The Brad Pitt Show," as the supporting characters aren't given enough dialogue or arc to really make an impact. Stops in South Korea, Israel and Nova Scotia finally lead Gerry closer to an answer, all the while dodging somewhat laughable albeit frightening-looking zombies. The final 20 minutes are pretty interesting and keep you on the edge of your seat, after Gerry develops a theory about the epidemic and is forced to test it himself.

This is the type of film that has you checking over your shoulder when you exit the theatre. The conclusion definitely leaves it open for a sequel, and I hear there is already one in the works. I will probably see it because honestly, it IS Brad Pitt after all, and seeing his face on the big screen, if anything, is definitely worth $8.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Saffron Indian Cuisine

Indian food is definitely an acquired taste, one I’m very glad I have become accustomed to. I find myself craving the exotic, warm flavors, tender meat and the garlicky, doughy naan. Oh, THE NAAN! Saffron Indian Cuisine is nicer than I anticipated, with a black and white tile floor, an orange accented wall and no sign of a grocery store in the back. The lack of carpet makes for a loud atmosphere, but my dining partner and I quite enjoyed our evening. Except for one little problem.

When you think Indian food, you think lamb. It’s the most tender, succulent, flavorful preparation of the meat I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, my fantasies of sinking my teeth into a tender hunk of the meat was brought to a startling halt when our server announced that they were OUT. Come again? It’s as if McDonald’s told me they were out of McNugs. How can an Indian restaurant be out of lamb at 7:30pm on a Saturday? Perplexed, my dining partner and I regrouped and perused the menu a bit longer.

The Assorted Vegetarian Platter is a fun way to try a lot of different items to see what you like. Particularly with foreign cuisine, this is a safe way to introduce your taste buds to new flavors, in small portions. Samosas are scrumptious pastries with a curry potato filling, almost like an egg roll. Aloo Tikki are thin potato croquettes, and Cheese Pakora are fritters, with notes of chickpea and corn flours. My favorite on the platter were the Vegetable Paloras - deep-fried veggies, almost tempura-style. The tastiest veggie? Cauliflower! Totally not what I was expecting. The Mint and Tamarind Chutneys that accompanied the platter were wonderful and essential; the mint variety is cool and refreshing, featuring notes of cilantro, versus the Tamarind Chutney’s tangy and syrupy essence.

Still a little thrown from our denial of lamb, we decided the Tandoori Mixed Grill would suffice as a second course. Chicken Tikka features tender chicken on skewers that has been cooked in the famous tandoor clay oven. Similarly, the Tandoori Chicken is prepared with just a slightly different marinade. The Tomato Cream sauce that’s served alongside is to die for. The Basmati Rice with toasted coconut is just asking to be drowned in this sauce and ladled into my mouth. The Seekh Kebab is definitely for meat lovers, looking and tasting like sausage. Two Tandoori Shrimp are plump and juicy – I could have used a few more of those.

We decided that we needed one more dish to round out our feast. Nargisi Kofta was kind of a blind order. Grated vegetable dumplings are steamed and served in a velvety, yellow sauce, garnished with dried fruits. The word “fruit” intrigued us, though it only imparted a slightly sweet flavor. These were pretty good, but not great. We hated to waste what seemed like a gallon of sauce for the 5 little dumplings. The servers must have thought we were crazy for not lapping it up with Naan. Or our spoons.

Besides consoling us for the lack of lamb, the servers were incredibly attentive with the water refills, which were necessary to cleanse our palates from all the savory flavors. I need to return to sample their lamb dishes, but otherwise, I was pretty satisfied with my experience. If you’re a curry or Indian food virgin, ye shan’t be afraid! Go with an experienced diner, and you’ll be a convert by the end. The more you experiment, the more you’ll fall in love with it. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

BLT Steak

Two weeks ago, my mom and I had the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite bands of all time: Fleetwood Mac. I’ve been a fan of Stevie Nicks for as long as I can remember – trying to dress, sing and write songs like her as a child – but there is only one Stevie, the incomparable Ms. Nicks, and she’s definitely still got it. They rocked the house. Prior to the concert, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner, to give us energy for all that singing and grooving. After a tasty sip at Bubble Charlotte, a new champagne bar in the Epicentre, we ventured to BLT Steak. Connected to the Ritz-Carlton, where the Mac was staying, I had my eyes peeled the entire meal. Save up your bones, because this will cost you a pretty penny, but it is outstanding. Very NYC.

A seasonal drink of Strawberry Juice, Vodka and Lemon-Thyme Syrup quenched my thirst, but I was more excited by the three humungous Popovers that arrived to our table. They were the size of my head. Flaky, warm, with notes of parmesan cheese – I could get used to bread service like this. The Beefsteak Tomato Salad presents three beautifully ripe, juicy tomatoes, dressed with a Grilled Onion Vinaigrette, Stilton Cheese (Blue Cheese’s sister) and fresh Basil. This is perfect for summer, especially with such high-quality, fresh ingredients. I want to try and replicate this in my kitchen.

The entrée special was plenty to share. A Grilled Halibut Filet is topped with a Green Tomato Salsa, Pattypan Squash and Fried Squash Blossoms. I had never had squash blossoms, but see them featured all the time on “Iron Chef,” so I was pleased to finally have a taste myself. The batter was light and delicious, with a salty, almost juicy bite of the squash inside. The green tomato salsa was a colorful and fresh addition to the fish, which had a crunchy exterior, but wasn’t fried. I like that form of preparation.

As a side, Grits & Gorgonzola seemed perfect. Served in a tiny cast-iron dish, they were creamy, savory, with a flavorful layer of Gorgonzola on top. I couldn’t wait to dip my spoon into that cheesy crust and ladle them onto my plate. I may have used my popover to wipe up some of the grits. Shh.

My favorite part of the meal was perhaps the amuse bouche dessert, if you will. Three bite-sized Mocha Macarons hit the spot – crunchy and flaky on the outside, with a chewy filling on the inside – how did they know I love to end my meal with just a little bit of sweetness?

Performing hit after hit - “Second Hand News,” “Landslide,” “Don’t Stop,” – the Mac is back. All of them except Christine, that is. If you don’t have the “Rumours” album, I just insist that you get your hands on a copy and engulf yourself with the magic. It will change you. Now if any of you have killer popover recipes, send them my way.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Bling Ring

Starring: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann
Director: Sofia Coppola
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Rating: R

Sofia Coppola’s latest flick chronicles the “Bling Ring” robberies that took place between 2008 and 2009 in Los Angeles. The story surrounds 5 stupid, spoiled teens that allegedly broke into the houses of Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Lindsay Lohan and the like. It's hilarious that they actually thought they could get away with it.  And it's pretty unbelievable how easy they make it look. And, who are these celebrities, not locking their doors? If I had 300 pairs of Louboutins, 10 Rolexes and miscellaneous furs lying about my pad, I think I’d have a pretty tight security system. Granted, a few of the houses had security cameras, but not even locking the doors? Nuts. My jaw was dropped during the entire movie.

New kid at school Marc (Israel Broussard) gets approached by rebellious Rebecca (Katie Chang) and is soon roped into her adrenaline-junkie lifestyle. Breaking into houses, taking Porsches for a spin when the owners are out of town – it seems Marc will go along with anything just to feel included. He doesn’t seem to get as much of a rush as Rebecca; he's just happy to have a friend. We seem to be most sympathetic towards him, being more of an accomplice, and really the only one with a conscience. In terms of casting, Katie Chang seemed a bit flat. I was hoping she'd really play up the “HBIC” role (Head Bitch In Charge.)

After discovering Google Maps and Perez Hilton one boring afternoon, Marc and Rebecca decide to break into Paris Hilton's mansion while she's out of town. (Note - Hilton let Coppola film in her actual house for these scenes.) Enter friends and fellow partiers Nicki, Sam and Chloe (Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga and Claire Julien) who have nothing better to do, and decide to come along. Emma Watson’s character was the most annoying I’ve seen in a while, though she was supposed to be; Taissa Farmiga, younger sister of Vera Farmiga, was a super dud (no surprise there), so my favorite by default was Chloe – typical gangsta white girl. It’s disgusting how much money these Calabasas kids have.

After a few successful runs at various houses, we’re ready for them to get caught. We're also curious to see just how far they’ll go. It makes sense that these celebrities didn’t realize they had items missing – it would be a while before they noticed a few of their 400 bags missing. Ultimately, the kids are busted one by one, and don’t show the slightest remorse. If anything, they are just sorry they got caught. The E! Network capitalized on the story, and gave Emma Watson’s character a series called “Pretty Wild.” This show only ran for one season, before she had to go serve 30 days of her one year sentence.

Leslie Mann is wonderful as the mom who wants so desperately to have her daughters’ approval, much like Amy Poehler's character in “Mean Girls.” A random cameo by Gavin Rossdale, on the other hand, left me a bit confused. Maybe he just wanted a few extra dollars since Bush can’t compete with the Harajuku Girls.

“The Bling Ring” is fun, baffling, a bit angering, and has a great soundtrack. It harkens me back to my days as a senior in high school – it’s a shame that some of my fashion icons and role models were Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan, but it’s easy to understand how obsessive these kids got. America loves to idolize celebrities, especially since their every move is so accessible to us. It's a bit frightening.