Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 750 : Leap Day!

It only comes every four years, that is if you're lucky. Leap Day occurs because of the fact that Earth's rotation around the sun takes approximately 365 days and six hours and on this particular day every four years, we play catch up. For a day that happens almost every four years, one would most certainly assume that there were traditions and folklore wrapped up in it and you'd be right. The most well known of which is what is known as "ladies privilege," the one day every four years where women can propose to their boyfriends. There's no reason a lady couldn't on other days as well but the origin of this tradition is somewhat foggy but it surely dates back to approximately the fifth century or maybe it was the thirteen century or later in the Irish / Scottish region of the world. That's the great thing about folklore, we know it to be a societal custom but where it originates is the stuff of myth.

So what to eat on this day that happens only every four years?
Something truly decadent and fabulous that you wouldn't eat every other day?
Or perhaps just a celebration for the extra day we have in the 2012 calendar year?

Why not celebrate with Burrata and Blanc de Blancs? The simple decadence of creamy fresh cheese that just melts in your mouth and the crisp delightful bubbly will get you over that midweek lull and into March and the beginning of springtime, lets hope.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 749 : Prix fixe at Boulud Sud

If you go to Boulud Sud before 6:45, you have the pleasure of the option of their pre-theatre menu which worked excellently for us this evening pre-Philharmonic. The pre-theatre menu is an appetizer, entree and dessert for $55 which when you consider the pricing of the mains and well the individual dishes in general, this is a pretty darn good deal.

What did we have?

We split their butter lettuce, radicchio, roasted almond and Gorgonzola dolce salad topped with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette and my favorite, grilled octopus with a Marcona almond purée and arugula. Then we each had their new fish entree -- Long island flounder with a light parsley pesto and sundried tomato oil. This was accompanied by roasted cauliflower and local fingerling potatoes over a roasted cauliflower purée -- the perfect in-between winter - spring dish. Rustic and warming flavors met bright and fresh nuances in the most excellent of manners.

Then we had a cheese plate and one of their desserts. The cheese plate was composed of three local cheeses curated by Anne Saxelby -- Weston Wheel, a mixed cow and goat's milk cheese hailing from Vermont; Grayson, the washed rind stinker from Meadow Creek Dairy in Virginia; and Oma, hailing from Vermont's Von Trapp farmstead. Overall three excellent American artisanal cheeses that will appeal to the amateur or the developed cheese palate.

A delish meal before a lovely concert at the Philharmonic with my wonderful Mother.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 748 : Dressed up Cheeses for a Dressed up Evening

Last night as we all know was the Oscars -- the biggest night in movies, period. The dresses, the high-jinx, the host, the winners, the losers -- there's something just so fabulous about the spectacle surrounding the Academy Awards that I feel is lost in other award shows -- a very special "je ne sais quoi."

Truffles and champagne, decadence is how you should enjoy watching them. A curated tasting of truffle cheeses from both near and far was on the menu for last night. I'd like to specifically focus on two of the cheeses here:

First off let's start with Wild Boar hailing from Charleston Artisan Cheesehouse in its namesake city, Charleston. Each and every cheese is crafted by hand with love and care -- in fact our tasting last night was one of the first times their cheeses had been shipped to New York City, let's only hope this is the beginning of their popularity in the Northeast. Charleston Artisan Cheesehouse crafts Wild Boar and Battery Park, both bloomy rind cow's milk cheeses modeled loosely on their interpretations of Brie and Camembert style cheeses. Wild Boar's creamy oozy gooey paste is separated by an excellent center of Oregon black truffles.

Did you know that the Oregon truffle is sometimes confused for the Perigord truffle or otherwise known as the Black Diamond, the truffle that people really want from across the pond? Well the Oregonian version is less than one tenth of the price but still infuses a fabulous rustic, mushroomy, decadent, earthy punch. So why not right?

One of the many things that stands out in this cheese is the fact that not only are the pieces of black truffle larger than what one normally tends to see infused in creamy cheeses, they are cut randomly as the cheesemakers see fit. The mixture of the fresh honest milky buttery qualities of the melt on your tongue cheese with the rustic, mushroomy, earthy, fruitiness of the truffles is just a plain and utter delight. This is small production artisanal cheese done splendidly -- if you haven't tried it yet, I recommend you do!

And what of our other cheese?

Let's move over to the West Coast to Mt Townsend Creamery to be exact, located in Port Townsend, Washington. The North Olympic Peninsula's first artisan creamery, Mt Townsend is truly imbued with the local terroir coupled with a sense of innovation and gumption. That sense of adventure shows through in each and everyone of their delectable cheeses. Mt Townsend crafts approximately ten different cheeses ranging from Fromage Blanc's to washed rind Toma's, to jack style cheeses to Camemberts and other bloomy rinded cheeses, of which Trufflestack is one. Trufflestack starts with the base of Seastack -- named for the rock formations along Washington State's coastline, this is a soft-ripened, bloomy rind cheese infused with vegetable ash. To become Trufflestack, one takes Seastack and infuses Italian black truffles and local sea salt to create this limited edition show-stopper of a cheese. The truffles are evenly dispersed throughout the cheese's paste providing you with an elegant smooth earthy, rustic mushroomy truffle mouth feel on each and every bite. The addition of sea salt here cuts through the weightiness of the interior creamy paste providing you with a light yet round and full bodied cheese with a denser paste to it, less melt on your tongue and more coat the entire mouth excellent sort of feel. True Pacific Northwestern cheese done to impress -- delicate and wonderful all rolled into one.

Two totally different interpretations of bloomy rinded cheeses infused with truffles - one with a center truffle line and one with the all around infusion of truffle. Each was wonderful and provided an intricate thought out artisanal flavor profile that will delight each and everyone who has the pleasure of enjoying them.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day 747 : Um, wow, HELLO Acme!

Acme used to be this fabulously kitsch New Orleans joint with strong hurricanes, live zydeco, awesome cornbread, fried okra and more. That Acme is in the past, welcome to the new Acme, with Mads Refslund at the kitchen's helm and run by a group of partners known for chic spots like the Standard and very well connected in the hip downtown worlds of fashion and art. Chic and sexy, the restaurant has a dressed up retro bistro feel to it drawing on the East Village's punk rock 80's culture somewhat. 

Who is Mads Resflund you might wondering? He came to fame with Rene Redzepi at what many consider to be the world's best restaurant, Noma. Resflund's cuisine at Acme is paired down and pure with a forager painterly side to it -- this is haute creative New Nordic cuisine done fabulously and at affordable prices. 

We only had a few small plates but each was more outstanding than the last with inventive out of the box cocktails to boot. I cannot wait to go back.

Start with the Farmer's Eggs from the Cooked section of the menu -- egg custard combined with cauliflower puree and small pieces of cauliflower and a parmesan foam all served back in an eggshell on a bed of straw. Elegant yet playful, decadent yet light, smooth yet dynamic, the perfect flavorful bite to start off with. 

Continue with the Hay Roasted Sunchokes with Black truffles and Gruyere foam from the Soil section of the menu - earthy and rustic -- these sunchokes are sensual and lightly sweet yet perfectly savory -- true forager cuisine on the plate. 

Finish with the House Cured Salmon with winter cabbage and radicchio topped with a buttermilk horseradish dressing from the Raw section of the menu. Cured fish is a staple in Nordic cuisine and boy did their house cured Salmon wow - it just melts in your mouth and with the added aromatic herbaceous kick of the horseradish and cabbage, it is the perfect light dish either to start off your meal or end it. 

This is by far the best and most inventive food I have had in New York recently -- it's the sort of food that makes you enjoy going out to eat -- creative, dynamic, out of the box cuisine that wows with each morsel. And when that food doesn't break the bank, it's even better. Go soon, you don't want to miss Mads Resflund's cooking here in New York City.

9 Great Jones Street

Day 746 : The Big Cheesy Coverage

Yesterday afternoon, I ventured down to Openhouse Gallery for this weekend's grilled cheese event -- the Big Cheesy featuring seven different grilled cheeses from some of the city's top cheese-y establishments -- Murray's Cheese, Lucy's Whey, Melt Shop, Tartinery, Big Daddy's, Little Muenster,  and Casellula. The event spans both Saturday and Sunday from 1 till 7pm in one hour slots. Each hour, one hundred people are allowed access to the space to keep the space not too overcrowded and to give people a specific amount time to enjoy their grilled cheeses.

So what was served?

Tartinery had mini croque monsieur and mini croque madames. According to my meat-eating friend, these were delish. The addition of chives sent the classic sandwiches over the top -- dialing them up to competition notch.

Lucy's Whey served a Prairie Breeze Cheddar with Fig Jam, olive oil, and sea salt on ciabatta. Simple, classic and flavorful, the pure elegance of this grilled cheese really stood out for me. It was about the quality of the cheese and showcasing it grilled between two pieces of bread - you simply could not go wrong here.

Little Muenster served homemade tomato soup and round little grilled cheeses with Gruyere, Taleggio, Fontina, Membrillo, and Prosciutto on organic peasant bread. Report from my meat eating friend on the sandwich -- too salty, it would have been so much better without the Prosciutto. The soup was straight forward, comforting and delish. 

Melt Shop was the only establishment that provided you with three different grilled cheeses : 

1. Sharp Cheddar with 12 hour braised pulled pork, McClure's pickles, and homemade bbq sauce on sourdough. 
2. Fontina and goat cheese with roasted wild mushrooms and parsley pesto on sourdough.
3. Blue and Cheddar cheese, cranberry pepper jam, Neuske's bacon on sourdough.

And what were our thoughts:

1. There was too much going on here - no wow factor.
2. Delish, packed with a flavor punch and lots of ingredients.
3. Yum - the pepper in the cranberry sneaks up on you providing you with a nice spicy kick towards the end.

Big Daddy's had probably the most fabulously over the top comfort food version --  Grilled Mac n' Cheese with a Bacon surprise -- basically homemade mac n' cheese with bacon sandwiched between two pieces of bread. Why not take these two classics and combine them into one sandwich? According to my friend -- it worked -- decadent in all the right sorts of ways. 

Casellula served a Griddled Fondue Sandwich with Pickled Pepper relish. They were the only people were making the grilled cheeses in a pan and although the flavor profile might be nicer than the electronic griddler, they took a while to make. Once they pulled the sandwiches out of the pan, they were topped with the cold pickled pepper relish which I thought should have been inside the sandwich warmed up as it felt somewhat like a cold after thought placed on top of this warm sandwich. Overall the flavors were there but maybe not put together in a way that made sense for the number of people at the event. I did really appreciate that they told you exactly what was in the sandwiches.

Last but not least was Murray's Cheese serving the Atomic Bomb - braised short ribs, Taleggio, caramelized onions, piri piri, fire roasted Jalapeno peppers, McClure's spicy pickle relish and arugula on Pullman Bread. They were the only meat based sandwich that offered to make me a vegetarian version -- they definitely get a lot of points for doing that! This sandwich had a nice spicy kick with a great green vegetal side to it! I think that that the bread could have been thinner though so it was less about the bread and more about the interior contents. However they were delish!

Overall a really fun event and a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I'd have to say my favorite, if I get a vote would be Lucy's Whey -- simple, clean, pure, and fabulous! But to be fair -- since I couldn't try all of the grilled cheese options, it is not completely fair for me to judge.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 745 : Giving Back and Receiving All in One?

Then I have the perfect thing for you!

"Say Cheese, Share a Smile," Artisanal Cheese's Monthly Cheese Club's new initiative.

What does it entail?

Sign up for a year's worth of Artisanal's Cheese of the Month Club and they will donate $250 to Smile Train! Each month you will receive four cheeses totaling two pounds of cheese and the $250 that is donated to Smile Train will help cure one child born with a cleft palate. Each year over 165,000 children are born with cleft palates some so bad that they cannot speak or eat. By joining Artisanal's Cheese of the Month club, you can help a child live a full and happy life by curing them of their cleft palate.

The details can be found here:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day 744 : New Cheese Crush - Evalon

One of my best friends came over this evening for wine, nibbles, and an awesome laid back girls night with the perfect blend of chatter and gossip.

I supplied the wine and a little bit of the food but she truly brought a veritable feast from the Park Slope Coop for us to enjoy. Hummus, Banaganoush, Spanish spice infused almonds, spelt flatbreads, Evalon, and
A Middle Eastern fabulous brown rice, lentil, caramelized shallot dish that I sautéed and added kale and pea shoots to.

What stands out in that sentence?


Of course! An aged goat's milk cheese infused with fenugreek from Wisconsin crafted by La Clare farms. Imagining that it fit in perfectly with our Middle Eastern theme, she was right! Chalky yet rustic and barnyardy, aromatic and herbaceous yet citrusy and bright and alive! A really dance of flavor nuances on the palate and a true delight!

Thank you for introducing me to this fabulous new cheese! What a treat! But the night of wine, talking, and enjoying was more so!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Day 743 : Event Alert - The Big Cheesy

Do you love Grilled Cheese?

Do you like popup restaurants, shops, bars, and more? Those fleeting establishments that have taken NYC by storm? Short term fabulous experiences that make you feel like you're one of the lucky few?

If so, you most certainly need to get tickets to this weekend's Big Cheesy at one of the best event spaces, Openhouse Gallery.


Because Murray's Cheese, Tartinery, Big Daddy's, Casellula, Little Muenster, Lucy's Whey, and Melt Shop will offer their take on the grilled cheese sandwich. Sixpoint Brewery and Bella Luna Winery will provide alcoholic libations for your cheesy endeavors. The Big Cheesy runs both this Saturday and Sunday from 1 till 7pm and tickets are $25 for your grilled cheeses and drinks. Just as a heads up, it takes place in one hour slots both Saturday and Sunday and all that is left right now are the last three slots on Sunday, so sign up fast!!! You can buy tickets here:

Stay tuned for my report!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Day 742 : Fast, Easy, Fresh Meals for One

Tonight after a long day at the office I decided that I wanted something warm, comforting and somewhat rustic -- how about a warm bulgur salad with roasted tomatoes, carrots, butternut squash, turnips with some Ibores grated over the top?

You must be thinking, what is Ibores?

Ibores hails from the Extremadura region of Spain and is a firm goat's milk cheese whose rind has been rubbed in paprika and olive oil over the course of its two month aging process. The result? A light yet round and warming cheese that packs a nice spicy aromatic punch. Crisp and lightly citrusy with the classic goaty notes, the olive oil rub and paprika add the perfect kick to dial this cheese up a notch. Perfect for our warm bulgur salad.

If you have never cooked bulgur before don't be afraid, it's like cooking rice -- boiling water and salt is all you need. Next up for the veggies, dice them all up and place them in a large saute pan with some EVOO, sea salt, crushed red pepper, rosemary, and oregano. Cover and cook over low to medium heat continually stirring for fifteen to twenty minutes. Once the bulgur is done, toss in the veggie pan and mix together over low heat for a few minutes. Take off the stove and top with a nice grating of Ibores. Enjoy with a glass of crisp white wine.

Day 741 : Laissez les bons temps rouler

Happy Mardi Gras folks!

Will you be celebrating this evening with the classic New Orleans style drink, a hurricane? Think like the cousin of a Daiquiri but sweeter, this cocktail is crafted with a mixture of fruit juice, syrup and/or grenadine and one of my personally least favorite liquors, rum.

Curious as to how the hurricane was developed? Well, lets turn the clocks back to the early 1940s when a local New Orleans pub owner had an excess amount of rum that surprisingly no one was drinking. What to do with this less popular liquor? How about combine it with some fruit juice and syrup making it nice and sweet and then pour it into his hurricane-lamp shaped glasses? The drink totally took off and the rest is history.

Fast forward back to the present, perhaps you're thinking of having some friends over for some hurricanes to celebrate Fat Tuesday and you wanted to make something to accompany these sweet drinks, how about a goat cheese jalapeno crostini? The spice of the jalapeno will cut right through the sweetness as will the bright creamy chalky citrusy fresh flavors of the goat cheese. The bread will help soak up some of that alcohol you'll be drinking in honor of Mardi Gras!

So what goes into this crostini?

1-2 baguettes depending on how many people you are planning on having. I always love Balthazar's baguettes or Tom Cat Bakery makes nice ones as well. Next up grab one jalapeno, some cilantro and a lime then grab a log of LynnHaven's Fresh Chevre hailing from Upstate New York. Easily purchased at the Union Square Greenmarket.

Don't worry the preparation is super simple as well, slice your baguette and brush each slice with EVOO and toast till golden brown. Next up combine a diced up jalapeno with your fresh chevre some EVOO and sea salt and just a little bit of lime for a citrusy brightness that will complement your cocktail excellently. Once your bread is toasted, top each piece with a nice little scoop of your homemade goat cheese jalapeno mixture, top with a small drizzle of EVOO and a sprig of cilantro for an herbaceous aromatic touch and enjoy.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Day 740 : Drinks and a small nibble at DOC

Heading to Williamsburg and looking for a cute wine bar to go to? What about DOC? A laid back Sardinian wine bar a few blocks away from the hustle and bustle of Bedford Avenue actually feels miles away in a good sort of manner. An excellent selection of Italian wine, cheeses, cured meats, paninis, pastas, and more. Great for catching up with a few girl friends or for a romantic date or just for a quiet place to enjoy a nice glass of wine.

Last night we had glasses of Negroamaro and homemade bread chips with a creamy ricotta and a roasted tomato and roasted almond salsa -- savory, aromatic and flavorful. It was the perfect complement to the earthy, rustic medium bodied wine. A wonderful way to catch up with a close friend on an early Saturday evening.

85 North 7th Street

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Day 739 : Brunch stateside

There's something about the concept of brunch that I just adore -- part relaxation, partly just always a great time, and well of course the eggs. How can you go wrong with kicking off the weekend with a spicy bloody Mary and a fabulous omelet?

I don't think you can! That is unless it was last weekend and I was on a beach in Southern Thailand and then there's little else that can be better than the sound of the ocean and the warmth of the sun radiating on your back. Brunch with a good friend here in Manhattan is a nice runner-up though!

This morning at a casual Uptown diner, we sat down to coffees, bloody Mary's and Orange juice for her. Looking at the many omelette suggestions, I decided to stray from my normal choice -- something with smoked fish and eggs...Instead how about an egg white omelette with wild mushrooms, spinach, Parmesan, pine nuts and homemade pesto? It surely was an aromatic, flavorful and herbaceous way to start off the weekend and with temperatures here reaching into the lower 50s, you almost could imagine that it wasn't late February and your beach going days were closer than you thought!

Here's to a great weekend folks!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Day 738 : A Jet Lagged TGIF Pairing

Coming back from vacation with a twelve hour time difference and jumping right back into the swing of things at work while still pretty jet lagged makes one excited for the end of the week that's for sure and to celebrate why not enjoy a truly American artisanal wine and cheese pairing?

How about some Landaff and a glass of Lieb Cellars Bridge Lane Cabernet Franc paired with some dried cherries and toasted baguette brushed with EVOO and sea salt and chives?

Landaff hails from Landaff Creamery in Landaff, NH and is inspired by classic Welsh style farmstead cheeses like Caerphilly. Landaff travels to the Cellars at Jasper Hill for its aging period. So what is its flavor profile?

It is a firm aged raw cow's milk cheese that has round buttery and grassy notes with a crisp citrusy farmsteady finish. Biting and intense yet light, round and flavorful, it is a great snacking or melting cheese, this truly is a crowd pleaser. When paired with the rustic fruity qualities of dried cherries and the aromatic herbaceousness of toasted baguette slices with chives and sea salt, this will be a heavenly combination to awaken the senses after the week. Add in a glass of Lieb Cellars Cab Franc from the North Fork and you will be in heaven! Full of cherry, white pepper, red berry, and herbaceous notes, it will echo the flavor nuances created in the Landaff, dried cherry, toasted EVOO, sea salt, and chive baguette pairing. A great way to end the week and celebrate the truly gorgeous February day we are experiencing here in New York!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Day 737 : Of family, vegetables, and neighborhood restaurants

My family has a soft spot for Daniel Boulud's Mediterranean restaurant near Lincoln Center -- Boulud Sud. Opened last year, for my family that lives on the Upper West, it became a quick favorite. This evening, seven of us gathered for a family dinner together there to catch up and enjoy some of the delish food offered on their menu.

I'm a bit boring I always order the same dish because its just so fabulous and I adore it -- grilled octopus with a marcona almond puree, arugula and jerez vinegar and tonight I ordered it with a side of broccoli di rabe charred and sauteed with shallots and chilies and tonight I decided to ask for grated Parmesan. The addition of this aged nutty, butterscotchy, caremelly cheese was the perfect element to throw this simply vegetable dish into overboard -- taking it from a straight forward side to something more -- a treat for a basic dish dressed up in a suit and tie for this evening. It's an important lesson to remember, with a little finesse you can easily take any vegetable and transform them. Stay tuned tomorrow for our Winter Weather Tomato Rustic soup, utilizing the tomato as forefront.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Day 736 : Back in Narita...

Welcome back to Narita folks – a quicker flight from Bangkok this time around – shaving two hours off our original seven-hour flight. Gosh, it feels weird to recognize that this trip has come to a close but a wonderful trip it has been! A whirlwind eight days in a far off land of elephants, beaches, temples, curries, adventures and more. No time for breakfast in Bangkok with my 7:15am flight this morning but how about a late lunch/early dinner in Tokyo? Don’t mind if I do! Especially after my delish sushi the last time I was here!

How about some blue fin tuna, the specialty at the Sushi joint I was eating at and perhaps an eel avocado roll? The tuna melted in my mouth – sumptuous, round, and sensual…this tuna is a rare find in New York and not traditionally worth it but here at Narita, boy was it a treat and pretty affordable at that! The eel cucumber roll was fresher and more authentic than its equivalents in Manhattan. Enjoyed with warm hot sake, this was an excellent way to round out this wonderful adventure.

Stay tuned tomorrow, after my thirteen-hour flight, back in Manhattan for a return to cheese and a little less travel and adventure abroad but plenty in the world of cheese and on the streets of Manhattan. Funnily enough I could even write another blog this evening from my apartment, all in the same day -- Bangkok, Tokyo, and New York.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Day 735 : Day 2 in and around Chiang Mai

After a lovely evening in the Old City, a restful sleep and a great workout, I got in a minivan to head out of town for the morning -- a stop into a Butterfly Farm along with an Orchid Farm then a visit to one of many elephant camps in the region, this one was known as Maesa and is home to 71 elephants. The elephants and their trainers reside in these camps and are therefore protected from other animals who could harm them since as the indigenous tigers and cobra snakes, according to our barely English speaking tour guide. At the elephant camp you could feed the elephants bananas and sugar cane which apparently they eat 300 kilos a day of; watch them take a bath in the small river/stream on the property; and then watch their "show." The "show" included all of the skills that the elephants learn over the course of at least five years of training -- playing the harmonica, kicking a soccer ball, dunking a basketball, and most impressive in my mind painting a painting by utilizing a paint brush. Since today is Valentine's Day, one of the elephants even painted the profile of two elephants with a heart in between them. A truly amazing experience that feels totally removed from the hustle and bustle of daily New York City life that's for sure. En route back, we stopped at Tiger Kingdom where you could pet and get to experience tigers in their natural habitat -- these were not the sort of tigers that would bite your head off, oh no, these were the sort of tigers who would let you pet them and allow you to enjoy their company, only in Thailand, right? Should you feel the desire, you could also stop into the crocodile farm or the cobra snake farm among many others. Yes there was a sense of these being touristy but a must-see off the beaten path and boy am I glad I had the opportunity to experience it.

Back in the Old City, I figured I had the time for one more Thai Massage and at $6 for an hour, why not right? Followed by lunch at one of the vegetarian cafes and some relaxing time by the pool with live Thai guitar, it was a great way to end the trip and to begin my trip back home soon.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Day 734 : Adventures in Chiang Mai

Welcome to Chiang Mai, (meaning new city), situated at the foothills of Northern Thailand's lush mountains. Built in 1292 and once the capital and religious center of the Lanna Kingdom, it is now a bustling cultural metropolis. The center of town or Old City is still a walled quarter peppered with temples, massage parlours, cafes, small artisan shops selling handmade arts and crafts and much more -- an excellent blend of culture and history in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Outside the Old City's walls is New Chiang Mai otherwise known as the area around Nimanhaemin Road -- think South Beach plus Santa Fe with an Asian bent -- arts and crafts function side by side with upscale and trendy restaurants, Art Deco architecture, contemporary art galleries and more. Even further outside of Chiang Mai is an eco-lovers paradise -- hikes to the holy mountain, Doi Suthep rising 5,498 feet above the city; elephant reserves; jungle treks and ziplining; river cruises and much much more.

Back in the Old City, Chiang Mai is known for its night time markets, especially the Sunday Night Walking Street which I had the opportunity to visit last night. The perfect blend of performance, food, local arts and crafts and clothing take over a maze of streets largest on Sunday evenings. It had the mystery, mystique and allure of nights spent exploring the various wares and attractions in Djemma El Fna, the main square in Morocco but with a laid back, friendly Asian feel. Looking for individual pieces of sushi to go? Perhaps a home cooked Pad Thai along the way? Some homemade sweets? Thai silk scarves? Jade bracelets? Spices? Wood handicrafts? Perhaps you needed to stock up on your dried fish supply, you could find it here!

Today was spent touring around the Old City, exploring the temples, a meander along the riverbanks and a trip over to Nimanhaemin Road followed by a Thai massage. Now it's on to exploring some of the art galleries in the Old City and dinner and a visit to the night time market again. Tomorrow, will be a trip out to see the elephants before my return flight to Bangkok.

Overall an excellent day in a friendly and welcoming city full of Western expats, Thai artists, monks, and backpackers galore. Here's to more adventures to come.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Days 731, 732, & 733 : All rolled into one, a weekend in Railay Beach, Thailand

So it seems that being in Railay Beach has gotten me a bit behind in terms of my Fromagical musings and for that I apologize, let’s play catch up over the past three days now.  I realize that this trip is much more travel and much less cheese but Thailand is not big on its cheese as with many Asian countries – having never been a staple of their diet the cuisine tends not to feature it predominately.

It’s been a whirlwind of a weekend and a whirlwind of a trip thus far, I can’t quite believe it’s soon coming to a close – not yet, one more city and a short overnight back in Bangkok then its back home. But enough of that for the moment, lets get back to the dreamy past few days in Railay. We left off with the journey to get to Railay, so let’s pick up there on Thursday evening. Thursday evening was the bachelorette / girls night out. With limited options, we started off the evening having drinks at sunset on the beach at a bar whose seats constituted straw mats on the ground -- a great way to kick off the trip and my friends’ wedding weekend.  Following the spectacular sunset, we moved up to a proper table at one of the restaurants on the beach – a ’70s style lounge singer, tropical drinks, authentic Thai food, and the beach expanse in front of us, you just couldn’t go wrong here. We all split a variety of dishes to get to try a little bit of everything -- stir fried vegetables with cashews, pineapple and crab fried rice, steamed tofu in a black stone bowl and grilled fresh mackerel. Each and every dish was fresh and light, island Thai cuisine done well.  Funnily enough as I quickly learned, the majority of the restaurants on Railay either offered Thai food or pizza. There was very little in between. What was next?

How about a live fire dancing show at the only bar in Railay Beach with dancing? Called the Last Bar, you really feel as though you’re at the end of the world here – pumping dub step sets the scene with at any given time between two and five Thai men dancing, twirling, and throwing their fire batons; a tube television showing a bad 80s movie; a no frills slightly covered dance area complete with a tiki style bar.

Friday –

A sunrise run followed by a hike to the lookout point where you can see the ocean on both sides, palm trees, and white sand. The breakfast options at my hotel here in Railay left something to be desired at least in comparison to those in Bangkok. I did discover a love of dragon fruit in the process however.  Of course we had to spend some quality time on the beach where the top choice for lunch is found on one of the handful wooden boats that park themselves on the shore line – an eclectic selection ranging from watermelon smoothies to grilled corn to pad thai to chicken pitas and more.  

Friday evening was the rehearsal dinner at another hotel restaurant – a buffet prepared specially for the wedding guests. The spicy squid salad and vegetable green curry stood out for me. Authentic Thai food puts the Americanized version to shame -- it's fresh, clean and about the spices and the quality of the ingredients. 

Next up, my friends’ wedding day – a small intimate gathering of the friends and family that mean the most to these two really close friends. A ceremony on the beach half covered by a limestone cave followed by the requisite picture taking session. Hors d’oeuvres and white wine sangria followed by dinner and dancing overlooking the beach followed by the lighting of the traditional good luck paper lanterns. This was truly a celebration of these two wonderful people and their love for one another and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.
Here’s to them!

Stay tuned tomorrow for my adventures in and around Chiang Mai.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Day 730 : Travelling to Railay

Whoops, running a day behind here, but I will be playing catchup over the next twenty four hours so stay tuned. A short update on the past twenty four hours as I don't want you all to go missing your Fromagical musings for too long.

Yesterday morning, which if I do say so myself feels like days ago, I started my journey southward, flying from Bangkok to Krabi, an hour long flight to a town south of Phuket. That didn't mean that upon landing in Krabi, I had arrived at my final destination of Railay. Oh no folks, I had the pleasure of taking a van to a golf cart to a wooden motor boat to a port pulled by a tractor to arrive at Railay Beach, the location of my friends' wedding tomorrow. Railay Beach is car free and is surrounded on three sides by water with a strip of maybe ten hotels, a few restaurants and a few beach bars -- welcome to the end of the world beach town my friends. Check your stress and baggage at the door, this was ultimate relaxation at its best.

This truly was out of a dream, a place where life moved at a slower pace, people were friendlier and more carefree -- a great way to decompress and recharge.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Day 729 : Bangkok

Welcome to Bangkok folks -- the capital city of Thailand and home to 10 million people. A bubbling and buzzing Southeast Asian metropolis rich in history, full of tall towers, food stalls, fashion malls, massage parlours, traffic jams, peddlers, and tourists. It's hot, it's sticky, it's large -- equal parts inviting, alluring, and mysterious.

Waking up in my hotel room this morning after last night's late arrival, I gazed out my window at an endless landscape of tall buildings. After a nice long workout, I ventured down to the hotel's restaurant for the included breakfast -- what an interesting assortment of foods -- there were homemade omelets; homemade rice noodle bowls; made-to-order stir fry; breads, danishes, and croissants; salads and smoked fish, cured meats, dim sum, labneh and Danish blue cheese; cereal with everything one could imagine; home infused yogurt concoctions and homemade jams; cut fruits; bean sprouts with tofu; rice patties and plenty more. Hey you could eat for a day here -- breakfast on the eggs, lunch on the salads and dim sum, dinner on the homemade rice noodle bowls or made-to-order stir fry. Surprising to see Danish Blue cheese as feature at breakfast in Bangkok, no?

After a lovely breakfast, I ventured across town to my first stop -- the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha otherwise known as Wat Phra Kaew. The Grand Palace was built in 1782 and contains within its complex the royal residences and throne halls, government offices, and Wat Phra Kaew. It is an enormous maze of ornately decorated buildings and structures steeped in Thai history and culture and a reflection of where Thai society has come from and where they are heading. Stunning and austere yet worn and loved -- this is a place that allows one to comprehend a sense of place and space of this vast city that they are in.

After a nice long meander in and around the many structures that fall under the Grand Palace's umbrella, I walked out and around to Wat Pho, not without noticing the second glaringly Western chain food establishment that shocked me to discover in Bangkok -- Au Bon Pain, the first was Dean & Deluca. Sure you expect to see your typical fast food joints but Dean & Deluca?

So I admit I got a little lost on the supposedly easy ten minute walk to Wat Pho and ended up taking a mini-detour to Wat Arun, otherwise known as the Temple of Dawn, across the Chao Phraya River. The best part about getting to this detour was the cost of the boat ride across the river -- 3 baht or 10 cents well and of course the temple on the other side too! Ok so the boat ride was a little bumpy and there was only room to stand but really what could you expect. You did get an excellently hazy view down the river of downtown Bangkok. Over the river and back again to Wat Pho known for being the national headquarters of the teaching and preservation of Thai medicine, including Thai massage along with housing the world's largest reclining Buddha measuring 151 feet long by close to 50 feet high. Now that just took my breath away -- it does exactly what it should I think -- it dwarfs you in the process of which it enforces you to question your own being and your relationship to your surroundings. Granted it is stunning, meticulously preserved and a definite feat of construction -- it was an excellent way to end my tour of the three most important temples in early Bangkok history. Yes I did see quite a few other smaller temples in my travels today, they are quite prevalent all throughout town.

Moving along from our history and river sojourn portion of the day, my next stop was to Central Bangkok to go to the shopping district to check out their malls -- people have always said come with an empty suitcase to Bangkok and trust me you will fill it up with all of the fabulously affordable items you will find, silks, housewares, clothing, and more. So maybe I just didn't find them or maybe I'm just not the biggest fan of shopping but I meandered around all of the key shopping areas and malls and walked away empty handed. This was big box commerce, lots of people spending lots of money in a small closed in space with tons of different purveyors of items. Although glad to have seen what everyone was talking about in terms of the large scale shopping opportunities, I'm sad to have missed the small tailor shops which I have heard amazing stories about or perhaps the more authentic weekend Chatuchak Market, the Spitalfields of Bangkok, if I do say so myself. But that surely didn't mean I needed to miss out on the street food stalls and street clothing stalls -- I didn't need to buy a single thing, just a meander through what felt more real to me -- handmade items and made to order noodles, roasted bananas and hand carved pineapples, incense, smoked and dried fishes, and more lined the streets of the market I meandered into. Whether real is the correct word or simply what I imagined more so -- this is the perfect example of Bangkok's fabulous dual personality -- it is both very new, high tech, and commercial yet very steeped in culture and tradition that defies modern industrial and technological developments.

Next stop, the Bangkok Center for Art and Culture, one of a few museums/cultural centers around town. For such a large city, there is surprisingly little visual art on display. At the Bangkok Center for Art and Culture, I had the opportunity to see an exhibition that dealt with the aftermath of the flood that devastated a large part of the country not that long ago -- an excellent way for the artists to work through their difficult feelings surrounding this life altering event.

Moving along it was time for me to get a small bite and consequently meander into a supermarket. Wherever it is I travel I like to go into the local supermarkets because I think it tells a lot about the food culture that sometimes is lost if you stick only to restaurants and prepared food. At this particular supermarket, there were your typical meats, fishes, fruits, and vegetables. A larger than normal display of tofu based products, plenty of cured dried fishes, a large selection of dried fruits with everything from dried tomatoes to dried guava and more. What about cheeses you might be wondering? A disappointing selection of packaged classics -- mozzarella, cheddar, swiss, some blue cheese, cream cheese, a bit of feta, and a few other random selections but it was clear that cheese is not big in Thai cuisine -- not a surprising fact. Interesting to see what is preferred by the typical food shopper here in Bangkok.

Now it was time to return to my hotel for a little while before my evening and dinner.  Next stop -- Railay Beach via Krabi tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Day 728 : EWR -- NRT -- BKK

Isn't it funny to think about the acronyms that are ingrained in all of our minds -- brb, lol, LAX, etc etc...utilized as common parlance we don't even think about,  just another "word" in our vocabulary. Whether it is the abbreviations developed in technological speak or those used to denote different locations, these are the sorts of words that transcend the language gap between different cultures and societies. One's awareness of this becomes heightened when traveling in countries where there is a language gap.

Welcome to NRT folks, fourteen hours direct from EWR, a ten hour time difference, countless movies later and well frankly only a three and change hour stay. Tokyo has always held a particular sort of allure to me and unfortunately my only experience thus far will be these few hours spent somewhat jet lagged at the Narita airport -- there's a certain sense of dreamy wonder associated with this little stop over -- a pause in a longer trip to a far-off land.

So what did I do with myself upon arrival?

Well I decided to have dinner of course -- I suppose you could call it dinner -- eaten at 4pm local Tokyo time, 2am New York time, and 2pm Bangkok time. This was not going to be a cheese centric meal I regret to inform you all as cheese is not at all central to Japanese culture. So it should be sushi of course...when in Rome, right?

I found a small little sushi bar where the chefs didn't speak any English, the fish was fresh, the beers were cold, and I felt like I'd stepped into another world. You would not find this sort of spot in an airport in the US that's for sure. Granted the American airport dining tides they are a-changing, think of the somewhat newish Jet Blue terminal at JFK...

But back to Tokyo and our little sushi what did I have? One piece of eel, one piece of tamago, and one piece of salmon nigiri along with the chef's special spicy tuna avocado roll and a small carafe of hot sake.

It was just the ticket after the first leg of my journey and now it's time for another seven hours in the air. Next stop, Bangkok.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Day 727: What to buy right now

Ever walk into a cheese store and feel overwhelmed? Like gosh what should I get? Right now, I suggest getting yourself over to Murray's Cheese either in Grand Central or on Bleecker Street and picking up a Chabichou de Poitou. They are aged to perfection right now.

Chabichou hails from the Loire Valley and is a soft naturally rinded aged goat's milk cheese shaped in a cylinder. Full of bright, citrusy, grassy notes, this chalky, lactic milky cheese is a delight! Goes excellently with a glass of Sancerre! The same classic Loire Valley notes that one notices in a wine you will notice here as well.

At $9.99 for each one, it's a brilliant way to ring in the new week!

In other news - For the next week and a half, Fromagical will be going to Thailand so stay tuned for a little more travel and a little less cheese and well of course my adventures in discovering cheese in Southeast Asia.

Day 726: Super Bowl Cheese Recap

Let me start off by saying Congratulations to the New York Giants! What a season it has been!

Of course I had to choose a Massachusetts cheese and a New York cheese for the game with another cheese thrown in to round things out.

So who was the contender from New York?

Kinderhook Creek of course! The first 100% sheep's milk Camembert style cheese crafted in the Hudson Valley by Old Chatham Shepherding Company. Prior to this round disc of cheesy goodness, most cheeses in this style were crafted with a blend of milks. Kinderhook has a round buttery mouthfeel with rustic nutty mushroom-y barnyardy notes. It's an approachable cheese yet one with an excellently dynamic depth of flavor profile.

And who was the contender from Massachusetts? How about my current favorite blue cheese, Great Hill Blue hailing from Marion, Massachusetts?
Spicy and piquant yet full bodied and creamy with a nice grassy finish. This is a blue cheese that appeals to the blue lovers and the blue doubters out there - it packs a punch but not too much of one to scare those who see blue cheese and run away.

A great matchup of wonderful American artisanal cheese making - how could you possibly choose just one?

To round out the cheese selection, I added one of my personal favorite Vermont cheeses - Tarentaise. Modeled on the great European aged Alpine cheeses, this firm cow's milk cheese is nutty, caramelly, and slightly butterscotchy with light hay notes. An excellent cheese that gives its European counterparts a serious run for their money.

Here's to the New York Giants!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Day 725 : This week's cheese crush..Black Sheep's Tin Willow Tomme

While down in Gramercy earlier today, I thought I'd pay a visit to one of my favorite cheese shops that I've written about -- Beecher's. I always like to see what they have in their cases to see if there's anything new that I might not know about and today I discovered Black Sheep Creamery's Tin Willow Tomme hailing from Chehalis, Washington. This firm aged sheep's milk tomme was just calling my name, I had to try it.

Crafted actually with the milk from Tin Willow Farm in Lexington, Oregon as Black Sheep has expanded more rapidly than they have had the milk and the capacity to keep up with utilizing the milk of their own flock, this is an excellent example of creameries working together over the shared love of cheese and cheese production. The result is a fabulously grassy, somewhat herbaceous and earthy, crisp citrusy dry firm tomme. A brilliant window into the region's terroir, this cheese is full of delicate nuances, It is a cheese to savor with a nice glass of Washington State Syrah.

Definitely glad I tried it and will be hopefully exploring Black Sheep's other cheeses as well in the near future!

Day 724 : Drinks and Nibbles at the Neighborhood Restaurant

Dining north of 100th street but south of Harlem on the West Side offers an interesting array of options, many frequented by Columbia college students but it is not necessarily a dining destination that draws tons of crowds from the remaining areas of the boroughs. That doesn't mean that it shouldn't it!

Last night, a few friends and I stopped in for drinks and nibbles at the Neighborhood restaurant. True to its name, this joint was neighborhoody, friendly, and welcoming. Looks like they have excellent happy hour specials, unfortunately we missed them all, but in case you were curious or wanted to come back later in the evening as they have a happy hour from 4 till 7pm and 10 till midnight:

$10 for oysters and a glass of cava
$ 5 glasses of wine, pretty average
$ 3 domestic bottles
1/2 price draughts
$1 thai curry wings

So what did we have instead?

Some lovely Cotes du Rhone and two different appetizers. First off, we split their winter kale salad which was composed of apples, dried cranberries, roasted slivered almonds, feta, a maple mustard vinaigrette and of course kale. This simple rustic preparation was right up my alley -- delish and totally seasonal.

We also split their mac n' cheese which had the option for you to add in truffle, bacon, or lobster, but we stuck with the straight forward parmesan, cheddar version topped with herbed bread crumbs. Classic yet comforting, this was cast iron mac n' cheese done well.

Overall a nice quiet place to catch up with friends with solid straightforward food.
The Neighborhood
946 Amsterdam Avenue

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Day 723: New Grilled Cheese Spot Alert on the UWS

Opening Alert!!!

Within the next two weeks, a new grilled cheese farm to table joint is opening on the Upper West Side called Say Cheese. Strictly take out sandwiches, soups, coffee, hot chocolate, s'mores, and baked goods, it will be open from 11 to 6, except on Mondays.

Say Cheese
142 West 83rd Street

Stay tuned for our Fromagical Reviews!

Day 722: A Grilled Cheese to ring in Punxsutawney Phil's Shadow

Happy Groundhog Day!

A day memorialized in our hearts and minds by a mixture of a Bill Murray movie and an old wives tale. Yet we always pay attention to what this creature says each and every year on February 2nd and this year as with most years in present memory, the little bugger saw his shadow meaning we have six more weeks of winter. So why not settle in with a nice warming grilled cheese and a pint of lambic?

Lambics unlike ales and lagers are produced with spontaneous fermentation causing their flavor profile to be funkier and more unique than a traditional beer but that's what makes them exciting if you ask me. There are a variety of producers that tend to infuse different fruits into their lambics creating sweeter nuances. 

Following in last week's footsteps utilizing Grandaisy's Pullman, tonight let's utilize their raisin walnut bread instead. On either side of the bread, spread a nice layer of our Vermont Butter & Cheese's Cultured Butter then place a nice layer of Beth Farm's Kitchen Fig Jam, tangy yet savory and sweet. Next up top this with a nice chunk of Great Hill Blue and some home roasted hazelnuts for a nutty roasty crunch. Toast away and enjoy with your favorite Lambic. 

Great Hill Blue is raw cow's milk non homogenized blue cheese from Marion, Massachusetts. It packs an excellent spicy, piquant punch while maintaining a creamy round mouth feel that will go perfectly with the rustic nutty sweetness of the remainder of your grilled cheese.

This is a pairing where big flavors complement bigger flavors, perfect to stimulate your palate to get you through the rest of the winter!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Day 721: In honor of National Dark Chocolate Day...

Did you know February 1st was National Dark Chocolate Day? And it was also the day Grand Central Station opened to the public in 1913?

Two very exciting factoids for this first day of the second month of the year, right?

So let's suggest a dark chocolate pairing then in honor of this day!

How about Lazy Lady Farm's Thin Red Line paired with Mast Brothers Dark Chocolate Bar infused with Maine Sea Salt and a glass of Blanc de Blancs? Does that not sound fabulous to you? Sweet, savory, creamy and delectable!

Lazy Lady Farm's Thin Red Line is a bloomy rinded goat's milk cheese coated in vegetable ash with a line of Spanish paprika that divides the chalky, milky, citrusy bright paste in two adding a spicy, tangy, meaty smokey bent to the cheese. Pair that alone with a glass of Blanc de Blancs -- 100% Chardonnay grapes, bubbly and fabulous, and you will be in heaven. The bubbles of the Blanc de Blancs, like say a glass of Ruinart, will cut right through the creaminess of the cheese and enhance the flavor nuances on the whole -- each light yet with a sense of weightiness. But add in the Mast Brothers Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Bar and it will take the pairing to a whole new level.

Mast Brothers Chocolates are the only bean to bar chocolates being crafted here in New York. Where do you think they are produced? Brooklyn of course, in their own converted chocolate factory! They utilize beans from small farms all over the world including the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Brazil and more along with infusing local ingredients into each bar, crafted with love and care. This is not your average supermarket Tollhouse chocolate my friends -- these are artisanal chocolates that will wow you. So add in a morsel of their Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Bar to your cheese and bubbly pairing in honor of National Dark Chocolate Day!

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