Maverick Monday Goes to Pão: This Is Not a Love Song…

…however, dear Reader, consider this a love letter of sorts to the owner and chef at Portuguese restaurant Pão, for regaling the Mavericks with the best of our Monday culinary excursions thus far. A bit spoiled by the authentic Portuguese fare I’ve feasted upon during my years in Miami, I did not expect such an all-around fine dining experience from this remote locale near Gotham City’s Holland Tunnel. Yet from the moment I stepped foot into this culinary sanctuary, a feeling that something special lay in wait portentously settled in my soul.

The worn, thickly varnished dark wood décor, stark white walls and tablecloths, and the billowing curtains on the open floor-to-ceiling trellis windows made one feel as if no longer in gritty Manhattan, but rather in old Lisbon itself, at a neighborhood haunt run by your good friend from down the street whose family came part and parcel with the cozy little bar, the little one doing homework, undisturbed by her father’s hearty greetings to newcomers and old alike. Next to the bar is a lifelike portrait of an apron-clad man wielding a knife in one hand and that day’s fresh catch of octopus in the other. This man looked quite familiar however, as if I had just glimpsed his visage mere moments ago; ah, my eyes failed me not! It was the chef in Pão’s very kitchen, painted by one of the wait staff years ago (he’s on the website’s homepage as well). This knowledge further solidified the good energy emanating from the restaurant’s pulse. We could only hope going forward that the cuisine would be just as fortifying for our bellies as the atmosphere had been for our hearts.

Our trusty friend, Groupon, provided us with two three-course meals accompanied by a bottle of wine of our choosing—I selected their green wine option which is specific to Portugal, therefore the obvious choice. Crisp, refreshing, just sweet enough and not too dry, our perfectly chilled bottle of Octavo Vinho Verde was just the thing to whet our appetites. Here is what Marissa and I ordered from our lovely and helpful waitress:

Marissa
Vieiras em Tomatada com Porto – Sea Scallops on Tomato Compote with Port Wine Syrup
Pargo com Espuma Batata – Snapper with Whipped Potatoes in a White Truffle Oil
Arroz Doce – Homemade Rice Pudding

Me
Salada de Polvo – Baked Octopus in Garlic/Parsley Vinaigrette
Bacalhau à Bráz – Sautéed Cod with Egg, Onion & Straw Potatoes
Arroz Doce – Homemade Rice Pudding

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In order to accurately assess our experience, we sampled each other’s dishes and were not disappointed in any way by any course.

The Courting Stage: Since the owner told us his scallops were voted one of the best in city, we simply had to test his word—his testament proved true. Firm, succulent and fresh, they were sublime in texture and taste. The tomato compote was refreshing and light; it paired well with the port wine syrup which tempered any possible tartness, yet wasn’t too sweet in and of itself. The baked octopus (I was compelled to order it after staring at the chef’s portrait on the wall) was equally divine; perfectly grilled and seasoned, it was firm, meaty and emitted just the right amount of oceanic essence. Paired with the lovely green wine, we Mavericks were falling in love with Pão rather quickly, and were ready to fall even deeper with our entrées.

Marriage: Marissa’s snapper was light and flaky, simply grilled atop truffled airily whipped potatoes. The dish was so fine and elegant that it stroked the palette like French silk. Pão was definitely no stranger to the nuances and subtleties that comprise truly fine dining without gilding the lily. I chose the bacalhau because it’s a very traditional dish that an authentic Portuguese establishment should always create perfectly—a litmus test of sorts. The chef did not let me down; it was truly delectable. The dish smooth, mellow and moist, not too salty, and the straw potatoes (think of shoestring fries) provided just enough crunch. Rather than pile all of the potatoes over the top, the chef married them into the dish with the cod, egg, and onion—a marriage made in heaven, believe you me. What God hath joined together, let NO man put asunder!

Ever After: The rustic arroz doce summed up the entire meal in its simple and unadorned beauty. Again, they win with their subtle use of fine ingredients; tiny bits of orange peel mixed into the velvety dessert gave each bite a burst of citrusy flavor that tempered the richness of the pudding itself. The cooking of the rice was timed accurately so it wasn’t spineless, yet not too firm that it hurt to chew. Spiced just right, we couldn’t be happier…until the owner complimented us with two glasses of smooth port wine and even smoother kisses to our cheeks. What a splendid ending to our evening.  Brava, brava!

You have captured our taste buds, our bellies and our hearts, Pão. I think of you fondly and anxiously await our next reservation. Until then I am…

 
Yours truly,
The Vickylicious

Getting Creative with Squats

Traditional squats, Sumo squats, weighted squats, jump squats, gorilla squats, one-legged squats… There are so many variations on this dynamic, body-altering, life-changing exercise, and all of them have great cardiovascular and muscular benefits. It’s an essential compound exercise. Call me a jerk when I tell you this, I don’t care: I love leg day and incorporating cardio at the same time, especially when it comes to the almighty squat. Before I get into the meat of my post, I’d like to iterate some of the benefits of doing squats.

1. Squats build muscle all over, including core muscles
Squats build muscle and strength in the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves and entire posterior chain. They also contract the abdominal area. Studies have shown that contractions while squatting are more intense than a traditional crunch. Another factotum most people don’t know is that squats provide a highly anabolic environment for all other areas to grow when trained, due to the release of testosterone and growth hormone. This increases muscle mass and strength in all areas of your body.

2. Squats burn more fat
Another bit of information many people don’t know is that muscle burns fat. Because of #1 above, squats are a highly effective way to burn more fat. The more muscle you have on your frame, the more calories you will burn during training and post-workout. If you want to get lean, this is the move for you.

3. Squats are functional, help maintain mobility and balance
Squats are one of the most applicable exercises of all in the real world. They translate across myriad daily activities, help to avoid injury, and increases efficiency in everyday life.

4. Squats boost performance and increase power
Squats increase performance by helping you jump higher and run faster. So along with balance and mobility, add agility to the list of benefits. It takes a lot of effort to rise from the bottom of a squat. Having various points of load along the range of motion, the rise generates power and strength which translates to other movements in the gym, in sports, and in daily life. Squats are truly a universal exercise.

So why do jump squats? We do them to build strength-speed, increase power, improve rate of force development, and of course build up plyometric capacities (plyometrics: a.k.a. “plyos” in gym speak, are exercises based around having muscles exert maximum force in as short a time as possible, with the goal of increasing both speed and power). Standard squats help you build static strength while jump squats develop explosive power. Explosive power is the ability to generate force quickly (as previously stated at the beginning of this paragraph). Also, squat jumps rev up your heart rate. If you do a set of squat jumps between each strength move, you’ll burn more calories and build strength and power at the same time. Incorporating squat jumps will add a dynamic cardio component to any training session.

Now let’s jump into the fun!

The other night after a killer full body kettlebell workout that had me sweating buckets (I’ll post something about it in the near future), Shawn and I had a little fun in the gym’s empty studio before going home. People have been asking me to post workout videos again, so I felt it was only right to acquiesce to those demands. Below is a clip of forward and backward squat jumps on a punching bag.

Not only does this move do everything listed above, it further improves, balance/stability, agility, enhanced motor skill function, and gives that extra boost to the hamstrings, core and glutes; it’s an overall more explosive variation. My heart was pumping hard after doing only a few repetitions for this video clip, proving the intensity of the cardio benefits is strong. Add this to your strength training routine and you’ve got a great interval session in your repertoire. Always remember to practice proper form. With great form comes an even greater result. The better you get, the more variations you can incorporate.

Who said workouts couldn’t be fun?!  😉

Maverick Lundi Va à L’est du Village

Monday had the Mavericks dining at Le Village in the East Village with another amazing Groupon perk. This deal piqued our interest because, although a French restaurant, its menu had mostly vegan and vegetarian items of which Marissa and I were curious to sample. On the website, Chef/Owner Didier P. of La Sirene fame says:

“Hand on the kitchen, I want to do a ‘complement’ of my 1st Bistro with a lot of Vegan/ Vegetarian options. No processed tempei, seitan or even soy!
  However, you can come with your friends regardless if they aren’t Vegetarian, I have few dishes (Appetizers and Entrees) which are with meat.
  That’s the difference with ‘Table Verte’ It will be a bistro ‘meat Friendly.’”

French cuisine is known for its sumptuous dishes that luxuriate the palette with rich and lusty flavors and textures. Would vegan/vegetarian fare massage our taste buds similarly? According to reviews from previous patrons and a 2014 OpenTable.com Diners’ Choice Award, yes. The unapologetically carnivorous being that I am, I had my doubts, but was still excited nonetheless; I had a feeling this meal would be more suited toward my mostly pescatarian comrade. Our Groupon deal included 2 appetizers, 2 entrees and 2 desserts. Marissa bought a bottle of wine from the bar next door (no corkage fee at Le Village, by the way). Here’s what we ordered at this BYOB, mostly meatless bistro:

Me
Pate de Campagne (duck) – served w/ cornichons, Dijon mustard and puff pastry
Choux-Fleur Roti – roast cauliflower head w/ sautéed greens, sweet potatoes, quinoa red bell pepper coulis
Banana Brulé (The Banana pudding, French Style) – French pastry cream, Nila style cookies, caramelized sugar coating

Marissa
Royans Ravioles a la Crème – fresh little French raviolis stuffed with Comte cheese, garlic, parsley, cooked with heavy cream and truffle oil served in a cast iron cocotte… Sensual!
Coq au Vin – red wine, bacon, onion, mushroom bouquet garni. Stewed chicken, classic and rustic!
Minute Baked Vegan Seasonal Tart (apple) – served with coconut sorbet

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The pate was served warm in a ramekin, accompanied by a smooth Dijon mustard, a few cornichons, and 4 light and flaky puff pastry straws. The pate was flavorful and moist, but a little too firm in texture for my liking, possibly due to overcooking (it seemed shrunken in the little ramekin). Marissa’s ravioli were tiny and delicate looking, but were packed with rich flavor yet not too salty. Our appetizers were good, but the real test was the entrée portion of our meal. I like cauliflower, but I’ve never had an entire head of it for my meal; needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive. And when our lovely waitress set it in front of me, I was flabbergasted. It really WAS an entire roasted head of cauliflower! It was so huge that all I could think was, “This better be good because there’s so much of this thing!” Thanks to the veggie gods, it was pretty good; nutty, moist, firm yet not too crunchy that it felt raw, the Choux-fleur Roti was the only cauliflower I’d had at a restaurant that wasn’t soaked in cream, cheese, or butter, and/or wasn’t mashed like potatoes, and I enjoyed it! Marissa’s dinner could have been richer in flavor, but the chicken was smoky tender. Coq au Vin is a sexy dish, and although Le Village’s didn’t quite make the grade, it was a worthy effort. Dessert however, was another story aptly called “Yum, Yum, Yum!” The Banana Brulé was a delectable hybrid of crème brulée and a soul food banana pudding, replete with Nila wafers. Thinking that there was no way an apple tart could outdo that sweet treat, I was totally mistaken. This was no ordinary apple tart, for it was grilled, not baked! The dough was flaky, buttery and crispy, all with a charcoal grill taste—YUM!

Verdict: Le Village won’t convert me to vegetarianism, and I prefer to indulge in my carnivorous ways elsewhere, but the presentation, service and most of all the desserts, were noteworthy.

On to the next food adventure!

I Am a Spartan

By no means am I wuss, a princess, or a diva; I have no problems getting my hands dirty and sweating. However, I’m not a tomboy and I’m not into the outdoors. I’ve never camped, hiked or whatever it is people think is fun to do in the woods—I dropped out of the Girl Scouts after one week and I avoid sitting outside for brunch in the summer when it’s too hot. I abhor humidity and can’t sleep if I know there’s a mosquito flying around in my apartment.

All that being said, I also like pushing my body to its limits, getting stronger and working out in any way that will get me my desired results; I want to be a physical beast (while still looking feminine). I want to know that if I have to run for my life, that if I have to scale walls or do whatever it takes to stay alive in a dire situation, my chances of survival are as high as possible. So when a fellow worker-outer started mentioning the Reebok Spartan Race I initially balked, but as everyone else signed up and grew increasingly excited, my boyfriend and I seriously began to consider it as well. And being the impulsive person that I am, I signed us both up two days before the event…then inwardly cringed. Not only did I feel physically unprepared and incapable, I didn’t even know how I could be mentally prepared for something as daunting as 4.5 miles of rocky hills and 15 grueling obstacles interspersed along the trail. Let’s just say I felt numb for those two days leading up to the race.

What exactly is the Spartan Race, you ask? Here’s the website’s description:  “Simply, Spartan Race is the world’s leading obstacle race series. It’s an event of pure primitive craziness that you’ll never forget! Spartan Race has:
· Races all over the globe
· Different distances for different levels and styles or racing.
· A unique culture and community of athletes striving together to overcome any and everything.”

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Our team ran the Spartan Sprint. After my initial shock of pressing “JOIN” wore off, I immediately started my own recon to find out everything I could about the course and how to prepare. The race is different every year, however I needed to see what kind of obstacles were probable so as not to go into this completely blind. The videos of races past, accounts from those who’ve participated in years prior, and pictures of men and women scratched up, tired and battered, had me at a total loss. Yet even all of that couldn’t prepare me for the actual experience of hurdles like scaling walls, rope climbs, barbed wire crawls over rocks, log, boulder and sandbag carries, monkey bars and nets, rock climbing, and jumping over fire. Hell, we had to scale a wall just to get to the starting line! I was ready to turn around and go back home as soon as I saw that craziness. Conversely, my mind completely changed when I saw one of the morbidly obese, out of shape contestants from NBC’s television show, The Biggest Loser, heave herself up and over that first wall: NO EXCUSES, BEAST MODE, FINISH THIS. There was no going back and I knew I had to test myself, body and mind. No more mental blocks were allowed to reside in my brain. If the man with one arm that was smiling a few feet away from me could do it, if the TV contestant could do it, then I could do it, too. I used to be that woman.

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Thank the gods on Mount Olympus that I stuck with it! While it felt like hell on earth at certain points (the barbed wire crawl was a big one), it was insanely awesome at the same time! Reebok has some smart people in their company; they design and engineer these races flawlessly. The courses truly show you what you’re made of in every aspect of human nature: fear, competitiveness, determination, strategy and ambition; physical and mental prowess, strength, capability and overall confidence. I regret nothing about joining this race. Self-doubt, fear of failure, and thoughts of defeat are now out of the proverbial window.

Right now as I type this post, the feeling of accomplishment is almost overwhelming. From being morbidly obese at 230 lbs with no muscle strength; from not being about to run one city block without losing my breath; from having joint pain because I couldn’t carry my own weight; I made it to the Tri-State Spartan Race in Tuxedo, NY on Saturday, June 7th, 2014. Every ache, scratch and bruise makes me smile and my eyes well with tears unshed. I went into this experience thinking this would be a bucket list item, but I already know this has now become an annual test for me—I’m hooked. Even my workouts will be geared toward preparation for future races. I am determined, I am focused, I am a finisher. I am a Spartan.

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PS: Yes, I sure did give myself a fresh manicure when I got home. You bet I did!

MM Goes to Mancora

Can we safely say that Groupon and Maverick Monday are BFFs? I’m beginning to think so because we scored another great online deal that treated us to Peruvian fare in the East Village (EVill) — $20.00 for $40.00 worth of food and drinks. Couple that with getting there in time for happy hour made the world a better place, even if only for a few hours and only for the two of us. So, eastbound and down we went to Mancora, known to be a neighborhood institution for quality food at decent prices.

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Named after Máncora, a town and beach resort in the Piura Region, in northwestern Peru,
“Mancora Restaurant and Bar takes you on a journey straight to the heart of the Inca Empire. Take the trip aboard plates of our fresh, authentic cuisine served up in a warm, friendly atmosphere. The comforts of a home-cooked meal meet adventurous flavors in every dish…Drawing on traditional staples from Peru and Spain, Mancora Chef Enrique Peraldo puts a contemporary spin on the classics. For the past 12 years at Mancora, Chef Peraldo has been dedicated to cooking his personal recipes for adventurous New Yorkers. Each dish is pleasing to the eyes as it is the taste buds, presented as tasteful culinary offerings to woo the American palate. Experience each one, from the richly flavored Pescado a lo Macho, a baked fillet of red snapper topped with seafood sautéed in a creamy sauce, to the popular Pollo a la Brasa, rotisserie chicken that arrives golden and crispy on the outside, but juicy and tender on the inside…”
With a description like that, I struck steak from my mind and went straight for the snapper. However before I go into the review, here’s what the two of us ordered:

Me
Pulpito a la Parilla – grilled baby octopus with panca sauce
Pescado a lo Macho – Baked fillet of red snapper topped with seafood sautéed with creamy sauce, served with rice

Marissa
Ceviche de Pescado – Sliced red snapper or shrimp marinated in fresh lime sauce with cilantro and red onion
Parillada de Mariscos – Mixed grilled seafood with panca sauce, served with rice or salad

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The rundown: My octopus appetizer was grilled perfectly; it was neither rubbery nor did it taste burnt. It was simply grilled without any seasoning except a pinch of salt, which adequately brought out the flavor of the ocean; the accompanying panca dipping sauce was good, but didn’t have enough punch to it (panca is a pepper). Marissa’s ceviche was light and fresh, but my taste buds told me there was something missing flavor-wise (the same feeling I got with the panca sauce). Not in love, however not disliking the offerings so far, I was still excited for our entrées. Again, everything was cooked spot-on and presented like beautiful seafood cornucopias, shiny shells and all. I would have loved my dish if it weren’t for the panca sauce again; this was one time I think salt and a little more seasoning could’ve done the trick (and mind you, I’m not a fan of salt). Also, my snapper fillet was too small and its flavor and texture was no match for the robustness of the shellfish. Marissa’s seafood mixed grill was saucier than expected, but tasty, well-seasoned and timed to perfection. We both finished everything on our plates.

Although Mancora didn’t exactly hit any high notes, the fare was decent. If given another Groupon deal, I’d go back and try the steak and get the grilled baby octopus again—that was the meal’s highlight for me. Now would I think to return on my own? Probably not, given that there are myriad restaurants to try in this food mecca, so many that we decided to venture someplace else for dessert! On our usual after-dinner constitutional, we went to the EVill’s location of Odd Fellows Ice Cream Co., where you can satisfy your cravings of savory and sweet at the SAME DAMN TIME! Thanks to the owner/creator’s pregnant wife’s cravings of “fried chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches … and salty-flavored ice cream,” Odd Fellows was born as well as their baby! Even though they were sold out of a few flavors by nightfall (I wanted to try their PB&J with Toast and Cornbread flavors), the glutton in me couldn’t order just one scoop, so I had one of Thai Iced Tea and another of Miso Cherry—AMAZING! I also sampled Chorizo Salted Caramel (don’t know how to feel about it, both good and weird) and Burnt Marshmallow (yum). Marissa had Thai Iced Tea as well. This place is perfection, especially if even Marissa, who doesn’t like dessert, loved it just as much as I did.

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Thumbs to the side for dinner. Thumbs sky high for dessert!

Maverick Monday: Boiled Over?

This past Monday Marissa took me to The Boil on the Lower East Side for seafood by the pound. The minute she told me about this place, I was sold. A longtime fan of the California chain, The Boiling Crab, I thought I’d always have to travel cross country to satisfy this craving: boiled shrimp/crab/crawfish/lobster by the pound with a seasoning of your choice–or an intense mixture of them all–served in a plastic bag. With corn on the cob and potatoes added to the mix, this is a seafood lover’s dream. Would The Boil be equally as good or better? There’s only one way to find out!

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Upon entering this venue of oceanic enchantment, we were greeted by hip hop in the speakers and two young Chinese men with spiky hair and baggy jeans, jamming to the beat while behind the host stand. I could already tell this was my kind of place; I was totally digging the energy and vibe. Past the bar where people were already drinking and chowing down, one of the cool dudes led us into the dining/kitchen area where the wooden tables were clad in brown butcher paper and plastic bag-lined metal buckets. The clean, brightly-lit and well-ventilated kitchen boiling pounds of crustaceans instantly made my mouth water in anticipation of all the tasty little bottom feeders. Can we dig in already?! Only after we address how hot/cute/beautiful our waitress was and her personality matched her appearance. Looking like Basketball Wives: LA’s Draya Michelle, but an Asian version from Kazakhstan, I was smitten and had to tell her so. I’d go back to The Boil just for her, screw the food! … Just kidding; never screw the food. Never. Here’s what we ordered:

Me
2 lbs of shrimp in garlic butter and Old Bay seasoning, medium spicy
Crème Chocolate

Marissa
King Crab legs and shrimp in garlic butter and lemon pepper combo (1 lb each), fire hot
An additional pound of shrimp, same as above

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Bibs on, we pounced on the food, rabidly digging into our bags and peeling and eating in silence. I was boiling over in happiness, joy, contentment, and any other word that expresses total elation. This was shrimp ecstasy for me! Approximately one pound into my shrimp, after allowing the corn and potatoes to sit and soak up the seasoning in the bag, I bit into my corncob and almost swooned at the garlicky, buttery sweetness; the potatoes were perfect as well, and I’m not really even a corn or potato kind of girl. But these?! Lawdamercy. Dessert was simple and delicious, a sweet ending to a fantastic meal. I ate it so fast I forgot to take a pic, so just imagine an old school to-go flan in an aluminum foil cup and you get the idea.

The bags of magic The Boil serves are worth their weight in gold and I can’t wait to go back! I will not be logging any frequent flier miles to Cali anytime soon with this place in my backyard. OOOO WEEE!

MM Does TT: Simply Z Best?

Due to another great online deal, the Mavericks went to ZBAR Restaurant and Sky Lounge on a Tuesday evening (it’s closed on Mondays), which made changing the name of our weekly dinner to “Tasty Tuesday” necessary. Having had our share of myriad tapas from all over the world and because Marissa had dined at ZBAR awhile back, I believe I subconsciously set the bar higher than usual. New York City has some pretty high caliber tapas bars and Spanish restaurants, so I really hoped this place wouldn’t disappoint.

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Being that ZBAR is a rooftop venue on the far west side of the city by the Hudson River, the eastern view of the Manhattan skyline was quite exceptional, and the floor-to-ceiling glass windows showcased it wonderfully. The bar/restaurant was trendily clad in white leather and brushed steel and dark wood seating, stone accents, mood lighting, and well-stocked liquor shelves. Their creative and delicious sounding cocktail menu thoroughly whetted my appetite for sinful libations, but I held off so I could properly enjoy our bottle of wine. All I could hope was that the ambience and presentation of the food (I did my research online and saw food pics) weren’t all fluff and no substance.

Our deal included one bottle of wine and 3 tapas dishes, but we ordered more, naturally. Please tell me whose appetite can be satiated on 3 shared tapas. Silence? Yeah, I thought so. Here’s what we ordered:

[Salmon] Amuse Bouche–complimentary
ZBAR Mussels (green garlic, tomato confit, fine herbs, chorizo oil, cabrales cheese, garlic croutons)
Mexican Ceviche (shrimp, agua chile, jícama, avocado, cilantro)
Carnitas de Atun (yellow fin tuna, wasabi chili aioli, avocado salsa)
Truffle Mac n Cheese with Lobster –not part of the deal
Mexican Vanilla Brulée Cake (Colombian coffee crumbs, dulce de leche sauce)—not part of the deal

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The rundown: It was a nice touch that we were given a complimentary amuse bouche of raw salmon flavored with sesame oil atop shredded cucumber; light, fresh, and just enough to get our taste buds warmed up for more, although I wasn’t quite prepared for the Asian-inspired flavor it offered due to the sesame oil (friggin’ fusion cuisine, I tell ya).

The first dish we sampled was ZBAR Mussels; the description totally didn’t match the reality. Where do I begin? Oh yeah, I remember because the overcooked little babies that were shrunken in their shells are hard to forget, unfortunately. Once I saw them I knew this was probably the only time I’d ever been happy to get a small portion. I didn’t taste any hints of chorizo oil or fine herbs, unless they were so fine they were undetectable. And I’d love to tell you whether or not I enjoy cabrales cheese, what it feels like and how it tastes, but I can’t because it was completely absent from the dish! Oh, let’s not forget the “garlic crouton.” Garlic crouton…is that what I read? You read that too, right? I’m going to call it what it really was, un-garlicky burnt toast. While I’m at it, here’s another misnomer for you: “tomato confit.” Tomato confit? How about tart and chunky tomato broth instead; I’d rather eat San Marzano tomatoes out of a can—same effect.  

So now I’ll ask you lovely readers, do you think the rest of the meal was just as tasty? I know you’re anxious to see what happened next. *cue evil laughter* … Mwa ha ha ha!

The Mexican Ceviche was tomato sauce with a few shrimp and unripe avocado hiding in the depths. This place really had a thing for tomatoes, because with all that sauce I don’t even remember if there was any jicama in the dish. As we’ve already seen, the menu descriptions were not at all indicative of what was actually plated, for I surely read jicama and not tomato sauce when I ordered this. Can you double check in case I was mistaken? Thanks for confirming that for me; I figured as much.

The only item that lived up to its description and tasted good was the Carnitas de Atun; I have no complaints for that one. The Truffle Mac n Cheese was decent; seasoned well, but not enough truffle flavor, and the lobster was not dispersed throughout the mini trough, it was just the one claw that they sat on top for presentation. It definitely wasn’t worth the $20 price tag. I’ve had better for less money. The Mexican Vanilla Brulée Cake was so light and airy, I wasn’t sure I was eating anything. It was too subtle! Crunchy crumbs mixed with vanilla foam did not make for a pleasurable experience. Bad on top of bad.

Wonderful conversation and company not included (as usual), the only thing I truly was the bottle of wine. Thank you baby jesus that they don’t own the winery! Marissa, I hope your last dining experience there was 1000x better than ours.

ZBAR, if you’re reading this, just stop with the fake fanciness. You’re clearly not an haute cuisine establishment, so enough with the false pretenses. I beg you.

Maverick Monday: Zebú Grill

Groupon struck again for this week’s MM, taking us to the Upper East Side for Brazilian dinner at Zebú Grill, a cute and quaint little family-owned neighborhood restaurant named after humpbacked zebu cattle. (After researching what “zebu” meant, I made a mental note to order steak.) Dimly lit with old ads from Brazil used as wallpaper, weathered wooden tables and fixtures, a clean open kitchen, and friendly, knowledgeable and attentive Brazilian wait staff (except for one who was as dim as a 2-watt light bulb and whose face I found completely annoying for no reason—he did keep apologizing though, so I started to feel bad for my irrational dislike of him…but not really…), I had a feeling this excursion would not disappoint the Mavericks.

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I purchased a voucher that supplied us with 2 of the following: caipirinhas, appetizers, and entrees for an amazing deal. As usual, I coerced my partner in restaurant domination to get dessert as well. HA! After sipping on—some might say guzzling– our tasty caipirinhas, we were ready to feast. Here’s what we ordered from the special Groupon menu (yes, they created a menu specifically for voucher holders; that’s how splendid the deal was):

Me                               
Pastel de Galinha (chicken empanadas)      
Picanha na Chapa (sirloin steak)
Black beans
Pudim de Leite (traditional Brazilian flan)

Marissa
Siri (mini crab cakes)
Muqueca de Peixe (fish casserole in coconut milk, sugarcane juice, fresh tomato & lemongrass)
Passion Brulée (passion fruit brulée topped w/ caramelized bananas)

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The rundown: The empanadas weren’t too greasy, but weren’t very well-seasoned either; however, the accompanying spicy dipping sauce was delicious and had me eating them with relish. I didn’t even see Marissa eat her crab cakes, they disappeared from her plate with such quickness that I can only assume meant they were yummy. Meanwhile, the bread with garlic and parsley butter I was scarfing down between courses were like crack rock to my taste buds; I ate the entire basket myself. As for the entrees, both were absolutely lovely. My steak was cooked perfectly and so was the fish in Marissa’s stew, which is hard to accomplish in a burning hot cast iron pot. Both dishes were very flavorful and authentic in their rusticity and ingredients. And when we mixed the farofo (fried yucca flour) into our black beans (me) and fish stew (her)? Our dishes improved exponentially. Would dessert be just as delightful? YES!

The flan was pure velvet! I thought it would be super basic and boring, but I was quite surprised at the rich texture and flavor, not to mention the size of the slice they gave me. My tummy and taste buds were very pleased. Marissa’s creme brulée was even more special. Not only was it made with fresh passion fruit, it was covered in sliced bananas before the sugar was torched, making it slightly reminiscent of Bananas Foster. Just sweet enough and tropical to boot, there were smiles on both sides of the table on this Maverick Monday.

Final answer: The Mavericks will be back!

Maverick Monday: Just Call Me Flipper?

Our last Maverick Monday (a couple of weeks ago—I know, I’m super late) found us all the way in Yonkers for Hudson Restaurant Week. Never have I ever explored this area, so what better time than when there’s a good food deal to be had? I’m so glad we are in agreement, dear reader. That’s why my fellow Maverick and I ended up at The Dolphin for a seafood feast. Before you even ask, no, we did not stick to the Restaurant Week options—we succumbed to offerings from the regular menu and threw caution to the wind. The following is a visual stream of our selections:

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Our appetizers were baked clams (me) and steamed mussels (Marissa); our second courses were seafood in tomato sauce atop squid ink pasta (me–I’m a sucker for squid ink pasta whenever I see it on a menu) and branzino simply grilled with herbs and fresh vegetables (Marissa—she’s a sucker for branzino every time she sees it on the menu). To round out the meal, I had homemade bread pudding with crème anglaise and Marissa cleansed her palette with sorbet; she’s not really a dessert person so we have to forgive her for her choice.

The rundown: The baked clams and steamed mussels were perfectly cooked and seasoned pretty well, however the tomato broth from the mussels was a bit tart for my liking. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case for my pasta dish; the tomato sauce was just right (I believe the little bit of cream tempered the tartness) and again, the seafood was cooked faultlessly. The downside was that the squid ink pasta—my reason for ordering this dish in the first place—was overcooked and felt borderline soggy while chewing it. If it weren’t for the sauce, the linguini would have become one congealed blob. Major points lost for this faux pas. Marissa’s branzino was basic, but tasty and grilled with precision timing; conversely, the vegetables tasted like they were on life support, in need of the lemon juice and jus from the fish to revive them. So far, the only well-rounded course was my baked clams. I was really hoping dessert was going end the meal on a high note, especially after all the hype our waiter gave to the bread pudding. One bite of it left me speechless…because I thought my teeth were going to fall out, it was so sweet. I didn’t even need to put sugar in my coffee, for if I did, I think I would have gone into a diabetic coma right then and there, and I’m not even diabetic! I saw the end of the tunnel only because of their coffee, which happened to be excellent; smooth, rich, flavorful and full-bodied, the coffee was liquid velvet. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a bipolar meal in my life. The peaks and valleys of our dinner left me confused and thinking whether or not there was something wrong with me. My taste buds were flipped out of whack and needed some rest. I was already planning a meal of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the next day. Marissa’s sorbet was average enough for me to think that I could probably get better from the freezer aisle at the supermarket. It served a purpose though, because it was an adequate palette cleanser.

Albeit I had a wonderful night, I will not be returning to this mediocre [at best] restaurant. If you’re going to serve a basic menu with simple and unchallenging fare, it should not be a challenge to eat it. I don’t need to go to all the way Yonkers for a good martini and few baked clams. Yes, I will travel for food. Good food.