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.

image

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

image

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.

image

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!

image

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

image

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.

image

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

image

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.

image

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)

image

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!

Meeting “The General”

Every week, my girlfriend Marissa of comeexploremyworld.blogspot.com and I leave work and have dinner together on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in order to better explore the neighborhood and its offerings. We fondly refer to this night as Maverick Monday, as it is the perfect way to catch up on the previous week/weekend and to kick off the new one, and also to strategize world domination.

Our latest excursion found us at The General (http://emmgrp.com/restaurants/the-general/), a “bustling destination restaurant serving up modern Asian cuisine, including sushi specialties and assorted items from the robata grill, in an inspired and imaginative style,” as their website states. This “multi-concept restaurant seamlessly straddles dining atmospheres ranging from a seasonal sidewalk café to a social high-top dining space and an acclaimed Jazz Room, where guests can experience The General’s full, a la carte menu set to the sounds of an authentic, live jazz experience.  Featuring fare that is both grounded in technique and elevated by flavor The General carves out a niche as a something-for-everyone space…” What better way to experience this than to go during NYC Restaurant Week, when prix-fixe menus in the city’s top restos abound? Luckily, The General was on the list.

image

The décor grabbed us immediately, the hostess not so much. Therefore, I have pictures of the atmosphere and none of her.

image

The black and white floor was one of my favorite features, and I really liked the Chinese characters painted on the subway-tiled columns, as well as the wallpaper depicting the Forbidden City during the Cultural Revolution. Even though I’m not a fan of Chairman Mao’s face, everything came together very nicely; old fused with new in our surroundings made for a nice touch on food that suggested it would do the same. With Top Chef Season 3 Winner Executive Chef Hung Huynh, at the helm, I figured we shouldn’t be disappointed.

After handling the important matter of ordering drinks, which all had fun and creative names…

image

it was time pick what we’d be eating while planning our world domination (the main reason for Maverick Mondays, naturally). We ordered their renowned Chinese Chicken Tacos, Mercy Roll (spicy tuna sushi), Spicy Schezuan Chicken, Lemongrass Shrimp, and Hung’s Fried Rice (with Chinese sausage and a fried) as a side dish. To round out the meal we had the famous Green Tea Doughnut and Sticky Coconut Cake for dessert.

image

My brief and amateurish critique: The tacos were reminiscent of Sloppy Joes, only with ground chicken instead of beef; the only difference is that the sauce was slightly more sweet-and-sour like with scallions added to the mix. I could’ve made this at home, and probably done a better job of it. I enjoyed eating it while I was there, however in retrospect, it wasn’t worth the hype. At all. I didn’t eat the Mercy Roll, but it looked like a typical spicy tuna maki roll to me, only with a pesto-looking sauce for dipping. Not impressed. The Lemongrass Shrimp (apologies, no pic) was tasty and perfectly cooked, but not unique in flavor and the portion was rather small. My Spicy Schezuan Chicken (again, no pic) was the biggest portion of all, yet it wasn’t spicy, and it got saltier with every bite. My neighborhood Chinese takeout spot is 1000x better and cheaper. Thank the food gods for Hung’s Fried Rice, the best savory dish of the night (as depicted by my the nutty Marissa). Without it, I would not have been able to swallow my salty chicken. The perfect blend of sweet and savory, the Chinese sausage and fried egg were a treat to my flavor-starved taste buds. This dish singlehandedly reminded me of my childhood and saved the meal for me. And then there was dessert.

image

Oh my god, the desserts were amazing! The stars of the night! The Sticky Coconut Cake was just sweet enough, thanks to the coconut water sorbet that tempered the sweetness of the cake and the candy pineapple & mango sauce. The portion was extremely small though. I was finished in three bites and ready to move on to the more substantial doughnut. This doughnut, replete with green tea mascarpone cream was the undisputed winner. One bite of this (with a little lemon honeycomb drizzled on top) made be forget everything I ate previously and had me thinking this meal was delicious and a repeat. We were even discussing how great the place would be for an event! Now that I’ve calmed down and had awhile to reflect on the meal in its entirety, I can soberly say that this meal was extremely overpriced (the Restaurant Week menu was a savior to our pocketbooks), overrated, and underwhelming. If not for the décor, company/conversation, fried rice and dessert, this experience would be forgettable. I’d rather go to China Grill; they’ve never disappointed me in quality or quantity. This meal had me rethinking the integrity of Top Chef…

I guess the hostess was the perfect indicator restaurant itself: she was cute, but she totally missed the mark.
Oh well, until next time… Mavericks out!

image