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!

One Brand Face: Kat Von D

Sold exclusively at Sephora, Kat Von D’s eponymous makeup line is chock full of bestsellers. From primer to mascara, her products are long-lasting and heavy duty on coverage and color. The website states:

“Created by Kat Von D, tattoo artist, TV star, and owner of High Voltage Tattoo, this inspiring makeup collection exemplifies the fusion of glamorous, old Hollywood and edgy rock ‘n’ roll. Kat’s distinct style and flawlessly crafted face reveals that she is as masterful with a makeup brush as she is with a tattoo machine. Her passion for makeup and self-expression is inked into every product she creates, from the romantic, soulful designs to the rich, highly pigmented and long-lasting formulations. Exclusively at Sephora, Kat Von D’s one-of-a-kind beauty collection allows you to indulge your creativity and unleash your
inner artist.”

After so many claims of how full coverage her foundations and concealers are—enough to cover a tattoo—and how long-lasting all of her other products are as well, I decided to buy everything needed to “flawlessly craft” my own face and see if all of the declarations are true. Below is everything I bought (photos courtesy of sephora.com), in the order in which I applied them.

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First impression: I love that the Lock-It Tattoo Foundation is in a clear pump dispenser (I’m shade M62); you can see how much you have left and the pump is easier and more sanitary than pouring liquid onto your hand and placing your fingers all over the opening. Contact with skin=bacteria. No pump = easy to spill + unsanitary + lack of control. The formula is thick, highly pigmented and full coverage; a little goes a long way, so this is actually a good value at US$34.00 because I only had to use one pump. The same is true for the Lock-It Tattoo Concealer ($US25.00–I’m shade M26) when it comes to texture and coverage. Using these two products in conjunction definitely make for a flawless face in seconds. I used my Real Techniques Buffing Brush and Expert Face Brush, respectively, to apply them. If you need to sheer the products out for less coverage, a damp beauty blender will do the trick wonderfully (I have since tried this method and loved the more natural-looking results). I didn’t use a setting powder this go-round to see how the products last throughout the day. Next, using my Real Techniques Multipurpose Brush, I applied the Everlasting Blush in Essex, a matte cool rose that’s deep enough to show on my complexion. Just in time for this review, I was able to purchase the early release of the Immortal Lash 24-hour Mascara. I wasn’t crazy about the spiral wand at first, but the formula of the mascara and the spoolie really separated and lengthened my lashes. To finish everything, I applied Everlasting Love Liquid Lipstick in Mau5, a.k.a. BauHau5, a deep yet bright raspberry (US$19.00; The Painted Love Lipsticks come in the same colors and are the same price). Let’s see how it looked from the start of my day till the very end, no makeup touchups, photo filters or editing.

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Sitting under the infamously unflattering fluorescent office lighting at 8:00AM (left pic), I loved the way this makeup looked; this speaks volumes! Possibly a little heavy for everyday daytime wear (if a damp sponge/beauty blender isn’t used to sheer it out) the foundation looked amazing, covered all imperfections, was a perfect match for my complexion—and I’m sure many others, due to the large shade range—made me look more awake/brighter than I felt so early in the morning, and didn’t reflect a white cast from flash photography. My skin looked flawless and matte. The blush was just enough color (when applied with a light hand) to provide me with a healthy flush, and the mascara gave my lashes natural yet impactful definition. This liquid lipstick got more compliments than any other colored gloss/lipstick/lip stain I have ever worn in my life—no exaggeration (besides one of my reds)! By midday, my skin was starting to look dewy, borderline shiny, but everything was still in place; even my lips were still vibrant 3 cups of tea, a bowl of cereal, 4 glasses of water and a sandwich later. So far, the results were quite impressive, given that I didn’t use primer, set my foundation with powder or use setting spray. After a long day, all of the products endured humid conditions, my oily skin, long hours and a lot of sweating. There was a bit of foundation transfer, which was to be expected without setting it and being in steam room-like weather, and there was still a flush on my cheeks from the blush. The mascara didn’t flake, smudge or budge from my lashes and there was still a hint of color on my lips after breakfast, lunch, afternoon coffee and dinner!

Although the day started with visible makeup, it became more natural as the day progressed, and that made me happy since I was at work. Kat Von D definitely has a winning line of products for women that desire a fuller coverage (I was recovering from a breakout and no one could tell), a face that’s beat to the gods all day long (yes, please), trustworthy makeup for a special event, or a night on the town with a show-stopping face (again, yes), then this is the line for you. I have since created the same face with setting powder and the results were amazing, so I know I’ll be returning to these babies again and again. As of right now, this is my favorite high end product line with all hits and no misses. Taking it all off with the makeup removing wipes was a breeze and nothing made me break out anew. Thank you, Kat, for being your wonderfully tattooed self and for loving old Hollywood glam with edge, and needing to cover up your ink once in a while, and most of all, for finding the right people to make your vision come true and put it into such pretty packaging. I applaud you all.

Now we can forever give good face.

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.

Leggo my Zengo

Once again Maverick Monday (MM) was upon us and, yay for our wallets, it was still Restaurant Week. My fellow maverick and I took a departure from our usual Lower East Side exploration and decided to try Zengo, located in the Midtown East area of Manhattan. The restaurant’s website billed Zengo as “an artful blend of Latin-Asian styles and flavors. Chef-Owner Richard Sandoval, whose accolades include Bon Appétit Restaurateur of the Year and Mexico’s Toque d’Oro, spins regional ingredients into beautifully balanced dishes designed for sharing.” Upon looking at the menu, the claim seemed true enough and had our interest peaked. However, with such a beefy pedigree, I was hoping Richy Rich wouldn’t disappoint us, as so often happens in venues such as this (see my last MM review for The General to see what I mean). Not a huge fan of fusion cuisines, my expectations were set to “average;” I’m quite guilty of getting my hopes up very high when it comes to trying new restaurants, only to have those hopes dashed in extreme anti-climaxes. I prepared myself this time, expecting the worst and hoping for the best, yet confident that good conversation and company would see me through the night no matter the quality of the food.

Upon entry, the décor did not disappoint. Distressed wood, steel, dramatic staircases, black walls and glass; high ceilings, a marble lit-from-within drinks bar, and Asian antique reproductions were all softened by sprigs of cherry blossom throughout the restaurant and upstairs bar, La Biblioteca.

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After we made our way to our leather, semi-circular booth in the middle of the room, an initial perusal of the Restaurant Week menu didn’t disappoint either. Once our drinks arrived, we ordered the following mouth-watering dishes from the 3-course menu:

Me                              
Salmon Ceviche
Tagalog Style Churrasco Steak
Arroz con Leche (Rice Pudding) 
Marissa
Thai Coconut Chicken Soup
Chipotle Miso Glazed Back Cod
Tropical Fruit Sorbets
Us
Bok Choy Kimchee

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The rundown: ceviche was good, but too much radish and not enough fish; the steak was perfect in every way—I’d go back just for this dish, it was that delicious (so were the accompanying sweet potato tostones); the rice pudding was served warm and, to my delight, the rice wasn’t hard like I’ve found at so many other places. Also, the Chinese almond cookies on the side were a nice touch and smart way to apply the fusion theme. The one detractor from the meal was the bok choy kimchee—can you say salt lick?! Even as I write this, my mouth is puckering. I asked Marissa if she felt the same way when she took a bite, just to make sure I wasn’t being overly sensitive because I don’t like a lot of salt on my food. She agreed 100% and confirmed that this dish felt like someone just poured salt in our mouths. I took a bite from each of her dishes and enjoyed them all as well. The soup was smooth and delicate, the cod was flaky and perfectly seasoned, and her sorbets were refreshing and mild. Overall, this meal was a success. Kudos, Chef Sandoval! The Mavericks will be back for more in the not too distant future (read: when our wallets allow us to order from the regular, high-priced menu and we’re too lazy to travel south or north).

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.

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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An OMG Post

What did Plato say way back when? “Necessity is the mother of Invention?” Well, Invention, meet your other mothers: Laziness, Exasperation, and Convenience.

As you already know from previous posts (if you’re a regular The Vickylicious reader), I’ve been experimenting with different foundations since I used up a beloved jar of RCW. My latest drugstore excursion (of which there are many, thanks to having a 24-hour Duane Reade downstairs from my building) has me trying out L’Oréal Magic Nude Liquid Powder. I can tell from the colors that there isn’t going to be an exact match for me, so I buy two shades: Sun Beige 328 and Classic Tan 330. I pray to the foundation goddesses that this will be worth the investment and run home (upstairs) to my mirror.

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Liquid is right! I shake up the bottles and attempt to pour a little of each shade onto the back of my hand (my all-natural, homemade mixing palette) and I have to make sure to keep it steady so none of it will run down my arm. I can already foresee this process disrupting my morning routine, but I press on to see if the results will be worth it. Fingers crossed for tomorrow morning…

This morning… My, oh my, is it ever worth it!

This formula truly dries to a powdery smooth finish; the coverage is medium, yet buildable to a full and matte finish. I can’t stop touching my skin; it’s so soft and smooth! I just dab some concealerunder my eyes, a little blush on my cheeks, dress my lashes and go—NO setting powder needed. Oh yeah, remember I told you that I had a bad breakout recently? Well, you can’t tell with this lovely product.

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And look, I even took pics in bad office lighting so you could see its true effect and finish. The picture on the left was taken at 8:46AM and the picture on the right was taken at 3:16PM. Can you see how nothing at all has changed? Everything is still in place and just as fresh as the initial application. Again, this is without using primer, setting powder or spray. I’d say that these are pretty impressive results; possibly the best I’ve had thus far. (As always, no retouching, editing or filters are used on my photos.)

But, pray tell, what did I do about the pesky, messy process? Queue Plato and let’s rewind back to last night.

Once I saw how runny the Liquid Powder was, and knowing I would have to blend two shades of it every time–potentially creating twice the mess—I looked high and low in my kitchen for a container and stopped mid-search when a light bulb flickered in my brain. This formula is just as thin as the ones used for airbrush applications; why don’t I create my own? I went back downstairs to the drugstore in search of a travel-size spray bottle. SCORE!

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Upstairs at my sink, I poured the contents of both Liquid Powders into my new bottle.  Donning a shower cap to protect my hair, I shook up the bottle to blend the shades and product (as the directions dictated), then held my breath. Of course the spritz wasn’t as fine and light as an actual airbrush machine, but it definitely did the trick for a quick-fix home remedy. Using it this morning was simple, quick, and a lot less fuss and messiness. I blended it all in with my buffing brush.

Final answer: OMG. I am in love with this product. Lightweight with good coverage, it doesn’t oxidize and there’s little to no transfer. It doesn’t break up and I haven’t had to blot or touch up all day. I can already predict that this will take 2nd Place on my list of drugstore favorites, knocking Covergirl Stay Fabulous 3-in-1 to 3rd. Do I dare say it might become No. 1…?
Thank you, foundation goddesses. Thank you for this gift.

OH! And L’Oréal, I’d like to present to you the new [patent pending] Vickylicious shade: Suntan 329 in a travel-friendly spritzer. 😉