MM Goes to CO-OP Food & Drink: Can I Be on This Board?

After the major letdown of Hotel Chantelle the previous week, Marissa and I were hoping upon hope that CO-OP Food & Drink (located in the Hotel on Rivington on Manhattan’s Lower East Side) wouldn’t be another Maverick Monday disappointment. The menu, once again, seemed very promising; we’d wanted to go for a very long time because of their unique offerings and restaurant.com provided us with the opportunity. For US$4.00, I bought a gift card worth US$25.00 to put toward our meal—what a steal! Here’s what the website has to say about the dining experience they try to provide:

Located on the ground floor of Hotel on Rivington in NYC’s Lower East Side, CO-OP Food & Drink is based on the co-operative principle of bringing together different services and products under one space for everyone’s benefit. Under the leadership of Executive Chef Victor Startek, they bring… together different ingredients, flavors and cultures that reflect the diversity that is the Lower East Side.

This philosophy allows guests to enjoy a variety of plates such as the Tuna Tuna Yuzu Sushi Roll (w/ spicy tuna, tuna, avocado & yuzu dynamite sauce), Shredded Pork Belly Tacos (w/ Ancho BBQ, Smoked Creama, Beets), Fried Chicken Biscuits (w/ ranch & pickled jalapeno aioli) and Miso Cured Salmon (w/ peanut sauce, watermelon radish & pickled celery root). In the spirit of a co-operative, most of the dishes are designed to be shared family-style through multiple courses.

Even so, we didn’t get our expectations up too high…until we entered the dining room, that is. (The bar is nice too, by the way.)

The artwork! The wooden table running the length of the dining room! The plush black leather booths and black chandeliers! Everything in the room was noteworthy—decadent and rustic at the same time. What a great juxtaposition and balance the designer created with the ambience and décor—Marissa was so impressed that after our meal, she booked the long table for her annual holiday dinner. While simultaneously perusing the faces in the portraits covering the wall and picking the dishes we wanted to try, our excitement quickly grew. Here’s what we ordered from their eclectic menu:

To Share
Co-Op Roll – spicy tuna, rock shrimp tempura, serrano peppers
Taco Flight – spicy shrimp (with bacon and blue cheese cole slaw), market fish tacos (grilled fish with avocado and red cabbage)

Marissa
Fish Curry – tile fish, red curry, brown rice, tofu
Kiwi Caipirinha – Leblon cachaça, kiwi, lime juice

Me
Miso Cured Salmon – peanuts, celery root, watermelon radish
Kiwi Caipirinha – Leblon cachaça, kiwi, lime juice

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To start, the drinks (Kiwi Caipirinhas) were lovely—just sweet, tart, and strong enough to whet our palettes for the sushi roll, which was good, but not good enough for me to be effusive. The fish tacos on the other hand, were phenomenal, and I’ve had my fair share of fish tacos. Light and refreshing, they were simply cooked and seasoned; each ingredient stood out yet didn’t compete with their counterparts. We loved these and gobbled them up seemingly without breathing! Too bad the spicy shrimp taco gave us the opposite effect. The blue cheese was so pungent that it overpowered the bacon, which in turn, overpowered the spicy shrimp; there was just too much going on at the same time that it completely missed the mark. We wished we had ordered more fish tacos to erase the memory and taste of this misfortune.

We needn’t have worried though, because our main courses were divine! Marissa’s fish curry was neither too rich in consistency nor was it too heavy in coconut flavor or spiciness. Although served steaming hot, the fish wasn’t overcooked sitting in the curry sauce and the curry itself was silky. My miso-cured salmon—which I was afraid would be too salty—was amazing as well. The salmon skin was wonderfully crispy and not chewy in the slightest. The meat was perfectly marbled and cooked just right; moist, fork tender and flaky, the salmon melted in my mouth like a savory candy. The Mavericks were in fish heaven and the accompaniments were like harp strings playing celestial music. I could wax poetic about my salmon alone, however I think I’d be banned from the blogosphere so I’ll spare you all the adjectives.

The only thing missing to round out our experience and meal at CO-OP was dessert, but alas, the pastry chef had embarked on another career path and was no longer making her unique concoctions that I was so dying to try. That’s ok though; because we were so happy with the meal overall, I believe we will return for more, and by then dessert will be back on the menu.

Cheers, CO-OP! You have restored my faith in trendy food.

MM Goes to Hotel Chantelle: Let Me Tell…

…how awful this experience was for us. Usually on our Monday evenings, the Mavericks like to go for nighttime constitutionals before hopping on their respective trains home. (I’ll switch back to the more unpretentious 1st person now.) Since we’re so often on the Lower East Side, we usually pass one restaurant/bar that we’ve put on our list of places to dine, Hotel Chantelle, because it has what reads like a fantastic menu. We finally got our opportunity to dine on the rooftop one lovely Monday evening when the weather was perfect and we were both tightly wound from personal/career life and needed a break.

Upon entering the establishment, it looked like a dilapidated Parisian hostel. Keep walking and you encounter bamboo against walls painted with UV splatters enhanced by black lights—cliché, but whatever. All of a sudden this dark hallway opens up to a lovely rooftop bar and restaurant with white tiled floors and dark iron and wood accents and décor. This atmosphere seemed more promising and lent a little more hope as we perused the menu. Unfortunately, after having considered our options several times over, we still hadn’t been offered any service. Twenty minutes into waiting and still no one came to check on us! When we finally flagged a waitress down (mind you, we were about to get up and leave until we got her attention), we were greeted with curt responses, major attitude, and no apology. Would the food be worth this treatment? Here’s what we ordered:

To share
Deviled Egg Tasting – lobster & caviar / maple bacon & jalapeno / smoked salmon caper crème fraiche

Me
Kale Caesar Salad with Poached Lobster – crisp kale, shaved parmesan, garlic bread croutons, classic Caesar dressing
White Truffle Pizza – ultra-thin crust pizza, fresh sheep’s milk ricotta, mascarpone & goat cheese,
sautéed mushrooms, arugula, white truffle oil, shaved parmesan

Marissa
Snow Crab Claws – half dozen snow crab claws served warm, drawn butter, mustard aioli
Pan Seared Branzino – pan roasted filet of Mediterranean sea bass, topped with warm sautéed kale, capers, olives, baby tomatoes

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I’m going to keep this review short and sweet because I refuse to waste any more time on this place, so here’s the rundown: The deviled eggs were so mediocre, I would’ve been better off just hard-boiling some eggs on my stovetop and eating them plain, straight out of the shells. Marissa’s crab claws=basic and slightly overcooked. My salad, however, was possibly one of the best kale salads I’ve ever tasted, and my lobster was perfectly poached! This was Hotel Chantelle’s only bright moment, believe you me, because Marissa’s branzino and the accompanying sautéed veggies were so salty she could only eat the baby fillet. I tried a tiny morsel of it and almost spit it right back out onto the plate. The ocean isn’t as salty as that dish. My pizza was a crumbly mess, but tasted alright; definitely not anything to write home about—I’m mad I’m writing about this whole experience on this blog, honestly. OH! And to add insult to injury, our lovely waitress double charged Marissa’s credit card and it took forever and a day to dispute.

This place needs to be condemned, along with the waitstaff.

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

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!

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!

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!