7.18.2020

Dining During COVID19: Best Takeout in Washington, DC

As we have all come to terms with how COVID19 impacts our lives, we adjust the way we live. And for me, one of the biggest adjustments has come with how I interact with and choose how I eat.

If you've been following me for a minute, you know that I love restaurants. I love the creativity. The taste. The vibe. I love chatting up a bartender. Meeting randoms. Sitting elbow to elbow and drinking too much wine and becoming friends with my table neighbors.

Well, things have changed.
Birthday Cake Ice Cream from Southwest Soda Pop Shop
I've been trying to support my favorite restaurants in the best ways I know how, by ordering from them, promoting them on social media and advocating for them. (PS. Go to SaveRestaurants.com and sign up to help.)

I've learned over the past few months that takeout is a different game than in-house. The things that make an experience great, for me, are:

  1. Timing: Only so many dishes can get from the restaurant kitchen to my house without deflating. I want experiences that are going to be as good as possible, so I make menu choices and restaurant choices based on what will travel well. And I generally only order from places that can get from the kitchen to my house in 20 minutes.
  2. Packaging: Before all of this, I never really considered how packaging affected the food quality and taste of takeout. I was talking to Chef Scott Drewno (ChiKo, Anju) about this last week and he mentioned that they test each menu item by letting it sit in packaging or 20 minutes and then eating it. Do they need to change the containers? How does that affect the experience? And the food cost? Not surprisingly, this thoughtful approach produces two of my favorite takeout experiences of the whole quarantine.
  3. Easy Pick Up or Delivery: I want to reduce my interactions as much as possible, so that means I want to get in and out (preferably not even getting in) as quick as possible with the least amount of shared touches. I use Caviar and Uber Eats quite a bit for delivery. Tock and Toast have also produced great pick ups. But, the easiest experience I've had so far was Sushi Taro. They've redesigned their entire restaurant to optimize for takeout. You can pull your car up (or walk up) and someone comes outside to get your name and bring your bag directly out to you. All that, plus incredible, fresh and creative sushi. Add it to your list.
  4. Personalization: Can we all just acknowledge that this is hard? I don't need perfection. We shouldn't expect perfection in the middle of the pandemic. One of the things that has made takeout experiences great are when there is a personal touch. A note from the chef. A little extra something. It makes you feel special. Shout out to Coconut Club, Muchas Gracias, Anju and ChiKo for those sweet touches that make me smile. 
ChiKo Dumplings
Ok, so I know what you came here for is the list. I've been keeping this list and adding to it each week on the Notes section of my phone. 

Here's how I've broken it down. First, my absolute favorite experiences. Second, all of the places I've ordered takeout and enjoyed. Third, all of the places on my to-do list. 

I think we can all agree, DC has a wealth of food talent and creativity. With each meal choice, you have the power to help keep someone in business. I make each order with an eye towards who I want to see on the other side of this. I hope you will do the same. Support your local restaurants. Try for a cadence of at least twice a week. Here goes: 

Top Takeout Experiences of Quarantine (in no particular order:) 
  • Coconut Club: When I tell you that Chef Adam Greenberg has been an absolute rock star, believe me. As quarantine began mid-March, I was down in Florida. On the drive back, I worried about groceries in DC. Chef messaged me, "I got you. Come by." The day after I got back to DC, he stocked my car with five boxes of groceries from his kitchen, allowing me to avoid in-person shopping for at least a month. All that and his delivery of Kahlua Pork Sliders and Spam Fried Rice set the bar for takeout experiences. It came well packaged, with a personal note and instructions to reheat perfectly. And the volume was great - I think I ended up making three meals out of that first order. All that and he's been a community and industry advocate that inspires me to do more. 
  • Anju: Once I settled in to DC again, I started thinking about the best meals I had before quarantine started. (Those were Anju, Reveler's Hour and Cane.) I just love the whole team at Anju. Chefs Danny Lee, Scott Drewno and Angel Barreto are not just talented - they are so damned nice. With every fiber of my being, I wanted to see them on the other side, so order in. I mean, when I say you can't go wrong on this menu, you can't go wrong. They added in a sweet note and a little something extra. The volume was great and I ate it for days. I've since been back and had brunch on their little four-seat spaced out patio. I felt safe and the food was some of the best I've had all year, takeout or not. 
  • ChiKo: While we're talking about the nicest, talented chefs in DC... the team behind Anju also owns ChiKo. And ChiKo was designed to deliver a great takeout even before all of this madness. I ordered their Spicy Lamb Dumplings as soon as I saw them on Instagram... even though I had already made dinner at home. You can't go wrong on that menu. But, in case you want direction, I love love the Half-a-Cado Salad, Crispy Chicken Springrolls, Orange-ish Chicken, and Wagshal's Chopped Brisket.
  • Le Diplomate: Once Le Diplomate re-opened for takeout service, I almost didn't want to order from there. Part of Le Diplomate's greatness is the energy of being there. And, I didn't want to diminish the quality of the french fries by letting them wilt in the backseat of a delivery driver's car. But, I had a bad day. Not just an average bad day of quarantine, but a really really bad day. And so did my neighbors. So, how did I attempt to make it better? Cheeseburgers delivered from Le Diplomate. And, my God, they were so goddamned great. It was like a giant hug being delivered. Since then, they've added a burger box option so that you can get all of the ingredients and instructions and grill your own at home. Either way, so worth it. (I'm actually planning takeout brunch from there on Sunday.)
  • San Lorenzo: On the first day restaurants (with patios) were allowed to open, Jenna and I met early to go support Maxwell Park and have a bottle of wine on our favorite patio. As things started getting a little more busy, we got skittish and left... but not before placing a takeout order from San Lorenzo. It was perfect. I got a soft-shell crab over polenta and ate it in the park. It was a brings-tears-to-your-eyes great moment. The combination of great food, great friends and a remembrance of what it felt like to enjoy great restaurants was a highlight. And, I will put in a plug. San Lorenzo doesn't have outdoor space and can't expand into the street or alley. They have a small space and are in a tough position. I'm not ok eating indoors yet, and you may not be either. But, if you can, support them by getting takeout.
  • Cane: Remember up there where I talked about the best restaurants of 2020, pre-quarantine? Cane may have been my favorite experience (despite the line!) The sheer joy of getting a table, being taken care of by the Prime fam, and getting to experience something so new to my palate was just the greatest feeling. They also have a small indoor space, even pre-quarantine, so I was worried about them. I'm not sure I'm worried as much anymore. Their takeout was fantastic. I got the jerk wings and doubles, but I'll be back for more. And my neighborhood crew has decided we want to do a night where we all order from there because half of us love it, and half of us are dying to try it.
  • Sushi Taro: I had this last night and it may have spurred me to write this entire post. Sushi Taro closed down their entire Michelin-starred restaurant operation because they knew it wouldn't work until we get a vaccine. And they did it fast. I have to respect that kind of vision and commitment. When it's not gonna work, you gotta pivot. They have now reopened and redesigned the entire experience for takeout. The menu is vast, but everything works to-go. When you pick it up, you don't even have to get out of your car. You can just pull up (or walk up), give them your name and they bring it out to you. And it was fantastic. I got the soft shell crab roll and the spicy scallop. But, I suspect you can choose damn near anything and it'll be great. Follow them on social also because they are doing neat things, like giving you a bottle of wine for free with a $100 order. 
Sushi Taro Takeout
Ok, the ones below were still awesome, so don't discount this list separation. Here is a cumulative list (alphabatized for ease) of all of the restaurants in DC that I've ordered takeout from and enjoyed. I've tried to mention key things to order if there were particular items that were must-tries. 
  • Butter Me Up: All day breakfast sandwiches, delivered via this pop up inside Half Smoke on U Street
  • Call Your Mother Deli: Certain businesses are well positioned to thrive during quarantine and Call Your Mother is one. They quickly pivoted to take out -- and have even opened new locations and a trolley car! I'm a big fan of their everything bagel with whitefish and bacon for lunch.
  • Cracked Eggery: Saturdays in my Cleveland Park neighborhood are for Cracked. Before quarantine, during quarantine and hopefully after. This breakfast based food truck has expanded their menu, with killer burgers, tots and more. Follow them on Instagram to get their weekly schedule. And, don't miss The Mayor for breakfast.
  • Crush Subbies: Chef Adam Greenberg and team bring you shore-style subs, delivered. I loved the spicy chicken and the avocado turkey.
  • Domestique: This is my favorite wine store in DC, they have such a unique selection. I'm a member of the wine club and I get four bottles from them each month. But their thoughtful selection and emails almost always make me want to add more. Easy contactless pickup and delivery + a collab with Izakaya Seki, which is still on my to do list.
  • Dona Dona by Sereneta: In a crisis, leaders emerge. One of those has been tiny juggernaut, Chef Paola Velez. When Kith/Kin, where she was head pastry chef, closed, Paola organized Bakers Against Racism which raised more than $2 million for local anti-racist organizations. And, she started this great little donut pop up to showcase flavors of the Dominican Republic. Keep your eyes on her as she just accepted a new role working with Rose Previte at Maydan and Compass Rose.
  • Ellé: takeout coffee and pastries
  • Federalist Pig: FedPig was one of my first takeout experiences and it was so buttoned up and smart that it gave me confidence to order out more often. All that and the brisket is to die for.
  • FishScale: I love the taste of these fish sandwiches almost as much as the sustainable seafood mission. Absolutely check this one out. 
  • Get a Hero, Be a Hero: fun sandwich collab from Paul Taylor that gives a sandwich to someone in need each time you order one
  • Little Pearl: I did easy curbside pick up of one of their Tex Mex themed dinners and loved it. Everything was well packaged and came with instructions, meaning once it hit my plate it was pretty close to restaurant expereince. 
  • Little Red Fox: I ran out of coffee one day and panicked. Little Red Fox to the rescue with the first latte of quarantine, which tasted so great I wanted to cry. Paired it with a croissant. And, have been back recently for the meatloaf Banh Mi sandwich. Great selection of wines also and seamless pick up protocols.
  • Little Serow: Two friends and I pretty much ran the menu here and picnicked outside to enjoy it all with some killer wine. One of the great nights of quarantine. Don't miss the short ribs + all the veggie dishes + ice cream.
  • Lucky Buns: burger and fries, obvi (I'm also looking forward to Chef Alex McCoy's Crabs & Crushies this month)
  • Mandu: On Saturdays, I've been doing patio dinners with my family. Mandu's Korean BBQ Kit caught my eye to shake up our routine and it was so much fun, such great flavor. Highly recommend, but also add the Korean Chicken Wings to your order. And probably some dumplings.
  • Mercy Me: Love this "sorta South American" bakery and cafe that opened during quarantine downtown near West End. Don't miss the guava vigilante (a sugary croissant-like situation) and the sweet corn breakfast taco. Easy pick up and delivery options.
  • Mola - takeout mezze, Spanish tortilla on Sundays, groceries from Path Farms, and a killer wine and spirits selection focused on women makers
  • Muchas Gracias: I've ordered a few times from this Mexican takeout (that just added one patio table!) in Van Ness. Love their fish tacos, Caesar kale salad and chilaquiles. My neighbors are intrigued and we're planning a big group order to picnic outside.
  • Republic Cantina: Look, I can admit when I make a mistake. I ordered from Republic Cantina on Cinco de Mayo. Apparently, so did everyone else in town. And, pick up was a shit show. But the food was good. And the margaritas and mezcal made for one of the most fun nights of quarantine.
  • Reveler's Hour: This was my favorite new spot to meet friends, eat til I popped and taste everything on the thoughtful wine list before quarantine. Afterwards, they closed for a bit and continue to thoughtfully pivot. I enjoyed the Chicken Parmesan Lasagna for takeout. They've also opened a wine shop inside, and limited seatings.
  • Roaming Rooster: This one makes me super torn. Maybe it should be in my top takeout experiences? Becuase, holy hell, their Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich is definitely one of the best bites of quarantine. They are expanding and coming to more places in the city, so watch for the openings - or drive over and pick up a sandwich. They are very organized in the lines and move folks through quickly.
  • Room 11: Chef Matt Crowley (Spoken English) is doing a sandwich pop up at Room 11 that is worth your time. I got the Broccoli Caesar, which was delicious, but I want to try so much more. They also have a patio if you want to eat it outside. 
  • Seco Wine: Carlie Steiner is one of my favorite talents in DC. I've followed from Himitsu to Pom Pom to Dos Mamis. And, while those concepts won't survive this pandemic, I hope Carlie's delivery wine business, Seco does. It's well-curated, always introduces me to new regions/winemakers, and it's just fun.
  • Southwest Soda Pop Shop: On hot summer quarantine days and nights, you need ice cream. This Black-woman run ice cream and dessert shop opened during quarantine, y'all. And, the well-spaced lines at The Wharf tell you that it's going to make it through to the other side. Such a treat.
  • Tail Up Goat: This perennial fave of mine transitioned into a decent takeout game and also just reopened their patio. But, their Sunday wine class has become a staple of my quarantine Zoom game.
Little Serow Picnic Party
So much talent, so little time (and money.) Here are the ones I want to try next: 
Got a spot I should add? Add it in the comments section or tweet me, @tammy.

Guava Vigilante at Mercy Me

6.22.2020

Travel During COVID19: Safely Planning a Beach Weekend

After three months of pandemic quarantine, all I could think about was getting my toes in the sand. The team at Bali Hai Beachfront Resort* on Anna Maria Island offered me a stay and my heart surged. That's my favorite beach near my home town. Could I do that and do it safely? And, if I could... could I have any friends join? Here are the parameters and protocols that made it happen:
Beach Walkway at Bali Hai Beachfront Resort
Open Conversations
If you're planning on travel, have the uncomfortable conversations with the hotel staff - and with any friends or family that are joining you. Everyone needs to be on the same page with their risk threshold. If someone has pre-existing conditions especially, you need to make sure that safety parameters are in place. For instance, Bali Hai staff did not wear masks. I wore my mask in to pick up my keys, but that was my only interaction in an inside space with staff. And that was pretty low risk for me.

Two-Week Quarantine Pre-Arrival
A few weeks before the stay, a few of my friends (we kept it to less than 10 to reduce risk) who knew I was coming down also booked rooms at the Bali Hai. We had a conversation in advance and discussed what the two week period was before we would be together. We set a date and texted everyone to remind them that we were two weeks out and they needed to lock down their own personal and family health protocols in order to not put anyone else at risk. Everyone agreed to masks in public places and sticking to outside dining/beach time. If possible, have everyone coming on the trip get a COVID19 test five days before you arrive so that you can cancel if you test positive.
Lots of open, outdoor space at Bali Hai Beachfront Resort
Open Air
Speaking of outside, I think adequate outside space is crucial to safe travel during COVID-19's reign. One of the things I liked about the Bali Hai was that, like many older Florida motels, the doors all open outside (as opposed to an interior hallway.) That led to both heat and breezes, which reduce risk. I chose a room that was beachfront, and yes the view was gorgeous, but also, that meant that I could air out my room and spend a lot of time sitting outside.

Our group also agreed that any dining would take place outside. Spots like The Sandbar Restaurant, Rod & Reel Pier and Ginny's and Jane E's all had outdoor seating. And favorites like Eat Here and Vinny's Italian Kitchen had great takeout options where we picnic'd on the beach.
Sunset Picnic by Eat Here
Limited Touch
I declined cleaning service for my room to ensure that it had as few points of transmission as possible. When I needed new towels, I just let the office know and piled them outside my door. The cleaning team knocked and brought me new ones stacked outside.

I should also mention that normally, girls weekend looks a bit like all of us crammed into two rooms. I insisted on having my own room. (Partly for pandemic protocol, partly because I just like my own space.) Anyone who joined was on the hook for getting their own room. This drastically limited cross-touching or breathing in an enclosed space. We almost exclusively hung out on the beach, at outdoor tables and on our patios. Because the reality is that while community spread is a risk, it's a very low risk outside in the heat of a small, not-crowded Florida beach town.

Contactless Delivery of Groceries
Another great thing about the Bali Hai was that my room had a full kitchen. This allowed for making most of my meals at home and reducing the risk. I ordered groceries twice during my stay, from Publix via Instacart delivery. Both experiences were seamless (except for the 8 shallots I wanted instead became elephant garlic. NBD... but what do I do with elephant garlic?)
Dinner made at home, ingredients via Publix Instacart
Social Distance Sunbathing
Before I even booked my trip, one of the things that stood out to me was that Bali Hai had reduced the number of pool and beach chairs to ensure there was enough distancing for guests. Had that not been the case, I would have rethought a stay. But the grounds and space had enough room for everyone to feel like they had enough distance between groups and families.
Well-distanced beach chairs and umbrellas at Bali Hai
Get the Balcony
Sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico are amazing, but everyone has the same idea so they can get crowded. Splurging for the beachfront balcony ensures you have a private perch for the show.

Bali Hai Beachfront Resort is located at 6900 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach, Florida. I drove to get here from DC, but you could fly into Tampa or Sarasota airports if you felt safe doing so.

* In return for a complimentary stay (with additional days/food and beverage discounts,) I provided social media coverage on my accounts and here. As always, I disclose when things are in-kind or paid, and strive to still give you an authentic account of the experience.

6.15.2020

Dining During COVID19: Tampa Bay Area Restaurants Doing It Right

It was pretty jarring coming from DC, where we just started Phase One re-opening to Tampa which has kind of seemed like a free-for-all. I've been looking for resources to find places that are taking safety seriously and having a hard time finding a one-stop-shop, so I'm creating one myself. Here's my personal threshold for what feels safer right now (I'm writing this in June 2020, as coronavirus is surging in Florida.)

My COVID19 Restaurant Safety Parameters:

  • Outdoor Seating, Distanced: In Florida, restaurants can operate legally indoors with reduced capacity. But, I can tell you, my jaw dropped when I picked up my first takeout order. The bar was full of people, the seats were full and zero people were wearing masks. After I started breathing steadily again, I realized, that's beyond what I'm up for and what I feel is safe. But, I *am* totally ok with outdoor seating since the virus has not been traced back to any outdoor spaces.
  • Safe Takeout Options: I'm staying with my parents and they aren't interested in actually going to restaurants, so a lot of what we are doing is takeout and delivery. I've found that when you go to pick up your food, there are scalable options. On one end of the spectrum, I walked inside to pick up a to-go order and there was hand sanitizer on the bar by the to-go pick up sign, but the staff wasn't masked and it felt like if you were at-risk, that may not have been safe. On the other end, we've had restaurants where you pre-ordered online and had curbside pick up where my Dad popped the trunk and the masked server put it in the car for him. Easy peasy. 
  • Staff Wearing Masks: This is a no-brainer for me. I get that guests are rogue here, but it's important to me that we try to protect the restaurant servers and staff (most of whom do not have employer-provided health insurance if they get sick.) When I wear a mask, it's not for me... it's to try to protect those workers, my friends and the people I'm coming into contact with. 
  • Clearly Defined Safety Procedures on Website: It's reassuring to know the steps restaurants are taking to keep their team and guests safe. It's one of the ways I decide where I'm going to order from or visit. 
So, who's been doing it right? I'll update this along the way. If you've got recommendations, let me know and I'll check them out. 

PLACES THAT WE GOT TAKE OUT/DELIVERY
Pane Rustica in Palma Ceia
This has so far been the hands-down best experience *and taste* that we've experienced in the Tampa take-out scene. Easy online ordering system followed by a contactless curbside pickup. You can get pre-prepared meals (like this spicy sausage rigatoni that we got) in single servings or family-style for four people. And their famous espresso cookies come pre-baked or in bake at home kits for that fresh gooey perfection. If you want to eat on-site, they also have outdoor distanced tables and their team was wearing masks.
Baked Rigatoni at Pane Rustica in Palma Ceia
Forbici Modern Italian in Hyde Park Village
Forbici had done a wonderful job of communicating with its audience through Instagram. So, before I even landed in town, I knew they were taking their staff and guest health seriously. I ordered the Cups and Char Pepperoni Pizza for takeout. Pick up is in a separate door that makes it easy to separate from the dining crowd. The staff was wearing masks and moved efficiently. They have a huge (72 seats!) outdoor dining tent, if you want to be safe and eat there. And, they have been very transparent when someone tests positive - relaying their safety protocols and contact tracing. All that, and the pizza is so damn good.

Cups and Char Pizza from Forbici Modern Italian
Cappy's Pizzeria in Winthrope Town Centre
We sent my Dad out to pick up the pizza and Greek salad and then I grilled him about the procedure when he got back. All good news. The contactless pickup was seamless, the staff had masks on, *and* they have an outdoor dining area that you can reserve. Win, win, win. Plus, the pizza and salads are great.
Cappy's Pizzeria TakeOut

Moreno Bakery in Brandon
Cafe con leche and Cuban toast is my favorite breakfast, so I needed to hunt some down to make it through a Monday morning. Moreno restored my faith in humanity. When I walked in, I was so glad to see the staff and most of the guest were wearing masks. There's enough space in the bakery that all of the guests were distanced. They had signage up to remind people of the precautions. And, even though I took mine to-go, they had distanced tables outside. Another win, win win. 
Cafe con leche and Cuban bread at Moreno Bakery

Fusion Bowl in Tampa
I met one of my friend's for an outdoor lunch at her neighborhood pool and we got delivery from Fusion Bowl via UberEats. Our driver was masked and gloved, and timely. The food was fresh, tasty and massive. I got the shrimp bun bowl and a summer roll. 

Shrimp Bun Bowl from Fusion Bowl

Michelle Faedo's Tampaño Cuisine in Downtown Tampa
Cuban sandwiches outside of Tampa don't count. So, whenever I'm home, I try to eat as many as possible. My running fave is from Faedo's, so I picked up one to split with my friend as we at lunch outside by her pool. I looked up the menu on their website and called it in. Pickup was pretty seamless. You could call them and they would come out and do contactless curbside. I went inside and they had a lot of signage and awareness about distancing for the line (though only one other guest was there when I was.) One note, the team wore masks, but they were either askew or didn't have their noses covered. That's not really how this works. But, I dealt with the same thing in DC at restaurants and grocery stores and so I think it's more about public education and adaptation of new behaviors. I appreciated that they even had them on and were ready to cover. The counter also had predictions, so that kept the potential spread down. And, per usual, the Cuban sandwich rocked.
Cuban Sandwich from Faedo's

More to come.

And, let's be clear. I miss restaurants like crazy. When it's safe, I can't wait to jam into tables, run the menu and flirt with the bartenders. Bring it on. Once we've got a vaccine. 


4.15.2020

My Favorite Recipes of 2020: Quarantine Kitchen

One of the best things I've been doing, as we all quarantine to try to flatten the COVID19 curve, is cooking up a storm. I already enjoy cooking - well, I enjoy eating... less so on the cleaning. But, I also love the art of it. The colors. The plating. The distraction from the dystopian nightmare we are living in. The Instagramming (#QuarantineKitchen) of it all.

One of the first things I did once I started isolation was to take account of the ingredients on hand and cross-reference it with the recipes I've saved on my New York Times Cooking app. That gave me an easy go-to menu (which I Post-It noted to my fridge.) Each day, I generally start with eggs, toast or baked good that I have on hand. Lunch is leftovers. But dinner, that gets to be the star of my day. After I shut down work, I fire up a bottle of wine, sometimes a Zoom happy hour, and get to work on something delicious and fun.

Here are my faves so far, in case you're looking for new things to try. And, no, I won't apologize for being an Alison Roman super fan. I love her recipes. But, I'm willing to branch out. What are your faves?

Margeaux Laskey's Riff on Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie
Atlantic Beach Pie is like if Key Lime Pie was made with a mix of lemons and lime that you just had on hand, and made a crust of Saltines, butter and sugar. I thought the crust was going to fall apart but it held. Hold strong on the recipe faith.

Atlantic Beach Pie
Chris Morocco's Colcannon
Colcannon is the answer to the life question: "What should I do with too many potatoes and cabbages?"

Colcannon

Florence Fabricant's Dutch Baby

I thought if maybe I just went ahead and learned how to make a Dutch Baby, this pandemic would be over. Alas, we're still here. Dutch baby was delicious though. Liked the savory-style of one that I made with Gruyere and herbs even better than this powdered sugar and fruit number.
Dutch Baby

Noor Murad's Cheesy Cauliflower Pie

Noor is a recipe developer for Ottolenghi, another one of my perennial recipe favorites. I follow her on Instagram, which is where she shared the how-to for this gorgeous (and delicious dish.) I knew it would be a show stopper, so I saved it for a big event. My solo Easter. Loved every moment. Dropped off half of it to my parents the next day.

Cheesy Cauliflower Pie

Alison Roman's Garlic-Braised Short Rib with Red Wine
I've made short ribs a few times, and it's always a big hit. The thing is, some recipes can get a little high maintenance. I like how Alison keeps things simple. After I make her recipes once, I can almost do them from heart. This one: brown the meat, set aside, in a Dutch oven on medium low heat - garlic, onions, carrot & celery, add tomato paste... add red wine and bone broth... put the meat back in submerged... cook for about four hours on 275: magic

Garlic-Braised Short Rib

Melissa Clark's Bittersweet Brownie Shortbread
I'll cop to the fact that I knew this one would look amazing in an Instagram photo, but also, it was a lot of steps. And that took up a lot of time and bandwidth in my brain - which was great to distract me from the COVID19 disaster. I used crushed almonds on half and threw in sprinkles... because nearly everything looks prettier covered in rainbow sprinkles.

Bittersweet Brownie Shortbread

Alison Roman's Old-Fashioned Strawberry Cake
This one touted itself as a strawberry donut meets cake - and who doesn't like that. I had hoarded strawberries during a (very rare) grocery run and needed to use them up. This cake was delicious and gorgeous. My oven doesn't run as hot as Alison's, so you may need to use your judgment a bit here and adjust. Mine needed 5-10 more minutes in the oven to firm up in the middle. This was a fun one to make - even more fun when the New York Times Cooking team featured my photo of it on their Instagram feed.

Old-Fashioned Strawberry Cake

Alison Roman's Tomato-Marinated Feta Dip
Anyone who's been to a dinner party at my place this year - or invited me to something at their house - probably got a taste of this simple star party dish. Since I'm solo-quarantined, I keep it on hand and just snack on it as a mezze during the week. I also made her Brothy Beans this time - both are in her new Nothing Fancy cookbook if you want to deep dive into Roman stan-dom and order a copy. Again, this is a recipe I can make from the heart now.

Spicy-Tomato Marinated Feta Dip and Brothy Beans


Colu Henry's Sheet-Pan Harissa Citrus Salmon and Potatoes
I've made this recipe twice already during quarantine. It's delicious, easy and (yay for sheet-pan dinners) barely has any clean up. I did a terrible job dicing my ginger and garlic in the photo below - and it was still delicious that night - and for lunch leftovers the next day. Great use of any citus on hand, jar of harissa in the fridge and potatoes (or veggies of any kind... last time, I just made broccoli with it.)

Sheet-Pan Harissa Salmon and Potatoes

Alison Roman's Lemon-Ginger Tart
This was the first recipe I decided to challenge myself when I got home from Florida and quarantined. Yep, totally ate it, slice by slice. Great as a dessert - or breakfast. The ginger balances the lemon well and makes it a smidge savory. Loved the easy shortbread crust (which gave me the confidence to conquer the Bittersweet Brownie Shortbread, above.)

Ginger-Lemon Tart
So, what have been your favorite quarantine recipes? All I know is, we're going to have epic dinner parties IRL after this thing is over.

Love y'all. Stay home. Stay safe. Eat well.

2.01.2020

My Favorite Books of 2020 - Plus Complete List and Links!

I can't believe I'm starting my third annual reading challenge. Shifting from a goal of 100 to 52 last year helped make it a little less stressful and a lot more fun.

One of my tips from 2018 (and 2019) is that I generally listen to non-fiction on audio (in the car, on the subway, while cleaning up around the house, etc.) and then I read fiction in print (usually when I wake up in the morning with a cup of coffee in bed or as I wind down to head to sleep and try to ignore the allure of my phone.)

UPDATE/EDIT: While I started out reading a lot early in the year, this quarantine has made me feel like I'm in a bit of a reading quagmire. It's like my brain is running too fast and can't quiet down and read. I may start some blog posts to share recipes and podcasts because I seem to be doing more of those. 

Need a great read to wrap your mind around how this quarantine is making us all feel? Get The Upside to Being Down by Jen Gotch. Full disclosure: Jen's a long-time friend of mine from college and I think the world of her, even before she wrote a New York Times best selling book. This is the life story of Jen coming to understand her own mental health - and her approach to managing it. And it's just a joyful ride (coupled with some heartbreaking moments, but how the hell does she keep making us smile as she tells these stories.) Definitely stick around for the 1-10 scale at the end. It's how I monitor how I'm feeling and whether I need to take any actions (fresh air, go for a run? drink some water?) to improve. Highly recommend this read.
Laying outside on a sunny spring day is kind of the best reading time for quarantine-life... well, if I can't be at the beach.

My first favorite of the year was The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Tara Jenkins Reid. She authored Daisy Jones and The Six, my favorite book of 2019 and for whatever reason, I just kept putting this one off. Well, I finally got it from the library and started flipping the pages. I got so into it that I downloaded it on audio so that I could keep going while I went on walks and worked at my laptop. Don't let anyone tell you the plot. It pays to not know what's coming.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid



Complete List of Books Read in 2020

  1. My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress by Rachel DeLoache Williams: I remember being gobsmacked when I read about this story in the actual news, so I loved digging in deeper. I listened on audio because I wanted to hear the author who actually lived it tell it in her voice. Still can't believe this happened on so many different levels. But here we are, 2020.
  2. Natural Wine for the People by Alice Feiring: I've been studying wine for the past couple of years and between restaurants like Reveler's Hour, wine stores like Cru Cellars (in Tampa) and Domestique (in DC) and Marissa Ross' book last year, I've been super interested in learning more about natural wines. The skinny: there's no real definition. But, reading this book helped me learn more about terms, types, what to look for when buying or tasting. And opened my eyes to some things that I don't love about previous faves (looking at you mass-produced-and-colored-by-chemicals-rosé.) I still need to connect with Julia Coney to talk about the flip side to this natural movement and what I need to know to learn more.
  3. The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates: Another book everyone (especially my friend Jamie) recommended and told me that I would love, but for whatever reason, I just kept putting it off. Maybe I thought, why do I want to hear from Bill Gates wife? Maybe I just thought it would be more Lean In porn. But, damn, this one got me. I was crying in the first chapter. Highly recommend the audio version where you can hear in her voice the impact of these people she meets along the way to finding her passion for changing the world.
  4. The Clasp by Sloane Crosley: Shannon Sheridan evangelized that I needed to read this one and she was right. Such a fun caper involving an aging band of college friends spanning Florida, New York City, Los Angeles and Paris. Great to read when you need a break from the heavy news. 
  5. The Beautiful No by Sheri Salata: I had followed Sheri for years as she helped Oprah build her TV empire. She was goals. But, I read this book at the direction of my friend Christiana. She thought I would identify and holy hell, yes, I did. This is for those of us who spent our 20s and 30s building radically up at an insane pace, and ignoring a lot of other stuff. Sheri may have written this aimed at 40-50 year old peers, but I think it should be required reading at 30. Learn how to say no remains a great goal.
  6. More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth: I've followed Elaine for years on social media and have been inspired by her trajectory as she lead Teen Vogue through the tumult of the publishing (and political) years of late. This was a good personal take about what was happening to her leading up to and through that point. A good reminder that social media shows you the gloss, the glory, but not always the guts of what's happening. Inspired to continue to watch her lead ahead.
  7. She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey: I knew this would be a gut wrenching read, but I felt like it was important to bear witness. I listened to them tell the behind-the-scenes of them breaking open the #MeToo stories across so many industries (and a reminder that we have only scracthed the surface) just as the Weinstein trial began. It's really worth a read on many levels, but mostly because this is so formulaic. Once you see it, you can't un-see it.
  8. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Tara Jenkins Reid: I know, I said it all up there. But, definitely read this one. Don't ask why or what it's about. Just read.
  9. Burn The Place by Iliana Regan: I love me a good chef's memoir, but they are mostly written by men (aside from Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, which is a great read.) This one is as much a tale of growing up on a farm in the Midwest, surrounded by sisters and lots of alcohol. Trying to figure out who you are and your place in the world - if you even have one. And finally the hard work of getting sober, figuring out relationships and love -- and yep, scoring your first Michelin star. Elizabeth, Kitsune and Milkweed Inn are now on my bucket list to eat at.
  10. Cool Beans by Joe Yonan: Joe's a friend of mine and the Food Editor for The Washington Post. In Cool Beans, he goes *deep* on cooking with beans - and the results are delicious. I'm still working my way through this one, but he's given me a ton of inspiration - and just in time to use up beans during quarantine.
  11. The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History of the Old South by Michael Twitty: This book felt immediately important. Just wraps around everything you grew up with and opens your eyes to reality. The author's love of food, the South and understanding the cultures that brought us what we eat today is just a dark and gorgeous piece of work.
  12. Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren: I have loved every fun romance that I've read by writing duo, Christina Lauren, and this was no exception. Fierce young love. A betrayal. And then a second chance. Will it all work out? It's a fun read finding out.
  13. Anna K by Jenny Lee: I got this one as a Book of the Month club selection - mostly because I love love Anna Karenina and thought this YA adaptation would be fun. I enjoyed it, but it got kind of slow... maybe because I generally knew what the arc would be already and that took some of the punch out of it.
  14. Untamed by Glennon Doyle: Glennon and her wife, Abby Wombach, are my favorite couple on Instagram. I mean, real-real relationship goals. Reading Untamed gave me a peek at how they came together, changed and challenged Glennon's life, and ultimately emerged more themselves. It's a call to arms for women to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and learn more about who you are and what kind of life you want for yourself. Scary stuff, some days, but also super important to think about.
  15. The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis-Graves: I discovered this one in a GoodReads, best of romance recommendations and put it in my library queue right before quarantine. I finally got around to reading it and whew, what a ride and ending. Definitely worth a read! And, no spoilers. Don't even ask anyone what happens.
  16. The Upside of Being Down by Jen Gotch: Is it weird to say that a book about mental health and how to manage it is fun? Because this one is. Jen's a friend of mine, so it totally makes sense that this is both her life story and her mission. So much fun to watch it become a New York Times best seller!
I've got an enormous stack of to-reads from my local library, the Book of the Month Club subscription my friend Raashee gave me, and bookstore splurges. Follow my reads on Instagram and help me pick my next one by sharing your favorites (and what to avoid!)

9.02.2019

Traveling to Tulum: Where to Stay, Eat & Play

I just got back from my second visit to Tulum (about an hour south of Cancun) and now feel like I know enough to be dangerous and offer recommendations.
The view from the bar at Papaya Playa Project
If you're like me, before going to Tulum, you'd mostly only seen it via Instagram. Via Insta-lens, Tulum looks beautiful... and it is... but there are a few things to think through as you plan your trip. There's not a ton of infrastructure and not every hotel has things you traditionally expect, so you'll need to ask basic questions about accommodations (if they matter to you)... things like:
  • Is there potable water to drink?
  • Does this place have beach access?
  • Is there air conditioning in the rooms?
Where to Stay
The first time I visited, we stayed at this fantastic AirBNB in the Artia neighborhood mid-way between the town and the beach. Free bikes came with the rental - and passes to Papaya Playa Project Beach Club, so we just biked down to the beach. The small complex had a great little pool, a concierge who was so helpful in calling taxis and giving advice, and was close to groceries (which rocked for quick ATM access and restocking bottled water.) I would definitely recommend this condo for four people, provided you're sharing rooms. (The two bathrooms came in handy when one of our team got sick also.) The condo was three levels: kitchen/dining/living/balcony; then two bedrooms and two bathrooms on the next level, then a rooftop with hammock, wine fridge and plunge pool.)

Booking through AirBNB was seamless and we were met on-site by the concierge. You may see several similar condos in Artia. They all seem to be similar and I believe have the same management. We had a brief lockout issue and they solved it with an on-site manager, which is a nice option.
The AirBNB is designed gorgeously and great for four people.
The second time, we stayed at Posada Margherita which is known as one of the top restaurants on the beach. What's not known well is that they have a handful of little villas and rooms tucked around the quaint Italian slice of paradise in Mexico.
The view our first morning at Posada Margherita
Service was so nice, with coffee appearing promptly as we emerged in the morning and focaccia and cocktails on the beach in the afternoon. The on-site restaurant remains one of my favorites in the entire town: simple grilled fish and pasta with fresh ingredients on the brief menu are a welcome break after a couple of days living on tacos and ceviche. They have a nice wine list when you're ready for a break from tequila and mezcal. And, house dog Feliche becomes one of your favorite parts of the stay.

Side Note: Posada Margherita only accepts pesos, cash or Zelle to pre-pay for your reservation. Don't let this cause you stress. They are legit and that's pretty normal for Tulum businesses. 
Feliche, stealing my seat


Other options on the beach that I've seen in person and would recommend to check out for your stays: ZamasTata TulumPapaya Playa Project, Be TulumNomade, Ahau TulumCasa Malca, Azulik, and Jashita (stunning and lux, but not walkable to anything besides Chamico's)

Where to Eat on the Beach
The Holy Trinity of Food on Tulum Beach includes Hartwood, Arca and Posada Margherita, in my opinion. Arca and Hartwood only accept reservations 30 days out, so set a reminder. Posada Margherita is walk-ins only. These three are not cheap, and all only take cash or pesos. All are worth every peso and every bite.

Hartwood has a nightly hand-written menu based on what is fresh, local and available. Things do sell out, so there is a slight incentive to take an earlier reservation. But, you won't be disappointed. I don't have a lot of food photos because it was dark and candle-lit and I didn't want to disturb anyone with a flash. If it's on the menu, definitely order the pulpo, the beet, and the sweet potato. That, plus one of the grilled fish options.
Menu at Hartwood, August 2019
The cocktails looked fun, but our server steered us to a great bottle of Mexican rosé - yes, such a thing exists! Tulum introduced me to a little bit of the burgeoning Mexican wine talent and now I want to visit vineyards and taste more in the years to come.

We were celebrating a birthday and our server sent us an amazing honey cake, which I would recommend saving room for!

Arca was also a birthday celebration and stunned with beautiful design, creative and innovative food and wonderful service. '
Arca's gorgeous bar set in mangrove jungle
Memorable menu items at Arca remain the soft-shell crab taco and bone marrow - both of which I still think about nearly a year later! And the bar rocked everything from mezcal cocktails to grower Champagne.
Marrow and mezcal cocktails at Arca
It feels criminal that I don't have photos from the great food at Posada Margherita - after all, I've eaten dinner there three times and only been to Tulum twice. It starts with drinks and a complimentary basket of house-made focaccia. The caprese salad, shrimp pasta, and fresh grilled fish are the way to go (and some of the only options on the restaurant dinner menu.) If you're feeling more like pizza, you can pick that up at the street front - or sitting on the beach - during select hours (but, it's not offered during the dinner service in the restaurant.)
Since I don't have food photos from Posada Margherita, enjoy this gin-n-tonic photo
What I didn't know until I stayed there is that Posada Margherita also has a wonderful breakfast menu. We loved everything from the toast (fresh bread, toasted and served with Nutella, butter and jam,) fresh-squeezed juice and French toast... but my pick of them all is this gorgeous egg-in-the-hole dish. The ricotta! The avocado! The mushrooms! Swoon.
Egg in the hole at Posada Margherita
Beyond those three, there is still a ton of talent to check out:

  • There are juice shops and fresh fruit bowls at Matcha Mama and Raw Love at Ahau
  • Beachfront ceviche, guacamole, juices, coffees and cocktails at Papaya Playa Project (you can reserve beach palapas for a minimum tab of 1,000 pesos or about $50 per person between 10am and 5pm... which is an awesome way to spend the day because they also have a DJ and a pool.)
  • Tacos and beers on the beach at Taqueria Eufemia (note, if you feel like you are walking down a long, weird corridor and wondering if you're in the wrong place, you're about to emerge into the taqueria, keep going.)
  • In town, don't miss Taquería Honario which had my favorite lunchtime tacos - with live music. Just run the menu and order one of each to decide what your favorite is. For traditional al pastor tacos, visit Antojitos La Chiapaneca - just get there early, they do run out and when it's done it's done. I was forced to have the chicken taco and feel like I missed out! Make sure you walk around town, there are cute shops, fun bars to pop into and it's a nice anecdote to the beachfront Instagram vibes.
  • Tempura avocado tacos at Tata Talum - and then stay and hang at their pool and beach. Wonderfully welcoming. 
  • For breakfast tacos, my favorite ones are at Zamas Beach. I've ordered them twice and only want more. It's also fun for sunset (and probably any other time.)

Breakfast Tacos at Zamas
Where to Play
I've mostly done restaurants, but a couple of favorite bars have also emerged:

  • Mateo's is a great spot to sit down and chat up the bartenders. They took me on a bit of a mid-day mezcal tour when I mentioned to him that Tulum had made me a fan. 
  • MurMur has swing seats, great cocktails and fun bartenders. It's a great spot to go before or after Hartwood and Arca, which area also nearby. To be fair, the food is actually great here also, I've just never sat down for dinner (yet.)
  • Rosa Negra will draw your interest with their fiery celebrations -- and the drinks and atmosphere are magnetic and fun. I just would waive you off of the food there. But, hit up the bar, particularly after 9pm.

Is it terrible that I still haven't done cenotes or ruins? Part of me just loves the beach and food... part of me knows that the glut of tourism is bad for the environment and historic architecture... part of me is just... lazy on vacation? Let me know if there's one that I've missed that you'd recommend. There are also things like sound baths, yoga classes, full moon parties, a gym completely made out of the jungle and more. A couple things I've actually done and loved:

  • I had a private tarot card reading via a relationship therapist (that I found on Instagram.) She was great - so inviting about learning more. It's only the second time I'd ever had it done and she explained it to me along the way. She's also a relationship therapist, so you know, really these two skills go hand in hand. Highly recommend if you're interested in checking it out, or for a girls weekend activity. She just came to our villa. 
  • We took a taxi to Chamico's to spend a laid back day snorkeling Solimon Bay and eating ceviche. You can also rent campsites here. It is a nice getaway from the overproduced experiences on the beach... if that's your thing... and it's mine.

Now that I've been to Tulum, would I go back? Sure. I really do love it. Great food, chill atmosphere and stunning beaches. I'd pick it over Cancun any day. But, I also am ready to explore more of Mexico - especially Merida, Mexico City and Isla Holbox. So, we'll see what 2020 brings.

Got other faves? Advice? Hit me in the comments below.

Until next time, Mexico...















1.13.2019

Five Days in Paris, December 2018

I found a flight to Paris for $508. I had to go. Obviously.
Paris bar dogs are my brand.
That's how I found myself landing at Charles de Gaulle in mid-December. My friend Jenna loves Paris too much to let me go alone. So, as soon as we dropped our luggage at the Renaissance Republique, we were off in search of delicious things at Holybelly. Normally, the line to get in Holybelly is prohibitively long. But, with the yellow vest protests in full effect, Saturday in the city was a lot more mellow. We got a table quickly and were being served coffee and pancakes minutes later.

Breakfast at Holybelly
I know that people will tell you to just power through. But, I'm a fan of the 3 hour mid day nap. Otherwise, I get miserable quickly.

After I woke up, we went off in search of pre-dinner drinks and landed at the iconic Willi's Wine Bar. Willi's was great, but mostly we were killing time before dinner at Juveniles Wine Bar. Juveniles ended up being my favorite meal of the trip. It was delicious, affordable and paired with a killer Beaujolis. I spent the next five days considering buying a wine suitcase to go back there and bring a case home with me.

Sea Bream over a sweet potato puree and sweet potato chips at Juveniles Wine Bar
More than any of my other Paris visits, I just wandered neighborhoods, worked from the WeWork in Marais and discovered new places to love. A sampling of favorites from this trip, follow:

Dinner:

  • Ellsworth (oysters from Omaha Beach paired with fried chicken)
  • Frenchie (I actually like Frenchie Bar a Vins best) 
  • Pierre Sang (insane tasting menu with bottles of wine pairing)
  • Le Pantruche (classic French bistro in Le Pigalle)

Cocktails: 

  • Moonshiners (speakeasy, accessed through a pizza joint)
  • The 46 Bar (classic cocktails in Republique)
  • Lavomatic (speakeasy, enter through a washing machine door in an actual laundry facility)
  • Bisou (no menu, just tell the bartender what you like)
Wine Bars: 

  • Freddy's Wine Bar (great wine, great cheese, awesome bartenders)
  • L'Avant Comptoir (don't miss the massive ball of butter on the bar - and the menu items hang from the ceiling)
  • Martin (recommended by the bartender at Bisou across the street)
  • Verjus Bar a Vins (tucked away in an adorable nook, with great wine)

    Wine and cheese at Freddy's


    Lunch Spots: 
    • Mokonuts (get a reservation for lunch or walk in for cookies, baked goods)
    • Mr. T in Le Marais (loved this spot for innovative comfort food in a cool atmosphere)
    The famous cookies at Mokonuts

    Shops
    • La Super Marquette - cute Parisian gifts, home goods
    • Chatelles - customized flats (bows, monograms, poofs, tassels, etc.)
    • Jimmy Fairly - the Warby Parker of Paris... great specs and sunnies at affordable prices