Well this is going to be a departure from what I usually write about... I know I'm all about the recipes and saving money and eating healthy, but sometimes... well, just like everyone else, sometimes I like to go out!
I know, clutch your pearls and gasp.
Once a week a group of my friends get together around 8:00pm, and my good friend, J, and I have tried to make it a "tradition" to do dinner beforehand. Usually we go to "Tuna Wednesday" at EAST where I can get a plate of awesome tuna sashimi for $6...
However yesterday, J informed me that he had sushi the night before and wanted something else.
Ok, I can depart from our normal sushi night. Besides, this gave me an excuse to try something new! So I began racking my brain... "where in the neighborhood [Hell's Kitchen] have you not eaten but would like to??" The answer came easily enough... I walk down 51st Street multiple times per week, and every time I pass Xai Xai I think -- Geez! I need to try that place!
Xai Xai is relatively new to the neighborhood. Well, I only became aware of it about a year ago when my dear friend from New Zealand pointed it out to me. It's a South African winebar, boasting native cuisine and fine wines. I looked up the website and spent all of maybe 30 seconds looking at the menu before I was sold. Ostrich Tartar? Venison Carpaccio?? Deep Fried Camembert??? SIGN ME UP!!!!
J and I are both culinarily adventurous, thus making the new restaurant and it's unfamiliar cuisine a pretty easy sell...
J: "What's biltong?"
Me: "Um, I don't know..."
J: "Monkey Gland sauce...?"
Me: "I know, right?!?!?!"
J: "I'm in!"
Because Xai Xai is a winebar, our first order of business was choosing the wine for the meal. Now normally I stick to my reds. I find that I am rarely disappointed in a mid-level shiraz or pinot noir. But J made the valid point that we had a long night of socializing in front of us, and red can make you sleepy! In that interest, we opted instead for a white. Our waiter (who by the way was gorgeous with a thick South African accent) recommended the Buitenverwachten ‘07 (Constantia - $16 g/$44 b) so we took him on his word. It was a Riesling, and a bit too sweet for my taste, but still very very good!
Next up was my favorite part of the night -- picking our dishes!
Xai Xai doesn't operate a full kitchen. They offer a series of "small plates". We're both on non-diets, so decided that splitting a few of those would be a great option. Like a meal made of appetizers! Who doesn't love appetizers??!!
After a little debate (I couldn't convince him that raw ostrich would be amazing... maybe next time!) we settled on 3 dishes: The Cheese Plate, Biltong Bruschetta, and Venison Carpaccio.
The Cheese Plate came with 4 artisinal cheeses: camembert, bleu, sharp cheddar, and a fourth soft cheese, similar to a brie in texture with a more biting rind. The cheeses were served with mixed nuts and a chutney -- which we think was apricot but can't be sure! The best combination was the bleu with chutney! The first thing you got was the sweet fruit, then tang of the bleu, finished off with a little bit of an after-spice from the chutney... AMAZING!
The Biltong Bruschetta (which was J's fave!) came out pretty much as you expect it to, except there's this stuff all over the top of it. That stuff, come to find out, is Biltong. What's Biltong, you ask? Ya, I asked the same thing. According to wikipedia, it's cured meat. Like jerky! But WAY better. And I believe that our biltong was an ostrich biltong, so even though I missed out on the Ostrich Tartar, I still got to have a little of my favorite meat! The biltong on top of the stewed tomatoes was out of this world.
Venison Carpaccio (my fave!) will be on my mind for a very very loooooong time. Yes, it's one of the more costly dishes, coming in at $20. Please believe me though -- it's worth it! Raw venison is bright red, and the carpaccio is so thinly sliced and delicate... it kind of reminded me of those lace doilies my grandma used to keep her lamps on. Only bright red instead of white. And made of deer. Ok, so not really like that at all. But oh my god so delicious! It's drizzled in olive oil with lots of cracked green pepper, served with roasted peppers and a whole roasted garlic clove. It was absolutely the first big stand out dish of my year!
This place would be amazing for a date. The setting is dim but very warm, decorated with lots of wood accents that give it a very South African flare. If you did what J and I did - 3 small plates and a bottle of wine - you'll spend about $120 to $150 including tip. I think lots of people would think that's a lot (because, well, it is!) but it's so so so worth it! And if you've got the cash and want to impress someone -- DO IT!
I mean, come one... Candle light? Wine? Gourmet food? What more could you ask for??!?
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Well, the holidays have come and gone. With the holidays came many a great meal and many (many) a great treat!
Unfortunately, unlike the tree that was cast to the curb, the remnants of the holiday binge is still sitting not-so-neatly around my middle... Ugh. 'Tis the Holiday Curse, no?
In an ever-evolving attempt to reach that goal size/weight, I've added something new to my regime: The Breakfast Shake.
First, a quick bit of backstory...
My older sister and I share a mutual love of cooking. Where we differ is in our kitchen goals. She has a family of (soon to be) four to feed. I am just me. So while I am constantly throwing things together in an attempt to save money and not over-stock my refrigerator, she is more likely to pull a recipe out of a magazine and prepare all 4 of its servings.
There is one type of recipe where I'll do the same, and that we mutually love to prepare -- soup!
I knew how much she hated breaking out the processor or blender for her creamy soups, and that because she hated it she rarely did it. So, for Christmas, I bought her a hand blender.
And about an hour after I got home and had wrapped the blender, I ventured back out into the bitter cold to buy another. For me :) And it is by far my favorite purchase in the last few months!
Now, truth be told, I haven't done any blended soups yet. But what I HAVE been able to incorporate in my non-diet (and the purpose of this rambling post) is a morning Breakfast Shake.
Before the blender, I bought breakfast every morning. I would have one fried egg with cheese, tomato, onion, and grilled turkey lunchmeat on an english muffin. Yum. But all the cheese and the large amounts of greasy meat never made me feel 100% sure that I was having the healthiest of morning meals! In addition, that plus my coffee runs me about $4.
Now I start the day with a hand-blended smoothie. I purchase low-fat plain yogurt, 1% milk, and frozen fruit. Total purchase? About $11. I start with a cup of the fruit, add 4 tbs of yogurt, and then about one cup of milk. That pretty much fills the container that came with the blender.
After just a 30 second blend, I've got a wonderfully delicious fruit smoothie that perks me up and gets me on my way!
Also, one trip to the grocery store made 10 smoothies. That's 10 weekday breakfasts at about $1 each. Add it up -- it's nearly $30 in breakfast savings! Woot woot!
I'm playing with the idea of adding some sort of powdered protein or multi-vitamin once I've done some research on what's best. Anyone have any suggestions?
Anyway, I highly recommend owning a hand blender. So easy to use & clean.
And I'll be sure to let you know how my first Fire Roasted Tomato Basil Soup turns out!