Category: Food and Drink Spice


The Epitome of Customer Service

Last year, a friend went to a michelin starred restaurant called The Ledbury, and couldn’t stop raving about it. Everything he had was delicious and he highly recommended it. My husband and I have been meaning to try it for a long time, but the restaurant is always fully booked on the weekends. So, we finally decided to go for lunch on a weekday. The restaurant is nicely laid out and decorated, not over the top like some other michelin star restaurants. The staff was friendly, which was expected. We were a bit early for lunch time, so the restaurant was rather empty. Hhhhmmm, I thought, maybe it’s because it’s Tuesday and the restaurant is not anywhere near the financial center. But within 20 minutes, it was packed.

My husband and I each ordered a starter and a main. These, along with amuse bouche, was enough for me. And everything was absolutely delicious. The service was very good; attentive but again, not over the top. When it came to dessert, my husband narrowed his selection down to 2 and couldn’t decide which one to order. When the waiter came, my husband chatted with him a bit and told him he couldn’t decide. He made a last minute decision and ordered one. Of course the waiter suggested that I can order the other, but I told him I was too full. A few minutes later, the restaurant manager, who has been going from table to table chatting with customers (we realized that there are quite a few regulars), brought our dessert cutlery. He smiled and said ‘an extra set just in case you wanted to share.’

When the desserts came (yes, desserts with an ‘s’) we were confused and told the waiter that we didn’t order one of the desserts. The waiter smiled and said ‘it’s on the house.’ Wow, we thought, what a pleasant surprise! And yup, both desserts were fantastic. What wonderful customer service! And we told them so. We would definitely go back to The Ledbury. The food, the service, everything was just amazing.

I thought there couldn’t possibly be anything that can top our experience, until I read an article on the Evening Standard about the Ledbury staff. Recently, there have been a number of riots happending across London and the wider UK. I was flabbergasted to read that rioters targeted the Ledbury and the staff fought off rioters trying to rob guests. They defended the restaurant, protected their guests and accompanied them to the Tube. To top it off, the restaurant did not charge the customers for their dinners and called their guests the following day to ensure they got home safely.

I was absolutely blown away by what the Ledbury staff did. They went far beyond the call of duty; it’s more than just customer service. The Ledbury values their customers because they know that without customers, they’ve have no business. Bravo to them for their bravery and their understanding of true customer service. Now, more than ever, I’d not hesitate to go back to the Ledbury and would recommend it to everyone. It’s well worth the price!

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What’s For Dinner?

A lovely blend of frozen cherries, baby spinach, a scoop of Move, which is a fiber-based shake powder, and Vanilla Nourish, another shake powder which I guess is filled with nourishing nutrients. A sprinkle of cinnamon and a bit more of nutmeg. Blend with 8 oz. unsweetened chocolate almond milk and water to thin. And…an odd sickly purply shake.

Which was surprisingly tasty! I also downed four various “cleanse” detox tablets. Yes, I am now on Day 6 of “The Clean Program” detox cleanse. Remember, that one I implusively ordered through Gilt. Well, I’ve finally started it, realizing I was never going to find the perfect uninterrupted 21 days. The big hurdle this time is the last 6 days or so, I’m going to be at my parents’ house, and I’m going to have to explain to my mother why I can’t eat all the yummy food she has prepared for me. Oh, well.

So, how’s it going? Well, I am surprisingly not hungry. Although, I have to admit that I cheated the first five days of the program, by snacking from the office candy jar in the afternoons. But not to extreme. And I didn’t eat any full meals that were un-Clean. I guess I’ve been working my way into full compliance slowly. I hear it undermines the efficacy of the detox, but, so it is. There have been some weird detox symptoms – Day 1, I felt feverish and flu-y; you have to take the detox pills three times a day, at every meal, and sometimes they make me feel woozy. Like now. Yesterday, I got a horrid headache midmorning that got progressively worse, driving me to go home by 2 PM. After which, I slept until 6:30 PM. It felt like a migraine because I had extreme light sensitivity. And I just couldn’t think straight.

But, I’ve been able to continue my BBF workouts (except for Day 1, when I had to leave after 30 minutes, that was when I started feeling flu-y). I am probably eating more calories than most folks on the program who are really focused on the weightloss part and who maybe are just that masochistic. Me, I’m not into suffering. I also don’t think it’s that healthy to starve yourself. I mean, look at Gweneth Paltrow – she can wear amazing couture clothing, but does anyone really think she looks healthy? Maybe she’ll live longer, I don’t know. There has been research done on rats that show that those who are slightly undernourished have longer lives. Fine, ok, that’s just not my goal. So, they allow chicken, fish, and, I think duck, and lamb on this plan. I have at least a serving of chicken or of fish at lunch, sometimes both. Maybe over the 21 days, I’ll downshift that a bit and not get quite so much protein in there.  (The way the plan works, you get to eat solid foods for your lunch meal, shakes are just for breakfast and dinner.)

Benefits thus far: improved digestive functioning (ahem, you know…I had become very…irregular, and now, suddenly, back on the daily track!), lost 3 lbs, and no junk food cravings! The basis of the cleanse is to get harmful toxins out of your digestive tract. Maybe I believe that, maybe I don’t. My main goal is to jump start me back into healthy eating, then great! I had gotten to the point where, after a hard workout, I’d go eat something like a giant red velvet cupcake, or a chicken sandwich and fries from the drive-thru. Today…my cherry and spinach shake!

Oh, and another thing. People on The Cleanse are a bit fanatical. They have a whole web community where you can journal and blog and people actually comment and help you out with suggestions! It’s kind of cool. But, yes, I’ve been cheating on you Spices. I’ve been blog-journaling my Clean experience elsewhere. But, really, do you want to hear what gruesome shakes I’ve been having for breakfast and dinner?

So many different things can inspire the perfect moment. I sometimes latch onto a scene in a movie or a phrase in a song that just resonates into this romantic idea or concept that I keep coming back to. You know that perfect phrase in the song that says so much more than just the words themselves mean? Right now, I’m listening to the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack from Season Three, which includes that amazing season finale song, “Keep Breathing”…so many moments I could pull from that whole soundtrack to talk about.

The moment that has inspired this post is a scene from the movie “Because I Said So”. You may have missed this movie from a few years ago – Mandy Moore as a young single professional chef, Diane Keaton her meddlesome mother, and some guy who plays her adorable hipster boyfriend? I’ve watched this one a few times. A lot of themes that resonate with me in different ways, but the particular scene I’m trying to get to comes when the two relationships she’s been juggling both go awry – she dumps the one she realizes isn’t for her, loses the other because he finds out she’s been dating someone else. At the same time, she stops speaking to her mother because she finds out her mother has been meddling in the background the whole time. At this point, she’s mostly alone, having turned away from her primary support system after losing both of her charming boys. Then – a scene with her sitting down for dinner at her kitchen counter – she lays out the plate, pours a glass of wine, puts her napkin in her lap, tops her salad with freshly ground pepper and then digs in alone. There is something so lovely and poignant in that scene. To me, it is the loneliness, partially self-imposed, balanced with the bittersweetness of a determined independence in which she still recognizes her own worth by taking care of herself with a carefully prepared meal. As opposed to the more common image of the sad lonely person camped out on the living room sofa in sweats, eating meals out of bags and boxes.

But what does any of this have to do with my looking for the perfect salad dressing? Well, that image occasionally inspires me to assemble such a meal for myself. Tonight, I prepared a pan-fried trout, a salad, and poured myself a glass of prosecco. For the salad, I scrounged my fridge for interesting ingredients and I found a nice simple combo of romaine, grilled peaches, and pecans. But then, I had to dress it. All I could think of was to toss in a bit of rice vinegar and sprinkle some salt. It wasn’t half bad, but I realized – I do not have an instinctive sense of how to dress a salad. Does anyone have some basic go-to dressings they use when preparing a simple salad at home that they could recommend for me? What are the basic building blocks on which I can then layer my own flavor ideas? A good salad can be such an amazing meal. I love the part of trying to dream up what different types of produce, cheeses or nuts to combine into an exciting new flavor combo. That part I can get. But the dressing part has me a bit at a loss…

What I love the most about the idea of taking the time to create a full meal for myself and sitting down to focus on enjoying just the meal is what that image says to me about taking the time for yourself. To treat yourself as well as you’d treat an honored guest. I think it’s important for us all to think about – whether you tend to spend most of your time working for an employer, taking care of children, or providing for a spouse or significant other. We take all this care to do our best for other people and things in our lives. I think it’s just as important to put 100% into our efforts to take care of ourselves, too. It’s different from treating yourself to a spa day or new purchase. Because it’s not just spending money on yourself, or paying someone else to pamper you – it’s putting real time and effort into giving yourself a lovely treat. A treat that would be even lovelier for me if I could just learn to make the perfect vinaigrette.

Lobstah v. Lobstah v. Lobstah

I’ve never been a big lobster eater.  I would never go to a restaurant and order a whole lobster, or even a lobster tail.  You order this crustacean that you have to pull apart with your hands like a savage, but then you have to wear a bib like a pre-schooler while doing so.  Not a good look and not worth the time and effort.

But lobster rolls are a different story.  Lobsters are already shelled, seasoned and are easy to eat in a cute little bun.  I remember the first lobster roll I ever had.  MrsJ2011 convinced that I had to try one back in 2005 when we went to Mary’s Fish Camp, known for their awesome lobster roll.  I was not too keen on the idea of lobster and mayo but I went along and it was very delicious.  Not something I would crave but very good.  I am not a big fan of mayo, and seafood and mayo just seems weird to me.

Over the last few years, it seems that lobster rolls have become quite popular.  Each year in the local magazines there are articles dissecting NYC’s lobster rolls to see which one is tops.  Like I said, I’d never really go out of my way to get one.

That is, until they starting serving them by my office!

Last summer, there was a giant lobster man handing out menus for a little place called the Urban Lobster Shack.  If you remember, I posted a photo of him here.  Intrigued to give any new place a whirl, we headed on over to the little window in the basement of a nearby office building to give it a try.  That’s right – it’s not a restaurant.  Literally a window.  They serve the traditional lobster roll, which was very good but they also have something called the Chef Special roll which is basically a lobster roll, scampi style.  And it’s only $11.  Definitely not traditional, but definitely a winner.  The lobster was good quality, there’s tons of delicious butter and garlic, and the bread is nice and toasty.  Absolute heaven, although a little small for the price.  I’ve probably had it ten times in the past year and every time it is wonderful.

Ubban Lobster Shack - so beautiful!

I was more than satisfied with Urban Lobster Shack and was definitely not looking to cheat on it.  But then the food trucks came to town, and considering my obsession with all things served on a truck, I just had to try.

First I took a short walk over to Luke’s Lobster Truck to give their lobster roll a try, hoping the whole time that it would be worth the $16 I was about to pay.  I walked there, stood on line, ordered, and was back at my desk in a half hour.  The roll itself was actually 5 inches long – so small!  However, I think that’s the standard size for lobster rolls.  There was a lot of chunky lobster.  Not too much mayo.  But for some reason, I did not taste any seasoning whatsoever.  The butter they schmear on the roll was not fully melted, so I had little chunks of butter between my lobster, which skeeved me out a little.  But I have to admit all in all it was a good lobster roll.  I’d have it again.

Luke's Lobster - by this time I decided to start measuring!

The following week, I spied the truck from the Red Hook Lobster Pound, which coincidently is right near one of my clients in Brooklyn.  I obviously had to try it for comparison’s sake!  The line was not as long as Luke’s truck and there were options – their traditional roll with mayo and celery, and something called the Connecticut Roll with just lobster and butter.  Also a whopping $16 and 5 inches long.  But I have to admit I was so disappointed.  The bread was very soggy and everything just fell apart as I tried to eat it, so in fact my lobster roll turned into an open faced lobster sandwich.  BOO!  The flavor was definitely not as good either.  I’m not going back there again.  Sorry.

Red Hook Lobster Pound - what a mess!

So in the end, Urban Lobster Shack wins the Spice title for Best Lobster Roll Accessible during Lunchtime in Midtown Manhattan.  For the size and the taste, it’s a much better bang for my buck.  I know I know . . . I did not talk much about the quality of the lobster itself, but like I said I’m not much of a lobster eater except for these rolls.  I may not be a lobster roll purist, but I know what I like.  Damn it, now I’m hungry for a lobster roll!

Crab-tastic

As all my Spices know, I’ve been busy with a newborn. Babies do take up every second of a new mother’s time; it really is a 24/7 job. Priorities are reassessed, pushing blogging to the bottom of the list, along with sleeping, cooking/baking, eating, personal hygiene (you’d better believe it!), etc. But, it is an extremely rewarding experience. As sleep deprived as I am, when my baby wakes up at 3, 4, 5 o’clock in the morning, thinking it’s play time and smiling coyly at me trying to engage me, I can’t help but smile back. It just warms my heart. I mean how can anyone be upset?

Anyway, enough about babies. The purpose of this blog is to share with my Spices, and whoever else is out there supporting our blog, this delicious crab dish. When do I have time to cook, you may ask? Well, my mother-in-law is here helping us for a few weeks. And since we won’t be able to cook like we used to once she leaves, we’ve taken the opportunity to use the little bit of time we have wisely.

The first time I came across this dish (well, a similar one) was in a Chinese restaurant 4 years ago in Malaysia. It’s crabs cooked in salted egg yolk sauce and it was divine. Who would have thunk? Pure genious! I couldn’t get enough of it. I MUST eat this dish every time I am in Malaysia. I wanted to relive the experience in my own home so I decided to try making it myself. Well, it’s not as good as the one in the restaurant, but it was still mega yummy. You should try it!

Crab with salted egg yold sauce

Whoopie Pie Drama!

Who knew this controversy was brewing under our very noses this year…Click on the link; check it out. Then note the site to which your click brings you. And realize that I am still surfing the gilt sites on a daily basis. And now, with gilt taste also there to tempt me, I think I am truly lost. Fortunately, I do not have much opportunity to entertain these days, and I am not one to spend on fancy vittles just to satisfy myself, so I have yet to click on “buy” for gilt taste. Until I feel like I really need to experiment with some fiddleheads or juicy-looking white asparagus, I will just surf their articles and columns (which are entertaining in and of themselves!)..but some of those cuts of meat and sausages do look amazing!

However, this post could have been subtitled “Intervention, Part 2”. Because I am continuing my weekly online shopping habit. One thing that is now perpetuating my habit is that I have discovered the ease of free returns! At least, when it does not require me actually going to the post office. My last return (a pair of jeans and a top) went back into a packable envelope, which was easy to leave at a postal drop box. Then, suddenly, two days later – nearly $200 credit in my account! Anything I bought from credit, is basically free, right? So, I got these crazy watches. We’ll see how I like them. I bought two, because I couldn’t pick, and figured I could return it if I didn’t like it.

This is how my habit works: I get home at night, pull up the internet, check gmail, stalk facebook status updates, check cnn.com if I didn’t get to it at work, maybe surf some job postings to see if there’s anything interesting, then…nothing else left to do but look at gilt.com! I don’t always look at the other ones, because, even though gilt does not always have the best deals, it does have the more attractive and easily navigable site. I am a sucker for form over substance. Someone take away my credit card!!!

What’s for lunch?: Thursday, June 2nd

It’s no secret that we’re all about the food trucks!  Well, maybe it is . . . we have definitely not shown enough food truck love on this blog!!  Some people find it inconvenient to stand on a long line and wait for lunch, but that’s part of what makes it fun.  Hubbo sometimes gets his lunch from a Mexican truck downtown and he even admitted it’s fun hanging out at the truck.  The key is to know what you want and get there early to avoid the crowds.  Most trucks have a Twitter feed now so they’re easy to find.  You can plan out a whole week of lunches just by knowing the truck schedules.

MrsJ and I tried a new food truck this past week by our office – a pizza truck!  I’ve seen this truck several times but was hesitant to try it.  I was expecting reheated old pizza.  What we got was anything but!

Restaurant Name Eddie’s Pizza Truck
Website  http://www.eddiespizzany.com/
Location See Twitter feed for daily locations
Cuisine Pizza – I refuse to call it Italian, since it’s become so American over the years
Order  Two 10″ pizzas.  I had sausage and peppers on a whole wheat crust, and MrsJ had what is known as Eddie’s Special (Sausage, Meatballs, Pepperoni, Peppers, Mushrooms, Onions) on a regular crust.
Culinary Experience(hot/cold, wet/dry, hands/fork) Hot/Dry/Hands
Service We arrived at the truck a few minutes after 12pm and waited a good half hour, maybe more.  We were told upfront that the whole wheat crust takes an additional 15 – 20 minutes.  Luckily we were not swamped with work and it was not mega hot out, otherwise it would have been awful.
Cost  $20.50 for both pizzas.
Satisfaction Oh my lord it was awesome!  It was worth the wait because it was FRESH, not reheated.  The crust was thin and crispy, the cheese was delicious (they have fat free cheese but I stuck with the part-skim), and the toppings were yummy.  I will admit I was expecting roasted red peppers and these were chopped fresh green peppers.  I ate six of the eight slices (trying to be a lady you know) and gave Bigz the other two.  Mrs J ate her whole pizza.  Not a surprise!  We may put Eddies in our weekly rotation!

Sausage and peppers on whole wheat crust

Eddie's Special

I’m not sure if I just made up the term “convenience foods”, but you know what I’m talking about – meals out of a can, jar, or box. All the stuff my mother never allowed me to eat, which convinced me that Chef Boyardee Spaghetti-O’s must be some sort of delicious manna, if only because it was prohibited. When I first tried Chef Boyardee sometime in my early twenties – it reiterated a lesson I’d learned many times over: that when my mother enforced certain rules, it was not an arbitrary attempt to limit the joy and pleasure in my life, but because she actually knew what she was talking about.

Don't let the smile fool you. This "food" is all at once mushy, spongy, and chock-full of sodium, while still being oddly flavorless.

Hence, I have always avoided convenience foods as much as I can. However, now, in my middle-thirties, I find myself reaching for convenience foods more and more frequently. Which includes takeout – like the grilled chicken sandwich and smoothie place next door to my doggie day care. When I’m picking up my dog at 8PM and starving, the convenience of yet another grilled chicken or grilled veggie sandwich, or, occasionally, even a hamburger, is too appealing to pass up. Once I’m there, it’s so easy to also order a ginormous 20 oz fruit smoothie, or, perhaps, some waffle fries fresh out of the fryer. Unfortunately, too often, convenient = unhealthy.

As an alternative, I’ve tried stocking my freezer with some supposedly healthy frozen dinners. You know, those diet ones – weight watchers, smartones, and the like. But if you look at the ingredients and nutritional value, there’s tons of weird preservatives and sodium hidden in there. Not to mention, not tasty. Amy’s can be pretty good sometimes; but I don’t think the enchiladas (which are my favorite) are all that healthy either, even if they are organic. There’s a lot of cheese in the best of Amy’s…

However, I have made a new find that I’m here to share with anyone who needs to ever rely on a quick dinner. No more than 10 minutes in the microwave…which is actually the recommended method of heating these dinners. KASHI has a line of frozen dinners! You know, Kashi, of the creative multigrain breakfast cereals. GoLean, GoLean Crunch!, etc. When I’m in the breakfast cereal mood, many of these help fill that craving. GoLean Crunch! even provides enough sweetness to satisfy a sugary cereal craving, and, I think, ok, once in awhile. But I digress, I’m here to talk about a different meal here….

So far, I’ve tried, Tuscan Veggie Bake, Black Bean Mango, and Mayan Harvest Bake, all of which are vegan options. Unlike typical frozen dinners, these are filled with a variety of textures and flavors, with the Black Bean Mango dinner having a delightful spicy bite to it. Each dish also has some sort of sort of multi-grain pasta, or a mix of grains, including exotic healthy grains like quinoa and herbs like amaranth. A quick skim of the ingredients is NOT like reading a chem-lab inventory, although there was the occasional “guar gum” or “ascorbic acid” listed in there. While those are not your typical kitchen pantry ingredients, I know exactly what they are and what they are for, and know enough to know that they aren’t necessarily unhealthy for me. Also – no artificial flavorings of any kind listed in ingredients. Kashi also makes some chicken dinner options – I tired a Lemongrass Coconut Chicken, which was also pretty tasty, spice and flavoring-wise. I am not a huge fan of the texture of chicken from frozen dinners and was hesitant to try any of the Kashi dinners with chicken in them. The Kashi chicken had some of the same problems I find in other frozen dinners, tasting a bit like it had been reconstituted or injected with chicken broth – generally not a very fresh texture. But the flavor was at least like actual chicken, which I cannot say for the other brands I’ve tried.

Please don't shoot me you fresh ingredient cooks out there - but these actually taste somewhat "fresh made" despite coming out of the freezer and zapped in the microwave!

The cost is about the same as Amy’s Organic meals, a bit pricier for frozen dinners at about $5 to $6 per meal, including tax. Not cheap, but not more expensive than takeout. And much more satisfying than the times I scrounge random food from my pantry, freezer, or fridge, and end up with something like a bowl of microwave heated petite peas for dinner.

The Mission: The First Day

The first morning I could, I picked up my usual walking pace to work just so I can start my Mission.  It was a Friday and as Friday goes around Rockefeller Center, its infested with tourists for the Today Show.  The infestation had already spread into the bakery.  I walked in and was immediately annoyed at the clusters of aliens in the way of my pastries and their lack of appreciation for this no ordinary shop as they were just looking for some coffee and breakfast to sustain their energy for screaming at Al Roker when he came out to do the weather.

I tried hard to forget the annoyance as I got closer to the counter and it wasn’t so difficult after see the goods.  I spotted a few choices and as usual, I couldn’t decide.  But then I realized, I will be trying everything so it doesn’t matter! I chose the  raspberry almond croissant.

Almond Raspberry Croissant

It was everything I had expected from this place.  I was little concerned that the quality might be sacrificed given the heavy tourist location as I’ve witnessed this happen to another famous bakery in the local area.  The croissant was flaky but not the flakiest I’ve had.  It did not have that overpowering buttery taste to it but I think because it was distracted by the fresh raspberry jam in between.  This jam (or preserve?) was really my most favorite part about this croissant.  I don’t think I ever had a jam filled croissant before but darn, I really loved it!  The jam was seeded and there was the perfect amount, not too globby, not too skimpy.  I especially loved how it was spread evenly across the entire croissant so that a taste of raspberry was enjoyed in each bite.

lovely spread of jam

The cost was $4.08 with tax.

It was a slow day at work and I started craving a good snack mid afternoon.  So I decided to go for my second run of the day. I knew I wanted a macaron but wasn’t sure which.  Banana Hazelnut, hmm I don’t think I’ve ever seen that combo before!

Supersized Banana Hazelnut

Now it should be noted that Keller’s macarons are not your typical two inchers.  They are probably close to four inches.  In the past, I found that larger macarons although more to favor, was not as delicate as the normal sized ones.  I didn’t know what to expect here but I was pleasantly pleased by the delicacy of this macaron despite its size.  As you have learned from my previous post, its all about the light and airy!! Keller did excellent here.  I have to say, I don’t think I tasted a lot of hazelnut or banana in my first two bites.  I thought flavoring was on the weaker side, but on my third bite, a burst of banana flavor came through.  There was actually a piece of banana thoughtfully wedged inside the middle of the macarons.  Was this why it needed to be four inches?  I was very pleased by this surprise and probably made up for the lack of hazelnut presence.  Although, I think if the flavorings were more powerful, it could’ve made this treat too cloyingly sweet.  In the end, it was a great balance of the flavors with the airy macaron.  Cost:  $4.38 with tax.

The Mission

I’ve been waiting since July 2010.  To be exact, that is 11 months of WAITING.  Excitement and anticipation turned into agony and frustration, which turned into excitement again as soon as the boarded entrance came down and Rockefeller Center Facebook and Twitter accounts were created (of course, I immediately subscribed).  Even then, it took another month of patience until the doors officially opened.  It was the new Bouchon Bakery in my work building.  Why do I care so much?  At first, it was the simple idea of being able to conveniently indulge in Keller’s famous pastries without trekking to Columbus Circle or Napa.   But the long wait slowly turned into an obsession for having  a fresh baked flaky croissant or a macaron or a Bouchon Ho-Ho at any given minute during my work hours.  Its like the very long wait at a hip restaurant and when you are finally seated, you are so hungry that everything you order is so delicious that you go home, give a raving Yelp review or tell all your friends you must dine at this place even though you must starve for an hour plus before being seated.  Yea…. or maybe I just really needed something exciting at work to look forward to.

So now that the bakery is open and to keep the excitement going, I have a personal mission to try everything available at this bakery.  This will definitely result in a lot of unnecessary cash and calories but heck, you only live once.  Hope you will enjoy sharing my indulgence (at least visually) with me.

What took you so long to open??