Tuesday, April 20, 2010

tequila, taquitos and spice (oh my!)

Barrio Guacamole
I can't say that New York is a hotbed of delicious Mexican food. It wouldn't be true. I've lived here for six years or so now, and I'm just starting to find Mexican food that's dependable and delicious. And spicy. Spicy is always a nice attribute for Mexican food to have.

Still, I want to shorten your learning curve, so I've been doing some research for your benefit. Because I know you're dying to know where, for the love of god, you can find some freshly made tortilla chips and salsa. So here you go.

Barrio Taquitos
Tortilla Flats

Admittedly, none of these photos are actually from Tortilla Flats. I haven't been there since I was in college, and I'm now realizing that that was almost three years ago. Yes, I mark my years in how long it's been since I last visited a restaurant. However, here's what I remember: it was a trek and a half to get to the west-est part of the West Village for this place, but it was worth it. It's so small and packed with kitsch that you feel as if you're inside a Winnebago. The crowd is fun and most likely started drinking before you got there. (This place is just as much of a bar as it is a restaurant.) I'd highly recommend the enchiladas. They came hot and swimming in cheese, just the way I like them. All in all, a stupendous place to meet friends after work or before a weekend night out.

Chavella's Brooklyn

Ellen took me here a few months ago when it was still bitingly cold out, and I went back less than a week later, even though it's quite a walk from the train. That's saying something. This place is tiny, too, though they have outdoor seating now that things are heating up. The guacamole comes with small, soft homemade tortillas. The black bean soup (sopa de frijoles) is extraordinary, and the quesadillas are crispy and full of complimentary flavors. The staff at Chavella's is also really nice, a quality I value highly. One time I asked to take my leftover quesadilla home, and our server accidentally trashed it. She then had a new one made for me, packaged it up and didn't charge us for it. It was one of those rare, sweet things that makes me remember that New Yorkers can be nice.
Barrio Beverages

I've been here a few times because it's in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I find myself spending lots of time, especially in the summer. It's way pricier than the other two, but it's also spicier and has more of a modern twist. Their tortilla chips are lightly salted, fresh, and come with a tomatillo salsa as well as some sort of smoky, very spicy red one. The guacamole is the best I've had and also comes with small homemade tortillas. They make a Puebla pork that comes in a chile arbol peanut mole that's even better than it sounds. It's also incredibly spicy, though, so watch out. Actually, you probably shouldn't take your most spice-sensitive friends here, as almost everything I've tried has a definite bite. When you do make it here, I recommend you try the queso fundido if you're into cheese, and the shrimp quesadilla if you like shrimp even remotely. It's by far the best quesadilla I've had this side of the Mississippi. Oh, and you might want to try the cocktails, too. They're flavorful, unique and very strong.

Barrio Chocolate and Cheese

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

my secret identity

I sort of, kind of have a secret identity. At least, that's how I like to see it. But instead of donning a cape and mask and whisking around Chicago to save the meek and innocent, I don a suit, put on mascara and disappear into Chicago's nightlife. Part-way through culinary school I picked up a job being a night manager at a small, upscale hotel bar and restaurant in Chicago's ritzy Gold Coast neighborhood. Most of the time, I'm all alone, greeting the customers, waiting the tables, making the drinks, and dealing with the most recent trouble-maker. And, goodness, do I bring home my fair share of stories.

What surprised me most about the job, and what has become my favorite part about it, is the way I melt into the background, becoming almost indistinguishable from the rows of high end scotch behind me. My ex-boyfriends, my political views, my favorite color...my whole person vanishes, and I get to be nothing more than the woman who pours the wine.

Some of you may think that sounds terrible, but I find it exhilarating. When I no longer have to be me, I get welcomed in to the secret lives of strangers from all around the world. The financial trader, gripping a Honker's Ale, tells me about his clandestine stash of Ethiopian magic scrolls. The young woman, sipping a dirty martini, tells me about how her grandfather used to give her the olives out of his when she was small. A fiery, middle-aged woman from the west coast, nursing a Chardonnay, explains how she had never imagined she'd marry the brother of her late-fiance. You only think I'm kidding. It really does feel an awful lot like like a secret identity.

And after a long night of mixing martinis and listening, I take off my suit, fold up my secret identity and tuck it into my closet for another day.

Then, once the real Adriana is back in full swing, I go make fresh berry tarts. Two kinds, in fact.


Blueberry tarts with meyer lemon mascarpone cream

Strawberry tarts with vanilla mascarpone cream

Pate sucre
8 oz butter
4 oz sugar
1 egg
12 oz pastry flour (or 6oz cake flour + 6oz all purpose flour)

Mascarpone Cream
14 oz mascarpone (sub cream cheese for up to half, if desired)
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
*for meyer lemon cream add 2 teaspoons finely grated meyer lemon zest
*for vanilla cream add 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest and scant 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To finish
strawberries, cored and sliced about 1/4 in thick
apricot jam and/or honey

Make the tart shells (about 6 4-inch shells)

1. Cream butter in a stand mixer or by hand for 3-4 minutes, until fluffy. Add sugar and continue to cream. Add egg and cream until completely fluffy, another couple of minutes.

2. Sift flour. Add flour in two shifts and mix until fully incorporated. Flatten into a disk and refrigerate until firm.

3. Roll out dough to 1/8 in thick. Cut circles a bit larger than the size of your tart pan(s). Lay dough inside, making sure it's lightly pressed flush with the edges and then crimp off the excess dough from the top.

4. Poke bottom and sides of dough shells well with a fork

5. Bake at 350 until the shells are light golden brown. The timing will totally depend on your oven, but it took about 12-15 minutes in mine.

6. Let shells cool completely.

Make the cream

1. Whisk together the first three ingredients until fluffy and well-incorporated.

2. Divide cream in half. Whisk lemon zest into one, whisk lemon zest and vanilla into the other.

Assemble tarts

1. Fill shells with cream and smooth into an even layer

2. Lay berries on top in whatever pattern you think it prettiest!

3. Gently heat the apricot jam and or honey, thinning with a tiny bit of water to get the right consistency for your glaze.

4. Gently brush the tops of the tarts with the glaze.

5. Refrigerate tarts until cream has chilled, at least 2 hours.


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Adriana Willsie and Kylie Springman ©2009