Masa 14

9 Jul

When one walks into Masa 14 the space seems to be equal parts restaurant and night club. Every time I have been in the place is packed, the music and conversation is loud, the décor is trendy and the patrons are well-healed. At places like this food is often an afterthought , taking a backseat the beautiful and the boozy. This is not however, the case at Masa 14, where the Latin-Asian fusion plates are routinely delicious.

Duck, Duck...

On a recent visit we started with the peking duck flatbread, a tangle of duck confit, mango, and cojita cheese all drizzled with BBQ sauce on warm bread. The combination of East, West, salty and sweet made for a tasty concoction.  Our grilled baby octopus was served in a chimichurri sauce with pickled vegetables. Interestingly Masa leaves the heads on, they have a odd squishy texture but the dish as a whole is worthwhile. My favorite dish to hit the table so far is the bulgulgi sopes, a Korea meets Mexico dish in which little fried corn cakes are topped with bbq skirt steak, kimchi , apple and cojita cheese. They are addicting little tidbits, that I would have been happy to receive another plate of.

Surprisingly the disappointment of the evening came in our glasses. Their signature sangria tasted watered down and like someone had forgotten to add the alcohol. Next time I will stick to one of their 500 tequilas.


Father’s Day: Grilled Primanti Brother’s Sandwiches

30 Jun

Last weekend in celebration of the day of dads (Happy Father’s Day!) my family unit decided to whip up a Pittsburgh tradition for my Pittsburgh native father: Primanti Bros Sandwiches. If you have ever tuned into the Food Network or Travel Channel, or visited Pittsburgh itself you have probably heard of the legendary sandwich shops, famous for topping their sandwiches with French fries and coleslaw.

If visiting the shop itself you can choose from a myriad of deli meat options, in our version we used sweet and hot capicola ham. To make things a little healthier (and easier) we went with a freezer fry over the twice fried version in the original. Also, bucking tradition, we threw our sandwiches on the grill, because on Father’s Day firing the grill up is practically a requirement.

Grill it

The end result? Awesome. The capicola and provolone, purchased that morning at a Pittsburgh deli for extra authenticity, were extra flavorful and the vinegar-based coleslaw brightened up the whole concoction.  These sandwiches got rave reviews around our table, but then again who wouldn’t like a sandwich stuffed with French fries?

Your Whole Meal in a Sandwich

Grilled Primanti Bros. Sandwiches
adapted from the Washington Post, January 28, 2009


For the slaw:

  • 1 pound (about half of a medium-size head) green cabbage, shredded or finely chopped (about 6 cups)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper

 For the Sandwiches:

  • 2 pounds spicy, thinly sliced capicola ham (we used one pound sweet and one hot)
  • 8 thin slices provolone cheese (about 5 ounces)
  • 4 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 16 thin slices
  • 16 large slices of soft Italian bread (18 ounces total)
  • 2 bags frozen french fries


For the slaw: Combine the cabbage, sugar, salt and celery seed in a colander set over a medium bowl. Let stand at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours; the cabbage will be wilted (about 4 cups total).

Discard the draining liquid in the bowl; rinse and dry the bowl, then transfer the wilted cabbage to the bowl. Add the oil and vinegar; toss to coat. Season with pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the sandwiches: Cook fries according to package instructions. Drizzle the bread with olive oil, and top the opposite side with a layer of sweet capicola, a layer of hot capicola and a slice of provolone. Top with remaining slices of bread, oil side up. Place sandwiches on a medium-hot grill for approximately 2 minutes on each side, or just long enough to put grill marks on the bread and melt the cheese. Remove the sandwiches from the grill and add  generous portions of warm fries and coleslaw and tomato slices. Enjoy with your extra fries and slaw. Yum.


24 Jun

On the way back from a quick trip to Charlottesville Rob and I decided to grab dinner in the historic downtown mall area. I really enjoy the area, a little brick-cover strip of cutesy shops and restaurants, set to the soundtrack of area street performers. Old Town meets College town.

We went with a friend’s recommendation and wandered into Bizou, a contemporary American bistro decorated with high red leather booths and vintage movie posters. The menu is short with a focus on seasonal dishes and a few standards such as meatloaf and buttermilk fried chicken. We opted to order a few appetizers and the evening’s special of scallops and seasonal veggies.

First up the tacos, tuna tartar on a bed of baby greens with siriracha cream.  The tartar was great, and siriracha sour cream that is  Latin-Asian fusion that I can get behind. The problem with dish was the taco shells whose fried taste overwhelmed the tartar itself. This was easily remedied however, just scoop the fish out of the shell… et viola.

The mozzarella salad fared much better. It was delicious with fresh, creamy cheese, prosciutto, peppery arugula and a just sweet enough balsamic reduction. Yum. Our main course was just as good. The scallops were nicely seared and very tasty with the accompanying pesto. I was pleasantly surprised by the summer vegetables that came with. Often I find that such sides are overcooked and under seasoned. These were no throwaway, thinly sliced summer squash, peppers and green beans topped with arugula goat cheese and pesto, so good.

This is a place I definitely wouldn’t mind having closer  to Washington.

Blue Ridge Pig

21 Jun

After a day of vineyard hopping in the Charlottesville, VA area a few weeks back my group of tasters was in need of a little snack attack. With wineries closing up shop and putting away the cheese plates my friend, who happens to be a longtime vegetarian, suggested a nearby BBQ shack. When a vegetarian sings the praises of an establishment  devoted primarily to pork, it must be good, so on we ventured.

Pig on a Hot Tin Roof?

The Blue Ridge Pig is a tiny, rustically-charming (read: cute and comfy but you might not want to use the restroom) type of place nestled about 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The place lives up to its name. There are pigs everywhere, the windowsills and picnic tables are bedecked with a flurry of piggy banks, ceramic pigs and piggy shaped Christmas lights and a giant smoker turned pig greets you from the rooftop as you walk in.

Now ceramic pigs are cute and kitschy and all but what is important is the pig on the plate. We ordered a pulled pork sandwich with slaw(what else?), potato salad and limeade. The sandwich was some great BBQ, the meat nice and smoky, coated in a thick BBQ sauce that had a nice mustardy tang to it. Extra points for a toasted bun that was soft without having it melt into the sandwich as you eat; and vinegar based coleslaw topping which I’ll take over the mayonnaise laden versions any day. The potato salad harbors a little surprise, we opened the container to find pesto, totally unexpected at a pig shack in the mountains and totally tasty.  We washed our pork and potatoes down with limeade, fresh squeezed onsite and perfect on a hot summer day in Virginia.

Pork BBQ

Good BBQ with a few gourmet sensibilities, on a scenic mountain route dotted with vineyards? Not a bad reason at all for a little summer escape from the city.

Adventures in Latino Dim Sum Brunch: Cafe Atlantico

16 Jun

Recently I went to a regular ol’ Sunday brunch with my mother and small brother. We had all the traditional fixins: foie gras soup, pork belly, a little eel. Ok. Maybe not so traditional. But all part of the Latino Dim Sum brunching experience at Cafe Atlantico. (Warning: picky eaters need not proceed).

Jose Andres’ dim sum experience is like traditional Chinese dim sum, a mishmash of  small plates and tastes, only his transports you to Mexico. Being new to the Atlantico version we went with the chefs tasting menu, fourteen mini courses of his choosing… and then if we were still hungry extra rounds of whatever we liked.

The first few dishes are mostly one bite dishes: tiny oysters that taste like the ocean, tuna tartar accented with coconut and mango-anchovy ravioli that is surprisingly tasty.Then came one of my favorite guilty pleasures to come out of a Jose Andres kitchen: fritters with a liquid conch center. You bite in and its creamy conchy goodness pours into your mouth with a tasty surprise, the fritters also harbor bacon. Yes, please.

Bitsy Brunch Bites

Next up: soup. We get two shooters, the first an extra thick potato vanilla mousse that I found to be overwhelmingly rich until I found the caviar at the bottom, which balanced it out nicely. Then came the dish that befuddled even this adventurous eater: hot and cold foie gras and corn soup? Simply too odd to be tasty.

Tasty on the right, Bizarre on the left

The next plates to emerge were portioned more like mini entrées. Highlights included a fried egg over black beans and pork that I would be happy to have after any boozy Saturday night, and the famed ‘egg 63’ where the egg is cooked low and slow so that when you break into it, it immediately dissolves into a creamy sauce over the mushrooms served below. My favorite was the carne asada, grilled skirt steak charred on the outside, juicy on the inside and all around delicious. To cap off the tasting we were served a sweet ending: pan dulce with cinnamon syrup, a french toast like concoction that even a family of trench toast haters dug into.

Among the hits of the menu there were a few misses, bites of pineapple unagi went untouched and pork belly was hard to manage in the morning, but these misses just left us with a little extra room to order more of our favorites at the end of the meal.

I’ll take the conch fritters.

Izakaya by Puck: The Source

11 Jun

The Source, Wolfgang Puck’s Pan-Asian fine dining experience in the Newseum, has been on my list of places to try since it opened. I had yet to venture there until a few weeks ago as their prices points are a wee bit high (well I would assume so anyway… their website doesn’t list prices and if you have to ask…). Recently however the restaurant has debuted an Izakaya style menu. In Japan Izakayas are essentially bars that offer food as well, usually for reasonable prices. The concept takes over the Source lounge daily from 4:00 to 6:00pm, when you can choose any three items off the menu for $20.10 including a few sake and beer selections.

Tuna Cones

My lovely  dining companion and I we both half starved and decided to order three small plates each and drinks separately. My cocktail tasted like drinking a liquid cucumber, ideal on a hot day, and packed quite the punch. We both ordered the spicy tuna tartar, one of the restaurants signature dishes. It is served ice cream cone style, piled into a slightly sweet miso sesame cone, and does not disappoint. Keeping with the theme I ordered the spicy tuna roll, with was topped with tiny dollops of chipotle aioli, lending just the right amounts of creaminess and smoky spice. For my final dish I had ordered chili squid, which emerged over a huge bed of pan fried noodles accompanied by pork belly all coated in a delicious sweet and spicy sauce. That dish was a meal in itself.

All of that for $20.10? That’s a deal far too good to pass up.

Carrot Cupcakes

9 Jun

Though this blog may not yet have indicated as such, I am baker. Love to bake, have all the schmancy baking tools, do it all from scratch… usually with success. Recently however, I had a full on baking disaster. I offered to make dessert for my father and small brother’s joint birthday fiesta. The request? Carrot cake. I had never made carrot cake but found a recipe and dove right in.

Problem 1) It seems that only one of my cake pans survived my last move. Hm… so on to carrot cupcakes. The batter was actually easier to whip up than most (that is of course providing that you have the schmancy kitchen tool that peels and grates the 65 pounds (ok 3 cups) of carrots that the recipe calls for aka the boyfriend (highly recommended)). The finished batter seemed runnier than most but fearing not I filled the cupcake papers (3/4) full and popped them in the oven. 22 minutes later problem 2) my cupcakes runneth over. The tops of the cakes had run over covering the entire pan, looking very lumpy and unattractive. At this point I figured we would be making a pit stop at a bakery but what we sampled was actually quite good:  very moist, not too sweet, with a little salty kick from the pecans. Trimmed up and covered with a generous smear of cream cheese frosting they were actually kind of addicting (not so pretty but addicting).

Final thoughts: This is a very good carrot cake recipe BUT if you are making cupcakes fill about 2/3 or less of the cups to avoid cupcake disaster.

Cupcake Time!

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Bon Appetite, October 1994


2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups finely grated peeled carrots (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (about 1/2 ounce)
1/2 cup raisins

4 cups powdered sugar
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preparation for the cake:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pans with waxed paper. Lightly grease waxed paper. (If making cupcakes line muffin tins with cupcake liners)Using electric mixer, beat sugar and vegetable oil in bowl until combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into sugar and oil mixture. Stir in carrots, chopped pecans and raisins.

Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing equally. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans, about 45 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.)
For frosting:

Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients in medium bowl until smooth and creamy.

Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with another cake layer. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Using icing spatula, spread remaining frosting in decorative swirls over sides and top of cake. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate.) Serve cake cold or at room temperature.