Yes, You Can Have A Plant-Based Meal With Flava at Urban Vegan Kitchen

Urban Vegan Kitchen as seen from Carmine Street

When it comes to food, I am always up for an adventure. When it comes to dining out, I prefer a sexier environment that is chill with unique design elements. When these two things are combined, I am a happy camper, and this is the case with Urban Vegan Kitchen. I attended the grand opening event in late October directly after a hot yoga class, ready to eat, drink, and learn more about the new culinary outpost. As I have many friends and family members that are vegetarian (some vegan), I am always in search of restaurants that have plant-based meals that I can equally enjoy.

The brainchild of co-founders Pamela Elizabeth, of Blossom Du Jour fame, and David Tianga, Urban Vegan Kitchen serves up vegan soul food in the former space of Blossom on Carmine. Once crossing the threshold inside, I was immersed into a super cozy space of white-painted exposed brick walls, standard table & cocktail table seating, lounge chairs, with framed photographs and posters hung on every wall. The lights were dim, evoking a sexy, but not too sexy nighttime vibe, with sounds spanning A Tribe Called Quest to salsa hits played by the DJ of the evening.

Menus & cocktail table seating

The dining area was separated from the kitchen with a glass block wall (seen above), offering a distorted, light-filled peek into where the magic happens. Passed hors d’oeuvres were served throughout the evening, my favorites being the Fried Okra served with ranch dressing, and the Chickpea Hush Puppies served with a house-made remoulade. I saw folks with drinks and realized there was another level below. I arrived quite early, but once I found friends and was able to put down my gym bag, I headed downstairs for a cocktail.

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Fan Of Chef Masaharu Morimoto? Enter To Win A Signed Copy of His New Book, “Mastering The Art Of Japanese Home Cooking!”

Here at A Life In The Day of Andrea we are super passionate about food and entrepreneurs. It is incredibly exciting when both worlds combine in the form of talks and other live events. IVY, a membership-based social community with a purpose of lifelong learning aimed to ignite young minds, hosts a myriad of events, spanning business networking, talks, and wellness. For their next salon discussion in NYC, they are hosting an evening with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, of the globally famed Morimoto restaurant portfolio.

In his salon event, Chef Morimoto will discuss his newly released book, Mastering The Art of Japanese Home Cooking in a Q&A style, his road from chef to world-renowned restauranteur, and conduct a book signing for attendees to wrap up the event.

Are you a fan of Chef Morimoto, Japanese cuisine, entrepreneurs, or do you just love books? Want a chance to win a signed copy of his new book? Hit us up on social media and tell us why you should win, and be creative! Let us know about new skills you want to learn in the kitchen, food history, anything that stands out. Be sure to include the following in your tweets/Instagram posts/Facebook posts:

  • Your testimonial as why you should win a signed copy of Chef Morimoto’s new book. Extra points for photos!
  • Social handles: @alifeinthedayof | @IVYConnect | @chef_morimoto
  • Hashtag: #IVYConnect or #TheSocialUniversity

If you reside in NYC or the surrounding area and want to attend the salon event, check out the IVY website to become a member. Good luck to you!

Celebrate Italian Heritage Month with Cacio e Pepe & Stemmari Nero d’Avola

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe & Stemmari Nero d’Avola 2013

October is Italian Heritage Month, and to properly celebrate, I wanted to share one of my favorite pasta dishes paired with an excellent red wine. On National Pasta Day (October 17th) I decided to chef up Cacio e Pepe, a Roman dish which literally translates to “cheese and pepper”, that is comprised of a thin pasta, Pecorino cheese, and black pepper. My wine pairing was a  bottle of Stemmari Nero d’Avola 2013 that was sent from their PR company.

Nero d’Avola is an intense red grape harvested in the Agrigento provence of Sicily, marked by its deep ruby red color, bouquet of dark red fruit, and velvety texture on the palate. Given these characteristics, I surmised the peppery quality of the pasta would balance the notes of the wine.

Since I had a box of Barilla Thin Spaghetti to work with, I googled “Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe” and found a great recipe from Olivia’s Cuisine. I did not have the exact ingredients listed in her recipe, mainly the fresh grated Pecorino and Parmigiano Reggiano, so I like to call this “Andrea’s Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe On a Budget”.

Ingredients

My cooking style is very on the fly, always trying to use the ingredients I have at home at the time when hunger strikes. It is much easier to work with what I have got, so when I opened the fridge to see I was out of Parmigiano Reggiano, but had pre-packaged Parmesan cheese, I decided to go forth. Let us get into everything you will need to make this dish.

Tools

  • 1 Large pot to boil pasta
  • 1 Large Saucepan or wok to mix pasta and sauce
  • Tongs

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (box) of Barilla (or any other brand) thin spaghetti
  • 2 tbsp ground black pepper plus extra for serving
  • 6 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 stick of butter unsalted
  • 1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese (can be doubled)
  • Salt to taste

Simple goodness

Now, here are the steps to get you into the world of pasta goodness!

Instructions

  • Fill large pot 3/4 full with water seasoned with a dash of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Boil spaghetti.
  • While the pasta is boiling, toast the black pepper in your saucepan/wok approximately 30 seconds until fragrant. Add olive oil and stick of butter. Once butter is melted, remove from heat and reserve.
  • 2 minutes before spaghetti is al dente, remove from heat. In this case the pasta should cook approximately 7 minutes. Remove from heat, strain pasta and reserve 1- 2 cups of the pasta water.
  • In your saucepan, add a 1/2 cup of pasta water to your pepper/olive oil/butter mixture, stirring in pasta until coated over medium heat. Dash in cheese bit by bit, stirring vigorously to melt cheese and avoid clumps. Repeat these steps until all cheese is blended in and you achieve your desired consistency.
  • Serve immediately in a warm pasta bowl or plate. Add cheese, black pepper, and salt to taste.


Close up

Isn’t this divine? With a prep and cook time of about 20 minutes, this dish is simple pasta with a hearty amount of cheese and intense flavor. Pour up a generous glass of Nero d’Avola (13% ABV, if you were wondering) and you are transported to Italy, if only for the moment.

For more information on Sicilia DOC wines, be sure to head over to their website. Buon Appetito!

 

*Photos by Andrea K. Castillo

Celebrate National Vodka Day With Tips From elit by Stoli Global Brand Ambassador, Brent Lamberti

It seems like everyday there is another “national (insert noun here) day”, but here at A Life In The Day of Andrea, the ones that excite us most are those that celebrate an adult beverage. Lucky for us and the free world, today, October 4th is National Vodka Day!

Here are some fun facts about vodka from the folks at elit by Stolichnaya, to impress your buds later for happy hour:

  •  Vodka is lighter than water – 1 liter of water weighs 1,000 grams while 1 liter of vodka weighs 953 grams
  • Distilled liquor in the Middle Ages was used mainly for medicinal purposes, as well as being an ingredient in the production of gunpowder
  • Contrary to popular belief, vodka can go bad if stored for longer periods of time. Ideally, vodka should be consumed within 12 months of the manufacturing date

We had the opportunity to chat with elit by Stolichnaya Global Brand Ambassador, Brent Lamberti about the right way to drink vodka, and his personal favorite cocktail.

 elit by Stolichnaya National Brand Ambassador, Brent Lamberti

When it comes to vodka, often some of us are reminded of our younger years and the improper way to imbibe. On National Vodka Day, what are your tips for enjoying vodka without the hangover?

As long as you are enjoying elit responsibly, there’s definitely no wrong way to enjoy it. As for hangovers, the best way to avoid them is to drink cocktails with minimal sugar content. The overly sweet cocktails of 10 years ago have been replaced by more sophisticated, spirit forward cocktails. Traditionally in Eastern Europe, the birthplace of vodka, people drank it with food. While vodka pairs perfectly savory appetizers, the food also helps you from over-drinking.

We have got a taste of the LED Martini and The Golden Hour cocktails, but what would you say is your favorite cocktail made with elit by Stolichnaya?

I love an ice-cold Flame of Love cocktail. The Flame of Love is a martini variation from the Rat Pack Era. Substitute Fino Sherry for Dry Vermouth and an orange twist in place of a lemon one. Serve with a side of Jamon Iberico and I think you’ll enjoy National Vodka Day just fine!

The Flame of Love
3 oz elit
1/4 oz fino sherry
3 orange peels

Method: rinse and season a chilled martini glass with the sherry and then discard the excess. Using a match, express and ignite the oils from 2 orange peels so the burned oil coats the inside of the sherry-coated glass. Stir elit with ice until very cold and fine strain into the seasoned glass. Finish with one more flamed orange peel.

For more info on elit by Stolichnaya, head over to their website, or to @elitbystoli for more vodka cocktail and entertaining ideas. Cheers to National Vodka Day!

 

*Photos courtesy of elit by Stolichnaya

Event: Mezcal de la Raza Premium Mezcal Tasting, Columbus Day @ Astor Center in NYC

When it comes to the world of spirits, would you say you are familiar with mezcal? Some call it the “smokier cousin of tequila” which is just scratching the surface. This comparison is often made as like tequila, mezcal is also produced from the agave plant. In the United States, mezcal is more of a novelty spirit, but the folks behind Mezcal de la Raza have the mission of breaking those barriers down.

To be held on Columbus Day at Astor Center in NYC, Mezcal de la Raza is a premium mezcal tasting like no other, offering a curated selection of over 30 mezcals from 20 producers in all nine states of Mexico which legally produce the spirit.

Featured brands include:

Cielo Rojo Sotol
Del Maguey, Single Village Mezcal
Mezcal Derrumbes
Mezcal Don Amado
Mezcal El Jolgorio
Espíritu Lauro
Koch el Mezcal de Oaxaca
La Venenosa Raicilla
Mezcales de Leyenda
Mezcal Marca Negra
Mezcalero mezcal
Nuestra Soledad Mezcal
Ochocientos sotol
Mezcal Pierde Almas
Sotol Por Siempre
Mezcal Real Minero
Rey Campero
Mezcal Vago

In addition to the tasting, seminars will be held, focused on food pairing, cocktail creation, and the history and production behind the spirit.

  • Food Pairing Workshop with Yana Volfson of Cosme NYC: discover how different varieties of mezcal express themselves with cuisine
  • Behind The Bar with Alex Valencia of La Contenta NYC: cocktails, glassware, and presentation
  • Production, Culture and Myth with Tess Rose Lampert of PalateTrip: take a trip from the earliest known evidence of distillation through to the modern day

Tickets are available now, with a number of price ranges for the full event, tasting only, and single seminars. Today is the last day for early bird tickets for the full event, for $60, with the price going up to $75 thereafter. Be sure to scoop up your tickets here, and I hope to see you there!

Mezcal de la Raza
Monday, October 10, 2016
2:30 – 6:30 PM
Astor Center
399 Lafayette St.
New York, NY 10003

Take A Bite: Burgers & Bloggers at Harlem Shake’s El Barrio Outpost


Harlem Shake’s new El Barrio location

When it comes to food, I like to call myself a bit of an explorer, but nothing satisfies my hunger like a nice juicy burger. At the end of August my blogger bud Mary, of Mary in Manhattan informed me that she was organizing a blogger meet-up aptly called “Burgers & Bloggers”, and in true Andrea fashion, I agreed to be a part of it, without even knowing the location. Once the date was set, I was all about it. The location of our meet up? The newly opened Harlem Shake location in East Harlem, more affectionately known as El Barrio, reflecting the majority Latino residents.

We met up in the afternoon of Saturday, September 10th, on quite possibly one of the hottest days of the season. I was running a little bit behind as weekend subway service is always a hassle because of construction and detours, but I managed to make it in the last hour, and get the lowdown on the restaurant and its unique menu items and decor.


Interior view

Like its West Side counterpart on W. 124th St & Lenox Ave., the new restaurant is decorated to evoke the diner/ice cream parlor style of yesteryear, featuring a bevy of seating options by the bar, large booths, and smaller tables and chairs.


Jet Mag covers

Staying true to the neighborhood, the main dining area hosts a “Wall of Fame” of autographed photos of some of your favorite people, and a wall of Afros. When you turn the corner to head to the restroom, there is one entirely decorated with Jet Magazine “wallpaper”, and the other covered in all of the covers of Marvel’s Luke Cage comic book.


45 coasters?

At our booth, a range of 45 records were placed in the center, I believe to be used as coasters. It freaked me out a little because as an audiophile, the music picks were splendid and the vinyl was still in very good condition to play, but I digress. Now that you have a picture and feel of the space, let’s get to the food!

Harlem Shake is known for their delicious high-quality beef burgers, made from Pat LaFrieda beef, and their handmade, organic milkshakes made from Blue Marble ice cream.


Signature “Poppin Parcha” Milkshake

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#ALifeInTheDayInBelize: In Times of Chaos, Respite in Tobacco Caye

A view of Tobacco Caye

Writing about my travels is one of my favorite topics to cover on A Life In The Day of Andrea as I always include the photos I shoot whilst abroad. I must admit, I have not been very inspired lately in the realm of photography, and I knew that another trip with family to Belize would solve it. For ten days in August, I visited Belize with my parents, making it my eighth trip to the motherland. I brought my computer, but for the first time ever, I did not turn it on, and really took my time in the country as a serious vacation.

We had not made any concrete plans, but knew we would stay in Belize City for a bit of time, and venture south to Dangriga, where my mother’s cousin Sherry and her husband Warren live. For me, the spontaneous trips are some of the best. Whilst in Dangriga, enjoying nature and sipping on the freshest of coconut water, we were able to set up a day trip to Tobacco Caye with family friends; one who chartered a boat (as that is the only way to get there), and one who owned a property on the caye. My parents and I had never been to the caye, so for me, it was something new and exciting for us all to experience together.

Broken dock at Tobacco Caye

Belize as a nation was hit pretty badly by Hurricane Earl in early August, and its path was seen throughout the city and towns, with a plethora of debris, damaged docks, and structural damage to houses and buildings. Despite this, the people remained resilient, carrying on daily life and working through the destruction. At Tobacco Caye, Earl was present, mainly in the damaged docks, but aside from this, it was quite peaceful. Unlike larger caye destinations like Ambergris Caye where San Pedro is, and Caye Caulker, Tobacco Caye is tiny; stretching approximately three acres in the protected waters of the South Water Caye Marine Reserve which is a part of the Belize Barrier Reef.

After Earl

We took the approximately 10 mile boat trip from Dangriga to Tobacco Caye in a group of eight family members and friends. As it was a day trip, we brought all of our provisions to make a proper Belizean breakfast, juices and coffee included, as well as lunch. A standard Belizean breakfast consists of fried jacks (a fried bread similar to bake in Trinidad) with a side of guava jelly, refried beans, scrambled eggs, juice and coffee.

Making fried jacks

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Take A Bite & Sip: Henri’s Backyard in Park Slope

Henri’s Backyard

The dog days of summer in Brooklyn, New York call for many things; proper air conditioning, delicious eats, cold drinks + adult beverages, sun, and great company. What if you could get all of these things in one place, and if you live near the South Central region of BK, just with a quick trip on the train or by car? Yes, it is possible.

Say hello to Henri’s Backyard, the laid-back sister restaurant of Henri on Fifth. It is the second Brooklyn-based dining spot from Binh Douglas of the HENRI Hospitality Group.

Indoor seating & bar

Located on 4th Avenue between President & Carroll Streets in Park Slope (or Gowanus, if you prefer), the bar-centric eatery is easily accessible from the Prospect Expressway and Union St. R-Train station. I attended the media preview earlier this month, and arrived cool and in style via Uber. I was working in Bushwick that day, so it was perfect that we had Uber codes for the event, or else it would have taken near an hour of commute time. To my surprise, I was the first guest to arrive (which never happens, in life) and because of this, I was treated to a nice little tour from Kayla, who handled all press for the event. I also bumped into one of my college friends, Erin, who works at the restaurant and created the indoor & outdoor stencil artwork for the establishment.

The backyard

As it was a muggy day, and I tend to get flustered really quickly, I was immediately treated to a cocktail from mixologist Leon. More on cocktails later. I sipped on my cold beverage as I learned more about the owners, food & drink menu, former business in the space (vegetarian eatery Pickle Shack), and was able to meet the chef.

Walking through and arriving at the backyard, in which the restaurant is named, was a delight! Its simple design featuring wooden plank flooring, no nonsense tables, aluminum chairs, and rattan benches evoke summer vibes all year round. What about the colder months, you ask? They’ve got that covered, with a retractable roof/awning that will keep patrons warm and dry when the weather cools up again.

Cocktail menu

A key feature of the backyard, aside from its cool city oasis feel, is a full bar, with 18 lines of beer on tap. Sure to satisfy even the most discerned drinker!

Now, let’s get back to cocktails, as that is how I began my evening. Seen above is the full signature cocktail list for Henri’s Backyard. As I love glamour and excess (or whatever) I began my evening with the S.O.B. which along with bourbon and a mixed berry purée with citrus, was topped off with champagne. Throughout the evening, I ended up sampling all cocktails, but of course, there was one that stood out.

Backyard Boogie cocktail 

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From A Fan’s Perspective: Yuna Wows at #UberSummerSeries at Hotel Indigo in NYC

On the evening of Monday, July 18th, I had the pleasure of attending #UberSummerSeries at Hotel Indigo in NYC’s Lower East Side. The event series is a partnership between Uber, Perrier USA, and Hotel Indigo to highlight the music industry’s brightest talent in an intimate live show at sunset. Last month hosted the souled out sounds of Jhene Aiko, and the July edition featured none other than my favorite Malay songstress, Yuna. For those that have been following the blog and my various social media channels over the years, you would know that I am a HUGE Yuna fan. She is the first artist that I have covered in a From A Fan’s Perspective review twice, and rightfully so, because she deserves it.

Held in Hotel Indigo’s rooftop restaurant & lounge Mr. Purple, the evening was a mix of industry folks and fans alike, who were able to win entrance into the show through requesting “YUNA” in their Uber app between the hours of 6 – 7 PM. Refreshments were provided by Perrier and bites including hand-rolled sushi & kale salad were provided by Uma Temakeria. I was invited super last minute by my buddy Jay from UMG, but was super excited to see Yuna perform tracks from her new LP, Chapters.

Yuna touched the stage minutes after 7:30 PM for a set that was about 30 minutes long. Although many in the audience were a bit loud in their conversations, Yuna’s soothing voice soared over the noise. Not only did she perform songs from Chapters, but from her previous projects Nocturnal, Decorate, and her self-titled debut. I sang along to every word and joked with my friends that I would be available to be a back-up singer if necessary. The acoustic renditions of her songs were perfect for the time of day, featuring guitar, upright bass, drums, and percussion.

My favorite moments of the evening? Performances of the tracks “Lanes” (FAVE), “I Want You Back”, “Crush”, “Decorate”, and oldie-but-goodie “Live Your Life.” Wait, that may have actually been her entire set, with the exception of a song or two. Another key moment of the evening was when my bud Jason, who was there filming for Vibe, handed me his camera and told me to take photos; the ones that you see throughout this post. In my quest to become a better writer, especially music writer & journalist, I oftentimes push my photography skills to the back burner, as my camera is a bit outdated. Working with Jason’s fancy Canon Mark III was definitely a confidence boost, and I hope the photos show that.

In concluding her performance, Yuna was whisked off to conduct interviews with various media outlets that were present. Guests that wanted to hang a little longer were treated to a DJ with the most fire Drake set, more cocktails, and a GORGEOUS sunset.

As I am days away from celebrating my 30th year on this Earth (July 24), I am super grateful for moments like these. Way to start off the festivities right!

*All photos by Andrea K. Castillo

Need Some Jerk In Your Life? Miss Lily’s SoHo’s Got You Covered Monday Nights

Jerk vibezzzzzzz

Summer in New York City is in full effect, and all of my favorite things are on the radar; free concerts, chilling in the park, dance parties, and of course, a plethora of barbecue options. As a purveyor of everything NYC and Caribbean, summer in the city for me is filled with reggae music, corn, and jerk chicken.

Our friends at super-popular Jamaican restaurant Miss Lily’s (in SoHo) feel my sentiments, and are offering a unique special all summer. Every Monday night in the summer, the restaurant is offering all-you-can-eat jerk chicken, jerk pork, jerk corn, and watermelon salad for the awesome price of $25 plus tax & gratuity! This is a great deal as main courses go for about the same price. Peep the info below.

Want to get your jerk on? Make sure to head over to Miss Lily’s on a Monday evening to get your fix for #misslilysjerkfest.

Miss Lily’s SoHo

132 West Houston Street (at Sullivan Street)

New York, NY 10012

 

*Photos courtesy of Miss Lily’s

Celebrating The Launch Of The Laughing Cow Cheese Dippers With A Special Soar & Savor Evening at Trapeze School New York

Laughing Cow Cheese Dippers

To celebrate the launch of their new on-the-go Creamy Swiss Cheese Dippers, The Laughing Cow hosted a unique “Soar & Savor” event at Trapeze School New York, right off the Hudson River for NYC-area press and food bloggers. I attended the event back in May as The Laughing Cow team is awesome to work with, and always provide an awesome experience for attendees. I have never tried the trapeze before, so I was just as excited to try something new, and soar through the air.

The trapeze

The day was quite overcast and I feared rain would appear, but the weather stayed calm for the evening of bites, sips, and high soaring. I was immediately greeted by the team upon arrival and got the lowdown on the evening’s schedule, and was encouraged to have some snacks before my trapeze lesson and experience.

Food galore

I had eaten a pretty hefty lunch prior, so looking at food at this point felt like gluttony, but it was so pretty! There was a crudite platter with various cauliflower varieties, celery, peppers and carrots, potato & tortilla chips, two varieties of guacamole (pea and asparagus based), and miniature sandwiches for all dietary requirements. Cheese Dippers were sprinkled throughout the space, of course.

Beverages

Beverage choices were just as great as the snacks, featuring lemonade, hibiscus tea, citrus-infused water, and basil lemonade. The basil lemonade was my favorite as it had the perfect blend of citrus and sweet, with a hint of herbaceous quality from the basil.

Observe the facial expression

It was finally my time to soar the skies, and we were given all the info we needed from the experts at Trapeze School. They gave us tips on how to stay up in the air and properly dismount. Anxiety slowly started to ease in once I was strapped into my harness, but I told myself constantly that it would be fun!

We added our names to the whiteboard, and of course I ended up being last on the list. I must say, walking up the ladder was one of the hardest parts for me. Once I was up, looking down gave me a small scare, but once I let go, I felt so free!

Letting go

To feel the wind across my body as I moved so freely through the air was a wonderful feeling. I was having a tough few days, so to try something new and truly let go was a great feeling. I managed to do all the turns in air, and dismount safely.

The dismount

The high I got from the experience was totally infectious, and I proceeded to take flight two more times after my initial try. Who would have thought that something so new would end up being so exhilarating. Many thanks to the team at Laughing Cow for putting together such an awesome event with great snacks. Be sure to check out the Cheese Dippers next time you visit the grocery store. Perfect for those busy days, and a great solution for those hungry times we all experience.

 

*All photos, unless marked, courtesy of TheLaughing Cow

#ALifeInTheDayInRhodeIsland: Farm To Table Amplified At Matunuck Oyster Bar

Views

The summer season is finally upon us, and you know what that means; time to plan travel and getaways while the weather is nice. As a Brooklyn girl, I have been spoiled over the years with all the free summer programming NYC has to offer throughout the season, but sometimes, you just need to get away. A getaway does not necessarily have to be a flight or week away, but even a day or two in different scenery right here on the East Coast.

Just last week I was invited by the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation for an exclusive day trip for press to explore the attractions in the South County district. Focused on food, shopping, and luxury accommodations, the itinerary was filled with great attractions that were just on time for me as I was in need of a getaway. I was really excited that it was a small group of four bloggers in total, along with our guides Alexa and Jennifer from Havas PR.

I took the Amtrak train into Westerly, RI from Penn Station and was greeted by the crew in a black sprinter van. It was there that I met Alexa and Jennifer, as well as fellow bloggers Asha of Fork Spoon Knife, Martha of A Family Feast, and Richard of The Passionate Foodie. We chatted a bit and were right off to our first destination of the day, Matunuck Oyster Bar.

Located in South Kingstown, Matunuck is special as it is not solely an oyster bar & restaurant, but an oyster farm as well. Upon our arrival, we met with Perry Raso, an oyster farmer for decades and owner of the establishment. He took us on a tour of the restaurant and gave us the history of the land and the oyster farming industry as a whole.

On the boat with Perry

After our mini-tour of the restaurant’s interior, we headed back outside to Perry’s boat that he takes out on the water to farm and catch oysters. The weather was pristine, sunny and in the low 80s, making the temperature on the water somewhere in the mid to high 70s. We set out and got a firsthand glance of all the different types of oysters that the farm raises, as well as a select few scallops.

Fresh oyster

The water itself was quite shallow, with Perry jumping in every few minutes to show us the different types of oysters, along with the method in which they are raised. We were able to hold oysters in our hand, which I thought was really cool, before we put them back in the water.

On our tour of the oyster farm, Perry informed us that the grounds had a vegetable farm as well, making Matunuck not only pond to plate, but farm to table as well.

Vegetable farm

We took approximately a ten-minute ride up the pond to the vegetable farm, enduring a few splashes en route to our destination. Once off the boat, we took a short walk up the hill to be greeted with a sprawling green pasture of fresh, organic vegetables. The farm was so serene, and I snapped away to capture the moment.

Rows of greens

There were rows and rows of greens, including spinach, mustard greens, arugula, lettuce, and edible flowers. Walking around in awe as one day I hope to have my own farm, Perry gave us a sample of a variety of purple asparagus straight from the Earth. I took a bite and was immediately wowed. It was so fresh with a bit of sweetness towards the root, unlike the normally bitter green asparagus.

I could have personally ended the tour after the farm, but you know what was up next, LUNCH!

Like it raw?

We took the boat back to the pier and were seated shortly after our arrival on the outdoor deck for dining al fresco. The restaurant is very popular and had filled up while we were on our tours, on a weekday afternoon at that. Our waitress poured us all glasses of water, and Perry informed us that he would send out a few appetizers for us to try.

We started off with the oyster sampler, which included twelve raw local oysters. The freshness was exquisite and the brininess of the salt water was just perfect.

Trio

Next up was a trio, including from the left, the Clams Casino (eight littlenecks with a buttery bacon & bread crumb topping), Oysters Rockefeller (six oysters baked with Pernod, spinach, bacon, breadcrumbs & fresh herbs), and Bourbon Oysters (six broiled Matunuck oysters with a Bourbon chipotle sauce). The flavors of all three were quite enjoyable, but the Bourbon oysters were by far my favorite as they were a bit lighter than the others, and had a unique, smoky and sweet aftertaste.

Rosé all day

A meal is not complete without a good wine. As we were eating mainly seafood, I felt a rosé would pair well with all the offerings. The rosé was a dryer variety, not too sweet, similar to the varieties of Provence, and paired very nicely with my appetizers.

Scallop ceviche

Now it was time to place our individual orders. I didn’t want to get too crazy, so I figured an appetizer, salad, and a main would suffice, and would save me from a food coma. Up first was the Scallop Ceviche. Being Belizean-American, I am a ceviche snob as my family makes shrimp or conch ceviche when it is in season. When I tell you this scallop ceviche was OUT OF BOUNDS, I mean it.

A generous portion of scallop was served atop a clam shell, paired with mango salsa that included cilantro, lime, and peppers, and crispy wonton chips. The scallop melted in your mouth as you ate it, and the chips provided a perfect textural mashup.

Arugula Strawberry Salad

Up next for me was the Arugula Strawberry Salad, comprised of some of my favorite things: Matunuck Farm’s arugula, fresh sliced strawberries, sherry black pepper vinaigrette, balsamic reduction and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The flavors were splendid and refreshing. As it was a bit breezy out, some of my Parmigiano flew off my plate. I laughed, and continued eating.

Lobster Roll

I went back and forth deciding on a main because the normal menu and specials menu had so many incredible offerings. As I was in New England for the day, I decided to keep it local and go for the Lobster Roll. The meal consisted of chilled lobster meat, lightly dressed with mayonnaise and chopped celery on a grilled buttery split top roll. My eyes widened when I was served as the amount of lobster in the roll was astounding. I took a bite and it was like a lobster explosion; chunks falling onto my side salad and hand-cut fries.

For my first lobster roll in New England, this was off the chain! The lobster was so fresh, and the accompanying flavors were incredibly light, making the lobster the star of the show.

My experience at Matunuck Oyster Bar was just lovely, from Perry and staff, down to every offering on a plate. This will be hard to top! When in Rhode Island, definitely stop by. You won’t regret it!

 

Matunuck Oyster Bar

629 Succotash Road

Phone: 401.783.4202

 

*All photos by Andrea K. Castillo for A Life in the Day of Andrea

I received a complimentary trip and meals for my review

Lazy AF But Want A Bomb Margarita This Cinco de Mayo? Try These From José Cuervo

Authentic Cuervo Margarita Flavors

Today is Cinco de Mayo, the day that commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). Although the holiday is generally another day in Mexico, with the exception of the state of Puebla that holds military parades and other festive events, it is a huge celebration of Mexican-American heritage in the United States.

Here, Mexican culture is on full display, mainly its music, cuisine and popular spirit of choice, tequila. Maybe you plan on throwing some shots or margaritas back at a local bar this evening with your buddies, but how about those who like to entertain at home? José Cuervo has the perfect option for you, with no shakers and bar tools necessary.

Enter the Authentic Cuervo Margarita, a ready-to-serve margarita made exclusively with Cuervo Gold tequila. Available in six flavors: classic lime, strawberry lime, mango, watermelon, grapefruit-tangerine, and coconut-pineapple, there is sure to be a variety to suit your taste. The best part? All you have to do is load up your glass with your desired amount of ice, pour, and serve. Check out some of the flavors below.
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Take A Bite & Sip: Dinner & Cocktails at Earls Lincoln Park in Chicago

Setting and menu

Back in mid-November I had the opportunity to head out to Chicago with my cousin Lauren, and some friends. Having never been to the Windy City, I was really excited to head out, although for just two days, to explore a bit of the city’s famed food culture.

I had previously interviewed executive Stephen Andrews about the newest opening of Earls Kitchen + Bar in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and I found this quick trip to be the perfect time to stop into the restaurant to eat, drink, and be merry.

B-flat by Ricky Alvarez, #ArtOfEarls

The restaurant was situated in a hip shopping and dining area in Lincoln Park right on North Clybourn Ave. The space was quite large, with a lovely outdoor dining space, specially equipped with weatherproof furniture, fire pits, and heating lamps to keep guests warm when it is brisk out. Upon entering, the aesthetics of the exterior melded into the main dining room, featuring two bars, one massive with all around seating for those that prefer a more casual outing, and a smaller bar near the entrance to cater to patrons present for a sit down dinner, or more formal outing.

Muddy Waters by Erik den Breejen, #ArtOfEarls

Unique artwork was ever present, including a huge wall installation in the bar area entitled B-flat by Vancouver-based artist Ricky Alvarez, which was created using a plethora of trumpets. Also of note was the Muddy Waters collage by Erik den Breejen in the main dining room, comprised of Muddy Waters lyrics that create a portrait of the famed Chicago musician.

The staff greeted us, gave us the lowdown on the space and Earls as a chain, and quickly seated my cousin and I at a dining table. We were given a full description of items on the menu, and were treated to all courses. Here is what we ate!

Appetizers

We began our evening with appetizers to share, and specialty cocktails. We shared three appetizers including the Korean Hot Wings, Dynamite Roll which was made of shrimp,  mango and avocado sushi, sriracha mayo, black sesame and unagi maple, and a Corn poblano dip topped with jalapeño and served with fried bread. Everything was delicious, but the wings were definitely off the chain, containing the perfect amount of sweet and spice.

Bees Knees cocktail

Cocktails came our way about every fifteen minutes, and I can definitely say that I was tipsy by the end of the evening.  I will highlight my favorites, one being the Bees Knees cocktail above. Comprised of Aviation Gin, Cointreau, honey, fresh lemon, and angostura bitters, I was quite surprised that I loved this cocktail so much as it was gin based. I usually go for rum or tequila based drinks.  I had two of these.

Paloma cocktail

The Paloma cocktail was a not-so-classic Paloma recipe, comprised of Espolon Reposado Tequila, fresh lime juice and Jarritos Mexican grapefruit soda. Both Lauren and I enjoyed this cocktail as it was super fresh, not too sweet, with a deep tequila flavor. Reminiscent of a vacation somewhere tropical, like Tulum.

My entree: Salmon

Entrees were so hard to pick as all the offerings were amazing, but our plan of action was to pick two completely different plates so we could share. We went the surf & turf route, with Lauren choosing a Chimichurri Skirt Steak, and me choosing a Mediterranean infused Salmon plate.

The earthiness of my dish muted my salmon in a nice way. The grains, legumes, and tomato-based sauce that the salmon steak laid upon brought about a medley of flavors to the salmon that I was not used to, but in an exciting way.

Lauren’s entree: Chimichurri Skirt Steak

Lauren’s chimichurri skirt steak was just delectable. The Earls chain only uses the best beef, “Certified Humane Creekstone Farms Black Angus Beef free of antibiotics with no added hormones”, and boy does it show. Served in an iron skillet, the beef was so fresh and tender, cooked perfectly with baby potatoes, and pan roasted cherry tomatoes. I can definitely see now why this is a favorite among patrons.

Lemon Meringue cocktail

As with our appetizers, more cocktails came with dinner. A standout for me was the Lemon Meringue cocktail. Comprised of Skyy Vodka, Limoncello, and meringue foam, the cocktail tasted almost as good as Lauren’s mother’s family famous lemon meringue pie. A feat indeed.

Silly Wabbit cocktail

Lauren’s favorite cocktail of the evening, which I also enjoyed, was the Silly Wabbit. Comprised of vodka and fresh carrot juice with a few other ingredients, Lauren described the drink as a “nice cool breeze” and gave her that feeling you get after having a great work out at the gym. The carrot juice makes you feel super healthy, but don’t be fooled; the vodka has a kick!

Sticky Chocolate Toffee Pudding

And then came dessert. We had a bit of a sampling. The pumpkin pie was delectable and reminiscent of something your grandma would make. Spiced just right and topped with fresh whipped cream, it was a treat. The Sticky Chocolate Toffee Pudding was a staff favorite, so we decided to try it as well. The combination of warm pudding cake atop chocolate and toffee sauces, paired with vanilla ice cream was pretty much the best of both worlds. I like the balance of sweetness and textures.

Upon completing our meal, we were greeted with, you guessed it, more cocktails, and treated to a unique tour of the restaurant’s kitchen and prep spaces with Senior Sous Chef, Jovahn Sandhu.

Saucy!

Since I am a complete food and kitchen nerd, the kitchen tour may have been even more exciting than the food and cocktails! Jovahn introduced us to the kitchen staff, and showed us all of their stations; every thing from sauce and condiment prep, to meats, to baked goods and more.  It was really intriguing to see how many moving parts are needed to get the final meal on your plate at super fast speed.

Even more exciting for me, was taking a step into the refrigerators. I cannot truly gauge the amount of square footage the refrigerators took up, but with racks and product, you could still fit a small dance party of folks within. Above you see all the containers of sauces, that are prepped fresh each day before dawn.

Zests for cocktails

As I am a bit of a cocktail snob, it was great for me to see where all of the zests for the cocktails you saw above, and more, were stored. These things that may seem so small, are so important to the diner’s overall experience from a taste and time perspective. I was so geeked it was probably embarrassing, especially as my drinks were starting to hit me during the tour. Despite all this, Jovahn and crew were super detailed and helpful, giving me all the information I was seeking, and then some.

Cousins!

We finished our tour with some insight on the bar culture of Earls from Lounge Manager, Taylor Happy, who had been present throughout our meal, helping with suggestions. He showed us the outdoor seating and fire pit, as well as the outdoor seating near the entrance. With a garage door between the inside and outside, summer patrons can feel like a part of the indoor action with a quick raise of the door.

When in downtown Chicago, definitely make a stop at Earls Kitchen + Bar. With a menu to appeal to all tastes and a friendly, knowledgeable staff, it is sure to be a dining experience you will never forget!

 

Earls Kitchen + Bar, Lincoln Park

1538 North Clybourn Avenue, Unit A108, Chicago IL
Get directions via Google maps
tel.   312-929-3952   fax.   312-929-4049

 

All photos by Andrea K. Castillo

I received a complimentary meal at Earls Kitchen + Bar.

Walks Of New York Delights Foodies With The Official Mario Batali™ Greenwich Village Food Tour

Are you a lover of Italian food? Do you love to explore local gems? Do you live in, or will be visiting New York City soon? If you have answered yes to all of  the previous questions, I have got a treat for you. Walks of New York, the walking tour company that helps New Yorkers and tourists alike discover the varied history and culture of the city, has recently launched the Official Mario Batali™ Greenwich Village Food Tour.

I was invited to take the tour myself from the company, and of course, jumped at the opportunity. I have long been a fan of Batali’s work and authentic approach to food, so I was excited to take the tour to discover more about his food and the home to his restaurants, the Greenwich Village.

Washington Square Park arch

The meeting point for my morning tour was right under the arch of Washington Square Park. It was there on that sun-filled morning that I met Simona, my incredible guide for the tour. Originally from Rome and living in New York City for a few years now, Simona was very well-versed in all Italian cuisine from a historical context right up to the present.

I got some insight on the neighborhood of Greenwich Village, and its history as a stomping ground for Italian immigrants. We took a bit of a walk through time, and I am here to share all of my stops with you.

Special menu for Walks of New York

Our first stop on the tour was Batali’s famed pizzeria, Otto. Nestled on the unassuming 8th Street right off of Fifth Ave, the restaurant opened a little earlier especially for us. Upon arrival, we took a seat by a bright window, and had a little tasting of some of the menu offerings.

A glimpse of the offerings

I nibbled on various cheeses, a fresh arugula and cherry tomato salad, sliced salami, perfectly cooked lentils, stewed apricots with chili flakes, and a bruschetta unlike any other. It was really amazing to get schooled on cheese by Simona, and why different varieties get their specific taste. Along with the nibbles  and brick-oven pizzas, Otto has an extensive wine list and education program.

Florence Prime Meat Market from curbside

Our next stop on the walking tour was Florence Prime Meat Market. The old-school butcher shop has been providing the best cuts of meat to the community since 1936. Once inside it feels like you are transported to yesteryear through black and white photos, and some original signage.

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