Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wandering Dago: The Fabulous Food Truck

No you have not entered an alternate reality....a food truck...I'm raving about a food truck. And please forgive me if I might be a little nonsensical, I'm still on a little bit of food euphoria at the moment. 

So this is how it went down. Steve Barnes posted on his Table Hopping blog this morning that the Wandering Dago food truck was now offering milkshakes. The Reese's Chocolate Peanut Butter one spoke to me...I mean for real, it was like a voice from the sky that said, "Michelle....get in the car now and find this milkshake."...So not one to argue with the voice in the sky, I promptly called Chef Rachel and off we went in  search of the truck.

Now let me back up for a minute. I met Brandon Snooks the owner/operator of the Wandering Dago about 2 months ago when he volunteered to help me out on a charity event.  Well long story short, Brandon got stuck in the car with his now two favorite yentas (Donna Purnomo & I) for a solid hour. We later roped him into some letter writing duties and finally sent him home in dire need of a stiff martini. But I digress...

Anyway, the Wandering Dago was parked in front of Vicarious Visions in Menands. It kind of moves around so you have to follow them on twitter, @wanderingdago , or check their website schedule to know where to find them each day. So we stepped up to the happy little food truck and placed our order, mind you having never been to a food truck before I kind of peeked inside and took note that everything was super shiny and clean....yes I know I sound like a snob, but hey I lived in Manhattan for a decade and if you ever saw what a foodcart (not truck, there's a difference) in the City looked like, you would check too. 

Let's get down to business though shall we. I had the Triple B, a truck made black bean burger with guacamole, tomato, red onion, greens and red wine BBQ sauce on a super-fabulous Villia Italia Ciabatta roll. Holy schnickeys, this was good stuff. It was moist and dynamic, just really delicious. You know how most veggie burgers taste like some variation of cardboard, well this was not that. It had nice flavor balance with a little kick, great texture, loved the addition of guac to it and served on a really good roll. Then we add into play, the Reese's Milkshake. Folks I don't know what they did to this milkshake but honest to god, it was mind-blowingly  amazing. Simply said peanut-buttery chocolatey deliciousness. 

Rachel had the American Idiot, an applewood smoked pulled pork sandwich topped with fennel and cabbage slaw and red wine BBQ sauce on a Villa Italia Ciabatta roll, along with a classic vanilla milkshake. She reports that it was, "tangy & sweet with lots of meat" and that the shake and sandwich were "yummy & delicious."

So Brandon asked what the verdict was...well my new friend, it was FABULOUS. I know that I write a lot about the high end places, but I think I say one thing pretty consistently that transcends restaurant type. In fact I don't care if it's a white table cloth , fine dining restaurant or a food truck in this case, simple food done well is the best food you'll ever eat. When food is prepared with love, using quality ingredients and good technique you just can't go wrong. This was spot on delicious, a highlight of my week in food. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Introducing Javier's Nuevo Latino Cuisine

Let's set the scene shall we....The night was November 12, 2012 at Yono's. Dominick Purnomo had assembled a star studded cast of chefs, guest sommeliers and maitre d' Javier Rodriguez for a benefit for those in NYC affected by Superstorm Sandy. The first time I  noticed Javier was just about 3rd course when as he was zipping through the dining room, he saw out of the corner of his eye that I hadn't been served, and did a 180 with the speed of Balanchine ballerina. Now in all fairness to the staff, I did have a special and no one dropped the ball, mine just hadn't arrived yet. But I thought to myself how remarkable it was that he noticed...huh...who was this guy in a full-on tux, that knew proper service. I was curious, I may have even raised an eyebrow. I wouldn't be left to wonder long though because shortly after that he was on the microphone talking about his experience with Sandy. Now that was November and this is May; the one thing I distinctly remember him saying was how good it felt to put his tux back on, after all the weeks they had been closed. Javier talked with a love of the business, of his restaurant and his craft.....there is a reason this guy is Maitre d' of the Year, his passion for hospitality is unparalleled. 

That night Javier and I got to talking, and he told me that he was thinking about opening a restaurant locally. It sounded like a fantastic idea to me, but where would it be, who would be the chef. Well I guess we were all supposed to meet that night. I was surprised to see Brian Bowden who had just left Creo, at the dinner as Chef sightings at events are pretty rare, though not unheard of. The match was made though, Javier had his Chef. 

Fast forward to April...I had seen the renovation in progress, had attended a few small private events, had watched it evolve; it was evident that each element was thought about, selected with care and was finally ready to be revealed. I think what's remarkable in the transformation is that the restaurant is now infused with Javier's style, warmth of personality and understated elegance. The energy has changed as much as the decor; it is welcoming yet sophisticated, and the formality is not an overdone's simply a natural way of being. 

Chef Brian Bowden could not have been a better pick. Chef Brian is all about quality, he is a all about super fresh..and yes I'm going to make some sweeping assumptions...but it seems to me like he's about pushing the envelope, not for the sake of being cutting edge but for the love of the craft. Chef Brian was foraging before it was a buzz word and using ingredients that no one except a select few were using in this area. He's a pretty stellar guy in his own right too. So you know I was beyond excited to see what this pair would create. Then add the research trips to NYC, Maimi and Costa Rica into the mix and well did they ever deliver. 

I had been waiting for the ceviche, knew it was going to be on the menu. I love ceviche but I'm spoiled because I grew up eating it in the Caribbean, which has it's own distinct style similar to Costa Rican. Chef Brian's was spot on, exactly the memory I had on my palate. It was fresh & vibrant, bright clear flavors of lime, cilantro and cucumber each standing on their own. Served with the crispy tortilla chip with just the right amount of salt, can I just give a nod to the balance of this dish. It was literally perfect.

Then it was time for one of my other favorites....the fish taco. It was definitely as it should be, the tempura cod has a crisp exterior, the salsa verde contrasted nicely with the creaminess of the chipotle ranch. It was very nice done and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

My companions had the heirloom tomato salad and both had the turkey burger. Interestingly the turkey burger was served with strawberries on the side and topped with avocado. Both of my friends (gentlemen mind you) raved about it, they said it was a fantastic pairing of the fruit with the burger.

We finished off with a bite of tres leches cake drizzled in salted caramel. The sweetness against the salted caramel was just right. Such a nice end to wonderful lunch...and of course no detail overlooked, s tiny plate of chocolate covered Costa Rican espresso beans landed on our table.

I'm making a prediction, and you
heard it here first, Javier's is going to become a Saratoga institution. Best of luck to Javier Rodriguez & Chef Brian Bowden!
 Javier's Nuevo Latino Cuisine is located at 17 Maple Street in Saratoga Springs

Eating Eataly

If going to Le Cirque was the temple of culinary excellence, then Eataly would most aptly be described as heaven. It is an overwhelmingly brilliant culinary abbodanza of epicurean delights. If you love food the way I do, it kind of makes your brain explode a little when you first walk in....and then it keeps going and going. It is ridiculously amazing; the breadth of selection, the quality of just simply everything and the minutia is not forgotten. Eataly has the feel of European marketplace but at the same time has the distinct intensity that is uniquely New York. 


In my two trips to Eataly I've managed to visit Il Verdure, Il Pesce, La Pizza & La Pasta, Manzo for cocktails and Caffe Verganano....yes I know, it's awesome...then there is the cheese section which is just out of control. So this is game plan, and kind of an insiders tip that I was was given by my companion who holds bragging rights as regular, you take a little tour before you choose a restaurant. Take a look at the market place, see what speaks to you, check out the fish counter, the produce, the pasta...and then go look at the boards at each of the restaurants. For example, when shisito peppers are at Il Verdure, well that's where we are going to start first, it's just the way it is. Or when razor clams are at Il Pesce or I have a hankering for crudo, well that's where we have to go, but not necessarily first. You don't have to commit to just one either, you can hop from restaurant to restaurant. That' s what we do, ordering a few things from each menu and drinking great wine.

I think the beauty of the whole concept is in it's simplicity. It's simple food done well...wait let me correct that...done, really, really well. What I love about Eataly, and the restaurants within, is that the whole place oozes love of food. It is so akin to the way I think and the way I cook, not that I cook anywhere close to these folks, but the theory is the same. Make it simple. If it's a pepper, it should taste like the best pepper you ever ate. It should be beautiful, fresh, perfect, simply prepared. It's like they recognize that the Earth gave us the best, most dynamic, flavorful ingredients we have; that those ingredients prepared with proper technique are vibrant, sometimes bursting forth, somethings subtly enticing, yet always unique and powerful in their own right. Far more then the over contrived plates and sauces of some restaurants. As I think about it, I'd say it takes a certain amount of confidence, of knowing who you are as and the quality that you have, to do what they do. 

For the complete album of photos my visits, check out my Facebook Photos

Executive Chef Position

For my chefs out there looking to make a career move. I have an opportunity for a someone that is looking to grow. This is an Executive Chef position for someone that has strong leadership & administration skills, culinary talent and the vision to take this restaurant to the next level. The client is willing to consider a candidate that would be a first time Exec Chef. If you are are interested, send me your resume and cover letter to All submissions will be confidential.