Sunday, June 28, 2009

Iaria's Italian

Iaria's has been on our list of places to go for quite some time. Between the long running history (since 1933), being featured on Food Network(on Best Of) and the slew of positive reviews, we were very psyched to sample their authentic Italian dishes.

Walking in we were immediately impressed by the down-home kitchy atmosphere. We felt we might as well be in a neighborhood Italian restaurant deep in a New York city burrough. It was packed. We arrived around 7pm on a Tuesday and things were hoppin'. Always a good sign. We were seated immediately.

Assuming the dinner rush was to blame, our waitress was MIA for quite some time, but we took the opportunity to study the menu and plan our course of action. For Ozzy, the kids pasta with butter was a must...per Ozzy. An appetizer of Mate's Mozz had to follow as we longed to find the same incredible fried cheesiness we once experienced in college at Mustard's oh so many years ago. Fred was feeling the bolognese pasta made with beef, yeah! Libby must try the chicken marsala at any first time Italian experience.

When our waitress was finally able to assist us, we ordered the half carafe of chianti...quite a deal at $12 that ended up being about 4 glasses of wine! She also brought out sliced Italian bread (yummy) with butter and explained that we could get either homemade Italian sausage or the meatball with our entrees, minestrone soup, salad, and the marsala could come with spaghetti. Ozzy doesn't eat meat, so Libby ordered the meatball with his entree to be sampled. Fred went with the Italian sausage and Libby opted to up her house salad to a caesar.

The salads were your basic, not so exciting variety. In fact, Libby just plain did not like the caesar. Fred was totally not impressed. We did see a antipasto salad walk by and it looked damn good with eggs and meats piled high. But we were still looking forward to the entrees to come.

The Mate's Mozzarella came out next. An entire ball of mozzarella is sliced, breaded in Italian breadcrumbs and fried in olive oil. Sounds amazing, but was only ok. Gooey and not quite crispy enough, but the saving grace was the wonderful marinara that accompanied it. It needed the marinara. It was sweet with lots of Oregano and heavy on the white wine. It made all the difference.

The food came out fairly quickly and was a smorgasbord of pasta and meats! Plenty of food. Fred's portion of bolognese was quite impressive. He immediately started to ooo and ahhh after the first mouthful. Libby was confused by the marinara on her spaghetti. She had a perfectly good amount of yummy marsala sauce with her chicken that was dying to be sopped up by plain spaghetti. This combo was going to be confusing. Ozzy dove into his buttery pasta with some parmesan and concentrated intently for the remainder of the meal.

Fred was unimpressed with the soup. Libby concurred. It was bland and oddly, we both went for the pepper shaker at the same time...doesn't happen at restaurants much. The bolognese with capellini was meaty with plenty of shank within the sauce to combine with the pound or so of pasta on Fred's plate. It had obviously been many, many hours in the preparation and would stand up to any sauce Mama could make. The Italian sausage was also homemade contained an equal amount of love...finely minced and tender with a delicate flavor.

Libby was glad to see the enormous portion of chicken and marsala before her, but as she couldn't mix her spaghetti with it, decided to add Ozzy's meatball to the marinara and see how it fared. Not so good. This is a real problem with so many Italian restaurants. Not sure if it's advanced preparation or what, but there is literally no flavor. Just a ball of meat. So disappointing as Libby loves a good meatball. The marinara it came with was ok but had an odd cloviness. The positive thing was the chicken. Well prepared, with ample yummy mushroomy goodness.

It didn't take long before the FLO were filled to the brim. These folks are not going to let anyone go home hungry! Plenty of food to take home as well.

Wrap Up
Price- $$$, For a family friendly, low key dining experience, you did pay for the quantity of food you received. Although the wine prices are phenomenal!
Atmosphere-***, It's the original atmosphere that so many chains aim for and miss.
Service-*-**, For us, it was a disappointment. Not only was our waitress unavailable most of the evening, but she seemed "over it" and unaccommodating.

Fred -C+, When I could make one of your signature appetizers at home and do it better, it's a disappointment. But I will say there is no way I could make a sauce anywhere near that good!
Libby -B-, I had high expectations going in. Not a total disappointment by any means, but with the history and hype, I expected to be blown out of my seat. It was a good meal. For the price, I really feel there should have been homemade pastas all around.
Ozzy - A, Great, family-friendly atmosphere. He loved the Italian bread and dug into the buttery pasta.

Iaria's Italian on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza

As if there aren't enough great places to get awesome pizza in this city, we have been shown yet, another! Jockamo, tucked in the East side oasis of Irvington, proved to be well worth the trip. Not only was the atmosphere loud and crowd friendly, but you could even sit at the bar! The servers had a roller-derby girl feel...a little nostalgic and made us think of our college days. We went with quite a large group, over twenty, and they had little difficulty accommodating.

Like so many star-studded pizza joints, there was a great variety of toppings, several specialty pizzas to choose from and a decent beer selection. First order of business was to decide. Fred had to lubricate with the Barley Island Dirty Helen. Ozzy, with his odd dislike of pizza(what up with dis kid?), went with bread sticks.

They not only had the marinara and nacho cheese options, but creamy parmesan, alfredo and a wonderful hummus as well! Good sticks.

Finally, we decided on a half and half of their Pomodoro(grilled eggplant, tomato, basil, garlic, and extra sauce) and Philly Jack(Italian beef, green peppers, peppadew peppers, and pepperjack cheese).

Woah, nice pie! Not only were the stellar ingredients all that we'd hoped for, but the mega-thin crust was extremely tasty and actually stood up to the pile of generous toppings! The Italian beef had a crispy, flavorful texture and the eggplant tasted fresh. All the toppings were delicious as they should be.

These fun folks even offer brunch pizza's on the weekends! It's amazing how many mouth-pleasing pizza varieties there are in this city!

Due to the generosity of ingredient portion, don't overdo it. It's easy to order with your eyes. Both Fred and Libby's ample belly's couldn't finish the 12-inch masterpiece before us. That is surprising, believe us. Although the leftovers were pretty darned good too.

Was it the best pizza of our lives? No. But was it good enough to recommend and make a few future appearances, definitely Yes! The Slaughterhouse Five(pepperoni, ham, sausage, bacon, and Italian beef) was demanding some future FLO attention! If they were on our side of town, it would become a problem, fo sho!

Wrap Up
Price-$-$$, 12-inch cheese starts at $8.50 with additional regular toppings at $1 and specialty toppings at $1.55...definitely not dirt cheap, but a good deal for the real deal.
Atmosphere-***, Large variety of clientele, kids welcome, plenty of seating and a little bar for those who want to get away from the crowd and watch the game.
Service-***, Attentive waitress who was nice enough to split up checks with over 20 people! Gotta love that!

Fred - A-, Location is the only thing keeping me from returning on a bi-monthly basis.
Libby -A-, Really good pie. Something a little different, and doesn't skimp on quality or service.
Ozzy - B, Ate his sticks, said they were good, then spent the remainder of dinner flirting with a little 4-year old darling named, Kylie. He is such the ladies' man.

Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Adobo Grill

FLO felt strange suggesting the Adobo Grill to an out-of-towner looking for good Mexican downtown, since we'd never been ourselves. But after he returned with big two-thumbs-up, we decided to rectify the situation. Boy, are we glad we did!

Located across Washington street from Fogo de Chao and just a block from both 14 West and the Oceanaire, Adobo certainly has some stiff competition for upscale dining. Once inside, we found it hard not to crane our necks to take it all in. Beautifully appointed in wood and earth tones, they offer indoor balcony seating as well as semi-private room-booths along with the usual four tops and booths.

We were greeted at our table by a most helpful and knowledgeable waiter. He recommended the sangria and we decided to sample both the white and red. The white was refreshing and juicy - the red, sweet with a hint of spice. Fred was all too happy to finish Libby's white after she'd had her maximum 1/2 glass.

Instead of the perfuctory bagged chips and salsa, we began our meal with wonderful warmed corn tortilla chips and Fred's new favorite salsa. The chip was more substantial than most, yet had a great crunch and flavor. The salsa was of the picante variety, smooth with all the right spice tones and a slight sweetness. It was hard to not eat too many before the remainder of the meal was to come!

While snacking on the chips and salsa, it was hard to miss the table-side guacamole prep occuring nearby. Not being fans of guacamole, FLO opted against it, but judging from the array of fresh ingredients that the guests hand pick, it looked like a sure thing for anyone who enjoys it.

Again, following our waiter's recommendation, we went with the salmon ceviche. Yum! Sushi-grade salmon cured in brown sugar and tequila, mixed with chipotle mayo and pineapple pico de gallo. Served with both banana chips and more of those delightful tortilla chips, it was the perfect start to this amazing meal. Not used to salmon ceviche, Fred and Libby were happily surprised by the refreshing flavor. Not being fans of any kind of mayo with any kind of cold fish(sushi or ceviche), we were happy to find the chipotle mayo and the pineapple to be an awesome pairing! Ceviche is a great start to any meal.

Libby, being a huge fan of mole in general, ordered the pork tenderloin with Oaxacan black mole and a corn tamal mash on a bed of cooked spinach (pictured above). Outstanding! The mole had a nice spice and went so well with the mash and spinach. Always having mole with chicken, Libby found the pork tenderloin substitution ingenious!

Fred, struggling between the Callos de Hacha and one of the weekly specials, a mexican version of paella, decided to again go with the waiter's recommendation. The paella with shrimp, scallops, mussels and white fish, baked in a serving-sized earthenware pot. As the still-boiling pot cooled at the table, we watched in anticipation as the heavy stock soaked into the rice. It can best be described as a full-flavor dish. We're shocked it's not a permanent part of the menu.

Ozzy chose the cheese quesadillas and refused to allow any sampling. From the looks of things, they were the same wonderful corn tortillas, this time stuffed with queso blanco. Definitely a hit.

Even though we had almost stuffed ourselves to capacity, we had to share one of the tempting looking desserts. With Libby's never-ending desire for chocolate, a decision was finally made...the chocolate tamal. Wrapped in a tamale leaf, a warm, deeply chocolate and barely sweet delight was set before us accompanied by Panpantla vanilla bean ice cream, dried cherries, and chocolate sauce. Each spoonful had the consistency of undercooked brownie batter except for the most rich, pure chocolate was so intense and with just the smallest hint of sugar to counter the natural bitterness, it definitely reminded you of chocolate's primitive roots. Libby likened it to a religious experience!

Wrap Up

Price-$$$, Affordable fine dining in a child-friendly downtown atmosphere.
Atmosphere-****, Gorgeous, creative and flowing. Should it be the tequila bar or a balcony seat next time?
Service-****, Felt more like a guided tour with our waiter's excellent recommendations.

Fred - A+, If only all the hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints had flavors like these!
Libby -A+, Can't say one bad thing. Outstanding food, service, and atmosphere! Can't wait to go back!
Ozzy - A, He loved the quesadillas and fit in well with the surprising number of other young foodies in training.

Adobo Grill on Urbanspoon