Monday, January 2, 2017

Rooster Downtown for Brunch or That Time I was Rude to Jon Hamm

Rooster Downtown

NOT picture used as cover to stalk Jon Hamm

Let me just keep it real, I;m about as good at keeping my commitment to write on a regular basis as I am at sneaking pictures of celebrities in public places.  So, I'll kill two birds in this post by telling you about my brunch at Rooster where I used my family as a cover to take a picture of Jon Hamm attempting to have a peaceful breakfast before the Winter Classic in St. Louis this past Monday. 

Weekday brunches aren't always easy to find but Rooster offers breakfast 7 days a week, they're trendy, locally owned, and right down town.  It seemed like a no-brainer.  In retrospect I should have stuck with the recommendations made to me by another local foodie.  It wasn't terrible, and well, I saw Jon Hamm in the flesh.  But they seemed ill prepared for the crowds and our service left a heck of a lot to be desired.  Everyone was friendly and the food was good.  I had scrambled eggs over black beans and fried potatoes and I do believe my mom's eggs were perfectly poached.  My sister ordered a savory crepe and my nephew a classic Nutella and strawberry.  Both were tasty but I think the neph did mention a lack of strawberry.  Big props for having self serve Kaldi's coffee accessible while you wait.  

The wait wasn't bad but there was nowhere to stand that we weren't in the way.  Of course that's what led us to our "encounter" with Mr. Draper.  My sister shuffled off to an adjacent room to get away from the crowds and comes back immediately, pulling me by my jacket "You'd know what Jon Hamm looks like wouldn't you?"  Yep, sure was him and we shamefully faked a photo of the fam to attempt to get him in the background.  I was totally caught and later felt the need to explain to my youngest nephew that what I did was just plain rude.  Still posted that business on social media though.  What can I say, I'm a conflicted human. 

It was about 15 minutes after we sat before we were acknowledge at our table and then our silverware, water, glasses, food, and drinks all came piece meal if at all.  My oldest nephew finally just decided to drink the water straight from the carafe.  My sister's meal came when the rest of us were 3/4 of the way through ours after reminding the servers that she didn't have her food, and my beverage never came even after asking 2 or 3 servers about it.  Thankfully I wasn't charged for it.  But on a note of the ticket, they messed those up too, but that's forgivable as we did split our tickets. 

Rooster is one of several Bailey's restaurants in our area and I've been to a few of them.  I have to say that I've not been over the moon impressed with them, the exception being Bailey's Chocolate Bar.  They seem to rely heavily on trendiness and as I get older that impresses me less and less. The food was good enough for me to give this place another shot on a less crowded day, although given that brunch is something you usually eat on weekends, I'm not sure how soon that will be.  

Sorry this post wasn't funny or clever.  I wasted all my clever on my shameful social media posts about Jon Hamm.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Chicken in Every Pot - And Stock in Every Freezer.

 The roast chicken is that moment in your favorite romantic comedy where the male lead chases down the female lead in the rain and captures her heart with a passionate kiss.  The stock you make from the bones of that roast chicken is the first 5 minutes of UP.  The best part about both the roast chicken and the stock is that it is so much easier than actual love...or movie making for that matter.  Cheaper too.

    Hoover promised a Chicken in Every Pot, but I think he was underestimating the economy of this simple bird. With six bucks and a few things you've probably already got in the fridge or freezer you can make an amazing dinner and stock your freezer with liquid gold.  Stock adds flavor, protein, and nutrients to almost any dish to which you would normally add water or wine.  It's also about 99% cheaper than store bought stock and 1000 times better.  Where is the downside here?

If I don't have you convinced let me just give you a few tips that make it even easier and cheaper.  

1.  Save a Ziploc freezer bag and any time you have any discarded chicken bones or uncooked meat, carrots, celery, or onions (yes, the parts you cut or shave off work beautifully, even the skin) throw them in the bag.

2.  Use your slow cooker.  Jam it with the contents of your full freezer bag and the bones of your roast chicken then fill it to the tippy top with water.  Set it on low to simmer away while you're at work.  

3.  Freezer Ziploc bags in quart sizes, gallon sizes, or mason jars make freezing your stock a breeze.  

4.  Skimming the fat off the top of your cooled stock before filling your bags or jars means you have control over how much fat your stock has.  It also give you schmaltz!  Schmaltz is chicken fat and delicious.  Store it in a separate jar in the fridge for a few days or in a Ziploc in the freezer for... well, forever.  Storing it in the Ziploc bag in the freezer in a horizontal position means you can just break a piece off when needed.

If you're still reading then you're likely convinced and are ready for the process.  

You can go in a hundred different flavor directions with a roast chicken but let’s keep is simple this time:  A couple tablespoons of butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, half an onion, and a couple of bay leaves, and half a lemon, and a few sprigs of thyme.  Make sure you set all of this out before touching your chicken.  Confession: I totally did this with just the salt and paper... still amazing.

Oh, you'll also need a whole chicken.  You can go organic, free range, or even frozen.  If you get frozen, you'll need a couple of days to thaw it in the fridge, though.

After you open your chicken, reach in the cavity and get the bits and pieces.  You don't need to know what they are, but save them.  They go in your stock later.  Rinse the chicken and pat very dry.  Using your hand massage the butter under the skin of the breasts.  The coldness of the chicken can make it a bit difficult to spread smoothly so sometimes I cut the butter really thin and kind of slide the slices in rather than rub.  

Next you'll want to put a bay leaf under the skin on each breast and then drizzle the bird with olive oil.  Salt and pepper generously.  Put your half an onion in the cavity, along with a half of a lemon.

You don't want the wings and legs flopping around, so fold the wings back behind the neck of the bird.  Cut two small holes in the loose skin near the cavity.  Cross the chicken's legs, yes it's a lady, putting the legs through the holes you've created.  You know what.  Just watch this video, it explains everything.  Trussing a Chicken

Put your bound bird in a large cast iron pan or a roasting pan or a casserole pan or any oven safe container that's large enough to accommodate it with some breathing room around the sides.  We could really get picky here but I am a firm believer in no excuses cooking.  Don't let the fact that you don't have exactly the right roasting vessel keep you from making this.  

You could get as lazy as putting the bird in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until the juices run clear and/or a meat thermometer reads 165.  Or you could put it in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes to get a really rich, crispy skin, then drop your temperature to 350 for another 30 minutes or so until your bird reaches the aforementioned 165.

At this point it's a matter of letting your bird rest for about 10 minutes.  This is the perfect time to set the table, make the couscous, have a martini.  And because I really shouldn't be telling anyone how to carve a chicken here's Jacques Pepin to show you his fancy technique.  Or go in with a fork and butter knife.  You know, the butter knife because it’s so tender. A word of warning to get those bay leaves from under the skin before serving the breasts. I've been accused of attempted the same person because I forgot to take them out

And now for the stock!

In addition to your newly stripped chicken carcass you'll need
- a slow cooker or large stock pot
- some aromatics:  carrots, celery, onion halved, 1 TBSP whole peppercorns, 1 halved onion, OR that bag of frozen bits and pieces you've been stashing. Don't bother trimming or skinning anything.  Just cram the slow cooker or stock pot full full full.  

If using a slow cooker fill it to the tippy top.  If you're using a stock pot leave some room for simmer.  Put the lid on your slow cooker, set it for as long as you want on low, at least 6 hours.  Umm... I cheated a bit and after 6 hours scooped out the liquid and filled it back up again and let it cook overnight again.  The first batch was a super rich dark stock and the next batch was lighter in color.  I didn't combine my two batches but you certainly could.  I like the idea of having a richer stock for a serious punch for soup and gravy or a lighter stock for replacing water in rice and deglazing.  

If you're going the stock pot route bring it to a boil and simmer for as long as you can, a couple of hours skimming the top of any residue.  

Strain your stock through a sieve, let it cool, skim off the fat and choose your method of storage.  That's it.  I make no promises but if you stay tuned someday I might post some recipes that take full advantage of your stock prowess.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Catrina's Edwardsvile

Plodding along again on my 16in16 quest (yes, I've upped the ante from 12in12) of trying 16 new-to-me places this year.  All must be local (vacations don't count) and someplace that I have never been before.  This time we headed up to a place in Edwardsville, IL that was recently converted from a throwback arcade and bar into a fresh ingredient Mexican (I'm going to use the word) fusion place.  

As usual I went along with my love, Gene.  I honestly was a little prepared not to like it.  I have my favorite Mexican place already.  It's authentic, it's warm, it's local, it's all the things I love about dining out.  I am pleased to say I didn't get my way.  Even better, it was about WAY more than the food.  

A local restaurant, at it's best, is someone opening their home and passion to you.  Their life, love, and time is wrapped up in this effort that most of us take for granted every day.  Maybe growing up with a mom who used food as a way to make everyone who entered her home feel comfortable, safe, and accepted has given me a grandiose idea of the power of food.  It's not just in the eating it.  It's in the sharing it, the excuse it gives you to linger in conversation, the joy that it brings someone.  In a lot of ways it makes me think of Christ.  He always met the smaller physical need first.  It allowed Him a way to meet the greater spiritual need.  Food is healing the blind man.  I firmly believe that when God designed our bodies one of the most miraculous gifts he gave us was the ability to taste and feel our food.  It could have been manna from the start, but instead he gave us flavors, textures, and smells.  Our body and our souls need food. “Taste and See that the Lord is Good.” Psalm 34:8

Catrinas boasts of being "More than just food" and that's exactly how I'd describe them. They boast farm fresh, never frozen, prepared-on-site Mexican food.  They should also boast about their staff.  Every one of them seemed to hold the same passion for the food and the dream as the owner and chef, both of whom graced the dining room, along with adorable little children, which never hurts.  When our host came to visit with us he expressed that a lot of new patrons don't think that Catrina's is real deal Mexican at all.  I know exactly why.  I searched the menu up and down, front to back and didn't see the words queso, burrito,  or chimichanga anywhere.

Very Generous portion of the delectable Octopus Salad
They also offered pastas and chicken wings, which I'll admit doesn't seem the most Mexican food to me either.  But it all comes down to flavors and ingredients.  Those chicken wings are worth the trip all by themselves. They've kept it simple and packed the flavors in without feeling the need to cater to the Con Queso crowd.  You can get typical American-Mexican food in a dozen different places here, but I have yet to see a menu with octopus salad and chicharones.  Not to mention that they make dang fine margaritas from house-made mixes and simple syrups.

Mushroom Broth Soup is deceptively rich and hearty

I was so incredibly and pleasantly surprised by the octopus salad. My only advice would be to either raise the price or cut the portion. This is true of most of their dishes, the value far outweighs what you're paying. But let me talk to you about the soup of the day which was a mushroom broth soup.  It's like a hug from your mom when you were three, if your mom were just a little chubby and had pillowy  bosoms.  It's deceptively simple, just broth, herbs and mushrooms, but the flavors it packs are deep and rich.  I admit to just taking a few sips so that I could bring the rest home and enjoy it when I'm all alone and in need of comfort...and so I'd have room for churros.  Their churros aren't what you would normally expect.  Instead of long waffled sticks they’re like little bite-sized doughnut holes with your choice of chocolate or caramel for dipping.  The caramel was not the kind you find on the store shelves that you pour over ice cream.  It's the kind that reminded me of my childhood in Mexico.  It was thick, slightly tangy, and tasted like winning the lottery.

I think we spent as much time visiting with the staff and owner as we did eating.  Our conversation was initiated by Gene, who is less shy than I am, and I am thankful to him for that.  He'll talk to anyone about anything, and I usually learn something in the process.  Speaking with the people that make and serve the food you're enjoying makes it tastier somehow.  Food is love and Catrina's is a Valentine.  

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Quick and Dirty: Pasta Carbonara for One

If I were the kind of person who got hang overs pasta carbonara would be my go to recovery food.  it's the perfect combination of everything great about a bowl of pasta and breakfast.  Yep, it's like bacon and eggs and pasta but not weird... and amazing.  It only takes a few ingredients and whips up in the time it takes to boil your pasta. 

Today I've got a quick and dirty "recipe" for one.  There aren't many recipes for one serving, which I find strange since it is the perfect food to eat in secret.  Recipe isn't really the right word either. There is a method involved though, but it's not hard at all to master.  

Put a big pot of water on to boil. Once its boiling add 3 to 4 oz of spaghetti, I used thin spaghetti.  

Chop up about 4 pieces of bacon into lardons (just really small pieces) and throw them into a medium skillet to get really crisp.  If they start to crisp up before your pasta is done just lower your temp to medium low to low.  Once the bacon is done you can drain a little of the fat but the fat is part of the sauce so feel free to leave it all in, and definitely don't drain it all, and you can add a little back if you feel the need. 

Slice up a clove or two of garlic and set it aside until your bacon is just about crisp and you've lowered your heat to medium low.  You don't want it to burn, it's just adding flavor to your fat.  If you plan to pour out any fat do it BEFORE you add your garlic.  

Whisk up one egg with about a 1/4 cup of Parmesan.  You don't have to use freshly grated, but I IMPLORE you to use freshly grated.  

Once your pasta is al dente scoop out about a cup of water and set it aside before draining your pasta. Throw the pasta into your pan with the bacon and garlic.  Make sure you get the pasta good and coated with all that yummy bacon fat then remove it from the heat.  

Here is the only place it can get at all tricky.  Once you've taken the pasta off the heat but it's still piping hot dump your egg and parm mixture into your pasta and stir like a madman.  The idea is to use the heat from the pasta to cook but NOT scramble the eggs.  After you get it mixed in you can use your reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce, only a tablespoon or so at a time until it's exactly how you want it, yellow and creamy.  

Grate more parm on top, add salt to taste, and a ton of freshly cracked pepper.  Yes, a ton of freshly cracked pepper, it's crucial.  

Now, what are you doing still sitting here, go make some.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mission Taco

Mexican is usually right behind “mayo-on-white-bread” of my choices of dining options.  I live in the Midwest which means you aren't usually getting Mexican; you're getting Mid-Westican.   Most of the items on the menu are various combinations of the same thing "con queso.”  Huge bland tortillas stuffed with meat, beans and cheese of unvaried textures.  We really love quantity and cheese here in the middle states.  I suppose it fits.  And, don't get me wrong, I love some cheese. You just have to cheese responsibly.  Until recently my favorite Mexican restaurant was my mom's kitchen.  Having spent a year in Mexico when I was a toddler, my mother spent that time looking over the shoulders of the SeƱoras as they cooked, writing down everything she could.  I'm not sure that since then we've eaten 100% authentically in our home, but mom has stayed true to the idea of the flavors and textures of Mexico.  Bold layered flavors and contrasts of textures.  It's not about heat, and it's not about queso.  

So, what's steered me back onto the course of loving Mexican food again?  A huge part of it can be attributed to learning to make my mom's recipes and learning to make corn tortillas.  When I say “learning to make corn tortillas,” understand that there is no learning curve here.  They could not take less skill to make, and even the worst ones are easily a dozen times better than store bought, at least here in the Midwest.

Teaching at a local school that is nearly 100% Hispanic is another huge reason I'm falling in love with Mexican flavors again.  In teaching there I've discovered an amazing locally owned Mexican restaurant with a Mexican grocery store attached.  I'll grant you that you can get your "con queso" at La Gardenia, but you can also get birria, pozole, menudo, cebollitas, and what might be my favorite food in the world: "street" tacos.

My love affair with this type of taco is one of the reasons I've been dying to try a place in St. Louis that's been getting a lot of buzz lately: Mission Taco Joint.  Gene has made a lot of deliveries from Mission, and it's nearly always packed and always smells amazing, according to him.  We've attempted a Mission Taco mission a few times and struck out every time.  The first time it was packed full, the second time it was unexpectedly closed for the New Year, and the third time we discovered that we had a Groupon that needed to be used (that didn't work out as planned, See my post about Cafe Natasha).  This time we took advantage of the week night special of $2 tacos after 10pm.

First off, the vibe inside is the very best combination of warm and hipster.  Brick walls, concrete floors, reclaimed style wooden fixtures against Mexican style pop art with dancing skeleton couples and Lucha Libre portraits.  We sat at a high table in the bar area and took in the scenery while we waited for our waiter, Bill, to help us out.  Bill, and the entire staff, were friendly and upbeat.  I really got the sense that they genuinely enjoyed being there.  We even had a chat with one of the bartenders that Gene has gotten to know in all the times he's picked up deliveries.  She was gushing with pride about how they juice all their own juices and even recommended another place to check out in my 12in12 quest (which I'm thinking of making a 16in16 quest. Stay tuned).  After dinner I overheard another bartender educating some willing patrons about tequila and the processes that go into the different kinds.  If the mission of Mission Taco was a relaxed, enthusiastic, non-threatening vibe, then they've got it in the bag.  

Now we get to the part where we learn why I don't have babies.  For a starter, we ordered the Mexican Street Corn Fritters with garlic aioli sauce.  I've officially decided that my first-born will, in fact, be named Mexican Street Corn Fritters and their middle name will be Garlic Aioli.  "Waiter, can I get a straw please...for this sauce?”  It was as if the best thing about donuts was corn, which doesn't sound right, but tastes amazing.  Somehow dense and fluffy at the same time and bursting with sweet corn against the tang of the sauce.  Ok, I've got to stop now.  Just go and get an order.  Get two orders and bring me one.  Even though you're going to hear about some more amazing food, this blog has pretty much peaked with these corn fritters.  Geez, I need some of these fritters.

Taking advantage of the 2 buck taco deal, we got 6 tacos, Mexican Street Corn, and cilantro rice.  The rice was a good side but it suffered so much from being held against other amazing combinations of flavors that it came off a bit flat.  It's great rice, don't get me wrong, but my mouth was just being taken on an amazing roller coaster by everything else.  The Mexican Street Corn however was - I feel like I've used every adjective that means “yummy” that I can so- YUMMY!  Corn off the cob with queso fresco, mayo (don't let this put you off. It's not what you're thinking), and magical fairy dust or something.  All of their tacos are served family style on corn tortillas.  If you're looking for salsa and sour cream on your taco, go to Taco Bell. Of the tacos we tried the Taco of the Month and the Portobello were my favorites.  The Portobello is described as  "Wood-fire grilled Portobello mushrooms, goat cheese, crispy onions, arugula, smashed black beans, huitlacoche aioli".  I describe it as "Can I have another please?” Seriously, rich deep mushrooms and beans against the crispy onions and peppery arugula.  I'm nowhere near a vegetarian but if this is what the grass is like on the other side, then I'm jumping fences. I very reluctantly saved half of it for Gene since he wasn't smart enough to order one for himself.  The Taco of the Month was my other favorite.  It was a Mahi Mahi taco with avocado, shaved kale, grilled onions, and topped off with toasted pepitas.  When they say avocado, they mean a big ol’ slab of delicious, perfectly ripe avocado right there on top.  To round out our choices we got the Roasted Duck, which was meaty and smokey, and the Beef Brisket Birria.

As I got in my car and put "home" into my Google Maps, I discovered it's less than 15 minutes from my house.  Even though it's in another state, it's closer than most places we opt to dine when we're looking for a night out.  If you're “East Side” and you think St. Louis is on the other end of the galaxy, start rethinking that.  It's not only worth the trip, it's not as much of a trip as you think.  

Have I mentioned the Mexican Street Corn Fritters?  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

First Snow Cream of the Year

Several years ago I was spending the day at my good friend Darla's house when she decided we needed to make some snow cream.  I was a little put off initially, but mostly curious.  She went outside and scooped up a whole bunch of snow.  Then she added some sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.  It was really delicious.  A little sweet for my taste but delicious.  She didn't measure a thing, and you don't have to either.

For those of you who are just totally grossed out by this entire concept I gently suggest you get over it.  Your kids NEED to know about and experience snow cream.  No one's died from it and no ones gotten sick from eating it.  There are some basic things you'll want to keep in mind though.

1.  You need a good snow, a few inches at least.  This allows you to scoop the upper most layer of snow without getting close to the surface of whatever your snow has landed on.  I like to avoid the ground.... but hey, as long as you avoid yellow snow, you do you.

2  Avoid yellow snow.  Seriously, any color other than white and you'll just want to keep looking.

3.  Get the snow early.  This gets you nice fresh snow before other stuff can settle on it and before the sun can create an outer shell on the ice cream.

So, what do you need?  Snow, Sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla.

This happens to be car snow
Depending on how big your bowl is and how many people you're feeding between 3-6 cups of snow.  You know what, forget that.  Fill your bowl with snow or fill it half way or start with a bigish kind of scoop.  This is one ingredient you don't have to run to the store for. If you've reviewed the rules of finding snow with your kids, and you trust them, you can even send them to do the dirty, er.. work.

Add the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla... as much or as little as you'd like.  I start with a little and add more if I am not getting the flavor or consistency I like.

Just about perfect

Getting there....

Then you kind of stir/smash until you have something that looks like that kinetic sand that's always on display in the craft stores.  Add more snow or milk if it's too wet or not sweet enough.  Play with it until its the taste and consistency you like.  You really can't screw this one up.

Then scoop it out and enjoy immediately.  It will keep in the freezer though, but what fun is that?
So, the next time everyone runs to the store in a panic and buys all the bread and eggs, don't fret.  Head straight for the Sweetened Condensed Milk.

P.S.  There are recipes out there that use good old fashioned milk and sugar.  I'll let you find the one that works for you.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Cafe Natasha

Hey, I have a great idea!  Gene's new job is proving to be a great way of discovering all the fantastic places to dine in St. Louis.  There really is a plethora of choice from tacos at midnight to pho-sion.  Let's make our New Year's Resolution to try at least 12 new restaurants this year.

Restaurant Gods:
We shall do all in our immense and vast, but largely futile,  power to defeat your plans!

If you've been reading along you know how difficult it was to find Restaurant #1.  Pro-tip, don't think you're just going to find a late night eat on New Year's Day in the Lou, even if it is Friday night.  But I did, eventually, prevail against the Restaurant Gods and found a delicious Titan of rebellion in Three Kings Public House.

This time it was 5 o'clock on a Tuesday on the third week of January.  We had plans to attend the Blues game and it was the last day I could use the full value of a Groupon I'd purchased to Lucky Buddha.  I was excited Pho Sho (see what I did there).  “Heeeeyyyyy, this place looks dark but it's 4:58 and they don't open until 5:00... but dark???”  Sign says stay away fools.  Actually the sign, written in pen, on a piece of printer paper, and taped haphazardly to the window said "closed for the holiday".  Yo, it's not even Chinese New Year yet and your facebook not only says you're open but the last post from you was on December 27 (not a typo Twenty SEVENTH) saying you were closed for Christmas.  Hmmmmm..... Me thinks Buddha not lucky.

All amped for Pho, Gene charts a course to Pho Grand, a place he delivers from pretty frequently.  It's facebook page shows it's closed but that can't be right.  Facebook is right.  Pho Grand, along with a mess of other places that should totally be open on a Tuesday, are also dark, dark, dark.  I shake my fist at the Restaurant gods. Then my eyes sparkle like Ralphie's when he saw the Red Rider in the window of Higbee's Department store.  Among the dark windows were twinkling beacons of hope with all manner of Middle Eastern, African, and Asian eats.  And then there it was Cafe Natasha!  A friend mentioned this place to me after mentioning that I was excited to try some Persian delicacies that my cousin's new wife promised to make if we ever got together again.

Cafe Natasha and Natasha's Gin room are set in a corner on S. Grand Avenue and seem pretty unassuming  from the outside.  If the door didn't say they served Persian food I'd assume an odd combination of sandwiches and Martini's were the specialties.  Upon entering and seeing white table clothes set at tables with high rise black tufted booths I felt immediately under dressed in my Blues Hoodie.  The Gin Room with its well stocked and romantically lit bar are what you see upon entering, and the place seemed pretty small until the hostess asked if we wanted to sit in the back room. It opened up to several more, but still intimate, tables and more black tufted booths.

Our waitress let us know that for happy hour there was an all vegan hummus bar with falafel.  It happens to be gluten free too if you care about that kind of thing.  Well, that decided that for me.  Gene went with a chicken and koobideh combo platter.  We also ordered some pickled vegetables and some seer torshi preserved garlic.  Our waitress told us the garlic was better with food rather than as an appetizer on it's own.  I also took advantage of the Gin Room and ordered a dainty drink called the Bitter Sweet that came in a crystal punch glass and tasted just as dainty as its presentation.  Floral but not flowery.  It was delicious.

The pickled vegetables and garlic were powerful and something that should be tried.  The garlic boasts of being aged in vinegar for 7 years, and that's what it tastes like.  You might love them, you might like them, and you might loathe them.  I am on the side of “like” while Gene was closer to the side of “loathe.”  The vegetables were great as a topping for pita and hummus.  They both were decidedly “pickley” but also had a unique kind of tart that's unexpected.  My suspicion is that if you're looking for a real deal pickled veg and garlic, this is it.

The hummus bar had 2 kinds of rice, crispy and fluffy falafel, curry, sauteed mushrooms, hummus, basil tomatoes that were a fresh and slightly tart perfection.  They were great on top of everything and by themselves.  It also had a Pomegranate eggplant kind of baba ganoush, and a cream sauce for whatever you want to put a cream sauce on.  If you're there on a Tuesday and aren't strictly carnivorous, I'd seriously advise getting the hummus bar and a trying a unique and  expertly crafted cocktail.

On the other hand you should also bring someone who IS strictly carnivorous with you so you can try some of the entree they ordered.  Thank you Gene.  The chicken and koobideh were both super tender and delicious.  He was pretty generous with the table staple that I suspected was sumac based, but it wasn't out of place.  His salad was fresh and came with a tart yogurt based dressing that [“reminded me” unless you really can used “reminisced” this way] reminisced of tzatziki and worked well on the kabobs too.

All in all it was really good food and really good service.  The actual Natasha greeted more than one table as if they were long time loyal customers and friends.  Actually, I think we were the ONLY table that didn't seem to have a long established friendship with Natasha, both the restaurant and the person, who I think is the daughter of the original owners.

I have no idea if the food is authentic, but friends tell me it's pretty close.  Let's be honest though, if it's good, do we care?  I'll be back to Cafe Natasha, maybe I'll see you there.

Since writing this I ventured back to Cafe Natasha for a late night coffee and baklava with Gene.  If you have a love affair with coffee then you'll want to try Turkish coffee some day.  I've found a couple of places that really do it right, and Cafe Natasha is one of them.  This method (boiling the grounds in the coffee over and over until it foams and falls) creates a strong and rich cup of brew with a sooty bottom layer.  This time I opted for Arabic, which is the same coffee but with the addition of sweetened condensed milk.  My coffee and Gene's had a distinctly floral note.  Mine even had a cardamom pod floating in it which stayed with me in a pleasant way.  The baklava was good.  It didn't fall into the sins of most baklava in that it wasn't too sweet, just right on the flavor balance.  It did want a little something from the texture, but we were the very last customers of the day and it's not a made to order item.