Thursday, December 17, 2009

Café Nino

Although last night was a cheat night for me, all I could think about was curling up in a blanket and drinking something hot.  I was hungry at dinnertime, but the last thing I wanted to do was brave the horrible weather.  When John suggested pizza, I jumped at the opportunity and suggested we get a pie from Café Nino, only a few short blocks away from our apartment.  This is my 18th cheat and I am down 47 pounds.

In my humble opinion, I believe Café Nino is the best place to go in New Orleans if you want a delicious, New York-style pizza.  Nino Bongiorno, the owner, is at his restaurant almost every day and is pleased to regale you with stories of how to make the perfect pizza.  He once confided in me that the path to a perfect pie lies in fresh dough and an excellent sauce.  If you have those two ingredients down, your pizzas will be the talk of the town.  If you have ever eaten one of Nino’s pies, you will know he’s got the formula down pat.

From the warmth of our apartment, we called Café Nino and ordered a large pepperoni and mushroom pizza and we were told it would be ready in 15 minutes.  When ordering pizza from an authentic joint like Nino’s, I love to keep the pie simple.  I believe that too many toppings can rob you of the exquisite experience eating a perfect New York-style pizza can create.

When we picked up the pizza, I couldn’t help eyeing the other dishes available that night.  I have heard that the Chicken or Eggplant Parmigiana is fantastic and it certainly looked tasty.  Apparently, Nino also offers daily specials for less than $10 and every Friday he prepares steamed mussels and a fish special for all those folks observing Lent.  He also makes an incredible Philly Cheese Steak that he claims is the “one and only in the city.”

I paid with a check (Café Nino only accepts checks and cash) and we took our steaming hot pie home.  Sitting comfortably on our couch, we only devoured two slices each. I absolutely love the savory sauce Nino uses for his pies and the crust is always thin and tasty.

John and I were surprised by how full we felt after only two slices, but that’s Nino’s for you!  I realized after inhaling my pizza that I had forgotten a cheat must; I had no dessert!  I went into the kitchen and busted out some Hershey’s cocoa powder and whipped up two steaming mugs of hot chocolate, complete with Christmas tree-shaped marshmallows.  It was an excellent cheat and enjoyed completely in the warmth and comfort of my own home.  It doesn’t get better than that!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Curry Corner: Fiscally responsible dining

All this week I have been considering where to eat and, unfortunately, it was the remaining funds in my checkbook that finally made my decision.  I don’t know about you, but spending over $200 on dining out in only two short weeks is way too rich for my blood.  So, keeping my finances in mind, and the fact that it was freezing cold last night, I decided to stay close to home and visit a corner restaurant I have been wanting to try for some time now…Curry Corner. This is my 17th cheat and I am down 46 pounds.

Considering my love for Indian cuisine, I am surprised I have not tried this little gem sooner.  Curry Corner, on the corner of Oak Street and Carrollton Avenue, happens to be a more convenient (and affordable) offshoot of Sara’s, which is located only a few blocks over on Dublin Street.  I have dined at Sara’s before and hoped the food at Curry Corner would be just as tasty.

When we walked into the restaurant, I immediately saw how this set-up would be an ideal place to come and get curry to go.  Don’t get me wrong, it was decorated nicely and the tables and chairs were quite comfortable, it was the system of acquiring your food that stuck me as timely and efficient.  Set up like a buffet, you receive rice from the server behind the counter and then fill your plate with whatever you choose and, at the end, you pay according to the weight of your plate!

John and I both got two scoops of basmati rice, a helping of garbanzo beans cooked in a tamarind sauce, some cubed chicken in a coconut curry, a nice portion of saag paneer made with spinach and lentils, half of a large samosa and naan.  We loaded up our plates and were surprised when the total price, including a couple of 20 oz. Cokes, was under $20!  We sat down right away and actually had no difficulty cleaning our plates.  The best thing about Indian food is soaking up all the delicious sauces with a piece of warm naan.  I could easily see myself picking up some dinner from Curry Corner to go and bringing it home to John as a nice, spicy surprise.

Completely full, but still anxious for dessert, we walked around the corner to Gelato Pazzo’s to see if they were still open.  We were in luck!  I couldn’t resist ordering a large Mocha to go along with a large half Dulce Leche, half Chocolato gelato.  I know, it’s really cold outside, but in my opinion it is never too cold to eat ice cream.  I love Pazzo’s, their gelato is always delicious.

Perhaps next week, I will be able to afford to dine out without worrying so much about the check, but I do not regret my delicious meal at Curry Corner in the slightest and my wallet certainly agrees with me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Little Tokyo Restaurant: Conquering the big rolls

Although the weather outside is frightful...frightfully still doesn’t prevent me from craving huge sushi rolls stuffed with fried soft shell crab, avocado, cream cheese and other tasty ingredients that really have no place in traditional Japanese cuisine.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore sashimi, tonkatsu, udon and other classical dishes, but I also appreciate the huge effort made by sushi chefs to please their patrons by incorporating local favorites into their rolls, creating some really incredible flavor combinations.  Little Tokyo on Carrollton Avenue is one such restaurant that appeals to New Orleans diners by offering local cuisine with a Japanese twist.  This is my 16th cheat and I am down 45 pounds.

When my friend Anne, my boyfriend John and I get together for sushi, there is no limit to our appetite for big, hearty rolls with exotic ingredients.  Last night, after being seated at a comfortable table at Little Tokyo, we couldn’t help selecting from the “special” rolls on the menu, huge rolls that are not only delicious, but beautifully presented.

From a long list, we chose a Mango Crab Roll, a Gustav Roll, a Po-Boy Roll, the Yami Yami Eel Roll and, my favorite, a Rainbow Roll.  We also decided to ask for the “Sushi Bar Special Salad” that seems to be a combination of leftover roll ingredients as it is different every time we try it.  Understanding the ferocity of our insatiable appetites, we almost ordered a sixth roll, but thankfully we decided against it considering the veritable “food coma” we experienced after the meal was over.  But I get ahead of myself...

Our salads came out first with a large ceramic cup filled with steaming hot green tea.  This time, the “special salad” was laden with romaine lettuce, cucumber, squid, sweet seaweed and a ginger dressing that was extremely flavorful.  Before we were finished, our Po-Boy Roll and Mango Crab Roll were presented in all their colorful glory on square, white plates that only accentuated their aesthetics.  We hurriedly inhaled our salads while eyeing the rolls, trying to decide which one to try first.

After preparing my soy/wasabi dipping sauce, I couldn’t help diving into the Po-Boy Roll.  It was a flavorful combination of fried soft shell crab, crispy shrimp tempura, boiled crawfish, and romaine lettuce held together with a soybean wrap and accented with the Chef’s Special Sauce that was both spicy and tart.  Next, I dove into the Mango Crab Roll replete with Louisiana lump crabmeat and romaine lettuce tied together in a soybean wrapper and topped with thin slices of cucumber and mango drizzled with a sweet chili sauce.  Absolutely delicious!

Soon, there wasn’t enough room on the table because the rest of our rolls were coming out in a flurry.  By the time we finished the Po-Boy Roll, our Rainbow Roll came out, gleaming with assorted raw fish like tuna, salmon and yellowtail wrapped with avocado around a basic snowcrab roll.  Then, while masterfully stuffing the last piece of the Mango Crab Roll into my mouth, the Yami Yami Eel Roll and Gustav Roll were served.  The Yami Yami is yummy to my tummy with thick slices of barbecued eel layered on top of a snowcrab roll and drizzled with tangy eel sauce.

I don’t know how something so tasty can be named after a hurricane, but the Gustav Roll was a fattening treat with fried shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and cream cheese in a soybean wrap and topped with thick slices of fresh salmon and mango surrounded by a sweet chili sauce.

I can’t believe we did it, but all the rolls were demolished and we pushed ourselves back from the table with luxuriant sighs of satisfaction.  Only one thing was missing…dessert!  Even though we had stuffed ourselves silly, we knew we couldn’t let a good cheat night pass without having dessert.

Luckily for us, Angelo Brocato’s was less than a block away.  We figured the half-block walk would provide a newfound appetite for pastries, and although we were wrong about that, we indulged ourselves anyhow.

My favorite pastry at Brocato’s is their flaky, custard-filled Napoleons, but they had sold out!  As I resigned myself to a mezzo instead, Anne selected two small cannolis and John chose an éclair.  There is truly nothing like the delicate, creamy Italian pastries at Angelo Brocato’s.

I already have plans for my next cheat so stay tuned!  I’ve selected a fairly new restaurant that I have never been to before, and the menu is one of the most diverse I have seen thus far.  This is simply the best diet ever!