Wednesday, September 9, 2009

DiFara Pizza

In the city and the outer boroughs, many people think that any and all pizza is "Good New York Pizza," but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, I've had the best pizza of my life in New York, but I’ve also had the worst. Finding good pizza in New York is like finding good Chinese food in your neighborhood – an ongoing quest (and one that doesn’t look like it’ll ever end well out here in Astoria, at least on the Chinese front). But I think the search for the perfect pizza may have finally come to an end. Last weekend we visited DiFara Pizza, in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, and it was easily the best pizza we’ve ever had in our lives.

First, a little bit of history about Di Fara:

The owner and sculptor of all the pizza made here is a little old man named Domenico De Marco. He emigrated to Brooklyn from the Province of Caserta, Italy, in 1959, and shortly after he opened a small hole-in-the-wall pizza joint on Avenue J and 14th street with his business partner Farina. On creating a name for their restaurant, the partners decided to combine their own - Di for De Marco, and Fara, for Farina. The name lives on, but in 1978 De Marco bought out his partner and continued running the pizza joint that it is today.

When you walk into Di Fara there will invariably be a number of other people already cramped up front, waiting for their pizza, admiring the work that Mr. De Marco is doing, and eyeing the tables, looking for a spot to free up. The place itself is nothing special, almost divey, and there are only a handful of tables and chairs messily strewn around.

Upon entering you have to make your way up to the counter and ask to be put on the list for a pie (considering slices are $5 apiece, while a pie is comparably lower at $25, it doesn’t make sense to get anything else). We placed an order for a pepperoni pizza at 12:15, just 15 minutes after the place had opened, and we were told it would take about 45 minutes for our pie to be ready. The reason for the long wait is that Mr. De Marco makes every single pizza by hand, and each pie is made fresh to order. It is a truly amazing to watch this man make pizza. It's almost as if he was born for the sole purpose of putting these beautiful pies together so delicately and artfully. People kept flowing in steadily, but Mr. De Marco maintained an even pace, moving no faster or slower than when there were less people in the shop.

After waiting for slightly over and hour, starving, Alex and I began to wonder if the pizza would be worth it. Although we were able to drive to DiFara in less than half an hour, we usually don’t have a car at our disposal so a trip here would definitely take over an hour at any other time. Luckily we didn’t have to ponder much longer. At around 1:30 they finally called out our name and we approached the counter to pick up our pizza. The pie comes out bubbling from the wood fired stove and Mr. De Marco clips fresh basil over the pizza, then spreads a liberal handful of Parmesan cheese over the top. The final touch is a moderate dousing of olive oil, poured from an old tin can that looks like it was once used to water plants.

Then the eating began.

When I tell you that this was the most amazing pizza I have ever eaten, I am not lying. Not only was this the most amazing pizza I have ever eaten, it is one of the most amazing things I have ever eaten, period.

Usually I like to fold my pizza in half, like a taco, but the crust was so crispy and crusty that it was impossible to fold. You can literally hold the crust at one end and the pizza will remain completely flat in the air on the other. Upon the first bite, Alex and I just looked at each other in amazement - there was no question that this was the best pizza we had ever eaten. All of the flavors were right up front, but none shined any more than the others. The sweet tang of the tomato sauce, the bitter bite of the cheese, the freshness of the basil and the earthiness of the olive oil all combined to create sheer pizza perfection.

It was so incredible we proceeded to eat the entire pie all to ourselves. We may have waited for our pizza 5 times as long as it took us to finish it, but I would honestly wait twice as long for food this good.

The pepperoni pie cost $27, which may seem a bit pricey for pizza, but it was worth every penny. Between that and the 3 sodas we consumed our total bill was $33, and it still felt like a steal. We’ve eaten meals that cost 5 times this much that haven’t been 1/5 as good.

If you like pizza, or food in general, then you must visit DiFara. It took us over a year of talking about it to finally make the trek out there, but now that we have, I imagine it won’t take us nearly as long to return.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cheese and Olive Plate

Last weekend Alex and I had a few friends over for a quick afternoon get together, and since we had very little time to prepare anything extravagant, we decided on a simple cheese plate for snacking. Cheese plates are easy to put together, look fantastic, and are very frugal - this one cost us less than 10 bucks.

We purchased one of those mozzarella and pepperoni roll ups (they also come with prosciutto if you prefer) that they sell in the cheese case near the cold cuts in the grocery store, along with a handful of fresh green olives from the olive bar, and some plain water crackers to tie everything together. We like water crackers the most because they provide some crunch but not much flavor otherwise, allowing you to better taste the cheese. All you need to do is pick these ingredients up, put them on a plate, and voila - done!

Comments are always appreciated :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Philly Cheese Steak Egg Rolls

When we think egg rolls, we usually think Chinese takeout or spring rolls from the local Thai restaurant. Today though, we bring you into a new era of egg rolls with this great recipe for Philly Cheese Steak Egg Rolls. Food Network’s Guy Fieri recently made these on Guy's Big Bite and we knew we we’d be needing to try these sooner or later. These egg rolls are great for appetizers or a fun side to go alone with any sort of dinner entree. They are salty, crunchy, cheesy… just incredibly delicious.

One important tip we learned while making the filling is to really let the juices drain out. If you don't, rolling up your egg rolls will become difficult as the excess liquid may cause the egg roll wrappers to tear. Also, the recipe says this dish only makes 8 egg rolls but we found that we were able to make double that and save some in the freezer if we need a quick snack for impromptu guests.

Happy rolling!

Tres Leches Cake

We are back (and hopefully for good)! Alex and I started dieting 3 months ago, and while we are making fabulous progress on our diets, eating out has become a much less frequent activity than in the past. Since we haven’t been able to venture out to many new restaurants, we’ve resorted to more home cooking that is both delicious (for the most part) and figure friendly. The recipe to follow is anything but… but since we’ve been m.i.a. so long we figured we had to come back with a bang.

When summertime rolls around and it gets hot and muggy we usually lean towards simple things like ice cream sundaes and fruit salads for dessert. And while both of these options are totally fulfilling, this recipe for a Tres Leches Cake with Summer Fruit that we found in Cuisine really puts a simple fruit salad to shame. The cake is super moist, (surprisingly) light, and served ice cold, which makes it refreshing and delectable on a warm summer night. Preparing the cake the night before your guests arrive is best, as it allows all of the flavors to develop and the cake to absorb all of the milk.


For the Cake-

6 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 t. vanilla extract

Sift Together; Fold in:

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ t. table salt

Combine, Fold into Batter;
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup cake batter

For the Soaking Syrup-
Combine; Reduce:

1 can 14 oz evaporated milk
1 can 12 oz sweetened condensed milk
1 cup whole milk
½ cup light rum

For the Topping-
Any variation of berries, we used raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries
¼ cup of sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 x 3” spring form pan with nonstick spray.

Beat eggs and sugar with a hand mixer at high speed in a large bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water. Beat until the eggs are pale, thick and tripled in volume, about 10 minutes.

Add vanilla; remove bowl from the heat and continue to beat until cool, about 5 more minutes.

Sift flour and salt. Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour into the egg mixture; fold gently. Fold in remaining flour in two additions.

Combine melted butter (cooled) and 1 cup batter in a small bowl. When blended, add the mixture back to the remaining batter and gently fold to blend.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Combine all milks and run in a measuring cup with a pour spout while the cake bakes. Transfer half of the milk mixture (2 cups) to a saucepan, bring to a simmer, and cook until reduces to 1 cup, about 15 minutes. Stir mixture constantly to prevent scorching.

Stir reduced milk into remaining 2 cups milk mixture (for a total of 3 cups). Set milk syrup aside.

After cooling the cake 10 minutes, place it on a baking sheet (to catch drips from the milk), then poke holes in it with a skewer.

Rewarm the milk mixture, if necessary, then pour it over the cake, allowing it to soak in before adding more. Use all the milk, even though it won’t seem like the cake will absorb it. Drape wax paper over the cake (plastic wrap causes condensation) and chill overnight.

For the topping:

Combine fruit and ¼ cup sugar; macerate for about 30 minutes.

When ready to serve cake, remove sides of pan, then top with fruit. Slice cake and serve with whipped cream on the side.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Roasted Chicken

Making a roasted chicken is one of the easiest ways to do dinner on a Sunday evening. But roasted chicken can also go awfully wrong and come out dry and tasteless. We decided to give a new recipe from a recent Sunday section in The New York Times a spin. What intrigued us was that instead of using a roasting pan, you place the chicken atop two pieces of crunchy baguette bread sliced in half.

We picked up a 5 and a half pound bird from the supermarket and a loaf of ciabatta from our favorite local bakery Rose and Joe's.

After cleaning the chicken thoroughly, we rubbed it down with softened butter, salt, pepper, and some fresh lemon juice. In the cavity of the chicken we placed a half of a lemon, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and one head of garlic cut in half. We then cut the ciabatta bread in half lengthwise, doused it in olive oil (as per the recipe) and sprinkled it with liberal amounts of salt and pepper. We popped it in the oven at 400 degrees for 2 hours.

The idea behind this recipe is that once cooked, the bread picks up all the juices from the bird and gets nice and crusty, making a fabulous addition to your meal. While good in theory, in practice the bread was lacking in crunchiness on many of the parts directly underneath the bird. It had an unpleasant, fatty taste and we discarded it after taking just a few bites. I’m not quite sure if I would attempt this recipe again, but if I did I would lose the olive oil – I think the chicken juices would’ve been sufficient, and the bread may not have been so soggy.

Surprisingly, the chicken came out nice and juicy although no basting was necessary in this recipe (a major plus). The chicken was big enough to last us through two nights of dinner, and we even made some chicken salad with the leftover bits and pieces.

Usually the New York Times is spot on with food, but we both felt that they missed the mark on this one. Perhaps it would help to use a roasting pan to separate the bread and chicken in order allow some room for the bread to get crusty instead of suffocating it directly underneath the bird.

JG Melon

Although I’m pretty sure we’ve already found New York’s best burger (that’d be the one from the little owl), it hasn’t stopped me from wanting to try all the rest of the so-called ‘best burgers’ that figure so prominently on so many top 10 lists.

So it was inevitable that Aj and I found ourselves at JG Melon last weekend, waiting at the bar for the opportunity to be seated and try their famous burger. JG Melon is part bar, part restaurant, which always makes be a bit wary of the quality of food coming out of the kitchen. There’s plenty of bars out there turning out top-notch food, but then there are so many others producing lukewarm, lifeless dishes whose sole purpose is to soak up excess alcohol.                     

Luckily, JG Melon falls into the former category. Aj and I each ordered a bacon cheeseburger and a side of cottage fries. The much-heralded burger was indeed excellent – perfectly cooked to temperature and really beefy, both in size and taste. The minimal amounts of bacon didn’t add any flavor or variance of texture, and I would order the burger baconless the next time we come.

And there certainly will be a next time. Not only because of the wonderful burger, but the fantastic cottage fries, as well. Shaped like pickle slices, these little discs of potato nirvana came out piping hot, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. They were infinitely better than so many of the thoughtless French fries haunting other bar menus.

At $9.50 for the burger and an additional $4.50 for the fries, this certainly isn’t the cheapest deal to be had in the world of burgerdom, but it seems that the 15 dollar price range is pretty much becoming the norm for a burger and fries in New York these days.

So is it the best burger in New York? No – I don’t anticipate the little owl to be dethroned anytime soon. Top 10? I’m going to need to try it again, but it just may make the list…

JG Melon

1291 Third Avenue

New York, NY 10021

Food: 8

Frugal Factor: 7

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bagua Juice

This weekend Alex and I took a trip to Jersey City to check out the 'Not Yo Momma's Craft Fair' and for a change of scenery. We took the PATH train to the Grove Street stop and did some exploring after a quick visit to the fair. One of the first places we stumbled across was this cute juice shop called Bagua Juice.

The purple trim on the outside was so charming we couldn't resist taking a closer look. Although it looked like a cafe from the outside, when we stepped in we realized it was more like a juice bar. Though we were both craving something caffeinated, we decided to try a couple of drinks and sit down in the window seats which had lured us in in the first place.

I ordered the Bare-E-Banana smoothie which consisted of strawberry, raspberry, banana, and blueberry, blended with ice. Alex ordered the Breath of Life, which was a juice that combined fresh pineapple, apple, ginger, and ginseng. We both decided that the smoothie was the way to go - the juice was somewhat lukewarm (which I suppose you can't remedy when you're squeezing fresh fruit), whereas the smoothie was cool and refreshing. A few ice cubes could have helped the juice out, but it also may have watered it down too much.

Though we only ordered two small drinks the total was almost $9, which we both felt was far too expensive for such simple drinks. I guess the price is on par with Jamba Juice, but they don't register too high on the frugal-meter, either. The cafe isn't nearly as cute inside as it is outside, and the lack of music made talking in whisper a necessity, but the window seats were comfortable enough and it was nice to take a moment to relax.

If you happen to find yourself in Jersey City and are looking for something healthy, I guess you can give Bagua a try. Just make sure to sit in the window seat.

Bagua Juice
346 Grove St
Jersey City, NJ 07302

Price: $8.50(ish) for 2 small drinks

Food: 7 - both drinks were good and fresh, though not much different than the ones you'd find at similar juice bars.

Frugal Factor: 5