Sunday, December 25, 2016

Au Shit, our journey to Au Cheval (The Best Burger in America??)

The famous Au Cheval Burger 
I've never owned anything of great importance in my life. It seemed like a privilege afforded to only those who deserve it. The ones who had it all "together". I've been a vagabond for so long, that it seemed superfluous to collect silly material objects. I'd rather spend my time and life making the people around me beautiful.

Lately, however, I've come to realize that my inability (or perhaps reluctance?) to collect material objects is rooted in my blatant disregard of traditional paths.  While most of my peers settled down, had kids, and bought houses, I was off blazing a most nontraditional trail. I do not mean by this declaration to belittle or chastise traditional choices. All choices are valid ones, so long as they remain true to one's values.

Going off the tried and true path has added a few brilliant failures to my record. But why on earth should that matter? I think that failure should be celebrated in a cacophony of sound.

Speaking of brilliant failures, this post is going to be vastly different than any posts I've previously concocted. In this post, my friend Lauren and I chronicle our journey to go and try the purported best burger in America! We failed twice to get in to Au Cheval in Chicago, but found other journeys on our path to the legendary burger.


The Path to Au Cheval: A Journey, a Legend, and a Life Affirming Adventure

Lauren and I have been friends for almost 5 years now. We met in the hallowed halls of 20 Rockefeller Plaza, during our brief stints working for Christie's. It was a harried time, Elizabeth Taylor's jewels demanded all of our attention, but our friendship flourished. It has survived my moves away from New York City, to London, and finally culminated in our joint moves to Washington, DC. And so, a vivid description of our journey in Chicago...

 Day 1: Little Goat Diner and Duck Duck Goat

The monstrosity known as "The Goat Almighty"
In a harried attempt to thwart the notoriously long wait at Au Cheval, Lauren and I decided to try our luck at a lunch seating. I arrived 20 minutes after the place opened and the wait was already bordering on 2+ hours. 

We were reluctant to waste a good day in Chicago, and settled on starting an impromptu tour of Stephanie Izard's Little Goat Diner in West Loop (we had reservations at another one of her establishments later in the day).

Our conclusion for Little Goat? Completely overhyped and underwhelming. While there, we indulged in a blue fish crostini, fries, and the unholy creation known as "The Goat Almighty". The flavors on the blue fish crostini, which consisted of cream cheese, pickled jalepenos, and blue fish, did not seamlessly meld on the crostini. A crostini that was far too thick to use as a serving vehicle. The fries were cut so thin that they ended up having the texture of potato chips. Finally, the burger was far too ambitious, so much so, that each individual meat on the burger seemed horrifically neglected. Instead of doing one meat perfectly, Stephanie decided to do three meats (goat burger, braised beef, and bbq pork) in an unspectacular fashion.

Duck Duck Goat:

After a brief 3 hour break, Lauren and I returned to the West Loop to try our luck at Stephanie's Duck Duck Goat, Izard's take on Chinese flavors.

A delicate butternut squash broth
We started with a beautifully made wonton soup in a butternut squash broth. The flavors in this soup were so well balanced that nothing competed against each other on my palette. The wontons, however, left much to be desired. The filling was overwhelmed by the wrapper, and the wrapper was rubbery.

Next, Lauren ordered a shaved broccoli and rabe salad. We were both convinced that we could have seasoned and prepared these vegetables much better on our own. The greens were under-salted and overwhelmed by sesame oil and garlic.

The Sichuan Eggplant with Goat Sausage followed closed behind the greens, and we finally understood some of the hype around Duck Duck Goat. The sausage and eggplant combination was heavenly.

Finally, we finished with the hand pulled beef slap noodles. Stephanie traveled to China to learn how to make these noodles by hand, I think she needs to fill some of the gaps in her noodle education. The flavors of the dish were excellent, but the noodles themselves did not have uniform thickness nor were they as thin as traditional Chinese noodles.

Overall, although the flavors at Duck Duck Goat were excellent, the restaurant itself still has a long way to go.

Take 2: The Publican and Au Cheval

On Saturday morning we were energized and ready to try again with the behemoth that is Au Cheval. Both Lauren and I prepped for the burgers with a quick early morning workout and began the 45 minute walk to Au Cheval. We were going to make it through the door this time, no way anyone was stopping us!

"It looks like it's going to be a 2 to 3 hour wait, and the kitchen closes by 3, we can't guarantee that you'll get in."

Lauren and I glanced at each other.

"I don't care, I'll camp out at the bar from 3 to 5 while we wait for the kitchen to open again."

Lauren replied with determined resolution. She was ready to sell her soul for the burger that Bon Appetite had named the best burger in America.

So off we went to The Publican to get through the wait.

We hunkered down at The Publican and decided on what "appetizers" we would wait with. Lauren picked a few oysters and I chose a savory monkey bread.

We went around tasting the oysters from different states and farms and quietly traded notes on which were our favorites. We enjoyed the savory monkey bread with a delicious beer cheese as I feverishly checked our place in line. Two hours later the line showed that we went from 60th in line to 10th. We nodded and made a beeline back to Au Cheval.

The hostess informed us that we had 15 more minutes to go and had it made it in time before the kitchen closed. Lauren and I mentally high fived one another, and prepared for the meat dream that was now firmly within our grasp.

That baby just couldn't stop drinking
We were seated and immediately ordered a few libations (I forgot to mention that Lauren's beautiful daughter joined us throughout this adventure). We both ordered the single patty (Note: Au Cheval's single patty is actually a double patty and the double is a triple patty) and an order of the Morney fries with a sunny side up egg. We debated whether to add bacon and egg to our burgers, but decided to try a classic burger with cheese. After all, there's nothing wrong with a good old missionary burger from time to time, it certainly gets the job done.

And then, it CAME....

Hark the herald angels sing!!!
OH! Ohhh Ohhh.....OHHHh Babbbyy!
As we bit into our first succulent bite of the burger we smiled in ecstasy. The patty was smashed (as all good burgers should be), had a lovely charred crust, and was salted to perfection. The burger had young slightly crispy pickles with a brine-y sweetness, a lovely mayo and onion secret sauce, and perfect slices of melty American cheese.

(In case you were wondering I have absolutely no issues with processed cheese, and neither does J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. So get off your high horse and read his article on the virtues of American cheese HERE)

We both died for the mornay and the fries were (I believe double) fried to golden perfection. I would go back for these fries alone.

The Ultimate Question

So was it the best burger in America?

Although it was delicious, and worth the wait, I think I would have to safely rank Au Cheval within the top 5 to 10 burgers in the country. I wouldn't call it the best burger in the country. I realize that Au Cheval suffers from it's designation as the best burger in the country, there is so much hype it has to live up to, but it is still one of the most delicious things I have had in my mouth.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

I rode the pain down, got off and looked up, looked into your eyes (Mediterranean Style Meatballs)

Mediterranean Meatballs
As I stand here on the precipice of so many changes in my life, I cannot help but acknowledge how far I have come. I am humbled, and on my knees, in awe of it all. Grateful for this broken kingdom I have.

I am reminded of Yudishtira's line in the Mahabharata, "I am glad my uncle gave me this ruined land for a kingdom. At least now, we have a challenge before us. I am grateful for a destiny that tests me".

As much as I have resisted, the wrong people, the wrong places, and the wrong decisions have always taught me the right lessons.

And after all those bitter potions, I believe that the right things DO come along. Friends who love you when you are unlovable. Lovers who can't help but think about you all day long. All day long spent thinking about that kiss that was just right. Just the right moments culminating in that magnum opus, one you've fruitlessly tried to construct before.

To the amazing, intelligent, and kind people who have filled my broken kingdom over the past couple of years, thank you for reminding me what magic feels like. I'm reflecting light because of the mirrors you've given me. You fill my eyes with stars, my heart with hope, and my stomach with butterflies.

A Profile of Love: A

This week's love profile is one I've been sitting on for quite some time. During my travels to Chicago I came across quite a few characters, but A topped them all. And so, his love profile...

How do you know when you've found the right guy?

It's like training a dog, girl you have to be a good trainer. Teach them how to sit stay and roll over. And I know because I was trained. You need to watch that show dog whisperer.

How did you meet your wife?

I was this guy that was just known for being single. Always traveling around having a good time with friends. I was on vacation in Jamaica with a good group of friends, and I end up meeting this girl at the pool.

She just blew my mind, I knew I met my wife after that first time meeting her. But she was only in Jamaica for four more days with her family, so she gave me her number.

What set her apart from all the other women you'd met?

I think the boys of this generation don't know what to do when a woman of quality comes around anymore. I didn't know I was a gentleman until I met her. She made me want to be a man and made me act like a gentleman.

She wasn't forceful she just acted like a lady and that made me man up to be what she needed me to be. When you see a keeper, you just have to step up and make it work otherwise you'll regret it forever.

How did you propose?

After six months of dating each other she called me up and said we could be friends if I don't want anything serious. Her exact words were, "I don't want to waste your time".

I couldn't imagine living life without her.

I didn't know nothing, I just knew that girl had me.

So I got down on one knee the next time we met in person. When the lady is a lady she makes the man be a gentleman. She was the first lady that made me want to act like a gentleman.

Did you two have an issues in the beginning and how do you resolve disputes?

A lot of men liked her and looked at her, so I had to get used to that. I used to get really uncomfortable and upset about that in beginning. She was definitely out of my league, but you have got to go higher and see if you can do it. I felt lucky that none of the other men in her life had the courage to step up and go for her.

But I was jealous, and I would pick fights over it. But not her, she was Ms. Cool. Even to this day I've never heard her raise her voice. She just put me in my place, "I'm not going to have that foolishness, have a seat and we can talk about it". She amazes me at her calmness and coolness.

Keeping in line with the theme of unexpected things coming into your, this week's recipe is based around these Thai chilies. I unwittingly received these amazing chilies from a really cool person! They were so amazing that I had to make a full size recipe instead of my usual single serving.

These bad boys
Mediterranean Style Meatballs
Serves: 4 to 6 people

Meat Mixture
4 Slices of French Bread
1/2 Cup Sweet Red Wine (like Chianti or Lambrusco)
1 lb Ground Beef
3 Garlic Cloves, Minced
1 1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 Smoked Paprika
1 Egg
Salt and pepper to taste

1 Medium Onion, Minced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Can Tomato Sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
1/4 Cup Chicken Stock
1 Cinnamon Stick
3 Thai Chilies
1 tsp Sugar
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 Tbsp Greek Yogurt

Slivered Almonds for Garnish

1. Place bread and wine in small bowl and allow to soak for 5 minutes

2. Add all the meat ingredients and bread mixture to a bowl and mix together

3. Form meat mixture into 2 inch balls

4. Shallow fry the meatballs in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until cooked through

5. As the meatballs are cooking begin preparations on the tomato sauce, fry minced onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent

6. Add minced garlic and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes

7. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, Thai chilies, tomato paste, and cinnamon stick. Simmer for 10 minutes

8. Removed cooked meatballs and set aside

9. Add in Greek yogurt to the tomato sauce and mix thoroughly

10. Add meatballs into tomato sauce and heat for 3 to 4 minutes

11. Serve the meatballs with crusty bread or basmati rice

Just have a look at this beauty

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

So cunning you've become. I miss the girl you were. Many will. (Breakfast Poutine)

Breakfast Poutine
I struggled with this month's post. I wrote, I deleted. I wrote, I edited. I wrote, I sent things out for opinions. Finally I said, "Fuck it! I'm going to pump this out in an hour and see where the muses take me."

Last month I took advantage of good wind conditions and went sailing three nights out of the week. Haven't you heard? I'm working on becoming an old white man as soon as possible. It is a mildly frustrating hobby; you are at the mercy of the wind, consistently trimming your sails to accommodate, and sometimes sit dead in the water when the winds decide to disappear.

You are left, stuck somewhere in the middle; in the gap between where your are, what leverage you have, and where you want to be. Even the best sailors are at the mercy of the wind.

It's all a tiny bit arbitrary, like most important things in life. 

My amazing friend E, who joined me for the entire process of certification

Sometimes you wait an arbitrary 365 days for someone, because somehow that seems like the right amount of time to wait for them. 366 days just seems absurd. A year pining is certainly all you can possibly tolerate. Drifting is simply not a place I like to be.

I've heard that if you want to get somewhere fast, you take a boat with a motor. If you want to enjoy getting there, you take a sailboat. In my mind, depending on the wind might be unsuitable at times.

In the past few years I've become slightly too kind and agreeable. That's not me. My sister jokes, "Damn girl you thick...thick skulled! Get it? Because you're so stubborn." Hina: Plays well with others but will light a fire under your ass if needed.

I think it's time to put that delightful sailboat in the shed for a while and pull out the brilliant speedboat that I'm generally more accustomed to.

A Profile of Love: Dayalan and Dhammy

This week's love profile is about a person who never lets the winds steer, he is a go getter who has always followed his passion. A man who knew what he wanted and chased it the entire relationship.

1. You were in a long term relationship a few years ago. What did you learn from it?
Dayalan: I've always believed that anything is possible, as long as you want it hard enough - all you have to do is work for it. I still believe this, however I learnt that in a relationship, both people need to put in the effort. It isn't possible to truly fall head over heals in love with someone until you truly know and love yourself inside out. I spent time discovering myself and learning to be alone. More importantly, I learned to enjoy being alone which taught me that when somebody comes into your life, they should only make it better, not worse. So when I did meet the love of my life a little while later, I was ready to truly love with all my heart and soul - and it's been so easy!
2. How did you meet Dhammy?
Dayalan: I was out with the boys at Cargo in Shoreditch. I was standing outside in the courtyard when I felt the lingering gaze of two longing eyes upon me.  I asked my friend to check for me as I didn't want to make it obvious that I'd noticed.  He laughed it off telling me that she was probably looking at someone behind me - when a random stranger sitting nearby told us that actually the girl had been "seriously intensely starring" at me!
After throwing this in my mates face, I look over to the girl.  Now ordinarily when you look over at an Asian girl in a club, she'll immediately look away and act as if she had no idea you were there... this girl didn't do that - instead she maintains eye contact for almost two minutes!  It was love at first sight... and every sight after.  The girl had balls... so I walked over and told her "I feel like I need to introduce myself to you", she agreed and we spent the rest of the night getting to know each other.  We went on our first date two days later and within a week we were a couple and had said the "L word".

3. How did you know she was the one?
Dayalan: It was easy to know she was the one... after you've met the wrong ones over and over again, the right one sticks out like an adult Asian man at a Taylor Swift concert (yup, I've been there). More than that, we were the same person at the same stage in our lives. As a completely narcissistic man who loves himself, it only made sense that I end up with somebody exactly like me!
4. How do you plan on proposing?
(At the time of this question Dayalan had not proposed. However, we now have a video of the actual thing!) CLICK HERE

Jump over fire to get the ring

Dayalan and Dhammy run the instagram @weare_superhuman: A fitness, health, and motivation site. Congrats to this amazing twosome!

For these two champions I needed to make the breakfast of champions, Poutine!!
Breakfast Poutine
Serves One
Sausage Gravy
1 Sweet Italian Sausage
1 Tbsp Flour
1 Tbsp Butter
2/3 Cup Milk
1/4 Beef Bullion Cube 
Salt and Pepper to Taste

1/2 Cup Frozen Tater Tots
Cheese Curds (if you can fucking find them) or a handful of young white Cheddar
1 Egg (Sunny Side Up)
Chives for Garnish

1. Saute the sausage until cooked through 

2. Remove cooked sausage from pan, leaving behind the drippings

3. Add flour and butter to pan to make a roux

4. Cook the roux for 1 to 2 minutes

5. Add milk and bullion cube

6. Allow to thicken, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add salt and pepper

7. Add sausage back in and keep must keep it warm for the cheese to melt later!

8 Cook tater tots (follow package instructions) and sunny side up egg (I forgot to take a picture of the egg, probably because I love eggs and ate it immediately)

9. To assemble the Poutine, top the hot tater tots with cheese, sausage gravy, egg, and chives.

10. Eat that bastardized Canadian MOFO and do a Tough Mudder Race

Monday, August 22, 2016

I burned so long so quiet you must have wondered if I loved you back. I did, I did, I do.

The Petite Epicure turns one year old today!! We're going to celebrate by doing a mega post. That means a lot of pictures, a lot of love, and one of the most difficult cookie recipes in the world, the macaron.

I can't begin to describe what an amazing year it has been with this blog. I am without a doubt the happiest I have ever been in my life, and part of that is attributed to TPE. To celebrate this, my wonderful friend Julie and I went out to one of the most beautiful gardens in DC and took some stunning photos.

Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in Northeast DC is home to a beautiful garden of lotuses, lily pads, and other breathtaking flora. It was impossibly hard to pick the few pictures that I thought were worthy, but I tried! If you are EVER in need of a wonderful photographer send me an email and I will put you in touch with the incredibly talented Jri.zaro (follow her on Instagram).

My favorite shot of the afternoon, we waited a good 30 minutes to capture this crane in flight

It was a perfect afternoon with one of my best friends. Thanks again Julie for doing this Blogiversary shoot!

Now on to more jam packed fun: A love profile!

A Profile of Love: N and M

N is my beloved cousin. We have clung to each other like anchors through the stormiest parts of our lives. I remember more than a handful of family Christmases where she would come and talk to me about M; about how much she wished they could be together. Alas, their 8 years of back and forth finally panned out as they were married a few weeks ago. I wholeheartedly condone M's addition into our family.

I think over the years I've forgotten what a good man looks like. M may have finally restored my faith. I was humbled by how much M cared about me and the things I had to say. He is the kind of person every man should aspire to be. Anytime I spoke to him, he made me feel like I was the only person in the room. He cared intently about what I was saying, tried exceptionally hard to ask questions about my passions, and spent so much time making sure his bride-to-be was happy.

How did you two meet?

M: We met in middle school, seventh grade. She used to be a bully...

N: I was not a bully!

M: This is my version of the story, you'll get your chance later! My version is she bullied me, and back then I really didn't care about girls. I was more serious about my studies and sports. I had just switched from a military type school where you stand up and say "Present!" when the teacher called your name.

N: I was walking in the hallway and saw him spring up and say present, I laughed so hard at him.

M: She was thinking, who is this hot guy?


M: But at that time I just thought she was a nice person like every other human being. I didn't really think about her that way. I wasn't very social back then, I just sort of kept to myself, and was more studious.

When did things change?

M: Eventually I started to make more friends and we moved on to high school. In 9th grade she asked me to sit next to her. To me it sounded something like, "Hey handsome, you want to come sit next to me, and marry me someday, and have babies with me?"

N: That is absolutely not what I was thinking! I was just being nice.

M: Nope you thought I was so good looking, you couldn't help yourself.

But you still didn't date?

M: I guess I didn't want to ruin the friendship. I'm sure I had a crush on her. I liked her, I liked her a lot.

N: When we were applying to Universities he started asking me where I was applying, and then he would tell me how far it was from where he was going. I didn't get it for a while, that was his way of saying he liked me. One day in his car I was singing at the top of my lungs "Hit me baby one more time" and he said "If you don't shut up I'm going to kiss you", I didn't take him seriously I just kept singing, and then he suddenly kissed me.

M: And that was when we started seeing each other.

Eventually you broke up, can you tell me about that? 

M: Yeah, we broke up and unfortunately saw other people. But eventually, I knew that I wanted her and that's when I just stopped dating and decided to wait for her. I felt like N needed to figure out what she wanted and she was afraid to admit she wanted to try again.

One of the Bridesmaids: She just wanted to hear that you loved her, and you wouldn't give it to her!

M: Yeah, I was one of those people who showed love more through action.

N: In my early twenties I felt like I was gravitating back to M. Everyone I saw, I just kept seeing attributes and characteristics that I had liked about M. We got back together in our late twenties and it finally made sense.

Why does your relationship work?

M: We both balance each other. We're very different in some ways. She's obviously more lively and sociable and I'm more calm and logical. Whenever we have disagreements, she doesn't like to deal with them right away. And me, I want to sit down and resolve them before going to bed. I have to clear things up as quickly as possible.

N: We are a good balance to each other.

(All photographs of the couple were taken by The DivineMethod Photograpy)

For my Blogiversary and this amazing couple I decided to make one of the most finicky cookies known to mankind, the macaron! Trust me, it was a pain in the ass. Everything had to be precise and well thought out, but it worked out. After all, what comes easy, won't last, and what lasts, won't come easy.

I of course used the holy grail of macaron recipes, David Lebovitz's.

Makes about fifteen cookies

Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway) by David Lebovitz

1 cup (100 gr) powdered sugar
½ cup powdered almonds (about 2 ounces, 50 gr, sliced almonds, pulverized)
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons (65 gr) granulated sugar
A couple drops of gel food color

Any kind of icing or ganache you fancy

Preheat oven to 350º F (180º C).

1. Line two baking sheets with silpats (absolutely needed!) and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready.

2. Grind together the powdered sugar with the almond powder so there are no lumps; use a blender or food processor since almond meal that you buy isn’t quite fine enough.

Measure. Measure. Measure.
3. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes. (You should be able to hold the bowl over your head and nothing should move, SERIOUSLY)

I like em stiff
3. Carefully fold the dry ingredients (and I recommend sifting it beforehand) and a few drops of your desired gel food color, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula (mix 50 times total, SERIOUSLY you have to pay attention to this kind of thing with macarons).

Red. In honor of that time someone yelled "HEY RED!" to me
4. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you’re alone).

5. Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.

6. Let the sheets rest for 15 minutes to develop a "skin", then bake them for 15-18 minutes. Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.

7. Spread some icing and sandwich those devilishly tricky things together if your recipe worked!

Ohhhh Honey