Showing posts with label restaurant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label restaurant. Show all posts

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Restaurant Wars - Chipotle

I first stepped foot into a Chipotle restaurant over ten years ago in the city of Madison, Wisconsin. I was a first year grad student and had enough of my friend Bhavesh tell me how many burritos he'd eaten that week. I had to try it out for myself. There was only one problem, I'd never had a burrito quite like this before.

In Western New York we grew up eating Mighty taco. There were few other options when it came to quick tacos. Their menu consisted of soft and hard tacos, filled with beef, cheese, sour cream and "Mighty sauce." Whatever that was.

During my college years, at UB in WNY, a burrito place opened up boasting burritos the size of your head. Being of the female persuasion, that didn't really appeal to me. My guy friends were happy to go there and eat six pounds of runny beans, poorly cooked meat and scorched cheese but I begged off and stayed home those nights.

With grad school came a broadening of my palate and the introduction of healthy burrito options. Bhavesh dragged us all to Chipotle, where he really did eat five burritos a week, and introduced us to what would become a weekly treat. Sometimes twice weekly when we had late exams and only time for one meal.

Chipotle has really spread across the country since my first visit back in 2003. Even Amherst, NY now boasts a location and they're always the last to get anything good! I have gone from solely eating soft tacos, to only getting the spiciest fajita burrito. After the advent of the online calorie counter my order swiftly switched to the chicken salad and these days I'll go back and forth between a salad and a bowl. I'm sure your own ordering process has changed through the years too.

I was more than happy to have Chipotle as the first restaurant on my war list. bf and I go there a few times a month and my coworkers regularly visit for lunch. I could definitely go for a burrito bowl or salad without the long drive! I decided to try and recreate my two go-to dishes for this challenge. Here's the verdict.

First, it took forever to prepare everything that I needed to make these two dishes. I made three salsas, salad dressing, chicken marinade. I prepped and chopped lettuce, tomatoes, untold numbers of jalapeƱo pepper and squeezed more limes than I can count. I actually ran out of limes and had to go back to the store for more. I really could have used a staff to help me prep everything. I planned on making this meal for dinner Monday, so I spent two hours on sunday afternoon doing all the prep work.

Next, dinner came together really quickly Monday night, though I nearly drove us out of our apartment. The marinade for the chicken smelled wonderful, but when the chicken came in contact with the grill pan - it was like I set off a pepper bomb. BF and I were both coughing because of the spiciness in air. Maybe grill your chicken outside, or you'll this the police have sent the seat team to your house.

Lastly, adobo seasoning is not the same as adobo sauce. I looked everywhere for a jar of adobo seasoning. I knew it existed because my grocery list app had it programmed into its memory. However, after six different grocery stores I had to give up. Maybe I need to locate a well stocked Hispanic grocery in my area? I wound up buying a jar or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and fishing out he sauce I needed.

You can totally cheat on the prep work and buy your favorite mild salsa or salsa verde. I even shredded my own cheese mixture, which you could skip and buy a pre-shredded Mexican-style cheese blend. For the Chipotle flavor though, you can't skip marinating your chicken, making your own fresh corn salsa, tossing your rice with lime juice and blending up a batch of their salad dressing. At least make the salad dressing, after a bit of tweaking of some other recipes I found - it's almost like being there.

One year ago: Chocolate-Peppermint Marshmallows
Two years ago: Homemade Butterfinger Bars

Chipotle recipes - These have all been adapted from so many different "Copy-cat" recipes online. I changed them all a little to try and get as close as possible to the real thing. Be sure to go out and get yourself a bottle of green Tabasco sauce too, because it isn't complete without a dash of heat!

Salsa verde

4 tomatillos, husks removed
1 small white onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic
2 Cubanelle peppers
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Juice from 1/2 lime

Turn on your oven broiler.  Place tomatillos, onion quarters, garlic cloves and peppers 4-5 inches below the broiler.  Broil for 5 minutes, turn the vegetable over and broil for another 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

Peel the charred skin from the peppers, chop in half and remove the seeds.  Combine all of the ingredients except the salt in a food processor or blender.  Pulse to combine, leave the salsa a little chunky.  Give the salsa a taste, season with salt if you desire.  Transfer to an air-tight jar and keep in the fridge.

Mild tomato salsa

4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/4 red onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine.  Transfer to an air-tight jar and store in the fridge.
Cheese blend

8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese
8 ounces Mild white cheddar cheese
Place cheese blocks in the freezer for 10-20 minutes.  This will make it easier to shred.  Shred and combine both cheeses.  So simple!

Chipotle brown rice

1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
Juice from 1 lime
Juice for 1/2 lime
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Pour 1 cup brown rice into 2 cups water.  Bring to a boil then lower heat to low.  Let simmer for 40 minutes.  Once the rice is tender and the water is absorbed, add citrus juice and cilantro.  Toss to combine.
Fresh Corn salsa

2 cups corn kernals (fresh or frozen)
1 jalapeno pepper, diced small
1/4 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients and transfer to an air-tight container.  Store in the fridge for 1-2 hours before serving.

Chipotle Chicken marinade

1 ounce dried ancho chilies
3 ounces chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin powder
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
6 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 red onion, quartered
1/4 cup oil (canola/vegetable/olive)
4 chicken breasts

Add boiling water to dried ancho chilies and let hydrate for 2 hours or up to overnight.

Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and transfer to a large bowl.  Poke chicken breasts with a fork and pierce all over.  Add chicken to the marinade and toss to coat.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge overnight.

When ready to cook.  Remove chicken from the marinade and shake off excess bits of pepper.  Grill in a well-ventilated area!

Honey-Chipotle salad dressing

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Combine first six ingredients in a blender.  Pulse to combine.  With blender running, slowly stream in olive oil.  Serve over any salad for a tangy and sweet take on your usual salad.
Yum, delicious.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Close your Eyes

Close your eyes.  Now place your hands over your eyes.  This is the complete darkness that you feel when eating at Dans le Noir NYC.  It is a dining experience unlike any other.

Boyfriend and I spent the weekend in the city, a present from me to him this Christmas.  The weekend included dinner at Dans le Noir NYC.  Both BF and I had heard of this restaurant before, friends have gone and tried to explain their nights, I read as much as possible before went entered the doors.  Nothing really prepared us for the night ahead.

El restaurant

Dans le Noir NYC is located a little off the beaten track in Midtown Manhattan.  Yes, there are quiet areas of Midtown.  Located on 38th street, between 7th and 8th avenues, the restaurant is unassuming with a black sign and dark windows.  Our reservation was for 6:00pm, we hoped dinner wouldn't take too long because we had theater tickets.

You enter the restaurant through the lighted bar area.  You can get yourself a drink before you head into the dining room, you might need it.  The Dans le Noir staff checked us in, showed us the "menu" and had us sign a waiver.  Yes, a waiver.  And yes, I put menu in quotations.

You don't really get a menu, you get an idea of what you might be eating.  There are four options - the White menu (anything goes), the Red menu (for meat eaters), the Blue menu (for seafood lovers) and the Green menu (for the vegetarians).  I chose to be adventurous and went with the white menu.  Boyfriend isn't a fan of seafood and decided to go with the red menu.

The Lighted Bar

With all of the preparation complete, we met our head waiter - Sam.  Sam (and every waiter working at Dans le Noir) was blind.  He lined us up two by two and had us hold onto the shoulder of the person in front of us.  Sam lead us into the pitch black dining room, he sat us down in our chairs and gave us a tour of our place settings.  Right away, someone lost their knife.

The room was so inky black, there was no difference between keeping your eyes open or closed.  Waving my hand in front of my face, looking to all corners of the room, there was nothing but black.  All the plates and cups were plastic, which was good, because things were falling on the floor.  Our biggest challenge was first, passing the bread basket and filling our water glasses.  I managed to locate a tasty morsel of bread and fill my glass without soaking my lap.


BF and I were seated in the center of the oblong table and we knew no one else at our table.  When dining in the dark with six strangers, you get to know them quickly.  You are seated very close to one another and everyone is yelling.  Apparently when you lose your sense of sight, you start speaking very, very loudly.  BF and I aren't really yellers and I found myself wondering if he was still at the table!

Dinner was brought out in three courses, the starter, main course and dessert.  The women at the table had all ordered the white menu, the men all got the red.  I guess women are adventurous eaters and men like to eat meat.  I found it helpful to be sitting next to someone who was eating the same meal that I was.  We were able to compare thoughts on what we were actually eating.

The menus for the restaurant change every few weeks, so I don't want to describe my meal precisely for those that are headed to NYC soon.  It's supposed to be a surprise!  What I can tell you is this, I had several things that I have never eaten before.  Did you know that I've never had a beet before?  My started consisted of a tomato and beet salad with a portion of some sort of red meat.  I don't generally eat beef, so I couldn't differentiate the red meats in the dark.  All I know, it was delicious.

As Sam cleared our starter plates and brought out the main courses, the room started to fill with rich aromas.  I leaned over the plate and tried to determine what was in store.  Other than the hint of meat and seafood, I wasn't able to discern the dish.  As a group, we located a crab cake, some more red meat and a risotto.  A unique sort of surf and turf.  Eating the meal though was a little difficult.

The presentation of the meal was completely lost on us diners, as we couldn't see the food in front of our faces.  In fact we had some trouble locating the food on the plate.  Several times during the course of the dinner, I brought an empty fork to my mouth.  Mmmm, air, delicious and just what I wanted.  Your hands become quite useful when dining in the dark, be sure you've washed them!

Dessert was the same for all menus, so we shared the experience and a table.  I kept hearing "I found some strawberries" or "Hey, there's a chocolate something on here!" and "I think this is ice cream!" (It wasn't).  Dessert was a series of simple and obvious flavors.  I have to imagine the summer dessert is filled with amazingly flavorful fruits.

Once we were finished with dessert, there was an overwhelming desire to get out of the dark.  Everyone was ready to be able to see again, after only seventy-five minutes in the dark.  After the leave the dining room, being lead by our great waiter Sam, the soft lighting of the bar was even too bright.  We were given a look at the menu that we just enjoyed.  Remember all that beef I had?  Well none of it was actually beef.  The menu held nothing creepy or strange.  There was lamb, venison, poussin, crab, bison.  Apparently there was some fois gras on my main course plate, I never found it. 

If you are taking a trip to New York City (or Barcelona, London, St. Petersburg or Paris) and have a sense of adventure, you should get a reservation for Dans le Noir.  Personally, I thought it was quite the experience.  While BF and I wouldn't go back there for dinner on our own, we would certainly bring visiting family and friends, just so they can try to get food in their mouth in the dark.

Photos courtesy of the Dans le Noir website.  There wasn't really anything to take pictures of in the restaurant, because it was completely pitch black! 
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