Tuesday, January 6

Surrey's Cafe and Juice Bar (New Orleans, LA, USA)

Before the year ended, I finally made my way to Surrey's, which had been on my list of to-eats since the beginning of 2014.  And...I was impressed!  Well, I was impressed by their shrimp & grits, since I previously didn't have the best impression of grits.  Let's be honest here - before NOLA, I never had any incentive to try grits.  They don't sound particularly appetizing by the way they look and they're generally tasteless unless doused with some kind of sauce...

The only review I can give is on their shrimp & grits, but if you like shrimp and if you like grits - theirs is the best I've had so far in town!  Their presentation is on point, the taste is perfect, and the mouthfeel of the grits is also perfect (not mush, not undercooked).  The shrimp tastes fresh and their ingredients also look and taste fresh.  They also offer a great variety of juices, for those of you who are into drinking your serving of fruit and veggies.  I'll try them... one day.  Service and ambience here are good, on top of their delicious food, making this cafe a great place to have brunch!

Only downside is that there is no question there will be a wait on weekends...

Rating: 4.5/5 (food: shrimp & grits)
Price: $$

Tip: Open 8am-3pm daily

Surrey's Cafe and Juice Bar (Website)
1418 Magazine St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
#: (504) 524-3828

The Pie Hole (Pasadena, CA, USA)

Pies are one of my favorite desserts (particularly key lime pie), but this joint takes it to the next level.  The Pie Hole specializes in all kinds of pie, both sweet and savory, all which look and sound super scrumptious!  They also offer coffee, a much needed staple to go along with your slice o' pie...

On this occasion I tried the Mexican Chocolate and the Yam (seasonal) Pie.  The Mexican Chocolate isn't something I would typically go for, but upon recommendation, I tried it... and it blew my mind!  It's nothing like your ordinary chocolate pie - this one is thick, rich, and chocolatey to the very end.  Let's not forget the graham crust and coffee? flavored whipped cream on top, which pairs so well with the chocolate!  The cinnamon is subtle, making this not just any ordinary chocolatey pie.  Need I say?  I'm unexpectedly in love with this pie.

The yam pie was also quite good - a little less sweet and more subtle, but still really delicious.  The mouthfeel of yam remains slightly in the pie, making the pie a little hard to eat, but otherwise, also really delicious.

The location in Pasadena is close to a bunch of shopping and Intelligentsia (which is perfectttt), and at the moment parking in the lot is free for 90 minutes.  Only downside to this place? The pies are quite, quite pricy, so be ready to empty out your pockets!

Rating: 4.5/5
Price: $$-$$$ (for pie)
Tip: Located inside a space shared with a flower shop, Coolhaus, and a spice shop (to the right of Intelligentsia

The PIe Hole (Website)
59 E Colorado Blvd

Pasadena, CA 91105
#: (626) 765-6315

Sunday, November 16

Crown (New York City, NY, USA)

While wandering the streets of Upper East Side for some happy hour options, me and my friend stumbled upon Crown.  A restaurant with a bar upstairs located in a seemingly residential area, we carefully wandered in a side door to find a bar with romantic lighting and beautiful wooden interiors.  While I can't speak for their food, which seems to have mixed reviews, I can say that their bar service was delightful.  Online, reviewers have said that they have a happy hour, but as of September 2014, this was not true.  This left me and my friend conflicted since we both obviously were intrigued by this place, but we didn't have many afternoons to happy hour away in New York!

The guy at the front politely went to the back to ask if they had happy hour, and the bartender's apparent response was "We don't have happy hour but we can give you a happy hour."  We obviously decided to stay, and each had a drink.  My friend had the Watermelon Gimlet (12), which she enjoyed (especially the cracked pepper), and I had the Star Anise Negroni (12).  While I was hesitant on the star anise at first, Mariano, our bartender, convinced me otherwise.  I was pleasantly surprised, and even prefer this version to many regular negronis I've had!  The cocktails were made with care, and were graciously complimented with some bread and olive oil.  The drinks were strong, otherwise we would've gone for a second round, and we definitely would have stayed for another drink if we weren't on a tight schedule.  Oh, and Mariano did end up giving us a happy hour!

Crown is definitely a gem in the city away from the bustle of the city, and I would return next time I'm in New York!  While I really can't speak for their food, I can say that the presentation of their food had me eyeing others' dishes while there.


Price: $$$
Rating: 4.5/5

24E & 81st St.
New York, NY 10028
#: (646) 559-4880
Crown on Urbanspoon

The Halal Guys (New York City, NY, USA)

First night in New York I was out with a friend and after having flown in from New Orleans, and needless to say I was hungry!  A friend had suggested The Halal Guys to me, and sure enough, I found myself in proximity to their stand in the city.  The stand is a bit hard to find when you don't know what you're looking for, as it's away from all the lights in Times Square, but it's still close enough of a walk, and they have a big sign with "Halal Guys" written on it.

I got their chicken plate, as directed by my friend, and for less than $10, it was a whole lotta food!  Especially for NYC.  I don't eat like a mouse (ie. very little) and there was still quite a bit left for my friend to munch on.  The flavor was decent, a little salty for my liking, but somehow very addicting!  And no, I did not have any alcohol that night.  It definitely was not the most amazing chicken and rice that I've had, but I can see it being better than bad pizza while drunk in the Big Apple.  With that being said, hot food is always delicious on a cold night, and if you're into spicy, their hot sauce will definitely warm you up!

The Halal Guys is a food truck so there are no seats and some people mind that, but there are some buildings with stairs that you can sit on during off-hours.  Overall, not a bad place to grab some grub if you don't want to dish out that dough in Times Square.

Price: less than $10/order
Rating: 4/5

The Halal Guys (Website)
SE Corner of 53rd and 6th
New York, NY 10019
Midtown West, Theatre District
#: (347) 527-1505
The Halal Guys on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 20

Sarabeth's (Central South Park, CA)

Now that my posts are all jumbled and it's almost been a month since I was in NYC, I'm finally getting around to posting about all the delicious, beautiful food I ate.  Here is the first of my series from the Big Easy to the Big Apple.

Breakfast (or brunch) is my favorite meal of the day, as I've mentioned many times before, so naturally, my first proper meal was exactly that!  Where is my first, and unfortunately, only real brunch stop?  Sarabeth's, of course!  I say of course because if you know me, I'm secretly (or not so secretly) a huge fan of Gossip Girl, and this is one of their favorite destinations.

I had my usual latte to start, then finally decided to go all out and order the Crab Cake Benedict (24).  The latte was strong, with lots of fluffy foam (not the usual American latte foam), but nothing too spectacular in my opinion.  While the crab cakes were good, they seemed like they weren't as fresh as they could be.  The flavor was decent and not fishy, and of course it was real crab meat (for $24 one would hope so), but the crust was just stale.  The eggs were a little overcooked for my taste, and the muffins were very stale, but the salad was quite refreshing.  My friend had the Eggs & Kale (17), two eggs over a bed of delicious kale with some almonds.  The almonds were delicious and the dish fresh, but for what you're paying for?  Maybe a tad bit much.  Overall, I wasn't too impressed by my plate, but I'm still glad I came here for the experience.

I feel like I must add that the service is quite good, but the wait for food is long and they only have one bathroom stall.  Maybe this is the New York way - I've noticed many restaurants only have one-toilet bathrooms.  All in all, I was a bit disappointed, but I was pre-warned by overhearing a local say that Sarabeth was "just not as good as it used to be" and has lost some of its charms.

Price: 25-35pp USD or depending on your order and drink | $$
Rating: 3.5/5

Sarabeth's (Website)
40 Central S. Park
New York, NY 10019
#: (212) 826-5959
Sarabeth's on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 15

Shane Confectionery (Philadelphia, PA)

Another well known vintage sweet shop in Old Town Philly is Shane Confectionery, which dates back to the 1860's!  Now this place has been around for much longer than its neighbor, Franklin Fountain, and their extensive history includes a move to a different location and back, as well as a reopening in the spot it is in today.  You can read about their extensive history here.

If you haven't read my other posts, I state outright that I'm not the biggest sweet-tooth ever, especially when it comes to candy, so I went to Shane with the purpose of candy-gazing.  And candy-gazing was what I got.  Shane Confectionery is the quintessential vintage candy shop and a dream for any kid, but on top of that, the variety of candies and chocolate they carry is phenomenal for a quite the tiny storefront.  I was flabbergasted by their numerous offerings of lollies, chocolates, truffles, fudges, and even candied popcorn.  The choices I could pick for were a bit overwhelming...

There were so many items I could pick for, I ended up just getting some chocolate.  I probably should have tried their salt water taffy, but I guess there's always a next time!  My only concern is that some of the items look somewhat stale and old, maybe due to the lighting, or maybe due to the large variety they carry, but either way, this place is a must-visit for children and adult alike!
Price: $-$$ | $$ for candy
Rating: 3.5/5
Tip: Buy something here to get 10% off at Franklin Fountain!

Shane Confectionery (Website)
110 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
#: (215) 922-1048
Shane Confectionery on Urbanspoon

Dutch Eating Place (Philadelphia, PA)

Breakfast is my favorite meal, and I didn't want to miss it, so on day two of my Philly trip, I headed to the Dutch Eating Place.  Located inside the Reading Terminal Market, this food shop offers blueberry and choco chip pancakes, as well as chicken pot pie and other hearty meals for lunch.  The shop is set up like a diner, and when I arrived, there were already lots of people chowing down on breakfast!

Since I was planning on having Tommy DiNic's that same day... I was a bit weary of ordering blueberry pancakes (which they are known for), but I did anyway!  It was a bit of a mistake in a way that the serving was just a bit too much for me, but they sure were delicious!  As delicious as pancakes can get anyway, even though I'm not the biggest fan of pancakes in general.  I guess I decided to be a little adventurous in my food choices on this trip (ie. Franklin Fountain) - eating foods that aren't my favorite and all.  The blueberry pancakes were fluffy and fresh, and very (overly) filling.  Not being the biggest bacon eater either, I thought the turkey bacon was actually pretty good, flavorful and not completely fatty.  Overall, the food, place, and service are all decent.  My suggestion for anyone looking to try more variety in the market, definitely share one order.
Price: $-$$ | 10USDpp
Rating: 3.5/5

Dutch Eating Place (Facebook)
1136 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
#: (215) 922-0425
Dutch Eating Place on Urbanspoon