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Buffalo Eats: Try Rachel's, new fast-service Greek spot on Delaware

By ANDREW Z. GALARNEAU

Donnie Burtless and Alli Suriani of BuffaloEats.org tried out Rachel's Mediterranean, the fledgling Greek-Lebanese place at Delaware and Chippewa (235 Delaware Ave., 768-3852).

Liked it, too. Standouts included the chicken pita wrap and Greek fried potatoes with tzatziki, feta and spices.

Read the whole thing here.

It's the same operators as Rachel's on Main Street in Williamsville, and the Rachel's in UB Amherst's Commons.

 

Video: Carmelo's chefs vs. Bacchus' in Nickel City Chef 23, Battle: Amber Ale

By Andrew Z. Galarneau

If you haven't been to any of the sold-out Nickel City Chef events, check out the video below to see what you're missing. Now in its fifth season, NCC recaps its events in slick videos that let you in on the show. It may also cause hunger pangs, but that's a feature, not a bug.

Fans of Iron Chef or other cooking competition shows will recognize the format, but it's the local faces that make it interesting. On March 24, it was Carmelo Raimondi and Bruce Wieszala from Carmelo's in Lewiston, as challengers against Nickel City Chef Brian Mietus, of Bacchus, with sous Ronald Rytel.

Both teams had 60 minutes to prepare meals using the secret ingredient, De Maas Amber Ale from Buffalo "nanobrewery" Community Beer Works. The results will make you wish you were one of the judges, on this day including Ivy Knight, Toronto food writer and editor-in-chief of Swallow, Chef James Roberts of Park Country Club, who won Battle: Beer in 2011, and Chef Chris Dorsaneo of Lloyd, who won Battle: Chevre in 2012.

Watch and wonder. Then, if you are so moved, make reservations. If you like, there are lots more videos showing what some of Buffalo's best chefs can do under pressure. No ticket required.

 

When the story's the best part: drinking bird's nest soup

By ANDREW Z. GALARNEAU

I got to try one of the legendary dishes of Chinese cuisine recently, and I still don't know quite what to make of it. Here's my exploration of yan wo, bird's nest soup, in today's Buffalo News.

At Sun Restaurant Buffalo, 1989 Niagara St., Kevin Lin is selling it for $40 a bowl and up, and I did my level best to explain why. It doesn't taste bad. It doesn't taste good, except for the rock sugar he steamed the nest with, in the traditional fashion. 

Fabled for a thousand years. Doesn't taste like anything at all. Really.

Pointing out that it's supposed to be strong medicine, Lin cracked me up by saying, “You want flavor? I recommend tom yum soup. Five dollars.”

Why did perverse Westeners fasten onto castor oil and cod liver oil for force-feeding children who are already queasy? Most kids would ask for seconds of bird's nest soup. 

Chinese Chinese food has long fascinated me, and I've done what exploring I could, in Flushing and Los Angeles, Manhattan and Toronto. Now Buffalo is seeing a burgeoning Chinese restaurant presence, driven by the more than 2,000 Chinese students at the University at Buffalo.

Many brought families, especially the graduate and professional students. They eat at new places like Peking Quick One in Tonawanda, and Amherst's China Star and Wok and Roll, as well as established places like Uncle John's No. 1, Gin Gin, Golden Duck and Eastern Pearl. I feel like I owe those students thanks for the dining they've made possible for the other million eaters in town.

Dining that includes dishes I never dreamed of.

I've gotten used to the Chinese appreciation of texture as well as flavor. Duck tongues are chewy. Jellyfish is soft but still has a snap. Shaved beef tendon has a pleasant chew. Deep-fried pig intestine is crunchy like a hybrid of onion ring and pork rind. 

Thing is, all those dishes come in sauces so interesting they'd make anything edible. With the slippery jelly threads of bird's nest soup, just a dash of sugar. Because the legend is the most satisfying part.

email: [email protected]

Video: Elements: Smashed Rutabagas and Carrots

In the latest Elements recipe, rutabagas are cubed and simmered with carrots and mashed together with a stick of butter for a hearty, satisfying side dish.

Bacon and its imitators

The timing couldn't have been better. I'd just had a breakfast sandwich from Tim Hortons with their new, improved bacon on it. The new stuff, called Thick Cut Hickory Smoked Bacon in the company's ads,  provides much more taste and texture than the two-molecules-thick strips Tim's used to serve on its sandwiches. That bacon was more a whisper of a suggestion of a meat than an actual strip of bacon. So the new stuff is an improvement.

BaconThe morning bacon had been forgotten, though, by the time I arrived at work and noticed a suspiciously aromatic box on my desk. Inside was an array of bizarre bacon-inspired items, including a gift bag decorated with images of kind of fatty strips of bacon, some bacon-decorated gift wrap (in case you had an irregular-shaped gift that just wouldn't fit into the gift bag, I guess), a tin of "Uncle Oinky's Savory Bacon Mints," some bacon flavored toothpicks, because nothing is better after a plate of bacon than a bacon toothpick, and, best of all, a Funky Fresh bacon-scented air freshener in the shape of three strips of bacon.

Oh, and there was also a handsome Tim Hortons cutting board engraved with the words, "Bacon makes everything better!" a press release and a thumb drive with images. But who cares about that stuff?

Let me repeat: Uncle Oinky's Savory Bacon Mints! Bacon air freshener!

This made my day.

And it remind me of possibly my favorite video ever:

 

-- Anne Neville

 

Tips on winning soda bread contest Saturday at Irish Center

The Buffalo Irish Center, 245 Abbott Road, will host its 10th annual soda bread competition on Saturday. If you're interested, bring entries to the center’s library from 9 to 10 a.m. Loaves should be wrapped in clear plastic, with a removable label attached with the baker's name, address and phone number.

Pastry chef Bridget English will judge entries on appearance, taste and texture. (The former Hyatt pastry chef now teaches part-time in the Culinary Department at ECC City Campus, as well as running the Dog Ears Cafe in South Buffalo.)

I asked her to describe what she looks for in good soda bread. Here's what she said:

"I look for a very traditional soda bread, that is - round and self-supporting with a texture that is somewhat dense but not dry. It should not be particularly sweet, but generally have an underlying flavor of butter. It should be golden brown with the traditional cross cut in the top, to bless the bread or let the fairies out, whichever tale you prefer. 

It may be brown (made with whole wheat flour and sometimes oats), have raisins or currants, and some have caraway seed. All these are traditional variations. No chocolate chips please!"

Winners will be notified by phone. Prizes will be awarded for the top three entries, courtesy of the Tara Gift Shoppe. All entries become the property of the Irish Center. For more information, call 627-5966.

Zillycakes' Elmwood spot to become Firefly Cupcakes' second store

Wendy Egloff, owner of Firefly Cupcakes (700 Main St., East Aurora, 655-4949) plans to open her second "couture cupcake" store in the former Zillycakes space, 1008 Elmwood Ave.

Egloff became interested after baked goods artist Zilly Rosen announced her shop was for sale. "Firefly Cupcakes’ second location will mirror the first with a showcase full of over the top cupcakes based on fun weekly themes, accompanied by Stumptown Coffee," according to a press release.

A new cake menu will round out the current all-cupcake menu. "Renovation plans include two in-house dining areas and a cake studio for Zillycakes' Rosen, who will be in residence at Firefly."

Via email, Rosen said she was "reducing her footprint." 

"I will be available as a cake designer, a flavor developer, and a teacher. I will continue to design, bake, and decorate wedding and special event cakes, but with more limited availability and only one at a time. I'll be available for creative, original projects for individuals or businesses beginning in the fall of 2013."

Rosen said she was looking forward to spending more time with her family. That doesn't mean she'll be bored.

She's working on a new book contract for a volume titled "Petite Treats," and participating in the Buffalo Public Schools' visiting artist program through this spring and next fall. "I will be creating an installation at Canada's Baking and Sweets Show in Toronto in September, and I'll create a different one at a similar cake show in Chicago in November," she said. 

 

email: [email protected]

 

 

New menu of Polish classics earned Polish Villa II its rave review

By Andrew Z. Galarneau

Here’s some background to my rave review of Polish Villa II (1085 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga, thevilla.biz, 822-4908), published in today’s Buffalo News.

Chef-owner Ed Kutas, who has run the place with his wife Rosanna since 2006, introduced a new menu in November. It’s “100 percent Polish-American, more traditional,” he said. He added dishes like the bigos, or hunter’s stew, with sausage, sauerkraut, mushrooms, and beef chuck or pork shoulder.

I can't tell you how authentic it is, because I've never been to Poland. I can tell you it's delicious in a compelling way, the kind of food you carefully collect into leftover containers and actually reheat and devour the next day.

I can also tell you that Ed Kutas and his cooks put a lot of work into $7 appetizers and $12 meals (the bigos is $11, actually). Meals come with salad or soup, choice of potato (including the terrific potato pancake) and another vegetable (hard to go wrong with the bacon-studded sweet-and-sour cabbage).

Unless you're a vegetarian, of course. Then you might enjoy the potato pancakes and his pierogies, especially the mushroom number.

Those are dried wild Polish mushrooms, soaked for a week and tumbled to remove grit, Kutas said. The woodsy flavor is prominent after they’re sauted with garlic and onions and enriched with goat cheese, thrilling mushroom lovers. Two fat empanada-sized dumplings, duded up with sweet caramelized onions and sour cream, for the princely sum of $7. 

There’s lots of little touches like that. The house dressing has caraway seeds and the plum sauce with the shvinki, crispy pork fingers, is cooked down from fresh plums. The beet soup starts with kielbasa stock.

Check it out and see what you think. There’s a widescreen projection television at one end of the dining room, which did not exactly enrich my dining experience. But if you want to eat and watch a Sabres game, the eats at Polish Villa II will be a whole lot better than your living room. 

email: [email protected]

Recipe: Andouille Corn Poppers, from 'Southern Living The Way to Fry'

Here's a recipe for andouille corn poppers, using the smoked Cajun sausage to make corn dog bites that bite back. As the recipe notes, you can substitute cocktail smokies or other sausage. It's from "Southern Living The Way to Fry," featured in today's Buffalo News.

Andouille Corn Poppers

Makes: 6 to 8 servings

Hands-on Time: 30 min.

Total Time: 30 min.

1 (8 ½ -oz.) package corn muffin mix

1 large egg

½  cup buttermilk

1 tsp. Creole seasoning

1 lb. andouille sausage, cut into 1-inch slices*

Peanut oil

Creole mustard

Cocktail sauce

 

1. Whisk together corn muffin mix and next 3 ingredients. Dip sausages slices in

batter, coating well.

 

2. Pour oil to depth of 1 inch into a Dutch oven; heat over medium-high heat to

375°. Fry sausages, in batches, about 90 seconds on each side or until golden brown.

Drain on paper towels. Keep warm on a wire rack in an aluminum foil-lined jellyroll

pan in a 200° oven. Serve with mustard and cocktail sauce.

 

*1 (16-oz.) package cocktail-size smoked sausages, drained, may be substituted.

We tested with Bryan Cocktail Smokies.

(From Southern Living The Way to Fry by Norman King, Oxmoor House 2013.)

Join a meatless potluck March 15 at Tonawanda's St. Francis of Assisi

By Andrew Z. Galarneau

The St. Francis of Assisi Church, 70 Adam St., City of Tonawanda, is hosting a meatless potluck buffet on March 15, in honor of St. Joseph's Day.

Admission is a meatless dish to pass, said organizer Dottie Poole. While St. Joseph's tables often focus on Sicilian or other Italian dishes, other cuisines are perfectly fine, Poole said. Please make it meatless though, for people who are abstaining.

Poole invited possible participants to call her at 694-0026, and tell her what they plan to bring. There's no reason to have three potato salads if you can avoid it.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m., dinner at 6. Beverages will be provided.

email: [email protected]