Esquina – Lawrence, KS

Josh and I decided to try out Robert & Molly Krause’s new restaurant, Esquina on its opening night.  Esquina is located on the southwest corner of 8th & Massachusetts Street in Downtown Lawrence.  It is in the building that was occupied by Round Corner Drug Store and the Cheese & Salami Shoppe for decades. 

Since the Krause’s shut down their home-based restaurant in January, they have been working hard to complete the renovations and improvements to the Round Corner space and tonight, all of their hard work paid off with an opening that appeared to go smoother than I ever would have thought an “opening night” should have gone.  Our food was delivered quickly and was exactly as we had ordered it and it was spectacular to boot.

Esquina is a Taqueria, but not a Taqueria like I’ve ever been to before.  The tacos that they serve aren’t like any other tacos that I’ve ever seen.  Robert and his team have come up with some of the most creative combinations of ingredients that just set off a fireworks show in your mouth.  There really are no words to explain my feelings about the pork tacos.  Seriously, pork, pineapple and pumpkin seeds were made for each other!

When you walk in the door, you made your way to the back of the restaurant to place your order from their chalkboard menu board.  They were having one special on opening night, a bowl of soup that we were told was pretty spicy, so we didn’t venture in that direction.  We ended up ordering the three tacos combo with an additional taco, an order of chips and homemade guacamole and an order of the calamari.  I am a huge fan of calamari and I like to try it wherever I see it on the menu (within reason of course. . . calamari isn’t something that I’m probably going to be sampling at some sketchy location for fear of ending up in the ER a short time later). 

The tacos that we chose were the Steak, Pork, Chicken and Fish.  Josh said that his favorite was the fish taco and I agree that it was pretty amazing with the fried plantains in there.  Robert just knows how to please his customers with eclectic combinations of ingredients that cause your taste buds to dance.  Good stuff people, good stuff!

My favorite taco, as I said before was the pork taco.  It was absolutely amazing.  I also really enjoyed the calamari and the guacamole.  The chips at Esquina have a light seasoning and are wonderful as well.  The guacamole is chunky and comes in the largest serving size I’ve ever seen for guac.  The calamari comes with a slightly sweet dipping sauce that really counteracts and compliments the saltiness of the calamari.  Yum!

So, if you’re visiting Downtown Lawrence, looking for somewhere to eat that’s a little bit different from your normal, every day food experiences, definitely check out Esquina.  I promise you won’t be worry that you did!

NYC Trip Review #11 – Famous Original Ray’s Pizza

Our last stop in NYC before grabbing our luggage and heading for Laguardia was Famous Original Ray’s Pizzeria on Lexington Avenue.  We had visited here on our first day in the city too, but wanted to grab another slice before heading home.  On the first trip, we both had the sausage and pepperoni slice, but this time, I tried the Ziti and Meat Sauce slice and Josh went with the Sausage and Pepperoni again.  I have to say, I prefer the sausage and pepperoni.  The ziti pizza is kind of a novelty and I’m sure some people would love it, but it was just too much starch for me.  I LOVE thin cruse pizza and this one just over-did the bread for me.  It was still good, but definitely filled me up faster than I would have liked. 

NYC Trip Review #10 – Bouchon Bakery

Another stop on our last day in NYC was Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner building.  This building also houses many retail stores as well as a Whole Foods in the basement.  We visited the Whole Foods but it was close to lunchtime and it was mass chaos in there, so we went ahead and went upstairs to Bouchon.

Bouchon Bakery was founded by famous chef Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame) and has locations in Yountville, New York and Las Vegas. 
  
The TKO cookie was one of Josh’s choices.  It is Bouchon’s version of the Oreo cookie and was very good.

I chose the Coffee Cake.  It was delightful and buttery.

The chocolate tart was my second choice.  It wasn’t as good as the chocolate tart from Perilla the night before, but I brought it home with me and ate it cold, from the fridge the night after we got home and it was very good then.  It was made with a darker chocolate than Perilla’s tart.

Josh’s second choice at Bouchon was the Maple-Bacon Brioche.  I know, I know. . . you’re thinking, "bacon on a pastry. . . gross" but it was actually very good.  People who have talked about VooDoo doughnuts in Portland have compared their maple bacon doughnut to bacon and pancakes and I would definitely use that comparison here.  It was flaky and very good as we peeled the layers off to enjoy.

NYC Trip Review #9 – Ben & Jerry’s at Rockefeller Center

Josh and I went to Rockefeller Center on our last morning and visited Top of the Rock Observation Deck.  It is relatively close to the Empire State Building and people have said that the views are better at Top of the Rock, so we figured that we’d try it out.  People were right.  The views were amazing. 
 
After we came back down to reality, we were hungry, so we stopped at the Ben & Jerry’s at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (anyone who watches the show 30 Rock will understand).  Lucky for us, this Ben & Jerry’s was one that actually carries Elton John’s signature flavor that I have been dying to try out since it came out last year.  I was jealous that it was only being distributed in the Northeast because it sounded awesome.  We ordered a scoop of Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road (which was apparently only supposed to be available in the Vermont Scoop Shops from July 18th through July 25th, 2008, but had apparently made an appearance in NYC).  It’s chocolate ice cream, peanut butter cookie dough, butter brickle and white chocolate chunks.  It was delicious.  I only wish it was more widely available.  We also got a scoop of Triple Caramel Chunk (but you can’t see it in the pictures).  Both flavors were great, but the Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road was superb.

NYC Trip Review #8 – Perilla

For those of you who are familiar with the Bravo Network’s reality show, Top Chef, you may recognize Perilla.  It is owned and run by Season One’s winner, Harold.  We actually saw Harold walking out of Perilla just after we were seated, so it was unfortunate that Harold wasn’t the one cooking our meal for us, but his employees did a fine job of taking over in his absence. 

Sadly, this was another of the restaurants that I was uncomfortable whipping out the camera for, but the food was amazing, none the less.  We splurged on this meal and ordered 3 appetizers between us.  I ordered the crispy calamari and watercress salad with mint, peanuts and chili-lime vinaigrette (which was probably the best salad I’ve had in my life).  Josh ordered the seared diver sea scallops with hearts of palm, xo sauce, daikon & spicy arugula puree (which he said was also amazing – best scallops ever) and we shared the spicy duck meatballs with mint cavatelli, water spinach and a quail egg (I thought they were good, but not amazing). 

For an entree, I ordered the special of the night, Colorado rack of lamb and Josh ordered the grilled prime hanger steak with creamed spinach, red shallot puree and natural jus.  Both were excellent, but Josh’s hanger steak was not as good as mine from JoJo.

We both ordered dessert and I was especially pleased with my choice.  I ordered the warm chocolate tart with dulce de leche sauce and vanilla ice cream and Josh ordered a trio of ice creams (banana, vanilla and coffee, I believe).  The chocolate tart was seriously the best chocolate tart I have ever tasted in my life.  It melted in your mouth and left you craving more.  I really wish I had the guts to pull out the camera, because it was definitely worth it.  It was a very simple presentation, but it really stood on its own and didn’t need a lot of fuss on the plate.  Perilla was wonderful!

NYC Trip Review #7 – Patricia’s Pizza & Pasta in the Bronx

Our last stop on Scott’s Pizza Tour was Patricia’s Pizza & Pasta in the Bronx.  It was quite a drive to get there, but we were greeted with pizza delivered right to the bus.  At Patricia’s they have both a brick oven and a gas oven and we were able to try half of a slice of each kind of pizza.  Both were good, but I still prefer Luzzo’s and Lombardi’s over the others.  It was awesome to be able to travel to a location outside of Manhattan for our last stop.  I know we wouldn’t have made it off of Manhattan if it hadn’t been for the Pizza Tour. 

Thanks so much Scott for an awesome tour and amazing pizza.  You’ve got a good thing going here and I hope you have continued success!!!

NYC Trip Review #6 – Patsy’s Pizzeria

Patsy’s Pizzeria was the next stop on Scott’s Pizza Tour.  Patsy’s is known for being one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite hangouts during his time in New York. 

While this stop wasn’t a favorite for Josh or I, the pizza was very good and we didn’t have any complaints.  We just felt that some of the other stops on the tour were better.  Patsy’s has a devout following though and there are many people who would argue that Patsy’s is the best in New York City, hands down.

NYC Trip Review #5 – Luzzo’s Pizzeria

The second stop on Scott’s Pizza Tour is one that will live in my heart (and stomach) forever.  Luzzo’s Ristorante Italiano is hands down, the best pizza I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot of pizza).  The owner, Michele is from Naples, as is a large number of his staff, so they know what pizza is supposed to taste like.  They use real buffalo mozzarella (for those of you who don’t know, this cheese actually comes from Asian water buffalo milk – believe it or not) which has a higher butter-fat content than cow’s milk mozzarella and it really makes the pizza light and buttery.  One of the words used to describe this pizza was "creamy" and it was definitely that.

Luzzo’s is in a building that used to be a bakery and has a brick oven fired by wood.  The whole pizzeria has a faint smell of campfire, but the pizza is other-worldly. 
 
Josh and I actually ended up heading back to Luzzo’s right after we finished the Pizza Tour to order a small pizza.  It was equally amazing the second time around.  Although Luzzo’s has only been around for 5 years, Michele and his pizzaiolos have perfected the art of pizza in a town known for it’s pizza.

NYC Trip Review #4 – Lombardi’s Pizza

Ah, Lombardi’s Pizza. . . the first stop on the most incredible tour in all of New York City – Scott’s Pizza Tour.  For those of you who are not familiar with Lombardi’s, let me fill you in on a little bit of American pizza history.  Lombardi’s was opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi and was officially the first American pizzeria.  He first opened the original location as a grocery store in 1897 after landing in America in 1895.  Genarro began selling traditional Neapolitan pizzas from the grocery store and when the pizza sales out-sold the grocery sales, he decided to focus his business completely on the pizza.  Over 100 years later, Lombardi’s is still going strong in it’s new location, just a few blocks from the original (they had to move because the #6 subway line ran right under the original location and the subway vibrations were loosening the bricks in the coal-fired brick oven).  They moved the original brick oven to the new location, so the pizzas people are getting at Lombardi’s today are the same pizzas that Genarro Lombardi was serving in 1905.      
 
Lombardi’s pizza was spectacular.  You definitely can’t get this kind of pizza here in Kansas. . . at least not that I have been able to find.  If we could, I would be in big trouble.  The crust was perfectly done and it had just the right amount of cows-milk mozzarella and fresh basil on top.  To die for!
 
Now, for Scott’s Pizza Tour.  Scott is a self-proclaimed pizza expert and has spent the last 11 months guiding pizza lovers through America’s pizza birthplace.  Scott is very knowledgeable and keeps people entertained for the entire tour.  The tour that Josh and I took included a big yellow school bus dubbed "The Pizza Bus" that took us all over Manhattan and then to the Bronx for pizza tasting at 4 different pizzerias.  Posts on the other pizzerias that we visited will be appearing in the next few days.  Josh and I would absolutely recommend Scott’s Pizza Tour, whether you do the walking tour around Little Italy or you do the pizza bus tour all over the city.  It was the best 4.5 hours that we spent in New York and who doesn’t love pizza?

NYC Trip Review #3 – Katz’s Deli

The next stop on Day #2 was the famous Katz’s Deli.  You’ll recognize it from the movie When Harry Met Sally.  It’s famous for being the location for the infamous fake orgasm scene between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal.  They even have a sign letting you know which table the actors were sitting at when they filmed that scene. 

Josh chose Katz’s because he fell in love with the pastrami when his friend Leo took him there on a visit a few years ago.  I don’t think I have ever had a pastrami sandwich before this day and I have to say, it was well worth the wait.  This stuff is awesome!  What you see on the plate above is half of a pastrami on rye and half of a pastrami on country white.  Katz’s keeps it very simple and they only put a bit of mustard on the sandwiches.  They were incredible, but they should have been for $15 per sandwich with no sides except the pickles!
 
The pickles that they serve with every sandwich are homemade at the deli and they offer three different kinds.  They were different than any pickle I had ever tasted before and they were wonderful.

Josh was also a fan of the Celery soda at Katz’s.  I thought it would be weird, but it actually does taste like celery and it’s made right there in NYC.  Katz’s is a great experience and I was even able to keep my claustrophobia in check despite the incredible number of people in that place.  I couldn’t believe how many people could fit into that building and be completely content in eating.  There was definitely good reason for the lines and crowds.  Good stuff!