Dining on the Down Low: 15 Must-Order Secret Menu Items

Every diner has access to the regular menu, but only the cooler-than-cool know about the secret stuff. Sometimes you just have to know to ask for an off-menu item. Other times you need to follow a restaurant’s social media feeds to find out when a limited-time, insiders-only dish is available. Either way, it’ll impress the heck out of your dining companions when you order something they didn’t even know existed. So you can amp up your hipness factor, here are 15 must-order secret menu items.

Pounds & Ounces, New York City
The Fork & Knife Surf & Turf burger is an epic affair. A Cajun-spiced, rice-coated soft shell crab sits atop a half-pound burger along with char-grilled corn salsa, white cheddar, remoulade, and lettuce. The supersized sandwich is available intermittently during soft shell crab season, so watch the restaurant’s Facebook page and Twitter feed for a head’s up. You have to specifically ask for the sando when you sit down because servers won’t tell you it’s on hand.

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Mandu – 18th St., Washington, D.C.
Chef Danny Lee will make guests gaeran jim (a traditional Korean steamed egg) upon special request when he’s presiding over the kitchen. Served warm, the set egg has a silky, custard-like texture and comes topped with Korean red peppers, seasoned seaweed strips, and sesame seeds.

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Bub City, Chicago, Illinois
This might be a Southern-styled barbecue joint, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make primo pastrami. Their version is crusted with more than a dozen spices, including coriander, mustard seed, and black pepper, then hickory smoked for nine hours. The sort-of-secret sandwich comes on Rosen’s rye. Mustard optional.

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Craigie on Main, Cambridge, Massachusetts
One of chef-owner Tony Maws most well-loved dishes is the off-menu, sesame-marinated King salmon collar with New Mexican red chile and daikon salad. It’s only available whenever he can get the whole fish in, so make sure to order it if you’re offered one.

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American Cut, New York New York
Every day at 4:20 p.m., the restaurant announces on its Twitter feed how many off-menu In-House burgers will be available starting at 5 p.m. It’s a beast. The patty is a blend of prime brisket, short rib, and dry-aged rib eye and it comes garnished with bourbonized, caramelized onions, and beer cheese (a mix of Brooklyn lager, Fontina, and cheddar).

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Villa Azur, Miami Beach, Florida
The most show-stopping dish here isn’t on the menu. Back in the kitchen, linguini is coated with heavy cream accented by fresh sage and pepper. Then it’s brought tableside along with a giant wheel of Parmigiano with a bowl-like depression dug out of its center. Cognac is poured into the crater, set ablaze, then tamped out. The still-warm cheese is shaved into the crater, the pasta is added, it’s all tossed together, and voila!

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A Taste of the Past: 5 Heritage Ingredients Making a Comeback

Not every taste withstands the test of time. Plenty of vegetables, herbs, and grains popular in the past have either gone of out style and are no longer cultivated on a mass scale or have had key flavors altered through breeding. Lucky for present-day diners, chefs are rediscovering and reviving these lost heirloom plants in contemporary cuisine. Here are five heritage ingredients making a comeback that will give you a taste of history.

Benne Seeds
You’re probably already somewhat familiar with benne seeds since they are the forefathers to modern sesame. The ovate seeds have a nutty character and add an umami quality to the dishes they’re featured in. They’re the backbone of Sean Brock of Husk’s Charleston Ice Cream, which is a warm savory starter made with Carolina Gold Rice, not a cold sweet finale. The seeds are incredibly versatile. Bourbon Steak’s executive chef Joe Palma used them to dapple a yeast doughnut, which served as a bun for his Big American burger topped with bacon, pimento cheese, and sweet ‘n’ spicy pickle relish .

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Though it’s part of the grass family and can be used as a grain, sorghum is best known for being transformed into a dark syrup popular below the Mason-Dixon line. Tasting like a cross between molasses and maple syrup, it’s often used interchangeably with the two, either as a sweetener or drizzled on to flapjacks and biscuits. At Washington, D.C.’s Vidalia, it’s incorporated into the standout sweet potato sourdough in the restaurant’s complimentary bread basket. Conversely, it adds Southern-style sweetness to the butter accompanying the cast iron cornbread at Food, Wine & Co. in Bethesda, Maryland. Chef Erik Niel of Easy Bistro & Bar, Chattanooga, Tennessee, goes a different route entirely, using popped sorghum to garnish his tuna tartare (pictured below).

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This winter root vegetable’s nickname is the “oyster plant,” because it supposedly expresses that flavor when it’s cooked – though some think it tastes more like an artichoke. A relative of the parsnip, it works best when boiled, mashed, or fried. Gabriel Kreuther of New York City’s Gabriel Kreuther has used it in a decadent gratin made with plenty of butter, half-and-half, Gruyere, Monterey Jack, and a pinch of nutmeg. At City Perch in North Bethesda, Maryland, executive chef Matt Baker has showcased salsify in a seared scallops dish given a luxe lift with shaved black truffles.Continue Reading

#ProducePlayoff Benefit for #NoKidHungry at Betony: Dish, Drink + Behind-the-Scenes Pics

Produce_Playoff_0126Betony general manager Eamon Rockey and chef Bryce Shuman joined forces with No Kid Hungry on Tuesday, August 25th, at the 2015 Produce Playoff to help end childhood hunger in America. The event was an epic culinary throwdown featuring the season’s best bounty, which the chefs and wine and spirits experts, including Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park), Eli Kaimeh (Per Se), James Kent (The NoMad), Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske (Contra), and Rebecca Isbell (Betony), Jeff Taylor (Betony) and Thomas Pastuszak (The NoMad), personally selected in the #ProducePlayoff draft several days ago. Curious to see what Kevin Denton made with all those carrots? How about what chef Stone created with that lovely baby lettuce? Did the chefs all play nicely together in the kitchen? Check out our slideshow of pictures shot by New York photographer Simon Lewis for a look at how the delicious evening unfolded in the front of the house, in the kitchen, and, randomly, in the middle of 57th Street.

With a menu of Greenmarket-driven food and drink, live music, and words of inspiration and enlightenment from Debbie Shore, founder of No Kid Hungry, the 2015 Produce Playoff is a shining example of the magic that can happen when talented culinary professionals unite. Co-host Rockey noted, “The more talented people there are rallying together behind the same cause, the greater the impact and the more powerful the momentum.” Shuman said of his and Betony’s support for the organization, “No Kid Hungry seriously strikes a chord with me, having a daughter, and they maintain goals that are small enough to achieve and big enough to matter.”

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An Edible Tribute to the Burning Man Festival: 11 Hella Hot Dishes #BurningMan

Right now, tens of thousands of free spirits, innovative artists, and fabulous freaks are flocking to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for the annual Burning Man Festival. Since we can’t take a week off to attend this year, we wanted to commemorate the event from afar. So, we sought out super-hot dishes that will set your taste buds ablaze. Please note: We are not responsible for any discomfort that may arise from enjoying these dishes. Just sayin’. Celebrate Burning Man at a restaurant serving one of these 11 hella hot dishes.

The Cecil, New York, New York
Chef JJ Johnson packs heat into his Portuguese piri piri sauce by using African bird’s eye chilies, which are many times hotter than jalapeños. The fiery condiment accompanies well-spiced, broiled giant prawns resting on a yam flapjack. Please restrain yourself from singing, “It’s getting hot in herre!” while eating it.

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Pepita Cantina, Arlington, Virginia
Chef-owner Mike Isabella loves a good taco. For his version starring stewed goat, he adds citrusy, spicy-sweet candied habaneros to cut through the meat’s richness. We wish he would sell the peppers on their own, so we could snack on them when we needed a proper pick-me-up.

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The Blind Burro, San Diego, California
Bacon makes everything better – even when those dishes are already awesome in the first place. Case in point: these bacon-wrapped, tongue-tingling jalapeños stuffed with chorizo and mozzarella-style queso Oaxaca paired with a zingy chipotle-tomatillo-piloncillo sauce. Muy impresionante!

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Fang Restaurant, San Francisco
Starting with a classic recipe from China’s Sichuan province, chef Kathy Fang wanted to kick her spicy sausage mapo tofu up a notch. So she incorporates plenty of chili, hot Italian sausage, and diced jalapeños to bring the heat. Make sure you have plenty of water on hand, though we find Hainan Punch with pineapple vodka and ginger ale works wonders, too.

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Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Virginia
Heat-seekers will love this dish. It’s simply called “The Warning,” because it’s THAT spicy! It’s actually scratch-made, hyper-hot Thai panang-style curry that chef-owner Cathal Armstrong packs with house-cured pork belly, soft tofu, and crispy garlic. When you’re sweating profusely and tearing up, you can’t say you weren’t warned. [Ed. note: You may not be able to say anything at all because your mouth will be on fire.]

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