Sunday, July 21, 2013

Horsefeathers Market and Vera Pizzeria

I've been doing so many things lately that I've created a problem for myself - I can't get the pictures up fast enough or write in depth about each thing if I want to cover them all! So look for some combined posts like this one. Horsefeathers Market and Vera Pizzeria were both on my Buffalo List 2013 and while they are very different, they remind me of each other with the great atmosphere and the high quality of the food.

outside view of Horsefeathers
I visited Horsefeathers toward the end of the day so I think the shop owners were starting to prepare for the next day. The outside wouldn't necessarily arrest your attention, but once you walk in the doors your jaw will drop. It is an immensely pleasant space to be in, and the food being produced is incredible.

We stopped in Press, which does organic local raw food and juice. The owner gave us a sample of every juice she has going right now, and they were incredible. There was one in particular I want to go back for, although for the life of me I can't remember the name of it. It was something like "Wakey Wakey" and it made you feel good about life. Let me know when you find it, okay?

The only problem was that all the seating is for Martin Cooks, so theoretically you have to take your food from Press to-go (that day, we asked Martin if we could sit down and he very nicely offered us our choice of seats). The other shops were nice and the whole place is gorgeous. I think they're well-positioned to be an anchor business on Connecticut St the way Prish's Sweetness 7 has been for Grant St. I know I was looking longingly at some of the unused storefronts nearby...

Martin Cooks within Horsefeathers

About a week after my visit to Horsefeathers, we had dinner at Vera Pizzeria. I had heard great things about Vera - well, strictly speaking, I had heard they had good, old-fashioned cocktails. The food was a secondary and expendable concern after that point. The only seats left when we arrived were outside, and I'm glad those were available because inside was packed and too noisy for what we wanted that night.

Love Potions, Pain Killers, Truth Serums, Courage Builders
We both ordered The Earhart cocktail, which included St Germain and crushed blackberries. St Germain is one of my very favorite things in the world, too bad for me that it is so expensive! The drink was more than I would normally spend ($10) but I forgave them as soon as I tried it. It was strong and all the flavors were perfectly balanced. The only negative thing that night was how our drinks came out - can you guess which one is meant for a woman and which is meant for a man? Apparently they are going for an authentic, historical vibe with their drinks in more ways than one.

Vera Prosciutto pizza - sans prosciutto
I also ordered a pizza ($14) that normally comes with prosciutto but they made it vegetarian for me. I was hesitating to ask the waiter about a custom order (having been a waitress in the past) and he offered great advice, assuring me that everything could be custom ordered. I should have asked his name, because he was perfect at his job and added to the all around good experience. Everything we ordered came out quickly and was well-presented even though they were busy.

If you haven't noticed yet, you will soon - I LOVE food. Hit my tastebuds just right and I am a quivering wreck. My husband sometimes reminds me not to scare the waiter when they ask me how I'm enjoying my meal (think Overly Attached Girlfriend Meme). So interpret all my comments with that in mind. That being said, WOW doesn't cover it. The "pizza" had fire-roasted tomato jam (?!?!) as a base, with fresh mozzarella and diced baby asparagus. I can't describe it, you just need to go and try it for yourself. You're welcome.

In every respect, Vera was fantastic. I would pay even more for something that good, especially with the great atmosphere and service (I really hope no one from Vera is reading this!). The neighborhood is great, too, and a lovely walk. If I am looking for a go-to spot to take visitors, it will probably be here. Any excuse to get back, really.

Frozen Yogurt: Showdown on Elmwood

Elmwood had two new frozen yogurt stores open within weeks of each other, and then Buffalo experienced a few hot and very humid weeks. I think just about every reviewer and blogger in the area has compared the two places, but I'll throw in my experience as well. 

Just look at that. I'm not even listening anymore.
Overall, they both have a fun vibe and great product. I love that I can throw in a little of everything and make my dessert however I like. You can't go wrong visiting either place. 

White Rabbit - upstairs seating and cool decorations
White Rabbit wins on seating and they have some slightly more interesting toppings. Yotality is definitely the better of the two in my opinion, though. That's where I'll be getting my frozen yogurt all summer long (heck, I'll snowshoe there if they're open!). The yogurt that I've tried was much richer at Yotality, and their store design is conducive to the wandering, serve-yourself approach of their business model. White Rabbit had inferior, watery frozen yogurt, and then they put the main event right in front of the entryway. There's not really enough room in the aisle for people getting froyo, choosing toppings, and walking past each other. There may be plenty of space upstairs, but that's not where it's needed.

Yotality - the place to be :-)
I love the creative toppings they both offer. One of the combinations you can see in the lead picture (I tried 3 at once because I COULD) involved mango froyo with mango bursting boba (which I thought were The Sh** when I discovered them a few months ago) fresh mango, fresh kiwi, mochi pieces, and plenty of honey drizzled over. Not a typical ice cream experience! One thing that's nice but also sometimes annoying is that both places change up the flavors on offer. I'm glad they do, but the downside is that sometimes what I'm craving isn't there. Still, I try something new and leave with something delicious so what do I care? I'm glad they're here, even though they do tempt me to buy too much. I haven't heard what their plans for winter are, but I hope they stick around. It's always the right time for ice cream - or frozen yogurt!

July 4th 2013

Electric Tower was red-white-and-blue
We generally do a low-key July 4th, so this year we went to a movie at the Market Arcade and then down to Canalside for the fireworks.

I had been to the Market Arcade building but never the movie theatre. I loved it and would be willing to go downtown again for the experience. The guy at the snacks counter made sure to make us feel great and the snacks were prices I wouldn't mind paying.

Canalside was fun, of course. It was nice to see the fireworks light up the grain silos, but I think next year we will try the outer harbor or a boat cruise. I was a little disappointed with the fireworks - I grew up near an awesome fireworks show and am probably spoiled in that area.

One thing we learned - downtown is a bit creepy with no one around! The music coming from the empty metro stations is really nice when there are people milling around, but when the streets are empty while it is still daylight, it is like being on the set of a horror film. I hope the new development downtown will help with that.

I know during the Christmas season they put old store window figurines on display the way they used to decades ago (those are SUPER creepy, sorry everyone! Bah humbug, I know). The idea is for older generations to bring their kids and have the same special experience they remember from their childhood. Imagine if I could bring my nephew and niece downtown as teenagers and tell them stories about the empty evening streets, which they wouldn't be able to imagine because there will be so much happening at all hours of the day by that time. Hey, we can dream, right?

Canalside before dark
Fireworks over the silos.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Preview: First Buffalo Dishcrawl

On Tuesday I crossed something off my Buffalo Bucket List (2013) AND learned about a new adventure available in Buffalo. I went to Horsefeathers Market for the first time (more about that later!) and met with Katelyn Musall, the Buffalo Dishcrawl ambassador and organizer. We talked about Dishcrawl over delicious raw food smoothies from Press. 
From a Dishcrawl near Dallas (photo credit Update Metro)

Katelyn told me that Dishcrawl started 3 years ago in California and has spread across the US and Canada. It's the same concept as a pub crawl, but with food tastings instead of beer tastings. On July 24th, Dishcrawl is coming to Buffalo. 

If you buy a ticket (available HERE) you will receive an email two days before Dishcrawl revealing the location of the first restaurant. We know that it will be downtown, but we don't know where yet. Everything is kept a secret and revealed slowly throughout the night. The group will be led from one restaurant to the next, where they will sample 3 dishes at each restaurant. The chefs will be on their best game for Dishcrawl, presenting signature dishes designed to woo you back for future visits. The price for the whole experience ($45) is a good value, although definitely outside my normal budget range. 

Having trouble imagining it? My friend Leah Stacy participated in the first Rochester Dishcrawl this week. See HERE for her coverage. On your next rainy day, check out more of her work, like The Bly Project. I think she's brilliant. :-)

One of the reasons I'm excited to see Dishcrawl come to Buffalo is their commitment to highlighting local restaurants. The organizer, Katelyn, hopes that Dishcrawl will help bring people in to downtown (and future sites) more often for dining and recreation. She's a proud Western New Yorker and hopes Dishcrawl will add to the excitement about Buffalo's food scene and cultural offerings.

I will be out of town for the first one, but I'm looking forward to future Dishcrawls that will focus on a different area every month or two. Imagine ending a Dishcrawl with a show at Shea's, or trying cuisine from 6 countries in one night, or tramping through the snow for a vegan Dishcrawl in January's post-holiday repentance. Yes, Dishcrawls will happen in winter! It's one of the best things about it.

Dishcrawl is far from the only option for a night out, but I'm happy to see it added to our nightlife landscape. The more Buffalonians getting excited about our local businesses, the better. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Burmese American Water Festival 2013

I have been working on a semi-secret project since April. Every Sunday night four friends and I would go learn Burmese dance, preparing to perform at this year's Thingyan (Water Festival). I volunteered to dance because I thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was right.

Posing with our beloved teacher. He is the best! (Photo credit EK)
It was often discouraging because we were slow to learn and all the little girls who practiced with us were much better than we will ever be. But I looked forward to it every week because the dancing itself was fun and then hanging out with the Burmese community members there was also fun. Our teacher studied traditional dancing in Burma and is enormously personable and funny. The journey there ended up being as enjoyable as the festival itself.

So many things happened that I never expected, bringing surprise and joy every week. I was measured for an outfit by the freezers at Lin Asian Market, and I walked across the roof of an empty storefront building to climb in someone's window and change in their bathroom.One night at practice I found out that when coconuts grow on trees they are smooth, oval, and bright green; never hairy, round, and dark brown (I swear I will never buy a children's book unless it depicts coconuts on trees correctly--what a betrayal!).  People I had never met sometimes stopped me at the bazaar and said, "good dancing!" Little girls taught me the Burmese word for "sister" and showed me their best Gangnam Style.

Picture of the happy crowd during a cloudy spell (photo credit SM)

The day of the festival, we all crowded into Thaw Thaw's Beauty Salon early in the morning for hair and makeup. When the 5 of us emerged and started to enjoy the festival, people stopped us for pictures every step of the way. I was stopped by a nice couple who told me they drove up from Maryland the night before for the Water Festival, and were looking forward to seeing me dance. I heard similar stories of people coming from all across New York State, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Canada. The festival organizers did a great job and I could tell everyone was thrilled with the result.

There was a large stage where the opening ceremony took place, as well as all the dances and music for the day. There was a row of tents where free traditional cuisine was being served, a bounce house for kids, and several vendors in the streets. One of the highlights was the water spraying stations, which included water guns and hoses. Lots of kids and adults played there, and I noticed it was popular with a diverse crowd which included people who just stopped by because they saw a commotion.

Me accepting leis mid-dance from a little girl (photo credit MD)
We went on stage in the late afternoon for our two dances. It was very exciting and nerve-wracking seeing hundreds of people in the audience. I've been on stage many times, and I can't think of a time where the crowd was so visibly excited and happy. They cheered when we started and they lined up to give us leis. Our teacher hadn't told us until the night before the performance that during dances at festivals, audience members will come on stage to drape leis around your neck while you are dancing. He said that sometimes when he dances, the stack of leis gets so high he can't see over them. Being the worst dancers there we didn't deserve as many leis as we got, but there was a lot more happening on that stage than just a dance, and I think that explains everyone's excitement.

Here's a link to a video of our two dances. Be warned, it's about 9 minutes long. In both dances I am the second farthest right as you face the stage. (Video credit DC)

Action shot from second dance (photo credit MD)
Now that it's over I am thrilled that I participated, although for some different reasons than I started with. Since the Burmese community is well-established in Buffalo, I didn't think that our participation would mean as much to them as it would to some other more recent refugee communities. Now I think it still meant a whole lot. My friends have told me that videos of our two dances are circulating like mad among the Burmese diaspora, including some very prominent websites. Our dancing is a very concrete way to show that Americans who may have born citizens are eager to learn about new cultures being brought in, and eager to promote and participate in them. For people whose traditional dancing and culture has been banned for decades and has resulted in them losing loved ones and freedom and health, that means a hell of a lot.

I am very grateful for everyone who helped create this wonderful opportunity. My life is immensely richer because of it, and I would love to participate again in the future. If anyone is in need of an Irish-Burmese dancer or model, I have my dress and know exactly two dances but not very well. ;-)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Visitors try Lucy Ethiopian

My parents hosted a German exchange student this past school year. They enjoyed it a lot and he fit in unusually well with my family. It was more like finding a long-lost brother than welcoming a new addition. At the end of the year his family came to pick him up, and everyone sort of realized why he had fit in so well. His family and mine seemed very similar - in personalities, sense of humor, even looks. Another thing that makes the world feel small, in a good way. 

A feast! One of three trays we tried
I wish we had a future of spending time together, but it's unlikely we'll see them often. As it was, we had one night together in Buffalo when they flew in to the airport. I was tasked with finding a suitable restaurant to eat dinner together. Not so simple: it should be cheap, open somewhat late, easy to get to, able to seat 14, a place I knew and liked, and of a cuisine that they hadn't tried before. That meant one place: Lucy Ethiopian. I talked to my friends Abba and Naima, the owners, and they were of course thrilled to host us. (For those of you who don't know them, I say "of course" because they are some of the nicest people on the planet)

I remember excitedly following Buffalo Rising articles when Lucy's was just a rumor. I hadn't tried Ethiopian food before but knew that some of my friends traveled to Rochester just to eat at an Ethiopian restaurant there. I loved the food the minute I tried it, and I've had a great experience every time I've gone to Lucy's. Abba remembers customers and is enthusiastic about seeing them again. Their coffee ceremony id fantastic. I confess that I haven't tried any of the newer Ethiopian places that have opened recently, because if I have the money for Ethiopian I am on my way to Lucy's. The only exception is coffee - I'll always accept coffee from anyone who's selling it! 

S: "Never. Happening. " R: "Instagram!" J: "Bet it tastes like chicken."
I was worried that not everyone would like the food, but even the picky eaters gave it a shot and found dishes they liked. I've only ever had their vegetarian options, but people eating the meat preparations declared them top notch. No one asked for forks, but used the injeera to scoop up the food (okay, so I MAY have purposely neglected to mention to them that forks were an option. Hehehe). Abba made sure not only to roast our coffee fresh, but to bring the steaming pan of browning coffee beans over to our table so we could see and smell where our coffee was coming from. I also made a few converts that night to Lucy's sweet, spicy, indescribably good tea. I managed to keep myself to one cup this time, but usually I have two.

Only my brother and his wife live in Buffalo, and sad to say it was the first time I'd brought them there. My brother loved it and we made a date to come back for his birthday later this summer. The guests of honor, our visitors from Germany, declared everything superb. Apparently they had eaten Mexican and Thai with my family, and they told me, "We came to visit the USA but so far we have tasted the world."

Still smiling after the food's gone = success!