Top 5 Tastes: Peace Out Masala, Hello... Salad

Here are my first 5 fantastic bites of 2014.
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I fully admit it, I've been absent these past few weeks. After a lovely family holiday in India and some light Polar vortexing, I've been running around the city, hosting friends, catching up on work and visiting Washington and Los Angeles. Here are my first 5 fantastic bites of 2014:

1. Salad -- Saltie (Brooklyn, NY)

After a 13.5 hour flight, my stomach inexplicably craved salad. Raw vegetables don't feature significantly in Indian cuisine, so after a harrowing 7 a.m. trip from Newark and a much-needed shower, I trundled over to my neighborhood spot Saltie for a big bowl of greens. Thick, crunchy leaves of escarole were splendidly spicy, a perfect foil to shavings of pecorino cheese and crunchy hazelnuts. Underneath the mound of 'role I found roasted sunchokes and parsnips -- their time in the oven rendering them slightly sweet and caramelized. A heavy pour of citrus vinaigrette coated the salad and welcomed me home to the snow and land of no masala.

2. Manduguk -- Kara and Rachel's (Brooklyn, NY)

Winter is for soup, this is an indisputable fact. But instead of preparing the well-worn lentil, or my go-to: Minestrone, my super-gourmande friend Kara set her sights upon Manduguk, a brothy Korean dumpling soup. I arrived at Kara and Rachel's apartment to the ethereal scent of simmering oxtail broth. The three of us began shaping dumplings, stuffing each with pork and tofu filling, and then crimping the edges with varying degrees of skill. After the last dumpling had been added, the seaweed chopped and the thinly sliced omelet spooned in, we sat down to warm our souls. Lentil soup, you're off the island.

3. Salad -- Diner (Brooklyn, NY)

When you're doing the organic, seasonal eats circuit (also known as living in Brooklyn) you meet a lot of interesting salads. This one, as before, combined bitter greens and cheese, but in this case it was beautiful spears of red-purple radicchio with clouds of mild chèvre and thinly sliced apples. All these ingredients would have befriended each other immediately anyway, but the addition of a honey-champagne vinaigrette expedited the process, glazing the components with notes of sweetness, acidity and mild earthiness (see? I can sound like a sommelier!)

4. The Washingtonian Cocktail - Black Salt (Washington, DC)
A post-holiday catch up with my best friend took the form of a work-from-home-together day and a delicious dinner with lots of cocktails. Although the seafood-heavy meal was excellent (particularly the smoky, creamy clam chowder and assortment of West coast oysters) I have to recognize the Washingtonian cocktail which was a real highlight for me. Rye and vermouth were accented by roasted apple bitters and honey in a drink that was bracing and perfectly balanced. Suffice to say, I sipped down a few of these with ease.

5. Frito Pie - Bar Ama
When in the land of juices, veganism and Lululemon-clad hikers, it only seems right to buck the norm and descend (ascend?) deeply into the depths of calorific glory with an edible behemoth like Frito Pie. While the ensuing hours saw me pondering the state of my arterial wellness, it was worth it. And not just because Jason Sudeikis was eating it behind me.The mini cast-iron pan arrived at the table in a cloud of cheese-scented air. A more than healthy (superhuman, if you will) dollop of crema with sprinkled chili and salsa topped the molten cheesy lava which enrobed a rich layer of lengua chile con carne and crunchy Fritos. Yes, it was basically a volcano of dreams.