Archive for July, 2009

Marketplace Restaurant, or Mandala Bistro

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Sometimes a good restaurant is easy to spot. The decor, the menu, and the atmosphere all speak to you and they say, “this place is going to be good.” Other times, you find a gem when you least expect it, like we did at the Marketplace Restaurant on Temple Street last week. Situated across from the Criterion movie theatre, this restaurant seems unsure whether it is a deli, a cafe, or a sit-down restaurant. The menu only adds to the confusion, with its offering of American, Italian, Tex-Mex, Indian, and Nepalese fare – everything from chili dogs to penne a la vodka to nachos to chana masala.

As a result, I was really unsure about what to expect when Sean and I walked into Marketplace, but we were drawn in by the incredibly cheap Indian lunch specials and by the fact that we were hungry and had a movie to catch. At the very least, I expected a couple of edible curries for a decent price. As it turns out, we were blown away by the most delicious Indian food we’ve tried in New Haven – topped off with great service, and oh, those prices!

Marketplace offers a “Vegetarian Lunch Box” special that consists of two curries, rice, naan, and dessert for $6.95, which is what drew us in. Sean and I decided to split that and an order of vegetarian pakora ($3.95).

The pakora (vegetable dumplings fried in chickpea batter) were very good – not too oily, and dusted in cumin, which really made the flavours pop. Our $4 platter came with about a dozen pieces of pakora and was easily enough to share.

Our “Lunch Box” was generously portioned as well. We agreed that we could probably each have eaten a lunch box to ourselves (without the appetizer), but that we would be stuffed afterward.

The naan bread was not my favorite part of the meal. It lacked the buttery, yeasty flavours that I associate with really good naan (although the waitress did offer us butter to put on it), and tasted a bit more like pita bread to me.

The curries, on the other hand, blew us both away. Since we got two curries with the lunch special, we each chose our favourite. Sean opted for chana masala (curried chickpeas), which came with nice chunks of soft potato in a rich, dark sauce. I chose the matter paneer (peas and cheese in a creamy sauce), which I am prepared to say was the best matter paneer that I have ever had in my life. Both curries had a surprising depth of flavour, and they were also very different from each other. The matter paneer especially succeeded in being rich and creamy while still packing a satisfying range of spice and flavour.

The dessert that comes with the lunch box is one of my favorite Indian sweets. Gulab Jamun is a delicious ball – not unlike a better donut hole – soaked in sweet syrup. This particular Gulab Jamun was denser than I am used to (maybe whole wheat?) and the dough was spiced with ground cardamom, which gave it an added level of flavour that I have never tasted in this dessert before.

To top it all off, the service here was excellent. The waitress was friendly and attentive, and she really didn’t seem to mind that we were splitting a lunch special or that we had come in 30 minutes before the lunch special was over (it runs from 11am to 3pm). The place had the vibe of a new family-owned restaurant, where everyone is really invested in making sure that you enjoy your food and your experience.

I still can’t speak to the American, Italian, Tex-Mex or other assorted dishes on Marketplace’s menu, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll never try them. I am willing to say, though, that this was the best Indian food I have tasted in New Haven and in some cases the best I have had anywhere. I hope this place stays in business a long, long time.

UPDATE: We went to Marketplace again this week with a couple of friends, partly to get a picture for this review and partly because the food was just that good. The manager came over to talk to us for a little while and said that the place is getting a makeover. The name will be changed to Mandala Bistro, they’re renovating, and they’re paring down the menu. The curries and the current chef will stay but the lunch special has to go (it is, it turns out, to cheap to last). The new prices will make a curry about $8 for lunch and $11 for dinner, which is still completely worth it (in my opinion) – and it makes the prices similar to the other places in town.

On this trip, we also tried the palak paneer (spinach and cheese) and the navarattan korma (curried vegetables) and they were both excellent. The palak paneer was full of flavour and very different from the creamier matter paneer. The navarattan korma was packed with perfectly cooked vegetables (mushrooms, carrots, green beans, cauliflower and potato), which maintained their own flavour and crunch while working nicely in the sauce. Our whole party was unanimous in declaring this the best Indian food in New Haven.

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July 25, 2009 at 1:24 pm 1 comment

Goat Cheese, Avocado & Onion Burgers

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I just don’t really like meat, and as far as I can remember I never really have. So for a long time, my approach to burgers has been to smother them in as many condiments as I can lay my hands on. That’s an approach that has stuck even as I’ve found veggie burgers that I really like, but these days I like to smother my burgers in combinations of veggies, cheeses, and sauces that make them more sophisticated  than the burgers of my youth.

This particular burger came out of a need to use up many of the included ingredients, including salsa, goat cheese, and avocado. Lucky for us, those are three ingredients that balance each other well! The creamy, mellow avocado balances the sharper flavours of the goat cheese and salsa, while the sauteed onions add another level of flavour that gives the burgers a real depth. All in all, these burgers were a huge success! I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

Goat Cheese, Avocado & Onion Burgers
Makes 4 Burgers

4 whole wheat hamburger buns
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine (optional)
4 premade veggie burgers (we used Morningstar’s Tomato-Basil Burgers)
1 medium red onion, sliced into rings
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 avocado, sliced
½ cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
½ cup salsa, store-bought or homemade
½ cup pickle slices or sliced pickled hot peppers

  1. Cook the veggie burgers according to the package directions. (We heated them in a large frying pan on low heat, cooking 5 minutes on each side).
  2. Toast the hamburger buns, spreading with butter first if desired. (This is optional, but it makes the buns moist, rich, and just a little bit crispy). If you use butter, toast the buns in a toaster oven, an oven, or on the grill. The butter could be dangerous in a conventional toaster, and at the very least, it may ruin your toaster.
  3. Slice the onion into thin rings. Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat, and sautee the onions until just beginning to brown, stirring constantly (about 10 minutes).
  4. Spread mustard on the toasted buns.
  5. When the burgers and onions are done, place the burgers on sliced rolls. Top each burger with ¼ of the onions, ¼ of the avocado, and 2 tablespoons each of goat cheese, salsa, and pickles (or pickled peppers).

July 18, 2009 at 6:44 pm Leave a comment

Fresh Summer Salsa

Salsa

Yum! As I’ve said before, making fresh salsa is one of my favorite things about summer. Ripe tomatoes, cilantro, some spice, and the coolness of cucumber all come together in a fresh, flavorful condiment that can be used in so many things that it’s almost mind boggling. For some ideas, go here.

Salsa is a fun thing to make, I think, because it is so delicious, so versatile, and rather impressive-sounding (“yes, I make my own salsa…”) but it is extremely easy as long as you have the right vegetables on hand, and a food processor. A food processor is a must here to get the veggies chopped finely enough and consistently enough without your salsa-making adventure lasting until next September. A good food processor can usually be obtained for $30 – 40 (in the United States) and it’s a good investment for salsas, falafel, latkes, and many other dishes.

This salsa is a variation on the recipe that I posted last summer. I didn’t have as many tomatoes around the house this time, so I substituted other vegetables in their stead. I also blended the salsa a little bit less, creating a texture more like pico de gallo than bottled salsa. This particular incarnation was also somewhat reminiscent of a Latin-inspired bruschetta, and went very well on thin slices of garlic-infused baguette. I suspect that an unflavored baguette would treat it just as nicely.

Another Summer Salsa
Makes about 4 cups

1 cup red onion, cut into quarters (1 large onion)
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed (about 1½ cups)
1 bell pepper, veins and seeds removed and cut into quarters
2-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 scotch bonnet chile (or other chile), chopped with veins and seeds removed
1½ cups cucumber, cut into large chunks (about ½ a cucumber)
3 cups cherry tomatoes
½ teaspoon salt, preferably kosher or coarse salt
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons lime juice

  1. Place onion, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapenos into food processor and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped (about 10 seconds).
  2. Add cucumber, tomatoes, cilantro, salt, cumin and lime juice and pulse until finely chopped and well combined (about 10 more seconds).  It’s important to do this in two steps so that the harder veggies (onions, peppers) can be finely chopped without turning the softer veggies (tomatoes, cucumber) into mush.
  3. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve with tortilla chips, on baguette slices, in tacos or burritos, on salads, in eggs or tofu scrambles and in any other dish you can imagine. It will keep in the fridge for about a week (theoretically; that is, if you don’t eat it all up first).

July 11, 2009 at 5:45 pm Leave a comment

A Belated Flag Cake

Flag CupcakesI’m what you might call bicultural. My mom is Canadian, my dad is from the U.S, and I grew up in both countries (but mostly in Canada). I moved to Connecticut to start graduate school last September, and I wanted to celebrate my first Fourth of July here with one of my favourite American traditions – the flag cake.

I decided to go with cupcakes, because I like them and because they are easier to decorate. (You can just do all of the red ones and all of the white ones separately without worrying about the lines running into each other.) I also decided to make the cake really special by flavouring the icings according to color. The red stripes are raspberry, the white stripes are coconut, and the blue – well, the blue are vanilla because nobody seems to sell blueberry extract!

I used recipes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite cookbooks despite its single focus. It has everything from the most basic to the most ingenous recipes and the cupcakes don’t taste like “bad vegan baking” even to omnivorous palates.

So this post is more instruction than recipe (I’m not going to post the cupcakes recipes since I didn’t modify them at all, but you can use any basic chocolate and vanilla recipes. In fact, you can use any flavours you like, or just do one flavour). I hope it will be useful to you next year, or for a belated party, or maybe for those of you who eat flag cake year round.

Fourth of July Cupcakes
Makes 4 dozen cupcakes, or one delicious flag

Double batch of any basic vanilla cake recipe
Double batch of any basic chocolate cake recipe

Plain Frosting
½ cup cream cheese or neufchatel cheese
½ cup butter or margarine
4 cups powdered sugar

For Red Stripes
1 cup prepared plain frosting
1 tsp. raspberry extract
1 tsp. raspberry jam
¼ tsp. red food colouring, or as needed
(the icing will be dark pink, not red, but it darkens as it dries)

For White Stripes
1 cup prepared plain frosting
1 tsp. vanilla extract or coconut extract

For Blue Square
½ cup prepared plain frosting
½ tsp. vanilla extract or other flavour extract
¼ tsp. blue food colouring, or as needed
(the icing will be lighter than the blue on the flag, but will darken as it dries)
36 white chocolate chips, for stars

  1. Mix up the vanilla cake batter as per the recipe instructions. Pour the batter into lined cupcake pans. (You will need 2 cupcake pans for a total of 24 cupcakes). Bake according to instructions. You may need to give them a few extra minutes in the oven since you are baking 2 batches at once.
  2. While those are baking, mix up the plain frosting. Separate into three small food storage containers and then mix in the colours and extracts for the red, white, and blue sections of your cake. Set aside in the refrigerator.
  3. Remove the vanilla cupcakes from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. Place more paper liners in the pan.
  4. Mix up the chocolate batter, place it in the muffin tins and bake according to the instructions. (You may again need to give them a few extra minutes).
  5. Remove cupcakes from oven and let cool about 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. You will need to let the cupcakes totally cool before frosting them, or they will melt the frosting and it will run everywhere. I usually give them a good 2 or 3 hours.
  7. Remove the frosting from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before using. If you forget and find yourself with frosting that’s too hard to use, you can whip it up in a mixmaster (or with electric beaters), adding a tiny bit (¼ tsp.) of water to help the process.
  8. Frost 9 cupcakes with the blue frosting, 18 cupcakes with the red frosting, and 21 cupcakes with the white frosting.
  9. Place four white chocolate chips on each of the blue frosted cupcakes, to represent the stars on the flag.
  10. Arrange the cupcakes into a flag shape, as shown above. My cake was 6 (cupcakes) x 7 (cupcakes) in dimension, but yours will be 6×8, to make the stripes a bit longer and to use the full four dozen cupcakes. (Simply follow the picture above and add an extra cup cake at the right end of each stripe).
  11. Enjoy! Happy belated Fourth of July!

July 6, 2009 at 11:00 am Leave a comment


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*All entries tagged "vegan" and "gluten free" meet those dietary requirements to the best of my knowledge as long as the vegan or gluten free instructions are followed (where applicable). It is always wise to double-check ingredients (especially when dealing with packaged foods) and to confirm ingredients and preparation methods at restaurants.