Saturday, February 24, 2018


Lunar New Year, the Year of the Dog (Wu Xu), is being celebrated by many Asians.  Commemorations appear “religious” in nature yet they are considered to be “traditional.”  The occasion is for honoring family, friends and ancestors; showing gratitude for what you are “blessed “with; an opportunity to reflect on mistakes and starting afresh. 
Members of the family, with the emphasis on married daughters, will make a pilgrimage going home to their parents where they will memorialize ancestors.  With families living in other states or countries it is not always possible for the immediate family of sons and daughters to get together on one day.  This happened to be the situation at Marlene and James Yu’s home where other relatives and friends (such as I) had the opportunity to engage in an evening of tradition, food, and Mah Jongg. 

Having actually taken place at their Rain Forest Foundation location in Queens, the huge room was filled with Marlene Yu’s stunning artwork, which is usually set up for others to display their talent.  There is always a piece of sculpture with running water.   The walls of artwork lead to the bar and kitchen as well as a patio. 

One long table was set up with food and drink being offered to the dead, or as Marlene calls it “bye, bye.” I am introduced to what would be construed as “religious traditions.”  There is to be 3 “whole animals.”  In this case there was a whole fish with head, tail and fins, a roasted chicken and roasted duck Pork is offered in the way of making sure you have “skin and fat.”  Pork belly was on the menu. 

Photos of ancestors are placed above the table and lit candles are placed on the table in order to tend to the ceremony of burning incense.  At one point the window was open to invite them to partake in the food.  We were then each given a lit incense stick and a pause to remember them.  

When do we eat?  James told me that he was to take two pennies and drop them.  If it came up as either two heads or tails, we had to wait a few minutes as the spirits were still eating and or imbibing.  A flip of the coins soon gave us the opportunity to fill our bellies as all was brought to another area with added yummies.  

Tables were set up each with oranges. I am told that it is important to have a citrus drink.  In this case, it appears that someone combined orange marmalade with hot water.  I will certainly try this at home.  You can always count on the traditional bowls of fruit including Asian pears.  

One of the relatives was born in Korea.  She made her own kimchi (just a bit too hot for me) and a few other Korean style dishes.  

There was one other table devoted to the game of Mah Jongg…but not the Jewish style.  I will be writing about how it all came about of having Jewish women not only playing the game, but making sure it was passed down to generations.   

I decided to add a tradition by bringing a blooming tea.   It was a marigold.  Placed in a glass and hot water poured over, the marigold blooms.  I saw it as the start of a new year, one of beauty and taste.  A group of us partook in a small amount of the tea.  Perhaps I will do the same on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. 

Somehow, rubber chickens Marilyn and Minerva, managed to show up.  

Monday, February 12, 2018


Gyro, a Greek staple, is prepared with pork, chicken or a combination of lamb and beef.  Slices of the seasoned raw meat are placed upon a thick skewer which is on a vertical rotisserie.   In the case of lamb and beef, the meat is layered in an alternative manner to get the best flavor of the combination.  Most times a slab of fat is placed on the top in order to give moisture as it cooks.  The process involves making sure that there are no gaps in this cone shaped Greek staple.  Louis J. Amorim, owner of Gyro Grill, said, “We get our meat, which is a mixture of beef and lamb, put it in a dough mixer with our seasonings, and mix it until it’s fully blended. We then make softball size balls of meat, flatten it and put it on the stick and repeat the process until we feel it is the right size.”
Slices of the cooked meat are then plated with the outside pieces being most well done and the gyro continuing to revolve and cook.  Gyro is usually served in a sandwich of pita bread, onions, and tomatoes.  Tzatziki sauce made of yogurt, cucumbers, garlic and herbs is the accompaniment.   Some places use sour cream instead of yogurt. 

Beef and Lamb

 Chicken Gyro

It is not often that a fine dining restaurant will go through the “from scratch” process and less often that a “take-out” eatery will spend the time and effort, especially with a large bill of fare.  I have recently found one such restaurant in Rego Park, Gyro Grill, located at 63-02 Woodhaven Blvd.  You can eat there at one of about 4 tables with food served in their container to go.   This is not your average food and would best be served at your own dining room table and plated out.  

Who are the chefs?  “My mother- in-law, Kaity Markou, and my father- in-law, Petros Markou, said Amorim. “They were born in Greece and came to the U.S. in 2000.”  When it comes down to recipes, the best way he could explain it is by trial and error. “A perfect example is when I went to my mother- in-law’s apartment one day. As I was walking in the hallway, all you could smell was this tasty sweet aroma of chocolate. I walk in the apartment, which leads you into the dining room and all I could see were trays and trays of red velvet cupcakes.

Food Network was playing in the background.  Kaity was aggravated because she has been playing with this recipe for red velvet cake, but each tray just didn't meet her standards. She was about to throw out all these poor delicious red velvet cupcakes in the garbage and I almost had a heart attack.”
On the basis of this story, she and Petros, who had already been in the restaurant business,  just kept meddling with recipes from others until it became their own version of a perfect meal or cake or grilled octopus or lamb chops. Like Amorim said “Trial and error that they tweaked a great deal.”

Getting back to the food, Souvlaki is small chunks of seasoned meat, either chicken, lamb or pork, that is placed on a wooden skewer and grilled.  Many people tend to have it with French fries but having it with lemon potatoes can just add to the flavor.  Bifteki is seasoned ground beef rolled and grilled.  Sort of like a hamburger with seasoning.   Gyro and souvlaki can be purchased as a sandwich or platter. 

 Chicken Souvlaki

For instance, I opted for a platter of gyro which came with a few choices, one of which was grilled vegetables consisting of mushrooms, yellow and green squash, and sweet peppers.  A second item (salad) came with it of which I opted for a small Greek salad.  I usually don’t put the price but for about $17 of which you get all this tasty food…what can I say?

Moussaka and Pastichio are my tests.  Moussaka is kind of like having a ground beef and eggplant parmesan but with a lot more work that goes into it.   Sliced potatoes line the bottom of the baking dish.  I have heard that this is done to allow the fat to drain onto it but not necessarily eating it afterward.  However, if you either use a relatively lean ground beef or saute and drain prior to adding to the entrée, the potatoes absorb a good amount of the flavor.  

Gyro Grill uses both eggplant and green squash. The vegetables are sauted, placed on top of the potatoes and then a layer of the meat sauce (not a “meat flavored”) is placed on this.  A béchamel sauce is layered on the top and then the whole thing is baked.   Bechamel is a white sauce consisting of flour, butter, milk, to which depending upon the use, parmesan cheese may be added.  In this case, it is. 

Pastichio resembles more like lasagna where ground beef tops the pasta and béchamel sauce is layered on the top and baked.  There are seasonings added to both the Moussaka and Pastichio that give the Greek flavor.   I was totally impressed with both, especially having prepared these items from scratch (I do cook). 

Greek salad here consists of:  stuffed grape leaves, whole olives, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, feta cheese, red peppers, sliced red onions and romaine lettuce.  I noticed that they do not use the cheaper lettuce. 

Lemon Potatoes are not just boiled potatoes sprinkled with lemon.  The potatoes are cooked in a soup base and fresh squeezed lemon is added.  In fact, most likely you will get a wedge of lemon with just about everything you order.

My biggest surprise was the grilled octopus that was not “chewy” but soft and savory.  I don’t know how they do it! 

Avgolemo is a Greek Lemon Chicken Soup. Chunks of chicken, orzo and carrots are added to the soup. Then the lemon juice is squeezed into it. Not overwhelmed with lemon. I’m hoping that they compete in this year’s Chicken Soup Cookoff. 

Spanakopita is a spinach pie made with spinach, eggs and feta cheese using phyllo dough.  What a great breakfast or brunch idea for me and Popeye.  

For those of you that are more “vegetarians,” Gyro Grill offers falafel, basically made from ground chickpeas and spices such as garlic, parsley, scallions and lemon, then rolled into a ball and deep fried.  They are usually served with pita bread and tahini dressing or tzatziki.  For about $13 you can get this as a platter which (as all platters) comes with a choice of 1 side dish (lemon potatoes; rice; mixed vegetables; grilled vegetables +2.00; sweet potato +2.00) and choice of 1 side salad (garden; caesar; greek). 

Tahini dressing is basically a paste made from ground sesame seeds.  Hummus is a combination of both tahini and chick peas.  Both tend to have garlic in it.   I did not find either to be overridden with garlic.  I used some leftover tahini sauce to cook a batch of chicken wings.  

Baklavah is a standard Greek and Mediterranean dessert.  Ground walnuts are used in their recipe for this sweet dessert made in phyllo dough.  The use of a combination of a sugar syrup and honey make it just sweet enough for the palate.   

There is no dancing at Gyro Grill or plates to break!   You are welcome to take out the food, bring it home and celebrate however you want to.  Opa!

Sunday, February 4, 2018


Do not raise your pinky when you lift up your cup of tea as it is rude.   It actually connotes elitism as cultured people would eat their tea goodies with three fingers while commoners would hold the delights with all five.  Downton Abbey has an extraordinary exhibition in midtown Manhattan and just a few blocks away the British owned Whitby Hotel has paired it with Afternoon Tea. 

Chose from either dining in the Whitby Bar

or the Orangery.  I went with my dear friend Enid Lang due to her getting me hooked on watching Downton Abbey on PBS.  We chose the beautifully decorated and skylight Orangery with its displays of plates, chandeliers and cushiony high backed upholstered chairs. 

The Downton Abbey menu was then placed before us. 

With many tea choices Enid opted for the Rooibos, having it for the first time.  She loved it! This tea comes from South Africa.  It does not contain tea leaves but from a honey bush, which gives its slight sweetness.  Wanting to experience a different type of “tea,” I decided on a marigold flower, which is first placed in a glass.  When you pour the hot water into it, the marigold opens up little by little until full bloom.  A strainer is placed over the glass and the tea is poured into your cup.   All teas are loose and can be used for more than one cup.

Options that come with the $45 fixed price are:  Bespoke English Breakfast Blend – traditional English breakfast with an aromatic honey rose and a deep malty finish; Rare Earl Tea – hand crafted black tea with a pure bergamot oil from southern Italy (to be enjoyed with a lemon zest or milk); and Whole Chamomile flowers, which are caffeine free since it is an herbal “tea.” There is a further list of Specialty Teas for a $2.50 supplement.  

Delights come to your table on a three tier silver platter.  The top layer has the sweet treats of: Iced fruit cake and house made mince pie; Sticky toffee pudding; Chocolate and peppermint opera cake; Spiced orange and chestnut mousse buche de Noel. 

Tea sandwiches (with the crust removed) fill up the middle layer with: Smoked salmon sandwich with mustard cream; Turkey sandwich, cranberry, radish sprouts; Cucumber sandwich (of course), sweet butter, white balsamic; Chickpea hummus sandwich roasted eggplant; Gruyere Gougene. 

The bottom layer has the scones, clotted cream and two different preserves. 

Relaxing, sipping your tea and enjoying each savory bite of the delights are very important.  It may look as if the quantity of the food would not fill you up.  Don’t be surprised if you request a “to go” bag and you can also get a “to go” cup if you don’t finish your tea. 

Take a moment to walk around the charming lobby of the Whitby, one of two London based Firmdale hotels located in Manhattan.  The address is 18 W. 56 Street.  I recommend viewing the Downton Abbey Exhibit prior in order to truly set the mood. 

AT THE WHITBY Hotel and crosby street hotel, new york
In the run up to the 90th Academy Awards ceremony, explore some of the most highly anticipated nominations from the comfort of Crosby Street Hotel or The Whitby Hotel's luxury private cinemas.
Or enjoy live coverage of The Oscars ceremony on March 4th, live from the comfort of either hotel's private screening room. Red carpet coverage starts from 6.30pm, followed by the ceremony hosted by Jimmy Kimmel at 8pm.
Film Club includes brunch, a three course lunch or afternoon tea in The Whitby Bar followed by the movie of the week for $55 per person. The films will be shown every Sunday at 4pm.
FEB 18 - Roman J Israel
MAR 4 - Darkest Hour
MAR 4 - The Oscar's 2018 (LIVE) - Coverage from 6.30pm
To book, please call +1 212 586 5656 or email
Film Club includes dinner or cocktails in The Crosby Bar followed by the movie of the week starting at 8pm. 3 course dinner and a movie is $55. Cocktail, bar plate and movie is $35. 
MAR 4 - The Oscars 2018 (LIVE) - Coverage from 6.30pm
MAR 11 - Darkest Hour
To book, please call +1 212 226 6400 or email