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SYRACUSE — One Iron-Chef-style of a Birthday Dinner at KOTO

Photo courtesy of goodtimeznow.com

KOTO Syracuse Japanese Steakhouse — Hibachi & Sushi Bar

2841 Erie Blvd. East
Syracuse, NY 13224

Hours:

Mon-Thu 11am-3pm, 4:30pm-10pm
Fri 11am-3pm, 4:30pm-11pm
Sat 12pm-3pm, 3pm-11pm
Sun 12pm-10pm

Happy Hour :
Monday – Thursday 4:30 to 6:30
(at the bar only)

Phone#: 315.445.KOTO (5686)

—-

“It’s party time!” Our hibachi chef David said to our table last Thursday after cooking our meal.

He chopped bright green zucchini into tiny cubes and with his silver spatulas, aimed one at a time at the seven happy mouths around the table.

“One…. two…. three!”

The cubes flew in the air, landing in some of our mouths on the first try, and some, it took an extra time (or two).

David has good aim.

It was my birthday last Thursday. While I had a combined birthday party with another friend on Saturday, I wanted to do something on my actual birthday with one of my friends that I knew would be a fun time.

I thought of KOTO on Erie Blvd. I hadn’t been to this fairly-new restaurant all year, and now was the perfect opportunity to seize the moment and try it.

When I entered the restaurant with my friend Alicia, we were both wowed at the beauty and décor of the restaurant. At the center of the foyer is a beautiful waterfall fountain. Later in the night I discovered there were fish swimming around in the pool below the fountain: beautiful orange, white and black speckled fish.

The parking lot was packed, and when I have driven by it before, it always seemed to be that way. Fortunately, our wait time was only just a few minutes.

We were led to a big square table with two other groups: a family of three and two very nice girls who looked around my age.

After ordering a glass of smooth, rich malbec (a delicious red wine I recommend to you all) it was time to study the menu.

This menu is extensive, friends. There were three huge pages of anything from appetizers such as jalepeno fried shrimp, sushi rolls such as the Erie Blvd. roll (1/2 salmon, 1/2 tuna and avocado topped with crab meat), and on the back page in the left hand corner on the bottom, was what I was looking for: hibachi!

Hibachi is one of my favorite culinary experiences. Not only for the amazing fresh food cooked in front of you, but for the “show” like experience itself.

Last Thursday flashed me back to watching episodes of Iron Chef on Food Network.

The chef comes out, has a certain amount of time with you to cook beautiful, fresh dishes.

David came out with his big cart full of goodies: the meat/fish/veggies/rice/etc. stacked on big silver trays, the colored unmarked ketchup-type bottles of sauces, the special gadgets for later on in the show.

He started our experience by going around the room and repeating what we ordered. He had a great memory. When he got to the younger boy at the end of the table, he completely went wild.

“You ordered CHICKENNNNNNNNN! CHICKENNNNNNNNNNNN!! Bawk bawk bawk bawk bawk!” David said in a high pitched voice.

One thing I’ll admit before I tell you more about the show: it made me nervous that I didn’t notice any overhead fans above each of the hibachi tables. There were a ton of hibachi tables throughout the restaurant, and they each had a little faucet attached to them on the side (in case of fire, I assume). However, every other hibachi place I have been to in my life thus far has had some sort of ventilation above each table. Was it hidden and I didn’t see it? I was really expecting a lot more visible ventilation.

David first had a little tossing-the-spatulas show for us. He rolled them behind his back, throwing them very close to our face and catching them right back. As soon as he drew a smiley face with sake on the grill and lit it on fire (HUGE flames in front of our eyes, making me think about ventilation again), it was really time for the food magic show.

Alicia and I both got the salad to start, which was different than any other salad I’ve had at a Japanese restaurant. Most times I have had an iceberg salad with a bright orange colored tangy ginger dressing. This one was large mixed leafy greens and romaine with a very creamy ginger dressing. While the dressing was full of that strong ginger tang, the creaminess actually balanced the dressing and went very well with the mixed greens.

The rice was put on the griddle and David swirled it around with his spatulas. He tossed an egg in the air and caught it with his spatula several times. The egg quickly fell to the griddle and somehow, David managed to pick up the shell with his fork-like utensil without a single chard of shell in the fried rice. Bravo.

By this time David had already handed out two sauce-trays to us. One was specifically called “YUMMY  YUMMY” sauce (with David’s huge grin to go with it). That was a creamy orange-colored sauce, that tasted like spicy mayo you get at sushi restaurants but with a twang to it. The other sauce was a brown, sweet ginger sauce that was very light to the taste. It went well not only with the fried rice, but was a great dipping sauce for the luscious fried sweet potato sushi-roll Alicia and I ordered as our appetizer.

Since I have been to several hibachi places over the years, I had a feeling as to what was coming next: the onion volcano. If you haven’t seen an onion volcano it is a very simple procedure. David took rings of an onion and built a volcano-looking structure with the biggest ring as the base, building it up to the smallest ring on top. David sprayed a ton of sake in the volcano and set it on fire.

Again, I was thinking about ventilation. The huge flames coming out of the volcano turned into piping smoke, which David then pulled out another thing I’ve seen at many Japanese restaurants: the boy-toy. This is a doll of a boy where if you push it down, water comes out of it. Everyone usually laughs at this, and for some reason I was dying laughing by then. David turned to me and really started cracking up:

“Ohhhhh you must reallyyyyy be enjoying this huh!” David said.

“OH YES,” I said while still dying of laughter.

The show started to die down a bit after this. Once he started cooking up the meat and fish for us at the table, besides watching him cook with such precision, there wasn’t as much to see. He doused everything with several sauces and spices, that again, were unmarked.

Regardless, my meal was fantastic. The vegetables, served on my plate first, were tender, juicy and filled with that teriyaki/sake flavor in every bite.

I’m a huge fan of the fried rice at hibachi restaurants because it is fresh-made and has more of an airy taste versus the heavier taste and texture at Chinese restaurants. Last Thursday’s fried rice was incredibly flavorful of soy sauce, and with the fresh-cooked egg in it, really made the dish.

However, it really was my meat and fish that stole the show for me. I ordered filet mignon, cooked medium, and it came out perfect. It was tender, juicy, and had several sweet yet spicy flavors mixed into it. It was a balanced taste, which I appreciated. I also ordered salmon, which had a subtle caramelized crunch to it, yet melted in my mouth. It had a sweet teriyaki flavor to it, yet there were also crunchy sesame seeds on top of the salmon, adding to the balance of flavors.

But just when I thought the show was over, the show had just begun. The zucchini cubes went flying in our mouths first. But then the real show started for the over 21 crowd.

David lifted the clear sake squirt bottle above his head.

“Sakeeeeee!” he said.

While there was one person under 21 at the table, it turned into quite the sake party. David aimed the clear squirt bottle at each of our mouths. We were drenched by the end of it.

The man sitting at the table had so much sake in his mouth from David’s spraying that the sake was literally foaming out of his mouth.

When he got to me, he sprayed so much in my mouth that when I bent my head down a little bit to close my mouth, sake not only drenched my shirt, pants and face, but went in my eye. My eye burned for a few seconds, but I tried to laugh that off.

All of the girls at the table were squealing and screaming at David’s sake squirting. I think he was trying to go for a record with each of us as to how much sake we could possibly consume in our mouths.

Yes, despite the drenching, it was a fun time. But yet, the party was still not over.

For $6 you can get the “birthday” package, which includes tempura ice cream with a candle on it, the staff singing to you and a souvenir picture.

The staff came around to me and made me get up out of my seat.

Then they told me to “shake, my booty, shake, shake my booty.”

I love to dance, so I did shake it in front of the entire restaurant.

The staff sang a song to me about getting old and my face turning red and counting on down “Happy Birthday to You!”

The tempura ice cream was delicious: all I could taste was the rich, fried batter with the chocolate sauce on top. The ice cream looked yellow. While I’m assuming it was vanilla, it was one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had.

Next time I go there, I am really going to look harder for ventilation above me, though. While the restaurant had very high ceilings, I really felt there should have been some more visible fans.

My birthday was filled with love, happiness and culinary experiences I’ll never forget.

Thanks, KOTO, for making my birthday very special and for reminding me of the importance a single amazing food experience can mean to a person, regardless of how drenched you get from some sake.

SYRACUSE — Back to DARWIN for lots of GREENs!

Lunchtime comes around quick.

Where’s one place can you go in Syracuse to find a great sandwich at a great price?

DARWIN!

I’ve been to DARWIN several times now, and the experiences I have had have been simply wonderful. In a cute, cozy building located across the street from The Post-Standard‘s building on N. Clinton St., you can come in for breakfast or lunch during the week and pick out food and drinks. Their menus are hand-written on chalkboards. Inside, one of the very friendly staff members will greet you and take your order.
What I love about DARWIN as well, as I have mentioned in a previous post, is that their menu evolves each week. This past week I went was week 23 since their opening this past summer. Each week there is a new message up on their website, http://www.darwinonclinton.com from co-owner Daryl McGrew as to what’s on their menu and what their latest updates are.  I also love that each sandwich comes with an Atomic Fireball candy! 🙂

"This Little Piggy Went to Utica" Sandwich, DARWIN. $8

This particular visit, which was a few days ago, I had the “This Little Piggy Went to Utica” sandwich for lunch. The sandwich is $8, and here’s what the sandwich contains, according to their website:

“This one comes from your suggestions.  Stephen Gullo, who is in fact working on his own sandwich shop in Boston, made this suggestion after trying our Utica Greens.  We added a little zip to our seasoned, shredded pork, top it with a healthy helping our of delicious homemade Utica Greens, and cover with a sharp provolone cheese.  It all comes piled high on a fresh DiLauro’s sub roll glazed with our roasted garlic aioli.  For those of you ready to take a break from your diet…this one’s for you.”

Utica Greens are a popular dish around here. According to a blog on Smithsonian Magazine, they consist of escarole , and then some prosciutto, garlic, chicken broth and hot peppers.

This sandwich was delicious! I loved the seeded sub roll that it was on from DiLauro’s: there was a bit of a crunch to the bread and then the soft fluffy dough part in the middle gave the sandwich a nice texture. I very much enjoyed the Utica Greens – they were spicy yet sweet at the same time. There was also what appeared to be ham on the sandwich. I’m usually not a huge fan of ham, but I thought the ham made the sandwich as well, giving it that sweetness mixed with the spicy greens. I definitely recommend this to you!
Going along with the “Green” theme, I also decided to try one of their rotating side dishes, their “Fried Green Tomatoes.” These were absolutely incredible too. Like this blog on Smithsonian Magazine, I concur that I too did not hear of these green marvels until the 1991 film came out. Tomatoes? Green?

The blog on Smithsonian Magazine says the following as to their origin. Food historian and writer in S.C. Robert F. Moss said to their blog that they actually started in the Northeast and Midwest and “perhaps with a link to Jewish immigrants.”

I finally got my hands on some, first at Dinosaur BBQ. Then trying them at DARWIN, I have become hooked.

The batter was crispy: not too greasy and not cooked too light. They were just right. The tomatoes were not too thin or thick either and they came with delicious Ranch dressing on the side which gave them that extra kick.

Fried Green Tomatoes from DARWIN.

I washed my lunch that day down with a Diet Dr. Pepper, which

the staff at DARWIN have told me is a very popular drink among the customers.

Please watch my video for my full review on my lunch! They now take credit cards too!

DARWIN. 211 N. Clinton St. Syracuse

HOURS: 9:30am till 2:30pm, Monday thru Friday.

http://www.darwinonclinton.com

(315) 373-0484


SYRACUSE — GANNON’S ISLE

Photo courtesy of strathmorebythepark.org

GANNON’S ISLE:

1525 Valley Drive, Syracuse (Valley), NY // (315) 469-8647

4800 McDonald Road (Shadybrook Plaza), Syracuse (Onondaga Hill), NY // (315) 475-1250

—–

A few nights ago I was craving an ice cream sundae.

It was very warm out this week, and as I sat in my apartment, I started to dream about ice cream. I wanted it. It was the mission of the evening. But where to get it? I had a choice to make.

I had tried a place with three of my friends before in the Hawley-Green district that was amazing, but this time I wanted something different, something new that I haven’t tried yet.

Which then suddenly, an article from Syracuse’s newspaper, The Post-Standard, came to me. I had read this a few months ago:

Ice Cream Dream: Gannon’s Isle of Syracuse prepares new flavor for Strathmore homes tour (with video)

I remember watching the video of how they made their ice cream and thinking, “Wow, this place looks really great, I HAVE to try it!” Another friend of mine had told me about it too and how great it was.

This past Thursday was the perfect opportunity to try it.

I picked up Avantika and headed to one of their two locations: Onondaga Hill’s location. I had driven there before exploring the area a few weeks back and I discovered the Gannon’s Isle location happened to be there. I turned on my “Sacred TomTom” (as my mom and I call it) and Simon (the British male voice) led us there.

The drive to Onondaga Hill is very peaceful: once you leave the city vicinity of Syracuse, you enter a world of luscious trees and lots of hills. Because it was so dark outside as well (we went around 9 p.m. that night), we were wondering if we would actually find the place.

Lo and behold, we pulled up to Shadybrook Plaza on McDonald Road. The parking lot was PACKED.

This location of Gannon’s Isle is a very cute sized location: not too small, not too big. A white picket fence surrounds the building, as the line to get into Gannon’s took up the entire picked fence when we got there. It was an exciting experience.

There were lots of families and groups of friends there, getting their ice cream and eating outside. There are a few benches and picnic tables outside and there are also a few tables outside the deli in the plaza, where we ate. We also found people eating their ice cream in their cars, which is another great place to eat ice cream.

Avantika and I waited on line for a little while. The line was moving fast, but it was just a long enough wait for us to figure out what we wanted. We both knew we wanted a sundae.

The atmosphere inside Gannon’s is great; you are directed to walk in one side of the building and leave through the other, for good traffic flow.

The decorations made me smile very wide. The animated characters on the wall of different ice creams (in the picture above as well) on an island are so adorable. This is a very family-friendly atmosphere.

Avantika got a single scooped sundae with chocolate chip ice cream, hot fudge, nuts and whipped cream. She absolutely loved hers, and it looked fantastic.
I decided to try one of their named ice cream sundaes versus the make-your-own. I tried the “Oreo Explosion”: crushed oreos with hot fudge, nuts, whipped cream and the ice cream of your choice. Going along with the Oreo theme, I got their Oreo Cheesecake ice cream.

WHAT A SUNDAE.

My sundae cost around $6, which was well worth the money spent. It came in a huge bowl, with my ice cream filled to the top and their thick hot fudge spread all over the sundae. Every bite I took tasted of oreos and fudge. Mmm. I cleared my bowl on this ice cream very quickly, and I didn’t feel overly full either: many times if you get a large ice cream like that you may end up feeling really full afterwards. I felt very comfortably content.

Gannon’s Isle, has two locations for you to check out, one in Onondaga Hill, where I went, and another in the Valley.  According to their website, they have over 200 rotating homemade ice cream flavors for you to try. Their website also tells the story of how the Gannon’s Isle locations came to be: siblings Eileen and John Gannon have been making ice cream at their business since 1982.

If you’re in the mood for some ice cream today, definitely check out Gannon’s Isle at one of their locations. It’s well worth the trip.

SYRACUSE — Attilio’s

Photo courtesy of syracuse.com

ATTILIO’S : 700 NORTH SALINA ST. SYRACUSE, NY 13202

(315) 218-5085

Lunch Hours: Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Dinner Hours: Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Sunday: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Bar is open between lunch and dinner.

http://www.attiliosyracuse.com

A great dining experience is not only about the food, but the complete experience that goes along with it. From walking in the door to sitting at the table, to that first meet and greet from the waiter to when you leave the restaurant. If you have a warm, inviting experience, it will make you want to go back there again and again.
I found this especially at Attilio’s last week.

Right in the heart of Little Italy in Syracuse, Attilio’s was a surprise find for myself and 6 of my friends celebrating our friend Avantika’s birthday. While we were first going to check out another restaurant, the wait time at the first place was a little long, so we looked into other options.
Walking around North Salina Street, we came across Attilio’s as it was right near where we parked. We walked in and checked out a menu and found everything on the menu to be delicious sounding and at reasonable prices. Attilio’s had no wait and set up a big table for us to sit at.

Once everyone in our group was situated at the table, we were greeted by our waiter. He truly made our experience what it was. He took the time to greet us, bring us water and bread and tell us the specials of the night.

The wine list at Attilio’s is very nice. When you walk into the dining room, there are two cases that were behind our table that had several different wines in them. There was a huge champagne bottle on top of the case to look at.

Avantika and I tried a glass of the house Cabernet wine. This wine was very nice, dry with a hint of oak in it, which I love.

The bread there is AMAZING. One of the things I love about eating at Italian restaurants is the bread– it’s a staple of the experience. Their bread in particular was light with a very fluffy dough- and a nice light taste as well. The bread wasn’t too heavy to keep you from eating your meal. The bread also comes with an plate with four different mix-ins with olive oil: garlic, herbs, sweet pepper flakes and cheese. You mix them yourself at the table and then the dipping plate can be passed around. The oil mixture there is DELICIOUS!

Going around the table, I heard several pasta dishes being ordered from the menu, including:

  • Red Pepper Penne: “A vegetarian delight! Pan seared penne pasta with grilled bell peppers, goat cheese, fresh basil, sauteed in a walnut-oil garlic sauce.” $16
  • The Original Chicken Riggies: “This dish was created in 1955 by Francesco Nesci. Imported Rigatoni pasta sauteed with sliced chicken breast, Bermuda onion, hot cherry peppers, tossed in a plum tomato and fresh basil sauce.” $18

I studied the menu carefully. While I kept thinking about getting a pasta dish, it came upon me to try their Veal Parmigiana. I haven’t had veal in awhile and I really wanted to try theirs to see how it was.

  • Veal Parmigiana: “A lightly breaded veal cutlet topped with Attilio’s marinara sauce and Grande mozzarella cheese.” $20

$20 is a good deal on Veal Parmigiana; you not only get free bread and oil mix with your meal, but you get a choice of salad or soup as well. I decided to try their Caesar Salad for an additional fee, which was well worth the money.
Their Caesar Salad was wonderful. With a Caesar Salad, you have to be careful about not having too much dressing but not having too little dressing either. This particular salad was a perfect mix of romaine leaves and dressing. Their dressing was a beautiful blend of creaminess and there were two lemon wedges on the side to squeeze on to your liking. I LOVE LEMON, so I squeezed both on. It gave the salad that extra kick. I would definitely recommend getting the Caesar there for the small upcharge!

Attilio’s timing of food was perfect as well: a few minutes after the salads and soups were taken away from our table, the main courses came right to our table.

What I look for with veal dishes is a nice, beautiful tender veal. A lot of times if you overcook veal it can get very tough and hard to eat.

The veal most certainly was beautiful at Attilio’s. The batter they used to bread and cook the veal was outstanding: a nice fresh fluffy batter with nice seasonings. The veal was very tender, melt in your mouth veal. The portion was a very wonderful size as well: two huge pieces of veal with a nice sized bowl of rigatoni on the side (you can choose your pasta with your meal). Their sauce was delicious: a nice sweet, tomato sauce blended with the mozzarella cheese on top. I could sure eat some more right now! My plate cleared very fast; I ate my whole meal and actually did not feel full either. This was exciting, because that meant I could try their desserts!

Dessert time comes around and there are a TON of delicious choices….Key Lime Mousse Pie, Banana Cream Pie, Chocolate Cream Pie, Tartufo (one of my favorites to get out at an Italian restaurant!) and another favorite, Tiramisu.

My friend Jessica and I shared the Tiramisu and it was incredible. It was a nice sized piece of cake with a great blend of the coffee flavors and ladyfingers. My friend Sarah tried the Key Lime Mousse Pie, which was a HUGE hit at the table, the lime flavor was outstanding and that is a pie I would love to try again. The Banana Cream pie was amazing as well, the fresh taste of bananas with the pie crust and cream…YUM!

But as I said before, it wasn’t only the food that made the experience. Our waiter was outstanding. He checked in on us throughout the night to see how our food was. He took the time to sing “Happy Birthday” to Avantika with us. He took the time to personally split our checks, including doing the math of how much we would each pay to cover Avantika’s meal and wrote it on each check. He gave us little chocolate candies as well at the end of our meal.

This was an unforgettable night, and if you’re driving through North Salina Street in Little Italy, I would definitely recommend Attilio’s.

SYRACUSE — DARWIN

"Mojo" Turkey Sandwich, DARWIN

DARWIN. 211 N. Clinton St. Syracuse

“Mojo Turkey Sandwich”: fresh roasted turkey with fresh sauteed spinach and melted swiss, finished with a homemade cranberry aioli on a wheat roll.
DELICIOUS! The fresh flavors complement one another–the fluffy turkey combined with the beautifully cooked spinach…The homemade cranberry aioli is absolutely incredible and truly makes the sandwich! The Swiss and wheat roll give it that nice complement from the sweet tasting cranberries on the sandwich. Every flavor on this sandwich melts in your mouth as you eat it.

DARWIN’s menu evolves every week! If you go this week the menu may be completely different next week. Each week there is a new story up on their website, http://www.darwinonclinton.com from co-owner Daryl McGrew. The staff is amazing!!

The sandwiches are a reasonable price, too. And they’re BIG!

If you’re looking for a great place to have a quick & tasty sandwich for lunch I definitely recommend DARWIN to you. It’s open from 9:30am till 2:30pm, Monday thru Friday.

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