A few months ago, I was contacted by I Can't Believe It's Not Butter to attend a V.I.P. event at Unilever Test Kitchens in New Jersey to test products and recipes . I was truly ecstatic -- #1 this would be my first traveling opportunity as a result of the blog and #2 I get to go on a FOOD related adventure, what's not to love about that? The trip and expenses were all generously provided by ICBITNB (I am one lucky girl!).
They placed me in the swanky Hudson Hotel in New York right by the fabulous Columbus Circle. It was a very modern-chic upscale hotel with random quirks that give it a little spunk. The lobby was breathtaking, with the gigantic crystal chandelier and the open-window roof draped with plush green vines, gave the entire room a very cool greenhouse effect.
It was pretty amazing, the patio was converted into a bar at night. Filled with the beautiful and the fabulous young professionals of New York City -- I was pretty awestruck by it all. Until I got assigned my room number. I was placed in - "666".
hotel clerk: yeah don't pay attention to the number -- I know what you're thinking.
me: Are you sure satan doesnt live under the bed?
hotel clerk: Everyone has the same reaction, trust me it's not cursed.
me: (*thinking to herself*) yeah easy for you to say because you've never slept there.
I accepted my room key wearily -- Okay but if anything is funky I am requesting a different room! Thankfully no evil juju seemed present. The room was pretty small, especially the bathroom (anyone above 5'4" would have leg room trouble big time haha) but the bed was very comfy.
I was able to meet up a couple of friends that lived near my hotel, and Patrick suggested Meze Grill -- which is a Mediterranean themed eatery with a modern eco-friendly twist. Owner Marwan Salem, came up with the concept back in college: he wanted to offer a fast, healthy (extremely delicious) affordable meal with a modern Mediterranean twist.
Not only does Marwan make amazing food but he loves the planet -- most of the restaurant is made from recycled materials, my favorite being the wooden walls made from recycled barn wood. All of their dressings, dips and desserts are all made in house and they use all natural meats with no artificial ingredients. One can see how Meze Grill was selected by diners as one of Google's favorite places in New York to eat! (Out of the 28 million businesses, only less than 1% of businesses receive this honor.)
Now let's move onto the food! You start out by selecting a choice of pita sandwich, rice platter or salad and then inventing your own creation from a vast choice of toppings and meats. If you need a little help, any of the friendly employees will guide you down the right path :)
They make fresh pita chips daily which pairs perfectly with their rich and smokey babaghanoush -- a Mediterranean dip made mainly from eggplant and of course the traditional hummus made from FRESHLY soaked chickpeas NOT canned.
I told Marwan to give me his special and he created a half pilaf half bulgur wheat bowl with a falafel and grilled chicken on top and finished it with lettuce, tomatoes onions and my favorite -- pickled turnips. OKAY folks before you start scrunching your nose, these turnips are out of control. THEY ARE SO GOOD, crunchy and brined in a magical concoction, I would put these on everything. One of my favorite dressings would have to be the VEGAN garlic aioli, that's right, it is not made from eggs -- just a simple but perfect combination of garlic, olive oil and salt. It packs a nice bite to awaken your senses.
I think my only complaint would be to have a bigger stomach, so I could've fit all of the delicious food that was given me, the portions are HUGE. Not only did I find Meze Grill's food to be inspiring but Marwan's journey to this place reiterates my belief in life -- "It is important to pursue your passions". Marwan is an inspiration indeed.
(pictured above: left, Patrick Chang; right, Marwan Salem)
Born into a family of mostly doctors, Marwan received family pressures to puruse the medical field. But deep inside he knew his true calling was someplace else. With the encouragement of his favorite college professor, Marwan followed his heart and opened up Meze Grill -- a place that shares a piece of where he comes from as well as making it healthy and good for you.
It was really quite a pleasure to meet someone like Marwan -- though we met as two strangers, I left the restaurant feeling as if I've made a friend. His warm charismatic personality, instantly makes you feel at home-- it is hard to meet people of such genuinity now and days. I told Marwan - "Dude you gotta open up one of these in Texas, people would go crazy for it." His reply? "One day I will." Marwan, I will be patiently waiting for that day :). Until then you guys can enjoy the hummus recipe I made in honor of Marwan's delicious food. For all you lucky New Yorker's, check Meze Grill out. I promise you it won't disappoint!
I hope you guys have a great weekend, please stay tuned for the 2nd part of my New York trip :)!