Monday, December 13, 2010

Giving thanks for gnocchi

I require nought turkey or stuffing, but indeed prefer the gnocchi - do this and thy life is spare.

With my entree to law school four years ago, my family started dining out for most big holidays, religious or otherwise. For Passover, we have gone to JoeDoe for their progressive Seder. Come Thanksgiving, we went to Quality Meats until a really disappointing meal (both in food and service) last year.
I searched the internet for a new Thanksgiving home and presented options. My favored choice was Colicchio & Sons, but was shot down.  Instead, we went to Jane, which is not, as I had suspected, located on Jane Street. Nor is the restaurant owned by anyone named Jane (Glenn and Jeffrey are the owners' first names).  So deceptive.

The dinner was very good, the portions oversize to the point where our desserts were left mostly uneaten, a rarity in my family. Mostly to blame was the first course - ricotta gnocchi in a truffle cream sauce.  It was really, really good.  That much I knew right away.  Then, I went to the Colicchio & Sons Tap Room last week and ordered their gnocchi.  The Tap Room gnocchi was so weak, it made me appreciate Jane's dish that much more.

Granted, one was a ricotta gnocchi and the other a potato gnocchi.  But I don't care. Gnocchi should be dense, smooth, and flavorful, yet not overpowering the accompanying sauce. Jane accomplishes this hands down; the gnocchi is toasted, just the right amount of truffle in a nice cream sauce. The Tap room falls short; the gnocchi is light and feathery, almost disintegrating in an oily pool of soffritto that has no business being in the dish.

Although it is listed as a starter, my recommendation would be to order the toasted ricotta gnocchi and a salad, and call it a meal. So, so very good.

Jane, 100 W. Houston Street

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Get thee to the Highline before October 13th

It seems like an arbitrary date - a Wednesday in the middle of October - but there is significance. That is the last day Colicchio & Sons will be serving donuts and cider on the Highline. A little pop-up stand with a handful of two-top tables and chairs set up. all looking like they are made of reclaimed wood and keeping with the Highline aesthetic. Sure, it may be unseasonably warm - weatherbug had the temp at 85 when I stopped by earlier - but it is fall, Halloween is coming, leaves are falling, etc.
At $2 for a cider donut, I wanted something better than I get at the farmers' market that shows up twice a week.  What I got was a donut that was exactly what I get at the farmers' market that shows up twice a week. Only at twice the price.
The pumpkin spice donut holes were a different story altogether. A little denser than the donuts. Definitely tasted of pumpkin and cardamom. Like the cider donut, it was nicely coated in sugar. But what really sells the donut holes is the small cup of cream cheese frosting that comes in the bag. Not on the donut holes, seeping its way down, resulting in sogginess. A cup on the side. I was careful to portion out the frosting, and when I had a little bit left over, my index finger got frosted. Which is why you should get to the Highline before a Wednesday in mid-October when those wonderful little sugared donut holes disappear. And if you happen to find out where they keep the napkins, please let me know.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pastry wars: Italy vs. Japan

First, Beard Papa - a Japanese creme-filled pastry chain - landed on our shores and set up shop on the Upper West Side about five years ago. I remember walking over on opening day and standing in a line half way down the block. The lines have long since disappeared.
Now, Bombolini comes to the West Side serving up... bombolini - Italian creme-filled pastry. Keeping with the recent ebb in creativity, the establishment is named after its main offering. And so the great Japanese-Italian pastry war began. Two also-played countries on the losing end of WWII, now doing battle on the Upper West Side.

After two failed attempts owing to Con Ed-related issues, I finally found the storefront lit up. It turns out that problems it took almost a week for their inspection. On my way out, the proprietor said that my elevated expectations would not be let down.

On price, Bombolini undercuts Beard Papa by a good margin - selling for only $1 each. The 6 for $5 deal would seem better if there were six or more varieties on offer. But traditional (actually vanilla I think), valrhona, rasperry, apple and pistachio do not add up to six. Sure, I was only buying three.

On freshness, it was pretty much a tie. Some bombolini had just come out, some were already sitting in the case. Going to Beard Papa you may get a pastry straight from the oven, or there may be a pile of pastry just waiting to be filled. The longer a Beard Papa sits, the less contrast there is between the warm pastry and cool vanilla custard. A resting bombolino has issues as well; the custard starts to work its way into the surrounding pastry, leaving a soggy snack.  With either pastry proprietor, you never know when your order was made.

Comparing the two is a little difficult. Beard Papa is a light puff filled a squeeze of custard, sprinkled with sugar. The novelty wore off years ago. Now it is just there whenever I want one, which is not very often. I remember being there on opening day, waiting with a coworker in a line that stretched halfway down the block so we could bring this new novelty back to the office. Fast forward and Grom - the Italian gelato chain - attracts much more of a crowd next door, and the lines in front of Beard Papa are but a distant memory.

In contrast, a bombolino is much heavier, with a denser custard filling. Not all of the flavors were created equal either. I expected the traditional to blow me away, but it was more like boston creme filling in a superior doughnut.  The valrhona was lacking in uniformity of texture, but was quite tasty. The apply was a pleasant surprise as I was not expecting much; it had a light tartness that balanced out the heavier pastry.

When I stopped by during its opening weekend, Bombolini had no line. There were two people in front of me and one was getting gelato, bypassing the namesake bombolini altogether. Bombolini may be a victim of location; in the 60's on Columbus (vs. 70's on Broadway for Beard Papa) and one block away from Magnolia Bakery. Perhaps this should have been written about the battle between Magnolia and Bombolini for west 60's dessert dominance. In the end, I don't think there is any real competition there. Go and decide for yourself. Beard Papa and Magnolia (overrated as it may be) will get my business 9 times out of 10.

Bombolini, 187 Columbus Avenue (between 68th and 69th streets)

Beard Papa, 2167 Broadway (between 76th and 77th streets)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The first rule of burger club...

Our Founder

Now enlisting members, the burger club. To be followed by the mac and cheese club, I suspect. 

It started at Corner Bistro during Memorial Day weekend. Let me back up a moment. It started after spending some quality time at the Standard beer garden and Rusty Knot, then going to Corner Bistro during Memorial Day Weekend. We would form a burger club to sample the best of the best burgers, in the best city, on the best planet, in the best galaxy. Ever.

Months passed and burger club has gone nowhere. Then we, the original members of the dormant burger club, reconvened a couple of weeks ago and our motivation was revived.

The first rule of burger club is meat. In select situations, ordering a burger based on some meat other than beef is permitted. Whether a tuna or salmon burger is permitted should be put to a vote. But under no circumstances will a veggie burger be allowed.

The second rule of burger club is sides are required. Most will be potato based. Be they fries, home fries or tater tots, there will be sides.

The third rule of burger club is beer. No further explanation should be required.

Now to the list of burger club stops (in no order):
Corner Bistro
Peter Luger
Five Napkin Burger
Burger Joint
Black Shack
The Breslin (lamb burger)
Black Market
The Spotted Pig
The Smith

This is only the beginning.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen... Two Boots

First there was the sign. Then came the permits. A few weeks ago, the facade was revealed. The key elements were there: pizza ovens, soda refrigerator, decorated counter and walls. Last week a sign was posted in the window - they were waiting on Con Ed and would be opening soon. When I walked by last night, confirmation. A sign saying that Two Boots would be opening "tomorrow night." Tonight was that night and I was there.So were the police. We all came for pizza.
Here is a pic of my dinner

On the left, the regular. No description required. On the right, the Newman. Why the Newman? I'm a huge Seinfeld fan, I'm on the Upper West Side (Seinfeld's address was up here somewhere), but most importantly this is a white slice with sopressata and sweet sausage. It is encouraging to find a superior slice of pizza below 100th street on the west side. It is also good to know that there is someplace for a quick bite near the newly renovated 96th street 1-2-3 entrance other than McDonald's or a diner. Is Two Boots the best slice? No. But it is a better slice than we have had around here.

Two Boots, 2547 Broadway (between 95th and 96th streets)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Asked and Answered: The most difficult question... ever

Out to dinner with Brandon and Amy while they took a break from packing, Amy had some questions. There was talk of Philadelphia since they are going to be living about 10 minutes outside the city. I've only been there once and my experience was limited to the sublime (Morimoto) and the pedestrian (cheese steaks). However, it was her next question that tripped me up. Amy wants to know where to get the best ice cream in New York. I had no answer. I still have no answer. This is going to require some thought.
Amy favors Blue Marble, which is very good. Don't get me wrong. Organic, fresh, classic flavors. Nothing wrong with that. Is Blue Marble the best? That I do not know. Contemplation ensues. I may have to conduct research by revisiting all of my favorites. The sacrifices I make for others.

Currently under consideration:
Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
Any other place named "ice cream factory"
Emack & Bolio
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Truck
Meatball Shop - possible disqualification because they only make ice cream sandwiches.

This list is for ice cream only; no gelato, no soft serve.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Green thumb: mostly successful, partly disappointing

The urban window ledge herb garden of 2010 experiment continues with a fair amount of success. Basil continues to grow. New leaves are sprouting every day. This is by far the pick of the litter. The plant is growing strong and the leaves are quite fragrant. I want it to keep growing and enter it into a competition, like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, but for plants.

Dill is doing very well, too. However, it is tall and skinny (like me) and falls over sometimes (also like me). Comparing my plant with the picture on the seed envelope, I see that dill has a long way to go. Dill worries me, and I find that it requires more attention than its neighboring plants. It seems like dill is teetering on collapse everyday and I don't know what to do other than prop it back up.

Rosemary has make significant progress since my last update. It still doesn't look anything like rosemary, but I have faith that the plant pictured below is indeed rosemary. While I have no reason to worry, there is some concern that rosemary will have the same stability issues as dill is currently experiencing. It does appear to be growing stronger, but so was dill before it really sprouted up in the past few weeks. I can only hope that rosemary's slower growth rate will lend itself to a stronger stem. (Please bear in mind that I know almost nothing about gardening vocabulary, so pardon any faux pas).

Which leaves lavender. How disappointing. Below is a picture of lavender, taken yesterday. Don't see it? That's okay, because there is nothing there. Despite the second planting, lavender is still an utter failure. I am thinking a second basil plant - given its success - would be in order. I could also attempt a new herb, but fear similar results, which would lead to the natural conclusion that this pot happens to be cursed. In the meantime, I continue to water this clump of dirt along with the other plants, though I feel like I'm Geppetto spoon feeding Pinocchio. Only less crazy. And without a mustache.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I'll take you to the Meatball Shop

The meatball shop does one thing, and they do it well. Yes, they have salad and veggies, and amazing ice-cream sandwiches. But in terms of entrees, there is meatball and only meatball. No appetizers. No need. Five kinds of meatball (including a special which was roast beef and cabbage when I visited), four kinds of sauce, and four ways to order. First you pick the size: bowl (four to an order with focaccia on the side), slider, smash (two meatballs on toasted brioche), hero (three meatballs on Il Forno baguette with side salad). The smash and hero come with your choice of either provolone or mozzarella cheese. On top of that, there is a choice of either white or whole wheat for the hero. Then you pick the meat (pork, chicken, beef, veggie, special), you pick the sauce (tomato, spicy meat, parmesan cream, mushroom gravy), and you try not to stare at other people's plates while waiting. All of this on a menu that has checkboxes and has been laminated, with the preferred items marked off using an erasable marker.
I went with the hero, pork meatball, spicy meat sauce, provolone cheese, whole wheat baguette, Brooklyn lager on tap. Was ordering whole wheat on a hero like that similar to ordering a large diet coke with a Big Mac value meal? Perhaps. Then again, whole wheat bread adds flavor that white bread is normally lacking, although I am sure this would not have been the case here. (See photographic evidence here.)
Immediately after ordering, I noticed a lot of people went with parmesan cream sauce and I began to regret my decision. I was not disappointed by the spicy meat sauce. Not at all. I just wondered whether the parmesan cream would have been better. I will have to wait until my next trip to find out for sure.
The pork meatball was just great. It held up well in the sandwich, neither falling apart nor stubbornly refusing to be bitten into. Well-seasoned, good sized and quite filling. Il Forno's bread did not dominate the sandwich as is the case too often. The spicy meat sauce was actually a little spicy, which means it was really spicy since my sensitivity is a little dulled. The light green salad served its purpose well, occasionally breaking up the succession of weighty bites from the hero. My pork meatball, provolone, spicy meat sauce, whole wheat hero did not go quickly, and I found that I was pretty well stuffed by the end.
The waitress sensed my defeat at the hands of this meatball hero and asked if I wanted the check. She was pleasantly surprised (possibly because a bigger check equals a bigger tip) when I mentioned wanting an ice cream sandwich. Like my first visit to Butter Lane, they were out of one item and it was exactly what I planned to order. No caramel ice cream, hence no peanut butter cookie / caramel ice cream sandwich. Apparently the waitress' favorite. So I went with chocolate ice cream and, once again, was not disappointed. Rather than make a mess, I broke up the cookies with my spoon and assembled small bites from the fractured cookie. This was after a first failed bite that squeezed out a fair amount of ice cream back onto the plate. The ice cream sandwich disappeared in near record time - the ice cream was melting and I had to act fast.
And for the grand finale, the check totaled $19.25 after tax. Not bad at all.

The Meatball Shop, 84 Stanton Street (between Orchard and Allen)

I do not like beef jerky. However...

Only known photograph of "asian beef jerky place"
(from Google Street View)

A few years back, my friend Alex and I were wandering around the outskirts of Chinatown so he could find this beef jerky place he had been raving about. Exact address unknown. That is just how we roll; by intuition.
Thanks to a trip downtown this weekend and Google maps - more specifically street view - I have pinned down the name and location of, what was previously known as "the asian beef jerky place."
After a few trips, I remembered that the beef jerky place is on Elizabeth Street, somewhere south of Houston and north of Canal, on the west side of the street. I couldn't even remember if there is a sign outside and, if so, what language is on that hypothetical sign. With this post in mind, I set out for the asian beef jerky place with the goal of not only obtaining some of that fine beef jerky, but also coming home with a name and address.
It was hot. It was humid. The sun was blazing and there was no shade while walking south during the early hours of the afternoon. But I persisted and came upon my beef jerky heaven; Malaysia Beef Jerky, Inc. Of course I forgot that this little store has no air conditioning, so I found little relief once inside. Other than relief from my hankering for that fine asian jerky. The store is split in half by the counter. An older Asian woman sits on a stool in the back corner while another woman tends to the customers (me being the only customer at that time). Behind me, the wall is lined with the typical market refrigerators, though not stocked with the typical market fare. This leaves a fairly narrow walkway and I can imagine it being difficult to maneuver on a busier day. Although, I cannot imagine it ever being all that busy in here. I could inquire, but I am not sure I would understand what the woman says (subsequent communication issues on both our parts confirms this), nor do I have the patience to figure what odd delicacies might be stored in the various cardboard boxes and plastic bins being refrigerated.
A quarter pound of spicy pork and a quarter pound of beef jerky later and I was back out on the street, unable to resist tearing a piece from each wax-lined bag, noticing the heat, humidity and sun just a little less than a few minutes earlier. Only now I really needed a bottle of water.
With a name and address now in hand, I got a little curious and hit the internet to see what anyone else might have to say. What did I find? The dinky little store pictured above has a website! A website! They will ship the beef jerky to you. This was mind-blowing, even with the rudimentary website setup. I am still in shock and must stop typing to fully gather my thoughts. 

Malaysia Beef Jerky, Inc., 95A Elizabeth Street (between Grand and Hester)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Two Boots is Coming! Two Boots is Coming! Two Boots is Coming!

Last night, as I went for a glutenous late dinner what did I see? A Two Boots Pizza sign between Peaches Natural Yogurt Cafe and McDonalds.
That's right. A new pizzeria on Broadway and 96th to go with the new entrance for the subway entrance. And finally, a worthy pizza pie worth visiting on the Upper West Side - Sal and Carmines aside (the demise of which was inaccurately reported some weeks back). Possibly Patsy's.
I stopped and snapped a few photos with my phone this morning, and attempted to get Symphony Space into the background as proof of location. Look really closely at the third photo and you can make out the sign.
Note the absence of permits, which leads me to believe it won't be opening any time soon. Also, the website had no mention of the UWS location coming. Interesting. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

BABBP (If you don't know, you don't know)

It's mine and you can't have it

As a park, Madison Square has never been much of an attraction for me. Once a Shake Shack outpost opened in my neighborhood, I had even less of a reason to make the trip. But all of that changes for a weekend every year.

The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party is coming. I may not make it every year (thanks, bar exam), but it is certainly on my mind. That and the chocolate show, which comes around during the fall. New York has decent barbecue, and it makes an appearance at the BABBP. However, pitmasters from more well-known barbecue states come up north and bring their smokers with them. Clicking on the interactive map on the website ( gets my mouth watering. And the event is a month away.

The picture above is my fast pass for the event. It costs $125 and has a credit for $100 worth of food and drink, along with a companion pass so that a freeloading guest can join me in line (and pay for half, making for more of a partner than a guest in the experience). Why pay an extra $25 for the pass? The lines can be unbearably long. And with real barbecue taking 12 hours and longer to cook, food runs out. Not like the pitmaster can just throw some more pork shoulder into the smoker when he sees a long line.Weather is also a factor. In the past, it has been hot and humid, and the tents are set up on the periphery of the park where there is no shade. Between the weather, the lines, and the taunting smell of fine barbecue, tempers are truly tested.

Will I have to try all three St. Louis-style rib selections on offer? Perhaps. Will I sample both whole hog plates? Definitely. All three pulled pork choices? No doubt. I may be a little more selective with beef brisket and pass on the mutton. If I don't see some sweet tea, I may resort to a temper tantrum.

The end result? I will be stuffed. I will be happy. I will longingly await the BABBP's return next year.

3 out of 4 ain't bad

Even though my plants are young and fragile, I had to leave them and travel for work a couple of weeks ago. Basil and dill had just popped up a couple of weeks prior, and lavender and rosemary had yet to make an appearance. Nevertheless, I did what any responsible gardener would do: I watered thoroughly, positioned the pots for optimal sunlight and offered up a little prayer.
Lo and behold! I came home to find that my burgeoning urban herb garden had (mostly) prospered in my absence.

I say "mostly" because lavender proved to be incredibly stubborn. In fact, I went ahead and planted another seed. Since it takes a few weeks to germinate, I still don't know if I have what it takes to grow lavender.

When I left, basil was two wimpy looking leaves. I came back to find four leaves. That is a 100% improvement. On a qualitative scale, it was even better when taking into consideration the fact that two of the leaves were considerably larger.

Dill has actually started to look like dill. Since this picture, it has grown considerably and a second offshoot has sprouted. It still looks very fragile, but has come a long way from its first sprouting just a few weeks ago.

Though hard to spot, rosemary has made an appearance. Utilizing my superb photo editing skills, I have circled the little sprout. Perhaps I should have chosen a color other than green to highlight.

All said, I was thrilled with the progress made. I hope to be using my home grown herbs sometime by the end of the decade. Yes, I realize the decade has only begun. This takes time.

Monday, May 10, 2010

This little piggie went to Bowery

Ah, Mother's Day. Yet another reason for my family to try someplace new. It isn't like I do not see or speak to my mother all the time, or appreciate her year round (Hi Mom!). This year - brunch at DBGB. I am not sure what the "GB" stands for, but "DB" is Daniel Boulud, which invariably means good food.

After much deliberation, we settled on the viennoiserie (bread basket) to start, which my mother and sister both missed on the menu. My mother chose the croque madame, which came out open-faced, covered in bubbly brown Gruyere with a sunnyside egg on top. Rachel went for an omelet that apparently was good, but looked like it was made in a non-stick pan using eggbeaters. I defer to her judgment on taste. I went for the piggie burger. This is a burger with Daisy Mae's pulled pork and cole slaw on top. I had thoughts of ordering this well in advance of brunch and nothing on the menu changed my mind.

Initially, there was disappointment. The viennoiserie was running low. The pain aux raisins was excellent. A gooey, warm, raisin-filled wonderful bit of pastry. The croissant was nothing exceptional, but I did take note of its construction - it did not fall apart when being torn. The madeleines were light and warm, and went well with the jelly and butter with sea salt on the platter. However, there was one notable absence - pan au chocolat. How do you know what goes into the viennoiserie and not have equal amounts of each element? Why do you run out of one thing? Are people requesting a basket with only pan aux chocolat? Probably. But then, they should know this is going to happen and prepare accordingly. I felt gypped.

Here is where things began to feel rushed. The waiter came for a drink order before asking about food and waited until the drinks were delivered before coming back. Not a problem. We were still working on the bread basket when the rest of our food arrived. Problem. We do not eat slowly, so this was a real surprise. I would like a minute between croissant and burger, please. It was wholly unnecessary since this was the latter part of brunch time and tables were emptying.

The burger was good. Actually, what I could taste of the burger was good. The flavor of the pulled pork was clearly dominating here. The cole slaw stood out as well. I expected more of a complementary relationship between burger and pulled pork. I could have gone to Daisy Mae's and been just as satisfied; perhaps feeling a little less glutinous even. When the waiter brought over condiments, he recommended that I only use ketchup with the fries and not on the burger, which was half gone at this point. Duh. Apparently, he had personally made this mistake in the past. He made another mistake later on when he charged Rachel for the full brunch and me for the burger she was bringing to her boyfriend. Whoops. Overall, the burger was very good and was the last thing I ate until lunch the next day.

To dessert or not to dessert. That was the question left for me to answer. So I chose two: the chocolate-chocolate sundae, and a rhubart tart. The sundae should have had a couple of more "chocolates" in the name. Chocolate ice cream, truffles, chocolate chip cookies, cocoa crunchies. A little caramel sauce and some whipped cream on top. It was decadent, it was intense, it was delicious. The rhubarb tart was more lemon meringue than rhubarb, but very nice and light. A rhubarb ice cream on the side had us all talking, wondering if it was made in-house. If mass-produced rhubarb ice cream would taste like this, then someone should be making it.

I walked out with mixed feelings. There seemed to be something off at every stage. The viennoiserie was missing pan au chocolat. The burger was heavy on pulled pork (from another restaurant). The dessert... well that was really good.  I started to feel a bit rushed without apparent reason.  The waiter switched credit cards and didn't bring a credit slip when the correction was made. In the end, this is a series of mostly little things, but taken together they detracted from the experience as a whole. In the future, if I want pulled pork I will go to Daisy Mae's and if I want a burger I will go to Peter Luger. Maybe I'll go to both places and make my own piggie burger. Also, I never figured out what the "GB" stands for.

DBGB, 299 Bowery (between Houston and 1st Street)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

UK Edition: The Vindaloo Episode

Lamb (pre-vindaloo)

Being that I am in the UK this week, Indian cuisine is unavoidable. The British take anything good and make it... British.  With the exception of Indian food. It must have something to do with colonialism.
Pizza Hut is a sit down restaurant, dim sum is fashionable and horrible at the same time, and there is some national obsession with prawns. Last night, I actually got into an argument over fish being served at breakfast. Not smoked salmon - that was something that all agreed on. But haddock with eggs? No no no.  Indian is the only thing done right here.
In London, I go to Khan's for the curry. The only strike against them is that it is a dry restaurant. Mango lassi, though very good, is as good as it gets.
Spending four weeks in Cardiff over the past six months, I have eaten in countless restaurants. Most workdays, I find my way to an Audi dealership for lunch. I am not kidding. The best choice for lunch is the cafe inside an automobile dealership, just down the road from my office. Not that I mind ordering a sandwich and sitting down to stare at an R8 Spyder. Daydreaming. Drooling.
The other night, I went out to dinner with Daniel and Carlyne for a Indian by Cardiff Bay.  When ordering the lamb vindaloo I was questioned no less than three times by my dining companions and the waitstaff. One does not order vindaloo lightly. We also ordered up an appetizer sampler, some "special rice" and peshwari naan. The sampler was fine, though it was never made clear which of the samplings a yogurt sauce - conveniently in the middle of the serving dish - was meant to accompany. So we used it for everything. The "special rice" was basically Indian fried rice - egg, peas, rice, fried, done. Peshwari naan is basically the same as what I would call khandari naan; raisins, shredded coconut, and a little bit of crushed almond. We tore that apart, and went back to scoop up the coconut that fell out. Or maybe it was just me. But never mind that.
Lamb vindaloo is the story. I managed to break a sweat (literally) without being overwhelmed by the spice. When Carlyne and Daniel tried it, they both found it to be extremely spicy. What they did not know was that my tongue had numbed to the spice after the first few bites. By fighting through the pain, I found a way to the other side - where the spice was a part of the dish and not so dominant. Instead, I looked like the tough guy who could withstand the most spicy of Indian dishes. For all intents and purposes, I rocked the vindaoo.

NB - Not bothering with the address here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Artery-clogging double whammy Sunday

I was bored. It was nice outside after a streak of unseasonably cold days. I decided to wander the East Village for awhile. That little excursion ended on 7th street between 1st and 2nd avenues. Why so far from the subway (the L train does not count) and recognizable bus routes? I found dinner and dessert on one block, made my purchases, and fled like I had just grabbed a fistful of twenties from a malfunctioning ATM machine.
Why an artery-clogging double whammy? Two words - porchetta, cupcakes. Note the comma in the preceding sentence, please. I am discussing two distinct items, not cupcakes made with porchetta. Although...
First stop, Porchetta for... porchetta. More precisely a porchetta sandwich, wrapped up to go in aluminum foil and then butcher paper. The aluminum foil makes sense because it keeps the pork warm. I see no purpose to the butcher paper other than old school charm. But nevermind all of that. Big chunks of pork, crispy bits of skin, plenty of seasoning (too much for me with some bites) all jammed into a dense yet soft mini-ciabatta-type roll. It was moist, it was delicious, even if it felt like I might have chipped a tooth after chomping down on an overly-crisped piece of skin. I debated getting a second sandwich to take for lunch the next day.
And so I left Porchetta, content but wanting more. Down the block was my second stop - Butter Lane. The line barely crept out onto the sidewalk. A chalkboard sign sat out in the middle of the sidewalk, touting the fact that some Food Network show had featured their cupcakes. I took my place in line and waited to at least make it into the store. Once inside, I noticed a list of cake and frosting selections. What is this? The mix-and-match approach (with some suggested combos) at a bakery? There were chocolate, vanilla and banana cakes. Then there are sixteen frostings from which to choose. SIXTEEN. Actually, fifteen because peanut butter was out. Before making my way to the front, I must have been told or heard secondhand that I could not order chocolate with peanut butter - the most popular variety. Another thing - they sell "frosting shots" and will give you one for free if you become a fan on Facebook using a netbook set up in the store. The line moves slowly, which gave me time to consider the size and makeup of my order. I decided on four cupcakes, two with vanilla cake and one each with chocolate and banana. I favored the cream cheese frosting, but was also tempted by burnt sugar, honey cinammon and grapefruit ginger. This being my first visit, I decided to play it safe and wait on the more creative choices. When I ordered a couple of cupcakes that were not already prepared, the person helping me went behind the display rack and iced a couple of cupcakes on the spot.
It took a great degree of self-control to wait until getting home before devouring one of these cupcakes. I went for banana with cream cheese frosting. The cake was moist and tasted like real banana, not some artificial banana flavoring. The frosting was ridiculous. If I had known it was going to be this good, I absolutely would have purchased several frosting shots just to see how the others measure up. A later experience with the chocolate-based cupcake was a little disappointing. Although the cake had the same moistness, it crumbled and half was lost to my floor. A seeming paradox, I know.
Just thinking about this experience, I feel that I should do some penance and go to the gym for two weeks straight. Or maybe just go back for those frosting shots...

Porchetta, 110 E. 7th Street (between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)

Butter Lane, 123 E.7th Street (also between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wine bars as far as the eye can see

We live in a world profligate with wine bars, we New Yorkers. Wine bars and pseudo-beer gardens. This is where we drink it seems. The art of cocktail is still thriving; it is just being overshadowed by the easy pour, whether into a frosted mug or bulbous glass.
It takes a lot for a wine bar to be good, and so many ways for it to be bad. First, the drink selection has to make   sense. Some places stick to a country or region. Others go more global, but stick with the wines that define a given region - California Cabernet, Australian Shiraz, German Riesling, etc.
Then comes the food selection. Generally small plates and perhaps some cheese and charcuterie, because otherwise you are eating at a restaurant that focuses more on booze than cuisine. In other words, it's fancy bar food.
Finally, decor. I didn't think this was important until I went to a local wine bar that not only had a poor wine selection and sub par food, but nude felt paintings on the wall. Making the situation worse, I went with a female friend and I have a tendency to look around so I looked like a 70's era perv staring at the nude felt paintings behind on the wall behind her.
So where does one find all three - wine, food, ambience - in one place? Most places do one or two well. As you can tell from the example above, some places fail at all three pretty badly. My choice is Salumeria Rosi - a predictably italo-centric wine bar that perhaps excels more in food than in wine, but certainly does not disappoint. Some dishes are better than others, but in four trips I have yet to be disappointed. A béchamel sauce is used with the pork and beef lasagna. And it is good. So are the Brussels sprouts, and the leek and pancetta tart. Even the desserts - featuring a bread pudding of the day (brown sugar when I tried it) - are worth checking out. All small plates, which means order a few and share, then order more. Which is how the bill gets to be unexpectedly high.
As for decor, the acoustics are good, the lighting dim, the tables ridiculously heavy. There is a large sculpture of Italy running up a wall onto the ceiling. The acoustics are key because the place is so small. Which brings me to the one real problem here. Forced turnover. It seems that from the moment you are seated, an egg timer is set. One time, my friend and I were warned that there was a reservation in 70 minutes and we would have to clear out before they arrived. Another time, the hostess offered to evict diners who had lingered too long. Is there a less aggressive (or arrogant) way to encourage turnover? If there is, the management is not interested. The fact that Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations just aired an episode featuring Salumeria Rosi, things are only going to get worse. But that lasagna. So good.
Maybe it isn't really a wine bar; just an italian tapas-style restaurant masquerading as wine bar. The wine list is by no means expansive. The list at Del Posto was a book while Salumeria Rosi's is more aptly described as a pamphlet. Regardless, the wine, food and decor (when you aren't being pushed out the door) all pull together nicely.

Salumeria Rosi, 283 Amsterdam Avenue (at 73rd Street)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Two green thumbs up

After a trip to the Botanical Garden two weeks ago, I felt inspired to introduce a little plant life into my life. Something about walking through a greenhouse filled with thousands of orchids stuck with me.
At first, I thought of getting a window box to put out on the ledge with some basil and rosemary. Enough people questioned whether it might blow over and kill someone walking below (or at least cause a really bad headache) so that plan came to a tort-fearing halt. 
So last week, I made my way over to Home Depot to do a little plant-hunting since the gardening store five blocks away is entirely too convenient. I had to give the window boxes some further consideration when I saw pre-planted boxes with all kinds of herb mixtures. But no. Instead, I picked up four small clay pots, some organic soil and... SEEDS! If I take pride in cooking or baking something from scratch, why not grow something from scratch. And so, once the rather large woman crouched in front of the seed display I set about my final task - deciding what to grow. Basil and rosemary were gimmes. Lavender smells good. And dill looked easy to care for. In a master stroke of dorkiness and to keep things straight, I arranged the pots in alphabetical order (from basil to rosemary) on my window sill. Just over a week later, the basil has sprouted as you can see above. The popped up as well, but it is less photogenic and is barely discernible in the photos I took. 
Further updates to follow, even if I end up killing the plants before too long, which I suspect will happen based on past experience. I once did the nearly impossible - I killed a cactus.

Also - if anyone needs soil and/or seeds, let me know. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Backup plan x 4 = Good eats

The original plan was to check out Pulino's for dinner last night. First, I invited my friend Annie, but she has a dog and he apparently requires attention. Also, it turns out Annie does not like dog urine in her kitchen. I then checked with Kid Sister (who is 26, but this way I can say it was dinner with Kid Sister and me, and you get that old commercial jingle stuck in your head). Aside from working late, she was getting a ride home and apparently a ride home wins out over flesh and blood. That's fine.

So I grabbed my New Yorker and headed downtown. Arriving at Pulino's the lights were warm and bright, the door was a little heavy, the host had a friendly smile to offer. And that was all I was getting - a smile. Because, you see, Pulino's is not serving dinner yet. This was a rehearsal, and there was no table for one available at this show. Disappointed, dismayed, disenfranchised, and just plain dissed.

From there I set out on a journey to find good food, much like the Israelites wandering the desert. Only this was the East Village where quality restaurants are plentiful, I was by myself and it did not take 40 years to find something.

Plan B was to try Motorino. Wait was too long and I was too hungry.

Plan C was Momofuku, having given up on pizza by now. Same result as Motorino.

Plan D was JoeDoe, though it would have been a first choice most nights. And there it was - a seat at the bar, waiting just for me. I had been to JoeDoe once before. It was for a "progressive passover" dinner that started with foie-gras-stuffed-matzo ball soup and ended with an excellent matzo brie. It was excellent because I usually do not enjoy matzo brie at all.

Joe Doe is small - probably seven small tables that seat two, and one corner table that can squeeze seven very narrow people. They have some choice beers that are not terribly priced, interesting cocktails, a few wines and "prepared beers," which can best be described as a beer/cocktail hybrid.
First come the fried chickpeas, spiced up just a little bit, served instead of bread. Fresh out of the fryer, they did not last long enough to cool down completely. I had decided on pork for dinner. Whether to go with the confit pork butt or pork belly would be left to fate, or Joe's girlfriend/partner. Once I found out that the pork butt comes with yellow split pea soup, ham hock, and a grilled cheese sandwich, the decision was made. That's right. My dinner came with soup and a GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH. Forget an appetizer - though more than one looked interesting - my meal was really two meals.
The kitchen is sparse: located at the far end of the bar, with what I refer to as the "deli grill," a fryer and two hot plates. For reals. This guy is kicking out some serious eats on hot plates. The kitchen is also ten feet from where I was sitting so Joe and I conversed sporadically throughout the meal.

This one dish was enough for me to still be full in the morning. That and the wildflower honey custard I had for dessert. It came with a Turkish flatbread, sprinkled with roughly crushed peanuts and drizzled with honey.

Say what you will about Joe Dobias and David Chang - they are constantly noted in the press for their foul language and generally belligerent attitudes. They kick out some excellent food from their respective kitchens, and that is all that matters to me. Plus, Joe didn't have anything but friendly words when we were conversing.

JoeDoe, 45 E. 1st Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Complex math: the table wait vs. food enjoyment matrix

Leave your name, go home, have a snack
take a nap, come back,  and your table 
should be ready about an hour later

Having never worked in a restaurant, I do not know how a host/hostess estimates the wait time for a table. Divine inspiration. Experience. Randomly choosing a number the anxious diner will feel comfortable hearing. This happened last week when my friend Michael and I went to Mad for Chicken and were told there would be a 40 minute wait. An hour-and-a-half-later, we were seated. End result - after the excruciating wait Mikey likes it, although he did threaten to tackle a couple of servers as a constant stream of wings passed by.

This was not the worst. Not even close. I should be preface this wait like some great war story. Labor day weekend 2009. Clinton Street Baking Company. The sun was shining that day, my friends, but the gods were not smiling upon us. Naively, I thought that all of the lower east siders would have fled the city for the three day weekend. There crowd mulling around outside when we arrived seemed small enough, so the 45 minute estimated wait time seemed reasonable and realistic. Two-and-a-half hours passed. We went for brunch, but I was ready for dinner by the time we were seated. My insides were all torn up, having turned against me during that second hour. 
But the pancakes. Oh, the pancakes. Warm, moist, dense. And the bacon. Sugar-cured.  Blueberries, warm maple-butter on the side. Heavenly. It took a great deal of self-control, but I think the stack lasted about 30 seconds. I wanted another stack to take home, and still regret not placing that order. Possibly the best pancakes I have ever eaten. Possibly a starvation-induced hallucination. I am still too traumatized by the experience to return. One day, these wounds will heal so I can once again enjoy these damn fine pancakes.

Clinton Street Baking Company, 4 Clinton Street (Between Houston and Stanton)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A home away from home

Room for improvement with Photoshop

I think everyone needs a restaurant, or at the least a bar that serves food.  It is someplace to go when things are wonderfully amazing or horribly wrong.  Either way you get a drink, a bite to eat, and some conversation.  Some people can afford to own a restaurant; others just frequent a place so often, they become family. 

Enter Noodle Pudding.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I have frequented this oddly-named Italian restaurant for a few years.  This fine establishment in Brooklyn Heights is somewhat responsible for maintaining my sanity throughout law school and bar exam study. I would set myself at the bar, open a 1,000+ page book and get to work. At least through the first two glasses of wine. Now I eschew the work and get straight into the bizarre conversations floating around the bar. I could probably write a book on the characters in this place.This is a restaurant with character and a number of characters - from the owner, Tony, to the most regular of regulars, Randy (who has a plaque with his name on the bar so that he always has a seat).

But, nevermind about that. The food is good and the kitchen delivers consistently. There is a list of specials that varies slightly, but most could be described as the seasonal section of the menu (e.g. a short rib with polenta that sticks around for most of the winter). The real variable is fish - that depends on what Tony finds when he goes to the market at 5am every morning. On the regular menu, lasagna, gnocchi and an organic roasted half-chicken are my favorites. With a salad, the mussels ( in either a lemon garlic, or spicy tomato broth) make a meal even though the dish is listed with the appetizers. When in season, I almost always order the puntarelle, which is a vegetable that I cannot compare to any other I've tried. On the dessert menu, I have always been a fan of the rather tiramisu, which is a little heavy on the chocolate (and that is a good thing). Occasionally, I ask for an affogato - simply vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over - not on the menu.

And maybe, one day, you will be invited to the night-before-Thanksgiving card game. After closing, the busboys and servers cook up some of their native dishes (the carne asada last year was amazing), we set up some tables, and play poker until about 4am.
Become a regular.

Noodle Pudding, 38 Henry Street, Brooklyn
Note: Closed Monday, cash only (but they take my checks so it might be worth trying)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why I could never keep kosher

Smiley burger face with a uni-brow

That is a Peter Luger burger with cheese and a slice of bacon. I could never live in Williamsburg because of my aversion to hipsters, reliance on the L train, and the Luger burger. Living in that neighborhood, I would be obese and perpetually pissed off by my surroundings. I have the same reasons for not living in Great Neck (substitute the LIRR for L train). I might also drop dead from a coronary while on my way there one afternoon.

There may be fancier and more expensive burgers. They may be messier, greasier and larger. I will still take the Luger burger. Medium rare. Cheese. Bacon. Side of fries and onion rings. Thank you.

It is the slightly-less-wealthy man's Luger experience. You get the same surly waiters, onion rolls, and steak sauce for half the price. The burger is a big mess of greatness. The bun does the best it can to soak up the juices, but ultimately, I do get messy. More than one shirt has fallen victim to the Luger burger. On the first bite once. The cheese is nothing special. But, the bacon... oh that bacon. A first-timer may think "one slice?" before realizing that a full slice of Luger bacon is more than enough for the burger. It must be one-eighth of an inch thick, meaty, salty, amazing. I reserve somewhere between half and one-third of the slice for side consumption. There is a reason the bacon is sold, as an appetizer, by the slice. A man can handle only so much bacon.

Look for me there on the afternoon of the 27th making a mess and smiling. 

Peter Luger, 178 Broadway, Brooklyn / 255 Northern Blvd., Great Neck

Unrelated link: Zach Galifianakis video for Can't Tell me Nothin'

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bagels and being judgmental: A New York thing

Not edible

This morning I decided to walk to work, heading north on Broadway, so that I could stop at Absolute Bagel for breakfast. Lo and behold, when I arrived at the office everything bagel with butter in hand, a bag of H&H bagels was waiting. And so, I take this opportunity to pass judgment.

Absolute wins. It isn't even close. Here is why:
1) Better bagels - H&H is like a big, soft, rounded hunk of bread. Good luck getting a warm one anymore - it seems like all the fresh bagels get shipped off to a number of restaurants, diners, and delis around the city. It it all reputation and no character. Absolute is a tighter, less airy bagel. More notable is that it has flavor. When I get a bagel with butter, the butter melts. Why? Bagels are being churned out constantly, so they are fresh and warm, and just plain awesome.
2) No sense of superiority - H&H does not shmear. They sell the bagel, they sell packages of cream cheese. The rest is up to you. Absolute will toast your bagel. They have the full spread of offerings. And they do not rip you off. A bagel with butter is $1.25 (roughly the cost of an H&H bagel). Cream cheese is $1.95.
3) On my way to the office - not really relevant to anyone else, but I thought a third point was needed.

The real question, however, is whether Absolute beats Bagel Oasis - my hometown favorite and consistently well-reviewed - for bagel supremacy. The bagels are very similar, but Absolute wins again. Bagel O has dropped off in the past decade or so, and the bagels are not quite as good if you don't get a fresh one. There are times when my jaw aches after a bad Bagel Oasis outing. At Absolute, I feel like I always get a fresh one, which may mean the two aren't being judged fairly. But this is New York, and who cares about fairness when it comes to bagels?

Absolute Bagels, 2788 Broadway (at 108th Street)

Making friends at work with little effort

Swedish chef agrees

I enjoy cooking and, as of late, baking. The fruits of my labor have been enjoyed by my co-workers on occasion - with the exception of my failed attempt at rye pretzels. Rugelach took hours came out a little lopsided. Cinnamon buns took even longer and required me waking up ridiculously early. Then Julia Moskin came to the rescue. Previously, I only bestowed demigod status on Mark Bittman and his minimalist column, but Ms. Moskin set me up for life. Her article in the Times last Wednesday, "Milk in a Can Goes Glam," focused on the use of sweetened condensed milk. One of the accompanying recipes was for Absurdly Easy Chocolate Fudge. How could I now try making something that is absurdly easy?

First, let me say this. There are 3-5 ingredients depending on whether you add the optional salt or walnuts. No flour, no eggs, no mess. I went out and picked up a pound of Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate, which is sold in large chucks at Fairway, and a can of condensed milk. With my recent surge in baking activity, there is no shortage of butter in my fridge. Since I have four varieties (table, rock, kosher, sea), I decided to add the minimal amount of salt as well. I set up a ghetto double boiler (medium pot inside large pot with some water), set a very low flame, threw all of the ingredients in and walked away. Once the chocolate and butter melted, and everything came together, the fudge went into a greased and parchment paper-lined dish to cool. The next morning I chopped it up, brought most of it to work and made nice with everyone.

The fudge has been universally loved. Nobody believes how easy it is, so I get way more credit than is deserved. Four ingredients! And I watched a basketball game while it was coming together. Bless the Times and their Wednesday Dining section.

Check out the recipe.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Homemade does not have a barcode

For years, I looked for an applesauce that could rival what I remembered as a child. My grandparents' neighbor in Coney Island, Minnie, would bring over a jar during the (Jewish) holidays. That, with my grandmother's latkes, was a great way to celebrate whatever it was we were celebrating. We (or at least I) wouldn't wait for the pancakes to cool; she would just hand them over in a paper towel - used to soak up some of the oil - I would spoon on a little applesauce and enjoy. This is not idealizing the memory; this is the memory.

The search for an adequate replacement began in college. There are a wide variety of permutations - chunky style, home style, homemade, big brands, small brands, store brands, organic, conventional, etc. At best, it was a mostly uniform applesauce with chunks thrown in as an afterthought. At worst it was... Mott's.

And so I decided to try it on my own. This is part of an overall desire to have more homemade and less store-bought in my refrigerator. Last night I made a mess while making tomato sauce. If I haven't quite matched Minnie's applesauce, I at least think that I have come close.

It starts, obviously, with the apples. I go with 2 red delicious and one rather large granny smith. This produces just enough applesauce to fill a mason jar.  I peel the apples, but not completely - a little skin is part of the experience - and cut them into roughly one-inch cubes. Into a medium-sized pot they go with 1/3 sugar and one cup of water. Over a low-medium heat, I bring it all to a boil, lower the flame a little, cover it, and walk away for about 20 minutes. Here is what I believe to be the key - I mash the apples with the back of a large spoon and not a potato masher. I leaves bigger chunks and less of the mealy applesauce one finds in store-bought jars. I keep it going for another 5 minutes or so, jar it, cool it, and run out of it within a few days. And that is how I know it is the memory of Minnie's applesauce, and not idealizing the memory.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chicken, you so crazy

Crazy, despondent chicken

Growing up, my family would often go to Pollo Loco on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens where the train tracks are elevated. My grandfather would try to pretend he spoke Spanish and the staff would go along, though with quizzical looks. It took some time to translate Jack Spanish to actual Spanish. He once attempted to order coffee by asking for a Columbiana, but ended up with an oddly-flavored soda. Soda not available here. Pollo Loco eventually adopted a new name that was neither crazy nor memorable.

Keeping with the crazy and chicken combination I went to Mad for Chicken, a Koreatown fried chicken restaurant. Based on the website, I expected Korean fast food that you order at the counter and receive in a paper bucket, on a tray, with a pile of napkins. Walking up to the restaurant only reinforced these expectations. Mad for Chicken is above a pizzeria. To get there, you have to go through the lobby of a small office building and walk up to the second floor. I kept looking for another door, thinking there could not possibly be the entrance, but it was. And sure enough, on the building directory was listed "Mad for Chicken - 2nd Floor."

As it turns out, Mad for Chicken is a legit restaurant with a bar, tables, waitstaff, dim lighting, odd music selection, and even silverware. I chose a seat at the bar, next to a middle-aged, Caucasian regular - Peter, I later learned - and two young Korean ladies who Peter was desperately (and awkwardly) hitting on. After awhile, Peter gave up and moved on. Although advised to order the wings - Mad for Wings on the menu - I went for the Mad for Combo. The medium Mad for Combo came with three drumsticks, eight wings, something pickled that looked like honeydew, and the ever so traditional carrot sticks, celery and bleu cheese dressing. There is also a large size that I assume would feed two people. The chicken can be made mild or spicy. When I asked how spicy it was, the response was "spicy," so I knew that I had to have it.

The platter of chicken came out with Saigon Grill-like speed. It was accompanied by a bucket for the bones, a pile of napkins and - inexplicably - a fork. This is a manual meal and I would not be utilizing utensils. The skin is crispy, but not overly battered. There is a faint taste of soy sauce, but the spices dominate. The chicken is incredibly moist. Next time, I will probably order the mild, because spicy is a little intense. My tongue eventually numbed to the experience, but not before a fair amount of pain and sweat. The medium sized platter was a great size and I did not regret passing on a starter of some sort.

And then came the birthday song. Someone in the restaurant was celebrating her birthday, and some odd Korean/techno version of Happy Birthday started blaring through the sound system. I took that as my cue to get the check and head home. But I will be back. Oh yes, I will be back.

Mad for Chicken, 314 Fifth Avenue, 2nd Floor (at 32nd Street)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Compost.... mmmm appetizing

It's the only one for me

I am a fan of all things Momofuku, including every curse-laden comment from David Chang's mouth (and the Momofuku cookbook). It is beyond me that someone can constantly develop new and successful businesses, hear praise from critics and customers alike and then curse everyone out. But this is New York, and grumpiness should be expected in print as much as on public transportation. There was a precipitous climb - in price - from Noodle Bar, to Ssäm Bar to Ko, only to have it all come right back down with Milk Bar, a dessert-only offshoot conveniently connected to Ssäm Bar via a very narrow hallway. I remember going to dinner at Ssäm with my sisters and brother-in-law, then making our way to Milk Bar for the first time. This is notable because David Chang is way into pork and my brother-in-law is having none of it. Ever. Needless to say, dessert raised his opinion of the evening.

By opening up a dessert place, desserts virtually vanished from the Ssäm Bar menu, save for two unappealing choices, and moved next door / down the hall. However, Milk Bar is not all dessert; just 99% dessert.On the far-right side of the menu board posted behind the Milk Bar counter is one noteworthy non-dessert-ie (or is it non-dessert-ish) item - the pork buns. They are awesome. And this post is not actually about them, great as they are.

The names are interesting, and the flavor combinations intriguing. Frozen yogurts are homemade and come in some fairly nontraditional flavors, milk shakes are made with flavored milk. Cereal milk figures into both. Thanks to the cookbook, I know that the cereal milk is a mix of corn flakes, sugar and milk, which is eventually passed through a sieve to leave only the cereal-flavored milk. How apropos a name.

Perhaps the most interesting - and best - item is the compost cookie. Straight from the menu, it is a mix of pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, and chocolate chips. "Potato chips and pretzels in a cookie?" you say. I do. Saltiness and sweetness rock. Try one. Try three actually. If you don't like the first one, I will gladly buy the other two. 

Momofuku Milk Bar, 207 Second Avenue (at 13th Street)

Where, oh where, can my dumplings be

 Not actual dumplings

Sometimes I get so excited at the prospect of a new opening that I have to be standing at the doors when that day comes. It rarely happens with movies, and I am usually disappointed by the result anyway. This happens a little more often with food. I was the first customer when Nicky's opened in Brookyn (a half hour later than scheduled). My twenty dollar bill was on the wall until someone broke in after closing one night and stole it.

Not necessarily first-customer-in-line excited, I eagerly awaited the opening of Eton in Cobble Hill a couple of years ago. I noticed the unopened shop while traveling to Fairway one weekend. The single name on a plain UPS-brown awning got my attention. A little bit of Google helped. Eton Chan was a chef at Asiate and struck off on his own to open this small dumpling and Hawaiian shave ice joint. I was there to pick up dinner on the opening night.

The wait for dumplings is long during the slow hours, excruciating around prime lunch and dinner times. This is because the dumplings are cooked to order... on a pair of hotplates, first fried in some sesame oil and then steamed. There is always some sort of activity occurring in the background. Dough is being rolled out, dumplings stuffed and sealed, ice being shaved and doused with a variety of syrups and toppings.

None of the varieties are bad, but the pork and beef dumplings far exceed the other two regulars. Chicken dumplings tastes like...chicken, but good chicken. The filling in vegetable dumplings can come spilling out, as is apt to happen with vegetable dumplings all over this great land that we call New York. Specials show up sporadically. For awhile they were making noodle soups, but that seems to have disappeared. The homemade chili dumpling sauce, kept off the counter, is much better than the soy sauce and huggable, squeezable Sriracha sauce left in plain view.

Shave ice gives way to bubble tea in the colder months, and is much missed. My favorite combination is to add a flavored syrup or two with condensed milk on top. Marshmallow Fluff has been tempting, but I have not tried it yet. For awhile, Eton set up a dessert-only shop on Sackett and Smith. Now that is the only shop. The original store on Henry Street closed down. The new space is somehow smaller. This means that the counter space and few tables are completely gone, rendering Eton takeout only (at least during the colder months). Though shave ice is not yet in season, there were a few alcoholic suggestions posted - to turn that kiddie piña colada into a grown up piña colada.

Did I mention that they are $3.75 for an order of five? Go with a friend, split three orders (2 meat and pork, 1 chicken) and get a small shave ice each. Perfect.

Eton, 359 Sackett Street (at Smith Street)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Asked and Answered: Herbivore edition

Couldn't find a picture of a hippie eating leaves

Question: Vegetarian (but acceptable to a meat eater) on the West Side
Answer: Ozu

The situation: a first date where she is a vegetarian and he is not. He has used geography (i.e. not living on the West Side, where they are due to meet) as an excuse to abdicate responsibility to choosing a restaurant. This task was conveniently passed right on down the line - to me.

Too many vegetarian restaurants ignore the fact that not everyone who eats there is necessarily a vegetarian all the time. Tofu does not stand in for meat. Neither does portobello mushroom. Better to ignore meat completely rather than trying to substitute for it. Which is not to say that both tofu and portobello do not have a place - just not as the featured ingredient.
Ozu describes itself as "kosher natural food" meaning not entirely vegetarian. There are a few salmon choices on the menu, perhaps satisfying my co-worker's date. Perhaps not. Also on the menu, a handful of noodle dishes, some tempura, and a slew of appetizers. The appetizers are like Japanese tapas and can make for an enjoyable meal. Namely, soba noodles (cold, with sesame peanut sauce), lotus root with carrots in a sesame dressing, and burdock with soy ginger sauce. I used to think burdock was a fish and was confused when, the first time I ordered it, something that looked like pygmy baby carrots was delivered to the table. I tried sending it back, but was politely corrected. My naiveté corrected, my self-esteem damaged, my dinner enjoyable nonetheless.

Ozu, 566 Amsterdam Avenue

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

H to the Izzo

They love you Jigga - they love you Jigga!

First, I Gotta Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas was playing when my alarm clock went off this morning. The alarm clock will be set to another station as of tomorrow morning. But that is beside the point.

Then, on the way to work my iPod - in pseudo-random mode - chose to play Roc Boys (And the Winner Is), marking Jay Z's resurgence following Kingdom Come and my resurgence from the 1 train.

A higher power was speaking to me. How so? Not many songs (particularly in the rap genre) feature the Hebrew terms "Mazel Tov" and "L'Chaim." Is this a sign that I should become a better Jew? Possibly, but I will ignore that sign and instead pass judgment.
The Black Eyed Peas have come out with a song that will most likely infiltrate Bar Mitzvahs, sweet sixteens and weddings for years to come in a way that few songs have. I remember House of Pain at every Bar and Bat Mitzvah in the early 90s. But this song goes beyond that. There is "We are Family" and "Celebration" potential here. Here is the problem: the song sucks.
Jay Z is not family friendly. Somehow I cannot picture "it's a celebration bitches" going over well at a religious celebration. Nevermind the fact that this song is all about dealing drugs. That would escape the older relatives completely. Anything recorded after 1950 is noise to my grandmother. But words like "bitches" would stand out. That much I know. Such vulgarity.

Regardless, I applaud the use of Hebrew vocabulary in pop music. Not since the early days of the Hora has anything Jew been cool.

Financially - Black Eyed Peas
Artistically - Jay Z

Asked and Answered: What else ya got?

Question: Sushi
Answer: Not around here

Knowing what to order in a restaurant in one thing. Knowing what you can order is something altogether different. Today's culinary question, posed by a colleague in from Wales, was whether there is any good sushi near the office. The office being in Morningside Heights, just down the block from Barnard and a church, the answer is an emphatic "no." The good sushi around here barely registers as mediocre elsewhere in the city and would totally damage my cred. I turned to an old favorite - Sushi of Gari.
The restaurant is small and the decor would fit in with almost any sushi joint opened in the past 15-20 years Sushi of Gari opened on the Upper East Side in 1997 and has not changed at all in the past 13 years. Two outposts have sprouted up in the past five years, one of which is simply named Gari and is on the West Side. Gari (without "Sushi of") is more focused on kitchen and less on sushi. This is important to note because the Sushi of Gari menu is does not represent the entirety of their offerings.
I was introduced to Sushi of Gari by my older sister and brother-in-law (though I think they were engaged at the time, but I digress). It is entirely possible that I was too young to truly appreciate the intricacies of this sushi. It was beyond my culinary comprehension at the time. The listing of rolls and sashimi pieces resembles almost any other sushi restaurant. Of course quality counts, and the fish here is excellent.
But, Sushi of Gari goes beyond the menu and, by posing the appropriate questions, you can elicit an entirely different menu from the waiter. Flash a little knowledge and the waitstaff is all too willing to share the special pieces. I have never eaten there without ordering the "tuna salad" piece, not to be confused with the tuna salad appetizer that is also not on the menu. The appetizer was discovered when my younger sister went for the first time and accidentally ordered that instead of the piece. The tuna salad piece is a nice sized slice of sashimi, on a sliver of lettuce with a little dressing and the tiniest bit of fried scallion on top. I get two every time, and refuse to share with someone who did not heed my advice and order one for herself. Also excellent is the red snapper with fried lotus root and pine nuts (pictured above). There are other variations on both the tuna (say, with creamy miso) and snapper (jalapeno, olé). Basically, if you are going to get sashimi, find out what they can do with it, then order that instead.

How good is Sushi of Gari? My older sister now has three children. Her first dinner after giving birth (while still in the hospital) - Sushi of Gari . Every time.

Sushi of Gari, 402 E. 78th Street (at First Avenue)