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)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Asked and Answered: Swimming upstream

Today's question: Fish in the West Village
Answer: No.

As a lawyer (by training if not in practice), I have learned that when you do not like the question, change the question. Normally, I would ask a number of questions. Fish is very broad. There is New England style (read: lobster rolls), continental, heavily sauced Asian fare, and so on. Instead I answered with the Red Cat, which is in Chelsea. Why? Because I had just been thinking about that restaurant. Specifically, I was thinking of their salmon. I do not use words like "best" and "perfect" with food or movies because tastes vary, including my own. But this is by far the best salmon I have ever had. It is perfectly cooked, nicely presented and well accompanied by currently trendy brussels sprouts and something mashed, though I forget exactly what. There must be a three second window of time where salmon can be cooked this well and the Red Cat cooks have found it. The fish even looks perfect. Not that dyed farm-raised deep pink or the wild-caught and broiled pale pink. It just looks normal, which lately seems to be exceptional.

Also worth ordering is the skate wing, which I just learned is a vulnerable species and thus at least a little morally objectionable. Besides, Jean George serves a better skate.

The Red Cat, 227 Tenth Avenue (at 23rd Street)

Look to the cookie, Elaine... Look to the cookie

I have never been a fan of the black and white cookie.
Buying one in a bakery, the cookie was brittle and dry, and had a distinct and unnatural lemon flavor. The icing looked (and tasted) like dried glue in two shades. Definitely not my pastry of choice, yet I felt obligated as a New Yorker and a Jew to give it another try time after time.
In high school, my friends and I would find ourselves at a nearby bodega at 2am, buying snacks and attempting to buy beer. Never one for potato chips, I went straight for the junkiest of junk food - yodels, ring dings, ice cream sandwiches, and Joey's black & white. I actually preferred a Joey's to the bakery black & white. Sure, the cookie-to-icing ratio was completely off. The cookie was greasy, no doubt owing to partially hydrogenated oil. But the icing separated easily from the cookie, and man can live on icing alone.

Such was the disappointing state of the black & white. For years, I searched in vain. Then I found the Donut Pub. On 14th Street, just west of 7th Avenue (203 W. 14th Street to be exact), the neon sign beckons (the staff and patrons do not). The cookie-to-icing ratio is perfect. The cookie is moist, dense, flavorful (read - not lemon-flavored), almost like sheet cake. The icing is not brittle yet not pliant and actually tastes like chocolate and vanilla as opposed to the aforementioned dried glue. If you happen to arrive just as a batch is coming out of the kitchen, buy two and sit down before eating. The cookie and icing are warm. The icing has not fully set and resembles a thin layer of cupcake frosting. You will understand why Jerry Seinfeld really thought that a cookie could promote racial harmony. Look to the cookie. Also available for the supremacist in your life is the all-white cookie.

Donut Pub, 203 W. 14th Street (between 7th and 8th avenues)

First post

This first post is dedicated to Avery Maron, who first suggested that I start a blog telling him what to do.
Avery suggested I call it "Gospel of Neil." A co-worker suggested I call it "Don't Ask, Just Go." They both won - the URL is one name, the title is the other. This way, there is a good chance that nobody will be happy.