Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jack Frost

I should have stayed inside yesterday. I realized this after dinner, as I tried to make it home in the cold. Is it even worth it to eat out when the weather's like this?

But my friend A. was in from California, so we decided on a quick (and cheap) lunch in midtown. We went to Obao, one of Michael Huynh's restaurants (and I say "one of" because he has, like, a trillion). Obao opened in November and is a refreshing respite from the delis and sub-par dining experiences that make midtown lunch what it is. To start, we ordered pork belly skewers, which came lacquered in a salty, sticky sauce and accompanied by pickled vegetables. They were tasty, and not at all good for us. To that appetizer, we added two separate noodle dishes: radish noodles with shrimp, which were a soft, pan-seared noodle, and Singapore noodles with Chinese sausage, which were a little flavorless but improved with a helping of hoisin sauce (available at every table).

The food was a tad greasy, but satisfying enough. It's not hard to understand why Huynh has been so successful.

For dinner, I wanted seafood, but my dining companion was pregnant, which ruled out raw fish. So we headed to the East Village's Mermaid Inn, which has been around for a while. I wanted fluke ceviche, but settled for a shared crab cake. It was made with lump crab meat (delish) and served atop a very mayonnaise-y cole slaw (fine by me). All those thoughts of a nice fillet of fish were dashed in the face of a lobster sandwich, which arrived on a fresh and buttery piece of brioche. In the interest of health, I substituted grilled asparagus for my French fries and was not disappointed by the hearty, smoky spears. My sandwich was more lobster than even I could handle, and I took half home. In lieu of dessert menus, our server brought tiny cups of chocolate pudding with whipped cream on top, a slight disappointment. They tasted over-refrigerated. But no matter. Despite the cold, the lobster sandwich just might have been worth the trip.

222 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022

Mermaid Inn
96 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003

Monday, December 14, 2009

Apologies, Apologies

For my extended absence. I had a wedding in Mexico, which, beyond tequila, is not worth reporting (beach was beautiful, resort food was resort food). I found myself back in professional eater-mode when I hit the city again. Actually, a trip up to Larchmont, NY, where my parents live, yielded a noteworthy dining experience on Thursday. We ate at Plates, a small restaurant run by a Per Se alum. My own personal Moment of Zen? A cru Champagne poured by the glass for--gasp!--$13. What are these guys, the Robin Hoods of restaurants? I could have scored a foie terrine for just as little, but ate the smoked chicken wings instead. They are best compared to Momofuku Noodle Bar's (I'll get to those later), but are grilled instead of seared in a pan. Who knows how they get smoky and spicy beforehand. I'm not sure I want to.

The night's special was baked ham with baked beans and cole slaw. I took the bait and was not disappointed. The slabs that made it to my plate were the fattiest and most worthwhile pieces and made an excellent breakfast the next morning. We ordered no dessert and so, in true restaurant VIP fashion, we were awarded a giant ring ding for our efforts. Somebody--I won't name names--hogged all the cream.

When we were leaving, I talked to the general manager about his suspiciously approachable prices. Champagne for $13? Was it made by trolls? No, he assured me. He just believed in charging people fair prices that would actually encourage them to become regular guests. Imagine that. A restaurant manager more concerned with guests than the almighty buck. You don't see that too often.

I guess I should compare that experience to Sunday's, in which I spirited around the city in search of gastronomical greatness. Brunch was a bowl of "rice noodle with crispy meat sauce" at Yun Nan Flavour Snack in Sunset Park. Don't go for the ambience, because there isn't any. Go for the slippery rice noodles, which are impossible to eat without chopsticks, or for the spicy chili paste that tops each bowl, or for the faint song of cilantro, or for the crispy pork bits that are either skin or belly (but I don't care what they are). Go because a huge bowl will last two days--I eat as I type--for four bucks. Just go.

In light of a great Thursday meal and a transcendent Sunday breakfast, I was hoping for more boom than whimper on Sunday night. We started with octopus and a pie (as in a pizza pie) at Motorino in the East Village. The octopus was intolerably fishy. But the pie was worth the adventure: doughy, black-bottomed, and smeared with a sweet tomato sauce.

Then came the disaster of the evening, Momofuku Noodle Bar. While we waited for our table, we drank a soju apple cider slushie, a ludicrously awesome invention that is sure to get even the most hardcore alcoholic a little buzzy. But that was the best the place had to offer. A soy sauce egg was, um, salty. Ok, fine. Our chicken wings were good, but I kept thinking about the wings at Plates, which might have been better and were definitely cheaper. Also, I happen to know that the Momofuku wings are cooked in pork fat for almost a whole day, so those calories might undo any beliefs I once held about their greatness. The rice cakes were crispy and toothsome at the same time, the perfect consistency. Too bad the sticky sauce didn't hold a candle to them. The worst tragedy of all, however, was the $22 seared foie gras. It arrived both undercooked and cold atop salty pineapple and next to a weird miso-brown butter sauce that was more savory than sweet. All that fat and you need sweet to cut it. No dice on this plate. The consistency of the lobe was so far off that we ate less than one bite apiece and then pretended to be full when the server--a former co-worker--came to collect the plates. She didn't ask any questions anyway. "If you didn't know her, I would have sent it back," my friend said.

Well, anyway. She should have noticed our apparent disgust. Also, unless those ducks are eating gold, $22 is highway robbery for four ounces of foie (and it may have been less). I'm over it. If only they sold those slushies from a street cart.

121 Myrtle Boulevard
Larchmont, NY 10538

Yun Nan Flavour Snack
775A 49th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11220

Motorino East Village
349 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10003

Sunday, November 29, 2009


On my way north from New York, my brother and I hit bad traffic on the Merritt Parkway, which somehow ended in a discussion about where we should eat. I usually don't stop at all on the four hour drive to Massachusetts, but I also usually drive alone. This time, with night approaching and my stomach forging a convincing argument about stopping for dinner, I took my brother's advice and took at detour in New Haven.

Now, he claims that he didn't really know how to get to Frank Pepe's, home of Connecticut's best pizza. I remember the details differently. Regardless, we drove around on New Haven's convoluted one way streets for 45 minutes before we found the Italian district. By then, we were famished and slightly opposed to waiting in line behind yuppies buying pizza. We made a decision to take ours to go, convinced in part by the cankle-y and cantankerous waitress who barked at us to wait outside. Twenty minutes later, a pierced pizza attendant slashed our pie (half-mushroom, half-pepperoni) into odd-sized slices and we hit the road again. With no napkins.

Let it be known that I have driven without a seatbelt, have texted while driving, and have, in my youth, made other unsafe driving decisions, but deciding to drive three hours while eating a hot pizza--pizza that dripped down my shirt and onto my expensive jeans--may have been my most hazardous driving decision yet. Imagine negotiating the road, a manual transmission, and a drippy mushroom slice simultaneously. Not good. But what was good, and well worth the hazard, was the dough, giving slightly at the tooth. And my brother and I, perhaps inspired by all good American road trips, ate all but two small pieces of our large pie, furiously fighting the resultant food coma. It was the all-American lead in to the all-American holiday.

As for the holiday itself, I reigned in my over-preparatory impulses this year, sticking to basics. Appetizers may have still been over-the-top (I judge this by the amount of leftovers amassed), but no harm, no foul. My six-cheese American artisanal platter from Murray's went over well enough, even if I did find myself with too much Rogue River Blue afterwards.

Our first-course spread included sauteed jumbo shrimp with a parsley pesto (nuts omitted), a giant pickle plate (made from New York greenmarket veggies: Tokyo turnips, red ball radishes, carrots, fennel, celery, shitake mushrooms, Asian pears, pumpkin, and cucumbers), Broadbent ham with red-eye gravy and whole-grain bread, pork dumplings with a soy-ginger dipping sauce, miniature muffins from my mother, pate from Stinky Brooklyn, and a concord grape compote and fennel-pumpkin grain mustard to accompany the cheeses.

I brined a 25-pound turkey in brown sugar, salt, water, green peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, oranges and lemons. We basted with butter and the result was a brown and moist bird, one of the prettiest I've seen. Our roasted Brussels sprouts were not as charred as we would have liked, but they went over well enough. We always make too much cranberry sauce (an old family recipe), but my brother can eat it by the bucket. Caramelized onions were a modest hit. My mother made mashed sweet potatoes with sauteed apples. Pureed butternut squash and mashed potatoes came from the homes of others. Stuffing was our greatest accomplishment: three loaves of bread disappeared in minutes. The secret: Two and a half pounds of mushrooms, fresh sage/rosemary/thyme, and four or five ounces of rendered chicken fat. Even cooked outside of the bird, it tasted poultried enough.

For dessert, I used a Martha Stewart recipe for a pumpkin pudding, but the recipe, I later discovered, was wrong, requiring too much salt. The end product was a savory custard, so to cut the saltiness, I made a cocoa bourbon whipped cream and layered three inches of it atop the pudding in a trifle bowl. Family members brought chocolate farm cakes, a blueberry pie, a fruit tart, a winter fruit pie with walnut crumb topping, a cheesecake, and brownies, in addition to the butterscotch blondies baked by my mother. We're swimming in dessert here. I'm ready to go home to escape the sugar shock.

And so, I'll be dragging home some leftovers this afternoon, in addition to a lovely gift given me by a farmer friend who works at Russell Orchards: pickled dilly beans, summer squash with turmeric, blueberry jam, and apple butter. Not to mention three dozen farm cakes. So much for dieting through the holidays.

Frank Pepe's Pizzeria
157 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT 06501

Russell Orchards
143 Argilla Road
Ipswich, MA 01938

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Gluttonday

You get the picture.

I guess Sundays are my "free days," in which I pay less attention to the nutritive value of what I eat. That isn't to say all bets are off (I was offered a late-afternoon cupcake by a friend and declined), but it does mean my standards are lowered a notch.

For lunch, I went to Sunset Park's Ba Xuyen, known for their banh mis. But instead of sandwiches, we had soups, two steamy bowls of pho filled with noodles, shrimp, boiled quail eggs, cilantro, bean sprouts, pork sausage, and boiled beef. I made mine pretty spicy with the help of some nearby chili paste, but regardless, the soup was soul-satisfying. I skipped the boiled beef, which always freaks me out a little. The shrimp was enough protein for me.

Later, I had a birthday dinner planned with a friend, but we were early for our reservation. Walking past Sushi of Gari on 77th and Columbus, we decided that we had to begin our evening with raw fish. Maybe we didn't have to order toro, snapper, and hamachi, but we did anyway. Three perfect sushi pieces came with the perfect compliments. Atop fatty toro, we received a salty radish puree. Hamachi came with lightly pickled jalapenos and my snapper was topped with something deep-fried and something else involving nuts. The pieces were perfect and I think we both wished we had time--and money--for omakase.

But we had a reservation to make down the street, at Dovetail, where the Sunday Suppah is a 3-course meal for $38 (not including extras, supplements, and alcohol). My starter of beef tartare tasted really ketchupy, which I liked, though others at my table disagreed. Perhaps they were put off by the accompanying huckleberries, but I liked the contrast of salty and sweet. Seared foie gras was by the book (served with something sweet--in this case, huckleberries again), and a salt-cooked onion was layered with unexpected shaved black truffles. It was difficult to cut, though worth the challenge. Crab ravioli sang with a smokiness imparted by diced chorizo.

My entree of chicken was tasty enough, left moist and draped with a crack-your-tooth crunch layer of skin. I could have done without feta cheese creamed spinach and I only ate the boring root veggies out of respect for the vitamins they possessed. A cheese plate did us fine. Dovetail pits old world cheeses against their Vermont counterparts. In this case, the Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen Blue lost to a runny and pungent French blue. The sheep's milk cheeses were a tad bland for my taste, though I loved the onion and black pepper jam that joined them.

I would have passed on dessert, had they not arrived in that obligatory "share all" fashion. Apple crumble was fine, though the real highlight of the plate was Calvados ice-cream. I didn't care for the peanut butter and chocolate moussy thing, and could have skipped the sorbets and ice-creams entirely. A warm bread pudding with black mission figs came with a nice glass of malted Ovaltine, not a bad way to end the evening. By then, our heads were swimming from a 2008 Brocard Chablis and a 2007 COS Nero d' Avola. The expensive wine list plundered any notions of a cheap Sunday Suppah. But then, wasn't that to be expected?

Ba Xuyen
4222 8th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11232

Sushi of Gari
370 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10024

103 West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024

Monday, November 16, 2009

Celebrity Sighting

Saturday night is amateur night, so no, I did not expect to see any famous people, even though I had been warned that the Bowery Hotel plays host to the creme de la creme. But there I was, tucked into a cozy booth at Gemma, waiting for my sister, and when I looked up I discovered Julianne Moore and Family three tables down.

Five minutes later, Max Fischer from Rushmore (a.k.a. Jason Schwartzman) sat one table next to Julianne. I wonder if celebrities give one another the obligatory wave that I give to fellow runners I see in rural places. Probably not.

We were well cared-for at Gemma, despite how busy they were. A call to a friend meant no wait for us, a coveted position for any Saturday night diner in New York. My sister's Coca-Cola and my bellini arrived gratis, as did dessert. Our arugula salad was crisp and fresh, topped with several thin shaves of parmesan cheese. A charcuterie platter was a bit of a disappointment--the meats tasted a little process-y and the cheeses (two of them) were too similar. They were good, yes, but I would have preferred more contrast. Instead, we were met with nearly identical semi-firm cheeses, about which not much was divulged.

But nevermind. Our pasta had been thickened with starchy cooking water and the sauce stuck perfectly to coiled noodles, the name of which escapes me. Spicy sausage in the dish was neither too fiery nor too tame. Our pizza was paper thin, crispy, blackened in the right places. It never betrayed the weight of its (admittedly light) toppings: tomato sauce, cheese, and fresh basil. Maybe our bing cherry clafouti could have used a few more cherries, but the custard was buttery enough to forgive the oversight.

The truly epic--and quite unexpected--turn of the evening came nearly at meal's end, when a familiar face appeared hovering over our corner table. It was my New Jersey-dwelling uncle, who just happened to be an hour from his home at the same restaurant as us, celebrating the 60th birthday of a friend. He and my aunt were the celebrity sighting that neither my sister nor I saw coming. I always say New York is the smallest city on earth.

335 Bowery
New York, NY 10003

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Where It's Hip To Be... Hip

Williamsburg. Proverbial home of the hipster. If you don't have bangs and a pair of skinny jeans, may I suggest sticking to Park Slope?

I guess somewhere along the line, I, too, became a hipster. Note what my friend C. said as we walked in the door at Rye last night: "See, if you don't have a haircut like that girl [pointing at the waitress with really dark, shoulder-length hair and straight down bangs], or like Genavieve [noting that I also have really dark, shoulder-length hair and slightly overgrown straight down bangs], you'll never fit in here." That comparison scares me a little. Our waitress was dopey to the point of common thievery. Our bill, which arrived after a good long period of our party of five sitting around and staring at empty water glasses, exceeded what we had actually spent by $80.

But nevermind. The food was good. C's mother kept talking about how bare and unclean the walls were. In Williamsburg, that's cool. Maybe I would have minded if the lobster bisque hadn't been so rich and lobstery with a hint of spice at the finish. Maybe I would have been staring at the walls, too, had I not been digging into my endive/apple/bacon/walnut/blue cheese salad. Everything was julienned, turning the salad into a giant, cheesy cole slaw. Maybe I would have felt less satisfied if the meatloaf sandwich--suitable for at least three hungry eaters--hadn't actually tasted like the duck, veal, and pork from which it hailed. Or if the pickles hadn't been perfect. Or if the French fries had arrived late or cold, which they did not.

Beausoleil oysters were clean and fresh and a dozen didn't punish our pocketbooks the way a la carte oysters do in Manhattan. Our teeny tiny quail came with bittersweet radicchio and a precious mold of polenta. The only disappointment came in the form of macaroni and cheese, which is rarely a disappointment. But despite the lardon and the tasty noodles, the cheese sauce was insufficiently creamy, a rookie mistake.

For dessert, we headed to Penny Licks, a half-vegan/half-regular ice-cream shop on Bedford. Considering the fact that they still had over an hour left until close time, they were out of a good number of things, including the "penny lick" size cones and all of the sundaes. I had a half-dairy-half-vegan ice-cream, which amounted to mint chip ice-cream (regular) topped with a scoop of pumpkin pie ice-cream (vegan). I have no idea what is in vegan ice-cream and I prefer to remain in the dark. The baked goods looked promising. I probably should have gone for the red velvet cake instead. My ice-cream was fine, but nothing to write blogs about.

247 S. 1st Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Penny Licks
158 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Better Burger?

Lately, I've been confronted with all kinds of ethical eating issues. I've stopped eating beef and chicken without first knowing their provenance. Michael Pollan scared me, and I'm not interested in being one of the huddled masses who unthinkingly consumes chickens that have been standing around in their own waste, pecking at their own waste, yearning to breathe free. Cutting most commercial chicken and beef from my diet has some consequences. Fewer burgers, for one, not that I ate too many to begin with. But, I must confess, I've always loved a traditional American burger with the traditional American accoutrement. And these days, McDonald's just won't cut it.

On a bus ride home from the city last week, I met a fellow food liberator who happens to live in my neighborhood. She gardens, blogs, and seems to live the perfect sustainable lifestyle. I'm teeming with jealousy. She also happens to be an excellent resource for where to find local and organic stuff here in Astoria, which is, most of the time, a locavore's nightmare.

Which is how I found out about Bare Burger.

Actually, I had walked by it before, but I really just thought it was another faddy burger joint, selling patties for ten bucks. Truth be told, it's kind of an eden. The decor--including awesome light fixtures made from those metal spoons that so often disappear in restaurants--comes entirely from recycled things. The burgers (take your pick of elk, ostrich, turkey, chicken, or beef) are all organic. Instead of Heinz ketchup, which contains High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS is not organic because the corn used to produce it is genetically-modified. FYI), Bare Burger serves Annie's organic. Instead of store-bought burger buns, they offer a choice of brioche or multi-grain, both baked locally. Fries are done in peanut oil. Onion rings appear to come from real onions. The list goes on.

I had a turkey burger on multi-grain with a touch of mayo and some Annie's. Okay, it tasted like turkey, but I'm not expecting miracles here. I also had a tiny cob of corn, grilled to almost-burnt, which is how I prefer it. My lunch date had a beef bacon-cheeseburger on brioche and panko-dipped onion rings. He's a tough customer, so when he deemed his burger "delicious," I had to trust that it was.

Sodas are Boylan's and coffee is direct-trade. What more could someone like me ask for in a place like this?

Bare Burger
3321 31st Avenue
Astoria, NY 11106

Monday, November 2, 2009

Detox And Retox

I was "keeping it clean" this past week, in preparation for yesterday's ING New York Marathon. (Yes, I finished; no, I did not qualify for Boston.) That meant a bunch of whole grains, vegetables, and lean meats leading into the race. On Tuesday, a friend and I opted for nice, clean Asian cuisine, and, for lack of better ideas, stumbled upon Indonesian at Minangasli in Jackson Heights.

I've never had Indonesian food before, so I'm not sure what I would compare it to. An egg pancake was more like the delicious skin of an egg roll, deep-fried and served with a viscous soy sauce that was almost good enough to eat straight. Our satay combination platter included beef, lamb, and chicken (though the meats were virtually interchangeable) and came with the traditional accoutrement: peanut sauce, cubed cucumbers, red onion. It was tasty enough. But the true meaning of Indonesian food was best expressed to us upon the arrival of our noodles.

They were medium-width noodles like the ones you might find in Pad Thai, covered with browned mushrooms, bean sprouts, and ground meat. On top, three delicate fried wontons greeted us. They were stuffed with an equally delicate meat. On the side arrived a bowl of fragrant broth with tiny, perfect meatballs. We divided the broth, squeezed in some of whatever hot sauce happened to be on that particular table, and dumped our noodles in. The result was perfumy, light, and all in all worth the trip.

That was my last real meal of note until last night, when, in celebration of my own feat (and feet), I lined up for a rib-eye at Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens. I've written about Prime Meats in the past, but I have been waiting for the select opportunity to sample their 36-day dry-aged prime rib-eye (bone-in, of course), priced $1.80/ounce. If you know anything about steakhouses in New York, you know that this per ounce price is criminally low. I hoped it would be worth it.

We began with a crispy salad of celery and celery greens, a plate of addictive (and addictively fatty) lamb ribs, and a soft pretzel with butter and mustard. The salad was dressed with sunflower oil, showcasing the celery-ness of it. The lamb ribs were smoky, charred, and perfect, accompanied by beautiful roasted slices of local squash.

And then the steak. Nearly fifty ounces of it. By the time it arrived, by body had started to revolt. I wasn't hungry, but I soldiered on, making not even a small dent in our chop. The dickle, pure fat, melted. I skipped the chimichurri sauce--an applaudable version--in favor of the steak on its own, showcased only by Maldon salt. The char was perfect, the meat tender (it almost did not require a knife). I ate two pieces and packed the rest up, a moment of clarity that will bring much joy during tonight's Yankee game. Our big bowl of perfect French fries remained untouched and I offered it to the kitchen gods. It was my mistake for over-ordering. But I brought the tender mushroom spaetzle home; it, too, was not worth parting with.

8610 Whitney Avenue
Elmhurst, NY 11373

Prime Meats
465 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hungry Caterpillar

Remember Eric Carle's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar? You know, the one where the caterpillar eats through a watermelon, a sausage, a slice of Swiss cheese, and various other tasty finds, only to lead himself to a fierce tummy ache and metamorphosis? Well, I had an Eric Carle moment, sans metamorphosis. It went something like this:

I agreed to go to an early evening movie in the City and suggested a "snack" first. This was initially supposed to be a slice, probably from Artichoke, but somehow we decided that we were going to have pork buns as a snack. Only pork buns. You can get said buns at Momofuku Milk Bar, but you have to stand while you eat them. Instead, we opted for Ssam next door. Presented with a full menu, we did what any normal snackers would do. We ordered two sets of pork buns, a ham plate with red-eye gravy (mayonnaise and coffee, for the uninformed), a pickle plate, and a heaping portion of ground sausage with deep-fried rice cakes. The Edward's ham was not as rich and fatty as I remembered, though the mayonnaise would have hidden any flaw. I found the rice cakes to be overcooked and the pork buns, though still tasty, a bit heavy on the pork fat this time around. Is Ssam Bar slipping after their *** rating? Time will tell.

I skipped popcorn at the movies, which was a wise move, since dinner time (9pm, only a scant three hours after our "snack") found us at Daniel Boulud's new haunt, DBGB. I wore sweatpants out and hardly expected to end up at a scene-y downtown bistro. I knew that I would run into people I knew (we saw two, a waiter we knew from another restaurant, and a chef whom we had loved and lost to San Francisco) and that this familiarity would spiral into the vortex of free stuff. End tally of comps: three glasses of dessert wine, two desserts, one cheese plate, roughly $100 worth of bad-for-you goodness.

It really is appalling to think about what we ate last night, so I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised at my own tummy's reaction. We began with veal tongue and gribiche, along with a thick and fatty chicken/pork liver pate. The pate came with too little bread, my main complaint, though I was happy to see that all the bread before us fell into the whole-wheat category. The cornichons and pickled pearl onions, though scarce, were, as always, the perfect counterpoint for good pate.

Whole-wheat bread could not prevent the descent into gluttony that came next. A very long and very deep-fried pig trotter came with some kind of mayonnaise dipping sauce. Bone marrow, sliced the long way, was topped with black mustard seeds and arrived with toast points and house-cured pastrami. Our sausages were supposed to be the highlight of the evening--the restaurant serves over ten--but I found them slightly disappointing. The Berliner, a boudin blanc served with an under-cured sauerkraut, was a touch more sweet than savory. The Vermont was nicely blistered, but I'm a little freaked out by the concept of cheese in my pork sausage. Must be a Jewish thing.

For dessert, we kept right on ordering. First, baked Alaska, since I'd never had it. It arrived with a cup of absinthe that the server poured over the meringue before setting the whole thing on fire with a blowtorch. But the server left before the fire hit the whole dessert and the fire went out before releasing all of the alcohol. What was left was a very strong absinthe dessert that happened to be filled with meringue, almond cake, vanilla ice-cream, verbena ice-cream, and raspberry sorbet. A "pear" ice-cream sandwich fell short, lacking either the proper cookie texture or the right ice-creaminess. The pear element was actually sorbet and the plating encouraged the use of a knife and fork rather than one's hands. How very un-ice-cream sandwich-like. A mocha sundae was reminiscent of the one once served at BLT Prime. There was a lot of ice-cream, brownie bits, and whipped cream. The desserts, as a whole, remained rooted in, well, ice-cream, more of a one-trick pony than anything else.

A pear sidecar left us underwhelmed, though I was happy to see the Raffault Chinon by the glass, one of my favorite, less expensive Old World reds. I was also happy to see a 750ml bottle of my favorite trappist ale, Westmalle Dubbel, for a staggeringly low $28, dark beer being the perfect companion to a festival of offal.

Our complimentary cheese plate--replete with such cliches as Humboldt Fog--was just cheese and bread, along with a paltry sprinkling of nuts. I longed for something more elaborate, like the composed plates that used to appear at Casellula, before the fromager defected. Oh, well. I shouldn't have looked a gift horse in the mouth. At three in the morning, I was regretting the cheese regardless, along with the horse it rode in on.

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003

DBGB Kitchen and Bar
299 Bowery
New York, NY 10003

Monday, September 28, 2009

K-Town, Etc.

Anyone who knows me would gladly attest to the following: I am not a nice/forgiving/happy/generous/enjoyable-to-be-around human being when I am hungry. This is just fact. I get grumpy. I get hypoglycemic. I swear to whomever I'm with that I'm just going to die. I could substantiate this with a thousand vignettes from childhood and beyond, but I'll leave it up to the imagination of my readers.

Now, on Friday afternoon, I ended up in Manhattan, walking up 6th Avenue, where you ain't bound to find anything worth buying, unless you're really into plastic beads or fresh flowers. This includes anything remotely ingestible. It's a culinary wasteland. I was starting to get my familiar hypoglycemic hand shake, and became immediately convinced that if I did not stop for food RIGHT NOW, I would... well, you get the picture.

My companion did not much care for my theatrics and kept telling me to pick a place, but what was there to pick? A corner bodega? A McDonald's? None of this jived with my "local foods" or "homemade" mantra that I've been espousing since August.

Inevitably, we ended up on 32nd Street, home to Korea Town, commonly referred to by drunks and foodies as K-Town. We were reminded of a place recommended to us by a friend of mine a few months ago, but before we made it I saw signs for Pho32 & Shabu and decided that we need walk no farther: Pho it was.

Pho32 & Shabu specializes in two things: pho (duh), and shabu shabu. Pho is a delicious Vietnamese soup, and Shabu Shabu is this method of cooking wherein a pot of steaming broth is lit on fire before you and you dip assorted things (a.k.a. meat, vegetables, tofu) into this broth until they cook. I opted for pho, since I've never been able to get shabu shabu down.

First, a salad of cabbage and ginger dressing arrived. It was slightly bitter, crisp, salty, perfect. Next, a plate of lime, bean sprouts, shaved green peppers, basil. Finally the soup, a large bowl of beef broth, thin-sliced flank steak cooked rare, beef brisket, rice noodles. I was instructed to spill my plate of stuff into the broth "to taste" (that meant spilling the whole thing in). A condiment caddy displayed sriracha, hoisin, and chili paste. I dumped that in, too. What resulted was a rich, meaty, basil-y, crunchy, chewy, satisfying bowl of stuff. True pho eaters will tell you that tripe is a very important part of the pho experience. But I will tell you that I think tripe is disgusting and I don't like the way it looks like cotton or spun sugar, sitting out on the butcher display in my neighborhood, so I will never order my pho with tripe.

My dining companion ordered great fried chicken potstickers, but I wouldn't go back just for those. I would, however, go back for that soup, which may have been the most transcendent bowl of Asian noodles ever, aside, of course, from those pork-perfect ramen bowls at Ippudo. Slurp, slurp.

Pho32 & Shabu
2 W. 32nd Street
New York, NY 10001

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Spanish Inquisition

I apologize to my readers for a lack of promptness in retelling tales of my recent travel to Barcelona and the Costa Brava. There were so many memorable meals and so much worth processing that it feels impossible to distill the five day trip into one mere blog post. Obviously, El Bulli and my night there deserves an unhealthy cut of attention here, as does El Celler Can Roca, where I enjoyed dinner the night before heading to Roses for my 35-course feast. I should, however, mention in the meantime that Spain was full of culinary possibility. My first meal in Barcelona was enjoyed on my 29th birthday at a small restaurant within Barcelona's famous Boqueria. Seated at the bar, we ate a plate of fish cooked a la plancha--prawns, razor clams, manilla clams, firm white fish, squid. We ate mushrooms and asparagus tips drenched in good olive oil and we ate pan con tomate (which we would eat much more of in days to come) and a rib steak grilled on the flattop and dusted with Maldon salt. We ate French fries and, finally, creme caramel with a candle in it. It was our best meal in Spain.

Other great meals followed. At Els Pescadors, the daily catch arrived atop gorgeous scalloped potatoes and roasted onions. A snack of brined baby garlic made most of us swoon, and we could have asked for no better treat than a plate of 'Joselito' Iberico ham, straight from the pata negras.

One night, in Barcelona, we were taken out to dine with wine friends, who lamented the fact that good restaurants were mostly closed on Mondays. No matter. He found a traditional Catalan space for us, ordered peppers a la plancha, fried lamb brains, various cured meats. But the restaurant's claim to fame was its massive wine list, more of a tome than anything, and through dinner seven diners were treated to seven impressive bottles of wine. Some wine got lost in the recesses of a wine-logged brain, but not to be forgotten were a 1998 Chateau Latour, deemed corked by some (I argued that 1998 was an off-vintage and that now, ten years later, inadequate grapes were showing signs of the weakness of the year, tasting green. We split our opinions down the middle; I drank what others passed up.) and a 1987 Vega Sicilia 'Unico,' demonstrably better than the pricier first-growth.

Our kind friend picked up the check. But there were more surprises ahead.

Once we tackled the demons of the highway leading north from Barcelona--a flat tire befell us mid-trip--we tucked in to our first of two long and undulating meals, this one at Michelin two-star El Celler de Can Roca. We ate nineteen courses, seven of which were deemed "snacks." We drank a bottle of vintage Cava (1999), a 2007 Egon Muller Spatlese Riesling, a 2001 Donhoff Riesling, and, our most impressive of the evening, a 1999 Jacques Prieur Le Musigny. Memorable delights of the evening included a bright cherry broth filled with one halved cherry, a slice of smoked eel, and a scoop of ginger ice-cream that resembled a cherry completely; a preparation of sole that involved pairing the fish with five descending sauces (olive oil, pine nut, fennel, bergamot, and orange), a steak tartar that played on sweet and savory elements; and an apricot made of blown sugar, airbrushed pink and orange and dusted with sugar and releasing, at the tap of a spoon, a creamy interior of apricot nectar.

A trip through the wine cellar with one of the Roca brothers (Josep, the sommelier), revealed a mind-blowing dedication to the regions of Sherry, Priorat, Champagne, Burgundy, and the Mosel. The cellar consisted of five separate rooms, all built from old wine boxes. In them, Josep described the virtues of his favorite regions, showed videos from prize vineyards, and involved us in tactile games (in one such moment, he pulled a piece of green silk from a worn wooden bowl and lifted it, stretched it, urged us to touch; it was riesling, he said: strong, resilient, elegant, not ruined by age).

We left dinner at two in the morning, after arguing with our server about the meal charge: it was noticeably absent. But no, they told us; the food, a total of $1,000 Euro, was a gift. Our only expense was our six bottles.

I suppose El Celler set an impossibly high standard for fine dining, but if any restaurant could rise to the challenge, it is El Bulli, the notoriously impossible-to-get-into hotspot for molecular gastronomy on the beach. When we arrived, we were immediately brought to the kitchen to meet Ferran Adria. We took pictures and stumbled back to the sweeping vistas of the patio, where we would have our snacks in clear view of the Mediterranean.

There were snacks, and there were cocktails, all of them conventional-ish, none of them conventional. Mojitos arrived in pure cane sugar sticks. We chewed them to release the rum and lime. "Mimetic" peanuts looked like the whole suckers found at baseball stadiums, but when they hit the mouth they turned into very cold peanut butter. A milky cocktail came with the pleasant addition of candied pine needles ("eat the needle and then take a sip," our waiter instructed; El Bulli has many, many instructions) and tasted the way you would imagine very sweet and delicate pine sap would taste.

It would be silly for me to describe all 35 courses. For one, they weren't all good; two were actually inedible and several inspired a lot of laughter. The most memorable parts of the meal included three fun and different bottles of Champagne (NV Diebolt-Vallois 'Prestige' Gran Cru Cramant, NV Jacques Selosse 'Blanc de Blancs' Gran Cru Avize, 1998 Paul Bara 'Comtesse Marie de France' Gran Cru Bouzy); a course entitled "Margarita Cactus," which was really a cactus leaf infused with tequila, lime, and salt (we ate the leaf); a course entitled "Oyster Leaf," which was an actual edible leaf that came from Norway and, amazingly, tasted exactly like an oyster (it came with a mignonette); a dish called "Coco," a giant frozen dinosaur egg (but not really) that the server broke at our table and told us to eat with our hands, as the shell was a melty cool-cold Coco Lopez-type concoction; a dish that was a dessert but that looked exactly like shellfish innards (it was supposed to); tea service, wheeled over and prepared by a woman who clipped herbs from live sage, basil, thyme, mint, and tarragon plants; a cardboard pop-up birthday cake that came replete with a real, lit candle at my very own place setting; a box of forty or more assorted handmade chocolates (I sampled them all); and, finally, Cuban cigar service on the terrace as the punctuation mark to our meal.

Our bill was outrageous. But what's more outrageous than seven hours of gluttony? As a token of appreciation, the staff gave us each copies of A Day At El Bulli, a color book showing the crazy workings of the oiled machine. Not that I would have forgotten. Not in a million years.

Els Pescadors
Placa Prim 1
08005 Barcelona, Spain

El Celler de Can Roca
Can Sunyer, 48
17007 Girona, Spain

El Bulli
Caja Montjoi
Roses, Spain

Friday, August 28, 2009

Boroughs Other Than Mine

Before I head back across the Atlantic to visit some of the world's more gossiped-about eateries, I owe it to you, dear readers, to describe my last few days here on this continent.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was treated to a comped lunch at Prime Meats, which included a very delicious soft pretzel with sweet Bavarian mustard, a soft-poached farm egg over sauteed trumpet mushrooms with a grilled white sausage, and a small-but-noteworthy spiced stout cake. The sausage came with a horseradish mustard, spicy enough to satisfy me. The stout cake, possessed of a different judicious spice set (clove and cinnamon and the like) was gooey moist.

For a snack, I ended up at another Carroll Gardens joint, the newly opened Eton, Too, sibling of the original Eton, which serves dumplings and shave ice. I spent a few frustrating hours driving around the big island of Hawaii last August hunting down authentic shave ice, so it's nice to know I can get it close to home. Shave ice, for those unaware, is delicately shaved ice topped with flavored syrup, or syrups, if that's your bag (it's mine). In Hawaii, they also top their shave ice with: condensed milk, fluffernutter, mochi bits, chocolate syrup, canned fruit, vanilla soft serve, etc. Hawaiians are big on preserved food, i.e. spam. I'm a purist: give me a shave ice in a plastic cup that looks like an upside-down hat and one of those straws that doubles as a spoon and I'm good to go.

I had a half lychee-half watermelon. It was delicious. I also bought chicken-mushroom and pork-beef-cabbage dumplings to go. Heat and eat. Yum.

Later, after more wandering around BK, we ended up at Buttermilk Channel, where we snacked on pickles (our second helping of the day, after a duck into Stinky Brooklyn for pickles made at another local restaurant, Chestnut), grilled bacon with a mustard vinaigrette, bratwurst with sauerkraut and French fries, and four small baby back ribs with a mediocre slaw. The ribs were passable, as was the bacon. But the bacon... that's a dish you go back for.

Call these dalliances the introduction to my very meat-heavy pre-birthday birthday party last night at Korean hot spot Kunjip. I called for a reservation, and it's a good thing I did; the line snaked around 32nd Street and we still had to cram in to our side-by-side tables. Everything came at once. Fried dumplings, steamed dumplings, kimchi, daikon, egg custard, blood sausage with cellophane noodles and hot peppers. In a large skillet, the servers cooked boneless short ribs (outstanding), de-veined shrimp (also memorable), and slabs of pork belly (regrettably overdone). Bibimbop made my Polish friend sweat, though I found it only moderately spicy and perfectly coagulated owing to a raw egg on top.

We drank OBs. At the meal's end, the music increased to unpleasant decibels and a cake--made purely of orange segments and topped with three lit candles--arrived before me.

So perhaps that was the perfect American parting gift, even though it was not at all American. Espana, here I come.

Prime Meats
465 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Eton Too
359 Sackett Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Buttermilk Channel
524 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

9 W. 32nd Street
New York, NY 10001

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I've been trying to stretch the few dollars I have, which means cooking more and eating out less. So if you're wondering how many meals can come from $50 at the greenmarket and a little over $30 at Whole Foods and other, more local, markets, here it goes.

On Wednesday, I went to the Queens County Farm Museum, where I got two small black peppers, four large heirloom tomatoes in different colors/varieties, four kirby cucumbers, two ears of corn, and a discounted pork chop for two (all pork at the Queens County Farm Museum is currently twenty-five percent off) for eighteen dollars. Next, I hit up the Astoria greenmarket for local peaches, yellow plums, one eggplant, one yellow squash, one red onion, and Japanese turnips (seven dollars). The next morning, I went to a salumeria near my house, where I bought a pound of fresh bucatini for three dollars, and the fish market, where I got a half pound of rock shrimp for another three dollars.

At Whole Foods, I undertook my most expensive shopping for the week. I bought hormone-free grass-fed cow cream, fresh butter, Maytag blue cheese, a pint of Van Leeuwen pistachio ice cream, and apricots from Red Jacket Orchards in upstate New York.

Friday, I made a run to the Union Square greenmarket for farm fresh eggs, a loaf of wood-fired whole grain bread, bush basil, a small watermelon, blueberries, and sour and sweet cherry nectars (twenty dollars).

My meals went as thus:


Fresh bucatini with corn, rock shrimp, turnip greens, caramelized red onion, summer squash, eggplant, and cream; Peppers, eggplant, and Squash roasted with Blato olive oil; Yellow plum crumble with pistachio ice cream.


Leftover bucatini for lunch.

For dinner: Heirloom tomato salad with pickled Japanese turnips, kirby cucumbers, Maytag blue cheese, bush basil, corn; Grilled whole wheat bread; Poached farm fresh eggs; Yellow plum crumble with Van Leeuwen pistachio ice cream.


Leftover eggs and bread for breakfast.

Leftover tomato salad for lunch.


Another tomato salad from the remains of the cheese, turnips, tomatoes, cucumber, basil, and red onion. (The corn is long gone).

That leads me to today. I had poached eggs and toasted bread again. I never get tired of eggs. For dinner tonight, I'll be making that pork chop, grilled, with a Red Jacket Orchards apricot compote, more grilled bread, and a salad of watermelon and basil. Less than a hundred dollars at local establishments bought me dinner for two for almost five days, nothing to complain about.

My recent goal has been to buy food grown near where I live. I try to buy organic when I can, but mostly, I try to stay local. It isn't as easy as it seems. For whatever reason, most of the grocery stores near me sell food that is specifically non-local: mangoes, bananas, strawberries from California, milk from some milk plant in Iowa. Cooks who live near 14th Street have the near-daily luxury of shopping at the Union Square greenmarket; for me, that's a forty-five minute trip, one-way, and a ten-block walk with my haul.

Worth the effort?


I don't question whether or not this food tastes better; it does. I don't question whether or not this food is better for me; it is. I do, however, question how normal people are supposed to eat locally when it takes nearly two hours of the day to get groceries. Is the carbon footprint I reduce by eating local food negated by the carbon footprint I create just getting to my food?

I guess I don't know the answer. It would be easier if groceries stocked food from actual farms, rather than genetically modified California lettuce. Maybe that's the distant future calling. Who knows?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Meals Abroad

It would be impossible--and not worth anyone's time--to recount all the piddling details of my two week sojourn in Croatia. But some details are worth repeating. One afternoon, on the second floor of our rented Korcula villa, three heaping platters appeared before us, bearded mussels and whole prawns threatening to spill off onto the floor. The mussels were clean and uncomplicated in a way you never find in New York and the prawns, though requiring some lobster-like effort, yielded large tails of supple meat. It certainly beat an equally memorable--if less successful--meal served to us in that same Korculan villa: whole squid, cartilage intact. We weren't expecting this particular version of calamari when it arrived on our plates.

But nevermind. There were other meals worth remembering. An afternoon boat cruise took us to a smaller, less-populated island, Lastovo, where the savvy restaurant-owner of Augusta Insula announced his specialty as "Adriatic lobster and pasta." Adriatic lobster is notoriously expensive and, unlike its northeastern kin, dispossessed of claws. I wouldn't have necessarily wasted my time had the man not suggested it and pulled this admiring American to the side of a dock, where he pulled cages up from the Adriatic. He told me to pick my lobsters, and pick I did, and later, they arrived, chopped in thirds, amidst a tomato sauce over al dente linguine. We scooped the meat from the sliced bodies with our forks and fingers, washing our hands in lemony finger bowls. Before the lobster, we had been presented with fried bread (filled with caraway seeds) and fish carpaccio (tuna, monkfish, anchovies, and shrimp) dressed with fine Croatian olive oil and lemon.

Perhaps my favorite meal was in the town of Pupnat, close to the commercial hub of the island of Korcula. Konuba Mate is owned by a single family and they grow and make everything in house, the Croatian answer to the slow food movement. Fresh squeezed lemonade came sugarless; we were expected to sweeten it ourselves with the bright pink sage syrup provided ("pink from the blossoms," our server told us). An antipasto platter included a fresh goat cheese that squeaked when we ate it, juicy grapes, charred eggplant and eggplant pate, aged goat cheese from the same local goats, split fresh figs, ham smoked right there, bitter olives, and a loaf of fresh bread with carraway seeds. For dinner, we shared grilled and quartered lamb along with grilled apples, onions, eggplant, peppers, and zucchini. The peppers in Croatia are the light green of cucumbers, and, like cucumbers, are served with virtually everything. Thin rolled veal came with little polenta cakes and a hand rolled pasta, resembling the pici of Tuscany, floated in a creamy wild fennel sauce (fronds only, a bit to my chagrin). The goat cheese appeared once more, this time in fresh ravioli with sage and brown butter. More pasta, this time with an almond pesto made with fresh basil and tomatoes. And, as with most Croatian meals, a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, basil, and judicious amounts of local olive oil.

For dessert, we passed a carrot cake stuffed with a layer of cheese, a creme caramel, a flourless--though not nutless--chocolate cake, a fried pastry resembling funnel cake and dusted with confectioner's sugar, and two granitas, one rosemary-lemon verbena, one lavender-thyme. Various grappas appeared and disappeared, this one herbal, that one amber from the effects of a local fruit whose name we never caught. I drank a glass of dessert wine made there. During our time in Croatia, we never drank anything but the most local of wines, and they were good enough for drinking, if not for some laborious oenophilic conversation.

What else should I recount? Perhaps a meal caught on our way back to Dubrovnik, where we would, two days later, catch our plane home. The town of Mali Ston lies at the base of green Croatian hills, directly on the flat waters where famous oysters and mussels are harvested daily. Even the nicest Mali Stonian restaurants sell their oysters for the equivalent of $1.50 apiece, flat, briny things that make you wonder why you would ever want to eat an oyster anywhere else. Kapetenova Kuca, of course, served far more than oysters on the halfshell. So, too, arrived gently fried oysters, and then a seafood salad of marinated black and white mussels, rock shrimp, prawns, and octopus. Next, two towering dishes of every seafood available: whole cooked fish resembling sea bass, fried white fish and prawns, grilled rock shrimp on skewers, steamed clams and mussels and white mussels (tough to open with a dense, meaty texture), whole prawns that had been cooked in oil in a pan, small flash-fried bait fish, grilled and fried zucchini and eggplant. The list goes on. We ate until we couldn't any longer and then we threw the towel in and I ordered a cherry cheesecake, festooned with sour cherries.

They say Croatia is all about the ocean, and it is. The Adriatic is everywhere and it certainly is nice to look at. But I'll remember, along with that sliver of blue cutting up the coast from white rock, along with the silvery olive trees and the figs plump on the trees and the pomegranates beginning to bend branches forward with their August weight, the unmistakable brine of a Croatian oyster, lingering just long enough.

Augusta Insula
Lastovo, Croatia

Konuba Mate
Pupnat, Croatia

Kapetenova Kuca
Mali Ston, Croatia

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Absence Makes The Heart Go Hungry

I apologize for my absence in the blogosphere. Life has invariably taken over writing, filled with weddings and airport delays and all of the trappings of real versus virtual. This isn't to say that recent food adventures have not been noteworthy (some have; some haven't), but by now my mental notes have dwindled to a few dim memories.

But who can go on vacation without one last meal? I leave tonight, and last night's last supper happened to coincide with my friend's 30th birthday party. Said friend's sister and I planned a dinner for eleven people at Back Forty, known mostly for its grass-fed burger. But this was no burger-fest. Instead, it was a down-home Maryland crab boil, replete with newsprint tablecloths and wooden mallets. In New England, we eat lobster. I hadn't ever been to a crab boil, and I'm not completely sure I'd go again. It was fun, but it was also messy and complicated.

For forty bucks a person, the kind folks at Back Forty will deliver an appetizer of salt cod fritters, served with a spicy mayonnaise dip. Next comes crabs in three separate (and large) deliveries, silver buckets turned over the newsprint as Old Bay-doused suckers tumble every which way. The waitress instructs the table on proper crab-procuring procedure, which involves peeling back the outer tab of the shell "like a beer can," snapping off the shell's top, and twisting each leg off. The legs have almost no meat, and the body has slivers underneath useless gills; the spongy devils must be removed by hand. The real treasures are the claws, but the tough shells can't really be done by hand. That's what the mallets are for, but be forewarned that hitting a crab claw with a mallet forces crab juice in many directions. All my crabs seemed to squirt in the direction of my boyfriend's eyes.

With dinner came grilled corn rolled in Old Bay and boiled in salt and butter. These were fine, but no match for the fruit cobbler at meal's end, some happy combination (we think) of blueberry and peach, shortcake, and whipped cream. I don't know how many crabs I ate; we must have plowed through at least one hundred, and that's no exaggeration. And while the crustaceans were tasty enough, I'm not so sure I'd want to work that hard for my food on a regular basis.

Back Forty
190 Avenue B
New York, NY 10009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Just Ducky

I'm not a big fan of repeated experiences (at least in terms of the execution of this blog), but my Monday night dinner deserves mention, even if I just wrote about dim sum haven Pacificana last week. We went back for the Peking Duck, which we had eyed on a neighbor's table that night that we ended up with the heavenly clams.

First things first. I started with a mediocre hot and sour soup that I would never order again. Strike one. But the vegetable dumplings that followed--wrapped in a translucent dough and stuffed with all sorts of chewable veggies, like mushrooms and water chestnuts--made up for the minor misstep. If these dumplings are any indication of the dim sum experience at Pacificana, it's one I wouldn't want to miss out on. We also ordered a plate of bone-in spare-ribs. They were fatty and luscious and salty and sweet and there were a lot of them for $6.

And then there was the duck.

You can order a half duck--which we did--for $14.95, or a whole duck for $28.95. A whole duck would have garnered way too many wasted leftovers. Our lacquered beauty came to the table in one piece. Our waiter sliced and diced, taking large squares of skin and dipping them in hoisin sauce before placing them on pillowy buns. Next came dark meat, followed by cucumber spears and more sauce. We each had three buns and the waiter disappeared and then returned from the kitchen with the rest of our carved bird, most of which we ate with our fingers.

This is not your traditional American duck-on-withered-pancake guy. No way. It's so much better. And at under $15 a pop, it's a stone's throw away from cheap eats.

813 55th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11220

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Gone Fishin'

I did have a few minor restaurant dalliances this week, which I won't get too far into, since this post is primarily about cooking and not dining. Lunch with a friend (and on a friend) at Mary's Fish Camp yielded a perfectly sufficient lobster roll, though the hot dog bun could have used a bit more butter. It was literally bursting at the seams with lobster, certainly not something a New Englander complains about. Also, I finally found steamers in New York. Real steamers. Fragile and white-shelled steamer clams that need the sand washed off before you dip the suckers in butter. The portion was too small, but I'll live. I'll likely take another trip to Mary's in the future for a whole fish (they had several varieties, both roasted and flash fried). Lobster roll is one of those things you order when someone else is footing the bill.

Yesterday, I decided to tackle a fear of my own and prepare a whole fish at my house. I've never done this before and I disagreed with a lot of the recipes I read. I didn't want to cook en papillote, because I wanted a crispy skin on the fish. I also didn't want to blast it at 400 degrees because I had chosen fennel, a thick and fibrous vegetable, as one of the stuffing elements. I decided on a 350 medium-slow roast and a finish under the broiler.

One of the great things about living in Astoria is the fresh fish markets. I asked for a whole red snapper and was shown several. I settled on a 2lb fish (generally a pound lighter after de-boning) and asked the monger to clean it for me (gutting and de-scaling, basically). The same red snapper that went for $5.99/lb went for a whopping $14.99/lb at the fish market at Grand Central. Astoria is chef-friendly; Manhattan is not. Back home, I slit the skin so it wouldn't rip and stuffed it with things I had in the fridge: garlic, thyme, the fennel, nicoise olives, halved grape tomatoes, salt, pepper, and olive oil. The remaining items I placed around the fish in a baking dish. Then I let the whole thing rest in the refrigerator for a few hours.

I cut red bliss potatoes in half and covered them with thyme, salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil in a separate baking dish. These went into the 350 degree oven twenty minutes before the fish. Once the fish went in, it was only twenty or so more minutes until the whole lot was ready for the broiler (larger fish obviously take longer; we were basically waiting on the fennel). I finished the fish off with some amontillado before browning it to deglaze the pan. The broiler browned the fish and potatoes, which were completely up to my high standards.

This fish was among the most aromatic and freshest I've had in a long time. We drank mint lemon-limeade with it, our own creation, made from a dozen lemons, a few limes, and a simple syrup made from cane sugar. My regret is that the mint turned brown. In the future, I might try blanching the mint first to preserve its color.

But all in all, this was a resounding (and resoundingly inexpensive) success.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Asian Sundays

According to former-Times-writer/current-cookbook-writer/DavidChang-confidant/hippie-dippy-foodie/brother-of-famed-cocktail-maestro-Jim Meehan Peter Meehan, a meal at Pacificana, in Sunset Park, is best enjoyed with the dim sum throngs on weekend mornings.  It isn't to say that Pacificana doesn't have anything to offer beyond congee and dumplings, but evidently the cart game is their specialty.  Oh, that and the $30/lb. king crab, prepared in a 4-course meal, dinner only.  Average weight of a king crab: 7 lbs.  

Anyway, obviously it wasn't a king crab kind of night, and we missed the boat on dim sum.  That didn't keep us from the cavernous, banquet hall-style Pacifica, where we were the only white people in a sparsely seated dining room.  Like most dim sum restaurants, Pacifica presents a regal touch: chandeliers, white linen, servers in tuxedos, non-disposable chopsticks, bright red walls.  I could imagine a bustling brunch somewhat resembling a wedding. 

We started with small cups of wonton soup.  The wontons were delicately wrapped and full of all kinds of hidden gems, like chopped shrimp.  The broth tasted like it came from actual chickens and the bok choy floating therein gave the soup crunch.  To satisfy the health nut in me, I ordered a plate of sauteed mixed vegetables: broccoli, green peppers, snow peas, bamboo shoots, cucumber, and celery.  They were tossed in some kind of delicate salty white sauce, not the gooey glop that so often accompanies mediocre Chinese.  Next up, the star of the evening: manila clams in a brown sauce sizzling on their hot plate atop tiny bundles of rice noodles.  The noodles had literally been bound unto themselves. When I bit into these hot packages, they pulled back against my teeth, the perfect bounce for a noodle.  The clams slipped easily from their shells and we dragged them through the brown sauce, some amalgamation of garlic and onions and ginger and, well, something brown. 

For dessert, the Asians around us received complimentary bowls of something black and beany.  Maybe we reeked of our Americanness, as no such bowls arrived at our places.  Instead, cubes of coconut jello jiggled their way to our seats.  I didn't complain. 

813 55th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11220

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bay What?

I think the last--and possibly only--time that I visited Bay Ridge was in the late 1980s when my parents went to pick up their Volvo station wagon at the Bay Ridge Volvo dealership.  Pretty much the only details I knew about Bay Ridge were: 1. There was a Volvo dealership there, 2. It was farther into Brooklyn than Park Slope, and 3. My friend Peter lived there and drove to the train station in Sunset Park in the mornings because it was too dang far from the City.  

But I spend a lot of time in Brooklyn and I've learned that you can save more than a few pennies eating in the boroughs instead of eating on the island.  Last night was a terrific case in point.  A google search for "steak" led us to Austin's Steak House in Bay Ridge.  Decor is Sopranos-inspired.  Maitre'd might actually work for the mafia.  More than a few male patrons were wearing loafers without socks.  The woman sitting by herself at the bar in high high heels and a lot of lycra is, my date assures me, a prostitute.  Not that I really care.  A man in his 60s singing misquoted pop songs floats around the dining room with a microphone "delighting" guests.  Or whatever you want to call it.  I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. 

We skipped appetizers, the traditional steakhouse platitudes: shrimp cocktail, caesar salad, crab cakes.  In retrospect, we could have skipped sides, too; our skinny asparagus with browned garlic came undersalted and mashed potatoes were too watery in consistency.  But oh, the steak.  I can't believe I'm writing this, but I'm pretty sure that's the best steak I've ever eaten in New York. 

It was a cowboy steak, otherwise known as a rib-eye.  It came on the bone, an inch-plus thick.  It had the black crust that only comes with super high heat and a butter glaze at the end of cooking.  It was a little too salty (believe it or not), but the meat itself had the dense funk of honest-to-goodness dry aging.  It was just as black-and-blue as I'd ordered it, with a perfect deckle at the top of the rib.  What can I say? I'd put that baby up against a Luger porterhouse any day of the week.  Even my date's filet mignon (ugh), definitely not my cup of tea, tasted remarkably good.  

Austin's is not a whole-package experience.  If you want that, go to BLT Prime, or another trendy steakhouse that serves overpriced and admittedly delicious side dishes and desserts (Austin's sources their desserts from elsewhere and we didn't even bother trying them).  But if you truly want the best rib-eye in New York, I think I've found it.  Trust me, I'm just as surprised as you are. 

Austin's Steak House
8915 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11209

Friday, July 10, 2009

Living On Dimes

That should be my new motto, since I'm pretty broke. But a girl still has to eat.  On Sunday night, I was craving Chinese, and there's no better neighborhood for an MSG-lover than Sunset Park.  I required only that our restaurant accepted credit cards and that our menus arrived in English, so a brief menupages search sent us towards Park Asia, a respectably clean and bustling haunt past the stretch of Chinese markets on 8th Avenue.  Once inside, we noticed not only how white we were (a mark of authenticity when shopping for ethnic food), but also how large all the parties were.  Most of the tables were six- and seven-tops, communal sharing made easier by the ubiquitous lazy Susan. 

We ordered three things, assisted by bold pictures affixed to our menus.  Steamed pork dumplings were heavy and nondescript.  They did not bode well for the meal to follow.  But oh, how wrong we were!  House special fried chicken was a half of a chicken with brown lacquered skin butchered into manageable pieces.  Sure, there were some bones to negotiate, but the meat itself was moist, only outdone by the transcendent skin.  The experience made us wish we had opted for Peking Duck--this is the place to do it.  And we'll be back for that. 

Pan fried noodles neither surprised nor disappointed.  The noodles were crispy by turns and gummy by others (a quality I happen to enjoy) and the sauce possessed the requisite amount of corn starch implemented in most Chinese restaurants. But, oh that chicken!  All I could think was: Americans eat way too much shitty chicken.

By Wednesday I was feeling like I'd neglected the cheap and interesting restaurants of my own neighborhood, Astoria.  So we moseyed down 30th Avenue to Thai Pavilion, where, this time, the dumplings were a resounding success.  Vegetable dumplings came fried, texturally perfect, and with the excellent condiment of a thick soy-sweet chili sauce.  Pad thai did its job but my prawns were more impressive, served in a spicy basil sauce with mushrooms, onions, and green peppers.  For dessert, we got a cheap sampler plate, but the delicate litchi ice-cream is the only dessert worth mentioning.  They should serve it in cones on street corners. 

Yesterday, I had another Astoria adventure on my way back from the Rockaways.  You would never expect life-changing sandwiches to come from a virtually unmarked deli on 23rd Avenue in Astoria.  Sal, Kris, and Charlie's Deli doesn't even have a storefront sign; a piece of white paper announces their identity, below which states, "The Sandwich Kings of Astoria."  They were right.  I passed on "the bomb," a sandwich that includes all available cheeses, proscuitto, ham, mortadella, sopressata, and everything else besides the kitchen sink.  It seemed a little crazy for my taste, so I settled for a proscuitto hero: mayonnaise, hot and sweet peppers, pickles, proscuitto (they must have put on a full pound), lettuce, tomato, and onion.  The sandwich was so large I nearly had to dislocate my jaw to get it down.  But the semolina bread was perfectly crunchy, even after all those wet toppings.  And the sandwich's other half is waiting for me to finish my morning run, perhaps the most exciting detail of all. 

Park Asia
801 66th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11220

Thai Pavilion
3710 30th Avenue
Astoria, NY 11103

Sal, Kris, and Charlie's Deli
3312 23rd Avenue
Astoria, NY 11105

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The 2.5 Hour Wait

I understand that this is a recession and that people don't want to spend a lot on food.  I get it.  And I understand how "cool" it is to know about the "best pizza in Brooklyn."  Fine, whatever.  But here's what I don't get: the streets of Carroll Gardens are completely abandoned, since everyone's left for the holiday weekend.  Why, then, is the woman at Lucali quoting a 2.5 hour wait at 6:15 the night before the Fourth of July?

Because, dear readers, it is now "cool" to spend $24 on an admittedly very good pizza (my dining companion last night: "this is as good as it gets.").  Yes, the pizza is delicious, thin, larger than the pies at Roberta's or Franny's or Co.  But toppings--even basil--cost extra.  And they're cash only.  And then there's the wait. 

We had been at Clover Club first for some swizzles and pate (very good stuff, fyi), because Lucali isn't supposed to open until 6:30.  Well, that was a flat-out lie.  Lucali takes phone reservations and seats VIPs willy-nilly anyway.  You can bet your bottom dollar Jay-Z ain't waiting three hours for a table.  No way, no how.  When we rolled up at 6:15, the dining room was full and there was already a 2.5 hour wait.  I put my name on the list and gave the frustrated host my phone number and then ambled over to Prime Meats for a soft pretzel and some rum punch, served from a scalloped crystal punch bowl in tiny handled punch cups.  The pretzel came with an addictive honey mustard.  I'm told the other snacks are equally delicious.  Next time.  

I did get to eat at Lucali, but by then I was tired and a little woozy with punch.  Our large pie was sufficiently crunchy but the service was worse than bad.  A redeeming feature of Lucali is that you bring your own wine, so you won't blow your budget on crappy Chianti.  And the atmosphere--candle-lit, aromatic, and centered around the guy stretching dough and shaving buffala mozzarella in the back--is more than pleasant.  You could eat pizzas here all day, if they'd let you (and they wouldn't; once the table is finally yours, it's order in, patrons out).  

The best bet for a Lucali pie is takeout--you can pick up your pie 30 minutes after order time, which seems like the time-saver of the century.  And I guess it beats Grimaldi's, which we drove past and which boasted a line stretching three or four city blocks.  All in the name of good pizza.  Maybe that's the necessary sacrifice we make to look cool in these empty-wallet days of 2009.  

Clover Club
210 Smith Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Prime Meats
465 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

575 Henry Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More Carbs

Believe it or not, the nutritionist I saw yesterday actually told me I was eating too few carbs.  I know this seems incredible, given my penchant for pizza, but the truth is my days revolve around veggies and lean protein.  Dr. Atkins scared the bejeesus out of all of us.  

To remedy my carbohydrate drought, I went for white flour (not the nutritionist's suggestion, I assure you) at Al Di La, the Park Slope restaurant that seems always to have a line snaking around the corner down Fifth Avenue.  The restaurant and wine bar down the block (on Carroll Street, in case you were wondering) both serve the same menu.  We ate at the wine bar's bar because, well, we weren't in the mood to wait long. 

A beef carpaccio was made with high-quality beef and came topped with shaved parmesan and whole anchovies.  I'm not the biggest anchovy fan in the world, so I let my dining partner eat them while I stuck to the dish's other adornment, capers.  Mussels were served in a rich and tomatoey broth, but the best part of the dish was a crusty piece of bread snuck beneath bivalves, absorbing all of the elements a nutritionist would say are better left uneaten.  Oh, well. 

For my fellow diner, a rich and creamy tagliatelle with ragu.  It tasted kind of Hamburger Helper-ish, but in a good way.  My spaghetti with clams (finally!) did not disappoint.  The large and briny Manilas were judiciously scattered and I didn't find even one empty shell.  The pasta itself was al dente and swimming in oil and chili flakes.  I returned my plate to the bartender with a half cup of pasta remaining.  "You left the pasta," he said.  "You know, that stuff at the end really is the most unhealthy part.  But it's also the tastiest."  Maybe so, but after all that white flour I didn't really need a full cup of oil.  

And we passed on dessert, but next time I would likely order any of the cheese-based delights on the small menu. 

Al Di La
248 5th Avenue 
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I Can't Get Enough

Pizza.  That's right: pizza.  I wouldn't want to miss paying my respects to the establishments I visited during my sojourn upstate earlier this week.  On Wednesday night, I dined at Schlesinger's, the kind of steakhouse that reminds me of what steakhouses were like when I was younger.  A shared French onion soup was sufficiently cheesy and bready and terribly unhealthy.  A Ball canning jar on our table housed over a dozen tiny half-sour pickles. My complimentary salad was large, crunchy, and judiciously dressed.  And my ribeye, 20 ounces without a bone and a good inch-plus thick, came with the requisite grill marks and deckle fat.  What it didn't come with was the New York City price tag (this baby only cost a paltry $24).

The next afternoon, it was more meat, this time at Richard's Dairy Shed, where I enjoyed a burger on a plain roll with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, and mayo.  It would have been better with pickles, but it was fresh and hot and wrapped in wax paper.  In my hands, it didn't last long.

For an evening snack, we visited Wildfire Grill in downtown Montgomery.  Somewhat rubbery calamari and decent Southwest "wontons" (egg roll wrappers filled with chicken, cheese, corn, and black beans) gave way to sublime tail-on shrimp wrapped in crisp bacon and roasted.  It was a shame to see so few on the plate. 

But back in the city, it was pizza time.  We headed to Franny's in Park Slope, where I had heard the pizzas were too good to keep secret.  Marinated pickling cucumbers came with delicate and perfect buffalo ricotta and sliced red onions.  Sugar snap peas, blanched and served cold, had been dressed with a mint-infused oil and lemon juice and topped with fresh cracked pepper.  They were highly addictive.  A piece of crostini with ramp butter and thin strips of pancetta tasted like the best garlic bread I have ever eaten.  

So the pizzas?  They were okay.  We ordered a pie and a pasta.  The Franny's go-to is the clam pie, but I ate a clam pie two weeks ago at Tarry Lodge and was feeling a tomato base.  So we had pizza with buffalo mozzarella and sausage and it was crispy and black at the edges and that was lovely.  But the pizza's center was soggy and didn't hold up to meager toppings.  I found myself a little disappointed. 

The pasta was tasty enough, peppered with sweet peas and chiffonades of salami.  The sauce was green, but less overtly vegetal than a basil pesto.  The spaghetti itself, cooked very al dente, picked up the sauce well.  It could have used a few more peas.

For dessert, we ate almond pound cake (impressively moist) with macerated tristar strawberries and a spoonful of whipped cream.  It was the perfect June dessert, even if the pizza wasn't all that. 

Schlesinger's Steak House 
475 Temple Hill Road
New Windsor, NY 12553 

Richard's Dairy Shed
1103 State Route 17k
Montgomery, NY 12549

Wildfire Grill
74 Clinton Street
Montgomery, NY 12549

295 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Brooklyn Round Up

I've been spending a lot of time in Park Slope/Sunset Park lately, which has given me the opportunity to taste what's going on in the other boroughs.  I'll make this short and sweet, since it would be impossible to give a lengthy overview of so many restaurants at once.  

I had a sub-standard banh mi at Sidecar, where the French fries are delicious (thin and McDonald's-style), but the sandwich lacks bite.  Not only was the thing way too big, but it was insufficiently pickled.  The pickle is everything when it comes to good banh mi.  I have it on good authority that the burger is worth the calories, but I didn't take that route.  

Beer Table in Park Slope offers a much more successful menu.  An arugula salad with pickled onions and shaved parmesan was just lemony enough without suffering from over acidification.  Sausages, though a tiny bit mealy, had a deep offal quality to them that even the most discerning foodie would not have been able to criticize.  They came with slightly boring but very buttery roasted potatoes.  The cheese plate, featuring Bayley Hazen Blue (a personal favorite), brandied cherry compote, and crusty bread was a tour de force.  Beers range from affordable (I had a Hitachino espresso stout) to not (what I really wanted was the Rochefort 10).  Belgians make the requisite appearances, as do obscure Italian brews.  If we'd been in more of a drinking spirit, we likely would have splurged on one of the many 750ml bottles.  

Tacos Nuevo, also in the Slope, impressed me more for their happy hour deal (two for one sticky-sweet margaritas) than the actual food, though I will admit that the chorizo-refried beans dip was addictive and clearly unhealthy.  My huarache, also made with chorizo, wasn't quite crunchy enough.  My dining companion said I should have ordered the tacos.  Maybe next time.  

Finally, my only expensive Brooklyn meal in the past week has been the least innovative.  Blue Ribbon Brasserie on 5th Avenue did have some excellent New Brunswick oysters, small and creamy and served with this cucumber/cilantro salsa that was good on its own.  They were also $3.50 apiece, which just seems absurd when you think about how small an oyster is.  We drank a very good bottle of 2007 Chateau Pradeaux Bandol rose with our pierogis (half fried, half steamed; order the steamed and save yourself the wasteful calories), which came with a sweet onion marmalade and lots of sour cream.  Barbecue ribs were the Blue Ribbon standard: very sticky and very sweet and very worth the trip.  Shrimp remoulade were fine.  They tasted like crabcake dipping sauce.  I wasn't impressed.  One of the night's specials had been a 40-ounce rib steak for two, and that would have been more satisfying, given the slightly enormous bill.  At least dinner wasn't on me.  

Sidecar Bar and Grill
560 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Beer Table
427B 7th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Tacos Nuevo Mexico
491 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Blue Ribbon Brasserie, Brooklyn
280 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Saturday, June 6, 2009


My sister and I went to this bachelorette party last night for one of our cousins.  It was one of those parties that started late and included an even later dinner and when I picked her up at Grand Central, we were both hungry.  Since we had to be in the Union Square vicinity, and since it was a cold and rainy day, and since our last attempts at a meal at Ippudo had been thwarted by crowds, we decided to make it a ramen day.  

It's amazing that this place has a wait, even at 5:30 in the afternoon.  When we finally took a seat, it was closer to 6:00.  Salty-sweet chicken wings had that perfect, glossy, crunchy texture only acquired with hot oil and a substantial deep-fryer.  They came with sweet pickled cucumbers and carrots.  Ramen was, as always, a memorable experience.  I'll agree with Frank Bruni for once and say that the best dishes at Ippudo are the soups made with stewed pork bone broth.  The noodles are slim and not too chewy.  Our soups (the Modern this time around) also came with pieces of cabbage and Berkshire pork).  

We headed to the W to meet my cousin and her friends, where we played a bridal trivia game, drank Korbel with raspberries, and wore giant red-glowing plastic rings.  Then it was off to Alta, a tapas bar on 10th Street.  

My cousin is gluten-free, and Alta had a menu telling us which dishes we could order.  In a way, that made things easier, since there were so many choices on the menu.  I deferred my input.  Sometimes I'd rather sit back and not look at the menu.  Salty mussels came in deep cast-iron posts with plenty of residual broth.  Skewers of shrimp and chorizo were spicy and smoky.  Crab cakes came without panko, but as a result lost that textural contrast so important to a good cake.  Lamb and okra skewers were confusing; pieces of eggplant that looked like lamb were actually, well, eggplant.  The lamb itself was good enough, once we could locate it.  

Sea scallops eluded me (there were only three) and chicken wings with paprika didn't live up to our previous wings.  I couldn't eat a pretty beet salad that came studded with hazelnuts (I'm allergic), but I could eat perfect pounded duck breast wheels, stuffed with scallions and served over a foie gras emulsion.  Deviled eggs were just fine; the pork toast version Resto serves is better.  

Dinner wasn't expensive: 50 bucks per person and we covered the bachelorette.  But my sister and I got to thinking that if we hadn't eaten a mere few hours before, we would have probably found dinner a little anemic, or maybe I would have dipped a little deeper into the Oloroso Sherry pool.  

65 4th Avenue
New York, NY 10003

64 W. 10th Street
New York, NY 10011

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pizza Par-tay

You just can't take me anywhere.  

I realized this a quarter of the way into dinner at Tarry Lodge, where I was celebrating a birthday with family on Wednesday night.  That was when I recognized the sommelier in the blue dress, a friend of mine from a few restaurants back whom I knew had moved "upstate," though I couldn't remember where she'd landed.  

I thought that eating dinner in Port Chester would mean no random encounters with industry peeps, but, sigh, that's increasingly impossible.  You bet your lucky stars I got a free dessert. 

Tarry Lodge has the warm, wainscotted feel of a Vineyard restaurant (I thought of a placed called Atria in Edgartown, where I once dined two tables away from a tall and loud Denis Leary).  It didn't have the airy turn-and-burn quality unique to all other Batali-Bastianich enterprises.  That was fine by me.  It was nice to dine on tablecloths for a change--Babbo has them, but most of the others do not--and to sit in a warm, cream-colored room.  My passion fruit bellini upstaged the birthday girl's pear version.  Shrimp with melon and mint were halved and grilled jumbos, served with ample slices of cantaloupe and honeydew, alongside pickled onions.  A "chopped salad" was, more accurately, a play on antipasto, included chiffonades of the requisite players: salami, mortadella, provolone, roasted red peppers, artichokes, onions.  Roasted fennel and strawberries provided a toothsome contrast to all that soft meat and cheese, crunchy blackened chunks of anisey fennel up against season starter straws.  As Rachael Ray would say, Yum-O.  

The pizza course included one white (vongole, with in-shell littleneck clams and plenty of garlic) and one red (hot Italian sausage and black olives).  Both were unevenly shaped and black in parts.  The pizzas were better and more pliable than the Otto variety.  Our pastas--stinging nettle tagliatelle with braised lamb, linguine carbonara, spaghetti with Manila clams and pancetta--couldn't have been closer to perfect.  The nettle pasta was greenish with a deep herbal flavor.  The carbonara came with an egg yolk on top, the perfect binder for a perfectly hedonistic dish.  Spaghetti was undercooked in the right way and touched with a little pancetta, but not too much.  

For dessert, we settled for simple, strawberries with mascarpone and aged balsamic.  You can imagine how basic--and satisfying--it was.  A panettone bread pudding also arrived, alongside a rum-raisin gelato.  Not a bad way to end the night. 

Maybe it was unwise to follow great pizza with pizza, but I owed my coach a dinner out due to his effective (and free) services leading up to my marathon, so we went to Company, or Co., as everyone's been calling it.  People have been lauding the pies since the place opened a few months ago.  I'm not sure I agree. 

A chicken liver toast was way too mealy.  There was so much liver on the bread that I got totally grossed out and stopped eating it halfway through.  My radicchio salad was sufficiently bitter and well-dressed with a good balsamic, but the raw shitake mushrooms that adorned it seemed to serve no real purpose.  

As for the pie, I ordered the veal meatball.  It came with crushed tomatoes, olives, and parmesan cheese.  But because of the balls' heft, the pie was weighed down in the middle, losing the crispy crunch I craved.  The pizza bianco--dough doused with olive oil, sea salt, and rosemary, provided to us by a server to eat while we waited for our table--fared better in the crispness department.  Maybe it was just my pie with the toppings I had.  If I went back, I'd order the acclaimed Popeye, or maybe even a simple Margherita.  

Tarry Lodge: 1, Company: 0.  Sorry, Mr. Lahey.  Batali wins this round. 

Tarry Lodge
18 Mill Street
Port Chester, NY 10573

230 9th Avenue
New York, NY 10001

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Hunt for Damned Clams

After a day at Long Beach, my fellow New Englanders who had washed up on Long Island's shores suggested we go for shellfish.  We were thinking fried clams and steamers and lobster rolls and cheap wine and a quick internet search pointed to a place in neighboring Island Park.

First things first.  We went to a place called Tiki Bar, where I indulged in a pina colada that arrived in a hollowed-out pineapple.  I don't know why, but I love to drink things in empty fruits.  
And then it was off to Peter's Clam Bar.  We ordered steamers and fried clams.  According to the website, they had a lobster roll.  In real life, that wasn't the case. 

A glass of wine in and our server returned to tell us that they were out of steamers.  This didn't go over well, but the bottle was open so we decided on soft shell crabs instead to accompany our fried clams. 

The clams came out.  We nearly lost it right then and there.  Clam strips?  How could anyone, in good conscience, charge $16.00 for a plate of fried clam strips that were not identified as such on the menu?  

I called the manager over and did something that I never do: I sent the food back and asked for the check.  A clam without a belly is like a dry old crusty piece of bread with nary a butter pat in sight. 

We blackberried more options.  We made a lot of phone calls to a lot of places, all of whom informed us that they didn't have steamers at the moment, or they didn't serve whole-bellied clams, or whatever.  What was this, Mars?  Finally, some elaborate search pointed us to Bigelow's, where they did, in fact, serve whole fried clams.

For $22.50.  From Ipswich, Massachusetts.  Which, if you're keeping track, is a lowly ten miles from my hometown and where I could get the same stupid clams at the Clam Box for about $20 less.  

We did order the clams; divided by three, it wasn't too pricey.  We had a crab cake, too, and a soft-shell crab that had been fried beyond recognition.  The clams themselves were tasty enough, the portion anemic at best.  The meal's only resounding success were light-battered onion rings, hardly a regional specialty.  

I should have thought better when the cocktail waitress at the Tiki Bar offered a plate of wings.  I should have taken her up on the offer, because hot wings would have outdone the fried mess New Yorkers call seafood. 

Tiki Bar
832 W Beech Street
Long Beach, NY 11561

Peter's Clam Bar
600 Long Beach Road
Island Park, NY 11558

Bigelow's New England Fried Clams
79 N. Long Beach Road
Rockville Center, NY 11570

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Literal Re-Fuel

I ran my first marathon on Sunday, surrounded by friends and family. Some I had expected to make the trip up to Vermont and some surprised me on the course.  If you've never run 26.2 miles, you may not know how much it matters to hear your name called at the top of a hill, or as you're about to crush your last mile.  And oh, it matters. 

That night, I was taken out to dinner in Burlington.  Someone found this place, A Single Pebble, a traditional Chinese restaurant (which, since it's Vermont, is run entirely by white people) not too far off the hippie drag of downtown.  Each table had a vase of fresh tiger lilies and a lazy Susan at its center (dishes are meant to be shared).

I drank a lychee martini that was finished with a drop of grenadine.  We ate delicately battered and fried eggplant chips that came with a hoisin dipping sauce.  We ate duck pancakes that were a little too tortilla-ish for my taste and thick-skinned ground pork dumplings.  

Batons of tofu arrived battered and fried and topped with green chiles in what was called Salt and Pepper Tofu.  Chow fun boasted plump shrimp, a wide array of vegetables, the toothsome noodles and pieces of dark meat (I think it was chicken).  Rabbit was a little on the spicy side, cooked in a black bean sauce and resting on withered greens.  It wasn't my favorite; the barbecued pork was.  The pork had been rubbed with Chinese five spice and came with a "white" barbecue sauce, which was really more clear than anything.  

It made me wonder why all the Chinese food in my own, supposedly "ethnic" neighborhood is so completely atrocious.  So if you're already making the drive, it's well worth the trip. 

A Single Pebble
133 Bank Street
Burlington, VT 05401

Friday, May 22, 2009


That's how they say it in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  I'm not one of those New Englanders who always has to have a lobster dinner every time I find myself in the vicinity.  I more or less consider it a special occasion thing and growing up we almost always ate it at home and not at any of the local lobster pools.  

But here's the thing: if you go to the fish markets and buy chicken lobsters and steamers and three pounds of butter, and corn on the cob, it will probably cost you much much more than last night's dinner cost me. 

I spent the first hot day at the Seabrook/Salisbury beach, where I suffered a stupid pre-marathon sunburn and played in the tide pools, since it was too cold to go in the ocean.  We drove past Brown's and Markey's on the way home, two rival lobster pools facing eachother across route 286 in Seabrook, NH.  I decided we should go for dinner. 

I don't know why, but people around here have loyalties when it comes to these lobster pounds.  I've never been to Markey's because everyone I've ever eaten lobster with has been a Brown's devotee.  

This is how it works: fried food is ordered on the outside, through a window.  For lobsters and steamers, you walk into the actual restaurant, if you can call it that.  Really, it's just a large room with long tables and benches and screened windows and a wraparound porch out on the marsh where you can sit and watch the fisherman net things and the sun slip below the horizon.  I recommend ignoring the view of the dome of the Seabrook nuclear power plant.  

You have choices, of course.  Chickens are the smallest lobsters, followed by medium lobsters, large lobsters, and premium lobsters.  Steamed clams come in one size only.  When you tell the surly dude working the register what you want (I have no idea why, but my surly register man was wearing a Yankees cap and sporting a Joba Chamberlain jersey, even as he barked at me with a very distinct New Hampshire accent), he'll grab and weigh your lobsters--in my case, chickens--and ask you if you want anything else.  I ordered corn.  I love steamers, but my best friend has a late-developing bivalve allergy and we were scared to test whether clams made her puke as bad as mussels do.  Surly man will give you a wooden paddle with a number on it and instruct you to wait until called over loudspeaker. 

Brown's, like Markey's, is BYOB, which meant Wachusett blueberry beers on the back deck, three apiece if we were dividing fairly.  Eventually, our number was called and we picked up two perfect lobsters, clarified butter in plastic cups, wooden stakes for pulling out claw and knuckle meat, and two foil-wrapped pieces of corn.

That's the short version.  The long version is that they actually forgot our corn and we stood waiting in the angry anteroom for ten full minutes while they made it.  And we asked three times for an extra butter and set of silverware until surly man number one finally complied.  And then, worst of all, I noticed a photograph in the back of the room of the entire Brown's staff wearing their aprons and stickers with a smiling George W. Bush, all holding a sign that said BUSH 2000.  Turns out Brown's is a favorite of the Kennebunkport Bushes as well as that idiot ex-president of ours.  My best friend was getting surly herself, due to the butter and corn fiasco.  I was surly because of the Bush endorsement.  We both decided to do Markey's next time. 

I will say this: those lobsters were sweet as anything and the early-season corn was, too. And the whole meal came to a whopping $28.  Try getting two lobsters for under 30 bucks anywhere else and you'll see the appeal.  But the rival spots catch their wares in the same neighborhood and their prices are, well, rivaling, so next time, we'll be headed across the highway to Markey's.

As an epilogue to lobster fest 2009, I should add that I was still hungry after our lobsters because, these days, I am always hungry.  Consequently, I drove down to the heart of Salisbury beach, where the arcades and dough stands are, for a slice of beach pizza, native to the area.  Beach pizza is crispy, flat, and square.  If you ask for extra cheese, you'll get a slice with a circle of provolone on top.  I had a square exterior piece from Christy's, very much worth the calories and the price ($1.75).  It was sweet-sauced, crisp as any New York slice, and possibly a better dessert than anything sweet I could have imagined. 

Brown's Lobster Pound
Route 286 
Seabrook Beach, NH 03874

Christy's Pizza
13 Broadway
Salisbury, MA 01952