Sunday, April 26, 2009

Breakfast Of Champions

I had some tasty things at Roberta's last night, most notably a spicy ramp pizza featuring charred ramps.  (In their cheeky way, they called the pizza the Stephen Hawking, a tart joke I didn't exactly find funny.)  Afterwards, I stopped at a deserted Italian ice store in Maspeth--fyi, driving to Bushwick is easier than taking the train--and had myself a rainbow ice like the kind my dad used to buy me at the Park Slope pizza joints when I was six or seven.  But enough about that. 

When I woke up and tried to convince my boyfriend to take me out to brunch, he countered with a request for breakfast in bed.  Um, no.  I do NOT like the idea of food anywhere near my clean sheets.  But I did agree to raid the fridge and make breakfast/brunch for us both. 

I had three eggs.  I whisked them together with a little half and half (no milk in the house), some sea salt and cracked black pepper.  In a small frying pan, I heated some chopped prawns, asparagus, and red chili oil leftover from Chinese takeout night (Tuesday).  I added the eggs and, voila.  Spicy shrimp scrambled eggs.  

Next up, pork belly fried rice.  I chopped the leftover sliced pork belly and also used the chili oil from that dish to start the sautee.  Then I added a carton of brown rice and cooked it until the rice began to adhere to the bottom of the pan.  In Spanish cooking, the burnt brown ends are considered the prize of the paella.  

Finally, I threw halved whole-wheat English muffins under the broiler until they were just short of black.  These I served with kimchi butter that I bought at Momofuku Milk Bar last Sunday.  The kimchi butter was spicy.  It also had rendered bacon in it (I kind of feel like they should have told me this before, but whatever).  My companion claimed it tasted like a Slim Jim.  I'm not sure if I disagree, but it doesn't really matter; it was still good.  

Asian leftovers may be the best equipment for a spontaneous meal, assuming you can handle the spice in the morning.  As for me, I have an iron stomach.  

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Changing Weather

On Thursday, I went out to Park Slope to see a friend's show and decided to stop for a bite on 7th Avenue at a tiny place appropriately called Little D Eatery.  Little D has all kinds of small plates, but I kept it simple.  A running nightly special includes a whole grilled fish, and on Thursday that fish was striped bass, a fish I like very much.  I asked for the bass filleted, and it came with bright green olive oil and preserved lemon.  

Pickled red cabbage was deliciously crunchy and roasted asparagus did right by us.  As a reward for such a healthy meal, I ordered the root beer float, made with root beer ice-cream and served in a cold mug with Virgil's root beer.  It was a little too root beery; it might have been more clever to serve root beer ice-cream with vanilla soda.  

Friday was a series of small meals.  I grabbed a slice at the new Roman-style pizza joint on Park Avenue called Golosi.  Roman-style means the pizza is sold by the inch, and it also means that you can get tiny portions of a lot of different varieties of pizza, which, for someone like myself, is kind of heaven.  

I only wish the pizza had been better.  It was crispy, sure, but it was also fairly flavorless.  The sauce had no bite.  It was like flatbread, only less interesting.  I thought a scoop of birthday cake gelato would redeem the mediocre pizza, but, alas, the gelato was grainy and not at all creamy like it is in Italy.  

Later in the evening, I stopped by Kampuchea on the Lower East Side for another small meal.  The pickle plate involved cucumbers, white onions, daikon, and spicy cabbage.  Yum.  Grilled corn came topped with kewpie mayonnaise, chili pepper, and toasted coconut.  Sound gross?  It isn't.  Mayonnaise and corn is effing amazing.  Kampuchea also offers, for a scant $17, a tasting of their sandwiches (choose three).  I chose a bacon sandwich, a meatball sandwich, and a barbecue pork sandwich.  All resembled the classic banh mi (baguette, pickled veg, cilantro) and none was as good as my recent banh mi adventures, but for the price, I could hardly complain.  

Little D Eatery
434 7th Avenue

125 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Kampuchea Noodle Bar
80 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Longest, Strangest Trips

Back in the late 90s and early 00s, I used to go to this place on the Upper West Side called Pampa.  Pampa was an Argentinian steak house that served large, traditional steaks.  They also served sweetbreads (back then, I didn't know what they were and never would have eaten them) as well as a delicious tortilla that I remember really loving. 

Pampa closed last year and the restaurant that opened in its place, La Rural, retains most of the same qualities.  The decor hasn't changed.  Tables are still equipped with a glass container of chimichurri sauce.  The back still opens into a charming patio.  A large, family-style table still occupies the center of the dining room.  

Sadly, the tortilla is gone, but the steaks remain, as do the crunchy and creamy empanadas--we got corn.  We also had a large, vinegary salad with white onion, lettuce, and surprisingly sweet beefsteak tomatoes.  An appetizer of steamed asparagus came with both goat cheese and shaved parmesan, which was a bit confusing, but still tasty.  Grilled sweetbreads suffered from too little tenderization and too much flame, but they still had that envious fatty texture reminiscent of the fat cap of a very good rib-eye. 

As for steak, I had the churrasco, my old favorite.  It's the thin-sliced top of the sirloin, grilled.  It may be only 11 or 12 ounces, but it spreads out over the plate with abandon.  I've never left one unfinished and, true to form, I didn't last night.  That's one of the benefits of training for a marathon.

La Rural
768 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10025

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Murray Hill Will Never Be Cool, But Still...

The restaurants are shaping up.  Thankfully.  

I found myself in the 20s/30s around snack time (aka mid-afternoon) ready to collapse from hunger.  Artisanal is expensive, but I'd recently read that they had launched a pocket-friendly bar menu. 

Actually, if you speak to any of the uninformed people working at Artisanal, you, too, will learn that they don't actually have a bar menu, per se.  What they do have, however, is a series of grilled cheese sandwiches that are less atrociously overpriced than the rest of the menu.  Not that spending $16 for a grilled cheese is a deal.  But whatever.

There are several different varieties and I wanted to order them all, but I settled for cheddar cheese, applewood smoked bacon, and apple.  The sandwich--and this is true for all of them--came with homemade potato chips (think Cape Cod), wide bread-and-butter pickle slices, and olives.  It was yummy, no doubt, and I ate almost all of it. But it wasn't really that cheap.  I'm intrigued by the version made with comte and truffle honey as well as the Berkshire pulled pork version.  Next time, assuming I'm willing to shell out the cash.  

Since I was in the neighborhood, I ducked into Szechuan Gourmet on dingy 39th Street for some Chinese takeout.  For later, of course.  I ordered so much food, the woman at the front actually asked me if she could give me some complimentary noodles.  

I don't care if my Chinese food is hot, I really don't.  The one dish that would have benefited from heat was the crispy lamb with cumin, which translated to soggy lamb that tasted only of cumin.  It was not good, but that's probably my fault for not eating it sooner.  

What was good was everything else.  Szechuan pickles included daikon, turnip, Napa cabbage, and carrot, doused in fiery chili oil.  That same oil made an appearance in all the different dishes, offering background flame in the wake of other flavors.  Despite the disconcerting orange slick it left behind on my plate, I found it quite addictive.  Prawns with ground pork and asparagus benefited from the spice.  Sliced pork belly with scallions swam in a sea of orange and brown, a sweet and spicy turn from the strict sichuan peppercorn. Yum.  

Ground pork dumplings, light as air, possessed a secondary spice: crushed ginger.  Sesame noodles, glossy and--you guessed it--orange, were everything you want in a noodle.  They had great texture, just enough grease, and a warming sensation that came mostly at the front of my tongue.  

There were leftovers, my favorite part about takeout, though I'm deep-cleaning today with millet, blueberries, and oat milk.  I'll save the hedonism for later. 

2 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Szechuan Gourmet
21 W. 39th Street
New York, NY 10018

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Not Our Intention

What we had meant to do was eat at Txkito, the sister restaurant to El Quinto Pino and Tia Pol.  Except that none of us knew that Txkito is actually closed on Mondays.  It was raining and we were stranded way over on 9th Avenue, so we ended up at a place that none of us had heard of Klee.  I guess it was named for the artist.  

The restaurant was pretty enough.  We had glasses of Madeira and then I had a glass of sparkling Austrian rose that tasted like it had been made in the traditional method.  We sat at a table in the window.  The menu featured tastes, small plates, and large plates.  The service was negligible, at best.  Small plates included two pieces of the tiniest lobster roll anyone had ever seen--there were three of us.  Six Beausoleil oysters arrived.  They were nice.  Mignonette was nondescript.  Some kind of cheese spread came with bread chips.  All of this was... fine.

I ordered chicken, envisioning a half-roasted chicken on a rainy night, but what arrived was a boring breast on top of a white puree with hacked-to-bits Brussels sprouts.  My friend's duck was tender enough.  My other friend's braised lamb shoulder was passable.  The Cotes du Rhone might have been the star of the evening. 

And finally, dessert.  I ordered what claimed to be a tart served with whipped cream and apricot.  It was, in actuality, a brick of tasteless chocolate cake with whipped cream and no noticeable apricot.  The peanut butter thing ordered by my friends came topped with popcorn.  That was probably its most memorable asset.  

We figured out why none of us had never heard of Klee: it really isn't that good. 

200 9th Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Monday, April 20, 2009

E. And G. Adventure In The E.V.

Around six, we put our names in at Ippudo, who claimed to have an hour and a half wait.  We walked down to St. Mark's and I saw the sign for Ramen Setagaya and couldn't be persuaded to wait for the city's best ramen.  So Setagaya it was. 

We had soy sauce eggs (ok, I found out my sister doesn't really love eggs the way that I do, so I had the soy sauce eggs by myself) and a bamboo salad that was dressed with soy, salt, and pepper.  Fatty rounds of barbecued pork melted in our mouths.  Oshinko was served traditional style: cucumber, eggplant, and whatever that sweet potato thing is.  

My sister's ramen came in a salty broth with toothsome noodles, a soy sauce egg, and roasted pork.  The broth lacked the depth of flavor that Ippudo's is known for (they use roasted pork bones as the base of their stocks), but it did have the brininess of fresh seaweed.  That may not appeal to all.  My noodle was a thicker variety--the name escapes me--and came separate from a gelatinous, fishy broth.  I liked the texture of the noodles, though the soup was a little too ocean-y for my taste. 

Ramen mission accomplished, we slipped across the street to the newest version of the Murray Hill hot spot Baoguette--the downtown plot is called Baoguette Cafe--for some takeout sandwiches.  The line is long and they only take cash, but, hey, the banh mi are pretty delicious.  I ordered the classic, topped with country pate, pickled cucumber, carrots, daikon, cilantro, and sriracha, as well as the 'sloppy bao,' made with curry beef.  Baoguette makes their baguettes in house.  I didn't eat the sandwiches until later, though they were lovely.  Next time, I'll be ordering the grilled corn with dried shrimp and scallions. 

Finally, sweets were in order.  We hiked (ok, drove) to 2nd Avenue and waited in the excessive line at Momofuku Milk Bar to see what the hype was all about.  A half hour later, once I could finally see the display case, I noticed that all the cookies were gone, with the exception of two.  Most of the cakes and breads were gone.  I had wanted to try the blueberry cream cookie that I watched Christina Tosi make on Martha Stewart.  Instead, I ended up with three compost cookies that tasted suspiciously like my Aunt Linda's mocha chip cookies, a slice of dulce de leche cake (too sweet), a slice of cinnamon bun pie (good concept, with the cream cheese frosting, but, again, too sweet) and a cup of donut-flavored soft-serve.  A note on the soft-serve: the chocolate donut flavor actually has the doughy consistency of the pastry, while the jelly donut flavor tasted more like mediocre sorbet.  I should have gone for a set of pork buns and the bavarian cream soft-serve, but, like the line, it would have been too much.  

Ramen Setagaya
34 St. Mark's Place
New York, NY 10003

Baoguette Cafe
37 St. Mark's Place
New York, NY 10003

Momofuku Milk Bar and Bakery
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The First Warm Day

I made it all the way to Sunset Park and the Greenwood Cemetery.  Before I climbed the hill, rumored to be the highest point in Brooklyn, I stopped by the legendary banh mi joint, Ba Xuyen for a sandwich and a bubble tea.  My honeydew bubble tea might have been a tad on the sweet side (coconut is my favorite, but they didn't have it), but the sandwich outright ruled.  Ba Xuyen offers eight different types of banh mi, ranging from traditional to wacky (you couldn't pay me to eat the sardine version).  We ordered the meatball banh mi, basically a smart and cheese-less take on the meatball sub.  A baguette housed tender meatballs, pickled cucumber/carrot/daikon, fresh cilantro, fish sauce, and cilantro. It was spicy.  It was salty.  It was sweet.  It was crunchy.  It was over way too fast.  

Having had our fill of tombstones, we walked to Park Slope, back to the neighborhood I lived in as a very little girl.  Once there, we stopped at the legendary, 30-year-old Smiling Pizza on 7th Avenue for a slice.  Mine hadn't been reheated enough, but otherwise demonstrated what a perfect New York slice is: crispy but still pliable, thin-crusted, yummy.  

Eventually, I found myself back in Astoria, where I ordered delivery from the new 30th Avenue chicken joint, appropriately named Chicken Shack.  Chicken wings were crispy, though not slathered in hot sauce the way I like them (it came on the side).  Pork ribs were as perfect as they get for delivery.  They were also spicy.  And pretty darn cheap. 

Ba Xuyen
4222 8th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11232

Smiling Pizza Restaurant
323 7th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Chicken Shack
3502 30th Avenue
Astoria, NY 11103

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ways To Celebrate The Completion Of A 20 Mile Run

Step 1: Abandon all rules and perameters set for yourself regarding food.  

I ran 20 miles on Monday, came home, sat around for a while thinking about what I should eat, realized it was too late for most delivery, and ordered Domino's, Brooklyn-style.  FYI, 16 inches of pizza is really not that much.  I ate half a pizza in approximately seven minutes.  At least it had vegetables on it. 

Which is more than I can say for the pizza that I ordered yesterday afternoon, at Otto, a small and crispy pie that came topped with a sunny side up egg.  To meet my veggie quota, I ordered asparagus with pecorino and English peas with proscuitto and mint.  To meet my already-met carbohydrate quota, I also ordered bruschetta with white beans and red pepper flakes.  It was a decent afternoon.  The pizza was crispy.  I can't complain.  

Later, it was on to more edibles in Carroll Gardens.  We tucked into a cozy booth at Black Mountain Winehouse for some passable nebbiolo, pretty darn good country pate, and weird-but-kitschy-cool fondue.  Also on the menu?  Salami and lard white bread, a panini stuffed with mayo and mortadella and served with hot peppers and quince marmalade, white bean crostini with warm ricotta, and a tuna nicoise salad.  We got experimental with the fondue and my friend went crazy dipping the mortadella sandwich into the hot cheese.  I'm pretty sure I got back the calories lost on that long, ambitious run.  

Otto Enoteca
1 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10003

Black Mountain Winehouse
415 Union Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Monday, April 13, 2009

Asian Persuasion

I haven't been to Hagi in so long I almost forgot it existed.  And then an article by hippie foodist Peter Meehan circa 2006 reminded me of all those nights spent in the sake bar den, eating my face off.  I hit Hagi around 11:30 last night, which may be the earliest I've ever been.  Consequently, I didn't face the lines I normally face and the service was passable, as opposed to completely effing inexcusable.  

I can look past things like this.  

Tiny fried pork buns spewed forth hot and salty ground pork and leeks.  They were each the size of a half dollar and slightly addictive.  Yakitori was as cheap and yummy as ever.  We got grilled duck, fatty and dark and seasoned with salt and lemon.  Chicken skin skewers were slightly underdone but still reminiscent of all those nights spent fighting over skin at the family table.  (I usually won.)

What Hagi calls 'short ribs' I call tiny rib eyes, six to a plate, grilled and topped with something soy sauc-y.  They came with paper-thin onions, served raw.  Pork belly and cabbage also featured bean sprouts and a salty, spicy sauce.  Large as it was, the plate was no match for our larger appetites. 

Finally, my all time favorite: udon hot pot.  Udon noodles in broth arrive in a steaming pot with a poached egg, two tempura-battered shrimp, and sliced shitake mushrooms.  What comes of it is a hot, slurpy, eggy mess.  I love it.  I could eat it forever. 

And the bill?  I'm so glad you asked.  $32 big bucks.  Can't beat that in a recession. 

152 W. 49th Street
New York, NY 10019

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Where The Servers Dine

For a long time in New York, Blue Ribbon Brasserie has been the go-to for people in the biz.  I hadn't been in years and the last time I did go I found that it was more expensive than I thought it should have been.  But nevermind.  When you're hungry and it's past one, there are limited options.  So I took a cab to Sullivan Street. 

Maybe it's a sign of the times, but Blue Ribbon was dead.  Like, hammer a nail in the coffin dead.  This place used to be on a wait well past three in the morning.  And here we walk in and there's an empty dining room at our disposal.  Have people stopped eating out after work?

Well, perhaps.  Or perhaps it was just the Monday doldrums.  As usual, I ordered more than I should have.  We started with a foie gras terrine (it was 21 bucks, but then again, they gave us enough foie to feed a family of four) that came with toasted brioche and citrusy sliced pears.  I could have eaten this and this alone and it would have been sufficient.  But no.  I had to keep going.  

On to steamed perogies, stuffed with meat and served with sour cream and beets.  They were fine, and not my choice.  More than fine was the pu-pu platter style set up that arrived next, frenched chicken wings with piles of crumbled blue cheese and sticky sweet spareribs with a little flame to crisp everything over.  

And then... more.  Salt and pepper shrimp were jumbo and fried with the shells on.  I wasn't sure whether or not I was supposed to eat the shells so I ate some of them and peeled some.  The piece d' resistance, the dish for which Blue Ribbon is known, came last, three stocky marrow bones with French fry forks, more toasted brioche, an oxtail marmalade, and what looked like Maldon Sea salt.  The marrow was like the best butter you've ever had and, combined with the excessive amount of foie, it amounted to one of the more decadent meals I've enjoyed in recent memory.  If only it was always that easy to get into Blue Ribbon.  Sigh. 

Blue Ribbon Brasserie
97 Sullivan Street
New York, NY 10012

Monday, April 6, 2009


A while back, I stumbled upon a review in the New York Times for BCD Tofu, a Los Angeles import that had made it to the Koreatown strip last year. The review suggested that BCD's most remarkable dish, a pickled raw crab preparation, was only available on the lunch menu. Ask away, the article said. Sometimes, generous waiters served smaller portions at dinner.

So, last night, at one in the morning when I rolled into BCD with a tired and hungry posse, we ate through napa cabbage kimchi, pickled cucumbers, pickled daikon, fried fish heads, kimchi soup with cucumber, marinated squid, and seaweed salad, all complimentary (if you've ever gone to a proper Korean restaurant, you know that the free stuff often exceeds what's been ordered). My friends ordered fried pork dumplings, mushrooms stuffed with some kind of fried meat, and a cold Korean noodle dish that the waiter told us only Koreans liked. He was wrong. It was studded with pickled bamboo and a hard boiled egg and it was sort of sublime.

And then I asked for the crab.

The waiter looked at me like I was crazy. He was much less shocked when I ordered the traditional bibimbap, ground beef served in a hot pot with assorted pickled vegetables (of course), rice, and a raw egg yolk. But I begged and pleaded and then the crab arrived. It was hard-shelled and completely impossible to eat, bathed in a red chili sauce that stained my fingers and burned my tongue. To get to the meat, I had to crack through shell with my teeth and scrape the raw crab from the interior. It had the consistency of any raw fish, firm and toothsome. It was sweet by nature and spicy from the sauce and it was totally weird and fantastic. I'm not sure anyone else was as into it as I was and I prayed a little that it wouldn't promote some kind of allergic reaction or mild food poisoning on the eve of another long run. But my digestive tract proved strong and stable and I walked from BCD with the knowledge that raw crab is delicious.

And did I mention the hours of operation? That's 24 fun-filled hours of Korean madness. Night owls, enjoy!

BCD Tofu
17 W. 32nd Street
New York, NY 10001

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Ultimate Day Off

It started in Chinatown (the Manhattan one) with a trip to Chanoodle, a cheap spot reviewed by Eric Asimov in 2004.  We ordered soft shell crab, now that the season has started.  One jumbo crab arrived tempura-battered with hot dried chilis and sliced hot green peppers.  It wasn't greasy.  Actually, it was near sublime.  

Steamed shrimp dumplings came wrapped in paper-thin wonton wrappers and with a ginger-soy dipping sauce.  Wonton soup was one of the best I'd ever have.  But the show-stealer was a plate of steamed clams served with sauteed ground pork, scallions, and thin green peppers. 

Next, we moved on to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, where I indulged in a lychee ice-cream cone.  We walked up to Economy Candy in the Lower East Side, where I spent my savings on gummy strawberries, sour cherries, pez dispensers, old fashioned candy sticks, giant gummy bears, and wax bottles filled with candy syrup.  The store satisfied every childhood urge, even though I didn't eat any of the candy. 

My partner in crime swore that Rosario's, on Orchard Street, had the best slice in New York.  I didn't find it quite crispy enough but it was still a genuine New York slice. 

We walked across the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn.  From the bridge, we could smell the steaks from Peter Luger, but it wasn't that kind of night.  Instead, we hit Dressler for drinks.  Dressler may be one of the most beautiful restaurants in New York, adorned with cast-iron chandeliers and detailing throughout.  I drank Cava with elderflower syrup and watched the sun set from the large windows facing Williamsburg.  

Then it was Marlow and Sons for dinner, where we shared oysters and mignonette.  We also had a brilliant take on breakfast: one large sunny-side-up goose egg with toasted baguettes topped with crisped pieces of fresh ham.  Two cheeses, a grassy Mixed Emotions and my personal heartstring tugger Pleasant Ridge, failed to impress with their boring place of bread and nothing more.  But the house-made fettucini, served with radicchio, grilled onions, lardon, and fresh ricotta, proved salty, sweet and bitter.  

Dessert was a chocolate tart stuffed with creamy caramel and topped generously with sea salt.  

All in all, it was a successful afternoon and a true exercise in seeing what New York has to offer, in the most gluttonous ways possible. 

79 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10013

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard Street
New York, NY 10013

Economy Candy
108 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002

Rosario's Pizza
173 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002

149 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Marlow and Sons
81 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11211