Sunday, February 28, 2010

Playing With My Friends

Another stress fracture has me grounded, which means less time with my running sneakers and more time doing... something else. I have to remember to exercise restraint with food during the next two months, or I'll be forced to wear nothing but leggings while my skinny jeans writhe in protest. Yesterday wasn't a good start to period of said restraint.

I was invited to see my favorite married couple for bloody marys and burgers. In addition to burgers--ground beef, short rib, and chorizo--we ate pizza pomodoro from the Jim Lahey bread book and cookies from City Bakery and these weird cheesy balls that came from a packaged Brazilian bread mix. That, paired with the leftover cookie dough I ate for breakfast (give me a break--it was whole-wheat dough) would have probably racked up enough calories for the day, but I was hungry, hungry, hungry by the time I made it to Mad for Chicken in Koreatown at ten o'clock.

Mad for Chicken is like the worst nightclub you've ever been to that also happens to sell the best fried chicken. You have to wait for an hour for your table. The bartenders are beyond incompetent. The drinks--a lychee mojito for me--are doused in sugar and bad rum. The clientele is "Asian club kid." If you aren't familiar with that clientele, no need to be.

But then, you sit at one of the Mad for Chicken tables and they bring you insanely spicy crunchy kimchi chicken wings with pickled daikon and celery sticks and this weird cheese and rice-cake casserole that kind of tastes like Spaghetti O's and larger plates of non-spicy-but-equally-crunchy drumsticks and Mexican corn rolled in mayonnaise and queso and chili powder and pretty much everything is okay with the world. In our case, they also brought these ridiculous glass kegs of beer that were topped with dry ice, creating the illusion that the beer was smoking. Each keg was five liters. Our group drank three of them. I won't get into the mathematical possibilities of that, but suffice to say that our bill came to a whopping thirty bucks a person, including tip, so if you want to eat really good fried chicken and drink until you think that playing dominoes is normal and socially acceptable dinner behavior (as two of my co-eaters did), head to K-town asap.

Mad for Chicken
314 5th Avenue, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10001

Monday, February 22, 2010

I Hate Saturdays In NYC

And yet I somehow manage to put myself in the middle of the fray. I don't want to go to restaurants on Saturdays, I really don't. But sometimes that's just the way things go--battle the Bridge and Tunnel for a decent bar spot, while you wait an hour for a "table," no bigger than a nightstand. Ugh.

Well, anyway. Saturday snobbery aside, Txikito was a decent place to spend the night. Sure, three people at that nightstand of a table was a little ridiculous, but the menu just about made up for it. Gluttony, I have not left you behind. Small plates are the downfall of any good foodie, and this was no exception. We started with white asparagus with black truffle olive oil and chopped egg, served cold. Spring is on our heels. Next up: miniature mushroom and shrimp grilled cheese sandwiches. Meh. I couldn't really taste the ingredients, aside from the cheese. The sandwich of chorizo hash was more successful, pretty much the tiniest baguette I have ever seen in my life.

Then: shredded chorizo and a sunny side up quail egg on toast, perfect in its execution. Followed by: blood sausage-filled eggrolls (more eggroll than blood sausage, but still delicious), lamb meatballs with "minted broth" (more lamb than mint, but I don't tend to badmouth meatballs), cross-cut braised spare ribs with red and green peppers (very delicious), and salty head-on shrimp (no surprises here, but who really cares?). Finally, the highlight of the meal arrived, a suggestion from our waiter, who recognized our meat-heavy order--seared veal jowl terrine with a sweet onion vinaigrette. Imagine the fattiest rib-eye fat, pressed into a terrine mold and then pan seared and that's pretty much what we ate. The consistency vacillated between unctuous fat and crispy sear and the onions offered a sweet respite from all that density. I wouldn't have ordered the dish without being pushed in that direction, mostly because veal is something I try to eat very little of. But I would have missed the point entirely if I had left without eating it.

For dessert, we shared a very average cheese plate, all sheep's milk, all sliced a hair too thin and served with pedestrian quince paste. Fine. The blue satisfied my cravings, even if the dish as a whole failed to impress me. Ditto a chocolate pudding with sherry whipped cream, though I would eat that again simply because I love pudding.

240 9th Avenue
New York, NY 10001

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I Didn't Watch The Superbowl

I went out for Korean barbecue instead.

1. I am vehemently opposed to the Tebow ad that was scheduled to run and that was funded by Focus on the Family, a group I detest.

2. I was even more upset by the fact that Planned Parenthood and were denied advertising spots on CBS.

3. I wanted New Orleans to win, but the again, I didn't really care all that much.

We went to Madangsui, on 35th Street. First: jap chae, or slimy rice noodles, cooked with beef and onions and probably a lot of MSG, not that I cared. With that, steamed pork dumplings that were, to be honest, a little dry and tasteless. As for the actual barbecue part, well, I know I've been really anti-beef lately, and I continue to remain true to my values, but this was some of the tastiest meat I have ever had. saeng galbi and bulogi, both marinated. One is essentially shaved beef marinated with a bunch of delicious stuff, and the other is fatty pieces of short rib, also marinated, and cut off the bone by a deft waitress yielding giant scissors. On the grill, too: large circles of white onion and halved button mushrooms.

Part of the genius of Korean barbecue is all the stuff that comes with it: kimchi soup (good), chawan mushi or something to that effect (I had no room for this), sweet pickled vegetables (addictive), two types of kimchi--daikon and cabbage (yum), nori (fine), really spicy radish and peppers (they weren't kidding when they warned us), a salad of shaved onion and celery (perfect for crunch with the beef), and lettuce for wrapping. If I omitted any delicious snacks, I apologize. Wrap whatever you feel like combining with meat and lettuce and you have teeny little ssams. My friend used rice in hers, but I preferred the unadulterated taste of the meat. I'd like to go back with more people and eat more of the menu; as it stood, two beef selections, a noodle dish, and dumplings were the outer limit of what we could eat--and I had run fifteen miles that afternoon.

Well, anyway. I'll be back.

35 West 35th Street
New York, NY 10001

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The New Adventures Of Old Cuisine

After an evening run on Thursday, followed by a quick stop at the New York Sports Club, which I often consider my public shower, I found myself in the city with time to kill before meeting a friend downtown. Wandering the wasteland that is midtown at 8 pm on a weeknight, I ruled out the following: bad pizza from one of the many take-out joints on Lexington; a bad sandwich from one of the ubiquitous, lunchy chain restaurants; anything from McDonald's. It was cold and I was hungry and then hungrier when I happened to duck down 45th Street, passing a small Japanese restaurant that advertised ramen on a plastic-covered menu affixed to the window: Menchanko-tei. Ramen seemed the perfect antidote to a cold and hungry midtown night. I found a place at the bar.

Like Ippudo, Menchanko-tei serves a variety of different types of ramen. They have tsukemen, broth made from roasted pork bones, my personal favorite. They also have soy and chicken-based broths, also traditional species of ramen. I ordered a plate of cucumber pickles, briny and salty little disks. I ordered a plentiful bowl of pork bone ramen, toothsome noodles floating in a milky broth and topped with a tea-smoked egg, pickled bamboo and ginger, sesame seeds, scallions, and a rolled slice of cooked pork belly. I was surprised at the soup's quality, noodles just as fresh as the Ippudo version. The broth was sufficiently porky and the restaurant, as a whole, doesn't suffer from the relentless popularity that makes a trip to Ippudo tantamount to waiting in line for Space Mountain.

On that aimless walk that night, I also happened past a place I've been reading a lot about lately, a French import by the name of Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote. Please don't ask me to pronounce that. It seemed to fit the bill for what I had planned Saturday, an inexpensive meal with my sister. In Paris, throngs of people line up nightly for L'Entrecote's $24 prix fixe menu, which includes a salad dressed with mustard vinaigrette and walnuts, crunchy French bread, an abundant plate of French fries, and a thinly sliced steak. Oh, and the sauce. Don't forget the sauce. The sauce is shipped from Paris and the ingredients remain secret. I could identify lemon and pepper and butter and something darker and earthier, possibly liver. If you ask for a list of ingredients, restaurant workers will not divulge, so don't bother. It would be worth it to come back just for a $24 jar of sauce.

The steak at L'Entrecote, something approximating a hanger steak, comes very thinly sliced and bathed in that sauce. At meal's beginning, a waitress, wearing a French maid uniform (black top, short skirt, tiny white apron) asks you how you like your steak and then writes your answer on the paper tablecloth covering your place setting. After your salad is cleared, the steak and frites arrive, served twice. Until you are ready for your second helping, the steak and potatoes stay nearby, atop small candles on a metal chaffing dish. The dessert menu makes up for the lack of variety posited by the restaurant's set playlist. Given over ten options, we chose three tartlets: cherry, lemon, and chocolate. They were small tarts indeed, buttery and fine and hard to justify sharing. Lemon tasted of a meringue pie filling and cherry was topped with three plump versions of the fruit. At night's end, our bill was so low, I considered staying for an encore.

131 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017

Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote
590 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10022