The cat food bought at an Eroski supermarket somewhere between Bilbao and San Sebastian is as good a Basque souvenir as anything. Keep or toss? This can will also get a reprieve.
In fourth grade someone got the bright idea of cutting lunch to an outrageous 15 minutes (as if going to a year-round school without a cafeteria wasn't enough--we ate at our desks and were served by mobile carts in the hall). To get the slow eaters (me) up to speed, our teachers implemented a charming little policy called "Shovel Time."
The first nine minutes would pass normally. Then as the tenth approached, Miss Stauffer (a feathered-haired gal who drove a Camaro and loved Little River Band) would yell, "Do you know what time it is?!" The class would manically shriek back, "SHOVEL TIME!!!" Talking was absolutely forbidden the final five minutes—it was a deathly silent scarf fest.
don't know if I've ever been the same since. But as a nod to this classy
ritual, I've adopted the humble scooping implement as my rating system's
icon. Shovel on!
1 Shovel=Passing Fancy
2 Shovels=Puppy Love
3 Shovels=Crippling Crush
4 Shovels=Serious Stalking
The cat food bought at an Eroski supermarket somewhere between Bilbao and San Sebastian is as good a Basque souvenir as anything. Keep or toss? This can will also get a reprieve.
Brooklyn Taco The Saturday afternoon pop-up housed inside Williamsburg's Donna was a pleasant surprise. Happy hour drinks practically call for a little stomach padding. Guacamole (for god’s sake, never say "guac"--do I even have to tell you not say "marg?") always bores me to death and is overpriced to boot (I’m fine enjoying the two-dollar's worth of raw materials in my own home) but for reasons I don’t understand everyone always wants to order a shitload for the table, so I was a mildly amused that the usual crowd-pleaser was fiery enough to elicit dismay. I'm not even sure where they heat was lurking in the green mash. Same with the tacos; those who went for the vegetarian version got dosed with a blast of chile heat. Maybe the meat-avoiders were being punked? The cabeza was spicy, not brutally so, and I was happy to have a chewy, substantial choice instead of some stewed San Loco/Calexico blahness.
Blossom I probably wouldn’t have chosen a vegan restaurant out of my own volition (though animal-free dishes are a step above raw foods) but others’ birthdays are like that. And the pistachio-and-pepper-dusted tofu was better than the sum of its parts. Probably because of the foundational crepe stuffed with a root vegetable puree and the thick lemon truffle sauce. It was more rich than austere. My camera photo was hideous enough that it decided to leave it out--I hate to give vegan cooking an even worse image.
Qi Bangkok Eatery I’m really not obsessed with Qi even though I do get a kick out of the Williamsburg location (I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it at least twice). It turns out that I now work a block from the one on Eighth Avenue so I had to take a peek. I was surprised that they also have a menu by Pichet Ong a.k.a. the “Bangkok Selection” (and that there are still peep shows in Times Square) but it’s not the same as in Williamsburg, no Ovaltine ribs, etc. and only available after 5pm. I just had the lunch combo, steamed chicken dumplings that were kind of boring but not bad and chicken basil chile stirfry that was spicier than expected for not having to ask for extra heat. $7.95 isn’t a horrible price (you could pay $13 for a takeout salad over here) for two dishes in a non-frenzied setting. I'll probably go back and just get a larb and a glass of Riesling (drunk lunch is my new midtown M.O.--don't tell anyone) You don't like chandeliers in lucite boxes and Louis Ghost chairs during your lunch break?
Bonefish Grill Ok, well, I am obsessed with Bonefish Grill. Twice in one quarter is a lot even for me. This is a weirdo location in Paramus that instead of sharing space with a fellow OSI brand like Carrabba’s is attached to a Crowne Plaza next to a mall. So it felt like I was on a vacation. There was no trout for my grilled fish with pan Asian sauce (pretty much soy, ketchup and oyster sauce) so it was scallops and shrimp instead. They did, however, have a new appetizer, white tuna, a.k.a. escolar, a.k.a. shit fish sashimi (that's seared) which I ordered because I’m wild that way. The seasonal sides have progressively gotten more creative. I don’t mean that chickpeas, spinach and turkey sausage is Michelin-worthy, just that it’s trying a little harder than the usual mashed potatoes, rice or steamed vegetables.
Ikea Horse-free, I think, not that I would be bothered by a little horse meat (apparently, the Swedes aren't either). I haven’t eaten in an Ikea cafeteria in years—when did they replace the boiled new potatoes with mashed?
All good things must come to an end, and after six year my office will be moving far away from Yip's, my favorite greasy-good by-the-pound lunch buffet. It was nice knowing you, $4.16 worth of salt-and-pepper squid, shriveled green beans, hunks of fatty pork belly and soggy zucchini in black bean sauce with all the chicken picked out by 1:30pm.
I'm off to the land of the bi-level Dallas BBQ and the new Buca di Beppo. The fact that there's one in the Excaliber casino tells me all I need to know about the Italian chain.
For the two or three readers interested in my burgeoning side project, The Middle Ages, I've moved it to a standalone blog. I have a lot to say on the matter and didn't want to distract from the food-centricity here.
And while I'm promoting my own stuff, why not go take a look at my assessment of Yooglers (Spanish frozen yogurt) and Vivoli (Italian gelato) on Serious Eats.
A combination of spring cleaning and semi-voluntary downsizing has forced me to revaluate all the crap I've accumulated over the years. And by crap I mean cans, bottles and jars of food purchased primarily for the labels. I'm keeping all the blue Pepsis, though.
First up, Jimmy's Chinese Style Beef Jerky, bought in a Canadian Chinatown who knows when--apparently, quite some time ago, based on this message string from 2006 about the brand's disappearance. Nice not-quite-pastel color palette (you thought I was going to type palate?) and unintentionally(?) retro graphics, reminiscent of a '60s travel poster. No, this box isn't quite ready for the recycling bin yet.
Saltie I'm extremely late to this tightly edited collection of mostly focaccia-based sandwiches (I'm still not clear how the little shop managed to fill an entire cookbook) because I never used to be anywhere near Metropolitan Avenue before 6pm and I am a sad person who tries to avoid bread and eschewing sandwiches is the easiest way to do that. You hear about the Scuttlebutt and the one that's mostly lettuce (don't think it's currently served) but the Balmy may be a sleeper hit. Like an American banh mi with the pate in the starring role, this hearty sandwich combines a thick layer of liver and shaved ham with pickled onions, carrots (and assorted other unidentifiable things) green olives, parsley instead of cilantro, a little jalapeño and swipe of mayonnaise. It's the soft bread (and lack of fishy component) that sets it apart.
Bien Cuit Once the bread floodgates have opened, there is no stopping. Even though I never once visited the full-service Smith Street location, I was excited to hear about the weekend bread-only pop-up, oddly situated on the ground floor of that odd narrow bright blue apartment building on Metropolitan near the BQE turnoff that looks like something you'd see in Amsterdam. I needed something grainy for an Easter butternut squash and kale strata, but ended up going with the sturdy baguette instead of the many-grain, which seemed too intense for what was essentially a breakfast casserole. What I really wanted in addition to eat with two pounds of Acme smoked salmon was a dark, chewy smorrebrod rye like they serve at Aamanns. Instead, I returned Sunday and picked up that seriously dense many-grain (buckwheat, wheat, millet, rye, amaranth and black sesame), which is described as being complementary to cheese, but works with gravlax and dilled sour cream too. Unfortunately, I underestimated its edibility and had to send a guest out for another loaf (plus a rye & sunflower, for good measure and to help make sandwiches of leftover ham).
The NoMad What do you eat when you've already tried the chicken for two? (Funny, this question came up this week because though I know it's a whole chicken, it really doesn't seem so.) You could order it again. Or you could jump all over the menu while slicing and picking at the freshly baked foccacia. The sweetbreads croustillant, a.k.a. eggroll-style are a little odd because they seem too naked, just soft innards in a shell and no sauce. Fun in theory, but they needed something more. The gratineed bone marrow with anchovy worked better (and though I'm contradicting what I just said, I kind of like my marrow plain and unadorned with nothing more than crunchy grains of salt). The lobster wasn't a disappointing chicken alternative, and light despite being bathed in rich buttery foam that had that nice subtle licorice quality from the fennel. The smooth white globe of ice cream in the coconut-centric dessert resembled a hard-boiled egg so much it was nearly distracting.
The debut issue of Israeli Playboy describes Playmate of the Month, Marin Teremets, as "the hottest and sweetest thing imported from America since the chain Cinnabon.” If this photo is to be used as evidence, the country has some unusual ideas about baked goods.
Like the Chinese embracing Friends a decade-and-a-half late, in 2013 South Africans are now getting a taste of KFC's breasts-as-buns, Double Down. Don't feel too bad for them, though, because they get a Hawaiian burger (pineapple! "Colonel dressing!") and no one else does.
I'd like to promise that this is the first and last time I ever republish a Hungry Girl tweet (I could always move on to Facebook where she's upsetting dieters by posting photos of fries from Gordon Ramsay in Tokyo). But damn if those Cherry Blossom drinks and sweets aren't pretty.
Next time in Tokyo, there may be a Dippin' Dots.
Photo: Cinnabon Israel via Facebook
Sweet Chick I would not say that Williamsburg, or NYC in general, needs another southern joint. How much fried chicken can a city stand (and I love fried chicken)? Battered, craggy and sticky with sweetened soy like the finest Chinese takeout, General Tso fried chicken, is a different story. Add a light rice waffle with what appeared by be chopped Chinese broccoli baked in and you have a fun blackboard special. Lest you think all this retooled Americana is a young person’s game (jerky fries? purple drank?) it was good enough for Canadian Pat Kiernan and family, who'd apparently made the block-and-a-half trek on a Sunday night.
Laut And then I (or rather my table-mate) spotted Ric Ocasek and Paulina Porizkova the following night strolling past our window. I only saw the backs of two tall, skinny people all in black. If an ‘80s celebrity marriage can last this long, it gives hope for the rest of us. Laut does the dreaded pan-Asian thing, mostly focusing on Thailand and Malaysia. Stick with the latter. The laksa and curry mee wouldn’t compete with anything you’d find in Queens or Chinatown, but where else are you going to get these spicy soups anywhere above 14th Street? Ok, I take that back—according to Menupages 12 other restaurants that fit that criteria.
Pok Pok And sometimes Brooklyn Thai needs to be experienced in person. Reports of smaller post-hype crowds may be true, but there is still likely to be a wait. In my case 45 minutes at 9:30pm on a Wednesday. Kaeng kradang, a chalkboard special described a cold weather curry, turned out to be a highly jellied pork terrine, feeling a little more French-Vietnamese than Thai (though I know it's not). I would eat this on a baguette rather than with finger-fulls of sticky rice. A duck salad and ribs with a pair of dipping sauces rounded out the meal, just right for two, despite the server’s warning that we had under-ordered. Keep your eye out for Columbia Street on a future episode of The Americans (you’re watching it, right?). Film crews had taken over a number of blocks near the waterfront. I did not see Keri Russell (who apparently owns a Brooklyn brownstone, as all celebrities big and small, minus Pat Kiernan, seem to).
Diner and Dumont While distinct restaurants, obviously, these two that I hadn't patronized since the early '00s may end up being Williamsburg old-timers as places like La Villita Bakery and La Borinquena get pushed out. In the days before 20-somethings regularly dined on entrees costing roughly their ages, $12 mussels and fries felt fancy (it was the mayonnaise in lieu of ketchup that clinched it). That was the only thing I ever ordered at Diner. Dumont still makes a nice burger. Supposedly, so does Diner but I’ve never tried it (nor the steaks). Because I may be a decade older but still not free-spending, I didn’t bother ordering any of the specials with no prices mentioned. I will admit that a squid salad with lentils and fennel and duck breast with farro and kumquats were definitely a step up from the bowl of bivalves.
Walter Foods Pretty much the newer but not that new version of the mid-20s people and prices place. Chicken, steak, pork chops--the standards--are all ok, but nothing that would explain why the restaurant is always so packed. While eating steak frites and deviled eggs, I realized that a Shazam for faces would be a valuable invention. Right before closing, a dude being filmed showed up and everyone seemed to know who he was. Then again, the room also appeared to be morphing into a private after-hours space, so perhaps the room was just filled with his friends celebrating his Kickstarter campaign.
Lodge I would lump Lodge right in with the above or not even mention it at all. It's always been a non-entity to me, a place with no appeal. But it was open relatively late on St. Patrick's Day (a blessedly low-key, non barfy holiday in these parts) and so I stopped in and had my frequent semi-boring office lunch, steak salad, but jazzed up with pears, walnuts and goat cheese for dinner. It was certainly better than Flavors and I give Lodge a leg up for playing My Bloody Valentine’s Ecstasy and Wine and Up For a Bit With the Pastels (neither on Spotify, annoyingly) both my driving to school in the morning music, taped from record to cassette, of course.
Frankly, I would visit an international P.F. Chang's sooner than a Pei Wei, but the question has been posed on Twitter.
Pei Wei has expanded globally! Has anyone visited either of our international locations in Mexico or Kuwait? twitter.com/PeiWei/status/…— PeiWei (@PeiWei) March 22, 2013
Maybe you’re familiar with CaliBurger? I am not. Two will be opening in China with the promise of “an environment that looks, smells, and feels like California.”
Three’s a chain, so Mission Chinese Paris, looking more like a reality, merits a mention.
On the uncool end of the spectrum, France loves fast food and is the second-largest McDonald’s market after the US. I don’t imagine the chain’s cherry tomatoes packaged like fries is contributing to its popularity.
SAT-style, Starbucks could eventually be to China as McDonald’s is to France. According to Chief Executive Howard Schultz, “"It's no doubt that one day China will become our second-largest market after the US and it's possible that, over many years, potentially the largest one.”
Wendy’s in Ecuador? Ok, why not.
Welcome to a new column, The Middle Ages. Don't get scared, but at some point you may be sitting in a bar with friends, same as ever, and when you look up from your whiskey you realize you are the oldest people in the joint—by a decade. Next step, you're swaying alone in the corner to '80s music, over-dressed, too much makeup. This is what Logan's Run was meant to prevent.
So, it turns out that I’m middle-aged. I didn’t think that happened until you were a divorced empty-nester (or in Brooklyn’s case, the parent of a toddler). Apparently, it can happen to anyone.
It appears that being a middle-aged woman means you no longer imbibe alcohol in public—unless you want to patronize hotel bars or wine bars, which I kind of don’t. Instead, I and some fellow grown-ups will be surveying the scene for the elusive drinking establishment where women over 39 (heck, I’ll take 34 to make the Millennial/Gen X divide clean) aren't extinct.
scene: Good Co., Saturday at 3:06am
The drinks: 1 3/4 gin and tonics in plastic cups ($5 each—that seems super cheap so I could be wrong, but I definitely got a wad of ones back from my ten both times)
Formerly Hope Lounge, possibly the only bar in Williamsburg resembling a Sheraton (which makes me wonder—does Hotel Jolie have a lounge because I would go), I believed it when warned by a fellow adult that Good Co. was “bad,” or maybe that was "horrible," and smelled like cocaine farts. And really, when was the last time anything good came from being in drinking establishment after 3am? (Unless you consider headaches and tears good.) I probably wouldn't have gone along with meeting friends (including one grown up) if the bar hadn't been a block from my apartment.
I was dumbstruck by the crew in Adam Ant face paint dancing to “(I've Had) The Time of My Life,” less because of the DJ’s schlock musical choices but because I was being presented with an omen. The weekend prior at duckduck (like a college town bar of no distinct geography where a beefy man with a silvery buzzcut and a lady friend with a mini ‘90s backpack, the future fate of everyone present, give or take 15 years, turned around and left as soon as they entered—not age appropriate) the mention of a cocktail called the Dirty Sanchez on the chalkboard spurred the invention of a hypothetical new act, the Adam Ant, involving white facial stripes. These kids were not only having the time of their lives, they were living the dream.
I sent a millennial over on a reconnaissance mission and she reported back, “I don’t think they know who Adam Ant is.” I bet they knew what corn hole, the wholesome bean bag game sweeping the borough, was, though. We can’t all be the middle-aged man in the blazer at a 2012 show, suited up in weekend warrior paint. This is where I would insert an animated gif of Chloe Sevigny cluelessly channeling Siouxie Sioux, with the text "sucksy sucks" on top, except that old people don't do animated gifs.
I also learned that gray hair (on men—women don’t allow that shit, which is a shame) is no indication of birthdays passed. The chubby white-haired guy flailing around in a Bad Religion shirt couldn't have been any older than 30. The women were all better looking than the men they were paired off with.
Additionally, even if you have deep creases spreading from your eyes to your fading hairline and are wearing a t-shirt, emblazoned with Bruce Springsteen's The River, you may only be 33 (or lying). And you might still home in on one of the older ladies.
When the lights came on and we were being aggressively shooed out before finishing our drinks, Duran Duran’s "Save a Prayer" began warbling. Music’s most poignant line, “Some people call it a one-night stand, but we can call it paradise,” failed to soothe. I handed a young man a cigarette out front while Springsteen approached my friend again and she yelled at him. No one night stands. No paradise.
I carded? Yes. Rules are rules.
Oldest person in the bar: 33, presumably.
Age appropriate? Most definitely not.
Photos: Aged Adam Ant fan via my own eyes, Dirty Dancing Screenshot via Blu-news.com
The above-mentioned plus is that it's not just a falafel joint, something it might be getting unfairly pegged as. Recently when deciding where to eat with a group, I suggested Zizi Limona because it wasn't likely to pose a seating trauma on a Saturday night. It was shot down with the supposition that a friend of a friend didn't want kebabs because she'd just spent the past few years in Iraq. No arguments in this case--Williamsburg is rife with all-American food; fried chicken, burgers and bbq for miles--but the not wanting kebabs argument could be a problem. For what it's worth, there are seven items in the section called Classic Big Zi's (as opposed to less traditional Big Zi's, Small Zi's and salads) and only one involves kebabs, served with a mysterious sounding black babaganoush.
I may try the lamb eventually, but other dishes give a fuller picture of the border-crossing style. Take the Tershi, Jewish by way of Libya, a naturally sweet, gingery pumpkin mash grounded with cumin and stewed chickpeas. I don't know anywhere else in NYC that serves it.
Or the bourekas, called here Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar, flaky pastry cylinders stuffed with non-traditional mozzarella and basil and moved eastward with almonds and honey.
A special featured chicken liver, rich, unadorned (I thought it might be coated and fried) and served with Jerusalem artichoke (or sunchoke, if you rather) two ways: pureed as a base and slivered and fried to a crisp as a garnish gone wild. Hit with thyme and Santorini vinegar, like a less sweet balsamic, this was about as far from a kebab as you could get.
Zizi Limona * 129 Havemeyer St., Brooklyn, NY
Le Comptoir It seems like just yesterday I moved to Clinton Hill, but that was five months ago. Now it's winter and I'm living in Williamsburg where there is easily ten times the number of restaurants and I may as well be a grandma. That's one reason why Le Comptoir seemed like an odd choice to be name-checked in the new rental's glowing ad copy. I wouldn't consider the bistro notable enough to convince anyone to move nearby and only went because I wasn't in the mood for a long Saturday night wait after a day of moving and it was empty (while Walter Foods next door was at capacity) at first, then filled with drinkers up front. I think they live on their all-you-can-drink weekend brunch. Service was predictably wonky and my Sazerac, which I only ordered because it was listed, was served iced like the Manhattans in Southeast Asia. My steak tartare with salad was fine, if not generously portioned for $11. A fallback, not a first choice.
BrisketTown I've still not experienced the primetime bbq (nor the just introduced lunch sandwiches) but during the day they serve the brisket--and you should get the brisket--in Austin-style breakfast tacos. The floppy flour tortillas make the creation feel more like an open-faced burrito. Despite tales of lines for dinner and running out before closing time, there was not another soul inside for the morning shift. Though the pulled pork and brisket look similar (I did not try the vegetable, the third offering) each had its own unique garnish: a slightly bitter cabbage for the pork and pickled red onions for the smoked beef. The latter, blended with scrambled eggs and chile sauce had the edge. I have never been to Texas so I can't speak to any authenticity--bacon or chorizo are the favored meats there--but the breakfast tacos have been given thumbs up by more than one Austin transplant.
Forcella Part of the 2011 montanara pizza craze that apparently has died down. And once again, we were the only diners on a weeknight (not a good trend). I like the concept--it's not as if they're going full-Scottish and battering and deep-frying the whole pizza--but it failed to deliver. The whole center was sog, defeating the whole purpose of the fry. I would've rather had a langos.
Maison Premiere A wild exception to the everyplace is empty experience. Arriving at 4:05pm for the 4pm-7pm $1 oyster happy hour was no prevention against waiting until 6pm until an iced tray of oysters appeared in front of me. Whether or not this was the result of a three-day-weekend Monday (I hope to god) or a normal Monday, I can't say. And the seating procedure was arcane, to boot. The initial 20-minute quote turned out to be just to enter the restaurant, which was already at capacity, and not for any guarantee of bar seating where you can order food (seats with ledges in the bar are drinks-only). Said prime bar seating is a free for all and predatory. If you wait another hour or so one of the real sit-down tables will eventually become available. Logistics aside, a buck an oyster is a good deal, and 18 varieties means you can get an education (I knew I liked Malpeques but the super briny new-to-me Beausoleil and Totten Island oysters were the best) even if it's unlikely that I would return anytime soon (or could unless I snuck off work early). The non-raw bar food is ambitious. Loup de mer crudo was precious in size, though brightly flavored with grapefruit and marcona almonds for a little richness. And I was not expecting a cloche and tableside saucing with the langoustine and sweetbreads, especially not as the large group of young men at the next table were doing their best impression of Dave Chapelle channeling Rick James by shrieking "I'm rich bitch."
OMG Taco Technically 11206 (and no, this isn't Bushwick) there is not probably any reason to eat here other than being very drunk and/or needing food on the same block as the Montrose L station.With that said, the bistec taco (pictured) could've been worse.
Taco Chulo There is not a strong argument to eat here either, though I have done so many times. It is useful for large groups with varying levels of interest in food--and there's no harm in a margarita and queso-drenched nachos every now and then.
I would have to wait a few months to include WD-50, but it would make for a worthy example. A lot can change in a decade. My last visit was at the end of 2004 before the dilemma of whether or not to act like a civilized adult and leave the camera at home was a thought. Back then I only used words, I talked about the food even less than I do now, I didn't do the tasting menu, and the restaurant seemed very upscale. I also thought I was too old to be drinking on the LES in 2004. Now, that’s a given and I’ve moved past it, so I hit Barramundi's happy hour first just like last time.
As to what upscale means now, WD-50 still is in price and intent, but as far as fine dining goes it's relaxed (I ultimately opted for the camera, obviously, and it was no big thing), service is just friendly enough and the chef was hands on in the kitchen, despite Alder's impending opening.
We're at a contrarian moment regarding tasting menus. I'll admit that I shy away from them more than I used to, but they have their place when marking the periodic special occasion (in this case Valentine's Day not on the 14th and not technically with someone who is my boyfriend any longer). Or when someone else is paying, of course.
I'm not so much of a nostalgist that I needed to dip into the vault, as they're calling the smaller tasting menu that reprises classics. I wanted the modern version, the only other option, that was introduced last spring. Some of the dishes still bear a resemblance to the original iterations (I was extremely relieved to see that the honeydew had been dropped in the chartreuse dessert, but I wouldn't have minded trying the root beer ribs).
I chose an Oregon pinot noir (after starting with a Rye Not?), Elk Cove's 2010 Clay Court, because lighter reds are solid fallback if you're going to stick with one wine for multiple courses, I have a soft spot for my home state, and West Coast pinot noirs made up a good number of the red wines on the list. Bizarrely, the couple next to use who only asked for "a red," were steered toward Oregon pinot noirs. Is it a varietal and region for beginners?
Nigiri, salsify, seaweed, sesame. Cream cheese and seaweed are turned into spheres that mimick the trout roe, and that's salsify not rice as the base. My original WD-50 visit prompted the created of the Eclectic/Internatial category because I didn't know where this food fell. I would be more inclined to just call it American now, sushi or not.
Sweet shrimp, 'pine needles,' chestnut, cranberry. A little Nordic, a little Christmas. Pine needles freak me out in a good way, and these aren't coniferous but crafted so they nearly dissolved in the mouth rather than offending with menthol chew.
Pho gras. One of my favorites, maybe because it's a play on a familiar dish. The rice noodles were almost superfluous; what mattered most were the foie gras torchon and beef tendon chicharron that could be doled out into the cinnamon-and-star anise-spiked consomme to melt and transform into a seriously luxe soup. The little dots of combo hoisin-and-Sriracha and microgreens only helped matters. No making fun of tweezer-style plating here.
Bone marrow, potato, pomegranate, pepper streusel. I liked the idea and presentation of this more than the reality. I may be mixing up where the potato and marrow end up, but if I'm correct the edible bone is made from the animal product and had a cartilagey, powdery quality while the invented marrow lacked the unctuousness the brain expects.
Bay scallop, pear, oatmeal-nori. Then again, this also played with that chalky texture in the form of oatmeal and it worked. I would never put a single one of these ingredients together, a blend that created a tamped down sweet-saline effect.
Pig tail, artichoke, olive oil jam, hazelnut. There's always a dish or two that slips past me. That description is from the website (somehow I didn't get the paper menu) but I'm not convinced that's what this was. Compressed meat, likely pork, yes, and there were definitely hazelnut overtones, but also lemon, and what looks like fluffy grated cheese and melting more like Monterrey Jack than parmesan, is bone marrow, maybe the bone marrow I missed in the potato dish.
Bass, squash, cherry, juniper, couscous.
Squab, tomato hummus, pickled turnips, tzatziki. I was not expecting Mediterranean flavors. "Green liquid falafel right on," as my disjointed notes read. I'll stick with that. There was also a pleasant livery flavor, likely from the game bird.
Flatiron, mushroom jerky, grape, verjus. The meatiest course was also the most straightforward. Dried mushrooms and grapes and the umami and sweetness they added weren't out of line with the thick cut of rare beef.
Coconut, cucumber, pineapple, chartreuse. The doom dessert that wasn't, though it still was startlingly vegetal for my liking. Barely sweet from the pineapple, it's a bridge more than a dessert.
Walnut, sweet potato, coffee, plum wine.
S'mores, bitter cocoa, meringue, blackberry. Ok, a real dessert. I don't always remember the sweet courses like the one above, but this one with the smokiness, chile heat, fruit tartness (I tasted cherry rather than blackberry) and gooey texture stuck with me.
Beer malt pretzel.
How many times (don't tell me never) have you heard the "I had to eat a Big Mac afterward," cliche used to deride the sorry effeteness of tasting menus? I have never ever had that experience, but we hit the McDonald's on Delancey (Shamrock shakes are back!) afterwards anyway just to make the trope complete. I wasn't hungry even an hour later, safely home watching The Americans , but it had to be done. What I took away after not having eaten this burger in at least two decades was that even if you're not hungry after a tasting menu, you can always make room for a Big Mac.
WD-50 * 59 Clinton St., New York, NY
I was getting a little concerned that the Middle East was hogging all the international Cheesecake Factories for itself. No worries (ha, why does everyone hate "no problem" and "no worries" so much?) Mexico and Chile (and possibly Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Peru) will see at least 12 locations in the next eight years. I do wonder if Mexico City, the first recipient, will put Mexico City Chicken, i.e. "fresh lime chicken breasts over black beans and chicken chorizo, with white rice and spicy tomato sauce. topped with roasted corn salsa," on the menu.
Brazil, Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic may not be seeing Cheesecake Factories any time soon, however, these countries will possibly be consoled by Darden brands like Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse. Sorry, no Bahama Breeze.
No one in Columbia or Peru probably asked for a Sbarro, but too bad. If the existing Mexican Sbarros are any indication, the other Latin American markets won't see a single nod to localization. The elusive Stuffed Philly Cheese Steak pizza survives south of the border, though.
Mexico City chicken photo: Lon&Queta/Flickr
While on my monthly suburban excursion, I thought Quick Chek’s new (to me) Breakfast Cheesesteak might be the find of the journey. Turns out Sonic, just down Route 1 a bit, has a Zesty Cheesesteak Breakfast Burrito. Two’s a trend.
But that was before I found party cake-flavored Peeps at Walmart. How does one make something taste like party cake? Not sure, but it’s that same synthetic vanilla, butter and maybe eggy quality that defines cake batter ice creams at places like Coldstone Creamery. The Peeps are covered in rainbow speckles to denote a party and their marshmallow guts are not bright white but pale yellow. Is yellow cake a party cake?
The Hormel Compleats aisle may be the saddest section at Wegmans. This was reinforced by the row of Healthy Choice’s Lunch Express taunting at eye level. I would seriously cry if my midday meal was a small plastic tub with a small portion of pasta or white rice and a quarter cup of goop waiting to be mixed in and microwaved (the cover as strainer is kind of cool, I suppose?). If you wanted to stay under 300 calories couldn't you just eat a bowl of soup or something? If anything, these packaged meals would probably benefit from a little horse meat to liven things up a bit. I am going to order some medicore sushi off Seamless now.
They do take reservations, unusual for a chain, and it's an amenity not fully advertised so it's great for pissing off people who've been waiting close to an hour for their beeper to go off while you get seated straightway (this is how you induce envy in the suburbs).
So, with said reservations at 8:30pm on a Friday, intentionally arrived early to scope out the bar scene. The restaurant, a former Carrabba's (there's also no Olive Garden in S.I. which makes me wonder if the Italian-American contingent won't abide chains) was far less bustling than its New Jersey counterparts. And while less crowded, it still felt understaffed. It took 15 minutes to get a drink, we weren't given the list of specials (I'm not going to order a White Winter Cosmopolitan anyway, but you should offer) and I was asked if I wanted the blue cheese olives in my "Three Olives" Martini (quotes, all theirs) a not uncommon New York-ism where you order something as described on the menu and then are asked what you want in it. So, yes, I want the three blue cheese olives. Of interest, they were serving Brooklyn Sorachi Ace and lager, a nod to NYC not found at Garden State locations.
I started getting panicky (ok, not really) when the bread and pesto dipping sauce didn't automatically arrive after being seated and I didn't see evidence on anyone's table. Once again, like the cheesey olives, we were asked if we wanted bread instead of it arriving by default. Why do they not understand that America is about excess? Would Red Lobster ask if you wanted Cheddar Bay Biscuits? Of course not because the biscuits are the only reason to dine at Red Lobster. Bonefish's warm cibatta is no Cheddar Bay Biscuit, but it's part of the routine. The loaf eventually came, but naked on a plate instead of swaddled in the usual white poly-blend napkin in a metal basket. Is this approved by corporate?
The signature Bang Bang Shrimp arrived minutes after ordering, suspiciously fast. And suspiciously soft.
I don't go to Bonefish for pin-pricks of sauce or tweezered micro-herbs artfully arranged on the plate, but I wouldn't mind a little symmetry. My Lobster Thermidor Dorado (a not bad mahi mahi filet smothered in cream sauce, crab meat and lobster claws) is about to escape off the plate.
True to form, they did play moderately obscure alternative songs (It was "Shellshock" that originally endeared me) that now sound adult contemporary like Echo and the Bunnyman's 1996 past its prime, "Stormy Weather."
On the way back to Brooklyn, a Cadillac exploded or I don't even know what and a flying hubcap shredded our tire. And then the flat replacement had a hole. I can't help but think that waiting two hours for AAA to do something (they won't rescue on the BQE, by the way; you must get your car up an exit onto a service road unless you want to pay extra for the tow) in teen temps (no surer way to sober up after a few Zombies) was a sure sign that suburban chains are best left to the real suburbs, just as a Dallas BBQ would make no sense in Westchester, a working theory that needed to be made concrete. Go try some of that Times-approved Sri Lankan food, instead.
Bonefish Grill * 280 Marsh Ave., Staten Island, NY
I still wanted to see what Three Letters was about, if only because Clinton Hill is a little new restaurant-deprived. I was not alone in my curiosity. At 7pm on a Saturday there was already a half-hour wait and by the time I was seated it was getting a little traumatic (many of the same people were still waiting for tables by the time we vacated). Buzz, they have it.
Meanwhile, The Wallace, just a ways down Fulton is always empty and now a daily deal staple (couples on both sides of my table, British, deeper-middle-aged and not impressed with Three Letters, and the two younger men who liked things fine, mentioned this dichotomy, one to me intentionally, the other overheard) which makes me feel bad because the food at the Wallace is solid and the newlyweds who run it seem earnest. It's just not a cool place.
Perhaps its the bar with a good number of seats and lots of inexpensive snacks, including everyone's must-have: pickles, as we're now all living in a "fried pickle environment." (About those pickles--I got into an elevator conversation with coworker I've never really spoken with before and it turns out she lives nearby, had gone on opening night and took issue with what was described as fried pickles on the menu being fried pickled vegetables, not pickled cucumbers, i.e. how the average American thinks of pickles, and got condescended to by the bartender when asking about it.) The prices don't hurt; the most expensive thing on the menu is $18 and bottles of wine topped out at $45.
Rissoles are like savory turnovers, and stuffed with venison are not wildly dissimilar in concept to Do or Dine's fawntons. Served with a smoked cherry jam, the $4 hors d'œuvre is one of those aforementioned bites that could be fun to nibble at the bar.
The smaller dishes had more appeal on paper, though I didn't get to fully test out this theory. Moules poutine, mussels, fries and gravy, came from the kitchen in a steady stream, landing on what appeared to be every table but ours (yet still made it onto the check--we were scolded for not saying anything about not receiving it sooner). So, not all French French, after all.
I never order the roast chicken, but thought I'd test out a basic, here called Chicken St. James and accompanied by grilled broccoli and a potato gratin, described as pommes alene. I got nervous when warned that it was "cooked to order" and would take 20 minutes, since I would expect everything to be cooked to order. I remembered why I don't order roast chicken unless it's pollo a la brasa: it's really boring.
The food, overall, is just ok. I'd rather eat at a French truck stop in France, but I wouldn't discourage anyone in the vicinity from stopping by (it's really a neighborhood restaurant, not the destination it was being treated as). I would go back if someone suggested it. I don't know that they will. The service could use a little softening around the edges, despite the allowances I can make for a super-slammed opening weekend.
Three Letters * 930 Fulton St., Brookyn, NY
La Antojeria Popular We'll always have the hole-in-the-wall taquerias (and despite what West Coasters argue, NYC has plenty of Mexican food that doesn't suck) even as flashier entrants come in waves. La Esquina to Hecho in Dumbo to Tacombi, and more recently El Toro Blanco, Salvation Taco and La Antojeria Popular, the latter being the newest offering from the owners of Taka Taka, the Mexican conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Soho. As the name implies, the menu is made up of antojitos, a.k.a. little snacks or "Mexican tapas," some more traditional than others. Pictured is a sampling (gratis, in the name of full disclosure) that includes the Guerrero (raw tuna cubes and mango tossed in serrano mayonnaise on a jicama round), Michoacan (chicken in mole sauce with toasted sesame seeds and crema on a corn tostada), Zacatecas (sirloin, salsa verde, chihuahua cheese, also on a corn tostada) and Tamaulipas (steak, beans, chihuahua cheese, pasilla mayonnaise--mayo is definitely a thing--in a pita sort of like a taco arabe). For obvious reasons the Oaxaca topped with crickets--a little salty and chewy, not so scary--and avocado on a blue corn tortilla, has gotten the most press. There is also a small selection of ceviches and sides like the Distrito Federal (a mix of shrimp, tilapia and beef) and Morelos, which are esquites (corn, mayonnaise, chile, lime topped with a square of queso fresco). Desserts include a flan with cajeta and increasingly omnipresent La Newyorkina paletas.
Pio Pio My favorite Peruvian chain. Ok, maybe NYC's only Peruvian chain (I guess there's similarly named Pio Pio Riko too?). The Matador Combo is $34 well spent, and minus the hot dog fries there's nothing terribly offbeat about Peruvian food, despite it winning the top "exotic" spot among US consumers surveyed about Latin American cuisine. Of course you get the chicken, burnished, garlicky and salty (I think soy sauce is a not-so-secret ingredient) and no matter how many birds they churn out (it will never not be crowded on a weekend night) still moist, plus salchipapas, everyone's favorite french fry and wiener dish, avocado salad, rice, beans, tostones, and the all-important green sauce (mayonnaise being the not-at-all-secret ingredient). I like the metal bucket crammed full of Heinz mustard and ketchup, even if I don't what the condiments are meant to go with.
Big Gay Ice Cream Shop So, I've never been. Some people think I don't like desserts, which isn't true at all. I just rarely go to sweets-only shops and never patronize food trucks or street fairs or carnivals or whevever it is that sugar is sold in multiple formats. The Salty Pimp with its chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream and salted dulce de leche is pretty perfect, and they even offer to put it in a dish for you, a flourish I like because I'm fussy (yes, a fork-and-knife pizza-eater). Don't go after 11pm, though, if you want something more elaborate like the Monday Sundae (similar flavors to the Salty Pimp but in a bigger Nutella-lined waffle cone and smothered in whipped cream) because they won't make it. And there was more of that Fany Gerson and her La Newyorkina paletas--she gets around.
Guy at end of the bar to guy on neighboring stool: "How do you say Tony Romo in Spanish?"
Answer: "Mark Sanchez."
The small separate but open-doored front portion of Jade Island devoted to drinking (not to be confused with the main event, a strip mall restaurant serving a Chinese-American Polynesian amalgam to 90% locals/10% Zipcar drivers) is really a sports bar that happens to serve tiki drinks. And to steer from bottles of Bud Light or practiced classics with mixes at the ready is to ask for trouble--or at least a suspicious glance. Don't even think about Batavia arrack or allspice dram.
I did not get that joke, by the way. And I'm not convinced that following football (I do not) ups the hilarity.
There may not be more than five patrons on a Friday night, but the odds are they will all be middle-aged men, not unfriendly, even the one who talks to himself and rides a bike, not for fitness or carbon offsets but in the way that grown men sometimes do in the suburbs, perhaps the result of poor decision-making, maybe due to a banning from the accepted mode of transport. They talk of Jose Tejas, the popular (I've attempted to go three times in the past year, most recently this weekend and can never bear the hour-plus waits. Chevy's is a compromise, but they do serve Bulldogs, i.e. margaritas with shrunken bottles of Corona tipped in) Tex-Mex restaurant on Route 1, in the nearby part of New Jersey, my favorite part, that blurs with Staten Island, despite the Goethals Bridge separating them.
Ask for a Harvey Wallbanger and invoke the wrath of the bartender, Chinese by way of Hong Kong, who may have been there as long as the NYC-mandated signs warning they will card, dated from the '80s (the restaurant, itself, can't be much older; it's not a mid-century relic). "Those are old drinks!" Never mind that those old drinks are listed on the menu. I knew better to even look at that section after an encounter with a jordan almond blue Grasshopper and being denied a Pink Squirrel on my first visit five years ago.
Even something as mundane as Jack Daniels, requested by a regular, has the potential for exasperation and consequential trip to the basement to look for a bottle. Like I said, beer or Scorpions.
Bartender: "How do you say Mark Sanchez in Spanish?"
Answer: "Tony Romo!"
Er, ok. You couldn't accuse the bartender of being entirely humorless.
Jade Island * 2845 Richmond Ave., Staten Island, NY
Taste Good Malaysian There are many directions you can go if you're a spicy soup to ward off a cold type: soondubu jjigae, hotpot, menudo (for some reason tom yum doesn't appeal) or Singapore laksa, a.k.a. laksa lemak, the rich coconutty style. Somehow the combination of heat and creaminess just makes sense for a sore throat. Elmhurst's Taste Good Malaysian is as good as anywhere to get a fix. Their version filled with bean curd puffs, half a hardboiled egg, chicken shreds, a few small shrimp, fish cakes, bean sprouts and fat, round translucent noodles is a meal in itself (always a problem because it's too filling to allow for any rendang, nasi lemak or sambal shrimp) though a shared roti canai and popiah won't hurt. I only regret having waved off the scrappy gentleman trying to sell a bottle of Robitussin in front of the Queens Adult Care Center on the walk to the restaurant because I'm still sick (the laksa didn't work, but it was tasty) and too beat to walk the eight blocks to the nearest drug store.
Die Koelner Bierhalle The Park Slope beer hall with a surprising amount of seating (communal, of course) is more for drinking and sporting, though a simple bratwurst and big plate of spaetzle and speck (not pictured) are fitting winter accompaniments. Just don't try to order the bauernwurst or you'll be steered away with "Nobody orders it. We're removing it from the menu." What's wrong with the bauernwurst?
Blaue Gans You could also get a bratwurst here (no bauernwurst, sorry) but it will be $7 more than in Park Slope. While relatively casual, Blaue Gans is still more of a sit-down affair. If you order the blood sausage, you might be asked if you've had it before. (Do you see a trend forming? During three recent meals--including Qi Grill, not mentioned here--I was essentially told that I didn't really want what I said I wanted, which makes me testy.) Or maybe the server just meant it's not presented in cased sausage form, but loose and molded into a circle. No one warned me away from the calves liver with apples and bacon, thankfully.
Cafecito Bogota If you find yourself in upper Greenpoint on Sunday during dreaded brunch time, you could do worse than an a la carte arepa (though feel free to order the $16.99 three-drink with food special if you're into mucho mimosas, sangria or refajo, an unseemly blend of Colombian beer and cream soda--they weren't able to make a bloody mary). The Cartegena comes with a big mound of scrambled eggs, shrimp and cilantro.
Hudson Yards Cafe This might be the most inoffensive lunch place closest to the Javits Center. Never mind that all the other badge-wearers (you've taken yours off, of course) are drinking iced tea and Diet Coke. Stick to your guns and down two pints of Stella with your fontina (spelled fontana) and prosciutto panini; it'll endear the older bartender who's also midday tippling to you. If you're a certain age being referred to as a "good girl" isn't offensive.
Taco Chulo I don't normally eat restaurant breakfasts (despite contrary evidence above) especially not on weekdays, but I had time to kill before looking at a nearby apartment (I didn't realize how many area restaurants are dinner-only) and rajas hash with chorizo was right on, greasy and yolky with a bit of heat. Of course when I showed up to the apartment on time, a twentysomething couple was also waiting even though their appointment was a half-hour after mine and so I was forced to look at their out-of-my-budget apartments with them (and vice versa). Why kill time, waiting your turn when you can just be a twentysomething in Williamsburg?
Ignore the chopsticks, order the small dishes and specialties, don't for the love of god be a couple who each orders one thing and eats it like an individual entree (the worst!) dig the statuary and ambient Asian boutique hotel chillout music while pretending you're at an upscale Bangkok restaurant for foreigners. Then laugh because you're in beardo Brooklyn. Whatever Qi is, it's not Fushimi.
"Do you know what tendon is?" is not what you expect to hear after explicitly ordering tendon. No one should be scared off because I suspect this is one of the more intriguing things on menu, if you know and enjoy eating tendons, of course. In fact, it's the first thing on the first page of the menu (from the list of Sripraphai-created small plates). The tendons are not thin strips more common to Sichuan preparations, but fatty blobs that are a chewy foil for the bright lemongrass and kaffir lime and creeping heat that's mighty. The roasted rice powder adds a toasty finish.
Minus the chile dipping sauce, there's nothing particularly Thai about the Ovaltine ribs from Pichet Ong's grilled selections. Rich with five spice--or at least star anise and cinnamon--the malty chocolate blends into combination that's almost Malaysian. Like rendang on a bone.
When you see verbiage like "Perhaps the spiciest Thai dish that NYC has to offer" it's hard to let the claim go untested. I've yet to encounter anything hotter than the brutal Southern curry at Sripraphai that no one should order more than once every half-decade, and the Fiery Pork Red Turmeric Curry is a little kinder. The split bird and dried red chiles are tamed by a soupy amount of coconut milk, though the heat is certainly on the serious end of the Scoville scale by Brooklyn Thai standards. Plus, I'm always happy to see those apple eggplants.
Noodles are always underwhelming, and the pad kee mao fell into that carby and comforting but ultimately unexciting category. A little chile-spiked fish sauce might have helped.
Qi Thai Grill * 176 Ninth St., Brooklyn, NY
If for some reason you are keen on such things, 2013 has already been a banner year for international chain expansion news.
Since I don't surf or really do beaches, I've not thought much about Costa Rica, but Technomic declares it a hotspot. It's good enough for Cosi, Moe's Southwest Grill and Smashburger.
Poor reading, i.e. skimming, comprehension led me to believe that "McDonald's takes on pizza for Italy growth spurt" meant McDonald's was going to start selling pizza in Italy. No. The only concession to local tastes described in the article is a ham and cheese sandwich.
Despite KFC's presence since 1987 Yum! Brands is losing its luster in China, along with Western fast food generally. Domestic brands like HeheGu featuring delicious-sounding "slow-cooked pork and bamboo shoots over rice" and Taiwanese chains like Dico with less delicious-sounding but highly creative "cumin-flavoured chicken fries and pineapple-chicken-mayonnaise sandwiches" are beginning to catch up with fried chicken and pizza.
Pakistan may not love our politics, but they do love our Fatburger...and Johnny Rockets, Hardee's, Cinnabon and Mrs. Field's. Of course Yum! has been there the longest--since the late '90s--minus Taco Bell as usual.
While KFC and Pizza Hut get all of the attention abroad, in 2010 Yum! did launch Taco Bell in India. It hasn't exactly won coverts so the menu will become 60% localized and vegetarian, an unusual move. Thing is, I thought that's what they were already doing. It seems like just yesterday we were hearing about Mexican paneer potato burritos.
Sure India has a middle class, but for most Domino's has been perceived as a special occasion treat. The company swapped out pricier mozzarella for "liquid cheese sauce" and voila: a 65-cent pizza. What I'd really like to see is an explanation for Taco Indiana Chicken (pictured above) described as "delicious oregano sprinkled crispy crust and a cheesy layer over seasoned minced chicken" on the menu. That's roti not tortillas, right?
I should omit this Washington Post link on principle for allowing "Vietnamese palette" to make it in. Starbucks has infiltrated Asia, but is just now getting around to Vietnam. Trouble is, the country already has an established coffee culture. It might be cool if Starbucks offered those individual metal drip filters and used a shitload of sweetened condensed milk for iced coffee.
Not all extensions are fast food. Brooklyn Brewery is coming to Stockholm and will likely cash in Brooklyn's caché. “Swedes love the taste of our beer, the name of our beer and the mystique of Brooklyn," said the brewery's COO.
Despite not trying a beef bacon burger at Dubai's Shake Shack, I was a little obsessed with the possibility of doing so next to a faux ski slope in 110 degree weather. The new Lupa in Hong Kong stymied me more than anything (is a lunch buffet true to form?)
Both of those examples were included in a New York Times article this weekend about the power of New York restaurant brands abroad (and I thought it was Brooklyn getting all the attention, from Paris to Texas and even Bangkok). BLT restaurants, upcoming Fatty Crabs, Michael White's Al Molo, and the fake Craftsteak (the company, Dining Concepts, which is responsible for the Tourondel, Batali and White restaurants in Hong Kong, also has a Nahm in its portfolio, which has nothing to do with David Thompson, a non-Keller Bouchon, and a Blue Smoke that may be Danny Meyer-approved but isn't explicit anywhere) also get mentions.
And yet there are even more NYC brands, some big, some small, that have crept beyond our borders:
In Dubai Magnolia Bakery is in a Bloomingdale's in a mall. I would've loved to hear if women in black abayas claimed to be "Carries" or "Samanthas," but cupcakes were not making a daytime appearance during Ramadan.
I have no idea what the Park Slope of Kuwait might be, but it's doubtful that breast-feeders and Mother's Milk Stout drinkers will comingle at the Tea Lounge's new Middle Eastern franchise.
Sarabeth's can be found in Manhattan and area Lord & Taylors, and now too in Tokyo.
I don't know that I would call The Brooklyn Diner (with its only two NYC locations in Manhattan, it already sounds foreign-ized and innacurate)an institution. In fact, I'd never heard of it before seeing the name plastered on the wall at Dubai's Festival Walk mall, just above a Jamie Oliver restaurant.
I must admit my favorite New York transplant is McSorley's in Macau because the layers of international intrigue are nearly unimaginable: an Irish bar in the East Village transported to a casino mimicking Venice from Las Vegas and re-imagined and scaled larger for a Chinese Special Administrative Region. The world should give up because Macau McSorley's has won.
While drinking a beer at dark wood booth, I watched a video slide slow on the wall-mounted TV showing a bag of rolls, brand name Jussipussy, and a small child with the caption, "Fuck milk and cookies, give me titties and beer." The B 52s and Jermaine Stewart played in the background. There were no frat boys, just a few Chinese couples not drinking beer. Drinking is not a big part of Macanese casino culture. Perhaps what happens in Macau, does not stay in Macau.
Nathan's Famous has spread from Coney Island to Japan, Kuwait, UAE and the Dominican Republic.
And while not typically associated with New York, at least in its contemporary form, T.G.I. Friday's, is the original local kid makes good. The singles bar turned flair popularizer has penetrated every continent on earth.
Onyx is plush and glossy, that mix of tufted banquettes, chandeliers, oversized chairs, damask wallpaper that's Vegas Versailles, but with unexpected glowing surfaces and space age metal wall installations that are more of a cold climate Miami. Somehow it wasn't too much. The diners were almost exclusively young couples from countries with even more favorable exchange rates (the menu is priced in Euros, not Forints) with a business dinner where the local underlings slowly nursed glasses of wine and laughed more than they had to at American khaki bosses' stories.
They do not skimp on the bread. The basket comes with butter, pork rillettes and fresh cheese. The wedge right in the center was mauve from red cabbage like a piece of Hungarian ube pan de sal.
A puzzle piece of squid is accented by dots of paprika sauce and a foamy milkshake, also red pepper.
Danube salmon, luke warm potato salad, crispy veal. That fried veal nugget showed up again. When I first encountered it at Csalogány 26, I assumed it was a creative touch, but maybe it has Hungarian roots, after all.
Marinated goose liver with plum textures. The puck of lacquered foie gras (you knew there was going to be goose liver--even pubs and mom and pops in Budapest serve it) was a lot of richness early on. If I could only eat one dish again, it would be this one, plus the bread basket. I basically want to eat nothing except fat and carbs for every meal.
Hungarian sturgeon caviar with cauliflower puree, vegetables, “black soil.” Thankfully, the vegetable patch came next. I don't actually know what the dirt was crafted from; I was more preoccupied with the world's tiniest melon hiding out near the caviar.
Mangalitza marmalade with lentil foam, and charbroiled mangalitza loin with lentil. It wouldn't be a survey of Hungarian cuisine without the beloved mangalitza. As often happens, the meatiest course shows up when you're fuller and less appreciative.
The foam, with more of a pea soup body, got its own plate--and dark breadcrumbs.
Intermediate dessert of forgotten ingredients.
21st century somlói sponge cake. On the final night of my week in Budapest, I was now on my third version of somlói. With a thick layer of real, dense chocolate, not syrup, this non-traditional style was my favorite.
Now here is where it gets weird. The staff was mildly obsessed with getting people to try the tableside Chemex coffee service. No one was biting. I kind of wanted to peek at what was on the bar cart I'd seen making the rounds earlier, so I had sour cherry palinka first. Maybe this upset the balance and order?
What I really wanted was the petit four cart. Throughout the evening it has been wheeled up to everyone's tables and I'd stealthily looked to see how many treats they'd take (diners get shy when given no limits) and make a mental note of which I wanted. The lavender marshmallows, for sure. Also, the mini canelés.
The coffee is done with flourish on a portable induction burner. I'm truly not a coffee aficionado, no Portland roasting obsession ever rubbed off on me. Do you know what would've went well with the coffee? A lavender marshmallow.
And that was it. No treats (minus the box of two you're sent home with). Did they run out? Were they trying to close? At this point, not yet 11pm, there was only one other couple in the dining room, another anomaly since I didn't consider 8pm an unusually late hour to begin an evening meal. They were not brought the sweets cart either, but a plate with a small selection on it. In hindsight, I should've just said something. If you're paying hundreds of dollars (this was very much NYC-priced) you don't need to be a mignardises martyr. This exact situation played out during an Eleven Madison Park lunch back before they went four star, and it soured me on them; I've never wanted to go back. It's not the note to end on.
On the way out the door we passed by the candy cart, well-stocked and taunting.
Onyx * Vörösmarty tér 7-8, Budapest, Hungary
I didn't take real photos because I was trying to be in relaxed enjoy-your-meal mode instead of obnoxious tourist mode. And then it happened that we were seated next to the other Americans (isn't it the worst how Americans never want to be anywhere near another American abroad?) walk-ins, a young woman in yoga pants, Toms and a $260 sweater (she said so) with her bro friend and an SLR.
The amuse and my first course were both pressed meat. In fact, the chosen dish was called presskopf, which turned out to be a fat-encased slices of pig's head terrine accompanied by chopped pickles and sliced radishes. The crisp-skinned sea bass was in a completely different vein, but also had a tart and briny flavor from capers tossed into the risotto.
The third dish bridged the Eastern European and Mediterranean with polenta and more composed meat. A veal tenderloin comes with more veal, cheeks, cubed, panko-crusted and fried, reminiscent of the pork nuggets at totally American Char no. 4. For dessert I chose the cheese plate with a puree of walnut, the chestnut paste of Hungary. An extra sweet appeared. Despite the presence of cookies, it was more of a breakfast--unless you consider Farina-like porridge with dried fruit a traditional dessert.
On the walk back to the subway--cheap, super efficient and old-school Soviet with doors that slam shut so violently they'd easily chop off a limb--you probably won't miss the glowing parliament building, which I assumed was yet another castle. It's impressive at night, and probably more so when captured by camera that's not an iPhone.
Csalogány 26 * Csalogány utca 26, Budapest, Hungary
I'll admit I kind of liked complaining about Carroll Gardens (and I did so with gusto--there's a grocer/sandwichery that called me out on citing them three times--Google alerts, clearly--in my blanket overhype condemnation). But as they say, love it or leave it, and so I did. There's nothing worse than whiners who don't take action.
And I can be honest and say that there's not a lot going on over here in my far northeastern corner of Clinton Hill (and technically none of what follows is in Clinton Hill--you don't really need to hear about the perfunctory sashimi and Caribbean snacks and melon cocktails I've encountered). But at least there are no illusions. A majority of the restaurants on Court and Smith streets were/are mediocre, and despite perfectly good meals at Buttermilk Channel and Frankies, I see no need to wait over an hour for a bowl of pasta or fried chicken anywhere.
So that said, my standards aren't as stringent in these parts. It's like in high school where there was a class called Reading and the students did nothing but read books on couches amidst a bunch of potted plants because they had bad grades and were underachievers. Ok, my standards aren't that low; I'm just saying there are different measures of success.
Dictated by the neighborhood made up of Pratt students, old-timers, public housing inhabitants, and yes, the errant brownstone dweller (I don't think the Hasids play any role) the dining options tend to be inexpensive and un-ambitious. The new busineseses all seem to be burger joints or wifi cafes, which don't mean much to me. The Wallace, which is more upscale, is already using Scoutmob and was recently on Blackboard Eats, which aren't typically good signs even though I've been known to use both. I assume Lulu & Po is still going strong (I need to revisit) and I haven't heard a peep about Prospect since it opened.
(I was going to say that the white bougie family influx hasn't hit hard yet, but just a few hours ago a preschooler sat down on the barstool next to me and then her Scandinavian-accented father asked her if she wanted to have her birthday party at "the new house" or in France. He then told her Bono was "a nice guy" after she failed to pay proper attention to the song playing that I didn't recognize. "I like it," she said. "You're not even listening!" he replied, but softly, not snappily because he was foreign.)
Brooklyn Bird Opened a few weeks ago to zero bloggy fanfare, this diner-styled restaurant that feels more suited to takeout is nothing special (I do feel bad that no one ever seems to be in there) but it's a block away and they serve food until 4am. They are advertising beer and wine coming soon. Plus, they've created a lesser-known-regional-fare trifecta with their upstate New York spiedie (nearby Speedy Romeo and Brooklyn Koalache Co. round out the mini-trend with St. Louis pizza and Czech by way of Texas, koalaches). I just tried a grilled cheese (cheddar and gruyere) sandwich with bacon and truffle oil. Of course, it didn't really need the truffle oil. I may be inclined to try the ghost pepper hot wings and that chicken spiedie some late night soon.
Dough It's only a block from the nearest subway station, but it's still a solid 12-minute walk from my apartment, so it's on the fringes of what I'd consider "my neighborhood." It's not like Dough is a secret; they made a name for themselves at the Brooklyn Flea. But even for someone who rarely eats doughnuts, I can say unequivocally that it's the best $2.25 you'll spend for something of the raised yeast variety. (It took me three months to finally walk over there, and the main reason I did was to break the twenty dollar bill I had on me to tip the Fresh Direct driver who was arriving in less than an hour. Mildly related and good to know: the 99-cent store on the ground floor of my building--yes, I live in the same structure as a discount store and it rules--advertises an atm that distributes $10s, but I only wanted to tip $5.) Tart frostings are kind of their thing. I'd had a hibiscus doughnut before, and the passionfruit is in a similar vein. What sets it apart are the cocoa nibs that give it a bitter crunch. The dulce de leche with slivered almonds is more full-on sweet and makes you want to go back to sleep after eating it. That is not a criticism.
SCRATCHbread Another five minutes southeast from Dough and unquestionably in Bed-Stuy (I'm a newcomer and I already know that Classon is the cutoff despite brokers pushing Bedford as the dividing line). I didn't fully get that Scratchbread is doing crazy things until I actually ate a few baked goods. The sticky buns may look innocent, but there are a million things happening. I'm still not completely sure what. The bread itself is wheat-y and vaguely wholesome, and then the caramel isn't particularly sweet but burnt and spicy--both hot spicy and cardamom-spiced--and there are more of those cocoa nibs. I kind of just wanted sweet caramel and pecans. If you're going to go this direction, though, I bet you could do a cool caramel with fish sauce.
I also picked up a loaf of the bread custard, but it wasn't the seasonal loaf I'd seen mentioned elsewhere. I do think the guts were soft from roasted squash, but instead of rosemary there was sage and there was no trace of prosciutto. Instead, two cheese-filled red peppers had been stuffed into the bread like little Crater Lakes, almost treading into foreign Pizza Hut territory. It was a Christmas Eve hit, of course.
Lola f.k.a. Chez Lola. I guess the former bistro and Myrtle Ave. pioneer is now calling itself a gastropub? The revamp entails new cocktails (too sweet, though it was my own fault for ordering the Brooklyn Beauregard, essentially a whiskey sour with Jim Beam Honey Tea Bourbon and St. Germain) and a move towards American cuisine, meaning Canada, US and Mexico. The menu sort of reads like a Kitchen Nightmares overhaul: pared down, nearly foolproof to prepare, a bit of repetition, but overall inoffensive. Canada is represented by a duck poutine, which is a glorious drunk food (I wasn't drunk, though). The fries, cheese curds and confit could've use a little more gravy it was decided. I love a thin crust tarte flambee and their goat cheese, onion and bacon version was ok. A salad of smoked chicken, apples and cashews wasn't really more than just that. They do serve late for the area, until 2am, and nothing is over $20 (most is under $15) so there is an appeal if you want something other than pizza or Chinese in the immediate vicinity. And I think they still do a $15 all-you-can-eat mussels deal on Thursdays, so there's that. They're also on Scoutmob, by the way.
Writing about a Christmas dinner is about as useful to anyone as the typical brunch-focused Yelp review (you don't eat brunch, right?) so I will keep this brief. Often restaurants serve a holiday menu that's not representative of what they normally make--last year Red Rooster went highly Scandinavian. Fatty 'Cue kept the cue, but played it straight American. Perhaps galangal and coriander would offend baby Jesus' sensibilities.
The only Asian flourish was the sweetened fish sauce served in a plastic squirt bottle alongside the spicy barbecue version. This condiment was my favorite aspect of the meal, and perfect for the thick slices of brisket, righteously fatty by my standards, too much so for my dining companion. Take heed if it's not your thing because I'm fairly certain the Brandt beef is always served like this. If you hate lean pastrami, white meat turkey or chicken breast, you will be fine.
The pork ribs were hefty, and while eating one sauceless and cold the next day I noticed the overt porkiness that I'd missed when they were fresh. Not name checked, but I'm guessing they're not from Western Beef, my go to for meat slabs.
Collard greens and mac and cheese were straightforward while the red cabbage slaw was lightly creamy, but not from mayonnaise.
Slices of pie were available, but a Coors and a shot of Jack was enough of a send off.
Fatty 'Cue * 50 Carmine St., New York, NY
Not exactly a shocking expose (it's touched on here) but if I took away one thing (in disgusting business speak, "a learning") this Christmas, it is that The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an American, or more specifically NYC Italian-American invention. Oh, and that Home Alone is a popular Christmas movie in Italy with a title that translates as Mama, I've Lost the Plane.
Facebook planning for a Christmas Eve get together involving a bunch of Italian under-35s (what do you call millennials in Italian?) just ended up stumping them when the hostess mentioned the party would be "BYOF" since she was only serving three kinds of fish. Representing geographies from the top to bottom of the boot, no one had ever heard of having to eat fish on Christmas Eve, let alone seven of them.
Then again, anyone abroad could just as easily assume Americans all crack open peppermint pigs for Christmas.
I do love that there is a Feast of the Seven Fishes comic book.
Bock Bisztró with locations on the Buda and Pest sides, as well as in Copenhagen, takes its name from winemaker József Bock. Consequently, the list is 100% Hungarian and includes the winery's full range. It doesn't take oenophilic expertise to sort through the K's, Z's and accent marks to spot Chardonnay or Syrah, but the number of local varietals--Furmint, Kadarka and Irsai Olivér, for instance--was surprising (and a little overwhelming). I got into the Kékfrankos, a.k.a. Blaufränkisch, while there. Simple, fruity and a little spicy, the red managed to be pretty all-purpose.
The Mangalitsa fat was something I definitely wanted to order from the aperitif section, and then it magically appeared on the table with a basket of bread (no charge, I'm fairly certain). Everyone had the butter substitute on their tables, so either it's extremely popular or a courtesy. The pork fat is smoky with bits of crisp skin and chopped chives mixed in, and even better with a touch of sea salt sprinkled on top.
More Mangalitsa pork came in salami form, spiced with paprika. The prosciutto was good too, but the crumbly sausage was more distinct. Rich meats are often served with Hungarian peppers, which aren't wildly spicy, though if you say they aren't, you'll get looked at like you're crazy, and raw red onion, which to me is far more difficult to down in such quantities than the chiles.
All the pork will make you full, but persevere. While the printed menu comes in Hungarian, English and German, the most common trio, the daily specials on a chalkboard above the bar, are only in Hungarian. Some lean traditional; others are more invented. I was able to make out one featuring goose and soft-shell crab, which seemed so oddball that I had to order it.
The goose was tender and falling apart, more like roast beef than poultry. Looking at the plate now, I want to say that soy sauce and star anise were involved, but that's probably because it's how I would cook the goose in this situation. The swipe of curry powdered sauce and side of fat rolled rice noodles greased with sesame oil is making me think Asian when really the goose component was traditional. Frankly, I don't know that this hybrid dish would stand up out of context. It's not something I would ever order in NYC, but I liked it in Budapest.
Dessert was a poppy seed cream served with a flaky pastry and raspberry sauce. I've said that walnuts are big in Budapest, but so are poppy seeds.
I'm still wondering what the "bizarre ice cream selection" entailed.
Bock Bisztró * Erzsébet Körút 43-49, Budapest, Hungary
I had no idea that open-faced sandwiches were a thing in Austria. (Denmark, sure.) They are part of the draw at Zum Schwarzen Kameel's lauded bar, which I didn't have time to visit. With minutes to spare at the train station, I picked up the chain version from Trzesniewski, a fine enough stand in.
Choosing based on looks alone, I ended with chopped salmon, paprika (in the Hungarian sense where paprika is the spice and the red pepper, itself), mushrooms and pickles, bolstered by cream cheese and hard boiled eggs, all on thin dark bread. More like canapes than fast food, the dainty wedges classed up the train trip back to Budapest.
Trzesniewski * Multiple Locations, Vienna, Austria
Last week got away from me. I wrote about smorrebrod at Aamanns, a new Danish offshoot, for Serious Eats, and also contributed to Real Cheap Eats' latest batch of reviews (yes, I have an obsession with Yip's).
This was also a super chain-y week. Everyone got caught up with Pizza Hut's Double Sensation and Brazilian burger joint, Bob's, using edible wrappers (no idea who mentioned it first, but I saw on Springwise) "Starbucks Evenings" expanded (not to be outdone by Club Applebee's) while Darden realized that no revamping will draw youngsters to Olive Garden or Red Lobster (and yes, that "Dinner Today, Dinner Tomorrow" campaign was confusing, right?)
And on Craigslist a "small restaurant from Barcelona" is looking for waitstaff for something described as "50's Americana meets Barcelona in the Lower East side." What?
It's hard to say whether wacky chain restaurant pizzas were on the increase in 2012 or if the amount of online coverage just made it seem so. Had blogs not heard of foreign Pizza Huts in 2011? Then again Yelpy PR-driven dining events (Um, "I'm not complaining, I'm just saying" tells you all you need to know) which seem more rampant outside the US, or at least NYC, are probably a factor, as well.
The Singaporean "Double Sensation," is the latest attention-grabber. And yes, the two crusts, alfredo sauce and maraschino cherry are hard to ignore. So too, is much of the tropical city-state's Pizza Hut menu.
Five things you're not likely to ever see at a US Pizza Hut:
I love how so many Asian countries are fearless about combining cheese and seafood. I'm all for it, and the pairing reaches its pinnacle with this bold fusion that would be the first thing I'd order. Classically Singaporean chili crab is presented in soft shell form and mixed with fake crab, pineapple, tomato, buttered rice and melted mozzarella.
I draw the line at warm mayonnaise, though. We all have our personal boundaries. The Ocean Catch also relies on crab sticks, pineapple and tomatoes, along with tuna, squid and shrimp--all atop lime mayo.
While American Pizza Huts still feature salad bars, in Singapore the roughage is more composed--and willy-nilly. The Fruitty Prawn Salad takes obvious favorites like shrimp, mayonnaise and pineapple and puts in mangoes, strawberries, rasins and almonds just because they can.
A roasted chicken leg isn't so odd, in and of itself, but touting the "garlic cheese fondue sauce" and its positioning on the Western Favorites part of the menu with overtly British fish and chips just makes one wonder which Western country claims garlic-cheese sauce a favorite? They lose all credibility with Americans with the glaring omission of ranch.
On the other hand, Munchie Mouse seems aggressively American with its Oreo ears and mini M&M eyes. We have Hershey's Dunkers and Cinnamon Sticks, which I'm pretty sure are just dough scrap desserts.
Photos: Pizza Hut Singapore
BurgerBusiness declared black buns one of the worst trends of 2012, citing offenders in China, Japan and France. Thailand also has two specimens that I’m aware of (and I'm hardly an on-the-ground Thailand expert so it’s possible there are more): gastropub, The Smith, and Casper Burger, a fast food joint that used to be in Bangkok's goth mall and is now at Plearnwan, a made-to-look old-timey tourist attraction in Hua Hin.
It’s as if Casper knew spooky squid ink was already passé. For Christmas, the restaurant has concocted red and green buns made from spinach and beets (I refuse to type or say beetroot). I’m also fairly certain that the patties aren’t beef, but battered pork cutlets. Who needs tradition?
Classic Darden brands, Olive Garden and Red Lobster, aren't doing so well, especially with youngsters who love "unusual, exotic, organic or local ingredients" (like those found in specially formulated Campbell's soups that only millennials can taste) so the company is banking on its Specialty Restaurant Group even though that portfolio of five chains only makes up 5% of all Darden restaurants.
What are they? Upscale, ostensibly healthy Seasons 52, the only choice available to New Yorkers, Capital Grille, (curiosity-seekers should know they're on Savored) Bahama Breeze, where I may been quoted the longest wait of any chain in my life, Yard House with gussied-up bar food is on my list, but the closet location is in West Nyack (at the Palisades Center where I did try a T.G.I. Friday's a hundred years ago) and I prefer my chains in New Jersey. And lastly, Eddie V's, which is completely new to me and conjures up Eddie Van Halen or Eddie Vedder--you know, guys popular with Gen Y.
So, you know I totally want to go. Eddie V's describes its experience as "The world's freshest seafood, masterfully prepared, and served against a backdrop of cool soulful jazz." Ah ha, music does play a role! Sadly, there won't be any Pacific swordfish steaks with fresh Jonah crab, avocado and red chile vinaigrette in my immediate future because the nearest one is in Texas where there are six locations (La Jolla, CA and Scottsdale, AZ each also have one) and they are meant for under-35s apparently, despite resembling a hotel steakhouse and not serving any soups with crazy flavors.
Photo credit: Eddie V's Houston
Gasthaus zur Oper, airy and modern and nearly Scandinavian in feel with its blonde wood and white on white color scheme, is not necessarily where you'd expect to find fried cutlets. Or where I would, at least, having imagined the traditional dish in homey but dowdier surroundings.
And their version is top notch: a wrinkly golden-crisp exterior with no trace of grease, pan-fried in clarified butter. Though pork is popular in the US and veal is traditional in Vienna, and definitely the most-ordered thing at Gasthaus zur Oper, this specimen happened to contain thinly pounded liver. Yep, liver. The schnitzel treatment works well for the strongly flavored organ meat; it can take the breading without disguising its true nature (I was originally given the veal ordered at my table and there was no mixing up the two after first bite.)
The cold potato salad was in a light, refreshing style, tart with lemon juice and creamy without the use of mayonnaise with minced red onion for a little more bite. I've never eaten schnitzel in its natural habitat (Berlin being the closest) so the accompaniments were surprising: lingonberry jam for sweetness (I thought that was more Nordic) and a glass bottle containing a mysterious sauce that turned out to be concentrated pan drippings, beef, I'm guessing. Gravy and berries work just as well for schnitzel as for Swedish meatballs.
Gasthaus zur Oper * Walfischgasse 5-7, 1010, Vienna, Austria
Sundays are not typically for dining-out in my world, but it turned out that Aska was a perfectly suited end cap to the week. After a hazy week of holiday party drinking and the accompanying cheese plates, skewers and trays of cookies, it was refreshing to dine on composed plates of light food instead of buffet grazing (unless you've been attending parties serving moss and roots).
The $65 tasting menu, $20 more than previous pop-up incarnation, Frej, is still a good value. And a wine list with bottles starting in the $20s also sets the easygoing tone. Service and execution is friendly and polished--not to feed into a cliche, but finding both in Williamsburg is a rarity.
The Bond, described as similar to a Vesper (but using Pineau des Charentes and Swedish punsch instead of Lillet) was crisp and aromatic but not so much that it distracted from the opening amuses, both containing puffed, fried skins, one pork, one pike. The non-fishy one came with super-Scandinavian sea buckthorn (grown in Maine) and strip of dried pig's blood that resembled jerky but was textured more like frico (a scabby frico, but sure).
Warm caraway-studded rye rolls and a yeasty flatbread with a powdery white cheddar quality similar to Smartfood were in the bread basket.
Shrimp, cucumber, dill, rapeseed oil was straightforward, like something you'd find on thin slice of rye.
Broccoli, mussel, seaweed looked straightforward, single floret presentation, aside, but the saline flavors were less usual. It's the crudite you might find at that mythical moss-and-roots party. You aren't given utensils for this course, by the way.
Potato, onion, mackerel was mostly about the potato, still shining through a blanket of sour milk foam.
Squid, turnip, purslane was my favorite, partially because of the painterly composition, and also because it exemplified the muted style of cooking. Muted (grilled squid, raw root vegetable) but not dull (fermented weedy herb).
Salsify, lichen, autumn leaves was the most challenging, and probably the most overtly forage-y. (My half-assed illegible notes that I didn't start taking till this point read: "dirty bitter seawater.") It reminded me more of a medicinal soup, a little hippier than Chinese.
Pork shank, apple, sunchoke was satisfying with the fatty cut of meat contrasting with the austerity of the former course.
Tart whey and torn sorrel leaves transitioned from savory to sweet.
And Cardamom, brown butter, hazelnut was a conventional dessert--not a leaf, flower or herb in sight--that felt more warm and grandmotherly (not my grandma, mind you) than cool Nordic. The spiced ice cream and crumbles were delightfully salty-sweet.
Aska * 90 Wythe Ave., Brooklyn, NY
So, heeding local advice was more important than ever. Kéhli came recommended, and indeed, it was exactly the type of restaurant a resident might suggest to a visiting colleague. There were mixed groups, clearly business associates, speaking the alternating English, German and Hungarian common in Budapest. The food and decor is traditional and homey, a live "gipsy" band plays nightly (when you reserve you are asked if you want to be seated near or far, which is highly practical. Far, thanks) and yet it's not cheesy.
They are known for something called hot pot, which I would've ordered even if I hadn't been told about it ahead of time, simply because it shares its name with the communal Chinese preparation. At Kéhli, it's a deceptively rich soup, appearing as a vegetable broth at first glance into the red enamel crock that's de riguer in Budapest, yet upon first scoop light meatballs and cubes of tender beef appear.
What's unique are the accompaniments: a big marrow bone with a metal spear for scraping, and a basket of garlic bread, meaning thick slices with whole cloves sticking out on toothpicks.
Being in the appetizers section and well priced (like $10) we assumed this would be for one when really all of the portions are more than enough for two. Same with the goose liver, which was less like pate, and more like, well, cold, fatty liver--nice with sweet onion jam and raw peppers for the first few slices, but a little relentless thereafter.
I thought that I didn't like stuffed cabbage because I hate rice cooked into things and tomatoey sauces with ground beef. Ok, no one has served that mix of things to me ever, but it's how I imagine stuffed cabbage to be, conflated, perhaps with horrible '70s weeknight stuffed bell peppers. No, this cabbage was a vehicle for pork, gooey knuckles and other odd bits, reddened only with lightly hot paprika and brightened with cream. And it was awesome. I need to track down a similar style in NYC--all the versions I see are Polish or Russian, which are exactly my nightmare cabbage rolls, though I do wonder if this version is just an anomaly and not representative of a Hungarian standard at all. (This afternoon I got excited, stumbling upon a Slovakian recipe...and yes, more ground meat, rice and tomato sauce.)
This was only half of the serving, by the way. I'd originally ordered it for myself, not realizing how big it might be until we were asked if we wanted two plates. The anecdote on the menu, detailing how the restaurant's owner was born big and is still formidable in size, thanks to stuffed cabbage, should've been a tip off: "The feast was so good for the mother’s stomach that Mr. Cecei was born a whopping 5 kgs, and he has continued to grow to this day, until he now has expanded to weigh over 100 kilograms." And yet I was still not put off despite not lacking a dinner goal of getting to 220 pounds.
Somlói galuska is everywhere Hungary, and you'll encounter it in fast food as well as high end versions. Though all slightly different, the basic premise appears to be different sponge cakes topped with custard, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Walnut is also a prominent flavor in this and in many desserts, because really, walnuts are the peanuts of Hungary.
Kéhli * 1036 Mókus u. 22, Budapest, Hungary
I don't spend a lot of time in bagelries, so maybe they all have display cases that look like they belong in a gelato shop and not just the one across the street from my apartment? Wild crimson and rosy cream cheese aside, I'm more concerned about the mint chocolate chip trompe l'oeil with a placard that says blueberry. And this is coming from someone who adores green food dye. (Emerald is Pantone's 2013 color of the year, you know.)
Also, it saddens me that no one (online, at least) has tried making a gelato sandwich with bagels instead of brioche.
And because I have an unshakable grade-schooler devotion to the color green (do adults care about best friends and favorite colors?) the most important piece of this Demel discovery was that that there was a place in the world serving a bright green cake shaped like a dome and that one day it would have to be eaten by me (and that there are no copyright-free photos demonstrating this amazing pasty case with the green cake on Flickr--not that that has ever stopped anyone from using my photos without even an attribution).
Unfortunately, on my last-minute visit to Vienna (Budapest was already a spur of the moment idea with little research, and I hadn't realized Vienna was less than three hour away by train) the green cake was not on display. I don't imagine it's a greatest hit, especially when competing with more famous sachertorte or dobostorte.
Instead of a glorious whole confection in the case, there were just a few errant slices and a dummy cake up on a high shelf in a dark glare-proudcing glass cabinet.
I had heard nightmarish stories about being seated upstairs after a very long wait in line, having to fight your way back down to the main entrance to pick out your slices and have them written down for you to bring up to your waitress (they are all women) and then wait for the sweets to arrive.
There was a poorly organized line that was being cut with no consequence, however, the wait wasn't more than five minutes and there is a young woman with a selection of cakes in an annex on the second floor (in the American sense--I can't call something up stairs the first floor) so it's not that much trouble. There would've been trouble if a green slice was absent, though.
I could make out the very un-German, casatta, and still can't determine the name of the browner, cookie-adorned and gianduja-fillled slice I also picked out (above). Who cares? It's not green.
Ok, casatta? That green slice is totally Italian, or more specifically Sicilian, and a staple of many NYC bakeries, often as mini cherry-topped single serves. There's nothing Viennese about the fluffy sweet ricotta center suspending candied fruit and surrounded by a layer of liqueur-soaked sponge and a smooth blanket of almondy marzipan. I traveled blank miles for something I could've gotten in Carroll Gardens? (Or at Ikea, sort of. Princesstårta has a different flavor profile, but also is a bulbous torte covered in green marzipan.)
Maybe the casatta has been adopted as an ode to the oxidized domes of the Hofburg Palace across Michaelerplatz from Demel.
I guess the non-Austrian nature of this cake shouldn't have been so surprising. Wienerschnitzel, the most iconic dish in town, is essentially scaloppine. Now that I know the green cake is Italian, I want the best casatta (green-only) in NYC. Villabate? Where else? Now may be the rare instance where I regret moving out of an Italian-American neighborhood.
Demel * Kohlmarkt 14, Vienna, Austria
Photo of Demel sign via bestbig&tucker on Flickr
Even though I spent a good part of Black Friday pondering new cameras (and ankle boots, area rugs and cat sweaters) and --what do you think of mirrorless?--I've begun to rely on my camera phone way more than I'd like to admit. Accordingly, here are some not-all-beautifully-shot photos from my week in Budapest with a jaunt to Vienna.
Even as taking photos of one's food has become an easy target for mockery, there seems to be an exception among "real" photographers and travel writers--I'm not calling anyone out specifically, though it's commonplace on travel blogs and pops up on Twitter--for food markets in foreign locales. Huh? Isn't "food markets are the soul of a city" nearly as much of a trope as "____ is a city of contrasts?"
But I wasn't seeking to make art or looking for a window into the hearts and minds of Hungarians. I only wanted to see what might be good to eat at Budapest's Great Market Hall, just me and my iPhone camera. Note the Mexican flag on the sign hanging from the entrance--chiles en nogada with their red, white, green, isn't so different than stuffed cabbage highlighted with sour cream, tomato and greenish Hungarian wax peppers, also a nod to a flag with shared colors.
Goose cracklings. Goose is big in Hungary; the big bird's liver is featured in restaurants both high and low, and canned foie gras was commonplace at market stalls and even at duty free. (November also happens to contain St. Martin's Day, a new-to-me holiday that entails eating goose in multiple courses.) Liba, a.k.a. goose, is one of the only Hungarian words I learned to read.
Even this beefy stall, has cracklings in the lower left and cans of goose liver in the case on the upper right.
I would've assumed that the piles of fried skin in plastic tubs in butchers cases were all pork rinds if I hadn't chanced upon this entry mentioning libatepertő (there aren't a lot, or any Hungarian food blogs written in English. Chew.hu looked promising, but hadn't been updated since last December).
As has happened more times than I'd like to admit, I always mix up grams to ounces, and the extra math of converting a foreign currency, in this case forint, furthers the confusion. I ended up with a pound of goose cracklings, enough to fill a small pillow--could you imagine cracklings instead of feathers and down?--when I only wanted a handful to sample. Yeah, the young man working the counter did give me a funny look when I asked for half a kilo, but everyone in Budapest shoots nervous-making looks. Service with a smile is not a thing (not that anyone is particularly unfriendly either).
The crackling miracle was that the nubs of goose-bumped skin and fat, some with bits of dark meat attached, not only stayed crunchy, but lasted a week at room temperature, stuffed in a plastic shopping bag in the hotel closet (nowhere near the biggest food crime of frozen horse meat unthawing and bleeding all over the contents of a minibar fridge in Montreal) and an additional week in a Brooklyn fridge, to be served at Thanksgiving traditionally with a generous amount of salt, sliced red onion, the other Hungarian fave (one can only stomach so much raw onion), and untraditional jalapeños in lieu of the milder yellow-green peppers they consider spicy and sometimes are. Ignore the pickles on the left, but do take a closer look at the onion plate--it has a face.
Mangalitsa pork, the extra rich and fatty meat from curly haired pigs, is premium both here and in Hungary, the difference is that being a native breed there, it's everywhere you look.
It's in spicy, super oily sausages, served with no more than a dollop of sweetish mustard, that can make a normally self-conscious solo diner more self-conscious while chomping at a bench next to the garbage cans where the cleaning women smoke. With paprika as the dominant spice, the pork sausages bear more than a passing resemblance to chorizo, except that I've never encountered such large portions for one in Spain.
Lángos is essentially fried pizza (Neapolitan montanara doesn't own the style) and at its most basic is topped with sour cream and mild shredded white cheese. There is a menu that none of the staff appears to adhere to, combo-wise or price-wise; instead, they ask what ingredients you'd like piled on top from a series of metal containers separated by glass, Subway-style. That's how I ended up with sausage and more red onions than I'd bargained for. Even if the price balloons beyond the listed 700 forint, it's inconsequential--that's only $3.20. (If you want to get drunk and eat cheesy fried dough in NYC you are in luck--there's lángos at Korzo f.k.a. Eurotrip in South Slope.)
No one orders the #7.
However, there was a Mexico tourism promotion occurring on my first visit. The performers weren't at their post.
There were Coronas and tequila, as well as tacos, sopes and quesadillas being prepared for sale. Only 400 forint a taco.
Sadly, it was a week too early for the big Christmas market that was setting up what is called Fashion Street, an open-air mall. Touristy as they may be, they're fun, at least the ones were that I encountered in Berlin last year, though it may be the glühwein talking. (The Germans are more hardcore, adding shots of rum or brandy to their mulled wine, as well as still smoking everywhere indoors and having no rules against drinking in public or on public transportation.)
Luckily, a smaller collection of stands were open along the pedestrian arcade behind the city's two major hotels, across from the Tommy Hilfiger shop. From the fifth floor of the Le Meridien, in a room overlooking the row, I could hear the muffled voices on the ground each morning.
Of course there was Mangalitsa pork.
And just regular sausages with potatoes. We accidentally ended up with two massive links (one not fully cooked) when we only asked for one. I don't expect the world to speak English, so these things happen (well, not uncooked food).
Szittya buci (translated as Scythian bun) is a sandwich cooked in old-timey wood-fired stoves. I don't imagine the average Hungarian still uses these. These anachronisms are all in the fun of the Christmas market. Give them time, and their youth will rediscover old methods, cooly repackage the experience and charge double.
Bacon, with lots of sour cream and red onions, of course. Tomatoes cost extra (hot peppers and cracklings were also available add-ons).
I regret not getting to try the kurtos before this stand closed (businesses shut down early, at least in the tourist zone--we were snapped at for trying to walk into a closing bar at 11:40pm) which I initially mistook for rotisserie pork. It's a hollow cake that gets burnished by fire and rolled in cinnamon and sugar.
Chao Thai has always been my favorite Sripraphai alternative (Ayada is in that pantheon too, but I'm less fanatical about them then others) even though there's that one server who's smarmy about not giving you the requested spice level. I was hoping he'd remain stationed at the original, but there he was at the highly staffed Too (though oddly, not taking orders).
The menu is bigger and now formally includes a lot of the dishes that used to be on hand-written scraps of paper taped around the room. At the old Chao Thai their take on the crispy watercress/morning glory salad was always mysteriously unavailable even though always on the wall. Now, here it is, massive with crisp greens on the right, soft shrimp, squid and mussels on the left. The coating on the greens here is puffier like a beer batter, the cashews are crushed instead of whole and the shredded green mango was unexpected altogether. I like all salads of this ilk, but always compare them to Sripraphai's, which could be a mess, but is one I encountered first and always prefer.
Portions are generous, and in this case the crispy pork dominated the green beans. I think they just gave us all the remaining pork bits in this rich pad prik khing because it was getting late. The table that arrived after ours looked at our plate and gave us dirty looks (no hyperbole) after being told they were out of pork belly.
I'm not convinced this was pad kee mao. I would've sworn it was pad thai, but it was darker than the pad thai on others' plates and there weren't any peanuts in it. More sweet than hot and with those skinny rice noodles, it was the oddball of the evening.
Crunchy fried catfish rounds with Thai apple eggplant and bamboo shoots, on the other hand, was the biggest hit. Bony and crazy hot with lots of bitter krachai, it's not as accessible a dish as some of the others. Whole fish preparations are easier to love, but the catfish hunks have a snackable quality I enjoy.
In some ways Zabb Elee's existence is more welcome because Queens is already rife with good Thai and the East Village isn't (sadly, my new Clinton Hill Thai situation may be even worse than in Carroll Gardens--and no, Pok Pok isn't in Carroll Gardens [or Red Hook]).
And it's highly unique. The number of papaya salads, alone, is impressive, and with combinations I've never encountered elsewhere. See my new entry about som tum kortmuar (green papaya, pork cracklings, Thai sausage, eggplant, fried fish and noodles) on Real Cheap Eats.
The brightly flavored duck larb included varying textures of the roughly chopped meat, itself, as well as crispy bits of skin that were mixed in. They may not initially believe you if you say you want your food hot, but they will oblige if you insist you can handle a four (out of five). A five is probably brutal.
Chao Thai Too * 83-47 Dongan Ave., Elmhurst, NY
Zabb Elee * 75 Second Ave., New York, NY
Where you risk courting the most criticism is when attempting to cook your non-native cuisine on its home turf. Like Andy Ricker may get some shit over Pok Pok, but it's not as if he's an American running a Thai restaurant in Thailand. Jarrett Wrisley is with Soul Food Mahanakorn (well documented here) though he manages to sidestep drama since he's more restaurateur than chef--and it doesn't hurt that the restaurant is pretty likeable.
Kill me, but I'd describe Soul Food Mahanakorn as the Pok Pok of Bangkok (I'm shocked that Google only turns up two "the Pok Pok of..." hits--neither for Soul Food Mahanakorn) by which I mean that both are casual with decor that nods to Thai pop culture and serve a curated selection of dishes that are nearly unbastardized, yet appeal to a specific western sensibility. That translates to snacky small plates of organic, responsibly sourced wings, ribs and sausages, and cocktails crafted with bitters and egg white cocktails, as well as Thai aromatics and herbs. Nice.
Your typical all-in-one grapow with a runny fried egg, but using roughly chopped lamb. This was particularly good because the meat had a little wok char.
Who wouldn't order a salad made of fried chicken? This yam with all the requisite shallots, mint, lime, fish sauce and chiles, reminded me of a similarly odd dish they used to made at more oddly named VIP@ Thai Cuisine in Carroll Gardens. The Brooklyn version was served with the meat pulled from the bone and tossed in and didn't have the green bean and cabbage garnishes. Both have their merits.
Pork belly and kale! This is what I'm talking about when I'm talking about specific Western sensibilities. I wanted to see kale in a Thai context, except that I'm fairly certain the kale mentioned on the menu was not the green that arrived on my plate. This is Chinese broccoli and crispy pork, right?
* * *
Nahm is a different beast (and technically a chain since there's an older Michelin-starred London location). This year it became the 50th best restaurant in the world, which I know doesn't sound so impressive compared to Spain's continued dominance of the single digits, but it's a feat for the only Thailand entry.
The project of Australian chef, cookbook author and Thai obsessive, David Thompson, Nahm is more of a classic fine-dining draw. I suspect that the average patron is not there to experience obscure ingredients or lost-to-the-ages preparations, they just want to eat at a good looking restaurant in a stylish hotel.
For instance, the similarly aged, Brooklyn-ish (yes, kettle black) couple we were seated next to were unfamiliar with, non-obscure mangosteen and durian, and ordered the latter because they were charmed by its descriptor as "the king of fruit." Yes, they learned a lesson (frankly, I don't get the big stink over durian--it's not that foul) but I don't they were at Nahm to be schooled.
Expensive for Bangkok, but stellar value by NYC standards, the 1700 baht ($55) set menu with five courses, each with vast choices (nam prik, soup, salad, curry and stir-fry/steamed/grilled dish) plus desserts, is really the way to go. After the amuse and canapes (above: smoked fish, peanut and tapioca dumplings; grilled chicken satay with peanuts and tart chili sauce; coconut cup cakes with red curry of crab;
spicy pork with mint, peanuts and crunchy rice on betel leaves) everything shows up at once, Thai-style (which took me by surprise the first time I encountered it at Bo.lan, a similarly minded restaurant run by Thompson proteges).
The array is both dazzling and overwhelming with portions that initially seem dainty but nearly push you over the edge by the time the sweets arrive.
If I'm giving the individual dishes short shrift (I am) it's because I always find tasting menus daunting to blog about to the point that I just don't anymore (not without weird OCD regrets--I'm still torn over not taking photos or blogging about Reinstoff in Berlin, the only upscale meal I ate during last November's vacation). But I'd still like to convey the style of food served.
The most memorable dish (with the least illustrative photo) or rather seemingly incongruous group of dishes (we were trying to think of American things that would be equally nonsensical together--chicken, waffles and syrup? Cincinnati chili?) was a nam prik/relish that pushed the limits of sweet, fatty, fiery and bitter. In front is mess of very spicy prawns and oysters, covered in shallots, chiles and a floss of some sort. This was accompanied by a small dish of caramelized nuggets of pork belly and a small deep-fried fish with raw vegetables and herbs like long batons of almost menthol galangal. The intense flavor of the rhizome made it very apparent why substituting ginger like Westernized recipes often recommend, wouldn't work.
This is the kind of recipe that I would read about, want to eat, but wouldn't even bother to attempt because of the steps involved. Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook (a Christmas present from last year that admire but from afar) has nothing on 688-page Thai Food.
Soul Food Mahanakorn * 56/10 Sukhumvit Soi 55, Bangkok, Thailand
Nahm * Metropolitan Hotel, 27 S. Sathorn St., Bangkok, Thailand
"Lunch was catered crew lunch from the Cheesecake Factory. I’m not a fan of the Cheesecake Factory menu. Like, it’s authored by Tolstoy, it’s so long. I find it maddening. However, I do think that the food is pretty good. We had chicken potstickers, shrimp spring rolls, teriyaki and orange chicken, and red velvet cheesecake."
--Questionable humor aside, Mo Rocca's Grub Street Diet raises a very important question--Cheesecake Factory caters?
Food-wise, Macau is known for egg tarts, jerky, suckling pig and pork chop buns--at least those are my associations. On my previous two visits to the former Portuguese colony Tai Lei Loi Kei's well-known pork chop bun eluded me because it's one of those classic chowhoundish follies: off the main tourist drag, super-specific hours, long lines and daily sell-outs. I never made it over to Taipa Village.
Except that now the tourist-packed enclave abutts the ever-expanding casino district, Cotai (a portmanteau of the two neighboring areas: Coloane and Taipa) that barely existed when I was in Macau in 2008. It also turned out that hallowed Tai Lei Loi Kei was right across the street (granted, a major multi-lane thoroughfare) from the sprawling Galaxy complex where I staying (and wasn't allowed to see the world's largest rooftop wave pool because of post-typhoon storms, not even a peek) an exemplary illustration of the collision of old and new/local culture and Americanization that I enjoy so much. And yet I still did not get my Tai Lei Loi Kei bun...
Uh, not yet, at least.
There was a Lord Stow's Bakery, however--another example of a once small local business (selling egg tarts, in this case) getting modern and mall-y. They also have branches in Japan, Korea and the Philippines.
The casino food court was highly impressive, though, with the same false summer blue sky and gondola-filled canals as in Las Vegas--just a hell of a lot bigger overall. Seriously. The biggest in the world with 546,000 square feet vs. Vegas' measly 120,000.
Plus, there was a frat-free McSorley's that kind of blew my American-brands-abroad-loving mind.
So, the morning before heading back to Hong Kong we took the hotel's free shuttle bus to Taipa Village, which was, yes, just across the street. They don't make it easy for pedestrians in a lot of modernizing cities, which is why there was also a shuttle bus to The Venetian, across another street on the other side. Maybe the oppressive humidity and sudden bursts of rain also contribute to the aversion to walking? (Keep in mind that 99% of the tourists are Chinese, not the stereotypically lazy, blobby Americans everyone hates.)
Thinking I was shit out of luck on Tai Lei Loi Kei, original spot shuttered and not yet open in The Venetian, I sought out San Hou Lei (one of many other pork chop bun purveyors--they're not that scarce) and ended up with a pork chop sandwich on crustless white bread instead. Language barriers, they are legitimate.
There were some cute howling cats pacing in the front of the cafe, though (sadly, you can't see them with the window glare).
On the subject of cats, a souvenir-shopper down the street had a shirt that I wanted.
Not to be confused with a cat in a shirt I encountered in Bangkok a few days later. But this is about Macau.
There was a curry pork chop bun stall along the main shopping arcade with a name I couldn't read because it was only in Chinese.
The sandwiches couldn't be more simple: a thin grilled pork chop, this version sprinkled with curry powder, on a Portuguese roll. I add chile oil to mine. Unlike the McRib, there are actually bones in the cutlet.
Next door was a cafe selling civet poop coffee. I couldn't taste anything radical in this expensive $6 cup, but when presented with the opportunity to try kopi luwak you must partake.
A container of beans cost the equivalent of $168. Pre-digested coffee does not come cheap.
After dawdling and trying two unintended pork chops between bread, we realized we needed to get back to the hotel to catch a shuttle to the ferry to make it to Hong Kong by 8pm (yes, pork chop buns are what caused me to miss my original reservation at The Chairman) and in the rush back guess what we found, merely a block from the crosswalk (the only such concession to walkers on the entire busy road) leading straight to The Galaxy? I would've gone on day 1 if knew it was so close (Google Maps couldn't find it).
Tai Lei Loi Kei, totally open, and well before 3pm, the much publicized time when buns supposedly become available. Internet, you lie. Partially out of fullness and a little out of spite and heat exhaustion, I didn't even bother buying one. At this point I was over Tai Lei Loi Kei. I will never speak of Macanese pork chop buns again after this post.
Look, a sign advertising a branch in The Venetian.
So, when I read about free-range chicken from The New Territories and soy sauce brewed in Kowloon, I pictured communal salvaged wood tables, subway tiles and cocktail programs because I've been in Brooklyn too long.
In reality, The Chairman is just a restaurant, a little upscale, neither flashy nor run-down (crab art on the walls!) with good service (shockingly affable for Hong Kong) slightly away from the hubbub of Long Fai Kwong at the end of a quiet street with no outlet.
The absence of abalone and shark's fin on the menu (they'll make them if you want them) also gave me pause, in a good way. I almost skipped The Chairman due to my ambivalence about Cantonese food, particularly on the higher end. Status markers like the aforementioned duo plus XO sauce and birds nests aren't for me, and the austere purity of a double boiled soup or barely sweetened desserts teeming with legumes are above my head. I can't appreciate a glossy arranged plate of mushrooms and bok choy either.
Normally I hate over-explainers, but it was a novelty for a Chinese restaurant. The service was unusual (they also accommodated a last-minute switch to Sunday night--many HK restaurants are closed on Sundays--when a travel snafu caused me to miss my original Saturday night reservation) in that our server, an older gentleman with a British name, seemed genuinely excited about the food, describing everything and being helpful by suggesting half portions unprompted when we showed interest in items that would've been too big for two.
We just had tea, in other words, no drinks, which is unusual for me at dinner on vacation, but I don't travel well and it was that thing where you're so tired that drinking has no effect (I'd had Sazeracs beforehand at no-vowel, kind of pricey, The Blck Brd, which was in a more Brooklyn vein, oh, and four hours of unlimited champagne at the Intercontinental brunch).
Our baby pigeon was missing its head, an omission that may have been intentional to protect our delicate Western sensibilities (photos I've seen online are beak and all). Headless or not, the little crisp bird was smoked with longjing tea and served with pickled onions, a non-Cantonese touch that balanced some of the richness. There was also a chrysanthemum component, though it blurred with the green tea flavor (also, I don't know what the flower tastes like).
Fresh flowery crab with aged shaoxing wine and fragrant chicken oil is a signature dish, and rightfully impressive--look at that face. The mottled crustacean arrives assembled but already cracked, behind ripples of fat rice noodles. Not an easy chopstick dish. The sauce was strongly winey yet still smooth, pleasingly bitter and borderline fermented, just a little funk, almost like nothing I'd tasted before...almost, half-way through I realized it reminded me of fondue if fondue could be creamless. If your eyes were closed, I'm not sure that you'd recognize this dish as Chinese. Combined with the flakes of crab meat and the noodles, it was like the idealized seafood pasta I never actually get from an Italian restaurant. I was resisting my American urge to clean my plate and trying to be more New York by leaving noodles behind to save room for the rest of the meal (four-hour brunch, remember) but they wouldn't clear our plate. The remainders started getting cold. The staff seemed concerned. Eventually our server came over and divvied up the uneaten noodles and scraped the roe clinging to the crab shell onto our plates. Rookies.
We would've felt guilty not ordering vegetables. There were like fifty different types of mushrooms--that bacon-looking blob is fungi--and freshly shelled peas in this dish.
This is a half-order (they were bigger than they appear here) of the spareribs coated in caramelized black vinegar and preserved plums and garnished sweet potato chips. It's a fancy sweet and sour sauce, and therefore, pretty lovable.
This was one of my favorite meals during my quick stint in Hong Kong because the food and approach, a mix of humble and high-brow with an emphasis on ingredients over glitz, isn't really like any restaurant I've experienced there.
The Chairman * 18 Kau U Fong, Hong Kong
Allswell. Being open till 11pm is not late night dining, not in NYC anyway, and it's always bothered me, especially on weeknights when maybe you want to go out to eat at 10:45pm and the pickings are beyond slim. Allswell serves real food until 3am, not whole menu, but it's something. These hyper-crispy head-on shrimp in a Meyer lemon sauce and duck rillettes were pre-midnight, normal menu items. The burger, fat and meaty (with cheddar and bacon, both add-ons) and perfectly pink inside, can be had any time. The fries were an abomination, though, if you hate wet and oily thick-cut fries like I do. Steak fries are the bane of my existence. That's the worst part about pub burgers, which this appears to be emulating. Bring a friend who likes fat, mushy fries (they exist!) and let them go wild.
Ganso. With ramen I often give the same disclaimer I use with barbecue: I'm neither a fanatic or expert. Obviously, I like both and have opinions, but I can't speak to what a broth's correct flavor should be or the specific pH of mineral water needed to produce the ultimate noodles. Frankly, I just like that there is a ramen shop in that odd pocket of downtown Brooklyn near the IHOP. The short rib buns weren't anything remarkable, and a little mesclun-y (I did not try the short rib ramen pictured, but love the idea that each broth receives a different noodle, subtle and thoughtful) but the spicy miso ramen with thinly sliced pork belly, Chinese broccoli and a soft-boiled, soy-infused egg was winsome, if not a little gut-busting (I always find that Asian noodle soups of this size put me into a coma). I will be even more happy about Ganso being there when it becomes cold enough to better appreciate the ramen's warming and filling properties.
Mayflower. A miniscule moderately new bar affiliated with neighboring Aita, a corner Italian restaurant I may never visit because I rarely eat Italian food (unless you count pizza). Some might call it a speakeasy (signage was recently added). Jonathan Ames was there on a date, at least I think so, I don't like staring at people. The bartenders (who can get overwhelmed when at capacity) are weird about bitters: on one visit none were used in a Manhattan, on the other I was asked whether or not I wanted them used. Would it be too hyperbolic to say that a Manhattan without bitters is not a Manhattan? Still like the place.
The Wallace. Along with Prospect, it's one of two new upscale restaurants to open on Fulton Street. I figured I should try one of them, and the main reason The Wallace won out because it was slightly less expensive (entrees in the low $20s vs. high $20s--now that I live in new shiny condo, no complaints, I'm going broke buying things like shades for ten-foot-high windows). There's nothing radical going on, food-wise or with the decor (one might get the impression this was another tin ceilings, Edison bulb joint, but the interior is oddly generic like it could've been a suburban Italian restaurant in a previous life--ok, it was Caribbean) just solid, well-seasoned New American dishes with French foundations like crispy pork belly on a bed of lentils with braised greens, the latter an unexpected slight Southern twist, and tilefish with a potato gratin and beurre blanc tinged with saffron. Manhattans are on the cocktail list and bitters are used, no question.
Il Porto. When I was assigned to review this Italian/pizza place for nymag.com after it opened a few years ago, I thought it was in the middle of nowhere. I guess it still is, though now that I live down the street and that the scary-seeming (not just to me) Navy Yard Cocktail Lounge has been gutted and looks like any generic storefront for sale, the block seems less isolated and off-putting. With that said, it's not a destination unless you're already in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill. The wood-fired pizza is pretty good (arugula, prosciutto and parmesan is popular) though the floury, barely charred and nearly flaky crust that I happen to like probably isn't the pinnacle of Neapolitan pie-making.
Bangkok has more than a few strange businesses-naming trends (I'll save Something Story, as in Fat Story, the bluntly ESL plus-size shop in the now-gone Suan Lum Night Bazaar, for another time). The most prominent is Something by Someone (Caffe Nero by Black Canyon Coffee, as pictured here in the background of The Pizza Company). I'm not sure if this has to do with the way the Thai language is translated to English or a desire to sound upscale.
If you spend enough time trolling Sukhumvit's endless malls (a touristy strip that's starting to rival Singapore's Orchard Road) instead of doing whatever it is you're supposed to do in Bangkok you may learn an interesting thing or two. (Like if you want to see The Dark Knight Rises, you'll first have to stand and watch a video about the king's life while the royal--not the national!-- anthem plays. Also, the US may be the only country without assigned movie seating.)
Terminal 21, the airport-themed shopping center that's probably bigger than some actual airports (with a harrowingly long escalator that I blame for making me anxious and caused me to put a sample frosty taupe nail polish on my lips, thinking it was gloss) has an astonishing array of Something by Somebodies, though only two, the ones I've linked to, are food establishments.
Hers by Sopida
Stella by Jolie Robe
Yourburry By Aew
PAUSE BY 30 SEP
Jikkaroo by Hara
Chichi By One Bed Room
Squeeze By Tipco
Krit By VolumeX
Yamato By Yu-Raku-Cho
21 by aoom
OPA by Apinya
PETA BY BELDA
ZEMI-OH-TICK BY BON_BELLE
New Sky By Medicos
SUSRI CC BY SUSRI
Three Design By Prayong
Yentafo Krueng Songe By A.Mallika
BB Center By Zirtel
Bar Phone by Duet
And the crowning glory: Fat by Fat!
Just around the corner from LadyPhat (which doesn't fit the By theme but is glorious, nonetheless).
They were doing the shrimp cone thing on my previous visit to Bangkok in 2010.
This time? I'm not sure. Is a soft floppy crust that exciting? I may be missing the point of this promo.
This time I wanted a taste of the homegrown, and that meant The Pizza Company. It's the Thai Pizza Hut. This particular branch was in the MBK mall, others are delivery-and-takeout-only. (There are alternatives to American imports. Black Canyon, for instance, is the local chain that competes with Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.)
Pizzas and pastas are equally popular; combos are available and most parties order both. Seafood and spice both play major roles, as shown in the pad kee mao spaghetti, a logical fusion of drunken noodles with Western pasta. This was not bad.
Pan pizzas are called "personal" in the US for obvious reasons. The diminutive though bready quarters are meant for one. In Thailand it is suggested for up to two diners. Two slices of shrimp, mussels, fake crab, pineapple and chiles on thousand island dressing is probably more than enough for most Americans anyway.
I don't know what the ketchup was intended for. Also note the turquoise Bubblegum Sparkling beverage. Caffe Nero glowing in the background is a Black Canyon offshoot. Offshoots are big.
Do not be fooled by the old white guy (this was also the only place where I encountered American Spanish-speakers in two weeks in SE Asia and the Middle East) The Pizza Company is just as popular with Thais as tourists.
The Pizza Company * Multiple Locations, Bangkok, Thailand