Friday, May 11, 2012

NYC Food Roundup, Part II

First, another housekeeping note. Blogger's new format is driving me completely nuts. Thanks, Google, for being evil and all. Every time I try to write a post, I descend into a fog of epithets and grumbling and, occasionally, fist-shaking. I actually had to insert html code throughout this post so there would be distinct paragraphs. WTF, Google? So, someday soon, if I am not feeling lazy, I will move this blog to Wordpress. Just a heads up. (If you're listening, Google, consider this a threat.)

On to New York.

After our delicious little bread basket adventure...

We hit an old-school Tiki bar. It seems like one of those places that's been in the same location for decades, doesn't really change, and if it has a name, you don't know what it is. It probably doesn't have a website. It's just there, in a weird little big city time warp.

Unfortunately for my sense of romanticism, it does have a website, and it's only ten years old. But we're going to pretend it isn't.

My drink came with a monkey! I was very excited about this, and also the spangly straw. Alas, the pours were extremely generous, and we came to it both too early and too late in the evening to really appreciate massively alcoholic cocktails. Next time.

Then we got pizza.

Nice lamp. But the pizza frankly sucked.

Artichoke is generally well-regarded, and our friend loves it. I don't know what happened. It's only once or twice a year that I order something so awful I think about not finishing it, and this was one of those times. I did choke it down, but only because I was starving. Imagine thinned spinach-artichoke dip from someplace like T.G.I.Friday's (too salty, too mayonnaise-creamy), spread on strange bread. The crust didn't bother me, actually- the top two-thirds was spongy, and the bottom was crisp and a little charred. Weirdly thick for pizza, but not bad by itself. It was the dip that almost made me nauseous.

The next morning, we kicked off Part I of our Lower East Side round-carby-things crawl with a visit to Russ & Daughters. I don't even know what to say. There's a ton of great food in New York, but I could probably wake up every day and eat here. The options are boggling: different kinds of lox! smoked fish! cream cheese options! I very nearly got my lox bagel topped with salmon roe, but resisted the temptation. That this is a suggested option meant I was in the right place for decadent salmon lunacy. I ended up with an onion bagel, belly lox, scallion cream cheese, and more onion on top. A tomato would've been advisable, but I always forget how good tomatoes are with lox.

Then there were soup dumplings in Chinatown. SOUP DUMPLINGS!!! I will talk about those in Part III, but in the meantime, if you see them somewhere, just think SOUP DUMPLINGS!!! and grab some. And bring me some, too.

Friday, May 4, 2012

NYC Food Roundup, Part I

Ok, so the title is a bit misleading, because I'm only going to talk about one restaurant in this post. Also because longtime readers know that when I declare something "Part I", Part II either never comes, or randomly pops up six months later to much confusion.

In any case, we spent last weekend in New York. One of the first places we went was Vandaag, in the East Village. Jon had actually heard of it and wondered about genever. Hence, a field trip to check it out. Vandaag is mainly a genever bar, though also a restaurant.

Isn't this gorgeous? This is the Vandaag Gin Cocktail. I think the most interesting component is a "golden ale reduction", which is just what it sounds like. It also contained genever, bitters, and a tiny bit of kirschwasser and absinthe. The grapefruit peel garnish nicely integrated everything. The bartender noted that the drink changes completely based on which variety of fruit peel it's garnished with, which is fascinating. I wouldn't have been able to distinguish its components without referencing the menu, but the drink was perfect, and a great recommendation from the bartender based on my "not sweet!" request.

Jon opted for a beer and a shot of genever, so he could sip and analyze the flavors. Straight genever was really interesting- very delicate and crisp, but not overly floral the way most ordinary gins are. It was like drinking the essence of rain, which sounds ridiculous but describes the experience perfectly.

We were on a bit of a food crawl (wait til you hear about our Jewish-breakfast-food crawl of the Lower East Side, next time), so we just ordered a bread basket before continuing. It seemed a bit pricey, and we weren't expecting much. But then this came:

This is quite possibly the best $6 bread basket in the world. There were wafer-thin pumpernickel crisps, hay-smoked white, red ale, cranberry-walnut, and seaweed foccacia. Pretty sure it's all homemade. Oh, and it came with gin butter and a onion-bacon jam. I'm going to attempt some gin butter someday soon, because it was amazing.

I just wish we could've stayed longer, but we had a whole city to explore. We'll definitely be back- maybe for their Sunday or Monday specials.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Oh no I didn't.

Oh yes I did.

For breakfast, I had some stale Taco Bell cinnamon crisps left over from last night. Why are they in my house in the first place? Because I was attempting to challenge the limits of human biology.


Long story short, due to an unfortunate series of events (the main one being that thing known as "work". Like, at a job where I get paid in dollars, not vague notions of personal satisfaction that seemingly only women work. In a post-Hilary-Rosen-making-total-sense-and-being-excoriated-anyway world, I feel the need to explain this.) Anyway. I'd been awake for 27 hours, and doing a really great job of pretending to be lucid. So "lucid", in fact, that I smiled and nodded when Jon said he wanted Taco Bell for dinner. He kindly offered to bring me back some cinnamon twists, in addition to the Crunchwrap that I requested a little too gleefully.

I was passed out on the couch when he returned with my food. I vaguely remember making a supreme effort to eat a single cinnamon twist. Then nothing. Apparently incoherent babbling was involved.

The Crunchwrap, I fear, met a sad fate last night in Jon's tummy. But the cinnamon twists were waiting for me this morning, and weren't too bad.

The glass of milk (2%, ha) was likewise delicious. As an aside, the glass it's in was obtained under questionable circumstances from a Mr. Donut outlet in Tokyo. The lion's mane is actually a donut. I can't recommend their donuts enough if you are in the area, especially their green tea-flavored, custard-filled ones. The odd shape is really endearing, even if it kind of reminds me of a baby's teething ring.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Odd Ingredient du Jour: Flying Fish Roe

I'm still exploring the local H Mart's variety of foods for work lunches. The only requirement being minimal prep, as our office lacks a real kitchen.

Last week, I bought tobiko, aka flying fish roe. It was a random purchase- I like salmon roe much better, but it was exponentially more expensive, and I wondered if it would dry out faster due to the larger egg surface area.

So I was left with these weird little fish eggs. In a late-night moment of craziness, I smeared them all over a bagel with cream cheese. And it was pretty tasty, about as good as lox spread, but a little more subtle. I also dipped asparagus spears into cream cheese, then the roe. That technique emphasizes the roe's almost crunchy texture, and is a great rice-less take on contemporary sushi.

Then this morning, I woke up craving rye crepes.

And that's how tobiko blini was born.

The nutty rye flour balanced well with tangy creme fraiche and the sweet, salty roe. Not bad at all. My next project is going to be soft-scrambling eggs with the tobiko. I've seen stir-fry recipes involving tobiko, so it's not that crazy to cook it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Not again.

Guess what we did this weekend?

Oh yes. Taco Bell.

With wine. Sorry, y'all, you're up for more torture. As were our cardiovascular systems. This, er, "tasting" was less formal than last time, so I didn't take notes on the wines.

Our first course was "Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes". We were going for a patatas bravas tapas sort of thing. This is what Taco Hell's food stylists think they look like. This is what they actually look like:

On the good side, there was leftover "cheese" to dip some of the drier courses into. And they came in cute reusable plastic tubs. But overall, not good. The sour cream tasted incredibly strange- research indicates that TB uses low-fat sour cream for some unholy reason. It was thin, with an oddly fluffy texture and watery mouthfeel. The cheese was like a watered-down version of bowling alley nacho cheese. And the potatoes? They'd be at home in a breakfast taco, or maybe in your freezer courtesy of Ore-Ida. Not awful, but a little fake tasting, with savory spice flavors. We also had nachos as a second appetizer of sorts. They were pretty awful, and required a cinnamon twist palate cleanser before we moved on. Interestingly, the cinnamon twists were the insurgent standout of the evening.

Our wines with this course were oddly spiral-themed. Thanks, Trader Joe's. The Spiral Chardonnay actually worked pretty well with the potatoes. It was slightly effervescent and balanced, and cut through the layers of cheese-and-sour-cream-slime reasonably well. The Espiral Vinho Rose, though it's a decent pick on its own, didn't work with the potatoes.

Did I mention we spent $27 at Taco Bell between four people? That's actually possible. The poor counter woman was seriously confused. In other words, there are many courses to come.

Next came the Doritos.

Dorito tacos.

Sadly, I missed out on this delicacy. So sad. I had a bite, and it was decent. Accepting the premise that the sour cream is fake, and the "meat" tastes like TVP, it was actually not bad. The dorito shell wasn't crispy, but that was probably our poor handling between restaurant and serving.

This was some kind of chicken burrito rice thingy. Or maybe a soft taco. Is there a difference? This was a rare example of the "I-could-make-it" axiom: it wasn't bad per se, but why would you buy it? It's not unhealthy enough to be junky fast food, but it's not so exceptionally tasty that you'd go out of your way to order it. Plus, as an astute taster noted, the chicken tastes canned. You'd do better making it at home.

Around this time, we opened a bottle of Sainte Croix Syrah-Merlot blend. It was a nice, versatile red that paired well, if not exceptionally, with all the courses.

The crunchwrap was a rare beacon of joy in the field of contenders. Jon has loved the crunchwrap for many years now, but I've always made fun of him. It's like drunken pothead methy food...why would you consider eating something like that? The answer, as my foodie cred goes slinking away, is that it tastes really good. "Really good" is of course still relative to it being Taco Bell. But yes, really good. The mixture of crunchy taco shell and chewy flour tortilla worked, and the filling wasn't disgusting or obnoxious.

No idea why those positives didn't spill over to our next course, which also involved the fundamental opposites of crunchy and chewy.

This is a double decker taco. The idea is right, but I felt like the filling-to-wrap ratio was off. It was ok, but nowhere near as magical as the crunchwrap (I refuse to capitalize "crunchwrap"). Especially with wine.

After that, there was another burrito course. Actually, two kinds of burritos. But I can't recall what they were, they were pretty unexceptional, and my photos just look like the last burrito course. But less interesting. So we're going to skip those and head for dessert.

¡Santo Dios! This is a caramel apple empanada...god help us, indeed. It was sort of like an apple pancake, but inappropriately chewy and too sweet. It worked with the effervescent dessert wine, but was overall not fabulous. Next time, I'd go for some cinnamon twists instead.

The good news, I suppose, is that we survived. Now to re-group for the next adventure. Chik-Fil-A, anyone? Finally I'll have an excuse to guzzle Chik-Fil-A sauce guilt-free.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Southern Magic

I have mixed feelings about the South. It's as insular as everyone says. Most of it is not as cerebral as I would like. But I've also lived there, and grudgingly discovered it can be quite charming, even extraordinary. At its best, it's the closest America gets to Magical Realism. If you're lucky enough to find the locals who aren't insular and ridiculous, they're really, really nice. And, odds are, they can smoke a mean brisket.

Living in the South, especially as a non-native, carves out a special little fuzzy spot in your heart for New Orleans. No, I'd never want to live there. But it really is the most amazing city in the US. I can't believe I just said that, but it's true. If, like me, you look for novelty and uniqueness in a city, your city is NoLa.

Which explains my over-the-top glee at finding delicious Cajun food at Bayou Bakery.

Andouille sausage with spicy mustard, and a legitimately kick-ass sweet potato and peanut soup. Also, Zappo's chips. And Abita on tap. No wonder I was gleeful.

Then, beignets.

Oh, and cafe au lait.

I'll definitely be going back. But mostly, I'll be checking plane tickets to New Orleans. I need a muffaletta and some oysters, too.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cheap Food, Healthy Food

So, I recently started a new job. It's in a pretty cool location, food-wise, in that it's relatively close to a lot of interesting ethnic food, as well as a few national chains (eg, Noodles & Co). So far, I've availed myself of Thai and Lebanese, and I look forward to trying more. Persian kabob place, you'd better watch out. But the best thing of all?

H Mart!

I was despondent when we left Houston behind. Mostly because of H Mart. But, happily, there are a few in the metro area, including one right next to work. For the uninitiated, it's a fabulous Korean grocery store.

This morning, I bought seaweed salad, sashimi salmon, and marinated tofu slices. H Mart's prepared foods section is seriously awesome.

I am a cheapskate at heart, and their prepared food prices always seem a little pricey for an ethnic grocery store. But then I started thinking about the cost relative to other options. Likewise, tonight at dinner I ate half of a pasture-raised, super-happy chicken that was pricier than I'm used to paying for chicken. As hard as it is, I think it's important to do the math and really think about it.

I'm not even talking about your typical "I read the Omnivore's Dilemma and now I'm a food snob" type arguments. Food is so ridiculously cheap in this country, our nice chicken dinner for two was less than a meal for two at Popeye's (which, don't get me wrong, I adore on occasion as well). My $5 of tofu, $3 of seaweed salad, and $7 of sashimi will keep me healthy and super-happy for at least three days of work lunches, for about the same price and less hassle than the crappiest Subway sandwich I could possibly eat (no, I really *don't* adore Subway).

It just comes down to eating really being about choices, with the exception of people who really don't have as many choices (food deserts, I'm looking at you). I feel like people make poor food choices based on a sense that they're somehow cheaper, and that much of the public discussion of food issues assumes that crappy food, or healthy food that no one wants to eat, is the only cheap food. But if you take a few minutes to think about food, and plan things out, it's almost ridiculous what tasty things you can enjoy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Feelings about Truffles.

The fungus-y kind, not the generally-poorly-executed chocolate kind.

For dinner, I had leftovers from lunch. Lunch being pasta with truffle oil, portabella mushrooms, parm, breadcrumbs, and a slightly skimpy layer of "Wisconsin cheese sauce".

It looked much prettier at lunch. I was stuck in office park suburbia, and Noodles & Company was one of the better options. Yay Colorado entrepreneurs!

Colorado entrepreneurs are classy. They do things like make truffled mac n' cheese. I have a sense of humor, and like truffles, so I proceeded to bewilder the counter staff by actually ordering it. He was at first confused, and tried to sign me up for their bacon mac, but I persisted.

The embarrassing punch line is that it was actually pretty delicious.

I've never understood the weird fussiness that surrounds truffledom. Truffles absolutely stink. Supply, demand, blah blah blah, that's why they're pricey. But, in a culinary culture that reveres subtlety and minimalism as a sign of craft and refinement and maturity, that truffles are the quintessential food snob food is really odd. Truffles basically taste like umami and metal, with an acrid, mouth-filling burnt cheese note that's weirdly, impossibly nostalgic.

So, I think it's really awesome that Noodles has democratized truffle flavors. Truffles are so pungent, we should really think of it like garlic, not some fancy, inaccessible crap. Noodles' dish is at least as good as the (admittedly kind of sketchy) white truffle pasta I ate in Florence, for $20 less. I'll be eating it again sometime. Hopefully with a straight face.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Curd at Home

For breakfast, I had toast with butter & fruit curd, with some jasmine green tea to drink.

Breakfast (which is fundamentally different from brunch, should you wonder) is my least favorite meal of the day. I hate breakfast cereal, and can only handle oatmeal, yogurt, or other quaint "breakfasty" things on occasion. I usually either skip it, have some coffee or tea, forget about food completely, and wonder why I'm feeling faint at 2pm, or I suck it up and nosh a few pieces of toast. Today was the latter. And you know, homemade fruit curd made breakfast relatively tolerable.

I made it a few days back, the impetus being most of a bag of Meyer lemons left hanging around the house after a roast chicken dinner. I used Ina Garten's lemon curd recipe, but added a few strawberries, pureed and sieved, to the mix. The result was a candied Orange Julius-flavored curd that did not quite set. I'm not sure if it's due to the lower acid Meyers, or to the strawberries. Because of my storied history of egg-related mishaps, I actually did measure the temperature with a lab thermometer as I cooked, so I know that wasn't the issue.

At least it's not runny.

Regardless, it tastes unique and pretty fabulous. The remainder might end up in tarts, empanadas, or some sort of layered panna cotta goodness...I haven't decided yet.