December 26, 2006

First Bite: BRGR

There's been a lot of buzz about brgr, a new Chelsea burger joint, and I think it's well deserved. The patties are similar to the Shake Shack, but they're more expensive (mine was about $8), a bit tougher, and not quite as salty. The creative preparations and quick service will get my burger-eating face back down there in short order.

I got the beef burger with avocado, raw onion, and Gruyere. It tasted the part, but I was somewhat disappointed by the cheese; I'd expected more bite from the Gruyere. It was its normal nutty self, but didn't do much else.

A lot of people have been talking about brgr. Mostly positive stuff, a few negative. OOH, and a burger list from NY Magazine.

Special thanks to Alaina B. over at flickr for the photo.

December 16, 2006

Introducing iPile (and two other apple pies)

A few weeks ago I undertook to bake my first pie. Apple pie, as I've learned, is wrought with peril.

In my three apple pie experiences I fell into three of the most notable traps: soupy filling, undercooked center, and 'the incredible shrinking apple'.

Before I talk about the failures, because, really, they weren't failures since each of the pies were still quite decent (if I don't say so myself), I will talk about the one consistent success. Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts performed admirably; tasters could tell it wasn't homemade, but never had any objections to it.

Pie No. 1 - iPile 1.0 - Southern Living (previously mentioned)

The first was an Apple-Cranberry pie from the Nov. issue of Southern Living. Its short and user friendly recipe is what got me started on the idea of pieing. Liz got tired of peeling the 15 required apples, so we stopped at 11 or 12. Unfortunately I couldn't find the recommended types at the Union Square Greenmarket, so I ended up using Gala (recommended), Braeburn (recommended), and Rome (not recommended for anything, ever). The Galas, I imagine, were for structure, the Braeburns for tartness, and the Rome apples did nothing useful. They, in fact, melted into the consistency of watery apple sauce. Fine for apple sauce, less than ideal for pie. My co-workers dubbed it iPile, since it didn't hold its shape long after leaving the plate. The cranberries added some needed complexity and distracted from the soupy Rome glop. (If only I'd read "mediocre as a fresh fruit" beforehand)

Braeburn apples will probably be in most of the pies I make. Liz said that they tasted like apple cider. I agree. The galas didn't taste like much, and the Romes, well, sucked. In the end, the Southern Living recipe was great, but user error prevented it from being all it could be.

Pie No. 2 - Deep Dish - Cook's Illustrated

A week after iPile 1.0, Meg and I endeavored to prepare the Cook's Illustrated deep dish apple pie. Their editors also recommended pre-cooking and were more forthcoming about why it was necessary. Cooking (most of the filling elements) in a Dutch oven (or heavy, covered, pot) activates the pectin in the apples, which discourages them from shrinking when cooked. The covered pot, they said, helped distribute the heat. Skillets tend to get the apples too hot. Read Cook's, they're full of interesting stuff.

The Granny Smiths, Braeburns, and Galas came out wonderfully. We drained the goo off after pre-cooking and were left with an apple-y pie with an adequate amount of chohesive sauce (it wasn't swimming in apple sauce like the Southern Living pie was). The only thing was that the Cook's pie was much more involved than the SL one but there wasn't a significant difference in taste. The Southern Living pie took a lot less work and tasted just about as good (perhaps better if I hadn't botched it)

Pie No. 3 - Rum Raisin/Apple - Gourmet

It could have been because this was the final pie in the batch, but this apple-rum-raisin pie was lightyears ahead of the others. Lightyears. I undertook this pie alone; no Liz or Meghan to peel and core the apples this time.

I'm a sucker for things that I haven't heard of at the Greenmarket. This time the filling was made up of Northern Spy, Winesap, and Opelescent apples. The recipe differed from the others in that it didn't have cooks precook the apples (to keep them from shrinking). I was hesitant, but hey, it's Gourmet. They know what they're doing. And the apples shrunk as much as Cook's warned. Eh. Whatever, it still tasted great. The rum-soaked raisins shined; I soaked them for about a day and they livened the pie up.

Next, cookies. Maybe in time for [some of the] holidays. This post has been a long time coming. Sorry about the wait.

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As for the pictures, they were mine; the top was an extreme closeup of the Cooks Illustrated, and the bottom one was showing the sad, unfortunate shrinkage of Gourmet's.

November 9, 2006

Say it with me: "Role-lah-din"

Tonight Liz made rouladen (not to be confused with rolladen). Rouladen, for the uninitiated, is (are) a german delicacy in which one wraps up slices of pickle and onion with a thin piece of tender beef. It's then sauteed in stock and savored with, in our case, mashed potatoes.

I will admit that it doesn't sound appetizing. Pickles, mustard, onions, and beef sitting on an island of mashed potatoes, surrounded by a sea of broth, doesn't even make me want to eat it, but trust me. It's damn good, easy to make, and really quite inexpensive.

I had to leave for work before I could get a recipe out of my roommate, but the basic ingredients are the thinly sliced (1/2-inch thick) beef [tenderloins?], dijon mustard, liberally applied to raw beef, paprika (very liberally applied; I'm talking Ralph Nader liberal), dill pickle slices, white onion, cut into 1-inch wedges, flour for dredging, and some vegetable oil for browning. After you assemble, in above order, you roll the little buggers up, fasten with 3 toothpicks, and then boil the hell out of them in 3 or 4 cups of stock. There is no time limit on the boiling. The longer the better (so she says).

Serve the slug-looking things on a bed of something unhealthy and you're set.

They taste good, but they look like sauteed slugs. Just eat, don't look. I'll get more details eventually.

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Yes, the picture is mine. In its grainy glory.

November 7, 2006

Fear of baking

After yesterday afternoon's unsettling discovery, I set out to try some new recipes. With a meal consisting of Cook's Illustrated penne alla vodka and Southern Living's Apple/Cranberry pie, I won't admit it isn't just a little strange, but whatever. It's fall. Fall means apples, and apples go with pretty much anything. And one last thing before I start: today's moral is: follow the recipe, it's there for a reason.

Instead of scarfing down my freshly-made food like I do practically every monday (since I never seem to allot enough time for preparation, eating, and cleanup), I started quite early tonight (though that extra time was eaten, as it was, by the pie's cooling time). At any rate, it was a good first step to getting better.

Like some Cook's recipes, the penne was incredibly easy (like the coq au vin) and quick to prepare (unlike the coq au vin). Most of the ingredients were gathered at the 14th St. Trader Joe's, where I accidentally bought whole, peeled tomatoes with basil. When I got home and realized what I'd done, I decided the extra basil couldn't be a detriment. It was fun using liz's little chopper/grinder to 'puree' half of the tomatoes while I diced the rest (until I realized that the pureeing peeled whole plum tomatoes were splattering in a fine spray around the kitchen; still fun, but in a gross kind of way).

Everything else about the penne was straightforward, except my getting flustered and sprinkling the red pepper flakes instead of measuring them. I really wish I knew how much I used because it wasn't nearly enough, so the outcome was solid in the viscosity department, but sadly lacking any kind of heat. More onion seems wrong, but a bit more garlic may have been welcome.

Overall, totally worth it. I'll be making this penne again. (with added heat)

And onto the Apple-Cranberry pie. I've never really been excited enough about a pie on paper to want to cook it, but the damn-easy instructions in this month's Southern Living encouraged me to beat the fear of baking and I went down to the Union Square Farmer's Market to get some fresh locals (um, apples, of course), and only then remembered that it was Monday. Monday is the market's off day and usually disappointing, and instead of getting the suggested Gala, Macintosh, and Granny Smith apples, because the latter two weren't available, I ended up with Gala, Braeburn, and Romes.

My awesome roommate peeled the apples, about 9 of them (the recipe called for 12, but the growing pile began looking ridiculous). Some lemon juice, some flour, and 1 1/2 cups sugar (damn). They did reduce, but it was still quite overflowing when we got it into the shell. The shell, btw, was a bit annoying to work with; I chose a Pilsbury 2x9-inch refrigerated pie crust and it did not unroll well.

As the apples reduced I could see what would eventually become the pie's ultimate problem: soupy apples. The Romes (I'm pretty sure it was them) began gooeifying during the saute phase and continued on their slippery slope until they turned into a (delicious, but) soupy mess during the baking phase.

We decided against the lattice, as you can see (above), and I think the steam vents suited it fine. We also didn't cover the crust in tin foil, as suggested, to prevent over-browning; thankfully it wasn't an issue.

And the result: Braeburn apples rock for pie. Rome apples do not. Pilsbury crusts suck before their cooked, but once they are they're quite decent. And Southern Living can make a great pie.

Next time I might add some grated orange peel and cinnamon/nutmeg/allspice. This was Liz and my first pie, and it was a good, solid start. Oh, and to be a food nerd for a moment, Cook's Illustrated said that precooking the apples helps them keep their shape BUT you have to make sure the heat doesn't go past 140 degrees. They recommend using a Dutch Oven instead of a saute pan. If I'd read that before making the pie, things may have turned out better. Maybe.

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Extra special thanks to me for taking this photo. I should really take more photos.

November 6, 2006

My world is (somewhat) shattered

So there I was, catching up on my blogs with my trusty rss reader (something I haven't done in months) only to discover that (1) a new, improved version of The Joy of Cooking hits shelves today and (2) I have the most unloved version.

Apparently this new one is truer to the original than the "popular" 1975 edition and less "esoteric" than the 1997 rewrite. For a moment I thought about getting them all, but then decided against it. I might get the new one, but I'd rather get The Gourmet Cookbook or Cook's Illustrated's The New Best Recipe.

Well thank you New York Times for ruining my day. (And a preemptive thanks to Cook's and Southern Living for potentially saving it with the delicious dinner I have planned: penne alla vodka and apple/cranberry pie - not entirely congruous, but whatever, I think they'll rock)

October 26, 2006

Pork You in the Mouth

I knew there was one thing that had to happen on my last day of work at the now-closed headquarters of the New York Museum of Water, and that thing was Number Six. Number Six was introduced to me a few months before while walking down 10th Avenue after work with my friend Mary. She pulled half of a gigantic sandwich wrapped in white butcher paper out of her bag, took a bite, then held it up to my face and said “Open up, I’m gonna pork you in the mouth.” And she did.

If the sound I made when Number Six was shoved into my mouth seemed a little dirty, it was not in response to her suggestive way of offering me a bite, but to the huge fragrant mouthful of pork I was chewing. Number Six is a stack of sliced cold roast pork tenderloin (complete with pepper- and herb-encrusted edges) stuffed with tomato, plenty of arugula and just enough horseradish sauce to flavor the fresh, flour-dusted bread from the picturesque wooden shelf behind the counter of Bottino’s trendy take-out annex in west Chelsea.

The lunch line at Bottino’s is never short, but the scenery is almost as delicious as the sandwiches. It’s a very popular spot with the local gallery crowd (encouraged by conforming to their Tuesday through Saturday schedule), whose experiments in style make up for the lack of decor in the tiny, fashionably bare storefront. Unfortunately, the food is also at gallery prices. Seven to ten bucks for a sandwich, salad, or lasagna buys you a lunch of super-fresh premium ingredients that almost make it worth the dollars. It becomes more economical for those of us who can make two meals out of one sandwich, which, unless you are extraordinarily hungry, is usually not an act of restraint.

During my time in that neighborhood I tried at least half of their sandwiches, a few salads, soups-of-the-day, cookies, lasagnas, and creatively flavored homemade lemonades, but the only thing I would go all the way back there for is Number Six on olive bread. Still, if you’re in the neighborhood looking for a sandwich and not a big fan of getting porked in the mouth, the only thing I wouldn’t recommend is the eggplant. Definitely try the lemonade, and no matter what you get, make sure you have some of the bread with it. Also, this is definitely a place for regulars, so pay close attention to the flow of traffic or you may get bypassed.

Really, though, the point here is not to celebrate this particular restaurant, but to celebrate the mighty engineering of the sandwich known as Number Six. Since that day when Mary first porked me in the mouth I have eaten at least thirty Number Sixes and passed on the porking to friends, co-workers, even my Mom, to which Mary said “You porked your Mom in the mouth.” Yes I did, and she liked it.

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October 24, 2006

Je t'aime, Coq au Vin

Go and buy the Nov/Dec issue of Cook's Illustrated. Go now. It food gold. Food gold.

Aand dear readers, the following post breaks practically all of our standards; if you're looking a fast, inexpensive meal, you should look here or here (or here), because this certainly isn't one of them.

When I saw the coq au vin recipe I knew I had to do it. "Fast" the editors suggested, "easy". It was neither, but oh my God it was amazing; perhaps the best dish I've ever made. One of the top five for sure.

After a rough start foraging at the Pathmark (no frozen pearl onions, only ones frozen with a sherry cream sauce, hardly any skinless/boneless chicken thighs, and, not surprisingly no cremini mushrooms [actually, I ended up with baby 'bella mushrooms, which are another name for creminis. The things you learn on wikipedia- skp]), I got some editing done and started cooking at about 5:30.

At about 8:45 I started to get nervous. They said this was going to be easy. And fast (90 minutes). Boiling down the wine, cutting up the chicken, and mushrooms, browning both, making lardons, browning them, peeling and cutting up the vegetables for my root vegetable puree, boiling them, boiling down the wine more should not have taken so much time. It did.

And after it was all over I did get to spend about minutes enjoying it. The sauce was incredible; a whole bottle of pinot noir, some butter, garlic and mushrooms. Damn. The chicken thighs were juicy and tender.

Oh, and the aforementioned mashed root vegetables:

6 medium yukon gold potatoes cut into 2-in cubes
1 lb carrots, cut into 2-in cubes
1 lb parsnips, cut into 2-in cubes
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup chicken stock
4 tablespoons (or 1/2 stick) butter
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Boil potatoes, carrots, and parsnips until tender in salted water. Drain. Mash viciously (in boiling pot). Add milk, stock, and butter. Mash on. Feel free to add more milk or stock to your taste.

And while you're at it, grab the October and November Gourmet issues. Lots of great recipes in Quick Kitchen and the other sections near it. I served the coq au vin and roots with some roasted acorn squash with chile vinaigrette from the Oct. issue.

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Special thanks to ginandtonic1978 over at flickr for the coq au vin picture and epicurious for the squash.

October 11, 2006

Nourishment for my Sleep-addled Brain

On Wednesday I decided that the best way to spend the three or four hours between my night and day job by going out to a nice breakfast. After choosing the Franklin Station Cafe only to find it closed, I walked down West Broadway to Petite Abeille, a quaint Belgian cafe/pub.

Writing this, I'm not sure why the eight different waffle options didn't set off any number of warnings (um hello: belgian restaurant = waffles). No, my sleep-addled brain reasoned that omelettes would be the best choice (protein, go for the protein).

The omelette Ardennaise, with its bacon, mushroom, spinach and onion, along with a pan au chocolat and an Awake tea kept me going all day long (though an intensely boring but easy party full of bankers). Everything was as it was supposed to have been. The mashed carrots/potato 'stoemp' was a welcome starchy addition to the meal.

The atmosphere rocked, very European: chalkboard, lots of beer, Europeans behind the bar, blue checked tableclothes, big tubes of sea salt on the tables, etc. I would totally go back Monday nights for Belgian beer night but it would probably be full of ... financial types. Or politicians. Either way, not my scene. Even regular old people wouldn't work out.

Special thanks to Kenyee over at Flickr for the picture. It isn't an omelette, but it's pretty (and taken at the Petite Abeille). Isn't it?
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October 4, 2006

Eating in SpaHa (First in a series)

It's been about three weeks since I moved to Spanish Harlem and I've finally started to get out and eat here.

Patsy's Pizzaria
1312 2nd Ave

Like a first kiss, Patsy's will always have a special spot in my heart. Their 69th and 2nd restaurant was the only place I'd eat when I came to New York City before I lived here. The copper ceiling, the same eastern European waitress every time, the crispy, crunchy, basil and mozzarella-covered paper-thin pies.

Anyway, I never thought I'd have cause to go to the 118th and 1st Avenue location, but now that it's 3 minutes away I imagine I'll be going frequently. This Patsy's, I discovered is different from the others.

It's a lot more like a regular old pizza place than the downtown Patsies. No copper ceilings, no eastern European servers, no basil/mozz; just plain old awesome pizza. It was fitting that I went to this Patsy's with Marc, the guy who introduced me to Patsy's in the first place all those years ago.

The pies are $11, which puts them about $3 to $5 cheaper than the other Patsy's locations, so we started off with some absolutely killer calimari (note: on a subsequent trip with Amy, they were even better). The thin, crispy crust exhibited slight floppiness.

Haven't tried the real food yet but I will. Oh will I ever.

2257 1st Ave

This one came highly recommended by our broker and our first almost-landlord and Liz and I decided to go there for her birthday. Relaxed, dark atmosphere, good waitstaff, standard cocktails.

I got the Chicharron de Pollo (chicken marinated in Rum and garlic then fried in a light batter) and it was dry and unimpressive. The sweet plantains and corn and even the broccoli were, on the other hand, quite good.

Liz ended up choosing penne with a spicy vodka sauce, which she loved.

For dessert we got a bomba (molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream) and bread pudding. I was skeptical of the latter and Liz outright said that after her summer in the deep south knew she wouldn't like it. The only other choice on the dessert menu was an apple crisp. Anyone can make a decent apple crisp and it tastes, well, like an apple crisp, so we boldly tried the bread pudding.

The apple-studded dulce-de-leche drizzled bread pudding rocked my world and molten chocolate cake, lived up to its gooey, chocolatey potential.

I'll go back.

Many thanks to Slice over at flickr for the pizza. They have a popular NY pizza blog too.

October 3, 2006

Baked Ziti Redux

This one'll be short but there will be more this week. I swear. Working 60-plus hours a week will not stop this gourmetro. (mono might, but we'll cross that bridge when we're forced onto it)

Last week I made one of my favorite fall/winter meals, baked ziti. It's near and dear to my heart and I tore it up when I made it last week. Oh, and tearing it up is like ripping it apart. It's a good thing, I think.

When I decided to eat ziti for the week I had a momentary epiphany: why am I adding 3/4 cup of water when I could be adding 3/4 cup of wine? That's it. Red wine made that kickin' ziti even better. I used a Cabernet Franc, but any full-bodied red should do. If you're a purist, use an Italian red like Chiante or Barolo.

My other alteration was that I shredded my own block of mozzarella. It made a big difference, much more stringy and moist than the pre-shredded stuff. And I used Polly-O, so nice, fresh mozz would be even dreamier.

Oh, that and a pound and a half of mild sage sausage (most of the fat reserved ;) ).

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Special thanks to viamarisol over at flickr for the extreme close-up.

September 13, 2006

Hungry, stressed.

It's been a while, I know. I've been in the midst of moving for the last month, and now that I finally have moved to my amazing new SpaHa residence, all of my jobs have started to give me all the hours I've wanted at once. And now my diet, and the Gourmetro, suffers. Does it ever.

For the last week, my intake has consisted of kickin' Peanut Butter & Jelly Co. White Chocolate (and Cinnamon Raisin Swirl) peanut butter with Whole Foods 7-Grain bread (which sucks), expired Barilla tortellini, and Patsy's tomato and basil sauce. And lots of bad Chinese food. How could I forget. I'm not starving by any means, but I'm looking forward to having all of my cooking tools back (which should happen this Sunday)

This morning I decided to break my good food fast by hitting up the Union Square Farmer's Market, and with only $15 in my pocket, I knew I would have to work to get everything I needed without getting distracted by the colorful tomatoes.

A few pats of butter, salt and pepper, and some olive oil turned a pound of organic fingerling potatoes, crisp lemony French Sorrel, a bone-in wing of Skate, some yellow pear-shaped grape tomatoes, and a bag of summer squash into a pretty sweet dinner. The potatoes broiled until fork tender while I sauteed the skate and the then-sliced summer squash. From beginning to end it took about 45 minutes and tasted great. I wish I'd had some of my spices, but they're still on Long Island with the rest of my stuff. Salt, pepper and lemon were the only seasonings I had to work with, and they worked quite well.

It was nice to eat something real. Oh, and I sauteed the just-shy-of-a-pound skate (after rinsing and rubbing down with olive oil and salt and pepper) over medium-high heat for about six minutes. It probably could have used one or two more.

I'll have to learn how to debone the skate, because while the cartilage wasn't too off-putting, it would be better removed.

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September 2, 2006

Buns of Steam

Ever since I first partook of the steamed pork buns at Momofuku—light, doughy and stuffed with perfectly tender Berkshire pork—they’ve been on my short craving list. After sampling similar wares at a few other Asian spots, I could safely say no one else could touch those buns.

Then, lo and behold, New York magazine raved about Tribeca newcomer Province, even going so far as to compare its mantou bread sandwiches to the steamy excellence at Momofuku. New York hasn’t steered me wrong yet, so we headed down to Tribeca for a “cheap date night” with high expectations.

Province (305 Church St., 212-925-1205) is easy to miss among the trendy cafes populating this stretch of Church, but while seated at the window we noticed plenty of intrigued looks on the faces of worker bees passing by. The sparse design is a bit IKEA meets diner, with unadorned cement floors and blond wood benches with odd, Swiss cheese-looking “privacy” walls. It was pretty empty on the Wednesday evening we visited, but the staff was friendly and efficient.

Not knowing how large the sandwiches would be, my friend ordered two—spicy pork ($3.75) and braised pork shoulder ($3.75)—and I chose the pork shoulder and side salad with ginger dressing. In short order, the buns arrived wrapped in wax paper and still steaming. Unlike Momofuku, Province’s buns are sprinkled with black sesame seeds and the mantou isn’t quite as light and doughy, but it is still slightly chewy and with one “déjà vu” bite I knew I’d found another craving. The pork shoulder, seasoned with just the right amount of sauce to avoid a mess, was a tender affair layered with thinly sliced pickled cucumbers. The spicy pork was a little perkier in taste with a dash of hoisin, but I preferred the sliced texture of the shoulder over the traditional pulled pork. One sandwich left me wanting a little more, so next time I will probably split a second or just indulge in two all to myself. At these prices, it’s not the worst thing I could do.

Oh yeah, and plan to head over to Province early--it closes at 7:30 pm.

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August 28, 2006

I'll take my fried chicken dirty, thankyouverymuch.

I've been thinking of a title for this post for about a week and couldn't come up with anything that would be even remotely acceptable for the connotations inspired by The Dirty Bird To-Go, the NYC's newest take-out free-range authentic double-dipped buttermilk-fried chicken shack.

The Bird has gotten an incredible amount of press since its opening earlier this year (some of the most hype/square foot I've seen; pretty much on par with the Shake Shack). Perhaps the best recommendation for it came while I was speaking with some Southern Living editors; I mentioned New York soul food and they immediately started prolificating about DBT-G. And the best part was that none of them had even been there (for all you non-Southern Living readers, the mag is based in Birmingham, Alabama). Anyway, so hearing Southerners completely rapt about fried chicken, fried chicken from the godless North no less, they hadn't even tasted, I knew I needed to head down to 14th St. and partake.

Two weeks ago a Southern friend of mine and I gave it a shot and DAMN it was mighty fine. After some chicken fingers v. 2-pc fried debate, my friend decided on the latter, with a side of mac 'n cheese, and I myself went for the 4-pc fried with two sides - mac 'n cheese and the napa cabbage cole slaw.

Each basic element of fried chicken was not only having a party in my mouth, they were all examples of how fried chicken is done. Every bite had the perfect crunch and aroma of buttermilk dipped batter, the salty juiciness of brine, and a most tender chicken-y texture. The scallion cornbread was good, the mac 'n cheese fine, and the napa slaw got an unenthusiastic 'yeah whatever'.

Four pieces was way too much, but if I'd only gotten two I never would have picked any white meat Typically dusty, dry and tasteless, I was not about to spend my 14 hard-earned dollars on a longshot. To say that it was incredibly moist and tender would be an understatement, so I'll just say that I may only get white meat there in the future.

There's no feeling in the world quite like being stuffed with fried chicken. Mmmm fat.

And here are some synopses of what some other people have said Bird:
We love it, we hate it - New York Magazine
Greatness in the making - Eater
And of course, everyone else at eGullet.

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August 21, 2006

Can you ever eat too much Asian food?

Like the jet-setter I am, I've been wandering the north for the last two weekends in Boston and Toronto (my first Canadian expedition!),interviewing for jobs in Japan. Yes, Japan. I can still blog there, what?

Travel, of course, means eating in the world of Anharchy, because who the hell can possibly miss out on the opportunity to try new foooooooods?? While most of my experiences in consumption weren't terribly impressive (alas, disappointment!), there were a few stand-out things:

In Boston:

Given my love for all things fresh-market, imagine my joy at discovering the Copley Square Market right outside my interview stop! Aaron and I didn't really get a chance to fully explore it, but it looked terrrrribly promising. And there was a kiosk with fresh pastries. I looooooooove pastries.

Also, I don't think I've seen many markets that beat the Haymarket for cheap and fresh, greens-wise. I was seriously badgered by a tiny Italian man into buying a POUND of jalapenos. Granted, that pound only cost me a dollar, but still! A full pound! I wasn't even in Boston for four days...what the hell does one do with a pound of jalapenos? Very noisy and great deals on produce. Eight ears of sweet corn for a dollar? I'm so there.

The Copley Square Market can be accessed from the Copley Square T Stop. Likewise, you can find Haymarket at the eponymous T stop there as well.

And, in the vein of "I loooooooooooooooooove pastry," Aaron and I took a long walk up Beacon Street to Finale, where I promptly spent thirty dollars on cake. Purchased: one 8-inch Mocha Espresso Cake (which Aaron consumed half of in about ten minutes), and individually-sized tiramisu, Whoopie Pie, raspberry chocolate tart, and uh, something else. I can say that I firmly approve of a restaurant centered around dessert.

Other than that, Aaron and I dined at a rather middling Korean/Japanese restaurant for lunch, a very good Thai hole-in-the-wall on Boston U's campus (right by BU Central Streetcar Stop), and cooked dinner as a thank-you to our hostess.

The other thing I discovered is that in NO CITY is Pizzeria Uno "good eats." Not at all. Just don't do it. I only tried under duress, as in flight was on the day of the terror plot round-up, didn't get in 'til late, and I was BEYOND STARVING. It boggles me that any large city (especially in University areas!!!!!) would not have more restaurants open at 11...

In Toronto:

Side-note: Our interviewer looked like a slimmer, tan-er, glasses-less Alton Brown. It was very distracting.

Instead of staying with a friend in Toronto (we have none...), Aaron and I booked a private room at The Planet Traveler's Hostel, which ran us about $60 CAD per night. If you enjoy hosteling, I'd definitely recommend it. It's super-close to the middle of Kensington Market (what, more markets???), right off Spadina Avenue, so very convenient. And (major bonus), it's SMACK DAB in the middle of Toronto's Chinatown, which is one of the very biggest Chinatowns in North America. Dumplings and duck, I'm so there!

Suffice it to say, Aaron and I ate at a few hole-in-the-wall Chinese joints whose names we couldn't understand, got excellent Vietnamese sandwiches at the Dundas Street West location of Banh Mi Ba Le, tasty Pho on Spadina, and enjoyed ourselves a great deal. Unfortunately, over the course of both the Boston and Toronto trips, we overdosed on bubble tea. It's too easy. But to make up for that, joy of joys, on the layover on our way back to Dulles the Cincinnati airport Auntie Anne's Pretzels was handing out Cinnamon Sugar pretzels for free. So, I consider that a suitable ending to the travels (as the Cincinnati Airport Qdoba was not. Not that all Qdobas are bad - most of them are quite good. But that one was not tasty, albeit full of character.)

That's about it. I'll be back with more tales of foodery soon!

Special thanks to Automania over at Flickr for the fortune cookie.

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August 15, 2006

Caffeine, however tasty, devistates my fine motor skills.

All right, so it was about 9pm. I had an hour before work, had just eaten some salty delicious Dumpling Man fare, and my stomach wasn't taking it well. My night job, disassembling computers and extracting various bits and pieces, certainly takes a toll on my daytime comfort.

Anyway, in my dumpling-induced haze, I figured a nice cappuccino would set me along a happy path for the evening. Since I was already down on the Lower East Side, I set out looking for a cool crepe place that Meg, Joanie and I found earlier this spring but instead found MUD.

The Arcade Fire was on the radio and a very drunk FOB (friend of the Barrista) was lobbying for a switch to Abbey Road (She's so Fine, in specific.). It felt more like a campus coffee shop than a hip New York one and that fit me just fine. Back to the coffee. A few months ago, I read somewhere that there are a number of things you should look for when you're evaluating well-made espresso and cappuccino. It would be awesome if I could remember where, but my mind is more like a blender than a tabbed file system. But I digress.

When the milk is getting steamed, it should hardly make any noise at all. The writer likened screaming Starbucks steamers to the milk getting noisily killed. Ceramic cups are a must. Crema, the delicate coffee foam on top of an espresso. And, finally, milk art. The ability to make neat designs in the steamed milk and the attention to detail that it imparts is the final touch.

Mud had all of this. I drank it without sugar (unheard of for me).

Unfortunately, since I drink caffeine so infrequently it kicked the crap out of me. I was incredibly jittery for hours. My stomach did feel better though.

[Earlier that day I had an entertaining lunch at the Nice Matin with the current executive editor of The Flat Hat (you knew I had to link that one) and then visited some ex-coworkers.

I felt some serious pressure to get the Five Napkin Burger (complete with sauteed onions, comte cheese, and aioli), while my colleague got the croque madame. While I needed only one napkin to complete the burger, it was nonetheless quite impressive. Not stellar, but far above standard.]

Special thanks to mcmrbt over at flickr for the photo.
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August 14, 2006

a little light reading

Gourmetro readers - all 3 of you - I have a favor to ask. My subscription to Food & Wine is about to lapse, and while I enjoy F&W, I don't absolutely adore it (see Chow, demise of). I've been looking into some mags, particularly Saveur, Intermezzo, and Fervor. Any recommendations? My budget really only has room for one foodie magazine (to complement my chick mag and nerd mag), so think carefully.

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August 9, 2006

Custard does a (hot) body good

If you've been living on the East coast, you've probably been sweating profusely or haven't left your apartment in the past week. The only remedy for such heat, besides more cowbell, is ice cream.

I'm kind of an ice cream snob, as I used to work at Graeter's, which has been named by USA Today and Oprah as the nation's best ice cream. (Yeah, that's right. And I was employee of the month - twice. Booyah.) For those non-purists that like to mix fourteen different kinds of candy into their vanilla bean...I scoff at you. Cold Stone just doesn't cut it when compared to hand-churned ice cream with chocolate chips the size of your face. So let's just say I have high standards when it comes to sweet things of the frozen variety, mmkay?

Tuesday, my roommate and I headed to the Dairy Godmother, a frozen custard shop in Del Ray. I had heard good things about the place from friends and food critics alike. Custard is a little bit different than ice cream - basically, it has more egg and less air. Somehow it's healthier for you than regular ice cream too! Custard as health food - whodathunk? Flavorwise, they always have vanilla & chocolate, plus a daily flavor which changes....daily. Tuesday it was "Summer Pudding." Also known as "We Wanted to be as Vague as Possible." It ended up being a mildly berry-flavored custard, pink with bits of (fresh!) berries scattered throughout. I went for a Summer Pudding hot fudge sundae, with slivered almonds, whipped cream and a cherry on top. I had forgotten how good hot fudge and ice cream are. *drools thinking about it* Phew, anyway...slivered almonds are not my favorite sundae nut - I'm more of a toasted walnut girl - but they got the job done.

Katie opted for a root beer float - perhaps because I went apoplectic when I saw the cases of Sprecher root beer (and cream soda, and orange soda, and ginger ale) lined up around the store. Once upon a time, my family and I went to Madison, Wisconsin and had some Sprecher root beer. Let's just life has never been the same since ingesting that flavorful, zingy root beer. We brought two cases of it home (to Ohio) with us because it was so good. I have since hoped to find Sprecher in some of the gourmet shops I frequent, but to no avail. Until now!! YAY!!! The Dairy Godmother herself is from Wisconsin, and I'm guessing she realized that she had to spread the Sprecher glory to DC in order to produce a truly awesome root beer float. And awesome it was.

In addition, you all should check out Cookthink - thanks to metrocurean for the link - very cool foodie blog focusing on "unrefined" cooking and eating. Their manifesto makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Thanks to Flickr user mzn37 for the picture of deliciousness. Looking for food pictures is extremely hard work, as it makes you very hungry. (Look, Skip - I can use Flickr too!!)

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August 8, 2006

Holy sweet tomato

The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, I was only a little bit nauseous for lack of sleep, and there were tomatoes. Oh there were tomatoes...

That was how a post I started three weeks ago began. Get yourself to a Farmer's Market and get some heirloom tomatoes. Get them.

I'm sorry for the month-long hiatus; it's been a crazy one. I'll do my best to synopsize.


Restaurant week: Indochine (6/10 - solid food, fun atmosphere), Terrace in the Sky (7/10 - good food, awesome view), Osteria del Circo (7/10 - probably a good intro to Maccioni's style)

Other: Ivo & Lulu (8.5/10 - lovelovelove French Caribbean, BYO wine), Cubana Cafe (6/10 - fun, sweet sangria, good pulled pork)


I got into salads. Steak salads, chicken salads, pasta salads. They were all pretty damn good and cheap. You'll see recipes an soon as things calm down (September?).


At least you get some pictures from the Union Sq. Greenmarket.

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Special thanks to my camera for the pictures!

August 6, 2006

I gain five pounds every weekend.

Why? BECAUSE I KEEP EATING AT NEW RESTAURANTS. Seriously, can TheGourmetro pay my gym dues? :P

ANYWAY! This weekend's been a bit of a randomness party, in terms of fooding. Yesterday, Aaron and Debbie (my usual partners in food crime) hit Minerva Indian Cuisine in Fairfax for a pretty delicious dinner. I hear mixed reviews from actual Indians, but I will say that I myself generally enjoy it. It might have a little bit to do with the gimmick, which I'll explain in just one second.

Minerva has a giant purple sign in a dingy strip mall on 29 in Fairfax, next to a snowboarding shop (snowboarding shop? WTH?). Inside, it's pretty cavernous, with what looks like an extensive buffet setup in the back. I assume it's for lunch, as I've never seen it in action during dinner hours. The menu's pretty enormous, and I could be entirely misquoting, but it appears to specialize in "Hyderabadi" cuisine, in addition to favorites like (Meat Name) Vindaloo.

Debbie and I both ordered mango lassi (mmm, smoothieeeee). Normally, I'd head straight for chai, but given the ridiculously intemperate weather, adding liquid heat seems a bit stoopid. Aaron's generally content with water at Indian restaurants...largely due to an incident at Nawab in Williamsburg in which he ordered something "AS HOT AS POSSIBLE" and uh, got it. (God, I LOOOOOVE Nawab by the way. LOVE.)

Entree-wise, I ordered Chicken Vindaloo (wasn't feeling too lamby, but I loooove Vindaloo anything) and Debs ordered Chicken something-something. It had almonds in it, and that's all I remember. Aaron ordered Guthi Vankaya, which was eggplant in an interesting, kind of peanut-y savory sauce. He gets points for adventure, but none of us liked his dish, so we ended up splitting ours. Here's where the gimmick comes in: When you order the Dinner version (as opposed to the a la carte) of any particular dish, it comes with six little side dishes, including corn chowder, mulligatawny soup, dal, and something else. Dessert, two pieces of naan, and raita are also included. Dinner orders average 12.95, and so for 13 bucks, you end up with a significant amount of food. Plenty ends up going home with you. So, Aaron ate all his side dishes and naan with my sauce. Still worked out.

Afterwards, we headed to U St, where I was hoping to get some Crunchy Feet at the previously mentioned CakeLove before hitting the Black Cat for the Depeche Mode Dance Party, but alas, no go. However, at 1:15 on the Metro, we realized we were hungry again and hit the Fairfax IHOP, which I'm sure we don't need to discuss ::foodie guilt::. My only comment is goddammit, COOK YOUR EGGS IN BUTTER. Thank you.

And then today, lunch led us (at Debbie's urging) to the inestimable Turcuisine in Herndon. So. GOOD. Very friendly and attentive service, for starters. We ordered the dolmas as a starter (rice pilaf wrapped in grape leaves, served with tzatziki and lemon)and they were SO. GOOD. Well, assuming you like them to start with...Aaron doesn't. Some people object.

Then, Adana kebabs in pita for Aaron and I, and a Kofta for Debs. I have to say, they were some of the best kebabs I've had. I've had some issues with kebabs being heavy and food-coma inducing, but these were light, and well-spiced, with some of the fluffiest pitas I've had. with two Turkish coffees sweetened to taste, lunch ran approximately $35 for three people. I highly recommend you try this restaurant if you're in the area.

Cue another break, and it was time for dinner with friends at Harry's Essential Grille in Tyson's Corner. I have to admit, I was biased towards loving this restaurant for starters, as it supports some causes near and dear to my heart: organic, local, and inexpensive. I was just waiting for it to live up to being delicious...and it did. I ordered the Basil Gazpacho and the Pointe Calamari (I'm a major sucker for fried squid bits, in all its variants). The gazpacho had excellent texture and was super-refreshing. The calamari's frying was excellent, but the cilantro aioli could have used more punch...maybe more tartness? and the marinara could have been more generously portioned and spicier. But, I have very distinct feelings on how fried food should be balanced, condiment-wise. Aaron ordered an organic beef burger, which came out slightly over-cooked, but still delicious, and served with RIDICULOUSLY good Yukon Gold steak fries. Mark ordered the rib-eye, which was also somewhat overcooked, but judging from the eye-rolling and moaning, I assume he enjoyed it. I can confirm that his garnishes were delicious - one was an ENTIRE CLOVE of roasted garlic. As a complete garlic devotee, I was very happy. Other members of our little party ordered the trout, Moroccan chicken, and two chocolate souffles.

And, as a bonus, bread to the table is a delicious sourdough laden with walnuts and other nutty bits, served PIPING hot from the oven with organic butter from a farm in Pennsylvania. It totally brought little bready bits of joy to my little treehugging-proto-ecoist heart. :P

All in all, from what I can tell, Essential has a few tiny kinks to work out, but it's VERY GOOD right now, and I think it's worth trying for all concerned. Also, their claim to "popular" prices is pretty true - dinner for Aaron and I was still only around 35-40 dollars, and we were both quite sated. Mark's rib-eye was probably the most expensive thing on the menu, and that was $26. It's a perfectly viable venue for dinner for a couple of postgrads.

Anyway, those are my food adventures for the week. Stay tuned - I'll be making excursions to Boston and Toronto for interviews in the upcoming weeks, and I'll be happily posting from both locales.

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July 11, 2006

The Great ... no, the Awesome Jones Cafe

After everything I'd heard about the Great Jones Cafe, the last thing I was expecting when Meg and I walked through the doors last weekend was a Southern-style roadside shack. (I use the word shack lightly; shack-chic might be a bit better as a descriptor.)

Both of us ordered from the day's specials: an andouille sausage po boy with sweet 'tato fries for Meg and a plate of cornmeal breaded catfish with collards for me. And as you can see from the picture (right), we were treated to reasonable prices.

We should have gotten the 95-cent order of jalepeno corn bread. Everyone around us was raving about it. Next time.

The food was pretty awesome; Meg's po boy came on a ciabatta-type chewy bread and came dressed with with sauteed onions and peppers, and some pickle chips. The sausage was more than a little spicy, about a 2 on my spicy scale, and the heat rounded out the otherwise sweet and mild dish. And the super-thin sweet potato fries were wonderful, if a bit soggy.

My catfish was interesting; not really at all what I was expecting , but hey, I'm a yankee. When I read cornmeal breaded, I imagined something with a serious crunch (as if there were lightly crushed cornflakes in the batter). The cornmeal breading was that: mealy with a little bit of corn. Not too much crunch. Anyway, the ample serving of catfish was tender and mild. That mildness was more than made up for by the kick-you-in-the-teeth collard greens. They were predictably pungent and garlicky.

To finish, we ordered a slice of the peanut butter pie. Both of us expected a gelatinous peanut butter pudding pie but were incredibly pleased at the light, creamy pie that came instead. It was light brown in color with thin ribbons of chocolate on top and some kind of tender crust. The peanut butter seemed to have been whipped with cream and cinnamon, because the texture was a dry-ish light fluff.

We left full and happy.

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July 7, 2006

The Gourmetro hits 1,000

[a little sob]

Our little blog got its 1,000th visit the other day.

As of this writing we've got 1,013 visits from five continents. Aside from the usual Northeasterners, we have a sizeable following in California. Well, it might not be a 'following' as such, but we can say we get a goodly number of hits from the Golden State.

And giving credit where it's due, The Girl Who Ate Everything has had a lot to do with directing people here.

CHOW news

I am so emotionally torn and confused at CHOW's recent news of its departure from print. I was an early reader and supporter (and they are another reason The Gourmetro exists).

Should I be upset with advertisers for not believing in them or the 20-somethings the mag was aimed at (I'm sure it could be our fault somehow)? It was such an awesome outlet for people who love to cook but don't have money, time, or highly-tuned skills.

It's more likely that I will be happy that Jane Goldman, editor, will continue spreading the good word on the forthcoming (this September) when CHOW will merge with Chowhound. It's good to get confirmation, because I knew something was up once I'd heard that Chowhound was bought by CNet and their logo changed to the CHOWish font.

I got to meet the CHOW gang last winter and they were awesome and I wish them the best.

< /gushing >

July 6, 2006

Oh Mister Dumpling Man...

After fighting failure all day (finding a new apartment sucks. Does it ever), I tried to make my way back to the subway from the depths of the Lower East Side (or the East Village, I can never tell where the one and and the other begins - regardless, there weren't really any subways around, so that's why I think it's the Lower East Side). And anyone who knows the LES area knows the profusion of restaurants. All those restaurants and stands, with their siren calls, leading haphazard diners to their death on the rocks. Or something.

Over the last few weeks I've been trying to eat out less. Well really to spend less money, but eating out less is perhaps my key to spending less.

But I can't help but look at menus. I mean, they're right out there on the street waiting to be read. And on this hot, hazy (smoggy, disgusting) summer day, what better than a slow walk through the Lower East Side, reading menus. (Of course I can think of some better ways to spend said day, but they involve sangria and sitting in a window overlooking poor saps outside reading menus)

And I was doing reasonably well until I hit the Dumpling Man on St. Marks Place.

Oh spicy, salty rapture.

I let the cashier order for me and ended up with six seared pork dumplings, monster sauce, and an Izzie pomegranate soda. They took their time and it was so worth it. The slightly crisp dumplings went very well with the sauce (an extra $1.50, on the side), and the sauce was something else. It had Asian chives in it and was exceptionally spicy and garlicky, but too much so. On the Burn-Your-Face-Off scale, where spicy Thai is the hottest (leaving me with tingly lips for 45 minutes and bringing tears to my eyes), this sauce was a 4 (meaning that it brought a tear to my eye when I accidentally inhaled some, and that it made my lips tingle for a few minutes).

Oh, and the atmosphere. It's a small place, modern-looking with glass windows into the dumpling assembly line. The trays look like bamboo.

I left happy and full.

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Dumpling shot by missdju at flickr. Thanks.

July 5, 2006

From the Office for Unmitigated Failure: Strawberry Frittata

I will adapt from Alice B. Toklas, cookbook author.

"The [frittata] was dead, killed, assassinated, murdered in the first, second, and third degree. Limp, I fell into a chair with my hands still unwashed , reached for a cigarette, lighted it and waited for the police to come."

In the last few weeks, I have committed over 4 quarts of otherwise wonderful strawberries to an awful death. When this project started, I was reasonably confident that I could adapt some existing recipes to recreate some subway musician's hallucination of a frittata containing strawberries and ricotta cheese.

The first iteration gave me hope. It wasn't too bad, I reckoned; less cheese, more strawberries, and maybe some melted cheese could make it work. What I didn't realize was that it was the strawberries themselves that were the problem. This new frittata with shredded Gruyere cheese, ricotta, and all the normal frittata ingredients would have been egg-a-licious if it weren't for the disgustingly stewed strawberries.

There are only a few times in my gustatory history where I can remember feeling physically revolted upon tasting anything. No, just one time. Stewed carrots. I was five.

I can understand why it failed, but I don't know how to fix it. The recipe has too much liquid in it. Too much liquid that gives it that nauseating, soggy, soupy quality. No food porn either. It looked horrifying. That and my inability to read, measure, and execute simple tasks. In a ray of potentially good news, I decided to top it with a strawberry salsa. Unlike the frittata, the salsa didn't suck (however, in all truthfulness, I botched that recipe, too. Instead of leafy coriander, I used coriander seeds. In my defense, the recipe wasn't specific about what kind of coriander was to be used.)

If I were to make it again, I would vigorously reduce the liquid contents; draining the ricotta liquid, no water, and maybe draining any strawberry juice. Also, I might put the strawberries in much later in the cooking process, instead of in the beginning (to stop them from stewing).

In conclusion, I cannot, in good conscience, continue development of this recipe and for the same reasons cannot publish my working recipe. I cannot subject anyone, no matter how brave, to it. Save yourselves, and please, think of the strawberries.

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July 2, 2006

Service with a...shot

I came into Creme Cafe with high expectations. Creme had been recommended to my roommate and she had been wanting to try it out for awhile, so our little group headed on over there last week. Creme is a Southern, soul food-y place in the U Street area, which as Anharchy previously explained, is quite vibrant and hipster-licious.

The five of us - the sixth was running late and joined us a bit later - arrived around 7ish and decided to eat in the "lounge," the area that seemed sort of like a waiting area with tables. The restaurant is very small - probably ten non-lounge tables against one of the walls, parallel to the bar. I really enjoyed our table (three small high-tops pulled together), as we had an excellent people-watching view and were removed from much of the kitchen and bar bustle.

So we get there, and having heard excellent things about their cocktails, we all order some fruity girly drinks. Katie Rod ordered something with Tanqueray, which they were out of. I know it's only Wednesday, but gin seems like something pretty basic to be out of. The waiter recommended another beverage, so she went with that. I had a Yellow Cab - vanilla vodka & pineapple juice. Quite delicious, and not too sweet. We did the requisite drink pass, and were all satisfied with all the different cocktails that were ordered.

Chris was a bit late, so we lingered over our drinks until he arrived - it was probably about 20 minutes until we actually ordered food. Again, they didn't have the ribs that poor Katie Rod wanted. Now Creme is the sort of small, classy place that has a very small menu. The ribs was one of maybe seven potential entrees - and what I'm guessing are a very popular one at that. So she went for the shrimp & grits, another highly recommended dish there.

So we're chatting, ordering another round of drinks....and waiting. We get the usual "your food is coming out soon!" from the waiter...but we keep waiting. After awhile, we're starting to get a little miffed. Plus, it seems like our waiter is avoiding even talking to us. FINALLY, he comes over saying there was some sort of mix-up and that our food was coming out soon. For our trouble, he brought Chris a "shot" of sambuca.

Um, what?

At the time, we were slightly amused by the gesture, but the more I've thought about this I've realized how absolutely odd it was. First of all, does anyone like sambuca? NO. Second, how does giving something to one person at our table make the rest of us any happier? Third, who does that??? Does our being a group of twenty-somethings mean that shots make everything better? And lastly, it was a GIANT shot. Props to Chris for taking it to the face.

About five minutes later, the waiter brings out some bread and (what we think was) hummus. Approximately 1.8 minutes later, our food comes out. A little late with the satiation there, server-man.

...unfortunately, they got Kelly's order wrong and had to send it back. She waited about ten more minutes before her crabcake came out, only with a "last but not least" to show for it. Not even an apology. Excuse me???

Service aside, the food was excellent. I had Mama Laura's chicken, which was tender, juicy, and served with rice and a smattering of vegetables. Some bones to deal with, but nothing too annoying. Everyone else seemed to love their food - Allison got a burger, which she asked for with cheese...which of course it didn't have when it arrived. And condiments did not come around until fifteen minutes after we were served and she was 2/3 of the way through the burger and fries.

Would I go back and give them a second chance? Surprisingly...yes. The food was delicious and different, and something that I would like the try again. Maybe on the weekends they're more prepared, and I've also heard excellent things about their brunch. But Wednesday is officially a Creme-free night from now on.

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June 29, 2006

Like a hot new crush.

Sooooooooooooo, last Saturday, Aaron, Debbie, and I hit up the National Building Museum to check out the Green Homes Exhibit (because I am ridiculously pro-eco-design = pretty), and in the GlideHouse they'd built in the beginning of the exhibit, there were some beautiful, beautiful things. I mean, seriously, can you have food porn without cookware/kitchenporn? I think not. After all, that's why places like Williams Sonoma exist. But I digress! For those eco-conscious foodies out there, take a look at these babies: Bambu Veneerware Plates. They have sturdier, dishwasher-safe versions for everyday use as well.

Or perhaps knives are your thing? The Schaschlik might just be what the doctor ordered (although on a funnier note, I found this while I was googling the aforementioned).

After we were done at the museum, a brisk walk past the International Spy Museum brought us to the newly-opened Cowgirl Creamery. Between the three of us, we purchased a pound of medium-aged gouda, a 1/4-lb of SUPER-aged gouda (for me! for me!), a round of Cowgirl's own Mt. Tam, (so. so. good. triple-creamy deliciousness..., and some kind of lamby-gouda-thingie that I can't remember the name of. Add some Apple Scrapple and Gouda & Guinness bread from Great Harvest, and some organic strawberries, and you have us gorging ourselves on cheese! All I needed was some beer.

The weekend previous, on a different expedition to DC, Debbie and I met up with Kimberly at CakeLove/LoveCafe for cake. What I learned from the experience: Crunchy Feet are delectable (and by that token, all tarts are to be eaten immediately as they are built on top of Crunchy Feet), Neil's Hat Trick is amazing, and yes, if you are a single girl buying $30 dollars worth of pastry, you will get a funny look from the cashier. While the hype for CakeLove is to a certain extent accurate (owner Warren Brown now has his own show on Food Network - Sugar Rush), watch out for floods of hipsters patronizing either portion of the establishment. They're there, and you can tell by how they're dressed. I mean, it is on U Street after all...

So, with many linkages and scattered foodfare, I bid you adieu until the next time I gorge myself and feel like you should know about it!

P.S. Joanie, so, this Cheesetique gig...:P

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June 22, 2006

This cheese will kick your ass

I am no stranger to offensive cheese. Sometimes I welcome it, but this 14 oz. wheel of Coulommiers definitely took me by surprise. It was, and may still be, on sale at Fairway for $6.99, and was within my budget so I thought I'd give it a shot.

Coulommiers is from Brie. On first sight, I got the idea that this cheese would not be quite as mild as I'm used to--instead of the usual mostly-white Brie rind, there was a lot more grey, and even some yellow (yes, a little yellow).

The meat, as it were, of the cheese is not out of the ordinary by any standards, but the rind is some of the most odiferous and terrifying stuff I've ever eaten. The innards are wonderfully smooth and creamy (note fat contents on the picture), but the rind was often distracting. I felt bad when I ate the stuff in the break room the other day and the entire room started smelling like cheese.

The taste, minus the rind, which is more-or-less indescribable, was slightly nutty and very tart. If you ignore the texture, you might have a taste experience similar to goat cheese, in its tanginess.

Did this cheese deserve its own post? Definitely.

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June 20, 2006

From Recipe Development: Strawberry Frittata

This has a weird story behind it, so I may as well get it out of the way.

There's a subway performer that I talk to in the 14th Street traverse - that hot, awful, uphill, block-long tunnel from 6th to 7th Avenues. Richard plays the flugelhorn, which is basically a mellower-sounding trumpet, and he started talking to me one time when I stopped to listen to him (while that traverse might not be good for much, the echoes make a trumpet sound awesome).

Anyway, since then I've had a couple of interesting conversations with him. During one of them, I mentioned that I loved trying (and writing about) new and interesting foodstuffs, so he told me a story about how he and his bandmates were instantly and ravenously hungry this one time and they made a strawberry frittata with ricotta cheese in it.

That was a few months ago, right after I made the bacon and mustard greens frittata, actually, and the idea of developing a strawberry frittata has been kicking around in my mind since then.

After taking a trip out to see my dad in the Hamptons, I got some strawberries from the local farm stand that made me want to try the recipe out. I'm not going to give specifics until it's good enough to share with our general readership, but the first attempt came out reasonably well. I purposely made it quite bland so I could see what I had to work with, only adding eggs, whole-milk ricotta, and chopped and macerated strawberries.

I might take it in a South American/ Spanish direction by making some kind of fruit salsa.

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June 14, 2006

Dispatches from the Monger, vol. II

What, praytell, is a quince?

The question has plagued me for ages. Or maybe just whenever I go into the fancy produce section of Whole Foods. The quince is a foodstuff, like jicama, that I really want to incorporate into my cooking somehow, but am sort of freaked out how to go about doing so (and if anyone has any jicama recipe suggestions, let me know).

But the latest reason the quince question has come up again is because of membrillo, a quince paste that is (so they tell me) a part of Spanish cuisine.

In my Adventures in Cheesemonging, I come across many people who a) love cheese, and b) know new ways to consume cheese. And trust me, they let you know what the best way to consume it is, whether you want to know or not.

One of our most popular cheeses is a rosemary manchego - the loverlyness of the 'chego, rolled into all sorts of herby goodness. MMM. A lady came in the other day and asked me if I had tried said manchego with the membrillo and she GUSHED that it was absolutely the most amazing thing she had ever had, that's how they eat the stuff in Spain, and that I MUST try it. Fine lady, yeesh, I'll try it already! But really, I spend half my paycheck there anyway, so I picked up some manchego and membrillo and went on my merry way.

And what did I discover?

a) A quince is in fact a sort of a pear/apple hybrid.
b) Quince paste, though it may conjure up images of some gross glue-eating kindergartener, is not paste-like at all, but looks more like a firm jelly. However, it is not quite as spreadable as jelly and is more sliceable, which makes it quite convenient to slice and place on top of the 'chego or whatever else you enjoy. But if you don't like the slightly grainy texture of pears, quinces are probably not for you, nor is their paste.
c) The paste on its own? Too sweet. It definitely needs something savory to balance out the flavor. Even if you like sweet jams, this might be a little too much (on its own) for your morning toast or PB&J.
d) But the membrillo and manchego together? Delicious. The sweet slipperiness of the quince paste was perfect paired with the creamy zing of the manchego, and was even more delicious on top of a piece of raisin walnut bread. Could be breakfast (with the bread), could be dessert on its own. I've heard that Italians do a similar thing, drizzling honey over their peccorino for dessert, but I have yet to try that.

Why don't we Americans incorporate cheese into our desserts more often? Are we freaked out by combinations of the sweet & savory? Or does our gluttonous nature only allow us to think of seven-layer chocolate cakes as dessert?

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Special thanks to Scoobymoo over at Flickr for this awesome photo of quinces.

June 13, 2006

Failed Doughnut Plant Trip Ends at Schiller's

Doughnuts are one of my other obsessions, and I'd been dying to try out the Doughnut Plant for months now. With all the mild spring (?) weather we've been having Marc and I decided it was time to give it a shot.

The Lower East Side still fascinates me. It's so small but takes so long to get to where you want to be. The Doughnut Plant neighborhood reminded me a lot of Brooklyn in its dirtiness (but places like Thor and Teany kept me from forgetting which borough I was in).

During the half-hour walk, one of us wondered whether or not the plant would be sold out of their precious doughy wares by 5 p.m. on a Monday. "A Monday? Who eats doughnuts on a Monday?" Turns out I was right. The Plant is open every day of the week except Monday. We were a bit tired from the walk, so we weren't too upset. We'll be back, Doughnut Plant.

But in the meantime, Marc was beginning to complain of hunger. I'd seen that we passed Schiller's Liquor Bar, so we started back North for some drinks and food. Schiller's is a pretty awesome place - a look in-between a barber shop and an old timey soda fountain place. The prices for food and drinks, standard and specialty, were about average for the hipness.

After bread and olive oil was served, Marc, Derek and I made our orders - a Pimm's Cup with a mozzarella and tomato sandwich on toasted country bread for me, a Raspberry Bramble and a decent burger for Marc, and a frozen margarita with a Cuban sandwich for Derek.

First, the drinks. The Pimm's Cup tasted similar to the Strawberry Fields Meg got at Barmarche, which is to say it was summery in its sweet cucumber-ness. I forget what exactly was in this pimms cup, but I could taste the vegetal notes of the cucumber and mint as well as some sweetness or lemon flavor. Marc's Raspberry Bramble surprised me. I fully expected a overpoweringly sweet/tart girly raspberry drink, but the bramble was subtle and nuanced. It came layered with a combination of gin, chamboard, and something that made the gin cloudy. Oh, and it had the obligatory frozen raspberry. And, finally, Derek's cheap[er] frozen margarita tasted like it was supposed to.

The food was similarly good. Marc's burger wasn't anything terribly special, but my tomato/mozzarella sandwich and Derek's Cuban were quite good. The highlights of mine were the freshness of the ingredients (basil pesto sauce nearly dripped on me a number of times, but that's forgivable) and the lightly toasted country bread - I hate when toast rips the roof of my mouth apart. Marc said his fries tasted homemade, and Derek enjoyed the spicy pickles on his sandwich.

To top it off, a waiter came by and offered us some free doughnuts (they must have been getting ready for dinner). The cinnamon-sugar doughnuts were medium-light in density and temporarily satisfied my doughnut desire.

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Special thanks to dgphilli over at Flickr for the photo.

June 7, 2006

Burgers & Cupcakes (aaand more cupcakes)

Burgers and cupcakes.

Cupcakes and burgers.

I occasionally try to think about how obsessed I've gotten with those two foods since I moved here last fall. In a city with thousands of restaurants and hundreds of cuisines and styles, I keep gravitating back to these embarrassingly basic items. What it comes down to, I think, is that I'd had my share of both before I came here and that makes it easier to set a benchmark. When I have Vietnamese food, it usually tastes like the best Vietnamese food I've ever had (since I've had so little Vietnamese). Give me a cupcake and I can talk about it until I'm as blue as the buttercream icing. (I couldn't help myself. It was better than anything I could think of for a burger)

So this past weekend, Meg, her brother, and I went to Burgers & Cupcakes for some, um, well, burgers. and cupcakes. (As a side note, it's somewhat frustrating that The Girl Who Ate Everything gets to these places before I do. I mean, she eats everything, I know, but sometimes I wish I could eat something somewhere before she does. One day I could be The Guy Who Ate Somewhere First. It's a good aspiration, I'll add it to my list.)

The space looks more like a bakery than a diner, with metallic tables and fun artwork. The painting of the dude eating an onion-topped hamburger and breathing on his, visibly distressed, dog is my favorite. The menu had a bunch of interesting options, including salmon burgers, but the coolest part may have been the topping choices. A bit pricey, but how often can you have a salmon burger with avocado, goat cheese and vegetarian chili (ok, that sounds pretty awful to me, but you could have it). Meg and I got classic cheeseburgers (mine medium, hers medium-well) and her brother went all crazy and added double-thick bacon. And they weren't lying. That bacon was really thick.

B&C offers solid but not outstanding, restaurant-style burgers (as defined in this Augieland post). The size was appropriate and there were moderate levels of juiciness, but they all came more or less grey. Juicy, but grey (which still receives a passing grade in my book; in most cases I could care less about the color as long as it's not desiccated). The fries were a bit soggy.

And the cupcakes. We tried a bunch. The blueberry with vanilla icing, vanilla with chocolate, and a few regular vanilla buttercreams (they were out of pretty much everything else). They were interesting, but inconsistent and DRY! Is there anyplace in this enormous, apparently godforsaken city that makes moist cupcakes? The vanilla with chocolate icing was probably my favorite; the icing was more like ganache than regular icing and matched the density of the cake very well. The buttercreams were quite standard. Bleh. Three inches of buttercream atop a bland cupcake does nothing for me.

The burgers were good, the vanilla/chocolate cupcake was also good, and service was bad; I would go back.

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Special thanks to kendiala over at flickr for the cupcake.