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 chow.com (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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