July 24, 2007

The Afterglow: Dirty Bird to Go

Ok, NY Mag. You all had a number of solid picks in the 2007 Cheap Eats issue, but I've got a bone to pick about the Dirty Bird omission. Seven dollars a hauntingly tender organic chicken 2-piece plus a side is a deal if I've ever heard one. And if DB's omission weren't bad enough, S'Mac's presence was an added insult. That insipid, gloppy goop is novel, for sure, but not among the city's best.

When Joanie and I stopped by last weekend, I was excited to see if the quality had remained the same since my last visit. She'd never been there before and was a bit skeptical while I raved about the chicken.

Last year, pretty much everybody ( Eater, Augieland (now defunct? It hasn't updated since April), Ed Levine, Egulleters, NY Times, NY Mag, etc.) put their two cents in about the Bird, but the press died shortly thereafter. There have been some very positive notes on Yelp but little else.

I agreed (and agree) with Ganda from Eat Drink One Woman on the fact that while the chicken totally rocks, the sides are lackluster. Last year I got the napa cabbage cole slaw (mushy, nondescript) and the bone-dry corn bread. Yeah. Not the best. This year I tried some new ones, and while they were better, they still weren't great. The mac 'n cheese was actually quite good (take that S'Mac); neither too runny nor too salty. The dirty rice on the other hand, was boring.
Give me some spice.

If it weren't for the included features on street venders, I'd have thought lack of seating (four stools on two bars) kept it from its rightful place in Cheap Eats 07. Or it could have been the whole Korean fried chicken thing. Gah.

Eat this chicken. Each piece may take minutes off your life, but it's totally worth it; the crisp, salty buttermilk-dipped skin will stay with you.

The Afterglow is a reoccurring feature where Gourmetros visit buzzworthy spots a bit after the buzz. Call us lazy if you must, but we just want to find out for ourselves if the places were ever worth it.

July 19, 2007

Fake sausage makes a real tasty snack

Elizabeth and I had planned on making Enchiladas tonight, but well, one thing led to another and with neither of us being terribly hungry, I wound up unfed at quarter to ten. I wanted to eat something, but having little in the cabinet and not really wanting a lot, I was left cobbling together a snack from the fridge. I walked over to the stairs, telling Elizabeth, “I’m going to make myself something to eat.”

“Oh yeah? What?”

“Nothing you’d like.”

That was enough. She's notoriously unadventurous with food. When we started dating, she considered Italian food to be exotic. I, on the other hand, still feel the need for adventurous cooking instilled in my brain by “Ratatouille”. It was 9:55, time to play.

I should preface this by saying that there are certain things about my own eating that make me a bad foodie. First off, I try to keep semi-kosher. I’m not religious per se, and my own kitchen is as unkosher as all get out, but it makes me feel more connected with my cultural heritage. Even before I decided to abstain from swine, I’d gone away from seafood of any form. I don’t like things that swim, though I wouldn’t be disinclined to trying dolphin at some point. I'd like to take a bite out of every endangered species on the planet, you know, so I can try them before they're gone. Now that the bald eagle is no longer on that list, it’s sort of lost it’s mystique.

On the other hand, I love fake meat, and am willing to try just about any form of it. My current favorite is the breakfast sausage from GimmeLean. The really nice thing about it is that it comes in this big tube and you sort of have to just wrench out a chunk of it when you want some "sausage". Because you have to work it in your hands a bit to put it in the shape you want it, it feels a bit less like heating up a frozen snack, and more like actually making something.

Anyway, back to my experiment.

The counters had just been wiped down, and since GimmeLean is pretty sticky, I put down a piece of wax paper. I took out three chunks of GimmeLean, about a teaspoon or so each, and rolled them into balls. Afterwards, I smashed them down hard. Once they were flat, I took out a bit of adobo sauce saved from last time I made chipotle sauce, and spread it thinly onto each patty.

I should mention here that this might have been a slight mistake. Adobo sauce is extremely spicy. It’s what really keeps in the heat in a canned chipolte. If I’d had any chipotle sauce left, that would probably have made these better. But I didn’t, and this was supposed to be a quick snack.

After the adobe was down, I stuck a bit of sharp white cheddar into the middle of each sausage and folded the whole patty up, smoothing out the edges. One of the nice things about working with GimmeLean is that, since it is so sticky, it comes back together very well. It’s sort of like working with clay that way. Afterwards I just heated up some olive oil in my iron skillet and fried the sausages lightly for 30 seconds on each side. Finally, I drained them on paper towels for a bit. (Total cook time, for those that haven’t noticed, was about three minutes.)

Though I warned you about my mistake with the adobe, I actually think they came out pretty well. There’s a good kick to them, and anyone who’s afraid of spice should stay away. I think the best one was the one with the most cheese, so feel free to put a big 'ol chunk in there. Just make that you don’t put in so much that you can’t close the sausage again. You’re trying to heat it through, not fry the cheese. Besides the high degree of spiciness, they ate very easily. Especially when just off the paper towel, when the cheese inside was still hot and melted. Though I think a real salsa would have done better than what is basically hot sauce paste, I’m glad the adobe was there. It gave the sausages that great tongue-burning kick, a nice smoky flavor, and a third flavor that didn’t overpower the rest of the snack or stay so mute that you couldn’t tell it was there. The cheddar worked well with the sausage. The flavors are similar but distinct, so you can’t always tell where the one ends and where the other begins. The sausage definitely was the principle flavor, but if you like fake sausage, it was a good flavor to be in the lead.

On the whole, I’m proud of my little snack. Proud enough that I’m going to keep on working on it until it’s perfect, and when it is, I’ll update this post and tell you. For now though, if you find yourself not really starving but a bit peckish, and it’s late so you don’t want to be in the kitchen for a while, you may want to give it a try. Your tongue will have mixed feelings, but ignore Negative Nancy, the spice hater. Enjoy.

July 17, 2007

She said [He said]: Camaradas el Barrio

With its chill atmosphere and great music, I am definitely a fan of Camaradas el Barrio (115th and 1st Ave). As Skip and I geared up for our meal, I couldn't wait to sample a new set of wonderful goodies I had not been so adventurous to try previously. Irrrrk! Screeching sound! Halt! Wonderful for the carnivores, not so much for the veg heads like me. (Now I remember why I’ve only had one thing on the menu.) I'll admit that I'm mixed, more veg than omni, and, to be fair, it is true that Puerto Rican cuisine is meat-dominated. But my city ways sometimes assume the world should cater to me, right? In the past, Camaradas Sangria has been a featured item, and the food ... not so much. Tonight, however, it was front and center and the rest was a mixed bag of nuts.

We started with the root and vine chips, which were a mix of yuca, battata and plantain. They were a bit too hard for my taste, and the radish sauce tasted like creamy ketchup. Not impressed, but still ate my fair share sans dip. The half platter finally arrives (after a very long wait, and much discussion over sold-out items). It must be noted that every time I go to this spot they are out of something, whether it be the veggie pastelillos or the new featured sangria. The consistency is definitely lacking.

[The radish dip was a big disappointment. When we ordered, I expected spicy and creamy, not insipid clawing sweetness. Something akin to biting into a fresh radish, not Thousand Island dressing. To be fair, it did compliment the spicy yuca.]

This particular sampler, priced at $12.50 is a great deal for two, and the romantic setting makes it a great date item. The sampler includes a mix of four menu items, providing the opportunity to try a good chunk of Camaradas' offering. The pastelillos, which is a fried meat or vegetable patty similar to an empanada, was divine. It was fried just right and the filling was scrumptious. [I found them to be the most interesting item on the platter; The chorizo and shrimp skewers were enjoyable, but somewhat flat. Not much going on. The pastelillo filling on the other hand had a good mix of spices and begged for the deep frying.]

The chorizo (yes, I had a bite) was great, excellent [smoky] flavor and perfectly charred. Have you ever had fried mozzarella sticks? Here their called croquetas [and look more like McDonald's hash browns than mozz. sticks]. They did the job, but were very plain. However, they were accompanied by a perfectly well balanced garlic sauce that more than made up for it. [Plain? Even with the mild garlic sauce, they were like black holes of blandness.] If you're on the afore mentioned date, I’d pass on the sauce. The shrimp skewers - fantastic! What a way to cook a shrimp. They had a faint sweet and tangy flavor. Slightly charred, they came unaccompanied and didn't need a chaperon whatsoever.

Drinks? Red wine sangria of course. The taste is the refreshing combination of bite and juice. I am a fan of their sangria because it is a great deal and so home-grown. The fruit is undesirable, which is unfortunate because who doesn’t like a little wine infused orange. But the balance more than makes up for the repetitiveness of green apples. [The beer selection was also quite good. I accompanied my meal with a Brooklyn Six Points.]

Inconsistent service, a hit-and-miss menu, and picky vegetarians aside, Camaradas scores due to the decent priced menu, and unique ambiance. [I'd be a regular if I weren't moving. The atmosphere, sangria, and reasonable prices were enough to keep me going back. I only wish they hadn't been out of vegetable and chicken pastelillos, northern and southern alcapurrias, and chorizo croquetas. Mind you, this was 7pm on a weeknight.]

She said [He said] is a new feature where two or more Gourmetros eat out and discuss. In this case, it was Skip and Butter (our shiny new SpaHa correspondent) Have any recommendations? Let us know.

July 12, 2007

I can check that one off the list...

I've made a resolution to catch up on my posting, so I'll be attempting to fulfill my Japan-listy-review goals. Let's start with something tasty :P

Just in case anyone didn't know, I am obsessed with Iron Chef. So, it only follows that I'd be a bit obsessed with Iron Chef restaurants, gimmicky though they might occasionally be. And just to clarify, I'm talking original Japanese Iron Chef - RYORI NO TETSUJIN, bell pepper-crunchin' and all (I don't despise Iron Chef America, and Alton Brown is one of my favorite foodie icons ever, but it just isn't the same).

I've been to Morimoto in Philly a few times (and lurve it lots), but have yet to make a call upon the New York incarnation, which is totally on the list. But, my recent excursion in the Land of the Rising Sun gave me the chance to drop by La Rochelle, Chef Hiroyuki Sakai's lovely restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo. And good lord, it was delicious.

I've not had the pleasure of a coursed meal without being on my parents' dime before, so I can't say that I knew what to expect. I was pretty concerned about being a totally gauche American and getting my forks confused, but I'm pretty happy to say that the experience was excellent enough it didn't even occur to me to think about it. So without further ado, the food:

Aaron and I chose the Histoire Prix Fixe set menu (Chef Sakai's Grand Traditional Menu, 15000 yen/person, approx. 130 dollars), having no idea what else to do, and really feeling up to a splurge on our last week in Japan.

1. Three small appetizers together: Seafood consomme jelly, served with mini skewers of turtle and prawn, above an asparagus salad with sea urchin, lobster, and creamy dressing.

2. Large champignon mushroom, stuffed with foie gras. Topped with sabayon, two slices of strawberry, and served on a bed of asparagus in a marsala sauce.

3. Light salad: Japanese turnip (kabu) sliced thinly, layered with lobster and ripe mango. Served with a Prosecco and lemon dressing. AND might I add, the parsley on it was gold-leafed!

4. Steamed abalone and shark's fin, accompanied by fava beans, bok choy, and starches in a truffle sauce.

5. Bordeaux (I can't remember the name...Santa Marrillion?) Sherbet.

6. Wagyu prime rib, served with grilled seasonal vegetables, in a yuzu sauce.

7. Fresh strawberries, served with a lime cream and (yuzu?) chilled yogurt.

Mmm, foodgasm. Everything was beautifully flavored and very seasonally appropriate but if I had to pick favorites, I'd definitely go for the kabu salad and the wagyu prime rib. The salad had this fantastic mix of textures and flavors, crunch and light and sweet and tart and mmm, I really need to see if I can hack duplicating it. Even a pale imitation would probably taste pretty good :P. The prime rib was incredibly buttery, without leaving the cloying feeling of coating your soft palate with fat.

Minor caveats: I hadn't ever had shark's fin or turtle before, and while both were pleasant, I have vague moral concerns about the acquisition of shark's fin which weren't dispelled by any sense of overwhelming deliciousness. I was also uncertain about the idea of a Bordeaux sorbet, as I'm terrible with wines (pass the Belvedere, please), but it was really very delicate and refreshing.

I've only got the one crappy picture, as it feels verrrrry strange to be trying to surreptitiously photograph your food in a nice French restaurant, but hopefully, it'll give you a sense of the lovely plating. If you look at the top of the salad, you can just make out the gold-leafing on the parsley (warm lighting + turning off the flash to be sneakier = poor detail >_<). The next time I'm in Japan, I'll definitely be going back. I might read up on fork etiquette first, though...


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July 6, 2007

Potato Pizza

I've recently made a discovery: New York Pizza has started to stink. Sure sure, there’s still that place around the corner you love, or that one place you know out in Brooklyn, but I tell you this, that place used to be on every other block. I’ve heard theories ranging from the water to the mob, and am not wholly convinced about any of them. Personally, I blame the tourists for not knowing any better. They’ll eat slices from Famous-Original-First-Ever-Whatever-Adjective-We-Use-To-Describe-Ray’s-Pizza and then take pictures of the store-front and tell all their friends about the great pizza they ate in midtown. Because of this, the pizza joints don’t really have to try so much any more. And it’s not just in midtown.

It was with this in mind that I began, call it… a quest. I need to find pizza in New York that I know as my own. Since then, I’ve been sampling just about any pizza I can find. There are qualifications. 1) A New York Slice is thin, not too little cheese, not too much. 2) There is a decent amount of sauce on the slice, but not so much as it overpowers the rest of the meal. 3) The slice should not cost more than two dollars. And finally, 4) You can get a slice at the counter, and walk out eating it.

I have tried many of the pizza places in New York, but I have not yet found my perfect slice. The closest I’ve come is Nina’s Pizza on Meeker Ave off Sutton in Greenpoint. It fulfilled all qualifications except for the crust, which was thicker than a traditional New York slice. I no longer live in Greenpoint, and Nina’s is a ways off the L train, so it’s not really in the running for me anymore anyway. So I’m still looking for my slice again. Still, while I’ve been looking, I have found a number of extremely wonderful alternatives.

My current favorite is the potato pizza from the Sullivan Street Bakery on 47th between 10th and 11th. For those of you who hear “potato pizza” and quiver, you have no idea what you’re missing. Sullivan Street’s potato pizza has a very thin crust, covered in scalloped potatoes. There’s perhaps half an inch of potato on top of the crust. There’s no sauce, no cheese, just crust and potato. The slices are small, but heavy. It’s three bucks a slice, but if you eat two that’s a decent meal, and in midtown, a six dollar meal means a lot.

The pizza itself is absolutely fantastic. It’s served room temperature. The crust is very moist where it touches the potatoes, but crunchy just underneath. I think there’s some onion in there, but that might just be me trying to figure out how to make it. The pizza is well spiced, a bit of rosemary is in there, good amount of salt and pepper. I have no idea if it actually is healthy, but I know that at the very least, it tastes that way.

Anyway, even if you’re not so into potato pizza (which you really should be, I mean, it’s potato, and it’s pizza – there’s nothing NOT to love), you might still want to check out the Sullivan Street Bakery. The bread’s outstanding, and they’re known for having some of the best sandwiches in town. I haven’t tried them. My buddy James has, and though he didn’t agree with “best sandwiches in town” he did like the sandwich. Also, there are another four kinds of pizza. There’s the mushroom, which I won't eat because I can't stand mushrooms. A friend of mine tried it though, and proclaimed it the best mushroom pizza he'd ever eaten. There’s one with just a tomato sauce on top, which I thought was decent, but inferior to the potato. Also, they have a plain crust which I have no interest in, and a zucchini which I haven’t gotten up the nerve yet to try. What can I say? I work in midtown, and I need to be able to find food cheap that I will want to eat!

So if you find yourself in the forties with nothing to do, I’d take the hike out to 10th and check out the Sullivan Street Bakery. And if you find great pizza for less than two bucks, I’d appreciate a shout.

July 5, 2007

[when it rains, it rains pulled pork from heaven]

Aside from Danny Meyer's annual Backyard Barbecue, I've been underwhelmed by the NYC 'cue scene. People make a big deal about Dinosaur, but I really don't see it. RUB, righteous Urban Barbecue, is another animal altogether. So to speak.

After a botched Shake Shack trip (who closes early on a Saturday?), Greg decided to take the five of us to RUB. We made the three avenue trek still reeling with disappointment from being denied salty fatty shaky goodness (but mostly the custard).

We were seated quickly and ordered the Taste of the Baron ($45), an eight-meat sampler with two sides, and some Blue Moons. Out of the meats, the pulled pork was the stand-out winner: tender, supple, and none-too-greasy. Since my 'cue background comes from Virginia, I am used to pre-sauced meat. Early saucing makes sense; it tenderizes and infuses the meat with its tangy juices. RUB's sauces --original, spicy, vinegar, and ... garlic? -- come on the side, and compliment the meat so well we were glad to mix and match instead of committing to just one.

I went back with Marc a few weeks later for the three-meat platter (with two sides, $22.75). The pulled pork, spicy sausage, and beef brisket passed the test again, and the former still trounced the others. The sawdust-dry brisket was the only disappointment. Both times. I'm excited to try the burnt ends (the fatty part of the brisket), but I wouldn't try the regular brisket again. The baked beans and shoe string onion rings rock, and the cole slaw, forgettable.

The TotB filled all of us (see picture, above), and the deep fried Oreos were about as good as any dessert I've eaten at a bbq joint. RUB's good eatin'.

Thanks to Eric for the awesome shots.

July 1, 2007

Product Extraordinaire: A better butter

A few weeks ago, Skip reviewed PB & Co's "The Heat is On," a peanut butter better used for Thai chicken and other savory dishes rather than PB&J. Around this same time, I ordered some of PB Loco's Sumatra Cinnamon and Raisin peanut butter. PB Loco - a largely online business, unless you live somewhere like Scottsdale, AZ - offers flavors such as CoCo Banana (I'll take a dozen! and a spoon!) and Asian Curry Spice (For Savory Dish Use Only). The Sumatra Cinnamon seemed like a safe choice, and ended up being as delicious as it was versatile. The texture was creamy, the raisins were plump, and the cinnamon was delightfully aromatic. It was great on sandwiches, with apples, out of the jar - I enjoyed eating it too much to try to make cookies or muffins, but I can only imagine that it would improve such things.

Because I was on such a Cinnamon-Raisin peanut butter high after my PB Loco experience (their motto is peanutbutterlicious! who doesn't love that?), I picked up some of Peanut Butter & Co.'s Cinnamon Raisin Swirl at the grocery store. I mean, even if it didn't live up to PB Loco's high standards, it couldn't actually be bad, right?

I haven't had other flavors of PB & Co. butter, so I can't say if this is true for all of its flavors, but this is a GRAINY peanut butter. I don't know if this is because of their use of evaporated cane juice as opposed to refined sugar, but I have never had peanut butter with this much grain going on. (And this is from a girl who regularly eats almond butter, the grainiest of the grainy butters.) Plus the raisins were hard and the cinnamon was much milder than I would have liked.

That said, I still ate it...and I found myself craving the PB & Co. butter at odd hours of the day. I did get used to the grainyness, and I could see how some would find it more natural-seeming and therefore more appealing. But I like my butters smooth & flavorful, so I'm sticking with PB Loco.

Thanks to Bizzy Grl over at Flickr for the beautiful pb shot.