Monday, February 27, 2006

Oishii!

There are few things I enjoy more than eating well and traveling around the world. But Japan has never been near the top of my list of places to go to, not because of any particular aversion, but merely because many other places have a more immediate hook or allure - the beauty of New Zealand, a particular historical sight like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the food in Thailand, or even perhaps whales in South Africa (Mcgillicudy will appreciate that). And while I expect that food in Japan would be wonderful, never have I realized that the Japanese have an "obsession" with food, as this Washington Post article tells us.

An excerpt:

Almost every town of any significant size in Japan boasts well-stocked "food souvenir" shops at airports and train stations where visitors snap up regional specialties. Thousands of food pilgrims regularly flock to the countryside in search of seasonal dishes. Japanese travel agencies call food one of the main engines of international travel. Kinki Nippon Tourist, a leading travel agency, peddles scores of popular food-themed escapes, including sweets tours of Taiwan and afternoon-tea trips to Hong Kong.


As well, the Japanese enjoy food television even more than Americans like their Food Network! Well, I guess they did bring us Iron Chef!

Oishii! (Japanese for delicious)

Mario and R.E.M.


Having been in the NYC area for several years now, I've always wondered how it is that I never see any celebrities. Well, this past weekend I had an awesome celeb sighting!!! I saw Mario Batali at a bar/restaurant in the Meatpacking District. It was at a place called 5Ninth (owned by Zak Palaccio - who coincidentally also owns Fatty Crab).

It was about 1AM and some friends and I had just finished up dinner and drinks at POPBurger. We couldn't think of where to go next so someone suggested 5Ninth, right around the corner. I'd never been before, but it's such a nice, homey and rustic place with a working fireplace and three stories. It feels like someone's home.

Anyway, the second we ascended the stairs to the third floor, I immediately noticed him sitting in the corner of the room. He was with a group of 4-5 younger looking guys. (Maybe apprentices?) They were having wine and Mario was eating something...I couldn't tell what it was since the room was a little dark.

I wanted soooo badly to go over and talk to him, but I was too nervous and didn't want to interrupt his fun get together with friends. Also, I noticed another person go over to talk to him and she handed him his business card, etc. and I just didn't want to keep bothering him. But I really did want to at least tell him I was a big fan. (I know...cheesy...but I love his cooking!)

About 10-15 minutes after we arrived, his party got up to leave. I thought to myself. Okay this is my chance. I'll just quickly shake his hand and say hi. But right when he was passing me, I noticed him stumble and realized that 1) he was a little drunk and 2) he was rushing to leave. So I lost my courage and just watched him leave screaming to myself "YOU MISSED YOUR CHANCE!"

Anyways, it was such an awesome treat to spot him. Besides that one other person who went over to him, it didn't seem like that many people noticed him, or rather I guess they didn't want to bother him? I also heard later from the waitress that he was with Michael Stipe from R.E.M. Apparently they are good friends.

Maybe they were in the area because they were checking out Mario's new restaurant, Del Posto, a couple streets over? It was a funny coincidence because we had all wanted to try either Spotted Pig or Fatty Crab (Batali and Palaccio affiliated places) for dinner that night but of course couldn't get seats because both were too packed.

I don't even know if anyone checks this blog anymore, but just wanted to document the sighting!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Can't get enough

I have high hopes for the new blog The New York Times is now offering by Frank Bruni. Bruni is a writer for the dining section, providing weekly restaurant reviews, but they aren't just any old reviews. He has some of the cleverest, funniest and most interesting writing I have encountered in newspapers. So I am delighted to see that now I'll have a chance to (hopefully) find more of that on his blog. And of course we can't get enough of food news! Even when the restaurant review is a thumbs down and you find yourself without a tip for a new restaurant to try out, you'll at the very least be left with some great writing in its place.

He has started off with a glowing review of the new restaurant Morimoto (led by the chef of Iron Chef fame, Masaharu Morimoto) that has a predecessor in Philadelphia. Bruni also writes about the difficult reservations in the city.

Be sure to check the blog out for good words and for good food news!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

speaking of cookies

Monday, February 13, 2006

Crispy or Chewy? That is the Question

There are just some days when the sweet tooth craving is so strong you have no choice but to obey.
I had one of those days last week and obey I did. The reward was a ginormous cookie from Le Pain Quotidien, right up the street from me. For $2.95 I had a cookie as big as my plate!

Le Pain Quotidien's cookies are of the crisp variety - as you can see, despite my gentle handling on the 2 minute walk home, the cookie somehow took a hit and cracked right down the middle. A result, I gathered, of it's thin crispiness. It was delicious nonetheless - a buttery, smooth flavored cookie with just the right distribution of chocolate chips. Chocolate in every bite is key. Can you tell I take my chocolate chip cookies seriously?

On this particular day, I had no preference as to crispy or chewy, for my desires merely called for chocolate. But it is an important distinction in the world of cookie eating. For if you are of one camp or the other, then a blind purchase when the yearning wells up could leave you unsatiated. Think about it - biting into a pillowy soft, chewy cookie versus crunching into a crisp and brittle one. Different sensations serve different purposes. Don't believe me? Just consider it the same as trying to satisfy a hankering for sweets by eating an orange.

What is your preference?
I recommend you choose wisely.

Pick of the Day: Pick-A-Pita

The area around Madison Square Garden is known as a veritable black hole for good lunchtime eats. One exception however, is Pick-a-Pita. Literally located within a warehouse, this teeny shop churns out the best shawarma; and from what I've read, also makes a mean felafel.

Along with their delicious rotessierie dark meat chicken, Pick-a-Pita offers a variety of salads and condiments to make your own sandwich just the way you like it. Toppings include pickled red cabbage slaw, shredded carrot salad, cross-sections of pickles, marinated raw onions, among many others. Everything is extremely fresh and made as you order (sometimes creating a long lunchtime wait).

My personal favorite is the chicken shawarma pita sandwich with hummus, green sauce, harissa, red cabbage slaw, raw onions, extra pickles, with a sprinkle of tahini. This sandwich is a thing of beauty. Click below to see a photo of the shawarma.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/28/dining/28factory.html

Friday, February 10, 2006

Kitchenette is Right On

I would just like to say that Kimmie is absolutely right about the best Pad See Ew.

I had the opportunity to taste Pam Real Thai's rice noodles yesterday and they were so over-the-top good, I wanted to lick the empty container. The rice noodles were perfectly soft, the chicken was abundant and the sauce so was delicately flavored. It was addictive. We were trying to figure out what made the sauce so sumptuous and our only guess was possibly butter? There was a nice hidden depth and fattiness to the whole dish although it was not at all greasy.

Next time you're over at Kim's, beg her to order in some Pad See Ew from Pam's.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Spanish Benevolent Society

Last night Kimmie and I decided to visit the Spanish Benevolent Society (aka La Nacional) for some authentic tapas and paella. They have a restaurant/cafeteria in the basement that serves as a sort of informal meeting place. With no visible street level signs, it's one of those hidden gems that most would have no idea exists. (We learned of the place from an old NYT article and through good old www.chowhound.com).

To start we had grilled squid, tortilla espanola, and patatas bravas. The squid came out in whole small pieces (and tentacles) lightly grilled with olive oil and served with a wedge of fresh lemon. It was delicious but rather ordinary and mildly seasoned. The patatas were cubed fried pieces of skinned potato which were nicely crisped on the outside with a very fluffy interior. They were topped with a creamy white garlic sauce and a red spicy sauce...at least the sauce was supposed to be spicy, but it didn't seem to have much heat. Nevertheless they were still addictive.

It's interesting because they were extremely different than the patatas bravas at Sala. The dish at Sala is composed of roasted potates (with their skins on) and they're topped with a very spicy tomato-based sauce. Kimmie explained to me though, that patatas bravas can vary a lot and each place has their own spin on the dish.

The tortilla espanola was a thing of beauty. Sweet onions with luscious potatoes all encased in egg and perfectly seasoned. We got a huge wedge too for the $5 price tag.

For our main course we shared a single serving of the "house paella." Included in the paella were peeled whole shrimp, chicken chunks, rings of squid and mussels and clams. Upon first tasting it, I exclaimed this almost tastes Asian! The rice was nice and plump and the sauce almost had a hint of goh-choo-jang (korean red pepper paste) to it. Sorry if that's blasphemous, but that's what it tasted like to me! The paella was lovely and unctuous and quite filling.

To top it off, our dessert was an AMAZING bread pudding. The bread had chunks of chocolate and swirls of cinnamon in it. It was truly the best bread pudding I've had - not too heavy, delicately sweet, and moist by not sticky.

All in all, we agreed this would be a great place to come back to. It's affordable, the space is comfortable, and the service is friendly.

An additional bonus is that they have free tango lessons on Thursday evenings in the upstairs section of SBS! Kim and I observed a beginners' session and it looked like it could be a lot of fun. Apparently, they also have flamenco performances on Friday and Saturday evenings (2 performances per evening). We'd definitely like to go back and at least watch one of the performance while munching on a nice wedge of tortilla espanola and of course, that bread pudding!

(*note: that photo is borrowed from www.gothamist.com)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Reporting from Atlanta...

Hi everyone. I thought it was time to introduce a Southern perspective on food. HA! Like this New Jerseyan knows anything about Southern cooking. What I do know is that Atlanta has an excellent restaurant scene. Do I dare say even better than Chicago? And maybe better than New York? Completely kidding, please no passionate rebuttals to that last comment. So let's talk about one of my latest finds- Fat Matt's Rib Shack. I don't know if Matt is fat but I do know Matt serves one of the best pork ribs I have ever had. They're juicy, they're tender, and they come with extra tangy sauce. The meat really does fall off the bone and you can finish a half slab in no time. If you're a vegetarian, well they have good sides. Tall mantou (my better half) and I especially like their rum-baked beans. The restaurant is a no-frills type of place which I think is a sign of a good BBQ place. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe I'll order some Fat Matt's ribs for Superbowl Sunday. I need something to distract me while I patiently wait for the halftime show.

If only...

What restaurants do you most desire to try someday, without regard to location or price or any other potential limitations?
Here are mine:

Blue Hill at Stone Barn - Pocantico Hills, NY
This restaurant is set inside of a renovated old stone barn, once a part of property owned by the Rockefellers and it has its own farm from which it draws its ingredients fresh.

El Bulli- Roses, Spain
Alinea - Chicago, IL
Minibar at Cafe Atlantico - Washington, D.C.
These three seem to draw from the same trend of experimental cooking, launched by Ferran Adria. Foams, deconstructed food, and all sorts of variations on the familiar. These places pique my interest, intrigue me, despite the rumoured hourslong event that dinner becomes at these institutions because I seek adventure and innovation in food.

Per Se - New York, NY
Chef Thomas Keller has also created a place where dinner is transformed into an exhibition of his talent, where the diners are the audience sitting through multiple courses, but thus able to sample and render judgement.

The Inn at Little Washington - Washington, VA
This restaurant is often cited on lists of the best restaurants around the country.

Street food around the world - particularly Southeast Asia
While good food is often one of my top priorities, I do tend to heed warnings about sanitation and drinking local water. I don't do very well with stomach ailments and often try to avoid them at all costs unfortunately.