Monday, November 30, 2009

Motorino Review

Pizza is one of my favorite foods; I can eat it repeatedly without fast tiring of it (though were I challenged to eat pizza for every meal every day for a month, like this guy, I'm not sure I would succeed). Living in New York, it might seem that I should be easily satisfied because this is a pizza town, if there ever was one. But the city is so saturated with bad pizza places, it's hard to find the good slices among them. Not to mention all the different styles of pizza - thin crust, wood-burning oven or odd toppings. Luckily, my favorite pizza place in New York so far, Vezzo, is not far from me. But I'm always looking to try the pizza places that are getting a lot of attention to see if they can exceed my expectations or supplant my favorite pizza.

Motorino, a much-talked about pizza place in Williamsburg, recently opened up a second branch in the space formerly occupied by Una Pizza Napoletana in the East Village. Motorino has been on my list of places to try, but a recent strong endorsement from some coworkers (though they based it on the Brooklyn branch, which is of course cheaper), pushed it to the top of my list and I decided to check it out for lunch. Motorino has a lunch prix-fixe special: For $12, you can choose salad or ice cream and your choice of the Marinara, Margherita, Brussels sprouts or Soppressata pizza.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Maira Kalman on Food

I'm a big fan of Maira Kalman's illustrated column "And the Pursuit of Happiness." Her latest entry  addresses how we eat in this country — lots of fast food— and she explores how we might be able to change that.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Chinese Thanksgiving

On Salon's new food site, Francis Lam writes about how his Chinese Thanksgiving is different from the traditional American Thanksgiving. Over the years, my family has done both the turkey-stuffing-sides-and-pie Thanksgiving as well as the dim sum, eat-out-at-a-Chinese-restaurant Thanksgiving. It's been many years since I actually attended one of these family celebrations on account of my work schedule, but this year I made a return appearance to my aunt's house to a blend of the two versions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Murray's Cheese Ventures Into Supermarkets

Murray's Cheese has teamed up with Kroger supermarkets to open 50 stores-within-a-store over the next few years. Once you've had good cheese, it's hard to go back. But I've already professed my love for Murray's.

Small Bites

A heavier-than-usual dose of Small Bites to keep you stocked up for Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

- Is the consumption of animals and use of animal products murder? Strict ethical vegans think so.

- Eating carbs might help to boost mood, so the Atkins Diet could make you unhappy. This piece makes the interesting point that "Showing how people fare emotionally on a diet seems key to helping them stay on one."

- Fish tagine brings families together.

- Time Magazine tests out Top Chef frozen meals from Schwan's Home Service.

- Picky eaters take the fun out of dinner parties.

- Slate shares thoughts on the best ways to present pumpkin at your Thanksgiving table. 

- McSweeney's experimental newspaper, SF Panorama, includes a food section.

- Do food company hotlines actually help to answer questions consumers have? The Wall Street Journal finds out.

- Slate's Daniel Gross experiences the transformation of the hot pot in Chongqing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pumpkin Pie, Oh My!

Despite loving pumpkin-flavored treats, I have never been a fan of pumpkin pie. There are few foods where texture is the defining factor for me, but the mushy body of pumpkin pie just turns me off. Thankfully, Shake Shack has found a way to make it palatable to me with its Pumpkin Pie Oh-My! custard special — vanilla custard mixed up with homemade pumpkin pie and topped with a mountain of whipped cream. Ice cream makes everything better.

This is a decadent dessert, more like a sundae. It's the whipped cream that does it. The vanilla holds strong but is tinged with pumpkin — the mushy pie is gone, melded into the custard. Bits of crust pop up in every other bite. They're so small as to be almost unnoticeable, but just enough to provide a texture contrast, especially as the custard heads toward soupiness, and occasionally a chunkier piece will make a surprise appearance. I wouldn't have minded more of them.

If you like a headier pumpkin flavor, go for the Pumpkin Pie custard on Mondays, but if sundaes are your thing, indulge in the Pumpkin Pie Oh-My!

Food Celebrities

I am terrible at spotting celebrities around New York, yet it seems I manage to recognize food-related ones who are less known by sight (although these days many do appear on television in Top Chef or other food shows) — again, it's my nerdy version of celebrity gossip. In the span of the past few days, I noticed Wylie Dufresne, of WD-50, talking on a cell phone and flagging a cab on Fifth Avenue, and Zak Pelaccio, the chef behind Fatty Crab restaurant, among others, eating at Motorino in the East Village. I also once spotted Food Network's Alton Brown in Klee restaurant.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Introducing Salon's Food Site has launched a food section led by Francis Lam, a former Gourmet writer and blogger. It feels like Salon is a bit late in coming around to cover the food world, but let's see what they produce. They've gathered a group of writers that includes Grant Achatz of Alinea, who also blogs on The Atlantic's food channel, and John T. Edge, who writes for The Times. I am always interested in compelling, original food stories, but this makes me wonder if the overlap will make the site less worthwhile.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The New Yorker's Food Issue

Last week, my favorite of The New Yorker's annual issues — the food issue — arrived in my mailbox. It has pieces by Adam Gopnik on reading cookbooks (a series of companion pieces online evaluates some of them, including one by Ferran Adria), Calvin Trillin on poutine (with a podcast online), Mimi Sheraton on something called spit cake and one by John Colapinto on the life of an inspector for the Michelin guides. Michelin insists on maintaining a high level of secrecy for its inspectors because they believe that only professional, trained reviewers evaluating restaurants anonymously can be trusted.

With cameras everywhere and blogs flooding the Internet, it's harder for restaurant reviewers to hide their identities and go unnoticed. It has led to a debate on just how important anonymity even is for reviewers anymore (Colapinto also has a blog post on a discussion about anonymity with various people in the food world).

There is something to be said for reading reviews written by professionals — newspaper reviewers who live by certain standards, or people with some food-related background and the knowledge to rate a restaurant smartly. But I don't believe that only reviews from those categories of people are trustworthy. The common person who eats out often develops an appreciation for what tastes good and, out of pure curiosity and personal interest, can learn the intricacies of cooking and what makes something good or bad. This means that personal preferences may play more of a role in those reviews, but after following any writer for some time, readers can gain a sense of that and determine how much they have in common with the writers as eaters.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Small Bites

- Don't even think about taking photos or notes when you eat at Shopsin's. Not even if you're dining with Heston Blumenthal, chef of the British restaurant The Fat Duck.

- Double X shares a tale of how regifting a cake is not a good idea.

- There are 49 million people in the United States not getting an adequate amount of food.  At the same time, the number of obese people in the country continues to rise.
UPDATE: The Washington Post's Post Partisan blog questions the term "food insecurity" used in the reports about hunger. Post writer Charles Lane makes some interesting points such as, "Adults are asked if they ever lost weight due to a lack of food money -- but not how much weight, or what they weighed before. In theory, a 300-pound man who lost a pound could count as 'food insecure.'"

- Serious Eats has an early, and mostly positive, review of Midtown's Momofuku restaurant, Ma Peche.

- Michael Bloomberg was spotted eating in Paris at Mon Vieil Ami. After much research, this modern French restaurant became one of the places I dined at during my weekend in Paris in March. It was a lovely meal and I had no regrets (except that I wished I had had more nights to try many other tempting places as well).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Taste Test: Pumpkin Chocolate


The Taste:  A friend recently gave me a box of Dean & Deluca chocolates and one of them happened to be a pumpkin chocolate.
The Test Verdict: 6 for flavor and texture. With the first bite, I thought this was going to be a generic chocolate that was pumpkin only in name and color. But the cream-filled center really surprised me with its balanced sweet flavor and smoothness. It didn't have the artificial, sugaryness that so many bad chocolates have. But overall it lost points because it lacked the depth of a good dark chocolate. When I bit into it, the top (which, though colorful, had little taste) popped off, in a funny way, resembling a carved pumpkin.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Shake Shack and Doughnut Plant Team Up

On my last visit to Shake Shack, I noticed they had added another seasonal fall item - apple cider and doughnuts. What I didn't know was that the doughnut holes are provided by the Doughnut Plant. They also supplied the doughnuts in the coffee and doughnuts custard flavor of the day. No wonder those doughnuts tasted so good!

Additional Shake Shack news: With any luck, Boston could get its own branch.

Following the Twitterati

Twitter has its naysayers and its enthusiasts. I fall somewhere in between. While I haven't found it engaging for my own posting purposes yet, I have been amused by other people's posts. And in particular,'s "A Moveable Tweet" series has been entertaining. Alinea's Grant Achatz eating at El Bulli for the fourth time - wow and I'm envious (and it feels strangely incestuous). Ruth Reichl telling us that six different cookie covers had been prepared for the December issue of Gourmet — six times as sad that it will never arrive in my mailbox. Momofuku's David Chang spotted eating at the new restaurant The Breslin. I guess this is my own nerdy version of being into celebrity gossip.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A New Trader Joe's for Chelsea

I had heard rumors that a new branch of Trader Joe's would be coming to Sixth Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets.  Curbed writes that it will be so (via The New York Observer), along with an Upper West Side branch next year. Hooray!

The Ghost of Gourmet

Gourmet may be dead, but there must have been lots of stories they had already lined up for issues to come or that were going to be published on the Web site. Eater put out a call for those homeless stories and today publishes one of its takers about speed-dating for farmers and chefs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Small Bites

- Among fast food chains, Arby's has struggled the most through the recession.

- Britain throws away $20 billion worth of food each year.

-  Slate explains the process of prisoners' last meal requests.

- As part of the health care debate, some focus has fallen on overweight people as greater consumers of health care. Congress is considering proposals to allow employers to reward healthy behavior while some are trying to point out that heavier people can still be healthy. But what does this all mean when some researchers are finding that exercise doesn't always lead to weight loss?

- Judith Jones, the editor known for making Julia Child, shares her secrets for shopping and cooking for one - plan out meals for the week and shop at farmer's markets for individual portions of ingredients.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Momofuku Authors Turned Bloggers

David Chang and Peter Meehan are on the book tour for their new Momofuku cookbook and are blogging about it on GQ's Web site. Meehan has also lined up his next project - collaborating on a cookbook with the owners of the Frankies restaurants.

More Danny Meyer

Danny Meyer has brought his touch to the Gramercy Park Hotel. His new Italian restaurant, Maialino, is now open. Thrillist has the menu.

He will also be opening another branch of Shake Shack in Miami next year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cupcakes and Cusack

If you're a fan of Joan Cusack and cupcakes, track down the Cupcake Stop truck today. Cusack is helping to sell cookies for charity. It will be moving around Midtown throughout the day. A schedule is posted, but the latest is on the truck's Twitter.

Korean Fried Chicken Fever Continues

Edible Manhattan magazine went on a Korean Fried Chicken binge with John T. Edge, a food writer and author of a book on fried chicken, with happy results. 

And Kyochon, which has been under construction on the Northeast corner of 32nd Street and Fifth Avenue for some time, put up an eye-catching decorative wrapping over its plywood a couple of weekends ago indicating an anticipated arrival of January 2010.  But this past weekend it seems to have been taken down again. Does that signify progress or that the target date is now obsolete?

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Way the Cookie Crumbles at Shake Shack

I took advantage of the first Saturday in November to test out Shake Shack's biscotti custard. I started by asking for a taste and got a small spoonful topped with biscotti crumbs. The Shake Shack employee told me that the actual custard would be topped with biscotti pieces but that this would give me the idea. The sample wasn't bad, but I did hesitate because it definitely had the potential to be a flavor that tasted good in a small portion but would lose any appeal in a whole serving. I had seen a few cups come out earlier covered in what looked like delicious cookie croutons and the lingering memory of that pushed me into the "I must try it" column.

My order must have come at a time when the biscotti bin needed refilling. I mostly got the crushed crumbs with just a few chunkier pieces. The custard had a strong flavor — I think it was almond — but with an underlying syrupyness to it that got tiring as I made my way through the cup. I really liked the texture contrast of the crunchy biscotti (which were great - not too sweet, not too hard) against the smoothness of the custard and I found myself, mixing the bits in as much as possible so I could get some in every bite. I don't regret having tried this flavor, but I probably won't spend any more Saturdays on it.

During my visit I also discovered that the Pumpkin Pie Oh-My! is available everyday, all month, at the Madison Square Shake Shack. A source has told me that that is not the case at the Upper West Side location. I have no confirmation on the reliability of that information at this time.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Note to Restaurants: Things Not to Do

Here is the second part of the list of 100 things restaurant staff should never do to diners.

Crazy Combos

First there was the "you can't be serious" Shopsin's mac & cheese pancakes combination. And it turned out to be an incredibly great one. Now you can get a mac & cheese slice of pizza at Hell's Kitchen Pizza. It sounds promising, especially because one of my favorite pizzas is the baked ziti slice at Calabria's Pizza in my hometown of Livingston, NJ. Pasta and pizza, perfect together!

But here's a combination might be more likely to generate a gag reflex: kimchi doughnuts from Dunkin Donuts in Korea.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Gourmet Farewell Gallery

Kevin Demaria, an editor at Gourmet Magazine, documented the magazine's shutdown in this set of images. A bit voyeuristic, a bit sad, but interesting to see.

Small Bites

- Former Times restaurant critic William Grimes has written a culinary history of New York.

- The Daily Beast talks to novelist Jonathan Safran Foer about his new non-fiction book — Eating Animals — on animal agriculture and meat production. It sounds like a good read for fans of books like Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma or Fast Food Nation. It has apparently turned Natalie Portman into a vegan. And The Huffington Post has several pieces responding to Foer's book.

- On a similar note, Nicolette Niman, of the Niman Ranch, known for producing higher-quality meat, writes an op-ed defending meat eaters against those who say eating meat contributes to global warming. She places the blame more with farming methods and industrialization.  The Atlantic Food Channel has a piece critiquing Niman's defense. Helene York agrees with some of Niman's points, but takes issue with others, noting that all animals raised for eating contribute to climate change and that the pricing of industrial meats — and the federal policy influencing it — is the more important problem.

- Over on, we learn how big farms can be better, at least from a worker's point of view.

- Small grocery stores around the country are trying to bring healthier food choices to low-income neighborhoods.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Happy National Sandwich Day

Today is National Sandwich Day and Serious Eats has a roundup of reviews of sandwich places around the country.

An Afternoon in Murray's Cheese Caves

New York City is bursting with food adventures. I am an advocate of creating my own, whether it be a walking food tour along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens or just a visit to a new restaurant. But sometimes its about taking advantage of organized food experiences offered in the city. Last month I had a chance to tour the cheese caves at Murray's Cheese. I previously noted Murray's as one of the great specialty food shops in the city. During Open House New York weekend, architecturally significant institutions all around the city open with free admission and tours, and Murray's participates, offering an afternoon of tours of their cheese caves.

I snagged a spot on one of the small, popular tours by e-mailing them as soon as the guide for the weekend became available. Throughout the rest of the year, you can get a tour of the caves with a cheese tasting as one of the classes at Murray's, but it costs $75. So this felt like a great opportunity.

Before the tour, while waiting for everyone to arrive, we headed to a classroom on Murray's upper level where some cheesemakers were and had a taste of a mild, young goats milk cheese from Vermont along with some sparkling wine.

The tour typically allows about 10 people to join. For our time slot, there were actually no-shows and some walk-ins were able to get in. We were given hairnets and led into the back doors, through a hallway in what looked like a stock area, down some stairs and another hallway — a real behind-the-scenes feel. It felt like we were being let in on a secret!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Pumpkin Doughnuts

October is behind us, but pumpkin season isn't gone just yet. Bloggers Blondie & Brownie compare pumpkin doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, Doughnut Plant and Dunkin Donuts.

A Fresh Look at Farm Foods

NPR has a beautiful interactive graphic on farm foods around the country. It looks like they began compiling this earlier this summer as part of Morning Edition series. It covers a random assortment, but includes some less familiar items like fiddleheads, nopalitos and daikon. If you don't know what those are, you should check this out. Whether you're looking for a good little story (with audio), some quick facts and tips on how to buy these fruits or vegetables, or recipes, it's all here.

Shake Shack's November Calendar

It's the beginning of a new month. It's time to say goodbye to Pumpkin Spice Saturdays, but hello to:

Monday: Pumpkin Pie
Tuesday: Meyer Lemon
Wednesday: Cranberry Cinnamon
Thursday: Buttered Pecan
Friday: Apple Cider
Saturday: Biscotti
Sunday: Shack Shiraz Poached Pear

So, for another month, you can still get a pumpkin fix, but on Mondays instead!

UPDATE: Serious Eats also recently taste-tested something called Pumpkin Pie Oh-My! No indication of whether this is a limited-time-only menu item.

A Pumpkin Roundup

As we close out a month of pumpkin, here are a few more delicious-looking pumpkin recipes:

Pumpkin pancakes
(And if you're afraid to make your own, Cafe Orlin in the East Village might be a place to get some good ones.)

Roasted spicy pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin whoopie pies

Spiced pumpkin muffins

Ginger custard pumpkin pie

UPDATE: (one more for breakfast) Pumpkin spice oatmeal