Sunday, February 28, 2010

Recent Eats: Part I

A Day in Brooklyn
Being the foodie that I am, my visit to the Brooklyn Flea market was focused mostly on the food options. Even in the indoor winter location, there are several food vendors to choose from. We went for a $10 sample platter from the Red Hook Vendors: a chicken tamale, a zucchini pupusa, chorizo, rice and beans and all the condiments (cabbage, jalapenos, pickled onions). There was so much food it was enough to leave two people stuffed. The disadvantage of being indoors — the food wasn't being cooked to order, but was being prepared somewhere else and brought to the stand and kept warm in various containers. But, in fact, after tasting the food, it didn't seem to matter. The masa on the tamale was light and had a deep corn flavor and the tamale was filled with a generous helping of tender braised chicken. The pupusa was fresh and soft and the zucchini was a nice ingredient for it. The chorizo was flavorful with a bit of spice, but was the one thing that wasn't hot. 

Of course something sweet must follow the savory. The buttercream brownies with sea salt and cocoa from Scratchbread were just too tempting to pass up. It had a soft, creamy texture just verging on fudginess, with a bittersweet flavor. It managed to be light and salty and just a tad messy with cocoa powder drifting off with every bite. But we couldn't get over how amazing it was, agreeing that it might have been one of the best brownies we had ever tasted.

Ice Cream News

Diner's Journal reports that the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream's expansion to an actual storefront in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has been completed and was to open yesterday. It may be time to go see if I can procure more Earl Gray tea ice cream!

Van Leeuwen Ice cream
632 Manhattan Ave between Bedford and Nassau Aves
Greenpoint, Brooklyn 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Small Bites

- The owner of Porchetta in the East Village fulfilled a challenging request to feed Marines in Afghanistan.

- For fans of the Treats Truck: A peek inside Kim Ima's West Village apartment.

- It's been too long since we had a good ice cream post. Many ideas for what seem like original ice cream flavors are just stolen from other places, says Toscanini's Gus Rancatore. Corby Kummer's article on ice cream from 2000 that is linked to within is an interesting read as well; burnt caramel was unusual 10 years ago, but I'd say it's pretty common now.

- Eliminating BPA, a chemical that may be linked to various health problems, from food containers is no easy task.

- Do you keep your fridge clean and neat? No? Maybe you could use a little help, but you aren't the only one.

- A bribery scheme allowed tomato products that did not meet quality standards, including some of which were moldy, to make it into the food manufacturing industry. 

- I have to admire the courage of someone who would try sushi from Jack's 99 cent store for the sake of a blog. To have lived to tell the tale = automatic bragging rights.

- Calvin Trillin has a fun article in this week's New Yorker about Chinese chef Peter Chang who has a groupie-like following. Only an abstract is available online.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marea Review

Marea: If you haven't heard about this sweet spot on Central Park South, then you haven't been paying attention. This name has recurringly popped up as a place worth mentioning —on twitter feeds with people spying celebrities dining here or food industry notables posting about their amazing meals. And, if you want to take it from a lowly food blogger, the hype is justified.

A dinner at Marea should come with a warning — you may develop a love/hate relationship here. This is the type of meal that leaves you feeling like you can't breathe at the end because you need to unbutton those pants. You'll be in pain but a pain that you wish you felt more often. Even when you are so full you can't take another bite, you urge yourself to do so because you don't want to miss out on a thing. You'll curse those extra pounds at the end of the week, but use the memory of the meal to motivate you to run harder at the gym so you can eat here again. It's pricey and you might be inclined to lament how much this will lighten your wallet, but you'll be overwhelmed by an appreciation for how far your money goes and how much a good meal can do to bring you happiness.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shelf Life

Ever wonder whether the food that's been sitting in your fridge for some time is still edible? I know I often do. I usually make a determination based on a glance at expiration dates and a possibly risky sniff. Slate tells us why we shouldn't pay much mind to sell by dates. But I've also often made use of a handy Web site called Still Tasty to get a better idea of just how far I can push my luck or just to find out how best to store certain foods (i.e. in the refrigerator or in the cabinet?).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Through a Chef's Eyes

Yes, we foodies are a bit obsessed with the closing of El Bulli. Diner's Journal has a short essay by Grant Achatz, of Alinea, on his first experience dining at El Bulli 10 years ago. There is a strange irony in reading how in awe Achatz was, given that today, it is probably similar to what many people feel when they dine in his restaurant, including myself:

"What the hell is going on back there, I thought. I know cooking, but this is the stuff of magic."

Small Bites

- Not all Chinese food is that familiar greasy Americanized glop you too often find in restaurants everywhere these days. Chinese food has a great diversity derived from the many different regions in China. The Times puts some focus on Dongbei food from the northeast part of China, which you can try in Flushing, Queens.

- Can macarons displace cupcakes as the sweet treat of the moment?

- Frank Bruni expounds on the wild interest of diners in the exclusivity of El Bulli and other coveted reservations. And the Wall Street Journal wonders whether molecular gastronomy will be a lasting trend.

- Why do many people become lactose-intolerant as they grow older?

- A former owner of Cafe des Artistes offers her ideas on the reasons for bad service and surveys people in the restaurant industry for their ideas on how to make it better.

- Chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant in New York defends salt lovers.

- Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver wishes to overhaul the American food system and is awarded the TED prize to help him pursue that cause.

- For all the criticisms Walmart has endured, could its efforts to be a serious competitor in the market of sustainable food sellers be laudable? Corby Kummer investigates on The Atlantic Food Channel and even pits Walmart products against Whole Foods groceries in a taste test.

- Slate takes a stab at explaining why calorie counts might not help people to eat healthier.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A New Year, A Full Belly

My food choices for the first day of the Lunar New Year were reflective of my Chinese-American self: American brunch (followed by a visit to the Museum of Chinese in America) and snacking in Chinatown.

Brunch was at Jo's in Soho. When you first walk in to this restaurant, you see a bar and a few tables and stools up front. It looks like a New York closet-sized space. But then you are led back through a narrow hallway into the back dining room that feels like a cozy cave. 

The small menu here is fairly simple with pretty standard American brunch items, but very gently priced. My dining companion and I decided to go for a savory/sweet split. We shared an order of poached eggs Benedict with potato hash and buttermilk ricotta pancakes with warm cherry maple syrup. 
The eggs Benedict were good, but not lukewarm by the time they arrived on the table. They also curiously came with a side of really tasty jam that didn't have any apparent use on this dish. The potatoes were well seasoned and qualified as a decent hash (it's a pet peeve when the menu lists hash and you get what essentially boils down to roasted potatoes).
The real star was this amazing plate of thin pancakes — buttery and so hot they were still steaming when we cut into them (maybe the eggs sat waiting for these to cook). The cherry sauce wasn't too sweet, but added a nice tartness to the stack. These pancakes were probably some of the best I've had in the recent past and it was a nice change from the more common pile of two or three thick, fluffy pancakes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Gung Hay Fat Choi!

Happy Chinese New Year!

My family gathered for the traditional New Year's Eve dinner this weekend and indulged in a 10-course banquet meal at Ping's Seafood. Everything is served family style atop the bright red tablecloths, and because our family spans three large round tables, there are three sets of every dish. I managed to capture every dish on our table, though not all before they'd been dug into; this is not a crowd that waits for photo shoots!

 Assorted platter of Chinese cold cuts, jellyfish (center), tofu, and the best parts — fried squid and roast pork. Oh, and the sliced vegetables that are garnish — no one eats those.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Tasty Thursday

Thursday was made up of good eats that I share with you here.

Not in the mood for cafeteria salad, I decided to consider something new in the work neighborhood. I've often passed by an intriguing little black sandwich board sitting on the sidewalk outside a freight entrance on the corner of 39th Street and 7th Avenue. It lists specials in fluorescent colors for Nick's Place. I had seen it written up on Midtown Lunch and not long ago a coworker told me she had gotten some tacos from there that turned out to be quite tasty.

I warily pulled open the heavy metal doors to the freight entrance and walked to the back of the hallway where I found this tiny, quaint restaurant that even had a few tables. I was somewhat skeptical given that the menu consists mostly of generic deli food like wraps and paninis. But I was set on an order of chicken tacos — they come three to an order for $7.50. The other options were salmon, skirt steak or vegetarian, but if you wanted to mix your three tacos, it would cost more money. The people in the kitchen behind the counter were frantically whipping up lunch orders; it looks like they do a brisk takeout business. Unfortunately it meant that I waited about 15 to 20 minutes for my order.

When I got back to the office, famished, I tucked in to my hot lunch. These are not Americanized tacos, these are the real deal. I was surprised to find that the delicious shredded chicken covered in guacamole was wrapped in soft blue corn tortillas — all the better. I drizzled a little hot sauce on top for some spiciness and finished this off in minutes. This won't be a one-time visit, but next time I just may call ahead.

El Bulli Makes a Sad Announcement

Ferran Adria has decided to close El Bulli permanently. It makes me sad I never had a chance to eat there, but given the competition for reservations, I probably never would have made it. My Alinea experience will suffice.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Small Bites

- Robert Sietsema, the Village Voice restaurant critic, writes in the Columbia Journalism Review about the history of restaurant reviewing from the formal newspaper review to today's multitude of food blogs.

- Salon takes a mouthwatering tour of hand-pulled noodle shops in Chinatown.

- Food writer Josh Ozersky, in his column for Time magazine, wonders if chefs' efforts at natural cooking have gone too far.

- What Alice Waters does with her Sundays.

- An interesting thought: Does food packaging, by helping food to stay edible longer, help to produce less waste than eschewing packaged products because of the materials they come wrapped in?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Restaurant Week: Bar Room at The Modern

When you spin the roulette wheel of reservations for Restaurant Week, hope that it lands on the Bar Room at The Modern. This is another one of restaurateur Danny Meyer's very successful restaurants, with a kitchen helmed by Gabriel Kreuther, last year's winner of the James Beard Award for Best New York City chef. Big names or accolades don't always add up to consistently great food, and you never know what you'll get during Restaurant Week, but the Bar Room shows that it can be done by producing an amazing and worthwhile dinner. 

With 11 options for course one, 10 for course two and seven more for dessert, I could easily return to the Bar Room multiple times without exhausting my choices. And the restaurant offered the Restaurant Week menu exclusively during this time. Who can argue with that?

Tarte Flambee: Alsatian thin crust tart with creme fraiche, onion and applewood smoked bacon

I was excited to see this giant pie set before me; I'd at least ordered well for value based on portion size. Though it was thin crust, this pizza-like dish was filling and I actually had to stop myself from polishing the whole thing off (I saved a couple pieces for later) so that I ensured I would have room for everything. The shredded bacon had me skeptical at first — the small pieces might have translated into a puny flavor. Instead, the smoky taste was bold and present in almost every bite, mixing in perfectly with the creme fraiche.

Monday, February 08, 2010

A Splash of Creativity

As if it the news that Ferran Adria is going to close El Bulli for a couple of years wasn't enough to shake the food world, there's been talk of Grant Achatz (the chef of Alinea) applying his culinary inventiveness to cocktails by opening a bar with an alcohol tasting menu. While foodies are probably already prepared to jump on reservations, the whole thing is still just a dream. But the rumors did spark an amusing and embarrassing mistake for the Independent. Until the dream becomes a reality, the Wall Street Journal article about chefs and their ideas for new ways to imbibe that prompted all the speculation is worth a read.

Restaurant Week Extended

If you missed out on the two weeks of Restaurant Week, you have a little more time to grab some good meals for less. Restaurant Week has been extended until February 28.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Only Fools Feed Their Faces

When barbecue restaurant Hill Country announced a gluttonous, perhaps foolhardy food challenge recently, maybe they were trying to lure Man vs. Food's Adam Richman to their Flatiron territory. While I sometimes like to imagine that I could easily take on some of those hefty feasts — if it involves pizza, I think I could go pretty far — Hill Country's challenge is not one to fool around with. Yet, two people have already completed it (although not gracefully) and Grub Street joined the game and documented the experience. It doesn't sound appetizing and I'm pretty sure something like this must kill barbecue for the participants forever after.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Small Bites

- The Wall Street Journal takes a look at regional candy bars, which are now mostly a thing of the past.

- You may think you know ramen, the pre-packaged dried noodles in overly salty broth that got you through college, but fresh Japanese ramen is an entirely different thing. Matt Gross gets a ramen education in some of Tokyo's shops. For a good local option, try Ippudo.

- Give those greens an extra wash, even the prewashed kind. They are found to still have fecal contamination. That's your gross news for the week.

- How handy is the iPhone in the kitchen? Slate's Sara Dickerman tests it out.

- Anyone who has been to a Japanese food court, like the one at Mitsuwa market in Edgewater, NJ, will be familiar with fake food displays. In Japan, the fake food makers take great care to make sure it looks like the real thing.

- With recent concern over salt content in the food we eat, the City Critic finds out just how much salt is in some New York City dishes.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Restaurant Week: Dovetail Review

My second winter Restaurant Week meal took me to the Upper West Side, just around the corner from the Museum of Natural History and next to Shake Shack, to an under-the-radar spot housing an upscale restaurant called Dovetail. Had a friend (who became my dining companion on this evening) not recommended this to me, I might have let this place slip by. Here is a place where you get ultimate value for your $35 meal. Not only did we get three courses for that price, where many of the main courses alone on the regular dinner menu exceed $30, but Dovetail also offers the little "extras" that are a signature of high-end meals.

The atmosphere, a little dark and plain, makes you feel like you are in a fancy place but in an understated way. The service was a little stiff but given that we were practically thieves with a deal this good, I'll give the place a little slack.

Our evening began with a shotglass of an elegant beet puree topped with smoked salmon and creme fraiche, to be eaten with a classy mini spoon. This bright greeting arrived with individual servings of crumbly, buttery, addictive cheddar cornbread. A lovely way to whet the appetite before weaving our way through an alternating path of meat and seafood.

Monday, February 01, 2010

February Flavors

February brings us not only a new month of Shake Shack Custard flavors, but also, Pancake Month at Clinton Street Baking Co., where every few days the Lower East Side restaurant features a different special flavor of pancake. But first, our custard options:

Monday: Chocolate Chip Cookie
Tuesday: Bananas Foster
Wednesday: Coconut Almond Snowball
Thursday: Key Lime Pie
Friday: Lemon Ricotta Cheese
Saturday: Passionate Pineapple
Sunday: Bee Mine

At Clinton Street, you can only get these pancakes on weekdays, but you'll be able to eat them breakfast, lunch or dinner — if you can manage to get in.

1, 2, 3: chocolate & blood orange pancakes w/candied orange glaze
4, 5: poached pears with vanilla bean whipped cream & warm maple butter
8, 9: fresh coconut pancakes with passion fruit syrup and bananas
10, 11: roasted apples with candied walnuts and warm maple caramel
12, 15: chocolate chunks, fresh raspberries, and raspberry-caramel sauce
16, 17: brown sugar pecans, bananas and cinnamon maple butter
18, 19, 22: classic chocolate chunk
23, 24: fresh blackberries, pecan streusel, warm maple butter
25, 26: crunchy bananas with cinnamon-chili-chocolate sauce

If only I could hit both up today, it would be a very happy Monday. Given that Shake Shack closes its B line (custard and drinks only) in the winter, I mind less that three of the flavors are automatically out for me: I hate bananas, to me coconut is only good in savory contexts and I'm allergic to pineapple. I am curious to know what Bee Mine contains though. Anyway, best wishes for a sweet month!