Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Small Bites

- The Food and Drug Administration is seriously considering approving genetically engineered salmon.

- If you've ever wondered why some foods make you smell funny, here's why.

- Airline food doesn't just taste bad, the FDA has found safety flaws. Maybe it's better that fewer airlines are serving food on board.

- Here's something to test just how strong your stomach is — one woman eats her placenta and tells us how it was.

- For fans of Mario Batali: He hangs out at Morandi on Sunday mornings.

- A basil blight is threatening the herb of summer.

- Some tips on how best to photograph food in bright daylight.

- Farmers' markets are booming, but there are downsides.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Basta Pasta Review

Basta Pasta? Really? Why would you choose to eat in a place called Basta Pasta? That's a name for some cheap, cheesy Italian joint with bad red sauce and garlic bread. Cringe. That's the reaction I had when a friend told me a while back that she wanted to eat there. Turns out that my snap judgment was wrong. In fact, Basta Pasta is a Japanese Italian restaurant. How disorienting. It's a cute spot on 17th Street that seems to stay mostly under the radar, yet it can be tough to get a reservation and even on a late weekday evening was full. Then again, how many Japanese Italian restaurants do you know in the city? And after my superb dinner here, I get it.

In addition to a bread basket, we got slices of toast with a creamy mascarpone cheese.

Monday, June 28, 2010

It's That Time Again

It's time to book your reservations for Summer Restaurant Week, which is July 12-25. I'd recommend looking for restaurants that are offering dishes more representative of the regular menu (not just boring chicken, salmon or steak) and that offer a better value. I'm considering Aldea and Convivio and returning to The Bar Room at The Modern, which was wonderful when I went during Winter Restaurant Week. Maialino could also be a good bet.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Monday, Monday

Mondays in June mean chocolate chip custard at Shake Shack. The Shack knows how to start off the week right. A base custard that tasted like it could have been cookie dough rather than just straight vanilla hid many more chewy gobs of chocolate chocolate chip (the name should have double chocolate in it) cookie dough. Those three pieces sitting on top are just this custard's flair, the glitter on the costume to catch your neighbor's eye. Those deep cocoa flavored chunks provide the perfect texture contrast I constantly seek in my custard. But while eating this, I wanted to scream "Stop melting so fast!" because I cannot abide soupy ice cream, but wished I could have savored this flavor more slowly.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Small Bites

- A look inside the office of Serious Eats, one of my regular stops for food blogs.

- CNN jumps in to the world of food blogs.

- Celebrity chefs conquer the world.

- The advertising campaign for the new M&Ms with a pretzel center caters to younger customers with an emphasis on digital and social media.

- The impact of behavioral economics on school lunchrooms could change the future of the obesity epidemic.

- Salon gets one economist's view on the pay-what-you-want experiment that some restaurants have been adopting.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A New Life for Gourmet

 Last fall Gourmet magazine shut down. Now, Conde Nast announces Gourmet's reincarnation — as an iPad app and a Web site with the magazine's archives. There's a nifty video summarizing the new version. Former editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl won't be involved, but on her Twitter feed, she pities the fact that it's just the brand, not the magazine, that is being revived.

Another Step Forward for Times Square Shake Shack

Food in a Nutshell is keeping you updated on the step-by-step progress of the impending Times Square Shake Shack. Here's another reason to get excited — the sign has appeared for the branch that is set to open soon-ish on Eight Avenue and 44th Street.

Shake Shack Review

When I'm at Shake Shack, you'll usually find me in the B line gearing up for custard. There's almost always little or no line, and custard is far better than a burger, though I have to admit that many a time I have longed for fries to be offered in the B line. On a recent evening though, I found myself in the longer queue snaking around the curve of Madison Square Park. A friend was having her virgin Shake Shack experience and, well, the line IS a big part of that. But it's not so bad, comparatively, late on a weekday night.

I decided to indulge in the Shack Stack, which could otherwise be called a heart attack: a 'shroom burger (fried portobello with melted muenster and cheddar cheese) paired with a cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomato and Shack sauce, all on the same bun. Oh yeah, and a side of fries. Don't ever forget that side of fries. No custard only because I'd already had some (coffee & donuts!) earlier in the day.

I usually don't love burgers because I don't enjoy the taste of beef, though I have found that the rarer the beef is, the more I take to it. Shake Shack's burgers are cooked medium and the meat itself is tender and flavorful (supposedly a mix of sirloin, chuck and brisket). But the real trick for me is the cheese and sauce that drowns it all out. I also can't get enough of the crinkly cut fries; they're crispy and addictive and for french fries, they are reasonably ungreasy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Scarpetta Review

On a busy stretch of 14th Street near the corner with Ninth Avenue, there is an arched entrance to a modest building. The exterior has vinyl siding and a shingled roof and it resembles a small house. It's easy to miss; when I discovered that this was my destination — Scarpetta restaurant — I realized that I had passed by it several times in the past few weeks and hadn't even noticed it was a restaurant, much less one whose name I was familiar with. The signage is minimal in keeping with what seemed like the restaurant's unassuming demeanor.

Scarpetta is a product of Scott Conant who at one time had his hand in L'Impero (now Convivio) and Alto, two other upscale Italian restaurants. The prices at Scarpetta still keep it in the range of what most would consider a fancy dinner, but the atmosphere is less stuffy and many of the dishes are straightforward. Take, for example, one of our pasta appetizers.

Spaghetti with tomato & basil
You can't get much simpler than this. Had I not read Frank Bruni's review that recommended it, I absolutely would have skipped over these three words on the menu or quickly ruled the dish out. I'm glad I didn't. The noodles were cut thickly and unevenly, marks of a handmade pasta, and properly cooked al dente. The tomato sauce had a roundness to it that gave it great savoriness and the basil topped it all off. I could eat this every day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Creating "Real" Asian Food

Not long ago, I came across this guest post, by food writer Andrea Nguyen on Mark Bittman's Web site, in which she writes about RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen. According to Nguyen's description, this restaurant seems to defy all odds —it's huge, located in a mall in Los Angeles and was opened by the Cheesecake Factory — churning out good Southeast Asian food. Nguyen spoke with the Singaporean chef, Mohan Ismail, who explained how he changed some aspects of the dishes that he makes in order to better match the American palate. That might offend the foodies seeking out "authentic" food. Yet Ismail also uses strong Asian ingredients, such as fish sauce, that just really can't be substituted. And what's the result? A mix of customers:

What surprised me most about RockSugar was its clientele. There were the corporate suits from Century City law offices, young couples on dates, but also groups of Asians, some multigenerational. Some spoke Asian languages; an Indian man discussing a special event with Ismail. Everyone was having a good time.

The question Nguyen tries to raise in all this is whether Asian food can be mainstreamed while still maintaining authenticity. To me, finding the common road produces a type of food that falls into a category all its own.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Recent Eats

Last weekend was the 8th Annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party in Madison Square Park. The heat of the day was much more bearable than last year, so this time I decided to brave the line for Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q, which I had read was the place to go for pulled pork.

Twenty minutes later, I forked over $8 for my pulled pork shoulder sandwich and a side of coleslaw. Some have griped that the portions are overpriced, but I thought the serving was ample, especially given that you will often pay about the same or more in any barbecue restaurants in the city. The pork was tender and much better than the pulled pork I got last year. Those lines pay off. The sandwich was served dry, but at the end of the line were rows of Big Bob's classic barbecue sauce and a version with a slight jalapeƱo kick to it. I much prefer adding my own sauce. The spicy one was a winner here. And while I don't typically love coleslaw, this one was a good side, crunchy and slightly sweet.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Small Bites

- The U.S. Department of Agriculture is sponsoring researchers who are trying to develop a low allergy peanut.

- Some of New York's main food bloggers do the difficult task of picking their favorite restaurant (except for Ed Levine who was honest in saying there are too many to name).

- Eater interviews George Mendes, chef of Aldea restaurant, one year in. I dined there twice last year with good results.

- Il Laboratorio del Gelato, on the Lower East Side, is one of the city's standout gelato places. But I have yet to hit it when they were offering some of their wackier flavors. This profile of the place and gelato maker, Jon Snyder, makes me want to try harder.

- Despite letting Gourmet magazine go under, Conde Nast is working with Parade Publications on putting out a new newspaper magazine called Dash, with food articles and recipes aimed at surburban mothers with children. The Gourmet archives will be part of it.

- Slate investigates claims of fraud in the wine world.

- A Chipotle burrito vs. McDonald's Big Mac. See how it all shakes out. I would always choose Chipotle over McDonald's, but when I do, I try hard not to think about all that nutritional info.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Return to El Quinto Pino

I recently returned to one of my favorite tapas bars in the city, El Quinto Pino. I've reviewed it previously so here's a mostly visual rundown of my latest meal there.

Fideua: Noodle paella 
This was tossed with some squid and shrimp. It had an almost Asian noodle flavor to it (my dining companion likened it to ramen noodles).

Uni Panini: sea urchin sandwich
This was much spicier than the first time I had it. It was slathered with a wasabi mayonnaise.

Nuestras Bravas: signature crisp potatoes w/spicy aioli  
They know how to do the patatas bravas really well here. The potatoes are so crispy and coated in a perfect aioli. I can't not order these here. Do not skip.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hi-Chews Going Big

A recent report from Serious Eats on the Sweets and Snacks Expo covered some good up-and-coming candies and lo and behold the very last entry focused on one of my favorites, Hi-Chews. When attempting to spread their goodness, I have described them as similar to Starburst but much, much better; Serious Eats agrees. The company apparently plans to push the candy nationwide. In case you missed my enthusiastic endorsement of them last year, take this as your second notice.

Szechuan Gourmet Review

Szechuan Gourmet is the Midtown Chinese restaurant on which former Times critic Frank Bruni bestowed two stars. A big deal for any Chinese restaurant. I had ordered dinner delivery from here a couple of times with decent results (though I had forgotten that my last experience with a much-praised lunch special hadn't turned out so well). But lucky for me I had forgotten about that last time and decided to check out the lunch specials in person. The food was much better this time, perhaps a result of eating in instead of taking out.

Despite its popularity, the wait for a table moved quickly and after ordering, the food arrived fast, though not in a way that made us feel rushed.

The lunch special comes with a soup — it's slightly sour and had an unexpectedly peppery spiciness to it. Not far behind came our two lunch specials: Sliced Pork with Baby Eggplant and Shredded Pork with Spiced Tofu and Asian Celery.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Times Square Shake Shack Opening Soon

I'll soon be able to get my Shake Shack custard fix near my office! The Times Square branch is making rapid progress: Grub Street says it'll open at the end of this month or the beginning of July. And if you've lost track of all the Shake Shack expansions, The Huffington Post can help you out.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Get in Online or Get in Line?

This week's Dining section of The Times includes an article about the game of taking reservations or making customers wait it out, and the types of diners restaurants get as a result. I shared my opinion on the topic earlier this year.

Small Bites

- Robert Sietsema, the Village Voice's restaurant critic, explains how he finds new restaurants to check out.

- Anthony Bourdain covers the topics of wrongness, taste and travel.

- An Atlantic food blogger likens the nation's obesity problem to the BP disaster

- New Orleans chef Susan Spicer serves as inspiration for a character on the HBO show Treme and works with the show as a consultant.

- Farmers and activists battle over raw milk in Wisconsin.
- Slate has the rundown on the environmental impact of eggs.

-Scientists who have used mollusk shells to measure pollution are now using the method to track the oil spill's effect on the food web.

- A Pittsburgh restaurant hopes to engage people in dialogue by serving dishes from countries with which the United States doesn't have the best relationships.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Recent Eats Part II

Brunch at Alias
Alias is great for a low-key brunch on a Sunday morning, a great contrast to the mostly crowded lines-out-the-door types of places that populate New York City. The menu has a vaguely Southern bent to it and manages to provide lots of options that help you to customize a plate that covers all the bits and pieces you might want to try.

The buttered cornmeal waffle is a terrific morning starter. The cornmeal gave it an added crunch where waffles often turn soggy. It was served with sweet blueberries and strawberries on the side and a fried egg.

My dining companion and I knew we both wanted to try the fried chicken and biscuits. So the simple two eggs plate was the way we went — you could choose grits or a salad and had an option to add fried chicken (which you definitely want to do in some form or another on this menu).  The fried chicken had a delicate, flavorful crunch and a buttermilk richness. I only lament that there wasn't more. I'm not a big grits person, but these (Anson Mills) were good, thick rather than soupy. The biscuit, which looked like it had whole grains in it, was fluffy and buttery the way a biscuit should be.

 Alias also offered us a chance to try a food I had never before tasted: goetta. The menu had a small explainer that this is a food of some uncertain origins but that is a specialty out of Cincinnati and usually involves oats and some pork bits and is sometimes likened to haggis. This turned out to be quite innocuous,  a paper-thin woven hash brown with tiny pork bits mixed in. It reminded me a bit of fried dim sum dishes, probably because Chinese food involves much pork.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Recent Eats

After a long recovery from an illness that prevented me from indulging in my normal eating habits, I returned to my gluttonous ways this past weekend.

Brunch at Egg

Third time's a charm with Egg, a popular spot off of the main strip of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. On my first attempt, the place was unexpectedly closed because of some maintenance issue; on the second, the line was too long, even at an hour considered early for weekend brunch. So this weekend, I made it a point to arrive even earlier (10:30 a.m.) and on my own. Still, there was a 20-minute wait.You put your name on a waiting list and hover around outside until you are beckoned in by the hostess to a boxy room so spare that it feels a little like a picnic under a large tent.

A complimentary cinnamon sugar doughnut. It was light and not greasy and managed to hold up despite being served at room temperature.

Friday, June 04, 2010

A Pilgrimage to Paris

Coincidentally, Francis Lam, of Salon's Food section, is writing a series of posts from his food pilgrimage to Paris. He too sought out a good baguette and found his at Eric Kayser, at least on one day. He's finding that his "best" may just be what makes him happy:

But I thought about it some more, and discovered something about what it means for me to be in this country looking for culinary benchmarks: It shouldn't be about finding "The Best." It's about finding something that makes you happy and makes you ask, "How can it get even better than this?" It's about finding the bites that show off characteristics I never thought existed in that food, or ones I never thought could be so much themselves. And once that door is open, I can start to wonder if it can be even more that way.

And, really, that's not even about being in France, it's not about making a food pilgrimage. It's an experience anyone can have anywhere. Like literature, like film, like anything worth caring about, the artist only does one half of the equation; it's up to the audience to care about it enough to do the rest, accepting the idea that tasting is worth concentrating on and thinking about. From there, it's just a matter of eating things, discovering what you like about them, and keeping that in mind the next time you eat that thing. After all, you don't find memories, you make them.

So check in to see what else he finds in Paris to make him happy.

Things I Ate in Paris: Day Four

Some people go bar hopping — I go bakery hopping in Paris. My travel research had included several notable places for baked goods and, after visiting Sacre Coeur, we wandered around the Montmartre neighborhood and hit up three of those places.

We started Grenier a Pain Abbesses, which had recently won best baguette in Paris for 2010We of course indulged in a wonderful baguette that had a perfectly crackly exterior crust and a light, airy bread inside. A short walk down the hill took us to Rose Bakery where we ogled the enticing loaves, but settled on a sparkling elderflower soda and an apple and peach juice. Across the way, we stopped in at Arnaud Delmontel and bought some treats for later: a raspberry sable and an earl gray chocolate tea cake.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Setting Up Shop

The Treats Truck is the latest mobile vendor to earn a permanent spot. They'll be opening in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, in 2011.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Small Bites

- Salon details the art of being a food snob. It sounds like what just about all food bloggers do intuitively because they enjoy food, are interested in what they eat and eat adventurously.

- Being a good cook can earn you the admiration of friends, but on the flip side they may also have a phobia of you — of feeding you.

- American food companies are intensifying the flavor of their products, perhaps in response to a public that has evolved a broader palate.

- Mexico's police officials are trying to encourage the force to slim down.

- Can you name which restaurant chain has the unhealthiest dish in America?

- Some seemingly healthier food options contain just as many calories as some more obviously bad-for-you eats.

- Even though a soda tax might help decrease soda consumption and make us healthier, it might need to be reframed because people react badly to having their behavior controlled.

- A Japanese television show, Kitanachelin, takes the Michelin guide concept to cheap and dirty but delicious places to eat.

- A former restaurant critic for a Tacoma paper is now unemployed and living off of food stamps.

- Lay's wants to market itself as food rather than a snack while Kraft wants to stir an adult love of its macaroni and cheese.

- Our perception of egg flavor may just be psychological; a store-bought egg and a backyard egg have little difference.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Shake Shack's June Flavors

Those of you who missed out on Coffee & Donuts in the past (or if you've tried it and loved the flavor, as I did) can look forward to Thursdays in June.

Monday: Chocolate Chip Cookie
Tuesday: Strawberry Lime
Wednesday: Honey Roasted Peanut
Thursday: Coffee & Donuts
Friday: Black Raspberry
Saturday: Banana Cream Pie
Sunday: Cherry Almond