Friday, July 30, 2010

Small Bites

- New York City is looking for a new food czar.

- A look at stadium food doesn't look so good.

- The newest territory for bacon is cocktails.
- One trader has a lot of sway over the cocoa world.

- Jose Andres, a DC chef known for his use of molecular gastronomy, defended and explained his use of liquid nitrogen at a talk at Google's offices.

- Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, highlights the status of legislation that would help address food safety problems.

- Follow Frank (Bruni) around town. One of his stops? Aldea restaurant.

- How are food and migraines linked?

- Few foods help with sleep problems, but there are some things to avoid for a better night's rest.

- A guide (for non-Chinese people) to ordering in a Chinese restaurant.

National Ice Cream Month

I don't know how it escaped me, but July was National Ice Cream Month! Ronald Reagan designated it so in 1984. offers suggestions on where to get some unusual ice cream flavors around the country while Saveur has recipes for crazy concoctions you can make at home. Momofuku's Milk Bar is serving soft serve ice cream in BBQ and creamed corn flavors.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer Restaurant Week: Fig & Olive

I had a bonus Restaurant Week lunch through a friend who needed a dining companion for Fig & Olive in the Meatpacking District.

The lunch began with bread and a spread of three olive oils of varying origins. If my memory serves correctly, we had oils from Australia, Chile and Algeria. Decent, but only slight variations.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pies 'n' Thighs Review

Several strong reviews of Pies 'n' Thighs, a Williamsburg restaurant specializing in fried chicken and pies, were enough to motivate my dining companions and me to endure the ride to an outer borough for brunch on a hot, humid day. We expected a long line given the amount of publicity it seemed to have gotten of late. But we were pleasantly surprised to find our choice of tables (perhaps it was the lack of air conditioning that did it) and we chose the one in front of a giant fan. We were able to linger for hours and eat at a leisurely pace, in stages. It's the way a lazy Sunday morning should be.

We split two chicken boxes between three of us. Each platter came with three pieces of chicken, a biscuit and our choice of side. On one plate we got fruit salad (as if to assuage the guilt of eating fried chicken) and home fries on the other.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Recent Eats

This summer, I acquired a Key to the City, part of an art project organized by Creative Time. It's a pretty neat project that basically gave me an excuse to venture to places I would otherwise never have explored. So on a recent blazing summer Saturday, my dining companion and I decided to set out for an adventure in Queens. But we started the morning by fueling up with a mega-breakfast (the only kind you can get) at Shopsin's. It was tough to narrow down the most expansive brunch menu in the city, but here's what we settled on:

Adobe: egg burrito, coconut pancakes, cranberry salsa. You can't even see the massive burrito hidden underneath. The cranberry salsa gave the plate a nice tinge of sweetness.

Fairie: pecan pancakes, bacon fried eggs, flat biscuits. Shopsin's really knows how to make pancakes. They're fluffy and light and buttery. With all the flavor combinations they offer (including mac and cheese pancakes that are actually good), there's no way you won't find one you like. I also loved the flat biscuits, which were like a chewier version of pancakes that tasted like biscuits. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Restaurant Week: Aldea

We're in the middle of Summer Restaurant Week and this time around, there weren't too many new places I wanted to try, so I have been using it to revisit spots where I've had some great meals. Restaurant Week was just extended until Labor Day, as it has been for each of the past few rounds.

Aldea was the first return trip I made and it didn't disappoint. The menu has just three choices each for appetizer and main course and two for dessert, but the offerings looked interesting and based on my previous experiences, I knew that the kitchen would do them well. The service has remained attentive and helpful as well.

Rustic Pork & Duck Terrine with muscat wine gelée and wild arugula. I would never call terrine, a sort of meatloaf of mixed meats, one of my favorite foods, but I am generally interested in trying it as I am most things. This terrine had a pretty strong, gamey flavor, probably drawn from the duck meat. The gelée had a tangy bite with a recognizable alcoholic quality to it that made for a good contrast. I had expected the texture of the terrine to be closer to the smoothness of a pate, but it was less spreadable and more solid. I liked it, but it was a good share plate.

Arugula & pickled cherry salad with Sao Jorge cheese and hazelnuts. Salads can be really boring, and while this one, visually, didn't shine, the ingredients made it satisfying. Each component had a different texture. I loved the thin wedges of semi-hard cheese that was similar to a Swiss cheese. Chopped hazelnuts were a great choice for their distinct nuttiness and crunchiness. And the cherries showed me that the chef was really thinking about how to compose a more interesting salad, given that it's not a fruit you see as often.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Small Bites

- compiles a list of New York City chefs who blog

- For those of you who still widen your eyes at cupcakes, Serious Eats has a roundup of the best ones in New York City.

- Make ice cream without the machine

- During the New York City Wine & Food Festival in October, there will be several food-related Times Talks, including an interview with Rene Redzepi, the chef of the globally acclaimed Swedish restaurant Noma, and a conversation with several prominent New York chefs.

- An argument against raw milk.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

SD26 Review

We should have listened to the mixed reviews. Dinner at SD26 was one of the worst meals my family has had in a long time. SD26 is the reincarnated version of San Domenico, an Italian place that was previously located on Central Park South, where the restaurant Marea is now located.

The entryway to SD26 is a huge bar with lots of unoccupied space. You walk through a wide hallway until you reach the back of the restaurant, which opens up into a large dining room. How can a restaurant afford to have so much space and take advantage of every square foot to bring in the dollars? Well, it soon became clear — charge exorbitant prices for as little food as possible. If you're looking for value in your meal, head elsewhere.

In a first among restaurants I have been to, SD26's wine menu is electronic. While seemingly modern and fancy, it gave the staff here an excuse not to interact with its customers. Though a sommelier roamed the floor, she never came to our table. The wine was also not poured tableside, which I find inappropriate for any expensive restaurant. I'd like to say the service was uneven, but that would imply that it improved at some point — unfortunately it was evenly amateurish throughout the night. We even witnessed a server trying to bring main courses to the table next to us while the diners were still eating their appetizers.

The potato gnocchi with artichokes and calamaretti was a plate of blandness. The gnocchi, "just a squishy thing" according to my sister, tasted like raw potatoes with little else providing extra flavor.

Monday, July 19, 2010

On the Road Eats: New Jersey

Plans for a recent trip down to the Jersey Shore were thwarted by weather reports of an 80 percent chance of heavy rain. Though the skies remained ominous all day, the rain never materialized. So, in the late afternoon my dining companion and I set off anyway for dinner at Bay Avenue Trattoria, in Highlands, NJ. Yes, we had made a dinner reservation even for a trip to the beach. We had a car, but Highlands is actually accessible by ferry from New York City.

We made it down early and decided to walk around the beach in nearby Sea Bright, NJ. Our parking spot seemed fortuitous — right in front of an ice cream shop with one of the funniest names I've ever heard of for for an establishment, Gracie and the Dudes. So, how could we resist a little pre-dinner snack?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Opening Experiences

I went over to the new Times Square Shake Shack around 9 p.m. one day this week to check out the scene. A coworker innocently hoped there would be no line while I was sure the line would be out the door. It was a 30-minute wait and there is no B line for easy access to custard here. We left that for another day. (Update: Midtown Lunch has constructed a wait time guide.)

A midday trip to the new Trader Joe's was gloriously easy — high ceilings, wide aisles, stocked cases and most importantly, no line! The friendly woman at the register confirmed how excited people seemed to be, peeking in the windows before it opened and clapping as they walked in (was she joking?) as though they were not grocery store employees but celebrities.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Small Bites

- How chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten entertains summer guests at home.

- Competitive eating has become a big deal.

- A new study finds that having many restaurants within a five-minute walk from home makes women fatter.

- Some people don't grow out of being picky eaters.

- Ever thought about taking a culinary vacation?

- tests out wacky ice cream flavors.

- Holton Farms is bringing a new form of community support agriculture to New York, via food truck.

- Analyzing the brains of overeaters.

A New Trader Joe's Opens in Chelsea

Hooray! The new branch of Trader Joe's has opened at Sixth Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets. Racked has photos and it looks much larger than the overcrowded Union Square store. I'm looking forward to what I hope will be a more pleasant shopping experience at my favorite grocery store.

Free Dessert at Desi Truck

For the month of July, the Desi Truck, which I recently reviewed, is offering free dessert to those with the secret password.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On the Road Eats: Philadelphia

I spent July 4th weekend in the great city of Philadelphia and as ever, found some good meals.

Sabrina's has a faux diner aesthetic to it and the hearty meals here support the dineresque appeal. A full page of weekend specials does the job of making the brunch choice difficult. Feeling hungry and in the mood to take advantage of the specials, I went all out and ordered the "4th of July Blowout Breakfast Special: green onion-jalapeno buttermilk biscuit topped with sharp cheddar scrambled eggs with tri bell peppers and arugula. Finished with fried potato-herb encrusted chicken breast and Chipotle-plum tomato-shallot gravy."

I might just have been extremely hungry (and craving fried chicken), but this comes close to being one of the best breakfast combos I've had. The chicken and gravy were flawless — the chicken wasn't greasy or overly fried and it was tender, with a great match in the gravy. The potatoes were sufficiently crisp and salty, not quite french fries but close enough. I was thankful they were not bland sliced potatoes on a plate (a breakfast pet peeve of mine). I don't eat scrambled eggs often because I find them to be dry and tasteless, but if they could always taste like this, maybe I'd order them more often. A good helping of peppers and arugula was mixed in so that every bite had flavor. The biscuit was the weakest corner of the dish because it was too firm and the flavors mild. This biscuit would work better with a fried egg, where you'd need to sop up every last bite.

My dining companion kept saying she'd be amazed if I finished this whole thing. Seems like people want to evoke my competitive eating spirit. But I didn't officially step up to the challenge here. Nevertheless I nearly finished the entire thing and no doubt could have, but stopped short of the last few bites of the dry biscuit and a few potatoes that went home with my dining companion's French toast leftovers.

My dining companion went the sweet route and got one of the tallest brunch dishes I have ever seen: "Stars and Striped stuffed french toast filled with a sweet cream cheese and ricotta blend of blueberry jam, marshmallow, strawberries and sugar cookie crumbles. Topped with berry molasses compote and fresh berries." I had one bite and thought the filling was heavenly, but maybe a bit rich for an entire meal.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Katsuhama Review

On my most recent trip to Katsuhama, I was lured in by a special $22 set meal that included a choice of appetizer (mine was potato salad), choice of katsu (I got hire katsu or pork tenderloin) and prawn katsu and crab katsu. It all comes with unlimited miso soup and rice. The crab katsu was too mushy and the prawn katsu was just okay, though the potato salad was decent. The portion of pork katsu is also slightly smaller in the set meal than the regular entree. It seemed like a good deal and it was by the amount of food I got, but ultimately, the pork katsu is the best part and it would have been best to stick to the standard katsu meal.

It's Officially Open

The Shake Shack in Times Square is officially open. Midtown Lunch has a mouthwatering rundown of the concretes specific to this branch, which stays open until midnight, later than the Madison Square Park or Upper West Side ones.

Friday, July 09, 2010

On the Road Eats: New Hampshire Pancake Contest

Polly's Pancake Parlor is a charming breakfast spot in bucolic Sugar Hill, N.H. As our group perused the large menu, one of my dining companions said he wanted something hearty, so I pointed out the All You Can Eat pancakes option. And as I too contemplated it, I sensed that I was being scoffed at. So I declared that though I may not look like I eat much, I have a huge appetite.You can probably guess where that led: a head-to-head all-you-can-eat pancake contest.

Polly's menu described the pancakes as being 3 inches in diameter and when I peeked over the counter where they were being made, they seemed small enough that I could eat lots of them. At Polly's, you can choose from a few different types of batters and a few different add-ins to construct your ideal pancakes.

The Real Shake Shack Opening Date

The Times reports that the Shake Shack in Times Square will finally open on Monday and hints at the possibility that there could be a soft opening over the weekend if the staff is prepared.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

On the Road Eats: Boston Review of The Gallows

Over the years I have made it through much of Boston's restaurant scene. It's one of the things I love about that city — it's small enough that you can really get a thorough sense of what eats it has to offer, yet there's enough turnover so that there are always new places to try. The Gallows opened up just a few weeks before my visit in the same space as the now-defunct Cafe Umbra, a restaurant I had previously visited and liked a lot. The Gallows has a terrible name that could be an ominous statement on its future, but luckily, the food should keep it going for some time. It's a noisy, dark space and there weren't enough servers, but those are kinks that the restaurant may work out over time. The menu is original, extensive and in addition, there's a whole page of daily specials.

Longshoreman's Platter
The menu includes a set of platters and the ingredients used on any given day are part of the specials. This included smoked scallops, fennel cured salmon, horseradish beets, pickled vegetables, a dill cucumber mix, broiled brandade (yes, we had this twice in one day) and a few pieces of bread and a side of mustard. The smoked scallops were really interesting. I usually reject scallops for their bland taste and squishy texture, but here, the smokiness was lovely; it was akin to smoked mozzarella. The cod was served warm, giving it a leg up on the one we had at Coppa earlier in the day. And the salmon was wonderful with just a mild fennel undertone.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Small Bites

- Slate combines bacon and waffles into one dish. It's all going to the same place anyway!

- Greenhouses could allow for sustainable eating all-year round.

- Why are there gender-based food clichés?

- The Department of Agriculture's proposed new dietary guidelines seem more progressive, addressing the issue of good nutrition for all, including poor people.

- The Obamas, the restaurant scene and their food values.

- There seems to be a lot of ice cream experimentation these days, but Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco might just top them all.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

On the Road Eats: Boston

I recently took a trip up to Boston for a friend's birthday. Before heading out of New York, I stopped at El Quinto Pino for breakfast and fueled up for the road with a Bikini sandwich, ham and cheese and a bit of truffle oil pressed between two slices of a flaky, buttery bread.

A long ride in the car of course left me famished. Our late afternoon lunch stop: Coppa. It was the perfect place to share a few small plates, still leaving room for dinner in a few hours.

We were able to sit outside on a lovely, warm day and because this wasn't a terribly busy street, it was quite peaceful.

Tuna Crudo: Charred cippolini onions, black radish and parsley

Chicken liver crostini 

Monday, July 05, 2010

Desi Truck Review

A couple of weeks ago, while walking along Fifth Avenue, I spotted a bright yellow food truck at the corner of 27th Street. It seemed to be a low-budget operation thrown together in a hurry, with a handwritten poster for a menu, pasted to the side of a former halal truck.

Before I had a chance to return to try the Desi Truck out, Midtown Lunch posted about it. It seemed like a positive enough early review that I suggested to my dining companion that we take a chance on it when we were pondering lunch near Madison Square Park.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The First Custard of July

Plum crumb (I liked the rhyming name) kicked off Shake Shack's July flavors and of course I was there to test it out. As you can see, it's pretty harmless and unfortunately the flavor was just as mundane. I detected just a hint of pluminess, but my dining companion insisted it was little different from eating vanilla. The crumbs were plentiful and sugary, but not soggy — something that Shake Shack seems to be quite adept at doing.

Update: The people who said the Times Square Shake Shack would open today were wrong. The latest info says Tuesday.

Update Two: For the holiday weekend, Shake Shack has weekend specials — a corn dog at the Upper West Side branch and a special concrete using Mast Brothers chocolate at both locations. 

See Bruni Speak

If you are a fan of former Times critic Frank Bruni's memoir, Born Round, go hear him speak free in Madison Square Park on July 8 or at The Strand on July 13. I thought the book was a fun, fascinating read.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Shake Shack Summer

It's shaping up to be a summer of Shake Shack for me. First, here are the new flavors for July:

Monday: Strawberry Pistachio
Tuesday: Sweet Corn
Wednesday: Boston Cream Pie
Thursday: Plum Crumb
Friday: Mud Pie
Saturday: Blueberry
Sunday: Peaches n' Cream

And Eater has photos of the progress at the Times Square branch, which is rumored to open Friday!