Monday, November 22, 2010

A Walk with Calvin Trillin

For many, the name Calvin Trillin is synonymous with food writing characterized by a particular voice of deadpan humor. Others are familiar with his work as a longtime contributor to The New Yorker. On a brisk, sunny October morning, it was the allure of having this writer share his enthusiasm for some of his favorite food spots that drew nearly 40 people to a secret meeting spot in the West Village.

The Come Hungry tour, part of the annual New Yorker Festival, is a tough ticket.  A few weeks before, the Friday that tickets went on sale, I sat before my computer ready to do battle with the online system, at noon on the dot. In just a couple of minutes it would be over. I had tried to get these tickets each of the last five years with not even a slim moment of hope before the sold out message appeared on my screen, seemingly the same second they were supposed to be available. The spinning wheel, the processing Web page — this time, I had won the lottery.

Trillin is a man of average height. With droopy cheeks, a bulbous nose, bushy, unkempt eyebrows and hunched shoulders, he resembles a St. Bernard. His blue eyes seem twinged with sadness. If you passed him on the street, he would seem unremarkable. It is his writing that makes people take note, his dry sense of humor that emanates from the words on the page, a humor that makes you laugh out loud while reading; to be a part of this tour was to translate that to life.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pure Thai Shophouse Review

Hell's Kitchen is so saturated with Thai restaurants that you'd almost begin to wonder if this was a mini Thai town. So the opening of yet another one should elicit nothing more than a groan. But Pure Thai Shophouse has attracted a bit of attention. It belongs to the same owners of Upper West Side restaurants, Recipe and Land Thai. The menu seems to offer several dishes that are a little different from your tired Pad Thai or Massaman curry options.

There's also a board with daily specials and a small assortment of groceries for sale up front.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Restaurant News Roundup

Some noteworthy restaurant news in the New York restaurant world:

- Chef Yasuda is leaving the restaurant bearing his name, Sushi Yasuda. It's one of the best sushi spots in the city.

- Artichoke Pizza, which opened a full restaurant in Chelsea earlier this fall, is about to open another takeout branch in the Village.

- Tea drinkers might be interested to hear that Harney & Sons have put down roots in Soho.

 - And for coffee addicts, Piccolo Cafe has opened a small storefront on 40th Street near Eighth Avenue where it sells pasta, sandwiches and desserts in addition to coffee.

- The owners of The Breslin recently opened the highly anticipated new John Dory, also at the Ace Hotel. The restaurant previously had a home in Chelsea but closed last year.

- Brooklyn Fare's Cesar Ramirez will expand into a new restaurant next door.

- K! Pizzacone is now papered up and there's a for rent sign in the window.

- Il Laboratorio del Gelato's much-delayed larger branch in the Lower East Side has opened.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Small Bites

- One writer doesn't cook for her parents to preserve her food memories.

- An exotic meats enthusiast shares why he likes those meats and offers some advice on how to get and cook them.

- Airplane food today is so bad that, comparatively, there was a time when dining in the air seemed glamorous, but perhaps it's always been bad.

- Google has launched a Yelp-like restaurant recommendation site. Zagat tries to find success among the many online restaurant recommendation options. And the Michelin Guide announces its ratings for Chicago restaurants. Alinea was one of two restaurants to win Michelin's highest rating of three stars.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dosa Cart Review

When it comes to eating in Midtown, many have a knee-jerk reaction that there aren't many good options. Midtown Lunch has done a lot to dispel that notion. And if you are open and adventurous, there's an abundance of places to explore. The area seems to have a greater concentration and variety of food trucks at lunchtime than most other areas. For a while now, I have passed by a dosa truck on my way to work everyday. Today was finally the day for it. I was sick of my cafeteria salads and decided to head over to the truck on Broadway and 39th Street.

Basically all the items on the menu are $5. The cart not only offers dosas but also uttapam and rice dishes.

For my first encounter, I decided to try the basic masala dosa. Dosas are a South Indian specialty, a thin crepe folded over various types of filling. The masala dosa is a mixture of curried potatoes and onions.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Burgers & Cupcakes Review

There's a lot of competition for burgers in the Times Square area these days with places like Schnipper's, Five Guys and Shake Shack within a few blocks of one another. Burgers & Cupcakes is slightly farther south of the main hustle and bustle, but sits on restaurant-heavy Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen. And it marries two things this city has been crazy for for some time now — burgers and cupcakes.

I'm not a huge fan of beef burgers (though Shake Shack has managed to win me over), so I was glad to see that Burgers & Cupcakes offered other burger options such as turkey and salmon. Beyond lettuce, tomato, onions and a pickle, the toppings come a la carte and you pay $1 for each one. I went for the turkey burger with Swiss cheese and a side of fries. Because turkey burgers are leaner than beef ones, they are more prone to produce a dry patty. But my burger was moist and I liked the soft, doughy roll it came on. I was also excited to see that the fries were thin cut and crispy, a style I love but don't find often.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Recent Eats

Perhaps it was the increasing chilliness of the season, perhaps it was just a temporary need for a break from my constant hunt for restaurants that fit the criteria of the moment. It was a week of turning to convenience and comfort, to places where I could confidently chow down. And it was all gratifying.

Good Restaurant

I've sung praise for brunch at this West Village eatery; a meal that seems to bring out the crowds. But on a weekday at midday, Good is relaxed and allows for a leisurely lunch.

The classic grilled cheddar cheese sandwich (you can also choose pepperjack cheese if you prefer) served with tomatoes and a side of mixed greens is large and filling. You're likely to take half of it home.

The harvest salad is a healthy enough portion of mixed greens tossed with aged cheddar, roasted pears, pecans and dressed in apple cider vinaigrette. I added roasted turkey for an additional $4, which seemed a bit steep for three very thin, though tasty, slices of meat.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Small Bites

- Brooklyn will get its very own Shake Shack, in the Fulton Street Mall.

- Even the most adventurous of foodies have certain foods that are turnoffs. The Village Voice compiles a list of their 10 most challenging dishes in New York City.

- The chefs whom Alinea chef Grant Achatz has chosen for his new ventures (Aviary and Next) answer a few questions for Chicago Magazine.

- Cooks Source magazine makes a stir by plagiarizing and the magazine editor's response makes the situation worse.

- Author Rick Bragg has a deep love of mayonnaise.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Recent Eats

The Cellar Bar at the Andaz Hotel

This spot is tucked away beneath The Shop restaurant at the Andaz 5th Avenue hotel across from the New York Public Library. When you enter through the restaurant, you'll feel lost, but you walk to the back and down a set of stairs. Listen for the noise and head to the unmarked wooden door. When you open it up, you'll find yourself in a wide-open bar with communal tables and booths along the back wall. The place is dark with an open kitchen that looks almost like a performance space. It feels like a cool space, but the service is friendly and the bar isn't as pretentious as it may seem upon your initial meeting.

Mexican Firing Squad:  Herradura Blanco tequila, lime pomegranate molasses, angostura bitters
Perry Grove: Martin Miller's Westbourne strength gin, lemon, Belle de Brillet pear liqueur, Peychaud's bitters

Potato Torta. This had a slightly off taste, maybe from some kind of blue cheese.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Aburiya Kinnosuke Lunch Review

Aburiya Kinnosuke seems to have quickly worked its way into my repeat visits list. I had dinner there just the other week, but returned recently to check out the lunch specials, which were supposed to be a good deal. Each day, there is a meat lunch, a fish lunch and a chef's special, of which only eight are available. By the time my dining companion and I arrived at 12:45, the chef's special was gone. The specials all come with soup, rice and dessert.

I decided to go with the fish lunch ($16) which came with two plates — a grilled mackerel and simmered eel cooked with egg. The mackerel was plain and simple and extremely fishy, but right up my alley. I loved the eel which was topped by scrambled eggs mixed in with a slightly sweet soy sauce (perhaps the eel sauce that often coats eel in sushi). The set also came with a small plate of pickles and a bowl of jellyfish, providing crunchy counterparts to the fish.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Lincoln Review

Lincoln is a new restaurant that opened at Lincoln Center about a month ago in a glass-encased structure among other recent glass-building additions to the arts complex. The restaurant is the product of chef Jonathan Benno, who left his job as chef of Per Se to strike out on his own. There seemed to be much anticipation for its opening, so I was surprised to land a prime-time reservation after calling just a couple of days beforehand.

As you are led into the dining room, you pass a glass wall that affords a clear view into an orderly kitchen.

The space is lovely, with wood-paneled, sloping ceilings and glass walls. The chairs smartly swivel out to greet you and swing you back into place at the table.

The meal started off with bread sticks seasoned with oregano and chili; flat rectangular crackers coated in pork fat and Parmesan, and square crackers with olive oil, white sesame and parsley. They were nice snacks to munch on as we tried to figure out just what to order, which turned out to be harder than expected.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Small Bites

- Jean-Georges Vongerichten plans on selling his sodas at Union Square beginning early next year.

- An interview with restaurateur Danny Meyer on the 25th anniversary of his first restaurant, Union Square Cafe.

- T Magazine's Peter Meehan shares the current status of his relationship with Chinatown.

- Some people don't view foodies favorably.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Recent Eats

Lunch at Lazarra's Pizza. The lunch special fried calamari sandwich with a spicy red sauce. I liked that the breading wasn't thick, but the sandwich was a bit on the bland side, not to mention quite messy, and the calamari wasn't tender enough.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Essex Street Market to Open on Sundays

Besides eating, one of my favorite food-related activities in my free time is exploring food markets. The Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side is a great one with a combination of produce, meat and seafood stands as well as some specialty food sellers, such as Saxelby Cheese (I recommend you check it out if you haven't been). It's also the site of the great breakfast and brunch spot, Shopsin's. There have been many times I've wanted to take people to eat at Shopsin's or just to the market to explore on a Sunday morning, but unfortunately the market has always been closed on Sundays. It didn't make a lot of sense to me because Sundays seem like a day more people would have time to come out and shop. But beginning next weekend, the market will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

November Flavors Are Here

Shake Shack has packed this month with fruit-based flavors. After voting tomorrow, try out Cranberry Cashew or if you missed out on Pumpkin Pie last month, make it your hump day treat.

Monday: Salted Caramel
Tuesday: Cranberry Cashew
Wednesday: Pumpkin Pie
Thursday: Maple Brown Butter
Friday: Banana Bread
Saturday: Shack Shiraz Poached Pear
Sunday: Apple Caraway