Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On the Road Eats: The Slanted Door

For just about as long as I've been interested in food and restaurants, I've associated San Francisco with The Slanted Door. The upscale Vietnamese restaurant in the Ferry Plaza building has established its reputation quite well over the past 16 years and, from my experience, it seems that the reservations for dinner in the large dining room are still being easily filled.

Unable to get a table, I thought I might try my luck as a walk-in at the bar. But as it turns out, my dining companion and I ended up here at lunchtime just as the restaurant was opening. A line was already forming at the door. We tried our luck and were able to get in and were seated at a lovely table with a view of the water.

The long, overwhelmingly intriguing menu nearly guarantees that your eyes will be bigger than your stomach. But by ordering several appetizers, we were able to several things.

The spicy vermicelli rice noodles with chicken, green cabbage, cucumber, mint, peanut sauce and lime was a nice first plate. The tangy mixture was flavorful, though I did wish the chicken had been marinated longer so it tasted less of meat and exuded more freshness.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On the Road Eats: Chez Panisse

When I travel to a new place, my first thought turns to food and what new places I might be able to try. As soon as I found out I would be headed to Berkeley, California, for an intense weeklong workshop, I sought a reservation at Chez Panisse, the esteemed restaurant of Alice Waters, a leading advocate of local and sustainable food and the slow food movement.

I was able to get a late reservation at the upstairs cafe, the more casual side of the restaurant. I was warmly greeted by the host and taken to a corner table. The menu I received said that it was inspired by Colman Andrews, one of the founders of Saveur magazine. As it happens, the following week would be Chez Panisse's 40th anniversary. So, for each of the 40 weeks leading up to it, the menu would recognize the inspiration of 40 different chefs.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Recent Eats

It was a gorgeous Sunday not to be wasted. I eat like a maniac and thankfully have some friends who love to indulge in the same. What you are about to read did take place within a few hours in just one afternoon.

First up, Diner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I'd heard rumors of long waits for brunch here and when I called the restaurant to ask when that typically began, I was told 11 a.m. My dining companion and I aimed to be there by that time and we made our deadline. We were rewarded with no line. Diner sits inside of an old dining car, but we passed up the charming interiors to bask in the sunlight.

Though there is a short printed menu put down on the table, it's bare bones and there are no decisions to make until the real menu arrives —a recitation by your server who fills in the blanks, listing all sorts of ingredients for each dish and scribbling crib notes on the paper tablecloth. Ordering brunch turns into a memory game, which isn't the thing most people are in the mood for on Sunday morning. Restaurants, if you want to change your menu constantly, at least give us a chalkboard.

The raisin scone with creme fraiche and rhubarb compote was the most worthy thing we ate at Diner. It was delicious, from the buttery scone topped with large crystals of sugar to the creamy center and the fruity accoutrement.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Melt Bakery Review

Opening weekend at the Hester Street Fair was a sea of people. By the time I arrived, much of the food was sold out. And I couldn't even get close to most of the stands that still had food because there were so many people trying to make their way around in the small space. My hunger was becoming urgent. I spotted a promising place across the street that might fill that need — North Dumpling. There was a short line, but it moved fast and the food was produced quickly. The fried dumplings (10 for $2) and the steamed dumplings (8 for $2) were delicious and wonderfully hot. The sesame pancake with beef was just okay; too much bread and too little meat, which was fatty as well.

Having sated my stomach some, I was better prepared to deal with the crowds, which I needed to do so I could try one of the ice cream sandwiches from Melt Bakery. I gleefully handed over $4 for the "Lovelet" — two soft red velvet whoopie pie cookies cushioning cream cheese ice cream. This baby was well frozen and needed several minutes to thaw out, but it'll be nice when the sun really starts to heat up this summer. I loved the flavors in this. The cookies were fluffy and very recognizably red velvet flavored and the ice cream was smooth and creamy. Melt's Web site lists several interesting flavor combinations of cookies and ice creams that can be ordered for delivery or picked up from their location on the Lower East Side. They'll be opening a storefront soon as well. I hope to try more in the coming months to keep me cool.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Smoke Joint Review

After a long evening show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, finding a spot open for a late dinner or drinks turned out to be a little harder than I thought it would be for Fort Greene. It seems that many of the places nearby close around 11 p.m. or midnight. Luckily, my dining companions and I slipped in to The Smoke Joint just before the kitchen closed. The restaurant was still full, so we were seated at the bar. We ordered fast and after a minor glitch, the food came soon after. 

I had ordered a half portion ($8) of the tender smoked chicken, but they were out of the dark meat. As a result, we got two huge portions of white meat. I was a bit disappointed as I prefer dark meat, but once I tasted this, my doubts evaporated. The chicken was extremely juicy and flavorful. A light layer of barbecue sauce coated the skin of the chicken, but there were bottles of barbecue and hot sauces on the counter, so you could season to your taste.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Small Bites

 - Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, defends foodies who focus efforts on improving the agriculture of eating against those calling them elitist.

- Pick up some tips to improve your food photography.

- Sbarro's declaration of bankruptcy in April seems unsurprising given its tendency to cater to indifferent eats, and this Slate piece confirms it.

- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a fascinating "food desert" locator — it shows low-income areas with little access to grocery stores — based on Census tracts. DCentric notes that Washington, D.C.'s food deserts are areas with high concentrations of children.

- Among odd eating experiences — dinner served on the L train from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Coolhaus Early Review

Several blogs had posted about the food truck promotion last weekend between Coolhaus and Firefox (yes, as in the Internet browser). They teamed up to give out several flavors of ice cream sandwiches in a few different locations around the city. Coolhaus was debuting in New York and this was a great way to introduce its product amidst the burgeoning food truck movement. I liked the sound of the unique ice cream flavor combinations (the mention of Earl Gray ice cream is nearly enough to make me an immediate fan). And, honestly, what could be better than getting one of my favorite things to eat for free!

So I decided to try out one of the ice cream sandwiches at its near-Bryant Park location. Though I got there at noon, when it was supposed to open, it took another 15 to 20 minutes before they actually started serving customers. And by that time, a decent line had formed. They were actually waiting for the ice cream to soften up a bit. And the Firefox promotional people were just arriving to hand out swag. Though the offerings were limited to four flavors, the ie ice cream sandwiches weren't premade, but rather, scooped upon ordering.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Shake Shack Flavors for May

I've already kicked off May with a scoop of the delicious Red Velvet today. Here they are:

Monday: Strawberry Blonde
Tuesday: Cinnamon Almond Dulce
Wednesday: Fromage Blanc Raspberry Swirl
Thursday: Thin Mint
Friday: Mud Pie
Saturday: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel
Sunday: Red Velvet