Monday, May 26, 2008

San Antonio & Austin TXTXTX

we spent Memorial Day weekend in San Antonio and Austin and the trip was great! much better than my last trip to Texas, during which I was called the n-word by some red-faced fat guys in cowboy hats in a pickup truck outside Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth.

the food of the weekend did not start off auspiciously, with a microwaved cheeseburger in a bag given to me on the Continental Airways flight to San Antonio. I declined and asked for the vegetarian option, so I was given a box with 8 white-brown iceberg lettuce leaves (actually mostly spines) and some "pepper cream" dressing (which I promptly threw away). more on this at the end--it gets worse.

we spent Saturday in San Antonio--doing the Alamo and whatnot. for lunch we went to La Fonda on Main, a local Mexican place that Matt and Deepali enjoy. Jenna and I split an avocado poblano soup that was much better than I thought it would be--it wasn't overly peppery, nor was it just heated-up guacamole, but had its own distinct flavor.

when our food arrived, nobody could open the tortilla container. finally the waiter came over and began to pound it on the table. he couldn't crack it, either. after nine different people had tried to open it he finally brought us a new one.

for my meal I got chicken mole enchiladas, which made me think of Priya, a noted molephile. they were recommended to me by Matt, who also got his own plate of them. he said he likes them because the mole sauce is not sweet like it is at a lot of other places. I found the mole sauce to be sweetish, actually--Matt speculated that the style in SA is to verge on the sweet side, and said that some of 'em taste like they're made with chocolate syrup. yuck! but this was very very good, pleasantly bitter-and-sweet. I also got a couple of Negro Modelo micheladas which definitely cooled me off in the unexpected heat. (all weekend the Texans were making fun of Rob and I, the New Yorkers who refused to wear shorts and instead wore long pants around all the time in the oppressive heat).




unfortunately, Matt and Deepali's adorable new daughter Lilly did not like her first taste of mole:



we had planned to get Texas barbecue at a place called Rudy's that night, but were so slow getting started we didn't have enough time to do that and still make our "haunted San Antonio" ghost tour at 9pm. Jenna and Rob had been keen to try Sonic--they sit around all night watching those Sonic ads (obviously made by a champion food stylist) which make the food look absolutely delicious (who knows why they play them nonstop in NYC when there's no Sonics anywhere near here), and they really wanted to try it out...Matt was completely bemused by this, but said okay, and we did Sonic for dinner.

well, they fucked up our order three times in five minutes, leaving some stuff out, giving us the wrong sandwiches and extra root beers and all kinds of stuff. the cheesecake bites Jenna and Rob had been craving were not available (limited edition). the fried macaroni and cheese balls were so incredibly greasy I could barely eat one, and it was definitely the cheapest most orangey cheese possible...my "Texas Toast" bacon cheeseburger was all right, as fast food goes, I guess. the Sonic fries were awful, just awful. and the Blackberry Iced Tea was totally just from-a-mix iced tea with a squirt of blackberry syrup but I guess it was okay. all in all a crappy meal, one which made us all sick all night (and Matt into the next day), but which forever cured Jenna and Rob of their Sonic fixation.



the ghost tour was fun and haunty, and we woke up early (well, noonish) to spend Sunday in Austin. we wanted barbecue for a late lunch/early dinner, and we scoped out this place called Iron Works which sounded great (on the internet). arriving, however, we found that it was inexplicably closed on Sundays! so we hastily went up the street to Stubb's, our backup plan.

with some clever strategizing, Jenna & Rob & I were able to order one of every meat on the menu, and one of every side we cared about. kind of dim 'n' dark in there, but I did get pictures. we had smoked turkey (phenomenal), pork ribs (incredibly fatty, too much so for Jenna; I liked them, but not as much as Daisy Mae's in NYC), pork loin, beef brisket, sausage, chicken (quite good)...fried okra, spinach with spicy serrano cheese, mashed potatoes, yams, beans, collard greens, cornbread...also sweet tea (too sweet for Mike, who had to pour out half of his and ask for some unsweetened tea added in). also, the onion rings were wonderful--huge and breaded perfectly, sweet inside... Stubb's was good, but I've had just as good BBQ here in NYC and in Vermont (at Curtis'!).


we spent the rest of the day in Austin, seeing the bat swarms emerge from the Congress Street bridge and some great country/rockabilly at the Continental Club before heading back to SA.

the next morning we went out to breakfast at Cafe Blanco. I got a plate of chilaquiles with barbacoa and guacamole. it was very cheap and really delicious. the barbacoa was very meaty with no other flavors, but I think that's how it's supposed to be--with chile verde sauce added on, it was perfect. and the tortillas there were just fantastic--a little thicker than the normal flour tortillas I'm used to, and totally fresh.


finally I got on my flight home, where Continental Airlines served up one of the greatest insults of all time: a microwaved pizza in a bag. the crust was literally soaked through and slimy, and to make matters worse, it was a Steak and Cheese Pizza with RANCH instead of tomato sauce. I only saw ONE GUY eating it--everyone else around me refused it or threw theirs away. horrible. I actually called in a complaint about it when I got home. why can't they just give us a hunk of bread and some carrot sticks or something? cheaper AND much better.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

squash pizza

I made some hot spicy sausage and broccoli rabe with garlic for dinner with some capellini one night, and got a series of meals out of it. the next day I had a great, huge broccoli rabe and sausage sandwich at lunch, and at night I made a pizza (using frozen dough) with three sections: broccoli rabe and sausage, sausage alone, and spaghetti squash (left over from last week). all were quite spicy and very good. the spaghetti squash lent the pizza a nice "crunch" and flavor--would definitely eat it again, although I probably wouldn't go out of my way to make spaghetti squash solely for a pizza topping.

in the picture above, I rolled two blobs of pizza dough together (that's why it looks like a Siamese twin pizza). I also put a lot of toppings under the cheese and then a few on top, so there is actually a LOT of broccoli rabe and spaghetti squash on the respective sections.

xiao long bao & lucas

my parents came down to visit for the weekend and brought my little cousin Lucas. although Lucas is an extremely picky eater, he loves the xiao long bao (soup dumplings) at Joe's Shanghai. it infuriates his dad, because his dad is Italian and makes GREAT meatballs that Lucas refuses to eat, but he will eat the crappy Chinese meatballs inside the bao. oh well.

we got crab bao and pork bao, and jalapeno beef (a little weird, but not bad--distinctively jalapeno flavor!), and some fried rice and lo mein. the people next to us had some really delicious-looking stuff, like garlic eggplant and roast duck...next time we'll probably venture there.

the next morning we ate brunch at Alchemy. it's right near my house, but I've never tried it because it seemed a bit pricey. no pictures, sorry, but I got a $12 cheeseburger with thick-cut bacon on it that was excellent (rivalling Dumont). my dad got a specialty corned beef hash that was really just long, thin fibers of corned beef, very tasty, but I think the hash I made after St. Patrick's Day was better. Lucas got a simple version of the sweet Guinness pancakes and they were very good, perfectly browned, extremely light. and my mother got a house-made veggie burger which was also excellent, very carroty and celery-y patty...I would probably order that next time!

Apricot paste and consequences

so for Mother's Day I tried to make my mom this sweet dessert which I half-bakedly invented out of my head. I knew it was going to go wrong before I began, but I had this desire to see exactly how badly--and I had a faint hope it would at least be OK.

I boiled some loomi I'd made a while ago and let some green cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks steep for a while. then I removed 'em and added some apricot paste, rosewater, and honey, stirring it up til it was all melted. I boiled it down tremendously, hoping it would get to the point where I could pour it into a dish and it would set and I'd cut it into squares.

well, it never got to that point, even after endless boiling down--I think I should've added pectin.

anyway, I took the gooey pulp and made a couple of things out of it.

first, I food-processed it with yogurt, ginger, garlic, chiles, cumin, and paprika and made a marinade for some kebab beef I got (I rubbed it with papain and lemon juice first). once broiled, it came out pretty good, with a kind of thick flavorful layer clinging to the beef. I don't know if anyone would like it except me, but...

accompanying it are paratha, palak from some time ago, and ginger-tamarind chana also from some time ago.


the next day I whisked the apricot goo with some oil and lemon juice and made a marinade/glaze for (salted and purged) slices of eggplant. I ate those for a couple of days. it went very well on a sandwich of cheese and marinated teriyaki baked tofu I made, and alongside spaghetti squash with garlic and red pepper flakes and DELICIOUS medjool dates stuffed with co-op goat cheese from Spain.


that spaghetti squash will return later in the week...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sripraphai

for one of his last weekends in the city, Karl decided he wanted to eat at the vaunted Sripraphai, waayyy out in Woodside. Priya and I went to see some feminist and Icelandic art at PS1 first and then met Karl, Bill, and Lauren there for a late lunch (2pm). it was busy but not packed/crowded--no reservation needed, extra seats here and there...

the food was delicious, as always. karl got a duck soup with noodles that was really brown-tasting (hard to describe otherwise? meaty, hearty, brothy--delicious). we shared a barbecue pork appetizer, very fatty, almost like hot and spicy unsmoked bacon...also the fried watercress salad (with shrimp, chicken, squid etc. scattered about...) Priya and I got the pork leg, green curry, and stellar coconut rice. I don't like Thai green curry very much at all--I mean it's okay, but nothing I would order. except here. the green curry (with chicken) is just fantastic. I can't really pinpoint why but it's the opposite of the bland greenish stuff that usually passes for green curry. the pork leg, too, was great--the pork had a smoke ring-like corona of pink around its meaty chunks, and while there was of course lots of fat, the meat tasted almost perfumed with the spices (I brought home the leftovers and ate them on a piece of baguette as a kind of spicy pork sandwich). and it was all, of course, very spicy.



a couple of speed bumps, though. Bill's vegetarian pad Thai with mock duck was very average, not especially spicy, lacking fish sauce or even a veg substitute...the mock duck was okay. I preferred it to the extra-crispy fried mock duck at Jeeb (where we often go after happy hour), but Bill likes that a lot and did NOT.

and Lauren's tofu with Chinese broccoli was good, but the delicious-sounding fried golden bags we got causes a ruckus. Bill and Lauren immediately bit then, ate, and got funny looks on their faces. we inspected the insides--chicken! we argued over whether it was fake chicken or real chicken. we asked the waitress and she looked at us blankly and said, "You ordered it off the vegetarian menu." yes, but is it vegetarian? "yes, you ordered it off the vegetarian menu." can you check? "yes." she never returned. another waitress served us from then on--clearly the first one had passed us off to her as annoying customers. the second one was a bit more helpful and took the offending golden bags back to the kitchen, eventually returning with the verdict "it's chicken".


so great meal, but be very careful with the vegetarian options, and do not be surprised if the waitress thinks you are annoying and lies to you. we punished her with a measly 15% tip (yeah, yeah, I know...).

Kayo Dot & Earth & Pakistani food

sometimes I go to shows at the Knitting Factory on weeknights. it's walkable from my work, so I stay there late and then get dinner en route, arriving in time for the opener, usually. traditionally I have eaten at the Pakistan Tea House, a little cabdriver place that Tim Byrnes (of Friendly Bears and Hazel-Rah fame) turned me on to some years back.

anyway, before Tuesday's Kayo Dot/Earth show, I met Karl there for a bite:



I almost always get the lamb (kind of fatty, really flavorful though), but today I went for the chicken makhani, with saag paneer and black chana on the side. also fresh naan. the guy is very mean (once we were asked to leave for being too loud) and the ambiance is nil (sit at a table with some cabdriver dudes and eat off styrofoam plates) but it is delicious.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Tanoreen

Becca emailed on Saturday to declare her intention to dine at Tanoreen, a Palestinian restaurant in Bay Ridge I've heard many great things about. Several yeses later and we had a reservation for five at 9pm.

Bay Ridge seems really far, but hopstop put it only 33 minutes away on the R--and in fact it took us only about 20ish minutes to get there! (we'd aimed to get there at 8:30 and try to get an earlier table, but arrived at the restaurant at 8:07 and couldn't sit down until 9 anyway). we wandered Bay Ridge waiting for our table...at one point an old woman accosted us and asked for help. I thought she wanted money and was going to keep going but she said her husband had fallen (!). we offered to call 911 but she said no, just help me lift him. so she led Karl and I into this huge, creepy house, up stairs, past televisions the size of pingpong tables, past a disturbed-looking teenager sprawled (paralyzed?) on a bed, to an old man who clearly had no idea what was going on. we lifted him onto the pillow and she was like "that's enough, thanks!" and offered to give us money. we declined and beat a hasty retreat and wished we could sit down so we could wash our hands. (I got the armpits, but Karl got the pee-y pants).

anyway, the food. we'd looked at the menu outside and more or less chosen our dinners, but Tanoreen has a big glass counter with giant heaping dishes of specials inside, and once we'd sat down and taken at look at the specials, we changed up our whole plan.

first, appetizers:

very top center, vegetarian stuffed grape leaves...which were FANTASTIC. I always kind of shy away from stuffed grape leaves because they're always...okay. but these were great. probably the best I've ever had, in fact! top left, hummus...good, very tangy, but Karl later opined that Sahadi's hummus was better. bottom left, brussels sprouts...again very good, but no better than the ones I make myself...maybe even a bit worse (theirs aren't sauted in bacon fat...)! upper right, fava beans with shells...oh, so good, grey-green and looking a little artichokey (because of the chopped shells mixed in), but deeply flavorful. dead center, maybe the appetizer hit of the night: musakhan, which looks a little like a lambajin pizza but has ground chicken (super spiced and meaty, with pine nuts...) on taboon bread. Dave also impulse-ordered pureed roasted red pepper and walnuts, not pictured, that was great because it did not overwhelm with the roasted red pepper flavor (even Karl, a notorious pepperhater, liked it). Karl thought it might be milder because they may have removed the skins before pureeing the peppers?

for entrees...



front-and-center was the thing Dave wanted as soon as we saw it on the menu: shepherd's pie, made with lamb and a perfectly crispy toasted crust of mashed potato on top. not at all watery and boil-y like some more traditional British pies I've had (not including Mooney's bok choy shepherd's pie)...the spices mixed with the ground lamb were cinnamony and nutty and fruit all at once (that's a good description for many of the things we had, such as the musakhan). right side, vegetarian eggplant, layered with crisped peppers and onions...almost like Lebanese moussaka? and upper left, yet another special: cauliflower and pomegranate stew with chunks of beef. the beef was kind of strange with the cauliflower, but it was a nice respite from all the lamb. I did wish, a bit, we'd ordered the smaller appetizer of toasted cauliflower with tahini sauce and pomegranate syrup. we saw it in the glass case and it looked so good, but we went with the special entree instead and...oh, well, it was good anyway. the entrees came with red cabbage lemony slaw (yum) and cucumber salad (yum) and rice/vermicelli.

finally for dessert we got a little plate of baklavas (good, but not super amazing to me...they seemed to be made with honey and not just corn syrup, but still not the best I've had) and also knafeh, which was strange...shredded phyllo dough and mozzarella-like mild stringy cheese with pistachios and red sugary syrup (NOT rose or pomegranate--just food coloring according to the waiter) all over it.


Karl also got a date roll (pictured above) which nobody wanted but him, but which was, in retrospect, pretty good (but I would've preferred more date and less roll).

Dave and Karl rounded things out with thick dark Arabic coffee. they didn't have decaf so the rest of us abstained.

the bill came to about $28 each! pretty cheap, considering we were all full and satisfied. could MAYBE have ordered another appetizer or something just to try, but then we'd have had scattered leftovers and/or been overstuffed. the BYOB definitely helped--we polished off three bottles of wine over the course of the meal.

I guess the Middle Eastern food kick continued 'til today, cause I spent the day making loomi with loomi limes I managed to scrounge up at Sahadi's, and I can't wait for summer so I can drink this stuff every day.

Friday, May 2, 2008

dinner with priya, jenna, and rob

rob and jenna came over for dinner. the night before I made ginger-tamarind chickpeas (they ended up a little undercooked, but will only get better with reheating) and chicken curry according to priya's recipe. the day of I made spinach (cumin seeds browned in mustard oil, ginger/garlic/peppers added, then spinach and garam masala; very easy). I made everything extremely mild, but if I had made everything hotter I think it would have been very good.