Saturday, June 28, 2008

Alchemy

Because Miriam increased their brunch price to $11.95 from $9.95 AND seemed to go down in quality (Priya's pancakes a few weeks ago were dense and crappy for 12 bucks, and my shakshuka had solid yolks!), we went to Alchemy for brunch instead.

I was craving Alchemy's homemade veggie burger, which I'd only had one bite of when Mom ordered it a couple of months ago, so I got that with cheese and (real) bacon. Priya ordered the sweet Guinness pancakes, like Lucas had, but with the fruit he'd spurned.

The veggie burger was great, and cemented my opinion that Alchemy has the best veggie burgers I've had in NYC. I wish I could find the recipe!


Priya's pancakes were also very good, but came with a weird mixture of fruit on top: blueberries (good) and rum-cooked bananas (great), but also halved grapes and cubed cantaloupe (what??). like they added pancake fruit on top, but then decided to throw a fruit salad on top as well?

Durian

After much discussion about the guy who prepares durians for you at the corner of Bowery and Grand, I was surprised on Thursday when Wooh returned from lunch and gave me a multi-pound container of pulpy durian fruit!


Apparently, he had stumbled into the place with some of the teachers he'd eaten lunch with, and they decided to try it out. I don't think any of them liked it, complaining about "rotten onions" and whatnot, and since Wooh knew I liked durian, he gave me the scraps (which was, like, 95% of the fruit). 8 bucks for a big container, not bad if you can share it, but a bit too much alone.

I see why people think the smell is strong, but I think it tastes like vanilla pudding sort of, a bit mangoey, not horrible like some say. Those people must have some kind of genetic difference that causes them to taste/smell it differently, like with the soapy cilantro folks.

Pio Pio Riko

Studio B was having a well-publicized barbecue featuring four chefs from famous restaurants (the flyers said things like "so-and-so, ex-Blue Hill" as if they were bands) that was $4 a plate, supposed to run from 7-10pm, so Priya and I went there to meet up with Katie and Lena for some nice food and beers on the roof deck.

well, at 7:30, as we were in line, word filtered out that they were out of food. what kind of amazing food did they run out of so quickly? regular hamburgers, apparently--not even any side dishes. as we were in line, a pack of employees arrived with grocery bags clearly stuffed with storebought hamburger buns and hamburgers. so I guess the "chefs" were just applying their name to the event, not cooking anything. great.

so instead we went to Pio Pio Riko, near Priya's home in Greenpoint. I used to get food from the Upper East Side Pio Pio and thought it was excellent, but I'm not quite sure this Pio Pio measures up.

we got a family-style meal for $18.95 that includes a whole chicken, fries, avocado salad, and rice and beans. we also ordered a pitcher of sangria and a side of maduros.


I have to say that while Pio Pio's chicken is usually fantastic, today it was kind of dry and overcooked! still pretty good but not like the usual deliciousness. I also remain disappointed with the Greenpoint location's avocado salad. on the UES they would stack it with paper-thin slices of carrots, celery, radish, cucumber, etc. and include a delicious oily viniagrette, but the Greenpoint location is basically just iceberg lettuce, cucumber, and avocado, with a cruet of oil and a cruet of vinegar on the table. lame. the maduros were great, though--pulpy like I like them, too bad for Priya who likes them crispy--and the sangria was really great, super sweet. they diced the fruit into very small cubes, though, so I was continually picking orange rind out of my mouth. but whatever, a decent meal.

however, they had the nerve to add the tip onto the bill. for 4 people! and it was only a $35 bill or so.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Buddha Bodai

We finished grading our Regents exams and could afford the time for a slightly longer lunch, so a handful of teachers went to our favourite near-ish vegetarian joint: Buddha Bodai, on (I think) Mott street. The lovely Priya came from Greenpoint to join us.

Priya and I split my two favorite dishes there: the BBQ meat with cabbage and the General Tso's chicken. we also got spring rolls and brown rice.

the BBQ meat is an outstanding dish here, I think--it's amazing, delicious even for carnivores. Priya found it a bit too sweet ("it's like it should be desser") and Josette also opined that it was sweeter than usual. I thought it was still good, especially if it was dipped into the super-salty soy sauce mixture nearby.

the General Tso's chicken is never spicy enough for me, but still pretty delicious. the fake meat is not overly glutinous and is actually very well fried and good-tasting. I confess that half the reason I get it is because I have a craving for broccoli and it comes with a good quantity of crunchy florets.

oh, and on the way over what did we see? the Fung Wah bus crash!

Sheng Wang beef noodles

so I rounded out my week of experimenting with various Eldridge-area noodle shops by going to Sheng Wang, again a 1 minute walk from my school.
as you can see, it's down stairs in a basement, and further blocked by construction. again, no menu, English or otherwise, as far as I could tell.

it was bigger than either of the other noodle shops inside, and quite crowded when I arrived around 1:15. I got the beef noodle, of course, in order to compare it to the other places' beef noodle soups.

unlike Eastern Noodle or Super Taste, Sheng Wang threw a fish ball into the soup. it was a great addition, and I liked it better than when I just had the fish balls soup at Young City. this fish ball was filled with pork, not beef, and the fishy and pork tastes went well with the beef broth and noodles.

Wooh had played up Sheng Wang's broth over Eastern Noodle's, and while it was good, I found it a lot less rich and tasty than Eastern Noodle. paler in color, as well. the noodles were fine, but bunched together a bit more than at the other places--not a sign of poor cooking, I don't think, but it makes me wonder. The beef was not quite as flavorful, either. Sheng Wang also added a lot of little chopped things to the broth--they seemed to be like brown celery and possibly bits of cabbage and/or mushroom? tasted woody and earthy, kind of like the cabbage soup with mushroom we make for Polish Christmas Eve (Wigilia). I did like that aspect, and also the fish ball addition, which makes it hard for me to judge this place as inferior to EN. but I think next time I want beef noodles I'll go to EN.

oh, and the guy next to me was definitely eating a grey beef penis.

$6 for the noodles and a bottle of green tea.

Friday, June 20, 2008

a non-Chinese dinner


wednesday night I made a quick dinner: roast beef sandwich on a poppy-seed hard roll (with fancy Twin Oaks cheddar from the Co-op), red cabbage salad (with olive oil, cider vinegar, dill, salt, pepper) and red lentils and cauliflower. I made the lentils and cauliflower with kind of whatever I had around, using Vietnamese pulped red chili sauce rather than chopped green chiles, no coriander leaves or tamarind paste or even mango powder, etc. it was delicious but a bit salty, I think.

Phoenix Garden

on Thursday night I met up with Priya and Anamika at Phoenix Garden, a Cantonese restaurant on 40th between 2nd and 3rd avenue. Anamika had highly recommended it and I was excited to try some of the things she said were particularly good.

first we got the salt and pepper shrimp. the shrimp were butterflied and fried flat, with heavy salting and peppering (as you might expect). the shells were left on, and Anamika enjoyed crunching right through them (Priya and I tried, but couldn't appreciate the plasticky shells...my dad would've liked 'em, though). I don't know what other flavors were involved, if any, but somehow simple salt and pepper was perfect and delicious as a seasoning. we gobbled them all up before I could take pictures, so I just have this one lone remaining shrimp (before one of us also gobbled up this one):


next a half order of Peking duck arrived. although I really like duck, I'd never had actual Peking duck in a restaurant before--it's always like $20-30! (this half duck was $19). it also seemed like kind of a waste and overly elaborate ordeal...the guy comes to the table and prepares the duck wraps for you, so on and so forth...however, when I ate one of the duck wraps, I could only think, "shit, this means I'm going to be ordering Peking duck more in the future...hello $30 entrees). it was delicious. the plum sauce plus the crispy skin and dark, dark fatty duck meat went so well together.


following the duck, we had "China green with oyster sauce", which sounds like a really bad grade of heroin but is actually just Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce. although simple, this may have been one of my favorite parts of the meal, because the broccoli stalks were cooked exactly to the degree of tenderness I like them--still kind of crunchy, but definitely fully cooked.



we also had putative ginger beef. now, it was very good, and the beef was of good quality and great flavor. we'd ordered it spicy, and it was perfectly so--the sauce and scallions cooked with it made a great addition to the white rice on my place--although Anamika opined that maybe it would've been better less spicy (or without the big red chilis, at least). however, it was not very gingery! we found a couple of chunks of ginger throughout, but it was more garlicky than anything. I liked it very much, but was a bit of a misnomer.


sorry for the crappy dark pictures!

Super Taste Restaurant


today's Fuzhounese adventure was at Super Taste Restaurant, another Eldridge noodle shop (kind of across the street from Young City Fish Balls, and directly across from the place I plan to go on Monday, Sheng Wang). unlike Eastern Noodle, this place had a menu in English and the woman working the counter seemed to know some English.

again I got the beef noodles, in order to compare them with Eastern Noodle's. they swiftly arrived in a white plastic takeout bowl, not as nice as Eastern Noodle's!. same setup as Eastern Noodle (I guess all these Lanzhou noodle places are quite similar) with beef strips, bok choy, beef broth, and plenty of irregular, fresh-pulled noodles.

Wooh had said he thought the broth here was among the best of all, and it was indeed excellent. however, I think I liked Eastern Noodle's better--it was richer, browner, beefier somehow...I ended up adding some aged vinegar and chili oil to this one and I enjoyed the added heat, but the vinegar altered the flavor in a way that was pleasant and different, but not quite as good as without. $4.50 for the noodles, another 75c or so for a can of iced tea. (the beverage options at these places suck). I also have a vague, probably-unfounded impression that Eastern Noodle's noodles were better...fresher, I think.

Young City Fish Balls

continuing the WEEK OF FUZHOUNESE FOOD, Mooney and Wooh and I went out to lunch at Young City Fish Balls, again about a block from our school on Eldridge Street.

I had never had fish balls (yu wan, I think) which are a staple of Fuzhounese cuisine, so I figured it was time to try them. poking around online we found some other recommendations and ordered a handful of things to split.

first, we got the eponymous fish balls. for $3 you got a bowl of broth with ten golf-ball-sized fish balls floating in it. they were extremely hot (the broth was actually boiling when they set it on the table) so we had to let it cool for a while. the fish balls were made of a firm gummy paste, maybe kind of mochi-like, with a hollow in the middle containing sweet, spiced meat (seemed like beef, could possibly have been pork). the chewy ball itself was where the fishiness was couched. I liked the combo of the mild fishiness and sweet beefiness, and the texture of the boba-like fish ball outside and the meat pocket inside. dipping it in sriracha made it spicer and, I thought, improved. the broth was nothing special, simple chicken broth I think.

we also got water duck with rice noodles. it appeared to also come in some kind of chicken broth. the duck was pretty bony, which increased the flavor I'm sure, but left very little for us to eat. there were some stray pieces of celery in the brother which Wooh flipped over, picking them out and saying they were the best celery he'd ever had. they were pretty good, but I think my babcia's chicken soup celery pieces were better!


we rounded out our meal with oxtail in egg noodles. again this was bony (to be expected of oxtail), but not as bony as the duck! I got a lot of good medallions of meat from amongst the vertebrae. this broth was beefier, probably made from the oxtails themselves, and I liked it better than the water duck. The oxtail was decent, too, but I like Brazilian stewed oxtail better--huge pieces of meat sliding off the bone. this wasn't quite so tender.

all in all, it was pretty decent, although Mooney was hungry an hour later (I was not stuffed, but not starving, either). I think I'd go back and just get a $3 order of fish balls for lunch, but probably go to one of the surrounding noodle shops for noodle soup things.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Eastern Noodle

so, I work in Chinatown, and yet the irony is that I never get to eat at good Chinese restaurants. money and health issues mean I bring my lunch 4-5 days per week. even when I don't, lunch is always a rushed affair held in my classroom or, if I'm lucky, 15 minutes snatched in the lounge. therefore, I can't go far, and I have to go to places that are reliably immediate. (and of course I never want to come back to Chinatown to spend time on the weekend or whatever...)

when I first started working here, we used to go to places like Prosperity Dumpling all the time (it's like 15 feet from my school, and the dumplings are usually ready to go when you walk in, and it's a buck for five dumplings and another 50 cents for a sesame pancake--perfect!). but it's sooo greasy and gross and because it's so cheap and close I would eat it alllll the time and now I haven't been in many months. burned myself out on it.

I want to try to change that, and I have slightly more flexible lunch periods now during Regents' week. so today I went to a place that's about 100 feet from my school but was an X factor in terms of speed and goodness. it's called Eastern Noodle, and it's one of many noodle shops in the Eldridge Street/Forsyth Street area serving the local Fuzhounese workers. no English menus--in fact, no menu at all--were in evidence. also, no counter. you just walk up to the door of the kitchen and a Chinese lady working at the stove looks up and you bark your order at her. I just said BEEF NOODLE and she nodded and went back to her work. but a minute later she grabbed some dough and began to stretch and pull fresh noodles right in front of me, threw them and some bok choy into a giant simmering pot of broth, stirred it a bit, threw on some beef, and brought it out to me (I kind of had wanted it to go, but I went with it and sat down with some Chinese dudes talking on their cellphones eating pork bone marrow--which I want to try next time).

the broth was scrumptious. it had a very dark brown, beefy flavor, not cheap or fake or boulliony at all, and I found myself slurping away at it as if it were a drink. the noodles varied in thickness--a good sign of their handmadeness--and were perfectly cooked. the beef was a bit fatty but also really good, but obviously a "side part" of the dish, not the focus--a fact that was very attractive to me. I didn't want to eat a chunk of beef for lunch with some broth and noodles on the side. the beef was just another thing you might nab as you ate your broth and noodles.

$5.25 for that and a diet coke. not bad. I'll be back. also: they were fast!

fathers' day bbq in ct

Priya and I went up to visit my parents in CT for a Sunday-afternoon BBQ for Fathers' Day. my mom said she and her siblings would take care of the entrees, and it was the kids' jobs to bring sides. so I made some French green lentils (carrot, celery, shallots cooked in bacon fat, simmered lentils added in, vinegar, spices, etc.) and medjool dates stuffed with goat cheese. they were both delicious! I think I should've put more goat cheese in each date, and usually I cook the lentils in chicken broth or even vegetable stock and this time I just used water, but nevertheless I was happy with them.

we also had Greek shrimp (the marinade of which was constructed by Priya and me, put to work by my mother when we arrives--fresh oregano from the garden, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, etc.), pork tenderloin marinated in black tea (from my aunt), endive and gorgonzola salad (from my sister) and German potato salad (lovely, no mayo! also from my sister).

breakfast at priya's



we made raspberry pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon. doesn't have to be complicated and fancy all the time!

shake shack

after my Arabic class on 33rd street, Priya and I met up at the Shake Shack. I had never been before and had been thinking about how I wanted to try it out and suddenly Priya suggested it as a dinner place. great!

she was waiting in line for at least 30-45 minutes before I got there, and we waited another 30-45. some douchey stockbroker guy was going up to girls and offering to buy them their dinner if they would let him cut in line ahead of them (nobody seemed to bite, thank God). obviously some people have been trained to think that you can just pay your way out of anything unpleasant.

I ordered a regular cheeseburger (no shake sauce! mayonnaise! yuck!) and a Second City Bird Dog (chicken dog with all the fixins...celery salt, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, mustard, etc.) and fries. Priya got a shackburger. we split a vanilla milkshake.



the food was...really, really good! the burger reminded me of In 'n' Out--it wasn't good because it was super-thick or super-juicy (like a Dumont burger), but simply because it was well-made and clearly fresh and constructed of solid-quality ingredients. the fries were not hot but were just right in terms of crispy outside/lovely soft oily inside. the chicken dog was the worst of the bunch--it was only OK. I bet if I liked/ate hotdogs I would've liked it more. the vanilla shake was absolutely delicious, very very vanilla-y, but we let it melt during dinner and it was more like very cold thick vanilla cream. still good.

Monday, June 9, 2008

vegeta, I choose YOU

Friday night, new freshman orientation at my school...I didn't get to leave until 7pm and so missed the traditional happy hour festivities. it did give me the opportunity to meet a napping Bill and Lauren in Brooklyn for dinner, though--a nice treat instead of having to go to a restaurant in Manhattan. they were even kind enough to come to me!

Bogota was crowded, so we crossed the street and went to the lovely V-Spot. we sat out back in the garden and Lauren pointed out to me that I had indeed been there with them years ago, before I moved to Brooklyn. I had no memory of it, sadly.

I got a fake chicken parm sandwich and sweet potato fries. Lauren said that sweet potato fries were always too uncrispy for her and I disagreed--in my experience, they were often cut very small and were TOO crispy. however, upon arrival, she was right--large-cut and soggy. oh well, they tasted good.

the fake chicken parm was pretty delicious, although I think they gave me not-so-good soy cheese instead of real cheese. Lauren got a similar fried chicken cutlet with mushroom sauce that looked good, and Bill got a double-stacked veggie burger that did not look as good as the veggie burger my mom had at Alchemy a couple of weeks back. however, it was a really good meal, and I think I need to go there more often (Mia goes every week!).

the next day I travelled to CT en route to Boston and met my parents for lunch in New Haven. since the famed Louis' Lunch and a Cuban place we'd wanted to try were closed, we went to Claire's Corner Copia, a delicious vegetarian New Haven landmark where I hadn't been since I was in high school. inspired by my memories of Bill's burger the previous night, I got the veggie burger, California-style (guacamole and cheddar) and some goji berry iced tea. the burger was a but glutinous but delicious nonetheless--definitely would order again.

outside Claire's was selling lemony things at a "lemonade stand" for cancer research
, so I bought three lemon squares (two for Lisa and Dan, one for me). they were
very good because they were not overly sweet, just sort of lemony and mildly sweet. I forgot Lisa and Dan's gift at my parents' house, though, when Lisa came to pick me up for the trip to Boston. so my parents got a lemony treat.

in Boston, we went to Bill's 30th birthday party at his girlfriend Maureen's house. Maureen had gone all out and gotten it catered by Soulfire, a BBQ place that had recently opened on Harvard Ave next to Wonderbar. we had brisket, pulled pork, mac and cheese (with crumbled up bbq potato chips on top), greens, beans, cornbread....basically Bill's wet dream. I was pretty impressed by the quality of Boston BBQ--it was just about on par with the Texas BBQ we'd had while visiting Matt! we barely dented the food, though, and Maureen had many leftovers for the next day (which I envied her as I headed home on the bus Sunday with only a package of peanut butter crackers to keep my company...).

Florent

on the opening night of Sex and the City, I decided to sit out the movie and meet Priya and her friends later for dinner. we met late at Florent, an old French diner (favorite of the meatpacking district night crowd) that was, sadly, going out of business at the end of June after meatpacking douchebags caused the owners to raise the rent two bazillion percent.

though busy, we were seated relatively quickly. since it was approaching midnight and I had been hungry, I had actually eaten a Caesar salad a couple of hours earlier with Lauren & Bill at Scottadito, next to the co-op (we also had a few $3 rum punches). so I wasn't famished, but was hungry enough to get an order of original moules frites (passable, but nothing special...the moules frites at Jacques on the Upper East Side are much better and slightly cheaper!). for some reason the pictures looked yucky, but the photos of Priya's deep-fried chicken rollatini stuffed with cheese and mushrooms and spinach came out just fine. surprisingly, the chicken was a bit bland! not flavorful or salty enough, a little overly cheesy even...looks better than it tasted.

had a delicious apple tart thing for dessert and called it a night. the place was a bit pricey, but hey, it's done for now, so no use complaining. and it's a damn sight cheaper than the places surrounding it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

ethiopian!

so, my very favorite kinds of food are those with chunks of stuff (meat, potatoes, chick peas, quorn, whatever) in a thick sauce, which you can sop up with bread. beef stews, indian curries, whatever. therefore, you'd think I would love Ethiopian food. however...until the thirtieth year of my life...I'd never had it before. not once.

why? well, it became kind of a "thing" for me--something I was sure I would love, and therefore always put off. kind of like how I've never read a Faulkner novel despite being an English teacher. I figure one day when I'm 40 or 50 I'll read a whole bunch of his stuff. something to look forward to in old age! (and why I've dragged my feet on mopping up the last couple of Nabokov novels I've never read...how depressing it will be when there's none left to read). I even lived across the street from an Ethiopian place in Philadelphia (but making $85/month was not conducive to going out...in fact I think I NEVER went out to eat).

anyway, a month or so ago, an Ethiopian place opened on 4th avenue, one block from me. it was an outgrowth of Ghenet (which is in Soho, I think). so, I guessed it was time.

on Friday, Bill and Priya and I went there to check it out. because I order anything that has pear in it, I got a $10 cocktail made with gin, tej, honey, and pear puree (it was okay...the honey wasn't completely dissolved for a long time, and the gritty thickness of pear nectar I love was somehow not present). for dinner we ordered the vegetarian platter
and got one of everything on the menu: misir wett (dark, powerful-tasting lentils), aterkek aletcha (split peas in light sauce), shiro wett (spicy bean--very very good), shiro aletcha (mild bean), gomen wett (lemony collard greens), fasolia wett (string beans and carrots--the carrots kind of tasted like frozen boxed carrot pieces. bleh), mushroom in a dark sauce, and atkelt wett (cabbage and potato). although we were three, we ordered it for two, and it was more than enough food--we had leftovers to take home!

I had been looking forward to trying the bread (having heard of its disturbingly skin-like texture) and it was decent, but surprisingly sour (at first I thought all the dishes were sour, but then Priya was like "umm, the injera.") I really like the eating method, but I think I need to get used to the sourness and learn to like it--sometimes I found myself wishing that I had some naan or pita or something so I could actually taste the dishes themselves more...

no pictures because it was much too dark. we left feeling pretty pleased, I think. oh, and one of the waitresses was a student teacher at my high school this year--weird!