Thursday, August 28, 2008

thai food at home

Lauren clued me into a recipe in the latest issue of New York magazine--it was from Sripraphai! by fortuitous coincidence, Priya and I were at the co-op later and saw fragrant Thai basil being sold very cheaply. so we grabbed some and decided to make Thai dinner.

after lunch at Buddha Bodai (I had the fake chicken with black pepper sauce and Chinese vegetables), I went round the corner to Bangkok Center Grocery to get some of the missing ingredients. now, the recipe called for some mysterious things..."Golden Mountain" sauce chief among them, but also "Thai-style soy sauce", "Thai or bird peppers", and "long hot peppers". I was unclear on the difference between Thai and bird peppers, but I knew them when I saw them, and sure enough Bangkok Center Grocery had a small packet of about 20 for only a dollar, in the fridge (I picked out the greenest ones, and when I got home after a few hours of them being unrefrigerated in my bag, many had turned shades of orange or red!).

as for long hot peppers--no clue. no evidence of them at the grocery. also no green mangos for our planned salad. Thai-style soy sauce? this place carried a lot of soy sauce, but there didn't seem to be any special Thai soy sauce. The Golden Mountain sauce sounded the most crucial and also the most delicious. I was picturing some kind of thick yellow syrupy thing made from Thai fruits and savory spices...I spied a bottle and read the ingredients:


So, uh, it's soy sauce.

Anyway, after all that (only $2.25 total), we headed to my house (Priya bringing some Japanese eggplant and the greenest mango she could find) to cook. We had chili-basil ground chicken (I just used Golden Mountain sauce for all the soy sauce, left out the "long peppers", and used about 1/3rd of the 15-20 bird peppers they recommended), eggplant with sugar and garlic and Thai basil, jasmine rice, and not-so-green mango salad (we left out the fish sauce and sugar figuring that they wouldn't work with a ripe mango, and again subbed in cashews for peanuts).

Priya fretted that she had spoilt the eggplant by browning the garlic too much, but it turned out to be fantastic (after she did some quick repair with fresh garlic). it was a bit spicy, but nothing compared to the ground chicken, which turned out really good. it was a bit weird eating just ground chicken, almost like keema or something without bread, but Priya thought it might be great in wonton skins and next time we definitely have to do that.

the mango salad was pretty good, but not nearly as good as when we used green mangos. next time.

I had some of the chicken for lunch the next day and still had enough left over in the evening to mix it with broccoli, rice noodles, and Golden Mountain sauce in a pan for a lame-o drunken noodles imitation (but it still tasted great).

then, best of all, Priya produced a bag of dessert she had somehow secreted in the fridge when I wasn't looking--pistachio cupcakes from Sugar Sweet Sunshine in the LES! she knew I loved them and they're also only $1.50 each--yeah, expensive for cupcakes objectively, but since other places sell cupcakes for $2.50, it seems cheap. anyway, great dessert, great surprise!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

bbq in Croton

Ahmad, Priya, and I took the train up the Hudson for a bbq at Anamika's and Dennis' lovely house in Croton. I think the original intent was for Dennis to try out his smoker, but their big grill broke and things got reshuffled and we ended up having an amazing meal (and an amazing time) anyway.

Priya and I contributed her growing-in-fame quinoa salad (with pears instead of apples this time, and fresh mint cut from Anamika's plant), Gruyere from Murray's and cut-up pluots for snacks, Pimm's cup to drink, and a golden beet and goat cheese terrine with tarragon, walnuts, and balsamic vinegar. Anamika and Dennis provided skirt steak in a salty, delicious marinade with rosemary, garlic, soy sauce, and honey (the recipe for which I nabbed from Anamika), grilled asparagus, and grilled corn. we played Apples to Apples after dinner and had extended dessert involving Anamika's homemade oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies and some ice cream. (I'm going to steal some of Priya's images of the meal because they're much higher quality).

it was great how basically everyone involved was a really good cook and every single thing was high-quality chow. the next morning Dennis and Anamika made Belgian waffles from scratch and soft tarragon-Parmesan eggs and delicious bacon (much better than Brooklyn Label's--see below!).

Red Bowl

had 25 minutes to eat before I had to meet Priya, so I went into a $6 lunch-special pan-Asian place on Bedford Ave called Red Bowl. I'm not going to say much about it because it was, in a word, shitty.

I had chicken-rice soup for an appetizer and Peking pork for the meal. the soup was boring and the chicken in it was snow-white and tasteless. the Peking pork was basically fried chunks of pork with a very thick, sweet red sauce over them. again, not much to say. I won't be back.


Bill, Lauren, Christa, Allie, Priya, and I went to Coney Island to ride the Cyclone ($8 now, up from $4! Jesus!) and Wonderwheel before they were gone. we looked for the waterboarding art project, but no dice. it did make us hungry, though, and we walked a couple of blocks up to Totonno's on Neptune Ave, a famous and tiny pizza place.

we arrived at 5:45 and there was already a line. seriously?? the woman said there's no "putting in names", you just wait in line. we watched through the windows for about an hour as people slowly got their pizzas, slowly ate them...smaller tables opened up, and the woman apologized as she seated four-person parties before us, but we were waiting for this one six-person table that only had this extremely slow white guy and his extremely slow four-year-old dawdling over food at it. finally, 15+ minutes after they'd paid, we got to sit down--total wait 50-60 minutes!

there wasn't much of a menu, and we just ordered two large cheese pizzas ($18 each, but we were hungry). got some beers and sodas. looking around, it seemed like nobody was ordering toppings, so we'd made the right choice to get the best experience, I think.

the pizza arrived and was plunked right on the table--no fancy pizza stands. it was very skimpy on the sauce--in fact, it looked like the cheese had been laid down first, and then sauce lightly drizzles in a few casual lines over it. kind of like Verdolini's back home in Meriden!

maybe because of the lack of sauce, the pizza wasn't greasy at all--it was thin, soft and wet on top but dusty on the bottom, and tasted very earthy with a hint of char. and I mean all this in a good way--in fact, it was great. it even seemed like they put some kind of cheese--Romano, Parm, something?--in the dough, giving the crust a wonderful flavor. in the end, really simple, but really good. maybe not worth a trip out to Coney Island (unless you're a pizza fanatic), but worth the wait if you're there and need a real place to eat that's not hotdogs.

pizza at Priya's

at Priya's house, we made a very simple dinner to "use up" some of the heirloom tomatoes she got earlier in the week, and it turned out to be awesome, not just a user-upper at all!

we decided to make pizza, nothing else, no sides. very stripped down. crappy Pillsbury dough, smeared with olive oil. on one half, we liberally layered thinly-sliced red, green, and yellow heirloom tomatoes, threw on some minced garlic, and dotted it with fresh mozzarella. on the other half, we spread on some of the leftover filling from the spinach bread I'd made for my housewarming party a few days before--ground sausage, fennel, spinach, garlic, Parmesan. added some mozzarella cheese and that was it.

and oh so good! we watched Fitzcarraldo, which Priya'd never seen, as we ate. for dessert, Priya whipped up a super-simple bowl of fromage blanc (a nonfat yogurt-like cheese which I'd never had) with cut-up apricots and pluots atop.

really easy, not expensive, and so so good.

De Mole

with a little time on our hands, Priya and I went to brunch at a place in Woodside, Queens called De Mole--a little out-of-the-way Mexican place she'd read about somewhere on the internet and was dying to try.

we took a bus up Greenpoint Ave and arrived there within 20-25 minutes--not bad, considering Hopstop had frightened us with tales of 40-minute bus rides. it was indeed out of the way, and little, and pretty empty...but it was very nice inside, not at all crappy-looking, very charming! our waitress was also super-nice and attentive, and the menu was full of interesting-looking stuff...and cheap! everything we saw was half the price it would've been in Williamsburg, so we got a lot to try.

for drinks--lemonade and jamaica (hibiscus) juice. I think they were $1.50 each--again like half the price you'd expect. they were both delicious. the jamaica agua fresca had less pulp than the one we'd had at the Red Hook ballfields, but was still clearly made from the fruits, not a syrup.

Priya ordered off the menu--asked them to make her egg chilaquiles with red sauce--and I got huevos rancheros, and we asked them to bring those second after we'd had our appetizers, but somehow the chilaquiles got considered an appetizer and came out early, while the huevos was the last to arrive, well after we'd finished up everything else. oh well, no big deal.

to start, we got a corn fungus (huitlacoche) quesadilla and a goat barbacoa taco, as well as a $1.50 chicken tamale. I'd never had corn fungus before and I really enjoyed it--it was inky and black and stained everything and didn't taste at all mushroomy, but was really its own smutty thing. I could easily eat a burrito made of that, beans, and cheese. the goat barbacoa was also very good--not at all gamy, which I expected of goat (and didn't mind), but really "brown" flavored and dark and stewed to shreds. and the tamale was a little dry, but that's because it was seemingly fire-roasted, so I thought it was good nonetheless.

the chilaquiles was excellent--the red sauce was very spicy, and the soaked tortilla chips all mixed around with the soft eggs made for a great brunch. the huevos rancheros was also very simple but very good. the fresh salsa on the huevos had a delightful flavor. both of those dishes were served on kind of fancy plates, weirdly. the best part of all was the price--the huevos was $4! however, when the bill arrived, we found that the chilaquiles--off the menu, remember--was $9, double the price of anything else! I think that's because it was more comparable to the stuff on the dinner menu, not the brunch menu...Priya regretted not getting the chicken if they were going to charge 9 bucks.

overall the meal was fantastic, not crowded, very cheap, and well worth the trip to Woodside!

Brooklyn Label brunch

Priya and I went to brunch at Brooklyn Label. hearing that they'd recently replaced their chef, we were interested to see how it had changed.

first off, I was disappointed to see that the pork stewed in green chile sauce was gone from the brunch menu--the "chile Colorado"! I'd wanted to order it. my next choice was the relatively new vegetarian red flannel hash (made with beets), but I was a little beeted out from Dumont, so I decided to break my "don't order sugary stuff at breakfast because you will always wish you got savory" rule and get the "Warsaw" challah French toast with pecan and cranberry butter. I also ordered a side of their delicious thick greasy bacon. Priya got a new item on the menu: a scramble with tomatoes and basil and aged white cheddar.

the scramble was simple, but very good; the French toast was excellent, and I didn't regret my decision (thick, perfectly fried, not too much syrup and so not too sweet, great texture from the eggy toast plus pecans...). however...the bacon? for four bucks, we got four slices of crappy, dried-out, decidedly NOT thick bacon (new feature: two chives laid across them). remember when I complained that Egg's caramelized bacon was not as good as the huge, thick, greasy, high-quality bacon at Brooklyn Label? I guess the chef has made a change, and I take it back. it sucked.


my parents came down for dinner and to see my new apartment, so we went nearby to Dumont for dinner.

the evil blonde hostess who scolded our group so harshly last time was hostessing again, but she didn't get us any trouble this time. my dad was impressed by the decor (we sat out back and he thought it was just really pleasant). three of us ordered the Dumont Burger, while my mom got the roast chicken. for appetizers we split the beet/chevre, the Dumont salad, and a special cold beet soup. I slacked on picture-taking, but I did get a couple.

the beet/chevre was tasty, but I don't have much to say about it otherwise. it was good-quality goat cheese, roasted red beets, and some leafy stuff.

the Dumont salad was, of course, great. I know this is one of Priya's favourites, and with good reason: haricots vert, blue cheese, pecans, bacon, radish, and some greens. it's just a really good flavor combo, although I thought it was a bit skimpy on the haricots vert this time around.

the cold beet soup had creme fraiche in it, but I tried it nevertheless, and it was actually really pleasant--the creme made the dirty earthy flavor of the beets much milder, and I think even someone who didn't like beets would like it--yet it still retained an essential beetiness. kind of wish I'd tried Priya's cold borscht at Veselka a few months ago to compare.

my mom's roast chicken was fantastic--perfectly cooked, juicy, REALLY herby...roast chicken is kind of boring, I know (and I know I sound like my dad, who always refuses to order chicken at restaurants because of his dad thinking that "going out" meant "not having chicken, which is cheap and which we have every night", but still), but this was really worthwhile.

now, the burgers...I got mine with bacon and gruyere, while my dad and brother got cheddar and American. I ordered mine medium rare, while they got theirs medium. our food arrived and I bit into mine...totally gray inside. maybe the thick middle would be redder? I took a few more bites and no, still completely grey! not juicy at all! hearkened back to my experience at Peter Luger. seriously, though, at Luger I ordered it medium, so when it came med-well I could accept that. but here I wanted it med-rare, so to be TWO steps too cooked? I probably would've sucked it up anyway, but my mom and dad encouraged me to send it back, and I did.

the waitress didn't question me, just took it immediately, and said, "you know it'll be a while, right?" sure enough, my family was completely done eating by the time my burger arrived. I took one bite and juice squirted onto my pants. all right! while I was disappointed by the mistiming of the meal, the burger was excellent, and both the waitress AND some white guy--the chef? manager?--came by to check, very concerned, if the new one was ok. so unlike Luger, I'm not going to grade down Dumont for this--they clearly were concerned about the mistake and made it right, while at Luger I got the impression that they would've sniffed in my face if I'd complained.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Beef Tendon at Yogee Noodle

To "celebrate" (aka lessen the sting of) the very first day back at school, my principal and AP took me, Abby, and the two new teachers to a local favourite for lunch. Yogee Noodle isn't especially superior in terms of food quality, but it hits a lot of targets: cheap, close by, fast (so you can order it during hectic lunch), and decent food quality.

since we'd missed the beef tendon at Spicy & Tasty, I'd been hankering to try it out, so I ordered the "beef tender with noodle" (clearly meant to be beef tendon).

when it arrived, I was kind of dubious. I had heard that the tendon was "very soft" and delicious, but damned if it didn't look like pieces of...well, tendon floating in the soup, ready to be gnawed on but never severed, to stick between my teeth, or, at best, be chewy like strips of fat...look and see!

also, huge chunks of daikon that had a faintly cabbagey aroma...

before I could even try it, Yvette requested a piece of tendon and declared it one of her favorite foods ever. so much high praise! okay, I figured--it had to be good.

and it was! it didn't have a texture remotely like it looks--not like chewy fat, not tough like tendons. I guess stewing it down changes it completely, so it's almost like tender meat pieces. and the flavor is amazing. you know how connective tissue cooks down and adds this super-umami, fatty, "coating" flavor to meats? well, this was ALL that flavor--so rich I couldn't actually finish every bite. pretty stunning lunch, and I get the impression that Yogee's was nothing special (the broth and noodles were only so-so).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Spicy & Tasty

my friends Beth and Coleen are in Iceland, so the task of babysitting their brand-new car (so it doesn't fall victim to the alternate-side parking stickerers) fell to me for the past few days. we took advantage of it on Friday by going to IKEA and stocking up on racks and such for the new apartment, and on Saturday by driving up to Flushing to get dinner at the much-talked-about Szechuan restaurant Spicy & Tasty.

we eschewed the expressway on the way there and got stuck in Roosevelt Avenue traffic, so it took longer than we'd hoped (see, this is why I hate cars and like the train!). arriving, we only had to wait for five or ten minutes before being seated (downstairs this time, not ghettoed away upstairs in the back room like last time). before sitting, we chose two cold appetizers from the front counter to be delivered to our table immediately: shredded dried bean curd with celery and some kind of cold bone-in chicken chunks with red chili paste and oil.

the tofu & celery was cool and refreshing and dripped with green-tinged oil. the chicken was moderately spicy (the tons of red chili paste make it seem spicier than it is) and appeared to have Szechuan peppercorn in it as well--my tongue went slightly numb as we ate it. delicious taste, though, and gnawing it off the knobs of bone was a singular pleasure.

over the next hour, dishes arrived as they were ready, and we were in a constant state of trying to eat enouh to make room on the plate for all we'd ordered. Priya was a little sick, so we ordered three types of noodles: dan dan noodles with pork (which never arrived; we were so full, though, that we didn't push it and just had them taken off the bill at the end), cold sesame noodles (which I liked much better this time around--they had some kind of sweet, perfumed flavor I couldn't put my finger on ["Sesame?" Christina and Priya mocked me. No, not sesame]), and cold jellied Chengdu noodles (again, spicier than they look, and pretty good, but not a favorite of the table this time--everyone had a little bit and then moved on). we also got a big plate of Priya's favorite dish from the last time we went: dry-sauteed green beans, fried 'til they're withered, covered with black salty fried bits of something and black bean sauce (?). Priya researched the black salty fried bits and determined they were "Szechuan preserved vegetable (zhacai)" basically the briny-pickled stems of mustard cabbage.

we'd wanted cold cucumbers, but the last plate had been whisked away by the time we sat down, making this the second time they had run out just as we tried to order them. they're just cucumbers with some MSG on top, I think, but continually missing them is making them occupy a larger space in my brain. next time, for sure. we also ordered beef tendon, which I was very excited about, but they were out of that. and we tried to order eggplant in garlic sauce, and then eggplant in fresh garlic, but they were out of both; thankfully, Christina could speak with the waitress, who eventually brought us hot eggplant in garlic sauce, which was fine with us. it was super, with a perfect gooey texture and a sweet taste that might have been tamarind or duck sauce or apricot...I think I liked it even better than the Japanese eggplant appetizers I've gotten at places like Republic.

then the meat began to arrive: first, twice-cooked pork, which was salty and basically like pieces of bacon mixed with scallions, but absolutely delicious. we ordered this and the "enhanced pork" last time, and I'm not sure exactly what the difference was, except I think the enhanced pork was fattier and a little wetter.

so I'm not sure which I like better, but I was perfectly happy with tonight's twice-cooked. it wasn't very spicy, so it was a bit of a respite, especially with our next dish, which was one of the "Szechuan" dishes with "fresh hot pepper", meaning it was one of the spiciest on the menu...sliced beef in fresh hot pepper. it came in a pool of pepper oil, with red chili paste over it, and a pile of drier pepper flakes on top of that. I sloshed a slice around in the oil and took a healthy pile of the pepper flakes and tried it--delicious! yes, it was spicy, enough to make me cough for a moment, although honestly I've had spicier vindaloos at Indian places that almost blistered my lips and made my throat try to gag. this was just perfect though, super-spicy enough to zing you, but still completely edible.

and a great side for mopping it all up was the green fried rice (scallions and egg). I really like the green rice at Flor de Mayo, a Peruvian/Chinese place on the Upper West Side, and this was VERY different somehow--lighter, less "green" tasting, more salty and eggy and fried, I think--but still good.

and a spread of the whole table, with Christina (mouth full) ducking into the picture:

all in all, it cost us about $24 each--really cheap for such a great meal full of tons of food (and which generated copious leftovers)! we didn't get any liquor due to the driving, it's true, but still a great price. and the drive home was much better on the expressway, though more stressful.

Roma Pizza (again)

in Park Slope to work my shift at the Park Slope Food Co-op, I realized that the necessity of eating dinner before my 8:30 food processing shift meant I could still dine at some of my favorite Park Slope restaurants, even though I no longer live in the neighbourhood. so I went back to Roma Pizza for a quick slice.

of course I got the grandma pizza again (yum!) but this time, instead of a margherita with fresh tomatoes, I got a fresh mozzarella slice, which is heavily promoted on the window and menu and supposedly has a different kind of sauce (made with Italian tomatoes) than other pizzas there.

both, again, pretty delicious; there were some weird dark toasty marks on the fresh mozz slice, but I ate 'em anyway, and they were fine. I could be making it up, but I thought I did detect a difference in sauces, and I liked them both...but still the grandma slice was the best, I think.

Pierogis and pea shoots

quick dinner: kapusta & mushroom pierogies, sauteed with butter and onion. also pea shoots sauteed with ginger, garlic, and soy sauce.

for dessert: rambutans from Chinatown! they're back, after an absence of what seemed to be months. I bought some and then was told to throw them away by the guards at the Met, so instead I went outside, stuffed them into my pockets, and went back in. I hadn't had fresh rambutans before, only canned, so I was a little disappointed by how similar they were to lychees and longans--I thought fresh would make a difference in taste. still, good.

Peter Luger steakhouse

taking advantage of the few days left before I returned to work, Priya and I went to Peter Luger Steakhouse for lunch to try out their much-touted Luger Burger.

the steakhouse is pretty close to my new apartment--only a 5ish minute walk away. when we arrived, we were seated in the back room that was mostly empty. as we ate, it filled up pretty well. Priya observed that there were basically three demographic groups who ate at Peter Luger: old-boy businessmen having a lunch meeting, Williamsburg hipsters, and tourists (generally Japanese). indeed, right next to us was the most stereotypically perfect group of old white finance guys digging into steak...

I would prefer my burger to be medium-rare, but we'd read alarming stuff online about how, because it was so thick, medium-rare burgers were sometimes flat-out raw in the middle. when it came time to order, I asked the waiter (who was pretty brusque and dismissive of us--clearly we weren't ordering the $75 steak plates) if it would still be pink inside if I ordered it medium, and he said of course. so I went with medium.

we entertained ourselves by eating onion bread and observing that the famous Peter Luger steak sauce was basically cocktail sauce made with barbecue sauce instead of ketchup.

when the burgers arrived, they looked pretty good, with big dark-cooked french fries alongside. I bit into mine to find that it was grey inside! still, it tasted pretty good, and the waiter was obviously not giving us the time of day, so I didn't send it back. I had ordered mine with cheese, and I dressed it with onion slices and Peter Luger steak sauce, and enjoyed it pretty well--the flavor of the beef was top-notch, despite it being a little drier than I would've liked. I'd say I prefer the Dumont burger more--it has better accoutrements, like the caramelized cippolini onion and pickles--and you don't have to pay $1.50 for cheese, and overall the bun + burger flavor seems a notch better, more buttery and delicious.

took photos of the inside of the burger to post, and you know what? they look pink in the picture! I swear it was not pink when we ate it. damn you color-correcting cameras.

Pork Chops

as Priya had never had a pork chop before, we decided to make them for dinner.

I brined the chops for several hours in a mixture of apple cider vinegar, mustard powder, brown sugar, black pepper, and of course plenty of salt. rinsing them off, I stuffed them with a stuffing made of whatever Priya had laying around her house (ended being panko, golden raisins, walnuts, and some spices). then we baked 'em in the oven.

Priya took responsibility for sugar snap peas with garlic/ginger/soy sauce, and we had mashed sweet potatoes on the side (baked in a Dutch oven with a little chicken broth to keep 'em moist).

pretty good overall! I think I made the stuffing too mushy, but since it was pretty catch-as-catch-can, it was all right. the pork wasn't too dry and had a good flavor from the brining. I do wish we had a real grill to cook it on, though. the sugar snap peas were crunchy and delicious...not a hard meal, but a good one!

Friday, August 8, 2008


so. One of Priya's favorite brunch places is a place not too far from my new apartment. because I've never been, we went to Egg for breakfast on Thursday morning. it was a good way for two people without jobs to beat the lines that form on weekends.

on a weekday at 9am, Egg was empty! maybe 1 or 2 other people at tables. we sat down, ordered quickly, got our food fairly quickly, etc. our waitress did appear to be stoned, but oh well.

I got a country ham biscuit with fig jam and Grafton cheddar, with Anson Mills grits on the side. Priya got eggs over easy, with cheese grits (Anson Mills plus Grafton cheddar), with a side of candied bacon and a broiled grapefruit with mint (a woman after my own heart--I was weighing ordering the grapefruit myself).

unfortunately my photograph of my ham biscuit and the grapefruit didn't save (stupid EnV!) (UPDATE: I was able to recover the photograph! see below) , so we'll have to make do with a pic of Priya's plate:

the food was pretty much all it's cracked up to be, I have to say. the country ham biscuit was super salty and had that "so smoked and salty it's almost fishy" taste I associate with the country ham we always bring back from trips down South (yeah, I know that sounds gross, but it's gooood). a huge piece of fat protruded from one side, and I didn't care, because I was that eager for the flavor. The sharp Grafton cheddar and the sweet fig jam (full of crunchy fig seeds) were great accoutrements, too, and really took the biscuit above being a simple "ham on a biscuit".

Also, I order grits whenever I can in an effort to like them, but dozens of grit orders (cheese, not cheese...) have failed to show me what's so special about them. I think, though, that I might be getting an idea with these. The grain is a lot bigger than the usual grits, and it seemed to actually have a subtle flavor, rather than being simply bland. I mixed some jam into mine and they were excellent; Priya's cheddar grits weren't just bland-plus-cheese, but tasty in their own right.

The broiled grapefruit with mint was familiar to me somehow...finally I figured it out. We'd made the same thing for Priya's birthday brunch eight months ago, and now I was seeing the source she'd nabbed the idea from. It had big grains of sugar broiled onto the top and was a little pulpier than raw grapefruit would have been, but was very good.

The candied bacon was raved about by Priya, and at first I thought it had an excellent texture--it seemed to have a thick scum of liquid sugar around every slice that I bit "through" before reaching the bacon inside. However, as I chewed, I thought that it was maybe a little dry inside, like bacon jerky a little. Priya defended it, explaining that it was candied, and baked, not fried; still, in some ways I like the big thick oily slab bacon at places like Brooklyn Label better. I'd get it again, though--by the time the meal was done, I was enjoying the texture.

Overall, the meal was pretty cheap! $25 or so for all that plus some coffee and juice. I guess that's a lot for breakfast, but it's a lot less than many other brunch places around, and the food was a lot better.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Red Hook

the famed Red Hook Ballfields food vendors were back up and running (finally), after a lengthy battle with the city, and Priya and Ahmad and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to spend a day in Red Hook.

we took the G to Smith & 9th and walked to the ballfields around 3pm, stopping along the way to marvel at the ass-kickingly enormous public pool (which, mysteriously for 3pm on a hot Sunday in August, was closed and empty). arriving, we found a very different scene than last year's. Instead of tents set up under shady trees with big rusty metal grills, oil drums erupting flame, etc....there were food trucks parked on the street surrounding the ballfields, bumper to bumper, all loudly rumbling and emitting exhaust. and the lines! last year, we skipped the pupusas because the line was "long" (about 15 minutes long) and instead travelled around to all the other vendors, dropping in here and there and buying stuff with no lines...but this year (due to the reduction in volume capability from the required trucks, no doubt) the lines stretched around the block for most every truck. at one point some dudes came by with huge jugs of gasoline and refueled the trucks, causing a lovely chemical odor to suffuse the food area.

first we waited in one of the shorter ones, for elotes and drinks. I think it took about 15 minutes, during which I split off from Priya to wait in one of the huge pupusa lines (there seemed to be 2 Salvadorean trucks right next to each other, so I chose one based on a shorter line, which turned out to be not the same people from last year). Priya joined me once we had elotes (mine with butter, hers with mayonnaise) and agua frescas (watermelon and hibiscus) and we snacked while the pupusa line slowly crept forward.

I had skipped the elotes previously because I didn't know if they would prepare them without yucky mayonnaise, but Priya had eaten two last year and loved them. I was excited to get one this year--an ear of roasted corn on a stick, dipped in butter, then rolled in cotija cheese and chili powder (and possibly lime juice?). last year they'd fire-roasted the corn over a flaming oil drum, but this year it seemed to be done on a grill. it was pretty good--like a butter, spicy ear of roasted corn, sure. the cotija cheese was nice, but a bit of a distraction--I thought the chili powder/corn/butter flavor was more interesting. I also thought it could've used a little more salt. Priya also thought last years' were better, probably because of the open flame roasting.

The watermelon agua fresca was good, nothing special, clearly made out of watermelon pulp, cool and refreshing...the hibiscus was something I'd never had before, and I really enjoyed it. it was a beautiful purply-red color and had a taste almost like a more complex, less sickly-sweet version of good fruit punch (like the Minute Maid kind, not the bright red bug juice). it was also full of pulp, which turned Priya off a little, but I didn't mind. Ahmad arrived to meet us in line, tried my hibiscus, and went off and bought one of his own with an elote to snack on while we waited. Priya also went off and bought a plastic container of mango chunks with chili powder to continue our snacks. again, excellent--perfectly ripe/sweet, genuinely spicy from the chili powder. we continued to wait.

we were served almost exactly one hour after I first got in line (!!!). the whole time, I was drawing closer, watching the woman in the car hand-make pupusas in full view of the crowd, getting hungrier and hungrier (the edge dulled by Priya's periodic appearances with snacks). finally we got to order. for $5 you get a pupusa platter with 2 pupusas and some pink cabbage slaw. I got pork/cheese/beans (revuelta) and loroco flower & cheese (asking for pink pickled onions on top as well), plus a chicken tamale on the side (an hourlong line had removed my desire to wait in multiple lines for multiple food items), and an horchata to drink. Priya got cheese & bean and cheese, while Ahmad got cheese & bean and chicken. we also got a side of maduros. then we retired to the grass to sit and eat.

the pupusas were great--not very spiced, not very salty, but really simple and good ingredients. we agreed that the meat ones (pork and chicken) were the best, as they had the most flavorful sauces inside; Priya thought that the plainer ones were a little bland, but I kind of appreciated the simplicity--the cheese & bean ones were my next favorite. I'd never had loroco flower before and it was a very interesting dark green flavor, not at all what I would have thought from the name.

the chicken tamale was good--I got a few tendons/bones in it, so the chicken was definitely ripped apart whole, not some overly processed meat. they removed the leaf before serving us, which I thought was weird, but maybe that's how it's done nowadays. the horchata was also pretty tasty, but I think last year's surpassed it--the almondy cinnamony flavor seemed a little shallow, maybe waterier this year? finally, the maduros were excellent, pulpy like I like them, crispy on the outside like Priya does (except for one withered brown throwaway).

oh, also, during lunch I spilled cabbage slaw over myself. whoops.

afterward, we debated waiting in line for a huaracha (last year I had a giant pork one and it was GREAT, better than the pupusas, I think) but with a line as long as a pupusa truck's and with our stomachs pretty packed full, we decided against it.

instead, we took a long walk through Red Hook to see the neighbourhood. one of our stops was for dessert at Steve's Authentic, a tiny little Florida-themed shop around the back of a warehouse, off a parking lot. Steve makes and sells key lime pies, and apparently that's all he sells. the menu has bottles of water, mini key lime pies, regular size ones, key limeonade, and a "swingle," which is a frozen mini pie on a stick dipped in chocolate. Ahmad, a noted key lime pie fan, got the regular mini pie, as did Priya, while I (contrary to the last) got a swingle.

great stuff. I didn't think I could eat a whole dessert, but I got almost all of the swingle down. the very dark chocolate coating really cut the tartness of the key lime pie inside, and made the graham crust less dry. however, the frozen element was the best part--frozen key lime pie is better than simply chilled key lime pie, I think (and the cold probably also cut the tartness a bit). but Priya and Ahmad had only good things to say about the regular pies as well. we finished the pies up in a cute little tropical garden outside the shop, went back in for water (Ahmad got key limeonade, which was extremely tart, not sweet at all--not to his liking), and continued to wander Red Hook.