Five Bites: My Top Tastes of the Week

March 5, 2010

1. San Marzano Slice: $1.85 for a margherita slice and 3 bucks for a beer all day long.    The crust may not be quite as muse worthy as a few of its competitors, but at this quality price ratio, who cares if it doesn’t quite jump the asymptote into Motorino territory?

2. Creme Broulée Doughut at the Doughnut Plant: This is Mark Israel’s Madeleine for a new millennium.   The magically Maillardy crust and creamy middle more than justify a somewhat steep three dollar price tag.

3. Cold Brewed Coffee at Café Pedlar: Platonic ideal of iced coffee.  Tastes as good as  it smells and even better than  it reads in the cupping notes.

4. Szechuan Gourmet Won Ton Soup: Everyone talks about the rest of the menu, but the tender ugly little dumplings in the throwaway soup turned out to be some of the porkiest, lightest meat pockets I’ve had in quite a while.

5. Café Falai Yoghurt: Expensive soured milk it may be, but with a scattering of winter fruit and a drizzle of honey on top, this is one of the best breakfasts in the City.

Hair of the Food Gods: New York’s Mane Talent

March 5, 2010

1. Tony Bourdain:  A proprietary combination of hash oil and yak butter makes for one of the lushest heads of salt and pepper in the industry.

2. Eric Ripert: A coif with the otherworldly glow of an alien life form.  Like Spider Man’s sentient black web suit.  Saw Ripert effulging one day at dusk as he walked up Park Ave.  This man could put Vidal out of business.

3. Jean Georges: Hannibal Lecter with a dye job. Take some tips from 1 and 2.

4. Mario Batali: Midlife hair resurgence, like penis growth after puberty, is either a medical miracle or the result of unnatural tampering, so kudos to MB for letting the reverse tree ring of hairline recession mark a well-lived half century.

5. Keith McNally: A retreating flip job bang crest makes McNally look like Jamie Oliver’s long lost older uncle.  Somehow, it works.

Taco Explosion in Yorkville

February 19, 2010

1. Maz Mezcal (86th btw 1st and 2nd): Eater’s essential 38 is meant for debate not derision, but that’s exactly what the selection of Maz Mezcal as one of the City’s best deserves.  Pot roast and gravy patrons might like the watery drinks and cheesey at all costs burritos, but this is basically Tony’s Di Napoli for Mexican food fans.  The only saving grace is the chips and trio of salsas, which include a particularly picant thin guac sauce.

2: Paty’s Taco Truck (86th/Lex): The letter “t” vacillates between single and double but the tacos are consistently good.  Tortas are bland and weighed down by a wedge of intolerably dull iceberg, so stick to the fast, hot and greasy options.

3: Cascabel Taquería (2nd btw 80th and 81st): Pie by the Pound didn’t fly so now there’s a gourmet taco joint in its place.  This is what Zac Pelaccio should have done, and failed to do, at Cabrito.  Take Mexican standards, add a few points of flare and elevate the ingredient quality without including Old Testament genealogies for every protein.  Amazing play with textures–fried scallion bits, pork cracklings, etc.–enriches the standards without distracting from what makes them so good. N.B. The Cemita is particularly delicious.

4. Burger One (Lex btw 79th and 80th): Still a top taco purveyor, strongest for its extra hot chicken taco.  None too complex, plenty greasy and only worth eating in house in the crush or one the walk home.  Again, not delivery food. Do ask for extra green sauce on your tacos.

5. MXCO (close to Cascabel, so what): Not worth the time for taco tasting.  Better for hungry drinkers than thirsty eaters.

Casa Mono: Ugly American Meets Angry Iberian

February 19, 2010

This is not a restaurant built on love.  Chairs are tightly packed and sparsely padded to prod people in and out the door as fast as possible.  Service is equally unwelcoming.  Not a place designed to produce repeat business.  In short, the cultural illogic of lazy capitalism.    Below are a few lowlights of a recent meal.

1. Pedestrian Pan Con Tomate:  A simple dish but often sublime.  Not on my second visit, where salty and soggy came together in blissless matrimony.  Inferior to that served at Boqueria–simple version–and Tía Pol–deconstructed.  Roughly equal to that served at the Yale Club’s Spanish Night buffet.  The “Monkey House” would be better off serving Monkey Bread.

2. Occam’s Razor Clam: Occam’s proposition states that the simplest explanation is usually the best.  I’d add a seafood corollary: the simplest preparation is usually the best.  That said, it’s fine and good to salt, lube and saute your proteins, but I can get the same taste at Joe’s Shanghai for half the price.  Given that razor clams are the beef cheeks of the sea, I don’t need Ripert prices on this one.

3. Sun Drenched Spanish Wine:  The list is long and deep, and the pours are generous, but after my wine experience with a glass of Monastrell, I doubt I’ll be digging any further.   Monastrell is an amiable grape that generally gets along with everything. Here, however, my glass was served at kitchen temp not room or cave temp.  Overheated alcohol in a literally overheated glass turned this normally friendly food bev into a nasty little throat scratcher.  The wine made me feel like drinking, but it didn’t make me feel like drinking here.  If I return, I’ll stick to beer.

4. Glop Lo Mein: Fideos with mussels and a goopy sauce were a mayo drenched monstrosity.  Rubbery shellfish, glutinous sauce and grease addled noodles were like the worst of 1950s midwestern Chinese food tarted up in Spanish drag. Everything else I ate was diminished by kitchen work; this dish was a disaster from conception forward.

5. Bone Dry Bread Pudding: A beginning baker’s go to recipe is, apparently, not as foolproof as I had thought.  Bland coffee ice cream did little to improve the stale crouton texture and taste.  If you’re in the mood for dessert, hit Otto for stellar gelato and magnificently baroque sundaes; hit yourself on the head for ordering ice cream here.

Conclusions: Nearly every problem I encountered during my two meals was one of execution of dishes not conception.  Perhaps the issue was a simple as who was running the kitchen those days.  Given the rich options available in this City, I can’t say I intend to risk going back to find out.

DBGB: Standup Sausage on Flophouse Row

February 9, 2010

Like a heather flecked three season Harris tweed, Daniel Boulud’s Bowery menu makes fatty meat look good nearly all year round, a rare feat for the beer and sausage trade, which is at best usually a one season affair.  Below are a few highlights of recent visits.

1. Boudin blanc: As elegant as intestine wrapped innards can possibly be. Artful swirls of potato purée and and pair of braised apples turned a single link into a singular dish. Some well traveled microgreens added the obligatory color complement.

2. Foie gras in the boudin blanc: Foie gras taste and texture are distinct and complementary to the rest of the sausage. In some ways a better combination than the db Bistro Moderne foie and short rib burger. Fat flavor spectrum never goes greasy or gross.

3. Niçoise salad: Light tasting and beautifully glistening little sardines. A lively olive oil and good poached tuna. Throw in a scattering of olives and a few grape tomatoes, and it’s easy to forget the season or the street on which you’re eating this little number.

4. Good bread and great butter: Hearty bread perfect for sopping and a sea salt sprinkled butter that would fit in at Eleven Madison Park. A great high low combo. Freebies this good are a clear trickle down benefit of eating on the outposts of an empire.

5. Alevras in the House: When top chefs like Colin Alevras run a restaurant’s beverage program, good things happen. Places like Blind Tiger Ale House do a nice job of matching food to beer, but DBGB does a better job matching beer to food. I’d rather drink like a chef than eat like a bartender. In any case, DBGB’s wonderful beer list is affordable, never upsold and always worth exploring. They nail the little details of bar service as well: Lovely but not overdelicate glassware, nice crushed ice in the water glasses, and a deft hand with the refills.

6. Madcap mint sundae: A delicious dessert with a willfully unnatural looking gross out green color scheme. This ice cream confection makes sweet mockery of the loco locavore seasonality at all costs crowd. On the other hand, it is also far more natural than it appears. Hershey’s Kiss shaped meringue bites are Dayglo bright but made of local egg whites; whipped cream was Redi-Whip shaped but made from some hefty and tasty high fat high test cowjuice.

7. Impeccable Service: All the runners, floor managers and wine folks were fast and friendly. Better than any individual server was the coordination of the team. No Steve Hanson style scripted robotics and no Eric Ripert staffing overload.  In sum, warm well orchestrated front of house takes the chill off DBGB’s neo-Brutalist concrete jungle interior.

Abraço: Minuscule made Magic

January 22, 2010

1. Drip coffee: Potent as espresso with none of the bite on the backwash.  Worth the wait.  Pulled coffee is superb, but I prefer the less violent touch of the slow filtered brew.

2. Sweet side: Olive oil is more of a mystery ingredient here than an overwhelming front note.  This type of cake is now ubiquitous in the city, but this is still the best I’ve encountered.  Compares favorably to the greasy number at Café Pedlar.  NB: Orange blossom pound cake is also a worthy option.

3. Service: Jamie is a one man cult of personality backed up by hard skill competence.  He’s also one of the least condescending and most hospitable people in the coffee business.  Easy for just about anyone to feel welcome here.

4. Music: Brazilian tunes hummed and sung along to in NoCal inflected Portuguese.  It’s hard to argue with the double mellow whammy of Samba and San Fran.

5. Savory: Sandwiches and soups are always a surprise and nearly always delicious.  Like the baked goods, they also hold up well throughout the course of the day.  A nice contrast to the typical day old by midafternoon sandwiches you find in many coffee shops.

Conclusion: The combination of stellar baker, savory chef and barista gives Rush a run for their money in the power trio business.  I hope and fear this place will open more branches beyond its 7th st./btw 1st and 2nd Aves original.

Momofuku Milk Bar: Sweet Food, Rotten Prices

January 21, 2010

1. Coffee Milk: A nice nod to the Rhode Island tradition that somehow surpasses the original in intensity without losing balance of flavor.  Captures the smell of coffee in taste form.  A rare feat that  Chef Tosi somehow pulls off.  This is everything a Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee–with its beady, come hither photos–promises and fails to deliver.

2. Tuesday Focaccia: Selections vary from week to week. Best of all was a candied kale number soaked in bacon fat and drizzled with honey.  Sriracha cuts through the sweet and brings out the savory. Sounded like overkill, turned out to be a neo-Baroque delight.  But six dollars for a slice of focaccia?  Even the Vinegar Factory and Jim Lahey’s bakery offer better prices for their versions.

3. Day old cookies: Blueberry cream and chocolate chocolate chip hold up well on day two and ring in at half price.  Under a buck makes them worth it.   Tosi hasn’t entered the straight chocolate chip cookie wars yet, and for good reason.  These are fun little numbers, but they’re nowhere near Levain Bakery’s or Jacques Torres’ league.

4. Le Cirque prices: The ingredients all come with stories, but provenance doesn’t explain the customer hating prices, especially when combined with tattooed hipper than thou service.  In Chang’s world, enlightened hospitality meets its evil counterpart, unenlightened hostility.

5. Soft serve: Flavors are best enjoyed in sample sizes.  Cucumber and horchata are two bite pleasures, so no need to order more.  Cereal milk is the one glorious exception to the “more interesting than delicious” rule.  Taken in milkshake form, it’s one for the ages. NB: Avoid stuffing ice cream at all costs.  Utterly repulsive.

Splendor in the Parking Lot or Splendor in the Grass: Ted Drewes vs. Shake Shack

January 21, 2010

As a kid, I used to frequent the St. Louis operation that inspired  the dairy side of the Shake Shack empire, so I thought it would be fun to compare the two operations over the course of a weekend.

1. Custard Base: Shake Shack wins hands down for the custard base. It’s sweet and luscious without appearing to work at it. Like good foie gras or a hundred other death dealing treats, it doesn’t taste of fat or sugar, just flavor. No one needs to know the details. Ted Drewes custard, on the other hand, tastes not just sweet but sweetened, a bit like Ben & Jerry’s. You can perceive the effort to candify in the hints of honey: Honey Nut Cheerios style honey. Conclusion: Meyer found the spirit of the Shake Shack in St. Louis but not the recipe for the custard.

2.Custard Mix-Ins: Ted Drewes by a landslide. Their chocolate chips are ground to a sharded consistency that never goes waxy but still tastes like real chocolate. Great paired with blueberrry or cherry. Shake Shack has some delicious flavored custards on its calendar, but its house designed concretes are as over the top as a Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby or Phish Food pint, but not as creative.  Sometimes too much is too much.

3. Service: Ted Drewes by a thin margin. The servers have all the Danny Meyer friendliness plus a surprising age range that means you can get three generations’ opinion on the ideal size t-shirt for a toddler plus. Further, Ted Drewes has also been handling hour plus lines for more than half a century, which gives it a slight edge in smiling its way through that crackle of irritation we all bring to the counter when finally called up to order. This is enlightened hospitality taken to a buddhistic extreme. Saint Louis style service is simply best done by Saint Louisans.

4. Splendor in the Parking Lot: In the summer months, South County (St. Louis) has its charms, from Astroturfed front porches with friendly folks sipping Budweiser and talking baseball, to inexpensive houses and relatively low crime rates. First and foremost, though, it has the city’s best tailgate in Ted Drewes’ parking lot. The big crowds give it a festive air at night, and the heat off the asphalt and from neighboring cars makes it pleasant even into the fall. Then again, it’s a pile of concrete covered in idling cars.

5. Splendor in the Grass: Park beats parking lot. Madison Square Park is a year round glory.  Ted Drewes and its terrain are a seasonal delight.  Enough said.

FaFHS’s Fall Break

November 15, 2009

Fat and Happy Food Slut is on a brief hiatus to recharge bank account and catch up on work.  Look for a slew of reports after Christmas.

Soba Totto: Good to Gross

September 4, 2009

Below are a few high and lowlights of my recent meals at Soba Totto (211 E 43rd St # A).  Much reputable, some rebarbative.

1. Bloody latex is not a taste bud tingler: If you’re cutting chicken and you cut yourself, for God’s sake, wash up, bandage up and chuck the bloody bird bits.   The Soba Totto line cook sliced and diced through his palm, then skewered up the platelet platter as he watched coagulation set in. In a good blood sausage, pork or beef blood is delicious.  In any form, man blood is disgusting.

2. Undercooked chicken puree on rice: Ground chicken over rice had texture of soft serve yogurt and flavor of sock shod wet feet. The hot rice didn’t cook the chicken, it simply brought the stink–and not an Epoisses good foot stink either–closer to my nose.  Bland food with look of bung seepage.

3. Salty salad not bad: Greens with ginger dressing, fried shallots and sprinkle of salt crystals were way too saline on one occasion and just right on another.  Nice idea and well past the Benihana salads of the seventies, but the execution was erratic.

4. Best beer Mug In Town: Earthenware beer Mugs for half beers are nice to look at, easy to hold and make the frothy midday carb-load that much easier to down.

5. Relentlessly friendly service: No intrusion but also no dropped cues. Checks arrive quickly.  Upsell pressure is minimal.

6. Eponymous Excellence: Cold Soba Noodles make the case that JGV wasn’t crazy to open a noodle joint-Matsugen-in the old 66 space. There’s plenty of art here, albeit a pretty subtle and vaguely Puritan art.