Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thanksgiving and Its Contents

I know I'm posting this late, but I love Thanksgiving. I love the traditional feast: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and that's allI really need. This year I was blessed in that the turkey had extra stuff packaged with it: an extra liver, and an extra pope's nose, probably my favorite part of the bird. And I like plain bread stuffing, nothiing fancy or gussied up: breadcrumbs, celery, onions, sometimes giblets, and I'm happy.
This winter has been good, eating wise. I had a meal recently at the Old Heidelberg, perhaps the last remnant of the German population of the Upper East Side, and ate an excellent Jaeger Schnitzel (schnitzels covered in cream & mushroom sauce), and some extremely light spaetzle. I"ve written before of my fondness for German cuisine, untouched as it is by any fads or newfangled notions of eatin'. I ate with a friend who was baffled by a bowl of brussels sprouts ("What're those?" he asked me with a worried expresssion). He also didn't recognize sliced apples or kiwi fruit, which came with our dessert of chocolate fondue. ANyway, a soul satisfying meal indeed.
I've discovered a new treat: spreadable goat chese, called Chevrion. I'm a huge fan of goat cheese, and this stuff is great. You can find it at Fairway.
Another delight this Season was a friend of mine got me a 30 year bottle of Port. I'm not much of wine drinker, or indeed a drinker, but I do love Port, and this stuff is delightful. I have no way of knowing what other fancy ports taste like, but I am enjoying this bottle.
Another Seasonal pleasure was to be found at the Time Warner Mall, where food trucks were selling dishes of food from restaurants in the Mall, for 1 to 3 bucks a plate. I had a plate of oversalted Italian food (orrechiette in a cream sauce), a really delicious Chicken Tikka Masala, and a delicious chocolate dessert from Bouchon. These trucks haven't been back, so maybe it was just a special thing.
I had a delicious cup of coffee at the Chelsea Market from 9th St. Espresso, truly wonderful, and far superior to Starbucks. Wish they were on every corner.
Anyway, that's all the food news for now, hope everyone is enjoying the holidays!!

Friday, November 16, 2007

I'm Back!!

It's been a bit since my last post, guess I'm not much of a blogger. Had a Belgian waffle from a truck the other week, and it was deliicious! Hadn't had on of those in a long time. Also discovered a new coffee ice cream I love, Julie's organic Mocha Java, almost like drinking a cup of coffee, in frozen form. That makes 3 coffee ice creams I love: Julie's, Stonyfield Farms (renamed from Javalicious to Gotta Have Java), and Double Rainbow's Coffee, which is only at Trader Joe's. It's a SF brand.
Back in August had an excellent meal in Chinatown with a few of my pals at Shanghai Something or another, a restaurant at the Western edge of Bayard Street. Excellent sesame noodles, sesame pancakes, and other stuff. A swell time was had by all.
Tonight I had a nice carnitas taco from a Mexican truck that parks by 8th & 14th. Love this stuff, and they were gone for awhile, which worried me, but now thery're back, and all is right with the world.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New Food Craving

I recently ate at Otafaku, a small Japanese place in the East Village that offers what I'm guessing is Japanese fast food. It's been around for years, but I never ate there until the other week, and I now have a new food craving: Japanese egg and cabbage called okonomiyaki. I love 'em! I believe their replacing my lust for the sesame wontons at Plump Dumpling. You can also get yakisoba, which is sort of like Japanese lo mein, and these fried balls with a bit of octopus in the center. I like those too, but I love the pancakes, which are like Japanese egg foo yung. Also, I usually dislike unsweetened iced tea, but I love the unsweetened iced tea here, which is called muggi chai or some such, and it's a barley tea, which a great flavor, very satisfying.
Anyway, always like to expand my food horizons.

Manhattan Special Comes to Inwood! Joy!!!!!!!

I live up in Inwood, and have for about 20 years. I like the neighborhood, it has the most parks of any Manhattan neighborhood, and it is pretty solidly working and middle class with little chance of genitrification. There's no Starbucks up here, hell, there isn't even a Dunkin Donuts!! But the local C Town has begun carrying food times I love, including Murray's Organic chickens, Pellegrino sodas, Stonyfield Farms ice cream (there Javaliciousi is the best commercial ice cream on the market), San Benedetto iced tea (my favortie brand), and recently Manhattan Special Coffee Soda. Those not in the know may not know that Manhattan Special, made in Brooklyn, was for years available only in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. Only in the past few years have they been distributing it above 14th St., and now up in my neck of the woods. I love this stuff, the best espresso soda there is, not that there's much competition for this title. Now, if they'd only start carrying Boylan's Black Cherry soda...

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Butter & Sugar, oh my!

I've been having some Proustian madeleine moments recently, mostly over forgotten breakfast foods. I've written here earlier about eating fried egg and bread sandwiches, but I recently was reminded of a forgotten treat when I came across a posting on Chowhound about eating butter and sugar as a kid. I remembered that I used to love toast, spread with butter and sugar as a kid myself. I hadn't thought about that in decades. It's nothing I'd want to eat now, but I ate a lot of it as a child, and I had completely forgotten about it, until this posting caused me to recall it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

My Week in Food

Wandered through Chelsea Market the other day, and had a wonderful clam chowder, courtesy of the Lobster Place, I love a good clam chowder, preferably New England, though given my blood pressure & cholesterol, I should eat Manhattan. But for whatever reason Manhattan clam chowder seems to be an excuse to leave out clams, and make a tomato-based potato soup. I've had some decent Manhattan chowders, but good ones are usually an exception. Lobster Place uses fresh clams, they're not over cooked and rubbery, and the soup is not over salted, another chowder pitfall. The broth had excellent mouth feel, creamy with clam undertones. After chowder, wandered into the Italian grocery store, where I got a nice big can of San Marzano tomatoes for 2 bucks. In fact, the Italian store has excellent prices on most of their foodstuffs. Then I went to the Red Witch bakery and had an excellent chocoate brownie, thin and moist. And I'm not a huge brownie fan.
A few days later, a friend had a birthday party at a Vatan, one of the few vegetarian restaurants I like. The place is along Little India in Manhattan, a few blocks along the East Side in the 20s. Vatan is prix fixe, about 24 bucks, and you get a ridiculous amount of food. Most of it was delicious, including an excellent version of a mango lassi, a delicious plum sauce, and excellent samosas. Highly recommended, but go hungry. I could not finish my dessert, an unheard of thing for me.
And recently I re-discovered a place I use to eat in years ago, and had forgotten: The Restaurant inside the Ukrainian National Home, right next to Veselka's on 2nd Avenue. Apparently under new management, the food was excellent, including a delicious beet-buttermilk soup, a great shnitzel with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut (Is that Ukrainian? I noticed weinershnitzel on the menu too). An excellent mushroom gravy could be had for the shnitzel. My friend ate blintzes that were heavenly. I'd have to say this was the best Eastern European meal I've eaten downtown in a long while.
I also stopped by another old haunt, the Odessa, and had a cup of the worst borsht I've ever eaten. It was so awful I was stunned. Odessa was never the home of haute cuisine, but the food was always palatable at decent prices. This soup was horrid, salty, bland, the beets blanched of all flavor. And I love beets! I didn't even know borsht could be this bad, since most of the Polish places in the East Village could at least give you decent bowl. But I guess not. Won't be going there again!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What, Bobby Flay too?

Whilst trolling the food sites, I discovered that foodies not only hate Rachael Ray, they seem to despise Bobby Flay. A question was posed: Fuck, Marry, Kill and 3 names given: Alton Brown, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay. An overwhelming majority would like to fuck Alton, marry Mario, and kill Bobby. No reason was given for this. I like Flay. I enjoyed his food at the old Miracle Grill on 1st Avenue, and even got to go to the opening party of Mesa Grill years ago. He seems a personable fellow, has a fun tv prescence, and seems utterly harmless. I undestand why foodies tear into Ray, but Flay? I don't get it at all. Does anyone have insights into this? And personally, you're better off marrying Alton, Italian men are notorious for marrying, propagating, and dumping the kids on their wives whilst they go gallivanting around town for pussy. Just a word to the wise.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Anorexia? That's a small island in Greece, no?

I've run into some anorexics in my time on earth, and I have to say, I'm utterly unsympathetic to this disorder. If you're too stupid to eat, DIE!! Let the motherfuckers starve, I say. You don't want to eat, don't fucking eat. Just don't bother the rest of us. I notice, by the way, you don't run into anorexics in Africa, or any place where people are actually starving. It seems to be a condition of the middle and upper classes. I'm not interested in how some twerp decides that she's too fat, and looking like an Auschwitz survivor is becoming. Eating, along with sex, are the two major biological impulses common to almost all species, and if you feel you don't need to eat, fine. But I don't want to waste any resouces saving you. If these whiny shnooks were allowed to die, the world would be a better place.
Along with anorexia, America probably has the fattest kids on earth. I"m shocked when I see how bloated and out of shape youngsters are. When I was a kid, there was always one really fat kid in the class, now, all kids are like that fat kid. It's a good way to keep your kids from having sex, but it's repulsive. You don't see this many bloat bags in Europe, though I suspect that may change. Part of this is the pathetic American diet, part of it is kids sitting playing computer games and the like. I almost never see kids playing the wide variety of street games we played: no hopscotch, ringolevio, stickball, etc. I lived my whole childhood on the street.
Guess I'm just a cranky old man. Can't wait to get a cane and whack people on their heads.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Breakfast in Britain

I love to travel, but I confess, that I'm not in love with "continental breakfasts" since they tend to be light and simple. One thing I liked about England is that their ideas on breakfast is on the same continuum as ours, maybe even more so. I recall the morning meals served in a small hotel outside of Bath, that consisted not only of bacon and eggs, but sausages and fried tomatoes. My German friend, being raised on the "continental" concept of breakfast, was not pleased, but I loved it. I also enjoyed the breakfasts in the Netherlands, because they would serve peanut butter. In fact, the Dutch seem to be the only Europeans who eat peanut butter, except they would look on with horror when we added jelly to ours. But there's nothing better than peanut butter and hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) on toast. The Dutch also have the best chocolate sprinkles, made with real chocolate, not wax or plastic, like ours.

Monday, July 2, 2007

German cuisine and its discontents

I love pork, and thus I adore sausages, and no cuisine has more sausages than German. I don't know what's going on with German food in Germany, but the few German restaurants I've eaten in NY and the midwest are bastions of a very old food aesthetic, untouched by nouvelle experimentation. Take Rolf's on 3rd Ave., where I had a splendid repast of weinershnitzel in paprika sauce a few months ago. First, all German places seem to have been designed to look like Rudolf Hess' living room, so you have to overcome the urge to sing the "Horst Wessel Song" and Sieg Heil, or that you're going to be asked for your papers. That out of the way, you're usually served vast platters of food, pre-any health conscious ideas at all. I admire that moxie. This is a heavy cuisine, so it's best eaten in winter, when you need the carbs for warmth. A friend was horrified when I said I had weinershnitzel. "You ate veal?" she gasped, as if I admitted to some deep horror. Let me explain that my attitude to veal is sort of like my feeling about lobster. Yeah, it's a shame to boil a critter alive, but the fucking things taste so good with butter sauce, so between my feeling for a sentient being and my desite for a tasty bit of food, my desire for food wins. So, I know veal is often raised in inhumane conditions, but the meat is just so delicious! I see that England has actually banned inhumane conditions for veal, but I doubt such laws exist in the US, where you can feed people anything, until someone dies.
By the way, the best Bratwurst I ever had can be gotten from the midwest, where many Germans settled. Usinger's makes great brats, and so does Nueske's. Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Immigration and Food

In all the blather about immigration (They're lepers! Drug addicts! Rapists!), no one has talked about the real reason we need immigrants: Food! Maybe this is too bourgeois for the mainstream, but where would NY be without fucking immigrants? For years, two things were true about NY food: No good barbecue, and no good Mexican. Recently, a slew of bbq places have opened, and suddenly, we see Mexican restaurants actually staffed with Mexicans! The bbq complaint should be amended: no good American bbq, sinde Asian bbq has been on offer here for years, some quite good. I was reminded of this when a delightful development happened on one of my commuting routes: the appearance of an authentic taco truck on 14h and 8th Avenue, and some taco stands appearing in Coney Island, one right by the sideshow that makes the best chorizo I've ever eaten, and I've eaten a lot of chorizo. On 14th Street, the truck disappeared for a few weeks, but it was back the other night, and I had a lengua (tongue) taco, that caused a fellow subway rider to look up from his book (Buford's book about being Batali's sous-chef) and ask me where I got that deliciously smelling item. And it was excellent, the tongue soft and tasty. A good taco is a thing of beauty. My taste for tongue of course formed in delis, where a good tongue sandwich is hard to come by. This tongue was not prepared like deli tongue, I suspect a long stewing process, but it was delicious! If you're ever on 14th & 8th, and need a late night food fix, I strongly recommend this truck.
Chinatown too benefits from immigraton. For years, Chinatown was in decline. I remember discussing with a friend how awful most Chinatown places had become, and then new immigrants arrived, bringing soup dumplings and revitalizing stale cuisines: Good Sezchuan! Tasty Cantonese! Anyway, without immigrants, none of this would be possible. And let's not forget my fave Viet fast food: the banh mi sandwich, a noble collision of East & West, yielding one tasty treat. My fave banh mi place is on Broome, but I haven't tried them all by any means.
Viva La immigracion, I say. Let the stampede of exotic food continue!!!!!

Friday, June 22, 2007

PS to Eastern Desserts

As much as I don't like Asian desserts, the Japanese are clever at making some Western treats. Currently, in NY, the best creampuffs to be had are at the oddly named Beard Papa chain, imported from Japan. These are delicious, with a nice light pasrty, and fresh cream, injected when you buy them. They are the best creampuffs I've eaten in a long time, especially since a good bakery is heard to find.

Bacon, My True Love

Everyone has their own personal food hierarchy, or pyramid. Mine features Pork at the apex, then ice cream, fish, and chicken at the next level, and beef at the bottom. I love pork in all its manifestations: sausages, chops, roast, shoulder. belly. I also seem to be the only person who likes bacon rare. In fact, as a child I'd sneak raw bacon and eat it uncooked, choosing culinary pleasure over commonsense (raw pork can give you parasites, although I'm told this is happens much less nowadays with all the antibiotics and such pumpled into our meat supply). I also like to buy my bacon at the butcher's, since I like it thick cut and fresh. The best bacon I ever ate was on a trip to the Northern Kingdom in Vermont. The little stores often carried bacon hand delivered by local farmers, and it was delicious! I've never met anyone else who likes bacon as little cooked as I do, and I rarely order it in restaurants, because they always cook it too much for my taste, and it's the thin bacon usually, and I do prefer a nice thick strip. But as much as I like my bacon rare, I need my steak and hamburgers more well done. As a kid, any hint of red in my meat freaked me out. I've come down to medium well now, don't need every hint of red to be banished, and I can eat steak tartare well enough, just don't like my hamburgers rare (good thing too, a friend of mine got violently ill eating a rare hamburger, and almost lost his voice). Who knows how these things develop? The tongue wants what it wants.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Childhood Foods

I was thinking of stuff I ate as a kid that I haven't eaten in decades, things like bologna, frank and beans casserole, and hole in the bread fried egg sandwiches. Bologna seems obvious to forego, as it is definitely on the lower rungs of the cold cut ladder. Even as a kid, I used to fry slices to eat it, and not to be a snob, but once you eat the good stuff (prosciutto, soppresatta, etc) why would you eat bologna? Franks and beans I'd probably still eat, but for whatever reason, just never make for myself. The fried egg sandwich I've thought a lot about. Seems every mom served their family some variation of this, which was basically a slice of bread with a hole cut in the center and an egg fried in it. I loved these as a kid, and never attempted to make one on my own. I keep thinking there must've been more to the recipe, but when I ask my mom, she tells me no, it was just bread with an egg. Yet everyone I've asked seemed to have been served this as a child. Don't know if there is an official name for this dish, you never see it offered in diners and such, but there must be some source for its origin. It's just one of those childhood mysteries.
I confess that one cold cut I miss is the chicken roll. It didn't look like chicken, it didn't really taste like chicken, and I fear to think how it was actually made, but I was quite fond of it. It no longer exists, because the company that made it (Weaver) is gone, and I guess nobody else picked up the slack.
Although I was raised on homemade breads and cakes, I would eat junk, and I remember being fond of Twinkies that had been frozen. I stopped eating Twinkies when I heard the filling was essentially lard, and I've never gone back. Don't really know if this is true, but I'm sure whatever the filling is, it's not of this earth.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Why It's Okay to Hate Vegans

I"m 50 plus some years old, and in I came of age in the 60's and70's, which means I've seen a lot of crazy food fads come and go. Does anyone remember the word "Macrobiotic"? This diet, popular back then among the insane, promised to balance your yin and yang if only you did things like avoid eating food with any flavor. Children of macrobiotic parents would often scarf down hamburgers and ice cream as soon as they were away from home, their bodies desperate for nourishment and the forbidden. And of course, like all diets that promise to balance you out, the practitioners were all drug addicts or the most neurotic screwballs you could ever hope to meet. There was a well-known macrobiotic East Village restaurant, The Cauldron, and the staff were all outpatients. I wll say, they did make the best soba noodles I ever ate, if that counts for anything. You don't hear much about macrobiotic these days, but many macrobiotic ideas are still around. Another popular nut diet involved a long chart of what foods shouldn't be mixed together. I don't know what this was called, but many painfully thin women in the 70s would tack this long list on their refrigerators. Again, another way to remove pleasure from the culinary experience.
Of course, everyone knows a vegetarian or too, many of whom eat fish or chicken. I have no quarrel if you wish to avoid meat, but vegetarians aren't vegetarians because of animal empathy, most do it to feel superior to us lowly meat eaters. Walk into a steakhouse, and the overwhelming mood is of joy, comradery, and happiness. Walk into a vegetarian place, and it's a funeral parlor, the eaters solemnly bent over their plate of bean sprouts, tofu, and whatever else has no taste (if this isn't true, why do vegetarians try to create dishes that mimic meat?). "I don't enjoy this," they probably mumble, "but I it makes me superior to everybody else." I recall eating at Angelica's in the East Village years ago, a high temple of these beliefs, and asking the waitress for some lemon. "We don't do lemon here," she replied haughtily. I apologized for daring to ask for something that might add some taste to my food..
Vegetarianism is also a cheap way to be noticed. You're throwing a party, and you think, "Oh, I'll make a chicken salad for everyone," then you realize, "Oh wait, X is a vegetarian." Vegans are even more annoying, some going so far to not eat honey. "Bee slavery" they call bee farms. Go fuck yourself. If there's any field that doesn't hurt the animals being cultivated, it's harvesting honey. It's in the interest of the harvester to hope his bees flourish. Taking honey doesn't hurt the bees, doesn't kill them, so what is the problem? Vegan women often have problems dating, because let's face it, a guy who says, "Oh, does that have gluten? I'm allergic" is probably not a guy you want to date.
The most extreme food cult is of course the raw foodists. A friend of mine converted to this religion years ago, and a more hapless sorry bunch of morons it'd be harder to find. First, the idea of raw food is ridiculous. Many foods require heat to make them edible, and even signal desireability through cooking. Broccoli is a pale green, but when cooked, turns a beautiful vivacious green, and the chemical that's good for you in tomatoes is only released through cooking. Also, there's no culture that doesn't cook. I can't think of any society based on raw food at all. Even the most primitive tribes have fire, and a way to cook. Also, like all food cults, they make idiotic claims for themselves. It cures cancer, it cures athlete's foot, you won't age, etc. etc. If somebody wants to eat raw food, go ahead, but don't make pumped up bullshit unproveable claims, or invent theories. I love pork, but I don't claim any mystical properties for it, I just like it.
For years, vegetarians used to justify their diet with the animal kingdom. "Chimps don't eat meat," they'd say, but then it turned out not only do chimps eat meat, they wage war on each other and cannibalize their neighbors. Okay, not such a good example. Then they used dolphins, but it turns out dolphins eat each other too. Here's a word to the wise: animals are pretty diverse, you can find a species to shore up any argument. Monogamous animals, sexually perverse animals, celibate, whatever. It doesn't prove anything about humans. In the 60's there was a famous study of rats & overcrowding. Apparently, they became neutotic, masturbated, etc. This was supposed to show something about humans in cities, but even as a kid, I said, "Well, now scientists know a lot about how rats behave if rats lived in crowded apartments, but they don't. And notice, rat brain, size of a pea. Human brain, a bit bigger.'
Another religious aspect to being a raw foodie is the cleanse, an idea that's a hallmark of most food nuts. Either through fasting or some elaborately unpleasant diet, you're supposed to get the toxins out of your body. Obviously, none of these people took elementary biology. People who do these claim years of crap gets flushed out of their systems. But the stomach digests food by breaking it down with hydrochloric acid. In mad scientist movies, the vat of acid with the huge skull and crossbones, is either sulfuric or hydrochloric, and this acid is what attacks your food. Unless you've been eating metal or glass, nothing stays in your body for years. The intestines use bacteria to further break down food, take out what the body needs, and what's left is pushed out as waste. Getting colonics, anothr food nut belief, is actually harmful, because they flush out the necessary flora the intestines need to do their job. If you want things to flush normally, drink lots of water.
But raw foodists are always cleansing, and falling off the wagon, because I think the body rebels against so boring a diet. And then it really is like Christian Science: if you die, it's not because disease doesn't give a fuck how you pray, and Christian Science is dead wrong, it's because you didn't believe enough. So my friend has been cleansing for years, constantly backtracking, and constantly starting again. She thinks it'll cure her asthma. That fact that she's been eating raw food for years, and it hasn't changed her breathing isn't a fault in the diet, it's because she's not rigorous enough in following the true path.
Americans seem to enjoy any cult that removes pleasure from simple human activities. Eating, sex, walking, whatever, there's some doctor or theory to drain the pleasure out of it. I recall a study saying you shouldn't drink cold liquid, it shocks the system. Maybe if you're a neurasthenic, but I love cold liquid. I store a glass in my freezer, permanently filled with ice cubes. Cold water is a genuine pleasure to me. Now I'm supposed to give this up too? Anything that causes pleasure for it's own sake seems to make Americans nervous. Perhaps that's why so many glom on to these rigorous diets, founded not on good culinary principles, but vague wackjob theories.
Quite frankly, even if you could prove that eating uncooked food makes you immortal, I'm not giving up the pleasures of a well grilled steak, a juicy hamburger, a porkchop, or a nice broiled piece of fish. If you can, more power to you, and have a nice life.

Why Only Western Civilization Understands Desserts

I don't have many rules for food, but two of them, mostly true, are: 1) The national dishes of any culture are usually repulsive if you're not from that culture, and 2) Only the West gets desserts. Number one is mostly true, with small exceptions here and there. Number 2 is absolutely true. I love Asian food, but what passes for sweets is mostly incomprehensible. Thick dry bean pastes, sweets with meat centers, huh? The Japanese are sneakier, they make desserts that look European until you bite into them, and reveal their non Western designs. One Japanese sweet looks like a ball of sweetened snot. Delightful. And Indian desserts, forget about it. My joke on Indian sweets is you take a Twinkie, put it in bowl of milk, let it sit on a windowsill for 3 days, then cover it in honey. I love these cuisines, but they just don't get dessert. Everyonce in awhile, you get a westerner who pretends to like this stuff, but I think they're lying, just claiming to eat it to appear hip. Nobody from this part of the world can honestly tell me they'd rather have a ball of black bean paste than a cannoli or a creme brulee. To understand fully Eastern perversity in this field, check out the Asian Candy & Snack shops that have opened up in Chinatown. They sell things I can comprehend, like wasabi green peas, but they make candy out of squid and fish, and it's what the fuck? for a Westerner. Candied squid? The flavors often combine odd juxtapostions in unsavory taste combinations. Sweet with an undertone of rot, for example. Go ahead. Go to one of these places and taste some of the weirder things. I can't recall the name, but there's one on lower Mott Street. We Westerners might've gotten a lot wrong, but dessert is not one of them.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Gordon Ramsay (

Although alchemy is considered a fake science, I believe one area where alchemy as a practice thrives is in the culinary arts. The transformation of base items such as milk, seltzer, and chocolate syrup into the sublime egg cream is truly alchemical, as is turning cream into whipped cream, cranberries into sauce, and almost any cooking process you can name is alchemy to me. But sometimes, a chef can take ingredients into another realm entirely, and such is the realm I entered the other day when a friend and I had a meal at Gordon Ramsay's NY outpost, the Maze (renamed from the London Bar). I've long been a fan of Gordon Ramsay's tv shows, so when I heard he was opening an outpost in NY, I was dying to sample his food. I was first made aware of Ramsay on Anthony Bourdain's old Food Network show, A Cook's Tour. When Bourdain did an episode on London, he showcased Ramsay as one of Britain's new breed of chef. Then BBC America ran a slew of his shows, including Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (slated for an American version), The F Word, and an earlier show about his attempts to open his first restaurant. Ramsay is a divisive figure in Britain, who has caused many a contretemps over his anger and opinionated ideas (he once claimed women can't be good cooks, a remark he regrets making, and he threw Joan Collins out of his restaurant once), but he has definite ideas on food and how it should be served. Like many food obsessives, he is a perfectionist, and can be cranky when standards don't meet his. This trait seems true of many of my favorite food people. The Israeli who runs Cafe Azuri on 51st St., between 9th and 10th, and who makes the best felafel in the city, is frequently cited for being cranky and rude, as was Alessandro of Melampo's on Thompson St., maker of the best sandwiches ever. Alessandro went back to Italy, and his shop is now in the hands of his much nicer assistant.
Many of Ramsay's ideas were apparent in his restaurant: the wait staff was excellent, attentive, and the head waiter answered our questions about the food clearly and without the condescension you sometimes get in high end establishments. The actual restaurant has a retro feel to it, I'd say 1963 moderne, with a lot of glass and steel, and vinyl banquets. Despite a slightly sterile quality, I found it very pleasant to sit in it. Very nice bathrooms, by the way, always a plus. Ramsay's food was amazing, possibly some of the best I've ever eaten. Ramsay is not a mad scientist, experimenting with chemical frippery like Willy Dufresne, but a chef who believes in serving perfect versions of whatever he's cooking. Among the standouts, hand dived scallops, with an astonishing garnish made from cauliflower, pork belly, a fall off the bone lamb shoulder, a delicious carpaccio of tuna, a stunning risotto made with wood mushrooms, and an incredible dessert of molten chocolate fondant, paired with an almost savory pecan ice cream. My one critique is some of the dishes were a touch over salted, but I'm very sensitive to salt as a spice, so it may just be my palate. One thing I especially enjoyed was the waiters kept refilling our water glasses without us having to ask, something I appreciate as I drink a lot of water with my meal.
I see that Ramsay has gotten mixed reviews in NY, but I think this has to do with the fact that Ramsay is not an innovator, but someone who just prepares food in an excellent manner. Ramsay is from an older tradition of chefs, and NY foodies tend to gravitate to innovators, which is why I think Dufresne gets so much press. I haven't eaten at this place, so maybe his chemical experimets yield tasty food, but it's not a direction that appeals to me.
The after glow of the meal stayed with me for several days, and I was loathe to eat anything that might spoil the memory of the experience. I highly recomend Ramsay's restaurant, and the prices are not as insane as you might expect from an establishment of such high culinary standards.

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Taste of Tomatoes

I'm told by my mom that as a kid I wouldn't eat bland food, that food had to have a strong flavor. I don't remember much of my childhood, but I do recall that my one of my favorite things was a salad of tomatoes and onions in oil and vinegar, and that I used to sip vinegar as well. I'm still in love with savory tastes, though I'm not opposed to sugar either. One of the depressing effects of agribusiness has been the total draining of flavor from produce. Tomatoes are near tasteless, to the point that I had despaired of ever eating a good tomato again, except for the occasional positive crop of cherry tomatoes. But a few years ago, my mom bought some heirloom tomatoes at the local farmer's market, and I was amazed: here were real tomatoes, full of juice, texture, and actual flavor! They cost more, but there is no comparison between the crap in most supermarkets, and an heirloom. If you're like me, and love tomatoes, I strongly recomend treating yourself to heirlooms. They'll restore your faith in vegetables.
Other things I liked were shrimp and strawberries. Every summer I'd go to sleepaway camp, and on the day I got home, my mom would make me my favorite meal: Shrimps and rice in tomato sauce, and strawberries and cream for dessert. I had forgotten my love of strawberries, until recently, I was in Whole Foods, and they had a special on organic strawberries. So I bought a container, and almost finished it on the subway ride home. I used to love strawberry ice cream too, but my tastes shifted to coffee. I have a strange relationship to coffee: I don't drink it much, but I love everything else about coffeee: the smell, the flavor, the beans. But I'm not much of a coffee drinker. I'll drink coffee, but not on a regular basis. Of course, I had plenty of espresso in Italy, but that's a different story.

Bagels and Pizza

To be a New Yorker means you have cerain ideas imprinted on your brain, like NY is superior to LA, and NY has the best pizza and bagels. New Yorkers who travel are often heard complaining about the pizza in other regions. Well, this might have been true decades ago, but now, anyone with a palate has to have noticed that most NY pizza stinks, and that what passes for bagels no longer resembles what a bagel is. Although I believe there are still good pizza in the city, the best bagels I've had I had in London, At the end of Brick Lane, there are (this was years ago, maybe there gone now?) two 24 hour bagel places, spelled "beigel" in Old World style, and those joints served traditional hard water bagels, the kind that are non existent in NY at the moment. There was one old fashioned bagel place on 181st St., but it went out of business a while ago. I don't consider a huge roll with a hole in it a bagel. I do like Murray's bagels, and of the newer larger style, Ess-A-Bagels is okay. but I've yet to find anyone left who makes water bagels in the old sense of the word. By the way, the Brit bagel joinys served a bagel and lox (nobody called it lox, just smoked salmon) for 35p, the best bargain in London. I also ate in a deli in London, where I suffered from cognitive dissonace: the guys looked like Jews, yarmulkas and all, but they spoke with Cockney accents. I'm not used to Jews bringing me my corned beef sandwich, saying "Oi!" Brick Lane used to be very Jewish, now it's lined with Paki/Indian eateries, these two bagel places were hold outs of an older time, I guess.
PIzza you have to search for. When I was a kid, pizza was a 25 a slice. If somebody had told us that we'd be paying 2 bucks and change for a slice, we would've kicked him out of the joint. I'm not a historian of the downfall of pizza, but I believe the popularity of Ray's in Greenwich Village, with its over stuffed slices, heavy with cheese and toppings, marks a definite point of decline. The actual original Ray's, in Little Italy, is not bad, by the way. But most of those "Original Ray's" places are awful, most don't even use cheese anymore. I'm still fond of Ben's, which used to be on the corner of Bleecker and Father What'samacallit Square, and has since moved a few feet up 6th Avenue. I They make my favorite fresh mozzerella slice. Totonno's, in Coney Island or the Upper East Side, makes a good pie, though no slices can be had. Patsy's, down by the Brooklyn Bridge, is excellent, and DiFara's in Brooklyn (though I hear it's been closed for health violations). De Marco's, opened by relatives of DiFara's, on Houston is good, too, even though it's quality was hotly debated by foodies. I will say that they are inconsistent: sometimes the slice is excellent, sometimes just so-so. And I still like Steve's on Bleecker St., but again, not a slice place. And years ago, I was fond of this pizza place on the NY side of the SI Ferry Terminal, but this is pure perversity on my part: it was awful, there was something about it that appealed to the darker side of my nature. There's a soft spot in me for Stromboli's, too, on 1st Ave. and on Univ. Place. But I have to say that most pizza, if you walk around the city, stinks, and bears the same resemblance to food that cardboard does, except cardboard might have more taste.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Bayard Street

Bayard St. in Chinatown is one of my favorite streets, containing many of my fondest eateries. On the corner of Bowery & Bayard is NY Noodletown, home of some great soups and a great dish of baby pig, but you have to come early for the pig, it sells out quickly. I am a lover of pork, by the way, in all its manifestations, and the baby pork here is a delight. A little further down Bayard is New Green Bo, a place I love. I'm fond of their soup dumplings,the whole fish Szechuan style, and sizzling rice shrimp soup. Also, wonderful rice cakes with whatever. These rice cakes are not the flavorless dry things dieters force down their throats, but soft small cakes, delightful to the tongue, and full of flavor. Across from New Green Bo, we have Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, home of the delicious almond cookie flavor and if you're feeling perverse, how about Durian ice cream? Smells just like the fruit, by the way. Walking further down the street, we come to a small storefront, where excellent freshly made jerky can be had, beef or pork. Really good stuff, juicy and full of flavor. Next to this place is Shanghai Cuisine, which has some of my favorite sesame noodles, and makes the most fall off the bone pork shoulder you've ever eaten. Also, excellent soup dumplings. And the restaurant is slightly better, atmosphere wise, than New Green Bo, which has all the charm of a cheap greasy spoon. I usually don't care about atmosphere, but for those who care, Shanghai is a nicer place to sit.
Of course, there are many other cool places, but Bayard is a nice compact street with many of mine all in one small area.

Food and Sex

I joke with friends that food means more me to than sex, but it's really not a joke. It does. Given a choice between a meal of my favortie foods and sex, I think I'd always choose the meal, since a good meal is a guaranteed pleasure, and sex is not a guaranteed pleaure. Sex can be the most amazing experience, or the most horrible, but if I go to my favorite dumpling place, order a dish of Sesame wontons, I am guaranteed pleasure: it'll never disappoint. By the way, Plump Dumpling, on 11th Street, between 1st and 2nd, makes the best sesame wontons I've ever eaten. The Cantonese wontons are fresh, tasty, and the sauce is delicious. I strongly recommend a journey to this haven of the dumpling arts. The regular dumplings are good too, and the prices are cheap! They serve regular Chinese food too, but I can't resist the dumplings and wontons, so I've never moved beyond them on the menu.
I can also remember food firsts more than the first time I had intercourse. I know who it was I first fucked, but beyond that, no sense memory remains. I don't recall where I first had sex, if I came, or how it came to be, but I can recall the first time I ate real butter (in a hotel room, as a child, visiting a friend of my parents), the first time I had fresh fish (camping in Montauk, 1967), and the best pizza I ever ate (in Varazze, Italy). The reason I had never tasted butter was that even though both my parents cooked, my dad had high blood pressure, and back then doctors told you to eat margarine, believing it to be better. Turns out just the opposite is true, and I learned one of my first invaluable food lessons from that butter: Something real is always better than something fake. This is true of butter, sugar, breasts, whatever. The real thing is always more satisfying. The fresh fish was straight off a fishing boat: back then, fisherman in Montauk would bring their catch to the docks, and you could buy a fish or too right from them. Don't know if this is still true, but I'll never forget how amazed I was at the flavor of fresh fish over frozen. The pizza was served in this restaurant in Varazze, where I was travelling off season, along the Italain coast. We tried the restaurant because a sign mentioned a special of baby octopus in cream, but they didn't have it, and in fact, I never got to try it, because they never seemed to have it. I stll dream of tha octopus, as I am a huge fan of baby octopus. But the pizza was superb! Food has always imprinted itself on my braincells with sensual clarity, more so than almost any other activity I indulge in. It's just the way it is.

The Problem with the Food Network

I was tooking around Ed Levie's site (, and there was a long discussion group on who was your favorite Food Network personality. Of course, this meant the usual trashing of Rachel Ray. There's much to dislike about Ray, her unceasing chirpiness, her insane endorsement deals, but I can't quite hate her the way many do. First off, I suspect that the way she cooks is closer to how most Americans cook, and that she helps people in this respect. The same is true of Sandra Lee, who I do dislike. Any one who uses Cool Whip should be taken to the Town Square and killed. But I suspect she helps more people prepare meals, Cool Whip or no. It's interesting who isn't on the Food Network: no hispanic chefs, no Asians (Ming Tsai used to be on, but he's now on WNYC TV, along with Daisy Martinez, speaking of hispanics). Iron Chef (the original) is Asian, but of no help in learning about cuisine. No African American chefs either, though Al Roker does host a show about restaurants. I'm amazed that they didn't renew Mario Batali's show. Mario helped make the Food Network's rep, is he now considered too fat to be telegenic? Most people like Alton Brown, and I agree: his show Good Eats, is an excellent food show, teaching you food basics, food science, and a culinary history, all at once. I also like Tyler Florence's Food 911, even thought Florence is now shilling for Applebee's (why don't the Rachel Ray haters pick on this guy for that? I mean, Applebee's? Is that even a restaurant, in the undestood meaning of the word?). Too many Food Network shows seem pointless. They love those competitions where people race to make statues out of lard, rice krispies, and marshmallows. What is the fucking point? I feel about food art they way I do about ceramic art. A plate should be functional. If I can't eat off it, it's failed in it's primary duty. Food too: most of the food art looks inedible, and frankly, what is fondant? You could replaster your apartment with fondant. But then, I've never been a huge cake fan. I find frosting too sugary, & most over designed cakes look great but taste terrible. I ask you, how many people have enjoyed a wedding cake? My tastes lean more towards ice cream, creme brulee, and whipped cream. But that's me. If I got married, I'd rather have a selection of pastries than one huge inedible cake.
Another discussion of interest on Levine's site was about Frank Bruni's NY Times review of Katz's Deli. I have to say, Katz's is a second rate deli, and was never the equal of the 2nd Ave. Deli, whose closure was a massive culinary crime. When I first started going to Katz's, say in the late 1970's, Katz's was a cheaper alternative to 2nd Ave. Then if got sold, the prices went up, and the only reason to go there was erased. Am I going to go to K-Mart and pay Bloomingdale's prices? Of course not. What Katz's had it still has, which is the atmosphere of the place, and the knoblewurst, though overpriced, is good. The franks are good, but why am i gonna spend 5 bucks on a frank when Gray's Papaya is a bit over a dollar. It's a frank, not filet mignon, for chrissakes. The fries stink, and I hear people say they used to be good, but when was that? 1956? The fries have been limp and soggy for as long as I've eaten there. Rumours are swriling that Katz's may close too, which would be a shame, but not the crime that the closing of the 2nd Ave. Deli was. A friend also claims to have seen lots of vermin behind the counter, but if I feared that, I'd never eat in most of the places I do eat in. It's just one of the weird rules of food that the less clean the culture, the better the food. Or which would you rather eat: Chinese or Swedish? I don't notice any Scandinavian take out littering the city.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Let the Foraging Begin!

This will be a place for me to jot down some ideas about food and food culture in general. I'm very fond of food, and consider a good meal better than sex. There's a lot of nonsense and tomfoolery out there about food, and hopefully this place will be a blast of commonsense and clarity in a field strewn with quackery, crap, and double talk.

Guaranteed: No trans fats, no hydrolized proteins, no fake sugar. And no diets. By the way, I don't consider myself a "foodie." I'm a guy who likes to eat. Foodies often act like the guardians of a secret knowledge, ferreting out hidden eateries, weird delicacies, and obscure dishes. That's not my scene. I love food in the classic sense, not as post modern lab experiments, a la Willy Dufresne, but as cavemen around the fire, hunk o' meat basic eats sense. I'm as fond of Reese's peanut butter cups as I am of creme brulee, and I'm not snobbish about it. If I say the best gelato I've ever had was in Italy, that's not a hoity-toity assesment, but a simple statement of fact, and unfortunately true. I like food writing because it was one of the last bastions of a Manichean world view: the food is either worth it, or not. The dish is good, or not. But even now, this black & white clarity is fudged by post modern dithering: years ago, the food reviewer for the Voice would go to a restaurant, get bad service, and muse, "What does it mean to get good service, anyway?" And I thought, "Oh no! Not these crap here too!" You won't get any of that doubletalk from me.

Anyway, Bon appetit everybody! It