Monthly Archives: October 2005

Good Irish breakfast near Columbus Circle.

After a long weekend of partying (I think everyone and their brother had a party this weekend), I really needed some kind of hearty breakfast-brunch Sunday morning.  The situation was exacerbated by my lack of having eaten any kind of real dinner on Friday and Saturday nights – can you believe that I had a hot dog and a slice of pizza, respectively?  Um, not my favorite culinary weekend, the giant chocolatey haunted house at my girlfriend’s party notwithstanding.  Fortunately, I was meeting a friend of mine for a meal before going to his studio in Hell’s Kitchen, and there is good Irish breakfast to be had on 57th St. – the perfect remedy to a not-hugely-tasty weekend.

Of the two Irish bars/restaurants on W. 57th between 8th and 9th, D.J. Reynolds is the only one I’ve tried, mostly because it’s damn good and I felt no reason to mess with success.  The facilities don’t exactly scream “eat here,” though.  The interior is wood-paneled stuffiness personified, the clientele are fairly ancient, and there’s just one waitress who will, if the restaurant is more than half full, inform you taciturnly that your food “might take a while.”  Watch out for the overcoat-wearing old dude who’s probably smoking in the doorway – if you enter or exit the restaurant too vigorously, he might have a heart attack.

All this is worth braving for a breakfast that is large, delicious, and cheap.  $8 will buy you a plate with two eggs to order, two slices of English-style bacon, two sausages, two hunks of black pudding (which consists of pork and/or beef, blood, suet, barley, bread and oatmeal – kosher this breakfast ain’t), home fries, and a cheese-covered slice of stewed tomato.  Ah, yes, and purportedly this ensemble also comes with a choice from four or five breakfast bar drinks (good god, no!) and a basket of Irish soda bread, which was excellent the first time I ate here and failed to arrive the second time I came.  Probably the big group’s fault.  Coffee is, oddly, extra, and a bit on the expensive side, but they DO have heavy cream for you to put in it.

My dining partner unwisely eschewed the breakfast options in favor of the mediocre and overcooked “chopped” sirloin, which was really just a large hamburger.  It was topped, pleasingly and dryness-combatingly, with brown gravy and plenty of sautéed onions, and sided with a portion of the hated steak fry.  I think it was more expensive, too – $11?

Moral of the story – the breakfast is a steal, and D.J. Reynolds should be a destination for that meal, but watch out for everything else.

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Planetary pork chops with bountiful beans.

One food-related downside to the effects of ‘gentrification’ is that you never know whose conversation you’ll be forced to listen to while chowing down.  Take today’s example – while attempting to make a dent in my pork chops at La Taza De Oro (96 8th Av), I was regaled by a group of frat-ish fellows, one of whom was OH-SO-PROUD that he had played asshole that one time and refused to get up from his presidential chair to chunder.  The part that was really rude, particularly in a restaurant environment, was when he explained that his cohorts merely pulled him up a trash can.  Naturally, as he later related, his friends are the kind of people who would take to him with a magic marker after he passed out, and he was the kind of person who would chuckle and think it was great.  As for me, I’d like to slap his mother.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have turned around and told him off, because most of the rest of my trip to La Taza De Oro was much better.  Sietsema, whose list carries this restaurant at number 41, talked up the fried pork chop sided with beans ($7.75), and I ordered exactly that, with beans of the red variety.  As promised, the beans were perfect.  Stewed to the perfect consistency of soft, without disintegrating, these beans (served on a separate plate with rice, which was decent) were excellent.

As to the chops…yes, I said ‘chops.’  Because, a few minutes after I ordered, the plate arrived in front of me with TWO big bone-in pork rib chops.  I mean, I made a pretty good dent, but I’m sort of afflicted by the crust-eating fat mother’s aversion to letting food go to waste.  Even without the beans and rice (and several pieces of buttered bread), this could have fed two people.  As to the consistency of the pork, the fatty portions of the cut were the best – flavorful and juicy, with the fat cooked enough to be edible and have some texture.  The inner portion of the chop, which I believe is the tenderloin, was probably slightly overcooked, but still very good.  This ain’t no shake and bake, for sure.

The only other unfortunate part of the trip was that it took a good ten minutes to flag someone down to make the order.  This would have bothered me less had I not been trying to make an efficient, hour-long trip to Chelsea from Houston St. in the West Village.  La Taza De Oro – perhaps not the most efficient lunch counter I’ve ever encountered, nor the place to avoid brahs’ drinking stories, but they have damn good legumes served with a tasty chunk of meat for very little cash.  For that, I’ll brave the wilds of Chelsea again!


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Astorian Ambrosia

Readers who have canvassed my back posts will notice that I have thus far, save for mentioning the Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall, totally ignored the neighborhood of Astoria in favor if its slightly more exotic neighbor, Jackson Heights.  Believe me, this was unintentional – despite some initial mediocre experiences (culinary and otherwise), Astoria has grown on me during subsequent visits.

Combining my need to write about Astoria with my and my girlfriend’s cravings for Greek food (another thus-far untouched category), we decided to visit Philoxenia (26-18 23rd Av., Ditmars N/W) last night.  Philoxenia is the number 4 restaurant on the 2005 Sietsema list, which is both quite justified and somewhat confusing – the food is absolutely delicious, but the prices are more expensive than any other restaurant I’ve been to on his list, save perhaps Korean Temple Cuisine.

We started with a powerfully garlic version of Tadzhiki ($4.50), which I probably hadn’t had in spreadable form since leaving Germany three-plus years ago.  This olive-oil-infused version of the cucumbery classic was thicker than many versions I’ve had, not diluting the yogurt base in the least.  It was a good match with the buttery garlic bread that arrived on our table concurrently.

Our entrees were the beef stew special ($12.50) and the meatballs ($10.50), both sided with Philoxenia’s fresh cut French fries topped with parmesan.  The meatballs were exquisite.  I’m of the opinion that there’s no worse sensation in the beef world than the snap that previously-frozen meatballs make when bitten into; these large, football-shaped nuggets were to-die-for fresh and drenched in an oily red sauce that, had we said ‘yes’ to the friendly waitress’ asking us if we wanted more bread, would absolutely have received the sop-up treatment.

The beef stew was also good – the beef was cooked to retain both texture and flavor and was not at all mushy, but it was tender rather than tough.  Not much stew sauce was included, but what was there was mighty tasty.  The parmesan-and-oregano-topped fries included with it (we had a choice of fries or rice) were cooked to perfection from obviously-fresh potato sources, and they made a nice complement to the beef, but the parmesan and oregano didn’t offer as much flavor as I’d hoped.

We were absolutely stuffed after this feast, and hadn’t planned to eat dessert, but the very friendly waitress offered us something on the house, and I’m loath to turn down free food in good restaurants.  We hadn’t realized what was coming, though – put down in front of us was what looked like yogurt with golden raisins on steroids.  Indeed, it was yogurt, but of a particularly thick, pungent variety – I think it was goat milk yogurt, actually.  The “golden raisins” were actually golden grapes infused with honey, and the combined pungency of the yogurt and sweetness of the grapes led us to scarf the dish with no regard to our already sated appetites – was this the Ambrosia that the Olympian gods noshed on?  I’d order it again even if it wasn’t offered gratis.

Again, this meal was not what I’d consider extremely cheap, overall – both entrees were over ten bucks, and the five dollar appetizer was a bit on the expensive side for what it was, I thought.  However, I have not compared to other Greek restaurants – this one may be the cheapest of the lot.  Also, it was hugely tasty and the service was very friendly.  I’m thinking that one of my mantras should probably be, “If you’re going to overpay, make sure it’s damn good.”  Philoxenia, I’m happy to report, is damn good.

P.S. – for you wine drinkers out there, a glass of the house wine is only $2.50.  Make no mistake: this is house wine of the unaged and unsubtle variety, but the red (we didn’t try the white) has a pleasing fruitiness rather than an unappealing one, and the taste reminded me of table wines previously drunk at Greek restaurants across Europe.  The Greek and Cypriot beer isn’t too expensive, either.

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Himalayan that won’t make you yak.

On a recent, relatively dry evening, my girlfriend and I took another trip to Jackson Heights, with our target being the Himalayan Yak restaurant that I saw on our way back from Zabb on our last visit.  Himalayan food, you say?  The menu I grabbed declared it a Nepali (or is it Nepalese? – menu has both words, frustratingly), Tibetan, and Indian restaurant, which I suppose makes sense given that the two countries and Chinese territory more or less encompass the entire range of mountains (where’s the Bhutanese food…um, seriously?).

Sietsema had mentioned the place in his 2002 list of top Asian restaurants, but at the time, it was apparently called “Tibetan Yak.”  Would the addition of the advertised Nepali food knock the quality down a notch (the Indian that you and I are familiar with is really not in evidence)?  I wouldn’t know either way, given that this would be my first visit, and I don’t exactly have a lot of experience with Tibetan or Nepali food, with one Tibetan dinner in EV many moons ago, another in Berlin still further eons in the past and zippo Nepali food, to my knowledge.  Nonetheless, dearest readers, I was (and, indeed, always am) prepared to take on new cuisines of nearly any variety, without regard to my safety, and report the results to you (for example: durian – my recent sampling of bean cakes featuring that stinky “King of Fruit” reminded me that a sometimes-overefficient olfactory gland and food that smells like arse may frequently get along poorly).

So, my girlfriend and I claimed at table at Himalayan Yak (we were starving, by the way) and ordered up a storm.  For starters, we ordered La Phing, a cold spicy bean jelly with a garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce, from what I suppose is the Tibetan menu (unmarked) and the combination platter titled “Samayabajee” from the Nepali menu.  The La Phing ($4) was much like the almond tofu described yesterday in texture – more gelatinous than what we typically think of as tofu, despite its soybean origins.  (Quickly: when you read bean jelly, what bean did you think of?  If it was green beans, you’re on the same page as me – no matter how many bizarre implementations of soybeans I eat, my free-association for beans will always be green.  Thanks, mom.)  The garlic, vinegar and soy sauce made a delicious topping for what otherwise would have been a bland dish (the spicy was oversold, I think).  Sietsema liked it, but it’s probably not worth $4, in my estimation.

We were happy, though, to have something to cool us down when the Samayabajee ($6) arrived.  An excellent way to try several different Nepali appetizers, Samayabajee consists of chhwela (roast spicy morsels of what I think was lamb), achar (a diced potato, radish, and cucumber salad, with a spicy sauce), bhatmas (flattened dry rice), and the singularly titled “O,” which was a still-more-spicy lentil dish.  These were my favorite dishes of the night, despite the weird, parchment-paper-like texture of the bhatmas, and I would order them again in a heartbeat – they’re available separately, so I may be ordering two of the individual dishes next time.  But, again – save for the bhatmas, they’re all pretty spicy, so a mango lassi may be in order, if you can spare the $3.

Our mains were shapta ($11), a beef stir fry with garlic, ginger, green onions and chilis, and paytsel ($8), which was bok choy greens stir fried with beef.  Of the two, the paytsel was the clear winner – simultaneously spicier and more flavorful, the cabbage and beef went together nicely.  The shapta wasn’t bad, but it more or less seemed to me reminiscent and not particularly more unique than the Guangxi stir fry of several weeks prior.  A redder and spicier sauce, to be sure, but it didn’t contain a particularly unique flavoring.  It did come with one tingmo (Tibetan steamed roll, much like a Chinese steamed bun sans pork) instead of the advertised flatbread, which I thought was delicious and would certainly order again (a la carte, this is $1).

I’m sure many of you would like to know about the momo (Tibetan dumplings), but we didn’t order any and regretted it while watching nearly every other table receive their round, wooden steamer (is there a word for this?)  The problem is that they’re really expensive!  At $7 for steamed and $8 for fried for eight dumplings, I would certainly hope they’re really good.  Even without dumplings, the dinner we had was a bit on the expensive side for my taste, but it didn’t necessarily have to be (I blame the shapta).  My strategy for this restaurant will next time be thus: get a couple of the individual dishes from the Samayabajee platter, get the paytsel, and, if I’m dining with more than one other person, try some kind of dinner entrée from the Nepali menu.  If there’s a sauce to be sopped, I’ll get a tingmo or two.  I think you could keep the check near $10 a person this way, and at that price point, Himalayan Yak would be a delicious deal.


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Miso ramen at Rai Rai Ken.

Last night’s dank and dreary weather required an infusion of warm comfort food – this according to my girlfriend, who decided that we should go to Rai Rai Ken, on E. 10th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves.  Hey, I’m in no position to argue: ramen is one of the better dinners I can think of on a cold night, and after yesterday’s disappointing yet filling lunch, I definitely wanted something on the lighter side of excellent (no more greasy golden bags!).

Rai Rai Ken is significantly more homey and homely than most of the other NYC noodleries that I’ve been to recently; its wooden bar and cramped, low seating leave you looking up at the cooks and waitress as though they were the gods of the cooked noodle, yet you feel like you’re being served these noodles at a cleaner version of Doc Holliday’s.  Odd, yet strangely comforting.

Our first taste of Rai Rai Ken’s excellent cuisine came in the form of edamame ($2.75), those boiled and salted soybeans that are most often tasty but sometimes difficult to eat, and even sometimes too salty (ideally, I think, edamame should have the same saltiness as a good batch of fries – does this make me a charlatan?).  Fortunately, Rai Rai Ken’s beans didn’t disappoint – not too salty, not too bland, cooked so that the beans pop right out of their protective skins.  I’d probably skip them next time given that the ramen portions are so large.  We didn’t try the Gyoza, but our neighbor’s batch looked delicious despite being of questionable value (unless as a meal itself) at $4.60.

Our ramen came rather promptly – my girlfriend had ordered the Shoyu variety ($6.95), which is soy sauce-based; I tried the Miso ramen ($7.40), which, as the name implies, is based on the tofu soup known as Miso.  I was particularly excited to try the Miso, because it’s not offered at Minca, and I was not disappointed – the soup was loaded with toasted sesame seeds, bean sprouts, scallions, onions, cabbage, garlic and tender pulled-off-the-bone chicken.  With the addition of a little of the milder of the two red spicy powders on the bar, the flavor balance was quite good.  The egg-based noodles themselves were not overcooked but not particularly al dente.  Again, the portioning at Rai Rai Ken is LARGE, with lots of goodies contained within, so don’t expect this to be a particularly light meal.

I didn’t get chance to try the broth of the Shoyu ramen, but it included the typical accoutrements – bamboo shoots, half a boiled egg, spinach, dry seaweed, scallions, and a slice of the pink-doodled slimy mystery substance known as “fish cake.”  The pork was quite good, on the fatty side, but didn’t possess the mysterious ability to marinate to the point of dissolution quite like Minca’s does.

We washed down our soup (makes no sense, I agree) with a pot of green tea ($2) which seemed to go from under-brewed to over-brewed in a matter of seconds, but that’s probably my fault.  Still, a nice change of pace from the tea I drink several times a week in Chinese restaurants.

We skipped the almond tofu dessert in favor of a walk to Rice to Riches, but from my prior experience with it in a restaurant and at home, you can expect a sort of weirdly textured (like instant flan) gelatinous (though it contains no gelatin) thing that tastes very almond-like.  Much less subtle than your average nut, of course.  I like it, but you can buy five boxes of it at Hong Kong Supermarket for the price of one serving here ($1.85), so I’d skip it unless you couldn’t live without it.

Rai Rai Ken is a couple bucks cheaper on average than Minca (and is cheaper still than the nearby Momofuku).  What do you sacrifice by eating here instead of there and saving a few bucks?  Well, the noodles aren’t quite as good as Minca, and I’ve had varying reports of the quality of the Shoyu broth (my roommate didn’t like it at all when he went months back), but I liked my Miso just fine.  There’s room for a noodlery priced somewhere between Minca and Hong Kong Station, I think, and I’m glad Rai Rai Ken is tastily filling the niche.


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Hot and Crosti on a cold, wet evening.

Most of the Village Voice 2005 list has been a budgetary and culinary pleasure to pursue completing.  I wish I could say the same for the NY Metro list – they, apparently, have no idea that outer boroughs exist, save for the whiter, hipper enclaves of northwestern Queens and South Brooklyn.  For every gem like the Blue Ribbon Market, they’ve offered something like Fig and Olive (located at 62nd and Lex) that might well be cheap for the neighborhood, but hardly scores on a global scale, and probably isn’t worth a special trip.

Nonetheless, for the purposes of completism as well as other reasons (rain, girlfriend’s cowboy boots hurting her ankle, my random pasta craving), we popped into Fig and Olive last evening.  Immediately upon being seated (after, surprisingly, being asked if we had reservations), we were presented with a tasting array of olive oils with soft bread.  Unfortunately, I can’t for the life of me remember which the three were.  They were more or less on a sliding scale of fruitiness, and I ended up liking the least fruity of the bunch more, but I can’t tell you which it was.  Failing my duties as correspondent?  Mea culpa.  I can tell you that they were one each from France, Italy, and Spain, if I understood correctly.  No Portuguese oil?  My stepfather would protest.

I’m more able to describe in detail what our main entrees were, and they’re much more interesting to me, at any rate.  Mine was Penne Funghi Tartuffo, which was pasta with mushrooms dressed in truffle-infused olive oil, with a slab of melted parmesan on top, and dill floating around in the dish but not necessarily adding a large flavor component.  It hit the spot, but for $15…hmm.  Can’t I make this at home?  You know what, I KNOW I can make this at home.  That’s a potential problem with restaurants whose mantra is “simplicity,” I guess.  For six or eight bucks less, I’d worry about it less.

My girlfriend selected the crostini (sort of like bruschetta on steroids) tasting menu, wherein one can choose three crostis (ha!) from a menu of six.  She selected the “prosciutto, ricotta and tapenade fig & olive,”  “bresaola, goat cheese, and olive tapanade,” and “eggplant caviar with red bell pepper.”  Of the three, the bresaola was deemed the best.  (Bresaola is sort of a beef version of prosciutto – air dried, cured, and delicious, if you like this sort of thing.)  The flavorful meat complemented the pungent cheese and sweet tapenade (olive spread) nicely.

The prosciutto was deemed the first runner-up, though with much the same structure and merely a different meat and cheese (assuming, of course, that the tapenades are the same – lazy copy editing on the menu), I’d rather have two of the bresaola.  The eggplant caviar was a distant third – though certainly not bad, cold eggplant isn’t either of our most favorite textures to contemplate, and the caviar gave it a certain saltiness, though not much additional flavor.  The red peppers were nice, though – I realize it’s clichéd, but I’d have enjoyed these on a hero more than with the eggplant.

At $8.50 for the three crostini, we were satisfied with the portion and thought the food perfectly decent – this is probably the best bet for cheap dining here.  As with Blue Ribbon Market, however, you’ll need to decide whether you’re going to be satisfied with a sandwich (or 3 mini-sandwiches) that are missing their top piece of bread – unlike Blue Ribbon, though, the toppings were not uniformly excellent.

I say all this with kindness, however – there was nothing WRONG with Fig and Olive, per se.  I enjoyed what I ate, as did my girlfriend, and the service was excellent and attentive without being hovering, despite a busy early-evening restaurant.  But, for the price, actually worth it?  Ehh.

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Pad See Eeeww: Bad Thai on Bleecker.

I’ll go on record as saying I’m inherently skeptical of any non-Italian restaurant in the West Village, merely because of the homogeneous crowds they often serve, and their emphasis on atmosphere over food.  Unfortunately, today’s lunch choice, Isle (on Bleecker St. near 7th Av. South) is just one of those.  A garage-like atmosphere of tables pushed far too close together is tolerable when the food is excellent, but a waste of time and money when it isn’t.

I had wanted a change of pace today – perhaps to counter the weather outside that could best be described as “mediocre.”  I had eaten at Isle many moons ago and, while not deeming it particularly excellent, thought that it at least had possibility.  As the astute reader will have surmised, I’ve been pleased with both Zabb and Myrtle Thai recently, particularly the former, and would relish the chance to find a somewhat decent Thai spot close enough to work to walk to.

Well, I’m here to tell you that I was wrong about Isle being possibly good.  It isn’t.  I’ve had more personable Thai food at Kai Kai, the excremental steam table chain, and at least that was cheaper.  Today’s selection was my new standard gringo-Thai favorite (i.e., not spicy): the cashew nut stir fry with some kind of meat – today’s was chicken.  A blander (other than un-natural sweetness) Asian stir-fry sauce you will never find, and just as at Myrtle Thai, the cashews remained sadly un-roasted – this is absolutely critical to the dish, and it baffles me as to why nobody outside Queens seems to bother.  Also included are slices of onion, red pepper, green squash, carrots, celery(?!?) and, for “authenticity’s” sake, straw mushrooms.  Of course, floating around in the soup-like sauce, no flavors hung together.  It’s sloppy, sloppy cooking, and not much different than the King Wok or Buddha House on 7th Av. South.

The lunchtime combo also came with rice, which was more mushy than sticky, and something called “chicken fritters” – these are actually the Sietsema-lauded appetizer known at Myrtle Thai as “Golden Bags.”  Not as good as Myrtle, but I’ve not been really impressed by these yet (obviously I haven’t been to Fulton Thai to check on Sietsema’s winning bags yet – full report when I do).

Obviously, for $7.59, this is an OK deal on volume (though much of said volume is in the lousy sauce on the stir fry and the standard-issue-but-why-would-I-need-this-much pint of rice), but I can’t recommend this place at all on its food merits.  If you’re stuck in this neighborhood, go to Burger Joint, Abbondanza, or Blue Ribbon Market – I beg you.

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Mole, rice, and strong winds in Red Hook.

As I usually have brunch both days of the weekend, and usually relatively close to home, the number of available meals on the weekend in which to explore is pathetically few.  This weighed heavily on my mind Saturday night, and after spending most of the day doing things of no great consequence at Casa King, I and my roommate decided to explore on Sunday morning, weather permitting.  Our first target was Defonte’s, but after calling and not having the phone picked up, we settled on another Red Hook destination on the 2005 Voice list in El Huipil (116A Sullivan St. between Van Brunt and Conover – B61 bus to stop between King St. and Sullivan St.).

After missing the bus by about ten seconds and walking most of the way, we caught the B61 on Columbia St. and were pleasantly surprised to discover that card reader was broken and our ride down would be free.  I guess that’s a small consequence for those of us with monthly passes, right?  But I always wonder why certain busses don’t charge.  Broken readers?  Sympathetic bus drivers?  Some kind of additional silly refund from the MTA?

Anyway, the B61 efficiently whisked us from “Carroll Gardens West” (the Columbia Street strip – what to call it – Container Port Heights?) to Red Hook’s “main drag” – Van Brunt St.  I put main drag in quotes simply because Red Hook has one of the least-likely looking main drags anywhere in New York.  Hip bakeries, nouveau-diners, Cocoran Realty signs – and dilapidated buildings, cracked cement curbs with weeds growing through, and empty lots full of waste, rusting cars, and stray pets.  It’s like the bastard love child of rural Vermont and the West Village, with a pinch of Main Street, Afton, Wyoming – and this is the main drag!

Of course, El Huipil isn’t on the main drag.  It’s actually invisible from Van Brunt St. and, if you didn’t know there was a restaurant on the block, you’d be tempted not to go down it; the encrusting of the neighborhood only gets worse upon leaving the main areas.  Having confidence in our directions, as well as quite a few hours of daylight ahead, we located El Huipil and were, to our surprise, apparently the first customers of the day at just after noon.

After the staff turned on the lights, we discovered that quick service was one very tangible benefit of being the first folks in the restaurant – our entrees were practically under our noses before we’d had a chance to really lounge around.  And it was just as well – we were both very hungry!  My roommate had ordered eggs with cured beef (which I think was $6, but I’m going by memory for prices), with a side of rice ($1.50); I’d ordered the mole-drenched chicken enchiladas ($9).

As it turned out, the extra rice was probably unnecessary – his eggs came sided with rice and beans.  I know that, in most situations, one would sort of sigh and wonder why the waiter hadn’t warned us.  I’m convinced now that it’s because the rice there is good enough to warrant ordering extra – salty, flavorful and fresh, El Huipil’s rice was the biggest surprise of the day.  I’d go back just to eat it, and I don’t often say that about any kind of rice.

The beans were also excellent, as were the corn tortillas provided as a side for the eggs.  The grapefruit Jarritos ($1.50) he ordered tasted just like the Squirt made with real sugar (Clemens’ in Windsor Terrace sells Mexican Squirt in glass bottles).  On my side of the table, the chicken enchiladas were drenched in mole and covered (surprisingly) with lettuce and some kind of powdered cheese.  I devoured the lettuce first, taking care to swirl it around in the delicious mole, and tucked into my enchiladas after the greenery was gone.

The three enchiladas were as basic as it gets – moist pulled chicken rolled in corn tortillas.  No cheese-sludge to be found here!  The mole sauce is more than enough seasoning for the chicken and tortillas, though – somewhat spicy, savory, and thick, there’s nothing else quite like it in the world.  A great ‘brunch-time’ choice – how long will it take for some enterprising chef to figure out that the chocolate base of the sauce and the non-sweet flavoring make it the perfect pancake topping?  It would seem to be right up Superfine’s alley.

Anyway, I was so entranced in my own food that I forgot to taste my roommate’s eggs and beef, but he assured me they were delicious, and El Huipil’s breakfasts are served all day.  Again, I ask: why weren’t more people here?  Perhaps Red Hook’s brunchers are of a later-awakening sort.  

After eating, we adjourned to wander the piers of Red Hook, which, on this blustery fall day, were unbelievably beautiful in their states of decomposition.  Check out my roommate’s pictures of several of the buildings at his blog.  Nothing like a long walk along the shore at this time of year, and, hey – you’re making room for the coffee and inevitable cookie or slice of pie from the bakery that’s next to the B61 bus stop.  


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I heart Doner Kebap, and I’m not afraid to show it.

Thanks to blogger Abstract Dynamics for our newest connective link to the rumbling unconscious that is the internet.  I really don’t take these lightly, particularly when one considers that the link above mine belongs to an MIT professor.  Ay, papi!  Rarified company.  Thanks!

Generally I write about my most recent dining experiences.  I find that the details fade so quickly in my mind, and my enthusiasm has often drifted along to the next GREAT THING that I’ve discovered – key to getting my point across to you is to harness that enthusiasm into the article.  So I’m going to try and fake it this time, because I haven’t had either of my favorite Doner Kebap sandwiches since June of ’02, and I haven’t had one I could say I was happy with since this past April.

Let’s start with the basics: Doner Kebap is a Turkish fast food that has rapidly become more popular than hamburgers or sausages in the fast food segment of the German and Austrian diets.  Turks are the largest minority group in Germany, and Germans’ Doner obsession is, I think, the surest sign that their toehold in Germany is more than impermanent.

Doner Kebap is very similar to the schwarma that we all know and love from our local falafelries, but that’s about the closest comparison I can make.  Why?  Simply because, like schwarma, Doner Kebap is more of a category than a set item.  The meats vary wildly in type and quality, the sauces range from tadzhiki-style yogurt, to a conventional chile sauce, to what looks like spicy Thousand Island dressing, and the breads?  Could range from dry pita to fluffy flatbread.  Intrigued yet?

Not surprisingly, the best two Doners I’ve ever had were about as different as could be.  Very surprisingly, they were not in Berlin, which has among the biggest Turkish populations in Germany – indeed, they weren’t even in Germany but the southern provincial capital of Graz, Austria.  “Graz, Austria?”  I can hear you scratching your heads, “But I’ll never go there!”  I realize that it’s not exactly a tourist destination but, culinarily speaking, it is a land of many unique things that I’ll be writing articles about at some point.

Anyway, about the Doner – there’s always a Doner stand by train stations in Germany and Austria, much like McDonald’s surgically attaches itself to any port of entry and exit in the US (why, oh why, can’t we get decent airport food?).  But the unique thing about Euro-Kebap in Graz (on Bahnhofguertel across from the train station) was that, unlike most train station fast food, this one was actually GOOD.

I believe Euro-Kebap was chicken-based.  I say this not because I’ve forgotten, but because I’m never sure with the kind of mystery-meat kebap that Euro used.  The meat was perfectly cooked, though – the huge pre-cooked layered skewer was shimmering with grease, and these guys move enough meat in a day that they can turn up their rotisseries to a much higher temperature than your average place in America (they also don’t save the meat overnight, kids – can you believe it?).  The bread was pita style, which is fine except when the grease and sauce soak through and get everywhere (though that was kind of part of the fun).

As always, with Doner, you can order “alles” and receive lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, or indicate which toppings do or don’t tickle your fancy.  Requesting “scharf” (spicy) in this case defines your choice of sauce – the orange spicy sauce in lieu of the afore-mentioned white sauce, which is a little less tadzhiki-ish here by virtue of its thickness.

However, I believe the pinnacle of the sandwich will always be defined by the best bread, and, unfortunately, Euro-Kebap’s pita does not live up to the round Turkish bread of my other favorite place, which unfortunately I can’t recall the name of.  I’m going to dub it “Family Kebap,” because it’s run by a father and son who are very friendly and, if I recall correctly, speak excellent English.  (I’d love to go back and grill them about where they’re from and all, now that I’ve got this gig.)  I do know that you can get there by taking any Strassenbahn to Jakominiplatz and walking southwest on Reitschulgasse – it should be on the left-hand side before you get to Dietrichsteinplatz.

Back to the bread – it’s called pide, and it was pointed out to me by this website that it is sort of reminiscent of Italian Focaccia.  Good call!  I would call it slightly less tough than Focaccia – it’s doughier in consistency, which aids in the soaking up of the meat juices and sauce.

Speaking of meat, Family’s Doner is lamb-based, which means an even bigger monster of a meat-on-a-stick from which your very tasty meat is carved.  The texture and look of the meat on the skewer is sort of like the Doner Kebap place on MacDougal, except that it’s not rancid.  The sauce is your usual white sauce, and if you order it “scharf,” you’ll get a generous sprinkling of some pretty hot dried chiles (looks like your neighborhood pizza’s spice topping, tastes much better).

So, better meat, better bread, not as good sauce – Family Kebap was definitely my favorite, but my friends all liked Euro-Kebap better.  What’s a brother to do?  Well, I ate a hell of a lot of both of them, as well as at a couple different places in Berlin that served good but not great versions.  Never did I pay more than 3.50 for one, and this was back when the Euro was way under the dollar in value.  The Doner Kebap was far and away the best food deal of my entire trip to Europe and that includes the late night chips, cheese, and beans extravaganza that I had at Oxford.  Dynamite!

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Guangxi house specialties.

Last night’s solo food excursion was to be low-key – needed to eat, go home, get clothes, and return uptown to my girlfriend’s apartment for pie and baseball.  So it was probably a good thing that I chose to go to Original Guilin Noodle, located at 118 Madison Street, though it didn’t appear that way at first.  

Madison Street, if you haven’t been there, is for many blocks the border between small-building Chinatown/LES and the projects on the East River that you can see from the Manhattan Bridge.  Things are fairly low-key down there, which is probably why the hole in the wall whose menu declared “Original Guilin Noodle” had a sign outside that said something like “Sun Lin Restaurant.”  Sietsema hadn’t mentioned the dual nomenclature in his Best of 2005 list, from where this restaurant came, so I’m glad I didn’t give up too easily and try to find a backup eatery.

The reason for Sietsema’s mention of this place is that it features the most obscure Chinese regional cuisine yet to reach New York – the food of Guangxi, a region near the Vietnam border.  It’s really intriguing to me that there are so many (up to 8, depending on whom you ask) different styles of Chinese cooking – can you imagine a culinary trip to China, touring the country and eating in the best restaurants in every region?  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.  I’m going to try and do something similar within the NYC border, in lieu of a Chinese jaunt any time soon.

Once in and seated at one of three tables in this fairly dilapidated place, I was handed a takeout menu, and I started to inspect the Sietsema-recommended house specialties.  The owner/waiter/chef opened the menu to the mail page which featured an array of American Chinese dishes that I was certainly not interested in, so I pointed back to the house specialties and asked if they were available (I always wonder, walking into an empty restaurant, whether they’re closed or on limited menu).  The owner was seemingly surprised, and indicated that they were indeed available.  I selected the first entrée on the list, listed as “Alomatic Beef with Wild Pepper.”  I assume that was a misspelled version of “aromatic,” but I’m still not sure why that was an apt title for the dish.

What arrived at my table roughly six minutes later (I watched the man cook, which was fun) was a fantastic stir fry of beef, cauliflower, at least two kinds of fresh peppers (one was red and green, not sure if that was the primary source of spice – it looked like there were some smaller, spicier ones), something that seemed almost like a cucumber but was crunchier, tiny onions, mushrooms that looked like they were out of a cartoon, snow peas, and a black bean sauce.  It was accompanied by a bowl of white rice perhaps a bit on the dry side, but very serviceable.  The ensemble was spicy, but not in the way that Sichuan cooking is spicy – the spice was totally contained in the peppers and their seeds.  

As I got up to leave after inhaling the beef and every last bit of pepper and weird mushroom, the proprietor looked very pleased that I had obviously enjoyed his handiwork.  “You should try my soup,” he said.  “Next time, I will, definitely.”  “When’s next time…tomorrow?”  “Maybe.”  And I was serious – even if it’s not tonight, it will be soon, because I can’t wait to have that guy cooking up a storm for me.


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