Monthly Archives: March 2006

I’m now jealous of people who work near Union Square.

It’s a low-down and dirty shame that Ennju isn’t close enough to my place of employ for me to eat there regularly.  Located on 17th Street between 5th Ave. and Union Square, it just barely (by an east-west block or two) is out of reasonable range for me to eat at regularly.  I say “regularly” because I ate there today, taking a slightly longer lunch than normal, and was quite impressed – Ennju (#34 on the Sietsema list) is a serious contender for best “fast” Japanese food in the city.

Walking into Ennju at lunchtime is like driving slowly through a strip mall parking lot – you barely have time to contemplate the sushi case, the soups, the buffet salad bar, or the bento specials before someone whisks up behind you laying on the proverbial horn.  Resist the urge to grab and go – stepping back and taking it all in is the only way to find the excellent bento boxes, combining a peanut-flavored diced chicken or salmon with egg and shaved green beans on a bed of rice.($6).

From the sushi case I picked the spicy tuna roll, which was $4.50, but plenty more complicated possibilities are available: three different kinds of dragon rolls, a “dancing” spicy tuna with salmon and avocado on the inside, and the spicy tuna on the outside, and a roll somewhat amusingly entitled “I Love Eel.”   Also in the rice+fish realm: rice balls packed with various things (I had cooked salmon in mine) and pre-wrapped for your transporting convenience.  At $1.50, not a bad deal.

Also looking quite interesting were the various platters that emerged from the rear – several kinds of teriyaki, tempura, and katsu were available, along with curry rice with or without a pork or chicken cutlet, a couple of gingered meat dishes, and something called “tofu steak.”  Hah?

I’d guess that the salad bar items vary day by day (though I have no evidence of this), but I had, in order of descending deliciousness, a cucumber-laden salad, a large piece of sweet-sauced chicken with onions, lotus root tempura, and a piece of cold vegetable pancake.  I’d probably skip the last two on a return visit, but I particularly liked the chicken.

The BEST things available at Ennju are the frozen desserts.  For $3, you can get a pretty huge cup of red bean, green tea, mango, or ginger ice cream.  My girlfriend had the red bean, which I’m happy to say was excellent.  Creamy with a slightly sweet flavor interrupted by the occasional bean, the ice cream was more delicious than we had anticipated.

I hit the real home run, though, with the Korean ice cream sandwich.  At $1.50, it’s a steal, even for this devotee of H.P. Hood’s summer treats: the slightly coffee-tasting ice cream with chocolate bits (it ends up being somewhat like cookies and cream) lies between two thin sponge cake layers.  It’s a real sandwich, on the thinnest Wonder-cake you’ve ever seen.  Too bad the summer ice cream trucks don’t sell these; I’d reconsider my hatred of their tinkling theme music.

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Schnäck never fails to please.

Reminded by a comment by Harry Hawk on my Corner Bistro entry, I realized that I have consistently forgotten to review the best burger I’ve had in my own neighborhood: Schnäck, Mr. Hawk’s  restaurant, serves a deliciously addictive patty in miniature, and, if they delivered up to Boerum Hill, I’d probably be fat as hell.

The original Schnäck is located, somewhat obscurely to non-Carroll Gardens residents, on Union Street between Hicks St. (the BQE) and Columbia St.  It’s a small place, but a friendly one, and it’s rare that I enter these days without seeing at least one family with small children teaching their kids the virtues of a good burger (and, subliminally, the value of Carling beer – one wall is covered in a giant advert for it).

My roommate and I were there for brunch a week or two ago, and, though the prices have seemingly gone up slightly, the quality has not declined.  Ordering fries will bring an enormous shareable basket of thinly cut goodness (try ‘em with the strange-looking hot sauce if you like, but they’re also perfect with ketchup).  The fries come out first – a brilliant innovation.

Between the two of us, we nuked the basket just in time to get our burgers.  I opted for two doubles with cheese, while my roommate made an attack on the gargantuan order of three doubles without cheese.  The burgers are crispy on the outside, pleasingly greasy, and mounted perfectly on a whole wheat mini-bun.  A variety of toppings are available, but none are really necessary – the burger is flavorful enough as-is.

To complete the caloric trifecta, I usually opt for a vanilla milkshake.  Made, for once, with real ice cream, and not big enough to induce a Jenny Craig visit, it’s the perfect complement to the burger and fries.  Lactose-intolerant or pre-gaming?  They have pitchers of beer, too, in a variety of price categories – the schwag isn’t awful, if I recall correctly.

I keep threatening to have my birthday party at Schnäck, either the original branch or the “Express” outpost at the Brooklyn Lyceum (4th Ave between Union and President).  Aside from the ability to accommodate a pack of hungry folks, and proximity to Columbia Street bars, I think my friends and I would set an all-time record for “most unhealthy birthday.”  Perfect!

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Diner’s corned beef serves well as St. Patrick’s substitute.

One of my friends, a film buff of Irish extraction, is predictably a St. Patrick’s Day enthusiast.  It stands to reason, of course, that we tried and failed to find space in a traditional Irish pub on Friday – the way the city fills up with miscreants of all stripes (I’m looking at you, Long Island, Westchester, and Jerz), it seems like it can’t possibly be fun for anyone, except maybe the guys wearing firefighter dress jackets (who, I presume, are indeed firefighters).

We were a little cheered by our success at finding a traditional Irish meal, however – corned beef and cabbage at the Lyric Diner (3rd Ave. at 22nd St.).  The $16 special was only advertised in the window and not by our somewhat annoyed waiter (we did take a while to make up our collective minds), but my friend and I agreed it was a fair imitation of the goodness that was likely being served next door at Molly Malone’s.  Including hunks of cabbage, strips of corned beef, and enormous skinned potatoes, the meal proved an excellent base for a late night of Guinness drinking for me, and a fine interim between afternoon and evening drinking from my friend.

The other four people at the table didn’t order the special, but expressed general satisfaction at their burgers and soup.  So I’m not sure if this qualifies as a recommendation, but if you need some corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day and don’t want to wait in line, Lyric Diner is a fine choice.

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Sandwich addiction threatens nascent food column: film at 11.

Occasionally, I go completely retarded and go to the same place for lunch ten times in three weeks – only if it’s really, really good, though.  My current obsession is, I’m happy to relate, Alidoro, on Sullivan between Prince and Spring.  Some of you may recall my initial mention in a Quick Bites column a few weeks ago – that blurb didn’t really do the place justice.  I’m not sure I’m the best person to actually do the place justice (one of the friends who introduced my girlfriend and I to the place has consistently offered to guest-review), but let me make the attempt, and hopefully I won’t then be the only one who gets embarrassed because he’s in there like three times a week.

The wall of Italian products, including my favorite cookies (the apple-filled ones – much better than it sounds, trust me) will attempt to distract, as will the movie posters which haven’t quite been wall-mounted yet.  Half the remaining area is taken up by a gelato cart and an espresso machine, neither of which is in use as of this writing.

You’ll have time to look at all this, though, once you’ve perused the extensive menu.  The sandwiches of Alidoro have names, and though the ingredients list isn’t all that diverse, you’ll need time to figure out which of the many combinations tickles your fancy.  I did a poor job of scanning the menu the first time and ended up with the Pinocchio ($10), which is a rather underwhelming combination of prosciutto, sopressata, mozzarella, sweet peppers, and olive pate.

Mind you, that sandwich wasn’t underwhelming because of the ingredients, but rather because the ingredients don’t fit together terribly well (yes, not all sandwiches are created equal – I’m looking at you, Dagwood Bumstead).  At Alidoro, I’ve only liked the olive pate, for example, on a sandwich featuring tuna – the special Capitano sandwich ($10.50) featured on a card taped to the front counter, which features a canned Sicilian tuna that will knock your socks off without using mayo, along with Italian baby onions, arugula, and he afore-mentioned olive pate, mozzarella, and sweet peppers.  The card also offers a version with prosciutto, which I think is totally messed up.

A better context in which to sample the prosciutto is in the Mischa ($9.50), which features that meat with provolone, hot peppers with a good balance of spice to flavor, and the ubiquitous arugula, which is always exceedingly fresh.  Did you know the British call arugula “rocket?”  They’re damn goofy, they are.  Another good introductory sandwich is the Fellini ($9.50), with hot peppers and arugula again, as well as sopressata and mozzarella.  Quite tasty.

I’ve still not cracked into the more exotic possibilities – a semi-soft Italian cheese known as Bel Paese, a caponata of eggplant, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, smoked mozzarella, salami, and smoked chicken breast await my whims, as well as sardines.  Sardines?  Hmm.

The last decision to make before ordering is between kinds of bread.  I’ve had better luck with two of the breads that cost extra: my favorite remains the semolina ($.50), which is crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, and has a strong flavor to match its outer dusting of sesame seeds.  Others may prefer the sfilatino ($1.50) bread, which is flour-dusted and quite chewy, if not as absorbent.  I’ve not yet tried the focaccia or tramezzino breads ($1 and $1.50, respectively) – the latter is frequently sold out, in fact.

I’m going to make a conscious effort to go to some of my other favorite sandwich places soon, for a little compare-contrast.  It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.  Suggestions are welcomed, either via e-mail or by comment.  For now, I’ll probably be sneaking off to Alidoro in a bit.  I’m an addict, what can I say?

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Mee = mysterious.

I was up on 54th Street hanging out again last night – not far from 9th Avenue’s multifaceted dining strip, happily.  At 9:15, my buddy stepped away from the Neumann and we stepped out to grab a bite.  After a few recommendations were parried about, we settled on Mee Noodle Shop, on the corner of 9th and 53rd Street.  I’m happy to say that, like the young Warren Sapp, the noodle shop handles itself with more aplomb than you’d expect from a place of its size and standing.

The menu is, by the way, as enormous as the shop is tiny.  There’s got to be at least 100 ways to order noodles in this shop, though neither of us availed ourselves of them.  No, I was feeling less like a noodle and more like a tofu cube, so I opted for the “Special Platter” category (what makes these special, I always wonder to myself) and its “mapo tofu w. meat sauce over rice.”

Now, the experienced Sichuan diner will realize that ordering mapo tofu can be a blow-your-head-off experience.  With this iteration, it was practically the exact opposite – the most danger I was in all evening was from eating tofu that hadn’t quite cooled enough yet.  Indeed, the sauce was admirably bland, with much of the flavor coming from the clusters of ground meat, reminding me more than slightly of a tomato-less Bolognese sauce.  The tofu itself was creamy, if not entirely bursting with the flavor of the sauce, and the rice was, of course, sticky.

My buddy’s mu shu pork was, we agreed, possessed of a pleasing seared flavor, but certainly was not burnt.  The pork itself was in narrow, inch-long strips – though he didn’t eat it in the traditional American-Chinese style (loading the pancake with hoisin and pork), one wouldn’t have a problem with a loaded pancake’s contents falling out with each bite.  The pancake, I should note, was pretty generic, and neither of us tried the hoisin.

When the check came, we had whatever the reverse of sticker shock is – two hungry dudes had just gorged themselves for $12.55.  My tofu was $4.55, incredibly.

I know I often slag places that can’t seem to find their spice rack, but for some reason, Mee Noodle Shop didn’t provoke that reaction in me, even before I realized just how cheap my meal was.  In fact, I’d gladly go back, even though I’m sort of scratching my head as to why.  Mee Noodle Shop – the ultimate in unaccountably pleasing blandness!  I really should go into advertising.

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Haters make me happy as a clam.

I’m fortunate enough to get linked to by Gawker occasionally – yesterday’s Blogorrhea being the most recent example (two cokeheads and a burger, coming right up!).  A Gawker link is a BIG DEAL to a small site such as this.  Obviously, I get a crapload more hits than usual (about 1,500 yesterday), and a lot of new people reading my reviews.  Unlike when, say, Yahoo! linked to me, most of Gawker’s readers are NYC-based, young, underemployed, and probably seriously embittered about all three.  These are generally the kind of readers I think would enjoy my blog the most anyway, so I’m really happy Jesse and/or Jessica keep featuring me.

You don’t get far on the internet, though, without the ever-popular backlash, and I’m proud to say that my backlash started yesterday, with my first comment-haters.  Actually, they were my first tip that Gawker had linked to me, because I usually figure that most of the people who read my blog on a regular basis actually LIKE it.  At any rate, it warmed my heart, so thanks for the memories.

I thought that couldn’t be beat, but, today, a quick stroll through my Site Meter’s “Referring URL” section (which tells me which website you, the reader, have arrived from) yielded the best-yet piece of hate-age, in article form.  If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, I’ll summarize: the burgers at Corner B are too lean to be any good, and, because of my high opinion of said burgers, I’m an idiot.

Folks, I’ve truly arrived – the long-form haters have spoken.  I could not possibly be any prouder right now.

(By the way, if you did read the entry and are confused – a good possibility, considering – Ron Popeil is an inventor of products sold on television.  No, I don’t know what the deal is, either.)

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Walking uphill on Smith Street leads to resto gone downhill.

My girlfriend puts up with some wackiness from me from time to time – for instance, when we leave the house without a destination in mind, I’m prone to wandering from restaurant to restaurant feeling dissatisfied with the posted menu.  Smith Street is probably the worst offender – wandering from Bergen Street southwards, I can consistently say, is one of the least satisfying potential-meal walks I know of.  Besides the excellent Boerum Hill Food Company, the slightly-expensive Bar Tabac, and the Dominican El Nuevo Cibao, there aren’t a lot of reasonably-priced places that ENTICE.

I can’t be the only one who’s noticed this.  In the past six months, a plethora of closings have occurred: Cholita (allegedly for health violations), Tabouleh, Village 247, and lately, Banania Café have all fallen under the axe.  I’d say that places like Rosemary Restaurant (is that the name?) and Union Smith Café are probably next, because they never seem to have anyone in them.

With Union Smith Café, I can probably see why.  Dining there last night was an experience that I’m not sure I’d repeat, and not just because of the food.  The hostess had a plastic-like fake smile and seemed to speak from between clenched teeth, and the waitress seemed totally nonplussed by our food choices, and seemed moderately insulted when we declined to order any of the $6.50 desserts, which she went out of her way to describe as “delicious,” in a rather strange instance of overselling.  I don’t know, maybe it was a bad night?  Not the way to promote a return visit, though.

Perhaps we should have taken her reticence as a warning, because neither of our pastas exceeded the Olive Garden’s quality level.  My orecchiette with pancetta and peas ($9.50) were swimming in a layering of cream sauce and what seemed like it ought to be pesto, based on the color.  Sadly, there was not enough flavor to determine its actual content.  The tiny chunks of pancetta offered a little fatty smokiness, but not enough.

My girlfriend’s gnocchi ($10.50) also came with two sauces, side-by-side: one red sauce, which I’d swear was canned, and one actually flavorful pesto.  The cloves of garlic we crunched into made us happy, but the soggy-ish gnocchi didn’t.

One perk of dining there on Tuesday – every bottle of wine was 50% off.  We opted for the a half-bottle of French white (sorry, wine fans – I forgot to note what it was, but it was the only half-bottle available), which ran us only $11.  I can see coming here with a big group of wine drinkers, I guess, but if the food’s no good, what’s the difference between drinking the bottles in a restaurant and drinking them at home?  The big table?  The onion focaccia that seemed on the border of stale, with an olive oil/balsamic dip featuring too-old vinegar?  I digress.

I’m kind of sorry I didn’t try the hamburger, because my girlfriend said it had gotten a good mark in someone’s book.  I doubt, though, whether it would have impressed me, having eaten Corner Bistro the night before.  

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