Monthly Archives: April 2006

Not the best wurst.

You expect great things from a place that has a sandwich called “sausage heaven,” even if it’s insecure enough to trumpet the length of its staple specialties on its menu (WTF?).   But, is Mandler’s, on 17th near Broadway, really great as great as it thinks, or just the most obvious choice in a category of questionable depth?

These questions are important to me, as a former resident of the German-speaking portions of Europe – the Germans and Austrians, at least, take their sausages quite seriously, and it’s a rare town of decent size that lacks a late-night trailer flogging all kinds of sausages – between wurst and doner kebap, it’s a veritable paradise of greasy inebriation.

That said, I’m not sure Mandler’s would satisfy the average German, and there are a few reasons why, but the most obvious is egregious: no good senf!  Senf is the German word for mustard, and while Mandler’s most assuredly has plenty of mustard, they lack the kind of senf that is a staple accompaniment to each and every sausage served in Germany and Austria.  Germans and Austrians, as far as I’m aware, do not fool around with things like honey or maple mustards, and to have no plain variety available is unconscionable bordering on T.G.I. Fridays-ish.  While the “three peppercorn” Dijon mustard is the closest and least-strangely adulterated of the bunch, it ain’t exactly right.

(A quick aside: This link will bring you to a German mustard manufacturer’s page – if you don’t read German, the varieties are, from the left, horseradish-infused (new and probably ill-fated), medium spicy, Munich sweet-hot, chili-pepper, with herbs, Bavarian “home-style,” a weisswurst-specific flavor, and a kids’ mustard made with ground-up Smurf.  Note that I don’t recall seeing ANY of these except the medium spicy variety at any sausage stand.  And, yes, they do buy their mustard in toothpaste tubes.  Wacky.)

Compared to that, the other problems are less aggravating.  Sausages at Mandler’s are served sandwich-style, instead of with the roll on the side, but I feel like this is an acceptable concession to American tastes, in every case but one: Bockwurst ($5), frequently called “weisswurst” in Germany after its pale color, and usually served boiled or simmered rather than grilled, should never be eaten in sandwich form as a whole sausage, as you’re not supposed to eat the casing.  Pretend it’s a vanilla bean, cut it lengthwise and scrape out the innards.

I guess I should say something nice.  I’ve had their krainer (also $5) before, and I recall it being fine.  Of course, my favorite krainer is the Graz specialty kaesekrainer, in which the sausage is somehow infused with small pockets of cheese, to the tune of 10 to 20 percent of its total volume.  Of course, I can hear about 80 percent of you cringing at the thought of a cheese sausage, so perhaps it’s best that I remind you of how drunk I usually was when ordering one.  As far as you know.

The sausage of your choice, by the way, will be served to you on white, whole wheat, onion, multigrain, or pita, with a choice of sauerkraut or onions and mushrooms atop.  The whole wheat bread is about Subway-quality, for what it’s worth, but I haven’t tried the other kinds.  If you order a pita, by the way, consider yourself a total failure.

So, is Mandler’s actually sausage heaven?  It strikes me as more like purgatory, but I’m not sure what’s better out there.  Any ideas?

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Caldo gallego en fuego.

Today, I give away my latest lunch secret: Café Español’s caldo gallego.  Café Español, a rather doughty old-timer near the corner of Carmine and Varick, is one of the last remaining Iberian outposts in the West Village.  While the nabe’s Italian outposts have become touristed to the point that the area around Father Demo Square could also carry a “Little Italy” moniker, the Portuguese and Spanish influences have largely faded – even the stalwart little store that carried dried salt cod and excellent bread (on Bleecker just north of Carmine) has been replaced by half of a chain pizzeria.

This is not to say that Café Español is so excellent that we should surround it with barbed wire and pray (see #33), but there is worthiness there to be found, specifically in its excellent Galician bean soup.  Frequently encountered in Dominican restaurants (many Dominicans claim Galician heritage, apparently), Café Español offers the chance to sample the increasingly rare mainland edition, at a bargain price – for takeout, roughly a half liter of the soup costs $4.25, including a substantial portion of fresh bread.

A wondrous soup it is, indeed – filled with slightly bitter greens (traditionally kale, it may well have been replaced by collard greens in this recipe), white beans stewed to perfection, chunks of tasty chorizo, and potatoes, finishing the entire portion is likely to fill you up.  Yet the soup is not watery – the broth carries a robust and harmonious synthesis of  the component flavors.

I’m not so enamored with the rest of the menu.  I tried the lunch special veal Extremeña ($9), and what I got was a skillet full of onions, peppers, and sausage, with a bit of veal thrown in – not bad, but certainly not exciting, and pairing it with string beans and rice certainly doesn’t do anything to change that.

Strangely, or perhaps reflecting the difficulty of staying in business as a purely Spanish restaurant, Café Español features a rather extensive selection of Mexican foods.  I have not tried them, and most likely I never will, but it’s kind of funny to consider that chips and salsa appear to be the nosh of choice at the bar.

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Ye olde hipstere burgere stande.

A friend’s final performance with his band was the excuse to go out last night, but as I was munching on a hamburger, I was more consumed with thinking about how much time I spent in the Bermuda Triangle that is the Rivington/Ludlow/Stanton area in late 2003/early 2004.  It really used to be my go-to area for going out, like it is now for endless hordes of who look to me like college-age kids.  The eternal debate, of course: was I really that much of a turd, or was it just a lot cooler in the area back then?  Don’t answer that, actually.  (Instead, ponder the L.E.S’s future as the new U.E.S., and read about the burger.)

More often than not, back in those less healthy days, a drunken meal was the last stop in an evening, and one of the more popular spots for a nightcap grease bomb was Rush Hour – between Rivington and Stanton on Ludlow.  Rush Hour, rather perversely, acknowledges its primacy among drunken eaters on its menu, with the grammatically-challenged promises, “You drunk, we deliver!” and “We’re your 1 stop munchies cure!”  Needless to say, I haven’t been back for quite a while.  Would the burgers compare to my hazy, inebriated memories?

I’m happy to say that the English burger ($6) I had was satisfying, though it was not excellent.  Relatively traditional among the array of “Burgers of the World” listed on the menu, the English featured a honey Dijon mustard, cheddar cheese, and pickles.  All of Rush Hour’s burgers come mounted on a sweet bun, with optional lettuce and tomatoes.  Happily, the tomatoes last night were fresh – tomato snobs need not fear.

I’m not sure every burger on the list would be as good.  I can recall being disappointed with the Argentinean burger (featuring homemade Chimichurri) even while drunk, and I’m just not sure anyone needs to serve the Red Robin-ish “Paul’s Burger” with pineapple and Swiss – not even Paul.

I didn’t try the fries ($2).  Sacrilege, I know, but, for me, this burger was big enough for a late dinner all on its own.  One guy who came in after me, a dead ringer for Iggy Pop, didn’t agree – he ordered a burger, fries, and strawberry banana smoothie, and managed to spend $15 in the process.  $15 for a meal at a fast food stand?  Welcome to the Lower East Side…

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1,000 pardons.

I’m taking a day or two off.  I apologize for the lack of content on Friday as well.  I hope to be back with you all at midweek.

Mike

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Tia Pol’s pleasant petite plates.

Tia Pol, unlike most of the restaurants in this space, is THE HOTNESS right now. Seriously – two days ago, Erin of No Parachute waited 90 minutes for a table from 8:30, and I was expecting more of the same when my girlfriend and I arrived at about 8:00 yesterday evening.

I don’t know whether we were just lucky, or what, but we were seated in ten minutes.

(Erin’s response: “Damn you! TEN MINUTES! arghghghghg.”)

Yes, ten minutes. By the time we left, of course, it was packed. The early bird might not get the worm at the bottom of the mezcal bottle, but they also won’t get totally wasted at the bar while waiting for one of the tables to clear out (does this sentence make any sense?). The place is on the small side, and most tables seem to sit small quantities of people, so don’t bring a busload of tourists by to try the peppers. Small tangent, sorry – what was I saying?

Ah, yes. Tia Pol’s culinary charms. A lovely visual representation of some of the things we ate is here. Especially notice the “suckling pig with sherry and honey,” which was the budget-buster of the evening. At $28, it was quite similar to Uncle Bino’s pig knuckle, though, as it wasn’t a knuckle, it contained more meat. The skin was a bit more visually appealing, though, if unfortunately a little fattier and less flavorful. (By the way, I just remembered that I never reviewed Uncle Bino’s. That will need to be rectified.)

Without the $30 worth of pig and $12 worth of salt cod carpaccio (which may have been confused on preparation with the regular salt cod dish, but I’m pretty sure we paid for the more expensive of the two), the meal would have been a pretty good bargain (the cod was good, seemingly whipped with potatoes, but not THAT good). For example, my girlfriend’s favorite dish, which included chorizo and bittersweet chocolate mounted on bread, was available in a small portion for $3.50. Other dishes ranged between that figure and $11: the excellent squid in ink, for example, in which the inky sauce tasted faintly of brine and/or fresh clam chowder. It came with a bunker-shaped portion of rice which seemed to me to be a little sour.

We also liked the tortilla Espanola, which, after first sampling it in Rothenburg o.d. Tauber at a Goethe Institut cooking party* as prepared by a Spanish fellow student, has rapidly become a regular order of mine. Always appealingly bland in comparison to some of the more wildly flavored or textured tapas dishes (squid ink, party of two), the potato-y quiche can be relied upon to sate any picky eaters in the group. For the two of us, obviously, that wasn’t a problem, but it still was a nice dish.

My favorite, and of course the “buzz” dish of the restaurant, was the braised pepper assemblage. More or less explained in this entry on Gothamist, we found the peppers to be as addictive as any appetizer or early table arrival we’ve tasted in recent months. Depending on how deeply on the pepper you choose to bite, and how many seeds are left, you can get quite a jolt from inhaling one of these suckers.

At any rate, Tia Pol was a nice splurge. Was it genuinely “cheap,” as it was offered on the NY Metro “cheap” list that I’m theoretically also trying to complete? I suppose so, if you’re judicious about what you order. It’s certainly not a place, though, where the eater on a budget can have free reign of the menu – cheapskates beware.

*By the way, and I realize nobody cares about this but me: In researching links for my first experience with tortilla, I discovered that the Rothenburg o.d.T Goethe Institut branch closed at the end of 2005 (along with, I believe, the one in Prien). I had some of my best times in Rothenburg, and not just at Mario’s bar (the original location of which, outside the city wall, must surely now also be closed). Unlike the Berlin branch, where I started my studies away in January 2002, the Rothenburg branch had a real community of returning and new students – many came back on a yearly basis to see old friends, and the facility had an excellent faculty of both guests and full-time instructors.

The cooking parties mentioned above, in particular, were an original Rothenburg tradition, and I was led to believe few other branches had the facilities to offer them (Berlin certainly didn’t). The first month I was there, I attempted to cook the Austrian dessert specialty Kaiserschmarrn, to limited success, but even my pale attempt was greeted with accolades by my fellow students and instructor (who really couldn’t believe that, as an American, I was attempting to cook an Austrian dish).

I’ve lost track with my friends from this time period, but I guess I should e-mail some of them and see what they’re up to. Unless the second place down on this list is run by the Mario I know, it appears a reunion in some summer month for a few drinks at Mario’s is out of the question (though it seems likely it’s him, particularly given the plug for the friendly proprietor, as he’s a very nice man, and actually quite a story in his own right.) In the meantime, I’ll be waxing nostalgic for July and August of 2002 – a great, great time in my life.

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Cafe Istanbul fortifies us for a LONG walk.

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, my girlfriend and I made our way to Sheepshead Bay, for what we thought was to be an interim stop on the way to an afternoon of sun on Manhattan or Brighton Beach.  Our destination was Café Istanbul, on Emmons Avenue.  Though we didn’t try the meats, I’m happy to report that the dishes we DID try were lovely.

As we had no desire to consume skewer after skewer of meat and then roast in the sun (too much like human-turducken, I guess), we kept our lunch light – fortunately, Sietsema’s most recent guidebook pointed us in the direction of some lovely appetizers, to which we added our own choices.  In this manner, one could easily assemble a cheap but flavorful lunch, especially if you charm your waitress into keeping your bread basket full.

Sietsema’s suggestions were actually for the nearby Bay Shish Kebab restaurant – his entry for Café Istanbul, despite the higher rating, was somewhat lacking in detail.  Fortunately, we were clued in on the hard-to-find eggplant delight that is Soslu Patlican ($4), which presents the aubergine in a gently spiced red sauce with tomatoes, garlic, onions, and green peppers.  It tastes almost Italian, and will go perfectly with the freshly baked pide bread that accompanies it to your table.

Also worthy of note were a pungent and spicy Acili Ezme ($5.50), which presents finely-diced onions, tomatoes, peppers and walnuts doused with herbs and pomegranate juice.  It’ll make you pucker up at the same time it burns – quite a lovely pairing of taste sensations.

I also enjoyed the Cacik ($4), which was basically a yogurt dip with chopped cucumbers, garlic, and “mint,” though I think they actually put dill in it instead.  My girlfriend made fun of me as I spooned it into my mouth, since it looked so much like I was eating Frito-Lay dip right from the can, but the waitress couldn’t keep the bread coming out fast enough for us.

I’d probably skip the hummus ($4) next time – it was virtually tahini-free, and its only accoutrement was a splash of some kind of red oil of mysterious origin.  I might also skip the mini-lahmajin pizzas (I forget what the name is on the menu, and they’re not on the take-out menu, but they’re in the $6 range), given that, by the time they arrived (three of them), we were pretty much too full to eat them.

The staff was also worthy of praise, besides totally spacing the bread delivery – our waitress was very friendly, and took the time to chat up my girlfriend while I was in the WC.  She claimed that the meats at Café Istanbul are the best in town, which certainly piqued my interest in a return visit.

I think our post-lunch activity qualifies for some kind of award, though.  After strolling all the way down Emmons Ave (past the original Roll-N-Roaster), we were suckered into the Shore Parkway bike/pedestrian path.  A little way into the walk, we paused at a rest area attached to a lovely strip of beach, and I caught a glimpse of the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge in the distance.

Three and a half hours and seven and a half miles later, we strolled into the Bay 116th Street station in Rockaway Park to catch a train back to civilization.  I’m not kidding – with only the lunch stop and pauses at the Shore Parkway rest stop and Neponsit Malls, we walked a total of eight and a half miles.

The lesson, of course: I’m out of my fucking mind.

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How romantic!

Have you ever considered the ramifications of the food you order on dates? I know many people consider kissability and perceived health factors when ordering, say, the side salad with a lemon wedge. Obviously I don’t give a hoot – my girlfriend is still recovering from me ordering the tuna and egg salad combo sandwich from Eisenberg’s on date three.

In this vein, No Parachute, a chowhound after my own heart (disease), demonstrates nerves of steel, ordering lardo pizza and carbonara on a first date.

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