Monthly Archives: July 2006

Hero of the World Cup.

Walter is really outdoing himself: the latest sandwich to feature my new favorite pork product combines the top-of-the-line cooked ham with cannellini beans, white truffle oil, and arugula, and is called the Buffon. While Walter may insist that it’s a coincidence (apparently it means “clown” or “fool” in Italian), it is named after yet another Azzurri player.

Yes, indeed, you read correctly: white truffle oil and beans on a sandwich. Again, I must insist: get down there and get one.

1 Comment

Filed under NYC

Spicy Saturday night.

Nothing really new to report today other than a Saturday night trip to Flushing for Spicy & Tasty with Sophmoricles and my roommate.  I have to say that the cold shredded chicken with spicy sauce appetizer remains god’s gift to those who like their food to promote endorphin release, and we ordered two plates of it this time (they were out of dan-dan noodles, unfortunately).  I’d go to S&T just for that – Grand Sichuan’s version will do in a pinch, but it’s not nearly as good.

The other stuff we ordered was great, too.  I’ve never had more perfectly-cooked eggplant in my life than the eggplant with garlic sauce; it was better, even, than on previous visits.  I also seem to always order the same hot shredded pork dish that I ordered on my first visit, but I think I’m due for a change, as the shredded chicken’s array of flavoring now seems to make it seem one-dimensional.  Anyone have any suggestions?

Interestingly, we ate in the restaurant’s upstairs room, where most of the tables have six or more seats (though it was emptying out by the time we got there, at about 9:30).  There are two private rooms as well – sounds like my kind of place to have a banquet.

Music of the day: The Move – Message From The Country.

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

Forza Azzurri?

I’m not asking, I’m telling: get yo’ ass to Alidoro soonest and order the limited special sandwich Materazzi, or anything Walter will make you that features the Gran Biscotto prosciutto cotto – the melt-in-your-mouthiest ham product I’ve ever tasted, without peer.  It has a subtle, fine flavor and the perfect amount of saltiness and grease.

Walter cut me a piece to taste and I nearly started dancing right in the store.  The sandwich, which adds arugula and hot peppers to the ham and bread of your choice, is excellent.  (No truth to the rumor that it called the Zidane sandwich’s mom a dirty Boar’s Head boiled ham, by the way.)  Go now!

1 Comment

Filed under NYC

Fatburger vs. Thinburger.

I dig White Castle ‘cuz it’s the best, but I’m fly at Fatburger when I’m way out west.
– Horowitz/Diamond/Yauch

Unlike 1986, we now need not split best burger categories between coasts when comparing the mighty Fatburger with White Castle’s slyders; both are available within the Jersey City limits.  At one end of town, at the corner of Newark Avenue and JFK Boulevard, lies an outpost of the ancient and estimable White Castle.  At the other, in an area that reminds me of California’s wide-boulevarded corporate developments, is Fatburger.  Having tried neither until this week, I was unprepared for the vehemence and polarity of my reactions, and it’s safe to say that one of them is now one of my favorites, while the other disappointed.

Fatburger certainly has an advantage in the atmosphere department.  With a jukebox that plays soul, R&B, rock and oldies, as well as a friendly counter staff and actual table bus service(!), Fatburger is a lovely place to eat.  I grabbed a table and marveled at how odd it was to see crumbling Brooklyn-style co-ops (projects?) across the street from a garden-fronted corporate headquarters (reminded me of East Berlin’s Mitte).

Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed the food as much as I was expecting.  Fatburger uses what they claim is extremely lean ground beef – unfortunately, health fanatics, this ends up robbing it of its greasy potential, making it too dry, though an attempt is made to gussy it up a bit by loading it with condiments (an egg would help).  I can’t say that the fries, which are available in “fat” (steak cut) and “skinny” varieties were much better – my skinny fries ended up tasting a bit like the famously revised Burger King spuds, and they were disturbingly salt-free.  The burger and fries are available separately, or in combos – my Kingburger combo, featuring the larger of the two available burger sizes, came out to approximately $8.75.

I didn’t give White Castle quite the same rundown, as I but briefly stopped in on the way back to the PATH from yesterday’s dosa run.  Feeling none too hungry, I ordered one slyder with cheese and forked over my 71 cents (with tax) to the bemused counterperson.  Noshing while walking, I admired the super-skinny meat, the chopped sautéed onions, and the perfect squirt of ketchup and pickle that reminded me a bit of a plain McDonald’s hamburger.  The cheese wasn’t exactly melted when I dug in, but it was no matter: the greasy, salty miniature possessed the perfect ratio of condiments to meat to bun, and I scarfed it down in a matter of bites.

I guess I didn’t have the definitive White Castle experience, as I had but one morsel-burger rather than six or eight, but I’ll certainly be back to do it right long before I cast my shadow across Fatburger’s door again.  

1 Comment

Filed under NYC

It’s cheap list season!

If you haven’t seen it, New York magazine has released their annual “Cheap” list – a hundred and one entries ranging from Hong Kong Station to various Batali Imperial Outposts™.  Generally, when one of these lists comes out, I get forwarded it by some well-meaning types and queried about it by others, and I thought I’d share my likely answer with all of you.

As usual, I have some qualms with their selection criteria: I contest that “where entrée prices seldom exceed $20” should be considered “cheap,” even by their honestly disclosed neighborhood-relative criteria.  Spending $50 on dinner for two might really be slumming it if you’re a Alec Baldwin and your watch costs more than my grandmother’s car, but not if you’re in college or working a crap job to make ends meet.  It most CERTAINLY isn’t cheaper than cooking (again, unless beef Wellington and the ilk are your standard recipes).

Now, before I start getting irritated letters from the editorial staff of said magazine, who I’m sure are proud of their creation, I understand (have had this beaten into my head ad nauseam by those who are picky with how they spend their time) that not everyone gives a poop about getting on the train and going out somewhere, and that NY Magazine is in the business of making money (and stands a better chance of doing so if they include love letters to Bouchon Bakery), blah, blah, blah.

Personally, I’d rather spend the column inches on promoting places that aren’t in the Country’s Highest Per-Capita Shopper Income Mega-Mall and don’t have publicists or celeb chefs.  Less “French Laundry,” more “next to the local lavanderia.”  Different strokes for different folks.  If anything, the list serves to remind me how unique the Sietsema column is in a for-profit publication.

Still, I give NYM credit for explaining their criteria, flawed or not, for not totally ignoring the outer boroughs (I counted 28 outer borough restaurants among the list, and a few of those are even outside Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Williamsburg and Carroll Gardens!), and it’s an encouraging trend that the first item on the list is way the hell out in Bay Ridge (and I’ll be going there soon enough, I’m sure).    


Filed under NYC

Sri Ganesh gets my thumbs up.

The last time I went to Jersey City, my ex-girlfriend and I took 45 minutes to figure out in which direction Newark Avenue lay (sometimes “memorizing” the Google map works out well, sometimes not).  Once we figured it out (and I don’t recall how we did), the resulting trip to Dosa Hut was well worth it.

This time around, I didn’t have a lot of extra time for “exploration,” but fortunately already knew which direction to walk from the Journal Square Transportation Center.  Taking a long lunch over the state border requires a quick pace and well-timed trains in order to make the round trip in an hour and a half, but I was in dire need of a little spice in my day.

The source of the fire was the recently Voice-reviewed Sri Ganesh’s Dosa House, which has materialized a little further down Newark Avenue’s dead end.  The menu is quite extensive – tens of variations on the basic crepe – but I stuck to the butter masala dosa ($4.50), which features a yellow-tinged potato chunk-mash, sided with the usual coconut chutney and a new-to-me peanut variety.  I can’t say that the coconut chutney is as spicy as I recall Dosa Hut’s being (same goes for the sambar, which is the self-service lentil soup to the right of the cash register), but that was a while and many spicy dishes ago.  The nutty chutney was a bit hotter, and I looked in vain for a jar of it at Patel’s Cash and Carry on the way home (made fresh, I’d gather).

Also, if you’ve only had dosas in Manhattan, take note: these things are huge!  They’re a foot and a half or more in diameter, overflowing the ends of your tray like two-by-fours sticking out of the back of a pickup.  Delicate balancing is required as you shuttle your way back to the table (the counterperson will call out your number when your order is ready), particularly if you order one of the Indian sodas, which come in a tall glass bottle and seem particularly tippy.

Even with the PATH fare ($3 round trip), the meal including drink was only $9.  If taking a long lunch were a crime, and I thus just made it a federal case by crossing the border, I only hope the judge would take a Thums Up as a bribe.

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

The lengua franca of Sunset Park’s 5th Avenue.

Towering above Brooklyn like a miniature Schlossberg, Sunset Park was THE place to find cooler temperatures and natural breezes in yesterday’s disgusting pre-thunderstorm climate.  Seems like too few of those in the neighborhood knew it, too, as the west-facing side of the park, with its panoramic views from Staten Island to Downtown Brooklyn and the distant Empire State building, was not nearly as crowded as I would have expected.  Though I didn’t stay long (no umbrella and weather rolling in meant I went back to my sweaty apartment and sulked), it was the only time I’ve felt human sans air conditioning in the last week and a half.

Yes, Virginia, I was inspired to return to Sunset Park by my bus trip through the area Monday night.  A neighborhood where the taqueria has seemingly replaced the diner as meeting point and budget dining option is my kind of place, and my visit was in many ways long overdue.  I too long lamented the lack of good Mexican in NYC without actually going to the Mexican neighborhood one stop away on the train – duh.

I ate at Tacos Matamoros, where neighborhood residents dropped in for a Styrofoam cup of water, take-out, or just to hang out with their friends for a minute before heading up to the park’s pool, courts, or informal-but-intense soccer games.  I suppose some, like the older man in the corner, were even there to ogle the servers, who dress more like cocktail waitresses.  

I was there for the tacos, though, and when I perused the menu, I was shocked to find that most of the tacos were a buck each.  Remembering a long-ago Chowhound post, I thought that there was a good chance that these were actually mini-tacos, and I ordered a quartet of them accordingly.

As the plate arrived, I knew I had guessed correctly – the tortillas were about the size of a compact disc (remember those?) and came with about half the filling of one normal-sized taco.  But, brilliantly, this size adjustment had enabled me to sample four different fillings: al pastor, suadero, tongue, and chorizo.  Tongue was obviously the outlier here, as I had never tried it before.  If you ignore the total lack of visual appeal, it actually tastes pretty good, and has a perfectly acceptable texture – they must marinate it, as it tastes very little like the pickled tongue I’ve had on sandwiches before.

The suadero was considerably more chunky than I recall Guerreros’ being, and without that taqueria’s sublime, melt-in-your-mouth flavor.  The al pastor was better, and I took a small pan-cultural thrill from seeing the spinning gyro-style skewer in the back (apparently introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants!), but the lack of fruit and thrilling marinade didn’t thrill me.  It’s unlikely the chorizo was cooked fresh (a la Pio Maya on a lucky day), but it was probably my favorite of the fillings.  Make sure and lean over your plate, as the greasy meat juices will not be contained by your tortilla.

$6 later (tax and tip included), I was on my merry way to the park.  For the price, it’s really hard to complain, but when I know that Guerreros lies twenty blocks closer to home and is SUBLIME rather than merely good, my loyalty has not been challenged.  Further neighborhood investigations are definitely necessary.

Some additional commentary on Sunset Park, the neighborhood: the area around the park, particularly on the 7th Avenue side, is really nice.  If I were a real estate investor, I’d be so much more apt to buy in this neighborhood than Bushwick, for instance – the housing stock has obviously been well maintained, and the train options (9th Avenue/37th Street D, 4th Avenue/36th Street D/N/R/M, etc.) are, in my opinion, superior.  (As you get over to 9th Avenue, things start to look a bit more ragged, but not overwhelmingly so.)  Besides, where else are you going to have a Chinatown about three blocks from Little Mexico?  Fascinating place.

1 Comment

Filed under NYC

Mtabbal proves to be an excellent Dimashq-up.

I think this week might end up being Brooklyn-only – last night, I went to the 21st entry on the list, Damascus Gate, on 5th Avenue at 72nd Street in Bay Ridge, and following after the delicious Greek-stravaganza of Sunday night, I feel like I’m on a roll.  

Not because the roll that came with the (store-bought) pitas and the Damascus Platter ($10.95) was necessarily that great, mind you, nor because the waitress was a cute relief from the often-surly and almost-always-ancient wait staff of many of my destinations.  It’s because I was hot and hungry, and the food was (mostly) cool, and, just like Sunday night, totally delicious.

Indeed, the platter was an excellent sampler of the meze dips of Syria, sided with two falafel nuggets and two stuffed grape leaves.  The obvious hummus and babaganouj were excellent, but the mtabbal, which seemed to be comprised of garlic mashed up with eggplant and peppers, was good and unique enough that I considered taking home a gallon.  Also worthy of appetizer consideration in summer homes everywhere: the yogurt-y concoction that resembled a cross between tzatziki and cacik (the name escapes me, of course – I didn’t see any takeout menus, and the whole note-taking operation seems so…professional).

As to the grape leaves and falafel – the former were good, and I haven’t historically been the biggest fan (something about them sitting around for days on end, perhaps).  The falafel were, thankfully, freshly deep fried, and provided excellent leverage for the dips when the bread ran out.

After the meal, I grabbed the B63 bus all the way up 5th Avenue to Bergen Street (it took quite a while, let me tell you).  I’d never seen Sunset Park’s 5th Avenue strip before, and there are a TON of possibilities for eating there.  The park looked quite nice, too – maybe on a cooler weekend day, I’ll mosey on down and grab some picnic tacos.

1 Comment

Filed under NYC

"We could be gyros…just for one day."

Last night’s solo excursion to Bay-Dyker Ridge-Heights (in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge run-up) was inspired by Friday’s Sietsema article which promised good, cheap gyro.  I felt a bit like those people who immediately swamp the latest chic restaurant after the NYT offers its esteemed opinion.  Difference being that, when I got to Spartan Souvlaki, there was one table taken, rather than hordes of review-chasing glitterati stuffed into every corner.  Thank goodness.

Spartan Souvlaki’s premises are anything but undecorated – it’s the only restaurant I’ve been to in the last few years (with the possible exception of the dining room in my great-grandmother’s nursing home) that has had flowers painted on the ceiling.  The rest of the décor seems to be like the living room in a suburban McMansion as imagined by someone whose hobby was painting reproductions of ancient pottery.

Let none of this distract you from looking to your right upon entry – behind glass and running rampant over the condiment cooler is a pile of some of the ripest tomatoes I’ve ever seen.  On days like today, when the heat is so bad that cold meals seem far preferable, it’s enough to make you wish for a cucumber or possibly some fresh mozzarella.  They find good application, though, in the gyro sandwich – a true monsterpiece that adds enormous heapings of yummy meat, lettuce and red onions to the tomatoes, and adds a generous dollop of tzatziki to bind it all together.  Warning: this tzatziki has so much raw garlic in it that it is just as pungent as a hot pepper, only without capsaicin.  It’s enough to ward off Dracula, or maybe just figure out if that cute girl you dragged out here really likes you or just wants a weird story to write about on her blog.  Mmm, garlic-breath.

A brief word on the meat itself: Gyro meat should not be the same formulation as doner kebap meat.  Something about the spicing changes between the Turkish and Greek meat, despite visual similarity.  In my opinion, too, it shouldn’t be dripping – the meat should have fat, but it ideally walks the line between un-rendered grossness and dripping greaseness.  Spartan Souvlaki gets this, and I’m glad they do – it’s the best Gyro I’ve had in a long time, and maybe ever.

Did I mention it was huge?  Okay, fair enough, but you should also know that it’s sided with fresh, skin-on, hand-cut French fries that are mighty tasty.  Save some room.

I used to go to a Greek place outside the city walls of Rothenburg o.d.T, Germany – it was one of the few places in town that served anything but German food, and was also the last place to eat (besides the Shell station, which sadly had no microwavable burritos) on the way back to the place I was staying.  I’d grab a table in the leafy garden (I actually don’t think I ever went in!) and have a leisurely meal.  Spartan Souvlaki, which also has a fairly pleasant-looking outside garden that I’ll investigate on a cooler day, is Brooklyn’s equivalent, and I actually think the food is better.   Sweet.

1 Comment

Filed under NYC

The once-a-year arterial greasing.

I only want fried onions once a summer, but it’s an itch that I absolutely have to scratch.  Why just once?  Well, mostly because afterwards I feel moderately ill, like I’ve been funneling the grease at the bottom of the fry-o-lator, and that’s regardless of how light the batter is.

Fortunately, a few places on Cape Cod combine onion expertise with seafood know-how, and the jointly-owned fry shacks Kate’s and Liam’s, on Route 6A in Brewster and on Nauset Beach in Orleans, respectively, churn out some of the best onion-and-fried-frutti-di-mare combos that you’ll ever lay lips on.

Liam’s beachside shack used to house the longtime institution Philbrick’s, which my mother and her cousins swear had the best onion rings in the universe, but they lost their lease somewhere around 15 years ago and moved into downtown Orleans for a few unsuccessful summers.  Having been too young to really give the Philbrick’s onions a fair comparison, I can only say that I can’t envision them being any better than Liam’s, which are practically perfect.  Sliced to tiny strands and fried in a flour dough so light it makes the food service onion ring batter look like sandy cement, then served to you in an overflowing miniature rowboat-shaped container, the only thing that can improve them is a hot summer’s day and a large soda.  (They’re available in sizes ranging from small to jumbo, and prices from $4 to $9.50.)

Kate’s, as befits its common ownership with Liam’s, also serves these onions – with the added bonus that you don’t have to have to pay the Nauset parking fee or brave the sandy crowds (though Liam’s does stay open after the parking fee ends in the evening).  Many menu items are a buck or two cheaper, too, including the delicious whole clams (Liam’s is $14 per half pint, Kate’s is $13).  The scallops (half pint $11.50) were my choice on a recent summer’s afternoon, and while the scallops one is served in a restaurant these days border on the planetary, the taste and cooking technique were unimpeachable.

As far as things I wasn’t impressed with, I can’t say that I really thought the clam fritters were that interesting, nor was the cole slaw anything but standard-issue food service quality.  But then, you’re not really there for the slaw, are you?  If you still have room after the fried goodies are gone, you should be aiming at ice cream or a frappe, not cabbage and mayo.  Me, I had room for neither, my fried onion and seafood objective for the year having been fulfilled, and the associated groaning having just begun.  

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC