Monthly Archives: August 2006

Faicco’s makes a sandwich bigamist out of me.

I’ve been cheating on Alidoro lately – Faicco’s, on Bleecker Street next to Murray’s Cheese, makes an exceptional and quite cost-effective ($7) hero of their own.  Unlike Walter’s, though, you’ve got to divine the hero’s ingredients yourself, as they are set up to indulge even the wildest and worst sandwich fantasies you could come up with.

Taking Ed Levine’s advice to heart, as well as my conversations with and sandwiches from Walter, from whom I have learned much about minimalist hero formulation, I have divined the following formula for success at Faicco’s:

  1. The sesame bread is superior to the standard.
  2. House-made meats.  This includes the roast pork and roast beef – there’s ham, too, but I’ve not yet tried it as I feel like it would require a slightly different formulation.
  3. No cheese.  I really don’t feel like it’s needed in this context, and particularly not on the beef.
  4. Ground black pepper right on the meat.
  5. Pepperoncinis provide some of the liquid and all of the heat.
  6. A drizzle of olive oil for a little additional grease and flavor.

That’s it!  No lettuce or tomato (though fresh arugula, a la Alidoro, would work admirably here), no mayo or mustard, no Subway sandwich “artists.”  Just you and the peppers and the meats, increasing your coolness together.  Yum-O!

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And your burger can sing…

I know, I know – more burgers. But Joe’s Best Burger in Flushing is also worthy of your consideration for a visit, though I must admit that it’s not exactly going to replace the Sichuan places on my list of “top reasons to go to northeast Queens.” What it could be, however, is a place to pick up a quick bite before taking in a Mets game while only going a little bit out of the way.

The premises are ultra-modern – widescreen televisions everywhere bombarding you with burger images (I noticed a cheeseburger picture in the style of the original Nintendo graphics, for instance) and perhaps showing a game or three. The staff is friendly to the point of asking you whether you’ve been before and welcoming you if you haven’t – hell, even the cash registers talk.

Of course, what the electronic beasts say is, “You’ve got a deal,” and offer to trade you a chocolate coin for the 18 cents that separate your $4.82 bill from a clean and changeless fiver. This is extremely smart business, in my opinion – not only do many people hate change, but most of the errors cashiers make have to do with coinage, not dollar bills. A win-win scenario from the standpoint of Joe’s, who probably pay on the order of .5 cents or less for each piece of choc-o-gelt. On the other hand, I would rather have 18 cents than a low-quality piece of chocolate any day of the week, month, or year, so I declined. I’m a real stick-in-the-mud, I know.

The burger, which has been much-compared to In-N-Out, seems not up to those lofty standards. My single cheeseburger was actually a little bland, which could have had something to do with my choice of grilled onions over raw, but probably just has to do with a difference in cooking. The buns are from a bag, too, which is perfectly normal but, again, the In-N-Out comparison doesn’t do any favors. I wouldn’t pass final judgement without sampling the equivalent of a double-double, but I just wasn’t that hungry this time around.

I will stand up and shout about the fries, though, which owe nothing to the California chains. Cut from fresh Idaho spuds, the fries are cooked perfectly and achieve a wonderful balance between soft innards and external crunch and salt. They reminded me of Utah’s Eat-a-Burger chain’s fries (without the added spice), and they made me very happy as I munched the minutes away on the 7.

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No burger is an island unto itself.

Island Burgers and Shakes (9th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen): I’ve been hearing about this place roughly forever, but certain folks knowledgeable about my purist tendencies warned me that it might not be to my liking. Last night finally offered an opportunity to sample for myself, and I have to say that it wasn’t my favorite, but not for the reasons that everyone thought.

The interior and service are pleasant enough, certainly – not too upscale, not too much of a hovel. I have to admit that it’s rare that I’m in a restaurant in Manhattan these days, so it was a bit of reverse culture shock to be seated next to a table of chattering ladies of the magazine industry (not to mention the excellent CD collection on rotation).

A little bit of my history with “revisionist” hamburgers: for the portion of my life spent in Utah, I’m fairly certain that my favorite burgers were topped with things that would make any purist blanch. At B&D Burger, the pastrami burger was tops (nothing like meat as a condiment, right?), while at the infamous Red Robin chain, ordering a burger with pineapple was not out of the ordinary.

While I’m certainly more likely to order a burger naked or with cheese only these days, it’s not a bad trip down memory lane to order something like the Pop and Top burger, topped with the bizarre combination of jalapeños, roasted red pepper strips, and “Thai-style” peanut sauce. Of course, the Gothamist-AHT burger party attuned me to the possibilities of both chiles and peanut products on burgers, but they did it separately. Would the combination be as good?

Well, no, of course not, but it’s not a fair fight – the actual burgers underneath the mound of toppings were a little lean for my taste, and my dining companion and I agreed that they were slightly too charred (on the edge of burnt, like the grill is turned up too high). Thus the peanut sauce was denied the opportunity to chemically meld with the burger and its grease, and the peppers’ and chiles’ flavors were isolated thrills rather than a coherent whole (and, for the spice freaks, the jalapeños are not particularly fiery).

So I guess I have to say that Island was as disappointing to me as everyone thought, but for unforeseen reasons. C’est la guerre.

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Suddenly it’s a folk song.

I am determined to get the top ten of the list done by the end of the month – it’s the least I could do, right? Actually, by eating at numbers three and six on the list (A&A Bake and Doubles and Ko Hang Soft Tofu, respectively), I can claim to have noshed at numbers one through seventeen.

So I set out to Flushing directly after work on Friday, braving a crowd of Mets fans and a slow-to-depart 7 train to arrive at Main Street a little before 7 pm. Wandering around Flushing, I was continually amazed by how ludicrously loud the jets taking off from LaGuardia are – since the airport is so small, many of the planes used are of the older and noisier variety, and, on that basis, I can’t say that living there would appeal to me much.

The food would be a pretty significant bribe to endure the roaring turbofans, though. Unfortunately, I seem to have missed Ko Hang. If it truly was located at 137-40 Northern Boulevard, I’m reasonably certain that it is no longer. Perhaps it moved, or the address was incorrectly notated?

In any case, I ended up at A-Ri-Rang, located at 137-38 of the same street. If you haven’t been, Northern Boulevard is kind of wild – A-Ri-Rang is located quite near an ancient Quaker meeting house (which looks like it belongs on Cape Cod) and across the street from a town hall that looks plucked straight from an upstate township. Given the multitude of modern buildings elsewhere on the strip and on the main drags, as well as the fact that Northern Boulevard is fed on the west side by the connector highway between the Grand Central Parkway and the Van Wyck/Whitestone Expressways (with the associated freeway-levels of traffic), it’s enough to make you scratch your head and wonder what happened.

I had quite a bit of time to ponder Flushing’s evolution at A-Ri-Rang – the noodles are cooked to order and, as it was a busy night, this took about ten or fifteen minutes. There are two kinds of noodles on the menu – the more typical hand-thrown variety, and something which the menu named “SuJeabe.” Or, at least, I think it did. (Picture, if you will, my tortured mental process: scan the wall-mounted menu on the way out. Decide that I’m going to forget it while I’m walking along the street. Text it to myself and wonder if I already forgot the proper spelling. Get home and find that Google thinks I have, as there are zero results that match this.)

In any case, the “SuJeabe” noodles are squarish flat noodles that have several different thicknesses – they must also be handmade, given how much the texture can vary. They’re also extremely difficult to pick up with chopsticks, as they’re slippery as hell. I made a mess, of course, but the noodles forced me to refine my chopstick technique significantly. Yes, it was a learning experience.

Also, a delicious experience. The noodles may not be available in near-infinite variety, as the name of the restaurant might suggest to an ethnomusicologist, but the noodles were really good, the kimchee soup that I had with them was both spicy and delicious, and the bowl was friggin’ enormous. For eight bucks, I’m pretty sure you could feed two, particularly when you factor in the various kimchee dishes that come out first, as well as drinking the soup.

Anyone know if Ko Hang is still around? Or of another place to sample this soft tofu that I’ve lately been hearing about? Either way, I’m considering the sixth item on the list as having been done.

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Trini go bragh?

D00D!!!  I went to another place on the list!!!  W00T!!!  PWN3D!!!

Uh, right.  This was a first-time trip to Flatbush in order to sample the fare at Nio’s Trinidad Roti Shop.  With me was my friend Julie Ann (not her real name) who was admirably spontaneous when I e-mailed her late in the afternoon and proposed some kind of excursion.

It wasn’t clear at our moment of departure from West 4th to which restaurant we were headed – the candidates were Nio’s or Peppa’s Jerk Chicken, both in or very close to Flatbush (not exactly certain what the neighborhood boundaries are, but Peppa’s, at least, is not far at all from my former Windsor Terrace fortress of suckitude).

Julie Ann (not her real name) chose Nio’s, and I’m glad she did.  Not because I think Peppa’s is a bad choice, mind you (I may head there tonight), but because Nio’s was damn good and I really enjoyed checking out the nabe.  We had our own Church Avenue strip down by the afore-mentioned Windsor Terrace apartment, but it hardly could compare as the dining options were minimal (the most interesting spots were the Bangladeshi places on MacDonald Avenue).

Nio’s is a bit past the most bustling part of the strip, standing brightly painted and proud on a street corner and bearing the distinctive Trinidadan flag.  Walking in and beholding the hand-painted menu, I was reminded of a Cape Cod seafood shack, though the fare is admittedly a lot cheaper at Nio’s, where four bucks will buy you the eponymous and enormous burrito-style wrap.  Your roti will be filled with curried potatoes and chickpeas as well as some kind of meat, if you wish.  Don’t miss the hot sauce, which the maker of your roti will apply for you.  Pay up and lug it back to your table, or be prepared to make a mess of yourself if you eat it on the go (the skin isn’t exactly the strongest pouch for the goo inside).  

They also have a full array of juice possibilities – I sampled the peanut punch, which isn’t really a punch at all but rather a milkshake sans ice cream.  Julie Ann’s sorrel drink (not the French sorrel) reminded her of cherry, and she remarked on how it was so sweet it made her worry about becoming a diabetic.  Nothing like a little sugar with your starch, and we stumbled back to Havana Outpost for a beer feeling entirely full, but not before a local corralled me and inquired about how we found the food.

I, having been totally surprised by his hand around my shoulder, reacted quite positively, and he nodded, saying, “Everything here is made fresh daily.”  He then pointed out to us the mural painted on the wall, “In Trinidad, there’s a beach that looks just like this.  You should take your wife!”  Julie Ann (not my real wife) and I had a chuckle.

Later, I found out he had pegged me as Irish.

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Those Kraft-y Egyptians.

Sometimes on the weekends, with a full day of potential explorations possible, I get a little lazy.  Instead of trekking to the far regions of Queens or some previously-obscure corner of Brooklyn, I like to keep my longitude within a few blocks of home.

Fortunately, the trip to Bay Ridge, either by bus or train, satisfies those requirements, and is plenty interesting, as well.  For example, on Saturday, I took the conveniently-arriving 3rd Avenue bus (it literally pulled up right as I reached the stop) all the way from Bergen Street to Bay Ridge Avenue.  I have to say, it’s not quite as interesting as the 5th Avenue bus – the area between Bergen and Union doesn’t have much to offer in the way of amenities, and south of Hamilton Avenue, the Gowanus expressway pretty much renders the west side of the avenue suitable only for parlors of pornography and the occasional warehouse (there was ONE interesting-looking restaurant between Hamilton and 69th Street).  Heck, the whole east side of the avenue was demolished to make way for the expanded expressway overpass (the original freeway was built partially on the 3rd Avenue El structure).  Thanks be to Big Bobby Moses.

When I got to Bay Ridge, though, everything got a whole lot more interesting.  3rd Avenue is a teeming commercial strip that’s very similar to 5th Avenue there, except maybe with a slightly less pan-Arabian flavor.  Indeed, what got me out of the bus but a Norwegian delicacies store (Robyn has covered this one, I think), but it ended up being closed.  I peered in the windows and tried to imagine Norway as a poor fishing country rather than a rich oil-producing non-member of the EU, but failed.

Then I walked down to Bay Ridge Parkway (75th Street), checking out the storefronts on the way.  Eventually I made my way over to 5th, and wandered up to my late lunch destination – Siwa Grill, at 6917 5th Avenue.  Sietsema’s best of (not Cheap Chow Now) list from last year promised a “kooky” macaroni creation called koshary, which was unfortunately not available.  Instead, I had some kind of Egyptian lasagna that kind of reminded me of spanakopita.  A layer of ground beef was situated between what seemed like cheese and what seemed like tubular pasta, and it was micro-nuked from a cold pan when I ordered.  It was a little bland, but not a terrible deal for $6.

I wish there had been a nearby bottle of hot sauce; certain Caribbean-style preparations have convinced me that spicy mac isn’t a bad idea at all.  If only I had stopped at the Mexican grocery in Sunset Park first instead of afterwards, I could have brought a newly-acquired bottle of ancho chile sauce to bear in what might have been a first time culinary fusion.


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The aloo pie train to JFK.

So, when you jump off a plane at JFK, scramble down to the asininely outdated international baggage claim at the Delta Flight Center (f/k/a Pan Am Worldport), and then haul your crap up an outdoor concrete ramp (complete with dangerous crosswalk) to the Airtrain elevator, you don’t exactly expect the rest of the journey to be fraught with intrigue. After all, the Airtrain is a godsend – whisking you directly to the subway (or if you’re tired and feeling rich, the LIRR) station of your choice for only a fiver.

This was not the case last Wednesday afternoon, when the Airtrain broke down immediately upon my boarding it, and I was prevailed upon to disembark only one terminal closer to my goal of getting home and collapsing on the couch (did I mention I had a good time in Berlin?). Fortunately, I was not sucked into believing that the Port Authority would have replacement shuttle busses out in force at any point in the then-near future (and, you know what, they probably STILL don’t), so I found a city bus stop and, after a false start with a broken-down bus, was on my merry Q10 way off the airport.

Several twists and turns later, we made our way to Lefferts Boulevard, which I guess comprises the bulk of the Q10’s route. Fortunately for the passengers that, like me, were using the Q10 as ersatz-subway-connection (this would be one word in German, by the way), the Q10 connects to both A and E/F trains, respectively; the A connection is the end of the Liberty Avenue El (the Lefferts Blvd/useless branch of the A train).

It was my first time on the ground in the area, and I was immediately targeted by about six different gypsy cab drivers who pegged me, at least partially correctly, as a tourist (looking glazed and having a rolling suitcase didn’t help matters). But I was determined, as is my wont, to make lemonade out of Port Authority lemons: I was going to find a place to get some kind of Trinidadan snack to munch on while I rolled back to Brooklyn on the A.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my regular bag with me, or I would have known that list denizen sixty-nine, Singh’s Roti Shop #3, was a block or two away. So I ended up at a place called “Eat Well” or something to that effect, which had far more equipment for sale than actually in use. I guess I would have been in luck if I had enough room for a refrigerator in my suitcase; I instead opted for an aloo pie, the shell of which was a kind of greasy bread that was not warm but not the tragedy of texture I was expecting as a result. It was filled with a potato-spice mixture that was perhaps slightly lighter on the fire than I would have liked, but satisfied my boundless post-airline-food hunger. The diet Coke, on the other hand, was expired. Seriously.

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Oh honey, it was paradise.

Well, I’m back from Berlin – at least physically. Besides partying within an inch of my life, I found time to eat several passable doner kebap sandwiches, have some glass noodles at Monsieur Vuong, and kick myself repeatedly as I discovered a Georgian restaurant immediately after a disappointing dinner at a pan-Asian restaurant called “Pan-Asia.” I know – a bad, bad mistake.

But I also hit up Al Kalif, which is my longtime Syrian standby in Kreuzberg (Bergmannstrasse). For the first time, I sampled their merguez – the spicy lamb sausage which I eat more times per week (from Bedouin Tent) than is probably healthy.

The difference in Al Kalif’s presentation is that the sausage actually looks like chopped up little sausages – as opposed to Bedouin’s version, which is loosely packed sans casing, as though it were a tube-shaped hamburger. As I consumed the diced morsels that came swimming in a reddish sauce including onions and peppers, I was happy as a clam and only six euros poorer.

The friend with whom I traveled to Berlin commented about his “Al Farouk” combination platter: “It’s enough food for the whole day.” Indeed, with four falafel balls, hummus, mtabbal, kibbeh, two pitas, and a healthy array of veggies, two could share the six euro portion and save room for one of the excellent array of pastries.

I know it sounds strange, but you should also try the cherry-banana juice – or just buy a couple bottles of the nectar at your local Korean grocery and mix it yourself. An oddly refreshing combination indeed.

I haven’t decided whether to write up any of the other places I hit in Berlin, probably because the lack of sleep has interfered with my ability to remember crucial details such as “what I ate.” Here’s what I do remember:

1. A friend playing fussball (in German it’s called “kicker”) against someone who was described as the “meanest heroin dealer in Berlin.”
2. My traveling companion winning a half-litre Warsteiner drink-off to break a tie at trivia night; my great contribution was knowing the real name of Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.
3. Visiting my old favorite bar “Bla-Bla” and discovering it partially redecorated. Sadly, the atmosphere wasn’t the same.
4. All of the good deals on used music are at the weekend flea markets. Try the one across from the Pergamon Museum on the west bank of the Spree.
5. I will never, ever turn down a trip to Berlin with friends. Neither should you.

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Nothing much to report.

I apologize for the relative lack of updates this week – I have been saving my dining out dollars for my imminent trip to Berlin and have been eating at home(!) most dinners this week. Cheese, crackers, and summer sausage make a fine meal, especially when the cheese and crackers are Dubliner and Triscuits with a layer of hot sauce in between.

The favorite things I’ve eaten this week? At a regular potluck last night, I tasted zucchini flowers for the first time. Doused in an egg/white wine batter and pan-fried with garlic, they were unbearably delicious. Same goes for a freshly-made tomatillo salsa accompanied by home-made corn chips. I’m a lucky man to have such friends…

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Serendipity and unintentional comedy wrapped into one bar.

I had my birthday at Cherry Tree, a new bar on 4th Avenue between Bergen and St. Marks in Brooklyn (just south of Atlantic Center).  They have a lovely rear deck which didn’t close until 1:30, but the interesting part is what they were doing with it: a chef was roasting a whole pig over an ersatz fire pit.  For free.  I had a bite of the tenderloin and it was a bit chewy, but it sure beat the hell out of beer nuts.

I can’t fully recommend the place, though, despite the nosh.  After the deck closed, the party moved inside, where the music is ALWAYS too loud.  I’m pretty tolerant of loud music, though I don’t always enjoy it, but this music was loud to the point of pain.  I’m told that it’s the owner/manager’s fault, as he is apparently deaf as a post.  Unfortunately, this is ultimately going to hurt business, as none of my friends wanted to stay (and neither did I).

Before we left, karmic justice was served, however, to said owner/manager, when he brought out a pair of squirt guns and started going after patrons who looked like they wouldn’t mind.  Among the collateral damage (besides us – I can’t say we enjoyed getting splashed) was the offendingly cranked stereo amplifier, which cut out midway through “Livin’ On A Prayer.”  Seriously: the guy shorted out his own way-too-loud bad music with his own unnecessary squirt guns.  Absolute brilliance.

We retired to the Brooklyn Inn for a final drink, and enjoyed those environs much more.  No squirt guns in sight, and it was possible to have pleasant conversation.  What a concept!

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