Monthly Archives: August 2006

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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Kasia’s casa kielbasa.

In the 88th spot on the 2005 Voice list lies Kasia’s, a Polish diner on the corner of North 9th Street and Bedford Avenue.  Yesterday, when I could only wish for a temperature as low as 88, I paid Kasia’s a visit and tried to ignore their non-functional air-conditioning.

The friendly service was exemplary under the circumstances, though I do get tired of the community complaining that goes on any time some guy walks in with a grudge against Con Ed/Bloomberg/the Man.  Wasn’t 311 invented so people could get this stuff off their chest before they left the house?  Yeah, it’s hot, it sucks, et cetera – the idiot wind ain’t makin’ it any more tolerable, there, dude.

As to the bill of fare at Kasia’s, I fear that it’s a bit too expensive to really qualify for bargain status.  While the $9.25-ish plate of a split and cross-hatched kielbasa with a microwave-burrito-looking potato blintz was satisfying, it wasn’t necessarily the greatest thing since shaved horseradish (speaking of which, I was pleased that the jarred variety was included with the plate, along with sour cream and applesauce for the blintz).  Better bargains are available on and off Manhattan Avenue north of the park, I think.

That said, if you were geographically limited to two blocks from the Bedford L, you could do a lot worse.  And afterwards, you can slide on down a couple blocks further to the Turkey’s Nest and score yourself a beer in a Styrofoam cup AND a kickball-playing hipster girl.  I’ll leave it to you to make up your own kielbasa joke.

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Ruthie’s puts the soul back in soul food.

For our latest group dinner escapade, one of my friends (who is moving out west to go to film school) requested that we go to a place with good fried chicken.  He was inspired (proving that I’m not the only one following his column closely) by Mr. Sietsema’s recent article comparing a trifecta of bird joints, I think, and, for the first time in my group dinner history, we picked the closest and most convenient option.

Ruthie’s, at 96 DeKalb Avenue, is both close to home and close enough to Manhattan to make it an easy stopover on the way home from work.  We’re awfully glad we did make that stop, and not just because Ruthie’s was comfortably air-conditioned (this weather…).  The woman I am assuming was the proprietress (though I don’t know if her name is Ruthie) was as sweet as they come, and the food her establishment slings is beyond excellent.

The chicken itself was a revelation.  Minimally coated with flour before the frying, Ruthie’s lets the skin do the heavy lifting – keeping the juices in and providing the crunch that satisfies.  Some friends were pleasantly surprised that it lacked the kind of heavy duty coating made infamous by KFC.  All I had to say on the subject was, “thank God.”

The sides provided even more of a reason for joy.  Firstly and foremost, the candied yams were breathtaking.  Lacking all of the worst attributes of your mama’s thanksgiving recipe (particularly the overbearing sugary sweetness), Ruthie’s yams tasted like the best pumpkin pie you’ve ever had, only in chunk form.  I was tempted to ask for the recipe, but considering how good they are, it’s probably a state secret.

Mac and cheese and collards were also good options, though many were left reaching for the bottle of hot sauce provided at every table (after my own heart).  The cornbread that comes with the approximately $10 plate (with thigh-leg or breast portions and two sides) has a crust that will leave you angling to break off crunchy pieces of everyone else’s squares.  The potato salad was perhaps the most generic side I tasted, but it would not be a bad option if you were attempting to re-create a backyard barbecue of your youth.

The best thing about Ruthie’s?  They must put something special in the chicken.  For the rest of the evening, post-dinner, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and satisfaction descend upon me, and I am pretty sure it wasn’t just heatstroke.  This feeling differed from the average post-meal coma by virtue of its lack of sleepiness and the total absence of any post-grease stress disorder.  I realize that this makes me sound like a new-age-leaning crank doctor.

It might not be scientifically quantifiable, but I’ll be going back any time I need a karmic salve.

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Ironically named sandwiches in Greenpoint? You don’t say!

Last night’s dinner came after a brief (meaning I only browsed a third of the inventory) stop at EAT Records, and was obtained at the Franklin Corner Store, at the corner of Franklin and Huron Streets (one block north of India Street, which is the north exit of the G-Greenpoint stop). Having been anointed Sietsema’s favorite Cuban sandwich purveyor in last year’s “best of” issue, I was somewhat surprised to find that the store came off less as a Hispanic grocery and more as the kind of sandwich shop you’d stop at for provisions on your way to a Cape Cod beach.

The sandwiches are arranged on big index cards taped to the wall – for maximum ease in browsing, as there are more than seventy sandwiches, I recommend picking up the takeout menu. In it, find a mess of named combinations, among them two named after fascist dictators, one named after a juiced former baseball player, and still another that shares a name with the venue for a Rolling Stones show at which people were knifed by bikers on drugs. What the hell?

Nonetheless, I found the Cuban sandwich to be good, if not breathtaking. The usual Swiss cheese was augmented by American, strangely, but the effect (more gooey melted cheese) wasn’t unwelcome. The meats weren’t terribly unique, by the way, but it’s still nice to be reminded (in and amongst the prosciutto cotto) that good sandwiches can be made from Boar’s Head.

I hear there’s a good Cuban at 69th Street under the 7 train. Further investigation required.

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