"" What's She Eating Now?: August 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Spotted in Midtown

Sex, Drugs and Sausage Rolls indeed. I personally checked one of these boxes this weekend, I'll let you guess which one.

This photo has been altered to protect the awesome.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reviewlette - Double Crown

The Monday Room-- a literally hidden gem located behind the hostess stand of Public-- has been a go to of mine for exceptional quality and value since it opened in 2006. Put simply, it made me heart Chef Brad Farmerie's flair for texture and clever flavor combinations. And when I learned of his newest outpost, Double Crown, I was excited to try it.

I let some time pass so that I could visit the restaurant at its steady state. I wanted to see Double Crown at its best. To be fair, this assessment is based on only one visit but I feel that the things I found fault with would likely be consistent issues and the things I enjoyed were not flukes.

The four of us started by sharing three items off the snack menu and one from the starters. The duck steam bun was mostly bun. We estimated that if we had taken all of the duck from the four buns it may have produced an appropriate amount for one. We also tried the spicy pork stuffed lychees. The table was split on these. While one diner loved it I found the textures completely incongruous. The pint of prawns was an odd presentation that looked sort of neat but I don't really enjoy fishing around to retrieve my food. Served literally in a pint glass with shredded lettuce on the bottom to keep all the food within reach, the vessel contained tail-on shrimp with a somewhat slimy coating. This dish would have been utterly unimpressive if it weren't for the fried heads it was served with. These were very good; a perfect crunchiness that yielded a small flavor explosion upon biting. The last appetizer was in my opinion the best thing we had all night: a crispy quail, which was exactly what it sounds like and was simple and well composed. On the whole, the dipping sauces served with some of these starters were at times extraneous and inconsistent with the East Asia and India-influenced cuisine. I hate to say it but the accompaniment to the shrimp was reminiscent of ketchup mixed with mayo.

On to the mains. Two of us had the snapper. The fish was a wonderfully fresh filet and the other elements on the plate were nice flavor complements-- a flat shrimp dumpling and some bok choy-- but the broth the entree was sitting in was overly salty, jarring even, and the plating was such that it made it difficult to create bites with all of the elements. The protein in the twice cooked chicken was well prepared but again, the broth did this dish in. Then a first, I met a braised pork belly I regretted trying. It just wasn't a good flavor experience and the red lentil puree it was sitting on was, in my opinion, inedible. The entrees to me exposed a fundamental misapplication of eastern ingredients and confirmed the lack of command over this genre I suspected during the first course.

Luckily we ended on a sweet note. We shared a chocolate mousseline which was delectable. The dish had some complexity to it but the taste was straightforward and silky and somehow managed to be both airy and rich.

The dining room is beautiful yet comfortable. The cocktails are inventive without being silly. The service is attentive without being intrusive. And I like that the restaurant's menu is an homage to the flavor influences of a the British Empire, a neat historical reference that gives the restaurant's concept depth. But the food was a bit of a let down. I'll go back for drinks and try a few more of the starters in hopes that some will be of the same caliber as the crispy quail. I may also try Madam Geneva, the cocktail lounge adjacent to the restaurant given Farmerie's success with a similar idea in the Monday Room. I simply have too much faith in Farmerie to write this place off, just yet.

Double Crown
316 Bowery at Bleeker

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fun Fact Wednesday

Reading Irena Chalmers' book, Food Jobs, I came across this statistic: "Americans eat approximately 100 acres of pizza each day, or about 350 slices per second." For you city folk, just one acre is nearly as big as an American football field.

So what's your share? On a per person basis it is more meaningful to measure based on weight, rather than acres or even square feet. Starting with Chalmers follow-on claim that the average American eats 46 slices of pizza per year (which does roughly tie to the above stats), and with the average pie tipping the scales at three pounds for eight slices, that means on average Americans eat over 17 pounds of pizza annually. With the average American adult weighing around 177 pounds, this does not mean we are all made up of approximately 10% pizza, but sometimes I wonder.

OK HP12C, you can go back in the drawer now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Phoning It In, Fried Chicken Style

So I have been dying to write a post about this place. Even before the new product introduction, when BBQ Chicken was just a storefront that sold the unlikely pairing of two things, fried chicken and bubble tea. But my sister, of the hilarious and socially astute blog No Happy Medium, beat me to it. I couldn't put it better myself so today I am going to phone it in fried chicken style and reprint her piece here. Oh, and as long as it doesn't cut into your readership of this site, you should go check out No Happy Medium, its awesome. Here is a taste, enjoy!

My Kind of Mixed Media (Courtesy of No Happy Medium, August 21st, 2009)
It’s happened to each of us at some point. You’re walking down the street, soda in one hand, cup of fried chicken in the other, and you realize you lack the dexterity to pop the next piece of poultry in your mouth, and the straw is too thin for hoovering even the sveltest morsel. (You tried.) Fret no more, friends, BBQ Chicken hits St. Marks with an elegant one-cup solution.

Behold. The combo cup-o-soda-cup-o-chicken. The perfect snack for:

* The Blackberry-toting mover/shaker
* The I-carry-my-own-shopping-bag conservationist
* The one-handed

A startling example of how Korean ingenuity is pushing the limits of fast food technology, this two-timing vessel has a lower chamber for your cola and a recessed lid that serves as a convenient receptacle for breaded – and unnaturally cubic – chicken nuggets.

As brilliant as the concept is the marketing approach. A straightforward product shot, which says, “This needs no explanation.” One has to wonder how many 2 girls 1 cup jokes were made in the copywriting process.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Little TGIF Humor... Eat On!

I was shopping at the Union Square Green Market for some ricotta to use in an hors d'œuvre I was making. Truth be told the one I selected did not have the flavor and texture profile I was searching for but who could resist this label? We were a little unclear if the sheep was milking itself into the bucket or merely carrying it but it provided for some very good cocktail conversation. TGIF.
I will be on the road through Monday night, please check back Tuesday for new posts!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

10 Great (Food) Books to Check Out

Summer came so late this year that it seems almost unfair that there are only a few short weeks remaining. Hopefully you will be carving out some time for yourself to enjoy the beach, the country, the Highline or any of New York’s wonderful parks but to do so properly, you’ll need a good read to escape with.

While I have reluctantly embraced the internet as a pretty worthwhile invention, to me there is nothing better than holding a real book with actual paper that has a properly weighty feel in my hands. I love the hollow clapping sound I hear when I pick it up and slap its back. I love groping for the top right hand corner of the page so I can quickly turn it to see what happens next. And if the book is in some way about food, all the better.

So if you’re still looking for a good book to carry you through the last vestiges of summer, here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.

  1. The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin. I am going to go out of the gate strong with one of my all-time favorites. And truth be told, I am cheating a little in selecting this tome as it is actually a collection of three of Trillin’s works: American Fried; Alice, Let’s Eat; and Third Helpings. In this trilogy, Trillin eschews haute cuisine in hot pursuit of America’s most treasured local delicacies. As he puts it in the forward, “[I don’t want] the place you took your parents on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. [I want] the place you went the night you came home after thirteen months in Korea.” Although written in the late 70s and early 80s, Trillin’s deep admiration of simple local flavor is an ideal to recall in today’s culinary environment of molecular gastronomy, fussy plating and celebrity chefs. He is a master story teller who is both wildly hilarious and at times inadvertently touching. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting his friends and family through the meals, and quests for meals, that he describes so wonderfully in this book. My paperback copy is well worn, yellow, creaks like an old lady running a fifty-yard dash and if you want to borrow it you will have to pry it from my cold dead hands.

  1. The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin. There are only a handful of times that I became deeply saddened when I finished a book, knowing that I would miss its company. At the end of this one I literally cried. Jacques Pepin has had a tremendously fascinating life and equally impressive is the manner in which he shares it here. Candid, funny, at times heart-breaking and always charming, this beautifully written memoir selflessly shares Pepin’s amazing and unpredictable journey. His passion for food and his zest for life are simply infectious. The Apprentice just might be the most unpretentious book by or about someone who has no reason to be modest.

  1. My Life in France by Julia Child. Its hard to think of Jacques Pepin and not think of Julia Child. Perhaps you are Julia-ed out by the movie and the wake of Julia-related everything it has stirred but this book is a true gem. Getting to know Julia Child through its pages was a delight and perhaps more so, an inspiration. Child found her calling later than many and was well into her 40s before she achieved any professional success at all. If a dowdy middle-aged house wife living in a country where she doesn’t even speak the language can do it, so can you. I bid you bonne chance, however, finding a copy without Meryl Streep and Amy Adams on the cover.

  1. Cooked by Jeff Henderson. While we’re on the topic of inspiration, Chef Jeff Henderson went from selling crack, to PMITA prison, to executive chef at Café Bellagio. This book is about hitting bottom and starting fresh, with some good food stories along the way. A guided tour through the unfamiliar world (at least for me) of rock slinging and street thuggery is an engrossing bonus.

  1. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. Next up is Ruth Reichl’s memoir about her experience as the restaurant reviewer for The New York Times. This book is a

    simultaneous view into the life of a food critic—the ultimate dream job that is far more demanding than it seems—and the personal journey of Ruth Reichl during this challenging stint. Reichl has an amazing ability to describe characters to the point that you feel like you really know them. I adored the portrayals of her late mother’s friend Claudia, her co-worker Carol, famous foodie Ed Levine and the various personas she creates in order to review restaurants unrecognized. A light worthwhile read complete with some easy recipes for the home cook.

  1. Setting the Table by Danny Meyer. A lot of people classify this as a business book. I view it more as an autobiographical walk through Meyer’s career, peppered with sound advice distilled from lessons learned and applicable to nearly any walk of life. Danny Meyer’s approach to life and business is rooted in common sense and compassion. The restraint it took to not buy this book for my last boss was like going to Blue Smoke and just having a salad.

  1. Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen. This book is a little guilty of sharing the same formula that many behind-the-scenes chef books do these days: cutting your teeth as a chef is hard; there is a lot of sex and late night boozing, and at the end of the day I grew up and became the chef I wanted to be. That said, Jurgensen’s tale is well written and entertaining, a perfect beach read.

  1. The Ramen King and I by Andy Raskin. Ok, this book doesn’t have a ton to do with food. Its much more about a guy’s quest to become a better person, but it is definitely engrossing and there are some good scenes that take place over meals of both sushi and ramen. Andy Raskin is a very loveable loser cum stand-up guy and if you’re in the midst of some soul searching this one might speak to you.

  1. Heat by Bill Buford. A professional writer by background, Buford crosses the line from observer to, as the subtitle of the book reveals, “kitchen slave, line cook, pasta-maker and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany.” His four-year journey starts with a trial run in Mario Batali’s Babbo kitchen and ends in the shop of Italy’s Mr. Miyagi of butchers. Along the way we get both memoir, and biography of Batali and some of his mentors including Marco Pierre White, all told with the finesse of a New Yorker staff writer. Fascinating stories about some fascinating people.

  1. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. No list would be complete without the book that initiated the whole genre of chef tell-alls. Bourdain’s ‘adventures in the culinary underbelly’ are candid, witty and irreverent. Some of it will make you hungry, some of it will gross you out, all of it will entertain you. You’ll also notice almost every food book that comes out these days has a quote from Bourdain on it. That’s because he’s the grand poobah of kitchen bean-spilling. So if you haven’t read it yet buckle your seatbelt and get ready for Mr. Bourdain’s wild ride.

There you have it but by no means is this list exhaustive. I tried to include suggestions for those new to food books as well as those who devour them like Joey Chestnut to a pile of hot dogs. So if you disagree with my selections or would like to share some of your faves please comment below. I hope you enjoy your summer reading, even if it's on a Kindle.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Seek and Ye Shall Find

A few hundred times a day or so I obsess about my website's stats. In the list of keywords used to find my site, I sometimes come across things that raise an eyebrow but #67 below earned an audible giggle. To the visitor who searched for "Giantess Amanda Eat Danny" I can only imagine what you were actually seeking, but I hope Danny is OK.

Also, web surfer behind #60, I haven't done a piece yet on food from the Starship Enterprise but will take your query as a request and add it to my list of stories to post in the future. In the meantime, long live George Takei.

Even the New York Times Makes Mistakes

This just in off my Twitter feed from Times food writer Amanda Hesser.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What's She Eating Now Presents... Good Thing, Bad Thing

When I was a senior in college I co-taught a class to first semester freshman. The course actually started during the students' orientation period so they could get to know each other well because part of the class was about covering the subject matter, and part was about helping them ease into higher education. To that end, the program directors recommended we start each session with an exercise they called "Good Thing, Bad Thing," which involved each student sharing one good thing, and one bad thing, that they had experienced the previous week. I found it a little 12 step but I needed the credits so I did what I was told. And I can't say the results weren't hysterical either. Students would share all sorts of information from pledging hyjinx, to random hook ups, to odd football locker room situations. To them these things were serious, important, immediate. To me and my co-instructor they were just awesome. So in that vein, I present the What's She Eating Now? version of Good Thing, Bad Thing, in which I will share a good and bad food thing that meant the world to me at the time, but is probably just funny or informative to you. With no further ado, Good Thing, Bad Thing...

I'd like to start this week with my Bad Thing and it involves Uncle Moe's Burritos & Taco Shop. Uncle Moe's easily has the best burritos in the Chelsea/Flatiron area. They boast a wide variety of fresh, flavorful ingredients to choose from with a significantly more authentic feel than say a Chipotle. But Uncle Moe's likes to play with my emotions. They lead me on with their tantalizing menu and proximity to my apartment. They tease me with their throngs of satisfied customers leaving with that glint in their eye made possible only by magical combinations of meat, cheese, beans and guacamole. But just when I am starting to feel like my feelings might be mutual, they break my fragile little heart. You see, Moe's takes random days off for no reason (The day before 4th of July weekend, really?). They close early when they fee like it. Sundays? Lo siento. And last night, after my run, all I wanted was a wonderful Watsonville burrito and they told me they close at 9. Besides my watch indicating it wasn't quiet 9 yet, my delivery menu said they call it quits at 9:30. Why the run around? Why the deceipt? Uncle Moe's, if I were stronger I would cut you out of my life but I just can't resist your south of the border offerings. So I'll give you one more chance, but please remember, I'm just a girl, standing before a burrito shop, asking for you to be open.

Now on to my Good Thing. From the something to look forward to category, I found a Time Out New York free thing to do in the city actually worth possibly checking out. At 3pm next Friday and the Friday following that, Arkadium will be giving out free Shack burgers to the first 50 people who test their online games at Danny Meyer, er I mean Madison Square Park. Let me get this straight, I go to the park in the afternoon, play video games, and get a free Shack burger? This sort of sounds like how Hansel and Gretel got into trouble but that story had a happy ending so I expect this one should too. Even if you aren't one of the lucky 50, you'll still be in the park, on a Friday, enjoying a great snack that won't break the bank. Sounds like a good thing to me.

Whew, I feel better.

As part of this feature I invite you to share your food Good Thing, Bad Thing below in the comments. Prizes may be awarded :)

STOP THE PRESSES after I made this post I learned that TONY was misinformed and there will be no free Shack burgers afterall. I regret that this sucks. But all the more reason for you to share your Good Thing, Bad Thing with me as I no longer have a Good Thing. Have a heart, help a fellow food lover out.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Case for Top Chef Masters

When Bravo first announced the introduction of Top Chef Masters I was skeptical, thinking it would only be a mechanism to fill air time and promote the upcoming season of Top Chef Las Vegas. Boy was I wrong. While I feel like TCM doesn’t showcase the food and its preparation as well as TCR (“Top Chef Regular”), it provides for equal, and sometimes better, entertainment, and more importantly, a peek into the personalities of some of America’s culinary titans.

And of course, the big personalities are always crowd-pleasers. In fact, last week I momentarily questioned Bravo’s commitment to quality television when they booted the effervescent, emotional and flamboyant Art Smith in favor of Anita Lo, whose screen presence, in contrast to her food, is about as exciting as watching someone take a nap. But Art’s dessert was pretty underwhelming and way beneath his talent level, and staying true to the culinary underpinnings of the show that call just had to be made. This is TV, though, and TCM had to make up that entertainment void to its viewers, which it did with last night’s drama filled episode.

The first “I can’t believe it” of the night was when “Asian fusion savant” Lo could not identify the taste of hoisin sauce in the blind taste test. And I am not just picking on Anita. Rick Bayless guessed that it was ranch dressing. The outcome of this trial shocked everyone; Michael Chiarello won with only 7 of 20 correct guesses. Alas, the masters are human too.

The chefs next moved onto the elimination challenge where they could enlist the help of former TCR contestants to prepare a banquet for “200 Hollywood insiders.” While Bayless calmly interviewed each prospective sous-chef, Chiarello hazed them, and reminiscent of American Pie even demanded they yell out his name. The rest went something like this:

  • An altercation between Chiarello and Season 4 hot head Dale Talde with Dale bouncing around Chiarello like Scrappy-Do, mouthing off “whatcha gonna do about it?”
  • Chiarello telling the camera from the confessional that early in his career he “ate 3 Dales for breakfast” every day.
  • Fan favorite Fabio Viviani (TCR season 5) declares, “I am sweating like a mountain goat on the beach,” when the chefs learn the banquet is outside under the sun.
  • Team Bayless’ Richard Blais (TCR Season 4) expresses confidence, noting that Michael Chiarello’s food looks like its from “a wedding in 1987.”
  • The boys stay, Anita goes.

Some of you may say “this is bull, this show is not about food.” And I can’t say that I fully disagree with that. Sure, the show does need to be entertaining in order to pay the bills and stay on the air, but the program's true purpose is letting the audience get to know some of America’s premier chefs and who they are as people and how and why they do what they do. With the increased appreciation of and enthusiasm for food in this country, people want to get to know their icons a little better, just the way they have always craved more information about their favorite actors and athletes. Admirers’ desire to get closer is perhaps even magnified with chefs, as they perform their major feats, for the most part, out of sight, behind swinging doors.

Without this show, except for an inner circle who would know that renowned French chef Hubert Keller is actually a pretty laidback guy with a good sense of humor who can think creatively on his feet, like the time he made macaroni in a dorm shower. Or that Rick Bayless is the nicest guy on earth? Although I don’t envy his wife after reading on his website that he considers Mexico City to be the most romantic place he’s ever visited. Its really these insights that are driving people to Top Chef Masters, the reality TV audaciousness is just an entertainment bonus.

So I encourage you to tune in next week to the big finale. Now that we have followed Keller, Bayless and Chiarello through several episodes, we understand them better as people and we can make the connection to how that translates in their food. Bayless will probably stick to what he knows and give us Mexican flair from the heart. Keller will create as much a feast for the eyes as the stomach. Chiarello's food will be much like him: brash and Italian. But its only because I know them now that I'll truly enjoy Rick being Rick, Hubert being Hubert, and Michael being Michael. I'll see you on the couch next Wednesday.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hats off Like a Prom Dress

First, to Eleven Madison Park for locking down a well deserved, and long overdue, 4 stars from the New York Times. The new review launches EMP into the elite league of Daniel, Le Bernadin, Masa, Per Se, and Jean Georges. But we knew that already, we were just waiting for Bruni to wake up and smell the foie gras.

Kudos also to Amateur Gourmet blogger Adam Roberts on snagging a res at El Bulli, and then crafting an absolutely epic review of his experience. I love the video inbeds of his boyfriend, kudos also on the great catch, Adam.

Bacn.com to the Rescue

Today's Chow Tip features some brilliant suggestions for making a perfect BLT from the masterminds behind Bacn.com. I won't spoil the secrets for you but will note this is one small step for bacon, one giant leap for baconkind.

photo source: Chow.com

Fried Chicken News from Around the Globe

This text just in from my brother who is en route to his honeymoon in Bali:

Popeye's in Hong Kong airport, excellent!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Quotation I found while on hold...

Checking my Twitter feed while on hold with Delta. Wonderfully put, Virgina Woolf. Who could be afraid of someone so sensible?Oh, and yes, I am still on hold. A breezy 18 minutes but who's counting?

Naka Naka, An Eastern Gem On The West Side

I went out Tuesday night with the intention of just going to dinner­- no camera, no mini scratch pad, no agenda. But once I entered Naka Naka, I knew immediately that something noteworthy was about to take place.

Our original plan was to go to our favorite sushi establishment. Dan and I hadn’t seen the chefs there in a while and wanted to both maintain our regulars status and enjoy a wonderful meal in a familiar and comfortable setting. Tuesday is the their best night but unfortunately they were seating a large party at the sushi bar and could only take us at a table, away from the action and the witty banter of Hideo, Makato and Yutaka.

Dan’s voice was dampened with disappointment when he called to tell me and I knew I had to make some lemonade out of this situation and fast. “I remember reading something about this place Naka Naka near us, lets go check it out,” I suggested. “Whatever,” Dan responded, I am sure musing longingly about clinking ice cold mugs of Sapporo with the masters behind the bar at our usual spot.

On to Naka Naka

Dan’s perspective changed when we arrived at Naka Naka. Upon entering you are transported out of the hustle and bustle of New York into an understated yet beautiful room with jazz playing softly and a wonderfully relaxed feeling. The main room accommodates only 18 diners and has a unique seating arrangement primarily around a platform in the middle of the room on which small raised trays sit for your food. Japanese furniture, pottery and origami decorating the perimeter are quite charming.

Naka Naka offers several different types of Japanese cuisine and although they have a menu, the gems seemed to all be presented on a white board of specials brought to your table. We selected four of them: chrysanthemum leaves in a peanut sauce, lightly sautéed lotus root, strips of squid with sea urchin and grilled squid with a ginger-soy dipping sauce. The chrysanthemum was slightly overpowered by the peanut sauce, less due to the flavor combination and more because the leaves are delicate when cooked and the sauce is a little dense in comparison but the dish was in general good. This was coursed simultaneously with the lotus root, which was sublime. The texture was an ideal firmness under a marinade which gave the lotus root a rich sweetness. Our chopsticks were sparring in the bowl over the pleasing little perforated discs.

Next we had our two squid selections. The first - squid, uni and wasabi - is a perfect combination of textures and flavors. I have had similar dishes elsewhere, but Naka’s uni is superb and it became immediately apparent that Ika (squid) is a strength of the kitchen. The grilled squid was divine. Prepared very simply, the squid was cooked to a perfect tenderness, the light soy-ginger sauce an ideal accompaniment.

After the small plates we shared an assortment of sashimi which included three pieces each of yellow tail, tuna, salmon, squid and a little paper boat brimming with uni, the squid and uni being the standouts. At $39, the plate is a decent value and all of the fish was fresh and flavorful but that said, sushi is not their strong suit. I would stick to the prepared dishes, unless you have a particular craving in which case I would go a la carte as a starter and expect the pieces to be good but over-sized and not cut with the refinement you would find at a more traditional sushi restaurant.

In terms of price you can make a casual meal or a big night out of it depending on how you order and what you drink. There are some modestly priced filling dishes (such as soba) as well as some combination plates on offer if you want to manage the check. We were having such a lovely time and wanted to try a lot of things, however, so we played a little game I like to call “Recession Who?” Dan even ordered dessert, almost unheard of. Even with that approach our check was a palatable $100 per person, including a fair amount of sake. So if you’re favorite place tells you “Tonight you’re naka, naka, nadda going to come here,” call Naka Naka and see if they have room for you at the inn. Kanpai!

Naka Naka

458 West 17th Street (near 10th Avenue)

(212) 929-8544.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I Say It Depends on The Partner...

This just in off my Twitter feed. After purging images of Gael Green in flagrante delicto with a giant floppy hat, I recalled that there are definitely some ghosts of my Christmas past I would have taken uni over had I been presented with the option. Thankfully, Dan did not make me choose between him and the uni tasting at Sushi Azabu :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Terakawa Ramen, Una Gyoza Por Favor

Despite the proliferation of ramen joints of late I was excited to hear about the May opening of Terakawa Ramen, which I learned about in Chopsticks, a magazine available almost exclusively in the vestibule of Japanese restaurants. Upon entering, however, my enthusiasm was tempered by uninspired atmosphere and an odor somewhat reminiscent of a highway rest stop.

Not knowing if it would be a wise decision or not we soldiered on, not comforted in the least by the shout of “Una gyoza por favor,” coming from the kitchen or the gansta rap emanating from the speakers. My dining companion ordered the shoyu ramen set with gyoza. I ordered the Terakawa ramen. Terakawa does not have a beer and wine license we learned while ordering, which sent me to the 7-11 around the corner where it was a disappointment but not a surprise not to find any Kirin, Sapporo or Asahi to go with our meal. A tallboy of Stella would have to do.

I got back just in time for the arrival of the food. The gyoza wrappers were good and the dumplings properly pan fried, but the filling was somewhat dull and non-descript. The shoyu ramen broth was similarly flat, neither salty nor rich in pork flavor. The pork, which was the same in both soups, tasted better than it looked but was average at best and overly fatty. The highlight of the shoyu was its wavy noodles, which had good texture and flavor and were well cooked.

The trip was salvaged by the Terakawa ramen. The broth was rich and sweet and a good complement to the ingredients including pork, burdock root, bamboo shoots, scallions, egg and pickled ginger. The thin noodles were good, but I wondered whether the wavy noodles of the shoyu may have worked better with the house broth. All in all, it’s hard to say whether the Terakawa was good, or just good by comparison.

With all the good ramen in this city it’s hard to justify a return visit to Terakawa, unless I find myself with a restraining order prohibiting me from the East Village. The next time the craving strikes it will be Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200, straight to Rai Rai Ken for me.

Terakawa Ramen

18 Lexington Ave
(between 22nd St & 23rd St)
New York, NY 10010
(212) 777-2939

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fabulously Fair Food

This past weekend we made a trip to the Ulster County Fair in New Paltz, New York. When I was a kid, the fair was an annual commitment that has since gotten more few and far between so I was excited when my father told me he would be taking my five-year-old nephew to the fair and invited me and Dan to join.

I found out on the drive up that Dan had never been to a county fair before, and his knowledge of such affairs was limited to a short documentary film we saw about a man who tried to eat one of everything fried or on a stick at the Wisconsin State Fair. While for me the food is an important part of the event for sure, there are also rides, bright lights, games, animals, all sorts of contests, and real people not stylized by New York City’s trend police. I was eager to see Dan’s reaction.

My sister, Amanda, craving some nostalgia joined us as well. Amanda is my ultimate food companion. When we traveled through Japan it was sort of a given we would eat dinner twice per night so that we could try more things and neither of us felt sheepish about stopping to buy an interesting looking street food item even if we had just had lunch. And sometimes when I am missing my old East Village stomping grounds Amanda, who lives there now, will take me on a food tour, reminding me to pace myself along the way so we can make all the stops she has in mind.

When we pit-stopped for gas, Amanda and I were alone briefly while Dan handled pumping duties. “I would love to stop at Gadaleto’s for a lobster roll on the way to the fair but I am not sure Dan would understand that. Next time,” I said. “What do you mean he won’t understand? We’ll just stop there. You’re driving,” Amanda argued a little desperately, “Just pull in. We’ll explain later.” Amanda and I joked about it along the way and then on Route 299 in New Paltz I made an unannounced left-hand turn into a non-descript strip mall. “Where are we going? You two can’t be serious, I thought we were eating at the fair?” Dan squawked, confused by our Shanghai.

Amanda and I ignored Dan, not wanting to explain we were doing what we sisters do when he’s not around, eat on the way to eating. Knowing there could possibly be beer involved we had faith he would follow, which he did. Indeed odd given its location, Gadaleto’s is a gem of a seafood market which also runs a restaurant and they make a great lobster roll, which we got one of to share and a beer for Dan, of course. Having polished off every crumb, we had completed our warm-up, we were ready for the fair.

Traffic slowed as we approached the fairgrounds and I bounced in my seat with excitement at the first sight of ferris wheel lights. As a flood of childhood memories came rushing back I glanced over at Dan whose eyes were twinkling, mouth slightly agape. I couldn’t be happier.

After entering the main gate, our first order of business was to procure some sausage and peppers, perhaps my favorite of the savory fair foods. Now with sustenance to fuel us, we searched for my dad and the rest of our fair-going troupe. As I had anticipated, the remainder of my sandwich was seized and devoured immediately upon meeting, which was fine with me as there were so many other things to try. This is when I shared with Dan the cardinal rule of fairs: if you don’t go home with a slight stomach ache, you did something wrong.

Next, Dan and I shared a corn dog. Neither of us are really corn dog people per se, but we were lured in by the intoxicating scent of the batter. Beneath the fried shell was a fluffy layer of what can only be described as a corn muffin meets a pancake surrounding a hot dog. “We need a beer to accompany this,” Dan rightfully declared, and we were off to the beer garden to find a proper pairing.

We looked around at all of the other savory choices. Hamburgers and hotdogs. Stuffed baked potatoes. Bloomin’ onions. Turkey legs. Corn. Cheesesteaks. Pulled pork and barbecued chicken. Steak sandwiches with grilled onions and peppers. What a feast one could have here. But it was time for a break. I wanted to walk around and take in the festivities. We saw baby goats and cows. Games where you could win giant stuffed animals and gold fish. Rides which made me dizzy just to watch. And when we had made a complete circle around the grounds, it was time for funnel cake. With a side of fried oreos.

I have loved funnel cake ever since I was little but the introduction of fried oreos to the fair must have happened during my hiatus. The first bite was sickeningly sweet. I put the partially eaten treat back in the bag thinking the combination of fried and oreo is like when two really attractive people have an ugly child. A minute or two later, however, I found myself taking another bite. The flavor and texture is perplexing at first, but after the brain takes it all in it realizes it’s gastronomical genius. I felt I had selected wisely, forsaking ice cream, sno cones, candy apples, and elephant ears for my chosen sweets.

We walked around some more and as the night grew late we all started to get a little sleepy. Most of the vendors had begun cleaning up except a guy selling gyros near the exit. Dan had run off to check something out and Amanda gave me a look with which I have become very familiar. Even I thought she couldn’t be serious. But she was, and as I sampled her pita clad sandwich I was glad. Before we sat down to dine properly, however, I was smart enough to pick up some something for Dan. As he approached a few minutes later, his eyes darted between me, Amanda and the gyro, in horror. But before he could say a word, I whipped out the giant bag of cotton candy I was hiding under the table. Dan’s sugary Achilles heel. As he ate alternating bites of pink and blue fluff he said in a voice muffled and garbled by sweet cotton, “Its so good, but there is so little of it.”

The three of us stumbled back to the car, tired and drunk from fair food and excitement. Dan fell asleep as soon as we pulled out of the lot, much the way my sister and I used to when we were kids. This gave me comfort and satisfaction that his first fair was a success. The sound of gravel as we pulled into my Dad’s driveway woke Dan up and we all joked about our stomach aches and hypothesized about where on earth we could have gotten them. Dan said something along the lines of doing it again next year. We let Dan walk inside first, then Amanda and I looked at each other devilishly, knowing that the Dutchess County Fair is only a few weeks away.

Gadeleto’s Seafood Market and Restaurant

246 Main St
New Paltz, NY 12561
(845) 255-1717

Upcoming Dutchess County Fair

August 25-30, 2009

Rhinebeck, NY