Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I think I'm addicted to this vinegar...

I discovered this amazing thick, sweet, Cream of Balsamic Vinegar at DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia -- they had it out as a sample and I was hooked. The past few days, just about the only snack I've been making at home is toasted sourdough (made by brownie at a bread-making workshop at the Kripalu Yoga Center), with Primadonna cheese (from DiBruno's via Olive's Deli in Princeton) melted on top, and drizzled generously with the thick vinegar. I also had it on broccoli rabe the other day, and I've realized that now I just try think of other things I can eat with vinegar...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Turkey Meatloaf from Princeton Market Fair

This post is for lamphole, who fondly remembers his "perfect" day visiting Princeton which included root beer floats at Stewart's, browsing the Princeton Record Exchange, and eating at the turkey place at the mall. No one knows the actual name of this place, but it's the only thing at Marketfair mall food court that's actually worth going specifically for. I mean I do eat at Teriyaki Boy, but cheap sushi is cheap sushi, and in Princeton, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a sushi joint. But turkey meatloaf -- well, you just can't get that anywhere... Sliced generously thick, especially if you happen to get the last piece in the pan. Or if you're lucky enough to get the first piece, and it's still warm and super-moist. Tasty tasty tasty...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mary's Fish Camp, NYC

I've been hearing about this place for years, and tried to eat there once but hadn't wanted to wait in line. So after debating whether to go to Mary's Fish Camp or rival Pearl Oyster Bar, we opted for Mary's. We showed up at 5:45, and were the 2nd party in line. The people in front of us were a couple with a baby, so I figured well, they're early diners... But by the time 6 o'clock rolled around a substantial line had formed behind us -- young urbane non-kid-toting people who probably didn't normally dine at 6, except they knew it was the only way they'd get in to Mary's!

So with that kind of lead-up, we were expecting to be blown away. We weren't. It's not that I didn't have an enjoyable meal, but I just didn't get the hype. It's like similar complaints I've heard about places like Momofuku Noodle Bar, and what I don't get is how this kind of hype surrounding NYC restaurants can sustain itself for years, that people still line up!

First off, I'd heard so much about the lobster roll. Listed as M.P., I asked how much and it was $25 friggin' dollars! But that's what everyone around us seemed to be ordering -- an ordinary-looking small hot-dog-size bun of lobster salad with a huge pile of shoestring fries -- that's what you got for 1/4 of a C-note!

We ordered the fried smelt appetizer and a beet and fennel salad (right). I really liked both, especially eating the smelts whole -- tail and all. The salad was nicely dressed with citrus and mint. But our friend only got 3 fried shrimp atop some vinegary slaw (below) for $11.

Then we shared the bouillabaise (top). The mussels in it were excellent, but the lobster was bland. My friend felt everything else -- scallops, fish, squid -- was overcooked, though I didn't think it was that bad. My friend thought the broth was too strong for bouillabaise, but I liked the spiciness.

It's just, for me, the biggest disconnect is that Mary's is trying to mimic a New England seafood shack, but at fancy restaurant prices. But I guess that's what New Yorkers are willing to pay for some faux experience. Well not just New Yorkers, I have the same complaint about the Blue Point Grill in Princeton -- I don't want to wait an hour and pay $24 for a piece of grilled fish!

I'd rather take a drive up to Cape Cod, sit by the side of the road and dig into some fried oysters and steamers from a paper tray. It just seems to taste better that way... It reminds me why I prefer eating at dives over nice restaurants. For seafood envy check out these places and this place blogged by BrookLEn.

My friend tells me then after consulting a fellow foodie that he said Pearl's is better, and we should try there next time. Anyone been to both and have an opinion?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

New Year's Hot Pot

To celebrate the Year of the Golden Pig, my family gathered around to eat hot pot. Redneckhunter says he's always liked how Chinese food is eaten in many stages over a long course of time. And even in this seemingly simple meal, there's a definitive progression.

We started with five cold dishes: drunk chicken, pressed pork, bamboo shoots with mushrooms and tofu, daikon with scallion oil, and a dish of 8 vegetarian ingredients eaten because the Chinese word for 8, ba, rhymes with the word for prosperity, fa.

Then the bubbling broth was brought out. You start the hot pot with the proteins: thinly sliced pork and beef, shrimp with shells on, fish balls, egg dumplings, tofu, and fish fillets.

Since everything is fresh and non-marinated, simply boiled quickly in broth, the dipping sauce is key -- I made a mixture of raw egg, soy, and chili.

Baskets are supposed to help everyone hold on to their own stuff, but things float away, arguments always ensue. I always find it a treat when you put your basket in and by the time you pull it back out, you've more in there than you started with!

Next come the vegetables -- sliced large mushrooms, pea shoots, cabbage. These are just thrown in communally. You can't do veggies simlutaneously with meat as they leaves cause too much obfuscation in the pot, and you'll never find your piece of meat if it floats away...

Last are the starches. Again there's a logic to it all. The starches are always last because they cloud and thicken up the broth. We had translucent broad rice noodles and blocks of sticky rice cake. By this time the broth has absorbed all the flavors of all the meats, fish, and vegetables that had been cooking in it, so the noodles just soaked up all that rich delicious flavor. We ended the meal with non-traditional huckleberry sorbet.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Applewood: A BrookLEn Romance

On Saturday, LBT recieved a big surprise... and it looks like I'm going to adjust to being called Mr. LBT soon (or is that Mz. BrookLEn?)... we celebrated with a meal at Applewood, a hearty Brooklyn restaurant that focuses on local and organic ingredients. It's truly comfort food, and a great stop in the winter, especially when there's a crisp fireplace heating the small room. Even the fresh bread and spreads are a comforting treat; I enjoyed churned butter, a duck paté spread, and a beet-cream spread with every course.

We started with a plate-licking gnocchi in duck ragout and sweet-potato & pepper-goat cheese salad. From there, we both tried the fish-- LBT ordered the special, an unbelievable halibut on risotto, and I souped up striped bass with turnips and some kind of nifty pork-flavoring.

Dessert was unavoidable. LBT definitely was the top cat with her sweet waffle with maple ice cream and apples. I usually avoid desserts with too much citrus (not a fan of lemon or orange cake), but I took on a blood orange tart and fennel ice cream, and it blew my mind. Along with some Bonny Doon muscato, this could be the meal to beat this year.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Girls Cooking Night: Sushi

The first theme for our girls' cooking night was sushi. I opted to make guo tie (potstickers) as my contribution to complement the sushi.

I made the filling the night before: 1 lb ground beef and chopped mustard greens, mixed with salt, pepper, soy, sesame oil, and egg white. The tricky part of course is that you have to stuff the dumplings with raw filling, so it's hard to gauge if you've seasoned enough. I know I shouldn't but I usually taste a little of the raw filling...

The night of the party, I mixed the dough -- just 3 cups flour to one cup boiling hot water, mixed and kneaded well. The hot water gets the gluten in the flour going, and also allows the dough to cook quicker for fried dumplings. If you're steaming or boiling your dumplings, you can just use cold water. Then you cover the dough with a warm wet towel and let it sit for 45 minutes or so.

The dough should now be nice and springy and not at all sticky. I usually divide the dough into quarters, keeping whatever I'm not working with under the wet towel to stay moist. I form one quarter into a long snake (about 1 inch thick), then cut the snake into around 10 one-inch pieces.

Form each 1-inch piece into a little ball and start rolling, and rolling, and rolling... I ended up with 40 round wrappers.

Now it's time to wrap -- a spoonful of filing in the middle is enough - don't be too greedy. The dough should be pliable enough you can just push together to seal, but if it's starting to dry out, you can also use a little water.

I seal first on the top, then start at the bottom of the sides and crimp as I go up, to make them pretty.

Pour about 2 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick frying pan, and arrange all your dumplings in a pretty pattern.

Then add about 2 cups of water, put the pan on high, cover tightly, and let it go. Keep an ear out for when the pan starts to sizzle. After all the water has boiled off, the oil will crisp the bottoms.

Then the piece de resistance is to turn out all the guo tie onto a plate in one beautiful unbroken array.

While I'd been busy stuffing dumplings, the girls had been busy rolling sushi. They did quite nicely with the help up of some sushi packing and rolling implements.

Rounded out the meal with sorbet, cookies, and mochi for dessert. Mochi is like the T1000 of desserts, you can cut it up all you want, but the pieces will just meld back together. In fact, I think this simple combo of sticky rice flour and sugar is basically what the ancient Chinese used as mortar between the bricks of the Great Wall! All in all a fun and yummy dinner!

Food Porn: Chocolate Blackout Donut

No words necessary...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Brunch at Perch Cafe

Last weekend, I grabbed some brunch with my friends Brooklen & LBT at the Perch Cafe.

I. had an egg for breakfast, so I had a tasty meatloaf sandwich. The bread was nice and crusty, and the meatloaf was light.

LBT had the sausage and egg frittata.

Brooklen had the huevos rancheros. Personally, I prefer the red beans, but I know Brooklen likes the black beans.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

El Deportivo Restaurant, Hell's Kitchen

Sometimes, you just stumble upon someplace unexpected and good. The other night, we were frustrated waiting endlessly to get a table at Cafe Sabarsky for afternoon coffee and cake, so we thought of Kyotofu for a light pre-dinner dessert snack. Unfortunately we got there too early and they weren't open yet.

So while waiting for LBT to meet up with us for dinner, we thought we'd just pop in for a drink and a warm place to sit at the restaurant next door. We walked in and the smell was so lovely and the clientele so lively, we decided we'd just stay and eat right there. No need to journey back out in the cold.

The place, El Deportivo, had traditional Puerto Rican dinner specials, served of course with rice and beans, for $8.95. I had the carne guisado (beef stew, pictured above); redneckhunter had the pernil asado (roast pork, pictured right).

1000yregg wanted to try the gallina guisado (hen stew), but they were out, so he opted instead for chicharrones de pollo (chicken cracklings, as translated on the menu), which were chicken pieces on the bone, marinated then deep-fried. It's just like a favorite dish my dad used to make all the time when we were kids -- zha ba kuai (translated literally as fried bits and pieces)!

Of course we ordered some maduros and tostones (sweet and savory plantains). The tostones were served with a delicious minced garlic sauce. And 1000yregg ordered a side of boiled yucca, which I had never tried before. Such a guilty starch pleasure!

El Deportivo
701 9th Ave
New York, NY 10019
(212) 757-6869

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream, Tea Box Cafe, NYC

Another great midtown place is the Tea Box Cafe inside of Japanese department store, Takashimaya. They have a really great lunch service, but a few afternoons ago, I stopped by for a pot of tea and some of their delicious Earl Grey tea ice cream with green tea shortbread cookies.

Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridian, NYC

A nice place to grab a quick and cheap meal in Midtown is hidden away in the swanky Le Parker Meridian hotel. It's known as the Burger Joint, and the place is simple- serving only hamburgers or cheeseburgers made to order, fries, and shakes. This place is pretty much always packed, but getting fresh burgers like this is worth the wait.

Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien, 118 W. 57th St. (212) 245-5000.

More Kyotofu

After a show at Radio City last night, Fougoo, the Redneck, and I went to Kyotofu. Fougoo got the Original Sweet tofu again, but we did try some new items.
Redneck got the warm chestnut mochi chocolate cake. It was just ok, the chestnut filling was delicious, but the cake was a little dry. With the sauce skidmarking, the item looked a bit scatological.
I had the black sesame sweet tofu. It was pretty good, it had a real nice sesame flavor to it.
Our finale jellies were pear flavored on this visit.

Hot Breads, Plainsboro, NJ

New Jersey's strip malls are just rife with potential ethnic food treasures. You just never know, so you should just try everything and anything. So when the oddly named Hot Breads popped up next to the Asian Food Market in the Princeton Meadows Shopping Center, I had to check it out. It's a European-style South Asian bakery.

Now I love Euro-style Japanese and Taiwanese bakeries for all the wonderful hybrid things they come up with -- like baked buns filled with char siu (roast pork) or red bean paste, swiss cake rolls with green tea whipped cream or chestnut paste, yellow cake topped with whipped cream and tropical fruits -- that kind of thing. The Asians are not known for their prowess in either breads or desserts, so it's all for the best that they adopt European techniques. So this was basically the same thing with South Asian fusion. We tried a variety of buns -- curry chicken, keema, and aloo (potato, pictured above). I thought the curry chicken was a little dry, but both the keema and aloo were very tasty. Haven't tried any of the sweet treats yet, but will report back later...

Hot Breads
660 Plainsboro Rd
Plainsboro, NJ 08536