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In Other Words: Chains Function Nicely as Offices

I don’t even pretend to follow sports, but the owner of the Oakland Raiders sounds kind of amazing. From the first paragraph of Mark Davis’ ESPN profile:

Most days start the same — behind the wheel of a white 1997 Dodge Caravan SE outfitted with a bubble-top Mark III conversion kit, a VHS player mounted to the roof inside and a r8hers personalized plate. Mark Davis pilots this machine from his East Bay home to the nearest P.F. Chang’s, where he sits at the left end of the bar, same spot every time, puts his white fanny pack on the counter, orders an iced tea and unfolds the day’s newspapers. Beside him on the bar, next to the papers, is his 2003 Nokia push-button phone with full texting capability. When someone calls and asks him where he is, he says, “I’m in my office,” and sends a knowing nod to the bartenders. It gets ‘em every time.

Plus, he’s an evening regular at kinda-chain Morimoto Napa and always books through OpenTable.

And he had to give up Hooters’ $12.99 all-you-can-eat-wings night after a back surgery caused him to change his diet.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Panda Fries & Argentine Pizza

due fratelli panda fries

You may be familiar with disco fries (gravy and mozzarella) a.k.a. New York poutine, or even Irish nachos (corned beef, bacon, cheese, onions) but panda fries are an anomaly that have been taunting me on Due Fratelli’s online menu for nearly a year whenever I get the wrong-headed urge to order neighborhood pizza (I swear the prosciutto is mangled country ham). Why panda? I still don’t know; there’s nothing particularly Chinese or black-and-white about them. The combination of vodka sauce and mozzarella is uniquely Italian-American (and I want to say Northeastern since I’d never encountered it prior to living in NYC, though I don’t think that’s true) and is a perfectly delicious tangy and creamy addition to fried potatoes, though not a common delicacy. In fact, I can only see two other pizza places serving panda fries: Grandma Rose’s in Williamsburg and Granos in Astoria. Maybe there’s a connection? I was slightly embarrassed to order them but am now emboldened.

pizza la boca fugazetta

Argentine pizza seems to come and go around this part of Queens, and sometimes it’s not obvious from the outside that a pizzeria is slinging fugazzetta and empanadas in addition to pepperoni and garlic knots. What makes a pizza Argentine? My brief encounter in Buenos Aries has led me to believe that it’s a thick, bready crust but not quite deep dish, a molten blanket of mozzarella, a fondness for whole green olives and roasted red peppers, and the occasional addition of faina, a chickpea pancake that gets draped over the pizza like a triangular carb cap.

Pizza La Boca opened a few months ago, right in the strip where competing Uruguayan bakeries La Nueva and La Gran Uruguaya reign and sell lasagna-like slices too. I would’ve assumed it was run by South Americans if I hadn’t decided to pick up a pizza ordered online (total nightmare in Jackson Heights fyi–restaurants on Seamless and Eat24 don’t know how to use the services, send delivery automatically, and instruct you to just call, which defeats the purpose of living in 2015 and never having to use cash or interact with humans again) and discovered the staff was  South Asian. Eventually, the fugazzetta (onion and more onion) I ordered emerged from the oven, a strange rendition I discovered once home. Yes, there was a shit-ton of cheese and onions sprinkled with dried oregano, but the addition of tomato sauce (just a little) isn’t traditional and the sliced onions appeared to be added at the end rather than getting the necessary char to sweeten them up and  tone them down. And yet, it still served its purpose as Sunday hangover stomach-padding.

The Middle Ages: Spritzenhaus

terri nunnWhen: Saturday, 11:18pm

Like a mini-Murray Hill, the corner that Spritzenhaus inhabits can be off-putting with its overflow of khaki cargo shorts and shouty clumps (80/20 male to female ratio) occupying picnic tables (there is a rule that under-30s can’t leave the house with fewer than five friends). No one has lived apart from a mid-sized town for more than three years, 718 tattoos aside.

And yet there is some deeply weird shit going on within the brick walls and just beyond them. I can’t recall the last time–maybe never–I encountered such a concentration of middle-aged revelers in North Brooklyn. My first assumption was that the cropped pants crew of short-haired ladies, the red-and-black Talbot’s blazer woman with a balding dad jeans, and the suburban bikers all attending the same party, as if all old people must like other old people (similar to how Tinder considers 49+ to be one vast category–if you’re open to dating 50 year olds, you may as well bang a dude who’s 75) but each was its own distinct social group.

Outside the picture windows, a group in their 50s, men in fedoras and a two women, one with a sharp black-and-white bob à  la Terri Nunn were strutting toward a parked car. This scene ruined my theory about millennials traveling in packs; perhaps an aversion  is uniquely Gen X. Swingers, I swear.

One theory that still holds true is that Williamsburg, and to a lesser degree Greenpoint, are mayhem on weekends but it’s a relatively short, concentrated burst. On my way back to the G around 2am, I passed by Spritzenhaus and it and the cavernous space was mostly empty.

Age Appropriate? Yes, counter-intuitively. One of the women in the biker crew, who resembled a younger Kim Gordon in cords, had to put on reading glasses to look at the beer list and I could admire that.

Was I carded? Yes, and I imagine everyone walking up the steps to the entrance is asked for I.D.

Color Me Bad: Doritos Rainbows

I really need to see these Doritos, available with a $10 or more donation to the It Gets Better Project, up close and personal. Blue chips!

In semi-related news, Burger King is finally bringing black buns to the US (for Halloween, duh) but at this point do we really care?

Localized: Hard Rock Cafe Japan’s Eho-Maki Burger

Like black holes of the international chain restaurant scene, Burger King and KFC suck up all of the black bun attention. Now Hard Rock Cafe is playing me-too, and quite charmingly, with a series of “locally inspired burgers,” unique to particular branches, one which happens to employ a black roll.

Universal Citywalk’s offering in Osaka, the eho-maki burger, is meant to mimic the girthy, un-sliced good luck sushi eaten on February 3. It uses seven ingredients “to represent the 7 gods of happiness,” which include an 8 oz patty, onion, tomato, lettuce, monterey jack cheese and bbq and doro sauce (the Worcestershire-esque sauce served with takoyaki and okonomiyaki in Osaka).

Happy Birthday Hard Rock! From Osaka Universal #今日は70年代気分 #ハッピーバースデー #ハードロックカフェ

A photo posted by Hard Rock Cafe UCW Osaka (@hrcucwosaka) on

Apparently, the roll must be eaten in silence while making a wish for the new year, which kind of contradicts the whole hard-rocking concept.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Labor Day Weekend Edition

sake bar by zabb full spread

Sake Bar by Zabb. A basement izakaya/sushi den popping up in many neighborhoods might be no big thing, but Japanese food is scarce in Jackson Heights and a drinking (and snacking) place open until 4am that isn’t geared toward carousing Latino men is huge. I was excited. There’s nothing wildly esoteric being served in the slight space, but you’ll do just fine with grilled mackerel, fried baby octopus and chicken gizzards, takoyaki, as well as some of those cross-cultural pastas that are practically Italian if it weren’t for flourishes like seaweed or roe, plus a sushi bar and specialty rolls like the one I’m just noticing now that combines shrimp tempura with pineapple and mozzarella that should’ve been calling my name if I’d been paying attention to the other side of the menu. Sake Bar is affiliated with upstairs Zabb Elee (and the naming convention couldn’t be more Thai) the restaurant with the distinction of being the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Jackson Heights. Next door Playground Thai, which I’d never heard of, was completely packed on a Sunday night and made me wonder who goes to Playground when Zabb is right there? If it hasn’t already been done, this is crying out for an article. Who goes to the lesser restaurant when competitors are in close proximity?

smorgasburg bacon jam sticky bun

Smorgasburg Queens. The very definition of barely blogged is stopping by a food fair and only trying one thing. I was hot and uninspired (eating and sweating outdoors isn’t really my thing unless I’m in Southeast Asia) sorry.  RAR Bar is perhaps better known for its Elvis croissant, but I wanted something more, er, delicate and less sweet, you know, like a bacon jam sticky bun. The less sweet thing was too true. In fact, the dense and lardy pastry was fully savory despite what looked like candied bits of bacon and what they’d call pork floss if sold at one of those Singaporean or Malaysian hawker stalls. I love pork floss and I’m still not sure if I liked this or not.

lobster joint lobster roll

Lobster Joint. And once again being a hypocrite, I made a big production about wanting whole lobster only this weekend, no rolls, and then went and ate a roll on a whim (after walking from Smorgasburg in a daze and pit-stopping at Transmitter Brewing for a tasting). This was a satisfying New England-style roll, light-handed with the mayonnaise (which I’m pretty sure contained tarragon) and extraneous crunchy additions i.e. celery. I also ate fries, this time waffle, for unexpected late-night dinner at The Randolph. That might be embarrassing under any other circumstances than a three-day weekend.

fritz's lunchbox burger

Fritzl’s Lunch Box. Ok, technically I ate this delicious mess of a cheeseburger before Labor Day weekend. It’s notable enough, though, to not let it get lost in the wilds of Instagram. The use of strong cheddar instead of American cheese (my disgusting preference) tells you it’s not haute junk food, as does the aioli and super mustardy relish, which probably made me seem like a maniac when I asked for mustard before tasting. It’s not precious either. Why there was never more than one other table occupied during my 8-9pm solo stint in the back garden is a mystery.

Señor Frog’s Times Square

twoshovelBack in 2013, while still a Brooklynite, I wasn’t crazy about the idea of moving offices from the Financial District to Times Square. Who would be? The only thing that soothed was the promise of a Señor Frog’s on the ground floor of 11 Times Square, same as my soon-to-be work address. Not that I’d ever been to a Señor Frog’s. I barely went to a real college, so spring break was never a thing, no ironic nostalgia, and I’ve yet to pass through Cancun, not even as the gateway to Williasmburg-on-the-Yucatan Tulum. I just liked the idea of a novel bar in the basement. So what if the seats were shaped like bikini-clad butts.

senor frog's facade

Except that Señor Frog’s is much more than a bar, it turns out. “Fun, Food & Clothes” are advertised prominently, and the street level space (the free-ranging restaurant is entirely below grade) is dedicated exclusively to merchandise.

senor frog's merch duo

If commemorative mugs and plastic yard drink vessels aren’t your thing, don’t worry. There are mix tape pillows for the basic ladies and straw hats and flip flops for the bros. License plate are a slightly strange offering in NYC and if you’re an out-of-towner do you want a licence plate frame that says New York Señor Frog’s?

Now it feels like I’m at a baseball game. #cottoneyejoe

A video posted by Evan “Funk” Davies (@efdefd) on

On day 2, there were still service kinks to be worked out despite a staff large enough to periodically break into choreographed group song and dance. I also didn’t realize that there was going to be a Coldstone Creamery/Johnny Rockets/Texas Roadhouse entertainment factor. Bonus?

One rule of thumb. The balloon hat-maker and sign-holder (yeah, I have a photo with a “bootylicious” arrow pointing my direction even though I happen to have a very flat ass, if the truth be known) should not be allowed to approach your table until a drink has been been at least sipped. There was a solid, jarring 20 minutes between ordering a $5 happy hour margarita and its blessed arrival.

senor frog's atmosphere duo

A few other things to know:

There is a taco salad, but it’s not served in a fried shell.

Señor Frog’s is a Mexican brand, part of Grupo Anderson’s (Carlos’n Charlie’s, Carlos O’Brien, El Squid Roe) portfolio, not an American company capitalizing on drunk tourists.

Melon liqueur finds its way into more cocktails than one would think possible, including the Frogasm (tequila, melon liqueur, orange liqueur, lime juice, orange juice and simple syrup). The women’s bathroom even smelled like watermelon, though it’s possible I was experiencing pre-stroke phantom scents.

Food is kind of beside the point, but that doesn’t mean it won’t make you think.

senor frog's nachos

If you saw the nachos show up like ordinary nachos, though slightly soggy…

senor frog's wings

and the honey-Sriracha wings, tangy and hyper-crisp even after lazing about…

or the white-on-white cheese enchiladas,  initially mistaken for tacos (not pictured)…

you might assume that food comes relatively composed on standard white plates.

But you would be wrong.

senor frog's carne asada tacos

Carne asada tacos arrive in a real kitchen sink, yet you are in no way prepared for this. There is no reference anywhere, especially not on the menu where it would be warranted, to everything but the kitchen sink puns. (All of the bon mots are painted in neon signs plastered to the ceiling.) This isn’t Farrell’s. (And if you’ve been to a Farrell’s in the past 20 years–or even know what Farrell’s is–I would probably want to be your friend for life or more even if you objected.) But perhaps, even more unexpected was the little ramekin of sweet, molassy pork and beans hidden among the salsa and guacamole. The most positive thing I can say is that at least they had the decency to use corn not flour tortillas.

senor frog's rum runner

So, who goes to Señor Frog’s at 5pm on a Friday? Despite the woman out front handing out coupons and touting with a banner and a whistle, I would say the clientele was peppered with a good number of locals and that there is likely some crossover with the Dallas BBQ crowd across the street even though the prices are not as gentle (though not crazy either) as at the homegrown chain, especially if you’re going large format with drinks.  I happened to pick one of the most expensive regular-sized cocktails, a $14 rum runner, because I wanted high-alcohol, low-fruit, and absolutely melon-free.

me at senor frog's

Am I scared? In on the joke? I’m still not sure. I would meet you for a happy hour drink, no question, though. 

Señor Frog’s * 11 Times Sq., New York I would , NY 

Would You Rather? “Princess Storybook” Character Breakfast at Disneyworld’s Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Edition

Would you rather read a personal essay about a grown woman dining alone at a Disneyworld “Princess Storybook” character breakfast from Eater?

Or Lucky Peach? For now, the latter is print-only so Eater wins on a technicality, but it’s a pretty compelling write-a-story-only-you-can piece from the new fantasy-themed issue. I’ll link when it becomes available.

Clearly, though, the real question is whether a grown woman can get a bread bowl at Disneyworld.

Color Me Bad: Neon Udon

Just your run of the mill neon udon. Munchies has the details on the Japanese (duh) “mad scientist” behind this beautiful atrocity.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Los Angeles

disneyland bread bowlIf there’s one thing you need to know about dining in and around L.A.–or my version of it–it’s that there are freaking bread bowls at Disneyland and eating one (stuffed with Chinese chicken salad, no less) was not even my own idea.  (You might also need to know that bread bowls have been my biggest summer 2015 obsession along with taco salad and that I wish I could get on board with pizza bagels but have no nostalgia to summon.) I would say that I could now die happy except that’s never true. There’s always another thrill to seek, another high to reach, and until you hit the next peak it’s all ennui and dissatisfaction with life. All I’ve done during my past two days back is eat pizza and bacon, egg, cheese sandwiches and lay on the couch, dreading the start of my work week.

gjusta duo

I didn’t even peek at the boardwalk because I hate beaches and the NYC-level heat and humidity was dispiriting and the sun still managed to give me scoop neck tan lines just from walking 20 minutes back-and-forth from my parked rental car, but I did hit up Venice on the day Gjusta was declared the second-hottest restaurant in the country by Bon Appetit. So hot that Jake Gyllenhaal was sitting at the next table in the back patio with some young, sporty ladies with ponytails and discussing dieting, which supposedly he doesn’t get, but of course he does.  (I was even asked if I was the actress in Fresno, which I later deduced meant Aubrey Plaza who I’m like twice as old and large as but at least it was a compliment and not an insult.) Sadly, there were no more much touted baklava croissants. I did try a smoked fish sandwich, which you can customize a zillion ways by fish type, schmear, bread, and toppings. This is classic cold-smoked lox with scallion labneh, the works (tomato, pickled onions, sprouts) on a seeded rye bialy. The perfect size really even if the salmon gets a little lost in all of the accouterments. Plus, minted limeade. There are also smoked meats, tons of baked goods, salads, shrubs, and nut oils that all manage to read as healthy, despite not being particularly so, and served in a washed-out, spacious beachy version of woody Brooklyn rusticism that equals L.A. Charming, for sure, but a destination? I don’t know. 

sapp coffee house special beef boat noodles

Sapp Coffee Shop. Sure, we’ve got boat noodles in NYC, and walkable from my apartment even. It’s just what I woke up wanting one morning. (I do regret not having time to make it to Luv2eat Thai Bistro for a wider-ranging Thai meal.) This little restaurant in a strip mall is known for its #3 among other soups, a beefy hodgepodge of meatballs, liver (the dominant flavor) tendon, demure strips and big fat gelatinous chunks that I love, and tripe in a tangy, lightly sweet broth tinged with blood. Oh, and chicharron just because. There’s a lot going on and it totally works. My request for spicy wasn’t taken seriously but I won’t hold that against Sapp. That’s what condiments are for.

animal quad

I didn’t want to O.D. on Shook/Dotolo restaurants but I had a free night and Animal was just five blocks from my Airbnb rental and walking can feel like a novelty in L.A. (and I’m not ashamed to admit that I completely fell back in love with driving after 17 years of car-less-ness). Also, the boat noodles breakfast clearly didn’t scratch my itch for offal. The hamachi tostada with fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut and avocado looked a little overwhelming and one-note but ended up being a total surprise with each bite being a little different and completely balanced, just acidic enough, buttery, with hits of an anisey basil. If I knew this was coming out first, though, I probably would’ve ordered a fuller bodied wine than the rose I started with. The crisp, bacon-like pigs ears with a housemade Sriracha, lime and egg, played with a similar rich and tart, vaguely Asian profile. Veal brains were totally different, light and paired with vadouvan, apricot puree and carrots that had an unexpected  candied, gingersnap flavor that matched really well with the Chenin Blanc I was given a nice pour of. I rarely order dessert alone but wasn’t ready to call it quits, so there were yellow peaches, mochi, brown butter ice cream, and chartreuse that also made perfect sense with the remaining sips of wine.  Music side note: Missing Person’s “Walking in L.A.” was almost too perfect but it was “Age of Consent,” the New Order song that always induces the most feeling of all feelings (I’ve taken to playing it twice in a row on my morning commute as a distraction from the 7 train’s occasional too-muchness) that certainly caused me to bump up my tip as it came on while mulling over the bill.

shabu shabu house duo

Shabu Shabu House. In a sense, this style of Japanese set menu cook-your-own meat is the antithesis of Chinese hot pot. There are no choices to be made beyond medium or large (this is a medium). Everyone gets thinly sliced ribeye and the same plate of cabbage, tofu, noodles, carrots, enoki mushrooms, and seaweed served with ponzu, sesame sauce, and a garlic paste with the world’s tiniest metal serving spoon tucked into the container. It’s simple and it’s great. This small shop in Little Tokyo, where I’m pretty sure there is always a wait, also holds claim as the first shabu shabu restaurant in the US circa 1991, which seems slightly incredible but I’ll believe it. I’m also partial to the cook wearing shades indoors.

b.s. taqueria lengua tacos


B.S. Taqueria I’m sure is great but I initially missed lunch because it closes between 2:30pm and 5:30pm and when I finally made it downtown at the right time, realized the hyped clam and lardo and bologna tacos are only served at dinner. Then the parking garage I used to see the Los Angeles Public Library exhibit “To Live and Dine in LA,” which was meant to be $1 for the first hour, ended up costing me $45, an error that still has not been sorted out, so these lengua tacos are tainted in my mind.

mariscos 4 vientos tostada mixta

The age-old complaint with solo dining is the inability to try as many things as one would like (without throwing food away or throwing it up) so I missed the tacos dorados with shrimp, served at both Mariscos 4 Vientos and Mariscos Jalisco in Boyle Heights. Instead, I just had a mixta seafood tostada, a big pile of lime-kissed shrimp, octopus, crab, and avocado, at the former (sit-down restaurant, not the stand). These are not highly spiced like the red and green aguachile tostadas–you must add your own salsa as needed. 

LP kriss kross

E.P. & L.P. I can never keep which is the restaurant and which is the roof lounge straight. I just had drinks and snacks at the bar (L.P. fwiw). The wings and fried seafood bits were nothing special but pre-batched cocktails like the Kriss Kross (gin, kaffir lime cordial, cardamom bitters, Indian tonic boba pearls) were fun but not unsophisticated–and more importantly, tasty. For being a Saturday night (though early) the crowd was surprisingly mixed and if I were doing a Middle Ages post, there would be plenty of 40+ fodder, weird fodder wearing expensive loafers and velvet blazers and their age-appropriate lady-friends. I didn’t do a lot of L. A. cocktail cruising (partially because I was hanging out a lot with a non-drinker) so I have no idea if this is norm or not.

in-n-out double double

In-N-Out. You just have to. I did even after being admonished for not trying home-grown Tommy’s (I don’t like chili!) and even if I’m being honest and admit that Shake Shack (coming to L.A. in 2016) has a slight edge meat-wise. It’s about the melted cheese and oozy condiments melding together between slightly sweet buns. A total fast food sucker punch. I slightly regret not getting animal-style fries, but couldn’t justify the extra 1,ooo+ calories.

petit trois collage

Ok, and a dinner at Petit Trois, also on Bon Appetit’s hot list (#3), where no reservations worked in my favor. (I wanted Trois Mec but could only turn up tables for 2, 4 and 6 via its competitive online ticketing system, which made me feel discriminated against as a solo diner and wonder if the same no odd numbers thing that worked against me at Alinea was occurring.) The cocktails were great: Soleil Fumé read well on paper (mezcal, lime, grapefruit, Aperol) and translated beautifully both visually and by taste with its tougher-than-it-looked bitter, smoky flavors. It turns out, that the snackier plates are where the tiny restaurant excels (it also didn’t help that I’d eaten a Double Double just a few hours prior). The escargot, with their retractable metal holders, digging implements and floury french bread perfect for soaking up the parsley-flecked garlic butter, were spot-on while the confit fried chicken with an acidic frisee salad and overwhelmingly peppery steak au poivre weren’t all that exciting. And maybe that’s the point? Bistro classics, tiny tweaks, simply done? The chocolate mousse, on the house, was deep, rich and a welcome over-the-top meal-ender that signaled the end of my last supper. Goodbye, L.A.

Oh yeah, there was Sizzler, but Sizzler is too big to be contained in a “barely blogged” post.