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Portland Old and New

I post sporadically enough that I can’t imagine anyone wondering about a few days or even a week of quietude. But just in case, I have been soaking up the pre-Portlandia Northwest and avoiding the blizzard while getting rained on daily.

sizzler goths

Goths schlumping along 82nd Avenue across from the Sizzler was my favorite Portland image as of yesterday afternoon.

fred meyer bar

And then I found out that Fred Meyer, the best regional grocery store ever, had a bar occupied by youths at all hours, so that caught my fancy.

Only two more days left of this.

 

Tanoshi Sushi

tanoshi grid

I spent Christmas truly alone this year and it was surprisingly fun. This isn’t something I’ve brought up because it makes me defensive, and it wasn’t until I received the email earlier this week from Dirt Candy announcing “Solo Diners Week,” meant to counter the Valentine’s onslaught, that I gave it more thought. Sure, I guess it’s sad on some level to dine alone on Valentine’s Day, but not everyone is coupled up and really anyone who wants to go out eat on February 14 (unless it’s Dallas BBQ, obviously) is asking for trouble, whereas dining alone on Christmas is just straight up pathetic because who doesn’t have friends and family?

* * *

Some people are mildly horrified when they hear this and begin secretly judging you differently than when they met you hours ago as you were trying to hold their attention with animated stories. An impression that you’re a suspicious decision-maker with no ties has already been imprinted when they convince you to walk the three blocks to their apartment after the New Year’s Eve party instead of the bus stop where you intended to go even though they are not 100% single.

Some people think it’s normal enough not to comment like the stranger who also didn’t go home for Christmas who you’ve been texting with sporadically for over a month and plan to meet at my favorite extinct-on-the-East-Coast chain restaurant in a few weeks when you finally do visit family in Oregon because you’re not a monster.

Some too-young stranger you have no rapport with and have never met texts you something benign on Christmas morning when you’re still in bed and you think that’s creepy because he should probably be spending time with his parents so you ignore him.

 * * *

 

This was the first year the words “I hate Christmas” came out of my mouth even though I’ve hated Christmas for at least the past 15 years. I never considered myself a Scrooge despite my ex-boyfriend calling me one because I wouldn’t participate in decorating the tree he’d buy in the Western Beef parking lot right before ditching me to head to his parents’ in a D.C. suburb where I was never once invited in over a decade. I was the only one who ever saw the tree on Christmas.  And then it would stick around pissing me off right up until Super Bowl like a desiccated guest who’d long overstayed its welcome.

Some years I’d throw orphan parties. Some years I’d go out to eat with friends. This was the first year I made zero overtures. It was a weird year. I wasn’t going to go out at all, partially to try and save a little money for vacation. But an unexpected raise coupled with the fear of becoming a shut-in (too late) had me scrambling for a counter seat  experience that would be just right i.e. special but not baller (we’re talking maybe two nice-ish dinners a month raise not Powerball money).

Oh yeah, Tanoshi. I wouldn’t say I follow the NYC sushi scene closely, and I kind of hate talking about sushi because I don’t have the vocabulary, but even casually observing I’d say there has been a recent trend toward the luxe and maybe even the bombastic. That’s not Tanoshi, which I haven’t heard much about since 2013 when everyone was going nutso about the bargain priced omakase being served in a small, understated storefront in Yorkville with an impossible reservation system that possibly added to the lore.

It’s still bare bones, just ten seats, and an ideal candidate for the Second Avenue subway, but you can now reserve online. The price has risen thirty dollars to $80, but it’s still BYOB, and I would argue still a bargain.

And it was great. Not precious and exactly what I needed. (Last year around Christmas, but not on the 25th because I wasn’t fully embracing real holiday aloneness yet, I splurged on Momofuku Ko with wine pairings, and while lovely, that kind of experience demands a high level of attention and energy, and honestly, tasting menus can be agitating when maybe you just want to zone out. Not to mention that I’m kind of over spending that kind of money on ephemera.) I didn’t take copious notes and I’m not going to regale you with descriptions of scored flesh or how the warm, vinegared rice almost managed to taste buttered when melded with fattier pieces of fish. I also felt a little anxious taking photos, which I did for my own memory not to demonstrate any skills, obviously–I was semi-seriously warned I had three seconds–because this style of sushi is loosely packed and falls apart quickly, no time for fussing around.

A rhythm developed. Listen, quickly snap, pick-up with fingers, cram into mouth and slowly savor the whole piece while trying to stay in the moment even if only ten seconds. Done. Sip some sake, nibble a slice of pickled ginger. Chill. Repeat.

Kelp-cured fluke, marinated big eye tuna, cured king salmon, winter mackerel, cherry blossom leaf amberjack, miso marinated black sable, uni (Hokkaido or US, I don’t recall, though I want to say Maine) saltwater eel, fatty tuna with yuzu pepper, spicy toro.

Then three extras a la carte: kani miso a.k.a. crab brains, not unlike lobster tomalley, bittersweet guts really; the halfbeak just because I thought the name was cute and the presentation, two spirals, more than met my expectations; then ending with the nodoguro/black throat, suggested because I asked for something rich and unctuous.

lady sushi chefs

Really what was cool, and that I was vaguely aware of, is that while Toshio Oguma is the head chef, half the restaurant is served by Oona Tempest, who I’m not sure is a full-fledged chef yet or what that even entails, but no matter because it’s so rare seeing a woman behind a sushi counter and Tanoshi has two (Alex, left, is apprenticing).

* * *

It was truly the best potentially worst Christmas ever. Afterwards, warmed from my small bottle of chilled sake, I stopped by 7-Eleven for cigarettes on the way to Seamstress because it was close and a real cocktail bar open on Christmas and a woman resembling a younger Kathy Bates was rampaging the aisles and yelling at both of the young Latino men on duty, “Where is the hard candy?!” My first instinct was fist-clenching anger and I wasn’t even working there and then I made eye contact with the cashier and said, “So, where’s the hard candy?” and we both started laughing and then I couldn’t stop as if I felt more high than drunk and became the new crazy lady in the store.

Maybe it was the 60 degree weather. Maybe I was just out of my element. I was definitely happy to have left the house and to have not turned into someone harassing people trying to make a living on a major holiday. Eventually, I ended up drinking a beverage garnished with a candy cane and marshmallow Christmas tree and aggressively making out with a grown man wearing glitter nail polish and eyeliner who caught my attention by talking about the ups and downs of NYC co-op ownership, neither thing I anticipated ever happening on the Upper East Side on Christmas. It all happened because of sushi. I’m pretty sure.

Tanoshi Sushi * 1372 York Ave., New York, NY 

 

 

 

The Middle Ages: Bierocracy

tiersI wasn’t going to mention Bierocracy at all except that I ended up there twice in a week. It’s a different scene after work on a Wednesday (old folks and babies are thrown into the mix) compared to closer to midnight on a Friday (average age 31) but more importantly is that it falls into that “second city” category, or tier-2 as the non-Beijings and Shanghais are called in China, that I’m encountering more and more in NYC.

The staff is nice, the patrons chatty, ‘90s radio grunge rocks at a perceptible but not intrusive volume, sliders and kale salads can be consumed, but if it weren’t for the $14 cocktails and the looming Manhattan view if you cared to step outside, you would have no idea you were in New York.

I wouldn’t say Bierocracy would fit in Wilmington, DE, but I read this awe-inspiring wedding tale while sipping a Bayreuther Zwick’l (and trying not to hate-click “She Went to a College for a Job, and Found a Husband, Too” ) and it seemed appropriate.

Ok, talk may turn Queensy if initiated, as it did with the Long Island City real estate broker sharing our communal table who clearly has never been to Jackson Heights if he thinks I’m sitting on a gold mine (talk to me in five years if I can hold out) and that there are hipsters anywhere near Roosevelt Avenue.  Or his friend whose grandma lives near me, and visits are an excuse to go to Las Margaritas (oh, I know it).

Maybe wholesome is the word I’m looking for.

Was I carded? No. But card-related, the credit card minimum is $30 and that’s kind of strange and not very tier-2 of them.

Age appropriate? It can be. That’s the thing about US tier-2s, no one really judges and who are you trying to impress anyway?

 

Mar’s

mar's happy hour oysters

 

Depending on my mood and intent, Mar’s could be read two very different ways.

If I felt like talking about the food, it did what it needed to do and I was pleased. Before the holidays, I was feeling a little down and a lot bougie, soliciting Facebook suggestions for the  nearest place to find cocktails, oysters, charcuterie, the Brooklyn basics (#notallnegronis), which would still require public transportation because that’s how it is. Ultimately, I decided on new-to-me Mar’s in Astoria. (Astoria is like this black hole that’s only two-ish miles away and yet I haven’t heard of half of the contemporary bars and restaurants there.) Yes, that’s what I had in mind. Happy hour oysters and a drink involving pumpkin liqueur that by all rights should’ve been sweet and gross but wasn’t. I even stuck around for a full-priced steak tartare, generously portioned, grass-fed, and a glass of Tempranillo (that turned into two when it got topped off by the woman bartending). People were friendly on both sides of the bar.

But if I wanted to approach it as a Middle Ages subject, which I haven’t done in a while, it was kind of a strange, funny fail. The only human obviously over 40 was a salt-and-peppery man at a table, holding court among extended family. The bar was sparsely occupied by regulars. Two young men in patterned sweaters too muted to be signaling ‘90s childhoods, and which I’m fairly certain weren’t intended to be ironic, were getting ready to head to their families on Long Island. One was talking about his Aunt Stacie who drinks too much and recently got a boob job, and I caught myself internally agreeing with absurdity of an old, drunk woman vain enough to think she needs nice tits. When asked how old she was, he said, “I don’t know…maybe 40? 45?”

I felt relieved when the second-oldest woman, 35 at best, appeared at the bar alone. After one drink, though, she morphed from quiet and sensible into authoritative and sassy and struck up a conversation with the only overtly single guy, a clean-cut, paperback-clutching  beardo of the type that I’ve only started being able to recognize as handsome in the past few months. I kind of wanted this woman whose New Year’s resolution was to “have more fun” to stop talking even though I know that’s not what I’m supposed to say, and I was just jealous that she was starting her fun early. I was also fascinated because a friend just asked today whether anyone asks anyone out in person anymore and I never witness it but maybe in Astoria? Maybe they are married now because they both read books.

I didn’t stick around to find out. And I was “ma’am’ed” by a man when I asked for my check, which became divisive when I complained about it on social media, going as far as saying I’ll leave a lower tip if addressed as such even though I realize the intent is politeness.

Earlier, I asked Aunt Stacie’s nephew if there was a female equivalent to a mensch. It was decided there is not.

Mar’s * 34-21 34th Ave., Astoria, NY 

The Week in International Intrigue: All-Asian Edition

This re-grammed spread from Dominique Ansel Tokyo reminded me that I haven’t posted about some good old fashioned international intrigue for a while, mostly because it’s not the best use of my time, but look at those milk tea cronuts.

What else happened this week?

Tokyo will have a second Shake Shack soon.

Well, there’s now a Burger Joint in Singapore. Just the usual, though, no sambal spreads, mantou buns, or whatever else one might imagine could be done with burgers in Southeast Asia.

Slightly stranger is the PDT reproduction in Hong Kong with site specific cocktails. Lucky Peach uses its Meehan connection to bring us recipes. I am feeling the Rice Milk & Honey

Starbucks in China isn’t exactly big news (there are already 2,000 in the country) but 2,500 more are planned over the next five years, which is crazy I suppose. Separately, Starbucks will be subsidizing housing in China.

Color Me Bad: Golden Cristal Ube Donut

Well, shit, I would’ve paid more attention to that gold doughnut if I knew it contained an ube mousse. And I feel kind of like a perv, but all I really want is a glimpse of some of that purple. Every online example is just pristine gold, gold, gold, which makes me think no one has actually spent $100 and ripped into one. I will just have to imagine based on Manila Social Club’s purple frosted ube bae donuts instead.

Update: Brooklyn Magazine was given a gold doughnut. “After everyone took a lot of pictures of the doughnut in various settings, I cut into it, and took a bite. Cameras went crazy as I put the first yam-Cristal-gold nugget in my mouth.” And yet not one picture exposing even a flash of purple.

Same thing with Grub Street. “I’m going to cut it with a knife. Oh! It’s purple inside. What’s that?” But no damn photos.

Thankfully, this photo appeared in my Twitter feed while scrolling in effort to motivate myself out of bed this morning. It didn’t work, but it did satisfy that part of my brain that wanted to see a doughnut’s purple interior. That’s a poi malasada from the Kamehameha Bakery in Honolulu, by the way.

A to C

Rather than periodically start Tumblrs (or even categories) I can’t finish (dishracks, anyone?) I’m just going to talk about my ideas to get them out of my system and move on.

I’ve always been fascinated by what I call “A to C” stories where Style section types seem to emerge fully formed and lauded for non-traditional toiling.

The most recent candidate for my “A to C” treatment would be lingerie designer turned avant-garde confectioner Maayan Zilberman, whom I wouldn’t even have given second thought to if she hadn’t seeped into my consciousness a few years ago when she went gray for Refinery 29 when I was wanting to go gray on purpose too. Obviously she is back to brunette. So am I.

So, how does one become a lingerie designer who makes a living gilding candy cock rings and crafting mentholated Q-tips good enough to eat?

Ms. Zilberman charged $1,000 to $1,500 for her cakes, which she sold mostly to art-world friends…

Creativity, confidence (and free time) are all good, sure. There’s no mystery really, the short profile isn’t opaque, and it’s the reason why the theme would ultimately be boring because the answer is always the same: know rich and/or well-connected people and/or be one yourself. Boring…

The candy is pretty cool, though.

Newborn: Emoji Burger

 

emoji burger da wink

Yes, so there is a new burger joint in Jackson Heights. And yes, the patty is a Pat LaFrieda blend of some sort. Aaand, if you were to believe neighborhood chatter, we now have our very own Shake Shack (or maybe even Minetta Tavern, or Spotted Pig…joke).

emoji burger interior

Um, what we have so far is a  perfectly fine fast food burger in a fast food setting. And in neither the Shake Shack nor In-n-Out mold, which is ok since Queens does get its first standalone Shake Shack tomorrow. (Or styled after Umami for that matter–despite the mildly similar name, I actually believe this story about the name coming to the owner after praying, and I would be surprised if Umami had name recognition with more than 10% of anyone in Jackson Heights.)

emoji burger cross section

I intended to get the most basic burger, which still contains so-called emoji aioli, on my first visit even though I really wanted the “Thums Up” with ham and pineapple, yet still ended up with bacon and a sesame seed bun (non-sesame buns are Martin’s potato rolls) otherwise known as “Da Wink.” I just wanted to taste the beef, which was difficult. There is this push-pull where there is almost too much going on, bu t at the same time nothing melds. Like all the components stayed separate when the cheeseburger needs to ooze and reanimate into a delicious whole. By the way, medium is standard, and you can ask for medium-rare (I did and I wasn’t ignored) though the it doesn’t make a huge difference with this thinner style of patty.

emoji burger facade

I also had small fries, freshly cut, and plain if that needs specifying because loaded fries are really a thing around here. If I ever get burnt out on “panda fries,” I’ll be set with Emoji’s choice of Emo, Cheese, Pio, or O’Le, all with various cheeses, meats, alliums, and sauces.

Emoji Burger * 80-07 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, NY 

Dani’s House of Pizza: Pesto Slice

Always the best part of getting my hair cut in Kew Gardens. @danishouseofpizza #queens4lyfe #pizza #queens #kewgardens

A photo posted by Krista Garcia (@goodiesfirst) on

Roughly every three months for roughly the past year I have Instagrammed a photo that looks almost exactly like the one above.

Dani’s slice is a fine slice. Of course it is a sweet slice (for the first time on this visit I noticed a female staffer in a t-shirt proudly stating #sweetsauce, yes, hashtag sweetsauce, so they are really owning it). But really I’ve been biding my time, waiting for the fabled pesto pie to make an appearance. One Saturday afternoon, the two teens in front of my got the last slices. I wasn’t mad. Other times I’ve been told it’ll be a 20 minute wait, and I always eat in, and eat slow, and I’ve yet to witness fresh pesto pie made or emerge from the oven.

dani's pesto slice

BUT this time as I was wrapping up, taking my last bites, having timed my beer perfectly, full, and needing to make it to the bus to Trader Joe’s before closing, out came the pesto. A big moon made of green cheese resting hot next to my arm.

I looked around, marveled that there were two women occupying the stools to my left, one who seemed lost and had traveled from the UES via the LIRR like a real journey on the way to a reading, which I did not know they did in Kew Gardens, the other in  a leather mini and a Hoegaarden with a glass who clearly knew what she was doing, and figured it was a sign. So, another slice, another beer, happy holidays. Soon we all had cheesy triangles speckled with basil and garlic, flopping on paper plates in front of us.

Dani’s House of Pizza * 81-28 Lefferts Blvd., Kew Gardens, NY

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Italian, American, French

don antonio's pizza

Don Antonio I was vaguely aware of this Neapolitan pizza place’s existence in midtown west but not enough for it ever to jar me into doing something about it. I mean, it’s not a secret. Guy Fieri is boldly featured in its Facebook cover photo, despite being neither a diner, drive-in, nor dive. It attracts a theater crowd mixed with tourists and looks a little hairier than it is in reality, if you don’t have a reservation. I was just feeling super pizza-deprived in my neighborhood and and wanted a really good crust and beyond basic toppings walkable from my office. This was it. The Macellaio is all kinds of meaty with sausage, prosciutto, salami, and sliced porchetta strategically placed. No one will stop you from getting a white pie teeming with arugula either. Would return.

Eastlands initially gave me 1 Knickerbocker vibes, which who even remembers that and it was a solid two years ago which may as well be two decades in Bushwick time. All I mean is a restaurant with good intentions that everyone is probably going to treat as a bar…because it looks like a bar. I only had snacks, so no serious judgments on the menu, which looks fairly ambitious (er, though now I can’t cite a single item from memory and appears to have zero presence online). Here, short rib sliders and pumpkin fritters with dip somewhere between a pesto and chimichurri.

Le Garage, on the other hand, feels fully formed out of the gate. Honestly, being French, short menu or not, in a burger and pizza (yes, some good burgers and pizzas) neighborhood doesn’t hurt. The mother and daughter team helps too. There are salmon rillettes, escargot come in confited potatoes, leeks are cooked down in that great silky way, dressed with vinaigrette and garnished with fried capers and egg whites, and cheese, of course.