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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.

 

Summer Break

 evangelismOk, I will be in LA for the next week because I want to become one of those loathsome New Yorkers who moves, thinks they are doing something radical, shares their thoughts with the world and then becomes insufferable about Mexican food. I mean, I’m not moving, I’m just going to be doing a lot of eating probably.

The big questions are if I can avoid grain bowls, avocado toast, hour-waits for egg sandwiches, pizza no matter how hot shit (this is where New Yorkers are insufferable) and if I should care about poke? Like how does raw fish become some city-wide (ok, nation-wide, if I’m to believe today’s Zagat post) trend? Oh, and if I’ll be able to remember how to drive, and figure out how to pump gas. (I know, right? But I grew up in Oregon and all my NYC car experiences involved getting gas in New Jersey because it’s cheaper.)

I hope to return wiser and fuller of tacos, In-n-Out burgers–and er, Malibu Chicken. (I’m dead serious about my love of Sizzler. In fact, it was sort of the impetus for the trip.)

 

The Week International Intrigue: Doughnuts, DJ’s, Black Bun Redux

When Iceland receives its first Dunkin’ Donuts, there are not only blue-and-red-glazed flag doughnuts but a DJ (playing J Dilla, reportedly) to entertain the masses. Of course.

Fresh off the success of its Tough Guy Burgers, Dunkin’ Donuts India is now further cementing its reputation for savory over sweet with new Voodoo Wraps, burrito-esque items featuring red and green tortillas.

The Burger King black bun craze that gained notoriety in Japan has spread to Russia as part of a promotional tie-in with online game World of Tanks. Fat potato wedges appear to be a prominent topping.

Kuwait now has a Dairy Queen in a mall as it should. And right next to a Popeye’s.

Starbucks opened its first store in Panama and it will serve locally harvested coffee.

 

 

 

Screen Time: Grace and Frankie

 

Grace and Frankie is a mom show, maybe not my mom, but a mom show nonetheless. My focus on the 40+ drinkers on screen hovers in the 40s out of necessity not self-absorption. There just isn’t a lot of representation beyond that.

Despite Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin being 78 and 75, they play newly single women in their 60s, which is kind of remarkable in itself. On a “Say Yes Night” where one has to agree to everything presented, clothing styles were swapped and Grace was forced into checking out an old haunt of Frankie’s. Yet the dive had been gentrified into a bar full of clean-cut youngsters and whiskey flights. Thankfully, there happened to be old male twosome (one, John Locke from Lost) on the prowl who treated the ladies to a tasting.

Yes, this results in dancing on the bar and having a car towed because it’s that kind of show.

 

Gabriel Kreuther

threeshovelSometimes the fancy, leisurely lunch is the right move even when your celebratory self thinks only a wine-paired, tasting menu marathon will do. The $52 two-course prix fixe might not be the city’s ultimate bargain (Jean-Georges is still $48) but it’s a great value (and even better if near your office for optimal hooky-playing–a practical factor of mine despite the impracticality of such a mid-day meal).

The new, spacious restaurant in the Grace Building across from Bryant Park is crisp and modern, from the long lean silverware evoking Vienna Seccession-era design to the wall patterned with black and white cranes storks (Alsace’s emblem, I’ve been informed)  wings spread, mid-strut. All details and service read luxurious rather than fussy.

gabriel kreuther oneThe bread game is strong. A savory kugelhopf appears first with chive fromage blanc, then amuses: a melon gelée with what I want to say was sea urchin and not just because of the shape of the tiny vessel, and pea puree fortified with goat cheese, sandwiched between black crackers, the first of two items incorporating ash to dramatic effect.

Summer does not have to be all rosés and whites. A request for a light red by the glass resulted in Domaine de la Pinte 2011, a hazy, almost amber Poulsard, both brightly fruity and serious.

gabriel kreuther twoIt’s easy to be drawn to the more obvious charms of langostine tartar or a foie gras terrine instead of anything featuring sauerkraut prominently, but go with your gut because fermented cabbage paired with caviar is a perfect high-low combination. The sturgeon and sauerkraut tart (not to be confused with the tarte flambées served in the lounge), an import from The Modern, is presented covered in perky, glass cloche swirling with applewood smoke. The overall flavor, particularly from the mousseline, is saline and almost crab-like. Bamboo ash, more for looks than flavor, also appears in a string of rolls that I kept expecting to taste like poppyseed.

Super fatty and luscious Mangalitsa pork collar is paired a little unusually with morcilla and not illogically with apricot and fennel, creating an overall effect that read Asian almost as if infused with star anise and dried tangerine peel. Cheeks, hidden in the back, had the texture of a more delicate corned beef. Paired with a generously poured Alsatian Pinot Noir (Zusslin 2010) that was more about dried fruit and smoke than juiciness.

gabriel kreuther coconut hazelnut pocky, mignardises

Dessert is available for $16, but wasn’t totally necessary. One benefit of solo dining is that the treats aren’t always scaled down for one. Did I really need five candies (cantaloupe and mint, lime…and who remembers?) plus two twigs of coconut-hazelnut “Pocky?” No, and not the glass of kirschwasser either. Needs are not the hallmark of the fancy lunch, though.

Gabriel Kruether * 41 W. 42nd St. New York, NY 

Newborn: Sushi Inoue

Despite its less than savory reputation, it’s because of Tinder that I was able to enjoy a preview of the delights (that would still be delightful full price) being prepared at Sushi Inoue, a restaurant with 14-seat sushi counter that opened this weekend on the ground floor of a newish condo building in Harlem. This is less neighborhood takeout sushi than an understated showcase for hyper-fresh seafood flown from Japan and prepared by Chef Shinichi Inoue, formerly of Michelin-starred Sushi Azabu (and app-introduced friend of a friend).

A la carte sushi and omakase (three levels ranging from $80 to $120) are both available. What follows is a sampling of what you might expect as part of the chef’s choice.

sushi inoue one

Amuses like a cherry tomato in gelee, tender nuggets of tako wasabi, and a jumbo pacific clam, large enough to be sliced into three bites and spiked with black pepper.

sushi inoue two

There’s something about being instructed “Don’t touch the head” that only makes you want to prod it more. Ten minutes on, the shrimp’s spindly legs and antennae were still moving with only the slightest provocation. While the sashimi was pristine, the squares of tomago stood out, sweet, with the texture of a burnished sponge cake rather than custardy. The chawanmushi topped with corn and two rounds of okra was smoky, from what, I’m not sure. Any morbid temptation to rip into the translucent flesh hidden in prawn’s shell was worth suppressing for its re-purposing as messy finger food in an intense mushroomy miso broth.

sushi inoue three

The sushi, compact and incorporating barely sweetened rice dabbed with wasabi, was the highlight despite my inability to recall every nuance  (many pours of  sweetish Junmai Daiginjo, “Dreams Come True” followed by Dassai Beyond, apparently good enough to serve Obama, didn’t help my memory). Four days later, and I can still taste the uni, creamy, almost like seawater emulsified with happiness. Probably because I ate two. My favorite, though, was the pink chevron-patterned nodoguro, sea bass barely seared and garnished with the tiniest dollop of yuzu kosho, a spicy paste of pickled green chiles and yuzu peel. Eel, octopus, scallops, otoro, what looked like mackerel but was actually shad, were all lovely too. Oh, and matcha cheesecake, accompanied by a round of “Happy Birthday” sung by the staff, just an hour before my day kicked in officially.

Sushi Inoue * 381 Lenox Ave., New York, NY 

Nice Rack

http://dishpanhands.tumblr.com/post/123212241744/even-yuppies-who-renovated-soho-lofts-had-to-wash

Tangentially related to food and drink, I’ve created yet another certain to be updated only sporadically (unless you send me submissions–and please do) Tumblr to distract me from the important things in life. Don’t be afraid to take a look at Nice Rack, my attempt to document dish drying racks on screen. My newish dishwasher-free existence has been painful, but perhaps these reminders will keep my grounded during this difficult time.

Uncle Sam’s Burgers

twoshovelClose to a year ago, Uncle Sam’s was being touted as a coming attraction. A burger chain rooted in Beijing? I was sold on concept yet not fully convinced since I couldn’t find any evidence of such a creature existing in China. It turns out, two did open in Beijing but not until six months after the announcement, which still makes me suspicious. (I would love it if the Australian rules footballs being used as a decor element in the Chinese shops instead of American pigskins was a brilliant faux-naive marketing ploy.) Would an impending NYC branch somehow make the restaurant seem more legit on its home turf?

uncle sam's duo

Uncle Sam’s opened to little fanfare in May, along a corridor of Fifth Avenue that’s home to other foreign imports like popular Korean fried chicken chain Bon Chon and lesser known Turkish cafe Simit Sarayi. It’s not particularly obvious that this isn’t a homegrown establishment. There are wacky Asian-tinged combinations like the 888 Burger (shumai patty, Canadian bacon, char-siu and Sriracha mayo) and K-Town (galbi beef, kimchi, white American cheese, spicy black bean mayo and pickled daikon) in the current more is more style, cold brew coffee from Kopi Trading Co., a kale side salad, and a soundtrack piping in Matt and Kim (followed by samba and reggae). This may as well be Brooklyn.

And that’s the genre it traffics in, at least from a price perspective. With the specialty burgers ranging from $7.95-$10.95, sides extra, it’s an expensive proposition for an unproven brand with beef of unknown origins. That said, it’s fun, and you can do worse in the tourist-heavy zone flanking the Empire State Building.

uncle sam's trio

I went with the relatively demure Signature, which is more or less a Swiss and mushroom burger with scallions and oyster sauce, because at 11:30am, still my breakfast time, and anything bolder seemed untoward. The burger was larger than a fast food version but still petite, and a total umami bomb with deep, concentrated double mushroom flavor and slight nuttiness from the soft blanket of melted cheese. You can spruce up as you like from the selection of Lee Kum Kee condiments, nearly all untouched, foil seals intact.

The Sichuan chili, pepper jack cheese, and sriracha mayo-topped tater tots and sesame miso caramel milkshakes will have to wait until a later hour.

Uncle Sam’s Burger * 307 Fifth Ave., New York, NY