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American Falafel

The AP article, “Falafel to go: Mideast food chains expand abroad” illustrated with a photo of Cafe Bateel (Bateel is the Godiva of the United Arab Emirates but with dates not chocolate) quickened my pulse a bit.

Abroad doesn’t automatically equal the US, however. It’s Russia, Turkey, the “Far East” and more regions of the Middle East that are getting the slightly upscale cafes found in malls.

We’re also not getting Man’oushe Street, the Dubai chain specializing in the namesake flatbreads commonly topped with Kashkaval cheese, thyme and sesame seeds.

America just gets Just Falafel. The first US branch recently opened in Fremont, California (NYC and New Jersey are both listed as locations on the website) which prompted the addition of a new regional variation to its line-up of wraps called the Californian. You know, beets and salsa. There was already an American served on a sesame-studded bun with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar–and everybody’s favorite: cocktail sauce.

By that score, the New Yorker will be garnished with thousand island dressing and kidney beans?

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Skewers, Shawarma, Sable

snack eos duoSnack EOS Ninth Avenue near Times Square can feel more exciting simply because it’s not Eighth Avenue. Even so, there are a few charmers like Larb Ubol that stand out, and now Snack EOS, which was new to me, and possibly new period. Peaceful and non-plasticky, it’s a nice respite from the humidity and suitcase-draggers–and the $14.95 snack box isn’t a bad deal for a sit-down lunch. The taramosalata (pictured) with lots of warm pita and a yellowfin tuna skewer a.k.a. kalamaki with olives and a farro salad, is just one combo from a choice of three starters and an equal number of mains.

 

 

la goulette delivery

La Goulette Can you accurately judge a restaurant based on delivery? Probably not. La Goulette already gets points, though, for being one of the only Tunisian restaurants around (and by around, I mean that I can walk to). I appreciated that you could get chicken shawarma (there is merguez, but not much lamb in other forms, oddly) in a style not involving pita or rice. Who cares whether roasted cauliflower and artichokes are a traditional accompaniment  or a modern concession, it worked. There’s plenty of starch in the falafel and hummus-filled “veggie mix.” Don’t worry.

baz bagels nova & sableBaz Bagel It might also be wrong to choose a nouveau Jewish cafe based on the wallpaper. I’ve been researching palm tree and fern wall coverings for the past month and wanted to see some in the wild. (I was also obsessed with the Alloro’s green interior when it first opened, but never enough to prompt an in-person visit.) The food? That’s more difficult to parse. I wasn’t at Baz under pure food-enjoying circumstances to start with (beyond the wallpaper-scoping) yet even if I was paying more attention, the price to proportion might’ve seemed slightly out of whack.. One would think  something described as a tasting plate (nova and sable) and costing $18 would be shareable. Not so. A bagel sandwich might make more sense–or moving on to Black Seed or Russ & Daughters Cafe next time.

 

Tears by Proxy

Twice in the past two days I’ve encountered examples of dining-induced tears by proxy. I’m not sure if this counts toward my ongoing Crybaby Compendium. I’m pretty sure Judge Judy would consider this hearsay and bust a gasket over it.

I haven’t watched the video responsible for these tears, so it’s possible that simply hearing about salad dressing could make a woman cry. Could someone less cynical go watch it and report back?

* * *

Because I’m a crybaby about dining alone but not getting a nice birthday dinner because I’m too self-conscious to dine alone would be more tear-provoking, I have been toying with the idea of sushi, the solitude-averse’s compromise. In my reading up, I came across Eric Asimov’s 2011 review of Sushi Yasuda, which opens with an anecdote about a  friend who enjoyed dining at the French Laundry alone.

“Wouldn’t she miss out on the communal relishing of shared flavors, delights and memories?” he wonders.

Sure, but she wanted the freedom “to laugh or to weep as the mood dictated, without the sort of inhibitions companions might pose” as we all might want.

Asimov gets it, but wants to make it clear that he’s a guy so this has not been a problem for him. “Being a somewhat stolid male, I have rarely found crying at the table to be an issue,” he reassures.

You and me both. I still haven’t made a birthday reservation. And I’m still not clear whether or not it’s ok to cry during Yasuda’s omakase or not.

Super Birds

New York City has been the recipient of an untold number of national chains over the past few years, some more high-profile than others. Even The New Yorker deigned to comment on Dairy Queen (online only, naturally). The Perkins in Harlem? Not so much.

I’ve been anticipating the City Hall Denny’s a little bit, I’ll admit, despite never being in the vicinity. Denny’s was my teenage go-to, across the street from my high school football field, complete with a cigarette machine in the lobby and bottomless cups of coffee. There weren’t a lot of choices for meeting friends to  chain smoke at 9pm on weeknight. (Clearly, downtown Portland was cooler but that took 45 minutes on the light rail rather than ten minutes in a car). You might think it was the Moons Over My Hammy that was embarrassing to order, but it was actually the Super Bird, my usual (turkey, bacon, swiss and tomato on sourdough–that’s a club, right?) that generally made me laugh out loud (this was pre-LOL) when saying its name.

It turns out, though, that I will soon be living just five blocks from another impending Denny’s (East New York will get there first, most likely), right on Northern Boulevard, not so far from the now-shuttered, sidewalk seating-free IHOP. It appears that Queens was not big enough to handle the two breakfast giants.

I love me some arepas and chilaquiles, but this is going to be big.

P.S. Did anyone ever eat at a Sambo’s–there’s one left–by chance? I certainly did.

Loose Ends

Ugh, I managed to practically lose the entire month of June, and July is already escaping me. Can I talk briefly about a few unrelated things that aren’t new?

Fireball Whiskey is apparently a thing among the cocktail set. Punch said so, and then posted this more pedestrian Williamsburg evidence today. I’m pretty sure I bought my sister a bottle of Dekuyper Hot Damn! for one of her birthdays in the early ‘90s, but until recently that had been the extent of my cinnamon-flavored liquor knowledge. Fireball was rampant in New Orleans, and I finally caved at Twelve Mile Limit when faced with a French 75 twist called the Spitfire (just add champagne–probably prosecco, in reality–and lemon juice). It’s easier to take risks on cocktails when priced in the single digits, not $14, the new $12. No, the picture is not great. Maybe it’s the inverse of “camera cuisine.”

Should I care about endless appetizers at TGI Friday? I don’t really.

I do care about NYC’s first Melting Pot. Why is no one talking about this? Maybe it’s too hot to think about melted cheese.

I wouldn’t go all the way to Florida for the experience, but I definitely need to see one of these new re-modeled-for-millennials Olive Gardens.

Smith & Wollensky is opening its first international location in London.

Maza Loukouma and Espresso Bar, a Greek coffee bar, is supposed to open in Greenwich Village next month.

Jackson Heights has a new international chain Pastes Kiko’s, which I’m excited about because turnovers not tacos, obviously, but also because it’s just four blocks away from my new co-op (I’m going to scope the hell out of the neighborhood come September).

I could take or leave the healthy Belgian chain Exki that also recently opened. By the way, my sporadic Serious Eats column, “Fast Food International” was a victim of the recent site revamp. Anyone dying for some amazing NYC-centric international intrigue?

I thought Bolivians hated fast food—it’s the country that’s always trotted out as being McDonald’s-proof—but I guess now that we’ve depleted all of their quinoa, they’ve been forced to embrace KFC. Wow, Ventura Mall is clearly where it’s all happening in Bolivia. There’s a new Sbarro too.

I’m pretty sure this is the first food commercial exploiting normcore fashion (just the white guy, to be specific). Sensible since it doesn’t get much more normcore than Chex Mix. Enjoy.

 

 

Pasar Malam

threeshovelSometimes I think Instagram is good for nothing (unless you consider foodie weddings/group vacation rental parties/storm clouds over skyscrapers as something), and other days it’s great for letting me know that there’s a new Malaysian restaurant down the street hosting a media event where apparently everyone’s eating nasi lemak. What’s this? Pasar Masam on Grand Street? I was there the next day.

I wasn’t so sure about Malaysian food in Williamsburg, but I will give the restaurant credit for opening on one of the soupiest weeks of the year. It might not be a real open air night market–the no nonsense back-lit signage advertising multiple permutations of roti is spot-on, though–but they couldn’t have orchestrated the humid monsoon effect any more authentically. I can’t think of a single outdoor meal eaten in Malaysia where I wasn’t sweating to the point of distraction.

Pasar Malam is from the same owners as Laut near Union Square, the mishmash Thai-Malaysian restaurant you rarely hear much about. Here, there is pad thai, papaya salad and tom yum on the menu, but that’s it. I don’t think they even need it. We’re over saturated with Thai restaurants already and suffering a dearth of Malaysian, especially in Brooklyn.

pasar malam roti prata

I managed to rope in two others on short notice so I could  try more dishes (I’m always amazed at the diversity of food quirks: one doesn’t like hard-boiled eggs, the other eggs scrambled with seafood, i.e. char kway teow and chili crab). I will be back for the meatier things like murtabak. And maybe brunch, which is supposed to happen?  The roti station is prominently featured at the top of the menu and in the back of the restaurant, so you can’t really pass on the flaky, grilled pancakes  (plus your server–all super invested in your trying and liking the food–probably won’t let you). Roti prata is a slightly thicker, chewier version of the more-common-in-NYC roti canai, and served with a thin lightly spiced curry, no chicken or potato chunks. One person could easily eat a serving themselves, and might want to, but only make that rookie mistake if you don’t plan to order much else.

pasar malam rojak

Rojak isn’t a superstar with the name recognition of satay, or even laksa, but the salad exemplifies Malaysian flavors with its sweet-savory balance that teeters on weird. Ostensibly, it’s a crunchy fruit salad, made up here with pineapple, green mango and apples, but also cucumber and jicama, plus chopped up fried cruellers for a little chew (I like the versions that also include squid for even more chew). The whole thing gets dressed in a thick, burnt umber shrimp paste dressing (I could’ve used more) that’s like a fishy molasses and garnished with sesame seeds and crushed peanuts. Mexican fruit preparations with salt, chile and lime get at this odd combo, Thai papaya salads with dried shrimp, a little palm sugar and fish sauce get pretty close, but nothing really reaches the fruity-fishy intensity like rojak.

pasar malam chicken satay

Satay always seems boring to me, but the classic grilled chicken with peanut sauce was sweet, smoky and in appropriately demure-sized chunks to retain moisture. While the flavors aren’t watered down and I wouldn’t really call this nouveau anything, there are some creative liberties taken–the Hainan chicken rice being fried rather than steamed may give some pause–for instance, our server really wanted us to try the tandoori satay. Who knows? It’s probably good?

bk malaysia crunch frank

If you want serious liberties taken, look no further than the new Burger King Malaysia tie-in with the latest Transformers movie. This potato chip-topped hot dog could give a Colombian perro caliente a run for its money, if not for the chicken wiener.

pasar malam garlic shrimp

And as if to be proven wrong in my know-it-all self-sufficiency, we were brought a butter garlic prawn each after ignoring the glowing recommendation. Yes, they were good, really good, and like a spicier, curry leaf-fragrant version of salt-and-pepper shrimp.

pasar malam mantou & chili crab

To be honest, after you’ve had chili crab twice in your life, the novelty wears off and you might just move on to less messy dishes that don’t require extracting precious morsels from goopy shells. That was why I was not bothered by the use of soft-shell crab in the Singaporean classic. The sauce leaned more sweet and sour than spicy, as tradition dictates, and really the egg just gives it body a la egg drop soup minus the massive amounts of corn starch. Thankfully, no one messed with the accompaniment: fluffy mantou, available steamed or fried. Don’t think that I didn’t notice that orange chile ring artfully placed on the tip of the battered leg.

pasar malam nasi lemak

The other thought I had when first seeing photos online of the conical mounds of coconut rice was that Pasar Malam was really going to mess with my plan to not eat (I said nothing about drinking) any carbs until my birthday, 23 days into the future. Clearly, I caved before I barely began. More than just some curry, rice and a few fried anchovies and peanuts tucked into a banana leaf package to go, this was serious sit-down dinner-style nasi lemak. The chicken curry also comes with multiple shrimpy, fishy sambals, pickled achar–and that requisite hard-boiled egg half.

pasar malam fish head curry

I’m not convinced that Williamsburg is full of the educated eaters the owner thinks there is, but I do appreciate the presence of a fish head curry. And yes, I was warned it was a fish head. And yet I was dismayed by the lack of an actual head, eyes intact, cheeks for the picking. It comes pre-hacked, which actually makes it fussier to eat, necessitating a lot of sucking gelatinous bits from nooks and crannies rather than being able to dig in yourself with chopsticks from a more stable mass of flesh. Served with okra and green beans, this is a creamy, coconut milk-based version, not the hotter, orange-tinged broth style.

pasar malam michael jackson

There is no liquor license yet. There is a Michael Jackson, though, my favorite un-PC name for the popular black-and-white soy milk and grass jelly drink.

Pasar Malam has made me a little excited about Brooklyn dining, something I had been feeling jaded about recently. I’m only sad that I finally got an interesting, non-meatball/bbq/fried chicken restaurant so near to my apartment, mere months before I move to Queens. Nice knowing ya.

Pasar Malam * 208 Grand St., Brooklyn, NY

Pack(age) Rat: Abady Complete Beef-Based Fat Cat Formula Canned Cat Food

fat cat food

Grocery stores in foreign countries, the pet food aisles in particular, are always good source of indoor fun. You don’t always have to look abroad for your kicks, though.

I was recently gifted with a can of Abady Complete Beef-Based Fat Cat Formula Canned Cat Food from The Robert Abady Dog Food Co. Ltd, “The Developers and Manufacturers of Species-Appropriate Rations for Dogs and Cats” by someone who’s serious about raw pet food. So beautiful in its ’70s healthful simplicity, so blunt in calling it as it is.

Yes, my cat is fat. And so?

The Middle Ages: Acorn Lounge

When I become concerned that bar-hopping is the province of the young in big cities, I look to dispatches from my friend who moved last year from Crown Heights to a farm in Viroqua, Wisconsin (population 5,079). This is the scoop on the Acorn Lounge, part of a newly restored Victorian B&B.

The first hint should have been that there are NO stairs outside, just ramps everywhere and lots of them. Inside the place was hoppin’, packed with the spryest, loudest bunch of seventy-somethings I’ve ever seen. And this is probably why–a bar built with that exact crowd in mind: carpet everywhere and a sunken bar. Genius. The bartenders have to go down about five steps to get behind the taps, but the crowd gets to sit on padded, wide, wheeled 1980s chairs–like something from the Golden Girls set and just SO much easier than the comfortable barstools at Dead Rabbit. (ed. note: the best bar stools I’ve encountered to date.) For added comfort you can grab yourself an extra cushion from a stack near the bar and when you’re done a waitress rolls your chair back and helps you to your feet. On the digital jukebox: Bruno Mars, One Direction and Pink. Perfect.

Perfect, indeed. Plus, all the dairy-based drinks a mature constitution can handle. Also, what the heck is a Sneaky Pete, and where can I get one in NYC?

Eaten, Barely Blogged: The Great Outdoors

northern bell duo

Northern Bell. It’s the time of year when setting can trump what you’re actually eating. Sometimes you just want to sit outdoors, preferably in a yard or on a patio (never on a sidewalk, never) with a drink in hand, and the food, if good, is an added bonus. Northern Bell isn’t breaking any new ground with its barbecue and burgers (maybe with the other B’s, bison and boar, in short rib and belly form?) but the backyard is nice as long as a violent downpour doesn’t erupt minutes after you’ve received your drinks. I forgot to ask for cheese, and despite the Pat Lafrieda custom blend, the burger felt a little naked. And who doesn’t want a cobb salad, southern-style with pimento cheese, pecans and deviled eggs?

Battery Harris. The $12 beer-and-a-burger happy hour deal can draw a crowd even when storms render a good portion of the fenced-off patio useless (has it rained every Friday in recent history?). When sunny, it’s not a half-bad place to share a plate of jerk wings or pork buns. Plus, it’s the only establishment in Williamsburg where I can recall ever seeing a crew of artsy adults clearly over 60, which counts for something.

astoria bier & cheese berliner weisse

Astoria Bier & Cheese. First, I was excited to find Berliner Weisse with the colorful red and green syrups, a summer quirk that I missed out on my one cold weather trip to Germany. Sure, the woodruff, despite sounding weedy and foraged, is more sweet than herbal, a softener for the beer’s sourness. It is pretty, though, (and happened to match my nails). Then my excitement continued with the sweet/savory/fatty grilled cheese of my dreams. The Cambozola and bacon, drizzled with honey and squished between toasted slices of fennel, raisin semolina is exactly the sandwich I would make myself if I made sandwiches at home.

bacchanal duo

Bacchanal. Ok, one of these things is not like the other. I may have tightened my purse-strings and burnt out on Brooklyn (I’m in the process of whim-buying a Jackson Heights co-op, it turns out) but beer and burgers must give way to aperitifs and small plates at some point. The Adonis (Noilly Prat Ambre, amontillado sherry, orange bitters) is like a summery, lightened-up Manhattan. The sparkling Chinon probably paired better with the sweet and sour–Italian-ish, not Chinese–sweetbreads, though.

Pêche

threeshovelSomehow it completely makes sense that I would cancel my dinner reservations at Pêche hours before it was declared the best new restaurant in the US. It’s just how I like to live. At least I did manage to score a walk-in table at lunch just before my afternoon flight back home.

peche oysters & smoked tuna dip

As good and quintessentially New Orleans as they are, you will not find any charbroiled oysters encrusted in cheese at Pêche, just fresh local specimens on the half shell with classic mignonette. Which isn’t to say that snacks like the smoked tuna dip served with Saltines are aggressively highbrow.

peche grilled shrimp

A plate of Royal Red shrimp showed up instead of the redfish with salsa verde I’d actually ordered, which has to be one of the few times that my fast-speaking mumble combined with Williamsburg-y service has paid off–because I ended up with both. The grilled Alabama gulf shrimp, buttery and naturally sweet, drew comparisons to Etxebarri’s shrimp in the Basque Country, which is kind of crazy, but not.

peche grilled redfish with salsa verde

The shrimp didn’t overshadow the originally intended dish, a grilled redfish covered nearly head-to-fin in a deep green forest  of mint, parsley and garlic. The whole fish on offer differs by the day, and probably makes the most sense for parties of three or more so you can also try some sides (which I forgot to order even though it didn’t really matter).

The thing about New Orleans is that even though seafood is abundant and plenty of restaurants specialize in it, rich, breaded and fried styles rule most menus. Pêche’s reliance on its prominently featured wood-fired grill and focus on simply prepared, regional catches, can feel like a refreshing change. That said, make sure to get your fill of oyster po’ boys, shrimp etoufee, barbecue shrimp, and remoulade-dressed, pecan-crusted and crab-stuffed seafood too.

Pêche * 800 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA