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Color Me Bad: Greens and Blues of the Week

The week in which I fell victim to social media marketing. Despite being slightly irked by that matcha custard pie showing up all over Instagram, I also really wanted to eat that matcha custard pie showing up all over Instagram.

Photo: Dina Litovsky/New York Magazine

Photo: Dina Litovsky/New York Magazine

Then I got all caught up with the coconut blue punch that was so tangentially featured in the New York spread on Mission Chinese chef Angela Dimayuga catering a meal for the cast of Hamilton (am I the only human who knows nothing about this show and am indifferent to learning more?) that the recipe wasn’t even included.

Oof, but Silk Cakes, the Forest Hills bakery with Smorgasburg Queens presence has a green tea cupcake topped with blueberry buttercream, uniting blues and greens in a single morsel. And the circle was complete.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Feeding Out of Towners

seamore's spread

Seamore’s The sustainable seafood restaurant may have won “Instagram Bait of the Year,” but I’ll concede this is a pretty shoddy pic. (There’s a reason no one is paying me $350 to promote their food.) The poke, so LA, and chosen by the visitor from that raw fish-crazed city, was easily the best thing eaten and it was all because of the peanuts in addition to the tuna, avocado, and ponzu. The bluefish in its pure state was fine, and kind of bizarre with miso brown butter that tasted like caramel corn (perhaps better for sweeter shrimp or scallops) The steamed vegetable and grainy sides of the same sort you get at The Meatball Shop (not that I ever eat there, but what I’ve heard from a friend who regularly gets vegetarian meatball takeout and was also was at this dinner, is how inconsistent and frequently half-cooked everything is) were less exciting even though it didn’t matter since the well-fried dogfish tacos took up all my free stomach space.

la perrada de chalo hot dogs

La Perrada de Chalo There are a lot of ways to go when wooing a West Coaster and trying to convince them Queens is a great place to stay even though they’d prefer Manhattan. Don’t attempt Mexican, just don’t, even though we know the Mexican-food-in-NYC-sucks trope is tired. Colombian hot dogs are more than capable of doing the trick, however. Make the crushed potato chips, bacon, pineapple, blackberry sauce, and creamy squiggles of mayonnaise and ketchup blending into one, seem like foreign delicacy. Plus, open 24 hours on weekends, which is a tough call between the nearby White Castle.

dominique ansel kitchen savories

Dominique Ansel Kitchen I chose the chicken chicken paprikash and cheddar chive biscuit when I should’ve just shared the massive croque monsieur. And I’m still stinging from not realizing the edamame avocado toast is actually a bread bowl when I’ve dedicated my life to embracing the edible vessel.

brooklyn diner kugel sundae

Brooklyn Diner I wouldn’t tell anyone to go to Brooklyn Diner (how it happened to me is still vague) but noodle kugel in a sundae was a surprise. And a welcome one along the same rich, custardy lines as leche flan hiding out in a pile of icy halo halo.

cata egg toasts

Cata Kind of underrated. Do we ever hear about this tapas bar I picked primarily because it’s a non-abusive Friday night choice on the Lower East Side? The big gin and tonics (smoked coconut, kaffir lime) are fun, the food doesn’t suck, though even after sharing maybe five things and two desserts (among three, then four for sweets) you still might end up getting tacos on the way home and find out your Oakland friend stopped for cereal milk soft serve in Carroll Gardens. The quail eggs benedict with chorizo were the sleeper hit.

jackson heights white castle

White Castle Yeah, so I was recently at one in Detroit but I’d never been to the location I’ve lived a ten-minute walk from for the past year. And no better time than 4:30am on a Saturday. Semi-related: I’m still waiting for the damn Northern Boulevard Denny’s I was promised.


Who Needs Tinder When You’ve Got Olive Garden?

So, Olive Garden has decided to get into dating advice because millennials. Just #AskAlfredo and you shall receive.

The real question, though, is who am I going to coerce into a date at Olive Garden before the Never Ending Pasta Bowl offer disappears this year?

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Weekend in Detroit

I wouldn’t necessarily say I went to Detroit for the food, though I did end up eating way more one human should (the biggest downside of traveling alone is the inability to share dishes) and was practically drunk for two days straight (had to check out those new-breed distilleries). I went for the same reason I’ve gone anywhere this year (hmm…just Hudson, NY and Los Angeles–gotta step it up in 2016), primarily to get out of New York City and visit a place I don’t really know.

Detroit’s in-progress renaissance, the emergence of bars and restaurant included, has garnered a good deal of coverage. (I’m kind of partial to this balanced take.) And if the hype over the city’s more Brooklyn-esque aspects (it’s no Paris) make you feel avoidant, don’t worry because Detroit is coming to you like it or not, one semi-artisanal coney dog and pan pizza at a time.

gold cash gold duo

Gold Cash Gold My first stop. Late-ish Friday, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” playing. That thing where as soon as I’m settled, everyone at the large bar finishes up and I’m sitting smack next to the only couple and inadvertently hear everything they have to say. He wanted Benedictine but didn’t know “the liqueur with the white cap” was called that, and she didn’t want to get married at the Detroit Institute of Arts because it was cliche. (She was right–there were two wedding parties there on my visit.) My first impression: Brooklyn food, even though that’s not fair. I can get on board with the self-referential name, the restaurant occupying a building formerly not serving food . The menu reads well and the prices are refreshing; $12 is a solid plate of food, not a snack, but everything I tried could use a little something more, maybe just salt. The chicken skin salad was all there, pickled peaches, peppery greens, and yet completely under-seasoned so the dish’s calling card made little impression beyond texture. The duck merguez with heirloom apples and potatoes was a little rough around the edges like the results of a weekend cooking project. The fermented pistou (fermentation is this place’s thing) was interesting and barely hinted at basil, though the meat and potatoes were both oddly grainy. 

sugar house a.k.a. bill murray au revoir, gopher

Sugar House/Bill Murray I may be the only person alive who’s indifferent to Bill Murray. One of Detroit’s first craft cocktail bars, they are still doing the speakeasy, suspenders and mustaches thing while charging New York prices. Oh, and apparently changed its name indefinitely to Bill Murray with a Bill Murray themed cocktail list. There was a lot of flourish to the $14 Au Revoir, Gopher (Vida mezcal, Amontillado sherry, masala, Angostura bitters), literal smoke, mirrors not so much. I wanted the less precious Ectoplasm Cooler because blue curacao but Midori is a step too far for me, not because I’m classy but because I find melon foul. This wasn’t a particularly friendly crowd (one thing I’ll say for Detroit is that people are not too cool to be chatty) that was composed of bald men in leather jackets, a lot of baseball caps on men of all races, older dudes in glasses and barn jackets with a faculty-like quality mingling with younger muse-y women. Beach Fossils’ “The Horse,” from an album I love enough that I paid for it on iTunes this summer as driving music but couldn’t figure out how to make my phone play over a rental car’s speakers, did not fit the vibe one bit.

bobcat trio

Bobcat Bonnie’s No one needs a $3 tumbler of well vodka, even if it’s the foundation of diy bloody mary bar, complete with every mixer and hot sauce imaginable, plus bacon, salami, and cheese for garnishes, but if one wakes up their first morning in the city and finds a bloody mary bar a mere block away, just across Michigan Avenue, one of those multi-lane thoroughfares that would be a boulevard of death in NYC but so lightly clumped with cars leisurely crossing (or do wild u-turns or drunk drive in a rainstorm–not that I would know anything about that) is no problem…well. Because I wasn’t alert yet, I ordered the SOS, mostly because I liked the idea of lamb gravy, thinking oh, like biscuits and gravy but with Texas toast instead of biscuits. But no, it’s like shit on a shingle but with lamb instead of chipped beef. And it was tasty. I brunched alone, which is somehow even more fearsome and evil than brunching in group, and survived. The bartender who called me a “Detroit stalker” to my delight because I’d researched the hell out of dining options, was a pleasant mix of cynicism and chill, much needed but not always found in Detroit. My suspicions about my previous night’s dinner and cocktail being no more than ok were confirmed. I was recommended Selden Standard, a known heavy-hitter, then against it by the two middle-aged couples, also sitting at the bar, in the city for the weekend from the suburbs–a sometimes criticized demographic that seems to sustain much of these newer restaurants–for a beer festival. They knew they their stuff, and I didn’t listen and I regretted it.

chartreuse trio

Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails Just some snacks and a requisite Last Word since that’s the city’s cocktail claim to fame and almost anything with gin and Maraschino is great. Made with Chartreuse, it’s the color scheme and a featured spirit in multiple styles. Neither the grilled octopus with chorizo nor steak poke were particularly regional, though that was my own doing. Lake Superior whitefish and Michigan shrimp were available. I was keeping it light because I was aiming for a second dinner (and ultimately ended up with a third, if I’m to admit the 1am White Castle fast-walk from my apartment).

selden standard tartare

Selden Standard Strong, I want to say. Despite only trying the steak tartare (yes, the second raw, chopped beef dish in two hours) this felt polished. And yet, too New York-y, too many people bunched up at the bar (yes, it was a Saturday) and getting ma’amed by staff and hoverers coveting my seat, killing the buzz and good spirits I’d amassed at DIA and Chartreuse.

cafe d'mongo whiskey sour

Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy  I didn’t really enjoy this place until I got too drunk. In retrospect, maybe that’s how it works. I know it’s a favorite but there was something slightly off. I guess that could be said for the whole city in many ways.

batch brewery pork belly bolillo

Batch Brewing Company. I thought I’d hit Mudgie’s for a brunch sandwich, but it was closed for no reason on a Sunday, so nearby Batch sufficed with a pork belly bolillo and an imperial milk stout brewed with Great Lakes Costa Rican Microlot Coffee. Really set the tone for the day. 

two james distillery tasting

Two James Spirits If I had to choose a single standout Detroit interaction (thanks for asking) it would be the aw shucks, farmboy-ish kid from somewhere near St. Louis who had been in town two months for work and was sitting a stool away from me at a distillery’s tasting room and freaked the fuck out over the blue corn tortilla chips garnishing his chicken hominy stew. “I’ve never seen a black chip,” he said, clearly upset, no longer wanting to finish the dish he had ordered only because everyone else at the bar had been raving about it. (He wasn’t familiar with cumin and didn’t like it either.) He asked me what my green drink was. Absinthe, which I explained tasted kind of like licorice, trying to find some common ground and not sensory overload him any further.“Regular licorice or black licorice?”

detroit city distillery double dad

Detroit City Distillery I didn’t make it to Eastern Market Saturday or to the crazy bloody mary place or another fancy place, Antietam, named bizarrely after the bloodiest battle in US history, a fact unknown but shared with me after admitting I had no idea how the pronounce the word or had any knowledge of what it was (to further boast my ignorance, I didn’t even know Detroit was across a river from Canada, the only major US city north of Canada I also learned). This is the Double Dad (Elvethea gin, ginger beer, basil syrup) a nice respite from the tailgating wildness occurring outside. Is it too Northwesty of me to admit that I’ve never encountered tailgating in person in my life? History and geography aside, my dumbness was confirmed when I bought a bottle of gin and white rye at Two James without thinking about how I’d flown Spirit with a $40 checked bag surcharge. 

buddy's trio

Buddy’s Too much fancy was occurring, so it’s not surprising that this was possibly my favorite meal and not just as an antidote to new-school Detroit. With hard-baked corners, substantial mozzarella, and a degree of doughy heft, this square style bridges the New York thin crust, which yes, is the best, and Chicago deep dish, which I don’t hate but is barely pizza-like (we all know it may as well be lasagna). This is fun pizza only enhanced by the atmosphere. You have to get into the crispy edges, cheese heft, eaten with a fork and knife. This was the Detroiter, a combo featuring curled and crisp pepperoni slices, a specific subgenre of pepperoni prep I didn’t even know whas a thing. This was the only time I would’ve preferred a table and company (so what if I put an innocent plea on Tinder looking for a pizza date, which didn’t totally come to fruition despite interest and botched plans) rather than being relegated to the bar, in this case not by choice. There weren’t any open two-seaters in the half-filled upstairs dining room.

american vs lafayette coney

American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. I don’t love hotdogs or chili or the combination of the two but regional specialties are more important than my petty wants and needs. It had to be done. American is clearly the Geno’s, flashy, self-congratulatory, to Lafayette’s bare-bones no nonsense a la Pat’s. (I’m talking Philly cheesesteaks, if that needs saying, and if it does, ugh, who are you?) What I learned about myself? That I do like chili cheese fries (not pictured). Fried starch and melted cheese is never a disappointment.

first little caesars

Little Caesars is based in Detroit, and the original 1959 location still survives in a strip mall in Garden City. I very much drove out of my way for this. Proud.

culver's curds

Culvers. In some ways Culver’s was the impetus for this impulse-trip. Or sort of. For a scary peek into how my decisions are often made, here is how it went: I matched on Tinder with someone maybe a little too young (but the guys who claim to be 40-ish look 50-ish and I can’t deal–dudes, just say you’re 52 and own it) who was visiting his parents in Pittsburgh.  I was bored after a few texts but decided I needed to visit the Rust Belt, so posed a Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, or Cleveland question on Facebook. Somehow Culver’s emerged as one compelling reason to visit this region, posited by an age-appropriate but geographically inconvenient person I met on Tinder over four months ago and who was partially the reason for choosing LA over the summer instead of my original two ideas, Seattle or Santa Fe. When it’s all laid out like that, it’s a little disturbing that a dating app would play any role at all in my travel plans, let alone such a large one in 2015. Still single, and I can’t imagine why. 

culver's butterburger

So, a Butterburger, cheese curds, and Vernor’s rootbeer were the last things I ate before returning my rental car. I regret not having time or fortitude for a Custard and being unable to eat more than a few fried nuggets of cheese. The weekend had caught up with me and I was feeling it. Without the Culver’s stop, though, I would’ve considered the entire Detroit mission a failure. It was important.

Stuffed Peppers of the Week

Photo: Andrew Scrivani/The New York Times

Photo: Andrew Scrivani/The New York Times

If I were a more paranoid, narcissistic type, I would start thinking I was being trolled. Obviously, editors at The New York Times have better things to do than push me to the edge by publishing stuffed pepper recipes in their cooking newsletters.

But here you go: made all modern with farro and smoked gouda.


Eaten, Barely Blogged: Pine Nut Ricotta, Paneer, Cream Cheese

PicMonkey Collage

Avant Garden. I didn’t think I’d be eating vegan food on a Friday night (you know, totally Tuesday fare) and yet there I was with a friend sharing plates, drinking wine (from a more conventional list than expected) like I was on a pretend date. It’s all very now (non-basil-based pestos, toasts, grains, pickled produce) and very tasty (the absence of dairy doesn’t register at all). Strangely, the standout was a toast. Strange because the descriptions don’t always sell the dish. Fennel hummus, Castelvetrano olive, orange, walnut was a delicious autumnal combination, rich and almost buttery, while I was resistant to the beets, mango, avocado, black sesame, tamari, tobanjan, lime not because of the long ingredient list but because the mango and avocado read too nuevo Latino, which clearly this round stack of food wasn’t considering the double dose of fermented bean products. Stick with the more outre combos i.e. smoked macadamia, maitake, and crispy leeks rather than seemingly familiar blends like tomato, basil, and almond ricotta.

artichoke slice

In a delayed Big Mac Attack-esque move, after too many drinks at my late ’90s staple Boxcar Lounge, I found myself at 2:30am crouched in a doorway with an enormous, molten artichoke slice dripping with dairy. It wasn’t until I woke up the following afternoon with a charred, ripped-up roof of my mouth (that still hurts three days later) that I even remembered taking a photo. Good going, drunk self.

lupulo duo

Lupulo. Despite the prominent bar, I find NYC places like this tricky to dine in alone because you can eat a cobbled together light meal by spending $24 on two small plates (shrimp turnovers, creamy and fried like haute junk food and duck hearts skewered with pickled mango and shishito peppers) or outlaying the same amount on a more substantial dish to receive less variety. And then despite reasonably spaced stools and well-defined place settings, after the loud male half of a big-spending older couple has had numerous samples of beer followed by multiple full glasses on one side and a single Manhattan has been consumed by a young lady on the other, limbs start splaying, elbows thrust, and personal boundaries become encroached upon until you quietly leave still vaguely hungry. 

samudra duo

SamudraBoth a vegan and vegetarian meal within 48 hours is highly unusual. Samudra is great, though, for chaat and South Indian carbs like the super light dosas filled with spinach to be healthy and hefty uthappam I always get stuffed with paneer. The best, though, might be the vada, perfectly deep-fried chickpea flour doughnuts, crackly on the outside and fluffy in the middle, served here with mild coconut chutney and sambar.

kitchen 79 geoy hor cheese

Kitchen 79. Not enough cheese yet? Let me introduce you to geoy hor cheese a.k.a. Thai crab rangoon. With sweet chile sauce? Amazing. And that doily only helps matters.

Big Mac Attack

Food bringing one to tears, literally, has always been one of my favorite restaurant writing/travelogue tropes. By which I mean, I’m simultaneously jealous of the diner’s ability to feel feelings so strongly and kind of don’t really believe them either. 

Commenters too can post incredulous things, and for this crew it’s the cliche of having to eat a burger after a tasting menu, possibly an American affectation. (The burger, not the hunger–in a pintxos bar in San Sebastián I overheard two Scandinavian men speaking in English about having to get a hot dog after a meal somewhere I didn’t catch.) I have never encountered this problem in my life, and I’ve eaten a few multi-course extravaganzas in my day (though only one so far this year).

For Valentine’s Day the year before last, celebrated the 13th as all rational prix-fixe-avoiding couples should, I did get a Big Mac after a dinner at WD-50 as a joke to both the world and my gastrointestinal system. I wanted to live the double-excess life, if only once. It was fun yet fleeting, especially considering I was moving out my shared apartment the 15th.

I plan to casually document this anomaly when I see it, as evidenced above. Help me out if you spy it too. Together we can  try to reach some understanding with these vocal bottomless pits.

Some Foods Need Not Be Reinvented a.k.a. Keep Your Stuffed Peppers Away From Me

Because Miracle Mile came up in conversation with three friends separately in three weeks when it was still balmy (now it’s winter?), once after a dinner at Sizzler while driving past the diner used in the Anthony Edwards/Mare Winningham movie, I  became consumed by the idea that I needed to watch Miracle Mile because I never have, and as things do this quickly morphed into throwing a Miracle Mile viewing party with food from the 1988 release year. And also as things often do, I got stuck in the ideation phase and at the rate I’m going it will be a Miracle Mile-themed Thanksgiving (except now I’ve started obsessing over After Hours).

1988 proved tricky because most foods associated with the ‘80s are really more early-to-mid decade and because Oregon was a little behind the times, things I associate with the early ‘90s like sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, artichoke hearts, and pesto were already old hat in more cosmopolitan enclaves. Plus, my interest for party food purposes has been more Good Housekeeping than Gourmet

That said, I’m on board with Boboli, Boursin-stuffed chicken breasts, pasta salad, black bean soup, designer pizzas (chicken and bbq sauce on Boboli), and cilantro where it might not belong like that pizza. 

Stuffed peppers, childhood despair in the form of stewy tomato-sauced rice and ground beef? Not so much, despite this ad being from 1988. (Don’t even click on this 1983 Beefaroni abomination unless you want to end up in tears.) And now I’m being haunted by those nightshade-rich nostalgia vessels.

I recently attended a screening of Over the Edge (1979) another film crying out for a viewing party, at Nitehawk. In one of the earliest scenes this sweet bit of dialogue occurs:

00:03:25 She’s too stoned to talk to, man. You can’t talk to that girl.

00:03:28 Hey, I’ll see you guys later.

00:03:31 Stuffed peppers tonight.

00:03:33 We don’t wanna miss that, do we, Johnny?

The actor stating interest in stuffed peppers, Tom Fergus, was in attendance, a totally Manhattan-raised kid, not a suburban hesher, who is now a good-looking dad living in Tribeca. That line came up on the Q&A. It was an ad lib. And most genius. But also nine years before 1988.

This morning in 2015 an Epicurious email announced in its subject line: “Make Stuffed Peppers the Whole Family Will Love.” 

And then I shut my laptop and decided I needed to leave the house lest I throw it across the room.

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.