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El Original

twoshovelOuch. El Original had better watch its back after Javelina’s evisceration. Honestly, the primary reason I visited the former and not the latter is because you can reserve a table between 6pm and 9pm on Open Table. Less importantly to the world at large, I can also walk to it from work.

A couple years ago I was trying to sell a story about how kind of once gross and embarrassing regional cuisines were emerging in NYC with pride, using examples like Tex-Mex night at Goat Town, non-kitschy Hawaiian at Lani Kai, Burnside, the Midwestern bar serving fried cheese curds, and kolaches showing up in Bed Stuy, of all places. No one was interested. I still think there was potential in this but couldn’t get anyone to care about it as is often the case with my ideas. I’m probably sitting on ten equally genius pitches right now–anyone want one?

el original queso

Goat Town and Lani Kai may be dead yet we live in a city newly flush with queso and Spam.

And so, 2015 Tex-Mex in NYC. I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t. All I know is that I love processed cheese–melted, semi-congealed, even with a skin forming on top–all of it.  I got my queso, here the classic called chile con queso, as opposed to the other available style with guacamole, black beans and picadillo dubbed queso El Original.  The salsa was mild and nothing special, though the chips were warm and I’d like to believe were freshly made.

My non-drinking dining companion a.k.a. “baby palate” who’s my go-to for  BBQ, Italian-American, Tex-Mex, pizza and burgers even though she would insist she’s more versatile, made of point of saying the food wasn’t spicy. That’s saying something. You can ask for hot sauce. It’s Valentina. I don’t think of Tex-Mex as fiery so this wasn’t a disappointment, just a caveat.

I’ve been to Texas exactly once, just last year, briefly, under emotionally strained circumstances. But I know enough that they just call it Mexican (Mex Mexican is called interior Mexican), combos are where it’s at, ground beef and yellow cheese never tasted so good, and it can all be had with a strong margarita for $20. That’s not going to happen in Manhattan. Here, the combo plates, which sound like properly gut-busting, alone will put you two dollars north of that figure.

el orginal tacos

The shredded beef, which could be called brisket, was demurely portioned in the soft tacos.  The flour tortillas are made with lard from Dickson’s Farmstand, a detail I didn’t notice until after the fact online and speaks to a sort of identity crisis. The refried beans and rice just seemed like beans and rice. Are we meant to care about the source of lard making the beans silky? Is the food pricey because it’s elevated Tex-Mex or because it’s Manhattan Tex-Mex? Can you even take Tex-Mex out of context without asking for trouble? Transplants complain about pizza or bagels outside of NYC but those are translatable.  I will give the restaurant points for being big and cheerful–if you didn’t peer outside to see it was attached to the Skyline Hotel, you could be tricked into thinking you were in nice, modern strip mall.

El Original * 735 Tenth Ave. New York, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Oldies, a Goodie

 

ny noodletown crabs

Great NY Noodletown I know this old-timer has detractors, but I’m still a fan and it’s not all driven by nostalgia (or even poor late-night decision-making–I’m quite capable of that at 8:30pm on weeknight). Get a group and over-order hacked-up duck, glazed roast pork, a heaping pile of pea shoots, crispy pan-fried noodles topped with squid and scallops, and a few lightly battered soft-shell crabs sprinkled with what I swear are jalapeños (my personal nostalgia since this was the first place I ever had crabs, shells and all, which is hard to believe in the Northeast in 2015). Manhattan’s Chinatown can be touristy and a little down at its heels and maybe each dish isn’t exemplary of its form, but the whole spread taken together with the right company–plus a few drinks–can be a can be a reminder that this part of the city still has charm. Here is every time I’ve mentioned Noodletown over the years, though definitely not every time I’ve eaten there.

tangra masala trio

Tangra Masala Remember when everyone was excited about Indian Chinese food even though a lot of it is fried and sometimes involves ketchup? The smaller, original, alcohol-free location across Queens Boulevard from Target is still a decent pit stop for paneer-stuffed wontons with a minty vinegar dip, lollipop chicken with a thousand island-esque chile sauce, and bright orange chow mein that tastes like Doritos (seriously).

lui's panang curry

Lui’s Thai Food is not the worst idea if you’re looking for a BYOB spot in the East Village on a Saturday night (and possibly trying to escape a group dinner after a memorial at HiFi because group dinners are stressful 90% of the time even though I was just singing the praises of commandeering a round table at Noodletown). I didn’t have the highest hopes and was pleasantly surprised. No, it’s not Queens Thai. It’s not Zabb Elee either. But the crispy basil duck and shrimp panang curry were right on–and intentional–dishes are dishes, none of this pick a protein nonsense. There was a tight selection of entrees to choose from like the above medium-spiced panang curry thickened with ground shrimp and featuring plump fried shrimp and garnished with a hard-boiled egg. You can be an NYU kid with a bottle of Woodbridge Chardonnay and it’s fine or pop around the corner to Urban Wines for something a little nicer. (If it’s Friday or Saturday night, my friend Lindsay is likely working–ask for a recommendation like the off-dry Mosel Riesling we had from a producer whose name I’ve already forgotten.)

The Middle Ages On Screen: “The Returned”

 

I don’t reject American remakes sight unseen (though I also can’t think of a successful example off the top of my head). The only thing saved the first few episodes of The Returned was that it stuck to Les Revenants’ script faithfully, language and geography aside. But if it hadn’t gone all American and expository and created unnecessary conflicts, we wouldn’t have been treated to this scene where Michelle Forbes (50 in real life–I have no idea how old she was supposed to be when a flood struck her mental institution in the ’80s) drinks tequila shots and slow dances at what appears to be the only bar in town, the Dog Star, with Glenn, an indignant dam engineer played by the “Swagger Wagon” dad.

 

 

The Week That Pique Macho Got Two Shoutouts in Two Days

Cocha Bomba

World’s most macho pique via Cocha Bomba

Munchies tackled the South American poutine on the ground in La Paz.

Eater touched on the pile of beef, cheese, wieners, and fries, among other dishes, at Bolivian restaurant Cumbre in Woodside.

I noticed that Cumbre appeared on Seamless last month, got a little excited, then promptly forgot about its existence, as I often do. (It’s not new, though.) I wouldn’t say Bolivian food has the best reputation–if it has one at all considering its scarcity in NYC. Traditional Mi Bolivia still exists in Sunnyside, and at the other end of the spectrum–though with the Smorgasburg Queens announcement, lines are blurring like it or not–Bolivian Llama Party does stuff like salteñas and sandwiches at Brooklyn Night Bazaar, the Rockaways, and obviously Smorgasburg.

Would You Rather? Indie-ish Darlings Edition

Bar-Luce-page

Photo: Attilio Maranzano/Fondazione Prada

Snack at Bar Luce, the Wes Anderson-designed cafe that’s opening in Milan.

Or

Dine at Agrikol, Arcade Fire’s Haitian restaurant that will be “more of an art project.” (Not actual footage of Agrikol.)

International Intrigue: Where’s the Beef?

So, Wendy’s is testing a veggie burger in the US. Big deal.  Wendy’s opened its first location in India today and there are six meatless versions involving spinach, corn, falafel, and mushrooms. It has already been blogged. The WSJ  was not above making a “Where’s the beef?” joke and I’m not too good to not repeat it.

Uncle Sam’s, the Beijing-based burger restaurant that’s coming to NYC for no good reason, will open May 18. I am more than ok with char-siu, shumai, and Canadian bacon commingling between buns.

I’ve never understood Steak Escape. Doesn’t it serve cheesesteaks, which defeats the point of escaping steak? Soon enough, this will be Russia’s problem (or should I say beef?).

Paramus now has the United States’ first Yo! Sushi. The British conveyor belt chain will soon be invading malls throughout the nation.

 KFC will open in Myanmar. There is a strange Facebook page where you can see “grooming training.”

 

 

 

 

Two’s a Trend: Guacamole

Avocado toast’s trickle down effect appears to guacamole appearing at non-Mexican-ish chain restaurants (Taco Bell has long served avocados blended with water, tomato, onion, jalapeño, salt, cilantro, lemon juice, ascorbic or erythorbic acid, xanthan gum, and sodium alginate) as if this exotic import just arrived in America circa 2015.

Ok, I’ve only seen two commercials in two days. That’s evidence enough by today’s standards. No, really, it is–USA Today wrote about guacamole going “mainstream” based on these two new product introductions.

Subway:

Dunkin’ Donuts:

Bonus USA Today content because it’s Cinco de Mayo: get Chipotle’s (pronounced Chipoltay according to the millennial platform producer/journalist voicing the video) never-revealed-before guacamole recipe.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Grandma Edition

Because I can be a horrible person, in my 17 years of NYC life I’ve only returned home for a visit maybe four times. Periodically a family member or two will make up the difference and venture here from Oregon. That was the case this weekend and the impetus for social media grousing over the many where-to-dine-with-out-of-town-parents listicles that assume all elders are wealthier than their adult children and can’t wait to treat them to Daniel.

This was an all-Queens extravaganza motivated by the fact that my mom and her mom have experienced Manhattan and Brooklyn many times by now–and more importantly were airbnb’ing four blocks from my apartment in Jackson Heights. If I took away anything from this rare visit it might be that there’s a genetic possibility that between now and senior citizen-hood I could morph from a crank into a ham.

pollos mario spread

Chicken, rice, beans, and salad at Pollos a la Brasa Mario happened before I realized standard food blog photos weren’t going to cut it. Grandma wanted to be in the picture. There were mixed feelings on first experiences with arepas while hearts of palm passed muster.

jahn's waffle

I’ve wanted to go to the last Jahn’s on earth ever since moving here six months ago but wouldn’t drag friends out for the experience and going solo never felt right. The liver and onions, meatloaf, and white zinfandel will still have to wait. There’s no arguing with a fat waffle hiding a trove of bacon beneath, though.

grandma jahn's breakfast

“The fruit is in a can,” grandma was warned when ordering french toast with fruit. Who would have it any other way? Breakfast inspired the first action shot. Life, bowls of cherries and all that.

 

grandma eating takoyaki

Octopus balls became a hot topic after showing a photo of takoyaki made by a friend of a friend for Easter, so I knew that while in Flushing I’d have to flout convention and stop by the only Japanese stand, Mojoilla Fresh, at the New World Mall.

grandma tacuba

If you wrap up a Museum of the Moving Image visit too early for The Astor Room’s 5pm happy hour , newish Tacuba across the street is great for a very strong margarita (or two). I probably wouldn’t suggest pitching in with the guacamole-making service to everyone.

astor room bacon

There are limits to being game. No one could be convinced to eat $1 oysters at The Astor Room, but the candied bacon that’s freely available at the bar was a hit.

grandma astor room

I almost thought I was going to get a new grandpa out of our very sweet bartender.

grandma jackson diner

I regret not squeezing in any momos or thenthuk considering Himalayan is now more relevant than Indian in the neighborhood. Buffets are crowd-pleasers, though, and Jackson Diner is now a classic in its own way.

grandma jahn's

Jahn’s was irresistible. So much so that sundaes were had an hour before dinner. Now I need to convince seven others to go in on the original large format meal, the $51.95 Kitchen Sink.

grandma chivito d'oro

Only a heartless monster could dislike Chivito d’Oro, the lovely wood-paneled Uruguayan steakhouse that’s second-closest to my apartment. This is the first time I didn’t order a full-blown parrillada and ventured into the pasta section (primavera with canned mushrooms that elicited no comment a la Jahn’s). Even though I try to avoid starch during the day, I am eating the leftover pasta for lunch as I type because I abhor food waste with the passion of someone on a fixed income.

grandma kitchen 79

Kitchen 79 has a good $7.50 lunch special (grandma had a simple green salad and pineapple fried rice with chicken) and now serves beer.

Not pictured: Empanadas, pasteles, and mini cakes from La Gran Uruguaya or random pizza ordered from La Pequena Taste of Italy on Seamless for delivery that didn’t arrive and took me over an hour to realize I’d accidentally clicked pick-up (too much happy hour).

The Middle Ages: Bar URBO

When: Tuesday, 6:48pm

Lately I’ve noticed that if you tweet about a Times Square establishment, a nearby business you’ve never heard of will attempt to engage you in conversation. Something called The Three Monkeys wanted to know why I’d called URBO “the weirdo bar.”

Well…because it is weird.

“Weird,” “crazy,” and “fancy” are all uncreative catchalls I frequently lean on. I can’t help it. In this instance URBO is weird because it’s in my office building where the Señor Frog’s is threatening to open any day. Up a massive spiral staircase that opens into an empty event space and catering kitchen, the second-floor bar is also large, more after-work than touristy, never mobbed, reasonably priced at happy hour, but more than anything the whole URBO complex is weird, enormousness aside, because the lofty, rough hewn-industrial aesthetic paired with Blue Bottle coffee, pork belly, and poached eggs as garnish is still out of place on the corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue facing Chevy’s and Dallas BBQ. I believe that within ten years this Brooklyn shorthand will be the norm and that the entire swath of Times Square will be lit by Edison bulbs and filled with communal tables crafted from reclaimed wood.

Recently URBO has added stand-up comedy and “curated open mic” nights. Weird or crazy?

On the substantial walk from the bar to the very nice individual stall, floor-t0-ceiling door, bathrooms (one might say fancy) on the far side of the unused private dining area, “Sausalito” by Ohio Express was tinkling quietly over the speakers. On the subway ride home “Sausalito” by Ohio Express started playing in my earbuds. Definitely weird.

Was I carded? No one underage would even bother.

Age appropriate? Of course. Anything geared toward midtown drones will be to some degree. On this particular evening the bar appeared to be hosting an office party including a very non-young pregnant woman in a maxi dress.

The Middle Ages On Screen: “Broadchurch”

broadchurch babes

Broadchurch’s detective sergeant Ellie Miller, played by Olivia Colman (41), the type of regular person actress sorely lacking in the US, hasn’t been having a great time since her husband was accused of killing her neighbor’s son after sort of trying to molest him. Here, she’s out on the town with Eve Myles’ (36) Claire (who I will always think of as Gwen from Torchwood) a woman who may have aided her husband in a kidnapping and that she’s living with in a pseudo-witness protection arrangement but also because she has no friends because everyone in Broadchurch hates her. That’s what gin and tonics are for. They are also the oldest women in this pub scene.

broadchurch blokes

These are the two gentleman they bring home. And no, it doesn’t go well.