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Newborn: 969 NYC Coffee

Tuna, salmon, shrimp, and're covered.

Tuna, salmon, shrimp, and pork…you’re covered.

A mostly Japanese cafe (deli sandwiches are in the display case) with no seeming awareness of matcha’s trendiness (right up there with ube, one might say) or desire to convey its raison d’être with its name recently appeared off Roosevelt Avenue selling heart-shaped onigiri (only $2.50), tempura, miso soup, and green tea beverages. There is even outdoor seating, an anomaly in the neighborhood shared only by The Arepa Lady.

Ok,  Jackson Heights has never been known for its beauty.

Ok, Jackson Heights has never been known for its al fresco beauty.

The last thing I would expect around these parts is a cafe selling rice balls (take that back–dry-aged burgers or grain bowls would be less expected) and it may have to find its groove.

“Cafe con leche?” said one older woman to her friend as they noticed the new awning, deciding if they should go in. “Japonés?” They kept walking.

Being close to the 82nd Street subway station, I could see it working for a morning coffee or tea and a snack. I wouldn’t mind some sweets like daifuku or even a selection of Pocky and Japanese Kit Kats for beginners (green tea and sweet potato).

969 NYC Coffee * 37-61 80th St., Jackson Heights, NY


Bonus newborn: Pauglina, a tasteful and luxurious shop like you’d find along the main strip in Hudson, NY, niche and not for townies, is a surprising entrant. Mostly store, there is a small cafe in the back with counter seating and stools, hence a mention here. They’re selling pastries from Lety’s, a nod to keeping it local. I didn’t try anything, but everyone–owners and customers–was friendly and excited for something new in the neighborhood, G word or not. (I’m not anti-gentrification in non-alienating doses, but don’t even get me started on the use of hipster to describe anything you don’t like, i.e. Facebook comments and message boards about anything new that’s not a 99-cent or mobile phone store. Only in Queens could  Latino couples, well-dressed middle-aged gay dads, and imported incense and artful floral arrangements [triple newborn: Tilde, a floral pop-up showcasing creative bouquets inside a decades-old floral store] be characterized as hipster.)


Shovel Time: Tito Rad’s

threeshovelMuch like the real world, the food world can be a confusing place. A quick skim through Twitter (well, my Twitter feed) will often mention the same subject framed multiple ways, interpreting ingredients or dishes as a new trend or old hat depending on the source. And this really only stands out to me when the disparity involves a pet interest of mine, like, say, Filipino food (I’ve always been a champion of this chronic underdog cuisine and swore it was going to blow up in NYC around 2012 when Maharlika, Talde, and Pig & Khao were fresh on the scene) which intersects with my blue/purple food mania, and then I get antsy. 

titoradsIn the same few weeks, I attended a Queens Dinner Club event at Tito Rad’s (awesome name and logo) where ube ice cream seemed like a novelty for people who love trying new food enough to come from all parts of NYC and beyond to Sunnyside  on a weeknight and Mic, one of countless millennial-focused sites that seems no different from any other site, posted an article titled LOL “Everything you need to know about ube — the purple yam that’s more than a hipster trend.” (In the past few months, other headlines, blessedly hipster-free, read like: “What You Need to Know About Ube, the Filipino Ingredient Invading the Dessert World,” “Is Ube Filipino America’s Breakout Food?” “Why ube is our new yam.” )

So, is the Filipino purple yam hot shit Instagram-bait or an exotic tuber that you’ve never heard of?

Tell me it doesn’t matter. It’s ok. I was going to “Barely Blog” this but now I’ve gone on too long to lump Tito Rad’s in with anyone else.

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Newborn: Sac’s Place


So, Jackson Heights finally got good pizza. Not a Motorino or even a Milktooth. No brussels sprouts or negronis–are you insane? Believe me, I’m good with grandma slices, garlic knots, and meatball heroes, the sort of classics you take for granted in many New York neighborhoods. This is Sac’s, a new branch of a popular Astoria Italian restaurant that recently opened a block from my apartment, which is to say in the Latino section of Jackson Heights sitting among two of the best Uruguayan bakeries. The world needs empanadas and calzones, though. 


It feels more like a takeout counter operation, though there are eight tables configured in twos and fours, and more substantial entree specials, like the lasagna (cheese or meat) and wild mushroom ravioli announced out front on one of my visits.


So far, I’ve tried a few slices, a pepperoni roll that was nearly hefty as a calzone, and a whole pie. The “mama,” simple with full moons of fresh mozzarella and basil atop what read as a zippy sauce, chunky with San Marzano tomatoes, and tart. (I say “read as” because lately tomatoes, even roasted grape tomatoes which barely qualify as tomatoes, taste acidic to me and I’m not sure if that’s accurate or something I’ve done to my palate with new prescription drugs.) and a white slice, creamier and milder, obviously, which I liked well enough to order as a whole pie with sweet Italian sausage (ground up and blobby not firm and sliced, a surprise) another time.

Unsurprisingly, the Jackson Heights doesn’t have a coal oven that lends that trademark char to the thin crust. Here, it’s a little floppier. No complaints. Ok, just one–with Sac’s now on the scene, I can no longer justify ordering Hawaiian pizzas in the neighborhood. It would be a shame.

Sac’s Place * 86-14 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, NY

Still Summering

I’m almost back in the NYC saddle, after a not-super-food-focused vacation in Portland. Pricey, pop-up sushi was consumed (it was ok–ack, so jaded New Yorker), rural-suburban pizza that was such a hit I went back twice was the sleeper hit, Southern Thai was a charmer, no surprise to me since the city excels at new and shiny but not newfangled Thai food.


In the mean time, here’s an essay I wrote in defense of dining at chain restaurants abroad for Serious Eats while they were doing a paid experiment on Medium. It was previously un-linkable publicly, and now it’s not.

See You in September

summerThis is usually point in August when everyone starts crowing about the end of summer even though there’s more than a month left and I get all needlessly wound up, except that I haven’t heard that gaffe much this year so maybe 2016 marks the moment in history when people got smart? Or I started tuning out? Maybe they are sweating too hard to notice the calendar counting down.

No matter. I’m just here to say I’m taking a summer break, not simply being more wildly sporadic than usual if anyone even pays attention to such things. I’ll be back sometime in September, definitely while it’s still summer.


Eaten, Barely Blogged: French-ish, All-American, Mexican Mash-Ups

mimi trio

Mimi The mark of a good restaurant is one where you leave feeling better than when you arrived (despite young men good-naturedly but firmly asking you to move down six inches so their lady can have more room even though you’re already arm-to-arm with the older-but-not-old man waiting for his lady on your right, being there first [the first customer period to avoid this situation because you know your limits], the isosceles triangle napkin placed by a server establishing your plot of land at the bar). That’s not a lot to ask, though it’s scarcer than it seems. Mimi succeeds. The sliced madai in brown butter with lemon curd and dried seaweed was like candy, or more accurately, caramel corn, fish caramel corn, which sounds dubious but is brightened by the citrus and amazing with nice bread and butter. I would go back and have this as a bar snack with sparkling wine in a second.  Don’t play around with it too much or else the sauce will start to cool and congeal. Peppery calves liver, rare and steak-like, is served with boudin noir-stuffed eggplant, studded with golden raisins, and also blended sweet with savory well, potent and energizing in the same way as the crudo without being heavy, matchingwith a glass of equally bold French red wine that I vowed to remember without taking a photo  and promptly forgot (comped, I realized later, which occasionally is a benefit–at least at a certain type of casual-polished place–of dining on your own) Even approaching fullness, I was never bored.

emmy squared duo

Emmy Squared I forget if this is supposed to be Detroit-inspired or Detroit-style pizza (which I did try last year for the first time in a very different setting i.e. one that doesn’t threaten a $25/per person fee for no-shows because you just show up and eat pizza). The slices are square, the crust thick but not Chicago deep, with crisp edges and plenty of cheese. I will take any excuse to eat Hawaiian variations in an acceptable manner. Here, that would be ham and spiced pineapple on the Lou-Wow. I’m also a sucker for pretzel buns, which hold together Le Big Matt Burger, the formerly semi-secret double-pattied, white american cheese, and sambal-spiked mayonnaise monster that’s now formally on the menu. Split a burger and pizza if possible. Both are good but you’ll probably leave feeling more or less the same as when you entered. 

mission cantina trio

Mission Cantina is as good a spot as any to unintentionally stumble into on a weeknight. The whole operation from service to menu feels haphazard, and that’s not a criticism (though I almost ordered a drink special because it was green until I parsed that it contained  Midori, god no, which the server thought was cucumber liqueur). It’s a perfect place to knock back micheladas and marvel at more fried chicken than would seem imaginable for $26. That would be masa-crusted, spicy, honey-drizzled, and tarted-up with pickles and pickled jalapeños in a vaguely Southern/South of the Border/Korean way. Like pretzel rolls and Hawaiian pizza, I will always order crab rangoon if I see it. There was an undercurrent of what I thought was curry powder in these fried wontons, which you have to be in the mood for, and then the next day while sweating on a walk home it hit me that the abrasive seasoning was likely Old Bay, with celery salt being the offender.  Limey, lightly funky mussel tostadas, chosen instead of a side vegetable that was practically insisted upon, were more guacamole than anything.


A to C: The Ice Cream Life

ice cream#sevenfirstjobs mania has really given me a lot of food for thought. Ok, not really at all, but it was good for some really bold A to C fodder like strawberry harvester to editor in chief in three steps (not an actual example).

That’s my segue to trying to figure out why at the end of the August Food & Wine’s regional round-up of ice cream there is a short personal essay from the author of He’s Just Not That Into You. “My Life in Ice Cream”‘ (that’s the name of the piece because it’s about ice cream and her life) wouldn’t have even registered as a blog post. Print, though…such veritas.

A. So, she works at an ice cream shop in the West Village as an NYU student and eats ice cream.

C. She owns an apartment in the West Village and is always on a diet and can’t eat ice cream.

There’s a lot of life between those two things. Though honestly, it doesn’t seem as egregious now as when I read the whole thing at the gym and got outraged. I’m convinced exercising has the opposite effect of its intended purpose (clear-headedness? calming?) on me.

Spoiler: Big Gay Ice Cream opens and she starts eating ice cream.



Taking the Cake

Two things became readily apparent after pawing through a shoebox of family photos I was recently reunited with.

One: no one took photos of food. At least not intentionally. (I do have a middle-school Christmas shot of me sharing a seat at the table with a bread bowl, one of my summer 2015 obsessions.)

Two: photography skills left a lot to be desired pre-digital. Nearly half were out of focus, the framing dubious, lighting wonky. Delete is now our friend.

The one exception to the food-free subject matter, I discovered, were birthday cakes. I don’t remember anyone ever taking pictures of them, but there they were, at least ten of them spanning from age seven to roughly 20. Because it’s Thursday I’m going to post them all.

monkey cake

Fairly certain this was seven. One of my aunts decorated cakes as a side hustle, or maybe just a hobby? I don’t know. She still exists. I should ask her.

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threeshovelTwo-and-a-half hours after taking my seat at the counter, early Friday evening (the only one doing so until a Japanese guy with hint of a man bun arrived later and was seated way on the other side of the open prep space), I was glad I didn’t change my reservation for something cooler. My original instinct.


Sure, high-end dining is a little weird just a few steps down the 42nd Street ramp into Grand Central. More than a couple under-dressed walk-ins looked at at menu at the host stand before leaving But also, and maybe more so, do we need more Nordic-tinged food in NYC in 2016? I wouldn’t say I get excited about nasturtium leaves or nettles and especially not dill. You know there is going to be pine somewhere and pretty borage petals are going to make an appearance. (Sure enough, was seated facing the woman prepping the lavender flowers.) It keeps persisting. Cooler might’ve meant waiting a few days and trying the new Aska. I still haven’t been to Blanca or Semilla, though. No one is giving-up tables for one at Le Coucou or that would’ve been part of my Solo Birthday Dining week. Honestly, I chose Agern in part because I suspected it was good value for a tasting menu. And it really was. $145, service included, for the land and sea menu. With beverage pairings (surprisingly heavy on New York state wines) you’re right at $230. Pricey, obviously, but not to the degree of more established, possibly more luxurious, tastings in the city. You feel good about the time and money spent at the end of the meal.


The non-table-seated view of Friday rush hour bustle. I watched someone struggle with rolling their wheelchair up the ramp for far too long. I wasn’t staring, but it was in my line of vision and struggled myself to come up with an apt metaphor. There wasn’t one. Just a non-young lady willingly eating algae alone.

agern snacks

You don’t receive any silverware during the series of snacks involving cucumber, fluke, horseradish, pine, celeriac, dill, oyster, awesome fried potato bread, and sweetbread that tastes like a fancy chicken nugget, and ends with a steaming, soft-centered round of dense sourdough cut into four wedges and served with butter whipped with buttermilk, which took me a few to realize was intentional. Lemon balm and cucumber gets distilled into a broth poured into a vessel the size of a Chinese teacup from a French press. And then you are on your way.


Points given for full loaves for one. So nice that bread is back.


Oof, I can’t remember the details other than tomatoes that I thought tasted dangerously close to melon were involved, something creamy, roe too, and that it probably could’ve been one-third smaller and have had more impact. It was the first night they were serving this dish and it’s not currently on the menu.


Beef heart with green strawberries, tiny rounds of grassy asparagus, and dusted with a nettle powder was a stand-out. This was more vegetable than meat and tasted like the color green.

What’s the vibe? Well, kind of formal. There is a lot of staff. I appreciated that the front of house wasn’t hyper-white. My server had just moved from Puerto Rico to work at Agern and was jazzed about foraging and local ingredients but still happy to talk to me about alcapurrias and morcilla. Not the youngest crowd. A twee version of “Teenage Kicks” started playing in that Nouvelle Vague manner. It probably was Nouvelle Vague. (Yes, I wasn’t sure if they still existed.)

agern beets

Then it’s the salt and ash baked beet. It’s quite a production, cracked and carved and extras plated on the side. It’s a lot of beet for one person. The sweet vegetable, paired with huckleberries, is accompanied by a really great chewy rye bread.


This is when I started getting full and fuzzy. Monkfish and apple…


The pork neck was rich but a little tough, at least too tough for a butter knife to saw through, but also very bright and vegetal with pea shoots and green beans, plus seaweed crackers, more specifically made from a dulse called söl. This was just about right for the savories to wind down.


My worst nightmare of a dessert. Cantaloupe (ugh) and cucumber with frozen skyr, lemon balm, and there’s that boarage. Minus the melon (which I realize is my own personal Kryptonite), this was a perfectly nice and refreshing palate cleanser. And then I got worried that maybe it was the main event and not an interim course.


Phew. We’re still not talking caramel, chocolate, or nuts, but I can deal with strawberries, kombucha, and rose vinegar. Ok, who am I kidding? That’s not a dessert either.


Candies are more me, earthy or not. Little Play-doh doses of chocolate (Brooklyn chocolate) with anise hyssop, chamomile caramel, mint dusted with ivy powder (yes, ivy).

agern bread duo

You get sent off with a loaf of bread, more of that delicious butter, a tin of jam, which I want to say was apricot and it’s a shame my fruit palate isn’t fully developed. Not quite peachy. Best Saturday morning breakfast really.

Agern * 89 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 







Color Me Bad: Would You Rather Edition

Would you rather…

#GikLive, designed to let you create your own rules #vinoazul #bluewine #blauwewijn #blauerwein

A photo posted by Gïk Live! Vino Azul (@giklive) on

drink blue wine?

Or blue lattes? (They’re also doing green matcha and black charcoal buns, if that sways you.)

Awesome summer drinks. #witchmojito #thaigreenmilktea #desserts #sugarclub #foodienyc

A photo posted by @colorrainy on

Jk. Neither. Butterfly pea Witch Mojitos 4eva!