In the December Food & Wine (no features online yet) you’ll find what might be the world’s classiest bread bowl, prettified with saffron, violet and pink petals floated across the still surface. I would like to believe that the crusty loaf is sitting atop a bed of smoked hay,
but it’s probably just dry Alpine grass, and it is.
The dish is actually called Hay Soup because that is what it’s baked in, and not only contains 20 herbs, but cream from cows that have eaten the same herbs. You’ll have to go to the Dolomites to experience this sourdough majesty, though; it’s served at Gostner Schwaige, a restaurant with no website.
Since I’m spending Thanksgiving in a desert where the only English-language TV shows appear to be Low Winter Sun and According to Jim, indulge my nostalgia and allow me to link to a teenage photo of myself with a bread bowl (on Christmas, but a holiday still).
Nitehawk Cinema A lot of melted cheese was consumed
in a one-week period. I ordered the queso tots thinking this was some new unexplored
treat then remembered I’d ordered the exact same thing on my last visit to the
theater. Menu memory lapse happens far more often that I'd like to admit. So, how about that Frances Ha?
Taco Chulo I also eat at Taco Chulo more than I'd
like to admit. It's never my idea, but it's a block from my apartment and seems
to appeal to picky eaters. If you love processed cheese like I do and can deal
with brunch on occasion, the queso benedict an underdog surprise. Velveeta
instead of hollandaise, sweet toasted cornbread in lieu of English muffins, and
enough spinach and slaw to give the dish a health halo. Save one half and eat it for
dinner once you emerge from your afternoon Bloody Maria stupor.
Artichoke Basille's The fabled artichoke cheese dip slice has
certainly garnered a lot of attention since it appeared in 2008. Yet it was
only when I noticed an outpost at the Aquaduct casino that I felt compelled to
try it. It's heavy, for sure, and best consumed in a temperature controlled
environment like a casino food court, otherwise all that warm fat and starch
loses its appeal in 90-degree heat.
Waterman's Crab House Sweat and melted cheese not mixing was
the lesson I learned while tearing into a crab pretzel (crab dip baked onto a
pretzel roll is very much a relative of the Artichoke pizza) on a dock
overlooking the Chesapeake Bay while being blasted with the sun's ray, despite
the table umbrellas. I'd still order the massive appetizer again, though. I
prefer the more demure Phillip's version that you can get a rest stops on the
drive to Baltimore.
Pat's and Geno's A pit stop was made on the way back from
Maryland for more unnaturally colored liquid cheese. This was the greasiest
cheesesteak I've ever experienced (and I've experienced quite a few in my time)
and not really in an endearing way. I've always been partial to Pat's, though,
because it's less flashy. Geno's version was consumed for breakfast the
following day and not photographed. The only reason why Pat's was eaten on the
spot and Geno's was saved for later is because Geno's gives bags and Pat's does
Help. I just bought a 12-pack of Kraft Deluxe
American slices at C-Town when there are perfectly nice real cheese shops
within walking distance.
Processed cheese is having a moment. I was recently wowed by the provel used at Speedy Romeo. Then The New York Times went on a full-on no shame foods bender where I discovered that chef Wylie Dufresne shares my love (discussed here and here) of Land O'Lakes American Cheese. There's a fresh pack of Wegmans wrapped white American cheese singles in the fridge right now, and they're just not the same. It has to be the thick-cut, stacked, matte-finish American cheese.
Also, American cheese just popped-up while I was reading How Should A Person Be? (Is everyone reading that or is it just popular among the sites I track via RSS?).
Heading out of the station for a smoke, in pain, I passed two teenage girls who were standing with their bags before a deli, gazing up at its illuminated menu.
"What is American cheese anyway? I heard one of them say.
Her friend replied, "I think that means it has a chemical in it."
I’m trying to glean insights. On how a person should be, that is, but I would take some processed cheese insights, too.
Every now and then I stumble upon one of my photos on another site. (Having a Creative Commons license on Flick never used to be an problem—I’m fine with nobody bloggers using photos with credit—but now legit publications like Foodandwine.com, Time Out NY and Esquire are looking for freebies, which I can’t abide much longer. Pro/group blogs like Brooklyn Based, Food Republic and The Kitchn are a gray area.)
But I’ve only once seen the same photo–a basket of pretzel rolls, oddly enough–used twice. I would not mention this at all, except that today’s usage reinforced a mania I experienced over the weekend.
Do you ever see a dish and think “I must have that!” For me, this tends to happen with fast food ads even though I rarely eat fast food. (I tagged along to Sonic on Saturday so James could see if its new Kickin’ Coney matched the elaborate concoction in the commercial. Uh, not really.)
I’m mesmerized by the idea of Red Robin’s new limited edition Oktoberfest Bürger on a pretzel bun. The execution could be lackluster for all I know (I’m a little distrustful of a chain that offers bottomless steak fries—AYCE, fine, but eh, steak fries are the lowest rung in fry hierarchy.) but the notion of a burger topped with swiss cheese, beer mustard onions and black forest ham is oddly compelling. I have a weird thing for German food (especially considering the above-mentioned pretzel roll photo was taken in Bangkok, not Berlin).
I have until November 6 to decide if it’s worth the 12.5 miles to Clifton, NJ to try this burger in person.
When I mock/obsess over bread bowls, I’m speaking from experience. Yes, I’m showing my age…age 14 to be exact. While recently pawing through a tiny box of old photos, I discovered this gem capturing a Christmas Eve dinner from 1986. Ignore my hair (and dad and grandpa–I always want to type grandfather because it sounds better but that word has never come out of my mouth) and focus on the hollowed-out sourdough loaf abutting a red Jello salad. This delicacy filled with spinach dip made from one of those dressing packets mixed with mayonnaise was my aunt Kim’s specialty. The bread guts, meant to be dipped back into their former host, appear to be sitting on a metal baking dish in the background.
So, can I pen one of those ubiquitous getting in touch with my culinary roots essays now? If I only had another pic showing taco salad in a fried shell.
Sadly, I’ve come down off of my San Sebastián high, but I pepped right back up after seeing this artichoke and bone marrow course at Mugaritz served to the author of the blog, blank palate. I would’ve literally (no metaphors here) shit myself if presented with a bread bowl during my lunch there.
Mugaritz bread bowl photo from blank palate
It’s rare that I use the Goodie Obsession tag anymore. I guess I don’t gush over particular foodstuffs like I used to. Even so, crab rangoon, a.k.a. cream cheese wontons, play a prominent role in my favorite junk foods repetoire. In fact, I ate two-thirds of a box of frozen, bakeable cream cheese wontons from Aldi (NYC’s only location is now in Rego Park, you know) for dinner last week.
So, I was very excited to see the snack featured as part of Serious Eats’ “Tiki Week.” I’ve totally made them with fake crab, myself. No need for the real stuff unless you are able to procure a can of Phillip’s lump meat from Costco and think your friends deserve it.
Also today I learned about a Latino take on the cream cheese wonton served a Patacón Pisao, a Venezuelan shop in Elmhurst. The tequeño is essentially fried, dough-wrapped cream cheese and is practically as inventive as using fried plantains in lieu of bread as they do in their namesake patacón.
Photo from Chicago’s Trader Vic’s, New Year’s Eve 2010.
It may appear that the foot-long Chicago-style lobster hotdog is the biggest oddity at Pier 9, a new seafoody restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. But it is not! The cheapest item on the menu is also the most notable (to me, and only me) because it’s a bread bowl for your soup. Only three bucks for that carved-out carb vessel. I so want this to be a thing for 2011. If punch can become trendy, why not dips?! Served in bread bowls, of course.
Even though it's crowded on weekend evenings, the spice level isn't always what it could be and worthy nearby competitors aren't scarce, I still rely on Sripraphai for a regular Thai food fix. It's the crispy watercress salad. I know this dish in and out.
Yet, on this Sunday afternoon visit (my second day in a row in Woodside—first for Jollibee, then back to Queens to replace a fried cable box. I need my True Blood and Mad Men. Did you know that the Time Warner office inside the Queens Center Mall is the only location in the entire city open on Sundays?) I was served a slightly different rendition than normal.
There was an unusually tall, fluffy pile of battered watercress sitting on top. More generous than I've seen before, the translucent golden stack gave the dish a more bountiful feel. The ratio might seem off, but once you mix things up and baste the herbs, chicken and seafood with the intensely savory goop resting at the bottom of the plate, the components settle down and mellow into a nice still-crunchy sog.
And the small ceramic dish filled with both chopped cashews and a small handful of whole nuts? It blew my mind. Well, almost. Self-garnishing is new. I don't even recall a crushed nut element in salads past. I liked it.
In a reversal, the drunken noodles did not come with the typical little dish of chile-spiked fish sauce. Shenanigans. Is the Sunday chef putting their own spin on the standards?
Next time, I'm in Woodside, I will force myself to try Centerpoint Thai, one block west of Sripraphai. There's no way that tales of a battered, fried papaya salad can go uninvestigated.
Previously on Sripraphai.
Feeling flush, more from birthday week high than from financial windfall, I sprung for three see-through slices of $159/lb bellota jamon iberico at Despaña yesterday. That worked out to approximately 80-cents per bite.
I don’t know that I could immediately discern the difference between this coveted ham and a good quality Serrano. But it’s very distinct and more desirable to me than ordinary prosciutto. Is it unfair to compare Spanish and Italian cured meats? The texture is firmer and overall meatier with substantial stripes of fat, less salty and almost blood-metallic with a strong flavor that’s on the verge of decay. Yet not gross at all. The taste lingers with you and something (I really need to look into this) causes a mild tingly sensation in the mouth, sort of the way some aged cheeses do.
You can get a bocadillo using the pata negra ham for $25 but I opted for the more pedestrian Gallego at $8.50. It uses Serrano ham, chorizon and a cow’s milk cheese I wasn’t familiar with called Arzuea Ullloa. I love ham and cheese, though this is one of those rare sandwiches that could just as strong through the power of meat alone. This is a sandwich worthy of more than a camera phone shot but believe it or not I don't typically carry a camera on me.
Many regional specialties get bastardized beyond comprehension once they leave their home state. I wouldn't necessarily know that first hand since the only vaguely NW-specific food I can recall eating are jo jo potatoes (definitely no morels or cedar-planked salmon).
I think California might lay claim to the monte cristo (proper version, above) but it has been a bountiful favorite of mine for years, one that I rarely indulge in here not out of concern for my health but because NYC has done terrible things to the poor sandwich. I learned this lesson a decade ago when I used to frequent Odessa in the wee hours. This weekend I relived the shock and horror at Carroll Gardens' Hill Diner (the dearth of post-midnight options in the area is sad).
The monte cristo I've always known and loved is essentially a club sandwich on French toast served with jelly (strawberry if you're classy, grape if you're not) and fries on the side. I'm pretty sure there's a layer of mustard too. Sweet, savory and yes, a little weird but if you like poultry, pastry and powdered sugary bisteeya like I do, this isn't much of a stretch. Moroccan…Californian…whatever. Some go as far as battering and deep-frying the whole thing, Disneyland-style, though I've yet to encounter such as beast.
My first clue that something was awry in New York was the sandwich's inclusion in the breakfast section, mingling with the omelets and pancakes. My version is lunch or dinner fare, tidy, not what I would consider overstuffed, and definitely handheld, which is why I balked when I was brought an enormous slab that nearly filled an entire plate. It seems that the NYC diner version (I've never had or seen one outside of a diner) is French toast—they have that part right—topped with thinly sliced turkey and ham and gelled together with a solid layer of melted swiss cheese, served open-faced. A pitcher of syrup is brought out with the confusing amalgam.
Not that I can't learn to love this gooey sugared package. I will say that this is a sandwich for these times; not only did I get post-Cyclones meal (beer and pretzels didn’t cut it) but also breakfast the following two mornings. Now that's good value.
After nearly forgetting about this sandwich—I think this was my first monte cristo of this millennium—my passion has been renewed. I am now determined to find a true monte cristo. There must be one lurking somewhere in the city. Anyone know anything?
Leave it to Martha Stewart to come up with a Ghost of Monte Cristo sandwich.
Example of normal monte cristo from LAist.com