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The Middle Ages: Keens

When: 6:47pm, Wednesday

Keens’ bar room was filled with the expected after-work scrum, but I’d under-estimated the tourist factor, both seemingly Japanese and of the baggy denim and white tennis shoes persuasion. The primary benefit to so many out-of-towners is that their politeness and hesitancy can work in your favor: assertiveness and lack of respect for strangers’ personal space is practically required to get your $14 Manhattan during peak hours.

The crew of short, shouty men nearest to me included members who were recently married and recently celebrating 40th birthdays. One thought he was “more of a jerk” than when he was younger while another thought he’d mellowed out. “I don’t just jump on anybody for the fuck of it,” he declared, thoughtfully. The merits of Wolfgang’s vs. Empire Steak House were also discussed, but more importantly, Keens ranked highly because there were fewer women present than at other steakhouses.

Of course, there is the reclining nude over the bar, a.k.a Miss Keens, and a bun-less, fry-free burger named for her, yet I still wouldn’t lump Keens into the same category as Los Pollitos III and its gendered cocktails.

Age appropriate? Yes. Dark, woody bars that haven’t been fashioned to look dark in woody in the last five years, are usually safe bets.

Newborn: The Black Ant

It’s been a roller coaster of a week for edible insects. The Nordic Food Lab cautioned against eating raw ants as if that was something being done on so large a scale it merited a public service announcement, a pest control company announced a series of pop-up “pestaurants,” which means grasshopper burgers in D.C., oh, and Vice reported on Butterfly Skye’s Edible Bug Shop in Australia.

black ant smalls

New Yorkers can get in on the bug craze, too, at the appropriately named The Black Ant that recently opened in the East Village. If anything, the Mexican restaurant which definitely stands out from the latest burst of modern Mexican food in NYC, comes by its unusual ingredients honestly. Chef and partner Mario Hernandez (also of Ofrenda) taps into the country’s pre-Columbian roots in a way that comes across a novel rather than gimmicky. And while the insects are getting all the attention, these proteins of the dystopian future are used sparingly.

black ant insect dishes

Crunchy, tangy chaupulines appear on tlayudas, kicking back on a lava flow of Oaxacan queso de rancho spiked with charred chile de agua salsa while ants show up in a few places, including the guacamole hiding unexpected slivers of orange and flavored with chicatana (flying ants) salt, served with the thick, palm-sized tortillas that also accompany many of the mains. Both are very good (and I would say that even if I hadn’t been a guest of the restaurant).

black ant mains

Other highlights include a yellowtail ceviche and a serrano ponzu, yes, with black ants (and sea beans just to throw things off), and insectless entrees involving suckling pig, squash and green mole, and scallops and oxtail tinga in a pozole-ish stew. You can even have a cocktail named after the Mayan god of maize–the Yum Kaax is a milky blend of corn juice, ant salt and tequila, flavored unusually with hard-to-chew epazote leaves, more commonly used as a natural Beano to season beans.

black ant sweets & drinks

Completely un-related–not to mention un-appetizing–but I came home this evening to ants crawling all over my carpet, something that’s never happened in the 15 months I’ve lived in this apartment. I did not try to eat them.

The Black Ant * 60 Second Ave., New York, NY

Virginia Is For Lovers

coronrita for two

Initially, I wasn’t so sure about Vice’s new Sugar Babies column, but thankfully it’s not all Trump Towers, Japanese toilets (and ghee). The latest installment from a chubby girl in the Northern Virginia suburbs is pretty awesome, though.

Lessons learned:

Chains are the most stealthy.

“My friends all hang out at the local bars and restaurants downtown, so I normally suggest we meet at chain restaurants: Ruby Tuesday, Outback Steakhouse, Chili’s, etc.”

Outback Steakhouse has the best lighting.

“I like Outback because it’s a bit darker in there; places like Ruby Tuesday and Applebee’s are always lit so brightly and it’s really unflattering.”

Closeted clients can be ok too.

“We didn’t have sex—he just wanted company—but he was really fun. He’d buy my Jeffrey Campbell shoes and take me to Outback.”

The Great American Restaurants group in Northern Virginia has the classiest chains.

“For example, there’s Coastal Flats, which is like a super high-end Red Lobster with amazing crab chowder, and Sweetwater Tavern, which has delicious bread and fantastic cocktails. And the decorations are amazing. They have giant black jellyfish everywhere. It’s great.”

Ugh, I just learned about Coastal Flats last week, but four days later officially broke up with the boyfriend of 13+ years with family in Northern Virginia and went there for Mother’s Day so now I’ll never be able to go and my life is ruined. In other words, how does one go about becoming a sugar baby?

Nearly Everything I Ate in New Orleans (Minus $1 Soft Tacos)

warehouse grille crawfish boilDespite this being my fourth visit to New Orleans, I’ve never been during crawfish season. Oddly, the Brooklyn crawfish boils began in earnest the same day I headed out of town. That’s ok. I doubt you get $15 for three pounds. I suppose the optimal experience is in someone’s backyard and it’s wonderful and social, but I don’t know anyone in New Orleans. Warehouse Grille happened to be doing a Sunday afternoon boil and was just a few blocks from my hotel. Crawfish is really more fun than filling (and the garlicky cayenne coating can overtake the what little meat you extract) so it’s an optimal meal if you want to do a “Bang-Bang” in Louis C.K. parlance.

acme duo

I’m not sure why oysters are so cheap in New Orleans–$13 a dozen even in the French Quarter–or if it’s that they are pricey in NYC (nothing can probably top the $8 oysters in Copenhagen, though). Acme is a classic and tourist fave that I’d never tried either, mostly because of the permanent line out front. So, both a dozen raw and half as many charbroiled, i.e. smothered in butter, garlic and Parmesan, before the crowds descended.

killer po boys

Po boy banh mi mashups are totally logical and the closest I came to eating Vietnamese food. (I’ll probably catch flack but I didn’t get what the big deal with Vietnamese food in New Orleans is–I even rented a car and headed to Gretna and everything just seemed like what you’d find in NYC, i.e. pho, banh mi, bun, when I was hoping for something more unique like making use of local seafood or who knows what, or at least some concentrated cluster like Eden Center in northern Virginia.). Killer Poboys was a pop up, now permanent, in the back of an Irish Bar, the Erin Rose. The end cap to a Bang-Bang-Bang, these sandwiches were pretty impressive. The coriander lime gulf shrimp po boy was exactly what I was looking for, incorporating fresh super-saline (not sure if this was a natural state or just salted) shrimp presented like an extra minty and fishy banh mi. The “dark and stormy” pork belly poboy was as hefty as the shrimp one was light. The fatty squares of pork were coated in a very gingery cane syrup and rum glaze, balanced with a limey slaw and made even richer with a layer of aioli.

frankie & johnny's duo

Traditional po boys can’t be ignored, of course. I consider Domilise’s, Liuzza’s by the Track and Parkway to be the big three. Maybe you agree? Domilise’s was closed on a normal business day with no explanation other than the hand-written sign on the door saying “closed today,” which felt appropriately New Orleans-y. Nearby Frankie & Johnny’s came through with shrimp po boys, thankfully, which served as breakfast. I never eat until noon on vacation, which is why I always try to cram in so much food in the evening. Po boys tend to be deceptively light for their looks, the bread crackly on top and almost airy inside, and the shrimp, despite being battered and fried, are greaseless and crisp. Oh, and there were debris, a.k.a. roast beef bits coated in drippings, nachos because it was Cinco de Mayo. I spied diners, who appeared to be locals, putting ketchup on both red beans and rice and po boys, which reminded me that Domilise’s adds ketchup in addition to the usual mayonnaise, tomato, pickle and lettuce that constitutes a “dressed” sandwich. Who am I to judge?

new orleans food and drink duo

Deanie’s was also closed (I wanted to try the original Bucktown location not the one in the French Quarter) so nearby New Orleans Food and Spirits, the name I can never remember because it’s so nondescript, sufficed. If you find yourself in the same predicament and don’t need a place to sit and eat, seafood market, Schaefer & Rusich, is also tucked into this suburban dining cluster where bright red carapaces litter the parking lots. More charbroiled oysters were had, as well as the gut-busting shrimp feast. Everyone seemed really into the breaded shrimp stuffed with crab meat–the neighboring table ordered an extra one–but I could barely eat one without dying so I brought it back to the hotel, stored it in the fridge and then ate it for dinner two nights later back in Brooklyn, which is kind of gross but I don’t care.

coop's fried chicken, jambalaya, gumbo

I always associate Coop’s Place with seafood gumbo, but the fried chicken isn’t bad, plus it comes with jambalaya. I also don’t recall Coop’s having lines out the door, despite never exactly being under the radar. One of the waitresses was complaining about people calling for reservations and asking if there was valet parking, so someone somewhere must have hyped it up.

toups' meatery 6

Maybe you’ve already done Cochon yet still want piles of pork and a Cajun influence? Get yourself to Toups’ Meatery. From the sweet-and-spicy pork belly cracklings amuse (so to speak) to the handsome slice of peanut butter, salted caramel and bacon Doberge cake, everything is sufficiently bold yet not excessive. The meatery board contains pretty much everything you could dream of, including a boudin ball, hog’s head cheese, chicken liver mousse and terrines. Bites of pickled pineapple paired with a crackling created the ultimate Hawaiian-Cajun mash-up snack. The bbq goat with a citrus slaw and gingery cornbread that was more like crusty cake also played with sweet and savory (my favorite), as did the root beer-glazed short ribs with heirloom carrots. You’ll also find many well-priced bottles wine (I was surprised at how many restaurants tipped the scales in favor of under-$45 selections) and cocktails like the Dr. Rouge (rye, ginger, amaro meletti).

palettes new orleans

There was a restaurant called Palette in my hotel, though I’m sure they really meant palette since it was located in the so called Arts District. Plus, there was palatable-to-some Dale Chihuly art in the lobby.

 

Next-Gen Chimichangas

The one and only Who Song & Larry's via 360 Drinks

The one and only Who Song & Larry’s via 360 Drinks

In news that might possibly only be of interest to those who grew up in the suburban Portland-Vancouver metro area, Who Song & Larry’s, the Jose Tejas of the Northwest (Who Song & Larry’s is really an El Torito in disguise while Jose Tejas is a stealth Border Cafe) is revamping. Or rather, the name is being appropriated for a new concept altogether.

Who Song & Larry's for young people.

Who Song & Larry’s for young people.

It will become a “Mexican gastropub” for the millennials, you know? There will be communal seating, shared plates, and food and drinks served in jars, obviously. The menu isn’t online yet, but I’m 85% certain kale and a moscow mule variation will make an appearance.

No comment.

No mustache motifs?

New generations of teens will never know the joy of spending Easter eating chimichangas and virgin margaritas with their parents, then ditching the family to go drink 40s in the Rose Garden afterward.

All Cried Out

In addition to the very important and sporadic work being done on Palate Patrol 2014, I will now be updating Food That has Moved People to Tears: A Crybaby Compendium indefinitely.

The two new entries couldn’t be more different:

  • This isn’t the first time Cronuts induced tears, but likely the first time from a former club kid fresh off a 17-year prison sentence.
  • It took a little more to set off René Redzepi’s waterworks. Specifically “…a just-cooked langoustine, lying on a bed of rocks, curled up under wisps of pine smoke. The only garnish was a black salt made by drying seaweed, the way the Faroese produced what little salt they had for centuries.”

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Three Continents, Three Boroughs

onomea kalua pig

Onomea Despite New York Times attention and practically being across the street from my apt, I have always been resistant to Onomea. Maybe it’s all the starch. Maybe it’s the small menu. There are really only five entrees and drinks-wise, three beers and two rums that you can mix with fruit juices like strawberry-guava. The mom-and-pop vibe works, though. Being NYC, the portions are reasonable and there’s a salad taking up one quadrant of the dish, a green anomaly you wouldn’t see sullying a plate lunch in Hawaii. The kalua pig, pulled roast pork shoulder that’s not wildly dissimilar to North Carolina bbq, feels like mixed-up picnic fare when taken with bites of rice and macaroni salad. The appetizers will have to wait–my dining companion doesn’t eat pork or raw fish, squelching any shared poke or spam musubi.

donostia quad

Donostia With Huertas just a few avenues over, the East Village is turning into a pintxos destination. I’ve yet to see anyone capture the San Sebastian spirit fully, but at least we’re getting closer. Txakoli is on tap and montaditos are the showpiece, displayed on the counter yet prepared to order. Grilled halloumi and mackerel breaks the cheese with fish rule deliciously while thick aioli topped with curling octopus legs, and razor clams anchored by a white bean puree both present seafood on bread in a more traditional manner. Of course, you can also just have Spanish charcuterie and cheese.

uma plov

Uma’s I’ve never been down with the whole still burgeoning Rockaways scene, but sometimes you acquiesce. Uzbeki food seemed like an odd choice for the neighborhood, odd enough to try. The service and food were a little wonky, which wasn’t unexpected considering the lackadaisical energy heavy in the air. The beef in the plov was tender, not too lean and almost lamb-like (the meat I really wanted) in flavor. The rice, though, was just shy of fully cooked, creating a chew that nearly reminded me of the grit that kept turning up in my mouth after sitting on the windy beach near a crumbling dune. That said, I would still go back. It’s a popular place and nearly nothing on the menu is over $10.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Double Happiness

qi floating market stewed beef noodles

Qi Thai Grill Sometimes a craving for Chinese food can be satisfied by looking southeast instead. Every so often, especially when I’m feeling rundown, I really want a bowl of Hong Kong-style beef brisket noodle soup (a la Mak’s) without leaving the house. Even if I wanted to leave the house, I’m not sure who does a good version of this in NYC. A satisfying alternative for me (native Hong Kongers, please don’t go crazy on my ass) is the floating market stewed beef noodle ($11.90) at Qi Thai Grill. Ok, you won’t find bean sprouts or beef balls in the original and the broth is a little oily, but the flavor is exactly I’m looking for: deep and rich with star anise, ginger and cinnamon, and body from the tendons. When I’ve tried making this at home, it always comes out wan and lacking. It’s best sipped when extremely hot and you’re on the verge of getting a sore throat. And for lunch, the $5.50 five spice stewed beef soup is essentially the same thing, just in the smaller size takeout container minus the noodles. Perfect if you’re an afternoon carb-avoider and can’t stand another salad.

peking duck house

Peking Duck House is no Decoy, at least I’m guessing, but still a perfectly good standby especially if you just want the duck, no nonsense, and happen to have a bottle of 2009 Domaine de l’Horizon Blanc rattling around in your bag. (I used to be very down on diners who brought their own wine to dim sum restaurants and taquerias, but now I’ve matured and stopped judging others–or rather, now have a friend who sells wine and usually has samples to share.) A $38 duck split however many ways (two is generous, three would work too) is hard to beat. Plus, a duck in a chef’s hat? Come on.

The Middle Ages: All of New Orleans

short pants

When: Any time, any day of the week.

Based on a handful of previous visits and extremely informal observation at bars and bars of restaurants, ranging from suburban to touristy to upscale to, yes, hipster (Warehouse Grille, Lucy’s, Cafe Adelaide, Columns, Booty’s, Coop’s, Frankie & Johnny’s, 12 Mile Limit, Carousel Bar, Erin Rose, Dat Dog, Peche) over a recent three-day period, New Orleans just may be the most age diverse drinking city in the US. (I would also speculate that Key West ranks highly.)

What the Girls Gone Wild videos don’t show are the white beards of Bourbon Street in denim shorts on motorized scooters, and the little old ladies clutching each other’s arms with one hand, Styrofoam daiquiri cup in the other. 80% of women over 45 wear cropped pants and cropped hair, an American phenomenon I’m still trying to understand. It’s also possible that this is such extreme normcore that my brain can’t process it. The remainder look like twenty-somethings from behind: tan, long hair don’t care with highlights, short shorts or short skirts. This species will always dance if there’s music and sway at the counter waiting for Fireball Whisky shots.

Age appropriate? Obviously. Even at the bars that if transplanted to Brooklyn would only attract under-32s, there will always be at least one woman or couple, well past 40.

10pm Snack Just Doesn’t Have the Same Ring To It

The May issue of Saveur is a composite of meals progressing from day to night. Among the late night snackers, a list that includes missives from Martha Stewart and Traci des Jardins, lurks a standout from Kathleen Hanna.

She sings sugary praises for cake batter-flavored vending machine F’real milkshakes worth sneaking into FIT for, then concedes “If F’real is not available, I just down a gingerbread martini at Outback Steakhouse.”

BUT the Chelsea Outback Steakhouse, which one would assume is the Outback Steakhouse in question, closes at 10pm (11pm on weekends) which would render the chain useless for a true midnight snack. It do like the spirit of this story, though.