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Dallas BBQ

I've always been a little unclear on the true meaning of the term "guilty
pleasure." Some people use it in reference to decadent, expensive items like
Godiva chocolates or Dom Perignon, while others may mean something rich and
fattening like guacamole or pasta carbonara. I've always taken the guilty
part literally, as in something you would be ashamed of eating in front of
someone you would like to impress, such as a secret crush.

When I lived in Portland, I would do ridiculous things like hide
pepperoni or liver under more respectable items in my cart just in case I
ran into someone who might be offended by such pedestrian fare. But now that
I'm a little older, wiser and surrounded by far fewer vegetarians/vegans
than ever, I'm much more candid about my gluttonous food choices.

Dallas BBQ is one of those guilty pleasure places that I rarely make of
point of going to, yet somehow end up at. I first went on Mother's Day half
out of a sense of sick curiosity, and half out of exhaustion from not being
about to find the Swiss restaurant I'd been meaning to go to. Since then,
I've probably been back about three times.

Saturday, I was out shopping, freezing and a little hungover from a
Halloween party the night before. I thought a nice bowl of soup would be the
perfect remedy. After walking around a bit, the genius idea of BBQ hit me.
This was about as far from a simple bowl of soup as one can get and at 5:30
it was a little early for diner by New York standards, but the place was
hopping and there was even a line out the door. The hungry mobs shouldn't
have been surprising since the clientele isn't typically East Village
(whatever that means). Dallas BBQ is the sort of place even in my more
secure old age, I'd feel mildly awkward if someone I knew saw me inside
(though there's not much worry of that since all the hip, health food kids
have moved across the river anyway).

So, if you can get past the garishness, sit down, blend in with the
crowd and savor your meaty morsels in anonymity. The price is right, the
portions are large, and the drinks are even larger. I hesitate to say it's
authentic barbecue, but if you want to get stuffed on massive quantities of
ribs and chicken, it'll do the trick. They hype up their "Texas Sized" Blue
Hawaii's, Pina Coladas and Margaritas like nobody's business and you'd be
well advised to order at least one. The fuzzy glow adds to the carnival-like
atmosphere and may even cause you to think aloud, "This place rocks!"

I usually end up with the ribs and chicken combo ($8.95) which comes
with cornbread and a starchy side. I always opt for the french fries to up
the grease quotient, but was highly tempted by the "new" yam mashed
potatoes. Maybe next time. There are all sorts of appetizers like buffalo
wings and vegetable tempura (of course, at BBQ the vegetables couldn't be
served naked, only a batter-fried version will do). Beware of the "onion
loaf" unless you're with a party larger than two. I'm dead serious. Once
James and I ordered a large since it was only $4.95. Were we naive. The
thing is this giant mound of coated, fried onions like thin onion rings that
have been stuck together to form a cylindrical mountain on the serving
plate. The waiter warned us about the amount of chicken wings we'd ordered,
but no one ever said a thing about the loaf.

New York's number one guilty pleasure needn't be a dirty secret anymore.
I will self-consciously squirm in my rickety little chair no longer. I'm
sitting proud, handi-wipe in hand. (10/28/00)

After searching Washington Heights bodegas for over the counter
antibiotics, we came up empty handed. Luckily, there was a BBQ branch
nearby, so the uptown excursion wasn't a total bust. (2/18/02)

Dallas BBQ * 132 Second Ave.,
New York, NY (and a handful of other Manhattan locations)

New York Noodle Town


I don’t feel as if I have much to say about Noodle Town since I’ve gone on about it many times before in other places. I first discovered it on Chinese New Year, which I didn’t even realize was Chinese New Year until I got down there and was overwhelmed by the crowds. But I’m not sure that the crowds were indicative of the holiday since I’ve never seen the place empty. Even at 3 am (it stays open til 4 am, which can be a godsend on some nights) the tables are filled, which is saying something.

You may have to share a round table, which is really hit or miss. Sometimes it’s a scowling, lone, elderly Asian woman, sometimes it’s a middle aged couple who read about Noodletown in Zagat or if you’re really lucky you’ll get obnoxious college-kid foodies who think they know all the best items on the menu and feel the need to share their knowledge with the Dutch folks on your other side who’ll end up befriending each other and passing food over you the entire meal. But most likely, you’ll just get some non-offensive people who’d like to enjoy their soup in peace just as much as you would.

I’ll admit that my breadth of knowledge concerning the menu is small since I order the same items almost every time. Remember soup and roasted meat and you’ll never go wrong. I get the roast pork wonton noodle soup and it hasn’t disappointed yet. It’s full pork slices, substantial wontons, bulging with two shrimp each, thin noodles, and broccoli (last time it was gai lan, Chinese broccoli, which was an even bigger treat). I’ve been to places where the soup is like water. This sad state won’t occur here–even the broth is packed with flavor. The soup is a meal in itself (I
never realized how large the portion was til I got an order to go and it filled up my bowl two and a half times), but try and save room for some roast duck. You can get an order on rice for $3.25 that won’t bust your gut. Of course, larger sizes are available if you’re in the mood. The salt-baked soft-shell crab is also a winner. They’re not overly greasy, and the salt is off-set by a sprinkling of sliced chili peppers that I swear are jalapenos, even though I know those are not Chinese and my dining companion refuses to believe me.

A lot of Asian food aficionados say you’re only supposed to order off the special menus. Noodletown has one with “fancier” things like meats served with snow pea shoots, sandy pot casseroles and things made duck’s feet, but I’ve always stuck with the basics. I know, you don’t want to be all fuddy duddy and order things like chow mein or egg rolls at a place with amazing regional food, but nothing’s wrong with their regular menu, which you’ll find displayed under glass right at your table for easy viewing. It’s not that I don’t want to try the frog congee, God knows I do, but my stomach is only so big. Maybe I’ll get a batch to go next time. Roast duck at 3 am and congee the morning after sounds like a good plan. Rice porridge is for breakfast, after all. (10/27/00)

Soft shell season—we had to go. Actually, I don’t understand the season because I swear they always have soft shell crabs on the menu at Noodletown. Maybe its just the difference between fresh and frozen? I love that salt and pepper preparation on fried seafood. It’s light and barely battered, which doesn’t induce the usual gut wrenching trauma I get from things like fish and chips. Oh, and the jalapeno slivers also are a nice spicy contrast. But I am a little baffled about the use of jalapeos in Chinese food, I don’t see it in other dishes. Is this traditional? Even Sichuan food gets its heat from peppercorns, not chiles. I will have to look into the Cantonese connection. (5/15/05)

Yay, Noodletown. It’s an oldie but a goodie that I haven’t paid a visit to in probably a year. I didn’t stray from my routine and had roast pork wonton noodle soup and shared a plate of roast duck on rice. We even got our own table during prime Saturday dining time after only waiting a few minutes. That doesn’t happen with any regularity. All the right planets must’ve been in alignment. (3/25/06)

NewYork Noodle Town * 28½ Bowery, New York, NY

Halloween Madness

There seems to be an inordinate amount of new products out this year. Sheer craziness. I was out at my favorite grocery store, Western Beef in Ridgewood, Queens (they have the largest walk-in meat locker I’ve ever seen. Great when it’s a blistering 98° out, not so good in October) when I saw these out of control orange and black s’mores pastry treats. Remember, these are not Pop Tarts, this is the Nabisco version, and as the site says, “Even when they’re hot they’re KOOL!”

Spooky I also noticed that the Just Born company has made black cats and white ghosts in the style of marshmallow peeps. I think there must be something tricky about achieving a dark purple color with food dyes because the end result always turns out looking creepy and gray. (The same is true with cheaper brands of purple eye shadow. The color is always murky and less bright on than in the container.) This works fine for Spooky Cats since it’s Halloween and it’s o.k. to be scary and ominous, but this year Hostess tried making purple Snoballs for Easter and they were neither cheery nor festive (though they tasted mighty good).

I’ve never cared much for mint (and it always seems like when I mess up and accidentally push the wrong buttons on a vending machine, I end up with Junior Mints), but I was amused by the York’s “Peppermint Batties” I saw the other day.

I was happy when I noticed a new Rice Krispies Treat at a distance. But when I got closer and realized it was the Christmas version, I became a little dismayed. Enough already. People are still wearing shorts outside. I felt a little better about the Ghostly Rice Krispies cereal. Pumpkins and ghosts=good. Santas and snowmen=we’ll talk in a month or two.

Red Lobster

1/2 There's nothing like spending your Saturday evening at a Red Lobster in Hicksville, NY to make you question your life. I'd spent a long grueling afternoon at the Long Island Ikea and wouldn't have minded simply getting a meatball special in the cafe, but they'd closed it early. I was a little crushed, but only temporarily since it took no time at all for my eyes to zero in on the Red Lobster sign glowing across the street. Suburban paradise was beckoning.

Maybe I get a rush from Red Lobster because we didn't have them where I lived growing up. It's still novel to me. In fact, the second weekend I lived in New York, I ended up at a Red Lobster in Baldwin, Long Island and got my first dose of culture shock. The place was packed, there was an hour wait, everyone was done up in their Sunday best and my party was all bedraggled and sandy (we'd just come from Jones Beach) and we were the only white people as far as the eye could see (for reference, Portland is like 98% white). 

This wasn't an exact replica of that experience, but they did have the long wait (and the accompanying "beepers" so you can smoke in the parking lot and not miss your table), the families and couples on their big night out, and the wonderful decor (I liked the way they used five-for-a-dollar, thrift store staple books like "Love Story" piled on dividers to add a homey, maritime touch). It was all on the mark.

After skimming the menu, I came to the conclusion that everything comes covered with cream sauce or cheese, but since I'm a demon for dairy this was not an issue. Combo platters seemed to be the big sellers with all sorts of "for $5 more" add-ons like extra crab legs, shrimp on your salad, and the like. We started off with stuffed shrimp covered in bacon and served with cilantro ranch dip and pico de gallo. Cool, creamy and cheesy all at once.

It wouldn't be right to turn down a colorful cocktail so I opted for the Alotta Colada and James had a Lobsterita. I wasn't prepared for the enormity of these drinks–it was like taking a normal sized martini glass and increasing the size five-fold. Small children were gaping in amazement (seriously). We then got into a heated debate over what we thought the drinks would cost (each table has this tempting picture book full of foofy drinks and shots containing things like Midori and Southern Comfort, but with no prices listed). He guessed $10 and I swore that no non-Manhattanite would ever pay such a price (myself, included), and estimated $7.95. They ended up only being $5.99 each–talk about sticker shock!

I ate my Seafood Platter with stuffed flounder and a sampler of scallops, shrimp and crab dip covered in cheese to the soft strains of Bruce Hornsby and the Range and Vonda Shepherd doing that lovely "Ally McBeal" theme. Did I mention that dinner came with potatoes mashed with white cheddar and a large basket of their signature "Cheddar Bay Biscuits."? Fish may be heart-healthy, but the cardiac conscious would be well advised to steer clear. One girl's dream meal may be a lactose intolerant's nightmare.

Red Lobster * 1 Nevada St., Hicksville, NY