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I can't believe our first American meal after our Asian vacation was Mezcals. It just kind of happened. We were craving Mexican food and unfortunately, there arent any realer Mexican joints walking distance from our apartment. I'm still guessing that Mezcals is better than something like El Taco Loco in Hong Kong. You just know theyd put mayo in the guacamole. (9/10/05)

I guess Mezcal's is sort of cheesy (in both senses of the word) but sometimes that's just what you need. It was my suggested diversion from James's Friday night impulse for red sauce Italian. We're certainly in the right neighborhood for it, but I wasn't feeling the same urge. For some reason, mediocre Mexican food for white people doesn't bother me in the same way icky Italian-American food does. Nachos, chimichangas and pitchers of margaritas beat spaghetti and meatballs and Chianti any day.

So, chimichangas (filled with seafood and oozing cream sauce) and surprisingly fancy nachos, delicately placed around the plate with individual slices of medium-rare sirloin tucked on top, hors d' oeuvres style, totally hit the spot. I would never brag about eating at Mezcal's, but there's less shame involved than one might expect. And it's not like there are any authentic taco joints walking distance from our apartment anyway. No harm, no foul. My only suggestion is that they consolidate menus. I swear they hand you like five different documents, some laminated, some on paper, some handwritten, some using ten fonts and as many colors on one page. It's enough to induce a seizure. (6/25/04)

Mezcal's * 522 Court St., Brooklyn, NY

Putting the Anus Back in Gowanus

Home improvement has never wound me up one way or the other. I don't have a home, and improvement of any variety has never been at the top of my to-do list. But an alternative to the heinous Red Hook Home Depot was welcome.

Lowe's is different, and not just because it's blue where Home Depot is orange. Or that they are customer service focused (they have greeters and employees that walk past you have to say hi, apparently) where Home Depot's staff acts like they wish you were dead. They both attract Hassidic Jews in droves (would someone please explain what's up with these guys and their d.i.y. fixation? Is it like Mormons having to go on missions, but in this case God wants them to build lots of crap? I noticed last week that the Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin-Robbins combo inside the neighboring Pathmark had put up a banner declaring themselves kosher, and I was like who freakin' cares over here. But then I thought back to all those handy Hassids-a very influential lot, perhaps.)

No, what sets Lowe's apart is its lovely attempts at urban landscaping. Both stores sit on the picturesque Gowanus Canal, but only Lowe's has brilliantly chosen to put park benches, gravel trails and light posts at water's edge to allow customers an eyeful of the breathtaking views. It's pure South Brooklyn beauty. There's the BQE to your left, a massive pile of garbage and metal natural gas(?) containers in middle sight, and the elevated Smith/9th St. station to your right. The benches facing the empty dirt lot under the subway tracks, filled with debris is really a sight to see. Also, don't miss the 9/11 mural, complete with giant bald eagle and American flags. Nice.



Lowe's * 118 2nd Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Particle Board Paradise

I was an Ikea late bloomer, but it wasn't my fault. The NW, where I spent the first 24 years or so of my life, is colorful, functional furniture deprived. But from the first moment I set foot on NYC soil, the Ikea seed was planted. Where did you get that cute, cheap insert item here? Ikea, duh. But I didn?t want to do the Port Authority shuttle like all the other New Yorkers that I?d instantly taken a disliking to. No, fresh from Portland, I wanted the suburban experience, even if it involved extra effort.

Hicksville became my focus. Heck, the LIRR stops there. (For at least my first year here, I harbored all sorts of sick romantic notions about Long Island, Levittown, little run-down prefab houses and how I should somehow be a part of that. Really, I was already isolated and trapped in Ridgewood, Queens–why not go full throttle?)

About five years later, I finally visited the Hicksville location, thanks to a car-owning boyfriend, and it is better than Elizabeth (though the newer Paramus store beats all). And it feels super Swedish since there?s also an H&M kitty-corner in the mall.

Ikea * Various locations, NJ & NY

Character Building

Right now, I have one word for you: San-X (or is that two?). Sanrio’s still classic, but San-X is the cat’s pajamas. Poor little Kogepan initially sucked me in. I mean, who can resist a sad sack piece of burnt bread that carries a bindlestiff and gets drunk on milk? He’s in good company with demented friends like Melonpan and Mayonnaisepan. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

While Kogepan initially peaked my curiosity, the whole San-X stable is bizarrely food heavy. Examine the weird tasty evidence.

Cheese Family Just what they sound like. More official cheese.

Omusubiyasan Um, it’s an onigiri, or rice ball—what I eat almost every day for lunch. Not a well-known character, for obvious reasons.

Mikan Bouya A homesick, mandarin orange. And fruity friends.

Beer-Chan I’m not sure what it is, though I think it’s female and likes beer. Better than your typical college freshman, though.

Nyanko Cats in food. Not so appetizing in reality, but very cute in cartoon form.

Sugar Recipe Food with faces. But of course.

Yogurt Kun Live cultures never looked so good.

Ginsyarisan Part boy, part grain of rice.

Chestnuts I don’t know if they have a catchier name, though chestnuts sums them up succinctly.

Tomato Bird A true freak of nature…but so damn adorable.

Un-American Anthems

McDonald’s: Foreign food doesn’t mean anything anymore. Fusion is a passing fancy. The final frontier clearly lies in interpretations of American classics via chain restaurants in far (and not so far) flung locales. Evil corporations are no more than sources of bemusement to me. McDonald’s is the devil, you say? Aw well, at least they’re imaginative when it comes to marketing. I love regional additions to de rigeur menus. Even in the United States, items like lobster rolls show up in New England and bratwurst sandwiches around the midwest. But leave the country and, oh boy.

Argentina serves croquetas de aceiga, swiss chard nuggets. India, not surprisingly, has an entire vegetarian menu including eggless mayonnaise, and a Maharaja MacTM made with lamb. Every culture’s got their McDonald’s burger: Koreans have a bulgogi version and the Turkish a köfte rendition.

I can only imagine what goes on in a French McDonald’s. In ‘89 I was a summer exchange student and the annoying grandma (as opposed to the rich, barely tolerable grandma who always had lots of good food around the house) kept going on about something that sounded like Macdough. Even with four years of high school level French under my belt I was a bit of a retard. I finally figured out she wanted to take me to McDonald’s because I was American, of course, and I think she was using a slangy abbreviation like McDo. Eventually we ended up at some fast food place, not a McDonald’s, but it was all the same to her like how people call all brands of tissue Kleenex. I think there may have been hard-boiled egg on my burger, but my mind could be playing tricks on me.

Pizza Hut: I never knew Hawaiian pizza was a regional phenomenon until I realized it’s nearly nonexistent here in NYC, even at chains like Pizza Hut and Dominos where I’d expect it, and asking for it could cut your life short. Little did I know that ham and pineapple blasphemy was mere child’s play. Oh my god, Pizza Hut Singapore warms the cockles of my heart. Unfortunately this highlighted Christmas Pizza won’t be around much longer, but let me describe: bell peppers, chicken, ham, pineapple rings, cherries, almond flakes and sausage hidden in the crust. I was already obsessed with Singapore and now I’m totally in love. I knew cheese stuffed crust was nothing new–we have/had Stuffed Crust Gold–but sausage crammed in there as well?! Out of control. Sweet Jesus, I see Singapore’s now doing a “Double Edge” crust. And who says the Japanese are the innovators on that continent? Personal favorites Pineapple and chiles, predominate pizza in these parts. Leave it to Pizza Hut Thailand to up the ante with the addition of Thousand Island dressing.

If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese pizza, you might enjoy this primer. Japanese Pizza Hut kicks ass in its own way. Pay close attention to the Idaho Special. That’s right, it makes use of potatoes and mayo. Corn also appears to be a baffling yet important topping.

Mayonnaise? And speaking of mayonnaise, I hear they’re crazy for it over there. Supposedly, young Japanese have gone so mad for mayonnaise that the term mayora has been invented to describe these sick souls. In fact, there’s an entire restaurant, named Mayonnaise Kitchen, duh, devoted to the emulsified gunk.

Mayo has always scared the crap out of me. For years I’d covertly wipe it off burgers and sandwiches with napkins, but I’ve been learning to deal as I’ve grown older. When I think of mayonnaise, I imagine Shaggy, this girl who lived in the cul de sac (freaks always live in cul de sacs, don’t they?) where I grew up, who’d eat mayonnaise out of a bowl with a spoon (the neighbor kids two doors down ate raw potatoes like apples, so she wasn’t the only oddity). I will admit I’m simultaneously fond of/repulsed by that Chinese dish of prawns with candied walnuts and mayonnaise, but that’s an exception and I can’t think about it too hard while eating.

Cafe du Monde: I laugh every single time I visit Cafe du Monde’s Japanese site that includes “New Orleans-style Hot Dog With Voluminous and Choice Ingredients.” You know those great Lettuce Dogs they serve in the Big Easy. The original Cafe du Monde sells no more than coffee and beignets, but who can blame the Japanese for taking a good thing even further.

As an aside, I can’t quite figure out the Cafe du Monde Vietnamese connection. You often see cans of the chicory coffee in Vietnamese cafes (and amusingly used as parts of makeshift shrines). And during a recent trip to New Orleans, it seemed that about 90% of the waitstaff were Vietnamese. What gives? Is it a twisted Francophile fondness?

Foreign Concepts

I’m distrustful of men who dig Asian stuff. Anime, manga whatever…you know they’re really just hot for Asian chicks. Well, no yellow fever here, I’m all about the peculiar charm of anthropomorphic characters, ad copy turning poetically earnest in translation and the twisted things foreigners do to good ol’ fashioned American cooking. Of course, I’m open to quirks of all cultures, but Asians seem to have the corner on the market.

You might find it surprising that I love Engrish, considering my usual low tolerance for ESL, but massacring the English language occurs in varying degrees. People abusing apostrophes and quotes as in: Juicy Apple’s For “Sale” makes my bones hurt. Seeing a fruit cart advertising Orinjs instead of Oranges or a middle aged Hispanic woman obliviously wearing a tee shirt reading “Me So Horny” makes me smile a little. But “The Art of Hot. Side by Side, I’ll be yours forever. Because please don’t weep.” printed on the side of a styrofoam cup is smile-inducing on another level.

Mooncake Foods

Nice as can be, fun food, good prices…oddball location. I'd been meaning
to try Mooncake Foods for some time, but I'm just not ever in that weirdo
area above Tribeca, right near the Holland Tunnel. But it occurred to me
when I was trying to think of somewhere to eat that was walking distance to
M1-5 where I had to go for this Sweet
party. I don't know…hipsters and what passes for porn these
days. The food was definitely sexier than the party. The Thai beef salad,
spicy wings and summer rolls I tried were all perfectly tasty-it's the kind
of food I'd be inclined to grab on the way home from work. But seeing as how
I live in Brooklyn, that's not going to happen. I guess what I'm saying is
that Mooncake Foods isn't necessarily someplace you'd go out of your way
for, but if you were ten blocks in either direction it'd be a must-do.

Mooncake Foods28 Watts St., New York, NY