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Zipe Zape

1/2 Egg_1 I don't eat tapas as much as I'd like to, but I finally got the chance to try Zipe Zape since I was in Williamsburg for New Year's Eve. Unfortunately, I had no way of knowing that a mere four hours later my precious tapas (along with Jameson, Frangelico, cheap champagne, Rioja and Sauvignon Blanc) would end up splattered all over a stranger's stairwell. Oh well, way to ring in 2006.

ZgambasBut I started the evening with good intentions and a nice Spanish spread. I had heard the servings were small and overpriced, and that was probably true of the $5 potato and chorizo nibble topped with a quail egg, but in general everything was a fair value. We also ordered baby chorizo in brandy, which are like Catalan lit'l smokeys (I love them), a cured meat platter, whose contents I can't fully recall, gambas al ajillo, which were super, and a touch spicier than I would've expected. They include the heads with whiskery antennae, which only meant more for me. ZcheeseWe were so impressed we recreated the simple dish for dinner the following night. Dipping crusty bread into the garlicky oil is almost as good as eating the shrimp, themselves.

We also ordered a cheese plate, which we were getting antsy waiting for because there's nothing like a parade of meat, cheese and bread, but as it turned out we were being American and didn't realize they were holding it as an after-dinner treat. The cheese portions were really large in comparison to the rest of the dishes and way too heavy for two who'd already Zmeat eaten a meal, but we plowed through. The selection included tetilla, manchego, a goat cheese, and membrillo. The food was better than average, the service gracious (it seemed like a mother and teenage daughter running the room) and all was well (until after midnight, at least). That's why I was surprised to read this negative Chowhound account from the same evening. I was glad to be on the good side of things for a change, it often seems that I have poor experiences with places that others love.

Zipe Zape * 152 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Atlantic Antics

Yes20it20is I'm not sure if the store was decimated because it was the day after the day after Christmas or simply because this is a perpetually busted location. I'm no fan of the Atlantic Center, but was forced into its bad feng shui environs because it's the closet DMV to my apartment (did you know the Brooklyn DMV was inside this monstrosity? And it's baffling because I thought the mall was '90s, yet the DMV is straight '70s municipal chic, very Barney Miller. Did they grime up the space, metal, fluorescent light and wood panel it to look authentically old and dreary, or has it rapidly aged?) and the holiday break was my only chance to renew my license that expired in the summer.

Target wasn't crowded as it has been in the past (I once waited in the return line for 30 minutes and it didn't even budge. I gave up and  took that same pair of $24.99 pants to Hackensack, walked right up to the counter, no line, no questions, and had cash in hand in less than 60 seconds) yet no matter where you wanted to be, someone else had to be in that exact spot too. I was trying to look at hair dye and this guy would get between me and the shelf no matter what, there was no way he was buying hair coloring, he was just being an irritant. Have you ever noticed that about Brooklyn? If you show any interest in an item, look at it, or god forbid, touch it, a stranger will instantly appear and all of a sudden become bizarrely engrossed in what they previously could've cared less about?

But like I said, the shelves were bare. Where purses and bags should've been, sat empty hooks. I wanted to try the chile flavored Choxie bars, but there weren't any to be had. I then, went for my second favorite guilty pleasure after chocolate: makeup.

I was mesmerized by a new line from Loreal called HIP or H.i.p. or something like that (there's no mention of it on their website). I think the acronym stands for high intensity pigment, and is not merely hip. I think they're trying to tap into the MAC market with bright, intense colors which I'm a sucker for. Remember Revlon's Street Wear aping Urban Decay in the late '90s (I still own and wear a few of the eye shadows and lip glosses-no germs or expiration date worries for me)? I love drug store knock offs. And apparently, so does Brooklyn because there was one orphaned tube of dark purple lip gloss left on the entire plastic display. The color I wanted too, but you know it was messed with. I will have to head to a New Jersey Target to satisfy my urge for gimmicky cosmetics and candy.

Target * 139 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY

*Image borrowed from Samology, which might possibly be the only site that's ever "photoblogged" the Brooklyn DMV. (There are signs all over the place about no camera phones, photos, etc. and I'm scared of breaking rules and pissing off already disgruntled government workers and impatient waiting room dwellers. I got dirty looks just for trying to sit on the far end of an occupied wooden bench–I haven't felt such Oz-like vibes since my Ridgewood-Bushwick Lucille Roberts days.)

Wanton Wontons

Rangoon_1 Crab rangoon is something I seem to indulge in when no one else is around. I think it's because I'll eat an entire $3.25 order of ten in one sitting and that's not the sort of thing to brag about. I just can't help it, rangoons are that good. Jalapeño poppers are second.

I needed roast pork on Christmas for a recipe and thought it would be the perfect excuse to have crab rangoon delivered. But I must admit Wing Hua's version were way too thick and chewy. It's not like I expect subtlety or perfection from a corner take out joint, but a rangoon should be at least a little crispy.

I survived, and for me rangoons are really a vehicle for sweet chile sauce. I picked up a few bottles of Maggi chile sauce in Singapore and I put it on everything I can. Versions of this sauce come in little plastic packets at fast food chains all over S.E. Asia. I had it at Burger King in Thailand and A&W and KFC in Malaysia. Great for dipping fries.

Where’s the Beef?

Shopcart1I would probably be sadder about the Meatpacking District losing its Western Beef, if I actually ever went anywhere near part of the city. But still, that overblown neighborhood could only benefit from an anthropomorphic cactus in a cowboy hat. Just wait, Stella McCartney will totally have a cactus fiber line of clothing next season.

Meatpacker Packing Up (New York Post)
Got Beef? Not Anymore (The New York Times)

Devil of a Time

Devilfixings_1 I wanted to make a curry from scratch to while away a potentially dull Christmas evening. I was limited to what I could forage in my pantry, freezer and mediocre local grocery store on Christmas Eve, but I did alright. Weirdly, the only thing I needed to leave the house for was potatoes, though I ended up buying a fresher piece of ginger, the world's saddest stalk of lemongrass and chicken drumsticks and thighs rather than trying to chop up the whole bird I had frozen. While not ideal, I keep galangal, candlenuts, birdseye chiles and shredded lemongrass (as well as curry, pandan, banana and kaffir lime leaves) in the freezer for situations such as this.

Originally, I was leaning towards Thailand for inspiration, then remembered devil curry a supposed Eurasian Christmas dish. I say supposed because this isn't a cuisine I've experienced it first hand (though I have tried Macanese food). It's not like Kristang culture, the Portuguese-Malay mix centered around Malacca, is exactly booming (I think I'm just partial because my name, Krista, is in the word). They're a dying breed, literally.

I found countless variations of devil curry in cookbooks and on the web. Nyonyas tend to add Roastpork_1 shrimp paste and cabbage, Singaporeans use tomato, cucumber and chicken cocktail franks (at first, I figured this was a Muslim adaptation– in Kuala Lumpur I had a morning choice of beef bacon, turkey ham and chicken sausage–but the char siew kind of throws off that theory). I actually had a can of Vienna sausages on hand, but didn't feel the urge to include them, authenticity be damned. I wouldn't have bothered with the Chinese roast pork, except that including it was an excuse to have crab rangoon delivered. However, the sliced meat came completely submerged in a gloppy brown sauce (pictured, right) that I had to strain off.

I settled on a fairly simple version from Eurasian Favorites by Wendy Hutton and added a teaspoon each of shrimp paste and tumeric powder (the root is one thing I've forgotten to keep in the freezer) because those extra ingredients seemed important.

Chicken Curry Devil (Curry Debal)
1 2 ½ pound fresh chicken, cut into bite-sized portions
1 tablespoon black soy sauce
½ cup oil
2 medium onions, quartered
3 cups water
2 stems lemongrass, bruised
1 ½ teaspoons salt
8 ounces Chinese roast pork, cut into ¾" pieces (optional)
3 potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon hot English mustard powder

Spice Paste
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
12-16 dried chiles, cut in ¾" lengths, soaked to soften
4 large red chiles, sliced
14 shallots, chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, chopped
1 tablespoon galangal, finely chopped
3 candlenuts, chopped

Devilpaste_1 1. Prepare the spice paste by processing mustard seeds in spice grinder until coarsely ground. Add both lots of chiles, shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal and candlenuts and blend to a smooth paste, adding a little of the oil if necessary to keep blades turning.

2. Put 4 tablespoons of the spice paste and the soy sauce in a large bowl and stir to mix well. Add chicken and stir to coat with the mixture.

3. Heat a wok, add ¼ cup of the oil and heat until very hot. Add marinated chicken and stir-fry until it changes color all over, 3-4 minutes. Remove chicken pieces. Add remaining oil, reduce heat and stir-fry remaining spice paste and quartered onions over low-medium heat for 4-5 minutes.

4. Add water, lemongrass and salt and simmer 2 minutes, scraping any spice paste from the bottom. Add chicken, cover the wok and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add roast pork, if using, and potatoes and simmer until cooked, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix vinegar, sugar and mustard, then add to the wok, stirring for about 1 minute to mix well.

5. Transfer to a large bowl and serve with steamed white rice.

Serves 4

Devilcurry_1 The end result was spicy, but not as hot as I'd anticipated. I'm betting that the devil curry will taste even better tomorrow. Especially since I used hotter chiles than the recipe called for. I can never find long red peppers like Holland chiles. But the curry definitely had that Malaysian quality, which I think comes from the belacan, candlenuts and massive amounts of shallots. I'm always dubious about the quantity called for, especially when some are small and garlic-sized, while others are almost as big as an onion.

* * *

Eggs_5 On Christmas Eve I made Carmelized Salmon Deviled Eggs for a party. (Initially, I felt mild shame for using an Emeril recipe, but all was well when it turned out that another partier had brought a Rachael Ray creation.) Weird, I have no particular fixation on deviled dishes (which I thought meant mustard, but with the curry I think it means heat even though it does contain a touch of mustard). I just needed a recipe to make use of my impractical Rubbermaid egg carrier that I've only used once in three years.

Petty Fours

Petitfours It's official, petit fours are overrated. By me, at least. I don't know why I coveted the damn little squares for so long. This year I was given a box as a gift, and while I should've been ecstatic, I was faced with the same grim reality that surfaced the last time I tried petit fours (and yes, I'm sure you get what you pay for–nice confections can't be had on the cheap). They're nothing more than littler Little Debbies with Christmassy frosting flourishes. Waxy, shortening-laden lumps in a pretty shell. And these specimens all had the exact same white cake and raspberry filling. I had to throw them out (this exact thing happened last year, so you think I would've learned) to prevent the angry fullness that comes from gorging on unsatisfying sweets.

Peas Porridge

Lambfixings I had a Costco rack of lamb that needed eating, so I went looking for a low-fuss recipe and came up with Roast Lamb with Marionberry-Pecan Crust. Very Oregon, sometimes I feel like rooting for the home state. And I got to put my jar of organic reduced sugar Trader Joe's marionberry preserves to use (jams always sound appealing, but then I never manage to finish them).

The nutty, sweet and tangy flavors meshed with the very mild flavored meat. My only issue was trying to keep the crust from flaking off while slicing the slab into chops. Is there a secret to an adhesive coating?

Lambchop I couldn't resist turning to traditional mint as a side dish seasoning. Smashed Peas with Mint Butter tasted fresh (despite using frozen peas) and slightly sweet, and the vivid green hue was impressive. If I only knew that James was going to make split pea soup for lunch this same Sunday, I might've looked for a different accompaniment. We've eaten a lot of green peas in the past few days.


Though I don't do it very often, I love slowly getting drunk and spending more money than usual on fun food combinations. By the end of the evening, I'm never sure if I was blown away by my meal or if I'm in an unusually agreeable state of mind because of the wine and cocktails. I wish I had more experiences like this, and I suspect from reading reviews and blogs that quite a few New Yorkers blow hundreds of dollars on dinner numerous times a week. I don't know any of these gourmands personally, but one can only guess that sugar daddies, comps or expense accounts are involved. While a mildly peculiar resolution (to spend money more freely), I intend to attempt biweekly fine dining in 2006.

Public is one of those sort of high concept uber designed (I have to admit an attraction to the whole library chic motif–card catalogs, faux typewritten menus on clipboards, children's magazines on shelves, tempered with non-institutional gauzy panels–despite it not making much sense) places that I fully intended to visit when it first opened, but never got around to. There are just too many options in the city. But I'm glad that I chose it for our Christmas dinner this year.

We weren't the only ones who had the same idea. An office party, that I almost accidentally crashed, was going on in the "wine room" and large groups were also convivially celebrating throughout the space. We were seated next to one such family, so Manhattan. I can't even imagine my mother taking us anywhere classier than Poor Richard's, if we went out to eat at all. We spent a good portion of our meal trying to figure out if the diminutive female, sitting at her own table next to us, odd one out of a clan of six in three two-seaters, was a child or an adult. We ultimately decided on well behaved eleven-year-old. I don't think anyone said a word to her through the multi-course meal. Maybe that's very Manhattan, too.

For a starter I had the fried Coromandel oysters with shiso, sansho pepper and wasabi-yuzu dipping sauce. I don't know if I tasted the pepper, but wrapping the bivalve in the Japanese leaf was a nice contrast and cut the richness, sort of like using lettuce around Vietnamese spring rolls. My first choice would've been James's confit rabbit, foie gras, and Tahitian vanilla terrine with quince glazed grapes and breakfast radish (I have no idea what makes it a breakfast radish) but I was tipsy and didn't care enough to force him to relinquish his wise choice. Plus, he gave me a generous portion of the foie gras to shut me up.

I've noticed that I'm a complacent diner, meaning I'm not demanding and rarely ask questions. I frequently see waiters spending a good amount of time with tables and I guess this is expected and that I'm the weird one for knowing what I want and keeping the ordering process brief. But waitstaff seem to be disappointed when you don't need clarification. So, I was almost relieved when I saw an ingredient in my intended entre, grilled New Zealand snapper on curried cauliflower and kasundi with a crab, Thai basil and crispy garlic salad, which I was clueless about. Kasundi was a stumper. Our sweet waitress (she really was–the couple on our other side was drunker than we were and borderline obnoxious and she appeased them, no problem) informed me that it was a spicy tomato relish, and I swear my cluelessness warmed her to us. We tend to get cold service and I'm convinced it's because we don't elicit opinion and expertise.

Note the lone basil leaf

Following the lots of components, but one that's nearly absent formula, I didn't really notice the crispy garlic salad, which probably meant two slices of the clove. After earlier cocktails at Pegu Club, a gin and tonic in the bar and a few glasses of a random Semillon James chose on a whim because it wasn't Australian or New Zealand-ish, my thought processes were skewed. I actually chose this dish because I love fried basil, a Thai touch, but there was only a single leaf atop my stack of food. No matter, I enjoyed the flavors, which were very distinct, sweet, saline and hotter than anticipated. Kasundi is Indian, as it turns out.

Rather than finishing sweet as usual, we opted for a plate of Spanish cheeses (Caa de Cabra, Tetilla, Roncal and Valdeon) with marcona almonds, apple chutney and focaccia crisps. I also went for a glass of Fonseca port. I've neglected to mention the bread basket, which became an irrational focus for James. There was a fennel roll that he became enamored with and seemed hurt that we only got to choose one piece of bread at the beginning of the meal. Emboldened by the liquor and rambunctiousness of fellow diners, I was like "just ask for another," especially since the crisps ran out well before the cheese. Our waitress gladly obliged our request for extra starch.

Decimated and unappetizing, I know

And as we waited for the coat check girl to return to her post, we were mesmerized by the baskets of bread that were inexplicably housed on a shelf across from the closet. Yes, James stuffed his pocket with a fennel roll. I don't think he ever ate the pilfered bread–it'll eventually become a moldy souvenir.


Public * Elizabeth St., New York, NY

Pegu Club

I really wanted to like this place. And at 6pm on a Monday, I thought we'd be safe. Safe from the crowds, yes. Safe from the showboating-to-neglect bartenders, no.

The space is lovely, the cocktails superb. But I only managed to enjoy one drink in the hour and a half I graced Pegu's presence. The Jamaican firefly, a gingery, dark rum riff on a dark and stormy, held me nicely for a spell. I thought I might like to try something made with applejack next. James wanted to order coconut shrimp even though we had 8pm reservations at Public. I wasn't opposed to sampling some haute bar snacks. But it was not to be since we couldn't get the attention of either bartender the rest of the evening (it makes one wonder if they'd be noticed if they chose to drink and dash). While sitting at the bar initially seemed optimal, perhaps the cozier tables with waitress service would've worked out better.

I understand this isn't a margarita machine, slap dash operation, they're crafting thought out cocktails with flourish and show. That's appreciated. But I took issue with the attention lavished on particular patrons, namely the couple seated next to us who perpetually engaged the one-step-up from Royal Oak, Williamsburger mixologist with their thrilling tale of a documentary in progress about new-school bartenders. Fine, impress friends, filmmakers, out-do each other with obscure liqueur awareness (peons like myself know what creme d'yvette is, too) but spread the wealth (of knowledge). Despite the club in Pegu's name, I thought this was a public space and not a private venue. I would like to return and likely will at some point, though I'm the type who has a hard time forgiving tainted first impressions.

Pegu Club * 77 W. Houston St., New York, NY

Thomas Beisel

Nothing like a little post-Brokeback Austrian meal. The Rockies…The Alps…whatever. I, like most New Yorkers, probably don't eat much German or Austrian food. Mainly because it's few and far between (and yes, I know the two cuisines aren't the same). Here, German tends to be outerborough and kitschy while Austrian leans toward pricy and gilt.

After a BAM matinee it became a toss up between Thomas Beisel and Junior's. Since I've been to the latter countless times TB's seemed in need of trying. It was a good choice, as it was early evening and not terribly crowded. We got a two-seater that temporarily (it was soon filled by a young couple who appeared to be on a first or second date and the guy went on about his firsthand knowledge of Austrian beers and the girl, who appeared to be Russian, filled him in on all her bouts with mental illness and eating disorders. Just so you know, now when she wants cake, she eats it and it's ok) had an empty table next to it with more than six inches of space.

We both started with a hearty gruyere-topped onion soup because that's hard to resist when it's icy outside. With a large glass of Hefeweizen, that would've been a meal in itself, but I wanted to sample the entrees. I went classic and ordered pork cheeks with sauerkraut and dumplings, which was even better than I'd expected. I thought the knoedel would be airy and boring, but they were dense, chewy and carmelized, if that's possible. I suspect the main ingredient was potato. They weren't little and round, but large, thick, flat ovals. James ordered a nutty special of halibut with scallions and ginger. I would've steered clear of Asian touches, but he seemed to like it, even though the fish was oddly matched with potatoes and sweet-sour red cabbage.

For some reason the restaurant strikes me as an older person's haunt, as if the flavors are more suited to a middle aged palate. Strange assessment, I know. Maybe I'm equating Thomas Beisel's clientele with the typical BAM-goer, which isn't unreasonable.

Thomas Beisel * 25 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, NY