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There’s nothing worse than a tipsy, starving, angry meal. Thankfully, I don’t have these too often. The routine goes like this: I’m supposed to go out to dinner, usually on a Saturday night. My dining companion is anticipated to get home around 9pm, possibly earlier (it was their suggestion to go out for dinner since they’d be spending the day with their mother, which was an unexpected weekend imposition). Said companion doesn’t call and time starts ticking. I get bored and have a glass of wine, which turns into two and then I hem and haw over whether or not to just eat something because I’m getting cranky. By 11pm, the supposed dining companion shows up, I’m pissed (in both senses of the word) and my original restaurant choices are closed or closing. Brooklyn is lame that way. All the city does is sleep.

I’m not fond of Gravy, but it came to mind as being open later. If I was going that direction, newer Trout, right next door, would’ve made more sense, but it was too hot to sit outside and I didn’t want total junk food. Well, Gravy’s menu had been pared down since my last visit and was essentially serving burgers and boring sandwiches. I could’ve dealt if we weren’t left waiting for our order to be taken for a good 15 minutes despite a near empty restaurant (the outdoor tables were all occupied, but there are only like four of them). Normally, I’m overly polite about bad service or being ignored. But not when I’m starving, tipsy and angry. After asking for someone to take our order to no avail, we left. And by this point I was even more hungry and angry (though less tipsy).

We headed over to Park Slope since we were going to check out that new bar Union Hall (charming space, hideous crowd. I just don’t think I can go out anymore. Williamsburg is all annoyingly young and looks obsessed, but the rest of gentrified Brooklyn might be even worse. The crowds are also heavily under-30 but they’re all polo shirted and khakied and travel in packs. I mean, the guys. The girls are so nondescript I can’t even recreate their look in my mind). Nana had 20 minutes left before their midnight closing. I hate, hate, hate eating in restaurants that are about to shutter for the evening, but by this point I was desperate and there was still a party lingering in the back garden so I felt like the heat was off of me a bit.

Nana is Asian mish mash/sushi bar style, you know, like chopsticks for everything, a DJ booth and cocktails with lychee in them. Not my typical first choice, but hardly horrible either and the prices were fair. We went with the fusion and sampled roti canai (Malaysian), prik khing shrimp (Thai), and sweet and sour duck (Chinese-y). It’s doubtful that I’ll go back any time soon, but Nana served its purpose in trying to patch up a doomed dinner.

Nana * 115 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Skirting the Issue

My hot dog piece ended up getting mushed into a larger round up of summer eats, but it's all in there.

And since Sunday is about randomness, so allow me to share a few things that have nothing to do with anything.

When it's like 90% humidity and close to 100 degrees I can't stand seeing people wearing sweaters. I mean, the word sweat is right in there. I have been noticing women (not a ton, but enough to catch my attention) on my morning commute with full on winter wear and it scares me. I understand if you live someplace where you go straight from an air conditioned home to an air conditioned car to an air conditioned office. But in NYC the average person is cruelly subjected to the elements for extended periods of time. And no, it doesn't make you tougher, it makes you whinier.

Also, it peeves me when people use umbrellas when it's not raining. Yes, it's like a rain forest out there, but an umbrella can't protect against hot moist air. This peculiarity seems to cut across genders and age ranges. And it's not being done like in Asia where people use umbrellas to block the sun. Skirt_1It could be argued that this practice isn't hurting anyone so I should shut up. But taking up unnecessary amounts of sidewalk space affects all of humanity.

This Gap skirt  is becoming the bane of my existence. I bought it last month because it was colorful, relatively cute and most importantly, cheap (it was $19.99 in the store). Now, I see at least one woman a day wearing it (the pink version, not the blue one that's remaining on the website). I guess that's the problem with chain clothing. This skirt is the great unifier. So far I've seen it on skinny and plump ladies, as well as on white, Asian and black women.

Speaking of chain clothing, I was disturbed and confused when I started receiving Good Housekeeping in the mail a few months ago. I would never subscribe to a magazine with Tom Cruise and Rachael Ray on the covers. I eventually figured out that it's a replacement publication for the now defunct Budget Living. It's so not a fair trade. Though by the end of BL's tenure they were showing $90 candy dishes and the like. Despite all of the saving your marriage and helping your children crap (there was this hideous advice column last month where one woman was complaining how coworker would also whisper to her loudly in meetings and make her look bad. And the response was to say something direct along the lines of "Kathy, please be quiet. I really want to hear what Mr. Dickwad has to say." So, women [who are always support staff] commonly address their bosses [who are always men] using their surname like they're in grade school or employed as maids?) in the pages of GH, they do have budget-minded "fashion" spreads. I haven't looked at a magazine in ages that actually includes clothing from Kmart and JC Penny.

Sunday Night Special: Thai Beef Salad

I think it's generally accepted that salads are good hot weather food. It's too bad that salads tend to be really boring, or maybe I just hate the varieties that I make myself. I'd much rather eat a professionally crafted bowl of greens than suffer through my sad renditions.

Thai salads are easy to make, generally healthy and taste a hundred times better than some god-awful Caesar concoction. I went for beef because we had a Styrofoam flat of economy type steaks in the freezer. They weren't really suited for purist treatment, but became a perfect meaty sponge for herbs and spice.

There doesn't seem to be a hard and fast recipe for this dish (nor a proper name–I thought it was yam nuea, but the recipe I settled on was called nahm dtok, which must be off because Googling that phrase only brings up 25 hits. I suspect the dish is more Laotian, which may or may not have anything to do with its small web presence). Some are more like a larb and use roassted rice powder and chile powder rather fresh chiles. Tomatoes, scallions, or mint sometimes show up and sometimes don't. I went a little insane trying to find a definitive version.

Eventually, I just gave up and looked to David Thompson's Thai Food. It was one of the simplest recipes I found and the man knows his shit. My only beef is that he doesn't specify servings (perhaps this is explained somewhere in the book and I missed it). I would guess that using 5 ounces of meat would make this for one. I mean, Americans eat 12-ounce slabs at steakhouses. I suppose if you were being more Asian and serving lots of dishes with small portions intended 5 ounces would suit more eaters. But then, I treated this as a main entrée and doubled it for two.

Grilled Beef Salad
Nahm Dtok

5 oz. beef rump or sirloin
4 red shallots, sliced
2 tablespoons shredded pak chii farang
handful of mixed mint and cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon ground roasted rice

pinch of white sugar
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
very large pinch of roasted chile powder

First, make the dressing; it should be pungently hot, sour and salty.

Chargrill the beef to your taste. Slice beef, and combine with shallots and herbs. Dress the salad and sprinkle with roasted rice.

Serve with a wedge of cabbage and a few snake beans.

* * *

I didn't use the pak chii, which I just learned is culantro (a.k.a. sawtooth herb), not a super hard herb to find in many parts of NYC since it's popular in Puerto Rican cooking. I used to think grocers were just misspelling cilantro because they seem to enjoy doing that quite a bit, but that is the commonly used name here. And I used a mixture of shallots and red onion and tossed in half a tomato, just to use up produce that had been languishing in the fridge.

Nahm_dtok Northern Thai salads call for sticky rice. I happened to have the glutinous grain, but didn't have the proper set up. I really just need to buy one of those Thai rice steamers because improvising with a metal vegetable steamer in a large pot is a mess. You need cheesecloth and I just put the soaked rice in loose and it got too wet. The end result was more mushy than sticky, though it firmed up a bit after getting some air.

I opted for cucumber slices on the side. As you can tell from the photo I'm not presentation obsessed. The cucumbers had strips of missed skin still on and seeds that didn't fully get scooped out. I had also intended the meat to be rare, though it came out more medium-well. Gordon Ramsey would call me a donkey or a fat ass or something if he got a load of my kitchen standards.

Bonus Yam/Yum/Thot Fun

  • And because I have a more than minor obsession with name brand bastardized recipes, here's a Kraft doozy that calls for peanut butter (unbranded), A.1. Teriyaki Steak Sauce and KRAFT LIGHT DONE RIGHT! Zesty Italian Reduced Fat Dressing. At least they have the decency not to use the word yum in the title.
  • Hormel's rendition is a little less disturbing, but does make bizarre use of HERB-OX® Beef Flavored Bouillon Granules.
  • Here's a most awesome adaptation from Hidden Valley that uses, yes you guessed it, Hidden Valley® The Original Ranch® Salad Dressing & Seasoning Mix. Or as us common folk call it, ranch dressing.

Precociousness in the City: Part 2

I was waiting for those panini boys to show up in the New York Times and now I can finally rest easy. And what a whopper of a title: La Dolce Vita, Never a Hard Sell.

I've always assumed that the paper is filled with so many of these isn't-that-curious slices of life stories is because a good number of their writers (freelance and staff) live in Park Slope/Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill (I have one in my building). To be fair, this was in The City section, which is precisely intended for such nichey articles, as it's only included in the NYC-area print version.

From what I've heard, the editors do look favorably on missives from lesser known neighborhoods since they're harder to come by (I used to occasionally rack my brain for good Sunset Park scoops, but I don't have a newsy bone in my body. I find those kinds of articles hard to come up with, which is why I have a day job). I guess a glut of Times caliber scribes just don't live in or have awareness of Canarsie or Corona, though this week they did have tales from outposts like Soundview (Bronx) and West Brighton (Staten Island).

As an aside, read my take on the White House Sub Shop, which serves the anti-panini.

God’s Eyes & Whippets

1. magic thing where u stare a for dots then se god

Godseye I don't know about God, but oh, that '90s Magic Eye craze was just oodles of fun. Staring for minutes on end trying to decipher 3-D dogs and whales and crap was about as close to divine consciousness as most people get. I only got it to work once and I only bothered at all because these printed distractions used to frequently come down the library drop chute and checking-in grimy picture books can get dull. (We also used to pass the time by finding family webpages–you know, 1997-style with midi music and lots of family photos–and send questionable messages about how adorable the children were, making sure to mention them by name. But I'm so much more mature now.)

2. is Cool Whip in a pressured can as tasty as Cool Whip in a tub?

Well, that's rather subjective. Frankly, I wouldn't recommend eating either. How about whipping real cream and using the can for noble pursuits like whippets (which I've never tried-all those '70s inhalant highs always scared me as a youngster. I remember hearing about deaths from huffing PAM in a baggie, but that could've been a Pop Rocks and cola myth).

There was an actual debate of Cool Whip versus Reddi-wip on Yahoo! Answers, if strangers' opinions are valuable to you.

What a Crock

Tuesday, I briefly watched fireworks from the BQE overpass conveniently located half a block away from the apartment. You could see part of the lower Manhattan show and the tops of the Macy's extravaganza, while being simultaneously treated to lots of honking and yelling from the traffic jams below your feet. You couldn't help but think this style of watching fireworks could only exist in Brooklyn. And I don't mean that in a proud way.

Shortcake I was more concerned with making an easy summery dessert to eat than being barraged by the sonic booms of illegal firecrackers shaking the neighborhood and setting off car alarms at intermittent intervals. The Two-Berry Shortcake from the July Gourmet seemed like good solution.

The red white and blue end result had nothing to do with patriotism. It should've been red white and black if I hadn't been a cheapskate and eschewed the pointlessly expensive blackberries for 2 for $4 blueberries. I still don't understand why berries are so spendy, especially when they're supposedly in season. It's not like I'm buying organic or shopping at farmers' markets.  I can't pay $4 for a pint.

But luckily, my favorite 24-hour produce shop tucked in amongst porn shops, Rossman Farms, came through again. Sure, all their fruit and vegetables are on the verge of turning, but $1.49 for a plastic container of raspberries (the same exact brand, Driscoll's, that I'd seen at Stop and Shop for $3.99 and Trader Joe's for nearly the same) is more than a bargain.

Crock Also accidentally carrying out the Americana theme, James slow cooked a bbq pork shoulder in the Crock Pot we purchased at Wal-Mart Monday for just such a purpose. (We stopped at a Toms River store, a peculiar little place where wearing pajama bottoms, tank tops and flip flops in public is standard and speed-freaky women purchase oddball items like smokers candles and enemas). I say Americana because the selection was fairly limited and the cheapest Crock Pot of a decent size came with country-style flowery embellishments. While mildly loathsome, I'm too thrifty to cough up the extra bucks for the inoffensive stainless steel version.  I'll just have to make sure and hide the crock away if company is over (which is next to never anyway).

American Independence

Fourth of July has always been one of those marginal holidays to me. Maybe a notch or two above Arbor Day or Administrative Professionals Day, but kind of in the same lackluster category as New Year’s Eve. I was just happy to have four days off, even if it meant doing absolutely nothing. But by Sunday I started feeling antsy so James and I decided impromptu to do an overnight Atlantic City mini-trip. Never mind that all the planners (which normally includes myself. It pains me not to have an itinerary mapped out. I’m currently working on my Wales/Barcelona list for next month) had already snatched up all prime and/or reasonably priced rooms. (You don’t even want to know how many hundreds of dollars we had to cough up to stay at the mediocre boardwalk Holiday Inn.)

Pushcart As it turns out Atlantic City was a good bet (oh, I’m funny) as the casinos apparently shut down today. I’m not a gambler by any means, but there are other benefits to an AC trip like really good submarine sandwiches (which I’ll detail in a later post) and the enormous self-confidence boost that comes with an excursion outside of NYC. I don’t mean to be completely cruel, but once you break the hour’s drive circumference in any direction people start looking different, and not necessarily for the better. If you ever feel like shit and/or become consumed with self-loathing, simply take a day trip and suddenly you will begin feeling stylish, attractive, svelte and fit.  The amount of burnt sienna tanned cellulite bulging out of denim shorts (and not just on overweight women), fanny packs, pajama bottoms as pants, canes, walkers and motorized scooters were quite the eye opener and put me off of buffets for life (ok, a month).

They even have these seemingly pointless rickshaw contraptions on the boardwalk where two people can sit in a small boxy carriage and are pushed by another human who is merely walking. This arrangement confused me greatly, but that could be my NYC need for quickness and efficiency clouding my vision. I guess this manpowered vehicle isn’t intended for fast transport, but for sightseeing while resting your feet. And to be fair, a great number of them were inhabited by Asian couples, but there’s something grotesquely American about not just using your god-given limbs to walk.

By Monday, we were really starting to feel vitriol towards these people because they represent a highly irritating conundrum. All of these sluggish folks move about a millimeter per minute and form a massive human obstacle course. I’ve never seen such confused tortoise-like movements. But once these same fleshy zombies get into their SUVs they drive like freaking Mad Max maniacs. I can’t even count how many times we were tailgated, honked at or had headlights flashed at as while we were driving 80 miles an hour. Just to be a pain and give the comatose-while-on-land a taste of their own medicine, James started driving exactly the speed limit and not letting angry drivers pass. It would’ve been amusing if I wasn’t so afraid of ending up as a road rage victim. I think the same courtesy should be extended to fat ass pedestrians. If they don’t pick up the pace or get the hell out of your way, then they should be harassed mercilessly. Do unto others, correct?

I’m trying to figure out if middle Americans (for lack of a better term—perhaps mid-Atlantic Americans is more apt in this instance) are oblivious or empowered. Like would all of these mushy midriff-barers be embarrassed if they saw themselves on What Not to Wear hidden video footage or would they be like, “fuck off, I can wear whatever I want to.” I can kind of respect the unconventional/ballsy attitude because at least it shows self-awareness.

Turtle In this same vein, I’ve recently softened on Rosie O’Donnell (who’s always been right up there with Bill Cosby and Robin Williams in my annoyance pantheon) because at least she seems to be semi-conscious of her image and can laugh at herself (though it’s hard to understand why she thought playing a retard was a brilliant career move). Um, if her poetry is any indication: “i have no sense of style – at all i wear basic lizzie chic i dress like turtle from entourage.” I mean, she knows she dresses like a chunky guido and that’s funny.

So, we lost a little money, didn’t see either Pat Benetar or Eddie Money, who were both playing Sunday night, ate massive subs and Vietnamese food, avoided the beach altogether, went to an outlet mall and Wal-Mart, saw Bobby Flay (I can’t see him and not think of this horrible Food TV commercial from a few years ago where some dude type guy squawked, “Everybody likes Bobby Flay.”) inside his new restaurant that was still closed to the public at the fancy Borgata casino, and ultimately ended up feeling fairly good about our lot in life. I think I got a new perspective on American independence, for better or worse.

Little Saigon

I was kind of surprised to see that there must be a substantial Vietnamese community in Atlantic City. While trying to find the White House Sub Shop we passed a pho joint and a bodega with a permanent sign advertising Spanish groceries and a hand written one proclaiming Vietnamese foodstuffs too. We ended up parking in front of place that looked more like a house than a restaurant with a window proclaiming Vietnamese hoagies.

So after getting our fill of American food during our first day and a half in town, I was thankful to have another country's cuisine to turn to (well, there was also El Coqui Café, which amused me–there's not escaping that Puerto Rican frog). We passed a corner place called Little Saigon and decided to stop in.

Little_saigon_spring_rolls I gathered that this restaurant is a local favorite based upon the numerous awards and write ups posted on the wall. It seemed like someplace that takes pride in its food. The clientele was predominantly Caucasian, which didn't turn me off as that is the general make up of the city. The presentations and garnishes had more flourish than your typical pho shop, and forks were given as a default, but I wouldn't say that the welcoming staff was pandering and it certainly wasn't haute or fusion food.

Originally, I wanted a simple bowl of beef noodle soup, but got swayed by the $7.95 lunch special which included spring rolls, grilled meat atop rice vermicelli and a choice of ice tea or homemade lemonade. I was so hungry that I forgot to take a photo of my pork noodles. My only complaint would be that the edges of the meat had been charred slightly too much. The burnt tips gave a bitter taste to the one-bowl meal, but by no means ruined it. The spring rolls were as crisp and tasty as I'd hoped for–I swear, Vietnamese are masters of the spring roll. And the crazy sweet lemonade quelled my desire for an icy, neon hued, gelatinous dessert.

Little Saigon * 2801 Artic Ave., Atlantic City, NJ

White House Sub Shop

White_house_facade There's a similar food feel-Italian heritage with lots of pizza and sub shops–throughout southern New Jersey and the Philadelphia area. I would suspect this vibe might also extend into Delaware, though I've never experienced that state first hand. White House Sub Shop wouldn't look out of place in South Philly. It's firmly in the no frills, brusque service, big portions, celebrity photos (the best one at this place was The Soup Nazi/Al Yegenah who had scribbled, "no subs for you.")  long lines style of Geno's, Pat's or Tony Luke's.

It took an eternity to plow through NYC to Atlantic City on the Sunday before 4th of July. Traffic inched for hours on end. We avoided the sticky, family filled Roy Rogers, Burger Kings and Cinnabons dotting the Garden State Parkway so by the time we rolled into town a little after 6m, we were famished. Our first order of business wasn't checking into the hotel, but getting a sandwich asap.

White_house_booths We just walked in and snagged an open booth, which was amazing luck. The long line inside was for take out orders. Evidently, this was a fluke because by the end of our not terribly long meal, a crowd for tables had formed, and the three or four times we passed by the storefront during our 48-hours in Atlantic City there was a line out the door.

I suspected the sandwiches were massive by the pricing structure. Halves were in the $6 range and wholes about double that. Outside of NYC, $12 for a sandwich is pretty outrageous. And it's not like the White House uses pricy luxury ingredients (not to say the fillings and bread aren't high quality) so the price would have to reflect quantity. We each ordered a whole anyway because that's the kind of gluttons we are. James went for the cheesesteak, I opted for the White House special because it seemed to have a lot of everything.

White_house_sub Well, it seems that a whole sub makes use of a whole loaf of Italian bread. Two of the four segments have one pointy end. A half, duh, is half a loaf. At first I thought they had brought us two White House Specials rather than one of each that we'd requested. Then I was like, "oh hell, that's one sandwich." We weren't daunted, it was just more for later. I swear my combo of provolone and capicola (a.k.a. gabagool) ham and salami contained at least a solid inch of cold cuts. It was like biting into a springy, cured, lightly spiced meat cake. They do that carving out of bread guts trick so more fatty goodness can be crammed in between the baked goods.

That's kind of ironic because what sets these hefty torpedoes apart from the fray is the bread. It tastes fresh like it hasn't been out of the oven for long, yeasty and chewy. Not a flimsy afterthought. The sturdy wedges hold the stuffing without getting soggy or falling apart (gross as it is, we kept our other halves un-refrigerated for over 24-hours before tearing into them and the bread was still in pretty good shape. The lettuce was wilty, but I just chucked it out).

White_house_cheesesteak The cheesesteaks aren't Philly style. I suspected they'd use provolone instead of the standard Cheez Whiz (you're not asked about cheese choice) and they did. They also added lettuce and tomato (which you are asked about-James said yes, which I didn't fully agree with).

If you happen to live in a part of the world where Subways and Quiznos are the rule, White House Sub Shop will be more than an eye opener (and waistline expander). We're a little spoiled for choice around here. I live walking distance to Defonte's, Caputo's and Brooklyn Bread Bakery, and don't really frequent any of these establishments (the first I've just never gotten around to, the second I like, but it closes before I get home from work, the latter I've been to a number of times and  have been put off by the distracted guido teens who work the counter). This is like road food to me, not weeknight dinner fare.

White_house_counter As you might expect, the servers aren't the cheeriest bunch of people and it would be wrong if they were. They're efficient and that's all that matters. The cooks are as pleasant as they could be having an endless stream of hungry and antsy customers impatiently staring at them over the grill (maybe I was projecting, but it unnerved me how everyone in line was leaning over the counter facing the cooks). If you're sick of the swath of humanity that fills glossy mag and the airwaves (analog and digital), the hodgepodge crowd crammed into this narrow lunch counter will give you a dose of reality, welcome or not. Sometimes you just want to be around regular people and regular food. And despite all the seedy glitz, Atlantic City is a pretty regular kind of place.

White House Sub Shop * 2301 Artic Ave., Atlantic City, NJ

Perro Caliente

Don't be scared of the South American hot dog. My overstuffed wiener and bun induced stomach trauma from a few weeks ago is now far enough in the past that I can share some photos from my culinary experimenting. The actual article will likely appear in the New York Post in a Wednesday or two so I won't get wordy here. Ok, they ended up using my "Dog Days" piece in a larger summer food round-up.

Update 5/07: It looks like Mazorca has shuttered. I never go down Northern Blvd. so it's also news to me that Xtasis, across the street, has expanded into a pink neon palace.

Perro Mixto: ham, bacon, mayo, tomatoes, avocado, crushed potato chips

Hawaiiana: mayo, avocado, pineapple, potato chips, ham

Mazorca * 83-17 Northern Blvd. Jackson Heights, NY

Iraqui: mayo, hard boiled eggs, pineapple sauce, cheese

Mexicana: avocado, cheese, chiles, mayo

La Perrada de Chalo * 83-12 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights, NY

El Completo: avocado, mayo, tomatoes, sauerkraut

JC & Family * 68-14 Roosevelt Ave. Woodside, NY

I forgot to take photos of the completo at my favorite place, San Antonio Bakery, but I did capture the beef empanada and dulce de leche layer cake.

San Antonio #2 * 36-20 Astoria Blvd. Astoria, NY

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