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With a (back)Side of Bacon, Please

Porchetta_thongI was captivated by the photo used to illustrate today’s New York Times review of Porchetta. (I have no idea why I knew from a glance that the guy in the center is a writer/blog fixture because I don’t enjoy that sort of information. That’s what NYC will do to you.) What I was really trying to understand why they chose to use a picture featuring a girl with pants off her ass and an exposed thong. This restaurant is just a short walk from my apartment and has been on my mental to-try list for a few months, but now I’ve completely re-thought the whole thing. If I wanted copious amounts of human flesh with my meal, I’d go to recently opened Hawaiian Tropic Zone.

Backfat's nothing. It's the backside I'm concerned about.

Also, the irritatingly erudite (no, I didn’t have to look that one up) Times once again caught me with a vocab stumper: chilblains. What the hell? And the writer who used it was once my boss for like five months. Clearly, I learned nothing from that stint.

Skylark Diner

It used to be Bergen County for New Jersey excursions, but lately the communities along the Middlesex and Union county borders have won me over. Edison is as suburban as anything but there’s a substantial Indian and Chinese community that makes food shopping and dining more interesting while hitting the biggies like Costco, Target and Trader Joe’s.

Skylark_interior_2We were looking for a Sally Beauty Supply so I could pick up some bottles of professional hair color (it’s cheaper than buying consumer boxed dyes and I was specifically looking for the Miss Clairol Gray Busters line, which you can’t get at your corner Duane Reade) and a few blocks before our intended address we impulsively pulled into a mini mall, lured by the A&W/Long John Silver’s combo store advertised on the sign. I then remembered that we’d eaten Indian food in this strip before, ages ago before I even knew what Edison was. There was still an Indian place, but the name has since changed from Delhi Gardens to Hyderabadi something-or-another.

Skylark_bruschettaStill hungry, we noticed a gleaming, tricked out modern diner across the street. Skylark. I’d actually heard about this relatively new eatery, but didn’t realize this was where it was located. It was worth a try. I might’ve called it an upscale diner but that was before I saw the last episode of Top Chef. There were no tempura vegetables & mozzarella with cornichon aioli, but they did have crispy shrimp tempura with spicy citrus aioli.

They also ask if you want bottled or tap water, which is a bit too much. However, the emphasis on wine and cocktails didn’t put me off. It was too early for a martini, but all of the many color coded iterations using scary things like Midori and chocolate sauce were only $7. Maybe I’m just Manhattan-ized but that seemed like a good deal (minus the Razzmatazz liqueur).

Skylark_tasso_eggrollI was a little freaked out when they brought complimentary bruschetta to the table. It just seemed like an odd thing, and initially I was concerned that we’d gotten someone else’s starter. To be honest I’ve never understood the appeal of chopped tomatoes on bread. Let me clarify, pa amb tomaquet is surprisingly good in its simplicity and I’m sure “real” bruschetta with garden grown produce is similarly bewitching. But supermarket tomatoes in the middle of winter not so much. But I like free, so no complaints.

I really loosened up with the appetizer. Melon is my enemy but I was willing to try the chicken and tasso ham egg rolls with a jicama watermelon slaw and bourbon bbq sauce. The crunchy pink cubes didn’t really bother me as much as I’d feared and it was a tasty, albeit slightly overwrought dish.

Skylark_monte_cristoEven though it was 4pm, we hadn’t eaten anything yet so it was a toss-up between breakfast and lunch food. I chose the best of both worlds, my old Portland fixation, the monte cristo. As I’ve recently pointed out, it’s treated more like a breakfast food in NYC. I was pleased to see that this specimen was listed with other sandwiches and came with fries. But it did come with a little metal pitcher of warmed maple syrup. In the NW you’d just get jelly. This version came on cinnamon-swirled french toast. Classy. The sliced turkey was on the dry side but as a whole the sandwich was satisfying. I ate it with a knife and fork because it seemed wrong to drizzle or dip into syrup when eating with your hands. The fries were also better than decent and came covered in a spice blend that’s more typical of curly fries (why are curly fries frequently spiced, anyway?).

The one thing I’ll say for New Jersey is that they keep it nice and Jersey for you. Yes, they were pumping in the dreaded ‘80s music but it was all rock: Bon Jovi, Journey and more. At one point it struck me how jarring a random dirty guitar solo stood out amidst the retro-contemporary décor. Around 5pm, it started getting dark and smooth jazz came on. I got scared for a second like it was now officially moody dinner time, but then the power chords came back on after the brief interlude. Phew.

Skylark Diner * Rt. 1 N. & Wooding Ave., Edison, NJ

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Something Fishy

There have been a lot of rings and food near misses in the past few days. During a commercial break, out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a woman pulling a ring out of cooked salmon. Score. Thank goodness for technology allowing me to rewind “live” TV. It was an eBay commercial where a fish ate a ring fashioned from the words IT. Later, a woman finds the ring while eating dinner. No proposal, just randomness.

Uglybetty_ringlessLast night I was thwarted again when Salma Hayek’s character on Ugly Betty was trying to get Daniel Meade to propose to her in 60 days (unbeknownst to him) and he said he had a surprise for her. It was a glass of yogurt and granola containing heart-shaped slices of papaya. I was holding my breath as Sophia rooted around the glass looking for a ring. I so wanted it to be there for my sake. But no, sometimes yogurt is just yogurt. She did get her engagement ring later in the episode.

Cat Fat Fever

GoliathOk, I love cat crap but I’m no pet blogger. Yet I couldn’t help but be sucked in by a news teaser last night about a stray fat cat who was found stuck in a doggie door. He looked enormous and crazy so I had to learn more. Goliath, as he’d been dubbed, clearly hadn’t been doing without during his six months on the street. His original owner, who lost the cat while in the hospital for a lung transplant, (don't miss the heartwarming tidbit about how the feline would lie on his stomach and play with his oxygen tubes) was reunited after seeing Hercules (his real name) on TV. 

The best part of the whole saga, which I later discovered, was where the cat lived: Gresham, Oregon (my hometown). I should’ve known. I’m not sure if this is a tale of NW kindness to the homeless (I’ve always been amazed at the number of panhandlers in Portland vs. NYC and the tolerance level. There’s not a lot of sympathy here—maybe that’s why they all flock to Oregon) or about Gresham generating fatness.

I was baffled that Hercules only weighed twenty pounds. James keeps insisting that my ever-growing feline must weigh twenty pounds and I refuse to believe him. I don’t know what to do with her. We leave the same food out for all of our cats, yet James’s two remain average sized. Why can’t Sukey control her portions?

I really fear that there must be a correlation between owners and pets weights. And the last thing I need is another diabetic cat. James is always trying to capture Sukey in unflattering poses so he can take photos, which while amusing, is mildly cruel. She looks ok when she’s sitting up but when she’s lying on her side she looks like a tubcat in training. At least chubby cats don’t seem to have poor self-esteem.

I bought a scale last week because I’m trying to be more diligent, and last night we got Sukey’s measurements: 21 pounds. What the hell? She was only 7 pounds when I got her (granted, she was still kitten-ish and malnourished). I can’t fathom that she’s bigger than Hercules. This somehow reflects on me. It’s a good thing I’m not a human parent or else my kids would get sent home with bad BMI report cards.

spring 2004

winter 2006

By the way, if you thought I was exaggerating about James’s mom always sending him home with atrocities from Marshalls, just witness these beauties that showed up post-Christmas. Meow.



What are Words For?

Vocab I really should’ve taken those Reader’s Digest Word Power quizzes (The New Yorker’s got nothing on RD when it comes to hilarious cartoons) I’d entertain myself with while at my grandparent’s house more seriously. It’s starting to dawn on me how vocabularily deficient I am. This first struck me last year when that cat Molly got stuck in the wall of a West Village shop and the New York Times’s account used the phrase, “During the ordeal, the media hubbub grew apace, and cat agnostics grumbled about folderol.” Folderol? WTF? Is that sort of wordsmithery really necessary? And no, I didn’t know that folderol meant trifle or nonsense. I went to public school, duh.

The 2007 me is starting to look up words if I’m not 100% sure what they mean. It’s not terribly difficult since I’m usually reading on the computer and it’s not all that hard to type (or bookmark) So far I’ve looked up recalcitrant and I was correct, it’s akin to obstinate. Yesterday, I double-checked picayune and I was pretty right on, though I was thinking more tiny than trivial.

I was feeling fairly adept, and then I was slammed by ukase. I had no inkling. Apparently, it’s an edict or decree. I don’t even think I can or want to use that in a sentence. It sounds a little like urine and ketosis.

I know that my grammar is anything but ace. I mean, I only started using paragraphs last year (here, I mean, in the real world I’ve always used them). But every so often I have shameful realizations. Today it hit me that I’ve been writing hoards for eons when I mean hordes. I found five instances of the vocab crime on this site and changed them pronto, none of that pesky slash through business. 2007 is going to be a busy year at this rate.

Civic Lesson

Football I swear I don’t love beating dead horses (even though I’m mildly equine averse) but just a few minutes ago I heard Go! Team blaring from the living room TV while in my bedroom. Lordy, what could they possibly be selling? I guessed car, it’s often autos. It was Honda Civic. Frankly, I’m surprised their bouncy, upbeat sound hadn’t been used in a commercial yet (ah…apparently, Nike and McDonald’s attempted it). I’m totally beyond the whole indie sellout label. Who cares as long as curtails ‘80s worship.

I expect that sort of thing from a car ad, but sports elude me. Sunday afternoon I was trying to tune out some NFL pre-game show but I couldn’t ignore the background music during a montage. You know how you know a song but out of context you don’t always identify it immediately. They were using Voxtrot’s “Missing Pieces.” Yeah, I guess they’re popular. I can’t gauge what’s mainstream anymore, though from flipping through radio stations in the car I can definitely say Voxtrot is not playing in NYC. I hate to admit that even the National Football League knows better than to blast Nu Shooz.

Where’s the (99-Cent) Beef?

The two closest work food options are making me angry. I don’t expect greatness, but I wouldn’t mind a little cheapness.

Wendys Last year around this time I was on a Wendy’s salad kick. That petered out, which is unfortunate since now there’s a Wendy’s in the concourse below my office building. I really felt like junk food last week and half the staff was still out for the holidays so I didn’t feel so self-conscious about smelly food. I thought I’d order value menu small fries and a jr. bacon cheeseburger. Cheap and not too gluttonous.

Now, I swear the Wendy’s near my old job had a 99-cent menu and I know for a fact there are ads currently running that are hyping up the 99-cent menu (heck, 99 is in the URL). So why did my jr. bacon cheeseburger on the value menu cost $1.99? Baked potatoes, chili, frosty–none of it was 99 cents. What kind of Rockefeller Center bullshit is this?

I know they used to (and probably still do) have tiny print at the bottom of fast food commercials where they’d say “prices higher in Alaska and Hawaii” and I’d feel bad for the statehood latecomers, but last time I checked NYC was still part of the continental United States. Ok, the website does say, “prices available at participating Wendy’s.” What’s the point of a promotion of no one participates?

Au Bon Pain has been causing similar pain. One of their only redeeming qualities was the 50% off baked goods after 4pm deal, which isn’t followed in the branch that’s in the ground floor of this same building. We get some sort of discount with our work IDs (which I only figured out a few weeks ago when I saw someone flashing their badge) but that’s not the same as a half off brownie. Whatever, I’m supposed to be cutting sweet junk out of my diet as of today, anyway.

Jewel-Encrusted Crustacean

I Do(nut), which might seem cryptic at first glance, is the latest to join the ranks of my pointless but must-be-pointed-out categories a la No Fat Dudes and Vomit Watch. It’s documenting absolutely useless crap like this that keeps me sane (seriously, it’s very soothing). The crap in question is when a man (and it’s almost always a man) proposes using food as a vehicle for the diamond (and it’s almost always a diamond) ring. Does this happen in real life? I would just pretend like I didn’t see the gem and put the offending piece of food in my mouth like nothing was up.

I’m no chick flick lover, but apparently James is, he’ll watch the worst schlock and watch it repeatedly. If I’ve seen a film, I don’t want to see it again for at least five years, even if it was amazing. I used to get irritated by his TV viewing habits but I’ve learned to relax and go zen even if it’s the fifth time Batman Begins comes on or something I have zero interest in like Glory appears on screen.

So, the other night he put on In Her Shoes about thirty minutes into the movie and just left it there. It seemed that Toni Collette was fat because she was wearing a heavy coat and her pretty, partying sister, Cameron Diaz called her fat. And then like thirty minutes later she’s thin because she’s not wearing the coat anymore and she finds love and a Jewish lawyer asks her to marry him in a Philadelphia Jamaican jerk shop using a plate of rice and beans topped with shrimp.

The photo’s a little pixilated but that’s an engagement ring gracing the front-facing prawn. Is there anything dreamier than a jewel-encrusted crustacean?

Hash House a Go Go

1/2 Ok, I wanted to get all of my Las Vegas food ventures written up by the new year, but here’s a straggler that I don’t feel I can just shit can because it’s 2007. I never start with a clean slate until the second week of a fresh year anyway.

Despite the kitschy name, the food at Hash House a Go Go isn’t silly. I only tried breakfast but their M.O. appeared to be creative country style standards, served in enormous portions. We chose this place after getting scared by buffet crowds. I figured that any place requiring a car to get to (and good enough for Martha Stewart) would be wiser.

Hash_house It’s practically like three buffet trips on a single plate anyway. The dish looks bizarrely flattened and smaller in 2D—the thing took up like half the table. My Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken from the “Indiana Favorites” section, did contain a chicken wing but that wasn’t really the bulk of the dish. It came sitting on a giant pile of bacon mashed studded mashed potatoes that also had strips on top for good measure, and was matched with two eggs, a massive biscuit, numerous tomato slices and the edges of the plate were glazed in a maple reduction. Oh, and there was a watermelon wedge, which I didn’t touch because I don’t eat melon.

I washed it all down with two giant $7 bloody marys, garnished with cornichons, olives and pickled beans. I love green beans in a bloody mary—it reminds me of the days and nights spent at Holman’s in my old Portland neighborhood (I’ve never understood why monte cristos are so scarce in NYC and why they put them on the breakfast menu when they’re sandwiches for any time).

I hate wasting food but it’s just not sensible to wrap up leftovers on vacation. I’ve learned this the hard way many times (for instance, eating cold, gelatinous Sichuan beef and ma po tofu while packing in Hong Kong because I couldn’t bear to toss it out). James still insisted on getting his jalapeno, chorizo hash to go, only to throw it out the next morning. He’s even thriftier than I am.

Hash House a Go Go * 6800 W Sahara Ave., Las Vegas, NV 


Not counting vacations (because I force myself to wake up earlier) I probably only eat breakfast or brunch out like three times a year. But I hadn’t/haven’t gone grocery shopping in over two weeks so the food situation had become dire (sort of, there are two freezers full of things like chicken breasts, pork dumplings, lime and curry leaves, duck fat, Italian sausage, morcilla [I ate that last night with chickpeas, dried cranberries, pinenuts, garlic, parsley and lots of olive oil—so good I’ll eat some more tonight] two whole chickens and short ribs, and a shelf brimming with forgotten dry goods like cherry jam, Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate, Indonesian krupuk, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, Moose Munch, Iams cat food, four varieties of wild rice, weirdo South American grains and dried corn that never ever get used, rendang in a box, low fat coconut milk, canned turnip greens, decaf Starbucks coffee and way way more) enough to warrant dressing before noon and fighting the Sunday brunching brigade.

I tried to come up with nearby options that might be unpopular yet still tasty. Irish breakfast at the recently revamped Ceol came to mind (as evidenced by my morcilla bender, I’m all about blood sausage). This was the original plan but on our detour to Rite Aid for cold medicine we passed Mancora and were intrigued by the sandwich board advertising a $8.95 brunch with beverage. Peruvian for breakfast seemed about as safe from crowds as Irish, so we gave it a go.
The place was practically empty, save for the Hispanic dudes getting an early start on New Year’s Eve at the bar. Eventually, your classic white guy with his Asian gal came in (all restaurants in gentrified Brooklyn neighborhoods must have at least one such couple) so we didn’t feel so lonely.

Where a Mexican place would give out pre-meal chips and salsa, here you get fried plantain chips with a creamy, lightly spiced orange and green dip. We both ordered egg dishes that came with lukewarm, sweet purple rice studded with plantain chunks. It wasn’t bad and I’m a sucker for food in unusual colors (I can see it grossing out people though. I was recently so dismayed to see all these freaks bothered by this emerald green macaroon that I left a pro-green cookie comment and I rarely get involved in these petty matters, and now it looks like all comments have been deleted). I don’t think the rice is naturally purple, despite the fact that purple potatoes and corn do grow in Peru. Maybe it was made with chica morada? I once made purple rice using grape juice, so who knows.

James had a steak and egg thing that came atop English muffins but wasn’t eggs benedict. Mine was more benedict-like but instead of muffins I received eggs sitting on silver dollar sized quesadillas filled with spinach and cheese and drizzled with a chile hollandaise. It was actually kind of creative, more than I’d previously given Mancora credit for.

The food reminded me of the type of fare a chef would come up with (not so much Gordon Ramsey on his Kitchen Nightmares, which appears to be casting in NYC this very second) on Restaurant Makeover to shake up an eatery in a rut and attract new clientele. With a so-so but strong bloody mary (or mimosa or sangria) included in the price, the brunch is a pretty good deal. (12/31/06)

Bottled chicha morada photo from Slashfood.

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