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Saint Agur

Agur_3 I have not given up on my quest to taste all soft blue cheeses. Mild and squishy Saint Agur still needs to be added to the list. It’s a classy $19/lb cheese, not to be found just anywhere. I recently picked up the last sliver on display (they had more in the basement but I’m ok with the dregs) at Stinky Bklyn where I was putting a birthday gift certificate to good use.

I got side tracked by Beeler Hoch Ybrig, a gruyere-like cheese that’s super-nutty. I guess it smells, though I’m under-sensitive to strong food odors. I do know that when I attempted the wretched master cleanse, one tiny bite of this cheese induced serious regurgitation.

I’ve learned my lesson with the chunky jamon Serrano at Stinky Bklyn, so I opted for lomo embuchado instead. This cured pork, they cut on a slicer. And I swear to god, I’m not a stickler but I wonder if it’s not meant to be cut paper thin? It looks hefty in photos. All I know is that it’s like a phantom food. No matter how many see-through circles you pick up and chew, there’s no flavor. It’s caloric air.

The Vosges Barcelona Bar was much more satisfying. While I rarely salt my savory food, I love it with caramels and chocolate. Hickory smoked almonds and sea salt are a good combo, and I liked that this used milk chocolate rather than a hardcore, high cocoa percentage dark.

Whenever I’m not spending my own money, I’m inclined to experiment with foofy beverages. The unknown liquid in this instance was Bottle Green Lemongrass and Ginger Soda. I don’t normally drink soda, sweet liquids have never done much for me, but when I’m feeling wild I’ll splurge on fizzy, juicy things like Kristall (not Cristal). So, Bottle Green isn’t really a soda; it’s not even carbonated. That kind of sucked because one of my core requirements for a refreshing beverage is the presence of bubbles. If I were one for crafting fabulous cocktails, this spicy citrus water might make a good mixer.

Oh yes, back to the cheese. Keeping with my dated palate, Saint Agur was invented in the late ‘80s. I wouldn’t say it tastes grungy, though. When it’s cold the texture is thick and substantial, barely blue, more like Laughing Cow than brie, despite a 60% fat content. After warming up, the cheese develops a subtle spiciness with little aftertaste. All in all, very straightforward and clean, not funky in the least. Almost too refined for me—I’d prefer something a touch trashier.

Previously in soft blues:
Mountain Top Blue

Pollos a la Brasa Mario

MariooutsideRotisserie chicken can go in so many directions. And frequently that direction is boring (don’t even get me started on recipes that require a store-bought chicken, have you use the meat and throw away the skin). Yet, somehow on Saturday night it was decided that Latin-style chicken should be dinner.

I’m kind of partial to Peruvian renditions mainly because I like the punchy green sauce that often accompanies it. But maybe I’m just thinking of Pio Pio (I don’t think Pardo’s has it). The September Latino Gourmet has a recipe for Peruvian but they don’t make any mention of an aji salsa on the side (I’m so not crazy about the Epicurious re-design. The new recipes haven’t even been put online yet). The soy sauce in the marinade is an interesting cross-cultural addition, though. Fried rice, a.k.a. chaufa, is also a regional anomaly.

MarioinsideDue to a series of uninteresting circumstances, we ended up on a Jackson Heights block with three options: Casa de Pollo Peruano (too packed), Gusty Chicken (closed) and Pollos a la Brasa Mario. I’d been by the multi-level 24-hour Colombian joint with a bird mascot (maybe they all have bird mascots) a million times and had never stopped in. It was the perfect occasion.

MariochickenI was always under the impression that Mario was kind of fast foodish and chicken heavy (perhaps, that’s more Frisby, the new game in town.). The formica booths and laminated picture menus imply so, but many of the entrees are substantial and over $20 (in my experience, Colombian portions are intimidatingly huge).

Sure, Rayuela has a live olive tree, but Mario has a sprawling fake orange tree and framed posters of cartoon animals eating the cuisine. My favorite was the Sylvester the Cat rip-off with an arepa and strip of chicharon. There was also a horse grilling something indiscernible.

MariobeansIt was Saturday night and crocks of seafood stew and teeming multi-meat platters graced many a table. But we came with a simple mission and stuck by it. Whole chicken. I wanted yuca frita, James ordered frijoles grande, which were way too grande and studded with a few bones so you knew you were in for ham-hockiness. White rice is standard but I prefer my Latin starches rooty and fried.

MarioyucaAs accompaniments, you’re given a puree of green chile, thick and more scoopable than a usual salsa verde and a squirt bottle of what seemed like Thousand Island dressing minus the relish chunks. The two mixed together made a nice, visually repulsive dipping sauce for the yuca.

Mario is as good as a brightly lit rotisserie chicken restaurant might be, though it’ll likely be some time before I ever get around to a re-visit. There are so many contenders (what with all those Korean fried chickens crying for my attention) in the global poultry game that it’s impossible to stick with any one eatery or style.

Pollos a la Brasa Mario * 81-01 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY

Paris Sandwich

1/2 I’m frequently torn between trying to learn what patience means (I already have prematurely high blood pressure and am half-convinced that a heart attack will seize me before forty) and being uncontrollably speedy and efficient. Today, I was able to put both lifestyles to the test when I became stricken with a violent craving for a banh mi around 11am.

Normally, I don’t eat until 2pm and have a hard time getting worked up over anything, especially in a five-block radius. But obtaining a banh mi became such an overwhelming mission that by 12:55 I couldn’t sit still any longer. And I didn’t care how far I had to go to find one.

I have a full hour lunch, which I rarely take advantage of, so it wasn’t as if I was in a real hurry. But because I’m always manic and huffy, I had a self-imposed sense of urgency. How fast could I get to Chinatown, order, and get back to the office? It would be a fun, sweaty little contest with myself. Never mind that I did so many leg presses and thigh squeezey things at the gym on Sunday that it still hurts to stroll with a normal gait. (I recently re-joined my gym and clearly didn't realize how out of shape I'd become even though I'd continued to exercise on my own. All I know is that when I last frequented the place I didn't have an iPod yet and there was lots of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on my mp3 device, so I'm fairly certain it was 2005.)

So, out the door at 12:55. I don’t wear a watch so I could only get so frantic on my sandwich run. Getting to Canal from Broad was a breeze. Navigating the three blocks to Paris Sandwich (there might be a closer shop to Centre St. but I’ve been meaning to try this bakery) was anything but. Between the meandering tourists, three-foot tall Chinese shufflers and thick-headed locals, it’s always perpetual gridlock.

Thankfully, Paris Sandwich’s service was crazy-fast and organized. Simple, you order in the front from a photo menu, and pick up in the back. My number #39 was squawked and I had a grilled pork and standard sandwich in less than two minutes, way before I expected them. That’s an assembly line. There was no time for dilly-dallying, scrutinizing the menu, searching for anomalies and atypical gems. I barely glanced at the refrigerated case and shelves of baked goods. I tried to ignore the sign on the door for a tomato slushy, which would normally weird me out enough for a double take, but not this time.

The north side of Canal St. is minutely more walkable, so I tried maneuvering through jewelry shop gawkers. Despite my initial annoyance at a woman in a wheelchair clogging up the already maxed out sidewalk, I lucked out on the way back. I realized that everyone willingly moved aside for her and her motorized ride, so I got right behind it like a speeding car trailing an ambulance and benefited from the temporary path she created.

Paris_bakery_banh_miI was pleased with myself until I got thwarted by the turnstile pile-up while trying to get into the subway station. I got downstairs just in time to see the J pulling out. Damn. The next M only went one stop to Chambers St. where I got stuck at 1:21pm and lost steam. I didn’t get back on track literally, until 1:31. When my mom was in town a few months ago she thought it was strange that I’d complain about waiting ten minutes for a subway since the light rail runs like every 15 minutes during rush hour, but ten minutes is a freaking long time to stand around in the dank humidity (and no one takes public transportation in Portland anyhow).

When all was said and done, the trek spanned from 12:55 to 1:45. I really thought it’d be quicker. Fifty minutes to go three stops, walk three blocks, get take out, and then do the reverse? If there had been better subway and elevator (I can only take one elevator from bank of four to get to 33, the top floor, mine) alignment, 15 minutes could easily be shaved off.

Paris_bakery_cross_sectionOddly, the special banh mi contained no cucumber and next to no mayonnaise, which didn’t traumatize me because those are my least favorite components even though I hate to admit it (phew, now that’s off my chest). Some vegetables creep me out warm, lettuce and cucumbers are two. While a solid amount of cold cuts are folded inside the roll, there was a surprising lack of flavor and more cartilagey bits than I’m accustomed to. The pickled essence could’ve been stronger. And I like more of that reddish ground up mystery meat. But these are all nitpicks; the sub more than served its purpose.

I ate half of each sandwich and saved the rest for tomorrow’s lunch. The grilled pork was very sweet and saucy, more candied than the grilled pork you’d find atop a bowl of rice vermicelli.

Paris_bakery_summer_rollsAs is often my way, I grabbed some summer rolls at the cash register (they’re always at the counter). I didn’t even have time to see which variety I snagged. They all looked brown through the translucent skins, I’m fairly certain they were all pork, no shrimp anyway. Nice and compact, the fillings stayed put and didn’t make for messy at-desk eating, though the nuoc cham was dangerously drippy.

I never got the point of a camera phone until today when I left the house camera-less.  I’m not even joking when I say that I’m not even up to speed with texting and talking and walking at the same time. Forget about control over focus, lighting, sizing or any of that. What you see is as good as it gets.

Paris Sandwich * 113 Mott St., New York, NY

Ben & Jacks Steakhouse

3/4 I’m fairly certain that I haven’t eaten at a steakhouse in nearly two years, and that on-the-fly indulgence happened to be at a Morton’s in Hong Kong. That’s just not right (that is, not visiting a steakhouse in two years, not that I ate at one in Asia).

Steak had been on my mind lately due to little influencers like the last meat-heavy Saveur issue (I might be thinking of avocados instead if the current issue had made it to my apartment) and Diner’s Journal chatter. For James, all it took was a late-night, low-budget Ben & Jack’s commercial to prompt a reservation a few days later. I had been contemplating less traditional steakhouses like Strip House or Quality Meats but a Manhattan near Peter Luger clone didn’t draw any complaints from me.

Ben_jacks_baconAnd essentially, the two menus are replicas. I never thought the service was as gruff as purported in Williamsburg but customer attention is the most noticeable difference with this midtown offshoot started by former waiters. Glasses are never left unfilled, the second your plate nears empty, two more slices of steak are placed upon it using the two metal spoons tong-like approach. In fact, they continue to gregariously serve you throughout the meal, which was kind of unsettling when a giant mess of potatoes plopped all over the tablecloth, not thanks to me.

I never touch the salads or shrimp cocktail. Whoever dreamed up slabs of singed, fatty bacon as a starter is right up there with the inventor of bacon toffee. One $2.95 strip is plenty but we each got two so we’d have a smoky treat the next day.

Ben_jacks_porterhouseOur steak order was textbook: porterhouse for two, medium-rare. The sputtering grease flecked serving plate isn’t pretty (and my photos are even less so) but it must be so. And this is one of the only places where a warning of, “be careful, the plates are hot” is genuinely warranted. The first slices are presented with flourish and a quick tap and press along the bottom edge of the ceramic, inducing a hiss. I didn’t want to fill up on bread but the pool of juices and butter at the bottom are made for an onion roll.

Medium-rare is served on the pink side, but the soft rawness is tempered by the charred edges and the best hyper-meaty parts near the bone. In fact, I really noticed the aged, minerally quality more the next day while gnawing on a room temperature bone.

Ben_jacks_plate There’s not much to say about the creamed spinach and German potatoes since they’re perfunctory, yet necessary. 

I swear, in the past we’ve eaten the entire steak but that seemed like an impossibility on this occasion. After four pieces, I was heading into uncomfortable territory. And even though this was a carnivorous event, I couldn’t help but thinking of the possibility of a hot fudge sundae. 

Ben_jacks_hot_fudge_sundae I was wondering if they’d replicate the “holy cow” hot fudge sundae from Peter Luger. And yes, they did, merely swapping bovine genders to create the holy bull. An avalanche of serious schlag dominates the first handful of bites, and by the time you reach the intense concentrated fudgey remains, you’re done in. “The drink,” as I’ve always called that painfully sweet, last syrupy bite that’s tough to choke down, is almost my favorite part of a sundae. I half-seriously considered ridding my stomach of its contents before dessert arrived, but I don’t possess that can do spirit.

Ben & Jacks Steakhouse * 219 E. 44th St., New York, NY

Take My Cupcake, Please

Et_big1 I hope this post on the wonder of petit fours is a harbinger that the ladies of the internet will stop blogging about macarons. Petit fours are where it’s at, duh. I know they’re just small squares of cake, but they feel so much more special.

Maybe the frosted bites could even usurp cupcakes as tiny and pointlessly trendy dessert, though I fear frozen yogurt is an unbeatable front-runner. Those damn cupcakes have had a sticky stronghold on this entire decade.

E.T. baker tee from Johnny Cupcakes

Putting Burritos to Shame

MoztortillaI was vaguely aware of the tortilla artist (yes, tortillas) Joe Bravo, but was re-reminded of his existence via Guanabee yesterday. Strangely, he’s not alone. There are a lot of folks who enjoy messing with tortillas.

Roundaboutly speaking of tortillas, I couldn’t find any outrageously staged al fresco photography in September’s Gourmet. I was confused for a spell. While doing an initial flip through, I saw an article on Salvadoran food in L.A., another on taco trucks in unexpected cities and a recipe for Dominican sancocho. My, how multiculti.

Duh, then I realized it was the Latin American issue. A welcome enough theme. They managed to make a spread on Puerto Rican food look romantic (nothing against the cuisine, but in NYC it’s hard to think of it minus fluorescent lights, formica and steam tables). The closest thing to an outdoor shot is a little girl inspecting a roasting pig head on a grill, illustrating an article on Cuban Miami. That, I like. No zany lighthouses or idyllic farms in sight.

Moz photo from The Great Tortilla Conspiracy on Flickr

Saga Blue

Saga is the poor man’s soft blue cheese. It’s not dirt cheap at around $9.99/lb, but it’s the most likely variety to be had from middle of the road grocery stores. Usually, I only resort to it when I’m desperate. I guess I was desperate Saturday because during a Fairway run it was the only soft blue prepackaged on display (not only was my favorite Castello Blue missing, but the Cambozola was M.I.A too) and I caved. Sure, I could’ve waited at the cheese counter. I just wasn’t in the mood.


Usually Saga is low key and kind of generic, bitter rinded, very brie-like. It’s rarely as creamy as I’d like. The wedge I picked up this weekend tasted like swampy iceberg lettuce, weirdly enough. Remind me not to fall for it again. I should know better by now. It’s the same thing with Pret a Manger’s sandwiches always being pricy and mayo-laden, and yet I still persist in buying them every so often.

I was amused to see that my taste is early ‘80s. The decade has been a recent treasure trove for fashion and music, so all things brie should really make a comeback. I’m waiting for blackened catfish, kiwis, and mud pie to return with a vengeance. Strangely, sushi’s never faded away.

Previously in soft blues:
Mountain Top Blue

8th Ave. Seafood

1/2 It’s a shame that I don’t get to Sunset Park as much as I used to. I’ll admit that I find Flushing more exciting–Sichuan, Taiwanese and Xinjiang food do more for me than Cantonese or Fujian. Fortunately, an invitation from a few Chowhounds, one with a blog (heavens no, not Restaurant Girl), to try a new (to me) restaurant, 8th Avenue Seafood was the perfect excuse to do a little Brooklyn exploration.

The benefit of group dining is that you can sample more things than usual (I rarely dine with more than one other, perhaps I should sharpen my social skills). Not that I don’t typically order for six anyway (that’s what takeout containers were invented for).

I think of sable as being a deli fish, but it was served in a thick peppery sauce on a sizzling platter here. I liked the oily, heavy and sweetish flavors.

Rich food requires vegetables for balance. We chose two. This is yin choi in “soup.”

And ong choi prepared kind of Malaysian. I’m pretty sure ong choi is water spinach, a popular Malaysian green, so that makes sense. I think there was chile and dried shrimp in this.

A lighter fish was the whole sea bass, simply steamed with scallions and ginger.

I really liked the teeming with odds and ends mei fun. I loved the bits of sweet, pickled cabbage in noodles.

I was imagining a red chile sauce, more paste-like but then remembered that this is Cantonese food. Salt-baked and chiles often mean lightly breaded and scattered with sliced jalapeños. I love the soft shell crabs this way at New York Noodletown but on pork chops it was kind of dull.

Our complimentary treat turned to out to be not so treat-like when I realized the pale green gelatinous fish was melon flavored. Egads, it’s one of my two dreaded M’s (melon and malta). I did eat four or five bites, just to be polite. It was cute, though.

I’m curious to try dim sum at 8th Avenue Seafood because I suspect it’s not as overrun and chaotic as the better known places. I will admit that if there’s one thing I do love about Cantonese food, it’s the dim sum.

8th Avenue Seafood * 4418 8th Ave., Brooklyn, NY

My Ugly Mug(s)


I barely touch eBay anymore; it’s too much of a time and money-sucker (though occasionally I get wrapped up with Etsy). But last month I couldn’t resist these freaky little mugs representing different body parts like gall bladder, kidney and triglycerides. I haven’t decided where to put them, so for now they’re sitting on top of a shelf at eye level. 

“What if they came alive?” James asked the other day. Um, that would be pretty fucking scary but coming from a grown heterosexual man who has numerous nutcrackers strewn throughout the apartment (after three years I still can’t abide this whole blended décor thing) I think we have bigger concerns.

Bak Kut Teh

After the world’s shortest detox ended in digestive turmoil, I was scared to eat anything even though I was starving. (And now just to torment me, James has taken up the master cleanse. He’s been at it for nearly two days now and is a serious pain to be around. I predict that there won’t be a day three.)  I decided to move away from the raw minimalism of the health nuts and look towards the Chinese food as medicine approach. It’s much tastier.

Really, I’d just been looking for an excuse to use my older than I’d like to admit package of bak kut teh spices that I picked up some time ago in Kuala Lumpur. This is a mostly Malay, also Singaporean “pork rib tea” that’s more like an herbal soup with meat. Food from that corner of the world engenders strong opinions (the number of food bloggers from Singapore and Malaysia is mind boggling) and every region puts their own touch on preparations. I’m not even going for sheer authenticity. I made do with what I had.

Just getting up and to the stove with my stomach churning and head pounding was hard enough. I would’ve loved to have added tofu puffs, chopped my pork ribs into smaller hunks and served the bowl with a fried crueler but I didn’t have the extra additions and a cleaver is still on my wish list. Ah, no clay pot either.


I based my recipe on the one from Rasa Malaysia, but the thing is no one explains how to handle the myriad spices and dried bits that come with the mix. I’m like a Malaysian who opens a bagel shop and makes varieties covered in white chocolate and Oreo crumbs (I think they're confusing bagels with donuts). It’s obvious to a New Yorker why that’s wrong. I was clueless as to what got added to the broth, what should be wrapped in cheesecloth for steeping and what beyond the ribs and soup are meant to be eaten.

I took a look at Amy Beh’s recipe on Kuali, and she explicitly lists what should be cooked loose and what should only flavor the broth. The trouble was that she uses Chinese terminology so I had to Google Image everything and match it to the herbs in my package. The other trouble was a lack of cheesecloth. I ended up cutting a piece of old underwear and tying it up with a string. I told James it was a t-shirt to not gross him out. I’m not even sure that a cotton-poly blend allows proper flavor escape.


This was not a photogenic meal in the least but it was amazingly aromatic. Lightly medicinal and bitter, but warming and slightly sweet from the cinnamon, tangerine peel, star anise and wolfberries. It smelled like a Chinatown herb shop. And obviously, the richness of the pork ribs permeates everything. It’s kind of fake healthy because it’s fatty, but that’s the beauty of nourishing Chinese food.