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Fancy Feast

Cathotpot_2Ok, so that’s it for NYC. At least for the next eleven days, (I don’t see any drastic moves in my immediate future, though I’m not opposed to the idea. My sister who’s lived in the UK for the past twelve years, weirded me out today when she mentioned that she was thinking of moving not just back to Oregon, but someplace isolated and rural because Portland’s too “big.” WTF? I can’t stand being around people but I’m not ready for the middle of nowhere yet.) Beijing and Shanghai will be my focus for the next week and a half and I have no idea what to expect. I will say that I’m not scared of stinky tofu, duck blood, seahorses on skewers or even cat hot pot (not scared ≠ want to try) but I’m nervous about the Great Wall.

It’s everything I loathe: crowds, relentless hawkers, tourists (including myself, of course), heights, stairs. I can almost guarantee a panic attack. And someone was saying there was now a roller coaster or some shit at the Great Wall? You’ve got to be kidding me–add amusement park rides to my list of phobias, thanks.

I rarely blog on the road and I’m not sure what the internet situation will be, though I’m all about modernity not roughing it so I imagine internet access won’t be a problem. It’s the lack of time on condensed vacations that poses the most problems. We’ll see.

Momofuku Ssam Bar

Momofuku Ssam is like Fatty Crab to me: a restaurant I’ve always been reluctant to visit even though I know I would love the food, so I wait a million years, then end up going for lunch which isn’t even their raison d’etre. This is probably more egregious at Momofuku since the day and night menus are well…like…you know.

Momofuku_ssam_lunch_boxIt’s kind of annoying that up until 2004, James spent nearly a decade living a block from where Ssam Bar (and that damn mob scene Trader Joe’s) now exist. If I only had to meander from Third Avenue to Second, it wouldn’t have taken me over a year to stop by. But the neighborhood is ick. Why live on a makeshift NYC campus when you can move to Brooklyn and experience all the same obnoxious kids ten years later after they’ve bought condos and procreated?

But yes, the food: my pork belly buns were fairly amazing, and I absolutely dig the pickle mania that has swept foodie-dom even if I hate the word foodie. The buns and ssams were as I’d expected, but I hadn’t anticipated the sides.

Momofuku_ssam_pork_bunsI loved my fried cauliflower dressed (heavily) with olive oil, fish sauce, chiles and mint. I might try reproducing this for Thanksgiving. It’s one of those dishes where people who think they hate fish sauce wouldn’t necessarily realize that’s what they were eating unless someone told them. The kimchi’d apples and bacon mix I sampled were also a mishmash that worked.

Sure, I’d like to try the country ham, banh mi or wrangle enough people together for the pork butt, but there’s no telling when that will actually happen. It’s much more likely that I’ll eschew my typical wait and see approach and try upcoming Momofuku Ko first.

Momofuku Ssam Bar * 207 Second Ave., New York, NY

Deceptively Delicious


Anything super sounds good, right? But as I’ve understood supertasters, it’s really kind of the opposite. More taste buds means more taste perception, which means heightened sensitivity to strong flavors. Because of this supertasters tend to be picky as children (which would correspond with the genetically picky kids  over environment theory) and don’t like bitter things or fatty flavors.

True, bitter is my least favorite flavor profile but I drink my coffee black, like dark chocolate and the brassica family and fatty meat rarely repels me. I didn’t always like what was on my plate as a child, but that wasn’t so much a case of being picky–I just wasn’t so crazy about the food I was served (sorry, mom). I don’t think loathing only two foods in the world—melon and malta—constitutes picky. Pickiness is infuriating. If anything I’m a subtaster, dull-budded, always wanting more.

That’s why I was curious about the supertaster test being offered through BlogSoop. Their theory is that food bloggers would tend to be supertasters and that’s why they’re into food. I didn’t suspect that was the case with me because I don’t fit the finicky, highly attuned profile; I just like to eat and type words that disappear into bloggy ether.

But if I’m to believe the results—you chew a piece of treated paper to see if you taste nothing, mild bitterness or extreme bitterness, and I had foul bile-ish bitterness in my mouth for an hour—I’m super, after all.

Maybe it’s a covert experiment about the power of suggestion. Like if people think supertasting is a good thing than they’ll want to taste the bitterness?  If you peruse the internet, it seems like anyone who has taken various tests (including this whack BBC one) has turned out to be a supertaster.

Bocca Lupo

Strangely, I don’t feel like I have much of anything to say about Bocca Lupo because it’s solid, reasonable restaurant that needs no comment from me. (If I were to say anything it would only be relevant to me. And that is that whenever I have the urge to go out to eat, I should wait an extra 30 minutes. You know, kind of like that taking one accessory off before leaving the house trick. Unless visiting a restaurant that’s outer outer borough, it’s guaranteed that I will end up waiting half an hour to be seated, and as soon as I sit down half the room clears out. Bocca Lupo 10pm on a Friday=crowded, Bocca Lupo 10:30pm on a Friday=lots of open tables.)

Bocca Lupo’s on Henry St., I live on Henry St. They serve non-marinara drenched Italian food and stay open until 2am on weekends, both good things. You can order little snacks or more substantial dishes–it’s crazy like that. They’ve been open for almost exactly one year and I have no idea why it took me this long to pay a visit.

Unfortunately, thanks to three glasses of random Sangiovese, and their lack of an online menu, I can’t even cobble together basic details of what I ordered.

Why do I only remember the mortadella?

Once again, I only remember one specific: the gorgonzola. The unknown soft cheese was my favorite and the candied pecans were a nice touch. 


Sweet peas don’t seem very October but whatever. The green puree was topped with prosciutto. The brown mass on the other bread slices was sausage draped with mild chiles. 

Bocca Lupo * 391 Henry St., Brooklyn, NY

As American As Mock Apple Pie

AllamericanmomI don’t think that I’ve spoken much about my job since starting it back in February. It’s definitely not a case of “if you have nothing nice to say…” but more of a “don’t I already bore the blogosphere enough as it is?” situation.

A good deal of my time is spent monitoring subjects like e-commerce, travel and IT as they relate to internet marketing. Consequently, I have RSS feeds up the yin yang (I really don’t know what that phrase means but I’ve always wanted to use it). For no particular reason keep my personal feeds on Bloglines and my work ones on Google and The two paths should never cross. But every now and then while sorting through dull but relevant and dull yet useless stuff, I stumble upon something of moderate non-professional interest like “American Food Top Choice for People When Dining Out.”

Shocking, Americans prefer American food. Um, what is that anyway? I’m not the only one asking. Hot dogs, hamburgers, chili, buffalo wings…Chatham cod, Berkshire pork, Walla Walla onions, Maytag blue cheese?

I don’t analyze, I just research, but I’m sure that plenty of conclusions could be drawn from this data. For instance, those wretched Gen Xers only prefer American food over Mexican by one percentage point (25% vs. 24%). I can’t help but think it has something to do with a slacker/stoner affinity for nachos and burritos. Taco Bell seems quintessentially Gen X to me (and I can’t wait to see how “tacostadas” play out in Mexico) .

I have no explanation why Italian is tops with Echo Boomers (I can’t decide if that’s grosser than Millennials) but I’d love to blame Olive Garden.

Most of my favorites are Other, and I’m sure I’m not alone. 

Jade Island

Jade_island_facade I’m still not sure how I ended up at a Staten Island tiki bar on Saturday night. Woodside Filipino goodies were on the afternoon agenda. Early evening was devoted to braving gruesome Jersey Gardens crowds in an attempt to track down a parka that doesn’t make me look like I’m wearing a sleeping bag. And then, naturally, the pinnacle of an exciting Saturday evening would be semi-suburban grocery shopping. There’s nothing like a deserted Richmond Ave. Waldbaum’s for 10pm entertainment, Times-invented hipster influx be damned.

It wasn’t until after picking up total un-necessities like frozen waffles, a caramel apple kit and fish sticks, that Jade Island crossed my consciousness. I’d been wanting to try this strip mall Polynesian near the Costco for a while, and it’s not like I’m frequently in the borough.

Jade_island_pupu_platterI’m no stranger to American-Chinese food; my first ever job was bussing tables for $3.35 an hour at Hunan Garden in Gresham, Oregon. We did serve a pu pu platter but compared to Jade Island, Hunan Garden was practically sophisticated (though at the time, I thought moo shoo pork was supremely exotic). Jade Island is beyond retro; egg foo young, chop suey and chow mein commingle with kitsch like Hawaii “4” O and yam yam steak.

Jade_island_chow_meinOrdering the pu pu platter was a given, but I had a heck of a time trying to come up with something non-mushy and bland to supplement the finger food. I eventually gave in and tried the chow mein, which was presented in one of those metal domed, pedestal serving platters. Fancy.

Two surprises: no hamburger and no crab rangoon. Rangoons are my favorite lowbrow fake Chinese snack ever. I survived on rumaki (with chicken breast, not traditional chicken liver), shrimp toast, bbq short ribs, fried shrimp and beef skewers, dipped in sweet and sour sauce and hot mustard.

Jade_island_booths_2The only other occupied table, whose inhabitants I couldn’t see because of the faux bamboo and thatching, were hell bent on making sure that their food wasn’t spicy, (like that could even happen). The funniest part was their waiter—all of them wear Hawaiian shirts and are hammy to the extreme— brought their food and jokingly said, “spicy just like you asked for.” Sorry, my sense of humor is broad. We started wondering if their thick accents were an act and if they might turn all gruff and guido-y as soon as patrons were out of ear shot.

Jade_island_cocktailAfter one round of sweet, fruity drinks with names like the headhunter, we went even further astray. I couldn’t ignore the list of $4.75 oldies. Forget all that artisanal tonic water and basil-infused vodka nonsense—bring on the grenadine and crème de menthe. By the looks of the lounge crew, it was fairly clear that beer was the drink of choice, but we risked ridicule and with straight faces asked for a grasshopper and pink squirrel. My pink cocktail was a no go, they didn’t have the ingredients (crème de noyaux, I’m guessing) so my fallback whiskey sour sufficed. The grasshopper was bizarrely sky blue, though it did taste harshly of mint. I was baffled since blue usually equals curacao and there wasn’t a hint of orange flavor. Jade_island_grasshopperIf anything, there was a touch of almond. I was too worried to test the bartender’s mettle after that; scotch and soda made up the final round.

At least my fortune was accurate: “You are going to have some new clothes.” I did end up finding a winter coat that only minimally resembles a sleeping bag.

These, plus a few extra photos that wouldn't fit can be viewed on Flickr.

Jade Island * 2845 Richmond Ave., Staten Island, NY

Deep Purple

I went on a mini Filipino baked goods binge this weekend. I think my fascination with blue rice nasi kerabu (I encountered another enticing photo the other day) spawned a more accessible in NYC ube craze.

These purple yam products have frustrated me into actually reading my camera manual and online tutorials to no avail. The purple I see with my eyes is much warmer and more magenta than the bluish deep color that shows up digitally. Unfortunately, you’re not getting finely tuned photos because around 2pm I had to abandon my mission. The urge to check out the Cat Show struck and I was forced to get out of my pajamas and hightail it in order to justify the $15 entry fee with 5pm closing time.


My first find was a slice of ube layer cake after a meal at Engeline’s (which I’m not detailing at this moment). As you can see from the photo, the guts got a little mangled, not from getting knocked around in the car but from crazy slicing. I expected it to be dense from afar, but it's actually a chiffon cake that's very light and not overly sweet.


After a stop at the Phil-Am market down the street, I came away with an ensaymada from a New Jersey bakery. These sweet rolls have always weirded me out a bit because of the mildly strange butter, granulated sugar and grated cheese topping. That’s not really a bad flavor combination but I’m more accustomed to cream cheese as pastry cheese. I used to have the same mixed feelings about cheddar cheese with apple pie. The ube filling is randomly and sparsely striated throughout the bun. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more swirling.


Ok, puto (which if I'm correct, isn't always a word used to describe an edible treat) are fairly bland and not ube affiliated at all (and somehow instead of fixing the color, I managed on narrowing the frame) but I couldn’t resist the purple muffin-ish blobs and then found a combo pack with all three colors available. These are simple steamed treats made from rice flour and the colors have no bearing on their flavor. I do love the springiness of sweets made with non-wheat meals, mochi being the most extreme. These bright fluff balls will be good for breakfast during the week. I was getting kind of sick of granola bars.

Fighting Tooth and Nail

Maybe it’s because I just got a filling (those eight years of dentist-avoidance are starting to catch up with me. I never used to get cavities. I fear that my 20/20 vision is the only thing still going for me. Now, it’s only a matter of time before cholesterol, diabetes and other inevitables start ravaging my system. But I’m definitely having second thoughts about picking a Brooklyn dentist, the original logic being an office I could walk to in case I ever had to be anesthetized. It’s all stereotypes you could imagine. While drilling my teeth, the phone repair guy forced his way back to our room and got into an altercation about a job taking too long even though the dentist had given him $20 to work quickly, and the repair guy didn’t speak English and the dentist didn’t speak Spanish so they were angrily translating through the dental hygienist, all the while the pressure and pulling in my mouth got more aggressive as this situation escalated. I will definitely not return to this office when and if I ever decide to get my wisdom teeth out) or because I’m at my bedroom computer, which I rarely use since I got a laptop for Christmas, but I’m out of sorts.

There’s no excuse for feeling irrationally downtrodden; it’s Friday, the weather is finally crisp, I’m leaving for China in twelve days, there’s a fun food adventure planned for tomorrow, my copy of Dead Boys showed up at the library last week and it’s really good (reading fiction before going to bed instead of browsing websites [urgh, I almost typed Web sites, which is the wrongheaded style I must use at work] is so much more satisfying)…but I’m one of those moods where I hate everything and want to lay in bed for a week. Is that indulgent or pitiful?

The grunginess of the spaces between the keys on my keyboard is bothering me, and my irritation starts at my fingers and spreads outward to infinity. I can’t concentrate because I’ve run out of room on my shelf for magazine storage and now there’s a foot-high pile of newish issues stacking up on a speaker, my cat hasn’t stopped pooping on the floor and peeing on my clothes since spring (I had to remove all of my clothes from the bottom shelf they’re stacked on—not having drawers for nearly a decade also irks me—and now they’re piled in my windowsills, which is doubly irksome), the zipper on my only decent winter coat has been broken since last year and I don’t know how to fix it, the prospect of dyeing my rapidly graying hair dark brown for the rest of my life only to have it fade to copper a few weeks later is demoralizing, letting it just go gray is even more demoralizing, I need to move my old Tripod site to save a few bucks a month but never find the time, this here blog makes me crazy because the design was only meant to be temporary and it’s not like web weaving is my forte, plus I’m sick of the name, and I don’t mean to write about food so much but I’m too old to regale the world with personal foibles, and now I’m annoyed for even saying that because I don’t really believe that personal foibles ever get stale, long live personal foibles, I want my apartment to look stylish and thought out rather than being a junk heap—I would be fine with a ReadyMade or the low end stuff from Domino look, there’s no need for Elle Décor or Dwell

Do you know how ridiculous/embarrassing it is to complain about a two-floor apartment in NYC with a dishwasher, washer and dryer and two refrigerators? That’s like weighing 120 pounds and thinking you’re fat (unless you’re a dwarf, in which that case might be tubby). See? Now I’ve crossed the line and annoyed myself, which is great because now I feel much better and can shut the fuck up. But seriously, what do you do with a grown cat who refuses to use a litter box even when you clean it twice a day?

Sunday Night Special: Steamed Taro with Chopped Salted Chiles


My Hunan salted chiles from a few weeks ago were good and fermented (I’m not sure why fermented food seems desirable but liquids not so much. This very second, I’m 1/3 of a way through my first ever bottle of kombucha and I’m not sure if it’s likeable or putrid. I’m having a very tough time not letting the floaties get to me. A friend was raving about it, but then I reminded myself that in college she used to drink apple cider vinegar like it was soda) so I needed a recipe. I still don’t feel like it’s root vegetable weather but steamed taro didn’t sound like a bad idea.

VegetaBut I didn’t end up buying taro, even though it’s not too hard to find disguised as malanga in Caribbean-oriented grocery stores. I saw it at Western Beef Sunday, where I picked up this adorable Croatian packet of seasoning that uses a semi-chopstick-like font.

Recently I picked up a frozen bag of something called ratalu at Patel Brothers. As I’ve stated before, I love all things Swad brand (their microwavable vegetable dishes in a box are only 99-cents–aren't Trader Joe's like $2.99?), so these magenta cubes drew me in. I figured they were taro and I could save all the cleaning and chopping (taro contains irritants—if you recall the Top Chef season two finale, Ilan got taken to task for not cooking his taro leaves long enough).

RataluBut according to web searches it seems that ratalu is a purple yam. I’m not convinced that it’s the same as Filipino ube yet. That was a strange find because just yesterday I decided that I would use my newish ice cream maker to create ube ice cream for a halo-halo experiment and had been wondering how hard it might be to find frozen (fresh is out of the question). Who knew I had in the house already?

I love it when someone else has already typed a recipe out for me. Steamed Taro with Chopped Salted Chile Peppers was posted on Serious Eats back in February when Fuchsia Dunlop's Hunan cookbook came out.

The one thing I’m not clear on is how the taro chunks are supposed to hold up or if they’re even supposed to. I’ve had taro in Chinese casseroles and it stays in squares. This mystery root turned to mush and I ended up just mashing it into a violet paste that tasted much better than it looked. You have to admit that it’s still prettier than poi.

It sounds silly, but the ratalu, whatever it was, tastes lavender. The flesh was barely sweet, more potato than yam and almost perfumey without being sickening like rose water (a personal aversion). The saltiness and mild heat of the chiles and black beans played off this hard to describe mauve flavor and created a dish that would almost go better with grilled meat than white rice. But I’m not one for double starches.


1/2 *wow, these closings are getting faster and faster (4/23/08)

As someone who has been known to throw B.Y.O.C (candy, duh) deep fry parties, I couldn’t really ignore BarFry, gimmicky concept or not (though I do think it’s odd to have barf in the name of your restaurant). I figured it would be a while before I got around to trying the restaurant, though.

Barfry_interiorOne, I’m never in the neighborhood, and two, I hate crowds. But Saturday night I found myself attending a rooftop party in the West Village and discovered that a Times Under $25 review has less affect on diners than I’d assumed (even if a write up is so-so, I figure that jus the mention of a new venue might pike curiosity). While Bleecker Street was already kind of a mess at 8:30pm, BarFry was nearly empty. Ok, so neither New Yorkers nor tourists are sold on the concept of haute fritters.

TempuraIt’s certainly not the type of meal you’d want on a regular basis, and as I’d anticipated, the prices quickly add up (though four drinks probably made up half the bill). Even if you could justify eating this battered, fried food daily, you might not be able to afford it. We were encouraged to order six-to-ten items for two, which I thought was a little excessive.

For the straight up tempura treatment, we went with pumpkin, shishito peppers, a crab cake and two pork dumplings. You’re given four dipping sauces: sweet miso, jalapeño soy, chile yuzu and wasabi remoulade. Soy, proving you can’t always fight tradition, worked the best. The batter was crispy, barely greasy and seemed like a fitting match for equally light items. The pork dumplings didn’t really need the coating, but I could’ve told you that before ordering them.

Po_boyWe split an oyster po boy, which was a bit heavy on the lettuce. I couldn’t even tell you what the oysters tasted like. As part of a sampling meal, the sandwich wasn’t a disaster but if it was the only thing you picked you might be disappointed.

Our only non-fried dish, a special of “noodles” made from cuttlefish, spiked with wasabi and I think shisho leaf, was a smart departure. If there were to be a next time, I would balance out the meal with more fresh items. But how many tempura-centric restaurants does one encounter in a lifetime? I didn’t go there to eat delicate Japanese-influenced raw dishes.

Cuttlefish_noodles_2I’m not a chefy person but I did notice Zak Pelaccio wandering in and out the front door during our meal. Later, at the party where I didn’t know anyone because the common thread was Johns Hopkins and U. Penn, James made an offhand comment about how we’d just been at BarFry and saw Fatty Crab. I don’t assume that anyone knows anything about restaurants. I barely do, myself. But a younger, brownstone Brooklyn version of Susie Essman standing nearby barked, “I’m friends with his wife.”

Ok, lady, no disparaging was occurring (it’s not like I got into my irrational displeasure with the Times’s obsession with his parents’ Soho loft). I don’t think being called a fatty crab is so horrible. In fact, I’m a fatty crab personified.

Yum…crabs. BarFry should totally tempura soft shell crabs, assuming they’re still in business by the time they’re in season.

BarFry * 50 Carmine St., New York, NY